Jerel Says, ‘It’s a nice place to visit’; Tea

Nordic Lodge Entrance

It’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

-Twilight Zone, ep. 28 ‘A Nice Place to Visit’

So there’s this great episode of Twilight Zone called ‘A Nice Place to Visit’. In it, a lifelong Twilight Zone Nice Place to Visitsmall-time crook finally has the law catch up with him after an attempted robbery, and after being shot by a cop, wakes up seemingly unharmed and in a bright white place, with a luxurious apartment, a gourmet meal, and a busy bustling casino. His guide, a mysterious figure named Pip, explains that this world was built entirely for him, and that anything and everything he could ever want would be provided for him. No one in the world is real, but they’re all meant to satisfy his every whim. He can eat whatever he wants whenever he wants, he lives in the most beautiful luxurious high end apartment, he can have any woman instantly fall in love with him, and no matter what he can never lose a single bet at the casino. Figuring this must be heaven and somehow he managed to get himself in despite how he’s lived his life, the man goes on to fully enjoy his seeming reward.

Of course, after about a month, he starts to grow bored. There’s no thrill without the possibility of loss. He no longer derives any joy from having his every whim instantly satisfied. He tires of the fake crowds, always cheering him on, always into him, always ‘on’. He tells Pip he’s tired of heaven, tired of this unsatisfying existence, and asks to be brought to ‘the other place’. And this is where and why this episode sticks out as one of my all-time favorites. This is where that signature Twilight Zone twist comes into play and you realize the horror of it all. Pip starts to laugh as the man struggled with the locked door trying to escape and says with self-satisfied glee, ‘Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!’

Ooh, that always gave me shudders. Now I was really young when I first saw that episode. Always wondered what could possibly be so wrong with getting all of your wishes to come true. How could having everything you’ve always wanted spread right in front of you be a bad thing?

Then, many many many years later, I was watching Travel Channel’s Buffet Paradise and there was a particular buffet that caught my eye because it was fairly close by in Rhode Island, and it seemed to me like the buffet straight out of my wildest dreams, serving and focusing almost solely on the things I loved the most.

So of course, on my way back home after two weeks in New England, I decided to extend the stay one extra day for personal reasons and finally take the opportunity to go to this buffet. I’d been dreaming of this place ever since I first saw the Buffet Paradise program back in 2013. I would often tell friends and family of it if the topics of New England, Rhode Island, or seafood ever came up. It was one of my goals to finally make this pilgrimage.

But it was on this journey that I finally understood the torture Valentine had to live through in A Nice Place to Visit. Because at the Nordic Lodge in Charlestown, RI you walk in thinking it’s heaven, but you crawl out feeling like hell.

Nordic Lodge Viking

Look into the cold, wooden eyes of the Devil

Words cannot describe my initial elation to finally be walking up the path to the Nordic Lodge. I couldn’t believe years of dreaming and yearning were finally about to be Nordic Lodge Lakefulfilled. The location is absolutely stunning. The restaurant is a giant wooden lodge on a beautiful stone foundation right next to a large lake. On the other side is a man made lake with a shooting fountain and the entire property includes a couple wide open acres of farmland with horses, alpacas, and sheep roaming around. If you’re thinking to yourself ‘oh this is lovely, a great setting to walk around and walk off my meal’, that’s what I thought too. You’re wrong. It’s to lull you into a sense of false security.

The inside is just as remarkable but for wholly different reasons. The Lodge looks like a

Nordic Lodge Round 1

Round 1: Prime Rib with sauteed mushrooms, shrimp and scallop scampi, 1 1/4 lb lobster

hunting lodge. There’s a stuffed grizzly in the bar area and mounted heads of various animals decorate the walls. It’s an all wood interior which is homey, comfortable, and nostalgic. The people are incredibly friendly. Everyone greets you with a smile, from the hostess who takes your money and gets you seated, the server who greets you with an all-too-knowing grin and gives you a personal tour of the layout of the buffet and knows just when to refill your iced tea without you ever having to ask, to the many buffet attendants who are all too happy to pile prime rib, lobster, crab legs, oysters, hot foods, or ice cream onto your plate.

Nordic Lodge Round 2

Round 2: 1/2 dozen oysters and king crab legs

This is not your Vegas style fly around the world smorgasbord. There are at best, maybe around twenty different dishes. But what they lack in variety they more than make up for in actual noticeable quality. All of their grilled meats are certified Black Angus beef and the prime rib is juicy, tender, and cooked to a nice medium rare with a gorgeous amount of pink. You can dress the meat however you choose, with horseradish mustard,

Nordic Lodge Round 3

Round  3: More of the same BUT with the addition of bacon wrapped sccallops

sour cream, au jus, sauteed mushrooms and onions, or more butter. The scampi is sweet, buttery, garlicky, and full of fresh plump shrimp and scallops. There are bacon wrapped scallops that are fatty, meaty, crispy, but still sweet, soft, and buttery. The lobster are bright red and hefty, full of meat and juices. There’s nothing like cracking into a fresh lobster and knowing there’s going to be a good amount of meat inside. The lobster juices (what experts and aficionados call the tamale) inside the head taste like the sea. If you’re lucky and get a female, there might even be some super sweet lobster roe inside too. The claws are meaty and the tails are plump and slide right out of the shell. The Nordic Lodge also prides itself in its raw bar, and the oysters were sweet and meaty and full of great flavor and the oyster liquor is never spilled or wasted. The crab legs, giant meaty king crab, are sweet and salty and freshly steamed and pop right out for you.

Nordic Lodge Round 4

Round 4: More than a 1/2 dozen oysters and another pile of crab

After the first bite, I was in heaven. After the first lobster, experiencing nirvana. After the first plate, convinced I was in paradise. Around the third plate I was beginning to wonder what I had actually gotten myself into. By the fourth, I knew my soul had been lured into a trap. Long distance runners will tell you about hitting ‘the wall’. A mental

Nordic Lodge Round 5

Round  5: Haagen-Dazs coffee milkshake, Haagen-Dazs butter pecan with whipped cream, strawberry topping, and crushed Oreos, lemon bars, and strawberry shortcake sandwich

barrier that threatens every runner’s resolve and could spell disaster. The mind wants to shut down and every step feels like a leap. Well, eaters have the same thing. Every small bite feels like a pound of food in your mouth. Swallowing becomes arduous. Sweet becomes sickeningly sweet. Salty becomes super salty. Textures become warped and take on sinister mental implications. By the time I made it to the dessert bar, not only had I hit the wall, but I felt like it had fallen right on top of me. But, my mind implored, it’s Haagen-Dazs! Who gets to eat all you can eat Haagen-Dazs? We should probably get some anyways. Ooh and look at all the pretty baked things! Everyone at the dessert bar funnily enough had the exact same look. A dead, thousand-yard stare just trying to look beyond the void and read the list of available Haagen-Dazs flavors and toppings. We’re all beyond the ability of standing on our own accord, leaning against the wooden counter just to make sure we don’t fall over from the sheer weight of our stomachs. We all look at each other knowing the pain we’re going through and yet we can’t help but get a scoop of ice cream, a dollop of whipped cream, a spoonful of strawberry topping, and some of the baked desserts too.

This is literal and figurative hell at this point. You’re so full of food nothing makes sense anymore. You have an existential crisis in the middle of the restaurant, questioning everything you know. Suddenly all the mounted heads feel like they’re looking right at Louis CK Fullyou. Every one of the god damn staff is so god damn nice and polite and cheerful you feel sick. They’re so happy! Why are they so happy?! I’m miserable! What is going on. Stop smiling at me. You bastard, you know what you’ve done to me. I wonder if behind their smiles they take secret pleasure in causing so much pain. I just want to stumble around in pain and misery but everyone keeps greeting me and saying hello and asking how I’m doing and if I’m happy and if I’m enjoying and joking about the food and I want to wring their necks. I’m laughing and crying at the same time. I feel like all the constituent parts I’ve eaten have reassembled themselves into whole animals in my stomach. I don’t know how to walk anymore. I see more and more people coming in and Full CatI want to yell out warnings, tell them to turn back, abandon all hope ye who enter here, but all that comes out is a mighty burp that only slightly relieves the pain. I’ve never spoken in burps before but I fear I’ll never get rid of all this pressure. What was at first a gorgeous expansive property is now just a vast wasteland separating me from my only means of escape from this hell. I finally reach my car and become one with the chorus of moans and cries echoing from all the weary drivers in the lot. This buffet did what I thought wasn’t possible. What I failed to understand about that Twilight Zone episode from my youth. That you can actually be destroyed by having too much of everything you’ve ever wanted.

I am a big fan of The Twilight Zone. I love how it never tried to be explicitly, overtly scary. It was never about monsters or ghouls, ghosts or zombies, Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster. Instead, it wanted to get into our heads, peel back our innermost fears, terrify us not with the extraordinary, but with the ordinary. It was pure psychological horror in TV opera form. It might not get you while you’re watching. It might not even be the subject of that night’s nightmares. But eventually, inevitably,  you’re going to feel that immeasurable dread like you, too, are caught…in the Twilight Zone.

Jerel says, ‘it’s a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there’.

Jerel Says, ‘The enemy is not what we believed’; Fragrance

The Beguiled Banner

‘It seems the enemy is not what we believed.’

-Ms. Martha Farnsworth, The Beguiled

I can’t think of a guy who’s actually been in a serious relationship with a woman who still clings onto the juvenile, naive fantasy that being with more than one woman at a time could be anything but a terrible disaster. Leave those Casanova fantasies and playboy aspirations to doe-eyed dreamers and yearning youths. A man can tell you from experience, just one incredible woman can fill every one of your dreams, and it takes only one terrible one to possess your every nightmare. So what happens when a too charming for his own good, devilishly handsome Union gent finds himself under the care and supervision of a house full of Southern belles?

Well, if the modern remake of The Beguiled is any indication, first it’ll be a whole hell of a lot of mind numbing nothing. And then everything.

I never saw the original with Clint Eastwood back in the 70s, so I have nothing to say on the matter of its faithfulness to the original, or to the novel on which it was based. I am a blank slate, with no preconceived notions, letting you know what I thought of this standalone piece.

To be honest, I think very little of it. First, the strong points. I am beyond thrilled to see In BrugesColin Farrell in a film. I honestly find Colin Farrell irresistibly magnetic. Maybe I’m just another sucker for that Irish charm, but I do think Colin Farrell should have been excused much much sooner and forgiven by Hollywood for the mistakes of his past. I remember the tabloid stories and photos as he seemingly descended into a drunken, drug fueled, sex crazed rage. But I also remember how much fun the film In Bruges was because of him. I remember how kick ass he was in SWAT. I think Seven Psychopaths isn’t nearly as celebrated as it absolutely should and that’s a crime. I mean come on. You start to think back, Saving Mr Banks, Total Recall, Scrubs, Colin Farrell has been such a wonderfully charismatic and attractive pull. And it’s great to see Colin Farrell really be taken seriously in such a dramatic and intense role as the recovering Union Corporal McBurney. I hope that for whatever independent, art-house, cine-beauty attention The Beguiled received, some of it rubs off on Colin Farrell and I see him more often again, like when he was first hailed as ‘the next greatest actor in Hollywood’ in his youth.

In fact, every single performance in this slow crawl to inevitable nothingness deserves merit. Nicole Kidman is nothing short of expected perfection. She is calm, cool, calculating, and utterly reserved, as a proper Southern lady (I imagine) ought to be. BeguiledKirsten Dunst, another surprising nonentity considering her prolific repertoire, also brings a level of experience and expertise to the film. Not to be outdone, many of the younger actresses, led by the elegant and ethereal Elle Fanning, are also a great joy to watch on screen. I particularly enjoyed, and was surprised by, Addison Riecke (at only 13) for her humor and timing. If for nothing else, because you’d really be hard-pressed to find anything, The Beguiled shines as an exemplar for outstanding performances. There is real artistry and craft in every line delivered, every emotion expressed.

As such, my biggest criticism for The Beguiled is that though it is strong as performance, it’s honestly very terrible at being a film. Compared to my last rave review of Baby Driver which was almost specifically because Edgar Wright knows how to manipulate and take advantage of the unique characteristics of film, The Beguiled is just a static, dull, long drawn out smug self-satisfied expression. First off, cinematography is pretty much non-existent. The camera is almost always still, a passing thought, just a fly on the wall as action happens in front of, instead of with, the observer. Because of that, a lot of scenes Beguiled Establishedseem very boring. You as the viewer are just not engaged. It’s slow and it’s inactive. The whole thing would have worked better on a live stage versus a movie screen. With the dialogue and the performance and the performers, all of this with that live energy of seeing the action just a few feet away from you, the audience feeding off of the energy of the performers and the performers feeding off of the attention of the audience, you would have felt more engaged and enjoyed more. Instead, as I feel with most of these art-house style films, there was just too much in the movie. So many establishing shots. B roll of Southern landscapes and old plantation mansions. Portrait shots of girls doing mundane tasks. It all felt so self-indulgent. So presumptuous. Cut out all of that ego-elements, restrict it to just the dialogue and performances, and you would have had an excellent stage production.

As I’m wrestling trying to figure out if the movie should have been a play I’m also trying to figure out what’s supposed to happen in the movie. At certain times I feel like I know what’s about to happen and I like it, I’m satisfied, I think it’s smart and would make for a great film. And then the whole plot takes another left turn. At first I think the sudden appearance of an ‘object to be won’ (a clever and smart reversal of gender roles, a So Badstatement on modern sexism) can unearth some unresolved issues and tensions among the women. Could be a great psychological movie. But then the girls get jealous and possessive of the attractive young man, somaybe we have a group Misery ordeal. Trapped in a mansion and not getting any better as the girls obsess over him. Then Farrell reveals his character to be a manipulative and chauvinistic playboy, and there’s a hostage situation. So potential for a cat and mouse piece. And then sometimes in strange spatterings, the movie bothers to have a love story. It’s like being haunted by a mystery fragrance. It’s like that shame and embarrassment when you get home and smell and think to compliment your partner’s home cooking, only to find out the kitchen’s been sprayed all day by exterminators. Let me tell you, your partner isn’t going to be flattered that industrial strength killer reminds you of their cooking, and you won’t be so reluctant to trust yourself from now on either. It’s all so jumbled up and misleading, it seems the movie is not what I believed!

Overall, strong performances aren’t nearly enough to save what is to me an entirely ego-driven self-indulgent art-house attention piece. It could have benefited from a liberal amount of editing, a boost in cinematography and film style, and a more clear direction. I’m glad that the actors, skilled as they are, knew where they were headed and how to get there, because I was lost the entire way.

Jerel says, ‘the enemy is not what we believed’.

Jerel Says, ‘I’m in, Baby’; Bury

Baby Driver Banner

Baby: I want us to head West and never stop. You in?

Debora: I’m in, Baby.

-Baby Driver

You can have a shitty car and still make a great movie. Look at Little Miss Sunshine, as the Hoover family treks to their first child beauty pageant in a beat up, broken Little Miss SunshineVolkswagen van. Or who can forget the Wagon Queen Family Truckster that the Griswolds drove to Wally World in National Lampoon’s Vacation. At the same time though, you could have some of the best cars in the world and produce absolute garbage. Transforming into a giant robot doesn’t transform any of the Transformers series into anything salvageable. And I might get some flak for this, but to me, The Fast and the Furious franchise is to cars what Trump Steaks was to fine meat. You see it doesn’t matter what the steering wheel is attached to. What matters is who’s behind it. And Baby Driver benefits from two incredible talents behind the wheel. The titular character, Baby, played by Ansel Elgort, is one of the most incredible getaway drivers in all of filmdom, and the movie’s director, Edgar Wright, has once again proven his mastery of the fine art and beauty and expression of cinema.

Story wise, this isn’t going to be one of the most unique of its genre. The puzzle pieces are going to feel very familiar. A foreboding and immeasurably powerful and all-knowing criminal mastermind. An ensemble of equal parts crazy, violent, and sociopathic Baby Driver Car Chasecriminals and thrill chasers who form his ‘teams’. A mysterious, quiet, but incredibly talented driver in the wrong world for the right reasons. And at the center of it all, a beautiful young woman with a free spirit and an open heart who wants to run away with him. The pieces are all the same but they don’t quite fit the way you probably would have expected. The movie is at times a comedy, an action flick, and a musical. Imagine what it would be like if violent, frantic, chaotic bank heists and car chases were taking place in the same world as La La Land, while the Ryan Goslings and the Emma Stones were falling in love to dance routines on the interstates. Baby as a character is fascinating, with just enough context and purpose in his life to make us feel for him. Kevin Spacey, who is hands down one of the most talented and incredibly actors I have ever seen, relishes his role. I mean you can tell he absolutely loved and enjoyed his calculating, subtly cruel, and silently explosive criminal mastermind. The movie accomplishes what it wants to accomplish in almost every scene. There are moments of Baby Driver Kevin Spaceygreat humor, thrilling action, and wrenching tension. There is just enough variety and innovation in making the pieces fit that makes an almost all-too familiar setup still feel fresh, new, exciting, and unpredictable. When people discuss Baby Driver, they’re not going to talk about the plot or the story. You can sort of construct it in your head already. He’s a great driver. He found love. And just as he thought he was finally out, they pull him back in. But, among other things, people should talk about the characters, their unique takes on the ‘action heist criminal heart of gold love story’ tropes that they each embody. Jon Hamm and Eiza Gonzalez as Bonnie and Clyde. Jon Bernthal as the rebel without a cause. Jamie Foxx as the man with the chip on his shoulder who wants to get what’s his. They should talk about moments of picture perfect emotion and intensity. The chases, the standoffs, the romance, the escape.

And they definitely, absolutelyMUST, talk about the inimitable, unmistakenly distinct, and utterly flawless style of the film.  A style that Edgar Wright has perfected and sharpened and has so often applied to some of the best comedies of all time. He is the mastermind behind three of my favorite movies: The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy Shaun of the Dead Fenceof Shaun of the DeadHot Fuzz, and The World’s End. Visually, Wright takes his excellent storytelling skills in comedy and applies them seamlessly to action and thrill. Very few directors can construct shots the way Wright does and utilize his medium (film) in the unique and characteristic and advantageous ways that he does. Wright inherently understands the kinetic power of film. That is, he understands how to take advantage of movement. And not just of his actors or his sets. But of his camera and his shot and his staging. Wright uses the camera to add an extra layer to the storytelling, instead of just using it as a means to express it. The title sequence is an absolutely perfect example of this kind of talent and skill. It is riddled Worlds End Walkwith subtle visual jokes that works because of his cinematography and staging. It has elements of foreshadowing, it moves and interacts with the characters, and it contributes to the story by placing visual cues and clues. A lot of movies are ‘characters reacting’ and directors placing cameras to simply ‘capture’. But then it’s really no more than just a flip book, at best a really good collection of still images that work together. Wright emphasizes dynamic, interactive, and active storytelling with the camera. And that makes the shots, and not just the stories, interesting and already worth watching.

Wright is also a master of sound design. In terms of comedy and storytelling, Wright understands the importance and value of a well timed sound effect. It’s such a perfect example of that dry British humor, but I love the scene in Shaun of the Dead where right after Shaun and Ed witness the horrific disembowelment and subsequent zombified Baby Driver Musicresurrection of a girl in their garden, as they both look in sheer shock and utter disbelief, in the silence all you can hear is Ed ‘click click click’ winding up his disposable camera. See that is an example of taking advantage of your medium. A written story couldn’t capture that moment. A picture couldn’t establish the feel and timing. But a film with a good director can. And in terms of utterly perfect spot on sound design, there are few better examples than Baby Driver. This movie is perhaps the world’s first and only example of an ‘action musical’. Some of the best scenes are timed, shot, staged, and acted to and around the songs. Unlike standard movies where songs are either added post-production from whatever they could get rights to or composers create pieces after watching the La La Land Openingscenes, Wright already picked out, and storyboarded, not only specific songs but the sequences to them too. Some of the best scenes in the movie are examples of these. In the beginning Baby is waiting in the getaway car listening to Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. What starts off as your typical background music/character listening to song that happens to be in the scene turns out to be a note for note, second by second, perfectly synchronized sequence. The robbery, the chase, the escape, are all timed to the song. The movie perfectly captures every music fan’s dream of a badass playlist come to life. It films the scenes you wish you could see when you listen to the playlists of the life you wish you had. Every police siren, brake squeal, tire screen, gunshot, breath, it’s all synchronized to the music. I’ve never seen anything like it outside of either musicals or music videos but it adds such an incredible level of fun and excitement and variety and style to these scenes. It’s slick and smooth and oh so good.

If I’ve got any qualms with the movie, and I assure you it’s a tiny insignificant little oversight that I’m more than willing to bury underneath all of the praise and admiration I can possibly heap on this movie, it’s that the dialogue is at times pretty forced, pretty staged, and very awkward. Some of it is excusable, even acceptable, when you consider Baby doesn’t talk much. So why would he know how to, or at least be very good at, Baby Driver Foxxconverse. In fact, sometimes the best thing the movie can do is shut everyone up and let the action and the songs take everyone away. But there are times that Debora is just a bit too open, too charming, too strangely ‘I’m into you and coming onto you’ for a roadside diner waitress talking to a stranger in sunglasses. Or the characters, like Jamie Foxx’s, are just too over the top, too invested in the stereotype. The best dialogue, and delivery, is Kevin Spacey hands down. His veiled threats are as smooth and deadly as a knife hidden under a silk sheet. He breaks down heist plans with such confidence and joy and speed you’d think he was narrating a horse race. His dialogue is the best constructed and it’s all delivered smooth like butter. But some of the others, it’s honestly hard at times to take them seriously. And Debora seriously, it’s like she was ready to tell her life story to the next guy who walked in that diner.

Overall, I cannot recommend Baby Driver enough. It is just another incredible title to add to the already impressive body of work that is Edgar Wright’s filmography. It is sleek, stylish, and never at the sacrifice of subject. It’s utterly unique in its execution and Baby Driver Questionsvision, and enjoyable from beginning to end. For me this isn’t only a must see, but a must own. Now I don’t necessarily mean you all need to go out and buy it too, but it does mean something significant for me. Of the many many movies I’ve seen this year, this is one of the few that I must absolutely own forever to watch over and over again, whenever I want great car scenes or a shining example of real filmcraft or sound. All I know is for the next couple times I’m on the road I’ll be listening to the Baby Driver soundtrack, wishing I could be half as good as Baby at anything I do and look has as cool as Baby doing it. But I bet no one ever fell in love with how cool a guy looked typing at his keyboard. Hahah.

Jerel says, ‘I’m in, Baby’.

Day 364: The Man and ‘The Big Sick’; ‘Jangle’

My friends don’t understand why it is I’ve always been so obsessed with relationships and romance and love. And I used to always tell them that once they were finally in a relationship, they’d understand. They’d see everything for how much brighter and more colorful and more vibrant they become when they’re with someone. I just got out of the movies, and rushed home, to start writing this very late post, because I think I got that illuminating ‘a-ha’ moment wrong all this time.

I was a kid living and watching through the golden age of cheesy romances. Many were, WhileYouWereSleeping.jpgand still remain, some of my favorite movies of all time. If You’ve Got Mail is playing on TV it doesn’t matter what time it is or what I’m doing, I will stay glued to that TV to finish it out. I happily sing along to the  energy and fervor of Moulin Rouge. I remember watching While You Were Sleeping with my mother during the day, and how for a span of like, three months she used to have Leap Year on endless loop playing in the family room. Who could forget the Titanic marathons women would subject themselves to, watching this movie over and over in theatres. I swear, if the sheer demand didn’t keep it in cinemas, Kleenex certainly would have. And all these movies, for as wonderful and cheesy and heartfelt as they are, they all have this one thing in common that I thought was the end all be all for love and romance. They all built worlds and stories and characters around just that one moment where two people fall in love and…end. Credits. Every time. And what waaays they ended up together though. Oh, the heart melts. Who can forget Meg Ryan looking tearfully at Tom Hanks, saying ‘I wanted it to be you. I wanted it to be you so badly’. It YouveGotMail.gifwas always about two people realizing they should be together and then just being together and then credits roll to Hollywood happiness. And because of that, for the longest time I thought the most important part of a relationship, the part you learn the most from, was the getting together. That that must have been the hardest part in the entire process. Two people finding each other in the chaos and randomness of the world and being each other’s soulmates and the search was the obstacle and the soulmate and the life of ease and comfort was the reward. If you weren’t lovesick, it just meant you hadn’t found the right person, and it would just take the finding and the being to make a lifelong convert.

But that’s not exactly true, is it? In fact, it’s not even remotely true. It is the complete Summeropposite, the antithesis. And over time, people began to realize that. We had, or have, the rise of the ‘anti-romcom’. Smart, witty, deliberate attempts at subverting the romcom tropes we grew up with. And I’ve seen so many this past year. Don Jon was a self-aware movie that purposefully poked holes not only in the ridiculousness and excessiveness of pornography but also in the unreasonable expectations and demands of romcom relationships. I’ll admit it wasn’t this year I saw it for the first time but it was this past year that had me constantly revisiting and reexamining (500) Days of Summer first as life model, then source of hope and optimism, muse for love and relationships, but most importantly, a reminder of Swiss Army Manwhat it is I’m actually supposed to be looking for. Swiss Army Man caught me by surprise because it did such an incredible job of masking its actual identity of a romance and love film with all the nonsense and distraction of a farting, shooting, Daniel Radcliffe corpse. The Way Way Back was one of the first movies I saw last summer that really made a lasting and important impression on me for its own much more mature and yet lighthearted take on pure, young love. And now, to add to the list of these new wave of intelligent romantic comedies, there is the semi-autobiographical but fully humorous, entertaining, and heartwarming The Big Sick.

I didn’t really know much about this movie, or that in particular it was actually based on the true circumstances of the first year of Kumail Nanjiani’s relationship with his now-wife. Is that a spoiler alert? She’s fine, everyone. She gets out of the coma. I saw an interview of Kumail on ‘The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’ and they showed that clip of him in the hospital cafeteria with his girlfriend’s parents when he’s asked about 9/11 and I just knew I had to see the whole damn thing. And I’m so glad I did, and I definitely think if you have the opportunity you should as well. It’s a limited release movie so it isn’t showing in nearly as many theatres as it should, but seeing as it is an Amazon production, I imagine it’ll be on Stream soon enough. (What what get that Amazon Prime y’all.) There are such great moments of comedy and they’re written with such sharp wit and they’re delivered with perfect timing and pacing that it’s hard not to find yourself lost in laughter. And there’s certainly a lot to say about the particular skill not only in writing but in acting and perceiving to take what I don’t doubt was a scary and stressful time and reaching beyond that to the humor and heart that makes it a story worth sharing. It is a funny movie. And it’s a real story of real love. And there’s risks taken and hearts to be won and obstacles to overcome. But even the old guard, those 90s and early 2000s throwbacks, could have that and make us want to laugh. It’s these newer ones that have something else in common that to me, make them more ‘authentic’, more ‘relatable’, more ‘real’. They make you cry.

There’s this misconception in high school English classes all over the country (and maybe the world) that we read Shakespeare and Hemingway and Twain and Joyce and whatnot because we want them to know about Hamlet or fishing or the deep south or Ireland. And I would always tell my students that I don’t care if in ten years from now they remember what Hamlet’s father said to him or the symbolism of his soliloquy. I barely cared in the moment about how much they could recognize metaphors and references to southern politics and society in Twain’s depiction in Huck Finn. We read these novels because they are supplements to knowledge we don’t yet have. I want them to read Othello because a classroom and fictional characters are safe environments for young minds to develop mature attitudes towards loyalty and friendship and envy. They know so little when they’re young of great and significant issues and we use literature as tools to exercise and hypothesize and figure out slowly and gradually the kinds of people we are or want to become. And to me, movies are the same way when it comes to emotions. Great movies that are the golden standards of their genres are such because of how they awaken emotions in us that we might not normally feel. Good horrors scare us to the bone, they make us question everyday objects and feel a primal, instinctual, survival type of fear. Great dramas show us just how deeply we can feel for others, constantly pulling on our hearts to greater depths and unlocking levels of humanity and understanding. Action movies make us feel nobler and braver and stronger than we are, inspiring some of us to be heroes. And great romances, real, true, authentic romances, take us way beyond just that sheer ecstasy of the beginning. It shows us past that illusion into what really tells us why love is so important, why we search for it, why we crave it. It shows us loss.

I’ve cried more in movies this past year than I think I ever have. Way Way Back, Swiss Army Man, Big Sick, Kubo, La La Land, even Guardians 2. (Hey I never said they’d all make sense. Sometimes I’m just an emotional mess.) But the romances, the Way Way Backs and the Swiss Army Mans of them all, I was glad to have them to make me cry. Those were tears I think only people who’ve felt love and lost love could cry. You know for as happy as I’ve been this past year, I don’t think anything ever has made me as happy as losing love has made me sad. And sometimes I am afraid of that. And it’s for that reason that sometimes I feel bad for people who have never dated not because they don’t know that relationship lovesick happiness, but because they don’t know that soul crushing yet soul affirming depth of sadness of love loss. A lot of things can make me happy. And a lot of those are not dating or relationships or love. I can find it much easier and in equal or greater portions in so many other things. But nothing like love can make me feel as human as its sadness. I love these newer modern romances because the good ones add that loss. Some, like Swiss Army Man, are even brave enough to stop it at that loss. But I don’t blame most for still wanting to give us that happy ending. It’s there for everyone to have and to relate to. But those scenes of loss, of reflection, of appreciation, those are for the ones who’ve known heartbreak. To feel it again. To remember.

I look back at this year, and I think, I’m glad I had those sad days. I’m glad I could feel how big my heart is and could be, by reaching out and touching the empty expanse of where I wanted my love to be. It’s a measure some people just don’t get to know. I don’t want everyone to go through heartbreak, mind you. If a good enough movie or song or book or piece of art can get you to understand that loss, all the better. I just don’t want to see so many people never appreciate or understand their love because they’ve never had it or because they’ve forgotten what it feels like to be without it.  I still enjoy my cheesy romances, but they stay strictly in the movie world. I’ve had my fill of happy endings and stories that ended at the beginning. I like the romance movies that can make me laugh and cry. That poke and prod at the sore spots to remind me not of the hurt, but of the fact that they are there. I don’t keep pursuing love because of the happy happy joy joy mushy gushy stuff. I can get that. I can do that.  I do it because I know how much my heart misses it. Oh how happy am I that I could ever afford to have been so sad.

Oh right. The daily prompt. Jangle. Like, what in the fuck even is that?!

Day 364

Man: 331 Loneliness: 33

Day 244: The Man and the Last Cowboy in Texas; ‘Nuance’

How crazy is this, y’all? A movie review that might actually be helpful for a recent movie! I saw Logan in theatres on opening day with a friend on her birthday. No usual three week lag here.


Logan Header

I didn’t like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine when it all started. I saw the first X-Men movie in 2000 and I thought he was too rough around the edges, too wild. The first four iterations in the X-Men film series were all to me, catastrophically abysmal. X-Men, X-2: X-Men United, X-3: The Last Stand, and X-Men:Origins Wolverine were all terrible movies and for the most part, I blamed Hugh Jackman.

Aside from a few other majorly integral parts (Sir Patrick Stewart as Professor X, Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto), Hugh Jackman was the only one to stick with the series through the entirety of its identity crisis, and, thankfully, eventual successful rebirth starting with X-One Last TimeMen: First Class. And I’m so glad he did. What I have come to realize is that the reason why Hugh Jackman and his particular Logan character stuck out so prominently in my mind and drew so much of my ire is because he was a strong presence. Too strong in weak movies with weak counterparts. I thought I despised him for disrupting the order and discipline of James Marsden’s leadreship as Cyclops. I wanted to blame him for the disastrously misguided romance with Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey. The truth is, what we were really watching was the attempts and efforts of a very strong and capable and independent character trying to break completely free and escape from the banality of these weak, PG-restricted Degrassi-fied superhero movies. (I only had to suffer through Famke Janssen’s god-awful parenting in Taken to fully cement how much I despise her characters.)

Hugh Jackman and Logan have been trying to find their natural habitat for a very long time. He has brought as much action and grit and violence and true reality to the X-Men movies as he possibly can but he’s constantly been constrained and restricted by ratings and audiences. I’ve no doubt he’s had an incredible time playing the toughest baddest rootin’ tootin’est mutant in the West ever, but he’s really been wanting to flesh out his character and give him some real life.

Logan finally gives him that chance to shine and god, what a spectacle it was. This is the Wolverine we’ve been waiting for. The kind of Dark Knight re-envisioning that puts real weight and humility into a superhero.

I don’t want to give too much away here. The movie deals with the excesses of superheroes and mutants in such a light but effective way that really it would be misleading to frame this in much the same way as its predecessors. This is truly a movie to stand on its own and to appreciate on its own merit. For those who want it to fit into and tie in with the rest of the series’ canon, rest assured that it does, though it doesn’t insist upon doing so nor does it apologize for its position. Just remember folks, I’m totally fine with it, but you asked for this to be in your timeline.

Logan is not-so-surprisingly grim and heavy, but what is surprising is how oddly…refreshing it feels amidst the lineup of either way too serious or way too silly superhero movies. It’s a fine balance between the suddenly overly-dramatic Power Rangers and way too casually silly ‘we’re saving the universe here people’ Guardians of the Galaxy XMen ComicsVol. 2. James Mangold is no stranger to Wolverine’s story, having directed The Wolverine back in 2013. Nor is he new to the world of the gritty country and western feel of Logan. He directed both Walk the Line and 3:10 to Yuma. But I mean, like, he also directed Knight and Day and Kate and Leopold so really, I don’t know what this guy knows. I do know that this movie feels and looks unlike any superhero film out there. And I think this is important. Logan is not, for better or for worse, an actual superhero film. Hugh Jackman is not a superhero. There is no outfit. There is no call or cry for help. There really even isn’t a supervillain, per se. Oh, and I thought this was hilarious, this isn’t even some post-apocalyptic wasteland either. Despite what the trailers might have you believe, it’s just Texas. Not even like, post-war Texas. Just Texas. And it’s only like thirty years in the future. Texas just looks that bad.

Yes there are a good number of action sequences, but don’t let this fool you into taking this at face value as another action movie. This is about much more than that. It’s about the unbearable weight of hope versus the unstoppable force of time and indifference. It’s about being very much mortal and wrestling that mortality with the responsibility and ability to contribute. No one wants to be who they are, where they are, or in the circumstances they find themselves in. But somehow someway Logan finds ways to give these characters hope and purpose in a world that frankly, has no time or room for people like that anymore. It’s a powerful message, one very much relevant right now. Right now it is becoming increasingly more important for the collective small voices, who on their own are insignificant and not worth considering, to face the tempting luxury of indifference and ignorance and rise against much more powerful forces.

And please don’t forget, this is not a kids’ movie. Logan earns every bit of its R rating. It is the only way to truly effectively portray this honestly incredibly powerful tribute, salute, and eulogy to one of the best personifications of a character I have ever seen over a 17 year long run. Hugh Jackman truly has been the Wolverine for longer than some people have been themselves. He has hinted to the possibilities of reprising his role in future movies provided they continue to allow him this room for pain and grit and struggle. Logan finally feels like home for the Wolverine we’ve seen running wild and searching for so long. Logan is not afraid to be very real with how it treats its characters nor does it shy away from the pain and the loss. So no, in terms of action or heroes, this is not that movie. It isn’t full of easter eggs and fun nods to other series or teasers for the future. It isn’t a collage of ‘who would it be fun to see’ like past movies rushing to fill in as many loved characters as possible. Aside from its characters, it doesn’t have the nuances of the mutant films of the past. Logan is, very much like the Wolverine itself, a lone wolf running parallel to the pack. And one of the greatest endorsements for this movie that I can give, is that when it was done, a young mother with an even younger child, turned to me during the credits in a face of shock, and said ‘I’m a terrible parent’. Well yeah, lady. This ain’t your kid’s superhero film anymore.

Bad Parent

Day 244

Man: 211 Loneliness: 33

Day 242: The Man and the Clash of Collaboration; ‘Ruminate’

Group LikeWhen I was in school I always cringed whenever my teachers would assign ‘group projects’. It didn’t matter how old we were, what subject we were in, or how the teacher created or designed the projects. I don’t know what it is about interacting with other human beings, but when it comes to group projects we just never seem to connect, let alone speak the same language.

If you’ve ever been a student or are still in school, I’m sure you can relate to this. The project is assigned and is supposed to be this great opportunity for equal collaboration and contribution. Your teacher optimistically yet naively expounds on the benefits of group work and how this is going to be the project that actually holds every member accountable.

Yeah right.

You know better. You know how this is going to go down. You meet up with your group for the first time and go over the assignment. All four of you have equally different yet Project Graphcredible and legitimate interpretations of where this project should go. You try to negotiate and compromise, but you can already feel this project being pulled four different ways. You realize your schedules don’t line up for the rest of the project timeline so you divvy up the parts and just hope and pray that when you all meet up again the day before the project is due that everyone has done their part. All noble intentions aside, you create more of a Frankenstein’s monster-esque project of loosely connected disparate parts than a finely tuned melange of ingredients that melt and meld together. More than half the time, by the end when all is said and done, some members will have disappeared altogether, others who mean well have absolutely no clue what’s going on, you’ve got still others who insist on either being backseat drivers or passive-aggressively shooting down all contributions, and if you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get paired with someone who at least brings snacks.

The point is, group projects are hot messes. And so it is with the Hong Kong/Hollywood mashup collaboration project The Great Wall. With a $135 million budget, one of China’s greatest and most prolific directors and master visual storytellers, screen legends like Andy Lau, Zhang Hanyu, and Matt Damon, The Great Wall would be China’s largest and most expensive film project ever. And much like any other group project I’ve been in or witnessed, it can have individual parts that truly shine but overall, it feels too disjointed and misdirected to create a cohesive successful movie.

First impression as you start watching The Great Wall, Zhang Yimou very clearly put his distinctive style into the direction of the movie. The movie is almost always consistently visually stunning and appealing. From the bright orange sands of the Gobi desert to the brilliantly colored soldiers of the Nameless Order, from a visual standpoint The Great Wall is gorgeous. Color has always been an important element to storytelling with Zhang Yimou’s films. I remember the bright red scarf of Zhang Ziyi’s scarf in The Road Home. The gold in the clothing, uniforms, and poison in Curse of the Golden Flower. Color was a means of separating chapters, stories, and perspectives in his epic Hero. So too is the case in The Great Wall and it works beautifully. Each division of the army, with its own particular skill sets and responsibilities and roles, is designated by the color of their uniforms. It makes the chaos of battle look like a living breathing piece of art, a constantly shifting abstract piece. No one is as purposeful or conscious of the use of color and wide roaming shots as Zhang Yimou.

Commander Lin.jpgThe direction of the movie is very much in keeping with the tradition of Chinese epics, of which I have always been a fan. When I was younger I saw Warriors of Heaven and Earth and Musa the Warrior (which by the way, was a hugely successful collaboration film between China and South Korea). No one does grand-scale battle and historical epic drama quite like the Chinese. I highly recommend the very very long but well worth it Red Cliff. There is a theatrical cut around three hours but the original is actually a two-part three hour long each epic of which I would readily and happily devote a full day to watching again and again. So in those moments when Zhang Yimou and the almost entirely Chinese cast and crew are left to do what is the trademark of their cinema style, I Nameless Generalsam in awe. The battle scenes are wild but have a rhythm and pace to them that is still very much aware of how to tell a story. Female warriors in blue armor swan-diving into the battle, red archers firing red arrows into a sea of monsters, black armor and red blood dancing. Giant trebuchets, flaming projectiles, beautifully ornate ballistas, as an action epic The Great Wall is incredible.

The problem of course, is that it is not just a Chinese epic. It is supposed to be a collaboration. Standing on its own with its own cast and crew, this movie could have been one of the best modern Chinese action epics. But somehow in someway, they need to fit in Matt Damon.

Matt DamonI’m not even discrediting Matt Damon for this. Honestly I think he did his best but his role and credibility in everything is just so questionable. For starters, historically speaking I think it would make no sense to anyone why someone with an American accent would be walking around ancient China. A Spaniard, like his partner, could make sense, and we would absolutely expect perhaps an Italian like Marco Polo. Hell, I’ll even take a British or French knight. Somehow Matt Damon manages to not be any of them, though at sporadic, random times in the movie I could swear he was trying desperately to affect some sort of accent. Just didn’t make sense. I think he was going for Irish at one point.

Matt Damon’s interactions with the other characters pull the movie into different and conflicting directions. His strangely rushed and lacking any sort of context immediate flirtatious relationship with Commander Lin pulls us into awkward uncomfortable romance territory. Why does every action movie with a woman have to give her a love interest. Why can’t men and women kick butt together and be done with it. I’m looking at Pacific Rim for perhaps being the only movie brave enough to do this. When he’s with his Spanish companion I feel I’m watching a Lethal Weapon buddy cop ‘I’m too old for this shit’ action-comedy. They are way too sarcastic and snarky and casual around each other in the face of battle. Constantly exchanging derivatively sarcastic hero one-liners while exchanging blows. I fear this is what will make Avengers: Infinity War insufferable.

Overall, as a longtime Asian cinemaphile, I did actually enjoy this movie for when it could be as true to its roots as possible. There are some incredible battle scenes and Zhang Yimou’s direction and style are refreshing in the muted colors and blue/orange action hues of common Hollywood action films. No spoilers, but I do wish that a movie called The Great Wall spent the majority of its action at the actual wall. The siege scenes and technology Leaf Projectwere brilliant. I didn’t think they needed to relocate for the third act. I think for the right audience The Great Wall could be a great film. I know it is pretty much set to lose money, which is a shame. I think it didn’t know what it was trying to be, and I think it missed its audience. This is not your typical Hollywood brawler. There are real elements essential to Asian cinema here. I think somewhere in the future there could really be the potential for a truly successful and effective collaboration between the two largest cinema powers in the world. I’m imagining a 1940s gangster film maybe set in British-controlled Hong Kong. The truth is there was no need for two white guys to be running on top of the Great Wall of China but I wish that that does not become the reason why these two do not try again in the future. I wouldn’t be afraid of one misstep, especially if hopeful studios have already begun lining up some interesting prospects.

Oh, and before I forget, I do want to ruminate if just for a little bit about the claims of ‘whitewashing’ in this film. Okay look, if you want to talk about the very clear and apparent lack of Asian lead roles, that’s all well and fine and good. Ghost in the Shell definitely raises eyebrows. Doctor Strange is reasonably objectionable. But do not include Great Wall in this. I have no ill will towards Matt Damon. And you can’t whitewash a film that was produced, directed, staffed, and almost entirely funded, by the Chinese. Honestly, if anything, I felt that the Chinese parts and story were too strong and too independent to really include Matt Damon. He is, in my view, an extra. I believe the story could have successfully resolved without him, and every character and force was strongly portrayed to the point of it never feeling like Matt Damon was their white savior. Last Samurai, anyone? The guy was basically running around saying either ‘look what I can do’ or ‘what can I do’. His presence highlighted one very critical and essential piece of thinking though, especially nowadays. And that is, when you have been doing the same thing in a vacuum for hundreds of years, a fresh perspective is not only beneficial, it is necessary. What we saw here was how Hollywood wanted to sell The Great Wall to us. Matt Damon makes a lot more sense than Zhang Hanyu to a lot of people here. But this is what they were selling in China.

Chinese Wall

Notice the difference?

Day 242

Man: 209 Loneliness: 33

Day 234: The Man and the Return of the Boogeyman; ‘Center’

john-wick-tattoo

He was the one you sent to kill the Boogeyman.

2014 I saw John Wick in theatres knowing very little about the Baba Yaga. I honestly don’t even remember the trailer. I know there was a dog, and a car, and someone you really, really shouldn’t mess with. And I knew it was Keanu Reeves who could play anyone from the literal actual Buddha to a cyberpunk post-apocalyptic robot messiah. What ensued was an hour and a half of sophisticated style, real raw action, and an incredibly fascinating look into an underworld of shady characters, hidden places, and secret societies. John Wick was a smart modern noir action film about a retired hitman on a personal quest of revenge in this second world operating right within our own. There was something so cool, so slick, so captivating about how fully fleshed and functioning this secret world was as it operated right within plain sight.

The movie’s action sequences are nothing short of cinematic masterpieces. They are smooth, quick, and to Keanu Reeves’s credit, believable. I’ve seen clips of the extensive tactical weapons and fighting training Keanu goes through for the films and it is impressive with huge payout. The cinematography is clear and clean because there’s no need for fluff or camera tricks. Keanu knows how to punch, kick, grapple, shoot, and repeat so the camera gets to relax and stay still long enough for us to register each action and really appreciate and understand the level of power and skill his character has. They are shot in these fantastic dynamic environments that allow for so much variety and improvisation. The Red Circle club scene is claustrophobic and crowded and yet there is an interplay with enemies coming out of the water, running behind glass, on a busy dance floor, and all to the persistent endless deep booming bass. There is a home invasion scene near the beginning of the movie as John Wick’s enemies try to execute a preemptive strike that makes full use of John’s gorgeous house as a close quarters combat playground.

Membership 1.gifBut really, any movie can have good action. Might not be as good as John Wick‘s, but a good action scene is fairly easy to create and produce. A world that is compelling enough to want to watch the action in however, that requires skill. See, John Wick isn’t just another action movie to be filed in with the rest. At its heart it is a stylish, dark, and gritty noir film with a world that has so much to want to explore and membership-2investigate. John Wick has its own understated yet implicitly complex mythology. I knew it was going to be something different, something unique, something to think about, when John summons ‘Charlie’ and his ‘specialty cleaners’ to clean up the bodies and debris left in his house after the failed home invasion. The currency of exchange in the underworld for everything from favors to a room at the mystical ‘Continental’ to the disposal of bodies are gold coins. We get bits and pieces throughout the movie of the very strict code of conduct that members of this society must membership-3adhere to, lest they pay a severe penalty from ‘the house’. The criminal underworld is an unlikely yet compelling setting as the last vestige of gentlemanly professionalism, honor, and order. It’s such a fascinating society with its own rules, enforcement, requirements, and restrictions. There are services that are expected, almost natural extensions that can be called upon at a moment’s notice. Doctors with specific clientele, ‘dinner reservations’ for cleanup and disposal of bodies, all under the watchful eye of ‘management’. It’s a world I absolutely loved and wanted to know more about.

So these are the two major parts of what made John Wick back in 2014 so great. And it was with this understanding and desire and prior relationship with the movie that I went to watch John Wick Chapter 2 this weekend. I wanted the now-franchise to continue its ability to deliver high-quality action sequences with style and sophistication and I wanted to see more of this secret underworld whose connections and services are now international. And I am happy, ecstatic, honestly relieved to say, the movie did not disappoint.

John Wick Chapter 2 builds upon the first’s captivating world and particular style of violence. We visit Rome’s ‘Continental’ run by Winston’s cousin, the owner of the New York ‘Continental’ and a highly influential and powerful member of this world. John visits the ‘sommelier’ for a ‘tasting’ in order to purchase a very specific set of weapons intended to give him the advantage he needs to accomplish his tasks and rack up a very impressive kill count. The ‘tailor’ builds him a suit that is sharp, sleek, and lined with tactical zero-penetration armor. Keanu gets to run and gun through the abandoned tunnels below Rome, a hall of mirrors, a NYC subway train, and in a particularly funny scene involved in a station below One World Trade Center.

The movie is not without its shortcomings, however. And I find it stems from an identity crisis that the film has when it forgets what made the first such a great film in the first place. John Wick was a gritty noir film but it was not afraid to be light at times. It had a fully fleshed world but delivered it in an understated and subtle way. At times, John Wick Chapter 2 felt too serious and tried too hard to legitimize itself and/or its story. First of all, John Wick was at its core about a car and a dog. Second, it was well-received, loved, and the how-john-wick-kills-yousequel was, in a world of remakes and rehashes, something we actually wanted. So no one, least of all the movie itself, needs to convince us of its legitimacy and necessity. Oh yes, I needed this sequel. If the moral of John Wick should be ‘don’t rob a man’s car and kill his dog’ the moral of John Wick Chapter 2 should be ‘don’t betray a man who kills men’. Everything else is fluff and should be dealt with lightly. I also think that, while the movie gave me a much bigger helping of that secret world that I so craved, it spoonfed it to me. I loved how John Wick didn’t introduce these elements, it simply included them. Like it was a natural and assumed part of the understanding between movie and moviegoer that yes, there is a hotel that houses assassins and yes, there’s a bar and a doctor and a tailor and a launderer. Wonderful. Every new element in Chapter 2 seemed to have its own introductory exposition and honestly, I didn’t need that. I loved being able to piece together who these secret support roles of the underworld were and what they did. There was no need for any heavy-handed explanations. After all, isn’t it cooler when your date just rolls up in a nice car, versus talking to you about it all the time before the date? The movie succeeds the most when it is unapologetic about its decisions, not afraid to be light amidst the darkness, and is subtle yet convincing in creating its world rules and myths.

The worst thing I can possibly say about Chapter 2 is that at times it has about as much wick-punchconfidence as a teenage boy losing his virginity. I could do with less ‘am I doing alright’ ‘is this working for you’. The movie was, above anything else, spectacular. I think it did a great job of paying homage to its roots (THE PENCIL SCENE) and then moving forward with the story. I’ve seen no sign of weakness in the performance, style, or direction in this movie. There is no shortage of fantastic action sequences and the Greek myth/steampunk/smoke and mirrors underworld is just as fascinating and intriguing as it was in the beginning. No spoilers or anything, but I just want to say, the movie has had a great run in theatres, the fans are all loving it, and there’s just enough in the end to be able to flesh out a third, so here’s hoping.

John: Winston, tell them, tell them all, whoever comes, whoever it is, I’ll kill them. I’ll kill them all.

Winston: Course you will.

Day 234

Man: 201 Loneliness: 33

Day 228: The Man and the Killer Diet; ‘Hideout’

So it’s official. I’m calling it. My normally ironclad immune system was no match for three very very sick people invading my home after a two month absence. Apparently my parents and my brother got a fever their last week in the Philippines from my aunt and while on the road to recovery, were in pretty rough shape when they got back home. I on the other hand had been the spitting image of picture perfect health until all three decided to do bombard my immune system. There’s only so much a guy can take. So now I’m coughing, sneezing, sniffling, aching, and whatever else those Nyquil commercials list…ing. Ugh. On the bright side, my current affliction gives me valid enough reason to retreat to one of the many hideouts in the office to write and relax in peace while at the same time, looking like I am selflessly quarantining myself for the benefit of my peers.

I’m in such a fuzzy head-state and the back of my eyeballs feel like they’re trying to push their way out of my eye sockets. Every intake of breath feels like I’m inhaling tiny microscopic razor blades through my nostrils. So you know, fun times. Have no fear though, I am dutifully and habitually popping Tylenol left and right. It’s the only medicine we keep in the house. Honestly if I ever accidentally cut off a limb we’d probably just crush up some Tylenol and rub the powder on the wound. As such I have no energy to take on the greater and more pressing issues of our humanity, but just enough to talk to you about my latest Netflix binge-indulgence, The Santa Clarita Diet.

The first time I saw anything about this, I saw this promo before watching whatever it was I was on YouTube for. I thought it was a legitimate diet ad, but then I thought, ‘why the hell would Timothy Olyphant need to do a diet ad’. So I looked up the ad once more and watched it in full and was intrigued. Honestly I still had no idea what this was supposed to be for but at least I knew it was a show and not another South Beach Diet ripoff.

It’s zombies. Spoiler alert, it’s about zombies. Or really, zombie. A Santa Clarita realtor/suburban mom’s transition to feasting on the flesh of humans while trying to keep her marriage and her family together. I’m surprised Lifetime passed on this.

I loved the first season of Santa Clarita Diet and can’t wait for season two. So that’s two shows now I am waiting for on Netflix to binge, with Stranger Things of course way way way on top of that list.

Drew Barrymore is having a lot of fun playing a woman who is, for the first time in her unlife, feeling free and uninhibited and courageous enough to be her true self. She gets to timothy-olyphantdo so much physical comedy, from Looney Tunes-style stalking her next kill to chasing a rooster around a neighbor’s backyard for an afternoon snack. Timothy Olyphant is so used to being perceived as the rough and tough US Marshal in his former series Justified that he gets to really stretch his image as a former high school football star/prom king turned meek, insecure realtor. It’s amazing how in Justified you could swear he would be able to beat anyone up in a bar and yet in Santa Clarita you put him in front of Nathan Fillion and he perfectly fills the role of someone who will definitely get beaten up. Olyphant also had prior experience in New York as a stand up comic so I think his comedic timing is truly on point when he says his lines and reacts to the antics of his wife and neighbors as he futilely tries to maintain a grip on normalcy.

The show is further bolstered by a great supporting cast. Mary Elizabeth Ellis, the waitress in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is a semi-regular as their neighbor. There are also some great surprise appearances by comedy talents like Patton Oswalt, Thomas Lennon, Derek Waters, and even Portia de Rossi (the same company that brought you the short-lived and tragically underrated Better Off Ted is also behind Santa Clarita Diet). The writing is good, it is witty, and it is delivered perfectly. The writers have to be commended for continually poking fun at the absurd and yet undeniable practical parts of living with an undead wife/mother.

The show has some great ‘WTF’ moments which to me are what defines it and really gives blenderthe series its comedic bearing. I hope the writers take more chances in the second season. They’ve proven that their writing can be witty, relatable, and believable and that they have a cast that is able to bring these lines to life (ha, get it, life?). Without going overboard or losing its subtlety and surprise, I think they can manage to sneak a few more of those completely outrageous and outlandish moments into each episode. There were some great moments during the series when I was literally laughing out loud at thermometers and vomit. The show is wisely light on exposition or plot and lives up to its best potential when it ‘forgets’ it’s a zombie show and tries to capture suburbia from the bottom of a blender filled with a man’s ears and face. I highly recommend if you’re looking for a less dramatic take on zombies or a more outrageous take on family comedies, to check out Santa Clarita Diet. And that’s all you’ll get out of me today because I’m already dizzy.

Day 228

Man: 195 Loneliness: 33

Day 221: The Man and the Beast; ‘Seriousness’

split-kevin

Over the weekend I went out to watch M. Night Shamalamadingdong’s psychological thriller Split. As is my usual custom, I waited until the movie was in its fourth and usually last week in theatres and went to the latest showing. Usually guarantees as few people in the theatre as possible. What I didn’t take into account however, was that a) it was Valentine’s weekend b) John Wick 2, the neo-noir action sequel to one of my favorite ‘hit men’ movies had just released on Friday and c) the desperate housewives’ guilty pleasure Fifty Shades had come out at the same time. What this meant for me ultimately though was that a lot of frustrated people who were sold out of either John Wick 2 or Fifty Shades had reluctantly decided to join me for Split since ‘nothing else was on’.

Normally I worry when I know that the theatre is filled with people who didn’t want to watch this film to begin with. It’s my Ex Machina experience all over again. (Great movie by the way, IF you’re into it of course.) But let me tell you…Split made a fan of every single person in that theatre. It was that good. I had an absolute blast and Split has the potential to be a fast fan favorite for anyone who gets a chance to watch it. Of course, the problem with my system is as much as I love the movie and want to let others know about it, I’m usually the last to say anything and by this time you might not be able to catch it in theatres anymore.

BUT if you can, or if you get the chance later on to get the movie on DVD or blu-ray or NetFlix or *cough*illegalpirating*cough*…DO IT. I cannot stress this enough. Watch this film! Why? Let me tell you why.

I think we were all pretty blown away by M. Night ShaquilleONeal’s 1999 hit Sixth Sense. I remember the buzz and the excitement and the sort of brotherhood of secrecy surrounding its surprise twist ending. ‘You have to watch it, man’ should have been it’s tagline, along with ‘You’ll never see it coming’. If at this point you still haven’t seen it, Bruce Willis was dead the entire time. Don’t hate me. You deserved that. He who hesitates is lost. So then after that he directs Signs which was decent, had some good suspense, dealt with some heavy topics, and audiences could debate whether the monsters in the film were demons or aliens. For the most part though, M. Night ChakaKhan is best known for his characteristic ‘surprise twist’ endings. Pretty much everyone going to see an M. Night Shamwow movie kind of knows that whatever they’re watching, there’s going to be some twist. Which unfortunately removes some of the magic, and that’s perhaps why I, along with many others, was so critical of his 2004 film The Village. The twist was expected in terms of device but maybe not in terms of actually knowing what it would be, but even then the final reveal was just so..implausible, uninteresting, and uninspired that the movie really fell flat. Then he makes that terrible eco-horror The Happening and tries to lean into the curve by saying ‘we were trying to make a good B-movie’ but killer plants isn’t really my thing. He absolutely BUTCHERS and KILLS one of my favorite childhood memories in his film adaptation (read: travesty) of Avatar: The Last Airbender and honestly after his Scientology recruitment film After Earth, I was ready (and more than happy) to put the final nail in the coffin and declare M. Night ShakenBake’s career officially dead.

This is kind of why I was both excited and anxious about watching Split. The trailer seemed promising and delivered that kind of uncomfortable insanity that’s just close enough to normal to be able to slip under the radar until it’s too late. I am a big fan of James McAvoy and not just as Charles Xavier. These split personalities seem fascinating and frightening and manic. I really wanted to see it but god, seeing M. Night Shishkebab’s name in the trailer really worried me.

Split McAvoy.gifI went into that theatre knowing nothing of the film. I hadn’t read any of the reviews (which turned out to be generally very favorable) or looked up anything regarding its story or plot (spoiler alert: there isn’t exactly a ‘twist’ but there is a surprise ending). It starts off pretty inconspicuously. A group of teenagers at a birthday part are heading home being driven by one girl’s father. They (of course) get in the car by themselves while the father (of course) is too busy and distracted loading all the gifts and leftover cake into the car and is (of course) not suspicious of a strange man walking straight towards him in an (of course) empty parking lot. Situational awareness, people. What follows is the implied kidnapping and transport of the three girls as we only see them again as they wake up disoriented and inside a windowless, locked room in an unknown location.

That’s all well and good and tried and true, so it is no surprise that the setup is done well enough and with just enough information to make things tense and worrisome. In the meanwhile we are gradually introduced to James McAvoy’s character(s) as multiple personalities living within the same body. ‘Kevin’ suffers from DID (dissociative identity disorder) and has 23 different personalities all vying for their time in ‘the light’, meaning in control of Kevin’s body. Three of them in particular seem to have taken control and are staging some sort of mental coup for order after having been silenced by the others for particularly violent, depraved, and frightening views.

split-personalities

James McAvoy does an absolutely stellar job of creating convincing characters and making
each voice immediately recognizable and pronounced. His ‘Patricia’ is chillingly calculated and the most unpredictably unnerving. ‘Dennis’ is strong, dominant, and convincingly displays his own mental struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. The 9-year old identity of innocent, naive ‘Hedwig’ is so shocking, so jarring, because it is a complete 180 from the other two darker personalities. He is funny, sweet, ‘et cetera’ (inside joke, you gotta watch it, man). He absolutely steals the show, which is what you would expect and hope for when the movie’s success relies on his ability to convince us of the realness of this internal power struggle and the violent and dark potential within.

The movie is not entirely without its own personality shifts. The underlying tone of seriousness is at times interrupted by minor bits of comic relief. The thriller gives way near the end to bouts of straight up horror and action. The pacing is expertly suspenseful. The fun part of having an actual audience is I get to see how the film elicits emotions. Not that I’m not responsive, but I’m usually not expressive. So I got to hear the audience laugh at innocent Hedwig. Express fear at the appearance of the ‘Beast’. The movie was working and working extremely well, gauging the audience’s reaction.

I thoroughly enjoyed Split. I think it was everything it was supposed to be and then some. The ending was honestly so far out of left field I was genuinely surprised, but most of all excited, because of the potential it had. I am not ready yet to say that M. Night Schadenfreude has been able to escape his career’s death spiral, but this certainly marks an intelligent and well-constructed effort out.

Day 221

Man: 189 Loneliness: 32

Day 212: The Man and the Final Chapter; ‘Recognize’

WARNING: If you have not yet seen Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and are PLANNING TO, please be aware that possible [SPOILER ALERTS] may be ahead! You are forewarned!

resident-evil

So last night I went to see Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. The last installment in the Resident Evil series starring the beautiful, talented, and totally killer Milla Jovovich.

Look let’s be absolutely honest. First of all, if you haven’t seen the others, you probably have no reason to be watching this particular one either. And if you have, as I have, been an avid fan and watcher of these particularly terrible-yet-oh-so-good zombie horror/action B-movies, you’re going to watch this regardless.

Wait a minute…so…who’s actually gonna benefit from this review?! Ahahah. Oh well.

code-veronicaMy history with the Resident Evil series goes back further than 2002, when the first Resident Evil film hit theatres. In case you didn’t know, Resident Evil was, and still is, a video game series way before it was a zombie movie franchise. I remember buying my PS2 and it came with a copy of Resident Evil: Code Veronica. The RE series always had an incredible sense of environment and pace to create a permanent sense of dread. I was very young then, and the first time you wake up and escape from your cell and you start to climb up the long, dark, empty stairway, it was too much for me to even finish. That’s right. I didn’t get further than ten minutes into my very first Resident Evil game.

Since then the franchise has gone through a lot of different growths and changes, and I’vebiohazard changed as well as a person and a gamer. Still we were always in a very elongated and faint but ever-present orbit around each other. Every couple years I’d find myself going back to the latest Resident Evil game, testing the waters once more. There were some good, some bad, and some terribly, terribly bad. Horrible controls, bad voice-acting, glitchy animations. But still, I loved it. And the most recent one, Resident Evil: Biohazard with its VR mode, is an absolute NIGHTMARE. A wonderful return to the very essence and nature of Resident Evil. Survive. Scream. Repeat. It’s a great thrill ride and the true stuff of nightmares. Is it any wonder why I love this series so much?

The movies have been much more consistent. Consistently what is certainly up to interpretation, but consistent nonetheless. Fast-paced action, rock star soundtrack, so so so many zombies. And a lot of Milla Jovovich side-boob. But they were always fun, always exciting, and a great distraction. The story, though threadbare, was always at least just enough to keep the suspension of disbelief going. The movies were pretty well done too, with excellent CGI, effects, and a palpable sense of dread when necessary.

So I have to be honest with you. As a final send-off of what has been a big part of my life…Resident Evil: The Final Chapter…kind of…disappointed.

Let’s talk about cast. Now if there’s one thing you can rely on in a Resident Evil movie, it’s that the cast is always disposable. You will go through characters faster than a teenage boy through tissues. That’s fine. In the zombie apocalypse, we don’t all get to retire at the dinner table on a Sunday evening. Some of you are going to get eaten. But at least, the movie gives you enough time to give a damn. To care. In the first film, we follow a team of elite operatives who are sent to actually try and contain the situation and save the world from the outbreak. They are the best of the best, a highly trained team who works together. So when one falls, you feel the pain of loss. You see them grow weaker and either lose morale or lose themselves to anger. In the second, we felt for US agents trying their best to help a city on the brink of collapse. In the third, survivors who have found each other at the end of the world and are trying just to survive and cling to hope. And so on and so forth. But in this film…honestly I can’t even tell you a single person’s name. And that’s a real shame. Because a nameless body among hundreds lost to the horde really doesn’t mean much to anyone, does it? But one strong, well-developed, recognizable and relatable character lost…even if it’s just one, you feel that. Only one other regular from the series made it back to this one, though we get no explanation as to why or how the others are missing. So we don’t even get to mourn the fallen. Instead we’re just immediately introduced to even more people (why introduce new people in the LAST installment of something) who die almost as quickly and as unremarkably as they are introduced. I wish I could have cared about them more. But maybe they were going more for the body count.

Story wise…for a zombie movie so clearly ready to kill off its stars…I was surprised by howmila-shooting ‘Disney’ the ending was. It seems the Sunday dinner table was in fact set with an extra table for someone from the series. I also couldn’t quite get the thinking behind the villainous Umbrella Corporations’s reasoning. It seemed like at the brink of extinction, everyone would find it in their best interest to continue on in a certain way. In the beginning of the series Umbrella Corp was just another pharmaceutical company that got way too big for its britches, took on more than it could, and tried desperately to cover it up. But by the end they were both the saviors and the plague. They couldn’t quite make up their minds about how to portray the company. This leads to plot holes and some very questionable decisions.

The music was great, and the zombies were varied and provided action, horror, and some great opportunities for creative violence. The sequences were scored well, choreographed with skill, but honestly…whoever their cinematographer is should be SHOT. This is one of the few times I actually find myself angry about cinematography. The action sequences were made with so many consecutive jump cuts that I almost got nauseous. I had plans to watch the movie in IMAX 3D and now I’m glad I didn’t because I don’t know how I would have handled it. I craved the few and rare moments of crappy dialogue just because it provided a needed respite from the frantic frenetic camera jumps of the action sequences. It’s a shame too, because often times camera shifts are used by directors to avoid having to justify the action or to cover up poor choreography or lack of actual skill.

I love the Resident Evil series, I honestly do. And I will still watch the first five films, with the first and second being my absolute favorite. They will always be one of my favorite guilty pleasures. As a ‘goodbye’ for the series, I wish there was more chance for ‘goodbye’. I would have liked to see some characters return. There were still some left alive in the previous movie. And the setting was in fact Raccoon City again, where the whole series started. But since they ended the film with a nuclear bomb, there were no reminders, no familiar landmarks to recognize, no tearful flashbacks. Just (literally, this is what they called it in the film) the ‘Pit’. And that’s kinda where I feel they left all our memories.

Day 212

Man: 180 Loneliness: 32