It’s nearly been a year since this pandemic has ravaged the U.S. and it is unfortunate that half a million people aren’t here anymore as there’s already new problems as there’s people in Texas that have no power while Ted Cruz flies to Cancun with family and friends to avoid helping his state. It is proof that Cruz is a piece of shit and so are the many who chose to not vote for the impeachment of Dookie Tank as it is proof that America is truly divided and things are going to be difficult even though Joe Biden is doing the best he can as our president as I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. He’s only had the job for more than a month but at least he’s doing a better job than the last dipshit in the White House.
Then there’s the story about Marilyn Manson as I wasn’t surprised that it was him that was abusive to Evan Rachel Wood but I was surprised by the fact that there were other people he did abuse. Reading about what he did to an actress at a photo shoot where a makeup artist found that woman lying passed out on her face and then Manson threatening the make-up artist with a loaded gun was pretty much the final straw for me. I used to be a fan when his first album came out and saw him live back in November of 1996 when I was 15 years old with a few friends in high school. It was a good show but had I known now about who he is, I probably wouldn’t have gone to that show. For anyone growing up in the 1990s and were into Nine Inch Nails, it was NIN that was the reason why I discovered Manson and his music. His first four albums and 2015’s The Pale Emperor are amazing but I’m now doubtful if I would ever listen to them as I deleted his entire catalog from my music files.
I think the reason a lot of these revelations bothered me is because I was part of that fan community and culture even though I never wore makeup but did wear black t-shirts during my years in high school. I was following much of Manson’s activities until the early 2000s as seeing him on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine with someone that I really hated in Fred Durst just pissed me off considering the shit that Durst had said about Reznor as we NIN fans loathe Fred Durst. The relationship among NIN and Manson fans was like a sibling relationship where the NIN fans are the older siblings as there was also a sister-message board site similar to NIN’s Echoing the Sounds message board site that I used to go to. During that time when I was active at ETS, there were some Manson fans there but eventually they were gone as the people at the Manson fan message board turn out to be some really awful people. Some of which are enablers of the kind of dark activities that Manson is known for in his private life and encourage dark behavior as it’s the kind of shit that made me uncomfortable.
I’m not surprised that there’s people who are defending Manson and are willing to try and go after now just ERW and other accusers but also former allies such as Trent Reznor over his exploits in the 1990s. Yet, Reznor did admit to his dalliances with groupies but I never read or heard stories of abuse towards women as a lot of the stuff that Manson wrote in his 1998 book turned out to be a bunch of bullshit. Even as he said some things about Reznor that were really hurtful as I don’t blame Reznor for denouncing him as I think the reason they fell out a second time during the early 2000s is the fact that Manson isn’t just an asshole but an abuser who really was a threat to Reznor’s sobriety following his own drug overdose in 2000 in London. Plus, Reznor has a family that has managed to bring out the best aspects of him and has managed to evolve not just as an artist but as a human being.
Manson however is someone that has become this drugged-out abusive has-been who prefers to be this character and it turns out that he’s a horrible person in real life as I’m sure there’s people in the NIN circle that have some stories about him that aren’t flattering while Wes Borland, who played with Manson in the late 2000s, denounced him and saw some of the abuse Manson did towards ERW. I wasn’t fond of that relationship as I was thinking it’s a phase but then it got weirder and disturbing though I’m glad ERW came to her senses but the details she revealed about her abuse made me sick. I’m glad she’s OK and is at least trying to live a good life as a human being while I hope Manson just goes to prison and for good. Fuck him and fuck his enablers.
In the month of February, I saw a total of 22 films in 8 first-timers and 14 re-watches with three of the first-timers directed or co-directed by women as part of the 52 Films by Women pledge. A major highlight of the month has been my Blind Spot choice in Daughters of the Dust. Here are my top 5 first-timers for February 2021:
A short film from Jonathan Glazer is a film that is essentially a group of individual interpreter dancers dancing in a different room as it play into the idea of repetition and movement. It’s an experimental short running at 10 minutes set in the small British town as it just play into people expressing themselves in a room through dance as it is something fans of Glazer’s work should seek out.
Al Davis vs. the NFL
From 30 to 30 is a documentary about the feud between Raiders owner Al Davis and then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle as it was a feud that spanned for many years as it relates to Davis’ desire for the Raiders to stay in Los Angeles and other issues that plagued them. It also play into a feud that would impact the NFL for many years that eventually lead to some serious changes thanks in part to Davis and Rozelle as they’re told mainly through various audio and video interviews from the past with actors playing them with visual-effects covering their faces to play the two men who are no longer here. It is a fine piece that covers a lot about this legendary feud and the NFL’s history.
A film I watched on Disney+ is one that I saw out of curiosity as I admit to not being fond of this film series from Pixar mainly because I thought they were the weakest. This film is a bit of an exception as it definitely feels more focused in its narrative and what it wanted to be and it actually tells a good story about the idea of the old ways vs. new technology. It revolves around Lightning McQueen who finds himself being challenged by new racers who are given new toys and such to help them win races as the idea of just racing for fun and chatting up with others during a race is gone. It is a film that does play into what it takes for racers to continue with McQueen thinking out of the box as it is a compelling film that is actually better than it should’ve been.
Another film that I saw on Disney+ mainly because of my nephew who loves this film as this was a real surprise as not only for its narrative but also in the development of the characters and its willingness to actually be ambitious. It revolves around Elsa’s powers and where it came from as well as some revelations about her parents and a world that is filled with magic as it play into Elsa and Anna going on a journey. The music is amazing as are the songs that include a couple sung by Evan Rachel Wood as their mother. It is a great film as I wouldn’t mind seeing Elsa and Anna in another story though I think it should be in an Avengers-like event film with all of the Disney Princesses. I don’t see money in that. I see a mother-fuckin’ shit-load of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.
WandaVision (episodes 5-8)
If there’s one thing about this show that pisses me off, it’s that I have to wait another week for a new episode but it’s doing its job leaving me wanting for more. This show is becoming more than just a great TV show but something really special as it does a lot not just for the medium but also being a tribute to the medium that is TV. Not only does the show reveal why there is this fantasy world inspired by American sitcoms but also does a lot to explore the concept of grief. Credit to executive producer Kevin Feige for going all-out for this show but also to show creator Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman for not just paying tribute to American sitcoms but also finding a way to blend it with the world that is synonymous with the films of the MCU. Each episode has its own identity and manages to do a lot with the story as well as the characters as the supporting cast that include Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau, Randall Park as FBI Jimmy Woo, and Kat Dennings as Dr. Darcy Lewis not only provide great chemistry and banter but also prove to be far more reliable and smarter than the people they’re working for.
Parris also gets the chance to really go all-in for the seventh episode as it does serve as her own kind of origin story in becoming a superhero of her own that would later be known as Photon. Yet, the show’s real scene-stealer is Kathryn Hahn whose role as Agnes is revealed to be something far bigger with a theme song that is catchy as fuck. The eighth and most recent episode is clearly not just the best episode of the series so far but it’s also the most emotionally-involving as it goes all-in for the theme of grief where Elizabeth Olsen gives a performance of her life to showcase a woman that has endured a lot of loss and tragedy while it also reveals how she created this fantasy. The little moments in that episode including a scene where Wanda and Vision are watching an episode of Malcolm in the Middle as the discussion is about loss but it is also this bonding moment and the importance of what TV does for people as both Olsen and Paul Bettany give performances that deserve more than just accolades and awards.
Well, that is all for February. In March, I will not be as active mainly due to the fact that I have a niece coming any time in that month as I’m going to be taking care of my nephew for a few days until my sister and her husband come home with the new baby. Other than the last episode of WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier as well as my next Blind Spot and hopefully get into a couple of films by Kelly Reichardt. I’m going to take a step back in order to get ready for the arrival of my niece. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off…
Directed by Wanuri Kahiu and written by Kahiu and Jena Cato Bass that is based on a short story by Monica Arac de Nyeko, Rafiki (Friend) is the story of two girls in Nairobi whose friendship grows into a romance amidst a period of political and family pressures as both of them are daughter of political rivals. The film explores a growing movement in the LGBT community in Kenya as two girls fall for each other despite the taboo that surrounds them. Starring Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva. Rafiki is a wondrous and heartfelt film from Wanuri Kahiu.
The film is the simple story of two young women in Nairobi who are the daughters of respective political opponents who fall in love with each other despite the fact that homosexuality is banned in Kenya. It’s a film with a simple premise yet it explores this attraction between two young women who are fascinated by one another despite the fact the fact that their fathers are running against each other. The film’s script by Wanuri Kahiu and Jena Cato Bass is straightforward as it’s more about this air of attraction in a world where homosexuality and lesbianism is still taboo in a country that is starting to be more in line with the rest of the modern world. At the center of this conflict is this political race between a convenience store owner and a seasoned political official as the former is eager to try and make some changes for his community. His daughter Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) is a tomboy that is helping her father though she still lives with her mother Mercy (Nini Wacera) who has separated from Kena’s father John Mwaura (Jimmy Gathu) who has re-married and is having a new baby.
Kena notices a young woman with colorful braids in Ziki (Sheila Munyiva) who is the daughter of Mwaura’s political opponent Peter Okemi (Dennis Musyoka) as she is always seen dancing with her friends as she and Kena glance at what another. Yet, they keep their relationship a secret that include from the eye of the gossiping Mama Atim (Muthoni Gathecha). The relationship build up starts off slowly as Ziki would even have Kena wear a dress at one point while the two also deal with the many ups and downs about this relationship.
Kahiu’s direction is largely straightforward in the compositions she creates as it is shot on location in Nairobi where it does play into this world that is colorful and vibrant. While there are wide shots in Kahiu’s direction to play into the locations and places the characters go to, much of her direction is emphasized more on medium shots and close-ups to play into the intimacy of the characters as well as some of the conversations. Notably in the way Kahiu showcase the two women glance at one another and this growing attraction though they try not to have anyone else notice though some do. Kahiu also maintains a low-key approach to the drama that also play into its third act where it goes into the taboo ideology of this relationship as some in Kena’s circle choose to remain quiet while others are appalled by what Kena and Ziki are doing as it relates to political and social issues. Yet, Kahiu does maintain some humanity as well as the religious pressures that Kena has to endure as it relates to the source of her parents’ split. Still, Kahiu does find some hope in the oppressive atmosphere that Kena and Ziki endure as the former also has a friend who is gay, which is something everyone knows, but refuses to hide it out of pride as it becomes a source of inspiration for the former despite the latter’s own resistance. Overall, Kahiu crafts a tender yet captivating film about two young woman who fall in love despite the social and political taboos in Kenya.
Cinematographer Christopher Wessels does brilliant work with the film’s colorful and lush cinematography as the colors help play into not just the beauty of the locations but also in the emotional anguish that Kena and Ziki endure that include some low-key lighting for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night. Editor Isabelle Dedieu, with additional edits from Ronelle Loots, does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some jump-cuts and a few montage sequences that help play into the flourishing romance of the protagonists. Production designer Arya Lalloo does amazing work with some of the set design in the store that Kena’s father runs as well as a van where Kena and Ziki spend their time together as it help play into the colorful visuals of the film. Costume designer Wambui Thimba does fantastic work with the costumes from the tom-boy look of Kena to the more lady-like clothing of Ziki as both of them display vibrant colors in contrast to the more reserved and casual look of the people around them.
Hair stylist Carol Sunday and makeup artist Suki Kibunguri do terrific work with the look of the different hairstyles that Kena and Ziki both would sport as it play into their personalities as well as the look of the other women would have. Sound designer Noemi Hampel does superb work with the sound as it play into the way music sounds on location as well as the way gathering sounds such as church services. The film’s music soundtrack is wonderful as it feature a mixture of indie, folk, hip-hop, and traditional African music as it play into this vibrant culture the characters live in.
The casting by Nini Wacera is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Dennis Musyoka and Patricia Amira as Ziki’s parents with the former being a noted political official, Mellen Aura as Ziki’s friend Elizabeth who feels threatened by Kena’s presence, Charlie Karumi as the openly-gay Waireri, and Muthoni Gathecha as the gossiping Mama Atim who runs a shop across from Kena’s father’s store as she always look on with disdain and often looking to cause trouble. Neville Misati is fantastic as Kena’s friend Blacksta who knows about Kena’s feelings for Ziki but chooses to remain quiet while Nini Wacera is excellent as Kena’s mother Mercy who harbors a lot of resentment towards her ex-husband while is also religious as it adds to the conflict that Kena endures.
Jimmy Gathu is brilliant as Kena’s father John Mwaura as a convenience store owner who is running for office as a way to help his community as he deals with his ex-wife while being concerned for Kena as he would also see her with Ziki as he chooses to not say anything. Finally, there’s the duo of Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva in phenomenal roles in their respective roles as Kena and Ziki. Mugatsia’s performance is restrained in someone that is just trying to find herself while being a tomboy as she also deals with her attraction towards Ziki but is also eager to be more open about the relationship. Munyiva’s performance is more charismatic as someone that likes to dance with her friends as she is attracted to Kena as she helps Kena be more feminine while not being aware of the implications their relationship would have for her father as the two together are a joy to watch.
Rafiki is a phenomenal film from Wanuri Kahiu that features incredible performances from its lead actresses in Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva. Along with its colorful and vibrant cinematography, somber music soundtrack, supporting cast, and its compelling story set in a country where homosexuality is still considered taboo. It is a film that explores two young women in love amidst the social, religious, and political implications around them in a world that isn’t ready to embrace their lifestyle. In the end, Rafiki is a sensational film from Wanuri Kahiu.
For the eighth week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the fourth and final week of the Romance Tropes Edition in TV love triangles as there’s always something going on where this guy is in love with one woman but he’s also in love another. Then there’s a girl who is in love with this guy but he’s in love with someone else. Such chaos as here are my three picks:
1. Cheers-Sam Malone/Diane Chambers/Rebecca Howe
The place where everybody knows your name is probably one of the greatest show ever made as it is set largely in a bar where everyone talks and drinks while just needing a place to relax. Running the bar is the former baseball player Sam Malone who hires Diane Chambers whose fiancée left her as she works at the bar for a few seasons and is then replaced by Rebecca Howe whom Malone tries to woo after his on-off relationship with Chambers falls apart. Diane would come back every now and then yet Sam’s true love is the bar. Plus, any sensible man would choose the sophisticated Diane over the neurotic Rebecca. What dumbass would choose a whacko in Kirstie Alley over someone as fun and entertaining as Shelley Long?
2. Beverly Hills, 90210-Brenda Walsh/Dylan McKay/Kelly Taylor
Aaron Spelling’s creation that spawned a bunch of love triangles in the show yet the most memorable during the third-fourth season involved Brenda, Dylan, and Kelly all because Brenda was sent to France with Donna Martin to take a break from Dylan following their little tryst in Mexico. Dylan spends the summer with Brenda’s friend Kelly and later on, things get crazy and into college as it was just weird. Kelly then later dated Brenda’s twin brother Brandon and Brenda was gone. If you were a teenager in the 90s, I’m sure there’s a good percentage of people that watched this show as this was a guilty pleasure for me. The last season that saw Jason Priestley leave the show as Brandon and brought the late, great Luke Perry return as Dylan was terrible as I just gave up on the show after that and didn’t bother watching the new version nor its recent revival.
3. That 70s Show-Steven Hyde/Jackie Burkhardt/Michael Kelso
The sitcom set in the late 1970s is probably one of the best except for its last season as two of its principle characters were gone from the show. The first four seasons explored not just these six kids spending their time at a basement but also relationships as it played mainly into the one between Eric Foreman and Donna Pinciotti. Then there’s Jackie and Kelso where they had this on-off relationship for four years but ended all because of Kelso constantly cheating on her and being stupid and Jackie often putting him down. After returning from California with Eric and Donna, Kelso tried to get back with Jackie but she had begun a secret relationship with the more rebellious Hyde as that was a relationship that had more substance and showed more complex sides to both of them. The fact that the eighth and final season ended Jackie and Hyde’s relationship and a brief tease of her getting back with Kelso was just terrible as she ended up with the lame foreigner Fez.
Written and directed by Julie Dash, Daughters of the Dust is the story of three generations of women living on Saint Helena Island as they try to migrate to the north in 1902. The film is a period drama that involve three generations of women known as Gullah as it is told in a non-linear narrative with Gullah dialogue as it play into women trying to define themselves during the early 20th Century. Starring Cora Lee Day, Barbara O. Jones, Alva Rogers, Trula Hoosier, Umar Abdurrahamn, Adisa Anderson, and Kaycee Moore. Daughters of the Dust is a rich and ravishing film from Julie Dash.
Set mainly in the span of a day for a picnic at the Saint Helena Island near the borders of South Carolina and Georgia in 1902, the film revolves around a group of women living in the island as well as a few who are coming to visit the matriarch as they deal with some wanting to migrate north for a better life in the modern world. It’s a film that features a large ensemble that play into this event with people who live outside of the island but grew up at this island as they’re all descended from West African slaves with some living at the island isolated from the trappings of the modern world. Julie Dash’s screenplay doesn’t exactly follow a traditional narrative though it opens and ends with a group of people arriving and leaving this island as there are many threads as it relates to the many people in this island with some trying to figure out their own identity, their own future, and the past in upholding tradition and a culture that is foreign to the rest of the world.
Part of that culture is the fact that many of the people speak a certain dialect known as Gullah that is this mixture of creole and African languages as it has a unique tone to the way people speak but also has a richness in the language that is unlike anything. Notably in the fact that the film is narrated by an unseen and unborn character (Kay-Lynn Warren) who talks about the world these characters live and how they talk to one another as there’s a rhythm to the dialogue that play into the ups and downs of the world these people live in as it adds to a conflict of those who want to be part of the world but there are those that want to stay in this island to uphold these traditions. Notably as it would center around this picnic where generations of people including women would all gather as if this might be the last time they all see each other again.
Dash’s direction is intoxicating for its emphasis on realism but also in maintaining something that is dreamlike as it is shot on location at St. Helena Island where it is a character in the film as it is this world that is rich in its beauty but also carries a legacy and culture that is of its own separated from the more conventional culture in America at that time. Dash maintains this atmosphere in the direction where she uses the location in and around the island where it is a world that carries these roots based on West Africa including some of the clothes the people wear as well as the different yet natural hairstyles the women were sporting as it adds to the identity of these women as it helps maintain that authenticity in Dash’s direction. Dash’s usage of the wide and medium shots doesn’t just have this air of beauty in the way she capture the locations but also in some of the imagery she creates as it include these striking compositions that add to the beauty of the film. Dash also maintains an intimacy in the close-ups including in some of the conversations that involves the people in the film including scenes of the women at the beach along with a group of men having their own conversations.
Dash’s direction also play into this conflict of characters wanting to create their own identity in a world that is ever changing but there are those that refuse to leave the island including a Native American that one of the women is in love with. There are also these discussions about trauma and identity as one of the visitors is a free-spirit who has taken a woman as her lover against the ideals of another in a devout-Christian. The many narratives do play into the struggles that some of these characters are going through that include some perspective from the men yet Dash somehow manages to make them all connect as it all play into a rich climax of people ultimately deciding their fate but also choosing to be true to who they are and where they come from. Overall, Dash crafts a rapturous and evocative film about a group of people lead by women living in a remote island all coming together for a picnic to discuss their past, present, and future.
Cinematographer Arthur Jafa does phenomenal work with the film’s cinematography as it uses mainly natural light to create something that feels real and intoxicating in its visuals including its usage of sunlight as it is a highlight of the film. Editors Joseph Burton and Amy Carey do excellent work with the editing as its usage of slow-motion shots, jump-cuts, and straight cuts that allow monologues to linger for a few minutes in one shot and only cutting when it was needed. Production designer Kerry Marshall and art director Michael Kelly Williams do amazing work with the look of the huts and graveyard site that is in the island where some of the inhabitants live in.
Costume designer Arline Burks Gant does fantastic work with the costumes as it play into the turn-of-the-century period clothing with a lot of white dresses for the women and girls as well as a few ragged suits that the men wear. Sound editor Jeremy Hoenack does brilliant work with the sound as it help play into the natural atmosphere of the locations including the sound ocean waves as well as other sparse sounds in some parts of the location. The film’s music by John Barnes is incredible for its exotic music score that feature elements of Middle Eastern and African percussion and world beats mixed in with ambient and art-rock textures including fretless bass lines as it help play into the atmosphere of the drama and the locations in the film as it is a major highlight of the film.
The casting by Len Hunt is superb as it feature some notable small roles from Umar Abdurrahman as a Muslim inhabitant of the island in Bilal Muhammad, M. Cochise Anderson as the Native American resident in St. Julien Lastchild, Cornell Royal as the patriarch of the Peazant family, Trula Hoosier as Yellow Mary’s lover, Bahni Turpin as Iona who is in love with St. Julien, and Kay-Lynn Warren in a largely unseen role as the film’s unborn narrator who would become the daughter for a couple in the film. Adisa Anderson and Alva Rogers are fantastic in their respective roles as the couple Eli and Eula with the former being the grandson of the family’s matriarch as he struggles about wanting to leave to go north while the latter is someone coping with trauma following her own encounters with the modern world. Kaycee Moore is excellent as Iona’s mother Haagar as a woman that is eager to go north in the hopes for a better life as she is leading the migration towards north.
Barbara O. Jones is brilliant as Yellow Mary as a free-spirited woman who wears a yellow dress as someone who shares a common bond with Eula while dealing with the fact that she brought an outsider to the picnic. Tommy Hicks and Cheryl Lynn Bruce are amazing in their respective roles as the photographer Mr. Snead and devout-Christian Viola with the latter being someone who is from the island as she brings the former who takes an interest in the people as well as photographing them. Finally, there’s Cora Lee Day in an incredible performance as the family matriarch Nana Peazant as a woman who is happy to see her family though isn’t happy about the decision of some migrating north as she is a symbol of tradition and heritage as it is this understated yet fierce performance that holds the film together.
Daughters of the Dust is a spectacular film from Julie Dash. Featuring an incredible ensemble cast, ravishing visuals, a hypnotic music soundtrack, an unconventional yet engaging script, and themes of identity and heritage. It is a film that explores a world that is unique that is carried by tradition and an obscure culture with people wanting to keep it alive despite the presence of the modern world. In the end, Daughters of the Dust is a tremendous film from Julie Dash.
For the seventh week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the third week of the Romance Tropes Edition in the subject of forbidden love. Love that is considered wrong or taboo but for the people involved, it feels right and dangerous. Then, there’s those affairs that are just absolutely wrong. Here are my three picks as they’re all directed by the late, great Louis Malle:
Malle’s 1971 coming-of-age film set in postwar France revolves around a young teenage boy discovering sex while being really attached to his mother due to the fact that he’s treated almost indifferently by his father. It’s a compelling yet offbeat film from Malle that showcases a boy and his mother both dealing with their own issues as they spend time at a hotel/sanatorium due to the boy’s health while his mother tries to find fun. Alas, things become troubling and really fucked up to say the least though its ending is actually more endearing than eerie.
The film that introduced the world to Brooke Shields is a film that wouldn’t be made today considering that it does feature a nude yet underage Shields in the film as the daughter of a prostitute who would become one herself. Yet, the creepy aspect of the film involves Shields and Keith Carradine where the latter is a photographer who wants to help her but is also in love with her. It is an amazing film but one that not many people would want to see as it is creepy and also unsettling in terms of its subject matter.
Malle’s penultimate film about a politician who falls and begins an affair with his son’s new fiancée is a more conventional film from Malle yet it does feature amazing performances from Jeremy Irons, Juliette Binoche, and a well-deserving Oscar nominated performance from Miranda Richardson as Irons’ wife. It is one of Malle’s lesser films but it is still this compelling drama about an affair that shouldn’t have happened and the implications that it brings to a man and his obsession with this affair with a woman who is to be his daughter-in-law.
Directed by Josh Greenbaum and written and starring Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo, Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar is the story of two 40-something best friends who go on a vacation to Vista del Mar in Florida after losing their jobs where they have fun and meet a man unaware that he’s a spy carrying a mission for a woman who wants to wreak havoc on the place. It’s a film that follows two women who are lifelong friends as they hope to find joy in this vacation as well as unexpected events and a plot that would have them take control as both Mumulo and Wiig respectively play the roles of Barb and Star. Also starring Jamie Dornan and Damon Wayans Jr. Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar is an absolutely insane, idiotic, and outlandishly hilarious film from Josh Greenbaum.
The film is the simple story of two 40-something women who work and live together as they both lose their jobs as they decide to go on a vacation through a suggestion of an acquaintance of theirs unaware of a secret plot involving a madwoman who wants to destroy this place that caused her all sorts of emotional pain many years ago. It’s a film with a simple premise yet it play into the many typical clichés expected in a film where people go on a vacation and hoping for some fun in the sun yet writers Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo go into places that is way out there in terms of what is considered unconventional as well as just add a dosage of low-brow humor into the mix. The result is messy but it has this odd tone that makes it endearing due to the fact that the main protagonists in Barb and Star are these somewhat dim-witted yet heartfelt ladies who just live to have fun, have a few drinks, wear these pants known as coulettes, and be completely silly.
Upon their arrival to Vista del Mar in Florida, they meet a British man named Edgar (Jamie Dornan) unaware that he’s really a spy working for a madwoman named Dr. Lady (Kristen Wiig) who hopes to destroy Vista del Mar because of what happened to her as a teenager many years ago by unleashing a swarm of killer mosquitoes. Yet, Edgar is hoping that the mission succeeds so that he and Dr. Lady becomes an official couple yet finds himself falling for Star and questioning what he is trying to do. Adding to the chaos is Barb’s own quest for adventure as well as the fact that Barb and Star talk constantly in their Midwestern accent and are often oblivious to what is happening around them as it adds to the film’s offbeat tone.
Josh Greenbaum’s direction is all over the place in terms of what it wants to be yet it somehow manages to work because of how insane the script is in its approach to offbeat, low-brow humor. Shot on various locations in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with additional locations in Albuquerque, New Mexico as Nebraska, the film opens with a young kid (Reyn Doi) being a paperboy as he’s singing to Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb’s Guilty as it sets the tone for what is to come where it gets dark upon the appearance of Dr. Lady and who this young kid and it then cuts to Barb and Star at work shoulder-dancing to Shania Twain’s Man, I Feel Like a Woman. It is among these moments that showcase a film that isn’t going to this traditional vacation film mixed in with a spy thriller as the scene where Barb and Star arrive at the Vista del Mar hotel is presented as this lavish musical number. The usage of wide and medium shots do help with the musical numbers that include another one from Edgar as Greenbaum knows when to create some unique compositions that do pay tribute to musicals while keeping everything else simple. Even in intimate moments where characters are in conversation as it feature bits of humor including some of the most fucked-up moments that include a crab with the voice of Morgan Freeman.
Greenbaum also play into this realm of absurdist humor as it relates to Dr. Lady as she does have this strange back story that is weird in itself while the absurdity continues into a man Dr. Lady hires in Darlie Bunkle (Damon Wayans Jr.) who does a poor job in hiding as he tries to relay information to Edgar. The film also play into elements of surrealism yet Greenbaum keeps it to a minimum in favor of focusing on the friendship of Barb and Star as well as the chaos they find themselves in. Especially in the film’s climax where it is thrilling yet there is this odd sense of humor to it that is insane while not being afraid of being low-brow as it also has this what-the-fuck moment that is baffling but endearing. Overall, Greenbaum crafts a weird, imbecilic yet outrageously funny film about two women in their mid-40s going on a vacation where all hell and hilarity ensue.
Cinematographer Toby Oliver does excellent work with the film’s cinematography with its vibrant usage of colors for the scenes of Vista del Mar in the daytime/nighttime scenes as well as some low-key lighting for the interior scenes set in Nebraska and at Dr. Lady’s lair. Editor Steve Welch does nice work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with some stylish jump-cuts and montages as it play into absurdist tone of the film. Production designer Steve Saklad, along with set decorator Mariana Castaneda and art director Rafael Mandujano, does amazing work with the look of the Vista del Mar hotel as well as the hotel rooms and some of the exterior locations as well as the quaint and kitsch home of Barb and Star. Costume designer Trayce Gigi Field does fantastic work with the costume in the design of the coulette pants as well as some of the cheesy clothes that Barb and Star wear and the clothes that Dr. Lady wears.
Special makeup effects artist Stephanie Pasicov, along with makeup artist Malinalli Contreras and hair stylist Lizeth Correa, does brilliant work with the look of Dr. Lady as well as the hairstyle that Barb and Star have. Visual effects supervisor Nicholas Hurst does terrific work with some of visual effects for a few action-suspense scenes as well as a few funny moments in the film as it is mainly set dressing. Sound editor Nancy Nugent and sound designer Jon Title do superb work with the sound in the way some of the parties sound as well as the sounds of oceans from the hotel rooms and in some of the sounds inside Dr. Lady’s lair. The film’s music by Christopher Lennertz and Dara Taylor is wonderful for its mixture of suspenseful orchestral music, kitschy jazz, and island-based beach music along with some original piano songs by the comedy-music singer Richard Cheese with songs about boobies and such while music supervisors Julianne Jordan and Justine von Winterfeldt provide a fun music soundtrack featuring Barbra Streisand with Barry Gibb, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Pitbull, and many others including some original songs including the lavish musical numbers.
The casting by Allison Jones is incredible as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Gerry Bednob as a motel owner, Michael Hitchcock as the Vista del Mar hotel concierge, Ernesto Godoy as a guy in a speedo, the trio of Nevada Arnold, Elizabeth Kelly, and Ariana Gancicova in their respective roles as the three-year old, seven-year old, and thirteen-year old Dr. Lady, Karen Maruyama as a caricature artist, Kwame Patterson as the hotel bartender, and Mark David Jonathan as his musical persona Richard Cheese. Other notable small roles include Wendi McLendon-Covey as Barb and Trish’s friend Mickey who suggests they go to Vista del Mar, the quartet of Vanessa Bayer, Fortune Feimster, Rose Abdoo, and Phyllis Smith as a group of ladies Barb and Star have important conversations with that are often comical with Smith’s character wanting to talk about horses, and Reyn Doi as the young paperboy named Yoyo who plays an integral part into the film’s unique plot.
Damon Wayans Jr. is fantastic in his small role as the spy Darlie Bunkle as someone who tries to make sure Edgar does his job though he does a terrible job in trying to do disguises and hide himself in awkward ways. Jamie Dornan is incredible as Edgar as a spy who goes to Vista del Mar to oversee the mission yet finds himself falling for Star where Dornan doesn’t just show that he is really funny but also can sing and dance in a weird yet exhilarating musical number as it showcases that there is a lot more to him than just being attractive. Finally, there’s the duo of Annie Mumulo and Kristen Wiig in their dual respective roles of the titular characters as these two women from Nebraska with these weird accents and they talk in a certain rhythm and say silly things as they just provide a lot of wit and endure their own individual adventures as Mumulo and Wiig are just so hilarious to watch while Wiig also brings a lot dark camp to her role as Dr. Lady in this strange and chilling performance that has Wiig just being downright weird for all of the right reasons.
Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar is an absolutely fucked-up and insane film from Josh Greenbaum that for some strange fucking reason not only works as a comedy but it’s also a film that refuses to be defined as anything which makes it work. Thanks in large part to the performances of Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumulo along with their outlandish and far-out screenplay as well as gorgeous visuals, offbeat gags, wild musical numbers, and a supporting cast including a hilarious Jamie Dornan. It is a film that not only refuses to take itself seriously but manages to embrace all sorts of low-brow and surrealistic humor that will baffle many yet also has a lot of heart. In the end, Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar is a sensationally fucked-up film from Josh Greenbaum.
Josh Greenbaum Films: (The Short Game) – (Becoming Bond) – (Too Funny to Fail)
For the sixth week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the second week of the Romance Tropes Edition of the series on the subject of friends to lovers as it’s a typical narrative where two people are longtime friends and then fall in love with each other. Here are my three picks:
1. If Lucy Fell
I have no clue on how Eric Schaffer even gets funding for anything he does as none of his projects are any good including this film from 1996 that he co-wrote, directed, and co-star as the lead with Sarah Jessica Parker as two lifelong friends who both make a pact to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge to their death if they don’t find their true love by the time they reach 30. Schaffer’s character finds himself being with Elle MacPherson of all people while Parker starts to date Ben Stiller as this quirky artist. The film also features an early film appearance from a young Scarlett Johansson who is one of the few bright spots in a really awful film.
2. Made of Honor
A silly rom-com that has Patrick Dempsey as a lifelong playboy whose best friend is Michelle Monaghan as he becomes tired of his playboy lifestyle while realizing he’s in love with Monaghan who leaves for Scotland for work only to comeback engaged to a wealthy Scotsman. Adding to the turmoil is that Monaghan asks Dempsey to be her maid of honor and hilarity ensues. It’s a harmless film that is funny while it also has Dempsey and his guy friends dealing with the chaos that women have to go through in being bridesmaids and maids of honor yet Dempsey’s character refuses to quit in professing his love for Monaghan.
Based on the novel by David Nicholls who also wrote the film and directed by Lone Scherfig is a film with a unique concept as it takes place mainly on a certain date of the year as it tells the story of a friendship that spans 18 years. Starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess, it’s a film that has its moments though it does play into some of the worst rom-com clichés as they can’t stand each other at times while they also endure bad haircuts, awful relationships with other people, and eventually get together. Hathaway and Sturgess are good as is Patricia Clarkson as the latter’s mother though it’s a film that had a unique idea but plays it too safely.
Written, directed, and co-edited by Trey Edward Shults, Waves is the story of an African-American family living in South Florida as their patriarch tries to ensure success for his son only for things to fall apart. The film is an exploration of a family who are trying to live their lives yet the demands of living a better life eventually takes the toll on the family. Starring Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell, Alexa Demie, Renee Elise Goldsberry, and Sterling K. Brown. Waves is an intoxicating and evocative film from Trey Edward Shults.
Set in Fort Lauderdale and areas in South Florida, the film follows the life of an African-American family as their patriarch pushes for 18-year old son to succeed with great pressure only for everything to suddenly crack and lead to tragedy and a troubling aftermath. It’s a film that explores a family who seems to have it all but the pressures to maintain that success begins to take its toll on a young man who has a thriving amateur wrestling career, a girlfriend, and everything that a high school senior wants. Trey Edward Shults’ screenplay follows this life of a family with the son Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) at the center of the story in its first half as he is someone with a lot of promise but his father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) is pushing him to do better in the hopes that he wouldn’t have to struggle the way Ronald did. Yet, the physical and mental pressure begins to take its toll as does his relationship with his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie) who reveals that she might be pregnant.
Tyler doesn’t tell his father nor his stepmother Catherine (Renee Elise Goldsberry) about the news as well as a warning from a doctor about his shoulder as it would all crash down for the film’s first half. The second half focuses on the aftermath of these events as well as Tyler’s younger sister Emily (Taylor Russell) in how she copes with the events as well as her own growing loneliness leading to a romance with one of Tyler’s wrestling teammates in Luke (Lucas Hedges). Emily’s role in the narrative is someone who didn’t just saw the events that lead to tragedy but also watch her family just go through the motions as she was also crucial in the film’s first half as she saw Tyler breaking down and ready to explode amidst the pressures of everything he’s going through.
Shults’ direction is definitely stylish in not just the compositions he creates throughout the film but also in using different aspect ratios as it is shot largely on location in Fort Lauderdale and nearby areas in South Florida as well as additional locations in Columbia, Missouri for a key sequence in the third act. Shults would also use these long tracking shots as well as 360 degree shots of an entire location or in a car to play into the world that the Williams family is in with the tracking shots getting a view of where a character is at some place. Most notably a scene where Tyler walks into a big party to find Alexis as it would play into this key event that would shake everything. Shults’ usage of the Steadicam for the tracking shots does also include moments of style in these long tracking shots where the camera pan towards another character as if something is to happen. Even as there’s a lot of stylish slow-motion shots that add to this poetic tone in the visuals with a lot of the wide and medium shots including some intense dramatic moments with the latter such as a conversation between Tyler and Ronald with the latter emphasizing on what he is trying to do as a father and the hope that the former doesn’t make any big mistakes.
The different aspect ratios that Shults presents add to the visual tone of the film as the first half is shot in a 1:85:1 aspect ratio but following a key event that would shake up everything. The film changes into a 1:33:1 aspect ratio as it plays into a world where everything becomes tighter as the usage of close-ups and medium shots become more evident. When the film begins to focus on Emily, it does play into different aspect ratios in the wide screen format ranging from 2:35:1 and beyond where it adds to not just Emily’s own identity beginning to flourish but also watching her family’s image crumbling as she tries to ponder whether it was inevitable or she could’ve done something to prevent what had happened. Even as she accompanies Luke for his own journey as it also play into the idea of loss and regret not just for Luke but also for the Williams family. Overall, Shults crafts a rapturous yet harrowing film about the life of an African-American family living in South Florida.
Cinematographer Drew Daniels does incredible work with the film’s colorful cinematography to capture the vibrancy of the neon lights for the scenes at night including in some of the party scenes as well as maintain something natural for many of the interior/exterior scenes set in the day. Editors Trey Edward Shults and Isaac Hagy do excellent work with the editing with the usage of jump-cuts in some shots as well as some slow-motion cuts while keeping much of the editing straightforward. Production designer Elliott Hostetter, with set decorator Adam Willis and art director Margaux Rust, does brilliant work with the interior of the Williams home as well as a few other houses as well as some of the interiors at the school where Tyler and Emily attend. Costume designer Rachel Dainer-Best does fantastic work with some of the clothes as it is largely casual to play into the youthful world of the teens along with a more refined look of the adults.
Special effects supervisor Craig Barnett and visual effects supervisor Lucien Harriot do nice work with some of the visuals that include these dream-like images that play as transitional scenes as it is mainly set-dressing. Sound designers Max Behrens, Johnnie Burn, Simon Carroll, Brendan Feeney, Jack Patterson, Jack Sedgwick, and Ned Sisson do amazing work with the sound as it helps maintain an atmosphere in the locations as well as how some of the smaller moments sound including the music and parts of nature as it is a highlight of the film. The film’s music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is phenomenal for its somber and ambient-based music that help play into the drama and some of the dream-like moment in the film as it is a major highlight of the film. Music supervisor Meghan Currier does superb work with the soundtrack as it feature an array of music ranging from classic jazz, hip-hop, EDM, and indie from artists/acts like Dinah Washington, Kendrick Lamar, Animal Collective, Tame Impala, Frank Ocean, A$AP Rocky, Tyler the Creator, Fuck Buttons, Amy Winehouse, Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Alabama Shakes, Radiohead, SZA, Chance the Rapper, Colin Stetson, and THEY as it play into the culture that the kids are soaking themselves in.
The casting by Avy Kaufman is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Bill Wise as Tyler’s wrestling coach, Krisha Fairchild as the English teacher, filmmaker Harmony Korine as another teacher, David Garelik as a friend of Tyler, Neal Huff as Luke’s estranged father, Vivi Peneda as Alexis’ daughter, and Clifton Collins Jr. in a small role as Alexis’ daughter whom Tyler briefly converses with. Alexa Demie is fantastic as Tyler’s girlfriend Alexis as someone who cares about him but also raises concern about her own pregnancy as she copes with having to make some difficult decisions of her own that only causes more trouble for Tyler. Lucas Hedges is excellent as Luke as a teammate of Tyler who befriends Emily in its third act as he reaches out to her while also being gentle and kind to her during a tumultuous time for her. Renee Elise Goldsberry is brilliant as Tyler and Emily’s stepmother Catherine as a woman that is concerned about Tyler’s mental state but also the chaos that would later follow as she deals with its troubling aftermath.
Sterling K. Brown is amazing as Tyler and Emily’s father Ronald as a man who is trying to ensure that Tyler succeeds in the hopes that he doesn’t have to suffer the way he did when he was young as someone who means well but ends up pushing his son too hard as he deals with his own faults. Kelvin Harrison Jr. is incredible as Tyler as an 18-year old high school senior who has it all yet copes with the pressure of needing to succeed only to deal with problems of his own due to his own faults and decisions where he ends up going into his own downward spiral. Finally, there’s Taylor Russell in a phenomenal performance as Emily Williams as Tyler’s younger sister who spends much of the film’s first half observing her brother and his downward spiral only to later deal with the events that shook up her own family as well as coming into her own identity as it’s a somber yet evocative performance from Russell.
Waves is a tremendous film from Trey Edward Shults that features an incredible ensemble cast led by Kelvin Harrison Jr., Taylor Russell, and Sterling K. Brown. Along with its supporting cast, ravishing visuals, wondrous approach to storytelling, an intoxicating score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, and a hypnotic music soundtrack. The film is definitely a visceral and engrossing film about a family trying to maintain a degree of success only to succumb to pressure and bad decisions that would bring ruin but also revelations about themselves. In the end, Waves is a magnificent film from Trey Edward Shults.
For the fifth week of 2021 as part of Wandering Through the Shelves' Thursday Movie Picks. We go into the Romance Tropes Edition of the series by focusing on the subject of fake relationships. It’s a common trope that allow two people to be together for some scheme or to make someone jealous and such. Here are my three picks:
1. The Wedding Date
This rom-com starring Debra Messing, Dermont Mulroney, and Amy Adams is a delightful, harmless film where Messing travels to London to celebrate Adams’ wedding yet the groom’s best man is her cheating ex-boyfriend as she hires an escort in Mulroney to be her date. It’s a film that has some nice moments as well as a lot of attraction with Mulroney being the straight man and Messing also displaying some charm while Adams and Sarah Parish as their British cousin TJ are standouts in a film that is better than a lot of rom-coms and didn’t deserve the harsh reviews it received from critics.
2. I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry
When you have a film starring Adam Sandler, it’s often that it’s not going to be good and this one is no exception as one would’ve expected that the film which was co-written by Alexander Payne and his writing partner Jim Taylor to be good yet their work was badly re-written by Sandler and his cohorts. It has Sandler helping out his fellow firefighter friend in Kevin James by marrying him so that he can get insurance including healthcare for the latter’s kids. It unfortunately caters to the lowest common denominator in terms of its humor that includes Rob Schneider as an Asian yet the saving grace of that film is Ving Rhames as another firefighter with some serious anger issues largely due to the secret that he’s carrying.
3. The Proposal
Starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds is this fun film where Bullock plays the latter’s boss as she learns she is to be deported back to Canada as she asks Reynolds to be engaged to her as he is set to go back home to Alaska as it’s revealed that he’s from a rich family. It’s a film that has charm with Bullock and Reynolds displaying some nice chemistry yet the real scene-stealer in that film is Betty White as the latter’s grandmother who is a joy to watch. It’s a harmless film that does what it needed to do yet does bring in the laughs.