Hey all. I’m seeing Justice League this weekend, and I may also try to get to Lady Bird.

Here are some streaming recs for this week.

I shy away from recommending things that I feel like everyone has seen, but in truth there is nothing everyone has seen. So today I’m going to rec some stuff I believe was widely viewed, and which is good enough to justify that popularity.

Netflix

Netflix has the incomparable Men In Black. I wind up loving a lot of movies based on comic books. This one’s antecedents are in a relatively obscure indie that started coming out in the early nineties. The movie was enough of a powerhouse at the box office to create a franchise. No doubt this was in part due to Will Smith’s starring role. Coming just after his role in Independence DayMen In Black solidified Smith’s ability to carry off an action comedy role.

Smith wound up starring in a ton of scifi action movies over the following decades. And references to this movie still float around my cohort to this day.

The film also capitalized on the popularity of tv’s the X-Files, which was a strong performer throughout the mid nineties.

It’s really quite funny and full of some great action scenes and one-liners.

Rated PG-13, Men in Black is safe for a lot of kids, I should think.

Hulu

Based on the classic TV show from the 60’s and 70’s that many folks of my generation saw in reruns, the 90s Mission Impossible movie adaptation took a lot of well -known tropes from the show and gave them a high Hollywood shine.

Scenes and tropes from this movie (and from this franchise) wound up referenced in a lot of other places. So you might see something you recognize, even if you haven’t seen it before.

Mission Impossible is also rated PG-13, but the violence in it is more realistic, as is the peril. I wouldn’t recommend it for kids.

Amazon

Amazon has the 1995 adaptation of Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, and Kate Winslet. I had already been an Austen-head (Aust-fan? Austling?) for years when it came out and it’s since become one of my comfort movies.

I saw it on a very awkward date with a fellow in college, but I love it anyway. Thompson, in addition to starring, was the person who adapted the novel for the screen. I think it’s a fantastic job, in spite of the many differences from the book.

It’s rated PG and is fine for kids, I believe, though I don’t know how interested that they’d be.

Kid Friendly

Check out E.T. on Netflix (the first movie I remember seeing in the theater), or on Hulu, check out a bunch of classic Disney films, including one of my favorites as a kid, The Rescuers.

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Have a good weekend, folks!

Let’s Help Some Folks Stay Fed

Hey all,

The Festive Season often brings thoughts of charitable giving for me. I’ve done different things in different years both to give money to good causes myself and to encourage others to do the same.

Most of my giving these days goes to getting people fed in my hometown. It’s basic, but so fundamentally important.

This year, I’d like to offer you all something if you contribute, as well.

If you donate at least $20 to The Greater Boston Food Bank, Food for Free or your own local food pantry or food reclamation & distribution charity, I’ll write a post specifically for you. Want a movie review, a real-time commentary post, a particular topic or a list of movies, video games or comics around your specifications? Want to force me to watch something I normally wouldn’t at all? Now is your opportunity. Or you could do it just to make someone in your community a little happier.

Send your receipts and accompanying requests to thanksgiving2017@metagnat.com and let me know how you’d like to be identified (if at all) when I post your piece.

Believe it or not, I have trouble finishing movies by myself.

It’s difficult to force myself to sit through things that are at all emotionally difficult. Left to my own devices, I tend to watch stuff that is low-stakes or cheesy or that I’ve seen before — sometimes all three!

There are plenty of movies I’ve seen a ton of times, as a result of this tendency. I don’t get people who can only watch something once (or read, or hear or play something only once). I mean – it’s okay. I just don’t get it.

I will watch certain movies just to experience the moods inhabit, or to revisit the characters like old friends. Sometimes it’s just to scratch an undefinable itch in my brain. Like when you hear a snippet of a song you love and then you have to go listen to the whole thing.

Sometimes I re-watch a movie chasing whatever head-space it put me in the first time I ever saw it. I have at least one movie I am literally not allowed to watch more than once a year because if I did, I’d watch it constantly chasing the mental space it brings. I usually watch it even less, even though it’s one of my favorites of all time. I want it to retain the maximum possible impact.

Then there are other films I just watch whenever. I can’t even think of a through-line that these movies have other than they don’t jangle my anxiety. Some of them because they aren’t that kind of film, but more of them, I suspect, because I’ve seen them so many times they’ve been de-fanged.

Watching a new movie is something I need to be in the right mood for. It’s easier in the theater when I have no control over when the film starts or stops. It’s one of the reasons I keep on with seeing so many movies in the theater.

It’s easier for me to watch at home if someone else is with me, too. Particularly someone who hasn’t seen the film before. I am fortunate enough to have some friends who trust me when I invite them into unknown fiction, so I get to do this on a pretty regular basis.

And sometimes I can force myself to keep on through something difficult. I watched season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil in 10 minute increments with large pauses to calm down in between. I was also sick enough at the time to feel hazy and somewhat emotionally distant about the grimness and violence.

It’s funny. I know it is. Because I do love movies. And I do love fictions. And some of the ones I love are full of gore and awfulness. I am a huge fan of certain kinds of horror movies. I also love cheesy action and that can be full of violence, too. The thing that gets me is emotional connection to violence. I can’t really watch realistic war movies. I have trouble with torture scenes, particularly ones where someone’s head is being fucked with. On the same spectrum: I can’t watch embarrassment comedy. It really quickly overwhelms any emotional distance I have and makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

All this is apropos of nothing in particular. Just kind of a note to say – however you interact with stories, it’s fine. We’re all weird, somehow. This is just one way that I am. And raking myself over the coals (or being pushed by others) has never even come close to getting me past it.

I decided at some point to give myself a break and roll with it. It’s one of those arenas it’s much easier to change your environment and the way it interacts with you than it is to change yourself to fit the environment.

Life is already hard – don’t make it harder, if you can avoid it. Embrace the weirdness of your brain and find a way to work with it. Your story-times will be happier and so will you.

There is a saying among motorcyclists about riders who have been hit by cars:

“Saying ‘I didn’t see them’ is not a defense. It’s an admission of guilt.”

Motorcyclists hit by cars fare very badly. Cars hit by motorcycles generally come through just fine. Cars are deadly to other things on the roads, sometimes, in part because car drivers are unused to keeping an eye out for bicyclists, motorcyclists, and even pedestrians in some places. But not being used to looking out for something so different on the roads is not actually an excuse for running into it.

The driver is still making choices and cultivating awareness (or lack thereof) that led to someone else getting hurt.

The societal systems through which we interact are kind of like that, too. There are laws to try to ensure that we share the road, but conventions often leave a substantial sub-set of humanity out of the calculus of safety.

We can help to change that through the choices we make and the awareness that we cultivate. There has been a lot of talk lately about the importance of diversity for minority folks (particularly kids). To see oneself reflected in media is to feel that one can achieve things beyond one’s immediate context.

This reflection still, currently, reflects a lot more white, Western folks than other colors and cultures. It reflects more straight people than queer, more men than women, more cis people than trans folks, more able-bodied folks than disabled folks….

The environment where we still normalize and make default the cis, white, Western, able-bodied, straight man is an environment that doesn’t just cost people who don’t fit in that circle. It affects us all. We miss out when all people aren’t encouraged to reach their full potential. And we miss out personally when we can’t relate to folks who aren’t exactly like ourselves.

It is, for instance, just as important for any random boy to see that a black girl can be a superhero as it is for the black girl herself.

Stories are an important way that we learn to empathize with people who are not like ourselves. They can connect us to people who lived thousands of years ago or people who go to space or people who live on the other side of the planet. They can surely help to connect us to someone with a different skin color or background.

When you find internalized prejudice in yourself (as almost any of us who do any self-examination will), it’s your job to try to de-fang and unseat that prejudice. An easy and pleasant way to do that is to expose yourself to more stories about folks who aren’t just like you.

Prejudice is often defeated person-to-person as an acquaintance with someone in a group disproves what another person thinks they know about that group. But that is a heavy burden to place at the door of folks who already have systemic injustice and everyday life to deal with.

There are plenty of nice ally 101 articles around the web that give solid tips like “research before you ask your acquaintances questions” and “don’t let racist/sexist comments slide – use your privilege to speak up”. This is part of activism 301. Look inside yourself and see what assumptions you’re making. Figure out ways to crowbar those assumptions open and broaden your perspective.

Complex stories can help you to see folks who are different than you as real people with full lives. Stories with heroes that don’t look or love or worship like you can help you to open your mind about the heroic potential in everyone.

Stories can help you to be a better person and a better ally.

Some simple things you can do in this vein include following folks who are different to you on social media. Listen to what they have to say on a daily basis, not just about their identities but about everything.

If the only stories you watch about people of color or queer folks or anyone in any minority category are civil rights period pieces, consider broadening your outlook. Seek out stories that are not about the identity politics of a person but includes their identities as part of a full humanity.

This is not to say that a civil rights story can’t have full, true characters, but there are so many more aspects to minority lives than the struggle for justice.

Make sure your media diet includes stories by minority writers and directors, not just stories written about minorities by white dudes. It might take a little extra effort, but it’ll be richly rewarded. I think you’ll find truth in the words of Alan Yang, co-creator of Netflix’s Master of None, “Thank you to all the straight white guys who dominated movies and TV so hard, and for so long, that stories about anyone else seem kind of fresh and original.”

So let folks who aren’t like you into your imagination and your emotional world. It’s not the only way to unseat your internal prejudice, but it’s a relatively easy and frequently entertaining way to work on making yourself a better person. You choose what you’re exposed to (and what your kids are exposed to).

You choose what you see. Saying you lack exposure is not an excuse for ignorance or prejudice. It is an admission of guilt.

I have the day off from work, today and have gotten very little done.

I don’t have much in the way of either streaming recs or stuff I’m going to see. I’m seeing Thor for the second time this weekend, but there seems to be a kind of a lull before most of the Christmas movies and Oscar hopefuls hit.

I thought I’d take a bit of time to highlight some movies on streaming that I wasn’t particularly fond of, but which might tickle your fancy.

Chappie is a story about an AI’s awful childhood told by the director of District 9. It is extraordinarily gritty and violent and had a lot of elements that irritated me (particularly in conjunction with some other AI movies I saw around the same time, but that’s another post). It was interesting and well-done, with really well fleshed-out characters–just not at all my cup of tea.

If you’ve seen District 9, you’ll find it has some similar themes and flavors.

Chappie is streaming on Netflix.

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Bound is a 90s thriller containing lesbian themes that gave a bunch of wlw at my college the hots for Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly (especially Gershon). It is a difficult watch because (again) it’s full of violence, but it does have a hopeful ending for the lesbian couple.

Honestly, I haven’t watched it all the way through since it was in the theater, but I remember it being well done.

The film is much harsher than this trailer makes it look, as I recall. Bound is streaming on Hulu.

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What If is a movie about profoundly unhealthy relationships and profoundly bad boundaries. It has stupendous actors and great performances, but is billed as a romantic comedy. I think if I had gone into it expecting a movie about unhealthy relationships with bad boundaries and unlikeable characters, I would have enjoyed it a lot better. It was billed as a romcom. Viewed as a romcom, it is awful.

[CW for transphobic language towards the end of the trailer. As I said, unlikable characters.]

What If is streaming on Amazon Prime.

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And now, I am heading back to tempering some epic laziness with a tiny smattering of chores.

It’s finally getting genuinely cold, here. Today is clear and bright with a crisp breeze. It’s just the kind of autumn day I like the best. It makes me want to take a journey (not a trip…a serious Journey) or contrarywise to do picturesque fall things like baking or trekking through the woods in big boots and a chunky sweater or reading in a big chair under a hand-knitted blanket with hot tea at my elbow.

Of course, I work at a university, so autumn is usually the time of year I am least able to do things like that. Fortunately for me, actual fall weather held off till the second week of November, here. I can do all the picturesque things I want in the deep dark of evenings when the sun sets an hour and a half before I get off work.

It’s a season for comfort in food, in living space and in mind. We sit in the brief pause between the Halloween feasting season and the endless festive crawl that is the Thanksgiving into Hanukka into Christmas (and in particular all the relentless commercialized frivolity the latter exposes us all too, which are awful even if Christmas is a holiday you celebrate and can be a freaking apocalyptic nightmare if you don’t).

Just anticipating the mix of good and bad of stress and fun together that the Festive Season represents can make me feel as small and irrational as Gir in Invader Zim. Who eats his cupcake and then cries about it being gone.

Gir crying and saying 'Awww...I miss you, cupcake.'

We can all take this pause before we’re exposed to endless parties with uncomfortable co-worker chitchat and tense family meals where you’re just bracing yourself for some relative to say something microaggressive (or, indeed, just aggressive) about something near and dear to your heart, to feed our souls before the storm hits.

I feed mine with comfort foods and with comfort fictions. After the spook-fest of Halloween, I often like some serious rose-colored glasses viewing and reading material. It’s the time of year I’m most likely to re-read the Oz books, for example. Or to watch some of my favorite classic movie musicals like Hello, Dolly or Singin’ In the Rain.

Sometimes I also like to re-watch favorites from when I was a kid like The Muppet Movie or Pollyanna or the Winnie the Pooh Disney movie.

I also like shows with unreasonable amount of idealism (Vicar of Dibley) or an unreasonable amount of fantasy wish fulfillment (Leverage).

The real trick is to find something that I’ve never seen before that feeds the gaping maw of my small, irrational feelings to stave off the weltschmerz that winter can bring.

In the same way that it can be difficult, in adulthood, to find something that *blows your mind* and excites and captivates you as much as the things you loved in your youth, it can also be difficult to find anything that makes you feel as safe and as positive.

This is the time of year I go out on limbs for high-quality schmaltz. I like to find small, happy stories that make the best of the world shine a little brighter. I think this is the impulse at the back of the scores and scores of truly awful Christmas films and specials that infest everywhere in December. But I am looking for something more emotionally resonant than those — something that can truly soothe the savage anxiety brain-weasels and make the dark seem cozy instead of opressive.

It’s rare enough that I am not sure I can name the last time I saw a film that struck me this way, though a few things I’ve seen this year vibrate on the same frequency.

Table 19 is a comedic drama that has realistic and bitter moments, but has an overall warm and human feel that makes it well worth the ride. It’s difficult to describe without giving away the twists and turns but suffice it to say: the trailer is not remotely using the full emotional palette.

The Big Sick is on the very short list of romantic comedies that I adore. Perhaps because it’s a story straight out of real life. Perhaps because the comedy is tempered with plenty of heavy things. Probably, though, it’s just because it doesn’t follow any of the stupid compulsory-heterosexuality tracks that romcoms often do.

Logan Lucky is a story about people being much more clever and devious and ingenious and persistent than other people believe possible. And then developing a nefarious plan that is applied for good. It felt almost like a lost Leverage episode to me, in some ways.

Hidden Figures is another inspired-by-life movie about awesome women kicking ass against a system that is one hundred percent designed to hold them back. It also has bonus space nerdery. (Space nerdery is always a point in something’s favor for me.)

Gifted is a movie about family being difficult and human and also being super important.

I’m sure I’ll encounter more movies that are almost right before next fall. And if I am very lucky, maybe I’ll find a film that will be worthy of watching in a double bill with The Music Man….while sitting under a hand-knitted blanket with hot tea at my elbow.

In the meantime, I wish you mashed potatoes and gravy.

[This post contains one spoiler for Thor: Ragnarok.]

I saw Thor: Ragnarok this weekend and really enjoyed it. I’m not going to review it cause you already know whether you’re going to see it or not.

It did introduce one of my favorite concepts from the comics, though it did it more or less in passing and failed (as the movies often do) to explore or address the implications of it.

In Thor: Ragnarok, Bruce Banner finds he has been under and living as the Hulk for multiple years and he has this moment of deep fear. While he used to feel both he and Hulk each had a hand on the wheel, he said, he feels like this time “Hulk was in the driver’s seat and I was in the trunk.” The tension between Hulk and Banner having to share one body and having totally contrary needs, goals and pleasures is one of the things I find most fascinating about the character(s).

Bruce Banner from the movies saying 'I'm not even sure.'

Bruce Banner in Marvel comics is a bitter, bitter man (when he’s alive, which is a whole other discussion which we’ll sigh and file under “because comics”). He resents the Hulk for taking huge swaths of his life. He fears the return of the Hulk as this force in himself he can’t control or make decisions about.

comic panel from Indestructible Hulk
Bruce Banner speaking to Maria Hill in issue one of “Indestructible Hulk”

It’s a really excellent metaphor for living with a mental illness. Mark Waid, the writer of some of my favorite Hulk stories explicitely compares it to managing a chronic health condition. If you can’t kill it, you have to find a way to live with it as best as possible.

Panel from issue one of Indestructible Hulk

One of the things I hate the most about my depression is the time and energy it steals from me. I think about where I could have been and what I could have achieved if I wasn’t constantly battling with this force inside of me that tries to make my decisions.

It’s a chronic thing I have to manage and figure out how to live with. There have been times it takes up so many resources I feel like the only thing I’m getting done is staying alive. It’s demoralizing.

Bruce Banner spent decades in the comics universe trying to figure out how to get rid of the Hulk. He evenutally realizes it’s not possible and starts to try to figure out how to manage it. And to manage his condition, he seeks help. He knows he can’t do it alone. The Hulk, by definition, is out of his control.

That doesn’t mean he has to be outside all control.

I mean, the metaphor does break down. I only wish my depression gave me near-invincibility and near-infinite strength as powers instead of “has to berate myself for 45 minutes to get out of bed” or “doesn’t think I deserve to eat” powers.

But even one of the ten smartest people in the Marvel universe knows you can’t go it alone.

Even though it is Friday, it is Thorsday.

I’m seeing Ragnarok at 8 tonight. I hope very much that it lives up to its hype.

That’s my only real movie plan for the weekend. Thor, incidentally, will be my fiftieth movie this year. Goal for 2017 met. Everything else I see will be extra credit.

Here are some streaming recs for this week:

Netflix

Netflix has Begin Again, which is a favorite of mine. A movie about music and musicians and about fucking up and finding oneself.

If you want something meatier, Netflix is also streaming Carol right now, a thoughtful, heavy drama about a lesbian couple in the 1950s. Directed by Todd Haynes, of whose work I am generally fond (he directed Velvet Goldmine, which is one of my all-time faves), Carol is a beautiful film as well as a deeply affecting. It won high honors at the Cannes film festival and has picked up quite a slate of accolades since then.

It’s not exactly a happy film, but it doesn’t have the traditional queer tragedy ending, either. Between the performances and the lovely cinematography, it’s well worth seeing.

Hulu

Hulu is also streaming Carol, right now, and if you can handle subtitles, It’s also streaming the offbeat, funny sports film, Shaolin Soccer.

For some reason, this trailer is dubbed, but the movie on Hulu isn’t.

Shaolin Soccer is PG-13 and may be kid-friendly for older kids.

Amazon Prime Streaming

Amazon has Chef which is one of my favorite feel-good movies. It also has Florence Foster Jenkins, a funny, feel-good biopic starring Meryl Streep.

Kid Friendly

Amazon has Aardman Animation’s Shaun the Sheep feature film. It’s pretty hilarious and lives up quite well to the legacy of Wallace and Gromit.

Hulu has Lilo & Stitch, which is one of my favorite kids movies that I’ve seen as an adult, and also has Honey I Shrunk the Kids, a goofy eighties movie that I don’t think I’ve seen since the actual eighties, but of which I have fond memories.

Netflix has Coraline, a pretty spooky kids movie done in breathtaking stop-motion animation. It may not be good for younger kids because it does have some genuinely unsettling stuff.

It also has Finding Dory, which I have some trouble believing anyone with kids won’t already have seen, but if you haven’t, it’s well worth it. A surprisingly beautiful story about what family means.

I am not feeling so hot. I’m kind of scared that I’m coming down with whatever’s been knocking my co-workers out of circulation for a week at a time (though I hope not). I had intended to write about Suburbicon or a chirpy little piece about video games, today but I am currently a bear of very little brain.

This is the kind of headspace that television was dreamt up for – just showing you one thing after another into infinity or till you fall asleep, whichever comes first. A very undemanding companion, television.

Unfortunately, I have neither cable nor a viable antenna tv at the moment, so I’m going with the next best thing: youtube.

It, too, undemandingly will keep showing you things into infinity if you let it.

Currently, I’m watching markiplier, a youtube let’s play-er (which is someone who plays video games as a spectator sport) with a voice made of chocolate and rainbows scream at Resident Evil 7. It’s cathartic and entertaining.

I may play a video game while I continue to watch it, till I fall asleep in approximately 15 minutes. Like eating while watching the food network, to paraphrase something Margaret Cho once said.

Happy Halloween, kids and kittens!

My local comic shop, Million Year Picnic, has trick and treat goodies to give out!

comics and candy at my local comic shop

Yours might too! Check it out!

Either way, enjoy your night of spooks and costumes, folks! See you in November.