15 January, 2019

The Mule You Know

Some Thoughts on The Mule (2018)

Art is a funny thing. I've seen a lot of good movies this past year-- both new and old. I've also seen some real clunkers. Some real shitty movies that just got my goat and really made me angry. The Mule, the latest film by famed film-maker and shitty boyfriend, Clint Eastwood, is neither of these things.

And yet, I can't stop thinking about it.

It's not good. It's not bad*. It's just inherently strange and that it isn't one thing or another is what is so exceptionally strange about it. That a man who felt so strongly about Barack Obama that he rambled at a chair in front of a live studio audience, at a time where the nation is run by a mentally-deficient sex-offending, con artist-- where the panic against Latinx people and refugees requires a big dumb wall and where children are being put in concentration camps and are dying-- you'd think that some sort of passion would be present. That there was something about this story that had to be told. That something, even something truly ugly, would slip out.

And it doesn't.

It goes on for two hours and then it just sort of ends.

It's a truly baffling picture, because at least I understand the impetus of Sully or American Sniper or, especially, Gran Torino. One would almost have to go out of their way not to cast their lots one way or the other when it comes to something as sensitive and as fraught with controversy as the border and the War on Drugs. And yet, no decision seems to be made at any point for any reason other than to make a picture.

And yes, what I'm saying is that I kind of wish that Eastwood had been a little more racist. That baring his blackened heart would have at least been art of some kind.

At 200 years old, you'd think that the only thing that could tempt Eastwood out of his crypt would be a story that he really needs to tell. One that really speaks to him. Presumably a story where he gets to say racial slurs for millions and millions of dollars. The Mule doesn't seem to be it. That the one bicentennarian on earth who doesn't have an opinion about Those People directs movies is actually more fascinating than the movie itself.

I was talking to Cruz, a friend of mine with whom I co-host A Quality Interruption, and I was explaining this movie to him, trying to make sense of it and how I felt about it and, really, I was just dropping the ball on it (as if you couldn't tell). I

He described to me a character from One-Hundred Years of Solitude**. The character is an old man who lived this full, long life-- adventure, war, romance, all that-- and now he was at the end of his life and all he did to fill his time was making aluminum fish. Once he's done making his little fish, he then melts it down and starts all over again. That seems to be what Clint Eastwood is doing. He's tinkering. He's making movies to stay busy. In its own way that's admirable. The hitch I'm having is why make this movie just to stay busy?

What is more than that-- how in all of the time of staying busy do you make a movie so listless and basic after nearly fifty years of directing your own movie?

Here are some highlights that before I go:
  • This movie has Michael Pena in it. That's always a good sign. 
  • Diane Wiest is in this? That's great!
  • In this film, the titular mule (as played by Clint Eastwood) has not one, but two threesomes. People give Tom Cruise shit for always making sure that his romantic interest is hotter and younger that he can actually pull (lest we start wondering about things), but Eastwood is the master of this. He did the same shit twenty years ago with Blood Simple and here it's even stranger and sadder. Now, while, we all love a dirty old man, I have to wonder about the motives of Eastwood making sure that people know that grandpa can still fuck.
  • In this movie Eastwood's character is a florist. I swear to god. It's literally the first scene.
  • You would only have to change, like, three things, and this would just be an episode of The Simpsons where grandpa accidentally gets recruited by Los Zetas. And, actually, I'd kind of like to see that.
  • Most of the movie is just an old man driving through the mid-west listening to Oldies. Honestly, if there was one actual reason a pre-Boomer lith made this movie, that might be it.

* We all thought abut completing that joke, but not all of us did it. Sometimes the best writing happens because of what you decide not to do.
** A book that I'm not even going to pretend that I've read.

James Kislingbury is a writer, podcaster, and bakery clerk. You can listen to him here and here. You can shovel piles of lucre at him here and here.

03 January, 2019

A Look Back on the Year That Never Should Have Been

Now that we're in 20Bladeteen*, I figured, it was time to look back on one of the shittiest years that ever was. A lot happened this year for me-- which is to say that I didn't die during it. That would have been too much of a relief.

I haven't been on this blog in a long, long while and I figured the start of a new year was a good opportunity to come back and do some light, pointless writing.

Here are some of the stand-out moments of 2018-- the good, the bad, and the fiduciary.

My Dad Almost Died
So, this one was pretty big and it was a nice little close to 2017-- a year that we all figured would be the one for the history books. Without getting too into it, my dad had a freak medical malady and it was quickly spotted and corrected. Recovery was relatively minimal and it all worked out about as well as could be-- other than him almost dying, I mean.

He's fine now, which is nice. What it has done is made me realize, in a concrete way, that the old man could drop dead at any moment. Good blood pressure or not, it doesn't take much to take him out. Or anybody out. It can just happen. You're at work or out of the house and they die off screen and don't ever come back.

A fine beginning to a dog shit year.

Destiny 2
Hey, here's something stupid-- I got back into Destiny 2. And, hey, I like Destiny 2. Sony put it up for free on Playstation Plus and I found myself diving back into it, because-- fuck, I don't know why. It's fun to just pop it in, fuck around, shoot some fools, and then close it back up. It's fun, it's simple, and the numbers keep going up. In short: It's a good video game.

The Criterion Sale
Easily one of the least effective and cost-prohibitive ways to explore and collect movies, the Criterion Sale is like the blooming of the cherry blossoms for film dickheads like me. This year I played it fairly cool (only buying, like, seven movies), two stand-out films that I picked up on a blind buy were Tampopo-- a "ramen western"-- and Dragon Inn, a Taiwanese martial arts film from 1968. Both are delights and wonderful little surprises for completely different reasons. Fine reminders of the magic of movies.

About August this year, I hit a fucking wall. I was dead broke and had no job prospects to speak of. When you're that deep in the dumps, it's hard to do much else but putz around the house-- which is tough when that was most of what I was doing last year anyways. I haven't been that depressed since maybe college and, I've got to be honest with you, I didn't miss it.

While I know that tying my self-worth with my financial worth isn't healthy, it's something I know about myself now and something that I can rather easily fix (to a point). Regardless of the causes, depression sucks. I wouldn't recommend it.

After a nearly year-long drought of trying to find work that wasn't beneath my dignity, I finally came to terms with the fact that I had no dignity, and decided to get back into retail-- Plus, I was broke.

I am now gainfully employed inside of one of the nation's largest Hyper-Conglomerates, which is distinctly whatever. While my high school friends are out making documentaries or working for Google or literally flying the F-35, I'm moving trays and hoping that the union has good dental.

The Podcasts
This year my news podcast, World's a Mess, hit its 100th episode, and my film podcast, A Quality Interruption, is only two episodes away from hitting its 200th. Another milestone that is that we've started collecting over ten bucks a month on our Patreon. While maybe that doesn't sound like a lot (and it isn't), it's still cool to know that there are people who give enough shit about what we're doing to give us money. I also think that we're getting better and better as time goes on.

I also appeared on my friends' podcast You Might Be Into it talking about my favorite film franchise/cinematic universe: Alien. So, check all that out if you can.

Female Prisoner #701: Scorpion
I did it. I finally damn did it. Thanks to Videotheque in South Pasadena, I finally hunted down a copy of this film and, boy howdy, was it worth the wait. It's pretty much everything you want in a sleazy Japanese genre film-- violence, boobs, impressionist lighting, over-acting, kabuki, rape, and a theme song that you might be able to get away with at karaoke. It's a trash film, but it's the kind of well-made and ill-intentioned trash that somehow manages to be a work of art despite itself. It's great. If you want one of those, it is one of those.

The Book
I have been writing a book-- in fact, I've been writing a lot in general, which is awesome. It's one of the reasons that I haven't been on here recently (and, again, I have two podcasts for that sort of a thing). It's big, it's kind of overwhelming, it's dragging on longer than I had thought, and, this time, it might actually be good? It's exciting.

2018 was not a fallow year for me creatively. Now, all I have to do is figure out a way to make some money off of this shit. . . 

Blades in the Dark
2018 marks the year that I started role-playing. After a decade and a half of dabbling with board games and table top games and flipping through D&D manuals, I finally took the leap-- Meaning that one of my friends invited me to the table.

And it was fun. It was nice to play some games and it was nice to get out of the house and talk to people like a human being (even if you're plotting imaginary murder with them).

We mostly played Blades in the Dark, which I think is my favorite of the lot. I like the world and I like the systems and I like that it's all based around failure and dealing with failure. It's a lot of fun. With the group I play with, just about every session turns into a Coen Brothers movie. I would recommend it.

Also, while on Tinder, I matched with local comedian. She asked me what I was doing on Saturday and I told her that I was going out role-playing. When she pressed me on what kind of wild fun I was getting into, I clarified that I was talking about the dice-centric kind of role-playing.

She immediately unmatched me. I don't blame her.

My Top Ten Films of the Year
Hey, here's me self-promoting once again. Here's a link to the episode of A Quality Interruption where I talk about the best new movies I saw last year.

The Pervert
While this year was a rather good year for comics (they always are), one that stood out is The Pervert from Michelle Perez and Remy Boydell. I've talked about it before, but it's really a book that's worth talking about more than once (plus it was on one of my podcasts and, according to the numbers, the odds are good you weren't listening). The Pervert is a semi-autobiographical story about a tranwoman trying to survive in Michigan (and get out of there) and their day to day life. It's got a lot of sex and as grim and depressing might be, it's also a deeply funny and human book. Pick it up-- especially if it sounds like it's out of your comfort zone.

Blood Meridan, or the Evening Redness in the West**
I read Blood Meridian for the third time. As it turns out, that book is still really good.


I don't know. There's probably a lot of other crap that happened to me. Either I forgot it during the marathon-length death march that was 2018 or I just don't want to share it. Maybe both. Either way, I'm glad it's out of the way. Not that starting a new calendar is actually a thing, but it's an excuse to move on, to try to become a new, better person. And that's what I'm going to do.

In this year of our Blade Runner, 2019, I'm going to try to be the best James Kislngbury that I can be. Or, I'll just fuck it up and wreck a bunch of shit and in that case, I'd still technically be correct.

*Lot of people out there saying "TwentyBiTeen," which is cool and all, but I don't feel like I can get away with that one, right? 

**It probably won't come as a shock that I own three copies of this book for some reason.

James Kislingbury is a writer, podcaster, and bakery clerk. You can listen to him here and here. You can shovel piles of lucre at him here and here.

02 January, 2019

What the. . .

I rented Assassination Nation (more on that in the future) and this was one of the trailers attached to the film.

I found it incredibly striking, so I had to find out what it was about. So, I checked out its Wikipedia page.

This movie, uh, goes some places. And now I have to see it. I mean, I read the entirety of the plot and I still have to see it just to find out if any of that is real. Because, man, what a wild fucking thing.

17 October, 2018

Gimme that grit!

Give me Destroyer, already!

I mean, as much as I'm exhausted by the idea of another bad cop pushed to the edge. . . Man, I sure could go for a movie about another bad cop pushed to the edge. At least with the movie the nightmare is over in two hours. . .

And since we're here, give me that True Detective Season 3 already. I've been good. I've been kind. Just gimme that shit and let me get my heart broken already, okay? OKAY?

17 April, 2018

Back to the Outback

A Review of SWEET COUNTRY (2018)

Sweet Country is a long ride of a film and it feels like it. On the surface it appears to be a simple, by the number western, but as it creeps along, it slowly reveals a film about the pain and price of Australia's bloody past-- and indeed the bloody past of most all of western history. It’s not a film that you walk out of the theater feeling unsatisfied by. It’s a full, rich film that is also pointedly merciless and exhausting. It is a film that asks for as much as it gives.

Sweet Country tells a seemingly simple story that would fit perfectly between Shane and High Noon (or Unforgiven and The Proposition) about an Aboriginal farmer (Sam Kelly played by newcomer Hamilton Morris) wrongly accused of murder. A posse is formed and a manhunt ensues. And throughout all of this are the complicated domestic lives of people living at the edge of the dying British Empire.

It’s also a film that rides a line between traditional Westerns, revisionist Westerns, and Australian westerns (of which there are a surprising amount). As well trod as that genre (and sub-genres) is, Sweet Country stands out because it’s a film about the conflict between natives and settlers that is from the perspective of the natives (both in front of the camera and behind the camera). Not only is the story more interested about the Aboriginal people (and those that are stuck between two worlds as “half-castes”), but the camera itself seems to give them all of the best shots. And why wouldn't it be? In this world (ie: history), the best white people on offer are either abject racists, madmen, or well-meaning but complicit in the despoiling of Australia. While I can’t say that Sweet Country has a rich and bold Aboriginal voice, what I can say for certain is that it’s a movie that has a unique voice and that alone makes it worth seeing.

The stand-out among these is Warlpiri actor Hamilton Morris, who plays the runaway that the entire film centers around. Who has a face that belongs to another era—namely the golden age of Westerns. That man has a face and a carriage about him that just belongs on the big screen. And, like some of the greats of the American Western, he isn’t much for speaking. He lets everyone do the acting around him. Morris is an interesting choice to center the film around him as he very clearly isn’t a seasoned actor, he brings a verisimilitude to the picture that you don't often see in movies about native people. Hamilton Morris (what a name!) feels like a fulfillment of promise of "sensitivity" regarding native people that so many other films promise and then completely fuck up.

Sam Neill is also present doing his Sam Neill thing. I’d say more, but it’d be simpler and better for everyone if I just reminded you that Sam Neill is the best. He's great.

One of the bolder choices that Warwick Thornton makes is that Sweet Country is completely without non-diegetic music. From beginning to end, the only music you hear comes from a character. It’s
It’s funny because when I think of Australian and Westerns, I think of one of the best scored films of all time, The Proposition

Sweet Country is a film without distractions. Instead of making the film feel empty or lifeless, the lack of a score preserves the film’s tone. It’s a joyless world and it’s a joyless film. To add music would be to garnish it in some way that wouldn’t be true to the film.

It also leads to the only legitimate laugh in the entire picture. Again: Thank you, Sam Neill.

Another stand out feature of the film is the landscape (which is maybe the only unqualified strength of Hostiles). As full of bugs and snakes and god knows what else, Warwick Thornton (doubling as cinematographer) makes the Australian back country look like a place that you would want to visit-- or at least a place where you could stare longingly at the Abyss in peace.

It makes you pine for a world that somehow entirely gone and yet somehow still here. In that way, Sweet Country stacks up to the best films the genre has to offer. Sweet Country is a nearly joyless, nearly heartless film that fills its almost two-hour running time with a weight that matches the subject matter. It shows the Australian past as the heartless, soulless thing that it is and because of that, it isn’t something that anybody is going to be storming the gates to go and see. That only seems to make it even more vital as a work of art. Thinking on it, that’s probably the point.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and has never been south of the equator. You can donate to his Patreon . You can buy the book he edited here (and on eBay). You can also follow him on Twitter. Also, if you well and truly give a shit hmu on my Paypal. Want to buy me a coffee? Get at my Ko-Fi.

15 February, 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For Lesson #447


Hostiles is the type of film I wanted to make in college. It’s a harsh, brutalist gaze into the American west that parlays with the complexities of violence, race, and man’s place in the universe. It’s a film that harkens back to the classics of the genre, as well as to the great works of western civilization. It’s a smart, well designed, well shot, and well scored film with some terrific performances. It’s also, ultimately, overlong and careless with its characters and its sharpest scenes are offset by mushy, needless side plots. Hostiles is a bummer, and not for the right reasons.

Basically, we should all be glad nobody is stupid enough to give me eighty million dollars to write Cormac McCarthy fanfic.

Man. This poster is pretty good.
What Hostiles gets right is a movie that feels like the American west. There’s a frisson to the film that isn't something I think that I’ve ever seen in films before. It's a film that properly understands the scope and scale of the American west, which is a concept that is as hard-boiled and overdone as any location in all of cinema. And yet, in Hostiles, the sheer size of it and how small you feel within that landscape presses down on you for every moment of the film. Hostiles is shot and lit and directed with a skill and a sensitivity to time and space that, even in its most confounding moments, always feels significant.

The main problem with the film is that it’s forty minutes too long. More specifically, it runs out of plot about an hour into the film. Hostiles sets up a scenario in the first half of the film (a man protects Indians from other Indians, with one big complication in the middle. A basic Campbellian set-up) and then, for some reason, discards that premise (off screen, no less) in favor of a completely different story (featuring well-known cowboy actor Ben Foster who I am concerned might be stuck in a time warp of some variety). It’s baffling. And it’s boring. It’s a contrivance that grinds the movie to a halt that it never quite recovers from. As much as we all love revisionist westerns, maybe it’s time to go back and steal one thing from the classic era, which is a run time that makes sense.

On the plus side: The performances are top notch. Christian Bale continues to remind us why we give a fuck about Batman and Rosamund Pike continues to be. . . Rosamund Pike—I mean, filthy and sun-burnt Rosamund Pike, but she can’t fool me.

Then you got Jesse Plemons as a feckless West Point graduate (guess what his story arc is—Close! It’s that exact thing you just thought, but duller). You also got Paul Anderson (as the character he always plays, accent and all), as well a strangely unmalignant Stephen Lang. Rounding out all of these character actors is Peter Mullan, the English Stephen Lang (which means he does more theater and could also actually kill you if he wanted to). And, finally, in a currently-playing-at-the-Laemelle-Playhouse hat trick is Timothee Chalamet [sic], who needs to give his agent a raise.

Man. This poster sucks.
Most importantly, though, Hostiles stars Wes Studi, an actor that I’ve greatly admired for years. Part of that is because, well, he’s talented. Another part of that is I am hard pressed to think of a less thankless career than Wes Studi. He’s played an Indian character in just about every western from Dances with Wolves onward—almost always as the bad guy. And as good as he is, man, that’s gotta be exhausting. Still, it’s a testament to his skill as an actor that even in a movie as unfocused as Hostiles, he still stands out. Even in worse westerns (like Dances with Wolves, one of the most profoundly shitty Best Picture winners ever), Wes Studi is a man that stands out. I mean, just look at him.

(Also, shout-out to Adam Beach. Always good to see him working—even if it’s also doing the same, thankless Indian roles time after time. Then again, what the fuck do I know? Maybe he's got a successful kombucha business and he's just doing these movies for laughs. Anything is possible.)



The bearded sergeant with “melancholia” is the stoner kid from Dazed and Confused! Fuck! Holy shit! Fuck! Wooooooah! That dude is awesome! Movie is still not super great, but man, what if they got all these actors together and made something awesome? Wouldn’t that be great?

Man. . . 

Anyways. . .

Hostiles is a disappointment. As a fan of westerns, of brutal American violence, and of good films in general, Hostiles fails to stand out as any one of those things. While it is not without its moments or its charms, as a film, it is an overlong and overindulgent mess. Despite the performances, the end result is a film that meanders instead of being epic and is less episodic than it is confused. Hostiles could have been great. Hostiles should have been great. That’s the biggest bummer out of all of this. 

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and greatly admires his scalp. You can donate to his Patreon . You can buy the book he edited here (and on eBay). You can also follow him on Twitter. Also, if you well and truly give a shit hmu on my Paypal. Want to buy me a coffee? Get at my Ko-Fi. Happy new year!

07 February, 2018

Yeah, I'm down.

. . . Down under, that is!

. . . But, seriously, this looks good. This is the type of thing I can 100% get behind. Glad that somebody somewhere out there is still making movies exclusively for me and nobody else. Not a great business model, but who am I to stop them, eh?

05 January, 2018

The Right Loudmouth for the Right Time


Darkest Hour, like The Last Jedi, is another entry into a univferse that, unlike Star Wars, nobody asked for. The world does not need another Winston Churchill biopic. Cinema (and TV) is littered with them and, if I may speak for the room, exactly zero people are clambering for a hagiography about a fat loudmouth in charge of the world’s most powerful country. Just a thought.

Where Darkest Hour shines is where it is most safe. Through fantastic performances, a solid script that builds one scene on top of another, and some lovely, energetic film-making from Joe Wright (Hanna, Atonement) and crew, Darkest Hour dodges most of the pitfalls of the genre (and its subject). What results is one of more likable biographical films of one of history’s “Great Men” of the past decade and a solid, respectable historical drama.

The reason Darkest Hour works is that it refuses to be a hagiography, and while it does romanticize the prime minister, it also paints a portrait of a man that is perfectly worthy of hatred and derision. Instead of asking you to respect Winston Churchill, it plays with the that tension.

On paper Churchill, is the last man that anybody should ever want to handle the UK during war time and, on the other hand, his blundering, boisterous personality and steely stubbornness is actually exactly what the UK needed. Both of these things are true. He's a barking drunk and one of the great men in all of world history. Both of these things are true and the movie rings both of these truths for all that it is worth-- and rightfully points out that few people ever even manage to be either of those things.

German not being compulsory in school, we all know how the actual narrative ends. What Joe Wright and screenwriter Anthony McCarten do is they create a drama that isn't about whether Churchill will make the right decision (for once), but why he come to these conclusions. It's a long journey to that point, with the first half feeling like setting the scene more than telling the story. Darkest Hour plays like a classical piece of music with a slow beginning and ends with a powerful crescendo. As stuffy and as white as it is, by the end, it can't be described as being boring.

The performances in this film are pitch perfect from front to back. That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s stocked with some of the Commonwealth’s best character actors and it gives them a lot to work with, which is doubly amazing considering how 80% of this movie seems like old white dudes arguing in rooms (I would contend that sometimes it’s okay to be in the mood for that).

So, Gary Oldman is great. We all know that. I’m just putting that out there so we can move on. He dissolves into the role in the way that, well, only Gary Oldman can. I mean, you know, he’s Gary fucking Oldman.

What Oldman does right (and what Wright does right) is that they don’t just do a tribute band version of Churchill. We all know the voice and the speeches and as appealing as hearing those things is (I have an LP of Churchill speeches that I listen to ever once and a while because, damnit, they still work), often times the most interesting cover songs are the ones that play around with the melody, the tempo, or the instrumentation. (Link a bunch of cool covers here).

Again: It’s Gary Oldman. He could play Margaret Thatcher and I would buy it (not that he could make me not hate her).

The supporting actors around Oldman are equally, if less loudly, wonderful.

Kristin Scott Thomas turns out wonderully as Clementine Churchill, imbuing her role with more class and grace in the few scenes that she has in the picture. Like Gary Oldman, she's Kristen Scott Thomas. I'm not equipped to talk about what a fantastic actor she is. She just is. Just look at her.

Actually, you know what? Where's my Clementine Churchill movie? Get on that one, Hollywood.

Nobody disapproves like Stephen Dillane on Game of Thrones and that remains true in this film. He plays Chruchill's primary rival for control of Parliament and, ostensibly, the most reasonable, best-informed guy in the room, who more or less proves that just because you've got all of the facts on your side, that doesn't mean that you're right-- especially if you don't have morality on your sides. So, you know, he plays another version of Stannis Baratheon, but this time he doens't lose his head (spoilers for Game of Thrones).

Lily James also turns out a wonderful performance in a role that a lesser actor (and director and crew), would be deemed politely as “thankless.” In this film, she serves as an entry point into the film, as well as its almost sole POV from a normal human being.

Also: Shout out to my main man Ben Mendelsohn! We did it, Mendo! We feasting!

Wright et al remind us that pugnaciousness in the face of fascism isn’t fanaticism, it is survival. The film reminds us that the future of democracy lies with the people and not with the so-called ruling class. Lastly, it reminds us that flawed men can do good things and that good men can be wrong, and, maybe most importantly, that the solutions to our most obvious problems are not easy. They’re hard won. That often people must suffer in order to learn. Or, at least it alludes to all of these things. As a film, Darkest Hour seeks to embed our better angels within the biography of one of history’s Great Men.

The more I think about it, the more I think I love it. Ultimately, politics will probably dissuade a lot of people from seeing it. It will also certainly keep a lot of people from enjoying it. As much as I sympathize with these people, as much as they are not wrong, I also have to point out that this is film. This is a movie. This is a story.

Darkest Hour plays with and engages with history and story and myth in a way that I still cannot quality. It left me wanting to cry for reasons that I can’t quite pin down. It’s an imperfect story about an imperfect subject told through an imperfect medium, and at this time of night, in this time of my life, in this level of my sobriety, I am completely incapable of finding a better encapsulation of just what cinema is supposed to be.

In short, I liked Darkest Hour quite a bit. It's a solid drama, bolstered by an excellent cast and energetic directing, but more than anything, it's an old-fashioned tale about why character matters. So, perhaps the world was clamoring for another Churchill biopic, whether it knew it or not.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and would kill for five minutes alone with this Hitler guy. You can donate to his Patreon . You can buy the book he edited here (and on eBay). You can also follow him on Twitter. Also, if you well and truly give a shit hmu on my Paypal. Want to buy me a coffee? Get at my Ko-Fi. Happy new year!

19 December, 2017


I guess this is one of them new surprises. The last I heard of Sicario 2, all they had was a subtitle and a vague idea that it was going to be about Benicio Del Toro's character. I didn't even know it was happening?

And now? Now? Give me that drug war stuff. Give it to me now!

Regressive Rural Wretches Renege on Righteous Retribution

A Review of Three Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri is a shitty movie. That isn’t to say that it’s bad. It’s just, well, shitty. It’s shitty to everyone. Men, women, the disabled, white people, minorities (especially minorities). The only people it doesn’t throw some an elbow jab is Jewish people and I have a strange suspicion that’s because the scene is deleted. It's an ugly film with an ugly heart that manages to float on top of the water, like the pond scum that it is, only because basically everything else in the movie is pretty much top notch.

The performances in the film, from top to bottom, are great. There’s a lot of great turns from both its main characters and its bit players. Frances McDormand is perfect as a middle-aged and middle-class mother that seems to have been ground out by life like a glacier over a rockface. Sam Rockwell also does a pretty solid job doing his irritated moron routine which, hey, is always a lot of fun. It makes me look at all of these actors, and all of the talent behind the camera, and wonder why it isn’t better? Why don’t I care about these assholes? Why the fuck should I?

Oh. I think I just answered my own question.

While it is far from the vaunted and hallowed failure of Ridley Scott et al's The Counselor, Three Billboards fails to be more than the sum of its parts. It's a great cast and a respectable director with some fine films under his belt. It’s a letdown of that talent. It’s talent only highlights the movie’s flaws. It’s a maddening inconsistency and one that, more or less, sums up the real problems with this movie.

The problem with Three Billboards—rather, one of the problems, one of them being how it treats non-white people should be readhere—is that it is a movie about forgiveness with nobody worth forgiving. It’s a movie that wants to wrap up the denoument in people forgiving each other (never themselves, tough), except that in a very un-Catholic manner, it shoots right past the general concepts of contrition or redemption. It lands so far off of the mark that it actually completely forgets about mercy all together. Even worse, it seems to argue that a lack of mercy is what might actually bring people together in the end. Mostly, though, it argues that no matter what you do and no matter how shitty you are, we should kind of let you slide if you’re well meaning enough. Or something.

Not that every movie about revenge has to have a nice little button about everyone coming together—we’re talking about the medium in which Death Wish won’t stop being remade—it’s just
It just makes me wonder what the hell all that was about?

Clocking in at a little under two hours long (not that it feels like it), Three Billboards, like its title is an overlong journey to nowhere. While it does have some fun, retrograde humor and it revels in not being politically correct, none of its spite seems to add up to anything. It’s a mean movie that doesn’t have anger. It, like its main character, is listless and misguided and leaves you wondering if this was the best use of everybody’s time and energy.

My dad liked it, though. So that’s gotta be worth something.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, and has never committed a felony. You can donate to his Patreon . You can buy the book he edited here (and on eBay). You can also follow him on Twitter. Also, if you well and truly give a shit hmu on my Paypal. Want to buy me a coffee? Get at my Ko-Fi. Have a happy holiday!

08 December, 2017

I. . . Wait. What?




03 December, 2017

Your Buddy Dahmer


True crime is having a moment. Online there's Serial and Criminal and My Favorite Murder and White Wine, True Crime, then there's Mindhunter (directed and partially produced by a guy famous for serial killer movie). I talk to ex-girlfriends about murders. I can’t sit down at dinner with my folks without Forensic Files coming on (mind you, this is after Frasier, who is also having a moment). It's only natural that Jeffery Dahmer would finally get his turn in the spotlight. 

My Friend Dahmer is an adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name. As a film, it’s a compelling blend of a portrait of a young madman with a regular horny teen comedy. And while those things sound anathema on paper, as you watch My Friend Dahmer you realize that these two things are actually closer fits than you might realize. That they might actually belong together and that the strangeness doesn’t come from the juxtaposition, but rather from the fact that nobody ever thought to pair these two things together in such a straightforward, forthright manner. More than that, the true horror of My Friend Dahmer isn’t how unusual a serial killer can be, but rather how perfectly mundane this man can be.

My Friend Dahmer performs an incredibly balancing act. It manages to make a sicko like Jeffery Dahmer into a sympathetic character without isolating him from the monster that he will become. You can feel sorry for the monster without feeling sorry for his monstrosities. It does not so much ask you to feel a certain way as it makes you aware that there are things in this world that are unknowable. There is never going to be a truly satisfying answer for a man like Jeffery Dahmer. The triumph of My Friend Dahmer is that it turns the annecdotal-- a year in high school-- into a project that is much more meaningful.

My Friend Dahmer is clever in that it never seeks to be clever. It simply is. Unlike the epic odes to ornate serial killers from David Fincher or the Millennium Trilogy, My Friend Dahmer is as straight forward and as po’ faced as can be. That’s too it’s credit. Marc Meyers and his cast and crew take what could very well be a crass or a cliched piece of entertainment and they made something unique and interesting that I cannot stop thinking about. It doesn’t hurt that every performance from top to bottom is pitch perfect. It's this careful combination of light and dark that allow the movie to be a simple story about a screwed up kid in high school, but also a study of Man's darkest urges.

My Friend Dahmer is a movie that is about cruelty by casual and active, both intentional and unintentional. In places, it's also really funny, and occasionally, it's even a little touching. It’s a movie that doesn’t judge and doesn’t preach and doesn’t bother to tart up what is already an incredible story. It simply stands there and shows life as it was. As it should not have been. Looking at the world, looking at movies now, sometimes you don’t need to explain everything. Sometimes the world enough is its own explanation.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a host, and a convicted criminal. You can listen to his news podcast. You can listen to his cult movie podcast. You can donate to both podcasts. But, seriously, don't try to blow up Margaret Thatcher, guys.