I’m sick. So here’s what I’m watching.

I’m working on the second day of being sick- a head cold- the dog’s helping, of course. He’s laying on the couch in front of a space heater, and nudging me to take him out on walks. I’m Google Hangout-ing into my work meetings and keeping my microphone on mute so they can’t hear me hack and they can’t hear me talking to the dog as he’s pestering me.

When you’re sick, it’s the best time to binge watch TV. That’s definitely what I’ve been doing.

Community – Last part of season 1: 

My friend dog-sits for me and lets me use her Hulu account. I log in and see the “Shows You Watch” category. We have clear differences in what we like. You can pick them out: Hers- Kardashian things, Grey’s Anatomy, uh… actually I have no idea what else is on there because they all seem like variations of those two things. Mine: Community, Seinfeld, Adventure Time, Stephen Universe, Samurai Jack.

Community is finally getting good. I’ve heard friends say how they love the show because it plays with the format of the sit com itself, but I hadn’t gotten to that part until now. The first part of season 1 is kind of mood-setting, treating the characters as you would in any sit com: the weird one, the shy one, the cool one, etc etc. But after a certain point in season one they start being self-referential. It’s starting to get good. I dose up and… oh great my ADD or cold meds are kicking in. Here’s what else I’m watching-

Hell On Wheels : 

Cheesy at parts, but then it redeems itself with some beautifully screwed up racial politics and dynamics. It’s like Deadwood-light. With less likable characters.

Batman: Year One : 

I’m sure I watched this before at some point, but I can’t remember. This is the adaptation of the comic that began my love of Batman and gritty comics. It’s a faithful retelling of the comic book story. The best part is Bryan Cranston as Gordon. Oh and you wouldn’t know it from listening to her, but it’s Katee Sackhoff as Ellis. Or is it Ennis? I’m still on cold meds. I can’t wait for The Killing Joke to be released next month, even if Rotten Tomatoes did rate it pretty harshly.

Sleepy Hollow (the Tim Burton movie) : 

I rated this on one of my blogs a couple of years ago and I think I was more disturbed by it back then as opposed to now. It’s a good movie. Bloody as hell but that’s part of the fun. It’s cool to see Christopher Walken have no lines in the movie and yell like a madman. Netflix informed me that Big Eyes was also directed by Tim Burton, and I’ve yet to see that so I suppose that’ll be coming up soon in my sick-watch list.

Soundbreaking (PBS series): 

It looks like George Martin (Not R.R.) helped fund this cool series about music that’s kind of divided up into weird sections. Voice, electronic music, producers- each episode takes a different facet of each of those and then lets the pros in the field do the talking. There’s no voice over narrator. It’s great zoning-out TV, with a parade of all these people from every musical genre talking about how they make music. It made me plug in my guitar and pedals and start noodling around on it. My dog woke up and gave me the stink eye for a bit so I stopped.

Spotlight:

Holy shit, this movie is fantastic. (No pun intended there.) It’s along the lines of Woodward and Bernstein uncovering stuff, but it’s great and if you’re like me and despise organized religion, this will just get your ire up even more. I love watching Michael Keaton act in just about anything (maybe Mr. Mom is an exception). It’s appalling how many priests got away with molesting kids and how the Catholic church covered it up. The movie making is kind of on the dull side, as my friend Bill pointed out when I texted him about how great this movie was. He’s right, but I think it works for this narrative. There’s also only one black guy in the whole movie. Hey if we’re making a movie I think it’s okay to cast against type and race every once in a while. Just try that more, Hollywood. Okay?

I’m sure there’s more but I can’t remember them. Didn’t John Donne keep some kind of diary about when he was surviving the plague? I’m sure if he had Netflix, he’d be much happier. Did he have a dog? He needed one of those, too.

(Forgive all the misspellings in this post. I’m not 100% with it.)

Shamelessly plugging my movie podcast

Hey, I’ve also got a movie podcast where my friends and I talk about whatever movie we feel like talking about. Check it out – I’ve got some Coen Brothers movies, Big Trouble in Little China, and Her (the Spike Jonze movie).

Here’s a link to the blog, and you can get download or subscribe to the podcast from there:

https://11telegram.wordpress.com/

 

Movie Review: Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome

It’s January of 2016. Here in Minnesota we’ve got the state caucuses coming up March 1st. I guess that’s in lieu of a primary election. I’m a Bernie supporter, myself. I think he’s going to do well. In the midst of all of those politics – the commercials, the folks popping up on talk shows- we’ve had some deaths that kind of caught us off guard. David Bowie died last week, and so did Glenn Frey.  Before that it was Hans Gruber, aka Alan Rickman. Abe Vigoda just died today. The greats are leaving us. Passing on to whatever their next adventure is. Hopefully making more awesome movies and music for us to be entertained by in the after life.

And in the middle of all of that media-hype, that death and politics gossip – I feel like I’ve been non-stop lately. Work. Dating. Roller derby. Movies. Comic books. There’s so much to do that I feel like I can’t keep up with it all.

Mad Max : Beyond Thunderdome (1985) – George Miller

There’s so much right about this movie. It’s one of the most 80s of all 80s movies.  It’s hard to encapsulate all of the things I love about it – Miller continues to reflect back at us all of the ideas and tropes that Eastwood had for us with The Man With No Name. Max doesn’t say much because Max is everyone. He’s all of us. He’s the audience’s surrogate that we get to experience the weirdo drama of pseudo-BDSM bad guys and good guys in the desert. Tina Turner sits in a high perch above Bartertown and yells through steampunky tubes at Master Blaster. Mel’s still at the height of his career and charisma. Long hair Mel? Sure, I can get on board with that. There’s a chase scene at the end of this one, and it again feels like we’re one step closer to the amazing balls-to-the-wall adrenaline fuel of Fury Road – the cars look more “Mad Max-y”. Okay, that’s self-referential. They look more apocalyptic and otherworldly than they did in Road Warrior. More spikes and cobbled together auto mobiles. Miller’s love of physically out-there folks is apparent, too – Master Blaster is an icon in the sci-fi movie scene. The huge lug with the little person calling the shots. In Fury Road, we’ll get glimpses of different types of people, but they’re all in the background, not front and center like it is here in Thunderdome.

master-blaster
Master and Blaster – I wonder if they got voted in.

We see the same actor who played the gyrocopter pilot back in the road warrior first thing in this movie. He’s flying above Max in the desert with a kid who we presume is his offspring. This time it’s a plane not a gyrocopter. The compelling thing here is – is this the same guy? This is the gyrocopter guy, right? I mean, it’s the same actor. But Miller’s not one for making just a straight-up linear narrative. Yeah, it could be the same guy. Yeah, this movie COULD be a sequel that comes after- there’s proof for that in his grey-er and longer hair. But that’s not the point. This is just another Mad Max story swirling around in the ether. Events and chronology don’t matter. Max will be there to blast into the next weird encounter of a post-apocalyptic society with a demented leader.

mad-max-beyond-thunderdome
They’re looking into the future – Sorry, no Fury Road parts were available. 

Miller also made this one softer- not as many gruesome deaths. A story about children finding their way out of their Peter Pan-like existence and into the cityscape. The bad guys don’t die under the wheels of semis in this one. Hell, even at the very end once the children and the pilot dude escape, Tina Turner doesn’t even get all that mad. She gives Max the grin that we’ve seen in many cartoons and movies of “Boy, you’re a worthy opponent” and then she leaves him in the desert as she heads back to her dust-steam-punky land of Bartertown.

I grew up with this movie. I’ve watched it many many times. I’m not sure why, exactly. I don’t think my dad was the biggest Mad Max fan. Maybe it was because HBO had the rights to show it in the 1980s. For whatever reason, this movie is solidly ingrained into my brain and soul. It remains probably my favorite Mad Max movie. One of the reasons it’s my favorite is for Tina’s song at the end – We Don’t Need Another Hero. I was watching this movie with a friend who’d never seen it before. The credits rolled and the song started up, and I pointed out that she says “All we want is what’s beyond the Thunderdome” – she’d never put it together that the song was written specifically for the movie. We’re missing that in today’s pop movie landscape. More movie-specific songs by bands made to play over the credits!

 

Movie Review: Watchmen (And more Chinese food).

Watchmen: “Part two of the weird comic book movie double feature.”

You’ve gotta watch this movie if you’re trying to retain or obtain your Boy Scout merit badge in being a COMIC BOOK NERD. Okay, that’s not exactly accurate. If you’re trying to be a certain TYPE of comic book nerd. What kind? Probably the kind that I am – pseudo-intellectual, into violence, and willing to justify some brutal scenes for the sake of the story. I’m the type of comic book nerd that will say, “Yeah, I like the X-men, but it’s GRANT MORRISON’S run that is really great.” or, “Sure, Batman’s great, but c’mon it’s Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One that matters the most!”

Look, it’s Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ brain child of a comic – well, that’s where the impetus came from anyway. Alan Moore is, to use Marc Maron’s oft-used phrase, “A dark wizard” of comic books. He’s responsible for V for Vendetta. He wrote Watchmen. He despises the hell out of the movie adaptation. Go Google it. He’s adamant about Watchmen only existing as a comic.

But the movie, right? Zach Snyder’s best one so far. Whatever qualms Snyder has about this movie, as far as I can tell, shouldn’t be that it’s not faithful to the comic (well, with one exception that I’ll mention in a minute) – shot for shot, it seems like in my memory he delivers it. Rorshach, the story, the Comedian, Night Owl, Dr. Manhattan’s shlong – it’s all there like it is in the comic.

Okay, but the thing for me is – this movie differs, just like the comic- from other superhero movies that are out today. It takes these goody two shoes heroes and shows us the dark side of them. It’s brutal as hell and twisted.

My friend and I watched this as part two of a double feature, Unbreakable being the first. I wanted to shake up the taste in our mental mouth-brains of the current swath of Marvel Comics superhero stuff. And I didn’t really want it to be the overly weighty and self-important shtick of The Dark Knight or Man of Steel (blue-grey washed out everything movies). My friend and I – we’re blissed out on vegetarian fake meat in our Chinese food. We’re in a big pile on the couch with my black Florida dog in the middle of a cold Minneapolis winter. To be honest, I’m snoozing in and out because it’s late and dark and I’ve got above-mentioned 60 pound snoring dog on my lap. The images come into my brain when I come to – a fever dream of a blue god on mars talking to a girl who looks like a 60s go-go dancer, a guy with prosthetics on to make him look like Dick Nixon, a guy in an owl costume… then I’m out and these images are dancing around inside my noggin, the MSG or whatever they put in the Chinese food making me trip a little, or at least pound my blood sugar to the point that I’ve got a complex carb coma going. It’s nightmarish, and I think that’s the point.

It’s a good movie if you’ve got the stomach for some pretty gruesome scenes. Watch this if you’re trying to impress the angsty comic nerds in your life. Watch it if you’re into spandex and a lot of cynicism about the human race. Do it with your belly full of General Tso’s and dark 10% beer.

 

Unbreakable and Chinese Food

We got vegetarian Chinese food – the place was like 15 minutes away, so we ordered, loaded the pup up in the car (with a sweater on) and headed out. He looked dopey with his red doggie vest on, but it’s cold out and he’s a Florida dog.

Minneapolis at 6pm on a Friday night is dark and for some reason the roads always look slick. It’s January. It’s cold, but not as cold as it normally gets, I’m told. When we had our slightly off center comic book movie double feature of Unbreakable and Watchmen, it was in the twenties, but today it’s dropped down to a high of 1. That’s a high of a single degree.

We picked up our Chinese food – General Tso’s with mock chicken, and some kind of Thai with mock beef – We parked on Eat Street, went in, picked our food up, and walked back to the car. I’d forgotten the pup was waiting there for a moment so I jumped a bit when I saw a nose pressed against the window with big brown eyes staring back at me. I got in and patted his snout and we went back home.

First movie: Unbreakable by M. Night Shyamalan.

We watched Unbreakable first. After eating our Chinese food. We came to the decision to eat first and then migrate to the couch based on how we didn’t want dog nose in our mock beef sauce and he can’t keep himself out of our personal bubbles. So, we sat at the table in my kitchen, chatted, drank dark beer, ate fake meat from paper containers, and then moved to the couch to watch the movie on blu-ray.

Unbreakable, starring Bruce Willis, is a helluva good movie that holds up 16 years later. It’s a slow moving movie. It takes its time with revealing things about characters. How do we know Robin Wright and Bruce are having trouble in their marriage? Because we see her sleeping on the pullout sofa in the guest bedroom downstairs. We see Bruce tell her goodnight and walk upstairs where he’s sleeping in the same bed as their son. And even that – HE is the one sleeping in the bed with the son. Not the mom. It’s a weird twist that shows maybe how close he is to his kid, or maybe not- maybe since the split the kid is just afraid that his dad will leave? I really like when movies drop these very believable little details into a movie and don’t over explain them. Why? Well, because life is weird and messy like that. We don’t always get the explanations for why things happen.

Unbreakable also has great framing. I can’t remember if I read this, heard it on an interview, or came up with this myself – but M. Night frames so many of the shots like comic book panels. We’re watching Bruce talk to a woman on the train, but the camera is situated between the two cushions of the chairs in front of them. It goes back and forth from one to the other as they talk, only ever having one of them in the frame. There’s the scene in the hospital where Bruce is between the curtains and in the foreground someone is bleeding to death after the train wrecked. The shots give us the panels to watch these characters in.

The reveal of the super powers is great, too. Bruce learns about his strength when he finds he can lift all of the weights he owns at the same time. But here’s again where they did the right thing in this movie – it was a STRUGGLE for him to lift those weights. He could still do it, but it was an effort. A lesser movie would’ve had him lift the weights no problem. But here, it’s struggle. He’s pushing himself. Here’s the thing – if it’s not a struggle to do the great things our super-powered heroes do, then why do we rally behind them? You root for the underdog. You want the strongest guy to give it his all and persevere – if he doesn’t need to give it his all, it’s just some magician making it all look too easy.

Samuel L. Jackson is great in this movie, also. The evolution from sick little kid to (big spoiler alert here, if you haven’t already seen the movie) maniacal villain causing mass destruction is actually believable. His motivation is twisted but there’s a sick kind of logic propelled by the need to figure himself out. I can’t think of a single other villain who has that motive: I need to find my place in the world and why I exist. It’s so evil and so relatable at the same time, which is probably what makes it so good.

There’s the scene where he falls down the subway stairs while chasing the guy who Bruce had just kicked out of the stadium. He’s chasing him to see whether or not Bruce was right about having a gun tucked into his pants. In the midst of chasing him, Sam Jackson falls down the stairs- and since his character has a bone condition – we hear bones snapping and legs twisting in slow motion. It’s a brutal scene that shows off M. Night’s skill as a director. It felt cringe worthy and painful where I think in a different movie, it wouldn’t have had the same effect. I can’t tell if it was the specific angle that he shot it at or if it was the right amount of slow-mo. In any case, it was great.

The other Sam Jackson scene that stands out to me is after the accident where he fell down the stairs, and he’s in the comic book shop. He’s sitting in a wheel chair, completely expressionless. He’s downtrodden after hearing that Bruce actually isn’t invincible, that he was in the hospital after being almost drowned in a pool. They show Sam Jackson’s depressive state by having him sit there, spacing out, as the sweaty comic book shop owner guy tells him that he has to leave. The brilliant move of having Sam Jackson slam on the breaks periodically while being pushed out of the comic shop serves to move the plot forward. He figures out that Bruce’s sickness happened because of water- which is like his Kryptonite- after ramming into stacks of comics. The answer, the epiphany comes in the form of a comic book cover literally being dropped into his lap. There are so many terrible trope-y ways that we could’ve seen Sam Jackson come to the same conclusion- use of a montage with bad music, in a lab talking to himself, a conversation with another friend- but this way is so much more tasteful.

Probably the scene that makes most people uncomfortable, but is also one of the more humorous scenes in the movie is when Bruce’s son pulls a gun on him and his wife in the kitchen. After believing that his dad might actually have some sort of super powers, his son was excited. Bruce tells him that no, he doesn’t have powers and to prove his dad wrong, the son pulls a gun and threatens to shoot his dad to prove it. The scene was claustrophobic and tense. The shot lingered and there wasn’t overpowering music. It felt tense and real. But there was enough of a pressure release valve when Bruce says “Friends don’t shoot friends!” Every time I see this either me or someone I’m watching the movie with lets out the same kind of laugh: a short staccato bark that quickly gets enveloped by the seriousness on screen. Eventually they get the gun away from the kid and everyone on screen and off is relieved. They slump down onto the floor in the kitchen and I can finally easy back into my chair.

This movie is especially refreshing in the wake of plot-filled ensembles. I like my big budget action movies. I like huge explosions and gods in spandex walloping on each other. But there’s a place for these types of movies, too, in the universe of comic book adaptations. The slow moving considerate film that really lingers on the feeling of other-ness and things happening to yourself and others that you don’t quite understand. I’d like to see more of these for sure.

(Post-script: This entry kind of got away from me. I intended to write part two on the Watchmen, but I’ll have to save that for another post.)