Thursday, July 11, 2019

Spider-Man: Far From Home plus Short Takes on Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, The Space Between Words

An Eclectic Collection of Chatter
(from me and the people in these films)

 I’ll begin by stating that I'm rather proud of myself (minor accomplishments as they may be judged in the grander scheme of human activities) for what I've been able to achieve over the last couple of weeks of posting these reviews because I didn't have the luxury of taking my usual notebook page of tiny, extensive (though just-barely-legible-after-the-fact) scribbled notes in the dark of the theater as I’m so accustomed to doing, given the sudden, sad circumstance of my trusty pen/flashlight going dead on me (after those many years of dedicated service) with the itty-bitty-batteries refusing to exit the device as they were supposed to so I couldn't replace them, making my whole, needed writing-in-the-dark-contraption totally useless when I watched Toy Story 4 (Josh
Cooley; you'll find the 4-stars-review in our June 26, 2019 posting), forcing me to try my very best to remember what I'd seen when the lights came up. Not wishing to repeat that challenge, I searched the vast omnipotent Internet, finally discovered what I assumed to be a similar replacement, ordered it, but then when it arrived I found the light was much brighter than had been the case in my previous pen (see photo above) so when I attempted to use it during my viewing last week of Yesterday (Danny Boyle; with another 4-stars-review in our July 3, 2019 posting) I disturbed someone sitting behind me so I had to shut it off soon after the film began.  I've now solved the problem (I hope), with a sophisticated-cloaking-device (a handkerchief and rubber bands; see another photo, just above) proving once again the triumph of insightful-American-knowhow. OK, now the light's as it should be, let's get back to film crit without having to rely on my 71-year-old-memory (aided marginally by some Wikipedia summaries).  I‘ve had the chance to attend some critics’ screenings where flashlight-aided-notetaking is completely unacceptable (although a few do try to scribble reminders by ambient light from the screen) so I’m truly amazed by what they’re able to recall, something I’m not good at soon after the screening’s finished (although they do usually have access to extensive press notes I can rarely get; further, their reviews are usually more about non-spoiler-commentary rather than extensive details—still, I’m amazed at some of the nuances some of those folks include, even if they rush to their desks to type up their recollections/opinions).
 Briefly (I promise), I’ll note another sort of amazement for me, or, more-properly-stated, a celebration—especially in connection with the female-orientation of 2 of the films reviewed below—in praise of the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team for their recent repeat triumph at the World Cup.  This is a sport I know little about, but anyone who becomes a world champion, especially in competitions that truly draw teams from across the globe rather than the “world” finals of American baseball, football, basketball, and hockey (despite a few Canadian franchises in the mix) truly has my respect because of the talent required to reach such difficult heights.  Well, finally, on to our topics at hand.
Reviews by Ken Burke

                                   Spider-Man: Far From Home 
                                     (Jon Watts)   rated PG-13

“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): Continuing both the events from Spider-Man: Homecoming and Avengers: Endgame, we begin this story back in Queens, NYC, where Peter Parker’s survived the war with Thanos (even though his mentor, Tony Stark/Iron Man, didn’t) to be back in high-school (still not yet a senior, having not aged during those 5 years since he was evaporated in … Endgame before being restored), ready for a summer trip with some classmates to Europe even though Nick Fury wants him to help battle a new group of dangerous monsters emerging in different parts of our globe (yes, this is a Sony/Columbia Pictures movie even though it’s bringing in a good bit from the Disney/Marvel Avengers tales preceding it).  Peter resists going back into action at this point (although he’s needed because seemingly none of the other remaining Avengers are available to counter this latest invasion-crisis), instead planning a surprise declaration of love for MJ, who’s somewhat aware of his interests but waits for him to make the first move (a situation complicated by a seemingly-compromising photo [complete misunderstanding] taken by an MJ-interested-rival, causing Peter to further burden his life by clumsily using a pair of Artificial Intelligence-endowed-glasses left to him by Stark to accidently call in a drone-hit on this other guy, further eroding Peter’s self-confidence he’s even ready to be involved in these high-level-situations, preferring to just be a neighborhood hero back home—although circumstances keep pushing him into more-dangerously-demanding-territory).   When his tour group gets to Venice he’s called into action, though, due to the attack of a giant water-monster who’s finally subdued by a powerful superhero, known as Mysterio, claiming to be from a parallel Earth in the vast Multiverse, causing Peter to wonder if he shouldn’t be ceding the heroics to this older, dynamic guy when he’d rather be investing himself into typical high-school-romance-traumas.  That’s as far as I can go without venturing into Spoiler territory (available below if you’re ready for such revelations), but you can easily see what’s going on in this movie for yourself because it’s playing on an enormous number of screens, totally dominating the current box-office, so see it if you wish or feel free to read on now.

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: A few months after what Earthlings have come to know as The Blip (where powerful-alien Thanos commanded half the population of the universe to evaporate in Avengers: Infinity War [Anthony and Joe Russo, 2018; review in our May 3, 2018 posting], then they were retrieved 5 years later in Avengers: Endgame [Russos; review in our May 1, 2019 posting]), life—at least in Queens, NYC (my home 1972-’73 [yeah, I sort of coexisted with Archie Bunker—maybe even Donald Trump—but without any interactions with either of them, fortunately]) has normalized enough again so that Peter Parker (Tom Holland) and some of his classmates (still the same age they were 5 years ago, but others who didn’t disappear continued to grow older) are heading off for a summer European trip where he plans to profess his love for MJ (Zendaya) on the Eiffel Tower.  However, Avengers leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his associate Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) have encountered some sort of evil creature in Mexico so he sends former-Iron Man-pal Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) to recruit Peter for help, which the kid declines because he’s still in mourning over the death of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.)—hey, … Endgame’s been out over 2 months; don’t give me any spoilers-grief!—so he just wants to forget superhero-dom for awhile, focus instead on normal teenage lust.  All goes well initially until the group gets to Venice where chaos ensues (my niece, Hannah’s, in England and Amsterdam this summer [on a college-sponsored-trip from UC Davis], so I hope she doesn’t encounter anything like what sent Peter’s life into turmoil) as a Water Monster (later identified as an alien Elemental, like the Earth one in Mexico) creates havoc which Peter (as reluctant Spider-Man, after being given a more subdued costume by a Fury-operative when the students’ bus took a brief stop in Austria, yet as he was changing into it in front of the woman in Fury’s employ he was surprised, then photographed by MJ-contender Brad Davis [Remy Hill], determined to keep this attractive girl away from Peter) attempts to battle, only to be surprised by the appearance of flying, energy-blasting superhero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal)—he originally calls himself Quentin Beck, from an Earth in a different dimension of the Multiverse (a concept I claim as stolen from DC comics but appropriate where decades worth of characters need to have some sense of explanation to various audiences)trying to seek out, destroy these Elementals before they cause more destruction than they already have on other planets.  Fury gives Parker a last gift from Stark, a pair of special glasses connected to artificial-intelligence E.D.I.T.H., with access to the enormous technological capacities (including satellite-borne-drone-weapons) of Stark Industries, which Peter appreciates but initially doesn’t have full command of this technology.

 In another attempt to get Parker on board to fight the next Elemental, Fury redirects the school tour from Paris to Prague where the Fire creature appears, once again destroyed by Mysterio, although Spider-Man does his best to help out.  Peter, who accidently called for a hit on Brad by E.D.I.T.H., decides to give his bountiful-glasses-gift to more mature, heroic Mysterio. ⇒We—but no one in the movie—then learn Mysterio's simply an angry ex-employee dismissed by Stark (along with his large, tech-savvy team), using holographic projections to give the illusion of these Elemental monsters and Mysterio’s conquest of them (with weapons-firing-drones cloaked in the projections causing the actual damage), establishing himself as Earth’s primary hero (Fury’s invited him to join an Avengers gathering in Berlin).  Realizing he’ll never get to Paris (this monster madness causes the teens’ parents to demand the kids' immediate return to NYC) Peter tries to make his romantic declaration to MJ in Prague, but she counters with her conviction he’s Spider-Man, which he initially denies then admits when they realize what the projection-device is she’s recovered from the latest attack.  Peter races off to Berlin, finds himself overwhelmed by a holographic-projection-assault from Mysterio (then he’s hit by a train), contacts Happy who flies him to London to rejoin his tour on their last stop before heading home (Hannah, did you see them?) because Mysterio’s determined to kill MJ and anyone else Parker might have revealed the truth to, so lots of effects-enhanced-craziness (including Happy and the attacked kids taking refuge in the Tower of London’s Crown Jewels vault) ensues before Peter fights his way through a swarm of drones, confronts Mysterio who dies in their battle (not by Peter’s hand), retakes control of E.D.I.T.H to dissolve the holographic imagery, then heads back to Queens now connected to MJ.  However, in a mid-final-credits-scene, when Peter web-slings through NYC to meet up with MJ (after previously taking her on a dazzling ride through the city) he’s confronted with a huge video screen where The Daily Bugle’s angry editor (J.K. Simmons) runs footage from the dying Mysterio, not only claiming Spider-Man was behind the Elemental monsters ruse (thereby perpetuating the illusion of himself as a noble superhero) but also shockingly revealing Spidey’s secret identity of Peter Parker to the general public.  In the short scene following those credits, we learn (in odd fashion) Fury and Hill were actually shape-shifting-Skrull-aliens Talos (Ben Mendelson) and Soren (Sharon Blynn)—from Captain Marvel (Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck; review in our March 13, 2019 posting)—apparently fooled by Mysterio as well, who make contact with the actual Fury (on a Skrull spaceship), further setting us up for whatever comes next.  Oh, I almost forgot: Happy begins his own romance with Peter’s Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).⇐

So What? As a dedicated viewer over the last decade of almost all of the entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe (consult those sites for movie titles, then feel free to search Summary of Two Guys Film Reviews to see all the ones we’ve covered), I must admit to a certain level of superhero-fatigue, which almost kept me away from this latest (seemly last) entry in MCU’s Phase Three of their Infinity Saga, but due to her fascination with Spider-Man by my not-usually-all-that-interested-in-superheroes-wife (despite her unwavering-commitment to me over our 29 years of marriage, Nina secretly has the hots for much-younger-men I’ve decided, but, given our ages, “much-younger-men” would give her a vast field of opportunities so maybe I’d better steer her away from movies like this one), off we went to opening weekend (with practically everyone else in the world, it seems) to find a delightful story combining teenage insecurities (at least we’re not too old to remember what those felt like, probably haunting us too often into the following decades as well), marvelously-produced, computer-generated special effects in the combat-against-monsters-scenes, a nice level of humor often missing from these types of stories when both the filmmakers and the characters take themselves too seriously, along with a surprising twist at the end sure to encourage massive return business when next the Web-Slinger is called into action.  For some useful insights into why this superhero story is already proving to be so successful despite coming out not that long after the enormous worldwide response to Avengers: Endgame, I’ll refer you to this article which basically argues … Far From Home sidesteps what must have been a cataclysmic-response on Earth to all the chaos which resulted when half the universe’s population suddenly reappeared, frequently acknowledging Peter’s sorrow at the loss of Tony Stark but playing the typical-fast-and-loose-superhero-dodge when the focus is on just one protagonist but we know there are dozens more who could be called on in response to the latest crisis.  Sure, there’s a brief mention of the absence of Capt. America, Thor, and Captain Marvel, but what about The Hulk, Black Panther, and so many others who could have been called on when Mysterio mysteriously showed up to handle the invaders? The easy solution: Just move on, quickly!

 The comics these movie sprang from have dealt with that dilemma for ages once they teamed their heroes upJustice League (DC), Avengers (Marvel)but then went into unexplained-singularity-mode when each of these protagonists had to carry their individual comic books/movies with no aid from those other mighty beings, who, presumably, were occupied with their own crises, overlaps permitted only in special, limited-issues, cross-over comics.  Spider-Man … successfully uses a similar strategy here, with minimal references to the events of … Endgame.  (Although had this Sony/Marvel tale appeared—along with Disney/Marvel's Infinity War/Endgame blockbusters—even a few years ago there’d have been no mention of narrative-overlaps from these rival corporations, but some storyline [also revenue?] sharing must have been worked out so this version of Spider-Man [owned by Sony] as played by Holland has been featured in several recent Disney/Marvel Avengers movies, just as Tony Stark, Nick Fury, Happy Hogan, etc. have crossed the copyright-border into Sony’s Spider-Man territory so we’ll just have to see how long this corporate sharing of Marvel “intellectual property” continues [maybe until Disney buys Sony—as they did with Fox movie assets, giving them control of Marvel’s X-Men franchise also—along with their previous purchases of Lucas and Pixar studios, plus whatever else keeps them in increasing-command of much of the global-entertainment-industries].)  In a different nod to narrative continuity, that mid-credits-scene features Bugle Editor J. Jonah Jameson (Simmons back in the role) doing his usual rant about “vigilante” Spider-Man—taking us back to Sony’s original Spider-Man movies (Sam Raimi 2002, 2004, 2007), Tobey Maguire the teen slinging himself around NYC, prior to Andrew Garfield taking the role in the first reboot (Marc Webb 2012, 2014; reviews in our July 12, 2012 and May 8, 2014 postings), followed by Holland again rebooting Spidey in … Homecoming (Watts, 2017; review in our July 13, 2017 posting) as well as 3 Avengers episodes—joining in with Mysterio’s false claims the Web-Slinger was responsible for the Elementals’ attacks (which, technically, never existed as perceived) as well as Mysterio's (actually, Beck's) death, followed by his last-gasp-revelation.  There’s far too much detail in all those Spider-Man comics over almost 60 years for me to know, so I have no idea what attraction Mysterio holds for those who stay true to this lengthy-print-narrative; I’ll just say his actions in this movie came as a surprise to me, although they made what follows more interesting in that prior to the unsettling disclosures it seemed all the extravagant-action might finally be under control for a change, allowing Peter to just bumble his way through interactions with MJ (well, that happens too, but it’s a minor plot point given the climatic battle still to occur between our primary protagonist and antagonist, like all those age-old-tales have conditioned us to expect).

Bottom Line Final Comments: Even though you might think such stories of superhero conquests over evil (where the needed-social-savior faces overwhelming odds in defeating an opponent who seems more than prepared to triumph over him [or her, in the case especially of Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel, although some other powerful females have arisen in additional versions of these stories, especially in the X-Men franchise]) are beginning to wear out their welcome, especially given the enormous amount of box-office-monetary-love already poured forth for Avengers: Endgame this year (now up to $2.77 billion worldwide, compared to Avatar [James Cameron, 2009] at $2.79 billion, #1 All-Time when not taking inflation into account), but the latest Spider-Man sequel continues to draw in the crowds with a debut-weekend-massive-global-haul of $589 million ($196 million of it from domestic [U.S.-Canada] venues)—already at #5 domestically for 2019 after only 1 week—encouraged (mostly) by a range of critical support, with an celebratory group of 90% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes countered by Metacritic's restrained 69% average score.  Apparently, Sony’s overall plan is to never let this character grow too old (although he may finally get out of high-school if the current series continues on the [seemingly] planned-narrative-path) as these reboots keep re-emerging, although who knows what future he might also have in the Marvel/Disney MCU, depending on what directions that well-established-string-of-stories might take now that some major changes have taken place within the primary cluster of the Avengers cast.  If Spider-Man does continue to star in his own stories or again join forces with whomever constitutes the Avengers, I just hope he’s able to be presented within the same grand level of spectacular, computer-generated imagery as we see when he’s confronting Mysterio in Berlin, a rapidly-transforming, exquisitely-varied set of marvelous visuals, extremely impactful as they show Peter sometimes taking charge of this shape-shifting-confrontation but ultimately losing out  (before being hit by a speeding train carrying him all the way to the Netherlands, waking up in a very polite jail before using his extraordinary strength to simply break the lock off the cell, exiting while his stunned, law-abiding-cellmates simply pull the door shut again with no thought of leaving).

 As all you regular readers know (Wait!  You are a regular reader, aren’t you?  Well, if not we’ll have a chat about that a little later, OK?), I generally finish off these reviews with my Musical Metaphor to reflect (seriously or otherwise) on what’s just been said, but this time I pondered what to use for days because nothing seemed truly right was coming to me; so, I happened to mention that brain-log-jam to insightful Nina, who asked me, “What’s the essential focus of this movie?”  Before I could respond, she answered her own question with “dishonesty,” as in the scam Mysterio pulls on everyone (except his clandestine-team) and the secret-Spider-Man-identity Peter attempts to keep from love-interest MJ and everyone else around them for his own protection as well as theirs so a relative or friend won’t face harm in a showdown with our teenage superhero’s enemies.  Those secrets don’t hold up for either hero or villain as this story works its way to closure but they did immediately summon Billy Joel’s “Honesty” (from his 1978 52nd Street album) at for me, a driving-but-melancholy song about the abundance of guile in our world where everyone’s constantly trying to position themselves in an advantageous situation, concealing/protecting/strategizing something intended to pay off at some point: “Honesty is such a lonely word Everyone is so untrue Honesty is hardly ever heard And mostly what I need from you.” (This movie tries very hard to avoid overt political messages [or even implications, as best I encountered it], but the song I’ve picked to accompany it should also become an anthem for the already-in-motion-2020-election-campaigns because “I don’t want some pretty face To tell me pretty lies All I want is someone to believe”].)  As Peter might be asking of Mysterio here—just as MJ could be saying the same to Peter—“When I’m deep inside of me Don’t be too concerned I won’t ask for nothin’ while I’m gone But when I want sincerity Tell me where else can I turn Cause you’re the one that I depend upon.”  If you stay for the credits as this Spider-Man …’s winding down (or stroll into my spoiler zone) you’ll find one burst of honesty Peter Parker never hoped to hear, but we all need some motivation for a sequel, don’t we?  Maybe Spider-Man’ll entice me too next time he swings back into town, unless like his web-packets at a crucial point in … Far From Home I’ll also find myself empty, in my case with no continuing interest in this constant parade of superheroes.  It all depends on my level of enhanced-protagonist-exhaustion by then, which I hope to have revived by Wonder Woman 1984 (Patty Jenkins), scheduled for big release on June 5, 2020.

Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to please refer again to the plot spoilers warning far above (but it’s only relevant for the second film discussed farther below because the first one’s a documentary based in public knowledge, not previously-unknown-script-revelations).

                        Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am 
              (Timothy Greenfield-Sanders)   rated PG-13

A documentary about one of the world’s great living authors (a woman sure to be remembered, taught about, celebrated long after she’s gone) who speaks directly to the camera to clearly—bluntly at times—reveal her thoughts, concerns, approach to writing in a collection of insightful statements by/about her, interspersed with marvelous images including some gorgeous paintings.

Here’s the trailer:

 For these SHORT TAKES reviews I usually abandon the structure you find in the longer feature-review above so I can jump around more easily into various statements that don’t have to feel chronologically or conceptually in “proper” placement; with documentaries, like this one, such a strategy also proves useful because docs do have beginning and end points on screen but they’re not necessarily building toward a climatic sense of resolution.  Toni Morrison …’s a useful example of that because (after a fascinating visual experience under the opening credits, collage work by Mickalene Thomas playing with fragments of Toni’s face and other imagery in a rapid fashion) we’re right into direct address by Morrison (a tactic Greenfield-Sanders uses purposely, as noted in the podcast connected to this film in the Related Links section of this posting much farther below [he also discusses it in the press notes—which I did have access to this time, because they’re part of the official site for Toni …, the first link in that later section, expanding the background info for this film], allowing her to have a sense of shared conversation with us, while the other people on camera are shot looking a bit off-screen because their remarks—while important—are somewhat-secondary to the statements of the woman “in focus” here).  What she tells us, in an anecdote about her childhood, sets the tone for the rest of the film: As a very young girl she and a friend were trying to spell out “fuck” in the dirt when her mother caught them, flew into a frenzy about it, allowing Morrison even at this very early age to feel the power of words, which ultimately she’s taken command of through her many novels, with The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), and Beloved (1987) getting the most attention in these commentaries about contents of her books.  Certainly, she’s written many more than that, but time considerations (this runs 120 min.) for marketing a less-than-mainstream-product (like Spider-Man …) account for putting what’s here into a format more easily sold to theater chains and TV networks.  Maybe the DVD version will contain additional footage, as indicated by Greenfield-Sanders in reference to how he wants to include a 7 min. segment on Shakespeare from theatrical director Peter Sellers (worked with Toni when she taught at Princeton), cut here purely for purposes of controlling running-time.  (Ideally, I’d like to see a bit more about her work beyond Beloved, but we should evaluate art based on what/how it presents, not on how we might have done it; from that perspective this film is straightforward, informative, inspiring in what’s spoken, so within its determined-limits it clearly succeeds quite well.)

 But, while … The Pieces I Am (taken from a line in the book of Beloved [there’s also a adapted film of that title {Jonathan Demme, 1998} championed by one of this doc’s many interviewees, Oprah Winfrey, starring her, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton; a mesmerizing experience for me, yet not all that embraced by the cinematic-critical-community—78% positive reviews from RT, a measly 57% average MC score]) might conceptually be more marketable in its current shape in trying to compress such literary genius (Pulitzer Prize for the Beloved novel [1988], Nobel Prize in Literature [1993], many other awards), it hasn’t yet caught on much at the box-office after 3 weeks where it’s earned only about $247 thousand in a mere 48 domestic theaters, despite solid critical support (RT 96%, MC 79% [a praiseworthy result for them]).  Morrison, as a writer as well as an inspirational person, is praised extensively by those chosen to speak on her behalf, including Winfrey, activist-author Angela Davis, author Walter Mosley, and others, yet the most powerful statements come from Toni herself, which you can get a solid sense of from the 27:55 video interview in that Related Links cluster where she’s talking specifically about her novel Paradise (1997), more generally about the social ills she addresses in her books (a YouTube search of “Toni Morrison interviews” will turn up many others, some quite short but others lengthy), a useful, accessible, substitute video given how difficult this current film will likely be to find for most of you.  For me, though, it’s difficult to reframe such verbal eloquence (readings from her novels, her statements on many subjects) into other functional words of my own, so I’ll encourage you to consult this Toni Morrison site as well as this biographical one to learn more about this remarkable woman (of course, you can also read her novels, which I need to do more of myself; I’ve only gotten to Song of Solomon, which was astounding).  For this review, I’ll just focus on a couple of key points from the film, the first being how she refused to heed the advice of early commentators on her work who said she needed to expand her horizons, talk about subjects beyond the Black experience, which she explains how/ why she’s refused to do because she feels there’s too much needing to be explored there for her to have to go into other topics further afield (she’s clearly taken command of her own literary visions, especially when she became famous enough to concentrate fully on writing rather than her earlier, parallel careers as an editor [usually of Black literature] at NYC’s Random House, a professor of literature at various colleges around the country, all that time raising 2 sons after her husband left).

 Ironically, though, in this documentary, Morrison seems to go against her own intentions when she talks about encouraging her writing students not to follow the traditional advice of “write what you know” but rather use your imagination to create something you’re not yet familiar with, put your consciousness into the perspective of the type of people you’re not all that knowledgeable of but allow yourself to tap into the humanity we all share, forcing yourself to see the world from a perspective not automatically yours.  A further irony about this advice from Morrison comes from an article in The Week magazine's June 14, 2019 issue (excerpted from Jesse Singal's study in Reason) about how extremist-p.c.-online-consciousness toward Young Adult authors is ranging from vicious criticism to books being withdrawn because of complaints before they’ve even been read, with the argument being “Only Xs can write about X, and only Ys can write about Y.  All because of an incredibly small but incredibly loud group of Twitter users insatiable in their outrage.  Image what a pointless, depressing loss that would be for readers of the future.”  I can’t in any manner cite how far Morrison has pushed herself beyond what she knows in her own works, but clearly her goal for younger generations of authors is to reject the imposed-limitations explored by Singal, to find ways of challenging insular visions of the world around us (while still learning from those who do write from their own experience, providing balance to those “readers of the future”).  I just hope such-future-readers include Morrison in their embrace of literature, to help understand why, since that Nobel Prize was first granted in 1901, the only USA writers besides Toni to win it have been other giants such as Sinclair Lewis (1930), Eugene O’Neill (1936), Pearl S. Buck (1938), William Faulkner (1949), Ernest Hemingway (1954), John Steinbeck (1962), Saul Bellow (1976), Isaac Bashevis Singer (1978), Joseph Brodsky (1987), and (possibly, the most unlikely) Bob Dylan (2016).  

 For a Musical Metaphor to end this review (hopefully sticking the song in your head solidly-enough to remind you to seek out Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am in the future, likely in some video format) is Aretha Franklin’s version of “Spanish Harlem” (on the 1971 Aretha’s Greatest Hits album)—written by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector, a popular single first for Ben E. King in 1960—at https://www. (terrible image quality but the audio’s great and you get to see young Aretha dancing around in some of it), with the song beginning at 0:55, where it’s clear this is a celebration of a certain aspect of Black culture (the original lyric’s changed from “a red rose up in Spanish Harlem” to “a rose in black in Spanish Harlem”), as singular as the characters in Morrison’s novels (“It is a special one It never sees the sun It only comes up When the moon is on the run And all the stars are gleaming It’s growing in the street Right up through the concrete But soft, sweet and dreamy”).  Toni shows us unique people “With eyes as black as coal,” often unknown presences outside of the circumscribed-realms they inhabit, waiting to be known if we’ll please “pick that rose And watch her [or him] as she [or he] grows in [our ever-expanding] garden.”
     The Space Between Words (Ian Fowler)  Not Rated

A young Pacific Northwest woman tries to move on from a personal tragedy 5 years ago, finally allowing herself to have feelings for a woman she’s just met where compatible sparks fly, friends are supportive of their newfound love, then complications threaten to unhinge it all; this is an intriguing indie film, well worth locating the opportunity to watch.

Here’s the trailer:

 In reference to my comments in the review of Toni Morrison ... just above, citing Singal’s article on repression in artistic expression if the author’s not a member of the “tribe” being presented, I wonder if anyone would object to Fowler writing/directing a narrative about lesbian romance given he’s not a direct representative of his protagonist?  (Neither am I, so, by that logic would I have any business reviewing the film?)  All I can say to that query (and to this “Cowed by the culture cops” situation in general) is that, yes, I believe people from any community of the human race (a term ripe for condemnation itself, given its use of a word that contains just “man” to refer to all people, with the additional contortions connected to “race”—a word with no biological viability when applied to all varieties of home sapiens although loaded with sociopolitical connotations) share the option of creating valid stories about one another; further, I don’t see where anyone isn’t “valid” in dealing in any cultural/gender-based-narrative about the pain of a lost relationship (especially one involving death) along with the connected difficulties the left-behind-lover must endure in trying to be open to a new connection later, even when ghosts of the past or misunderstandings in the present make a potential beginning difficult to navigate.  With those (possibly random) thoughts in place, let me say I found a lot to like in this latest independent effort from Fowler, thanking him for giving me access to his film (his producer also sought me out last year to address another of his films, Crazy Right [review in our March 29, 2018 posting],* which I was also glad to see, especially because 2 of the primary actors from that earlier offering—Lindsae Klein, Michael Draper—are back again, very-welcome-screen presences).  While I’ll adhere to my designated-spoilers-format here, I can see why you’d be tempted to read ahead without seeing the film first because it’s not in the marketplace yet, as it’s just now making the festival circuit.  But, with that limitation in mind and a hearty encouragement to you to find this intriguing film when it becomes available, I’ll note the basic premise is Willa (from Willomina) Hardy (Klein), a (seemingly) Portland, OR woman, bookstore owner, 5 years removed from the death of her wife (Sara), living with a quirky pet-psychologist roommate, Edger (Draper)—we first meet him playing Sexter on the living room floor with a girlfriend when Willa comes home one night (hangs around in his underwear a lot, in agreement with a neighbor to put some clothes on)—as well as store employee Janet (Beth Moesche), couch-surfing with Willa throughout this film, finds herself quickly attracted one day to Arlo Johnson (Willow Finney), a welcome initial response yielding tender romance, then personal tragedies for these gals.

*You can get it through Amazon if you like.  (Please note: Two Guys gets no kickback from sales, rentals, or anything associated with anything we review; we just like promoting talented filmmakers.)

 Problems begin when Wllla brings Arlo to one of her regular dinners with a family—parents Dale (Jonathan Wexler) and Grace (Laurie Campbell-Leslie), religious enough to keep a large Bible near the front door, plus adult daughter Eva (Nikki Flinn)—Willa’s been close to ever since their son, Jim, died.  ⇒We learn later, from Janet's disclosures to Arlo, Willa was the driver during a tragic accident resulting in the deaths of Sara and Jim.⇐   Dale and Arlo find they have mutual recording interests, her working in Foley artistry (providing post-production-sound-effects for film and TV) with sound editor Greg (Greg James) while Dale was in a rock band years ago.  He gives her his high-quality-Nagra tape recorder, but this family’s acceptance of Arlo ignites an emotional-overload in Willa, leading her to pull away abruptly, then traipse out to the countryside later, where Arlo’s recording birds, for a reconciliation.  It’s all going along nicely (with comic interludes from Edger who finds an unlikely romantic connection with Janet) until Arlo’s ex, Christina (Cecily Overman), suddenly shows up at Arlo's place one day, expecting to instantly rekindle their sex lives, so of course Willa also comes by, misunderstands, rushes off heartbroken again (resulting in her go-to-responses of withdrawal, crying, and knitting).  In the end, after listening to old messages on her iPhone (which she keeps stored in her closet, preventing easy access to her from anyone currently), Willa decides to sell the bookstore (to the shocked-dismay of her friends), finally gets behind the wheel of her car again, heads down U.S. Hwy. 101 to L.A. to seek out relocated-Arlo (given the logistics she’d have gotten there faster using I-5, but, in an indication of her inner-aesthetics, she takes the scenic route along Oregon’s Pacific Coast, California’s redwoods, rather than the rather dismal, endless stretch of Interstate-asphalt that cuts through the middle of this geography).⇐   While I can’t say that every aspect of this film was completely clear upon a first viewing (even as sound levels for dialogue rise and fall a bit inconsistently, even within some scenes; further, some interludes—especially with Edger, such as one involving him, hand lotion, and the bathroom mirror—are funny but a bit distracting from the overall flow, although his ruminations on human urges to destroy everything traced back to our beginnings as extraterrestrial-bacteria are a great combo of absurdity and intrigue), I really enjoyed seeing it, found the relationships very-unpredictably-humane, never lost interest in how the story and characters were evolving, had every reason to hope things would work out in a positive manner for all concerned (with satisfaction provided in plausible procedures).

 From a rigid-film-school-perspective, you might find some fault with a few technical choices—the extremely-widescreen-format clashes at times with the intense facial-closeups (leaving much of the screen area unaccounted for), movements through these wide shots sometimes leaves heads chopped off in a momentarily-disconcerting-fashion, the overall color palette’s quite subdued (somewhat taking energy from the imagery)—but, upon after-the-fact-contemplation, The Space Between Words (metaphorically, in this case, the imagery between dialogue) functions like what Herbert Zettl (in his marvelous textbook, Sight Sound Motion: Applied Media Aesthetics [up to 8th ed., 2017], which I used for years in my Visual Communication class) refers to as “looking into” (deeply investigating, contemplating), the tendency of more aesthetic attitudes in the arts especially drama in the audiovisual media, rather than more surface-oriented “looking at” (observing, identifying), characteristic of plot-dominated-entertainment, especially comedies or illustrative imagery focused on what’s there more so than on why is it there.  In that sense, The Space … (especially with those desaturated hues) pulls you into the considerable variety of the main characters’ emotions (even in brief encounters, such as traditional-churchgoer-Grace admitting to Willa how difficult it was to accept her at first, given her lesbianism), lets you know consistently this is a straightforward-but-impactful-story of human emotions (the kind Toni Morrison explores), not a rapid-rush of activity intended to stimulate your heartbeat/respiratory readings (as with Spider-Man …).  It’s definitely worth seeing, so put it on your list, then keep seeking it out.  I’ll close with a Musical Metaphor from Carly Simon, “Anticipation” (from her 1971 same-named-album) at because while Willa doesn’t ultimately choose to “stay right here,” at least physically, she acknowledges her shortcomings—“I’m no prophet and I don’t know nature’s ways [… because, regarding Arlo] I wonder if I’m really with you now Or just chasing after some finer day […] anticipation is making me late Is keeping me waiting” until finally she accepts “These are the good old days,” taking the advice of John Keating (Robin Williams) in Dead Poets Society (Peter Weir, 1989) regarding carpe diem (“Seize the day”), to which I can add only Neil Young's encouragement, “With your chrome heart shining in the sun Long may you run.”*

*”Long May You Run” is from the [Stephen] Stills-[Neil] Young Band’s 1976 album named for the song.  Other musical notations to finish us off here include how a sense of Carly Simon’s songs was running through my head while watching The Space …, leaving me convinced one of them had to be chosen for my official Metaphor, but one last thought is how I’m glad Willa’s auto-fiasco didn’t end up with circumstances like in Bob Dylan’s "Percy's Song" (on the 1985 Biograph album) where the driver was sentenced to 99 years in Illinois’ harsh Joliet Prison, while she just suffered privately.

Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:

We encourage you to visit the summary of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

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Here’s more information about Spider-Man: Far From Home: (16:56 video about 25 Things You Missed in Spider-Man: Far From Home—lots of spoilers here [also gets interrupted a couple of times by ads])

Here’s more information about Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am: (click the little box in the upper left for more details) (18:58 podcast interview with director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders) and (27:55 interview with author Toni Morrison; after some introductory footage on her novel Paradise [1997], this video 
focuses largely on her writing processes, racism, genocides, and how she addresses such in her work—audio’s a bit low, though)

Here’s more information about The Space Between Words:

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.  You can also leave comments at our Facebook page, although you may have to somehow connect with us at that site in order to do it (most FB procedures are still a bit of a mystery to us old farts).

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.)

If we did talk, though, you’d easily see how my early-70s-age informs my references, Musical Metaphors, etc. in these reviews because I’m clearly a guy of the later 20th century, not so much the contemporary world.  I’ve come to accept my ongoing situation, though, realizing we all (if fate allows) keep getting older, we just have to embrace it, as Joni Mitchell did so well in "The Circle Game," offering sage advice even when she was quite young herself.

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 20,628 (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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