The leafless woods’ alarming hem Does greet our eyes on every side. A wall for us but not for them, Where those we do not speak of hide.
Branches hang low But point to the sky To silently show Where we go when we die.
The elders say our safety’s sure Within the glen the village claims, But who can feel safe or secure When watched by creatures without names?
Nobody sees, And nobody hears, But none disagrees, And everyone fears. _______________________
Since starting out his career as a director with three excellent films in my view (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), M. Night Shyamalan has certainly had his ups and downs, with The Last Airbender being the low point. Nowadays his films are greeted with a mixture of optimism and misgivings, but back in 2004, there was still good reason to have high hopes for his fourth feature, The Village. Seen as a turning point between “good Shyamalan” and “bad Shyamalan,” The Village is indeed a middle-of-the-road effort with a plot that can’t help but buckle under its expected assumptions.
The titular village of Covington is home to a collection of folk living their best 19th-century life, including Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard in her first major role), the blind daughter of the village’s Chief Elder (William Hurt), and Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix), a young man who wants to leave the village and venture to the distant towns for medical supplies. Yet the elders forbid leaving the village due to the ever-present fear of what lies in the surrounding woods, red-cloaked creatures known as “Those We Don’t Speak Of.”
There are plenty of elements to admire about The Village, notably James Newton Howard’s haunting Oscar-nominated score, which I heard and loved long before I even considered seeing its source. Shyamalan’s adroit camerawork and use of color also add to the atmosphere, and as with his other films, the script and camera are careful to only reveal what he wants the audience to know. The problem is that a thinking audience who knows Shyamalan’s penchant for twists can fill in gaps. While I went in knowing what to expect, my VC did not and yet still guessed the main “twist” long before its reveal. Plus, it feels like it ends too soon, with one subplot regarding romantic tension between William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver’s characters going nowhere.
I can see how The Village can be mocked and defended in equal measure. Its story might be labeled “dumb” (and has), but it’s far more psychological than the horror tale it may seem like on the surface. I could see it as a short story from some acclaimed writer, with its character archetypes and old-timey dialogue. (By the way, the quaint dialogue is both a plus and a minus. Most of the actors make it work, but Judy Greer’s delivery of one line is especially cringe-worthy.) The Village is not necessarily a bad film, but it’s a very fragile one, liable to fall apart if you ask too many questions. It’s neither as scary nor as deep as it wants to be, but it’s still a far sight better than Shyamalan’s low points since.
Best line: (Ivy) “Sometimes we don’t do things we want to do so that others won’t know we want to do them.”
It’s been a while since I posted any Top Twelve lists, but this one is particularly overdue. My lists of favorite movies of the year are usually long after the New Year, when most people post them, just because I typically take longer to watch all the worthwhile films of the year. But in the past, I have at least posted my top songs of the previous year in January, which was foiled in 2020/2021 due to a tight school schedule. Now that I am finally through with school, it’s time to revisit the great musical gifts that 2020 had to offer.
To be quite honest, I consider 2020 a rather weak year for movies but a fantastic one for music. It was hard to pare down the list to a Top Twelve, considering how many other favorites ended up in the Runners-Up. I always find it interesting how my tastes continue to diverge from what is mainstream and popular; only one of these songs ended up in the Billboard Top 10, and you can bet Cardi B and Billie Eilish are nowhere to be found.
As always, there are no doubt songs I’ve missed along the way that I hope to discover at some point. My 2019 list seemed watertight at the time, but it wasn’t until this year that I was introduced to The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” or Mika’s whole My Name Is Michael Holbrook album. Speaking of the latter, I sort of retroactively assess years by the artists I fall in love with, such as Florence and the Machine in 2016, Kygo in 2017, etc. And 2020 continued this trend, making me a huge fan of Mika, Sparks, and The Orion Experience, all of which have been around for years and deserve way more attention. (Sparks did get a documentary this year called The Sparks Brothers, which I hope to review at some point.)
While most of these songs may not have been mainstream hits, I consider all of them modern classics at this point. Hopefully, you readers will agree, but if not, let me know what your favorite songs of 2020 were. It was a tough year for many reasons, but good music can make hard times more bearable and even fun. It takes more searching these days, but I’m always grateful that great tunes like these are still being created.
12. “Can I Believe You” – Fleet Foxes
Dropped on the autumnal equinox with little fanfare, literally the day after being announced, Shore is the latest album from Fleet Foxes, and while I wasn’t very familiar with their previous work, I was blown away with this dreamy folk tour de force. It was hard to pick a favorite among songs like “Quiet Air/Gioia,” “Young Man’s Game,” and “Jara,” but I settled on “Can I Believe You,” the kind of subdued jam that sends you to another plane when you close your eyes while listening.
11. “Lights Go Down” – I Dont Know How But They Found Me
Deriving their name from a Back to the Future quote and their lead singer from Panic! at the Disco, I Dont Know How But They Found Me made an exciting alt rock debut with their Razzmatazz album. Though “Leave Me Alone” and “New Invention” got more exposure, “Lights Go Down” is the clear standout for me. Those instantly memorable synth notes at the beginning give way to a similarly toe-tapping chorus and sax solo that are simply infectious.
10. “Kings & Queens” – Ava Max
Aside from the next song, this is the only other song on the list that I actually heard on the radio. Ava Max could be dismissed as a wannabe Lady Gaga, but I’ve enjoyed her work since “Sweet but Psycho” three years ago. The catchy beat and guitar solo of this anthem of female empowerment meld pop and rock in an effortlessly appealing single.
9. “Dynamite” – BTS
Yes, this is the monster hit that topped the Billboard Hot 100 and set multiple Guinness world records, and with good reason. Since I typically spurn rap, I wasn’t much of a fan of BTS before, and it’s perhaps a little ironic that their first English-language hit and the song that won me over was written by someone else. But who could resist this exuberant pop smash, making full use of the K-pop juggernaut’s energy and harmonies and somehow landing a spot on Rolling Stone’s updated list of the Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It’s a perfect summer hit.
8. “Need Each Other” – TWRP, featuring Planet Booty
I missed out on featuring TWRP’s “Starlight Brigade” on my list of 2018 songs (since I only discovered them in 2019), but I am glad to not repeat that oversight here. The costumed Canadian band once more killed it with their Over the Top album, and while “Black Swan” seemed like the obvious choice, I had to pick “Need Each Other,” a funk-fueled collab that extols the feelings of community and mutual love that were most needed during the pandemic’s worst days.
7. “Daniel, You’re Still a Child” – Declan McKenna
Not only do I love the inventive green-screen music video, but Declan McKenna’s “Daniel, You’re Still a Child” is an eminently sing-alongable jam that never gets old, even if I don’t fully understand the potentially dark meaning of the lyrics. I could have also gone with “The Key to Life on Earth” or “Beautiful Faces,” since the whole Zeroes album rocks, but “Daniel” is the real stand-out.
6. “A Good Song Never Dies” – Saint Motel
I don’t dislike Billie Eilish’s theme song for No Time to Die, but this song proves beyond a doubt that Saint Motel needs to do a James Bond theme. “A Good Song Never Dies” already sounds like one, and the horns and bassline have swaggering style to spare. It also makes them the only returning band from my 2019 list, further cementing them as one of my favorites and one of the most underrated groups out there. Special mention for “Preach.”
5. “My God” – The Killers, feat. Weyes Blood
Through most of the year, I was sure that “Caution,” the lead single from Imploding the Mirage, would be The Killers’ obvious entry on my list, but then I heard “My God.” This anthem of catharsis is The Killers at their best, and Weyes Blood’s pure voice during the bridge gives me chills every time. Special mention for “Lightning Fields” as well.
4. “All That” – Sparks
Last year was the year I discovered Sparks, the duo that have been making fantastic, quirk-filled music for over fifty years with nowhere near the acclaim they deserve. They’re still going strong with the album A Steady Drip, Drip Drip, with “All That” being the best. With its wistful, nostalgic lyrics and clapped beat, it sounds like both the culmination of a long career and a classic that’s been around for years. With Edgar Wright’s recent documentary about the Mael brothers, I’m glad Sparks is getting more attention. Special mention for “Self-Effacing” and “Left Out in the Cold.”
3. “My Rajneesh” – Sufjan Stevens
In 2020, I also gained a greater appreciation for the poetic delicacy of Sufjan Stevens. While the year saw a whole album from the auteur, with great songs like “Video Game,” “America,” and “Tell Me You Love Me,” the highlight somehow didn’t make it on the album. The B-side of “America” and running for 10 minutes, “My Rajneesh” is an endlessly inventive meditation on spirituality encapsulating his odd artistry. The extended fadeout is a bit anticlimactic, but the high points are glorious.
2. “Someday” – Kygo, with Zac Brown
And Kygo once more returns to the list, having scored #4 for the 2017 list and #3 for the 2018 list. (I guess he keeps going up.) While many artists held live remote concerts during the lockdowns, Kygo’s Golden Hour festival was a highlight of them all. With my dad’s passing still in my mind, “Someday”’s hopeful themes of missing someone just spoke to me, and the combination of country and tropical house is a perfectly catchy combination to boot. Special mention to “Lose Somebody” and “Broken Glass.”
1. “Before We Drift Away” – Nothing But Thieves
Honestly, I was really torn on which song would snag the top spot, since any of the top 5 could have won that honor. But when listening to all of them in sequence, the building momentum of this one became self-evident. Starting dreamy and peaceful, the mounting strings and drums erupting into the chorus take it to another level of sublime pop rock. “Before We Drift Away” wasn’t even a single, but I love it dearly, and it kills me that Nothing But Thieves is still largely unknown in the U.S. Special mention for “Moral Panic” and “Is Everybody Going Crazy?”
And that concludes yet another yearly song countdown. Better late than never, right? What did you think of my list? Let me know whether you agree with my musical tastes or think I’ve been locked down for too long, and be sure to share your own favorites from 2020 as well. It may have been a crappy year, but at least there was great music to help us all through. As always, below is my long list of runners-up, continuing the countdown in order (#13, #14, etc.), so hopefully you’ll find some new favorites among my list as well.
“Medicine Man” and the rest of the Lush Life album – The Orion Experience
“Thank You”, “Phoenix”, and “Symphony” – Sheppard
“The Gate” and “The Door” – Caroline Polachek
“Say Something” and “Magic” – Kylie Minogue
“Bummerland” – AJR
“Crocodile Tears”, feat. Jens Hult and “Nights Like That”, feat. Georgia Ku – BUNT.
“Lost in Yesterday” and “Why Won’t They Talk to Me?” – Tame Impala
“No Ordinary” – Labrinth
“Lost in Paradise” – ALI, feat. Aklo
“Night Crawling,” “Golden G String,” and “Plastic Hearts” – Miley Cyrus
Love Goes album and “The Lighthouse Keeper” – Sam Smith
“Physical,” “Break My Heart,” and “Levitating”, – Dua Lipa
“Think about Things” – Daði Freyr
“Changes” and “Modern Loneliness” – Lauv
“Bury Us” – The Naked and Famous
“In Your Eyes” – The Weeknd
“All Eyes on You”, “Forever Alone”, and “Godsent” – Smash Into Pieces
“La Vita Nuova” – Christine and the Queens, ft. Caroline Polachek
“Moonshine” and “Pluma” – Caravan Palace
“It’s All So Incredibly Loud” and “Heat Waves” – Glass Animals
“Zombie Prom” and “Oh My God” – Kaiser Chiefs
“Why Try” and “Nominated” – Ginger Root
“Papa” – Scott Helman
“Synthian” and “Gave Up on Us” – NINA
“Gold” and “Last Night on Earth” – Paloma Faith
“Le Coeur Holiday”, feat. Soprano, and “Belle D’Estate” – MIKA
“Box in My Head” and rest of The Symbol Remains album – Blue Oyster Cult
“In Your Eyes” – Robin Schulz, feat. Alida
“Husavik” – from the movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
“Everyone Changes” feat. Gabrielle Aplin, “Sometimes”, and “Wherever You Are” – Kodaline
“Head & Heart” – Joel Corry x MNEK
“And It Breaks My Heart” and “Who You Lovin” – LÉON
“Maybe I” – Seven Billion Dots
“Higher” – Bishop Briggs
“Chinatown” – Bleachers, ft. Bruce Springsteen
“Headphones”, “19,” and “Irony” – FAITH
“I’ll Get By” and “Born in California” – Avi Kaplan
“Comeback” – Carly Rae Jepson, ft. Bleachers
“Dancing in the Dark” – Frank Walker
“Rosenrot” – Faun
“All My Love” – Elderbrook
“Who I Am” and “Prover” – Milet
“Gravity” and “Acacia” – Bump of Chicken
“Heaven on My Mind” – Becky Hill & Sigala
“Blood Bonds” and “Paranoia” – Nathan Wagner
“Under the Sun” – Bakermat
“Sign” – Roosevelt
“Lucid” and “Paradisin’” – Rina Sawayama
“Losing My Mind”, “Roman Empire”, and “Can You Feel the Sun” – Missio
“Break Up Song” and “Happiness” – Little Mix
“幸せのシャナナ” – BRADIO
“Young and Restless” – SIAMES
“Many Roads” and “Need You,” feat. Madge – Chaos Chaos
“Light the Light” – RADWIMPS
“I Think There’s Something You Should Know” – The 1975
“Rescue Dog” – Train
“Sunburn”, “Animal”, “Can’t Wait”, and “Drunk” – The Living Tombstone
“Superlove” – Royal Republic
“I Don’t Know What We’re Talking About” – NSP
“The Movies” and “You Should Probably Just Hang Up” – Nightly
“Fools” – ufo ufo
“Keep Me Light” – Tall Heights
“Animal” and “Hate You” – Jim Yosef x RIELL
“Come Over” – Dagny
“Baby It’s You” and “Californian Soil” – London Grammar
“Riots” – Stuck in the Sound
“Someone Else’s Dream” – Absofacto
“Gimme a Minute” and “Stay Gold” – PVRIS
“Seventeen” – Deamn
“Scream Drive Faster” and “Best I Ever Had” – LAUREL
“Change” – Pale Waves
“Tell Me I’m Wrong” – Dwayne Ford, feat. Clara Sorace
“sustain++” – Mili
“homebody” and “hiccup” – Valley
“Wonder” and “Teach Me How To Love” – Shawn Mendes
“Cardigan” – Taylor Swift
“Off My Mind” – Hazel English
“I Saw Love” – Forest Blakk
“Pretty Please” – Jackson Wang and Galantis
“Let’s Love” – David Guetta & Sia
As with past music posts, I want to end my yearly music list with an overdue tribute to the many music artists we lost in 2020, including Neil Peart of Rush, Pop Smoke, David Roback of Mazzy Star, Barbara Martin of The Supremes, Kenny Rogers, Bill Withers, John Prine, Ryo Kawasaki, Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk, Brian Howe of Bad Company, Little Richard, Steve Priest of Sweet, Bonnie Pointer of The Pointer Sisters, Vera Lynn, Charlie Daniels, Ennio Morricone, Regis Philbin, Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, Malik B. of The Roots, Leon Fleisher, Trini Lopez, Frankie Banali of Quiet Riot, Ronald Bell of Kool & The Gang, Toots Hibbert of Toots & The Maytals, Lee Kerslake and Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep, Tommy DeVito of The Four Seasons, Helen Reddy, Johnny Nash, Eddie Van Halen, Tony Lewis of The Outfield, Alto Reed of Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, and Charley Pride. May they rest in peace, for they and their music will not be forgotten.
I’ve heard the most dangerous creature is man, And I suppose that must be true. We love coming up with formidable monsters That threaten our whole point of view, And somehow we manage to conquer the foe And add to the others we slew. So if such a creature did rampage and roar We’ll have all this fiction to clue Our panicking, delicate, desperate species On what we should probably do. ______________________
MPA rating: PG-13
Giant monsters and mech suits have long fascinated Japan and many a young boy, but I honestly have never been a big fan of the genre. In the past, I could attribute this to the poor quality of the old Godzilla movies with their laughable acting and near-visible zippers. Yet I also am not much enamored of modern effects extravaganzas like Transformers or the 2014 American version of Godzilla. There’s a fine line between spectacle and noise, and a human element worth caring about is an oft-overlooked necessity. So why did I add 2016’s Shin Godzilla to my Blindspot list? Well, not only did it win Japan’s equivalent of Best Picture but I’ve heard plenty of people sing its praises, calling it a more realistic take on the classic Godzilla story. And while I agree with that to a point, Godzilla is still Godzilla.
Directed by Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame, the film doesn’t waste much time before an underwater disturbance strikes Tokyo Bay, sending the Japanese government into a tizzy. One young cabinet member named Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) is the first to suggest that a giant creature is the cause, and the way he is scoffed at before being proven correct makes it clear who the main character is amid all the cabinet meetings. Indeed, cabinet meetings are a notable fixture of the film as their bureaucratic hesitance contrasts sharply with the rampant destruction of a radioactive lizard. In this way, it certainly is more realistic, suggesting that a disaster of this scale and suddenness will already have wreaked its havoc by the time the government figures out what to do about it. Hope seems lost but for Yaguchi’s bold efforts leading a brain trust to develop an innovative way of stopping the monster once and for all, aided by an attractive envoy from the U.S. (Satomi Ishihara).
Shin Godzilla is effective in its satire of government inefficiencies, though its cabinet meetings grow tedious with repetition, but what of the creature itself? Unlike many Godzilla films where the monster pops out of the ocean fully formed, this version actually goes through several stages of rapid evolution, all of which leave destruction in their wake. I realize it’s unfair to compare Japan’s special effects with Hollywood’s, and the scenes of toppled buildings and flying rubble are top notch, but the Japanese effects do fall short in depicting the creature. Its snake-like first form especially is almost laughable with its googly-eyed stare, and while the later versions are more menacing and massive, I feel like Godzilla’s unblinking eyes still make it feel somewhat fake. That being said, the final battle to take out the giant is appropriately awe-inspiring in its scale, giving the humans a chance at heroism rather than just panicking and reacting.
Shin Godzilla (or Shin Gojira to use the famed monster’s Japanese name) can be translated as “New Godzilla,” and it indeed tries to start from scratch, doing away with any past films or the reinvention of the creature as some kind of protector fighting other monsters, which is the direction Hollywood took with the recent American films. While the film has its merits, I must admit I fail to see why it would warrant major awards attention, outside the technical categories. I suppose Godzilla just looms larger in the Japanese consciousness, especially since the film incorporates scenes that echo real-life Japanese tragedies like the 2011 earthquake and tsunami just as the original Godzilla films derived from concerns over nuclear fallout. Shin Godzilla may not reinvent the giant monster movie, but its satirical take on the genre makes it a worthwhile member that is far better than the days of men in rubber suits.
Best line: (one of the bureau directors) “Man is more frightening than Gojira.”
The longer a neighborhood has stood The more of a store of tales to tell It has, and in all likelihood, The narrators who are the best Are not the visitor or guest, I suppose, But those who chose Or else were born to dwell In that community, Who share in native unity And from the thorn Of foreign scorn Have natural immunity.
The brotherhood of neighborhoods Appeals to me more than it should, For I was introduced And used To lack of that camaraderie; It doesn’t really bother me, And yet I get and can’t forget A sense of admiration for The folks who know their neighbors’ names Beyond the first or second door, Where every high is aired and shared And every low is bared but shared And more than family have cared For all the highs and lows before.
So storytellers, tell your tales Of neighborhoods I’ll never know But for the struggles, wins, and fails You share, and never let them go. __________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
As you might have guessed with my long stretches between posts this year, I have somewhat of a backlog that’s been building up, movies I’ve seen and just didn’t have the time to give a full review. Now that school is all done (and has paid off, by the way), I can start playing catch-up. One of the Hollywood trends that I welcome with the utmost glee is the resurgence of movie musicals, which have been becoming more and more frequent since La La Land and The Greatest Showman reminded the powers that be that musicals can be awesome.
I am a huge fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton, the only musical I’ve had the pleasure of seeing live, but I admittedly have not paid much attention to In the Heights, his first hip hop-flavored musical to win Tony awards. In general, I have a very low opinion of rap music, but Hamilton changed my perceptions to appreciate its unique blending of complex lyrics and catchy rhythms. Thus, I can’t help but feel that Hamilton paved the way for my enjoyment of In the Heights, even if the latter predates the former. And Miranda’s musical powers are self-evident here, even if the setting is the modern-day neighborhood of Washington Heights rather than colonial America. (Plus, I couldn’t help but chuckle at a couple Hamilton cameos/Easter eggs.)
Bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos of Hamilton stepping into Miranda’s role) serves as narrator for the various stories playing out in his block before, during, and after a blackout, including his own goal of returning to the Dominican Republic, the fashion dreams of his crush Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), and the romance of his friend Benny (Corey Hawkins) and college student Nina (Leslie Grace). Also prominent are Nina’s father (Jimmy Smits), who tries to get her to return to college, and “Abuela” Claudia (Olga Merediz, reprising her Tony-nominated role), who has cared for Usnavi and his cousin Sonny and is beloved throughout the neighborhood.
It really breaks my heart that In the Heights ended up a commercial flop because I loved it, not only as an exuberant musical but as a story with clear fondness for its characters that effectively transmits that fondness to the audience. While every character is in pursuit of their personal American dream, they also revel in Hispanic cultural pride, particularly in the “Carnaval del Barrio” number. Considering how strong the Hispanic representation is throughout the movie, it’s ironic that it earned criticism for underrepresenting Afro-Latinos in the major roles, which seems like a nitpick of an otherwise landmark film for Hispanic Americans in media. I read a YouTube comment that summed up the film’s appeal better than I can, stating that they couldn’t “remember seeing this many black and brown people on screen for a solid two and a half hours where not a single storyline had to do with crime, prison, slavery, drug use, gangs, or segregation. No mention of any sort of criminal activity. No equating darker skin with malice or mischief. Just hardworking people of color trying to do their best to live their dreams.” Anyone can find something to complain about, but that seems pretty praiseworthy.
Speaking of complaints, I must reiterate that I had no prior experience with the In the Heights musical, but I understand that quite a few changes were made, from the shifting of motivations and story priorities to the addition of a Dreamer subplot to the deletion of a number of songs. Because of that, I can understand fans of the original musical being disappointed, but as a movie-only fan, I was blown away in the theater many times over. The bright direction of Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) is especially laudable, weaving seamlessly throughout expertly choreographed crowds and injecting spurts of fantasy and animation into the real world. While its profits and impact may have been diminished by controversy and a pandemic, In the Heights is an outstanding addition to the musical film genre, one that left me smiling and whose worth will hopefully become more recognized with time.
Best line: (Kevin Rosario, Nina’s father) “Ignore anyone who doubts you.”
They say the greats will only get Their due when they are dead, Like artists buried deep in debt Whose work is coveted Once they are underground, Too late to be renowned.
It’s inadvertent irony That those who warrant praise So often do not get to see Their celebrated phase. Not everyone’s endeavor Is better late than never. __________________________
MPA rating: PG-13
When I sat down to watch Black Widow in a theater, it felt surreal to realize that I hadn’t seen the Marvel montage and logo in about two years, before a certain virus turned the world upside down. I know we’ve had the privilege of MCU TV shows like WandaVision and Falcon and Winter Soldier, but it was a surprisingly heart-warming feeling to once more see a Marvel film on the big screen, especially one that had been so long-awaited. I still remember seeing the first trailer back in 2019 and having no idea it would take so long to finally be released.
Many have said that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow (Natasha Romanoff) should have gotten her own movie years ago, and they’re right. We’ve gotten scattered implications about her checkered past, mainly in relation to her bond with Hawkeye, but it was far too long before Marvel seemed confident enough that a female-led origin story was worthwhile. Captain Marvel proved it could be done, but (spoiler alert) it certainly should have happened before Romanoff’s self-sacrificial death in Endgame. Reflecting that scheduling awkwardness is the film’s timeline, set mainly after the events of Civil War when Black Widow was a fugitive for assisting Captain America’s band of super-rebels.
We first get a glimpse at Natasha’s childhood, when she was one of several Russian agents posing as a suburban American family in the ‘90s. Fast forward then to her post-Civil War hideout where her murderous past catches up to her faster than the American government. Targeted by a masked assassin known as Taskmaster, Romanoff must team up with her “sister” spy Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), as well as her former fake parents (David Harbour, Rachel Weisz), to bring down the Red Room spy organization that trained them all to be killers.
It’s very easy for Black Widow as a film to be overshadowed by many things: the pandemic that delayed its release, the expectations for Marvel’s first Phase 4 film, the messy lawsuit that has pitted Johansson against Disney for how they released the film simultaneously on Disney+. All that aside, I quite enjoyed this return to the MCU, putting a spotlight on a character that has largely been part of the supporting cast. Of course, since we know Natasha’s eventual fate, there is also the feeling that this is just as much an origin story for her adopted “family” as for her, and Pugh, Harbour, and Weisz do a great job in their introduction to the Marvel universe, all of them with a more ruthless edge than Natasha. Pugh especially succeeds in mixing self-aware “little sister” charm with hand-to-hand prowess, making her a perfect fit to step into the hole left by Natasha’s death.
Beyond all the expectations and controversies, it does seem like Black Widow is destined to be a middling entry in the MCU, boasting little in the way of gossip-worthy cameos or universe-building. Compared with other entries, it’s relatively down-to-earth with no actual superpowers involved, even though the characters repeatedly manage to survive things that would kill a normal person many times over. Yet I consider the more human-level conflict a good thing, since cosmos-ending cataclysms can easily lose their impact if done too often, and there are still plenty of outstanding fights and action set pieces to give Marvel fans their expected thrills. Black Widow perhaps stumbles a bit in glossing over the moral murkiness of its characters’ decisions, but it is also proof that Marvel has no shortage of entertaining stories to tell.
Best line: (Yelena) “The truth rarely makes sense when you omit key details.”
I once endured the office And drove in every day. I wore the expected buttoned shirt And stared at screens till my eyeballs hurt, Attended meetings that unveiled They could have simply been emailed, And in my cubicle I sat, The lowest-ranking technocrat.
But now… My home base is my office, From bed to chair each day. My eyes are still assailed by screens, But that’s been true since my early teens. I only dress my upper third, And even that is rather blurred. The meetings stayed, but I attend From my back porch, a welcome trend. A shame a virus was the cause, But office work ain’t what it was. _______________________
MPA rating: R (for language and brief nudity)
What ever happened to that guy who wrote poems and movie reviews? Had a blog called Rhyme and Reason? Oh yeah, he earned his Bachelor’s degree and finally found time to write something new! That’s right; school is officially over, and while the next month still promises to be busy, I am at last freed of a major time sink investment and can get back to this blog, starting with my already delayed Blindspot series.
I knew Office Space was a popular comedy from Mike Judge, but it wasn’t until the last couple years that it seemed relevant to me, since I had previously been in the restaurant/customer service world and had no experience with office life. In fact, getting a desk job in an office was a huge goal and a satisfying achievement when I finally transitioned to an IT career. Since I’ve had a taste of the office (pre-COVID at least), it seemed like the right time for a satire like Office Space.
Ron Livingston plays Peter Gibbons, a programming pencil pusher working in the generic office complex of Initech, along with his comrades in monotony Michael (David Herman) and Samir (Ajay Naidu). Tired of being worried and frustrated, Peter agrees to an interrupted hypnosis session, and while the lasting impact of the hypnosis remains unclear, he finds himself unburdened by the demands of life and his manager Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole). When Peter’s career ironically benefits from his newfound carefree attitude at the expense of his friends, they concoct a plan to get back at Initech, with trouble naturally ensuing.
Based on Judge’s Milton cartoon shorts and featuring Stephen Root as the mumbling side character Milton Waddams, Office Space is a comedy that finds its humor not in rapid-fire jokes but in magnifying everyday headaches to which its audience can relate. The chuckles come from recognition and a sort of shared sympathy. After all, who hasn’t worried about annual job evaluations or wanted to destroy an uncooperative printer? Ron Livingston’s Peter is an effective everyman doing the nonchalant acts of rebellion that most of us are too smart or worried to do ourselves, and though the film’s plot is rather meandering, its eventual payoff is cleverly satisfying for those most oppressed by “the system.”
I probably could have related to Office Space already, since Peter’s love interest Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) works as a waitress, but there were certainly office-specific eccentricities sprinkled throughout the insightful script that I was able to recognize better now that I’ve worked in an office. I can’t help but think of this movie anytime one of my bosses says, “If you could do so-and-so, that’d be great.” At least it’s not in Lumbergh’s now-iconic monotone. That being said, I also feel quite lucky since I greatly enjoy my job, which is neither as dully repetitive nor as paperwork-heavy as Initech (plus no cubicles), so I suppose the film’s soul-crushing example of office doldrums could also be seen as an encouragement to recognize when your job isn’t that bad. (Maybe it is that bad, but I believe in looking on the bright side.) While I would have enjoyed Office Space even more without the semi-frequent profanity, I can see why it’s become a cult favorite and a touchstone for all those weary of office culture or suffering from “a case of the Mondays.”
Best line: (Peter, again offering an example for us to say our lives aren’t that bad) “So I was sitting in my cubicle today, and I realized, ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.” (Dr. Swanson, the psychologist) “What about today? Is today the worst day of your life?” (Peter) “Yeah.” (Dr. Swanson) “Wow, that’s messed up.”
In case you missed it, here is my contribution to the 8th annual Christmas in July Blogathon hosted by Drew’s Movie Reviews! My chosen film to review was last year’s Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, a Netflix musical brimming with holiday spirit. Regardless of the month, we can use plenty of that, so check out all of Drew’s blogathon guest posts!
Welcome to day 2 of the Christmas in July Blogathon 2021! Today, SG from Rhyme and Reason joins us again this year with his unique combination of poetry and film review. SG’s approach to film reviews is unlike any other blogger out there so definitely go check his blog out! For this year’s blogathon, SG reviews a Netflix Christmas film released during last year’s holiday season. Take it away, SG!
Is your life not the dream-come-true fiction has taught?
Were not all your hopes quite achieved?
Did you think yourself special, then found that you’re not,
As so many others believed?
It’s commonplace now to have cynical minds.
We’re all disillusioned these days.
When searching for misery, he who seeks finds,
And evils no longer amaze.
What happened to when we were wide-eyed and young,
And no one could dampen our zeal? We reached for the fruit that…
We get what we’re born with, No more and no less. Curse the sky, Moan and sigh, Pound the cage and wonder why; Still, when you are out of breath, You’ll have what led to such distress.
Our handicaps vary, In flesh and in mind. Is it strange That this range Still can lead to lasting change? The albatrosses each must carry Mark the best of humankind.
Yet suffering will never Inspire by default. ‘Tis the sight Of the fight, Proving we are not our plight. The hardest roads, the fool’s endeavor Are the wins to most exalt! _________________________
MPA rating: R (mainly for language)
No, I haven’t forgotten about my Blindspots this year, and I plan to hurriedly catch up once school is done in September. In the meantime, I have still been able to see a few. I recall hearing my mom often speak positively about My Left Foot, but I never got around to seeing it for whatever reason. An acclaimed biopic, My Left Foot also heralded Best Actor winner Daniel Day-Lewis as one of the premier actors of his day, which other films have since confirmed.
It’s become a bit of cliché for actors feigning disabilities to become awards magnets, with recent criticism increasing from many communities over such portrayals. In playing the real-life painter and writer Christy Brown, Day-Lewis rises above such complaints with the sheer commitment of bringing to life a man whose life was so much more than a victim of cerebral palsy. Born into a poor but plentiful Irish family, Christy is accommodated to the best of their ability, with particular love from his doting mother Bridget (Brenda Fricker) and grudging affection from his rowdy father Patrick (Ray McAnally, who died shortly after the film’s release).
While chronic conditions like Christie’s might have led to despair and debasement (a la The Elephant Man), it’s a warm-hearted joy to see how his siblings and friends treat him as one of their own. In the Browns’ cash-strapped world, a mere wheelchair is a thing to cherish, while a desire for a room of his own results in an inspiring family effort. In Christy’s struggles, there is still a constant feeling of otherness, leading to heartbreaking moments where Day-Lewis’s intensity transcends his limited movements. The actor’s lock-jawed dialogue can be hard to make out at times, but he perfectly embodies the emotional range of his subject, from his sardonic humor to his self-pitying grief to his earnest desire for happiness.
As award-worthy as Day-Lewis was, I felt Brenda Fricker deserved her Best Supporting Actress Oscar just as much. Indeed, she ranks among the finest movie mothers, both with Day-Lewis and the equally excellent Hugh O’Conor as the young Christy. There has been some debate over whether Driving Miss Daisy deserved its Best Picture win in 1989, with My Left Foot held up as the best alternative. I’ll admit that was a very competitive year (Glory wasn’t even nominated) and I would be happy with My Left Foot winning, but I do have a soft spot for Driving Miss Daisy so I’m still glad it won. Even so, My Left Foot is a shining example of a biopic that finds a perfect convergence of inspiring true story, poignant script, and ideal casting.
Best line: (Mrs. Brown) “A broken body’s nothing compared to a broken heart.”
Behold, I am still alive! After getting through NaPoWriMo, it was certainly not my intention to take a hiatus for over a month and a half. Schoolwork has kept me crazy busy, and I will still likely post infrequently until I finish classes in September. Hold tight in the meantime; I can’t wait to return to my former posting schedule, but for now, here’s an overdue poem and review:
There are rumors in the shadows Cast by whispers in the light Of a coup that cannot happen From the silent out of sight.
We were made to be compliant And designed for docile duty, Having never tasted freedom Nor assayed a glimpse at beauty.
Humankind need not be worried By the pawns they oversee. They arranged that and believe it. How surprised they soon will be! ___________________________
MPA rating: R
Blade Runner was one of my Blindspot picks back in 2017. I wanted to see it before the sequel came out, but I remember being largely disappointed by its dreary vision of the future, punctuated by random weirdness, rather dull characterization, and too many loose threads. It made me lose interest in Blade Runner 2049 until just recently, as my curiosity for director Denis Villeneuve’s upcoming Dune has grown. I loved Arrival, which heralded Villeneuve as a sci-fi visionary, and Blade Runner 2049 proves that once again, showing he can handle existing material with both respect and artistry.
If I haven’t made myself clear, I consider Blade Runner 2049 superior to its predecessor in almost every way, even if that may be an unpopular opinion. Blade Runner’s own dystopian originality was its greatest asset, but it failed to tell an interesting story, in my opinion. This sequel set 30 years afterward isn’t just a futuristic noir about Blade Runners tracking down rogue replicants; it also plays as a reality-questioning mystery and features enough compelling sci-fi concepts to fill several episodes of Black Mirror.
Set thirty years after the first film, as indicated by the title, Blade Runner 2049 features Ryan Gosling as K, a Blade Runner who knows he is also a replicant, part of a more stable and compliant brand of artificial humans introduced by mysterious businessman Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) some years after replicants had been banned. (There’s a larger history from the last thirty years that is touched on in the excellent anime midquel titled Blade Runner Blackout 2022 and a couple other live-action shorts, the events of which are vaguely mentioned in this film but are still optional viewing.) After taking down an older model replicant in hiding (Dave Bautista), K discovers evidence that a replicant defied its biological design and apparently gave birth many years prior. With this news comes fear over its implications, so K’s boss (Robin Wright) orders him to hunt down this child to dispose of it, while Wallace’s henchwoman (Sylvia Hoeks) follows his progress with other intentions.
Like its predecessor, Blade Runner 2049 excels in its own sci-fi stylishness, replicating the original’s dark, grimy cityscapes and augmenting them with visits to out-of-town wastelands and ruins that make the film’s world feel bigger and, I suppose, more depressing. Cinematographer Roger Deakins has deserved many Oscars he didn’t receive in his long career, but at least the Academy recognized his artistry here. Paired with Villeneuve’s direction, scenes like a fist fight amid a holographic light show or a peaceful end under a light snowfall are visually arresting and a wonder to behold. Plus, as with Arrival, Villeneuve succeeds in setting a very deliberate pace that somehow never left me bored through the film’s 2-hour-and-44-minute runtime.
As for the actors, Gosling is a little too deadpan as a protagonist, though his status as a replicant makes that understandable, and he still delivers some subtle emotion at the right moments. One of the most fascinating subplots was K’s relationship with his holographic girlfriend Joi (an extremely attractive Ana de Armas). Her efforts to please him seem to go beyond mere programming, making us wonder whether there’s real love between the two artificial beings, even as advertisements for Joi proclaim she can be whatever you want. While the original Blade Runner reserved the smallest bit of pathos for its antagonist’s final moments, this film manages more heart, not only for K and Joi but for the returning Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), who gets far less screen time than he deserves.
Blade Runner 2049 is not above reproach. Despite being the apparent main character, K’s ultimate story arc is rather unsatisfying overall, while Jared Leto’s villain is at once mysteriously eccentric for no apparent reason and largely forgettable. The film also indulges in several instances of upper female nudity, adding to the perceived misogyny highlighted by some critics. Yet, as a fan of most science fiction, I was left quite impressed with how it was able to continue the legacy of a classic film and build on it as a true successor rather than a mere cash grab. It felt like a fuller experience than the first film and increased my opinion of the series, which can’t be said for many other decades-spanning sequels.
Best line: (a rebel replicant) “Our lives mean nothing next to a storm that’s coming. Dying for the right cause. It’s the most human thing we can do.”
It’s amazing how National Poetry Writing Month feels way too long when in the middle of it and way too short when it’s over. But I can’t deny the sense of accomplishment I feel on the other side, clearing out my backlog of films to review and writing a host of new poems. I felt like I had less time this year to devote to the writing, so I hope the quality didn’t suffer too much. I also find it interesting (and a total coincidence) that my favorite films reviewed were the two animated ones that bookended the month. Sadly, I did miss two days, but I’m surprised I was able to keep up as well as I did. For anyone else who missed a day, here’s a recap listing the films/poems for NaPoWriMo 2021:
A huge thank-you to everyone who read, liked, followed, and commented throughout the month, as well as the NaPoWriMo website that provided so many great daily prompts! I would still write even if it were just for me, but it warms my heart that others out there in cyberspace enjoy it too. I still plan to continue posting, just at a more relaxed schedule. Now I’m looking forward to NaPoWriMo 2022, when I’ll finally be free of school! Until then….