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Monday - January 27, 2020

Archive for the ‘ Movies ’ Category

 

England’s Greenery

January 26th, 2020

When it comes to directors, there are usually two kinds. The first is the artist. When you watch a film by Spielberg, Scorsese, or Tarantino, you’ll know within minutes that they directed it. Shot choices, casting, and even their thematic obsessions will clue you in, allowing you to calibrate your enjoyment appropriately.* You’ll always know you’re watching a film by Brian De Palma, just like you’ll always know you’re watching a film by Kevin Smith. The second category is the artisans. These are filmmakers that usually don’t have a directorial signature. They get in there, do the job,... Read More

Almost, But Not Quite, The Abyss

January 19th, 2020

If you’re a regular viewer of movies, you know you can track the seasons by the kinds of movies playing. Are the theaters jam-packed with big, loud blockbusters? You’re in summer. Do you have a wide variety of Oscar bait to choose from? Congratulations, you’ve arrived safely in the fall. The depths of winter are when studios give up. They already released the films built to either make an assload of money or attract awards. What’s left is the cinematic equivalent of the island of misfit toys, and production companies frequently throw these redheaded stepchildren into theaters with a hasty... Read More

The Endless Trench

January 12th, 2020

We never really reckoned with World War I, not in any meaningful sense. For a while there it was called The War to End All Wars, despite the fact that its aftermath both caused and led into World War II. Like all wars, its horror recedes in memory. A little over a century later, most of us barely understand why the war happened in the first place. That continues to be shocking, as the casualties of World War I were so high that battles frequently resembled a meat grinder in terms of the staggering numbers of men both sides threw at each other. When you put the numbers into context, it’s literally... Read More

Shifting The Lens

January 5th, 2020

There are two incontrovertible facts: the first is that Louisa May Alcott was a fascinating human being. Her parents were Transcendentalists. She took lessons from Henry David Thoreau. She wrote a play for the Boston Theater and subsequently burned it due to infighting between her actors. Alcott briefly served as a nurse during the Civil War, survived typhoid fever, was a feminist, and was active in the abolitionist movement. To put it plainly, she was a baller. Oh, also? She wrote Little Women. That brings us to the second incontrovertible fact, which is that up until very recently, I was almost... Read More

Pressure Drop

December 29th, 2019

As many of us do, the arrival of the year’s end is a time for me to look back. If I were to sum it up, 2019 was all about surprise. Putting aside the absolute insanity of our politics, the year in film has been wild as hell. We saw both the Star Wars and MCU franchises come to a temporary end. We saw films about cathartic cults, flicks involving doppelgangers, and a number of movies examining class warfare. Perhaps strangest of all, we saw one of the best performances of the year delivered by Adam Sandler. Maybe it’s not so strange, though! I’ll grant you that a cursory look through Sandler’s... Read More

The Force Ricochets

December 22nd, 2019

In the beginning, there was the Word…or a bunch of words, anyway. They began with, “It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.” Once seen, it was impossible to forget. Film historians will tell you the first blockbuster was Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975. That’s true, but there’s a galaxy’s worth of difference between a blockbuster and a frickin’ phenomenon. On May 25, 1977, Star Wars changed everything. The brainchild of George Lucas erupted from theaters and soon laid claim to... Read More

A Death Without a Body

December 16th, 2019

If you’re currently married or you were ever married, I’ve got news for you: your marriage is insane. I hate to be the one to tell you, but there it is. People you know, people you love, will take stock of your relationship and life choices and say, “They’re cuckoo banana-pants. No doubt about it.” Luckily, you aren’t alone. Everybody’s marriage is insane—yes, including mine. From the outside, they’re nearly impossible to understand. From the inside? Well, it ain’t much easier. Some days you can feel an almost religious degree of closeness to your partner, while during others... Read More

The Doughnut Hole

December 8th, 2019

Making a movie is hard. Making a good movie? That’s really hard. Making a good mystery? These days that appears to be damn near impossible, given the relative scarcity of mysteries. Horror movies, superhero flicks, action, and dramas are all doing well in theaters and multiplexes. A good old whodunit? They’re a rare breed. But why? Is it because, as a society, we’re dumber? I imagine that some people of a certain age would sneeringly point to Millennials and the rise of social media and claim their attention spans have been irrevocably damaged.* Yet the average American reads somewhere in... Read More

The Man Who Painted Houses

December 1st, 2019

What is cinema? Is cinema only cinema when you’re watching it in a movie theater? While their methods have changed throughout the years, ultimately a sculpture remains a sculpture and a painting stays a painting. Most of the arts have resolutely remained themselves, but cinema has a kind of protean quality, whether its worshipers choose to admit it or not. Consider that the first movie theater opened June 19, 1905, in Pittsburgh. 96 seats were dragged into an empty store located on Smithfield Street, and when it opened, admission was a nickel. At their height, theaters bore the more grandiose... Read More

Go Like Hell

November 24th, 2019

One of the keenest pleasures found in moviegoing is that of competence porn. A great comedy can flood your brain with endorphins, a solid horror movie can unnerve you days after you saw it, and the right drama can restore your faith in the essential decency of humanity. Even the much-maligned superhero genre can, when executed properly, provide viewers with something mythic. That’s all well and good, but I really dig films about smart people doing a particular job with intelligence and competence. Consider Apollo 13, a film I absolutely adore. On the one hand, I understand perhaps 25 percent... Read More

Eat The Rich

November 17th, 2019

“Someday, even the experts will figure out, that crime is not caused by rap music…or even my music, but by a power structure of self-absorbed property owners so brain dead and stupid they won’t even see that if you’re too goddamn greedy to pay taxes for schools and services, they’re not going to be any good anymore! And that uneducated time bombs are a very poor investment as a future workforce. And if you go on teaching people that life is cheap, and leave them to rot in ghettos and jails, they may one day feel justified in coming back to rob and kill you. Duh!” Jello... Read More

This Franchise is Terminated

November 10th, 2019

Sometimes it feels like franchises never end. There’s a bunch of films in the Fast and Furious series, the James Bond movies have been trucking along since 1962, and the MCU will end at roughly the same time that our sun goes supernova and wipes out all human life on our fragile planet. But franchises end. Consider the little-remembered Francis the Talking Mule series. Based on a 1946 novel, seven films were made during the 1950s about a mule in the Army that could talk. Presumably, they were profitable—for a while, anyway. As time went on, audiences either a) searched for new diversions in... Read More

A Comedy of Terrors

November 3rd, 2019

Anything can be funny, right? There are two schools of thought, there. The first is the theory that anything has the potential to be amusing. Comedy is all about puncturing bubbles of pretention, going after targets that deserve skewering. As long as the joke teller is punching up instead of punching down, the only limitation is their imagination. The other school of thought is that some subjects are too sacrosanct to be mocked and to even attempt them is, at best, in poor taste. We wouldn’t dream of making fun of the Nazis, right? Ah…as a matter of fact, we would! There’s a long and... Read More

For Those in Peril on the Sea

October 27th, 2019

The worst job I’ve ever held was working in an aluminum factory. I’d gone through a nasty divorce and needed a job immediately. The workers at the local aluminum factory were on strike, and the facility was hiring scabs. You didn’t need to be qualified, or even particularly intelligent. You just needed to be smart enough to not accidentally light yourself on fire. Being in a position of serious financial jeopardy, I immediately jettisoned my principles and crossed the picket line.* My job didn’t require much in the way of finesse or analysis. It was simple—I’d stand in front of a foundry... Read More

Remember the Rules

October 20th, 2019

If you went back in time and told the younger version of myself that a) there would be a gigantically popular TV series about the zombie apocalypse and b) that I would have tapped out on it after the third season, Younger Me would have immediately called 911 and had you arrested with extreme prejudice. Consider that The Walking Dead began as an independent comic book. Now, it’s getting started on its 10th season, has one current and one upcoming spinoff series, and there’s talk about releasing three connected theatrical films. To paraphrase a former Vice President, The Walking Dead is a big... Read More

Battle of Wills

October 13th, 2019

Some movies only require a script, actors, and a camera. A good and tragically underseen example of this is 2018’s The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, a thriller following an ex-cop investigating a police funeral and his suspicion that the shooter belongs to the same militia he does. It’s a great film that had an estimated budget of $450,000. Costs were kept low by keeping the locations modest. It also helped that the vast majority of scenes were essentially guys talking to each other in rooms. It’s a great film due to smart writing, efficient direction, and strong acting. Does the fact that it... Read More

I Started a Joke

October 6th, 2019

“So, when you find yourself locked onto an unpleasant train of thought, heading for the places in your head where the screaming is unbearable, remember there’s always madness. Madness is the emergency exit. You can just step outside and close the door on all those dreadful things that happened. You can lock them away…forever.” That dialogue is from The Killing Joke, alternately the best and worst story about The Joker ever written. On its face, the story is simple. The Clown Prince of Crime has kidnapped Commissioner Gordon, and his plan is to drive Gordon mad, proving to both him and... Read More

Rambo’s Gonna Rambo

September 29th, 2019

Rambo is worth taking seriously. Okay, stop. Please, please stop laughing. I’m serious! Well…kind of. I know that in the world of pop culture, Rambo occupies a very distinctive place. A place that’s viewed as anti-intellectual, overly aggressive, and more than a tad racist. Sylvester Stallone’s musclebound murderer has been featured in movies, books, video games, and even a Saturday morning cartoon. Maybe it’s not quite fair to put the ownership of Rambo entirely upon Stallone. The character was first introduced in David Morrell’s 1972 novel First Blood. It’s a lean and mean thriller... Read More

Beyond, or: Daddy! Issues! In! Space!

September 22nd, 2019

We can all agree that Stephen Hawking was a pretty bright guy. He took a look at what humanity had been up to and was quoted as saying, “I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years unless we spread into space. There are too many accidents that can befall life on a single planet.” If you’re in a pessimistic frame of mind, Hawking’s quote is easy to get behind. Due to pollution, environmental mismanagement, and climate change, bird populations in North America are plummeting. That’s only a single example of how our arrogance, selfishness, and ignorance damages the... Read More

Tonight’s Word is Inevitability

September 15th, 2019

There’s a threshold that everyone crosses between childhood and adulthood. For some people, stepping across that threshold is akin to getting a boost of rocket fuel. I’ve known people who met and exceeded all expectations. They excelled at prestigious universities and entered lucrative professions. One even spent time working in the White House.* Aided by family, friends, and a considerable amount of luck, the path through their threshold likely shone brightly. For most people, that threshold is covered in fog. You look across it and catch shadowy glimpses of possibilities. Years spent grappling... Read More