BBB THE GLASS CASTLE, WHAT HAPPENED TO MONDAY?, DAVID LYNCH: THE ART LIFE, TWIN PEAKS (Season 3)

In today’s episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey, Ricardo Medina and I discuss the biographical drama “The Glass Castle”, the Netflix sci-fi action flick “What Happened to Monday?”, the Criterion Collection documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life”, the long and weird filmography of David Lynch himself, and the third season of one of the most iconic TV shows ever made – “Twin Peaks”.

– Matthew

BBB SAMURAI JACK (Season 5), ALIEN RECAP, ALIEN: COVENANT

In this episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey, we review the long-awaited final season of one of Cartoon Network’s best series “Samurai Jack” and Ridley Scott’s third “Alien” movie “Alien: Covenant”, in addition to recapping the long and ridiculously weird trajectory of the “Alien” franchise from 1979 to now.

– Matthew

BBB Best of 2016

Finally, we’ve made it! Ricardo Medina, special guest Michael Richards (C.E.O. of Phastraq VFX) and yours truly count down our lists of Best Hip Hop Instrumental Albums, Hip Hop EPs, Hip Hop Albums, Live-Action Movies (VFX), Animated Movies, and the Best and Worst Movies of 2016!

 

– Matthew

BBB TITANFALL 2, V FOR VENDETTA, SWISS ARMY MAN, DOCTOR STRANGE, ATLANTA (Season 1)

On November 5th 2016, through the mystic powers of Skype, Ricardo Medina and I reviewed the first-person shooter “Titanfall 2”, the dystopian political thriller “V for Vendetta”, the absurdist comedy-drama “Swiss Army Man”, the fantasy-based Marvel Studios film “Doctor Strange” and the critically-acclaimed comedy-drama TV series “Atlanta”.

This is what happened.

–  Matthew

BBB HALLOWEEN SPECIAL

In this special Halloween episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey, Matthew Bailey and Ricardo Medina talk about the third seasons of “Black Mirror” and “Halt and Catch Fire”, the documentary “HyperNormalisation” and our individual Top 5 favourite unconventional horror movies.

SPECIAL SPECIAL THANKS to José Sinetto for providing this episode’s opening and closing tracks: “Symphony of the Night” and “Windows Shut (Trip-hop instrumental version)”

–  Matthew

BBB – LEGALLY BLACK BLOG 5th ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL

In this special episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey, we celebrate the FIFTH ANNIVERSARY of A Legally Black Blog by discussing “Bazodee” (starring Trinidad & Tobago’s own soca ambassador Machel Montano), along with a retrospect review of my favourite movie of all time – Stanley Kubrick’s dystopic masterpiece “A Clockwork Orange” and one of Ricardo’s all-time favourite movies, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s mind-bending fantasy “The Holy Mountain”.

–  Matthew

BBB E3 ’16, OJ Made In America, Reasonable Doubt, All Eyez On Me, The Conjuring 2, Finding Dory

In today’s episode of Beers, Beats & Bailey, we talk about the best of E3 2016, as well as review the epic documentary “O.J.: Made in America”, Jay-Z’s 20-year old debut album “Reasonable Doubt”, the first teaser trailer for the long-awaited 2Pac biopic “All Eyez On Me”, the horror sequel “The Conjuring 2” and the animated sequel “Finding Dory”.

–  Matthew

BBB – Some BS Movies, The Angry Birds Movie, TMNT: Out of the Shadows, Warcraft REVIEWS

Along with a few crappy comedies, “The Angry Birds Movie”, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” and “Warcraft” managed to pique our interest. We share our thoughts on these movies in this episode of Beers, Beats and Bailey.

 

– Matthew

See this movie before you die – “Harakiri” (1962)

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“This thing we call samurai honour is ultimately nothing but a facade”. So says Hanshiro Tsugumo in the mansion of the Iyi Clan one afternoon in the year 1630. And it’s this facade that forms the groundwork of Masaki Kobayashi’s “Harakiri” (1962), based on the novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi.

Similar to “Rashomon” (1950) and “Seven Samurai” (1954), two of iconic director Akira Kurosawa’s most acclaimed works (If you haven’t seen these movies, do yourself a favour and designate about six hours of your life to watching them. Hey, if you can binge-watch a full 10-episode season of “Game of Thrones”, then you can survive watching both movies back-to-back), “Harakiri” uses the historical past of the jidai-kegi, or period film, to address social and political themes that affected post-WWII Japan. Masaki Kobayashi, like other Japanese directors in the 1950s and 1960s, used film to express their dissidence with the state of postwar Japan, as well as challenge institutions that held on to archaic beliefs of the feudal past. A lifelong pacifist, Kobayashi spent the majority of his film career defying tradition and authority with the postwar drama “The Thick-Walled Room” (1956), the three-part, NINE-HOUR (for those keeping score, that’s roughly one hour short of that “Game of Thrones” binge session that I just mentioned) anti-war epic “The Human Condition” (1959 – 1961), the visually striking ghost story anthology film “Kwaidan” (1964), and the jidai-kegi drama “Samurai Rebellion” (1967), which starred the legendary actor Toshiro Mifune of “Rashomon” and “Seven Samurai” fame.

The story: One afternoon, a shabby, starved ronin (or unemployed samurai) by the name of Hanshiro Tsugumo arrives at the mansion of Lord Iyi in Edo (Tokyo). A former retainer of the Fukushima Clan, Hanshiro (like many other former samurai who, according to the code of Bushido, dedicated their hearts, souls and swords to serving their masters) was cast aside and forced to seek employment elsewhere. With no purpose in a time of peace, and little to no reason to live, he requests permission from Lord Iyi’s senior counselor, Saito Kayegu (Rentaro Mikuni), to perform harakiri in the forecourt of the mansion. Harakiri, or seppuku (the film’s Japanese title), is a ritualistic act of suicide which begins with self-disembowelment with a short blade – either a knife (tanto) or short sword (wakizashi) – and concludes with the decapitation of the samurai in one stroke (kaishaku) by a swordsman (kaishakunin) selected by the samurai himself.

Though it was common at that time for ronin to request permission to commit harakiri in the courtyards of Clan residences, Saito is somewhat suspicious of Hanshiro’s request. There have been recent cases where ronin used their harakiri requests to swindle the Clan leaders into giving them money. In an attempt to test Hanshiro’s resolve, Saito tells him a story of a young ronin named Chijiwa Motome (Akira Ishihama), another former Fukushima Clan retainer who came to the Iyi mansion a few months earlier with the same request. Already aware of the “harakiri scam”, Saito grants Chijiwa his request, provided that he performs harakiri immediately. Problem was, Motome had recently pawned the blades of his swords and had them replaced with bamboo. The Iyi Clan is angered that a samurai would do this, since a sword is considered to be a “samurai’s soul”. With no chance of escape, and no choice but to uphold his honour as a samurai, Motome slowly and PAINFULLY disembowels himself with his bamboo blade before having his head lopped off by the kaishakunin.

After completing his story, Saito sternly questions Hanshiro’s sincerity. Hanshiro assures him that he is indeed sincere in performing harakiri. But before doing so, he requests an audience with Saito and the Iyi retainers to tell a story of his own: a story that will challenge the belief system of the entire Iyi Clan and the fatalistic code of Bushido that they continue to adhere to.

In a video interview recorded for the Criterion Collection DVD of “Harakiri”, film critic Donald Richie called the film an ‘anti-samurai movie’. Unlike other jidai-kegi films, “Harakiri” is set in the early years of the Edo / Tokugawa era, specifically between the years 1619 and 1630. There are samurai in the movie, but they are not the gallant, horse-riding, armor-wearing, enemy-slashing, war cry-yelling badasses that you’d expect to find in a chambara, or samurai action movie. Instead, they are presented as complex individuals who wrestle between willingly adapting to the changing times or refusing to let go of traditional ideologies. Additionally, – and this may disappoint the action junkie or gore hound reading this – there aren’t that many fight sequences or scenes with blood that occur in this movie. Yes, there is blood (more focused on the gut-wrenching – and I mean that in EVERY sense of the term – disembowelment scene with Motome) and there is combat, but “Harakiri” is more concerned about the emotional, psychological and political aspects of its story than the visceral, action-packed elements one expects in a samurai flick.

Unlike the film’s 2011 3D remake (Yes, ladies and gents….3-D….REMAKE!!) “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” directed by Takashi Miike (who made the incredibly AWESOME chambara “13 Assassins” one year prior), “Harakiri” maintains a dark, haunting and bitter tone. The first few opening shots set this tone brilliantly. An empty suit of armour is shot from different angles inside a room enveloped in darkness and mist. Even when the back wall of the room is illuminated slightly by a back light, the armour still appears dark. This suit is the symbol of the Iyi Clan and represents their martial valour, and yet in these opening shots (and sporadically throughout the film) it’s presented as hollow, ghost-like and lifeless, a remnant of olden, obsolete rules and traditions.

This brief opening sequence is further enhanced by the hypnotic black-and-white cinematography by Yoshio Miyajima (who collaborated with Kobayashi on “The Human Condition”), and the evocative, minimalist musical score by Toru Takemitsu (who provided the music for “Kwaidan”). Miyajima’s cinematography is atmospheric and expressive in its parallels with light and dark, old and new, life and death. The courtyard, for example, where both Motome and Hanshiro sit in front of the Iyi retainers, is brightly lit, while the buildings and the interiors where the retainers sit and observe the proceedings (and hold the fate of both Motome and Hanshiro in their hands) are shrouded in shadow. Takemitsu’s score also parallels old and new, as well as slow and fast tempo, with its use of traditional Japanese musical instruments (like the biwa – played in an intense, erratic rhythm in the opening credit sequence) and orchestral violin music (played to a crescendo-building and SPINE-CHILLING degree in some of the film’s bleaker moments).

The story by Yasuhiko Takiguchi and Shinobu Hashimoto is well-constructed and exceptionally written. First-time viewers may be turned off by the slow pace (visualized by the static shots and slow, smooth camera movements utilized throughout most of the film), but believe me, the tension (and believe me, there’s LOTS of it) that slowly builds throughout “Harakiri” will keep you engaged throughout its runtime. It has a similar approach to “Rashomon”, where one story is told from different points of view, and the viewer is left to figure out which one is correct. One can argue that the courtroom-like setting of the film is similar to one memorable scene in “Rashomon” where a medium channels the spirit of a murdered samurai to tell the Court the story of how that samurai was killed. But what makes “Harakiri” so immensely powerful is the fact that you understand both the points of view of Saito and Hanshiro (even if Saito’s POV is conceited), which makes it really difficult to say that one’s point of view is more wrong than the other. Saito comes from a group that believes in the traditions of Japan’s old era and respects those who still hold on to them (i.e. the request to commit harakiri). Hanshiro wanted nothing more but to live and have a great life in this new era, even with its hardships and difficulties. The story that he tells Saito and the others – which I won’t reveal any details on – is so achingly heartbreaking that you can’t help but sympathize with the poor guy. But Saito’s rebuttal, which led to the aforementioned statement that I used to start this review, is understandable (even though you shouldn’t agree with it) when placed in the context of the reputation, pride and honour that the Iyi Clan has fought, bled and died over for generations.

And what’s a review about “Harakiri” without mentioning Tatsuya Nakadai? I haven’t the foggiest idea, since every review you’ll read about this movie will make mention of its lead actor. Nakadai, who also appeared in “The Human Condition”, “Kwaidan” and “Samurai Rebellion”, brings a MAGNIFICENT, extraordinary performance as Hanshiro Tsugumo. As one of Japan’s greatest actors, Nakadai brings a heightened sense of emotional volatility to his character. Sure, the supporting cast deliver great performances as well (especially Rentaro Mikuni as Saito), but it’s the range of emotions that Nakadai brings to the table – from fiercely intense to immensely sorrowful –  that truly makes his character stand out in every scene he’s in. And he has a great singing voice. Seriously, he does. Check out the film and you’ll see what I mean.

In the end, Masaki Kobayashi used this film to make a bold statement (one that’s still relevant to this day) about the backwardness, irrelevance and hypocrisy of the Samurai code in modern times, and how a corrupt system can use that code to keep themselves in power, whilst bringing misery and death to the powerless. While it is grim and uncompromising at times, “Harakiri” is a powerful, gripping and unforgettable masterpiece of Japanese filmmaking. Regardless of whether you like samurai films or not, if you like foreign language films or not, if you like black-and-white films or not, if you’re a cinephile or not, if you know what the word “cinephile” means or not, or if you like “Game of Thrones” (which is completely unrelated to this movie. I know!) or not, this is a DEFINITE must-see! It’s one of the best samurai movies ever made, it’s one of the best Japanese movies ever made – and yes, it’s one of the best movies I’ve ever seen in my life. But y’all knew that, ’cause why else would I say in the title to this write-up that you should “see this movie before you die”? Because you really should, that’s why!

MY RATING: 5 out of 5 stars (“See this movie before you die”)

– Matthew

 

The Matrix (March 31, 1999)

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Continuing my 2014 “anniversary” write-ups (which, in case you’re still unaware, I started on February with my Pulitzer Prize-winning “College Dropout” album review) is a review of a film (Yaaaaay! A film review! No more rap music! Woo-hoo! For NOW that is…..tee hee hee hee!) that…let’s face it…..EVERYBODY must have seen or heard about. The only logical way for anyone to be unaware of this movie is if they were literally living under a big-ass ROCK for the past 15 years (no disrespect to my peoples currently living under big-ass rocks. I hope y’all get out soon though! That’s my word! Flintstones shit! Yabba-dabba-doo, mang! All day, every day!).  Of course, I’m talking about the 1999 sci-fi action flick “THE MATRIX”. And so, I’ve decided to dedicate my 100TH POST (That’s right. My ONE HUNDREDTH POST – according to WordPress) to this seminal masterpiece! And why shouldn’t I anyway?

 

Seeing “The Matrix” 15 years later, (Ahh, funny how time flies), it looks more daring, bold and ambitious than it did in 1999. Written and directed by Lana Wachowski (then Larry Wachowski) and younger brother Andy, “The Matrix” combined their interests for Japanese animation, Hong Kong action cinema, comic books, video games, cyberpunk sci-fi stories, mythology, philosophy and religion. It came out at a time when I was heavily invested in video games (preferably fighting games), comic books, Hong Kong martial arts films and Japanese animation (which was a MAJOR sensation in Trinidad & Tobago during the late 1990s). When the first TV spots for “The Matrix” were screened, I had no idea what the movie was about. It reminded me a lot of “Dark City”  (1998) (which you should DEFINITELY check out, by the way), with its dark, eerie tone, stylish visuals and ominous dialogue (Laurence Fishburne’s “Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself” line DID sound pretty fucking ominous at the time!).

 

Intrigued as hell, I stopped by the nearest movie theater to check it out for myself. My first viewing experience of “The Matrix” was a matinee double bill, with the first film being the the WORST movie of 1999 (even worse than “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” which is saying something): Will Smith’s cinematic belly flop “Wild Wild West” (REMEMBER THAT SHIT?!!!). SIDE NOTE: R&B singer Sisqo’s chorus on the theme song for the movie – rapped by Will himself…..STILL gives me nightmares. Long story short, after I watched “The Matrix” in that darkened theater, I walked out into the bright, sunny world as a changed man….or teen or whatever I was back then. I felt as if the proverbial “wool” was lifted off my eyes, and I saw the world in a different light. Yes, I knew it was a fiction film, and the world outside the theater was real. But I was so mentally spellbound by what I saw, I began to question the reality of everything around me. Even the taxi that drove me home (rimshot). I mean, we, as human beings, may be physically free, but are we really mentally enslaved? Are we really aware of this enslavement – and do we want to be? And if we do become aware, should we stay inside that mental prison where we may feel safe and secure, or fight our way out of it? These were topics that I never thought about before, presented in a cinematic format I would’ve never imagined (Existentialism in an ACTION FILM?! Ninja please!), in a film unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

 

From its trademark opening shot of green-coloured symbols of computer code sliding down a black background like rain on a window, to its extraordinary opening sequence, “The Matrix” sets up its own distinct personality, among the many sci-fi and action films of the past, from the get-go. This sequence, which pits Carrie-Anne Moss (who plays the mysterious Trinity) against several armed policemen and dark-suited Agents (more on them later), sets up the reality-twisting, mind-bending and gravity-defying world of “The Matrix”. Trinity runs up walls, across ceilings, leaps from rooftop to rooftop and, in one iconic shot (which was later parodied in a TON of other cartoons, TV commercials and movies – “Scary Movie”, anyone?), is shown suspended in mid-air as the camera spins around the room, before delivering a fatal kick to one of the policemen. Her character, like others in the movie, are searching for a man named “Neo”, who’s believed to be a computer programmer-by-day/hacker-by-night by the name of Thomas Anderson (Keanu Reeves).

 

Neo is established in the film as a lonely individual, reliant on technology and barely awake (in one scene, the camera spins 180 degrees to show the clutter of technology – hardware, CDs, stereo etc. – surrounding his desktop table as he sleeps in front of his computer). He too is searching for someone: in this case, a figure named Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne). When Trinity finally meets Neo at a club, the question “What is the Matrix?” is asked. This question has plagued Neo all his life, though he’s not sure why, and he believes that Morpheus holds the answer. After a terrifying encounter with three Agents, one of whom labels himself as Agent Smith (played excellently by Hugo Weaving), Neo confronts Morpheus and learns the truth. The world of the late 20th century that he lives in is nothing more than a simulation created by intelligent machines created by humans in the 21st century. This simulation, called “The Matrix”, serves to keep humanity in check, as they are artificially created and used as a source of bio-electric energy. Morpheus and Trinity are part of a human resistance who’ve declared war on the machines, freeing or “unplug” humans from the simulated reality of the “Matrix” during their journey to victory. But the machines have defenders in both the “Matrix” and the post-apocalyptic landscape of the “real world”: tentacled flying machines called Sentinels in the “real world”, and human-like ‘programs’ called Agents in the Matrix.  Humanity’s only hope is the one person capable of bending the rules of the system of the Matrix in ways no one else have ever done. One person with the speed, strength and power to defeat the machines, and bring an end to the war. This person is Neo…..a.k.a. THE ONE (not to be confused with that Jet Li movie back in 2001. Man, that movie fucking SUCKED!)

 

Unbeknownst to viewers at the time of the film’s release, the story of “The Matrix” was written by the Wachowskis as a trilogy of movies. Of course, the film’s financial success and critical acclaim helped green-light the sequels “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions”, both released in 2003, six months apart from each other. In “The Matrix”, there are subtle hints at both the promise of a trilogy and the “outcome” of the final film. The hotel room in which Trinity fights the policemen has the number 303 on its door, and Neo’s apartment door has the number 101. In the film’s climatic chase sequence, Neo finds himself in the very same room Trinity was introduced in the aforementioned opening action sequence. His ‘fate’ at the hands of Agent Smith in that room is a premonition of the outcome of the battle between Neo and Agent Smith in the underwhelming finale “Matrix Revolutions”. It’s funny that the room number 303 hints at the third and final chapter of the Matrix story. However, Neo is triumphantly “resurrected” in the climax of “The Matrix” – reborn, if you will, with a greater awareness of the Matrix world. Does this suggest that Neo’s “death” in “Matrix Revolutions” hint at a later resurrection? And if so, why wasn’t this point established, at least to make a more satisfying conclusion of the Matrix trilogy? Ah well. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

 

But this is one of the things that  I truly appreciate about “The Matrix”.  There are so much visual, thematic and narrative cues taking place in the movie that become more apparent with subsequent viewings. I didn’t even notice the number usage, for example, until a few hours ago when I watched the film again before doing this review. But as a viewer, you find yourself so immersed in this story, in this world, that you forget that these cues are staring at you in the face. Like the Matrix itself. It’s there, but you don’t realize it. Consider the visuals of the film. The world of the Matrix is enveloped in a green tint, while the “real world” uses a cold colour palette of greys and blues. Even in the martial arts training simulation sequence involving Neo and Morpheus, there’s a slight, almost unnoticeable, tinge of grey present in the brown and white colour palette used in the dojo. This suggests that what you’re seeing is still a simulation, even though – visually – we’re not inside the Matrix.

 

On the subject of this sequence, “The Matrix” boasts some of the BEST martial-arts sequences ever filmed. And as a fan of martial-arts films, I can attest to that claim! Orchestrated by legendary fight choreographer Yuen Woo Ping (whose work on the Jet Li film “Fist of Legend” inspired the fight scenes in “The Matrix”), these sequences are brilliantly shot and expertly executed, each with its own narrative structure (note of the three-act structure of both the fight scene with Morpheus and Neo in the dojo, and the one with Neo and Agent Smith in the subway). Another scene which pays tribute to Hong Kong action cinema is the lobby shootout scene of the third act, where Neo and Trinity shoot their way through a squad of armed guards to rescue Morpheus. With its bullets, flying shrapnel and stylish slow-motion movement by Keanu and Carrie-Anne in this scene, this is still an INCREDIBLY BAD-ASS action sequence that still holds up to this day.

 

But the one scene that figuratively and literally BLEW the fucking minds and dropped the fucking jaws of everyone who saw “The Matrix” for the first time is the REVOLUTIONARY “bullet-time” scene following the lobby shootout. Simulating slow motion, the camera does a complete 360 degree movement from behind, around and under Keanu Reeves as he dodges the bullets of an enemy Agent on a rooftop. The FLAWLESS execution of that scene alone elevated the film to a higher echelon, a level that not even the brawl between Neo and a horde of cloned Agent Smiths in “The Matrix Reloaded” or the earth-shattering, “Dragonball Z”-inspired climatic fight scene between Neo and Agent Smith in “The Matrix Revolutions” could match.

 

But I’ve only described action. What about the story? The script by the Wachowskis is surprisingly and superbly well-written, with careful attention to the sometimes philosophical, sometimes profound dialogue. The performances are great, especially from Laurence Fishburne (who OWNS his fucking role) as the fatherly, intelligent Morpheus, the late Gloria Foster who plays the elderly prophet “The Oracle”, and Hugo Weaving as the menacing Agent Smith.  The cinematography by Bill Pope is fantastic, the editing, sound design, sound mixing and visual effects (all of which earned the film Academy Awards) are fucking SOLID, and the musical score by Don Davis is nothing short of unforgettable.

 

As you have gathered, there is so much to talk about and appreciate in “The Matrix”. As a science-fiction movie, it delivers an insightful look at virtual reality and the perception of “real” versus “fake”, as well as man’s eventual downfall at the hands of its own creation: machines. As an action movie, it gives us an unlikely hero in the form of Keanu Reeves, who elevated himself from surfing with the late Patrick Swayze in “Point Break” to assisting a scared-as-shit Sandra Bullock in driving a bomb-strapped bus in “Speed” to action hero IMMORTALITY as the gun-toting, ass-kicking, slo-mo bullet-ducking Neo! Anyone can relate to this film, in some shape or form, regardless of age (unless you’re under 8 years old or something), sex, religious or political belief, social status or educational background. Its universal themes of freedom, truth-seeking, courage and the will to believe in oneself and/or in something greater, still resonate to this day. One of the greatest sci-fi films of all time, one of the best movies of the 1990s, and one of my all-time favourite movies, “The Matrix” is an absolute must-see. Now get out of that big-ass rock of yours and free your mind already. And remember. Neo’s watching you!

 

MY RATING: 5 out of 5 stars: “See this movie before you die”

 

– Matthew