Saturday, April 6, 2024

What I've Caught Up With, March 2024

In terms of watching 400 movies by the end of the year, I dropped back a little in March, but I’m very much on pace to average a movie per day for the year. I also knocked out some of my Oscar list, including the longest film in the queue. Television-wise, I finished all 14 seasons of Archer and also managed the Wheel of Time series on Prime…and I might be done with that one. I genuinely don’t like the characters, even if the world building is spectacular.

What I’ve Caught Up With, March, 2024:
Film: The Pirate (1948)

Of all the musicals of the 1940s, The Pirate is certainly one of them. A pure piece of fluff, the leader of a wandering actor troupe (Gene Kelly) falls in love at first site with Manuella (a transcendent Judy Garland). As it turns out, Manuella is engaged to a man she barely knows and is entranced with the legend of a pirate, not knowing that her fiancé was actually that pirate. Our actor takes on the role of the dreaded pirate to woo her, and things go as you expect, even when she figures out that he’s really just an actor. This is fluff, but this is also Judy Garland at a point in her career where she is truly at the peak of her talent and screen presence. Watch it for her.

Film: Menace II Society (1993)

Another in the series of urban gangster films, Menace II Society is along the same lines as South Central in the story that it tells. Our protagonist is Caine (Tyrin Turner), who grew up in a broken home with a drug dealing father and a heroin addict mother. By the time he’s 10 or so, his parents are both dead and Caine is dealing himself. At the start of the film, he is essentially an accessory to an armed robbery and two murders, courtesy of his friend O-Dog (Larenz Tate). Caine has a few opportunities to get off the street, mostly courtesy of Ronnie (Jada Pinkett Smith), the girlfriend of his old mentor (Glenn Plummer), but the world keeps dragging him back in. It’s not Boyz N the Hood, but it’s pretty damn good.

Film: The Dark Crystal (1982)

A hole in my viewing history until now, I was a little too old for The Dark Crystal when it came out, but only by a couple of years. Make me two years younger, and I would have loved this movie as a kid. On another world, a conjunction of three suns causes a prophecy to be fulfilled by one of the last of a race of creatures how have been exterminated by the creatures the prophecy says they will destroy. There’s a lot to unpack here, including multiple races of creatures that have no real fantasy adjunct (although the gelflings are somewhat elven). Did I mention that everything on screen is a Muppet? It’s fascinating, and kind of sad that it was a one-off, because the world appears to be rich enough to include many more stories.

Film: Enough Said (2013)

Most rom-coms put our two romantic partners as being sweet and a little silly. Enough Said giving us two post-divorce lovebirds in Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Albert (James Gandolfini) instead presents us with a couple who are realistic, funny, and unashamed to be who they are. The problem we encounter is that our relationship between Eva and Albert is complicated by the fact that Albert’s ex Marianne (Katherine Keener) is Eva’s newest friend and client. This is an unusual relationship story that works specifically because it tries to be real rather than idealized and Hollywood. Louis-Dreyfus is always engaging on screen and it’s always remarkable to see how much she can really do outside of Seinfeld. As for James Gandolfini…man, do I miss him.

Film: Secretary (2002)

The 50 Shades of Grey books started as a Twilight fan fiction, but you’ll never convince me that they didn’t borrow heavily from Secretary. Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) recently released from a mental institution where she was committed because of self-harm, lands a job working for a lawyer named E. Edward Grey (James Spader). Turns out that Lee very much enjoys being told what to do and Mr. Grey likes exerting control. What follows is a lot of kink that doesn’t get to sex until late in the film. This was intended to essentially normalize BDSM relationships in the same way that other films have normalized homosexual ones, and it’s largely successful. And, if you want to watch Maggie Gyllenhaal pleasuring herself in a bathroom stall, where else are you going to go?

Film: Don’t Be a Menace to South Central while Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (1996)

The urban drama genre is one that is potentially rife for spoofing and there was a time when the Wayans Family would have been the right ones to do it, but 1996 is past that point. While an Airplane!-style farce could have been fantastic, this is much more along the lines of modern American “satire” that consists of pointing at something from a different movie and either reversing it or making it extreme. There are a couple of good moments in this, but it’s fairly laugh-free. These are some of the same people who made I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and they’ve been reduced to dick jokes and making fun of people’s names. It wasn’t that funny 30 years ago, and it’s less so now.


  1. Secretary is a fucking masterpiece. I hate that it's been compared and connected to such shit as those Fifty Shades films. The Dark Crystal is UNDERRATED! Menace II Society is intense as that was a film I grew up on as a teen while Don't Be a Menace... is just hilarious. I love Enough Said and man... I too miss James Gandolfini as he was perfect in that film.

    1. Secretary may be seen in the same way as 50 Shades, but Secretary got there first and is ultimately a lot more positive and a lot less abusive.

  2. I agree that Judy (and to a lesser extent Gene Kelly) is the reason to watch The Pirate. Judy was in terrible shape during filming, suffering from post-partum depression, often weak from overwork with her marriage to Minnelli coming apart at the seams and ridiculously overmedicated to keep her going she was hanging on by a thread. There are hints everywhere of the jittery mess she was behind the camera, she is almost never still for an instant throughout the entire film, especially her hands, and she is thin to the point of gauntness. And yet even with her evident spiral she still manages to be both funny and moving with her voice in great expressive shape. It is just a pity it came at such a high cost. This is perhaps Gene's most physical performance, his pirate dance is phenomenal, full of brio, loose and spirited. The film is highly stylized, something of a rococo fever dream but not one of the essential MGM musicals and was a huge flop upon release though its reputation has grown with the years.

    I know people who adore The Dark Crystal, one of whom got me to watch it with them, but I am not among them. It wasn't terrible nor did I hate it, but I am not much for fantasy so I'm not the audience the film is aimed at.

    There are three here (Enough Said and both the Menace films) that have been on my to watch list for quite a while but I haven't caught up with yet. Your review of the last one makes me think I can put it way back on the list.

    There is something about Maggie Gyllenhaal that irks me, so I generally stay away from her movies. I've heard Secretary praised but since she's front and center I doubt I'll ever get to it.

    1. I found The Pirate pretty forgettable in most respects, but it's hard to deny the talent that made it.

      Enough Said is fun. It's harmless, and it also feels a lot more realistic than the typical Hollywood romance. Menace II Society is definitely worth seeing, but Don't be a Menace... is much less so. While it hits on all of the urban gangster movies, it's most clearly a parody of Menace II Society; it's just not a great parody. It feels lazy, like it should have spent another week in the writers' room.

      I like Maggie Gyllenhaal but there are certainly screen presences whom I dislike, so I understand your position.