“All are punish’d” – Prince Escalus
from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Louis CK’s newest drama Horace and Pete, tinged with a few laughs, serves as a vehicle to take America to task. No group is excluded from the blame of where we are presently situated; the elderly, Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millenials are equally shown in their most harsh and unflattering light. The tropes of those groups are well-examined and illustrate the quesy unease and fracturing of our warped idea of America. The way in which CK expounds on the entropy of a nation which holds itself in the highest egocentric regard is through a day at a hundred year old bar in Brooklyn, NY. Utilizing a stage play atmosphere with traditional sitcom camera work, this episode expresses the multitude of caustic issues which are crippling Americans on micro and macro levels. Featured players in this episode include Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Edie Falco, Jessica Lange, Steven Wright, Aidy Bryant, Nick di Paolo and Kurt Metzger to name only a few of this intense cast. Issues ranging from the chaos of the Republican presidential debates, the injurious blood-sucking of the medical insurance cabal, the scars of generations of families repeating abuse and abandonment, are all laid bare on the table with no cushion. To speak in more detail would diminish the utter surprise and bewilderment which the episode produces. This is a series which America needs, even if it hurts to observe and digest the truth.
Watch Horace and Pete through Louis CK’s website. Only $5; a bargain if there ever was one.
In the north of Canada lives a little girl named Crystal who loves playing sports, as most children do. Despite Crystal’s enthusiasm for athletics, she is denied a place to play, simply due to biology and her school’s antiquatedly rigid definition of gender. In the Turn, directed by Erica Tremblay, is a documentary which marks Crystal’s challenging journey growing up as a transgendered girl, along with the heartening stories of a league of transgendered people who find community, acceptance and the chance to kick-ass through the sport of roller derby. The athletes profiled offer contrasting perspectives on how queer people live out their lives in a world dominated by cisgendered culture. The results are often grim, as in the case of Crystal’s struggles being accepted by her peers and how this affects her youthful worldview grievously. In whole, the emboldened spirit and optimism of the roller derby players and their encouragement of Crystal’s desire to compete are truly joyful. The humour and happiness of the transgendered athletes makes In the Turn a welcome confident picture that life can be normal for all, even when the stakes are stacked so high against a person at life’s outset. As one roller derby player remarks, “There’s a boring, boring life at the end of the rainbow.” This heartwarming documentary makes one believe this will be the future for Crystal and other kids like her; one of acceptance, compassion, love and of course, combative, adrenaline-inducing sports.
Brandy Burre was a featured player on seasons Three and Four of The Wire, as political consultant Theresa D’Agostino, navigating the combative landscape of Baltimore’s bureaucracy. Years later Brandy remains an artist who similarly maneuvers herself through the difficulties of raising children, finding fulfillment in romance and continuing her career as an actress. Actress (2014), directed by Robert Greene, is a documentary which explores Brandy’s life negotiating differing social worlds with a hallucinatory gaze. Arresting images of the actress and her surroundings invite the audience inside the world of an artist; the shifting haze of reality they mediate to share their gifts with us, as well as finding a balance towards personal contentment.
The signature Scorsese-voice-over narration is delivered by broker Jordan Belfort(Leonardo DiCaprio) in The Wolf of Wall Street which guides the viewer through his incredible rise to wealth starting the in late 1980’s to his later fall. Through shady stock dealings and money laundering conducted by his raunchy, raucous, debauched company Belfort lives a life of scamming and adrenaline chasing. There isn’t a drug that Belfort doesn’t ingest with gusto and frightening frequency or a woman either. The narrative voice-over device recalls the final scene of Goodfellas in which Ray Lilotta breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the audience. That technique is employed in this film right off the bat, which leads to it not being as powerful. Perhaps the light treatment of the story is due to the nearly unbelievable amount of partying the brokers engage in. The film abounds with prostitutes and cocaine depicted with filthy abandon. If the framing wasn’t so well done some might dare call this smutty. The ensemble cast is very entertaining, especially the unexpected inclusion of Joanna Lumley who slyly winks at her Absolutely Fabulous past. This film has an ambiguous theme of greed being destructive all the while making it look like a(mostly) grand old time. Watch The Wolf of Wall Street to see DiCaprio; his performance after ingesting antique quaaludes is physical comedic dynamite.
Watching this infamous piece of cinema from 1976 is exhausting, but not in the way you’d think. The plot, based on a true story, isn’t too complicated: Sada Abe (Eiko Matsuda), a comely servant at an inn in 1930’s Japan becomes involved in a torrid love affair with the master of the house, Kichizo Ishida (Tatsuya Fuji). He pursues, she demurs, then the power flips, she dominates and ultimately kills him. This story is told in a repetitive manner which becomes draining of your attention. It’s all very well planned out; each scene moving the plot forward, lovely surroundings, and it’s incredibly, insanely sexually explicit. Nothing much is left out; it’s stunning in the forwardness and the great acting displayed. That’s the trick; Matsuda and Fuji’s performances are heartfelt, terrifying, moving, and they just happen to also be having sex. It’s jarring throughout; I’m not going to claim that watching this is not unsettling. There is a lot of imagery that is highly upsetting, but not in a standard pornographic mode. Elder sex, food, toys, orgies; you have it all but it feels like it should be in this film. The true story of two people who engage in risky public sex while drinking lots of sake can be explicit in content if produced well, which Nagisa Oshima did. The audience for this film is limited; many would feel squeamish to watch alone or with others and many would find it boring. What would generally be considered pornography becomes banal when filmed with an intent on story in mind and attention to detail. Give this a look if you want a glancing take on the changing modes of Japanese society in the 1930’s intercut with an amazing amount of blatant real sex and terrible violence.
Stories We Tell is a documentary directed by Sarah Polley about her family which explores the mysteries of memory. This is a mesmerizing story told through interviews with her loved ones; the center being held by an amazing narrative provided by her father Michael. The documentary shifts and moves into areas one would not expect, with Polley maintaining an always critical eye towards what she is trying to portray. Few documentaries I have watched have such deft power of revelation without aiming to be sappy or shocking. This documentary flows exquisitely, with such care given towards the participants that it is a triumph of love and understanding for Polley. The stories which comprise a family are often bittersweet but no less wonderful and magical, which this film conveys with acceptance. This is a documentary which is subtle, calm and reflects on the complexity of life through an ordinary family, which in turn makes one realize that no family is ordinary. All of our stories are intertwined and produce beauty and life.
Room 237 is a documentary of film clips from Stanley Kubrick’s films plus others which stitch together the voices of fans of The Shining who put forth various musings about the veiled meanings contained within. The disembodied viewers contend that Kubrick intended The Shining to be about the genocide of the Native Americans, a study of the Holocaust or conversely a confession from Kubrick about his apparent staging of the moon landing. The many ideas and theories point at small details in the set and movement of the camera to bolster dubious claims about Kubrick’s true intent. Pointing out the confusion of the set as a way of causing unease in the audience, which may be missed without rigorous repeat viewings, is interesting but not well-informed. The commentators lift the film up to a pedestal that is deserved yet completely dismiss the very real possibility that Kubrick was simply a good student of film history. The complex sets and symbols of Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad are mirrored and alluded to in The Shining, yet that glaring similarity is not acknowledged. The reverent and obsessive dissection becomes grating and borderline ridiculous; for example running the film simultaneously backwards and forwards to find some mysterious hidden meaning from Kubrick. It’s the equivalent of finding connections between The Wizard of Oz and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It’s fun but it doesn’t have intention; the audience is giving added meaning where there may be none.