Escapism 2020/2021 pt2: What I watched

Films. TV. Mostly short reviews. I listed only the ones I saw that were either good (4/5), really good (5/5) or really bad (1/5). Skipped the bad ones (2/5) and the meh ones (3/5) and the ones I just didn’t have anything to say about. I won’t write about if I liked them, so you can assume I did unless I actually say I didn’t. I’m not going into details on most films. In same cases, what I write won’t make much sense until after you’ve seen what I’m talking about…

Don’t Look Up and Platform. Two of the best documentary about current day life from the last few years. Also similar: Denis Villeneuve‘s Next Floor.

Candyman. Very nice surprise! I liked that it was a sequel rather than a remake. I liked how they used music by Philip Glass. I liked how they expanded on some of the themes from the first film and also that they seemed to ignore the previous sequels…
Little Woods. Also by Nia DaCosta who made the new Candyman. Former dealer of medicine to poor people goes over the border to a more civilized country for one last job.

Possessor. Second major film by Brandon Cronenberg after Antiviral. They have something special about them. Similar feeling to David Cronenberg, but still has his own voice.

She Never Died. Sequel to He Never Died. While Jason Krawczyk wrote and directed the first one, this was directed by Audrey Cummings. Interesting wolrd-building, using biblical/mythical characters to do something new with them. Made me want to rewatch God’s Army, but that one hadn’t aged as well as I’d thought…

Stumbled upon The Endless, by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. No prior knowledge, no expectations but it turned out to be some kind of low-key cosmic horror, so I checked out the prequel, Resolution (is it still a prequel if it came before the sequel?). That one was also good, and I don’t think it hurt to see them in the wrong order. Just like the previously mentioned directors, this pair seems to be something to keep track of. So I tried a later film, Spring, which felt less special but still ok, and their latest, Synchronic which is a time travel film with Anthony Mackie. “Time travel is always a good thing in a movie,” I usually think. I’m pretty sure it’s not true, and a botched time travel movie just makes me angry. This one held together just fine.

Palm Springs is another time travel movie that works even better. Light-hearted comedy.

Raging Fire. Hong Kong action by Benny Chan with references to the old John Woo classics. Ignore the copaganda and it works.
BuyBust. Action from the Philippines, directed by Erik Matti. Pretends but fails to be something else, but it’s impossible to ignore the cynical copaganda in this one. Poor people as zombies…

Aniara. Swedish sci fi. Spaceship on a short trip to Mars gets redirected and flies off into space. Passengers forced to make a society but fail miserably.
Avenue 5. US sci fi TV series. Spaceship on a short trip back from Mars(?) gets redirected and flies off into space. Passengers forced to make a society but fail hilariously.
Human, Space, Time and Human by Kim Ki-Duk. A ship is going somewhere. Passengers turn it into it’s own microsociety but fail horribly. Seen it described as “proletarian horror” which I think is a good genre description. There’s a deep hatred for class-based Capitalist society at worl here.

Rubber’s Lover by Shozin Fukui (who also made 964 Pinocchio). 1990s Japanese extreme cyberpunk. Black/white and contrasty. Can you create ESP abilities by inducing pain? Let’s find out. I knew this wan’t what you’d describe as an “easy watch”, so it took me a while before I finally watched this, after having it for years, just waiting for the right moment.

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky. Chinese splatter classic that I also saw after knowing about it for a long time. Fun if you’re in the right mood, which I was.

Dune. Already wrote some thoughts about this one. Very promising, but will we ever get to see God Emperor of Dune on film?

Zone 414. Very cyberpunky cyberpunk.

Reminiscence. Sci fi noir by Lisa joy, in the subgenre: “what if we had the technology to dive into people’s memories?”.

Speaking of noir, Ed Brubaker made a TV series together with Nicholas Winding-Refn: Too Old to Die Young. Criminals and corrupt cops. Feels pretty typical for both of them, in a good way.

Train to Busan. One of the better zombie films I’ve seen lately.

The Old Guard. Based on a comic. About a bunch of old people fighting. I mean, a group of immortal soldiers. Fighting and having relationships and long-lasting friendships.

The Beach Bum. By Harmony Korine, who is an interesting filmmaker. Matthew McConaughey as a cool dude (what we in Sweden would call a “skön snubbe”) who hangs around the beach, living on his rich girlfriend’s (wife’s?) money like a superficial philosopher/stoner. Some stuff happens. Snoop is there…

Gunpowder Milkshake. Fun action comedy. Loses a bit with the big fight in the end, but some parts were really good, like the hospital scene where the main character, played by Karen Gillan, has to fight with both arms paralyzed so she tapes knives and a gun to her hands and starts swinging them around.

Trudno Byt Bogom (Hard to Be a God). Existential misery in medieval mud. The book seems more interesting.

The Atrocity Exhibition. Film version of book by JG Ballard. Either it is mostly still images with voice-over, or it feels like it.

Fast Company. One of the more straight-forward, and also one of the earliest David Cronenberg movies (from 1979). Drama about a bunch of car racers. If you’re in the right mood.

The Lighthouse. I feel like I want to like it more than I do. The VVitch was much more my thing.

Om det Oändliga (About Endlessness). Roy Andersson is always Roy Andersson. Made in much the same style, but maybe not as memorable, as Sånger från Andra Våningen or Du Levande, which may be mostly because they came first, or because they’re simply better.

Weekend by Jean-Luc Godard. Another classic I finally watched. Kind of overrated I’d say. This is one of the few (or the only) 3/5 film I’m mentioning here. It deserves a mention just because I neither liked nor hated it, I guess. Maybe if I’d get more into French New Wave cinema, but do I have to?

The Dead Don’t Die was also a good zombie film. I know some people don’t like it, probably because they expected something else from Jim jarmusch? I can’t really see what’s not to like, it’s fun!
Also saw The Limits of Control. Also good but in another way that feels more like a Jarmusch.

Noah by Darren Aronofsky. I decided that I loved Aronofsky’s films ever since I saw Pi: Faith in Chaos, but it took me a while before I watched this one. Didn’t really feel like watching a Bible film. Technically, I guess this is more of a Torah film. Or rather, it’s the movie version of parts of The Book of Enoch, so I saw this after I read the book. I liked that Noah was basically a doomsday prepper who got a psychosis. It felt original and like a reasonable interpretation of the whole situation.

While we’re on the subject of religion-adjacent things… I watched Cthulhu by Dan Gildark and Grant Cogswell. Thought I hadn’t seen it before but it turned out I had, I just liked it a lot more this time. Probably because I saw it in a different way after having seen an analysis pointing out that it’s not actually a cosmic horror flick so much as it’s the story of a gay man who comes home to his conservative religious family. It’s just that their religion is the Cthulhu mythos and they kind of live in Innsmouth.
Color Out of Space. Richard Stanley/Nicholas Cage/Lovecraft is a good mix, as it turns out, unsurprisingly. Some people don’t like it, but I don’t really see how it could have been done better.

I felt it was time to catch up on the films by Sion Sono. So I did.
I seem to really like the manipulative-seriel killer/psycho ones best (Cold Fish, The Forest of Love). Especially Cold Fish left me quite affected, on a level with Suicide Club or Strange Circus.
Followed by the more laid-back/experimental/slow drama ones (Into a Dream, The Land of Hope, Tag). Ok, Tag isn’t really a slow drama, more like chaotic splatter with meta elements, but still…
Tokyo Vampire Hotel was really hard to find and took me a while after I heard about it. I had to get a trial account of Amazon Prime to be able to see it. Crazy shit, could have been better but was also kind of what I expected/hoped for.
The sex/superhero comedy (The Virgin Psychics) and the prostitution-themed films (Guilty of Romance, Shinjuku Swan, Shinjuku Swan II) had the least appeal to me (these are the 3/5 ones).

Shield of Straw by Takashi Miike reminded me a bit of Yoshihiro Nakamura‘s Golden Slumber in a good way, but with more violence. Not as over-the-top as some of Miike’s other productions.

While on the subject of directors I like, I saw two new films by Spike Lee, both of them very good: Da 5 Bloods was good but maybe not that special, while Pass Over was the one that struck the hardest even if it’s more of a filmed theatre performance. Very good film for explaining the summer of George Floyd and BLM, except it came two years earlier which just shows that the problem is so much bigger than one specific event. I can’t recommend it enough.

Seven Samurai turned out to be much better after having seen a lot more by Akira Kurosawa than I had the first time around. Or maybe I was just more mentally aligned this time because now it was much better.
The Lady Snowblood movies had been on my list of things to watch for a long time. Now I did. Just like the mangas, I liked the Lone Wolf & Cub movies better…

Doctor Sleep. Not sure what I expected but I guess I was hoping that this sequel to The Shining would at least be watchable. Stay away from it.
Last Night in Soho made me understand that I just don’t like most of Edgar Wright‘s movies. Shaun of the Dead being the main exception. It doesn’t even help that this is (kind of) a time travel movie.
So is Tenet. I think Christopher Nolan is generally good and I like his ideas, but compared to Memento or Inception, this one just doesn’t hold up. There are some cool scenes, but there are too many things that are just a bit dumb.
But not as dumb as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I don’t think there are many who’d disagree about that, but I felt the same way about The Mandalorian and now I don’t feel like watching any more Star Wars. They finally broke me.

And then there’s Terminator: Dark Fate. If they had concentrated on making a good movie, and at least tried to do something original, this could have been really great. It has potential but it all got eaten up by nostalgia-baiting.
Terminator 2 was a well-told story with ground-breaking effects that hold up 30 years later, some scenes with genuine feelings of excitement and a sense that things are at stake.
This one? Some of the action sequences may look good, but there’s never any doubt about how they’re going to end. Or rather, there’s never a sense that we’re supposed to care about anything more interesting than: will Arnold wear sunglasses in this one? Because he did in the first two (most of the rest of the franchise is admittedly even worse). Will he trample any slo-mo flowers? Because he did that too before and those details must be why people loved the old ones! They could have expanded on the world of Terminator, instead of just regurgitated it.
Just watch the trailer with that Björk song over and over again instead, it’s much better.

Just like it’s hard to speak about US comics without talking about superheroes, the same is now true for US movies. So…

The MCU is keeping it up with movies and TV series that are all good but not enough to be great, is the short story. WandaVision looked innovative, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier took up some interesting aspects of the overall MCU storyline, Black Widow was probably the most entertaining recent one, Hawkeye was fun but its main thing was the guest characters, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was nice to see Marvel do a Chinese Kung Fu movie, Eternals was a movie, Loki was pretty cool, What If…? lived up to the (mostly) blandness of the comics equivalent, Spider-Man: No Way Home was (also) probably the most entertaining recent one?

Spider-man-related non-MCU Marvel: Venom and Venom: Let There Be Carnage were better than expected, but should really be seen as one movie, since the first one is more of an intro than a story in itself. They manage to balance on the right side of being funny in a way that could easily have tipped over into “failing to be funny” territory.

X-men-related non-MCU Marvel: Legion still rules among the Marvel TV series. The Gifted wasn’t too bad either, and The New Mutants was ok. It had its failings (like whitewashing some characters) but it got some things right and it was a good idea to turn it into more of a horror story.

Other non-MCU Marvel: Cloak & Dagger good (cancelled too soon), Runaways bad, dropped it after first season which was ok but then it got stupid), MODOK worst (couldn’t get through more than a few episodes).

DCEU: The Suicide Squad actually managed to be quite entertaining. Maybe not suprprising considering James Gunn knows what he’s doing.
Wonder Woman 1984 and Zack Snyder’s Justice League on the other hand… Sure, the Snyder cut was slightly better than Whedon’s version in some ways, but it still sucks, and it didn’t help that they spent the last half hour or more slapping on a bunch of fan service, easter eggs and build-up to a sequel that probably won’t come. Even a black/white version won’t cover up the fact that Snyder doesn’t understand any of the characters he’s working with. I don’t even know what to say about WW1984. Only thing I remember is that it failed even harder then the first one’s attempted feminism.

Superman III on the other hand, which I hadn’t seen since the 1900s, turned out to be possibly the best Superman movie so far, with its stupid comedy that doesn’t even try taking itself seriously while still being better than any of the new ones.

Doom Patrol still rules among the DCEU TV series (not that I’m even watching the rest).
Watchmen was better than the movie and it had some parts that were better than the rest, but it still felt wrong and I’m not interested in seeing more of it.
Y the Last Man. Seemed promising after the frist few episodes, but then I found out it had been cancelled and couldn’t make myself see the rest (yet).
Swamp Thing was a disappointment, especially considering what the comic is (they based much of it on Alan Moore‘s run).
Helstrom was a disappointment, especially considering what the comic is (they based much of it on Warren Ellis‘s run – or did they? I’ve deleted most of it from my memory).
Preacher held up pretty well through the whole thing.

It’s interesting with some of these TV series, that they don’t even try to make a big thing of them being based on DC comics. In this day and age, that kind of smells of bad confidence.

Comics adaptations but neither Marvel nor DC: The Boys is going strong, even if it’s toned down a lot compared to the comic, both in outrageousness and in nerd references.
Happy! was better than the comic.
Deadly Class. A shame it got cancelled.
Invincible is a comic I haven’t read, I just heard it’s supposed to be good. Looking forward to future seasons of this.
Supercrooks had a promising first episode, but halfway through the second I had enough of it, for some reason. It felt too juvenile or something. Maybe I was just too tired?

There have been a few animated game adaptations that have been really good. Especially Arcane which was a big surprise. Very well-made, in a style that worked even better than I’d have guessed.
Warren Ellis‘ adaptation of Castlevania is also well worth a watch. The fourth and final season was released last summer.

Ping Pong did a great job of channeling Taiyo Matsumoto’s art, using distorted perspectives to enhance the sense of movement. A manga/anime about ping pong doesn’t sound appealing but it still works.

It’s interesting how both Star Trek: Lower Decks and The Orville can feel so much more like Star Trek than Star Trek: Discovery does. I like both of them for that reason, but dropped Discovery a bit into season 2.
On the other hand, the first season of Star Trek: Picard is easily among the best Star Trek ever, counting TV series as well as movies, for several reasons. It’s one long story told over the entire season, which appeals to me. It’s the same that made seasons 3 and 4 of Torchwood the ones I like best from that series as well. But that’s just the format.
The main thing is this: Star Trek for me hasn’t felt right since the ends of Voyager and Deep Space Nine. Enterprise missed the point by being set too early in the history of the Federation. It’s too close to our time. It also had a bunch of other problems, but I think those are related to the same thing. Same goes actually for both the rebooted timeline in the JJ Abrams movies and in Discovery. Discovery also isn’t set in the same universe, really, and I thought the scripts got kind of stupid in the second season. Picard, on the other hand, is set in the right timeline and does everything right. We get a future where the baseline is more or less a socialist utopia, the same world as Voyager and DS9, where money has been abolished and the only real Capitalists in the galaxy are the Ferengi, little ugly sexist trolls that no one likes. But Picard builds further on that world. Something has broken the Federation. It no longer holds onto its old ideals, but in this case it works, because Picard and the rest of the main characters still do. It’s refreshing to follow a character with that kind of integrity for once. He isn’t flawless as a person, but when it comes to ideology he stands for something greater than himself.
The series also manages to refer back to what’s come before without falling into a bush of memberberries (see South Park season 20 for that reference). It isn’t nostalgia-bait as fan service, it’s call-backs that make sense and that work for the story.

Twin Peaks season 4 came and went and was great and I guess now we just need to wait 25 years for season 5 yaay!

The most special thing about Squid Game was that it got so big. I mean it was ok, but not THAT special.
Hellbound was much more interesting (if we’re comparing Korean TV series that got internationally big) with its take on religious reactions to when supernatural things actually start happening, and how that can go wrong.

Norwegian series Beforeigners is among the better things I’ve seen lately. It feels finished now after 2 seasons where they bound together all the threads pretty nicely, but there’s big potential for it to branch out. It’d be cool to see spin-offs set in the same world but in other countries. People timigrating from the 1700s or a thousand years ago or the stone age would be another thing in other cultural contexts.

Future Man. Third and final season was released and it kept the quality going til the end. I want to say that if you like Killjoys, this is for you, because the humor is similar in some ways. But it’s also a different kind of story. Probably the best thing to come out of the brain of Seth Rogen, if that sounds good to you. If it doesn’t, I understand but would still recommend this. It’s a time travel story from people who understand the genre and can have fun with it without getting lost in the plotholes they dig themselves into, like some other entries in the genre (I’m looking at you, Timeless and Legends of Tomorrow. Yes, you. Go cry in the shame room).

Aand I guess I might as well talk about The Matrix Resurrections now as well, even though I didn’t technically watch it last year. It started kind of interesting. The flashbacks from the original trilogy were maybe a bit much but I thought it was ok. When the fighting started I felt the absence of Yuen Woo-Ping‘s fight direction and from there it was just downhill. None of the innovation of the old movies was left, none of what made them special. This one just followed the steps from beginning to end like they just wanted to get it over with. I really wanted this to be good, and I’m sure Lana Wachowski still cares and wanted to make a worthy sequel, but no. In the end it felt like just another cash grab.

I think that’s all I had to say about things I’ve watched in 2020/2021, so I’ll just leave you with a list of general recommendations. Some of the things I’ve been watching (and enjoying, so I’m not mentioning some stuff that got boring after a while, like Stranger Things…) but don’t have any comments about at the moment:
The Nevers | Raised by Wolves | Foundation | Weird City | Lovecraft Country |
Electric Dreams | Made for Love | Community | Devs | Maniac | Killjoys | Dark (except it lost its thing in the 3rd season) | Cobra Kai | South Park | Undone | Rick & Morty | Archer | What we do in the shadows | Good Omens | American Gods | Dopesick

Almost finished with this seemingly endless (or maybe that’s just me?) listing of various ways to escape the stupid consensus reality that we’re generally forced to live in for some reason. Up next: GAMES
Also don’t miss my reading tips:
-Escapism 2020/2021 pt1a: What I read
-Escapism 2020/2021 pt1b: More things I read
-Escapism 2020/2021 pt1c: Even more things I read
-Escapism 2020/2021 pt1d: Further readings

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