Tag Archives: life

Swiss Army Man – Review

12 Jul

Listen, I’m all for big budget Hollywood productions. If there’s a movie that’s a sequel or another comic book adaptation, chances are I might be in that theater seat adding to what some people might call “the problem.” That being said, it is mighty refreshing to come across a new movie that is overflowing with imagination, creativity, and though provoking content. The movie I’m referencing right now is Swiss Army Man, a film circuit gem that has finally gotten a wider release. I’ve seen a lot of great movies this year, and I’ve also seen some garbage, but Swiss Army Man will more than likely remain in my top picks of 2016.

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After being shipwrecked on an island for who knows how long, Hank (Paul Dano) has decided he’s had enough and creates a makeshift noose to help him end it all. This plan abruptly comes to an end when a dead guy who Hank names Manny (Daniel Radcliffe) washes up on the beach, and through the power of extraordinary flatulence, whisks Hank away to the mainland. Still trapped in the middle of nowhere, Hank and his new deceased friend start their trek back to humanity, but soon it becomes clear that Manny is slowly coming back to life, even though he has no memories of his life or customs that humans hold so dear. As this odd couple makes their way through the woods, Hank gives Manny some lessons about what it means to be human, which includes some of our positives and lots of our negatives.

I have to give all the credit in the world to Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan for having the guts to actually write and direct this movie. When you think of all the movies out there right now, none of them really compare to the absurdity that is seen in Swiss Army Man. It takes a lot of imagination and skill to actually pull this movie off. While it is a fantasy, it also works as a social commentary. Might I just remind everyone that this social commentary is discussed between a guy that’s been stranded on an island and a dead guy that washed up on the beach and is slowly coming back to life. What a ridiculous concept, and yet it is pulled off so well. There’s a lot of overt criticisms, but the ones that are more subtle are the ones that work the most. I don’t want to say it’s a pessimistic view of the world we live in and the rules we are “forced” to follow, but it kinda sorta is.

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So, yeah this is a pretty pessimistic movie that I would argue continues throughout the entire story. Paul Dano’s character has a backstory that is pretty upsetting, even though what can be interpreted as upsetting is actually pretty minor. This is because we can all relate to those little things that always seem to bring us down the most. In that way, Dano’s character is extremely relatable and I really just wanted to see him finally find something to be happy about. On the flip side, Swiss Army Man is also an incredibly funny movie. I laughed a lot at things I never thought I’d ever see. There’s humor as low as fart jokes all the way to some really clever satire. The way Radcliffe’s character is used adds a lot to this humor as his corpse seems capable of pulling anything off. What I’m trying to say is that this movie works well at making you feel sad one moment and then making it seem impossible to stop laughing the next.

Throughout most of the movie, the only characters we see are Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe. Needless to say, this movie wouldn’t have worked it their chemistry wasn’t exactly on point. Thankfully, it was and now we have one of the most hilarious odd couples to ever grace the silver screen. Dano is great as Hank, the straight man, who is forced to explain even the most basic things to the screwball corpse, Manny. Radcliffe really steals the show, though, as he brings Manny to life more and more as the story progresses. He’s absolutely hilarious and gives one of my favorite performances of the year so far. The only other person worth mentioning is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who is only really in the movie near the very end. She’s fine, but she doesn’t really have much to do. If you wanna see Winstead really show what she’s capable of, just watch 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Swiss Army Man is packed to the brim with ideas, imagination, and adventure. It’s certainly a one of a kind movie in every sense of the word, and might sit pretty well in my top 10 movies of the year. Of course, it is only July, but on the other hand I loved this movie a whole hell of a lot. This is normally the part where I would say that this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that may be true, but I can’t really see how. This is a movie with characters that anyone can relate to, and a premise that is guaranteed no one has ever seen before. It’s independent film making on a grand scale.

Anomalisa – Review

26 Jan

I’m proud to say that we are once again looking at one of Charlie Kaufman’s pieces of work. With films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindBeing John Malkovich, and Synecdoche, New York under his belt, it’s pretty safe to say that he is one of the most brilliant screenwriters alive, and quite possibly of all time. Now we have Anomalisa, a startlingly quiet film that comes at you like a sucker punch to the cerebellum. The joy of this movie comes from not only watching it and seeing what Kaufman has to say, but also the hours and days after that you will spend thinking about it.

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Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is a self-help author who has traveled to Cincinnati to speak about his new book about becoming the best customer service representative you can be. While spending the night in his hotel, Stone becomes completely disassociated with reality and begins to see everyone as just one person (all voice by Tom Noonan). His night takes a hopeful turn when he hears a beautiful voice coming from down the hall. While investigating, he finds the source of the voice to be a young woman name Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who is actually in town to see Stone speak. What follows is a night that may end up changing both of their lives, that is if Stone finally opens up about who he is and realizes the truths of other people.

Much like Kaufman’s other movies, part of the genius of Anomalisa is that it forces you to examine yourself and how you see the world and other people. What may turn some people off is that you may not like what you see when you actually look. This is exactly how I felt after I watched Synecdoche, New York, and even though these movies can make you feel a little bit less than spectacular, they do teach a very important lesson. Anomalisa, compared to his other work, isn’t quite as strange or complicated on the surface but once you think about it for a few days, you find many more layers that you never recognized before.

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When I first heard that Anomalisa was going to be a feature length stop motion film, I was thrilled. It seems like a such a perfect way for Kaufman to tell a story, and I honestly don’t think this movie would’ve packed the punch that it did if it wasn’t stop motion. This story was originally done as a sound play with the actors on different sides of the stage just reading the lines, and then it was conceived by both Kaufman and co-director Duke Johnson as a 40 minute short film. The final run time ends up being an hour and a half, and my only gripe is that it might have worked better as a 40 minute short film. There’s a lot of scenes of Michael Stone just sort of sitting in his room, and I get that it’s supposed to show how mundane he views his life, but the movie might have progressed a little better as a short film.

Back to the stop motion. The animation in Anomalisa is really something to behold and I’ve quite honestly never seen anything like it. My experience with stop motion films are mostly things like The Nightmare Before ChristmasThe Boxtrolls, and Coraline, which of course aren’t the only stop motion features, but they’re the ones I feel the most familiar with. The animation and puppets in this film are something completely different in that they feel so close to being real people. This kind of goes with the themes of the movie. It reinforces the question the movie is asking about what it means to be human and what separates us from just being these walking machines programmed to mindlessly go about our everyday lives without question.

Charlie Kaufman knocks it out of the park once again with Anomalisa and has shown that the most human stories can be told without humans actually being onscreen. This is a movie that forces you to look at yourself and possibly even learn a thing or two. It’s a sad film, but in some ways it’s also a happy one. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s an exhausting emotional roller coaster that won’t be easy to forget.

The Revenant – Review

19 Jan

Last year, Alejandro González Iñárritu took film making to a whole new level with his Academy Award winning film Birdman. That film really blew me away, and continues to do so every time I watch it. Could it be possible that Iñárritu has topped himself just a year later? Well, yeah. He did with The Revenant. Now nominated for 12 Academy Awards and already winning Best Drama at the Golden Globes, I was more than a little excited to see it. Now that I have, it may be my new favorite movie of all time.

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In 1823, an American hunting party is traveling through the wilderness of the unexplored north western territories of the United States. After being attacked by a hostile Native American tribe, the party’s numbers is drastically reduced. While scouting ahead to make sure the coast is clear and possibly find food, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) is mauled by a mother grizzly bear trying to protect her cubs. Glass survives the bear’s attacks but is left severely injured and close to death. Three volunteers, including Glass’ half Native American son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) decide to stay behind and give Glass a proper burial. Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), one of the volunteers, is desperate to get home and get paid betrays Glass and leaves him for dead. What Fitzgerald wasn’t counting on was Glass’ will to live and desire to get his revenge.

What makes The Revenant a perfect movie in my honest opinion is that it sets out to do everything a movie should, and succeeds in doing so. For two and a half hours, this movie kept me 100% captivated. I felt like I was right there in the middle of the wilderness with Hugh Glass, which made it more than just watching a movie. It made it feel more like an experience. The reason for all of this excitement is because The Revenant is both an artistic masterpiece, but also tells a grueling story of betrayal, vengeance, life, and death that is filled with the rawest performances of humanity that I may have ever seen onscreen.

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Like with Birdman, one of the main reasons to check this movie out is the mind blowing cinematography. The Revenant is photographed by a name everyone should know, and that’s Emmanuel Lubezki, who won consecutive Academy Awards for his work on Gravity and Birdman. It would be pretty wild if he won three years in a row, but he honestly deserves it. Like in the previous films he’s worked on, The Revenant has a lot of really long takes where so much is put into one shot, which makes it feel even more like I was watching something straight out of reality. To add more complications, Iñárritu wanted the entire film to be shot using all natural lighting, which is a truly remarkable feat. I really can’t praise the cinematography enough.

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Yes Leonardo DiCaprio is just as fantastic in this movie as you’ve been led to believe. It’s one of those times where I wasn’t watching DiCaprio act anymore. He looked and acted like he completely became Hugh Glass, and that’s not the first time he’s done that with a character. While it isn’t the first time, it is the fullest transformation he’s ever made. Another actor that really makes the movie work is Tom Hardy. Hardy had quite a year in 2015 and has shown himself to be one of the prominent blockbuster actors. Now in The Revenant he plays a villain that is so easy and fun to hate, which makes Glass’ story of revenge that much better.

It may just be the excitement talking, but The Revenant is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen and may have taken the top spot for my favorite movie I’ve ever seen. It has everything I look for in a movie from the story, to the art design, and the acting. This is a very intense, gritty, and real movie that at times feel hard to sit through, but that’s sort of the whole point. Alejandro González Iñárritu has really outdone himself this time and ended 2015’s film year with a resounding bang.

Nil by Mouth – Review

3 Mar

Everyone knows about Gary Oldman’s acting career. He’s been in so many movies as great as The Dark Knight Trilogy and as awful as the 2009 “horror” film The Unborn. He’s one of those actors that seems to turn up everywhere, but he always brings an air of seriousness to all of his roles. I’ve just recently learned about his work in directing after reading about his 1997 directorial debut Nil by Mouth. I didn’t really know what it was about, but being a fan of Oldman’s, I felt it was worth checking out. That being said, this is a surprisingly gritty, disturbing, and genuinely upsetting film.

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Set in the working class environment of South London, this film examines the life of a small, but poor family. Billy (Charles Creed-Miles) is a heroine addict that struggles with both his finances and his addiction, mostly using one to help the other. Billy’s sister is Val (Kathy Burke), a relatively unhappy woman who is married to Ray (Ray Winstone). Ray is a thief, an addict, and violent, many times taking out his rage on the pregnant Val. After a vicious night between the two, the family really seems that it is finally ready to break down and leave everyone on their own.

When it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997, Nil by Mouth was received with much critical acclaim and Kathy Burke winning for Best Actress. This is really no surprise to me since this movie tackles subject matter in an unflinchingly realistic way. As I was watching it, my mind kept going to Lynne Ramsay’s Ratcatcher, although the main protagonist in that movie is a kid and it was released two years later in 1999. It still deals with the same ideas as poverty and the breakdown of a family. There were many times in this movie that it got so intense and real that it stunned me.

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Like I said before, Kathy Burke won the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for this movie, but that isn’t where the excellent performances end. Everyone in this movie seems to be working their hardest to completely sell their roles to you. Burke has a lot of different levels she plays at and Ray Winstone matches her perfectly by showing an aggravating and complex character. He has become one of the most hated characters for me because Winstone makes him so real. Charles Creed-Miles also works well as the pathetic drug addicted thief who I really couldn’t help feeling sorry for.

To really make Nil by Mouth work, Oldman had to create a certain kind of uncomfortable atmosphere that isn’t really easy to do. Many of the scenes are shot in dark side streets of London, the kind of streets that you wouldn’t want to find yourself alone at night. When we’re not in some alley, we’re in cluttered, tiny apartments that seems to have a few too many people in it. That being said, certain scenes have to appear comfortable and livable since this is just the way of life for these people. It’s an odd combination where I would be disgusted one moment and then almost feel at home the next.

Nil by Mouth can definitely be classified as a film that isn’t easy to watch, nor is it particularly entertaining. It is, however, a film that seems to be a very deep and personal project of Gary Oldman’s, and that comes through in how realistic and honest everything is in the movie. This may be one of the realest movies I’ve seen and it certainly isn’t afraid to throw a rotten piece of life into your face. While it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s an intense experience nonetheless.

Boyhood – Review

15 Jan

Richard Linklater has been the forerunner of independent film making ever since he jumped on the scene with his cult classic, Slacker. Since then the writer/director has been involved with many other projects like his history making rotoscoped films Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly, his stoner comedy classic Dazed and Confused, and his trilogy Before SunriseBefore Sunset, and Before Midnight. Little did we know that throughout all of these films, he’d be slowly constructing a twelve year masterpiece that changes the way stories are told in films. This movie is Boyhood.

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Mason (Ellar Colatrane) is an average, but special, kid growing up in Texas. The film chronicles different chapters of his life starting when he is six years old and he’s beginning to understand the relationship problems between his mom Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and his father Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke). As time goes on for Mason, Olivia, and Mason’s sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), we see them age, grow a little more understanding or ignorant, and learn what it means to make mistakes and be part of a family.

At first glance, Boyhood looks like a three hour movie about a kid that’s growing up, what you would call a coming of age story I guess. That seems like a lot of time to fill to just show someone growing up, but it didn’t feel like three hours at all. This is a truly remarkable film and not just one of the best films of the year, it may even be one of the best films ever made. The technical achievement and patience that went into making this movie must have been staggering. While being technically shot over 12 years, it really only took a matter of weeks in total, stretched over a 12 year period. But it makes me wonder how the movie was actually written and edited, and how the actors were committed to the project for so long.

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Why I’d call this movie the ultimate coming of age movie, is because we literally see it happen before our eyes. A brilliant piece of film making is seen in Boyhood in that Linklater never specifically tells us what year it is or how long its been. Instead we see pieces of technology that weren’t publicly available before or a popular song playing on the radio that may indicate what year we’re in and how much older everyone is. It was also just fun to see certain things and remember my own childhood and growing up. I can’t tell you how excited I got when I saw Mason playing Oregon Trail on an old Mac in his school. Memories…memories.

While the film making is fantastic, a lot of the credit has to go to the actors who put so much into making this movie possible. Patricia Arquette pretty much steals every scene she’s in as a mother who’s trying desperately to keep a family in a healthy environment. Ethan Hawke is probably my favorite part of the movie as the over excited dad who’s just happy to be around his kids. It was also refreshing to see how Ellar Colatrane and Lorelei Linklater kept their performances very together and on point throughout the years. To all of the actors really, who had to keep a sense of their characters over such a long period is very commendable.

Boyhood is the most impressive movie I’ve seen in a very long time, and that’s during a year of very impressive movies. It’s been hailed as one of the best pictures of the year, already picking up Golden Globes for Arquette, directing, and best picture. Now it has 6 Oscar nominations, but that’s still not for a bit. I loved this movie more than I thought I could and it just blows my mind that Linklater and the rest of his cast and crew made it work. This is film history here, people, you don’t want to miss out on it.

Enter the Void – Review

25 Sep

There are plenty of movies out there that are completely unique and provide the viewer with a different sort of experience. This is normally done through narrative tricks or special visual effects to really separate itself from other movies. In my opinion, there has never been a film as different and inventive than Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void, a film that he calls a “psychedelic melodrama” that seems to defy all conventions of film making and takes a different approach at an art form that seems to have seen it all.

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Oscar (Nathaniel Brown) is a small time drug dealer and junkie who lives in Tokyo and mingles with the other assorted junkies and dealers. He shares an apartment with his sister, Linda (Paz de la Huerta), and shares a very special connection with her. One night, after trying to complete a deal with an old friend, the police burst in and shoot Oscar. What follows is Oscar’s consciousness or soul leaving his body and flying over the neon world of Tokyo, examining his past, and observing the lives of others that have been affected by his death with the ultimate goal of achieving some sort of resurrection.

The way Gaspar Noé tells the story in Enter the Void is unlike anything I have ever seen. The movie’s psychedelic mayhem begins right with the opening titles that shock the viewers mind like a defibrillator. Once the titles end, it is strangely calm and the next odd choice by Noé is to have the first half hour completely in a first person POV of Oscar. After he is shot, we travel with him out of his body to experience his life flashing before our eyes and also see the effects of his own death. In this way, the film is still first person, but it’s a strange trip flying over the neon hell of Tokyo.

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Where a lot of film makers use CGI as a crutch and a tool to draw in audiences to see spectacular things, the CGI in Enter the Void is for a much more visceral experience. A large part of the story is the usage and effects of a drug/chemical called DMT, which is released by the brain en masse to a dying individual or to the user of the street drug. The effects of this is a vibrant, colorful visual experience which is recreated with the sights and sounds of Enter the Void. As a result, this is a very colorful movie at times, only to be momentarily defeated by the grime and darkness of the deepest alleys of Tokyo. It’s a beautiful contrast, but certainly not the only unbelievable part of this film.

Fortunately, this Noé did not rely on visuals alone to make this movie compelling. The story and theme of the whole things made me revert into my own psyche and think about everything I believe is to be possible after we die. The thought of death is frightening, to simply not exist anymore, and there are so many thoughts as to what happens after our life ends. In Enter the Void, we are presented with one of the thoughts and is put on screen. It’s hallucinatory and even though the themes might be beyond our understanding, it’s still a deeply personal journey.

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This movie has polarized audiences since it was shown on the festival circuit, and was hurt a little after it’s poor box office return. This isn’t a mindless piece of entertainment. It is an art film through and through that really makes you think. I know I say that a lot, but it’s been about a week since I watched this and it’s still fresh in my mind. I can not recommend Enter the Void enough.

The Qatsi Trilogy – Review

5 May

Ok, this is gonna be a weird group of movies to review. The Qatsi Trilogy are not your everyday documentary films that show life with either a voice of God narration or interviews throughout. Godfrey Reggio, the director of all three films, simply documents and puts the beautiful images that he captures to the music of master composer, Philip Glass. Without a single word of dialogue, these three films will make you think about the world and your existence like you may have never thought of it before, and will definitely open your eyes to different aspects and places while completely changing your view on the familiar.

Let’s start in 1983 with the first film of the trilogy, Koyaanisqatsi.

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Koyaanisqatsi translates to “life out of balance.”  What this film shows first is beautiful and monolithic images of nature. The transition is quick as these stone monoliths start being destroyed with the culprit being mankind, and the reason being so that we can construct our own manmade structures. Life of humanity is shown in fast motion photography with symbolism and allegories that can be seen in the editing and the photography itself. Finally, the film ends with a warning against our obsession and reliance on technology that won’t soon be forgotten.

This is one of, if not the most, beautiful and hypnotic films that I have ever seen. The fast motion photography is the most obvious way of showing the speed at which our lives move. We are a civilization that almost seems to never sleep or even slow down. In one particular scene in a train station, we almost seem like insects moving around our mound of dirt. Another scene shows highways with red lights flying through them, which reminded me almost of blood cells traveling through veins and arteries with the city being the hear that keeps it all moving. Images like this really stick out and make the viewer think about what they are seeing, and that’s what makes Koyaanisqatsi so excellent.

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I feel like this is more than a film, it’s a cinematic experience that will leave your brain in constant thought and bewilderment. You’ll ponder your existence and the effect that your existence has on the world around you. You may even be torn on the true meaning of the movie, whether it’s a good or bad one. That’s part of the brilliance of this movie, the ambiguity mixed with the power of the visuals and fantastic music. This is definitely one to check out and be amazed.

In 1988 the sequel was released, Powaqqatsi.

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As the poster shows, Powaqqatsi translates to “life in transformation.” This film is about life in multiple third world and developing countries, and how they are growing and constantly evolving. There is also a theme that can be noticed about the west’s cultures effects on these more eastern civilizations. The film starts out slowly with tribal rituals, and small villages in their own everyday lives. A train is a transition to urban development which is quicker than what was shown before, but still nowhere near as fast as the photography in Koyaanisqatsi.

The reason why it is so slow is to show the contrast of more modernized society. The lives these individuals live seem to be more focused and, in our view, slowed down. The photography is still beautiful and the music by Philip Glass is still great. This is definitely not as great a movie as its predecessor, however. Nowhere near. I understand the need for the slow motion, but it didn’t keep me too interested for the entire run of the movie. It also seemed very haphazardly edited. Koyaanisqatsi almost had a narrative that was hidden in the fluidity of the movie. Powaqqatsi seemed more like a film that was thrown together. It made it much less interesting than it could have been.

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Powaqqatsi was still an engaging and beautiful movie with powerful music to match. It still makes you think about your life, but this time with the knowledge of how other people live. It’s jarring and strangely inspirational. The only thing that could have improved this movie is better pacing, a shorter run time, and a more strategically constructed narrative. This isn’t a necessary film to watch, but I can understand why it was made.

Finally, in 2002, Godfrey Reggio released the final film of his trilogy: Naqoyqatsi.

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Naqoyqatsi translates to “life as war.” This is the black sheep out of the three films with a lot of its footage coming from archival videos and television. The themes that are tackled range from the follies and plasticity of celebrity life to the tragic apex of technology and life: war. Phillip Glass’ music still plays a big part in this film, but the footage itself is much more digitized with a lot of special effects to really stress the notion of technology.

I’m really torn over this one. Part of me wants to like this one more than Powaqqatsi, but the other part of me tells me that  that’s impossible. It certainly kept my attention more and the themes constructed more of a narrative, but the work that went into both of its predecessors completely seems to outdo the work put into this film. The effects were really cool, but soon got to be a bit overdone to the point that it was distracting. Glass’ music is also completely unmemorable. I can hum some parts from the other two films, but can’t seem to remember any of the music from this one.

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My main problems with Naqoyqatsi are that it seems overblown with cool effects and it is altogether just not as powerful. It certainly doesn’t match the beauty of Koyaanisqatsi and PowaqqatsiIt still does have a powerful message that can be connected to the messages of Koyaanisqatsi, so in that way, it’s a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, but is the weakest in my opinion.

The Qatsi Trilogy is an incredible cinematic experience that is very difficult to explain, and is something that really must be seen. While I do have some gripes with the second and third entries, they still provide a powerful trip into different parts of the world and different parts of our minds. They are a perfect combination of music and images and experimental and documentary. I can’t recommend these movies to everyone, because it’s certainly not going to appeal to a national audience. For the people who find themselves interested in these ideas, check them out if you haven’t already.