We kick off a week of Quick Bites and updates
There's a whole lot to talk about in the days ahead
It’s Tuesday, March 29th, and here’s where we are…
I’m glad Oscar season is over, but that definitely wasn’t the punctuation mark on the season that anyone was expecting.
I don’t have anything to add to the conversation about Will Smith and Chris Rock, and honestly, why would anyone listen to a single thing I have to say about anger management? Even after the apologies from both sides, The Slap is going to overwhelm the giant smoking shitshow that was the rest of the Oscars, and now the Academy is going to take all of the wrong lessons from their very slight ratings bump. The ratings were still absolutely horrific, but that tiny bounce is enough to convince the Academy that they did something right.
They did not.
I don’t love the Oscars to begin with and there’s something about the way this race ends up with people rooting against films that I really hate. I didn’t love Belfast or CODA, but they were fine, sweet little films that hit the modest targets they aimed for, and when I see people suddenly talking about CODA like it’s this barely competent thing that doesn’t even look like a movie, it seems to me that they’ve lost all perspective. Everyone turns into aggressive shitty sports fans, tearing down whatever they’re not rooting for. They have to turn everything else into The Villain in order to elevate their particular pick, and it sucks.
It’s been about a week since William Hurt passed away, and one of the most uncomfortable cases of cognitive friction I can imagine happened during those awards last night, and if anything, it only underscores how difficult these conversations are. Hurt was a terrific actor who gave some all-timer performances. I think that’s a safe statement. One of those truly amazing performances is in Children of a Lesser God, which I saw several times during its theatrical run in ’86. I was floored by his work and by his co-star Marlee Matlin, and part of what I find so thrilling about that film is how turbulent and tempestuous the relationship onscreen is. The problem is that Hurt was a physically abusive asshole who repeated his pattern with numerous women, and he specifically physically and sexually abused Marlee Matlin during their time together. Didn’t know it at the time, and I certainly didn’t realize just how big an overall problem it was for Hurt or how many partners he left traumatized. When I watch Children of a Lesser God now, it’s impossible not to feel that real-life knowledge pushing in around the edges of whatever entertainment I get from the film. Seeing Hurt honored last night in such an uncomplicated way on the night that Marlee Matlin’s latest film was awarded the highest honor throws a pretty stark spotlight on how unprepared an awards show is to grapple with literally any issue of moral complexity.
I didn’t watch the whole show last night. I lost interest well before the Will Smith moment actually happened. I think I’ve been pretty honest and consistent about my disconnect from the entire awards scene for my entire career online, and I went into last night curious just to see how they handled the show side of things. I thought the entire evening was in questionable taste, feeling more like a roast than a celebration. The Oscars are the story that the industry wants to tell the world every year about who they are and what they make, and the message they sent last night was one of clear self-loathing. This is an industry that has no idea what the future looks like and they are terrified. Last night felt sweaty from the start, and the way they kept insulting nominees in the form of jokes was downright bizarre. If I’m a casual viewer turning in, I’m going to be put off by the entire tone of the evening, and for hardcore Oscar fans, it must have been excruciating.
I know it’s been a weird month here on the primary newsletter site, but that’s been largely because of things going on behind the scenes. I have had some real ups and downs in the last six weeks, and the bottom line is that I have got to get some stability in place on the financial side of things in order to be able to produce all of my various work. I’m starting to see the shape of things finally. I’ve been trying to figure out that last piece of the puzzle for a little while, the podcasting side, and it looks like I’m getting closer. I’ve opened the doors to the Patreon page again if you’re interested in being part of the early stages. Just yesterday, I posted the first new content, a 40-minute conversation with Toshi and Allen that was a dry run for a regular segment on the new podcast. We debriefed about everything the boys watched this weekend while they were here, including some season one Game of Thrones, A Few Good Men, and a classic Miyazaki on the big screen. If you’re a Film Nerd 2.0 fan at all, this is a chance for you to hear directly from them, and it was fun recording it with them. I’m hoping by May to have the actual podcast ready for people to hear. If you ever listened to ‘80s All Over or the old Motion/Captured Podcast, I feel like I’m not bad at the job overall. I’ve got ideas for how to build a podcast that feels like a movie party, a hangout that you should enjoy attending every time. It’s going to be a process to build it, but we’re taking the first steps of that process now, and some of you are going to be there for every single step of it.
If you didn’t read the September 1980 installments of The Last ’80s Newsletter (You’ll Ever Need), there’s one of them that’s a freebie, and I’m confident that if you take a look, you’ll decide you want to sign up and become part of the project, helping support it so that I’ll make it all the way to the end this time. There’s so much technical work that goes into getting the newsletter ready every month, but every time I add another month to the stack, I feel good about it. I’m almost done with the first year, and I’ve already generated almost 300 pages worth of material. It’s such a particular exercise in film criticism, and it doesn’t give me room to skip anything or take shortcuts. I’m reviewing every movie, even (and especially) the ones I’m not particularly interested in, and treating every movie with that same degree of respect and intent means I’ve got to broaden my own filter in all kinds of ways. There are very few critics who genuinely engage with everything, and that’s fine. I think the more media there is, the more it makes sense to specialize, to really dig into something.
I’ve talked about this before, but I’m really grappling right now with the tsunami of media, this absolute avalanche of content. There are so many shows and films on my list to be watched this week and next week and the week after, and because things have piled up so fast the last few weeks, there’s this mountain of stuff to discuss. So…
I’m going to fire off a series of Quick Bites newsletters over the next few days, plus a couple of stand-alone pieces. This isn’t going to be the regular format forever, but it’s the only way I can even start to catch up.
With that in mind, let’s do at least a fistful of titles for today…
I’m not sure what people expected from the collision of Adrian Lyne and Patricia Highsmith, but I had way more fun with Deep Water than I expected. It’s played at this great crazy pitch from the very start, and it works pretty well as an adaptation of Highsmith’s novel for most of the running time. So much was made of the real-life relationship between Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas that if you just want to watch it looking to see what glimpses you can catch of their real-life chemistry, it certainly gives you plenty to chew on. If you haven’t seen the film or read the book, this is drawn from the same well as The Talented Mr. Ripley, which may not be what people expect. Vic and Melinda Van Allen have been married long enough to have a precocious six-year-old girl and long enough to let their unusual unspoken arrangement eat a hole in both of them. What is that arrangement exactly? Well, the film is careful to never quite spell it out, but Melinda has wild manic-depressive mood swings and clearly never wanted a family, something that was important to Vic. She gave him a daughter and in return, he gives her freedom. She is allowed to do pretty much anything she wants, and anyone she wants, and all Vic wants is some discretion. That’s not Melinda, though. She lives very loudly when she’s on a manic upswing, and Ana de Armas really goes for it in a joyously despicable performance. Melinda’s a fairly unrelenting piece of shit… and so is Vic! It’s a match made in Hell, and both Affleck and de Armas do an excellent job of conveying that slow gut sick dread of being in a relationship you know is killing you and not being able to let go of it. I think Lyne’s 20-year absence from film is a crime and this feels like it fits in neatly with his larger body of work. Highsmith writes with a chilly cruelty that can be disconcerting, and Lyne really does find the casual cruelty that people are capable of and the way we wear different faces for different people fascinating. While he’s not a writer, there is a definite authorial thread you can follow from Flashdance to 9 1/2 Weeks to Fatal Attraction (especially his original cut) to today that is consistent and thematically interesting. He remains one of the few mainstream Hollywood filmmakers who is unafraid of showing how much power there is in sex and how important those moments are to defining the truth of a relationship. Deep Water falls apart as it piles up some plot mechanics in its last half-hour, but for a lot of its running time, I think it is a glorious throwback to a certain type of filmmaking that is wrapped around a genuinely good piece of source material that is largely honored by this adaptation.
I don’t get the point of Halo, and I’m not sure who is supposed to be watching it. I know that they’ve been trying to turn Halo into a film or a television show since well before the first game even made its Xbox debut because I remember seeing a VHS tape (that’s how long ago this was) of some pre-game demo footage. My managers sent it to me because Bungie was shopping it around, trying to find someone to attach themselves to it to turn those game assets into a mythology and a world. There are many moments in my truncated career where I did not understand what kind of opportunity was being presented to me, and that might be the biggest of them. Here we are in 2022, and it feels like the creators of this show (Kyle Killen and Steven Kane) were given just as blank a slate as I was, but the difference now is that you’ve got 20 years of history for the people who love Halo, and 20 years of baggage for anyone who is hoping to reinvent the thing. I am not the most rabid fan of the game, but I do understand that one of the most fundamental rules here, akin to the fundamental rule in the Judge Dredd comics, is that the protagonist character of Master Chief never removes his helmet and never shows his face. It takes exactly 50 minutes of the pilot episode before series star Pablo Schreiber removes the Master Chief helmet. That is, sorry to say, the least of the show’s issues. I think the bigger problem is that they’re nakedly aping the Mandalorian model, which is already a fairly transparent nod to Lone Wolf and Cub. Halo is very decidedly not The Mandalorian, so grafting one onto the other just feels weird and desperate, and it’s an odd choice considering how many people have taken a shot at cracking this as a film or TV show. This was the best idea? They spent a ton of money on it, clearly, and it looks both wildly expensive and oddly cheap in places, an aesthetic that will give you whiplash. Worst of all, it’s just boring. I gave them an hour to convince me that Halo needed to be a television series and that there’s a story worth telling here, and there wasn’t a minute of the entire thing that made the case convincingly.
It’s been a while since Ti West made a movie, but he’s never been a guy who seemed to be chasing the mainstream version of success. Since his debut film The Roost, he has made intimate, personally-driven movies that feel like they intentionally play on a very modest scale. I think The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers are his best films, but in general, I like the way he approaches his work. His latest film X feels like a sex-positive spin on Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and while I don’t think everything about it works, the film’s got this amiable shaggy charm that is largely due to a great ensemble cast. Mia Goth is the film’s MVP for reasons that are best discussed after you see it, and it’ll be interesting to see Pearl, the prequel to the movie that was secretly shot at the same time as this film. Clearly, Ti had this character who he fell in love with and couldn’t decide which version of the story to tell. This way, he gets to tell both, and with an actor who is extremely good at slipping into totally different skins depending on what she’s playing. Everyone’s good, though, with Jenna Ortega and Brittany Show doing terrific work, and the film takes its time, really painting all of these characters as people and not just as potential victims. The film is about a group of young (but not too young) people who travel to a remote rural location to make a quick skin flick. They try to sneak it past the old (and holy shit do I mean old) couple who own the property, but things go badly and people die. It’s not much more complicated than that, but there’s something about the stripped-down approach that leaves room for some really interesting thematic conversations. I wish people didn’t make dumb-dumb plot decisions in the film’s final third, and it’s telling that the least interesting part of the horror film is the horror. Still, there’s a quiet assurance here that makes X feel like a pleasure even when it doesn’t totally add up, and I wish more horror filmmakers worked this hard to make us believe in their characters no matter what the setting or scenario.
Man, I like to pretend I am not susceptible to hype, but then I read this incredible article about the process that Robert Eggers went through making his new film The Northman and I am just plain rabid to see this film now.
It helps that I thought The Witch and The Lighthouse were both tremendous and that Eggar has one of the most original minds in film right now. Whatever this movie is going to be, it’s not just another Gladiator riff.
If by some chance you have not seen this trailer yet, feast your eyes on the madness. I am going to see this at least once in a theater and, if it’s half the movie this article implies, probably many more times than that.
Today’s newsletter is free, but nothing else between now and the 7th, when I publish James Bond Declassified #12: For Your Eyes Only, is going to be. It’s subscribers-only, and if you want that to include you, that’s going to be $7 a month… even less if you buy a whole year at once!