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the x-files. [a month of happy.]

Popular culture is central to my life. My love of movies, books, music, shows, and the like made me who I am, or at the very least, offered me the language to articulate and navigate my world in powerfully formative ways.

And of all the things that I identified with and was shaped by, the X-Files is second to none.

I’ve forgotten most of my life, a phenomenon that increases in degree as I get older, but many of the memories that have stayed are related to X-Files.

I still have a clear recollection of the time I watched “Squeeze” as an eleven year old. I was terrified and captivated, and the rest of that week I couldn’t be in the dark because I was certain Eugene Victor Tooms was crawling through our heating vents to come and eat my liver. Okay, so maybe I didn’t really think he was coming, but I wasn’t willing to bet my life that he definitely wasn’t coming to eat my liver.

After that, I was hooked. I watched X-Files devotedly from then until the show ended in 2002. My college friends and I rewatched the entire show together, from beginning to end. Which was made easier because that’s when television shows on DVD started to be a thing (actually, the seasons were released on DVD between 2000 and 2004, exactly the years I was in college).

It was our cult, and we delighted in being complete fucking nerds about it. We had Xs taped in our windows, Mitch Pileggi headshots beside our beds, and would often drop whatever other social plans we were involved in when the other three guys came by with an invitation to go ‘X it up.’

My last.fm profile handle is SpookyMulder. My Popularium byline is “I want to believe.”

Now I’m getting to rewatch the show again with Emily as she watches it for the first time.

Most of the popular tv shows today owe part of their DNA to the X-Files, as do I.

There are traces of Scully in my skepticism and wariness, and traces of Mulder in my sarcasm and passion. As evidenced by Emily’s regular exclamations while we watch along the lines of, “Are you sure you’re not Mulder?!” But I actually used to be far more like Mulder than I am now. These days I’m too much like sad sack season five Mulder, when he stopped believing for a while and the animating force went out of him, because he was so driven by his dogged pursuit of truth. I remember those days, and I miss them. I still share too many of his vices and weaknesses. And when I’m my best self, I still share some of his strengths. I mean, minus the brilliance, obviously.

Anywyay, when the X-Files was bad, it was sooooo bad, but when it was good, it was perfect. There are ‘monster of the week’ episodes of the show that will always be on the short list of my favorite tv episodes of all time.

I wish I had more time to write about this, to refine and expand my thoughts — and do even basic editing — alas, this is what happens when a person self-imposes the requirement to post something every single day regardless of busyness.

Suffice it to say that in a month sharing things that make me happy, nothing fits better than the X-Files.

 

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night sixteen: they look like people. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“Even before you were one of the blessed who could sense them, you knew they were out there. Suddenly they were right next to you. That is not a soldier with a gun, that is evil. That is not your coworker, that is a demon. That is not a human, not a neighbor, not a friend, not a lover, a brother, a mother, a father, a wife… that is a monster. That is your enemy, and what you must be willing to destroy.”

More than I realized going into it, the non-vampire half of this year’s HMF is full of super low budget fare. I didn’t officially plan it, but I’m more than fine with it. The budget limitations also usually mean complete creative control for the filmmakers, and so often, the limitations actually bring out the best in good artists. Even a big budget movie like Jaws was much better because they mechanical shark wouldn’t work and they had to include it less than planned.

With a giant special effects budget and studio interference, who knows, maybe writer/director Perry Blackshear would have been tempted to get bigger, to show more. Instead, They Look Like People is lean and concise.

It works so well. These characters felt whole and real, the chemistry felt genuine, the stakes felt personal.

Like many other films on the list, I can’t say much, because spoilers.

I will just say that I really enjoyed this one, and recommend it.

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Will I Ever Watch It Again? Chances are high.

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night fifteen: attack the block. [halloween movie fest, 2016.]

“Allow it.”

I love this movie. The acting, the writing, the direction, the visuals… everything about the execution of this movie is great.

It’s dark and honest, but so full of energy and joy. It’s just infectious. It’s one of those movies that I can’t watch without immediately wanting to rewatch it again.

It’s a love letter to the sort of place where writer/director Joe Cornish grew up, and you feel that complicated love in every frame. He knows this place, these kids, the rhythm and attitude of this part of London. In the special features the little kids who play Probs and Mayhem ask Cornish where he got the idea for the movie, and he said that he loved Signs when it came out, and it made him think that if aliens attacked the neighborhood where he grew up, the troubled kids who roamed the sidewalks, who most everyone was afraid of, would become the first line of defense against the invaders. It’s the kind of story idea that many people get from time to time, but it’s rare to see someone do what Cornish did and execute the story to perfection.

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When John Boyega was cast in Star Wars, I was so excited because of my undying love for this movie.

I still really wish that there was a sequel, where we get to see the continued adventures of Moses as he leads humanity in the fight against “big alien gorilla wolf motherfuckers.” However, I would settle for Joe Cornish directing anything else. I’m also so sad that we never got to see the true Edgar Wright version of Ant-Man that Cornish helped him write.

There should be more movies like Attack the Block. 

Will I Ever Watch It Again? Most definitely. This wasn’t the first time or the last time. Believe it.

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ice cream soul food: rewatching the three flavours cornetto trilogy.

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As promised a very long time ago now, here is the first post where I explore the reasons I revisit something over and over again. As was also promised, first up is the Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, aka the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy.

For the uninformed, the Three Flavours trilogy is comprised of the three films directed by Edgar Wright, written by Wright and Simon Pegg, and starring Pegg and Nick Frost: Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Each film represents another flavor of the delicious Cornetto ice cream treats. Shaun of the Dead is Red (strawberry): blood, gore, horror. Hot Fuzz is Blue (original/plain): cops. The World’s End is Green (mint, my favorite flavor of Cornetto): apparently science fiction was also referred to as green fiction at one point. Each film actually features the delicious ice cream treats, altough in the World’s End it doesn’t happen until the very end, and even then it’s only the wrapper (I was actually consciously starting to worry as the film was clearly winding down that there wouldn’t be an Cornetto reference).

The third film came out just last year, so obviously I don’t have years of revisitation for that one, but the first two films are the sort I come back to over and over. On average, I watch them a little more than once a year, and while there are times I worry I’ll get sick of them, it just never seems to happen.

This is why, as I was rewatching The World’s End recently, I couldn’t help but start wondering what it is that brings me back to these movies specifically, and to my favorite movies, shows, and books in general.

As I said in the last post introducing this idea, the reasons we love the things we love are too numerous and complex to flesh out with any certainty or finality. We can say things about this topic that are true, but that truth is never exhaustive. So, here are some true things about why I just can’t quit Edgar and Simon and Nick, at least when all three are together.

I don’t have to look very hard to see what first drew me to these films. Right on the surface, these are beautifully made movies. For all their levity and silliness, there is a technical skill at play that makes it easy to watch them again and again. Their combination of creativity/innovation and homages to the great films Wright and Pegg love is unparalleled. Here is Tony Zhou singing Wright’s virtues:

 

It’s so fun to watch someone do something they’re really good at. These guys are really good at making movies, and they are even better at displaying their love for the medium of film in general. It started with Spaced and has just kept on going. In this case, as with Tarantino, there is also such a deep, wide well of movies being referenced visually that as I continue to widen my exposure to the history of film I’ll catch even more of those references with each viewing.

Another reason I return to this films, as I mentioned in the intro post, is that these movies function like security blankets or comfort food. These films are familiar and comfortable. Yet, they still have the power to move me and inspire me. All the jokes still make me laugh, even though I quote them constantly in daily life. The sweetness and lovability imbued into all the characters by Wright and Pegg’s writing, as well as the acting, makes it feel like having dinner with old friends. And just like old friends, they feel safe, but still have the ability to surprise me.

These films are also nostalgic for me. Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz each connect to moments outside the film entirely. So many memories are associated with these films. Brian, one time (and maybe future?) RtM writer, and I could probably communicate fairly effectively with each other using only lines from these movies. And I don’t just mean barebones communication either. We can communicate humor, frustration, distress, sadness, and most importantly affection fairly well using Cornetto dialogue, combined with the decade of layers that added on since we started watching these movies together. Fortunately we don’t have to, because we have a massive catalogue of dialogue from other movies and shows that we use in addition to those from the trilogy.

Technical skill and artistry, beloved material, and nostalgic connection to my past: just one of those would be a good enough reason to rewatch. Yet, I think the biggest reason I rewatch them, or at least the reason I am rewatching them right now, is the way they engage life in general, and my life in particular.

These movies are about zombies, or weird secret murderous cults obsessed with having the ideal village, or alien invasions, but more than that they are about growing up. Not coming of age in the traditional sense, where young folks learn about love or death or friendship or loss for the first time. These coming of age stories are about growing up in the current millennium, where a great deal of our growing up happens in our 30’s and beyond. It’s the sort of growing up that feels close to my own story, or more accurately, my own insecurities and frustrations.

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Shaun of the Dead is about zombies, but it is also about moving deeper into your 30’s and still having nothing in your life figured out. It’s about fear and lethargy and how too often we live life by default instead of making choices.

Hot Fuzz is about murderous village conspiracies, but it is also about having trouble being close to people, and how an overactive brain can make connection and intimacy difficult.

The World’s End is about a robotic insurgency created by aliens, but it is also about how hard it is to be an adult who never lived up to the potential everyone thought you had when you were young, to feel like all your friends have passed you by and you are the pathetic one, the embarrassment. It’s about the need to take responsibility for ourselves.

In other words, these movies are about me, which is the amazing thing about stories, because obviously they aren’t about me at all. Wright and Pegg have never met me before, which means these connections I see to myself are a result of something else. Partly, these connections appear by coincidence, or because of ideas and feelings common to our culture and times as well as those more specific subcultures I’m a part of. More importantly however, these connections are there because of the human tendency to read ourselves into stories, and to read stories into ourselves.

This is one of the amazing abilities story has, and a huge reason why we rewatch and reread and relisten. When I revisit the Cornetto Trilogy, I feel less alone. I see I’m not the only one wondering who the hell I am, and how on earth I can become a better version of myself for me and the world and the people I care about. I find reassurance and comfort, which leaves me with at least two potential options: I can sink into that comfort and continue living the version of my life I’m disappointed with, allowing continual visits to Cornettoland to keep me pacified, or I can use that comfort and sense of connection to help me be less afraid and paralyzed, to take a new step forward and grow up a little. As I said, rewatching the Cornetto Trilogy is a bit like dinner with old friends, and just like old friends they can either shackle us to who we used to be, or inspire us to always be moving onto better things.

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the history of future folk.

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Quirky, super low budget winner about Future Folk, the Brooklyn-based folk outfit  comprised of two aliens from the planet Hondo.

They’re like Flight of the Conchords, but they exclusively play folk and are from much, much farther away than New Zealand.

The History of Future Folk catalogues their origin story, as they come earth to wipe out humanity in order to save their own planet, but fall in love with earth music and realize they need to find a way to save both worlds.

This movie is as sweet as it is unique, and as full of heart as it is unselfconscious. As the trailer says, this is the greatest alien folk-due, sci-fi, action, romance, comedy movie ever made.

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halloween movie fest, 2014: nights 6-10.

Night Six: Peeping Tom

“Whatever I photograph, I always lose.”

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Peeping Tom is another one of those brilliant encounters I’ve had with great cinema thanks to HMF. As I’ve written before, it’s also a great example of why critics often suck, since they didn’t just say it was a bad movie originally, they acted like it was going to tear down society as we know it. Eventually, they changed their minds, thanks in no small part to Martin Scorsese championing the film as a masterpiece decades later (I fucking LOVE that guy).

The story of a murderer who films the final horrified moments of his victims was way ahead of its time in 1960, and the film shares quite a bit in common with another ahead of its time horror film from that year Psycho. 

On my second viewing, I was struck even more by the film’s ability to have a main character who is at once creepy, evil, and heartbreaking.

One of my favorite HMF finds.

Will I ever watch it again? Yes. This was the second time, and there will be plenty more where that came from.

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Night Seven: Come Out and Play

“We started to hear voices around 11:30 last night. It was as though all the children on the island awoke at the same time. They all started giggling. And then screaming. They packed into the houses. Among their screams we also began to hear the adults, screaming in horror.”

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I didn’t realize this was a remake, and I should have watched that first. The story of a couple visiting an island town in Mexico before the birth of their third child, and find that the children of the town have playfully murdered almost all of the adults.

Come Out and Play is stark and unnerving, visually it is really solid, but in the end it somehow failed to really hit me the way it could have. It creates atmosphere and dread well, but then fumbles at the goal line in a way I can’t entirely put my finger on yet.

Will I ever watch it again? No, I’d try out the original adaptation instead.

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Night Eight: Grabbers

“If we taint our blood with booze, we’re poisonous to eat.”

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Grabbers was both enjoyable and a disappointment. It was good, but I feel like it should have been much better. So much more should have been done playing with the premise, which had tremendous potential.

Said premise being that an amphibious alien species crashes to earth off the coast of a small Irish island, requiring blood and water to survive. The monsters start feeding on the local humans until the humans realize that blood with alcohol in it is toxic to the aliens. Thus, the only way to survive is to be drunk.

The actors were lovely, there were plenty of very successful, very Irish jokes, but the film was flatter than it should have been with so much to work with.

Will I ever watch it again? Probably not, even though early on in the film I was really hoping this would enter the canon.

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Night Nine: The Changeling 

“What do you want from me?! I did every thing I could!”

changeling_2After tragically losing his wife and daughter in an accident, a composer moves back to Seattle to take a teaching position at his alma-mater (UW) in the attempt to move on with his life. He leases a mansion owned by the historic society and then, as one would reasonably expect, it’s ghost time.

Ghost stories have always been my favorite. When I was young, I loved and hated stories of hauntings and unexplained sightings of grey ladies, restless spirits, paranormal hotels and the like. It’s a different sort of fear than the visceral response to slasher films and the like. Stories around a campfire, paranormal installments of Unsolved Mysteries, looking forward to Snick every week for Are You Afraid of the Dark… I was attracted to anything that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, that sent shivers down my spine, or created that odd pressure in my eyes that comes from a good ghost story, even though it would always make it impossible for me to walk down a dark hallway alone. It’s rare to find a good ghost story.

This one, for all its weaknesses, at least delivered the creepy goods several times because it didn’t rely on the usual over the top antics most “scary” movies use today. So many of the hauntings were so run of the mill and ordinary that they were creepier, because they felt more grounded in actual day to day experience.

Plus: George C. Scott!

Will I ever watch it again? Probably. Not for several years, but probably.

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Night Ten: You’re Next

“I stuck a blender in his head and killed him.”

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Brutal, and darkly funny, You’re Next celebrates but deconstructs the slasher/last girl standing genre. It does this by showing us what it’s like if you dropped a badass who isn’t a complete idiot into the usual group of buffoons being offed one by one by homicidal maniacs.

It’s fun when the heroine turns the tables and the line between hunter and hunted, or slasher and slashee, gets blurred.

This one was a really fun time. Thumbs up!

Will I ever watch it again? Absolutely. This will be an every few years in October sort of film.

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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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the world’s end. [trailer park.]

The World’s End finally has a trailer! Hopefully it lives up to its remarkable pedigree.

The trailer is really poorly constructed, and the MSN player audio is TERRIBLE for some reason. Unfortunately, this is all we’ve got for the moment. There is plenty of time between now and October for them to give us a better trailer.

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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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