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.