I regret to inform you that I now know what people taste like… although if you had told me three weeks ago that people tasted like peppermint I wouldn’t have believed you!
Is it just me or is everybody getting crazier?
I was officially furloughed on Friday, March 20th. This is the end of the third week in total in which I’ve been forced to remain indoors for my own safety and the wellbeing of my immediate loved ones. I finally started getting some meager unemployment money in so I’m not going to be hurting financially for the time being. I haven’t seen most of my close friends in weeks, shy of one who I was forced to run to urgent care when she sprained her foot. That was an experience in and of itself, given that the clinic wouldn’t let us in until she’d called one of the nurses from the car over the phone to ensure she wasn’t suffering symptoms of the virus.
Outside of my secluded little bubble, things seem to be getting crazier. Every movie from Mid-March through Mid-July has been delayed including A Quiet Place 2, Mulan, New Mutants, No Time to Die, Black Widow, Fast and Furious 8, Woman in the Window, A Personal History of David Copperfield, SpongeBob Movie 3, Wonder Woman 1984, Candyman, Top Gun: Maverick, The French Dispatch, Minions 2, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and Morbius. Only a handful of films including Soul, Tenet and The Purge 5 have yet to officially delay. Some of the delays go as far as six months to a year out. That’s going to make the back half of this year quite exhausting. It’s a shame too because if this ends by mid to late May, there’s not going to be a major film release until July… That won’t help any of the movie theaters. As it stands, AMC is apparently close to declaring bankruptcy and restructuring which could close a number of its locations.
On a more serious note, fears of an encroaching economic collapse or a New Great Depression seem to be floating around, although some are FAR too eager to gloat about it. The partisan nature of the pandemic response is irritating and only serves to further the cloud of disinformation that continues to drag this lockdown on indefinitely. Trumpkins want to end the lockdown as soon as possible to protect Trump’s reelection chances (dumb…) while progressives don’t seem to have any desire to put limits on what’s inappropriate encroachment during a plague. Any concerns about civil liberties violations and the collapse of small businesses seem to be entirely disregarded by folks who seem to be rooting for the lockdown to last as long as 12-18 months regardless of the fact that the numbers are starting to plateau.
Worst of all, China continually seems to be happy to pawn off all of the blame onto America. China brags that it’s managed to quell the number of cases despite the fact that its economy is still locked down. Their “attempts” to supply medical supplies to the rest of the world have ended up with multiple countries receiving defective masks and COVID testing kits. At the same time, one of their ministers has decided to propagandize the idea that the US Army is responsible for coronavirus while their navy starts making incursions into the hotly contested South China Sea. If anything good comes out of this, I hope it’s a worldwide disdain for China’s government. They deserve a revolution after this is all over.
Everyone is stupid right now (as always), except for the fact that society as a whole hasn’t seemingly broken down yet. One of my observations last week I had sitting in the park is that no matter how badly society breaks down, the peasantry always seems to keep their daily lives functional regardless of the systems above them. Even while Rome burned and the Black Plague ravaged Europe, farmers farmed, stored bit their wares and daily life still maintained itself to some degree. Empires may rise and fall, the question isn’t whether society survives as a whole but what will be lost in the ashes.
Take heed that it’s unlikely most of us aren’t going to have to deal with roving bands of libertarians raiding the countryside.
As a religious person, it’s quite difficult not to be able to share time with other Christians at church. This is the first Easter in years in which I haven’t spent at church or visited with family. We’ve made due and I’ve been able to sit and feast with my father and grandfather but it’s not the same. It’s a shame that modern society can slam the label “Non-Essential” on all religious gatherings indefinitely while prioritizing more partisanly preferable and flattering institutions. The reasons are understandable. As it stands, the pastor of a church ten minutes away from me passed away two weeks ago from COVID-19. Another congregation ended up infecting dozens of people by refusing to close their doors until it was too late. The notion that Walmart and McDonalds are more “essential” than religious services is just depressing.
On a personal note, the virus appears to finally start to becoming withing a short distance of my immediate circle of friends. At least one of my close friends has likely contracted it (unconfirmed since testing hadn’t ramped up near here at the time and she’s young). So yeah. All things considered, I’m both incredibly depressed by the state of the world and somewhat optimistic for the revival on the other end of this. Here’s hoping we can avoid the worst-case scenario that some people seem to be actively rooting for…
Anyway, With my despair for the state of the world aside, I’m actually holding up relatively well. My glib, ironic nihilistic side is more satiated than ever! I don’t want to dwell further on things since it seems like that is just about all society is capable of doing at the moment.
Since Part 1, I’ve watched an additional 33 films in my excessive spare time. I also managed to get through an entire season of television which helped break up the pacing a bit between all of the rather heavy movies I’ve been watching one after the other. Some of them have been easier viewings than others. Some actively NEED to be seen in a movie theater for full effect and others play really well to the small screen. I’ve found a handful of new favorites and a handful of films I’m going to pawn off at my local Disc Replay the moment this plague ends…
I also allowed myself to do a bit more comfort viewing in the last week or so. I too infrequently visit my favorite movies and watching some of them has helped ease some of my recent tension. Before I delve into my lot of random DVDs, I’m going to go ahead and start with my recent rewatches!
REWATCH – Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) by George Miller
Five years later, Mad Max: Fury Road remains a masterpiece! It’s hard to extrapolate on a movie that’s been widely declared the best action movie to come out of Hollywood in the last decade. Never the less, the movie remains an absolutely painless watch! Rumors are beginning to abound that the sequel could shoot within the next year now that George Miller is done fighting with WB over pay disputes!
REWATCH – Star Trek: Beyond (2016) by Justin Lin
This movie definitely has it’s moments for me. I know a lot of people consider it inferior to the first film in its trilogy but it’s nothing short of watchable! I love the smaller, quieter moments like Kirk and Bones drinking whiskey on the Enterprise. Flaws aside, it’s one of the more traditional Star Trek entries since the end of TNG.
REWATCH – Army of Darkness (1993) by Sam Raimi
I don’t know if I would legitimately call Army of Darkness a great movie. It’s awkwardly written in places and produced on a weirdly low budget. That said, this movie completely lives and dies on Bruce Campbell’s legendary performance as Ash. Almost every quote and cultural reference to Ash comes out of this film. I love everything about it and I will accept no arguments that it’s not AWESOME!
REWATCH – Shadowslands (1993) by Richard Attenborough
If you want to get the full sense of my cinephilia, consider that both Army of Darkness and Shadowlands are among my favorite movies. Having watched both of the stageplays based on C.S. Lewis’s life lately, I wanted to rewatch his biopic from 1993. Remains a quietly wonderful and emotionally wrenching romance story to this day.
REWATCH – South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut (1999) by Trey Parker and Matt Stone
I think I rewatch this movie more than any other movie. I don’t know what that says about me but this movie is 90 minutes of pure comfort viewing for me. I love the music, the comedy, the gore, the satire and the absurdity of it all. By the movie’s final frames, I always feel happy!
REWATCH – Ben Hur by William Wyler
This was my mandatory Easter viewing this year and honestly it hit a lot harder than it has before. Maybe it has to do with my nascent religious revival in the past year. Maybe I’ve just grown up a lot since I first watched this five years ago in college. In any case, watching this over the course of two evenings with my grandpa opened me up to the story for the first time in a way that really emotionally affected me. Judah Ben Hur’s journey as an innocent man arrested into Roman slavery, to a vengeful man to a man seeking redemption affected me more than ever before.
STREAMING – Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Discovery
I took advantage of a free month trial to CBS All Access for this month so I could finally catch up on the newer Star Trek series. I reviewed Star Trek: Picard for Geeks Under Grace and I’m halfway through the second season of Discovery. Honestly, I find the experience quite draining. I’ve seen enough TOS and TNG at this point to know what Star Trek FELT like at its peak and honestly these new series just make me feel tired and melancholy. They’re darker, bleaker and more politically charged than any previous iteration of the series and that’s less fun than it could be.
STREAMING – Chaos on the Bridge (2014) by William Shatner
Speaking of Star Trek not working, I took the recommendation to watch this documentary from a Redlettermedia video. I can only imagine what Shatner’s personal investment in doing a revealing documentary on the dark underbelly of the production processes of the Star Trek series he personally wasn’t involved with could’ve been… Ego aside, this was actually quite an interesting watch! You really get a sense of how intense the voices behind the scenes were when it came to relaunching the most popular science fiction show in history must’ve been.
STREAMING Playdate with Destiny (2020) by David Silverman
Not too much to say on this one since it’s only five minutes long but it released on Disney+ and it’s really cute! Not sure what it means for The Simpsons now that It lives under the everpresent Disney label but Disney seems to want to bring some new energy into it!
STREAMING Onward (2020) by Dan Scanlon
I did not catch this Pixar film during its ill-fated release last month. Evidently, nobody else did either since it was a box office dud. I wish I had! This actually ended up being a quietly wonderful little film with a great moral, fun story and emotional stakes I got invested in. I rarely enjoy Pixar films anymore as anything more than surface-level recreations of things I loved as a child. This movie wasn’t quite a revelation but it was strong in all the ways that matter! I haven’t enjoyed Pixar this much in a while!
The Lady Eve (1941) by Preston Sturges
God Bless the great Preston Sturges. I loved Sullivan’s Travels when I watched it and I was excited to finally watch another film of his! While I don’t think I loved it quite as much, this proved to be quite the romantic comedy! It’s an immensely dark story about two people who fall in love despite an insane situation that plays out between them.
Tenacious D: The Pick of Destiny (2006) by Liam Lynch
I don’t know what I was expecting from this film… I’ve always liked Jack Black’s song Tribute and wanted to see the movie that inspired it. I should’ve known better. This film is immensely dumb. It’s scatological and juvenile in ways that should be meant to appeal to teenagers and yet it’s vile and vulger enough that it’s not going to be rated below an R-rating. Who was this even made for?
Bernie (2011) by Richard Linklatter
It’s weird that Jack Black essentially plays the same performance in every movie. Watching this back to back with the previous film made that obvious. Maybe the only exception is something like King Kong where he’s playing a parody of Orson Welles and gives a slightly more transformative performance. In any case, I was completely blown away by this film. I had no expectations of the plot or quality of the film and it’s now my favorite Linklatter film I’ve seen!
Andrei Rublev (1976) by Andrei Tarkovsky
Three-hour Soviet existential art-house films don’t play that well when you’re trapped inside… Even so, I’m still glad I finally got around to it! It’s a long-winded film that’s immensely hard to follow at times but it’s trying to address complex questions of faith in a way that the Soviet Union famously wasn’t a fan of. I can’t say I fully understand everything it has to say about what it means to be an Orthodox Christian artist living under an oppressive theocratic state but by the end, it captures some semblance of beauty and truth.
Stardust Memories (1980) by Woody Allen
I think I’ve finally found Woody Allen’s third great masterpiece from the height of his creative talents. Following Annie Hall and Manhattan, this is the logical third-place winner. His homage to Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2 finds a life of its own as it retells the experience of what it’s like to be a film director and turns it into a story about what it means to be Woody Allen. It captures the heart of his entire filmography. What does it feel like to merely be a great comedian who wants to be a great artist in a world so fleeting and meaningless?
Black Rain (1989) by Ridley Scott
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect from Ridley Scott’s famous bad-boy cop movie but honestly, I’m not sure I got something I wanted. This movie comes with a lot of the attitude and atmosphere like you’d expect from any Scott film. The story is so emotionally involving though I barely bothered to follow the plot. Michael Douglas does great given his performance as a renegade cop being sent to Japan to help track down a Yakuza member but beyond that, it’s not much of a story. The only notable thing about it was that it was yet another major Hollywood film in the 1980s that perpetuated America’s frustrated relationship with Japan over its ill-fated fear that Japan would overtake the US economically.
Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989) by J. Lee Thompson
I watched a lot of films in pairs this past week. The second 1980s-Japanophobia film I watched was Charles Bronson’s contribution to paranoid anti-Asian fear. I love Charles Bronson movies and thus this was required viewing though. Ironically it didn’t focus all that much on Bronson. The most important character ends up being Haroshi Hada as the film’s nominal antagonist, a misogynist, Japanese businessman who gawks at women who has his daughter kidnapped by a sex trafficker who Bronson tracks down. The movie hints at a plot that nominally acknowledged Bronson’s character’s racism but it never fully commits to an idea and mostly just comes off feeling exploitative. You know what kind of movie it is when the movie makes a joke out of the fact that the bad guy is going to be raped in prison.
Last of the Mohicans (1992) by Michael Mann
I watched half of this film back in high school and wasn’t terribly impressed when I saw it. I did want to give it a second chance and I came away somewhat lukewarm from it. Daniel-Day Lewis does a decent job playing a Native American but the rest of the movie is a somewhat half-hearted exploration of life during the French and Indian War. It’s not terrible and I can definitely see why it would’ve been popular in its day. It just didn’t catch my eye.
Soldier (1998) by Paul W.S. Anderson
I was not expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did! As a fan of schlock action films like Demolition Man and Judge Dredd, this movie ended up being right up my alley. It’s a silly, preachy movie beaming with post-Vietnam anti-war hysteria and it goes so far as to criticize the military itself as a morally complicit, anti-human machine that treats people like meat (one can only imagine why this didn’t play well in America…). As a high concept spiritual successor to Blade Runner though (same screenwriter), it’s ultimately quite fascinating! It’s trying to deliver big ideas and themes with a budget and style that comes from the infamous director of Event Horizon and the Resident Evil franchise. It clashes but it’s dang entertaining!
The French Connection (1971) by William Friedkin
In yet another weird pairing, I finally got around to watching two William Friedkin films I’ve wanted to see for a while. Friedkin’s objectively best film won him a lot of attention at the 1972 Academy Awards famously. It’s a grimy, angry crime story based on a real-life drug deal that had gone down a few years before the movie. You really end up feeling Gene Hackman’s rage and desperation to catch the bad guys at all cost as they guide him through a ridiculous chase through, above and below the streets of New York City.
Killer Joe (2012) by William Friedkin
I haven’t fully decided just how much I intermittently hate and respect this film. On one hand, it’s one of the vilest pieces of contemporary film I’ve seen coming out of Hollywood in the last decade. It’s a movie that relishes in the immorality and degeneracy of its lead characters and unironically depicts a scene of under-aged graphic nudity and implied pedophilia. On the other hand, I think Friedkin is trying to grasp at something. I just don’t know what it is. I don’t like extreme cinema and I’ve generally gone out of my way to avoid infamously bleak films like Salo: 120 Days of Sodom. This film really feels like it’s going out of its way to depict human evil at it’s most selfish and destructive. It’s a drama of human greed, lust and murder told mostly from the small perspective of a single redneck family. I’m not sure what he’s saying in full or why but I felt gross after watching it…
Barry Lyndon (1975) by Stanley Kubrick
This ended up being something of a half-hearted watch on my part. I needed a long, quiet film to play in the background last week while I was working on some writing and chose this out of the pile. In all honestly, I can’t imagine watching something like this for fun. Stanley Kubrick’s film may very well be a masterpiece but it’s a three hour epic with some of the slowest pacing of any film in his filmography (I actively adore 2001 for what it’s worth).
High and Low (1963) by Akira Kurosawa
I’m not overly familiar with Kurosawa’s non-period piece films. Everyone who watches his filmography generally gravitates toward his samurai films: Yojimbo, Seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress, Throne of Blood, Ran, etc. This thriller is spectacular though! It’s at once a harrowing story of one man’s challenge to protect his family and livelihood and a horrific story of trying to track down a mysterious child kidnapper with unknown motives.
Blow Out (1966) by Michelangelo Antonioni
I’m a huge fan of Brian De Palma’s Blow Out. It might actually be his masterpiece given how much thematic territory it covers. I’ve wanted to check out the movie it was inspired by since seeing it and I finally watched it. It’s very different from its remake. The base plot of an artist who accidently records an attempted murder in progress is still there but this original film is so different from its successor. It’s a mostly plotless and laid back mood piece brimming in counter-cultural themes and casual topless nudity. It’s a groovy film that captures the feel of 1960s urban life more than an enthralling thriller.
The Great Dictator (1941) by Charlie Chaplin
All roads in Chaplin’s filmography lead to this film. The famous spoof of Hitler came just prior to America’s entry in World War II and you really sense just how anxious it is. It’s trying to be a fun, goofy comedy in the line of Chaplin’s other comedies but there’s so much serious stuff going on in the background that the movie is screaming out about needing to confront. It all leads to the famous speech Chaplin gives about humanity, brotherhood and peace. At time’s it’s a little tonally incongruent compared to his other films but it’s a historically important piece of social satire.
Interiors (1978) by Woody Allen
I’m starting to suspect that Woody Allen’s dramas just don’t catch me in the same way his comedies do. I’ll watch Take the Money and Run or Midnight in Paris any day but Match Point and Blue Jasmine are much more exhausting watches. Interiors is slow, hard to follow and it really didn’t draw me in as much as I’d hoped it would.
Homicide (1991) by David Mamet
A secular Jewish police officer finds himself invested in the investigation of an anti-semitic murderer who is part of a clandestine Neo-Nazi cult in a small town. Mamet brings a lot of his own anxieties, identity issues and baggage as a writer into this small crime thriller and manages to tell a hard-boiled detective story.
A Man Called Ove (2015) by Hannes Holm
“Killing ones self isn’t all that easy you know.” Probably the darkest quote in A Man Called Ove that really summarizes the melancholy dark comedy at this films core. This 2015 Swedish film is a movie I’ve meant to finish for a few years now after giving up on the first attempt. It can be a downer of a movie. For the majority of the plot, the main character is an elderly curmudgeon with nothing left to live for who gets his jollies by yelling at people, remembering his depressing life and trying to kill himself. It’s only when he starts getting invested in the lives of his immediate neighbors does he start feeling joy again for the first time in years. It’s a slow watch but it really grows on you towards the end.
Punch Drunk Love (2002) by Paul Thomas Anderson
There are only a few PTA films I haven’t seen at this point (I haven’t found a cheap physical copy of Hard Eight yet…) but his Adam Sandler film was the one I was most reluctant to watch. It seemed like the black sheep in a filmography that included Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood and Phantom Thread. Having watched it, I was completely shocked at how hard the movie hit emotionally. Barry is such an emotionally painful character to watch on screen who struggles to be honest telling his feelings to the point where he makes massive mistakes that boil up in his life later. As a man who grew up with social anxiety and Aspergers, this really hit close to home. It sits right next to Uncut Gems as Sandler’s best performance to date.
Tucker: A Man and His Dream (1988) by Francis Ford Coppola
This movie was so much fun! It’s such a joyful experience that manages to really find a way to express how much of a struggle it’s main character is going through without villainizing him a cruel or malicious. In some ways, he’s mostly naive. He’s being taken for a ride by big corporations who don’t want competition in the automotive industry from a brilliant young talent. Coppola is most well known for The Godfather and Apocalypse Now but his filmography tends to falter starting in the 1980s. This may well be one of his last great films and I’m glad I finally got to see it!
Cold War (2018) by Pawel Pawlikowski
I was expecting this to be a more sweeping and romantic movie than it ended up being. Instead, it was merely a cold, still yet still engaging romantic story set against the challenges of the Cold War where-in two Polish musicians fall in love. Maybe that’s just my cross to bear since this movie got a great deal of awards attention during Oscar season. On its own terms, it’s a decent romantic story with a uniquely sad and tragic heart rooted in the real-life political realities of life under Soviet-occupied Poland.
Edge of Darkness (2010) by Martin Campbell
Mel Gibson’s attempt to make the Taken lightning strike twice is fairly superfluous and disposable. Like all the films in that particular subgenre, Gibson is playing up his age but also putting on an exaggerated Boston Cop accent that almost gives the film some identity but doesn’t. It’s really just a one-man-army story with an old man protagonist centered on a pointless plot about corporate conspiracies and illegal nuclear weapons testing that isn’t all that interesting. Everything Gibson does in this film, he does ten times better in Dragged Across Concrete.
Police Story (1985) by Jackie Chan
This movie has the single most drawn-out and hilarious action scenes I’ve ever seen in a cop movie and I’m all about it! Jackie Chan plays the role of an exasperated cop willing to bend the rules to get the bad guy so over the top that it can’t help but be hilarious. It’s slapstick humor, crude jokes and insane destruction go miles out of their way to entertain you and by the end you’ll be surprised how far it’s gone!
Prince of Darkness (1987) by John Carpenter
My final film this week is one of John Carpenter’s lesser-regarded horror films. It’s nowhere near bad and fans of his films hold it dearly to their hearts. It’s just somewhat hard to follow and a bit OUT THERE for a first-time viewer. To that end, we meet a monastery of scientists and religious figures holding up in the back of a church who are researching the paranormal and theorize the existence of an “Anti-God”. When a strange goo (the corporeal body of Satan) starts possessing people, the people in the Monastery have to start fighting their way out and trying to stop the Anti-God from coming to Earth. I would call the premise “inspired” but I’m not quite sure what it’s going for. Maybe it could be read as an atheist remake of The Exorcist but it’s hard to discern the meaning behind all the hippie new-age nonsense and quantum theory in the dialog. Like all Carpenter films though, it’s more well-realized than most B-movies and is lined with great performances and special effects. It’ll be well worth a second viewing!
As the Lockdown continues into late April, I fully intend to follow this up with at least one more part to talk about the remaining films in this pile. I’ve got at least fifty films in the pile in addition to all of the films in the Ingmar Bergman Criterion box set I’ve only just scratched the surface on delving into (of his entire filmography, I’ve only seen Persona, Seventh Seal and Smiles on a Summer Night). If this Lockdown extends into mid-May or longer, I’m planning to start binging Twin Peaks as soon as this project is finished. I’m also watching a lot of Star Trek and The Simpsons for comfort food in the midst of all of this. At this rate, I could completely finish the pile in roughly three weeks. I’ve also been cranking out tons of smaller reviews for Geeks Under Grace lately of some of my favorite films so keep an eye on that for more reading material! In any case, I won’t be bored for a while…
Stay safe my friends!
And Happy Easter! He is Risen Indeed!