KNIVES OUT: The Kindest Murder Mystery Ever

The first few paragraphs of this are spoiler free, but major spoilers do arrive.

Who knew murder could be so fun? More importantly, who knew murder could be so nice? Rian Johnson’s whodunnit, Knives Out, may be the singularly nicest and most kind murder mystery anyone has ever made, an Agatha Christie-style sleuthfest with kindness and love as its guiding principle. 

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THE MANDALORIAN Review

Never forget that George Lucas was ripping off a lot of stuff when he made Star Wars. This is vital, and it’s a part of Star Wars’ DNA. It is also, I believe, why the first episode of The Mandalorian works so damn well. 

See, modern Star Wars seems to be interested in aping old Star Wars as opposed to taking a page from the Lucas playbook and ripping off other movies. Star Wars, to borrow a phrase, is a place, and that means you can take other films and genres and easily drop them into a Star Wars milieu, which is exactly what The Mandalorian does. In this case it’s a Spaghetti/revisionist era Western plopped right into a world of blasters and Gonk droids, and it’s the chemical reaction between Star Wars and the genre that creates the beautiful fizz that makes the episode so damned enjoyable. 

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TERMINATOR: DARK FATE Is A Dreadful Deathblow To The Franchise

This review contains spoilers for the opening scene of the movie, which some people might prefer to experience fresh.

This movie made me feel old. Not because the leads of The Terminator have aged into their golden years; this is right and natural and makes me feel good. No, I watched Terminator: Dark Fate and felt old because I’ve been through this ridiculousness again and again and again and again – it’s yet another movie that is trying to cash in on the success and popularity of the first two Terminator films and yet doesn’t seem to have a functional idea of what made those movies work. The movie makes me feel old the same way watching yet another generation think they’re the ones who are going to make polyamory work makes me feel old – I’ve been around, I’ve seen this, I know it doesn’t end well.

Like the three previous failed attempts at restarting the Terminator franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate has no idea what made The Terminator and T2: Judgment Day work. None at all. Like the previous three attempts – yes, there are twice as many efforts to restart this franchise as there are actually good entries in the franchise – this movie thinks that what we like are the robots, or maybe the time travel, and it definitely thinks what we like are big, metal-crashing set pieces. What it doesn’t understand is that The Terminator and T2 work not because of the scifi trappings or the action beats but because of everything in between them – the characters and the emotional story. This is why those two films are eternal, and why you’re possibly trying to remember what the previous three Terminator movies even were, or whether you saw them. 

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Why JOKER May Be The Defining Movie Of 2019

This contains spoilers for Joker.

They told us there would be death. It started with the first trailer, with people saying they weren’t interested in a movie that explained away a white man’s violence by showing him as a victim, and it continued with critics and journalists saying the film would be a beacon to violent incels, that it would spark shootings, that theaters would be dangerous places. The feedback loop of modern internet society was such that the fears of violence mashed up with knee-jerk trolling to create a liminal space where it was so unclear what was real and what was a joke that the FBI and US military issued advisories.

But nobody died. There have been some fights, but I’ll tell you as someone who has worked in movie theaters/movie theater adjacent jobs that this is not out of the ordinary. It’s just the movie itself that makes these fisticuffs newsworthy; I’ve seen people get into it at animated films. 

Instead of people dying, Joker has been a huge success. It’s the highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time and it is approaching $1 billion in worldwide box office. It made more in its opening weekend than Justice League, a PG-13 straight down the middle movie, did in its opening weekend. It’s not just a hit, it’s a phenomenon, drawing people to a staircase in the Bronx down which Joker triumphantly dances in the film. 

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The Anti-Cinema Of GEMINI MAN’s High Frame Rate

Cinema is not immersive. Cinema is voyeuristic, not participatory, and that’s part of what defines it. We are looking in through a window at a story, but we are not in the story, we’re not in the room, we don’t feel the heat of the explosion. We can imagine these things – great filmmakers will invoke sensations in us, will make us imagine smells or textures – but we don’t experience them. 

Cinema happens at a remove, and that remove is what allows us to be even more immersed in the storytelling than if it was actually immersive. The gap between what we experience and what we imagine is where magic happens, it’s what makes the moviegoing experience so special. It’s the same kind of magic you get reading a book; there are small places where your mind gets to create connections and those are the alchemical spots, the places where the lead of 24 still images a second is transformed into the gold of a truly moving, life-changing artistic experience.

It’s more real than reality.

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Why I’ve Come to Hate HAROLD AND MAUDE’s Harold

Did you know I have a Patreon that helps support me and my writing? Patrons at the $10 and above levels get exclusive writing. This week they got this look at Hal Ashby’s classic Harold and Maude,which I’ve excerpted below. If you want to read the whole thing, become a patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha!

Maude dies badly, and I hate Harold for it.

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Tammy, the T-Rex, and the Question of What Is a Bad Movie

You probably never saw Tammy and the T-Rex. The 1994 film stars an infant Denise Richards and a fetal Paul Walker as high school star-crossed sweethearts; he loves her, she loves him, but her psychotic ex-boyfriend refuses to let anyone get close to her. The ex beats up Paul Walker and dumps him in a wild animal park, where he gets mauled by a lion. While recovering in the hospital, Walker catches the eye of a mad scientist who has a scheme to achieve immortality by putting human brains in robots. His test case, of course: a giant animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Poor Paul Walker gets his brain cut out and put into the T-Rex and from there things get even weirder.

If you did see Tammy and the T-Rex you likely saw the PG-13 version, but director Stewart Rafill (of the classic The Ice Pirates) actually shot a hard R movie, which was unseen by American audiences until recently. It has been playing fests and midnight screenings, and it played in Los Angeles at Beyond Fest last night. Having heard much buzz about this super gory version of what was released as a twee PG-13 teen comedy, I had to go check it out. 

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AD ASTRA: God Is Dead

This contains spoilers for Ad Astra

Near the end of Ad Astra the camera pans over screens showing exoplanets, captured for the first time in some kind of detail. The images are the kind we’re familiar with when it comes to our own outer planets – fuzzy, distant, with indistinct geographical features that require the interpretation of scientists to look like anything other than squiggly lines and discoloration. And yet over this is a Brad Pitt narration – the continuation of a film’s worth of droning Brad Pitt narration – that informs us how beautiful and amazing these images are. 

This, I think, sums up a lot of what I don’t like about Ad Astra, a movie whose title is To the Stars, but which is pretty intent on telling us there’s no good reason to ever go there. It’s not that images of exoplanets are boring, it’s that the film’s imagination is limited to indistinct pictures of them on screens. Cinema can take us anywhere, and yet Ad Astra takes us to an underground Martian base that looks a lot like the service corridors beneath a football stadium. And movies can make us believe in anything, but Ad Astra asks us to believe there’s nothing. 

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IT CHAPTER TWO: The Only Thing Scary Is The Broken Tone

This contains some spoilers for IT Chapter Two.

It’s not that IT Chapter Two isn’t scary, it’s that IT Chapter Two doesn’t even seem interested in being scary. It’s as though the filmmakers decided that the tone of the first movie was a little too dark, a little too tense, and decided to lighten it up… and they lightened it all the way up. There are a couple of moments that are intense – the opening hate crime, for instance – but almost every single scare in IT Chapter Two is either immediately undercut by a joke or is interrupted by a joke at its heaviest moment

Somehow, Andy Muschietti turned IT Chapter Two into a comedy.

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Why I Liked The Ending Of YEARS AND YEARS

A few weeks ago I did a Recommendation of Years and Years (if you don’t know, $5 and above Patrons at my Patreon get weekly Recommendations of all sorts of stuff, and it’s not just a quick thing – I write about it), even though I hadn’t finished the show. In the modern era I hate doing this, because too many shows don’t stick the landing, but I was loving it so much three episodes in (out of six) that I felt the need to write about it.

The show had already aired in the UK and I heard from some blokes that actually the series did not stick the landing, and that the ending was pretty terrible. This kind of put a damper on my viewing, and I held off a couple of weeks on the final episodes of Years and Years, waiting until the whole show was done so I could blow through the final eps.

Turns out I loved the ending. 

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