Author Archives: ddoxey

At Eternity’s Gate

I’d probably watch anything with Willem Dafoe in it. However, I probably would not watch a film about the life of Vincent van Gogh. But when I saw that Willem took this role, I decided it was worthy of a mental note — I’ll watch this some day!

That some day was yesterday.

Willem Dafoe as Vincent van Gogh

My feelings about Van Gogh are generally not very positive. Based on the anecdotes from my high school art education, and passing mentions of him in various other bits of information that I’ve been exposed to, Van Gogh was a weirdo that was likely suffering from the affects of lead poisoning as a consequence of the practice of mixing oil paints in his mouth. It’s no wonder that he was in and out of mental institutions and prone to doing bizarre things, such as cutting off his ear as a gift to a prostitute.

I have to say that Willem’s portrayal gives Van Gogh some depth and relatability that I didn’t expect. It might be a mistake to just accept this movie as a documentary. However, in my opinion, it is a mistake that this film did not include anything about lead poisoning, which is very likely a real part of the story that could explain some of Van Gogh’s odd behavior. Naturally, I was watching for the gore after the ear cutting scene. Instead, I caught glimpses of an unharmed ear on Dafoe’s head. I’m not sure if this technical shortcoming spoils the the suspension of belief anymore than a well done severed ear makeup job, which I was eagerly awaiting. Also in the category of technical criticism, I am a little put off by movies where all the characters speak fluent English, when they are clearly portrayals of characters that never spoke English. (Van Gogh was known to have spoken English. But it was unlikely he spoke English to everyone he interacted with while living in France.)

Despite my technical complainery, it is a believable and interesting portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh.

This movie tells a story about an artist who feels driven to paint, and do nothing else even if it means a life lived in poverty, as an outcast. Van Gogh felt compelled to capture images that had not been captured before. He wanted to highlight the beauty in forms that are generally ignored. He was compelled to capture images as fast as he could get the paint onto the canvas. These features became the foundation of his unique style, which many people of his time regarded as just plain ugly and absurd.

At one point in the movie Van Gogh is questioned about having given his severed ear to a prostitute, and Van Gogh simply replies “Gabby is not a prostitute.” I think this moment captures the full essence of the story. Van Gogh was not a madman any more than his friend at the tavern was a prostitute. Today we might think an artist finding the beauty in the mundane is a normal part of art. But there was a time this seemed ridiculous.

Whether your a fan of Van Gogh, a fan of Dafoe, or perhaps just a fan of the strange, this is a movie for you. Check it out on Amazon Prime.

https://amzn.to/3gqDAa1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_of_Vincent_van_Gogh

Them

I skimmed the trailer and made sure I got my watching partner’s thumbs up. There were elements of some supernatural, and some elements of American racism. I was kind of expecting a horror suspense flick. But I wasn’t sure, really.

Allison Pill as Elizabeth “Betty” Wendell and Deborah Ayorinde as Livia “Lucky” Emory

After a few episodes it was clear that I was watching something unlike anything else. There have been many productions that tell the story of racism in America. But this is done in a truly new way. The supernatural elements, that make the trailer seem like it might be a horror flick, are actually used in a very unusual way. The ghosts, and the elements that haunt the characters, are the specters of PTSD presented to the viewer in ways that deliver the raw emotions they way they should be experienced. This unique style and aesthetic are very effective in bringing these stories to life in a new way.

I am honestly blown away.

The performance that Allison Pill delivers as the evil cliche of a suburban white housewife Betty, is chilling. Given how toxic this character is, I imagine an actress might hesitate to take this role. But she plays this character with true gusto, in a way that is authentic and credible. Bravo Allison.

Deborah Ayorinde is no less courageous in her portrayal of “Lucky” Emory. This character is deeply traumatized in a brutal racist attack, and is haunted from then on by visions that are difficult to differentiate from what is real. Hey, go to California where everything is better! However, this story illustrates that the things that haunt you will inhabit you, wherever you are.

I don’t just recommend this series. I urge you to check “Them” out. This series is excellent.

https://amzn.to/3sei8XV

Into the Labyrinth

We stumbled on the trailer for this movie while browsing Prime video the other night. We were intrigued by the dark and mysterious ambiance of it. It seems tacky to say it, but seeing Dustin Hoffman’s face elevated the perceived production value. We decided to check it out.

For awhile it seems like you’re watching two different movies. One one hand you’re watching a foreign film, an Italian thriller, about a private investigator who has a serious heart condition, and he’s on the final case of his life. Simultaneously, you’re watching a domestic film about an investigator debriefing a kidnapping victim. All the while you’re laboring to connect the dots, wondering how is this victim related to the case in Italy?

As you think the pieces are coming together, you might ask, “Wait, why his he discarding an important lead?” Or you might be asking yourself, “Wait, wasn’t that character dead?”

By the time the story comes to its conclusion you might even be asking, “That’s the ending?”

The acting, the cinematography, and the overall production value for this film are top notch. But honestly, it took me about thirty minutes to realize that this movie is also brilliantly written, and I might need to watch it again.

I recommend that you also check it out on Amazon Prime Video.

https://amzn.to/3dzSrfo

Bliss

Bliss is a new film that I stumbled across as I was browsing the “Free for You” category on Prime Video. I allowed the trailer to play, and lacking an immediate thumbs down from my watching partner, I let it play. I don’t care for trailers that give away the whole story, that leave watching the movie just an exercise in filling the gaps. That wasn’t the case here. I was expecting something a little off the beaten path, with some gritty scenes, and then some that seem other-worldly. It was enough to engage my curiosity.

This stars Selma Hayek as Isabel Clemens and Owen Wilson as Greg Wittle.

During the opening scenes, with Greg failing at his customer service job, it was comedy. But then it started getting dark, and very strange by the time the Isabel character was in play. Isabel starts referring to some people as real and others as fake. She is also able to demonstrate some kind of telekinetic ability which is given to her by consuming a mysterious yellow crystal.

I was developing a sinking feeling that this was turning out to be a rip-off of The Matrix. But that feeling faded as it was apparent the telekinetic abilities were somewhat trivial and gave them no power to prevent themselves from ending up at the mercy of the Police. These characters were turning out to be real dirt bags!

Half way into the film I started to feel like I understood the twist. It’s a good one. The true meaning of it all unravels slowly and the ending is satisfying and meaningful.

I really liked it. Why don’t you go check it out yourself on Prime Video.

https://amzn.to/31mQWeR

Paterson

The year 2016 came and this ordinary looking film appeared, and then the year passed. Several years passed, actually. In none of the years going by did this film catch my attention.

Last night was the exception. I was scanning the selection on Amazon Prime trying to find something that would have some appeal, and most importantly, not be immediately rejected by my watching partner / spouse. The trailer struck my curiosity because it appeared to be dull, on purpose.

It’s a story about a man, satisfied in his career as an anonymous bus driver who spends his free time writing odd poetry, that apparently, he has no ambition to ever share. His wife stays at home making cupcakes and painting things, such as the drapes, the carpet, and her clothes. She’s an optimist dreamer that entertains hopes of being a country music star, as soon as she learns to play her new mail-order guitar.

Everything is very real, complete with dust, shabby grass, moles, graffiti, and a lingering sense that something is due to happen. Some things do happen, some frightening and some disappointing.

Before the movie was over I came to the realization that this is a story about seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. As the closing scene ended I felt very satisfied with my realization.

I recommend enjoying this movie. Check it out.

https://amzn.to/31fqgfM

Fantastic Planet

Seeing Fantastic Planet at the drive-in is one of my earliest memories. Although the memories are not very clear, I think I may have hounded my parents to take me to see it again. Whether or not that hounding paid off is unclear. But I did go to the drive-in again, with a family friend, his wife, and their baby. (He made his wife and baby hide in the trunk of the car so that he only had to pay for me and himself on admission.)

This is a story about human beings living as pet “Oms” among a world of blue giants, the Draags, on the planet Ygam. It is a psychedelic trip to an alternate reality where the human experience is that of being a plaything of children, or worse, a pest to be exterminated.

But the feral Oms unite and organize. Through the use of education and the pursuit of technology they find their salvation. I wonder if this theme influenced my young mind in such a way, that to this day, I now believe that education and technology are the keys to confronting the challenges that face humanity now.

Reusable rockets with propulsive landing capability was pure science fiction in 1973.

It was a pleasure to rewatch this today. I am so drawn in with this film’s unique graphic style, and trance like pace. I am pleased to share that this is available on Amazon Prime. Check it out!

https://amzn.to/3bVCdgJ

Where No Man has Gone Before

The most recent Star Trek Discovery series has been very entertaining, with a major aesthetic reboot of the pre-TOS era, and a dizzying blast of relentless fast paced action and non stop twists. I suppose it’s somewhat of a masterpiece of its kind. I liked it. But I can’t shake this nagging feeling, that for as much as it has added to the franchise, I have a sense that something is missing.

Today I thought I’d revisit a memorable episode of TOS to refresh my sense of the Trek that I knew as a kid.

This image of Lieutenant Commander Gary Mitchell, after the “ESPer” transformation begins to take ahold of him, is burned into my memory since the first time I saw it back in the early seventies. Mitchell has become a deeply ominous threat who sees you from afar with those eyes.

I remember this episode being thick with tension, and floating by at a dreamlike pace.

Watching with a fresh eye today, I notice many things about it that I don’t remember at all. For example, there was an awkward scene, near the beginning, where all of the department heads are standing in a group at the rear of the bridge to personally report the status of Engineering, Medical, Security, and the other departments. Long after making their verbal status reports they continued to stand there, in an awkward group at the rear of the bridge, as the story was playing out. It was also weird that Spock was shouting out status updates as he monitored the instruments, as if he was shouting above the noise which wasn’t there. It also bothered me that this distress beacon that they beamed aboard contained data that only Spock could extract, audibly with an earpiece, which was apparently too garbled to be very informative. By the way, what kind of Captain orders a probe beamed aboard without first thoroughly verifying what it is and being completely certain that it is harmless?

A lot of things were awkward because this was only the third episode of the first season. Spock was a little weird because Leonard Nimoy was still finding his way with this role. Some of the sets and props were unfamiliar, as they would be refined in later seasons. I have to admit, to be honest, this production is not the surreal, mesmerizing, piece that I remember it to be.

Considering my lasting impression of TOS Trek, and using that as a point of reference for evaluating DISCO Trek, I think this sheds some light on the disconnect. What I might believe the old TOS tradition to be — ethereal and dreamlike — is not how the current generation of writers and producers view it. They may be looking at TOS with the “fresh eye” of the present, lacking the lasting childhood impression, and coming to the logical conclusion that there is very little to be salvaged!

Despite all of the shortcomings of TOS, I still find the all seeing eyes of Gary Mitchell to be very haunting. And it was a pleasure to rediscover it on Amazon Prime Video. The digitally remastered version is very impressive. The richness and clarity of the detail, and the improved CGI space scenes, almost make TOS new again. I’m looking forward to going back to rediscover some other old favorites like “The Man Trap”, “Charlie X”, and perhaps even all of the rest.

Watch the Remastered TOS on Amazon Prime Video.
https://amzn.to/3t9z1UK

See the episode summary on Memory Alpha.
https://memory-alpha.fandom.com/wiki/Where_No_Man_Has_Gone_Before_(episode)