2020 Series/Volume





Published September 30, 2020
Updated January 6, 2021





September 2020 Picks




Documentary film

The 2016 ad for the November 2016 showing of Forbidden Memory at the C1 Originals Festival 2016. [Uploaded 17 November 2016 by Cinema One]

The 23-28 September 2020 limited re-showing of Forbidden Memory on YouTube
(Limited-access streaming made available 23-28 September 2020 via YouTube)

DIRECTOR Teng Mangansakan describes his Cinema One-produced 2016 film in that 2016 video above as more of a gathering of "collective memories" rather than of documentary visuals. By which he likely meant the interviewees' memories struggling to tell us what happened that day.
    What are we talking about? Although obviously a low-cost project that starts slowly, the film progresses like a campfire narration, even though it was filmed mostly during the daytime. Surprisingly, however, it engages, and for that minimalist result alone it should already be commended. Again, we must say that despite the near-absence of dramatizations the film is arresting enough in its telling of what transpired during the Palimbang massacre of 1974 at the height of the Marcos regime's power trip.
    This interview film, as it were, presents that story from the point of view of a handful of Muslim villagers who survived that massacre as well as the point of view of some of their Christian sympathizers.
    Uhm, let us rephrase that other statement. The near-absence of dramatizations involving actors . . . actually renders for the Palimbang story a film that's more precious as a stirring historical museum piece rather than just another editing-room beauty. If you didn't catch the limited YouTube showing, here's hoping you get to access the film elsewhere and with it realize that someone's historical negationism towards a time of recklessness, even with amply-tooled aesthetics, isn't going to have an easy time in the presence of low-cost gems on history like this one.



Art criticism, painting

[Click here for an alternative access to the Facebook post]

Minouh Murakami's brief critique on DengCoy Miel's Saranggola ni Pepe posted on Facebook
(posted 24 September 2020, Facebook)



Culinary art recipe

Chef Dale Talde's halo-halo of shaved ice, avocado, green mango, kiwi, young coconut meat and nuts in episode 7 of Top Chef: Chicago (2008). [Cropped screenshot uploaded by lafang.mikemina.com to pinterest.ph]

A clip from the Top Chef episode capturing Dale Talde's halo-halo "quickfire" entry. [Uploaded 28 April 2008 by Arnold Gatilao]

Filipino-American chef Dale Talde's halo-halo, from 2008's Top Chef: Chicago that only aired this September on Netflix
(episode 7 of Top Chef: Chicago [aka Top Chef season 4] featuring Talde's halo-halo quick recipe first aired on Bravo on 23 April 2008; all of the season's episodes along with the episodes of Top Chef: Miami [aka Top Chef season 3] first aired 5 September 2020 on Netflix)

IT happened way back in 2008 in the "Quickfire Challenge" of episode 7 of Top Chef: Chicago, aka Top Chef season 4, but the series' Miami and Chicago seasons only just aired this year this September on Netflix, so consider Filipino-American chef Dale Talde's halo-halo item renewed for food porn glorification.
    Well, we all know of course that Talde got eliminated from the show season at the end of the 11th episode, aka the "Restaurant Wars" episode, and he didn't exactly win that abovementioned Quickfire challenge. But he actually became one of five contestants from that season who went on to sport bigger names in the US culinary world. Before the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic hit the restaurant business hard, we heard that Talde owned or co-owned no less than ten restaurants.
    Anyway, we're just happy to see once more that extraordinary quick halo-halo recipe of his that we first saw on one of those internet websites airing Bravo shows. A number of Filipinos raved about that piece, what with its variation on the traditional dessert or snack item, there using avocado, green mango, kiwi, young coconut meat, and nuts to be his floaters on top of the requisite shaved ice.
    What fun it turned out to be, re-watching the competition on Netflix, despite the 4:3 screen ratio.



Toys, handicraft pieces

Bayan Mo, Ipatrol Mo's Facebook post reporting on Malaysia-based Filipino architect-sculptor Rowel Naanep's model vehicles made from garbage materials. [Posted on Facebook 2 September 2020 by Bayan Mo, Ipatrol Mo]

"Maliliit na sasakyan"
(Posted on Facebook 2 September 2020 by Bayan Mo, Ipatrol Mo)

WHEN did Malaysia-based Filipino architect and sculptor Rowel Naanep make those transportation toys featured in the photos above? We don't know. But now that Bayan Mo, Ipatrol Mo has posted on Facebook those photos of Naanep's toys for everyone to see (or see again), we can start discussing their value for toy aficionados (especially die-cast toy aficionados) and whoever else. Value, that is, that may inspire people to pursue things other than pure artmaking using garbage similar to Naanep's or, say, Haribaabu Naatesan's.
    First, each of the above-featured Naanep works is a transport toy. The "toyability" of each of the toys' set of wheels seems to be the basic rationale for the vehicles' ready toy-ness. However, remember that Naanep made these from materials retrieved from trash
trash on the streets, on the beach, etc. That means that the toys have yet to go through some bureau's examination before they can be deemed toxicity-free, for even toddlers may find it tempting to taste the toys' wheels or plastic roofs with their mouths as part of their juvenile testing procedures. However, it would seem that these Naanep toys are primarily for teen or adult collectors, for display only perhaps inside a thick wall's hole that might then be covered with glass and illuminated inside with LED lights. Something like that, which Naanep may have already thought about, being an architect who doesn't seem to have been limited by his field's habitual macro-view that many architects may have been unable to escape from.
    Naanep's toys' value #1: The environmentalist facet of Naanep's act, which looks for ways to liberate garbage from their position as garbage via creative reuse or repurposing. Sure, many would expect the creative reuse system to be a territory of artists (like Naanep) and interior designers, or people from Trashion and the like, especially if they're not aware of the fact that for decades now agriculturists and engineers and architects and many more professions have already been deep into this business of upcycling. And they ought to remember that even artists and interior designers and fashion designers in society are there only as "experts" in their field, which means that we of the aesthetic laity cannot be kept from being artists and interior designers and fashion designers ourselves in our daily non-expert ways. Shouldn't everyone be an artist, in the same way that everyone is a critic and everyone in high school is a bedroom guitarist? Such "maliliit" actions from us, "maliliit na artists," would go a long way in freeing our "malalaking" planetary ecologies from the intrusion of these problematic plastics, don't you agree?
    Value #2: Transportation designers have been working with models, for presentation purposes or whatever, whether handcrafted or 3D-printed. Naanep's toys could actually be approached as such "maliliit" models for life-size implementation also. They could inspire transportation designers . . . not only to make vehicles with colors or with a look similar to these toys', . . . but to boldly manufacture such vehicles from the same source: retrieved garbage materials for upcycling or recycling. Something in the direction of what's in this India Times article, sure, but maybe something more radical.
    Plastics would be drastically lighter for engines to move, wouldn't they be? If architects can build houses with plastic bottles, why can't car or bus or train or airplane designers be similarly rad in a big way, too?
    In small ways, some people are already doing it.



Music album

(Released 22 September 2020, Anti)

: "Shore is an album about the growth of individuals and how we should progress in times of hardship. Each song feels like a warm blanket that rests over you. The way that (Seattle veterans) Fleet Foxes are able to conjure up such emotion, especially given the circumstances surrounding the time we’re in, is a wonder to behold."
    God Is in the TV: "Shore sees (Robin) Pecknold return to the territory of his debut record, melding sublime songwriting, soaring harmonies and lyrics of such empathetic warmth and generosity they’d make me puke if anyone else had written them."
    Paste: "Shore doesn’t ask much of us—it merely shines into the room where you’re sitting, bringing in light like early morning sunbeams."
    Northern Transmissions: "Shore is a bright, beguiling and hopeful statement that reflects on what has come before, where we find ourselves and leaves us anticipating the coming changing of the season in the most encouraging way possible."
    AllMusic: "As a collection, Shore emits a sense of coming through something and arriving anew with the welcome bruises that foster greater understanding and compassion."



Systems design object, material culture object

The ad for "The Prescription Paper Pill Bottle." [Video uploaded by ForYourConsideration, 10 September 2020]

TOM's "prescription paper pill bottle"
(Item launched this month by Tikkun Olam Makers; ad launched this month by TOM through Saatchi & Saatchi)

TIKKUN Olam Makers launched this sensible little item this month. It's a bottle for prescription pills that realizes it's a prescription in itself, thus its name. Download the process, then, or simply correctly emulate to contribute to even just a modest impact.
    By the way, love the earthly colors in Saatchi & Saatchi's ad for that thing.



Cause/social marketing campaigns


One of the digital posters for JK&O Nigeria's online public interest advertising campaign officially titled Am I A Rapist

The digital banner for the Usernames Against Bullying cause/social marketing campaign by Pony Malta, one of the leading beverages among teens in Colombia. The campaign was made with MullenLowe SSP3, Bogotá

JK&O Nigeria's Am I A Rapist and Pony Malta's Usernames Against Bullying cause/social marketing campaigns

(Respectively launched September 2020 by JK&O Nigeria and by Pony Malta through MullenLowe SSP3, Bogotá)




The official trailer for The Devil All the Time. [Uploaded 13 August 2020, Netflix]

The Devil All The Time
(Launched 11 September 2020, Netflix)

(FIRST off, the following text contains spoilers)
    Now, based on the Donald Ray Pollock novel of the same name, The Devil All the Time, the film adaptation by director Antonio Campos from the screenplay by Campos and his brother, Paulo Campos, dutifully tells its story using Pollock's own voice as the narrator. Centered on the character of Arvin Eugene Russell (Tom Holland), it's a story about America's religion-based culture represented here by a place called Knockemstiff, Ohio (coincidentally, the real Knockemstiff, Ohio is in the Republican Party-led Ross county of Republican-leaning Ohio). The non-American viewer of this film would leave his/her TV screen convinced that living in much of the US of A is definitely not going to be safer than being in most of the cities and villages of the outright theonomies of the Middle East. That may sound like an exaggeration, but, . . . is it, really?
    Arvin's father Willard (Bill Skarsgård) is a PTSD-ridden veteran of one of America's (supposedly-for-democracy) wars abroad who comes back home to this religion-enveloped culture, and we know at once that his guilt-suffering as well as his grief over the oncoming death of his wife Charlotte (Haley Bennett) is not likely to be helped by prayers alone, although we can see that he can definitely help himself and his son from the jokers around town via the power of his military-trained fist and his threatening gun (a fact that his son would not forget). If there are two things that go together in religion-based cultures and societies, it's prayers and guns (or some things else that would take the place of guns). In the end, the film tells us: be careful what you wish for, faith-leaning NRA, for the very weapons that protect you and give you and your friends power as well as profits could breed a contrasting use among deviants in your domain, and deviants in not-so-democratic circles who become victims of all sorts of abuse or neglect or a justice-denying justice system are almost certain to crop up.
    The story gives us Arvin, a boy whose background is ripe for the birthing of a revolutionary. But The Devil All the Time is not a journey film, it's a place film, and the only way for a place story to complete itself is to connect different kinds of people within that setting (including the not-so-religious hypocrites in it) and all its semblance of community-making.
    The extreme in this sort of representation of variants in The Devil All the Time's case came about with the story's introduction of the persons of Carl and Sandy Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough), a Bonny and Clyde kind of couple who likes to murder people after taking photos of them having sex with Sandy. It's too much of a representation, you might say, but it's actually a necessary example of one of the many insane citizens in the American landscape, and it has to be there to provide a contrast to a paralleling insanity, the insanity of the "sane" world of religion-based societies itself and all its all-too-self-aware corruption and hypocrisy and ill deeds. Remember, also, that the most devout Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), who strongly believed that God was in him, went out to kill his own wife Helen (Mia Wasikowska), Charlotte's sister, believing that he had the ability to resurrect her, and when he realized the craziness of his deed went on to kill himself. We know, of course, that historical facts have come out stranger than fiction like this, so it wouldn't be hard to suspend somebody's disbelief over such a character and marriage as this.
    Arvin's revolution doesn't stop at protecting his "step-sister" Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), daughter of Roy and Helen, from the scourge of bullies (who incidentally are in abundance in switchblade-poor United States), he also ends up killing the preacher (Robert Pattinson) who raped his step-sister after the former refused to acknowledge being the father to the latter's baby in the womb (a refusal that led to her death by suicide). Then, in self-defense he shoots the serial-killing couple we mentioned earlier who picked him up when he escaped the town, and finally the sheriff (Sebastian Stan), too, who went after him to kill him to avenge the death of his serial-killing sister Sandy.
    All in all the film sends this message to present-day Trump America, in this time of religion-backed Proud Boys and other Bible-reading far-right and neo-Nazi group: Arvins are not just going to sit back and let the religious-culture crap backing all the corruption and bullying and sexism and rape and racism and corporate and police and legal abuse occurring in many parts of America, as well as the neglect of a less-government-is-more neoliberal utopia, have its way by way of power and the rule of their laws. The guns they have would be the very same guns that the latter and all their liberal hippie friends can have, too.
    In short, it's saying: are you really sure you want a civil war after Trump loses in November? Because you may have all the bullies and the sheriffs in your armies, but there will always be a lot of Arvins (and Willards) out there, too, in all those moonshine-started towns like Knockemstiff. Sure, Putin would rejoice from the eruption of such a new US civil war, but if that's what you want, what choice do Arvins have but to keep the NRA rich too before they go after these gun manufacturers themselves later for helping the Christian Right-backed far right? We've actually already seen some semblance of that in the protest rallies that have made sure not another Kenosha happens.



Documentary film

The official trailer for Feels Good Man

Feels Good Man
(Streaming release: 4 September 2020, Amazon Prime)

THIS Arthur Jones documentary is here to ask us: how would you feel if your art product has just been appropriated as a major symbol by a large group you wouldn't want to be associated with? Especially if you can't walk around anymore without being identified as the creator of that symbol.



Documentary film

The official trailer for Rising Phoenix. [Uploaded 13 August 2020, Netflix]

Rising Phoenix
(Launched 1 September 2020, Netflix Philippines)

MOST of the time art is associated with luxury (not hardship), or with comfort (not discomfort), the reason why even left-leaning people would prefer to wallow in songs about love when they're already in their homes. Punk rock music screaming about fascists or theonomists in government can be played, say, while cooking breakfast, but not while eating breakfast. After all, to activists, the content about the plight of the powerless trodden by the shameless or hypocritical powerful are part of their Work and should probably not be allowed to enter their lives at Home (at least not until the start of such moments as the family-dinner conversations and banter). Art comes with rest, in short, or with rest comes art, the comfort of art, delivered via art's glimpses that return the mind to the beauty of life after one's day or week immersed in ugliness. . . .
    But then the ugly, or "the horrible," or "the pitiable," is, of course, derivative of a concept of beauty or art that has been leaning on concepts of luxury (not hardship) or comfort (not discomfort). And because comfort informs on our daily lives tremendously (well, at least certain important hours of our daily lives), a cottage industry was created to define ideals of beauty within comfort. This industry then led everyone to a common acceptance of the uncomfortable as anathema to those idealizations of theirs regarding beauty, or art, needed for comfort.
    The view of the disabled as an uncomfortable stimulus is not only due to society's appreciation or recognition of the normality of a human physique qua norm and the supposed opposites to that normality, it is also borne out of an aesthetic philosophy crafted by the human mind from these idealizations of normality as an adjunct of an appreciation of the common. Perhaps humanity's phobia for the uncommon is due to its . . . well, propensity to fear. The opposite of fear is comfort.
    Allow us to quote something from our essay on another documentary in our July picks of the month listing. There we wrote: "If the disabled is deemed, even in our time, as the uncommon, . . . thus as the fearful symbol of a certain human state, it is only natural that the most inflexibly 'idealistic' or illiberal political utopias the human mind created, such as fascism, Nazism, neo-Nazism, white nationalism and other modes of xenophobia, including Communism and conservative religion (which latter would every now and then show its influence on secular governments, even left-leaning governments such as Brazil's in 2016), would include this vision of disabilities as a part of their design, a design stipulating that certain human elements have to be excluded or hidden or labeled as a liability in their perfect societies. These elements, that is, as shameful or sorry phenomena, apart from being manifestations of divine punishment or earthly misfortune."
    Then again, the essay continued, "liberal governments have also displayed a similar culture towards disabled elements of our society. This is amply illustrated in the Netflix documentary launched just last March 25, Crip Camp, executive-produced by Barack and Michelle Obama and made by Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht. . . .
    "Among other things, Crip Camp is also about the Carter government's long refusal to heed disability rights activists' demands for the ratification of what would later be the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It was a refusal that looked like a continuation of the social spending-wary Nixon government's own. To viewers of the historical documentary, the Nixon government's refusal wasn't surprising. Nor was the bill's heavy cruising through the Reagan years. It was the Carter government's refusal that would be the shocker to those who've only learned about it now. The ADA, the global influence of which law many disabled people today reap benefits from, would, ironically, be signed by the George H. W. Bush government; we say that's ironic because the Carter government did advance a number of policies sympathetic to civil rights, as has been expected of Democratic administrations of the post-Kennedy era, while Bush's presidential campaign was actually the one that had a number of racist statements attached to it. . . ."
    Now, in contrast, there is a real sympathy for disability that can be gleaned from certain parenting governments. But, almost always, this sympathy would actually translate to a diminution of the disabled citizen's capacity to perform actions only expected of elements of the norm. This diminution leads to disbelief at even the mere possibility (not yet the probability) of a disabled person surpassing the achievements of above-average representatives of this so-called norm. . . .
    So, welcome to Rising Phoenix. In this film, this false sympathy would be surprised at the fights legless Russia-born T54 track and marathon star Tatyana McFadden fought, even after she was adopted by influential Deborah McFadden and brought to the US (one of Tatyana's fights in this latter country led to the passage of the Maryland Fitness and Athletics Equity for Students with Disabilities Act). Or the struggles that one-footed Australian swimmer Ellie Cole had to overcome. Or those physical and emotional battles fought through by Burundian-French sprinter and long jumper Jean-Baptiste Alaize, one of whose legs received four machete blows when he was three years old during the Burundian Civil War (that event where he also saw his mother killed in front of him). Or those by armless American archer Matt Stutzman, whose humor is just outstanding, probably because of his fortune in having adoptive parents who chose him despite his physical drawbacks. Or those by one-legged British 100-m runner Jonnie Peacock. Or those by Australian Ryley Batt, a wheelchair rugby player without legs and some missing fingers, who couldn't be content with a Beijing silver for his team and nudged himself to "get out of bed" to "be an athlete" for the return fight against the USA team in Rio 2016. Or those by legless South African runner Ntando Mahlangu. Or those by Italian Bebe Vio, a wheelchair fencer with amputated legs from the knee and amputated arms from the forearms due to meningitis that attacked her when she was 11. Vio's nickname "Rising Phoenix" inspired the title of the film. The Netflix-supported documentary is a castigation of those norm creations.
    Now, there are two types of disabilities on show here. One is of physical disability, which the film as well as the Paralympic Games inspire us to see as a disability no worse than the norm's inability to juggle 25 balls, although some of us within the norm can actually get ourselves to juggle as many as 9-11. The other is of a disability of the norm-creating mind, which is harder to train to attain higher levels of thinking. Many consider this latter form of disability as the hopeless kind, having been caused mostly by a complex syndrome of fallacies. But Dr. Ludwig Guttmann battled hard to cure such disabilities of the mind, and the Paralympic Movement-established International Paralympic Committee (IPC) is continuing that fight. It seems that that fight is making some headway, what with China's having started to expose its erstwhile-hidden handicapped talents during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
    One thing everyone should notice: every time the athletes are interviewed, directors Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedguiy would have each occupy only about 1/12 of the entire screen that mostly shows details of a room with lateral and diagonal forms with a color scheme contrasting with the athlete's color. It's as if the disabled athletes are the only biomorphic forms in these aesthetic compositions, which should be a sneering statement, considering that geometric abstraction itself has been associated with certain forms of idealizations akin to the idealizations of Classicist figuration. (When it gets to people like then-IPC CEO Xavi Gonzalez or then-PIC President Sir Philip Craven or current IPC President Andrew Parsons, or to Eva Loeffler, daughter of Sir Ludwig, the composition of their setups would still be largely geometric, but they as subjects would occupy something like 1/8 of the camera already. The only exception is the shot with The Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, founder of the Invictus Games, who is here given the same treatment as the athletes, in recognition perhaps of the larger world he also had to contend with).
    You'll get the entire point of the film at the end and may even leave your screen better informed. You might even put the Paralympics above the Olympics itself. But if you're ever going to want to watch the film again, aside from wanting to get the statements again, it'd likely be for the sporting acts' footage and then for another view of those interview shots. We guarantee that that's what you'll want to do, because those interview shots . . . are just beautiful. And comforting, not discomforting. For, here, the erstwhile "uncomfortable stimuli" are now looking like they completely belong to their surround, like some Sir Ludwig with his order of chivalry, well-placed in a deserved spot within a national palace.



Music album

Mama, You Can Bet!
(Released 28 August 2020, SomeOthaShip Connect, eOne)

ABOUT this new album by the Los Angeles-based jazz artist, maybe we'll just let you read this review quote from Loud and Quiet: "The slow shift towards equal participation for women in jazz was starting beyond their supportive roles as mothers and grandmothers, but Black genius wasn’t being recognised, let alone Black female genius.
    "Move forward some sixty years from the beginnings of free jazz and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to label multi-instrumentalist and producer Georgia Anne Muldrow as the scene’s future disruptor. Mama, You Can Bet!, her third album under the moniker Jyoti (a name she reserves for her jazz projects, bestowed upon her by the late, great Alice Coltrane), is jarring, groove-heavy, dissonant and entirely of her own design."




The official trailer for Enola Holmes. [Uploaded 25 August 2020, Netflix]

Enola Holmes
(Launched 23 September 2020, Netflix)

THIS is an action-comedic take on the underground struggles of the suffragettes' movement in Victorian England, coming on the heels of 1) the Reform Act 1832 explicitly banning English women from voting, 2) the Reform Act 1867 that only minimally extended the voting rights of the male working class of England, and finally 3) the Representation of the People Act 1884 that still left all women and 40% of the adult male population in the kingdom with no right to vote. The effervescent screenplay by Jack Thorne, adapted from the Edgar Awards-nominated first book of the The Enola Holmes Mysteries series by Nancy Springer, comes into fruition under the awe-inspiring lens of director Harry Bradbeer that seems to be enjoying its spots with the energetic Millie Bobby Brown (who also co-produced the project) as Enola Holmes (sister of the effectively liberal Sherlock and the mindfully conservative Mycroft Holmes). The support of actors Helena Bonham Carter, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Adeel Akhtar, Fiona Shaw, Frances de la Tour, Louis Partridge, and Susie Wokoma, all come together to help shape a cogent symphony of a moving picture with arguments progressing so efficiently on our home screens in this quarter of our year of extended lockdowns.
    Springer must be happy with the outcome of the film project, with Peter Debruge of Variety commenting that Brown's performance somewhat resembles the "effusive spontaneity that Keira Knightley brought to Pride and Prejudice, shattering the straitlaced propriety of so many Jane Austen adaptations before it." Daniel Pemberton's score here, meanwhile, is as engaging as his work for Motherless Brooklyn. And Bradbeer's camera uses such details as the floriography of the narrative to perfection to act as springboards and linking cords for the oncoming feminist action that would thence have the taste of both The Da Vinci Code and Les Misérables on it.
    No, Enola Holmes is not just a fictional film about the past. It's also about the present, and, as the narrator's closing lines would have it, about the future that is really all up to "us." Quite an English film this is, but one that America could use in this period of its own history that's undergoing a Victorian era-like nervous progress (or threatening retrogress).



Song, music video

"Holy"/Justin Bieber feat. Chance the Rapper
(released 18 September 2020 by Universal Music Group & Def Jam Recordings / Written by Anthony Jones, Michael Pollack, Jorgen Odegard, Justin Bieber, Chance the Rapper, Jon Bellion, TBHits & Mr. Franks)

JUSTIN Bieber as a mature irreligious religious man worshipping earthly love, with a pandemic-sorry working class-empathizing official music video, with Chance the Rapper to boot.




The official trailer for All Together Now. [Uploaded 11 August 2020 by Netflix]

All Together Now
(Launched 29 August 2020, Netflix)

BASED on the young adult fiction book by Matthew Quick titled Sorta Like a Rockstar, this film by Brett Haley from a screenplay by Quick, Haley, Marc Basch and Ol Parker is quite a story about individualist hard work that's supposed to be the ethos behind the American Dream. Then it implies that within this ethos that gives the optimistic American landscape its roster of winners, its roster of rock stars, so to speak, there would exist elements of a necessary opposite roster, the register of losers. It even suggests that these losers' defeats can lead to further defeats that would then color the dark side of America, including the palette of depression, shame (and consequent retreat from society), anger, and so on, leading to alcoholism, domestic violence, etc. Furthermore, there are employers' rules that drive these "defeated" workers deeper down into the drain instead of help them get up again.
    But, see, while this was designed to be a tearjerker of a drama film revolving around talented Amber Appleton (Auli'i Cravalho), notice that the screenplay writers (which includes white man Quick) and director Haley (also a white man) actually decided to cast Puerto Rican-Hawaiian Cravalho for this "Appleton" character, with an Afro-Latina mother (played by Justina Machado) as a matter of course. Amber's wealthy friend Ty would then be African-American (played by Rhenzy Feliz), and the mom of a friend who would later give Amber shelter would be a Dominican-American played by Judy Reyes. And so on and so forth, creating a multicultural community coexisting with white people. Note that Amber also works in this community as an ESL tutor to a bunch of Chinese (or Korean or Japanese) immigrants.
    Sure, the film could have taken the path of a festival film, i.e., one with nary a cube of sugar in order to achieve a radically serious tone, but in retaining that sweetness it actually avoids becoming what it shouldn't be, a film for academic critics' consideration only. Ultimately it becomes what it is, a left-populist film that keeps its charm (Carol Burnett is here as Joan, one of Amber's care-giving clients), and thus is able to successfully roll in its point to a larger audience, a point that says here is a picture of true American community living, one where people would join together to help one who's hit rock bottom (if there's still space [or humility] within him/her to allow or accept help). Again, this work might disappoint critics with snobbish definitions for how a more serious film should look like, but it definitely succeeds, like we said, in pointing out to the larger audience, mostly young, the fact that singing "You /will not / replace us" can hardly be considered as the specification for establishing a standard for American community life, even in the present moment. While the Ayn Rand-driven Republican Party of the United States would deny that it has that overwhelming social philosophy that leaves losers behind, All Together Now is realist enough to describe here an American sort of socialism that is not at all shameful, sugary though it may look like to the utopia of those fine children of family-corporate winners.




The official trailer for A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood. [Uploaded 22 July 2019 by Sony Pictures Entertainment]

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
(Asian 2020 releases: 6 February Hong Kong, 5 March limited Singapore, 28 August Japan, 30 August Netflix Philippines, 18 September China)

IT'S a worthy accompaniment to that Morgan Neville documentary film on Fred Rogers released in 2018, titled Won't You Be My Neighbor?. But this biographical film, written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, as inspired by a Tom Junod magazine article, extends the Rogers thesis (which is to focus on preschoolers' social and emotional needs in contrast to Sesame Street's focus on cognitive needs). Under Marielle Heller's direction, it does it from the point of view of Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), a jaded investigative journalist with problems with his past affecting his present, who feels he's been demoted after being asked to interview the weird Mr. Rogers (Tom Hanks).
    In an era of new dictators promoting hate and prejudice that many don't consider at all weird, Neville's and Heller's films together provide an alternative take on ethics via the eyes of those with an interest in their children's social future.



Short documentary film

the official trailer for A Love Song for Latasha

A Love Song for Latasha
(Streaming release: 21 September 2020, Netflix)

THIS is a documentary short film about Latasha Harlins narrated through the memories and tears of cousin Shinese Harlins and best friend Tybie O'Baird. And also through the filmic expressions of 2020 USA Fellowship recipient for film Sophia Nahli Allison, a promising name in the language of documentary filmmaking.



Documentary film

the official trailer for All In: The Fight for Democracy

All In: The Fight for Democracy
(Streaming release: 9 September 2020, Amazon Prime / Jack Youngelson, writer; Lisa Cortes and Liz Garbus, directors)



Television documentary film

The Social Dilemma
(Streaming release: 9 September 2020, Netflix)

THIS Jeff Orlowski Netflix film doesn't dive deep into how social media platforms' intrusion into each of our data differs from how marketing and PR media (not to mention pollsters) have been doing their own data collection and data selling through the decades. We don't know if it has enough in it to convince the common man of the danger of these platforms' business when provided to disinformation agents, but it's definitely a good enough introduction. Best to follow a watch of this with exposure to such docus as The Great Hack and After Truth: Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News and feature films like Brexit: The Uncivil War.



Music album

the cover of Declan McKenna's new album Zeros. [Photo from amazon.com]

(Released 4 September 2020, Tomplicated)

CLASH: "A daringly ambitious depiction of dystopian discourse. . . . In almost every way it is bigger than his debut, there’s urgency to the instrumentals and operatic crescendos, all in the aid of trying to observe the madness."
    The Guardian: "(Glastonbury's Emerging Talent Competition winner Declan McKenna’s) second album is in thrall to pop’s 1970s glam heroes, but his lyrics ponder today’s struggles, from the climate crisis to social media."
    Pitchfork: "Nodding to Bowie and the Beatles on songs about climate change and capitalism, the 21-year-old songwriter roots his political critique in the rich tradition of British protest rock."
    Uncut: "McKenna merges glam, pop, indie and a touch of electronica to make a contemporary sonic exploration of a tumultuous world."



Music album

Inner Song
(Released 28 August 2020, Smalltown Supersound)

NME: "By allowing her songs to breathe, leaving space for contemplation, ‘Inner Song’ is a perfectly-arranged album where each track has a part to play: an emotive-yet-euphoric collection that’s made for late-night reflection, (Welsh singer, producer, songwriter and former nurse) Kelly Lee Owens has made one of the most beautiful records of the year."



Music album

cover of Bill Callahan's new album Gold Record. [Photo from prettyinnoise.de]

Gold Record
(Released 4 September 2020, Drag City)

IT opens with that sort of Bill Callahan humor that you'd get from others only during concerts: "Hello, I'm Johnny Cash."
    Mike Goldsmith of Record Collector wrote in his review: "While the album is intended as 10 individual slices of life, collective themes quickly emerge and turn it into more than the sum of its parts. . . . Gold Record’s USP is an overwhelming fascination and love for humankind with all its frailties, faults and frivolities – here are snatched short stories of Americana at its most delightfully mundane. Think Raymond Carver with heart emojis for eyes." But then "there’s the blue(s)-collar protagonist of 'Protest Song'," continued Goldsmith, "or the world-weary limo driver watching rice-swollen 'Pigeons' explode to a mariachi backdrop – Callahan’s characters are all painted with a wonderfully intricate detail that illustrates the magic in realism."
    That should be your hint if you're a politics-driven kind of critic wary of Callahan's seeming contentment. It's an album that offers a view of Texas richness sans the nervousness of currently trendy white nationalism.



Television series


(Streaming release: 4 September 2020, Netflix / Andrew Hinderaker, creator of series as inspired by Chris Jones' Esquire article titled "Away—The Launch" / Jason Katims, Matt Reeves, Jessica Goldberg, Edward Zwick, etc., producers / True Jack Productions, 6th & Idaho, Refuge Inc., Universal Television / Sci fi, drama)

WE can now treat Away as a miniseries (limited series), or a long piece by playwright Andrew Hinderaker (with help from six other writers), a potential second season having been canceled in October. In his review of the film on WXIX-TV, critic TT Stern-Enzi said: "What provides most of the fascination and drama is just how deep the technology is, and what's there...." As for the story's characterization, Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe wrote: "Each of the actors gradually deepens his or her character, so that they aren’t simply the clichés of their respective countries as written. Emma faces sexism, particularly from Misha, and she faces disdain from the subdued Lu, who dislikes Emma’s willingness to display her emotions publicly. They all form a dynamic ensemble, especially as, in almost every episode, something goes wrong with the machinery or with the interpersonal strains on board. Again, they’re all ultimately good people, but, like so much in this positive, feel-good show, tolerably so."
    Now, after watching the series, we were convinced that the show most delivers on what Deadline Hollywood editor-in-chief Nellie Andreeva described as what the yet-to-be-launched project promised to be eloquent on: "hope, humanity and how, ultimately, we need one another if we are to achieve impossible things." It's a message that, in our time of geographic and cultural wall-making, must perhaps needs be seen both from a distance and within a confined space. Thanks to the effective realization of that demand from the series' six directors, it's a breeze for anyone to enter those two allegorical perspectives.
    But ultimately, of course, Emma Green (Hilary Swank) for President!



Documentary film

The official trailer for My Octopus Teacher. [Uploaded 7 September 2020, Netflix]

My Octopus Teacher
(Launched 7 September 2020, Netflix)

SURE, you can use this documentary film as a contemporary example of superb underwater photography and cinematography, but there's something else in the whole work's narrative. That something else also tells people not just to make art from out of a subject but ideally from within that subject. Know what we mean?
    Kudos to filmmakers Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed for staying with South African Craig Foster, a fellow documentary filmmaker, as Foster started freediving in a kelp forest at the tip of his country, and then for recognizing the developing relationship that happened between him and an octopus and making that development the resulting subject of the sets of footage the filmmakers were able to gather. Hinting that that relationship has the potential of being an allegory that could teach us about our kinship with the world, this cinematographic work of art finally becomes a vehicle. It becomes a vehicle for witnessing how it itself started as something aiming to support a scientific cause but ended up with an emotional narrative that now sees an aspect of it as what should be motoring that aforementioned cause.








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diskurso is an independent, Philippines-based online magazine on art aiming to veer away from a present mental landscape replete with the customary peacock and weasel words that continue to service the art industry.