Wednesday, November 23, 2016


(This review was originally meant to be published last June.  As you can see I... didn't get to finish what I'd planned, tin this case a three-part review of three Kiarostami movies.  I only watched Taste of Cherry following the late director's passing.  So... here's the review):

To look at Taste of Cherry properly, in my mind, is to look at precisely the manner that he is going about planning to commit suicide.  The question that has to be asked is: why does he need help?  More than about who he is or why he is doing it - clearly these are questions that Kiarostami isn't interested in (I think that his job in casting Homayoun Ershadi as Mr. Badhii was almost enough, to find someone with intense sadness but also a great intelligence in his eyes, and those who notice it may see at the least that, whether he's rational or not, he's thought this through) - I think the question comes down to human connectivity.  In this story he means to take a lot of sleeping pills and go at night into a hole in the ground he's dug by a tree out in the wastelands near Tehran.  But there's a catch: he has to find someone who, at dawn, will come and say his name.  If Badhii responds, he'll need to pull him out of the hole.  If there's no response, 20 shovels of dirt on his head.

In his way, just by asking for people to help him it's his way of reaching out.  One of the cliches (but a cliche is what it is because it's many times true) with suicidal people is that they will say they will or want to kill themselves because they want attention.  However this isn't some stereotypical teenager or someone with easy to see anxiety issues... but then how many people out there CAN we see having this?  Maybe Mr. Badhii has no other reason except the one that many people who kill themselves get into: severe, crippling depression.  He is told by one of the three passengers he picks up in the film, a Seminarian (aka a priest of a sort) that the Koran forbids suicide since God gives man a body that he must not damage.  But what if the mind is already damaged?

One of the handful of negative reviews on this Golden Palm winner from 1997 was by Roger Ebert.  He was much harsher than I could ever be on the film, since I think it's rather challenging and intelligent in its philosophical aims and its "slowness" works as part of a character unable to really cope with the sense that 'there's no other choice and this HAS to be this way' sense of ending a life (maybe not as strong as Melancholia, but then few films are).  Yet he made a curious point that I agree with, which is that we don't know anything about this man and so there's no port into sympathy for him.  I think I get both sides of how people might approach that argument: too often a movie will overload a movie character with reasons to do this or that or the other.  Kiarostami means to almost make this experimental in approach (about 75% of the film is shot from inside a car - what this means aesthetically in the context of the film I'm still sure I don't know, on a first viewing anyway), but also that maybe too many reasons would make things too easy or too country specific.

In other words, by having it so that Mr. Badhii's conflict is so internalized that it becomes more about his quest to get this ONE thing done that makes his journey interesting - who needs reasons when you simply have a man on screen who can communicate so much through his eyes (I must stress that the performance from Ershadi may be the strongest thing about the film, like I wish he had been recognized at Cannes along with or even instead of Kiarostami)?  What's also impressive about the film, what makes Taste of Cherry impactful, are a) those interactions Badhii has with these three people (the young soldier who is clearly uncomfortable from almost the start of the pick-up and then wants to just get out and have nothing to do with him, the Semanarist, and then the older gentleman who agrees to what Badhii asks but tries to go on and talks the most of anyone about why suicide isn't such a good idea based on, you know, some little thing may make you realize life is worth living).

And B) those little moments where Badhii doesn't have someone in his car, and he stops off at a construction site to just sit there amid all of the "earth" and rubble around him (he almost looks like he's in tears, as this comes after the second passenger rejected his request, though it's almost, cinematically speaking, in a metaphysical sense of visual language, that things are crashing down upon and all around him), or when he simply looks out at people as they go about their day, soldiers marching and chanting along, the children playing, and a young woman who asks him to take a picture of her.  I think a good filmmaker finds those little moments and attempts to build some context around the story, and Kiarostami does that: Badhii may have it set in his mind to do this, but how does one completely disregard... well, LIFE, all around him, the world continuing to live and thrive and people doing things like, at one point, getting his car out from under a ditch that he drives in to by a cliff?

So much of the story is rich - the execution, yes, is a little slow at points, by this I should say shots linger as the characters improvise their lines (it didn't feel that way watching it, but finding out after the fact there was no full script makes it both remarkable and more sense why it sounds the way it all does) - that it's extremely disappointing that the ending putters out.  It may be one of those things I *should* get and just completely flew over my head what meaning it was.  I won't say what happens except to say that it feels like the film is reaching some logical conclusion, or perhaps a revelation, and what we get feels like a non-ending, or, frankly a cop-out.  DID Kiarostami know what ending he wanted and threw it out to do something "fresh", or did he not get what he wanted and decided to just say 'eff it' and forget what was happening in the film?

What's so frustrating is that for 90% of the film Kiarostami tells a story in a specific way, that can't be mistaken for any other style or approach, and then in that last 10% (and also things start to slow down to a crawl, which is fine, but it feels like it's leading up to SOMETHING) it becomes, well, *meta* or taking the experimental to a place that is distancing for the audience.  But more than anything I just didn't get it, and I usually feel I can get most weird and esoteric decisions.  And I'm sure some smarter film goer than I will explain what the end means and make me feel all foolish for not getting it, but that makes me feel WORSE about it, not better.  And at the end of the day so much of Taste of Cherry is a provocative, daring, surprising film that I can't not recommend it to audiences looking for a fiercely intelligent film by someone looking to break out of the box of typical narrative films.

 If only it stuck to its, I don't know, narrative! 


Like the man's life, this doc is too short (I thought for some reason it was going to be a feature).  The material is the basic stuff of a retrospective and tribute with interviews by collaborators and fans (and certainly some names you probably heard of: Pacino, De Niro, Streep, Sam Rockwell, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Sidney Lumet, uh, Brett Ratner, sure why not) that go into what this man was like as they knew him from being in person (Streep was married to him for a brief time, she's actually his widow) and from simply watching the Godfather parts 1 and 2 five hundred times. 

But, man, what an actor and what a career!  Sometimes in those luckiest windows of time and in opportunity (don't forget the luck part of it), quality trumps quantity, and in this case Cazale had one of the major careers in 70's American cinema.  It must be akin to one of those early rock and rollers from the 50's (Buddy Holly or the Big Bopper or whoever) who you know when listening to their music it's so pure and raw and emotional and that so many others have borrowed from them, and it's a true tragedy from the abyss of nothingness that they're taken so young. 

Good stuff though, again, I wish it was a little longer, like even a short feature instead of this long-short film stuff. But some wonderful breakdowns of these scenes he had as Fredo and the long-haired WTF in Dog Day Afternoon and even the sadness he brought to his small role in The Conversation.  A lot of time actors try to go big or go home, or take on roles that will show off what they can DO on CAMERA.  Cazale never did that, and one wonders this man in dramas in the 80's and 90's and beyond.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

MOONLIGHT (dir: Barry Jenkins)

Barry Jenkins is a fascinating storyteller, and in large part because of how he goes about being fascinated by his subject, how his camera roams at times, and at others when he knows to cut between his subjects. But most of all, he is a truly magnificent filmmaker because of how he so deftly finds universal themes from a place and people that is somewhat specific. This is a story about a boy who grows into a man - I'm tempted to call it the 'better, bigger, blacker-er Boyhood', though that's not totally the case - but he is also a boy growing up in a largely black, Southern, lower (middle?) class neighborhood, where it seems drugs are everywhere (including his own mother who is an addict) and no one can be "soft". And if you're gay, a "f***ot?" Watch out.

I grew up in a town and in the public school system where it was predominantly black and brown and Hispanic, and it seemed like even having the slightest effeminate tendencies would make that one a subject for immediate ridicule (I was even picked on and I was pretty sure from a young age I wasn't gay, but was picked on so much for a moment almost though I was, it was that persistent). It may not be so different for white small towns or big cities or who knows what, but it's especially difficult for African-American men to come out. And yet if Moonlight was only about the gay issue then it would be interesting but not overly compelling. I think what Jenkins and his actors are communicating so strongly is being *so* isolated and without any options that it's about one's overall identity. Sex and attraction is a large component, but simply knowing who one is is a major struggle.

Jenkins has some very big, emotional scenes in this film, which is told in three parts, in large part coming from the dynamic between the boy, called "Little" but actual named Chiron, and his mother (Naomie Harries, I mean, god damn she is amazing in this). However, the predominant mood here is one of subtlety, of a vision that is fairly ambitious but is more about the interior life of his protagonist, this boy having to navigate how he should be in a society that leaves little options to get out and be something more than a drug dealer or the like (eventually, both he and another friend character, Kevin, wind up in jail in-between parts 2 and 3. This can be a difficult way to make someone interesting, but there's so much truth from these young actors, especially the boy playing Chrion in middle-school age, that your heart pours out even more because of the restraint, because of the shyness that is hiding back an entire interior life that's more than what we can see: one of pain and want.

The way Jenkins shoots everything gives characters and places an extra texture, how he'll show two people by a beach at night becoming closer together naturally over minutes that feel pregnant with meaning. To use the word 'sensitively drawn and performed' may be a cliche, but sensitive is the only way I can think to describe it. This isn't to say it's melodramatic, far from it; when we get the bullies that come at Chiron, it feels raw and immediate, like something could pop and violence could erupt at any moment. Sometimes, it seems, it does. A small piece of advice is given to the boy by the drug dealing father-figure (no one else in his life fills that role, and he doesn't realize at first he is a dealer): no one can tell you who you are, you have to figure that out for yourself.

When I first got out of the theater at the end, I was wondering if the ending was slightly abrupt, that things come to a conclusion somewhat not so much fast but there's something else. I think writing this review now, I was more touched and moved by the thought of 'I now want to see where this story goes, what happens now that Chrion has had this emotional breakthrough.' It's as subtle as many moments in this film, but there's a poetic side to it that is potent and you can almost touch it that it's so powerful. Moonlight is profound because it doesn't force anything, it lets those moments where things aren't said speak out loud, when characters share looks or someone looks away while another looks straight on at another person, or the movement of boys with one another, and you can fill in the gaps for yourself. It's also a look at the black experience that is both specific to that world but goes beyond that: if you've ever not known who you are in your life, if you've felt lost or abused or abandoned, this is a film for you.

I can't wait to see what Jenkins does with his career, it could last a long time.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Ava DuVernay's 13TH

It's not enough to look at one thing to analyze what is wrong with it, is a key point that may get overlooked (or simply not exactly the focus, but between the lines) in Ava DuVernay's powerful indictment of an entire society.  When you look at the systemic issues of racism in this country, slavery is the key thing, and the title refers to the 13th amendment to the constitution (need a cinematic reference point, see Spielberg's Lincoln for more), and how one small line in the amendment referring to how slavery is outlawed except, kinda, sorta, for criminals, is paramount in how black people and bodies have been treated in the 150 years since the end of the Civil War. 

Because at extremely crucial times in history, like right after the signing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, black people were not in positions of power or government or, of course, in business (as this doc goes very in depth on), figures who spouted 'Law and Order' and "War on Drugs" made life not a matter of inconvenience or difficult for blacks, it was more like a refitting or metamorphosis of the sort of principle that went into slavery - keep everyone repressed and afraid, and if they get out of line they have to work and work for no wages and have little rights - into the modern age.  Anyone can look up the statistics about how high the prison incarceration rates have gone up over the past 45 years (this despite the fact that, at least since the 1990's, crime rates have gone down generally speaking nationwide), and particularly for African Americans the struggle is that, well, 1 out of 3 black men will go to prison in their lifetimes (vs how much smaller that ratio is for whites).

DuVernay's film is a mix of a variety of talking heads, muckraking information that might be out of a Michael Moore film about things like the ALEC company and the like who formulate actual legislation that is pro-for-profit prisons, and footage from the likes of Nixon and Reagan's most damning points looking "Presidential" while distorting the truth (and the even more damning points from their advisers caught on tape how they actually were going about specifically going after minorities as "threats" to the system).  Constantly here, the thing is, nothing is in a vacuum.  What we see from The Birth of a Nation by Griffith (incidentally I saw this doc mere hours after seeing Parker's new film, so this almost picks up where he left off), was that there actually was a film that one can say really did inspire people to commit acts of violence: hyping up the KKK to become a dominant force after years of being dormant and unpopular, by painting blacks as the "savages" that will come and rape and pillage your precious whites. 

So much in that film may seem awful and hateful now, but also these sorts of images continue to be perpetuated, is what DuVernay is saying, and things are interconnected all the time; what happened with the Central Park Five in 1989; Willie Horton; Bill Clinton's crime bill; Mandatory Mininums; Trayvon Martin and Ferguson; all of these companies making bills for politicians that they can literally *fill in the blank* with their state name, which calls to question what a country is if corporations are writing bills.  There's so much to unpack in the film, but as a director DuVernay keeps things moving at a pace that is electrifying but also never hard to take in.  I'd want to watch this again more-so to admire the touches of filmmaking, all of the text pieces she puts up to accompany song transitions (Public Enemy for one), than even to take in pieces of information she puts out.

Also fascinating is how she puts the variety of talking heads here: we get people like Charlie Rangel (who was once very tough on crime and regrets it today) and mayor David Dinkins and Cory Booker and Angela Davis, but we also get to see Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist and a sort of spokesman for one of these ALEC type of companies (I forget his name).  Having them juxtaposed with figures who have seen how awful this country has treated people of color in the justice system with drug laws that are meant to make criminal (that's a word that comes back again and again) makes for a viewing experience that can be startling but it keeps you on your toes.  Will they possibly say something reasonable or reprehensible?  Some watching it may not even know who Norquist is - I should think DuVernay made this film to last, not just for the 2016 year, albeit clips from Clinton and Trump, the latter some of the explosive racist moments at his campaign stops in the crowds, make it timely - but it shouldn't matter too much.

13th gives you a massive amount of facts and statistics, but it's never a lecture, and if it's a plea it's that people should realize real reforms don't or really can't happen overnight.  Minds and attitudes need to change on a more fundamental level, where *centuries* of oppression have kept metastasizing like a cancer.  And at the center of it is DuVernay creating a conversation and narrative that inspires a great many emotions, mostly sadness and anger, but is just as palpable as in her film Selma.  A must-see.

Friday, July 15, 2016


"Now I know how Batman feels."

People are already going to want to know: Jack (and I'll reply, 'yes, reader?'), what is *wrong* with the new Ghostbusters, as if there immediately has to be something wrong with something just because it carries the namesake of a beloved product from the 1980's (perhaps the mere fact that there's been an outcry over a remake is a sign that there is still some fire in the belly of people not beaten down by remakes, though more on that near the end of this review). But if I had a general response it's that, simply, generally speaking, the "Ghostbuster Paradigm" is off here. It's not the only issue with the movie - and there are good things I can say about it (and will) - and what I come away with most is that four main characters (you can also call it the "Ninja Turtles" paradigm or the "Avengers paradigm from the 2012 Marvel movie") are not too distinctive from one another.

Actually, that's not fully the case. Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are... well, Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, but that's the problem. Their characters do what the script tells them to, as do the actors (hey, it's their job, right), but personality wise you don't get those clear distinctions that were there in that original Ghostbusters; the wisecracking guy we can relate to with Venkman; the straight-arrow guy who's kind of the leader in Stantz; Egon being the scientist so he's super-sciency; and Winston as the, well, guy off the street who we maybe identify with the most as the outsider. There is an exception in Paul Feig and Kate Dippold's creation here which is with Kate McKinnon's Holtzmann. She's an actress who totally embraces this character as a full-blown sciency-quirk-nerdy piece of magnificence, someone who can be whip smart and have a quick retort, but who also *looks* distinctive (I suspect at conventions cosplayers will most go after her look), and she gets to be really silly in down-time moments, singing to herself like no one is looking (even if someone is) or doing a little dance as she fixes something. She's a cool, awesome update of the Egon, and McKinnon is consistent and funny in the role.

But Wiig and McCarthy? More hit or miss, and while the filmmakers try to make the two distinctive early on - Wiig as the college professor fired over a book she wrote with McCarthy's character years back (why it's only discovered now, who knows, whatever, movie), and the former trying to at first distance herself while the latter's more like "no, no, ghosts, ghosts, c'mon' - but once they face off against their first paranormal entity early in the film, the two characters are not really distinctive, both can have some wisecracks (maybe Wiig's *slightly* more dry, but more-so it's that awkward-stilted approach to line delivery that she's perfected over time) and yet there's no distinction between types... which leads me to Leslie Jones, who, I say, IS trying here, but is given a character that has the one dimension of "AAH! GHOSTS! Can I work with y'all", and that's about it.

Even Slimer's like, "I'm getting told for this shit"

Her performance goes from at best tolerable, goofy sidekick to being obnoxious (and most of those scenes, to be fair, are in the trailer, some are left for the movie to give us new scenes to see as tired screaming-black-lady types), and Jones is better than that. Ironically given the four ladies, Chris Hemsworth gets a good role as the "token male" (ho-ho) who also happens to be playing the dumb-blonde type. This diverts from the original movie, which is fine (actually the attraction part now shows the reversal, where before Jeanine hit on Egon to little result, now one or more of the ladies try to when they interview him, and he's so dumb it goes one ear out the other), and Hemsworth owns what is basically also a one-note joke. But he plays that note for all it's worth, and is definitely the highlight of a climax that is... messy.

I think that I can say that this remake (let's call it that, f*** a 'reboot') of Ghostbusters is not terrible. It's also not very good on the whole. It certainly can shine in little pockets. It can also be irksome when a scene goes on for far too long - like a scene with Andy Garcia as the mayor where the Ghostbusters are called frauds, sort of - and it becomes like a game of one-up(wo)man-ship, and it's painful to see the jokes die. A lot of lines and jokes died for me, which is a shame since the actors clearly have good comic timing and chemistry, and can deliver exposition with some aplomb. But along with the weak 'four-character paradigm' aspect, there's also the familiarity that gets crammed in like a fowl in foie gras: slimer shows up, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow man shows up (kinda, sorta, it happens) and even the *logo* becomes that "form of destruction" from the original.

For me it's not that it can't be be helped to associate this with the 1984 movie. I love that piece of work, but I can watch one thing and keep it at that. A major problem is that the movie won't let me, for the most part. At times it does try to make its own mark, like a 'villain' who is just some freak living in a hotel who wants to bring the "Ley Lines" to fruition (yeah, it's the plot, whatever), but it still calls back to the original over and over and over again. Just when it starts to cut its own path it goes back and says "remember the Ghost House? Remember the Ray Parker theme? Remember this and that and the other? Well, here it is again, anew!" And all in all it leaves one with an impression that this is all.... okay. Certainly Feig and the actors are trying. But it's burdened by the weight of its own franchise and not being able to just left go and cut a rug. Oh, and the improv, that's hit or miss too.

Lastly, there's the not-really-but-hey-internet elephant in the room of "Well, it's women now, so it's gonna suck" argument. What one comes away with is the people making these claims likely also were the same who said that Ben Affleck would be AWFUL as Batman. Get over it you small-penised losers. That's the absolute least of this movie's problems!

In other news, Chris Christie sucks because he's FAT!

Thursday, July 14, 2016


I imagine Nicolas Winding Refn (seriously, at this point he should shorten it to N.W. Refn and go full old-school auteur on us, Murnau style) has a lot of deep thoughts to put forward to his audiences. Sometimes they manifest out through stories and characters and images that coalesce in a succinct way (Drive), and other times not so much (Only God Forgives). But it's safe to say he's now in another universe than as the director who once did gritty hand-held street crime movies like the Pusher series, as he has a film that feels like a final thesis project in a Stanley Kubrick Masters class. And if I were a professor given the unlikely and dubious task of assigning students 'grades', Refn would get a B+. Or a B, I'm still not sure.

At any rate, I can call the man an artist because he listens to no one but his own intuition for a film such as The Neon Demon, which is mostly a drama (and in its way somewhat or maybe mostly too a horror film) about a seemingly ingenue-like 16 year old who comes to LA to gain traction as a model (Elle Fanning) and the perils she comes up against as she rises to stardom. Or... is it stardom? She says at one point to a male friend (not quite a boyfriend, I think) that she can't write or sing or do things creatively like that, but she's pretty and "I can get money for that." So she's out for the ego part, no question - how far she'll go is of course always the trouble in these stories.

If this kind of rise-and-fall scenario sounds familiar, well, it is. It's not uncommon to get the story of a young woman trying to find her way into fame and fortune only to have back-biting b***hes on a back because, well, they don't have "It". I think if Refn is out to use his gaze at anything, and it's a powerful one for much of the film, it's to look at the ugliness and despair and kind of scathing depravity just under the surface. Again, not necessarily the most original point either (I was reminded of the one bit from the movie Holy Motors, where the photographer is shouting one moment "Beauty! Beauty! Beauty" then turns his gaze at the freak and goes "Weird! Werid! Weird!")

There's many sequences in the film that are striking, if nothing else for how they're shot - ironically Refn, from what I've read and heard, is color-blind, so a magnanimous kudos to Natasha Braier and her team for the cinematography, tops for the year (like the kind that features lens flare that works, well, take note JJ Abrams) - like when Jessie, Fanning's supposed ingenue, is in front of the photog Jack (Desmond Harrington, remember him from Dexter, much better-creepier here, stone solid). It's her first time with him and he has her strip, to which he closes off the set and gets her slathered in gold. It's not done in some way like he's being a pervert or deviant, except in the way that maybe artists can get or are called out on (maybe Refn's own meta-commentary, in his way, a little, I think so), but it's really about how to make ART and be in control of a moment. When Jessie's asked how it went by Jena Malone's Ruby Jessie goes, "It was great."

Mmmm strawberry dna!
Does she mean it? Another scene, as if out of something like Under the Skin, is when Jessie first goes out onto a runway with the other models. She's by herself surrounded by darkness, and she no longer seems naive (whether that's a put on or not may be up for the audience to decide), but she has a real... moment, something that will be abstract as she sees a blinking triangle light in front of her and as the color red surrounds her face and the occasional flash bulb finds its way through the ether, and then other colors come through as well. It doesn't make logical sense, but it doesn't have to, and it's the most successful moment of some kind of transformation (or simply a self-fulfillment happening) in an emotional way. It's a slow-burn knockout of a sequence.

And yet I left the movie in an odd way not totally satisfied. The Neon Demon is shot and presented in a manner that says "see me on as big a screen with good sound for our kickin' 80's Cliff Martinez score, please", so if you do go see it in a theater. And one performance more than others, Jena Malone, feels complete and I wish in a way the movie was about her most of all (her character is a crucial component, as the real 'friend' as the non-model of the bunch of women). Despite all the movie has going for it, including a few amazing/terrifying/funny scenes with Keanu Reeves of all people, it's a very cold movie at its core, ugly, brutal, unrelenting in its outlook of, in brief, that women HATE women. Especially in a world where they're defined by how men (and, to be fair, other women as well to an extent) see them in clothes and their underwear or sometimes nothing at all.

so... existential, y'know?

I get that that's the point, but Refn stretches the ugliness to such a point near the end that it becomes silly, and not in a way that worked. Earlier on, the Kubrick comparison holds by being very icy and methodical in its camera-work - every pan, every push-in, every two-shot is slow-building and people talk in pauses and so on - but there's a satirical point to it as well, like we KNOW this isn't real, but that's the game to point that out. And then it... gets into real madness and its horror movie sense goes wild, to where I'm sure Refn knows he's f***ing with us, and yet Fanning's character gets the short shrift as a result. I hoped for more with Jessie here from how he's set up, and then after she changes (or does she, that's the interesting thing if she does or not) it soon devolves in the last 20 minutes into being straight-up provocation.

In other words, Neon Demon is a movie I loved and hated, and there's no easy response to recommend it. Refn and his collaborators once again bring out a Los Angeles that's got both the pretty (that wide vista overlooking the city from the cliff-top is there), the empty (those wide rooms showing the spaces that people have left open in their minds) and dirty (the motel area). It's someone putting up images and faces and moments that will shock us, or most of us, or some of us, but at least he's trying, and it's not a bore or misfire (cough, Only God Forgives, cough.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


Man... I feel like a dick with the review I'm about to give this. 

I think if I objectively look at this (maybe even subjectively, I don't know), I can point out how it's not very cohesive or hold up too well over time.  But I've been where Alison Anders, Kurt Voss and Dean Lint were at in the mid 80's: people in a particular place and time and milieu (in this case it was the west coast alternative-cum-punk scene, or maybe it's the other way around, just before hair metal fucked everything up), and wanting to get it down on film.  There's a rawness and a sense that 'hey, let's make a goddamn movie that WE want to see!)  At least that's what I suspect was the idea - and to give some kind of gritty noirish feeling amid the aimlessness of the events.  So set in the world that Repo Man was swimming in or even the kids from Suburbia might wander through, but a touch of Jarmusch or Wenders.  And... I wish it worked better!

So on a personal level I find it difficult to be harsh on it, knowing that its heart is pure and that it's a warped little calling card at best at a time when such films could get a few people to see it in an art-house and that'd be just fine. But... well, it is what it is, right?  A basic enough premise but with some promise - a few dumbass punk rockers (or rockabilly, a crossbreed you could say) steal some money and the main guy behind the group runs off to Mexico - Chris D as Jeff Bailey, who I believe was a figure in the west coast punk scene, or he looks that way, like Henry Rollins balding cousin.  The rest of the film finds his wife Luana (played by I think Anders' sister or relative Luana) tries to find out where he's at and more importantly why.

Here's the key problem I have with this: if it were a short, even 30 minutes, it would be pretty fantastic.  I actually am smitten with this time and setting; Suburbia and Repo Man are set in a similarly scuzzy world where people don't give a fuck and yet there's the air of responsibility and the outside world that hangs over heads (in Repo Man it was just 'fuck normal' and Suburbia it was more 'hey, it's a Roger Corman production, don't forget the violence and sex every 15 minutes or so).  But those films also had stronger performances and a better core to work with despite how aimless they seemed. 

But here the whole search is stupid; Luana could go down it seems to Mexico any time she wants to get her dead-beat husband (also a father to their kid, played by real life Anders daughter), and the resolution to the whole situation happens too gradually and without much logic.  Oh, and there's a "documentary" being done on these people - interviewed I think by the directors - as if their story is supposed to be like fodder for a documentary that is just... why

This isn't to say Border Radio is a complete waste of time.  Actually for certain stretches it's entertaining.  The two band mates of Jeff's, Chris and Dave (also named after themselves), are characters unto themselves, with Chris like a proto Randall from Clerks and Dave probably the most realistic kind of character in the movie as far as real life goes: mostly drunk, a total scumbag, but likely talented though still blackballed by the local clubs for being a, well, jerk like he seems to be.  In fact a lot of the acting here isn't too bad, and Anders as the sort of anchor to much of the absurdity in the episodes pulls off what she's asked to do.

In some ways Border Radio portends the "mumblecore" movies more than any other 1980's indie.  As episodic as Stranger Than Paradise was, it had a formal ambition to its making and execution that made it stand out from the pack.  With 'Radio', I doubted there was a firm script, certain people show up briefly who seem like they were plucked off the street (i.e. a Mexican at the trailer park, a punk rock girl who is "babysitting" Jeff/Lu's daughter at a key point), which may explain the fucked up logic at times of the characters or events as they go on in the story.  Or at the least, the characters, except maybe for Luana, are not sympathetic much at all (actually Luana seems to be questionable at one point near the end too, and yet it's at a point where logically I'd given up on the story), and this takes away from being engaged with things.  In little moments, like when Chris goes down to Mexico finally to confront Jeff in a series of scenes, it's successful and genuinely interesting.  In the bigger picture it falls flat and is too scattershot to ever revisit.

For all of the criticisms I can levy on it, I have not a shred of ill will towards it.  I'm really happy this exists and that people can watch it, on the Criterion collection and Hulu no less (though it's strange that the copy that's available, that I saw anyway, was not restored like other titles, scratchy print like it was taken off of a dusty negative).  I didn't mention my favorite part of the movie which is the soundtrack, also original music by David Allen of the Blasters: it's a joy to listen to music that is rock and roll to a pure point: punk, rockabilly, Mexican mariachi work, slower stuff, it all works and I was glad to hear it.  If only it was put to a story that was actually compelling or made more sense.