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Capsule Movie Reviews Vol.2020.9

Published by marco on

These are my notes to remember what I watched and kinda what I thought about it. I’ve recently transferred my reviews to IMDb and made the list of around 1400 ratings publicly available. I’ve included the individual ratings with my notes for each movie. These ratings are not absolutely comparable to each other—I rate the film on how well it suited me for the genre and my mood and. let’s be honest, level of intoxication. YMMV. Also, I make no attempt to avoid spoilers.

QT8: The First Eight (2019) — 9/10

A must-see for fans of Quentin Tarentino, this documentary features interviews with Michael Madsen, Samuel Jackson, Jamie Foxx, Diane Kruger, Zoë Bell, Eli Roth, Kurt Russell, Christoph Waltz, and many more.

The film examines each of Tarentino’s films, in turn, providing history and context and showing how they are intertwined (e.g. Red Apple Cigarettes, but also recurring characters as well as related characters over the hundred years of history covered by his films). The last film is his most recent one, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

He is an autodidact filmmaker with an encyclopedic knowledge of film and television and technique. He is an accomplished writer and knows how to write parts for anyone, including memorable dialogue. He seems to be pretty universally loved by those who work with him (I know it’s a documentary about him, but they could have definitely put things differently if they were trying to suggest that he was sometimes difficult—the documentaries on Stanley Kubrick can’t help but discuss how notoriously difficult he was on set, for example).

Zoë Bell tells a story of how she had to do a stunt scene in Death Proof twice, even though she nailed it the first time. Tarentino cast her as the lead because she’s a stuntwoman (for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill) and he wanted to showcase actors that normally don’t get leads. When she did the scene “perfectly”, she’d hidden her face the whole time. Tarentino had to point that out to her and remind her that she’s the star this time and that’s why she unfortunately had to film it again.

I was pretty engrossed from start to finish and had all I could do not to queue up his films again to re-examine them in light of what I’d learned. Highly recommended.

Ein amerikanischer Held: Die Geschichte des Colin Kaepernick (2019) — 8/10

This is a short documentary about the life of Colin Kaepernick. You can watch it at Arte.

Colin’s mother put him up for adoption when he was just a baby. He soon moved to California with his family. As he grew up, he quickly showed a gift for sports, making all-state in the huge state of California in football, basketball, and baseball in his senior year in high school.

He excelled in baseball, but wanted to play football. He was even drafted by the Cubs while in college, but he turned it down to keep playing football. He broke all sort of records and maintained a 4.0 GPA. Kapaernick was drafted out of college by the 49ers, where he would finish his truncated career.

He was always quiet in press conferences and considered aloof and above it all. People of course didn’t consider that he was an intelligent human being—he probably thought press conferences with their ceremony and Kabuki-like questions were stupid.

He took a knee during the national anthem as a silent protest against police violence that was disproportionately killing black people. The 49ers distanced themselves from his and he was soon blackballed from the NFL. The nation was united in its hatred for this upstart coward who hated America. It was at this time that he started giving real press conferences—at a time when the press, and America, mostly just wanted him to shut up and go away.

He will never play football in America again, despite easily being one of the 16 best quarterbacks in the world. Nike has continued his contract, piggybacking on his activism to sell more shoes made by child slaves. This is problematic, but Kaepernick’s reach is wide with Nike’s support.

The man seems genuine and intelligent and an incredible athlete. It’s not surprising that America hates him, though, as he’s uppity and has his own opinions, which is far from appropriate for any black man, to say nothing of someone who America deems an athlete. Pick a lane, shithead. American racism is a palpable and nearly unbelievable thing.

The documentary is flattering and honest and well-made. I enjoyed learning more about Kaepernick and am not surprised to see that it was made in Germany, where they absolutely love the hell out of football. Lilian Thuram was an interesting interview, as was good old Patrick “Coach” Esume, who’s hands-down the best football announcer I’ve heard. His knowledge of the game is formidable. He announces in German, though, so YMMV.

The Laundromat (2019) — 8/10

This is a film by Stephen Soderbergh about, well, it’s technically about the Panama Papers but it’s much more about the class, financial, political, and legal structure that these papers revealed. We see the passage of money through several prisms, from a fraudulent fly-by-night insurance company to the company that owns that company to the person who owns the network of companies that owns that company and so on and so forth.

The main thread is based on a true story. A tourism boating operator thought he’d save money by getting much cheaper insurance from an unknown company. He went for the lowest price—“wouldn’t anyone have done the same?”—and ended up having no insurance at all when his boat capsized. Nothing to sue. No settlements. Meryl Streep plays a woman Ellen Martin whose husband drowned.

The story follows her attempts to follow the threads back to the source, peeling the infinite onion of shell companies. We meet a family with a giant mansion just as the wealthy father’s college-age daughter discovers that he’s been sleeping with her roommate. He gives her a $15-million company to buy her silence—just as he did with her mother the last time she caught him cheating. When they gang up on him and try to cash in, they discover that he’s already moved the value away from their bearer bonds and that it is all worth nothing.

The story is told by the two main lawyers, Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramón Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), of the law firm that hosted and enabled the giant tax haven in Panama for dozens of thousands of companies and investors from all over the world. There were employees of the company who “owned” thousands of companies. The two make pointed arguments about how the U.S. State of Delaware is literally no different from Panama in nearly every legal regard. The U.S. just doesn’t eat its own that way—they prefer to pretend that tax havens are a purely offshore problem. (Side note: Who was a Senator from Delaware for 36 years? Why, good ol’ Joe Biden. Funny thing, that.)

The papers came out and things unraveled. Soderbergh does a masterful job of showing the complexity, mendacity, corruption, and base amorality of most of the people involved. They amass more and more and more and care not one whit for how many lives they destroy and how much suffering they cause along the way. It is all immaterial to them.

The final few minutes of the film show Meryl Streep revealing that she’d been Elena, a secretary at Mossack Fonseca, all along. She’s reading the manifesto of one John Doe, who’d released the Panama Papers to the world, first as Elena, then as Ellen Martin, then as herself. You can read the manifesto online, from which I’ve cited below.

“Shell companies are often associated with the crime of tax evasion, but the Panama Papers show beyond a shadow of a doubt that although shell companies are not illegal by definition, they are used to carry out a wide array of serious crimes that go beyond evading taxes.

“[…]

“Tax evasion cannot possibly be fixed while elected officials are pleading for money from the very elites who have the strongest incentives to avoid taxes relative to any other segment of the population.

“[…]

“The collective impact of these failures has been a complete erosion of ethical standards, ultimately leading to a novel system we still call Capitalism, but which is tantamount to economic slavery. In this system—our system—the slaves are unaware both of their status and of their masters, who exist in a world apart where the intangible shackles are carefully hidden amongst reams of unreachable legalese. The horrific magnitude of detriment to the world should shock us all awake.”

A Class Divided (1985) — 9/10

This is a 53-minute documentary about Jane Elliot’s experiment in teaching people about racism and discrimination. In 1968, shortly after Martin Luther King’s death, she ran a two-day exercise with her third-grade class to teach them about what it feels like to live in an underclass, to be discriminated against.

She starts by affirming that everyone in her class is aware of discrimination and what it means to be on the losing side. The children know that blacks are discriminated against. After ascertaining this, Elliot divides her class not by skin color—which would have been moot in the 1960s in Riceville, Iowa—but by eye color, which seems to have gotten her about a 50/50 split.

The children take to the exercise soon enough, especially with her unwavering guidance. On the first day, it’s the blue-eyed children who get more time for recess, who get all sorts of other little perks that are important to them. The brown-eyed children get denigration at every turn, reproach for not being good enough, or quiet enough, or smart enough. At every opportunity, Elliot—and, soon, the blue-eyed children—ascribes every one of the brown-eyed perceived children’s deficits to their having brown eyes.

The next morning, Elliot switches roles. Now, brown-eyed children are superior to blue-eyed children. They spend a day like this, with the previously privileged blue-eyed children experiencing the shock of disapproval—of not being able to do anything right. Their perceived detriments are constantly ascribed to something that they can’t change about themselves. The connection between their treatment and the color of their eyes is absolutely unfathomable for them. The brown-eyed children, given their experience the day prior, are at first leery, but soon settle into their roles of having a permanent, unshakeable advantage over their classmates.

It’s not comfortable for anyone, but the effects on understanding, even with small children, are impressive. They are really nice little kids. They don’t turn into monsters, but they’re only given a day. Imagine what a lifetime of this indoctrination does: after a while, the rulers no longer even think to question their advantage, conferred on them by something ludicrous like the color of a particular body part; the subjects eventually accept their fate, constructing their lives so that they are reminded as little as possible of their innate and unchangeable failing. Everyone has internalized the ground rules.

Elliot modeled her behavior on classic discrimination techniques—they appear nearly to be torture techniques. They are very effective. Interwoven throughout the film is a class reunion comprising Elliot and her third-graders, over a dozen years later. They all seem to have turned out all right—above average in enlightenment, actually.

We also see her holding a seminar with prison guards, where she again divides them into two groups and engages the services of one group to absolutely mercilessly discriminate and denigrate the other. As with her third-grade class, no matter what the subjected group does, it’s wrong; when the ruling group does the same thing, it’s laudable. You can nearly see spirits being crushed, in real-time, in the span of a single day.

Imagine what a whole lifetime of that is like. And then close your mouth the next time you, as a member of the privileged group, thinks it’s your turn to equivocate their situation for them.

8:46 by Dave Chappelle (YouTube) (2020) — 8/10

Dave Chappelle delivers a short set, not a comedy show but an essay about the 2020 uprising. He talks knowledgeably about the various victims over the years, but that George Floyd was the final straw. To those who say that George was not a nice guy, a criminal—Chappelle singles out the execrable Candace Owens for opprobrium—he responds vehemently:

“We didn’t choose him. You did.”

He tells the story of Christopher Dormer, a former LA cop. He reported his partner for excessive force and was drummed out of the police for it. They closed ranks on him and blocked every possible avenue for reinstatement. As a military veteran and former cop, he declares “asymmetric warfare” on the police and ambushed and murdered two of them in their car. He hunted down the family of another and killed his young daughter. They hunted him down to a cabin in Big Bear—400 officers showed up to take this guy out and they “Swiss-cheesed” him. Those cops were justifiably out-of-their-minds angry because this man was killing them indiscriminately. Chappelle ends with “so how could they understand why we’re so mad now?”

His style seems quite extemporaneous, but it’s clear he did his research and, despite a lot of nervous sliding around on the stool and picking up and dropping his journal, he’s practices this routine and had it cold. His delivery, with pauses, was brilliant and perfectly suited to the material. It was better to see that he was disturbed to be talking about this, not at all at ease.

Makeup Mayhem (2019) — 5/10

This is a documentary about the makeup industry as it exists today. It focuses on the drastic increase of brands promoted purely through social media and online tutorial videos. The focus is laser-like on the badness of counterfeit makeup of these brands.

The film only very casually mentions the tricks these brands use to drive prices up and to torture their captured market into buying unnecessary goods at exorbitant prices. It basically lauds the rise of social-media-driven brands as a way for “regular” people to get involved. Instead, it seems to be a way of marketing makeup to a new generation with an advertising weapon much more powerful than television advertising before. Their main interview here is Marlena Stell, a plus-size influencer, so she’s basically untouchable as far as criticizing her business model. Another main interview is Lexy Lebsack, a “Senior Beauty Editor” at some magazine. No-one mentions what utter horseshit the whole industry really is, obviously.

The counterfeit goods are empirically bad because they are made with quite dangerous replacement chemicals. The documentary brought exactly one example of a girl who’d ended up getting her lips glued together by a counterfeit product that basically included super-glue (or a crucial component thereof).

They do mention that the counterfeits are getting better all the time. I would imagine that, at some point, the counterfeits will be indistinguishable from the originals except that they come in at a much lower price-point. At that poin, the safety question will be gone and the documentary would be stuck trying to justify why it makes sense to coerce/trick/brainwash so many people into paying way too much for a brand name distributed by billionaires.

The documentary very cleverly keep contrasting a factory for ColourPop cosmetics with an undercover video of a Chinese counterfeit-production facility. The ColourPop factory looks like a laboratory and the Chinese facility is hardly worth of that epithet—it looks like a couple of rented rooms. At least the Chinese workers are wearing their masks properly, pulled over their noses. The film then simply allows the viewer to assume that all of the other name brands that it shows are also produced in a manner similar to ColourPop, which is almost certainly not the case.

The film is about 70% interviews with industry people, so it’s hard not to think that it’s a 60-minute advertisement for certain lines of makeup. Rick Ishitani is sympathetic as one of only two LA police officers assigned to the counterfeit beat. I can’t really recommend it.

Big Vape (2019) — 6/10

This is a documentary about vaping. It discusses the impact on American teenagers along with the rise of Juul and its subsequent purchase by the Altria Group (now the parent company of Philip Morris International).

As with the makeup documentary, this director and writer is quite careful not to offend anyone: they say again and again that vapes had been “[i]nitially designed for adult use”. Looking at a Juul, though, that’s pretty hard to believe. It seems to be magically designed exactly to appeal to teenagers. The teenagers in the documentary aren’t really discerning customers: they quickly spend everything they can to get as many hits as they can. They are clearly addicted to nicotine.

The interviews with the billionaire owner of Juul are not interesting, as they are quite obviously scripted and heavily edited. Though morbidly entertaining, watching the rich white girls explain how they had no idea that they were smoking also quickly grows old. The most interesting interviews are with addiction experts, especially those in England. They state that 50% of the people who smoke die of smoking-related illness. For them, vapes are a way to reliably wean people off of cigarettes. Vapes and E-cigarettes are 95% safer. They’re still not perfect, but they’re a lot safer. Without E-Cigarettes, there was no reliable way to get people to quit smoking for good. Patches didn’t work; cold turkey worked only too rarely.

Recycling Sham (2019) — 7/10

This is a documentary about single-use plastic products. The myth is that plastic can and will be recycled, but the reality is much more complicated. First of all, the companies using plastic are only too happy to have their customers convinced that the burden of making sustainable packaging actually work lies with the consumer rather than the producer. Second of all, even if plastic can be recycled doesn’t mean that it will be recycled.

In particular, China used to receive a tremendous amount of trash/recycling from the West and stopped it completely in recent years. No-one has really picked up the slack and a lot of plastic no longer gets recycled—even the plastic that ostensibly could be recycled.

Another issue is that plastic can’t be nearly infinitely recycled like aluminum. Instead, many types of plastic have polymers that can’t be “rebuilt” to their original material and must either be converted to other, lower types of plastic or just shredded to be used as material in other construction. A plastic bottle will not come back as a plastic bottle. That’s why glass bottles are overall better: they can be reused hundreds of times. They are heavier, incurring higher transport energy and cost, but they only need to be washed in order to be refiled and reused.

Many uses of plastic are purely for fictitious convenience, redounding to the manufacturer rather than the consumer. There is no reason for many things to be plastic—yet more and more things are made of it.

Overall, this is an informative and solid documentary with not too much bias in it (other than to intimate that China was being a dick when they stopped accepting foreign materials for recycling).

Jim Jeffries: Intolerant (2020) — 7/10
This special contains a bunch of clever material, pointedly lashing back at the overly PC world envisioned by identitarians and the professionally offended. He had some good jokes, but weaved a long-form joke about having diarrhea throughout the special, which was occasionally funny, but wore a bit thin, I thought. He presented well and he’s very clever, but thinking about his pants filling with liquid shit distracted a bit too much from his humor. That is, he seems to be straddling shock humor and insightful/philosophical humor. I don’t think he needs the crutch of poop jokes anymore. His frontal attacks at those who would destroy comedy provide enough shock value, I think. I prefer his earlier work but YMMV.
Jack Whitehall: I’m Only Joking (2020) — 6/10
Whitehall’s on-stage persona is very bombastic, which papers over often-thin jokes with his leading the audience very clearly to their laugh lines. He’s also occasionally clever, but much broader and not super-insightful. That is, his material is standard, not surprising, but well-presented. He’s funny not because of his material, per se, but because of himself. He’s a good raconteur, but leans a bit much on how silly his dad is (of which you kind of have to be aware in order to understand about a third of the material).
Battlestar Galactica S03 (2006–2007) — 6/10

There are good parts to this season. The overall story arc is pretty interesting and there is a pretty good use of some of the devices in the show (e.g. when Cylon Sharon has her husband Helo shoot her so that she can travel via resurrection ship to the Cylon baseship, a journey they would have been unable to safely make by conventional transport).

However, this season does more than the previous two to being your allegiance over to the Cylon side. The humans are under a ton of pressure, but they are nearly uniformly assholes—and drunken assholes, at that. The deterioration is understandable, but it doesn’t make for particularly entertaining television. The show sometimes fills like one scene after another that’s nearly specifically designed to polarize and make you hate one or the other or both of the participants.

Vigilante justice is the call of the day: Kara’s a drunken shit who’s on board with it. Her husband is a bit better, but largely ineffective and also unable to stay away from her drunken, likely clap-ridden ass.

Also, rockets have smoke trails in space. Ships catch on fire, in space. In the beginning, we were told that the Steampunk-nature of the Galactica was so that the Cylons couldn’t track them. But they have a faster-than-light (FTL) drive on nearly every ship, no matter how small. They seem to have FTL communications, able to communicate instantaneously with ships that are at least one light-jump away.

I’m glad I stuck with it long enough to be able to enjoy Gaius Baltar’s lawyer, Romo Lampkin, played by Mark Sheppard. The trial was also interesting in ways that much of the overblown dialogue and deliberately manipulative intrigue was not. Apollo redeems himself a bit by defying his father and leaving the navy to play lawyer for Gaius Baltar, albeit only temporarily. He ends up delivering the testimony that convinces the court to spare Baltar’s life.

The president and admiral showed themselves to be much more authoritarian than they’d led us to originally believe. Tigh, Galen Tyrol, Anders, and Tory all turn out to be Cylons (4 of the heretofore unknown 5) but no-one else but them know it. They agree to keep it a secret and don’t do anything about it, returning to their relatively sensitive positions as either leaders or advisors to leaders. Baltar is definitely not a Cylon. Nothing is really done with any of this information as yet.

Starbuck dies in the middle of the season (I’m sure she’ll be back, as alluded in the final minutes of the final episode, where she pops up out of nowhere and claims to have “found Earth”). The season ends with humanity still searching for Earth, with the Admiral and President consolidating power—but barely clinging to it.