Saturday, March 25, 2023

...and the Spiders of Mars

Film: Moonage Daydream
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

As a casual fan of David Bowie, I wasn’t really sure how to approach Moonage Daydream, the approved documentary film on Bowie using a substantial amount of archival footage. It’s nearly impossible to be my age and not know at least something about Bowie, of course. In terms of my musical tastes, Bowie was less important to me early on than the other prog rock acts my brothers listened to when I was very young. It was probably around the Let’s Dance era that I listened to him more in earnest, despite knowing the earlier work through my brothers to some extent.

It's hard to say that Moonage Daydream is a warts-and-all biopic, because it’s not really that sort of movie. It’s a movie that is very much from Bowie’s own point of view. So, while this is going to provide a particular perspective on his life and work, it’s also going to be a perspective that feels honest and important. Much of what makes this interesting is the fact that David Bowie reinvented himself regularly; the same guy who did Ziggy Stardust also did Modern Love and further reinvented himself into a Nine Inch Nails-like band with Tin Machine.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Battle of the Sexes

Film: Doghouse
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

It’s not easy to make a new and original zombie movie these days. Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead were relatively original, and The Girl with All the Gifts was very different in many respects, probably the pinnacle of innovation in the subgenre for the last decade. Innovation isn’t always necessary, of course. Train to Busan is straightforward and almost entirely plotless, and it’s fantastic. And that brings us to 2009’s Doghouse, a film that desperately wants to ride on the Shaun of the Dead coattails, albeit half a decade after the fact.

The big innovation for Doghouse is that our zombies are exclusively women, so our main characters are going to be exclusively male. Vince (Stephen Graham) is going through a divorce. His friends decide to cheer him up by taking him to a tiny little village called Moodley, where the women are said to outnumber the men four-to-one. Friend Mikey (Noel Clarke) has managed to secure his grandmother’s house for a few days, and so off the crew goes. In addition to Vince and Mikey, we have Neil (Danny Dyer), Matt (Lee Ingleby), Patrick (Keith-Lee Castle), and Graham (Emil Marwa). The seventh member of the group, Banksy (Neil Maskell) has a number of problems and won’t show up until the third act.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Southern Gothic

Film: Ghosts of the Ozarks
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Movies can be the most frustrating thing sometimes. Ghosts of the Ozarks is a really good example of this. This is a film that desperately wants to have an interesting story to tell and does a lot of things right. And when we get to the end, it spoils all of that with perhaps the most contrived ending possible. There’s a tremendous sense of mystery here that holds promise right up to the point where that mystery is revealed, and it really damages the entire movie.

I’m calling this a Western because there very much is a sense of this being a part of that genre despite it taking place in Arkansas. A doctor named James McCune (Thomas Hobson) is recruited by his uncle (Phil Morris) to attend their community. James goes, but is accosted along the way by a man who, when a red mist comes through the forest, is dragged away by something unseen. James soon locates the town of Norfork, which is hidden behind a massive wall. It’s here that he learns about the ghosts, the creatures that surround the area and both protect the town and harass anyone who goes out at night.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Everything Gets a Reboot Eventually

Film: Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers
Format: Streaming video from Disney Plus on Fire!

A lot of people have told me in one way or another that the Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers movie was something I should really watch. I honestly don’t watch a lot of animated movies that aren’t specifically on the Oscar list these days, mostly because my kids aren’t hoe any more. I like animation, but it’s not necessarily a style that I seek out. Given all of the hype that I got about it, though, it seemed like it would be a huge mistake to not watch it.

I’m going to drop the take now, so that if you don’t want to read the full review, you don’t have to click the like. It’s good. I enjoyed it a great deal. The voice work is good, the characters are smart, and it’s just self=aware enough to be winking at the audience without really dancing around the points its making. It’s also a film that is very much made for a particular age—later Gen-X and perhaps early Millennials.

Saturday, March 11, 2023


Film: Blonde
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I can’t say I went in to Blonde with anything other than trepidation. I’d heard enough about it, and nothing really that good about it, so I watched it mostly out of obligation. I decided to get as many movies as possible watched before the Oscars ceremony tomorrow (I’ll still have a lot to do), and this was the longest one I had left that I have immediate access to. And, aside from the Avatar sequel, it’s the one I didn’t want to watch the most.

I’ll say about Blonde something I said about Elvis. . Critic Mark Kermode, in his epic takedown of Sex and the City 2 commented that in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick took us from the birth of the human species to the birth of the next species in 2 hours and 29 minutes, while SatC 2 is 2 hours and 26 minutes and goes essentially nowhere. Blonde is 2:47, nearly three hours.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Mirror Mirror

Film: The Night House
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on Fire!

Is there anything in the world more frustrating in movies than a film that doesn’t live up to the promises of the first two acts and ends with a lackluster third act? That’s the situation I have with The Night House, a film that is in that rare group of stories that in places made all the hair on my arms raise up. This starts with such a great premise and builds on it, going in some truly unexpected and wonderful directions, and then ends with such a tame conclusion that I ended up wonder how it could have lost such power.

Beth (Rebecca Hall) lives alone in a house on a lake. We learn soon enough that she is recently alone and that her husband Owen (played in memories and the like by Evan Jonigkeit) took a boat out on the lake and shot himself, leaving a cryptic note. She does her best to hold things together, but her friend and coworker Claire (Sarah Goldberg) and her neighbor Mel (Vondie Curtis-Hall) are concerned about what has happened and the toll it is taking on her.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Witchy Woman

Film: Hellbender
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

Indie films are such a crapshoot sometimes. Sometimes you get The Evil Dead and sometimes you get The Room. Horror is a genre that works really well for indies, though, and for low-budget filmmakers. If you’re making your own thing, you can take stories in a lot of strange directions. If you don’t have a studio breathing down your neck, you can avoid the sort of narrative tropes that are demanded of you for monetary reasons. Hellbender is that sort of vision. It’s a film that has a singular vision and is carried out by its creators, who happen to be a family; most of the cast and main crew of this film are related to each other.

We are presented with teenaged Izzy (Zelda Adams) and her unnamed mother (Toby Poser, who is actually Zelda Adams’s real-life mother). They live in a house in the forest, isolated from the rest of the world; Izzy is homeschooled and we eventually learn that she has been told that she has a serious immunodeficiency, although we will also learn that what she is told she has is general experienced only by genetic males and usually causes them to die in childhood. Among the things that Izzy and her mother do, aside from eating what they can forage from the forest, is play original heavy metal as a bass/drum duet in a band they call Hellbender. They rehearse in full costume, which usually involves heavy makeup, but because of Izzy’s condition, they never play out anywhere; it’s just for them.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Eat the Rich

Film: Triangle of Sadness
Format: Streaming video from Hulu Plus on various players.

Every year, I have good intentions of watching as many of the Oscar movies that are relevant to me before the ceremony as possible. I usually fail pretty miserably and am still struggling to complete the short list at the end of the year (or even in January, as happened this year). So, I was excited to see Triangle of Sadness appear on Hulu the other day, because it was another one to cross off the list, putting me at more than half of the Best Picture nominees with a few weeks still to go. That’s pretty good for me.

I went into this completely cold. I knew nothing about it, and didn’t even know that this is a comedy. It is, but it’s going to take us some time to get there. It starts as a sort of ugly romance between two very superficial people. We’re going to be dealing with Carl (Harris Dickinson) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean), who are both professional models. Yaya is also an influencer, which is a big part of how the two of them live. What we learn early on is that the two of them are a couple, but it’s in large part for show. Yaya, despite making more money than Carl, expects him to pay for everything. We also learn that Yaya is with Carl in large part because it helps her get more followers on Instagram. Her eventual goal—her “way out of this life”—is to snag a very wealthy husband and live as a trophy wife, a fate that Carl decides he will save her from.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, February 2023

So February was interesting. We've been remodeling our kitchen, which has thrown life in disarray. It looks like another two weeks to finish things up. That kind of affected my movie consumption, but not terribly. I also made it through all of Elementary and we finished Ted Lasso until the next season drops. It never feels like I make any real progress on the big list, though--every time I watch a movie, someone else suggests a new one.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Next Stop: Violence

Film: Bullet Train
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last decade plus watching movies that would often be classified as important and meaningful. I’m okay with that, but sometimes you don’t want to think or have deep feelings. Sometimes, you just want to watch things blow up. Fortunately for those of us who sometimes just want to watch the world burn, one of the few things that we have done well in the last 10 years is that we have just about perfected the action movie. While I wouldn’t call it Exhibit A, we need to put Bullet Train on that list.

For the record, I think this trend probably started with Die Hard and has continued (but is not limited to) Dredd, Mad Max: Fury Road, and The Raid: Redemption among others. Bullet Train is very much an action-comedy. What this means is that we’re going to have a lot of fights and a substantial number of deaths, but a lot of it is going to be done (successfully) for laughs.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Deliverance II

Film: Rituals
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

“Fish out of water” films are a real thing, and they are an odd little sub-category of horror and horror-tangential films. Probably the most famous of them is Deliverance, but it would be a mistake to think that Deliverance clones like Southern Comfort aren’t in some way a response to that film. Even The Descent has some connection—put city folk in the wilderness and, essentially, see what happens. The Hills Have Eyes, Cabin Fever, and even movies like The Naked Prey, Straw Dogs, and Wake in Fright have some connection to the subgenre. Stuck right in the middle of these, almost exactly between Deliverance and Southern Comfort is Rituals, which was also released under the much more B-movie title The Creeper.

Rituals is very clearly a film that wants to be Deliverance. In fact, it is essentially a Canadian version of that film with a lot less star power, since our main star is Hal Holbrook, and that’s about all we’ll get for major players of the time. We have a group of doctors who knew each other in med school who get together for a yearly trip, the planning of which rotates between the people in the group. This time, the planning was done by D.J. (Gary Reineke), and the trip is a fishing/camping/hiking vacation in northern Ontario. Along for the trip are Harry (Hal Holbrook), Mitzi (Lawrence Dane), D.J.’s brother Martin (Robin Gammell) and Abel (Ken James).

Sunday, February 19, 2023

I'm Going to Graceland

Film: Elvis
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

This year’s Razzie nominations were interesting. While we frequently see a lot of famous names in mix, it’s not often that we see this many high-profile names in the mix. Tom Hanks has been nominated for both Worst Actor and Worst Supporting Actor for films from 2022, in the second case for Elvis, which also happens to be nominated for Best Picture. It’s an interesting situation, because it’s hard to overlook Tom Hanks in Elvis since, as Colonel Tom Parker, he narrates the story.

I have to admit that I went into this with a great deal of trepidation, not because it was about Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), about whom I am pretty ambivalent. It’s the length. Critic Mark Kermode, in his epic takedown of Sex and the City 2 commented that in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick took us from the birth of the human species to the birth of the next species in 2 hours and 29 minutes, while SatC 2 is 2 hours and 26 minutes and goes essentially nowhere. Elvis is 2 hours and 39 minutes.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Roe v. Wade

Film: Happening (L’événement)
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

It seems that I have been challenging myself a lot with movies lately. Happening, known as < I>L’événement in the original French is very much a punishing movie. It’s also one that is incredibly important right now, at least in the U.S. It’s a movie that doesn’t pull any punches, so I’m not going to pull any, either. This is a movie about abortion, and it’s a successful one specifically because no matter which side of that debate you fall on, this is a movie that is going to upset you.

You should also be prepared for a surprising amount of nudity. You might expect some because of the subject, but there’s a lot of full frontal nudity in this as well as a sequence where we watch one of the friends of the main character masturbate with a pillow. Be prepared for this if you’re going to watch—you’ll see a lot of nude young women standing in line waiting to get into a communal shower.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Soon, Germany Will Be Empty

Film: All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues)
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

There seems to be no end to movies about war. There are, of course, films that depict war as something glorious, as a thing to be, if not encouraged at least welcomed. Certainly, there are those that depict war as something to be sought after as well. And then there are those films that show war as something terrible and a hell unto itself. Films like Come and See, Paths of Glory, and Das Boot depict war as senseless, endless brutality and a desperate hope to avoid death. The original All Quiet on the Western Front remains one of the greatest anti-war statements in history. To that we can add the 2022 German reimagining of the same name, also know by its German title of Im Westen nichts Neues (which means “Nothing new in the west” if my German hasn’t failed me).

This is, in fact, the third version of this story that I have seen. The first I saw was the 1979 made-for-TV re-imagining starring Richard Thomas, which is very much the weakest of the three. The 1930 film won Best Picture, of course, and as mentioned is still an extremely powerful film. And then there is this latest version, which holds nothing back on the true horror of trench warfare.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Dora Milaje

Film: The Woman King
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

So I’m never shy about my opinions regarding the Oscars, especially when it comes to the inherent racism and sexism involved in them. I’ve done a deeper dive on that, something I hope to use someday, but movies like The Woman King are a demonstration of just how big that problem really is. Sure, this is my opinion and it would be easy to rationalize a different opinion, just as it would be easy to say what I think is a rationalization of a short. However, it’s my firm conviction that if The Woman King had been the story of a group of white women (like, say, Women Talking), I would be including this on one or more of my various Oscar lists. But, it’s about African women, and here we are.

This isn’t to denigrate Women Talking, which I have not seen. It’s to suggest that just as the Oscars tend to be more favorable to movies about men, they’re more favorable to movies about white people. Before you start hitting me with examples, know that I don’t really want to hear them. Sure, Moonlight exists as a Best Picture winner. So does Green Book, and the white guy was nominated for Best Actor in that one.

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Australia Has No Second Amendment

Film: Nitram
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television.

Whenever there is a mass shooting in the U.S., it is inevitable that someone will bring up Australia and the absence of such events there. It’s because, we are told, that a number of years ago there was a terrible mass shooting, and laws were soon changed to prevent this sort of firearm access. About three dozen people were killed in Port Arthur and another nearly two dozen wounded on April 28, 1996, by Martin Bryant, currently serving 35 life sentences and 1600+ years without possibility of parole. Nitram is that story, after a fashion.

Nitram (Caleb Landry Jones) is a intellectually disabled young man living with his patents in Port Arthur, Australia. He seems to have almost no ability to control any of his urges. He lights off fireworks, annoys the neighbors, and causes trouble. He’s also prone to grabbing the steering wheel of cars when someone else is driving. His father (Anthony LaPaglia) struggles to keep the peace in the home between Nitram and his mother (Judy Davis). Nitram has strange demands and is unable to separate the idea of what he wants from it not being necessary.

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Robbery, Assault and Battery

Film: Emily the Criminal
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

There’s something about Aubrey Plaza that rubs me the wrong way. There’s a smugness to a lot of her performances, a sense that she feels too good for the material, a sort of calculated ennui, or a sense that she’s in on the joke in a way that no one else is. Because of that, I have to work my way up to watching her in anything. I’m wondering now, though, if this isn’t a function of some of the roles she has played, because it’s very much not the case with Emily the Criminal.

We’re going to immediately be sympathetic to Emily (Plaza) because she is drowning in debt. We discover that she has massive student loans that she struggles to pay off because of a felony conviction. Unable to get good paying work, she works as an independent contractor delivering catering to offices and the like. One of her coworkers gives her a contact for an opportunity to make $200 in an hour, albeit in a way that is not close to above board.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Marsh Girl

Film: Where the Crawdads Sing
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When award season comes around, there are always those movies that are surprising in the lack of nominations they accrue. That’s very much the case with Where the Crawdads Sing, a film that got a great deal of acclaim that then vanished when awards time came. It’s a more than competently made film, a solid story with a good pedigree, and beautifully directed. It seems like it should have been a natural choice, and yet here we are.

While Where the Crawdads Sing starts with a dead body, it’s a movie that is going to invite immediate comparisons to Nell. Our main character, Kya (Jojo Regina as a child and then Daisy Edgar-Jones for the bulk of the film) lives out in the marshes of North Carolina with her family, headed by her abusive father (Garret Dillahunt). One day, her mother wanders off, and over time, all of her siblings wander away as well. Eventually, her abusive father wander off as well, leaving Kya on her own at the age of seven.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, January 2023 Part 2

I've done a little re-arranging, adding a new page here for movies that aren't on any list but that I've watched because they were recommended. I'm still working on that and it should be finished soon. I've got so many recommendations for the last few years that it felt like I needed a separate page for them. This only applies to full reviews, not the ones I've posted on recaps like this one. Anyway, here are the last few I picked up in January.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, January 2023 Part 1

I said last month that I was going to try to put more reviews up and watch more movies, and I think I've done that so far. In fact, I caught up with so many movies in January that I can't fit all of the names in the labels section, forcing me to split this post in two. There will be another chunk of movies tomorrow. It honestly feels right and good to feel back in the saddle here and watching movies again. There were a few dark months last year, but I feel like I'm back in a lot of respects. Tune in tomorrow for some additional catch-ups.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Return to the Danger Zone

Film: Top Gun: Maverick
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen

I’m not going to lie; Top Gun: Maverick had a real uphill climb for me. I’m not a fan of the original film at all. I don’t care that the original Top Gun is the gayest thing I’ve ever seen, and that includes Brokeback Mountain and Cruising. My problem with Top Gun is that you could not ask for a better advertisement for the military-industrial complex. Want a collection of young kids you can send off to war? Show ‘em Top Gun and get ‘em ramped up on patriotism and the desire to go fast, and you’ve got your lambs for the slaughter.

Top Gun: Maverick picks up multiple decades after the first movie—as the original took place when it was filmed, so too does this sequel. Our boy Peter “Maverick” Mitchell (Tom Cruise) is still flying for the Navy, and still at the rank of captain since his frequent insubordination keeps him from getting further promoted. His old friendly rival Tom “Iceman” Kazansky (Val Kilmer) now commands the entire Pacific fleet, and is the only thing that keeps Maverick still flying.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Helicopter Parent Panda

Film: Turning Red
Format: Streaming video from Disney Plus on Fire!

I knew when it was released that Turning Red was going to be nominated for Best Animated Feature. I had all sorts of good intentions about watching it before the Oscar nominations were announced, but I found it more and more difficult to watch movies toward the end of last year. So, here we are and I’ve finally gotten around to watching it. All I knew going in was that it was controversial, mainly because it dealt with (gasp) a bodily function that women go through. The horrors of kids finding out about the menstrual cycle.

And, honestly, that ends up being one of the most meta moments of Turning Red. A substantial plot point in the film is that our main character Meilin (voiced by Rosalie Chiang) deals with a terribly overbearing mother, Ming (Sandra Oh). A large part of the plot happens specifically because Ming is a helicopter mom, desperate to keep Meilin from anything that might possibly hurt her…and the main objection to the film by the conservative wing of Americans is that it includes a topic that they don’t want their kids to know about.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Giving Someone the Finger

Film: The Banshees of Inisherin
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

The Banshees of Inisherin has attracted a great deal of attention this award season, including nine Oscar noms, with four of those in acting categories. I went into it with some worries, though, because of two of the actors. Colin Ferrell has been nominated for Best Actor. I’ve learned to appreciate Farrell, but I find him really hit (After Yang, In Bruges) and miss (The Killing of a Sacred Deer, The Lobster). Possibly because my first encounter with him was Sacred Deer, I am not too keen on Barry Keoghan, one of the film’s two Best Supporting Actor nominees. So, I was hopeful, but a bit trepidatious.

This seems like a very simple film on the surface. In the years between World War I and II, on the island of Inisherin off the west coast of Ireland, life is simple and unassuming. Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) supplies milk to the local market and spends his afternoons drinking with his best friend folk musician Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson, also nominated for Best Supporting Actor). And then, one day Colm announces that he no longer wishes to spend any time with Pádraic.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Flipping the Bird

Film: Hatching (Pahanhautoja)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Hatching (or Pahanhautoja if you want the Finnish) is a film that I’ve heard of a few times. When I ran across it at my local library, it seemed like a touch of kismet, so I checked it out right away. I knew nothing about it beyond the name and the fact that it came recommended. I honestly didn’t even know that the film was in Finnish until it started, I heard something that sounded Scandinavian, and I looked it up.

One of the more interesting realities of Hatching is that we are going to be introduced to our main characters right away, and we’re going to almost universally dislike one of them. The people who will be our main focus are a Finnish family who make their living, at least in part, as social media influencers. This, we soon discover, is very much the project of the unnamed mother (Sophia Heikkila), who is desperate to project the idea of a perfect Finnish family. We open the film with the family—Mother, Father (Jani Volanen), son Matias (Oiva Ollila), and daughter Tinja (Siiri Solalinna)—posting a video that is interrupted by a crow hitting their window and subsequently destroying a part of their living room. Eventually, Tinja captures it, and unexpectedly, Mother snaps its neck.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Say "Cheese(y)"

Film: Smile
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

When you watch movies based on a list (or a variety of lists) there are certain things that you do. When those lists change, that means that sometimes you watch a film or two pre-emptively. For the Oscar categories and the 1001 Movies lists, that means finding the things that are critically acclaimed and that I think are likely to be either nominated or curated. For the They Shoot Zombies list, this means taking a look at horror movies that have gotten solid reviews and, frankly, enough reviews to make them potential additions to the list. Smile is one such movie. I watched this because I figured that if the Zombies list updates this year (it didn’t in 2022), there is a decent chance that a film with this many positive reviews has a chance of showing up.

And here’s the thing about Smile--it seems I’ve hit something of a theme of late. This feels like the third movie in the last four that feels very derivative of its genre. Like The Invitation, this is very much a horror movie. Like CODA, it’s a pretty good example of its genre, even if it doesn’t go anywhere that new. There are some solid jumps in this, but all of the scares are more or less of the jump variety. So, while it is certainly going to please a particular type of horror movie fan, it’s also not going to break a lot of new ground.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

A Cinematic Cheeseburger

Film: CODA
Format: Streaming video from Apple+ on basement television.

Years ago, I was a fan of the HBO show Mr. Show. One of the many skits on that show was about a guy named Bob Lamonta. In the skit, Bob is frequently teased at school because his parents are, bluntly, developmentally challenged. And so Bob takes up running and becomes a famous track athlete. We then learn that all of this is a lie—Bob’s parents are mentally normal and he was never that successful in track. What’s amazing about this, though, is that a couple of decades before the fact, it predicted CODA.

CODA, which stands for “child of deaf adults,” is the story of Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), who, unlike her parents and brother, can hear. Her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) work a fishing vessel off the coast of Massachusetts. Ruby frequently fishes with them and then falls asleep in high school classes. Her mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin) does the books. Naturally, the family is struggling, because what would be the point of this if there weren’t money troubles?

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Self-Referential Title is Self-Referential

Film: Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
Format: Streaming video from NetFlex on rockin’ flatscreen.

On the day after Christmas, 2022, noted failed screenwriter and right-wing wastepaper basket Ben Shapiro went on a 17-tweet long rant about how much he hated Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (which I will call simply Glass Onion from this point forward). Part of his rant was about the politics of the movie (and we’ll get there), but it started with his evident inability to understand the basics of whodunnit mysteries. Shapiro complained that the first half of the movie was a bait-and-switch…and then in the middle of his rant switched focus, much like he just complained about.

It would be fair to complain a bit about Glass Onion because it doesn’t reach the same joyful narrative heights of the first Benoit Blanc mystery. This is much more a candy confection than the first film, an elaborate puzzle box like the ones received by the man characters at the start of the film. Because of this, its less rewatchable than the first film. Don’t take this as a serious negative criticism—sometimes this is exactly what you want. It is a difference, though, and there’s no getting around that.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Welcome to the Family

Film: The Invitation (2022)
Format: DVD from DeKalb Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I knew within the first 10 minutes that The Invitation was going to be a problem. I need to be clear on the fat that I’m referring to the 2022 movie of this name and not the film from 2015 .The 2015 film called The Invitation is a solid thriller with horror elements, and it’s disturbing in all of the right ways. This film was heavily advertised, or at least I saw the trailer for it multiple times per day for what felt like a month. I got very used to the scene of Missandei from Game of Thrones at a very weird wedding reception.

Anyway, I knew this was going to be a problem because there is a huge disconnect in the opening few minutes. I realize this is a horror movie and that there are supernatural elements in it, but the non-supernatural parts of it should make sense. The opening sequence is designed to get our main character Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) the DNA test that ends up driving the film. It’s also designed to show us that Evie is a bit desperate for money, and this is where the film immediately fails.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Brokeback Ranch

Film: The Power of the Dog
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

I tried to watch The Power of the Dog a couple of months ago, and for whatever reason, I found myself wandering. I walked away from it for a bit until I felt I was more mentally prepared for it. And then I more or less forgot about until I realized that I had to finish up the Oscar movies from last year so that I could complete the Oscar Got It Wrong! posts over the next month. I want to be clear here in saying that my first failed attempt to watch this was on me and wasn’t the fault of the movie. I was just really tired.

There is going to be a natural inclination to make some comparisons between The Power of the Dog and Brokeback Mountain; I’m not immune to that myself, as suggested by the title of this review. First, this is a more modern Western both in the sense that it is a modern film and in the sense that this doesn’t take place in the Old West. For as much as this is at least in part a cowboy movie, this take place in 1925. Second, there is definitely a theme of homosexuality and homoeroticism that runs through this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

0 62, 0 Hell

Film: Bingo Hell
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

One of the things I like about horror movies is that they don’t really take a lot of set up to make them work. Sure, you can do a lot of work and really go for the deep scares with an eye toward giving your audience an existential crisis, but you definitely don’t have to do that. You can instead put your characters into a scary situation (or a dangerous one) and see what they do. That’s a big part of a film like Bingo Hell, that doesn’t have any real pretense beyond entertaining the audience.

In the community of Oak Springs, the residents tend to be older, and have been there for a long time. For them, evenings are often spent at the local bingo hall, but that’s about to change in some respects. As the film starts, the owner of the bingo hall, Mario (David Jensen). Mario has just sold the bingo hall, and as he packs up his money and his belongings, he starts eating what appear to be bingo balls. He keeps it up until he chokes himself.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Home (Un)sweet Home

Film: The Haunting of Hill House
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.

Most horror movies, or at least a significant majority of horror movies, are short. Thers’s something about the genre that fits with keeping things short and sweet. You give the audience a little bit of information about the potential victims, providing enough for empathy to keep the audience emotionally involved, and then you ramp up the scares. It’s hard to maintain that. Building something that deeper takes a lot of work, and we don’t always have the patience for it, both as creators and as consumers of media. The Haunting of Hill House is an exception to this, and it’s one hell of an exception.

That fact is truly exceptional. I look at a series like American Horror Story as an example of this. I tried with that show; I really tried to watch it and like it for what it was and it always ended up disappointing me. The problem with AHS is that it always tried to do too much. There would be a main story, but then something else would be shoehorned in almost as a way to bulk the story up so it could justify the length. Because of that, it always disappointed me and I didn’t make it past the fourth season.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

When You Wish Upon a Jar

Film: Three Thousand Years of Longing
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

George Miller has the weirdest IMDb page. If you don’t believe me, go check. This is the guy who created Mad Max and directed the entire series of movies and also wrote and directed Babe: Pig in the City and won an Oscar for Happy Feet, which he wrote, directed, and produced. That being the case, there’s not a lot that feels outside of his wheelhouse, so Three Thousand Years of Longing, a tale of magical realism involving a scholar and a djinn is certainly not outside of the realm of his oeuvre.

And, that’s exactly what Three Thousand Years of Longing is. Alithea Binnie (Tilda Swinton) is an academic who studies narrative. She is entirely content with her life, living alone and without a great deal of close contact with other people. But, it’s the life that she wants. On a trip to a conference in Istanbul, she purchases a small glass bottle. Cleaning the bottle, she uncorks it and releases a djinn (Idris Elba). The djinn, who is never named anything aside from “Djinn” offers her three wishes, which he says she must take. If she does not, he is essentially trapped on this world and unable to return to the land of his people.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, December 2022

I didn't watch much in December in general aside from television. I finished a rewatch of Burn Notice (highly recommened) and M*A*S*H (which mostly holds up). I also finished watching The X Files, which was good, but hard to get through in terms of the last few seasons. That being the case, there isn't a lot to put here, but I'm confident that will change for the coming year.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Dare to be Stupid

Film: Weird: The Al Yankovic Story
Format: Streaming video from The Roku Channel on basement television

I’ve been looking forward to Weird: The Al Yankovic Story since I heard that Daniel Radcliffe was going to play the title role. Radcliffe is having the best career possible; he’s doing only what he wants because he doesn’t need the money. It’s allowed him to just have fun with the movies and shows he’s doing. Weird is tremendous evidence of this, because this movie is not based in reality and doesn’t pretend to be.

This is, ostensibly, the story of Weird Al Yankovic, song parody master. There are minor elements of this movie that are based on Yankovic’s actual life (he got his accordion from a door-to-door salesman, for instance), but none of this is accurate. Instead, this is a story of tropes and cliches dialed up to 11 and made ridiculous. According to this film, Yankovic was repressed by his father, who wanted young Al to come work in the factory with him—a factory where no one knows what the actual product is.