Mustang


2015 Turkish drama

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Five girls raised by a grandmother and uncle are kept secluded in their prison-like home as their guardians suspect they'll become whores.

Let me give you an update on my characters-with-sideburns movie streak. It ended after four because I can't remember if any characters in The Treasure had sideburns. I have to assume they did because it seems like people from either the Hung Republic or Gary would have sideburns, but I can't use assumptions to keep that streak alive. Mindhorn definitely had a character with sideburns though. This movie does not, at least that I can remember, so the streak would have ended anyway. I really need to play these things out better.

This movie was recommended by my friend Eb. Well, sort of. Technically, he didn't recommend it at all. But I watched it because it was 9th on his list of favorite movies from this century. I'd never heard of it, but I liked the characters, felt their conflict, and was moved by their experiences.

I suppose it's a metaphor, but there was no obvious reason why this movie was called Mustang. That, and the lack of sideburns, completely threw me off my game.

The Treasure


2015 Hungarian comedy

Rating: 14/20

Plot: Neighbors hire a metal detector to look for buried treasure.

Imagine how funny a comedy from Hungary would be. That's exactly how funny this movie is. It's definitely more in the blink-and-you'll-miss-it's-a-comedy school like Kaurismaki or Jarmusch than a Will Ferrell comedy.

Wait a second. Does Hungary even exist anymore? My knowledge of Eastern European countries is unreliable because those countries have changed so much since I had to learn about them in school and for the most part, that chunk of the world is ignored by American media.

I haven't been drinking and I don't smoke pot, but I just made myself giggle because I imagined Hungary breaking into two countries like I think Czechoslovakia did and becoming the Hung Republic and Gary. And now I have to end this review because my nose started bleeding.

Mindhorn


2016 action comedy

Rating: 12/20

Plot: A washed-up actor is asked to revisit the cheesy detective character he played on 80s television because a criminal says he won't talk to anybody else.

I watched this only because one of my favorite musicians references it in a song on his newest album. It's worth watching, especially if you have a high tolerance for really dumb comedies. Julian Barratt, one of the Mighty Boosh guys, co-wrote the screenplay and plays the actor who played the titular detective. There are a lot of absurdly humorous moments throughout although the story is frustratingly both sloppy and predictable.

My favorite bit was a shot of a Mindhorn puzzle that showed it had 96 pieces. Who makes a puzzle with 96 pieces?

Mississippi Grind


2015 road-tripping drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A luckless gambler is befriended by Deadpool who becomes his good-luck charm as he travels to New Orleans to make enough cash to pay off some debt.

This movie feels like it comes from the 1970s, the only thing giving away that it doesn't being that Ryan Reynolds isn't a little kid. Speaking of Ryan Reynolds, I can't be the only one confusing him with Ryan Gosling, can I? I seriously can't tell them apart, and I fear they might take my blog away from me if they find out. Adding to my paranoia is that I'm not even sure who "they" might be in this scenario.

Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling. They look exactly alike, just like crocodiles and alligators. Clearly, one of them needs to be killed.

So let's do a poll! Should Ryan Reynolds or Ryan Gosling be killed? Vote in the comments below!

The only other thing I want to say about this movie, one that I watched because I haven't played poker in a while and wanted to watch a poker movie, is that Ben Mendelsohn is excellent in it. This performance, his work in Rogue One, and upcoming projects make me excited about this guy.

There is some good poker in this, by the way, if that's why you'd think of watching this. There's not a ton of scenes with characters playing poker, but the poker scenes that are in this--including one where Mendelsohn's character picks up a tell from an opponent--are well done.

Of course, this is coming from a bad amateur poker player.


I think I'm going to write a screenplay where Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling can't tell each other apart and go on their own individual mass murdering sprees. Or maybe I'll pitch the idea to Charlie Kaufman. That seems like a Kaufman thing.

The Measure of a Man


2015 French drama

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A guy has trouble finding a job.

Vincent Lindon's strong, very-subdued performance and director Stephane Brize's need to show characters doing nothing significant for long periods of time give this some realism.

It appears that I have some sort of movies-featuring-guys-with-sideburns streak going. I wonder how long I'll be able to keep that up! Everybody hold on!

Logan


2017 superhero western

Rating: 14/20 (Emma: 15/20; Abbey: fell asleep)

Plot: Wolverine, auditioning for a sitcom where he lives with a crazy old man and an albino, has his retirement from superhero work interrupted by a little girl and a guy with Anakin Skywalker's hand.

This was rated R, probably because Hugh Jackman wanted to say "motherfucker" and director James Mangold thought the audience would enjoy seeing metal claws going through people's skulls.

This is a more mature superhero movie than your typical Marvel fare, and it works for the most part though I didn't really buy the attempted connections to the movie Shane. The actions scenes had a gritty intensity, and there are a pair of scenes that I imagine would be really emotional to X-Men fanboys. The movie's a bit bloated at two-and-a-quarter hours, but all in all, it's a lovely swansong for the characters played by Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart.

Silent Saturday: Menilmontant


1926 French drama

Rating: 16/20

Plot: Orphaned sisters fall for the same guy.

This was apparently critic Pauline Kael's favorite movie.

With dizzying montage and a complete lack of intertitles, this is an intriguing little silent drama. It's definitely little. I didn't have the time for a longer feature last Saturday, so I cheated and watched this one that clocks in at around 40 minutes. Trust me though. There's a lot packed into that 40 minutes. This starts with one of the most shocking scenes of violence that I've seen in a silent movie, the rapid-fire editing transforming the violent act into something you feel with your eyeballs. From there, the story gets convoluted and, for me at least, a little tough to follow. It's a case where the story doesn't matter nearly as much as the delivery though as director Dimitri Kirsanoff throws trick after trick at us--hypnotizing double exposure, that dizzying montage, etc.

In the Mouth of Madness


1994 horror movie

Rating: 13/20

Plot: An insurance fraud investigator is hired to locate a missing horror author.

John Carpenter unhinges his jaw and unleashes this wacky story complete with rubbery effects and nightmarish surrealism. It's fun and definitely worth a watch, especially if you like your horror movies more weird than scary, but the story really doesn't make a lick of sense. It's definitely an example of one of those movies that contains far too many ideas. A lot of it works. I loved the ending, Sam Neill's attempt to leave this strange town, some of those rubbery monster effects, and a memorable scene featuring a dude with an ax. It's a mess of acid-drenched semi-horror that probably could have had something to say about the creative process or art's effect on humanity. It doesn't, too busy with just delivering a silly story, but it really is too entertaining to gripe about.

Note: I had to edit and add an extra point. I forgot that I had wanted to give this an extra point because Sam Neill's character has a tub of popcorn in one crucial scene.

I also really liked one line: "God's not supposed to be a hack horror writer." Maybe this movie is actually better than I think.

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter. . .and Spring


2003 Buddhist drama

Rating: 18/20

Plot: A Buddhist master tries his best to train a pupil, but the kid's awfully horny. He does a lot of "one-hand clapping," if you know what I mean.

That "one-hand clapping" joke should win me an award. Are there awards for blogging? There has to be, right? I'd do the research, but I have a few of these things I have to write tonight and not much time. Bloggies? Anyway, if any of you guys who read that plot synopsis can stop laughing long enough to submit my blog for an award, I'd appreciate it.

I had guessed that this one-setting film would be quiet, meditative, and probably a little boring. I couldn't have been more wrong. This had Fast and the Furious action compared to what I had predicted. I was surprised at how much drama they managed to pack into this while at the same time staying very simple, as well as quiet and meditative. After the first chapter, which you could probably guess covered spring, I thought each installment might work like a little koan. The first certainly did as the kid, in the spring of his life, makes a mistake and then has to suffer both immediate and ultimately long-term consequences. I didn't expect the individual chapters to work together so well to tell a cohesive story.

The kid is played by various people, but the old monk stays the same--Yeong-su Oh. He's really good, especially when he's not saying a word. It's an actions-speaking-louder-than-words type performance, and he manages to create this character who the audience learns as much from as his young follower. There are a handful of moments in this that I'd describe as touching, and none of them wouldn't have worked if I didn't buy that this guy was really a monk on this little floating monastery. Oh nails it.

I really want to live on a floating monastery. There would be drawbacks. I'd have to stop watching movies and doing this blog, for example. But I definitely wouldn't grow tired of the surrounding landscape. It was stunningly beautiful, and watching the setting change with each new season gave it all this wonderful poignancy.

Sex on a floating monastery. That's been added to my bucket list.

I'm not Buddhist and likely missed some of the symbolism. What, for example, do the different animals represent in Buddhism? I actually know the answer because I looked it up on the always-reliable Wikipedia. Even without understanding all of the symbolism in this movie, however, there's no way a person is going to watch this and not get something out of it. It's the type of movie that I watch and end up feeling like a better person afterward.

But not a good-enough person to keep from making zen masturbation jokes.

The Conjuring 2


2016 horror sequel

Rating: 12/20 (Abbey: 12/20)

Plot: The Warrens travel to London to help out a woman with a demon problem.

Very much more of the same from the first installment of this franchise. What I like about James Wan's direction--a lot of which still reminds me of the camera movements and creative scares in Evil Dead II--is still here. The camera slips through the creepy house in fun, ingenious ways, and there are a lot of frightening sequences that seem fresh among the usual jump scares and predictability.

With the narrative, this could have used some honing. There is probably one or two evil entity too many although the trio of figures used are effective in delivering the creeps. Two of them, it seems, are being used to set up other movies in the franchise, one that I think is about to get a little confusing. This story is probably a little more confusing than it needs to be, too, often because there's just too much going on. I'm not sure that's a complaint because it might be what makes the whole thing pretty damn entertaining.

Vera Farmiga reprises her role as that guy with the sideburn's wife.

Fursonas


2016 documentary

Rating: 11/20

Plot: A look at the lifestyle and politics of Furrydom.

With anything like this, you hope it's not exploitative. And you hope it's entertaining. There's a fine line between those two, and I'm not sure filmmaker Dominic Rodriquez, who puts himself on camera far too much in this movie, is careful enough. It's not clear what his motives are exactly. This does a good job explaining why Furries do what they do, but it seems like that's pretty easy to figure out anyway. There's a conflict involving some Furry infighting that becomes almost interesting, but nothing is ever resolved and it's unclear who the villain is. The focus in the second half of the documentary on that conflict seems like an excuse to show people in their Furries garb mowing their lawn or talk about how it's not really possible to have sex while in costume.

I really like that poster though.

One from the Heart


1981 drama

Rating: 13/20

Plot: Tired of each other, a pair of lovebirds in Las Vegas venture out in search of new companions.

Here's another one that I've owned the soundtrack to for years without ever seeing the movie. That's because it's all songs composed by Tom Waits and performed by him and Crystal Gayle. There are some great Waitsian lines here and there, and they both sing pretty, but the piano-based tunes about heartbreak and nocturnal ennui all kind of sound like each other. It's not something I've listened to much.

Coppola claims that this finished product does not reflect his artistic vision which explains the results. I'm not so sure I believe him. The main problems with this movie are very weak character and story development. The characters are a pair of lovable losers played by Teri Garr, whom Coppola seems most interested in showing in various stages of undress, and Frederick Forrest. In some ways, they're just fine as a typical late-70s/early-80s couple, drawn to the artificiality and neon of that particular time period. They're nondescript and antsy. At the same time, they're a little bland, and I don't think the script does them many favors. It definitely doesn't help transform them into anything fleshier than a soap opera character. And although there's a conflict, it doesn't really develop into anything that anybody is going to care about.

That might be because the visuals in this are such a distraction. It's a pleasant distraction, but the appeal, early on, becomes less about the story and these characters--even when Teri Garr is a little naked--and more on the gorgeous colors, the artificial Sin City that Coppola constructed on a soundstage, and the fascinating transitions from one character or setting to another. Visually, this is good enough to be worth a watch.

Also, if you're a Nastassja Kinksi or Harry Dean Stanton completist, you probably need to see this. Or Tom Waits since he's got a cameo as a trumpet player. I don't think he plays the trumpet.

I Am Not Your Negro


2016 documentary

Rating: 16/20

Plot: James Baldwin died before finishing a project on Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. This documentary uses text from that unfinished project, Baldwin interviews, and archival footage to finish it.

I didn't even need to watch this because I don't even see color.

I'm sure there are some ignorant but well-meaning human beings who might say that, and those people are precisely the people who do need to see this. This reminds us that "not seeing color" isn't the right thing to do at all; indeed, the right thing to do is to see color, see it in its historical context and in the middle of present ongoing turmoil and oppression.

I teach an adult basic education class and was having a conversation with one of my students who is from some country in South America. I try not to ask them directly where my students from other countries are from because it's not a question I have to put up with as a white guy and it just doesn't seem fair. He became a citizen in the 90s, has traveled in Canada and Europe, and was in various parts of the United States before eventually settling in Indiana. He told me--in the most non-racist way this could sound--that he sees a lot of blacks as lazy because they're unwilling to work hard and make their lives better. My argument was that his assessment was unfair because it takes away 200 years of context. He acknowledged that things were bad in the past, but I couldn't get him to see that all of that stuff in the past began a heinous series of cause-and-effects that have led to the present, a present that still contains a lot of people who do not want blacks to have the same opportunities as whites. I brought up teachers and how studies show that a lot of us who would never consider ourselves racist might have lowered expectations for black students without realizing how damaging that can be. I brought up how popular culture doesn't provide nearly as many black heroes for children to look up to. I brought up a lot of things as we chatted for about forty-five minutes and ignored double negatives and verb tense, nothing really changing his mind and nothing really changing my mind. He's a nice guy, but I probably should have stuck to the grammar.

I'm far from an expert on any of this, but I'm happy that I'm at least aware. And that's what this movie is all about--making people aware. It does it in an almost confrontational way that I imagine would annoy its target audience, but I'm not sure it has a choice there. There are moments too visually powerful to ignore, a barrage of imagery that people have seen time and time again, and Baldwin's words that often dig deep into the viewer's conscience. A lot of the more powerful moments involve juxtaposition. The narration of a film about the beauty of America is heard over images of the Watts riots, for example. And it builds to three troubling climaxes--the murders of Evers, Malcolm X, and King, Jr., all three who were friends of Baldwins.

Samuel L. Jackson acts as Baldwin's voice. He's not the Jackson we're accustomed to hearing, not the one who says "motherfuckers" all the time, and I wonder if I even would have known it was him if I didn't know it was him going in.

Three powerful quotes sum up what should be learned from this film.

"The story of the negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story."
"Not everything faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced."
"History is not the past. It is our present."

I was extraordinarily naive when Obama was sworn in a little over eight years ago as our first black president. It's a little embarrassing how naive I was, little old white me sitting in Indiana and thinking everything was going to suddenly be just fine now. This is a sobering reminder that we think we've come a whole lot farther than we actually have and that what we continue to refuse to face is likely what will keep America from ever being truly great. My fear is that this will only succeed in preaching to the choir, that bunch of liberal American history revisionist snowflakes who don't really care about the country.

Masterminds


2016 comedy

Rating: 13/20

Plot: An armored truck driver is convinced to pull off one of the biggest heists in history.

Several times during this movie, I asked myself the following question: "Why the hell am I laughing at this?"

When I saw a preview for this before some other movie last year, I thought it looked pretty funny. It kind of came and went and I forgot all about it until seeing it there on Netflix. I didn't have high expectations, but I like a lot of what Zach Galifianakis does, sort of have a thing for Kristen Wiig even though I know I shouldn't, and know in my heart that Owen Wilson has never made a bad movie. Part of me had no choice but to have fun watching this stupid movie just because of how much fun everybody involved seemed to be having. Are they having more fun and likely laughing on set more than most viewers? Yes, probably. But there's still an enthusiasm here that I at least appreciated.

When this Jared Hess movie depends on more subtle quirks, it lands. There's some broad slapstick, a few fart jokes, a disgusting Montezuma's Revenge pool gag, and similar cases of monkey business that made me wonder what I was doing with my life, but there's a lot in this that's genuinely funny. The main joke, of course, is that this is based on a true story but is far too ludicrous to retain any amount of credibility. It's like the trio of screenwriters weren't content with just finding one of those "stranger than fiction" real-life stories and decided to really stretch the limits. It doesn't exactly work as a narrative, and the characters are a little too flat to ever be anything you can really care about, but it does succeed in being funny.

I'm sure if I watched this on another day, I would really hate it. So be warned.

Queen of Katwe


2016 chess movie

Rating: 14/20

Plot: A girl from Uganda learns how to play chess and then gets really good at it.

I had tried to inspire students in my class with Phiona's story by having them read parts of the ESPN Magazine article this was based on. It didn't work. The story presented in the movie is roughly the same, and it is an inspiring story of overcoming obstacles and persistence. However, it's a paint-by-numbers situation, a Mickey Mouse-tainted production that never really feels all that realistic to me. Ugandan drama unfolds like Disney live action drama. The chess, despite a few nifty combinations that are shown, also doesn't seem that real. Admittedly, I haven't played in a chess tournament for a long time. One game seemed especially unrealistic.

Of course, if the chess and the tournaments were more realistic, it would have been boring for most audiences. It probably would have been more boring for me, too. This gets the points across, albeit in that Disneyfied vanilla way, without the need for the chess.

Solid performances made up for the grating music.

Is it just me or are there a lot of chess movies? Keep in mind, this is from somebody who used to play a lot of chess.