28 January 2022

52 for '22: Dracula A.D. 1972

Movie: Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972)
Method: HBOMax

Not the only sucking in this movie!

Why Did I Watch This?

You know, I feel like as I go on this question is going to be harder and harder to answer. Listen, I have tried to get more into the Hammer horror films of the '50s, '60s, and 70s, and I have seen a couple like The Horror of Frankenstein (1970), but I'm always looking to expand my cultural knowledge. I follow @HorrorHammer1 on Twitter and watch Chris Lee and Peter Cushing clips all the time. They're both in this. It was leaving HBOMax at the end of January so I had to strike!

What Did I Know?

I know that Lee played Dracula quite a few times and Cushing played Van Helsing quite a few times. Just from the campy title, my guess was that this would be set in the modern day. Err...uh...1972. That's probably bout it.

How Was It?

In many ways it's exactly as you'd expect. It's not quite a B movie but definitely trends that line. Cushing and Lee deliver of course, but they aren't really in the film for long stretches, which is unfortunately. The film opens on Dracula's death in 1872 in a terrible wagon accident. I had figured this was a clip from some Hammer film I hadn't seen, but...apparently it has no connection anywhere and it literally just starts mid-carriage chase. The plot is then that a toadie of Drac's steals his ashes and commits a blasphemous ritual 100 years to the day later so that Dracula can get revenge on the Van Helsing descendants.

But that's not all. There is an extended party scene to open the film, which seems to just be a weird showcase for the band, Stoneground. They play two full songs as a bunch of hippies dance and freak out some stodgy British upper class twits. This may sound jarring, but that's only because it definitely is. It again just starts in media res without any context. In some ways this is freeing and I guess we can figure it out. It's a party, it doesn't have to make sense.

The modern-day descendent of the toadie, who seems like a Renfield-type, then gathers his friends for a Black Mass. He frames it as a lark, and it's an interesting study in how we can get folks to go along with massive evil if it just feels like a joke. From there, Dracula rises again, Van Helsing eventually figures it out because all these dead people with bite marks on their neck start showing up, and then he uses a shovel to push Dracula on to a bed full of stakes. It's fun for the whole family.

The big twist here seems to be that it's set in the then-modern age. Which is somehow fifty years ago. This obviously impacts the characters and general trends, updating from the Victorian era, but it never really pushes the story in a unique way. Not like Blade Trinity (2004) or any other great updated film. Dracula just kind of stays in his desecreated church and Van Helsing solves it like any other detective in the ancient era would. I mean...it's fine, it's still entertaining and there is lots of blood, but there's ultimately no fish-out-of-water or surprising conflict for either of them to overcome. Plus, they're both barely in this. It mostly seems to deal with Jessica Van Helsing trying to fend off modern Renfield, who is like, a good friend but DEFINITELY straight up evil. It's...a little bizarre.

I had fun with this, it drags a bit, the cinematography and shot choices are baffling at times, but it's really the acting of two horror legends that elevates the material.

21 January 2022

52 for '22: The Dark Tower

Movie: The Dark Tower (2017)
Method: Netflix DVD

Also this is an Abbey Lee movie!

Why Did I Watch This?

Yeah, this is going to feel like a really random one. But should it? I am endlessly entranced by movies that were trying so hard to become franchise blockbusters but totally failed. I remember when this came out over the summer four and a half years ago and it had a lot of hype (or at least seemed like it), but no one watched it. It was one of those movies deemed to unfaithful to the source material to please diehard fans and too bizarre to entice newbies. I am a newbie. I've never read a Steven King book and I don't really care about The Dark Tower books. They seem to be this epic yarn that he definitely makes up as he goes along and full of all kinds of wacky nonsense. But the concept and the world is really interesting to me, and I have spent quite a bit of time on the Dark Tower wikis.

That's probably the saddest thing to hear if you're a King fan. But look, I know that I'd probably get more enjoyment and earn my keep as it were if I sat down and read these things, but ultimately I'm not that interested in diving head first into a really deep and complex new mythology. It is a hallmark of bankrupt culture that we are more obsessed with lores and wikis than story and character. For my money, this is actually a fundamental problem with how we construct new films or reboots, seeking to grasp at anything that requires deep lore and explaining. We've gotten so used to reading Wikipedia that we just treat our movies like that.

Anyway, this worked in my favor. I wanted to figure out this story but didn't want to a deep dive. Heyyy --- movie! And a beautifully crisp 95 minutes at that. It's actually perfect, which is nails on the chaulkboard for any fan of teh series. Well, I'm not a fan, so there. This has been burning a hole in my queue since 2017 and it was the kind of easy blockbuster Saturday night viewing I was into. Part of me also always wants to really see if a blockbuster's reputation of revulsion is as deserved as the Internet has decreed it to be so.

What Did I Know Going Into it?

I knew the basis of the mythos, that there is this big dark tower that's the center of all of Steven King's Universes and that it's got some roses. I knew Idris Elba and McConaughey were in it, and as I started watching it I remembered that it's all about this wiener kid for some reason. I'm not sure why movies ever think putting a wiener kid in the starring role is ever a good idea. That's actually probably about it. Also I knew it was really bad.

So How Was it?

Listen, this thing is not that bad. It is assuredly rushed and they zip through the mythology REAL fast. But honestly, you can understand what's happening. There's a Tower holding reality together that's at stake and the Man in Black is abducting psychic children to blast shine at it in order to topple all of reality so that these monsters from the abyss invade. Idris Elba for some reason is the only one who can resist his magics, so he's got to stop him. It's really not that hard to understand what's going on. I do understand that this glosses over an immense amount of lore, but who wants boring exposition in a movie anyway?

There assuredly a handful of shortcuts this movie takes, but I feel like that's always staples of Steven King. People find out where they need to go and what they need to do through dreams and visions and shining and fast traveling through portals and just about anything else they need to do in order to keep this thing a tight 95 minutes. This is especially evident in the first half, which is really just about how we can get this wiener kid to Mid-World as fast as possible. There isn't time for deliberation or organic realization of goals. It just kind of happens.

And for sure this isn't totally a bad thing. Contemporary reviews disagreed with me. This movie delivered what I want - stakes, got 'em, let's keep going. It didn't even fall into Rise of Skywalker (2019) level fetch quests, either. You learn pretty quick what they need to do, then they do it. It is kind of weird that (SPOILER) they do end up defeating Walter Padick and his scheme by just...shooting him (in a hotly debated trick bullet scene [which is super cool, just suspend logic about how fast bullets can travel. Also Walter totally slowed down the first bullet]) and then...shooting the evil shine machine. I guess someone just needed to shoot it. AMERICA!

There are other definitive weak points. At the time, reviewers seemed to dislike McConaughey, but I thought he does a great job here. He's deliberate and sinister while also being able to pour on Late Stage McConaughssaince charm and charisma to make his character work. And he's a supremely worthy adversary that they never back down from highlighting. He kills...a lot of people and everyone close to the protagonists. His presence is constantly felt through out the film and there's always a danger.

Idris Elba, on the other hand, got great reviews at the time. It's a bold move to cast him as the Gunslinger, who King originally modelled both character-wise and straight-up appearance-wise on Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name. But honestly, he works so well as this character. Even King agreed right away. He worked so well that when I started googling pictures of Roland Deschain fighting lobstrosities I was thrown off by his whiteness. Totally how I picture the Gunslinger now. Like Hugh Jackman being a tall Wolverine.

The main problem comes, as I mentioned, from the fact that the Gunslinger just isn't our protagonist. It's this wiener kid, who has stupid wiener kid problems. It's all kind of been done before, almost Harry Potter-esque. Like, how do you take one of the most famous opening lines in pulp literature, "The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed" and then...not do that? Heh, this is now me as a non-fan complaining.

I think that's what this film came down to. It was perfectly serviceable. But yeah, it didn't quite conform to its source material, or really even attempt to. And as I'm looking online, there is a surprising amount of hate for casting a black man as Roland. Totally bizarre! He worked really well here. Clearly that's some racist shit! It's amazing that I just read comments like "the direction and writing were shit!" without anything else to really back that up. I might say that the directing was competent without being compelling.

Actually, no, almost every shot is coherent, action scenes flow with a nice use of slow motion and highlighted character moments, the script is tight and efficient and the CGI is actually pretty decent for the amount of compositing required. The world feels authentic, expansive, alien, and lived in. The cinematography, which I now call in the scale of Venom: Let there Be Carnage (2021) to No Time to Die (2021) falls somewhere in between. It's not as expansive and breathtaking as it could be, but it's far from a paint by numbers thrown together job.

Again, Roland is the most interesting, biggest actor, biggest focal point of the marketing material. This is an Idris vs. McConaughey movie. It definitely gets to that, but we kind of need to know who is James Bond and who is Natalia here, right?

So, now the best part - cultural context! This film obviously didn't catch on...with anyone, but it doesn't feel like it was ever set up. Apparently it takes place after the book series, which (SPOILER FOR THESE BOOKS) I guess ends on a time loop with Roland restarting his journey? That seems...stupid, but this is then the first tale in his new journey? That's kind of inspired to start a film series that gets away without claiming to be a direct adaptation, but at the same time definitely is.

But there's nothing here to set up a sequel or create an investment in these characters. Sure they end and (ugh, SPOILER again, just spoiler for this whole movie, you're not watching it) after they kill the Man in Black say they're going to on another adventure, but there's no clear goal set up, or like, McConaughey waking up bait to take. I know, I'm just treating it like an MCU movie now, but...isn't that what they wanted this to be?

At the end, even though I enjoyed the hell out of a brisk 95 minute adventure movie, this should have invested more in itself to be an epic tale if it wanted to compete with the big epics out there. And it could have. That's where this movie draws a weird line. I genuinely like it as it is. If I saw this out of the blue as an original cinematic concept I'd have no problem. Since I don't care about Stephen King I'm still good. But this could have been pushed to become a major franchise, especially since it premiered juuust before King mania exploded with IT (2017) as one of the biggest movies of the year. We definitely don't need another epic blockbuster to invest in, but The Dark Tower could have dropped some elbows and thrown its weight around as a worthy adaptation. As we say on this blog again and again, it doesn't matter what the source material is, or what the fans like, or if a movie is long or short or epic or quick. What matters is if the movie is good or not. Could this movie have been good enough to demand our attention? I think so. Was it good enough for what I wanted this past Saturday? Abso-fuckin-lutely.

I'm prepared for hate from King fans. I don't care. This was better than The Langoliers.

14 January 2022

52 for '22: Desperately Seeking Susan

Movie: Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Method: HBOMax

Why Did I Watch This?

I had to think really hard about how this got on to my list, but then towards the end of the movie I remembered. There is a split second cameo from the three identical strangers! I had watched that documentary on Hulu, I think after just scrolling around and because it looked interesting. But they mentioned that these triplets who were separated at birth and adopted by different families made a cameo in Desperately Seeking Susan for some reason. I then looked up the film because it's one of those films with a catchy title and one that sounds familiar that I had never seen. The plot seemed bonkers so I threw it on my list.

What did I know ahead of time?

Not all that much. I knew Madonna was in it and it was a big deal at the time but not much cultural weight since then. Also, I had forgotten this, but I guess I did know that the triplets were in it

How was it?

I really enjoyed this one. It is possibly the most 80s movie of all time. It seriously looks like a film that was made in the current day that exaggerates the 1980s. It's like straight up Hot Tub Time Machine (1980) or Take Me Home Tonight (2011). Madonna in particular really just plays Madonna, with blown out hair, fingerless gloves, leather jackets, rhinestone boots, and tons of unnecessary dangly jewelry. Patricia Arquette plays the most bored housewife ever, with hints of severe depression who gets amnesia and then wakes up thinking she's Madonna's character. It is a true screwball comedy of multiple mistaken identities and amnesia.

It's not all thaaat funny, but had a few laugh out loud moments. The dramatic elements are much stronger and for as big of a presence that she has, Madonna isn't actually in the movie all that much. It's more Arquette and Aidan Quinn who are roped into this escapade. There is hints of mob hits and stolen Egyptian jewelry, but all this is pushed so far aside to focus on the characters. At one point Arquette becomes a Magician's assistant - it really is bonkers trying to describe it.

More than anything though, this film was just so different from anything you'd see today. It really felt different than most films you'd even see in the 1980s, despite being so damn 80s (at one point a woman appears unironically wearing a slim tie, a huge shoulder-padded jacket and sunglasses). There is this strong undercurrent of male domination and mistreatment of bored wives, who should know their place. It felt like a companion piece to Thelma & Louise (1990) honestly, where these women are trying to strike out on their own and labeled as degenerate lesbians as a result. It was written and directed by women, Leora Barish and Susan Seidelman respectively, although this is probably the most famous that either of them have done. I wonder what voice they might have added if they existed in a better climate for female moviemakers.

This was really fun, engaging, and frollicking. It could have used more jokes if it was going to be a straight comedy, but where it is worked well for what it was trying to do. At one point Madonna puts a Madonna song on the juke box and sings and dances along to it, which is one of the most meta moves ever. I recommend!

08 January 2022

First Impressions: The Matrix Resurrections

Nearly twenty years after a generally unlauded finale, the Matrix series returned to HBOMax to create another fruitless sequel professing finality and promising nothing but corporate maneuvers rather than artistic storytelling. Or at least that's what seems to be at the core of this film's genesis, plot, and structure. Whether it is or it isn't is a source of debate, but hey, this is the Matrix, it was made for debating.

First, a bit of background. This film feels like the culmination of a trend of re-hashing old properties that most folks will say started with The Force Awakens (2015) but really it was Jurassic World (2015) but really it was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) but really it was Rocky Balboa (2006). Rocky's been at this so long he's gone back to it again with Creed (2015). The point is that the concept of bringing back old characters that worked once a long time ago is nothing new at this point. A lot of this is just because movies became too big in the 1970s and 80s. They became pop cultural standards and fandoms emerged. Human beings like to belong to groups and defend what they like as part of their identity. We then just got sort of stuck in these grooves and wanted to revisit them. What's weird is that now the revisit is fresh. I don't know what we'd do with a Jurassic sequel in the 2040s with an elderly Chris Pratt. Would anyone care?

Sometimes you find a good vehicle for aging characters to pass on the mantle (well...Creed I guess is it), but more often these films falter for three major reasons: 1) Characters are too old to be plausibly doing the same crap again, 2) They coast on nostalgia and recognition over creating genuinely engaging new adventures and 3) Their earlier stories wrapped up succinctly so that these new stories undercut the stories we actually liked and make us depressed about their happy endings.

That third one cuts rather hard in The Matrix Resurrections (2021), but we'll get to that. SPOILERS forever, you ought to know the drill by now. While this concept is nothing new, 2021 felt like a particularly egregious year when it came to this stuff. Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) surprisingly has a lower critical score than Ghostbusters (2016), although its audience score is far higher (you can't exactly trust these metrics that were driven by Troll campaigns), but more importantly it grossed $5 million less domestically and $44 million less worldwide than the 2016 effort. And the pandemic is a good excuse until...

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021). Now, this is assuredly an anomaly, but the success of this film really seems to fly in the face of any other movie whining that the pandemic is the cause of their box office failure. The truth probably lies more in the fact that this was just the only kind of movie that made people want to risk their health and sanity to go to see. So why is that? Well, it's one of the most popular characters in one of the most popular franchises (the MCU) but also connected to one of the most popular franchises of twenty years ago (Spider-Man) with the promise of direct connections to said franchises in a frankly swell "I didn't know they could do that" kind of cinematic moment.

It's really just The Flintstones meets The Jetsons, this is assuredly nothing new. It's just a gimmick to get people in the theater, but on a grander scale. But what folks seem to forget is that this is really trading on early-2000s nostalgia. And more than almost any other time period, this is one that is so rife with memes, regurgitated from half-remembered bizarre cultural artifacts from millennial childhoods that propel said generation now to the theater. The marketing for this didn't start in the past month, it started two years ago when false COVID claims on snapchat accompanied Willem Dafoe saying "I'm something of a scientist myself." They just made that into a movie.

So, getting to the Matrix. People today might forget how big The Matrix (1999) was when it came out. Looking back, it feels like such a perfect movie. It was small and unpretentious about super-pretentious stuff. It was a fresh take on an old sci-fi idea, the simulacra of reality, but with an early Internet twist, which makes it feel so much like a movie of its time. It backs this up with a soundtrack and action that exists in service of its story. And the cast hits really well. It's this really rare film where it's this sincere blend of technology, philosophy, zeitgeist, Hong Kong action, and Keanu Reeves. If you want to turn your brain off to the philosophy it has the action. If you want to turn your brain off to the action it has the mind-fuckery. It just works on every possible level.

Now, the sequels get a lot of flack, but I really enjoyed Reloaded (2003). It felt like it was doing everything a sequel needs to do. We saw the ramifications of Neo's godlike powers within the Matrix, and villains' increased efforts to confine him (mostly by exploiting the Matrix to strand him on mountains or trap him in corridors. Some of Neo's reality warping was nerfed, which always disappointed me, but whatever. It expanded the world and mythology by traveling to the real-life last human city of Zion. And it doubled down on both the action and the philosophy, the former through the Highway Chase, which is paralleled in the past twenty years only by the entire Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), and the latter by long diatribes by both the Merovingian and the Architect, which folks will generally roll their eyes at for dipping too hard in that pretentious pool, but I also think that's the point. These are machines who think that they are better than humans and they...exhibit that.

I was never a huge fan of Revolutions (2003), though. The big battle for Zion is the showpiece, but it didn't really feature anyone we had journeyed with this whole time. It mostly focused on these generals and that newbie wiener kid who no one cared about. And the Dragon Ball Z fight between Smith and Neo lacked clarity to be a final showcase. I mean, I kind of get it, Smith absorbed the Oracle, which somehow gave him Neo powers, and then absorbed Neo, which allowed the machines to blast him when touching the source code. Right? But like, why would the machines ever honor their truce?

Why indeed. That's probably why we get to where we are now. There was no reason for the machines to honor the peace, although Neo's efforts did lead to some machines defecting. That's great. To talk about this particular film, we then need to examine a handful of simultaneous levels. First is the actual story going on within the film. Then the meta commentary about the production of the actual film by Lana Wachowski, and then the actual cultural context of this film's release. So, before we get into all that, let's give them some credit for creating a film where this kind of discussion is even needed in the first place.

In Resurrections, Neo is a game programmer living in a new version of the Matrix where he has created a video game series called, The Matrix. He creates a module that rapidly evolves a program into an amalgam of Morpheus and Smith (I was never quite convinced they pulled this off, he doesn't seem to have much Smith-ness. More just like, some kind of hip Morpheus. But I'm still a big Yahya Abdul-Mateen II fan). This program, with the prodding of Bugs (the best new part of the film, played by Jessica Henwick), re-awakens him. They then try to re-awaken Trinity, for both were resurrected by the Analyst because of the great power they bring to the machines.

That's pretty much it. For all the convolution, this is basically a heist rescue story about a group of freedom fighters trying to free one of their former leaders, Carrie Ann Moss. The notion that you could trick Neo by telling him the Matrix was a video game he created is rather inspired, and I'll again give this movie credit for somehow creating genuine new mind-fuckery. You do really start to think, "What, were those previous three films all just a video game we were watching?" This film folds this meta commentary upon itself, at one point literally dropping the reason this film exists (one might surmise), which is that parent company Warner Brothers (mentioned by name) will make a sequel with or without its original creators. There is then a lauded scene of people in a room pitching what made the Matrix great and how they might replicate that in a sequel.

So, this is both really canny and clever, but also disappointing. It feels very clear that Lana Wachowski (her first time directing without her sister, Lily), was in danger of Warner Brothers making a sequel with or without her. It's nice to get the original creator back. The George Miller effect, if you will. But the key rub is that that long list of what made the original Matrix cool isn't wrong. It is what made the original film cool. Resurrections darts much of this. The Merovingian reappears and starts spouting off philosophy but it's during an action scene and every character ignores him. Neo isn't even the One anymore, or maybe he is, but Trinity is also the One. So there are two Ones and one is named after the concept of three. A lot of this feels like fucking with the audience, which is fine, except that you can't expect that you would ignore everything that made The Matrix cool and then still be cool.

I sound like a bro. What I mean is that this just isn't going to satisfy Matrix fans, but it's not trying to and it doesn't have to make a good movie. It ends up being a pretty shit movie because it defies a lot of expectations that come with being a long-range nostalgic sequel, but it also quite frankly doesn't. It still follows the beats of the first film (in fact, bits of all films), but just because it's commenting on itself doesn't mean it's elevating itself above itself. It reminds me of 22 Jump Street (2014) which everyone loved because it was so meta, but that's not enough, it still followed its meta path. Or the Deadpool movies which smile in their self-awareness but then still commit superhero movie sins. Or even Jurassic World, which fully admits that they are never going to make a movie as good as Jurassic Park (1993), so settle on making a shittier film. You get that sense constantly in this. Scenes from The Matrix are literally projected on the walls during companion scenes in this film. You could make an argument for that being brilliant art - it's saying "This is what you want? You want more Matrix? Here it is literally the same scene again" but within the context of the characters in the movie there is little more commentary than that and the function of the scene remains the same.

It's a hard film to have its cake and eat it too. There are still realistic stakes here for the characters. See, the big issue with this premise being a mystery is that there is this big question "What is the Matrix?" that has a pretty simple answer. The Matrix is a simulation of life in the late 1990s to keep human beings compliant and happy while machines in the real world suck the electricity out of our brains. While there is this deep philosophy and mystery as part of the story, the plot isn't all that convoluted and there are still progressions and consequences. This film seems to shy away from what could have been a sincere meta experience and instead use its meta elements to enforce a plot that is basically the first movie. Thus the film, despite all its effort, still falls into that nostalgia trap.

Alright, let's shift and talk about some of the little things. It has been oft commented already, but while each of the first three movies has spectacular action set-pieces, this movie...doesn't. It feels cluttered, boring, and inconsequential. Maybe part of that is the darting of expectations, but I struggle to think so, because it feels like they are trying. It's not the 21 Jump Street (2012) mode of shooting at a gas truck and having it not explode. They are fighting, but it doesn't feel original or interesting. This means that a big staple of the franchise, why folks tuned in, is instantly dulled.

Again, maybe this was on purpose. The Wachowskis seem a little bit ashamed of the monster they created. Unfortunately the Matrix has many possible readings, and the alt-right has co-opted red pilling as becoming aware of liberal world conspiracies. It was about being closeted trans and finding a safe space on the internet to create the person you really are, you clods. One might look at the Wachowski's post-Matrix Trilogy filmography to gain some understanding of how this film came about.

Post-Trilogy they produced V for Vendetta (2005), which seems in their wheelhouse. It had decent critical reviews and remains a pretty solid film. Then they made Speed Racer (2008), which everyone hated. It has since earned a cult following and positive re-appraisal, but I will admit that I have tried to sit down and watch it twice with the mood to appreciate it, and don't totally buy into it. I'd like to show it to children I guess, which is is the target audience. It is colorful and unique and with the best casting ever, so I'll give you that.

It seems crazy that after the Matrix Trilogy and V for Vendetta they'd dive into Speed Racer. I suppose it's the George Miller Happy Feet (2006) effect, but it's also a chance for them to get into more green screen work, more building works out of CGI, and to do something totally different. Standing back now, I can appreciate that. They've only made two feature films since then though - Cloud Atlas (2012) and Jupiter Ascending (2015). Both were enormous box office bombs and appreciated by no one.

Cloud Atlas was an adaptation, but Jupiter Ascending sought to create a new sci-fi world that could have become a big blockbuster franchise. It...did not. These films combine for the popular fact that, despite any cult opinions, the Wachowski's really haven't directed a film SINCE The Matrix to receive universal critical acclaim. I'm including the sequels in that, which are fair to say have also been reviled. It must be hard to make a game-changing film and not be able to follow it up for like twenty years.

This feels like the context where Resurrections was created. They're coming off Jupiter Ascending, an original film that everyone hated. Warner Bros is in a position to dangle the Matrix and pass it on to anyone else willing to make a rank in file sequel. A Colin Trevorrow or oof, JJ Abrams. I want to see the JJ Abrams Matrix now, just so I may hate it forever. I picture Lana Wachowski being so fed up and thinking, "They just want the same crap?! I'll give them the same crap!" It feels like both a way to make a movie they want to make again (to their credit, I have no idea why people keep giving them huge budgets to make bombs, it's a testament to just how good The Matrix was that studios will still roll the dice on whatever insane shit they want to make) and to stick it to our current nostalgic trends.

Now, I'm obviously leaving out a big project of theirs - Sense8. I completely loved Sense8. It was the best work they've done in the past twenty years, the ending was obviously very rushed with impending cancellation, but I'm glad they got one at all. The mystery of that series may have also outpaced its execution, but it was generally really fun, comprehensible, and obviously the best showcase for LBGT and sex positivity maybe ever on screen. And of course, being a Sense8 fan allowed me to recognize that half of the cast in Resurrections were people from Sense8, which was fun as hell. 

Let's end how we began. We are finally at the point where we are getting knee deep in early-2000s nostalgia. Spider-Man: No Way Home nailed it, and it doesn't feel like a coincidence that Resurrections came out less than a week later. Spider-Man, the Matrix, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean, the Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter were the biggest franchises of the early-to-mid 2000s. I'm surprised we haven't seen more Shrek stuff, especially as Mike Myers' career slumps, but they may have drowned that with four films of descending quality and a spin-off. The Pirates of the Caribbean is the same way - they just drowned us in Jack Sparrow with the most recent film coming out in 2017 until Johnny Depp burnt up all his goodwill. We just aren't really nostalgic for those first films. We did get more Tolkien films with the Hobbit movies, but the nature of that franchise (along with Harry Potter) has prevented more film-only projects from organically springing up.

That's really what makes superhero films superior to anyone - there's always another story to tell. There is no holy text. All we have is an abhorrent New Shadow lurking as a sequel to the Lord of the Rings. Don't tell Hollywood about that one, by the way.

Ultimately we're just in this conundrum, which I think the Wachowski's realized. The best move is to not make a sequel. Obviously the original Matrix Trilogy wrapped things up pretty tightly, with most characters dying and the world being saved. A nostalgic film won't make us feel the way we did when we first saw The Matrix or Spider-Man (2002) or The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). But in the absence of original creators with artistic vision we get The Rise of Skywalker (2019). It is a really difficult position to be in when Jupiter Ascending doesn't catch on. But also, I watched this so what does that mean? I'm still in this world as guilty as anyone else propagating a machine of drained culture.

A lot of this is actually in Resurrections, by the way. Neil Patrick Harris' Analyst says as much. The Matrix exists both within its world and as a sequel because it's what people wanted. It makes them happy and continues to feed them. This is as close as the film gets to upgrading the lessons of the Matrix and Internet culture to 2021, and I admittedly would have liked to see that aspect pushed further, but also in the world of the Matrix that no longer makes sense. I suppose they must have had 2020s, right? Unfortunately it's just not going to be as groundbreaking, or maybe this film is what the Wachowski's now think of the Internet in 2021 but it's just not as in line with the zeitgeist as 1999. And that makes sense, since no one can capture 2021's zeitgeist - it's just a fractured mess where everyone has only their own opinion and as big of a microphone in history to shout it and accept no others.

Except for Spider-Man. We all like Spider-Man.

I may have convinced myself in this review that I actually liked Resurrections. It's always hard at first to enjoy a movie that says you're dumb for watching it, but I can maybe appreciate what they are saying. I still think it didn't pull off the commentary quite the way it wanted to, and didn't elevate beyond its whining about the state of nostalgic movies. But honestly, I'd still rather have this than overly reverent Ghostbusters: Afterlife and JJ Abrams.

Take that red pill and transition, baby!!

07 January 2022

52 for '22: The Elephant Man

Movie: The Elephant Man (1980)
Method: Netflix DVD

His genitals are normal tho

Why did I watch this?

I suppose I've wanted to see this for a long time. I knew it was produced by Mel Brooks but assuredly NOT a comedy. It's a significant film that was nominated for quite a few Academy Awards (but apparently not winning any! BUT also creating the impetus for the Academy to start recognizing achievements in make-up). I had gone through quite a few lesser known Mel Brooks films a few years ago, but my sights turned to David Lynch, which I've always thought I was fan of, but after looking at his filmography, I realized I hadn't actually seen all that many of his films. So, I had David Lynch in my head, probably since DUNE (2021) came out and I was thinking about his 1984 attempt. And then I was watching a Mel Brooks special on HBOMax and just thinking more about his serious works like Life Stinks (1991) which I also saw this year. So, as you can tell, there was a lot swirling around that drove me towards wanting to check this out.

What did I know ahead of time?

Again, I knew that Mel Brooks produced it but kept his name off so folks would treat it seriously. I knew it starred John Hurt and I knew about the "I am not an animal!" line because it's famous and in Seinfeld. And I knew a bit about Merrick himself, mostly just that he was an elephant man.

How was it?

This is an exceptional film. It feels strangely out of time. There are many films that seek to recreate movies from earlier time periods, but few pull it off like this one. It is not merely in black and white. The longer shots, acting styles, even set design and aspect ratio recall a film made in the 1930s or 1940s. Maybe this was a holdover from Mel Brooks' love of replicating older styles in Young Frankenstein (1974) and Silent Movie (1976), but it is so easy to forget that you're watching a movie made in 1980. Especially because young Anthony Hopkins is such a rare sight. The only other film I can really think of that so authentically replicates a time period is The Love Witch (2016), which is the most 1970s 2016 movie of all time.

At the same time, the film is remarkably progressive and accepting. The general message is that John Merrick should be treated as a human being - I know, crazy. Reviews at the time, including Roger Ebert said it was too sentimental and didn't have a coherent theme. There is a lot of nuance here. Anthony Hopkins doubts if he himself has progressed from sympathy to pity and exhibition. There is schmaltz certainly when Anne Bancroft gives him a standing ovation at the theater, and you think, is this deserved, is this more pity, is this rich people feeling good about themselves and patting themselves on the back, or is this genuine acceptance. The fact that after this scene (SPOILER), Merrick lies on the bed and dies, either because his life hit the apex, he believed he could be normal, or praise just exacerbated his feelings of being different certainly makes me think this film had a colder message than its contemporaries would suggest.

This is all that makes for fun viewing of this film in 2022. Under a greater range of mental health and body awareness and acceptance this film takes on a dramatically different context. I might doubt Lynch thought the way I did in 1980, although knowing his cynicism, maybe. It's a movie made in 1980 that looks like it's from 1940 that plays great in 2020. It's truly a feat.

The movie also came out during a weird Elephant Man craze, where there was also a popular Broadway production, which apparently lead to some petty copyright issues. Whatever. It seems clear that this was based on Merrick's life, not a play, although it also seems like a decent amount of liberties were taken with that basis.

I had no idea Anthony Hopkins was in this and he gives an incredibly measured and steady performance as Freddie Treves, the doctor who tries to treat John Merrick as an actual human. John Hurt appears like he has less to do, since he mostly sits around reacting and has little lines in the beginning of the film. But we need to remember how much acting he's doing under ridiculous prosthetics as well as a tremendous physical performance.

This was a great start to this year's film escapades. I feel really pumped up. We'll see how long this lasts because many films on my 52 for '22 list are NOT this good.

05 January 2022

NMW's Salute to 2021: The Music of Tomorrow...Today!

We will wrap up our coverage of 2021 today, on the fifth day of 2022 with a recount of the greatest and best moments in music of the year! Now, I know that normally I do albums and everything, but I always fake it because I don't listen to enough albums. I can't even fake it this year, I'm just skipping it. I actually have a little regret about that, because it always pushes me to actually listen to new cool albums. Fine, it was probably Donda for some people and 30 for others. Let's move on.

Songs of 2021

After considering it for some time, I think my favourite song of the year is "Twerkulator" by City Girls.

Artist of the Year

There was a lot of sad girl autumn stuff from Taylor and Adele. She's been around for a long time, but this was a huge year for Doja Cat and Megan Thee Stallion. It's as if we suddenly realizing that black girls can be great rap artists and it's a huge explosion of exposure. I am all for it, clearly. Lil Nas X also had a banner year with some genuinely great tunes. I'm not sure if I could pick just one. Okay, "Industry Baby" for sure. But it's nice to see that he both refuses to be a one-hit wonder and is cranking out legit and ultra-gay music. Also Brandi Carlile kicked ass.

This isn't really a competition, though - this was the year of Olivia Rodrigo. "Driver's License," "Deja Vu", and "good 4 u" were all massive, massive hits. She joins the pantheon of women you really don't want to ever break up with. I do get such a high school vibe from her, especially with "Traitor." Like, that's just modern dating, Olivia, it really doesn't matter in high school. Oh, I know you're upset! Your feelings are valid.

Music Video of the Year

I think Lil Nas X's "Industry Baby" or "Montero" takes it. I mean, it took grinding on the devil to get any video attention and acclaim this year. It was just that kind of pulse. But somehow I keep coming back to "Thot Shit." I just really dig the metaphor here. Old white people resisting the ubiquity of Megan Thee Stallion is a rad vibe to throw a video around.

Music was fun in 2021. I'm not sure any song really caught me and changed my life, but as I said, a lot of that is just me getting more into movies and my wife instead. Here's to 2022!

04 January 2022

The Unabashed Greatest Upcoming Films of 2022

Another annum is upon us and that means one thing and one thing only. It's time to get HYPED for shit that will definitely suck. I am going to be bold this year and just try not to pick any superhero movies. Oh, that's not fair. I ranked The Suicide Squad (2021) in my Top Ten. Oof. I definitely have some weird picks for things I'm getting kind of excited about, so let's go from there.

Untitled David O. Russell Project
November 4th, 2022

With a catchy title like that what can go wrong! I generally enjoy David O. Russell, particularly his recent output like JOY (2015) and American Hustle (2013), but somehow he hasn't directed a film since then. There is no indication of any kind of plot anywhere, but the cast is ridiculously hot right now, including Anna Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Margot Robbie, John David Washington, Zoe Saldana, and Timothy Olyphaunt. These were just my favourite actors, there's also Christian Bale, de Niro, Chris Rock for some reason. It's stupid. Will it be any good? Who knows, but it has my attention.

Bullet Train
July 15, 2022

This is Brad Pitt's first film post-Oscar and it comes from David Leitch, famous part of John Wick (2014)'s success. Atomic Blonde (2017) I actually thought left a lot to be desired just in terms of...having a plot, but his work with Deadpool 2 (2018) and Hobbes & Shaw (2019) is solid. I think this dude can at least handle action, and this movie is apparently about a bunch of assassins on a train fighting, I dunno, each other probably. The cast includes Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Joey King, Zazie Beetz and Brian Tyree Henry in an Atlanta reunion, and also Sandra Bullock for some reason (replacing Lady GaGa?!). I'm in. I like the idea of a bullet train being also filled with bullets. 2021 had a strange amount of train action, from Nobody, Shang-Chi, and Matrix Resurrections but it's a fun action medium. It goes fast, after all.

July 15, 2022

Jordan Peele has become an automatic hype director after Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), despite me generally disliking Key & Peele a lot. Is he just a horror guy instead? This reunites him with Dan Kaluuya, along with Keke Palmer and Steven Yeun. Not much to go on besides a poster that looks like a cloud sperm or something, but I'm definitely down for whatever racial but also just normal horror he has in store for us.

February 4, 2022

Listen...you may not know this about me, but I am all about movies where the moon falls out of the sky and on to earth. I have been workshopping a novel about it forever. Gravity gets messed up and we try to blow up the moon or whatever. I am so inexplicably and universally down for this. I saw this trailer when I watched Spider-Man and I was just like hell to the hell fucking yeah. Roland Emmerich making some stupid shit again. I don't care, this movie is going to be so dumb, but I love it. We are always at war with the moon. Crash that moon, baby!!

Don't Worry Darling
September 23, 2022

Olivia Wilde is an underrated actress and although she's only had one feature, Booksmart (2019), I dug that a lot. This is getting into deeper and more sinister thriller territory, but Wilde as an actress has bounced between lighter and darker roles and I'm confident she can handle a wide range. The main cast is Harry Styles and Florence Pugh as some kind of 1950s domestic mystery thriller with Chris Pine and Gemma Chan somehow also hanging out. My intrigue is definitely peaked and I hope this is cool.

April 8, 2022

Okay, fine. I said I didn't want to disappoint myself. But this trailer looks cool! It's Michael Bay doing Michael Bay things and the plot seems...really really unnecessarily complicated and it stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who I am so happy is becoming a buzzy actor after being by far the best part of Aquaman (2018). The Matrix Resurrections (2021) was terrible, but whatever, he was charming in it. This looks like the kind of original bombastic action film that was popular in the 90s. I am just very game for it. I wish it had a more distinctive title, though. Google is going to think I'm in sincere medical trouble when I keep searching for Ambulance.

Jackass Forever
February 4, 2022

Ahhh February 4th Jackass and Moonfall, eh? Sounds like a pretty sweet double feature to me! I am an unashamed Jackass fan and have been for twenty years now. It definitely fits into early 2000s nostalgia which is creepily peaking its head around our corner. I am a little curious if this is going to be any good. Surely these movies work because of the camaraderie of the cast and the outrageousness of the stunts, but everyone is like, well, WELL past their prime. Is it as fun to watch a bunch of 50 year old dudes goof on each other? It's also had its share of production woes, mostly centering around Bam Margera, who couldn't stay sober on set, but is now suing Paramount saying that was a ridiculous contract he had to sign that would force him to stay sober. It's a mess. I'm cool with Bam's absence, we don't need pranks on Granny April in 2022. But it does seem like it's a bullshit move on Paramount's part. I don't know, I really want to see this, I laughed harder at this trailer than half of the movies that came out last year.

The Northman
April 22nd, 2022

Robert Eggers is 2/2 with The VVitch (2015) and The Lighthouse (2019) and he's now combing those casts (at least Anna Taylor-Joy and Willem Dafoe) with Alex Skarsgard, Nicole Kidman, and Ethan Hawke into a movie about Viking revenge. There are three distinct badass moments in this trailer - the arrow to the king, catching the spear, and just jumping off a roof without a cut that are really spectacular. It looks clear and coherent with a simple narrative, but Eggers is just a master of metaphor and visual language. In his other works there's so much else going on and I am very excited to see what he does here.

Across the Spider-Verse Part 1
October 7th, 2022

Okay! Number one hyped movie of the year comes with some serious caveats. First, the directing team is totally different. Now, on Into the Spider-Verse (2018) we really just had a directing team from SONY Animation, including two first-time directors, so that shouldn't really be that jarring. The writing team is mostly intact (Phil Lord actually adds Chris Miller, who I didn't realize was absent from the first one) as is the production team.

The problem comes with the hype. Into the Spider-Verse was so stupid good that it's going to be hard to top. Making another movie in this sub-series a Spider-Verse film seems to be limiting Miles Morales to multi-verse stories, which also seems like a creative misfire without the impetus and originality from the first film. The big question is that facing all sequels - can lightning strike twice and can this film be as exciting, dynamic, fresh, and interesting as the first one? Especially when it's "Big Brother" live action No Way Home (2021) just basically did the same thing? It's as if this is the only story we have to tell about Spider-Man anymore (don't get twisted, this same thing has also happened in comics. And the 90s animated TV show).

Now - to be fair, this is all conjecture. We don't know anything about the plot except that there is some multi-dimensional traveling again and somehow Spider-Man 2099 is involved. And that's pretty much why this is still the #1 hype machine. First - the first film was THAT good and for as edge and 90s as it is, Spider-Man 2099 is just so damn cool. I'd like a whole movie set in Nueva York and figuring that out. Superhero sequels are generally good. They get passed all that baggage required from an origin story. Think Spider-Man 2 (2004), The Dark Knight (2008), The Winter Solider (2014), or even Superman II (1980)! But it could also be like Iron Man 2 (2010) or THOR: The Dark World (2013). We just don't know, but this hype train is rolling.

Other Crap

Okay, fine, so we had a superhero movie in there. And yeah, some big blockbuster type sequels. Should we be pumped for The Batman (2022)? I mean, I definitely am, but hesitant when they just keep saying that it's better than Batman Begins (2005). Not that I think the latter is sacrosanct, just that it feels like a trick you pull when you know your film sucks. Seriously, James Cameron tried to put his weight behind Dark Fate (2019), you can't really trust these people.

Anyway, Love & Thunder, Multiverse of Madness, Wakanda Forever, Aquaman and the Lost City of Gold, I dunno. I liked all these series. I just have a more warry eye. I'm assuredly not pumped for Lightyear, which still looks like a parody or Morbius, which exists for reasons I don't understand. I will believe The Flash is a movie that exists when I see it in theaters. Probably towards the end of the movie. Same with AVABAR 2. How did this sequel series get so blocked up, it's maddening. No one cares about AVABAR anymore.

Black Adam is interesting. The Rock is inspired, but like, this dude is a sincere villain, are they going to make him fight Zachary Levi? I feel like they will Venom-ify it and render him toothless. But it could be cool! Oh, sweet sweet razorcakes.

The last films I'm cautiously optimistic about are The 355 and Turning Red. The former has an interesting premise of women from various international spy agencies teaming up, but the trailer didn't really look all that catchy. Turning Red is a Pixar movie about a girl who turns into a giant red panda when she's flustered. Again, seems like an outstanding premise, but I wasn't all that impressed by the trailer that didn't necessarily push that premise into interesting territory. Oh well, could be cool, might suck, this is the world we live in.

What do you think?! What's your hype?! All MCU? Sound off!

03 January 2022

52 Movies in 2022

Ladies and Gentlemen, as I was putting together my list of movies watched in 2021, as I have done for the past six years, I started thinking about all the films that have been burning holes in my queues for literally going on twelve years now (having gotten Netflix in 2010 that is).

I also thought about how much I like talking about random movies that I see for the first time in any given year. I wanted to both get this need out as well as offer myself some motivation. So, I present to you a list of 52 films I will watch and write-up every single week in the Year 2022. Some of these are films I just think are interesting, others have been burning through my list for a long time, others I know next to nothing about. Still others are just obscure gaps in artists' oeuvres that I want to complete. Others are obscure or hard to find and I need some motivation to become a true cinephile and track these bastards down.

You'll find a wide range. Failed blockbusters, old favourites, cult movies, terrible movies, critically lauded movies. Recent films, old films, long films, short films. Westerns, documentaries, comedies, animation, horror, drama, sci-fi. There's not a ton of rhyme or reason to the list, just all things I thought were interesting and made it on to my list one way or another.

Now, if you are keen-eyed you will notice that there are only 42 movies listed here. That's simply because I decided to give myself room for 10 more that may come across my brain over the course of the year. Or maybe I'll see something else interesting by happenstance and want to write it up. Regardless, every Friday there will be a new movie write-up waiting for you.

Needless to say, I don't think these will actually go in order (there are a handful leaving HBOMax Jan 31 that I am going to prioritize). I am going to keep this as the Master List and include links to each film's write-up.

52. Greed (1924)

This will hopefully be a very fun exercise for this year, or at least until I become busy and exhausted. Enjoy!

2021 TV and Sports Review!

 We just summed up our extensively exhaustive list of films watched in 2021 and now it's time for TV and Sports. I have always really been into cataloging the shows I watched and how many episodes, but I gave that up this year. When I did so, I kind of lost a bit of what I was trying to track in the first place. I get so obsessed with getting my movie numbers high, I wanted to give myself some motivation to watch more TV and sports. That didn't really work, so I think in 2022 I'm not going to track anything. But here are the numbers for 2021!

I watched a total of 63 distinct shows! I guess that's it. I have no other data.

Favourite shows that debuted in 2021 include Squid Game, Get Back, Loki, Only Murders in the Building, Hacks, and The Head. The best show overall is obviously Nathan for You.

I watched 47 different sporting events!

NFL: 19 games
MLB: 2
NBA: 9
NHL: 1
NCAA Men's Basketball: 8
NCAA Football: 1
NCAA Softball: 3
Other (Olympics, Water Polo, TBT, Masters Tournament): 4

How did I watch three times as many softball games as football games? Softball is better, I just really got into that tournament this year.

Most Teams Watched:

Miami Dolphins: 5
Buffalo Bills: 5
Kansas City Chiefs: 5
Cleveland Browns: 4
NY Knicks: 4
Atlanta Hawks: 4
Syracuse Basketball: 3
New England Patriots: 3

I am not a Pats fan or Hawks fan. They were just playing teams I liked.

The only in-person event I went to was a baseball came in St. Louis against the Kansas City Royals. Some of that was for obvious reasons this year.

You'll never see these stats again, so enjoy them!

02 January 2022

NMW's Salute to 2021: More Movie Stuff!

We wrapped up the year last week, but we still have a few lingering things to get to. There was a lot of fun stuff at the cinema this year that needs to be honored and trends to be explored.

Scenes of the Year

I usually reserve this for big films with one big scene that captures the imagination, or something that elevates an otherwise crappy film. We sure did have a lot of loud, crappy films this year. They kind of echoed off each other in mindless noise without a coherent culture to glob on to. But here we go.

I did like the intro to A Quiet Place Part II just for being competent dad porn. I guess runners up are the flash-forward maybe ending to The Green Knight, Kong's fight with Godzilla on the battleship in Godzilla vs. KONG, and numerous bus fights in Nobody and Shang-Chi.

I also just really liked pretty much all of Mortal Kombat. Let's choose the scene where Kung Lao bifurcates a dude with his hat.

I liked movies like James Bond and DUNE, but hardly anything stood out as the coolest scene ever. Now, PIG, however...

Nothing stands out to me like Nicholas Cage's life criticism.

Movie Song of the Year:

Edgar's Prayer from Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Done.

Actors of the Year:

This year had a lot of stand-out work. Florence Pugh has been on the scene for a while, but I'm going to give her a lot of credit for being the best stand-out part of Black Widow, and following up playing the same character in Hawkeye. I've dug her since Midsommar (2019) but it's nice to get her in front of a wide audience where she's not crying constantly. Same thing with Ana de Armas, who has been around for a while now, but people seem to be noticing after No Time to Die. She definitely gets the Best Appearance in One Scene of a Movie Award this year! Awkwafina was the queen of sidekicks this year in Shang-Chi and Raya, both films where she couldn't not be Awkwafina.

But ultimately, I'm giving this one to Zendaya! She didn't appear too much in DUNE but a lot in Spider-Man: No Way Home, which ended up being the biggest movie of the year. It feels right, she's got the buzz and proving to have the acting chops for a wide range as well. I don't know how many people saw DUNE but it felt like a lot, and she seemed like a big deal in the lead-up, even if she was only in it for forty-five seconds.

For the men, we have some options. Benedict Cumberbatch had both his time to shine in critical circles in The Power of the Dog and a reprisal of his comic character in Spider-Man: No Way Home. That's how these things work these days - one for them, one for us. But it doesn't feel like a Cumberbatch year, does it? Maybe it's Jamie Dornan who crushed both ridiculously serious in Belfast and extremely doofy in Barb and Star. Both are a significant departure from what he was previously known for.

But fuck it, let's go with Chalamet. He owned DUNE with Zendaya, then appeared in The French Dispatch and Don't Look Up, covering a wide swath of genres and roles, which really cemented his status as an untraditional leading man and stoner sidekick. He's just crushing it, and while he broke through years ago, this felt like a very cementing year for this dude.

General Thoughts

As I look back at it, 2021 had a surprising amount of big loud franchise-defining blockbusters. But no one cared. We had four MCU movies, another Fast movie, Bond, Godzilla, Ghostbusters. Not to mention a movie about a beach that makes you old!

I think we're stretching thin, though. F9 in outer space was legit fun, but the core of that movie faltered. Bond was regularly great, and bowed out gracefully. The less said about Afterlife the better, and the MCU had some reliably competent films that don't quite stand out to me at the end of the year. I should maybe give more praise to Spider-Man, although I can't sort out the nostalgia.

No Way Home and The Matrix Resurrections present an intriguing end of year conundrum. We have officially entered the early 2000s nostalgia zone. This was my high school and college era, which means I actually have memories about being hyped for these movies and seeing them in the cinema. Now we are using our cinematic language to resurrect (literally) these characters to squeeze some more juice while the actors are still kind of able to make action films.

We are eating ourselves. It's happening. I remember back when all the biggest trilogies were in production. It was like, Spider-Man, the Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Star Wars. There was Shrek and Bourne movies, but I never totally cared about those - they just never really bothered to tell stories that needed finishing. But these were all completed and now we're dipping back into that well. I am still forming thoughts on Resurrections, but rest assured I have plenty on that...movie of a film.

What else? The Rock has settled into making bad movies starring himself as himself. As has Ryan Reynolds. And then they did one together!

But mostly this year is just about not sharing anything. Bond didn't feel big because not all my friends were talking about Bond. I didn't see a ton of posts about it on the Internet. Films were dropped on streaming services, which feels great, but we didn't all see it at the same time. I wonder if our immediacy and access will actually just lead to delays, as we don't have an urgency to see something so we never do. Or it's just ephemeral - Army of the Dead took over Netflix for a weekend. Everyone saw it, hated it, moved on. It's not like we had to wait for the next free weekend to go with our friends.

This sounds curmudgeony, and I don't mean this as necessarily a bad thing, just a thing that now exists. Clearly movies do have the ability to find distribution better than ever before, but it's about getting enough shared eyes at the same time to create some kind of cultural momentum, which is what we're all about here at Norwegian Morning Wood.

So, that's it! We'll tackle music at some point this week, but then it's on to 2022. What will come next!?

2021 Movie Watching Review!

Every year since 2015 I have catalogued with extreme precision every film and television show I have watched. I added sports this year, but I think I'll probably skip both sports and TV in 2022. I just don't really care or do much with that data. But movies are strong, and I've finally been doing this long enough that I have some really interesting trends. So first, let's update our chart:

Total movies198220224249200182180
First-time viewingsn/a117133157131110111
First-time viewing %n/a53%59%63%66%60%62%
Streaming %n/a25%36%63%59%73%74%
TV %43%38%25%4%4%2%6%
Theater %5%5%5%6%4%1%4%

So, I watched the lowest amount of movies since I started keeping track, but I knew that going into this year. What's more remarkable to me is that I was actually very similar to 2020. Almost dead-on with first-time viewings and identical with number of streaming movies watched. I should note that I did achieve my highest percentage of streamed films ever, triple what I did in 2016.

Other fun aspects include the fact that I somehow watched more films on TV than I have for the past three years (although it's still a tiny number). I have that here mostly because it just used to be so high, but I wonder if it's worth reporting here. Same with my theater numbers. Although it was higher than it was last year (obviously), only two of those films were actually in theaters, the other five were drive-ins.

Boy I keep that first-time viewing percentage similar, huh? That's really not conscious, I don't feel like I watch too many repeat movies, but I suppose I do. It's steadily improved from when I started (and no, I didn't think to track this in 2015), but assuredly, I might even say shockingly leveled off.

I can't believe I used to have a particularly high amount of repeat viewings, but the only film I saw more that once this year was Godzilla vs. Kong (2021), which yes, I did see twice in the same month. Sue me!

Viewing Method Deep Dive:

Netflix Streaming2916.2%
Netflix DVD2212.3%
Amazon Prime52.8%
Other Streaming31.7%

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Era of HBOMax is here. I thought it might have had an edge on Netflix, but I had no idea it would more than double the amount of films I saw. Now, I separated Hulu's HBO Add-on and HBOMax last year, mostly because I didn't realize I had HBOMax with the expanded subscription package. So really, I should have had 29 films last year, but I more than doubled that. I had about 60 Netflix films, which does sort of mean these streaming services are more competing for the same space rather than me being able to create room for everyone. That may or may not be good news for some of these companies.

My airplane movies are divided three each between Alaska and Delta airlines and my television channels include AMC, Bravo, Freeform, TNT, TBS, IFC, and BBC America. I just can't believe that I went to a movie theater as much as I watched Disney+. That's actually down fairly significantly from last year, but Disney+ just seems to be a television service at this point. All their movies are popular but stale.

Hulu was down by about a third. Amazon Prime is kind of shitty as always and YouTube stayed the same. Fun there's always a handful to watch there. This was a fun year to experiment with other streaming services, one big add was that we got Xfinity, totally just because they are our area's monopoly and it comes with Peacock as a free service. Got nine movies out of it, but also used Pluto TV, Sling TV, and Starz Streaming to watch some fun stuff. What really surprised me was that I didn't watch a single movie on Kanopy! What am I thinking?! I need to link it to my Xfinity, I guess.

Lastly, my Netflix DVD subscription was still going strong, although it did actually tumble 5%. I think that's more that it took me a while to get around to watching a few. I remember back in the day I got into a two-per-week rhythm. I'm just busier than that these days! Straight up DVD viewing remained steady at seven. 



Amazingly, I did get at least one film in for every decade back to the 1920s. Obviously my old movie watching is never that great. The big shift is the 2020s, which also obviously was skewed last year, and likely will be for some time, since I both have less years to pull from, but it's also the most recent. I didn't think I had watched that many 2021 films, but 38 is a whomping number, and 21% is the highest I've been in the current year since starting this (in order, 14%, 16%, 17%, 17%, 18%, 19%). 

You may recall, then that when I ranked my 2021 movies, I really wasn't impressed and thought I hadn't seen that much. Maybe it's more accurate then to say that I saw a lot of 2021 films but they weren't very good. After some thought, this actually makes a lot of sense. For one, a ton of 2020 films were postponed and dumped onto streaming services in 2021. This made it far easier to watch a lot more films, while also there just being more available. However, more of these films were also very bad. That didn't stop me from watching them, there's still a huge need to wind down with some crap while I play on my phone, which is perhaps further compounded by the fact that I pressed play on some films that I'd never have driven to the theater and paid money to watch.

This is a decently important shift. We talk about changing viewing habits all the time, but this is subtle yet significant. I might call it the Red Notice Effect. We are way more apt to watch crappy movies at home for free. This unfortunately means that we are going to be subsequently served way more crappy movies because the end result to the studio is the same - clicks and cash. We need to wholly disengage from the false presumption that blockbuster cinema is art. Man I should have logged into Kanopy this year.

Does anyone care about a year by year breakdown? Let's move on. By decade, we obviously saw a decrease from the 2010s, but also from the 2000s. 90s and 80s were generally steady, but we did actually watch more older films, particularly from the 70s than last year. In fact I watched the third-most 1970s films ever. In 2016 my 90s films actually eclipsed 2000s, but normally it is not that close.

I was definitely missing some years! The most notable is 2009, which feels really recent. Actually, I did close out the year on a Harry Potter marathon, but watched Half-Blood Prince (2009) on New Year's Day. So just missed that one! Other than that, 1998, 1993, 1989, 1987, and 1981 are absent, as well as plenty from the 70s and 60s.

Odd big years outside of the last decade are five from 1999, four from 1988, and three each from 1990 and 1994. The 1950s are represented by two films both from 1954, both from Japan.

The oldest film I watched was Nanook of the North from 1922 and the most recent was The Matrix Resurrections (12/22/21). Ironically, I watched the Matrix the day it came out and I watched Nanook eight days later.

Month Breakdown:


December was king, mostly due to a New Year's Eve movie marathon, but I also definitely tried to get a lot of great films in for my end of year list. September was wretched because I got married, a new job, and moved. Still saw ten movies. We definitely had a lot of small months, it was more extreme than last year for sure with some months being high and others being low, but this was cool.

General Thoughts

So, what did I watch this year? Well, for the first time since 2014 I did not watch The Interview (2014), which is a long streak that's broken. This seemed like a year of really bad movies, which is undoubtedly a result of impulse streaming.

But I watched a lot of Godzilla films, old and new, Fast and Furious films, old and new, the aforementioned Harry Potter. I caught up on Scorsese and Mel Brooks films I had never seen before and crushed a lot of deservedly underappreciated modern comedies like Night School (2018) and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (2013). Yeah, it was a year of bad movies, people.


We're doing some trending graphs this year! First, the big picture, all the data in that first chart - first time viewings, streaming, television, and theater percentages over time:

Streaming up, TV down. No big surprise here.

This isn't all that surprising, either. It's amazing how generally proportional everything is, with the obvious exception of 2010s movies declining as we get out of that decade. What might be weirder is how close 2000s and 1990s movies have the potential to be.

Here is what is really interesting. Netflix streaming has a ridiculous rise, but check out HBOMax. TV obviously plummeting, but so did DVDs, but that took a bit of time. I still think it's notable to include the other major streaming services, if only to show how much of a market share they lack.

I was hoping to glean something from plotting months over the years, but there's not much here. December is a big one in general, just from free time and motivation trying to get everything in. February and September are busy months for me so generally low. But June goes from the worst month ever in 2015 to one of the best in 2016. May 2019 takes the cake, though, with 29 films. Can I ever do the 31 in a month?!

That's it, folks! Hope this data is a fun way to issue in the New Year! It sure is for me. I really wouldn't believe this if I didn't write it down. I can't believe how much Netflix has tumbled and my viewing habits have changed in just seven years. Let's keep it up!

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