“An American Pickle,” a time-travel farce directed by Brandon Trost and adapted from a New Yorker story by Simon Rich, marinates crisp almost-timeliness in the mild brine of nostalgia. It’s not too salty or too sour, and it’s neither self-consciously artisanal nor aggressively, weirdly authentic. The subject, more or less, is what it means to be Jewish, and given how contentious that topic can become — can I get an oy vey? — the movie finds an agreeable, occasionally touching vein of humor.
The setup for most of the jokes is that, in 1919, an impoverished immigrant named Herschel Greenbaum, recently arrived in Brooklyn from a fictitious, Cossack-ridden anti-Anatevka called Schlupsk, falls into a vat of saltwater and cucumbers. He leaves behind a pregnant wife, Sarah (Sarah Snook). She has a son, who has a son, whose son, in 2019, is a sad-sack tech guy named Ben. When Herschel is fished out of his century-long bath, alive and perfectly preserved, he goes to live with Ben, his only known relative, setting up a cross-generational odd-couple situation brimming with comic potential.
All the more so because both Herschel and Ben are played by Seth Rogen, who does the bewhiskered Yiddish thing and the diffident millennial thing with equal craftiness. While the characters are recognizable types — from popular culture if nowhere else — Rogen brings more than mere shtick to the performances. Herschel is neither a sentimental schlemiel nor a twinkly old-world grandpa, but rather an impatient, sometimes intolerant striver with a violent streak. His pre-pickling experience of the world was hard and bitter, leavened only by the hope that future generations of Greenbaums would be better off.
Which is just what happened, of course. Herschel once confessed to Sarah that he hoped to taste seltzer water before he died, and Ben has a gizmo in his apartment that makes it on demand. He’s even less of a caricature than his great-grandpa — not a hipster or a nerd so much as a smart guy with a deep streak of melancholy. It turns out that what connects him to Herschel isn’t just genetics: it’s also grief. Ben’s parents are dead, and Herschel’s accident robbed him of the pleasures and consolations of family.
That’s some pretty heavy stuff, but “An American Pickle” is swift and nimble enough to avoid weighing itself down with schmaltz. It’s almost too thin to sustain its premise for the running time — a scant 90 minutes — and sometimes feels more like a stretched-out sketch than a fully developed feature.
The century that separates Herschel from Ben allows the story to leapfrog over quite a lot of history, including the Holocaust, Israel, socialism, and the complicated process of upward mobility, acculturation and self-preservation that is the movie’s very condition of possibility. The drama of Jewish male selfhood that preoccupied so many in the middle generations — the whole Philip Roth-Woody Allen megillah — is all but erased. Herschel had his beloved Sarah. Ben has no apparent sexual or romantic interests, or even any friends that we know about. There’s no room for women in this pickle jar.
But the flimsiness of the movie’s conceit also works to its benefit. At its best, it’s a brisk, silly plucking of some low-hanging contemporary fruit. Food trends. Social media. Unpaid internships. The inevitable conflict between Herschel and Ben turns a family squabble into a culture-war skirmish, a conflict played out in a way that feels both satirically sharp and oddly comforting.
And pickles can be comfort food. Not too filling, good for the digestion, noisy and a little sloppy rather than artful or exquisite or challenging. This one, as I’ve said, isn’t bad, and even allows a soupcon of profundity into its formula. The tough, pious ancestor and his sensitive, secular descendant have almost nothing in common, and the imaginative challenge is to find an identity that can include them both more or less as they are. What makes them both Jews? The answer turns out to be simple and, at least for this conflicted 21st-century Jew, persuasive: the shared obligation to mourn the dead.
Rating – “It’s great” / worth adding to your collection.
Yes, God, Yes is the directorial debut Karen Maine, and stars Natalia Dyer from Stranger Things, in the lead role. Developed from a short film that Maine planned on directing but later adapted it to feature-length, this is an extremely small film, in terms of budget, story, and even the run-time. Clocking at only about one hour and fifteen minutes, the film is an almost semi-autobiographical retelling of Maine’s first-hand experience of spending four days at a Catholic retreat.
Alice, played by Natalia Dyer, has been brought up in a very small town by her conservative religious parents and attends Catholic school, where sex-ed classes are taken by a priest. Not only is sex before marriage a sin, but also masturbation, and Alice is made to believe that she will go to hell if she even gets turned on by sex scenes in movies or hot boys in the class. Alice, like most girls her age, is pretty gullible and believes that she is actually committing sins by feeling emotions normal to any teenager. Set in the early 2000s, Alice experiences her sexual interaction over an online AOL chatroom, where she responds to a random dude’s creepy messages just because of curiosity and discovers masturbation. But then she is ashamed of herself and never talks about it to anyone.
At school, someone has spread a rumor about how she performed a very particular sexual activity with a guy from her class at a party, a sexual activity she that she doesn’t even know the meaning of. She asks her friend, but she has no clue either, and Alice spends a chunk of the film trying to find out what people are talking about her. But whatever it is, in order o get these accusations of her and compensate for her supposed dirty mind, she goes to a Christian retreat for four days. And this place is a straight-up horror mansion imo. Right from the beginning, with the overly friendly and enthusiastic attitude of everyone, something is definitely off about this place. Maybe it’s just my socially awkward self, but everything in the retreat is almost Get Out level creepy.
Yes, God, Yes, is a movie about masturbation and sexual awakening, but what separates it from other films of this genre is its female protagonist and conservative setting. It is not a raunchy comedy about horny guys trying to lose virginity, it is just a realistic portrayal of a girl coming to terms with her own sexuality. Maine sure finds funny moments throughout the story, but she never loses sight of realism in the central story, she rather uses the comedic moments to further develop Alice’s character and illustrate her struggles.
The teachers and elders in the story are used for jokes, but they are not the butt of jokes, they are all very misguided people themselves. If anything is joke it is religion and a society that expects young to suppress all their sexual urges, even though they know it is unrealistic. The guilt of always feeling like she’s committed a sin fills Alice with self-doubt that almost drives her crazy as she slowly starts to find out that people are doing those same things in hiding. She feels conflicted and doesn’t understand what she wants to do anymore and then she meets an old lesbian biker lady in a pub, who was once in a Catholic school too, which gives Alice a new perspective on the world. She understands that human beings are complex creatures, and it makes no sense to define them entirely by the supposed “sins” they commit. She understands that High School isn’t the end of the world, and it doesn’t matter what people are talking about behind your back, because those same people are doing equally fucked up shit when nobody is watching. She learns to give herself a chance – to finally figure out who she is.
Natalia Dyer gives the best performance of her career as Alice. So much of the movie depends on her, and she sells every moment she’s in. The rest of the cast is equally good. Wolfgang Novogratz as the lovable hunk is very charming and Timothy Simon is perfect as the strict father, a role very similar to his role from Looking for Alaska on Hulu. Karen Maine does an amazing job directing the movie. It’s hard to believe this is her first movie and she almost pulls off a Greta Gerwig, ala Lady Bird. Yes, God, Yes, is a beautiful little film about growing up and one of the best films to release this quarantine. So, if you have an hour and an hour to spare, check out the movie, you might end up reliving some your worst High School memories.
Now available in virtual cinemas and select drive-ins; available on digital and VOD from July 28.
Alan Turing once said, “Machines can never think as humans do. but just because something thinks differently, doesn’t mean it’s not thinking at all.” Well, it’s a really pretty quote, except Alan Turing never said that. This quote is from the 2014 movie, Imitation games starring Benedict Cumberbatch. You’ve probably heard of it, it was in the Oscars and got a lot of recognition. But what about the man the movie is based on? Well, not quite. Much like any other person to ever walk the surface of the earth, Alan Turing, the father of Artificial intelligence himself, has been lost in time… you know, like tears in rain.
But what it is about science fiction is particular that is so keen on exploring the idea of AI, dating back to the original Blade Runner in 1982, that it keeps raising questions like, “Can machines think?” or “Are machines human?”, over and over in the central theme of the story. Maybe, it’s because only by examining the abstract, we can understand the real. We explore the intelligence in machines, to delve deep into the notion of what makes us human. But to me, the Blade Runner films have never been about whether machines are human, I mean for one, the artificial beings inhabiting the Blade Runner universe are not very machine-like. They always seem to hide a deeper question underneath.
“What does it even Mean to be human?”
The blade runner universe comprises of replicants and humans. The replicants look like humans, talk like humans and probably even feel like humans do, except they are made by humans themselves. So they are denied the right to be considered equal to the humans. Which is evident from how the Blade Runners are hired to “retire” them once they cross their expiration date or are of no use to their creators. The replicants are not killed or murdered, they are retired like an old piece of junk. Blade Runner 2049 begins with Ryan Gosling’s Detective K, retiring an old replicant. Living in the almost uninhabitable dystopian version of Los Angeles, K is a replicant himself, working for the LAPD as a Blade Runner, following the orders of his human superiors and being mocked and bullied in and out of work. The humans hate him because he’s a replicant and the replicants hate him because he works for the humans, they call him a “skinjob” – probably the the n-word equivalent of blade runner universe, but K seems to have made peace with all the constraints put on him. He’s accepted his position as an inferior being in front of the more superior homo sapiens, and has build his own small world for him, with his partner Joi, a digital AI, yet another type of man-made consciousness. We’ll get to her later.
Cogito ergo sum. I think, therefore I am. It is believed only humans are capable of critical thinking, all other animals lack the ability to think rationally. But, the replicants are more than capable of critical thinking. K is shown to be the most intuitive detective in LAPD, and also trusted with the important case of finding out the lost child of Deckard. And K, doesn’t just investigate because he is ordered to, he is intrigued by the the idea of a replicant giving birth. He says… “It means they have a soul.” Throughout the movie K is actively searching for the truth, digging deeper to resolve the mystery. He understand the importance of truth, and actively questions his place in this world just like any human being. He believes in the notion of something bigger than himself, he thinks the truth is what will set him free. Replicants throughout the Blade Runner films are highly sophisticated and empathetic creatures. Take Roy batty for instance, spilling out poetry in the face of death, reconciling with his whole life, going back to his memories. Even K, though played by a very wooden Ryan Gosling, shows a range of emotions. He is in love with his AI assistant, aspires to be something more, feels emotions like sadness, anger and hopelessness, all key to the identity of humans. One could argue that those emotions aren’t real, they are programmed responses to situations that are installed in the replicant’s software. But how do we know, our emotions aren’t programmed biological responses to the sensory information picked up by our brain. For all we know, love is just a chemical reaction in our brain, how is that different from a computer generated prompt.
Our memories make us who we are at present. It dictates our beliefs, choices and decisions in life. We grow and build experiences to help us survive in this world, each experience has it’s own importance in our memory, we learn from our mistakes and derive our understandings from our failures. We base our choices on our memories, bright happy memories gives us the pleasure of joy, and we are often reminiscing about them or trying to recreate similar moments in life only to feel again. On the other hand negative experiences, drive us away and fill our heads with dark thoughts, whenever we think of them it pushes us towards depression and anxiety, and we are very unlikely to do things, meet people, or go places, we associate with particularly bad memory. So an artificial being can be given memories in such a way that dictate their personality, depending on the skills required of them. K’s memory of the wooden horse is a big influence to his rough and tough personality that makes him a detective, fighting to keep what’s his own. Albeit, all these memories are real, they are somebody else’s but to a replicant they are as real as they can get and they don’t even realise they are not real, like K convinces himself that he is the son of Deckard based on his memories. And sometimes they don’t even realise they are replicants, if they aren’t told that there memories aren’t real real, like rachel, or heck, possibly even Deckard. Their memories make them real, even if they aren’t real themselves.
Humans by nature are the most capable of love among any other species known in this world. It might be hard to believe that, considering the amount of hate going on around the world right now, but it is true. Human beings nurture and take care of their off-springs like no other, participate in social activities and gatherings, build and break new relationships continuously, and hopelessly fall in love over and over again. Love is the purest of emotions felt by us, and at the end of the day everything a person is fighting for. Can’t the love between two machines be pure? I want to think so. I mean Rachel and Deckard’s love was so pure, it created a miracle – baby given birth by a replicant. Blade Runner 2049 takes this idea a little further, by adding the character of Joi to the mix. Joi is an artificial being too, but she has no body. She’s like a more advanced, Holographic version Alex or Siri, a digital assistant that can be a little more than assistant. I’ll be honest, Ryan Gosling’s relationship with Joi in the beginning seemed to be like a real red flag for me. And Villeneuve is such a smart filmmaker, that every time K and Joi share a romantic moment, he cuts back to a scene of Joi being advertised as a sex object, and it fills your brain with doubt and questions. But then it develops into one of the sweetest relationships in cinema history, and the fact that they are not humans or one of them doesn’t have a body never crossed my mind.
SEX AND REPRODUCTION
The Replicants more often than not, are portrayed as objects of sexual fantasy in the Blade Runner films, they either shown as prostitutes or sold off as slaves. Joi is practically marketed like a virtual girlfriend that will do anything you want, like a rpg game. But still, K and Joi overcome all the prejudices of thier society. The scene where Joi invites a hooker, as host so she can get physically intimate with K, is without a doubt one of the best sex scenes ever put on film, a scene that is by the way very reminiscent of a similar scene from the movie Her. The way the three broken individuals come together to complete what each one them lack, is such a beautiful moment to witness. They are truly whole in this moment, maybe not in the way we understand it, but the feeling cannot be denied. Sex and reproduction are an undeniable part of the human life, or life of any living organism for that matter. Our entire biology is designed a certain way to facilitate reproduction in an attempt to keep our species alive. It is our way of immortality, if you think of it, passing on the knowledge of our ancestors through our DNA to the progeny. And maybe that is life, passing on, from generation to generation. And that’s why the replicants think the biggest way for them to prove their equality to the humans is finding the child of Deckard and Rachel – a child born out of love, a miracle.
For Aristotle, writing in the 4th century B.C., being human meant having a telos — an appropriate end or goal. It is startling that such philosophical ideas were discussed centuries ago, I guess it just goes to show that man is a naturally curious creature, always questioning it’s purpose or place in this world. It is interesting how many actual living and breathing creatures roam around us, without ever actually finding their purpose in life, will they be considered human? I wonder.
K doesn’t have any purpose at the beginning of the film, he’s a puppet to the humans. He just quietly does his work and spends his days aimlessly until he finds himself engrossed in the mystery of Deckard’s child. He believes it is him and assumes his purpose in life. That’s why when he learns that he is not Deckard’s son, all his hopes come falling down. He feels lost in the world all of sudden, like he doesn’t know who he really is. He walks around the streets of LA aimlessly again, as be stands face to face with an hologram of Joi. He’s reminded of her death, and all he has lost to get to this postion. He suddenly finds a new purpose in life, purpose that he is aware will mostly likely get him him killed, but he chooses has telos, an appropriate end. K might not be born naturally, he might not be a human, but at the end he evolves into something more.
Blade Runner 2049 is masterpiece of the cyberpunk genre, from Deakins’ gorgeous cinematography, to Vileneuve’s sharp driecting and Hans Zimmer’s moody music, it is sensory and visual overload, that can only be felt to be to be believed. It is a film that is not afraid to to take it’s time and meditate on it’s characters and aesthetics, and in the process exploring big questions about existence and life.
At the end does it even matter if something is human, or what it means to be one, as long as we are alive and living happily? There was a time when women weren’t considered human, who knows maybe one day machines will be more human than us. Soon, all of this will be gone and lost forever, only our memories of all that is happening right now will remain. So, sit back, relax and enjoy it all in bliss, while it lasts.
Michael Keaton is possibly reprising his iconic role as the caped crusader from Tim Burton’s Batman movies, in the upcoming Flash movie starring Ezra Miller according to several reports. Earlier reports stated that Jeffrey Dean Morgan is being eyed to return to his role of Thomas Wayne as Flashpoint Batman in the Flash movie, but it seems like they are not doing that right now. It is said WB will adapt the Flashpoint storyline to some extent and Keaton’s Batman will be part of the Burton-verse where Flash land up. But whatever the case, one thing is for sure – Multiverse is the future of DC, and in my opinion, that’s the best way to go about it. Here’s me telling you why.
The Flash is a very Multiverse Friendly character
The inclusion of Flash leads itself to the possibility to tell stories involving the multiverse. The Flash comics delve deep into the ideas of dimension hopping and alternate realities. Flashpoint, the comic storyline this Flash movie is said to be based on, is particularly a story where The Flash runs back in time to save his mother from dying but in doing creates a dystopian alternate reality. If you watch the CW Flash series you should be familiar with the idea of Flashpoint. And not just Grant Gustin, Ezra Miller’s Flash has already traveled to alternate dimensions in two occasion. Once in that brief bat-cave scene in BvS, and second in CW’s Crisis of Infite Earth event, where two versions of Flash famously crossed paths. And WB specially requested CW to put that cameo in, so they may have some bigger multiverse plans for Flash in the future.
All versions of Batman can be canon
Michael Keaton will return as Batman, taking up his role from the Burton films 30 years on. It would mean the Burton films are officially canon in the current DC Movies and as sources as reporting WB are trying to make Keaton’s old Bruce Wayne into a Nick Fury type of mentor figure in multiple upcoming DC projects. So we can have multiple actors playing different version of the same character at the same time. It would mean everything is canon, and all Ben Affleck, Robert Pattinson and Michael are Batman.
The Snyder-verse can still continue in some capacity
DC has been trying to reboot their movie universe and step away from Zack Snyder’s version of the Justice League, but with the release of Snyder Cut on HBO Max makes things seem a little muddled right now. With the introduction multiverse, Snyder’s version of the characters can continue in some capacity in future DC Movies and TV shows.
Wonder Woman 1984 and Aquaman both retcon events of Synder-verse.
Both Wonder Woman 1984 and Aquaman, deacon the events of the Snyderverse completely and start fresh with their characters. This is very confusing considering it the same actor playing the same characters, but the multiverse will be a really convenient way to explain the changes.
DC can continue their success with standalone movies
After a rocky start and a couple false beginnings DC has finally found their footing in the movie market alongside Marvel. The success Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Shazam, and Joker shows that strong standalone films are what’s really working for DC. Their upcoming slate is filled all standalone movies with no sight of a Justice League movie in a near future. The multiverse with allow the writers and directors to take artistic liberties by focusing on their own corner of the DC universe.
The Batman and Joker are in their own separate universe.
Matt Reeves’ upcoming The Batman staring Robert Pattinson is currently under production and it is said to be it’s own thing, much like the Joker movie from last year. This allows filmmaker’s to tell more dark high brow stories with this iconic characters as they don’t have to worry about connecting the films together. But existence of multiverse will open the door to characters from The Batman, Joker or any other DC black label movie potentially crossing over with the DCEU films in future.
The Future of DC movies
In short, the possibilities for DC movies in the future are endless right now. So it seems like multiverse is surely the way to go for DC in future. We can have have fun and bright kids movies, Big budget blockbusters, Dark Fantasies, high brow dramas and more at same time coming out of DC. It also separates them from their competition Marvel and gives them the edge over the company. It could also lead to more crossovers between DC TV shows and movies, and make the multiverse even rich with characters. And who knows, maybe five years from now, flash could run through a bunch of alternate dimensions and we could have a big Justice League movie with all the different versions of the DC characters coming together. All I can say right now is –
“Exciting times in the world right now, my friend. Exciting times.”
Artemis fowl feels like some parent gave an infant a brand new toy set featuring random action figures to play with, but the kid pooped his pants before he could finish the story, so now we are just left with whatever game the toddler designed in the limited time before he pooped his pants. But no, this isn’t some fantasy a 9-year-old cooked up in his bedroom, this 125 million dollar budget Disney production starring big names and directed by a well experienced director, who has made good movies in the past – how this movie turned out to be such an epic disaster, is a total mystery to me.
To call Artemis Fowl a movie would be giving it too much praise, it doesn’t qualify as a movie. It’s a series of random footage stitched together to form something that barely emulates a feature-length movie. It doesn’t even have a story, it’s the type of movie where nothing really happens. A bunch of characters are introduced, they get together in the third act, some random shit happens I guess and the movie just ends there. There are no character arcs, no plot, no journey, no adventure – basically anything that has something to do with a story is lacking from this movie.
Sitting through the one and half hours of which movie (which definitely felt much much longer) was a torture to say the least, the movie was so boring I dozed off twice. I would not be able to tell you anything about the plot of this movie, even if I were to try, because it is fucking nonexistent. In the first few minutes we are like told how smart Artemis Fowl, and then his whole backstory and family background is explained in very exposition heavy dialogues by a counselor of sorts. It is like if in Batman Begins, Batman just straight up showed up in the first act and Alfred explained to him how his parents died and then about all the ninja training he did, in a single monologue, so that the audience gets to know who Bruce Wayne is. What’s worse is, none of those details matter, because the character of Artemis Fowl himself doesn’t matter and I really don’t know why they had to make such a big point about him being smart, it’s not like they use it in the story, because he barely does anything. Yeah, the titular character of the movie doesn’t do anything in story except just existing in the frame.
I know this an adaptation, so maybe the character is just boring even in the books. But no, I know that’s not true because I have some friends who are real fans of the book and really love Artemis Fowl. From what I’ve heard, Artemis is supposed to be this grey character who’s a criminal mastermind and he’s supposed to have this big redemptive arc over the course of the books. It’s as if the writers of the movie didn’t even read the books , they just heard what the books were about – a smart kid, fairies, dwarfs,trolls, etc, and then sort of build a plot around it that they thought would print money. But then the script supervisor came in and told the writers that he was supposed to be a criminal mastermind, so they just randomly add line at the end of the movie where Artemis says, “I’m Artemis Fowl, the criminal mastermind.”They took all the elements from the books and stripped them of anything that makes it interesting, even down to it’s protagonist. Also, I don’t really wanna be too harsh on kid, but the guy (Fardia Shaw) they cast as Artemis Fowl sucked so bad. He was s such an un-charismatic and dull presence, that even in this awful movie, he stood out as wooden.
Now, if we are talking about acting, let’s get to the two biggest names in the cast. Josh Gad plays this giant dwarf character, who also narrates the entire movie from a prison cell. He looks like someone trying to pull off a cheap Hagrid cosplay in comic-con while putting on a Batman. And yes, the whole movie is narrated in a Batman voice, and I honestly don’t get the point of the narration, it’s not like anything happens in the money. Josh Gad is not that bad technically, but his costume, voice and CGI face make it tough for me to say he was good. Also putting on a Batman voice, is Dame Judi Dench who sort of plays the fairy version of M from the Bond movies. She also has her own centaur version of Q in the movie named Foaly, which I know because he’s introduced like this – “Hi there, this is Foaly!”. Between this and Cats, Judi Dench really needs to fire her agent, or maybe she’s just gotten to the point in her career where she doesn’t care anymore, and is just building some bank for her kids.
There are also other characters introduced in the story but none of them matters in the end. There’s a side quest with this fairy who’s father is believed to be a traitor, so she wants to clear his name. She’s like supposed be the best friend that Artemis Fowl makes in this misadventure, and they try to have these friendship moments between them but it all just comes off as so cheesy and cory that you don’t even take it seriously for one second. But Artemis Fowl is supposed have this great relationship with his Butler and his niece, but don’t give two shits about them cause neither does the movie, they just exist in the background somewhere.
This definitely feels like a movie that was botched in the edit room. I mean, I don’t believe there’s a cut of this movie that’s any good, but the editing seems so sloppy and the plot doesn’t really flow from one place to another, which makes me wonder who’s fault is this that this movie tuned out so bad. Everything about this movie is bad, from writing to acting and visual effects, it’s almost as if everyone working on this movie wanted it to fail. Disney surely did, because they didn’t try to do any re-shoots, get any good editors involved or pay any money for post production and good visual effects. Instead they took this opportunity to quietly dump the movie on their own streaming, but I’m not sure what it says about their brand. It feels like Disney is saying Disney Plus is the place where we’re gonna dump all our bad movies and the good ones will be coming in theaters, and I don’t think that’s the look they want. I don’t think this movie is gonna bring any new subscribers to Disney Plus, and in case you are already subscribed, I’d suggest you skip it.
So, did you watch Artemis Fowl (if so, why?) and what did you think of it?
Rating – “It’s great” / worth adding to your collection.
Amidst all the crazy shit happening around the world, with Netflix’s Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee has officially announced that the Oscar race for 2021 has just began. Yes, it’s that good. This is without a doubt the most high quality film to be released during the lockdown, and it’s steal that you can just watch it for free at the comfort of your home right now.
The film opens with Muhammad Ali and closes with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., two legends who are inextricably tied to the Civil Rights movement and Black pride. Lee uses them to highlight another commonality: their strenuous opposition to the Vietnam War. For Ali, the objection cost him several productive years of his career and his heavyweight title; for Dr. King, this new focus was quite possibly the final straw that led to his assassination. The first words we hear are Ali’s famous explanation of why he refused to enlist. The last words we hear are from a speech King gave on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his murder, where he quotes poet Lagston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again.”
On the surface, Da 5 Bloods is a treasure hunt story, modelled on the template of “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” and of course, as he’s confessed, Spike Lee’s favorite film “Apocalypse Now”. There’s even a nighclub themed after Apocalypse Now in modern day Vietnam, andfilm fan will be able to catch the scene homages Spike Lee pays to Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece.
The movie tells the story of four war veterans who are back in Vietnam in recover their friend/leader’s remains from the jungle, but actually they have a hidden agenda underneath that the film reveals slowly. The men, who dub themselves as Bloods, have all got something going on with them – there’s the joker, Melvin (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), the level-headed medic, Otis (Clarke Peters) and the one who achieved the most post-war success, Eddie (Norm Lewis). Rounding out the quartet is the forceful, hot-headed leader, Paul, played by Delroy Lindo in one of the best performances to come out of a Spike Lee joint. The fifth blood of the title is not Paul’s son, David (Jonathan Majors), who unexpectedly shows up to join his elders’ crew. Delroy Lindo is just so good in the movie that if he’s not nominated whenever the Oscars are held next year, there’s seriously something wrong with the Academy. He has monologue towards the end of the movie, that was so good that it makes the movie for me.
Lindo’s character Paul, is the most affected by the events of the Vietnam war, the ghosts of the past are literally haunting him. He was one closest to their leader Norm nad looked up to him like a God, so in a way he feels the guilt of surviving while Norm did not. A deep thinker and a shrewd tactician, Norman has taken on almost mythical grandeur in his comrades’ memories. They refer to him as “our Malcolm and our Martin.” When the borders of the frame narrow and the color balance shifts to signify that we are back in the war, Norman is played by Chadwick Boseman, a perfect casting choice that underlines the heroism of the character, who is stamped with the likeness of Jackie Robinson and Black Panther himself from Wakanda. Boseman’s charisma can make feel even the most simple scenes heroic and inspiring.
A strong choice made by Spike Lee in the film is that the older actors also play their younger selves in the flashbacks, he doesn’t cast younger actors or de-age the actors like Martin Scorsese in The Irishman. It’s a choice that might through some people off, but it really pays off in my opinion. It goes on to show how the characters never left Vietnam and have been stuck in time ever since, and also the fact that Chadwick Boseman is the only young and charismatic presence, show how he never got to grow old like his contemporaries, and his ghost really lingers on in the present timeline.
Also another strong creative decision in the film that really pays off, is the decision to shoot the movie in different aspect ratio and and different type to film to give a sense of time and place. The flashbacks are all shot in 16 mm film with an aspect ratio of 4:3 which gives it a documentary-esque feel and the present-day jungle scenes appear to be like 35 mm IMAX film, but there’s no way to feel for me since we unfortunately can never watch the film in a theatre. The cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel (who also shot Extraction for Netflix this year) is gorgeous and beautifully captures the rich landscapes of Vietnam and Thailand.
But Spike Lee being Spike Lee, this film has a lot to say and it says it effectively. In addition to the verbal commentary about present events vs. past ones, Lee also employs some sly visual representations of his points. David wears a Morehouse shirt throughout his jungle trek and it’s more than just a shout-out to the director’s alma mater. It’s a reminder that the college kids didn’t wind up in this location. “They put our poor Black asses out here on the front line,” says Melvin, “killing us like flies.” With the occasional jump to graphic documentary footage, we’re also reminded that the Vietnam War was beamed into the homes of millions of Americans via the nightly news, forcing them to see the atrocities in such an effective way that later wartime presidents forced a moratorium on images of war, as if out of sight meant out of mind.
You can really just dig into any scene from this movie and decipher meaning social commentary out of it. And which the amount of twists and turns in the script, it sure warrants repeat viewing. It talks about the turbulent times and complex issues Black soldiers faced in Vietnam, commentary on US’s current president, Race issues worldwide in general and so much much more. There’s scene in particular involving Hanna Hanoi and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. that sent chills down my spine.
Simply, Spike Lee has done it again – he’s went on and made a very entertaining movie with deeply rooted ideologies that feel relevant even today. I mean, the movie almost correlates to whatever has been going through in the US over past couple weeks with all the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests going on. It’s a very timely movie and at the same time very timeless, so don’t make the mistake of skipping this one.
Da 5 Bloods is now available to stream on Netflix worldwide.
So what did you think of the movie if you have watched it, and what’s your favorite Spike Lee joint?
Rating – “It’s great” / worth adding to your collection.
Judd Apatow is known for making one type of film over and over – overlong stoner comedies about overgrown man-children, and helping commercially unproven comedians become huge stars by making films in which they embody lightly fictionalized versions of themselves. He’s made stars out of the likes of Seth Rogen and Steve Carell in the past, with films like Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin. This time it is Pete Davidson’s turn, and he fits perfectly in Apatow’s universe of slice of life light-hearted dramas. The SNL star’s brand of ‘I don’t give a fuck’ dark humor is a perfect fit for the coming-of-age tale of a man-child trying to figure his shit out.
This is not the type of comedy where you burst into laughter every five seconds at a penis joke, this movie takes it’s time, (like all Judd Apatow movies) but in doing so it beautifully flutters between scenes that genuinely bring a smile to your face and scenes that will genuinely touch your heart. I walked into this movie completely blind, I didn’t even see a single trailer for it, so the emotional story of the movie is what surprised me the most – this is the most heartwarming Judd Apatow movie I have ever seen. It reminds me a lot of Apatow’s cult TV show freaks & geeks, another charming coming-of-age dramedy, which still remains one of my favorite seasons of television. Maybe it’s because I’m in a similar phase of my life where I’m trying to figure my shit out, but as soon as Pete Davidson’s character walked into the screen, I immediately felt that connection with him. I need to give the movie props for making me care too – I was genuinely invested in the lives of these character and gave a damn about what happened to them, which is a hard thing to achieve.
Based on a script co-written by Davison and Apatow, The King of Staten Island tells the story of Scott Carlin who lost his fire-fighter father in a tragic accident when he was seven years old and has never been able grow up since, which is weird because Pete Davidson also lost his fire-fighter dad who died killed trying to rescue people from the Marriott World Trade Center on 9/11, so in a sense this a semi auto-biographical vehicle for Davidson. But while Davidson uses humor and comedy to deal with the tragedy in his life, Scott is a tattoo artist who dreams of opening a tattoo parlor cum restaurant, which he titles “Ruby Tattuesdays”.
Scott still lives with his mom (Merissa Tomei), while his ambitious little sister (Maude Apatow) goes off to college following her dreams. Both of them are worried about Scott’s life as he refuses to grow up or change. He hangs with his toner friends who are all a likable presence (especially Moisés Arias and Ricky Velez) and you will want to hang out with them. The exchanges between the friends is very realistic and funny in a true Judd Apatow fashion, and it sounds like what a bunch of dudes will be talking about as they smoke some weed. He’s also secretly fucking his childhood friend Kelsey (a brilliant Bel Powley) but Scoot is left so insecure by his father’s death that he is afraid to form any new relationship.
It’s a cozy environment that Scott has built for himself, until one day he tattoos kid in the wood and the kid’s dad (Bill Burr) starts dating Scott’s mom. Okay, Bill Burr is amazing in this movie, he is the perfect balance to Pete Davidson’s dry humor. Bill Burr also plays a fireman in the movie, a detail that doesn’t fit well with Scott as he starts making plans to break up his mom’s relationship, which sets him on a journey that ultimately helps him grow up.
This a masterfully shot movie, with great cinematography and production design, that truly captures the essence of Staten Island. All the performances are great and the chemistry among the cast is perfect and everyone has great lines in the movie. But it is Pete Davidson who ultimately carries this movie with his star-making performance. He maybe playing himself, but his sincerity and charm brings much gravitas to the character that makes you feel for him throughout the story, even when he’s making some pretty shitty decisions. Also the soundtrack of the movie is really unique, and helps set the mood for the story it’s trying to tell.
Is the movie longer than it needs to be? Absolutely. At a run-time of two hours and seventeen minutes, you do feel the length as the script meanders and the actors stretch scenes with improv. But it is also what grounds this movie and trust me, if you sit with it, the movie really pays off in the end. Judd Apatow loves making films about about middle aged men stuck in adolescence, and it is definitely funny to watch the misguided fools do stupid shit. But with The King of Staten Island, Apatow rises above his own storytelling techniques – you are not laughing at Pete Davidson in this movie for not being able to grow up, you rather feel bad for the dude. This movie gives you a sense of why certain people are the way they are – why some people do recreational drugs, why some people have their bodies covered in tattoos, why some people take pride in the comrade of firemen, and ultimately, why certain people come of age at different points in their lifetime, some much later than most.
Alright, so what did you think of The King of Staten Island, and what’s your favorite Judd Apatow movie?
Doom Patrol released the trailer for season 2 of the show, giving us a bunch of details about what to expect from the series moving forward and also potential threats the heroes will be facing in this season. Based on Grant Morrison’s super trippy and wacky comics run, the first season was season of Doom Patrol was really well received by both critics and audiences alike, thanks the weirdness of the plot and characters that set it apart from other superhero TV shows.
The trailer quickly re-introduces us to the superhero ‘family’ that is all set to return in this season:
Diane Guerrero as Jane: The dominant personality of Kay Challis, a young woman who developed 64 distinct personalities from trauma she experienced as a child and received powers for each personality following an experiment she was involuntarily subjected to.
April Bowlby as Rita Farr / Gertrude Cramp: A former actress whose cellular structure was altered into a gelatinous state after being exposed to a toxic gas. Her powers allow her to change her body shape, but also cause her to struggle with maintaining a solid form.
Matt Bomer and Matthew Zuk as Larry Trainor / Negative Man: A former United States Air Force pilot with a negative energy entity living inside of him.
Brendan Fraser and Riley Shanahan as Cliff Steele / Robotman: A cyborg and former NASCAR driver whose brain was transplanted into a robotic body after a car crash destroyed his own.
The Chief’s daughter Dorothy Spinner ( an obvious reference to Wizard of the Oz) will also return this season, and by the looks of the trailer it appears like she will be the big threat the Doom Patrol will be facing this season. Dorothy is one of the strongest beings in DC Universe, with the power of creating people from her imagination, so it’ll be very interesting to see how the show deals with her powers. Although there have been no confirmations on whether Mr. Nobody will return for this season, he is noticeably missing from this trailer.
“Following the defeat of Mr. Nobody, the members of the Doom Patrol now find themselves mini-sized and stranded on Cliff’s toy race car track. Here they begin to deal with their feelings of betrayal by Niles Caulder a.k.a. the Chief (Timothy Dalton), while confronting their own personal baggage,” HBO Max said of Season 2. “And as each member faces the challenge of growing beyond their own past traumatic experiences, they must come together to embrace and protect the newest member of the family: Dorothy Spinner (Abigail Shapiro), Niles’ daughter, whose powers remain a mysterious but real threat to bringing on the end of the world.”
Season one of Doom Patrol is currently available on HBO Max to stream, so you can catch up on the first season before release of the second season. Also, getting promoted from being a DC Universe show to HBO Max original means Doom Patrol now has the potential to reach a much larger audience. And honestly, this show deserves it – it’s so good!
So are you excited for Doom Patrol season 2, and what did you think of season 1? Do let me know in the comments.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and it’s sequel Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, is that rare piece of film memorabilia from the 90’s that somehow has still survived in the general consciousness of moviegoers. But I wasn’t alive when the first movie came out and I never got to see the movie in theatres. But thanks to the popularity of Keanu Reeves, (I just love that guy) I wanted to see some of his early work, and thus stumbled upon Bill and Ted. I saw Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure right after I saw John Wick 3 in the theatres, and the experience was most excellent. It shows Keanu’s range dude – from a hard-boiled mass murderer to one of the most lovable idiots in movie history.
Bill and Ted is a movie that can only exist in the ’90s, simply because it just won’t be made today. It’s a completely silly idea, filled with cheesy lines and a plot that doesn’t really go anywhere, and any studio today, will reject the film in the pitch itself. But thankfully, there was a time when movies like this were made, because they are just so darn fun. Like Bill and Ted themselves, these are most chill movies to watch and just forget about all your problems for the time being. And I swear it has some of the most quotable dialogues of all time – I haven’t been able to stop using Bill and Ted references in between conservations since I watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Finally, after like almost 2 decades the third movie in the Bill and Ted franchise is coming out, with both Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves returning to their iconic roles. It is so refreshing to see a movie that’s just so chill, playing in the theaters. And to be honest, that’s all I need right now, with the stressful stuff happening around the world. Do I have the same amount of memories and nostalgia attached to property like most fans? No, but surely wanna see where they take these characters now that they have grown up and have families. But I’m cautiously excited though because, in the past, most of these sequels made after decades of the original film, have been completely shit (looking at you, Dumb and Dumber To). But the first trailer of Bill and Ted Face the Music launched today, and from the looks of it, it looks just as excellent as the previous ventures. It doesn’t spoil anything about the movie, but gives us a basic idea of what to expect from the movie – a crazy adventure with some crazy comedy. And who doesn’t want to see Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves go on an excellent adventure? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this really is one of my most anticipated movies of the year now. Bill and Ted might just be what we to ease ourselves in these times of global catastrophe.
So are you excited for Bill and Ted Face the Music, and what’s your favorite oddball 90’s comedic duo? Do let me know in the comments.
And till next time, be excellent to each other, and Party on dudes!
What’s happening in America right now is heartbreaking, but I’m so happy to see so many people come together in support of the #BlackLivesMatter initiative and fight back against the racist system. All of you who are taking part in this protest, whether your posting about it in social media, going to rallies or donating to support groups, I’m so proud of all of you for finally standing up. I’m neither an American or a black person, but this is issue is beyond all race and culture – it is about our fight for humanity.
But still, since I’m not an American and the protests and their ramifications are still in a very premature state – I’m not willing to write about it explicitly yet. So here’s me instead telling you about a series that perfectly encapsulates the problems America is facing today as a whole – HBO’s Watchmen.
Damon Lindelof’s series that is a continuation of Alan Moore’s acclaimed graphic novel ‘Watchmen’, uses the template of the graphic novel and uses it to showcase the struggles of Black America, and with other timely issues . With story lines that deal with racism in America, White Supremacy and heinous crimes against Black people over centuries in America – Watchmen is really a timely classic for our times that you need to see. Let me tell you why.
(NOTE: While reading the original graphic novel helps since this is a continuation of that story, the show is good enough to stand on its own and you can watch it anyway. By the way, who hasn’t read Watchmen? It is considered to be the greatest comic book of all time. Go read Watchmen!)
Tulsa Race Massacre
Right away, the opening of Watchmen’s pilot sheds light on one the darkest days in American history, which will surely send chills down your spine. The Tulsa race massacre of 1921 took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” and yet it cannot be found in school textbooks and anyone barely knows about it. This Monday, we marked the 99th anniversary of the incident and yes, we’ve come a long way since 1921, but watching the incidents of violence against the people of the black community that are prevalent even today, I am just left wondering if we have made any progress at all.
Origin of Hooded Justice
Watchmen begins with a young boy witnessing his parents die in the horrible Tulsa Race Massacre, and brilliantly sets up the origin story of Hooded Justice in one of the show’s best twists. It is revealed that Abar’s grandfather (the old dude who killed the police commissioner) is actually Hooded Justice, showcasing how vigilantism lies in their blood.
In episode 6, which is one of best scripted episodes of television I have seen, the tragic backstory of Hooded Justice is revealed as Abar consumes her grandfather’s nostalgia. The show makes changes to original mythology of Hooded Justice’s origins, and adds so much more depth to it. The show explores his tough times growing up alone and taking care of the baby he found on the day of the massacre, then how he fought in the war of USA even tough he was always treated unfair by his superiors and not given the honor he deserves and then how he eventually got a job as a police officer like he always wanted, but that was only for namesake – he still didn’t have any power over the whites who owned him. In fact he almost gets beaten to death by his peers, while his is face covered in mask and then hanged from a tree with a rope, for trying to arrest a rich white asshole.
But the policemen don’t kill him, they just let him go with a warning – Don’t get your nose into white folk’s business. As he walks back to his house with a rope hanging from his neck, tortured and humiliated by his fellow officers like a dog, he sees a few mob men attacking a lonely couple. He puts his mask on and fights the bad guys – and thus Hooded Justice is born that night. To be honest, I have always thought that the Hooded Justice costume looked dumb, but what they did with it here is mind-blowing, and I gotta commend them for that. But he doesn’t wear a mask to be a superhero – he wears his mask to hide his racial identity because he feels society isn’t ready for it. He wears white makeup around his eyes so that nobody realizes that they are being saved by a black man and even after he joins the superhero team Minutemen, his racial identity remains unknown, and as far as the world knows – all the superheroes from history were White. Talk about whitewashing history.
Regina King as the Series Lead
While the Watchmen graphic novel was revolutionary for it’s time, there were noticeably no black or characters of color and minority in the whole story. Also the only female character in the story was the one who was least developed in the story (and raped I might add). Damon Lindelof made it very clear that his intentions were to diversify Watchmen’s rich world and tell the story with modern sensibilities. Casting Regina King as the lead was a big part of that, and she absolutely nails the role. She’s a bad ass as the vigilante who works for the police and we all knew she was great performer, so the acting is top-notch. Watchmen went from being a book with no black characters to a show with a woman of color as the lead.
The Police in Watchmen’s World
The way the police are portrayed in Watchmen is very important to analyse considering the recent events regarding George Floyd’s death. Watchmen takes place in an alternate universe where the government is run by far-left politicians. So in this world, rather than the police exploiting the minorities, here we have the police being attacked by the racist white terrorists who feel they are being suppressed for not being able to use their ‘white privileges’ anymore. Thus, the police wear masks to hide their identities and they are just another part of the vigilante system in Tulsa. Also, an early scene in the show establishes how the police aren’t allowed to use guns anymore, unless a threat is verified, so that the department can reduce incidents of cop killings. We definitely need a check like that in our real world.
White Supremacists in Rorschach Masks
The white Supremacists form a cult in Watchmen’s world, who wear Rorschach masks in memory of their beloved misguided hero who believed in ‘Justice even in the face of Armageddon’. And what justice are they fighting for – loss of their white privilege or the humiliation in treating a black person equally?
Yahya Abdul-Mateen II’s Dr. Manhattan
Another revolutionary casting from the series came as a big surprise, as it was revealed Abar’s husband, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, was secretly Dr. Manhattan in hiding. Apart from a black actor portraying a famous character from comics who is traditionally white, this change is immensely powerful for what they decide to do with Dr. Manhattan’s story line here. Yahya is amazing in the role, and plays Dr. Manhattan so good that he steals every scene he’s in. And like the original, Dr, Manhattan raises many questions of love, faith, destiny and time in the series that are worth analyzing and giving a deep thought to.
Politics, Vigilantism, Philosophies and Watchmen
Watchmen has a long history of dealing with politics and asking philosophical questions – it is what made Alan Moore’s original graphic novel so famous. The graphic novel broke down the superhero genre and really analysed what it meant to be a superhero, and HBO’s adaptation continues this tradition. There’s so much to dig into and analyse in Watchmen, that if I were to discuss them all, I would need to write at least ten more posts on the show. So, in case you haven’t seen the show yet and are at the safety of your home – it is the perfect time for you to binge Watchmen on HBO. You’ll have a great time while subsequently get educated on some timely topics, and at the end you will be left with some heavy questions to ponder upon for hours.