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The End of the Decade Lists: I Ran Out of Star Wars Titles to Imitate, So I’ll Just Say Films That Got Better Over the Past Ten Years

I know, I know, just take the usual excuse on why I took so long to post this after I said it would be the very next day. Let’s not linger on it.

Instead, let’s continue the sort of positivity that the last list left us with as I head over from the movies I can’t wait to revisit to the movies from this decade I have revisited and ended up looking better for me than the first time I watched them. The 20 Movies from the 2010s That Have Appreciated from Second Viewing, here we go!

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Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017/dir. S. Craig Zahler/USA)

It’s still an overlong and racist movie, but I was less impatient in getting to the impressively grisly genre violence I was waiting for, I’ve actually found Vaughn’s presence and stunted lack of emotional response much more critical and nuanced, and most importantly the first and second half seemed to be more of a complement to each other as a survey of a harsh and hating world that is impossible to survive in. Plus in the wake of Bone Tomahawk’s sloppy damage control and Dragged Across Concrete’s insincere trolling, I find it a lot easier to confront the politics that Brawl actually owns up to (even if I think those two are better movies).

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A Cure for Wellness (2016/dir. Gore Verbinski/USA, Germany, and Luxembourg)

It’s overlong and trashy and tasteless (even beyond the later developments, a queer friend that I watched the movie with deemed it homophobic with convincing examples that went entirely over my hetero headero) and I think it was the stately attitude and the impeccable cinematography and the overall pedigree of the cast that made me consider those to be flaws up until I realized “I spent 2 1/2 hours in a creepy and sloppy fucking haunted vampire asylum and my complaint is that it was too much time and too gross?” It’s practically a pretty version of an exploitation film, that’s a dream come true!

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Godzilla (2014/dir. Gareth Edwards/USA)

I mean, I did have to hand it to a lot of the complaints I’ve heard: yes, Godzilla has not that much screentime and yes, Aaron Taylor-Johnson is an outright wooden block of an actor. And I have no real defense regarding the latter (I will die on ATJ’s fucking cross when he’s among my least favorite actors of all time), but I wouldn’t have a single frame more of Godzilla in this movie if I want it to succeed at what it’s trying at. A movie that wants a force of nature beyond our on the ground comprehension of these towering goliaths, a movie that wants us to feel that scale and the insignificance of us in the presence of something massive, a movie that wants to tease and build up before an epic showdown that will give us our money’s worth.  You can’t do that with constant wide shots, filling the frame neatly with these monsters. Say whatever one wants about Gareth Edwards (which y’all do), but he really knows how to bring weight to scale, whether it’s a kaiju or the Death Star. Also, the recent disappointment of Godzilla: King of the Monsters only made me appreciate it more: Godzilla may not appear much but he appears the perfect amount of times and is actually doing stuff instead of looking pretty. And if you think the characters in Edwards’ film are ridiculous, oh buddy…

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How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014/dir. Dean DeBlois/USA)

I don’t know what was wrong with me. Maybe I was just surrounded by way too many snooty film critics when I saw it at Cannes but I can’t see what was possibly holding me up from recognizing that even without the element of pleasant surprise that made the first movie such a great experience, it was just as on-point with its writing and animation as the last one (I mean, heck, the human character design is objectively better this time around). I spent 2014 Oscar season dreading the idea of this movie winning Best Animated Feature and that was dumb of me (especially since the surprise winner, Big Hero 6, actively sucks). Maybe it’s still not to the level of Kaguya and Song of the Sea but that was still dumb of me. 

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Margaret (2011/dir. Kenneth Lonergan/USA)

Easy explanation: we didn’t really get the true movie from Fox Searchlight because they’re booty. What we got was still great, but it wasn’t something that made me willing to stan the film. Having the opportunity to finally watch the extended edition based on Lonergan’s preference and it amps up everything I already loved about the movie: its opera-esque melodrama, its histrionics, its ups and downs, they’re all more defined and spread out by Lonergan’s original form and pack a harder punch. When I call Margaret one of the finest films of the decade at this point, I’m talking about the Extended Edition Margaret now. Can’t imagine watching it any other way.

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012/dir. Wes Anderson/USA)

I REALLY don’t know what the fuck was wrong with me the first time I watched it. It’s a masterpiece, the music is a masterpiece, the ensemble is a masterpiece, the location photography in Rhode Island is a masterpiece and makes me wish to visit the shooting locations one day, and the crazy part is that it’s not even Anderson’s best movie of the decade. But it still IS one of the best movies of the decade.

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Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019/dir. Quentin Tarantino/USA & UK)

And yet I still feel like I need to take a step away from the movie before I revisit it one more time and see how I feel about it. The first time I watched it (at an advance screening), it was just in the middle of another Film Twitter throwdown regarding Tarantino and I was especially on edge with the proposed subject matter. Then I rewatch it again with one of my best friends and a lot of the sincerity of the movie starts to come through, even if it’s also exposed to some of the character flaws of its filmmaker in an honest way. And then I rewatched it one more because I can’t miss the chance to see it in 35mm and the atmosphere felt much more blanketing and warm on the third watch, making me appreciate the lazing factor. But there’s still a bit more to interrogate about the film for me and a lot of it has to do with the idea that Tarantino finally figured out how to work without Sally Menke in his life and how to make Fred Raskin a strength. I don’t think I’m there yet but I’m gonna hope. Just need to step away from it for a minute.

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Only Lovers Left Alive (2013/dir. Jim Jarmusch/UK & Germany)

The previously mentioned Jarmusch that aged like fine wine once that I removed any sense of real urgency to my experience and just realized it does that thing I love Jarmusch movies doing most: being cool. And there’s little cooler than rock star vampires Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston having a wrench thrown in by Mia Wasikowska.

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The Raid 2 (2014/dir. Gareth Evans/Indonesia)

I always knew that it was critical to approach The Raid 2 as its own movie rather than as the sequel to The Raid: Redemption but that didn’t necessarily stop me from thinking the new gangster plot we got thrown at our lap was a downgrade from the brisk supercop speedthrough its predecessor was. Now I don’t know what truly brought me to turn around on the film – might be that an overglut of daddy issues movies made The Raid 2’s approach the conflict feel a lot more honest – but the premise seems to really complement the extensive eye-popping action sequences to a point of physical exhaustion that validates Rama’s perspective more than Uwais’ dramatic performance, to be quite honest. This is a movie about violent people convincing themselves that violence is gonna stop and waiting for the violence to end without slowing down their own violence. Still too fucking long, but nowadays when I show to friends in excitement, I don’t feel compelled to warn them about the plot.

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The Resident Evil movies (2010-2016/dir. Paul W.S. Anderson/Germany, UK, Canada, France, USA, & Australia)

Three of the best video game movies of all time and I scoffed at them like the rest of you plebs when I first watched them, but now I found a new religion in vulgar auteurism (I mean, not necessarily but y’know what I’m saying) and sometimes it’s just sweet to watch a filmmaker go “look how fucking awesome my hot wife is” by having her shoot and kill a bunch of zombies.

And then as a bonus for all of the time I spent without posting this: 5 Films That Appreciated Without Even Waiting for a Second Viewing (with minimal comment, just a before and after).

  • Green Room (2015/dir. Jeremy Saulnier/USA) – Before: this movie isn’t as insightful about Neo-Nazi culture and kind of sympathetic to them as idiots. After: it’s not about Neo-Nazis, it’s about how easy it is to be a violent savage.
  • High Life (2018/dir. Claire Denis/France, Germany, UK, Poland, & USA– Before: this is a masterpiece. After: No, wait, it’s REALLY a masterpiece.
  • Shoplifters (2018/dir. Kore-eda Hirokazu/Japan) – Before: the ending is disappointing. After: I don’t care.
  • Suspiria (2018/dir. Luca Guadagnino/Italy & USA) – Before: Great movie but I really don’t see what’s gained by the setting. After: There is a lot of emotional payoff in Josef’s story as he tries to deal with the recent Third Reich trauma, even if the Lufthansa shit still didn’t have to be there.
  • Under the Skin (2013/dir. Jonathan Glazer/UK, USA, & Switzerland) – Before: this is a masterpiece. After: No, wait, TOTALLY a masterpiece and also the old wrinkly bitch who was talking the whole time in the theater should have shut his fucking mouth oh my fucking gott, yo.

And on the next episode of these end of decades lists, the best and worst movie titles of the decade.

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Wanna Be a Member? Wanna Be a Member?

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Tony Zhou’s regretfully short-lived video essay series Every Frame a Painting had a brilliant summary of the Chuck Jones method of cartoon gags based on assumption and reality. The visual setup insists on an expectation based on the set up only for the opposite to happen, often through impossible logic that only a cartoon could supply. I find that this is not a principle that is exclusive to Chuck Jones’ work on the Looney Tunes (Zhou, I assume, does not think it is either as it wasn’t the thesis to the Chuck Jones video), but actually the core of so many early cartoons since the Laugh-O-Grams if not even earlier and the foundation of which they are showcases of not only the physical possibilities of the animation medium but even how they can be comic in basis.

Now, what if that same principle was applied without the desire to be comic but instead disorienting and surreal?

I don’t believe that’s the exact thought that approached Dave Fleischer’s mind when he co-directed Bimbo’s Initiation in 1931 with Grim Natwick, but it’s impossible for me to see that 6 minute short as all that different from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry, taking all the techniques Hitchcock perfected the thriller with and replacing the release of suspense with a comedic punchline instead. Bimbo’s Initiation came several decades into the existence of animation to use the fluidity of lines and spaces to twist what we expect to be a casually pleasant cartoon into something akin to a slippery nightmare for its central character, Fleischer’s rotund anthropomorphic dog star Bimbo, to tumble through.

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In any case, Bimbo is minding his own business walking down the street when he falls down a manhole and after tumbling down a zipping z-axis slide lands right in middle of big-bellied white sheet sack-wearing fellas who have soot bunnies for faces, candles on their heads, and all but the leader are holding 2x4s with nails in them. The leader is himself identifiable for holding a staff that is headed by what appears to be a toilet seat, which he yanks as he looks Bimbo in the eye and ribbits “wanna be a member? wanna be a member?”, an invitation that Bimbo declines with an annoyed whining “nnnnooo!”. And there begins the fun that the cult has at the expense of this poor dog, tossing him through a tremendous amount of obstacles that promise pain and death with no escape although the surrealism already began during that twisting slide and the way the end of the slide literally transformed into a mouth and spat Bimbo on the ground.

Nevertheless, most of what follows is individual gag setpieces of doom like where a piece of string holding a ceiling of spikes burns only for Bimbo to be standing right where an unseen hole was when it falls or a room spins entirely around like the hallway in Inception until Bimbo falls right into view of a knife while the floor rolls like a treadmill towards it, the knife suddenly turning shark like in its edge to lick its lip. Another and another unrealistic thing happens to throw him out of the fire and into the frying pan right up until a reassuring and absurdly kink-based finale (but a kink that is foreshadowed if one pays attention) arrives with the familiar presence of Bimbo’s girlfriend and the Fleischer’s next and most enduring star, Betty Boop (this happens to be the last film Natwick worked on with Boop, his personal creation). The repetition, endlessness, and speed in which we run through of all the perils Bimbo encounters are fundamental to Bimbo’s Initiation having a relentless nightmarish quality despite being a minute 6 minutes in length, even if it didn’t have such macabre touches as watching a shadow decapitated. And this is to say nothing of the energy provided by the constantly shivering Bimbo, which communicates his constant fear just from the inability to sit still in suspense.

Fleischer Studios had already broken out in 1918 with Out of the Inkwell showcasing the new toy by producer Max Fleischer, Dave’s brother: the rotoscope, laboriously animating action over frames of live-action film for a smooth motion, so the Fleischers already had revolutionized the way that movement was animated briefly. But rotoscoping is absent in entirely in Bimbo’s Initiation and I think through there the Fleischers and Natwick collectively found a lot more freedom that they took advantage of. There’s no live-action reference to create creatures like Bimbo and the candleheads that menace him, there’s no reference for how walls will suddenly roll up like maps or door knobs shift from one side of the door to the other. And that limitlessness takes center stage around the last minute in one animated long shots where we start on one plane of perspective with Bimbo before the camera switches to another angle fluidly and with clarity to what death he’s avoiding this time before switching once again and the z-axis is maneuvered 3 more times before we get our first cut. It’s not like the camera is sweeping around or into the obstacles Bimbo is encountering, but it is shifting spatial perspective for us in a systemic way that is mindblowing for a cartoon short so early in the medium – far preceding the Disney techniques of Deep Canvas, CAPS, and even the Multiplane. Certainly a showpiece of Bimbo’s Initiation that could not be accomplished with rotoscoping. And I haven’t even mentioned the impressive shadow work in one dark room scene.

I began this discussing expectations and reality. Expecting Bimbo to blow a candle out only for the flame to grow hands to go back on a wick or him to splash on a pool we just saw fish in only to smash into concrete is the rubbery New York Style of executing that principle. It disorients Bimbo and ourselves and assume he can’t win, thankfully assuaged by a happy ending sexy enough to defy the Production Code and make us forgive and forget everything we just watched Bimbo go through.

In any case, you can watch him go through it online. Enjoy!

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The End of the Decade Lists: Episode II – Attack of the Second Thought

So I promised that the following list of the 2010s would also be one that makes enough sense to drop this early as well as being much more optimistic than the last one about how many movies I don’t like as much as I did anymore (or at all).

And not only do I have those to drop but writing and elaborating on this list has led to a couple of other offshoots that I might post either later tonight or early tomorrow morning around the sort of optimistic positivity.

But first, there is looking forward towards the future which means that I present the below list in alphabetical order of 20 Movies of This Decade That I’m Most Looking Forward to Revisiting in the Future.

Some of these I want to take another fresher look at, some of these I’m certain that I will reappraise, some I just enjoyed so much that I can’t wait to watch them again but I also kind of want to patiently give space in between those rewatches, and then some I have no patience and intend to watch immediately. Let’s do this, hombre.


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(2017/dir. Johann Lurf/Austria)

Easiest selection, this movie is constantly having material added and touring all over the world (it is already over 15 minutes longer than the edition I saw in Anthology Film Archives last year) so I’m excited to revisit it whenever it comes near me and see how the cinematic perspective of the starry night sky has expanded over the past year (or 2 years if that opportunity does not return until next year).

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24 Frames (2017/dir. Abbas Kiarostami/Iran)

I swear Kiarostami has a pattern to his selection of frames and their respective content. It’s just so obvious in the middle of watching it, I just was to busy sinking into each image to actually try to intellectualize the experience. I purchased the Criterion Blu-Ray as soon as it dropped and so intend to rewatch it one day with a more intensely analytical eye (which might even necessitate a second review).

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The Amazing Spider-Man(2012/dir. Marc Webb/USA)

Spider-Man: Far from Home exists. Hell, now that Venom exists, really. The fact that Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures have not only announced they’re returning to a deal regarding the character but that they’re going to incorporate the knock-off villain spin-offs universe that Sony has tried to peddle forever is only going to further rose-tint this movie whenever I re-approach it.

 

 

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Blackhat (2015/dir. Michael Mann/USA)

I’ve been maintaining that you all have been wrong about this movie from the second y’all were talking shit and now that we have Michael Mann doing his Michael Mann thing by constantly switching up his cuts, I am ready to take a dive into that director’s cut and get more of that hypermasculine, hilariously technomuscular Mann thriller goodness and none of you get to join because none of you deserve this movie.

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Central Intelligence (2016/dir. Rawson Marshall Thurber/USA)

Listen, this is my most-watched movie of 2016 and it’s gonna continue to grow and grow and grow. It’s not that good, but 2016 wasn’t good either (as movie year or like… actual life year) and I need to be afforded my comfort blankets like watching The Rock tower over Kevin Hart with a friendly smile to reflect off of Hart’s look of fear. I will take an overlong 2 hours of that. Leave me alone. I’m putting the Blu-Ray in again and you can’t fucking stop me.

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Clouds of Sils Maria (2014/dir. Olivier Assayas/France, Germany, & Switzerland)

Maybe I was wrong about it. I don’t think I am, to be quite frank. I think it is committing all the sorts of sins Birdman’s detractors accuse THAT movie of committing (by the way, in case y’all are wondering how it feels comparing an Assayas movie and an Inarritu movie and saying the latter is better… it feels awful. Thankfully Assayas has made more movies that are better than Birdman than I have fingers on one hand) and it is the disappointing weak link in my admiration for both Assayas and Huppert (Chloë Grace Moretz… man, I can not get her). But, y’know what? Everybody I trust on this matter loves the movie so I will give it another try. I’ll just complain while doing it.

NB: Speaking of movies starring Chloë Grace Moretz that y’all make me feel I’m on the wrong side of history for, but I outright avoid conversations about The Miseducation of Cameron Post because I don’t feel like talking shit about a movie that meant A LOT to the LGBT+ community (and I can get why). I don’t think I’m as inclined to rewatch it as I am with Clouds but it’s not out of the question.

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The Croods (2013/dir. Kirk DeMicco & Chris Sanders/USA)

Yes, it’s no less generic character or story-wise than any other non-Panda/Dragon production by DreamWorks Animation but I’ve seriously underestimated the design of the whole thing. It’s… y’know, crude and also wildly different than anything Sanders has made beforehand, but in a way that makes it so much more interesting to look at if I take another look at it. Particularly the way that watching The Boxtrolls opened me up to the possibility of grotesque character designs being a lot of fun, I wonder if I’d be so amiable to The Croods on my second watch. In any case, I’m having a tough time naming a top five for animation of 2013 and The Croods might just have a spot. Maybe I’ll rewatch it when Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal drops.

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Drive (2011/dir. Nicholas Winding Refn/USA)

A movie that should be exactly my jam feels wholly chilly to me. Maybe it’s just because of The Neon Demon and Too Old to Die Young (or even Only God Forgives, terrible movie that it is) showcasing a version of stillness that feels unique to Refn himself but Drive doesn’t feel that way to me. It feels still in the same way every other post-80s crime thriller tries to be, a decent movie but nothing revelatory as I was expecting. Perhaps that’s why it’s Refn’s most popular and accessible movie, give or take Bronson. Maybe I’ll be more satisfied now that I am more fully in the Refn bag again. The Neon Demon was just that good to make me give second chances.

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Drive Angry (2011/dir. Patrick Lussier/USA)

No way is this movie any good, I don’t care what the fuck Quentin Tarantino says. But it’s probably a lot more fun than I was willing to credit it for: at the very least, the gonzo imagery of certain situations and William Fichtner’s performance is good trash cinema material so here’s hoping a rewatch gets me digging to find more enjoyable trashiness.

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John Carter (2012/dir. Andrew Stanton/USA)

Is it REALLY that bad? Obviously, Stanton’s notorious leap into live-action filmmaking that resulted in the biggest financial bomb in history has its dedicated defenders. I am not really one of them: the first and only time I saw the movie was spent thinking it was basically doing things done way better in Avatar. But that was also an exhausted IMAX midnight screening and while I don’t think I’ll ever prefer to it to Avatar, a more clear-eyed screening may turn me to one of those arguing for the movie’s honor. I do love space opera.

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Noah (2014/dir. Darren Aronofsky/USA)

I’m very mean to Darren Aronofsky. I mean, it doesn’t help that he fucking sucks, but it has to be handed to him that he’s ambitious. I think if I could bother to muster any possible urge to rewatch his two most spiritual works with The Fountain and Noah (note I did not say theological because that’d include π and mother! and hahahahah fuck that), I might find them a lot more interesting and nuanced if not necessarily good. Noah especially gets more attractive coming out the same decade as Exodus: Gods and Kings and Ben-Hur. I mean, fucking… if that kind of clangy nu-Gladiator bullshit is being made out of Biblical material, it’s refreshing to have somebody like Aronofsky who could be secular and still passionate about this shit. To be honest, that passion does result in some of the greatest cinematic moments of the decade within Noah however far in between.

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The Other Side of the Wind (2018/dir. Orson Welles/USA, Iran, & France)

I’ve seen it three times now, but I just know I’m going to be watching it over and over. Orson Welles’ movies already lend themselves to rewarding rewatch value, but The Other Side of the Wind has the added element of trying to be prophetic and reflexive towards the modern age of cinema (maybe having it be completed decades after it was shot is cheating) and I am quite energized by how it might maintain that reflexivity in 5 years or 10 years or 20 years.

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Paterson (2016/dir. Jim Jarmusch/USA, Germany, & France)

There has been by now at least one Jarmusch film from this decade that I was cold at first watch but then came around to love. I’m not as cold towards Paterson since I find it a very lovely and friendly film, but I do think there might be more to it than I care on first glance. I mean, it’s a film based on poetry so I’m expecting more poetics.

And none for The Dead Don’t Die, bye…

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Prometheus (2012/dir. Ridley Scott/UK & USA)

I think it’s good, fuck the haters. But my one and only viewing of the movie was done in the context of an Alien marathon and I really want a chance to watch it isolated and as its own object. Because I do think that’s what it could have been if it wasn’t for the fidelity to the Alien franchise (and I’d dare say the moments where it functions as an Alien prequel are its weakest). What’s kept me from doing it all these years is knowing I probably won’t have a chance to see it again in IMAX 3D, which made the Map Room sequence crazy immersive and a very fond experience in the cinema for me. Give me time.

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Shutter Island (2010/dir. Martin Scorsese/USA)

I will admit I don’t know what the fuck Martin Scorsese has been up to in the past 20-something years. I mean, I guess he’s at the point where Spielberg is that the two of them just don’t have to prove shit to anybody but Spielberg is still casually tossing out great movies and Scorsese’s have been… I don’t want to call them lazy because they’re ambitious as hell, but other than Silence, there hasn’t been a single Scorsese release since The Age of Innocence that has felt like a final cut. In any case, they’re almost all net-satisfying except Gangs of New York and this… this movie that almost sits at the bottom of my Scorsese rankings. And I think a bit of my ranklings towards it was based on its failures as a character-based thriller on any level, which is way out of character for me because I think it otherwise exudes a tremendous Gothic aesthetic so I hope to perhaps give it another look and treat it strictly as atmospheric genre work rather than… anything that has to regard what a terrible script and group of performances it has.

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Somewhere (2010/dir. Sofia Coppola/USA)

I’m convinced the movie is so much subtler than I gave it credit for. It’s definitely patient for such a short movie and I like to think Coppola intended more than just ennui in those lengthy spaces between that are taken up by stripteases to Foo Fighters and figure skating to Gwen Stefani. I like to imagine now that it’s beginning to fade maybe I’ll be open to take in a lot more thematic details than I was when I first watched and liked the movie. Fuck it, maybe it’s just gonna be time for a Sofia Coppola retrospective since all of her movies are rewatchable.

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Things to Come (2016/dir. Mia Hansen-Løve/France & Germany)

Like The Other Side of the Wind, this movie that I already so dearly love just feels like it’s going to reward rewatch. You already have the sense in Isabelle Huppert’s performance that there are layers behind her muted reactions to everything being thrown at her. That there will be signs and omens so slight about the things that blindsided her and us on the first watch. I’m looking forward to trying to catch those and connect the dots: it will kind of play like the sort of mentality I have whenever something terrible happens to me in my life, “where in my path could I have averted this?” Except I expect this will be much more pleasant than my life.

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To the Wonder (2012/dir. Terrence Malick/USA)

The one Malick film (outside of Voyage of Time, of which few people have seen and fewer have seen all three cuts) that eludes my enthusiasm – I specifically am not as on-board with the lead performances the same way I am with his other movies – but it’s also clearly the seed of Malick’s interesting late phase of pseudo-essayist structure that I think now that I have seen and loved Knight of Cups and Song to Song in its wake… another chance at To the Wonder might not be such a bad idea. It’s like I have the cheat sheet to the storytelling code he’d been developing with this film.

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Whiplash (2014/dir. Damien Chazelle/USA)

A breakout movie that I liked, rather than loved, and honestly expected more out of than the sort of familiar independent character study this was. But it’s not just Chazelle’s subsequent work knocking my fucking socks off that make optimistic about this movie: First Man appeals to me using a method that is overdependent on close-ups that I was unimpressed with in Whiplash and now I wonder if that’s just hypocritical of me. I mean, it could be that Ryan Gosling is a vastly better actor than Miles Teller and much more interesting to look at even at his stillest, but I definitely want to give Teller the benefit of the doubt when it’s his one performance I thought was worth a damn.

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White House Down (2013/dir. Roland Emmerich/USA)

A less confident instance of Drive Angry’s situation: the possibility of me missing on the ironic joys of another “so-bad-it’s-good” movie, particularly in how blatant a fake Die Hard sequel it is and my newfound love for Channing Tatum as an actor. I’m just not as confident about this beyond the pleas of folks who have the same movie interests as me. At the very least, I’ll regret the rewatch less than watching ANY of the “… Has Fallen” movies but, y’know, I’m not in any rush. Roland Emmerich’s last few movies have been pretty bad in an not-fun way to earn this apprehension.


So those are the movies I’m most willing to give a second look or second chance at and sometime between now and tomorrow, I will be dropping lists of movies I have successfully given those second chances to already and reconsidered my original opinion towards. See you guys then!

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The End of the Decade Lists: Episode I – The Phantom Feeling

So I’ve carried in my pocket drafts of lists regarding the 2010s decade that is coming to a close. And like any sane person, I’m gonna keep the most superlative of these lists open for edit until early next year. But in the meantime, I figured it was alright to go and drop two of the lists that actually make sense to drop this early.

A year is already a lot of time to think and look back on films in a way that makes you re-examine and re-evaluate them. And sometimes you find those feelings are not positive anymore, so here is my list of 20 MOVIES FROM THE 2010s THAT HAVE NOT HELD UP FOR ME.

Some of these movies, I still like but like less that I once did. Some of these, I already disliked and it went down to hatred. Some have taken that heel turn from “movie I was positive on” to “movie I am now negative towards” in various levels of severity. Listed below in alphabetical order are the 20 movies that took that turn for me, with enough hot takes to ensure that some of y’all probably won’t want to stick around for the next installment of these lists. Let’s go!


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Blackfish (2013/dir. Gabriella Cowperthwaite/USA)

Left my mind so completely that when I was showing my friend Josh (Yes, THAT Josh) a Key and Peele sketch, he had to identify a Blackfish reference for me. Josh… had to identify a movie reference… for me. I’m very proud of him. In any case, there’s advocacy docs that use the form and there’s advocacy docs that just talk to you and Blackfish on review is sadly the latter. And what makes it worse is how tough it is to parse what its thesis is: I think it has three but they’re all giving their sympathies to polar opposites.

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Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013/dir. Abdellatif Kechiche/France)

I won’t dismiss any queer folk who were moved by the movie (of whom I know a few), but it took not nearly as long for me to look back and find it pretty gaze-y and exploitative. The exploitation worked, since the whole power of the movie is in the honesty of the two performances and that stands just as well for the sex scenes, but they’re so long and the camera lingers very much on their bodies. And frankly, Kechiche himself has said and done nothing to help his case as a Tunisian version of Larry Clark. And I already hate American Larry Clark.

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Borgman (2013/dir. Alex van Warmerdam/Netherlands)

Ah, now we get a movie I still love with pretty much all of my heart. It remains a gleefully weird (yet mean-spirited) allegory that I would probably recommend more than any other movie on this list. I was expecting it on my Top 10 movies of 2014 list. And then… something crazy happened and I kept realizing I liked so-and-so movie more than Borgman and such and such film and by the end of it, Borgman wasn’t even on my honorable mentions despite not dropping a bit in retrospective quality in my opinion. This spot on this list is more in respect of its memory. Pour one out.

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012/dir. Christopher Nolan/USA & UK) 

I’m gonna have to make an impish confession here: 3 out of the 4 Christopher Nolan movies that released in this decade are on here, though I expect this entry is probably the easiest to swallow as the red-headed stepchild of the Dark Knight trilogy. What I walked away from thinking it was a perfectly fine and ambitious if flawed movie started losing all excuse of it as “ambitious” once Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice had the same sloppy writing but… in a more thrilling way.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011/dir. David Fincher/USA, Sweden, & UK)

A case of “it’s better than the mediocre original (and possibly even the book) so that must mean it’s good” in my mind, despite the fact that it’s the coldest work by a director I’m already pretty cold with. And I do stand by the fact that this is better than the Swedish version in almost all aspects (the sole exception being Salander, but Rooney Mara is still excellent despite being no Noomi Rapace), but we got a film no less music video-y than any of Fincher’s other movies except with extra nihilism.

NBThe Social Network almost ended up on this list (and would have certainly been the best movie named) but I don’t want to be murdered for these takes, especially regarding a movie I still love.

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Goodnight Mommy (2014/dir. Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala/Austria)

It’s simple: I walked out of the movie feel cold as shit and told myself “it’s definitely a miserably austere genre film” and “I had a good time” and then realized those two thoughts cannot be the same with me and this film. Austrian cinema, y’all. I just can’t with it most of the time.

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Hop (2011/dir. Tim Hill/USA)

No, I never thought that this was anything more than one of the worst movies of the year. It has come around now to looking like one of the worst movies of the decade and it just depreciates more and more.

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Inception (2010/dir. Christopher Nolan/USA & UK)

I still like it a lot. The heist central to the film is a Russian nesting doll of action setpieces bursting with imagination. But I’ve come to recognize something that niggles my teeth regarding Christopher Nolan: whenever we has to create his own internal logic, he’s dedicated to it in an exhausting way – many of his films function with extended exposition in place of dialogue – and it doesn’t hold much water. I only need movies to set their rules up initially and allow me to meet them halfway, but Nolan’s scripts continuously bring attention back to those rules and I think he doesn’t do it enough to outweigh all the great visuals and momentum the movies have… but he does do it more than I realize every time I rewatch his stuff.

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Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015/dir. Leigh Whannell/USA, Canada, & UK)

A clear instance of pleasant surprise in two instances: Leigh Whannell is a much better director than writer (a fact furthered by his second film Upgrade) and this movie is a miles better than Chapter 2. It still is. And it’s still perfectly fine but it evaporates from my mind more and more each day besides Lin Shaye’s presence (which admittedly is something Chapter 3 keyed me in towards more than any Insidious movie prior). I mean, it’s one of the few Whannell scripts that doesn’t piss me off when I think about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good script.

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Interstellar (2014/dir. Christopher Nolan/USA)

I swear this is the last Christopher Nolan movie on this list and I feel everything I have to say about this entry was said with Inception so I don’t have much to add besides acknowledging how lengthy the first act felt up until the movie really got into the awesome space adventure of it all. And on the very bright side, I love the infamous tesseract climax and think it’s one of Nolan’s all-time best moments.

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Isle of Dogs (2018/dir. Wes Anderson/USA & Germany)

I love dogs and I love Japanese cinema and I love animation (especially stop-motion animation). And I particularly feel like ⅔ of these things have a great affect in Isle of Dogs (the Japanese cinema element… less so). And yet the movie feels so less natural in its assemblage of these things that Anderson loves than anything else. It results in a movie that is occasionally chilly and distant in an inadvertent way, something I don’t find welcoming of Anderson’s aesthetic (The Darjeeling Limited feels more gracious to both Indian cinema and Indian culture).

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It (2017/dir. Andy Muschietti/USA)

A movie that has at once appreciated and depreciated in years between its release and the infinitely worse It: Chapter Two. The stuff about the kids being kids in a 1980s summer is phenomenal and I only enjoyed more on rewatch. What brings on this list is dysfunctional it is as a horror film: there is one type of scare Muschietti knows – get chased by something ugly – and he hammers it over and over and over until we’re just too numb to even care how hard Bill Skarsgard is trying to bring creepy atmosphere to the proceedings. Probably a worthwhile revisit on a lazy summer afternoon, not something I’m going to reach for on a still October night. And its failings as a horror movie are still digestible compared to the head-spinning endurance test of boredom and anti-humor that is its sequel. I’m convinced Muschietti and his collaborators knew less about making a horror movie than than they knew about King’s flagship novel itself and I weep for the alternate universe where Cary Joji Fukunaga had made it instead.

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It Follows (2014/dir. David Robert Mitchell/USA)

Still a movie I’m fully in love with, just not as much as I was since Cannes. Every time I watch it, the less I’m interested in the central metaphors (of which there are more than people talk about, not necessarily that deep though). I am instead fully devoted to it as doomed atmosphere for very very young people, something helped by both the framing and the soundtrack (as a reversal to this entry, I’ve actually come to admire the score a lot more with each viewing). I’m just not interested in talking about what “It” represents anymore.

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Lawless (2012/dir. John Hillcoat/USA)

I don’t know, I just don’t recall having the same power with it the way that Hillcoat and Nick Cave’s The Proposition had and while I’m aware that that is a ridiculously unfair comparison, it’s also a ridiculously unearned comparison that my brain made at the first watch. So maybe this entry is all my fault and nothing else’s (but no, it is the children that are wrong).

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Maleficent (2014/dir. Robert Stromberg/USA)

Sleeping Beauty means a lot to me and Maleficent in particular is one of my all-time favorite movie characters so I had walked in fearing disaster – like on the level of Alice in Wonderland – and was pleased that the movie was at least salvageable on the back of Angelina Jolie (which was the only sure-win element of this movie). She is the only element that held up on rewatch and the story decisions are not nearly as intelligent as I first thought they were. It’s still not a disaster but it’s not a good movie either. 

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Man of Steel (2013/dir. Zack Snyder/UK & USA)

Another very weird case of ups and downs: it started with every subsequent viewing making me less and less interested and then suddenly getting more and more and more interested and now it’s been petering away again. I’m very hot and cold on this one: reminiscent of an AI-like film where instead of Spielberg pretending to be Kubrick, it’s Snyder pretending to be Nolan and sometimes that gets me kind of interested in the places it goes and sometimes I realize “yeah, people were right to call this kind of miserable”. In any case, Hans Zimmer’s incredible score does not falter and it might very well be the case that this movie loses its spot by the end of the year.

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The Marvel Cinematic Universe (2010-2019/prod. Kevin Feige/USA)

I mean, I’m sure the surprise is less that this is on here and more that it was ever high enough in my esteem to make it here. And I’m not necessarily talking about crap like Thor: The Dark World or Captain Marvel, but pretty much the consensus favorites like Black Panther and the Guardians of the Galaxy movies that try to break free from the stylistic and narrative uniformity of them all successfully enough for me not to regret my time spent in the theater as I walk out (miraculous because these movies are all much longer than they deserve on top of their other problems). And then I look back and I see all my other issues with the series: the soul-dead attempts at impersonable humor, the deteriorating ability to provide even a remotely satisfying action setpiece, the various mix of demanding “required reading” as previous movies while acting as trailer to the next movie, the lack of depth to any imagery for even the best shot among these films (again… Black Panther and the Guardians movies) so the (occasionally vibrant) color has to pop enough to distract from that. Ever since Thor: Ragnarok turned out to feel tortuously long on second watch, I’ve never found it in me to as enthusiastic about any MCU movie and I don’t think I ever will. There was a time when Captain America: The First Avenger would have me standing on tables defending it and now I have no energy.

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Sabotage (2014/dir. David Ayer/USA)

Similar situation to Hop, just to a lesser degree. I first watched it thinking it was a toxic vomit of genres that any filmmaker worth a damn would be able to make work together except Ayer is one of the worst filmmakers working today. Came back to it only to find no, it’s even more toxic and even less coherent about the type of cop thriller it wants to be. It’s a combination of all the biggest failings of Ayer as filmmaker and storyteller and would be his worst movie if Bright didn’t disabuse it of that title, so instead I’ll just stare at what a low-rent Walmart Redbox type of movie this was.

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The Star Wars films (2015-2018/prod. Kathleen Kennedy/USA)

I’m not going to pretend that EVERYTHING I said about the MCU applies here (The Last Jedi and Rogue One are remarkably good looking movies for the most part), but it’s kind of the same core: the Star Wars movies put out since the Disney purchase have been lacking in personality and feel like the products they are. And the sad thing is that when I say “least held up”, I often mean it in the least span of time possible: it took a year to see The Force Awakens was less than the sum of its parts, it took one rewatch away to see The Last Jedi is not as good as I tried to convince myself, and it took a night’s sleep to realize that giving Solo a letterboxd rating above The Last Jedi is a fucking joke (maybe the most grievous offense of these films: forcing Bradford Young to underlight the fuck out of Solo. I don’t know if it’s Lord/Miller, Kennedy, or Howard responsible for it but I’m really pissed off about it). The only movie I’ve been able to muster a net positive attitude for is Rogue One and even that’s pretty clearly a fan-pandering object that underused its cast (one of the few triumphs of these movies: the ensemble assembled for them) and didn’t need to exist. Honestly, when I want to go see a Star Wars movie, I want to be satisfied by the visual effects and the music and anything else can take a hike. The music is at an all-time low for the franchise (Giacchino’s Rogue One score being my least favorite work in the catalogue of either Giacchino or Star Wars) and while the effects mostly maintain themselves, there are some deeply bad betrayals happening on the CG in the most infamous sequences. And those are the foundations in which I can’t keep staying positive about the direction Star Wars is going.

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Suicide Squad (2016/dir. David Ayer/USA)

If there was a single movie this decade that I was more devoted to convincing myself it was good when I first saw it, I can’t remember it. And certainly I had a good time and believe that not a single member of the cast – almost uniformly actors I despise – has anything to be embarrassed about, it is the biggest and loudest trashfire from the burning building that was the early DC Extended Universe and if it’s not my least favorite of the franchise, it’s solely because it is relatively bouncy compared to the miserable Justice League. But a good cast does not salvage what a structural disaster and logical ruin it is.


Anyway, those are the 20 movies in which my attitude depreciated over the past decade. If I still have any shred of credibility for you all, the next list in this series (possibly posted by the end of this coming weekend) will be much more positive, I promise.

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The 2019 Popcorn Frights Short Films Line-Up

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It’s that time again.

The 5th Annual Popcorn Frights Film Festival is happening once again in their relatively new home in Ft. Lauderdale’s dope church-turned-single screen movie theater Savor Cinema and once again the good folks running it – Igor, Marc, and company – have asked me to review the short film line-up of this year’s run. Which is very considerate of them knowing that I think of the short film as the ultimate artform because I can finish it before bedtime.

Except that this year has an intimidating amount of 40 short films to be screened throughout the festival in several different programs and bedtime becomes a moot point, even after we ignore the fact that I have to sleep under the sheets after watching a good horror movie. Nothing I’m particularly hostile to this year and a couple that I’m really impressed by.

Whelp, a lot of movies ahead, let’s get cracking at them.

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Wild Love

OTHER SIDE OF THE BOX (Caleb J. Phillips, USA)
Screens with Haunt on Thursday 8 August at 9:15 pm

An excellent exercise in patience, using its 15 minutes well to build its tension and its cuts to make a point of what might be happening right outside of the frame and the eyeview of our lead characters as they try to find out why they’ve been sent a certain sinister box. Pretty underlit to the point that somehow the very void that we find in the box looks brighter than the room around it and but the final moments are so perfectly creepy that I can’t bring myself to mind. A perfectly functional opening for the festival!

WILD LOVE (Paul Autric/Quentin Camus/Léa Georges/Maryka Laudet/Zoé Sottiaux/Corentin Yvergniaux, France)
Screens with Bloodline on Friday 9 August at 7:00 pm

Certainly the familiar story and its status as a work for L’École des Nouvelle Images points to this being an animation exercise reel than anything else, but it is a marvelous exercise of distinguishing the textures in a forest trip whether it’s the hair on a man’s exposed legs or the fur on an army of beavers (the one moment that felt off to me is a flamethrower that looked like it was in a different space from any character in the shot). A lot of playing with depth in a foggy and suspicious area and soft lighting in a cave where the only source is a slit on the top, just in general enough of a technical showcase to allow me to see how it might have the budget it has but still make the most of it and promise a lot of its directors (SIX of them, so you KNOW a lot of work was put in this) with further resources. And, admittedly, even the story was amusing in its familiarity, what with the bug-eyed expressions of the little rodents…

THE DESECRATED (John Gray, USA)
Screens with The Dare on Friday 9 August at 9:00 pm

I admittedly did not have much of a response to this, perhaps given that much of the waiting tension of its 7 minutes doesn’t have much payoff beyond a final note that’s too blink-and-you’ll-miss-it to function as the jump scare it seems to want to pay off for. It’s a bit concerning that the middle sequence with the… ghost (?) is more effective than the final scare. Still, I will give props to how color was used make a mortuary gloomy without underlighting it.

LOOM (Kevin Rothlisburger, USA)
Screens with Bliss on Friday 9 August at 11:15 pm

Very close to being my favorite short in the festival in its nicely self-contained EC Comics delivery of overt monster horror, outrageous blood splatter, and particularly in its gorgeously autumnal outdoor color work (even if it doesn’t differentiate that much between the opening dusk and the closing dawn). It’s particularly a satisfying slasher-type gambit to have all of its victims of violent death to be such despicable bullying good ol’ boy cartoons that we won’t miss. There’s one hiccup for me and it is not a small one: some big points of the climax have some very messy post-production work. Specifically, a shot that reveals one of the characters’ true nature features some attempted pinlight work that doesn’t convincingly align with their eyes (this is most frustrating because the face already looks nicely Halloweenish in a way that I think the short owns) and certain shots of an extended chase sequence end up looking like there’s a blurry blue Rorschach blot on the screen in a combination with the lighting, the coloring, and the generous usage of fog in the forest. And it’s very bothersome stuff but the rest of the short is able to carry itself all through the night that by the end of the bloodbath, I end up pretty satisfied with it as diverting campfire story.

GUESSING GAME (Zach Wincik, USA)
Screens with Alive on Saturday 10 August at 1:00 pm

I understand that the close-up is the easiest way to establish tension with the specificity of your actors’ expression filling up the frame (which Guessing Game does very well) but even for a short film, there is a limit to how long you can repeat one shot scale before it deflates and I’m not sure Guessing Game avoids it. Alongside that, there’s also how off-puttingly humorless the final beats of the short feel with a last shot being one that insists this short is trying to say something about society but can’t when all of the context of what happening is back-loaded. I might have forgiven a good amount of it if it had played meta with its end credits while removing the widen that sees us out.

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A Doll for Edgar

A DOLL FOR EDGAR (Anthony Dones, USA)
Screens as part of the Homegrown program on Saturday 10 August at 3:00 pm

Reminiscent to me of the “Living Doll” episode from The Twilight Zone, it even has an antagonist that feels maybe more modern than Savalas and certainly more sinister with his late evil revealing monologue but definitely reminds me of the actor in his brawny baldness. We have here once again a nicely self-contained sort of EC Comics tale where we watch supernatural circumstances give a satisfying comeuppance to evil bullys (credit to Justin Sims for giving an odiously masculine attitude against Bryce Smith’s sensitivities), aided by some pretty great shadow work on the characters to give this broken home a domestic gloominess.

ALWAYS LISTENING (Randy Gonzalez, USA)
Screens as part of the Homegrown program on Saturday 10 August at 3:00 pm

I get what it’s going for in trying to fully envelope the sort of paranoia one would expect in a society reliant on obsessively surveillant technology (not that I find that idea inherently interesting, but it delivers this theme in a pretty effective way). I just also happen to think the ending beat is a bridge too far for a short film that was already doing a pretty fine job as it was. It feels like the sort of moment inserted in because the makers thought the short couldn’t qualify as horror without violence and it suddenly tries to introduce a new logic to the story that feels totally divorced with what we just watched. But it does have a cool effect when it gets to that point (and also a very well-used sound effect for what happens off-screen).

CALL FOR A GOOD TIME (Mike Marrero & Jon Rhoads, USA)
Screens as part of the Homegrown program on Saturday 10 August at 3:00 pm

Full Disclosure: I am friends with one of the directors for this film, Jon Rhoads. And from what I understand Marrero & Rhoads had made this more as an off-hand doodle while working on a much bigger project, so it explains the crude construction of this whole thing (even though I think the granite brown color of the short – however cut off it is by the brighter floor of the bathroom – does make the bathroom feel grosser than it actually looks). I could certainly expect better and more inspired from the makers of Buzzcut (one of the highlights of a previous Popcorn Frights and in fact the short that introduced be to Rhoads) than something not that much different from Lights Out, but for a throwaway bit meant to function as an amuse bouche to the rest of the festival, it works.

FEVER (Brian Karl Rosenthal, USA)
Screens as part of the Homegrown program on Saturday 10 August at 3:00 pm

The perfect mixture between darkness and costume. It’s very hard not to spoil when and how it pays off after watching an extremely sweaty Lani Lum wait in shadowy silence and scope around the corners but even after that payoff happens, we get to spend a couple more minutes watching out for when the source of all this short’s scares return again (credit especially to Chuck Baxter’s slender presence). Being able to pull off that surprise twice in a row with enough space in between is pretty impressive if nothing else about this short will linger in my memory.

THE FINAL GIRL RETURNS (Alexandria Perez, USA)
Screens as part of the Homegrown program on Saturday 10 August at 3:00 pm

Full Disclosure for this one as well: I am also good friends with the writer/director/producer, Alex. Which I suppose puts me in a good position to already understand exactly what she was aiming for with The Final Girl Returns, which portrays what happens AFTER a slasher movie ends. And I feel like the answer Alex has for that question is too big for a 15 minute short, but I think she does as best a job as I can see involving the frustrations and the psychological scars (impressively established with schism-like cuts into the faces the Driver remembers – his lack of name being one of several ways this aesthetically feels like a Nicholas Winding Refn short) beyond some moments that are a bit too on the nose like the lines about “changing the ending” and a radio newscaster literally asking “when will the cycle end?”. Still in any case, this has some brilliant horizon-set camerawork in the California desert with washed-out colors by Rob Bennett (on top of a really impressive combination of handheld and dolly zoom in a single shot) and the sinister Cliff Martinez-like soundscape to make it all feel an aberration of the slasher form. If I think the runtime is too restricted to make much comment so much as observation of the genre, its themes are still direct in its feminist reclaiming of the genre (not least of which being that we don’t actually see the violence commit towards the women). And needless to say, I’m really proud of Alex.

THE LIMITS (Ulbrecht Tomas, USA)
Screens as part of the Homegrown program on Saturday 10 August at 3:00 pm

The biggest surprise of all of the shorts for me. A dystopian future road to hell where its lead follows an inky black path of night that’s only illuminated by the torches, but it’s specifically the artificial but eye-catching night sky effects that made it a treat to watch, foreseeing the sort of cosmic element it tries to introduce in moments like the hooded robe cult and the giant truck driving madman straight out of a John Carpenter science fiction. Not to mention the great effect that interrupts every major kill, where after a geyser of blood effects, we smash cut to a hard close up of what looks like blood clotting with a crackling sound beneath it. It makes death look and sound painful on top of letting it function as spectacle. As it moves forward, it becomes less exciting to look at, especially the day scenes where the gun muzzle effects look much more chintzy and betray its budget, but overall it disabused me of any previous hesitation I had watching a 22 minute short by making a pretty straightforward dark quest picture.

SPIRIT #1 (Brett Potter, USA)
Screens as part of the Homegrown program on Saturday 10 August at 3:00 pm

Produced by Miami’s local film collective pride, Borscht Corporation, it should be expected that Spirit #1 is would be off-kilter and weird. That approach by Borscht is hit-or-miss with me and I’m disappointed to call it a miss here (the first half was losing me after a nice gambit of breaking the fourth wall with text and camera movement), but it does backload its best and wildest stuff including an impressive extreme tighten from the widest and narrowest possible hallway shot one could start from. But sometimes being weird just isn’t enough for me.

VALERIO’S DAY OUT (Michael Arcos, USA)
Screens as part of the Homegrown program on Saturday 10 August at 3:00 pm

I honestly started off very off-put by the fractured video diary manner of this short (I don’t think I ever ended up warming to the usage of title cards, frankly) but as it continued forward, Arcos’ work started coalescing into something really sinister and unnervingly inhuman. The monotonous reading of the titular jaguar’s thoughts went from gratingly annoying to serial killer-like cold while ascribing venomous emotions towards actions that would seem natural to such an animal. The repeated usage of news footage went from halting to tell us information we already know to hammering the apparent youth and “cuteness” of our young remorseless killer. The pointed address in the thoughts of the jaguar turned from weird to uncomfortable. If any of these shorts might have turned out to use form most effectively to create a chilling tone and mood, I think I may have to hand it to this one

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The Limits

LA NORIA (Carlos Baena, Spain)
Screens with Itsy Bitsy on Saturday 10 August at 5:00 pm

A wonderful and silent dark fairy tale where even if I wasn’t remotely scared of what it brought, I’m still in wonder at the lighting effects Baena and his animators put into it. They’ve really shown a nice versatility between backlighting the monsters the main child has to face and providing a sense of whimsy in the colors once he finds the treasure at the end. I can’t say I’m all that moved emotionally by the final minute like it expects the viewer to be but that lighting really does a lot of the heavy-lifting for the haunting beauty of it all.

THE VIDEO STORE COMMERCIAL (Tim Rutherford/Cody Kennedy, Canada)
Screens with Daniel Isn’t Real on Saturday 10 August at 7:15 pm

I mean, it’s got its kitsch down. Looking like a hole in the wall video store from the 80s, having a lead character that is obnoxious exactly the way a movie fanatic would be, having that static CCTV look to its camera. There’s just not much to it beyond that kitschy nostalgia. At the very least, it has a nice gory face-melting moment and it has jokes. Not particularly jokes that made me laugh beyond a line of exposition delivered exactly in the sort of snobby way somebody who calls themselves a “movie expert” would, but jokes nevertheless and it gets out of the door fast enough to not really feel like a bother to watch.

STARLETS (Marten Carlson, USA)
Screens with Villains on Saturday 10 August at 9:30 pm

The sort of meta humor with the company title card was really charming enough to get me into what Starlets was going for early on and I really enjoyed the black-and-white cinematography melding together into studio system silver that I never felt bored looking at the film. But that interest was fizzling by the end of things – especially any time that Jill Bailey’s Norma Desmond impression wasn’t on-screen – and when it reached its endpoint, everything that happened felt expected.

CHOWBOYS: AN AMERICAN FOLKTALE (Astron-6, Canada)
Screens with Porno on Saturday 10 August at 11:15 pm

I imagine I would be much more into this if this wasn’t my first exposure to horror-comedy troupe Astron-6 proper (I had only previously seen The Void, which was directed by two of its members but not actually considered part of the group’s proper works). Almost all of Chowboys knowingly functions as a last hurrah for the group as it opens with a title card that literally announces “the end of the cowboy”, so I wonder if the rest of their work is as low-key as this one taking place in one location and with no change in blocking between its characters. In any case, it’s still highly amusing as a self-aware campfire story that finds a very slick way of establishing itself as an anthology short (two moments where I actually went “a-ha!”) and an amiable sense of humor for something about three doomed men in a chillingly blue snowstorm ready to die (and I especially love the sound mix of the howling winds in the end credits to hammer its punchline home). I don’t know that I’m rushing to see the rest of Astron-6’s material from this, but it’s definitely something on my radar now.

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The Video Store Commercial

THE OBLITERATION OF THE CHICKENS (Izzy Lee, USA)
Screens with The Unthinkable on Sunday 11 August at 1:00 pm

Pretty damn spot-on impersonation of Werner Herzog tonally and vocally (by Bracken MacLeod) if not aesthetically, as Lee simply uses the narration as a pretense to work with stock footage and associative cutting. Definitely inspired by Herzog’s infamous declaration of his fears of the “stupidity” of chickens, it’s a throwaway short that has a lot of energy in its 3 minutes and doesn’t outstay its welcome before the joke becomes stale. I laughed a lot at the directness of “the abyss is stupid”.

THE SUBJECT (Patrick Bouchard, Canada)
Screens with Artik on Sunday 11 August at 3:00 pm

I can hardly think of a Canadian animated short that didn’t entertain me at the very least and that’s saying nothing of the ones that show me techniques and content I’ve never imagined. This falls into the former – it’s essentially what a student of Jan Švankmajer would get with more naval-gazing as Bouchard portrays a man in stop-motion dissecting a creation in his image – but it’s still a very impressive piece of craft: stressing the cracks and age in a body that feels deliberately more earthy than fleshy before all of the golden and rusted machinery pops out of the cavities to provide a steadier rhythm to the slicing and smashing we’re watching. I don’t have much enthusiasm for artists making art about themselves and I could say I expected more (and not be lying), but this is still eye-popping stuff with a final shot that truly argues the difference between human skin and clay surface while using dissolves to flip those differences on their head.

FROST BITE (Andrew Hunt, USA)
Screens with Infección on Sunday 11 August at 5:15 pm

An unexpectedly charming Zombie western set in the blinding white snows of winter with a crunchy sound design to call attention to the elements surrounding our characters, one of them a laconic young woman (Louisa Darr who is almost as much a source of a lot of that charm as Hunt’s relaxed Western directing vibes) and the other being a zombie in a yellow jacket and hoodie (Rod Kasai, who proves to be exceptionally expressive for the part of a mindless zombie) who is either following her instinctively or being led by her. In any case, the relation between our two subjects has an unexpectedly warm payoff (and a final beat that suggests this may be a proof-of-concept for a later feature to me) and the zombie makeup mixes so well with the frozen snow on the actors’ faces that I found this to be an unexpected highlight among all the other shorts of the festival.

YOUR LAST DAY ON EARTH (Marc Martínez Jordán, Spain)
Screens with Satanic Panic on Sunday 11 August at 9:30 pm

My favorite short film of the festival, period. Takes the sort of things that it makes me an easy mark for movies to explore well – grief and memory, though it’s not as subjective on the latter as I’d like. I expect that would be “fixed” by cutting down on the narration, but I put “fixed” in scare quotes because that assumes that’s what Jordán and his team wanted anyway and in any case the delivery by Enric Anquer is brilliantly sad and funny in its urgency at the same time so I’d rather not lose his voice. It’s particularly the way the short divvied up its responsibility between desperation and absurdity (thanks in addition Jordán’s editing delivering a late heist film interrupted by flashbacks) that makes it so effective and its final beats truly hit home even while using the most obvious of time travel clichés. And credit also to cinematographer Yuse Riera being able to give a consistent softness to the image and landscape where our hero remembers his wife’s casualty in a terrorist attack and returns, the kind of softness that comes from trying to pull an image from the back of your head and gives it a rosy look even while attached to a horrific death. Brilliant stuff.

FEARS (German Sacho, Spain)
Screens in front of Z on Sunday 11 August at 9:30 pm

Not deficient. But it is overly familiar to a degree that I’m starting to have trouble distinguishing any Spanish horror short I see: they all involve the same beats of tension, the same type of little girl, the same shade of darkness, especially the same fear of decrepit old women (with a mean-spirited twist at the end of this one that was also pretty familiar). Anyway, the guy I saw it with joked about how Guillermo Del Toro would probably produce this guy’s feature debut like he always does with any Spanish-language filmmaker with a short like this and… yeah, he definitely would…

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Caterpillarplasty

GO BACK (Matthew & Nathaniel Barber, USA)
Screens with The Girl on the Third Floor on Monday 12 August at 7:30 pm

It’s very simple but also very novel (with a nice cynical bloodsplatter note) and aesthetically well-suited to the Halloween time of year with a coloring scheme that feels drafted out of blues and oranges. I don’t feel like I left with very much substance in it beyond a waiting game for a character to receive his dues after foolishly ignoring the creepy warning signs before him, but sometimes you don’t need much more to be amused by a horror film.

MERCURY SCREAMS (Dan Wilder, USA)
Screens with The Girl on the Third Floor on Monday 12 August at 7:30 pm

At first glimpse, the presentation of the subject matter as archive footage seems like bet-hedging in order to cover for some of the more amateur production elements, but as it turns out it’s all pretense for the video effects that Wilder and his crew play with to stress the wrongness of what we’re watching (on top of a context of background information regarding the material’s “intended broadcast” and what happened to prevent it). A fun little invented video relic of demonic pregnancy that commits to making video relic status work.

CATERPILLARPLASTY (David Barlow-Krelina, Canada)
Screens with Depraved on Monday 12 August at 9:30 pm

Aggressively ugly character designs made even more effective by how the reflective plastic sheen on their bodies projects their inhumanity and then the finale just takes the grotesquerie and tries to present it as the most mindblowingly beautiful thing ever in all of its trippy phallic and yonic imagery. Plus the saxophone soundtrack throws my brain around for a whirl. God, Canadian animation is always so reliable.

WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT (Jonas Trukanas, Lithuania)
Screens with Queen of Spades: The Looking Glass on Tuesday 13 August at 7:30 pm

A familiar story once again – one in which we have an example in this very short film slate of a young boy deals with his oppressor by creating a frightening protector –  but one no less well-delivered than the others. Particularly given that the weakness of the monster in the film means that Trukanas works with some dynamic lighting ideas, if nothing eye-opening, to make those shafts of light cutting through the uniform dark blue hues (and red at one point in the short) stand out.

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How to Be Alone

MANNEQUINS (David Malcolm, UK)
Screens with The Sonata on Tuesday 13 August at 9:30 pm

Really fun and interesting already as an experiment (it reminded me of a school assignment I had in film school involving still imagery, except this one had a knack for camera movements making up for the literal rigidity of its actors), but then it had to try to be ABOUT SOMETHING. And the worst part is that I can’t really figure out what it was trying to be about, but the last few moments of the short and the repetition it utilizes are definitely pointed in a way that deflates all the Scooby-Doo fun of what preceded it. On top of which, it has pretty bad lighting. I don’t know if it’s deliberate or not, but it started to hurt eventually.

HOW TO BE ALONE (Kate Trefry, USA)
Screens with Paradise Hills on Wednesday 14 August at 7:30 pm

It is among the best shot of all the shorts with obviously the most resources (what with two recognizable indie stars in Maika Monroe and Joe Keery, the latter extremely underused) but it’s also just really… overwritten in a young adult-ish way considering the anxiety it tries to portray. And more particularly it feels like it uses narration way too desperately as a crutch to tell us things that there are better and more effective ways to tell us. Monroe obviously delivers it well enough verbally, but I don’t need to be explained the snake or the baby or all of that and wish it had just trusted Maika to not have to say anything to let us know what’s wrong in Denmark. And then that final act that has zero surprises after a short that gave us zero doubt where it was going to go, quickly resolving the issue without much struggle.

Also I fucking HATE that they’re as young as they are (the actors are my age) with a place as spacious and luxurious as THAT (complete with a nickelodeon!).

DEEP TISSUE (Meredith Alloway, USA)
Screens with Knives and Skin on 14 August at 9:30 pm

Obviously amateur in its picture quality and its limited blocking possibilities (looks like it was shot in a motel with its two beds in the “house call” location and it cramps it up), but a wonderfully sexy sense of humor (thanks especially to the two performances in the film), a good amount of effective gushy goriness, and I think Meredith Alloway and Joshua Wilmott got a rapport pace going to establish the understandable nervousness of the situation while translating that into something much more sinister than it turns out.

FIVE-COURSE MEAL (James Cadden, Canada)
Screens with In Fabric on Thursday 15 August at 7:30 pm

I definitely picked the best short to eat breakfast while watching. Based on a short story by Josh Saltzman, the punchline of Five-Course Meal is foreseeable after a certain plate slides down the unwelcoming gunmetal floor where Mark (Murray Farnell) and Jenny (Melissa Kwasek) are staying for a “month-long” experiment. But the sloppy slurpy sound design and the gradual filthying up of the sterile room so that it’s covered in gross greens and browns and yellows (as well as each catered dish coming by looking less appealing and more repulsive) do the best job possible of making the journey down an endurance test. And when we get to the point we expected, the prosthetics by Bold Raven FX turn the film into an outright grotesque cartoon, even using how ill-fitting the body of it fits on our actors to emphasis the exaggerated flabbiness of them all. No surprises, but very well put together.

TERROR ROAD (Brian Shephard, USA)
Screens with The Gravedigger on Thursday 15 August at 7:30 pm

Feels kind of tandem as a piece with Go Back with the differences standing out. Here, we have no orange at all leaving the piece with a foggish blue. Here we actually see the monster, looking like a grizzled little creature from Lamberto Bava’s Demons. There’s less space between the beginning of the signs (how funny that both shorts have their titles delivered to us via signs) and the end of the road for our foolish travelers. If anybody else would have to opportunity to see both of these back-to-back, I’d say they function pretty much well as an exercise in seeing how the same story can be told wildly differently and both of them getting the job done well enough.

TOE (Chad Thurman/Neal O’Brien, USA)
Screens with Bit on Friday 16 August at 10:00 pm

An amusingly creepy usage of puppetry (designed by Demi Kay Schlehoffer) to lovingly bring attention to the cracks and dirt on our protagonist boy’s face and the rustic world in which he lives in, adding to the folktale vibe it has going for it. It’s the shadowy depressed black-and-white of the short that really sells the nightmarish tone of this animated work.

In any case, if any readers find their way in Ft. Lauderdale in the upcoming week, I’d hope y’all check out the Popcorn Frights Film Festival and have a great time! Don’t be afraid to scream.

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The Final Girl Returns

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Keanu Dig It?

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Lately I’ve been finding myself over excited for the possibility of Chad Stahelski adapting Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim, a series that was a personal guilty pleasure read back in my undergrad years. This excitement was verbalized shortly after seeing his latest feature John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, the third in the John Wick franchise that saw him make the move for Hollywood stuntman to action film director, where I realized that this franchise and the Sandman Slim series had a lot of things in common that Stahelski has proven a boon to: (under)world-building, a story of romance-based vengeance, a protagonist who is evidently the best at the violent thing he does, but the biggest element that Parabellum indicates (and that I should have known from the first John Wick) is a love for movies and eagerness for references that is shared by Kadrey’s books.

Within the first three minutes, Buster Keaton clips are projected in the background off of a Times Square building (this was also done in John Wick: Chapter 2 within the first three SHOTS). Within 30 minutes, the titular assassin John Wick (Reeves) seeks refuge in the Tarkovsky Theatre*. And then there’s the casting, which is obviously not the first thing I’d expect to praise John Wick for, but as the best ensemble of the whole franchise to date, a lot of the actors feel very much winking to their past careers. Mark Dacascos is introduced running a sushi shop, Jerome Flynn (in a heinous accent) finally lives Bronn’s dream of having a castle, Boban Marjanovic’s cameo appearance feels reminiscent of fellow basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Bruce Lee vehicle Game of Death, and in a franchise full of flexes, no bigger flex is made than having Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman – Mad Dog and The Assassin themselves – mark over getting to fight John Wick himself! Not unexpected coming from a franchise that knowingly reunited Laurence Fishburne with his Matrix co-star but to the degree that this third entry indulges in… wow.

Needless to say, the ensemble is only one of every single aspect of the John Wick films that Parabellum has amped up. Following in the style of the later Mission: Impossible films, Chad Stahelski and his team’s response to continuing the tales of their grieving assassin is to just bring out “more”. More elaborate fights, more elaborate sets, more elaborate world-building, and on and on. The note that Chapter 2 left Wick on was the promise of the entire underworld of Assassins – centralized by the international chain of hotels called The Continental – coming down on Wick, so there wasn’t much to demand of writer Derek Kolstad and yet he finds a way to add a layer to that threat in the form of the confident and poised official Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon). The Adjudicator’s sights expand beyond Wick to the hands of anybody who aided or aids Wick in his escape from repercussions, including New York City’s Continental manager Winston (Ian McShane) and Bowery King (Fishburne), and this allows more sketching of the hierarchies and traditions of this murderous culture while Wick has to deal with end-to-end would-be killers trying to get his head.

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More than anything, this unrelenting hunt that Wick is at the center of introduces a wide variety of combat styles stemming from the otherwise mundane locations Wick has to escape from alive – from having to deal with the cramped rows of the New York Public Library to a vintage Chinatown warehouse filled with knives to evading motorcycles under the L train on horseback – bringing out the full creativity of the stunt coordinators trying to escalate each fight to a climax and the full ability of the stunt team to use their bodies as spectacle. And their humor too as this turns out to be the most self-aware of the John Wick films to date with moments like Wick weaponizing a notorious joke from Blart Blart: Mall Blart 2 and recreating Tuco’s revolver-building sequence from The Good, the Bad, the Ugly as a ticking timeclock sequence. Dacascos himself seems eager to jump in on the good humor of the franchise, his shinobi master Zero being all too eager to make pals with Wick while still stressing the inevitability of him killing Wick as hired by The Adjudicator as their primary instrument. And it’s a cheeky attitude that fills every facet of Parabellum as a work of art, most notoriously when production designer Kevin Kavanaugh includes – amongst his sleek, flowing luxury Berber tents in the Sahara and finely-aged historic ballet auditoriums – a set made out of glass designed to visualize the video game-like boss levels Wick must elevate in the climax as well as facilitate an absurdly hilarious moment where he just keeps getting kicked over and over by Zero’s ninjas into sugarglass pillars with no time to catch his breath.

John’s inability to ever catch his breath seems evermore present in this installment, making us more aware then ever that everything John is going through during this trilogy took place in very close chronological proximity (Parabellum opens less than an hour after Chapter 2 closed) and after Kolstad practically ignoring John’s widow-ship in the last movie, it’s brought forward once more for John to answer the query: “My son, how did you come to be so lost? Never seen a man fight so hard to end up back where he started.” Indeed, embodying frustrated exhaustion turns out to be yet another effective utilization of Reeves’ acting limits, where his laconic nature pushes against all the blood and sweat and sand all around him to be more focused in its viciousness than ever.

But really this is all just a pretext for designing fashion like violence. A very dedicated pretext mind you that certain viewers might understandably not find as gloriously pulpish as I do (indeed, a backstory scene between Wick and Halle Berry’s Sofia feels like the weakest moment in the franchise while still maintaining this film being the best work either actor has performed yet), but the pretext is able to step out of the way quick enough to return to the chase for Wick and the constantly escalating danger (paced impeccably by Evan Schiff so that each battle feels like an individual short film) in an ever-more florid array of Metropolitan color provided by Dan Laustsen (this film might include my favorite cinematic depiction of Manhattan’s Chinatown, presented in such overwhelming rain that the lights become blurry circles in the alleys interrupting the blue with imperfect circles of yellow and red).

It’s such an overwhelming amount of visual stimuli, overwrought dramatic epic (with a 30s serial-esque quest into the golden Sahara desert taking place in the middle), and breathtaking body movements (so aware of action movie’s function as cinematic ballet that it intercuts a violent slaughter with a ballet sequence) outdoing its predecessors that answering John Wick: Chapter 4‘s demand for “more” seems an impossible task for Stahelski, but I’m excited nevertheless for how they meet that need head-on. I mean, we have MORE DOGS in this film even and they munch on their enemy’s nuts! Deez Nutz!

*Which in turn brings one to remember Atomic Blonde – directed by John Wick‘s uncredited co-director David Leitch – featuring a fight scene set behind a movie screen playing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

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DR. JONATHAN HEMLOCK’S ARTSY-FARTSY, HISTORICAL-SCHMISTORICAL SANCTIONISTIC SUMMER VACATION MOVIE QUIZ

Yeah, I get it… June has past now and the only review I’ve put down was Raiders of the Lost Ark. In my defense, I was having a pretty swell past two weeks and might even discuss a certain movie-related aspect of it later on in a post.

Nevertheless, I still intend to pop in every now and again and finish writing reviews for the other favorites I named in that post over time plus whatever else I’m feeling in future (I’m potentially feeling Ari Aster’s short films + Midsommar and also possibly doing the other three Indiana Jones movies). I just am not rushing myself.

Meanwhile, I often forget and then remind myself what fun it is to see the latest movie quiz out of Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule and take a swing at it to revitalize my movie shit-talking voice so here I go with the new one:

1) Name a musician who never starred in a movie who you feel could have been a movie star or at least had a compelling cinematic presence.

This is a lot harder of a question than I expected because many of my major choices (Vince Staples, Dave Grohl, Gene Simmons, Lemmy, Janelle Monae, Dave Brockie) HAVE acted in movies, just not in a major enough sense but still with enough credits to disqualify them.

I will give this up to Tobias Forge, either in character Cardinal Copia (a la Unknown Hinson’s credit in Squidbillies) or as himself. Being the frontman and creator behind the theatrics of Ghost – a band of people basically acting while playing – already implies he has a leaning toward performance (and in addition to the silly YouTube videos he’s been making on the hijinks of “The Church”, there was an interview recently where he suggested an interest in making a Ghost-centric feature film). In particular, I think he could bring some absurdity to certain films by playing Cardinal Copia playing a role like a priest in an indie horror film but also utilizing his own charm and charisma (which I expect is not that different from his live performances except maybe less puerile) for other non-Horror movie projects.

2) Akira or Ghost in the Shell.

Ghost in the Shell and its honestly not all that close. Much as it is futile to pretend Akira didn’t light a goddamn fire in the filmgoing world recognizing not only that there are non-US-centric animation industries but also that animation can be used as a medium to portray adult properties or discuss adult themes, and especially much as Akira was an animated tour de force in design and fluidity, I think Ghost in the Shell took the things Akira started and ran with them to further places. Plus Ghost in the Shell feels much more complete and direct of a narrative in talking about the fluid nature of all facets of identity and what a world of artificiality means about extending or changing that identity.

Still, I did buy myself the Kaneda Capsules jacket earlier this year since it is now 2019.

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3) Charles Lee Ray or Freddy Krueger?

You know, Freddy Krueger defined my childhood and was practically my gateway to horror cinema (and in my tweens, just looking at him scared me). And I honestly find Robert Englund to be quite charming as an actor who embraces his horror cult fandom and takes any creepy indie horror role with much relish. But Freddy Krueger as a character only got worse and worse as the franchise went on. There are frankly three movies total where Krueger is scary: OG Nightmare on Elm StreetFreddy’s Revenge and New Nightmare. The rest he’s an obnoxious clown who ought to shut the fuck up please.

Chucky? He’s consistent. He’s actually funny in a way that adds to the pictures he’s in. And Brad Dourif is one of the most gifted character actors among us, so even when the movies suck (and at this point the only one I feel strongly negative towards is Child’s Play 3), Dourif keeps Chucky’s frustrated and animalistic anguish at being made a toy that has to work twice as hard to murder people firing at all cylinders. And I know this is kind of cheating, but the moment he gets a new screen partner in the form of Jennifer Tilly playing his girlfriend Tiffany, I’m in movie character heaven.

So yeah, maybe like 10 or 15 years ago, I’d have said Freddy Krueger but now it’s Chucky all the way.

4) Most excruciating moment/scene you’ve ever sat through in a film.

In theaters? Probably the moment in Purple Rain where the Kid slaps Appollonia and the entire theatre laughed.

At home? My mom walked in one time on a sequence from The Great Beauty where a naked woman ran her head into a stone wall until it was bleeding as a performance art piece.

In general, as in the scene was fucking terrible? The mom on pot brownies in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, followed by the dogs humping in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, followed by “I am beneath the enemy’s scrotum” in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

5) Henry Cavill or Armie Hammer?

Hammer. Doesn’t need a minute’s thought.

Armie Hammer is actually a talented actor (his performance in Call Me by Your Name outdoes his co-stars) and Henry Cavill is the new Keanu Reeves, a one-expression fella who is getting parts he’s wildly underqualified for (though I think like Reeves having roles that benefit from that, Cavill’s frozen chiseled face aid his Superman and Mission: Impossible – Fallout quite a bit).

Cavill can’t even shave his moustache.

6) Name a movie you introduced to a young person, one which was out of their expressed line of interest or experience, which they came to either appreciate or flat-out love.

I don’t really talk to young people these days (unless I count as young people at age 27 which I think is pushing it) but I can talk about either the time back in 2006 when I asked my cousin if he wanted to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest when it came out and lent him The Curse of the Black Pearl so he could be aware of what was up in the story beforehand and his immediate adoration of the movies, possibly opening him up to fantasy movies later on when he first dismissed them for lack of realism.

Or the random point that my sister joined me to see Blade Runner in theaters about 4 years ago just to have something to do on a Saturday night and ended up talking about it the whole car ride home.

7) Second favorite Robert Rossellini film

I mean, Rome Open City is my favorite so I guess this answer is Journey to Italy because I’m a sucker for a good Ingrid Bergman vehicle.

8) What movie shaped your perceptions of New York City, Los Angeles and/or Chicago before you ever went there and experienced the cities for yourself.

I got a very lucky chance last year to tell martial artist Taimak that The Last Dragon by Berry Gordy really shaped my idea and expectations of New York City long before I stepped foot in that place. Which is funny given how The Last Dragon portrays an evidently pre-Giuliani version of NYC that does not resemble the city I ended up living in at the time.

Los Angeles has several movies. A part of me wants to say Drive in that fantastical neon city synthwave manner or Repo Man for the grimey attitude of the whole place, but my first time in LA was 2007, well before I saw those movies. So I guess I’ll go with the cool busy city of night lights shown to us in Michael Mann’s Collateral. Or I can just stop pretending to be cool and say Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

And Chicago, which I went to for the first time earlier this year, was probably most familiarized to me through The Dark Knight. Which is silly given how I complain that that movie isn’t really set in Gotham but I guess that lack of disguise to Chicago made me recognize many of the downtown areas that I spent much of my time in there.

9) Name another movie that shaped, for better or worse, another city or location that you eventually visited or came to know well.

I spent a lot of time in the past few months in Philadelphia for work and hokey as it may be, watching the Rocky movies certainly prepared me for what kind of city I was gonna be looking at.

10) Bela Lugosi or Christopher Lee?

Lugosi Bela is one of my guilty pleasure favorite actors based on his iconic nature, but Christopher Lee has just got a refined charm in spades and certainly gives the more vicious Dracula performance between the two of them so Lee.

11) Elizabeth Debicki or Alicia Vikander?

Ooooohhh this is a tough one. I might go with Debicki because I’ve been enjoying more of the movies I’ve seen her in than Vikander and feel that my favorite Debicki movie (Widows) is better than my favorite Vikander movie (Ex Machina).

elizabeth_debicki_victoria_vinciguerra-xlarge-770x47012) The last movie you saw theatrically? The last on physical media? Via streaming?

Theatrically: Spider-Man: Far from Home, which was so vile that it broke my heart.

On physical media: Duck Dodgers of the 24 1/2 Century, but if we want to disqualify short films then the terrible 4th of July creature feature Frogs.

Via streaming: Blake Edwards’ bank heist thriller Experiment in Terror just before it and the rest of Criterion Channel’s Columbia Noir collection left the service.

13) Who are the actors, classic and contemporary you are always glad to see?

Classic: Myrna Loy is often a surprising bit of fun, even beyond her Thin Man performances.

Contemporary: Awkwafina lately, for the similar reasons of her being fun as hell.

14) Second favorite Federico Fellini film

8 1/2 being among my top 20 movies of all time, I’ll lay it out on Nights of Cabiria. Or La Strada. Either way, Giulietta Masina is the greatest.

15) Tessa Thompson or Danai Gurira

Not nearly as hard as I expected to firmly state I prefer Danai Gurira (Mother of George is just that good and her work in Black Panther is probably my favorite performance in a popcorn cinema flick of the decade), though I think it’s important to point out that both actors are giving some of the best performances I’ve seen lately. 100% behind both of them.

16) The Black Bird or The Two Jakes?

I have not seen The Black Bird but I have seen The Two Jakes and disliked it, so Black Bird is de facto winner.

17) Your favorite movie title.

Twitch of the motherfuckin’ Death Nerve. Please remove the profanity for the full title. Shamefully not the more popular title of the Mario Bava giallo film but still… it’s the best one.

18) Second favorite Luchino Visconti film

The Leopard, in second place to The Damned.

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19) Given the recent trend, what’s the movie that seems like an all-too-obvious candidate for a splashy adaptation to Broadway?

The Greatest Showman is so very much the easiest choice but like… that’s for a reason. It’s literally made with songs written by Pasek and Paul and shit.

20) Name a director you feel is consistently misunderstood.

First of all, Lee Daniels has so much more sympathy for his characters than y’all are giving him credit for. Secondly, other than the two Oscarbait films with Precious (which is great) and The Butler (which is ok), he’s been making pretty evident camp trash cinema and y’all just don’t like fun.

Also, Paul W.S. Anderson has been reliably giving us the best and most joyful video game cinema forever.

21) Chris Evans or Chris Hemsworth?

Hemsworth is only good when his role has a comedic bend, Evans is has been funny before in Not Another Teen Movie and even the Fantastic Four films and has been reliably great since 2012. Evans, it is.

22) What’s the film that most unexpectedly grew in your estimation from trivial, or unworthy, or simply enjoyable, to a true favorite with some actual meat on its bones?

Probably Battleship Potemkin, which started as “the other 1925 Eisenstein film” to me realizing “Oh there actually ARE things this movie brought to the way cutting functions as storytelling these days!”

23) I Am Curious (Yellow), yes or no?

It is shamefully one of my movie gaps. I gotta check if it’s on Criterion Channel or summat.

24) Second favorite Lucio Fulci film

Zombi 2 and while I love it very much, the gap between it and The Beyond (my favorite Fulci) is very wide.

25) Are the movies as we now know them coming to an end? (http://collider.com/will-streaming-kill-movies/)

Yes and no. Cinema is dead, but cinema’s been dead since the 1920s. Stop putting stuff in my movies, they’re all bad. It’ll get better and worse and whatnot.

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More notes on Raiders of the Lost Ark

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Getting the feel of writing again means I’m gonna have to figure out the triage on what to fit into the structure of my posts and what not to. But given that I am writing about some of my favorite movies of all time where I have a plethora of feelings and thoughts about, y’all should probably get used to the idea of me doing this for the next few months after each review:

Also SPOILERS

  • I feel like I highly undermined George Lucas’ part in the creation of this film (especially since he conceived of the character himself and put together most of the production elements and oversaw the filming) so that I could have a thesis on what animated Spielberg’s directing style. Spielberg has long maintained that the Indiana Jones movies are work-for-hires for him and they’re pretty much Lucas’ baby. I’m hoping if I find time to ever write about the subsequent three movies, I can course correct and present Lucas as the central auteur of the series that he is. Certainly I’d have more to say about Lucas than Spielberg with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
  • “Besides you know what a cautious fellow I am”, Indy says as he fucking tosses a pistol across the room into an open suitcase. No firearm care or caution.
  • Also him saying he doesn’t believe in superstition kind of fails in the context of Temple of Doom being a prequel set before this movie.
  • Spielberg’s desire to make a straight on horror movie shows in the climax of the film with ghostly effects and the outrageous amount of grisly carnage happening in this adventure matinee. In fact, the imagery of the villains’ heads violently shrinking, melting, and exploding is the very first scene of the movie I ever saw and never realized it wasn’t a horror movie until I watched it in context years later (it was specifically playing on the screen of a Costco when I was a child and I assumed it was like… Creepshow or something).
  • Speaking of carnage, the bloodletting in the Nepal fight is pretty brutal as well and relatively jarring when alongside the moments of logs exploding on heads like cartoons. Still I absolutely love the moment with its “moment” by “moment” comic book strip style of framing and cutting, favoring background shadowplay in the light of fire and particularly the way that Indy escapes the flaming bar from immolating his face is where I learned to keep all elements of an action in each shot to creature sequence.
  • While we’re in Nepal, let’s talk about what a great one-shot that introduction of Marion is: functioning as gag (the drinking stamina game with a great physical punchline), tease (the focus on our characters’ hands and glasses), establishing shot (showing us the scope and space of the bar), character moment (Marion proving she can hold her own with the boys). If only the rest of the movie hadn’t fucked her over.
  • While we’re talking over flaws of the movie, which I feel are very few, I may as well address that Raiders of the Lost Ark is pretty damn Orientalist (among other things) and it’s probably my admiration of this film from an early age that got me already set on compartmentalizing problematic movies that still have my heart. Sucks that Spielberg and Lucas had, in their joy for 1930s adventure serials, also ended up taking up the ugly elements of them. Nevertheless, it’s nothing compared to the sort of shit that Indian people probably have to suffer with Temple of Doom from 3 years later (the only Indiana Jones movie that doesn’t actually have an issue with race I’d say is The Last Crusade and it’s still not… the best). In any case, if you want to hear a bunch of white men say the sort of shit you should have expected white men to say, read the transcript of Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan’s story conference.
  • Finding out that John Williams wrote “The Raiders March” to the rhythm of saying “To the rescue… Doctor Jones… to the rescue… Indiana Jones!” still warms me up inside. I’d like to find out the lyrics he wrote his other famous themes to possible one day.
  • Cutting from Indy saying “I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go along…” to him busting through on a white motherfucking horse to chase down the Nazi truck is one of my favorite cuts in all of cinema because I’m basic like that.
  • Much like Jurassic Park suddenly had a drop beyond the T-Rex gate, Raiders of the Lost Ark has a sudden cliff for a Nazi and his truck to fall off of once Indy fucks him up… and I honestly just don’t care because it’s still fun and cool and Nazi Punks Fuck Off.
  • I kind of feel bad for Pat Roach (even if he was in brownface during the scene in question) being unable to show off his swordfight choreography for that famous shootdown scene, but also y’know, not only is it a hilarious character moment in Indy… it’s also a great moment that shows how Spielberg – in his rush to get the movie made – cared for the well-being of his actors and crew and didn’t want to overwork them so boom! Sudden miracle of a gag!
  • That stunt where Indy goes under the truck is still one of my all-time favorite stunts. And I also kind of like the slapstick of the bystander being on the windshield of the chase and then flying off, then Indy and the driver share a laugh until Indy punches him in the face and kicks him out the car because Fuck You, Nazi.
  • Most importantly, that moment in the U-Boat where Indy hits a Nazi guy who fell below the frame and somehow that punch made the Nazi bitch’s cap fly up so Indy could put it on as a disguise is also a great gag.
  • People like to point out that if Indy had done nothing, Hitler would have been killed by the Ark probably. I respond to them with the words of the Dude: “You’re not wrong (well, you kind of are wrong since if Indy had done nothing, they would have never reached the Ark in the first place as they didn’t have the right location), you’re just a fucking asshole.”

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It’s Not the Years, Honey. It’s the Mileage…

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By the 1980s, Steven Spielberg had a reputation but not necessarily the one that you all are probably familiar with. Certainly, he had that one in a marginal way: he was already the golden boy young success story off of Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, utilizing his New Hollywood background to perfect the populist blockbuster he essentially created with his big-time shark movie. But within the industry itself, he had another reputation as somebody who couldn’t really keep a budget or schedule. While Jaws and Close Encounters had made enough money to put in the mouths of any producers who might have taken issue with their notoriously overinflated production expenses and on-set issues, 1979 saw the release of 1941 – Spielberg’s first commercial and critical flop. So when he and the other New Hollywood Populist Traitor George Lucas were on vacation conjuring up a character they’d like to bring to the screen as a response to that globe-trotting action hero James Bond, Spielberg set in mind an idea that he was going to get this film made as a producer’s dream: under budget, ahead of schedule, period. This is of course humorous to think back on in the modern era where Spielberg now constantly has several projects on pre-production and is often able to quickly prepare a movie well in-advance of its slated release*, but I digress.

The film that resulted is, by most accounts, Lucas’ baby as producer and co-writer facilitating Spielberg’s entry into the director’s seat. But to my mind, Spielberg’s dead-set deliberate efficiency is – to my mind –  the core of what makes Raiders of the Lost Ark, that very project that Spielberg and Lucas conceived of and released in the early summer of 1981, one of if not the best action movie of all time (or at the very least, my favorite). It is what informs Michael Kahn’s sharp cutting in between moments to get out of a scene exactly when the point is made and to keep any setpieces with a forward momentum that matches the sort of urgent running or riding that Raiders’ famous protagonist must go through. It is what informs Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan’s screenplay frontloading the majority of its exposition in an early college meeting so that we have pretty much all the information we need to get going, it is what informs that scene being preceded by a continuous setpiece seamlessly moving from the jungle to a temple back to the jungle without making us realize we were watching entirely separate sequences (again, credit to Kahn’s work). Hell, that very resolution was at the root of the famous scene where an epic swordfight is teased and shot down in a hilariously sardonic manner.

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If I may betray that momentum for a moment to backtrack regarding that exposition: Raiders of the Lost Ark was of course the movie that introduced us to that favorite of everyman action heroes Professor Henry “Indiana” Jones (Harrison Ford) but I’ll get back to him shortly as well. No, what I completely skipped over is the setting of the pieces of this story: As the FBI approaches Indy after a semi-failed expedition, he is recruited for his knowledge on the Biblical Art of the Covenant in which Moses carried the tablets containing the Ten Commandments to retrieve it before the Nazis could do so and utilize whatever power lives inside the artifact to rule the world. Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen), Indy’s former lover and daughter of his late mentor Abner Ravenwood, recruits herself from Nepal into Indy’s journey to Egypt as she proves to be invaluable in the absence of her dad. And in the meantime, Indy’s inscrutable rival René Belloq (Paul Freeman) is guiding the Nazis to finding the location of the Ark, though guided by his own personal obsession with witnessing a means to possibly contact God. All of this information given in fewer scenes than can count on your hand and 98% of it before the 30 minute mark.

That leaves more than enough space for Spielberg to indulge instead in the inherent sweep of an adventure yarn, inspired by the 1930s serials where some plucky hero roams to exotic lands from the leafy hills of Peru to the snowy exile of Nepal to the hot cooking sands of Cairo and beyond. Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe enhances the scope of these already exciting and distinct foreign lands with a smart usage of the immortal anamorphic frame as well as giving a horizontal read to all the action. Imagine that infamous swordfight joke working without the frame letting us read from Indy shooting the swordsman at the left and the swordsman falling to the right accentuating that the vast space is in the middle of them rather than above them. Or the car chase having nearly as much drive without such an aggressively directional frame. Not to ignore the sort of propulsion these setpieces get simply from the sounds: the characteristic comic book impact Ben Burtt gives to punches and whipcracks (for real, whipCRACKS!) and the famous peppy march to adventure that John Williams notches into his belt of iconic scores.

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On top of those tropes, we also have the beautiful ingénue in tow (although one also has to regret how Marion goes from an impressive heroine with a tough and funny introduction to a damsel in distress in a white dress before the halfway mark, despite the best efforts of Allen’s performance) and the artifact all the players seek dripping with mystique, taking full advantage of the advent of color and light to give the golden Ark all that shine and shimmer. But in any case, the seeking of that Ark is just as animated by that “need to get to the point” efficiency that drove Spielberg and spilled out into Kasdan and Kahn and Williams’ results: a movie that is constantly on the move. The same smooth segue that glides us from cutting through the jungle to cautiously traipsing past traps to escaping from a tumbling rock is what brings Raiders of the Lost Ark barrelling through its runtime from a dig to a trap to a brawl, occasionally allowing Spielberg and Kahn to wink at how ludicrously speedy we’ve gone out of the fire and into the frying pan.

And yet, the core of all of Raiders‘ charms beyond being an impeccably-crafted piece of nostalgic cinema is Ford, whose modern rough attitude feels like more clownish than downer. From the way he whines about having to go through “snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?” to the exhausted way he shoots down swordsmen to the way his body crumbles to the ground like bricks as Pat Roach hits him, Jones is just as important an ingredient to having somebody fun to go on an adventure with as Raiders focuses on being an adventure fun to go on. Surrounded by lively stock types embodied by character actors, Ford’s bitter sarcasm and complaining (particularly the complaining – Indy’s indulgence in remarking about every goddamn thing that’s happening to him as a severe inconvenience) grounds the adventure as exhausting in its sweep before he wows us with leaping to his survival or bursting on a white horse. It was highly impressionable to me as a child and probably impelled a desire for real adventure, a disappointment at how hard that is, and a hatred for Nazis (informing me that “Nazi” equals “punching bag” more than that viral video of Richard Spencer getting socked).

It’s funny how a movie inspired by nostalgia for an classical way of storytelling ended up embodying a new idea of “classical” storytelling despite its DNA being seen in much of modern popcorn cinema. Like how no shark movie post-Jaws can avoid being seen as a “Jaws rip-off”, I can’t think of a single post-Raiders adventure film that doesn’t owe every element of its existence to Raiders. Perfection just bears imitators and it is a fruitless task to capture lightning in a bottle more than once (including this film’s sequels, though I have no small love for the entire franchise). Maybe they’re just digging in the wrong place.

*I’m thinking specifically of the minute amount of time in which The Post went from script to Oscar campaign smack in between filming and post-production of Ready Player One these past few years. This also mirrors the production cycle of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s Listas well as The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Amistad, as well as War Horse and The Adventures of Tintin. And I’m probably forgetting other movies.

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The Shape of Things to Come

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I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep, so please do not take this as one.

While I have obviously been deliberately taking an extremely comfortable break from writing about movies, both on account of my exhaustion and my lack of time with work, I find myself with a sudden amount of free time that might allow me to jump back just for a moment and I’m going to maybe take this moment to discuss some of my favorite movies of all time that I have not had an opportunity to write about. Just so I’m not wasting time with movies I know I don’t like.

I won’t pretend that ALL of what I want to write about will be written before I decide it’s time to go back to hibernation again. In addition to that, I have to admit that I was looking to have them all written by my birthday 25 June again but at this point, there’s no way that’s happening.

In any case, I shall put it down in writing the movies I would like to have done before I disappear again:

  • Annie Hall (1977)
  • Apollo 13 (1995)
  • Contempt (1963)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • The Eagleman Stag (2011)
  • Goodbye to Language (2014)
  • His Girl Friday (1940)
  • Johnny Guitar (1954)
  • The Lady Eve (1947)
  • Playtime (1967)
  • Le Million (1931)
  • Moulin Rouge! (2001)
  • Nashville (1975)
  • North by Northwest (1959)
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
  • The Rules of the Game (1939)
  • Run Lola Run (1998)
  • Suspiria (1977) – those who know me are aware that I have been very dissatisfied with the review I did put down for the film and was looking for a window of opportunity to fix that.
  • The Tree of Life (2011)
  • Vampyr (1932)
  • The Wicker Man (1973)

In the meantime while I get to those, enjoy reviews already up of movies that also line-up as my all-time favorites in case you forgot how bad I am as a writer:

Don’t call it a comeback.

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