Recent Movies and TV

Mank: Wow, I loved this -- it's gorgeously shot, the cast are amazing, the flashback structure mirrors Kane in a very cool way.... And I can't imagine how this got made. Was the pitch, "We've got that film major market cornered! Well... not just any film major, but the ones who have deep knowledge about the players in the studio system in the 30s. Long tail. Oh and it's black and white." If you aren't a total movie nerd will you even understand what's going on without regular Wikipedia pauses? Anyway it's fucking brilliant, and the best technical recreation of a movie from that era that I've ever seen. They even included the cigarette burns and reel-change flutters!

Kingfish calls this "painting the feet" -- "When you paint the little pilot's feet, and then glue closed the cockpit of the model airplane, and only you know, for all time, that his little feets are painted."

Tenet: I remember that sinking feeling when they finally found the MacGuffin. "Fuck, that means it's only half over??" You know how they say Trump is a poor person's idea of a rich person? This movie is a stupid person's idea of clever. Much like Inception. I mean, Bill and Ted 3 had better use of its cosmology. The camera tricks with the backwards fights weren't even any good, or even comprehensible. And a backwards person sitting in a forwards car makes it backward? The stupid, it burns like inexplicable frostbite.

This movie was better when it was the Sugar Water video by Cibo Matto, which was mercifully only 4 minutes long. And had better physics.

The Flight Attendant: She wakes up in a hotel in a foreign country with a corpse in her bed and isn't sure if she murdered him, like you do. It started off much stronger than it finished, but it was ok.

Mad Max Fury Road, Black & Chrome Edit: In memoriam of the passing of Toecutter, I watched the black and white version, which I hadn't seen before. It's brilliant. Interestingly, not entirely black and white, but sometimes graded in blues instead. I think it also would have worked really well as a silent movie (well, not silent -- but not a "talkie". Score and effects, but title cards instead of dialog!)

J. R. "Bob" Dobbs and the Church of the Subgenius: This was fun a fun documentary about a cult that was very important to me in my formative years.

The Queen's Gambit: Poorly socialized addict plays chess, pouts. I loved this.

Superintelligence: An AI trying to decide whether to wipe out humanity uses Melissa McCarthy as a guinea pig, and then the plot kind of just gives up on all that and the AI tries to set her up on a date instead, while the DOD and NSA peek in the window like the ineffectual chaperone from an 80s movie? It's fluff, but I enjoy her style of comedy and this is more of that.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles: I watched an actual Thanksgiving movie, near Thanksgiving. I forgot how funny this was! I was still chuckling about it the next day.

Lego Star Wars Holiday Special: I've never watched any of the other Lego movies, but this was one of the worst, least-funny things I've ever seen. I didn't last 15 minutes. I was expecting Robot Chicken. It is not that.

The Stand-In: Drew Barrymore chews the scenery as two different shitheads. It's predictable but kinda funny.

Archenemy: Hobo Superman helps some kids beat up some drug dealers. It's ok.

Radium Girls: It's depressing, and then their faces fall off. Capitalism!

Castle Freak (2020): Breaking my rule about remakes, this was a pretty entertaining horror movie. It went Lovecraft, whereas the original didn't (even though Stuart Gordon, director of the original, made all the Lovecraft movies.)

Castle Freak (1995): I couldn't remember if I had ever seen the original. It is complete garbage, probably Gordon's worse. And... that's something.

Wonder Woman 84: Oh mah gawd this was soooo bad. Let us never speak of it again.

Parallel: Tech shitheads find a magic mirror to parallel universes and act like shitheads about it, taking advantage in the most shitheaddy ways they can imagine. Pass.

Soul: It's really good.

Tesla (2020): This was fantastic. It had a fourth-wall-breaking ahistorical aspect to it, like the I, Tonya of alternating current. (There's even skating.)


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31 Responses:

  1. Martin says:

    Thanks as always for these!
    If I'm allowed to suggest something, I watched Await Further Instructions the other night and thought it might be something you might like, if you haven't seen it already.

    Not the best movie ever, and enough annoying "being stupid to advance the plot" to set my teeth on edge a couple of times, but mixing a satire of Brexit/Trump supporters with tentacle horror is a good combination.

    And thanks also for the continual recommendations for They Live. Watched it with my 14 year old son the other week and the scene where two characters fight almost to the death because one of them refuses to put something on his face, that at worst is a minor inconvenience, but may save his life...seemed far more plausible this year than the first time I watched it.

    • Steve of the Nullsteves says:

      Yeah! And thanks for that, Netflix journey!

      Boris: Oh yes. I thought you all would like to run the Brexit's recommended browser on a little Java computer, so I've sent everyone, I think, some of those. They run on triboelectricity, just rub them together and think of any website from 1997.

  2. TreeSpeaker says:

    No Midnight Sky? No chance to trot out “There’s two hours of my life I won’t have back”? Good on you, sir.

  3. MattyJ says:

    I've read that Mank was in development 20 years ago but the sticking point was the black and white. Although to a more Fincher degree, the story goes that the studio just wanted a color print for foreign markets, and domestically it could be black and white. So it didn't happen.

    Fincher supposedly got Red to make him some black and white cameras, which I think makes this the first digitally shot movie that was actually shot in black and white. There is no color file/print of Mank.

    The sound design was also done in such a way that it mimicked what a movie like this might have sounded like in a big, old tyme theater. Probably not noticeable on a phone or crappy TV, but with a loud, surround set-up the dialog was noticeably coming from a sort of ethereal expanse that was hard to put a finger on until I read how they did it.

    What I'm saying is, if Mank doesn't win some technical awards, at least, there is no justice.

  4. Chas. Owens says:

    Back in the before time we used to go to a theater with a real pipe organ monthly and watch a silent movie the way you were intended to (live score being played by a human in realtime). I had always thought silent movies were shitty, turns out it is just the cheap, crappy, lifeless scores they put on top of them that was ruining them. I mean, they guy playing the live score can't even get the timing right and it is still a thousand times better. I would definitely pay to watch a similar rendition of Mad Max Fury Road.

  5. me says:

    Why is it that DC consistently produces utter crap while Marvel turns out movies that work even if they should not?

    • Not Frank says:

      My take on this, as someone who hasn't read many comic books, is that in popular culture the DC heroes are (usually) defined by their strengths, and the Marvel heroes by their weaknesses. Therefore, when the MCU writers want to show any complexity to a character, there's lots of background to draw on, and when the DCU... DCCU?... writers want to do the same, it's harder in many cases to figure that out. They wind up with Superdickery instead, particularly for their big two, Superman and Batman.

      • jwz says:

        It's a theory, but it's contradicted by the fact that DC's animated offerings have been consistently good, often excellent. While, with a very few inexplicable outliers (e.g., Doom Patrol, the first Wonder Woman movie), every live action thing they've done has been made of poop.

        Like, come on, put column A in charge of column B. All these folks work for you already.

        • Not Frank says:

          Given that "my" Batman is the 90s animated one, I must admit you make an excellent counterpoint, there.

        • Batman Beyond is sitting right there. Just walk over and pick it up, WB. I know you can do it. I believe in you.

          • Dude says:

            They tried back in 2000, aka the last time Warner/DC said "yes" to every contradicting pitch for their characters. Recently, they tried to get Michael Keaton to play Old Batman in a cameo for their always-pushed-back Flash movie, but that fell through.

            • The fact that it says the studio wanted to go more PG13 tells me it's good it didn't happen.

              How great would it have been with Clint Eastwood as old bats?!

      • Dude says:

        People have been trotting out the whole "Superman is boring" excuse for years without actually reading Superman stories. DC characters are fictional, so their good-to-bad metre is set by whichever creator is working on them at the time. Superman has gone from an overtly left-wing guardian of justice (as Siegel and Shuster created him) to a symbol of conformity (when DC owned the character wholesale) because that's what happens when corporate execs try to make creative decisions. To say there's nothing to do with the character (read "What's So Funny about Truth, Justice, and the American Way?" or Superman for All Seasons) is myopic.

        As far as films: the MCU kicked off with Iron Man, in which director Jon Favreau set the tone for the MCU as identifying with flawed heroes, admiring their powers, and recognising the obligation they have to their fellow citizens.

        By contrast: the DCEU's tone was set in Man of Steel by Zack Snyder, an Objectivist who thinks that anyone who helps their fellow citizen is stupid, who created the grim-dark visuals that have become the DCEU's trademark, and who thinks "heroes" should kill without remorse because the villains of Star Wars do. ('Cause if space-Nazis can slaughter entire planets, why can't my good guy?)

        The first Wonder Woman still looked grim-dark, but it at least had a thread of joy going through it that the other DCEU flicks didn't. And Birds of Prey indisputably the best DCEU movie because it does nothing but enjoy itself. Seriously! That's one of the best movies I saw in the shitstorm that was 2020 - and I saw it at an IMAX advanced screening before the world shut down.

        In short: the problem isn't the characters, it's those currently in charge of them. And the fact that the upcoming slate of DCEU flicks seem to be a confusing clusterfuck of contradicting continuities shows they have no plans to fix what's wrong.

        • jwz says:

          Completely forgot about Birds of Prey. What a great movie. How did that happen??

          I think "confusing clusterfuck of contradicting continuities" is a good description of the business plans of both DC's and Marvel's monthly comics division, BTW.

          • tfb says:

            I think Birds of Prey happened because of Margot Robbie who I guess saw something in the character and kicked enough people to get the film she wanted made, made. (It was the last film I saw in a cinema pre-CV19, which may make my memory of it falsely good ... I am going to spend so much time in cinemas when this is over, if any still exist.)

        • Rodger says:

          Absolutely it’s on Snyder. Adapting Miller was about his limit.

          I’d love to see Kingdom Come on the screen with Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman, but not if Snyder is near it.

  6. Michael V. says:

    Don't let the SW Holiday Special keep you from the wonderfulness of The Lego Movie - legitimately one of my favorite movies, super funny and full of heart. The Lego Batman Movie is pretty good too, worth the time for the villainous team-up of The Joker, Sauron, Godzilla, and the Daleks.

  7. Dude says:

    Dare I ask, Jamie: in terms of supposedly-Feminist-Hollywood-blockbusters-forced-to-stream, is Wonder Woman 1984 worse than Invisible Man?

    'Cause the latter was not only insultingly stupid (and, occasionally, stupid-funny), but what fucking confounds me is how that piece of shit is appearing on so many Best of 2020 lists?!

  8. tfb says:

    If I hear any more people say 'oh Tenet, you have to see it several times to understand it it's so clever' I may have to hit someone, possibly myself. It's just a fucking awful movie, made by someone who thinks he is much cleverer than he is and who has far too much money to spend. If Stephen Wolfram made movies they'd be like this.

    I saw the black & chrome Mad Max Fury Road in a cinema and that's why cinemas exist. It was so good.

  9. David says:

    There's a fascinating interview/background piece on Fincher and "Mank" here (sub needed):

  10. Kyzer says:

    I haven't seen Tenet, but watching the suggested music video, it sounds as contrived as Upside Down. Perhaps what it needed was to interleave while folding back on itself like Memento, then the Macguffin would be at the end.

    I should probably watch the SubGenius docu, as to me it was one of the better parts of Usenet (along with and friends), I still can't quite believe it wasn't just a joke. I thought the excuses for why the aliens didn't show up on X-Day were hilarious - like that they'd read the date upside down and they'd arrive in 8661, not 1998. If only internet kooks today could take themselves as unseriously as they used to.

    • tfb says:

      The difference is that Upside Down was an OK film. Tenet is 'lookatmeIamverycleverandIhavelotsofmoneyandnooneisbraveenoughtotellmetostoplookatmecleverclever' with about six hours of crashy bangy explody shit as the second half.

    • thielges says:

      The Book of the Subgenius is a brilliant treatise on epistemology disguised as either a hermetically complete religion or comedic romp, depending on your perspective. The Qanon crowd could benefit from really grokking what these more benign whackos from the 1980s were up to. But I suspect the alt right is just fine continuing to pull the wool over their own eyes.

      This latest round of ultra right politics in the USA has highlighted the epistemological crisis this nation is drifting towards. So long as anyone can claim their words are the absolute truth, critical thought takes a back seat and reason fades into the noise. The current occupant of the Oval Office didn’t invent this strategy but he used his office to legitimize and normalize the know nothing yet claim everything behavior. It’s going to take a long time to return to reason cuz ignoring the truth is easier and more fun.

    • dcapacitor says:

      As an aspiring internet kook, I find it's a very difficult schtick to pull off these days, perhaps because the common frame of reference has gone missing. In its infancy, Internet was for fucking around, so people automatically assumed humorous intent when in doubt. Now we tend to assume malice, anger and paid actors.

      It's entirely possible I'm just bad at it. I think our gracious host does a pretty good job, but I still wonder if he's being very serious or joking from time to time. I'm fine with that.

  11. Nate says:

    Have you seen "Save Yourselves"? I thought it was worth a watch, even if not an amazing film.