I looked forward to this movie before it came out. Not sure why ... I'm not a big superhero movie fan, can usually take or leave the Marvel Universe, but something about this looked good, maybe because it was supposed to be "outside" the Universe, or more likely because it starred Tom Hardy, who I like. But when it was actually released, the reviews were so negative, I changed my mind. (How negative? Metacritic had it at 35/100, "Generally unfavorable reviews", while Rotten Tomatoes had it at 28% fresh, i.e. 72% rotten.) Perhaps I should have looked at the audience response ... Rotten Tomatoes said 84% of viewers liked it, and of course, it has pulled in a gross of $855 million worldwide. But I usually trust critics more than I do the audience.
A representative review came from Sarah-Tai Black in the Toronto Globe and Mail. Black gave the movie 1/2 star out of 4. Her review was titled "Venom is trash, but not the good kind". I agree about the trash part. She begins her review by asking, "Where to even begin with Venom, a film that had me laughing at it so hard I started crying." Often when I read a review that differs from my own opinion, I find myself wondering if we saw the same movie. But in this case, Black is describing the movie I saw ... she just hated it while I liked it.
Was it stupid? Yes. Did it make any sense? No. Did I laugh? Yep. I had no idea Venom was a comedy.
On the other hand, Jeff Pike wrote a review that, as I told him, I agreed with 100%, especially when he wrote, "Venom for me was a lot funnier and sharper than Guardians of the Galaxy".
There you have it. Like Jeff, I thought Venom was funny. Like Black, I thought it was trash. Maybe it caught me at the right time, but I found it the good kind of junk. The women are wasted, the film's politics are questionable, it is true. Tom Hardy is the key. His American accent is a bit of a mess, but you can't have everything ... I am a big fan of his TV series Taboo, but the truth is, I can't understand half of the dialogue in that one for all the thick "realistic" accents. Hardy is excellent once Venom enters his mind and body, turning it into a buddy movie where both buddies are in the same person. I can't remember where I read it, but someone noted there is a much longer version of the movie out there ... his feeling was he'd be happy to watch 7 hours of the two Hardys interacting.
To copy what I said at this time in 2015: “A summary, sorted by my ratings. I tend to save the 10/10 ratings for older classics, so a more recent film that gets 9/10 is very good indeed. Movies that are just shy of greatness will get 8/10. I waste more time than is necessary trying to distinguish 7/10 from 6/10 … both ratings signify slightly better-than-average movies, where if I like them I’ll pop for a 7 and if I don’t, I’ll lay out a 6. I save 5/10 for movies I don’t like, and anything lower than 5 for crud. This explanation comes after the fact … I don’t really think it through when I give the ratings. They skew high because I try very hard to avoid movies I won’t like … if I saw every movie ever made, my average might be 5/10, but I skip the ones that would bring the average down. Anything I give at least a 9 rating is something I recommend ... might sound obvious, but if someone is actually looking to me for suggestions, that limits the list to 14. So I’ve included links to my comments on those movies.” (Movies in bold in the 9-10 range are ones I was seeing for the first time.)
8: American Honey The Babadook Before Sunrise Day for Night Dressed to Kill First Reformed Gaslight Gertrud The Guilty Gun Crazy The Incredible Shrinking Man India's Daughter Listen to Me Marlon Local Hero Logan The Look of Silence A Matter of Life and Death Memories of Underdevelopment Private Life Sorry to Bother You The Spirit of the Beehive Springsteen on Broadway Supercop The Thin Man Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Widows Yellow Submarine
7: Avengers: Infinity War The Big Sick Black Mirror: Bandersnatch Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story The Brink Cat People Crazy Rich Asians Creed Darkest Hour Divines El Topo Flying Down to Rio Grand Hotel Hell Is for Heroes Hereditary Hidden Figures Horror of Dracula Icarus If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast Lost City of Z The Magnificent Seven (1960) Man on the Moon The Man Who Fell to Earth The Man Who Knew Infinity The Man Who Knew Too Much Morvern Callar Ms .45 Nothing Sacred On Body and Soul Personal Shopper Set It Off Seven Days in May The Square Syndromes and a Century Tarzan and His Mate The Time Machine Tropical Malady Venom Watchmen Zombieland
6: Atomic Blonde Bo Burnham: what. The Circle Colossal Diamonds Are Forever Dogville The Dressmaker The Equalizer The Equalizer 2 A Girl Like Her Glastonbury Fayre Holiday Inn Hostiles The Lion in Winter Miami Vice Murder on the Orient Express Spring Breakers The Spy Who Dumped Me Star Wars: The Last Jedi Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael
5: Behave Yourself! The Black Scorpion The Day of the Triffids Dishonored Lady Enemy Margot at the Wedding
So, what the hell is this? Is it an episode of Black Mirror, a movie from the Black Mirror crew, or something else? It feels like a Black Mirror episode, albeit a movie-length one. But I've noticed in the couple of days since I watched it, that I refer to the experience as "playing", as in "when you're playing it, if you choose X". So maybe it's just a fancy video game. I'm at a loss for how exactly to evaluate it.
In case you've missed the hype, "Bandersnatch" is an interactive movie that works like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Every once in awhile, a choice of two items appears on the screen. For instance, at the beginning, our young hero, a games programmer, comes down to breakfast. His father asks him what he wants, Frosties or Sugar Puffs, and those words are shown at the bottom of the screen. You choose one, and the story proceeds, informed by your choice. (I took Frosties.) The choices get increasingly troubling, such as deciding which character will kill themselves by jumping off a balcony. This being Black Mirror, there are no happy endings ... although there are apparently at least five possible endings, none of them work out well for the protagonist.
You can see why this is hard to evaluate. Just on a basic level, the "Bandersnatch" I saw, which followed my choices, is different from the one you will see, or even from any subsequent viewings by myself (there are supposedly over a trillion unique permutations). There's no use judging the plot, because it's never the same from one viewing to the next.
The question thus becomes, does this stunt have value beyond the playfulness of its construction? At least in the one time I watched/played, the movie was seamless. There were never any glitches to remind me I was watching/playing a movie that was making decisions every step of the way. Because of that seamlessness, it's easy to forget the technical aspects. Honestly, though, I can't say "Bandersnatch" had much going on beyond the trickery, which isn't to say it was pointless ... it was fun, even intriguing. The best part came when the hero starts thinking he is being controlled by some force, some other people. At first, it just seems like part of his growing alienation and paranoia, but then he gets specific: I don't know why I chose Frosties over Sugar Puffs, I just did, someone controlled my decision. And the viewer realizes that we have become part of the story, for we are the ones controlling him.
It's all perfect for the kind of endless examination of minutiae that flourishes on the Internet ... within hours of its release, people were posting flowcharts of all the possible choices, and spotting the frequent Easter eggs, many of which are call backs to other Black Mirror episodes. This is not where I would suggest people start who are new to Black Mirror ... it is far from the best episode. But it is a different kind of viewing experience, worth a shot (or two, or five, or a trillion).
Despite the date on the calendar, we didn't watch this because it's Xmas time. I'm reading the second volume of Gary Giddins' biography of Bing Crosby (Swinging on a Star), and I just finished the part where Bing made Holiday Inn. So, given it is Xmas time, we watched it.
I'm not sure how often people watch Holiday Inn these days ... there are so many Xmas movies, and if you're in the mood for this kind of thing, the close-enough-to-be-a-remake White Christmas is in color and includes Rosemary Clooney. I don't think either of these films is a classic. In the case of Holiday Inn, there are a few highlights to get you past the lowlights, but the lowlights get pretty low. To get them out of the way, there's "Abraham", a song about Lincoln that features Bing and Marjorie Reynolds in blackface singing lyrics like "When black folks lived in slavery, who was it set the darkie free? Abraham, Abraham". Less objectionable but equally stupid is "I Can't Tell a Lie":
I could say that you're homely, Just as homely as pie! But this is Washington's birthday, And I've got to say you're beautiful, 'Cause I can't tell a lie!
In case you haven't figured it out, Holiday Inn is about a club that only opens on holidays, with musical numbers to match whatever date we've arrived at. The songs are by Irving Berlin, and for the most part, they aren't in the Berlin Hall of Fame. Of course, there's "White Christmas", making its first appearance, and for some folks, that's good enough. The song isn't punched up here ... Bing sings it at the piano, with Reynolds joining in (dubbed by Martha Mears), and it pops up again one more time. But in neither case is it treated like the perennial classic it would become.
Reynolds' singing is dubbed, but she does have a couple of nice dance numbers with the other co-star, Fred Astaire. In "Be Careful, It's My Heart", they dance as Bing sings (unaware of their presence ... Fred is stealing Bing's girl in this song):
Pearl Harbor was bombed during the making of the movie, resulting among other things in a pretty bad Independence Day number, "Let's Say It with Firecrackers", that includes a montage designed to get Americans feeling patriotic. However, that song results in the film's highlight, when Fred does a solo dance (hope this link works, for some reason, this is a hard video to find online):
If you can hunt it down, Fred also does a great dance while drunk.
Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin, "White Christmas" ... really, Holiday Inn should be much better than it is. Still worth a couple hours of the family's time for the holidays.
[The introduction is largely copied from previous years.]
In 2010, I started a new tradition. I called it the Karen Sisco Award, named after the short-lived television series starring Carla Gugino. Sisco was the character played by Jennifer Lopez in the film Out of Sight, and the series, which also featured Robert Forster and Bill Duke, was on ABC. They made ten episodes, showed seven, and cancelled it. Gugino was ridiculously hot (no surprise there) and the series, based on an Elmore Leonard character, got about as close as anyone did to Leonard’s style until Justified came along.
When I posted an R.I.P. to the show, my son commented, “Every year there is a new favorite Daddy-O show that gets cancelled mid-season. … You have some sort of fixation with doomed shows, did it start with Crime Story or does it come from your upbringing?” (In fairness, Crime Story lasted two seasons.) The Karen Sisco Award exists to honor those doomed shows.
For one thing, it's hard to know when a series is cancelled. Some shows get a two-season order before any episodes have aired. Many cancelled shows get rescued ... Sense8 lasted two expensive seasons on Netflix before getting cut, only to revive for a final movie-length episode due to fan uproar:
Later tonight, another cancelled show, Timeless, which also lasted two seasons, will get a two-hour finale. Timeless might have been a Karen Sisco winner after its cancellation after one season, but the cancellation only lasted a few days before NBC reconsidered. And Deadwood, one of the greatest shows of all time, which ran its final episode in 2006 after three seasons, has been revived with the original cast for a two-hour movie to appear in 2019.
There are two patterns at work. One is like what happened with Sense8 and Timeless, a fairly instant chance to close loose ends. The other perhaps speaks to a certain lack of imagination ... it's when old and popular shows are rebooted, or, like Deadwood, just continued. With all of this, the question of when a show is finally finished is messy at best.
It's also true that the catalogs of the big streamers mean a lot of shows never go away.
So, most of the shows I mentioned in my earlier wrap-up of 2018 TV are either still with us, or properly ended. In fact, the opposite problem remains ... a show like Shameless will seemingly last forever, no matter if it's still worth watching.
With all of the great television in the still-active era of Peak TV, it may not be necessary to single out shows that only lasted one season. So many people have yet to watch The Americans, which means you have a lot to look forward to. And you can still catch up on some of the best shows still out there ... Atlanta, Killing Eve, GLOW, Outlander, Vida. It's hard to mourn shows we've lost when there are still so many that have so far gone unseen. Sense8 only has 24 episodes ... you can binge that. Vida, which just finished its first season, only has 6 half-hour episodes ... if you can find it, you can watch the entire season in three hours. And you can always find recent classics like Rectify. Or Sweet/Vicious, for that matter, since if anything it is even more timely than it was when it ran.
And don't sleep on Peggy Carter, who knew her value.
Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012). Why do I do this to myself? I have never seen anything Harmony Korine was connected with that I liked. I wasn't a fan of Kids, hated Julien Donkey-Boy, and when Mister Lonely was requested, I watched it and found it better than the others, which was and is intended as faint praise. But Spring Breakers is #369 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century, so I climbed back into Korine's world. I found it better than Mister Lonely, which is still meant as faint praise. It's an oddball movie, and that is enough for some people. It's also pretentious, recalling better movies like Thelma and Louise or a Pam Grier movie from the 70s. Grier is the best example ... her blaxploitation movies certainly made sure to feature her colossal (and naked) body, but characters like Coffy and Foxy Brown had real power. The young women in Spring Breakers are supposedly offered up in the same vein, but the power just isn't there. Spring Breakers is filled with topless women, drugs, and violence, which might sound entertaining, but it's all pointless. Trust the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, who nominated Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine for the coveted "Actress Most in Need of a New Agent" award (they lost to Cameron Diaz in The Counselor).
Creed (Ryan Coogler, 2015). Ryan Coogler, on the other hand, can do no wrong. Creed is probably his "worst" picture, but it's miles better than anything Harmony Korine has coughed up. There's actually nothing wrong with Creed, although compared to Fruitvale Station and Black Panther it comes up a bit short. I'm not up to date on my Rocky movies ... I've only seen this one and the original, with some offhand knowledge of some of the plot threads of the other movies. But Creed clearly works as a continuation and extension of the Rocky brand, by finally putting old Rocky to the side and working in some new blood. Among other things, this gives Sylvester Stallone one of his best roles in years, ironic given that it's the same part he has already played so many times. (Stallone got an Oscar nomination ... for Best Supporting Actor, the key word being "supporting".) Michael B. Jordan is great, as he has always been since Wallace on The Wire. Jordan has now been in all three movies that Coogler directed, and they have established a rewarding pairing that compares well to legendary matchups like Scorsese and De Niro. I can't speak to how long-time Rocky fans reacted to this movie, but I can say that it works as a standalone. #551 on the They Shoot Pictures 21st century list. Trust me, it's better than Spring Breakers.