The Great Villain Blogathon: Michael Jackson in Leaving Neverland (2019)

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My contribution to the The Great Villain Blogathon, May 24-26 2019. The rules are simple:
Just pick any evildoer, outlaw or monster, from any era, country or genre. From creeps to cads to criminals, sinners and psychos, all movie villains are welcome.

 

Even in death singer Michael Jackson can still create headlines. There will always be doubt and speculations about his behavior, and in some respects he invited the controversy with his use of masks, make-up, and friendships with children. But was he a villain or not? Leaving Neverland is a controversial, presumptuous four hour documentary that premiered at Sundance in January 2019. Airing on TV in March, the documentary has caused much debate and (as of April 2019) is already the second most watched on HBO in the past ten years with 7.5 million viewers for Part 1.

 

In the film, an idol becomes a monster. It’s as disturbing as watching a horror movie, because (if he is guilty as it is suggested) I was deceived by someone I trusted and admired. A great musician and dancer who gave millions to charity but behind closed doors a man who allegedly ruined those boys he molested.

 

The documentary highlights the complicated relationship between the abused and their perpetrator. Nadia Wager, Forensic Psychology, University of Huddersfield, and expert in child abuse, claims after watching the documentary Michael Jackson’s grooming technique is believable.
Some argue Michael Jackson not only groomed young boys and their families, but groomed his fans into believing he was a child-like, innocent man. For example in public settings he changed his voice to sound high-pitched, so was he putting on a performance the whole time?

 

There’s still doubt in my mind if he was a monster or a naive man-child who was unsuited to the harsh world. The problem with the documentary is it aims for shock value but isn’t as clear-cut as presented. Director Dan Reed should be impartial and question Robson’s and Safechuck’s motivations. There’s no direct proof so Wade Robson’s and James Safechuck’s word against MJs. The accounts they give are so similar. You see the trauma has caused them and their families. Truly heartbreaking to watch. A relief for the two men to finally tell their stories. Still, it’s obvious that the star-struck parents didn’t do enough to protect their children and were seduced by Jackson’s celebrity and wealth.

 

Michael famously never had a childhood and his way of dealing with it was to spend a lot of time with kids and according to Dan Reed’s film rob some of the young boys of their innocence.
Safechuck’s mother: ”He took my son’s childhood away. He took the man he could have been away”
But just because you are an eccentric who went too far with plastic surgery, dangled your baby over a balcony to please your screaming fans, and enjoyed the company of kids, doesn’t automatically mean you are a child abuser. The documentary pushes the guilty card a little too strongly, not showing the full facts so the viewer is unable to make up their mind unless you do your own research. Child abuse is unforgivable, but it’s not forbidden to be inspired by the innocence of children, animals and nature. MJ explains in interview footage from 1983 that these are his greatest inspirations. The way the media and the documentary force the anti-Michael Jackson message on us is disturbing. If the man is innocent, which we still don’t know for sure, it’s a savage, exploitative witch-hunt.

 

It’s no coincidence Jackson has named the Oscar-winning Sling Blade (1996) among his favorite films which depicts a small-town man-child out of touch with reality who is released from a mental hospital as an adult due to committing murder as a child. As a free man he befriends a 12-year-old boy. Not that MJ necessarily behaved as innocently towards children as the character but the movie is a window into Jackson’s mindset.
As described in Leaving Neverland, Take Two, MJ experienced a very strict, controlled childhood with a domineering father. But as an adult he developed a defiant side, when people said stop sharing your bed with kids he’s all over the TV saying I’m going to keep sharing my bed with children. His motto seems to have been a reaction to his childhood, whatever you tell me to do, I’m going to do the opposite, because I don’t have to do what you tell me to do.

 

The Daily Mail reported on March 8 2019 on the iron-clad NDA contracts Michael Jackson used to keep his employees from divulging details of his intimacy with young boys – demanding staffers report concerns to the singer’s team – not the police – or be fired. This looks suspicious from that controversial headline.
But Jackson showed signs of paranoid behavior during his life. You only have to look at the lyrics for his album HIStory (1995) and songs such as Money, Tabloid Junkie and D.S. (a KaiMakesMusic 2019 remix surfaced with new lyric “Wade Robson is a cold man”) These 1995 songs were Jackson’s responses to the 1993 Jordan Chandler case. Probably Michael’s paranoia extended to his employees and it’s no secret he had trouble trusting people. So is it really that surprising his employee contracts were uncompromising with people trying to take advantage of his fortune. The New York Post even ran an article entitled Michael Jackson was the king of paranoid.

 

#MeToo is not going away and giving a voice to survivors and a platform to talk about victims. Be it this HBO documentary, the recent Surviving R. Kelly, Shirkers (2018), The Tale (2018), Queen of Hearts (2019), Holiday (2018), Revenge (2017), or Elle (2016). And if you look back there are other examples such as The Accused (1988), The Color Purple (1985), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), or Compliance (2012).
Perhaps Abducted in Plain Sight (2017) is the documentary Leaving Neverland has the most in common with in terms of inattentive parenting and gullible kids. You could also draw parallels with 1980 TV-episode Tales of the Unexpected: The Flypaper and its chilling line “It’s the sweetness that attracts them, you see, and then the stickiness prevents them from getting away”. 

 

The reaction to the Leaving Neverland documentary has seen Jackson’s music pulled from some, but not all, radio stations. It is tempting for the media to tie Jackson into a larger narrative about sexual misconduct. Yet that is a dangerous leap, as noted by Jackson defender and biographer Joe Vogel. He argues Leaving Neverland decontextualized what happened. Michael Jackson has always been a target for litigation. In the 1993 Jordan Chandler case, Chandler’s father subsequently committed suicide and is heard on tape admitting it was for money and Jordan has later confessed he was told to lie by his father. Jackson was found innocent in the 2004-2005 trial. Robson’s mother, Joy, testified in 2005 about dropping her son off to stay with Jackson, saying she wasn’t concerned for Wade’s safety. 

 

In 2017, Joe Vogel agreed to write a new edition of his influential 2011 book about Michael Jackson Man in the Music,  to be released this summer for the 10th anniversary of the singer’s death. Recently, Vogel told the New York Times the new documentary “complicates things in ways that are just really, really challenging,” “Not only are you thinking about how do you deal with this on a personal level, you’re also thinking about how to handle it professionally.” Three authors are revising their books about the singer and will release new editions this year.

 

 

Some have commented the late 80s classic Man in the Mirror takes on a whole other disturbing meaning now and that is a valid reading. But what those critics fail to remember is it’s one of the few songs on the Bad album MJ didn’t write himself. So it’s unfair to bash Glen Ballard’s and Siedah Garrett’s wonderful lyrics. Same with Pretty Young Thing (PYT), it may be difficult to enjoy now after the accusations, but the lyrics were penned by Quincy Jones and James Ingram.

 

The documentary encourages you to empathize with the victims but Jackson is also given opportunity to defend himself via a statement he made in 1993. Strangely not included in the documentary, Robson and Safechuck sued the Jackson estate, claiming that Jackson’s business associates knew he was molesting underage boys but turned a blind eye. Robson sued Jackson’s estate for £1.2billion over the abuse.
If true, awful what happened to both men yet they are hardly unimpeachable since they committed perjury by defending a child molester in 1993 and 2004-2005 (not James Safechuck in 2005) and could have potentially prevented more abuse if they had spoken up then.
Wade Robson states in Leaving Neverland that he had perjured himself because he could not bear to see Jackson, the man he loved, go to jail. 
A problem with their cases is there’s a statute of limitation on child abuse (they are currently on appeal). In other words, the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated. So he and James Safechuck wanted to get their story out in other ways. Robson’s and Safechuck’s lawsuits were dismissed by the court though the judge did not rule on the credibility of their allegations.

 

The Jackson estate have sued HBO and defended Michael. Saying Wade Robson is trying to make money, and there is evidence Robson has been shopping a tell-all book but failed to get a publisher. The Jackson’s also point out Wade Robson and James Safechuck lied under oath and therefore are not to be trusted now.

 

I can definitely see why fans would have issues with the documentary, as abuse victims paying tribute to their molester for many years, and then turning on him suddenly, is very odd. Yet as we hear, it’s not uncommon for victims of child abuse to come forward many years later as adults due to shame and love for the perpetrator. Not realizing the acts were wrong when they were children.
Hard to come to terms with your idol of many years may not be what they seem.
Some fans prefer to shelter themselves from the allegations as it could tarnish your happy memories of listening to Michael Jackson’s music and I completely understand those who avoid the documentary. Jackson was never found guilty in a court of law so it makes sense he still has supporters. As said on Good Morning Britain, the documentary is devastating if it’s true, and equally devastating if it’s not true.

 

A tweet that nephew Taj Jackson, Tito Jackson’s eldest son, sent of what appears to be a screenshot of Robson requesting tickets for him and his family to attend Jackson’s memorial is often used by fans as alleged proof that Robson’s relationship with Jackson was always great and he concocted his abuse story when he was cash-strapped. In 2011, Robson was dropped as choreographer from MJ’s Cirque du Soleil show and a letter Robson wrote exists where he begs for the job. So the timing fits in terms of needing the money and accusing Jackson in a 2013 lawsuit.
But Robson could be looking for personal gain while also a victim of abuse. One doesn’t rule out the other.
Of course, the Jackson family including Taj, Brandi and others have a financial agenda of their own as it’s in the family’s best interest to keep Michael innocent since he is still the top earning deceased artist in the world according to Forbes 2018 list.

 

According to biographer Mike Smallcombe, Safechuck’s story of being abused in Neverland’s train station cannot be true as it was built two years after he said the assaults stopped. However, quotes found in the books of Jackson’s bodyguards have called this into question, as they describe in detail a train station structure that existed in 1990. Turns out Jackson built it without a permit.  Michael Jackson’s personal photographer @harrisonfunk said in a January 2019 podcast that the train station was already complete before the 1993 construction permit was approved, but Funk doesn’t provide an exact date. 

 

Smallcombe also pointed out Wade spoke inaccurately in Leaving Neverland. In Joy Robson’s 2016 deposition, she confirms her whole family including Wade went to the Grand Canyon. Wade claims in Leaving Neverland he stayed at the ranch while his family went to the Canyon. Wade Robson can’t seem to keep his story straight as he says the abuse started when he was seven yet an audio interview has surfaced with his mother Joy revealing Wade was almost nine when the Robson family traveled to America.

 

If you watch the video Revealed! Why Safechuck is REALLY suing Michael Jackson!,  the family appear to have a motive for suing Jackson’s estate in 2013 due to financial problems in their company Sea/Sue Inc/Anderson Rubbish Corporation and a lawsuit against them of $840.086. Safechuck’s parents are named  in the court documents as co-conspirators. So if they are facing bankruptcy makes sense to try and get money from Jackson. Yet as with Wade Robson, he may have been abused while also trying to get a portion of Jackson’s money. It is not illegal to seek financial compensation for child abuse. If it’s matter of pretending you are abused then Safechuck and Robson are hoping to achieve a check in the way Jordan Chandler’s family did in 1993. In Leaving Neverland, James Safechuck says MJ asked him to testify in the 2005 trial but James refused and MJ became angry with him. However Safechuck wasn’t even allowed to testify as he was regarded by the judge as “non-entity” in the trial.

 

In a similar fashion to the rebuttal following Martin Bashir’s 2003 documentary Living with Michael Jackson, Taj Jackson has started a GoFundMe to finance a documentary rebuttal series that, he says, “will conclusively destroy decades of salacious myths which have been told and sold about Michael Jackson ad nauseum.”. There is already a teaser trailer for a  rebuttal documentary titled Michael Jackson: Chase The Truth.

 

I’m not defending Michael, but the one-sidedness of the documentary has distorted the truth and left facts out that would show Robson differently. The images in the end credits say more than words as Wade Robson burns his MJ memorabilia. After watching, I think a few people will do the same and throw their Michael Jackson albums in the trash.
But no mention of Wade cashing in on his most valuable MJ memorabilia a few years earlier without wanting his name disclosed in the sale, which lessens the impact of the aforementioned ending where Robson is seen burning a replica Thriller jacket and other items. Robson says he sold the memorabilia to afford therapy at the time.

 

MJ helped Robson with his rap group Quo in the mid 90s whereas the film portrays Robson as put to the side in the early 90s as MJ moved on to other boys. Also not mentioned is Robson cheated on his girlfriend Brandi Jackson with Britney Spears, splitting up Britney and Justin Timberlake. So the documentary presents Robson and Safechuck as better guys than they are by only showing them as victims and not revealing their questionable behavior.
Another problematic aspect in Leaving Neverland is Jackson is accused of manipulating the boys to dislike women, yet Jackson’s niece Brandi said in Neverland Firsthand: Investigating the Michael Jackson Documentary that MJ set her up with Robson and they dated for seven years as teenagers.

 

You could say the one-sidedness of Leaving Neverland doesn’t give Jackson’s relatives or friends a chance to tell their side of the story. And it’s also unfair the man himself cannot defend himself now. Brett Barnes (who as a young boy went on tour with Jackson in the early 90s) tweeted a defence of the King of Pop: “So people are getting their facts from a movie now? I wonder how they feel about the documentary showing the great alien invasion of ’96. I think it was called Independence Day.” Although the validly of the twitter account is uncertain as could be a fan impersonating Barnes(who disappeared from  public view).
Other aspects missing in the documentary include testimonials from Jackson’s former staff members (who Robson and Safechuck claim in their lawsuit were enablers), and the lengthy FBI investigation into the child molestation allegations.
But as a speaker on WGBH News noted, you don’t have to include friends defending Michael in the documentary, as “it would be like saying I knew Ted Bundy and he didn’t kill me so therefore he’s not such a bad guy, those testimonies (Macaulay Culkin and Corey Feldman) I find to be irrelevant”.

 

As detailed in Comodin Cam’s YouTube video The Lies & Facts, fans have found other problems with the documentary, such as the dinner scene not matching the timeline, which was subsequently omitted from the shorter UK version of Leaving Neverland. Another inconsistency is Safechuck’s mother says she was glad Michael died in 2009 but it’s not until 2013 James Safechuck admitted he had been abused. The Comodin Cam video also looks at other flimsy parts, such as the shocking wedding ring scene which would be far more plausible if there was a signed marriage certificate (there isn’t but maybe it will turn up eventually?). The bells and alarms at the Neverland ranch to allegedly warn the singer of anyone catching him doing something inappropriate may not be as creepy as suggested, because if you are that famous it’s not unimaginable you would be worried about your own safety so could be an innocent security measure.

 

It’s complicated for the consumer when an artist’s legacy intertwines with unacceptable behavior. We haven’t cancelled Elvis who dated a minor (Priscilla was 14 and Elvis was 24), Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page had an underage teenage girlfriend in the 1970s, Bill Wyman (bass guitarist of The Rolling Stones) scandalously dated Mandy Smith when she was underage and married her in 1989 when he was 49 and she was 18. We still watch films by Alfred Hitchcock who behaved inappropriately towards actress Tippi Hedren.
Should we discontinue using the light bulb because its inventor Thomas Edison was a horrible person who publicly tortured animals to discredit AC power. Or stop publishing important feminist Simone de Beauvoir who seduced a minor and was suspended from her job as a teacher. Pablo Picasso was a serial abuser in psychological and physical ways towards women, which hasn’t stopped museums displaying Picasso’s art. Wagner was promoted during the Nazi era as one of Hitler’s favourite composers. Historical perception of Wagner has been tainted with this association ever since, and there is debate over whether Wagner’s writings, operas, anti-semitism and purported Aryan-Germanic racism might have influenced the creation of Nazi Germany. Woody Allen has come under fire again in the #MeToo era despite passing a lie detector test and being cleared of all charges. Roman Polanski won an Oscar for Best Director for The Pianist (2002) despite raping a minor and fleeing the US in the 70s, facing the possibility of prison if he returned to America. In the wake of #MeToo, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled Roman Polanski, citing “ethical standards,” the Oscar winner has sued and is demanding his reinstatement.
The list goes on and on. But should that taint extend to their most beloved works? Enough time has passed so many of these stories have died down. Yet is it fair to ban one artist and let the others get a free pass? When is the misdeed bad enough to warrant cancelling them, and should a musician never convicted be banned based on a documentary? I think  Michael Jackson’s music will probably stand the test of time.

 

Should be up to the individual if you want to listen to music or watch films by morally questionable artists. The documentary is not fact, it is an opinion. Critical thinking is important and someone shouldn’t be labelled a conspiracy theorist if you question the documentary. Everyone should be entitled to form their own opinion by doing their own research into the matter. To many he is now a villain, but to his children, he was a loving father who is being dragged through the dirt again. I feel sorry not just for Wade Robson and James Safechuck, but for MJ’s daughter and two sons. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I don’t know for sure if MJ is guilty or innocent. I tried to look at both sides in this post and be as impartial as I can. There are reasons to doubt Robson’s and Safechuck’s accusations while also reasons to believe the boys were abused. We need more evidence. A lie detector test (polygraph) for Wade Robson & James Safechuck would come in handy right now! Fans have already demanded for this to happen. It’s possible Jackson could have been predator and victim on separate occasions. So the simplistic either/or debate may not hold up. Impossible to know for sure as we weren’t in the room. What we do know is Jackson never tried to hide his friendships with children and he saw nothing wrong with it. However most would agree spending so much time with children you are not blood related to is inappropriate however you try to justify it. Sure, kids were (and still are) inspired by Michael’s  music and he could likewise be energized by them, but you have to set boundaries. In his autobiography Moonwalk Michael is quoted on page 274: “That’s what I love about being with kids. They notice everything. They aren’t jaded. They get excited about things we’ve forgotten to get excited about any more. They are so natural too, so unself-conscious. I love being around them. There always seems to be a bunch of kids over at the house and they’re always welcome. They energize me-just being around them. They look at everything with such fresh eyes, such open minds. That’s part of what makes kids so creative. they don’ t worry about the rules. The picture doesn’t have to be in the center of the paper. The sky doesn’t have to be blue. They are accepting of people too. The only demand they make is to be treated fairly-and to be loved. I think that’s what we all want. I would like to think I’m an inspiration for the children I meet. I want kids to like my music. Their approval means more to me than anyone else’s. It’s always the kids who know which song is going to be a hit”.

 

The most ambiguous quote from the 1988 Moonwalk autobiography is when MJ says on page 104: “I’m certainly no angel, and I may have my own bad habits, but drugs aren’t among them”. He doesn’t go into his flaws in the book and this quote is very general and non-specific, but there is no indication if the bad habits could be criminal or non-criminal, so I am none the wiser. MJ doesn’t feel comfortable writing about his girlfriend’s so that is at a minimum. He prefers to keep that private and you can’t blame him. He confesses on page 254 that he “believes in love – very much so – how can you not believe after you’ve experienced it?”. Yet at this stage at his commercial peak he acknowledges he is married to his work: “Right now, my work still takes up most of my time and most of my emotional life”.

 

While journalistically unsound, ignoring Robson’s and Safechuck’s financial goal to reach a payout via their lawsuits, and ignoring Jackson’s side of the story, Leaving Neverland is still an important documentary. It has a bigger scope than the people involved, by depicting how a grooming process potentially happens, and hopefully can educate parents (and children) to look for signs of wrongdoing, and be courageous enough to speak up. Jackson’s reputation is in tatters, yet the bigger picture is the documentary could help change the statute of limitation laws for child abuse. This is already taking place in various US states. I’m sure we haven’t heard the last on Michael Jackson. Discovery recently bought documentary Killing Michael Jackson for its European networks. The Jackson estate is also still continuing with Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, a jukebox musical scheduled to hit Broadway in 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

Any thoughts? Can you separate an artist’s legacy when intertwines with unacceptable behavior? Do you think Michael Jackson was framed or was he guilty? As always, comments are welcome.

Films and TV of the month: April + holiday plans

 

 

 

The Cannes film festival runs 14-25 May and the 2019 line-up was announced. As usual there are a bunch of filmmakers I’ve never heard of. My most anticipated films (so far) are, in no particular order:

 

Matthias & Maxime (Xavier Dolan)
Parasite (Bong Joon-ho)
The Dead Don’t Die (Jim Jarmusch)
A Hidden Life (previously titled “Radegund”) (Terrence Malick)
Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach)
Le jeune Ahmed (Dardenne’s)
Bacurau (Juliano Dornelles & Kleber Mendonça Filho)
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino)

 

 

 

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In other (more personal) news, I am off to the UK on a few days holiday soon and will be in the London area. Have seen many of the big attractions but want to try things I’ve not done. Despite my love of movies, I’ll probably skip the London Film Museum as you can basically look at most of the Bond in Motion tour via YouTube. Besides, I have seen a few of the cars already at the now defunct Cars of the Stars Motor Museum in Keswick.
Was hoping to see Houses of Parliament this time but is only open on Saturdays at the moment while Buckingham Palace is closed with tours for tourists between July-September. Speakers Corner in Hyde Park sounds fun on weekends but I’m not able to go on a Saturday. I was surprised to discover St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey both have an entrance fee now of approx £20 but the bigger museums are still free of charge.
Considering the image in the header of my blog, I should seek out 
Abby Road which the Beatles famously walked across. Are there any music museums in London?
My plan is to visit the Stanley Kubrick exhibition (image above) at the Design Museum in Kensington, which opened in late April. Other ideas include seeing Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and a trip to the south coast for the 1066 museum in Battle, near Hastings. Might also go to Churchill’s war rooms near Downing Street, although, again, you can see much on YouTube. Last but not least Denis’ new sci-fi film High Life is playing in cinemas so I’ll attempt to catch that when I’m over.  If you have any other suggestions of interesting things to visit in the London area, let me know! I’m still reading guide books out of a fear of missing out! 

 

 

On to the spoiler-free mini-reviews:

 

 

 

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Us (2019) (Jordan Peele)
The ‘us and them’ aspect is clever and ambiguous, tapping into division, inequality in society, and the fear of invasion. The title Us could mean U.S. as in United States. I just wish Peele did more with his idea. Lupita Nyong’o’s creepy voice( there has been backlash as she was inspired by a vocal disability), the red outfits, and the scissors are memorable. The weakness is the plot. Not as entertaining and well-told as Get Out. I liked the score and music choices but the concept is underdeveloped. The situation we find ourselves in stagnates by not escalating beyond the battle of the two sides. Large chucks of the film take place in near darkness which made it hard to follow at times. The use of Good Vibrations can’t have been what The Beach Boys envisioned yet nevertheless an effective scene. There are a few laughs, mostly spoken by Winston Duke’s character.
I didn’t find it scary because it was so far from real life. Granted is an allegorical horror so wasn’t going for realism per se. You have to suspend your disbelief to buy into the story and I wasn’t quite able to go there. The twist (which I won’t go into) somewhat saves the movie.
Director/writer Jordan Peele is quoted: ”There’s a presumption in the industry that if black people are the leads in a film it has to be in some way about race. I wanted to show that we can push past that.”
6-7/10

 

 

 

 

Queen of Hearts
Queen of Hearts (2019) (May el-Toukhy)
The best film of 2019 so far. A Danish drama which won the Audience Award at Sundance. A female director to keep an eye on for the future. Very well-acted by the entire cast and especially by Trine Dyrholm. A realistic #MeToo story that humanizes a family and shows how an inappropriate relationship gradually develops. Not a spoiler to say there’s tragedy in what’s done cannot be undone. The world needed a #MeToo film with a female as the perpetrator even though isn’t the only time it’s been done as we also have Notes on a Scandal (2006) and A Horrible Woman (2017). However these films are very different. As a Danish reviewer wrote, Queen of Hearts is harsh yet gripping.
8.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Never Look Away (2018) (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

Nominated for an Academy Award for foreign language film at the recent Oscars. A German romantic historical drama. Loosely based on Gerhard Richter’s student life, one of the 20th century’s most admired visual artists. I did not know of him beforehand. You can tell there is a desire to create a national epic with a timeline running from the 1930s until the 1960s. The film is impressive to look at and was nominated for its cinematography. A shout out to Saskia Rosendahl who despite a supporting role manages to outshine the two leads. The story works on an educational level, I didn’t know how the Nazi’s treated the handicapped and the mentally ill. Also, the censorship issue for artists during the era is explored. As an NPR podcast noted, the film asks: Why make art? Who is it for?
However the storytelling isn’t as confident or focused as the director’s previous The Lives of Others (2006). We follow the young artist and his relationship but I sometimes felt there wasn’t enough conflict, especially in the second half. My biggest gripe is the underwritten female character Ellie Seeband. Granted the film is set in the past when women were not as liberated but for a three hour film you would expect her to have a personality and not just be a sex object. I also felt the director didn’t know how to end the film as the last scene was unsatisfying considering I’d just invested 189 minutes. The comedy aspects were a surprise, the Germans aren’t know for their sense of humor. Particularly amusing was the eccentric teacher at the art school. Never Look Away wants to be a masterpiece yet the story is lacking something, resulting in a good but not great watch.
6.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

Stan and Ollie
Stan and Ollie (2019) (Jon S. Baird)
About the final years of comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as we follow them when they are no longer as popular and trying to secure a movie deal while touring the UK performing live gigs at theatres. Perhaps not the most interesting story to tell but that is what the filmmakers decided on.
The make-up department did some great work here transforming the actors yet John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan are still able to deliver emotive performances that don’t cross over into caricature. The supporting character Ida Kitaeva Laurel (Nina Arianda) has some funny dialogue as well.
An affectionate tribute that is not as inventive as the Laurel and Hardy classics from the past but worth a watch to see behind the mask of who they were as people. Sometimes reality was not far from fiction such as the scene when they arrive at the hotel entrance. Although I don’t know how accurate the depicted events are.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Chimes at Midnight (1965) (Orson Welles)

The cowardly yet boastful drunkard Falstaff (Orson Welles) has many amusing lines, and the character reminded me a little of The Other of the Wind’s attention-seeking yet sad Jake Hannaford. While Falstaff dominates the film with his wit, it’s really Prince Hal’s journey which is the most interesting, as he faces a tough decision. The Battle of Shrewsbury sequence is impressively staged. Unfortunately I didn’t connect with the story as much as I had hoped. Fair play to Welles for putting his own spin on Shakespeare. Many admire the film, but the speed at which the lines are delivered made for a frustrating watch. Difficult to follow, even with subtitles. I found it too dense,  I suspect I’d have liked it better as a book. Also, you need to be familiar with the Shakespeare works the screenplay is based on to fully appreciate Welles’ film. Probably deserves a higher rating as there is rewatch value but I’m scoring it on my enjoyment.
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Battle of Britain (1969) (Guy Hamilton)

By the director of Bond movie Goldfinger. Worth a look for the all-star cast and spectacular air warfare involving spitfires and the German equivalent. An important piece of history but the movie lacks variation and heart.
5/10

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Older song discoveries: April

 

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Swamp Thing by The Chameleons (1986)
(Underappreciated English post-punk band. If this song is anything to go by, I predict I will connect with their 80s albums)

 

 

 

 

Always And Forever by Pat Metheny and Toots Thielemans (1992)
(YouTube can provide some great finds. Lovely instrumental that touches the emotions. Toots Thielemans was a Belgian jazz musician and Pat Metheny is an American jazz guitarist)

 

 

 

 

Moments In Love by Art Of Noise (1985)
(Another beautiful instrumental. Love the synths and piano)

 

 

 

 

 

Mr. Roboto by Styx  (1983)
(Kraftwerk meets The Cars)

 

 

 

 

 

I Got 5 On It by Luniz (1995)
(90s hip-hop classic, appears in the new Jordan Peele horror film “Us”)

 

 

 

 

 

Move Closer by Phyllis Nelson (1985)
(A romantic soul balladIf Sade and Prince had a baby. Thanks Rol )

 

 

 

 

 

The Day Before You Came by Abba (1981)
(Underrated Abba song. Thanks Steven)

 

 

 

 

 

The Electrician by The Walker Brothers/Scott Walker (1978)
(An alluring, brooding atmosphere and has me curious to look into this guy’s work. Thanks Aphoristical )

 

 

 

 

 

New Rose by The Damned (1977)
(Lead single from their punk rock debut album. So much energy!)

 

 

 

 

 

Love At The Five & Dime by Nanci Griffith (1986)
(Every month, I stumble upon another country artist from the past. I love the name of the album which this track is from: The Last of the True Believers. Apparently Kathy Mattea’s 1986 cover became a hit)

 

 

 

 

 

Sylvias Mother by Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show (1971)
(Heartfelt lyrics, about coming to terms with a love you can’t have)

 

 

 

 

 

Who knows where the time goes by Fairport Convention (1969)
(Sandy Denny does it again with a beautiful, timeless tune. Thanks C )

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love Is A Battlefield by Pat Benatar (1983)
(Music that energizes you despite the singer describing relationship problems. Makes you feel young)

 

 

 

 

 

If I Were A Carpenter by Tim Hardin (1969)
(A new-to-me singer/songwriter. This is one of his best known folk songs which has been covered by a number of artists)

 

 

 

 
Some Things Just Stick in Your Mind by Vashti Bunyan (1965)
(A catchy melody. Lives up to its title!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Invited You by The Donnas (2002)
(A modern alternative to The Runaways, who they were inspired by)

 

 

 

 

 

Any favorites or thoughts on these artists? As always, comments are welcome

Films and TV of the month: March

 

Hope you are all well. My movie watching was pretty limited in March. Under ten films is a low amount for me, party because I decided to watch a few Danish stand-up specials by Anders “Anden” Matthesen (Tal For Dig Selv), (Shhh) and Jan Gintberg Redder Verden. I have no idea if you can watch them with English subtitles.
I read a Danish book on the environment that cleared up for me a moderate level of radon inside your home is in fact not dangerous and shouldn’t give you lung cancer, unless you are a smoker, which I am not.
I joined a couple of evening classes. One of them is about Rome, I’m hoping to visit the Italian capital which is on my bucket list. The other class is about 20th Century philosophers which I learnt about some years ago but wanted to refresh my memory on. Both informative courses with a nice variation of lecturers.
I’ve also become involved with a small three-day film festival and have suggested some titles for their program.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (George P. Cosmatos)

For whatever reason I never watched the Rambo sequels and with a new installment,  Rambo V: Last Blood (2019), out later this year, I thought it was a good time to catch up. Rambo is a man of action and few words. Part 2 lacks the deeper emotion of the 1982 original, and Stallone’s performance is weaker, but a suspenseful action adventure. The problem with these serialized characters, like James Bond, is you know they will return, so can’t die. Still, there’s a sense of danger as he gets himself into dicey situations. The movie has aged alright in that a female character plays an important role in the mission. We don’t really get under the skin of Rambo aside from a few one-liners such as “to survive a war, you’ve got to become war” and of course the stirring ending. The movie goes for action rather than character study as he lets his knife, rifle and cross-bow do the talking. There’s a bit of commentary on American POWs left over in Vietnam(which is where Rambo is sent). The most implausible parts (same with Rambo 3) are the over the top scenes when he takes on 50 men. Gives you an origin story for the red sweatband. Rambo tying the band with his back turned to the camera has become canon. If you didn’t think there was enough shoot-em-up in First Blood (1982), part 2 makes up for it in spades.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

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Rambo III (1988) (Peter MacDonald)
Colonel Trautman (Richard Crenna) is given a bigger role and is not just a concerned onlooker this time. The story is fun and quotable yet very predictable. The dialogue goes for tongue-in-cheek which can be entertaining but is it really appropriate for such a violent film? The enemy is too stupid. If you just want an actioner where you can turn your brain off, worth a look. Is it a coincidence or a calculated decision that the two most iconic Stallone characters Rocky and Rambo each have five letters and start with an R?
6/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heathers (1988) (Michael Lehmann)

(spoilery mini-review) Has some implausible aspects but I liked the movie better on rewatch. Very quotable black comedy. Star making performances by Winona Ryder and Christian Slater. An eerie score. Odd that Veronica doesn’t go to the cops about JD but maybe she was afraid she would be found out as well. Even today, school shooters write diaries and so did the Veronica character, instead of hatred towards her I was able to empathize because of the circumstances. Surprisingly, the finger prints on the suicide notes didn’t play a part. What is realistic is how she got pulled into the misdeeds due to infatuation and insecurity and that JD was angry because of a dysfunctional family.
Memorable quotes:
“ -I just killed my best friend.
-And your worst enemy.
-Same difference”
“Are we going to the prom or to hell?”
8/10

 

 

 

 

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Modern Romance (1981) (Albert Brooks)

Explores Robert’s (Albert Brooks) neurotic, self-obsessed behaviour and possessive jealousy towards his girlfriend Mary. This is what works best in the film.
The subplot about editing a science fiction movie functions as a backdrop and at times felt like padding. Robert could have had any job for the jealousy to occur so the fact he was an editor and she worked for a bank didn’t seem to be of vital importance. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a movie where the main character is on the phone so many times. The story is charming and isn’t as dark as it could have been. But it still feel realistic. The comedy had a restraint and a humanity which you rarely see in movies.
The funniest moments are in the first half: salespeople exploiting Robert by trying to sell him stuff, exercising for 3 seconds and heading straight to the nearest pay phone, his mother constantly calling, pretending to write a phone number down. The best line in the (more serious) second half is the “god strikes me dead” quote in the restaurant exchange. Another reviewer amusingly pointed out how similar Albert Brooks’ face is to Steve Guttenberg’s.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Green Book (2018) (Peter Farrelly)
The 2019 Best Picture Oscar winner. A memorable interracial buddy comedy-drama, based on a true story. I’m a sucker for a heart-warming feel-good movie and I was able to accept the oscar baity aspects even if some of the plot developments were predictable. An important movie because encourages you to be kind towards other people.
Mahershala Ali’s performance as Donald Shirley is believable as a musician though he is very stoic and handing him an Oscar seems a bit of a stretch. Viggo Mortensen, who plays bouncer Tony Vallelonga is fun to watch and rarely has someone in a mainstream Hollywood production eaten as much as he does. You could argue Mortensen’s Italian/American character is stereotypical and Robert de Niro rehash, but entertaining what he brought.
Set in the 1960s, a number of the inequality issues are dated. A period film but with truths that are still relevant. I couldn’t figure out why Don needed a driver when he could easily have travelled with the two other musicians of the trio in their car? I get that he had to sleep at green book hotels and eat at specific restaurants yet his playing buddies could have helped with that surely? Maybe I missed something but I just failed to understand the logic of him spending money on a driver and extra car. It’s not like he had a lot of luggage to bring along.
There has been some criticism. For example that the film is a a dated, oversimplified racial reconciliation fantasy. According to an article on realitytitbit there is no imbalance with the two lead characters helping each other equally. For film critic Mike Sargent, it’s a problem that it isn’t the Donald Shirley story with a lot of attention given to Tony Vallelonga. He believes Green Book is a film for white folks, and that it spoon feeds racism to those who don’t see it in their daily lives.
Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times called Green Book the worst Best Picture winner since Crash and a “can’t-we-all-just-get-along bromide”. Comparing the two films, he writes they reduce “the long, barbaric and ongoing history of American racism to a problem, a formula, a dramatic equation that can be balanced and solved”.
Chang complains further “Ali was pushed as a supporting actor to Mortensen’s lead campaign is telling in all the wrong ways. But there isn’t a single scene that feels authentically like the character’s own, that speaks to Shirley’s experience and no one else’s”.
Relatives of Donald Shirley spoke up, claiming the film exaggerates the extent of the buddy relationship, making it seem like a close friendship when it was more of an acquaintance.
Shirley’s family have also accused Green Book as a film that misrepresents him. Unlike in the film, Dr. Shirley was not estranged from his family or the black community, and he had eaten fried chicken before.
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sorry to Bother You (2018) (Boots Riley)

Out on dvd/streaming in my country. Hits dvd in the UK in April. I won’t go into the divisive twist as that is best experienced without spoiling it. The film is a surreal Glengarry Glen Ross turned up to 11.
Didn’t like the bad language or occasional bathroom humor. The telemarketing visual flourishes, earrings, and use of voices are fun and inventive. The dial in the elevator was the funniest moment. I loved the dialogue in the confrontation scene on the street when he’s just been promoted.
Armie Hammer’s party is nuts and a candidate for best scene of the year and the movie would arguably have been stronger if that had been the ending. Instead Boots Riley overexplains things in the last 15 minutes.
The imaginative presentation is original while there are structurally some narrative tropes that are conventional. The movie doesn’t point to how capitalism can be solved, it just says there is a problem. There is some truth to a quote from another review: “Society just sells us the American Dream to get us to keep working”. The end credits song OYAHYTT by The Coup is pretty catchy.
7/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shoplifters (2018) (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Dvd region 2 release in March. Japanese family drama. Winner of the Palme d’Or and nominated for foreign language film at the 91st Academy Awards. A loving, compassionate depiction of parenting. Although also makes the viewer feel uncomfortable about good people doing wrong things due to financial hardship. Basing the conflicts on real life cases of people resorting to pension fraud and shoplifting in order to get by. A social commentary on poverty in Japan, while also shedding light on the legal but creepy “JK” (Joshi Kosei) business.
Well-made and draws you in with its gentle warmth. The bus scene is especially moving, as is the visit to the ocean, and the scene with the oranges. Apparently Japan’s PM hates this movie because it’s just too true. The filmmakers certainly have a political agenda but can also just be watched as a story about family and the ramshackle yet charming place they call home. The movie poses the question: what really makes a family? Is the family we choose more important than the one we are born with?
8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Climax (2018) (Gaspar Noé)

Now available on region 2 dvd in Europe. Starts off with a group of dancers talking about why they dance which is interesting. Followed by an impressive dance sequence all done in one take set to some danceable 90s music. If you want to learn some new moves you could watch but don’t expect a story or depth. A group movie and not really any character you get to know other than on a surface level.
Promising beginning, boring middle focusing on horny locker-room chit-chat. The last 35-40 minutes is intense and nightmarish where Gaspar Noe indulges in his bag of tricks. Could all happen in real life which makes it scarier than supernatural horror.
7-8/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Time With Alan Partridge (2019) (Episode 3-6)
I reviewed episode 1 last month. Allegedly a spoof of The One Show and based on Piers’ interactions with Susanna on Good Morning Britain.
This Time concluded on a cliffhanger as to Alan’s future. Instead of summarizing the episodes, which seems pointless, I’ll instead share the moments I found the funniest:

Episode 3: The parent talking about unemployment in Scotland who grunts when he stops talking.
Simon’s no files found image resulting in Alan looking through his own eccentric pictures via his iPad.
The demonstration of corporal punishment on a dummy with a shoe.
The closing mind puzzle about cigarettes in a holiday home.


Episode 4:
The 100 year old lady talking about her houseboy.
The Scottish Alan impersonator.
The CPR with music was good yet too similar to a clip from The Office


Episode 5:
Lacking in laughs. Focuses on MeToo

 

Episode 6: The SAS anti-interrogation technique where Alan can’t remember his own name.
Nigel Mansell praising him for driving 500 yards
Pronouncing “sherry”

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think? As always, comments are welcome

Older song discoveries: March

 

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For What It’s Worth by Talk Talk (b-side) (1986)
(RIP Mark Hollis. Another favorite from Asides/Besides is It’s Getting Late In the Evening)

 

 

 

 

Meet On The Ledge by Fairport Convention (1969)
(Sandy Denny’s vocal adds a lot to Fairport Convention. Sad she died so young)

 

 

 

 

Martha’s Harbour by All About Eve ‎(1988)
(And speaking of Sandy Denny, Julianne Regan has a beautiful voice too and has been compared to her. Thanks Rol)

 

 

 

 

Heaven is a Place I’m Moving to by The Blow Monkeys (1986)
(I love the lyric “This is my time”. To me, the closer from Animal Magic is superior to the album’s hit single Digging Your Scene)

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Not by Dora Gola (2016)
(Blogger Crazy Classic Rock interviewed the singer. The song is very cinematic and I like Gola’s vocal performance)

 

 

 

 

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing by The New Seekers (1971)
(As a YouTube commenter said: “the ultimate rainbows-and-unicorns-and-marshmallow-fluff song, gives me a sugar-overdose in the best possible sense”)

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty Pink Rose by Adrian Belew and David Bowie (1990)
(A lesser known Bowie gem)

 

 

 

 

 

New Directions by The Foundations (1968)
(Darker b-side to Build Me Up Buttercup. Thanks C )

 

 

 

 

 

Tarantula (Colourbox cover) by This Mortal Coil (1986)
Beck released his own 2019 cover to coincide with Music Inspired by the Film ROMA. The 1986 version is the most affecting, lovely piano. The Colourbox original is from 1982/83)

 

 

 

 

 

The Sound of the Suburbs by The Members (1979)
(A punk classic)

 

 

 

 
Jenny (867-5309) by Tommy Tutone (1981)
(Catchy tune. The 1980s keeps on giving. Listed as #36 on VH1: ‘100 Greatest Songs of the 80’s)

 

 

 

 
Daytime Nighttime Suffering by Wings (1979)
(Should be better known. You can read about the b-side at Aphoristical’s site)

 

 

 

 

 

Strange and Beautiful by Aqualung (2002)
(I need to get my hands on Aqualung’s self-titled debut LP. This opener from the album is so haunting. You get the feeling the words come from an authentic place)

 

 


 

Re-discoveries:

 

19 by Paul Hardcastle (1985)
(An odd mix of Vietnam history lesson and electro synthpop dance music. It somehow works)

 

 

 

 

Save Your Kisses For Me by Brotherhood Of Man (1976)
(Cringeworthy dancing in the video. Unforgettable chorus. UK winner of the Eurovision song contest)

 

 

 

 

Holding Back The Years by Simply Red (1985)
(An 80s classic. His slow songs I gravitate towards the most. Hucknall’s cover of If You Don’t Know Me by Now is another that never gets old)

 

 

 

 

Heathers Soundtrack by David Newman (1988)
(Eerie score)

 

 

What do you think? Any favorites? As always, comments are welcome