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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Now On Patreon: KNIGHTRIDERS: George Romero’s Flawed And Ambitious Masterpiece

This site – and my life! – is made possible by the patrons of the Cinema Sangha Patreon. Patrons at the $10 or above level get special, extra deep reviews of movies, like this one of George Romero’s Knightriders. To read the entire piece – of which less than a third is printed here – become a $10 or above subscriber at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.

What you have to understand about George A Romero is that he chose to stay independent. Over the course of his career he made films with studios – with mixed results – but when Night of the Living Dead was an unexpected smash Romero could have cashed in and left Pittsburgh behind. Except that wasn’t who he was, and the filmmaker stayed home and stayed indie. 

For the next decade he busted his ass; he followed up Night with some forgotten films, and along the way he made a quiet masterpiece, Martin. It wasn’t until ten years after Night that he again struck gold, this time with the sequel Dawn of the Dead, also independently produced. Instead of going Hollywood Romero opted to pivot from that success and make what might be his most personal movie, the movie that explains his intense desire to stay indie for as long as possible: Knightriders

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BLINDED BY THE LIGHT: A Cheesy Ode To The Universality Of Art

The cultural conversation around representation is vital, and it’s improving not only the lives of people, it’s giving us better stories and better creators. It’s a net positive. But I think there’s an aspect of this discussion we’re not having all that often, and Blinded by the Light really gets to the root of it – the faces we see onscreen may be specific, but their stories are universal.

Blinded by the Light is a nice movie. It’s nice in a way that Bruce Springsteen’s songs are not; where The Boss sings songs of rough edged losers seeking redemption while exploding the limits of a stifling society, the lead of Blinded by the Light is all soft edges and polite rebellion. It’s the kind of movie to which you can safely take your parents, the kind of movie where the racists who give the film’s Pakistani trouble family are (except for one scene, which might be one of the film’s best scenes) easily identifiable by their white supremacist drag. You can tut-tut at the Nazis while not getting caught up in questions about the larger structure in which this is taking place. Bruce is deeply concerned about the larger structure. Blinded by the Light is not. 

But for all its harmlessness – and this is such a harmless movie that I considered making this review simply the review given to Earth in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Blinded by the Light manages to engage in some really interesting thematic stuff, and it has a gooey heart that is, in the end, irresistable. Plus it’s packed wall-to-wall with Springsteen songs, some of them played in their entirety. 

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GLOW Season 3: Identity As Kayfabe

What even is the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling anymore? This question hangs over the third season of GLOW, after the TV show within the TV show got canceled but the crew moved to Vegas to do their wrestling schtick live on stage. In wrestling there’s a term, “kayfabe,” which refers to the way scripted elements are presented as real, and the levels of identity and truth implicit in that hangs over the whole season.

Each of the characters struggles in some way with questions about who they are, what defines them and what it means for them to be true to themselves. As a result we end up with a dissatisfied, questing season that maybe lacks the punchy fun of the first two seasons but more than makes up for it with deep character explorations, honest confrontations of social issues and… still some punchy fun.

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On Patreon: ROSEMARY’S BABY

Every week at the Cinema Sangha Patreon I recommend something to subscribers at the $5 and above level. Sometimes it’s a book, sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a movie. Every time I try to write in depth about the thing and what it means. This week I’m recommending the classic film Rosemary’s Baby. This is an excerpt; to read the entire review, become a Patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Mia Farrow might give the best horror movie performance ever in Rosemary’s Baby. I’m hedging my bets a little here because I’ve learned that any declarative statement is nothing but a dare for a series of “what about” responses, but if Farrow’s performance isn’t the best, it’s certainly top three. It’s monumental, it’s profound, it’s harrowing, but maybe most of all it’s got a metatextual texture that I find absolutely compelling. 

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On Patreon: HAIL SATAN? Review

Every week at the Cinema Sangha Patreon I recommend something to subscribers at the $5 and above level. Sometimes it’s a book, sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a movie. Every time I try to write in depth about the thing and what it means. This week I’m recommending the documentary Hail Satan?, despite having some criticisms. This is an excerpt; to read the entire review, become a Patron at www.patreon.com/cinemasangha.

Hail Satan?’s cutesy question mark isn’t really that cutesy; the documentary about the Satanic Temple, which has become famous as a major player in church-state battles, tries to demystify the whole Satanism thing. This isn’t devil worship in the traditional sense… or is it?

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