Saturday, August 15, 2020

Movie Reviews: Galveston

directed by Melanie Laurent

This 2018 neo-noir movie was the English language directorial debut of Melanie Laurent. You may remember her from her role in Inglorious Basterds as Shoshanna, the Jewish cinema owner, who is seeking revenge on the Nazis for murdering her family. Apparently Laurent is something of a Renaissance woman, being a director, actress and singer among other things. On the surface the Galveston movie may seem familiar to you.
After a chance encounter a bad man feels obligated to defend a broken angel of a woman from even worse people. In so doing he may rediscover his own humanity, find redemption and/or even find the love that he has convinced himself he doesn't need, previously lost, or will never have. And as in many films of this type a road trip is included. So yes, we've all likely seen that story before. 

Galveston follows that basic outline before deviating. This film was an emotional gut-punch because it defied typical Hollywood conventions even as it teased the viewer into thinking that they would be upheld. The best way I can describe this film visually is that it hearkens back to some late sixties early seventies films. Things are literally very dark on screen at times, which reflects some of the characters and the decisions that they make. 

This is not a Hollywood action film. No one gets shot in the shoulder and declares in a deadpan manner "It went straight through. I'll be fine." When people get hurt, physically or emotionally, they stay hurt for a while. 

Laurent takes her time establishing character reactions and feelings. There's a fair amount of silence throughout the film as we watch people react to each other, express feelings, or just survive ordeals. This film is based on the novel of the same name by Nick Pizzolatto (creator of True Detective), who also wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym. I think I would like to read that book now. Have you ever had a job where your boss doesn't like you? That's not good. It can be worse if you are unaware of your supervisor's ire.

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Outpost

The Outpost
directed by Rod Lurie
This is a war movie based on a non-fiction book by Jake Tapper that details the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh between Afghanistan Taliban forces and US Army forces. 

If you are into war movies you will like this film, no doubt. If you are not into war movies, this film won't really be your cup of tea. 

That said although there is violence aplenty, a great deal of the film details the boredom and frustration of the isolated American soldiers, the stress they feel and their distaste for what appear to be foolish or even contradictory orders. But orders are orders. 

The US brain trust at the time apparently felt that it needed to have a lighter touch in Afghanistan while simultaneously maintaining the ability to respond quickly and decisively to Taliban activity. That might have been a good idea, strategically. But the implementation of that went wrong at Combat Outpost Keating.

One of the stated objectives of the troop at Combat Outpost Keating was to engage the local population in community building and thus turn the locals against the Taliban. The other objective was to kill Taliban. These two goals could occasionally be in conflict since many of the locals were Taliban or at least sympathetic to Taliban. 

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Hagia Sophia Becomes A Mosque

Something that remains near constant across time and cultures is that when one group of people successfully invades, dominates, displaces, or conquers another group of people, members of the victorious group often, not always but often, decide to build their important political, social, or religious buildings and monuments on top of those of the defeated peoples, change the functions of those older buildings to something more in line with the values of the winning side, or just gleefully destroy the older structures altogether. 

It's a spike of the ball in the end zone complete with touchdown dance. It's hanging on the basketball rim after a particularly vicious dunk. It's watching the baseball soar out of the stadium, glaring at the pitcher, flipping the bat and taking a slow jaunt around the bases. In other words, it's something specifically designed to let the other group know that they lost and there's not a damn thing they can do about it. It's not a very nice thing to do. And that's the entire point. 

It's not often remarked upon or noted but Islam like Christianity, has its own history of invasion, conquest and imperialism. The Turks, who are originally from Central Asia, not only conquered the region known as Anatolia, now modern Turkey, but also much of Eastern Europe, including the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine), Constantinople, renamed Istanbul. 

Movie Reviews: The Big Town

The Big Town
directed by Ben Bolt
This 1987 neo-noir film wasn't earth shattering in terms of story, acting, or direction. The viewer can call out most of the twists and turns ahead of time. I still found it entertaining. 

A fatherless young man has an awesome once in a life time skill. Supported and trained by his enigmatic father replacement figure the young man decides he's ready for the big time. Becoming (in)famous the Kid proceeds to shock and awe his rivals while making time with two attractive ladies. 

One lady is a good girl, the other not so much. The Kid must determine which woman is good for him and not just good to him. The Kid learns that people aren't always what they seem. Eventually the Kid must make some life and death moral choices. 

This movie's brash young man is J.C. "Cully" Cullen (Matt Dillon, who apparently has aged only slightly in the intervening thirty three years: good genes and clean living or deals with Infernal Powers?), a small town Indiana gambler and gas station worker who wants more. 

Although his mother discourages it, Cully loves hearing stories of gambling and fun times in Chicago from his mentor, Carl Hooker (Don Francks) who, along with Cully's father, once ran with the Windy City's gamblers. 

Hooker has looked out for Cully ever since Cully's wastrel father died. Hooker thinks that Cully is the best craps player he's ever seen. Hooker believes Cully will be far better than Hooker ever was. Cully quits his job. Armed with Hooker's lucky silver dollar, Hooker's enthusiastic support, and his mother's reluctant approval, Cully departs for Chicago. 

Movie Reviews: The Rental

The Rental
directed by Dave Franco
The Rental is Dave Franco's directorial debut. Franco wrote it with director/actor Joe Swanberg (The Sacrament, You're Next).

It is inspired in part by some dodgy experiences that Franco had in hotels or private rented homes as well as some even more negative experiences that some of Franco's non-white friends or acquaintances had when trying to rent lodgings. 

It is true that it is illegal to refuse to do business with someone because of their race, religion or ethnic origin. It's also true that such discrimination can be difficult to prove. This discrimination remains so common that often it's not worth the time or trouble to take someone to court, which is usually what the offenders hope will be the case. 

Franco and his co-writers combine those elements and mix them up with a few more generic thriller cliches to make a quality story that doesn't set the genre on fire. It was fun to watch and had the requisite misdirection. I think that because the cast was small with a very tight focus the viewer was able to understand the characters better. That doesn't necessarily mean that the viewer will sympathize with the characters. 

I thought two of them did despicable things. The other two are only marginally better. But they are very real. People make mistakes. People act selfishly. If you dig into anyone's past you're going to find a few things that might give you pause. So it goes. 

Movie Reviews: The Hunted (1948)

The Hunted (1948)
directed by Jack Bernhard
This is a workmanlike noir movie. It hits most of the major noir themes, alienation, loneliness, untrustworthy femme fatales, uncaring or corrupt officials and of course a few criminals. 

But it rushes through all of those plot points, rarely giving its two leads a chance to bite down into them. It looks great though.

From a purely visual standpoint if someone wanted to know what film noir looked like, you could show them this film. The framing of light and shadow, the blinds, the darkness, the streetlights, all let the viewer know that he or she is in an untrustworthy world. This could have been a better movie with a larger budget and stronger secondary actors. 

Johnny Saxon (Preston Foster) is a world weary homicide detective. He's just learned that his former special rider Laura Mead (Belita) has been paroled from serving her prison sentence for her role in a robbery. It seems that not only were Johnny and Laura an item but Johnny was the one who arrested Laura. 

Despite her protestations of innocence Johnny thought Laura was guilty. He apparently didn't even bother to visit her during her stint in the Big House. As you might imagine this has caused some strain in their relationship. Laura has sworn to murder Johnny and her lawyer Simon Rand (Pierre Watkin) once she gets out. And since she's out her parole officer feels legally and morally required to warn the two men. 

DJ Fluker Victim of Domestic Violence from Girlfriend Kimberly Davis

Baltimore Ravens lineman DJ Fluker is 6'5" and well over 325 lbs. As a professional football player he performs in a sport of unrelenting aggression which may take years off his life and/or leave him with brain damage. 

Fluker is expected to bench at least 300 lbs, squat over 400 lbs, and play through all sorts of pain, including broken bones. Absent immediate self-defense I don't see myself becoming violent with him. And yet his girlfriend Kimberly Davis apparently continually did so, slapping, punching and drawing blood. And this evidently wasn't the first time that she had done so.

REISTERSTOWN, Md. (SBG) — A Baltimore Ravens lineman has allegedly been a repeated victim of domestic abuse, according to police documents. According to police reports obtained by WBFF, D.J. Fluker says he has been the victim of several assaults over the course of his long-term relationship with Kimberly Davis, who he has a child with.

Davis was arrested following a July 13 incident at the couple’s home in Reisterstown, Maryland, after she allegedly punched Fluker in the nose over an argument over social media. The responding officer observed dried blood coming from his nose and a photo obtained by WBFF from that night shows blood on Fluker’s face. LINK

If Fluker had done the same to Davis or retaliated to her violence there would be another million editorials, tweets, blog posts, and cable segments talking about the evil NFL black ape thug and how savage he is. Fluker could become a billionaire philanthropist, cure COVID-19, cure cancer, and die bringing food to the hungry. Obituaries written would ignore all that to center his domestic violence issue.