Here it is, the last post of the year. I don’t normally do end of year lists, but this was such an unusual year, I figured, “What the hell?” This list was a little bit larger but I toned it down a bit. I watched a lot of stuff because there was little else to do. Since I like to do things around the house that keep my hands free for knitting, I also managed to finish three hats, at least two scarves, got about 3/4 of the way through one sweater, and started another. These are just a few of the things I enjoyed watching and listening to while doing so.
Birds of Prey
This was one of my great joys this year. I love Harley Quinn, and I was excited for this movie when it was announced. I even liked her in Suicide Squad (she, and Will Smith, were the best characters in it!), although this version has a slightly different persona, and wears more clothes.
Although I’m one of only three people who actually enjoyed Suicide Squad, this is how you tell a story about superheroes with no powers, and this movie was just hella fun! These women are not trying to save the world. They’re just trying to save their little section of it, along with themselves, and one little girl. There is a lot to love about this movie. I really liked the fact that none of these women are saints. They are all, like Harley, fuck-ups of one kind or another, including the little babe they’re all trying to capture, or save, but they end up redeeming themselves through the connections they make with each other by the end of the movie. Its also really interesting how queer this movie is, in that half of the adult women are gay, or gay adjacent. Harley is in a canon relationship with Poison Ivy, and Renee Montoya is also a lesbian in the books. Black Canary I’m not sure about.
The setup is fairly typical, in that all of these women are at odds with each other, not because the movie wants to deal in the fake drama of women simply not liking each other, but because they all have different goals, and their goals all clash, up until they don’t. Harley wants to save herself from the people who are after her, now that she’s broken ties with the Joker, and his reputation no longer protects her. Renee Montoya wants to capture Harley for the crimes she committed while with the Joker. Huntress is an assassin who has killed a lot of very bad people and is now after Roman. Black Canary is an apathetic entertainer, who just wants to be left out of everyone’s drama, but gets roped in anyway, and little Cassandra Cain is a thief who runs afoul of Roman Sionis/Black Mask, the villain of the movie, when she steals the diamond he covets.
I’m going to talk later about how the violence in this movie feels different, as directed by a woman, how the characters look and act, and why some of the men who saw this movie couldn’t stand it, which I don’t think had anything to do with the film’s quality, (or even necessarily because they hate women), since this movie enjoys a very high rating on Rotten Tomatoes, something you would never know from the many, many, Youtube videos, which talk about how bad it was, solely because it didn’t break any monetary records.(It did just fine at the box office.) This was not a bad movie. It was, like the millions of movies that got made before it, made with a specific audience in mind, that just wasn’t for them, and we should probably talk about that.
I was just as surprised as everyone else when this movie won for Best Picture. Its a great film, with a message about Classism, that not only did Americans seem to get, but which seemed to resonate.The movie is good, but it’s also really hard to watch, as the director, Bong Joon-ho, pulls no punches about how the poorest live in South Korea, vs the wealthy, and what effect poverty and wealth have in their lives. Essentially, when hardships hit the poorest of citizens, it is nearly impossible for them to spring back from them, whereas money cushions the wealthy from any mistakes, accidents of nature, or bad choices. The most telling scene, for me, is when the impoverished family is sitting around the table, enjoying the luxuries of the “good life”, like beer and wifi, while the wealthy family is out of town.
The only way for the poor family to get ahead is to take advantage of the wealthy, so the poor family manages to con their way into their lives and home. But who are the parasites? The wealthy family would never be in the social and financial position they are in, if it wasn’t for the labor of those they look down on. The working classes and the wealthy are ineluctably entangled, and Joon-ho shows this by having the poor family move into their home, and become involved in the rich family’s daily affairs, to the eventual destruction of both families.
There’s also the issue of inter-class warfare, as well. When the poor family moves into the home, they find that the former housekeeper, and her disabled husband, are secretly living in the other family’s basement. There forms a rivalry between these two poor families, to be the ones to take advantage of the rich family, which also ends in tragedy. It never occurs to any of them to team up, or work together, to get what they want. Each family is only out for itself, and none of the characters are especially sympathetic. All of them are caught up in a dynamic that none of them created, but all of them want to take advantage of, to the detriment of everyone around them. None of the characters get out of the movie without trauma.
Outside of the challenging plot, the movie is beautiful to look at, and well worth the watch.
I wouldn’t say that this was an enjoyable film, in the sense that Birds of Prey was, but it is an interesting thought experiment about human nature. This is interesting for me, as more as a thought exercise, and that sense of horror, that creeps up on you, as you begin to understand the sheer bleakness, and helplessness, that the characters are living with.
In The Platform, people are sentenced to a prison, with something like 60+ floors. On each floor, there are two prisoners, and they each stay there for one month. Once each day, a platform full of food makes its way down from the top floor, to the bottom floors, and people can take as much food from it as they want, but there are rules. There are certain things you can’t do, or you’ll end up on a much, much lower floor as a punishment, and you don’t want that. The people on the bottom floors basically end up starving to death, however, because not only is there never enough food to reach the bottom, the people above can take more than they actually need, and will sometimes adulterate what they have not eaten, with feces and urine.
One of the prisoners attempts to bring justice to the system by commandeering the platform to make sure there’s enough food for the people on the bottom floors, and some things go about as you would expect, but many things don’t, and that’s what makes up the core of the action here. Its a system in which one man is working against the worst of human nature, to ensure the survival of strangers. although he knows he more than likely will fail, and tries to do it anyway, because it’s worth doing.
This is a very difficult film to watch, not just because its disgusting, but because its also heartbreaking. The characters are mostly unlikable, and some questions remain unanswered, but it is worth the watch, because for every moment of despair, there is at least one moment of hope. I had the impression that some prisoners volunteered to be in this prison, for some sort of riches, if they survived, and others were sentenced to the place, as punishment for some unsaid crimes. There are even children there! More than a few times, I felt the very strong urge to strangle a couple of people, (which, of course, would land a person on one of the bottom tiers). The plot, in fact, sounds a lot like current events, with certain types of people unwilling to make sacrifices for others, and even sabotaging other people’s efforts to bring change.
The Old Guard
This was one of my favorite action movies this year, but not just for the action, for the emotionality, instead. It’s based on the graphic novel, The Old Guard, about a group of immortal soldiers, lead by Charlize Theron, in what I consider one her sexier roles. This isn’t just about great action scenes, which you can tell the actors all worked very hard at, but about what it must be like to live so long, that one enters a place of despair, as the more the world changes, too much of the world remains exactly the same.
But, like The Platform, as much as the lead character suffers from hopelessness, light is also provided, in the form of a new immortal, Nile Freeman. Nile is the everyman through which the audience, and the oldest immortal, Andy, can see the world.There are also resonances in the plot, the characters, and even the action scenes, which, once again, illustrate a difference in how women directors approach violence in movies, vs. how male directors do the same. This doesn’t mean that one style is better than the other, just that women, and other marginalized people, have a different experience of violence than white men, and approach that depiction from a different perspective, than the more mainstream outlook we’ve been watching for several decades. There is a great focus here, not just on character, but how a lifetime of violence affects the characters, and the group dynamics. There is as much focus on the relationships between these characters, as there are on the action scenes.
The director of this movie is a Black woman, Gina Prince-Bythewood, a being so rare in the Action genre, as to almost be a singular thing. The differences are subtle, and one needs to have watched a ton of Action movies to be able to see a pattern. Unfortunately, however, there are not enough examples of Action films, directed by Women Color, to be able to see a clear pattern emerge. Black, female, (any women really), Action film directors are still a relatively new thing. Hopefully, there will be more of them in the future, and then a proper comparison can be made of directorial styles between the two groups (although I can already see some general differences). But, just think for a moment. There are so few female directors of Action movies, that the only examples of directing violence that they have to work from, are by white men!
I don’t make these kinds of observances as an indictment against white men. I’m just making what I think are relevant observances. The visual entertainment industry is almost entirely controlled by middle class white men, (many of them having gotten their start in film schools), who are standing in a very specific place, as regards the depiction of violence in movies and television, which is really the only perspective from which these types of entertainments have ever been seen. For most of Hollywood’s history, the vast majority of movies were made by white men, about white men, for white men, and women’s and PoC perspectives were rare, and are still relatively new (although there are a couple of genres that feature female directors more often, and a couple of eras of film that prominently featured directors of color).
I loved , loved, loved this movie. There is just so much to talk about here. I have had to watch this movie multiple times, to get all the facets of the plot, but it was a joy every single time, as I kept discovering new things. Christopher Nolan makes the kind of “Intellectual” Action movies, that I just adore. Yes, the plot is convoluted. Yes, there is a large cast to keep track of. I’ve heard from some people that there isn’t enough emotion in the film, and that the characters are hard to get attached to, but I had no problem doing that. As I’ve stated a few times, I get into a film through feeling deeply for the characters, and I was pretty invested in these. The intellectual challenge and Scifi elements are what I found attractive, but the characters are why I stayed, and I would not have watched this movie multiple times if I didn’t care about them.
John David Washington has all of the acting chops of his father (Denzel), and more than a dash of his father’s suave charm. If you want to know what a Black James Bond would like like, then this is your movie, without some of the nasty imperialist undertones. Robert Pattinson turns in a quiet, steady, lowkey, and touching (at least for me), performance, as the second lead. Washington’s character is the only one that has no name. He is simply called, by Nolan, The Protagonist, and that’s what I’m going to call him here. This is another one of those lowkey, groundbreaking, movies, where, if you’re not paying attention, you won’t notice what the director did here. He has basically created a Scifi action movie, where the primary, and most important character, the one that the audience is meant to sit and identify with, is a Black man, who is not only the hero of the film, but without whom the plot wouldn’t be set in motion.
Did I understand this movie? Yes, after about three viewings, I got the jist of it, then I went back, and watched it a couple more times, to tie up loose ends, and catch any smaller details I missed. It was fun to watch each time. Technically, this is not a time travel movie. None of the characters are moving back through time in the manner you think, and no one is from the future, technically. What they are doing is what the other characters are doing, in real time, only they’re doing it all backwards, and we understand what’s happened at the beginning of the movie, by the time we get to the end. This is called “Time Inversion”, where objects and people can be made to relive events backwards by being sent through a special machine. Since we’re seeing the plot from The Protagonist point of view, we learn what’s happening as he learns, including its satisfying conclusion.
This movie doesn’t stint on the action scenes either, because they are insane. Also, its okay if you don’t “get” the movie on first viewing. Nobody does. Nolan states that the movie is meant to be watched multiple times, to get the full effect, so don’t stop watching just because you didn’t understand it the first time. That’s okay, you’re not supposed to. If you love the action scenes, and the characters, that’s fine, and eventually, you will catch up to the plot. We’re going to talk about this some more though, because I have thoughts!
The Mandolorian Season Two
I thought this season was much more entertaining than the first, and I really enjoyed it, along with three great cameos, by some of my favorite actors, Carl Weathers, Rosario Dawson, and Mark Hamill!
Lovecraft Country Season One
There is a lot to be said about this series, which has an all Black cast,in one of my favorite genres. This series is so full of depth, and density, and I hope it comes back for a second season. It made a lot of mis-steps along the way, especially on queer issues, and the issue of colorism, which I hope will be corrected, if the show gets a second chance.
Watchmen Season One
This is another Black lead show that I particularly enjoyed this year. I hope it gets a second season, but the show runner has decided he’s not coming back, so if the series does return, it will most likely be from a different character perspective, which I’m okay with, because it would be really hard to top what Regina King accomplished here.
Umbrella Academy Season Two
I really liked the first season, but the second season of this show was outstanding, in dealing with the issue of race, time travel, parental abuse, forgiveness, and redemption. It was, despite some of the heavy subject lifting, a lot funnier than the first, and ended on a really intriguing note. It has also become clear to me that my favorite character dynamic is Klaus and Ben, but hands down, the most bad ass member of the family is Number Five!
Star Trek Discovery Season Three
This was the year of the Black Revolution Song. A hard year, with many tears, and frustrations, but Black people have always had the knack of capturing these negative emotions and encasing them in the beauty of song. Its one of the few ways we have to relieve the pressure of living here…But for every lament, there is also a celebration of Black Excellence, joy, and laughter.
Black Is King – Beyonce
This is the celebration of the roots of Blackness from one of the few Black female film directors, who is never acknowledged as such. This is Beyonce’s fourth film, and is as groundbreaking as Lemonade.
I Just Wanna Live – Keedron Bryant
This song brings tears to my eyes every time I hear it. Keedron has an incredible voice, that I never get tired of listening to. This song is not begging. Its a lament to God. Its a cry of pain.
#BlackExcellence – Buddy
For every lament, there is a celebration!
Back Home – Trey Songz/Summer Walker
I just like this one because it reminds me of that 80’s love song from New edition, a boy band that I’d totally lost my shit over when I was a teen, although sometimes, you never really know why you like a particular song. This is a breakup song about two people who simply can’t stay away from each other.
A good song just happens to hit that sweet spot.
Rockstar – DaBab
This song doesn’t seem especially deep, but that’s okay, the video is deep enough. Although, sometimes, I just like the beat and rhythm. oh, and DaBaby, (who my mind insists on calling Dah Babbee) needs to be in some action movies.
I left off a section on books. I spent most of my time re-listening to audiobooks I’d already read, and looking at illustration collections and graphic novels, so I didn’t list them here. he