Movie Reviews: Roman J. Israel, Esq

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What is an esquire?

Either google the term if you have zero patience, or watch how Denzel Washington delivers an answer as Roman J. Israel, Esq, a man with a crisis of conscience.

This is a common theme in many adult films. I personally like George Clooney in Michael Clayton as he explores a similar theme, also in the legal world. Maybe this is why we don’t predominantly like attorneys. They are expensive, shallow, and the nature of their work treat their clients as dollar signs. This theme runs deep through the film as Denzel’s character has to weigh a life of servitude for the greater good, or giving in to the monetary demons on his shoulders.

Choices are made, and you can probably guess the arc. If you watched Nightcrawler, an excellent film also by Dan Gilroy (who also saved Rogue One in reshoots), you’ll know there is a new master in Hollywood. Gilroy understands pacing, character arcs, and how to deliver an ending against a narrative.

People, understandably, hope for some Hollywood type ending. In legal dramas, this often culminates in some victorious legal decision. But the story is often more about the case or criminal. A film directed by Dan Gilroy is always about someone’s journey, the decision they have to make, and the consequences of their actions. Watch Nightcrawler, the end of Rogue One, and Roman J. Esquire and compare.

I read a few other reviews, mostly centering on Denzel getting nominated for an Oscar again, but they hoped for more. Others called the film weird.

I thought it was tremendous masterwork done by a storyteller. I look forward to the next decade of Dan Gilroy films. They have you thinking afterward, “what was that about?” In current cinema, there are only a few other directors I hold in this regard: Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, and Nicholas Winding Refn. I don’t exactly have to love all of their films, but I love the artistry they display in a commercialized business.

I think this is Denzel’s best work in many years. He’s plays basically the same character in most of his films, likely due to director/producer decisions, so that people know exactly what they are paying for. He is kind of crusty, kind of tough, and usually to the point. Roman J. Israel is crusty, however isn’t tough, is kind of chicken, stammers on tangents and lacks social manners.

And what else. Colin Farrell. That Colin Farrell. The one who was In Bruges, not the one in SWAT. The one pushing himself in The Lobster, not the one evading capture in Total Recall. The one who dabbles in indie films with exploratory storytelling. Not the one looking for the big payday. The character actor. A good character actor.

Dan Gilroy, please please please keep the films coming. I know $11 million isn’t exactly the box office producers want, but film as an art form needs more stories like this, and adults need to support it in the future, otherwise over-saturation of sequels/prequels/animation/reboots/comic stories will somehow get worse. Film itself is going through a similar crisis of conscience. There is a tradeoff in this industry, like many others (like Facebook filtering the fake paid posts, but not all, or Google disabling fake news accounts, but still allowing Tai Lopez to pump Bitcoin courses to dumb millennials), which I now ponder the morning after. Movie reviewers are not exactly a philosophical bunch, so I understand how most were quick to type up their reviews and few actually thought about the art. I can only imagine them attending a new art exhibit.

Movie Rating: 9.5/10 Armenian Rewards

 

 

Win my 1 bitcoin! or learn why Youtube travel vloggers are bullshit

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No need to read my entire blog eviscerating travel vlog youtubers. I’ll state my challenge up front. I’ll send 1 bitcoin to the first person that can guess where this picture was taken this week. I’ll make it easier than naming a beach. You must name the closest city to the beach. The deadline is 7 March 18 at 7pm Eastern US time. To prevent spam and an excel spreadsheet of every city in the world, type the location in the comments below. One guess per person. The first 500 guesses will be accepted and tallied and I’ll post the answer along with the 500 guesses, other pics of this beach with me on it on another blog. At the current spot price of bitcoin, this is actually a pricey gamble that might not even think beyond their home continent. Maybe they think it’s Myrtle Beach (pssst. It’s not, or is it?). I know it’s not exactly a Forrest Fenn type loot, but hey, it’s something.

What? Is it too hard? Too many choices to pick from? If you don’t know where to start, you must not like travel pictures. Maybe when you think of traveling, you think of only 10 glamorous places in the world (like some youtubers below). Traveling for most people is a form of escapism. People like to think of going to the beach, but don’t actually like sitting on the beach for more than a few hours.

Most people with a little wanderlust in them have traveled to many places for many different reasons. Some want to be inspired. Some yearn for a sense of discovery and wonder. Some do it for spiritual growth. Some are running away from a past life. Some just love doing what would be considered “illegal shit” in their home country. For most of human time, some might say, military conquest, economic opportunities, a quest for a new start in life, a sense of honor, or flight from religious persecution were primary motivating factors to travel beyond your home borders.

I’ll begin by saying the days of Arthur Frommer are over. There are simply not enough beach selfies in any Frommer guide for millennials to pay attention.

In the mid 20th century, the jet-setter crowd glamorized affluent adolescents taking quick trips to lavish locations. London. Paris. Rome. This wasn’t really for fame. It was just self indulgence and storytelling fodder for social circles. Today, with platforms like youtube, a new industry has formed around what I call “Tube-setters.”

Tube – setter:

noun:

Definition: Charlatan vloggers who travel world and create self-indulgent travel videos visiting mostly beaches and five star accommodations. Ignores where most humans actually live. Cultures and languages don’t matter. Bathing suits are near mandatory every few videos. 

Related:

affiliate marketer, noun

Today, I argue, youtube stars like Eric Conover, The Perkins, Vagabrothers, High On Life, FunForLouis, Danielle Mansutti, and Lost Leblanc travel in self indulgence for fame, self promotion, and monetization schemes. Some are better than others (I’ll name my opinion on the best below). They travel to destinations well-known. They dress fashionably and always ensure a girl in a bikini is nearby as they head to places like Monaco, New York, Thailand, Miami and Bali. If they do go to place in Africa, they label the entire trip “Africa” or “Safari” without knowing how thoughtless it sounds. It would be like a Kenyan saying, “I just saw Asia. Check out my 1 day trip.” Or maybe a Mongolian saying “I flew to Myrtle Beach. It’s official, I saw North America. Click here.” Although I know the golden rule to never argue with a Mongolian, but in this case, I’d probably ask him to consider a larger sample size.

They act as if they know the world after taking some video on a Bali beach with their GoPro. They are taking the easy path as they make clickbait titled videos in hope to monetize what is essentially their vacations (nothing is lower than a dang clickbait title um ………). For those that are fans, know that I’m really impartial. In fact, I’ve never seen a single one of their videos before today. If you do the math, you would quickly find out it is impossible to watch every minute of every video except for clicking through a large sample to hear if there was any actually anything worth learning about. In fact, anyone that does take on this Clockwork Orange-ish punishment of actually watching all the content ever produced from these youtubers, they could suffer death-by-youtube through boredom where their anus and eyeballs explode at the same time. This is punishment no human being should suffer through.

I simply did a “travel blog” search on youtube and clicked through a few pages of the top followed channels. Simple as that. You can try this, and see the same theme. Lots of beach thumbnails of girls in bikinis. Some confessional videos. Some offer some “advice.” Obviously they have the wisdom to part top 10 lists. Some are more about getting the content out there (and since there are only so many beach GoPro shots you can take), so they resort to Q&As where they obviously want to talk to their fans. I think even they don’t know. Are they fans? Are they wanderlust inspired viewers? Is it just an accountant in Dallas who put on youtube videos while he toils away in his cubicle at his firm. How many times can their freaking grandmother click on on their videos?

Or, maybe people are truly memorized by this stuff. Like the whole subculture going to sleep, or doing something else entirely, to ASMR videos. You don’t feel out of touch until you are suggested by Google to watch a ASMR video with 9.4M videos of a woman whispering. It’s like culture taking a perfume-laden fart.

*Note: Upon further review, FunForLouis gets 3 bonus points for visiting and vlogging on North Korea and Somalia, but lost 3 points in authenticity for the countless videos dedicated to his dreadlock styling decisions, “surprised looks,” and clickbait titles such as “Caught by Mexican Police” (where less than 10 seconds of a 12 minute video shows a mexican copy car pulling them over).

I know, maybe I’m totally delusional. Maybe not everyone wants to travel to Chennai (population 4.5 million), Ahmedabad (population  5.6 million), Surabaya (population 2.8 million), Medan (population 2.1 million), Dhaka (population 14 million), Chengdu (population 14 million), Suzhou (population 11 million), Accra (population 1.7 million), Kisumu (population 1.1 million), Fes (population 1.1 million), and Belo Horizonte (population 4.4 million). Maybe royalty-free music tracks don’t go quite well in these locations.

There are still knowledgeable travelers. The ones who monetize through books and maybe some affiliate marketing with resorts seem to be more knowledgeable than the ones who focus more on their appearances and well-lit selfie shots. None can compare to professionals like Rick Steves on PBS who can actually tell culturally significant stories, albeit in more of a dry presentation to an older crowd (aka those who no longer are entertained by beaches/beach selfies). And yes, instead of the beach, he is probably guilty of focusing a lot of attention on European locales, but he works for PBS and not Vice.

As for the youtubers above, no travel vlog can be perfect. I surfed a few videos and reviewed many of the clickbait titles. From what I can see, Eric Conover really really loves himself and might or might not have accidentally proposed to himself in a mirror at one time or another. The Perkins really love going to events and taking selfies. Solutions for Syrian Genocide, they do not have. FunForLouis has the most interesting channel as he jams the most diverse set of activities, friends, and hairstyles in his series. Danielle Mansutti, well, has discovered something else beautiful makeup tutorial youtubers with beautiful boyfriends can do (along with Kane and Pia, Emitaz, Angelica Blick) … she just needs to remember content creation goes beyond visuals (pssst say something interesting). High on Life parlayed a “Titty Pec Dance,” “Epic Backflip Fail,” and “Straddle Jump to the Balls” around 6 years ago into the party travel blogger channel to today. This is like a modern day youtube fairytale. Who could have imagined that? Lost Leblanc was the most basic of the channels, but oddly enough, was the one who chose to add a series on “How to make money on Youtube.” This sort of puts the channel in its own class and probably deserves its own unique word. It’s not the blind leading the blind … but maybe the tube-setter leading the tube-setter.

Out of all the channels I watched, only the Vagabrothers seemed to actually mix diverse locations, food, activities, while remaining authentic with their personalities. A lot of it is focused squarely on travel, and based on the range of videos, if I was a space alien and wanted to know more about Earth, Vagabrothers is what I would watch out of this sample.

It is clear that people watch for part wanderlust and part aspirational life since most of these tube-setters are under 35. For more credibility long term, I think the tube-setting crowd should at least explore the parts less known. Eventually, there will be other 20-somethings who will steal the views and attention space if you remain one-dimensional. First youtuber advantage won’t save you against people younger, and more cooler than you as you get older and less relatable. Ask any actress over 35 what happens in Hollywood. It’s a shallow world. Diversify your content. Take a leap of faith. Let us actually learn something. Give us interesting facts you learned that we can’t find anywhere else. Go to cities that people have not vlogged about. Try speaking the local language and learn about local customs. Try to eat their foods. I’ve actually watched many of the youtube videos of The Food Ranger, due my love of Asian food. This was an accident, again, from the damn Google search suggestion algorithm. I never realized there was so much weird stuff to eat in India and China.

But stay off the beach. The world doesn’t need more beach selfies and GoPro videos uploaded on youtube.

And wear sunscreen.

Or, win my 1 bitcoin.

Follow me on Twitter @Matt_M_Leonard

TV Reviews: Black Mirror – USS Callister

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Note: Some slight huge plot reveals below….

What would a show about an entertainment simulation be without Jimmi Simpson?

Or a show without our little Breaking Bad henchman, Jesse Plemons.

Or the mother of all mothers, Cristin Milioti.

In a spoof, of one of my favorite sci-fi shows of all time.

Beam me right up. I’m there with a big bucket of popcorn.

Black Mirror, already a bleak, technology-warning twilight zone, opens season 4 with the USS Callister. Jesse Plemons plays a programmer that is picked on in his personal life. We watch his daily routine and genuinely feel a little bad for him. But then, the show twists and turns, and in truly Black Mirror style, he is the villain. A laughable villain, really. Maybe a step up from the red haired kid in The Incredibles.

Shut up. This isn’t a Westworld-esque type reveal. It’s difficult to really talk about the show without going past the first ten minutes. The plot of the show is what happens when you get caught in another world. Do you live by the new set of rules? Do you rebel? Do you find other way?

Our hero, Cristin Milioti, is as sweet as can be. Even with the pictures and swim time, nothing changes. There is nothing really dark about her. There is no huge choice. She is simply making the obvious decision throughout.

The more nuanced performance comes from Jesse Plemons, playing a half nerd/half mirror-mirror Captain Kirk, where men can be men, and women are disposable. We like him, then hate him, then despise him, then feel sorry for him. No other character in the show goes through such an arc.

Professional reviews discuss male echo chambers, which, if you read from my Mindhunters review, I don’t really believe. People are all a reflection of their experiences, genetic predisposition, in a disorderly world full of chaos. Wannabe academics, aka present day tv critics, might have the pulse on culture, but sometimes go to far in trying to draw parallels to everyday society. Sometimes show are messed up because its meant to be.

This show is called Black Mirror for a reason.

Everyone has secrets. Everyone has dreams. They always have, and always will.

TV Show Rating: 9.5/10 Pizza Deliveries

TV Reviews: Mindhunter

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What separates a killer from a serial killer?

This the fundamental question in the pilot of Mindhunter. People commit crimes. Horrible crimes. Despicable crimes. Sometimes over and over again. How do we catch them? It’s surprising, at least the way the show portrays the FBI, were stuck in 1950s style investigations even as Charles Manson was orchestrating a mass murder.

Based on a non-fiction book, it is hard to tell how much the show will deviate from the source material. One thing is clear … I’ll never read the book.

David Fincher directed the opening two episodes, setting up the sequence of events that launches the build-out of a psychology unit of the FBI. Fincher goes back to his usual cinematic style that directors after him mimic the best they can, sort of like with House of Cards (the 2 seasons back when it was good) There are a lot of creative subtleties in the first two episodes that are sorely missed later on, especially a few episodes in the middle.

The show works, not because they cast a great leading actor. In fact, Jonathan Groff plays it as square and boring as it gets. It’s not really his fault, per se. He is written to have zero edge. I assume in later seasons he’ll develop a personality. I guess only straight edge people can really hunker down and understand the psychosis of a psychotic.

Anna Torv is rather good, convincing playing a elitist academic with a profound curiosity for the criminal mind. Holt McCallany plays the partner that is opposite of Groff’s character. It is sort of a buddy cop trope where the seasoned cop doesn’t give a shit anymore. (One fun link: Holt McCallany played a minor role in Fight Club, a cult classic also directed by David Fincher)

The key to the series, in my view, is getting convincing actors to play a serial killer. And boy, do they get one. Cameron Britton, at six foot-infinity, is a towering human with a crazy look that is sort of the look of the red stapler guy in office space, except on steroids. The crazy words that come out of his mouth completes the picture of a lunatic.

I added the show to my list of binge-all-weekend views that Netflix once in a while gets right.

First Season Rating: 9/10 Decapitated Heads

Travel Blog – Qatar Dune Surfing & Beach “Party”

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Qatar might not sound like a travel and leisure destination to you, but for me, back in 2007 there was no better place to be. I needed a week off of work. I needed to get away. You might say, to me, Qatar was the top destination on travel list.

You also might say Qatar was the only option.

And, the trip there was free.

Upon seeing my accommodations, I inquired about the available day trips I could take. There were a number that I signed up for and took that week.

Only one, for the cost of $60, took me on an excursion to a destination unknown. The description at the front desk was vague. It described a dune surfing adventure along with a beach stop and delicious meal to conclude the trip. I was skeptical, but needed to see for myself. This is not exactly the excursion desk on a Carnival Cruise.

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Our chariots awaited us in Nissan Pathfinders. The drivers instructed us to pick a car, any car, as we boarded not exactly knowing where we were going. I wish I could remember the exact conversation with the driver. I’m pretty sure he was not even Qatari. Like many workers in Qatar, the U.A.E. or Kuwait, they brought over from much poorer countries to work for a period of time at much higher wages than their local economy. Pakistan and India notably provide a larger base of English speaking workers. Countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and Indonesia provided low cost labor for large construction projects. From the few videos I did take, much of the attention of the driver seems to be paid to the music selection. It seemed to be the singular most important thing to him. In one video, Beyonce is playing. In the other, it’s Linkin Park. One hand is on the wheel, and the other is trying to impress us with his taste in music. Don’t let the media fool you on what people around the world think of Americans. You’ll be surprised how many people love American culture, movies/fashion/music, while disliking only politics. Even in America, most people dislike politics.

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Once we hit the actual dunes though, it didn’t take long for me to realize how good my driver was. He wasn’t exactly a stunt driver, but I could tell by the time we began going up and down large dune slopes, some almost the slope of a roller coaster drop, he knew exactly what would impress us. There was a certain joy I think in getting a reaction from us. Before the last drop, we parked for some pictures before going to the Meesaid Sealine Beach Resort. R&R Dune Trip #6.jpg

It might not look like it, but you could have rolled me off that sand dune. If you look closely, you can see tire treads of the cars that drive up and down the dunes.

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So there we were. What better way to celebrate surviving a sand dune roller coaster? How about jellyfish. Lots of them. So much, there was a jellyfish bottle spray to use if we got stung by one. Never in my beach travels had the jellyfish been the actual attraction. I ventured in the ocean, only in part to say I stepped foot and “swam” in the Persian Gulf. I basically sat most of the time reading the paranoid Michael Crichton novel, State of Fear. R&R Inland Excursion #3.jpg

Then came time for the meal. It was much better than what I expected. It was kebabs, pilaf, and some sort of chopped salad. The kebabs came in three different flavors: chicken, lamb, and a “mystery mix.” Whenever presented with the “mystery mix” you have to sort of go with the “destination unknown” theme and just try it. It was good and I ate all of it, to include the grilled jalapeno. R&R Inland Excursion Meal #3.jpg

After a couple hours we departed back to our accommodations. There were many other “adventures” that week, but nothing gave me the same moment of solitude that eating kebabs on a beach in the Persian Gulf did.

I still remember it over a decade later.

Surprise surprise.

Movie Reviews: Night Owls

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When you are a night owl searching for a flick to watch in bed, what’s more fitting than a movie called Night Owls?

It is yet another story of boy meets girl.

Boy sleeps with girl.

Boy finds out she is crazy.

Whether or not art is imitating life, or life is imitating art is a tricky question in this case. One thing is known though, is this movie probably won’t be remembered as art. Madeline and Kevin are foes throughout. Adam Pally seems like he was told to do his best impression of Seth Rogan. Rosa Salazar seems like she was told to do her best impression of Aubrey Plaza.

The problem is, neither are funny.

Neither are believable playing it serious. For something as serious as the event that happens ten minutes in, I would expect to see more panic on both sides.

I’m not saying the acting is terrible. It’s okay. The best they can do is work with the material given to them. For most of the film, they are the only two characters struggling against each other on a single set.

In movies, opposites attract. Throughout the film, I didn’t really think Kevin or Madeline felt anything towards each other. Here, it seems they keep a disdain for each other up until the end. Madeline doesn’t show any real closure with her previous flame. Kevin doesn’t truly conquer his obstacle, not unless you count pouting off away from the conflict.

The movie sort of ends where it begins.

A more interesting movie would have been what happens next. At least then, we could have watched a change in the characters.

Movie Rating: 5/10 mace sprays in the face

 

 

Coincidental Circumstances (Part 6)

I redrafted the entire opening. I needed to sprinkle in the ingredients of an explosive beginning. Plus, I needed something to ground Miranda and establish the stakes. My fingertips danced off the keyboard.

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I nodded my head confidently. Now I was getting somewhere. I reached to take a last sip of my macchiato again. I had been nursing it like a cheapskate for over an hour. All writers do it. Some will go an entire day sucking the free Wi-Fi without blinking an eye. I actually thrived on the caffeine. It was time for another cup of inspiration to propel me to finish my James Bond-esque opening.

TO BE CONTINUED