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"The Little Things" Review

All too often you see movies where at the end you're left wondering if anyone involved with the project actually read the script and recognized how illogical and unsatisfying it would be. Such is the case with John Lee Hancock's (The Blind Side) latest film - which is getting the simultaneous theatrical/HBO Max release treatment Wonder Woman 1984 and the entire 2021 Warner Bros slate is getting - which wastes the talents and time of its all-Oscar-winning lead cast.

Denzel Washington stars as Joe Deacon, a rural California county sheriff's deputy who is sent to Los Angeles to retrieve evidence for a local case. He is highly reluctant to go because he used to be a detective for the L.A. Country Sheriff's and left five years before under circumstances the film doles out slowly throughout. 

While there he meets his spiritual successor, a young hotshot detective, Jimmy Baxter (Rami Malek), who is lead investigator for a series of unsolved murders involving young women which are reminiscent of a case that wrecked Deacon's life, health, marriage, and career. After some obligatory turf-warring, they join forces to try and crack the case with Deacon's old dog teaching Baxter's pup some new tricks. 

Their hunt rapidly focuses on Albert Sparma (Jared Leto - whose name alone may as well be Murdery McMurderer), an exceedingly greasy and hinky character who is so obviously the killer that he can't possibly be the killer. While he taunts the detectives, he once made a false confession to a murder years previously, so what's his deal?

Set in oddly-specific-for-no-reason October 1990 (probably to remove ubiquitous cell phones from the mix and make communications harder) The Little Things presents itself as low-key mystery thriller, but if not for the overpowered cast, the plot would barely qualify as a Law & Order episode plot. Hancock - who apparently wrote the script in the 1990s and couldn't make it until now, which is never a great sign for a story -  drips out Deacon's backstory and literally haunts him with the women whose murders he couldn't solve, but the farther along the plot progresses, he begins to conceal more than he reveals in order to maintain a mystery that's only sustained through narrative chicanery. 

Things really go off the rails in the third act when characters suddenly get very stupid and seemingly change personalities in order for the events to transpire. This leads to a denouement that is both inconclusive and unsatisfying, raising more questions than it answers. Considering Hancock's track record of entertaining, if lightweight, movies like The Rookie, The Blind Side, and The Founder (dude has a thing for definite articles, doesn't he?), that The Little Things ends up so drab and forgettable and troubling is an unwelcome departure from form. 

Performance-wise, Denzel is Denzel, but subdued. Carrying more weight than usual, he embodies the broken, haunted man Deacon has become. Occasionally there are the typical flashes of Denzel charisma (which his son, John David Washington of BlackKklansman and Tenet most certainly hasn't inherited), but not distractingly. Malek never really registers. Either his character is written too flat or he doesn't know how to make him three-dimensional. The MVP is Leto, who gives a flamboyant, but not cartoonish, performance as Sparma which makes the viewer question whether he's the killer or not, but is ultimately let down by the inconclusive script. 

Despite its pedigree, the fact The Little Things was slated for late-January release and not Oscar season, even allowing for the havoc wreaked by Hot Fad Plague 2020-21, shows the studio knew it wasn't much of an awards prospect. I wasn't even aware this movie existed until a few days before its release. Frankly, if not for the stars, it would be an ignored TV movie or something that showed up on Netflix with no fanfare. Even with the stars and the option to not have to leave the house to watch it on HBO Max, it's the not-so-little-thing called the weak script that make it not worth the time.

Score: 4/10. Skip it.

"The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" Review

 What do you think of when you hear the name or music of the Bee Gees? Falsettos, white polyester, disco, and Saturday Night Fever, right? For right or wrong, their association with the top-selling movie soundtrack album in history is going to be what goes on their tombstones, but even if you're middle-aged you may be unaware of the long, repeated Lazarus act career of the Brothers Gibb (get it, BGs?) prior to the apex of disco fever.

Filling in and expanding the legacy of the Bee Gees is the mission of The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart, the new documentary exclusive on HBO Max. Using archive interview footage of fraternal twins Robin and Maurice Gibb (who died in 2012 and 2003, respectively) and sole surviving eldest brother Barry along with family and musicians including Justin Timberlake (whose participating in the SNL "Barry Gibb Talk Show" sketches with Jimmy Fallon are NOT referenced), Oasis' Noel Gallagher, and several members of their live band over the eras, the doc recounts the brothers earliest days as Brits who'd moved to Australia then returned to England after feeling constrained by Oz's small market.

 Their father/manager sent tapes to The Beatles' impresario Brian Epstein who then passed them to his protege Robert Stigwood who recognized their talent and signed them in early 1967. Within a few months they had their first two smash hits with "New York Mining Disaster 1941" and "To Love Somebody." But with the sudden success - Robin had SIX Rolls Royces before he was 21! - the brothers began to drift apart, finally breaking up in 1969. 

But in what would become a phoenix-like pattern, they reunited a couple years later and shortly were atop the charts again with tunes including "How Can You Mend A Broken Heart" but were eventually back in a slump and on the verge of being dropped. Taking the suggestion of Eric Clapton, who had just kicked years of addiction, they moved to Miami and moved into the house Clapton had stayed while recording his comeback album entitled with the address, 461 Ocean Boulevard. 

Working with Atlantic Records producer Arif Mardin, whose suggestion for Barry to try some high-pitched overdubs on "Nights On Broadway" revealed what would become their trademark falsettos and powered that and "Jive Talkin'" as hits. Their two Miami-recorded albums, Main Course and Children of the World, which included "You Should Be Dancing" made them Kings of Disco. Naturally, this led to their being included in the soundtrack of the movie Stigwood was producing starring a fresh young TV star named John Travolta and the rest was infamy. 

When the backlash to the ubiquity of disco hit in 1979, the Bee Gees bore the brunt of it since they were the biggest names in the game. Disco was dead and anyone associated with it had to be expunged from polite society. The irony is that while Saturday Night Fever is considered to have blown disco into the mainstream, it was actual the thing that prolonged a dying genre's lifespan a couple more years; it had already become played out when the movie hit. 

But as they'd done before, the brothers shifted from being performers to songwriters for hire and proceeded to rack up hits for Barbara Streisand ("Guilty"), Dionne Warwick ("Heartbreaker") and Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton ("Islands In The Stream"). They gradually were able to record hits, mostly outside the USA, later in the 1980s and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, which only seems odd if you only knew them from their disco days.

At its best, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is a very informative overview of a group which had a career that spanned decades, but almost all of it was obliterated from the public consciousness for their association with Saturday Night Fever which is but two years of their lives. (No one just things of The Wall when thinking of Pink Floyd, do they?)

But where the doc falls short is in the total omission of their involvement in the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie - which co-starred fellow rocker-turned-simpy-pop-idol Peter Frampton - and the egregious journey into revisionist history which has been attempted against the notorious Disco Demolition Night riot in Chicago on July 12, 1979 which is considered the death knell of disco. 

The facts of that event are that Chicago shock jock and not-disco-fan Steve Dahl staged the event where anyone who brought a disco record to Comiskey Park could get a ticket to the double-header between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago White Sox for 98 cents. The bin of records was blown up during the intermission between the games and when the fans stormed the field and tore the place up, that was it for baseball game and the Sox forfeited the second game.

However, in recent years as social justice warrior wokeness has spread to suck every bit of joy from life, Disco Demolition Night has been falsely portrayed as a racist backlash by white straight male bigots to the music made and enjoyed by gays and people of color. The documentary features a black man who worked as an usher at the game who reports seeing Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye albums being turned in and since those aren't disco records, there could be no explanation other than white supremacy and racism in his or the film's eyes. (The idea that a bunch of rowdy rockers looking for a cheap night at the ballgame grabbed whatever disco-looking LP they could find to get the deal while lacking any racist intent isn't possible; no, it's RAAAAAAAAAAAAACISM!!!!)

Disco Demolition Night got extra play in my memory because being a Detroiter meant it happened on my local sportball team's time. There was also as similar anti-disco movement happening the Motor City with AOR station WRIF operating a group called D.R.E.A.D. (Detroit Rockers Engaged In The Abolition of Disco) where membership cards could be flashed at merchants for discounts. It was a marketing stunt, not a hate movement and it's especially hard to claim Detroit was a hotbed of seething white racism considering it's biggest non-automotive export was the music of Motown. 

Contemporaneous with the backlash against disco was the backlash against boring rock music in the form of punk/New Wave, but you don't see anyone claiming pasty white kids were being racist against tanned California rockers like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, do you? In 1991, grunge blew up as the backlash to hair metal and slick Eighties pop. Then the turn of the Millennium brought a round of boy bands and Mousekabimbos to backlash against the miserable whining of grunge. That sparked the garage band days of the White Stripes et al and so on and on and on. When any generation gets bored of what corporate music pimps are cramming down their throats, they want something else, but for some reason the wokesters have decided that disco needs an oppression myth and Disco Demolition Night is their vehicle.


With the above caveats, The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend A Broken Heart is still a worthy primer on a talented and ultimately tragic family act - the youngest brother, Andy, who had his own massive pop star career, died only five days after his 30th birthday from years of substance abuse in 1988 - that had several mini-careers in their lives. Even if you don't want to forgive them for their disco crimes against music or aren't fond of their schmaltzy pop stylings, it's still an enlightening musical journey worth taking.

Score: 7/10. Catch it on HBO Max. 

"The Social Network" Blu-ray Review

A favorite of mine as David Fincher's 2010 mythologized telling of the invention of Facebook (which I call FaceSpace) simply crackles from Aaron Sorkin's Oscar-winning adapted screenplay (I still want to know if the mic-drop, engrave the trophy line, "If your clients had invented Facebook, they would've invented Facebook." was an actual deposition quote or a brilliant invention), plus Oscar-winning editing and score, the latter by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who most recently scored Pixar's Soul. In retropect, that it lost for Best Picture and Direction to the forgotten Oscar-bait historical biopic The King's Speech is just another in a long list of shameful Academy missteps.

It's interesting revisiting The Social Network now because it came out only six years after FaceSpace's founding and it was still somewhat of a scrappy little upstart. As the closing text informs us, it was worth $25 billion, which seems like a heck of a lot of money until you realize that as if this writing its market cap is $782 billion. They've also swelled from about 600 million users - as the brilliant tagline said, "You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies." - to about 2.6 BILLION users, with over 1.7B of them visiting the site daily.                                                 

What the movie doesn't even hint at what would become of the social network as it became a Big Tech monopoly power fueled by billions of dopamine-addicted, affirmation-craving users who would rely on it and their closed circles of like-minded "friends" for their information (and misinformation) and how to feel about it. The movie focuses on the money being made, but not what the site actually did. 

As we saw during the lockdowns from Hot Fad Plague 2020 (which left people with little to do but tribe up and fight each other) and the run-up to the 2020 Elections (and the ensuing Big Tech censorship crackdown that occurred once Democrats had seized total control of the Federal government), Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter's Jack Dorsey, Apple's Tim Cook, Google Sundar Pichai, and Amazon's Jeff Bezos, comprising a small cabal of oligarchs in total control of the platforms, what information is allowed to be spread, throttling or outright deplatforming "wrongthought", would convert what may've been intended as a means for freedom of speech and a way to facilitate associations into a censorious police state where the end game may be their acting as an intelligence-gathering arm of government. (Sounds paranoid, but when truthful news is blocked and speaking facts that the Big Tech bosses don't like gets you unpersoned, how much of a stretch is it to find a "national security" pretense to see who's posting "anti-government" speech? Exactly.)

On the technical side, the transfer is clean since it's digitally sourced from RED camera. Fincher likes flat contrast, short lighting (where the light comes from behind the subjects), and drab colors, so there's little flash to look at. On the audio side though, the superiority of physical media over streaming is displayed by a booming DTS-HD soundtrack which really puts the boom in the room from the musical score. (Streaming is bitrate-limited Dolby Digital+ at best.) The opening scene in the bar is concerning as the dialog has to fight the environmental sound, but that's a (dubious) artistic choice as the rest of the movie is clearly understandable. 

Another plus for physical is the Blu-ray set comes with a raft of extras. I haven't listened to the two commentary tracks, one my Fincher and the other by Sorkin with the cast, but there's an entire second disc including a hour-and-a-half documentary making-of plus several other craft-specific featurettes which I've watched in the past and recall are quite informative. (I miss bunches of extras, another casualty of the shift to streaming for everything.)

While there are substantial fictionalizations in the telling of The Social Network, it's still truthful enough and most importantly entertaining enough to merit watching and collecting. The irony is that there's no way a movie like this which even cast the least bit of shade on oligarchs like Zuckerberg could be made today. Worth over $100 billion, he now has the power to topple a President and ban him from his site, so who would be able to portray him as a mildly sociopathic jerk of a nerd? Exactly.

Score: 9/10. Buy it. 

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