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:
- 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.
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.
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:
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 was indeed terrible (it’s a very close call between it and The Rise of Skywalker for the title of “Worst Star Wars film”), I can’t pretend there aren’t highly dubious figures associated with the backlash.
At the same time, if critics were willing to acknowledge these flaws as opposed to dismissing them as unimportant (bonus points if they use the “art is subjective” argument), they wouldn’t have given these narrow-minded people credibility, which is the absolute worst thing anyone whose words carry weight can do.
Plus, 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 (even when it isn’t in question), 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 in this particular assessment.
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. 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.
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 World – Super 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:
- Knives Out (5/10)