Archive for Movies and TV

A Post I Never Thought I Would Make

I am actually kind of looking forward to the new Dungeons & Dragons movie.

I know! I know! We all suffered through so much in the way of terrible tie-in products. Let’s be honest with ourselves; the 80s cartoon wasn’t good. The 2000s movie was outright dogshit. The books, eh, so so. I guess they’re fine if you love Drizzt (I do not).

So the fact that all the reviews I’ve seen for the new movie are positive has my hopes rising. I thought I’d likely wait until the whole boondoggle hit streaming, and then catch it. Instead, we’re going to see it with my local D&D play group. Insanity!

The next thing you’re going to tell me is, Baldur’s Gate 3 will actually be a good game!


The Sinking Ship that is Cinema

I used to love going to the movies. Then cellphones were invented, and while I still love going to the movies, I am much pickier about how and when.

I’ve been worried about the future of the movie theater since COVID — movie-going seemed to be on a downward trend in the US before, and it really seems like in the wake of the pandemic, many theaters are just going out of business, or worse.

Word is, AMC is going to start charging different prices depending on which seat you reserve in the theater. This seems to be taking a page right out of the TicketMaster playbook, and I predict that it will backfire on them.

Movie theaters are competing with the fact that the home-viewing experience has dramatically improved in my lifetime. 4K TVs and surround sound are commonplace, and what’s more, you can pause a home-viewed movie to go to the bathroom and if anybody starts talking, you can kick them out of your house. You’re also much less likely to be mass-murdered at home watching a Joker or Batman movie, so uh, another check mark in the “home” column.

AMC, and probably most movie theater chains, are desperate right now, looking for a way forward in this changing world. Personally, I’d be okay with cinemas becoming a niche experience. An Alamo-style experience beats the “cram them in tiny seats with a variable cost” experience at most AMC theaters. We don’t need 30 screens anymore. The cineplex may go the way of the dinosaur soon, and I will probably find myself nostalgic for those dark hallways, but perhaps going to the movies will turn out to be a very 20th century thing, in the end, like rotary dial telephones and democracy.


The Gremlins Midnight Conundrum

One thing that has bothered fans of the Gremlins movies (especially the ones that overthink things like me): what exactly defines midnight? It’s not a natural phenomenon. Do gremlins trigger this by reading clocks? What’s the deal? How do you know for sure when they think “midnight” is?

Yes, I know I’m talking about a franchise of movies about malicious green puppets. No, I don’t care.

I realized this past week that I have a solution that circumvents the conundrum entirely. The true solution to the midnight conundrum is that it’s all bullshit–just an old wives’ tale that nobody ever had a chance to disprove. 99% of all Mogwai undergo the metamorphosis into the gremlin life stage. Gizmo isn’t prudent and wise and a picky eater or whatever. He’s just the mogwai equivalent of a caterpillar that refuses to molt and just gets really huge. He’s a genetic freak and he deserves our pity. He will never know the joy of shanking some housewife and cackling like he’s on laughing gas. So sad!

If I weren’t retired as a writer, I’d write a semi-serious take on a world in which Gremlins were a real thing. If Peter Watts can do it for The Thing, I don’t see why I can’t for Amblin movies.


What happens when CGI becomes perfect?

We saw Avatar: The Way of Water today. I don’t think I want to say too much about the movie itself. I think you already know if you are the kind of person who will enjoy a movie like this. Judging from the box office success, most people at least were willing to go sit through it. Personally, I liked it okay, and thought it was an improvement on the first. Sarah called it Toxic Masculity: The Movie and she has a fair point. Teenage boys and their testosterone is apparently a cross-species thing.

The main thing I’ve been thinking about is how seamlessly the special effects work was, and how quickly I forgot I was watching a movie that was almost entirely rendered on computers. As a child of the 80s, I’m used to being able to immediately spot most SFX shots because for the longest time, true verisimilitude was beyond our technical reach. To do CG water in a way that is indistinguishable from reality, I would have thought impossible even just a couple of years ago. Clearly fucking not. The water in this movie absolutely astonished me.

There were still a few seams here and there. Probably some rushed shots. Shots that weren’t able to use motion capture in particular jarred me a bit in places, but it’s a testament to the tech and the craft of the people working on these films that I was able to forget I was looking at CG for 90% of the run time (conservative estimate).

So we’re what, maybe a couple of years out from special effects artists being able to perfectly emulate anything they want, anything the directors and creative team can imagine. We’ve been getting there for a while, but I really wonder what the future of visual arts looks like when this is possible. Is it a good thing? If you had asked me in my animation obsessed twenties, I would have said absolutely. That’s before I learned how soul-crushingly awful it can be to work in that special effects industry.

I can’t help but think about what the human cost is of films like this. It’s not like James Cameron is known for being a great guy to work for. Still – what sights we saw today. How amazing was it that I believed it so thoroughly. An alien world has never felt so real. The sight of the pristine wilderness of it and what the “sky people” brought me to the brink of tears.

I’m grateful for getting to see it. I hope my enjoyment didn’t come at too high of a cost for the workers.


Movies and TV

Watch Poker Face

The new TV show Poker Face on Peacock by Rian Johnson starring Natasha Lyonne, I mean. Not, like, the song by Lady Gaga or whatever.

We’ve watched the first four episodes, and they’re mostly stellar TV. The premise is that Charlie is a cocktail waitress who has a nigh-supernatural ability to tell when someone it telling a lie. You might think that would see her gaining fame and riches, and in some genres, she would. But this is noir, so Charlie’s ability just gets her repeatedly entangled in crime.

These are not whodunnits, even that we watch Charlie prove murders every episode. This is because we see the murder at the start of every episode and we actually are waiting for Charlie to catch up. The emphasis here isn’t on justice, either. Again, this isn’t a detective show. These aren’t whodunnits. This is much more in the tradition or crime or noir.

The writing so far has been far above average for this kind of show and the cast is all-star. Rian Johnson continues to impress the hell out of me. I’m so excited that we get a total of 10 episodes in the season!


Movies and TV

Watched: The Pale Blue Eye (2022)

We watched The Pale Blue Eye last night on Netflix, starring Christian Bale and Harry Melling. If you had told me that the actor who was going to have the best post-Harry Potter career was the kid who played Dursley, I would have thought you were nuts, but here we are.

Melling has a kind of vulnerability to him that suits him well in his role as Edgar Allan Poe here. Christian Bale plays the damaged, world-weary man that he’s come to specialize in lately, post-Batman. The directing is good, the camera work good, and the writing pretty serviceable, actually. The costumes, according to Sarah, were absolutely on point for the era, which I believe is the early 1830s.

The plot is easily summarized – a cadet has died at West Point under mysterious circumstances, and Bale’s Augustus Landor is brought in to investigate. Landor and Poe are drawn together by the death and soon begin to work together.

I’m stuck in the old-world mentality because I thought this was good enough to warrant a real theatrical release, not a Netflix one, but of course this is a Netflix movie. Quality has nothing to do with it anymore, and I need to get my head around that in our post-pandemic (not really post) society. Theaters seem to be just about dead at this rate, Avatar 2’s success notwithstanding.

Pale Blue Eye is probably not going to win any major awards, but it’s a nice, moody film, even if a bit shallow at times. I give it a recommended view.


The Menu

I had the pleasure of watching The Menu last night. It’s a delightfully twisted movie that is very hard to predict if you go in blind, so the less you know about the plot, the better. The 5 minute opening synopsis that spoils nothing is that we follow a dozen diners, particularly two played by Anya Taylor-Joy and Nicholas Hoult to a secluded island restaurant run by a genius chef (Ralph Fiennes). It has some in common with Glass Onion, so if you enjoyed that, I think you may enjoy this one too. Both had impeccable casting. I adore Hoult, Taylor-Joy, and Fiennes in general. The movie could have been about anything at all and I would have seen it for that trio alone.

There’s much more I would like to say about it and its themes, but perhaps I’ll let my thoughts marinade a bit. I’ll try to remember to come back and talk about it more in six months. You’ve been warned!


Movies and TV

The Irishman Odyssey

The Irishman, a film by Martin Scorsese released in 2019, is three hours and thirty minutes long. Somehow, against all odds, I found the time to watch it last night after my son went to bed.

Despite my joke on Twitter, I found the movie compelling and sadder than I expected. The movie is about a lot of things, but the theme that really stood out to me in my first watch was the futility of a criminal life.

Scorsese drives this message home by freezing the action each time a new mobster is introduced and putting up a caption that explains the awful way that person was murdered (apparently the end of the 70s and start of the 80s were a really bad time for the mob). Additionally, and I’m not really spoiling anything to say this because the movie starts with this, our protagonist, Frank Sheeran is alone in a shabby retirement home, slowly dying, completely alienated from everyone.

Scorsese does not glamorize the life of a mobster; nor does he valorize people like Jimmy Hoffa. Everyone here is flawed in sad, interesting ways. He depicts them with warmth, with empathy, showing them as good people as well as brutal ones. It’s interesting sometimes to sit down and watch movies by a director who is so responsible for the public consciousness of an idea, and to think about how much the public’s remembered idea compares to the reality. Nobody has a good ending in Scorsese’s film here. You and the protagonist are left wondering if any of it was really worth it. At stake wasn’t so much the money, although there was lots of it. It was the egos of flawed men.

The run time really only caught up with me at about two and a half hours, when the end was clear and slowly spooling out. When Hoffa begins to go off the rails after his jail stint, the writing is on the wall for the audience and even most of the characters. This is the one place in the film where you wish Scorcese would get to the point. Otherwise, it’s the kind of enchanting filmmaking that just doesn’t happen anymore.

If you can spare the time, it’s well worth the watch. The movie is still bouncing around in my head the next day, and will stick with me for a good while.


I Trained a Neural Network With the Titles of 3,500 Horror Movies

It’s funny what kinds of things can spark you into going down a rabbit hole and losing an evening of your time to some creative concept. The following conversation inspired me to finally learn something I’ve been meaning to do for ages.

Steve: First up on my Shudder playlist is Prince of Darkness, Sennentuntschi, The Old Dark House, VIY, The Changeling, The Beyond, Monster Party, Revenge, Phantasm Ravager.

Jeremy: You are just making those names up!

Jeremy: I kind of want to train a neural net to make horror movie titles now.

It turns out that with a little minor programming knowledge and some general technical know-how, you can build a neural network and train it off of text pretty easily. This Lifehacker article got me started. I got textgenrnn installed and up and running pretty easily, but the hardest part was figuring out how I was going to build my database of titles.

Luckily, the hard-working people behind Wikipedia had collated tables of movie titles throughout the decades. Copying and pasting a single column of an HTML table isn’t easily accomplished, except I found a Chrome extension that made it simple. From that, I began the laborous process of going through each year and decade and about an hour later, I had 3,500 horror movie titles to serve as grist for my neural mill. I just used all the titles from the 1940s onward that were in Wikipedia. I imagine there are many missing from my dataset, but it seemed large enough to work from.

I trained it on 10 epochs and played around with a temperature score from .5 to 1.0 (anything higher than 1.0 resulted in complete nonsense, and oddly, the rare actual title). Some of the results were awesome. Some were funny. Anyway, enough about methodology. You want to see some of the titles! Here are some of my favorites out of about 110 that I kept.

Top Ten Cool/Want to Actually See Or Possiblly Write

  • Nervosis
  • Cat Mantis!
  • Primal in the Red Wicks
  • A Vampire’s Dead on Elsion
  • Stigmatary
  • Or, Vampire for the World of Grave
  • The Nine Shelley
  • Eat the Night
  • The Chainsaw Mentor
  • Creep Baseball

Top Ten Funny (Or At Least They Made Me Laugh)

  • The Terror of Part II: The Dead Row
  • Lake Bad Haunted Hunter
  • Serial Sister
  • Stard vs. Piss
  • The Night Babes from Maris
  • Shark 2
  • Hot Ransomer
  • Don’t Comb Your Soul
  • Lips from the Wizard
  • Pirhana 33DD (I spit out my soda when I saw this one)

Some of these, for all I know, may be actual titles, but I tried to check them against my master list.

Which ones are your favorites?

Photo by Pelly Benassi on Unsplash


Filling in the Cinematic Gaps: Goodfellas (1990)

One of my favorite things in this cruel and uncaring world is to watch a movie in the theater, followed not too far down the list by watching a movie at home after my preschooler has finally gone to $*%#ing sleep. Lately, inspired by my friend Marc’s deep dive into cinema, I’ve been working to fill in the gaps in my cinematic experiences when I can find the time. The latest hole to be patched was Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas.

I’ve seen plenty of gangster movies and maybe a dozen episodes of the Sopranos, but it’s never been a genre in which I’ve taken a strong interest. Obviously I tend to go for things that are a bit less grounded in reality, and I’m not particularly a big fan of Al Pacino or Robert De Niro, who seem to have acted or starred in 95% of all modern gangster movies.

Gangsters in this genre make me uneasy in the same way I suspect sharks make other people nervous. They’re unpredictable, dangerous, and deadly. Their deadliness makes it hard for me to watch stories about them because I spend the whole time waiting for them to come through the screen and whack me and my whole family. You might think this is odd because I like crime and heist movies. In those movies, the characters are less often murderers and more the thieving kind, and I find that less threatening and uncomfortable. Let’s face it: an awful lot of gangster movies end in an orgy of murder and mayhem.

That said, I overcame my discomfort long enough to sit through Goodfellas and generally, I’m glad I did. This is an oddly placed film in time, having come out in 1990, but it feels very much like an 80s or 70s film rather than a 90s one. The film grain, the acting, and the music choices anchor it in an earlier era, and as the film drifts from the 50s into the early 80s, it never quite stopped holding on to its earliest time periods.

One thing that stood out in the early chapters was how Scorsese leans hard on a freeze frame narrative device, in which Ray Liotta’s character can pontificate about his past without the film’s action running ahead of him. It’s an odd technique that I don’t recall him utilizing nearly so often in his other pictures. It had the overall impact of slowing down the picture to start, which may well have been his intent. At 146 minutes, it felt at times more like a solid 180+ minute picture.

A big surprise for me was that Ray Liotta was the real lead of this picture. Everything about this movie that had drifted into my general pop culture knowledge involved Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro. Many of the lines of dialogue that were likely strong, memorable moments to original viewing have long since been milked of any vitality by the parodies that have followed (especially Pesci’s infamous scene where he busts Liotta’s balls over a simple compliment to the point where we soon fear violence will break out).  Liotta’s performance as a somewhat dim-witted and at-times decent man contrasted well with his co-stars, and served as a strong narrator who at times faded a little too much in the background against his more colorful co-stars.

The stand-out performance here was Joe Pesci’s, of course. I loathed Pesci’s character from the first minute he was on screen until he finally took a bullet. Pesci’s performance here was great, definitely the kind of thing he specialized in for years–characters that you absolutely loved to hate.  Pesci absolutely earned his Best Supporting Oscar in this picture, and as time goes on, his performance as that unhinged and unpredictable man will linger even as other memories of Goodfellas will fade.

If I had to summarize this movie, I would say: it’s about sharks in suits who spend a lot of time treating women like shit and then come to morally appropriate ends. It’s not a masterpiece of cinema like The Godfather and it’s not probably even as memorable a movie overall as even Casino. Scorsese’s ability to get memorable acting work out of these actors in goodfella wise-guy roles is on display here as usual, but structurally, and from a story-telling standpoint, it doesn’t stand up to the test of time. It ranks in the middle of Scorese’s oeuvre for me, but that’s still better than an awful lot of cinema out there.