Saturday, September 14, 2019

Higher Learning

Year 11, Day 257 - 9/14/19 - Movie #3,355

BEFORE: Finally, my planned back-to-school film chain is here, just a couple of weeks late.  I had a bit of an unexpected start with "The Glass Castle" and "Our Souls at Night" a few weeks ago, those weren't part of the plan, but "The Glass Castle" accidentally touched on the issue of home schooling vs. attending public school, and the other film was set in August with a minor young character staying with his grandmother until school started in September.

Regina King carries over from "If Beale Street Could Talk".  I just used Pedro Pascal as a link, and he's starring in one new TV series I want to see - "The Mandalorian" - while Regina King is going to appear in the other one, "Watchmen".  I just went through Entertainment Weekly's whole Fall TV preview, and I'm prepared to say that even though there are more new TV series than ever, on more platforms than ever (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, AppleTV, Disney Plus) I'm going to focus on these two, because I don't have enough time for any other new shows. Plus, the networks forgot AGAIN to cancel shows like "Shark Tank" and "Law & Order: SVU", so my schedule could be packed.

THE PLOT: People from all different walks of life encounter racial tension, rape, responsibility and the meaning of an education on a university campus.

AFTER:  Set on the campus of the fictional "Columbus University", which is conveniently located in AnyState, USA, it seems like this film just wanted to over-simplify every social issue that it could get its hands on, from athletics to frats to hate groups to date rape.  By trying to cover everything at once, it couldn't really do a deep dive into any of these topics, and so it doesn't really draw any strong conclusions about the causes of all the tension, or what to do about them.  I'm trying to think back to my time in college, which was the late 80's, and I remember that it was a time of great social change, student groups were advocating for gay rights, affirmative action was a thing (before the backlash about it) and women were still fighting for equal rights (how did that one turn out, did they win?).  In other words, it was a lot like now, only earlier.

As the film opens, a track athlete has a conversation with his coach, and he wants to cut back his responsibilities to the track team.  He soon learns the ramifications of this as his full athletic scholarship is cut back to a half scholarship, and he can't make up the difference.  He (and a number of other students) are then kicked out of Political Science class until they can pay their outstanding tuition. OK, it's a hard lesson and it sets up his return to the team, but I'm fairly sure that college doesn't work this way.  Admittedly, I'm no expert on athletic scholarships, but when I went to NYU we couldn't even REGISTER for a class until we got an OK from the bursar's office.  (I had a partial National Merit scholarship resulting from my PSAT score, but while I appreciated it, honestly, it was a drop in the bucket compared to tuition.). So the athlete might be a special case, but how did so many other students get to sit down in the class if they owed the college money?  A well-organized university would never have let that happen - or does the screenwriter just not understand how college works?

The whole issue of college sports is another shallow dive.  Malik got a FULL scholarship, why wasn't that enough for him?  One character even points out to him midway through the film - "Do you know how many people would kill to be in that position?"  Umm, yeah, Mr. Screenwriter, other people would love to be in Malik's position - so why can't he appreciate it?  Why does he want to get the scholarship, but not do the running?  Because it makes him beholden to the system, because it makes him feel like a "slave"?  Really, this is capitalism at work, he wants a college degree, the college wants a winning track team, I'm not seeing the problem here.  99% of college atheletes understand that if they want the degree, plus room and board and training on the college's dime, they've got to put in the effort and show up as needed.  Plus the college is probably going to let him skate on his coursework, or take a bunch of easy-A classes.  Everyone around him says to get out and run, why can't he get on board?

NITPICK POINT: Even after the big track meet, where I think Malik's relay team lost by two-hundredths of a second or something, I couldn't see the problem.  Come on, that's really close, why can't the team be happy with second place?  Were they blaming Malik for the loss?  I couldn't really tell.  Anyway, in a relay race it's probably difficult to tell which member of the team wasn't pulling his weight by .02 seconds' worth.

Then there's the overall racial tension at the university, which, if you'll pardon the pun, gets reduced to a very black-or-white issue.  There are clearly Asians and Latinos in the school, each ethnicity gets a couple seconds of screen time, but every character who gets dialogue is either this or that, Caucasian or African-American, so that's a gross over-simplification, right?  If you're a black male, you're either a track star or a gang member, and if you're a white male, you're either a frat boy or a skinhead.  There simply must be more options for who to be at this school.  And across the board, everyone feels more comfortable hanging out with people of their own race, so we're never going to cross the great racial divide this way.  The campus police is racist across the board, too, because when they appear on the scene, they just start clubbing the black students, assuming they're the cause of whatever problem is occuring (this happens not once, but TWICE).

When the black students take matters into their own hands (another thing that happens twice) they're always right, but for the wrong reasons.  They beat up the fratboy who raped Kristen, but not for that reason - it's because he was rude to a black girl on the phone.  Sure, that probably warrants a beating. Later in the film the black students come together again to beat up the skinheads, but you shouldn't really beat up racist white people.  I mean, sure, they deserve it, but then you're lowering yourself to their level, as you're doing to them exactly what they wanted to do to black people.  A better tactic would be to take the high road and prosecute them for their hate crimes, while staying above the fray. Or ignoring them completely, which would prove that their racism has no merit.  But I understand that taking the high road may be more difficult.

The character of Kristen is a lot more complicated, which perhaps makes her the most enigmatic one in the film.  She doesn't report her rape - I guess many women don't, but since they don't, maybe we're never sure why - and then by devoting time to socially aware groups on campus, she meets two people she's attracted to, and one is male and one is female.  OK, it's a tough nut to crack here, most films shy away from bisexuality just because it's hard to understand, and putting somebody in either THIS category or THAT one is a lot easier.  There was a chance here to maybe explore the in-between, how somebody feels and acts when they're truly attracted to both sexes, and what complications might arise from that.

But I think they tanked that here by having a sex scene that showed her having sex with both partners, and not at the same time, but maybe toggling between two separate (or many separate) encounters.  This was very confusing to me - was she having sex with one and imagining she was with the other?  Were both scenes imaginary, or were both real?  Shooting this as a continuous sequence didn't help matters, it only made things more confusing.  I guess the consensus here is that she had two separate relationships going at the same time, and the montage cut between different nights, but as for any real meaning behind it all, any indication about where her head was at, or how it feels to juggle two relationships with two people of different gender, I guess there just wasn't enough time?  We've got to get back to one of the other storylines we're juggling, after all.

Similarly, I wish we could have gotten more inside the head of the white student who joins the skinheads.  It could be a pretty big leap from "I hate my black roommate because he plays loud music" to "I hate all black people and wish to commit racially-charged violence", but you'd never know it from watching this movie.  What really goes on the mind of someone before he picks up a gun and shoots into a crowd?  (which, by the way, was a crowd that had white people in it, too, so it feels like the screenwriter didn't really understand hate crimes, either.). I guess we'll never know.  (NOTE: IMDB says that the shooting scene here was loosely based on the 1966 incident at the University of Texas, which was also depicted in the animated documentary "Tower", which I watched earlier this year.)

There's a bit at the end where Malik and Kristen speak for the first time, after everything that goes down has gone down, and their conversation is basically an acknowledgement that they've never spoken before, which is an odd thing to say to someone that you don't really know.  It just seems like a writer is shrugging and admitting he couldn't think of a way to get these characters in the same shot, or anything else for them to talk about.  Like the whole film, it's clunky at best in the way it goes about addressing things.  Even the film's final message to the audience - the word "unlearn" over an American flag, is clunky.  Unlearn what?  Racism?  Political science?  The meaning of the flag?

Also starring Omar Epps (last seen in "Alfie"), Kristy Swanson (last seen in "Pretty in Pink"), Michael Rapaport (last seen in "Chuck"), Ice Cube (last seen in "xXx: Return of Xander Cage"), Jennifer Connelly (last seen in "The House of Sand and Fog"), Tyra Banks (last heard in "Eight Crazy Nights"), Jason Wiles (last seen in "Kicking and Screaming"), Cole Hauser (last seen in "Olympus Has Fallen"), Busta Rhymes (last seen in "Shaft"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "John Wick: Chapter 2"), Bradford English (last seen in "Lucky You"), Jay R. Ferguson, Andrew Bryniarski (last seen in "Hudson Hawk"), Trevor St. John (last seen in "Payback"), Talbert Morton, Adam Goldberg (last seen in "Before Sunrise"), Bridgette Wilson-Sampras (last seen in "The Wedding Planner"), Kari Wuhrer (last seen in "Thinner"), Randal Batinkoff (last seen in "For Keeps?"), with cameos from Morris Chestnut (last seen in "Girls Trip"), Gwyneth Paltrow (last seen in "Avengers: Endgame"), Vitamin C.

RATING: 4 out of 10 PeaceFest flyers

Friday, September 13, 2019

If Beale Street Could Talk

Year 11, Day 256 - 9/13/19 - Movie #3,354

BEFORE: Well, this was originally the slot I'd saved for "The Equalizer 2", which might have fit in thematically after "Triple Frontier", but who knows.  I've delayed "The Equalizer 2" until next year, so that I can fit in another Melissa McCarthy film, "The Happytime Murders", later this month.  I was slightly over capacity for the year, which is a relatively nice problem to have - I'd rather have three too many than fall short by three at the end.  So, something had to go - with three films in a row that had the same actor in them, it's easy to just jettison the middle one.  Since I'd already had a focus on puppetry earlier this year ("Being Elmo", "I Am Big Bird") I think if I look at the big picture, maybe "The Happytime Murders" should be part of this year and not next year.  But there's also the possibility that movie sucks, I'll never know until I watch it.  Now I don't have to think about the line-up until late October, when I'll have to drop one more, and then a final drop in November should bring me in right on the nose, 300 films watched for the year.

But I have to GET there first - Pedro Pascal carries over today from "Triple Frontier".  And I just found out he's got the lead role in "The Mandalorian", the new "Star Wars" TV show that will be on Disney Plus in November.  So I'll be seeing him again, one way or the other.

THE PLOT: A young woman embraces her pregnancy while she and her family set out to prove her boyfriend and lover innocent of a crime he didn't commit.

AFTER: This was Barry Jenkins' follow-up to "Moonlight", which won the Best Picture Oscar - and it took me so long to get around to "Moonlight", that I ended up watching his follow-up in the same year!  OK, that one's on me, but to be fair, it took me a while to accumulate enough films with Mahershala Ali in them to make it possible to link to "Moonlight".  Hey, if I live by this system, I die by this system - I'm not saying my method is perfect, but at least it's unique and all mine.  "Moonlight" was something of a surprise sleeper hit, and I guess I see the temptation there to repeat what worked the last time, do that again in the hopes of getting the same result, or at least something similar.

My review of "Moonlight" deemed it quite boring - my pick for Best Picture would have been "Arrival", if I had seen all the films before the deadline and if I were a voting member of the Academy, which I am not.  "If Beale Street" is also pretty boring, but at least it didn't put me to sleep, like "Moonlight" did.  "Moonlight" took a stage-play with a split narrative (all three actors playing the same character, at different ages, appeared on the stage at the same time) and turned it back into a linear production, with things in the proper chronological order - the first act came first, the second act came second - and that was at least easy to follow as we watched the character grow up.

This film appears to do the opposite, taking the novel by James Baldwin (in which, I assume, all the scenes play out chronologically, but I'll admit, I don't know for sure.  It could be riddled with flashbacks, who knows?) and turning that linear story, as is the current fashion, into a time-jumping collage of sorts.  The film toggles between the present timeline (this starts when Fonny is in jail, and his girlfriend has to tell her family, and his, that she's pregnant with his baby) and the past, where we see Fonny and Tish fall in love, get an apartment together, and slowly, slowly we learn about the events that happened leading up to his arrest.  I'm not a fan of this trendy way of starting a story in the middle, and then doling out the narrative breadcrumbs, leaving it up to the audience to try and put the whole loaf back together.  If it's not done to be trendy, then it's usually done to cover up or skip over some very slow parts of the narrative, and to me neither excuse is acceptable.

Or perhaps it's the too-easy temptation to lead off the film with the most dramatic moment - here it's a woman telling her incarcerated boyfriend that she's pregnant - in what's known as the "splash-page effect".  Comic books are noted for sometimes starting in the middle of the battle scene with a large one-paneled first page, designed to hit readers hard first and draw them into the rest of the book, and don't worry if you feel like you missed a bit, because the story will snap back as soon as the hero has a chance to reflect on how he got into this conflict.  It does work if it's done right, but in the case of a film like "If Beale Street Could Talk", the director had no way to maintain that dramatic tension, the rest of the scenes, past and future, aren't nearly as exciting as that, so they all may seem rather tepid by comparison.

But this all is from my perspective, and I'm hardly an expert on the African-American experience of living in Harlem in the 1970's.  As always, your mileage may vary - I did watch the documentary "13th" earlier this year, and this film managed to expand on some of those racially-charged theories, like racist cops arresting people just for being black, or convincing witness to pick the wrong man out of a line-up just to settle their case, then having so many black men incarcerated that giving them all the fair trials they're entitled to would bog down the whole legal system, so often the accused men are urged to take a plea deal, essentially serving time for crimes they didn't commit just to have a chance of getting released in a shorter time-frame.

There's still so much I don't understand here - like the title, why the reference to a street in New Orleans, when the story is set in Harlem?  There was an opening excerpt from James Baldwin that attempted to explain this, something about how the history of Beale Street is the history of all blacks in America, but I didn't quite understand that either.  There's only so much I can understand when I'm not part of this world, and I haven't had the same life experiences or backgrounds - I felt the same way about "Crazy Rich Asians", some things of course will always be universal, but then there are other things that just aren't.  Still, I'm left scratching my head after this one, wondering what all the damn fuss was about.

NITPICK POINT: How is "Fonny" an appropriate nickname for someone whose given name is "Alonzo"?  Shouldn't it be "Lonny" and not "Fonny"?  I could see "Fonny" as a nickname for someone whose name is ALFONZO, but now ALONZO.  Did the author give the character the wrong first name, was it a typo or does he not understand how nicknames work?

Also starring KiKi Layne, Stephan James (last seen in "Race") Regina King (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo (last seen in "The Birth of a Nation"), Aunjanue Ellis (ditto), Brian Tyree Henry (last seen in "Widows"), Ed Skrein (last seen in "Deadpool"), Emily Rios, Michael Beach (last seen in "Aquaman"), Ebony Obsidian, Dominique Thorne, Finn Wittrock (last seen in "A Futile and Stupid Gesture"), Diego Luna (last seen in "Flatliners"), Dave Franco (last seen in "The Little Hours"), Milanni Mines, Ethan Barrett, Kaden Byrd.

RATING: 4 out of 10 graffiti-covered subway cars

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Triple Frontier

Year 11, Day 255 - 9/12/19 - Movie #3,353

BEFORE: Just a couple of days away now from my planned "back-to-school" movies, even though I personally don't go back to school any more, I still mark each September with SOMETHING along the lines of school.  Earlier this year I watched "Night School", somewhat out of place perhaps, but I needed to keep my linking chain alive.

I'm also gearing up for New York Comic Con, which is one of the biggest annual events for me, now that I don't go out to San Diego any more.  NYCC takes place in October now, but I'm old enough to remember when it took place in May - and before that, it happened in February, which was just stupid.  Who wants to attend a show in NYC in a revealing costume when it's so freaking cold outside?  God forbid you have to stand in line outside to get in to the convention.  And then if you have to wear a winter coat, where are you going to put that while you're at the convention?  Who's going to run a coat-check for 10,000 people?  No, moving it to October was the best plan, because now cosplayers can wear their killer costume again on Halloween, which is just three weeks later.  And thanks to global warming, the first weekend in October is now usually pretty warm - see, I knew there had to be an upside somewhere to such a global catastrophic weather trend.

Charlie Hunnam carries over from "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword".

THE PLOT: Loyalties are tested when five friends and former special forces operatives reunite to take down a South American drug lord, unleashing a chain of unintended consequences.

AFTER: I'm still chipping away at that Netflix list - got it down under 90 items now, which is better than 100, maybe I can get it down to 75 before the end of the year if I'm lucky and persistent.  Certainly I'm finding fewer and fewer new films there, at the start of each month I go over those "What's new on Netflix" internet lists, and rarely add anything to my queue.  I think this is partially due to the progress I've made, even with older films, because if Netflix adds a bunch of retro stuff, chances are I've already seen that - but I think also it's a case of diminishing returns, plus there are so many streaming services now that Netflix isn't necessarily getting all the best stuff.  Sorry, but I call it like I see it.  Still, I'm worried that once we hit the looming Oscar qualification season, there will be a flood of new films on Netflix (and Academy screeners) for me to add to my lists.  I've been holding the line, but I'm braced for impact, and it's all going to hit at once come January - if I'm not careful, my totals are going to skyrocket.

But that's a worry for another day - my goal each day right now is to chip away at the lists and try to reduce them, or at least keep them from getting any larger.  I need to maintain a certain level of unwatched content, or I won't be able to make my connections in December as I plan out a chain for the coming year.  I'm going to try to resist doing that until I'm on break, starting around November 5, and there's a long way to go between now and then.

Now, I don't want to give away too much here, so maybe I should just compare this film to other movies that sort of followed similar stories.  Most recently, "Sicario: Day of the Soldado", since both films feature U.S. military guys trying to take down a south of the border drug lord, and make it look like he was taken out by a rival gang. (OK, one film's set in Mexico, the other's in South America, but it's the same general idea.).  This also reminds me a bit of "The Expendables" (a group of freelance operatives who have known each other for a long time) only the stars are younger here.  I did a few military ops films back in January ("13 Hours", "12 Strong", "Seal Team Six") but at some point this stops being a military action film and it turns into more of a heist film.  Ultimately it may be closer to "Ocean's 11" than "The Dirty Dozen".  At one point it almost seems like it's going to be an updated "Treasure of the Sierra Madre", but then they switch it up and it becomes more like "The Flight of the Phoenix".  Classic film fans will know what I'm talking about, I don't want to say much more for risk of spoiling the twists here.

But this is about a group of guys who've worked together before, and they know what they're doing when they work together, at least on military operations.  This job is different, however, and not just because it's not sanctioned by the U.S. government.  The game changed, but these guys went into the new game and tried to use their old tactics, and maybe that wasn't the best plan.  I'm going to fall back on the Comic-Con analogy for just a bit (because that's MY battle, my use of warfare tactics).  I'm going back into the fight (and if you've ever tried to run a booth or a table at Comic-Con, or just walk around the place, you know it's a struggle). However, now I'm over 50 and I can't do things the same way I did when I was 35. So I'm planning to only work two days at the con, and let others do a lot of the heavy lifting (both literally and figuratively).

But the wars I fight aren't always physical - I'm really good at calling up companies on the phone and complaining until I get results, that's almost my superpower.  So let's say that recently there was an organization running an event (I won't say the name of the company or the event, but duh...) and my company had paid for our table, then a month later got an e-mail from the event coordinator, asking me when we were going to pay our bill.  Umm, how about last month, when you cashed our check?  So I sent this guy (again, no names), a copy of the cancelled check, and everything was fine until we tried to order an extra badge, one month after that.  Instead of getting an invoice for the badge, we got an invoice for the badge AND the table, which we'd paid for two months prior.  After proving AGAIN that we paid by sending a copy of the cancelled check, I was starting to wonder what was going on here - why couldn't the accounting department catch up with the sales rep, why couldn't we get an invoice that rightfully showed that we paid our bill, which we did?

I just couldn't risk showing up on the first day of the event and not being granted access, so I did what I always do - call someone else to get results.  Because I started to have some doubts about the sales rep, if he couldn't get us an invoice marked "PAID" or he couldn't get someone in finance to do their job.  (At this point I was thinking, "Umm, exactly what's going on here, is someone not doing their job, or is this some kind of scam?"). Right after I was directed to someone in accounting, and left that person a detailed message about the situation, I got an e-mail from the rep, which asked me to PLEASE not call the finance department, it would only make resolving our account more complicated.  I felt this was a bit like a restaurant owner saying, "PLEASE don't give your order to the waiter, that will only slow things down in the kitchen."  OK, so what do you suggest as an alternative?  I'm still waiting - the battle is still being fought.

The movie, right - its got a lot of great action in it, blah blah blah, some drama among the comrades, and if you like Ben Affleck, you'll like this movie.  Heck, even if you HATE Ben Affleck, you might find a part in there midway through that you might enjoy.

I didn't get the meaning of the title when watching the film, but from the Trivia section on IMDB I learned that Three Frontiers is the Spanish name for an area of the Amazon forest, where the borders of Brazil, Peru and Colombia meet.  They never mentioned this in the film, for that matter they didn't even say what country the drug lord's estate was in, which seems like an odd omission.

Also starring Ben Affleck (last seen in "Runner Runner"), Oscar Isaac (last seen in "W.E."), Garrett Hedlund (last seen in "On the Road"), Pedro Pascal (last seen in "The Great Wall"), Adria Arjona, Hakeemshady Mohamed, Jeovanny Rodriguez, Juan Camilo Castillo, Reynaldo Gallegos (Logan), Madeline Wary, Michael Benjamin Hernandez, Carlos Linares (last seen in "Bright"), Pedro Lopez (last seen in "Casa de mi Padre"), Toneey Acevedo, Gustavo Gomez, Pedro Haro (last seen in "Snatched"), Juan Martinez, Sheila Vand (last seen in "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot"), Christine Horn, George Hayn,

RATING: 6 out of 10 A-list actors (who were once attached to this film, but dropped out)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Year 11, Day 254 - 9/11/19 - Movie #3,352

BEFORE: OK, after watching my final documentary for 2019, it's time for the final King Arthur film, out of four for the year. The topic has spanned four decades, too with the 1960's musical "Camelot", the 1950's "Knights of the Round Table", and the 2004 "King Arthur" - each movie probably saying more about the time it was produced than it did about the time period it depicted.  And so we come to 2017's "King Arthur: Legend of the Sword", which will no doubt do the same.  I look forward to seeing Arthur and Guinevere portrayed as two young hipsters who meet while squatting in a Soho apartment, with Merlin serving as the wise but mysterious building manager.

Jude Law carries over from "Exit Through the Gift Shop" - I doubt when he went to see Banksy's exhibition in L.A. that his action would play a part in someone in NYC linking films together 10 years later...

FOLLOW-UP TO: "King Arthur" (2004) (Movie #3,321)

THE PLOT: Robbed of his birthright, Arthur comes up the hard way in the back alleys of the city.  But once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy - whether he likes it or not.

AFTER: Well, I was partially correct.  This version of the King Arthur tale ended up borrowing story elements liberally from franchises such as "Harry Potter", "Fantastic Beasts" and "The Lord of the Rings", and then Frankenstein-grafting those on to the familiar Arthurian legend.  Then of course with all the thick Cockney accents, the street-fighting and the running around and evading the king's men, parts of this ended up feeling like "Snatch" or maybe "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels".

Right from the first battle, you can get the sense that this film just doesn't want to be taken seriously. Mordred is attacking Camelot, and he's got an army of elephants that are each impossibly large, like mountain-sized, larger than the castle, and each has a wooden building on its back.  WTF?  For that matter, how is Mordred fighting the forces of Uther, when Mordred is (in some versions of the story, at least) Uther's grandson?  And Arthur isn't old enough to have a kid at this point.  Did Mordred live backwards through time, like Merlin did in "Camelot"?

But this is really a stripped-down version of the King Arthur story - there's no Lancelot, no Guinevere, and Merlin's only in here for a minute or so.  There aren't even any Knights of the Round Table, though the table makes a cameo appearance near the end.  I guess since this was supposed to be the first in a series of 6 films, they were saving all of that stuff for the five sequels - but this film stunk so bad at the box office that those will never get made now.  (However, if they HAD made a sequel, there's a good chance that the female Mage here, who functions as a stand-in for Merlin, could have been revealed to be named Guinevere - the 2004 "King Arthur" film also sort of moved in this direction, making Keira Knightley's character one of the forest people who worked closely with Merlin.)

What they added here was Vortigern, who's never been part of the King Arthur story before, not to my knowledge anyway, and they grafted him into the story by making him King Uther Pendragon's brother, who usurps the throne when he realizes that the rules are going to make Uther's son king before he gets a shot at it - so Vortigern teams up with Mordred, and even after Mordred is defeated, Vortigern still goes after Uther to become king.  This leads to Arthur being set adrift in a boat, which seems like a nod to the Moses story, only he's found and adopted by whores instead of Pharaoh's wife.

As silly as this seems, it does feel like a valid work-around for the conundrum I referred to after watching the other King Arthur movies earlier this year - if Arthur is Uther's son, why doesn't he inherit the throne, and why then does he have to draw the sword out of the stone, to prove who he is?  Either the crown should be inherited, or won by trial, but in the Arthurian legend we seem to have a combination of both.  By making Arthur unaware of his own identity as the heir to the throne, and growing up anonymously on the rough streets of Londinium, this explains why he has to pull Excalibur from the stone - so that this will prove who he is, even to himself.

However, it's very stupid that Vortigern takes every single man of a certain age who MIGHT be Arthur on a boat trip to where the sword Excalibur is stuck in the stone, and his men force each potential heir to the throne to try to pull the sword out.  Good god, why?  I mean, sure, if there was a prophecy that the true son of Uther would someday return, maybe he'd want to find out who that was as soon as possible, but he's hastening his own demise this way.  Wouldn't it be smarter to leave Arthur alone in blissful ignorance of his own heritage, for as long as he could?  The prophecy doesn't say WHEN Arthur would return to claim the throne, so why help him along, why not delay that?  This is just sloppy, sloppy writing.

Then everything sort of gets turned into a montage - the simplest transactions can't take place without interweaving them with another scene happening somewhere or someWHEN else.  OK, Arthur goes to the Darklands to learn how to use Excalibur and prepare for the upcoming battle, so cue the "Rocky"-style training montage as he battles giant bats and Rodents of Unusual Size.  That's all well and good, but then even simple conversations get the "montage-y" treatment, and that's just not necessary.  Pile on flashback after flashback of Arthur watching his mother and father die again and again (they might as well have been shot in an alley by the Joker) and after a while, it's hard to follow what's happening here.  I lost track of it several times, there are just too many irons in the fire and too much jumping around.

And then once everything gets all worked out, somehow these street-fighting men become the Knights of the Round Table, suddenly forced to learn the rules of chivalry?  Yeah, I'm not buying it.  Plus they're all so conveniently multi-culti, like there's a black guy and an Asian guy and that just seems like pandering to me.  Come on, there were no knights of color in the Middle Ages, no medieval affirmative action plan, and we all know it - this feels very hard to believe and insincere.  Despite a few clever work-arounds that added to the story, this movie still came off overall as a big jumbled mess.

On top of all THAT, it occurs to me that by putting all the magic power into the sword Excalibur, it leads to the question concerning - what does Arthur actually DO?  OK, so he trains, but he faints nearly every time he picks up the sword, because he's confronted with another flashback.  And when he finally figures out how to use it to take down an army all at once, it feels like the sword is doing all the heavy lifting, and he's just holding it.  Who wants to root for the sword, that's like cheering for Batman's gadgets instead of the hero himself.

And be warned, Vortigern gains his power by making deals with dark forces, who take the form of a weird octopus-like creature that lives under the castle and sometimes looks like sexy women.  Yeah, I'm creeped out by that.  So in addition to "Lord of the Rings", "Harry Potter" and the Bible, there's some Lovecraftian nightmare fuel in here as well.  I didn't schedule a 9/11 tie-in, but at the end of this film, when the villain is defeated (whoops, sorry, spoiler alert), his big magical tower comes crashing down.  Coincidence?

Also starring Charlie Hunnam (last seen in "The Lost City of Z"), Astrid Berges-Frisbey (last seen in "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"), Djimon Hounsou (last seen in "Captain Marvel"), Eric Bana (last seen in "Hanna"), Aidan Gillen (last seen in "Sing Street"), Freddie Fox (last seen in "Victor Frankenstein"), Craig McGinlay, Tom Wu (last seen in "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life"), Kingsley Ben-Adir (last seen in "The Commuter"), Neil Maskell (last seen in "The Mummy"), Annabelle Wallis (last seen in "W.E."), Katie McGrath (ditto), Geoff Bell (last seen in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story"), Poppy Delevingne (last seen in "Kingsman: The Golden Circle"), Millie Brady (last seen in "Legend"), Wil Coban, Bleu Landau, Jacqui Ainsley, Georgina Campbell, Rob Knighton, Michael Hadley (last seen in "The Invisible Woman"), Peter Ferdinando (last seen in "Ghost in the Shell"), Michael McElhatton (last seen in "The Zookeeper's Wife'), Mikael Persbrandt (last seen in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"), Lorraine Bruce, Eline Powell, Hermione Corfield (last seen in "xXx: Return of Xander Cage"), Philip Ball, Kamil Lemieszewski, with cameos from David Beckham (last seen in "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."), Guy Ritchie.

RATING: 3 out of 10 exploding arrows (again? What is this, "Robin Hood" from 2018?)

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Year 11, Day 253 - 9/10/19 - Movie #3,351

BEFORE: OK, maybe a bit of an explanation is required here.  When I started getting into documentaries as part of this project, way back in 2015, I started with a chain of films (non-linked by actor, it wasn't yet time for a Perfect Year, nor did I realize how easily docs could be linked) that focused on art - like "My Kid Could Paint That" and "Tim's Vermeer".  Apparently I was going alphabetically, and "art" was a more interesting topic than "accounting".  In that same chain I also watched docs about architecture, Lance Armstrong, Atari and bears.  Yep, definitely coincidentally alphabetical.  JK.

But as part of that chain, I wanted to include that documentary about Banksy that everybody was talking about - only either I didn't pay much attention to the name of the film, or (more likely) I wasn't watching films on streaming sites yet (I think I started doing that the following year) so when I saw "Banksy In New York" available on cable, I went for it.  Then I found out later that THE definitive doc about Banksy was this one, "Exit Through the Gift Shop", so I noted that I'd have to get around to watching that later on, and, well, it took me four years to get to it.  I've been busy, OK?

But today I watched it for FREE on YouTube, instead of paying $3.99 on iTunes.  Sorry, Apple, but until some sort of consistent pricing schedule can be worked out across all systems, I'm just going to go wherever a film is cheaper.  Still, it would be nice in the future if I could redeem myself for my past movie "sins" without creating new ones as I go.  I'm going to have to work on that.

Christina Aguilera carries over (somehow) from "Burlesque".

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Banksy Does New York" (Movie #2,115)

THE PLOT: The story of how an eccentric French shop-keeper and amateur filmmaker attempted to located and befriend Banksy, only to have the artist turn the camera back on its owner.

AFTER: Since watching that OTHER film about Banksy, I watched that fake documentary by Joaquin Phoenix, where he threatened to quit acting and start a rap career - unfortunately, that's made me a little suspect about docs, because we know now that he DID NOT quit acting, and was a terrible rapper, if he was ever a rapper at all.  What's real?  What's fake?  What's art?  Does a fake documentary made in the name of art constitute a new reality, or should it just be ignored entirely?  Who controls the narrative, the director, the editor, or the artist?  And how do I know whether what that person tells me via the film is what really happened?

Let's back up for a second, because this really isn't a film ABOUT Banksy, it's a film directed BY Banksy, which is a little bit suspect, right there.  What does a street artist know about telling a story via the medium of film?  The focus of this film is really Banksy's influence on street art, and on one particular man who started as a filmmaker but ended up as a street artist.  He's Banksy's polar opposite, since Banksy started as a street artist and is (apparently) now a filmmaker.  Banksy has artistic talent, and this other guy, not so much.  Banksy is cheeky and subversive, while the other guy just might be clinically insane.

The other guy is Thierry Guetta, who adopts the moniker of "Mr. Brainwash" before the end of the film.  Supposedly (and I have to take this with a grain of salt now), Guetta was a somewhat normal guy who owned a clothing shop or two, before he found out that his own cousin was doing street art with tiles in France under the moniker "Space Invader".  Since Guetta had an affinity for walking around with a video camera (filming nearly every aspect of his own life) he started filming his cousin in action, stickup up his little tile-works around Paris.  This led him to take an interest in other street artists & graffiti artists working around where he lived in Los Angeles, and eventually this brought him into contact with Shepard Fairey, who was known for the infamous "Andre the Giant" graffiti and stickers seen around LA and NYC, which were labeled "OBEY", and a very famous stylized artwork of Barack Obama, similarly labeled "HOPE".  (This was back in 2008, when we all still had some form of hope.)

Guetta filmed Fairey making his street art at night, and a host of other artists committing vandalism in the name of art, but he didn't really know what to do with the hundreds of tapes.  Making a doc about Fairey and/or street art would have been the logical choice, but Guetta doesn't seem to be well known for his logical choices.  Instead he waited, hoping one day to film the greatest, most elusive street artist, the mysterious Banksy.  One day Banksy DID come to town, and the guy who would normally help him get around town committing mischief was denied entry to the U.S.  So Fairey put Banksy in touch with Guetta, who enthusiastically drove him around town and showed him the best walls.

Banksy was also planning a gallery exhibition of his artwork in L.A., and of course, Banksy being who he is, he did that in a decrepit warehouse in the worst L.A. neighborhood.  The show was called "Barely Legal", and featured a live elephant covered in paint (safe, non-toxic paint that kids would use, but still, animal activists were upset).  Guetta at this point had gained Banksy's trust by assisting him in pulling an art prank at Disneyland - Guetta got caught and Banksy got away, but Guetta didn't flip on Banksy or cave during interrogation by the Disney security goons.  So after his L.A. show was a hit, and street art became a public sensation, Banksy encouraged Guetta to finish his documentary.

One problem, though - Guetta had never even looked at his tapes, or labeled them, or kept any record of what was on which tape.  Plus (and this is important) he had no experience whatsoever in making a movie - from the end result, titled "Life Remote Control", one might wonder if he'd ever even SEEN a movie.  He took months to review his tapes at random, pull images or sequences also at random, and compile a 90-minute trash-heap of footage that was deemed unwatchable at best.  You can view a 15-minute version on YouTube if you have the stomach for it, but it resembles what you might get if you put an infinite number of monkeys in a room with a TV that had an infinite number of channels, and each monkey had a channel changer.

After that, Banksy did what Banksy did best, he flipped the script.  He made a movie about Guetta trying to make a movie about street art and failing, and that movie is "Exit Through the Gift Shop".  Without a doubt, it's a thousand times more coherent, but whether it's true or genuine or "real", or whether it constitutes art itself is a matter worthy of some debate.  Some have called this a "prankumentary", though Banksy claimed that he spent a year going through Guetta's footage of street artists just to come up with enough usable material to tell a coherent narrative here.

To keep Guetta busy (allegedly) during this time, Banksy supposedly encouraged Guetta to return to L.A. and continue making art, inadvertently creating something of a monster.  Guetta had learned techniques from the master, and before long was making his own stickers, his own stencils and his own posters to put up around town, though he had all of the marketing techniques, and none of the talent.  Working now as "Mr. Brainwash", Guetta got his own warehouse studio, his own production team and started cranking out the art faster than anyone could hang it on the walls.  Using a quote of Banksy subtly trashing Mr. Brainwash's talent on a giant billboard, the L.A. art crowd was intensely curious, and though the show was a mess that all came together at the last minute, it was still a raging success, selling over a million dollars worth of art in a few short weeks.  Guetta became the new sensation in the art world, despite having no formal art training, not paying ANY metaphorical dues, and not spending any time trying to break on to the scene and failing.

Is all of this real?  Is it all a put-on?  A joke or a prank? Does it even matter, if the story is good?  If it FEELS real, if it has "truthiness" to it, is that enough?  Did Guetta have any money left after being sued for using images that he didn't own in his show?  Banksy learned not to help anyone make a documentary ever again, but honestly, it feels like Banksy sort of came out on top here.  Of course, most recently Banksy got headlines again for allowing one of his pieces to be auctioned off, and then remotely shredding the art immediately after the sale, via a device hidden in the picture frame.  So I think Banksy is going to be just fine, he's in good spirits and up to his old tricks again.  Now, is the shredded art worth more or less than the original, pre-shredded art?  Another topic to discuss.

Also starring Banksy (last not-seen in "Banksy Does New York"), Shepard Fairey, Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. Brainwash), Debora Guetta, Ron English, Space Invader, Monsieur André, Zeus, Swoon, Borf, Buffmonster, Wendy Asher, Steve Lazarides, Roger Gastman, David Healy, Clemence Janin, Derek Walborn, Celeste Sparrow, Adam Lawrence, Justin Murphy, with narration by Rhys Ifans (last seen in "Alice Through the Looking Glass") and archive footage of Beck, Liam Gallagher (last seen in "George Michael: Freedom"), Noel Gallagher, Angelina Jolie (last seen in "By the Sea"), Jude Law (last seen in "Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald"), Jay Leno (last seen in "Gilbert"), Shaquille O'Neal (last heard in "The Smurfs 2"), Brad Pitt (last seen in "Baby Driver"), Alastair Stewart.

RATING: 6 out of 10 Warhol rip-offs

Monday, September 9, 2019


Year 11, Day 252 - 9/9/19 - Movie #3,350

BEFORE: We drove out to Long Island this past weekend so my wife could get cigarettes - and then we had a nice Chinese buffet lunch (gotta get in shape for Vegas) and did some shopping at a couple dollar stores.  I saw both Halloween AND Christmas decorations for sale, so that reinforces my feeling that the rest of this year is going to fly by very fast.  Look, this is movie #250 for the year, so I'm not really in the final stretch, but I'm making that turn at the far end of the track, so I can't quit now, it's time to get motivated for that last final push.

There are just 22 days until October 1, when I'll switch over to horror programming (plus animation and golf this year, but I'll explain when we get there) and 24 days until New York Comic-Con.  I've cut back my days at the convention this year, and my boss has downgraded from a full booth to a table in Artists Alley, so I may only work two of the four convention days, which honestly is a relief. I'm getting too old to exhaust myself working at a geek con.  Then in about 40 days I'm headed out on vacation for a week, so really, time's going to fly and this year will be nearing the end before I know it.

Thankfully all my ducks are in a row to get me to Christmas, I don't have to plan or re-plan or re-think my approach, I just need to stay on target.  Alan Cumming carries over from "Always at the Carlyle", then today's film will link to my last stray documentary for 2019.

THE PLOT: A small-town girl ventures to Los Angeles and finds her place in a neo-burlesque club run by a former dancer.

AFTER: As I always say, some films are bricks and some films are mortar when I put my Movie Year together, although I often don't always know which are which until I watch them.  I would love for this film to be considered a "brick", because I've heard a lot about it over the years, certainly some people seem to dig it, and thus I assigned it to a crucial mid-century position.  But I'm afraid that given enough time and distance, I'm just not going to remember much about it, and it's going to be ultimately regarded as "mortar", and not just because it's serving the purpose of linking two documentaries together.  (I didn't have too many choices after burning the Cher link by watching "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" earlier this year - though I suppose if I didn't use it here, I could have made it part of a Kristen Bell chain in 2020.)

I'm a big fan of the female form, so naturally if you tell me there's a movie that's got a lot of burlesque dancers in it, on one level at least, you've got my attention.  But burlesque in general is a strange animal in the entertainment world, living somewhere between striptease and cabaret.  When depicted well, it's sexy but not sexual, and that means it walks something of a fine line.  It's the PG-13 of entertainment - so no actual nudity, but lots of lingerie, and there might be pasties or strategically-placed covering devices.  Some people will appreciate the numbers here for their dance moves, musicality and general showmanship, but there's still a chance that teens and older pervs could still get off on it.  But in the new world where any place on the internet is just a few clicks away from hardcore porn, what purpose is left for burlesque to serve?

I've been to burlesque shows, most notably out in San Diego during Comic-Con, one in NYC that was Star Wars-themed, and then one that ran concurrently with a charitable beer event.  I think maybe the second year I went out to San Diego there was a comic-book/sci-fi burlesque show called "Comic Strip" (get it?) and I liked what they did, but they ran into two problems - one was using costumes of trademarked characters like Batgirl and Harley Quinn (someone may have dropped a dime to DC/Warner Bros. about unsavory use of their intellectual property) and the other problem was that the event was so popular after two years that a larger burlesque troupe stole the idea and ran the smaller outfit out of town.

So I feel for the characters here, especially the woman running the show in the building she apparently owns but can't afford, or possibly the rent has gone up or the bank is getting ready to foreclose (it's all a bit murky, if I'm being honest).  Part of me just thinks that they needed to create some drama how, and the fastest, easiest way to do that was to threaten the loss of the property, which would mean the end of the show, and put everyone out of work.  (Hey, it worked for the Muppets, several times now.) And it's got the added bonus of allowing us to root for the "little guys", the people putting on a show on a shoestring (or is that a g-string?) budget.  But then part of me thinks that this is just a distraction so we all don't notice that the whole film is just a re-hashed "Showgirls" with less nudity, but better music.

I'm tempted to think of this as "camp", which is often hard to define, but in many ways, you know it when you see it.  The story just relies on so many stereotypes, like the "girl from a small town moving to the big city" and the "costume designer who's obviously gay, because he knows fashion and acts catty", and then there's the "tough club owner with a soft heart for the girls who remind her of herself at a young age".  Want more?  How about the "frazzled ex-husband fearful he'll never get back his investment in the club" and the "hunky millionaire real-estate developer who gets every girl he wants, and every piece of property, too".  By the time you realize the bartender is also the "struggling songwriter who's afraid of finishing any tune because he's secretly afraid of being successful", you may wonder if there are any overused tropes that they left out.  No, not really.

There's a lot of inconsistency in the nuts-and-bolts operation of the burlesque club, though. All of the girls lip-sync to pre-recorded tracks - umm, except for Nikki, for some reason.  Oh, and the club owner, Tess, sings, too - and so does the bouncer/ticket-seller/part-time performer (actually, what IS his job?  It's very unclear...). So I guess NOT everyone lip-syncs, so can we please pick a horse and run with it, here?  The fact that Ali can sing live, and wants to sing live, would have been more impressive if she had in fact been the first or only one to do so.  Why didn't they believe her when she said she could do this, if they already had several dancers who could also sing at the same time?  Why does it take Nikki disabling the recorded track out of spite for everyone to realize that Ali has pipes?  These revelations come into the plot very haphazardly, if you ask me.

As does the big idea at the end that saves the club.  (Though it's a bit unclear, too, are we saving the BUILDING, or the business contained within it?  Because those could be two very different things.). God, they telegraphed the big idea from a mile away, because they assumed that people watching aren't up on all these crazy real-estate terms, or the concept of leveraging one buyer against another.  Geez, anyone who's ever bought property knows that old trick of saying, "Well, I've got another interested party, so what are YOU offering?"  But still, I haven't seen this exact trick used in any other movie, so somehow it manages to be both original AND contrived, which I think might be tough to do.

Also, there's very little consensus about what it means to be a burlesque dancer - there's mention of a pay raise when Ali graduates from bar waitress to performer, but all I could think was, "No, what is she DOING?  She's going to miss out on all that tip money from those guys buying bottles of Dom Perignon!"  (Come to think of it, if Marcus was in there every night buying overpriced bottles of champagne, then WHY wasn't the club making enough money to pay the bank?  Hmmm....). But what about burlesque, is it exploitation or empowerment?  Are these girls only doing it to attract husbands, at which point they get pregnant and stop dancing?  That doesn't seem very progressive to me.  Very mixed signals here where feminism is concerned.

Still, why hasn't this film been turned into a Broadway show yet?  It came out nearly ten years ago, and since then they've tried to turn everything from "Spider-Man" to "King Kong" into a Broadway show.  This one feels like a natural, it's got the songs and the dance numbers and the cheezy storyline - somebody should get started on this right away if not sooner.  So what if some critics panned the movie, it could have a second life as a Broadway show!  (just don't bring the kids...) I'd recommend dropping the "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" number, though, because man, that's dated.  Wasn't Marilyn Monroe singing that song in the 1950's?

Also starring Christina Aguilera (last heard in "The Emoji Movie", Cher (last seen in "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again"), Cam Gigandet (last seen in "Seal Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden"), Kristen Bell (last seen in "Movie 43"), Stanley Tucci (last seen in "It Could Happen to You"), Eric Dane (last seen in "Marley & Me"), Julianne Hough (last seen in "Dirty Grandpa"), Peter Gallagher (last seen in "Hello, My Name Is Doris"), Dianna Agron (last seen in "I Am Number Four"), Glynn Turman (last seen in "Race"), David Walton, Terrence Jenkins, Chelsea Traille, Tyne Stecklein (last seen in "A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III"), Michael Landes, Tanee McCall, Paula van Oppen, Isabella Hoffmann, Denise Faye, Blair Redford, Stephen Lee with a cameo from James Brolin (last seen in "The 33").

RATING: 5 out of 10 fishnet stockings

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Always at the Carlyle

Year 11, Day 251 - 9/8/19 - Movie #3,349

BEFORE: I did tell you there would be a couple more documentaries to follow, I wasn't done with them (or maybe they weren't done with ME) after a full month of docs on various topics in July & August.  This one was something of a straggler, it connected to a couple different films that were on the slate for the official Documentary Month, like to "Trespassing Bergman" via Wes Anderson, or to "Gilbert" via Regis Philbin.  But I couldn't get it to connect to two docs in a way that made sense - then I realized I could use it, and one other documentary, as crucial links in September, to keep the flow going.  This year I've allowed myself to mix it up a bit, I've loosened the rules so that all of the docs don't NEED to be together, I can switch back and forth between fiction and non-fiction if it suits my needs.  And if I get my perfect year, that decision (along with the choice to allow horror films outside of October) just might pay off.

I caught the last third of this on cable back in, I don't know, March or April, and I was intrigued enough to record it the next time it was on, and then try to figure out a way to work it in.  It's got a large, varied cast of interviewed celebrities so I figured that should be no problem.  For a lot of docs, I find that the IMDB listings are incomplete and I end up supplementing them by spotting some celebs that others didn't, or listing people who somehow weren't officially listed in the credits, but even given what I had to work with, this became fairly easy to link to, once I separated it from the herd of other docs.

Naomi Campbell carries over from "I Feel Pretty".

THE PLOT: The iconic Carlyle hotel has been an international destination for a particular jet-set as well as the favorite haunt of the most discernible New Yorkers.

AFTER: New York City is always changing and evolving - and many so-called institutions come and go.  Depending on who you talk to, the city's been going to hell ever since THIS joint closed down or THAT restaurant got replaced, whether that's CBGB's, or the Carnegie Deli, or the old Yankee Stadium or Shea Stadium.  Some people would even say that the city's been going to hell ever since they tore down the old Pennsylvania Station, a beautiful roman-columned building that you can see by watching Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train". It took up a whole city block, and was the companion building to the still-standing James Farley post office on 8th Ave. and 33rd St.  So many people complained about the demolition of the old Penn Station in 1963 that the Landmarks Preservation Act was passed, which ended up saving Grand Central Terminal and a host of other city architectural wonders.

But still there's a long list of NYC landmarks that have gone the way of the dinosaur, like the old Madison Square Garden, Gimbel's department store, Tammany Hall, and the Vanderbilt mansions.  Part of this process is natural, of course - buildings just weren't built to last forever.  Then of course, there's the World Trade Center, but we all know what happened there.  And sometimes the changes are the results of changing trends - I've noticed in the past few months that several of my favorite local BBQ restaurants have closed up shop (Daisy May's, Hill Country in Brooklyn, and Brother Jimmy's on the west side, right near that Farley post office).

For hotels, gone are the Hotel Astor, the Ritz-Carlton, the original Waldorf-Astoria, and the Biltmore.  The really classic ones that are left include the Plaza Hotel, the St. Regis, and the Carlyle.  And thank God you can still step back in time by eating at places like Delmonico's downtown, or Keen's Steakhouse, or Peter Luger's, or the Russian Tea Room.  And if they ever try to close Katz's Deli there's going to be a citywide riot.  New Yorkers might argue over where to get the best bagels, thin-crust pizza or matzoh ball soup, but that's great news, because it means there are multiple places serving stellar versions of those iconic dishes.

So at first glance it's perhaps easy to believe that the Carlyle is somehow stuck in the past, since their dining room has one of the last few "seating captains" left in the city (Jackie O. always wanted Table 10, while her son JFK Jr. preferred Table 29, there's apparently just no way to keep track of that without a human mind running things, god forbid they use a computer) and they still spring for elevator operators, even though the 100-year-old elevators have push-buttons, not the levers and manual doors) and so the whole thing seems in a way a throwback to the 1930's, or maybe the 40's.  But the truth is that the hotel has done what the entire city has done, which is to keep the things and the systems that WORK, while still inching forward into the modern world in other ways.

Certainly the prices aren't stuck in the Prohibition era - room rates of $4,000 and $10,000 AND UP are bandied about in this documentary, and somehow that's PER NIGHT and not for a month's stay. Welcome to the Upper East Side, bitches - so right off the bat, the clientele is limited to a certain class of people, like film stars who live in L.A. but need to come through town on a press junket, or live in NYC for a month while they shoot a film or do a run on Broadway.  And then there are athletes, like Roger Federer who plays annually in the U.S. Open (just about this time of year, too, I think) so the cagey hotel managers created the "Roger Federer Suite" so he wouldn't DREAM of staying anywhere else in town (except now that his cover's blown, he may want to consider something out in Queens, closer to the matches, just sayin').  I mean, come on, if you knew there was a hotel suite named after you somewhere in the world, you sort of HAVE to stay there, right?  It's not like they can rent that suite out to other guests the other 49 weeks of the year and charge top dollar for it - oh, wait, yes they can.

So any time a celebrity of a certain level stays there for a month or more, they get a suite named after them - though somehow it took Elaine Stritch over 12 years of living there to get one, then I think she died shortly after that so she didn't have long to enjoy it.  But the film captures the moment where she's told that the Carlyle is naming a suite for her, and she was genuinely ecstatic. (Good get!).  One employee reveals that after a double-shift working in room service, and with only a few hours left before she needed to report for work again, management allowed her to stay in the Princess Diana suite (probably a liability issue, if she left work exhausted and had an accident on the way home, that could be regarded as the fault of the hotel) so I wonder if they hotel execs treated that as some kind of bonus or in-kind contribution, and she had to report the "gift" of one night's stay on her W-2.  That would be some kind of scam.

But for the most part, the hotel employees are not willing to break the code of discretion about what they've seen - and you know with Nicholson and Beatty staying there over the years, they've probably seen a lot.  We do learn that Princess Di, Michael Jackson and Steve Jobs shared an elevator once, but that gem only comes out because all of those parties are now deceased.  The story sort of sounds like the start of a joke, only there's no punchline, and no payoff either.  Wes Anderson used the design of the Carlyle as partial inspiration for "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), the artist who illustrated the "Madeline" books painted the murals in the Bemelmans bar (subsequently named for him), and another French muralist decorated the Café Carlyle.  The most salacious thing that anyone is willing to reveal comes from Alan Cumming, who secretly posed nude at 2 am with two dancers outside the Café Carlyle entrance in order to get a shocking photo for an album cover.

The Café is probably best known for the musical artists who have played there over the years - Bobby Short had a seasonal residence there from 1968 to 2004 (as seen in the Woody Allen movie "Hannah and Her Sisters", when Woody's character goes on a date with his ex-wife's sister, who gets coked up there) and then Woody himself started playing there weekly with his jazz band, beginning in 1996.  That's why he could almost never attend the Oscars, which were held on Mondays for many years, because his band played on Mondays at the Carlyle.  Since Bobby Short died, it seems like they've opened up the field for other musicians and wanna-bes, like Jeff Goldblum and Rita Wilson as they've dabbled as recording artists.  Billy Joel supposedly drops by from time to time, but there's no footage of it, instead we have to watch his daughter perform one of his songs.  That's part of the discretion that rules the roost at the Carlyle - there's no footage of McCartney or David Bowie visiting, just still photos, and the annual Met Gala after-party seems to be held here, too, but you didn't hear it from me - what happens at the Carlyle apparently stays there, and the paparazzi are kept out by a phalanx of doormen.

This was also where JFK maintained an apartment for 10 years, even while President, so for a time the Carlyle was thought of as the "New York White House".  The famous birthday gala where Marilyn Monroe cooed "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" took place at Madison Square Garden, and there are half-stories about Marilyn being smuggled into the Carlyle after through a tunnel, but when pressed no employee seems to be able to remember where the tunnel is.  So, did it happen, then?  And every President from Truman to Clinton seems to have visited, the latest being Trump, who supposedly was impressed by the place at first, but ended up calling the Carlyle a "joke".  Well, if it's a joke then somebody's laughing all the way to the bank.

Also starring Woody Allen (last seen in "Trespassing Bergman"), Wes Anderson (ditto), Herb Alpert (last seen in "The Wrecking Crew!"), Anthony Bourdain (last seen in "The Big Short"), Marie Brenner, Mika Brzezinski, Graydon Carter (last seen in "Alfie" (2004)), George Clooney (last seen in "Fahrenheit 11/9"), David Patrick Columbia, Sofia Coppola, Alan Cumming (last seen in "The Battle of the Sexes"), Yves Durif, Roger Federer, Harrison Ford (last seen in "Leaving Neverland"), Nina Garcia, Chris Gillespie, Jeff Goldblum (last seen in "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom"), Lani Hall, Lena Hall, Jon Hamm (last seen in "Baby Driver"), Loston Harris, Anjelica Huston (last seen in "The Grifters"), Alexa Ray Joel, David Johansen, Tommy Lee Jones (last seen in "Criminal"), Piers Morgan (ditto), Jill Kargman, Lenny Kravitz (last seen in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"), Fran Lebowitz (last seen in "It's Me, Hilary: The Man Who Drew Eloise"), Isaac Mizrahi (last seen in "Hollywood Ending"), Bill Murray (last seen in "Love, Gilda"), Paul Shaffer (ditto), Kelli O'Hara, Joy Philbin, Regis Philbin (last seen in "Gilbert"), John Pizzarelli, Condoleeza Rice (last seen in "Fair Game"), Whitney Robinson, Elaine Stritch (last seen in "Cadillac Man"), Steve Tyrell, Vera Wang, Matthew Weiner, Rita Wilson (last seen in "Filmworker"), Alexandra Wolfe,

with archive footage of Desi Arnaz, Louis Armstrong (last seen in "Quincy"), Tony Bennett (ditto), Alec Baldwin (last seen in "BlacKkKlansman"), Lucille Ball (also last seen in "Love, Gilda"), Warren Beatty (last seen in "Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic"), David Bowie (last seen in "We Are Twisted Fucking Sister"), Marlon Brando (last seen in "Life Itself"), Bill Clinton (last seen in "The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley"), Amal Clooney, Francis Ford Coppola (also last seen in "Trespassing Bergman"), Bette Davis (last seen in "P.S. I Love You"), Jimmy Fallon (also last seen in "Gilbert") Willie Geist (last seen in "Get Me Roger Stone"), Seth Meyers (ditto) Jacqueline Kennedy (ditto), Richard Gere (last seen in "Norman"), Marvin Hamlisch (last seen in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"), Earl "Fatha" Hines, Katie Holmes (last seen in "Ocean's Eight"), Iman (last seen in "Bowie: The Man Who Changed the World"), Michael Jackson (also last seen in "Leaving Neverland"), Prince Charles (ditto), Princess Diana (ditto), Steve Jobs (last seen in "Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine"), Billy Joel (last seen in "Clive Davis: The Soundtrack of Our Lives"), Elton John (last seen in "Kingsman: The Golden Circle"), John F. Kennedy (last seen in "The Fog of War"), John F. Kennedy Jr., Eartha Kitt (last seen in "Holes"), Ed Koch (last seen in "Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold"), Ralph Lauren, Jack Lemmon (last seen in "Jane Fonda in Five Acts"), Paul McCartney (also last seen in "Filmworker"), Jack Nicholson (ditto), Kate Middleton, Liza Minnelli (last seen in "Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall"), Marilyn Monroe (last seen in "Keith Richards: Under the Influence"), Paul Newman (last heard in "Cars 3"), Scott Pelley (last seen in "Icarus"), Princess Anne, Prince William, Queen Elizabeth II (last seen in "God Bless Ozzy Osbourne"), Lee Radziwill, Nancy Reagan (last seen in "Robin Williams: Come Inside My Mind"), Robert Redford (last seen in "The Old Man & The Gun"), Kelly Ripa (last seen in "I'm Still Here"), Al Roker, Roxie Roker, Babe Ruth, Bobby Short, Elizabeth Taylor (last seen in "Anne of the Thousand Days"), Hunter S. Thompson, Harry S. Truman, Fats Waller, Dianne Wiest (last seen in "The Mule"), Michelle Williams (also carrying over from "I Feel Pretty"), Bruce Willis (last heard in "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part"), Joanne Woodward (last heard in "The Age of Innocence").

RATING: 6 out of 10 embroidered pillows