2019 pt4/3: entertainment culture as escape culture: Watching

Some movies/TV shows I’ve watched this year… These are the ones I have something to say about, if only sometimes short comments.

Killing (Zan)
This one is easily up there with my favourite samurai movies, like Seppuku, Samurai Rebellion and Twilight Samurai… The thing they have in common is probably that they don’t glorify Japan’s past feudal society but rather are critical towards them, or at least come at them from a different angle. This one is no exception, and does it brilliantly. I’ve followed Shinya Tsukamoto as a director since I saw Tetsuo: The Iron Man and I would say that this gave me just what I was hoping for when I heard he was going to do something in this genre. This one is closer to some of his later works, though, probably closest to Fires on the Plain if I’m to compare it to another one of his.

Gemini Man
Ang Lee
making a Will Smith action movie with sci fi elements. While the action is very well executed, the focus is more on the emotional aspects of the situation.

Joker
Best DC movie so far. The only good one since the DCEU started and it completely exceeded my expectations. Between this and the Doom Patrol TV series, it looks like some gold can be found after all in that pile of mud.

John Wick 1-3
I liked the first one when it came as a competent action movie, but didn’t think much of it. Kind of disappointed with the second one so when I saw the third I didn’t expect much more than a nice-looking action film. It didn’t catch my attention at first, I thought some details were a bit dumb, some fights were well-made but kind of boring, but then something happened and I started to re-evaluate the whole series. Not sure if this is intentional, but when I started to watch them as some variation of angel movies (God’s Army is probably the best example for comparison), they suddenly worked much better. It suddenly made sense that they could kill people in a crowded station and no one would really notice, because these assassins aren’t operating quite on the same level of existence as the rest of us. And then, somewhere in the middle, there’s this fight that is a total homage to John Woo when he was at his peak (The Killer, Hardboiled) and I was all in.

Parasite
The latest one from Bong Joon-Ho. It seems to have been hyped quite a lot lately, which it deserves. Kind of in the same genre as Borgman, Kynodontas, and Funny Games, except they’re not really in the same genre and they doesn’t even have the same feel to them. Anyway, nice one about class and class consciousness.

Midsommar
Pretty much a Swedish version of The Wicker Man (the original one, that is), but not actually Swedish. Not sure what else to say about it, it’s probably best to go into it with no preconceptions. I’ve already said too much already.

Ad Astra
Heart of Darkness in space, but without the colonialism. I’ve seen some criticism of this movie. Sometimes from people whuo had seen the trailer and were disappointed because they got something more slow-paced. Some (a lot) of the sciemce is also wrong, but it doesn’t bother me this time, and most of it can be explained away by pointing out that they’re using future tech that is obviously way more advanced than what we have now, amd their in-movie explanations of things are nvague enough that you can claim that when they call something “laser”, that’s obviously just what they call something that is completely different from a laser. And anyway, the point is the trip into the dark loneliness, not the scientific accuracy. It’s not Gravity, where what they get wrong is the point, and even the title, of the movie. Or Passengers, where the entire plot hinges on science and logic that doesn’t work.
Does it miss some point by not including the colonialism of the original? Maybe. Apocalypse Now used the Vietnam war as a stand-in for the Belgian Congo of the original book that both movies are new takes on, while Ad Astra seems to skip out on that aspect. On the other hand, you should be able to see Ad Astra as its own thing and then it should also be judged on its own terms. Would I still think like this if I’d read the original? I’m not sure. I did read Catherine Anyango Grünewald‘s/David Zane Mairowitz‘s comic adaptation, but that also has its own take on the story. So maybe I just don’t know enough to make this call.
In any case, I really liked this one.

Antiporno
Sion Sono is doing some interesting movies in general. This is probably the most interesting one I’ve seen since Strange Circus. Meta film about a woman in a yellow room with lots of sexual and violent tension? That doesn’t cover it but I don’t think I should say anything else. If you like Sono, this is probably for you.

MCU and other superhero movies…
Captain Marvel managed to do feminist superhero much better than Wonder Woman was even close to doing, while Avengers: Endgame completely failed on that front, in ways that could maybe have been justified by internal logic, but weren’t. I don’t even need to consider gender to be disappointed. Sure, I liked some things they did, but why the focus on the original Avengers team when there are so many other characters that could have had bigger roles? We know the Russos could have handled it. And after all that build-up…
Glass was ok, but had some weird comments that make me think that Shyamalan tries to seem like someone who knows and cares about comics and wants to do something original with the genre. But he only almost succeeds because he doesn’t really know what he’s doing with it. Other than that, if we disregard comics and see it as part of a movie genre, it manages to be a bit different and unexpected and a quite ok movie.
Brightburn had some potential that it didn’t deliver on, but if you want to watch Superman told as a horror story, this is just what you want to see.

Some more movies I don’t have a lot to say about but that I watched and found worthy of mentioning here:
Velvet Buzzsaw, Sorry to Bother You, Us, BlacKkKlansman.
Just watch them and see what you think, I’d say…
I mean, I could also probably go on and have some thoughts about TV series like Russian Doll, Killjoys, Futureman, all of them great sci fi series with different approaches, but I’m sure others have already said stuff on the internets and I’m tired at the moment and need to make some food before finishing Death Stranding, so…

How to use this lists (and the other entertainment culture as escape culture posts):
If you see me liking some things you also like, and if I seem to like them for similar reasons, then see the rest as recommendations. If you hate all the things I like, then maybe see the rest as warnings. It’s not a fool-proof method, but it’s a good start. There are always intersections between what we like or hate and what other people like or hate, you just need to learn to navigate the cultural landscapes in order to find the stuff that speak to you.

Coming up next: games!

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