Its been a tough week around here. Last weekend, the cat we’ve had for 12 years went into kidney failure, and we had to put her down. It was like losing a family member. My heart still aches. To clear my head and move away from those thoughts, I watched a lot of movies, read some funny books, and generally tried to be excited about pop culture. Here's the coolest five things I discovered this week.
I have this weird fear of early Hitchcock films. Mostly, this is due to my mother purchasing me one of those cheap-o boxed sets of his early, non-silent films that are now in the public domain. Anybody can release those films in any way they want and so they are often cheaply made from poor prints that look disastrous. Such was this particular set and every now and again, I’d try to watch one of those films but could never get past the atrocious video quality. Thankfully, as time has passed, companies like the Criterion Collection have been remastering and cleaning up those old prints for releases that look really nice.
I’ve recently been slowly making my way through Hitchcock’s filmography and I sat down with this one from 1936. Storywise, it's a pretty simple tale of some nefarious, unnamed foreign power hiring local men to terrorize London. Cinematically, it really shows just how well Hitchcock commanded his films at such an early stage in his career. There are two scenes that really make the film. The first pretty well proves Hitchock’s famous definition of suspense. In it, a young boy is given a bomb (which he thinks is simply some film reels) to take to Piccadilly Circus. The bomb is set to go off at precisely 1:45, and we follow the boy as he walks along the London street unaware of the horror he holds in his hands. He pauses to listen to some street hawker, watches a parade go by, etc. All the while, the camera periodically zooms in on the bomb and shows us various clocks ticking the time ever so closer to 1:45. It's a master class of suspense.
The other scene has a woman who has just learned that her husband is an evil man. As she prepares his dinner plate, she looks down at the knife in her hand then up at him. She drops the knife, picks it back up, and looks back at him. Eventually, he looks at her looking at the knife and he (just as the audience does) realizes she’s planning on murdering him. There is no dialogue, but with careful edits, we understand exactly what is happening within the minds of the characters.
I’d qualify Sabotage as lesser Hitchcock but it's still quite entertaining and demonstrates what an incredible craftsman he was from the beginning.
I’ve been waiting for this one. I read the novel in college many years ago and was astounded by its story and its piercing look into what it means to have faith. When I heard Martin Scorsese was planning to adapt it, I got all kinds of excited. Unfortunately, various setbacks and funding issues kept him from actually making it for nearly two decades. Having now watched it, I can say it was worth the wait.
It stars Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver as two 17th century Jesuit monks who go to Japan looking for their colleague who has disappeared. This is at a time when Christianity is outlawed in Japan and its adherents are being tortured and killed. The two priests find bands of Christians in hiding, desperate for leadership, and a ruthless Inquisitor seeking to eradicate them.
Scorsese has made a beautiful meditative film about the meaning of belief and exactly how much the faithful will endure, and whether or not God wants us to suffer.
Smokey and the Bandit
I caught this ridiculous bit of '70s fluff starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jackie Gleason and a Trans-Am on the big screen thanks to Fathom and TCM. Its a far cry from a good movie, but I’ll be darned if it's not a glorious amount of fun. I’d be thrilled if you read the little piece I wrote about it.
Bloom County: The Complete Library Volume 5: 1987 - 1989
I voraciously read the daily comic strips while growing up. I always say that my top three favorites were Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, and Bloom County. But to tell the truth, that last one might be a retroactive inclusion. While I have very fond memories with Calvin and Bill Larson’s strange creations, I have very few distinct memories of Bloom County. I remember someone bringing in the Billy and the Boingers Bootleg collection to choir class in the 8th grade. I remember discussing the cancellation of Bloom County and Berkeley Breathed’s subsequent switching to the Sunday-only Outland with my brother but I don’t actually remember reading the strip.
Several years ago, I found an old copy of that Boingers book in a used bookstore and took it home with me. I found that the strip still holds up despite its very-'80s pop-culture references and went on to buy several more of the books before discovering The Library of American Comics collected every strip in five really nice hardbound books (complete with explanations of the dated references and commentary from Breathed). Over the last year, I’ve been slowly buying them up and reading through them. I just finished the very last one (fear not, dear readers, I just bought the complete Outland so there is more to read) and loved it.
You can certainly feel that Breathed was growing tired of fighting the daily deadlines and ready to move on so this book isn’t quite as brilliant as some of the others but Bloom County is a place I like to visit and its population of strange but warm-hearted creatures feels a little like a long-lost home.
Breathed has recently started penning new Bloom County strips on his Facebook page. I’ve forced myself not to read them as I want to finish the old ones first, but I’m super thrilled that I’ll be revisiting the old place very soon.
I was a big fan of professional wrestling as a wee lad. I much preferred the semi-local Mid South Wrestling to the bigger, badder WWF version that eventually turned into an International juggernaut. Mid South came to town occasionally and its wrestlers seemed more approachable, more real than the fakers over at WWF. I was aware of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling back then but I never latched on to them. I suspect that I was too young to appreciate the sex appeal of women writhing around in leotards and the idea of girls wrestling just wasn’t as awesome as beefy dudes beating each other with chairs (and two by fours).
But something about GLOW stuck with me. To this day, I’ll make joking references to them and maintain a certain fondness for the concept. When I heard that Jenji Kohan was making a Netflix series about GLOW starring Alison Brie and Marc Maron, I immediately signed on. The first trailer was released recently and it looks like tons of fun.
It seems that every franchise is trying to mirror Marvel’s giant universe approach with multiple movies and TV shows, all tying into a much larger cinematic world. X-Men has been toying with the concept a little bit and with The Gifted, they are going in full-blast. It takes place somewhere in the original X-Men universe but brings in a lot of new characters and stories. There isn’t a whole lot known about the series yet, but from the trailer, it appears that it's going to deal with some mutant kids as they run from the nefarious-sounding Sentinel Services corporation.
I’m a little on the fence about this new series. When it's good, the X-Men franchise has created some of the best superhero stuff around, but when it's not-so-good, it is really rather dreadful. Still, I’ll hold out hope that this series will take the better parts of the franchise and make something really compelling.