Thangs I Looked At: Movie Mini Reviews

Here are three films I watched in February. For the record, although I had some mild criticisms, I generally liked them, and  I especially enjoyed the Terminator film, which I wasn’t entirely certain I would, since no one was talking about it.

Terminator: Dark Fate

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I was initially very excited when I saw the trailer for this movie, but ultimately didn’t get a chance to see it in theaters. After that, I didn’t hear much about it. I dont normally get too worked up about films, that I think are going to be popular, bombing at the box office, because there are at least half a dozen reasons I won’t   see it, no mater how excited I am about it. I figured that’s probably much the case with a lot of films that bomb. In other words, films bomb for a whole variety of reasons, that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the film’s quality.

And the quality of this latest entry in the Terminator franchise is very excellent. You should really check it out when you get a chance. I liked it every bit as much as I thought I would, ,and you will remember I was very excited about the trailer. It even did a couple of things I wasn’t expecting as far as plot and characters.

The basic plot sort of parallels the Sarah Connor plot from the first movie, but is much more personal. Dani isn’t the savior of the world, she is the savior of one person in particular, and Sarah comes along for the ride. The Terminator is very interesting, combining both elements of the original T-800, and the Liquid version from T2.

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What was surprising about the movie is how female-centric it was, while touching on a lot of themes. Nearly all the characters are women, and they control the plot points in this movie. Sarah’s character reminded me  of Laurie Strode, from the most recent Halloween movie, in that she is a broken and horribly traumatized woman. I always find it interesting when female characters are deliberately written to be unlikable, and that is  the case here. Sarah is kind of an asshole, who butts heads with everyone. She is mean, and bitter, the sneer never leaves her face, and this is acceptable to the viewer, because she is  definitely hurting, and broken, because of an event that happened after she and John saved the world’s future. The movie is as much about her trauma as it is about saving Dani. It is a heavy movie, with the only comic relief provided by an old school Terminator, played by Schwarzeneggar, as a drapery salesman named Carl, who is married to a woman he doesn’t have sex with, and doesn’t know what he is! Once you  wrap your head around all that, the movie is an action fest every bit as good as Fury Road, only  less zany.

The movie takes place largely in Mexico, and at one point, Dani, and the others must sneak into the US, but get locked up in one of the Border camps, so the movie went there, which was interesting, because I didn’t think it would. While no one says anything outright, the framing of those scenes show strong disapproval of what’s happening there, as the Terminator bursts in and slaughters half the border guards, and steals a helicopter.

The Terminator is played by one of my favorite actors, Gabriel Luna, who I got a kick out of watching in the SHIELD series, as the Ghost Rider. His technology isn’t just a blend of the two styles of Terminator we’ve seen, but so is his demeanor, which is especially chilling, because he seems very, innocuous, normal, and friendly, right up until you die.

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The stand out character for me though was Grace, who is awesome. I’m saving a special place in my personal pantheon for Grace, (as not too many white women, Ellen Ripley and Furiosa being the only two,  manage to get into it), who can definitely carry an action scene. The last time I saw that particular actress, she was playing a replicant, in Bladerunner 2049, and here she is playing another half human character. Grace is much like her name, moving and fighting in exactly the manner you’d expect of a technologically enhanced human being, and some of the most exhilarating scenes, are watching her go toe to toe with the Terminator, and matching him hit for hit. She doesn’t actually defeat him, but she is his equal.

The ending of the movie is bittersweet, but I liked it. I liked the entire film. There are no slow moments. Nothing is wasted, and I liked the love/hate dynamics between the female characters, which felt organic, and not just thrown in for drama’s sake. If you haven’t seen this movie, you should check it out, just to watch Schwarzeneggar’s role as Carl, and here him complain about people’s bad taste in draperies, in his usual  monotone.

 

 

 

Spider-Man: Far From Home

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Despite a couple of hiccups, I genuinely liked this movie. I don’t think it’s as good as the first film, but that one had some  novelty behind it in being Tom Hollands first full length term as Spiderman. This one is okay. Its not great. I wouldn’t put it anywhere near Maguire’s Spiderman 2, but its fun and watchable. The teenagers act like teens ,and the love story between Pete and MJ is really cute. This is funnier than the first film, and a  genuine comedy, until it gets near the end, when things get a bit more serious. As with most comedies your mileage may vary. I thought a few of the jokes landed badly, but mostly of them hit their mark, at least for me.

The most annoying part of the movie however,  is the continuing attachment of Tony Stark to Peter’s storyline. He’s still cleaning up Stark’s messes, even after he’s dead. I suspect that will be going on in the MCU for some time, since one of Tony’s major superpowers was  pissing off powerful creatures and/or people. Probably half the villains in the MCU can be traced back to something Tony said or did to some hapless supplicant, and that is the origin story behind Mysterio.

I also found it annoying that everyone assumes Peter wants to take up Tony Stark’s mantle, and do what he did, only as Spiderman. Just let the child be himself ffs! Why does anyone have to step into Tony’s shoes? On the other hand, the movie does mention (rather roughly) some of the issues that happened in the aftermath of  the Snap and the Return, (in this movie its called the Blip), and how much society was upheaved by both those events. I thought it was an intriguing idea  that the world was just as upset by everyone’s return, after five years, as it was by the trauma of their disappearance.

Well, anyway the movie is still fun, and full of lots of humorous moments, regardless of Tony’s ghost hanging around this movie, and I have watched it a couple of times, since its release. Like the first movie, it doesn’t have a whole lot of depth, until the end, when Peter directly goes up against Mysterio.

I liked this just fine. Its not great. Its not even as good as Homecoming, but it’s a well spent Saturday afternoon or evening.

 

 

 

John Wick 3: Parabellum

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Wow! This movie was a wild ride from start to finish. I don’t even know where to begin, I want to call this a hot ass mess, but that would imply I didn’t like it. In fact, I loved it! But yes, it is a hot ass, but very enjoyable, cray-cray mess. its like a Jason Statham, Fast and Furious movie, only with a real budget, if you catch my meaning.

Like the last movie, it picks up where it left off, with Wick being hunted by the Assassin’s guild which he used to be a member of. He’s got to find some old colleagues to help him stay alive, and they of curse come immediately into danger. One of those old friends, Sofia,  is played by Halle Berry, who owns a couple of  Belgian Mallinois, that she has specifically trained to kick ass, on her command, and that part of the movie is lots of fun to watch. I don’t get to watch Halle kick ass too often, so watching this fifty plus year old Black woman throwing  hands was a real treat.

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Another treat was watching Mark Dacascos chew the scenery, and get some genuinely funny lines, as a major villain who just wants to take John down, and supplant him as the boogeyman of assassins. I hadn’t seen Mark in a while, so it was fun to watch this professional ass-kicker throw down, even if the bald head was kind of jarring.

In the meantime, while John is trying to get his shit together there’s an actual assassins cabal, that oversees the assassin’s guild. Since John was “excommunicated”, he’s gotten help from a few friends, including Lawrence Fishburne, as the King of New York, and all their lives are put in danger, because one of the rules is that if you are a member of the guild in good standing, you have to turn in those who are excommunicated.

So the plot becomes a lot more complex, along with all the stuntwork. The John Wick movies are not especially deep, but they are great fun, even though they’re incredibly violent. Part of the reason people don’t mind the violence, quite so much, is that it’s de-mystified by the extras and behind the scenes videos, that show how are the stuntwork gets done, and watching the behind the scenes videos are just as much fun as watching

The State of the Union: Black Film Entertainment 2010-2020

Film

This is not a comprehensive list of movies released in the past ten years, that featured a Black cast, or had Black directors, or writers. This is just a list of movies, listed by year, that I thought were the most influential, that I actually watched, liked, or know other people really loved, for that particular year. There have been a lot more released than what’s on this list, but 2018 was a record year for the number of Black films released, and/or nominated for awards.

In my mind, the past ten years has been one of the Blackest decades in film, since the 90s, not just because of the number of movies released, but the quality of the films, and  the attention and writing  surrounding them, thanks to social media. Black Panther, and Get Out were probably two of the most written about Black films in cinema. There is an encyclopedic number of writings on these films, examining everything from the plot, themes, and  characters,  to wardrobe, and  hairstyles. In fact, writing about Black films has almost become an industry in itself.

 

2010

For Colored Girls – an adaptation of the book by Ntozake Shange, and written and directed by Tyler Perry.

*Book Of Eli –  Denzel Washington stars as a blind man, traveling through an apocalyptic landscape, carrying precious cargo.

Lottery Ticket – Not one of my favorite films, since I’m not a huge fan of such broad humor, but it is a reminder that Black comedies, in the tradition of Friday, are alive and well.

 

2011

*The Help – Again, this is not one of my favorites but I’m putting this movie here because it is often in attendance at conversations about the White Savior trope in movies.

Madea’s Big Happy Family – Madea is the  only Tyler Perry character I can stand to watch, but it greatly appeals to people with a certain form of humor that  I don’t particularly share, and it helped make Tyler Perry one of the wealthiest Black men in Hollywood.

 

 

2012

*Beasts of the Southern Wild – The story about a little girl growing up in a dysfunctional family in Louisiana.

*Django Unchained – A cathartic fantasy Western starring Jamie Foxx.

 

2013

12 Years  A Slave – Oscar nominated film directed by Steve McQueen, and based on the autobiography by Solomon Northup.

*Belle – One of my favorite historical films, because historical films about Black women, that don’t prominently feature slavery, are kind of rare.

*After Earth – I’m one of the few people who actually loved this depiction of a Black father and son’s relationship, set in the far future.

Fruitvale Station – Ryan Coogler’s Oscar nominated film before Creed, based on the true story of the shooting of a young Black man in a NY subway station.

 

2014

Dear White People – About a Black student who runs a radio program at a White college.

*Ride Along – An action film, in the vein of Bad Boys, starring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube.

*Selma – One of the first Oscar nominated films directed  by a Black woman, Ava Duverney, and based on the true life story of MLK.

 

2015

Beasts of No Nation – A movie starring Idris Elba about child soldiers in an unnamed African country.

*Creed – Ryan Coogler’s second film after Fruitvale Station starring Slyvester Stallone and Michael. B. Jordan.

Dope – The coming of age story of a Black boy in California

*Chocolate City – Black cinema’s answer to the male stripper movie, Magic Mike

Straight Outta Compton – The backstory of the Rap group N.W.A.

 

2016

Fences – Based on the play of the same name, by August Wilson, and starring Denzel Washington, and Viola Davis

*Hidden Figures – Based on the real life stories of the Black women involved in the US Space program

*Magnificent Seven – A remake of the 1960 movie with the same name, and starrring Denzel Washington in a diverse cast.

*Moonlight – Oscar winning movie about the early life of a young gay Balck man in California.

Queen of Katwe – About a young female chess player in Uganda, starring Lupita Nyongo, and directed by Mira Nair

 

2017

All Eyez On Me- The stardom story of the rap artist Tupac Shakur

*Get Out – Jordan Peele’s directorial debut is a horror movie about white racist bodysnatchers.

**Girls Trip – A comedy starring an all Black female cast, including Queen Latifah,  and one of the top comedies of the year.

Marshall – A legal drama about Thurgood Marshall, directed by Reginald Hudlin

*Sleight – A superhero origin story of a young Black man who builds a device which gives him magnetic powers.

 

2018

BlackKlansman – Award nominated film by Spike Lee about a Black undercover agent infiltrating the KKK.

*Black Panther – Award nominated superhero movie about the King of a fictional African country called Wakanda, and part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

**First Purge – The fourth film in The Purge franchise, focusing on the original purpose of The Purge, and set in a Black neighborhood.

The Hate U Give – A drama based on the book by Angie Thomas, about a young girl dealing with the aftermath of witnessing the police shooting of her friend.

If Beale Street Could Talk – Based on the book by James Baldwin, a young woman is under pressure to prove her lover’s innocence before the birth of their child.

*Sorry to Bother You – Award nominated film about a telemarketer who discovers he has magical voice powers.

*Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse – Oscar winning animated film about the Afro-Latino Spiderman, Miles Morales.

Widows – An action thriller staring Viola Davis. A group of widows pick up where their husbands left off after they get killed in a bank heist.

*A Wrinkle In Time – A film  based on the young adult novel by Madleine L’engle, and directed by Ava Duverney.

 

2019

*Us – Jordan Peele’s second horror movie, about a family terrorized by a group of doppelgangers, while vacationing with friends.

21 Bridges – A cop thriller starring Chadwick Boseman.

**Black and Blue – A Black female cop witnesses a murder by her fellow officers, who along with a neighborhood gang, set after her in pursuit, before she can become an informant.

*Fast Color – About three generations of Black women, with super abilities, who have a family reckoning, after one of them becomes a person of interest to the American government.

*Dolemite is My Name – an award nominated biographical comedy about the Blaxploitation director Rudy Ray Moore, starring Eddie Murphy.

Harriet – The semi-biographical story of Harriet Tubman

*Little – A comedy about a mean Black woman who wakes up one morning as a little girl. The movie has an all female cast, and was produced by the 14 year old Marsai Martin.

Queen and Slim – A young Black couple goes on the run, becoming folk heroes, after they kill a police officer who threatened their lives.

 

The past ten years was seemingly a record for the number of movies released that had Black casts,  contained Black themes, or had Black writers and directors, which reached mainstream audiences, or won critical acclaim. Of all the films I listed, twenty of them were either nominated, or won, mainstream awards.

These movies were also rich in their variety, and I have to give credit for that. We have a full roster of comedies, superhero movies, thrillers, and even horror, and I hope this is a trend that continues. It’s not just that we need more films with Black artists, we also need more variety in the films that get made, instead of an emphasis on only crime or  historical misery.

 

Forthcoming in 2020:

**Antebellum – A historical genre bending mystery starring Janelle Monae

Bad Boys For Life – Action movie sequel starring Will Smith

**Tenet – Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending mystery thriller starring John David Washington

**Respect – An Aretha Franklin biopic starring Jennifer Hudson

Soul – Animated film from Pixar, about a Black jazz player navigating the afterlife

Coming 2 America – Sequel to the 90s comedy starring Eddie Murphy

**Candyman  – A remake of the original 90s classic, directed by Jordan Peele

Trial of the Chicago Seven  

The Photograph

**No Time To Die – Starring one of the first Back female agents in the franchise who takes over the 007 title.May be Daniel Craig’s last outing as James Bond.

**Bloodshot – an action sci-fi thriller starring Vin Diesel

The Lovebirds – A romantic comedy thriller starring Issa Rae.

The Banker 

**John Henry – Action drama starring Terry Crews

 

*Indicates that I’ve actually watched a movie.

**Most anticipated

 

Viewing List – November Edition

These are the reviews from things I watched in October and November. I will try to make these as short as possible, but y’all know I’m good at blabbing about TV shows, so wish me luck with that.

 

Dolemite is My Name

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I was kinda excited about seeing this, nevertheless i was surprised by how much I liked this movie, and I can think of no better actor to play Rudy Ray Moore than Eddie Murphy, a comedian I have  always had tremendous respect for, and who really doesn’t get enough credit for all the work he’s done, in the past 30 years.

Now, I have to give a little bit of background here. I grew up in the time period in which this movie is set. I would have been 2 maybe three years old at the beginning of the movie, but I have very distinct memories of grownups being really excited about Moore, and Yes, I did encounter a couple of those racy album covers in my mom’s collection, but I don’t think she knows I remember she was a Rudy Ray Moore fan.

I have a very clear memory of mom, and her then boyfriend, taking us to the Drive-in to watch The Human Tornado, which came out in 1975, and was a sequel to Dolemite.  I would have been five, and my brothers would have been 3 and 4. She would have had the assurance that, since we were babies, we would all be asleep by the opening credits. I don’t think she knows I was wide awake No, I wasn’t scarred for life or anything, but I definitely  remember parts of  the movie, and even some  it’s theme song. I know this is a genuine memory because I have never seen the movie as an adult.

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Anyway, all this to say that this definitely brought back some memories. There are some things about Black culture that only Black people know. I’m gonna let y’all in on a little secret.

Black people have our own stories, which seem to parallel stories from other cultures. Most of them you’ve probably never heard of,  unless you grew up in the culture, or have parents of a certain age, like my Mom. My mom used to tell us stories about the Signifyin’ Monkey, the lion, and the elephant, (only without all the cursing, and never the whole story, since its fairly raunchy.) Probably not the sort of things one would tell one’s kids today, but things were different back, then, and my Mom was kinda weird. It has a pretty long history, too. If you have ever  read American Gods, Anansi tells a story that is directly based on the folklore tale , titled How the Monkey Got the Tiger’s Balls:

Numerous songs and narratives concern the signifying monkey and his interactions with his friends, the Lion and the Elephant. In general, the stories depict the signifying monkey insulting the Lion, but claiming that he is only repeating the Elephant’s words. The Lion then confronts the Elephant, who physically assaults the Lion. The Lion later realizes that the Monkey has been signifyin(g) and has duped him and returns angrily to castrate the monkey, rendering him unable to reproduce.[3]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Signifying_monkey

http://mogley.tripod.com/monkey.html  

The Signifyin’ Monkey is part of the Dolemite theme song. Since this is a Rudy Ray Moore biopic, there’s a lot of cursin’, and some mild nudity. Its not half as raunchy as the actual Moore, but I think he’d be satisfied with what was shown in this movie.

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I also enjoyed it outside of the nostalgia factor. There’s a scene, in the early part of the movie, where Rudy encounters a plus size woman whom he recruits into his comedy troupe. This woman later  became known as  Queen Bee, who was every bit as raunchy in her style of comedy as Rudy. The story is arranged in such a way that you’re meant to cheer Rudy as a driven, hard working man, who triumphs against the small minds of others. Needless to say, most comedians probably couldn’t get away with most of the comedy routines, in this movie. The seventies featured a lot of new culture, that we take for granted now, and one of those things was raunchy Black comedians.

There were plenty of Black comedians before Rudy, who said some fairly racy stuff, but they mostly worked what was known then as The Chitlin’ Circuit, which were a collection of venues where only only Blacks could perform, since they still, even in the seventies,  considered too raunchy to play in the mainstream (i.e. White ) circuits. Rudy was one of the first of these type of comedians to go (sort of) mainstream, in that even White people heard about him, although he still would never have been invited on The Johnny Carson Show. So, the movie is one of those low key inspirational films, about overcoming racism in Hollywood. The first half of the movie is very caught up in people telling Rudy “no” , telling him what he can’t do, or making fun of him for wanting certain things, and Rudy going off to do those things anyway.

I have since learned that Eddie Murphy has received a Golden Globe nomination for this role. but I don’t think he will win. He does some great work here, but its not the best work he’s done, and really, I thought it was a walk in the park for him. He can play this type of role in his sleep. But I did enjoy watching him, because his charm makes the occasionally cringey plot, very watchable.

 

The Mandolorian

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I am loving The Mandolorian, and not just for the Baby Yoda scenes. (No, that isn’t actually Yoda, but some distant descendant, since this series is set after Return of the Jedi.) This series is full of some of the classic themes we expect from Star Wars. George Lucas has said the original Star Wars was based on the works of Japanese film Director Akira Kurosawa, most specifically, Seven Smaurai, and you can see some of the influence here.

In fact the series heavily reminds me of the Japanese Manga called Lone Wolf and Cub, in which an itinerant samurai, a ronin, wanders the Japanese landscape, with his tiny son, searching for vengeance, and  getting into various adventures. The only differences between that, and The Mandolorian, is the son doesn’t have force powers, isn’t on anybody’s wanted list, and isn’t half as cute as Baby Yoda. The show takes care to focus on the relationship between Mando and Baby Yoda, too. There are a lot of really cute moments between them, and the public seem to have really taken a shine to the little guy, much the same as his adoptive Dad.

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Its also a classic story about a character’s personal growth.  Mando starts out as a bounty hunter, who is just there for the work, so he can buy some new armor, but makes the decision to take the baby and run, rather than deliver him/her to his clients. There are larger mysteries which haven’t been answered yet, like who exactly is the Mandolorian, why does everyone want the baby, and where did this baby come from.

The production values, the costumes, acting, and special effects, are all top notch. It really does have the look and  feel of one of the movies, which makes it very easy to watch, although this luxury comes at the expense of the episode running times, which never get beyond 45 minutes. I can live with that, especially since the action scenes are the highlight of the series. In one of the earlier episodes, there is a full on fight between a team of Mandolorians and the various ne’er do wells, and criminals, on the planet on which they’ve all been hiding out. When CG is used, its mostly for the creatures, and action scenes, and is largely invisible, as its supposed to be.

 

 

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War of the Worlds – BBC Version

 

There have been umpteen different versions of this show. A book, a radio program that, as it is rumored, gave some people the shits back in the thirties, as they thought it was real, several movies from the fifties to the nineties, one of which starred Tom Cruise, another TV show, and now this.

Its a three part miniseries from the BBC, and so far I’m really liking it. Its got some nice production values. You can see where the money went in this one. The special effects are well done, and not that usual cheap TV stuff you sometimes get in big idea shows, and the show, quite frankly, looks gorgeous. The acting is acceptable,  although the only actor I truly recognize is Robert Carlisle.

And this show is not fucking around with its theme. H.G.Wells wrote the novel as a reaction to the British annexation of the Congo, and the atrocities that were being committed during the colonization of India. He wrote a book about the violent colonization of England by a superior technological force, as a condemnation of the British Empire’s activities, and the show makes this connection loud and clear, right in the opening credits. In the first fifteen minutes of the show, you hear characters having conversations about the might of the British Empire, and how wonderful it is to live in such a powerful country. By the end of the first episode though, the Martians have shut that talk down.

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There’s also some melodrama involving the two stars of the show, Rafe Spall, the brother of Timothy Spall, as a fellow named George, and Eleanor Tomlinson as his paramour, Amy. The two  are madly in love, but cannot be together, because George’s  wife refuses to divorce him, She hates him, and wants to remain married to him just to spite him. The family is scandalized, his older brother,  is outraged, and the  the rest of the community don’t know how to think of this thing, where the two of them are living together, unmarried. Plus Amy is pregnant.

I was not initially interested in the melodramatic aspect of the show, but the show does this thing, where it flashes back and forth to the future, after the alien invasion has been conquered, but the Earth is a literal hot mess, because the aliens weren’t just there to invade, they were terrraforming. Amy is wandering through the red deserts of what used to be England, with her young son. She has been separated from George for a long time, but still holds out hope of finding him. I didn’t care, at first, but I decided that I liked the characters. At least, I liked Amy, and that seems to be enough for me to start to care the rest of it.

The show opens with her and George witnessing the launch of the ships from Mars. Its a little different from the movies, because the ships look like meteors as they land, and that’s hat people think they are. They look like black globes that float off the ground, and are capable of setting people on fire from a distance. The tripods break out of the ground after the globes explode, and start their rampage, although the tripods aren’t so much interested in annihilating people, as they seem to be in seeding the planet with various gasses and chemicals. Like I said, this is not an invasion, exactly. They are transforming Earth into another version of Mars, and if you look at the flash forwards, their mission seems successful.

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I did have some criticism about characters doing stupid things, but this is only because this is one of those situations where the audience knows more about what’s going to happen than the characters do, so there were a lot of instances where people are standing around looking at things, while I yell things like ,” Get the fuck out of there!!!!’, and, “Run!” There are  various government officials who act like the mayor from Jaws, and simply bluster uselessly at the reports they’re getting from other parts of the country, about the annihilation of entire towns, even though the city is filling up with refugees from those areas. The British are so full of themselves about the initial events, that I have to admit, it was a bit satisfying watching them get their asses handed to them by the Martians, which point the show is trying to make. Basically, the show is saying that the British “ain’t all that!”

There are lots of closeups of boiling ant colonies, along with images of English people living their best lives, not unlike the ants, walking the streets of their mighty London, and looking quite busy, and the tripods themselves look very insect like, such that there is a connection being made between the idea of  invasive species, and the colonizing aliens, and that what is being done to England by the Martians, England is currently  doing to other countries, and been quite proud of themselves for it. We know the English are proud of their activities, but we don’t get any idea how the aliens feel, though. There are scenes where people touch the black globes that have dropped to Earth, and see smeary lingering images of their hands and faces, in the glossy sheen of the alien device, in a very,  “We have met the alien, and they is us.” type moment. So yeah, the show ain’t being  coy regarding its critique of British empiricism.

The setting for the various iterations is England, at the height of the British Empire, when it was engaged in the violent colonization of different countries. The English were largely brought low after WW2, (look up London Blitz), so its interesting that the first American version showed up in the fifties, (1953), when America, having won some victories during the war, (and starting to feel itself to be the shit) began engaging in its own world dominance behavior. (Before the War, America pursued an isolationist stance.) The 1953 version, (and subsequent invasion movies, like Strange Invaders, and Independence Day), were not about the humbling of America, so much as they were  America conquering some  great enemy, against all odds.. The 2005 version is a response to 9/11, where its made clear that the alien invasion is a stand-in for the terrorists, and America doesn’t triumph, so much as get lucky.

Not all alien invasion movies are violent. Some of them are enlightening, like 2001, and/or  hopeful, like Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This series is in the truest spirit of the book, however, which was a rebuke to British hubris.

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* https://www.post-gazette.com/ae/movies/2012/06/13/Behind-the-fiction-lie-factual-themes-in-alien-movies/stories/201206130200

Once they were analogies of the Cold War or Vietnam. Sometimes the underlying theme is corporate greed, environmental destruction or fears of technology supplanting humans. The movies feed on public fear of enemies from abroad, which in today’s world, he said, could even include mortgage bankers.

New Movie Trailers (November 2019)

 

Birds of Prey 

Well, I like the trailer for this, but then again I liked the trailer for Suicide Squad, and everyone hated that movie, (while I happen to like Suicide Squad, one of only five human beings to ever make such an outrageous claim). I have developed an appreciation for Margot Robbie, one of only a very small handful of White actresses whose work I actually seek out, and whose career I’m following. I really liked her in I, Tonya, and Mary Queen of Scots.

 

 

Call of the Wild

I read this book a lot when I was a teenager, and can probably credit it for sparking my strange fascination with the Arctic. I also think it was because I just loved dogs, and always imagined Buck  as my dog. I will not go see this in the theater, but I hope it does well, so that Hollywood will get the idea that classic stories, done well, can still do well at the box office.

 

 

Bloodshot

I’m kind of fond of the books on which this movie is based because, for some reason, I’m fascinated with nanotechnology going bad. I blame Greg Bear’s Blood Music. I’m not sure about this movie’s lackluster plot, or the fact that it stars Vin diesel. I don’t hate Vin Diesel. I actually like the guy, but he’s not an especially good actor, and I don’t know if  I want to watch him try to emote for two hours. I really have to be in a certain mood for that kind of thing, since one only needs a little bit of Vin Diesel, at any given time.

On the other hand, the books are great, if you’re a fan of adventure science fiction books, which are really just thinly veiled cover stories of superhero novels.

 

 

 

Fantasy Island

I liked the TV show this is based on, which aired from 1977 to 1984,  and if you have not watched those, I’m sure they can be streamed somewhere. Its a sappy, and sometimes very cheesy show, which rarely got above a level three on the fright-o-meter, but I remember watching it a lot with my mom, who had a crush on Ricardo Montalban. This looks interesting, despite the fact that it heavily reminds me of that failed revival, that happened in the late 90’s.

 

 

 

 

Invisible Man

Yeah, I’m not gonna go see this. I think I’ve had enough Invisible Man horror movies to last a few lifetimes. I think invisibility is probably a fairly useless superpower anyway, since one can only really get up to mischief with it.

 

 

The Irishman

I plan to watch this. I don’t normally watch gangster movies, but it has an all star cast, and marks Scorcese’s first foray into made for TV movies. Despite what Scorcese said about superhero movies, and the fact that he seems ot have staked out this gangster drama genre, I still love his work, and I don’t have to pay extra to see it in a theater, which is cool. We’ll see how good it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New TV Trailers (November 2019)

Per my usual announcement, whenever I make these posts, some of these I’m excited for, and some a little less so, but I hope to be able to watch most of them.

 

Doctor Who Series Twelve (2020)

I really enjoyed having a lady Doctor, mostly because she heavily reminds me of a cross between David Tennant, and Peter Capaldi ,and I’m not sure if that’s on purpose. I could have done without a few of the episodes, in that the writing, and story, wasn’t the best on at least a couple of them, but there were at least a couple that stood out too, and since we have a new crop of writers this season, I’m looking forward to what they’re going to do. At least the trailer looks exciting.

 

 

 

 

Antelbellum (2020)

No one knows anything about this show, movie, or whatever. I’m intrigued by the trailer though, and I really like Janelle Monae, so I’m going to check it out. Jordan Peele is one of the producers on this, so it should be an interesting story, even though I generally try to avoid slave narratives, because I’m really, really, tired of them. However, if someone has a clever way of approaching it, I’m willing to give it a try..

 

 

Hunters (12.15)

This airs on Amazon Prime next month, and I’m looking forward to it. Its about a clandestine group of Nazi hunters, and its set in one of my favorite fashion decades, the seventies.

 

 

 

 

V Wars (12.5)

I don’t know what to think or feel about this show. I want to like it, but I’m not a fan of the lead character, and TV has messed up too many vampire shows for me to feel at all confident about this one. I have read some of the books this is based on, and I wonder how closely the show will follow them, which chronicles a breakout of vampirism in America, and it will destroy society, unless humanity wipes it out. I’m not a huge fan of the book series, either, mostly because I didn’t like the writing style. I want to like this though, and I’m going to give it a try.

 

 

 

Lincoln (1.10.20)

For some reason, I was really excited about seeing this. I do not normally seek out cop and detective shows, but I like the books this character is based on, and I liked the movie, which starred Denzel Washington. Some things I’m just not attracted to but if it has an interesting twist, has a diverse cast, or an actor I’m especially fond of, I’ll at least try it.

 

 

 

 

The Outsider (1.12.20)

This is another show based on a Stephen King novel, called The Outsider. I liked the book okay, although I don’t think it’s one King’s best. It did keep me intrigued, though. If you haven’t read the book, I’m not going to give away one of the plot details, on which the initial mystery is based,  which is classic  King, however. Also, if you are a fan of Holly, from the Finders Keepers series, she is one of the major characters in the book, which almost counts as a standalone adventure for her.

 

 

 

The Neighbor (12.31)

Okay, this looks and sounds almost exactly like the plot of the 80s show, Greatest American Hero, which starred William Katt, in which an alien crashes to Earth, and gives  special artifact to some nobody who happened to be close to the crash, which gives him superpowers, which he then has to navigate without any instructions. I’m not especially excited about it, but the trailer looks really cute, and its on Netflix, so it will be easy to check it out.

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (12.19)

Every couple of years someone has to make a new version of Dicken’s classic Christmas story, and quite frankly, even  I’m not immune to a sappy, holiday story about the redemption of an asshole. I used to read this book every year, and I’ve missed a few, so its probably time to break it out of the mothballs in my closet, and read it again.

 

It’s A Black Thang Tuesday

The theme this week is awesome little black girls!

Battle at Big Rock

Did I say I love dinosaurs, and that I will basically watch any movie with dinosaurs in it (including the cartoon ones)?

I loved this little short because it combines two of my favorite things, smart, little, black girls, and dinosaurs. Why? Because I used to be a smart, little, black girl who loved dinosaurs!

 

 

 

Harriet

I probably will not be seeing thisi nhte theater, but it looks intriguing, so i’ll definitely stream it later. I don’t rely on movies to tell me my history. I prefer non-fiction for that, but movies are supposed to be a  stepping stone to knowledge, not the end.

 

 

Dilili In Paris

I think this movie came out last year, but I’m still gonna shill for it, because its exceptionally cute. Its about a smart, little Black princess, who gets into adventures, when she visits Paris for the first time.

 

 

Doctor Sleep

I’m looking forward to this movie, but not just because there’s a smart little Black girl in it. I did enjoy the book, which is the sequel to The Shining, and I like really Ewan McGregor.

 

 

 

 

In the Shadow of the Moon

Okay, here’s another time travel story, from Netflix, where a young woman keeps returning from the dead, in an attempt to save the world.

 

Little Monsters

If Lupita Nyongo’s  presence in this movie doesn’t do anything to attract you, then how about Lupita and zombies? How about Lupita, some kids, and some zombies? How about Lupita at Summer Camp, with kids, fighting zombies?

 

 

THOMAS BLACKSHEAR II

I just love this man’s art. its so classic, yet so emotional.

http://www.thomasblackshearart.com/other-paintings/4594227570

ABOUT THOMAS BLACKSHEAR

After graduating in 1977 from the American Academy of Art in Chicago,

Thomas Blackshear worked for a year for the Hallmark Card Company in Kansas City, Missouri. While there, he met the famous illustrator Mark English and became his apprentice for several months. By 1980, he was working as head illustrator for Godbold/Richter Studio.

He became a freelance illustrator in 1982 and has been self-employed ever since.

Known for his dramatic lighting and sensitivity to mood, Blackshear has produced illustrations for advertising, books, calendars, collectors’ plates, greeting cards, magazines, postage stamps, and national posters. His clients range from Disney Pictures, George Lucas Studios, and Universal Studios to International Wildlife and National Geographic magazines. He has illustrated thirty United States postage stamps and a commemorative stamp book titled I Have a Dream.

Blackshear has also designed and executed illustrations for four collectors’ plate series. He is known for his best-selling Christian prints produced for DaySpring’s Masterpiece Collection. In 1995 he created Ebony Visions, which has been the number-one-selling black figurine collectible in the United States for the past twenty years. He won Artist of the Year in 1999 for that line from the National Association of Limited Edition Dealers and the prestigious International Collectible Artist of the Year Award in 2001. In 2006, Blackshear had a one-man show through the Vatican in Rome. There he unveiled his painting of Pope John Paul II for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Pope John Paul II Foundation.

Blackshear’s work has appeared in the Society of Illustrators annuals 24, 25, 27, 28, and 30, and in Volume 2 of Outstanding American Illustrators Today. His many awards included Gold and Silver Honors in the 1982 Kansas City Art Directors Club; two Gold Awards and Best of Show in 1986, Best of Show in 1989, and two Gold Awards in the 1990 Illustrators West Shows; a Gold Medal in the 1988 National Society of Illustrators; two Silver Awards in the 1989 San Francisco Society of Illustrators Show; and the Plate of the Year Achievement Award in 1990. His paintings are displayed at the Museum of Biblical Art in Dallas, Texas, and the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, Georgia.

Thomas Blackshear II is represented by Broadmoor Galleries, Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Trailside Galleries, Jackson, Wyoming, and Scottsdale, Arizona.

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The Truman Show (1998): Questioning Reality

During the late 90’s there was a spate of existentialist movies, that asked questions about the nature of reality, the self,  and questioned our sense of who we were. Movies like Dark City, The 13th Floor, Pleasantville, The Matrix, Existenz, and yes, The Truman Show, all questioned if the world we lived in was truly real, if we were real, and if nothing is real, does anything we experience matter.

The Truman Show didn’t just question reality. It asked questions about freedom, and self determination, as well. Truman is a man who has been imprisoned in a pleasant middle class, artificial, bubble his entire life, with a pretty blond wife, a non-descript job, one close friend, and a tragic past that’s specifically designed to hold him in place, and keep him from moving forward. His life is comfortable and certain. It is difficult not to see parallels to our own lives in Truman and his circumstances.

Truman has a daily routine. He does the same thing every day, with the same catchphrases, ordering the same food, the same magazines at the newsstand, driving the same route to and from work. Truman is mostly happy with his life, but its not an exciting life, so he fantasizes a lot.

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One of the first images we get of Truman is his childlike fantasy of being an astronaut. Truman longs to do something different, go somewhere else, be someone else, but he is trapped in place, as so many of us are, by our jobs, our circumstances, monetary concerns, our families, and other obligations, that we consider more important than our freedom to do as we please. Like Truman many of us fantasize about being  someone else, someplace else, and for most of us, fantastical visions of riding dragons, or pretending to be a favorite cartoon character, are enough.

Many of us live in comfortable bubbles, occasionally  chafing at our restrictions, and any attempts to break free of those restrictions can get you branded with labels like mentally ill,  mid-life crisis, or hysteria. Your desire to  break free, can often make other people deeply uncomfortable, and can prompt them to deploy tactics that will get you back into your bubble, to be quiet, and complacent, once again.

Truman is a man who has been held in captivity, since he was born, by an avant-garde filmmaker, named  Christof, who adopted him, kept him imprisoned in a fake world, with actors and actresses as friends and family, and put his entire life on live television. Everything in Truman’s life is manufactured, his job isn’t real, his marriage was carefully orchestrated, his best friend is an actor, his father was conveniently killed when he was a child, and he has been socialized with a number of phobias (aqua-phobia) that make it near impossible for him to leave the fake set.  In other words, his world is carefully designed to keep him in place, keep him from questioning it, and keep him from growing, changing , or progressing.

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Many of us live the kinds of lives we are reluctant to leave, it can be difficult for us to grow and move forward because we’ve become used to how our life is. It can be difficult to try new things, or make big changes in our lives, even changes we need to have, because we fear the unknown future. If you’re someone who has a great fear of the unknown, then moving into a future you cannot see, would be very difficult. This is how Truman engages with the world in the first half of his life, until a monkey-wrench called “first love” throws everything he knows into question. He falls in love with a young woman named Sylvia, who wasn’t chosen for him, and she is, rather traumatically, removed from his world. Truman developed such a special longing for her, that she came to represent the one thing in his life he didn’t have, uncertainty, and the unknown.

He begins to question the world he lives in. In other words, he starts to wake up, especially after  he experiences a series of strange events. like seeing his supposedly dead father, chunks of sky falling on his car, a photo of his wife with her fingers crossed behind her back (which indicates that she was lying). Truman attempts to express his nascent suspicions to his wife, mother, and best friend, who only try  to gaslight him, with temporary success. Over time, Truman begins to test his theory, and finally reaches the conclusion that the world he lives in, and the people he knows, is not real.

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Truman only begins to ask the right questions, after he sees the patterns around him, and starts putting those patterns in the correct order. When he sees his dead father on the street, the man is immediately whisked away by a group of strangers. Later that week, there is a radio mix up, where he hears one of the camera men narrating what he is doing. He notices a pattern in the people who cross in front of his house. He notices  patterns and reaches proper conclusions. He begins to see the artificiality.

For example, he suspects that he is being watched, that the people in his world are fake, and  don’t know what to do when he does  unexpected things. So he disrupts his routine in small ways, like walking into a different building, or deciding to accompany his wife (a nurse) to a surgery that was made up in an attempt to explain something he saw earlier that day. By behaving unpredictably, he has introduced uncertainty, and the unknown to the set, which disrupts everyone else’s routine, as well.

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Ironically, many of us suspect that the world we live in is a facade, as we seek to explain the uncertainty of our life, rather than the certainties. This theory was especially popular during the last years of the 20th century, which accounts for the popularity of  films, in which the protagonists question the randomness of their lived experiences. In the Matrix, Neo tells Trinity about a number of events that happened to him when he was unaware he was in the matrix, and asks her what that means. Trinity’s answer is that the matrix cannot tell you who you are. She is in essence telling him that when he lived in the matrix, that he was not his true self.

Since the events that occurred to Neo can be said to have been contrived by computer programs, his reactions to those events were inauthentic, and not evidence of his true self.  Another argument that can be made, however, is that such contrived events are not any different than random events contrived by a god, and if we can accept that our authentic self is in evidence when under the aegis of a mythological figure, than why can we not accept the authenticity of self while under the control of an AI?

One of the reasons that Truman gives for desperately trying to escape Christof’s prison, is that he wants a real life, an authentic life. Christof tries to talk him into staying in his artificial world by telling him that life is no more authentic, in the “real” world, than it is in his fake one. he tells Truman that there is no truth, thereby  illustrating a fundamental misunderstanding of Truman’s motives. Truman is not searching for truth. He is searching for “the real”, which is not the same thing.

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But, as we all must do, if we hope to move forward, to progress in our lives, Truman takes a leap of faith, into the unknown. At some point, if we hope to meet our real selves, we must all walk through a mysterious door, into an uncertain future. Truman has no idea what is on the other side of the door he’s about to walk through, but like Red, from the Shawshank Redemption, he hopes to see Sylvia, and take her hand. He hopes to find himself. He hopes to be happy. He hopes to find love.

He hopes.

And so must we all.

 

Jet Li Unleashed (2005): Surviving Abuse

 

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One of the more unusual martial arts films I’ve  seen, is one which stars Morgan Freeman (The Shawshank Redemption), and Jet Li. Yeah, I said it. Morgan Freeman starred in a martial arts film. Okay he didn’t do any martial arts, which I definitely would have watched. He was a piano tuner, but that’s okay, because Jet Li engaged in enough rock’em, sock’em for everyone in the movie. This is an unusual movie, not just because of its dissimilar cast, but because it is as much of a drama, as it is an action movie.

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The movie’s first title was Danny the Dog, when it was released overseas in 2004. When it was released in the US, in 2005, it was renamed Unleashed, and received moderate reviews, probably because most people didn’t get to see it, and the ones who did see it didn’t quite know what to make of it. Its not a bad film, but it is a tonally odd movie, that somehow manages to work, and that is entirely due to the acting, and what mindset you bring to it.

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Morgan Freeman, as Sam, is his usual excellent self, and so is Bob Hoskins as an abusive gangster named Bart. Jet Li is Danny the Dog, and  does surprisingly well, as an emotionally stunted and abused young man, They are joined by Kerry Condon, as Danny’s bubbly love interest, Victoria. I actually enjoyed this movie, but then I walked in not really knowing what to expect, even though I had heard of the movie with its previous title.

Bart has been raising Danny, the son of a young woman he exploited and killed, as a beast who wears a metal collar, which, when it’s removed, is Danny’s cue to kill whoever  Bart has pointed his finger, first as one of Bart’s enforcers, and then in  underground fight clubs. Bart styles himself as a kindly uncle, who is just taking care of the helpless Danny, but he is horrifically abusive, treating Danny like an animal, putting him on a leash, making him eat out of dog dishes, and live in a  cage in the basement. He is a cartoonish example of abusive parenting, and clothes himself in virtue, by calling it love.

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One day Danny accidentally stumbles across Sam, fixing a piano in an antique shop, and the blind Sam, is kind and friendly to him, something Danny has never experienced. He becomes fascinated by the piano, and later, asks for one from Bart, but a rival gangster takes Bart out of the equation, via car crash. Danny is injured in the attack, but manages to find his way back to the antique shop where Sam works. Sam takes Danny in, and patches him up.

So thirty minutes into the movie, it turns into a found family story, that’s rather endearing, carried mostly on the strength of the acting. Danny is from a highly abusive, even life threatening, relationship with the man who raised him, while Victoria and Sam have an open, loving, and healthy relationship, with more than enough room to welcome Danny. A significant portion of the film is taken up with montages, and scenes, of Danny discovering the joys of ice cream, kissing, and both familial and romantic love, learning to cook with Sam, and  play the piano with Vic, and just be happy. He starts to regain memories of his mother and begins investigating his origins.

Victoria is also an adopted child, but she had the good luck to be raised by Sam instead of  someone like Bart. Victoria’s biological father died when she was small, and her mother married Sam. After her mother died, Sam became her father, and moved them both to France, so that she could go to music school. Sam’s love for his child, is as it should be, sacrificial, and supportive. They are a  family that prays before each meal, and fully embody the Christian principles of charity and kindness, and become a model for Danny for how a healthy family behaves.

Sam and Victoria are the stellar opposite  of  Bart, and the various flunkies who surround, and obey him, who all witness Danny being treated abusively, and say and do nothing. Bart is a man with many pretensions. He is a user who pretends  at kindness, a gangster with pretensions to class and upbringing, and a bully, who pretends to be a father figure. Thanks to Bart, Danny is emotionally underdeveloped, withdrawn, anxious, and extremely focused on any given task.

The first time Danny wakes up in Sam’s and Victoria’s home, he is frightened and nervous, and hides under the bed. At dinner, he doesn’t know to use a spoon for his soup, and he is still wearing his metal collar. But Sam and Victoria adapt to him as he adapts to them, and are as loving and supportive to him, as they are to each other. They suspect that he comes from a violent situation, and are sensitive about how they treat him, by not asking questions they think would cause traumatic memories ,and they teach him how to live a normal life, as Danny has never been taught to do anything but kill and is completely inured to violence.

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At one point, a fight breaks out in a local store that Sam and Danny frequent, which Danny entirely ignores, saying he was unconcerned because the fight didn’t involve him. This is how well trained Danny is with his collar on. Later, when Victoria reaches to take the collar off, saying its the last vestige of his old life he needs to get rid of, he is terrified that when she does so,  he will attack her, because the only times it was ever removed, he would kill. You can see his adrenaline spike just thinking about it, but he allows her to remove it, and when nothing happens you can see the relief on his face. He trusts himself now, in a way that would not have been possible, earlier in their relationship. As it turns out, he is not the natural born killer Bart trained him to be.

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https://www.loyola.edu/department/counseling-center/students/concerns/abuse

When children are exposed to abuse, they learn to protect themselves through denial, withdrawal, approval-seeking, turning off their feelings, acting out, and self-blame. Using these coping mechanisms during childhood has long-term consequences, which can include lack of trust, a fear of change and resultant difficulty in adjusting, difficulty knowing or showing one’s own feelings, being easily stressed and acting on that by abusing substances, food, and one’s own body, and feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth.

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Sam and Victoria model for Danny how a loving relationship between a stepparent and child is supposed to work.When Sam and Victoria have a disagreement, they argue, come to a truce, and then make up. They disagreed, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still love each other. Contrast that with Danny’s relationship to his evil stepfather  Bart, who gives the orders, and, according to Bart, “the dog obeys!” There can be no disagreement with Bart. When Danny insists that he wants a piano, Bart is angry, manipulative, and cajoling. He screams and/or lies, to Danny, to get what HE wants.

Later, Danny refuses to fight, deciding he doesn’t want to kill people anymore, and Bart becomes increasingly angry and more violent, but is unable to force Danny to do what he wants him to do. Danny sees this powerlessness, and finally connects his mother’s death (which he witnessed as a child) to Bart. He rebels completely and leaves him. This move may or may not be especially cathartic to abuse survivors, but its was certainly good to watch Danny reject Bart. After experiencing so much happiness with Sam and Victoria, he can’t possibly make himself go back to that life.

Bart follows him to his home, with Sam and Victoria, and attempts to kill them, because threatening Danny’s new family is the only leverage he has to make him obey. Danny nearly kills Bart, but is stopped by Sam and Victoria who tell him that he cannot begin his commitment to peace by killing Bart. Bart’s life isn’t saved because Sam and Victoria care about him. Its saved because they love Danny and believe, as he does,  that he should stop killing.

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https://everydayfeminism.com/2016/03/survivors-child-abuse-remind/

#3. You Are Still Loved, Even When It’s Uncomfortable to Accept Love from Others

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At the end of the movie, Victoria tells Danny  his life was saved by music, and this may be true, but really Danny saves himself, by the choices he makes. Like a lot of abuse survivors, he is presented with the option of staying, as the abuser tries to sweet talk him into coming back, and how everything will better, and the abuser will be a nicer person, who really loves them. Classic abuser speak, basically.

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Danny realizes he actually has choices. He chooses to stop killing and commits to it,  he chooses to leave Bart, and sets the terms of it, and finally chooses not to kill Bart, not because he cares about Bart’s  life, but because he cares about his own. But one of the biggest choices Danny makes is the choice to accept  love and support, which is healing for him. With Sam and Victoria, Danny starts to do things he never contemplated when he was with Bart. He makes plans for his future, sets goals, and claims what he desires.

This is not a completely accurate depiction of surviving child abuse, because this is, after all, an action film, but it makes some interesting points about  it. I’m pretty sure  most of the people who walked into the theater to see this, had no idea this would turn into a movie about surviving domestic abuse, but I found it uplifting and fun to watch. True, not all martial arts movies have this level of  depth, but like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, they sometimes have messages, and deal with  serious issues.

 

 

  • Next up on martial arts movies: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and  Colonialism

 

 

Let’s Go Waaaay Back

Now and Again (1999-2000)

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I remember this show aired for one magnificent season, waay back in the 90s, before its very abrupt cancellation. I was totally in love with this show and it was my first huge disappointment in standard network TV. This was a little while before Firefly ever happened. At the time we didn’t have the vast internet systems in place to save worthy shows, so while there was a bit of an uproar, the show didn’t have that vast following of teens and twenty year-olds, with social media accounts, because this was before Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Interestingly enough, the show also has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, so somebody’s heard of it, and been watching it. I do know that several of the episodes are available on Youtube, so check them out.

The first episode stars John Goodman, as Michael Wiseman (get it?) as a tired businessman, who gets killed on the NY subway one night, leaving behind a wife and daughter, played by Margaret Colin, and Heather Matarazzo. He’s given a brand new bionic body (sort of like Steve Rogers) in the person of Eric Close. He is now an asset of the US government, his handler played by Dennis Haysbert.

The show ended on a cliffhanger, as it was abruptly (and by abrupt, I mean absolutely no fucking warning at all) canceled, after Michael Wiseman had, illegally,  teamed back up with his wife and daughter, and would have been on the run from the US government. Its been twenty years, and I still feel some type of way about getting burned like that. I learned a valuable lesson from that, and to this day, I keep my distance from most of network TV.

I was initially interested in the show solely because of the song from the trailer. A couple of years earlier, Janet Jackson had a hit song, using the same melody that was used in the trailer, and since I loved that song (I played the hell out of that song all year), I loved the show, and I made sure to tune in to watch the opening credits, since I didn’t have a DVR back then. The opening credits are gorgeous and I think the lyrics were specially written for the show.

The best parts of the show are the dialogue, and acting, although the plots were ridiculous. It doesn’t hurt that Eric Close is a fine looking White man, and Haysbert is just icing. Somewhere somebody is shipping these two characters. I just know it! The weakest part of the show are the uneven characterizations of some of the characters, and the occasional weird plot points, that raised more questions than were answered.

I loved the show for the interaction between the characters. Haysbert’s Dr. Morris, and Michael, had the most interesting and volatile relationship, as Morris, the head of the program that created Michael, was alternately threatening and very protective of his subject. He tried desperately to keep a tight rein on Michael, but Michael insisted on interacting with his past friends and family. The Wiseman ladies are the real heart of the show, especially Margaret’s Lisa Wiseman. Colin had to carry a lot of the episodes, sometimes entirely on her own.We spent a lot of time with her, and her relationships with all the other characters is key to the mood of the show.

There’s something about all these shows that aired before Buffy that is incredibly shippable, often consisting of two handsome men, of any race, and usually  opposite  personality types, who got on, either very well together, or not so well, but with great chemistry. The two men usually spent a lot of time together, often living with each other, so that a certain level of intimacy was expected. For some reason this happened in a lot of  the less well known SciFi /Horror type shows, and this show was no exception. At any rate, you cannot convince me that at least some of these shows weren’t trying to have LGBTQ representation, in a kind of low key manner, during an era where Gay and Lesbian characters were  forbidden to be out on mainstream TV.

It was the abrupt cancellation of this show that made me start examining the making of TV shows, and start looking closer at which shows got made, which ones, got renewed, and which ones got popular, and why. I also never fully trusted the Fox network ever again, so by the time that shows like  Firefly and Sleepy Hollow were getting  canceled, I was mostly calm about it, while for other people, this was their first time getting burned by that network.

 

The Others (2000-2000)

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I’ve been looking for this series forever, having only memories of the basic plot. I remember that I liked the show, but I couldn’t remember the names of the characters, or the dates it aired, or even the title. Well, I went on an all out search recently (I really just googled the plot and linked it to IMDB) and finally stumbled across the title.

The Others is about a small group of psychic individuals that get brought together to fight some nebulous evil that eventually takes human form, and approaches them in the form of a red-eyed woman, who confronts them with their worst fears and insecurities.

The group consists of a young girl just coming into her psychic abilities, played by Julianne Nicholson, an older gentlemen, who tries to be her mentor and teacher, as he’s an old hand at interpreting psychic phenomena, played by Bill Cobbs, a handsome standup looking guy, with formidable mental powers of his own, played by Gabriel Macht, Kevin J O’Connor plays the groups resident unstable flake, and a pretty young thing played by Missy Crider, who is the only character whose name I remember, Satori. The group, which most of the time acts as a kind of support group for psychics, is led by John “Neelix” Billingsley, who, I don’t believe, had any mental powers, at all.

I clearly remember liking this show, and I was fortunate enough to find all the episodes on Youtube. The show only aired in the year 2000,  lasted for 13 episodes, and then it was quickly forgotten.

*Sigh* I seem to remember a lot of forgotten shows.

 

Wild Wild West (1965-1969)

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The Wild Wild West is another show that originally aired before I was born, from 1965 to 1969, but that didn’t stop me from watching the re-runs of the show when it aired on weekend afternoons during the 70’s. I told you about how I used to watch Westerns with my Mom, like Bonanza. This wasn’t a show she watched, but I was inspired to watch it, because I liked TV westerns, and by the time I started watching it, I was into my SciFi phase, and this show had gadgets, (and funky theme music), like Lost in Space.

It starred the very handsome, Robert Conrad as Jim West, and his smarter and less handsome partner, Artemis Gordon, played by Ross Martin. It also starred the little person, Michael Dunn, as the villain Dr. Loveless. For me, one of the highlights of the show was the technology and gadgets created by Gordon and Loveless. Jim West had clearly been modeled after James Kirk, because his job was to finesse his way out of the various traps created by the show’s villains, and romance various female characters, who showed up to distract him from his job.

In hindsight, this show is clearly in the  Steampunk genre, and yet another one of those eminently slashable shows where all of the proper elements were there but, for some reason, the show didn’t get the Spock/Kirk treatment. You’ve got two handsome White guys living together, and  a merry go round of female characters, who have no intention of ever becoming permanent, but something about this formula was just a little bit off, possibly the show’s timing in the aftermath of the cancellation of Star Trek, and the show never really took off, even though it lasted four years.

I do remember that though Loveless was the villain, none of the things he did was ever alluded to his size, and for some reason that stuck with me. He wasn’t a villain because he was  a dwarf. He was just a man  who kept coming up with  nefarious plans that Jim West kept getting in the way of.

 

 

Millenium (1996-1999)

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Chris Carter isn’t only known for having created the X-Files. He created a couple more shows that were X-Files related in the sense there was a thematic dialogue between all of them about paranoia, state cover-ups, and government conspiracies. Millennium was more along the detective show spectrum and aired during the end run of the X-Files, when Carter’s star had reached its highest point.

Millennium aired in 1996 and lasted for three years. It featured one of my all-time favorite actors Lance Henriksen of Aliens fame, as a forensic profiler, with an uncanny ability to suss out paranormal conspiracies and serial killers. This uncanny ability is presented as the ability to see though the eyes of serial killers. He was retired from the FBI and worked as a consultant for his friend, played by Terry O’Quinn, who worked in the local police department. He had a beautiful wife, and a maybe psychic daughter, named Morgan.

I remember watching the show ,and I even liked a few episodes. I was mildly upset at its cancellation, but I wasn’t too put out, as the show really had run its course, and there were times when the show was a little too grim, and dark, and gloom-filled. Since it was something of an offshoot of the X-Files, this was to be expected. America was going through a specifically angst filled moment.  Some shows are only meant to run for a specific length of time, and then stop, and it was clear that in the third season the show was trying to figure out what to do with itself.

I think one of the shows biggest drawbacks was the acting of the side characters. Henriksen’s acting  was okay, but his wife and daughter were especially cringeworthy. Everyone on the show was deeply, deeply, serious, and dedicated to never smiling about anything. Also, that whole angst filled era, in the 90s, of dark conspiracies and government cover-up-itis, was starting to wind itself up, and seem less urgent. Millennium is one of those shows that, unless you were a huge fan of the X-Files, you didn’t even know existed, or you forgot about, the moment the show was canceled.

The most memorable moments for me was a brief crossover with the X-Files ,and the show opening credits which were suitably creepy, and the shows theme song. I have a head full of theme songs from long extinct shows, and this one is at the top somewhere in my mind. The creepiness factor is something that permeated the entire show, and every character interaction, no matter how light hearted the actors tried to be.

Frank’s interactions with his wife and daughter rang false, and a lot of the characters seemed weighted down by the show’s heavy gloom. This is not a show that was ever going to last. I think audiences just eventually got tired of that level of grim and gave up on it. I gave up in the second season, only tuning in to catch the occasional episode that hinted at Frank’s daughters psychic abilities.

Frank’s denial of his abilities, by the way, were the only funny highlight in the show, as he kept insisting to people that he was not psychic. In fact, I do wonder if the creators of Hannibal the TV series borrowed heavily from this show. Frank’s abilities were never illustrated,  so I’m not sure how they worked. It was only shown that he had a strange ability to encounter killers, which he did in nearly every episode of the first season. By the second season, the conspiracy stuff starting creeping in, and by then I think the audience had simply had enough of Carter’s doom and gloom. That doesn’t mean it was a bad show. It’s definitely worth watching, but  maybe not a weekend binge-watch. Small doses is  the key here.

 

Brimstone (1998-1999)

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This show had one season and during that time made quite an impression on its fans despite its low ratings. People loved the show, and wanted more of it, but there just weren’t enough of us watching it. Satan walking around and interacting with people is clearly a very popular concept, or we wouldn’t have shows like Lucifer or Sherlock, and if this show had aired anytime in the past ten years, especially during our current social media boom, it would have taken off like a rocket.

The show’s major claim to fame was its secondary star, John Glover, who was a really hot actor in the 90s, and who played a very laidback and snarky Lucifer. The lead character was played by Peter Horton as Ezekiel Stone, a cop who ended up in Hell for killing the man who murdered his wife. When 100+ evil souls somehow manage to escape from Hell, Zeke gets suckered into hunting all of them down, in exchange for a second chance at life on Earth, and the potential of getting into Heaven. The Devil is powerless on Earth, but seemingly has no problem harassing Zeke at every opportunity, and watching Zeke grow ever more irritable, and flustered, at his interference, especially since he and the viewers are the only ones who can see him. The two of them had great chemistry, and watching their interactions is  really the best part of the show. Plus its always fun to see John Glover just be snarky. It wasn’t always snark though as the two of them would have some fairly deep discussions about Heaven, Hell, Good and Evil.

Every week Zeke would hunt down some new bad buy, the most memorable of which was the soul of the man he killed, just before the series end. There were a handful of complaints  read on a few message boards about how he was only hunting evil men, most of whom had been serial killers in the world, and some viewers wondered if there were not  female serial killers. Well the writers had to have thought of it because later in the season there was an evil female who, according to my memory of these events ,was eiter a Bonnie and Clyde type character, or some form of a Typhoid Mary. Let me look it up…

Okay, there were several women souls that were hunted and returned to Hell. One of them was a partner in a Bonnie and Clyde type situation, and the other was a Typhoid Mary type, who caused diseases and pestilence. There was also a young French girl who killed the men who raped her in 1458.

That’s another thing. The souls spanned all of history. I particularly remember Richard Brooks being in an episode as a Roman soldier, and some of the souls had backgrounds that were not dissimilar to Zeke’s, in that they were sympathetic, and did not believed that they belonged in Hell because they were righting some wrong that had been done to them, like the French girl. And there were some who were just evil.

At any rate someone put a lot of thought, not just into the interaction between Zeke and the Devil, but into the creation of these one time character’s backstories, and I thought that was pretty cool, as I wasn’t expecting that. I expected the characters to just be one thing. I didn’t expect to care about any of them. If any show that’s ever been on TV is rife for a remake, or re imagining, its this one, but as I said, it may already have been done in the show Lucifer, which also mixes crime investigation and detectives, with the Devil.

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting In The Twilight Zone

 

Sadly, this is the final season for Into the Badlands. It was not renewed for a fourth season on AMC, and surprisingly, I’m okay with that. Into the Badlands was groundbreaking in so many different ways, and I really did love the show, despite how it treated its one Black female character in season two, (and I explained in a previous post why that didn’t stop me from watching the show), but most especially in its representation. It had an Asian male lead, adequate representation of women and Black people, in an alternate future timeline, and the show has the distinction of having the only Black/Chinese- American woman, Chipo Chung,  kicking ass on this show.

I’m okay/ not okay with the cancellation, because it will be followed by a first class runner up: Warrior, which is airing on Cinemax. I gotta get my Martial Arts fix! Warrior is an homage to Bruce Lee, featuring a concept he came up with early in his career (and eventually became the show Kung Fu),  but was not allowed to implement, because Hollywood had no fucking idea what to do with Asian men back then, except mock them or erase them.  I’m a huge Bruce Lee fan, so I’m here for it. The representation is beautiful and accurate for the time period, and its just nice to see more Asian people in TV shows, (although now we probably need to see fewer of them doing something besides Martial Arts and Comedies. Hi, Sandra!)

Warrior

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Warrior is a complicated show, with a lot of depth and detail. Its based on an early idea Bruce Lee had for a story about a man from China, wandering  the  American old West. This was basically the premise of the show Kung Fu, which starred David Carradine, about a Shaolin Monk named Caine. Actually that idea was stolen from Lee,  it generally lacked Asians, and when they were present, it was only in supporting roles, in a show that was supposedly about Chinese immigrants. David Carradine is not Asian, btw.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kung_Fu_(TV_series)

This show is produced and directed by Justin Lin, of Fast and Furious and Star Trek fame, so I expect the most out of this, since I like Lin, and think he’s a good director, and he mostly does not disappoint, The show is very dense with meaning and action scenes. You don’t need to know anything about the history of San Francisco, Chinatown, or what was going on in China, to watch the show, but it helps if you have a little bit of grounding, and pay close attention to what the people say on the show, because they talk about things, even though all the ass kicking is distracting. It also helps if you’ve religiously watched any of Bruce Lee’s movies, because there are  more than a few very nice Easter Eggs. That outfit, for example, that Ah Sahm wears below is a callback to the outfit Lee wore in The Big Boss, (although in all his movies, Lee’s shirt gets artfully torn off. Later, Ah Sahm’s shirt gets artfully torn off, too.) I don’t know if that actor is deliberately channeling Lee’s  acting/ fighting stances, but he looks great doing it, and it made me smile.

 

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Check the stance!

The series is based on the real life events of the late 1880s, in Chinatown, when there were a series of Tong wars, mostly over the Opium Trade. At the time, in China there was the aftermath of the Opium Wars, and the beginning of the Boxer Rebellion (against the Qin dynasty). Into this stew of rivalries, steps Ah Sahm, a Martial Arts champion of some kind, who is in America looking for his sister. He finds her in the first episode, so that mystery is out of the way, but she wants nothing to do with him. She has a traumatic past,  and current secrets, like being married to the leader of a rival Tong than Ah Sahm works for, secretly working behind her husband’s back with an American, who wants to keep Chinatown destabilized, and going out at night as a vigilante to kill White men who harm Chinatown citizens. (At least I think this is her, or perhaps a character we haven’t met yet.) Her dance card is pretty full, and the last thing she needs is an appearance from her wayward brother, trying to save her. Plus, she hates him.

In fact, a lot of the women in this show live in complicated circumstances. The pretty blond wife of the town Mayor, (I think her name is Buckley), hates her husband, has compassion for the Chinese,  and is having a very open relationship with his secretary, or brother, or somebody , who lives in their house with them. It is unclear if he approves of their relationship, although he most certainly knows about it. Oh yeah, there are a lot of bare  titties in this show, so be aware of that, if you’re letting your kids watch this, although I suppose if you’re letting them watch all the hyper-violence and cussing, you should not have a problem with female presenting nipples. (There’s equity, too, as plenty of male presenting nipples are also on display. Okay, it’s mostly Ah Sahm.)

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The show starts off with everyone speaking Cantonese, and gradually, during one long take, they start speaking English. That was done so smoothly, that I  missed it the first time. The residents of Chinatown have their own English language terms, their own slang, and it can be hard to know what some things mean. You pretty much get thrown into the deep end on this show, and if you’re not of Chinese descent, it can be a little overwhelming. Even though I know a little  something something about Chinese history, I was still having trouble keeping up, having to watch the  episode multiple times.

https://www.geek.com/television/the-story-of-warrior-bruce-lees-long-delayed-tv-series-1781391/

The title of the epis. is called The Itchy Onion, and I’m not sure what Onion means, except it’s a slur that some Chinese people were calling one another in the show. I know a slur when I hear one, and that’s exactly what it is. An “itchy” one is the equivalent of the Black people version of the word “froggy”.  As in , “Do you feel froggy? Then you just jump!”. Its a call out to a fight. And conveniently, Ah Sahm kept getting called out by everyone he meets. Some challenges he backed down from, but others he just jumped right in with gusto. Most especially, the first fight of the show, when he first gets off the boat, as he totally thrashes a trio of bullying White bigots. I stood and I applauded, because that is such a Bruce Lee thing to do, he could have written that scene himself. If you’ve watched any of his movies, then you know he hated bullies, and always stood up for the underdog.

And what glorious fight scenes we get! I’m telling you, I was tired after watching this show. Ah Sahm has several fights, all of them well done, and very cinematic, rivaling any scene in Into the Badlands. He also kinda has a big mouth and is well aware of his skills.

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Where the show falls flat is in the depiction of its female characters ,and some of the White characters are less than compelling. One of the most interesting of that group is a White police officer, who emigrated from Georgia after the Civil War, named Richard Lee, and played with a very  genuine sounding Georgian accent, by the very British Tom Weston-Jones. What is is with English men and Southern American accents? Anyway, he volunteers to be amember of a Chinatown Detective Squad after several of the residents are murdered by angry Irishmen, who are concerned about losing their jobs to foreigners. He is the only cop on the force with integrity apparently, and he does have some ass kicking skills himself. I’m looking forward to watching him team up with or face off against Ah Sahm, cuz you know it’s coming. They will probably team up though, because while Bruce was angry about a lot of things people did, he also believed that cooperation and unity between the races was a good thing, and he championed that in several of his movies, (most notably, Enter the Dragon.)

There’s a wealth of information out there about Bruce Lee, and an 8 part video series about the making of  the show. Each video is only about five to ten minutes long, but if you want to know more about Bruce Lee’s ideas about life and the show, there are several documentaries floating about Youtube, so check those out:

 

Further Reading:

Tao of Jeet Kune Do by [Lee, Bruce]

Bruce Lee Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Wisdom for Daily Living (Bruce Lee Library) by [Lee, Bruce]

Bruce Lee: Letters of the Dragon: An Anthology of Bruce Lee's Correspondence with Family, Friends, and Fans 1958-1973 (The Bruce Lee Library) by [Lee, Bruce]

The Twilight Zone

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I mostly skipped the first episode of this season, which seemed to have a The Shining vibe to it, as a man, Kumail Nanjiani, sells his soul and life in a comedy club. Its creepy and haunting, but didn’t really hit me much, even though Tracy Morgan gives a great performance, 0009199119299

and I’m not particularly interested in shows about comedians. I did watch the second episode, and I really enjoyed it, although I think it went on a wee  bit longer than it needed to.

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2019/04/with-the-comedian-the-twilight-zone-addresses-some.html

The second episode of the Twilight Zone, Nightmare at 30,000 Feet, is an homage to one of the every first episodes of the original series, and Jordan manages to pull this off very well, without me being able to predict what’s going to actually happen until a few minutes from the end, even though you’re told what’s going to happen at the end. The original story,  Nightmare at 20, 000 Feet was written by Richard Matheson and starred William Shatner, and I thought this episode would be a retread of that story. In the original story, one of the passengers sees a gremlin tearing apart the wing of the plane. He  has a panic attack, while trying to convince everyone on board that there is a monster on the  wing. This episode also managed to make its way into the Twilight Zone (one of my favorite) movie and starred John Lithgow.

In this remake, they change the story up a bit. Just as in the original, you  sort of travel around the cabin meeting various odd characters, as the lead character slowly loses his shit,  as he becomes aware that something is wrong with the plane.

Justin Sanderson tries to avoid Fate when he finds a listening device on the plane that is cued up to a podcast that discusses the loss/crash of the flight. He spends the rest of the episode trying to convince people that the flight is doomed, or trying to stop it, which, when you think about it, isn’t really his responsibility. This was more than a little frustrating to me, because I know the rules. In trying his best to stop it, he ends up causing the problem, and I could have told him that’s how Fate works.

Before this,  we get treated to some nice foreshadowing on the number 015, and he argues with his wife about the PTSD he’s been experiencing, after witnessing some shit go down in Tel Aviv. This gets the audience to question his sanity. So we learn a lot about him through dialogue, and he’s not an unlikable character, but there were times I wanted him to just sit his ass down, and stop trying to help, because I just knew HE was going to be the reason the plane crashed, and I also knew it would have something to do with that “extra” character on the plane, with speaking lines, who appears to have no actual purpose. But none of this weakened my enjoyment of the episode becasue it was just fun.

The character that does end up crashing the plane, a drunken ex-pilot named Bob, was someone who felt really off to me the moment I saw him. I was immediately suspicious of his presence on the plane, especially since he was so friendly with Justin, for no reason, and most especially after he said he was a pilot.

There’s a funny little moment when Justin confronts a couple of Sikhs, and tries to get them to stop speaking their language out loud,  or people would get suspicious. They just  roll their eyes at him and tell him they’re not Muslim, and to go away somewhere, which I thought was funny/but not funny. Jordan always makes sure to mention some social issue we’re currently dealing with in all his horror stories, and Muslims on airplanes is something (White) people are  still freaking out about in the US.

Jordan is very successful at upping the tension, especially in such a confined space, so in that sense, its as good as the original episodes, and well worth giving it a watch. And if you know little factoids about the original episode there’s some nice Easter Eggs in it.

10 Non-Spoiler Things We've Learned From Jordan Peele's 'Get Out'

But what stood out for me is Jordan’s summation at the end of these  episodes, in which he seems to be channeling the full spirit of Rod Serling. Standing there in a suit, holding either a glass of wine or champagne, with Serling’s vocal mannerisms intact,  this is more than a little creepy, and kind of funny. I’m so used to him being a comedian that I just expect him to burst into laughter at any second, as if he was just putting me on. I couldn’t help a nervous giggle.

For some reason people are so surprised at Peele’s turn towards Horror, and how he is so successful at it, but these must be people who didn’t watch Key and Peele. Peele has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of Horror movies, and he was forever referencing them on the show.

In fact, a lot of the comedy on the show was clearly  horrific, with a punch line tacked onto them , like the episode, Das Negros,  where two Black men in whiteface pretend to be Nazis in order to hide from a Nazi officer looking for victims of the Reich. It’s a terrifying idea by itself, and it’s full of tension, but made hilarious by the idea that the officer is dumb enough to fall for their bad makeup jobs, and his silly stereotypes of Black people. Peele seemed to fully understand the idea that fear and laughter both spring from the same fountain, and can be turned towards one or the other by  the addition of the ridiculous. In the Twilight Zone remake, the tension and horror are still there, but the ridiculous has been removed, leaving a distinct unease.

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https://www.okayplayer.com/culture/jordan-peele-series-of-horror-films-get-out.html

I have four other social thrillers that I want to unveil in the next decade…The best and scariest monsters in the world are human beings and what we are capable of especially when we get together,” Peele said. “I’ve been working on these premises about these different social demons, these innately human monsters that are woven into the fabric of how we think and how we interact, and each one of my movies is going to be about a different one of these social demons.”

I’m so looking forward to Peele’s next work and the rest of his career. I’m also looking to the far future when he starts making those Dramas, that, like with  Cronenberg, I know live somewhere in his mind.

I Saw It On Youtube Again!

Purl

This cute little video, from Pixar, is an allegory for workplace sexism. I was especially drawn to it because Purl is so sunny,  and happens to be a ball of yarn, (probably wool) and I love knitting. I found myself rooting for her, and actually feeling disappointed, when she wasn’t behaving according to my expectations!

 

 

 

White Savior

This is one of the funniest sketches about movie cliches I’ve ever seen. Seth Myers perfectly captures the trope of The White Savior, who comes barrel rolling into every scene where a Black character might appear to need a little assistance. The part of the video that made me laugh the loudest is the scene where the Black woman befriends a racist character because yeah, these types of movies love to  present the idea that forgiving the  racist is going to end racism, and we would all just get along if Black cozied up to our oppressors.

Black people are so inundated, in movies especially, with the idea that we should not be angry about racism, that this leads me to believe that White people’s deepest, most terrifying, nightmare, is Black people being angry about racism.

 

 

 

Kitbull

I thought this video was just cute. It’s from Pixar, the same studio that produced Bao by Domi Shi ,which just won an Oscar.

 

 

Juanita

This movie, about a Black woman who just wants to go on vacation some where, any where, else, and stars Alfre Woodard,  and who is totally underrated as an actress, will air on Netflix.

 

Detective Pikachu

All I know about Pokemon did not come from being a fan, but from living in a house with fans. My two little sisters pretty much controlled the TVs in our house, when they were kids, so I got a crash course in Pokemon, even though I really hated the show. Nevertheless, I did manage to develop favorites like Pikachu, and Bulbasaur, so I was really tickled at the thought of this movie. Who came up with this crazy idea? And what were they smoking?

 

 

We Got Cows

There are a whole series of these videos about cows being attracted to yodeling women. They just come running! And then they just stand there listening. And nope,  I don’t understand why I find that deeply funny.

 

 

 

Hood Naruto

Everything I learned about Naruto came not from being a fan, but from watching gifs about it on Tumblr, and some things are just hilarious, even when you know almost nothing about the subject beyond the character’s names. From what I’ve observed, Black people really, really, really love Naruto, so that explains these types of videos. I am not, however, one of those Black people, and I have not bothered to fix it, probably because I just enjoy being a contrary asshole.

 

 

 

Time For Sushi

This was just a series of weird dance videos I found on Youtube. Watching this is probably going to really mess up my algorithms probably.

Yes, these figures are naked. No, they are not real people. No, I have no idea what the hell is happening, or why this happened, but if my eyeballs had to see this, yours do too.

 

 

 

Time To Do The Dancing

I don’t want to make fun of these people, but they make it so easy. Goths are so tortured with angst, that they can’t look as if they enjoy dancing, and that attitude makes this look like some weird exercise video. Nevertheless, they do  manage to approach their lack of enjoyment in body movement, with a great deal of enthusiasm. So, they probably like “the dancing” but can’t be seen to be enjoying themselves, since dancing pretty much goes against being “Goth”.

 

 

 

Stupid Spider Videos

There’s an entire series of these videos of mate-dancing spiders twerking it to various songs like YMCA, and Staying Alive. I do not like spiders, as a rule, but I can watch these without issue because they’re just so ridiculous. This one with the lightsabers was…well, see for yourself.

Tumblr Celebrates Black History Month

As a general rule, I try not to post a whole lot of negative stuff on this blog, unless it’s directly related to Pop culture. There has been a lot of racist fuckery, just this month, that we’ve been dealing with. I am, at this point in my life, inured to (i.e. tired of) the abject stupidity of the American public when it comes to the subject of race, and hey! it is Black History Month! What I’m not gonna do is turn this blog into a space that chronicles White wtf*ery towards Black people. There are plenty of places on  the internet that already do that. Let’s celebrate some positive/happy stuff. Like I said before, “Don’t bring me no bad news!”

I’m going to focus on the positive, like the first, recorded, Black, onscreen kiss. They are so cute!

GERTIE BROWN & SAINT SUTTLE

“Something Good-Negro Kiss,” the newly discovered William Selig silent film from 1898 is believed to be the earliest cinematic depiction of African-American affection. Thanks to scholars at the University of Chicago and the University of Southern California, the footage is prompting a rethinking of early film history. The performance by cakewalk partners Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown is a reinterpretation of Thomas Edison’s “The Kiss,” featuring May Irwin and John Rice. The film was announced December 12, 2018 as a new addition to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry—one of 25 selected for their enduring importance to American culture. The 29-second clip is free of stereotypes and racist caricatures, a stark contrast from the majority of black performances at the turn of the century.

 

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Bayard Rustin has been largely erased from the Civil Rights struggle. I wonder why.

dicksandwhiches 

Bayard Rustin was an openly gay Black man who was Martin Luther King’s right hand man. He planned the Million Man March and was subject to scrutiny for his sexuality and deemed a “deviant” and “pervert”.

Bayard Rustin can be found in nearly every picture of MLK yet he has undoubtedly been erased from history. We have to fix that.

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Well then, let’s bring that name back.

Bayard Rustin, openly gay, human rights activist, proud black man.

(the guy on the left in case you wondered)

Yeah he was literally the guy who was the head of planning the March on Washington.

If you want to learn more about him, there’s a great documentary on him called Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin

 

You can watch the full documentary here (until March 31st, 2016)

I did a research project on him, Ella Baker, Claudette Colvin and Stokely Carmichael comparing their contributions to the Civil Rights Movement to the lack of recognition and misrepresentation they received in commonly used high school American History textbooks. All of these people played major roles in the Civil Rights Movement—almost on par with MLK—yet they go largely unnoticed or unfairly pushed aside not only during their time, but even now in classes on American History. These men and women deserve to be remembered.

 

Source:

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There has always been a thriving Black film industry, especially for comedies and romances. Movies like Black Panther are not new, and it is mostly an outlier because of its sheer scale. But there a lots of beloved films about everyday Black life and romance that have little to do with the  stereotypes of mainstream Hollywood.

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I couldn’t wind this up without a shoutout to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Black LGBTQ+ Resources

It’s February, which means it’s Black History Month! Similar to how I made an LGBTQ+ resource post for Native American Heritage Month in November, here are some resources for Black LGBTQ+ people (as always, feel free to contribute if you have more resources!)

GLSEN Pages:

Historical information from the US National Park Service:

Some Black LGBTQ+ Creators:

Other Helpful/Informational Links:

Source:

Kingdom (Korean Zombie Series)

 

I cannot speak highly enough about this show, and I want to watch it again before the 15th (before I’ll be binging Umbrella Academy). If you’re a fan of historical fiction, zombies, and political intrigue, then this is your show. The fact that all the political intrigue takes place in Korea’s past is completely irrelevant, because you will enjoy the ride. You will especially enjoy it if you watched the movies, Train to Busan, or Seoul Station, because this is from the same creators, although it is unknown if the movies are part of a trilogy, with the show.

Now, I can’t say for certain, but it is possible that Kingdom is a prequel to Seoul Station, which takes place in present day  Korea, and involves a zombie contagion spreading among the homeless. Train to Busan is about a zombie contagion that takes place among a crowd of middle class commuters, in the present day, in another area of Korea, simultaneous to Seoul Station.

Image result for kingdom korean zombie series gifs

Kingdom takes place in Korea’s ancient past and is about a zombie contagion that spreads among the populace, after the King becomes infected. While the peasants fight for their lives, the Crown Prince attempts to do his best to help save them while the rest of the nobility fight among themselves for access to the throne.There’s some neat character arcs in the series. When we first meet the Prince, he is attempting to see his father, who has been incognito. What he doesn’t know is The King had been turned into a zombie by  the medicinal use of a small purple flower, that grows in the mountains.

The current Prince is next in line to the throne, and he is indolent and kind of lazy. He’s spent most of his time enjoying himself rather than learning statecraft. There is a rival clan that wishes to put one of their own on the throne because a daughter of that clan is the King’s pregnant wife. Most of the time at court, is spent driving away the Prince, and pretending the King is still alive, but in seclusion, until that woman’s child is born, as that child will have precedence to the throne over the current Prince.

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As the crisis with the zombies deepens, we watch as  the Prince steps up to care for his people in their time of need, which parallels the journey made by the lead character in Train to Busan, who goes from a selfish man, who nearly gets one of the other passengers killed, to sacrificing his life to protect them. Several times the Prince risks his life to save peasants, including several children. He steps up to be as courageous, and smart, as the peasants believe him to be. The other officials, whose job it is to take care of the villagers, turn out to be a lot less so.

Each iteration of these stories addresses the  issues of classism and poverty from three differing points of view, so I can’t talk about Kingdom without talking about the previous two films, because even if the films are not part of a trilogy, they are connected by their themes. In Seoul Station, the entire contagion begins among the homeless , when one of the men in that community, dies  and resurrects. His brother tried get help for him, but kept getting rebuffed  by people who had nothing but contempt for him. If he had been able to get medical help for his brother, the situation would not have evolved the way it did.

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In Kingdom, the villagers in the outlying areas are starving to death because the local officials are neglectful in their duties, being more concerned with their pleasant lives, than if people are dying. When one of the bodies the King has fed on, is shipped home to one of the villages, someone chops up the body, and puts it in a stew, which the starving peasants eat. For the record, most of the bodies the king has fed on, don’t resurrect because they have been immersed in a pond on the castle grounds.

One of the interesting things about these zombies is they only resurrect during the night. It isn’t until later that we find out why that is, but until then, since no one believes in their existence until its too late, no one takes the opportunity to get rid of the bodies before nightfall.  As soon as the sun rises, the zombies fall down, and appear to be dead. The bodies that have been dumped into  the palace’s pond have also not resurrected, for some reason.

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The homeless man, in Seoul Station, spends nearly the entire  movie running for his life, after having met, and saved, the life of the young woman at the center of the film. She too is a member of the underclass,  a sex worker with no real home of her own, after she breaks up with her boyfriend. Neither of them have anywhere to go, so must stay out in the streets, trying to avoid the zombies. At one point, she and the old man have simultaneous emotional breakdowns about wanting to go home, and not having one to go to.

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Every opportunity people have to help them, they don’t,  including the police. The two of them get attacked or turned away. Some of the characters declare that the old man smells bad. The young lady makes a less than favorable impression, as she spends most of the movie in her bare feet, after she loses her impractical shoes. No one will help either of them because they are considered smelly, or  dirty, or  worthless. The movie isn’t just an indictment against the existence of homelessness, but an indictment against the classist snobbery that does nothing to help them.

In Train to Busan, you have another class of people, the middle class, riding a train, when a contagion occurs. You have businessmen, grandmothers, high school students. In other words, respectable people. The kind who were looking down on the primary characters of Seoul Station. Trapped in an environment no one can escape, they are shown as being selfish, full of contempt for those they think are less than, having no loyalty to one another, yet  acquiescent to any form of authority.

The man with the most power and respect is openly malicious  towards the other characters, at one point, expressing a rage filled rant towards a teenage  girl he regards as stupid. At several points in the story, he gets people killed because he wants what he wants, and in his mind that takes priority over whatever those “lesser” people want. So once again we have the themes of classicism and selfishness and snobbery. All the other characters learn to be selfless too late to save themselves, as they really get  the chance to band together. The lowest person on the class scale is the wrestler and his wife, both of whom start the story as giving and altruistic people. There is also a homeless man in this movie as well. He dies too, but he does so giving his life to save others, just as the wrestler does. This same level of personal growth is shown in The Kingdom, when  the Prince rises to the occasion, to become a true leader who makes smart, brave  decisions for the welfare of the villagers, and  always from a place of empathy.

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In Train to Busan, two old women, sisters, are watching news footage of the zombie attacks on TV and, mistaking the attackers for rioters, they both express disdain for “those people”. After one sister gets infected, the other gets everyone in her train car killed, after she opens a door to let her sister inside. Her selfishness, (because she certainly isn’t thinking of the welfare of the others in the car), is what gets everyone killed, which is an interesting turnabout, as it was the people of that train car who selfishly kicked  some of the other survivors out of that car, at the commandments of the selfish businessman.

In Kingdom, the ruling officials in the area, at every opportunity to save the villagers, elect to save themselves. During an uprising of zombies, a fleet of boats is burned, leaving only one boat left. The officials and members of the local nobility, decide to take the one boat for themselves, after promising to evacuate the villagers. Unknown to them, one of  the infected has made its way onto the boat. They are all killed, and their boat destroyed, when the contagion breaks out.

While the movie is full of Game of Thrones style intrigue, its still fairly easy to follow, although you will probably not remember any of the character’s names. Even though its a series, rather than a film, it’s every bit as intense as the first two films, with the quiet moments only serving to build up the tension before the next attack, which everyone knows is coming, so a lot of daytime events have time limits on them. It is a very intense show, with lots of running, fighting, and bare escapes. Yes, children are endangered in this movie, some of them are killed (offscreen) and there are child zombies.There are also some really good plot surprises, as well, so if you’re watching this  because you find the plot intriguing, you will be satisfied. The movie is both subbed and dubbed, so those of you who hate reading subtitles can listen in English, and vice versa.

I cannot recommend this movie hard enough to anyone who is a fan of zombie movies and shows.

Kingdom is a six part TV series available on Netflix.

Hannibal Season Three: Contorno (5)

Yes, I’m still writing these. I’m not finished. We are  coming up on the initial episodes of the third season, that I wrote reviews for, which were part of the Red Dragon arc. I’m going to rewrite those reviews in light of my new viewpoints.

When the season first aired, I wasn’t particularly interested in the first half. Like a lot of people, I stopped watching after the second season, and didn’t pick up the show again until the middle of season three, when the Red Dragon arc began. I missed all the stuff about Chiyoh, how Hannibal left Bedelia, and how Lecter was captured by Mason Verger, which in hindsight, was probably the most dramatic part of the season, as it reunites him with two of the people he most wronged last season, Alana and Mason Verger. That may have been the reason why some of the last part of the season was baffling to me. But I’m about to go through the process of re-reading those reviews, and see if my current thoughts line up with what I said back then.

 

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This episode begins with three separate threads, and ends with all those threads converging on Hannibal’s location. This starts out as one of those quiet episodes that you don’t think will have much relevance and is merely setup for the next, after all Contorno means side dish. But side dishes can be very filling too, and this was a satisfying episode.

Will Graham has left Lithuania with Chiyo in tow, both of them headed to Florence by train, where Hannibal is holed up with Bedelia. Chiyo and Will discuss what they will do when they finally reach Florence. Will says something that alarms Chiyo, and she pushes him off the train. She has  appointed herself to be Hannibal’s protector, since she no longer guards his prisoner, and doesn’t seem to bear him any ill will for having put her in such a position. I do remember being initially confused as to why Will kept trying to kill Hannibal, even after he supposedly forgave him for killing Abigail. Chiyoh’s understanding of Will is very direct. She states that Will is afraid he will become like Hannibal, which means, of course, that Chiyoh knows exactly what Hannibal is, and seemingly doesn’t mind.

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Chiyoh seems utterly devoted to Lecter, which is something I have a problem with because you have this submissive Asian woman, this stereotype, following around, and protecting, a White male serial killer. Certainly she is deadly, but she is so passive in her interactions that she almost seems like she’s asleep. The most active thing she does is killing, so maybe she’s as much like Hannibal as Will , and that’s the reason she understands Will so well. I do wish the series had played that up more than it did, and established her as someone who, like Will, is trying hard to resist becoming like Hannibal, because this is not something made explicitly clear, and its also something which is at odds with how we are first introduced to her. When we first met her ,she had managed to resist killing Hannibal’s prisoner for years, but once Will sets her free by killing the prisoner himself, she is shooting people left and right, on Hannibal’s behalf.

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Jack Crawford makes his way to Florence as well, where he releases his wife’s ashes into the river, and  relinquishes his wedding ring. Its as if, in the hunt for Hannibal, he is divesting himself of everything that makes him Jack Crawford. Jack is a straigt up “manhunter” now, with no distractions, and he is on the path of vengeance, something that wouldn’t be condoned in polite society, (or by his late wife), and he doesn’t want any vestiges of his old life, or the man he used to be, to interfere in that mission. He meets Reinaldo Pazzi, who tries to talk him into arresting Hannibal with him, but Jack demurs. He doesn’t want Hannibal arrested. He wants him dead.

Hannibal, heeding Bedelia’s warning that he is being hunted, is waiting for all these people to arrive, so he can get all this killing done. He knows Pazzi, Jack, and Will, are closing in on him.  Of the three men, Will is the one of which he is least certain, but then Will has always been a wild card for Hannibal, and difficult for him to predict his actions. Will could just as easily come into the situation and help him, as try to kill him.

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Alana Bloom proves to the audience why she is who she is, as she figures out where Hannibal is, using “psychology”. She knows Hannibal  better than most, and uses her intimate knowledge of his tastes and habits to determine that he is in Florence, tracking him through Bedelia’s purchases of fine goods. In the meantime, it appears that Bedelia is trying to get caught, or get help ,or something. She makes a purchase, and then, wearing a very distinctive outfit, goes to the train station, so she can be caught on the station’s cameras. She wants someone, somewhere, to notice her. She is either asking for help, or concocting an alibi.

Mason Verger, having discovered where Hannibal lays his hat, puts out a bounty on him, which Pazzi accepts. Its illegal for a  member of law enforcement to take money in exchange for an arrest, (even in Italy), so Pazzi doesn’t inform any of his colleagues that he has found the Beast of Florence. Mason gives Pazzi instructions on how to collect the bounty. He must provide a fingerprint as proof that its Hannibal, and Pazzi meets with Hannibal to trick him into giving one. Hannibal kills Pazzi by gutting him and stringing him up outside a window, the way one of Pazzi’s ancestors was killed during the Medici era.

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This particular scene is from the sequel to Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, in which Clarice Starling has tracked Hannibal to Italy attempting to capture him. In fact, some of the dialogue between Chiyoh and Will Graham,  is taken directly from that book. There are also several parallels, in the next two episodes, of scenes from the book, only with Will Graham and Jack in place of  Starling.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pazzi_conspiracy

Most of the conspirators were soon caught and summarily executed; five, including Francesco de’ Pazzi and Salviati, were hanged from the windows of the Palazzo della Signoria.[2]:140 Jacopo de’ Pazzi, head of the family, escaped from Florence but was caught and brought back. He was tortured, then hanged from the Palazzo della Signoria next to the decomposing corpse of Salviati. 

Pazzi is the descendant of one of the most notorious Italian families of the Renaissance. His ancestor, Francesco de’ Pazzi, was hanged during something called The Pazzi Conspiracy, in which a plot was contrived by several individuals, to assassinate Lorenzo and Giuliano de Medici. There are parallels to this story of people converging  to assassinate Hannibal, and there will be parallels to this history later in the series, as Jack, Will, Alana, and Frederick Chilton come together to take out both  Hannibal Lecter and The Red Dragon.

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Hannibal’s killing of Pazzi is interrupted by Jack Crawford, who followed Pazzi to their meeting, and there is a continuation of that fight that Jack lost in season two. Only this time, Hannibal gets his ass kicked, because Jack came prepared to fight dirty, and gives Hannibal no quarter. This is the first time we’ve really seen Hannibal  fighting for his life and on the defensive like this.. All the other times when we had seen him in danger, it was usually because of a stealth attack. Hannibal barely survives by using the disemboweled body of Pazzi to break his fall out of a window. Thoroughly chastened, Hannibal limps off to lick his wounds. He knows its just a matter of time before he gets caught, and that all he’s doing is postponing the inevitable, but he is determined to go down fighting.

My Favorite Smart Films

Inspired by my recent viewing of Annihilation, I wanted to take a look  at some films I really, really, liked. The kind that most inspired thoughtful reflection, confounded the hell out of me, or just made me smile with joy at the sheer talent involved in the making of it. Here are just eight of some of the smartest movies of the past thirty years, divided into four categories, movies for The Mind, The Body, The Spirit, and finally, Just For Fun.

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The Mind

Some movies are satisfying on an intellectual level. The plot, the  characters, or the design, and look of the film is mentally stimulating. The movie makes you ask questions, provokes thoughtful consideration of its themes , and leaves you puzzling over its message.

 

Dark City (1998)

One day I’m going to have a do a full review of this movie, because it really doesn’t get enough love. Released in 1998, and written by Alex Proyas, who also wrote The Crow, this movie so inspired  Roger Ebert, that he did three different commentaries for the DVDs. Proyas has credited the  look of the film as based off of the film noir of the 40s, most specifically, The Maltese Falcon. The film stars Rufus Sewell as an accused murderer, William Hurt as the detective who hunts him down, Jennifer Connolly as his wife, and Keifer Sutherland, as the mysterious Dr.Schreiber.

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Most of the film takes place at night and has a mysterious and ominous feel to it. The story is winding and circular, referenced by the Fibonacci spirals we see in the opening credits sequence, and again, when one of the characters paints the walls of his bedroom with repeated versions of the symbol. As a viewer, you enter into the outer rim of the  story, just like in the symbol above, knowing no more than its protagonist, John Murdock, who wakes up naked, with amnesia, in a bathtub, in room 314. (Look up Job 3:14 in the KJ version of the bible for the significance.) He is  forced on his journey, through the darkness of this cityscape, by a mysterious phone call, and the arrival of a group of malevolent Men in Black (a classic Scifi trope). As he follows the clues to his identity, so do we, slowly spiraling inward to the heart of the mystery of who John Murdock really is, and the existence of the nameless city in which he lives.

What I love about this movie is that viewers know exactly as much about what’s happening as Murdock. We don’t know his name until he does. We don’t know where he is until he finds out. We are definitely on a journey of discovery with him, and what he finds shakes the foundations of his world. Literally!

 

Inception (2010)

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This movie wasn’t difficult for me to understand, although a lot of other people seemed confounded by it. It’s definitely one of those movies where you are given all the facts and the rules of its universe, and are then left to your own thoughts, to make of it what you will. If that is something you’re not used to doing, then the movie will only be confusing for you.

It is very well possible that almost the entire movie is no more than a dream, within a dream, within  dreams, and I’m inclined to think that way about it, if for no other reason than it explains much about Cobb and his crew, and some of the odd phrases and coincidences that occur in the film. My personal theory is that Cobb falls asleep on the airplane ride home to  see his children. I think the entire movie is  Cobb having a weird dream about dreaming, at least partially brought about by grief at his wife’s passing, and guilt at having spent so much time away from his children on a business trip. He has just heard the news of the death of Michael Fischer’s father, and has probably met him on the plane, and so his dream is bound up in all these elements. Here’s why I think this:

Ariadne: A mythical figure that is associated with mazes and labyrinths because of her involvement in the myths of the Minotaur and Theseus. Her father put her in charge of the labyrinth where sacrifices were made as part of reparations 

Ariadne, played by Ellen Page, is tasked with creating the mazes that the crew will be dreaming through during the inception of Fischer’s mind.

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When I heard her name, I knew I might not be watching what I  thought I might be watching, and there are a number of odd moments, (his wife’s suicide while perched on the ledge of the building opposite him, his unwillingness to look at his children’s faces, and the fact that the children do not age, and no timeline is ever given for when certain things happen). There are bits of information, and other clues, that have lead to all manner of theories about this film. The overarching  feeling of all of these theories is that the entire movie is Cobb’s dream. Some people speculate that there is no purpose to his dream, some say it’s to alleviate his anxiety and guilt for going on a business trip and leaving his kids alone, after his wife’s suicide, and others say that the purpose of Cobb’s dream is to extract the truth of his wife’s death, and that it’s Ariadne’s purpose (like any good therapist) to help him do that. I do believe his story that he planted the idea of the world not being real in his wife’s mind.

When I first saw the movie, and Cobb claimed to have killed his wife, I  didn’t believe him. My very first thought was that it was just an expression of his guilt, and grief that he couldn’t stop her from killing herself, that he was the one who planted the thought in her mind that made her suicidal, and now he has left his children all alone to deal with their confusion. It is also not out of bounds to believe that the information of his wife’s death is being extracted from him for therapeutic purposes, in the real world, by Ariadne, and I like that idea, because it parallels the  emotional inception that he’s engaged in with Fischer, who is  dealing with guilt and grief over the death of his father. Fisher’s inception involves reconciling with with his father’s death, and Cobb’s dream involves reconciling with his wife’s.

One could argue that the thought incepted to Cobb is that his wife’s death is not his fault, so that he can free her projection from his dreams. Ariadne specifically states that his wife is trapped in his subconscious, and until he lets go of  his guilt and grief, his wife can’t leave. To that end, he and Ariadne have to make their way through the maze of Cobb’s mind, to the vault at his center, and release her.

Honorable Mention: Paprika by Satoshi Kon

 

The Body

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These movies cannot, technically, be called body horror movies in the same way as movies directed by David Cronenberg, (who seems to have a lock on that subject), but they do involve thinking  about the body, and how we move through the world, of how we intellectualize our physical self, and what purpose we have, in the bodies we possess. These movies are opposites in a sense. In The Addiction, the lead character’s body betrays her attempts to control it, and she fights as hard as she can to reach some kind of equilibrium with what her body wants. In the second film, the lead character must learn to embrace his physical self. If he wants to be complete, to feel whole, he can’t simply ignore what he is,  but must accept all of it,  and to that end, he leans into himself, and learns to trust and control his body, much as his nemesis, Mr. Glass, had no choice to do, at a very early age.

 

The Addiction (1995)

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I am still confounded by this movie. I have some vague idea what the purpose of it was, but I think that, unless you’re a student of philosophy, you probably won’t have any idea what the Hell the point of this movie was either.

The Addiction is a 1995 vampire movie directed by Abel Ferrara. In it, a college student, named Kathleen,  played by one of my favorite actresses, Lili Taylor, gets attacked by a vampire played by Annabella Sciorra, who blames her for her attack. Kathleen then has to try to understand what’s happened to her, and how to deal with her new addiction to blood, without letting it destroy her life. She meets Christopher Walken’s character ,who tries to wean her off blood, claiming that he has conquered his addiction, but he is unsuccessful, and Kathleen goes on to infect several  people in her neighborhood. Looked at closely, it can seem like the movie is an an allegory about sexual assault, and how the survivors are permanently changed by what happened to them. But it can also be seen through the lens of infectious disease.

The most intriguing aspect, for me, is that Kathleen lives in a mixed neighborhood, and  infects one of the homeboys who live down the street from her. I would watch an entire movie about a Black guy from the ‘hood, who gets infected with vampirism, and how that might play out, especially if it were done in the same style as this. What’s interesting is the soundtrack reflects the environment too, featuring Cypress Hill, Rick Rubin, and Onyx.

At a party to celebrate  Kathleen’s dissertation, she and the other vampires stage a bloody attack on her faculty, and friends. Kathleen longs for death, and we find out at the end of the film, that she died over a year ago, when she visits her grave at a nearby cemetery.

It’s an uncomfortable movie, filmed entirely in black and white.  It’s unlike a lot of horror movies. There are no jump scares here, and the  mood of the film is melancholy. It feels harrowing, even though there’s not that much action, or gore, because the images are so stark. There are long interludes of dialogue, as characters attempt to come to terms with what’s happening to them, as Kathleen blames them for her addiction, and several scenes of Kathleen unsuccessfully fighting against her compulsion to feed. Much of the movie involves scenes of Katherine fighting against her need for blood, giving in to it, or trying to reason,  or come to terms with it somehow.

The film has been considered an allegory about drug addiction, as well as an allegory of the theological concept of sin.[1] It contains philosophical, theological and other intellectual content, including references to HusserlNietzscheFeuerbach, and Descartes. The film also features a vampire quoting theologian R. C. Sproul, who is a critic of Roman Catholicism.

 

 

Unbreakable (2000)

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There is something viscerally satisfying about watching this movie, and discovering, as we go along, that we are watching a superhero origin story. The story is told in such a lowkey manner that, for at least the first half of the movie, you believe that characters are simply delusional. This is a more philosophical approach to a genre that’s usually more physically oriented, but it does follow the classic superhero origin story tropes. The protagonist discovers he  has abilities, he practices learning how to use them, and then an enemy presents to challenge him. Where this movie differs is that it is the antagonist who helps the hero discover his abilities, and the final confrontation between them doesn’t result in a fistfight, but is sad and horrifying because they have become friends.

Superhero movies are essentially about people dealing with physical power, in that almost all of them are about someone discovering they have such power. They have to relearn how to use their body, how it works, and then use that knowledge to find their purpose. This movie explores the same themes but in a much quieter way. The lead character is discovering his power, but he is a grown man who supposedly leads a full life, that he feels is empty, having given up the use of that power, for his future wife, when he was a teenager.

His nemesis is a man with almost no physical power, suffering from the disease, osteogenesis imperfecta. Unable to overcome his disease, he has spent his life concentrating his power into his intellect, and the only way he can experience a sense of worth is by having a foe, the kind of foe outlined in the comic books he’s read all his life, the physically perfect, unbreakable man, versus the fragile, but mentally superior enemy, something that is illuminated in the film’s dialogue. He doesn’t just have the task of discovering his enemy, but  has to make him realize his purpose. What they are to each other. Mr. Glass came to grips with his physical limitations when he was a very young child. He was admonished by his mother to not choose fear, or being afraid would become his go-to choice for  the rest of his life, and Mr. Glass is indeed fearless.

David must go through the same process as an adult, because earlier in his life,  he chose fear. Afraid he would lose his then girlfriend, he chose to ignore and suppress his abilities, and fear became such a habit for him that he was living an unfulfilling life where he could  find no joy in his family. That choice, to be afraid, ironically, almost results in the loss of his wife anyway, and an emotionally distant relationship with a son who is trying, desperately, to connect with his father.

Honorable Mention: Mad Max Fury Road and Akira

 

The Spirit

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Some movies are satisfying on a spiritual level. It just feels good to watch them, as if you had eaten a very good steak dinner for the soul. This is the spiritual version of comfort food. The movie Tree of Life can be viewed from so many different angles, from the religious to the secular, that it could just as easily fit into the The Mind category, but for me the message of the movie is spiritual, mostly because of the music.

Tree of Life (2011)

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I am not a religious person, in the sense that I’m not a believer in any particular belief system, but I do think about religion, and religious messages, a lot, and I’m not immune to media with a well thought out emotional, and spiritual message. This movie also subscribes to no particular version of Christianity, but its spiritual message seems evident.

You have to be prepared that most of the movie contains voiceover, and there is not much dialogue. Tree of Life is about a man looking back on his childhood, with his overbearing father, and his angelic mother, after receiving news of the death of his younger brother. That’s the basic plot. All else is gravy.

Tree of Life is a gorgeous looking movie, a perfect marriage of theme, visuals, and sound, and very possibly Malick’s best film to date. I have never been able to watch this movie without tears, or a sense of awe. Even if you’re not an especially religious person, the movie is worth seeing because its transcendent, evocative, and philosophical.  I would have put this movie under The Mind but the music propels it to a level beyond thought to one of deep feeling. One day I’m going to have to review this movie, because I have my own ideas about what  it means, but for now:

Here’s Bishop Fr. Robert Barron explaining the religious message behind Terence Malick’s Tree of Life:

 

The music of Tree of Life is a treat for the senses. Ethereal, epic, awesome. If you have not seen this movie, and you love larger than life drama, with cosmic set-pieces, and if you like movies by Bertolucci, Herzog , or  Kubrick, you will enjoy this movie.

 

 

Spirited Away (2001)

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This movie is spiritually satisfying on multiple levels and a little hard to describe. On the surface this about a frightened, lonely and uncontent little girl, dealing with moving to a new village. Chihiro is whiny, frightened, and clingy in the beginning of the movie, but by the end of the film, she has discovered her power, her confidence, her self assurance.

There is something about this movie that so  deftly speaks to the spirit of little girls, that they all want to return to this world over, and over, again. This movie was released in 2001, when my youngest sister was ten years old. She immediately fell in love with it, and watched it at every opportunity, and so did her sister, who is a year older. Neither of them ever seemed to get tired of it.

Five years later, her daughter, hereinafter referred to as The Potato, was born, and I introduced her to this movie, when she was about five or six. She still watches this movie today. She has a sister, (nicknamed, Lil’ Mama) , who is six years her junior, who is also thoroughly enamored of this movie. At this point the movie has become a family tradition, (along with My Neighbor Totoro), and I expect to be around to introduce this movie to their daughters.

I’m uncertain what essence of  little girl in me is attracted to this movie, but I’ve never seen anime more wholesome than a Studio Ghibli film. Most of the primary characters in this movie are women, of all ages, body types, and  emotional demeanors.

 

 

Just Plain Fun

 

Some movies are just really, really fun, and therefor good for all three aspects of the self. They feel good, they sound good, and they look good. You never get tired of watching them because there’s always some tiny details to discover.

 

Pulp Fiction (1994)

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There’s a lot to love about this movie, beyond its nontraditional structure, which is what first captured me about this movie. I loved the intellectual exercise of piecing together the linear plot of the movie after it was over, and I loved the dialogue, the side stories, and all the little details and sights that you miss if you’re not paying proper attention, and are a nice reward on subsequent viewings.

Ostensibly its about some odd adventures during the course 48 hours in the life of Jules and Vincent, who are hitmen for a local gangster named Marcellus Wallace, but there are several stories and sideplots, some of which are only tangentially related to Jules and Vincent’s day. The movie starts off in a perfectly normal gangster/hitman,  comedy type manner, with some banter and some killings between the two men, but as it moves forward, the feel of the plot starts to shift, to become more  discordant, until the end, when you’re left with a deep disquiet, as the  movie turns out not to be as  light weight, or “feel good” as you first thought. As the plot moves forward, things start to go horribly wrong, to go off key, and ultimately ends in tragedy.

In the meantime though, the subplots are very interesting, like the opening one, where Vincent accidentally kills an informant (wrong note number one), and he and Jules need to call in a Cleaner, called The Wolf, played by Harvey Keitel. Then there’s Vincent’s dance off that evening, with Mia Wallace, the wife of the gangster he works for. The dialogue is also a lot of fun too, showcasing Tarantino as a force to be reckoned with in that department. There’s the now famous conversation between Jules and Vincent about the names of burgers in Amsterdam, and a  conversation with Jules teasing Vincent about the significance of the foot massage, after he finds out about Vincent’s date with Mia. But the standout scene  is Christopher Walken’s character, a former military man, who tells a story about a pocket watch.

Yes, there are parts of the movie that are, to put it mildly, cringeworthy, but those parts don’t outweigh the sections of the movie that are the most fun, or nerve wracking.

 

Goodfellas (1990)

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This, too, is one of my all-time favorite movies, (and  completely different animal from Pulp Fiction), that I never get tired of watching, but not for the reasons a lot of people like it. I see it as chronicling  the decades long relationship, the rise and fall, of people who are supposed to be friends, Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry. For me, this movie is a fascinating dive into  these three very different personalities, and how all of them eventually come to a sad, and in one case horrible, ending because of the kinds of decisions they made in life.

Henry made the decision early in life to always be a follower. We follow Henry from his childhood fascination with the mobster life, through his initiation, his introduction to Tommy, his marriage, and his several falls from grace due to paranoia and drugs. Along for the ride is his wife, Karen, loyal to the end, his boss Paulie, a father figure who abandons him in his time of need, to protect himself, and Tommy, a psychotic rageaholic, who is as likely to kill a man as look at him.

The performances are superb, with Joe Pesci’s Tommy being, very probably, the most pants-shittingly scary gangster I’ve ever watched. Every moment he’s on screen is filled with tension because he is entirely unpredictable. Even Henry treads lightly around him, and Jimmy, who is also known as Gentlemen Jim, uses Tommy as his nuclear option whenever he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. At one point, Tommy accidentally kills a boy not much older than Henry was when he decided to be a gangster, without even a hint of remorse, and then there’s that classic scene between Henry and Tommy, ta scene that’s been spoofed in dozens of movies and standup routines  since then, when Henry, rightly, thinks Tommy might actually be capable of killing him, for thinking he’s a funny guy.

The camera work is extraordinary, the long traveling shots of Henry moving in and out of covert spaces at the beginning of the movie, and the busy shifts in  camerawork, and rapid  shifts in music, towards the end of the film, that parallel Henry’s paranoid, coke induced, freefall which  presages his capture by the police.

While we’re doing that, we get to listen to some of the greatest music of the twentieth century, showcasing scenes which have since become iconic feats of filmmaking, from Henry and Karen’s first date, serenaded by The Crystal’s Then He Kissed Me, to  the Lufthansa scenes, shot to the tune of Eric Clapton’s Piano Exit from Layla, followed by the death of Tommy:

The music in this movie could almost be considered another character. This is Scorcese’s masterpiece, and he has never topped it, (although Casino came pretty close  by reiterating the tropes created in this one). It’s Scorcese’s musical choices that make this one of the most incredible films of his career. This was a director at the top of his game. Its not a surprise that this movie won for Best Picture that year.