Sunday, October 25, 2020

Why I'm going with the shorter title for Borat

I've watched the new Borat movie. 

I should tell you about it now, but I'm going to write a review of it for ReelGood, plus touch on it qualitatively here in a day or two. So you'll just have to wait. 

Today, I want to talk about its title.

If a movie is willing to have an incredibly long title, I'm usually willing to go along with it. There are those I like more and less, as discussed here. I may not write the full title every time -- blog labels being a place that particularly requires an abbreviation -- but I will laboriously type out the whole thing on all my various movie lists. 

I would also do it on my Most Recently Seen for the First Time area to the right, but you will notice, if you read this soon enough, that I only called the new movie Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. I'm about to explain why.

This movie does have a longer title, but it can't seem to settle on it.

When we first learned the extended title for the new Borat, it did not have the Subsequent Moviefilm part, and contained the subtitle Gift of Pornographic Monkey to Vice Premiere Mikhael Pence to Make Benefit Recently Diminished Nation of Kazakhstan

While that was laugh-out-loud funny -- I believe I did LOL -- it was always incredibly cheeky, and may have only existed as a leak in order to troll Republicans, Pence in particular. Or, maybe they thought they'd get sued. Either way, the movie now has, more officially, the following title:

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime to Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

This is not as funny. It's still funny, but it would have been far funnier if it were the first title released. As such, it seems like a censored compromise of the originally leaked title by taking its specific elements and rendering them generic.

They're not the only two titles that have been revealed. The first teased title was Borat 2: Great Success, though I have to imagine this was a placeholder, because it always seemed best to continue the unwieldy titular standard set by the first movie. 

But part of the reason the subtitle, even the one they eventually went with, seems sort of indefinite to me is that there's a running gag in the movie that the title keeps changing. I believe it goes through both of the above incarnations, as well as a number of others that start to name-check Rudy Giuliani rather than Pence. As the gift Borat is planning to give undergoes changes as the plot rolls forward, the unwieldy title keeps adjusting, along with adjustments to the adjectives describing Kazakhstan. (I'd list them, but I don't want to give away the plot -- plus it would involve scrolling back through the movie to find them, and I just don't feel like doing that.)

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is funny enough on its own, as the funniest part of the first movie's title is the inexact translations of its broken English. I don't need to humiliate Mike Pence for it to be funnier (it's just an added bonus). 

Plus, going with the shorter title prevents us from having to acknowledge the fact that they had to, or decided to, make it more generic in anticipation of potential lawsuits. 

Then again, having watched the movie, I really don't know how they avoided all sorts of different legal entanglements, and maybe if I did a bit of googling I'd find that they actually didn't. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Those sad days when you couldn't disconnect a phone call

I've continued to watch horror movies this October, somewhat perfunctorily, never quite feeling like I'm reaching a sweet spot, but undaunted nonetheless. Helping in that regard is that Amazon Prime has a seemingly limitless supply of awful horror movies, and with horror movies, sometimes the more awful, the better. (Or sometimes, not as awful as you hope they'll be, as was my experience with Alone in the Dark on Monday night. Oh it was bad, but it was not "special bad.")

It wasn't Amazon, but Stan, that I was on Thursday night, as I dug up the sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Or, I should say, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, as I have to keep reminding myself it was originally a five-word title.

I actually liked The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 more than I expected to, which does not mean I actually recommend watching it. My 2.5 stars on Letterboxd are, technically, just short of a recommendation. But boy is it a gonzo experience, and that certainly counts for something. The grisly hillbilly vibe of the original is certainly recreated here, with perhaps a skosh more comedy. And Dennis Hopper is nuts.

I don't want to discuss its horror elements, though. I want to discuss its telecommunications elements. 

The premise of this movie is an odd one, and it starts from the very beginning. 

In a true sign that this movie is more of a comedy than the original, the movie begins on a pair of demented yuppies driving through Texas, shooting at passing signs, attempting to force ordinary Texans off the road through games of chicken. You can tell they are demented yuppies because they drive a BMW and because they have a car phone. (They were not called "cell phones" in 1986 -- you could not use them outside the car, so they were car phones.) Also, one of them is wearing these neon glasses that appear to give him a second set of eyes. 

Their eventual encounter with the chainsaw family is characterized by the first of a few times in the movie I felt a genuine sense of horror. Leatherface appears on the flatbed of a pickup truck, whose driver is somehow able to drive just as fast backward as the yuppies drive forward. He looks even scarier than usual because he's got either a dead person, or convincing depiction of a dead person, fastened to his front, so it looks kind of like a zombie or a ghoul is wielding the saw at the yuppies. 

But I'm getting a bit ahead of myself.

One of the ways the yuppies raise hell is to call a request line of a local radio station, to engage in further trolling more than to actually request a song. And their trolling is pretty effective, because they immediately turn the DJ -- Vanita "Stretch" Brock (Caroline Williams), who becomes our protagonist -- into their prisoner. 

See, for some reason, Stretch lacks the ability to disconnect their phone call. In a bizarre scenario that could possibly reflect the realities of the time, though I can't imagine how that would be, she relies on the yuppies to hang up their phone to free up her line. If they don't hang up, she can't use the line again for any other reason. So she, a DJ who is due back on the air any moment, cannot prevent two asshole idiots from hijacking her phone line, and is left repeatedly asking them to hang up.

At first this just struck me as totally unlikely, the laziest kind of plot convenience. (It's a "convenience" because it ultimately allows her to witness the yuppies being chainsawed to death.) But now that I'm thinking about it, is that how phones really worked back then? I can't recall which, but I seem to remember some other movie where a character pleads with another character to hang up the phone.

It's funny what we forget the longer we move away from a certain period of time. I was 12 and 13 in 1986, so this is well within the range of my memory. It seems hard to believe that phone calls were ever a social contract reliant on mutual cooperation. Could a prank caller really call you up and tie up your phone line just by refusing to hang up theirs? Could that really have been?

Maybe when phones were first introduced as a method of communication, I could see this as a necessary evil subject to the limits of the technology. But as recently as 1986? Maybe I'm back to thinking it was B.S. I actually made prank phone calls myself around then, and if I'd known it was possible to tie up someone's line with my own, it's probably something I would have done.

Because the radio station records calls in order to play them on the air at their pleasure, Stretch has a recording of the yuppies being killed, and the crashing of their car does eventually sever the connection. The use of this recording is even more bizarre, and now enter Dennis Hopper.

Hopper plays a police officer who lost family members in the story of the original movie. Stretch brings him the recording as evidence of what happened, but he's in a drunken stupor and basically dismisses her. However, he later finds her again and tells her she needs to play the recording of the yuppies screaming and being dismembered on air.

What???

Apparently this is his tactic to draw out the chainsaw family. His bizarre assumption is that they will be listening to the radio station at exactly the time the snuff recording is played, and that ... what? They will come forward? They will attack the radio station? And if she has to play the recording more than once to make sure they hear it, you'd figure the station would really start to lose their regular listeners, who are probably not that big on listening to the sounds of people being chainsawed to death. Even if they are asshole yuppies.

Of course, it does work. One member of the chainsaw family calls another in time for him to pick up his own car phone -- how many people had car phones in 1986? -- and still hear the clip while it's going on. How long do people really scream when they are being chainsawed to death in a moving car? At least a minute, it would seem. (I believe the screams are actually of the passenger witnessing his driver getting a section of his skull sawed off.)

And then of course they do attack the radio station, which sets the subsequent mayhem in motion.

A thing I was really glad to get from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 was some explicit gore. That's something I really haven't found in the movies I've watched so far this October. I watched another horror movie from the 1980s -- Prom Night -- last weekend, under the mistaken belief it might contain some. But that movie was just total cheese and not the least bit satisfying.

I was satisfied by the gore in this one, if not the telecommunications. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

1968 on the brain

As we are now just two weeks away from the election, it's probably not a big surprise that we might have past elections on our minds. For us Democrats, the one foremost in our minds is probably 2016, as we wake up in night sweats about the same thing happening again, even with very positive poll numbers suggesting Joe Biden is likely to avoid the same fate as Hillary Clinton.

One election I didn't expect be constantly thinking about was the 1968 contest between Richard Nixon and Humbert Humphrey.

The election first came into my head when I was watching The War at Home last week for my Audient Authentic series. The documentary retraces the history of Vietnam war protest in Madison, Wisconsin, but does have a brief bit about the Democratic National Convention in neighboring Chicago. I didn't choose it because I was interested in engaging with that infamous convention, which featured riots between police and protestors outside the convention, but rather, because it popped up as a documentary from the 1970s on Kanopy.

As I was watching it, I didn't think ahead to the fact that I was already scheduled to be watching another movie, all about that convention, in just the next few days. It was two days later, in fact, that Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7 was released to Netflix. I wasn't planning to review it, leaving that assignment to one of my writers, but as it's a major film releasing this autumn from a major director, I did end up watching it on Sunday night. I was a bit disappointed, actually, giving it only three stars out of five --and inevitably contrasting it to the much more interesting Chicago 10, the Brett Morgen documentary from 2007, recreated from actual court transcript of that trial, and using the always engaging cinematic art of rotoscoping. 

The trifecta was completed yesterday, when I took my birthday off work and went to the beach, taking advantage of our new ability to stray more than five kilometers from our house, as we steadily easy COVID restrictions. Totally unrelated to either of these two viewings, I was listening to a podcast about the history of Jane Fonda workout video on a favorite Skate podcast of mine, Decoder Ring, hosted by Willa Paskin. The premise of the show is to dig into pop culture phenomena -- such as the rise of the throw pillow, or the "Baby Shark" song -- and figure out how they came to be. In the course of discussing Fonda's workout video, Paskin also included some clips from her days as an activist, in which she was talking about the 1968 Democratic Convention. Unbeknownst to me, Fonda actually married Tom Hayden, one of the Chicago 7, played by Eddie Redmayne in Sorkin's movie. Again unbeknownst to me, the workout video was designed to pay for Fonda's political activism endeavors.

So all three of these came within a week, which I thought was strange enough to write about.

Two of my recent experiences of that convention were only coincidental, of course, but Sorkin has enough of an activist mentality himself that I think it's probably no surprise his movie is coming out just in time for the 2020 election. Then again, as I learned from the review my ReelGood critic wrote about it, the script for this movie was first commissioned back in 2007. So the fact that it's only coming out now was certainly not premeditated from the start, though this particular release date could have eventually been, and likely was, chosen on purpose.

There are similarities between 1968 and 2020, of course, but there are as many differences. While they were then protesting the loss of American lives in Vietnam, we are now protesting the loss of black lives to racism and police brutality and other American lives to COVID. Interestingly, though, they were protesting the failed policies of a Democratic president, while the Republican in the White House is the target of all our current ire.

It's interesting, however, how little we've progressed as a society since then, and maybe we've even gone backwards. In a famous occurrence depicted in Sorkin's film, Judge Julius Hoffman (played here by Frank Langella) bound and gagged Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) for his attempt to speak on his own behalf when his attorney was waylaid by emerency surgery. That act of horrible racism and ignorance, which was sadly typical for Hoffman, had justice served almost immediately when Seale's trial was declared a mistrial by Hoffman himself. (The film makes it sort of unclear why Hoffman, who was responsible for this gagging, was also responsible for declaring the mistrial -- one of the things I suspect is also explained better in Chicago 10.) 

The justice that we can do for Blacks today is to vote Trump out of office in two weeks. Let's hope it happens. Until it does happen, though, I will probably continue to wake up in night sweats. 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Finish What You Started: Dreams

This is the fifth in my 2020 bi-monthly series finishing films I once started.

When I first envisioned devoting a bi-monthly series to movies whose viewings were interrupted, never to be resumed, I imagined I'd be watching only movies where I'd gotten a good chunk of the way in -- say, at least a third. After all, there are any number of movies over the years I started watching and said, before the ten-minute mark, "No, not right now" or "No, not ever," most of which have now been forgotten by me. 

As luck would have it, I also did not have a sixth movie in this series. My fifth, Withnail and I, is one I've been putting off but will finally get to in December. Until I came across the movie I watched on Thursday night, I thought I might watch Withnail in October simply to delay the decision on the sixth. I had reluctantly selected a placeholder, but was not really happy with it. That would be Blood Diamond, which technically obeyed the guidelines of this series because I had to turn it off on a plane that was landing with anywhere from five to 15 minutes remaining. But I didn't really want to watch that for this series, because I got what Blood Diamond was all about after watching more than two hours of it, and really didn't need to see whatever small amount I missed.

Sometimes, though, these things just work out felicitously. 

I am also involved in a monthly series that I don't write about on this blog. I'm part of a Facebook group where we get paired up with another member of the group, and watch the highest ranked movie on their Flickchart that we haven't yet seen. For October I got assigned Akira Kurosawa's Dreams (1990), which I always thought was called Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, but now notice that most places only use the single-world title.

It wasn't until I sat down to watch it on Thursday night, for that series, that I realized it would also work for this one.

Sometime in the past 15 years -- whether it was near the beginning of that time, or as recently as five years ago, I cannot say -- I started watching Dreams. Given the methodical pacing of many of Kurosawa's films, this one in particular, I realized about ten minutes in that the "No, not right now" reasoning applied. I either started it too late, or was lying too comfortably, or any one of the other things that can kill a prospective viewing. But I watched so little of it that I didn't even really think of it for this series. 

As I started watching, though, I realized I had gotten through more of it than I thought. 

The third-to-last film for the great Japanese master, a personal favorite director, is constructed as a series of vignettes based on dreams that the director actually had. Given that the film is two hours long, the average length for each would be 15 minutes. It appears I watched closer to 30 minutes of the film, because it was the end of the second vignette that I remembered, as it features an orchard of blossoming peach trees. (I had remembered them as cherry trees.) I might have slept through the first one, actually, because I did not remember it at all.

Each dream features a male character of varying ages who operates as sort of a Kurosawa surrogate. There sort of seems to be an attempt to proceed chronologically, as the first two feature a young boy, who never returns as the surrogate in the later stories. Though the third vignette features the oldest surrogate, so this is less of a firm guiding principle and more of a general trajectory. The more obvious trajectory is a metaphysical one toward the concept of death, which I will try to construct for you as I describe each short. For brevity's sake I will only describe the segments, not name them, though they do have titles. I suppose I should say my ensuing description constitutes kind of a SPOILER about the film's content, if you believe it's possible to spoil a series of short films.

The first two, as discussed, feature the younger Kurosawa. In the first, he spies a wedding ritual by foxes in the forest, the foxes of course being Japanese kabuki-style performers in costumes that suggest foxes, more than trying to look like actual foxes. In the second he visits the aforementioned cherry orchard, which has been chopped down, leaving only stumps. Wood spirits -- again, these kabuki-style performers -- try to dance it into existence again as a gift for him.

Just when you think all the pieces are going to have what appears to be a feudal Japan setting -- a metaphor for the early stages of Kurosawa's career, perhaps? -- the third segment offers us a quartet of mountain climbers threatening to be lost in a blizzard. This one proceeds in a hypnotic slow motion for five minutes before introducing a similar element of the magic seen in the first two films.

The fourth may have had the most impact on me. It features a soldier, a World War II survivor, visited by ghosts of his regiment, who were all lost in battle. The ghosts have faces that are painted blue, though they don't know they have died. They emerge from a tunnel in haunting fashion. A feral dog is also present. It's an astonishing reflection on survivor's guilt and the guilt of a country over its ambitions toward world domination.

The fifth contains a surprising shift in tone as a kind of mid-movie respite. It features a man at a museum viewing the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh, and then losing himself in them. He travels through Van Gogh's watercolor landscapes until he happens upon the painter himself, played by none other than Martin Scorsese. I saw his name in the opening credits, but as he was the only actor listed in those credits, I wondered for a moment if it was actually a producer credit. This short cleared that up.

From here the movie makes a definitive turn toward the end stages of life. The sixth segment features a series of nuclear power plant explosions that light up Mount Fuji and turn it red. A number of fleeing future victims of the radiation see it coming for them in smoke of different colors as they contemplate jumping into the sea.

If that's the moment of death, the seventh vignette starts to contemplate the afterlife. This involves a man's encounter on a barren, rocky terrain with a number of weeping horned demons. It's a vision of hell if Kurosawa ever presented one.

Fortunately, Kurosawa ends on a more positive note with a vision of heaven. His middle-aged surrogate comes upon a village of unsurpassed natural beauty that also features a variety of watermills churning the water. There's a joyous funeral parade celebrating the life of a village elder. Of course, in a sense, it's a celebration of the protagonist's life, as we are meant to understand him as passing into a new realm. He underscores this by crossing a bridge over a stream and out of sight as the film's final image.

Wow.

I had thought at first that this was Kurosawa's final film, which would have made the subjects he's examining even more profound. As it turns out, he made two more, with his last film arriving in 1993, five years before his death at age 88. (I could have sworn he was over 90 when he died, but obviously I was wrong about that.)

But my how profound this is. It's not always that directors get to make films that feel like a true summation of their careers and a reckoning with their mortality, often because they don't want to think of any particular film as possibly their last. Speaking of Scorsese, at age 77 (but 75 when he made it), he's already started making films (The Irishman) that could function that way if he doesn't get to make another. Then there are those like Clint Eastwood, who doesn't seem to be interested in reflecting on his impending death even though he is now 90.

Dreams feels like it could be a greatest hits reel for Kurosawa, as it samples from a number of cinematic modes he has explored over his career, as well as types of subject matter. There are no samurai in this film -- he probably figured he'd done that enough -- but the everpresence of the kabuki-style performers feels like a shout to them. The colors and images in this film are breathtaking, though to be certain, not all of the segments are "beautiful" in the traditional sense. Kurosawa is just as interested in gray here as he is in bright reds and greens. 

I wondered if I would be as engrossed in the film without a single narrative running through it. I don't dislike omnibus films, but they tend to be of varying quality, especially when multiple directors are involved. That each of these films contained something thematically potent and enriching, and that I would have a really hard time choosing a least favorite, just reminds me what a master Kurosawa was. Although I gave the film "only" 4.5 stars on Letterboxd, already two days later I'm wondering if it should have been five. It may already be among my top three favorite Kurosawa films.

Although I could go on, this is already the longest I've written about any film in this series, and I need to get on with my Saturday.

This series will conclude in December with Withnail and I

Friday, October 16, 2020

Audient Authentic: The War at Home

This is the tenth in my 2020 monthly series devoted to watching "classic" (pre-1990) documentaries I haven't seen, in order through the decades.

I was a bit up in the air about what to choose as my second documentary from the 1970s. After scouring such things as the Wikipedia page devoted to the history of Oscar nominations for best documentary, I landed on Scared Straight!, the movie that probably gave us that term -- about prisoners scaring wayward teenagers away from a life of crime. However, despite the film's contribution to our vernacular -- and despite the presence of Peter Falk as the narrator -- I could not find it anywhere.

Instead of continuing through the list of those best doc nominees, almost all of which were unfamiliar to me, and waiting until I randomly landed on one I could find, I decided to take a different approach. Kanopy allows you to filter your search, though you kind of have to stumble onto it to do it the right way. Earlier in this series, I'm sure I was able to filter both documentaries and the 1930s, for example. This time, I could only do documentaries or the decade in question, so I decided to do the decade in question, knowing it would fix me on my choice better than the modern-leaning documentary category would.

And that's how I landed on ... another best documentary nominee.

The War at Home, a 1979 nominee for best documentary (in the Oscars that took place in 1980), details the history of Vietnam protests in and around Madison, Wisconsin, during about a dozen year period from 1963 to the end of the war. When first reading the description, I imagined it would be more specifically about the city of Madison and how its denizens reacted to the war. That's not entirely the case. While ordinary Madison citizens do factor in, this is, probably not surprisingly, focused primarily on the students of the University of Wisconsin. Many of whom would also be Wisconsonians (is that the right word?), but not all.

This is a really thorough document and I found it quite engrossing at first. All sorts of Madison residents -- the mayor, police personnel, campus security personnel, university professors, former students, ordinary citizens -- are interviewed, and there's plenty of archival footage of protests, some of which became violent and some of which resulted in deaths. For more of a casual history buff like myself (can you be a "casual buff?"), I did not think of the University of Wisconsin as being a hotbed of protest. We hear much more about places like Kent State, where four students were killed. But this university was the site of a truck bombing that killed one person, which was undertaken by a guy who shares my last name, Karleton Armstrong. He's interviewed in the film.

As the movie went along, though, I noticed myself checking my phone more, and becoming in other ways distracted. The sheer quantity of footage of students protesting eventually became a bit numbing, even as the film does a good job of taking us through the key turning points of the war, and how those resulted in the intesification of protests. Because there is not a lot of alternative footage, the sameness of it all caused me to lose focus. That left a film that seemed like it was headed for greatness mired in "quite good" territory.

I did think it was interesting to learn details about Vietnam I had not known, which were quite a few. I also thought this made an interesting entrant in this series in that it's the first documentary I've seen that relies heavily on archival footage. That would of course become a staple of documentary filmmaking, but it's not something I have encountered in this series so far. Not that The War at Home was one of the first documentaries to do that, I suppose, but it does it quite well.

Okay, I've got two more months in this series, both of which will feature films from the 1980s. One of them is already picked out, and the other might come from ... scouring lists of best documentary nominees.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Candyman is not Dr. Giggles

For 28 years, I have been laboring under a number of misapprehensions about the horror movies Candyman and Dr. Giggles. This weekend, as an ongoing attempt to make this a horror October like past Octobers, I decided to watch both and set it all straight in my head.

I had thought going in that my reasons for confusing them were one thing, when they turned out to be something else entirely.

First, let's discuss how we got here.

For years, when I would hear Candyman mentioned, I would think "Oh, is that that one with Larry Drake?" Drake being the actor most famous, at the time, for playing Benny, the mentally challenged office messenger on L.A. Law

The 1992 horror movie that stars Drake is not, of course, Candyman, but Dr. Giggles. The reason I appear to have confused them was that they came out a week apart from one another, on October 16th and October 23rd, respectively, both in time for Halloween.

However, it was only this weekend that I even figured out both movies were from 1992. 

When I first started to disentangle the two in my head, comparatively recently when I heard Candyman described as an urban horror movie (and realized it starred Tony Todd), I thought the reason I had confused them was because Drake plays a dentist in Dr. Giggles. It would seem logical to have a homicidal dentist go by the name Candyman, and to have the ravages of sugar on your molars play some role in his chosen method of killing. (Or, more likely, a syringe filled with novocaine jammed down victims' throats.)

Except, as I learned on Saturday night when I watched the second of the two movies, Dr. Giggles is not about a homicidal dentist. In fact, Drake's character's big thing is supposed to be surgically removing the hearts of his victims while they are still alive. (Though, confusingly, that's almost never how he actually kills people.) He's a surgeon, and probably wouldn't know a thing about your mouth unless he needed to remove a tumor from it.

So essentially, my entire understanding of both of these movies was completely wrong.

As it turns out, the only similarity between them is their release dates. And the biggest difference is their quality.

Candyman, which I watched on Friday night, has actually been remade from a script by Jordan Peele, and would have come out already except for the pandemic. It's now scheduled for 2021. And now I know why Peele thought it was worth remaking.

This is a dark and blood-chilling story of a Black man who was tortured to death for micegeneation in the late 19th century. He had his hand sawed off and then was covered with honey so that bees would sting him to death. The legend is that he haunts a particular Chicago housing project with a hook jammed into the stump of his arm, but you can also conjure him -- anywhere, I guess? -- by looking in the mirror and saying his name five times.

While the different parts of the Candyman mythology don't really speak to each other -- the hook, the bees, and saying his name five times could be their own defining characteristic for a horror movie ghoul -- that is pretty much the only complaint I have about Bernard Rose's film. The mood is set from the start when the credits play over a God's eye view of highway traffic, and then go into a chilling opening voiceover in which Candyman talks about gutting a person with his hook, and summons an unholy quantity of bees to darken the skies of downtown Chicago.

That mode is maintained throughout, through a number of gruesome killings, but also through the psychological torment visited on the protagonist, played by Virginia Madsen. (As a side note, as I was watching, I temporarily forgot about the existence of Virginia Madsen and thought I was looking at a young Gillian Anderson. IMDB set me straight.) After summoning Candyman through the incantation, she is repeatedly framed for the gory deaths of other characters, jailed and hospitalized as she has to argue for her innocence and fend off further visitations from the title character. It made me think of this year's The Invisible Man in its attempts to make society's view of a hysterical woman part of the horror, though this was nearly three decades earlier, and therefore, three decades more radical in its thinking.

Of course, you can't discount the other ways it is advanced, setting a horror in the housing projects and having many of the characters be African-American -- including the monster. There are chilling images of the murder of the man who became Candyman painted, mural-style, on the inner walls of the housing project, including this one image they return to of a man's gaping mouth as he screams. I'm getting chills just thinking about it. The abstract terror that hovers over this movie is regularly grounded by the brutality of the hook-related disembowelments. A grisly and unshakeable Halloween viewing treat indeed.

Dr. Giggles, on the other hand, is a piece of shit.

Whereas Candyman takes pains to establish the character's awful backstory, Dr. Giggles does pretty much the opposite. Oh, it gets to why Dr. Evan Rendell is the way he is -- he lost his wife to a heart condition, and is seeking a "replacement heart" in all his victims -- but it jumps right in on a scene of mayhem on the operating table, in which Giggles is giggling and performing reckless surgery on his victim as mental patients he released from their confinement are watching from the upper viewing area of the operating theater. The speed with which we are dropped into events is disorienting, and we don't ever really get our bearings.

Candyman is more complex for the ways it forces us to sympathize with the title character for what happened to him. Dr. Giggles is having none of that. I can only think of a single moment in the film when you see him display anything approaching sorrow for his lost wife, but it's over very quickly. The filmmakers didn't want to open up any scenario where you would want anything less than the total destruction of the villain. So instead, he just drops one bad medical pun after another while dispatching his dozen or so victims throughout the course of the film.

I also couldn't help but notice the poor production values. The post-dubbing was really off in a number of the scenes, giving the movie the sense of having a far lower budget than it probably had. (The opening credits sequence, in which we travel through the internal organs of a patient through computer animation, shows that the movie did have some financial resources at its disposal.) The acting is quite bad too, though I enjoyed seeing a young version of future Charmed actress Holly Marie Coombs when she was only 18.

I noted that comedy was listed among the genres for Dr. Giggles, which suggests that some of the terrible one-liners and other details were intentional. But really, that doesn't excuse this movie for me. It's like trying to tell me that Hubie Halloween -- which I saw earlier this week and absolutely loathed -- was funny because it's supposed to be bad. That may be true, but all I see is a bad movie, and that's the case with Dr. Giggles.

And now I will most certainly never confuse the two again. 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

I'm not preserving Tenet anymore

Tenet has been, in many ways, the film of 2020. 

At the start of the year, it was one of the most, if not the most, anticipated movie(s) of the year. That's a likely outcome for any new Christopher Nolan release.

Then it was our greatest gauge of how coronavirus was affecting the movie business, as its ever-changing release was a moving goalpost for when things might be getting "back to normal," which would in turn signal to other movies it was safe to debut. When it became clear things weren't getting "back to normal," eventually they just had to release the thing. 

Then it became a further cautionary tale to movies considering releasing by taking in a paltry box office compared to what it could have made under normal circumstances. Quite unjustly, I imagine, it will go down as a historic flop.

I still haven't seen the thing. Movie theaters have not been open in the state of Victoria, the hardest hit by COVID in Australia, since early July. Having learned our lesson by a spike in cases, now the government is delaying the potential re-opening of cinemas as one of the last benchmarks in our return to some semblance of normalcy. 

But yesterday, I stopped preserving it as a gift waiting to be opened at some point in my future, because I have no idea when that time is ever going to come.

I had been holding back one of my Filmspotting podcasts that's more than a month old now, because I didn't want to hear spoiler talk about Tenet. Now, the Filmspotting guys are good about avoiding actual spoilers, but I think you would agree that a Christopher Nolan film can be best when you know nothing about it. Even the premise of some Nolan films is something that's only revealed once you start watching, and Tenet seemed like a prime example of that.

What ultimately caused me to cave is that their review of I'm Thinking of Ending Things was nestled into the second half of the podcast. I wanted to access that review, and forwarding through content I don't want to hear is just not how I roll. (Especially when I'm out for a six-and-a-half-mile run, and I need most of the podcast's 93 minutes to get through it.) 

So yeah, yesterday I "gave up" on Tenet.

Which was a sad but very 2020 thing to do.

The good news is, they didn't do a special spoiler section on the movie (sometimes they warn us to press stop if we haven't seen it, then proceed to spoil it), and that they were both flummoxed enough by the movie that they mightn't have been able to spoil what happened even if they wanted to. So Tenet has not been totally despoiled for me.

The bad news is, they did describe certain shots, certain techniques, that I would have been thrilled to come across organically while watching the movie. And that's the kind of thing they definitely do have to talk about if they want to talk about anything at all.

The "I'm not sure how I feel about it" news is that both podcasters considered it the worst Nolan film they've seen. Not by leaps and bounds, but by enough of a margin that they didn't really doubt that conclusion. 

So maybe that's another way Tenet is like 2020. In the end it is a disappointment, and we just don't understand what to make of it. 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Syn not Skin

While making my way through podcasts discussing Charlie Kaufman's I'm Thinking of Ending Things -- four already so far, with one left to go -- I'm becoming increasingly aware of a weird phenomenon.

In setting up Kaufman's career to date, there has been occasion, on nearly every podcast, for the podcasters to list some of his other greatest hits, including his 2008 directorial debut, Synedoche, New York.

Now, I lived in New York City for nearly three years in the late 1990s-early 2000s, and was always an east coaster before that, so I knew right away that the film's title was a play on words that invoked the city of Schenectady, New York. 

If you didn't live in New York, and in fact let's say you lived in Paris or Munich or Tokyo, you might have no idea about the existence of a city named Schenectady, New York. So you would endeavor to pronounce the film's title phonetically, as is actually how it is pronounced: "Sin-eck-doh-key." 

But there has been a small (?) subsection of critics who do know about the city and are also not very skilled at pronouncing multi-syllabic words. They have persisted in calling the film "Schenectady, New York," almost as though Kaufman misspelled it but intended us to pronounce it exactly like the city. (Or "Skin"-ectady, as I suggested in the title of this post, as it's really more of an I than an E sound.) 

For the record, that pronunciation is "Skin-eck-ti-dee." So, only the second syllable is actually the same. 

I have heard this wrong pronunciation from the mouths of two such critics on the podcasts so far, neither of whom seem like people who should have problems with multiple syllables. 

It's just really not how it's pronounced. Yet they were dogged in their pronunciation, even when others on the podcast had occasion to say the word and pronounced it "Sin-eck-doh-key."

I had a bit of a crisis about this because I was asked to pronounce for a friend, who runs one of these podcasts himself. He had no idea how to pronounce it, so he came to me. I told him.

And then I heard these two other podcasters go against me.

So I listened to pronunciations on YouTube, which seemed to support my pronuncation, and then I listened to a couple interviews with Charlie Kaufman, where I was hoping he would say the title but he didn't. However, from those interviews, I gleaned that just as Kaufman would not want to begrudge anyone their interpretation of his films -- and doesn't provide his own so as not to infringe on those -- he would probably invite multiple pronunciations of the title as well.

The thing that finally confirmed for me was a bit online that said that there was an entire page in the press materials when the movie was released that was devoted to the pronunciation of the title. And in that bit it lists this pronunciation as "[Sih-NECK-doh-kee]," which varies from mine only in a few typographical choices in how to depict the syllables, and by including which syllable to emphasis. (For the record, I emphasize the same syllable). 

So what explains those two podcasters and their stubbornness about mispronouncing the title that is by no means unique to them?

Who knows. Maybe they are just free spirits who refuse to be pinned down to a single perspective on a piece of art, something Kaufman would certainly endorse.

Oh yeah, one final thing I'll leave you with. It's one of many in a series by the YouTube channel PronunciationManual, and it's hilarious.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Watch your mouth, there are children acting nearby

When considering the idea of adult content in movies that also feature child actors, I always think of that great moment in Jerry Maguire.

You remember the one. Tom Cruise is at the end of his tether and goes on an extended rant, which is either directed to, or in the presence of, the young kid played by Jonathan Lipnicki. During this rant he lets an f-bomb slip out. When he finally stops speaking, Lipnicki's Ray looks at him and says, in a shocked whisper, "You said 'fuck.'"

The moment makes you laugh because it's funny, but also because it discomfits you. The idea of an adult failing to sanitize his language in front of a child is funny, because we've all done it, in most cases by accident. (Or when you and your family almost get run over by a car that's driving on the bike path. Speaking from experience.) In the making of Jerry Maguire, they had to do it on purpose. Even if a child actor would tend to be less innocent than your average child, it still feels a little wanton. But it works and is memorable and I support it. 

One of the reasons Little Monsters is a bad movie is that it repeatedly trammels on these decency standards, in situations that don't make you laugh, and never really had the hope of doing so.

On the surface, there is everything to like about this Australian zom-com, which played MIFF last year as the mid-festival showcase, and which stars the wonderful Lupita Nyong'o. She's not only wonderful in general, but she's lovely in this movie. 

That's in direct contrast to her two adult co-stars, who take toxic masculinity to a particularly profane level.

The story involves a class of students who go to a zoo that's next to an American military site, where they are doing testing that results in the unleashing of zombies. The cheap pot shots the movie takes at Americans would be triggering enough to reduce the effectiveness of this movie for me, if I really cared about that sort of thing. (Especially nowadays, when we so richly deserve it). 

Nyong'o's character is the class teacher, but she's not the movie's main character, all advertising to the contrary. It's a good 15 minutes before we meet her, because we have to spend the beginning of the movie on an extended montage of an angry break-up between Dave (Alexander England, who reminds me of Alfie Allen) and his girlfriend. Dave is the uncle of one of the kids in the class, Felix (Diesel La Torraca), and has to live with Felix and his mum (Dave's sister) after the break-up. 

Dave is the good guy. We know this because we can tell that his transgressions are not disqualifying. He will learn to be a better guy over the course of the narrative. But among those transgressions is to repeatedly drop f-bombs in the presence of his nephew, who must be about six years old. Even if he's not accustomed to being around kids on a regular basis, and his life is in disarray, he puts very little effort into keeping his language clean. The patience of his sister is off the charts, especially when Dave takes the kid over to his girlfriend's house as part of a misguided marriage proposal in the middle of the night, and finds her shagging another guy. 

But the coup de grace in terms of both casual torrents of profanity and American bashing comes in the form of the character played by Josh Gad. That's right, the guy who voices the snowman in the Frozen movies, who surely has enough money to avoid garbage like this.

Gad plays an American children's entertainer named Teddy McGiggle, who is performing at the zoo that day. If there's anything more tired than the idea that a children's entertainer is actually a foul-mouthed asshole, I don't know what it might be.

But this particular character is a caricature of even the most extreme characterizations of this type of character. (Once I used both "character" and "caricature" in that sentence I decided just to double down on the allieration.) Teddy McGiggle drops profanity not only casually, but in the extreme, even calling someone the c-word. He is dripping with unwarranted malevolence. He's also cowardly and sniveling. He double crosses people who have helped him for no greater reason than to make us more and more satisfied at the arrival of his inevitable demise at the hands of the zombies. After teaming up with one particular character to get to a vehicle that can help them all escape, he not only shuts himself up inside in order to escape alone, for no reason other than basic meanness, but he also gives the finger to the characters he abandoned outside. 

Little Monsters did not need to make Teddy McGiggle so vile, and it did not need to expose the 15 to 20 children who acted in it to such repeated vileness. I know the c-word is used more casually in Australia than it is in the U.S., but just imagine being those actors' parents as they watched the movie and had to explain to their kids why a children's entertainer used that most gut-punchy and gender-specific of insults. 

I'm not a prude, but if a movie is going to stomp all over such basic decency considerations, it has to do other things right. But the only thing it does right is present us with a very sweet Lupita Nyong'o in a yellow sundress. Everything else is hateful and tone deaf, and there's nothing even remotely clever about the zombie stuff, which may be the worst part of all. 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Five years in the doghouse is long enough

Five Octobers ago I watched The Empire Strikes Back for the first time in eight years, as the fifth in a six-movie preparation prior to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. That viewing shockingly upended my previous comparative rankings of Star Wars movies. For some unknown number of years, I had claimed that the sequel to the original Star Wars was my favorite Star Wars movie. In one two-hour viewing of an albeit "scruffy looking" copy of the original Empire, I lost all that. (You can read the full post here.)

Not only had it been my favorite of the Star Wars movies, but it had been my fifth favorite movie of all time. Its #5 ranking on Flickchart put it only three spots ahead of Star Wars, so the difference there was negligible. But that also meant it was ahead of some 4,000 and change other movies.

In the time since then, there has been a corrective on Flickchart. It started with Do the Right Thing beating it (as discussed here), and then went on from there. The movie that was once #5 on my Flickchart is now ... #46. Still very high in terms of its overall 99th percentile, but quite a fall from grace for a no-doubt top ten movie up until five years ago. 

Every time a movie would beat The Empire Strikes Back, sending it a notch further downward, or beat a movie that was ahead of Empire, which had the same result, I greeted it with some concern. Too much more of this, and it might threaten to fall below Return of the Jedi, which is at #58. For five years now, I've known that another reckoning with Empire was necessary. I just didn't know when.

It should have come before now. It was Christmastime in 2017 when we watched, as a family, the original Star Wars. That meant me, my wife, a relatively sentient seven-year-old and a likely clueless young boy who was a week away from turning four. The goal was to watch one Star Wars movie each Christmas until, I don't know, we got to the prequels at least. 

But we didn't watch The Empire Strikes Back in 2018, nor in 2019, nor so far in 2020. And that had everything to do with the relatively sentient seven-year-old, who is now ten. 

Although he liked Star Wars fine, he has told me on a number of occasions that he doesn't like "Star Wars," as a concept rather than a single movie. This despite an interest in Star Wars-related paraphernalia, like our Where's the Wookiee? books.

So we didn't push that next viewing. It likely wouldn't have happened Sunday either, except my wife wanted to do a family movie, but we were all Marvel'd out. Since getting Disney+ at the end of August we have watched Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange and Ant-Man -- each of which successively became my ten-year-old's favorite movie he'd ever seen. Ant-Man and the Wasp seemed like a logical next step, and I'm sure the kids would have gone for it, but my wife put on the kibosh -- wanting to save it for later, so it felt fresh again.

We were throwing around other movies -- the merits of Frozen II were half-heartedly considered -- but the time our pizza was arriving was fast approaching, so I just made a command decision. Tonight would be the night that I, that we all, would reckon with The Empire Strikes Back. (It being the 40th anniversary of the movie also appealed to my internal editor's sense of a good news peg.)

After only a few moments of the pristine version of the movie available on Disney+, my "scruffy looking" takeaway from the previous viewing was as thing of the past. I suspected, without outright knowing, that the rest of my complaints would fall by the wayside, too. I immediately felt as though I were back in the company of an old favorite.

One of the things that helped me recognize that was how much investment I felt in whether the kids were enjoying it. If I no longer vouched for Empire, I probably wouldn't care much. But it was clear that I did, and that I do.

They were both incredibly restless, for different reasons. The younger one (now six) was running back and forth on the side of the room, shooting lasers. That's a positive outcome.

The older one was wriggling from one position to another in a beanbag chair, apparently bored.

We used different strategies to quiet them down, with varying success. Though as we have both obviously seen the movie many times, my wife and I didn't try too hard.

Despite all this evidence of my ten-year-old's fitfulness, I was still surprised to hear his assessment when it was all over.

"Did you like it?" I asked.

"No," he responded, definitively. "It was really bad."

I had girded myself for the likely response from a soon-to-be-teenager, which I imagined would be "It was okay." But this really surprised me. I didn't ask any follow-up questions.

It was time for them to go to bed, so I didn't want to impede that part of the process. But I remained sitting on the couch during the credits, befuddled.

Before I had a chance to get up, my son returned to the couch and apologized for not liking the movie.

"That's okay," I said. "You don't have to like it. But what do you think it is about it that doesn't connect with you?"

It was here I was reminded of what an essentially weird movie The Empire Strikes Back is. Especially when you only sort of remember the events of the first movie, which you saw three years ago -- which might as well be 20 when you are a kid.

We should have known from the start there were disconnects here. Not four minutes into the movie my son had asked to pause it, to clarify what was going on. He only sort of remembered the characters from the first movie, and says he does not even remember the Death Star blowing up. We had just read the crawl aloud, but it had not helped. And now suddenly they were on this planet covered with snow, which had nothing to do with any of the settings he may have vaguely remembered from the first movie. 

He didn't ask us to pause it any more times during the movie, perhaps because he allowed the momentum of some of the action scenes to propel him along, perhaps just because he sensed we were annoyed by the interruption. But it was clear he had never fully gotten on the wavelength of this movie.

As he tried to explain what was wrong with the movie, he said "A lot of things happened that seemed like they were important, and then they didn't end up seeming as important as they should have."

I think what he's describing here is the lack of resolution at the end of the movie. As a middle movie in a trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back could end without a happy ending. But my son has seen very few movies that have cliffhanger endings. In fact, he might have seen none. (Avengers: Infinity War is still far off in our Marvel future.) 

I think his comment could be describing that Luke Skywalker loses the lightsaber battle to Darth Vader (and his hand), or that Han Solo is taken away frozen in carbonite, his face a kind of horrifying death scream. I wouldn't be surprised if he were also disturbed by Luke's face appearing in Darth Vader's decapitated helmet after their confrontation on Dagobah, which certainly got me, back in the day. I had to explain that it was a vision, and they didn't ask any follow-up questions.

I think they were also confused by characters like Lando Calrissian. They are not accustomed to processing ideas like betrayal, or how a compromised character can redeem himself as the movie goes along. 

But the real mind-fuck the movie put on him was also the most surprising thing, to me, about his whole viewing experience:

"Why was Darth Vader Luke's father?"

"Didn't you know that?" I asked.

"No," he said.

Now it's me that's mind-fucked.

In this post I wrote about my worries of Star Wars being spoiled for my kids through supplemental material, like the storybook Darth Vader and Son, which includes a bunch of cute drawings of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker engaged in banal father and son activities. I had wanted the reveal in Empire Strikes Back to still have an impact on my kids when they eventually saw it, but assumed that it was not possible.

When I asked what he thought that book was talking about, apparently, my son thought it had been a joke, like if you made a book where Frankenstein's monster was Superman's father. (That's my example, not his.) He didn't think it was like, you know, real.

That's because in a child's world, it's really hard to comprehend that the epitome of evil and the epitome of good could be related to one another. It's a really adult concept to try to grapple with.

In the ten minutes after the movie ended, he had already done some of the grappling. In just talking about it on the couch for a few minutes, he had upgraded his assessment to "pretty good." In the coming days, he will likely continue to process it, and maybe he will unlock more of the experience he had.

As for me, Empire is back in my good graces. I don't think it's going to be back in my top ten on Flickchart anytime soon, but I can easily see it working its way back up to the 20s. I still like Star Wars better, but most of my previous affection for Empire has officially been restored.

The period of reckoning for my son may determine where we go from here. If he can come around on Empire, maybe a viewing of Return of the Jedi will be in the offing, and we'll go from there. Maybe a love will be born. My wife has already suggested something only tangentially related to this storyline, like Rogue One, as a next possible viewing, to see if that helps steer the ship.

Or maybe Star Wars just won't ever be his thing.

As for the younger one ... well, we already know he loves the lasers. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Difficult to resist

Well, we have that rare kind of news event that crosses over the semi-permeable membrane between the news and my movie blog: Donald Trump has coronavirus.

Because I'm a dutiful editor, I can easily find a movie tie-in.

I'll get to that in a moment.

First, though, I want to say it is has been hard not to go on social media and gloat about this, given the man he is and the science he has disregarded with maximum disdain. I did actually post something on Facebook about Trump's potential exposure to COVID, only a few hours before he confirmed his positive test, based only on the Hope Hicks positive test. But the main reason I posted it was that I was out with my kids on an elevator that afternoon, where I saw a shape that could not help but remind me of a caricature of Trump's head in profile. See if you agree:

Worried that it was too obscure, I included this text to try to help people: "The man on the left did not. (Looks like DT doesn't it?)"

After he actually announced that he and Melania Trump had tested positive, I considered taking the post down, worried it would be viewed as insensitive. Or at the very least, I thought I should include a comment that contextualized the post. But I did neither. Trump would not have done that, and the tones of many other posts on social media were worse than my apparent flippancy. They can check the time stamp if they really want to know whether I was mocking the leader of the free world who suddenly might be very sick, but as I said, Trump would not care about such an appearance of insensitivity himself. You gotta fight fire with fire.

We had been planning anyway to watch the movie Irresistible on Friday night, without any knowledge of the events that were about to transpire on Friday during the day (Australia time). This is of course Jon Stewart's timely movie about a Democratic and a Republican operative at the national level who are both trying to win a mayoral election in a small Wisconsin town. We only had about five days left on the iTunes rental so now was the time.

The movie has a very pointed passage on what is supposed to separate Democrats (whom Stewart supports) from Republicans (whom he vehemently opposes). To his credit, Stewart relentlessly roasts both sides in this movie in the hopes of reaching a larger, greater good. The passage discusses the beloved Democratic adage "When they go low, we go high."

The smarmy Democratic campaign manager, Gary Zimmer (played by Steve Carell), approaches his mayoral candidate and the candidate's daughter, Jack and Diana Hastings (Chris Cooper and Mackenzie Davis), with an idea to reveal a scandal about his opponent, involving oxycontin and nepotism. The following exchange ensues about their morals:

Diana: "Come on, Gary. We're the good guys, right?"

Gary: "Yeah, we're the good guys."

Diana: "When they go low ..."

Gary: "... we go high."

Diana: "Unless we also need to go low, apparently."

Gary: "Only to keep those who would go lower out of power."

Diana: "So, when they go low, we go high ... -er, incrementally, in relation to how low they went."

Gary: "Regrettably, yes."

Diana: "When they go low, we go almost as low, but we feel worse doing it."

The conversation gets at the heart of political strategy. Or where strategy butts up against idealism.

They are both right, effectively. It's what I said earlier. You have to fight fire with fire.

But at what point are you just sacrificing the integrity of your own ideological position? The 2016 election taught Hillary Clinton -- and actually taught this character, specifically, as he is supposed to have worked on Clinton's campaign -- that she didn't fight dirty enough to win. He doesn't want to make that mistake again. After a few more backs and forths in the verbal exchange, Gary concludes, "I'm sorry, but sometimes good people have to do shitty things for the greater good."

But Diana is the idealist American needs right now. She knows that when you go lower and lower and lower, there is no bottom to how low you will go. And when you are deciding to go that low, often you cannot even tell if you will end up going lower than your opponent until after it's all over. In fact, going less low could, in this political philosophy, be a sign of weakness. If you go not as low, not as quickly, you are just creating another recipe for failure. 

The only way to really win -- even if you don't actually win a particular election -- is to relentlessly go high.

Do you know who did resist an impulse to gloat over Trump's diagnosis on social media, when he may have had more reason than anyone to do so?

Joe Biden.

Not only did he tweet wishes for "swift recovery" to Trump and Melania, without any "but" attached, but the campaign is also planning to pull all its negative advertising against Trump, at least temporarily.

Going high is not always the winning strategy, but I'm hoping in this case it will be. 

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Prime time

Earlier this year, I considered writing a post entitled "Movies I can't access," which would have commented on the growing phenomenon of not being able to see specific movies unless you subscribed to the one service where they were available. Whereas in the past, you could either see them in the theater or wait for the video window, now there are certain films that you just can't see unless you subscribe. 

That's been true for several years in terms of Netflix, though it hadn't been affecting me because I was a Netflix subscriber. But earlier this year I really started to notice that I couldn't see all the movies people were talking about unless I ponied up for at least a few more subscriptions.

And though I hate the idea of subscribing to a hundred different individual streaming packages, yesterday I took another step toward that eventuality. 

That's right, following on the heels of recent additions of Disney+ and AppleTV+, I am now an Amazon Prime subscriber. 

It's my second time as an Amazon subscriber, I should say, but the first was a number of years ago, and totally unwitting on my part. I had accepted a free trial of Amazon Prime when I purchased something on Amazon, just in order to get free shipping I think. It was long enough ago that I hadn't really realized what such a subscription entailed, or what it could get me, and I never even watched any movies using the subscription. In fact, I even forgot entirely I had done it. It was only a year or so later, when I realized I'd been paying for it after my trial period ended, that I got wise and cancelled my membership.

I don't really need another service to look up old films, though I can't deny it will probably be helpful to me. But I do think it's time to remove my obstruction to certain new releases. 

The one I watched last night to celebrate the new service was Blow the Man Down, a small-town crime thriller that holds a special place in my heart because it's set in Maine, where my dad lives and where I went to college. I'd heard this discussed on two podcasts ages ago, probably back in March when it was first released, and had been wondering since then when I'd ever get the chance to watch it.

The answer was simple: Just plunk down $59 for the first year of an annual Amazon Prime membership.

There's a reason for this decision beyond just wanting to be a bigger part of the conversation about new releases on the podcasts I listen to. And that's so I'm no longer Netflix's bitch.

As you may recall, I am writing most of the reviews on ReelGood now that my former editor has departed to focus on other things. (He'll be back to write the occasional review, such as Mank and Tenet, when they both become available to us here in Australia.) During COVID, I've had to turn to streaming content to continue regularly posting new reviews. Unfortunately, that content is limited by the streaming subscriptions I actually have. 

When it was only Netflix, I was basically all Netflix, all the time. Now, of course, not all my reviews of Netflix movies were good, and in fact, I've slammed several of their 2020 releases with ratings of 2/10 or lower. But if your argument is "any press is good press," then indeed I have been doing Netflix's bidding this year. If not for screeners sent to me through my ReelGood contacts for other theatrical and VOD releases, my 2020 content might be Netflix or nothing at all.

Now, at least I can say I've got a second service to select from. I've also got Disney+ and AppleTV+, but they don't seem to release new movies as frequently. Whereas with Amazon Prime, there are a whole host of new Blumhouse movies coming out starting next week, as part of a new(ish) deal between Amazon and Jason Blum. 

I would normally hand off horror to my other writer on ReelGood, as that's his specialty, but I won't in this case as I want to put my new membership to work for me. 

There are still some movies I can't access. Like, I'm not sure when I'll finally get to see the Andy Samberg-Cristin Milioti vehicle Palm Springs, which remains stranded on Hulu, which is not a service you can get in Australia. I'm also still impeded from Seth Rogen's An American Pickle, which is the sole property of HBO. 

But before I figure out whether I'm going to make myself dependant on two more streaming services in order to get my much-desired full coverage, I'll appreciate Amazon for a bit, including Selah and the Spades, which was another movie I heard talked about earlier in the year. Not to mention all the low-budget horror Jason Blum can churn out, starting next week.

This has been a year about trying to figure out how we're going to access movies in general, with theaters closed. Considering that I'm at about my same number of total new movies seen as in previous years, it tells me that by hook or by crook or by an umpteenth new streaming service, I'm managing it.