2022 Blindspot Pick #9: The Apu Trilogy (1955, 1956, 1959)

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I grew up in a jungle,
Where the canopies were dense,
Where I could play the warrior
To whom imagined foes defer,
Where time was slow yet fleeting,
A parade of precedents.

I moved then to a jungle,
Not of leaves but weathered stone.
I learned the world was wide and far
And much more fun than parents are.
And every story led me toward
A story of my own.

My mind became a jungle
As the years were filled with noise.
Though grief was vying for the lead,
A stronger love became my creed,
The kind that builds on fate fulfilled
And makes men out of boys.
____________________

MPA rating: Not Rated (nothing really objectionable, though at least PG for the serious subject matter)

So I didn’t fit in all my 2022 Blindspots into last year. It happens, and I’ll just have to aim for better this year. First, though, it’s time to wrap up the old ones, starting with a pick that was perhaps overly ambitious for my slow viewing schedule. Instead of just one film, I made one of my picks a trilogy so that I could introduce myself to the work of acclaimed Indian director Satyajit Ray. Based upon the novels of Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay and boasting a score by Ravi Shankar, the Apu Trilogy is made up of three black-and-white films following the life of a poor Bengali boy named Apu: Pather Panchali (or Song of the Little Road), Aparajito (or The Unvanquished), and Apur Sansar (or The World of Apu). All three are considered landmark films in Indian cinema, earning international esteem and influencing many filmmakers in the decades since.

First up is 1955’s Pather Panchali, Ray’s debut film focusing on Apu’s childhood in the rural forests of Bengal in the 1910s. More than any of the sequels, the first film is focused on the visuals, with an unhurried pace to allow viewers to consider the episodic life of the Roy family, a poor life of sweeping dirt floors and brushing their teeth with a finger but not without its moments of joy and wonder. A more commercial film would have provided some kind of narration, with Apu (Subir Banerjee) reminiscing about his harried mother (Karuna Banerjee), traveling father (Kanu Banerjee), and impish sister Durga (Runki Banerjee and later Uma Dasgupta; no actual relation between the four Banerjees, by the way). Instead, the movie shows rather than tells, reflecting the fact that it was filmed based on storyboards rather than a script, and it boasts several striking images in its picture of agrarian poverty, from the reflection of shadows in a pond as Apu and Durga follow a sweets peddler or the appearance of a train chugging through windswept fields of tall grass, the only sign that this story is set in a modern era.

Despite a behind-the-scenes featurette’s assertion that Pather Panchali is Durga’s film in the trilogy, I thought it belonged more to the mother Sarbajaya. While she doesn’t always come off as likable, even nagging an elderly houseguest until the old woman leaves, Sarbajaya bears the heaviest burden of the family. She deals with the objections over Durga’s stealing from neighbors, the loneliness when her husband is away earning money as a Brahmin priest, and the financial worries when he disappears for months at a time. Her actress has especially expressive eyes that do wonders with the mostly minimalist dialogue. Still, the rambling pacing of Pather Panchali is admittedly tedious at times and ultimately telling a sparse and sad story of poverty. Yet, even if it was meant as a standalone film, I see it as necessary groundwork for the story to come.

The second film is 1956’s Aparajito, which I enjoyed more than the first simply because more happened, but somehow I think it’s my favorite of the three. After the heartache of the first film, young Apu (Pinaki Sengupta) and his family have moved to the city of Benares (now Varanasi), leaving behind bamboo forests and sweeping dirt floors in favor of crowded riverside ghats and sweeping stone floors. While Apu’s father finds more work in the city, it doesn’t take long for more tragedy to strike, forcing another move to stay with a rural relative. There, Apu finally has the opportunity to attend school and awakens a love of learning that eventually sends him off to college in Kolkata, stepping into a more modern world of books and electricity.

Whereas Pather Panchali seemed largely observational, Aparajito felt like a more personal film, particularly focusing on the relationship between Apu and his mother. Apu didn’t have much agency before since he was a wide-eyed child, but comes into his own as a character once he makes the choice to attend school, thanks to the support of the long-suffering Sarbajaya. Like so many adolescents growing up, the older Apu (Smaran Ghosal) is drawn toward the bustling college life instead of his provincial past, and even his moments of sweetness with his mother have a tinge of disinterest on his part. I’m a sucker for a sacrificial mom story, and this is the kind of regretful tale that made me want to hug mine.

Rounding out the trilogy is 1959’s Apur Sansar, focusing on Apu as an adult (Soumitra Chatterjee). Now on his own, he’s a starving artist working on a novel and tutoring on the side, too overqualified for manual labor. When he is invited to a country wedding, a trick of fate and odd local customs result in him marrying the bride, which is a shock to both him and the lovely Aparna (Sharmila Tagore, who somehow looks and acts older than her mere fourteen years). Despite being strangers, a sweet romance gradually blossoms between the two, and Apu must come to terms with his role as husband and then father, as well as the trail of tragedy and grief that has followed him throughout his life.

It seems that most critics consider Apur Sansar the most complete and professional work in the trilogy, and it does feel like the most self-contained, as well as the most satisfying. Ray (or perhaps the author of the source material) is actually quite ruthless with his characters, so by the end, it’s gratifying whenever Apu has a bit of happiness. It helps too that Chatterjee is an outstanding actor, able to evoke his thoughts with only a look, such as a moment in bed where he seems struck by the fact that he is really married. (May he rest in peace, since he died just a couple years ago due to COVID.) I also liked how Apu and Aparna go out to the movies at one point to watch a rather hokey mythological epic, which both recalled a similar play Apu saw in the first film and highlighted how different Ray’s more grounded films were from what came before.

There actually isn’t much continuity between the three films, and any of them could be watched in isolation. Yet they do build upon each other in subtle ways, as when the Apu in Aparajito excels in class due to the home lessons his father gave him in Pather Panchali, or the chuckle-worthy scene in Apur Sansar where Apu’s friend describes the rural lifestyle of his cousins that so closely mirrors Apu’s own upbringing. There are a wealth of more subtle details and creative choices that a non-critic like me may not catch, so I found it even more rewarding to watch behind-the-scenes features about Ray’s artistry, such as the symbolic use of trains as harbingers of death throughout the films.

Now that I’ve watched these certified classics, I can see why they are so well-respected, and I now view Satyajit Ray as an Indian counterpart to Akira Kurosawa in Japan, telling detailed, culturally authentic stories that resonate beyond their specific country or setting. At the same time, I’ll be honest and say these are definitely what I call “critic movies”; perhaps in decades past, they might have had popular appeal, especially in India, but they are designed more to tell a slow and personal story rather than entertain. They are not the kind of movies one watches casually and thus probably not ones I’ll ever see again.

But as works of cinematic art representing the highs and lows of Apu’s life, they do live up to their reputation, provided one has the patience for them. Considering both Chatterjee and Tagore had long and successful careers after Apur Sansar, I’m now curious to see more of their work, not to mention that of director Ray. And I am very grateful for the Criterion Collection’s dedication to preserving all three films, the originals of which were burned in a fire and required great pains to restore. These are nuanced and significant entries in the history of international cinema, and even if they seem mundane by modern standards, I’m glad to have seen them.

Best lines: (schoolmaster, to Apu in Aparajito) “If you don’t read books like these, you can’t broaden your mind. We may live in a remote corner of Bengal, but that doesn’t mean that our outlook should be narrow.”

and

(Apu in Apur Sansar, commenting on Aparna going to her parents for a while) “But I will get some work done on my novel. I haven’t written a line since we were married.”   (Aparna) “Is that my fault?”   (Apu) “It’s to your credit. You know how much my novel means to me. You mean much more.”

Rank for all three: Honorable Mention

© 2023 S.G. Liput
784 Followers and Counting

THE LIST (2023 Update)

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It’s time once again for the official update of THE LIST, my personal top 365 list of favorite movies. I always come back to this list because it’s what started this blog in the first place, with my first year being a countdown of the original Top 365 films. This is now the ninth annual revision, which blows my mind, and there have been quite a few additions and removals over the years, as well as exceptions to group film series and similar films together. Now I’ve added the latest thirteen films seen during 2022 (in bold in the list below), including classics, modern blockbusters, and two Blindspots, which I covered in my previous blogiversary post. Nothing quite cracked the top 100, but it’s still a pretty good showing for these new additions.

As I always reiterate, this is a list of personal favorites that will no doubt clash with other opinions and best-of lists, and there’s plenty of room for it to change in the future. As it is, there was some significant shuffling of the order in some cases, and it was mainly films that I haven’t seen in a while that suffered a fall. The biggest boost went to Scrooged, rising from #342 to #249, thanks to a recent viewing and my decision to pair it with Spirited. Other gainers include Arrival, Galaxy Quest, and Altantis: The Lost Empire. On the other hand, Superman and The Ultimate Gift were demoted a bit, while the biggest loser was Captain Phillips, falling from #255 right off the list entirely; like Dunkirk last year, it’s still a great film, just not the most rewatchable.

The hardest part of these updates is choosing which films lose their place on the list, which pains me when they are still films I love. But the old must make way for the new, and this year’s losses include The Majestic, Captain Phillips, News of the World, Baby Boom, The Last Days (or Los Ultimos Días), Judas and the Black Messiah, Coma, The Nativity Story, and the trilogy of Thor, Thor: The Dark World, and Thor: Ragnarok. The last ones were a surprise, since I like the Thor films more than most, but last year’s Love and Thunder left enough of a bad taste in my mouth that I’ve replaced the god of thunder with Black Panther, whose sequel raised my opinion of the original. I still enjoy and recommend these eleven cut films and consider them favorites nonetheless.

I had thought last year would offer me more time for writing and reviewing, but, between working on my musical and bouts of writer’s block, that wasn’t the case. As much as I would like to increase output, I’m content to keep the schedule loose, so I don’t get tired of blogging, as many other bloggers have in recent years. This is meant to be a fun outlet, right? Anyway, there are still plenty of movies and reviews I have in the works, and lots of promising new releases in the year ahead. So once again, I thank all who read, like, comment, follow, and generally join me in my love of film and poetry. I wish a happy 2023 to all of you and many great movie experiences to come!

1.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)

2.  Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

3.  Forrest Gump (1994)

4.  It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

5.  The Sound of Music (1965)

6.  Star Wars Trilogy (1977, 1980, 1983)

7.  Finding Nemo (2003) and Finding Dory (2016)

8.  Titanic (1997)

9.  Toy Story Series (1995, 1999, 2010, 2019)

10.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

11.  The Princess Bride (1987)

12.  Beauty and the Beast (1991)

13.  Groundhog Day (1993)

14.  The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

15.  The Prince of Egypt (1998)

16.  You’ve Got Mail (1998)

17.  The Wizard of Oz (1939)

18.  The Avengers (2012), Captain America: Civil War (2016), Infinity War (2018), and Endgame (2019)

19.  Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

20.  War Horse (2011)

21.  The Incredibles (2004) and The Incredibles 2 (2018)

22.  Cast Away (2000)

23.  Heart and Souls (1993)

24.  Pirates of the Caribbean (2003, 2006, 2007) and Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

25.  Tarzan (1999)

26.  Les Miserables (2012)

27.  Ben-Hur (1959)

28.  Elizabethtown (2005)

29.  Star Trek (2009)

30.  The Chronicles of Narnia (2005, 2008, 2010)

31.  The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001)

32.  Driving Miss Daisy (1989)

33.  Oliver! (1968)

34.  Whisper of the Heart (1995)

35.  Spider-Man Trilogy (2002, 2004, 2007)

36.  The Five People You Meet in Heaven (2004)

37.  Doctor Zhivago (1965)

38.  Babe (1995)

39.  The Blues Brothers (1980)

40.  Jurassic Park (1993)

41.  84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

42.  National Treasure (2004) and National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

43.  Ratatouille (2007)

44.  The Fugitive (1993)

45.  True Grit (1969, 2010)

46.  Evita (1996)

47.  The Lion King (1994)

48.  Inception (2010)

49.  When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

50.  The Family Man (2000)

51.  Chariots of Fire (1981)

52.  Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017) and The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

53.  Lilies of the Field (1963)

54.  Life of Pi (2012)

55.  Mary Poppins (1964)

56.  Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

57.  Glory (1989)

58.  Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

59.  The Sixth Sense (1999)

60.  Back to the Future Trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990)

61.  Aliens (1986)

62.  Life Is Beautiful (1997)

63.  Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

64.  The Phantom of the Opera (2004)

65.  Awakenings (1990)

66.  Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

67.  Paulie (1998)

68.  Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

69.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)

70.  Big (1988)

71.  Jumanji (1995)

72.  Somewhere in Time (1980)

73.  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

74.  A Christmas Story (1983)

75.  Speed (1994)

76.  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

77.  Little Women (1994, 2019)

78.  1776 (1972)

79.  High School Musical Trilogy (2006, 2007, 2008)

80.  Wit (2001)

81.  Serenity (2005)

82.  Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

83.  Gone with the Wind (1939)

84.  Aladdin (1992)

85.  The Greatest Showman (2017)

86.  Saints and Soldiers (2003)

87.  La La Land (2016)

88.  Fantasia (1940)

89.  Shadowlands (1993)

90.  Hook (1991)

91.  Young Frankenstein (1974)

92.  The Truman Show (1998)

93.  The Ten Commandments (1956)

94.  Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (1999, 2002, 2005)

95.  October Sky (1999)

96.  Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

97.  Holes (2003)

98.  The Martian (2015)

99.  The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

100.  About Time (2013)

101.  Mr. Church (2016)

102.  Taking Chance (2009)

103.  Signs (2002)

104.  Star Trek: Generations (1994)

105.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

106.  The Santa Clause (1994)

107.  Starman (1984)

108.  The Passion of the Christ (2004)

109.  Train to Busan (2016)

110.  1917 (2019)

111.  Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), Far from Home (2019), and No Way Home (2021)

112.  Brother Bear (2003)

113.  Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

114.  WALL-E (2008)

115.  The Green Mile (1999)

116.  On Golden Pond (1981)

117.  Air Force One (1997)

118.  Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2013)

119.  Shrek 2 (2004)

120.  The Mitchells vs. the Machines (2021)

121.  Star Trek into Darkness (2013) and Star Trek Beyond (2016)

122.  Big Hero 6 (2014)

123.  To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

124.  The Matrix (1999)

125.  The Right Stuff (1983)

126.  Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

127.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

128.  Shuffle (2011)

129.  The Mask of Zorro (1998) and The Legend of Zorro (2005)

130.  The Color Purple (1985)

131.  Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

132.  Cyrano (2021)

133.  Shrek (2001)

134.  The King’s Speech (2010)

135.  X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

136.  My Fair Lady (1964)

137.  Iron Man Trilogy (2008, 2010, 2013)

138.  The Hunger Games series (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)

139.  Men in Black Trilogy (1997, 2002, 2012)

140.  The Music Man (1962)

141.  Ghostbusters Trilogy (1984, 1989, 2021)

142.  Ready Player One (2018)

143.  Yentl (1983)

144.  The Blind Side (2009)

145.  Regarding Henry (1991)

146.  Alien (1979)

147.  Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

148.  The Polar Express (2004)

149.  Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

150.  Julie and Julia (2009)

151.  Airplane! (1980)

152.  Castle in the Sky (1986)

153.  Tick, Tick… Boom! (2021)

154.  Secondhand Lions (2003)

155.  Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

156.  Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

157.  National Velvet (1944)

158.  Darkest Hour (2017)

159.  A Christmas Carol (any version)

160.  E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

161.  The Little Mermaid (1989)

162.  Die Hard trilogy (1988, 1990, 1995)

163. Soul (2020)

164.  Source Code (2011)

165.  Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

166.  Gattaca (1997)

167.  Planet of the Apes Trilogy (2011, 2014, 2017)

168.  Inside Out (2015)

169.  Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

170.  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

171.  Overboard (1987)

172.  Cinderella (1950) / Cinderella (2015)

173.  A League of Their Own (1992)

174.  The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971)

175.  Tangled (2010)

176.  Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)

177.  Zootopia (2016)

178.  The Untouchables (1987)

179.  Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002)

180.  Treasure Planet (2002)

181.  Ella Enchanted (2004)

182.  Splash (1984)

183.  Monsters, Inc. (2001) and Monsters University (2013)

184.  Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

185.  How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

186.  Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and Vol. 2 (2017)

187.  Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (2018)

188.  Mission: Impossible III (2006), Ghost Protocol (2011), Rogue Nation (2015), and Fallout (2018)

189.  Selma (2014)

190.  Doc Hollywood (1991)

191.  Knives Out (2019) and Glass Onion (2022)

192.  Extraordinary Measures (2010)

193.  The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974)

194.  Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968)

195.  Enchanted (2007)

196.  Up (2009)

197.  What’s Up, Doc? (1972)

198.  Ant-Man (2015) and Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

199.  Wolf Children (2012)

200.  Jojo Rabbit (2019)

201.  Your Name (2016)

202.  Wolfwalkers (2020)

203.  Pocahontas (1995)

204.  Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

205.  Rudy (1993)

206.  Mulan (1998)

207.  Hidden Figures (2016)

208.  As Good As It Gets (1997)

209.  Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

210.  King of Thorn (2010)

211.  In the Heights (2021)

212.  Les Miserables (1998)

213.  Spaceballs (1987)

214.  My Left Foot (1989)

215.  The Way (2010)

216.  The Prestige (2006)

217.  Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

218.  Blinded by the Light (2019)

219.  Labyrinth of Lies (2014)

220.  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

221.  Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)

222.  Saving Private Ryan (1998) / The Longest Day (1962)

223.  To Sir, with Love (1967)

224.  Frozen (2013) and Frozen II (2019)

225.  The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012)

226.  Harriet (2019)

227.  The Father (2020)

228.  United 93 (2006)

229.  Joyeux Noël (2005)

230.  Woman in Gold (2015)

231.  Twister (1996)

232.  Foul Play (1978)

233.  Coco (2017)

234.  Funny Girl (1968)

235.  Rocky (1976), Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), and Creed (2015)

236.  Hello, Dolly! (1969)

237.  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

238.  Weathering with You (2019)

239.  Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

240.  April and the Extraordinary World (2015) / Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

241.  Déjà Vu (2006)

242.  Out of Africa (1985)

243.  Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

244.  The Hobbit Trilogy (2012, 2013, 2014)

245.  Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

246.  Hoosiers (1986)

247.  The Great Escape (1963)

248.  Arrival (2016)

249.  Scrooged (1988) and Spirited (2022)

250.  The Naked Gun (1988)

251.  Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)

252.  Philadelphia (1993)

253.  Raising Arizona (1987)

254. The Jerk (1979)

255.  Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

256.  Ghost (1990)

257.  Misery (1990)

258.  School of Rock (2003)

259.  42 (2013)

260.  Daniel Craig Bond films – Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015), and No Time to Die (2021)

261.  Gravity (2013)

262.  Vantage Point (2008)

263.  Peter Pan (1953)

264.  The Terminal (2004)

265.  Eddie the Eagle (2016)

266.  Soul Man (1986)

267.  Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

268.  Jane Eyre (1970)

269.  Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension (2011)

270.  The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

271.  The Girl Who Leapt through Time (2006)

272.  Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Waterworld (1995)

273.  Ride Your Wave (2019)

274.  Cloud Atlas (2012)

275.  Anastasia (1997)

276.  Violet Evergarden: The Movie (2020)

277.  Short Term 12 (2013)

278.  X-Men (2000) and X2: X-Men United (2003)

279.  Green Book (2018)

280.  Surrogates (2009)

281.  Lethal Weapon 2 (1989)

282.  WarGames (1983)

283.  Hidden (2015) and A Quiet Place (2018) and Part II (2021)

284.  Cars (2006) and Cars 3 (2017)

285.  My Girl (1991)

286.  Memphis Belle (1990)

287.  Dances with Wolves (1990)

288.  The Terminator (1984)

289.  The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

290.  The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)

291.  Casablanca (1942)

292.  Rain Man (1988) and Dominick and Eugene (1988)

293.  One Cut of the Dead (2017)

294.  Pinocchio (1940) and Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

295.  City Slickers (1991)

296.  The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

297.  Patema Inverted (2013)

298.  Forget Paris (1995)

299.  A Silent Voice (2016) / Hear Me (2009)

300.  Doctor Strange (2016)

301.  Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

302.  Murphy’s Romance (1985)

303.  Shenandoah (1965)

304.  The Red Violin (1999)

305.  A View to a Kill (1985)

306.  Wonder Woman (2017)

307.  Con Air (1997)

308.  Unbreakable (2000)

309.  Galaxy Quest (1999)

310.  Sister Act (1992)

311.  Something the Lord Made (2004)

312.  The Way Back (2010)

313.  Chronesthesia (or Love and Time Travel) (2016)

314.  Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980)

315.  Shazam (2019)

316.  Annie (1999)

317.  The Elephant Man (1980)

318.  The Ultimate Gift (2006)

319.  Mean Girls (2004)

320.  The River Wild (1994)

321.  A Beautiful Mind (2001)

322.  Finding Forrester (2000)

323. The Big Year (2011)

324.  Starter for 10 (2006)

325.  Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas (2003)

326.  Dave (1993)

327.  Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

328.  The Pianist (2002)

329.  Wayne’s World (1992)

330.  Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)

331.  The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010)

332.  Steel Magnolias (1989)

333.  Encanto (2021)

334.  Searching (2018)

335.  Dancer in the Dark (2000)

336.  Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)

337.  Please Stand By (2018)

338.  Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

339.  Music and Lyrics (2007)

340.  The Abyss (1989)

341.  The Breakfast Club (1985)

342.  Places in the Heart (1984)

343.  Chicken Run (2000)

344.  Black Panther (2018) and Wakanda Forever (2022)

345.  Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)

346.  Klaus (2019)

347.  In Time (2011)

348.  The Emperor’s New Groove (2000)

349.  The Spiderwick Chronicles (2008)

350.  Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

351.  A Monster Calls (2016)

352.  Wuthering Heights (1970)

353.  Trading Places (1983)

354.  Ordinary People (1980) and Rabbit Hole (2010)

355.  Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

356.  Sneakers (1992)

357.  Remember the Titans (2000)

358.  Seven Samurai (1954) / The Magnificent Seven (1960/2016)

359.  Citizen Kane (1941)

360.  Psycho (1960)

361.  Hercules (1997)

362.  A Chorus Line (1985)

363.  The Conjuring (2013) and The Conjuring 2 (2016)

364.  The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

365.  Joseph: King of Dreams (2000)

My 9th Blogiversary and 2022 List Additions

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Where has 2022 gone? It seems like the last year was even shorter than the previous one. Perhaps the pandemic initiated some kind of temporal contraction, causing time to pass faster even when we’re not having fun. Or maybe I’m just getting older. Either way, it’s been an enjoyable year nonetheless, allowing me to settle into my software position and take on more of a leadership role. In addition, the absence of school allowed me to finally start on a new project that I might as well announce here: I’m working on a musical! At least, I’m writing the lyrics while a friend of mine does the music. It’s still developing and is based on the work of one of my favorite poets, so I look forward to when we’re ready to share it with the world. I’ll certainly be posting on this blog for any musical lovers like me out there.

Unfortunately, working on that meant that I drifted away from blogging for much of the year. I was surprised at how few posts I’d done in 2022, but I still managed to find enough new favorite films for my annual Top Twelve list (plus one). They’ll be added to THE LIST of my top 365 movies soon enough. Interestingly, none of 2021’s Best Picture nominees made the cut, though some came close, and instead this list of the best films I saw in the last year is an eclectic mix of new and old.

Before we get to the main list, I feel it’s only right to give a nod to some worthy movies viewed in the last year that I wish I could add if only it didn’t mean bumping off others I love more. Among these quality List Runners-Up, I’d recommend CODA, Belfast, Werewolves Within, Walk the Line, West Side Story (2021), Nope, Chef, King Richard, Better Off Dead, See How They Run, Avatar: The Way of Water, The Bad Guys, and Father Stu (which had been List-Worthy but got edged out by the others below). Just as I mentioned the stage recording of Hamilton last year, I’ll also give a shout-out to the filmed version of Come From Away, which would probably top this list if only I could count it as a “movie.” Somehow, filmed stage performances just feel like they’re in a separate category, but I still would encourage everyone to go watch it.

Please let me know what your favorite films of the last year were. I’m sure there are plenty I missed, for which I’ll have to play catch up, as usual. Without further ado, time to get to my Top Twelve!

12. A Chorus Line (1985)

Part of writing a musical has been getting acquainted with the multitude of musicals I had never sought out before, including this game-changing meta narrative based on the 1975 hit show. Featuring an ensemble of mostly unfamiliar faces, it’s a glimpse into the joys and struggles of theater performers trying to stand out enough to be worthy of a simple chorus line. While many considered it a failure compared to its acclaimed stage version, I have nothing to compare it to and so found the film to be an excellent peek into why dancers do what they do.

11. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

Everyone loved the first Black Panther, while I liked it but didn’t feel the same passion others did. However, my opinion has grown with further watches and the sad passing of Chadwick Boseman, and this sequel furthers my admiration for this corner of the MCU. Wakanda Forever may be a bit overstuffed, but it’s an exciting and poignant sequel to a hard-to-follow blockbuster.

10. The Pianist (2002)

There is no shortage of Holocaust movies, but some just hit harder than others. Following the increasingly desperate life of pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, this film showed the heartache and upheaval of World War II Poland, revealing the daily strain of survival even outside the concentration camps. Standing above the stigma of its director, The Pianist is a historic must-see and gave Adrian Brody the role of a lifetime.

9. Short Term 12 (2013)

This year had some especially strong Blindspots, and Short Term 12 was one of the best. This low-key drama about a group home for troubled teens boasted bravura performances from its young cast of soon-to-be stars and a wonderfully nuanced screenplay that should have won an Oscar. Painful and beautiful in equal measure, it’s an affecting portrait of trauma being gradually overcome.

8. Spirited (2022)

I’m not the biggest fan of Will Ferrell or Ryan Reynolds, so I was dubious about them starring in this modern riff on Scrooged. But the fact it was a Pasek and Paul musical gave me hope. I was relieved then that this high-energy Christmas Carol update is a toe-tapping joy and a likely Christmas classic, in my house at least.  

7. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Knives Out was a tough act to follow, but writer-director Rian Johnson managed to create a worthy successor in Glass Onion. With its trenchant wit aimed at many modern targets from out-of-touch billionaires to two-faced politicians, this second Benoit Blanc outing is fast-paced entertainment that once again proves the mystery genre is far from dead.

6. Wolfwalkers (2020)

When I finally bit the bullet and signed up for Apple TV+, Wolfwalkers was one of the first of its exclusives I sought out. Cartoon Saloon’s best film to date, this animated tale steeped in Irish folklore treads some familiar ground plot-wise but more than makes up for it with stunning animation and sincere heart. And a well-chosen Aurora song doesn’t hurt.

5. Gattaca (1997)

Although I opted to not make Gattaca one of my Blindspots in 2022, I ended up watching it anyway and was floored by its profound dive into a dystopia where genetics determine exactly how far society allows one to go. Choosing thought-provoking themes over sci-fi action, it serves as a prescient warning that will certainly become even more timely in the future.

4. National Velvet (1944)

I had low expectations for this oldest of my Blindspots, but it ended up being my favorite of them all. A genuine classic of the highest order, National Velvet is a near-perfect family film, with a very young Elizabeth Taylor winning over everyone around her with her passion for her beloved horse, including me.

3. Top Gun: Maverick (2022)

Since I was never that enamored of the first Top Gun, this long-awaited sequel continued the trend of surpassing expectations. A summer blockbuster through and through, Tom Cruise’s return to the cockpit added expected thrills and unforeseen depth to his role as the titular hotshot. It was the rare exciting and satisfying follow-up that managed to blow past the original.

2. Cyrano (2021)

What is this, the third musical on the list? Largely ignored in the last awards season, Peter Dinklage’s turn as Cyrano de Bergerac deserved better, considering its brilliant acting and sumptuous staging. A far more understated musical than others, its soundtrack was as intoxicating as Cyrano’s romantic banter, and I kept coming back to songs like “Every Letter” and “I Want More.” I wish Hollywood would make more like this.

1. Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022)

While Dr. Strange’s foray into the multiverse may have been disappointing, the adventures of Shang-Chi’s aunt seemed to win over everyone who saw it. This madcap fever dream of a film gave Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan their best roles in years and felt like a new milestone of creativity that few other films could match. As I stated in my review, much of Everything Everywhere All at Once doesn’t really jive with my Christian worldview, but its endorsement of kindness and connection in the midst of chaos still rings true. It remains the funniest, weirdest, and most original film I saw all year, so it had to snag the top spot.

And the thirteenth list addition that still deserves a mention:

Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio (2022)

And that’s another blog year in the books. As always, here are my own unofficial awards for the List-Worthy films:

Best opening scene:  A Chorus Line

Best final scene:  Spirited

Coolest scene:  Everything Everywhere All at Once

Biggest emotional impact:  Short Term 12

Oldest film:  National Velvet (1944)

Most recent film:  Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery (2022)

Longest film:  Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (161 minutes)

Shortest film:  Short Term 12 (96 minutes)

Best soundtrack:  Cyrano (though some more listens to Spirited may be in order)

Best score:  Gattaca

Best special effects:  Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

Most mind-bending: Everything Everywhere All at Once

Most family-friendly:  National Velvet

Most mature:  The Pianist

Funniest:  Everything Everywhere All at Once

Best VC Pick:  Three Men and a Baby (also the only one this year)

Best male performance:  TIE: Adrian Brody in The Pianist and Peter Dinklage in Cyrano

Best female performance:  Brie Larson in Short Term 12

Personal favorite poem written: Werewolves Within

Most represented year: 2022, with six films

Thank you to everyone who has read, liked, and commented on this blog over the last nine years. It’s been a wild ride, but even if it slows, I hope to keep it going for years to come! My updated Top 365 LIST will come out in the next few days, and I still have some 2022 Blindspot posts to finish as well, plus reviews for some of the films in this list, but then I’m on to a new year of movies and poetry. Thanks again to all, and I hope everyone has a very Happy New Year!

To end things off, here’s a cinematic montage for the films of 2022. Years are usually better in retrospect, aren’t they?

2022 Blindspot Pick #8: Shutter Island (2010)

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The mind has many corners in its many-wrinkled maze,
To hide from heavy burdens that it cannot hope to raise.
The layers of its labyrinth stretch to depths we cannot guess,
And how deeply we flee depends upon our yesterdays.

While most of us can cope with just the top tiers meant for stress,
The world at its most wicked makes us seek a dark recess.
And if we lose our way, the dark that darkness drove us to
May keep us from escaping our escaping in excess.
________________________

MPA rating: R (for violence, language, and brief nudity)

A Merry belated Christmas to all! I may have given up on reviewing all my 2022 Blindspots before the end of the year, but I think I can at least watch them all before year’s end. The reviews will catch up in good time. To be honest, I haven’t seen many Martin Scorsese movies, so I figured I should address that by starting with the one that seemed to have the most intrigue to it. Based on Dennis Lehane’s novel, Shutter Island is a psychological thriller that thrives on its foreboding atmosphere and strong performances, even if it ends up feeling like a mid-tier M. Night Shyamalan plot.

Leonardo DiCaprio delivers an intense performance as U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels, who arrives with his new partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) to the titular island’s Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane to investigate a recently escaped prisoner/patient. Despite requesting their help, the hospital’s head psychiatrist Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) is hesitant to divulge certain information to the marshals, even as a hurricane moves in to wreak havoc on the island. As Daniels becomes more and more haunted by his own past traumas, he begins to question reality and what kind of conspiracy he has come to confront.

It’s a bit surprising that, despite its acclaimed director and star, Shutter Island failed to generate any awards nominations, aside from a National Board of Review nod. Whether you connect with the story or not, there’s no denying the skill with which it was made: the dingy lighting, the ominous cinematography, the subtle performances. Inception was easily DiCaprio’s better puzzle-box film that year, but it’s still interesting that this film couldn’t snag a single nomination.

I was rather shocked while admiring an especially poignant portion of the musical score as I realized that I had heard it before in another film: “On the Nature of Daylight” by Max Richter added the same emotional gut punch to the ending of Arrival (far more effectively, in my opinion) and other films and TV shows besides. I didn’t realize till afterward that this track was not original to either film or that the entire soundtrack of Shutter Island comprised pre-released classical music.

Perhaps it didn’t help that I had some idea of what the film’s key twist would be. I credit the screenplay for still keeping me guessing and wondering if I was right or not, but yes, I was right. Not to say the film’s reveal wasn’t still effective and heartbreaking, but it didn’t have the same punch as something completely unforeseen. Overall, Shutter Island reminded me a bit of Nightmare Alley in its masterfully composed story and dark setting that I appreciated without being truly drawn into, probably because of its ending clearly designed to foster thoughtfulness in the audience rather than satisfaction. But it’s still an excellent genre piece ripe for theorizing that will no doubt reward further rewatches, which could perhaps raise my opinion of it even more.

Best lines: (Rachel Solando) “People tell the world you’re crazy, and all your protests to the contrary just confirm what they’re saying.”
(Teddy) “I’m not following you, I’m sorry.”
(Rachel) “Once you’re declared insane, then anything you do is called part of that insanity. Reasonable protests are denial, valid fears paranoia…”
(Teddy) “Survival instincts are defense mechanisms.”
(Rachel) “You’re smarter than you look, Marshal. That’s probably not a good thing.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2022 S.G. Liput
783 Followers and Counting

2022 Blindspot Pick #7: Murder By Death (1976)

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When someone’s suspiciously murdered (which happens all the time
According to TV and film and cozy books on crime),
We normal people just freak out, too shocked to even try,
But sleuths will quickly get to work deducing who and why.

What makes a sleuth is hard to say. They’re curious and bold,
Perceptive often to a fault, and don’t do as they’re told.
They let the wheels of logic turn before they chance a guess,
And where the experts fail with more, they find success with less.

These traits are hardly out of reach, quite feasible in truth,
So average folks like you and me could well become a sleuth.
But sleuths depend on one external factor to arise:
They need the luck to be nearby when someone up and dies.
_____________________________

MPA rating: PG

Even though good ones like Knives Out and See How They Run are still being made, the murder mystery formula is old hat nowadays, and Murder by Death shows it was old hat back in 1976 too. Yet well-worn genres are ripe for parody, especially when writer Neil Simon and a star-studded cast join forces to poke fun at the most recognizable archetypes.

Having seen Glass Onion recently (review pending), I was struck by how similar the setup of that film is to this one’s premise. All the characters are invited to the home of wealthy eccentric Lionel Twain (Truman Capote in a rare acting role that earned him a Golden Globe nomination) and challenged to solve a murder. All of the main guests are acclaimed crime solvers and represent famous fictional detectives, including stand-ins for Hercule Poirot (James Coco), Sam Spade (Peter Falk), Nick and Nora Charles (David Niven and Maggie Smith), Miss Marple (Elsa Lanchester), and Charlie Chan (Peter Sellers in a yellowface role that would definitely not fly nowadays). Beyond those stars, the cast also features Sir Alec Guinness as a blind butler (which is as ridiculous as it sounds) who makes an amusing pair with a new deaf-mute cook (Nancy Walker), as well as Eileen Brennan, Estelle Winwood, and the very first role for James Cromwell.

On the scale of parody, I’d place Murder by Death somewhere around the silliness level of Mel Brooks’ lesser offerings. For most of the film, it plays as a legitimate mystery with injections of zany absurdity and dubious plot twists, and it’s a unique pleasure to have these familiar-ish detectives bounce off each other and trade one-liners, from the preening Coco to the snobby Niven to the hard-boiled Falk. Unfortunately, Sellers’ very presence with his big teeth and broken English is the picture of retroactive racism, furthered by Falk’s prejudiced interactions with him, but he still does a decent job in representing the analytical wisdom of his inspiration, still played for laughs of course. (On another note, I kind of wish there was a Charlie Chan adaptation with an actual Asian actor, modernized the way Shang-Chi was to avoid stereotypes, maybe even about his real-life inspiration Chang Apana.)

Not everyone has enough to do, with Lanchester’s character standing out the least, but Simon’s clever dialogue keeps things entertaining throughout. As an almost chamber piece, it could have made a good stage play as well. By the end, it leans more on screwball parody with a flurry of plot twists that don’t make any sense for the whodunnit but are certainly worth a chuckle, if not the laugh-out-loud experience the film was marketed to be. Likable and dated in equal measure, Murder by Death can’t compare with the recent renaissance of murder mysteries, but it’s a fun ride for those wanting to poke fun at the genre. I think I preferred Clue, though.

Best line: (Sam Diamond, played by Falk) “Locked, from the inside. That can only mean one thing. And I don’t know what it is.”

Rank: Honorable Mention

© 2022 S.G. Liput
783 Followers and Counting

2022 Blindspot Pick #6: Chef (2014)

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If life were like a recipe,
We’d follow every step and see
If what we’ve done or tried to do
Produced the proper cake or stew
Or coq au vin or cordon bleu
Or tonkatsu or what-have-you.

We’d quickly know where we went wrong,
Like where the salt’s a bit too strong
Or where the spice got out of hand,
Where fresh is favored over canned
Or where the flavor grew too bland.
It would be simpler if pre-planned.

But life’s not like a recipe.
More often, it’s a mess, and we
Must guess on times and quantities,
Ingredients and potencies.
And sometimes we pair fish with cheese
And wish we had more expertise.

But trial and error bear their fruits
(Ideally fending off lawsuits),
And soon the recipe is clear
In retrospect, without veneer.
Sometimes it takes a whole career
To be the chef who cooks by ear.
_________________________

MPA rating: R (solely for language)

As December progresses, I feel like I’m in a race to see if I can cram the rest of this year’s Blindspots into the weeks remaining. Writer’s block doesn’t help, but a good movie certainly does. Chef has long been in my backlog as a widely lauded film that I just never got around to watching until now. Trained and co-produced by food truck chef Roy Choi, director Jon Favreau also plays Carl Casper, the head chef of a distinguished restaurant in L.A. that is sorely in need of a positive review from a critical blogger (Oliver Platt). Yet when Carl runs afoul of his employer (Dustin Hoffman) and makes a highly public mistake, he is forced to revamp his career by trying something new, namely opening a Cuban food truck that might just bring him closer to his son Percy (Emjay Anthony) and ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) along the way.

Chef definitely seems like a film tailored for me. Not only has my family long been faithful Food Network viewers, but I even owned and operated my own food cart business, selling hot dogs for a grand total of three months. I’ve probably told this story on the blog before, but it’s one that I often look back on as a huge mistake. So I had mixed feelings watching Favreau’s Carl find almost immediate success with his venture; there is vicarious satisfaction at seeing someone else succeed, mixed with a tinge of bitter jealousy whispering “It wouldn’t have been that easy. He would have needed more permits.” But I digress. The satisfaction was louder anyway.

As a food lover, I was delighted by the delectable dishes throughout the film, from a sumptuous pasta Carl concocts as a sort-of date night to a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich that Carl’s son doesn’t fully appreciate. The love of food infuses much of the story, especially as Carl tries to instill his own passion into his son, telling him of the joys of New Orleans beignets or urging him to never grow complacent in serving anything but the best. Plus, despite my earlier complaint, there’s a likable genuineness to the script as well, such as the waggish kitchen banter with Carl and his sous chefs (John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale). That also extends to the relationships; Percy craves the attention of his dad, yet Carl is far from an absentee father, just constantly distracted, so it’s easy to see how he might think he’s doing enough as a dad. Their mutual bonding over food and the work that goes into it is a joy to watch.

Chef does have its flaws, taking a little too long with the set-up before the food truck idea gains steam, and, beyond some awkward scenes played for laughs, it’s a prime example of a film that doesn’t need its abundance of F-bombs, since it would make a solid family film without them. It was nice seeing cameos from the likes of Amy Sedaris and Favreau’s Iron Man co-stars Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson, though it was odd seeing him flirt with the latter. Happy Hogan and Black Widow? I can’t see it. Despite all this, Chef has all the culinary love of a passion project and boasts an all-around feel-good ending that is likely to leave any viewer smiling. It’s yet another Blindspot I’m glad to finally have seen, if only for that grilled cheese recipe I’m totally going to try.

Best line: (Chef Carl Casper, to his son) “I may not do everything great in my life, but I’m good at this. I manage to touch people’s lives with what I do, and I want to share this with you.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2022 S.G. Liput
782 Followers and Counting

2022 Blindspot Pick #5: Short Term 12 (2013)

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We think of scars as plain to see,
Disfigurements of normalcy,
And never could we guess the pain
Of people who do not complain.

While many bare and air their hurts,
Both recluses and extroverts,
With time they tend to hide regret
And cover what they can’t forget.

Both the mount and molehill end,
And yet the tolls they take depend
On what we each have faced before
And whether we can take much more.

The world is not known for its heart;
The people in it must do that part,
To take the scars concealed so well
And show the heaven beyond the hell.
__________________________

MPA rating: R (for much language and some sexual references)

The end of the year is fast approaching, but I haven’t yet given up on finishing my Blindspot series. Short Term 12 earned a place on the list mainly because I was curious to see so many now-famous stars in what I might call an “incubator film.” I would compare it to 1983’s The Outsiders, which was a vehicle for multiple big-name actors before they were famous, such as Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, and Rob Lowe. Short Term 12 likewise highlighted the skills of Brie Larson, Lakeith Stanfield, and Rami Malek years before they were Oscar contenders, not to mention writer-director Destin Daniel Cretton.

Expanding Cretton’s own short film and based on his experiences working at a group home for troubled teens, the film is a masterwork of empathetic storytelling. A story of kids overcoming trauma could so easily have become maudlin or trite or else devolved into soul-crushing despair, but somehow the script tows the line between realism and hope. Larson plays Grace Howard, a line worker at the titular group shelter whose responsibility, as she tells new recruit Nate (Malek), is to only give the kids there a safe place, not to be their therapist or friend. Yet for teenagers struggling with distrust, abuse, and anxiety, that safe place and the act of listening and caring are worth more than any amount of formal therapy. However, when a sullen girl named Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever) arrives, Grace is reminded of her own past trauma that threatens to overwhelm her.

Short Term 12 would be an interesting watch just for its cast alone. Look, Brie Larson before Room and Captain Marvel! Look, Lakeith Stanfield before Get Out and Judas and the Black Messiah! Rami Malek before Bohemian Rhapsody, John Gallagher, Jr. of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Kaitlyn Dever of Last Man Standing, Stephanie Beatriz of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Encanto. And they all do phenomenal work, with Larson, Stanfield, and Dever especially giving Oscar-worthy performances. Yet the script is the real star, filled with brilliant individual scenes that give so much nuance to the characters and their struggles, whether it be a resentful rap delivered by Stanfield’s Marcus, a grateful toast from Gallagher’s Mason to his foster parents, or a children’s story by Jayden that has the same simplicity and achingly sad truth of The Giving Tree. Foul-mouthed outbursts are contrasted with moments of genuine compassion, and somehow none of it comes off as overly scripted or artificial.

The most meaningful theme I got from Short Term 12 was the sense that, for every terrible ordeal or wave of panic, “this too shall pass.” In the case of the kids lashing out, the adults have to literally hold them down to prevent them from hurting themselves or others, and it’s awful in the moment but ultimately a sign of caring once the intense emotions fade. Likewise, Grace’s apparent happiness is shattered by a succession of bad news, bringing her to the brink of despondency and regrettable life choices. Yet there is catharsis for everything, whether we see it or not, often making us better able to understand the pain of others and help them through it as well.

Short Term 12 is a hard watch at times, putting an unvarnished spotlight on teen distress that is so often kept out of sight, but it’s a highly rewarding one. I have always held up Amy Adams in Arrival being ignored for Best Actress as a notorious Oscar snub, and now I can add this film to the mix, since it was entirely and criminally passed over by the Academy. While Larson got her due two years later for Room, Cretton’s screenplay absolutely deserved a nomination, if not a win. I never would have guessed he would go on to Shang-Chi and the upcoming Avengers films, but it’s satisfying to see the humble beginnings of him and his up-and-coming stars. (We can thank this film for Stanfield’s whole acting career, since Cretton cast him in the original short and later tracked him down to get him to return for the film.) With its perceptive direction, star-making performances, and encouraging pro-life sentiment, it’s a film that shows that the best in people can outshine the worst.

Best line: (part of Marcus’s rap) “Look into my eyes so you know what it’s like to live a life not knowing what a normal life’s like.”

Rank:  List-Worthy

© 2022 S.G. Liput
780 Followers and Counting

2022 Blindspot Pick #4: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

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There once was a castle perverse.
Its owner was evil and worse,
He’d break into song
While his friends sang along
Without any time to rehearse.

All visitors finding his lair
Were likely to join the nightmare,
And goody-two-shoes
Who had morals to lose
Would leave, having had an affair.

Beware then the castle debased,
If you’d choose being chaste over chased,
Unless you’re the type
Who exults in the hype
Of intentional absence of taste.
__________________________

MPA rating: R

I know this review is a little late for Halloween (and for only my fourth Blindspot), but I’ve been struggling to figure out how to review The Rocky Horror Picture Show. When a film is this iconic in its cult status, is it basically above criticism? To be clear, I did not enjoy this sex-crazed salute to campy horror, but I can see why others might. It’s the kind of over-the-top cheesefest that knows exactly what it wants to be and is so committed to it that it doesn’t matter whether I like it or not. It is what it is, and I guess it proves that a film can be both classic and atrocious at the same time.

The paper-thin story, narrated periodically by a genteel criminologist (Charles Gray), sees newly engaged couple Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) being stranded when their car breaks down on a dark and stormy night, leading them to the castle of the eccentric transvestite Dr. Frank-N-Furter (a scenery-chewing Tim Curry). The straight-laced couple are soon drawn into a free-for-all of seduction, murder, and musical numbers, complete with a creepy butler named Riff Raff (Richard O’Brian, who also wrote the film and the original stage show), a newly created muscle man named Rocky (Peter Hinwood), and a machine that turns people into statues.

Objectively, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a mess, as reflected by its poor reception by critics upon initial release. Characters come and go randomly, notably Meatloaf as a half-brained motorcyclist who shows up for one chaotic song and is abruptly killed for no reason. And a big stage number near the end is a fever dream of trashy costume glitz that makes zero sense, followed by a swimming pool championing wish fulfillment. In short, once Brad and Janet entered the castle, I just alternated between appreciating the music, feeling uncomfortable, and wondering what the heck I was watching, which I suspect was the intent of the filmmakers all along.

Speaking of the music, the movie does have some catchy songs to its credit (all written by O’Brien), energetic bops like “The Time Warp” and “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul” to match its tongue-in-cheek silliness. I generally love musicals, and, while I would consider this one of the exceptions, I will grant that the music is pretty much the only thing that makes it watchable, some chuckle-worthy jokes notwithstanding. Perhaps I’d buy into the film’s bizarre brand of fun more if I attended one of the midnight showings known for audience participation, and I’m tempted to. If only I had a better baseline opinion of it….

I’m well aware that The Rocky Horror Picture Show isn’t my kind of movie. I’m not a fan of watching two clean-cut kids be corrupted by an alien missionary of the sexual revolution and his motley array of perversions, even if it’s someone as charismatic as Tim Curry. I suppose that makes me a prude, but so be it; I prefer my musicals less hypersexualized. I do find it funny that my first exposure to both Curry and O’Brien was in kid-friendly cartoons where they played likable dads: Curry in The Wild Thornberrys and O’Brien in Phineas and Ferb, which were a far cry from their raucous younger days. I’m glad I’ve seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show at least once, if only to understand its iconic cult reputation, but it’s a cult I’d prefer to avoid.

Best line: (Dr. Frank-N-Furter) “It’s not easy having a good time.”

Rank: Dishonorable Mention

© 2022 S.G. Liput
780 Followers and Counting

Nope (2022)

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Would a sane human being
Be intrigued by ever seeing
Odd phenomena beyond the knowledge of us mortal men,
Like a chair moved by air
Or a voice that bids beware
Or strange forces eating horses as first courses now and then?

Blood that drips down walls
Or peculiar moving dolls –
Who would choose to chase the clues of deadly mysteries and such?
We ought to run away,
But we’re curious and stay.
Curiosity, insanity – the difference isn’t much.
______________________

MPA rating: R (mainly for language)

If there was any doubt about Jordan Peele’s skill as a horror director (or director in general), Nope should dispel it. Get Out was an electrifying debut with its potent social commentary, and Us boasted highly impactful scares, even if its underlying mythology made zero sense. Yet I think I prefer Nope over either of them, an entertaining genre mish-mash that recalls Close Encounters of the Third Kind, if the UFOs were not secretly friendly. From the enigmatic trailers, it seemed that Peele wanted to make aliens scary again, and he did, while also subverting a few expectations to great effect.

Reteaming with Peele after Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya plays O.J. Haywood, a horse trainer for film projects, who struggles to maintain his family’s historic business after the bizarre death of his father (Keith David). His sister Em (Keke Palmer) is more interested in schmoozing talent seekers than saving the ranch, but they are both disturbed by the behavior and disappearance of their horses, eventually realizing something in the sky is preying on them. Soon the siblings are collaborating to get certified photographic proof of the dangerous UFO, which is easier said than done, even with the help of jaded electronics employee Angel (Brandon Perea) and grizzled filmmaker Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott).

Nope continues Peele’s winning blend of understated comedy and legit horror, injecting doses of humor among the growing anxiety, most notably the title response when situations are too risky to engage. Unlike so many horror films, the characters largely respond realistically to the strange events they face, though it’s notable that some of them lose that sense of self-preservation in pursuit of fame, strengthening the film’s theme of destructive celebrity. Considering how straight-faced and quiet he is throughout, Kaluuya once more proves his acting talent and is never wooden, while Palmer’s surplus of personality makes her a great familial foil for him. Both Steven Yeun as Jupe Park, the owner of a nearby Western theme park, and Perea as an everyman techie are also standouts, while Wincott’s character adds gravitas but also ends up a little underdeveloped.

Through most of the film, I couldn’t help but feel like the subplot with Yeun seemed out of place, a story of him as a child actor witnessing a violent episode involving a crazed chimp. Indeed, it doesn’t have much to do with the main UFO narrative. In retrospect, it does complement the motifs of spectacle and animal danger, and, going beyond survivor guilt, the idea of survivor confidence explains Park’s unwise actions later on. It’s ultimately another sign that Peele puts a good deal of thought into his film’s themes, down to the final scene, and that he’s interested in more than cheap scares. Of course, there are some expert moments of tension and shock as well (I especially liked how the flying saucer is kept out of view at first, darting between clouds and deadening electronics with the distant menace of the fin in Jaws), but it felt unique that the climax happens in broad daylight.

While Us showed that Peele is not above story missteps, Nope is an ambitious step forward that I look forward to watching again. It’s a creature feature that knows how to balance its looming terror with human foibles and a crowd-pleasing climax, complete with an Akira reference. Us was scarier and Get Out had more to say, but Nope is easily the most entertaining entry in Peele’s filmography so far.

Best line: (Holst) “This dream you’re chasing, where you end up at the top of the mountain, all eyes on you… it’s the dream you never wake up from.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2022 S.G. Liput
781 Followers and Counting

2022 Blindspot Pick #3: Better Off Dead (1985)

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I lost my girl, I lost my job,
I lost my status to a mob,
So now I’ll simply sit and sob
The tears that only I shed.

‘Tis better for me to decease.
I guess I won’t renew my lease.
I’m done with living; rest in peace.
I know I’m better off dead.

I’ll tell myself that no one cares.
They shouldn’t be caught unawares
When my life’s clearly worse than theirs.
I bet they’ll party instead.

I see the headlines: “Loser Gone!”
Not much, of course, to write upon.
I’m lucky if I’ll get a yawn,
Assuming it even is read.

Wait, who’s that girl I just now saw?
She smiled at me! I withdraw
My claiming of the final straw.
I may not be better off dead.
___________________________

MPA rating: PG-13

What have I been up to? Because it certainly hasn’t been movie reviews. While I regret the delay, let’s just say I’m trying to expand my skills from poet to lyricist. 😉 Still, it’s past time for me to return to my Blindspot series. Considering I had never heard of it till fairly recently, Better Off Dead clearly doesn’t have the nostalgic reputation that ‘80s films like Ferris Bueller or Say Anything have, but I dare say it deserves to. This droll John Cusack vehicle has a lot to love, just perhaps a bit rough around the edges.

California high schooler Lane Myer (Cusack) is obsessively in love with his popular girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss), so he doesn’t take it well when she leaves him for a pompous skiing jock (Aaron Dozier). A proven loser with little reason to live, he makes several attempts to end his heartache permanently, though they thankfully always go absurdly wrong. It isn’t until a French exchange student living across the street (Diane Franklin) encourages him that he starts seeking a way to prove himself as more than a suicidal slacker.

In many ways, this movie is like the anti-Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, with Lane Myer being the perpetual loser in contrast to Matthew Broderick’s born-lucky protagonist, more akin to Ferris’s mopey friend Cameron. Some of the same gags are even inverted, as when an entire math class, minus Lane, eagerly volunteer to answer questions with a comical passion for dull math concepts spouted by the teacher (Vincent Schiavelli). The end of the credits even bears a message saying “the film’s over… you can go now.” Of course, Better Off Dead came out a year before Ferris Bueller, but I doubt there was any actual influence from either, probably.

While the title and description seem to focus on Lane’s suicidal mishaps, that dark humor is actually not as prevalent as you might expect. There are plenty of other recurring gags surrounding his stoner friend (Curtis Armstrong), his ridiculously talented little brother who can follow instructions to accomplish just about anything, the neighborhood’s disturbingly relentless paper boy, and the awkward romantic efforts of the mama’s boy across the street (Dan Schneider), all of which add up into a patchwork of absurdity that gets funnier with time. (Okay, maybe the paper boy gets old after a while.) Not to mention, the most memorable sequences involve surreal injections of animation, as when Lane argues with a drawing of his ex-girlfriend or when he fantasizes about bringing to life a hamburger that sings suspiciously like Eddie Van Halen.

Better Off Dead isn’t always as funny as it tries to be and often lacks cohesion, making it feel like a series of unrelated comedy skits, at least until a plot emerges from the silliness. Still, I enjoyed it quite a bit, and it could easily have been a staple in my house if only it would be shown on TV as often as Ferris Bueller was. While critics and Cusack himself were disappointed with the finished film, I admired its game cast (including Kim Darby and an accentless David Ogden Stiers as Lane’s quirky parents) and a sweet ‘80s soundtrack with the likes of Neil Sedaka and Hall and Oates. And by the end, it delivers a surprisingly encouraging romance and message out of the grim premise, making it an uneven but wholly likable teen comedy.

Best line: (Lane) “Gee, I’m real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky.”

Rank: List Runner-Up

© 2022 S.G. Liput
780 Followers and Counting