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The Harder They Fall, 2021

Generally speaking, I really liked the film's approach to telling a story centered on a Black cast but taking place in the 1800s. Rather than constantly having the characters butt up against racism, it takes a lateral step and sets 90% of the action in Black spaces: a Black town, within a Black gang, in a tavern meant for Black clientele. It's not ignoring the racism of the time, but instead driving the plot from within the Black characters. It's a great approach, one that both lets there be more of a range of characters within the Black cast and it also leads to some hilarious moments, such as when we get a glimpse inside a white bank that is literally pearl white on the inside.

While I think this concept could absolutely work and should be done, this film accidentally becomes terribly exclusionary at best and at worst racist to Native Americans in doing so.

Essentially, the film insists at the beginning that these people were REAL, and tosses a whole hodgepodge of real named black Western figures into the pastiche, some being of mixed Native and Black background, yet virtually removes all their dealings with Native Americans, which are significant in virtually all but especially Nat Love, Rufus Buck and Bass Reeves' life stories.

It struck me as incredibly odd to generate the same kind of grand mythologizing and Native erasure that classic westerns are incredibly guilty of under the guise of something that is addressing the racial failures of the genre.

All of this could've been sidestepped by simply not making them after real people and not emphasizing how real they were at the beginning, but it irked me the whole movie.

That said, it's stylish, gorgeous and has a great cast. I enjoyed myself overall, though not quite as much as I'd hoped to.





Dances with Wolves, 1990

Union Army Lieutenant Dunbar (Kevin Costner) makes a foolish, borderline suicidal run at the enemy in battle, earning him commendations and the chance to choose his posting. He decides to take sole charge of an abandoned fort on the western frontier. At first kept company only by his horse, Cisco, and an oddly friendly wolf he names Two Socks, Dunbar soon encounters a community of Lakota Indians. Starting from a place of mistrust, especially with a young man named Wind in His Hair (Rodney A Grant), Dunbar soon befriends members of the tribe including Kicking Bird (Graham Greene) and leader Ten Bears (Floy Red Crow Westerman). He also strikes up a tentative romance with a woman named Stands With a Fist (Mary McDonnell), a white woman who was taken by the tribe when she was a child.

This is a sweeping film, drawing the story of the white encroachment on Indian lands around the experiences of its central character, a man who comes to respect both the land and the people who live in it.

Costner as a leading man is always an interesting thing for me. I'm often reminded of something my mom once said about a musician she'd watched interviewed: "Some people really just shouldn't talk." LOL. Anyway, that is to say that Costner strongly exudes good guy vibes, but that effect is diminished by some of his line readings, particularly in segments where he reads aloud from the journal that he's keeping about his experiences and impressions. At the same time, he's charismatic and understated enough that you can believe he would be trusted by the tribe.

The portrayal of the tribe is one that gave me mixed feelings. On one hand, multiple characters are actually fleshed out and given personalities and motivations. Though it is true, on the other hand, that most of them go through the same arc: not trusting Dunbar, then coming to like him. The film is certainly sympathetic to the plight of the Lakota---slowly being displaced by an unstoppable white western migration, their land and their food (buffalo) shifting dramatically. A sequence where Dunbar and the tribe go hunting for buffalo only to find hundreds of bloody, skinned animals who have been massacred for their hides is one of the most memorable parts of the film. In reality, both native and white people were responsible for the decimation of the buffalo, driven by the economic benefits of selling buffalo hides. But what comes across most strongly is the waste and cruelty--an omen of things to come for most living things (people and animals) in the west.

The theme that is most successful is the one of the impossibility of living between two cultures. Dunbar does not belong entirely with the Lakota, but at a certain point he no longer fits with white society either. While in some ways it's a bit convenient that a white woman appears as a love interest, Stands With a Fist is also someone who has been pulled between two cultures. We learn later that she was married to a Lakota man, but he has recently died. In a broader sense, the film's message could even be seen as a bleak commentary on the impossibility of two different cultures peacefully co-existing. For every Dunbar, willing to learn and share cultures, there's always a handful of men like the soldiers who later arrive at the fort.

Visually, the film looks really nice. It manages to capture both the beauty and the intimidation of an unsettled wild space.

I won't lie, though, I did feel the length of this one a bit. It's not a film where I can easily point to things I thought could have been left out. And I appreciate that the film takes time to establish the relationship between Dunbar and the tribe--it doesn't just take a quick shortcut of him doing one nice thing and them being like "Hey, everyone! This guy's cool!". It may be in part because I could feel that things would end sadly, and that made me antsy as I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Not sure I'd watch it again, but glad I checked it out.




It struck me as incredibly odd to generate the same kind of grand mythologizing and Native erasure that classic westerns are incredibly guilty of under the guise of something that is addressing the racial failures of the genre.

That said, it's stylish, gorgeous and has a great cast. I enjoyed myself overall, though not quite as much as I'd hoped to.
The Native erasure is weird, and something that felt to me like the creators just didn't want to touch. You almost get the impression that white people wouldn't have been in the film if it weren't for certain plot points requiring their presence. Bass Reeves is the real person I know the most about, and this film was clearly taking a lot of liberties with the "real" characters.





Kinda boring really.
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The Native erasure is weird, and something that felt to me like the creators just didn't want to touch. You almost get the impression that white people wouldn't have been in the film if it weren't for certain plot points requiring their presence. Bass Reeves is the real person I know the most about, and this film was clearly taking a lot of liberties with the "real" characters.
The liberties are precisely why I feel the film muddies its own message. It's trying to use the dramatic cache of real, unsung Western figures and insists that this makes the film important, then tells a story that has nothing to do with them and strips any racial complications or history away. A real "tried to have cake and eat it" situation.

I would LOVE a Bass Reeves movie, for the record. From his escape to Indian territory, to becoming a lawman and having to hunt his own son (similar to the fabricated plot for Nat Love's family dynamics) would make a hell of a movie.

I would also love another black Western that is earnest in being detached from actual history. Sukiyaki Western Django style.



I would LOVE a Bass Reeves movie, for the record. From his escape to Indian territory, to becoming a lawman and having to hunt his own son (similar to the fabricated plot for Nat Love's family dynamics) would make a hell of a movie.
AGREED!

Every year I read Bad News for Outlaws to my class and they love it.

I would also love another black Western that is earnest in being detached from actual history. Sukiyaki Western Django style.
Also agreed!






Wildland -

Snake Eyes -

Ron's Gone Wrong -

Hotel Transylvania 3 -

Hotel Transylvania 4: Transformania -



SF = Z for all five films.


[Snooze Factor Ratings]:
Z = didn't nod off at all
Zz = nearly nodded off but managed to stay alert
Zzz = nodded off and missed some of the film but went back to watch what I missed
Zzzz = nodded off and missed some of the film but went back to watch what I missed but nodded off again at the same point and therefore needed to go back a number of times before I got through it...
Zzzzz = nodded off and missed some or the rest of the film but was not interested enough to go back over it




Turbulence (Jon McCormack, 1997)
so back on CGI tech-demo vibe this one's a little more screensaver-core than The Mind's Eye but it has the more consistent vibe i wanted with some hushed narration () and also a lot of the music rules. there's even brief noise piece in there!! i'd say its probably on the same level as Mind's Eye overall.


but at the end of the dvd (i paid $15 for this half hour package secondhand apparently?) there's a bonus short that kind of stole the show:


(low quality video because google had no screenshots)
ENS (Jon McCormack, 1990)
this definitely isn't screensaver-core and has some mixed media elements that add some cool textures and i couldn't really make out the narration but it vibed like crazy.



11 Foreign Language movies to go

Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10470111

Red Desert - (1964)

Half movie, half painting, Red Desert is something my younger self would have met with outright hostility. I would have hated that it had the gall to just be all mood and virtually no plot - having it's characters just basically wander around an industrial landscape for it's entire running time, talking about the desire to escape or leave their lives behind. The main focus is Giuliana (wonderfully performed by Monica Vitti - perpetually frazzled) who, after being in a car crash, is subject to panic attacks and is in a constant state of anxiety. When she meets the equally troubled Corrado (Richard Harris) you can sense that he might be able to heal her, and the temptation to run from her life starts to build. In the background (and foreground - everywhere really) is an artist's view of modern machinery spewing it's steam and fire as a thing of beauty - as, aside from nature, it is purely human. This is a visual film first and foremost - and every scene just looks dazzling and beautiful. At times though, I'd get bored and frustrated with it. Aside from the alienation felt by it's characters, I felt there was a lot I didn't get. I'm attracted to, and repelled by, Red Desert.


Visually 10/10
But for me, overall, 6/10

Foreign Language Countdown films seen : 71/100
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My movie ratings often go up or down a point or two after more reflection, research and rewatches.

Latest Review : Miracle Mile (1988)




Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10470111

Red Desert - (1964)

Half movie, half painting, Red Desert is something my younger self would have met with outright hostility. I would have hated that it had the gall to just be all mood and virtually no plot - having it's characters just basically wander around an industrial landscape for it's entire running time, talking about the desire to escape or leave their lives behind. The main focus is Giuliana (wonderfully performed by Monica Vitti - perpetually frazzled) who, after being in a car crash, is subject to panic attacks and is in a constant state of anxiety. When she meets the equally troubled Corrado (Richard Harris) you can sense that he might be able to heal her, and the temptation to run from her life starts to build. In the background (and foreground - everywhere really) is an artist's view of modern machinery spewing it's steam and fire as a thing of beauty - as, aside from nature, it is purely human. This is a visual film first and foremost - and every scene just looks dazzling and beautiful. At times though, I'd get bored and frustrated with it. Aside from the alienation felt by it's characters, I felt there was a lot I didn't get. I'm attracted to, and repelled by, Red Desert.


Visually 10/10
But for me, overall, 6/10

Foreign Language Countdown films seen : 71/100
The movie deliberately basks in a certain unresolved feeling, reflective of Vitti's character's difficulties in adapting to modern life. That probably made it a bit frustrating for me during my initial viewing, but also made it a movie I'm in the habit of revisiting regularly (in the hope that the feeling does resolve, so to speak), which also means that it's grown on me significantly over time.



The movie deliberately basks in a certain unresolved feeling, reflective of Vitti's character's difficulties in adapting to modern life. That probably made it a bit frustrating for me during my initial viewing, but also made it a movie I'm in the habit of revisiting regularly (in the hope that the feeling does resolve, so to speak), which also means that it's grown on me significantly over time.
that feeling is my definition of movie magic



I haven't, and I cannot overstate how uninterested I've always been in watching Scarface. I mean, go ahead and convince me, but you've got some heavy lifting ahead of you!
I'll do my best; first off, I get the reluctance to check it out, considering how trashy it is (although it's an "appropriate" kind of trashy, if that's possible), as well as how it's one of those works of media where some people have wrongfully decided to idolize the protagonist, just because they seem like an "alpha male" or something, as seen here...



...to the point that I actually got into the fun by making this meme of my own...



...but like usual, those guys are completely missing the point, since Montana was an obnoxious scumbag from frame one, who only got worse with the more power he got. I mean, the peak of his success was just glossed over in a now-infamous montage sequence (which skips us ahead to the beginning of his downfall), he literally
WARNING: spoilers below
murders his best friend at one point,
and the overhead shot of him in the huge bathtub wasn't to show off of how rich he was, but to show how his lifestyle was dwarfing him, and how isolated he had made himself with his bad attitude, so Tony is no more the "hero" of Scarface than Walter was on Breaking Bad (I mean, there's literally a scene of Walt wrongfully idolizing Tony at one point; c'mon, people!).


Besides that, I'd also say that it has a pretty compelling external character arc for Tony in his rise to and fall from power, an arc that's always propulsively moving forward despite the movie's length (although you may want to split it up across two sittings anyway), and the filmmaking is pretty virtuosic in general, especially the cinematography, like when it goes from a handheld shot inside a motel room to a crane shot that goes across a street, and all the way back again? So ****ing good. Anyway, I don't expect you to be a big fan of it, but I do think it's worth watching at least once for the reasons I mentioned, and if you're looking to be any sort of a De Palma completionist, it's certainly worth checking out a lot more than The Black Dahlia, IMO.



The Avengers -


why is Harry Dean Stanton in this
Because they were trying to add some life to what was otherwise a really generic Superhero movie?




Dune - 2021

I really wanted to check this movie out in theaters, as Villeneuve is one of the few people in Hollywood I'd actually like to support. He actually gives you a reason to go to a theater and watch a movie. However I finally got around to watching the flick, I bought a blu ray which I haven't done in years. Villeneuve produces bangers, so even though I was not familiar with the Dune universe, I've heard of it, I trust Villeneuve to give me something worth watching.

First off, the movie is beautiful. All of his flicks are eyegasms and this one is no different (I still think Blade Runner nudges it aesthetically, no shame). The real question is as a casual did it draw me in? I'd say yes. It's meant to be a block buster that they want to make more of. I'd definitely like to revisit this world. The movie had to do a lot of heavy lifting world building. Was it perfect? I don't think so but it got the job done efficiently enough where I believe they can play around and be flexible enough with the audience in the 2nd one and any others going forward. Bottom line is I think the movie did it's job well enough to grab the casual's attention. What's that Leo Django quote? "You had my curiosity, now you have my attention" I really think Villenueve hands will be free to really play in the 2nd one, from the sounds of it the Dune sandbox is a big box.

I thought all the performances were good. Stand out was Ferguson to me. Timothy did well. I'd like to see him bulk up a bit for the 2nd, hard to take a string bean serious as an ass kicker. I'm still not sure why Zenedya character is important but she is, i'll hold judgement on her for the 2nd movie. I also don't know why I didn't care for Momoa's character. He felt like he was in another movie. He was just being Jason Momoa, just took me out of the movie whenever he was on screen.

Anyways I did enjoy the flick and it was a beauty to watch. Gets a knock for ending abruptly which I get, always meant to be at least 2 movies, because of the enormous source material. I'll be able to judge it a bit more fairly once I see the 2nd. As a world building set up movie I think it's about as good as you can do.



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101 Favorite Movies (2019)



Power of the Dog 8/10



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The Contract (2006)





Some of the best action sequences i've seen, Morgan Freeman is a bad guy or anti-hero in this movie and he does a great job of it. They could have explained and revealed the plot a little better which was its only shortcoming.





A bit too long, too many characters, a villain that we could do without and lots of missed opportunities.





Re-watch. Good movie.
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