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the triumphant-ish return of five things. [five things, 6.9.17]

These days, there’s just too much media to consume.

Combine the accumulation of all the great things created in human history, and you already have too much to get to in one lifetime. Add to that the fact that amazing stuff is currently being made at a pace that is impossible to keep up with, and you have a recipe for despair.

The last thing you need is some asshole giving you a list of more things you should check out.

In that spirit, here is a list of five things you should check out.

None of these things are obscure, but all of them seem underappreciated based on my limited line of sight.


1. Power Man and Iron Fist by David F. Walker

I haven’t watched it yet, but by most accounts, Netflix’s Iron Fist was underwhelming at best. Many people responded more favorably to Luke Cage, but while I enjoyed the character on Jessica Jones, the standalone show fell really flat for me.

Fortunately, I don’t need Netflix if I want a great ongoing Power Man and Iron Fist story, because David F. Walker has been absolutely killing it since relaunching the title for Marvel early last year.

Power Man and Iron Fist is witty, playful, socially aware, smart, and above all, really fun.

Walker is able to embrace and transcend the blaxploitation roots of the title in ways that work on every level.

Also, did I mention it’s really fun? The style? The art? The characterization? Fun, fun, and fun.

Power Man and Iron Fist does just about everything the Luke Cage series tried — and in my opinion failed — to do as far as social commentary goes, but without ever taking itself very seriously.

I want David F. Walker to write all of the things.

Will the Heroes for Hire ride again? Can Danny and Luke get their old mojo back in order to stop an entertaining rogue’s gallery from tearing Harlem apart? Will someone be able to use the Supersoul Stone, and artifacts like it, to become the darkly powerful Grandmaster of Street Magic? You’ll have to read and find out.


2. A Band Called Death

I finally got around to watching this movie. You should finally get around to watching it, too.

I expected it to be entertaining, appealing to my music and record loving heart. And it was. I had a great time watching the story of Death and the strange series of events that led to the band being discovered 34 years after recording their only album.

What I didn’t expect was the emotional power of the film’s third act as it touches on the beauty of family and the bittersweet nature of hope.

Shut up, I’m not crying. You’re crying.


3. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Obviously, the film isn’t underappreciated. The beauty of Hayao Miyazaki‘s modern classic — one among many — is well-known.

But the book by Diana Wynne Jones? Now, that’s a different story. Literally, actually. It’s a very different story than the one Miyazaki told — his changes were reportedly made, at least in part, to create a film in response to the American war in Iraq.

Obviously I won’t go into detail about specific differences, because that would ruin all the fun for any of you who decide to read it. What I will say is that both stories are great, so it isn’t hard to love each of them.

Jones immediately shot up my list of authors whose work I want to devour entirely, in much the same way that a fire demon eats bacon. Neil Gaiman’s love for Jones already had her on my list of authors to check out, but Howl’s Moving Castle plants her firmly in the ‘Give Me More’ category. Her writing is funny, wise, and layered. Her narrative voice is bright and playful, and the way she limits the reader’s field of vision based on Sophie’s perspective — even though she isn’t the narrator — is done with heaping portions of humor and insight.

This is a quick read, and well worth your time. Just try not to drag the movie into it. Let each stand in conversation with the other, not opposition.


4. Mo’ Meta Blues by ?uestlove

Seeing The Roots live is one of the greatest music experiences currently available in this world. The two Roots shows we’ve seen were infectiously joyful, wildly fun three-hour-long homages to music and life, with Questlove as the mad genius ringleader [[I read they’ve since tragically retired the three-hour-long so-called ‘Springsteen shows.’]] This book felt a lot like the text manifestation of those shows. I loved it.

One of my favorite things is passionate, knowledgable people talking about the things they love most. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more passionate or knowledgable about a given topic than Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson is about music.

I loved learning the story of Questlove, beginning with his parents’ record collection. I loved learning the story of The Roots, beginning with Black Thought’s rivalry with Wanya Morris of Boyz II Men — they all went to the same arts high school in Philly. But most of all, I loved the deep, overflowing love Questo has for music and seeing how that passion has shaped his entire life, and American music along with it.


5. Legion

I tell ya, I thank the gods of television that Noah Hawley is making shows.

David Haller thinks he’s crazy, but it turns out he’s actually just a wildly powerful mutant. Then again, maybe he’s crazy.

You may think a television show adapted from the pages of an X-Men comic won’t be to your liking, but if let that keep you from watching Legion you’ll really be missing out.

This show isn’t what people might expect in their knee-jerk assumptions about a show based on a comic. It’s super trippy and lots of fun… I know, I’ve said almost everything in this post so far is fun, it’s just that these things are fun.

Legion is like if Pushing Daisies and Fargo — the show, obviously, because Noah Hawley — had a baby, and then that baby grew up and had a baby with Charles Xavier.

The show is smart and quirky, with unexpected delight and/or creepiness waiting around every corner.

The cast is especially great, with the performances by Aubrey Plaza, Dan Stevens and Jemaine Clement deserving gold stars in my book.

Seriously, don’t let the comic origins put you off if you don’t like comics. You can hate super hero films and still love this show. The show is designed so someone who has never even heard of comic books can jump right in and enjoy it. I know that might be hard to believe coming from a guy who started this installment of five things with a comic book, but it’s true. I promise!

 

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guess who’s… er… what’s back — it’s five things!

The fact that 2016 has been terrible is no secret. If the only bad things that happened this year were losing Bowie, Prince, Leonard Coen, and Phife Dawg in the same year it still would have sucked, but somehow that is just the tip of the giant shitberg this year has been.

Fortunately, there is still awesomeness to make me feel better, and I wanted to share a few of those things with you — ‘Five Things’ style.

1. Baby Fucking Groot

The second trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy — released a week ago at this point, this post took me way too long to get around to finishing — showcased more of the comedic energy fans expect from the series. I’m assuming anyone who cares about this at all will have already seen it at least once. Still, it’s too great to not have it up on RtM, just for posterity. I loved the first Guardians so much, and this one continues to look like it will easily win my heart next year.

A growing baby Groot is even more amazing that I could have hoped.

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2. Awaken, My Love!

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Is Donald Glover the messiah? He might be. I just don’t see how an ordinary human can give the world Atlanta and Awaken, My Love! in the same fucking year. HOW?! There are plenty of talented people who might release two things that good in their career… but in the same year?! Say what you will about 2016 — it was fucking awful — but Donald Glover certainly did more than we could have hoped in an attempt to salvage it.

Have you listened to this album yet? Did anyone see this coming? Were we aware Childish Gambino was capable of creating a neo-soul masterpiece?

When Questlove — a bonafide pop music historian with an encyclopedic grasp of all things soul — freaks out and wakes D’Angelo at 4 a.m. to listen to an album, you should take note.

Here is a fun interactive video of Gambino performing “Me and Your Mama” at his Pharos concert event.

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3. The Girl Who Drank the Moon

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The people who live in the Protectorate believe a witch lives in the woods. They believe they must sacrifice a baby to her every year to avoid her wrath.

A witch does live in the woods, but is nothing like the blood thirsty monster she is imagined to be. Confused why babies are annually abandoned in the wilderness, she rescues them and takes them to loving families far away, feeding them starlight to nourish them on the journey. During one of these trips, the witch accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, enmagicking her.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a book about identity, about the power story has to nurture or destroy, and it is about truth and lies and the way the powerful distort the narrative to maintain the status quo. It’s also about love and family and the way courage and compassion can change the world.

It’s lovely and well-written, full of wisdom and lines I wanted to go back and reread multiple times.

You should read it.

Good news: The guy who wrote the screenplay for Kubo and the Two Strings is supposedly the one adapting this book into a screenplay. More on Kubo if I get around to making my own 2016 lists.

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4. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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I know, I know — I barely write on RtM anymore and when I do, half the time it’s about how much I love Taiki Waititi. Well, what of it? I do love Taiki Waititi.

A friend recently asked people on Facebook to give a list of their favorite films since 2012, and I listed What We Do in the Shadows; not just because of my affection for that film, but because I needed a representative of Waititi’s work.

His films are so full of charm and joy and sweetness, and Hunt for the Wilderpeople is no exception. Plus, I’m a sucker for stories about people who come together and make weird nontraditional families. It deserves all the inclusion it has gotten on various lists of underrated or underappreciated films of 2016.

Speaking of underappreciated, when people talk about Hunt for the Wilderpeople they always mention What We Do in the Shadows but not Boy. Watch Boy!!!

Taiki for life!

I bet some people are unreasonably disappointed when they visit New Zealand and it’s not actually Middle Earth. I’m probably going to be unreasonably disappointed if I ever go because everyone doesn’t talk like a character in a Taiki Waititi film.

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5. End of Year Lists

Hopefully, I’ll find time to make some of my own this year, but either way I am so excited that it is time for people around the internet to curate lists of their favorite things of 2016.

I love curation, both doing it myself and when others do it well. There is so much to learn by experiencing what other people get excited about with an open mind. It expands my life and my perception and offers me new things to enjoy.

Some of the stuff won’t be for me, but I might find a new favorite thing. There might be an amazing album or movie or book I would have otherwise missed, or I might be inspired to finally check out some show I’m sleeping on, or I might be encouraged to look at something I didn’t enjoy in a new light. Either way, my world will get bigger and brighter.

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five shows you should watch, just in case you haven’t yet.

There are more great shows on now than there ever have been. It is well documented that we are in the golden age of scripted television… or I guess I should just write ‘shows,’ because ‘television’ is less and less accurate all the time.

With all these great shows, it gets harder and harder to keep up with all new things there are to watch, and to keep up with the shows you already love.

The last thing you need is some asshole trying to add even more to your “to watch” list.

Here are some more shows to add to your “to watch” list.

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1. Moone Boy

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This Irish show, now available in America thanks to Hulu, is based on the childhood of creator and co-lead writer Chris O’Dowd, who also stars in the series as the protagonists imaginary friend. The entire cast is charming, I sort of wish I was a member of the Moone family. The setting of a small Irish town as the 80’s turn into the 90’s is a delightful blend of alien and familiar, since I grew up at the same time, just a few years behind young Martin Moone.

Moone Boy is a unicorn, one of those rare shows which is simultaneously light and sweet and still smart and well-written.

I’m so sad this the show only has one episode left ever. Please give us a movie, or at least a Christmas special!

The first two seasons are available on Hulu.

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2. Man Seeking Woman

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The latest in the FX (and FXX) hit parade of comedies, Man Seeking Woman is a show about the pressures, anxieties, social rules, and oddities of being a single man in 2015. What sets it apart is the fact that it takes all those elements and exaggerates them into ridiculous metaphors. Louie has always done this really well, but Man Seeking Woman takes it to another level on the crazy meter.

It’s awesome.

Getting set up by his sister with an actual troll, finding out that most other guys were taught “spiral eyes” by a wizard when they hit puberty to make talking to women easier, drinking a dram to fake his own death when a series of casual hookups gets too serious, getting too drunk and forgetting his penis at the bar before taking a woman home, finding out his ex is dating Hitler, strategizing in a war room to craft the perfect text… just a few of the crazy metaphors Josh finds himself living in that make this such a winning show.

The first season is available on Hulu.

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3. Attack on Titan

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I’m still slow getting into anime. Not because I have an aversion to it, but more because the genre is so huge and varied. It’s hard to know where to begin, or at least where to go after mega-classics like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Attack on Titan is a great step into that world. Crazy visuals and concept, over-the-top emotional cues, harrowing odds, bad-ass leads… all the things I expect from anime, as a novice of course.

I liked the early episodes, but for some reason it was when I got to episode four that the show really clicked for me.

Obviously, this is the most particular recommendation on this list, because anime is most certainly not everyone’s particular brand of whiskey.

The first season is available to stream on Netflix.

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4. Justified

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I know I’ve been banging this drum for a while, but that’s because no one is listening! I still don’t know anyone outside of Emily who watches this show, which is just stupid. Stupid, I tell you!

Perhaps it is because all of my friends are liberal intellectuals who either grew up on one of the coasts or in another country altogether, and thus have trouble getting excited about a US Marshall from the remote hollows of Kentucky. I don’t know if that’s really the reason, but I can’t think of other reasons why folks would be hesitant about this show.

Well, set your mind at ease liberal whackos, here are some fun facts to remember:

1. You know who else is a crazy, liberal, intellectual, from New York of all places, but still really loves this how? That’s right, ME!

2. The show is based on a character created by celebrated crime writer Elmore Leonard (Get Shorty, Out of Sight).

3. The collection of liberal whackos known as television critics also love Justified. The final season (only two episodes left!) is the second highest rated show of the current television cycle (tied with Broad City and behind the third season of The Americans).

I can’t find a promo that does the show justice, so instead, read what Matt Zoller Seitz (New York Magazine/Vulture) has to say, which feels like it was lifted from my own soul: “Every conflict or showdown is emotionally or physically concrete yet at the same time metaphorical, the stuff of future legends. And the My Dinner With Andre and His Guns dialogue is so off-the-charts lyrical that you can hear the writers chuckling.”

The first five seasons are available to stream with Amazon Prime.

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5. The Mind of a Chef

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Narrated by Anthony Bourdain, The Mind of a Chef focuses on some of America’s best chefs (with a few jaunts abroad) and examines all the things that make them great. Their inspirations, culinary philosophy, the science of cooking, as well as the relationships and stories that make them who they are as a chef is all explored in a style that is funny and engaging. The show follows the brilliant, hilarious, and charming David Chang (Momofuku) through the entire first season, then for seasons two and three each year is split between two chefs.

Every episode I laugh, find inspiration to strive above mediocrity, and learn something new.

The first two seasons are available to stream on Netflix.

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shows, and books, and negronis… oh my! [five things – 2.22.15]

I think today is a good day for a quick five things post, because my brain might not be up for a single sustained assertion. Instead, a few shorter ones might be just right. Normally I do five things I’ve already enjoyed, today I’ll sprinkle in some things I’m about to try. I’ll even make it double what the challenge calls for to make up for Friday.

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1. Shows

I say shows because it’s less and less accurate to call it television as time passes. We stream, we rent, we torrent… fewer and fewer watch “TV” on monitors that include a tuner inside, or even through an external tuner in a box.

I’m not one of the folks abandoning ship on films in favor of shows, which I realize now is an entire post I should write. However, the talk of the new golden age of television isn’t overstated. Technically inaccurate for how most critically acclaimed shows reach their audience, but not overstated.

Shows like Justified and Parks and Rec are calling it quits, with Mad Men to follow in a few short months, which is sad, but there is still an overwhelming amount of content out there to enjoy. Shows like Archer, Bob’s Burgers and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are in the midst of great seasons; Last Week Tonight is back; even a weak season of American Horror Story (as seen in the most recent season) is still pretty solid; The Walking Dead is still the most successful show on actual television sets; Game of Thrones returns soon… even as I write this paragraph I realize that trying to list even a fair sampling of the worthy shows is futile. There are just too damned many that I love, and even more that I haven’t had time to devour as part of my media diet.

Great storytelling is possible within any medium or framework, and the time for this particular type of serialized storytelling is most certainly on the rise.

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2. House of Cards – Season Three

Speaking of great shows… Friday!!!

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3. Ulysses by James Joyce

6a00e398b8ecae000300f48ce22fa20002And from one form of serial storytelling to another. Yesterday I wrote about the past, when many novels were published in installments, one of those was Ulysses. Considered by many notables to be the greatest novel of the 20th Century, considered by a majority to be the most important modernist novel in existence. It’s called difficult, genius and mad, often in the same sentence. I’ve never read it, and it’s time to remedy that fact.

My friend Josué and I plan to read it bit by bit throughout the year, but we got off to a late start so I’m only about 50 pages in. Fortunately I only need to read around 17 pages a week to get through the whole thing between now and the end of the year.

Here’s to a wild, challenging ride!

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4. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

And in a book that is far less challenging but most certainly enjoyable, Red Seas Under Red Skies. I mentioned this a bit ago when I started the book, while talking up the first book in the series The Lies of Locke Lamora. This was another fun read for anyone who likes heists and/or fantasy. This book also makes it abundantly clear that when you are trying to figure out what to add to the second installment in a series to up the ante after a great debut, the answer is pirates… always pirates. I’m looking at you True Detective. 

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5. Stave-aged Negroni

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It’s pretty amazing that we live in a time where it’s so easy to get the bits you need to make delicious, well-crafted drinks and meals at home. For around 30 bucks you can get everything you need for the aging part: namely, a bottle and a stave of charred American Oak. Then all you need to do is prebatch the appropriate amount of whatever cocktail you want to age, pour it into the bottle with the stave, pop the top back on, and wait a couple weeks.

I started with some delicious negronis, because the barrel-aged negroni is one of my favorite cocktails, and it is also made with ingredients I usually have at my house. Next up I’ll do another negroni, as well as a vieux carre.

Then you have premade cocktails sitting around just waiting for ice and some lemon peel.

Basic science is magic!

 

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halloween movie fest, 2014: nights 11-15.

Night Eleven: Oculus

“I’ve met my demons, and they are many. I’ve seen the devil, and he is me.”

Karen Gillian and Brenton Thwaites star in Relativity Media's OCULUS.  Photo Credit: John Estes ©2013 Lasser Productions, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

I liked this one. It plays back and forth between two nights, 11 years apart, as a brother and sister attempt to destroy the cursed mirror that claimed their parents when the siblings were children.

It screws with your head, subjecting the viewer to the same perception skewing madness that the evil mirror causes for the film’s protagonists.

There were parts of the film that I loved and hated for the exact same reasons, and I can’t explain more about that without spoiling stuff. I can say more in conversation with folks who have either seen the film, or don’t care if it is spoiled.

Will I ever watch it again? Yup. At the very least, this one will most definitely make appearances at future Halloween Movie Fests.

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Night Twelve: We Are What We Are

“We have kept our tradition in its purity, and seek our reward in the hereafter. Amen.”

We Are What We Are (2013)

This is a dark, twisted, beautifully crafted film. Just like with Come Out and Play, I realized too late that this was a remake, or I would have watched the original first. Although, in my opinion, this film is vastly superior to Come Out and Play, so I wasn’t as disappointed that I watched the adaptation first.

For most of We Are What We Are, the film is stark and subtle, and it is all the more horrifying and creepy for all that subtlety. From the outset, Jim Mickle’s direction and some wonderful performances by the leads create a sense of quiet dread that gets under your skin and stays there well after the film is over.

Will I ever watch it again? Absolutely. I found myself putting this one off night after night because I knew it was going to be a disturbing one. While it was just as disturbing as I’d imagined, it wound up being one of my favorites from this year’s fest.

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Night Thirteen: Repulsion

“I must get this crack mended.”

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This film is almost as sad as it is chilling. A story of the impact of sexual abuse, Repulsion is about a woman whose childhood trauma is causing her sanity to quickly unravel, with murderous results.

Polanski’s film is full of images drawing attention to all the various fabricated manifestations of masculinity and femininity, with most making it clear how unhealthy our perception of gender identity is.

Sexual commentary aside, the film is not without its horror. It moves with the slow rhythm of the dark heart that beats at its core. The first of Polanski’s apartment trilogy, Repulsion is a claustrophobic depiction of a chilling descent into madness.

Will I ever watch it again? Most likely.

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Night Fourteen: Suspiria

“Susie, do you know anything about… witches?”

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I’m always careful when sharing negative opinions on this blog. Especially about classics. I hate when I hear people state their negative opinions as facts, which is often done with a tone implying that the holder of the negative opinion is so much smarter than all the rubes dumb enough to think the cultural artifact in question is good.

I didn’t like Suspiria, but I’m aware that it probably has more to do with me than the film itself.

The plot is loosely connected and unexplained nonsense. A fact most people agree on, which is why Edgar Wright described the movie by saying, “It’s like a dream you’ve had when you’ve eaten too much cheese.” That’s not necessarily a fault, it can work really well when horror is intentionally trying to feel like a nightmare. It just fell short for me in this instance.

Much of what was keeping me from enjoying the film was sound related. The dubbing is terrible (a common problem in Italian films of this era), but I could have easily loved the movie in spite of the bad dubbing, like some of my favorite spaghetti westerns. The bigger sound crime was actually the score. Many love it, and I appreciate its bizarre quality and originality, but hated it in the context of this film. It was way over the top, constantly trying to overwhelm the viewer and make them uncomfortable. Lots of moaning and ghostly yells within the score, with no connection at all to the events in the film. It was confusing to me in a film about listening for the sound of snoring and strange breathing and footsteps going the wrong way. I would think that called for a minimalist score, leaving the viewer stuck with those disconcerting and barely audible sounds, as opposed to a score that seems desperate to force you into believing something scary is happening, even when someone is merely leaving an airport lobby.

Will I ever watch it again? Probably not. Yet, I would be willing to watch it again with someone who loves it, in the hopes they can open my eyes to the film’s qualities.

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Night Fifteen: The Conjuring

“Want to play a game of hide and clap?”

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This was the movie I was most excited to watch. It was wildly well received upon release, and as I’ve mentioned before, I love ghost stories. Sadly, I didn’t like it as much as I’d hoped.

The good: Early on there were an impressive number of enjoyable scares. Old school, haunted house style scares. It’s really well shot, and the creepiness and dread are solid early on. Some genuinely scary shit happens in the first third.

The bad: It’s really woodenly acted, which is strange with such a solid cast. It also goes off the rails in the final half because it does such a faithful job honoring what Ed and Loraine Warren were really like, which means their entire role as demonologists was a big evangelical push for the roman catholic church. The more time you spend trying to convince me this all really happened and it was the devil’s fault, the less time you’re spending trying to scare me.

Basically, all the stuff of the family being terrorized was great. All the stuff about the Warren family was boring and too earnest.

More creepy games of hide and clap! Less proselytizing!

Will I ever watch it again? No. However, I do need to try Wan’s film Insidious to see if that gets all the scares and less of the this allllll reaallllly happpeennneedd, woooooooooooo! 

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five and five. [five things i’ve been enjoying and five things i hope to enjoy very soon]

I’ve been in the mood to do this again. I’d like to do it as consistently as I used to, but needs must and whatnot. Maybe my schedule will allow it, maybe it won’t.

For my first post back in a while I decided to share five things I’ve been enjoying, along with five things I still really want to try soon.

Five Things I’ve Been Enjoying

1. Kurt Vonnegut. 

vonnegutLoving a writer like Vonnegut is pretty obvious, especially for someone with my particular sensibility. Still, before this year I had only read Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. As some of you know, this year my goal was to read every Vonnegut novel. I’m through six, and he is everything I’d hoped he would be and more.

I expected the gallows humor, the irony, the cleverness, and the imagination that he is known for. What I didn’t expect was the beautiful tenderness in his writing. Sure, the writing is darkly hilarious and honestly realistic about the world, but for all Vonnegut’s ability to see humans for the absurd beings we really are, he also seemed to love us in spite of it all.

Vonnegut’s work is hopeful, but in an eyes-wide-open way that results in the only hope that’s worth a damn.

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2. Justified

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The contemporary western series based on characters created by Elmore Leonard is one of my favorite things of late. I’ve been careful not to start episodes most days because it too often results in binge watching multiple episodes in a row.

I only just finished the second season and it was outstanding. What could easily be a purely formulaic affair is elevated by great camerawork, satisfying and thrilling season-long story arcs, phenomenal acting by recurring players, and two of my very favorite characters on television in Raylan Givens [Timothy Olyphant] and Boyd Crowder [Walton Goggins]. Like Eastwood’s various protagonists, these characters give us those moments of delightful badassery, complete with smart-ass one-liners and love/hate banter.  

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3. Silicon Valley

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I started watching because it was created by Mike Judge and Kumail Nanjiani is in it. I kept watching it because of how great it is.

Relevant, original, hilarious, and smart. This and True Detective are the best examples of why HBO is still in the company of Netflix, et. al. as the future of serial storytelling.

Also, the eureka moment in the series finale is probably my favorite ever, but I won’t explain why and spoil anything.

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4. Seattle Sounders

obaThe trick with sports is that your team is going to have a season that ends in defeat significantly more often than in victory. Being a sports fan, even a relatively realistic and rational sports fan like myself, is often a painful affair.

Thus, the Sounders could break my heart sooner rather than later.

Right now, though, it sure is fun to be a Sounders fan! In the 15 games before the break they are literally running away with the entire league. Hopefully after the World Cup break the boys in Rave Green will get right back to providing a non-stop highlight reel.

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5. Last Week Tonight

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The first two or three episodes were good. Certainly good enough to keep me coming back. Yet, as the show hit its stride it became downright brilliant. The writing is improving every week, and Oliver continues to get his legs doing a job he’s done before but never in this context.

At this rate, Last Week Tonight, a show that in its initial episode looked to be merely clever and funny, will become one of the more important weekly events on television. John Oliver’s rants smack of a special kind of truth-telling this world needs a shit-ton more of.

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Five Things I Hope to Enjoy Soon

1. Child of Light

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A video game that follows a young girl who finds herself unable to awaken in her real world, but is instead trapped in a dark world where the sun, moon and stars have been stolen by the Queen of the Night.

From what I’ve read, which isn’t much because I don’t want everything spoiled for me, the game uses the fairy tale structure to engage deeper themes of sadness, isolation, connection, and hope. So, basically, the description you’d give if you were trying to catch me hook, line, and sinker.

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2. The Edge of Tomorrow

edge-of-tomorrow-movie-trailerSo far this weekend, people aren’t going to see this. However, I hope that before the week is out I can be one of the few who have bought a ticket. The premise looks exciting and fresh, Tom Cruise continues to make entertaining movies even if he is apparently a psycho IRL, and critical reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

Oh yeah, and Emily Blunt.

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3. Her

imgresI’ve already seen it, but it becomes available as a Netflix mailer on Tuesday and I can’t wait to enjoy it again. So far, Her is my favorite of the films I’ve seen this year.

I am still baffled that one of the storytellers I cherish the most for his insight, tenderness, and honesty helped create Jackass. Oh, Spike Jonze, you beautiful enigma.

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4. Chef

images-1I’ll actually be seeing this later today, so, WIN!

It’s good to see Favs writing something smaller again. Did I mention some friends and I used to watch Swingers once a week in freshman and sophomore years of college? Occasionally we would take breaks and watch Made once a week instead.

Plus, the cast looks fantastic. I really wish there were more Bobby Cannavale performances in the world.

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5. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

51tpIK8K+tLTechnically, I’ve already started enjoying this because I’m 50 pages in. I hope to have time to enjoy the other 650something pages later this week, because so far it seems to be exactly the kind of book I want to be reading right now.

Lynch’s first novel, and the first book in the ‘Gentleman Bastard’ series (which is up to three books thus far), is apparently a well-written crime caper in a beautifully realized fantasy setting. So far, I agree with the consensus assessment that the book is awesome. I can’t wait to get back to it!

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just in case you missed it. [five things, 2.21.14]

I’m in Portland on a writing retreat that so far has been an abysmal failure. The goal was to be here for five days, the first four alone, in a place where I was comfortable but had no responsibilities, connections, etc, where I could just plant myself in various coffee houses and bars and write as a voluntary captive. This was largely to force myself to do the very hardest part of writing fiction: staring at a blank page/screen and trying to conjure a narrative of some sort. When I get into a rhythm things go pretty well with writing, and after a long period of inactivity this was my attempt to kick off a new rhythm. The reason the trip has been a failure so far is that within an hour after arriving I got some sort of terrible food poisoning or gastroenteritis. Thus, this is the third day of my trip and I am just now, at 3:48 in the afternoon, sitting down to write for the first time. Not what I had hoped for when I’d been planning this trip for the last few months. On the bright side, at least I am sitting down to write for the first time at heart, and they are playing Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange in its entirety.

Anyway, to get the writing juices flowing, I am starting with a blog post instead of fiction writing. It is part cop out, part dipping my toe in the water, and part reminder of how on earth to string sentences together in semi-coherent thoughts.

As a result of numerous conversations lately where people have asked me for recommendations, I’m offering some to the entire internet. This time, for movies. Perhaps you’ve already seen some/all of these, but they are some of the best movies I’ve seen in the last few months and in conversations I’ve had, too few folks have given them a try.

I’ve kept all the descriptions brief.

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1. Headhunters (Hodejegerne)

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Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, better known as Jaime Lannister, co-stars in this Norwegian film about a man employed as a corporate recruiter by day, and self-employed as an art thief by night. When it appears he has stolen from the wrong man, things get crazy in this well-executed thriller filled with strong performances that add to the narrative to create surprising depth.

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2. The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos)

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This Academy Award winning Argentinian film spans decades as a retiring criminal investigator decides to write a novel to help exorcise the demons he can’t shake, namely, an unsolved rape and murder and a love he never acted on. As far as his job goes, I’m not exactly sure how the details of the Argentinian judicial system work, it basically seemed like he was a detective who worked for a judge.

Set against the rich and troubling backdrop of the Argentinian government of the 60’s and 70’s which can only be appropriately described as evil, the story works beautifully as both a mystery thriller and a love story. So great!

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3. Perfect Sense

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An original take on the apocalypse film, Perfect Sense stars Ewan McGregor and Eva Green. The story begins as an epidemiologist begins struggling to understand an outbreak with no apparent cause where people become temporarily overcome with profound sadness, then recover quickly but without their sense of smell. Said scientist meets a womanizing, profoundly talented chef, and from there they must navigate the strange and terrifying times that just keep getting worse.

The film is quiet, poetic, and beautiful. Underrated and seen by far too few.

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4. Mud

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There has been much written about Matthew McConaughey’s remarkable rise from that pot head who played himself in a bunch of romantic comedies to remarkable actor who brings profound depth to every performance and an electric charisma to the screen with each line. An underrepresented (albeit universally acclaimed) part of that rise was Mud, Jeff Nichols follow-up to Take Shelter (one of my absolute favorite films from recent years, which I have already gone on about here).

Two teenage boys encounter a charismatic and mysterious fugitive near their homes along the Mississippi River, forming a bond with him as they attempt to help him escape justice. Nichols is a master of subdued, beautifully shot scenes, of creating rich emotional moments that feel authentic as opposed to melodramatic, and of capturing subtle and nuanced performances from everyone he directs.

Currently Nichols is filming Midnight Special, about a dad who goes on the run with his son after discovering the boy has special powers. He’s said that while it seems counterintuitive, Midnight Special is actually a more grounded story than Mud. Color me excited!

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5. Kings of Summer

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Frustrated by his relationship with his father, while both craving and fearing adulthood, Joe Toy convinces his best friend Patrick (and an accidental tagalong weirdo Biaggio) to run away and build a house in the woods where they can truly be in charge of their lives. What could easily be a formulaic coming of age story is much, much more than that because of a tight and energetic screenplay, wonderful direction, and amazing performances by the likes of Nick Offerman, Nick Robinson, Megan Mullally, Allison Brie, Gabriel Basso, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and more. Also, newcomer Moses Arias as Biaggio is one of the most delightfully entertaining onscreen characters I’ve ever had the joy of watching.

Kings of Summer strikes a perfect balance between sarcasm and tenderness.

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i return, with the last five movies i’ve watched.

Needless to say, the blog challenge seems to have gone the way of the buffalo. I just haven’t had the brain space this last week for consistent blog writing, and I just missed so many days. Still, it does seem the this jumpstarted me back into blogging again, so perhaps it will remain semi-regular. I’d like that, because even if it is a huge waste of time, I enjoy my little stream-of-consciousness ramblings here.

I guess a ‘Last Five Movies’ post is a good way to get my brain juices flowing again, rejuvenate the mind-grapes if you will.

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1. The Do-Deca-Pentathlon

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This tiny little movie by the Duplass brothers certainly isn’t perfect, but by the end, I was really glad to have watched it. It had a sweetness, and enough insightful moments to carry its forgivable (in my opinion) weaknesses.

 

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2. Killing Them Softly

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I really wanted this movie to work to a higher degree than it did. It was good, don’t get me wrong, but it could have been really special.

The performances were really fantastic, straight across the board, and director Andrew Dominik showcased those talents with some really engaging monologues throughout the film. I’d understand if people thought there were too many, but I felt that it seemed to work as part of the style of the film. The movie also had some beautiful shots and filming sequences scattered throughout.

Where the movie did fall short for me was in the way Dominik tried to tie it all together using the American economic crisis. The forced metaphor just got too heavy handed, didn’t hold up, and then you lose the glue he was trying to use to keep the whole thing together. It would have worked better as a subtext, but instead we just got repeatedly beaten over the head with it.

Again, there really are some fantastic moments, and I’d love to watch those a few more times, maybe without sitting through some of the sloppier bits again.

Sometimes, less is more.

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3. Hitchcock

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This was just sort of flat and uninteresting to me. Touching on deep personality issues and psychological baggage, without actually engaging them. There is some really dark stuff half depicted, and then just glossed over as if it is no big deal. I guess either don’t depict, or actually engage it, otherwise you just look confused, no? They also did a lot of hinting at his brilliance without actually revealing some concrete places it manifested. They failed the ‘show don’t tell’ test. There was also a constant cartoonish feel that isn’t really appropriate for this sort of biopic, it was just illogical for the subject matter. It worked really well in Ed Wood, but in soooo many ways, this was NOT Ed Wood. 

Among many things, the primary thing I didn’t understand was the score. You’d think the score would either be influenced by Pyscho, or by the tone they were trying to set with Hitchcock. Instead, after an opening scene that used the music from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the rest felt like it was from a family movie about a haunted mansion or or a bad remake of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Weird shit.

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4. Oblivion

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Far from perfect, but a solidly entertaining summer sci-fi movie. The things I could nitpick aren’t really things I need perfect in a summer blockbuster. After all, there are different movies made for different reasons, and we should embrace that for what it is. If the weaknesses were fixed, it would have elevated Oblivion from pretty good to spectacular, but pretty good is enough for me in this case. It’s really beautiful to look at, it’s smart as long as you don’t pick it apart too thoroughly (fair enough if you do), and brings together lots of sci-fi tropes in ways that aren’t particularly deep, but are pretty fun.

Also, M83’s score was satisfyingly and unsurprisingly epic.

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5. Easy Money (Snabba Cash)

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So, most of these movies I’ve basically said are good but not great. Well, here is the exception. No reservations, this movie is just great. A really well-told story. The acting is fantastic, which is important, since these characters are always toeing the line between sympathetic and unsympathetic. It is largely the performances that keep them human and keep us caring what happens to them. The direction and cinematography is also really beautiful, the pace is perfect, the film is quiet in the right moments and explodes at just the right times, it hits all the right notes… I really liked this one.

A really, really spectacular crime drama filled with thrilling and heartbreaking moments. I could have just watched the movie twice on repeat.

Now they just need to release the sequel in the US!

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warriors with iron fists and urbanized attraction syndrome. [the last five movies, 4.9.13]

I did a ‘Five Things’ recently like this, and I enjoyed it, so I decided to make it its own thing. A short rundown of the last five movies I’ve watched.

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1. The Warriors

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I’ve got to admit, this movie was pretty entertaining in a terribly cheesy 70’s kind of way. Sexist, and at times otherwise offensive, but not so much that I thought it wasn’t worth my time. It’s one of those cult movies I’d never seen, so it was fun to watch it and finally get a ton of references (from shows like Community and Archer) that I’d never been able to place before.

** Spoilers From the First Fifteen Minutes Follow**

I think the premise is actually pretty great. The Warriors are a small but respected gang in a near-future (that is, the near-future of the late 70’s) somewhat post-apocalyptic New York. The city is run by a bunch of hilariously over-the-top gangs, including a group of guys who wear face-paint, dress in baseball uniforms, and carry bats (no, seriously).

Anyway, The Warriors represent Spike Lee and Yasiin Bey’s Brooklyn and run Coney Island. They’re invited to a summit, during a city-wide cease-fire, where nine representatives from every gang in New York are being drawn together by an enigmatic leader with a new proposal to unite against the police. Here are the spoilers… said leader is assassinated at the meeting, The Warriors are wrongfully accused, and they have to make their way across the city while every other gang in New York tries to hunt them down. Take that plot, add in the cheesy absurdity, make a bunch of guys try to act tough while dressed like members of The Village People, and you’ve got an entertaining way to spend 90 minutes.  

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2. The Man with the Iron Fists

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Sweet sassy-molassy. This movie was terrible. I thought it had a decent chance to be at least mildly entertaining. Written by the RZA and Eli Roth, directed by the RZA, produced by Quentin Tarantino. I thought that at the very least it would embrace its inner schlock and wink at itself from time to time. But, no, it was earnest, and horrible.

Was someone lacing the RZA’s weed with something stronger? Seriously, this movie had nothing at all to recommend. When it was trying to be funny, it was painful. When it was trying to be serious, it was… well, not even funny, just even more painful. I literally don’t think there is another way the movie could have failed.

Meh, they can’t all be winners.

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3. The China Syndrome

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I would never have watched this one were it not for iCheckMovies, specifically the AFI’s ‘100 Years, 100 Thrills‘ list. It’s the story of a human interest news team no one takes seriously who visits a nuclear power plant and inadvertently witnesses a major incident, then shit gets really cray.

Michael Douglas and Jane Fonda are great in the film, but the really remarkable performance is Jack Lemmon. He’s so great!

Sure, the film stretches credulity a few times, but The China Syndrome is underrated historically and should get far more respect.

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4. Fatal Attraction

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Apparently, this list is brought to you by Michael Douglas. Two out of five.

This movie is famous enough that everyone knows what it’s about. Glenn Close’s performance lives up to the hype (she is terrifying), the movie is tense even if you are familiar with the iconic scenes, and it has probably legitimately kept men from having affairs (Glenn Close is that terrifying). Whatever your sexual mores might be, this film does point out the reality that when you have sex with strangers, try to at least make sure they are sane. Otherwise, you have no idea what sort of shit you might activate in their brains. Remember the words of George Bluth, Sr. “Never promise crazy a baby.”

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5. Urbanized

urbanized_poster2This documentary about the current state of and future possibilities for the cities of the world, as populations continue to explode, is both depressing and inspiring. There are some truly remarkable people innovating and dreaming of what the future of cities can look like, and it’s a beautiful thing. Cities are the future whether you like it or not. However, we need to start cooperating with these innovators, or else within the next 40 years, over half of the world’s population will live in terrible slums. The documentary looks at things seriously, but shows that there is real hope to be had. Still, it can only whet one’s appetite to learn more, it can’t possible get into the details needed to truly understand the insane complexity of urbanization.

 

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the last five movies… [five things, 3.17.13.]

Even though most of you will read this after the fact, Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I have no thematic post prepared for the festivities. I actually have nothing prepared. Having no idea what to write about today, I decided it was time to resurrect ‘Five Things.’ I’m pretty sure that ‘Five Things’ was the very first thematic post series I started way back when, but then it was called ‘Props Thursdays’ or something along those lines. Since I couldn’t come up with what I wanted to write about today, I decided to just share the last five movies I watched, and a brief snippet of my reaction to each. Here they are:

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1. Gaslight

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This 1944 film starring Ingrid Bergman (and featuring Joseph Cotten) begins right after an unsolved murder, and from there goes on to tell a twisted story of psychological abuse and obsession. Bergman won the Oscar for Best Actress, and it’s easy to see why. Her performance is really amazing, especially toward the end as her character devolves into madness.

The film is tense and interesting, but it is Bergman’s performance that really stays with you.

One interesting bit of trivia is that because of the play the film was based on, as well as the two film adaptations of which this version is the second, the sort of psychological abuse depicted in the film is still know as ‘gaslighting.’

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2. Deliverance

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Another installment in my quest to keep checking off all the classic films I’ve never seen. Based on a novel and headlined by Jon Voight and Burt Reynolds, the story follows four guys from Atlanta who go deep into the backwoods to canoe down a river before it is damned and becomes a lake. Way out of their element, they run afoul of some sexually sadistic hillbillies, and things don’t go well for anybody.

The film is responsible for a number of pop culture mainstays. It is the reason we are all familiar with the song ‘Dueling Banjos,’ and it features the disturbing and oft-referenced lines: “He got a real pretty mouth ain’t he?” and “I bet you can squeal like a pig.”

It’s a good film, but it’s also flawed in a number of ways concerning general logic and character motivations. I’m definitely glad to have finally checked it off my list of movies waiting to be watched.

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3. Metropolitan 

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This uber-indie film from 1990 is set in the world of high-society trust fund kids in Manhattan. An outsider is randomly drawn into an elite clique and makes more of an impact than anyone anticipated. The film is painfully acted, but the screenplay is sharp and clever. I would often flip back and forth between despising all of these characters, and then loving them in spite of myself. They are sweet and naive and flawed, and yet they try so hard to seem erudite and grownup and put-together. It’s the inherent sweetness that comes through by the end that left a winning taste in my mouth, when it could easily have just been bitter and nauseating.

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4. Blue Velvet

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Speaking of classics I’d never seen before, this was my very first time seeing Blue Velvet. The film nerd in me is appropriately ashamed, so fear not. This isn’t my first rodeo with David Lynch, so I was prepared for the surreality of the whole thing. I really enjoyed it! Part film-noir, part surreal dream/nightmare, part psychological metaphor, part parable of love conquering evil, it is unique and from what I understand, completely changed the landscape of arthouse films.

The performances are amazing. Most notably, Dennis Hopper’s maniacal villain is perfect, and by perfect I mean bat-shit crazy and disturbing. The direction is bizarre, and yet carefully crafted so that while you never know where the hell lynch is going, there is never a doubt that he certainly knows and will take you there skillfully, even if it is a place you never want to reach.

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5. Get Carter (1971)get carter 1971

Not to be confused with what I assume is an unwatchable remake starring Sylvester Stallone, this movie was good, and also mostly awful. It was good because it’s fun to see a younger Michael Caine be a total fricking badass, and because the film was smarter than most lone bad-ass revenge films. You can easily see how all the British gangster films since take a great number of their cues from Get Carter. From the tone, to the dialogue, right through to the ending, you can see it in ‘Snatch’, ‘Lock, Stock…’, ‘Layer Cake,’ etc.

It was bad because it was overwhelmingly sexist. I think it may have been a self-aware sort of sexism, that understood the ugliness of Jack Carter’s character, but for me they should have gone just a bit farther by creating some better female characters who didn’t get abused, exploited, or drowned in a car trunk (or boot, I guess in England it was a car boot) without anyone giving much of a shit one way or the other. At one point, a moral of the film seems to be: Folks getting naive young girls to appear in illegal porn films is fine… unless you find out it happened to a relative of yours, that’s crossing the fucking line! Eh, I really wanted to like it because of the various strengths, but the sexism was just too nauseating.

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