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Movies, Second Quarter 2022
DUST ON THE MICROPHONE / THE PEOPLE WANT MORE GOO / JULIA DENIED / BEASTIE BOYS IN TIMES OF FUTURE PAST / OTHER DUDES NAMED KAFKA / BERGMAN ROCKS / LINKS
Ayyyyyyyyy... been a while since I rapped at ya... I took some time off to work on some other projects, so I haven't been writing much. But this whole time I've still been eating dinner and watching the occasional movie, and then of course writing about it in my precious little computer journal with all the other events of the day. Sooooo I may as well update this past quarter's movie log. This is for April - May - June 2022.
Rewatches are denoted with a " ⟲ ". A lot of these are rewatches because sometimes what I want is a known quantity.
Star Trek (2009)
Rewatch of this fun reboot. After watching all those Mission Impossible movies in the previous quarter I remembered this other fun series with Simon Pegg in a supporting role. I like Star Trek and I like this. Great cast. Chekov is especially cute. I remember feeling shocked in the theatre when (spoiler) Nimoy shows up-- it's an interesting move to make the reboot an alternate reality version of the thing you know. I mean that's how it is anyway, with the new and the old existing simultaneously in the viewer's mind, but it's interesting to state this explicitly, and to allow for the reboot and the original boot to mingle. The only thing that bothered me on the rewatch is that I remember the "red matter injection" sequence going on for a surprisingly long time, and talking to my theatre companions Tumblecat and Pak about how it was great to see something so abstract on the big screen. But I guess it was just a few seconds? Is there more red matter in the theatrical cut?? Maybe it just made more of an impact on the big screen. Director JJ Abrahms did a good job not explaining at all what red matter is, just saying "here's some goo, it's important". Which is especially daring when you consider how classically pedantic the Star Trek fandom is. I liked it.
The Expendables (2010)
This is probably the worst movie I've seen in a long time. If all these guys really wanted to hang out so bad they should've just gone on a camping trip, or joined a softball league. The entire movie is like an old rich guy who gets one of those modern big pickups and says "it's just one of my toys", except there's 10 of these guys. Or they have a band and they have really nice guitars and their practice room is extremely sweet and they never play out and it's no problem because they're having fun. Unfortunately in this case they did "play out" so to speak, they launched a movie franchise, and I watched one. Jet Li is in this, but his main character feature is that he's short, that's infuriating. And he gets beaten up by Dolph Lundgren????? I guess they couldn't make him "the fast one" because every other guy in this seems incapable of running-- being the fast guy is meaningless. Same thing for "the one who displays imagination". Schwarzeneggar shows up for a sec just to say "you guys are making a movie, huh? and you want me to be in it? no thanks". Very bad vibe. I guess he has a bigger role in later ones, which is an even worse vibe. "OK, I'll be in your dumb little movie". Stallone and Mickey Rourke look disgusting in a very modern way. Jason Statham is in this and not only does he not prepare a nice meal for himself (as happens in a few of his movies), but at one point him and Stallone go to a cafe to meet their contact and the cafe lady goes "you guys want drinks?" and they're like "no, we're just going to sit here" and the lady's like "ok, no problem". That lets me know that the people who made this are completely cut off from reality. The whole cafe had like 3 tables max and you think it's OK to just sit there and neither of you are going to order anything? Maybe the script had them order dos cervesas por favor but Stallone changed it because he's drug free? This is pure speculation. OK, one last bit: Usually in movies like this they blast Creedence Clearwater Revival in the chopper but I guess everything on Chronicle (Greatest Hits Vols 1 & 2) was used (in the chopper sequences of other movies). So they went with "Keep On Chooglin'"??? I mean I love Creedence but come on, this is weak.
Once Upon A Time In China (1991)
Had to watch a good Jet Li movie after his lackluster appearance in the Expendables. I found this one a little too epic for my taste, and I'm lacking a lot of the history and subtext that made this narrative (presumably) easily navigable by the huge crowds of early 90s China, who made this a massive hit. Jet Li's portrayal of Chinese folk hero Wong Fei-hung is a little too goody goody for me. Like we get it, you're virtuous. You don't have to rub our faces in it. But maybe Jet Li was struggling under the weight of a legend, and the legend clearly states "virtuous". Maybe he was reacting to Drunken Master (1978), where Jackie Chan also plays Wong Fei-hung, but makes him a sort of lazy goofy nut. Of course there are some great fight sequences and yes, as the box clearly states, this set the standard for martial arts excellence to which all others are compared. Jet Li loves to put shifting platforms in his movies and there's a good one in here with ladders.
Police Story 3 (1992)
Also called "Supercop". It's great. Michelle Yeoh joins the action, she rocks. This was partly set in Malaysia, and they got 2 non-contiguous durian gags in, which I really appreciated. I'm trying not to watch too many movies where the cops are the good guys, because that's unrealistic and trains our minds to accept the situation we're in now. But I make an exception for the exceptional Jackie Chan.
Once Upon A Time In China 2 (1992)
Unlike UOATIC 1, Jet Li doesn't have any slobs to bounce his Nice Young Man persona off and flex his virtue, and as a result he's just kind of "a dull guy". But on the good side the plot is a little simpler. Donnie Yen is great as an adversary, and the fight with the mystical sect at the end is cool and spooky. Yes there's shifting platforms.
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
One of us wasn't feeling good so we rewatched this extremely enjoyable and rewarding movie for the one millionth time.
My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)
We wanted to hit a rom com and one of us (me) didn't want to watch Notting Hill again, so I looked up "Julia rom com best" and got this one. Unfortunately, MBFW subverts the rom com in a way that I found displeasing in the moment. I mean it was good but I wanted a rom com, not an interesting take. Like when you're hungry for a pizza, you don't want someone's novel twist on the concept, for people tired of the same old same old. You want the platonic idea of a pizza. So anyway this was good but it's definitely "an interesting take". It stands out in its field due to its narrative innovation but if you don't watch a lot of rom coms and then you're like "let's watch a rom com" and you watch this, well it's kind of a drag. Julia Roberts plays kind of a bad person that messed up big time and that's life baby. Cameron Diaz is great in this and it was nice to see karaoke in a movie where they get it right-- karaoke crowds like to see you give it your all, good singers and bad alike. Another nice thing is that even when Julia Roberts is at her most Machiavellian, the guy is like "it's sweet that you cared so much [to commit such cruel and duplicitous acts]". Again, this wasn't bad, it just wasn't what I wanted in that moment.
Man, Julia Roberts get caught up in the same shit here as in My Best Friend's Wedding (1997)! She's the buddy in love with the manchild, who grows up into someone else's arms. Damn. Watching this I got kind of hung up on the world of Neverland-- how it works on the day to day, their alliances and emnities. But it's best to just take it in a broad general way ("it's fun to have fun"), even though a big riff here is believing literally in the fantastic realms. Dustin Hoffman is dynamite, he really chews up the scenery with extraordinary relish. Weird star power in this with Hoffman, Robin Williams, Julia, Spielberg behind the camera, John Fucking Williams with the rousing score of course, and then tons of cameos, including but not limited to Glenn Close, George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Phil Collins, and Jimmy Buffett (?). According to Wikipedia, Carrie Fisher re-wrote all the Tinker Bell lines, that's wild.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
OK when we rewatched the first one of these reboots I remembered from my first viewing that a young kirk blasts Beastie Boys "Sabotage" from a stolen car. But I didn't remember that the second one has a Beastie Boys song too? And it's sex music while Kirk is boning twin catgirls???? Buuuuuuuuut it's a Fat Boy Slim remix?????????????? Honestly this selection was a big mistake. If they were really committed to using Beastie Boys as diagetic music they should've used one of the instrumentals from Hello Nasty, that's like "future music" and some of it is sex-appropriate. As for Fat Boy Slim... give me a break. I don't know, maybe it's appropriate for the character, considering that Kirk kind of sucks. The other mark against is that Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan, that's poor casting. I mean he was good as "the bad guy" in the early part of the movie, when he was just a psychopathic thinker with a hidden identity. But when they revealed that he was Khan I felt like a major opportunity had been lost. I know that Ricardo Montalban (the original Khan) is a hard act to follow but I wish they got someone more a little more passionate. Or at all passionate. This guy doesn't simmer, he just glares. There's a lot of nods to Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan in this and each time I was like "o ya, Ricardo Montalban, that's who I wish I was watching right now". You can't spell "terrorism" without "eros" (I just made that up).
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
OK this entire movie builds up to our rag tag team tactically blasting this one Beastie Boys song and honestly it's sick as Hell.
Tora-San's Love In Osaka (1981)
Aka "Tora's Many-Splintered Love". Since I don't understand Japanese, I really missed out on the jokes about the Osaka dialect. Thoughtfully the music got extra goofy during the dialogue comedy parts, so at least I recognized that there was a joke there. Every movie in the Tora-san series has him visit a different town in Japan, and it took them 27 movies to get to Osaka, I'm sure people were going nuts for this one. The did a great job. As I understand it, the stereotype of the Osaka person is that they're funny and pushy. I was told that when they dub a Disney movie into Japanese they give the weird little animal friend an Osaka accent-- Timon and Pumba from Lion King, for instance. That's the Osaka feeling and this movie had a few conspicuously funny and pushy characters. Unfortunately this makes Tora go extra-stoic in contrast, and he narrowly misses out of love, yet again.
Drive My Car (2022)
Pretty good but very long movie based on a Haruki Murakami short story. There were so many layers here it felt dazzling without purpose-- I thought that the title being a Beatles song was going to be relevant, but it isn't. Also there's a lot of other texts woven through-- Beckett and Chekov mostly-- but it didn't feel like a deeper appreciation of the referenced works would enrich the story, it felt like they were just kind of window dressing. And it was set in Hiroshima, which to me is an emotionally charged place, but those emotions didn't seem to be in play, it was just a place on the map. Well the story's about a play director so there's gotta be a play, and you have to set it somewhere so it might as well be Hiroshima. But the thing that really pushed it over the edge for me, in regards to needless cleverness, was that the main guy's name is Kafuku ("Kafka"), but it didn't seem relevant at all! Like the story wasn't Kafkaesque and no one turns into a cockroach or anything. It was a little like watching a sci-fi comedy where a background guy is named Bob O'Fett or Garth Vader or something and it's not like a joke per se but it's there to tell you the filmmakers are into the same stuff you're into. All this stuff notwithstanding, I liked it. In fact it was an interesting experience once I decided to actively disregard many of these details. It felt realistic. Like you meet someone and they go "hi, I'm Mark" and you think "oh, I have a friend named Mark" or "oh, just like Mark Twain" but connecting these dots doesn't give you any kind of narrative insight, they're just like, all named Mark. I bet there's thousands of people named Kafka out there and they probably have the same likelihood of turning into giant bugs as anyone else.
What We Do In The Shadows (2014)
Can't believe I never saw this but I watched it while I was feeling kind of low and it really made me laugh. A vampire mockumentary from New Zealand, I loved it.
Wild Strawberries (1957)
The first time I saw this (years ago) I thought it was going to be ponderous and depressing. That was my concept of "Bergman movie", gleaned from mostly parody sources. But it isn't cold and confusing, it's warm and uplifting, and it's not like a heady allegory where this guy represents this thing and this other thing is time or whatever-- it's a sequence of events that make you feel a certain way but everything in it is just some stuff that happens. There's car crashes, fights, teenagers with wild guitars.... Where did I get this idea of "ponderous foreign movie"? From that one Bud Light commercial? This one's for everyone that likes wild strawberries, which are delicious.
Top Secret (1984)
One time when I was a kid I fell asleep watching TV and I woke up and this was on, the scene with two guys in a cow costume, played by an actual cow wearing rubber boots. I had no idea what it was and then the next day I convinced myself that it was a dream. Then I saw the box in the video store (with the cow on the cover) and I couldn't believe it. A magnificent farce from the team behind Naked Gun and Airplane, starring a young Val Kilmer and featuring a few really incredible sequences, including an incredible underwater fight sequence that I think about all the time. As with Airplane, it's solid jokes, and nothing else really, and after watching it this time I thought "it's not really a movie". But I don't think that's a problem. It's almost like a book of perfect little poems, strung together with a recurring character or motif.
Sisters With Transistors (2020)
Nice documentary about female electronic music composers, from the 50s to the 80s. Maryanne Amacher, Bebe Barron, Suzanne Ciani, Delia Derbyshire, Pauline Oliveros, Daphne Oram, Éliane Radigue, Clara Rockmore, Wendy Carlos and Laurie Spiegel. Well, it's great. Recommended for anyone into music but especially for those into bleeps and bloops. It seems like you can't make a music documentary these days without Thurston Moore, but this one gets close- he's in here but only in the background, uncredited. It kind of feels like a BBC special, but that's ok. Keith said there's a Louis & Bebe Barron doc coming out soon, I'm looking forward to that when it becomes available for illegal download.
A Day At The Races (1937)
Marx Brothers movie with Allan Jones and Margaret O'Sullivan as the lovebirds, Douglass Dumbrille as the heavy, and of course with the magnificent Margaret Dumont as the wealthy widow. Dumbrille is so menacing but I read somewhere that he was actually super nice and that the Marx brothers all loved him. Looking at him in this movie it's hard to believe though, he seems monumentally, empiracally unpleasant. Even the horses hate him.
links / misc
Reminder that you can get these posts by email if that's desireable for you. That way you don't miss a post when they are erratic like this (though I am trying to get back to a more reasonable schedule). You can sign up here: [substack].
If you love lists of movies with pithy commentary, or you're making a list of what Jason Statham eats in all of his movies, you may consult the previously compiled lists of movies, which are in the archives, which are presently stored in the coatroom, which is here: [link]. Just search in page for "movies".
I went looking for that Bud Light commercial where they dunk on a strawman Fellini movie and instead I found this letter to the editor from Scorcese where he talks about it, how it sucks: [link]. Always good to patrol the personal mindscape for moldy attitudes like this, and then expose them to air and sunlight. Imagine feeling confused and threatened by a Fellini movie???? Wow, it's a guy having a dream and he's seeing weird stuff...
I think I linked to this a while ago but if you liked "Sisters With Transistors" and wanted more Éliane Radigue (which is only natural), there's a nice little 14 minute thing on her on youtube. In French with subtitles. [youtube]
The images at the top (of a dollhouse chair and a jaguar, respectively) are from one of my favorite image / research blogs, An Ambitious Project Collapsing [link]. I realized a few months ago that it hasn't been updated in a while, and maybe it's abandoned. So I saved an offline version to my computer, that way if it ever goes down I can still look at it for inspiration. This is like next-level downloading for me. Anyway it's great, and it's still online at the moment. Check it out if you like kids' art and hippie architecture.
Some of you guys have written in in the past couple weeks just to say hey, or "here's what I've been to", or occasionally "I've been thinking about this one part of this thing you wrote". Geez it is so nice to get a nice little note! If anyone's been lurking the castle lately, I'd love to hear from you, even just "Hi from [location]". I can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by post: Jacob B / PO box 29081 / Providence RI / 02909 :)
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