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Quick Review: The Irishman

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It was boring.

There.

Actually, let me be fair.

The first half is kind of boring. The second half describes the conflict between the mob and Jimmy Hoffa, and it’s more interesting than you’d think. Obviously it was dumb for Hoffa to get in bed with organized crime, and obviously that was only gonna end one way. But the way that end comes about suprises with it’s politeness, it’s almost genteel conversation of the essential conflict. It comes down to two men declaring their intentions, each of whom never raise my voice, each of whom express respect to the other. It matters not. The source of every conflict – who is to have power, who is to give way – cannot be avoided.

And so as you go through the movies second half, the power of things unstated chokes the characters off. The film becomes almost Bergmannian in its slow shots of characters in inescapable agonies. That’s to the good.

What’s to the bad is the story itself. Goodfellas and its comic twin, Wolf of Wall Street, succeed as cinema because they provide an answer to a question: Why does this institutional wickedness exist? What need does it serve? The Irishman leaves a hole in the role of its titular character. Why is he this way? Why does he just fall into the role of an assassin? We get a taste of some prisoner-clearing in WWII – a far more common practice in that war than is commonly known – but that’s only a hint. There’s nothing at the heart of this man that we can get a grip on, not ambition, not hatred, not bloodlust. Is it merely loyalty, without any higher connection to anything else? That seems rather shallow for Scorsese’s body of work.

Is it worth watching? If you’re curious as to how Jimmy Hoffa went down, sure. If you like a slow-burn drama, this’ll work for you. But if you’re expecting the electricity of Scorsese’s better-known work, you won’t get it here.

Quick Review: El Camino

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On paper, this is the sort of thing I should hate: an unnecessary exploitation of an excellent TV show several years after the fact, by a streaming service that just happens to still have the original on its platform. And far from being a movie, it’s really just a feature-length epilogue of the show. You can’t just watch El Camino unless you’re familiar with Breaking Bad, and as that show finished a while ago, you’d be better off rewatching at least the final season, and probably the whole damn thing. It’s almost shameless, really.

However, I don’t hate it, because:

  • Jesse’s Epilogue is a Bit of A Loose End. Last we see of him, he’s free of the prison the Okies had him in, and he’s free of Walter White. And while Breaking Bad was always primarily Walt’s story, as the seasons went on Jesse’s place in it as the Suffering Son of Heisenberg became the true balance to that. Seeing that closure is a good thing.
  • It has all the charms of the show. The visual style and pacing, the storytelling, they’re all here, and they’re nicely focused on the character we most want to see make out well.
  • It Gives us the Balance we need. Walter White’s story was always going to end a certain way, and it did, which is why Breaking Bad is the only “prestige” show of this century to retain its status as time goes on. Unlike it’s network-mate Mad Men, it finished with a climax, rather than a dull slinking away, and unlike Game of Thrones, its final season and episode gave the audience a capstone on the whole arc of the story. But it was a dark story, told darkly. Jesse’s escape from that darkness into a chance at redemption and grace is a needed counterpoint.
  • It’s Fun. The story is as I said, focused, and it moves with nice bits of action and intrigue. It’s the world Jesse knows, the dog-eat-dog of betrayal and gamesmanship, so there isn’t much of the moral degradation that Walt’s story entailed. Rather, it’s him fighting the world that has almost devoured him, and having a bit of revenge along the way.

So while it’s not the most brilliant thing I’ve ever seen on Netflix, it served its Hail and Farewell admirably. It was worth the series rewatch.

There’s a New $&^@ Ghostbusters Film Coming Out, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the French New Wave

They’ve basically turned Ghostbusters into PG-13 Goosebumps.

I wrote a while ago about how we should just let the Ghostbusters “franchise” fade away, and not let it be a “fandom” to which we have obligations and loyalty.

Ghostbusters was a good movie. A classic, even. Ghostbusters 2 was… enh. The cartoon was a cartoon. The reboot bombed. We don’t need another Ghostbusters movie. We don’t need to “save” the “franchise”. It’s not a fucking fast food chain, it’s a movie. Just one movie that was entertaining in 1984. The rest of the dreck that’s been built around it is forgettable and unimportant. Another movie is unnecessary and would accomplish nothing but spark unending debates and wearisome attempts at drollery by idiots on social media.

The time and money spent on whether determining whether another Ghostbusters movie could be better spent on creating a genuine and new piece of entertainment that could itself become memorable and rewatchable over and over again.

But nobody listens to me, so this is happening anyway. So the skinny kid from Stranger Things is going to be an OG Ghostbuster’s grandson. (my money’s on Egon – this pig is directed by Jason Reitman, Ivan’s son). And as Ace of Spades noted, there are no jokes in the trailer. This is being played straight.

Now, it’s probably going to be competent, as Jason Reitman is at the very least a competent director. But the whole thought of it benumbs me, indeed depresses me somewhat. They. Just. Can’t. Stop. With the endless Franchise movies. They’re terrified of doing anything else.

So the hell with it. I’m going to dive headlong into art-house movies. I figure I’ll start with Godard, the only name of French New Wave Cinema that my memory retains. I know nothing at all about that whole Criterion Collection scene, so why not learn something?

And sure, I’m positive it’s going to be full of arty-farty po-mo sophistry. After all, Godard was a critic before he became a director, a fact that should surprise no one. But that  gives me a window on his art that you don’t get with other filmmakers. And Jonathan Rosenbaum attests that there’s a connection between his criticism and his films:

Like Cocteau, Godard commands a vigorous rhetoric that crosses nimbly from one medium to another, registers most effectively in aphorisms, playfully orbits the work of other artists into a toylike cosmology of its own, and instantly changes whatever it touches by assimilating it into a personal aesthetic. Look long enough at his criticism and virtually every departure in Godard’s films will be theoretically justified; study the films with enough scrutiny, and even the most outrageous reviews will start to make sense.

Besides, I enjoy reading film reviews, even when I don’t agree with them. The meaner the better.

Let’s Not Go To the Movies: A Continuing Series of Curmudeoning at the Debased Art of Cinema

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Here’s what’s playing at My local Regal tonight:

  • Charlie’s Angels 2019. Because if you keep scraping, the barrell has no bottom, right?
  • Ford vs. Ferrari.  Days of Thunder made palatable to critics by historical place-setting.
  • The Good Liar. Old people intrigue, prompting a new generation to ask “Hey did you know Helen Mirren had her boobs out in some British movies in the Sixties? Seriously, I’ve seen the gifs. She was hot, bro.”
  • Doktor Sleep. Is this the longest wait for a sequel that no one asked for? Unless they crank out Citizen Kane 2: Mark of Kane, I mean?
  • Last Christmas, Game of Thrones had my trust, and the very next spring, they gave it away. This year, Emilia’s in this, and it won’t be very special, special.
  • Midway. Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t mind seeing this. It’s supposed to be decent. So if I decide to completely ignore the title of this post, it will be for this. The odds are … enh.
  • Playing With Fire. The movie that, to the question “Is John Leguizamo still alive?”, provides the answer “Sort of.”
  • Harriet. Is it just me, or is this playing more like an action movie and less like “12 Years a Slave?” I mean, if anyone deserves an adventurous biopic, it’s Harriet Tubman, but I’m getting weird vibes off this one.
  • Terminator: Dark Fate. I’ve done this already. Begone to the ash-heap of multiple histories, you degraded piece of cyberpunk.
  • Countdown. There’s basic, there’s stupid basic, and then there’s PG-13 horror.
  • Malificent: Mistress of Evil. If Disney really wanted to be subversive here, they’d have cast Cassandra Thompson in the lead. The title fits.
  • Zombieland: Double Tap. As much as I liked the original, I am wary of this. I have a feeling it won’t be incompetent, just uninteresting.
  • Joker. This must be doing well to still be commanding theater space, and I’ve heard enough good things about it that I might check it out when it comes to Netflix. But I still don’t think the Joker should have a movie, so I might not.

So I think I’ll just stay home and finish my rewatch of Breaking Bad so I can finally see El Camino. I can have beer on my couch.

I Don’t Feel At Home in Pop Culture Anymore

Probably that’s not news. I haven’t felt at home in some time, really. Maybe that’s just getting old, but even when I was young I’ve found the pseudo-devotion off-putting. One thing I’ve said for years is that the reason I never became a Trekkie wasn’t because I didn’t like Star Trek, but because I didn’t want to have conversations with nerds about it.

Nerds are the absolute worst. I never felt comfortable as one. I refused to dig deep into comic books, D&D, or anything else, because having to devote that much mental energy about being right about something that doesn’t matter felt strange to me.

But Andrew, you say, there’s like fifteen essays scatterered around this blog about Star Wars. You’re absolutely a Warsie.

No, I’m absolutely not. I tried to be. I found it distasteful. I loved Star Wars when I was a kid, wanted to transfer that love to new movies, and couldn’t. The idea of raging at someone on Twitter about it seems like dumb games for dumb prizes. Star Wars is over. Even Disney has said so. It will exist as a niche market for streaming content on the Disney+ app, until the cost overlays get to be too much, and then it’s over, it’s done.

And don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some comic books. If you want to have a chat about Watchmen, or From Hell, or Superman: Red Son, or a handful of others, I’m your guy. I’ve got no animus against the MCU. If those fans are happy, great. Keep doing more of that, or whatever.

But this I do not get:

Again, nothing against Stan Lee. I always reckoned him a cool dude, and have since he showed up in Mallrats for no particular reason. And it’s fine to admire him as an artist and creator. But crafting icons on his feast day is bizzarre, creepy, and kind of blasphemous. Yet this is what so-called “nerd culture” seems to bring out of people: the glorification of the mundane.

And quite frankly, I find this boring, and much of the conversation about his creation: stupid games for stupid prizes. That’s why I’ll ignore everyone who tries to get me to care about Mandalorians. It’s not that I’m prejudging it as being poor quality: I don’t even care if it’s good.

I want something else. I want to make something else.

That’s why this exists.

It Appears Disney Is Going All-In on Streaming

So suggests Variety.

This explains what I’ve been wondering about, both here on the blog and on my podcast: Disney’s current strategy of “nothing but live-action reboots and Frozen 2.” It also jibes with the news that they’re done making Star Wars films for the time being (and with the rumors that the test screening for Episode 9 have not been going well).

In a nutshell, movies are too expensive and risky to make when there’s a cheapier method to getting content onto the screen.

If you spend $250 on a movie, you’ve got a single run in theaters plus home-video sales to make your money back. If the movie doesn’t find an audience, that’s a bunch of sales you aren’t going to get.

But if you have a captive audience of people throwing down $7 a month for all of your content, you don’t need to worry so hard. They’re paying, and you just have to keep putting half-way decent content up, and they’ll be happy.

So it appears that the Spielbergs and Scorseses are wrong: this is what cinema is going to be. If a powerhouse like Disney decides it’s not worth it to put Star Wars movies in theaters, then movie theaters are going the way of the dodo.

Stick a Time-Traveling Fork In the Terminator Franchise

The problem with Corporate Art, as Andy Warhol foresaw, is that quantity eventually smashes quality. They keep repeating the same gestures, catch-phrases, plotlines, until whatever narrative existed logically has been spread out into meaninglessness. If you keep making enough seasons of a show, you will make it boring and tired. If you keep making enough films in a series, you will make it nonsensical. Everyone knows this. But they cannot stop.

The new Terminator movie that nobody asked for is tanking so hard, it’s probably gonna lose the studio $120 million. Many have said it’s the latest and greatest incarnation of “Get Woke, Go Broke”, and it could be so. But I think this franchise had become a joke, and this film would have failed even if it wasn’t an ideological zombie.

This isn’t merely the absurdity of time-travel premises. I, and better men than me, written on that before. This is what happens when you take the story and treat the previous chapters like a tabula rasa you can retcon to do whatever you want. You lose continuity, you lose clarity, you lose viewers.

Now I’m gonna pat myself on the back here. I haven’t seen a single Terminator movie since I was 14. Terminator 2: Judgement Day came out in 1991, seven years after the original. It built off the plot of the first movie; it did not retcon it. It amped up the stakes: not merely saving the future leader of the human resistance; but preventing nuclear armageddon itself is the goal. It was, in short, a perfect sequel to a good film. If they had left it alone, we would only thing of the series fondly.

Instead, they destroyed everything they had built. Because they had to. T2 left everything final; it had to be undone in order to even have more story. That this did not give the writers and producers pause about doing it tells you everything you need to know about the film industry and what it thinks of its product and its customers.

So when Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines came out, twelve years later, I skipped it. “The story is done, they’re just gonna ruin it,” I said. And of course, they did. Nuclear Armageddon arrives anyway, because it has to. And then in Terminator: Salvation, we’re in the future shattered world, in which a bunch of stuff happens that is sort of related, but not decisive or meaningful outside of its immediate context.

Because none of this is. Terminator: Genisys retcons this entire thing, with more time-travel jumps than Back to the Future Part II. Everything that happens previously is thrown out the window, and although this film did decent box office, critical reception was negative and very few people liked it all that much. So even though Terminator: Dark Fate was supposed to throw out everything that happened after T2 and be more of a direct sequel to that, no one cared and enough whiffs of Woke reached the core audience that they all finally decided to join me in the Camp of Wisdom.

Stop seeing these bastardizations; and they’ll stop making them.