2020 Recap, sort of

First, an explanation. I sorta abandoned the blog a couple months ago. I’m fine. I’m still here and watching movies. I was just finding it hard to write about them. I even stopped my daily Stardust posting and cut down to once a week or so, only if I felt I had something specific to say. Two main reasons I think I’ve been struggling to write. One, an overload of content I’m watching. Somewhere between 15-20 a week, gets hard to find unique things to say, esp as they all blur together. Second, if you’ve ever read thru my posts, you know I like to write about personal experience. But the majority of my experience this year was all the same, in lockdown inside, watching at home. No new adventures to speak of. It got old. I found anytime I wrote anything, blog post, social media status, friendly email, it always sounded bleak, even if I truly was feeling okay.

This blog has also been feeling like a chore of late, so I thought it was a good excuse to take a break. Once the theaters open back up, we’ll see how I feel about returning to my rule of writing up everything I see. There’s also the matter of my wonky eyesight that makes blogging difficult. We’ve figured out that more than just computer vision syndrome, I’m farsighted, but my eyes have worked overtime to adjust to hide it. The new strategy is full time progressive glasses, which sounds promising, but the adjustment period has been brutal. It’ll prolly still be a couple weeks until I see real results, and that’s if I don’t decide I need to go back in to get my script tweaked. Jury’s still out.

See what I mean about everything I write sounding bleak? Srsly, I’m okay, really.

Anyways, this is usually when I do this big crazy blog post writing up everything I saw in theaters in the previous year, doing every sort I can think of on my OCD Excel sheet to give stats no one cares about except me, and picking out my favorite and least favorite films. Obvi this year is different. I still have the crazy sheet, but it stops at row 31. March 14th, Burden at AMC Marina Classic. Yeah it’s a weird answer to “last movie I saw in a theater” because no one knows that one. Sometimes I lie and say Bloodshot at Alamo the night before. Fwiw, between March 5-14, there were only two days I didn’t see something in a theater, so at least I did try to go out with a bang without even knowing I was going out.

But on the upside, I did see A TON of movies at home, which is something I’m super grateful for. As stated in previous posts, I’ve been revisiting things collecting dust on my movie wall. And buying a bunch of new things too. And occassionally venturing into streaming, esp when I trialed HBO for a month this fall, and just bought another month for WW84. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep as meticulous track of these as I would theater movies. It was at least 4-5 weeks until I started taking pix of my watched piles, and I didn’t track anything digital at all. Oh and counting all those in the pile, plus the small pile since the last pic, I’ve got 616 movies. I’m sure I prolly cleared at least 750 all told.

Also, as a rule, I tried to avoid repeats. At the very least, I didn’t grab a DVD off the shelf twice. The few I did have were usually cause I rented something digitally, loved it, bought it, watched the physical copy. Or tried watching an older DVD that was degraded and skipped, so I bought and watched a replacement.

That said, I do have a bit of a twist I wanna do on my Top 10 of the year. But since there were slim pickings on new things, and I didn’t track old ones very well, they might not be very thought out. I’m sure there’s obvious things I’m missing, but I’m going with my instinctual response on these rather than obsessively combing thru my history. So the ten aren’t ranked, but they’re categorized. Not ranked within the categories either. And of course sneaking in some honorable mentions to cheat because I can’t ever stick to my numbers

Favorites of 2020 in a theater

  • The Invisible Man – Thriller is def my genre, and this one was straight up terrifying in a real world sort of way. No, not because of the invisibility, but because of the gaslighting and isolation and abuse. Powerful.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog – All signs pointed to this failing like all video game films tend to do, but it didn’t. It was so much fun, staying very true to the source, and full of hilarious moments and committed performances.
  • Onward – Kind of a toss up with my HM (which is more of a “me” movie) but you can’t beat the emotional impact of a Pixar movie. I cried through the whole thing, and did so on the rewatch too.
  • HM: Guns Akimbo

Favorite classic film theater experience

  • To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newmar – This really was three way tossup. Nosferatu was the best experience of the film itself. Wong Foo and Dracula both had to do with the magic of Alamo Drafthouse. Dracula was for my bday, and my last big social outing before the apocalypse, but most of the fun was over before we got to the auditorium. Wong Foo was more about the fun of the movie itself, cosplaying with my two nearest and dearest, and then followed up with the lip sync event downstairs. Prolly the single most fun event in a year with few.
  • HM: Nosferatu, Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Favorites of 2020 at home

  • Bill and Ted Face the Music – If you’d asked me before yesterday, I might’ve said this was my favorite 2020 movie. It brought me so much joy at a time when it was hard to come by. Unfortunately, the magic didn’t carry thru on my rewatch yesterday, but it might have just been overhype on my part. Still, very much the movie this year needed.
  • Tenet – If you pressed me, I might pick this as my fave movie. It doesn’t quite feel like a fave, but I’ve been obsessed and can’t get it outta my head. It really warrants its own post, but who knows if I’ll write it. I love the vibe and the story, and its one of those that feels just this side of understanding. I got the full story on the first watch, but have been driving myself nuts on the second watch and later trying to understand the details of how it all works. I love that kinda stuff.
  • The King of Staten Island – Interestingly, a Judd Apatow film starring Pete Davidson doesn’t make my list for the humor as much as for the feels. This movie was pure heart and it makes me happy to think about. And yes, it is still funny. And just the right level of inappropriate.
  • HM: Da 5 Bloods

Favorite new to me classics at home

  • Tammy and the T-Rex – Now this is really my favorite thing I saw this year. My new obsession, and I’m determined to show it at a movie night. It’s so terrible in the best possible way. Tommy Wiseau, eat your heart out.
  • Con Air – As I’m fairly sure I said before, I coulda sworn I’d seen this before, but there’s no way I forgot that much awesome. Similar to Tammy, it’s bad in all the right ways. But it’s also much more my genre, and the type of movie my Daddy raised me to love.
  • Before Sunrise – The whole trilogy really stuck with me, but the first movie is the best, I think. So effortless and beautiful. Never woulda thought I’d have loved a romance as much as this one, but stranger things happened in 2020

Soooo yeah, there you have it. Movies happened. I had more opinions than I wrote about. Gonna prolly stay on hiatus for a bit unless the spirit moves me (I really should write that Tenet post), esp with yoga teacher training taking up huge chunks of time. But I’m staying optimistic for 2021. Lots of killer content piling up, and I can’t wait to be back at my second home watching it all in a packed room full of strangers.

Quick Posts

Set it Off – This movie is from 1996, but it feels like it was shot yesterday. Four black women rage against the system that’s held them down. They’ve had family shot by police for no reason, lost jobs just because of who lives in their neighborhood, had children taken away under BS pretenses. Their answer? Rob some banks and watch the city burn. Loved Queen Latifah’s performance and just simply love Jada always. As a heist movie it’s okay, but as cultural commentary, it’s incendiary. And infuriating that we’re still in the exact same place today.

Whatever it Takes – This a mediocre at best teen comedy that gets lost in the shuffle of many from its era that are infinitely better. But what I hadn’t realized (mostly cause I’d forgotten everything about this movie) was that it was also part of the trend of modernized adaptations of classics. This one is Cyrano de Bergerac. With that context, it’s kinda cool, even if it’s otherwise not too exciting as written. What is kinda exciting is the cast. I bought it cause of James Franco. I didn’t realize that this was the film debut of Aaron Paul. If you ever saw that Juice Fruit commercial, it’s like that character got written into a movie. Sort of a long precursor to Jesse Pinkman without the nuance. Colin Hanks is here too!

Mirage – As of writing, I’ve only seen half of this movie. I was really tired and didn’t wanna fall asleep watching it. But this movie is so cool. It’s one of the ones on my poster and I found it on Netflix. It’s a Spanish film that plays out similar to Frequency. A lady in the present is communicating with a child in the 80s due to some technological phenomenon. She’s trying to save him from a horrible death, but in doing so upends her entire life. So now she’s gotta try to put it all back together. I’m digging it

Whip It – This movie always makes me wanna join the roller derby. I actually had sort of an opportunity a couple years ago. I knew someone in it, who tried recruiting me. She even offered to teach me when I told her I couldn’t skate. I chickened out thinking about how breakable I am, but I’d thought that if she brought it up again I might check it out. She never did. This movie is just such a fun display of girl power. I LOVE the attitude that everyone of them bring to the film (oh hi Zoe Bell!) that I just want to be them. And I really think I could be. Except I don’t skate

Akeelah and the Bee

I’d never had any interest in the movie. Spelling Bees just not that exciting (although I will admit that I adore the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and even directed it back in Boston). But it was on the cheap rack at BookMonster, the one that’s outside the store because they don’t care if people run off with some of the deeply discounted merch. Earlier that day, the poll on Microsoft Rewards had asked what coming of age story you’d rather watch, with Akeelah being an option. I can’t remember what the other choice was, but it was such an obvious pick for me, that I quickly selected it and moved on. But the idea of Akeelah stuck with me. Why was I so quick to dismiss it? Seeing it on the discount rack gave me no excuse. I’m oh so very glad that this film got into my head because I absolutely adored it.

Akeelah is an underprivileged kid in Los Angeles (sidebar: was super proud of me for being able to recognize most neighborhoods mentioned), who is very smart, but doesn’t really apply herself much at school. She’s talked into competing in the school spelling bee and a world of opportunities open up for her. Sounds kinda basic, and on the surface it is. But it’s what runs deeper that makes this movie special.

For one, I think this movie is super important for representation. This little black girl (and itty bitty Keke Palmer) has to learn how to navigate her community and limited resources in order to move up. But the fact that she is able to prove herself and be extremely competitive is hugely important for kids to see.

But what struck me most in this film was the sense of community. Everyone she met was rallying behind her. Even the thug that her brother hangs out with would help quiz her and was watching the competition on tv. It was so beautiful and powerful and exactly the message of hope that we need right now.

Quick Posts

I Am Sam – I think we found a movie that is too sweet for even a Disney kid. This movie is just drowning in saccharine, pushing you to root for a certain outcome that may not actually be the best one. One top of that, it was unnecessarily frenetic rivaling Uncut Gems with how anxiety inducing it was having people loudly talking over each other. I should love this movie. It’s a really good story with a fantastic cast, it just isn’t coherent.

Run Lola Run – On the flip side, here’s a movie where its frenetic pace was its greatest strength. This movie is so cool and stylish. Absolutely gorgeous to watch while it gets the blood pumping. I’d also recommend this as a gateway foreign film. I know that subtitles can be a struggle for some, but the dialog here is minimal. The visuals are what carry the story and what incredible visuals they are.

The Haunted Mansion – I only liked it because I’m a Disney kid and I’ve been on the haunted mansion ride countless times. I spent the whole movie looking for Easter eggs (or hidden Mickeys), identifying references to bits of the Disneyland attraction. Take that element out, and it’s kinda dull. To be fair, there aren’t a lot of kiddie horror movies, so it absolutely gets points for trying, but it’s not worth your time without the Disney knowledge

Seabiscuit – This is one that’d I’d put off for a long time because what do I care about horse racing? But it’s on the poster and it was two bucks at BookMonster. So I watched it, and enjoyed it in the moment, because everyone loves a good underdog sports movies. However, I’m sure I’ll quickly forget about it because, what do I care about horse racing?

Mr and Mrs Smith – This has to be one of the sexiest movies ever made. Palpable chemistry between two of the most gorgeous humans on the planet. But for me, the sexiness goes deeper than that. It’s in the playfulness of it all. The movie isn’t lewd or overtly talking about sex (for the most part). It’s the way they tease each other, stimulating each other’s minds more than each other’s, well you know. That’s what’s truly sexy to me.

Little Giants – This was a childhood favorite, and it explains so much about some of my screwier outlooks on life. I’ve always been a tomboy, but watching Icebox hit it off with itty bitty Devon Sawa made me really lean into that identity as a tween. Surely every pretty boy wants a girl who’s just one of the guys, yeah? That might not have quite worked out for me, but maybe it’s better that I was myself instead of trying to be one of the hottie type girls. Lord knows that would not have worked out well for me either.

42

Of course, I had to throw whatever Chadwick Boseman movies I could into my queue. This was his big breakout role, where he played baseball legend and first black MLB player Jackie Robinson. Watching this really made me think of the definition of a hero.

Yeah he played baseball. That was about the extent of what I knew about Robinson. Hell, I’d even seen this movie once before and just kinda thought of it like any biopic or sports movie. It’s not that I didn’t think Robinson was a hero, it’s that I didn’t get the extent to which he truly was. I didn’t fully comprehend what being that first person truly entailed.

Watching it this time, especially in the current climate this world is in, the message really sank home. He suffered so much abuse just for trying to do his job. As much as he wanted to fight back, he knew that it took more strength to ignore it as best he could and focus on his work. If he gave in and went off on somebody or cracked under the pressure, it’d be all over not just for him but for anybody that followed. He had to go thru hell in order to be the first one to come out on the other side, so that somebody else could come next. That’s what was heroic.

Enough Said

I made a long overdue trip down to BookMonster in Santa Monica this weekend. It’s a used Bookstore that has one aisle of DVD’s, usually priced for only a couple bucks. Typically I spent like 20 bucks on a stack of maybe a dozen discs. For this trip, I budgeted twice that since I wanted some actual books too. But then I found myself indiscriminately throwing 1, 2, and 3 dollar movies into my little basket. Ended up spending 90 on about 30 movies and 3 books. Guess Black Friday came early.

I separated a stack of high priority movies to try to get thru over the long weekend (although I lost most of one day to assembling Ikea furniture). Among those, Enough Said. One of James Gandolfini’s final films. I’d only just watched The Sopranos last year, so I’d previously not had any interest in a romance (gag) he starred in. I haven’t been able to get it outta my head in the two days since I’ve seen it.

Gandolfini stars with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in this sweet film about romance at an older age. Both of them are divorced, facing an upcoming empty nest with their children planning to leave for college. I’ll keep the complication to myself because I didn’t see it coming, and thought it was quite clever (even if it ventured into that awkward territory where you know it’s gonna blow up in everyone’s faces). This movie also gets bonus points for starring not only one goddess (Julia) but also Catherine Keener and Toni Colette.

People who knew him consider this role to have been the most like Gandolfini’s actual personality. Watching this, I fell completely completely in love with him. His character was such a loveable dork, so funny and tender. His chemistry with Julia was absolutely sweet and just radiated off the screen. The way he put his arm around her and pulled her in for their first kiss, I just wanted to get lost in that big bear hug. He also gets major bonus points for how respectful he was. He asked a mutual friend to ask permission for her number, and asked her before that kiss. It makes it all the sadder that we lost him so soon, I would have loved to see more sensitive anti-Soprano roles from him.

Predestination

Told ya we were gonna talk about this movie, cause I can’t get it outta my head. It was on my Fill-In Filmography poster filed under Sci-Fi > Heady Sci-fi > Time Travel Loops. I’d seen the DVD artwork here and there and it always caught my eye, I’d just never thought much about it. It being on the list (and ten bucks in Best Buy rewards points, the exact cost the BluRay) made me finally want it. Ethan Hawke starring further sealed the deal. I’ve certainly gotta move him up my priority list because he sure knows how to pick interesting projects. Anyhoo

Hawke is some type of time traveling special agent. His job is to fix big catastrophic events in the past that will significantly impact our future. He’s been sent on his last assignment, one final shot at stopping a terrorist that has eluded him through multiple time jumps. That’s as much as I’ll say about the plot, except to add that while that seems like a kinda basic storyline, it’s really so much deeper than that. The bomber ends up being almost irrelevant as the story unfolds. Well not so much unfolds as gets told and tangled up and creates all sorts of brain breaking goodness.

(And here, I paused to get some potatoes in the oven and cut my finger with the new knife I got at Ikea. Typing with a giant cotton ball taped on. We’ll see how this goes.)

I’ve talked before about how I love a good brain buster of a film

(Pausing again because the typing made me bleed thru the cotton ball. Trying superglue)

Right. Brain buster. Whenever you deal with timetravel, you’re gonna have that to some extent. The timelines are inherently messy and it did take some thinking on it to get it straightened out in my head. I think the film did a pretty good job of helping you stick with it so you can then take it away as homework. What really bakes your noodle is the paradox aspect of it. I know better than to even try to think about that. I’d say the movie plays with paradox, but that makes it sound so light and fluffy. It fully dives into an ocean of paradox and gets dragged by the undertow. Cool tho. Gets you thinking.

(And my finger’s starting to sting. I think we’ll just leave this there.)

Bill and Ted Face the Music

Wow, did I need this movie. So desperately. The world needs this movie. I’m so thankful that they went with a day and date release (theaters and VOD). Outside a pandemic world, I fully believe in “the window”, where films get a theatrical release first and then home availability. But with no theaters open in my area, and safety concerns where they are open, making this film available with multiple options for all audiences was a classy and correct move. Because I’m convinced that if anybody can heal the world, it’s Bill S Preston, Esq and Ted Theodore Logan.

When we previously met our righteous duo, they traveled thru time and to hell and back to save the world. They were destined to write the song that would one day unite the world. Little things like death and a history report weren’t gonna stop them. Fast forward to today, thirty years after they went on their Bogus Journey, and they still haven’t written the dang song. They’ve got happy lives with their princesses and daughters, but Wyld Stallyns have seen better days. They are visited by an inhabitant from the future, who tells them that they need to write the song by that evening or the whole time continuum will collapse. It’s not like they haven’t been trying to write this dang thing for thirty years, so they get the idea to borrow their trusty old phonebooth and head into the future. Surely one of their future selves already know the song, yeah?

The film is flawed for sure, but if you’ve seen the first two installments, you knew that. It takes a while to find its groove, and as with any distant sequel, it’s work to pull you back into their world. But there’s a reason that Bill and Ted have endured for as long as they have, and why these films work when all the odds say they shouldn’t: Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter are such beautifully pure souls, and they pour that wholesomeness into their characters. They really true believe that something as simple as a song can save the world, and because they believe it, Bill and Ted believe it. And because Bill and Ted believe it, we believe it. So we go on these excellent adventures and have a great time because we share in the same hope.

I absolutely loved their daughters and thought they were the strongest addition to the film. They were more Bill and Ted-esque than the actual Bill and Ted in the film. It was a great way to carry on the attitude we’d expect from our original duo, but allow them to be just a tad more grown up. I’d actually love a spin off centered on Billie and Thea, words I never thought I’d say. I would have expected such a suggestion to feel like a rip off sequel, but I think they could really pull it off, provided Dads show up for some support.

Another thing I loved was how well this paid homage to both of the films. The writers found a way to get us to travel through time and to hell, bringing jokes full circle and saying hello to characters from across the ages. It was almost too ambitious to juggle it all (I’d say maybe the princess storyline was unnecessary, but I love the idea of bringing them to the forefront) but it all came together while still adding fresh new elements to the mix.

But what it really all came down to was the final act. No spoilers, but those last 15 minutes healed my heart. I felt so uplifted and hopeful and happy in a way that’s very difficult to achieve in 2020. I’m even getting teary thinking about how beautifully everything concluded. These guys really can save the world

Bill & Ted Face the Music – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/

Chadwick Boseman

I’ve been letting the morning minutes tick by aimlessly because I don’t even know where to start. I’ve been numb all weekend. Robin Williams, Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and now Chadwick Boseman. All actors who I’ve loved and admired who left us far too soon, and who’ve had the same profound impact on me in their life and in their death. This one is even more difficult to wrap my head around because it was so sudden and out of nowhere. Superheroes are supposed to be indestructible. They’re not supposed to be taken from us without warning.

It was finally the weekend. I’d just finished eating the pizza I’d been dreaming about all week and was then grossed out by after a few bites (typical). Was looking forward to my long planned Ikea trip the next day. We were at the last few minutes of Predestination, a movie which I absolutely loved and will likely talk about soon. As absorbed as I was in the film, especially as we were getting to some big final reveals, I pulled out my phone. I started with looking up plot points of the film, mostly to make sure that I was following everything. But as so inevitably happens, I pulled up Insta. And there at the top of the page was Josh Gad’s post about Chadwick Boseman. I paused the movie. This couldn’t be true, could it? Some quick internet searches confirmed the news that had just broken. Chadwick Boseman was dead at 43 from colon cancer.

An initial wave of grief hit me. I thought about all the amazing things he’d done with his career (42, Get on Up, Thurman) but mostly I thought about his legacy as Black Panther. What it meant to the black community to see a headlining black superhero, and utter disbelief that he could be taken from us. I thought about the crowd the night that first saw the movie, and how they were one of the rowdier movie crowds I’ve been in. Or the Saturday opening weekend when I went to the theater to see something else and it was the only time I ever struggled with parking because I saw so many gorgeous black families piling in the cinema. My heart ached for the void that was now being left by him.

I thought about his role in Da 5 Bloods, and how his character died young (not a spoiler, it’s the plot of the movie) and his young self was acting alongside older gentlemen to show how his character was frozen in time. Now he would be too. It’s as though the role was prophetic.

His death also made me think about my own mortality. Dead at 43, diagnosed at 38. I’m 35. That’s not too far away. There are so many dark and dangerous threats in this world, any moment could be your last.

The movie ended and I didn’t know what to do with myself. I walked around my tiny apartment aimlessly for a good twenty minutes. I went to put something in my purse, completely forgetting that I have a Black Panther bag now, and got emotional all over again. Any further plans for the evening, yoga or new movies, were out the window. I sat in the middle of the floor for a while. My cat, who is typically stingy with affection, sensed my grief and sat near me. There was only one thing I could do. I went back to the living room and put on Black Panther.

I’ve been in a fog the whole weekend, watching video clips of interviews and awards show moments. When I went to bed Friday night, the first thing I saw was my Black Panther pillow. I remembered that hell I’d wanted to get the entire sheet set, but they didn’t come in queen size. I went grocery shopping on Saturday, grabbed a bunch of my reusable bags, and the first one had T’Challa, Nakia, and Okoye. I broke my movie budget for the week because I insisted that I needed 21 Bridges (I don’t have Marshall or Get on Up either) and I needed to get a comfort movie (Little Giants).

This one is gonna take a long time to get over, and similar to the illustrious actors I mentioned at the start, it’ll likely always hurt. It’s things that this that make you question your entire understanding of how the world works.

Quick Posts

An American Pickle – This film has been polarizing. Mostly, Seth Rogen fans (of which I am adamantly one) loved it. I must be an anomaly because I didn’t really care for it. Mostly I found it a bit too surrealist for my taste and not funny enough. I think they took so many risks with the story (for better or worse) and not enough with the humor. Full marks for originality, but I just wanted more.

Bad Education – Allison Janney and Hugh Jackman are phenomenal, but they have much worthier showcases than this. The story is super interesting, but there’s not a lot of depth to it. It’s just more and more details piling on the same base. I wanted either more twists and turns or more interesting characters for them.

Sunshine Cleaning – Here’s a gem I hadn’t seen in a long time, and it might be one of Amy Adams’ strongest performances. Or at least one of the strongest that still leans into some of her Disney princess qualities (as much as I love her roles that don’t). I’m mostly just highlighting it because it was a sweet 90 minute distraction if that’s something you’re in the mood for.

Don’t Say a Word – I have a very specific memory associated with this film. This was one of the first DVD’s I ever owned, bought second hand at Blockbuster (it’s not even in a real case), and I was watching it on my laptop on the way to start college. My Daddy was sitting on the plane next to me, watching it over my shoulder via the subtitles. I offered to split my headphones, but he was perfectly content. As one of my first DVD’s I watched it many times back then, but it’s been ages since the last watch. What most struct me this time was Brittany Murphy. She is so phenomenal in this, and it made me so sad to watch and wonder what her career could have been. I learned right after watching that the actress who played the daughter also died young under tragic circumstances. Such a bummer that there’s a dark cloud over this movie because I still very much enjoy it. I don’t know that it’d hold its own in today’s cinema world, but I’m a sucker for the psychological mystery of it. And Brittany