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.

02 November, 2017

Some Words About That New Jackie Chan Picture


This year has been a real whirlwind when it comes to delivering on trailers. On the one hand, there were pleasant surprises like Logan and It, as well as Blade Runner 2049, a movie that had no right being as excellent as it was considering the expectations behind it. On the other end of the spectrum, there were movies like Atomic Blonde and Alien: Covenant, both of which failed to deliver on my ever-so-finnicky expectations. Unfortunately The Foreigner falls into the latter half. It had a great trailer, a great director (Martin Campbell), and a solid cast. Despite that, the end result is a middling, dull in parts, and, most frustratingly, it does not deliver on the magic of its premise. 

I mean, how do you make a movie about Old Man Jackie Chan beating the fuck out of the Irish Republican Army? In what world does that fail to be the best movie ever made? Hell, if they handed the script off to another director and called for a do-over, I'd pay to see it all over again. 

The Foreigner is most interesting when it hints at the world of politics and the world of terrorism and law enforcement being a constant struggle of compromises. It presents the murky world of British governance and old Irish grudges as being two worlds, intertwined. With the IRA it presents a world where difficult ideals are easily undercut by radical purists and where even the finest of beliefs can be undone by expediency. On the other hand, you have the "Brits," who only care about results. And then you have Jackie Chan, who can build bombs. Which is nice. I kind of wish they made the movie about him.

That, ultimately, politics is a business of relationships, and without an underlying trust and affection, it does not matter what your end goals are. Nor do your tactics. In the world of The Foreigner, character is destiny. In all of this, Jackie Chan’s mourning father is the only man of pure purpose and of pure drive and, as such, he’s the only one who seems to walk out of the movie unscathed (of course, not literally, mind you). Of course, that’s the movie’s problem. That Jackie Chan beating up dumb paddies with a step ladder isn’t the main draw of the film. It's Irish internecine politics. The fact that I, James Kislingbury, do not care about a movie where in the complexities of modern Irish radical nationalism is on display is a problem.

And, frankly, it beggars belief to take the IRA seriously in any way, shape, or form in the year of our Lord 2017. Maybe it plays better in the UK and in Ireland, where these stories hit much closer to home. Maybe they even play better in China or in Asia where the IRA is just a series of letters. But who knows? 

The IRA always felt like a safe stand-in for more deadly international terror groups (and more controversial ones). Don't want to piss off the Palestinians or the Saudis? Throw the IRA in there. The Red Army Faction doesn't exist any more? Throw in the IRA. De Gaulle is out of office? Throw in the IRA. Get Sean Bean on the phone or some poor dead toe-rag from Game of Thrones and call it a casting session. I mean, whose feelings are we going to hurt? Plus, everybody knows who they are. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy.

Plus, how bad can the IRA be? They tried to blow up Margaret Thatcher. That's a noble endeavor. It’s arguably Alzheimer’s one saving grace.

Ultimately, The Foreigner seems to be caught between several different movies, each of which succeeds where this one fails. You have the staid, idealist Boy Scoutery of Patriot Games and its IRA villains. You have Campbell’s own Casino Royale, which is a perfect film on every level. Lastly, you have Old Jackie’s chef character reflected in Clint Eastwood’s Best Picture winner, Unforgiven. Then, lastly, there’s Edge of Darkness, a movie so close to Martin Campbell’s heart, that he made it twice, once as a mini-series in England and another as a feature in America (staring Ray Winstone and slightly pre-freak-out Mel Gibson). But the problem isn’t necessarily that this movie isn’t as good as those. The problem is that each of those movies is great because they succeeded in being unique and being good in a unique way.

The Foreigner isn’t bad enough to be depressing. If it looks like anything, it looks like itself. Its broken, grey shape is best reflected in its titular character, brilliantly played by Jackie Chan, as a broken down, hobbled old man who had one good thing hidden inside of him. The one difference is that Jackie Chan and his character actually came through.

James Kislingbury is a writer, a host, and, unfortunately, a protestant. 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.

30 October, 2017

Alright, gimme this movie, too

03 October, 2017

On Tom Petty

This one hurts. Tom Petty is one of my favorite musicians of all time. He's right up there with Nick Cave and David Bowie and Johnny Cash and a whole bunch of other people I don't even want to think about right now. Hearing that he’s gone, that there won’t be any new songs or concerts hurts. That’s it. Done. More than any other artist, it hurts, because Tom Petty was a part of my life in a way that nobody else ever was. More than anyone ever will be.

But, I’ll start with a lighter note: The first time I ever consciously heard Tom Petty was on The Simpsons. You know the episode. Homer’s waiting for his background check to clear so he can pick up his gun. Whatever it was about that song, it stuck with me. Eighth grade, I didn’t
There was something about this Tom Petty guy.

The first concert I ever went to was Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. I went with my friend and my older sister and it was amazing. And not amazing because, oh boy, a concert! Because I hate people and I hate concerts, but it was amazing, because holy shit, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers could play.

The real reason I love Tom Petty is that he probably saved my life.

It could be that I’m overstating that, but Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers is anchored to one of the worst times in my life. Looking back on it, I don’t think I was ever in any serious danger of going off of the deep end. I don’t think I would have killed myself or gotten into drugs or made any rash decisions and I don’t think I would have lost control of my life in any serious or irreversible way. But back then I didn’t know that. It was a bad time.

Tom Petty made that time manageable. It made sense of things and it managed to make them into four-minute stories about love and loss and Los Angeles and a lot of other things that I didn't quite get at the time. But Tom did. The Heartbreakers did. It made them real in a way that nobody else had taught me up to that point. I could deal with that. I could see it. Tom Petty knew what I was going through in a way that I don't know that anyone else did. And I don't mean that I related to his music. I mean that he understood what I was going through. I mean that literally. I don't know how or why or by what means, but I know it's true.

I got over it. I figured things out. I forgave some people. I forgave myself. I realized what I had done wrong and what I could do better. And day by day, I got over it. And I realized that it wasn’t so bad and I got back on my two feet and I moved forward.

Looking back on that time, I can’t imagine it without Tom Petty. Not “How could I have done it without him?” No. It could never have happened without him. It’s like looking back on a memory and wondering what it would be like without oxygen. Maybe Tom Petty didn’t save my life, I don't know. What I do know is that the person that I am now, the guy that got through all of that bullshit and came out the other side does not exist, cannot exist without Tom Petty.

There's a lot of stuff I can exist without. Tom Petty is not one of them.

An even lighter aside: I’ve only ever done two drugs. Weed and salvia. Weed is fine. Salvia is not. Salvia sucks. It’s like weed, but with a stronger kick up front and a longer headache out back. It’s bad. There’s a longer story here, but I’ll cut to the relevant point: Riding out a bad salvia high, I decided to go to bed early, walking from a friend’s apartment through rain that may or may not have been imagined and crashed on my bed. Instead of letting the bad vibes get me, I did the only thing I could think of doing: Listened to Tom Petty.

It’s what I’m going to do right now.

It’s what I was planning on doing anyways.

It’s what I’m still going to be doing in the future.

There’s a quote from RZA that I think of every once and a while, half as a joke, half as a way to get into a joke, and it goes like this “How can hip-hop be dead if Wu Tang is forever?”

How can Tom Petty be dead if his music is forever?

14 September, 2017

Gimme Them Movies

Just give 'em to me now. I don't care if Ridley Scott has been burning me one movie after another for the past ten years, I want them, I want them now.

08 June, 2017

This too is The Aesthetic