Sunday, April 23, 2017

A Lifetime of Favorite Movies

Apparently, people have been making lists of their favorite movies. Specifically: their favorite movie for each year of their lives.

As I continue to attempt to think about easing myself back into blogging more often, this seems like the kind of list I always love to make. And when I saw Jason Bennion do this a few weeks ago, I thought, yep, got to do this one.

My only caveat, of course, is that "favorite" doesn't necessarily mean "best."

And away we go.

1976: Rocky

I love the Rocky movies. No matter how bad they get (and they get pretty bad), I love the series, but especially this first one. I guess when I first saw it in high school, the story of a loser who just wanted to prove he had it inside of him to go the distance resonated with me. I didn't need to win; I just wanted respect.

Some other contenders for me this year: Carrie, The Man Who Fell to Earth, The Tenant, Russ Meyer's Up!, Truffaut's Small Change, and Serge Gainsbourg's I Love You, I Don't.

1977: Star Wars

I mean, obviously. You all know me. The only other one that comes close from this year is Close Encounters of the Third Kind,  a movie I have to imagine my wife is tired of me finding while flipping channels and then watching the last 40 minutes of.

1978: Superman

Still the best superhero movie, to me. Even just hearing the music makes me feel great.

FWIW, I have a number of highly rewatchable faves from this year: Dawn of the Dead, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, National Lampoon's Animal House, Watership Down and The Wiz (it's a mess, but I dig it).

1979: The Muppet Movie

I feel like you could've guessed some of these yourselves. Of course this is pretty much the most important movie from my early childhood. Nothing has ever really touched me like this one.

The runner-up only lost by half a point, and that's Alien. Some other contenders for me were La Cage aux Folles, Hair, Mad Max, Phantasm, Rock 'n' Roll High School, Rocky II, Time After Time and The Warriors. Also, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I know that's a maligned movie, and I know that I technically mean the 2001 Director's Edition and not the original release, but I still think it's great science fiction. It may not be great Star Trek (although, honestly, it plays like the original pilot for Star Trek: The Next Generation to me), but it's great science fiction.

1980: The Empire Strikes Back

Again, not much of a surprise. The only other one in serious contention was The Blues Brothers. I have also come to love Flash Gordon a great deal.

1981: Time Bandits

I saw this at a formative time and was as fascinated with it as I was creeped out by it. There's so much imagery in this movie--the cages hanging over nothing, the fight between Agamemnon and the Minotaur, the giant with the galleon on his head--that I didn't realize until I saw the movie again as a 19 year-old had been half-remembered as nightmares while growing up.

My close runners-up were Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Road Warrior, Clash of the Titans and Arthur.

1982: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

My favorite movie of them all. I finally figured out recently why that is, literally just a week or two ago. As you may remember from my years of blogging, when I first saw E.T. at age 5, in the theater, I was so terrified that I ran into the lobby screaming. It was just too intense and mysterious for me in the first 20 or so minutes. When I saw the movie again during its re-release in 1985, I absolutely loved it. It didn't hit video until 1988, and I remember getting it for Christmas that year. That was the year my parents separated, and I had a defining experience with my mother that still resonates today and resulted in my closing off some of my emotions about it. That, combined with the terrible experience of junior high and moving to a new home and an attempt at family therapy that just made everything worse for me, and I felt very alone and unable to communicate about it.

But I had E.T. on VHS. And I watched that movie a lot. For a period of a little over a year, I watched that movie every day when I got home from school. To this day, I watch this movie when I feel at my lowest and my sickest, and I only just recently realized it was because that movie makes me cry so hard. I feel every emotion when I watch this movie, and the crying is not only cathartic, it somehow validates me. See, it turned out to be an acceptable outlet to feel feelings through. It was my security blanket, my substitute for confronting a lot of the issues that I have actually diagnosed PTSD about today.

Incidentally, this is a great year for fantasy and science fiction that I love. Tied for a very, very close second are Conan the Barbarian, The Dark Crystal, The Last Unicorn, Poltergeist, The Secret of NIMH, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and The Thing. I also really like Blade Runner, but I prefer the 2003 Final Cut version.

1983: The Right Stuff

Another movie I get completely caught up in when I pass it on cable. Well, attempt to pass. This wasn't really a strong year, though obviously I love Return of the Jedi, the movie that, along with the Muppets, fostered my love of creatures. I was obsessed with that one. Other favorites are The Big Chill, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, which has this moment of wonder, and The Return of Captain Invincible, which features something far more beautiful... RIP, Sir Christopher...

1984: TIE: Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

I couldn't pick just one. But it's my blog, so sue me. I saw Gremlins so many times in the theater between its first release and a later re-release. I was as obsessed with it as I was Return of the Jedi. Temple of Doom I didn't actually see in theaters (I had seen Raiders in theaters), but it is my personal favorite Indiana Jones movie. I never saw it in the theater until a midnight showing some time ago. But I know that movie now shot for shot. (In fact, it has my single favorite shot from any movie in it, weirdly enough.) I just couldn't choose between these two, I love them so much.

As amazing a year as 1982, with some of my absolute faves: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension, Amadeus, Ghostbusters, The Last Starfighter (not a great movie, but a sentimental fave), The Muppets Take Manhattan, The NeverEnding Story, Romancing the Stone, Splash, Starman, The Terminator, and This Is Spinal Tap.

And although I didn't see it until I was 14, shout-out to Trinity Brown, the first adult movie I ever saw and still my favorite.

1985: Witness

A tough choice this year, honestly. This is the year, after all, of Back to the Future, Explorers, The Goonies, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Re-Animator, Return to Oz and Silverado.

1986: Labyrinth

Easy choice for me. Besides the Bowie, and my 10 year-old crush on Jennifer Connelly, this was always just my favorite Jim Henson project of them all. And to find out a couple of years ago in Jim Henson: The Biography that it was Jim's favorite, too--the one he considered the best representation of what he wanted to do--was pretty validating. When I was a kid, barely any other kid had seen it or even knew what it was, which I found so bizarre because I saw it in the theater. I still remember being in my 20s and people talking about it like an embarrassing relic of the past. And now the nostalgia for it is everywhere. It's just... weirdly validating. Ahead of my time, again!

Tied for second: A Better Tomorrow, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Highlander, Little Shop of Horrors, Manhunter, Transformers: The Movie and Howard the Duck. Of course. Oh, and I still watch Back to School every time I see it on cable. I just really dig that one.

1987: Robocop

Not a year of incredible quality for me, and there are some other faves in here (Evil Dead II, The Princess Bride, Radio Days, Raising Arizona) but nothing came close to how much I love Robocop.

1988: The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

A very, very close second is Who Framed Roger Rabbit, another movie like Return of the Jedi and Gremlins that I was just obsessed with the making of. Like a lot of movies on this list so far, it's the kind of thing that made me desperately want to create movies. I think discouragement and mental illness made short work of that, but I was just so obsessed with this stuff, and this movie really puts me back there. But The Adventures of Baron Munchausen just reached in my head and took out a big part of what I needed in a fantasy movie. It's basically my second-favorite movie.

Also need to shout out to Hairspray, The Last Temptation of Christ, and Beetlejuice. And My Neighbor Totoro, my second-favorite Miyazaki movie.

1989: Field of Dreams

Like E.T., a movie that moves me in a cathartic way. UHF is the runner-up for me this year, alongside Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, The Killer, and Batman. It's flawed, but I saw it at the theaters 13 times that year (the year my parents' divorce was final, so I was getting away from home as much as I could) and which still fills me with warm nostalgia when I see it. (I just got caught up in about a half-hour of it on one of the HBOs earlier this week).

1990: TIE: Dick Tracy and Gremlins 2: The New Batch

Apparently it will always be a tie with those Gremlins. But Gremlins 2 is, like, the most perfect movie ever made. It's my go-to answer when someone asks me to name the one movie that best defines my personality. And Dick Tracy, well... it lived up to the hype for me, anyway. I'm fascinated by it. It's a four-color monster movie. I've never cared a whit about the original comic strip, but that movie is amazing. I've gotten it in three different video formats. I own a small number of Blu-Rays, mainly Marvel movies, but I definitely own these two. Thank you, universe, for giving me a Dick Tracy Blu-Ray. There are few of us who want one.

The one that comes in second (third?) for me is Dances with Wolves, which I saw about a dozen times in the theater at age 14, over the winter of 1990-1991, a winter that stands out for me because of (a) this movie and (b) one of the worst cases of bronchitis I ever experienced. I also love Edward Scissorhands, The Hunt for Red October, and Mountains of the Moon.

1991: Beauty and the Beast

I remember the first time I saw this movie, I could not stop crying after. It took a while for me to calm down. It just really, really got to me. That was a time when I just didn't feel I'd ever be worthy of love. I felt like I was truly unloved in the world and to see a fairy tale where someone felt the same way and they were wrong was very powerful for me. This is one of the Disney movies I'm closest to for that reason. I'm an ugly, angry, unlovable guy. I relate.

The closest runner-up is Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again, which I've seen countless times and still dig. I also like What About Bob? a lot. Like, a lot. And LA Story, which I saw in the theater and have loved ever since, more for its surreal sensibility than the LA-specific satire, having been in LA a grand total of 20 minutes once for an airplane changeover.

1992: TIE: The Muppet Christmas Carol and Batman Returns

My first non-Gremlins-related tie, but I just couldn't choose between these two movies. One has a deep personal significance for my adult life (The Muppets Christmas Carol) and the other for my teenage years (Batman Returns is the kind of me-sensibility Grand Guignol freak show that I adore). Both of these movies hit me at my core.

Also, shout-out to Wayne's World, which has been on cable a lot lately and which still holds up as a great goofy comedy. Also I love Aladdin and The Last of the Mohicans.

1993: The Fugitive

Oh, man, this is the year. One of my favorite years. I was finally used to how much I hated school. I didn't spend as much time with my parents, spending most of the weekends at Carl's house. I went to see a lot of movies. A lot. And I really became obsessed with both making and watching films. I turned 17 this summer (the summer of Jurassic Park, another movie I became obsessed with the making of), and briefly had my first girlfriend. And what a fantastic year for movies. This was a tough choice for me. I could've chosen Gettysburg, Groundhog Day, The Joy Luck Club, Much Ado About Nothing, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Philadelphia, The Piano, The Secret Garden, Tombstone or True Romance.

But I went with this one. I loved it then, and I love it now. It's a perfect little mystery thriller.

1994: Pulp Fiction

A seminal movie for me and a lot of other film nerds. This is probably the last time in my life--other than Titanic, maybe--that I can remember people talking about a specific film for months. Everything has a much shorter lifespan today, but back then pictures would still get held over regularly. I had two different girlfriends during the course of this movie's long theatrical run. I saw this in the summer, the autumn, and the winter. And I loved it and, unlike many movies from this time period I thought I'd always love, it still holds up. And it holds up damn well.

The runners-up for me here are Sirens (a movie which challenged my beliefs and showed me a way to accept and mold life that I had a real affinity for, right at the end of high school), Little Women, and Clerks.

1995: Mallrats

Well, it ain't winning no contests, but there's just something about this movie that endlessly works no matter how stilted the dialogue or how silly the plot is. And it comes together clumsily as hell. But somehow the messiness is part of its appeal for me. It was like seeing Animal House directed at my generation, and even if it isn't as good, I just can't hate it. I've seen it a couple of times just this year (it flopped, so premium cable snapped it up cheap, and 22 years later, it's still on a lot), and it makes me laugh and smile every time. I mean... I did say "favorite" didn't mean "best."

Runners-up: Babe, Heat, Jeffrey, Stealing Beauty, Strange Days, 12 Monkeys and another terrible movie, Showgirls. It's a camp classic.


1996: That Thing You Do!

Becca's going to be both disappointed and unsurprised that I went with this one. I don't know anyone else who's ever really liked it much, but it just makes me feel good in some way. I love it. It makes me happy.

Some runners-up from this very good year, the first year I moved out (which only lasted a year) and in which Becca and I were going to the show almost every week: Flirting with Disaster (or as my Mom called it, "You sure like some weird movies"), The Frighteners, From Dusk Till Dawn, Hamlet, Independence Day, James and the Giant Peach, Mars Attacks!, Muppet Treasure Island, The Phantom, The Rock, and Trainspotting. And Dragonheart, which is not really a good movie but which I saw several times and was fascinated by the effects; I still have the making of book. And the far superior novelization by the original screenwriter, who also didn't like the movie.

And I have to mention The Thief and the Cobbler, which, in its fan-edit "recobbled cut" form is a goddamn masterpiece.

1997: The Fifth Element

No contest on this one. One of my all time faves. (Though Boogie Nights, Chasing Amy, The Edge, George of the Jungle, Jackie Brown, Men in Black, Princess Mononoke and Starship Troopers are all favorites for me.)

1998: A Simple Plan

A tight and involving crime thriller that I've had plenty an argument about over the years.

Other picks: The Big Lebowski, obviously; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Smoke Signals, Small Soldiers, and, yeah, I get read for this one, but I love the crappy Lost in Space movie, as I love many things Henson-related.

1999: Mystery Men

What was great and terrible during this time period is that I was working at a video store, so I saw everything. I've seen so much crap from the whole 1998-2001 period. And seeing a lot of crap, you really learn to appreciate the stuff that resonates with you but isn't perfect, over the stuff that's critically acclaimed but leaves you kind of cold. This is my favorite of the year; something about this story just totally does it for me. I also could have picked Dogma, Galaxy Quest, The Iron Giant, The Mummy, The 13th Warrior, The Straight Story, The Talented Mr. Ripley, or Tarzan.

And I will never get into it online again, but I fucking love The Phantom Menace.

2000: High Fidelity

Ha, it's another movie my wife hates. I borrowed the screener from work and I loved it so much I just never took it back. No one ever asked about it, so I guess it was okay. Recently, in group therapy, the counselor asked us to think of one situation where we're totally free of anxiety. The only thing I could come up with was listening to music. So this movie's delineation of how music can define moments in our lives that add up to a mix tape of our emotional history really stuck out to me for reasons I didn't quite understand at the time.

Also could've picked: American Psycho, Quills, The Road to El Dorado, Titan AE, or Wonder Boys.

2001: Spirited Away

My personal favorite Miyazaki movie. 2001 is a pretty solid year for movies, but this was an easy choice over, say, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mummy Returns, and Winged Migration (which is very calming). Another stupid flick I love: One Night at McCool's.

2002: Bubba Ho-tep

Or as my Mom called it, "Boy, you sure like some weird movies." Ah, bite me. I pick this one over About a Boy, About Schmidt, Frailty, Lilo & Stitch, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Men in Black II, Signs and Spider-Man.

2003: Love Actually

Also contenders: Finding NemoAmerican Splendor, Looney Tunes: Back in Action (I know it's not, like, good, but that's not the point), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Lost in Translation, Swimming Pool, The Triplets of Belleville, Kevin Costner's Open Range and Willard. I also adore Kill Bill: Vol. 1, but every time I watch that and the second movie I'm truly annoyed they aren't just one movie. Come on, man.

2004: Shaun of the Dead

Not the best year, but some solid faves, including Howl's Moving Castle, Jersey Girl (I know, but I think it's sweet), Spider-Man 2, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

2005: Brokeback Mountain

Easily my favorite movie of that decade. I think I made that list once, right? Trying to decide if I should redo that list or update it or just wait until 2020 and do one for the movies of 2011 to 2020. Because I'd probably change up what I had then with all the extra flicks I've seen. Either way, 2005 is a great year. I could easily have chosen Match Point, Sin City, Revenge of the Sith, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy... maybe Peter Jackson's King Kong, which is extremely flawed but a movie I've seen dozens of times because there are parts of it I really, truly love. Well... no, I wouldn't have picked it for that reason, but Brokeback Mountain is such an emotional experience for me.

2006: Clerks II

The right movie at the right time. It came out right as I was graduating from college and realizing I had no idea what to do next. Resonated with me even harder than the first one, which came out right after I graduated high school.

Others I could have chosen: Casino Royale, Marie Antoinette, Mission: Impossible III and V for Vendetta. (Note: Jason picked V as his favorite movie from 2005--it's a great movie--but I always list it as a 2006 movie just because it came out here in March 2006. I didn't know it's actually considered a 2005 movie until now. So not a call-out, but a today I learned.)

2007: Death Proof

Specifically the director's cut version. It feels like a little bit of a cheat, or at least a bend. But still, it's my blog and I made that choice. Could've picked Gone Baby Gone, Hairspray, Hot Fuzz, The Simpsons Movie or 300, as well.

2008: Let the Right One In

In a rare case of "best" and "favorite" being one and the same. It's a weird year. Great for pop weirdness. I also like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, In Bruges, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Pineapple Express, WALL-E, Speed Racer and The Spirit. Yeah, I said it.

2009: Watchmen

I still think it's a masterpiece, but I also think Zack Snyder could've stopped with this one. Nearly there: Coraline, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Inglourious Basterds, Moon, The Princess and the Frog, Up, and I know it drives some of you nuts, but Star Trek.

2010: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Not a great year. Except for Somewhere and Welcome to the Rileys, my runner-ups are all animated: A Cat in Paris, Chico and Rita, Despicable Me, How to Train Your Dragon, and The Illusionist.

2011: Super 8

An homage to the kinds of flicks I loved in my childhood (and in the case of some, like E.T., saved my life), and it hits all the right notes in the same way. The joke is that it's Steven Spielberg Presents: Steven Spielberg Movies: The Movie, but, well... it's not like he's knockin' 'em out of the park in the 21st century. Although, funnily enough, my close second is a Spielberg movie I unashamedly love: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn.

Good year for fantasy-type movies. Besides Drive and the wonderfully demented Killer Joe, I also love Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Skin I Live In, Take Shelter, Melancholia, and The Muppets. This is a much better year than I remember.

2012: Life of Pi

What a weirdly divisive year. I liked a lot of movies in 2012 that people tell me I should hate. But I'm not about to apologize for liking Jon Carter, Prometheus, Rise of the Guardians or Snow White and the Huntsman. I also loved The Pirates: Band of Misfits, Seven Psychopaths, Ginger & Rosa, Dredd, and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Honestly, the closest second here is The Avengers, because, come on, you know I love the MCU.

2013: Blue Is the Warmest Color

Also: American Hustle, Gravity, 42, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Spring Breakers, the flawed-but-action-packed Star Trek Into Darkness, Stranger by the Lake, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, Under the Skin, Her, Iron Man 3 and The World's End.

2014: Guardians of the Galaxy

I've seen this wonderful movie so many times, and I adore it each time. Some close runners-up: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Babadook, Clouds of Sils Maria, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Godzilla, The Grand Budapest Hotel, John Wick, Lucy, The Normal Heart and Muppets Most Wanted.

2015: Mad Max: Fury Road

I'm still getting to all of the movies I wanted to see in 2015, but I also love Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Cinderella, Dope, The Force Awakens, The Hateful Eight, Magic Mike XXL and Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation.

2016: The Neon Demon

I'm waaaaaay behind on 2016 movies, but I do love Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Ghostbusters, The Jungle Book, Rogue One, Star Trek Beyond, 10 Cloverfield Lane and Moana.

In 2017, Get Out and Kong: Skull Island are the best ones I've seen so far. Can't wait to see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 in a couple of weeks.

Sorry to do whatever the blog equivalent of talking your ears off is. Typing your eyes out?

Song of the Week: "Sometimes It Snows in April"

Because Friday was one year gone. From Parade, 1986.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Song of the Week: "If I Can Dream"

As a non-Christian, Easter has never really been a holiday I've observed much, but this one feels particularly dour. Part of it is the dark, rainy weather. Also, part of it is the stuff in the news. Everything feels precarious, and there are people I know personally who are making it worse, and who are going to be Good Christians today even as they cheer on the destruction of people who aren't them. (I know, because I'm related to a few of them, which is a real punch in the gut.) So today's song is my favorite Elvis song, from his 1968 comeback special.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Tribute to Carrie Fisher

Lots of fans are sharing this tribute from Star Wars Celebration and so am I.


I'm not crying, you're crying. Also, I'm crying.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Song of the Week: "Take Me to the Pilot"

I don't know, sometimes you just wake up with a song stuck in your head and you've got to get it out. Great song for testing your speakers. Gosh, it's funny to me that this is only the fifth Elton John song I've had as Song of the Week in 10 years. Did you know I have his first 10 studio albums on CD? This one's from his self-titled second album, 1970.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Muppet Monday

Unlike most of the interactions I've had today, Billy Eichner on Sesame Street makes me happy.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Song of the Week: "A Better Tomorrow"

I've been so angry since the election, and probably since before that, about the politics of this stupid country. People are... ugh, I don't want to get into it right now. I've had some real hard times dealing with this nonsense. The bullies are in charge. I got so mad the other day I had to take a couple of Xanaxes and go to sleep. This 2014 Wu-Tang Clan song gives me some feeling of hope, and since hope is in rare supply these days, I need to hear it.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past few weeks and keep forgetting to do, because when you're home all the time, time loses its meaning.

X-MEN: APOCALYPSE (2016)
I enjoyed Days of Future Past, so it was a real drag to come back to one of the X-Men universe's worst flicks. Oscar Isaac is such a good actor and he's wasted in a non-performance of a non-character. Apocalypse was always one of the lamest villains in the comics--he's always talked up, but when it comes down to a fight, it's like he always just forgets he has basically every power there is. At least, I think that's it. To this day, after first encountering the character over 25 years ago and up through this movie, I still couldn't tell you what Apocalypse's powers actually are, other than being a thin copy of Darkseid. Michael Fassbender is probably the best of the actors in here, and he's barely trying. Jennifer Lawrence is particularly phoning it in. Some of the kids are okay despite the horrible accents, but they get sidetracked by a side plot that literally only exists to force yet another Wolverine cameo into the picture. There's also the usual X-Men problem of having 60 main characters and terrible continuity (aside from the baffling lack of aging some of the characters have done since First Class took place in 1961, where this one takes place in 1983, there's also the Quicksilver scene, which is the best sequence in the movie but also goes against what was established in Days of Future Past, when Quicksilver said if he picked someone up and moved them their skin would basically flay off from friction, which was why he couldn't just go into that prison, pick up Magneto, and run out). Bryan Singer has occasional moments of flair as a visual director, but for the thousandth time, the guy just can't tell a story. These movies are way too committed to their "a wizard did it" continuity patchwork that you just can't hold on to the story. **

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)
This is the kind of story I tend to really dig. I still refer to it as the Michael Crichton Plot: you have a mysterious guy with money who wants to do some science, you visit central casting and get a bunch of various experts and heavies, and then you go somewhere mysterious and do an old pulp story (or in this case, Apocalypse Now) with some kind of weird creature or new technology in it. (Example: Congo is King Solomon's Mines with a diamond laser and a talking gorilla.) (And yes, I know Michael Crichton didn't invent this plot, I just happened to read a lot of Michael Crichton in my senior year of high school, so that's how I think of it.) Anyway, I had a great time. Loved the cast; I'm constitutionally incapable of not loving Samuel L. Jackson in everything, and John Goodman is always great. John C. Reilly is fun and even poignant as a pilot who has been lost on Skull Island since World War II. This takes place immediately after the end of the Vietnam War ("We didn't lose the war, we abandoned it," Jackson's soldier explains), with John Goodman leading a team of soldiers, researchers, a photographer (Brie Larson) and an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston) to the remote island to discover... something. Of course, they discover Kong, and then we get a jungle picture with an anti-war message rolled into it that is just overwhelmingly fun. ***1/2

SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)
Mostly it's an incoherent mess, which is frustrating, because there are a lot of good individual elements to it. You kind of know you're in trouble right away because the film dicks around so much in the beginning, wasting its entire first half-hour on introducing every character (some of them three times), and explaining the premise of the film twice. It sucks, because you can see how they could have streamlined it and turned it into the fun flick it clearly thinks it is. After it settles in and we get the characters together, it starts to get really enjoyable, and then it just hits a wall and draaaaags to the end. Some of the actors are decent in underwritten roles: Will Smith's a pro, Viola Davis is fiery but wasted and the way Amanda Waller is written is nothing like the strategic genius of the comics, Jai Courtney is alright, Margot Robbie is superb, Joel Kinnaman is effective, and Jay Hernandez is given a great arc but not enough attention to make it work. The action scenes are long and not very interesting; the film doesn't really seem interested in developing the characters' personalities, even through individual action flourishes. The need to have the Joker in this movie is 98% marketing driven, and 2% the need to explain to the 1% of the audience that doesn't know what a Harley Quinn is. Lots of racial and gender stereotyping. The stakes are alternately not pressing or ridiculous (a witch is going to destroy all life on Earth, let's send in the guy who throws boomerangs twice in the whole picture and a guy who is... deformed?... half-crocodile?... eh, who cares, here's a crazy girl in booty shorts), and the conflict that should be inherent isn't made much of. It has that X-Men movie problem of having 10 or 11 main characters so that none of the relationships get served. (That alone surprised me coming from David Ayer, because I thought Fury really worked, and that had a bunch of characters, too.) It's a real disappointment, because some of this stuff really does work, but it never comes together into the fun movie it could be. Instead it's Escape from New York with eight Snake Plisskens. It's not the awful failure that Batman v Superman was, but it's still not like DC has righted the ship here. **1/2

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Song of the Week: "Lightning Strikes"

I love this. This is the kind of new wave avant garde art I've loved since I was a kid. It's this kind of thing that made people call me a weirdo, but it's the kind of thing that never seemed particularly weird to me. It's performance art. Whatev. Anyway, this is Klaus Nomi from his 1981 album (a favorite), covering the classic 1965 pop hit by Lou Christie. A marvelous, operatic reinterpretation.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Muppet Monday

It's the first day of spring. No sun here, but no snow, either, so it's a mixed bag. But here's a cheerful tune celebrating the arrival of the season from a 1986 episode of Sesame Street. A nice one to listen to when taking a walk. Also, it's nice to see Forgetful Jones. Song by Cheryl Hardwick (music) and Maggie Bloomfield (music). Have a nice one!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Song of the Week: "Maybellene"

RIP Chuck Berry, the great rock 'n' roll pioneer. I've always liked his music. I still remember when my cousin gave me his cassette of The Great Twenty-Eight, the excellent Chuck Berry compilation, when I was 16. I played it in my Mom's car stereo every time she let me borrow the car. I wore that tape out playing Chuck Berry way too damn loud. This one was always my favorite, probably because of its driving rhythm.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

25

Ellen would have been 25 years old today. That's her on the right, holding my Dad's arm. This was taken the year before she got sick. I'm going to follow my annual tradition and bake her a cake today. I feel comfortable with my grief, but it's good to give the emotions to some tangible action. I miss you, sis. I hope you like devil's food cupcakes with orange frosting.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A Weird, Grief-Related Thing That Happened

Yesterday was the anniversary of my sister Ellen's death in 2006. And... I didn't really think about it.

You may know from my blog that the first few weeks of March are usually a really hard time for me, because all I'm thinking about is my sister and how much I miss her and the trauma and grief of it. As the date looms, I become rather locked inside myself and consumed with grief. Some years it's easier, some years I have perspective, and some years are terrible.

And this year, the date came and went and I didn't even remember to post about it. In fact, I didn't even turn my computer on yesterday, which is highly unusual for me in itself. I wasn't avoiding anything, I was just watching movies with Becca and decided not to bother myself with all of the bad news on my information machine.

I don't expect it'll be like this every year, but this year the grief wasn't so overwhelming and all-consuming that I was emotionally crippled for weeks. I didn't get caught up in the sad unfairness of the universe. I just... had a day. A pretty good one.

And I don't feel guilty about it.

This is new territory for me. I don't want to say I finally processed it and now it's behind me, because I'll always miss Ellen. But the survivor's guilt wasn't there this time. It's strange. It's like... it's like I wear the same shirt every year, and this year I forgot to put it on, and I didn't notice it until the next day. Just a piece of my psyche that I slip on every year and now it feels unusual to have not done it. Not even unusual in a bad way. And not necessarily in a good way, either. It just is. No judgment, even.

It feels weird not to be judging myself.

I love Ellen. I wish she was here. I think I'm finally starting to accept that she isn't. And it doesn't feel as selfish as I always thought it would.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Song of the Week: "The Alien Song (For Those Who Listen)"

This is where my head was at in the mid-nineties. 1994, when Milla Jovovich's album The Divine Comedy was released, was the year I turned 18 and graduated from high school.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Song of the Week: "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters"

This Moby electronica instrumental has been a favorite of mine for 22 years now. Damn, time flies. This is from the album Everything Is Wrong, but I have it from the Heat soundtrack. It's an evocative piece for me, reminding me of a slightly turbulent time in my life.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past... five weeks, really? Damn. Depression and anxiety do take away your enthusiasm.


SON OF SAUL (2015)
Intense movie about the experience of the Holocaust. The main character, Saul, is a rabbi, but also a Sonderkommando--a member of the workforce made up of prisoners--at a Nazi death camp in Hungary. He performs his duties (salvaging valuables and removing the dead from the gas chambers) with stoicism, affecting impassivity, attempting to survive. But on the day when the film begins, Saul witnesses a boy who survives the gas, only to be put to death by a Nazi doctor. The boy is Saul's son, and through the course of a harrowing couple of days, he attempts to secret the boy's body away in order to give him a proper burial. What really makes this movie especially effective is the way in which it is shot: it's filmed in the "Academy ratio," giving the film a smaller field of vision that Saul himself is almost never absent from, The effect--especially when combined with sound coming from things we don't always see--is an almost claustrophobic immediacy. Son of Saul creates a lot of its effect--almost a horror movie effect, although the film is never melodramatic--with confusion and chaos. It's a hard film to watch, but it's a very rewarding one. ****

BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN (2016)
Fascinating documentary about the two young girls who attempted to murder their friend to appease the Slenderman, a fictional monster who started as an internet hoax and became popular with kids who are into the whole "creepypasta" thing. It's engrossing, not least of which because both girls have the kind of mental health issues that feed one another, but it's also fascinating how something so clearly fictional--you can literally trace it to where and how it started and how the meme was fed by user content--can become something so real to some people. Apparently you really can create an urban legend and people will buy into it. It would be easy to say "This is why I hate the internet sometimes," but it does show (among countless other examples) how far we haven't come in terms of the internet making us more educated. The case is still ongoing, and of course the girls have their weird fans and devotees and people who make damn fan art, but I was glad the documentary never lost sight of these two as people who are suffering from mental impairments which need treatment, and that doesn't excuse away the fact that they tried to end someone's life. ****

PRIMARY (1960)
A short documentary made by Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, Albert Maysles and DA Pennebaker about the 1960 Wisconsin Democratic primary between John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. It was interesting to watch this so soon after the terrible election we just had. What a different time. The Democrats used to understand populism. ****

CHILD'S PLAY 3 (1991)
This one feels a little more routine and definitely less fun than Child's Play 2. Brad Dourif is still fun in the role of Chucky, but you can see a formula settling. **1/2

TALE OF TALES (2015)
Sumptuous dark fantasy movie from (primarily) Italy, based on a seventeenth century collection of fairy tales (one of the earliest) by Giambattista Basile. It intertwines three unrelated tales--one about a jealous mother (Salma Hayek) who seeks to end the friendship between her miracle son and his spiritual brother, a second about a witless king (Toby Jones) with a giant flea whose daughter is forced to marry an ogre, and the third about two old sisters who come into contact with a very horny king (Vincent Cassel) who will not be refused. Gorgeous to look at, and spellbinding to watch. I think your mileage may vary depending on what you like in your fairy tales, but I think most American movies in the same mode never really capture the sense of the grotesque and the horrible the way this film does. ****

THE NICE GUYS (2016)
Two private eyes in 1970s Los Angeles (Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling) investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl and uncover a conspiracy. You've seen it a dozen times, but this movie--co-written and directed by Shane Black--has a knowing script and the leads are a charming, wryly funny team (I particularly liked Crowe in a way I haven't liked him in a very long time). It's balanced and edgy in a way that a lot of these films aspire to be, but never quite make--and it stays funny and involving the whole time, unafraid to point out the ludicrousness of some of its plot without breaking the reality. This is really the movie I wanted Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to be. I loved it. ****

THE BOSS (2016)
Melissa McCarthy is a successful businesswoman who goes to prison for insider trading and loses everything. With nowhere to go, she finds herself sleeping on the couch of her former assistant (Kristen Bell) and winds up in basically a remake of Troop Beverly Hills where she has to learn the importance of letting people in and all that. Melissa McCarthy is always funny, but the script is inconsistent and thin, so she's got nothing really to work with (I don't know what it says that she co-wrote and co-produced the movie with her husband, Ben Falcone, who directed). Kristen Bell is pleasant, Tyler Labine is nice, and Peter Dinklage is funny occasionally as McCarthy's rival, but it's a waste of time and talent. **

JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 2 (2017)
This one could easily have been a by-the-numbers repeat of what made the first film so surprisingly successful, but I think the movie is smart in the way it doubles down on what we've come to expect but also finds an excuse to widen the story's canvas without feeling like a cash-in. I think of it as a middle passage; the ending leaves the door open for a sequel (it all but makes one mandatory), and even as the stakes get bigger, I don't think Chapter 2 has the driving momentum of the first film. But that's not to say it's not enjoyable as all hell; the action is fantastic, particularly Keanu Reeves' fight scenes with Common, playing an assassin with whom he's evenly matched, and a showdown inside an art installation made up mostly of mirrors and light. The cinematography by Dan Laustsen is also gorgeous, capturing some excellent shots, particularly in an art museum, and a flow of action that's easy to follow. ***

THE BALLAD OF CABLE HOGUE (1970)
This Sam Peckinpah movie never really finds its tone. I liked Jason Robards' performance as Cable, a failed prospector who discovers a watering hole along a stagecoach route and cashes in on it. And I liked Stella Stevens as Hildy, a local prostitute who falls in love with Cable. I thought their love story worked better than the rather undercooked "Death of the West" symbolism the picture lingers over. But ultimately the story never became enjoyable or compelling for me; it was always just sort of there and it was never really engaging. **1/2

THE REVENANT (2015)
This is a masterpiece. A beautiful-looking picture about a fur trapper (Leonardo DiCaprio) left for dead by his company. When he doesn't die, he begins the slow task of tracking down the man (Tom Hardy) who left him behind and killed his son. I generally haven't been a fan of Alejandro Innaritu (although I really liked Birdman), but this was an excellent movie that I found incredibly compelling. Much has been written about the deservedly Oscar-winning cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, which makes the movie look like a series of paintings. I can't rave enough about how beautiful this movie is to look at. The story is also enhanced by the long takes, which give a real sense of time to the drama. The whole thing is elevated by its canvas into an epic drama of human nature and survival among the unforgiving elements. I think I just made the whole thing sound remote and melodramatic, but it really isn't; I found the human story at its center positively gripping. Like I said, a masterpiece. ****

GYMKATA (1985)
A twink goes to a made-up country out of a bad Mel Brooks movie to win some sort of vaguely-defined death game and defeat a conspiracy using gymnastics so that the US can install a satellite monitoring station there. 90 minutes, but good god, does it drag. Fun to make fun of, to a point. I kind of wish someone would remake this but make it intentionally funny and ridiculous. *

GET OUT (2017)
Jordan Peele wrote and directed this horror movie. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris Washington, an Africa-American photographer who goes out to the country to spend a weekend with his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams) at her parents' home. The stress of meeting the parents is of course elevated by the fact that they're an interracial couple, and Chris deals with a lot of very cringey comments from people who are either trying too hard or just don't seem to have a decent sense of boundaries. But the whole thing is laden with layers of meaning, recontextualized by a brilliant twist that takes the horror of racism to another level. I don't want to give too much away, because it really is a brilliant movie; I saw it last Sunday, and I can't stop thinking about it. It's really brave the way it takes this social evil head-on and goes all the way with its metaphor. Peele--as is obvious if you've watched Key & Peele--has an extraordinary sense of timing, and he's made a masterful film that is horror as social commentary, but also funny and keenly observed. ****

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE (2016)
Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson have a lot of chemistry--hell, Johnson has a lot of chemistry with just about anybody--and this action flick about two high school friends caught up in a CIA investigation has its moments. The heart is pretty genuine, so even though it's not a great movie, it has its charming moments. It's a cute flick, especially on a day when the depression is genuine. **1/2

THE FOREST (2016)
Natalie Dormer plays a woman trying to find her twin sister in a forest in Japan where people go to commit suicide. It has a really good sense of atmosphere and mood, as she finds herself seeing things and unsure who she can trust (or even where she is going) while in the forest, but where the film succeeds is as a character piece. Natalie Dormer's performance is quite good; too good for this particular movie, really, because it really screws up the landing, turning something intangible into a failed attempt to be clever. The twist that happens cripples everything that came before it, trading catharsis and closure for something uncreative and generic that makes the whole thing seem like tedium. The ending was really going to have to sell it, but it never really rises above its premise and wastes Dormer's genuinely good performance. **

MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES (2016)
Obnoxious, but cute, and even genuinely sweet in places. I have nothing to say about it, but it's cute. **1/2

HOW TO BE SINGLE (2016)
Lots of stuff going on in this incoherent, messy rom-com. Dakota Johnson (as dynamic as dishpan hands) graduates school, goes on a break with her boyfriend to discover who she is as a single person, parties it up with a co-worker (Rebel Wilson, who I'm normally not a fan of, but who I liked in this movie), then struggles to recover on the dating scene when her boyfriend finds someone else. Meanwhile, her sister (Leslie Mann), a doctor, decides to have a baby as a single woman. And also Alison Brie is there, not interacting with any of the main storyline, and not really adding anything to the movie. It's all over the place, but there are decent moments, and I liked the film's overall message about being able to feel complete even as a single person. Some refining and it might have been quite good. **

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Song of the Week: "Fish Heads"

I was sorry to hear about Bill Paxton's untimely death. I always loved seeing him in movies and on TV shows, and as a weird tribute to the man who gave me so many hours of enjoyment, I decided to make my Song of the Week the first thing I ever saw him in: the music video for Barnes & Barnes' legendary song "Fish Heads." The song--described on its Wikipedia page as "the most honored song in [Dr.] Demento show history"--is from 1978, and this short aired on Saturday Night Live in 1980, but I remember seeing it all the time in the very early days of MTV. Back then I was five or six, so of course the song made a big impression on me then, but I've never not loved it. It's one of those weird things that I absolutely love. Back then, my friends and I would just leave MTV on all day in the background, and when this played--especially if it was the full version, where the song doesn't start for two minutes--I'd always stop and watch and sing along. And yeah, it was the first thing I ever saw Bill Paxton in. RIP, Bill. Thanks for so much great stuff, of which this is just one bit.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Song of the Week: "Susanne"

I'm not real big into Weezer, but I did have the Mallrats soundtrack and this was the best song on it. I still know all the words. God damn, how is it 20+ years since Mallrats came out! And yes, this is because I caught Mallrats on HBO real late the other night. You guys think I've said Mallrats enough for one post?

I Won't Give Up 'Til I Break High Score

Oh, man, was Pac-Man a big deal when I was a kid. This is a picture of my and my sister in the summer of 1982. Pac-Man, as I've said many times before, is the first video game I was really, really good at. I used to go to Showbiz Pizza Place all the time to play it, and their were crowds gathered around the machine because it was the big game and everyone wanted to play.

This week, "Weird Al" Yankovic officially released his song "Pac-Man" for the first time in 35 years. A parody of the Beatles song "Taxman," Dr. Demento played it on his show, but it was never released on any album. Instead it circulated, I think, mainly in one of several bootleg collections of songs played on Dr. Demento. It's my favorite of the "Weird Al" rarities; it was even my Song of the Week back in January 2009 (and the fan-made video is still there, which surprised me). The combination of two passions of mine, Weird Al and Pac-Man, in a song one hundred thousand times better than "Pac-Man Fever." I just never dug that song. Though I fully and proudly admit to never having cured my Pac-Man Fever. Hell, I play the classic game on my phone now when I'm waiting for appointments.

Here's the official release. Listen to it. Have some pizza. Get nostalgic, why not? I'd have it as Song of the Week except that I get all weird about repeating myself.

Also, this is wonderful confirmation that the upcoming Weird Al box set, Squeeze Box, is going to have these rarities on it. I don't know if people will consider "Baby Loves Burping" the lost gem that "Pac-Man" is. But I swear I will have this set.

Thanks especially to Roger for making sure that I saw that this was out there!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Song of the Week: "Million Reasons"

I don't have much of an opinion on Lady Gaga's whole country music experiment, but I do think this is a very pretty song. I keep hearing it on the radio out here and it's probably the song of hers I've liked the most since "Do What U Want." Nice Sunday morning stuff, too. Be nicer if I had my coffee, but you know.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Song of the Week: "Smoke Break"

Chance the Rapper featuring Future, from Chance's incredible Coloring Book album. Not a smoker myself, but I really need the psychological equivalent of whatever a smoke break is. But, like, for a month.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Song of the Week: "While the Earth Sleeps"

Feeling nostalgic, and I just had this song going through my head last night. This is an edit of the song, I think, by Peter Gabriel & Deep Forest, but this is the one I've always listened to because of its presence on the Strange Days soundtrack. This is another one that makes me think of Becca. That whole time was just nice. I mean, I still had all of these problems, but I didn't feel so defeated then.

Friday, January 27, 2017

John Hurt 1940-2017

This one hurts me. Sir John Hurt has passed away from cancer at the age of 77.

Hurt was a sort of recurring figure in my childhood, and as a result I was usually thrilled to see him pop up here and there. I'm not sure, but I think I first encountered him as the voice of Hazel in the 1978 film of one of my favorite novels, Richard Adams' Watership Down. I saw that movie on network TV when I was pretty young--probably around six. Around Easter one year, it aired (weirdly) over two nights. We recorded it on VHS and I watched that thing a million times. To this day, it's one of my favorite stories. So much so that, when I found out Hurt had died, I thought to myself: My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.

A couple of years after that, he was the voice of the Horned King in Disney's The Black Cauldron... I had to wait over a decade for that thing to finally come out on home video, and seeing it confirmed I had built it up a lot in my mind over the years. Definitely not a perfect movie, but it did introduce me to Lloyd Alexander, whose books are among my all-time favorites. Hell, I'm still reading them today--I just read the Westmark trilogy about three years ago.

I saw Alien in high school. And The Elephant Man. I'd come to love the sound of his voice so much--a voice that spoke the role of Aragorn in Ralph Bakshi's 1978 The Lord of the Rings, which I love despite, or even because of, it's flaws--that I even get nostalgic when it's late and I find Don Bluth's Thumbelina on cable, which also features his voice. And which is another fascinating failure to me.

I've loved Hurt in so many films of varying quality that hit my aesthetic. Midnight Express, Rob Roy, Contact, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Hellboy, V for Vendetta, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Melancholia, Only Lovers Left Alive, Snowpiercer... as the War Doctor on Doctor Who. I always wished he had done the voice of Draco in Dragonheart.

But towering over them all for me was Hurt's appearances as the title character in Jim Henson's The Storyteller, one of my all time favorite Henson productions. His voice was so perfect, so dark and rough, yet so playful at the same time. When it first showed up as a special in 1988, I just remember being so captivated, and that submitted Hurt as the voice of dark, mysterious tales to me. He's one of the few voices I think I impersonate rather well. Archaia Press currently does series of The Storyteller comics, and I sometimes read them aloud in his voice.

You'll always be in my imagination, Sir John, because you worked your way in there at a very early age. And I thank you for that. Wherever you are, I hope you're sitting in the best by the fire. In my head, you always will be.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.


THE CHALK GARDEN (1964)
Melodrama about a new governess (Deborah Kerr) trying to rein in a self-loathing wild child with arsonist tendencies (Hayley Mills). There are deep secrets to be mined, of course, as the two talk around their pasts and whether their mistakes have made them unworthy of being loved. Based on an Enid Bagnold play. Interesting movie, well-acted (Mills is a bit over the top, but I think it works for this kind of Technicolor melodrama). ***

This poster is tremendous, though:
I wish I could paint an entire interior wall with this image. It's wondrously crazy.

CHILD'S PLAY 2 (1990)
I liked the first one, but this sequel really transcends it, with its demented production design and that bizarre toy factory showdown. The movie really strips things down to plot essentials, but it creates a focus that really builds suspense for a climax that's equal parts Friday the 13th and Terminator. I love it when a horror sequel assumes you're up to speed and hits the ground running and just goes for it. ***1/2

BLACK CAESAR (1973)
Fred Williamson stars in this Larry Cohen-written-and-directed crime flick. What's so fascinating about this movie is the way Cohen takes the typical gangster story and frames it as the story of a Black man forcing his way into the world of white organized crime, and how far he can take it before he gets pushed back. There's a lot of stuff in here that's commentary on racial oppression and on poverty, and it's still really relevant. Fred Williamson is a handsome and charismatic leading man, which adds a twist to how scary the character is; smiling one moment, capable of real horror the next. ***1/2

BRIGHT LIGHTS: STARRING CARRIE FISHER AND DEBBIE REYNOLDS (2016)
I wanted this documentary to just keep going and going. There's a sort of coziness to it that I can't adequately explain, something that comes with acceptance of life. It would be a poignant film in any case, but after Fisher and Reynolds both passing away, it does take on a new meaning. These two recently deceased legends are showcased here in a movie that lays everything out honestly, but without stirring up old passions that have been put to bed. Carrie Fisher here is her mother's caretaker, as her mother prepares to retire from show business and sell off her vast collection of movie memorabilia. The movie is, really, a love story--between mother and daughter, between subjects and camera, between the present and the past. There are mutual resentments just under the surface, but they seem happy to let those be in the name of having a relationship and taking care of each other; if anything, I think the resentments give them a layer of realism that kept them from going full Grey Gardens. It's a touching experience without being treacly. ****

HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)
What bothers me here is that I've read so much about the Mercury program, seen so many movies about it, knew many of the beats of history as I was watching it, and yet I've never heard of the black women this movie is about. Not even Katherine Johnson, whom NASA named a building after. Any criticism I've been seeing of this movie is along that lines that it's not very subtle or artful (that's outside of the AV Club's usual tone of "I've seen this about white people before, so this is all very routine, because I don't get that things are maybe different for non-white people"), but it is very engaging and heartfelt. I found myself very invested in the women played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae. ****

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Song of the Week: "Ladies First"

Queen Latifah and Monie Love from the Golden Age of Hip-Hop.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Song of the Week: "Who Will Survive America?"

From Amiri Baraka's obscure 1972 album It's Nation Time. The upcoming inauguration's got me feeling a little revolutionary and a lot angry. I'll let the song speak for itself.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen these past couple of weeks.

KRAMPUS (2015)
I wanted this flick to be so much more than it was. I somewhat enjoyed it as I was watching it, but looking back on it now, I just don't feel like explaining it. The hipster-fueled resurgence of Krampus as an alt-Santa Claus figure has been, by and large, kind of silly to me. Anyway, a family gets besieged in their home on Christmas during a blizzard when Krampus and his army of evil elves and killer toys attack. It's really good at setting the mood for a downer Christmas story--the opening credits sequence is cynical, satirical perfections--and the first act is a lot like a Spielberg-produced movie from the eighties, something like Poltergeist or Gremlins. But the film never really lives up to its potential, which is a real shame coming from the director of Trick 'r Treat, which I loved and which I accurately called as a future cult movie. Eventually it stops being funny and it stops being weird in an interesting way and it stops being excited, and then it's just exhausting. It has a really good sense of atmosphere, but it loses that at some point. Too bad it turned into such a drag. **1/2

INNER WORKINGS (2016)
Disney short released with Moana. It was pleasant and cute; it's a wordless short about an office worker whose brain is at odds with his stomach, heart, etc., who want to have fun. I liked that the message was more "Treat yourself and find a balance between responsibility and enjoying your life" rather than "Fuck it, go wild and have fun and blow everything off." Reminded of the old Disney short Reason and Emotion, but bouncier. ***

MOANA (2016)
This is the first Disney movie I really felt in about the last seven or eight years. Of course, it is right up my alley with all of the Pacific Island culture and the ocean. But I liked how spiritual it was without being preachy. I was very invested in the story of Moana, a princess whose island village is failing because of an imbalance in nature and who has to free the demigod Maui in order to make it right. I especially appreciate that the balance was restored through understanding rather than violence. The music is quite good, too; I haven't actually listened to Hamilton, so this is my first real experience with Lin-Manuel Miranda's music (other than an appearance on Last Week Tonight). "You're Welcome" was instantly one of my favorite Disney songs, before I even saw the movie itself. Beautiful story, and one that hit me harder for being emotional in a genuine way rather than attempting to be clever. ****

CAROL (2015)
Cate Blanchett is excellent in title role of this film based on a Patricia Highsmith novel, about a woman who meets a younger woman (Therese, played by Rooney Mara) in a department store around Christmastime in 1950s New York City. It's a nuanced, sensitive drama about two women who are attracted to each other, then fall in love, and how that complicates Carol's divorce proceedings from a husband who refuses to let her go. This is a time period when homosexuality was treated as a mental illness, and watching Carol and Therese sort of bare themselves emotionally in private and then be forced to guard themselves in public made me very tense. Not in a way that made the movie hard to watch, but in a way that made me very invested in the outcome of their story. It's a fine movie, directed by Todd Haynes, which makes an interesting companion to his Far from Heaven. Blanchett is excellent, and Rooney Mara's understated performance complements her very well. ****

THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
Quentin Tarantino's return to form, in my opinion, after the less-satisfying Django Unchained. The real star of the movie is Samuel L. Jackson, who stars as a bounty hunter who, by chance, becomes a traveling companion to another bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) who is escorting a dangerous criminal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) into town to be hanged. The two then find themselves in the company of a former Confederate (Walton Goggins) claiming to be the new sheriff. There's a lot of tense, uncomfortable talk; this bounty is worth a lot of money, and everyone is nervous and full of anger. If there's one thing this movie gets across (and there are many), it's the terror of living in a society where everyone is armed and feels their right to murder someone in self-defense is legally assured. The four of them end up in a cabin waiting out a blizzard, along with their driver and four men who are already there, each of them tense and with stories that don't seem to add up. Nobody trusts anybody, and as the story unfolds, you see that no one has any reason to. It's true, the N-word is thrown around A LOT in this movie; not as much as in other Tarantino movies, apparently, but in a much more cutting way. The N-word here is a weapon designed for maximum brutality. The way Leigh's character is treated is also hard to watch; she's treated just as poorly as the other characters, but she has no way to defend herself as she spends the entire movie in chains. The movie is a study in brutality itself; the brutality with which people treat one another, a brutality that the characters here feel is justified in the world they live in, and which is amplified by their fear, distrust, and the brutality of nature as the blizzard rages on outside. Honestly, I thought this was masterful. Sure, it's not "fun" to watch, nor is it meant to be. But it takes the revenge fantasy of Django Unchained and turns it on its head, painting a bleak portrait of extreme racism, casual violence, the constant fear of danger, and the prison of hate. There's actually a very nuanced picture of race relations and the crushing weight of history going on here, and it doesn't pull any of its punches. This is a movie that, as much as it hurts to say, is about America now. ****

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016)
Tense thriller about a woman (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) who gets in a car accident and wakes up in a fallout shelter where John Goodman is tending to her wounds and telling her that there was some kind of disaster that has made the world unlivable. Is it a nuclear disaster? Was it an enemy nation? Was it aliens? All of these possibilities come up as Winstead attempts to master her situation while Goodman (creepy as hell in a typically excellent performance) remains cagey. There are some neat twists in here that I don't want to give away, but this is the kind of great B-movie I'm always hoping for and don't often get. I don't really care how it fits in with Cloverfield, honestly; I just know I enjoyed both movies, and this was a hell of a fun, creepy time. A great drive-in kind of movie. ***1/2

DEADPOOL (2016)
I laughed my ass off. Deadpool's never been one of my favorite characters, but this movie really captured the tone of the best of his comic book adventures, routinely breaking the fourth wall and refusing to take the business of superheroing seriously (which was a nice antidote after seeing Batman V. Superman recently, which takes that business so seriously that it has no room for humanity, much less humor). I admit, too, I've never liked Ryan Reynolds a ton, but this is what he was made to do; he's somehow perfect for the movie's smartass-yet-kinda-sincere tone. I do think the movie gets bogged down a little bit in its origin story (those scenes are as dull as they tend to be in X-Men movies), but it's a little dip in quality in an otherwise fun, breezy movie that both spoofs and loves superheroes. I dug this so much. ***1/2

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Song of the Week: "Station to Station"

David Bowie would have been 70 today. I think I've posted more of Bowie than any other artist on Song of the Week--he was the very first one, back in 2006--which is fitting. Here's another of my many favorite songs, this one from 1976, the year I was born.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Song of the Week: "Freedom! '90"

I'm not trying to be a dick when I say this is still my favorite thing David Fincher's ever done. This video was such a big deal, and it played so often on MTV that eventually I knew it shot by shot. I was 13 or 14 when this came out, and I remember MTV marveling at how George Michael didn't even appear in the video, how it was populated with some of the biggest models at the time, how he was symbolically smashing his own image by blowing up the jukebox and burning the jacket. It was one of the best videos of its time. This song and video have always sort of been up in the "current usage" part of my brain. When George Michael died last week, it reminded me of that adage that we don't cry for celebrities because we think we knew them, but because the work they did helped us know ourselves. Rest in peace, George Michael. Thank you for this. Thank you for a lot, but especially this.