6 Movies I Find Unrelatable Because They’re Dick Flicks

  1. The Godfather: Note how this film is calledThe Godfather and notThe Godmother. Dick flick. This is about the complex relationship between fathers and sons, starring Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in an epic display of toxic masculinity. There’s violence and murders and mobsters and, given that I am clearly a chick with boobs and lipstick and blood that comes out of my vagina on a semi-regular monthly basis, I don’t understand why anybody would think I’d be interested in this movie.
  2. Citizen Kane: When I first heard the title, I thought, maybe this will be relatable, as I too am a citizen. But when I saw it starred Orson Welles, I was like, uggh, this is definitely going to be a dick flick. Of course I was right, as it is about the rise and fall of a newspaper magnate in the early 20th century. Now perhaps if this film were about a smart, young woman landing a job as the assistant to the demanding editor-in-chief of a high fashion magazine (wait, that’s The Devil Wears Prada…)
  3. 12 Angry Men: Pretty sure the name of the film is self-explanatory. I already have enough angry men in my life.
  4. Lincoln: Anyone who recommends this Spielberg film to me is an idiot. Presidential biopics are the ultimate dick flicks. In America, presidents are men. I mean, what would we do if we had a female president? She’d probably spend 24/7 on her Twitter bitching about everyone who doesn’t agree with her and lauding herself for passing a single shitty piece of legislation.
  5. Saving Private Ryan: This movie is about soldiers during World War II. Several brothers die in combat. Some other soldier dudes want to save the last brother. Every time I try to count the dicks in the movie, I lose track because it’s like, there’s a dick. There’s another dick. Hey, another dick! I know in today’s modern PC culture, I’m supposed to find every story universal, but the truth is, I just can’t connect to films that don’t feature love, romance, and a frivolous, cutesy ending that makes you want to go “Awww.” Ooh, has anyone seen A Christmas Prince?
  6. Whatever Wins the Next Academy Award for Best Picture: It’s been about 15 years since a film with a majority female cast has won an Academy Award for Best Picture (and though I loved Chicago, it’s pretty weird that it beat dick flicks like Polanski’sThe Pianistand Scorsese’s Gangs of New York — certainly collusion). So even thoughLady Bird has a near perfect Rotten Tomatoes score, my clairvoyant, manic pixie dream girl uterus suggests to me that it won’t be nominated Oscar.  Let’s be honest — it’s going to beWind River, a celebration of The Weinstein Company’s last hurrah.
  • Michelle Meyers is a writer based out of Los Angeles. She’s not afraid to make creepy jokes in front of strangers at parties
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Meeting Gumby’s Dad

By Eric Levy |

As a child, my favorite show was The Gumby Show. I related to Gumby’s love for knowledge, hopping in and out of educational books. My dream was to meet Gumby’s creator Art Clokey. It took me 30 years to see my dream come true.

I read an article about Clokey’s new claymation feature, The Gumby Movie. Now I had my reason to meet with him. I would write an article about the movie. After hours on the internet, I found Art Clokey’s phone number. I called him and, to my surprise, he answered the phone. We spoke for an hour and he invited me to his home in San Rafael.  

It was 1995. I flew to San Francisco and Clokey met me at the airport. He drove across the Golden Gate Bridge to a nondescript neighborhood.

Clokey, a young looking 77-year-old at the time, looked like the guy next door. Inside the house, I followed Clokey to the living room. Hanging on the wall was a 4 x 3 inch black man with a large afro. I asked Clokey who he was.

“He’s the messiah,” Clokey said. “Sathya Sai Baba.”

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He told me that he and his wife Gloria met the messiah in India in the late 1970s. “I held out a Gumby doll and he blessed it with a wave of his hand. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, ash began to appear from his fingers. It was sacred ash, and it was placed on Gumby. After that, things began to change for the better both for me and Gumby. When I returned to the U.S., the Gumby revival began.”

“Do you mind if I smoke?” Clokey asked.

I assumed he meant a cigarette, but instead, he began rolling a joint. He took a few tokes and offered me to join him. I gladly accepted and asked him if he was stoned while working on Gumby episodes.

“No, never.”

“Never?”

“No, never. But I experimented with LSD, mescaline, peyote, and hashish. It was after the first TV series in 1966 when a psychologist introduced me to the field of expanded consciousness through the use of hallucinogens. He said I could expand my awareness and become a better director. You have to be aware of your feelings to be a good director. But I’m telling you, I swear, I never made any Gumby episodes while under the influence. Well, there was one time when I tried smoking pot while making a Gumby episode. It didn’t work out. Looking at the footage, I saw I inadvertently got my elbow in the frame.”

Clokey told me that he spent the 1970s in the hippie community of Topanga Canyon, California. He went through a painful divorce with his first wife, who had worked with him on Gumby episodes. During the Topanga years, he experienced a tragedy when his 19-year-old daughter died in a car accident. During the proceeding decade, not a piece of clay touched Clokey’s fingers. He wanted to make more Gumby adventures, but he didn’t have the money to do so. Instead, he lived mostly off of Gumby syndication royalties.

His time at Topanga provided a new beginning for Clokey. That’s where he met his second wife, Gloria. She was a bio-energetic therapist at a clothing-optional Personal Growth Center. Her work involved the analysis of people’s personality types by examining their bodies.

“Hey, why am I telling you this part of the story,” Clokey said. “I just heard Gloria come in. She can tell it to you better than I can.”

He led me to the kitchen where Gloria was unpacking groceries she had purchased from a nearby health food store.

Clokey put his arm around me and announced, “Gloria, this is Eric..ah…sorry, what’s your last name?”

“Levy.”

“Yes, yes. Eric Levy. We had a really interesting discussion on the phone. I invited him over for the weekend.”

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Gloria extended her hand to greet me. It was a firm handshake. “A pleasure to meet you, Eric.”

The three of us sat around the kitchen table. “Do you like wheatgrass?” Clokey asked.

“I never tried it.”

“Oh, it’s great. Very nutritional.”

Gloria placed three shot glasses before us and poured the green liquid into them.

“I’ll go first,” Gloria said. She and Art downed it in a matter of seconds. “Your turn,” Art said.

With trepidation, I slowly poured it into my mouth. Damn. It tasted like turpentine.

“So? What do you think?” Gloria asked. I didn’t answer right away and she added, “It’s strong. It takes getting used to.”

“It’s so healthy. I’m sure you’ll find it at some health food store that sells it in New York.”

“I’ll check it out. Thank you.”

“Gloria, I was just beginning to tell Eric how we met. You can tell the story better than I can.”

“You’re the story master, Art.”

“But you can express it better than I can. You’re on stage.”

Gloria smiled and told me that when they first met “we didn’t hit it off. But then we saw each other again at a social gathering where no one had any clothes on, including us. I read his body and he looked unified.”

Following some other Art and Gloria stories, he asked if I wanted to see where he and his team created Gumby episodes.

I stood up with excitement. Clokey picked up on it, and commented, “I knew that would peak your interest.”

We drove a short way to a former high school building. “This is it, where I shot Gumby films in the nineteen eighties.”

That’s also the location, he told me, where Gumby: The Movie was shot earlier this year.  

As we walked to the entrance of the school building, Clokey unlocked the front door and informed me that the animators who worked on the Gumby episodes responded to a classified ad placed in newspapers across the country.

There wasn’t anything to see inside. He took me to the classrooms with ancient-looking wooden desks and blackboards that had seen better days. We squeezed into student-sized seats and I asked Clokey about how the Gumby episodes were created.

“Two words. Trimentional animation. It uses shadow, color and movement to induce sensations of the autonomic nervous system.”

He surprised me when he said that Gumby was also responsible for, among other things, sexual arousal of its viewers. That explains why I had the hots for Gumby’s girlfriend Tara! Thinking about it, she’s not a bad slab of clay.

Gumby and his pals, Clokey went on to explain, are made from plasticine, a dry powder mixed with oil that lasts forever.

Our next stop was at a small outdoor mall. We stopped in front of a door without any sign above it. I gasped upon entering. It was a Gumby museum. “This is the original Gumby,” he said, pointing to the Green Guy  who was inside a glass display case. Wow.

After introducing me to Gumby’s friends—Pokey, Prickle, and Goo; his nemeses the Blockheads; his parents Gumbo and Gumba; Minga, his little sister; Professor Kapp, the scientist; Denali,  his Mastodon pal; Groobe, the helpful bee; and his dog Nopey.

Clokey told me he was going shopping at a food bank and left me alone in a small screening room. He turned on the projector and there it was—a preview of the Gumby Movie.

It begins with a wide shot of the universe enhanced with Star Wars-type music. It then proceeds to show a snippet of a 1960s Gumby episode displayed on a TV, located on the moon, along with that really cool Gumby song. A blue clay guy is watching the Gumby episode while munching on some popcorn.  The camera tilts above the moon and a green plasticine monolith appearing among the stars. An electric charge runs through it, splitting into two pieces—one green and the other orange. The rectangular slabs race through the universe with the Earth as its destination. The slabs end up in Gumbyland, racing into a Gumby store. The orange slab lands in a Gumbasia Clay Set, and turns into Pokey. The green slab continues to a mysterious location. Pokey searches for the slab without any luck. Unbeknownst to him, it had  metamorphosed into his friend Gumby.

The little green guy, as he had in the original series, enters the pages of books and when he departs, he brings historical figures with him. It’s Clokey’s wink to us Baby Boomers who grew up with him. Gumby then enters the book “Exotic Dancers of the East,” but for that one, he rushes out without any scantily clad dancers accompanying him.

The film then gets tiresome when we’re introduced to Gumby’s rock band, the Clayboys. We watch as they perform at a benefit concert to save local farms.

That’s when Clokey returned.

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He saw that the film had ended and he asked, “You know what the message is?”

“Being a responsible person and the importance of education?”

“Well, yea. That’s true. But the major theme as I view it is, “the world needs Gumby.”

“Well, I certainly it does. That’s why I contacted you.”

“Hey, Eric, you like Indian food?”

Happens to be I did, and we drove a mile down the main road to this second-rate restaurant. He ordered a vegetarian dish and I had chicken tikka masala.

At the conclusion of the meal, instead of leaving the waitress a tip, he gives her a tiny rubber Gumby. She looks confused.

“You know who that is?” Clokey asked.

“Ah..no.”

“People never fail to surprise me,” Clokey commented. She doesn’t know who Gumby is? Isn’t he a 1960s icon?

“Well, you can call him Gumby,” he told the waitress, handing it to her along with some cash. “Keep him. You can have it.”

“Well, thanks. Thanks a lot, sir.”

Clokey drove me to the airport at the conclusion of my weekend visit. Ten years later, he died, but his plasticine creations will live on forever.

 

A Review of ‘Mudbound’

Upon its opening, Dee Rees’ “Mudbound” draws you in with period piece elements. There is a sense of underlying ominousness — albeit undefined — as we are introduced to the home front of the American South before and during World War II. Similar to Terrence Malick, Rees introduces her ensemble with voiceovers (which continue throughout the picture) that give articulation to the inner thoughts of the charactersin the same wandering, introspective way in which our thoughts are produced and relayed.

Weaved by race, war and economy — this story is one of many moving parts. Opening with a brothers burial for Pappy McAllan, the film jumps back to Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke, “Zero Dark Thirty”), a businessman from Memphis, who marries Laura (Carey Mulligan, “Drive,” “The Great Gatsby”) and decides to buy farmland and a house in Mississippi. The seller has swindled him on the deal, and the family — having sold and spent everything on the move — must live on the farm alongside Henry’s elderly, racially-prejudiced father. On the land lives the family of Hap (Rob Morgan, “Stranger Things”) and Florence Jackson (Mary J. Blige, in a breakout, Oscar-nominated performance) and their children of various ages. While they are indeed renters, remaining racial prejudices make it seem like they are not welcome. The family constantly has to deal with requests from Henry (Hap for workand Florence for child care) and general mistreatment from Henry McAllan’s father. Hap knows the farmland through and through, however (much more than the city-familiar Henry), and proves crucial to the daily operations of the McAllan property.

Henry has a younger brother, Jamie (Garrett Hedlund, “Inside Llewyn Davis”) who leaves the U.S. to be a fighter pilot in World War II. The Jackon’s eldest, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell, “Straight Outta Compton”), is in the war, too — receiving a high honor for helping his fellow troops. While overseas, Ronsel falls in love with a native while in Europe and never quite forgets her upon returning home.

The story follows occurences on the farm while the two men are at war, the characters’ respective wartime experiences, and the aftermath of them returning — the bond they form, and the consequences of their presence.

Thus, the plot and its possible complications are set. Race, post-traumatic stress, intimacy, history, economic mobility and more themes of everyday life loom large in this film. What makes Mudbound special is how it’s able to drive home these themes, elicit emotion and make broad societal points all while not feeling forced. And it provides a good story, too.

Voiceovers workas an insightful tool to help us understand the characters and guide the plot. And while the film covered many years, the yearnings of the characters and their motivations seem to stitch together timelines — so the viewer never gets lost in the details. The digital cinematography, driven by the work of Oscar nominee Rachel Morrison (“Dope,” “Fruitvale Station,” “Black Panther,” and now the first woman ever to be Oscar-nominated for Cinematography), shows the lights, breezes and mud of the Mudbound world — translating physical and emotional hardships of farming, war and societal tensions from ideas to a tactile, tangible on-screen presence.

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2017 Sundance Film Festival

Dee Rees’ narrative has a powerful, moving, sad and tear-jerking climax, one set up by the previous two hours of artistic cinematography, plodding character development and weaved timelines. Dee Rees presents a circumspect inspection of these characters throughout the film, and they march into the film’s end fully formed and with agency, thus making the ending authentically weighted and powerful.

The viewer will surely react viscerally to what transpires, but that is the intention. These characters are a product of the time they live in and in many ways the times that came before them. The ending shows us that our past, and thus present, can never be perfect.

But when we focus on life and unifying things — such as the next generation, the bonds between characters because of life experience — society can begin to slowly trudge out of the mud.

A Review of ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

In a world of cosmic indifference, many of us ponder the purpose of being decent. Many of us may wonder why we need to forgive — both ourselves and others — in order to move forward in a world that does not seem to care about right and wrong.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would argue that while the human condition and random chance guarantee unfortunate events, a capability for forgiveness is nevertheless necessary in order to deal with personal and worldly hardship.

The film, written and directed by Martin McDonagh (“Seven Psychopaths”), sees Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) agitating to get the police department of Ebbing, Missouri to pay more attention to the case of her murdered daughter, which has been lingering with no word for seven months. To make her point, she purchases ad space on three abandoned billboards on a rarely traveled road near her home, and has a single sentence printed on each with bold black lettering popping out on top of a red background.

Rather than a conventional murder mystery, the town’s reaction to Mildred’s actions and the development of the characters that dwell in Ebbing dictates the story that follows. Through the supporting cast, the likes of which include Woody Harrelson (“True Detective”) and Sam Rockwell (“Moon”), the film examines the human condition by taking conventional character tropes (the local police chief; the bad, disgruntled cop; and more) and adding layers of complexity on them that challenge our preconceptions.

McDonagh was inspired to write the film after seeing billboards about an unsolved crime in the Georgia-Florida-Alabama corner.

We learn, through this examination, that every human — no matter how typical or exceptional — is capable of both good and bad. And because of this simultaneous, unchangeable duality, everyone deserves a chance; barring atrocities, of course. Three Billboards shows its characters, some who are more likable than others, doing both good and bad things. We are left to be the judge, but by the film removing any sense or source of absolute moral authority, we realize that flaws are what make us human, and thus, capable and deserving of love.

While this thesis is certainly heavy, the film tackles this in a very understated way. A mix of seriousness, humor and irony, the film demonstrates rather than explicates. In other words, it is a full use of the motion picture medium par excellence. We are simply left to digest the actions as they unfold on screen.

The moving story (and the score), driven by the performance of Frances McDormand,  are the most outwardly emotional elements of the picture. The cinematography, on the other hand, is softer, and quietly achieves the film’s thesis through visual language. Reminiscent of “The Sopranos,” “No Country for Old Men,” and “Fargo,” the shots — elegant captures of the mundane details of Ebbing and its characters — convey emotions just as powerfully as the rest of the film’s other elements.

Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes

In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, resolutions are not the answer; redemption is. This unconventional stance type may leave some viewers dissatisfied if they are expecting many of the film’s larger plot questions to be answered. In a sense, however, the resolution is that many things in life rarely go fully resolved. But the emotional effect of what happens in our lives lingers, and that surely affects us. That is what the film cares about — how we process things, how we look inward and outward to forgive, and how we deal and move forward.

The Chillionaires — “A Chillion Bars”

The Chillionaires a rap group from Brooklyn, NY. Members include Sky Scraper, Gucci G.R.A.Y & Ruciano. They recently dropped their highly-anticapted project, entitled “Who Wants To Be A Chillionaire?”

Prior to this, the group also release a project called “The Formula.”

Check out their YouTube page here.

Love & Obsession in ‘Phantom Thread’

Attention to detail. This quality defines a great garment, and is also a quality of diligent students of any craft.

Success in any vocation is likely due to dedication and discipline that trumps the extent an average person is willing to travel. Famous athletes, prolific writers, artists & world leaders all come to mind. Their drive and focus shape the routines and habits of their daily lives.

But what effect does this pursuit have on someone’s personal life? How do they connect with others? Such is the chief question posed by “Phantom Thread,” a new film from director Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood,” “Boogie Nights”). In his second collaboration with Anderson, actor Daniel Day-Lewis (“Lincoln,” “Gangs of New York”) plays renowned, fictional and London-based high fashion dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (a name Mr. Lewis came up with himself). His drive for excellent craftsmanship creates friction with his newfound partner, Alma (Vicky Krieps, “Pitter Patter Goes My Heart”).

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Mr. Day-Lewis and Ms. Krieps in a scene from “Phantom Thread”

While clearly talented, Woodcock’s success as a dressmaker seems owed in part to his ordered routines and unique personal world, tailored by his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville, “Maleficent”), whose terseness and clear-thinking counterweights his sometimes childish stubbornness. Dwelling in a fashion house — Woodcock’s house is not a home — is for dressmaking.

The film opens by showing the end of Woodcock’s previous relationship with an aging muse. The viewer’s sense is that these muses come and go, but the audience begins to feel that Alma, idiosyncratic in her own right, is a special match for Woodcock’s psyche. That match, however, comes with tension. The movie highlights growth in both their working and intimate relationships over an unspecified duration in the 1950s; and also shows particular ways in which they push each other’s patience.

“Phantom Thread” has a cohesive thesis that meditates on the interrelatedness of obsessive tendencies, success and love. What balance can one strike in order to both pursue a calling and find love? Are they mutually exclusive?

Anderson’s form is compact, focused and achieves the film’s desired aims of exploring these questions. With lush, but muted hues in tone with London’s overcast environment (in fact, Anderson used smoke effects to give even interior shots a certain grayness), the beauty in this film — from the sets, the costumes, and the shot compositions — blends harmoniously with the mood of the story. Like a perfectly tailored garment, the film’s visuals never draw attention to themselves. Shot on 35mm film and experimental in its use of exposures, the cinematography (there is no listed cinematographer on this film) is as fine-made as one of Woodcock’s dresses — and thus achieves the same understated elegance.

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(L-R) Lesley Manville, Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps

“Phantom Thread” is a precisely crafted film and its well-done moving parts — from technical to the acting — come together to rhythmically (perhaps frustratingly) explore the dynamics between two lovers, the walls between them and the motivations that drive them. This film fits particularly well in Anderson’s canon, adding onto his list of bold, sui generis character studies post “There Will Be Blood” (2007).

Likely warranting subsequent viewings in order to fully appreciate its richness, “Phantom Thread” is a layered and subtly daring piece of cinema that diligently examines the difficulty of loving, and of being loved.

 

A Review of ‘The Shape of Water’

History seems to move quietly in the background of Guillermo del Toro’s (“Pan’s Labyrinth”, “Pacific Rim”) “The Shape of Water,” a film that pays homage to a classic era where cinema was an escape from the struggles and stresses of reality.

The film centers around the love story between Elisa (Sally Hawkins, “Blue Jasmine”), a mute custodial staff member at a government research lab in 1960s Baltimore, and the Amphibian Man, who is housed in the facility. The man has been caught by a perplexingly odd and perverse Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon, “Midnight Special”) in South America, and is now studied in an attempt to gain an edge on the Soviets. While historical context — consumerism, the Cold War, racial tensions — very much influences the storyline, “The Shape of Water” focuses on love between two unique characters.

Presented in a desaturated green and with fantastical production design, the film feels like it takes place in an enhanced reality similar to Del Toro’s previous films, such as “Hellboy.” Elisa works the night shift and has a routined life, and, given her muteness, has her daily life narrated by her two best friends: Zelda (Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”), a colleague who talks to Elisa about the stresses of the job and her own absent-minded husband; and Giles (Richard Jenkins, “Step Brothers”), a neighbor struggling to keep work in print advertising, as he makes handmade ads in an increasingly photography-driven age.

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The Shape of Water is set near Washington, D.C., inside a Cold War government lab.

Del Toro succeeds in crafting a strong film, with a tactful script, rich characters, beautiful sets and a tender love story. But where the film goes above and beyond is in subtle references to struggles of society and humankind — both past and present — through romance.

Throughout the film, Del Toro satires the era with self-help books and the “four out of every five successful men drive a Cadillac” type of suburban consumerism. But he also showcases more serious subjects in segregated countertops, espionage, and post World War II peacetime malaise.

These items in the film, at a first glance, can feel like an aside to the main plot. Love trumps all, right? The journey of a supernatural creature and a mute woman rise above all of these societal complexities. However this story, or any human story, is very much a product of underlying realities. The same human emotions, strengths and flaws that dictate history play out in small-scale connections and interactions among individuals.

There is a scene where Giles is watching a saddening news report on Civil Rights demonstrations, and, exclaiming that it is too upsetting, quickly switches the channel to one of his favorite classic films. He is using cinema as an escape. The viewer is performing the very same function, watching “The Shape of Water” (or any film), potentially, as an escape. It all feels very dreamlike: beautiful sets, classic music, supernatural creatures. But the animus that leads Michael Shannon’s character to fear, rather than admire the Amphibian Man is the same human flaw that plays out in society’s greater struggles to accept differences. Elisa’s character represents our better nature — good vs. evil in a classic sense.

We can never escape ourselves, but we can always be better. Del Toro’s subtle expression of this thesis makes “The Shape of Water” — already a fun, well-crafted and a moving love story — a societally introspective film.

The Shape of Water received seven Golden Globes nominations, including: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Screenplay and Best Original Score.