• Drunk Napoleon

    What did we watch?

    • Drunk Napoleon

      Community, Season One, Episode Thirteen, “Investigative Journalism”
      “This character reboot is really gelling for you, Jeff. That was all classic Hawkeye. Sending soldiers out for liquor. Slyly sidestepping the problematic scrutiny of Annie “Hotlips” Edison. I should build you a still for making Hawkeye martinis.”
      “Of all your pop culture fixations, this is one I can work with, Abed.”
      “Call me Radar?”
      “When you’ve earned it.”

      “This is the first desk I’ve seen in 6 months that doesn’t have ‘Zeppelin Rules’ carved into it.”

      This episode opens with our study group coming back together after the Christmas break, and Jeff making a great, lovely joke about his character development, which leads to the two things that make me head-over-heels in love with this show. Firstly, it doesn’t just sit there – Jeff’s awareness about his shift from ne’er-do-well* to lovable asshole is the whole point of the episode. Community, unlike many of its successors, isn’t just meta for the sake of meta; it uses meta observations as jumping off points for real stories.

      Secondly, that story is the kind of thing that attracted me to the show: the desire to grow. Jeff has discovered he wants to be a good person, and he discovers this episode that it’s harder than he thought, because there’s a part of him that does genuinely want to be a selfish asshole; it’s the self-recognition equivalent of Britta’s story when he was living with Abed. Community’s structure as a series of tragedies (which is such a Harmon way of looking at the world) means Jeff and friends are constantly rewriting their manifesto, and this is the episode where Jeff is no longer reacting to his decision to sign up for Greendale and is now forced to move forward, deciding who he wants to be.

      Which is reflected in the other plot, when the study group is forced to consider what kind of group they want to be. This is the first real “study group as protagonist” story, where the whole group is reacting to an outside force (my favourite example will be them vs the therapist, but we’ll get to that). Any time the group is a semi-cohesive unit, I’m hit right in the feels – that sense of complete connection between two or more people is to Community what ownage is to The Shield, and you can feel it in every story like that.

      *I never get the chance to work that word into conversation enough.

      Neon Genesis Evangelion, Episode Thirteen, “Lilliputian Hitcher”
      If last episode was about Misato, this episode is about Ritsuko, with the children literally locked in cans to get them out of the way. This is a gambit that doesn’t completely pay off, because Ritsuko’s job is to yell about the technobabble, which never made any sense; the tense action scenes of the episode involve people yelling absolute gibberish like in a bad TNG-era Star Trek episode. But what we learn about Ritsuko is vital and an interesting spin on familiar ideas.

      We learn more about the Magi system, specifically that Ritsuko’s mother was their inventor, and that she implanted her own personality onto it. The Magi are made up of three computers, and as Ritsuko explains to Misato, they ended up reflecting the three aspects of her mother; herself as a mother, herself as a scientist, and herself as a woman (it’s the part of her that’s a woman that saves the day, FYI). She goes on to explain that she never understood her mother as a mother, respected her as a scientist, and hated her as a woman. Like many of our characters, Ritsuko has complicated feelings about her mother; I think NGE avoids the problems of everyone having the same morality by showing so many people starting with the same emotion and taking it in very different directions.

      The upshot of doing literary television is how you can take a break from the main plot and base an entire episode around a secondary or tertiary character like this – NGE will have a few more – without it feeling like useless filler interrupting the story. The remake films neatly cut out Ritsuko’s development and it barely impacts the overall point of the story, but I think it adds something here in the show.

      Steven Universe, Episode Twelve, “Giant Woman”
      Mark me down as liking another Steven Universe episode! Partly, it’s because I like the details the show presents – fusion, in which two Gems become one, is introduced in this episode, and it’s one of the coolest goddamned ideas on the planet, but right from the start it presents cool and funny variations on ideas, like Amethyst and Pearl playing checkers while Steven throws a water balloon at whoever loses a piece, or Steven’s preoccupation with a goat he finds on their adventure.

      But mainly it’s the fact that this episode actually has a goddamned story – Amethyst and Pearl argue all the time, Steven discovers they can fuse into a being called Opal and tries to badger them into fusing, eventually Steven gets eaten by a giant bird, and they fuse to rescue him. All goes well until Opal gets home, realises she forgot the macguffin they were after in the first place, and splits apart again, arguing. This is predictable, but it’s pleasurably predictable, because while we might know where we’re going, we’re taking a very pretty scenic route to get there.

      • lgauge

        Since I missed your first batch of Community reviews, let me ask you this: How do you feel about the first part of the first season in general? I’ve seen quite a few people say they were skeptical or indifferent to the show for a good chunk of the first half at least, before a later episode finally grabbed them. Beyond the usual “people have different opinions about stuff”, this has always puzzled me a little bit since so much of what I loved about the show was already there early on (just a bit less developed and polished maybe) and I was very much IN as early as by episode one. Probably somewhat after the opening of the episode already, but especially after Abed’s Breakfast Club re-enactment.

        • Drunk Napoleon

          I fell in love with the show the moment Jeff made his “Steve The Pencil” speech, only to have it backfire very badly. My feelings on the first batch of episodes is that they’re much less inventive than the show would become, but much more disciplined than 99% of television, and that this factors into both those skeptical reaction and our immediate love – the first season of Community is “normal sitcom, but very very good”, and the second season is where it became something truly unique.

          • lgauge

            That’s fair. I mostly agree, though I would probably say “normal sitcom, with an unusual amount of post-modern self-awareness, particular pop-cultural references and occasionally some very special one-off episodes [mostly paintball I guess], but very very good”. Even in season 1, it plays around with format a lot more than most shows I’d say, and uses Abed for an unusual amount of 4th wall breaking and/or meta-commentary. Though the way these things mix with the character-oriented hang-out sit-com is perhaps not as elegantly and consistently realized until the second season.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            The gist of my observations of season one so far is how the show has the standard actions-lead-to-consequences plot structure of sitcoms, but with the speed cranked way up and each character having a clear motivation that ends up bouncing off each other in unexpected ways, so it ends up hitting not only the familiar beats but a whole lot of other emotional beats as well – a plot about Jeff learning to loosen up will also include a beat of him sacrificing something for a friend and increasing their bond, and cause another character to learn something about themselves, and so on and so forth.

            When I say “normal sitcom, but very very good”, I absolutely don’t mean that as an insult; I mean that the show learned everything it could from every sitcom ever written and set out to be The Best Sitcom Ever, delivering everything you want in a sitcom with perfect skill and clarity of vision, and the post-modern self-awareness is part of that. When I say that season one of Community is a normal sitcom, but very very good, I mean it the same way that The Wire is everything cops shows had been trying to be for decades.

          • lgauge

            Oh, I didn’t think you were being dismissive, I just thought there were aspects even then that felt unique enough that I’d hesitate to use that label. Maybe that’s just semantics though.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            Yeah, when I say “less inventive”, I mean less inventive than Community would become – I think Community‘s early run relied heavily on common sitcom tropes like the Jeff/Britta will-they-won’t-they and Annie’s pining for Troy, and early Abed feels like typical post-Simpsons meta but moreso to me; I feel that the show’s early run gets it’s power less from the ideas and more from how it pulls maximum emotion out of it.

          • lgauge

            That makes sense. Especially since, I’ll admit, the emotional aspect was very important to me from the get-go (though I also found it hilarious and clever). Watching it at a time in my life (which hasn’t exactly ended, just faded slightly) when stories about people struggling to find their place in life, while getting support from family/friends and finding hope in this if not their own prospects, highly resonated with me (despite not really being in that place myself strangely enough). There was always something of a sad undercurrent to some of the show (probably stemming from Harmon’s issues I’m sure), most obviously with the show’s opening theme (which sounds happy, but the words make it very sad).

          • Drunk Napoleon

            Same. I was taking, in retrospect, my first steps out of a dark depression when I first watched Community; the idea of people who could slowly improve themselves was a big draw, and the fact that they were a true community (hey, that’s the name of the show!) was icing on the lonely cake.

          • Belated Comebacker

            Here’s another question: Are you going to cover some of the more maligned seasons of this show that came much, much later? (I’m guessing so, since you’re the completionist sort, but hey, no harm, no foul if you don’t)

          • The gas leak year?

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Is that worth watching?

          • Haven’t seen it due to the gas leak. Also haven’t seen S06, but that’s more laziness on my part.

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            S6 has Paget Brewster and Keith David! Really about the best you could do for having to replace study group members last-minute.

            Also, it gives us one of my favorite bits of dumb non-sequitur meta-comedy from the whole show, after David’s Elroy has helped Jeff break the Dean out of his VR addiction:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AdPrBQ4Z_s

          • Ruck Cohlchez 🌹

            In short, no, but S5 and S6 are.

          • Drunk Napoleon

            My plan is actually just to stop at the season 3 finale. I think s1-3 is a perfect show.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        Buddy as played by Jack Black is in this one right (it’s been a couple years and I ended up devouring every season 1-3 episode in a sugar rush)? He’s a bit much but I love how the study group is anchoring itself and becoming aware of what it is, who’s going to be in it, and what dynamic works and what doesn’t. Community like a lot of sitcoms thirteen episodes in has figured out what it is and how this is going to play out, and it just displays that more grandly and in a meta fashion, as you said.

        Also: “Annie is kind of an innocent, we try not to sexualize her.”

      • Donna Bowman said of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia “The characters believe that they are lovable sitcom types engaged in wacky hijinx, while in reality they are actually amoral, venal, stupid sacks of doorknobs.” Community‘s characters also believe they are lovable sitcom types engaged in wacky hijinx, while in reality they are actually complex humans with histories of pain, and capable of goodness.

    • lgauge

      Nude on the Moon: Well, that was pretty cute. Without any knowledge of the Nudist film genre or Wishman’s work in general (this being my first encounter with both), it’s hard to say what the specific comparative virtues of the film are. My main takeaway from this is that it has an undeniable charm that makes it enjoyable beyond whatever camp appreciation one might have. Most interestingly for me, I found that this was actually a lot more enjoyable than most of the cheap B-movie 50s sci-fi/fantasy that the non-Nudist parts of this mostly resemble. The sub-par acting and limited production are obviously going to be there with this kind of budget and aren’t worth talking about too much. What matters is what you do with it and this film at the very least manages to induce a playful and even a bit sly tone, both through its wonderful use of music and through how it presents the overall story and characters. There’s a joy in it that’s ultimately infectious.

      As for the actual nude part of the film, what can you say? It’s so obviously there for a reason, but there’s an upfront honesty about it that renders moot any of the most obvious objections. Something about how showing a naked breast for a few seconds or in just a few scenes easily becomes cheap titillation, but the prolonged on-screen nudity slowly normalizes and de-sexualizes it. There’s also the presence (if comparatively reduced) of “nude” men and, perhaps more importantly, children, which together transforms the nudity into more of a communal aspect. An in-story almost unquestioned aspect. Partly, this arises from viewing the film through a modern lens (and not in a time when one might peruse a National Geographic magazine for nudity), but even so there’s a lot more that could have been done here if all this was was an excuse to put naked breasts on screen.

      While overall I can’t say that this was some hidden gem for me personally, it was a lot more enjoyable than I had feared (if not quite as good as I had simultaneously hoped). Whatever the case, I really appreciated all the small touches that made this so charming and (to my uneducated eyes) so much its own thing.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        There are…nude science fiction films? *Runs to find this*

        • lgauge

          Topless at least.

        • lgauge

          Essentially: Imagine one of those sci-fi films mocked on MST3K, but more enjoyably made and about half the film features topless alien women (they look exactly like humans except they have antennae on their heads) on The Moon.

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            Okay, I’m intrigued.

      • Delmars Whiskers

        Since you enjoyed this, you should probably stop right there and enjoy your happy memories before you explore any more of Wishman. Bad Girls Go To Hell and Another Day, Another Man might break you. And those are among her better efforts.

        • lgauge

          Funny you should say that, because I’m planning to watch Bad Girls Go To Hell in the next day or two! With all due respect, I’m going to ignore your warning (mostly because there’s at least one guy I follow online who’s a major Wishman fan and I’m dying to know what it’s all about).

          • Delmars Whiskers

            My prediction: You will be entertained (in a WTF sense) for maybe ten minutes, then you will desperately want it to end, then you will question all that is good and decent about humanity.

            At least, that’s how it worked for me.

    • Fresno Bob

      A bunch of 30 Rock episodes, which made me laugh. Also, Rock and Roll High School, which my wife had never seen (I pitched it as “better than Grease 2”, which was a mistake, because it immediately antagonized her…when will I ever learn?). Anyway, we both enjoyed it, but she kept on yelling at The Ramones to get hair cuts and real jobs, which was highly amusing. It did set up Dick Miller’s “Ugly Ugly people” remark for a big laugh, though. At the end of it, she asked me if I was drunk when I watched it the first time. To which I replied “probably.” We had a good time.

      Also, I watched the first half of the original Godzilla, as my copy of Shin Godzilla hasn’t arrived yet and I was antsy.

      • Rock and Roll High School is one of my favourites. I wish there were a series of Ramones-starring follow-up comedies in different environments (space, a cruise ship, etc) which would – obviously – culminate in a crossover with the Muppets that would be the Best Film Ever Made. I have thought about this a lot. Too much? No, not too much.

        • Fresno Bob

          Life seems empty now that this scenario has been brought to my attention. Why do we persist when we cannot have this?

          • It would be too perfect, and all other art would be rendered obsolete. It’s probably for the best it doesn’t exist anywhere other than my dreams.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          The Ramones + Muppets = end of art because nothing better could possibly be made.

        • Miller

          Animal yelling “1234 1234!” = bliss.

    • Long Way North – a French-made animated adventure set in 19th Century Russia, with the kick-ass daughter of an aristocrat setting out on a single-handed quest to restore her family’s reputation by finding the ship that her grandfather used for an ill-fated voyage to the North Pole. The animation is distinctive and frequently gorgeous, and the characters are fun to spend time with – the story is a bit clunky in places (too much unimportant historical stuff in the first act, too many unlikely coincidences in the last) but it’s still really enjoyable. Most excitingly, though, in the English dub one of the voice actors has the same name as me! Uh-oh, spaghettios!

    • clytie

      Unsolved Mysteries. Someone needs to start an intervention soon. I’m addicted.

      • Fresno Bob

        If you don’t watch them, clytie, then how will those mysteries be solved?

        • clytie

          Since they’re often 30+ years old, most have been solved.

      • Defense Against The Dark Arts

        The Unsolved Mysteries theme song and the Michael Jackson video “Thriller” scared the hell out of me as a child. Looking back on it I guess I had some sort of sixth sense about Michael Jackson.

      • Delmars Whiskers

        As long as you’re watching to bask in the suave yet earthy presence of Dennis Farina, you’re watching for the right reason. Unless you’re watching Robert Stack episodes. In that case, I got nothing.

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      They Live By Night – Nicholas Ray’s debut, a existential crime romance that’s DNA can clearly be seen in everything from Baby Driver to Todd Haynes: its heightened reality mixed with naturalism, the deep romanticism, outsider quality (there’s a scene where Bowie and Keechie mock the upper class playing croquet when they clearly long to be part of them), the off-kilter angles and groundbreaking realism. This feels at least 15 or 16 years ahead of its time. Having seen this and In A Lonely Place I will now follow Ray’s work as a soldier does their captain.

      30 Rock – hey, James Carville before his ideas became kind of irrelevant! Say what you will about Fey, 30 Rock is grounded in a world she thoroughly knew, that of New York and its elites and creative class.

      • Son of Griff

        THEY LIVE BY NIGHT is one of the most powerfully assured debuts in American film history. It’s very lovely, and the highlight of Cathy o’Donnell’s career. Farley Granger was hardly ever better cast.

        About 10 years ago Eddie Muller talked the crowd shy Granger into discussing the film as part of his Noir City festival in L.A. He was noticeably moved to see that 600 people came to hear him speak. It was a very moving evening

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          That’s wonderful. It’s a remarkable debut – it feels like a movie from a man 10 or 20 years into his career, fluid, an expert and able to break all the rules as a result. And it’s so sad and despairing. The movie can’t end any other way.

          • Son of Griff

            Everyone I’ve ever shown it to has loved it.

      • Belated Comebacker

        I think I first heard of Nicholas Ray from (where else?) a Jean-Luc Godard film. Given how he easily internalized this working genre director into his own deconstructive projects, let’s just say I’m interested in seeing what Ray does with his work (once I get around to it).

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          Its funny, I have Breathless out from the library and need to sit down and just watch it.

          • lgauge

            I very much recommend that you do.

          • Belated Comebacker

            Seconded. Much like Ruck Colchez and “The Emperor’s New Groove,” you just gotta…do it.

    • ZoeZ

      The last two episodes of season one of Wynonna Earp, which were awesome, jammed with delight and mystery and revelation and fight scenes and people looking especially hot in formal-wear. (Why don’t more fight scenes take place at black-tie events?) I think it’s now officially great on its own terms and I”m very delighted with it as a kind of spiritual successor to Buffy.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        Ooh I’m intrigued!

        • ZoeZ

          It’s very fun! The first few episodes are a little rough, but once it gets its legs underneath it, it does a great job at bringing its mythology (which is fun and creepy in an expansive, knotty comic-book way) and its characters and their actions into collision and intersection with each other, giving you both narrative drive and the appeal of poking at an unfamiliar fantasy universe. It also has a love triangle that is not terrible. (In fact, I kind of like it, though now I think they should just all three get together, such is the chemistry.)

          • Conor Malcolm Crockford

            So many love triangles would be solved with a poly relationship.

      • thesplitsaber

        ‘Why don’t more fight scenes take place at black-tie events?’

        This tides me over until we get more

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZvFQFEjjQw

    • jroberts548

      The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp.
      This is a truly astounding movie.

      The heart of the movie is a decades long friendship (a “bromance,” even) between an English officer (confusingly not named Colonel Blimp) and a German officer, spanning from 1902 to 1942. Such friendship is maintained through periods of national enmity. Even while WWII was going on, the film expresses a nostalgia for a more civilized time, for the memory of a genteel, pre-war Europe. It’s also remarkable for its sympathetic depiction of a German during the war – while making no excuses for hitler, you can have some empathy for a people whose sense of honor and dignity was offended and lashed out wrongly, even as you rightly fight to destroy them.

      There’s also a love story, and it’s fine, but not nearly as important as the bromance. The Archers do, however, really have a thing for redheads in technicolor. I concur.

      A recurring theme throughout is whether to fight war gentlemenly or not when your opponent is not doing so. Oddly, during the war, the war office tried to block the movie for being too critical of the officer class as a bunch of out of touch old men, and one of the archers defended it to the government as essentially propaganda to try to get Britain to do whatever it takes. I think the truth is somewhere in between: the movie comes down against war crimes, has a lot of sympathy for General Candy’s old-fashioned-ness, but also thinks a bit less courtesy is necessary.

      There’s also a pair of scenes where British aristocrats assure the German officer that England doesn’t want Germany to be humiliated after the war, and the German officer repeats those promises to other German officers, and vows to use English largesse for Germany to take revenge. What actually happened is essentially the opposite – the entente powers wanted to make Germany pay, which led a spiral of ressentiment which led to the war. Indeed, this pair of scenes is contradicted later on in the movie.

      But apart from that, this is an incredible movie, which I would rank just a little below The Red Shoes.

      • I wrote an embarrassingly bad essay on this movie for a British History class, with the thesis that it reflected anxiety about Britain’s role in a changing world, where its aristocratic values are seemingly in decline. The essay itself was 1.5 pages whose writing was fueled by caffeine and migraine medicine. The only reason I didn’t outright fail is that the teacher called me into her office to discuss the paper, and I explicated the movie well enough she gave me the barest minimum passing grade.

        It really is a wonderful movie, isn’t it?

        • jroberts548

          In 1942, Britain was experiencing abundant anxiety about a changing world. C+!

          • The Narrator

            In conclusion, Britain is a land of contrasts.

      • Delmars Whiskers

        As far as The Archers and Technicolor redheads, Black Narcissus has both Kathleen Byron and Deborah Kerr. The flashback to pre-nun Kerr on a beach is possibly the most stunning visual in a movie that consists of non-stop stunning visuals.

      • thesplitsaber

        ‘ The Archers do, however, really have a thing for redheads in technicolor.’

        One of the all time great uses of technicolor is to show off Moira Shearer’s legs in The Red Shoes. Talk about Gams!

    • The Narrator

      A Ghost Story: I, uh, do not agree with Julius on the matter of this. I found this to be extremely moving, only moreso as it goes along, and David Lowery does a pretty incredible balancing act of recognizing the silliness of the trappings he’s using (he even literally throws in a shot of paint drying at one point) without negating the power that comes from his use of those trappings (the conversations between the two ghosts maybe set the record for the shortest time it’s taken a movie to put a lump in my throat). And Rooney Mara does in fact eat that pie real good.

      Also, hello. I changed my avi to Greta Gerwig in 20th Century Women because, as much as I adore Mia in Purple Rose of Cairo, it was getting a bit stale (and I never loved Disqus’s inelegant cropping of it), and I needed something that more accurately reflected what I talk about literally all the time on the internet.

      • Belated Comebacker

        What was your last pic? I know it wasn’t Schwitters. Was it Blanchett from “Carol?”

        • The Narrator

          Like I said there, it was Mia Farrow at the end of The Purple Rose of Cairo.

          • Belated Comebacker

            D’oh. Should’ve read your comment with more detail. Apologies!

      • A friend on Letterboxd had a great pithy one-sentence review: “Your enjoyment of this film absolutely depends on whether you believe cinema needs more mopey angsty white men in sheets terrorizing brown people.”

        I suppose I would have been slightly more forgiving if the ghost was an equal opportunity terrorizer, or at least murdered Will Oldham on screen. But, after a day, I couldn’t help but see everything in terms of the racial connotations.

        • clytie

          “equal opportunity terrorizer” is my new favorite phrase.

      • Babalugats

        …literally throws in a shot of paint drying at one point

        Well I’m never watching this movie.

        And Rooney Mara does in fact eat that pie real good.

        Although perhaps it’s wrong to completely dismiss a film sight unseen.

        • Conor Malcolm Crockford

          …depends on the pie eaten.

          • The Narrator

            We never get a close look at the pie, but it was apparently a vegan chocolate pie.

          • Rosy Fingers

            “Ugh”
            – Scott Tobias

          • thesplitsaber

            * Scott ‘Torture Porn’ Tobias

    • Belated Comebacker

      Haven’t posted here in a looooooooooong time, so bear with me while I work through a few of the movies I’ve seen (don’t think it’s right to be posting everything I’ve seen since my last update, so I’ll keep it simple):

      Terminator 2: Judgment Day: This is probably James Cameron’s funniest movie (intentionally so, of course). Ah-nuld is pitch perfect as the ‘good’ Terminator, and Linda Hamilton gets to kick ass and show some serious true grit, which is great. Only minor quibble is how the emotional climax occurs after she almost murders Miles Bennett Dyson, the engineer who was creating Skynet even though we still have another two major action scenes and a big ol’ cat-and-mouse sequence in a foundry with the chief villain.

      Also, how great is Robert Patrick in this role? He definitely nailed the ‘upgrade’ to the original Terminator in terms of personality, coming across as perfectly reasonable and decent (especially with that great misdirect in the beginning of the movie, where you think he’s the bad guy.

      The Terminator: A solid, gritty opener in this franchise. Didn’t even realize Bill Paxton was in it as the spiky blue-haired punk, which was great. My one quibble here (which is improved upon in the sequel) is how they attempt to throw you off balance with Kyle Reese stalking Sarah Connor near the beginning of the movie. A smarter move would’ve been to keep things ambiguous, where you don’t know who’s more dangerous, Michael Biehn or Schwarzenegger. As it stands right now, we see the Terminator yank a guy’s heart out, and kill another Sarah Connor, which kind of deflates the tension Sarah is feeling in the club. Other than that, still a fun film (and Cameron’s shortest, documentaries aside).

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        Both very good movies!!!

        • Belated Comebacker

          Indubitably. Special thanks to Simon DelMonte for hooking me on the “Blank Check” podcast. Listening to their James Cameron miniseries inspired me to re-watch most of his movies (aiming for “Titanic” eventually; it’s too big to ignore).

    • silverwheel

      Inception – A mature, virtuoso piece of filmmaking, and one that always fills me with delight at its style of “movie magic.” Philip Dick meets Heist Movie, with a bit of Bond Film mixed in as well. This film reminds me quite a bit of some of the great prog albums – if The Prestige was Nolan’s “Supper’s Ready,” then this is his The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, a work of staggering complexity that also feels effortless because the artist is working on a level that few ever get to. Everything he’s learned so far goes into this one. The editing picks up speed a little bit, but now it’s absolutely necessary, weaving in snippets of previous scenes, visual motifs, and intrusive thoughts. If I ever teach a class on film editing, this will be one of the texts (the films of Coleman Francis would be used as an example of what happens when fundamental rules are broken/ignored). And as complicated as this film is, it’s remarkably lean. A big part of it is that the visual language stays grounded in that of a heist movie/crime epic, which keeps things on familiar territory, but it goes beyond that. As the intercutting grows quite complicated toward the end, there are no unnecessary beats or needless shots – we have all the information that we need to process what’s happening, and no more. Same goes for the screenplay – it’s really quite remarkable that it feels as natural as it does considering how much of it is expository in nature. Nolan, by this point, knows intuitively what needs to be spelled out and what can be elided. One of the things that stuck out about Batman Begins were several moments of unnecessary repetition – none of that in this film. Nothing merely repeats what’s already been said – everything adds to what we know, and it keep us on our toes. One of the greatest compliments I can give to Nolan is that he trusts the intelligence of his audience, something very few blockbuster filmmakers do. And it warms my heart even more that he’s been rewarded at the box office for it. Sometimes the right films really do get the acclaim and the money.

      • silverwheel

        Also notable – this is Nolan’s best (so far) use of CGI – it is utterly believable because it isn’t trying to represent anything real. He finds a way to use the inherent artificiality of it to his advantage, to show things that could only exist in a bizarre dream-state, and that brings the wonder back into the technique.

        • thesplitsaber

          And he also understands that the real is always more powerful than the digital. I think, and The Dark Knight might be my favorite movie of all time, that the hallway fight with Arthur is Nolan’s strongest image. He takes the real and removes the rules we understand it by and ends up with a Stanley Kubrick version of the train fight in From Russia With Love.

  • Belated Comebacker

    So I got into a debate with a friend about this recently, and wanted everyone’s input here, since I think it’s a rather interesting topic:

    So my Question of the Day: Is it wrong to create a fictional film in a real-life historical setting? We started talking about this with a buddy of mine after seeing “Dunkirk,” and he would have preferred if they just made a documentary about the event, since in his view, a movie starring actors playing historical actors “trivializes people’s lives,” essentially by earning money off of real-world events. His girlfriend feels much the same way, thinking that, if MLK Jr. were still alive, he would have shut down “Selma,” since it was “a movie for white people to feel good about themselves.” In other words, they don’t care for movies that take place in historical contexts. Do you guys think this is a problem (because I…didn’t. Still don’t.)

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      I think that fictionalized versions of events are an interesting way to frame history and re-contextualize it, for better or worse, in a way that a documentary really cannot because it can’t truly reenact the events in question unless its something like The Thin Blue Line (and that’s true crime, not like a Civil War documentary). I think the trouble can come though when you easily erase or reduce elements of history because it’s dramatically more efficient – for example Gandhi suggesting that Pakistan was founded out of jealousy towards Gandhi, which makes no freaking sense. Gandhi is a good example of this being a problem in that it’s in a Great Man mode of history – the Congress controls everything and there’s no sense of any common perspective. Like anything else its complicated.

      • Belated Comebacker

        Agreed, and I also believe the intentions of the directors/producers/writers/and actors are super important, in this respect. If they’re focused on making the material accurate, and honest towards the main characters in this historical chapter, than I don’t see the problem.

        For “Selma,” I get amazed by their reaction to it, because, uh, Ava Duvernay clearly has the chops to do right by the source material, even attempting to work with Spielberg to get the speeches he had the rights to (not to mention her work on that “13” documentary), which should show how she was very interested in historical accuracy and emotional honesty, not putting MLK up on a pedestal. Plus, a movie about him was going to be made one way or another. Would you have preferred a different director work on this?

    • I don’t understand how this is possible. Do they only want movies set in 1) contemporary times to the movie, & 2) completely fictional worlds? No war movies once the war is over is settled (no Saving Private Ryan, no Schindler’s List). No religious or historical epics like Ben-Hur or Braveheart. Literally all westerns are forbidden! What are they honestly expecting from these standards?

      • You’d also have to throw out most of Shakespeare and in fact about half of world literature that way. A trivial movie (fiction or documentary) trivializes, a powerful movie (fiction or documentary) empowers.

        • Belated Comebacker

          Not to mention these historical pieces help, you know, create empathy for people or situations which moviegoers may not be intimately aware of, something that is harder to crack with straight genre vehicles. Not to say “Avatar” can’t work as a vehicle for creating sympathy for Native Americans, but it’s far easier to dismiss as ‘science-fiction’ than a straight-up drama set in a historic time would be (such as, say, “Dances with Wolves.”)

        • Y’know, the irony here is that most religious texts also claim to be historical as well, so if the friends are religious, then they likely should condemn their own holy books for trivializing history.

          • Fucking exactly. The whole point of the divine and the great is that they’re worth telling stories about.

          • clytie

            Once someone told me that the Left Behind movies, “shouldn’t be judged like other movies because of the importance of their message.”

        • clytie

          Tons of of novels like Gone with the Wind and The End of the Affair would have to be thrown out. Hell, even Little Women‘s plot is deals with The Civil War.

      • Belated Comebacker

        My friend is a huge fan of genre material with a capital G. So yes. Fictional worlds, for him, are better, since 1) It’s not impinging on any real-life events, and 2) There’s more than enough room (in his mind) for emotional through lines and crazy-ass action stuff.

        • What about fictional worlds that draw on the real world for inspiration? LOTR comments on WWI; Return of the Jedi is Lucas’s Vietnam War movie. Are those permitted?

          • Belated Comebacker

            My guess? Yes, because it’s subtextual, and something that he could, theoretically, dismiss, because it’s not real.

          • I’ve tried several responses to this, but they all boil down to YOUR FRIEND WATCHES MOVIES WRONG.

            It’s ok; I have one of those, too. He doesn’t believe in art, only entertainment. We’ll watch movies together but not discuss them.

          • Belated Comebacker

            That pretty much sums it up. I love the guy, but this one sticking point has begun to fester quite a bit for me, and I found it baffling that he fully owns this viewpoint. (Especially since he isn’t lacking for taste completely. He did introduce me to Dario Argento via “Suspiria,” and showed me “Police Story” before Jackie Chan crossed over to the U.S. So he does have his charms).

      • BurgundySuit

        Got your Clue writeup ready for tomorrow?

        • He probably trashed it once he realized that a murder occurred once and that Clue trivialized people’s lives.

          • This debate is all just a red herring.

          • Belated Comebacker

            Damn, Wallflower! Looks like you did it in the kitchen, with an iron, what with the massive burn you just gave out!

        • Mostly. It will be ready; you’ll have it tonight. Oddly, this was tougher to write about than Seventh Seal.

          • BurgundySuit

            Sounds good! You alright if I put it up before I have you approve the edits?

          • Yes, unless they’re questions about factual accuracy. But grammar, word choice, etc? Not a problem.

          • Babalugats

            Comedy is always really hard to write about.

    • Son of Griff

      There is a common assumption that in order to honor people’s experiences in the past, one must invoke a sonorous tone and respectful demeanor. This projects a low opinion of movies, literature, and the narrative arts in general. Based on her description of SELMA, the young lady in the post clearly hasn’t seen it.

      • BurgundySuit

        I honestly can believe that Selma was made to make white people feel good about themselves (even though Ava Duvernay’s presence in the director’s chair puts the lie to the idea that that was its main purpose, or even a significant one). The white characters we see are all either saintly allies we’re invited to identify with or two-dimensional bigots we’re invited to distance ourselves from.

        • Son of Griff

          More importantly, it makes the community a collective hero, and while whites are part of that community, the march is not a catalyst for their moral edification.

        • When Common & John Legends performed at the Oscars, there was a wonderful bit of staging where the backup singers were of all races, except the white singers didn’t actually sing, like they were there to help, but only so far.

        • The Ploughman

          I disagree – there’s a major exception in the portrayal of LBJ, who is an ally to King’s cause, but puts caution and politics ahead of doing the right thing. I think the controversy of his portrayal at the time came from his being used not as the almighty (white) president who delivered the Civil Rights Act, but as a stand-in for comfortable white liberals who had to have their hands forced before joining the cause.

      • Belated Comebacker

        That…would be accurate. I know it’s a thorny issue to not be interested in a movie, while at the same time critiquing its existence, but there is something to be said for keeping an open mind here. Nobody would say you have to see the film, but don’t try and argue against it if you have no foundation on its story, designs, or the end result.

      • BurgundySuit

        But of course, DuVernay also made 13th, which is a brilliant film that could not give less of a shit about making white people feel good.

      • Armond White made the same claim about both Selma and 12 Years A Slave. I think he had more of point with 12 Years, but his point was that these movies engage in self-flagellation and torture so that the liberal white audience can sit in self-satisfied agreement that they know what they’re watching is wrong. In the case of Selma, White claimed that the ahistorical mishmash of events that both obfuscated the reality and served to be self-congratulatory without really earning the the pathos by accurately depicting the nuanced trials and tribulations. White went so far as to call Selma a “Civil Rights Greatest Hits” movie. I don’t necessarily agree with him, but he does make some good points.

        And it does come back to whether historical fiction trivializes the real life scenarios by placing modernizations on historical events. Is it less powerful to see a fictionalization of events than the docs of it? Are Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket less powerful than Hearts and Minds or any of the hundreds of Vietnam docs? Is this a questions where one can safely invoke Life is Beautiful, the Holocaust dramedy where Roberto Beginini(sp?) plays a clown to a bunch of sad kids, or the dull importance of Schindler’s List?

        • clytie

          A guy I know referred to 12 Years a Slave as, “The Passion of the Christ for Democrats.”

        • Son of Griff

          Based on your summary, I’d say that White pretty much nails my reaction to 12 YEARS A SLAVE, although I somewhat temper this critique when recognizing that the racial distortions in source material was directly shaped to raise the passions of mid 19th Century American abolitionists, and that Ridley and McQueen were, for whatever reasons, choosing to adhere pretty faithfully to the text. SELMA is much looser when it comes to adhering to the historical integrity of the events in SELMA it depicts, but it seemed to do so, or so I felt, to shape the narrative to a more diverse progressive audience. Nevertheless, I think that White seems to imagine the audience for these films in monolithically narrow terms, particularly when dealing with SELMA

          • Each review was written for a different audience. 12 Years was at CityArts magazine, a now defunct New York bimonthly local rag aimed at the arty white wealthy liberal crowd. Selma was written for National Review, and aimed at conservatives who like muckraking about the arty wealthy white liberal crowd. In one of the reviews, (maybe 12 years?) he explicitly stated the movie was not made for black audiences, narrowing the movie’s target audience to exactly the crowd he was talking at/about. There is a strange synecdoche between the two reviews and how they feel very similar in their disdain for the same parts of the movies.

          • Son of Griff

            As much as I might hate myself for doing so, I’d like to check these pieces out. I find it very odd to see DeVarney lumped is as a director specializing in movies made for white audiences, as my introduction to her was as a publicist for independent black films. I think that she sees an intersection between different audiences where White wants to reinforce stereotypes about spectators

    • Babalugats

      I can’t imagine living in a world with so few problems that the existence of historical fiction was a cause for moral concern.

      I will say that sometimes movies run into problems depicting more recent history. For example, the film Monster kind of sort of implies that Aileen Wuornos’s victims had it coming. Which is a shitty thing to do considering that those men all have mothers, wives, children, friends, family that are very much alive. But this is all case-by-case stuff, and I wouldn’t say that is was immoral to make the movie. I also don’t think that documentaries have that much better of a record on this stuff.

      I’ll also say that a lot of times I prefer documentaries to historical films. Sometimes the fictionalization doesn’t add anything to their story. We don’t get a window into the characters, or any intimacy, or humor, or drama that’s lacking in more factual history. If the point of the story is that this is an interesting thing that really happened, then the material might be better by a more journalistic approach. But that’s hardly a moral stance.

      • Conor Malcolm Crockford

        Well to be fair Monster portrays at least one victim as completely innocent and just wanting to be helpful (the one near the climax), while another just feels sorry for her, and IRL her first victim raped her. But yeah I see your point there – the film doesn’t care too fiercely about them save for the final one.

        • Babalugats

          Her first victim probably raped her. He was a convicted rapist and Wuornos claimed self defense, so common sense says he’s guilty. But she was also a constant liar, severely delusional, and you know, a serial killer. So there’s some degree of doubt, even there. The movie also makes a lot of changes to Tyria Moore, Wuornos’s girlfriend, making her far less sympathetic and one of the driving forces for the killings. Which may be true, but was legally untrue enough that they had to change the name.

          The fact that these are all real people who are still around (or in the case of the victims, their immediate family is still around) makes the whole thing pretty queasy. And I think had the movie further fictionalized the story, or picked a subject that was at a little more historical distance, it would have been less queasy. Which isn’t to say it shouldn’t have been made, or shouldn’t be watched, or isn’t well made. But it’s questionable.

      • Belated Comebacker

        That last paragraph is probably the best distinction I can think of when it comes to making a documentary versus making a feature, with actors playing individuals who have long since passed.

        For me, it also comes down to metrics, and box office take (which is probably unreliable anyway, but I digress). For a documentary, it seems to be a very niche genre. While there is a category for it, I don’t think there are many recent documentaries that have taken the world by storm in the same way a fictional representation of the past has. For example, “The Battle of Algiers” is an amazing movie, that takes place in a historical context, and has proven to be so influential that the Pentagon has studied it. That to me, highlights why it’s so important, and useful, to have fictitious representation for real-world events in movies.

      • BurgundySuit

        That’s something I’ve thought a lot about since I saw it last week. Jenkins seems to take Wuornos’ argument that she’s a victim of circumstance at face value – the character who gives the monologue about how she had a choice and chose to do evil intercuts it with a load of racist and homophobic bullshit, so it’s hard to believe she’s an authorial mouthpiece.

        And having all the murders take place offscreen, except the first two (which can be justified by self-defense and reflex, respectively) and the last two (where their unjustifiability is a plot point and leads to her getting caught) makes it seem like Jenkins is fudging the story in order to make it easier to side with Lee.

        But the film’s too smart for me to really believe it would allow that kind of moral abdication, let alone insult all the people who’ve had the same trauma and DIDN’T become serial killers.

        • Babalugats

          To some degree Wuornos was a victim of circumstance. She lived her whole life in abject poverty, was brutally abused throughout her childhood, had severe mental and emotional issues that went untreated, and was living a very dangerous life style. This is actually pretty common among serial killers, who usually are not world class geniuses making grand philosophical statements through murder, but fucked up people whose moral development stalled out in its infancy. These stories are always sad, and usually only got sadder the further you follow them.

          I think Monster falls into a trap I see a lot of progressives fall into, where it seems to think victimhood in and of itself absolves a person of guilt. It’s a position that understands there are underlying causes to the actions people take, but hasn’t quite moved past seeing the world in terms of good people and bad people. And in this case, I think Jenkins shifts some of that guilt onto the other characters in the story, instead of seeing them as collateral damage in a larger tragedy. Which is pretty shitty when those characters are real people.

          • BurgundySuit

            And like I said, most of those people don’t end up becoming serial killers…

    • Drunk Napoleon

      *looks at my copy of Inglourious Basterds*

    • thesplitsaber

      Its funny you bring this up in the context of Dunkirk, because my friend and I kept wondering if there would be some sort of fantasy element. I think this was mainly due to being primed for the fantastical by Nolans past trailers, which Dunkirk’s played exactly like. While I liked the movie I still would have preferred the time traveling Tom Hardy i had in my head.

      • Belated Comebacker

        I’m pretty sure I had a similar reaction when I first heard Nolan was doing a war movie. “Naw, that can’t be, right? This looks too straight-faced. Surely, there’s gotta be a twist somewhere, right?”

        SPOILER

        There was no twist. Just solid, competent disaster-movie-making.

  • BurgundySuit

    Come join the fun for Year of the Month (from an idea by Elizabeth Lerner)!
    Possible books here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_in_literature Movies here: https://letterboxd.com/films/year/1985/ And music here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1985_in_music

    August 4th: scb 0212: Clue
    August 7th: BurgundySuit: Swamp Thing
    August 8th: BurgundySuit: Alan Moore’s Odds and Sods
    August 9th: Jacob Thomas Klemmer: Vagabond
    August 10th: Drunk Napoleon: Back to the Future
    August 11th: Gillianren: The Black Cauldron
    August 14th: Balthazar Bee: Friday the 13th: A New Beginning
    August 15th: Wallflower: Into the Night
    August 16th: clytie: Smooth Talk
    August 17th: BurgundySuit: Best of the Hot 100
    August 18th: BurgundySuit: Worst of the Hot 100
    August 20th: Son of Griff: The Breakfast Club
    August 21st: Miller: Hard Rock Zombies
    August 25th: Jacob Thomas Klemmer: Tampopo
    August 27th: Bhammer: Ran
    August 28th: ZoeZ: Lonesome Dove
    August 30th: the split saber: Red Sonja/Ladyhawke/Legend
    Tentative: Vomas: Summer Rental
    Tentative: The Ploughman: Ender’s Game

    • And a bonus Year of the Month entry from actually last year!

    • lgauge

      I have a review of Godard’s Hail Mary lying around that I could probably tweak a bit into something usable for this. Put me down for the 29th.

  • BurgundySuit

    Year of the Month with Uncle Roger: The Goonies
    “Goonies”, like “Gremlins”, walks a thin line between the cheerful and the gruesome, and the very scenes the adults might object to are the ones the kids will like the best: Spielberg is congratulating them on their ability to take the heavy-duty stuff….

    If the ingredients are familiar from Spielberg’s high-powered action movies, the kids are inspired by “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”. The single most important line of dialogue in any Spielberg movie is probably the line in “E.T.” when one kid calls another kid “penis-breath.” The dialogue hears and acknowledges the precocious way that kids incorporate vulgarity into their conversations, especially with each other; the line in “E.T.” created such a shock of recognition that the laughs swept away any objections.

    This time, his kids say “shit” a lot, and it is a measure of Spielberg’s insight that the word draws only a PG rating for the movie; Spielberg no doubt argues that most kids talk like that half the time, and he is right. His technique is to take his thirteen-and fourteen-year-olds and let them act a little older than their age. It’s more refreshing than the old Disney technique, which was to take characters of all ages and have them behave as if they were twelve…

    During “Goonies”, I was often exhilarated by what was happening. Afterward, I was less enthusiastic. The movie is totally manipulative, which would be okay, except it doesn’t have the lift of a film like E.T. It has the high energy without the sweetness. It uses what it knows about kids to churn them up, while E.T. gave them things to think about, the values to enjoy. “The Goonies”, like “Gremlins”, shows that Spielberg and his directors are absolute masters of how to excite and involve an audience. “E.T.” was more like “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”; it didn’t simply want us to feel, but also to wonder, and to dream.”

    http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-goonies-1985

    • Conor Malcolm Crockford

      I watched The Goonies pretty recently with my dad and his family and our reaction was just “Yeah this is fine.” I don’t really get either the ecstatic praise or vehement hate. It’s decent except for the very casual racism. Also, look Chunk you really should talk to your parents before inviting a full grown deformed mentally disabled man to live with you. Not saying it’s a bad thing to do but its worth a conversation.

      • Babalugats

        I saw The Goonies as an adult after my cousin, who’s about 12 years older than me, couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen it. It’s a perfectly adequate children’s movie. Nothing to get upset about, but also not a lot to appeal to adults.

        Despite absolutely loving the movie, my cousin won’t let her own kids see it because of the language. There’s a pretty small window where that film is effective, but she’s steadfast.

  • Rosy Fingers

    I’m not gonna speak to the queer side of things because that’s not my place, but speaking generally as an audience member I’d definitely prefer a grab-bag approach to programming, as opposed to thematic. If you’re watching, say, a run of six horror shorts, you’re going to ultimately be comparing each to what’s come before, rather than appreciating each as its own thing. My ideal is pure surprise with drama followed by animation followed by comedic followed by horror and so on. As long as the programmers are modulating the tone like a good DJ, that could make for a delightful experience.

    Of course, that’s an ideal. I haven’t the same experience in the shorts programming trenches as Julius, where I suppose the films are more same-samey than we’d like. At my venue we’re about to run a bike-themed short film night. If these are all just Go-Pro “adventures” it’s gonna be a long night.

    • That’s good insight. Doing the screening committee, I rarely knew what was coming up next, so everything was like a popcorn bag…but nothing was ever curated. I would have to see a truly “random” program unfold before I could sign on. When I crafted a program about technology, I built it to tell a story, and I crafted the fuck out of my first draft of a horror program to created a sense of mounting dread. The program – which has comedy, horror comedy, true horror, absurdism, and a few other genres all mixed in – was a difficult one to program because of a giant slow short that, everybody agreed, had to be in the program. Being on the screening committee was hard, but it was fun as hell.

      I think one of the problems with grabbag randomized programs is that certain genres (especially horror) can turn people off instantly. Doing a grab bag and modulating the tempo is all well and good, but that might mean leaving off the deeper cuts that will alienate half the audience. There’s a couple horror shorts that make total sense in a horror program, but would turn off many viewers who are more sensitive to that content.

      • Rosy Fingers

        Interesting. I guess thematic programming would allow for spaces to let the freakier flags fly. Tropfest in Australia stipulates that filmmakers create new short films for the festival, so it’s the world premier festival for each film submitted and each film must include that year’s signature item (this year it’s a rose). Even though the film genres can be wildly divergent, that signature item concept does have an odd way of creating a sense of theme. And it does allow for some high-quality weirdness to occasionally make the cut.

        • Seattle’s HumpFest (amateur porn festival) also has Prop requirements, but every film has to deal with sex. Though that can range from the silly (I’ve seen a balloon short) to the kinky (an infamous knife play short caused walkouts), to the vanilla to the romantic to the musical. I think the benefits to having the theme is it preps the audience’s mind for a wide variety along that theme (in the case of Hump Fest, it’s porn). It’s kind of like the variety within a season of Masters of Horror. The movies have enough variety that you can watch a few back to back and not get the same thing twice.

          • Rosy Fingers

            You know what? I’m kinda sold and I retract my original assertion of total eclecticism being the ideal… so long as the programmers know what they’re doing. I still want a wide variety in the mix but a minor theme is something to hold an audience’s hand while still providing room for surprise. Mostly I was reacting to your point about endless coming out stories, which does sound insufferable even if some of them are good.

            In Australia (and New Zealand) the fallback is always either quirky country folk, black comedy crime, or sentimentalised widow/widower surrounded by sentimentalised personal possessions somehow finds a new lease on life.

    • Miller

      Your film night better include the consensus best short bike film ever made: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=AV1WCm-n_N4