Friday, July 31, 2015

Terminator: Genisys, Mr. Holmes, and Tangerine

                    Old Friends and New Considerations
                                            Reviews by Ken Burke
 It’s now been 4 weeks since I last posted some reviews here (although we’re still in July; a lot of Thursdays this month) because my marvelous wife, Nina Kindblad, and I were on a vacation cruise up the Inner Passage of Alaska during some of that time (with stops in Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria [British Columbia, Canada], as well as great scenery of mountains and glaciers along the way), followed by a couple of wine-tasting getaways in our northern CA’s fabulous Sonoma County after we returned (including Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds was shot prior to the film’s 1963 release).  So, after that extended break it’s back to “work” with my usual rambling comments for Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark, based on one that I saw just before we left and a couple more seen since we’ve been back.  Very apropos to Two Guys in the Dark, though, part of
that trip included a visit to my (non-, so far) writing partner, Pat Craig, and his wife, Kelly Gust, in their new home on Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound north of Seattle.  One of Pat’s activities there is a weekly radio program you can find at, “The Green Room,” heard live most Thursdays from 6-7pm Pacific Time where Pat draws on his extensive theatre background to play and talk about show tunes.  For July 9, though, he invited me to join him in talking about Broadway musicals made into movies, which was great fun for me, because: (A) I hadn’t done any radio work since I was a film critic at KTXQ-FM in Dallas, 1979-1980, and (B) the 1-hour-time-limit properly suited my limited knowledge of and interest in musicals (although I do like some of them, including the Best Picture Oscar-winner Chicago [Rob Marshall, 2002] which Pat and I discussed some and then, coincidentally, Nina and I watched one night in our stateroom on a TV channel of the cruise when there was nothing else but ocean to view—except, of course, for several bars around the ship, a few of which had some fabulous singers who added another level of pleasure to our voyage).  This may well be my last mention of Pat for awhile, but I do hold out hope that someday we’ll get some reviews from him.  In the meantime, I’ve noted his radio location in the Movie Sites You Might Like info in the column to the right of this text so I encourage you to give him a listen on Thursday evenings, adjusted to your local time zone.

 During my hiatus, I missed a lot of what’s been running through my local movie houses, a situation that’s not all bad when I look over what’s been pulling in the ticket dollars lately, although It’s sad to me that truly impactful films such as Love & Mercy (Bill Pohlad, review in our June 10, 2015 posting) and Ex Machina (Alex Garland, review in our April 30, 2015 posting) have respectively taken in only $12 million after 8 weeks in release and $25 million after 16 weeks, while the re-release of certified classics The Apu Trilogy (Satyajit Ray, 1955, 1956, 1959; review in our June 10, 2015 posting) and The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949; review in our July 2, 2015 posting) have respectively garnered a mere $375,000 in 12 weeks on the circuit and $292,000 after 5 weeks while something as thin and silly as Minions (Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin)—which my travels give me a good excuse for not seeing—has racked up $262.5 million after 3 weeks but at least seems to be falling fast as it plays out its welcome.  But, as for what I do have to report on for your edification, let’s move into the reviews proper, beginning with my usual boilerplate warning about not ruining your viewing experience by tripping over my constant revelations about plot details.

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                Terminator: Genisys (Alan Taylor)
The once-familiar tale of Sarah and John Connor attempting to save us from domination by sentient machines takes a twist here when the previous timeline is altered, requiring new strategies against these mechanical killers, although Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reprogrammed Terminator robot is once again on the side of our heroes as chaos looms with Skynet.
What Happens: This is likely a case where plot spoilers no longer matter much after the movie’s been in release for a month, although its relatively-low-returns of “just” $85.6 million do indicate that it’s not been seen as much as was hoped by the producers, which may not bode well for the anticipated sequels that need to once again verify that humans can bring the evil machines of Skynet back under our control.  As for the current movie, however, it clearly gives us familiar characters and situations, until we realize that everything we’ve previously assumed from the preceding 4 stories is now changed, as Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) quickly finds out when he time travels from 2029 Los Angeles to 1984 in order to protect resistance-leader-John Connor’s (Jason Clarke) future mother, Sarah (Emilia Clarke), from assassination by a T-800 killer who looks like a young Arnold Schwarzenegger (thanks to the magic of computer-based-re-creation); from there, though, it’s all different.  As Kyle’s being teleported he sees John being attacked, even as the human resistance was celebrating their defeat of the Skynet machines’ headquarters in Colorado; he also sees some supposed memories that he’s yet to experience.  In 1984 the killer T-800 is destroyed by another T-800 who looks considerably older (Schwarzenegger again; the real one this time) but is clearly Sarah’s protector (similar to aspects of Terminator 2: Judgment Day [James Cameron, 1991], as are some other aspects of this new episode); when Kyle arrives he learns that the first machine assault on Sarah came in 1973 when she was 9 but she was protected by this Guardian T-800 (sender still unknown) whose outer covering ages as with normal human skin even as his inner functions remain intact (“Old but not obsolete”). Together they manage to conquer a shape-shifting T-1000 sent to kill Kyle and Sarah, then we learn that “Pops” and Sarah have built their own time-machine, intending to travel to 1997 to stop Skynet before it becomes self-aware, confounding its anti-ballistic-missile-intentions by raining nuclear destruction all over Earth; however, Kyle convinces them (based on his visions) that this new timeline has changed everything all of them thought they knew so that they must go to 2017 instead (the new order also erases the later Judgment Day of 2004 as seen in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines [Jonathan Mostow, 2003] and Terminator Salvation [McG, 2004]).

 Only the humans can go, though, because Pops’ metal right arm has become exposed, which would rip him apart completely in time-travel so he agrees to simply meet them when they arrive in San Francisco (how time-travel can now also offer some spatial dislocation 400 miles north of LA isn’t explained so that I was able to catch any mention of it).  However, the rendezvous fails when he gets stuck in traffic as they emerge (naked) on a freeway, then are taken into custody.  At about the same time soon after they’re confounded by the appearance of John at the age that Kyle knew him in 2029 and by Pops who attempts to kill him, only to have John reconstruct as do the T-1000s.  Actually, he’s an advanced model, converted into a human-machine-amalgamation by the humanoid-manifestation of Skynet, a T-5000 (Matt Smith).  From that point there are lots of battles, including some more damage to the poor Golden Gate bridge, still trying to recover from the beatings it’s taken from both the prehistoric monsters in Godzilla (Gareth Edwards, 2014; review in our May 15, 2014 posting) and those intelligence-enhanced-apes noted in comments further below, culminating in our 3 heroes attempting to blow up the headquarters of the soon-to-go-online-master-internet-system, Genisys, which is actually Skynet in disguise (another revelation that Sarah has to take on faith from Kyle’s so-far-unexplained-visions; another aspect of these stories that’s not very clear is how, in the opening 2029 scenes, that John looks to be in his early 30s, yet in what seems to have been our previous Terminator timeline, he was born in 1985 as a result of Kyle and Sarah’s lovemaking prior to Kyle’s sudden death in the first installment, yet in this new version they’ve yet to couple up even by 2017 so I’m not clear how John’s even in existence at this point).  Intended destruction happens, just in the nick of time, even as Pops and John battle it out in yet another time-machine-device which destroys John but part of the T-800 is thrown free into a pool of T-1000 prototype liquid, allowing him to reconstitute in an upgraded, shape-shifting manner.  

 Just as Terminator 3 … showed that the rise of Skynet was inevitable, though, so do we conclude … Genisys with the revelation that that the Skynet-core-humanoid has survived, surely setting us up for another ultimate showdown with the machines in the intended sequels of this reconstituted series, with insights from Kyle that “the future is not set,” even as he meets his younger self to deliver the memories that he didn’t recall from his original life before (after?) the timeline alteration.

So What? Rebooting bloated-big-budget-movie-franchises seems to be the new strategy these days (although it’s a trick well-developed decades ago by the folks at DC Comics who frequently found themselves with too many superheroes, too many convoluted storylines, and the troubling reality that their characters never seemed to age despite their adventures going on for years, so they’d just construct some complex narrative that would wipe out the previous existence of the universe [or Multiverse when they had parallel universes in separate dimensions] so they could start all over again without being hampered by past plot points, while their chief protagonists could legitimately go through new versions of origin stories, ending up again in desirable ages of roughly their early-30s—I have vague understandings of such tactics with DC since their “Crisis on Infinite Earths” saga in 1985-1986 but have little knowledge about Marvel’s using the same device in their comics, although, from what I read in other sources, they do now offer their own alternative-universe-scenario to allow for a Black-Hispanic [possibly gay as well] Spider-Man and a female Thor, but I don’t expect to see those comic-book-incarnations on the big screen anytime soon), with both the Star Trek (review of … into Darkness [J.J. Abrams, 2013] in our May 24, 2013 posting) and X-Men (review of … Days of Future Past [Bryan Singer, 2014] in our June 6, 2014 posting) franchises using the old Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis; 1985, 1989, 1990) time-travel-device of altering the time-space-continuum in order to wipe out events (if convenient to do so) we’ve already witnessed in order for the filmmakers to recreate the storylines of their established characters (unlike the recent Man of Steel's [Zack Snyder, 2013; review in our June 19, 2013 posting] complete retelling of the Superman story with no connection of this new offering to the previous ones, but at least the DC-Warner Bros. guys always have that 2.0 [etc.] universe strategy to fall back on, even if we don’t get to see the events that’ve brought about a completely revised timeline for the son of Krypton).

 With that storytelling strategy already in place in viewers’ minds the production team behind … Genisys uses this same approach to change everything we know about this series from 1973 when Sarah Connor was a young girl (why those changes hadn’t rippled into the future of 2029 when John sent Kyle back to protect her in 1984 isn’t clear here, but maybe that’s intended to be better explained in what surely is hoped to be further sequels to this new version of Terminator plots, that is if the comparatively weak response to this first one [with the current box-office barely covering half of the $155 million budget and the critics’ scores—27% at Rotten Tomatoes, 38% at Metacritic] doesn’t doom the continuance, as did the mixed results for the attempted retelling of the future-based-narratives of the Tim Burton-directed-version of Planet of the Apes [2001], which instead have produced the much-better-received present-day-aspects of that franchise, chronicling the Rise … [Rupert Wyatt, 2011] and Dawn of the … Apes [Matt Reeves, 2014; review in our July 18, 2014 posting]).  Whether audiences are ready to go down a completely different path of Terminator stories now that John’s out as a hero, the Skynet takeover’s been thwarted once again (but surely not for good, with that T-5000 still lurking in the shadows), and Sarah and Kyle apparently having a future together will just have to wait to be seen, after extensive marketing research is done to determine if this new direction (seemingly with “Pops” Schwarzenegger also along for the continued ride) is still a sellable commodity (Art?  What’s art got to do with it?).  Stay tuned … or not.

Bottom Line Final Comments: The time-travel by the 2 Terminators into Sarah’s young life in 1973 which thereby resets all of the future events for these characters and the human race’s encounter with intelligent (therefore, hostile) machines (who seek to eliminate us in response to our maddeningly-irrational, emotionally-driven inconsistencies, because they haven’t learned yet—as did Mr. Spock—that this quality is what makes us so wondrous [maybe]) is a clever tactic for the Terminator series, allowing retellings of our human-run-planet before the grim desolation caused by Skynet (with the action of Terminator 4 occurring only in this bleak-futurescape, leading to a grim environment of Connor, Reese, and company doing constant battle against the machines, with the only intriguing aspect being the first appearance of the CGI-created young Schwarzenegger as the T-800 model was just being perfected [in this current movie we get a great battle scene between the old and young versions of Arnold with experienced-cunning finally winning out over youthful brute—and muscularly-nude—strength]), the timeline-alternation explaining why characters we knew previously don’t look quite the same now (much easier and cheaper than having to create a full-length-plot-version of young Linda Hamilton as Sarah or paying Christian Bale enough to reprise his adult John Conner-in-the-21st-century-role) except for Pops who’s also given an easy explanation of why his outer appearance has continued to age since 1973 (just as actor Arnold has as well).

 But going to all of that trouble just to set up this series so that it could be milked for another set of paydays is not only a cynical move more characteristic of greedy humans than logic-focused-machines—who’d likely want to keep finding original stories rather than recycling past ones—but also a bit tedious for audiences essentially watching a rehash of the previous 4 movies with just 1 major twist, the corruption of John Connor, thrown into the mix.  I do still appreciate the underlying theme of these stories (that is, after the original The Terminator [Cameron, 1984] which was simply Sarah’s survival against a seemingly-unstoppable-assassin) about the determined human will to prevent or at least rise above atrocious calamity, as well as the idea that not all intelligent machines are automatically our enemies but that they can be programmed/conditioned to work cooperatively with us, to provide noble models of action that often elude us when our fears, desires, and confusions push us into a form of inhumanity that’s not so removed from the terrors of Skynet.  Yet, as with my tepid response toward the newest episode of Mad Max (…Fury Road [George Miller; review in our May 20, 2015 posting]), where a well-established-concept is run into the ground with endless chase scenes, ultimately this new Terminator is far too reminiscent of its predecessors, relies too much for appreciation on careful knowledge of the previous installments, and just recycles—in gloriously-articulated-visuals—the past even as it tries to open the plot possibilities of the anticipated sequels.

 Maybe after putting up with Mr. Schwarzenegger as CA governor from 2003-2011 (plus the endless reporting of his marital scandal) I’m just not that interested in his T-800, the Connors, or Kyle Reese “be[ing] back” anytime soon, so if we never find out what that Skynet manifestation in the basement rubble is planning for the next attack I think I’ll live quite nicely without it, even as various scientists/ tech experts are currently warning mankind to not start producing actual-battle-bots, given the nonfictional danger that such a computer-driven-robotic-development would cause in our already-fragile-planetary-state.  However, if their warnings aren’t heeded, maybe I will need more Terminator movies to keep me distracted until the inevitable demise of our species.  Until then, I’ll offer you my Musical Metaphor for Terminator: Genisys, “The Time Warp” (written by Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, and Charles Gray) at QXZY (with photos from The Rocky Horror Picture Show [Jim Sharman, 1975], as this song is a major entity on that film’s soundtrack album [or, if you prefer, the original The Rocky Horror Show play soundtrack from London 1973 or its many later-cast-releases]) because “time [may be] fleeting” before “madness takes its toll,” so let’s just hope we can change everything that threatens us as we “do the Time Warp again.”  (If you want to really explore the narrative timeline shifts in the current Terminator movie compared to the previous ones, you can consult this site, frantic as it is.)
                                          Mr. Holmes (Bill Condon)
We find famed detective Sherlock Holmes in the English countryside raising bees and trying to distance himself from his former career but aspects of his final case continue to haunt him as his housekeeper and her son try to understand what’s troubling the old man so—his memories or his increasing lack of clarity; excellent acting in a finely-drawn character study.
What Happens: 
In this very different take on the well-respected-character of Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellen)—based on a 2005 novel by Mitch Cullin, A Slight Trick of the Mind—we find our master detective in 1947, semi-content in self-imposed-isolation near the fabled White Cliffs of Dover, living the life of an irascible country gentleman, raising bees while sharing his often-cranky-demeanor with his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro (Laura Linney), and her young son, Roger (Milo Parker).  As we get to know this 93-year-old-version of Holmes better, we find that he left his detective practice 30 years ago because of an unsolved case (within the Holmes fictions of actual-author-Arthur Conan Doyle the mysteries are usually presented as if written by Holmes’ friend and investigative partner, Dr. Watson; in this film the troublesome case is called Sherlock Holmes and the Lady in Grey, which irritates Sherlock because Watson presents it—and the movie, that we see briefly within this film, adapted from it [with Nicholas Rowe as Sherlock]—as solved whereas our protagonist insists it wasn’t, thereby leading him to abandon his practice), but in truth as his age increases and his memory often fails he struggles for most of this story to remember exactly what did happen, although he’s still quite clear that he’s annoyed with Watson’s usual romantic embellishments—including the “characteristic” deerstalker hat and pipe—so that he’d like to write this story himself as he painstakingly recalls fragments of its specifics from that long-ago-barely-post-WW I-era.  As details begin to return to him (even though his memory’s not really helped by the jelly made from the Japanese prickly ash plant, the result of a journey he made to nuclear-devastated-Hiroshima just before this story’s current events pick up) he recalls that he was hired by Thomas Kelmot (Patrick Kennedy) to stalk his wife, Ann (Hattie Morhan), in order to determine why her disposition had changed so much after her 2 miscarriages (a situation whose cause would likely have been a lot more obvious from the beginning if a woman were doing the investigating).

 Based on what Holmes observes, Ann seems to be planning to poison her husband but it’s all been a ruse (detected by Holmes) to throw him off from her real purpose, to hire a stonemason to carve headstones for the “children’s” remains, a decision that her husband already rejected.  As she explains her grief to Sherlock she understands that he’s also lonely, offering to provide companionship for him but he tells her to return to her husband, whereupon she commits suicide, leaving Sherlock despondent that in being too professional and literal with her she abandoned all hope, bringing him to the decision to shut himself away from society so as to not make such a mistake again (Thomas atones as well, finally placing the small gravestones alongside his wife’s larger one).  Out in the countryside Sherlock begins to mentor Roger on beekeeping but becomes increasingly ill, requiring more care than Mrs. Munro feels she’s been hired to provide so she seeks other employment, even as this frustrates her son who yearns for better than a working-class-life until Mum tells him how his father’s aspirations to better himself in WW II led to his death.  Tensions between mother and son, employer and employee are resolved when Roger faces death from insect stings until Holmes deduces that Roger is allergic to wasps, not bees, and was stung repeatedly when he located and tried to destroy a wasp colony responsible for the ongoing deaths of Holmes’ bees; Sherlock then decides to will his property to Mrs. Munro so that she and her son will have a proper home without having to take on new menial work.  Holmes also learns to show compassion for Tamiki Umezaki (Hiroyuki Sanada), who complained to Holmes during his trip to Japan that his father went off to England years ago, became enthralled with Holmes, and never came home, even as Sherlock denied ever meeting the man.  Later, he makes up a story for Umezaki that he now remembers his father, who worked secretly but honorably for the British Empire, allowing his long-distance-Asian-acquaintance a measure of closure that he was never able to feel himself about Ann.

So What? Sherlock Holmes has been a tremendously popular character in literature and movies for a long time, beginning with Doyle’s 4 novels and 56 short stories about the great sleuth published from 1887 to 1927, followed by numerous filmic appearances including 14 by Basil Rathbone from 1939-1946.  In more recent times he’s become a contemporary character on TV, with Benedict Cumberbatch playing him in the BBC series, Sherlock, beginning in 2010 and Jonny Lee Miler in Elementary on CBS from 2012 (set in NYC, with Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson), but some of his relatively-recent-screen-appearances have been even more dramatic with Nicol Williamson’s version of the character more focused on his cocaine addiction in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Herbert Ross, 1976) with help sought from Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin), while Robert Downey Jr. presents a more-action-hero-orientation toward the character in Sherlock Holmes (Guy Ritchie, 2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Ritchie, 2011; see my generally-unenthusiastic-review in our December 27, 2011 posting, one of the earliest entries for our blog).  Here, however, we find him not as a mastermind of deduction, nor as a marvelous combination of knowledge and skills, nor even a rough commander of the martial arts (although he still can size up a situation with a brilliant display of observed detail leading to correct connotations when his mind is clear enough to do so), but instead as a very elderly man physically impaired by his age, mentally struggling to even remember why the case of Ann Kelmot is still so troubling to him, yet ultimately willing to open his mind and heart both to Mrs. Munro and her son, along with Mr. Umezaki, people he’d previously been quick to dismiss for their various “shortcomings” (as he saw them) because they either weren’t working at the level of his normal mental standards or were distracting to him as he struggled to focus on his set routines along with his desire to write a more accurate, honest version of The Lady in Grey, at least until he remembered all about Ann that he may have consciously tried to bury in his mind’s deep recesses for years until she was more of an enigma than a rebuke to him (as he consciously lost himself in his country life, long abandoned by his friend Watson in a friendly manner as the good doctor took a wife, remaining in London).

  McKellen’s excellent in this role, working well again with Condon just as in the beautifully-touching Gods and Monsters (1998; Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay to Condon) where Sir Ian portrayed actual Hollywood director James Whale (Frankenstein [1931], The Bride of Frankenstein [1935]) in this biography of an openly gay man at a time when such an admission inevitably led to social ostracization and personal depression, no matter how brave the man may have tried to be.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Unlike most Sherlock Holmes stories, this one’s mystery is more about what actually happened to Ann Kelmot and why her faded remembrance is such a disturbing situation for our beloved detective, battling his onset of dementia.  All is gradually revealed as Holmes finally remembers why her life and death had such an impact on him (with none of the romantic implications that we’re initially led to assume about them based on the only mementos that he has of her, a wrinkled photo and a single glove), but this isn’t a story focused on revelations and resolutions, rather it’s about how we come to understand the hidden complexity of this reclusive genius, how he’s come to castigate himself for years for not being more aware of the spirit of human relationships rather than the rigid details of an encounter, finally how he learns to open himself up to those who need his support even when he must alter his sacred devoted to factual truth in order to help bring about emotional resolutions for those connected to him rather than literal understandings of events and their impact.  In total, though, Mr. Holmes tries a little too hard to keep us intrigued with a seeming-grand-mystery about Ann that becomes easily explained as we go along, then has to find a situation of late-plot-drama by having Roger attacked by the wasps (even as there’s an easy solution to the situation regarding Sherlock's bees because the boy was stung earlier by one with no repercussions, as we’re quickly reminded with a flashback shot as Holmes hobbles to prevent Mrs. Munro from burning his bees in unjust retribution).

 Mr. Holmes is a fine character study that could easily be about anyone reaching their final years with regrets over former actions, then finding some sense of absolution with an eye towards whatever remains of the future rather than being held captive by the past; however, with Sherlock Holmes as the film's protagonist there’s a built-in-expectation of a murkier story, a need to find clarity and justice to right devious deeds or troubling mysteries, thus his foggy memories of Ann take on a sense of importance that becomes resolved too easily when all of the missing aspects of her situation quickly fall into place.  This is a touching, well-acted, intriguing film, but for me not quite as compelling as it would like for me to embrace.  But, as for a Musical Metaphor, how about Neil Young’s “Old Man” (from his 1972 Harvest album) at 1_Do_fc, with this performance recorded in early 1971 at the BBC Television Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush, London, which we can contemplate lyrically as we observe Mr. Holmes’ aging man, a legend in his own time now largely reduced to fear of his forgetfulness, fear of his failing body, fear that all of his fame will never be enough to wash away the personal misery of his response to Ann Kelmot (even if he didn’t want her to leave her husband in order to be with him in mutual melancholy, he felt he was too objective and clinical in how he turned away her offers) as he contemplates “Love lost, such a cost, Give me things that don’t get lost, Like a coin that won’t get tossed, Rolling home to you.”  Mr. Holmes ends most optimistically, but the titular protagonist knows that he’s “been first and last” as he “Look[s] at how the time goes past,” knowing that soon enough he’ll “be alone at last, Rolling home” to a state beyond bees and books, written by Dr. Watson or otherwise.
                                  Tangerine (Sean Baker)
On a sunny Christmas Eve in LA Sin-Dee, a trans-woman prostitute, is on the hunt, along with her friend/fellow-sex-worker Alexandra, for Dinah who’s been cheating with Sin-Dee’s pimp boyfriend, Chester (we also see the exploits of horny cab driver Razmik);  after a lot of travel around the neighborhood, all of the principals come together for a big confrontation.
What Happens: There’s not really a lot of plot in Tangerine, although you could say that it follows the structure (loosely) of ancient quest myths.  The quest in this case is the furious search by boiled-over Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriquez), helped—or at least trailed—along by her friend and likewise transgender 
female sex worker, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), to find the woman (biological and accepting of it in her case; in the context of the world of this film, cisgender seems to be the appropriate term for her, but I'm a bit out of my depth here so please bear with me), whose name starts with D (we eventually find out that it’s Dinah [Mickey O’Hagan]) who’s been cheating with Sin-Dee’s pimp/boyfriend, Chester (James Ransone), while our angry protagonist’s been in jail for the last 28 days—oh, by the way, did I mention that this all takes place on Christmas Eve in sunny LA, where the snowless-environment perfectly matches the mood of no peace on Earth, no good will toward women (or men, in Chester’s case) who poach Sin-Dee’s territory?  Sin-Dee storms through the streets, berating everyone she talks to in an attempt to clarify the identity of eventually-identified-Dinah so that she can make clear to this intruder what a mistake she’s made by banging Chester (ironically, this is all played for great comic effect, but if the topic doesn’t antagonize you [not that there’s anything wrong with it], the language may melt your ears a little bit [unless you’re used to hanging around high-school-jocks or any other cluster of teenagers, where “Um,” “Like,” and “You know” are often the only bits of modern English that alternate with the remnants of Anglo-Saxon]).  In addition to Sin-Dee’s hunt for the elusive Dinah, Alexandra has her own quest, that of rounding up patrons for her singing performance that night at a local bar; then there’s Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian), with an obsessive fondness for these trans-prostitutes, so much so that when he accidently calls a biological woman into his cab for a quick blowjob (with him as the active partner) he’s horrified to find that this woman merely has a vagina so he throws her out of the cab in disgust, then goes home to dinner with his wife, baby, mother-in-law Ashken (Alla Tumanian), and a few other assorted relatives (I guess, not quite sure who the rest of that crowd was, although they could be friends over for a holiday meal) before  storming back out again, for more income as far as the family’s concerned, more sex for his actual intentions.

 By the time the night's in full swing Sin-Dee’s finally found Dinah then man- (woman? It gets a bit confusing at times) handles her onto a bus to go confront Chester, although they stop off first to attend Alexandra’s performance, the only recruits who actually show up (even sadder, she has to pay to perform; the bar’s rather nice, though, with a couple of open-air-“walls” onto the street).  Later, at Chester’s “office” in a local donut shop we have Sin-Dee confronting him and Dinah, Alexandra finally getting fed up with the whole scene, Razmik wandering in looking for a nightcap (so to speak) as he’s been a regular customer of both Sin-Dee and Alexandra (there’s a great scene of him with the latter woman going at it while his cab goes through a carwash), and then Ashken barging in after being tipped off of Razmik’s whereabouts by another Armenian cabbie, leading to her calling in her daughter, Yeva (Luiza Nersisyan), who comes with the baby to the storm at Donut Time but isn’t upset with her husband because at least he’s bringing home some money (what he doesn’t spend on the hookers), which they desperately need to live on.  After a lot more profane yelling, Sin-Dee storms off but she’s followed by Alexandra, who comes to her aid after a carful of rowdy homophobes drive by, splashing a cupful of something on Sin-Dee (urine probably, based on her disgusted reaction and Alexandra’s insistence that they go immediately to a Laundromat to wash her clothes and wig), with our story (although it has more of the feel of spontaneous-documentary-coverage) reaching its end while the washer goes through its cycle as Alexandra offers sympathy and the loan of her own wig to Sin-Dee in solidarity for the stressful night they’ve both endured.

So What? The continous sense of immediacy in the extremely-low-budget Tangerine comes from the relatively long takes shot on location in the less-desirable-streets of LA where we witness the strong, (ironically) unmannered performances of men (as some would understand them or maybe as they might understand themselves at times) performing (or transforming) as women, but the shooting process is further enhanced by filming (well, digital videoing actually, but the term continues even as the medium evolves) the entire narrative with an Apple iPhone 5S (with an anamorphic lens), which produced remarkably sharp images even when blown up to theater-screen-size.  This production process—avoiding camera rental, expensive post-production editing processes, negotiated agreements to use public spaces and businesses for shooting (however, the film crew and actors had to halt whenever actual transactions were going on in the various locations), and segregation of the actual dwellers of the environment where Tangerine was shot—contributes to the constant sense of intense spontaneity that drives this narrative forward from quick start to melancholy finish (although the framing forced by the phone format sometimes leads to rather clunky editing of one image to the next, especially with the opening Ping-Pong-shots of Sin-Dee and Alexandra talking as we cut clumsily from one to the other depending on whose dialogue is dominant, along with an occasionally-oversaturated-color-scheme, but, in truth, that all just adds to the vibrant immediacy of the visuals).  The actors handle their roles in a marvelous fashion as well, especially the constantly-explosive Rodriquez and the constantly-frustrated Taylor (Karagulian, whose character is frustrated in another manner, is equally effective as the story keeps actively cutting between the women’s quests and his various oddball passengers, solicitations, and clandestine life).  This film is truly as fresh as a ripe tangerine, a succulent (so to speak) experience unlike most anything you’re likely to see in competing venues (although I’ll venture to say that its harsh storyline, abusive language, and unconventional lead characters won’t likely lead to it playing extensively anyway, so “competing” hardly comes into play here).

 For an old, straight, White guy like me (Sin-Dee and Alexandra are Black, which is a reality in the community being explored here but certainly doesn't seem to be a defining factor in their primary identities) it’s hard to know whether to understand the primary protagonists as gay men in drag or transgender women with the outer appearance of females but still the underlying anatomy of males, yet the more I’m finally being exposed to the complexity of these lives that I rarely encounter in my usual circles, the more I begin to understand a little bit of how other people live that I rarely have much insight about, especially those who’re living in social strata far removed from the glamorous, well-heeled (referring to both money and shoes) lifestyle of someone famous and socially-defended in her self-understanding, such as Caitlin Jenner.  Sin-Dee and Alexandra (played by actual transgender actors) may live in the same general geographical area as the former-Olympic-Decathlon-champion/now-reality-show-star, but in their daily circumstances they’re practically on separate planets, a needed media-revealed-distinction to help those of us who’d rarely interact with a woman like Sin-Dee to understand better how her life operates without the glitter that Caitlin now enjoys (although I do realize that her gender transformation was no picnic either, nor is it likely to be without its own type of ongoing difficulties because of the rigid societies that still populate far too much of our planet).  If you’d like to explore this topic in more detail, I recommend this article.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Even with its brief 87 min. running time, Tangerine  may be a very difficult sell (including later on video, if not available in a theater anywhere near you) to many segments of the American (and international) audience nor is it easy to understand from reading descriptions about it how it can be said to function mostly as a comedy.  However, if you focus just on the aspects of infidelity and the tangled webs it weaves without yet realizing that the 2 main women you’ve been watching throughout the film are still biologically (if not self-conceptually) men (just as some of us were able to get through a lot of The Crying Game [Neil Jordan, 1992] many years ago before realizing the real challenge for Fergus [Stephen Rea] wasn’t just an Irish-British-clash between him and Dil [Jaye Davidson]), then I think you’ll find there are some hilarious confrontations here, fueled mainly by the provocative hurricane force that is embodied in Sin-Dee.  With that in mind, I encourage you to give Tangerine a try (or a taste, well aware of the risqué connotations that term carries in this context) if you can find it (only 33 theaters nationwide so far, despite being in release for 3 weeks, taking in only $300,000 at this point so it may not be long in residence wherever it’s playing); however, if you need to condition yourself a bit more before attempting to track it down, I’ll offer the encouragement of my last Musical Metaphor, Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” (from the 1972 Transformer album) at com/watch?v=RsVLIiI8Vfo, a video that features some of Andy Warhol’s transvestite superstars, although they’re still a couple of steps removed from the intensity that effectively saturates Tangerine (even though I still have no idea what the title refers to, naïve as I may be about it).
Short Takes
 Rather than include any reviews in this section of this posting I’ll just offer some odds and ends that have accumulated during my recent break from Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark.  I’ll start by noting that Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow; not-so-enthusiastic-3½-star-review in our June 17, 2015 posting) has now become the #3 All-Time-Worldwide-Top-Grossing-Movie with a current take of about $1.54 billion ($624.1 million of that coming from the U.S.-Canadian domestic-box-office returns, the rest from international sales), trailing only James Cameron’s Avatar (2009; about $2.8 billion) and Titanic (1997; about $2.2 billion—all income estimates above based on latest Box Office Mojo figures rather than the cited Variety article, given that money is still rolling in for Jurassic …), with some of that resulting from an overall-audience-satisfaction level that far exceeds mine and most other critics (71% positive responses from the Rotten Tomatoes reviewers, Metacrtics at 59%), plus the reality that movie ticket prices have now hit an all-time-high with an average of $8.61 (although in my San Francisco Bay-area-market I can usually beat that with either my senior status or by attending an afternoon matinee, but full-adult-evening-prices easily are at or over the $10 level), helped along by the increasing-popularity of viewing in 3-D and/or IMAX formats, so it should come as no surprise that the (first?) Jurassic World sequel (again with Chris Pratt, Dallas Bryce Howard, and another collection of rejuvenated-dinosaurs—reality’s getting a little closer to what we see in these movies as scientists have recently discovered in fossils what may be “thunder lizard” red blood cells and collagen fibers but still no DNA that could lead to Jurassic World-style-“resurrection”-cloning) will come roaring back in June 2018, so obviously my disinterest in simply using more sophisticated CGI technology to retell an already-established-story isn’t having much impact with the actual ticket-buying-public.

Twister (Jan de Bont, 1996)
 Also, getting back to my opening paragraph about new releases that I’ve now got a good excuse to skip because I’ve been out of the flow for so long, I’ll include Pixels which is absolutely excoriated in this scathing review from some guy named Movie Bob (but be forewarned—or delighted, depending on your tastes—about his use of fully-X-rated-language), although his fierce dismissal might just encourage you to see it so I'll leave that to you (if so, let me know what you think about it—or Minions for that matter).  Finally, I’ll note that I recently received an email from a guy at, which he described as “a resource for people to prepare for emergency situations across the U.S., whether they are zoned for tornado’s [sic], hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, or wildfires” (seriously, this does seem to be a very useful source of help regarding these calamities) with a request to add their site to ours because we have “similar links and information,” so in case you’re ever wondered just how much of a disaster Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark is, now we know that we’ve entered the upper echelon.  (On a more serious note related to that, I’ve recently found several comments on our various posts that are nothing more than attempts to offer links to everything from free [legal?] downloads of current films to religious tracts, real estate sales, and marijuana sites [another indication of how our “product” must be popping up in various search-engines], so I’ve had to set up a comment filter that allows me to accept or delete them before they go public; sorry for any time-delay this may cause for legitimate responses—or outright rejection for unrelated spam—but Pat and I never intended for this site to become a dumping-ground for irrelevant solicitations with no real connections to film reviews.)

  OK, now that I’m feeling back into it again I’ll be seeing you soon with more responses to whatever I encounter at the theaters (although I’m also glad to pass along passing notes on films I see in other formats such as the marvelous-but-heart-wrenching-documentary, Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me [James Keach, 2014], seen recently on CNN, and Spike Lee’s even-better-as-time-goes-on-sobering-take on post-9/11-NYC in 25th Hour [2002] on disc from Netflix).  And—one last thing—when I checked our most recent readership statistics I was surprised to find that for the first time the largest group (58%) of Two Guys in the Dark fans is in Russia (must be because Putin admires me so much), followed by the usual #1 of U.S. readers (but only 30% in this most-recent-tally), France (5%), then Australia, Canada, India, Ukraine, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, and Germany at about 1% each.  In general, though, the ongoing dearth of comments (except from the few ever-faithful) still leaves me mostly clueless as to what any of you think of our “disastrous” project, but it’s still marvelous to know that at least we’re known worldwide to the tune of about 5,000 hits per month.  Our eternal thanks to everyone who’s read our reviews, even once.  Cheers, mates!
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.  Other overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepageIf you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

Here’s some more information about Terminator: Genisys: (6:03 exploration of the various references in this current movie to the previous ones and the TV show)

Here’s some more information about Mr. Holmes: (a very charming 31:52 interview with actors Ian McKellen and Laura Linney, done at Google NYC)

Here’s some more information about Tangerine: (this official site offers a Green Band trailer alternative that’s purged of the R-rated dialogue in the one below) (this is a Red Band trailer so the dialogue is as R-rated as the film; if you’re ready for that level of language, I’ll also offer you a couple of clips from the film at [Sin-Dee and Alexandra discuss Chester’s infidelity], then [Sin-Dee on the hunt for Chester’s new flame]) (4:12 conversation with writer-director Sean Baker, actors Karren Karagulian, James Ransone, and Mya Taylor)

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Liked Mr. Holmes as a light summer time diversion for adults, even though sometimes BBC's sound recording has something to be desired. The plot, while ultimately simple but still multi-faceted, is clever enough for a Sherlock Holmes' vehicle without resorting to high tech or cgi in any way.

    My only comment on Arnold's latest Terminator is just a footnote reflecting Emilia Clarke's portrayal as Sarah may have suffered from her world wide success (and perhaps typecasting) as the mother of dragons in Game of Thrones where she reigns supreme over three quite effectively rendered fire spewing reptiles, while remaining the queen of hearts and her domain, and still looks regal in the occasional HBO nude scenes.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks as always for your contributions to this blog. Ken