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Review: That’s the Way of the World




That’s the Way of the World

If I chose to write a review of That’s the Way of the World the length of which accurately reflected the duration of its star attraction Earth, Wind & Fire, I should have stopped writing two clauses ago. Way of the World is finally getting a home video release after spending over three decades in obscurity. It’s “the lost feature film,” as the promotional materials trumpet—or fugelhorn. Turns out that not only was the film lost, but, likewise, the band’s participation in the film itself is MIA. If anyone has any reason to celebrate the return of Way of the World it’s milquetoast Harvey Keitel fans looking for those elusive titles in his filmography that don’t involve spurting fluids. I am not one of them, and neither are most people that have any reason to be excited by this DVD release.

Those expecting to see more than a glimpse of EW&F’s infamously ornate mid-‘70s staqe show in all its sequin-spangled glory will probably end up losing patience as Keitel, as a hot-shot record producer, spends all his studio time molding a talentless faux-family trio’s lead-off single into an MOR FM delight. Sure, he spends all his time trying to convince the conniving, Mafioso record execs that The Group (EW&F’s filmic moniker) has talent and substance. But then he turns around and cuts short what would be their only significant dramatic scene less than one minute in. “If you don’t want to discuss this civilly, I think we should cancel this meeting.” In an attempt to tip the scales back toward their rightful place, I choose to use the remainder of this review to annotate the soundtrack album, which rightfully sailed to the top of the pop charts while the film it intended to complement even more rightfully sunk (as though true love wasn’t written in the stone).

“Shining Star” — On the soundtrack, it kicks ass, takes names, and performs a mass baptismal all in the space of two minutes and 50 seconds. The verse pounds on the bassline’s one until the chorus unfurls a tangy, James Brown-recalling guitar progression. The wall of vocals gets tighter and tighter until, at the very end of the song, they’re right up next to the speakers. In the film, a radio DJ (non-payola) plays the song before it’s even finished, surprising Keitel while he’s driving around L.A. Director Sig Shore naturally cuts to a different scene about 20 seconds into the song.

“That’s The Way Of The World” — The EW&F “National Anthem,” a luscious, billowing ballad so powerful that it even showed up on David Mancuso’s list of the 100 most beloved spins at The Loft dance club. Layers of rich orchestration and soaring falsetto characterize this quintessential slow funk jam, the kind that the Ohio Players were always trying to emulate but were rarely able to without collapsing. It’s at least a relief that this is one of the two songs that gets a relatively complete performance in the film, albeit in chopped up and reorganized form. Hey, Sig’s gotta run the opening credits over something, right?

“Happy Feeling” — Not much more than a double-time, feel-good vamp, it’s probably the least adventurous composition on the album, which makes it perfect for the big roller-skating sequence! Make that the endless roller-skating sequence, which means this is the other of the two songs that gets near-complete performances in the film. Actually, this song shows up twice, reprising at the film’s end when Keitel stands on the side of the stage at their massive stadium performance, savoring the fruits of his double-crossing, blackmailing solution to his Pages/Group dilemma. Somehow I don’t think Sig quite latched onto the sort of “happy feeling” EW&F were known—and openly derided—for peddling. I guess I should be glad that he at least remembered to train one camera on Larry Dunn’s levitating piano.

“All About Love” — Maurice turns an admittedly goofy boudoir humper into an erotically-detached “Free To Be You And Me” sermonette. Sig hears the borrowed Barry White orchestrations and throws the track on top of Keitel’s waterbed as he plunges wedding-band-deep into his corrupt plan to come out on top by kissing the bottom.

“Yearnin’ Learnin’” — With the barreling piano chords and timing on the high-hat, it’s the one song on the album that sounds most like the sort of soundtrack Sig is used to, which means pieces of it show up everywhere. Actually, it usually ends up getting boiled down to that one “hit me once” horn sting, which caps off scenes that don’t deserve the punctuation (i.e. record execs talk shop on the golf course, nod goodbye to each other, POW!!!). I’ll admit this was my secret favorite song growing up with this album, and it still is. It disturbs me how blithely it was turned into incidental music.

“Reasons” — The album’s great, misunderstood track: it’s so sentimental it almost sounds like Mike Brady singing “Send In The Clowns,” but its lyrics actually reveal a pretty stony core. It’s about how quickly love disappears after orgasm; the band later couched it in more abstractly romantic terms in their all-time prom hit “After The Love Has Gone.” Sig uses it for a vapid, catty music industry party. What?! Way of the World could’ve been significantly improved if he’d switched around his strategies for using this song and “Yearnin’ Learnin’.”

“Africano” — An electrifying instrumental number that really shows off the band’s percussive backbone. Not used at all in the film that I could tell, though there is one shot at the top of the film showing Maurice White tuning his kalimba.

“See The Light” — A really weird suite (it begins in 7/8 time), this song sounds like what I imagine was running through prissy trio member Gary Page’s head as he started snorting coke and shooting heroin in the backstage dressing room. It’s 1970s Kinney’s Shoes Muzak on an acid trip. Obviously, it’s my other secret favorite on the album and, again obviously, it doesn’t really show up in the film at all except in the far background. Which makes it a useful metaphor for Earth, Wind & Fire’s role in their own goddamned movie.

Cast: Harvey Keitel, Ed Nelson, Cynthia Bostick, Bert Parks, Jimmy Boyd, Michael Dante, Andrew Blau, Earth, Wind & Fire Director: Sig Shore Screenwriter: Robert Lipsyte Distributor: United Artists Running Time: 100 min Rating: PG Year: 1975 Buy: Video



Review: A Land Imagined Is a Noir-Tinged Rumination on Identity

Writer-director Yeo Siew Hua suggests that becoming another person is as easy as dreaming it.




A Land Imagined
Photo: MM2 Entertainment

Yeo Siew Hua’s A Land Imagined begins with an extended montage of looming buildings and structures, as well as work sites of Singapore’s vast land-reclamation projects. This simple visual motif effectively captures not only the sense of insignificance that comes with living in an urban center teeming with people (workers appear like dots within the wide shots), but also lays the groundwork for the film’s sudden shift in perspective.

Yeo’s Golden Leopard-winning film opens in dreamy noir-like fashion before blooming into a sobering social drama concerning the lives of Singapore’s ignored and exploited immigrant and working-class communities. After a police detective, Lok (Peter Yu), spends the first third of A Land Imagined searching for a missing construction worker, Wang (Liu Xiaoyi), Lok’s partner rhetorically asks why looking for a lowly laborer is worth the time and taxpayer money. Yeo makes an empathetic rebuttal to that thought by subsequently launching into a depiction of Wang and his downtrodden existence immediately before his disappearance.

Wang, though injured, can’t afford to miss work, so he continues to drive a shuttle for other workers. Through the depiction of Wang’s grinding daily routine and search for a side hustle, Yeo shows how the man is at the mercy of his employers. In keeping with the strain of noir from Lok’s storyline, the company Wang works for and whom the dredged land is ultimately for is an eerily nebulous entity, like something out of a Fritz Lang production. Wang appears as an unwitting pawn in a larger scheme, though, paradoxically, the moments of relative escape spent with a fellow worker, Ajit (Ishtiaque Zico), and the mysterious Mindy (Luna Kwok), the manager of a cybercafé Wang frequents, prove that he leads a life of his own.

The presence of the Bangladeshi Ajit in A Land Imagined and the fact that the undocumented Wang hails from mainland China are just two factors that point to Yeo’s grasp of Singapore as a globalized state with shifting notions of identity—an understanding that’s complemented by the film’s narrative structure, which shifts perspective between Lok and Wang throughout. Each character operates on the fringes of Singaporean society and deals with similar feelings of estrangement. At one point, Wang tells Mindy after a late-night swim at a local beach that the sand comes from various different countries around Singapore. And this idea of the island nation as not having a set identity is one that’s cannily rhymed to the film’s structure.

The shift back and forth between the narrative’s central characters, and how one of those characters is affected by the life of an itinerant worker, brings to mind João Dumans and Affonso Uchoa’s Araby, but A Land Imagined doesn’t contain itself completely to the realist tradition of that film. Yeo adopts a more ethereal approach, even implying early on that Lok’s storyline is a projection of dreams that Wang once had. The elliptical narrative, coupled with the explicitly noir passages—marked by stylized and shadowy cinematography—that follow Lok and Wang around a hazy and languid cityscape, give the impression that A Land Imagined exists in a kind of dream state. The film may be coy about definitively stating if Lok is Wang’s dream-self, but this question is ultimately irrelevant. In a diverse land where identity is inherently foggy, Yeo suggests that becoming another person is as easy as dreaming it.

Cast: Peter Yu, Liu Xiaoyi, Luna Kwok, Ishtiaque Zico, Jack Tan, Kelvin Ho Director: Yeo Siew Hua Screenwriter: Yeo Siew Hua Running Time: 95 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

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Review: Out of Blue Plays Out Like a New-Age Law & Order

Carol Morley’s film wants to blow our minds, but it succeeds only at rousing our boredom.




Out of Blue
Photo: IFC Films

Carol Morley’s Out of Blue begins with images of a supernova as an ostensibly brilliant astrophysicist, Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer), wonderingly intones that we’re all made of stardust. This meaningless observation, cribbed from Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” is an appropriate opening to a film that proves to be every bit as trite, over-reaching, and goofy as its opening lines. With its endless references to black holes, the multiverse, and Schrödinger’s cat—the last of which is outlined in detail not once but twice—Morley’s film wants to blow our minds, but it succeeds only at rousing boredom.

Loosely based on the novel Night Train by Martin Amis, Out of Blue attempts to combine the heady philosophizing of True Detective with the metaphorical surrealism of Twin Peaks, but Morley’s writing is so ham-handed and her directing so nondescript that the film ends up feeling more like a protracted new-age spin on Law & Order. It doesn’t speak well of Out of Blue that the film is at its most compelling when it’s just straight-up ripping off David Lynch’s stylistic idiosyncrasies, such as in a dream sequence where Jennifer lip-synchs to an old-timey country song on a bandstand that looks nearly identical to the Roadhouse stage.

The film’s plot is also suspiciously reminiscent of that of Twin Peaks: An enigmatic detective, Mike Hoolihan (Patricia Clarkson), investigates the brutal murder of a pretty young blonde (Gummer), which brings her into contact with an assortment of local oddballs. Out of Blue, though, lacks the regional specificity of Lynch’s series—Morley’s film is set in New Orleans but you wouldn’t know that from what’s on screen—and its eccentrics, some of them played by fascinating character actors like Toby Jones, Jacki Weaver, and James Caan, are vaguely drawn. But the biggest misstep is Mike herself, a cipher who spends much of Out of Blue muttering clues under her breath and staring into the middle distance.

Of course, Mike has a dark past herself, one which is intertwined with the mystery she’s trying to solve. Clarkson does her best to imbue the role with a certain offbeat gravitas, but Mike is too confusedly conceived to generate any real interest in her backstory, much less to carry the narrative. Morley hangs a lot of eccentricities on the character—she drives a vintage car, listens to the Eels, and, in one particularly baffling scene, climbs on stage at a strip club and starts writhing on the dancers—but none of these cohere into a comprehensible whole. All the way to the end of Out of Blue, Mike’s quirks exude a grab-bag-like feeling, ensuring that she remains an enigma amid the comings and goings of so many wacky side characters and all the pseudo-metaphysical blather of Morley’s muddled script.

Cast: Mamie Gummer, Patricia Clarkson, James Caan, Jacki Weaver, Toby Jones, Aaron Tveit, Jonathan Majors, Alyshia Ochse, Gary Grubbs, Yolonda Ross, Lucy Faust, Brad Mann, Thomas Francis Murphy, Carol Sutton, Lawrence Turner Director: Carol Morley Screenwriter: Carol Morley Distributor: IFC Films Running Time: 109 min Rating: NR Year: 2018

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Review: Genesis Lyrically Captures the Heartache of Sentimental Education

Philippe Lesage’s film understands that we submit ourselves to the perils of affection because of its outweighing graces.




Photo: Productions l'Unite Centrale

Writer-director Philippe Lesage follows up The Demons with another coming-of-age saga that fixates on the relatable, if grim, blues of self-awakening. Primarily following the teenaged Guillaume (Théodore Pellerin) and his college-aged sister, Charlotte (Noée Abita), Genesis charts how both are shaped by their experiences with sexual desire, subtly observing their behavior and, occasionally, the darker side of affection.

Guillaume commands much of the film’s attention. From the first shot, in which he stands on a desk in his all-boys boarding school and leads his mates in a barroom shanty, it’s obvious that Guillaume is a charismatic class clown who knows how to force all eyes onto himself. Yet the teen can also be withdrawn and introverted, and his relationships with his friends and teachers are constantly in flux. His puckish behavior is often celebrated by classmates and even some teachers, like the sardonic Perrier (Paul Ahmarani), who in one class invites Guillaume to do his impersonation of him, which the teen performs with hilarious specificity and to the initial delight and then discomfort of the professor.

Wounded by the boy’s exposure of his flaws, Perrier subsequently singles out Guillaume for harassment, berating him without cause and even screaming at the kid over the slightest perceived transgression. Guillaume’s peers are less extreme, but the same kids who applaud his classroom antics are also quick to ignore him inside their shared dorms or in social situations, content to simply use him for amusement during class time.

Guillaume’s awkward relationship to others at the boarding school is exacerbated by his closeted sexuality, which isolates him from the heteronormative activities of his friends. In one scene, Lesage films the boy in slow motion as he wanders through a house party surrounded by boys and girls kissing, trying to fit in by cautiously snaking his arm around a girl, who casually shrugs him off as he keeps walking. Like much of Genesis, the moment is at once thematically obvious and beautifully moving, with the sudden swell of morose pop transforming the scene into a lyrically intense expression of the boy’s sentimental education. The impeccable blocking places the other kids in every square inch of the room save for a pocket of dead space around Guillaume, poignantly emphasizing his loneliness.

Charlotte, by contrast, seems to have an easier time of things. More carefree and confident than her brother, she’s at first hampered only by her inane boyfriend, Maxime (Pier-Luc Funk), who broaches the subject of an open relationship with a forced sense of casual suggestion, only to later sobbingly backtrack after she kicks him to the curb. Charlotte ends up with the older Theo (Maxime Dumontier), whose charming demeanor and respectfulness suggests actual maturity. When Lesage films Charlotte in a club using the same slow-mo style that he did for Guillaume’s glum traipse through the house party, the tone is considerably brighter, with the young woman free and ebullient about her contentment.

Soon, however, Charlotte must also contend with the fallout of various sexual stresses. Lesage grapples with matters that are all too common to darker coming-of-age stories, and he captures the film’s most harrowing scenes in single takes. Yet if the filmmaker doesn’t shy away from plainly depicting such horrors as sexual violation, he avoids wallowing in the misery he piles onto his characters. Guillaume and especially Charlotte suffer, but Lesage pulls focus onto the aftershocks of trauma rather than the traumatic events themselves. Sometimes Genesis even ducks reinforcing the bleakest of expectations, as in a scene of Guillaume baring his soul to his classmates that ends in a surprisingly warm fashion.

Indeed, the bright colors and sedate direction of Genesis isn’t an ironic contrast for the difficult content within but a cue for the perseverance of hope in trying times. That optimism is borne out in the final act, which shifts focus to Felix (Édouard Tremblay-Grenier), the protagonist of The Demons, now a cheery teen attending what appears to be a bible camp. As he plays guitar with counselors and plays around in camp, he gravitates toward Beatrice (Émilie Bierre), a young girl who’s clearly as interested in him as he is in her. Compared to the more vicious heartbreak facing Charlotte and Guillaume, Felix and Beatrice’s budding feelings are presented innocently and sweetly. Their first flirtations end the film on a hopeful note that suggests that not all stories of young self-discovery need be solemn, and that we submit ourselves to the perils of affection because of its outweighing graces.

Cast: Théodore Pellerin, Noée Abita, Édouard Tremblay-Grenier, Maxime Dumontier, Jules Roy Scicotte, Pier-Luc Funk, Paul Ahmarani, Antoine Marchand-Gagnon, Émilie Bierre Director: Philippe Lesage Screenwriter: Philippe Lesage Running Time: 130 min Rating: NR Year: 2019

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