Film

Outlaw King (2018)

There’s a certain alchemy to knocking movies off your watchlist. The film you wind up settling on after listlessly flicking through Netflix or iTunes’ offerings depends on a variety of factors: who you’re with, how much longer you’re willing to keep weighing your potential options, how much time you have available to you, and so on. 

 TFW when you can’t decide what to watch.

TFW when you can’t decide what to watch.

The sole reason I chose to watch Outlaw King on a Friday night--instead of say, Verhoeven’s Flesh and Blood or Tarkovsky’s Stalker (both have sat on my watchlist for some time now)--was not a complex one.


I watched Outlaw King for Chris Pine’s dick. 


And much like Captain Nu-Kirk’s peen, Outlaw King is more shower than grower. It’s often a very beautiful film, just as its main cast is made up of very beautiful people (buried under weird haircuts or yellowed teeth), but there’s not a lot behind any of that beauty. 


The film’s major flaw is not Pine, as some reviews have suggested. He does an admirable job with what he’s got, but he’s basically got nothing. The true issue is the slavishness of the screenplay to actual events. 


The script, written by Bathsheba Doran, James Macinnes, and the film’s director David Mackenzie, barrels through the trials and tribulations of Pine’s Robert the Bruce at light speed. When we first meet him, he and his fellow Scottish lords have abdicated all claims to the Scottish throne, thereby ceding power to King Edward I of England. Soon thereafter, William Wallace--that other Scottish revolutionary, famously played by Mel Gibson in Braveheart--is drawn and quartered (offscreen), and his body parts are hung from a rock (onscreen), and BAM! Robert the Bruce doesn’t want the British stomping around Scotland anymore. What follows is a not very successful mission (at least not at first) to get the other Scottish lords to back Robert the Bruce’s revolution and his eventual crowning as the true King of Scotland.


In all this time, we’ve barely learned anything about Robert the Bruce. One of the things you’d probably expect from a lead character in a war epic is that he’s a gifted warrior of one sort or another. But in the engrossing eight minute one-shot that opens the film, he drunkenly duels the psychotic Prince of England and he’s sort of...just okay at deflecting his opponent’s frenzied slashes and thrusts. In that same regard, we don’t get the sense that Robert the Bruce is much of a tactician either--he loses a lot over the course of the film. The English consistently trick and outsmart him, beat his army by brute force, and hunt him to the ends or Scotland. And yet, the men loyal to his cause never waver in their belief that they’ve backed the right guy. 


That last part is the really the most baffling component of the screenplay’s thin character work. Robert the Bruce is basically devoid of leadership abilities. He’s got no charisma, no silver tongue, nothing as written or performed that seems to encourage anyone to do anything. So the questions is why? Why does anyone follow him?


The answer is because the history books and the script say so.


At least there’s Chris Pine’s dick, right? WRONG. The big reveal is hardly a reveal at all. You’d think in 2018, after decades and decades of full-frontal female nudity, that we’d finally be able to gander at an unobscured, center-aligned image of a man like Chris Pine’s penis. Not only are we denied the necessary storytelling to make this movie a compelling one, but we’re also denied the very thing that most of us turned on the movie for in the fist place!

Suspiria (2018)

“Sometimes I’ll just start a sentence and I don’t even know where it’s going. I just hope I find it along the way.” 

- Michael Scott

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Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is as self-serious, spasmodic, and incoherent as any of the Radiohead music videos that precede it. But it differentiates itself from its ilk by transforming over its 152 minutes (pretty long for a music video!) into the cinematic equivalent of having one’s organs slowly ripped out and replaced by something far gooier. As a danse macabre through the halls of a West Berlin-based dance academy in the 1970s, it succeeds in its mission to unsettle, but as a larger treatise on...anything really, it shoots for the depths of the underworld and falls a bit short in the trying.

(I’m only having a bit of a laugh about the music video thing. Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke does provide a haunting, proper sad sack score for this film, as only the premier haunted sad sack can. It’s quite good.)

Probably the most consistently unsettling thing about this film is its cinematography. Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s messy camerawork goes a long way toward invoking the magic of 70s cinema as his camera loops and wanders and snaps all around the school. As he glides between and orbits around the young talented women of the Markos Dance Academy his snap zooms suddenly compound the paranoia oozing from every frame of the film. Thanks in huge part to his work, many quiet moments throughout Suspiria feel like intrusions, like we’re not supposed to be seeing what we’re seeing. And indeed, in the several cases of exquisite body horror on display throughout the film, it might have been better for some had they just looked away. 

At the center of the academy is artistic director Madame Blanc, played by the incredible Tilda Swinton. Swinton is a global treasure. There’s not much more that can be said about this. As the elegant, conflicted Blanc, she’s the beautiful yet frightening teacher you dare not disappoint. As Josef Klemperer, the geriatric (male) psychotherapist, she’s a wounded figure, all slumped shoulders and tired eyes. And as for the other character she plays, well...best to see for yourself. Her performances are as convincing as they are varied, and she should probably win a bunch of awards for pulling it all off.

The rest of the cast is basically perfect, and watching them dance around and psychically murder one another is a treat, but Suspiria winds up being much too long for its own good. A cool 30-40 minutes excised from this tumor-ridden film would work wonders to give its ideas more resonance and clarity. Writer David Kajganich’s script calls for “six acts and an epilogue in divided Berlin.” To which I say, “how about three acts and let’s let bygones be bygones?” By the time that epilogue title card rolls around, your body has sort of naturally geared up for the film to be over, but Guadagnino takes a page out the Peter Jackson’s Return of the King playbook and never allows his moody, cerebral dance number to end. It’s quite possible that I am still in the theater, scraping the bottom of an empty bucket of popcorn, mumbling to myself.

(Hilariously, the movie is even longer than I originally thought. It wasn’t until I left the theater that I discovered that Suspiria has a post-credits “stinger.” Listen, we’re going to all have to get on the same page on this post-credits situation. Do all movies have them? Or do no movies have them? Those are your two options.)

Suspiria is not a great movie. But it is an interesting one. And sometimes being interesting is better than being great. The film is built around big ideas. It’s soaked through with themes of post-war guilt, female empowerment, and the dangers of extremist ideologies, but by its end these ideas don’t cohere into a satisfying whole. 

Maybe that’s the point Kajganich and Guandagnino are trying to make. Perhaps the real message behind Suspiria is that all of the notions it’s attempting to interrogate are naturally intertwined, always caught up in one another, deconstructing and reconstructing each other over time. Perhaps they can never truly be unwound and parsed, because ultimately they are each an appendage belonging to the same creature. An exquisite, rotting corpse waiting for us to put on our dancing shoes and to start spinning around the blood-soaked floor. 


Solo (2018)

Han Solo is not a complex character. He's a scoundrel who becomes a hero. We've seen his arc play out. We know who he is. His psychology, his backstory, his hopes, his dreams--they don't require much in the way of elucidation. We don't need his every why or wherefore explained to us. 

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But Disney, for some reason, has some splainin' to do. And they're going to do it hard with their newest feature-length fan fiction.

Over the course of the two hour and fifteen minute run time of Solo, viewers will get explained at so aggressively that their eyeballs may roll one full turn, or more, in their sockets. What I mean by that is that their eyeballs, at the start of the film, will be aimed forward--in their customary orientation--and then their eyeballs will rotate a full three hundred and sixty degrees during the film, to then return back to their original forward-facing orientation, almost as if nothing had even transpired. But trust me, something has transpired.

By the end of this film you will know exactly how Chewbacca and Han met for the first time (Chewie was going to eat Han), where Han got his signature weapon (someone threw it to him), how Han acquired the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian (in a card game, exactly as we've been told previously), what exactly occurred during the infamous Kessel Run (too boring to detail here), and most importantly, you will discover how Han Solo...got his last name (someone gave it to him because he was unaccompanied).

There's a point where "connecting the dots"--something that George Lucas took to new heights (or lows, rather) with his Star Wars prequel trilogy--intersects with "paint by numbers". That intersection occurs in Solo. But it's not so much an intersection as it is a collision. Instead of taking you to new places with the character and his cohort, the film collides with what you already know about him over and over again, and then after it's done doing that, it lets you know that it knows that you know. Every wink, every nod, every little in-joke to the millions of Star Wars fans the world over, stops this film dead in its tracks (and that's when the eye rolling happens too). One sequence in particular, a cameo so baffling in both its execution and its implication for the larger Star Wars mythos, might as well have been replaced with an in-person press conference headed up by Kathleen Kennedy herself.

But when the movie gets out of its own way and allows its characters to breathe, and shoot, and fly, hints of cinematic adventure bloom on the screen. The much televised train robbery sequence is a thrill. Woody Harrelson's Beckett and Phoebe Waller-Bridge's L3-37 are standouts, eclipsed only by Donald Glover's sublime Lando. Even Aiden Ehrenreich, for all his non-Harrison Fordness, occasionally delights as (a sort of faithful version of) the half-witted scruffy-looking nerf herder.

And that brings us to the elephant in the room. Spoiler alert: Harrison Ford does not play Han Solo in this movie. One might think that after tricking a portion of audience members into believing that Peter Cushing was alive that the techs at Disney might try and revive Harrison Ford's younger Han Solo with a eldritch combination of face and performance capture wizardry. But recasting the beloved smuggler was the path they chose to walk down. And in 2018, when Han Solo has become a cinematic archetype donned by performers in not one but two ongoing franchises, it almost seems pointless to have yet another version of the character who is not Harrison Ford. 

The Weekend in Review; May 22, 2018

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How will I ever be able to look my film school friends in the eye and say that I didn't love Federico Fellini's 8 1/2?

I did however love the idea behind it. The concept of a semi-autobiographical film about a film that interweaves plot with the inner workings of the main character's mind is an appealing one. Fellini & co. exteriorize protagonist Guido Anselmi's (Marcello Mastroianni) private thoughts, hopes, and dreams in a seamless and oftentimes beautiful way.

Oddly enough, this is also something video games can do very well. One of the best example in recent memory are the myriad flashback/hallucination sequences in Batman: Arkham Knight.

After I finished the film I found myself wondering if this kind of thing has been done in comics before. I'm sure there are more than a few ways to inject memory/thoughts/dreams directly into the visual fabric of an individual comic panel or a series of them. It's something I'll chew on going forward.

(You can see what else I've been watching lately over at my Letterboxd page.)

***

New York City is crumbling. In many different ways. When I was young and would visit Manhattan with my parents, I thought I had arrived in Metropolis: City of Tomorrow. Now that I'm older and have sampled a variety of its locales and living situations I can say with confidence that New York City is a great big rotting organism shot through with shiny luxury condos. People run around the shell on its back, attempting to fix its disintegrating infrastructure and build skyward, but the skeleton that supports it all will one day turn to dust.

"....an examination by The New York Times has found that Mr. Lhota’s reach as a power broker has grown with new board appointments in Manhattan and on Long Island, giving him extraordinary sway over some of the most important aspects of New York life. But while Mr. Lhota remains a respected official, his growing web of jobs has led to potential conflicts of interest and competition for his time, complicating the still-flailing effort to resuscitate a transit system used by millions of people every day." -- NYT

"These apartments — seen as the scourge of landlords and the salvation of struggling New Yorkers — are at the center of a housing crisis that has swelled the ranks of the homeless and threatens to squeeze all but the affluent from ever-wider swaths of the city. But even as Mayor Bill de Blasio has made adding more affordable housing a signature pledge of his administration, the system that protects the city’s roughly one million regulated apartments is profoundly broken, a New York Times investigation has found." -- NYT

***

That's all for now, folks. Stay sharp--that is definitely not me standing outside your window.

Witness (1985)

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Peter Weir makes it seem super easy in Witness. Everything, from communicating just what kind of detective Harrison Ford’s John Book is to establishing the (admittedly simple) good cop vs. bad cop plot, is done with such economy that it can easily be taken for granted. Weir also knows when to rachet the tempo up. Book and Kelly McGillis’s Rachel fall in love slowly, gracefully, their feelings accumulating over time, so that when they finally embrace it causes an explosion of passion on screen (it helps that Ford is one of the best looking leading men in cinematic history). The final showdown works much in the same way, only with shotguns instead.

But it’s John Seale’s camera work that sets this film apart. His compositions, like Weir’s direction, are the result of a light touch. Door frames, windshields, exposed beams in a simple Amish kitchen—Seale uses the shapes created by these unassuming items to frame his figures in a way that makes it seem like that’s what the items were designed for in the first place. He opts for intense close ups whenever he can, as Ford and McGillis’s performances verge into nonverbal territory often. Seale excels at capturing the nearly imperceptible gestures and stolen glances  that seem small onscreen but in fact do a great deal of heavy lifting for plot and performance alike.

“Capturing” is the operative word. In many scenes, especially those that examine the day to day life of the Pennsylvania Amish, Seale exhibits the skills of a documentarian, his eye focused on his subjects without bias nor judgment.

 

The Weekend in Review; April 30, 2018

Wow, The Weekend in Review is back? That's crazy!

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I, like all 7 billion people on planet Earth, saw Avengers: Infinity War. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Post-credits sequences are a form of terrorism. I understand the idea behind them--it's important that the mouth breathers understand that their favorite punchy-punch, talky-talk movies are made by an army of invisible artists and technicians--but, predictably, it doesn't work at all. As soon as the credits role, those savvy filmgoers looking for that "second screen experience" pull out their phones to check and see if anyone has sent them an image of their engorged genitalia on Snapchat. They only look up from their poorly-lit anatomy lessons after the last Eyelash De-Aliasing Supervisor has disappeared from the screen. So just play the stupid commercial for the next movie right after the marquee names roll off the screen.
  2. Why is Chris Pratt billed as "And Chris Pratt?" Have those shitty Jurassic Park sequels turned him into a young "And Anthony Hopkins?"
  3. STRANGELY enough, Doctor Strange was the MVP in this movie. When he took on his multi-armed form I gasped with STRANGE delight.
  4. When and how did Bruce Banner get Hulk-tile dysfunction?
  5. Approximately 25% of those in attendance during my showing got up to go to the restroom at various times. Since missing the famous "Living Manifestation of Destiny" speech in Mission: Impossible 5 for urine-based reasons, I no longer leave movies for any reason, ever. In order to pull this off I have developed a patent-pending dehydration technique that is 100% effective. Step 1: Stop fluid consumption no later than 2 hours prior to a film's start time. Step 2: Urinate repeatedly leading up to film's start time. Step 3: Once the film has begun, slowly, and I mean SLOWLY, rehydrate out of the film with the beverage of your choice (now that I'm 30, it's Diet Coke for me). Step 4: Enjoy. (Also works for air travel).
  6. Having Peter Dinklage play a giant "dwarf" was certainly a choice.
  7. The Russos have a knack for realistic action in their superhero films. By that I don't mean that everything looks real, because it certainly doesn't, but rather that characters behave and perform their superhero karate chop action in a way that seems realistic. Case in point: Captain America's shield never bounces quite as convincingly outside of a Russo Brothers Joint. The fisticuffs in Captain America: Civll War, namely the Cap/Bucky/Black Panther 3-way chase and the Iron Man showdown in the finale are bone-crunching, kinetic displays of violence. While Infinity War leans too heavily on the CGI for the fights to feel as hard-hitting as they do in some of the previous outings, that illusion of realism still powers most, if not all, of its action.
  8. Carrie Coons voicing Lady Voldemort was a meta-joke on the whole Leftovers-style ending of this movie, right?
  9. From a purely technical perspective, this movie is an unmatched feat in story engineering. I was delighted to see how a film featuring 30 characters, 6 magic rocks (that each perform a specific task), and the loose threads of a dozen movies worked so well. However, because of the sheer amount of characters, each picking up little bits and pieces of the narrative along the way, the film lacked emotional focus in a broad sense. 
  10. Marvel has been eating DC's lunch for 10 straight years. That must really smart.

Data, Join Me in Stellar Cartography: Part 1 (Film, 2017)

Data, Join Me in Stellar Cartography: Part 1 (Film, 2017)

I present to you Part 1 of my notes on every single thing that I watched, read, listened to, played, and wrote in the year of our Holy Space Lord Jesus Henry Christ Two Thousand and Seventeen. It is the only way I know how to truly tell you something about me, the only way I can explain what a year looks like from my little corner of the universe. I hope it leaves an impression.

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Everything that I watched, read, listened to, played, & wrote in 2017

1. Film

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(2017)

Silence; d. Martin Scorcese, w. Jay Cocks, Martin Scorcese 

John Wick: Chapter 2*; d. Chad Stahelski, w. Derek Kolstad

Get Out; d. & w. Jordan Peele 

Logan; d. James Mangold, w. James Mangold, Scott Frank, Michael Green  

Kong: Skull Island; d. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, w. Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly 

Power Rangers; d. Dean Israelite, w. John Gatins, Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless, Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney 

The Fate of the Furious; d. F. Gary Gray, w. Chris Morgan 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; d. & w. James Gunn 

Alien: Covenant; d. Ridley Scott, w. Jack Paglen, Michael Green, John Logan, Dante Harper

Wonder Woman; d. Patty Jenkins, w. Allan Heinberg, Zack Snyder, Jason Fuchs 

The Big Sick; d. Michael Showalter, w. Emily V. Gordon, Kumail Nanjiani 

Baby Driver*; d. & w. Edgar Wright 

Spider-Man: Homecoming; d. John Watts, w. Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers 

War for the Planet of the Apes; d. Matt Reeves, w. Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves 

Dunkirk; d. & w. Christopher Nolan  

Atomic Blonde; d. David Leitch, w. Kurt Johnstad 

Wind River; d. & w. Taylor Sheridan

Logan Lucky; Steven Soderbergh 

Ingrid Goes West: d. Matt Spicer, w. David Branson Smith, Matt Spicer 

Good Time*; d. & w. Benny & Josh Safdie

Human Flow; d. Ai Weiwei, w. Chin-Chin Yap, Tim Finch, Boris Cheshkirov 

It; d. Andy Muschietti, w. Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga, Gary Dauberman 

American Made; d. Doug Liman, w. Gary Spinelli

Jerry Before Seinfeld; d. Michael Bonfligio, w. Jerry Seinfeld 

Blade Runner 2049*; d. Denis Villeneuve, w. Hampton Fancher, Michael Green 

Spielberg; d. Susan Lacy 

The Babysitter; d. McG, w. Brian Duffield 

Brawl in Cell Block 99*; d. & w. S. Craig Zahler 

The Lost City of Z; d. & w. James Gray

Thor: Ragnarok; d. Taika Waititi, w. Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost 

Lady Bird; d. & w. Greta Gerwig 

Justice League; d. Zack Snyder & Joss Whedon, w. Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon, Zack Snyder 

The Disaster Artist; d. James Franco, w. Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber

Star Wars: The Last Jedi; d. & w. Rian Johnson 

(*Top 5)

 

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(1974-2016)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre; d. Tobe Hooper, w. Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper 

Barry Lyndon; d. & w. Stanley Kubrick 

All the President's Men; d. Alan J. Pakula, w. William Goldman 

Midnight Run; d. Martin Brest, w. George Gallo 

Sex, Lies, and Videotape; d. & w. Steven Soderbergh 

The Fugitive; d. Andrew Davis, w. Jeb Stuart, David Twohy

Tombstone; d. George P. Cosmatos & Kevin Jarre, w. Kevin Jarre 

Before Sunrise; d. Richard Linklater, w. Richard Linklater, Kim Krizan 

The Game; d. David Fincher, w. John Brancato, Michael Ferris 

Out of Sight; d. Steven Soderbergh, w. Scott Frank 

The Thirteenth Warrior; d. John McTiernan & Michael Crichton, w. William Wisher, Warren Lewis  

The Limey; d. Steven Soderbergh, w. Lem Hobbs 

Traffic; d. Steven Soderbergh, w. Stephen Gaghan 

Before Sunset; d. Richard Linklater, w. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, Kim Krizan 

Shaun of the Dead; d. Edgar Wright, w. Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright 

Memories of Murder; d. Joon-ho Bong, w. Joon-ho Bong, Sung-bo Shim 

Pulse (Kairo); d. & w. Kiyoshi Kurosawa 

Marie Antoinette; d. & w. Sophia Coppola 

Hot Fuzz; d. Edgar Wright, w. Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright 

Super; d. & w. James Gunn

Before Midnight; d. Richard Linklater, w. Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke 

The Mermaid; d. Stephen Chow, w. Hing-Ka Chan, Stephen Chow, Chi Keung Fung, Miu-Kei Ho, Ivy Kong, Si-Cheun Lee, Zhengyu Ly, Kan-Cheung Tsang 

Swiss Army Man; d. & w. Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert 

Train to Busan; d. Sang-ho Yeon, w. Joo-Suk Park, Sang-ho Yeon 

The Magnificent Seven; d. Antoine Fuqua, w. Nic Pizzolatto, Richard Wenk 

Dr Strange; d. Scott Derrickson, w. Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill 

Moonlight; d. Barry Jenkins, w. Barry Jenkins, Tarell Alvin McCraney 

Edge of Seventeen; d. & w. Kelly Fremon Craig 

Nocturnal Animals; d. & w. Tom Ford 

La La Land; d. & w. Damian Chazelle 

20th Century Women; d. & w. Mike Mills 

 

2. Television

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(Arranged by air date of most recent season)

The Knick Seasons 1-2; Jack Amiel, Michael Begler & Steven Soderbergh 

Big Little Lies; David E. Kelley 

Rick and Morty Season 3; Justin Roiland & Dan Harmon 

The Leftovers Seasons 1-3, Damon Lindelof & Tom Perrotta 

Silicon Valley Season 4; Mike Judge, John Altschuler & David Krinksy 

Master of None Season 2; Aziz Ansari & Alan Yang 

Game of Thrones Season 7; David Benioff & D.B. Weiss 

Stranger Things Season 2; The Duffer Brothers 

 

3. Literature & Comics

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Childhood's End; Arthur C. Clarke 

The Stars My Destination; Alfred Bester 

Time and Again; Jack Finney 

The Greatest Sci-fi Movies Never Made, Revised and Expanded Edition; David Hughes 

Superman: The Unauthorized Biography; Glen Weldon 

Between the World and Me; Ta-Nahisi Coates 

But What If We're Wrong?; Chuck Klosterman

Normal; Warren Ellis 

The Wild Storm #1-5; Warren Ellis & Jon Davis-Hunt 

PayWall; Joseph P Kelly 

Grand Theft Imagination; Benjamin Andrew Moore 

 

4. Music

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Greatest Hits; Fleetwood Mac 

On Avery Island; Neutral Milk Hotel  

Cage The Elephant; Cage The Elephant  

Humbug; Arctic Monkeys 

Thank You Happy Birthday; Cage the Elephant  

Suck It and See; The Arctic Monkeys 

AM; The Arctic Monkeys

Melophobia; Cage the Elephant  

To Pimp a Butterfly; Kendrick Lamar 

Tell Me I'm Pretty; Cage the Elephant  

We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions; Bruce Springsteen  

Damn; Kendrick Lamar 

 

5. Videogames

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Wolfenstein: The New Order; MachineGames 

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood; MachineGames 

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild; Nintendo 

 

6. What I wrote/created

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Red's Journey; ClearVision Optical

Rabbit Hole #1; Self-published

World War Terminus; Self-published

The Cycle; Self-published

The Redemption of Super-Champion Barron Drumpf Parts 1 & 2; Study Group Comics

The Drakul Wedding; Self-published

Whatever Happened to the Superhero Writers of Tomorrow & Other Articles; Paste Magazine 

5 Rick and Morty Mind-Bending Season 3 Mysteries; Quidd

The Weekend in Review; July 10th, 2017

The Weekend in Review; July 10th, 2017

Homecoming has so much of what makes Spider-Man the best Marvel hero of all: the conflict between being a normal kid and a friendly-neighborhood avenger, the perils of great power without responsibility, and of course, hot Aunt May jokes (kidding for sure, but there are quite a few in this film). And impressively, Marvel Studios is able to deliver these essentials without ever mentioning Uncle Ben and his signature catchphrase. That would be like making a Batman movie without referencing the Wayne Murders, which is something filmmakers have proven incapable of doing.

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The Weekend in Review; July 3rd, 2017

The Weekend in Review; July 3rd, 2017

Baby Driver (2017) is the kind of movie we need more of. It's that mid-budget cinema that we're always talking about being dead and gone. But this movie is very much alive, thrumming and careening around the corners of the mind well after you've left the theater.

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The Weekend in Review; May 30th, 2017

The Weekend in Review; May 30th, 2017

This one was a real doozy, folks. A genuine three day weekend. The Holy Grail. This time because of a holiday called Memorial Day. Which, as I understand it, is like Veterans Day, only for dead people. It's a great opportunity for those among us who blindly support the military-industrial complex to stick a bunch of flags in things and to use a variety of hashtags to show they care about those poor souls who gave their lives to secure our freedom, which now manifests itself in the form of an overwhelming sense of existential dread. Smell that, son? That's freedom!

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007 Racing (2000), The Fate of the Furious / Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

007 Racing (2000), The Fate of the Furious / Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

    If you're at all familiar with the recent The Fast and the Furious movies then the reason why I found myself remembering this game should be obvious. You'd know that any and all conflicts in the F&F world, no matter the scale, must be solved through vehicular combat. The rule is that if a problem can be solved simply with a conversation then the problem must be solved stupefyingly with a car. This is the exact principle underpinning the premiere James Bond video game of the year 2000. And I imagine it's why people love the F&F movies but have completely forgotten 007 Racing.

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Logan (2017)

Logan (2017)

"...Lucky then that there's magic in this film. Almost as if Jackman is summoning the dead, atoning for years of mediocre efforts on the parts of writers and directors who just didn't get it, righting wrongs before his character shuffles of his semi-immortal coil. His Logan is old, worn out, dead on arrival. But Jackman imbues his X-Man with hints of the man, the hero, the tired old samurai futilely wheeling around his disgraced master. It's hard to see anyone else doing this job. It's hard to look back, after nearly twenty years now gone, and see Tom Cruise playing the part, or Bob Hoskins, or Mel Gibson (although it's fun to imagine)..."

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Top 10 Films of the 21st Century

Saw these lists making the rounds a few weeks ago and figured I would offer up my own Top 10 Films of the 21st Century. Of course, I could choose to disseminate my Top 1000 in chronological order, but I'm not into sadomasochism at the moment (though things, as always, can change).

I tried to force them into some kind of of order, but eventually came to the conclusion that ranking these fine films would be reductive and would serve no purpose, unless you're one of those people that require arbitrarily judged artworks to be stacked on top of one another. So here they are, in no discernible organization whatsoever: 

American Psycho (2001)

"There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable... I simply am not there."

Let me speak on this film by first mentioning another: I first saw David Fincher's Fight Club when I was 14 or 15 and I enjoyed it in a purely superficial way. I had no real clue as to what the movie (or the book, which I read later) was trying to say about the dangers of unchecked masculinity or the societally-deadening impact of rampant commercialism. At the time it rather appealed to my wholly uninformed teenage anarchism, and for years I continued to appreciate it simply on those terms. It wasn't until much later that I found out you weren't supposed to like Tyler Durden. But he was my favorite character! No, you were supposed to root for the Narrator, right?

Surely, what Durden says to the Narrator, once he's revealed himself to be a function of the Narrator's psyche, must also be for the viewer: "All the ways you wish you could be, that's me. I look like you wanna look, I fuck like you wanna fuck, I am smart, capable, and most importantly, I am free in all the ways that you are not." And if that is the case, and you're still supposed to want the Narrator to stop Project Mayhem, then is it not a failure on the part of the filmmakers for making Durden so likable? And I kind of like Durden's plan! (So did the guy who came up with Mr. Robot!)

So that's why American Pyscho, which tackles a great many of the same themes and also has a slick nutjob as its protagonist, is the better film, and one of my favorites of all time. You don't have the choice between liking Patrick Bateman and someone else. All you have is Bateman and his viewpoint. And director/screenwriter Mary Harron is quite skilled at providing you with very killable "enemies" for Bateman to dispose of. In this movie, unlike Fight Club, Jared Leto deserved what he got. And what he got was an axe to the face.

Points awarded to this film for serving as the proving ground for Bale's Bruce Wayne. Of all the men to play Batman on the big screen, Bale has been the most convincing as Rich Douchebag Batman, which coincidentally was also my favorite Batman action figure from the 90s, right after Volcano Exploration Batman. (And sue me, I like the growl.)

Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

"Well, everyone knows Custer died at Little Bighorn. What this book presupposes is... maybe he didn't."

I was in eighth grade when this film was released. And I have no idea why my parents thought to take me, along with my siblings, who are all younger than I, to see it. I don't think they were huge Wes Anderson fans--maybe they thought that Tenenbaums was some sort of wholesome family film, but the truth is, they did not make a Wes Anderson fan out of me that day. I hated this movie so much that I can still remember the car ride home, thinking to myself that my parents had done me a great disservice. They usually had steered me in the right direction... 

I thought the film was boring, that everyone delivered their lines in a uniformly monotonous and wholly unenjoyable way, and that the film was overwhelingly depressing. You're not really in the market for that kind of thing as an eighth grader.

I revisited Tenenbaums years later and can now confirm that I love it deeply and truly. It warms my cold heart to watch Gene Hackman's Royal Tenenbaum attempt to cheat his way back into the family he so thoughtlessly ignored for his entire life, and then realize in the process that he actually quite enjoyed being a Tenenbaum after all. Major points awarded to career-high performances from basically everyone, especially Stiller, Owen Wilson (who co-wrote), his brother Luke Wilson, and Gwyneth Paltrow (who seems like a demon in real life).

Casino Royale (2006)

M: I would ask you if you could remain emotionally detached, but that's not your problem, is it, Bond? 

James Bond: No.

(This is the best James Bond movie ever made. Feel free to @ me.)

Before Daniel Craig was my favorite 007, Timothy Dalton held that honor. And I believe both actors fulfill the promise of Fleming's character: A blunt human-shaped instrument whose desires/inclinations/career goals/love of Queen & Country just so happen to align with MI6's mission. But Craig reaches "Platonic Ideal" levels in his performance. Strip the gadgets and the gags and the cheese and all you are left with is the man. And Daniel Craig is The Man.

Of course, it's all downhill after Quantum of Solace, I'm afraid. Skyfall missed the point of the reboot entirely and, Spectre, God in heaven, is an insult to Bond fans and casual moviegoers alike. Not only does it miss the point, but it attempts to tie a narrative bow around the the whole Craig saga, which is a laughable and offensive endeavor. Furthermore, Sam Mendes has now spent two bloated, pretty-looking films in presenting the viewer with a refutation of the 00-program, only to prove that, no, James Bond is still a necessary figure in statecraft come credit-roll.

Side note: I do find the last few years' worth of chatter about the "problematic" nature of the character to be problematic in its own way. This collective notion that Bond's [chauvinism/sexual aggression/carelessness with women] is an issue for the future of the franchise presupposes that fictional characters need to comport themselves according to the views of the audience and that, I think, is the antithesis of any kind of art. It is okay for you to watch bad men do bad things on the big screen. Also, death to the "Code Name" fan theory. 

Lost In Translation (2003)

"Let's never come here again because it would never be as much fun."

Most other movies with Americans stuck in foreign countries would have a very different third act. The protagonist would discover that human beings, wherever we are in the world, are fundamentally the same, only with very minor differences between us. The would realize that the place they've found themselves in is actually quite lovely, the people there interesting and varied, and the views this person had when they arrived ("This place sucks. I want to go home.") would seem like the views of another, less enlightened person entirely. Because they've grown, man.

Lost in Translation doesn't work like that. It's a movie with a true outsider's perspective and that perspective remains intact all the way through to the final moments of the film. You may not appreciate that. It may even strike you as mildly offensive. But, Jesus, it's refreshing. 

Music is top-notch. Scarlett Johansson and Billy Murray (his second appearance on this list) mine some seriously unexpected chemistry. Direction and cinematography are superb. I can't ask for much more.

Midnight In Paris (2011)

Ernest Hemingway: Have you ever made love to a truly great woman? 

Gil: Actually, my fiancé is pretty sexy. 

Ernest Hemingway: And when you make love to her you feel true and beautiful passion. And you for at least that moment lose your fear of death. 

Gil: No, that doesn't happen.

Forgive my comic book leanings, but this movie, to me, is essentially Woody Allen's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. To see and hear Hemingway, Dalí, and Fitzgerald --these paragons of high-art-- interacting with each other, along with Allen's proxy Gil Pender, in a way that a philistine such as myself can appreciate, well, that has to be a good thing, right? Most people are more concerned with Kim Kardashian's ass nowadays then they are with the works of a surrealist nutjob and one of the last "manly man" writers, so anything that can get a person excited about this kind of material deserves all the accolades we can heap upon it. 

You don't like Woody Allen? Okay, fine. I get it. But the man's still got it! Show me another writer who can ape the styles of so many different artists in one sitting. Show me another director who hones in on a city and then squeezes it for all its worth the way Allen does. Show me another humorist who jumps as deftly from romance to comedy in a movie (from 2012) about Picasso and Man Ray and Gertrude Stein all just sitting around drinking wine.

I'll wait.

Also, worth noting: This is Owen Wilson's second appearance on this list.

Drive (2011)

Driver: I don't have wheels on my car. 

Irene: [laughing] Okay. 

Driver: It's one thing you should know about me. 

Is Ryan Gosling a leading man? Some seem to believe that he functions better in ensemble casts, where he can better utilize his comedic talents (which are considerable, see Nice Guys). Some believe that he plays against his inclinations and abilities when he takes on roles as "the Heavy" in films such as Drive or Place Beyond the Pines

Is Ryan Gosling a leading man? Is there an afterlife? Is man good? I don't know! I don't have time for these discussions. I'd rather be watching Ryan Gosling movies (Blade Runner 2, I'm looking at you, baby).

And, I believe that Gosling is uniquely qualified for these roles. Here is a man who got his start as a Disney Cadet, or whatever the hell they're called. If you saw him approaching you in a dark alley, you might find him out of place, but you wouldn't assume there was a lethal creature lurking behind his eyes. But there is. We know this now. There is a quiet, simmering rage to the Driver. And Gosling imbues the character with a volatility most modern pretty-boy actors cannot muster. Watching the Driver attempt to have something of a normal relationship, while also dealing with the poking and prodding of his criminal adversaries, is an exercise in the classic "should've left well enough alone" mode. It doesn't end well. But these things never do.

Also, this movie gets extra points for fantastic ultra-violence synced to a near perfect soundtrack and score. Director Nicolas Winding Refn, who now seems to be in a trolling-the-audience holding pattern, is a master of this form.

Django Unchained (2012)

Big Daddy: Uh, what's the name of that peckerwood boy from town that works with the glass? His momma work at the lumberyard... 

Big Daddy's Mammy: Oh, you mean Jerry? 

Big Daddy: That's the boy's name, Jerry! 

Big Daddy: You know Jerry, don't ya, sugar? 

Betina: Yes, Big Daddy. 

Big Daddy: Well, that's it then! Just treat him like you would Jerry!

Allow me to elucidate in reverse:

My second favorite thing about Django Unchained is that Will Smith didn't take the lead role in this film because he thought it wasn't big enough for him. (Although he has since amended the reason for rejecting this titular role: He wanted to make a movie about "love," not "vengeance.") Chart this man's career from that moment. Use pen and paper if you have to. Here he is at the top as an A-List blockbuster-er and there he is at the bottom as the sort-of-lead in an ensemble picture about DC Comics' C-Listers. It's a powerful and humbling decline. (I quite liked him in Suicide Squad though.)

My first favorite thing about Django Unchained is that Jamie Foxx did the right thing and made a movie about vengeance and love and a dozen other things. (Favorite line delivery of 2012: "Better listen to your boss, whiteboy.")

Points awarded to this film for being one of two films where I think Leonardo DiCaprio doesn't suck (the other is Wolf of Wall Street). The key to a believable DiCaprio character is to have him play someone unlikeable and gross, because that's what he is in real life.

28 Days Later (2002)

Jim: So, know what I was thinking? 

Selena: You were thinking that you'll never hear another piece of original music ever again. You'll never read another book that hasn't already been written... or see a film that hasn't already been shot. 

Jim: Um, that's what you were thinking.

Horror is my least favorite genre. I don't find anything intrinsically wrong with it, but it seems to me that a lot of the films that come from that world are low on character and story and imagination. A lot of style, not a lot of substance. I also think jump scares are the cinematic equivalent of a hand job in a parked car. You will technically achieve something by the end of it, but it is achieved only through a cheap, cruel exercise in laziness.

And the hallmarks of the genre (most of the people in the movie needing to die being chief among them) encourages the creation of loosely sketched, one dimensional characters--I'm usually rooting for the bad guy to kill the stupid, sex-crazed teenagers. (Maybe the problem is with me. Who knows?)

Yes, you've got your Halloween and The Thing and Alien, but these are really more the exception rather than the norm. These films, like 28 Days Later, were crafted by auteurs who have found great success across many genres and subjects. I would add Danny Boyle to this Pantheon, a pantheon that includes the likes of Ridley Scott and John Carpenter. The man can direct anything. Even his bad movies are worth watching.

It is because of Boyle's skill as a director and his ability to craft interesting characters in shitty situations that 28 Days Later feels more like a character-based thriller with genre tendencies. It's got the ridiculous science fiction set-up and zombies (who can run--that was huge for me in 2003) for sure. But following Cillian Murphy's Jim, watching him come to grips with reality, seeing him try to make sense of a now senseless world, finding family and purpose and heroism despite the unyielding need for militant survivalism-- that's the power of the film. And it's scary because you absolutely do not want to see Jim and Selena and Hannah get hurt.

Ocean's 11 (2001)

Rusty: You scared? 

Linus: You suicidal? 

Rusty: Only in the morning

Remakes suck. They suck real bad. They remade Robocop. It sucked. They remade Total Recall. It sucked. They even remade Point Break for some strange reason. It sucked real, real bad.

There are a few remakes that don't suck. These are some of them: The Fly, The Thing, Cape Fear, and The Magnificent Seven.

Ocean's 11 is also a remake that doesn't suck. It's actually quite wonderful.

It's hard to not like a movie with a cast like this. It's called Ocean's 11, sure, but it might as well be called "Charisma Overdrive." It's funny, it's got great dialogue, and it's loaded with awesome performances, from actors who are now all too expensive to appear in the same film. And Steven Soderbergh brings back those old school camera zooms the way Dan Slott brought back the thought bubble.

Extra points for the Claire De Lune scene which is as moving a sequence as we can hope for in this twisted world.

Fury Road (2015)

"By my deeds I honour him, V8."

There are certain directors who lose their abilities as they age, just as certain doctors, plumbers, or used car salesmen lose their skills as they move into their twilight years. Tarantino has said he'll only make another two movies in an effort to avoid this segment of an artist's career, where it's all downhill. I understand that. You don't want to go out on a low note. 

But certain artists don't lose shit. Moebius was as good an artist at 70 as he was at 40-- the man was drawing right up until his death. Spielberg and Scorcese are still killing it-- Bridge of Spies and Wolf of Wall Street are late-period masterpieces. Jay Z is 45 for Christ's sake, that's like 100 in rapper years, and the dude still doesn't write down his lyrics before he spits his rhymes.

And then there's George Miller at 70 years young showing everyone half his age what it takes to create a masterpiece with his opus Mad Max: Fury Road. This movie has more energy, more beauty, and more fucking sand than any other movie that came out in 2015. Not only that, Miller finally put the "Mad" in "Mad Max," with a grunting, twitching Tom Hardy in the lead role.

And so, it is at the altar of the Miller, that we live, and die, and live again, riding chrome death machines, historic on the Fury Road.

Ten of My Favorite Movies in 2015

I didn't seen as many films in 2015 as I should have, which is why my New Year's Resolution is to see more films in 2016. But I was fortunate enough to see most of the films that I wanted to see during 2015. Here are ten of my favorites, in (sort-of) reverse order:

Creed
The old king is dead, long live the new King. Rest in peace, Apollo Creed.

I love all of the Rocky movies. My favorite Rocky movie is Rocky 2. This movie is basically Rocky 7. It’s not as good as Rocky 2, but it’s better than Rocky 3, 4, and 5. It’s definitely as good as Rocky Balboa (6), but probably slightly “worse” than Rocky 1. Michael B. Jordan is really good. And Sylvester Stallone gives an all-time performance.

The Martian
A funny, kindhearted survival story about a well funded American space program that cooperates with China? Please sir, may I have another? This is Ridley Scott in full-blown mercenary director mode and it works like a charm. What I've said all along is this: Scott isn't a particularly adept storyteller without a good, clear narrative to work with (and yes, I know I’m not the first to say it). But here, working off Drew Godard's adaptation of Andy Weir's novel (still unread by your's truly), he's got what he needs to get the job done. Was this the palette cleanser for those who choked on and spat out the insanity that was Prometheus? I hope so. Let's go back to when Scott was one of the best in the biz.

Steve Jobs
Apple Cultists scare me, but their prophet Steve Jobs--blessed be his name, amen--scares me more. As much as I would have loved to see Christian Bale's take on this rich asshole genius, we've already drunk from that cup a few times. Fassbender is electric here, and somehow manages to imbue Steve Jobs the Movie Character with a spark of humanity, despite his utter failings as a member of the human race. Steve Jobs wasn't an inventor, he was an artist who painted with MP3 players and tablet computers, and he was paid handsomely for it, both with stock options and the blind adoration of millions of people who are now addicted to slave-made consumer products. This movie shows us why that's a bad thing, despite its unearned "happy" ending. 

Straight Outta Compton
As a Jewish teenager growing up on Long Island, I, of course, pretended to enjoy my fair share of hip-hop. Now that I'm older and hang out with slightly fewer Hebrews, I'm okay admitting that I don't love rap. But I do understand that NWA's power came from more than just their songs, even though I think "I Ain't Tha 1" is a work of lyrical genius. It was the persona that each NWA member crafted for himself that gave people something to tap into, and those personas are on display with ferocity in this film, especially those belonging to Ice Cube, Easy-E, and Dr. Dre. The performances in Straight Outta Compton took me by complete surprise, and I look forward to seeing what these talented actors show up in next.

Bone Tomahawk
This was easily the most disturbing film I saw this year. When you consider the pacing of this film—the “action” doesn’t really start until you reach the final half hour—and that the majority of the narrative involves a group of men walking through the desert chit chatting, Bone Tomahawk becomes even more impressive. The violence visited upon the characters in this movie is at times surreal, but somehow always nauseatingly realistic; it functions like an exclamation point on a very well written back and forth between disparate personalities at a dinner party. The film’s antagonists, a group of mutated Native Americans called “Troglodytes,” appear from off-screen like ghosts, and unceremoniously attack their prey with unmatched brutality. I screamed like a little baby boy and had to turn my head from the screen more than once. 

The End of the Tour
Three of the movies on my list are, at their cores, long conversations between characters (with two of them being punctuated with primo ultra-violence). This is one of those films. As an adult, I’ve avoided and feared Infinite Jest, as one might, but I’ve had a nagging interest in David Foster Wallace: the Man. I’ve read some of his essays and thought them quite good, but I just don’t think I’ll ever have it in me to spend 1,100 pages delving into the convergence of tennis and addiction. Plus, I find footnotes disdainful. But Wallace seems like an interesting man, and The End of the Tour, creative liberties aside, highlights the reason why. A deeply conflicted, action-movie-loving genius, Wallace hungered to be both famous and obscure simultaneously. That’s a pathology I can’t wrap my head around, but it’s great to see Jason Segel try it on for size. I’m not familiar with director James Ponsoldt’s work, but I’ll be keeping my eye on him.

The Hateful 8
Clue
for people who don’t care about Clue. John Carpenter’s The Thing in the Old West. Call it whatever you want to call it. This is Tarantino stripped down to his most basic, yet most powerful elements. It’s a goddamn masterpiece. 

I think some critics and moviegoers alike have a hard time with Tarantino as a human being. I know at least one person who is now boycotting his films because of his “anti-cop” attitude. Some people take umbrage with the casual use of the word “nigger” in his films. It’s strange, but indicative of an increasingly simplistic appreciation of film nowadays: filmgoers are coming into these movies politically pre-conditioned, ready to tear the thing to shreds if it doesn’t meet their internet-PhD criteria or their blue-collar American exceptionalism. 

Look, I’m not saying that the people who talk during movies or tap away on their cellphones in the midst of a crucial sequence are right-wingers, but I am saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if the correlation between Fox News fans and people who don't appreciate film was pronounced. 

Mission Impossible: 5
This movie is the manifestation of destiny. 

Christopher McQuarrie is the kind of action director we need, but not the one we deserve right now. There's an art to the shootout, the car chase, and the fistfight that certain filmmakers simply don't know how to capture and express. But McQuarrie knows how to shoot that type of movie magic, and he's working with Hollywood's greatest special effect in this one: Mr. Tom Cruise, disciple of Xenu and SP shattering extraordinaire. Historically, MI films have taken on a new director with each subsequent entry, but I’m okay with the guy who gave us Mission Impossible 5 mainlining the secret truth of the universe directly into our collective brainstem for a second time.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The problems of the Prequel Trilogy are myriad. This is known. But one of the biggest issues with Episodes 1-3 is that they're Star Wars films with a lot of the pulp strained out. They aren't "Star Wars-y" enough; they don't contain that essential element, a cinematic fluid that is defined by the mixture of expansive world-building and hokey doodle-in-the-margins-of-your-childhood-notebook wizardry. J.J. Abrams (whom I was very disappointed in after that In2 Darkness debacle) brought the juice back. Yes, yes, it’s a remix of A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, but after having my innards ripped out by the rotten apple that was late-period George Lucas, I was in no position to turn away fresh fruit. 

If I were forced to pick a favorite new character, I must admit that Adam Driver steals the show as new baddy and Darth Vader fanboy Kylo Ren.

Mad Max: Fury Road
At first I was more than a little disappointed to see the immense cloud of chatter surrounding Fury Road devolve into a single live-or-die-by-it political utility for either the Feminist Cause or the Men’s Rights Activists, but I have now arrived in Valhalla, shiny and chrome. Multiple viewings of this masterwork will produce that effect, so if you’re still unsure, go ahead, have another helping.

As a person who unabashedly awaits for the return of the Mel Gibson, it’s hard not to acknowledge that his trio of Mad Max performances lack a certain…madness. Tom Hardy has no such problem. He spends the first half of this film grunting like a rabid dog, scratching at himself, and gnawing at the unconscious form of Nicholas Hoult.

And for all of those people who claimed there wasn’t enough meat on Mad Max’s bone, I have only one thing to say to you: MEDIOCRE! 

***

Two Movies I Absolutely Refused To Watch on Sheer Principle: Jurassic World and Terminator Vaginasys
In 2013 I had my childhood murdered right in front of me when I was DP’ed by Star Trek: In2 Blah-Ness and Man of Steel during one very long summer of unfiltered cinematic barbarism. These were two movies created by people who fundamentally misunderstood the tenets of the mythologies they had inherited, and these mythologies happened to be the two I cherished the most. 

After that, there are a few other tales that defined my childhood and gave me the sensibilities I bring to every film I watch now. Jurassic Park and Terminator (and to a certain extent Terminator 2) are two of my favorite movies of all time. So factoring in the trauma of watching The S Stands for Suck and Scarf Fest: Into Ass-Ness, and the PTSD that followed, I determined to never voluntarily submit myself to Cretacious World and Termagenysis: This Time It's Terminal, unless there was a way to actively hurt the filmmakers involved. As of this writing, I have yet to figure out a way to enact my fiery vengeance.

But I shall wait...

The Assassin Kills (Your Moviegoing Afternoon)

Most critics have agreed that The Assassin, Hsiao-Hsien Hou's take on an 8th century Tang Dynasty feudal dispute/kissing cousins romance, is both beautiful and enigmatic. And the critics and I are in wholehearted agreement on the former; The Assassin is a painting of feudal China come to life--scored with vibrant color and pastoral charm. 

But the only enigma surrounding this film's existence, is how the filmmaker stayed awake long enough to make it. Scratch that. There's another big mystery. One that hits you about thirty minutes in, then sixty, then ninety...

And if you manage to get to the end of this hour and forty five minute slog through a history lesson, it's a mystery that will have you gritting your teeth just trying to figure out what the hell you just watched.

Who are any of these characters and what are they doing? Scenes begin and end with almost no context or connective tissue to other sections of the film and the plot is resolved when our protagonist, the assassin Yinniang, walks off into the sunset with two characters I simply could not recognize. In the middle of one baffling sequence, the camera cuts to a woman dressed like a Chinese superhero in the middle of a remote woodland area, stays with her for five or ten seconds and then moves on, without any sort of indication as to who she is or why she's important. When we catch up with this woman again, it's during a fight with Yinniang, a fight that occurs--you guessed it--without cause and without consequence. As a matter of fact, the fight stops mid-knife slice and the two characters walk off in opposite directions. 

The boredom and confusion wouldn't be so bad if Hou devoted any time or effort to make the action sequences interesting or thrilling. Instead, they just come and go without rhyme or reason, most of the time not lasting more than a minute. 

"Painting come to life" sounds nicer than it is now that I think about it. The Assassin is more like your grandfather's special set of limited edition stamps, depicting scenes from China thirteen hundred years ago, viewed from the inside of a very slow moving theme park graviton. Step off as soon as you can, the thing is never gonna spin faster.