Friday, July 30, 2021

I guess you can't trademark a day

If you can believe it, I didn't realize the title of the body-swapping horror comedy from last year, Freaky, was actually a nod to Freaky Friday until I started watching the movie Thursday night. And I can't blame the fact that I only saw Freaky Friday (the original) for the first time earlier this year. Everyone knows that high concept even if they haven't seen the movie. 

What clued me in was actually a reference to a different movie.

When Freaky opens, we see a couple cold open kills after the words "Wednesday the 11th" flash up on the screen in letters dripping blood.

That prompted two thoughts:

1) "So wait ... Thursday the 12th, and then Friday the 13th! FREAKY FRIDAY!"

and then

2) "Wait, are they allowed to reference Friday the 13th in this movie?"

Only at this point did I slap my forehead -- metaphorically if not actually -- and realize that the unending series of slasher movies starring Jason Voorhees does not have sole dominion over references to the unluckiest day on the calendar.

Freaky does lean into the comparisons a bit, though. The Jason Blum-produced film has another Jason it obviously wants us to think of with this appearance of the Blissfield Butcher, the character played by Vince Vaughn:


That may not be a hockey mask, but it's close enough.

Leave it to Blum -- in collaboration with Happy Death Day writer-director Christopher Landon -- to figure out how to allude to something without directly thieving from it. Nothing else about Freaky actually relates to the misadventures of Mr. Voorhees, so plausible deniability abounds. The shrewd move here is to make us think of Jason if that's a good thing for us, or allow us to discard the associations if that works better. Blum has gotten to this point in his career by figuring out how to give all sorts of different people what they want.

They could have taken steps to steer clear of the association with the existing franchise, but why would you? The movie owes a more obvious debt to Freaky Friday, and if the Friday part is already a fixed part of the "adaptation," then why wouldn't you take the next obvious step and make it Friday the 13th?

Besides, according to the internet, the associations of Friday the 13th being an unlucky day go all the way back to the year 1307, with the arrest of the Knights Templar on that day, and may have come into public consciousness exactly 600 years later with the 1907 release of Thomas Lawson's novel of the same name. It was another 73 years after that that the first Jason movie was finally released. 

Also, I don't care what might be begged, borrowed or stolen from that franchise, because Freaky is way better than any Friday the 13th movie I've ever seen. I simply loved this movie -- everything about it, really, but especially the performances of Vaughn and Kathryn Newton in the key roles. It's also way better than Landon's Happy Death Day movies, and this is with me liking the second one quite a bit more than the first.

I mightn't have written this today -- this marks posts on nine straight days, and both you and I could probably use a day off. But how could I miss the chance to publish this on a Friday?

You know I couldn't. Might as well tell Jason Voorhees to wear a fencing mask. 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Movies named like soft drinks

Sometimes you notice stupid little themes in the names of new movies coming out and you just have to write a blog post about them. 

If you're me, anyway. Which you aren't, so, you do you.

Me, I'll do me and write this post, even if it ends up being thirsty work. 

You'll see what I mean in a minute. 

When the Netflix movie Moxie, directed by and co-starring Amy Poehler, came out earlier this year, I mentioned in my review that Moxie is also the name of a soft drink that used to be available when I was growing up, and may still be in certain New England novelty stores. It looks like this:

What does it taste like?

Dirt.

Sorry, correction. It tastes like a cross between root beer and dirt.

But I once drank it semi-regularly because some friends of mine liked it and we thought it made us very eccentric.

Just to be completist, this is what the poster looks like:

Now, a new movie is out on Amazon that I've just reviewed called Jolt. And guess what Jolt also is?

A soft drink.

It looks like this:

What does it taste like?

I have no idea. I don't think I've ever had one. But probably not great if I had to guess.

What does the movie taste like?

Dirt.

Sorry, correction. It tastes like a cross between shit and dirt.

Yeah, I didn't much like Moxie -- good try, sort of, Amy Poehler -- but it is a masterpiece compared to Tanya Wexler's obnoxious misfire.

Now I just need them to release a movie called Squirt and the trifecta will be complete. 

There was also a movie that came out this year called Cherry -- on yet a third streaming service, Apple TV+ -- and there's such a thing as cherry soda. But I'm not going to stretch it.

Hard as it may be to believe, I do have my standards. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Silent Cage

At this point in his career, I figured filmmakers had already done everything with Nicolas Cage that they could possibly do with Nicolas Cage.

Then I saw Willy's Wonderland.

On the surface, it is among the least surprising uses of Cage. It's about a badass loaner who has to fight a bunch of singing animatronic characters from a children's theme restaurant. It's dripping with grunge and the exploitation quality that has characterized the best uses of Cage in recent years (such as Mandy). 

But within that there's a small detail that stands out, and though this may qualify as a minor spoiler, it's worth telling you if it gets you to overcome your valid wary preconceptions and watch Willy's Wonderland:

He never says a single word.

That's right, director Kevin Lewis willfully deprives Cage of one of his main cinematic tools, one of the main reasons people want to cast him in the first place: his voice.

Cinema is first and foremost a visual tool, and Lewis understands that -- he's got deceptively strong abilities with editing and with arrangement of characters within a shot. If the movie looks "terrible" sometimes, that's by design. It's supposed to look like a piece of dirty grindhouse garbage. 

Part of his visual instinct is the understanding that a character like "The Janitor" -- that's the only way Cage's character is known, conscripted into cleaning up the titular restaurant after he doesn't have the cash to pay for four flat tires on his car -- needn't be verbal to make an impression. In fact, Cage has got the presence to make plenty of an impression, and can communicate everything that needs to be communicated through nods and discomfiting stares. 

And surely it's also a gimmick. Lewis is smart enough to know that Nicolas Cage not talking for the entire movie is a selling point in and of itself. I mean, I'm hoping I can sell you on it here. 

Cage does come close to speaking on occasion -- he does verbalize sometimes, as when he is letting out cries of rage and exertion while beating to death one particularly stubborn animatronic monster. But no words actually emanate from him. 

It's possible there would be an exception somewhere in his career, but more than likely this is Cage's first ever wordless performance. "Crazy Cage" -- that quality that has made him a top name for a project like Willy's Wonderland -- often requires the ranting and raving of a man going off his rocker. 

However, Kevin Lewis realizes you can also get "Crazy Cage" just by having him repeatedly whale on demented animatronics until the black oil that serves as their blood is spattered all over his face and clothes.

Willy's Wonderland is no Mandy. Don't take this recommendation as more than it is. 

It's a movie worth seeing, though, for more than just the novelty of Cage never speaking. It's not the first time a movie has tried to make children's characters sinister -- in fact, it's probably not the 100th time -- but I don't specifically remember a movie set in a ghoulish Chuck E. Cheese's, so it's got that going for it as well. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

One for us, one for him

My younger son has sat through a lot of movies and TV shows he probably didn't understand.

I think he was pretty much with The Mandalorian, but WandaVision? Loki? Who knows what his seven-year-old brain made of the existential themes and space-time conundrums of those shows. 

The same has probably been true for many, or at least some, of the Marvel movies we've watched. I don't suppose our Saturday night family movie, Ant-Man and the Wasp, was too taxing on his noodle, but he was showing a propensity to talk and squirm, despite all other evidence that he was enjoying himself.

Whether or not he gets the same things out of these movies and TV shows as we do, he sits through them dutifully, never complaining that they are beyond him, and only asking a minimum of clarifying questions. I imagine at least part of the time he is just going with the flow.

And sometimes, we just need to compensate him for his good nature.

Which is why our second family movie of this past weekend was the one you see in this poster, Dog Gone Trouble

Look, it wasn't nearly as bad as you might expect. It wasn't good, but I liked it better as it went along. 

But my younger son liked it the whole time, and that's the point.

And his mother did a great job pretending that she liked it. She laughed at only the slightest provocations, moments that I knew she did not actually find funny. She's good that way. Our roles seem to have become established here, where she plays it up while I sit there in a mostly stony silence, half-heartedly praising it if forced to make a comment on the topic. I mean, being a film critic has to count for something, doesn't it?

It's funny the role my cinephile snobbery plays in it, though. My starting to like it a bit better was, in part, the result of realizing that there was legitimate vocal talent involved. I don't really know Big Sean, who voices the main character, but I know he's famous. I was more interested in seeing names like Pamela Adlon, Joel McHale, Harland Williams and Snoop Dogg appearing among the supporting cast. I mean, none of those people are exactly A-listers, they're just people who aren't willing to turn down ten grand for a day's work. I probably wouldn't be either. 

It did make me wonder though -- changing topics slightly here, and this could be its own post if I weren't getting so prolific and so backed up on my writing -- how many times Snoop Dogg has played an animated dog. (Yep, that's about typical of the level of cleverness of Dog Gone Trouble.)

Now, this is not nearly as easy to research as you might imagine. Do you know how many acting credits Snoop Dogg has on IMDB?

250.

Quite the round number there, and it includes some projects that are only rumored or in pre-poduction. But it gives you some idea how busy he's been, in all sorts of different projects that might make their way onto IMDB. Music videos make up a big share of those. 

Interestingly, this does not include credits where he's credited as himself. I was sure that it would, but that list is ... wait for it ... more than twice the length. He has 513 'Self' credits on IMDB. (Which I guess is mostly appearances on talk shows and the like, as his credits playing himself do appear as acting credits.)

Don't ever sacrifice that street cred, Snoop.

Another thing I learned about Snoop Dogg? He has the same birthday as I do. He's two years older than I am. That's pretty cool. (So yes, I still think Snoop Dogg is cool even though he now shills and writes raps for the Australian food delivery service Menulog.)

(Whoa, just after I wrote those words, Snoop's Menulog commercial came on while my son was watching YouTube in the other room.)

Weirdly enough, I could only find one other instance of Snoop playing a dog, and you have to go all the way back to 2005. He played a bloodhound named Lightning in the movie Racing Stripes, which I saw and reviewed at the time. 

I have no idea how that's the case, but I did scroll through the credits a second time just to be sure. How he wasn't in The Secret Life of Pets or something, I don't know. (He's done other animated voices, such as a snail in Turbo and Cousin It in The Addams Family, but they weren't dogs.)

It's too bad because I had a bit all worked out for when Snoop received the script for Dog Gone Trouble from his agent. Just imagine him saying this with a touch of both disdain and self-loathing in his signature voice: "Sure I'll play a fuckin' animated dog. Again." 

Hey, there's always Menulog. 

Monday, July 26, 2021

Action figures can only take you so far

Snake Eyes was supposed to open here on Thursday. I guess it did, in some parts of the country that aren't locked down. But the country's most populous two states -- Victoria and New South Wales -- are both locked down, so I'm sure it was a pretty lame domestic opening weekend.

But I like to think it might have been lame anyway because of the subject matter.

A strange comment to make about the brand that helped bifurcate my childhood obsessions after I grew out of playing with Star Wars figures. 

I'm not sure exactly what age it was that G.I. Joe figures supplanted Star Wars figures for me. Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, when I was nine. My best guess is that the third (and then final) Star Wars movie would have sustained me for at least a year after its release, so let's say I transitioned to G.I. Joe action figures from when I was ten until when I stopped playing with toys, probably around age 13. (If you stopped playing with toys earlier than that, don't judge.) So I might have played with Star Wars figures a little longer, but I was into G.I. Joes just as intensely.

I'm still into Star Wars today. I treat the release of every new Star Wars property with the same glee that I experienced when I played with the toys. 

I could not give a shit about G.I. Joe.

Or maybe I couldn't give two shits. Which statement is stronger?

I remember when G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra came out in 2009, there was no doubt I was going to see it. But was I excited about it? Not in the least. I ended up seeing it at the drive-in, and it was just as disappointing as I imagined it might be.

I didn't see the sequel, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, which was released in 2013. Which is kind of funny because I thought it actually looked like it might be better than the first, and it had Bruce Willis, which was still a good thing back then, in addition to Dwayne Johnson, who might have still been called The Rock. To this day, I have not yet made time for it.

Now that the third blockbuster film with the G.I. Joe brand is being released, I don't have any more interest in seeing it than I have in correcting the Retaliation omission. I kind of thought I'd have to see it for ReelGood, since the bigger releases get more clicks, but maybe this lockdown has bailed me out of that particular obligation. 

So why have I stayed loyal to Star Wars and shunned G.I. Joe?

Some thoughts:

1) The G.I. Joe figures were maybe cooler than the Star Wars figures. Not because of their design, as such, but because of how they could move. While the Star Wars figures didn't have elbows or knees, the G.I. Joe figures had both -- did some even have rotating wrists? I think not yet. But their arms and legs could go to the side in addition to going forward, as they had shoulder and hip sockets. They were much better equipped than Star Wars figures to meet the demands of my advanced tween action figure play. 

But because of that ...

2) I was overlooking a mythology that didn't mean much to me. Although I did watch the G.I. Joe cartoon and had some sense of the progression of the story over time -- I remember when Destro and Zartan came into the narrative, for example -- I didn't ultimately care about the characters the way I cared about the characters in Star Wars. It was more about the toys themselves.

So therefore ...

3) When only the mythology remains, it has to be a lot better than the G.I. Joe mythology is. Could I even tell you today what is driving any of these characters other than beating Cobra? Could I tell you anything about the personalities of any of the characters? I could not.

And also ...

4) When you come down to it, it's a property that glorifies the military. I'm not saying I don't "support our troops," but "our troops" are not something that I want to rest my fantasy dreams upon. There's something just a tad too right-wing about it to really resonate with me.

The thing is, the Hasbro and Paramount people are not stupid. In resurrecting the G.I. Joe franchise, they've concentrated on what is undoubtedly one of the most memorable characters (and coolest action figures). I might have preferred Snake Eyes' Cobra counterpart, Storm Shadow, in terms of character design, but Snake Eyes was damn cool. Every kid knew that.

Not only that, but Henry Golding is a great choice to play Snake Eyes. Coming off Crazy Rich Asians, he may be today's most marketable actor of Asian descent. He's got charisma to spare and he is handsome as fuck.

Still don't care.

Is this a betrayal of my childhood in some way? I don't think so. I think it's fair to say that the part of childhood that we feel most sentimental about ends by the time you hit double digits, and all of my G.I. Joe play was from ten onward. I suppose if I want to find a parallel in, say, my sister, she would probably not feel disappointed in herself about not giving a shit about a New Kids on the Block reunion tour. We don't have to always be proud of everything we liked when we were young.

But given that I watch almost everything that comes out, whether I have a personal history with it or not, my shunning of Snake Eyes is a real indication of how far G.I. Joe has fallen since then, or how little I feel they've done with it so far in its existence as a cinematic franchise. A judgment I'm prepared to make, apparently, with having only seen one of the three movies they've made.

My guess is that I will ultimately catch up with Snake Eyes before the end of the year, as the end of our lockdown will probably find me prioritizing other things that were supposed to have been released in the interim, like Old. And when I do, maybe I'll come back here and let you know what I think of it.

And yes, you read that correctly -- I did just say that M. Night Shyamalan is more of a priority for me than G.I. Joe. 

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Missing the telltale scenes of Bound

I watched Bound on Friday night for the first time in nearly nine years, an uncommonly long drought for what I consider to be one of my very favorite "me movies" -- as in, movies other people tend to not know or not appreciate as much as I do. It's currently #30 on my Flickchart, and after this wonderful revisit, I'd say it's poised to jump back into my top 20. 

I also realized, as I was watching it, that it is the ultimate example of the possibility of me coming to embrace the film noir genre -- which I am struggling to do with this year's monthly Knowing Noir series. I never previously considered it, but this is a noir -- a "neo-noir crime thriller," if we want to go with its exact description in the first sentence of its Wikipedia entry.

It's also the 25th anniversary of the film's release. 

But none of those things are what I want to write about today.

Today, I want to again tell you about an instance of watching something without my wife wondering why I was watching it.

Now, it hadn't occurred to me that the hot lesbian sex in Bound -- and it is hot -- might be reason enough to save it for a night when she's not walking through the living room a half-dozen times. (My wife tends to do a lot of chores before relaxing for the evening with her TV, while I need to get started earlier for the longer running time of a movie.)

But it did occur to me once we watched the second episode of the new season of Never Have I Ever with our pizza dinner.

See, among other things this clever Netflix series does -- which include inexplicably and hilariously being narrated by John McEnroe -- is to have a lesbian subplot. One of the main character's two besties is Fabiola, a wallflower who hasn't yet started to have any physical relationships with other women. She's played by Lee Rodriguez, and she's only just gotten a girlfriend. I can't remember if they've kissed on screen before -- probably -- but in this particular episode, they definitely do, and she talks about how she's about to hook up in her best friend's bedroom.

Pretty tame stuff.

But hot enough to get me all worked up to watch two naked women going at it, in pretty risque graphic detail?

Such was my worry when it came to my wife's perspective on the subject of me watching Bound.

I had decided earlier in the day -- maybe the day before, I can't remember -- that I was going to watch Bound Friday night. I can't remember what triggered my interest to watch it on this particular night, but it actually happened to come up semi-organically on a Facebook chat during the day on Friday, after I'd already made my decision. That sealed it.

Now if I decided not to watch it based on what happened in this innocuous scene in Never Have I Ever, that would be admitting that my baseless paranoia on this topic was getting the better of me. Besides, I was primed and ready to watch it, and my reasons had nothing to do with lesbian titillation. (Let me tell you sometime about how this is one of the best and most clever scripts ever written.)

So I just decided to go for it, and hold my breath that my wife wouldn't walk through the room while Jennifer Tilly's finger was inserted inside Gina Gershon's vagina.

It worked out that way. Whew.

One time she came through during an overhead shot of the four mobsters beating Shelly in that bathroom immediately prior to starting to cut his fingers off. I didn't know if this qualified as a telltale scene from the movie, but she didn't say "Oh, you're watching Bound?" (She may have only seen it once.)

The next time was a scene with Joe Pantoliano and Tilly, with not much obvious happening. 

And that was it.

So I remain safe in the knowledge that my wife thinks I watch movies for altruistic and upstanding reasons only. (In this case, it's actually true.)

Now that I've written this, I'm thinking "Damn, it would have been awesome to talk about some new takeaways from this viewing of Bound, or at least things I was reminded of loving about it."

So let's finish with a little Bound speed round. Warning, spoilers. 

1) I love the character Mickey, played by John Ryan, the gangster with a heart of gold. In a world in which all women are disposable objects, Mickey treats Violet with respect. He's in love with her -- I think that's true of every character in the movie -- but his sense of what's right for her overrides all else. When she kisses him at their final parting and he gets this look of unbelievable longing in his eyes, overshadowed by the understanding that he can or will do nothing about it, his body makes a slight, almost imperceptible twitch toward her -- an amazingly subtle and perceptive choice by Ryan, the Wachowskis (have I not mentioned them yet??) or both. He'd like nothing more than to lean in and sweep her off her feet. But she has already politely declined his "offer," which presumably was for her to become his girlfriend. He doesn't want to trespass any further. So he forlornly gets into his car and drives away.

2) "Who's dead now, fuckface?" Spoken by Joey Pants while he holds the corpse of Christopher Meloni by the lapels. Still my favorite line of the movie, followed closely by Pants' "Fuckin' dark in here." (Joey Pants is like a walking quote factory in this movie.)

3) The ominous theme that plays twice when we see gangsters walking shoulder to shoulder to a fateful showdown is just gold. It's gold, Jerry.

4) One of my favorite details is that when Violet and Corky finally get alone, where Joey Pants ain't going to walk in on them ("Fuckin' dark in here"), their lovemaking is so intense that it pulls up one of the edges of the fitted sheet on Corky's bed. The next morning, when we get another overhead shot of them in bed, that corner of the sheet is still untucked. Great continuity.

5) A great callback is not the flawless repetition of a good line, but the little changes when a character inaccurately remembers it, as human beings are prone to doing. When Mickey starts cutting off Shelly's fingers, he says "I'm going to ask you ten times. Any time I don't get an answer, I'm going to cut off a finger." Obviously trying to imitate his mentor, Caesar repeats the same threat to Violet later on. But the Wachowskis aren't laboring under the misapprehension that a callback needs to be worded identically, because that's not realistic. When Caesar makes the threat, he says "I'm going to ask you ten questions," not "ten times." Some people don't notice these details. When it's a movie I love this much, I do.

I could go on. I won't. I'll just finish by repeating my standard recommendation about Bound: If you want to see a movie where all the characters are smarter than you are, but the clever decisions they make are all based in reality and as a believable outgrowth of their ability to improvise, then Bound is your movie. Also, if noirs have notably complicated plots that detract from the enjoyment for a certain type of viewer (such as myself), this is the absolute exception to that, as clear to follow as it is smartly conceived. 

The titillating lesbian sex ain't half bad either. 

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Non-coincidental resemblances

The following disclaimer at the end of films has always struck me as a bit disingenuous:

"This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is strictly coincidental."

It's legalese they slap on a film to try to stave off lawsuits, though that probably would not really stop a determined plaintiff.

Also, it's complete bullshit.

Because we know writers are supposed to "write what they know," we also know that most characters in most movies are based, in whole or in part, on someone they know. While the direct line of descent is sometimes obscured -- most people don't know a person who swings a space laser sword, for example -- often times it is a lot less veiled.

But then there are the times when it is transparently bullshit, as in Good on Paper.

The new Netflix film -- well, it's a month old, but I just watched and reviewed it out of desperation while we are in lockdown -- is quite openly based on star Iliza Shlesinger's own experience. She's a talented comedian who was the first female winner of NBC's Last Comic Standing in 2008, and has since done five comedy specials for Netflix as well as dabbling in a number of other projects. She's also recently tried her hand in acting, most notably Spenser Confidential (which I've seen, and I enjoyed her albeit outsized performance) and Pieces of a Woman (which I haven't seen, but I understand that's some pretty heavy material, which says promising things about her range as an actress). On a personal note, she hosted a comedy event in a really small location that I attended more than a decade ago, where a friend was also appearing as a comedian, so I almost feel like I know her -- though not really. 

In 2015 she revealed an extended comedy bit called "Lying Bryan," about a dating misadventure that was ultimately the basis for Good on Paper. I don't think anyone is trying to pretend this is not the source of the material, nor that this dating misadventure didn't actually happen to Shlesinger.

But the character in this film (Dennis by name, played by Ryan Hansen) is not based on the real Bryan, who was probably not actually named Bryan? Really? This is a purely coincidental resemblance?

This is of course not the only film that has done something like this, though as with anything I write about on my blog, it takes one particular example to inspire me to put fingers to keyboard. 

However, this does create an opportunity to talk about another funny thing that I'd stuck in my back pocket and did not ultimately expect to use here.

When I watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind a few weeks back for my I'm Thinking of Kaufman Things series, I happened to be watching the credits more closely than I normally would or than anyone should. When it got to the above disclaimer portion, I noticed a typo that somehow got by them before they released the final version of the film.

The disclaimer explained that the characters were "fictious," not "fictitious."

Certainly just a typo. But now that I'm writing this post, I'm thinking a couple (Kaufman) things:

1) The characters are obviously not fictitious. Donald Kaufman may be fictitious, but Charlie Kaufman, Susan Orlean, John Laroche, Catherine Keener and John Malkovich obviously are not. 

2) The characters might, however, be "fictious," because no one knows what that means. Could this have been Kaufman's cheeky attempt to defend himself in court before the fact? "I never said the characters were fictitious, I only said they were fictious."

Regarding Good on Paper, whether "Bryan" is likely to sue or not is uncertain -- though the chances are greater if his name is actually Bryan (or Dennis). If anything, he should sue for "lameness of premise." The movie's whole point seems to be that if you go against your instincts/standards and date someone who's a little pudgy and/or dorky, he will be a deceptive creep who will try to gaslight you for months on end. It's not a good look, and you know it pains me to say this, given my "personal relationship" with Shlesinger. (Better watch out or she might write a movie about me!) 

Friday, July 23, 2021

James Gunn continues to not stop talking about himself

This marks the fourth time I have complained about James Gunn on my blog.

That's too much. Even I know that. 

But it's the first I've written about him in three years, so you know, I have to catch up new readers on my thoughts.

As I wrote about here, here and here, Gunn loves the sound of his own voice. Or the sound of his own thumbs on his phone. He wants to be the topic of conversation and so he comes forward with "newsworthy" bits of information that sites like Movieweb will break out into their own non-news articles. If I didn't subscribe to Movieweb I might not be half as annoyed by him as I am.

In the third one of those posts, though, I talked about how Gunn had finally been "hoisted on his own petard" -- and I just noticed I spelled "petard" wrong. (Embarrassing. I've fixed it.) Twitter was the platform Gunn had been abusing as a social media hound and attention whore, and then Twitter started abusing him by producing old tweets in which he joked about pedophelia. He was fired from his gig as director of Guardians of the Galaxy - Vol. 3. 

This did shut Gunn up. For a while.

But he's baaaAAAaaack. 

If it had been just one story I'd heard from this week, I would have kept these thoughts to myself. Gunn can come back out of his hole now, as he is director of both the upcoming The Suicide Squad and of the eventual movie from which he was fired, the third Guardians of the Galaxy. Which itself was probably more than the deserved.

And the first "story" seemed fine as promotional accompaniment to The Suicide Squad, in which he talks about how the movie "saved his life" (puh-LEEEEZE) because of its timing, as it was offered to him when he was licking his wounds over the Twitter pedophelia controversy. (I mean, it probably did save his life, but the self-pity involved in that comment is nauseating.) 

But then another bit of non-news without a non-news peg -- again courtesy of Movieweb -- came along today, and I just can't keep these fingers from typing. 

Today Gunn wants to tell all of us how he is "probably done" with the MCU after Guardians of the Galaxy - Vol. 3.

First, I don't care. You care a lot more about the future of your career than we do, James.

Second, look at the big man trying to reclaim the upper hand over the company that fired and then re-hired him. I guess once you're almost done with the new movie (not sure how far along he actually is) you can start biting the hand that feeds you, even if that hand also temporarily withdrew your food. (Because of something you did, don't forget.)

Third ... just shut up for Christ's sake.

Now, I have to say, in reading what Movieweb chose to single out from his New York Times interview in support of The Suicide Squad, this seems a lot more like a Movieweb writer desperate for content than James Gunn taking to the airwaves to give us his unsolicited thoughts on himself. I should know by now to blame the writer, not the subject, when it comes to Movieweb. 

But the fact of the matter is, no other director out there is so consistently quoted by Movieweb talking about himself as Gunn is. And after awhile, it seems like Narcissus is seeking out those reflective surfaces in which to preen at himself.

Okay, now I myself will shut up about Gunn ... for at least three more years. 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Not the type of Marvel fan I thought I was

Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were released consecutively in the summer of 2011, exactly ten years ago today in the case of the second movie, which came out July 22nd of that year. When I started writing this a couple days ago, I noticed the fortuitous timing related to the anniversary and ended up being able to hold it until today. (Numbers guys like me get off on stuff like this.)

The release of First Avenger -- when I saw the movie six months later, anyway -- was kind of a watershed moment for me in terms of my MCU fandom. I had greeted Thor with a kind of perplexed bemusement, considering the whole idea of superheroes from space to be anathema to what I expected from the genre. I recognized some strengths to the film, but overall, I didn't like it, and this was already a pattern in the movies that Marvel had released to this point. I rated Iron Man significantly lower than most people, thought The Incredible Hulk was okay but forgettable, and didn't even see Iron Man 2 until more than a year after its release (11/27/11), and about six weeks after I saw Thor (10/15/11).

Despite the way the MCU was regularly disappointing me, I dutifully saw Captain America: The First Avenger on January 3rd of the new year, or another six weeks after that. Something about this film finally unlocked these movies for me. I loved the World War II setting -- a similar setting worked for me in Wonder Woman -- and I really appreciated the set design and artistic direction. The action scenes had a kind of kinetic quality that I hadn't seen before in the MCU.

After that, it was rare that I disliked any other MCU films. There were a few -- I wasn't hot on Doctor Strange when I first saw it, and the second Avengers seemed like a turd at the time, though I bet I'd think differently if I watched it today -- but overall I've been mostly on board with what they do. (He says, with the selective memory of just having not liked Black Widow.)

One thing that was consistent was that I always liked anything with Captain America in it. It didn't have anything to do with Chris Evans, though I've grown to love his political activism and the fact that he's from the same hometown as I am (Boston). No, there was just something about these stories, about how Joe Johnston and then the Russo brothers were telling them, that clicked with me, as the sequels to those movies (The Winter Soldier and Civil War) remain personal favorites. Captain America was my gateway into the larger MCU.

Of course, in time, I grew fond of Thor. Ragnarok is top five MCU for me, which is no small statement given that they now have 24 films, and will be over 30 before you know it. (Sometime next year, to be exact.) The whole "superheroes from space" thing still seemed sort of weird to me, but given how many other times Marvel has gone to that well -- Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain Marvel being prime examples -- my objection to dosing the superhero movie with science fiction started to seem arbitrary. I had to accept it or not even bother watching these films, so accept it I did.

Ten years after my Thor/Captain America watershed moment, there happen to be two TV shows on Disney+ that have grown out of those particular storylines, one of which I've just finished (Loki) and one of which I am now just over halfway through (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier).

And you know what? I've done a complete reversal.

If Marvel movies are generally split between things that might happen (Captain America) and things that could not happen (Thor), I now find myself in the other camp.

I suspect I'd still love those Captain America movies -- The First Avenger is the only one I've seen more than once -- but this show that uses characters first introduced to us in that storyline? I'm finding it to be a slog. The second episode was better than the first, but then the third and fourth took a step backward again.

Meanwhile, Loki was a constant delight, an example of the imaginations of creative people turned up to 11. It built on what WandaVision had done, the latter also being an example of the outlandish multiverse-type thinking that originally bothered me about a planet populated by Viking gods.

The comparative realism of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier just feels gray and drab and stunted by comparison. In fact, the only thing that really draws me to the show is Wyatt Russell's new Captain America, and only because something about it reminds me of The Boys. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier themselves? Yawn.

Then you've got Loki, fronted by an actor (Tom Hiddleston) whose status as a treasure is just revealed to me more and more all the time. It's colorful, it's shot in a grand style relying on great digital landscapes, it's got a noodle-twisting narrative, and it's even got the best use of Owen Wilson in at least five years. 

And if you told me five years ago, when I was fully in the grip of my Captain America infatuation, that I'd be this enchanted by a show about people trying to fight a purple smoke monster that guards a gate that takes you to the man who watches over the end of time, I'd have thought you were crazy.

Yet here we are. Not only am I fully on board with all things Thor -- Love & Thunder might be my most anticipated movie of 2022 -- but I can't get to the end of this brief six-episode Captain America spinoff fast enough.

Could it be that the thing that initially made me skeptical of Captain America -- its probable self-seriousness and jingoism -- has finally caught up to it? After all, the anointing of a new Cap in this series feels pretty quaint, reflective of a set of values from the past. (As I've watched it I can't help but think that this show is a bone thrown by Marvel to its more conservative audience, who just can't understand Loki and WandaVision.)

But I don't really think that's it. I think that I finally accept that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not just a series of stories about small twists on reality, featuring characters who are super in scenarios that are ordinary. Rather, the MCU is a place for people to dream up crazy ideas, based in whole or in part on existing material, and to get those crazy ideas filmed. 

Its only limits are the limits of our imaginations, and after ten years as a fan, I've decided that's how I like it. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Exhibit F in the movie/TV debate

As the pandemic continues onward and as entertainment content becomes more and more difficult to pin down, those of us who care about such categorizations continue to wrestle with the distinction between what constitutes a movie and what constitutes TV.

The new Fear Street series on Netflix -- all three of which I have now seen -- certainly profiles as a series of movies in most respects. On a purely objective level, the shortest of the three is 107 minutes, well past the longest single episodes of what gets categorized as television.

But ...

The three movies -- Part One: 1994, Part Two: 1978 and Part Three: 1666 -- were released at one-week intervals since the start of July, every Friday, much like a streaming service waiting to spring the next episode of one of it most popular TV shows. Such as Loki, a very cinematic TV show, which we also just finished.

And more convincingly ... 

Each of the final two movies begins with a recap of what has happened so far, with the damning words:

"Previously on Fear Street ..."

There are two things about this that are troubling from a categorization perspective:

1) The preposition. Things happen in a movie. They happen on a TV show.

2) Movies generally don't recap what happened in the movie before them, even if they are part of long-running series. They assume either you saw that movie or you did your homework to prepare yourself for this viewing.

This doesn't make me reconsider whether Fear Street is a trilogy of movies or a limited television series. For one, Netflix itself refers to it as a trilogy. (A "film trilogy event," as you can see on this poster.) "Trilogy" is movie terminology, not TV terminology. Then there's the convincing piece of circumstantial evidence, which is that the three movies all have the typical end-credit slow crawl that you only see on movies, not on TV shows.

What the slight ambiguity does do, though, is make me think about others that have ended up on the other side of the categorization debate after I completed my analysis.

And that gives me a chance to tell you that I still cannot watch Steve McQueen's Small Axe [movies/TV shows] to be sure my analysis holds water.

If you recall this post from December, you'll remember that I decided that the five "movies" in the series that ran on the BBC and then were carried on Amazon did not qualify as such and I would not be watching them in order to rank them with my 2020 films. 

There were a number of reasons I cited, one of which was their length (some of them barely cracked the hour mark) and one of which was the place they originally ran (the BBC, a television station). 

But the reason that seemed to convince me the most was that I didn't think it was possible for a director to direct five movies in one year. 

After Fear Street, I'm starting to reconsider that.

Fear Street director Leigh Janiak has, demonstrably, directed three movies in one year. Sure, they could have been shot at different times and all released consecutively as a kind of gimmick, but I doubt it -- since some of the cast appeared in all three movies, it would make no sense to scatter them to the winds only to bring them back together again.

Plus, the combined running time of the three Fear Street movies (330 minutes) actually would exceed the combined running time of the five Small Axe "movies" (406 minutes) if not for the extraordinary length of Mangrove, which is 127 minutes. If someone can direct 330 minutes of movies in one year, why not 406? (Increasing the difficulty factor is that McQueen had five different casts and five different settings, but maybe that doesn't increase the difficulty as much as I'm suggesting.)

But I still can't watch Small Axe to see if they "feel" like movies. Know why?

They are not available on Amazon internationally. 

This would have been the biggest reason I couldn't watch them for my 2020 year-end, if I'd bothered to check. 

I determined one night earlier this year, when I needed something short, to watch Lovers Rock, by the far the most acclaimed of McQueen's pieces. Neither that title nor Small Axe came up when I searched on Amazon.

Thinking it might have been an aberration limited to that particular night, I checked again recently, at which point I discovered that they just aren't on Amazon in Australia. If I want to watch them here, I have to do a deal with the devil with Rupert Murdoch's Foxtel, and I just ain't going to do it.

So they are stuck in the TV ghetto until some future point where Murdoch get his grubby mitts off of them. (I can't even rent them on iTunes.) Then, and only then, can I possibly renege on my initial conclusion about them. 

As for Fear Street, it was a project that got significantly better for me as it progressed. I actually disliked the first one. Got much better after that. Full review here

Monday, July 19, 2021

Apple, meet my computer

If Apple wants to freak me out about someone hacking my account, they're doing a pretty good job.

At comically regular intervals, they tell me that I am renting a movie from iTunes using a device that has not been used before. It happened most recently on Saturday night, when I rented the movie What's Up, Doc? for viewing sometime before the end of July.

And truly: What is up, Doc?

(I should ask Bugs Bunny since I only just last week watched Space Jam: A New Legacy.)

I've had this computer since about November, and in that time, I have rented at least two dozen movies using it. Yet because I tend to save all my emails like the filthy hoarder that I am, I can tell you exactly how many times they've considered this to be a foreign device.

Going backward:

June 13th:

"Dear Vance,

Your AppleID, vance@vance.com, was just used to rent What Lies Below on a computer or device that has not previously been used."

January 24th:

"Dear Vance,

Your AppleID, vance@vance.com, was just used to rent 'Le Labo' by East Ave on a computer or device that has not previously been used."

(It's not only movies, it's music too.)

January 22nd:

"Dear Vance,

Your AppleID, vance@vance.com, was just used to rent Being John Malkovich on a computer or device that has not previously been used."

How could a device that was used two days before this message not previously have been used?

The one before that was in September, which I guess was probably on my old computer -- but that wouldn't have been nearly the first time I rented from that computer either. 

I'd get it if it would "forget" me every six months maybe. I'm not that memorable.

But it sent me this warning for What Lies Below, which was only a month ago. Come on, I don't blend into the scenery that much.

It's almost as though some sort of algorithm has been run on the titles that has alerted them to potential fraudulent behavior. "Warning! Warning! This same person would never rent Being John Malkovich, What Lies Below and What's Up, Doc. Truly: What is up, Doc?"

Each of these messages also advise that I could be getting this message because I had recently changed my password. But I damn sure know I didn't do that. I mean, part of my password is the numbers "2018."

I also know that you can have iTunes wiped from a computer and reinstalled, which resets some kind of code that Apple has to relate this computer to this iTunes account. But that didn't happen in this case either.

The best clue might lie in this sentence that appears in each email:

"This purchase was initiated from Australia."

Aye, there's the rub. They know this is a U.S. iTunes account but they know someone is accessing it from Australia. That's where the laptop stolen on vacation (as if people are vacationing internationally right now) sets off red flags for them. 

But this still doesn't totally explain it, because if they did any digging into the purchase history, they would know that purchases initiated from Australia are consistent with the activity history on this account, not divergent from it. 

So the mystery remains. We don't, in the end, know what is up, Doc. We don't know what lies below, but we do know it might just be an infinity of things that look the same failing to identify each other:

Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Missing milestones

Earlier this week I watched my 5,900th movie ever -- and completely blew past it without even noticing.

This is very unlike me.

Every hundredth movie watched is not a milestone worth recognizing in a venue like this, unless you want your readers to start slapping you for your self-indulgence. But I certainly recognize it privately. In fact, I feel a little excitement as that benchmark approaches, wondering what title it will be. Once I hit the benchmark, I bold the text when I record that title in my Word document where I keep track of my viewings in chronological order. 

So it's very unlike me to get so far behind in my documentation that I don't even notice which movie is the landmark movie.

I don't think I'm particularly busy right now -- in fact, we've just entered into another "snap" five-day lockdown -- but for some reason I have gotten behind on recording my new viewings. I left off after my viewing from last Thursday (ten days ago), when, I now see, I had watched my 5,897th film (The Tomorrow War). I'd already watched five more movies by the time I got back to this Word document to record any of them.

So it was with a different kind of excitement that I discovered, in retrospect, that my 5,900th viewing was the long-delayed Black Widow.

I'm not saying it wouldn't have been Black Widow if I'd known that I'd seen 5,899 movies when I sat down to watch it. It was a planned second movie of the night after I went to an earlier critics screening of Gunpowder Milkshake on Monday night. 

But I usually prefer a movie like Gunpowder Milkshake to be a milestone movie; it's just more memorable. (For the great title, not for the quality of the movie.) At the same time, I am quite determined not to specifically steer my viewings toward a milestone viewing. That's not to say you can't make subconscious decisions that affect this outcome.

And the two movies I watched before Gunpowder Milkshake were both rewatches on Sunday, as you will remember I wrote about here. Would I have made one of those a new viewing if it might have lined up Gunpowder to be #5,900?

I like that it worked out that I didn't know, as it made the whole thing more organic. But this is the first time I can remember missing the milestone in, I don't know, thousands of viewings? I've been marking these milestones for close to 20 years now. So I don't expect this organic experience to happen again anytime soon.

And definitely not for my next milestone, which is a milestone worth writing about here: 6,000 movies. And a big milestone like this is also the only time I do steer myself toward a particular viewing, to celebrate the milestone, and just hope I'm in a convenient position in my life to work it out -- not on vacation or something, for example.

Having watched a few more movies since Black Widow, I now have 97 more movies to figure out what landmark #6,000 might be. At my current pace I estimate that might arrive in late November.