November 2020 in Summary: The End Is in Sight?

Only one month before this year is finally over. About time, huh? Fortunately, it appears that there’s a light at the end of this tunnel…

Films watched in November 2020:

In theaters:

  • <None>

At home:

  • Papillon (Franklin J. Schaffner, 1973)
  • McCabe & Mrs. Miller (Robert Altman, 1971)
  • Class Action Park (Seth Porges & Chris Charles Scott III, 2020)
  • The Kid (Charlie Chaplin, 1921)
  • Alice in the Cities (Wim Wenders, 1974)
  • The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Peter Yates, 1973)
  • Slap Shot (George Roy Hill, 1978)
  • The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987)

I started off the month by seeing Papillion. Comparisons to The Great Escape are apt, as they are both true stories about a prison escape – even taking place in roughly the same era. Although Papillion isn’t as acclaimed or well-known, I would go as far as saying it has a slight edge over The Great Escape. Don’t get me wrong – they’re both good, but I give the nod to Papillion because it’s just a bit more focused, which allows the epic quality of the film to come across better.

By now, I think I’m starting to see a pattern when it comes to classic films I don’t enjoy. If a film predating the French New Wave (roughly 1960 or so) falls short in my book, nine times out of ten, it’s because of story-related reasons (e.g. Odd Man Out, The Bad Sleep Well, and Vertigo). If a film postdating the French New Wave fails, it could still because of story-related reasons, but it’s just as common (if not more so) that it fails because the filmmaker went for a style-over-substance approach (e.g. Blow-up, Breathless, and Tokyo Drifter). Yes, the French New Wave is one of cinema’s most celebrated movements, and while I can agree that it had a net positive impact on the medium, I feel it taught many artists all the wrong lessons when it comes to their craft – that attitude and ego are more important than writing talent. As a possible consequence, I want to say it’s at least partially responsible for gulf between critics/filmmakers and their audience widening to the extent that it has now. Tellingly, while game makers eventually and quickly moved on from that when they realized it wasn’t working out, filmmakers haven’t gotten the memo. Defenders will talk about the unique power of cinema, and while I can get behind using the medium’s intrinsic properties, I am, with very few exceptions, going to side with the storytellers over the posturers.

McCabe & Mrs. Miller falls in the latter category, being mostly plotless and lethargic for a majority of its runtime until the ending when it utterly fumbles its goodwill. It is intended to be a deconstruction of westerns, but having recently seen High Noon for the first time, I found it to be redundant. Indeed, McCabe & Mrs. Miller reminds me a lot of Ex Machina in how it is highly thought of and thinks highly of itself despite coming as way behind what other artists accomplished before them (High Noon in the former case; Virtue’s Last Reward in the latter case). Now obviously, Alex Garland is nowhere near Robert Altman’s level of talent, so a not-so-good film from the latter is still more valuable than the average film from the former, but McCabe & Mrs. Miller is a tough sell. Stick with High Noon; it manages to be a better deconstruction without any of the fluff or filler present in Mr. Altman’s work.

Next, I watched the new HBO documentary Class Action Park. Action Park is an incredibly fascinating subject for a number of reasons. For those unfamiliar with it, I think the following photograph sums it up nicely.

Yes, they thought it was a good idea to send kids down this thing. Better hope you didn’t get stuck!

Whereas today’s water parks have strict safety regulations, Action Park had none and primarily employed teenagers who frequently took advantage of the freely distributed alcohol to get drunk. As a result, there was a good chance you would get severely injured there. To doctors in the area, it was also known as Class Action Park, Traction Park, and Accident Park, and locals would call the ambulances the Action Park Express.

So, basically this, but in real life.

And even this description doesn’t do the insanity justice, so I’d say it’s worth checking out. It is said that there is nothing in the world like Action Park. That is both technically true and probably for the best.

Nothing like being able to watch a nearly 100-year-old film from the comfort of your own home, huh? Charlie Chaplin was a master of blending comedy and drama, and his incredible knack was seen as early as his 1921 film The Kid. It’s not as good as some of his later work, but it’s definitely worth checking out. Plus, it’s in the public domain, so seeing it is easy enough.

After that, I ended up seeing Wim Wenders’s Alice in the Cities – the first in his Road Trilogy. Ever wanted to see a film go on for a long time without a single piece of dialogue, yet somehow isn’t the least bit boring? This film has got you covered. It’s about as simple of a story as you can get, yet watching its two leads journey through the German countryside manages to be highly enticing all the same.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle isn’t Peter Yates’s most famous film (that would be Bullitt), but it does manage to be interesting in its own right. In fact, with its focus on the Boston criminal underground, I found it to be a rough precursor to Ben Affleck’s The Town. It’s not quite as good, and it’s one of those films I think I’d have to rewatch before I know where I stand, but I did think it was interesting enough. Plus, its jazzy soundtrack certainly helped.

Now that I think about it, hockey is kind of the perfect genre for a sports comedy. We’re talking about a sport that, in real life, has much slapstick potential (literally), so making it into a comedy is just taking things to their logical conclusion. And this film certainly delivers on the front. The hilarious brutality of Paul Newman’s team brings to mind the infamous antics of the Philadelphia Flyers – who were known at the time as the Broad Street Bullies due to winning their games more though physical intimidation than technical skill. They managed to gloriously punch their way to two back-to-back Stanley Cup wins in 1974 and 1975, though. George Roy Hill already had at least two great films under his belt (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting), and this is another solid recommendation.

Finally! A work with “The Last” in its title that didn’t turn out to be a major disappointment. After The Last of Us, The Last Jedi, and The Last of Us Part II, Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor broke that curious losing streak. I can certainly see why it managed to win all of the awards it was nominated for in the 1988 ceremony, as it is a true epic that encapsulates an interesting point in Chinese history. It’s quite the melancholic film, as it details the life of the Qing Dynasty’s last emperor Puyi, starting his life being waited on hand and foot only for him to eventually realize the rapidly changing world no longer has a place for him. You really get a sense as to just how much the world changed between his birth and his death, and the film manages to provide an amazing journey worth seeing for yourself.

Films reviewed, but not watched in November 2020:

Knives Out

Cool in the moment, yet doesn’t make a lick of sense in hindsight? Must be a Rian Johnson film.

Rian Johnson fans were incensed about the “Best Picture” nominees when Knives Out failed to receive a “Best Picture” nomination (it did receive a “Best Screenplay” nod, but lost to the far worthier Parasite). While I myself think there were a few worthy contenders that were overlooked (most notably Us and The Farewell), I have to say that for the 2019 season, the Academy was on point. This time, the problem wasn’t that the Academy picked unworthy films, but rather the fact that nine nominees arguably wasn’t enough to do 2019 justice. Now, if Mr. Johnson had released his film a year earlier in the creative wasteland known as 2018, he may have received a nomination (sadly, had it competed with those eight films for “Best Picture”, it wouldn’t have been anywhere close to the worst of the bunch). The problem is that in 2019, he was competing with people more than talented enough to keep him out of the running.

At the end of the day, Mr. Johnson is a director highly regarded less on the merits of his talent and more because he plays nicely with contemporary critical sensibilities. Someone that artistically passive may stumble their way into a significant prestige by accident, but it’s not going to be the result of any purposeful action on their part.

To be completely fair, I understand why he’s a sacred cow with the mainstream media, for while The Last Jedi wasn’t good, the people behind the backlash were even worse.

I mean, when you’re standing opposite people like this, you don’t even have to try to claim the moral high ground; you’re practically placed there by default.

Once again, you have to realize that not everyone who took issue with The Last Jedi is an anti-progress troll. Owen Gleiberman of Variety, a man who is very much aligned with the left and makes that known in practically every article he writes, concluded that The Last Jedi isn’t one for the ages and called it out for its litany of unfortunate implications. And you know what? He was absolutely right.

While Knives Out is far from the disaster that The Last Jedi was, its better reception is less the result of Mr. Johnson having stepped up his game and more because there’s only so much damage you can do when you’re an adequately competent writer-director conceiving your own self-contained narrative. Alternatively, he did take a step or two forward, but that was after having taken three steps back. In a way, I find he’s basically a second Alex Garland inasmuch that he can come up with great ideas, but isn’t as interested in the legwork required to make them work (for what it’s worth, he is a better writer than Alex Garland, though). The argument has been made that the murder-mystery genre suits Mr. Johnson’s strengths better, but it just reinforces the idea that giving him complete creative control is a bad move. That and the fact that he assembles an all-star cast consisting of the likes Jamie Lee Curtis and Toni Collette only for them to practically do nothing should be considered a cardinal sin in filmmaking – right up there with making Nicolas Cage boring.

Featured articles:

Bastion: Stellar Indie Romp With Dynamic Narration – One of my friends is a big fan of Supergiant Games, and reading Mr. Wapojif makes me want to check it out even more. Just the idea of another game with dynamic storytelling is enough to get my interest.

Super Mario WorldSuper Mario World recently turned 30 years old! Matt of Nintendobound, being a fan of Nintendo’s games, wrote a great retrospective of what is probably the single greatest 2D entry in the Mario series.

Project G: Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) – Aether continues his Godzilla retrospective with Godzilla vs. Gigan – one of the more bizarre entries in the franchise. Considering the English dub saw fit to make Godzilla and Anguirus speak (rendered as thought bubbles in the original Japanese version), I can see why.

My Favorite Films and TV Shows of 2019 – As mentioned before, 2019 was a great year for films, so making a top ten list would’ve been quite the daunting task. Here are what Scott of the Wizard Dojo considers to have been 2019’s highlights.

Calming down with some Angolan metalcore (Starring Before Crush) – Ever wondered what Angolan metalcore would sound like? Ospreyshire has you covered.

My Top 5 Video Game Consoles – Ignoring the fulminations of the PC gaming crowd, Pinkie highlights her top five gaming consoles.

My 5 Favourite JRPG Franchises – JRPGs may not have the same dominance they had in the 1990s, but their impact is undeniable. Irina highlights five of her personal favorite series.

The Greatness of Video Games Part II – Taking a break from the usual book assessments, Lashaan Balasingam of Bookidote talks about the greatness of video games, coinciding with his recent acquisition of a PlayStation 5.

I Love Meta-Gaming (in Hades) – I’ve always found the concept of metagaming fascinating. It’s really interesting seeing how people who speedrun or compete online interpret the game. Frostilyte highlights the concept with Hades being the main subject.

Links to my articles:

Film reviews:

32 thoughts on “November 2020 in Summary: The End Is in Sight?

    • You’re welcome! And to be fair, I thought it was good when I saw it because I really did like what it tries to do, being a mystery that pretends to reveal the answer in the first twenty minutes. However, like The Last Jedi, I changed my mind when I heard what the detractors were saying about it. As it stands, it comes across as a lightweight counterpart to the Ace Attorney series, covering much of the same ground far less competently. I don’t agree with Owen Gleiberman often (i.e.: practically never), but he was absolutely right when he says that Rian Johnson doesn’t know how to structure a film. At any rate, I still say Knives Out is a major improvement over The Last Jedi.

      Liked by 2 people

    • You’re welcome! Music critics are far more credible than those of film or video games, but I do wish they’d venture out of their comfort zone and discover more non-English talents. They’re missing out on a lot of interesting scenes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sure thing. I see that when it comes to those types of critics. I do agree that more non-English language music should be covered especially with all the different styles out there. I’ve been listening to some international music of different genres which has been quite a trip.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thanks for the mention! I feel bad I didn’t write more about all the movies on my list, but it took me so long to get to it, I figured I’d get it done. Maybe in the future I can review each individual film/show I listed.

    I also must apologize I’ve been so slow on updates lately. I’ve been tempted to make another “monthly update” blog of my own, but seeing as my such blogs are far more filler than yours are, I’ve avoided it, as I’m trying to dodge the filler as I lead up to my 1000th blog. I hope to at least (finally) review Return of the Jedi sometime this month, so that’s something.

    Nice write-up, as always. As for which is the worst Star Wars movie, it depends on how you look at it. Rise of Skywalker is utter nonsense, BUT it’s a rare instance where it didn’t really have much of a chance to be anything but (though Colin Trevorrow’s script for “Duel of the Fates” proves there could have been a worthy sendoff to the series, even if it couldn’t undo The Last Jedi’s mistakes). Kind of hard to salvage something when it’s been shattered to tiny little pieces. Glue and duct tape can only do so much. The Last Jedi, on the other hand, failed because of sheer arrogance and selfishness. A filmmaker trying to add their own voice to a series is admirable, but it can’t come at the expense of the series (and basic storytelling logic). Rian Johnson was so determined to “subvert expectations” and prove how “original” he is, that he made decisions that made no sense for the sake of twists. “Yeah, let’s kill off the main villain in the second installment in the trilogy without revealing anything about them. No one will see that coming!” “Let’s completely forget about Finn’s story arc from the last movie and his relationship with Rey, because different.” “Let’s introduce some grouchy new character (Holdo) to make a heroic sacrifice, while nonchalantly killing off beloved characters (Admirable Akbar) whose deaths should have meant something.”

    Point being, Rise of Skywalker is a hot mess, but at least it doesn’t come across as thinking so highly of itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! And I just like that you were able to write about the stuff you enjoyed of 2019. I’ve been pretty sluggish myself. I was really busy the last few months, though hopefully, things are winding down slightly this month.

      And I don’t think there should be a question that the worst Star Wars movie is either The Last Jedi or The Rise of Skywalker. I have to admit I lowered The Last Jedi to a 2/10 because when I was asked which film was worse, I found I was completely stumped. It made me realize that if I was having that much trouble answering the question, then The Last Jedi didn’t deserve one extra point over The Rise of Skywalker. Plus, you’re right; normally, I would try to favor the film with ideas (even if they’re all bad) over the film with no ideas whatsoever, but The Rise of Skywalker is bad entirely because The Last Jedi ensured it was utterly doomed from the word go. As the progenitor of both disasters, I would have to actually say The Last Jedi is indeed the worst film in the franchise. It doesn’t help that, in spite of its artistic pretentions, it is every bit of a soulless product as the rest of the sequel trilogy; it’s just good at pretending it’s genuine. It may not have been impossible to salvage the trilogy, but even the greatest screenwriters who ever lived would have found the task nigh-impossible, and if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, J.J. Abrams, fun though his films may be, isn’t in that league.

      By the way, I’m curious – I remember you praising the film originally (I was too, so it wasn’t as though I was on the ball). What caused you to change your mind?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I totally agree with your Knives Out assessment; it was just meh-to-ok, which considering the amount of hype it got was quite disappointing. But I’d still say that The Rise of Skywalker is worse than Last Jedi (it had its rare moments of cool among the drowning stupidity, whereas Rise had none, and its level of dumb surpassed everything that came before. I know it was hard to patch up anything after Last Jedi, which was wilfully disrespectful and patricidal for the sake of it, but the sheer idiocy of Palpatine and his granddaughter was more than I could bear).

    Glad to hear you liked Papillon! I enjoyed this oldie a lot, but is seems quite forgotten now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, if Rian Johnson’s talent matched the level of hype his films receive, he’d be one of the greatest directors of all time. As it stands, the only thing that matches said hype is the size of his ego.

      Fair enough. I recently came down to the conclusion that The Last Jedi is worse because I see it as a case of Rian Johnson swinging for the fences and then deciding to steal the bat and force the next in line to hit the ball with their hands when he himself struck out. It’s almost completely The Last Jedi’s fault that it’s terrible whereas it is at least mostly The Last Jedi’s fault that The Rise of Skywalker is bad. It would’ve taken someone far more talented than J.J. Abrams to salvage the mess Rian Johnson left in his wake, and even that may not have been enough. Nonetheless, I do get where you’re coming from because that artistic vision, heavily flawed though it may have been, should count for something, and I will also admit that The Rise of Skywalker is the more ineptly made film.

      And Papillion was great! It tends to get lost in the other New Hollywood classics, but it was definitely worth watching. Kind of strange that it doesn’t get more attention given that Mr. Schaffner also directed Patton.

      Liked by 1 person

      • If I were to look for a fault, I’d start with Force Awakens – this movie had so abysmally bad script and total disregard for then-canon of SW. It wasn’t as bad as the two subsequent movies, but it was totally derivative – and where it wasn’t, it paid lip service to diversity and just looked to make money. Why resign from so solidly scripted stories that formed a huge part of the SW canon? They could’ve filmed Thrawn trilogy, or even some later parts to accommodate the aging actors and later come back to the earlier stories. And now Thrawn is back, but we needed The Mandalorian and Favreau’s clout combined with fans’ enthusiasm to get this. Hah! There goes my rant 🤣

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh yeah, I’m definitely aware that there were problems with The Force Awakens. That it was a soft reboot of A New Hope without any of the world building required to set up a resistance vs. First Order conflict ensured the trilogy was off to a shaky start. I still want to say there was at least a slight chance that the sequel trilogy would gain its balance after that, but The Last Jedi completely torpedoed any chances of that happening. It’s funny; I used to consider The Force Awakens one of the best films of the 2010s, but without the benefit of a strong follow-up or a graceful landing, it really has not aged well – even just five years later.

          As you say, it’s clear they didn’t plan anything out. They were more interested in using the IP to print money than they were making an artistic statement with it. Say what you want about the prequel trilogy – at least there was actual passion behind their creation. Back in 2015, I never thought I would ever say the prequel trilogy is better than the sequel trilogy, but here were are.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Haha my thoughts on the prequels exactly! I still think Revenge of the Sith was a pretty solid movie despite that piece of wood Christiansen and the worst role in Portman’s career – it had McGregor and Lee, and Yoda 😀 and actually not a bad script. Order 66 remains one of the most powerful scenes in the three trilogies, IMO. I believe that if Lucas actually let someone else direct them they had a chance to be really good. As such, they are just better than the horrible Disney butchery we got.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the shoutout to my PS4 generation highlight! I appreciate it as always.

    How do you go around deciding what you want to watch? I definitely like your selection and will have to make time for Papillon. As for Knives Out, I was thrilled by the cinematic experience it offered even if it isn’t particularly flawless in its execution. Daniel Craig had a fascinating performance in it, sort like Lucky Logan (which was also spectacular).

    Hope you have a great month of December! Happy gaming/viewing! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome!

      And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if I have a specific method when it comes to learning about these films. I just hear about them from various sources, and if they sound interesting enough, I seek them out. The Criterion Collection is a great way to learn about classic international films, though they have inducted a few stinkers.

      As for Knives Out, I do get why it’s liked, and if nothing else, it isn’t the catastrophe that The Last Jedi was, but there’s no getting around that it’s an idiot plot (not as bad as The Last of Us Part II, mind you, but still noticeable). And while Daniel Craig was indeed great, that’s really more a testament to his own talent – not Rian Johnson’s. As it stands, Logan Lucky allows him to turn in a quirky performance in far more competently made film. Then again, it helps that Steven Soderbergh is far more talented than Rian Johnson – even if the former doesn’t always write his own screenplays.

      Hope your holidays are great as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate the head nod, once again! And yeah, if you’re disregarding an argument because you find a minority of the people making it distasteful, there’s no point in arguments in the first place, because there’s always plenty of jerks on all sides of an issue if it grows big enough. I don’t particularly feel I have a stake in that part of the social war, and yet, I still thought the Last Jedi was a garbage film. That said, taking an opinion that ‘you made a garbage thing’ seriously requires a lot of maturity and wisdom, and that’s something that’s in short supply.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! And you’re right; it’s the reason I didn’t give up on my own personal beliefs just because the odious Bob Chipman happens to pay lip service to a lot of them. Defenders of The Last Jedi are still kind of in the denial phase where they can’t accept that someone can be a good person and dislike their sacred cow. They’ll say it’s alright to not like the film, but if you read between the lines, it’s clear they don’t respect those who don’t, and the abandonment of objective analysis all but ensures that the art of filmmaking will enter a dark age.

      Then again, I did listen to the podcasts of those detractors for a while, but I stopped once it became clear they weren’t making their arguments in good faith. When they did make good points, it ultimately turned out to be a “stopped clock is right twice a day” situation. It also turns out they were one-trick ponies; they were good at pointing out why The Last Jedi is terrible, but not much else. When made to comment on other things, all they can do is wrap back to that conclusion or complain about the political beliefs of the filmmakers. Confirmation bias is indeed a serious problem with mainstream criticism, but the beliefs themselves are only tangentially related to the real issue at hand (which is to say, the level of writing talent dropping). Plus, that problem cuts both ways; it’s clear that said detractors latched onto an otherwise perfectly valid viewpoint because their own viewpoints *weren’t* being validated before transforming said viewpoint into something far more sinister.

      Both sides are flawed, but I’m always going to have more respect for those who want to make the world a better place, yet are incredibly misguided in their attempts to do so than I do the unapologetic jerks who revel in the fact that they’re unapologetic jerks.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Class Action Park sounds like the sort of train wreck I’ll have to watch! Haha and nice touch with the Joker comic panels. The Killing Joke, right? We’re planning to get HBO Max during Christmas break so I’ll have to remember to check it out then. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I need to see Class Action Park. I’ve heard legends about Action Park and how insane it was. The amount of liability the operators had to bear, I can’t even imagine — there couldn’t have been enough disclaimers and waivers in the universe to protect them considering what they tried to get away with. I’ll watch this for sure.

    I saw The Last Emperor as a kid, and it made a real impression then. I remember it being a beautiful-looking movie, and a very sad one, which makes sense considering the subject matter especially in the later part. It’s been a while since I watched it, though; maybe it would be good to see again. Seeing it as an adult would probably add a lot to the experience, and I also remember a couple of scenes in particular that probably went over my head as a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can imagine you would’ve been quite busy had you been alive during that time because it was basically a lawsuit generator. Nothing I could write can do the sheer insanity of that park justice. Granted, one overlooked aspect is that, being one of the first water parks, they didn’t really have any idea what they were doing (not that it excuses them). There is absolutely no way on Earth anyone could get away with half that stuff now.

      The Last Emperor was quite the melancholic film, alright; its protagonist was born in a world that quickly decided it no longer needs him. It is incredible how much the world changed in Puyi’s lifetime; when comparing the chronologically earlier parts of the film with those of the chronologically latter parts, it’s hard to believe they’re in the same narrative. Watching it again would be a great idea.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. I agree re: Knives Out. It was interesting, but I didn’t think it was the phenomenon that so many people said it was. In fact, it’s a forgettable film – except for the great set design and that chair made out of knives. That is a fascinating bit of movie furniture.

    You make a good point re: French New Wave and ego. I’m not very familiar with French NW films, but I would say your diagnosis is the underlying reason why I can’t wax enthusiastic about them. True, they were/are influential, but overall I don’t find them very satisfying.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s the power of Rian Johnson; at this point, he’s more hype than quality. The set design was good, but I find stuff like that doesn’t really hold up if the *story* isn’t good.

      To be fair, there are French New Wave films I actually like such as Hiroshima mon amour and Le Samourai (if anything Breathless is an outlier). Nonetheless, it’s a statement I stand by; while it was a net boon for the medium, it did set the art of filmmaking back in certain respects. Game makers tried to incorporate those sensibilities in the early 2010s, but it backfired because it’s a medium where creators need to be able to put their nose to the grindstone in order to make good art; egotistical posturing almost always results in the artists in question burning out quickly.

      Liked by 3 people

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