Thursday, August 9, 2018

Blindspotting and Leave No Trace

            "It’s been a long time comin'
            Goin' to be a long time gone"
                    (from "Long Time Gone" on the 1969 Crosby, Stills & Nash album; this video 
                 is a live performance from sometime later in their career, with the song
                —sadly enough—still as relevant now as it was 5 decades ago)

                                                      Reviews by Ken Burke

 At the conclusion of my previous Two Guys posting (August 2, 2018) I indicated an intention this time to review Blindspotting and Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, but I got Spike’s release date wrong so instead of comparing explorations of racial conflicts I’ll go instead with explorations of societal-adjustment-conflicts by using Leave No Trace.  I’ll get to Spike next week, but in the meantime the last video here, found far below, is directed by Lee, so I'm just a bit accurate after all.
                         Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Daveed Diggs (Collin), Rafael Casal (Miles) co-wrote and star in this energetic, multi-faceted, powerful film about a Black felony-parolee and his long-time, borderline-unhinged White buddy in a story set firmly in Oakland, CA where our beleaguered protagonist is making every effort to walk the straight and narrow as the final days of his probation wind down, even as his loose-cannon friend (now carrying around a small cannon of his own, which terrifies Miles’ girlfriend because of the danger it could bring to their young son) keeps pushing the limit of what the law will allow where Collin’s concerned.  Another aspect of what the law allows is a White cop shooting an unarmed Black man, witnessed by Collin yet kept private by him lest a confrontation with the police will backfire on his impending freedom, although the knowledge of this unindicted-crime constantly intrudes upon Collin’s mental stability, even as he finds himself to be a victim of what his office manager, Val, identifies as “blindspotting,” her term for a psychological response to events/realities/people that can’t be understood/acknowledged for what/who they are because observers refuse to see them in any other but a negative light (just as she keeps pushing herself away from the mutual attraction she and Collin share because she still sees him as a felon, previously sent away to prison for getting into a violent confrontation with a bar patron, an act she thinks was a useless waste of his promising life; meanwhile, Collin’s attempting to develop his own blind spot toward the shooting he witnessed even as it still troubles him).  This film’s already been widely praised as one of the best of the year (no argument from me, especially in its frequent use of riveting closeups, making great use of the big screen), although its present availability is very limited so see it if you can, queue it up for future viewing if that’s your only option.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: Collin Hoskins (Daveed Diggs) is a convicted felon (as we find out much later in the film, for assault on an obnoxious patron of a Tiki bar where he was working as a bouncer, a situation that escalated when the flaming $20 drink this jerk took outside to show to his friends [even though he's not allowed to walk out with it] also set him on fire, leaving Colin with no useful defense [except being resentful of the idiot verbally berating him, then pushing the confrontation too far with an unnecessary shove]), a Black man who’s been on 2-year-parole, now living in a run-down-halfway-house with a strict 11pm curfew, working at Commander Moving with his mouthy, White, long-time friend, Miles (Rafael Casal), trying his best to stay out of trouble for the last 3 days of his restricted life (where he can’t even leave Alameda County [CA], so his job assignments have to be limited in order to prevent violation), after which he can move back in with his mother, Mama Liz (Tisha Campbell-Martin), then try to recover whatever he can of a life hemmed in by his prior conviction.  During those trying final days on parole, though, he’s constantly put in danger of having those harsh confinements extended for another year because fellow West Oakland native Miles is always pushing things to dangerous limits, such as brandishing a newly-bought-pistol (he claims it's to protect his family, girlfriend Ashley [Jasmine Cephas Jones] and son Sean [Ziggy Baitinger], but more likely it’s to extend his self-defined-macho-image) or getting into a fight at a party given by techie-CEO Chet (Casey Adams) which goes especially bad when Miles first gets into a bloody fight with the only other Black guy there (besides Collin), then brandishes/fires the pistol, with Collin quickly grabbing the gun from him as they desperately run away from the scene of the confrontation before cops show up.  Once alone, Collin reads Miles the riot act for causing so much trouble for him (Miles responds with how he’s had Collin’s back ever since they were kids, including joining in on pounding the Tiki guy noted above, as well as frequently visiting him at the jail), berates him for acting/talking like he’s Black even though he’s clearly not (Miles has his own anger about his status in the neighborhood, trying desperately to fit in where he’s the oddball minority, not feeling he has nearly the potential Collin does, despite not being held back by a prison record).  They part in anger.

 From this point, the previously-frequent-aspects of humor (one of the most effective is a scene where Miles goes into a local beauty parlor attempting to sell a boxful of hair-straightening-devices to the Black women patrons but has to prove his products work so he uses one on Collin, resulting in a ridiculous look for him in the next scene; another funny bit comes when Miles decides to sell a dilapidated sailboat intended for the junkyard, which he successfully does after some urban-banter with a passerby, admitting later he had no idea what he was saying even though it proved effective) basically evaporate, starting with Collin walking home, alone on a city street, trying to beat curfew, yet with the gun in his jacket pocket when a police car comes along, then does a U-turn to follow him.  After briefly being in the cop’s spotlight he’s left to continue walking, but we’re prepared for a major crisis as this incident brings back in sharp detail an event crucial to an earlier scene where Collin’s driving home late one night when suddenly at a traffic stop a frantic Black man, Randall Marshall, runs in front of his truck only to be shot dead by a pursuing policeman, Officer Molina (Ethan Embry), with the resulting news stories saying Marshall was armed (although we see no evidence of that).  ⇒On the final day of Collin’s parole he goes for his usual run through a local cemetery (the same one containing the remains of my wife’s high-school-best-friend [cruelly stabbed by her crazed great-nephew]), finding himself surrounded by ghosts of dead Black men, a “haunting” scene leading to the next load-out of a resident’s belongings by him and Miles, with the setting clearly indicating a wife and child leaving a husband.  The scene intensifies when Collin realizes hubby is the shooter-cop so he pulls the pistol on him, delivers a blistering, spontaneous rap (he and Miles periodically do this throughout the film, with less-intense-lyrics than these), but has no intention of shooting, just wants to show the shaken man what it feels like to find his life abruptly in a killer’s crosshairs.  Collin leaves, gives the gun back to Miles to whom the upset cop says he didn’t intend to shoot Marshall, but it’s not clear Miles believes him (nor should we just yet, given what we saw earlier as the man desperately ran away).⇐   As tension recedes, Collin and Miles resume rapport, bantering about football’s Raiders set to soon leave Oakland for Las Vegas.

So What? If you didn’t get a chance to travel to NYC in 2015-’16 to see Diggs as the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in Hamilton (roles which led to both Grammy [cast album] and Tony awards [Best Featured Actor in a Musical] for him) or haven’t caught him yet as a recurring character in the ABC-TV sitcom-with-a-purpose, Black-ish, you certainly get a clear sense of his multi-talents as actor and rapper in Blindspotting, which also showcases his ability as co-screenwriter (with Casal).  Most reviews I’ve read focus on Diggs as the most impactful actor in this mostly-dramatic/seasoned-with-occasional-comedy film, although I think Casal certainly holds his own, especially in scenes where Miles becomes his most explosive, including when he fights with Collin after the fracas at the CEO’s party.  However, this film’s packed with meaningful plot considerations beyond questioning of personal identity and the ongoing tensions of race relations/conflicts in contemporary American cities, with a chief one being gentrification as explored in 2 especially poignant scenes; (1) Collin and Miles are on a job cleaning out a home with the owners now dead, the house set for intensive rebuilding; Collin finds family mementos including framed photos and an album, quietly noting the now-absence of invested lives in this place soon to be remodeled into a more contemporary dwelling for the benefit of the newly-rich moving into what used to be “Oaktown,” as housing prices have exploded in tech-heavy San Francisco just across the bay; (2) That aforementioned CEO’s also in a remade house (squared-off Modernistic, clearly imposed on the older Victorians sitting on either side of it) where he admonishes his party guests to not set anything on the tree stump in his living room because it’s his prized possession (as a transplanted [from Portland, OR], new generation of Oaklander saying he’s found his true home), the remains of an original Oakland oak tree (seemingly, he’s completely unaware of how this relic of earlier times also represents the process of this characteristic foliage being removed over recent decades as part of ongoing urbanization, just as various Cherryland and Pruneyard neighborhoods around the SF Bay Area are now just remnants of the earlier, more-agricultural reality of this region).

 There’s still a good bit of recognizable traditional Oakland highlighted in this film, though, beginning with contrasting images before the opening title that showcase upscale as well as deteriorated neighborhoods, culminating in “Blindspotting” displayed on the marquee of the magnificently-restored downtown Art Deco palace of the Depression-era Fox Theater (opened in 1928, served—as did so many lavish venues of that time—as an escape from economic turmoil beginning just a year later).  However, a not-so-embraced-Oakland-treasure-by-our-proud-urban-men—especially Miles—is the refurbished Kwik Way burger joint just around the block from another landmark, the famed Grand Lake Theater (location of Blindspotting's recent local premiere), famous for decades for cheap, greasy fast food but now so upscale to appeal to its newly-trendy-clientele you have to specify meat for your burger in order to avoid a veggie patty, disgustedly thrown away by Miles (even the bar—also very near the Grand Lake—where Collin gets into his fateful altercation with the disrespectful Tiki enthusiast, is recognizable to those who know it as The Alley [not a Tiki bar at all], a long-time-tradition where people pack into close quarters, singing along with the pianist of the night now that Rod Dibble’s no longer there to run the open-mike-atmosphere).  In another city-specific-scene, photographer Patrick (Wayne Knight, most-often-remembered as Newman from TV’s Seinfeld series) is overseeing Collin and Miles pack up his framed images of long-time Oakland residents, lamenting how such people (the “soul” of the city in his opinion) are being pushed out by the increasing intrusion of the overnight-wealthy, with our knowledge these sentiments come from the hearts of Diggs and Casal who’ve grown up together in this area, stayed in touch all their lives.

Bottom Line Final Comments: While many critics (including the best of the bunch, me) are calling Blindspotting one of the best films of 2018 (without even a “so far” qualifier), it’s not faring well in terms of box-office receipts.  Rotten Tomatoes gives it a hearty 93% collection of positive reviews while Metacritic comes in with a typically-lower-but-still-supportive-for-them 76% average score, but after 3 weeks in theaters it’s only managed to pull in about $3.2 million domestically (U.S.-Canada), plus a mere $17 thousand from the rest of the world, so it’s barely making back its restricted investment, having only been booked in a maximum of 523 domestic venues so far (although in my area that includes the suburbs where I live, not just the urban-located-theaters of Oakland and Berkeley, even as the other current film shot in/reflecting Oakland, Sorry to Bother You [Boots Riley; review in our July 12, 2018 posting], with similar critical response [RT—95% positive reviews, MC—79% average score] despite some quirky aspects that haven’t been universally embraced, has hit a bit more solidly with audiences, taking in about $14.9 million after 5 weeks in release but soon disappearing as its coverage is now down to only 404 theaters, yet both of these films pale in comparison to the silliness of something like Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again [Ol Parker], also out for 3 weeks but already at $236.4 million worldwide [$92.8 million of it domestically], but that’s what playing in about 3,500 domestic theaters can get you, especially with some critical backing [RT—80% positive, although MC responds with only a 60% average score])Blindspotting may be too Oakland-specific in its setting and references to resonate with a wider-geographic-range of audiences, but you’d think its themes of characters being disturbed by racial injustice, the delicate balance keeping many people of color on the social borderlines in an attempt to reclaim lives restricted by prior-incarceration, the honest attempt of the protagonist to rise above the adolescent/self-imposed “ghetto” attitudes of his close friend in order to deflect the “blind spot” social stereotypes that prevent him from being seen in his full humanity would resonate beyond northern CA, but we’ll just have to wait a few months to see if Blindspotting’s even remembered next fall/winter after this initial rush of evaluative-acceptance has receded from collective memory.

 When Commander Moving’s no-nonsense office-manager (as well as Collin’s ex-girlfriend), Val (Janina Gavankar), explains late in this plot her use of the word “blindspotting” as a memory-jogger for a more precise psychological term (not really a pneumonic, a tactic often used to aid learners through various word-association-strategies)—as part of her night-school-attempt to better herself with hopes of someday moving up from an hourly-wages-job—I’d say she's noting cognitive dissonance (which occurs when conflicting information challenges long-held-beliefs, forcing the confused person to either seek new insights to resolve the mental conflicts or simply reject any troubling inputs [as “fake news,” according to our 1984-oriented President, whose name, like the evil wizard in the Harry Potter stories should not be voiced, although Spike Lee’s wittily-rechristened him as “Agent Orange”]), we finally get the meaning of the film’s title, referring to how people are often relegated to being perceived in a certain manner even if they’ve made conscious efforts to change past behavior, so Val still has problems responding to her attraction to Collin because she continues to have a “blind spot” about him, seeing him as a hot-headed-felon because of his altercation with the bar guy a couple of years ago (the reason why she never visited him at the Santa Rita jail in Pleasanton, not all that far from Oakland) in the same way she’s concerned he has a blind spot regarding Miles, refusing to see how the truly-hot-headed-one of this pair of friends is a bad influence on everyone around him, including Collin and Sean, all of which corresponds to the least-pro-active-strategy of acting upon cognitive dissonance, that of simple denial of new evidence as a means of rejecting troubling inconsistencies (from these examples you can see how this problem applies to many of the film’s characters—maybe even the killer-cop—as well to modern society as a whole, where the preconditioned bubbles we’re increasingly living in help all of us ignore what some call the “inconvenient truths” distracting us from our daily routines).

 Accordingly, to bring these comments to conclusion with a Musical Metaphor (my normal choice of aural-retrospection on what’s been previously presented) I’ll go with Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” (first used in the soundtrack of Do the Right Thing [Spike Lee, 1989], then on the 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet) at 2Cwn, a Lee-directed-video (He's getting a lot of mentions this week; if that's a problem, "Sorry to bother you.") beginning with a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 civil rights March on Washington, then contrasting that with Public Enemy’s rappers rejecting such a strategy in favor of more confrontational approaches, not about abolishing existing power structures as much as about rejecting and eliminating the negative influences these structure have on marginalized communities of color in our increasingly-diversified-society (opposed as that may be by those in declining demographics).  Collin, Miles, and everyone else focused on in this film wants to rise above these demeaning situations, constantly having to adopt new strategies in their difficult attempts to do so.
                                                 Leave No Trace (Debra Granik)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): An ex-Marine who’s far from readjusted to civilian life (after who knows what's happened to him on the battlefield) attempts to live in the woods of a large Portland park with his teenage daughter, but they’re found by park police, sent to live and work at a social services-chosen farm although Dad can tolerate such confinement only so long before they’re back on the road again.  As they leave Oregon, cross into Washington through the generosity of a truck driver sympathetic to their situation, Dad sets them up in a currently-unoccupied cabin deep in the woods, but when he fails to return from a trek into a nearby town his daughter discovers he’s unconscious and injured.  With the help of some locals she flags down, they relocate to a small trailer community in this forest where she begins to find stability but has to deal with her father’s constant need to be alone, unbeholden to anyone so tension arises again as to whether they will stay or go.  This is a serious, relevant film dealing with the reality of PTSD difficulties among military vets and their clashes with more organized social structures that sincerely want to help, even if those in question can’t function well with the requirements they’d have to accept.  It’s already acknowledged as one of the best of the year (100% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes), although its independent identity hasn’t led to its availability in many theaters as of yet.

Here’s the trailer:  

        Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
What Happens: Will (Ben Foster) is a former Marine (as we briefly learn later in this story) from a unit (likely assigned to some aspect of the ongoing U.S. military involvement in various Middle East conflicts) burdened by suicides within its ranks, so he attempts to deal with his PTSD demons by living in hiding in the far realm of a huge Portland, OR park with his teenage daughter, Tom (Thomasin McKenzie), although we find out very little concerning absent-Mom except when the curious girl asks Dad a few questions about her.  Will’s determined to live off the grid, trusting no one except Tom (even with her, he’s not sufficiently satisfied with her camouflage tactics to keep their tent-based-home out of sight from any park police or hikers who might stumble onto their existence), living out their days with foraging for some vegetarian aspects of their diet from these woods, collecting rain water for sustenance and minor farming, maintaining Tom’s education with a combination of reading and evacuation drills, then occasionally hiking into town for Will to get meds at the local VA hospital which he then sells at a vets’ tent-encampment in another part of the park, using the money to buy a few necessities before returning to the deep woods.  Unfortunately, a passerby does get a glimpse of Tom one day, leading to the authorities capturing these 2 nomads, turning them over to social-service-workers (truly concerned for their welfare) who administer various interview protocols, then assign them to live in a small-but-functional-house on a Christmas tree farm run by Mr. Walters (Jeff Kober), who’s sympathetic to their plight yet insistent on Will getting into the flow of the work routine while the social workers get Tom enrolled in school (she surprisingly fits in well, makes friends with a local boy who takes her to a 4H club rabbit show).  Will tolerates this as long as he can (although he quickly puts the TV set into a closet, refuses the offer of a cell phone as he has no interest in either himself or his daughter keeping up with the inanities of the larger world [with my daily readings of newspapers, viewings or radio listenings of news reports, scanning of Internet postings, I wonder sometimes if he doesn’t have the right idea])—even to the point of attending the local church, to demonstrate his willingness to conform—before slipping away with Tom one day before he finds himself unable to abide by these constantly-imposed-rules.

 Tom’s beginning to assert herself a bit more, though, challenging Dad as to why they have to leave inside of a freight car, so with a quick cut we’re at a bus station headed for Washington state (I guess Will kept enough cash to afford tickets, but they carefully don’t sit together so as to not draw attention to themselves)At a rest stop, though, he’s concerned (in a paranoid manner, to my observation) that the woman Tom was sitting with was asking too many questions so they dismiss further bus travel in favor of hitching a ride north with a trucker; they finally find one sympathetic enough to their situation to allow them into his vehicle, but as they get into the next state Will chooses an arbitrary point to be let off where the woods beckon to him again, so away they go further away from civilization (colder here, wet, Tom wearing plastic bags in her hiking boots to keep her feet dry) until they find a unoccupied cabin which serves their immediate needs (even has a little canned food, easy to make a wood fire in the kitchen stove) until Will decides he needs to hike to the nearest town.  ⇒When he doesn’t come back that night, Tom looks through some papers they always keep (one is a news article about Will’s traumatized Marine unit), sets out to find him the next day which she does (he’s injured, mostly unconscious), so she flags down some motorized locals who take him to a wooded community where an ex-Army medic helps heal his injured foot (even loans his therapy dog who helps with Will’s adjustment to recovery) as Dale (Dale Dickey), a woman more-or-less running this isolated dwelling, allows them to stay (cheap rent) in one of her trailers.  Tom becomes comfortable here, learns a bit about beekeeping, is ready to settle in, but as soon as Will can semi-reasonably-amble he insists they pack up, head out again.  After they’ve gone just a little way, though, she decides to go back, leaving him to continue on his own after a loving goodbye hug as Tom now knows her life’s taking a drastic turn away from Will’s, with the last shot being her now having the task of leaving food for a local woodland hermit to take away later.⇐

So What? It’s unusual my rating for a film comes in below the critical averages of both RT and MC (because usually if there’s a discrepancy I’m a bit higher than both of them or I come in below one but above the other), although it’s happened a few times already this year (regarding my 49 reviews so far, not counting a couple of independent films not addressed by the heavyweights) with Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson; review in our April 5, 2018 posting), Blockers (Kay Cannon; review in our April 12, 2018 posting), Tully (Jason Reitman; review in our May 10, 2018 posting), Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis; review in our June 14, 2018 posting), Disobedience (Sebastián Leilo; review in our June 14, 2018 posting), Incredibles 2 (Brad Bird; review in our June 21, 2018 posting), Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley; review in our July 4, 2018 posting), and Mission: Impossible—Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie; review in our August 2, 2018 posting), but in none of these (most of which lured me to the theater based on encouragement from such glowing reviews) has my distancing from the higher scores been as “egregious” as with Leave No Trace as my puny 3½ stars fall from the heavens compared to the almost-unheard-of 100% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes (based on 160 surveyed, so it’s no fluke) along with an 88% average score from Metacritic (just about the highest they’ve offered this year to anything I’ve noted in doing my analyses of the same films).*  In my defense (if needed; I stand by my opinions), I’ll note a positive review from RT simply has to be one mostly in support of what’s on screen, not necessary a rave response so while a 100% result is truly admirable it doesn’t mean there aren’t reservations about what’s being critiqued; further, I’m in full sympathy with depicting the emotionally-distraught-lives of postwar-vets whose lives have been ruined or at least compromised by their horrid battlefield experiences, but upon seeing something praised to such heights I just didn’t feel it had that much of an overwhelming impact on me the longer I thought about it, despite its worthy subject matter and effective acting from these 2 leads.

*Numerically, my biggest discrepancy is with Let the Sunshine In because my 2½ stars (50% of my options) fall 35 points below RT’s 85% positive result while my 3½ stars (70%) for Leave No Trace is “only” 30 points below RT’s 100%.  Still, as noted above, that near-mythical 100% doesn’t note the nuances accompanying this variation of the old “thumbs up/down” stance of Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, whereas the accumulated averages at a site like A critical consensus allow a bit more understanding of limitations within even the most positive of reviews (while also allowing more embracing voices than those from the consistently-restrained folks surveyed by Metacritic), with Leave No Trace currently at 8.7, slightly topped by Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham; review in our August 2, 2018 posting) at 8.8 (older versions of “… consensus” can be found here [if the innumerable ads at this SFGate site ever finish loading—it froze both Safari and Chrome when I tried to fully download it, creating such a slog I had to reboot the computer, so approach this link with caution]).

 What Leave No Trace forces us to confront is how these seemingly-eternal-overseas-wars—far from our shores, apparently having no real purpose in strengthening our own society nor in helping bring about useful, internationally-embracing-governments in lands long ruled by fierce dictators—are supposedly contributing to our national interests even as they leave generations of U.S. military combatants in varying states of likely-irreparable-trauma.  (Having never gone beyond the level of high-school-ROTC-training myself, I offer no assumptions about what it must be like for anyone to endure months/years of combat-encounters where death is a constant fear, allies are near-impossible to tell from enemies, mission purpose—beyond daily survival—remains an enigma; all I can do is learn from films such as this one, The Hurt Locker [Kathryn Bigelow, 2008], or others like them [even First Blood {Ted Kotcheff, 1982} where John Rambo’s {Sylvester Stallone} a Vietnam vet also suffering from debilitating PTSD, finding himself in misunderstood-physical-aggression with his local, abusive Washington state community; however, his later near-superhero-exploits in sequels made a mockery of the serious intentions of this first film in the series].)   These films also provide a glimpse of what it must be like to become alienated from all that may be decent around you because you’ve learned to distrust those who said you had a purpose in combat, said you have a partner in rehabilitation from that same “concerned” government.  Will’s a victim of forces beyond his control, attempting to use the immense survival skills he’s acquired to free himself from dependence on a society that’s left him behind after he’s served his ambiguous “duty”; we all can benefit from better appreciating how difficult he finds even tolerating the sincerely-embracing-woodlands-community in order to understand how damaged he is, even as his personal fortitude remains solid.  We can also easily appreciate how Tom must finally demand a break from this life of retreat, as it reflects nothing of her experience only how Dad has evolved to a point of permanent-social-incompatibility.  We can only hope she’ll channel her own strength into a life that doesn’t need to be reclusive like her father’s while still respecting the choices he’s been compelled to make.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Despite the intense critical acclaim for Leave No Trace it’s not been able to forge much of an impression in theaters where after 6 weeks in release it’s now down to 169 domestic venues with only about $5.2 million in box-office-receipts to show for its presence, which serves as evidence for those who argue critical acclaim adds little to a film’s impact with audiences if strong word of mouth doesn’t provide the crucial factor in turning out a supportive crowd.  (Conversely, that same sort of audience-bandwagon can at times completely override critical distain; a case in point is Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom [J.A. Boyana], which has earned a Rotten Tomatoes tally of 51% positive reviews [of 312], a rarely-seen-equivalence of a 51% average score at Metacritic, yet its worldwide grosses after almost 7 weeks in release is a mammoth [yeah, I know these hairy-elephant-ancestors evolved after dinosaurs became extinct, but please let me wallow in whatever puns I can manage, for both our sakes] $1.3 billion [$406.1 million of that domestically], making it currently #14 on that All-Time list, so, once again, critical embrace may well be your ticket to success or it plus about $5 will get you a hipster-endorsed cup of coffee.)  I continue to admit I feel a little squirmy not joining in on the rah-rah-bandwagon for Leave No Trace, but to me it’s simply a solid idea that establishes itself soon into its reasonably-constrained-108 min.-running time, with little to enhance its concepts beyond the foundational situations of Will’s consistent traumas, Tom’s emerging resistance to Dad’s paranoia so its acceptably-ambiguous-ending just feels comfortable (mostly for Tom, as Will walks out of our sight into the deep woods again) but nothing’s (to me) been revealed that resonates to the degree of Granik’s previous success with Winter’s Bone (2010), even as several critics attempt to equate McKenzie’s performance in this film with Jennifer Lawrence’s impactful breakthrough in that earlier story.  (I still think her career could wait awhile before chalking up a Best Actress Oscar, but if such triumph needs to be I’d award it to her for … Bone rather than Silver Linings Playbook [David O. Russell, 2012], although my command of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decisions leaves much to be desired [by me—but’s that all that really matters, isn’t it?]).  McKenzie’s quite effective in her role, yet I'd say the acting accolades mostly go to Ben Foster with a marvelous follow-up to his verging-on-unhinged-brother-character in the remarkable Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, 2016; review in our August 26, 2016 posting), stillin my unmatched opinion (!)the best of what’s been mentioned in this wide-ranging-paragraph (presented to you at no extra cost).

 For a musical metaphor to wrap up these internally-struggling-comments on Leave No Trace (with reflections back to my opening song and its implications for both of these films: “You know there’s something that’s goin’ on around here That surely, surely, surely won’t stand the light of day“) I originally thought of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (from their 1965 Animal Tracks album) because of Will‘s constant efforts to extract himself and Tom from any situation where they have to intermingle with others, follow any rules, with his fevered-assumption that somewhere "girl, there’s a better life for me and you,"* but as “Long Time Gone” kept replaying itself for me I shifted to another CS&N (plus Young) tune, “Teach Your Children” (from the 1970 Déjà Vu album) at (an animation video joining images of young people in protest against social ills back when the song was written with references to similar resistances now, as so many aspects of our divided society still clash even after 50 years of attempted progress) because it seems even more relevant to me in regard to this film’s explorations of the dynamics between Will and Tom, so even as he tries, like other parents, to “Teach your children well [… there are problems regarding] the past [… containing] their father’s hell [… so] Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry […] just know they love you [… while Tom] of tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by And so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth before they can die."  Will’s taught Tom a lot regarding both traditional knowledge and survival skills, but she ultimately has to teach him she’s ready for a new path in their lives of resistance, a personal awakening she’s ready to explore away from the paranoia haunting her father.  She’s likely to be the one who survives more effectively, as she knows his only direction is further into the wilderness, attempting to seal himself off from what’s permanently damaged him.

*You might still be interested in this version which uses that Animals song over footage from Hamburger Hill (John Irvin, 1987) about gruesome aspects of the Vietnam War rather than more recent international conflicts but it’s certainly still relevant to whatever traumas Will experienced in whichever conflicts he endured, as well to those older vets still struggling to survive on many American streets.  You might also be curious to see which other RT entries have scored 100%, so here’s the more-extensive-than-you-might-imagine-list going all the way back to 1915 with The Birth of a Nation (D.W. Griffith)—let's get Spike Lee back in here to comment on that onebut Leave No Trace is only 1 of 5 on that list to be based on more than 100 reviews (minimum was 20).

 But, before I dissolve into the ether prior to the next Two Guys re-emergence, here's a quick link about Tom Cruise’s stunt work from director Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible—Fallout… Rogue Nation [2015; review in our August 6, 2015 posting]) as a final attachment to the … Fallout review in our previous posting with McQuarrie discussing the most "impossible" stunts performed by his never-aging-star.  OK, enough from me until the next time our paths cross.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about Blindspotting: (click the 3-bar-box in the upper-left-corner to get to this site's features) (22:01 interview with co-screenwriters/actors Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, actor Jasmine Cephas Jones)

Here’s more information about Leave No Trace: (15:44 interview with director Debra Granik)

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

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.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come. 
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 5,671 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:

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