Friday Streaming Recs

Do you ever have that thing where time seems to stretch eternally and fly by simultaneously? That’s been this week, for me.

My biggest excitement of the week is that I’m getting a new handheld vacuum that I ordered, today. Don’t grow up, kids.

I finally started watching The Good Place this week, which approximately everyone in the universe has recommended to me. It is a delight.

The movies that are being released this weekend do not move me. I may go and watch something I missed earlier, or re-see something, or play movie theater roulette, but it’s supposed to be surprisingly mild in New England, so I may not in favor of getting some chores & errands done.

Either way, here are some streaming recs!

Netflix

Space nerds everywhere have probably already seen this, but Apollo 13 is on Netflix streaming and it’s totally worth watching. I may, in fact, watch it again, as it’s been ages since I’ve seen it.

It’s well done. Sciency and delicious.

Hulu

Joss Whedon has fallen out of nerd favor, I know, but if you dig Shakespeare, his Much Ado About Nothing is quite good. Full of fantastic performances, the film pulls none of its punches. Not an entirely easy watch, but worthwhile, it was apparently filmed over, like, a long weekend at the Whedon house.

Prime Video

It Comes At Night wasn’t as I thought it would be, but it’s a horror film that has at its core some deeply human strengths and failings. Honestly, though there is much that is horrific in the film, I wouldn’t have classified it as a horror film if I had seen it independent of its advertising. It’s more like a Shakespearean tragedy run through a Samuel Beckett lens (albiet with less snappy dialog than that implies).

Kids

Amazon has Don Bluth’s All Dogs Go To Heaven:

A classically animated musical that came out in the late eighties.

Speaking of classic animation, Hulu has The Black Cauldron:

And speaking of classics in general, from the “crying about animals” category, Netflix has The Incredible Journey

THAT’S IT FOR THIS WEEK.

Love and kisses from Cambridge, kids and kittens.

Friday Recs (kind of)

So I’m in the middle of a freaking depressive episode. Started sometime yesterday. Spent last night laying in the dark in my bed trying to convince myself that eating was a thing that should happen (I did eventually succeed). Spending this morning listening to the entire Panic! At The Disco catalog on spotify in chronological order.

I know what started the train down, but it doesn’t really matter after a certain point. Avoiding triggers may help one avoid these things, but demystifying them does fuck-all.

This too shall pass, and I do have plans to go see some stuff this weekend. Tops on my list are Proud Mary and The Post. Other possibilities include Coco and Phantom Thread, though honestly, I am probably more likely to go see The Shape of Water or Call Me By Your Name again.

It is a three-day weekend for me (yay working in academia) so I hold out hope.

I don’t actually feel like hunting up what’s streaming where, today, that I’ve seen already. I thought I’d highlight some of the things that are streaming that are on my list (and in some cases have been for ages) that I still haven’t watched.

Less Than Zero

A young Robert Downey, jr. plays an out-of-control drug addict. This will be a hard watch but I suspect a good one. It’s on netflix.

Teeth

This film made waves when it came out almost a decade ago. I wasn’t nearly as big a horror buff then as I am now, though, and even though I was pretty delighted by the concept of the vagina dentata making its way into modern pop culture, I haven’t watched it yet, even though netflix has made it super easy.

Mulan

Being involved in pop culture spaces means I already know half the freaking songs from this movie. Just never got around to watching it. Also on netflix.

Camp

I have heard the legend of this movie from a lot of Theater Kids of a Certain Age (aka younger than I am). I have only seen snippets of the incredible music performances in it. It’s streaming on hulu.

Fences

As a former theater kid, myself, I feel like I SHOULD HAVE FOR SURE seen this movie. Not to mention it’s rated pretty highly by plenty of critics and my mom (a retired literature teacher) liked it. It’s also on hulu.

Allied

This was just one of those movies I wanted to see when it came out and never got around to. It’s streaming on amazon.

Landline

From the director and writer of one of my favorite comedies, Obvious Child, this film also stars Jenny Slate, who is fantastic. I wanted to see it when it came out and didn’t get to. It’s on amazon.

* * *

Honestly, I probably will just keep watching episodes of The Addams Family and stupid youtube videos, instead.

I hope y’all have a great weekend! And next week, may my brain be less annoying.

Pop Culture in its Native Habitat

I find it very difficult to be bored when engaged in conversation with a knowledgeable person on the topic of their enthusiasm.

Just as the best way to see a country or region or neighborhood is to stay with someone who lives there and knows it intimately, one of the best ways to experience pop culture is through the eyes of someone who loves it. This is not so that you absorb their view of it – for people who love something may be blind to its flaws (though they may well have eyes wide open to the flaws and love it, anyway – which can make for some very interesting discussion), but so that their enthusiasm can be a prism through which you gain a greater understanding of the way the piece of culture is viewed.

Part of this can be getting a hint of the deep contextual nuance of what makes or made a piece of art feel relevant to people at its popular height.

I have a friend who, though she is similar in age to me, missed a lot of the pop culture I grew up with. She likes seeing it through my eyes or through the eyes of her other friends who show her things that they love. There is a lot of talk in my circle about ‘catching her up’ on movies or TV or music, though that’s really not what’s happening, of course.

She is a tourist in the pop culture realms I am a native to. In spite of the fact that we were born in the same country and grew up speaking the same language, she has a completely different contextual framework than I do.

Frankly, it’s a lot of fun to introduce her to things I love, be they music, comics, movies, TV or just strange, small pieces of ephemera. She gets to see them through my lens, and I get to see them through hers.

Watching something with her that she is seeing for the first time is an absolute blast. It can also be uncomfortably revealing. All the stuff that I didn’t really pay attention to because that’s what we all did, then or because I was just a kid come into sharp relief as I am forced to look at them with fresh eyes.

It’s such an education, even with things I’ve experienced so many times before that I can recite them.

I was there, for instance, the first time she watched The Thing. It’s an older movie — considered by some (me) to be a classic and considered by many others to be a bit too schlocky with too cheesy of special effects to be taken seriously in this day and age.

But imagine watching a horror film with someone who doesn’t know any of the tropes and likely twists of the genre. Imagine not knowing any of the meta-syntactic filmmaking cues that can give away the direction a story is headed. Imagine seeing a story truly for the first time and having no clue what was going to happen and living and dying with every breath.

I hope it doesn’t make me a sadist how much I enjoyed seeing her entwined helplessly in the film moment-to-moment.

It honestly put me in mind of when I was a middle schooler and read Pride and Prejudice the first time, knowing nothing about romance tropes (I was, predictably, a scifi/fantasy nerd). I was genuinely shocked when Mr. Darcy proposed. I was further shocked at what went on between Lydia and Wickham. I had no precedent for what went on in that well-worn story.

It’s a feeling I think we eventually assume is impossible to recapture. Generally when something shocks me that way at this point it’s either something extraordinarily rare and well-crafted, or (far more frequently) it’s something truly awful. The joyous storytelling river that swept me away is largely closed to me now.

It’s nice to feel I can take short rides on it, now and again, with a friend.

So she and I were talking, over the holidays, about this phenomenon she’d experienced multiple times, where she’d experience a song or a film or whatever and not like it much, but then if a friend showed it to her again, some of their enthusiasm may rub off. Or she would see its better qualities because the filter of a friend could show them to her.

This is not to say that she replaces her own opinions with those of other folks. She is a thoughtful and engaged consumer of art. She’ll mull it all over on her own terms, but she recognized how much easier it is to appreciate something when its in its home context, as it were.

She and I get together every few weeks to watch movies together and chat. It’s quite a rewarding exchange (for both of us, I hope). My knowledge and enthusiasm for her intelligence and fresh eyes.

I hope we get to keep doing it even if she gets as jaded as I am, though I honestly doubt that’s entirely possible. In the meantime, I hope she gets as much out of experiencing things with me as I get experiencing them with her!

 

Friday Streaming Recs

Yo. It snowed in the Northeast. You may have heard about it.

I contracted a terrible cold that was ramping up before the snow came and am now apparently never leaving my house again. I spent this morning reading comics and now I’m laying in bed, in the craned-neck position contemplating watching a bit of something and drinking semi-frozen (I left it outside) orange juice directly out of the thing.

It tastes like better, brighter days.

Streaming-wise, personally, I’ve been re-watching One Day At A Time on Netflix and Buffy The Vampire Slayer on Hulu.

Netflix

Let’s talk about The Babadook. If you’ve seen Essie Davis in the titular role of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, you know she is fabulous. If you’ve seen her in The Babadook, you know she can ACT. She is a powerhouse in this horror film, her portrayal balanced on knife-edges of emotion.

I am not saying anything new, here.

The Babadook is also an  interesting twist on horror genre tropes. It’s a heavy film. But I found it, ultimately, to be strangely hopeful. I had as much fun with the wave of ‘the babadook is a gay icon’ memes last year as anyone. I would hate to think it takes away from the impact of the film, which might be one of the best horror films of all time.

What I’m likely to stream next are some episodes of a modern whodunit that my mom got me hooked on over the holidays, Shetland. It features small-town characters and some truly lovely family relationships and gives one a sweet feeling, therefore, in spite of all the murders.

Set, as the name implies, in the Shetland Isles of Scotland, the show is awash in gorgeous landscapes.

If you have trouble with accents, you might want to turn the subtitles on.

I noticed, also, that Netflix is now separating movies and TV shows, which makes my life a bit easier.

Hulu

Hulu has all the Karate Kid movies. I’m scared to watch them. I haven’t since the eighties or early nineties and the suck fairy MAY well have visited them. I am, however, pleased to see more older movies showing up on streaming.

It also has Arrival. I have been delighted and swept-up by the new wave of big budget *ideas* scifi that’s come out over the past several years and Arrival may well be the best one yet. A moving and beautifully delivered story that is worth watching more than once.

Also streaming is arguably the scariest vampire film I have ever seen, Let The Right One In – Swedish film that capitalizes on the long dark of winter nights there to take us to a very dark emotional place. Definitely worth the subtitles, but an extremely difficult watch.

Prime Streaming

Amazon has What We Do In The Shadows, which I have mentioned before several times.

They also have some romantic classics — Moonstruck and Dirty Dancing.

Kids

Prime has Spy Next Door starring the adorable Jackie Chan.

Hulu has Ella Enchanted which I’ve mentioned before and various Lego comedy shows. I think they only release them for streaming, but I’ve watched the superhero ones and they’re better than they have any right to be, honestly.

Netflix has An American Tale, which I remember fondly. The music is lovely.

* * *

That’s it for this week, kids and kittens. May your remain warm and your throats swallow smoothly (unlike mine).

Dragons Exist

“Fairy tales,” Neil Gaiman once wrote, “are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

Narratives can teach us that we can win against our demons, or, I suppose, that we can lose. They also teach us the costs of fighting and of persevering. There is a strength to knowing one isn’t in that fight alone. And a strength in knowing that success is what happens if you keep going through failure after failure.

Modern fairy tales can also teach us other things. I was thinking about this again, in regards to The Shape of Water. We can learn that the one wearing a dragon skin may not always be an enemy. Just as ones wearing human skin are not always friends.

Of course, anyone who grew up a little bit Different already knows this. The ones wearing human skins (and standing, often as not, in judgement over our own) are not always friends, do not always have our best interests at heart (even when they’re supposed to) and sometimes set out to wound and erode.

One could make an argument that a dragonish heart is what makes a dragon — that someone who behaves so poorly is a dragon no matter how human the skin they are wearing. But we all know what assumptions are made when difference is so palpable and what pressures are put upon the different.

Through the cultural forge, we sometimes learn that it is easier to hate ourselves than it is to incorporate the truth that society can be quite as unfair as it is.  If you believe in the justice of judgments passed upon you, it’s an ugly feeling, but the cognitive dissonance is so much less that it can be a relief, at least temporarily.

So stories where monster and beloved are one and the same are distinctly powerful. Through people sympathizing with the ugly, the broken, the overly powerful, the weak, the different and the peculiar, we learn not only that dragons can be beaten, but that they can be appreciated. They can be supported. They can be loved.

Knowing that you can be loved no matter how monstrous you appear to yourself or others is at least as profound a statement as that that evil can be defeated. That you do not, in fact, have to stop being a monster to be loved. That there is nothing wrong at all with what many people find to be monstrous.

Here are a few films for when you feel like an unloved dragon:

Matilda:

Hellboy

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Warm Bodies

Wreck-It Ralph

What We Do In The Shadows

Fido

Young Frankenstein

New Year, New Narratives

So, it’s 2018 (which still sounds fake to me) and it’s colder than a warlock’s willy up in my adopted New England hometown. When I woke up this morning it was 1. One degree Fahrenheit. Which is about -17 in Celsius. And it felt colder with wind chill.

I hope I don’t come across as too much of a delicate flower when I say FUCK THAT NOISE.

I actually turned the heat up at home when I got back from my Location of New Year Carousing. The only time my feet have felt warm enough, today, was when someone was sitting on them.

BUT ENOUGH WHINING. Let’s talk about something FUN. Here are some of the movies I’m looking forward to in 2018:

The Post

Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and good journalists doing what good journalists do. I love me a journalist-as-hero film and this looks like it’s gonna be a pretty strong one.

Proud Mary

Taraji P. Henson (Of Hidden Figures fame) as badass action hero. I have been yearning for this ever since I heard about it and it’s coming out in just about two weeks! wheheheeeeeeeeee.

Black Panther

Every time I see the trailer for this I fucking get chills. This is gonna be the first serious superhero movie led by a black actor since the Blade movies and it is long fucking overdue. And I am just in urgent need of the glorious design of this movie. Give me some Afro-futurism and some solarpunk! I NEED IT! And badass warrior women! I NEED THAT TOO. I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS MOVIE. GO SEE IT. I’M GONNA SEE IT AT LEAST THREE TIMES.

Annihilation

I am adoring the buttered and sugared fuck out of all the new woman-led action films that have been coming out. This one isn’t just action, it’s also scifi-horror, which is one of my main wheelhouses and I am beyond here for it. Natalie Portman, Gina Rodriguez and Tessa Thompson venture into a scary portal thing for the sake of scientific discovery and to rescue Oscar Isaac (who plays Portman’s character’s husband) who is in a coma as a result of going through the same portal.

Men in peril? Women of science? Delicate waifs with machine guns? Fuck. Yes.

A Wrinkle In Time

A book I adored growing up gets a modern makeover, some diversity, and apparently some truly awesome design. It looks like it’s going to be fantastic and I am psyched for it.

Tomb Raider

I am not gonna lie. I loved the Tomb Raider movie from 2001. Angelina Jolie with an English accent….Daniel Craig with an American accent (and a shower scene), that guy who played Rimmer in Red Dwarf as a butler with calm determination (and occasionally a shotgun). It was cheesy and fun and Angelina Jolie did a bunch of her own stunts after training with R.A.F. fellows and I loved it and always will.

The new one stars Alicia Vikander (who I know best as Gabby Teller from Guy Ritchie’s Man From U.N.C.L.E., but who was also in Ex Machina, The Danish Girl and one of the Bourne movies). It looks like it’s going to be fun and full of action and somewhat gritter than the 2001 film, but I think the character will bear that. I’m interested to see how it’ll play out.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

I wasn’t that big a fan of Pacific Rim. It was okay and I had been hoping it would be fanfuckingtastic. I know there are plenty of folks who thought it was (I am on tumblr where the fandom kids hang out and talk about these things).

This sequel looks promising to me. Not just because of John Boyega, but also because of getting to see some of the fun characters from the first film in the light of a different creative team. I am cautiously optimistic.

A Quiet Place

This looks like an amazing premise for a horror film and I’m looking forward to seeing the execution.

Rampage

I love a good creature-feature (as you might already be aware) but I full-on laughed my ass off when the title of this film came up at the end of its trailer. Movies have been made from some very thin premises, certainly, but I haven’t been so blown away by the wedging in of narrative on the thinnest of frameworks since the film Battleship came out.

For those who don’t know, Rampage was an arcade game (later ported to the NES) where you and a friend smash a city for points. Literally that is it. Once you smash the hell out of one city, they send you to another one. That’s it. That’s the game.

But Battleship turned out to be a surprisingly good popcorn action film, and this one looked as though it might be, as well.

Avengers: Infinity War, Part 1

I didn’t want to care about this. Not after the hot flaming dumpster fire that was Age of Ultron and the depressing grind that was Civil War. But I do care. I do. I can’t help it. I know that the Marvel Studios folks trying to tell a story with as many characters as they are, even across two films, is gonna be ludicrous, but I can’t help it. I’m hopeful.

Deadpool 2

I’m honestly not sure if the sequel can live up to the awesome of the first film, but I know that Ryan Reynolds really cares about this character and his story, so I hope it will. Also, the marketing for it is already hilarious. I’ve never enjoyed a marketing campaign for anything as much as I enjoyed the one for Deadpool and it looks like the advertising team for the sequel is keen to live up to that legacy.

If you haven’t, already, check out this early trailer…ish…thing:

Oceans 8

MORE WOMEN-LED ACTION! YES! YES! Heist movies are some of my favorites and the trailer makes this one look like it’s going to at least be a lot of fun, even if it isn’t a masterpiece of the genre.

The Incredibles 2

It’s about damned time.

Aquaman

The Justice League movie was only okay, but it definitely sold me on some of the characters. I hope they give Jason Momoa something meaty to work with. And I hope we see a lot of floating hair wreathing incredible biceps.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

Mostly watching this for The Wasp and for the far-flung possibility of Cassie Lang showing any signs of being likely to be the springboard off which they launch a Young Avengers movie.

Come on, Marvel. Give me a Young Avengers movie. Give me Kate Bishop. Give me Billy and Teddy being sickeningly cute. Give me Eli fucking Bradley, you cowards!

X-Men: Dark Phoenix

Once again, I don’t really WANT to care, but I do. I love the X-Men in the comics and no matter how badly they keep screwing up the characters in the movies, I keep finding myself wanting to see the next one.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

A Miles Morales movie! Long overdue! I wish it was live-action, but still. I’m psyched about this.

Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek is going to make a great Freddy Mercury. If you haven’t seen his other work, you should check it out.

* * *

Obviously, this isn’t all the movies that will be good or all the movies I’m going to see in 2018. There will be lots more to watch out for. I hope you all stick with me to see it unfold!

Happy New Year!!!

The Not-At-All-Awaited Gnatty Awards

Here we are, the final day with 2018 swiftly approaching.

And very good riddance to 2017. Not that some great stuff didn’t happen but I am exhausted and so is most everyone I know.

We aren’t owed anything, god knows, but here’s hoping the new year brings with it some new energy for new hope.

As for me, I achieved my resolved goal of 2017, which was to start writing this blog. Good for me.

It was a pretty good year for films. I enjoyed an awful lot and I found an awful lot to be truly excellent (overlapping, but not unified, circles). And I finally faced the fact that I won’t personally be able to make everyone I think should see them watch all the films I enjoyed. Doesn’t stop me from buying them in hope, though.

Now without further ado, I present the final damned list of movies I saw in 2017 (for the first time, in a theater), and the not-at-all awaited Gnatty Awards. These are awards I award totally on my own recognizance and whim to the people I feel like in categories I made up. (I will be sticking to movies that came out new this year, instead of all the ones I’ve seen.)

Top 3 laughing movies:
3. Bad Mom’s Christmas
2. Lego Batman
1. Thor: Ragnarok

Top 3 crying movies:
3. Lady Bird
2. Gifted
1. Lucky

Top 3 angry movies:
3. Atomic Blonde
2. Hidden Figures
1. I Am Not Your Negro

Top 3 fist-in-the-air triumph movies:
3. Battle of the Sexes
2. Hidden Figures
1. Wonder Woman

Top 3 Action Films:
3. Hitman’s Bodyguard
2. Wonder Woman
1. Atomic Blonde

Top 3 Horror Films:
3. IT
2. Colossal
1. Get Out

Top 3 Scifi Films:
3. Thor: Ragnarok
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
1. The Shape of Water

Top 3 Romance Films: 
3. Call Me By Your Name
2. The Big Sick
1. The Shape of Water

Top 3 Drama Films:
3. Lady Bird
2. Lucky
1. Moonlight

Top 3 serious genre films:
3. Colossal
2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
1. The Shape of Water

Top 3 lighthearted genre films:
3. Spiderman: Homecoming
2. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
1. Thor: Ragnarok

Top 3 surprisingly sweet & uplifting films:
3. Table 19
2. Logan Lucky
1. Tom of Finland

Top 3 things I was looking forward to but which turned out to be huge disappointments:
3. The Mummy
2. Vallerian and the City of A Thousand Planets
1. Dark Tower

Top 3 sex scenes:
3. Call Me By Your Name
2. Atomic Blonde
1. Professor Marston And the Wonder Women

Top 3 films that I was skeptical of but which turned out to be surprisingly good:
3. Baywatch
2. Blade Runner 2049
1. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Top 3 films that were fucking superb, but which I will never voluntarily watch again (probably): 
3. The Zookeeper’s Wife
2. Dunkirk
1. Baby Driver

Top 3 films I adored that didn’t fit in the above categories:
3. My Cousin Rachel
2. XXX: Return of Xander Cage
1. Kong: Skull Island

Here are the superlatives of the year:

Film I am most likely to watch eleventy billion times for the rest of my life: Thor: Ragnarok

Film I am betting folks didn’t see that I am going to forcibly show them: Logan Lucky

Film I am most likely to show to my mother: The Big Sick

Film I am most likely to show to my brother: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Here is the full list of what I saw in the theater (with some duplicates, you’ll notice.)

Hidden Figures, 1/7/2017
Moonlight, 1/16/2017
Arrival, 1/28/2017 (first seen 2016)
XXX: Return of Xander Cage, 1/28/2017
Lego Batman, 2/10/2017
I Am Not Your Negro, 2/11/2017
The Space Between Us, 2/11/2017
Split, 2/11/2017
Cure for Wellness, 2/19/2017
Get Out, 2/24/2017
Moonlight, 3/3/2017
Logan, 3/4/2017
Table 19, 3/12/2017
Kong: Skull Island, 3/12/2017
Power Rangers, 3/25/2017
Life, 3/25/2017
The Zookeeper’s Wife, 4/8/2017
Gifted, 4/8/2017
Fate of the Furious, 4/14/2017
Postcards From The Edge, 4/26/2017
Colossal, 4/27/2017
Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2, 5/6/2017
Baywatch, 5/25/2017
The Circle, 5/26/2017
Alien: Covenant, 5/26/2017
Wonder Woman, 6/1/2017
Wonder Woman, 6/4/2017
It Comes At Night, 6/10/2017
The Mummy, 6/10/2017
Valley Of The Dolls, 6/14/2017
My Cousin Rachel, 6/18/2017
Baby Driver, 7/3/2017
Spider-Man: Homecoming, 7/7/2017
War for the Planet of the Apes, 7/15/2017
The Big Sick, 7/15/2017
Dunkirk (70mm), 7/20/2017
Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets, 7/21/2017
Atomic Blonde, 7/30/2017
Night of the Hunter, 7/31/2017
Atomic Blonde, 8/4/2017
Atomic Blonde, 8/5/2017
Wonder Woman, 8/11/2017
Dark Tower, 8/12/2017
Logan Lucky, 9/4/2017
IT, 9/13/2017
Mother!, 9/17/2017
Kingsman 2: the golden circle, 9/24/2017
The Hitman’s Bodyguard, 9/27/2017
Battle of the Sexes, 9/30/2017
The Mountain Between Us, 10/7/2017
Blade Runner 2049, 10/8/2017
Friday the 13th, 10/13/2017
Friday the 13th: Part 2, 10/13/2017
Professor Marston And The Wonder Women, 10/15/2017
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, 10/21/2017
Suburbicon, 10/28/2017
Lucky, 10/29/2017
Thor: Ragnarok, 11/3/2017
Murder On The Orient Express, 11/11/2017
Thor: Ragnarok, 11/12/2017
Justice League, 11/18/2017
Bad Mom’s Christmas, 11/25/2017
Lady Bird, 12/3/2017
Darkest Hour, 12/10/2017
The Shape Of Water, 12/10/2017
Tom of Finland, 12/16/2017
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, 12/20/2017
Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 12/24/2017
Molly’s Game, 12/29/2017
Downsizing, 12/29/2017
Call Me By Your Name, 12/31/2017

Thanks for everything, y’all, and I will see you in 2018

Tom of Finland

Finals will be over soon, but for now they are still eating my brain and making me a highly-tuned ball of vibrating stress. I managed to get to see one movie this weekend, in spite of that.

Almost everyone who has sought out queer culture knows the work of Touko Laaksonen. Tom of Finland, as he is known in the U.S., was an artist with a strong, bold style who celebrated male bodies and male desire.

Even if you don’t know his name, you may well have seen his work – muscular men naked or ensheathed in tight leather or uniforms. Men on display. Men who flaunt it in a way that has been outright dangerous in most of modern history (and still is, plenty of places).

Cover of 'Tom Of Finland: The Art of Pleasure' art book by Taschen featuring two men in motorcycle leathers with faces close together as though they're about to kiss.

I encountered his work all over the place in the nineties. I remember visiting London back in the very early aughts, when a friend of mine was working there. I bought a little book of Laaksonen’s work that Taschen had published. This nod of understanding went between me and the clerk at the purchase (though all he said was ‘I love him!’, referring to Tom).

Some of the art is explicitly sexual, some merely erotic. None of it hides a thing.

Having experienced my own queer awakening when his work was already firmly part of the gay culture, I was very interested in seeing the biopic of him. Covering a huge swath of the mid twentieth-century, the film smoothly brings us from era to era, highlighting the challenges faced by gay men in each and the ways they worked around those challenges.

The challenges, though they loomed too large to be ignored, were not the focus of the film. The focus was an artist’s persistent love and drive and desperate desire to depict and see a world in which he could not only live freely, but be happy. The film depicts Laaksonen not as an idealist but as someone whose sexual identity is fundamental to his own health and well-being and who won’t pretend to be what he is not.

He will, in both his cynicism over the world’s inability to change and his perseverance in the face of the world being truly awful, be relateable to a broad swath of the queer community, I believe.

The film goes through some dark places but it has this core of thrumming delight. It takes us into Laaksonen’s desires and shows us what strength they give him. It runs the emotional gamut and takes us through war and brutality and repression but also through moments of freedom and light and clarity.

My comment on twitter when coming out of the film was “That might be the first time I’ve wept with joy and triumph at the notion of a room full of joyous leathermen being themselves, but I can’t be certain.”

It filled me with joy and pride and determination – a kind of patriotism for queerlandia, wishing to fight for her honor and sing her praises.

It’s been a pretty good couple of years for queer cinema. Between Moonlight‘s (well deserved) oscar wins, the Battle of the Sexes biopic, the wonderful and powerful James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, a slate of acclaimed indies and even a few wide release action movies with queer leads, it’s been a joy and a relief to be a non-straight person in a movie theater seat several times.

Do I want more? Absofuckinglutely. This is my gay agenda: I won’t be happy till we have action movies with openly gay leads, lesbians in space, trans folks in political dramas and romcoms and bipan people who openly admit they’re bipan on screen. There’s so much further we can get, but damn, we’ve come a long way.

But I digress. Tom of Finland is well worth seeing – Pekka Strang’s acting as  is excellent and the film pulls no punches, celebrates its opportunities for joy and brings you through a chunk of history with its subjects. You will laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll gasp in horror and you’ll be filled with inner joy.

It’s not perfect. No film is. And one of these days I’m going to write about the parts that women and folks of color play in films that focus on gay white cis men in detail, because it bothers me, but for now, let us pledge allegiance to the rainbow flag of the united states of Queerlandia…

Quick Reviews: Darkest Hour and The Shape of Water

[This post contains spoilers in the form of CWs for The Shape of Water – They’re in the very last paragraph if you wish to avoid them.]

Darkest Hour

I have no idea what twists of the tides of fates (or whose design) brought this film out in the same year as Dunkirk. I think it’s unfortunate for this film, though. Where Dunkirk took a well-known story and told it in a new way, bringing both the personal implications and the larger situation into focus, Darkest Hour was just kind of fine.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Gary Oldman played a freaking fantastic Churchill. It was very clear to me he put heart, soul and work into the role. But the story wasn’t told through any interesting framework. We weren’t getting any new perspective on it. The things the film chose to highlight were pretty predictable. It was a solid biopic, but I’d much rather have seen either a story I know less (maybe some later parts of Churchill in the war, or his political fall instead of the rise) or seen the story through someone else’s eyes.

I feel as though a very good candidate for re-centering the film would’ve been Churchill’s wife, Clementine Churchill, played by Kristen Scott Thomas. I feel as though the movie gave her short shrift. I would’ve loved to see more of her perspective and her story.

The framing character was, instead, Elizabeth Layton, Churchill’s secretary (played by Lily James). But we learned almost nothing about her except in relation to Churchill himself. The scraps we’re given of her past are not enough to root her solidly in the emotional reality of the film.

The film was overall well put together, but even though I was laughing, crying and being inspired at the right times, it feels bland in my memory.

I predict it’ll make it firmly into the rounds of movies teachers show the day before a holiday and will make no other particular dent on film history.

The Shape of Water

The first disclaimer is that I’m generally a Guillermo del Toro fan. I haven’t unreservedly loved every movie of his that I’ve seen, but I am frequently in love with something about them – the look, the mood, the themes, the surreality…

The Shape of Water I loved. It was a beautiful story compellingly told. The choices made in color palette and repeated imagery were striking and appropriate. The themes were resonant. I suspect when I watch it again, I’ll find more and more hidden things thrumming through it. This is del Toro at his best, I think.

Unlike some other films that are in the ‘best of del Toro’ category (Pan’s Labyrinth) this film was mostly heartwarming and lovely. (Not to say there aren’t awful scary danger parts. There are.) The characters are broad and rich and believable, even though the world they live in isn’t, particularly. Thus the 50s b-movie-style science fiction elements are rooted in deep and genuine emotion and elevated to something greater than one might expect.

It’s a grand romance in a strangely traditional Hollywood style, in spite of its scifi flavor.

I really, really enjoyed it. This is the stuff that keeps me coming back to del Toro’s films even after a few that aren’t so captivating. I know when he strikes it right, it resonates so deeply and beautifully I can feel it in my gut.

I will warn that one pet does die in the film. Also, there is a scene of sexual harassment. Just for y’all’s info.

My current level of inability to cope with my life is represented by the 113 unread emails in my personal inbox. Not helped by the fact that I’m working this weekend because it’s finals.

Don’t let anyone kid you, college students — everyone hates finals. It’s not just you. Staff, profs, teaching assistants….anyone who has to deal with them.

In spite of extra work, I am going to try to get to see The Shape Of Water this weekend, and possibly also Darkest Hour.

Here’s some recommendations for folks who actually have time this weekend!

Netflix

First, I would like to note that Netflix has several big-time franchise movies right now, including Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (super fun) and Rogue One (super not-fun but quite good).

It also has one of my favorite cheesy action flicks, XXX.

The first time I saw this movie, when I got to the end of an early scene where our hero is jumping a motorcycle off a building that was in the process of exploding, I was like, “This is the best fucking movie I’ve ever seen.”

It isn’t, actually, but the action scenes are a lot of fun. I kind of love the whole franchise, tbh. The films are not an intellectual challenge or anything, but they’re playing into being exactly what they are – badass stunts and explosions aplenty.

In fact, let’s take a moment to consider the stunt persons. They are epic. I appreciate what they do.

I am also totally psyched for the new season of One Day At A Time that will be coming out in January. If you haven’t watched it, try season 1. It’s fun, thoughtful, kid-safe and charming.

Hulu

Hulu has Gifted, which I’ve watched some of and is quite good and Runaways, which is one of my favorite freaking Marvel comics runs of all time. The trailer made it look amazing, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it yet.

They also have the adorable and under-rated Girls Just Want To Have Fun.

It’s a dancing movie about friendships among girls and the usual teenaged stuff. It has a great soundtrack and is quite a feel-good watch.

It also has a surprisingly great cast – Shannon Doherty, Sarah Jessica Parker and Helen Hunt are all in it. Also, watch for a random appearance from one of my faves, Robert Downey, Jr.

Prime Streaming

I got a delightful surprise this week when I came home one night to find out that Amazon’s streaming video is now accessible from my AppleTV (which is my household’s main source of stuff to go on the ticky-talky box). That’s probably neither here nor there to most of you, but I wanted to mention it, in case it was.

Prime has The Big Sick, a film I’ve mentioned favorably, before. It’s a warm and moving movie probably even if you’re not already on the Kumail Nanjiani bandwagon, which I certainly was as a huge fan of his stand-up.

An aside, I finally started listening to Nanjiani’s X Files podcast and it is a freaking delight.

They also have Mr. Robot, a tense techno-thriller show with some really interesting character stuff.

If you’re looking for something lighter, consider the action comedy Rush Hour 2. For some reason the first one isn’t on streaming, but the sequel is and I don’t think it’ll hurt from the lack of the first, if you haven’t seen it.

Kids

In term of movies for little observers, Amazon is weak on movie options, but they seem to have all the Christmas specials ever made right now. Hulu still has all the freaking Disney. A good one to try might be the kid-aimed sports movie The Mighty Ducks.

On Netflix, check out Zootopia, if you haven’t. It’s an animal-as-people movie that’s better and more thoughtful than I imagined it could be. They also have a metric tonne of Christmas stuff if that is your jam.

GOOD LUCK and see y’all next week.