Musings

What Happened to My Movie Reviews?

You may have noticed it’s been quite some time since I last wrote a movie review, a consistent feature on my website for roughly the past two years. If you enjoyed them, don’t worry, they haven’t gone away. My lack of updates has a little to do with the lack of quality movies being released lately, and a lot to do with wanting to make the most of summer.

It’s easy to spend time in the theater when it’s cold and miserable and snowing/raining, but since May I’ve had a strong desire to get out and take advantage of the nicer weather to go exploring. I’ve basically put aside writing reviews to focus more on my travel writing and photography.

I’ve also been considering focusing my reviews on historical or based-on-a-true-story films, as opposed to whatever I happened to watch that week. Most of my reviews focused on period pieces anyway, and I thought my readers would appreciate a narrower approach (although I’ll miss reviewing bad horror films).

There are a couple movies I’ve watched but haven’t gotten around to reviewing yet: The Death of Stalin and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, to name two. Look for these in the future. I also want to go back and review older films as well.

Genealogy Coming Soon

What to do when you start with a pile of old documents and photos? I’ve been exploring my family history lately and been frustrated by lack of online sources, so I decided to start posting information in the hopes of being contacted by someone who can fill in the blanks. I’ve already learned so much on my own.

My paternal family history is something of a mystery. My grandma’s birth parents died in Germany after World War 1 when she was a toddler. She was adopted and brought to America in the 1930s. I know a bit about her adopted family, but very little about her birth parents. It’s even more difficult because all their records are in Germany.

My grandpa saved very little in the way of family photos. Thankfully, my grandma saved basically everything. We have six or seven different photos of my great grandmother’s headstone. Unfortunately, I learned this morning that it’s likely the cemetery she’s buried in was abandoned.

Maybe someday I can go to Germany and search for records of my distant relatives, but for now I’ll focus on what I can find in old photo albums. I hope you’ll find it as interesting as I do!

Roseanne and Trump Drive the Media Crazy

I haven’t written about insanity in the news media recently because I’ve been preoccupied with living my life, but this latest controversy is too crazy to pass up. In case you haven’t heard, actress/comedian/Peace and Freedom Party presidential candidate Roseanne Barr made an insensitive and racist tweet about Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, causing ABC to dump its popular Roseanne reboot.

Roseanne Barr’s original sin in their eyes was not only making (somewhat) supportive statements about President Trump, but then also having a hugely popular TV reboot starring a character that supports President Trump. Horror of horrors.

So when this whole controversy went down, of course the usual suspects in the media tried to make this about President Trump instead of the person who actually made the comment. Trump, who can’t help talking about himself, came out with a statement about the incident that, to no one’s surprise, also focused on himself.

Now, it really annoys me when politicians feel the need to release statements or make comments about everything that happens in the world, so I don’t think the president should have said anything about this. After all, it had nothing to do with him. However, after his statement, CNN came out with this article: “Trump breaks silence on Roseanne Barr scandal.”

Trump breaks silence? Like he was avoiding talking about it? Why should he say anything about it at all? What does a comment by Roseanne Barr about Valerie Jarrett have anything to do with him? Is Trump supposed to comment on every public spat between celebrities and public figures?

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Christine: A Potently Pessimistic Period Piece

Events leading to journalist Christine Chubbuck’s 1974 on-air suicide are recounted in Christine (2016), a bleak but potent film written by Craig Shilowich and directed by Antonio Campos. Strong performances by its lead actors and its visual authenticity make Christine the best overlooked film of 2016.

Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) is a sincere but troubled woman working as a reporter for a local news station in Sarasota, Florida. She lives with her mother, Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), and performs puppet shows at a children’s hospital on the weekends. Her life begins to spiral out of control when, approaching 30, she discovers she has a cyst on one of her ovaries and may never have children.

Her boss, Michael (Tracy Letts), is concerned about falling ratings and wants Christine to cover more sensational stories. This professional dilemma is compounded by the arrival of station owner Bob Andersen (John Cullum), who wants to move some personnel to Baltimore. Christine is passed over in favor of anchor George Peter Ryan (Michael C. Hall) and sports anchor Andrea Kirby (Kim Shaw). This is a double-blow because Christine had an unrequited crush on George.

I won’t reveal how the film ends, but you probably already guessed. Rebecca Hall, who also starred in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) and The Dinner (2017), is outstanding as Christine Chubbuck, and won several awards for her effort. I’m not sure this film would have been nearly as good without her performance. She disappeared into the role, bringing her character to life with all the emotion and idiosyncrasies of a real person.

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I, Tonya: ’90s Nostalgia-Fueled Docudrama

Turns out talent and hard work might not be enough to succeed in this faux-docudrama based on the life of former competitive figure skater Tonya Harding, I, Tonya (2017). Written by Steven Rogers and directed by Craig Gillespie, I, Tonya stars Margot Robbie in the titular role. The film re-creates interviews with the principal characters involved in a controversial attack on fellow figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in 1994.

Gillespie is a veteran director with several films and television episodes under his belt, so it comes as no surprise I, Tonya is competently handled. Rogers is mainly known for writing romantic comedies, so this film is quite a departure from his usual repertoire. Like the directing, the writing is solid but the fact it’s based on actual interviews and recordings probably made it easier.

Tonya Maxene Harding (Margot Robbie) grew up in poverty in Portland, Oregon. Her overbearing mother, LaVona (Allison Janney), pressured her into ice skating at a young age, eventually taking her out of school to pursue a career in the sport. In 1991, she became the first woman to successfully execute two triple axels in a single competition. She married Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) as a teen and their relationship quickly became abusive. Meanwhile, Gillooly’s friend, Shawn Eckhardt (Paul Walter Hauser), appointed himself as her unofficial body guard.

Harding finished fourth in the 1992 Winter Olympics and went home to be a waitress, where Coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) convinced her to begin training for the 1994 Winter Olympics. Gillooly, now her ex-husband, allegedly concocted a plan with Eckhardt to intimidate Harding’s rival, Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver). Eckhardt hired two hapless thugs to smash Kerrigan’s knee. The event became a media sensation, resulting in Harding being banned from competitive ice skating.

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Fake News about Fake News

The news media loves pointing out “fake news” in order to differentiate their alleged “objective” and “fact-based” reporting from the outright hoaxes and propaganda being slung around social media. I came across this article in the Providence Journal, purporting to do just that. The article, however, reveals biases of its own, and shows how the so-called legitimate news media engages in propaganda to push their own political messaging.

The Journal headline reads: “Fake photo of Emma González went viral on the far right, where Parkland teens are villains,” which already is suspect. Are all Parkland teens villains to the far right, or just the ones who exploited a tragedy at their school to push a pro-gun control message? Is Cuban flag wearing, buzzed haircut Emma González representative of all teens in Parkland? Never mind that she intentionally projects an image designed to piss off conservatives.

That’s why I thought the photo of her wearing a Cuban flag was the doctored photo in question, but no, it’s a photo of her tearing up a paper target doctored to look like she’s tearing up the U.S. Constitution. Now I don’t doubt some people actually thought this was a real photo. I’ve seen some of my own friends on social media taken in by obvious hoaxes. But the photo is clearly political satire. I remember when Democrats used to edit President Bush’s face onto images of Adolph Hitler and Nazis. No one in the mainstream news media raised a big stink over that.

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The Disaster Artist: An Interesting Character Study

James Franco directs and stars in this character study of filmmaker Tommy Wiseau, based on the book The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made (2014) by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. There’s a tendency for biopics like this to pack all the entertaining content into the first half and then they drag on and on, struggling to tell the rest of the story. The Disaster Artist mostly avoids this pitfall.

The Disaster Artist (2017) traces the rise of mysterious and eccentric actor and filmmaker Tommy Wiseau and his tumultuous friendship with the much younger Greg Sestero. Wiseau and Greg meet in an acting class, where Greg is drawn to Wiseau’s fearlessness and determination.

The two decide to move to Los Angeles and pursue acting careers. While Greg is able to land a few bit roles, people are turned off by Wiseau’s strange behavior, accent, and overconfidence. Frustrated by lack of forward momentum, Wiseau decides to write, produce, and direct his own film starring Greg and himself.

The project begins with promise, but things quickly go south as it becomes apparent Wiseau has more confidence than skill or experience. He continually references Hollywood to justify his bizarre behavior (“we’re making real Hollywood movie!”) and refers back to other directors’ outrageous behavior to excuse his own. Ironically, what he produces is so bad it goes down in history as one of the worst films ever made.

I never watched The Room (2003), and I don’t understand people’s fascination with bad movies or why they become cult classics. I guess it’s a way to live vicariously or somehow feel attached to something unique, similar to why reality TV is so popular.

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