The Movies of June 2024

June was a weird month for movies; I watched some of my favorite movies of the year this month — Godzilla Minus One! I mean, come on — but I also got distracted by the reality TV of it all and didn’t spend as much time with movies as I have done recently. (Five of the above movies are shorts, for context.) I do think that Lovelace and Boogie Nights prove to be an accidental but fitting pairing, as both simultaneously glamorize and sterilize both the porn industry and the 1970s/early ’80s in very similar ways. Given that July has two separate Love Island series running simultaneously and San Diego Comic-Con, don’t be surprised if next month’s list is so short as to barely exist; I apologize in advance.

Put the X in the box

I admit it; I am utterly obsessed with the UK general election right now. I eagerly pour over the news as it unfolds, with a tab open on my browser to live election coverage as I work. (Not that I actually check said tab all the time, because, well… work. But it’s there, as this constant reminder to just sneak a look and see what’s happening.) It’s not simply that I become unnaturally interested in election seasons in the UK and US traditionally — something I can and do attribute to my dad, who did the same thing; I have fond memories of him staying up to watch the returns every time there was a general election in the UK, him always being eager for things to change — but that, this general election in particular… well, it’s just wild.

There’s something about this one that’s just funny, for want of a better way to put it. (There has to be a better way to put it; there’s so much at stake in this election in the UK, just as there’s so much at stake in our election here in the US this year, too.) Think about the announcement in the first place, and how mishandled that was, with Rishi Sunak ending up drenched through and being drowned out by a sound system nearby. Think about the fact that one of Sunak’s policies was essentially a return of the draft, as if anyone would think that’s a good idea or something to convince young people to vote for you. Or that Sunak left D-Day anniversary proceedings early to go and do an interview and then asked people not to politicize it.

I’m sure that the other parties are also doing things, but that’s not what’s got me so fascinated. Nope, if this election has a story, it’s that the Conservative Party is running a campaign that is so utterly disorganized and unprofessional that it feels fictional — and holding my breath to see what this means when the actual voting arrives on July 4. UK votes have felt like clues about where the US is going to go for awhile, and I keep reading about how completely shambolic the Conservatives are in the UK and thinking, please let them be punished for this, please don’t let them somehow win despite it all simply because I need to think that maybe, just maybe, there’s a consequence to being so obviously inept and uncaring that could be reflected over here, as well.

Fingers crossed, right?

The Movies of March 2024

Lord, I think this is the first time a post has run late in… months? Longer? The key to the problem, as silly as it sounds, was that I needed to edit two different screenshots together to make the image below and I kept putting it off because my attentions were elsewhere. I should know better than to do such things, and yet, if I don’t procrastinate, who am I…?

Anyway: here are the movies I watched last month — of note should be the fact that I binged the entire Ocean’s series over the course of a few mights, but also that I finally managed to check out Dune: Part Two at the local theater, and it was every bit as good as I could’ve hoped; I keep thinking about the way in which director Denis Villeneuve managed to communicate a real sense of space throughout the movie, including in the climactic battle, with minimal signalling. It’s a movie I’m going to return to over and over, I suspect.

But what else did I watch? Well… this:

Shit Shit Shit

So, I watched the Ocean’s series again recently.

If we judge the idea of our “favorite” movies by the number of times we’ve watched them, there’s a very strong argument to be made that Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean’s Twelve, and Ocean’s Thirteen are three of my favorite movies of all time. Certainly, they’re movies that I probably watch once a year if not more often than that, despite not owning them. (They’re always streaming somewhere, somehow; you just have to look and see where.)

It’s neither the writing nor the acting that brings me back to these movies over and over again, as good as both are throughout the trilogy. Thirteen is a bit ropey in terms of writing, but apparently the version people see on screen is very, very different than the original screenplay, being the result of significant after-the-fact edits and reshoots in order to make something that moved faster and had a significantly different tone; when you know that, you can see the joins pretty easily on a rewatch. Instead, it’s the sense of style that both Soderbergh and soundtrack maven David Holmes bring to proceedings.

(Holmes’ music — his score, but also the tracks from external sources that he brings in, especially in Twelve, the ultimate style-over-substance installment, and my favorite of the three — cannot be overestimated in how much it impacts the final product in these movies; I’d argue that Thirteen only gets away with working because of his contributions.)

The concept of “cool” is, at best, a fool’s errand, because it’s so subjective and equally so changeable — what’s in today is, as everyone who watches Project Runway knows all too well, out tomorrow. Despite that, there’s an inescapable cool to Soderbergh’s Ocean’s movies that, the more I rewatch, seems to come down to the purposefully relaxed feel of all three movies. For heist movies, it’s impressive how not tense these films really are, how the audience is never really able to believe for more than a couple minutes that any of our heroes is actually in trouble. Instead, each of the three feel like you’re getting to hang out with a bunch of people who have just worked out some cosmic truth and are just breezily moving through the world in an entirely different way than you and I, and you get to ride in their slipstream for a few hours.

What’s instructive, though, is to see the way that Ocean’s Eight, the after-the-fact spin-off/sequel to the trilogy centering around Danny Ocean’s previously unmentioned sister, fails to match up to its predecessors. Again, special attention should be paid to the music, with Daniel Pemberton (the man behind killer scores for both The Man from UNCLE and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse) understanding the assignment, but director Gary Ross just fails to make the movie as weightless and stress-free as Soderbergh did the earlier trilogy, and as a result, it drags and ultimately fails to match the energy of what came before. You get the feeling that everyone involved isn’t just trying, but visibly trying too hard, and that’s just not what people come to Ocean’s for.

(Of course, now I want to re-watch Soderbergh’s own Logan Lucky, which I suspect might more readily match Eight. Hmm…)

The Movies of February 2024

February really didn’t start well in terms of movies, thanks to going to see Argylle for work — it’s really not a particularly good movie, although I’d argue it’s also not as bad as some made out to be; it’s simply “fine and dull and overly glossy,” which feels like the very worst thing a movie like that could be. Thankfully, I made up for it elsewhere in the month, with rewatches for Out of Sight and M, the latter of which I hadn’t seen in decades and appreciated in an all-new way this time out. It really might be close to a perfect movie in so many ways — it’s visually stunning at multiple points, fast-moving for the most part, and morally ambiguous in a way that feels thoroughly contemporary when watched today. It left me wanting to rewatch Citizen Kane again, which feels like the most appropriate comparison, but I haven’t gotten around to that yet. Hopefully soon.

Anyway: here are the movies I watched in February.

The Movies of January 2024

I’m not entirely sure why I started using Letterboxd at the end of last year; I think it was because more and more people I know were using it and sharing their posts, and also because I liked keeping track of my comic reading in 2023. And so: here are the movies I watched in January. Or, really, the ones I remembered to keep track of — I’m pretty sure there are other ones I just didn’t put in the app because I didn’t have a device to hand at the time, but I guess they’re better off forgotten.

Anyway: the worst of the month was easily Species, an objectively shitty movie that both hasn’t gotten any better with age and is far worse than Lifeforce, a British movie it kind of rips off more than a little in its high concept. Best of the month was probably Guys and Dolls, a favorite that I rewatched on a Saturday night when it felt like an important thing to do. (I was right.) Of the movies I hadn’t seen before during the month, I think Pina is the one I’m going to be thinking about the most — a weird, self-indulgent documentary that’s mostly extended dance performances that are genuinely beautiful.

Meanwhile: 20 movies in the one month? Considering all the TV I watched that same month — thanks, Real Housewives of Salt Lake City — it feels pretty good, in a “I guess I watch a lot of stuff, huh?” kind of way.

Species, though; that was a mistake.

This Was

Awhile back, I watched This England, a dramatization of the UK government’s response to the earliest days of COVID. It was a big deal when it aired in the UK last year, in part because no-one could seem to agree on whether or not it was too kind to those in power; the left-wing press thought it was too soft, the right-wing press that it was very fair. So it goes.

For my money, I think accusations of it being too soft were off-base, just as the “very fair” belief betrays biases in another direction. It’s clear that the government were unprepared and incompetent, and that Boris Johnson himself unable to connect with the gravity of the situation even before it was clear how deadly the virus really was.

A bigger problem for the show, though, was how uncomfortably shallow it proved to be, and unable to properly communicate the scope of what was happening. On the one hand, that’s to be expected given how impossibly overwhelming everything was — how can any show sum that up? — but the methods the show attempts feel trivial and tacky: overlapping audio from newscasters offering exposition, while a graphic ticks up the number of cases in big red letters.

More than anything, it reminds me of Years and Years, the Russell T. Davies show that kept jumping ahead in time as things got progressively worse. It’s a weird parallel, because that show — made in 2019, before all of this happened — was something I thought of repeatedly throughout 2020 and 2021, as if it had been soothsaying rather than entertainment.

This England’s inability to live up to reality transformed art into life into art again, in the broadest terms. In its own way, the journey might be the most interesting thing about it.

Wheeeeeee Biddly-Bum, etc.

I’ve been trying to unpack my joy at watching the recent return of Doctor Who, the “Star Beast” episode that pretended to be an anniversary special but was, really, just an old romp of silliness that took up an hour of television.

Part of it is, simply, that I really love Doctor Who, and have missed seeing the show for awhile; even before the recent break in broadcasting/reboot, I’d kind of lost touch with the show during the Jodie Whittaker era due to a combination of Big Life Events and not feeling particularly enamored with the writing at the time. (Really, I feel bad for Whittaker for that very reason; she was very charming in the role, but the scripts weren’t there for her.)

There’s also the fact that, in a lot of ways, “The Star Beast” was a joyful restatement of intent: a declaration that Doctor Who as a show is going to be silly, sentimental, and kind, all of which are increasing rarities in science fiction television. Russell T. Davies has plenty of failings as a writer — particularly as a writer of Doctor Who, where he tends to overindulge in the silliness and sentimentality, judging by past experience — but his focus on characters, and his affection for his characters is something that everything from The Mandalorian to Star Trek: Discovery could learn from.

It helped that “The Star Beast”’s gimmicky ending relied on something that is (unfortunately) political, especially in the UK: a non-binary character and their self-belief and the power that comes from that. Does that make me “woke,” or a “SJW” as they used to be called, to say that element appealed to be so much? So be it, but it did, especially imagining the more uptight, conservative parts of fandom getting upset as a result. It was a small moment of seeing Davies realize the power of the platform that Doctor Who grants him, and perhaps part of his (to my mind, far superior) Years and Years or It’s a Sin coming to the fore, unexpectedly.

Whatever the reason, watching Doctor Who with the family on a Saturday evening made me impossibly, excitedly, happy. Here’s to feeling this over and over again as the show continues its run in the coming years.

Here’s to Swimmin’

I’d never, until yesterday, realized how utterly ruthless Jaws is when it comes to getting the viewer’s attention in the first place.

I’ve been watching a host of 1970s movies over the last year or so, filling in a decade’s worth of blanks in my cinematic education and finding a long list of new favorites in the process. (Most recently, Klute, which feels impressively contemporary in its approach to sex work in some respects, and shockingly old-fashioned in others.) Filled with a new appreciation for what’s apparently called the New Hollywood era by those in the know — and remembering the season — it felt like a reasonable idea to revisit the movie that arguably ushered in the blockbuster vogue that would dominate the ‘80s, ‘90s, and beyond; a favorite of mine as a kid.

When I was a kid, though, I like Jaws for the idea of it: the exciting threat of John Williams’ theme, the visual of the poster, and the polite remix of the horror monster concept at the heart of the movie. It wasn’t really liking the actual movie at all, which is a shame; it’s such a fun, well-crafted piece of movie-making, and such an odd beast, as well.

As a kid I’d not realized, for example, that the first death comes within five minutes of the movie’s opening, wasting no time to tell the audience, “this is what we’re watching, get in or get going.” All of the movie’s metaphors about how America reacts to terror — the bravado and belief that nothing bad will happen to us — was lost on me entirely; similarly, the quiet exploration of masculinity in the second half, when everything slows down and it’s just Brody, Quint, and Richard Dreyfus’s character (who can ever remember his name?) on the boat together.

Maybe all of this is what makes Jaws so good; that it can make the kid me so excited with nothing but the tease of undersea terror and some great music, and the old man me sees it as something else entirely, and neither of us are wrong. Maybe none of that really matters, and I should just stop overthinking and promise myself that Jaws becomes a July 4th staple just because it’s a good movie for whatever reason.

Let’s Go Back, Let’s Go Way Back

Entirely accidentally, I’ve spent a bunch of time recently revisiting media from a decade or so ago; it wasn’t something that I’d planned, or even actually noticed I was doing until after the fact, when I was talking about what I’d been watching and reading to various people and the idea came up, again and again: “Oh, you know that’s ten years ago now, right?”

What’s funny is that, thankfully, I didn’t have that moment of thinking, it feels like just yesterday that I think can sometimes happen with the passing of time; everything in the past three or so years feels especially like a jumble of potential moments that could be entirely interchangeable, especially. (Since the pandemic started, I don’t think I’m the only person to have a particularly skewed idea of time — there are things that, objectively, I know happened in a particular order, but it feels very much as if some happened last week and some happened years earlier, even though the order is entirely wrong.)

Instead, it was just the opposite: each of the things I’d been revisiting had happened almost because they felt far, far older than the reality turned out to be. Maybe this is because I have a significant life shift in between then and now — literally almost in the middle, if you consider that I split from Kate five years ago this fall — almost creating a very definitive THEN and NOW in my head. Because of the way my memory works, I can remember specific images and details about where I was when I was reading something, or watching something, and my memory almost instinctively goes, oh this happened at this point so it must be some time ago, and even ten years feels… almost too soon in some sense…?

And yet, a decade has indeed passed since these things I’m now going back to. It’s fun to see where my tastes have changed, what things I’m now kinder to, what things make less sense to me now. It’s a worthwhile exercise, if an accidental one, to revisit art and culture and use it as a mirror to remind yourself what’s happened to you. It’s nice to realize you can still change, even when you don’t think it’s happened.