January 24-30

Outside of my domicile up here at school, a few people are playing in the snow. They are cheering with their friends because some people enjoy this precipitation, I guess. My instinct when I hear benevolent emotions? Internally yell, “SHUT UP!”

I just started my last semester of college and boy do I feel a cold wind chill when I say that. When I am forced to reluctantly talk about school with others, they respond with “wow, that’s exciting!” when I tell them this is the last dance. Oh is it? I guess terror is a form of excitement. However, any form of excitement will be a first-time entry into my college career. I’ve spent these last four years spending nights alone eating roast beef baskets and watching neo-noirs. My collegiate journey is a chicken or the egg conundrum: am I like this because I chose to isolate myself or am I isolating myself because I’m like this? I wasn’t made for college, but I don’t get down about it because I just assume I would’ve knocked down a construction sight or flooded an entire apartment complex if I went into a trade.

This week’s positive self-talk is sponsored by this week’s watches:

Gerry (2002, Gus Van Sant) – Sometimes a hard narrative and style choice misses wide right. Van Sant is often criticized for his vapid showy filmmaking (I happen to like Elephant but that’s where you can easily point to this) and here, it doesn’t take long to realize what kind of movie this is going to be. I wanted to enjoy spending time with Matt Damon and Casey Affleck alone in the desert. This was one of those movies that made me wish I was satisfying my slowly declining attention span by clicking through my YouTube recommendation feed.

Phantom of the Paradise (1974, Brain de Palma) – This really flies by the edge of its seat. One part farcical comedy, another part tragic rock opera. In the famous photo of the Big 5 New Hollywood filmmakers, De Palma is the odd man out, never reaching the critical and commercial success of Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, or Lucas. However, if you were to ask each of them who was the most gifted filmmaker of the bunch, I wouldn’t be surprised if they all said De Palma. He’s the only one who never really altered his DNA into the 21st century. Here’s what I propose: is De Palma the best American director to never be nominated for Best Director?

Deep Cover (1992, Bill Duke) – I was pleasantly surprised to discover a year ago that the guy I liked from Commando and Predator had a vast directorial filmography. It was nice to watch the last credit for Larry Fishburne and a non-annoying presence from Jeff Goldblum. Felt a little flat but a solid watch while stuck inside in a blizzard.

January 17-23

This is as obvious as a sledgehammer to the face, but movies simply aren’t as good anymore. There’s so many reasons why that is the case, and this Twitter thread breaks it down quite nicely. That graph signaling the rapid expansion of sequels and IP is dystopian if you care about mid-budget cinema. As the studios became fatter in money, anything that isn’t Star Wars or in the realm of The Avengers is seen as a financial risk. The likes of David Chase and Vince Gilligan, who are clearly inspired by film, migrate to TV to tell their stories, and that’s why everyone in my life only talks about TV rather than movies.

As someone who never has any priorities to manage, I can speak on the matter of how to spend your free time. During peak quarantine activities, people were watching, let’s say, five T.V shows consecutively. For me, I see that window of time and see 60 movies that I can bang out. It’s stitched into people’s brains now to stick with TV instead. I remember people were disgusted that Martin Scorsese would have the NERVE to film a three and a half-hour epic when all I ever hear is “yeah, it gets good around season 5 so just be patient!” about some show on IMDb TV. Unless there’s a Marvel or DC logo before the credits, forget it, movies are an old man’s game. I think it’s bad when the 16th reboot of Batman that’s coming out in March is treated like the highest form of art. People say to me “oh, you hate Marvel. This is the anti-Marvel!” No, no. We can do better than this.

Anyway, I digress. My top 5 of 2021 (as it usually goes, I still haven’t seen everything) goes as:

5. Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson) – I was ready to give this 6/5 stars when the trailer dropped in September. The lofty expectations hurt this for me in the long run. In a vacuum, this is a solid movie, no doubt about it, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Punch-Drunk Love, Phantom Thread, or the best of PTA’s ability. This movie represents the side of PTA as a person that I have no use for: the one who praises Marvel and acts like Spider-Man is good for the business for the Twitter applause, signaling “I’m not an old pretentious dickhead like Scorsese or Ridley Scott.” Please, be pretentious about it. You’re better than Kevin Feige. I didn’t really need to see a hangout movie from PTA either. Having said that, I can see myself fully loving this six months from now.

4. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion) – Coin-flip between this and Licorice Pizza, but I was slightly more interested in the direction of Campion more than Anderson. This is not for everyone, which is fine, but nothing pisses me off more when people who clearly wouldn’t connect with a slow-burn western about perverse male bonding review the movie saying “what the fuck was that bullshit!” Opinions are fine (I guess), everyone’s gonna have them, but sometimes, as I’ve learned, maybe the problem is you. This isn’t perfect by any means, but I have to think there’s a universal acknowledgement of its craft.

3. The Last Duel (Ridley Scott) – Why on God’s green earth wasn’t this marketed with the angle of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck reuniting? Fucking Disney… It’s as if they want to sabotage 21st Century Fox…. This was certainly worth a re-watch on HBO Max. I initially saw this in theaters solely as charity, irrationally thinking my $11 ticket will help cover the $100 million it lost. I didn’t REALLY want to see it. Ridley Scott and medieval period pieces are not draws for me. My mind really wasn’t in it when I watched it with two other people. Turns out, movies are better when you are committed to watching them.

2. The Card Counter (Paul Schrader) – There weren’t many surprises (maybe except for the U.S military torture program, conveniently left out of the marketing), but this hit all the spots I was looking for. If cinema is ever going to be redundant, it should be from Paul Schrader’s Lonely Man protagonist. It never fails. Has Oscar Isaac perfected downer energy between this and Inside Llewyn Davis?

1. West Side Story (Steven Spielberg) – The fact that this isn’t the easiest $100 million box office earner is tragic. This was an emphatic reminder that movies can still be great. The musical numbers and emotional weight and scale are why you go see movies in theaters. If you read anything about how Spielberg topped the 1961 Best Picture winner (building miniatures, recording the numbers live, emphasis on placing the camera inside the famous numbers), you should be slapping yourself for giving a damn about Marvel. But I shouldn’t be so callous, because getting to see this on the big screen was such a joyous experience.

Before I bore you with how evil Disney is, let me play this blog out with the only two things I watched this week:

Marathon Man (1976, John Schlesinger) – Not bad, but underwhelming from what I expect from 70s paranoia thrillers. Maybe it’s just me, but Dustin Hoffman seems incredibly miscast in this movie. He’s bringing his nervy method acting to a role that needs more of an everyman (i.e. his co-star Roy Scheider who drives the first half). This famous quote from Laurence Olivier to Hoffman was ringing through my head the whole time watching this: “’My dear boy,’ replied Olivier, ‘why don’t you try acting?’”

Popeye (1980, Robert Altman) – Everything you heard is true. The guy who directed M*A*S*H and Nashville turned a cartoon into New Hollywood. I get why this flopped, but it doesn’t make it right. No matter if you like it, Altman makes movies that are unlike anything you see anywhere else.

January 10-16

Is it just me, or are we always tired these days? It can be the middle of the day, hardly any muscles being moved, the coffee has been sucked down, and yet everyone around me is yawning, and maybe even dozing off into sleep. The only certainty out there is that I’m not yawning, because I find the act obnoxiously annoying, and if it were up to me, there would be a $500 fine if a yawn is loud enough for others to hear. I can accept it if the night has settled in after a long day. Close to bed time is one thing, but the heart of noon is another hair across my ass that somehow bothers a fully developed human being.

Yeah, you can’t control being tired, but that’s what I’m trying to figure out. Why are we tired when all we’re doing is sitting in front of the T.V? Much to my chagrin, I also experience mild fatigue despite going weeks without ever doing anything worthwhile. The feeling always kicks in at the dawn of the afternoon. Coffee often does nothing for me, and I swear it makes me MORE tired on occasion. Writing this right now on a Sunday afternoon, the feeling is starting to kick in.

At least for me, the feeling is a result of lethargy. I could be watching my favorite movie, and I’ll think to myself “have I been overrating this?” Go figure, continuing the day by yet again looking at a T.V screen doesn’t energize me. I could inject sedatives into my blood stream, and I wouldn’t be able to nap. Sleepiness is never the issue. It’s merely the reminder that I should probably spice up my life. But because I’m afraid of the world around me, writing this shit is my solvent.

However, a first watch can give me a solid short-term high. Here’s what I watched this week.

Sully (2016, Clint Eastwood) – I regret being so uncurious about anything besides sports back in 2015-17. So many things that would’ve been right up my ally that I just missed. I hate that it took me this long to see this. This was marketed as the most mundane of biopics and “this ACTUALLY happened” movies with the draw of a big star. It overachieves quite a lot from its premise and script. We were taking Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood for granted. If we got anything half as good as this in 2021, I would’ve gone to Sunday mass. I should note that I would take 2000s Hanks over 90s Hanks every day of the week Gimme this, Road to Perdition, and Catch Me If You Can over his most iconic work from the 90s.

The Trouble With Harry (1955, Alfred Hitchcock) – The Hitchcock collection on Criterion Channel will be leaving soon and I’ll be cursing myself for taking it for granted, just like everything else in my life. If there was any Hitchcock film that I could get a re-do for, it would be this one. The setup is great: a random murder drawing the curiosity of small town residents, mismatched by their folksy charm. This might explain why Hitchcock, while darkly funny at times, stayed away from comedies. Maybe the casting was off, because no one really knows how to sell jokes in this film. I still liked it though.

Sudden Impact (1983, Clint Eastwood) – What can I say, I’ve been yearning for Clint Eastwood. Not to go all Tony Soprano, but being a man was something else. I was aware of the film’s turn into rape revenge and surprisingly sympathetic depiction of sexual assault justice. Took a little while to get going (first half more or less playing the greatest Harry Callahan hits), but was always fascinated by its narrative directions for an action-thriller. I wish more people were interested in these movies.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021, Joel Coen) – Adam Nayman’s brilliant takeaway from this singular Coen film rung through my head while I was watching this. Three essential forces, Denzel, Frances McDormand, Joel Coen, mesmerizing production design and cinematography, but I couldn’t connect with it whatsoever. The hell with my illiterate brain for shutting down when detecting Shakespeare dialogue. Is this Coens cannon? Are we ranking it with the rest of their films? I say no.

Hardcore (1979, Paul Schrader) – Did anyone else rent a Paul Schrader movie about a conservative midwestern father’s voyage into the porn underworld immediately before watching playoff football? That’s when I can be proud of myself. This was everything I wanted. New Hollywood was simply the best.