It has been a while since I did a theme month for the movies I'm watching. I think I got a bunch of review copies in my mailbox which overwhelmed me and so I had to push the pause button on themes. Then I just kept forgetting about it. Well, the theme is back this month and I'm going with science fiction. Actually, I think I'm drilling down into that genre a little bit and going with science fiction films set in space. I only got to one of those films this week, but hopefully, I'll be able to watch many more before September is over.
We have a television in our living room and one in the master bedroom. I tend to watch things that neither my wife nor my daughter want to watch (or is appropriate for) in the bedroom. I tend to watch a lot of stuff in my bedroom. But sometimes I don't feel like going upstairs and laying on the bed so I have to find something that only I want to watch that won't offend the rest of the family. That can be a difficult process. Sometimes I spend ages scrolling through the various streaming services we subscribe to looking for something and get so irritated I just give up.
Sometimes I land on something unexpectedly wonderful. I'd vaguely heard that Kim's Convenience was good, but there wasn't enough buzz to make me seek it out. But earlier this week after scrolling and scrolling and I finally decided to give it a try. I figured if nothing else it would be mindless entertainment I could watch while trying not to fall asleep. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
It is a Canadian series about a Koren family who owns a convenience store in Toronto. It is a mixture of pretty standard family sit-com tropes mixed with workplace comedy shenanigans that work better than it probably should. It is very funny and silly and often very sweet.
Ben Folds - "Phone in a Pool"
Several years ago, I caught an odd little Ben Folds shows in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "Odd" because it was a one-off kind of deal where he had a little time on his hands and threw together a short solo tour of random destinations, just because. "Odd" also because one of the Hanson brothers (Isaac, I think) showed up to sing a couple of songs. Lastly, "odd" because in the middle of the - very impromptu - show he talked about the new album he had coming out with Y Music. He said he couldn't really perform any of the songs solo, but then e-mailed his sound guy several cuts from the album and had him play it over the PA. Ben then sang along karaoke-style to his own songs. It was pretty cool. One of those songs was "Phone in a Pool." It has become one of my very favorites. It is a perfect little pop song that never fails to get me in a good mood.
The Dirty Dozen
This is one of those films that has been on my list of "must-sees" for a very long time. I don't know why I've only gotten around to it until this week, but I'm glad I can finally check it off. I came to it expecting a star-studded rough and gritty war movie and what I got was a goofy comedy that reminded me more of M*A*S*H than A Bridge Too Far.
The basic plot is this: an American Army officer (Lee Marvin) with a penchant for disrespecting his superiors is commanded to pick 12 of the Army's worst prisoners and lead them on a suicide mission attacking a German chateau just before D-Day. The prisoners include a cast of wonderful character actors including Charles Bronson, John Cassavetes, Telly Savalas, and Jim Brown.
It has the feel of a film where the cast was allowed plenty of room to improvise and fool around. This provides a number of funny or at least amusing scenes, but it leaves the film with a looseness that doesn't serve the story. Still, it is a classic and I'm always happy to find out what made them so.
One of the film critics I follow on Twitter recently posted a thread in which he wished more critics and film fans in general were watching or had watched more second-tier "classics". It seems he had just watched some of the old Bulldog Drummond movies which he admitted weren't super great but that they had clearly influenced various movies that came after it. But in his opinion, not enough people had seen those films and were writing about those movies that had been influenced by them and not even mentioning the Bulldog Drummond movies. He expanded it out to other similar films wishing that people didn't just watch the true classics but more not-quite-classics from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
I get his drift and agree with his basic point. I've really been enjoying a lot of older films that aren't quite up to classic status lately. There is some great stuff to be found outside of the canon. Yet I also find his point rather annoying. Or I find the way in which he got his point across to be obnoxious. There have been a lot of movies made since the creation of cinema. Even if we only include films that are readily available on Blu-ray and streaming services, there are still thousands of films to watch. No one, not even people who get paid to watch movies can watch them all. Everyone has blind spots. Chastizing people because they haven't seen something that even you admit is not all that great seems ridiculous. Isn't it better to encourage people to watch something you enjoyed?
One of my own blind spots are the films of Claire Denis. The French auteur is often considered one of the greatest female filmmakers alive, but for whatever reason, I've never seen any of her films. Honestly, I didn't even know her name until recently, then it seemed like all the critics I know were talking about her. When I saw that her most recent film High Life was streaming on Amazon Prime, I decided to give it a shot.
I'm glad I did, but oh boy, is that film a challenge. It begins with Robert Pattinson on a spaceship with a baby. He is the only one left alive. The film spends a good twenty minutes watching him garden, taking the kid to the potty, and sleeping. It is very slow. Eventually, through a series of flashbacks, we learn who he is and what happened to the rest of the crew. But Denis doesn't fill in the whole story; she leaves big, gaping holes for us to ponder.
The ship was filled with violent criminals. Some government agency has decided to start using prisoners as guinea pigs for space exploration. This ship is heading towards a black hole where they will attempt to harness some of its energy. Also on board is a doctor who herself is a violent criminal. She's played magnificently by Juliette Binoche. She's also a bit mad, performing experiments on the crew, trying to get one of the women pregnant to see if she can raise a baby in space.
Strangely, none of the crew seems to be having sex with each other. The men often masturbate into a cup, giving their semen to Binoche's character for her experiments. There's also a small room, called the "fuck box" by the crew, where we see Binoche ride a giant dildo in the film's most provocative scene. There's one attempted rape and the perpetrator is dealt with violently. Some of the dormitory-style bedrooms are locked up at night and we see some of the women sleep roped down to the bed. But others are allowed to move freely. None of this is explained. We're left to draw our own conclusions.
The film mostly seems interested in pondering how a group of people stuck together in a situation in which there is no escape and which they will inevitably die and how they deal with that reality. It is slow, thoughtful, and really weird. I'm still processing it but I can definitely recommend it.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
We have been trying to get my daughter into the Harry Potter stories since about the time she was born. For a very long time, it didn't take. Every now and again, we'd try watching one of the movies but she was always bored. A summer or two ago we tried listening to the first book (narrated by Stephen Fry) on a long road trip. She kind of liked that, but her attention span wasn't long enough for her to want to listen for any great length of time so we didn't finish by the time we got home. She never wanted to complete it after that.
Recently, my wife bought her a fantabulous shirt that quotes the “It's leviOsa, not levioSA!” line. Something my wife often says completely out of context. The daughter loves the shirt and so we started watching the movies again. We skipped Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone as we'd tried that one many times before (and it is kind of terrible). The second film, Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets, isn't much better but it worked well enough. It was the third film (and the best one in my opinion), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, that got her hooked entirely.
It is amazing what a really great director can do to a franchise like Harry Potter. Chris Columbus directed the first two films in the series and while he stayed pretty close to the book storywise, he didn't do anything to enhance it in a cinematic way. Alfonso Cuarón came aboard for the third one and he made changes to the story as he saw fit and gave it an incredibly imaginative visual style. Suddenly, the books came to life on the screen, filling viewers with the same magic and passion they'd received while reading. I'm really looking forward to watching the rest of the series with my daughter and then maybe we'll give the books another try.
No Time to Die
I'm a fan of the James Bond films but by no means a die-hard. This has been especially true of the new ones starring Daniel Craig. Still, I'm always excited when a new one comes out. The latest No Time to Die was originally supposed to come out a couple of months ago, but was delayed due to Covid-19 and is probably the last film that will star Craig. From the looks of this trailer, he's going out on a high note or at least an explosive one.