30 June 2022

2022 Mid-Year Movie Review!

Well folks it's that quasi-magical time - time to add up the movies we've watched this year! But half! We keep track of everything right here, and what would be the point if we didn't get obsessive with the data? As usual, it really felt like I was doing better. But here we go.

We're at a straight 100 films so far. Now, that's well ahead of last year's 93 at the mid-point, but...I really did think I was on a better pace. I hit 200 on the dot in 2019, but the past two years have been around around 180. But the high point is still 249 from 2018. I didn't really think I was on that kind of pace, but I thought maybe closer. 100 is good for halfway, it's way more into that range.

However, I'm at 72 new films, which is waaay better than I've ever been. Pretty pumped about that.

My total streaming percentage is also 81%, which is gnarly. Again, the most I've ever been is 74% last year.

Amazon Prime4
Netflix Streaming19
Netflix DVD12
Other Streaming7

HBOMax continues its assault, followed by Netflix. I'm struck that everything else just kind of exists in this spot behind, with four or five films each. Other services I've jumped on include Apple+, Tubi, XUMO, Pluto, it's getting all kind of wacky. Five in theater so far, which is pretty good, and let's face it, cable TV just isn't really a thing. I wonder if I'll ever go a year without it at all? I dunno, hotel stays are really what does it for me.


I really thought I was pushing the decades, but I guess not. Compared to last year's midpoint, I'm actually up on 80s, 90s, and 00s, with the same amount of 70s.

Best films so far:

Okay, let's do this in two ways, first, the ones in 2022 that I genuinely saw in 2022. I've only seen 14 films, and two of those are Jackass Forever, so let's whittle that down to ten. Nah, I actually can't do that, let's go with the Top Five for halfway, with two consolation winners:

#3Jackass Forever
Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Bob's Burgers Movie
#7The Batman

Check out this list, dude. Damn I need some more female stories in my life. This is really rough. There's...a slight multiculturalism there at least? But RRR and The Northman will surely battle it out by year's end, I'd be hard pressed to think of a film that could surpass either in my head.

Best non-2022 films seen for the first time in 2022:

#1Zola (2021)
#2Red Rocket (2021)
#3The Last Duel (2021)
#4Tangerine (2015)
#5Nightmare Alley (2021)
#6The Square (2017)
#7The Mighty Quinn (1989)
#8The Elephant Man (1980)
#9Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
#10The Sugarland Express (1974)

Yeah, let 2022 be the year that I discovered Sean Baker. Anyway, as always I'm really curious to see how my tastes and memory might shift as we reach the next six months. And jeez, as I'm looking at it, during my 52 for '22 escapade, is The Square and The Mighty Quinn the best I'm getting out of it? I mean, those movies rule, but dang. What a stupid exercise. But that's what it's about, right - just watching films even if they end up terrible just so we KNOW they're terrible.

Stay tuned, folks, much more to come - and I'm sure at some point I'll watch a 2022 film with a female protagonist.

24 June 2022

52 for '22: Ned Kelly

MovieNed Kelly (2003)
Method: Netflix DVD

The only magic trick here is how my pants disappeared so fast

Why Did I watch this?

This is another one of those old films that has been burning a hole in my queue forever. January 15th, 2010! I think I had jumped on this after we all re-appraised Heath Ledger after The Dark Knight (2008). I know, I know, that re-appraisal should have come after Brokeback Mountain (2005), but in my misguided youth I didn't see that movie for how great it was. Anyway, suddenly there was this dude who had passed away who might have been a greater actor than we all though, since we were really just stuck on 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) and A Knight's Tale (2001). I was a big fan of Brothers Grimm (2005) though, that was really my personal Ledger access point...

Anyway, Ned Kelly was praised as one great example of his rise to acting and it had always caught my eye. I also was just in Ireland that had some bits about him and was also reading about Australian history for some reason. Anyway, this is one of those films that had always jumped out at me.

What Did I know ahead of time?

Have you been following this whole series? I didn't know shit about this. I was like, Ned Kelly is Australian, right? Or is he Irish? Is he Irish-Australian? I was excited to see Orlando Bloom and Joel Edgerton pop up. Joel Edgerton is secretly in like, every bad early 2000s movies until he became a respected actor. And he's not bad in this, either. But I knew this was a Heath Ledger prestige attempt about the Ned Kelly Gang, which is some old gang that did something somewhere. I know, dear reader, I can't believe I run a film blog, either.

How Was It?

This is not a good movie. I mean...it's FINE. It largely feels flat and unmotivated, with really standard shot composition throughout and a score that sounds generic for a period biopic and doesn't really vary throughout the whole picture. Maybe I would have clued in if I knew more or was into the Legend of Ned Kelly in anyway, but for just some dude with no connection to apparently one of the most famous Australians of all time, I entered it not knowing what to expect and just watched the film teeter and stumble into its main story for about the first thirty aimless minutes, and then keep charging from there without much to explore with character depth or development. Then he dies and it just sort of ends.

I really think there could have been something cool here. Kelly was larger than life, and his final stand wearing literal homemade armour is intriguing and awesome. It's treated weirdly matter-of-fact here. With some pizzazz or stylized action, humor, or dynamic or creative camera, this could have stood out. It's tough to watch this right after RRR (2022), which also features revolutionaries unknown to me, but elevates that material into the stratosphere.

It's just boring. I'm not sure if they tried to stick too close to actual history, it seems like it. But there are a lot of characters who come in and out for long stretches, and it's tough to have anyone to latch on to. Kerry Condon and Naomi Watts are pretty thankless and could have been much more interesting Same with pretty much everyone else who isn't Heath Ledger. The cast includes the aforementioned Bloom and Edgerton, but also Geoffrey Rush, who snarls here, but is never a really pervasive threat, mostly because he enters the picture with about thirty minutes to go. We just don't really see the stakes or the set-ups and pay-offs that makes movies engaging.

But we should talk about Heath. He totally commands this movie. This dude had insane range. I was thinking more about the mid-2000s heartthrobs that he would share his films with. Bale, Gyllenhaal, Farrell, Depp, Law, Bloom, Edgerton, Clive Owen. Many of these have obviously gone on to great success, but looking back, it really does feel like Ledger was the best of them. Maybe that's in hindsight and an overexultion of the deceased, but he just feels like their king. Like he emerges as the most interesting and most dominant of all of them. I'm curious where he would have ended up these days. MCU? I know his Joker is his biggest role but that hasn't stopped others like Bale, Affleck, and Reynolds from playing multiple heroes across properties.

I always like to point out how Terry Gilliam replaced Ledger in The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009) with Farrell, Depp, and Jude Law, and all three of those actors have appeared in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, with the former two also playing the same character. Maybe that's where Ledger would have ended up - Grindelwald instead of Mads Mikkelsen in the latest movie...

Anyway, he's great in Ned Kelly, he has charm (although the film doesn't let him show it off enough), masculine dominance while also chastising his brothers for not doing enough housework, and a presence that commands everyone else in the film. It's really a great showcase for him. Unfortunately it's just so boring. I feel like the low budget shines through, there aren't really a ton of dynamic action scenes, more often just talking, hiding, or posturing.

I clearly didn't enjoy this. It was fun to see Orlando Bloom, too, although he's far better when he doesn't have to act. This came out four months before Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), which also featured Geoffrey Rush! Bloom was already known as Legolas, but it's amazing how he crushed these monster franchises and hasn't really done much since. Is he just a pretty face with an old school swashbuckler sensibility?! Ned Kelly would suggest...yes. Yes he is.

This really has a great premise and the historical figure has been subject of many films over the years. I haven't seen them, but I'm curious what a more creative and dynamic director would do with this material that's become a national symbol of Australia. I did like the repeated references to wombats.

17 June 2022

52 for '22: The Fog of War

Movie: The Fog of War (2003)
Method: Netflix DVD

That memory's gettin a bit foggy, too!

Why Did I watch this?

I finally actually looked up when I added this to my Netflix DVD queue! January 10th, 2010. I don't know the exact date I pulled the trigger on Netflix, but I do that my first ever rental was received on January 8th, 2010. So this is an old one, one of the originals I put on my queue. I have no idea what first caught my eye about this. Maybe it was a fan of Errol Morris, although I've only seen The Thin Blue Line (1988) and The Unknown Known (2013), both way after I added this to my list. Maybe it was because it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2003? It was kind of a big deal at the time, although certainly not a mainstream blockbuster. I positively have no idea how this got on my radar, but when I came up with the idea to do this series, I knew it had to be there!

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew it featured Robert McNamara as a talking head interview and that he was a former Secretary of Defense for the United States of America. I knew it was a long talking head interview with him, similar to The Unknown Known. And I knew it jumped into some pretty heady political ideas. And Vietnam. That was about it.

How Was It?

This was pretty good. It is surely an Errol Morris film, the classical score (Philip Glass!), the archive footage, lots of tables and data, graphics, and a relatively simple talking head set up (it was actually decently complex), that gives off an easy one-on-one intimate feeling. The film has a framing device of eleven lessons learned from McNamara (indeed that's the Borat-like much longer title of the film).

They range from things he learned in the Air Force during WWII, as brief president of the Ford Motor Company, and most notably, as Defense Secretary for both Kennedy and Johnson during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the early stages of the Vietnam War. Where he's interesting is how much he's changed since those days yet you can see where he is very much the same.

He defends his Cold War actions as just that - part of a Cold War where they were constantly terrified of nuclear annihilation and posturing against the Soviet Union. You can remarkably understand the rationale for the Vietnam War, but also acknowledge that that rationale was flawed and misguided. It's a nice way of placating the inherent War Hawk nature with a man who knows that war is hell.

There's this constant pull and tug, though. He acknowledges at one point that he should probably be considered a war criminal, and mourns the hundreds of thousands of deaths that came about because of war. But he also focuses on statistical analysis, prioritizing bombing targets, plane efficiency, and empathizing with the enemy. It's that last bit that's interesting. They were successful in empathizing with Khrushchev and avoiding nuclear war in October of 1962. They were not successful in understanding how their enemy thought in Vietnam, and it's bold for him to say outright that their independence movement had nothing to do with China or Russia. Americans failed to understand that, so they failed in the war - namely, getting involved in the first place.

You can't help reading into this a little, considering it came out in 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war. In hindsight it makes us think less of what might be the most futile of all American Wars. Who were we posturing against? Who is our enemy? No one seems to know. McNamara admits that they had faulty intelligence from the Gulf of Tonkin (tho one real attack, one not so real) that pushed the US into further war. This is all straight up Iraq stuff. He says again and again to not repeat the mistakes of the past and considering historical context, it's impossible to miss what he's getting at.

I don't know much about McNamara, I know he wasn't all that popular in his day, what with being an architect of the Vietnam War and all, but it does seem like he was alone in the room pleading for caution and President Johnson did sack him for it. However, he is also clearly covering his own ass and his own legacy. It's hard to pin him down. It really did remind me a lot of Rumsfeld in The Unknown Known. You go in wanting answers, but these dudes aren't going to just lay down everything for us. They're squirmy. McNamara straight up doesn't answer a handful of questions. You walk away a little unsatisfied, but still with tremendous insight about how these men operate and how it affected the entire century.

Morris is a reliably good director, you can tell he lets his subject become comfortable, but he never lightens up on asking the tough questions. I enjoyed this quite a bit - I'm not sure if it deserved the twelve-year wait in my queue, but very happy at the end of it! 

10 June 2022

52 for '22: MONGOL

MovieMongol (2007)
Method: Netflix DVD

I get a little bit Genghis Khan...

Why Did I watch this?

This was another film burning a hole in my DVD queue for ages. I really need to remember to check when I added these. Anyway, I have no idea how this got on my radar. I have had a passing interest in Genghis Khan for a while, I read a bio of him about twenty years ago. Always a soft spot in my heart. This film got acclaim when it came out, but always felt under the radar. Like, why was there this big epic Genghis Khan movie that no one ever talks about?

What Did I know ahead of time?

It was about Genghis Khan. That's really about it. I knew it was a mid-2000s foreign film, although I honestly didn't even know which country had actually produced it before watching it. I had no idea what the scope was and if I was getting geared up for some really audacious rape and conquering scenes or a quieter, more contemplative Khan.

How Was It?

This is pretty decent. Now, for the record right here, this is definitely the Bohemian Rhapsody (2018) version of a Genghis Khan movie - it is wiped of all horror and rape and paints him as a noble, almost Hamlet-esque would-be king. Apparently this was intended to be the first in a trilogy of films that chronicled his life, so the biggest land empire in history comes later. I appreciate that they didn't try to condense his entire life into one film, it succeeds way better focusing on a handful of early events, but also, this film needs a big asterisk.

Apparently Temujin is a national hero in Mongolia. Fine, that's fair, if my country produced Genghis Khan I'd be into it as well. But there's a weird bit where the producers were afraid to insult Mongolia, but they were insulted anyway so not allowed to film there? It was directed by Sergei Bodrov and filmed mostly in China, starring a Japanese actor as Genghis Khan. It just doesn't seem that Mongolian. Almost every other actor is a native Mongolian, so that's cool, but it's real, real weird to see Asano Tadanobu in the lead role. Like...did this Asian movie go with generic Asian? 2007 really was a different time, huh?

Tadanobu is fine, he's stoic and a little big aloof, but his values are clearly communicated. And yeah, Genghis Khan has crystal clear, perfect values of leadership and honor. Listen, I know that Temujin did treat his people well, that's one reason why he was so successful, but again, they really evade the bloodthirsty conquerer part. His brother and subsequently main antagonist, played by Chinese actor Sun Honglei is much more dynamic, but also has this vengeful side that pops out. And lastly, Borte played by Chuluuny Khulan doesn't have too much to do other than fawn over Genghis Khan. She was definitely raped by the Merkits, right?

Apparently Tadanobu's casting comes from a Japanese legend that Khan was really a Japanese general. I get that that's fun, but it does seem like it's copping to an obscure side claim while ignoring the main people this is made for. It's starting to add up why this wasn't all that big in Mongolia, right?

The effects are decent, and the battle scenes, while none are all that big (hard watching this after Baahubali [2015]), they are intimate enough to convey the smaller battles between opposing Mongolian warlords. It's a very outdoors movie and the costumes and sets are spot on. It feels super immersive. Having said that, it's shot super standardly without much real flair or interesting shots. That's not always a bad thing, everything is framed really well and the vistas are impressive, but it doesn't stand out all that well.

Generally I enjoyed it, I don't want to knock it too bad, but I'm not sure it's the epic end all Genghis Khan movie we've always wanted. Now, that should have changed with two additional films. The sequel is apparently in the works, but who knows. It's been fifteen years!

06 June 2022

Summer Jam 2022 - the Modes of May!

That's right! You thought it was dead! But we have to acknowledge our tasty summer jams somehow, even if it's not a weekly recount of our famously least-clicked articles ever. This is the first summer since 2010 that we haven't done this crap and it feels weird. But not that weird. That was a slog. So let's just recount once a month the Top Eight Cherriest Jams and by the end of Summer we'll have a big list! Or something!

And no, we're not including "Running Up That Hill."

HOT Jam of the Month:

Let's kick this off right! I dig the huge wave of badass girl rappers who can get some music videos out there these days. Thanks, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. They're just my jam. I dug this and it's definitely not the last one on this list. This sounds like a late 90s R&B jam, but with a little more bite. It's not really a summer jam contender or anything, but it's pretty fun.

I wonder what Dua Lipa thinks of this track? It's not even the most prominent Jack Harlow song of the month, but it's my favorite. And around here that's what counts, baby! I dig the flow even if Harlow is kind of a forgettable performer. He makes songs, which is cool.

Sheeran is terrible but I really like Camila. This song is a fair attempt by both, neither of whom are strangers to the Summer Throne. This didn't really light too much up so far, but was entertaining enough to be a mid-to-low level summer fling. It doesn't really stand out to become a real game changing it, but yeah, it exists. We got a bit of those. Maybe that's why "Big Dick Energy" has exploded in my brain so hard.

I'd like to see more pandemic songs come out, especially from Kendrick Lamar. I know, I know, we've been getting it for the past two years, but what's even more fun than a pandemic that elucidates and exacerbates system racism and economic inequality is the fun of living in all the exposed shit we now have. And it's got a good beat.

Here's that bigger Jack Harlow song. It feels weird to me that we're bringing back songs from my...jeez, not even youth to sample. I was like a 20 year old man when "Glamorous" dropped in 2006. I like what Harlow does with the sample here, although it's clearly not a better song. It's not even that D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S. We need our songs to be weirder.

Starfox himself, Harry Styles comes back, another well trod Summer Veteran. I'm not super into this one. It kind of feels like another background song that's been around forever but no actually it's new or whatever. It's very mournful. I need a little more salsa in my summer jam! People like it, it'll be around for a while.

I'm still proud of breaking Lizzo here back in like 2018 and by now she's an old Summer Jam vet! This is like, old later day Lizzo now. She had her prime in the middle, and now she's ready to cement her legacy. Later Lizzo. She's lost none of the fiery passion that broke her through to the mainstream and this jazz-infused beat is prime for summer lovin.

My personal pick for song of the month - the most innovative, sexy, dramatic, and contemporary jam! It flows and spills over itself oozing with well, big dick energy. I can get behind it. I'm just being honest. It hasn't totally blown up the charts, but it's still doing well enough. I'd like to see it push higher, but my guess is it remains a mid-tier Summer Stunner.

Almost there...

Lady GaGa made the Top Gun soundtrack for some reason, but I don't think her track is that great. She can somehow pull off American Pride Aviators as much as being a Gay Icon, though. I guess that's not a stretch for Top Gun. Justin Bieber, Post Malone, Future, Bad Bunny, Imagine Dragons, and a Dua Lipa / Megan Thee Stallion combo were all vying for a piece of the pie this month. But they ain't got it! Haha! Let's do this again in a few weeks.

03 June 2022

52 for '22: Baahubali: The Beginning

Movie: Baahubali: The Beginning (2015)
Method: Netflix Streaming

Riders of Rohan! To Meeee!

Why Did I watch this?

Listen folks, I know. This is getting weirder and weirder and we've gone off the beaten path quite a bit into some films that weren't in our original line-up. There are a lot of reasons for that, but we've decided to take a full dip into Bollywood. I watched RRR (2022) after seeing it on Twitter and then stumbling on it as the #6 film on Netflix this week and when I looked it up I saw that it was among some of India's highest grossing films. RRR, by the way, is spectacular and I highly STRONGLY recommend a viewing! But the same director, SS Rajamouli directed even bigger Indian films, the Baahubali series. Obviously we had to watch those, and it works as part of this posting series!

What Did I know ahead of time?

I knew it was a big Indian blockbuster movie, relatively recent, which means likely dodgy CGI. I knew it was an epic long movie, so probably a historical film, although to be honest, Bollywood films can spend three hours dancing in a romantic comedy movie, so hard to tell exactly. I really didn't know too much except that I liked the director from RRR and it was a big time Indian film.

How Was It?

So, to be fair, this is only the first part. I'll watch Baahubali: The Conclusion (2016) tonight and let you know how that goes maybe, but it does end on a dedicated cliffhanger. So it's hard to judge the exact story as a whole. But I really liked what I saw.

And I'm going to tell you right now, I am going to make zero effort in remembering anyone's name. I barely refer to Tom Cruise's character in Top Gun: Maverick (2022) as anyone other than Tom Cruise. so, let's roll with this.

The film jumps in it right away, with a mother protecting her baby from dudes with swords, and then getting caught in a river, but praying to Shiva to save her son. The son grows up in a small river village next to a giant mountain that he is forbidden to climb, but oh what a rascal, he grows up and climbs it anyway! At the top he finds a whole other Kingdom, finds out he might be heir to the throne and then hilarity ensues.

It is both refreshing and odd to dive into Indian versions of blockbuster epics. Yes, the CGI is dodgy as hell. But it's also stunningly creative. The story isn't all that innovative, it's basically some version of Hamlet, but there are also twists and turns as you find out who exactly is related to whom and whose kingdom is up for grabs. It was really engrossing for a two and a half hour epic in a language I didn't understand.

There is this sincere fantastical element, too. Rajamouli in RRR made his historical figures into straight up superheroes, and the same goes for this movie. The eponymous Baahubali can hoist himself up waterfalls and fire precise arrows and swords, and his counterpoint, the evil kick can punch bulls and throw soldiers for yards. It's all played straight, though. And there's singing of every plot point. You couldn't do this kind of stuff in an American blockbuster, we're too literal, too cynical, and too snarky. There is a real earnestness to the filmmaking here that I appreciated.

I really just kept thinking about what would happen if Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr kept breaking into song during CIVIL WAR (2016). That's basically what you got here. This doesn't have the REAL big typical dance scenes, but there are enough big singing breaks to have a good time.

One is maybe the most problematic scene I've ever seen in a movie. And I mean that in the proper way, it's not like an outright awful horror-filling scene, but...assuredly problematic. We're introduced to a badass lady warrior at the top of this mountain, who Baahubali draws henna on without her consent while she's sleeping with her hand in the water. He then distracts her with a snake while drawing on her shoulder. There is a surprising amount of unconsensual drawing. And it almost costs her her job!

Then he woos her and rips her clothes off while dancing, pushes her under a waterfall, and even puts make-up on her. Then they bang. It's a straight up taming of a wild wonderful warrior woman into a beautiful elegant flower wife. And she's into it. It's so damn weird. It's not really Mask of Zorro (1998) level sexy dress cutting, more like an 80s transformation montage that the dude is imposing on the woman. It's....pretty rough.

Towards the last third of this film it just becomes a completely different movie, and I mean this very literally. Kattappa the slave tells an extended flashback of Baahubali's father and the current evil King and how they were trained together and had to prove their valor in competition and war against, okay, let's again call them a problematically depicted group of darker, more savage Indians (picture somewhere on the level of King Kong [2005]'s generic natives) in order to be named the next king. This is really where the film earns its epicness, and the shots and strategy of a massive war are actually really cool. It goes into depth of minute by minute action and reaction on a grand scale and earns every moment it delivers.

The flashback is constructed almost as its own little mini-movie, and something that again, you'd just never see in an American blockbuster. This film takes incredibly bold swings and risks (or maybe it doesn't and just doesn't have the pressure or precedence of a western film to live up to). It's really fun and really weird.

The film steeps itself in myth and mirth, and I did immensely enjoy it. RRR works better as a straight action film and historical film, but jeez, it's hard for any film to compete with that. This is a true historical epic and I'd recommend for anyone trying to get into Bollywood.

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