God, I love Spider-Man No Way Home

This is going to have spoilers on a very successful movie that got a love of coverage.

I watched it again in Imax, and it remains really good.

If Into the Spider-Verse was a big statement on Spider-Man, this is a statement on Peter Parker, which is one reason it works so well when the other Peters show up. It is very clearly about several things, like the desire to have it all, and the realization that you can’t.

There’s an argument that we have a dearth of films set in the present because of the ubiquity of smartphones, which filmmakers haven’t figured out how to incorporate into stories. But this may just have the best use of smartphones in film in a lot of clever ways.

It is a big film, and relatively long for superhero movies, but there’s no fat.

Obviously, the classic villains work. But I do like the conflict with Doctor Strange, where we see the differences between the two heroes. Peter Parker is a middle-class kid, so he wouldn’t consider asking a college to reconsider a decision. Dr. Strange is an Ivy League educated world-class surgeon, so he won’t take no for an answer. Strange would consider the larger stakes, and be willing to sacrifice lives, and Spider-Man will never make that call.

One note is that my favorite Spider-Man villain is the Lizard, and there’s an argument that he’s the least important of the bad guys in the movie. But this takes the whole theme of the cost of trying to save the bad guys to an entire movie, plus I love seeing him fight the Maguire and Holland Spideys.

It retroactively made some of the earlier films better. Amazing Spider-Man 2 got a satisfying payoff. One of the issues with Spider-Man 2 was that it had some of the plot beats from the first one, but when you had Molina’s Doctor Octopus and Defoe’s Green Goblin in the same room, you could see that these are different villains.

It is ironic that the villains who had satisfying deaths steal the show. One of the biggest problems of the Raimi films (the way the bad guys weren’t able to return) becomes an advantage here, as it becomes part of the story. Doctor Octopus is great, although Willem Defoe’s Norman Osborn steals the show, going from a decent antagonist in the first Spider-Man film to one of the best movie supervillains ever. Two things from the comics this movie does very well is show Norman Osborn as a sudden source of chaos, who keeps messing things up for the heroes, and a side of Spider-Man that’s in some of his best comics, but that we really haven’t seen in film, an angry young man with great power, where the danger isn’t that he may die but that he’ll do things that are so nasty he may lose his soul in the process.

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We came really close to an electoral college tie

It seems underappreciated how close we came to a 269-269 electoral tie.

Biden’s margin in Georgia was 0.23% (11,779 votes) His margin in Arizona was 0.31% (10,457 votes) and his margin in Wisconsin was 0.63% (20,682 votes.) A national swing of less than a percent would’ve resulted in a Trump win. That wouldn’t have taken much. A better first debate performance when he was probably sick with Covid could’ve been enough.

A national swing of one percent would have resulted in a 269-269 tie, which would have sent the election to the House of Representatives, where each house delegation would get one vote, a scenario under which Republicans would have the edge.


How come this isn’t discussed more?

Is it that it took a few days to determine the exact electoral count? Is it that people are unfamiliar with how it works when the election goes to the House (Bill Maher suggested in a recent episode that Republicans need to win the House in order for the House of Representatives to decide the election, which suggests his fact-checkers hadn’t made that point)?

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Films Seen In 2022 Part 1

As I’ve done for the last few years, I’m keeping track of movies I’ve seen. A slight change is that I’m also trying to include some shorter films.

Movie #1/ New Movie #1: The Spiderwick Chronicles (Netflix)
It’s a family fantasy movie that does a decent job of worldbuilding, as well as capturing family dynamics, when a kid doesn’t quite understand what’s going on, in his family during a tough time (a move following a divorce) and when he realizes fairies and goblins are real, and willing to kill him for some secret knowledge.

Movie #2/ New Movie #2: Amarcord (DVD)
These vignettes in an Italian town during the fascist era capture the silliness and desires of the people who live there, balancing it with the dangers of Mussolini’s goons. The angry father has to worry about a disabled brother, and being questioned in the middle of the night for an offhand comment. The context of it may be less obvious now, given the lack of coverage of Fascist Italy in contemporary media compared to when it came out when this was much more in living memory. It is a bit weird to see Fellini in color since so many of his major works are black and white. It’s a bit like Kurosawa and Bergman in that way.

Movie #3/ New Movie #3: Howards End (Netflix)
This is the first Merchant/ Ivory film I’ve seen. It’s an odd hole in my filmwatching, although it is pretty good. It’s a story about the connections between three families elevated by an excellent cast and production values, with all sorts of character details allowing for new insights even if some turns may be a bit implausible. One thing I really appreciate is the depiction of the friendship between Emma Thompson’s Margaret Schlegel and Vanessa Redgrave’s Ruth Wilcox, both of whom have very different styles, although they can appreciate the same things. It makes it funny that Redgrave thought she was being hired to play Schlegel. It’s obviously largely about privileged people in the early 20th Century, but it acknowledges this in the way a casual comment by the rich can change a poor man’s life for the worse. It really shows how the rich people get to be flawed, but the middle class have no room for error.

Movie #4/ New Movie #4: The Matrix Resurrections (Movie Theater)
It’s a sequel that squares the circle and pulls off a few difficult tricks. It resurrects characters whose stories had ended, builds on a weak conclusion to the original trilogy , says something about reboots and modern culture, and introduces a twist that allows for the story to continue without making the original victory retroactively meaningless. It drags a bit at the end, with the bad guys not matching Hugo Weaving’s Agent Smith, but it is satisfactory.

Movie #5: Godzilla
The original Godzilla is a decent film. I like the build-up to the monster, and the exploration of the moral questions in fighting it.

Movie #6/ New Movie #5: West Side Story (Movie Theater)
The one time I saw the original, I didn’t care for it all that much. Part of it is just the ridiculousness of people in a gang dancing around. It works this time to highlight their immaturity. Spielberg’s direction is incredible. There are quite a few strong performances, especially Rachel Siegler’s lead, Rita Morena’s reimagined mentor, Mike Faist’s nihilistic Riff, and Ariana Debose’s Anita who has to sell character decisions that could easily seem ridiculous if she screws up at all. I wouldn’t mind any of them getting Oscar nominations. There’s some talk about the message of the script, but it is smarter than simplistic understandings, making the case for and against reckless young love. It’s certainly worth seeing in a theater.

Movie #7/ New Movie #6: tick…tick…BOOM (Netflix)
I like Rent okay, but this is a film I’m really primed to enjoy. Two of my favorite works from the 2010s are the Social Network and Hamilton, so a Lin Manuel Miranda/ Andrew Garfield collaboration automatically piques my interest. Plus, the subject of a writer on the verge of thirty pondering his remaining time just speaks to me. It’s pretty well done, with decent songs and a narrative about making art that is a bit complicated, celebrating his ambition at a doomed project while showing hints about the work that will be his legacy.10/10

Movie #8: Charade (Criterion DVD)
A fun Hitchcock pastiche with Audrey Hepburn as a widow learning her husband’s secrets and Cary Grant as a stranger who gets involved. There are some solid twists, although it’s mainly a vehicle for two of the most charming people who have ever lived to have some fun, even if Grant is pretty obviously pushing sixty.

Movie #9: A Night to Remember (Criterion Blu-Ray)
I watched the Criterion blu-ray and it was excellent. It seems a bit too understated in the beginning, as it’s obvious that much of it is filmed on land sets that just as easily be in any hotel. But that does make for a nice contrast when everything goes to hell. Summed up my brother as part of the British mythmaking at a time when they lost India and were trying to preserve their sense of decency.

Movie #10/ New Movie #7: Beetlejuice (Blu-Ray)
It’s a bit odd that Beetlejuice is mainly a side character here, called to help one side in a comedic clash between ghosts and the new owners of their old house. The sets and make-up are great. There are some smart decisions with the family. It’s okay but it feels like its missing something.

Movie #11/ New Movie #8: Super-Size Me (Amazon Prime)
Whatever else you say about it, this is an accessible and entertaining documentary that makes its argument very well. Morgan Spurlock has a great presence, and has some fun with a catchy concept that he’s able to connect to bigger problems with American obesity.

Movie #12/ New Movie #9: Scream (2022) (Movie Theater)
As far as I’m concerned, there hasn’t been a bad Scream movie, so the series has an outstanding batting average. The self-conscious requel seems to be a love letter to the original. I like the new leads and how the original trio get involved. There are some clever meta bits as it plays with expectations, although sometimes that can make it hard to care about the characters when a bad guy is ranting about the meta reasons for their actions.

Movie #13/ New Movie #10: The Warped Ones (Criterion DVD)
It’s similar to a few other films about young criminals, but unique for its intensity (in 75 minutes) and just how depraved this particular angry young man is. He may be one of the most self-centered characters in film. Great jazz score and energetic cinematography.

Movie #14/ New Movie #11: Belle (Movie Theater/ Subtitled)
A beautiful reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, as well as an exploration of the good and ill of social media. It takes some interesting turns, and remains visually stunning throughout.

Movie #15: The Apartment (Criterion DVD)
One of the best dramadies ever made. It’s a great take on alienation in the big city with strong performances by Lemmon, Maclaine, Macmurray and the more obscure Jack Kruschen, who got a well-deserved Oscar nomination. It balances serious subject matter and humor astoundingly well with leads who are likable but not innocent.

Short Movie #1: Future Shock (Youtube)
This documentary from fifty years ago about the rapid change of technology and culture really speaks to modern problems, as we’re going through similar problems today. It’s quite ahead of its time, a film from 1972 addressing gay marriage and the implications of artificial organs. It seems a bit pessimistic as some of the stuff is obviously worthwhile, although it is also a good time capsule about the expectations at the time.

Movie #16: Through a Glass Darkly (Criterion Blu-Ray)
Ingmar Bergman at his most intense. A young woman finds out that her father expects her schizophrenia to be incurable as she also anticipates an encounter with God. Things get very messed up. It’s one of the most messed up Bergman films, which may make it one of the most messed up films ever. Obviously fascinating, and deep, but it’s quite disturbing in terms of the taboos that are shattered. The cinematography and score are excellent.

Movie #17: Blow-Up (Criterion DVD)
This is an interesting film that plays with expectations in a weird way. I saw it in college and I thought it was slow, but that’s not quite accurate. It goes into minute detail about some intense stuff. It’s exceptional in two different ways. First, it’s likely the best film exploration of the mod scene in London. Second, it takes the trappings of a thriller but shows a very different reaction for a guy who finds himself at the corners of a murder mystery.

Movie #18: In the Name of the Father (DVD)
Obviously Daniel-Day-Lewis is very good in this, depicting Gerry Conlon at different stages, from a young loser to a new prisoner to a cause célèbre. The film itself covers a lot of ground pretty well, distinguished from most prison films by a twist that allows it to really explore the father-son relationship. Even without that, it’s a solid entry to the innocent prisoner canon.

Short Movie #2: Game of Death Redux (Blu-Ray)
I got the Bruce Lee Criterion box set as a birthday gift and am quite happy with it. I don’t know if I’m ever going to watch the full Game of Death, but this is the good stuff: the parts Bruce Lee filmed before his death, which are ultimately the climax of the movie. It’s a half hour of awesome fight scenes in different styles, with a hell of an introduction to Kamal Abdul Jabbar as the intimidating final bad guy and an excellent showcase for Bruce Lee, initially cocky and overpowering, until that last fight.

Movie #19/ New Movie #12: The Music Room (Criterion DVD)
It’s a well made film about a topic that I don’t necessarily enjoy, a tragic figure who allows his life to collapse because of his pride. There are lovely details, and while the protagonist is flawed, he does have his good qualities which adds nuance to the classical tragedy. There is also a great sense of the passing of an era.

Short Movie #3: Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris (Mubi)
This is an interesting short documentary on several levels, for what Baldwin has to say, and his clash with the filmmakers who expect him to make a different movie.

Short Movie #4: Godard- Love and Poetry (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s a solid overview of Godard’s collaboration with Anna Karina, with decent commentary on the films, slightly hampered by the lack of behind the scenes material about their relationship. It’s a fine extra on the Criterion Pierrou Le Fou Blu-Ray, and provides excellent commentary on some of his films, though my favorite (Bande à part) gets short shrift.

Movie #20: Nightmare Alley: Vision in Darkness and Light (Movie Theater)
This time I watched the “Vision in Darkness and Light” black and white variant, which happened to be playing at my local theater, an odd decision since Nightmare Alley didn’t play in my local theater in December. I wouldn’t say the film is better in black and white, but it was a lovely experience. It worked rather well. One minor controversy about the film is the casting of Bradley Cooper, and whether he’s too old to play a guy who starts out as a carnie. He’s more of a contemporary of Toni Collette and Cate Blanchett, which gives some encounters a different energy. Most importantly, I don’t think a random younger actor would’ve played it better, but it sells the idea that he’s been looking for his shot for a while, and justifies his arrogance.

The film has a fantastic cast. Much of the promotion focuses on the latter half, when Cate Blanchett and higher society get involved, but it’s interesting in the first half to see the lives of the carnies. It’s not a perfect movie. The carnival scenes kept reminding me of an okay episode of the Simpsons, and some of the messages are simplistic, especially when it comes to spookshows and drinking. But it’s pretty good and builds to an excellent climax.

Short Movie #5: I am Sergei Parajanov! (Youtube)
It’s an okay primer on an eccentric and interesting filmmaker, largely in his own words, showing his other artistic pursuits (he was big on collages) and the deep injustice of his imprisonment.

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Modern Film Movements

I’ve been reading about film movements recently (IE- Golden Age of Hollywood, German Expressionism, French New Wave) and that got me thinking about modern movies, which would have to be part of at least one film movement, even if we don’t recognize it that way. Although it seems to me that there are at least four.

An idea I’d like to stress-test is that there are right now several distinct film movements in (but not exclusively in) English language film, starting with a split between what makes money and what is made to win Oscars.

This divide may be exemplified by two movies that came out in 1993 made by the same director. Jurassic Park was a summer blockbuster with groundbreaking computer-generated imagery. Schindler’s List swept more industry and critical awards than any film to date.

The first film movement dominates the box office.

21st Century Blockbusters: CGI allows for 3D-animated films, as well as a greater emphasis on fantasy and superhero films. With the advent of DVD and then Blu-Ray and streaming, it’s possible for filmgoers to see any major film they want, which allows for much more complex narratives in film series with crossovers and callbacks years later. Think about Avengers: Endgame ending with a reunion between characters from a movie that came out eight years earlier, Alfred revealing Rachel’s letter in The Dark Knight Rises, or the reveal that Spectre was connected to previous James Bond villains. We also have sequels to films from generations earlier (the new Halloween, Star Wars: A Force Awakens introducing a new generation.) There’s also a greater effort to appeal to the international film market, which may result in some artistic compromises as blockbuster films are made less specific and more universal.

This movement has a counterpart. It used to be that the films that won Oscars were often big blockbusters, but now they come from a different source.

21st Century Prestige Cinema: The big independent directors of the 1990s (Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Paul Thomas Anderson) became part of the system at an unusual time. With genre stuff making money, and the golden age of television dominating cultural discussions, the Oscarbait films have gone more niche. There’s a greater focus on films about Hollywood/ actors/ film history (One Weekend With MarilynThe AviatorArgoHugo, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), or influenced by earlier styles (NomadlandThe Good GermanDjango Unchained) or both (The ArtistLa La Land.) There are still the traditional period pieces (LincolnThe King’s Speech) and films about serious contemporary issues (CrashGreen BookSilver Linings PlaybookThe Big Short) although these are made in order to get awards.

In an Indiewire piece about the significance of the Oscars, an enterainment lawyer credited Harvey Weinstein for essentially turning “awardsbait” into a genre.

According to one New York entertainment lawyer, the Oscars have spawned an entire subset of movies: “Harvey Weinstein’s sole lasting legacy in this business, apart from his disgustingly piggish and criminal behavior, is that he is primarily responsible for creating the ‘Awards Film’ as a genre, not unlike horror and the rom-com,” the lawyer wrote. “Even though this genre of film doesn’t necessarily make sense from a financial standpoint, the prestige and bragging rights they bring to their studios/platforms, somehow justifies its existence and the insane marketing money spent to win. This phenomenon helps to protect an entire form of literary storytelling whose existence might otherwise be endangered. And we would all be worse off for that.”

In recent years, there had been a backlash against the largely white male voices telling these stories. “New Queer Cinema” had previously been recognized as its own movement, but I think this has approach and understanding has also spread among racial and gender lines. This leads to a parallel movement.

New Representative Cinema: There’s an emphasis on underrepresented voices telling their own stories when it comes to stories of people of color. In 1990, August Wilson summed this up expressing his preference that his work be adapted by African-American directors.

What to do? Let’s make a rule. Blacks don’t direct Italian films. Italians don’t direct Jewish films. Jews don’t direct black American films. That might account for about 3 percent of the films that are made in this country. The other 97 percent – the action-adventure, horror, comedy, romance, suspense, western or any combination thereof, that the Hollywood and independent mills grind out – let it be every man for himself.

The essay was in 1990, but it’s only been in the last few years that we’ve had major adaptations of his work with African-American directors. Obviously, we’ve seen well-regarded movies by African-American directors dealing with racial issues and black culture for decades (Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and Do The Right Thing, John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood) but this has become more pronounced lately, with Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight and If Beale Street Could Talk, Steve McQueen’s Twelve Years a Slave and Widows, Shaka King’s Judas and the Black Messiah, Ava Duvernay’s Selma, Regina King’s One Night in Miami, as well as more attention than ever for Spike Lee (Blackkklansman, Da 5 Bloods.)

This approach is largely African-American, but not exclusively so. Curiously, there seems to be a high number of films by Asian-American directors about Asian-American themes (Minari, Crazy Rich AsiansThe Farewell) compared to the work of Hispanic-American directors (Babel, Beatriz at Dinner.) dealing with those cultures. There has also been increased focus on the work of indigenous filmmakers, most prominently Taika Waititi. One development which blurs the lines in media is the willingness of top directors within this group to make TV mini-series (Ava Duvernay’s When They See Us, Barry Jenkins’ The Underground Railroad, Steve McQueen’s Small Axe.)

One question may be why we’re seeing these films now, and there are a few considerations. It’s cheaper than ever to make movies. There are more places to show movies. Identity politics has become more vogue on the cultural left.

And another underrepresented group has been making more films.

New Women’s Cinema: There is also the idea that female directors should tell the stories of women. Recent acclaimed examples in a variety of genres include Little WomenLady BirdPromising Young WomanWonder WomanZero Dark ThirtyMeek’s Crossing, The BabadookWinter’s BoneThe Edge of Seventeen, Nomadland, and The Lost Daughter.

There is a question of whether some female directors would qualify as being part of the movement. Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker about a male bomb disposal operative in the Iraq War, and made a film about male police officers in Detroit. In a New York Times spotlight interview about a movie with a female lead, she described her ambivalence on the focus on gender.

But it is hard to watch “Zero Dark Thirty” and not see a reflection of the filmmaker, perhaps not exactly as she is but as she would like to be.

Does Ms. Bigelow agree? She was reluctant to contradict Mr. Roy but noted that there have been plenty of strong female characters in her films (like Angela Bassett in the 1995 drama “Strange Days”), and that she wasn’t drawn to “Zero Dark Thirty” because of Maya.

“I just followed Mark’s brilliant screenplay,” she said, referring to Mark Boal.

As a female director who specializes in male-focused action movies — and who, with “The Hurt Locker,” became the first woman to win an Oscar for directing — Ms. Bigelow, 61, is often defined first by her gender and second by what she puts on screen. It drives her crazy, she said, but she knows that there isn’t much she can do about it except steer attention back to her movies.

There can be some ambiguities about what qualifies. Is Power of the Dog an example of the movement because one of the major characters is a widow, and it deals with difficulties she has as a woman in the early 20th century? This was certainly part of the marketing campaign.

Some movies will fall in multiple categories. 21st Century Blockbusters have adopted the idea that women should direct stories of female superheroes, and that white people shouldn’t direct stories of protagonists of color. Joker was a comic book movie that also heavily referenced 1970s/ 1980s Scorsese (and then went on to get 10 Oscar nominations.) Movies by female directors of color may be part of the new representative cinema, and new women’s cinema. So there will be some intersections. But these do seem to be the movies that dominate box office dollars, awards bodies and cultural conversations.

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Running Against Kamala Harris

There have been quite a few stories about Kamala Harris’ low approval ratings. This is relevant with someone obviously set up as the future of the party.

Don Winslow, and aothers, have called the criticism racist and misogynistic, without clarifying why. We treat people who say racist and misogynistic things with opprobrium. Given that this is a charge with significant moral weight, we should believe opprobrium is merited for anyone who make the accusation incorrectly.

Vice Presidents are often unpopular, so criticism of Kamala Harris is normal, just as it was against Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney or Mike Pence. She has less Washington experience than any Vice President in generations (probably since Spiro Agnew.)

If Joe Biden does not run for reelection, Kamala Harris is obviously very well favored to win the presidential primary due to the advantages of being Vice President as what it means for diversity, which will affect how primary voters act.

If Biden decides not to run for another term, there will certainly be an open primary. But it would be tough for any Democrat to beat Harris, considering the institutional advantages of sitting Vice Presidents, the optics of running against the first woman of color elected to national office, and the punishing delegate math given the strength of African-American Democratic primary voters.

There are multiple constituencies within the Democratic party, so you could very well have someone running to Harris’ left and another running to the center.

We could see from Sanders’ campaign that the left doesn’t care as much about historic firsts. Granted, the most prominent really left-wing Democrats are the squad, most of whom would represent a first, so they do have that advantage. Though that group has yet to win competitive statewide races, let alone a national primary.

Buttigieg is probably seen as one of the greatest political talents in the party, so he might be able to run on the idea of executive competence. The Iowa Caucuses are sticking around, which does allow him to get early primary wins. It would make sense for him to run. He did pretty well in 2020, and this time he’ll have overcome some of his disadvantages. As a consequential cabinet secretary, he now has decent qualifications for national office. And he has kids, which is an advantage for candidates. Even if he enters 2024 as an underdog, one consideration for him would be that he doesn’t want someone else raising their profile. So he may want to run just for that. His main problem last time around was a lack of appeal to minority voters, which can likely remain a problem if he’s running against the first African-American Vice President.

It would still be hard for him to win the nomination. There are plenty of Democrats who would love to see a historic gay President, but it seems that more want to see a woman finally take the office, especially with Buttigieg positioned for a later run. Younger voters might like a historic candidate in his early 40s, but may also see him as too centrist. Kamala Harris would presumably do well among the African-American primary voters who decided the last few primaries. And she has fans among the media (a major example is how Biden wasn’t the Time Magazine person of the year in 2020; it was the Biden/ Harris ticket.)

Eric Adams could be a powerhouse in a primary as someone with appeal to African-American and moderate voters. However, I think his best cycle would be 2028 after a candidate associated with the left like Kamala Harris loses a general election. 2024 may be too soon for him, unless there’s some way for him to become a national figure. Obama had the 2004 keynote and the book tour to raise his profile. It will be tough for a second-year mayor.

The midterms may be relevant. If Stacey Abrams wins the race for Governor, that can change the presidential race. But she may very well lose, or decide not to run for President as a second-year Governor. Beto O’Rourke would also go from a has-been to a major contender with a presidential win.

Warren would have slightly better optics as an accomplished Senator in her 70s than other challengers. It would be hard to suggest that she should wait her turn. The big question is whether she would have enough of a constituency. There was an interesting trend over the primary that she had outsized support among some corners of the media. She also has a lot to lose in a failed bid. It would come at the same time as a decision to run for a third term in the Senate, which is a delicate dance for presidential contenders. She’ll also have to work with the White House to get stuff done, which can be complicated when she’s running against them. Finally, she didn’t do very well last time. She finished third in her home state, before she dropped out.

It’s certainly possible Biden runs in which case Democrats will have very different considerations. His numbers could go up. It’s possible that he hits electoral college sweet spots in a way no other Democrat can (He’s seen as moderate so he doesn’t need to attack/ turn off progressives to appeal to centrist voters, He was born in a key swing state, He has high approval ratings among African-American voters thanks to his work as Obama’s VP.) But it’s also a possible an 80 year old will decide he’s not sure he’s up to being President five years later.

I don’t see Harris as an impressive general election candidate, but I see less of a strategy in defeating her in the primaries. The main hope may be in some executive doing something impressive, or someone using a major success in the midterms to launch a presidential bid.

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Films Seen In 2021 Finale

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This is the conclusion of a series of observations on movies I’ve seen this year. It includes my favorite movie this year, which is probably not going to be a surprise to anyone who knows that I’m a Spider-Man fan, and that No Way Home has gotten very good reviews.

Movie #176/ New Movie #127: Jeeper’s Creepers (DVD)
This horror movie might have too many high concepts. It starts okay when two siblings encounter an aggressive weirdo, and uncover something sinister, although they make some really dumb decisions in the process. The other concepts are interesting, with some weird hooks for the monster and the intervention of a psychic, but it’s just so tonally weird. The end is sudden and unsatisfying. It can fill wannabe screenwriters with the confidence they can do better.

Movie #177: The Wicker Man (DVD)
Some key character points are cut, although we do enough to follow what’s going on here. It starts with an odd mystery as a straight-laced Catholic police officer investigates the death of a child in a pagan island. It all leads to a great twist. I really appreciate the folk music, and the cockiness of Chistopher Lee’s chill lord. It’s probably the best folk horror.

Movie #178/ New Movie #128: Lake Mungo (Amazon Prime)
This ghost story imitates an indie documentary style very effectively. It’s different from typical ghost stories in that one terrible thing happens, and the ghost is the victim. But the implications are unsettling when it comes to figuring out what happened and why and how to find peace going forward. as we get to the mystery of what the victim knew.

Movie #179/ New Movie #129: But Film Is My Mistress (Criterion Blu-Ray)
It’s mainly a collection of behind the scenes footage from great movies. It’s no more and no less than that, and there is a lack of unity. But it is great to see Ingmar Bergman and his team discussing the nuances it takes to reach Ingmar Bergman levels of psychological depth.

Movie #180/ New Movie #130: No Time to Die (Movie Theater)
There is a major arc to Daniel Craig’s James Bond here as his trauma in previous films and a new situation undo the last film’s happy ending in a way that fits the character’s story. There are some decent set pieces, and Ana De Armas is a delight as the naive Bond girl. Rami Malek’s villain is underwritten. We don’t really get a sense of what makes his motivations different; there are hints at a higher calling but it does seem the main thing that’s special about him is that he can beat Spectre at their own game. Still it is a satisfying conclusion to the 21st Century James Bond.

Movie #181/ New Movie #131: The Many Saints of Newark (Movie Theater)
It’s a bit all over the place. It tells the complete story of a mafia figure, so it works as a self-contained film, even if it seems to often feel like a backdoor pilot (which HBO may agree with.) There’s a good sense of a dysfunctional family and the demythologizing of the mafia, showing them as the racist monsters they often were. It is kinda funny that they essentially made a decent movie out of an idea mocked years ago in Saturday Night Live (Sopranos High.)

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Movie #182/ New Movie #132: The Last Duel (Movie Theater)
It’s a well-made film that may be anachronistic in some of the attitudes of the characters, but gives a sense of what it was like to live in the medieval era. I really liked it, but I can understand why it flopped. This is a film about French nobles played by Ben Affleck, and Matt Damon in which a rape is shown repeatedly. It is likely the best depiction of rape culture I’ve seen, and a good example of a situation in which any choice the characters make is ridiculously tough.

Movie #183/ New Movie #133: Don’t Torture a Ducking (Arrow Video)
It’s a Giallo that takes some turns in the narrative, jumping from the reaction to the murders of children to an investigation of an accused witch before the truth comes out. It seems to switch leads as suspects are doled out and characters shift in and out of focus. The killer makes sense, and there’s an interesting atmosphere of small-town gossip, intolerance and suspicion.

Movie #184/ New Movie #134: Dune: Part One (Movie Theater)
There’s a good sense of what a science fiction epic would be from the perspective of the Chosen One. It’s slow but deliberate. Watching it, I get an appreciation of how everything seems deliberate. It feels more like a historical drama than a sci fi film, with more emotional depth than usual. A slight issue is that Rebecca Ferguson and Timothee Chalomet do not appear to have mother/ son chemistry; it’s more like teacher/ student, or maybe stepmother/ stepson (especially in the context of the Scandinavian New Wav movies I saw in the last entry.) The effort to provide a standalone arc doesn’t quite land, as it’s clearly half a film. It is lovely in IMax.

Movie #185/ New Movie #135: Halloween Kills (Movie Theater)
Some of the shortcomings are inevitable in the middle third of a trilogy. Much happens because it has to happen. Michael Myers and Laurie can’t die. They’re not even going to have a rematch here. The big death comes because it can’t be the leads and someone else’ murder would be too depressing. There is a good sense of a town whipped into frenzy traumatized by events from 1978, and it might be satisfying to rewatch if the conclusion is as good as the first section. They do make good use of the Halloween setting, even if much of the story is ridiculous and not all that satisfying, while undercutting the message of the earlier chapters.

Movie #186: Nosferatu the Vampyre (Arrow Video)
It’s possible I’ve seen at least a version a year of the Dracula story for some time now, with this, the original Nosferatu, the Bela Lugosi Dracula, the Spanish language Dracula, and various other iterations. Herzog’s update is a great take. It sometimes drab, but this works to make the monster seem more real and allows the film to take some surreal turns. The cast (Klaus Kinski, Isabelle Adjani, Bruno Ganz) may be the best of any Dracula film.

Movie #187/ New Movie #136: Isle of the Dead (Internet Archive)
It’s a decent concept of a strange group stuck on an island due to the possibility they’re infected by the plague; this is also quite timely due to Covid. Karloff is excellent as an aristocratic Greek general. The set-up to the buried alive scene is a highlight. There are some excellent Val Lewton touches with ambiguity about what’s going on and the characters’ suspicions that they may be the real monsters. And then it takes an odd turn when a monster appears.

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Movie #188: The Black Cat (Internet Archive)
The sets are excellent, and I like the chess game between Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. I wasn’t entirely sure why the film was seen as having a gay subtext, until about 52 minutes in when Karloff shows up in a smoking jacket wearing eye makeup while stroking a cat and making it clear he doesn’t like women all that much. This is one of those movies that may seem to be cliched because we’ve seen all the copycats. The satanism in the last act a bit sudden. The soundtrack is decent but appears to be straight out of a silent movie, though it does make everything more intense. It does seem there is some cut footage, but it’s satisfying. I wonder who would be cast in a modern remake. Who are the current horror giants?

Movie #189/ New Movie #137: The Eternals (Movie Theater)
This has a decent visual language, even if Dune does it better. There is much to consider and they do capture the pain of immortality. Some great talents appear to be wasted, especially Angelina Jolie. It seems rather inaccessible to people who aren’t fans of sci-fi and fantasy, and able to appreciate millennia spanning epics.

Movie #190/ New Movie #138: The Closer (Netflix)
Chapelle’s special seems unfairly maligned, especially if anyone thinks it was mostly transphobic. It’s a measured response to a brand of criticism, and will probably do a better job of persuading swing voters of the humanity of trans people than any other project.

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Movie #191/ New Movie #139: Last Night in Soho (Movie Theater)
It’s a ghost story that oozes cool, as a young woman appears to experience the life of a murder victim from an era she is obsessed with. It’s been done before, but I don’t know if it’s ever been better. There’s much worth analyzing and many of the concerns are addressed. It’s excellent at showing the grime underneath the surface. This works well as an ode to giallos; it’s just better than most of them.

Movie #192/ New Movie #140: Bound (Amazon Prime)
This early Wachowski effort is interesting. It shows what they were like before they went into sci-fi and action. In this case, it’s a Coen brothers-esque neonoir. The performances are decent, and the lesbian affair that it made it distinctive and controversial in the early 90s complicates the lives of characters more than anything else.

Movie #193/ New Movie #141: Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Movie Theater)
Man, this was bland. It seems fatally flawed to take a comedy about middle-class ghost-hunters in New York City, and apply it to a family dramedy in the midwest. The results just aren’t fun. I might want to rewatch it just to figure out why it was so unsuccessful as a film, or perhaps why others would find resonance in it.

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Movie #194/ New Movie #142: Back to School (Amazon Prime Video)
It’s an excellent vehicle for Rodney Dangerfield. College is the ultimate clash of personalities between his blue collar bravado against professorial stiffness. His interruption of a lecture on the practical applications of economics is a great scene.

Movie #195: The Producers (DVD)
This is a great concept and a terrific vehicle for Gene Wilder and Zero Moistel, taking advantage of their unique talents. “Springtime for Hitler” remains one of the best comedy set pieces ever, and I think an interesting idea to explore for any creative is a Producers challenge. Can you make something so offensive that the audience is ready to leave within five minutes, and then salvage it, the way it’s accidentally salvaged here? A slight knock against this film is that some of the stuff has been copied well in subsequent movies, as well as the musical adaptation. Though no one has been able to surpass Gene Wilder’s neuroticism.

Movie #196: Robin Hood (Disney Plus)
This was one of my favorite Disney films growing up. It is quite libertarian in the opposition to taxes and has a sense of maturity (Maid Marian wondering if Robin Hood even remembers her.) The songs and characters are decent, and I like the style. It fizzles a bit at the end with the lack of a great climax.

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Movie #197: Sleeper (DVD)
It’s very slapstick, which can be surprising if you’re more familiar with post-Annie Hall Woody Allen. It’s more of a homage to classic cinema (you could see the Marx Brothers/ Charlie Chaplin influence) than a vision of the future. It’s fun, even if it’s mainly a reminder that Woody Allen is a classic film buff.

Movie #198/ New Movie #143: The French Dispatch (Movie Theater)
The most Wes Anderson-iest film ever made. It’s quite stylized but has a mix of whimsy and darkness, along with some excellent performances. It is a major statement on art in general, which provides depth to the silliness.

Movie #199: Tron (Disney Plus)
The once-innovative tech used to make the film may be primitive, but the visual scheme holds up. The moment an accounting software realized he was being forced to fight to the death, I was sold on the film. There is a silent movie aesthetic, as the futurism seems almost classical. This is still a decent adventure movie, subtly different from the norm, and with some good high concepts in the programs’ almost religious worship of the users.

Movie #200/ New Movie #144: Spider-Man No Way Home (Movie Theater)
It’s my favorite movie in years, and my favorite superhero movie ever, which makes it my favorite MCU and Spider-Man movie by default. I’ll go into more detail about why I loved it later, but it is the definitive statement on Peter Parker.

Movie #201/ New Movie #145: Licorice Pizza (Movie Theater)
It’s an excellent coming of age story balancing Hoffman’s ambitious wheeler-dealer high school kid with Haim’s aimless young woman. Anderson makes great and specific use of the 1970s California setting, and includes some hilarious stand-ins for famous celebrities of the era. Beautifully shot.

Movie #202/ New Movie #145: Fist of Fury (Criterion Blu-Ray)
Quentin Tarantino is obviously a big fan of this movie. No surprise that it has some great action sequences with Bruce Lee kicking all sorts of ass. It is a bit jingoistic, although that is understandable in the context of China’s relationship with Japan in the early 20th Century. This movie is also about something, as the lead’s fighting prowess comes at a price: excessive rage which hurts those around him.

Movie #203/ New Movie #145: The Tragedy of Macbeth (Movie Theater)
A stark but beautiful take on Shakespeare, as Denzel Washington conveys his initial hesitance and subsequent guilt and madness. In some cases, the dialogue seems unnatural. At other times it comes through. Kathryn Hunter is especially impressive as the three witches. The final act shows appropriate responses to Macbeth’s paranoia, as well as his power. We can see how he became a major war hero before the final showdown with Macduff, earned more here than in any depiction I’ve seen. A nice touch is the hints of other machinations.

Movie #204/ New Movie #144: Nightmare Alley (Movie Theater)
I went into cold which was quite satisfying, as I wasn’t sure where the story would go or even which celebrities would play which role. It’s a beautifully shot noir, that feels to replicate its era but with a modern understanding of filmmaking and psychology. I’m a sucker for movies about con men, and this is a good one, showing some clever tricks and the ways it can fall apart.

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Alex Haley VS An American Neo-Nazi

A twitter link on Alex Haley’s response to the racist George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi party, got me thinking that that would be an interesting movie.

And then I learned that it was already done, with James Earl Jones as Alex Haley and Marlon Brando as George Lincoln Rockwell in the concluding chapter of Roots: The Next Generations.

It’s excellent as a standalone video, but it also works pretty well in the context of the seventh episode of the mini-series, which has depicted generations of racism after slavery (the mini-series itself was a follow-up to the original Roots, which depicted the horrors of slavery.)  The final episode is thus closer to the present day, showing an encounter between the descendant of the people depicted in Roots and the embodiment of then-contemporary racism.

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Films Seen in 2021 Part 8: Zach Snyder and the Scandinavian Revival

This is a continuation of observations on films I’ve seen this year. For this batch, my subchallenges were ten movies for a Criterion based annual challenge, five films from the Scandinavian revival film movement (there will be overlap with the Criterion challenge) and five films produced or directed by Zach Snyder (there will be no overlap with the Criterion challenge.)

As a sidenote, I saw a list of top ten film movements and it seemed odd to include the Scandinavian revival, as by all measures, it was largely based on the work of two directors: Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman and Denmark’s Carl Theodor Dreyer. It does remain a movement I’m unfamiliar with, so it seems worth diving into.

Movie #151: Tenet (Blu-Ray)
On this watch, I do appreciate the protagonist’s arc as he makes legitimately difficult decisions when manipulating others while facing a complex existential threat, and the care Christopher Nolan puts into the details of the plans. On the third watch, the interest in Elizabeth Debecki’s arc is justified as I know where the story’s going, and how it fits several themes (the mix of personal and private drama, the careful planning these people put into figuring out where to go next, the significance of an individual, etc.)

Movie #152/ New Movie #108/ Criterion Challenge #1: The Flying Ace (Facebook)
I was surprised to find a video on the Facebook account for a group involved in restoration of obscure silent films (Retrogarden) although the quality and commentary were decent. Ten minutes in is an interesting metaphor of an airplane joystick that provides a context for subsequent exchanges. There’s a theme of ordinary folk wanting to be movie heroes, in a story that is very much of its time (a World War one hero becomes a railroad detective.) There’s a bit of a summer stock quality evident in non-studio silent films but it is enjoyable. The character of Peg is a legitimately impressive movie sidekick.

Movie #153/ New Movie #109/ Zach Snyder Film #1: Dawn of the Dead (Blu-Ray)
A zombie movie with 21st Century production values. It does show what it takes to live through the apocalypse, with people pushed to the limits and slowly figuring out what’s going on. The characters are more complex than you may expect from Snyder or zombie movies, partly because we get an actual sense of the passage of time.

Movie #154/ New Movie #110/ Criterion Challenge #2: JSA Joint Security Area (Arrow Video)
It’s a procedural with a fantastic set-up (an investigation into a shooting on the Korean border) that is a bit of a reverse Chinatown, in that the truth is better than expected even if it is quite politically inconvenient. Has a lot to say about the dehumanizing effects of the border, and how the human spirit can persevere despite that.

Movie #155/ New Movie #111: Shang-Chi (Movie Theater)
It’s a good example of Marvel adapting existing genres to its world, in this case Wuxia martial arts cinema. Simu Liu’s lead probably isn’t one of the five best performances in the film, but it works. It is odd to see the Mandarin as a tragic villain, but Tony Leung sells his whole history, his stints as a crime boss and the years in between.

Movie #156/ New Movie #112: Candyman (2021) (Movie Theater)
It’s much more of a direct sequel than I anticipated, expanding the mythos with a good sense of setting and history. There are some interesting, deliberate choices and it raises some weird questions about how the victims are chosen. There are some great touches, like the mirror murders and the animated flashbacks. It does ultimately have a lot of people take a child’s game way too seriously.

Movie #157/ New Movie #113/ Criterion Challenge #3: Stop Making Sense (DVD)
It may deserve its reputation as the ultimate concert film. It’s a very nicely shot take of a top-tier band at the height of their powers doing a visually interesting concert (directed by future Academy Award winner Jonathan Demme) with some unconventional choices and a magnetic/ oddball lead in David Byrne.

Movie #158/ New Movie #114/ Criterion Challenge #4: Shadows (DVD)
It’s a different sense of 1950s New York than we’d see in most movies of the time. There is an amateurish quality to Cassavettes’ debut, but it feels real and raw, while tackling a very loaded question, when a white guy realizes his girlfriend is mixed-race and offends her family.

Movie #159/ New Movie #115/ Criterion Challenge #5: The Color of Pomegranates (DVD)
I went into the film cold, and saw a movie that was quite visually striking, but just completely outside my frame of reference. It’s about and in the style of an Armenian poet, and definitely has a sense of visual poetry, but it probably requires significant context to make sense. It’s hard to tell when something is a metaphor, and what’s meant to be taken literally. There’s an interesting use of color, where they focus on subtle distinctions between similar colors rather than major contrasts. It’s bold and avant-garde in the best way. I definitely need to see it again, perhaps after learning more about the subject.

Movie #160/ New Movie #116/ Zach Snyder Film #2: Sucker Punch Extended Edition (Blu-Ray)
Sometimes it’s visually interesting and sometimes it seems like cheap CGI. The narrative tricks are somewhat emotionally distancing. The action set pieces are just devoid of stakes because it’s a fantasy within a fantasy, although the club saga is compelling at times. It is obvious that it revels in what it critiques, but it may get reevaluated with Snyder’s new cult following.

Movie #161: Catch Me If You Can (Netflix)
The advertising and Youtube highlights suggest an outrageous and fun movie with some of the all-time great cons, but Spielberg & DiCaprio are able to convey the drama of a scared teenager pretending to be an accomplished adult.

Movie #162/ New Movie #117: The Discovery (Netflix)
One of those films worth exploring just to see why it didn’t work out. It had a good cast, and an interesting concept (the world deals with proof of an afterlife) although it’s quite bleak, which makes sense in a story about lots of suicides. A central problem is that I just don’t buy the American response to proof of an afterlife, which would make sense in a more atheistic nation, but not a country as religious as the US. Jason Segel’s lead is dull and overly restrained.

Movie #163/ Criterion Challenge #6/ New Movie #118: The Swimming Pool/ La Piscene (Movie Theater)
The most interesting question of the film may be how it managed to be a surprising arthouse hit this summer. It’s good, but not considered all that great. It’s not especially influential. The cast isn’t A-list. But I get it. People stuck in New York for the second summer wanted to see beautiful people at parties in the French Riviera. There’s enough mystery and ambiguity about character motivations that it remains rewatchable. Younger filmgoers can identify with the main characters, while older viewers may have fond memories of the time.

Movie #164: The Death of Stalin (Netflix)
This movie’s growing on me as one of the best and most rewatchable films of the decade. This time I appreciated how close Beria (a legitimately great film villain) came to winning, to being the reformer who changes his reputation post-Stalin. Nikita Khrushchev may very well be Buscemi’s best role, although Jason Issac’s Zhukov is even better, as the alphaest alpha male.

Movie #165/ New Movie #119/ Snyder (Produced) Film #3: Wonder Woman 1984 (Movie Theater)
For whatever reason, it was playing on Regal cinemas one weekend, and with all the action set pieces and grand locations, it’s definitely worth seeing in theaters. There are some obvious blind spots in the narrative (the lack of concern for ordinary people affected by the events) and it seems clear Gal Gadot is not on the level of her costars. Her arc seems a bit weaker, although the film is clearly about something and highlights what makes Wonder Woman special.

Movie #166/ New Movie #120/ Criterion Challenge #6: Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Amazon Prime)
An excellent thriller that gives a good sense of New York at the time, even if it is a little idealized. There’s a lot we don’t know about the characters, but we know what we need to. The storytelling is excellent, with some nice swerves about made-up features of New York City subways like the dead man’s switch and how it is overcome. Walter Matthau is decent as a Subway cop who was not prepared for this kind of situation. Shaw and Balsam are an interesting villain duo; one is a ruthless mastermind, and the other is an ordinary schmoe with insider knowledge.

Movie #167/ New Movie #121/ Criterion Challenge #7/ Scandinavian Revival #1: Summers with Monika (Blu-Ray)
It’s an interesting well-told story of young love and how it curdles. A teenage romance gone bad is quite compelling in Bergman’s hands.

Movie #168/ New Movie #122/ Criterion Challenge #8/ Scandinavian Revival #2: Smiles of a Summer Night (Blu-Ray)
When Ingmar Bergman makes a romantic comedy, it’s not surprising that it goes further than most, with higher stakes, suicide attempts and some weird revelations in addition to the usual manipulations.

Movie #169: Goodfellas (Movie Theater)
It’s the best crime movie by the best crime director. With this rewatch I had a good sense of why crime was so appealing to the blue-collar Henry Hill, and how the crazy stuff they did made sense to them. The excesses of crime are captured better here than in any other film.

Movie #170/ Zach Snyder Film #4: Batman- Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition (Blu-Ray)
It’s the extended cut of a film that was already too long. The problem with the first two acts is that Lex Luthor is mainly a generic mad scientist, although Doomsday becomes legitimately impressive towards the end of the film. The central conflict between Batman and Superman is set up pretty well, with two iconic heroes having understandable contrary positions, and the film does pick up when Wonder Woman makes her debut (possibly the best scene in any of the DCEU films so far.)

Movie #171/ New Movie #123: Venom: Let There Be Carnage (Movie Theater)
It’s certainly a step up from the first one, embracing the weirdness of Eddie Brock’s partnership with the symbiote. Woody Harrelson’s Carnage and Naomie Harris’ Shriek are decent Marvel villains. It’s a fast movie as one of the shortest superhero films. The ending may have the loudest applause of any movie I’ve ever seen.

Movie #172/ New Movie #124/ Scandinavian Revival #3/ Criterion Challenge #9: Day of Wrath (DVD)
It’s similar to Dreyer’s best-known project The Passion of Joan of Arc, another ninety-ish minute black and white period piece about a trial and allegations of a religious crime where the penalty is being burned alive, as well as some of Bergman’s work (a stepmother/ stepson relationship that takes a different turn from Smiles of a Summer Night.) It’s quite austere, but that acts as a contrast for Anna’s later joy and passion. It doesn’t go with the cliched direction you may expect from the plot. It’s not about someone wrongly accused, but more about what it’s like to be a flawed person living in a world where these types of allegations destroy lives, a metaphor for Nazi-occupied Denmark. A fantastic beginning to the Scandinavian revival.

Movie #173/ New Movie #125/ Scandinavian Revival #4: The Red Line (DVD)
I tried to go outside Bergman and Dreyer to see if the Scandinavian revival movement extends to other directors. This Finnish one is a black and white period piece about a poor family, depicting a level of poverty rare in film. An expressionistic dream sequence is a highlight. The music and composition seem to be more influenced by early Hollywood. There is humor to it, although tonally it is all over the place, with an ending that just doesn’t seem to match the rest of the film.

Movie #174/ New Movie #126/ Scandinavian Revival #5: Kon-Tiki (Amazon Prime Rental)
Norwegian writer Thor Heyerdahl wanted to prove his thesis that Peruvians – back in pre-Colombian times – could have crossed the seas to the Phillipenes, so he set out on a balsa wood raft using technology they would have had. The result was an Academy Award for Best Documentary, which may be one of the most epic wins in an academic pissing match ever. The film is obviously not made in an ideal environment (a 1940s black and white documentary made by people on a boat far from supplies/ experienced filmmakers), but it is quite enjoyable and shows the challenges of the crew, as well as the joys.

Movie # 175/ Zach Snyder Film #5: Watchmen Directors Cut (Blu-Ray)
The original comic is one of my favorite works of fiction ever, and this adaptation is okay. It’s flawed, but it does get some stuff right, especially Jackie Earle Haley’s Rorschach. Visually it seems quite reminiscent of Kubrick. It’s rarely subtle, as the musical choices are quite obvious, and nuances of some great scenes are sanded down. But it does have a clear arc, and it reorients focus on different characters and their struggles as the world is on the verge of nuclear armageddon.

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The Courageous Conversations Compass

I came across something interesting in a Professional Development event a while back: the Courageous Conversations Compass.

It was used as a method of talking about race.

Something I’ve recognized before is how people can talk past one another, and it’s a fair point that this can occur if they’re coming from a different point on the compass. If one person is emotional and another is rational, there may be some opposition. The emotional person will feel that their concerns aren’t addressed, while the intellectual will be confused about inconsistency. One person may want to be heard, while another thinks the best response is to do something, and a third is considering about first principles.

This disconnect can also explain a lot of internet arguments.

One unique problem is that the emotional arguments are really hard to communicate since the other person may have a different frame of reference. One person may be thinking about how they feel due to instances of what may have been systematic racism, while another’s emotions may be riled by the sense they’re accused of racism.

This obviously extends to other topics. You could certainly imagine these different kinds of reactions on questions to do with mask mandates, vaccine requirements, educational priorities, congressional spending, etc.

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Films Seen in 2021 Part 7

This is a continuation of observations on films I’ve seen this year. For this batch, I didn’t go with any further challenges, although I did end up watching several African-American horror movies, and did my best to take advantage of some temporary streaming service discounts.

Movie #126: Sgt. Stubby (DVD)
This is an accessible and enjoyable animated film, perfect for watching with relatives/ family friends of all ages (older folk interested in history, kids who like dogs and animation.) It has a decent match of animated hijinks and serious subject matter (mustard gas.)

Movie #127/ New Movie #90: The Secret Life of Trees (Movie Theater)
It demonstrates how ordinary nature documentaries have become capable of astounding visual beauty. It’s a decent spotlight on an environmentalist, as well as how how trees operate and coexist as part of a larger ecosystem.

Movie #128/ New Movie #91: The Suicide Squad (Movie Theater)
I haven’t seen the original, but this remains accessible and fun. Stylistically it’s quite interesting, although it gets really dark, even for an R-rated superhero film in a way that isn’t believable or satisfying. There can be a discussion piece about the extent to which the film critic community is okay with movies that have a dark left-wing view of things. That said, some of the stuff does work pretty well. Margot Robbie’s Harleyquinn and Idris Elba’s Bloodsport make for great antiheroes.

Movie #129/ New Movie #92: Extra Ordinary (Showtime)
It’s a decent horror comedy, with a take on ghosts that is both funny and mundane.

Movie #130/ New Movie #93: Stillwater (Theater)
This was a movie that had to tread very carefully given the sensitive subject matter of a middle-aged blue collar white guy investigating suspicious events in France involving people of color and his daughter’s same-sex relationship. Matt Damon provides a good sense of a guy out of his element, who means well but has been a fuckup since long before the movie started. A key development seems a bit derivative of a recent well-regarded film from a similar genre. However, it is a great conversation starter.

Movie #131/ New Movie #94: Red Riding: 1974 (AMC+)
It feels like a 1970s noir. Andrew Garfield is decent as a reporter who gets caught in a messed up conspiracy. Rebecca Hall is better as the tormented survivor. The central mystery is a bit vague, a set-up to a larger trilogy and the bad guys are generic. Still, there are some decent twists at the end.

Movie #132/ New Movie #95: Horror Express (AMC+)
The set is decent, although from an earlier film. The generic horror movie debate about scientific exploration is kinda lame. It’s the type of film that acts as if Christopher Lee should immediately realize a mummy is alive and hunting people on a train.

Movie #133/ New Movie #96: The Green Knight (Theater)
This is a beautiful film that sometimes feels deliberately confusing and unsatisfying, although it works pretty well to get viewers debating what just happened. This is not a film to see cold, given all the references to medieval lore. There’s a sense of people similar to us living in a society that is quite different, where it is natural to see giants or ghosts. There are some excellent tricks with time and possible futures, as it gets to some important questions about honor and meaning.

Movie #134/ New Movie #97: Pandorum (Showtime)
The sci-fi story may have too many high concepts, featuring a race of evolved hunters, people waking from cryogenic sleep with limited memories, an odd form of craziness and the destruction of the Earth. The quality of the twists is inconsistent.

Movie #135/ New Movie #98: The Tomorrow War (Amazon Prime)
This is a time travel sci-fi story by a writer I like, so I should enjoy it. But it’s not good. Part of it is that the aliens aren’t great, kinda like The Quiet Place without the genius sound design or a hook about what makes them interesting. the response to a major event just doesn’t seem right. Twists are predictable and I’m not sure it plays fair. The third act is tonally off, but at least addresses plot induced stupidity when a small group puts the world in danger.

Movie #136/ New Movie #99: Source Code (Showtime)
I checked it out because it was much better reviewed than I thought, and it’s a decent combination of mystery and an ordinary man’s response to an extreme situation. A central twist with the tech is inconsistent with the set-up.

Movie #137/ New Movie #100: Horror Noire (AMC+)
It’s an okay overview of the depictions of African-Americans in horror (and anything that’s meant to scare) from Night of the Living Dead to Get Out. It did encourage me to watch a bunch of the films that were covered, even if this wasn’t particularly compelling as far as documentaries about movies go.

Movie #138/ New Movie #101: Tales From the Hood (Starz)
This is worth checking out just because it’s Twilight Zone stories with a 1990s indie African-American aesthetic, which is not a combination found elsewhere. Good horror anthologies get to the drama and supernatural events faster, which is one reason I enjoy them so much. Here it works to go for a nuanced message than just featuring one story. It can cover the harms of so-called black on black violence as well as racist politicians and police officers. It can sometimes seem ridiculous in the depiction of race, but it did come out at a time when David Duke was a credible candidate for office so some of that is forgivable. The frame story gets around some of the logical inconsistencies.

Movie #139/ New Movie #102: Free Guy (Theater)
It’s a fun sci-fi comedy, similar to Ready Player One (same writer) and The Truman Show, and while it’s not great, it works on the strength of Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer.

Movie #140/ New Movie #103: Blacula (AMC+)
It’s a decent horror movie, with probably the best take on the common trope of a vampire’s love for a reincarnation of his ex. It has some striking images and is interesting as an artifact of the 1970s, although ahead of many other films of the time in the depiction of diverse young professionals.

Movie #141: Monterey Pop (Criterion Blu-Ray)
This is clearly my favorite concert film, and I’ve been thinking about what makes it so effective. The songs are great, with most being decent music videos in their own right. It’s short, although there is additional material available as extras on the Criterion editions for anyone who rightly wants more. It seems more honest than the usual concert film, showing what the festival is like, but also showing when 1960s outdoor concern sound systems aren’t perfect.

Movie #142/ New Movie #104: Ganja & Hess (Showtime)
There is a 1970s indie film vocabulary that is a bit tough to follow, especially in the worldbuilding. Bill Gunn’s style remains experimental even if you do take that into account. The visuals are compelling, and it is thematically rich, with new takes on vampires (technically this is a different monster) and religion.

Movie #143: Kameradschaft / Comradeship (Criterion DVD)
Last time I was disappointed with Eisenstein’s 1930s films due to the propaganda, but I still enjoy this story of workers from different countries uniting for a common class-based goal, so it’s worth considering what makes it different. Part of it is the message is fair. It is important for people from different countries to work together (especially in the context of a film made prior to World War II.) The little stories work. There is actual conflict (IE- French border patrol agents shooting at a German rescue team) and misunderstandings. Most importantly, in addition to impressive sequences, there can be a sense of humor, like when a dramatic scene of young men leaving a village is interrupted by a mom making sure her son has sandwiches.

Movie #144: I, Tonya (Showtime)
Margot Robbie is not the expected lead for a film about someone who falls in love with a guy who calls her pretty, but despite the moral question of casting someone who doesn’t look like her character, she is fantastic, and it fits her persona as an actress (a brash old-fashioned broad.) The film handles ambiguity well to the extent that actions of certain characters remain mysterious. It also has some great villains, including Alison Janney’s trainwreck mother, the idiot who engineers the attack, an abusive husband who may be the victim of unreliable narrators or worse than we believe, and the community of judges. This is a great example of film as an empathy machine, but it doesn’t let the lead off the hook.

Movie #145: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (Criterion DVD)
It’s a grim cold war story of a spy sent to infiltrate an organization, but set up to fail in the effort. It’s a great showcase for Richard Burton’s British world weariness; he’s like an English Bogart and it’s quite effective here. It takes a while to get going, but the end is powerful.

Movie #146/ New Movie #105: Death Takes a Holiday (Criterion DVD)
Friedrich March’s take on Death is alien and strange, and makes for some humor when he pretends to be a foreign prince. It hints at some big questions, but doesn’t really get to it. Perhaps it is a bit tainted by better work on the grim reaper, and a more mature understanding of the fascination with death, but I still enjoyed it.

Movie #147/ New Movie #106: Candyman (1992) (DVD)
It’s got a great hook with researchers checking out urban legends getting drawn into horror. It’s shot like a 1990s psychological thriller, which works when things go supernatural. There’s a bit of a Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? sensibility at times, as it is both ahead of its time and behind ours in depictions of race. Virginia Madsen is a good horror lead, balancing the naivete of the first half prior to an effective fakeout and the intensity/ vulnerability of the second half when things go much worse. Tony Todd’s Candyman is one of the most underrated horror film monsters.

Movie #148: Darkest Hour (DVD)
This movie is certainly my jam. It’s sometimes obvious, but in a way that’s acceptable in a great film. It’s a good look at an iconic moment in England, as a flawed man who is right for the moment considers appeasement or fighting. Oldman is excellent, the epitome of the transformation of a name actor into a world-historical figure, showing Churchill at his most brilliant and aggravating at a time when his legacy was being defined.

Movie #149/ New Movie #107: Forty Guns (Criterion DVD)
It’s a decent short western on the theme of people good at handling themselves in the wild west struggling to find a place for themselves in a more civilized setting. It has a more complex take on the bad guys than usually; we can really see why Barbara Stanwyck’s character likes them despite her understanding that their time has passed.

Movie #150: Midnight in Paris (Amazon Prime)
It’s easily the best of Woody Allen’s late films, from that period when he’s famous enough to get A-list casts to play out his dramas. It’s effective at making the story of a screenwriter trying to be a novelist unpretentious, partially through the contrast of lead Owen Wilson with Martin Sheen’s pedantic professor. Marion Cotillard is adorable, and I like the twists with her character. It has a great take on nostalgia and the search for a golden age.

One thing I came to appreciate in this month of filmviewing is the effectiveness of movies as conversation-starters. The best of it here certainly qualifies. I think you could have really interesting conversations about Candyman, The Green Knight, I Tonya and a few others. It’s an interesting test for the value of a film.

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