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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About All The Spider-Man Mishigoss

Yesterday the internet was aflame with the news that, in the wake of the ultra-successful Spider-Man: Far From Home, Disney and Sony would be parting ways on the Spider-Man character. It’s pretty big news in terms of modern blockbuster filmmaking, but it didn’t feel too surprising to me.

After all, Venom‘s success was the worst thing that could happen to Spider-Man – it convinced Sony it knew how to make these movies.

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“Why, She Wouldn’t Even Harm A Fly”

This week I killed a cockroach and it made me cry.

First things first: I don’t know whether the fact there was a roach in my kitchen sink is a referendum on my housekeeping or just related to the fact that I live in an old apartment building on the first floor with windows facing out to the street, where I often see big-ass roaches on the sidewalk at night while walking my dog. Probably six of one, half a dozen of the other. 

Second, this wasn’t some regular little roach. This was like a three or four inch guy, a roach so big he was transcending insect and approaching being an animal. There’s a different relationship between killing a bug that is but a speck and killing a bug who looks like he could pick up one of my forks.

Third, a few years back I took Buddhist vows (the Five Precepts) that included the vow to refrain from harming living things. To be fair I regularly break this vow; while I have cut beef and pork from my diet, and while my growing lactose intolerance makes me opt for dairy substitutes more often, I still devour foul and fish. What’s more, my general lifestyle cannot be claimed cruelty-free because I do not pay attention to the origins of my clothes and stuff. 

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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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What If THE JOKER Is Really Good?

An R-rated origin story for The Joker, directed by the guy who did The Hangover, heavily riffing on The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. Could there be a more terrible series of ideas jammed into one sentence? On its face Warner Bros’ upcoming The Joker is almost like a joke poking fun at comic fans’ obsession with all things grim and gritty, at the way The Joker speaks to exactly the sorts of bros who think “one man wolfpack” is both funny and inspirational, and the way that WB has been absolutely unable to figure out what the fuck to do with their iconic DC characters. 

And yet. 

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“Let Me Help”

I was at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention when the El Paso and Dayton shootings happened. Conventions and film festivals are strange bubbles, separated from the rest of the world, but when something like this happens, the bubble is penetrated. It can be disorienting to go from reading the news on your phone to walking through the dealer’s room and marveling at the cosplayers – there’s real emotional whiplash happening. 

But maybe there’s nowhere I’d rather be when two such overwhelming examples of reckless hate are unleashed on the world. There’s no fandom like Star Trek fandom; there’s a positivity and a kindness inherent in the most hardcore of these people. I know that in the year 2019 all fandoms are suspect, and there are certainly elements of Trek fandom who are not great, but the core of this group reminds me of Midwesterners – polite, friendly, deeply uncool. And I don’t say deeply uncool as some kind of a putdown; the lack of pose or ironic distance is part of the charm. No matter how hard CBS or JJ Abrams have tried, nobody has ever, ever been able to make Star Trek cool. 

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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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“Who Does Number Two Work For?”

A couple of weeks ago some Gamergate-type site (anti-SJW, you know the sort) discovered this blog. They brigaded the comments here, saying mean things about me. I had to shut down the comments – I was tempted at first to just leave it, but I decided that whatever small community has appeared here would be hurt by the trolls. Not because of what they were saying about me, but just because that kind of negativity often breeds negative replies from people who are trying to defend me/the community.

What was interesting was how many of these invading trolls were unaware of who I was. They had heard/read a thing or two about me, but they seemed to functionally be unclear on who they were attacking. A few of them talked about my divorce, even though I’ve never been married. I think they were conflating me with other film critics.

This happens a lot. I get it from people who say mean things to/about me and attach it to some criticism of a film/filmmaker that I never made. It’s crazy how many people think I’ve been on an anti-Zack Snyder crusade; I called Watchmen The Godfather of superhero movies, for fuck’s sake. That wasn’t a good take, necessarily, but it certainly isn’t anti-Snyder. 

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Tears In Rain

When Rutger Hauer died last week social media lit up for one brief moment with a thousand iterations of his tears in the rain speech from Blade Runner. It’s the best bit of the film (a film to which I am not partial), and it’s great despite the clunky scifi nonsense weighing it down.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.

(It’s worth noting that Hauer himself wrote the “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain,” which is what we’re going to be talking about here)

This monologue comes at the end of the movie, as Roy Batty has defeated Harrison Ford’s Deckard but has opted to save his life. Here, on a DTLA rooftop in the rain, Batty passes the Voight-Kampf Test, flipping this turtle rightside up. And as Deckard sits, astonished, Batty gives that speech… and then dies. 

It’s become a monumental little monologue because the existential howl at the center of it is so familiar to us all (and because Hauer’s delivery of these few lines is coursing with intense power and pathos). We live in a modern world, and few of us believe in eternal souls. We have come to accept that when we die, that’s it – lights are out, the show is over and there is nothing else. Every unexpressed thought, every feeling, every experience we have ever had is snuffed out as the neurons go dark and cold. 

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