New Star Wars, new Bill Murray, and movies as church are all on our mind this weekend
Time to exhale, everyone
It’s Saturday, November 7, and here’s where we are…
It’s been a hell of a year since I last published this newsletter.
Wait, that was SUNDAY?!
It’s Saturday morning, and I feel like I’m starting to exhale a breath I drew in four years ago. It doesn’t feel real yet. I’m not sure how anyone else has been coping with the stress of the week, but I’ve been lucky enough to be distracted by work. I am not an optimistic person these days… not after the last three or four years… but I am feeling this nagging sense of hope right now. I have been working on something for almost three years at this point, and I’ve gone back and forth during that time between believing you will never see the thing I’m working on and believing that you will. I’ve never been less than 100% sure that what I’m making is good, but that has very little to do with whether you get to see it or not.
There are lots of bits and pieces from my career that you never got to see and that I have no access to at this point. I’d still love to have a copy of the Ain’t It Cool News pilot that we made for Comedy Central where I played a motion-capture-animated version of the Moriarty cartoon. There are scripts I wrote that I can’t lay hands on anymore. There’s an entire movie someone made from one of our scripts that has seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. It’s a weird way to spend a life, and I’m not particularly unusual in having all of these unrealized or half-realized things littering their resume. I’ve heard it said that they don’t pay us to write, because that’s what we would do anyway, but rather that they pay us for the heartbreak and rejection that goes along with it.
Obviously, one of the ways I try to manage my own mood is with movies. I don’t use film to bury my head in the sand. That would be irresponsible and childish. I do, however, think of it like the mood organ in PK Dick’s classic Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? In that novel, Rick Deckard and his wife begin each day seated in front of a mood organ, where they can dial up the exact chemical combination for the exact mood she wants to have that day. That’s what film has always been for me, and any time I need a serious reset, I am able to find a movie that will work on my mood.
That’s one of the weird and miraculous things about movies. This deeply phony enterprise involving hundreds of people and sometimes years of work is supposed to somehow coalesce into an organic emotional experience, and the crazy thing is how often it actually works. When I pick a movie to evoke a specific emotional response, it is amazing how often the same film can deliver that experience. On Thursday night, I watched Raising Arizona with the kids, and even though I’ve seen at least 20 times, every time H.I. gets to that final dream and he talks about his vision of the distant future in a home surrounded by children and grandchildren, I choke up, and sure enough, when he delivers that final line about a place “where all parents are strong and wise and capable and all children are happy and beloved,” I shed a few happy tears last night. Hard not to when you’re watching it surrounded by people you love. It’s a beautiful moment, and it’s one of the reasons I return to the film. I love that catharsis, and I love knowing that it’s right there on a shelf when I want it.
Gaming is a little bit different for me. I’ve been playing Watch Dogs: Legion this week, and it’s been enormously soothing for my brain. It’s the third in a series about an underground hacking collective called DedSec that goes up against a fascist government and destructive corporate targets, and the first two games were a lot of fun. I like that they’re not games that depend on how many people you can kill or which way you can kill them. It’s much more of a puzzle game in which you try to figure out how to unlock secrets. The new game adds an element by allowing you to recruit anyone in the game as a playable character, meaning there is not a central character you play the entire time. That’s a very strange shift, but it is a fun game mechanic at least as the game is getting started, and it kept me occupied with various tasks at a moment when I needed my brain to be occupied with various tasks.
As usual, there are plenty of current entertainment options you can use to occupy yourself, and I want to use today’s free newsletter to discuss a few of them that are of particular note. I mean, we’ve got new Star Wars, new Bill Murray, and a new feature that I want to give a test run this month.
There’s also a new film from Max Landis, but it can’t all be good news, right?
The final piece in today’s column is a rewritten version of an older piece I published on HitFix years ago, and its going to be the springboard to a series of pieces I publish as we once again look ahead to months and months of no theaters.
Lots to cover, so why not start with a big fat slice of comfort food?
PLAYING ACTION FIGURES WITH FAVS
I love The Mandalorian.
Yes, I know. What a controversial position to take. Imagine that… a doughy white American middle-aged dude who loves Star Wars. That’s me, though, bucking the trend and going my own way. I am one in a million, folks.
There is little doubt that season two of this live-action Disney+ series will continue to drive an entire industry devoted to breaking every episode down into gifs and recaps and screencaps and “The ending explained” articles, so many that it will be literally impossible to miss anything about this show because it will be omnipresent. It is by far the most successful thing created since Disney took the franchise over from George Lucas, and it’s the first time since the original trilogy where it feels like the audience is fully engaged and hungry for more every single time something is released.
By all rights, the season premiere should have made me crazy. I am normally irritated by things that feel like they are pure fan service, but in this case, it feels different. It feels to me like this is Star Wars told by people who have lived their whole lives dreaming about Star Wars. I was seven years old when the first one came out. You can’t overstate the psychic real estate something occupies for a seven-year-old when they fall in love with it. It was my everything. I lived in the world of Star Wars as much as I lived in the real world. I was the first generation of kids to have Star Wars toys, and they weren’t collectible items to me. They weren’t an investment. They weren’t something that lived on a shelf. They were action figures, and we played with them. We destroyed them by loving them too much. I went through dozens of stormtrooper figures. I replaced Han Solo at least four times. Luke Skywalker in all his forms was put through the gauntlet, drowned, thrown, burned, run over, and otherwise stress-tested in ways Kenner never intended.
When I watch The Mandalorian, it feels like I’m playing action figures with Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni. It feels like they’re riffing off of all the things we love about Star Wars, telling a story that wraps around the larger story in a way that feels urgent and thrilling and new, even as it plays with and recalls so much of what we already adore. It is not easy to do this. It is not automatic. Much of the Disney era of Star Wars has that weird feel of cosplay, like they got hold of all the toys but it’s just not the real thing. In some ways, I get that because they had to reinvent it if it’s going to evolve and move forward. They couldn’t build this series around Luke, Leia, and Han because those characters can’t be the future of the franchise. Not unless they’re recast or re-imagined in some important ways.
There’s none of that in The Mandalorian. They acknowledge the past, they engage with it, and they are playful about it. There were two moments in the season premiere that made me yelp, and I realized as I tried to explain them to my girlfriend that I sounded like a dude on the subway earnestly trying to tell you about the conspiracy involving mind control and Snickers bars. Hardcore fandom is like that. It’s a secret language and the things that really tickle me feel like they were hidden in there. There’s the entire idea that they’re fighting the Krayt Dragon, the beast we’ve seen in skeleton form before now, the thing whose cry we’ve heard from Obi-Wan’s lips to scare away the Tusken Raiders, was the first thing that made me so happy I could barely stand it. In particular, when they used the cry to summon it, the flashback to hearing Obi-Wan do it in the film in 1977 and the way a moment like that can fold time and space in around me, making me feel the way I did when I sat in that first theater, the one in the parking lot of the mall in Dunedin, Florida was a Proustian punch in the breadbasket.
The one that really knocked me down, though, came later in the fight with the Krayt Dragon, when Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) tries to prevent the beast from retreating into its cave. He’s wearing Boba Fett’s recovered armor, and as I said… I was a first-generation Star Wars figure kid. I collected the proofs-of-purchase and sent away for the special first-look Boba Fett figure when The Star Wars Holiday Special aired, and I was ferociously disappointed to learn that my figure would not be firing the missile that he had built into his backpack. I heard the schoolyard reports that they had to change the figure because some kid somewhere shot his eye out. Watching Cobb Vanth use Boba Fett’s backpack to literally fire a rocket into the eye of a giant monster made me cackle out loud, and I acknowledge how buried in nerdy detail a moment like that is, and how inaccessible it is to the casual viewer, and I don’t care. It still entertains me deeply.
The big fun of the episode came in those last few moments when Temuera Morrison was revealed watching The Mandalorian ride away with that recovered armor. For the casual viewer, that plays as a reveal of some kind, but it’s unclear why he’s watching or what his investment in the armor might be, and that’s fine. You don’t need an answer. It’s just a tease. All you need to know is “Someone’s watching, and that armor is going to play a larger part in the story.” You have to remember that most audiences don’t really remember every detail of films that came out 15 or 20 years ago, even films as famous as the Star Wars prequels. Morrison’s not a giant star, and I’m willing to bet there are plenty of mainstream audiences who had no idea the dad from Aquaman was even in Star Wars.
For hardcore fans, though, his appearance certainly seems to suggest the return of Boba Fett. I think it’s funny how fandom automatically assumes there’s nothing more to the story, though. I’m not sure it’s going to be quite as linear as people expect, and the casting of Morrison gives them room to play, narratively speaking, since he’s the template for all of the clones created during the Clone Wars era. I think people are likely right and that he is indeed Boba Fett in particular, but it’s certainly not guaranteed to play out exactly the way they think it will. Cloning is already clearly an ongoing subplot in the series since there were clues in season one that the cloning facility on Kamino was supposed to be the destination of The Child before The Mandalorian saved him. Why they wanted him and what they had planned for him is something I presume the show will address eventually, and while they’re there, I wouldn’t be shocked to see some more Temuera Morrisons pop up.
Whatever happens this season, I feel like I’m in the most confident possible hands, and if they keep this up, releasing the equivalent of two full Star Wars movies back to back every year, and they can keep up this kind of dedicated, smart expansion of what it is I already love about Star Wars, then I honestly don’t care what else they do. It’s all gravy. This show more than justifies my ongoing emotional investment in this galaxy far, far away, and it’s so nice to feel like that love is rewarded, rather than exploited, by this particular effort.
What a reprehensible load.
Please put that on the poster for Shadow In The Cloud, the latest film to originate in that damp jockstrap Max Landis calls a brain.
Oh, the makers of the film will tell you that Max Landis didn’t really have much to do with the film and that his screenplay credit on the movie is just a technicality. They use some very specific phrasing when they do so. They’ve been beating that drum since the film played the Midnight Madness section of this year’s Toronto Film Festival.
They’re lying, though, and it makes me crazy. I’ve read the Max Landis script, and while there were definitely revisions between what I read and what I saw when I watched the finished film on Sunday, they weren’t especially significant. My problems with the film have little to do with the percentages of who wrote what. I think this thing’s rancid at the core, and I genuinely don’t understand how anyone could get involved with it.
After all, there is no chapter in the Landis family story darker or more painful than the Twilight Zone tragedy. I’ve been around John Landis on several occasions when people brought it up, and he does not react well. It’s such a sore subject that when I was a tour guide at Universal, they had a strict rule that we were not allowed to even say his name during the tour. If I were a member of the Landis family, the last thing I would ever intentionally do would be try to evoke any thoughts of that movie.
So of course, Max Landis wrote a movie that is a shameless rip-off of “Nightmare At 20,000 Feet,” the George Miller segment of the film that had earlier been shot for the original series. It’s a great episode and an irresistible idea, but what in the tap-dancing fuck was Landis thinking? My girlfriend was sitting in the other room, listening to music, working on something, and even so, she called out about halfway through, “Are you watching the Twilight Zone movie?” It’s that blatant.
Oh, sure, this is set during WWII, and sure, they introduce some new wrapping paper, but at its heart, this is just a blatant lift, a re-skinning of a tried and true premise. There’s a reason it’s one of the most famous episodes of the original show, and there’s a reason George Miller made a meal of it in the 1983 film, too. When you’re looking for an airtight controlled-environment thriller, you can’t do much better than “trapped on an airplane with a monster on the wing.”
And, no, Richard Matheson didn’t invent gremlins. Disney actually tried to make a movie about gremlins on the wings of WWII fighters at one point, based on a book that they commissioned Roald Dahl to write. Matheson’s story took this idea that was part of the larger popular culture and brought it into a more contemporary setting. I guess the one “innovation” here is that Landis and director Roseanne Liang moved things back to WWII, where the gremlins story originated. It’s not enough. It’s a poorly imagined film, it’s technically inept in many ways, and if you have even a passing interest in the way physics work, there’s not an action scene here that won’t make you laugh out loud.
The final truly creepy thing about this one is that Max Landis took the name of a young Australian reporter named Maude Garrett and just used it for his movie. He didn’t ask her for permission. He just told her at a junket during an interview that he liked her name. There’s literally a disclaimer at the end of movies that says that there is no resemblance to persons living or dead, and when you’re making a film, your legal clearance team will put you through the wringer to make sure you’re not stepping on anyone’s toes. We weren’t allowed to call the movie-within-a-movie La Fin Du Monde in John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns because there was an Abel Gance film called that in the early 1900s. That film doesn’t exist now and isn’t in circulation and there was no way anyone would confuse the two in our film, but it didn’t matter. We had to change character names, often coming up with versions we liked much less. But Max Landis decides to pull a power move on a young woman and use her name in a film where he has guys making gross jokes for a good 20 minutes about what they do to her sexually, and that’s perfectly fine? It’s just another invasive power move from a guy who seems to specialize in invasive power moves.
When you are raised believing there are no boundaries, you behave as if there are no boundaries. Max Landis is a toxic, abusive creep, and whether the filmmakers behind Shadow In The Cloud want to admit it to themselves or not, they are part of the problem by continuing to produce his work. The phony girl-power trappings of the film feel almost sarcastic seen through the filter of his involvement, and I don’t think any of Roseanne Liang’s work is strong enough here to negate his very real influence on the overall product.
I presume the No Consequences Max Landis World Tour will continue, though, since that’s pretty much how things work. Your participation in it is up to you at this point.
TRUST AND FAITH
Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides is one of my favorite debut films. It is confident, it has a crystal-clear voice that is original and personal, and it doesn’t feel like anyone else’s movie. Since then, she has staked out her own space as a filmmaker with consistently interesting work. I like some of her films more than others, but each time she releases something, it’s worth a conversation, and I’m always rooting for her to make another classic.
On The Rocks is her strongest effort in a while, and it helps that she’s once again working with Bill Murray. In both Lost In Translation and this film, there is a vulnerability to the work that Murray does that I simply don’t see him deliver for anyone else. Even when he works with Wes Anderson, it’s not like this. Murray doesn’t really do vulnerable, and there are moments in Coppola’s films where it feels like she peels back the protective layers further than anyone ever has.
Rashida Jones has not had many roles that really tested her fully and it seems like Hollywood hasn’t quite figured her out. She’s got a sense of reserve to her that keeps her from being overly warm on film, which isn’t a problem. It’s just part of who she is. It’s perfect for the role she plays here, a writer and mother who is starting to struggle with her identity in her marriage. She starts to suspect that her husband is having an affair with his striking co-worker, and she makes the mistake of mentioning her suspicions to her father, who sees this as an opportunity to connect with his daughter.
Murray and Jones have terrific chemistry as Felix and Laura, and I love that Murray isn’t really trying to score laughs here. Instead, the Bill Murray charisma is focused on showing us how Felix coasts through life. He’s the rolling party on wheels, the guy who can get any room loose, the guy who knows cops in every borough, who knows the maître d’ at every restaurant, and who knows which hotel is the best one in New York if you’re cheating on someone. He is a cad, a lifelong scoundrel, and he broke Laura’s mother’s heart. There is some resentment that is baked into their relationship and he is well aware of it. He sees this as a fun adventure and a chance to reframe his past transgressions. If he can help Laura, then maybe it absolves him of some of his own failings.
All critics have their blind spots. We all have things that rub us wrong that we don’t like watching in films, and part of the gig is being self-aware enough to know that just because it’s a trigger for you, that doesn’t mean everyone else feels the same way. I really don’t like watching films about infidelity, and I dragged my feet watching this for that reason. I think our culture pushes this narrative that all men are inherently unfaithful, and that’s a toxic, lousy idea. Some men are definitely unfaithful. But there are plenty of people who maintain healthy adult monogamous relationships without infidelity ever being a factor, and it seems destructive to me to push the notion that all men, faced with opportunity, will cheat. I’m also not a giant fan of revenge narratives, movies where one partner in a failed relationship makes a film to litigate that relationship in a venue where they’re going to portray things exactly the way they want, regardless of what really happened, and I made the dumb assumption that Sofia Coppola might want to grind some kind of personal ax here.
That’s not the movie, though. On The Rocks is lovely and nimble and it’s not really about infidelity at all. It’s about all the ways we can sabotage ourselves in relationships and how we learn that from our parents. I am very lucky. My parents met at a Girl Scout/Boy Scout mixer in the ‘50s as teenagers and they’ve been together ever since. They have certainly worked at marriage at times, but they have shown me a model of love and respect that set a very high bar for me in my own personal relationships. We learn from what we see, and what Laura saw growing up was a man who didn’t treat his relationships as permanent. Her suspicions make sense, but especially when you consider where she came from.
Ultimately, I think there’s an enormous sadness to the film. Laura has to confront the things that she’s afraid of and she has to take some responsibility for where that fear really comes from, and Felix has to come to grips with the truth of who he is and how he’s failed his daughter. His big adventure turns out to be something genuinely painful for her, not the romp he imagined, and it’s clear that he’s not equipped to pick up the pieces when he breaks something. That’s why he’s always left in the past. That’s just who he is.
From her first film to now, what I think of as the defining characteristic of Sofia Coppola’s work is a sense of longing. Her characters are driven by impulses and desires they have a hard time defining, and that is part of the problem. It’s easy to make a movie about a character with a clear arc but life is rarely that neatly defined. The girls in The Virgin Suicides, the two lost souls circling each other in Lost In Translation, the aimless aristocrats of Marie Antoinette, the broken family of Somewhere… time and again, her characters find themselves desperate to figure out what it is that’s missing. On The Rocks fits neatly into that same template, and I love the way Laura finally owns her suspicion and her fears. It doesn’t always feel like Coppola’s characters find that grace they seek, and right now in particular, it feels good to see her give her characters a win for once.
TAKE ME TO CHURCH
I never had a crisis of faith because I never had any real faith in the first place.
My parents were not wildly religious, but it was important to their lives in a general sense. My father's mother was a church organist, and my mother's mother was active in her own church in any number of ways. Both of my grandmothers lived in Memphis, so when we'd visit them, we'd have to make sure to schedule a trip long enough to show up at each of their churches at least once, just so they got to show off their grandchildren to their friends.
In the life of my parents, church always seemed to serve primarily a social function. We moved frequently because of my dad's work as an engineer, and every place we moved, they became active in their local church. Each time, they made friends and they found a way to anchor themselves to their new community. They never particularly pushed dogma on me, but I was expected to attend church with them, and I was constantly enrolled in youth-based programs at the various churches. I made lasting friends from those places as well, and I have some good memories of lock-ins and one great youth group trip to Fort Lauderdale, and in general, I feel like I got mostly good things out of my time with the church.
But I never once believed in any of it. I twigged into the idea of the Bible as a collection of moral fables pretty early in my life, and not because of anyone telling me that. As a voracious reader, one of the things that became clear to me as I read mythology from around the world was the way there were similar themes and ideas and characters, and how many of them predated Christianity completely. Once you've seen that, I'm not sure how you can pretend that the Bible is meant to be read as literal history. There is a genealogical side to the Bible that I find fascinating because it stands almost completely separate from the moral stories and the supernatural material.
The agreement I had with my parents was simple: they wanted me to make it to confirmation, which is the same basic idea as a bar mitzvah, a moment where you demonstrate a certain amount of knowledge and you are accepted as an adult member of your faith. Once I reached that milestone, it was left to me to decide how I wanted to proceed, and instead of committing to my church, I made a decision to explore the rest of the world's faiths one by one.
I had a friend at the time named Willie, and he was the one who had the idea first. We decided to find at least one house of worship for every major faith, and we attended each of them for a minimum of three weeks. We took it seriously, too, because there's no point otherwise. We didn't approach these visits as mere tourists. In each case, I went in hoping to find something that would speak to me, something that would resonate in some deeper place. I am open to that idea in general, and there have been many points in my life where I have felt that clarion call regarding a place or a person or an idea. When I went to Ireland for the first time, for example, it was absolutely a spiritual experience for me. I was there to visit the set of Your Highness, of all films, but the country itself punched a hole in me. I still ache to return, and to spend time there with no agenda whatsoever. I just want to go and wander and get lost. The same thing was true with my first visit to Austin. If I ever leave LA, it will be so I can move to Austin. I feel like I have a community there, and I would make an easy transition because, by now, I've spent so much time there that it feels like home to me.
There were things I found compelling about Judaism, about Islam, and Buddhism, and I think there is great beauty in the way people are connected by tradition and by a shared history. There are ideas from Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism that I found very powerful and moving. As I read about the way various faiths were connected and the ways they split and the reasons they diverged, it taught me about world history and about philosophical evolution. For a while, I felt like Taoism might have been the right fit, but the more I thought about it, the less I felt the need to be part of a group simply to incorporate certain ideas into my life and the way I wanted to treat other people. Even when I found myself baffled or amused by certain elements of dogma in something like Mormonism, I worked to see past those things to whatever it was that made people build their lives around these things.
The whole process took over a year, and it was occasionally complicated by the logistics of finding someplace to go or by the way we were greeted at the various temples and churches and mosques. Ultimately, as we wrapped things up, I found myself frustrated because I was no closer to picking a faith or feeling that connection to things. It was early 1986, and one afternoon, as we were discussing whether or not to continue with the project, Willie and I made our way to the University 6 theaters in Tampa where something had just opened that I had been waiting months to see.
That feeling I was talking about? That resonance? As I wrote above, it happened to me once when I was seven years old, sitting in a theater for the first Star Wars. When that Star Destroyer started rolling out over my head and then kept coming and kept coming and kept coming, it gave me this almost indescribable feeling. By the end of the film, I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Lots of kids make grand proclamations about their future, though, and never follow through, and it would have been understandable if I'd aged out of the dream of being a filmmaker.
That day in 1986, though, that feeling finally landed on me again. The film was Terry Gilliam's Brazil, and from the opening notes of Michael Kamen's score, something happened to me. All of the questions I'd been having about my place in the world and the way things worked seemed to be addressed in the story of Sam Lowry, struggling against a system that was designed to crush the individual. Jonathan Pryce's performance, Richard Conway's remarkable physical effects work, and the beautiful, literate script by Gilliam and Charles McKeown all came together under Gilliam's direction in a way that made me forget where I was. I wasn't in a theater for those two hours. I was somewhere else, completely absorbed by what I was watching. I didn't just sit there passively, either. I felt like I had fallen into that screen, and when the film reached its horrifying conclusion, leading to one of the saddest and most surreal “happy endings” ever committed to film, I felt like someone had punched me in the face. I couldn't move. The lights came up, and I just sat there. What I felt was something bigger than a love of just that one movie, although I knew right away that it was a film I would spend the rest of my life revisiting. What I felt was what I had been searching for over the previous year or longer.
In that moment, I knew that I had finally found my church, and I meant it in a deep and sincere way. If you attend church looking for answers about the world, that's exactly why I attend movie theaters. If you look for a sense of community in your church, that's what I find in movie theaters as well. If church is a place where you go to find your center, to reset your own moral barometer, or to better understand who you are and why you are here, that is exactly what I get from my church as well. No matter what definition I tried to apply to it, it suddenly fit. I walked out, bought another ticket, and walked right back into the next screening of the movie. It destroyed me all over again, and by the time I finally staggered out, I had been transformed utterly. Any city I go to, any country I visit, any time I want, I can find a house of worship in my particular denomination, and I know that I can scratch that itch if I need to. My favorite films are my favorite hymns, familiar by this point, beloved because of what they say and how they say it. I can quote my sacred texts by heart at this point, and I have spent my entire adult life sharing my love and my faith. I consider myself a missionary for my faith, and if I can explain to even one person why film matters to me and why a theater is a sacred place, then I feel like I've done something genuinely good.
This has been on my mind recently for obvious reasons. I have not been inside a movie theater since March, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. The theatrical experience has taken some major hits over the last decade, but nothing compares to the feeling of simply having them close altogether. I need the industry to recover when it’s safe, and I hope it takes that opportunity to evolve into something better.
I remember how it felt when the Aurora shootings raised the notion of the theater as a dangerous space, unsafe to share with other people. When I step into a theater, I leave the world outside. I have had some of the greatest experiences of my entire life in movie theaters, and I refused to allow anyone to take away my personal connection to what happens when I spend those hours in the dark. My faith remained stronger than ever because I see how many other people were offended, shocked to their core by the idea of real violence intruding on this place that is so important to so many of us. I do not have answers for how we stop these damaged people from lashing out and hurting other people as part of their pain, but I know that the places are not to blame, and if we give in and allow everything to become a security checkpoint, we are surrendering some essential part of ourselves.
Plenty of words have been written about how theaters are in danger of going under because of the pandemic, and while that may be true of specific chains, I think the experience itself will return, stronger than ever and still important to huge number of us. It took me sixteen years to find my church, and I've never looked back since that particular afternoon. If anything, my relationship to my church has deepened and become more important to me. For almost twenty-five years now, I have had a pulpit from which to share my thoughts about what is important about film, and part of what I've gone through in this last year here at Formerly Dangerous has been a growing resolve on my part to take this job of mine even more seriously. One of the reasons I started writing about film in the first place is because I am arrogant enough to believe that I can see a film clearly sometimes when others don't. When I was young, there were movies like Blade Runner or Buckaroo Banzai or Big Trouble In Little China or Altman's Popeye or… well, Brazil… that simply weren't embraced by the general public. I felt strongly that the films were great and that people would come around, and in every one of those cases, that's exactly what has happened. I feel driven to tell people when I see something that I think is special, and doubly so when I don't feel a film is getting a fair shake.
I’m going to write more pieces in this series and I’m going to discuss specific occasions where the theatrical experience was more than just “a movie in a dark room” for me. I want to share some of the defining moments I’ve spent in movie theaters because right now, those memories are all I’ve got. Let’s talk about your favorite experiences as well, and by all means, use the comments section below for that exact purpose.
If I had to name a specific house of worship that is my very favorite, it would be the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, a perfect example of what it is I want from a movie theater. There is no place on Earth where I am more myself, and that is exactly what I was looking for when I went from church to church to church. I found mine, and my belief makes me happy when I'm sad, strong when I'm weak, and connects me to something larger. One of the reasons I hate writing about box-office or awards is because I think they both make film seem smaller, grubbier, more business than art. I refuse to be a snob about any genre, any style of filmmaking, or any of the world's various film cultures because you never know where the next lightning bolt will come from, and closing yourself off only limits your own experience.
I’m not sure Johnny Depp was the problem.
I get why people seem happy that Deep’s going to be leaving the Fantastic Beasts franchise, but that would imply that people give a shit about the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and that runs contrary to all the evidence I’ve observed so far.
One of the problems with treating entertainment news like sports is this celebration of someone else’s misery. I don’t think there’s anything about the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard story that should have anyone celebrating, and treating Depp’s dismissal from the franchise as a victory is outright weird. It’s weird because J.K. Rowling, who has grown into a fairly aggressive anti-trans activist at this point, and I would think she’s a far more disturbing person to give ongoing support. It’s also weird because any read of the Depp/Heard court case just seems to reveal a deeply dysfunctional relationship with plenty of horrible behavior on all sides, but Warner Bros. seems to remain committed to having Heard back for Aquaman 2. I don’t think the studio’s job is to litigate who did what, but this looks like they’re just worried about what the court says. Depp gets to keep his job until the moment the libel suit ends badly. What happens if he wins on appeal? Do they fire her and rehire him? In general, this all seems like the kind of thing where people are celebrating to make it clear that Johnny Depp Is Bad, and more than anything, it just makes me feel like the people celebrating aren’t much better.
This has been a longer-than-normal newsletter, and I’ve still got plenty to share. I know there are a million Mank reviews online already, and if you’re a subscriber, you’ll have my review of the film on Sunday. I didn’t want to give that one away for free. I figure I have to hold some of the good stuff for those of you who actually keep the lights on around here.
Speaking of, I’m about to pay for another year’s hosting and registry to keep ‘80s All Over online. At this point, the only reason the podcast still exists is that I’m personally going out of pocket to provide a place for it to live. Genuinely independent media, not supported by advertising or by a corporate partner, is harder and harder to find, and I appreciate the support from all of you who have already subscribed to the newsletter.
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