What I am watching on TV and streaming 2018-2019

I apologize for having been absent from this blog for such a long time! In summer I was gardening, then I have been writing my novel set in Depression times, and it is jarring to keep switching times from my present to the time and space of all these movies and television. But now is time to do an Oscar opinion; I am catching up with some films I missed in theater. I did better this year of actually having seen more of the Oscar nominees! That is coming, especially after the Awards ceremony displays itself in its biases and problems. In the meantime, let me cover a few things I have been watching on the smaller screen—and thanks to the competition among Netflix, Hulu, Starz, etc. some of these are Oscar nominees. The lines blur.

MANIFEST. My main and current favorite is “Manifest,” airing on the regular network of NBC, amazingly enough. “Manifest” is the story of flight 828 which disappeared for five and a half years with everyone considered dead. Then they return, passengers and crew not having aged a day and having no idea that anything at all has happened to them! Several of these people experience “callings” –psychic voices and visions telling them to do things. The government is very interested in these people because of honest reasons? Remember Star Gate? CIA spying? Or because some OTHER deep, dark force is running the show and tracking these people for their own nefarious reasons? I like the exploration of  the ideas of telepathy, whether these powers can be used for good or evil, and the wonderful science fiction idea of what really happened here. We think of the Bermuda Triangle and lost planes and ships, of more recent planes that disappeared without a trace, or extra-terrestrial interference. There are subplots of relationships of what happens when the “dead” come back. These themes echo the idea of reincarnation perhaps, of people knowing each other yet again in different ways and why. In my opinion, this is excellent. I just hope they have something intelligent and acceptable in mind for a conclusion. Remember “Lost”? I followed it for a long time only to be disappointed in the conclusion of that. Please, I pray to each episode of “Manifest,” don’t disappoint me. The ratings are high so season one went from 13 episodes to 16 with renewal expected. Creator Jeff Rake and company have checked around just in case NBC drops them. You can feel Netflix lurking….

 

ANCIENT ALIENS.  I will never stop watching this. Previously reviewed, put out by the History Channel. I see it on Hulu and we are one season behind, but these are new episodes for me and I watch the older ones again too. I recently saw an episode from season 12 or 11 that finally discuss what these aliens might want with us. Is it for our good or our enslavement? Mostly AA tries to keep it positive from what happened in the past, how the ET set up the many brilliant advanced civilizations and indeed created the human species, but this episode finally considers what if it’s for evil reasons. Check out on other talks on YouTube and books by David Icke, Linda Moulton Howe, Dr. David Jacobs, Corey Goode, Michael Tellinger and other for some darker shades of how ET knowledge is being used against us. But on the happier side, check out Steven Greer’s work and documentaries of how ET contact is a good thing and we have nothing to fear. Previously reviewed, Geer’s “Unacknowledged” is now on Netflix and YouTube hosts frequent updates from Greer’s work.

MANIAC. A Netflix original in 10 parts, complete science fiction with a sense of dark comedy, a dystopian world set in the future. This is the American version of an earlier Norwegian series. Lots of crazy fun and imagination. I laughed at the robotic dog poop scooper, but the poor thing can tip over like a bug and need human help. Broke people sell their time listening to someone yabbering advertising to them in exchange for some pocket change or a meal. The main characters (played by Emma Stone and Jonah Hill) sell themselves to a mind game experiment testing the technology and pharma combo, run by a mad scientist (Justin Theroux). He is trying to find an “app” to determine what is wrong with a patient’s mind, this method to replace real psychiatry, which in turn would thwart his even crazier mother, (Sally Field) a hip shrink well loved by the public. To me there were themes of reincarnation echoing around why these people turned up in each other’s scripts/dreams in this experiment and what issues confront people in their real reality, like the mother and son. It was fun and engaging. Creators were Cary Joji Fukunaga and Patrick Somerville.

LOOMING TOWER. A Hulu original that started Feb. 2018, based on the book of the same name by Lawrence Wright. Rolled out each week in 10 episodes, this drama covers the rising threat of Osama bin Laden. There is rivalry between the CIA and the FBI, especially members of I-49 squad in New York and the Alec Station in DC. Due to corruption and career building, there are agents who are more interested in personal gain than their jobs. Jeff Daniels and Peter Sarsgaard star among an all-star cast. It is an exciting and frightening plot as we see all sides of the terrorists plotting the crashes of 911, the Twin Towers and government targets; the FBI and the CIA are closing in and then due to petty personal conniving, fail to figure it out and prevent the attack. Very thoughtful and sad.

OUTLANDER. 4TH Season of a series produced by Starz. I only watched it this time because it was set in North Carolina and concerned historic facts I could get my mind around instead of the Scottish rebels and English lords.  “Outlander” is the film production based on the books by Diana Gabaldon. Both the books and the series are a combination of fantasy as in time travel, history, romance and adventure. An English woman Claire (Caitriona Balfe) on her honeymoon in 1945, somehow goes through the mystical stone and launches herself out to 1743 into the Scottish highlands and various rebel campaigns. We have time traveling, reincarnation themes again, but mostly what I suspect drives this following is about romance. There are endless sex scenes with Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire.  The research and imagination are incredible in the books and the series. The North Carolina scenery and events—tumbled in there with remnants from the Scottish clans and Old World squabbles that I only partially understood, not having been an avid follower of previous seasons—seemed accurate. I can’t engage myself in a long running saga: it’s like when a friend starts telling you about the characters and events in a soap opera and your eyes glaze over. But for folks who want to time travel, look at historical events, have some vicarious love, here you go! Developed by Ronald D. Moore and produced by Sony Pictures Television and Left Bank Pictures for Starz Network. The series began on August 9, 2014 and will probably never end because Gabaldon keeps writing news books.

CASTLE ROCK. A Hulu original. This is Season One of a psychological-horror series based on Stephen King novels and developed by J.J. Abrams, produced by Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions, and distributed by Warner Brothers Television. It started July 2018. Expect total far out events coming from those two spooky guys!  Season one has ten episodes, set in the fictional Maine town of Castle Rock. Bizarre events and psychological weirdness follow. This season featured Andre Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Bill Skarsgard, Jane Levy, Sissy Spacek, and Scott Glen among many stars. Each season will dramatize another book. It has already been approved for season two, and I suspect this anthology could go on for a long time, harvesting from the wealth of King’s stories and novels.

THIS IS US. I only mention this one, offered on NBC, because it bounces you around in time with endless flashbacks and changes in point of view. It follows the Pearson family, Jack and Rebecca (Mandy Moore) and their triplets Kevin, Kate and Randal. One baby died and the parents adopted Randal, an Afro-African baby left at the fire house door. There are dramas between the couple and problems with the kids—I didn’t follow that closely until Kate claimed she killed her father. Well then, how can you not watch? But how long did we wait for Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) to die after Kate said that she killed him? It could have been a whole season! Now we have Jack ghosting in and out of the past and present in the characters’ heads. This is made worse by the constant interruption of the commercials. Whether you watch on NBC or Hulu, there are a lot of commercials! Coupled with how you are already being thrown around in time, points of view, and then commercial interruption, there are times when I don’t know what is going on. There are people who follow this with religious zeal.  This comes out by the week so you can’t get up continuity the way Netflix lets you marathon something. I’m waiting for the DVD to come out to knock out the commercials and it would be more conducive to getting it all straight in your mind. This is a very popular show, its cast and creators have been well awarded.

NEW AMSTERDAM.   Put out by NBC, a new series based on Dr. Eric Manheimer’s book on New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, based on a true story of a doctor who declared that a hospital would truly practice medicine for the patient instead of the politics. The story of how a public hospital built on good intentions goes wrong. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) comes into his fictional hospital New Amsterdam as the new Medical Director and starts throwing his weight around in a fairly absurd way, like firing the entire cardiac department for some past crime. Yet when the emergency department needs the one single doctor in charge of the cardiac department, Dr. Floyd (Jocko Sims), he always materializes, like the loaves and fishes. Or Max shows up to pronounce his wisdom, which of course he always knows what is wrong and probably speaks the language of the patient to boot! Or the doctor in charge of the ED, Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery) decides to eliminate the waiting room by slapping everyone into a bed right away so they can wait there for a doctor. (Been to any ER lately? This was too funny!) Later this doctor gets caught for her over use of her Adderall, speeding like a maniac on no sleep for days at a time and the nurses catching her mistakes. Max himself gets cancer and has to experience what a patient goes through. Yet his treatment is much nicer with his colleague, the beautiful, glamorous Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) who used to go out and do PR on television shows, making the hospital into a celebrity and fund raising. Max convinces her to actually practice medicine—just in time to treat himself, hopefully in secret—until a crisis happens and he has to tell everyone.

Although it is sort of fun to watch the medical stories, I fear this program will give people the crazy notion our hospitals will actually help you, save you, figure out what is your problem, etc. All kinds of unlikely miracles happen that I just shake my head, like no damn way! Here’s what I see coming: Max and Helen are going to hook up because Max’s wife is difficult (see early episodes, like what is her problem?) and because Helen is on the brink of freezing her eggs and she’ll no doubt see Max’s superior genes, that he should sire her baby, but no, thank god she meets a man, a doctor and we might be spared this soap-opera twist. Although the new man might have to die somehow to move the plot…..

Produced by David Schulner, Iate Dennis, Peter Horton, and Dr. Eric Manheimer himself. If the idea of this medical drama is going to be that this hospital goes to hell in a handbasket, it has a good start. I can’t, however, understand, did Dr. Manheimer write the book about his heroism, his mistakes, or about how the hospital had been ruined and he saved it? Watch with caution and remember this is a bit of fiction.

 THE PATH. When will it come back? I fear never. Its ending could suffice for a resolution, but also opened up the pathway to further exploration of how a cult can become a real religion or some whacko thing like Scientology. We have seasons 1-3, maybe no more. Previously reviewed and I loved it.

SHUT EYE.    Original   previously review. About a fake psychic who gets hit on the head and has real visions. Involved with the Mafia and the gypsy run psychic franchise, the main character and his wife try to outsmart the “corporate” scheme by running their own scam. More vicious and violent than the Path, but I liked it anyway. Be warned against the violence. If you can’t take “Breaking Bad,” you will not be able to watch this either.

 

 

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The Frankenstein Chronicles, British TV series, first aired Nov. 2015. Now streaming on Netflix, 12 episodes. Director Alex Gabassi (4 starts out of 5)

The Frankenstein Chronicles was a huge hit in Britain, designed as a re-imagining of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein. Echoing the gristly killings of Jack the Ripper, this one goes further. A river police officer, John Marlott, (played by Sean Bean; also an associate producer on the original series), pursues the mystery of corpses floating ashore, made up of body parts from missing children. He digs in to find out what is behind these macabre killings. This is in the time of grave robbing as big business to sell to the medical schools.

Marlott soon tracks down one such supplier of bodies, finding one Billy Oates (Robbie Gee), a pimp and not above hurrying the grave part along, although he claims he only delivers live children to a certain doctor—and grave-robbed dead bodies to others. A vagrant boy leads Marlot on a hunt to find a “monster” known to snatch children from the streets. Was that Billy? Home secretary Robert Peel (Tom Ward) is trying to organize a police force; he orders Marlot to investigate with the help of Constable Nightingale (Richie Campbell). Flora, who had escaped from Billy’s camp (she would have been prostituted or sold to the doctor), seeks protection with Marlot. (Robert Peel is the man credited with organizing the police system in England; hence “Bobbies” are called such after him.)

The investigation progresses, although bogged down by politics of manipulating the body business. The Anatomy Act is a plan that poor people should be the bodies for the medical schools and this would end the body snatching! If made into law, only licensed experts could practice medicine, and the deceased corpses of the poor would be donated to surgeons for practice and education. The politicians, police, doctors, and thugs are all conniving to get their way. Robert Peel thinks the murders are being done to discredit his attempt to pass the Anatomy Act. A journalist, Boz (Ryan Sampson), publishes his newspaper article, “The Frankenstein Murders,” which causes a public outcry on the eve of voting on the Anatomy Act. The poor people of course don’t want their deceased cut up in the medical schools, but it’s a strong chance they will be dug up and cut up anyhow!

Amazingly, these murders are twisted in with the fiction of the day, Mary Shelley’s book Frankenstein. The doctors talk about transmitting electricity –transmigration– and bringing life back to dead tissue. Indeed the character of Mary is part of this story as Marlot goes to visit her to find out how she got her information to have written this strange tale. It turns out that Mary, with her wild poet husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and his friends, had believed they could bring a dead person back to life. The group drew straws and the loser was killed, but they failed to revive him. They all have the secret of murder and disposing of the body. Mary’s information helps Marlot find the doctors and monied people who can support this bizarre and illegal “research.”

Somehow we have William Blake in the story; he is a printmaker and artist (one and the same as the idiosyncratic William Blake, often considered mad by his contemporaries). Blake on his deathbed talks with Marlot and gives him twelve paintings, which Flora keeps rearranging, trying to find meaning. We have thoughts of the beast and various bizarre realities. I personally loved this boldness of incorporating these historical figures into the story and examining all these themes of death and rebirth, science and religion, and the moral questions involved in everything. I refer back to my previous review of “Mary Shelley”—think about the decadence of those poets Shelley and Byron, the drugs involved, the wild romantic notions of how things worked. Remember how young Mary runs off with Shelley based on some teenage angst and celeb worship, and how she finds out the ugly truth in life when he lets her baby die; of how her novel then is published under her husband’s name (why did she marry him?!) These are wild times, plagued by plagues and ignorance—and yet lofty romantic notions relate to little in real life. I admire this series for its spooky atmosphere, the complicated tangle of the mystery itself, its historical background, its miasmic scenery. I suspect some of the science used by the demented doctor wasn’t invented yet, but many things are not quite real anyhow.

At the end of the first season—what the British saw—we have Marlot finding Alice, a missing girl who has been protected from Dr. Daniel Hervey (Ed Stoppard) by his servant Lloris, who wanted to save just one of these doomed children, who were Hervey’s initial experiments. Marlot saves Flora but gets trapped by the evil doctor himself. He is framed for the murder of Flora and is quickly hung after a kangaroo court! At this point in the series in the outside world, A & E picks it up for US consumption, but never airs it. Yet this encourages ITV Encore to renew for another season—and/or because Netflix gets involved to put out one of its “originals.” Which is to say, the British series that they put money into. A new team of writers is employed. They are: Michael Robert Johnson, Paul Tomalin, Noel Farragher, Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson, with Alex Gabassi directing.

Season two is where the paranormal fans will find it more interesting. Or things will go completely to hell, depending on your point of view. We find Marlot alive, his being the first adult dead person revived by the evil doctor. They brought him back from death after he had been hanged. Clearly he was framed by Hervey in order to get rid of him since he was getting too close to the truth. But at this point, Marlot has crossed over and can see dead people! All kinds of hallucinations float around poor Marlot’s efforts to escape Hervey’s prison, to stay alive in his new alias life as Martins, and to still pursue his investigation. We have ghostly things happening as Marlot moves in and out of time, the material and imagined planes, and still he is on the heels of the evil doctor. Hervey is now connected with Frederick Dipple (Laurence Fox), the son of Hervey’s doctor mentor who had started the whole pursuit of raising of the dead. Frederick Dipple is a rich man who claims he has lived forever by drinking a secret concoction. Yet he is making mechanical people who mimic life—why? He conspired to turn Esther Rose (Maeve Dermody) into his “Bride of Frankenstein” because he is lonely. This is like the vampire thing and instead of drinking blood, Esther would drink the secret formula or have some such pumped into her veins. Shades of Dracula here.

To me, I couldn’t sort this out; we have an ice house full of saved hearts—and body parts? We have the secret formula to make a dead person immortal. We have revived dead bodies galvanized back to life. In season two, I couldn’t keep anything straight. We still have Marlot solving the murders, but there are all these schemes going on about reviving or making life. If I watched it all again, I might get it. I must admit, at first I was absolutely riveted. I had to watch two episodes a night, I was so involved in this world. Later in season two, I couldn’t keep my mind on what was going on. I suspect that too many people were writing season two and everyone wanted to throw in his or her pet theory. I still applaud these people for creating such a bold world, taking on such deep themes about life and death. The atmosphere of this world is spooky and disturbing. Even if transforming life schemes don’t exactly make sense, this series is compelling and richly rewarding. Especially season one, and hey, by then you are hooked and will have to see it through to the end. Check it out.

Mary Shelley, biopic of Frankenstein author, (4 out of 5 stars) Rated PG-13 for sex and drug use. In theaters and streaming subscriptions

This poor movie is not doing well at the box office nor in reviews—and sadly might never get here to local theaters. It is a sad state of affairs that fine movies must suffer against the tripe that plays constantly at the multi-plexes to audiences who can only watch endless sequels, car chases, cartoon movies, etc. There is nothing wrong with this movie unless your mind is jacked by the endless afore-mentioned fare. Mary Shelley (played excellently by Elle Fanning—still so young she needed a tutor for her school lessons on the set.) tells the story of teenager Mary Godwin, who runs off at age 16 with the wild famous romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (Douglas Booth). They are a scandal since Shelley is already married with a child or two (this is not explained—another woman with a child?). Soon he is disowned and the couple—now with Mary’s half-sister Claire (Bel Powley)—alternate between luxurious homes set up by Percey’s financial fraud or in complete hovels when they are running from the creditors or the law.

The big myth is that Mary conceived the idea of her novel Frankenstein, while the three were “guests” at Byron’s Lake Geneva Swiss chateau. They were self-invited by Claire who chased after Lord Byron (Tom Sturridge), another romantic poet even more debauched and famous than Shelley:  Byron would have sex with about anything (even his horse?!), doing and sharing every drug he can get his hands on, and has already impregnated Claire and doesn’t give a damn about her. Bad things happen to Claire at this juncture.

Mary is the daughter of early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote The Vindication of the Rights of Women, still current and brilliant, and who died shortly after Mary was born. Her father Charles Godwin (Stephen Dillane) was also a respected novelist (his book Caleb Williams, a gothic novel) and philosopher, who also ran a dignified bookstore. Mary aspires to do something worthwhile like her parents, but has run off with a hoodlum, druggie, drunk, person of no moral ground. This is her story, of how she suffers for her romantic “free love” rebellion, the conflict between running off with Percy Shelley and her desire to live up to the education she received from her father. Why isn’t this theme enough to excite the critics? We also have run-away sex, drugs, wild ideas, both poets wrote poetry worthy of being taught in schools even nowadays, and both died at young ages—wow, right up there with the Doors’ Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin’s brief, flaming genius and then early death. And yet, this is the crux of the problem, I think.

There exists a movie from 1986 called “Gothic” by the imaginative, flamboyant director Ken Russell, that gives a more direct account of the Lake Geneva, Bryon’s Swiss chateau, time when the drugged, spoiled poets have a séance and challenge themselves to come up with ghost stories. This movie really focuses on the elements that would appeal to prurient interests! Vincent Canby of the NY Times wrote: “Don’t go to Gothic expecting to be elevated. This is no reverie. It’s a series of gaudy shock effects, an anthology of horror-film mannerisms that looks like a 60’s LSD trip. If Gothic says anything about Byron, Shelley and their friends, it’s just that anyone who trusted them with a summer rental had to be out of his mind.”  (Canby, Vincent (10 April 1987). “FILM: SHELLEY, BYRON AND FRIENDS, IN ‘GOTHIC'”. The New York Times. Retrieved 25 November 2017.)   He has that right! This movie is so over the top—check out the trailers on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=haS7s4MI0mI

 As farfetched as was “Gothic,” that movie still recognized that Mary was more motivated to write her novel by the loss of her baby than anything else. “Mary Shelley” presents the baby’s death as a result of fleeing the luxury house escaping from creditors and ending up in a hovel—during  a storm, making the sick baby even sicker and then it died. Mary has been betrayed by Percy and is heartbroken over the baby’s death. This movie tells Mary’s story without the exploitation of the hedonistic focus of the poets themselves. And that might be the problem. “Mary Shelley” is too tame, too realistic, too focused on the female point of view, god forbid! Written by screenwriter Emma Jensen and director Ms. Al-Mansour, this movie looks at this material with an almost #Me Too sensibility.

The film is beautiful to look upon with Regency gowns and various lovely English settings. The movie tells an engaging story, there are no flaws really, and yet –maybe the marketing is to blame? Too tame? Too academic? Too female focused? Hypocrites, these critics and I suspect we can predict the audiences too. We’ll be lucky if the Carolina and/or the Chelsea Theaters book this film.

Just as the character/creature Frankenstein has been mutated into a monster or a joke, this story of Mary Shelley has been warped by the scandal of the poets and the injustice of the times, that her novel was first published anonymously with the pretense that Percy Shelley was the author! Only later because of the influence of her father and some decency by Shelley himself, does Frankenstein get published with her name as the author. Another result from the Lake Geneva craziness was a novel called The Vampyre by Dr. John Polidori (Ben Hardy), personal physician and lover of (?) Byron, whose book is published with Lord Byron taking the credit. Polidari doesn’t end up any better than the male poets—or Claire. Mary Shelley will outlive them all, but at what price, glory?

The Frankenstein movie most faithful to Mary’s book is the Ken Curtis “Frankenstein” from 1973, depicting how sad and miserable is the creature. This careless creation by the mad doctor Victor Frankenstein was a cobbled together body electrified into life—only to be rejected and abandoned by his creator. Hence Mary’s story reflecting her own betrayal and abandonment and the death of her baby. It’s the emotion, not the séance induced ghost story.

This correction to that entire saga is a long time coming and deserves to be honored. Still, I have to admit it doesn’t quit have the sparkle and love of something like “RBG” (the showing I attended generated applause by the audience. How often do you see that?!). There was something a little sloggy about “Mary Shelley” and it probably has to do with the misconceptions in our minds about the actual book Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus and its mutations. Elevate yourself from the big myths with the bad boys getting credit for her book. Some say she wrote the first science fiction book, as well as the gothic elements and the underlying sadness. I say see this movie—if you can find it. I suspect it will not be honored as it should be.

 

Thoughts on the 2018 Academy Awards

The real question would be why did I not see a single one of these Best Picture movies? Or most of the rest of the categories to boot? I am dragging my feet on tracking down these movies and seeing all of them, but I’m sick of the effort. It’s spring/suddenly summer and I’d rather garden. But let’s look at the list:

“Call me by Your Name”—I thought about getting to the theater for this one for the Italian setting, but it was about a gay love affair and I backed off. I know, not PC. But when I saw it, I liked it for the setting, the nostalgia it engendered in me for northern Italy, an area I had lived for 4 years. Everything was correct and beautiful, except the sickening rich spoiled people I can never stand in James Ivory movies. I questioned if these Italian youngsters still in high school would be openly smoking and going to what looked like bars, and having sex—with no thought of protection. I guess this was back before sexual diseases hit the scene and now you’d have to be suicidal to have unprotected sex. But there’s still pregnancy and these girls seemed really careless. Then we have the actual homosexual affair and the younger boy’s broken heart and misery. This was an OK story, but per Ivory films, so glossed over with lovely unreality. That mother smoked like a chimney, every minute, right through meals and all the time. Yet she appears young and pretty. Give me a break: smoking like that, she should have looked like an 80-year-old crone. Everyone in Italy smokes like a maniac and this was correct. Yet I doubted the children could be. I don’t even know how this got into the final batch of winners. The boy bawling at the end for 10 minutes was hardly necessary, like we got it already: love is painful.

“Darkest Hour”—Just too dark for me. About war and I don’t go to those and will not see it.

“Dunkirk”—same problem.

“Get Out”—I regret I did not go to the theater for this so that I could share the scares and surprises with an audience. I don’t know why I didn’t go, I guess because I don’t go in for horror shows per se. BUT this was the most brilliant film in the whole list. Embedded in its surface story of crazy white people harvesting black bodies for parts (it’s old enough, you don’t need a spoiler alert), there is the absolute intelligence of what racism has done to the Afro-American people in this country. Use them for their athleticism, their music, their sex, everything. Harvest them, use them up. Early in the plot when our character (played by Daniel Kaluuza who was at least nominated for best actor) goes to meet the rich parents of his white girl friend, the father points to a door in the house and says, “This is sealed up. Problems of black mold down there.” Even at the time, I thought, brilliant! The metaphor of American racism. Later when we come to learn what is really down in the basement, oh my god, is it ever black mold! This movie more than any other in my opinion, should have won. The production is excellent, the plot scary and engaging, the message profound. At least Jordon Peele won for best original screenplay and was nominated for best director. Daniel Kaluuza was nominated for best actor. BUT THIS MOVIE  SHOULD HAVE WON BEST PICTURE!!!

“Lady Bird”—the trailer showed a TEEN girl talking back to her mother. I had no desire to see this. Outside of the fact that this sadly is a metaphor (I don’t think the writer and director know this) of our current culture: the youth are yanking us around and telling us what to do. Respect for the elders has long been gone and it gets worse all the time. Just because they can manage the technology doesn’t really make them smarter. One day there will be a movie about this similar to “Get Out”—the old people running for their lives. The screenwriter and director Greta Gerwig co-wrote and acted in the brilliant “Frances, Ha” so maybe I will relent and see this, although I have seen enough teen coming of age movies to last me till I die. Saoirse Ronan was nominated for best actress and Gerwig for best director. (I have to amend that attitude about the youth: I am very proud of them leading the campaign for some gun control, like stop killing us. Good for them!)

“Phantom Thread”—Now here is a scary movie! Holy s***, is this not the most frightening relationship you’ve seen since “Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf?”! The man, Reynolds Woodcock, is a famous, fussy dress maker/fashion designer who likes to control everything around him. Everything. Except when he picks up Alma (played by Vicky Krieps (and why wasn’t she nominated?) from her waitress job and turns her into his mannequin muse. This movie was nominated for six academy awards (best picture, best director, best actor, best supporting actress Lesley Manville [as the sister Cyril whom Woodcock calls “you old so and so”] best original score, and it won for best costume design), the most notable is actor Daniel Day-Lewis, who has quite a task of dominating the story and making you love and hate this man for his prissy misogynistic artistic brilliance. Too bad Alma (of unknown not-British origins) can’t have a personality. When she figures out a way to control him, I thought this movie might redeem itself:  There, take that, you controlling brute! But no, then it gets twisted to Woodcock (dig the name: wood cock) to that HE consents to this madness of hers, like he needs to be brought to the brink of death to recharge his artistic brilliance. Director Paul Thomas Anderson has created a beautiful movie with hidden threads of nastiness woven in. Man is genius, everyone else just shut the hell up. I don’t know if the AA committee really got this or else it just didn’t really want this weirdness to win best picture. It is a beautiful and complex film, just think about it.

“The Post”—I still haven’t seen it but, I suspect I will have no quibble about anything. Steven Spielberg directs Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks in the Watergate story. I guess I felt like haven’t we seen this already in “All the President’s Men” and the new “Mark Felt: the Man who Brought Down the White House”? Nevertheless, I will see it.

“The Shape of Water”—Here was the only film I might have gone to the theater to see because of some vague paranormal themes, but the trailer made me think it looked stupid. I cannot believe this movie won. CAN’T BELIEVE IT, forgive me while I rant. It looked stupid to me and then watching the movie, when Elisa brings the Amphibian Man, a scale covered sea monster they found in South America, to her apartment and parks him in salt water in her bathtub—like wouldn’t this render the tub a bit unusable? And the rest of the bathroom too? Dumb. Even dumber, when she floods the whole bathroom so the sea thing and she can have sex under water. Let’s not think about how the apartments upstairs and the downstairs movie theater are ruined, but not a thought toward this reality or how the building would need Haz Mat salvation and the owner might be a little mad….  I loved Sally Hawkins in “Maudie” but I think she might want to get a role playing someone normal for once. In the story, no one really gets mad at this stupidity of Elisa’s and how it jeopardizes people’s jobs and their very lives. I could have believed in this movie’s premise more if she had been more considerate of other people instead of steam rolling over them to save her “monster.”  I felt sorry for Octavia Spencer (nominated for best supporting actress), playing the usual black woman stuck in some shit job (literally) with a brute of a husband and then she has to make smart ass remarks to Elisa about the downtrodden life she lives and the ways of the world. Zelda speaks for the mute Elisa all the time while Elisa dances around, stupidly getting the same dessert with her homosexual friend Giles, (Richard Jenkins whose character narrates the events as befitting a fairy tale and was nominated for best supporting actor), which apparently both are too dumb to realize she doesn’t like and they save them! Another stupid thing I didn’t think was funny. People tell me this is a wonderful fantasy fable with this great premise that we should be open to things we might not understand (aliens as in foreigners, aliens as in from outer space, creatures not exactly human but interesting and wonderful in their own right), and yes, that is great, but why make Elisa such a twit? The main villain is a sadist racist named Strickland (Michael Shannon) who wants the thing killed and/or is negotiating with the Russians to send the thing up in space, cuz hey, what loss would it be? It is 1962 the time of the space race and the Cold War. Their world is in underground tunnels of a Baltimore-based corporation engaged in some kind of research.  All dark and murky. This movie won best picture, was nominated for Sally Hawkins best actress, best director Guillermo del Toro, and many nominations for production and design achievements. Just like the AA committee and America to award a fairy tale and not look at something relevant like “Get Out!”  Better to check out del Toro’s earlier movie “Pan’s Labyrinth.” Many times, don’t you feel like it was just time to recognize a person and they win for the wrong movie?

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”—I heard this was extremely depressing, but it wasn’t really. There were some unlikely elements that would make everything come out all right. Frances McDormand won for best actress and she deserves it, although probably one of those timing things. Both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell were nominated for best supporting male actor roles, with Sam winning. In this story, the lead character is Mildred Hayes, a mother whose daughter had been killed and raped. She started all the trouble with her three billboards:

Raped while dying

And still no arrests?

How come, Chief Willoughby?

These set off a storm of accusations and escalating revenge, but Mildred loses me when she fire bombs the police station. Really? And gets away with it?! While I loved the intelligence of the police chief (Woody’s role), I had my doubts that his insight could really turn around the racist and brutal police behaviors of deputy Dixon (Sam’s character). All too convenient, but at least with all these twists and turns in the plot, there was a nice focus on the characters and a realistic look at how hard it is to track down the criminals, especially in a small town with limited resources. Especially then when someone blows up the police station. Some of those quirky elements I mentioned. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, whose work I will check out.

There it is, for what it’s worth. All in my humble opinion. Next I am onto the fabulous documentary called “Wild, Wild Country.” Coming sooner than this exploration did.

 

ANNIHILATION, movie currently in theaters, Dir. Alex Garland, starring Natalie Portman (4 out of 5 stars) Paramount Pictures

This is a science fiction and horror film based on the novel of the same name by Jeff VanderMeer. With that warning, you should get yourself ready and your mindset in the right place. You are going someplace mighty damn weird and I don’t know if you will come out the same. You might come out being someone else or maybe you will still be yourself, but something has happened to you and will your family notice that something is wrong with your eyes? Maybe it was just looking at the screen and your eyes got googly. I don’t know. I am trying to warn you if you can’t take violence, monsters, weird ideas, unknown conclusions, scary ideas, unexplained sexual dalliance that has nothing to do with anything at all, then you shouldn’t go to this movie.

Did you watch “Lost” till the end? Or maybe you bailed out. I did bail out, but still watched the ending and got as mad as if had watched it all. Worse yet, did I hear/see they are bringing it back?! Haven’t they kicked us around enough yet? Monsters from here will visit you in “Annihilation.”

Ever read the Bible? But you know the story of Adam and Eve anyhow. Are you into UFO and “Ancient Aliens” thinking? Could it be-–to quote our beloved guru Giorgio A. Tsoukalos–that Adam and Eve are just a story, a myth, made up to tell us how aliens were fruitful with the humans? Or was it the snake? Was the snake a space ship? The crazy ideas I had watching this movie!

OK, you asked for it. Lena is a biology professor, formerly in the Army where she met her husband Kane, who has been missing or dead for a year now as the story begins. But he comes back, looking not too good, knowing nothing. On the way to the hospital, the government stops the ambulance and kidnaps the patient. Lena wakes up in a facility and soon learns that her husband is probably dying. Dr. Ventress, the psychologist, tells her this thing called The Shimmer is a domelike force field resulting from a meteor crash in northwest Florida. It is spreading and no one sent in to investigate ever comes back out alive—except Kane sort of came out. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) seems to me to be mumbling all the time (does this woman ever get to play someone normal and nice?), but she manages to say that this thing, The Shimmer, could be “a religious event, an extraterrestrial event, or a higher dimension.” (Thank god, this is our only real clue.) She and other scientists are going in after an answer to the mystery. Because Lena’s husband Kane, (Oscar Isaac) did come back after one year but is totally weirded out and now dying, Lena, a biologist and veteran, volunteers to join the team: a paramedic (Gina Rodriguez), a physicist (Tessa Thompson) and an anthropologist (Tuva Novotny). The logic being that the military men didn’t return, so send in women—who are scientists. The conclusion about the men is that something kills them or they go crazy and kill each other.

I pause to thank the director that the women are dressed in practical clothing and I don’t have to see a sexy outfit that pretends to be practical but is a mere excuse—even in a women empowering film such as “Wonder Woman”—to show off female flesh. Here the women wear military uniforms, carrying packs and guns and suffering the tortures of this jungle. The environment of The Shimmer is overrun with bizarre animals/monsters and wild crazy plant growth that Lena, the biologist, recognizes as each species somehow in all of its phases of growth all at once. Like some horrible aberration or cancer that has happened to everything. One by one, we lose these women to the horrors. One does herself in and becomes a humanoid plant. I did think about “Apocalypse Now,” the horror, the horror whispered at the end by Colonel Kurtz. The group finds a recording left by earlier expeditions, one showing her husband Kane doing the inexplicable thing of cutting open his friend to exposed a snake inside? Or is it his wriggling intestines? Except for Dr. Ventress, the other women did not know that Lena was the wife of Kane, but now this creeps out to cause further tension and craziness.

At the opening of the film, Lena is being interrogated by men dressed in hazmat suits; they are very suspicious as to why she alone had returned. They keep asking, “What did the alien force want?” Lena, like her husband Kane, can only answer about everything, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” Somehow explosions, weird transformations of material into energy?—something happens to resolve the spreading of the alien force and the world is restored to peace. But the military and the government have to understand what happened here. Well, they ain’t gonna get any answers from Lena who can’t explain why she survived or what the alien force wanted. I don’t know, she doesn’t know, none of us will know what happened.

But I can tell you this much, you WILL think about this weirdness for many days to come. And does that make this strange psychedelic dream fodder successful? I had complained about “Arrival”–being sort of a blockhead myself, but after days of fermenting, the story gave me meaning. This “Annihilation” sort of does that: if I could tell you the ending, you might agree. I am still not 100% sold on this movie, but I have to concede that director Alex Garland (“Ex Machina” and “28 Days Later” fame) is truly what you can call visionary. Whether you respect that or not will be the main criterion if you go to this movie or not. It is entertaining and suspenseful while you are watching, but when it concludes, will you march out of the theater bemoaning that you wasted 2 hours of your time? Don’t know.

The Lowe Files, reality series, A&E, started Aug 2017 (5 out of 5 stars) A&E, or various subscriptions

Actor Rob Lowe travels around the country with his two sons, Matthew, the skeptic “Spock” equivalent (actually at Duke in law school so he is sometimes absent or on Skype with them) and John Owen, the younger son, more talkative and smartass as befitting his age(actually 21 but I thought he was younger) (caught a few times picking his nose. Really? Reality.). Rob has always done adventures and camping with his sons and always had interest in spooky things, so now they officially get to dig into these haunted places and phenomena. They work hard and meet serious science people, but there is a fun mood with some laughs involved. I don’t know if a more serious “student” of the paranormal would learn much new, but you will still have a good time and get a few names and facts to check out. I learned some new things.

Season 1 gave us these episodes:

  1. Haunted Boys’ Reformatory: spooky things in the dark, spoofing around looking for ghosts
  2. Secret Underwater Base: From San Diego to Malibu, they go to check out possible UFO activity from the past or now. They must travel on a large boat to get out far enough into the ocean to drop the exploration box to the ocean floor trying to see the bizarre googled image of a raised formation with pillars that Rob remembers as being openings so that submarines can get through. Or are they ancient aliens structures? Are they still active? There has been a lot of UFO activity around there. Funny in this episode is that Matthew and Rob make bets on how quickly John Owen will be hurling from seasickness, under 5 hours or over 5? Ironically, Rob ends up being the sick one when the ship is rocking violently. The boys about die laughing.
  3. Bigfoot: Traveling to Redwood Forest and the Hoopa Indian reservation, out in the woods at night with a legendary Bigfoot hunter trying to get a glimpse. The guide, an Indian man, claims Big Foot touched him through the open car window when he was seven years old and his father threatened to shoot it, but then got some kind of holy bond about the creature. The Lowes are crawling around in the woods day and night, lots of scares.
  4. Alien Abduction: Off to Phoenix to a hotspot for UFO activity. They meet with famed alien abductee, Travis Walton, who now after 40 years, has calmed down and accepted it as a good experience. Include local fulgurite specialist, Dr. B. Fulgurite is a stone? That you should put on your root? Like she’s all-knowing, but then she is so wrong, saying John’s mother almost aborted him. NO, Rob shakes his head, like this woman is nuts. They go out in the Superstition Mountains where their friend Shaman John sets them up with the conditions to attract a UFO interaction.  They chant, meditate, spray herbs, do lights, but alas, nothing visits them.
  5. Fear: With Matthew back at law school, Rob and John Owen go to Boise, Idaho, to the haunted Old State Penitentiary, notorious for its history of executions by hanging. They meet an expert on the psychology of fear who sets up some overnight tests for Rob and Johnny to explore their fascination with what scares them. Not a fun time as they feel the ghosts.
  6. America’s Secret Space Program: They travel to Dugway Proving Ground, a military base in Utah now thought to be the new Area 51, called Area 52. They drive as close as they can get, pretending to be dumb tourists with their ATV on a trailer. A helicopter watches them driving in, later a car checks out what they are doing out there in the dark –“star gazing” they say—and warn them “don’t get too close to the fence.” They see strange lights, expert Melissa Tittle saying they are US vehicles being tested, but then they have two bizarre flashes of light that are nothing like lightning or anything else. Then Rob drives onto the base! He gets into the little entry base building, sets off an alarm and they all frantically escape to not get incarcerated! Nothing has been learned, but suspicions are deepened that the actual NASA program is just a front to placate the public and the actual space program—probably reverse engineered from shooting down the UFO spacecrafts—is taking place in secret sites such as Areas 51 and 52.
  7. Mind Games: Rob and John Owen travel to Santa Barbara, CA, to check out Remote Viewing. They meet with experts who do remote viewing for hire. Rob goes out with the woman and John does incredibly well drawing images of the building they were visiting. Before that, they go to visit some goats because of the movie “The Men who Stare at Goats” and it is a funny scene with them trying to send signals to the goats.
  8. The Wood Apes: Rob and the boys go the Ozark National park into the backwoods of Oklahoma in search of the mythical creature known as the Wood Ape, somewhat related to Big Foot, but the locals don’t like that blurred distinction. Fun spooking around in the dark hollering and pounding on the trees, signaling for the wood apes.
  9. It’s About the Journey:    The Lowes reflect on all their adventures and what they have learned, what was fun. They appreciated the journey and the comradery with each other, and Rob feels like he is banking good memories.

So far there is nothing declared that the series has been either canceled or renewed. I would watch more. I apologize for taking so long to review the series, but I have to watch it in the most clandestine way . . .   You don’t even want to know how. Just let it remain unknown.