What I wrote the last 2 weeks…

Some original Peach Fuzz content will be coming this week, I promise. Also, a few longer interviews and some interesting features on the various publications are in the works. In the meantime, I’ve been writing for a few different sites as always.

For Cinema Sentries, I wrote about Ecuador’s Oscar submission for International feature La Mala Noche, the documentary about the first African-American NHL player Willieand the animated feature about Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s style and experiences in Buñuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles.

For Ready Steady Cut, I interviewed director Riley Stearns of The Art of Self-Defense, as well as a review of Harriet. I continued my NewFest coverage with reviews of And Then We Danced, Top 3, and Tu Me Manques.

For The Playlist, I did trailer reviews of Knives Out and Bad Boys For Life.

For Film Inquiry, I reviewed the animated feature Arctic Dogs.

For The Film Experience, I reviewed the Edward Norton-directed Motherless Brooklyn.

Look out for new stuff on the home site coming soon!

NYFF Review: The luxury of introspection in ‘Pain and Glory’

Pedro Almodóvar has long been considered one of the world’s greatest working directors. He makes films that matter, winning most of the prestigious awards that film society deems important. He’s been tapped as one of Spain’s best filmmakers of all time, a lofty title with heavy expectations.

Almodóvar’s new film, Pain and Glory, has been praised by critics as a steady film rooted in the director’s own life, causing heartstrings to be pulled early and often. Pain and Glory stars Antonio Banderas in an arguably career best performance as director Salvador Mallo, successful in his own right. Almodóvar’s affinity for Penélope Cruz isn’t broken either, as she’s features as young Mallo’s mother.

The film is a moving piece of cinema, featuring unabashed honesty, an important queer character, and lots of drugs. It also give you exactly what the title says: tons of pain and a glimmer of glory. It’s a slow drama, with Banderas holding you captive during every minute of the timeline.

It’s fascinating and Almodóvar chose to make this film. It is far from his first film and very unlikely that it will be his last film. Almodóvar turned 70 this year. He’s been making films since the mid 1970s. He’s a master filmmaker that still is at the top of his game, yet Pain and Glory tells a different story if we’re looking at it with a literal lens.

Due to Almodóvar’s continued success, he had the opportunity to make a film like Pain and Glory. Most filmmakers will never have a chance to make a film as introspective as this one starring Banderas. Almodóvar isn’t most filmmakers. He’s earned this opportunity.

It is a luxury, though. Almodóvar’s semi-autobiographical story is being seen by audiences all over the world. It’s a cultural, critical, and commercial hit. Part of the reason is because of the movie’s greatness, but there’s a large part due to Almodóvar’s name splashed across the front of every poster.

The ability and the luxury to look inwards to a captive audience is something very few in the world would be able to pull off and easily find funding for. The list includes the likes of Martin Scorsese, Stephen Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola, and a few select others. It’s immense company, and Almodóvar tell this story in only a way that he can.

As we grow older, it’s natural for us to reflect backwards. It’s natural for us to look at all of the moments in our lives that were significant, or that tilted the scales in one direction or another. Letting the world see those moments play out on the big screen requires an honesty most of us don’t have, and a luxury most of us will never be given.

Pain and Glory is best watched with an open mind and an open heart. For young people, Banderas, the man known for Spy Kids and The Legend of Zorro, will surprise you in the best way imaginable. Almodóvar will make thousands of fans in the next few months. His introspection isn’t for everyone, but his aptitude for displaying his struggles in a meaningful and relatable way is one of a kind.

★★★☆

‘Gemini Man’ is a flashy gimmick that can’t stand on its own four feet

The idea of watching two Will Smiths battle each other for two hours is enticing. The trailer was enough for me to head on into the theater on opening night. The movie poster, flashing multiple Smiths and promising epic, superhero-esque showdowns, was a bit of icing on top. It was hard to turn down this movie, especially watching it on a big screen.

Gemini Man, Ang Lee’s directorial disaster, is a fun movie, but only part of the time. That’s the issue. It brings together elements of a successful movie: Will Smith being charming, Will Smith being an action hero, Benedict Wong being reliable, Mary Elizabeth Winstead being a badass, Ang Lee being a visionary, and even Game of Thrones’s David Benioff being a main-stage writer.

The movie opens on Smith, playing Henry Brogan, a fantastic name for an action movie lead. He gets his 72nd confirmed kill by shooting someone long-distance on a moving train. He goes back to his home in Georgia, though not one person in this film has a Southern accent, and puts up a birdhouse. He’s an animal man.

So much of this movie is ridiculous, and the chief problems are with the script, but we’ll trudge on. He cracks open a Stella, as Brogan has to be a beer man, and is set to retire from a life of governmental assassin work.

Smith soon finds out that he didn’t kill a terrorist, but rather a biologist! Then, his friends die, he gets hunted by his own government agency, grabs Danny (Winstead), and we’re off. A few fantastic things happen in the first 30 minutes.

  1. Brogan is seen drinking Stella Artois, Budweiser, and Hoegaarden. He’s drinking beer throughout the movie, and in the final scene, Budweiser boxes are blown to smithereens by gunfire. Lots of beer in this movie.
  2. When Brogan wakes up to find that his house is being surrounded, he’s fully clothed. When he wakes up Danny, she’s fully clothes, yet he says to her, “Get dressed.” That’s actually hilarious and no one can say otherwise.
  3. Brogan and his friends always use the same line when they cheers when taking a shot. “To the next war, which is no war.” How can you not love that?
  4. Ray Charles’ “I Got A Woman” plays and it’s truly not relevant but just a great song.

None of the above make this a better movie in terms of cinematic storytelling, but they do make the experience much more enjoyable.

The rest of the story plays out without much surprise: Brogan begins being hunted by Junior, his younger clone, and they have a few huge fights. Brogan convinces Junior that he’s being used and then they team up to take down the bad guy. One of the fights deserves a bit more attention though: the motorcycle chase.

The motorcycle chase is the best scene of the film and once it’s over, you wish you could watch it again. The younger clone, Junior, chases Brogan through side streets and busy streets and on rooftops, all while both are riding motorcycles. It’s fast-paced, fun, and entertaining as can be. It’s action movies at their best.

Outside of the that chase scene, the rest of the film ultimately falls flat. The gimmick of two Will Smiths begins to fade and you’re wishing the runtime was 20 minutes fewer. The dialogue is formulaic and the characters aren’t given a chance to grapple with the questions that could’ve been asked. Smith isn’t allowed the opportunity, by Ang Lee, to breathe life into either of the two roles, regardless of his commitment and stardom within the film.

The acting isn’t bad by any means by any of the main or supporting characters, and the cloning technology didn’t take me out of the film until the final scene. The action sequences were big, as promised, but the payoff was minimal. Our connection to Brogan, to Junior, and to this world was small and untethered. Not even a third Will Smith brought me the joy it should have.

The Will Smiths deserved better.

★★☆☆

 

What I wrote this week…

On this site, I wrote about the TV show Scrubs and how it’s perfect mix of drama and comedy led to some of my tears being shed.

For Cinema Sentries, I wrote a review of the indie horror flick Harpoon, a gory, messy movie that is more fun than I couldn’t imagined.

For Filmotomy, I finished up my coverage of the Femme Filmmakers Festival with four short reviews.

For Ready Steady Cut, I wrote a review of the new Netflix comedy Ready to Mingle and conducted an interview with the director of Sea of Shadows, a Sundance documentary hit.

Finally, I wrote my first article for The Film Experience, a review of the divisive Joker.

Many more reviews coming this week about the 57th New York Film Festival.

‘Scrubs’ made my cry. Here’s why.

When I was 12 years old, the Scrubs episode titled ‘My Last Words’ premiered. There are a few different storylines of the episode, but only one that this article is discussing: Turk and J.D. talk with a man during the last hours of his life. Scrubs never did mess around with titles and ‘My Last Words’ is exactly what it sounds like.

Things to note:

  1. ‘My Last Words’ was the back half of a two-episode premiere, jammed together with ‘My Jerks’, an episode that kicked off Season 8, the last great season of the show. ‘My Jerks’ is fine, but it lacks an emotional punch and is playing up to more laughs. Watching these two episodes together does create a tremendous building of emotion though, and so I stand by that decision, whoever made it.
  2. These two episodes were the first to be shown on ABC, after the show moved networks from its longstanding home of NBC.
  3. As I stated, I was 12 years old and about to turn 13, which means I was in 7th grade. Very impressionable and turbulent time for a kid, and I was unsure of what I liked or why I liked it.
  4. It felt like Scrubs was always on during this time of my life. I was constantly watching the show, though I wasn’t always keeping up on a week-by-week basis. It was an all-consuming phase.
  5. I found out that 6.7 million people watched this episode. If we say that one out of every two people cried, which is likely, that means at least 3.35 million people cried at the same time that I cried. That is just wild to think about.
  6. Scrubs had already been going for close to a decade. It started in 2001 and this was 2009.

This episode in particular

Scrubs came out 18 years ago, two days ago. Dr. Cox wouldn’t be proud of my tardiness. Each episode followed a pattern: happy, funny stuff to start, a little bit of heavy/sad news in the middle given usually by a J.D. voiceover, more funny stuff, and then really heavy/sad news at the end given by another J.D. voiceover. Shea Serrano details it with some hilarious eloquence for a piece at The Ringer.

Because of the above pattern, you can brace yourself for the sad times. You know that they’re coming and they become less sad. That is how it works for almost all situations in life, except for one: death.

The show has never shied away from death, as it’s featured in dozens of episodes. Patients dying is a regular part of working at a hospital and I’m assuming creator Bill Lawrence wanted us to know that.

In this particular episode, Turk and J.D., perennial best friends played by real-life best friends Donald Faison and Zach Braff, are having their annual steak night. It’s a big occasion with a song and dance.

They are also dealing with interns, one of them being a fresh Aziz Ansari. But that’s about it. Several main characters are not even mentioned or shown in the course of the episode, an oddity for the show.

This episode is fully about Turk, J.D., and their talks with a patient named George Valentine. Glynn Turman was tapped to play Valentine and boy was that a good choice by the casting director.

Valentine is in Sacred Heart because he’s dying and these are his final hours. He has a terminal illness and is going to drift off into an endless sleep on this particular night. Steak night night. This episode doesn’t have all of the funny parts of other episodes. There aren’t lots of “lighten the mood” moments. It’s about death and that’s it.

Why I cried

When J.D. finds out why George is in the hospital, he says, “We think of hospitals as places where people go to heal, but they’re also places where people go to die.” Unpacking the gravity of that sentence is an entire different article, but it hits you as if you forgot you were standing on the tracks.

Scrubs does that to you, as you often forget the bleakness of situations because you’re too busy laughing at “Giant Doctor” or Dr. Cox’s demeaning remarks or J.D. daydreaming once again. You don’t forget in this episode. Upon rewatch, it was the same arresting feeling I felt 10 years ago, and knowing the end didn’t make watching it any easier.

The three talk about death and how none of them are scared of it. The doctors have lost their fear over time, and George has had a good, long life. All he wants is an ice cold beer before he goes.

When J.D. and Turk find out that George doesn’t have family coming to stay with him in his final hours, they stay instead. “When you get down to it, taking care of a patient means more than anything, even steak night,” says J.D. It’s the reason they’re such good doctors and after seven seasons of learning, they’ve grown not just as medical professionals, but as people as well.

They pull up chairs and sit with George, talking about their fathers, their college days, and their views of an afterlife. J.D. even gives a rundown of his and Turk’s first day in heaven, a small respite to the sadness clouding the screen.

“I’ll tell you one thing. I sure didn’t think I’d go like this,” says George, finally speaking up after letting the two friends spout on. George’s entire life “boils down to these four pages”, or his will. He’s grappling with death. We see a man struggle in (almost) real time, a focus on a singular death in a show filled with dying.

Finally, someone says what every audience member is thinking. First J.D. pipes up, and then Turk affirms.

“George, I’m terrified of dying.”

“Me too.”

It’s a moment I’ve remembered for the last 10 years, and a reason I’ve always defended Scrubs. The comedy might miss at times and some dialogue might not work in today’s climate, but scenes like the on in “My Last Words” are unforgettable. They’re so important to watch and experience, and to see them while you’re young, it makes them all the more memorable.

This episode of Scrubs was the first time that a television show or a movie made me cry. I remember tearing up, curled up on our old green couch and covered by a homemade, blue-and-white checkered blanket. It wasn’t the waterworks, but tears were shed, and this so-called comedy was the reason.

It sounds weird but I didn’t realize that fiction could make you cry. I didn’t understand the power of film and television. Maybe I just didn’t allow other stories to affect me, too closed off by how I thought I was supposed to react. I’m not completely sure why this put me over the edge. I felt the wave crashing upon me once again though, 10 years and lots of life experiences later.

Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” is still, and always will be, one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard, a go-to when life takes a wrong turn, when disappointment hits or when heartbreak comes.

J.D. says something though at the end of the episode that has particularly stuck with me.

“I would just hope that my last thought was a good one.”

George’s last thought?

“That beer tasted great.”

Scrubs, thank you for everything.

What I wrote this week…

Busy, busy, busy week for the young Peach Fuzz Critic. On this site, I wrote about Ad Astra, James Gray’s space odyssey featuring the everlasting Brad Pitt. I attempted to dissect the many questions Gray is posing and some of the answers to those questions.

On Filmotomy, I wrote a few pieces for the Femme Film Fest, a fantastic online festival celebrating female voices in movies. I covered Chloe Zhao’s gorgeous heartbreak in The Rider, while reviewing three separate short films: Earth People Words by Dayna Reggero, In Full Bloom by Maegan Houang, and The Law of Averages by Elizabeth Rose.

On Cinema Sentries, I wrote about Los Tigres del Norte and their historic trip to California’s Folsom Prison. I watched a little film called Koko-di Koko-da, a Swedish horror-comedy-thriller flick that was just fantastic.

That’s about it! Thanks for following along. I’ll be doing this little recap each and every week so just you (mostly I) can remember the writing I did over the last seven days.

Cheers!

We shouldn’t forget about ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’

I saw Joe Talbot’s directorial debut The Last Black Man in San Francisco about three months ago.  It was a Sundance award-winner with rave reviews, an A24 darling, and high on my list of 2019 movies I needed to watch on the big screen. I saw it on opening weekend, which was a limited release to seven theaters. My theater was filled, not packed. If it was a salad, we amounted to the croutons, not the lettuce.

What transpired over the course of the next 121 minutes left me speechless. There are several reasons a movie can transfix you. The acting can be spectacular. The cinematography can be sweeping and beautiful, finding angles you thought impossible. The story can resonate with depth that didn’t previously reside within your body. Or you can see art in a way you haven’t seen before. Talbot’s film accomplished all the above.

The 2-hour affair chronicles the futile attempts of Jimmie Fails, played by Talbot’s childhood friend and co-writer, the real-life Jimmie Fails. Both men grew up in San Francisco, soaking up the Bay Area’s gentrification even when they wished the fog would roll over the sunshine. The story is their collected experiences: their love towards a hometown and their uncertainty towards its unstoppable changes. It’s one of the most gorgeous pieces of art I’ve ever seen, and the shot of Fails dropping leaves onto Mont remains etched into my brain. Fails’ singular mission, though, unfolds like clothes thrown into the wash, locked, messy, and jumbled together with a speed that doesn’t allow your eyes to adjust.

Fails and his best friend Mont, played or rather achieved by Jonathan Majors, are in a movie-long tug-of-war to take back Fails’ childhood home, the one he believes was built by his grandfather, a Victorian mishmash of beauty in the Mission District of San Francisco. Fails’ effectiveness can’t be understated, as every scene has the feeling of a home-video, watched by an intrusive audience. There’s a power in telling your own story, a command that is rarely on display and hardly considered for opportunity.

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Currently, the film festival season is in full swing. Toronto, Venice and Telluride, along with NYFF later this month, have been vehicles for new films to garner widespread praise, gravitate performances to create Oscar-buzz, and shift the discussion to a select few directors and stories that the film community have deemed important. Last Black Man has been put in the back of the pantry, and to me, that’s a problem.

The relevance of these characters is not forced, but given to the audience. The effect of change emanated from this portrait of a hometown continues to cause me to stop on busy streets in New York City, just to remember to look at what surrounds me. I watched this film from a different state than my hometown, from a different state than my family and friends. I grew up driving up the coast to San Francisco, spending weekends there through college, appreciating the city more with each visit. It’s a painstaking painting of a city that’s been in flux for the entire 21st century.

Fails and Talbot spent close to a decade making this film. Their journey as filmmakers is as worthy of praise as their finished product. Every interview they give is inspiring for those that don’t have it all figured out. They’ve certainly become indie idols for young people across the country, especially those in the Bay Area.

fails and talbot.jpg

I’ve never watched a film that encapsulates loss like Last Black Man. As Jimmie’s frustrations burst and fester, the realization of pain and loss we’ve encountered grows stronger in each of us. It’s unshakable and for me, undeniable. It captures the emotion and realization we normally can’t put into words: when you don’t recognize your hometown, you don’t remember the roads, and your childhood home, full of the memories you made, belongs to another. The city, his home, has changed without Jimmie Fails. We’ve all been outgrown in our lives, unable to stop natural forces, unable to understand what went wrong, and desperately reaching to conjure up the past.

Jonathan Majors, as the feeble yet loving Montgomery Allen, deserves words of praise at this point. He deserved it much higher in article. Majors is remarkable, and is worthy, though not likely to be recognized, of a Best Supporting Actor nod by the Academy. His presence almost steals the movie from Fails, and it feels to be his hometown as well. He doesn’t fit in, either, and that’s what drew me to him. While Fails shows us what happens when you don’t fit into your city, Majors shows us, with immeasurable grace and ingenuity, what happens when you don’t fit into your community.

The supporting cast, Danny Glover particularly, are worthwhile in contributing to the mood of the film. An ensemble, with this many newcomers, with this talent is a feat in casting, directing, and pure opportunity. The dialogue is smart and a couple of lines are sure to be remembered by all who see the film. The chief of these being said by Fails to two griping (and new) San Francisco residents. “You can’t hate something if you didn’t love it first.” Truer words are sparsely spoken without an element of insincerity.

As big budget films with big budget actors shove into your timelines and into the larger public sphere, don’t forget about Talbot’s tale of loss. Don’t forget about Fails’ and Major’s human performances. And certainly don’t forget the way The Last Black Man in San Francisco made you feel. It’s one of the warmest love letters written this century.  It will and should last longer than the rest.

It certainly has the heart.

★★★★

The ‘Good Boys’ joyride: too recognizable and too streamable

During one of the film industry’s “worst” summers at the box office, first-time director Gene Stupnitsky’s Good Boys stood out above the rest. It broke through the flop-machine of comedies from Seth Rogen’s other project Long Shot to Mindy Kaling’s Late Night and everything in between: movies with big names that received rave reviews, yet failed to reach the audiences they hoped to snatch up.

The budget for Good Boys was $20 million. How much it made on its opening weekend? $21 million. The almost-perfect storm of Rogen’s stamp of approval, middle school humor that grosses its viewers with both sweetness and a slew of sex jokes, and a well-made trailer signifying the end of summer led to a surprise success, a feel-good film that both critics and audiences have gushed over.

It was easy and enjoyable. The performances from the bean bag boys along with the entire supporting cast were just lovely, and the ending provided a gentleness I could feel coming yet still led to a smile on my face. The ridiculousness of the boys taking sips of beer and running through crowded highways made me laugh just enough for me to leave the theater feeling it was money well spent.

Yet 20 minutes later, I couldn’t tell you all three of the main characters names. I couldn’t recall specific lines of dialogue, or even tell you what the conflict (or the overcoming of that conflict) of the story turned out to be. I forgot it almost immediately, looking back with fondness on a memory that feels vague because of its age.

It felt like a movie from my childhood, relatable in terms of the feelings associated with seeing the film and all the now disassociated scenes and songs, but not recognizable and certainly not memorable. To me, it was a Netflix movie you decide to watch because it’s simply there, and you forget the next day because it’s not in front of you anymore.

I’ve seen Good Boys before. We all have. We’ve seen it in theaters, and we’ve certainly seen it on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. Iterations of middle school boys doing dumb shit pass more frequently than we even realize. This doesn’t make it less enjoyable, nor does it make it less necessary. At this time, it might even have a larger impact in creating a ray of light on another awful news day. The originality of the bean bag boys feels a bit washed, dried, folded up, and shoved right back into the machine, and that doesn’t sit well.

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Compare this film with Booksmart for example. Both films were made with first-time directors: Stupnitsky and Olivia Wilde. Both films were released by mid-major studios: Good Universe and Annapurna. Both films are raunchy comedies focused on young friend groups having one wild day (or one wild night). Both are “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes. Both films even have doses of Molly Gordon, for good reason, peppered in.

Though differing marketing campaigns and distributors should be noted, it’s a harsh comparison once you look at the box office results. Booksmart, made by a female director and showcasing a fresh (and mostly) female cast, operating on a $6 million budget, grossed a total of $23 million after 77 days in theaters. In contrast, after 22 days in theaters, Good Boys, made by several hordes of white men, has grossed $75 million and counting. I’m glad a mid-major comedy is making money. I just think it’s the wrong one.

Not all critics lauded Stupnitsky’s film, though. It was hardly enough to garner an R-rating. The 25th “FUCK” by the bean bag boys was an endless echo. The runtime was 89 minutes yet it could have been 60, maybe even a clean 30. The heralded kissing party was, somehow, underwhelming. And I’m skeptical that these boys would even be friends.

I liked Good Boys and I look forward to half-watching it on Netflix while making dinner 3 months from now.

★★