Tag Archives: drama

Bushwick (2017)

I’ve been to New York City once, in the late ’90s before things got “cleaned up”, whatever that means. So I saw Central Park when it was scary, and based on the looks I got in my giant cloak, apparently I was the scary person in the park. Which is okay. And I saw all the peepshow spots on what I have to assume some 20 years later was 42nd Street. The posters in the windows say “a quarter”, but you cannot get into those places for a quarter. Which is false advertising, but “cleaning them up” for false advertising seems a little harsh. About the only other thing I did was, because I was young and foolish, go to the Hard Rock Café. I’m cooler now than I was then, in most ways.

Nevertheless, I have a point to make with all of this, which is that despite my well-traveled worldliness as documented just now, most everything that I know about New York City, I know from Marvel comics. And a place Marvel has never put a spotlight on, at least as of winter/spring 1985, is the Bushwick neighborhood in Brooklyn. So this is definitely a sort of “today I learned” moment, for values of today equal to a couple of days ago.

Anyway, Bushwick is a neighborhood kind of story, in which blonde grad student Lucy emerges from the subway into a war zone. Why are there black helicopters and commandos everywhere, blowing things up and shooting people? Between the targeted violence and the random opportunism, can she make it the few blocks to her grandmother’s house? Will Dave Bautista save her? Will she save him?

The funny thing is, this comes across as a high octane pulse-pounder, when really it’s a quiet portrait of two people just trying to get along in a quiet portrait of an urban neighborhood that Mayor Rudy forgot to “clean up”, except that the quiet introspective moments that fill the portrait are punctuated by explosions and gunfire. I can see why this is a movie that would make fans of exactly no genres happy, but for me, it was a very rare kind of mash-up, and I dug it.

Into the Forest (2015)

Into the Forest was sold to me as an apocalypse movie, and I’m not quite sure that’s right. It’s a (usually) quiet family drama about young adult sisters and their father living in a remote but fancy home in the forest, with technology that still codes as “near future” even though the film is five years old. Only, some kind of long term power outage strikes[1] and all the fancy technology is no longer quite so useful.

Which reminds me of the speech on every Walking Dead graphic novel about being forced to start living now that we no longer have all these modern conveniences. So I suppose in a way it is an apocalyptic movie after all, despite the lack of zombies and/or regularly paced explosions? Mostly, it’s daily life plus survival in a quiet but never quite empty world.

It was also described as a feminine take on an apocalypse, insofar as masculine takes involve trying to Get to Somewhere and Solve Everything, whereas this is about staying in one place and staying alive. I’m not sure that’s quite right either, at least the motivational gender split, but I agree that it was definitely a non-traditional take, and also that it was created by and largely populated by women, so maybe that one is more fair than I’m giving credit as well.

Either way, it was a worthy way to spend a few hours. Downside for you: it will only be on Netflix for a few more hours, and after that, man, who knows?

[1] the state? the coast? the nation? the world? Who knows, when the lack of power and rapidly dwindled gas supply means news is not really forthcoming.

What Remains of Edith Finch

I played another entire game over the past few days. This is so so weird. (Which I say every time I finish a game, I know. But it is! Especially relative to how long it’s been since I finished a book[1].)

This time, What Remains of Edith Finch, which is another plot-heavy / game-light exploration game in which … you know, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game like this, except, minimally, Gone Home. Edith Finch has, um, returned to her ancestral dwelling after the death of her mother and the receipt of a mysterious key, which grants her access to the majority of the house, which has been sealed up and inaccessible since before her earliest memories.

What follows is an exploration of generations of Finch family history and the simultaneous exploration of a truly ridiculous plus awesome house, with mysteries galore. There are elements fantastical, elements tragic, and elements personally very uncomfortable. If you want trigger warnings, you should expect that most things people get triggered by (besides inflicted violence) will be in play.

It’s barely a game in the way that all the things which fall into this genre are, in the sense that there are minimal choices to be made; you only move forward through the sparse and lonely plot. But it was a plot full of people and events I cared about, which is what I was looking for.

[1] Outside of a specific reading schedule

Mulan (2020)

I am growing ever more cynical, a fact of which I am not fond. Especially in a world where I have offspring. (Which this one seems to be.)

The thing about Mulan is, it’s a good movie. It’s got a good heart, a lot of fantasy Chinese combat[1], a cast full of characters worth empathy on virtually all sides of the conflict, and a message worth embracing. I never saw the original animated version, nor do I know if it is based on any actual legend? But there’s a girl, and a war, and a conscription. One male from every family to join the Emperor’s army and save China from, y’know, the Bad Guys. Except in the case of the girl’s family, the only male is her father, still crippled by the last war. So, rather than let him go to a certain death, she takes his place!

Plot twist! (or not), it turns out the Chinese warriors in the age of the Middle Kingdom[2] aren’t cool with the idea of womenfolk fighting, and they will almost certainly kill her if they find out her secret. This is the heart of the movie, and it is also where my cynicism springs to the fore.

The problem is this: as much as I liked the movie, and wanted to like the movie, I couldn’t bring myself to believe in the outcome. This is what 2020 has done to me, I guess. Ugh.

It’s good, though, and it’s okay to be heartwarmed instead of cynical, if you can swing it. I mean, it’s not like it’s only heartwarming, for that matter. Every beat in the movie is earned, even if I didn’t believe it. The failure is in me, and my willingness to be open to the magic of people watching reality play out in real time and change their opinions as a result.

[1] for which there is a term but I forget what it is. I thought it was wuxia, but that does not imply fantastical elements, only the martial arts themselves.
[2] This is a term I have plausibly heard, or possibly made up, and which in any case could have nothing whatsoever to do with the time period in which the movie is actually set. I just want to sound informed without doing any work. The truly sad part is, in the time it took me to type this, I could have just looked it up instead.

The Next Karate Kid

Cobra Kai arrived on Netflix a few weeks ago, and now that I’m back at work (a future month of paternity leave yet remains to me, which I will use later, hooray) I have a lot more time to watch TV[1]. Which means I watched all four of the Pat Morita Karate Kid movies this week, three of which I had previously seen. (And all three of which I would recommend refamiliarizing with prior to Cobra Kai, which I also recommend. It pays off, is all I’m saying.)

Then there’s The Next Karate Kid, in which Pat Morita is hanging out in Boston with the wife of a deceased WWII buddy after a big 50th anniversary of their war heroism ceremony, and then for reasons that do not bear looking at too closely, he’s left in charge of her high school granddaughter for a few months. If you guessed that what she really needs is the kind of discipline and confidence that karate can provide, well, that has pretty much covered every salient point of the movie.

That said, Mr. Miyagi is a hell of a character, and the monk interludes are worth the price of admission, even if plot points such as “why was this a good idea, conceptually, to leave a Okinawan stranger in charge of a teenaged girl” and “how could any school possibly allow a random military guy to put his own private student army in charge of the other students” are truly inexplicable.

I’m not saying go watch it, but there’s good stuff in there if you did. I miss Miyagi all over again, thanks to this big giant rewatch fest.

[1] Unless it has subtitles. I actually am working, and you can’t watch the screen nearly enough to keep up with a subtitled show or film. That’s just math.

Blue My Mind

Another week or so, another movie or so.

This time, a not-particularly-horror movie that combines teen angst bullshit[1] with a modicum of weird body horror, which for the most part seemed out of place, to be honest? 15 year old Mia is going through puberty, which means she doesn’t like her parents, does like the mean girl clique at school, and wants to have all the sex and drugs and cigarettes it is possible for a nearly-legal German teen to have.

But also, strange things are afoot with, uh, her feet. And the family goldfish. What can it all mean? Was she adopted like she thinks, or did she just fall in with the wrong crowd, like her parents think? Does the body horror have any place in this movie? I can answer that one: no, but it did give them a way to wrap things up, instead of just trailing off into disaffected adulthood like most people making “bad” choices end up in fiction. So… yay?

I’m carefully avoiding the spoiler at the center of Blue My Mind, mostly because it was impossible to not know it from the presentation on my streaming service of choice, and the expectation that it would turn out to matter is mostly what ruined the movie for me. Counterpoint: I probably wouldn’t have watched it without that expectation. Counter counterpoint: would that have been so bad?

[1] but no body count

Cold Skin

Remember that weird-looking (or perhaps I mean surreal-looking) movie about the people in a lighthouse dealing with mermaids? So, I never saw the one you’re thinking of, but I did see Cold Skin, which is as far as I can tell the same movie but a few years earlier. Probably there are differences?

In this case, anyway, the narrator arrives on a remote island to document a year’s worth of weather patterns, because it’s 1914 and that’s how people learned things back then. Via British people with notebooks living in cabins on remote islands. Only, the prior year’s weather documenter is nowhere to be found, and the only witness is the lighthouse keeper, who has armored up his lighthouse like a medieval fortress with multiple layers of those pointed stick emplacements you use to keep out zombies or armies of such size that forward pressure from the soldiers in the back ranks impales people until the sticks aren’t a problem anymore.

Thereafter follows a rollicking good monster movie which is also a meditation (and an unexpectedly timely one at that) on how people cope with isolation. And a number of other things that it would be very spoilery to go into, but I was surprised by just how much I liked this. Then, later, it turned out to be an adaptation of a Spanish novel, and I became less surprised, as sure enough it is in retrospect a very literary movie. In tone and pacing, I mean. And also in depth. (This is, to a minimal extent, also a pun.)

The Invisible Man (2020)

Then, on Friday night, I went to see another movie. Woo, movies!

Except, not so high as all that on the “woo!” factor, because what I saw was The Invisible Man, which… man. I don’t know where to go here. The thing is, this is a legitimately good movie, and arguably it’s a legitimately important movie on top of that, and (also arguably) Elisabeth Moss is the finest actress of her generation. At minimum, she’s the best there is at what she does, which is be compellingly emotionally injured.

But goddamn. Leaving aside the subject matter[1], which should be hard for anyone to watch (although it probably is not, and I weep for some of my fellow so-called humans) and definitely would be hard for a segment of the population to watch, the movie is also unceasingly tense, after the first 30 seconds or so. The longest period in which it let up was for maybe five minutes, and this only happened the one time. I can’t recommend it to anyone for that reason alone. So stressful!

But it is seriously good, and seriously important. It’s just even more than either of those seriously unpleasant. Basically, if you are aware of the concept of gaslighting, watch at your own risk. If you are not, or if you don’t really believe in it, watching is mandatory. Not that, if you somehow disbelieve in that concept, you would listen to me here.

But you should.

[1] Another plot summary by footnote: don’t mind if I do! Aforementioned Elisabeth Moss escapes an abusive relationship, only to discover that she has not. Because, seriously, you know who can get away with pretty much any damn thing? A rich techbro who is also invisible. Or! Could it possibly all be in her head?

Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl

I scrolled to the tail end of my watch list on Shudder last night, because it’s been a minute or three since I watched anything there that wasn’t hosted by Joe Bob Briggs. The movie at the end was conveniently short (since I was halfway thinking about going to sleep early instead) and in English (since I wanted to get my outstanding review handled before the plot got very busy[1]), so perfect placement, and thusly did I watch Sweet, Sweet Lonely Girl, which is one of those recent modern movies with a heavy ’70s aesthetic[2]. Check the poster to your right, for example.

Despite the 20th C gothic setting, which is teenager gets away from her creepy stepdad by taking a summer job as caretaker for her mother’s shut-in sister who lives in a big empty house but refuses to leave her bedroom or for that matter even open the door to be seen by anyone due to agoraphobia and also she has a heart condition, despite all those horror movie trappings, this easily could have been mistaken for an awkward teen lesbian coming of age art film. Because there’s the alluring raven haired beauty at the grocery store, and wait, she’s interested in me, the quiet shy wallflower, as a person? And she’s a free spirit who doesn’t wear a bra when changing clothes into the flapper gear in the basement of the big empty house? And she’s maybe interested in me as more than just a person?

But this is a horror movie, and the shut-in aunt is downright creepy, and long story short there’s more going on than coming of age, and for that matter more going on than a plausibly haunted 20th C gothic empty old house. But like indie arthouse flicks in general, it is definitely more concerned with mood and atmosphere than it is with plot, and the result is I’m not entirely sure whether I was satisfied or not.

But I think so. The final shot of the movie does a lot of heavy lifting, is all I’m saying.

[1] Which goal, incidentally, I think I accomplished? I missed an early key transition, but since it had been expressed in the plot summary, no confusion!
[2] The House of the Devil, for example, although that’s more mid ’80s aesthetic.

Blade Runner 2049

The other movie I’ve watched lately (because these are both like two weeks old, sigh) is Blade Runner 2049, a long overdue sequel. Or an unnecessary one? The thing is, that is both true (in that Blade Runner told a complete story with a satisfying conclusion that revealed a lot about human nature) and untrue (in that this movie tells a mostly complete story with a conclusion who satisfaction depends on what you believe the movie to be (I’ll get back to this) that reveals at least a little bit more about human nature), and ultimately I will err on the side of it had good effects and a surprising amount of naked people (or not; mostly not, come to think of it) and if it was maybe a little long, I don’t think it was longer than it needed to be, and all in all, apparently my review is a tepid thumbs up?

It was better than that. It was not great, and I think I wanted it to be great as a means of justifying its existence, which is not judging a thing on its merits, so I feel bad about that. Anyway, it is, as advertised, the same movie 32 years later. There’s a Blade Runner, whose job is to get rid of rogue older models of androids, but that is a job whose niche is rapidly closing since the newer androids are programmed better now and always follow orders and never rebel. Except, obviously, there’s more to it than that.

What I like about Blade Runner is that it is a story with a central moral dilemma. The sequel does not have that. It takes a snapshot of a likely future based on its progenitor work, and it lovingly explores every facet of that snapshot. At the end of the movie, maybe two things that matter have happened, but it is important to acknowledge that the things I am talking about do really matter, and the world is a different place than it was when the movie started.

The good news is, a well-told story about a world that once did something amazing is pretty worthwhile, even if it is not in itself as amazing as the last story was. Also, though, I should watch it again. I am pretty sure that there are more layers to be revealed, when my own preconceptions about where the plot is (or should be) going aren’t getting in my way.