Archive for the ‘Movie Mania’ Category

Oscars 2021 — what a long, strange trip it’s been.

Welcome to the only holiday which truly matters.

I speak, of course, about Oscar night.

And morning, and afternoon, and …. yes, we’re taking the whole day here.

It has been ever so for me, at least back to the Oscars held March 25, 1991, the first I remember celebrating here on Whidbey.

We lived out off of Frostad Road back then, and I walked my happy butt several miles to the nearest convenience store so I could purchase four or five newspapers and do my pre-broadcast Academy Awards research in those days before everyone had the world at their fingertips via computers and cell phones.

Then I argued all night with the uncaring TV, approving of some wins, while bitterly disagreeing with others.

Nick Park, a Claymation genius and the father of Wallace and Gromit, had two of the three nominees in Best Animated Short Film, with Creature Comforts grabbing the little gold man

Good show, old man.

But, while I enjoyed Ghost, Whoopi Goldberg winning Best Supporting Actress over Annette Bening in The Grifters?

Utter blasphemy!

The passage of time has also shown Goodfellas was brutally robbed, beaten 7-1 by Dances With Wolves, continuing a trail of tears for Martin Scorsese.

And sure, the master would finally win Best Picture and Director 15 years later for The Departed, but swinging and missing for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas?

Oof, Oscars, oof.

In 1991, I had seen my share of nominated films prior to the show, thanks to Oak Harbor’s movie theater and my trusty, overly-abused VCR.

But it was a time when any hopes of seeing the foreign films, documentaries, or shorts in advance was fairly firmly stuck on not-gonna-happen-if-you-live-on-a-rock-in-the-middle-of-the-water.

Things took a swing for the positive when I landed my golden ticket and started a 12-year run at Videoville in 1994, however.

Living behind a video store counter, with the ability to whine, plead, and make deals with movie studio reps at far-flung outposts increased my chances of nabbing nominated films pre-Oscars.

Add in Videoville’s annual Oscar contest, an event in which customers Val Flack-Jones and Julie Landau showed an uncanny knack for picking winners while I tried not to embarrass myself, and things were humming.

Jump forward to April 25, 2021 — the latest in a year any Oscars telecast has gone down — and the world is a vastly different place.

Cushy video store life is long gone, all the pre-show news stories are available online, without the walk to the quickie mart, and the pandemic has severly altered the movie landscape.

Largely unable to show their films in theaters this go-round, the movie studios sold their wares through streaming services and stashed them on obscure web sites, and David was all over that.

As I write this, mere hours before the Oscar pre-show kicks off at 3:30 PM, I have seen 52 of 56 nominees — my best pre-awards showing yet.

That includes every foreign film (though the category is now known as Best International Feature), every doc, and every single freakin’ short.


The four which have evaded me? Minari, The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Roberto Benigni’s live-action Pinocchio.

The absence of the first three, all Best Picture nominees, galls me, but none of them have landed on a streaming service, or come down in price as a video on demand purchase.

I ain’t paying $19.99 for a film. I choose thrift over completeness.

Pinocchio, nominated for Makeup and Costume Design, is available to rent at $5.99, but the 275th (at least) version of the tale is not rousing my interest.

Though, I almost said the same for the newest version of Emma, which is up for the same two awards, and boy am I glad I tracked it down.

It might be the 544th version of that story to be put on film, but it’s impeccable and drop-dead gorgeous, done with wit and style, and featuring a sublime lead performance from Anya Taylor-Joy.

Frankly, it should be up for Best Picture and a whole lot more.

Quick, do a Best Supporting Actor write-in campaign for Bill Nighy, who conducts a master class in delivering deep sighs and subtly arched eyebrows.

Emma, like Wolfwalkers, The Man Who Sold His Skin, A Love Song for Latasha, or The Letter Room, are all nominees which will endure long after they find out the whims of Oscar voters.

And what about Love and Monsters, up for Best Visual Effects?

I went in expecting just another reheated slice of YA adventure, and was blown away by how much the filmmakers achieved.

The tale of a young man (and his good boy dog) outrunning assorted giant squishy bugs in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s funny, unexpectedly touching, often surprising, and deserved to be a blockbuster.

If Love and Monsters upsets Christopher Nolan’s visually-dazzling (and often brain-numbing) Tenet and wins an Oscar, Penn Cove will be treated to me screaming like a ninny.

It’s just how I’ve rolled these past 30 years, whether screaming in joy for Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby (someone likes Clint Eastwood around here…) or jeering as Titanic shanked the far-superior L.A. Confidential.

I was, and still am, a Babe super fan (it wuz robbed!), and want to see Glenn Close get her Oscar. Just not for Hillbilly Elegy.

It’s easy to slag on Hollywood’s annual over-heated tribute to itself, and claim you never watch it. Good for you, skippy.

Me? I’m all in.

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If you ever came to Videoville back in the day, you’ve seen at least a few minutes of Bugsy Malone. Trust me.

“You give a little love and it all comes back to you, you’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do.”

That’s the closing mantra of Bugsy Malone, a movie musical like no other.

No, seriously.

Someone plopped down in a cushy chair at a Hollywood studio, looked the big man in the eye, and calmly said, “So, see, it’s The Godfather, but they sing and dance, and all the guns shoot cream pies, cause … the entire cast is KIDS!!!!”

And then they got the green light, and movie nirvana was made.

No, seriously.

Through 12 years at Videoville, I tried to play as many offbeat movies as possible on the in-store TV’s, just to keep people on their toes.

And also because as my middle nephew is fond of saying, with all the gravitas a 10-year-old can muster, “Uncle David, you like weird movies!!!!”

It’s true, and he doesn’t know the half of it.

So Videoville patrons got to experience, whether they wanted to or not, the sweet, sweet music of what-the-heck-is-that gems like Phantom of the Paradise, Rover Dangerfield, Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical, Shock Treatment, and The Apple.

We’re talking songs like “Bitchin’ in the Kitchen,” which begins:

Dear blender
Oh won’t you help a first offender
Oh, toaster
Don’t you put the burn on me

It’s gold, Jerry, gold!

Plus some warblin’ from Dwight Yoakam, the dance floor being torn up by Ann-Margaret, and a tangy mix of foreign musicals, from Bollywood to Umbrellas of Cherbourg to probably way too much opera in full-throated Italian.

But it was Bugsy Malone which got the most play of any musical, as I made my best attempt to wear out that VHS tape.

I love the movie, the way it takes everything seriously, never stopping to say, “Wait, those are 10-year-old kids wearing fake Clark Gable-style mustaches.”

Fat Sam and Dandy Dan operate as if they’re Brando marshalling the troops as Don Corleone, and I am there for it.

Bugsy Malone has songs that pop, gunfights that deliver a solid … plop, and a 14-year-old Jodie Foster, the best actress of my lifetime, is the cherry on top as Tallulah, a fast-talkin’, wise-crackin’, torch-song-singin’ sensation.

I see you Silence of the Lambs, Taxi Driver, and Nell, and I’m gonna let you finish, but you’re not a true Foster Fanatic unless you love the skeezy Carny, the creepy The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, and the what-now?!? of Hotel Artemis.

But most of all, you have to have lived for that moment when Foster blows the hinges off the bar room door doin’ “My Name is Tallulah” in Bugsy Malone.

That’s the moment everyone in Videoville would come to a complete stop, look at each other, then look at me and be like, “What … am … I … watching???”

Movie magic, that’s what you’re watching.

A moment, a scene, a shard of cinematic history, captured thanks to Foster, and to the often-underrated, often-brilliant director Alan Parker, who passed away today at 76.

He gave us Midnight Express, Fame, Mississippi Burning, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Shoot the Moon and many, many more, but it’s Bugsy Malone I hold dearest.

That movie is just a huge part of my memories from my time at Videoville, a run in which it never felt like I was going to work.

I was paid to watch films, jabber on about movies, and play gems like Bugsy Malone for the customers – maybe entertaining them, maybe messin’ with them, a bit, maybe opening their eyes to something outside of just that week’s new releases.

The people who make the movies, the Jodie Foster’s and the Alan Parker’s, have had a huge impact on my life, and, for that, I am grateful.

“You give a little love and it all comes back to you, you’re gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do.”

And for the movies you make.

Thank you, Mr. Parker. You will be remembered.


My Name is Tallulah:


Bad Guys:

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You should be watching movies like Wrestle, and you can if you take advantage of Kanopy, a free film streaming site offered by your local library.

In an ocean full of movie streaming options, Kanopy is that odd lil’ island tucked off in a far corner of the map.

Most travelers settle for the relatively swanky, easy-to-reach sites like Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, or Amazon.

But, for the price of a library card (so … free), Kanopy offers a heady mix of high class and (sometimes very) grimy low class.

The site’s front page marinates in documentaries, foreign films, and art house gems.

Go down the wrong alleyway, however, and you can have a grand old time with scuzzy ’80s slashers like Blood Rage, modern-day gagfests such as The Greasy Strangler, or, and I’m serious here … Cannibal Holocaust.

Yes, your library system offers the official place to stream one of the nastiest horror films to ever be banned in multiple countries, in all its uncut “glory.”

Kanopy … where Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon shares space with I Drink Your Blood, and where you can create your own wildly mismatched double features, like Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and Ralph Bakshi’s Coonskin.

All for free.

Your move, Netflix, and you already lost.

As you wander through Kanopy, a lot of big-name classics will catch your eye, but you also want to look out for small gems such as Wrestle.

A 2019 documentary about four grapplers, and their hard knocks coach, it’s set at a failing Alabama high school, and it offers something for everyone.

You don’t have to be a wrestling fan to sink deep into their stories, which offer some hard-earned hope, along with the frequent cold slap of reality.

As in the best sports doc ever crafted, Hoop Dreams, not everyone in Wrestle emerges a winner.

This is real life playing out in front of the cameras, and the student/athletes at J.O. Johnson High School in Huntsville face a myriad of obstacles.

There’s life on the mat, repping a school which gets little respect from the wrestling powerhouses in the region, and is on the list of failing schools in the state.

Then, there’s life at home, which offers its own challenges.

Directors Suzannah Herbert and Lauren Belfer offer an unflinching look at their subjects, not shying away from drug use, teen pregnancy, racial strife, and mental health troubles.

There are no easy answers to some of these problems, and the filmmakers, to their credit, realize this and allow life to play out in all its messy contradictions.

The relatively new team at J.O. Johnson is primarily made up of Black students, while coach Chris Scribner and Teague, one of four featured wrestlers, are white.

Scribner, a teacher who has been clean and sober for 10 years, carved out his own path of destruction in younger days, and has to face the reality he got second (and third and fourth) chances many of his current athletes won’t be given.

He seems to deeply care about his wrestlers, and wants to be a father/big brother figure to them in his own rough-and-tumble way.

At times, Scribner succeeds.

At other times, even those with the best of intentions can misread things or try to force something that’s not meant to be.

Of the four wrestlers we see the most, Jailen and Jaquan both endure run-ins with the police, made more tense by the difference in power held by white cops and young Black men. Even with cameras present.

Jamario, who is about to become a father, struggles with mental health as his relationship crumbles, while Teague, who endured abuse from a now-absent father, begins to spend more time chasing drugs rather than pins.

As the wrestlers and their coach pursue state tourney dreams, and try to find balance in their real lives, they do so in a world where it’s the moms who try and hold things together.

In a film full of moments which punch you in the heart, one in particular stands out, as Jaquan’s mom, with not an ounce of self pity, lays out, in quiet, concrete terms, how her son’s arrest for marijuana possession will upend all of their lives.

Against this backdrop, the positive moments, and there are some big ones near the end, resonate even more.

Things do not end well for all involved, and the fate of the school itself offers a particularly hard dose of reality.

But there are second chances, on the mat, and, more importantly, off of it.

You exit Wrestle, one of the best sports docs I’ve seen during a looooooong career of watching movies, believing in the power of hope and hard work.

It’s a movie to see, on a streaming site to get familiar with.


To take a gander at a whole new world, pop over to:


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In just 11 minutes, Broken Bird soars.

I watched 29 films in an afternoon.

So now, even though I’ve never remotely been anywhere close to Texas in my life, I can still say I attended the South by Southwest 2020 Film Festival.

Sort of.

SXSW normally lights up Austin each year, and it’s one of the major stops in the world of film fests.

Of course, this time around, COVID-19 is preventing anyone from sitting in a theater, wedged in between that guy loudly eating, and that other one taking up part of your seat along with his, and that third one talking to the person next to him.

There was a time period when I spent more time in Whidbey Island movie theaters than arguably anyone who didn’t get paid to be there.

Through the ’90s and much of the 2000’s, I’ll put my ticket stubs up against anyone in this area.

And while our rock in the water isn’t Austin, or Cannes, or Telluride, or Park City, or even Seattle, I watched virtually everything that played here (and so much more thanks to video stores and, eventually, streaming).

But even before the pandemic closed down theaters, I had begun to fall away.

Not from watching films, but from seeing them in theaters, as prices skyrocketed and most theater owners gave up, allowing cellphone-wielding cretins to thoroughly ruin the experience.

Now, from the tales I’ve read on the internet, there are still pockets of theaters where they hold fast to the old-school traditions of “shut the hell up, leave your phone off, get your feet off the top of the seat, and show some damn respect.”

Good lord, I sound like I need to go eat some prunes and contemplate taking a nap, but I digress…

Anyway, in outposts like Austin, the kind of theaters which host events such as SXSW operate differently than the pits of humanity in my general vicinity.

It sucks that those theaters are losing out on their yearly celebration of film, but, thanks to some quick moves, SXSW is living on in a virtual format.

From April 27-May 6, you can go to Amazon and view for free a mix of feature films and short films which would have unspooled at the film fest.

You don’t need a Prime membership, which is good, since I don’t have one.

Side note, Hulu is the way to go. But, once again, I digress.

So, camped out on my recliner, buried under blankies, one eye peeled just in case Jeff Bezos pops up to take control of my soul through the internet connection, I watched all 29 short films being offered.

The first one was a slim four minutes, the longest a fairly-robust 26 minutes, all banding together to take up just a bit over six hours of my time.

And since I have been known to go off-Island, camp out at a mall cineplex, and watch six or seven feature films in a row in a day – entering while the dew is still on the ground and exiting into a dark, nearly empty parking lot – six hours ain’t got nothin’ on me.

What I saw from my recliner, and my thoughts:

Affurmative Action – Quicksilver documentary using “Meet the Team” pages from tech company websites, showcasing how many dogs (and one interloping cat) have made the cut, while there seems to not be a single black human face to be seen. Drops the KO, then exits.

Basic – Nicely-done comedy about a woman scrolling through Instagram, delivering a verbal tongue-lashing to a rival she detests, but can’t seem to look away from.

Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business – One of the few shorts which should be expanded into a feature. Gives us a glimpse at an artistic whirlwind still going strong in her 90’s, but now I want to know more.

Blocks – Frazzled wife and mom of two small children starts barfing up Legos one day. No, really. Couple of big laughs, and the ending is nicely poetic.

Broken Bird – Beautifully-acted tale of a biracial Jersey girl preparing for her Bat Mitzvah, while also coming to terms with her largely-absent dad. Young lead actress Indigo Hubbard-Salk, who nails every conflicted emotion, is one to watch, as is first-time director Rachel Harrison Gordon.

Broken Orchestra – The filmmakers take a potentially dry subject – musical instruments being repaired and given back to Philadelphia students – and find a unique visual way to tell the story.

Call Center Blues – Solid doc about people deported from the United States who are now building lives in Tijuana, one phone call at a time. Has something to say about current events, and does it with a subtle touch.

Daddio – Big-timers Michael McKean (This is Spinal Tap) and Casey Wilson (Saturday Night Live) are aces as a father and daughter in a tear-stained comedy about dealing with death. Wilson wrote and directed, and it’s based on her own life.

Dieorama – Great little doc about a Bellingham, Washington woman who works as an investigator for a public defender’s office by day, and builds blood-soaked miniature crime scenes by night. A little macabre, a lot delightful.

Dirty – Two high school boys have a heated, tentative sexual encounter – with it being the first time for one – and then things go wrong. We’ll just say the bed sheets get the worst of it.

Face to Face Time – A woman sets up a Facetime meeting with a guy she thinks she likes, but things get awkward fast. Some laughs, but cuts out so abruptly at the end, it almost feels like the crew ran out of film stock.

Father of the Bride – Thick as sludge accents, with no captions available. Plus an unpleasant story of a man who violently gropes the decades-younger brother of his new son-in-law. Good times it ain’t.

Figurant – Hazy Twilight Zone-style riff about a man who wanders into a building and gets conscripted into being in some kind of war recreation. I didn’t see a point, but hey, could just be me.

Hiplet: Because We Can – Doc/dance video about young black ballerinas lighting up the stage in Chicago as they combine classical ballet with hip hop.

Lions in the Corner – Well-made doc about a man rebuilding his own life by staging real-life fight clubs (with boxing gloves) for others who are headed towards violent confrontations.

Mizuko – A mix of live action and animation centered around a Buddhist ritual which offers a chance for those who have had abortions (or miscarriages) to grieve.

Modern Whore – A sex worker describes her life in the biz, while showcasing the differences in how she and her clients view what plays out.

No Crying at the Dinner Table – A Vietnamese family confronts the memories from their past which haunt them, and emerge as a stronger unit. The director is sister and daughter to those talking, and, if you don’t tear up at least once, you’re probably in need of your own therapy.

A Period Piece – A man cheating on his wife finally gets a sexual encounter with his side-piece, only to have Aunt Flo show up to make it a threesome.

Quilt Fever – Pretty entertaining doc about a town which lives and thrives thanks to those who love to sew. Quick glimpses of a lot of small stories, weaving together a larger tapestry with some laughs, and a few unexpected tears.

Reminiscences of the Green Revolution – The revolution rages in the Philippines, and a young man hovers in the background, watching and commentating. He’s not there in person — thanks to a mistimed bomb explosion — but remains part of the tale, even in death.

Runon – A young autistic boy and his hard-scrabble mom wait for a bus, and we get jagged glimpses of why they seem to be on the run, and from whom. Some really eye-abusing flickering lights in an extended trip into a decrepit bathroom, and just sort of ends without ending.

Single – Smart comedy about a woman with one arm who is paired up on a blind date with a guy with one hand, and has reached her limit with people who only focus on her supposed disability. Mixes earned anger with its laughs, and drops an absolute hammer of a punctuation mark with its final shot.

Soft – Return of the strobe effect, as nearly everything takes place in a bathroom with a flickering light. Two young gay guys warily circle each other, while one of them is deeply concerned about his younger brother, who’s smoking the devil’s weed with their skeevy martial arts teacher.

Still Wylde – Heartrending tale of a failed pregnancy, though the filmmaker, who is also the lead actress, surprises by finding a poignant note of grace to end her story.

Summer Hit – Is it just a fling or something more? One’s from Spain, the other from Iceland, and while this is really well-worn territory, it’s pleasant enough.

Vert – A couple celebrates their 20th wedding anniversary by wandering into Black Mirror territory, using VR goggles which allow them to see their true inner selves. You can see where they want to go, but it just sort of flickers out.

The Voice in Your Head – A sad sack office drone is followed every day by a super-annoying dude who berates his every action. The major twist in the middle of the tale is first-rate.

Waffle – Knockout black comedy, with more than one surprise, about a possibly-demented heiress and her “best friend,” both grown women, having a middle school-style sleepover. Have a weird sense of humor? You’ll love it.

So, in the end, some good, some meh. But more good, and with the meh, you never know – personal tastes vary widely.

Do I think you need to see all 29? Probably not.

But I do really hope that some of these get the views, and the acclaim, they deserve.

If I was a one-man judging crew, the ones I absolutely would have never shut up about back in my video store days?

Broken Bird, The Voice in Your Head, Waffle, No Crying at the Dinner Table, and Dieorama.

And PS, someone please go hire Broken Bird’s dynamic duo, Rachel Harrison Gordon and Indigo Hubbard-Salk.

They are the future, and it’s a bright one.

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One man, one suit, every role.

All the Oscars. All of them.

If Videoville was still around, the 11-minute short film you see below would be on my regular play list, blasting out of the store TV’s.

Right there, mixed in with Dwight Yoakam yodeling, an animated dog singing about “never doing it on a Christmas tree” in Rover Dangerfield, and the original ’70s version of Gone in 60 Seconds, where they wrecked 93 cars (for real) during a 40-minute car chase which involved not a single, solitary seat belt.

This lil’ beaut, a Japanese student film (Osaka Art University) from the early ’90s, came to my attention when it popped up on Scarecrow Video’s Facebook page a while back.

Listen. There’s not much you need to know here, other than the director plays EVERY SINGLE FREAKIN’ ROLE, including Godzilla, his foes, a TV reporter, and even a set of power lines.

All while wearing the same suit in virtually every scene.

Now that’s range. Eat your heart out, Jodie Foster.


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