Thursday, July 27, 2023


Film: Nope
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on the kid’s television.

I’ve been in St. Louis since last Saturday. Like last year, I’m pet sitting my daughter’s dog while she is on vacation with her boyfriend’s family. I’ve been watching sitcoms mostly for the week while I’ve been grading papers, but now that I’m pretty much done with my papers for the week, it was time to sit back with a movie. Naturally I brought some discs with me, and I figured this would be as good a time as any to finally catch up with Nope, Jordan Peele’s third film.

Musicians often have a sophomore slump because all of their best songs that they’ve worked on for years go on the first album, and the second one ends up feeling rushed. Movies tend to drop off in the third film these days—think of all of the trilogies you can. With rare exceptions like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the third movie tends to be where things drop off. It’s true of most genres, goes back at least as far as the Star Wars trilogy, and is true of unconventional trilogies like Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy. It’s also true of Jordan Peele’s first three movies.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

I Go Swimming

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

A friend of mine is a librarian who has many similar tastes in movies. She likes a good horror movie, and while she doesn’t really mind gore that much, she’s also not a fan of gratuitous gore. I tend to go to some darker and harsher places than she does when it comes to what I will watch, but her son Tom doesn’t merely go to those darker places but seeks them out. Tom enjoyed Infinity Pool and told his mom that it wouldn’t be her tastes. Having now seen it, I agree with Tom’s assessment. This is not an easy watch for a number of reasons.

We can start with the subject matter. Infinity Pool is very clearly about hedonism, and the sort of destructive hedonism of conspicuous and malicious consumption that is the privilege of the top 1% of the top 1%. It’s been said that if the penalty for a crime is a fine, then it is only a crime for the poor. Infinity Pool gives us a world where this is potentially true of every crime—where there may be no limit to the dark pleasures someone can engage in if they have the money to do so.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Obligatory Monty Python Reference

Film: Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

I am an old-school gamer. I have an original box set Dungeons & Dragons from the 1970s, a ton of books and, as far as I know, the largest private collection of GURPS (Generic Universal Role Playing System) books in the state of Illinois. For a long time, tabletop RPGs were the premier nerd hobby and looked down on by everyone, but now it’s gone mainstream. People who are cool play D&D, and ironically, I no longer have a lot of time for it. However, even though I’m not as involved as I used to be, I still worried about the release of Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. This is despite a cast that includes Chris Pine, Michelle Rodriguez, and Hugh Grant.

The worry, I think, was pretty well founded. D&D has not done well in mainstream media, starting from the terrible Tom Hanks movie of decades ago to the quickly curtailed Saturday morning cartoon show to the three (yes, there were three of them) movies from the previous two decades. So with a new movie coming out, with a budget, and with the real possibility of being as terrible as the one from 2000, I had some serious concerns.

Saturday, July 15, 2023

How I Met My Mother

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

I don’t tend to watch a lot of movies that have time travel as a central component, and yet I find myself having watched two of them today (the other will show up here around Halloween). While the first has clear horror themes, Petite Maman is about as far from a horror movie as you can get. This is a sort of fable, a little story of loss and family told with a measure of childlike wonder. This should not be too shocking, coming from Celine Sciamma, who also directed Portrait of a Lady on Fire a few years ago with the same gentle touch.

When the film begins, the grandmother of young Nelly (Josephine Sanz) has died. Nelly’s mother (Nina Meurisse) is naturally depressed as she, Nelly, and her husband (Stephane Varupenne) go to the grandmother’s house to clean it, go through everything, and prepare to empty it out. This proves too much for Nelly’s mother, who disappears the next morning, needing to be away.

In the meantime, Nelly goes exploring in the nearby forest, where she has heard that when she was a child, her mother had something like a treehouse, albeit one that was on the ground. As she looks for a suitable spot, she discovers a young girl about her own age. Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) invites Nelly back to her house, where Nelly discovers that it is identical to that of her grandmother. More upsetting in the moment is that it actually is her grandmother’s house, somehow back in time, and Marion is actually her own mother, but 23 years in the past.

That is the crux of the movie, and what happens from here could go in a number of directions. Petite Maman’s choice is to take this in a rather wholesome way. Nelly and Marion quickly become friends, having a great deal in common. Nelly also gets a chance to interact with her grandmother at a much younger age. Over time, Nelly has to determine if she will reveal to her friend that she, Nelly, is actually her daughter from the future, and if she does, how it might affect their relationship. Along the way, she must deal with the loss of her grandmother and the realization that her mother truly was a child as she is now, something we all know about our parents without perhaps truly believing it.

Petite Maman is, as I said above, a small film. This is not a story of earthshaking consequences or the toppling of dynasties. This is about love and loss, and about coming to terms with who we are and who the people we love are as well. As such, the movie is the opposite of epic length—it’s a mere 73 minutes. It’s honestly exactly as long as it needs to be to tell the story it wants to, but it was sweet enough that I would be pleased to have seen it go a bit longer. As for my part, I was genuinely pleased that I didn’t have to deal with convoluted plots and intersecting timelines. There’s just this sort of connection to the past that works and doesn’t need to be overthought or explained.

There are odd connections here to other films for me, both mentally and emotionally. There are elements here that are kind of reflective of My Neighbor Totoro in terms of the setting, the absent mother from much of the narrative and the overall feel of the fantasy. There also feels like a connection to something like Celine and Julie Go Boating, and I’m not sure why.

The entire film rests on the performance of the two girls, and they are a treat. There are a number of times where it genuinely feels like they aren’t working off a script but are simply being a couple of sisters (or mother and child, if you prefer) being kids together. There is very much a sense of simply existing in the world around them, of being there without necessarily needing to put on a performance. It comes across as natural and lovely, and it truly makes the film work well.

Roger Ebert once said that no good movie is ever too long, and he was right. There are, though, plenty of good movies that are too short, and I think Petite Maman is one of them. This is not a film that needs to be longer for the poem that it is offering its audience, but it is a film that creates a world I want to spend more time in.

Why to watch Petite Maman: It’s a truly lovely little story.
Why not to watch: It’s so short!

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Who's There?

Film: Knock at the Cabin
Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on rockin’ flatscreen.

Remember 1999, and how much promise M. Night Shyamalan had? When The Sixth Sense came out, it felt like there was a new, powerful voice in film, and Unbreakable was interesting as well. And then, well, his career started to drop off pretty dramatically. People still allow him to make movies despite the fact that his name is on both The Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender, which is arguably the worst television-to-movie adaptation in history. That being the case, I went into Knock at the Cabin with some worries.

The problem with Shyamalan is not that his ideas aren’t good, but that his follow-through is often lacking. He makes some bad choices, frankly. A lot of that is because, thanks to his first few movies, it seems like he finds it necessary to cobble in a twist near the ending of the film, and that often happens to the story’s detriment. Twists are great, but they’re also really risky, and Shyamalan came up snake eyes a bunch of times in a row. It’s also worth saying that because this is a Shyamalan film and he lives or dies on those twists, you should expect the rest of this to be under a spoiler tag.

Friday, July 7, 2023

The Cure for Quiet Desperation

Film: Living
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on various players.

Of all of the Oscar nominations, aside from the Avatar sequel, none worried me as much as Living. The original Kurosawa film, Ikiru, is a masterpiece, and I’m always leery about watching a remake of a film that is genuinely one of the best films of its decade, of its genre, and of its national cinema. Ikiru is a beautiful story, tragic and sad but hopeful and uplifting at the same time. It’s a remarkable piece of work, and don’t know that it can be improved upon. And yet, here we are.

What I’ve discovered here is that Living, while very clearly based on the same story as Kurosawa’s film, is also a very different take on that story. The skeleton of the story is exactly the same, as are many of the details. It is, ultimately, a very good remake of the base story. I remember some of Ikiru quite differently than this, especially toward the end, but no matter.

Saturday, July 1, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, June 2023

I don't have a ton to say about June. With the kitchen remodel finally done, we've put the house back together and are now going through the 20+ years of stuff we have accumulated in this house. That's taken a lot of my focus right now because there's just so much to do. I also managed to get through the latest season of Black Mirror, which has taken a turn toward straight horror and away from vicious cyberpunk. I have so many holes in my television viewing!