Bill & Teds

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989) was released into this world the same year I was. I grew up on it playing on basic cable in the ‘90s, and these days actually own it on DVD, a gift from a friend at some point in high school. I love Bill & Ted. And so I was a little nervous to rewatch it this year to be honest, now as an adult with a Letterboxd, which tells me it has been eight whole years since I last saw it.

But you may have caught that tense: I LOVE Bill & Ted. Presently! Still & always. In fact I might even love Excellent Adventure more now. Because watching it as an adult (..with a Letterboxd) in 2020, this time I really noticed just how unusually sweet this movie is, in a year where I have perhaps been more primed than ever to be grateful for kindness.

If you have never seen Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the premise is ornate but the stakes very simple: Bill Preston and Ted Logan are best friends, seniors (I think) in high school in San Dimas, California, in the late 1980s. And for some reason, their terrible two-person garage band Wyld Stallyns is destined to someday unite the planets and bring about universal harmony. The problem though, and the time-travel paradox engine that powers the story, is that our affable dim-bulbs are currently failing their history class, and if they don’t get an A on their final presentation, Ted’s dad is going to send him off to an Alaskan military school (this joke destroyed me this time around), breaking up Bill & Ted, the band, and ALSO the existence of this most excellent future. So the future sends a representative named Rufus (comedian George Carlin, easily the biggest name in the cast at the time) back to the late 1980s in a magical time-traveling phone booth, and the boys proceed to use this technology to travel throughout history gathering up notable figures in an effort to craft the best history presentation ever.

The DNA of this plot actually seems to bear some genetic sequences in common with the original Star Trek series, now that I think about it: completely outrageous circumstances, but with this innately schoolish bent. 

The result is a goofily absurdist, laid-back adventure comedy that for some reason they kept a pure PG. Although they have what would seem to be an unmistakable stoner energy, Bill & Ted are never remotely alluded to partake in either drugs or alcohol, and beyond their cheery loyalty to the number ’69’ and an adolescent confusion over Bill’s hot young stepmom, their only love interests are a pair of chaste medieval princesses whom they readily fall to trying to woo in respectful knightly fashion, mostly through acts of bravery and reciting poetry. In fact, their unique vocal patter often gives them the impression of already being figures somehow unstuck in time, speaking in an parlance that combines irregular California surfer dude speak with a vocabulary and sentence structure that often veers oddly archaic, to entertainingly poetic effect. “Billy, you are adapting to the oddity of time travel with the greatest of ease!” they’ll compliment their first historical companion Billy the Kid, whom they politely address as “Mr. the Kid” upon first meeting him. It all creates a movie that is endlessly quotable.

And that’s aided of course by the indelible performances of the young leads, 22- and 23-year-old Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, just two fresh-faced and puppyish children of God, my Doofuses of Light. They are so dumb and so sweet, containing not an ounce of smarts or malice in their souls. They never fight, they care about each other deeply, and they’re always looking out for those around them, consistently tending to the well-being of the “personages of historical significance” they pick up on their travels. They’re part of the branch of the himbo family tree that would produce Stranger Things’ Steve Harrington farther down the line, with Keanu’s gift of ’80s hair absolutely. Bill & Ted are the earnest, unironic heart of their earnest, unironic catchphrase, Be Excellent To Each Other, and Party On Dudes!

The subsequent sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991), was coincidentally released the same year my sister was born this time, but I guess it must have not gotten the same amount of play on cable in my childhood, because I had only seen it once before this year and didn’t remember much of it. Bogus Journey was going to be my test actually, of whether my affection for Excellent Adventure was just because of how long I’d already loved it. Unfortunately though that test would prove INCONCLUSIVE, because I don’t like Bogus Journey much on its own merits! And that is because, quite simply, it’s meaner than Excellent Adventure. More of the humor comes from confrontation this time, because this one introduces forces of actual malevolence to battle (something the first film actually entirely lacks). Bogus Journey also greatly ups the stakes, as instead of just trying to pass a class, Bill & Ted are now literally fighting for their lives—and again, by extension, the entire future—after being killed by evil robot versions of themselves early on and subsequently going on a (bogus) journey through Heaven and Hell.

The bright spot though has got to be William Sadler playing a parody of Ingmar Bergman’s Death from The Seventh Seal, a joke even more wackily esoteric than the first movie setting Napoleon Bonaparte loose in a waterpark called Waterloo. And, again quite like what happens with Napoleon, the initial concept deepens into actual character development, which is rewarding.

Now, nearly 30 years later, a third film resolves this set into a trilogy. Entitled Bill & Ted Face the Music (a good title), our titular duo are now middle-aged dads, and finally confronting the driving conceit of all of this: that these cosmic Fools who aren’t even that good of musicians are supposedly going to save the universe with their music. Fundamentally, I don’t think this series was ever supposed to actually address this, and just leave it as the charmingly silly and actually wonderfully hopeful joke of Rufus turning into the camera as they jam at the end of Excellent Adventure, and apologetically assuring us: “They do get better.”

For this reason I can never wholly approve of Bogus Journey, which tries to half address this, or Face the Music, which directly takes it on. That said, the solution that Face the Music comes up with is pretty cute and almost a little elegant in how it finds an answer through redefining the parameters of what we now learn was a (self-fulfilling? well aren’t they all) prophecy. And this film’s plot, which sees Bill and Ted encountering progressively older and messier versions of themselves as they try to hunt down the song that’s going to change the world, also allows for something ALMOST deep about each of their relationships to their selves, which I was not expecting from this franchise. However, the core of Bill & Ted was always their relationship with each other, and Face the Music knows that well.

I feel like I need to especially single out Alex Winter, who was coming back from a retirement from acting here, and feels like he never stopped playing Bill in the interim. He so completely recalls his younger performance as Bill S. Preston that I wonder if his ebullience as Bill is part of what makes Keanu Reeves actually feel almost a little stiff playing Ted again. That could also possibly be due just to physical stiffness from age, because the actor playing his daughter Billie (yes they named their babies after each other, my heart) does such a phenomenal young Keanu homage in this, really showcasing how much of the Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan energy is this low-tempo springiness of movement.

The addition of the adorable Billie & Thea was definitely a highlight for me, as was seeing Kristen Schaal (!) as Rufus’s daughter. Face the Music definitely attempts to be somewhat of a corrective of the previous two movies with regard to actually having female characters, even though it does kind of make the continued non-characters of their princess wives stand out more than you’d like. There was probably a whole doubling down here on the bigger shenanigans and stakes direction that the second film started (why do franchises always think they have to continually up the stakes! smaller stakes are more emotionally engaging, folks), and the joke concepts were not infrequently a bit more Bogus Journey than Excellent Adventure, which would not be my preference, but did I tear up at the very sincere musical climax? Oh you bet. And at one point in Hell when Bill and Ted are about to head over to try to make amends with their disgruntled former bandmate Death, one of their kids reminds them, “Be sweet!”, and that right there really is what I love best about Bill & Ted.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure★★★★★
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey★★
Bill & Ted Face the Music★★★

Showtime Free Trial Week


While this movie was sitting next-up in my queue, I watched a quiz show where one of the questions asked what, in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the first and second kinds of encounters are supposed to be, so thanks as ever to British panel shows for always coming through for me. Particularly as this turns out to not ever be defined in the movie itself, just one of of many things about this Steven Spielberg feature I found surprisingly strange and almost kinda arty.

So come for the strange sci-fi I guess, sure—stay for cartographer Bob Balaban translating for SCIENTIST FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT. It just kept happening and I was never not over the moon about it! No space ship required!! I didn’t even know Truffaut WAS IN THIS. He is!! Just appearing in areas with his little science fists on his hips, looking at phenomena. Richard Dreyfus is also around, but I want to throw his character into a river, and 1977 Spielberg apparently feels the same about all women, so, Truffaut & Balaban are really all we have. When they get especially excited sometimes Truffaut starts breaking into English phrases for the Americans, for emphasis, and Balaban, not noticing, just keeps translating but now into French. Totally lost it at this, my friends.

I also got a kick out of learning how very many shots from Stranger Things are Close Encounters references. It’s many! Spielberg chose to film a ton of the night scenes on sound stages and it’s such a choice, the starry sky always looks like a planetarium and the light sources are totally unnatural. Early on I got very excited over the idea that this whole thing might be a movie of lighting. One time a friend told me about a theory of story (very simplistic but that’s how theories get their use sometimes), that says that most works prioritize one of three things: Character, Plot, or Setting. Setting tends to be more rare, and I was completely down for this to be a Setting movie, creating a narrative mostly through use of light, if it had actually stayed that way.

My ideal version of this film is two-thirds the length (I don’t believe this is a two hour and fifteen minute movie, sorry Steven), mostly the parts at night, and stays in that odd, indie film kind of space of the first 45 minutes where it seemed there was no real main character, that we were just sort of moving from incident to incident. And it’s at this point that I realize I’m just reverse engineering this into The Vast of Night, an alien arrival movie definitely inspired by this one that I ultimately prefer in every way, except for how it does not feature a legendary and cute auteur of the French New Wave in an inexplicable acting role.



An independent 20th century queer romance with a happy ending that I did not find unbearably cheesy! It’s a real movie, with characterization and storylines and footage of people driving in the desert—cinema things.

And the set-up is interesting: do you remember that fun fact about how back in the 1950s, married women could move to Reno, Nevada for six weeks to establish residency, and then were legally allowed to get a quick divorce without having to bring their husbands into it at all? That’s the premise here, and the movie doesn’t over-explain this, which is nicely respectful to its audience. Especially as some other elements are indeed served up to you on a silver trope platter, most centrally a restrained English professor who wants to finally make her own life meeting a ~free-spirited~ younger woman who wears jean shorts and lives in a little cottage where she makes pottery. Hello to you, sweet obvious lesbians!

What I liked about Desert Hearts though, is that while of course these two fall in love, theirs is not the only female relationship in this film. Kay has a close friendship with a fun coworker who seems to play a big part in her life, and then has a very interestingly complex mother-figure relationship with the woman who mostly raised her, who in turn develops a complex relationship with Vivian, her boarder for these six weeks.

It’s also fun for being a double period film: set in the midcentury but very much made in the 1980s. I did enjoy the not infrequent neon lighting in this, befitting the film’s cover art, with the title glowing Janelle Monáe pink against the big desert sky.



I was drinking limoncello when I started watching this, but there’s still no excuse for the way I reacted like a rockstar was walking out at the completely unexpected reveal of “Emmanuel Lubezki” in the opening credits. The sunny sweet South Beach fantasy land he creates in this!! All warm and cheery and pastel! I want to live in that kitchen with the morning light coming in, making coffee and breakfast..! I want Agador’s job, basically.

Anyway, what is The Birdcage? The Birdcage is a very ridiculous drawing room comedy about how the best people in the world are middle aged gay Miami dads. This movie was made by straight people, but is extremely pro the homosexual agenda, and spends its whole time taking the hets to task. The actual motivation for the plot makes no goddamn sense because there is no world in which if you trick your future in-laws about who your parents are for exactly one dinner then you’re in the clear forever, but we just have to accept the premise and moooove on. The film absolutely does not intend for you to think too hard about it, because if you did you’d have to come to the conclusion that the kids are monsters who both tormenting their parents for no reason, and as they’re each portrayed as inherently well-meaning and loving and just trying their darn fool best to get through this, I’ve decided it’s one of those plots where it’s just Happening, through no one’s express choice. Comedies are like sometimes.

The gay dads are played by Robin Williams, in one of his genuinely lovely turns, and Nathan Lane, the more comic and silly half of the pair but also even more heartbreaking at times. Williams owns a drag bar next to the beach called The Birdcage (titular club!), his partner Lane is the starring act, and the person whose job I want is their hapless maid-of-all-work, Hank Azaria, who in one scene is wearing a muscle tank that just reads “STRAIGHT LOOKING.” I was a bit exasperated with myself over how readily I was buying Hank Azaria as a gay Guatemalan, as he is neither of those things, but then I looked him up and discovered Azaria comes from Thessalonian Jews and grew up speaking an obscure Spanish dialect written in Hebrew characters, and have decided he gets a Hispanic pass for 1996.

It feels like it’s been a while since I watched a comedy I respected. Haha wow that’s a harsh sentence, but true! But what I mean is: this is the kind of script with jokes built in to not only the dialogue but the way the scenes unfold, and I was so pleased with so many of these joke moments. From quips to sight gags to little actorly bits, this was really just firing on a lot of comedy cylinders for me. Man guys, trying to talk about things that are funny makes them sound so dry, huh! This movie really isn’t, and while it could have been pretty wince-inducing given the content, I skipped right over into just loving it. Camp Canon. Did you know there are THREE rare or original Sondheim songs in this, one of them performed by Christine Baranski? God, the gay pedigree…



When I made my list of what I was going to watch out of Showtime’s present catalog, I actually had no idea that I would be double-featuring a Nichols and a May—serendipity. Ishtar is notorious for being a Worst Movie Ever punchline, but I’d heard it was actually unfairly maligned, possibly due to sexism toward its writer/director, and as box office returns definitely do not always equate to quality, thought I’d give it a watch.

And parts of this oddball comedy did work for me! Especially the struggling songwriters portion in New York, which would feel like a full Simon & Garfunkel parody if Simon & Garfunkel weren’t mentioned several times. I was struck by how actually very sweet this movie is—Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty are genuinely tender and supportive with one another, and honestly it was really nice to watch.

Then they do go off to Ishtar (#comedy plots), and it started its process of losing me. This is MILES from the worst movie ever made, but I think the fact that it gets weaker as it goes probably hurt it considerably, as it’s easier to forget the more fun and funky stuff at the beginning the further you get away from it. It also suffers from some of the Lawrence of Arabia problem of having a fair amount of its politics in the right place, but really falling apart when it then goes and whitewashes the casting of the people in the country the westerners are betraying.

Warren Beatty repeatedly expressing his wish that he could be as attractively small and craggy-looking as Dustin Hoffman was always endearing though. More men complimenting each other on their appearance in movies pls.


Bad Education (2020)

I really liked Thoroughbreds when it came out a couple years ago. I liked it so much that when I found out this new movie called Bad Education was not a remake of Pedro Almodovar’s wild La mala educación, but something with Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney about a Long Island public school embezzlement scandal, the additional fact that it was Thoroughbreds director Cory Finley’s sophomore feature is what made me think oh, I bet I could have room for two Bad Educations in my life. I have definitely been curious to see what this guy gets up to next.

The answer turns out to be something quite unlike the arch, high-stylish presentation of Thoroughbreds, and entirely great. Most of those dark artistic flourishes have been left on their shelf this time, and it turns out he doesn’t need them at all: this is just such a solid, entertaining movie about fraud and lies and school board members. I was so happy the entire time I was watching this. It is remarkably well constructed—the way the drama builds on itself without calling too much attention to the process is simply a joy. I LOVE A MOVIE WTH REVEALS. PLURAL. Some movies will drop second or third act secrets on you simply for the surprise, where that’s just the way they’re trying to goose the energy of the plot. And some movies are like Bad Education, where each surprise suddenly causes you to recall an earlier scene in a brand new light, and you’re just pointing energetically at the screen while yelling, “Oh! oh!”

It’s actually a true story that Bad Education is telling so well, and if you’re not well-versed in this 2002 financial scandal (the same year Lady Bird took place, incidentally, for your high school fashion reference point), I highly encourage you to not read up on it in advance, and just let this movie unfold the drama for you. The screenplay was actually written by someone who was a student at the Roslyn middle school when this story broke, which I find very charming. This is semi-secretly just a movie about student journalism, and honestly I love that. The whole thing is exactly my flavor of stakes. There’s a bit early on where the young reporter character is getting copies of some school business documents, and notices that one of the ceiling tiles is discolored and slowly leaking while the camera just pushes in on it. It’s one of those moments where I holler “NICE SYMBOLISM,” and mean it—it’s so obvious, but exactly the amount of Fun and Foreboding for me not to resent it in the slightest.

“Fun and foreboding” really is it. For a movie that primarily takes place in pedestrian, blandly lit interiors, the sense of danger some of these scenes have is fucking off the charts. There’s one scene in a diner where I thought I was going to have get up and do some jumping jacks or something just to work off my mounting nervy energy. And that scene wasn’t even strictly criminal, but another, related element! Either I would have an actual heart attack were I to watch something like Wolf of Wall Street, or Bad Education just always has its tone perfectly in hand. I’m leaning toward the latter. And it’s an intelligent movie too, thoughtful about what it actually looks like when you justify immoral actions to yourself, with some bonkers ethical arguments that I found really thrilling to slip down like a poorly maintained waterslide, courtesy of the marvelous acting stylings of Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney. They’re both so good here at creating a sensation a lot like that when watching The Favourite, where so much of the experience is trying to get a handle on where your character loyalties even ARE at any given moment. A ride!

Also like The Favourite is that this contains my current favorite non-dance-film dance sequence that I’ve seen in a new movie so far this year, which is a very special competition for me, as well as another FLAWLESS closing credits needle drop with an opening that sounds deceptively score-like until it resolves into a pop song with hilariously on-the-nose lyrics. I let the entire thing play through.

Anyway I pitched this movie to my friend who’s an accountant, and also all of you.


Apocalypse Now / Da 5 Bloods

The first note I jotted down while watching Apocalypse Now, in the opening minute while music and helicopters and explosions woozily began to fill a previously quiet jungle canopy, was: “oh unfortunately this is a Movie.” I felt unfortunate about it because I could tell I was going to spend the next two and a half hours in the waves of that war movie push & pull—is it so disturbing that it can be none other than anti-war? or is it so beautiful that it can be none other than pro-war? 

Francois Truffaut, reportedly, perhaps apocryphally, once remarked that all movies about war are inherently pro-war. It’s something I’ve considered. Something I think about a lot with this is the idea of grandness. If an anti-war movie is small and drab, I suspect it’s easier for the horror it is depicting to be universally seen as a condemnation of conflict. I think the problem is in bigness. If a war movie is depicting horror at scale, if it expresses its anti-war sentiments through the grandiosity of the atrocities, in the number of dead bodies or the size of the bombs, I suspect it’s easier for it to slip into serving to inspire instead of instilling dread. Apocalypse Now portrays the Vietnam War as a meaningless and cruel exercise in essentially the torture of a people, which in turn tortured many of the people sent to commit these actions. And, some contemporary American soldiers have said that they were shown this movie to get them excited for war before being shipped out to Iraq. I was really harrowed by Apocalypse Now, but I also completely understand why those anecdotes are out there. It is a very grand movie.

Things I knew about Apocalypse Now in advance: that it was loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, the story of a journey up the Congo River to find a mad Englishman that I’d read in our colonialism unit in high school; and that Brando was in it, eventually. Things I did not pay any attention to before hitting play: any of the rest of the cast list. When we first saw his face right-side up, my brain, completely forgetting all relevant first names, asked me with polite confusion: “Is that…Mister Sheen?” It was. Except for, as I learned later, when it was actually his brother Joe Estevez. Let me tell you, if you are the kind of person who loves wild production tales and do not already know the saga that is this one, boy can I recommend it! It is just chockablock full of outlandishness and disaster!

I’m really interested by the extreme troubles they had behind the scenes, because the product of all of this is a very surreal and upsetting film, and I do wonder…would it have been as much what it is without being itself born of an experience drawn out and traumatic? Yet astonishingly, all the changes and scrapped plans hasn’t resulted in a film that feels disjointed to me. For most of its considerable runtime, it just flows along. Sorta like a nightmare, sorta like a river. I never once doubted it as a movie—until the end, when a certain part of my brain (not the Sheens-recognizing part) suddenly went hey wait a minute. This is the part of my brain that was created in high school English class, where you do things like read Heart of Darkness. This is the part of my brain that analyzes narratives.

The ending of Apocalypse Now is wrong. That’s a bold statement for me to make to Mr. Coppola, but given that he seems to have had maybe half a dozen endings over the course of both production and post, I think he might at least acknowledge that’s a possibility. Heart of Darkness is an ingenious literary inspiration for a movie about the American side of the Vietnam War, I completely support this artistically and thematically. The movie expects you are likely to know that story, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that at the end, we do find this Kurtz at his compound at the end of the river, amidst the most surreal moments yet. It’s very powerful! And then, I think this movie shifts more fully into Conrad’s Heart of Darkness with a Vietnam War inflection then where it had been, as mostly about the Vietnam War with a Heart of Darkness inflection. And then it just stays there, for a while. My last note reads: “we spent soooo long in the Temple of Doom though.”

So, ‘Nam film homework completed, I then watched Spike Lee’s new film Da 5 Bloods, which references Apocalypse Now in the setting of a highly disquieting & apparently real bar in Vietnam themed on Coppola’s movie, at least one flashback helicopter shot, a riverboat sequence set to Wagner’s ‘The Ride of the Valkyries’, and length. 

To begin: I do not believe that any fictional work about a terrible thing must be a somber dense drama in order to be a morally justifiable project. I think there is space and even need for a variety of tones and approaches in engaging with the gruesome things that haunt humanity. And I also do not believe that any fictional work about something multifaceted has to be about all of those facets. If Spike Lee wants to make a chatty adventure movie about the experiences of a group of Black veterans of the Vietnam War, I am not going to say that’s fine but make sure it’s also about the Vietnamese experience of the American War, too. His movie doesn’t have to be about everything, and I think he is allowed to use this deadly conflict to examine issues from it that are specific to the group of people he’s interested in, setting the other ones aside. 

But I do want him to make sure that the limited appearances of the people that his movie is not about, do not fall into racist caricatures. And I don’t think he did a great job with that. And I think it is a bit morally dubious to make a movie today, in full knowledge that what happened in Vietnam was a horror of American interventionism, that seems to be trying to “win the war this time”—exactly as some of the characters in this film describe the Rambo series early on, before they too proceed to go about bloodily shooting a bunch more nameless Vietnamese people. Again. 

Those are my main intellectual issues with Da 5 Bloods. However, messy thoughts and problematic politics are features of many great movies that still have lasting artistic legacies and cultural worth due to being so interesting and well-made as pieces of cinema. C.f. Lawrence of Arabia last month, c.f. Apocalypse Now, just above! Actually I think it could be argued that the amount craft with which something is put together is, justifiably or not, a really big part of what can take it from being regrettable to being a “rich text.” It all depends on how you choose to mount a production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, you know?

And, regrettably…I do not think Da 5 Bloods was very well mounted. I am so sorry to be so bold to Mr. Lee this time! But oh man, what happened here! The script, the blocking, the editing—all I found bizarrely clumsy. Just as an example, from the first scene so as not to spoil anything: the four remaining Bloods are all arriving simultaneously at their hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, and are embracing in the lobby; then from a shot of the four men standing together remembering their fallen brother Norman, we awkwardly cut to one of them now suddenly standing several yards away at the check-in counter, where he reaches into his bag and pulls out a photograph of young Norman, and announces as he walks back, as if he just discovered it: “Hey, look what I found.” What, no. No, what? Spike, you are way too good for something this amateurish! Every movie is allowed a few clunky moments, for sure, but the problem is when they’re frequent, and these were just too frequent for me. 

And so, I just wasn’t able to get on board with Da 5 Bloods. But good on Jonathan Majors getting a featured role in this starry a project, and congratulations in advance to Delroy Lindo for his well-earned Oscar nomination.

Lawrence of Arabia

Lawrence of Arabia was nominated for ten Oscars at the 1963 Academy Awards, and won seven of them. It deserves every one of those, and I can’t figure out how it got them. I cannot figure this movie in any way, it is so fascinating and gorgeous and homosexual and deranged. It’s approaching four hours long, with an intermission card and a fucking overture for the first five minutes like you’re about to watch a light opera and need to know all the musical motifs, and honestly sure that’s not invalid, but that’s such an ask, baby, (David Lean is “baby” in this scenario), who said yes? I obviously did, said yes yes yes, but even I can’t always be relied on to do so! Because I had actually watched this once before, over ten yeas ago, and that time had just emerged with the takeaway “long character study in the desert!” and not much more than that.

This time, I spent the two nights I was watching Lawrence of Arabia absolutely hype on CINEMA. Everything made happy. Every shot made me want to say something like “Aauh!” Every choice was like a new crazy gemstone tossed into my hands. “What do I do with this!” I cried at Lawrence of Arabia, and in response it would just dump another handful on me.

Let’s go over some of these!

Lawrence of Arabia is loosely based on significant events in the life of British Army officer T.E. Lawrence, who was indeed a rather larger-than-life figure in the real world, but has here been transmogrified into a deeply cinematic creation that exists somewhere beyond and askew from his namesake, a blonde English cryptic birthed like Venus from the turbulent suds of culture and empire. Lawrence of Arabia was played by unknown 29-year-old Peter O’Toole in only his second film role, a fact I cannot deal with so we’re moving on. The whole time I was watching him there was some other performance occasionally niggling in the corner of my mind, but I just couldn’t figure out who it was. Until literally as the closing credits were rolling, I finally got it: I think the only possible comparison to Peter O’Toole here would have to be Jude Law in The Young Pope.

But here it’s 1916 (or so) in the Middle Eastern theatre of the First World War, and as none of the British staff in Cairo knows what to do with this lanky blue-eyed madlad who quotes obscure stuff at them, Lieutenant Lawrence is sent into the Arabian Peninsula on a vague mission to simply go say hello to a certain Prince Faisal, an Arab leader the British are trying to collaborate with to oust the Ottomans from the area. Over the course of the film, Prince Faisal, at one time as real a person as T.E. Lawrence, will be presented as the only good politician in this whole mess, significantly more moral and likable than Lawrence’s fellow British officers, who are roundly portrayed as condescending, lying vipers who will and do betray him. However, wrinkle: Faisal is played by British actor Alec Guinness in brownface. This is just one SAMPLE of the variety of ways in which this movie refuses to ever let you orient yourself (pun intended!) in what seems to be, at once, a whitewashed colonialist fetish object engaged in a harrowing indictment of the ‘white savior’ narrative. Lawrence of Arabia, what do I do with this!

Personally, I’ve come to the decision that this movie’s political mayhem is just part of the spice of it all, just another thing that kept me riveted with wonder at what was going on here. I mean, this is, technically, a sweeping war epic, in which the battles given by far the most time and emotional oxygen are between men and stretches of desert. This is a sweeping war epic except it isn’t even, really, it’s an epic of psyche and landscape set against strife. And even then, if you wanted to you could ignore all the history and half the plot and watch this movie wholly as an exercise in cinematography and editing, which are breathtaking at every turn, rightfully legendary. You could watch Lawrence of Arabia merely as a costume study and still lose your mind simply at how much story is being told in the fit of fabric on bodies. 

And, there is also that David Lean, director of Brief Encounter, decided to be, quote, “very daring at the time,” and go, as my friend Lily put it, FULL ROMO on a dynamic love story between Lawrence and Sherif Ali, a composite character invented for the film, but this time actually played by an Arab actor: the lovely Omar Sharif in his first English-language role. I wish I could say something intelligent about Omar Sharif in this, but honestly I spent such a considerable portion of this film’s very long runtime just weakly sobbing “your EYES!”—his eyes. His eyes?? And while it’s certainly not that this movie needed saving or something when Ali literally gallops into it out of the desert haze, dramatically draped in black and intrigue, but when he does so, ho boy he immediately fires up the interpersonals in a new direction. A brief summary of ‘Aurens’ and Ali’s first interaction:

Lawrence: “Fuck you. Strong letter to follow.”
Ali: “Yeah how about I steal your compass about it, prettyboy”
Me: “Oh yay”

Beginning in antagonism is a classic of the romance genre for a reason, because it gives you such a long ramp of developments for a relationship to build into, and this one goes so many places you want as well as several I guarantee any LOA-newbies haven’t even fathomed right now. I think one of my favorite permeations of their love story is a later period I’m going to describe as having kind of a Hamlet & Horatio quality. It’s all just TREMENDOUS, baby, thank you! (David Lean is still “baby” here)

In conclusion. There is so much…going on, in Lawrence of Arabia, that I fully understand why audiences keep coming back to it time and again, earning it that vaunted Classic status not in spite of, but because it is so fascinating, and gorgeous, and homosexual, and deranged.

First Cow

It was somewhere in the fall festivals of last year when I first saw an image of a soft-eyed man with a soft brown cow, and knew without having to know anything else about it that this movie was going to heal my soul.

I could not have known then how true and necessary that would be by the time I would finally watch it! Four months after its March theatrical release was curtailed almost as soon as it began by the pandemic that still grips the country, A24 decided that something they could do for a strained and weary populace was to give us all a little First Cow, as a treat. Following director Kelly Reichardt’s suggestions, I bought it in SD, for softness, scooped myself a little bowl of Talenti’s oak-aged vanilla (a mellow toasted dream), and let myself be carried away, to…well exactly where I am now actually, but 200 years earlier.  

First Cow takes place in western Oregon Territory in the 1820s, and tells the story of two frontier outsiders who invented male domesticity and also dairy fraud. One of them is Otis ‘Cookie’ Figowitz, a talented baker and the gentlest man in the world. The other is King-Lu, a bright, lifelong traveler who loves two things: business enterprise, and Cookie Figowitz. There is also a cow, the First Cow (in the territory), who is introduced being ferried serenely up the river so that the foolish but wealthy English trader who has built a house near the fort can have milk in his tea. Cookie spies a precious baking ingredient, King-Lu spies an even more precious Opportunity—a chance to make their American fortune here in the American west. (That the only way it is possible for the poor to get started on the road to capitalist success is through stealing from those hoarding the resources, is of course the point.) With their secretly-gotten milk, the two of them begin selling Cookie’s perfectly tender ‘oily cakes’, befitting this PERFECT, TENDER MOVIE. O the Tenderness! The companionship, the care, the cow! Just the sweet, feeling way John Magaro speaks to her? When I tell you that I clutched my hand over my heart—! 

Kelly Reichardt movies are always unhurried yet precise, and what that means in her latest and loveliest landscape film is that each low-tempo joke or act of friendship or moment of discovery just unfolds on you, with this easy, comfortable pace like the hooting of an owl in a tree. It sweeps you up and takes care of you. Kelly Reichardt understands that what I want to watch in a movie is a steady, quiet view of a man washing his chest though the open slats of his rustic tiny-home while his soft-spoken partner bakes them donuts with a whisk he fashioned out of twigs. Kelly Reichardt understands that what the topaz-edged early autumn days in the Pacific Northwest need are mist and cool mud and also peaceful guitar melodies. Kelly Reichardt understands the inherent drama of a clafoutis.

She also understands the appeal of: Alia Shawkat, René Auberjonois as a disgruntled old man with a pet raven (!), my favorite British character actor Toby Jones, Cardinal Dussolier from The Young Pope, LILY GLADSTONE, and otherwise attentively ensuring that this naturalist world she is filming is full of Chinook and Multnomah people just living their various lives along the encroaching shoreline of capitalist American history.

In a graceful historian’s choice for a period piece, Alia Shawkat’s nearly wordless opening scene with her dog in the present day introduces our story’s eventual endpoint at the beginning, providing a poignant frame for all that is to come. But even before that, First Cow‘s emotional contextualizing begins foremost with an epigraph from William Blake: “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” And I would like to add another, from Ursula K. Le Guin: “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread.”


The Vast of Night

I watched The Vast of Night in the strange, crackling dark of the 4th of July. I thought it would be a good Americana watch for that night—a small town, 1950s, New Mexico, something in the sky. Just from that, you know what this movie is going to be. But what is so entrancing about The Vast of Night is how unusual its retro feels. It’s a movie with an assured artistic point of view, something that comes out of the look and the score and the pacing that I don’t really know else how to describe besides just with: vibes.

The Vast of Night is small and quiet, warm while still genuinely a little eerie and dark. It’s also dark in the sense that it all happens on one night, which is part of what feels different about this old-style sci-fi. The movie takes place in real-time over 85 minutes, the conceit that it’s bound by the length of the highly-attended first home basketball game of the season, which has left just a small number of people still out and about. Namely our two leads, who are both working tonight: Fay, a teenage switchboard operator, and her somewhat older friend Everett, the town’s young nighttime radio host. 

That at times it feels like Fay and Everett might be the only two people in this hushed desert town is just one of the ways first-time filmmaker Andrew Patterson spun atmosphere out the constraints of his micro $700,000 budget. A lot of which he clearly earmarked for good photography, in order to build much of the movie out of these hypnotic ground-level tracking shots (ground-level! again, unusual). If you’ve heard anything about this recent Amazon sleeper release, it’s probably about the one-take where the camera zips off on its own to wind across the empty town, linking the locations of our two main characters in geography and time. But I think my own favorite tracking shot is actually the long sequence that the pleasantly bewildering, quick-tumbling dialogue of the opening scene eventually settles into, where after they split off from the crowd gathering at the gymnasium, we smoothly follow along behind Fay and Everett at about knee height as they walk through the dark to her job at the switchboard, Everett casually teaching her how to conduct an on-the-fly interview on her new tape recorder he carries between them. 

These sorts of visuals are integral to the spell of this movie, but the fact that it frequently *feels* like it could have had life as an audio-only radio drama just speaks to how deeply The Vast of Night understands the matter of its story. The characters really speak like they’re in the ‘50s—or at least I presume, as most of this slang has gone completely out of circulation by 2020—and the naturalistic delivery of this midcentury dialogue is fun & curious to listen to. But the steady, floating movement of the camera in those chattering dialogue scenes also stills into these long moments where we will stay for minutes on end simply watching someone’s face in three-quarter view as they, too, quietly listen to something on the other end of the line. The first of these is over nine minutes long, just Fay alone at her switchboard trying to find an answer for a sound she can’t place, and was also the first time I told this movie aloud: “I like this so much.”

I like that this movie knows I find it wonderful to watch people do technical things with analogue equipment. I like that both leads are wearing these huge glasses that obscure half their face. I like that it’s a period piece that keeps its contemporary outlook in the framing, not the characters’ realities—let the movie be the one to think about quite literally giving a platform to historically marginalized voices, while its historical characters remain most concerned about McCarthyism.

And I really, really like this central relationship. It’s clear from the beginning that while Everett is still very young, he’s older than Fay in a way that has social significance. He has an adult know-how, he’s a young professional, and she’s a high schooler who’s not allowed to let anyone else carry her instrument as it’s on loan from the music teacher. Yet it’s also clear that despite their somewhat different ages, they’re friends, in that way that happens in small communities where social spheres Venn diagram a bit more. And all this means that what sounds on paper like it would be so traditional—a guy and girl who are experiencing a Strange Incident that brings them closer together—is playing on a different sort of register here, one that I found endlessly captivating. Profoundly into these two, just really really taken by them.

Things I was less into were only a few, and I think they’re related, and will be increasingly vague about it for those who haven’t seen this yet: the metafilmic framing device used at the beginning and then a few more times throughout is a good-natured apology for being genre that this film absolutely doesn’t need, and I believe that Twilight Zone-esque promise it made led to a certain overreaching in the specificity of a couple things later. That said, the fact that I know exactly what things I would change doesn’t change at all the fact that I love this movie completely.

In closing, there are only two films I can recall where I just turned it on to watch again in less than 72 hours, and the other one was also a small 85-minute real-time piece set at night, so I guess that’s something about me.


June(ish) Movie Diary

Movies watched recently, for relative 2020 value of recent:


One of my Film Club friends asked me if I wanted to have a virtual movie night back in late May, and I suggested the only thing I felt like watching at that particular juncture: 1999’s archeology action/adventure The Mummy, a movie I had never seen but knew was 1) dumb, 2) a Bisexual Heritage Film.

Here’s some facts:
– I had not watched a single feature film in the previous six weeks due to the Brain Fog
– for some reason I could not adjust the volume on my TV above “quiet”, so put the closed captioning on and got probably a third of my audio input through Kyle’s TV on the other end of the phone I was holding to my ear
– I was drinking some sort of Aperol & gin thing
– Kyle and I are chatty

For these reasons, I am supremely confident that I missed a significant amount of this movie. But we did not miss: how hot everyone was, how raucous everything was, and how every time the Increasingly Gay Hungarian reappeared his neckline was lower and his evilness higher. A real dumb fun evening! I’ll rewatch this some day.



Two weeks later, I decided to officially get back into movies, with the optimal pick for transitioning out of my pandemic lockdown regression rewatch of the first six seasons of the forensics procedural CSI: Michael Mann’s 1986 forensics art filme Manhunter, starring also William Petersen, but baby.

My friend Alex, Manhunter aficionado, had told me that since I’d seen Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal series, I should be set up pretty well to follow the plot, which was reportedly rather disorienting to a lot of audiences when this came out. And ho boy yeah, I sure imagine it would be! Manhunter is one of the strangest movies I’ve ever watched, because the thing feels *exactly* like it’s the sequel to a movie that came before, only there wasn’t one. Mann just made Manhunter. This creates such a surreal, dream-like feel, replicating that sensation from dreams (or nightmares) where it’s like you’ve just been dropped into the middle of something that’s already happening and now must navigate it from here, vague understandings of context and other characters rising up at odd moments as you go through. Honestly I thought this was kind of perfect for the material, but of course I’m familiar with the greater ~Thomas Harris mythos~ in which the events of Manhunter are situated, so like: RIP to the 1980s audiences but I’m different.

Speaking of the ‘80s though, I would guess another reason people might have been thrown by this is that even though it’s a murder movie, technically even a cop movie, Manhunter has so little to do with action, and everything to do with #Aesthetic. The lights! the look! the SYNTHS. This almost drowsy, understated affect even while the content is all so sensational, and frequently occurring under the slow boom of like, ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ (true facts). It’s a trip and an experience, a total mood poem bearing much, much more in common with Fuller’s Hannibal in that respect than to the later Harris Oscar-winner, Silence of the Lambs. Which makes a lot of sense given that Fuller reportedly told every new director on his show: “We are not making television, we are making a pretentious art film from the 80s.” This is that movie!

One final note: I knew that Will Graham’s incredible Miami pink short shorts he wears in this have made quite the impact on the Harris fandom, but what I did not know is that the costume designer for Manhunter was a young Colleen Atwood, meaning I’m only two degrees from The Manhunter Shorts. My mom grew up in the same tiny town as Colleen, and in high school was best friends with her little sister. One time they visited Colleen when she was living in Hawaii and my mom accidentally let her bird out of the house. Anyway now she’s very famous, and also I saw was tapped to do the costumes for Silence of the Lambs five years later, which I think is nice; keeping it in the family.



I was looking forward to seeing Josephine Decker’s new film, and supremely so once I learned it would star the genius Elizabeth Moss as horror author Shirley Jackson and the genius Michael Stuhlbarg as her horrible professor husband. HELLO TO THIS PAIRING, hello to this CONCEPT. Because I’ve been describing Shirley to people as being to Josephine Decker what The Favourite was to Yorgos Lanthimos: a highly idiosyncratic director applying their intense brand of artistry to someone else’s script this time, instead of doubling down on their own. In both cases, the resulting movie is still distinctly Them, but the meliorating influence of having another voice in there right from the ground level has rendered something a bit more accessible than their other work. I know ‘accessible’ can be a bad word in the art world, and of course it shouldn’t be taken to be synonymous with ‘better’, but I also think there is something to be said about the limitations of art that seems to take the description ‘challenging’ as a challenge.

And listen, Decker sure didn’t make a traditional biopic any more than Lanthimos did for Queen Anne. It’s still weird! That woozy, close camerawork in Madeline’s Madeline that made you feel like you were pressing right up against a character’s psyche is absolutely here in Shirley too, just not at that same ceaseless, seasick pitch. It’s feralness is moving within a more reserved structure, which honestly fits really well with this story. Sarah Gubbins’s screenplay is based on a novel, not a biography, in which lives a fictional Shirley Jackson—this is Shirley as she might have written herself if she were a character in one of her stories. So for instance, at the period in Shirley’s life when this movie takes place, she had four children. She has no children here. And that’s because this isn’t a story about Shirley as a mother, it’s about Shirley as an almost dangerously inspiring figure of female madness. The women in Shirley Jackson’s stories frequently become unhinged, and other women have always found them spookily intoxicating. “I read your story,” Rose compulsively tells Shirley when she meets her, after finishing ‘The Lottery’ on the train—“It made me feel…thrillingly horrible.”

Shirley is fantastic shut-in fare for the pandemic summer of 2020. Jackson’s later-life agoraphobia has been moved up a bit, and most of the movie is focused on unspooling a faintly disorienting portrait of Shirley & Rose’s relationship as they move in and around a big old house in Vermont. I haven’t read Hangsaman, the novel Jackson is writing in the film, but I thought a lot about the hated recluses of We Have Always Lived In the Castle watching it. Further appropriate to this summer, it always feels quite warm in this movie, and also so. Bennington. If Donna Tartt is your nemesis, this is your antidote to The Secret History. Even though this is set in 1950 and stylized to the nines, it’s still more accurate to the atmosphere of what these small prestigious colleges in small parochial New England towns are actually like. I’m sure I’m not the first person to make this comparison, but I usually think of Shirley Jackson as the New England gothic reflection to Flannery O’Connor’s Southern gothic, and that element they both have of something kind of insular and nasty is captured so well here. And in this case, when it’s set around a college, the gothic manifests into that particular kind of sordid intellectualism that is like the opposite of Donna Tartt’s version—designed not to glamorize, but to maim.



A lot of film people began talking about the continued relevance of 1989’s Do the Right Thing in the early days of the June uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I realized that was a Spike Lee movie I hadn’t seen yet. Then I realized that in fact, all Spike Lee movies were Spike Lee movies I hadn’t seen yet. Well that’s no good! I started here.

And it seems I started at the top with this one. Most of Do the Right Thing feels like one of those meandering, gently comedic/gently poignant slice-of-life movies that use a bunch of different little parallel story threads to weave together an impression of a community & time. But then as we near the end, and all the threads suddenly knot together and get yanked toward violence, oh man—“this is a MOVIE though,” I said aloud, and then started shaking. Really masterfully crafted. The whole time I’d been thinking it was good, sure, but when I finished it, it kept rising higher in my estimation. Even just design things—like how the opening credits play over Rosie Perez dancing on what is clearly a stage, a glossy floor with a backdrop of the kind of brownstones that line the street of Bed-Stuy, and then when the movie that follows takes place clearly outside on actual streets, the fact that you saw a version of this environment as a closed set at the start primes you to think of this neighborhood as a self-contained system as well, almost with the air of the setting of a kids’ show like Sesame Street, or John Mulaney’s recent little gem The Sack Lunch Bunch. And with that framework in place, then it’s so easy to see the events of Do the Right Thing as a lesson that’s being presented. We’re the kids at Spike Lee’s after-school center, and he’s telling us a morality tale.

And somehow this movie can do that, can literally even be called “Do the Right Thing”—no hang on, more than that: it can have a Beanie Feldstein-in-Lady Bird approved *titular line* where someone instructs the main character, Spike Lee himself!, to “Always do the right thing,” (“That’s it?” skinny young Spike responds. “That’s it.”)—and yet SOMEHOW, none of this philosophizing feels lame! I don’t know how you pull that off! It’s never lame, and it’s frequently cool, for all that the weather is h o t, hot hot. And then at the end, when it becomes a Big Ol’ Movie, it’s shattering. Do the Right Thing was released the year I was born. It feels like it was written this morning. 


Rashomon / Rashomama

A fact of my biography it occasionally surprises me to remember, is that I spent a good amount of my high school career doing my homework in front of reruns of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on Spike TV (R.I.P.). Just the original Las Vegas version—the only time I touched another CSI property was the CSI: Miami backdoor pilot where Catherine and Warrick appeared in a cross-over special. My favorite thing I learned about while watching CSI was the hemoglobin deficiency known as porphyria. My favorite joke I saw on CSI was when Grissom casually established a metric of measurement at a crime scene based on units of Greg, the young lab tech recently graduated to field work, and a personal favorite of me and my best friend. And one of my favorite episodes of CSI was the jokey concept piece in Season 6 where four of the characters each recalled their investigation of a crime scene after Nick’s car was stolen with all the evidence in it.

The episode was called ‘Rashomama’, a reference to the Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon, I would learn later, and I adored everything about it. The conceit of repeatedly revisiting the same scenario though different characters’ perspectives was like catnip for me. You not only learned something more about the case each time, you also learned more about that character through how they saw the scene and their role within it. There were marked differences in the scoring and color correction for each run-through, ranging from adjustments in the saturation and tint to one rendition in full film noir black & white (Greg, obviously). This ability to swap between whole different genres within one work, as part of the overall story you’re telling, their distinct aesthetics serving as the tools for how you are telling it, while also creating the opportunity for beaucoup ~comedy moments~, was one of the most artistically exciting concepts my baby mind had ever been presented with.

And that would be my primary reference for “Rashomon”-style storytelling for the next 14 years. And one of my last references for CSI, too—like most of my high school shows, I dropped it after the next season when I went off to college.

But this week, in the spring of 2020, I decided it was high time I finally watch the original Japanese film that had inspired that episode. And that it was also time to rewatch a bit of CSI for the first time in over a decade.

Rashomon (1950) is also the story of one crime told through four different perspectives. This is the first and most fundamental way in which that old episode of a CBS murder show turns out to have made a pretty solid creative choice. In the movie though, all of the characters were primary actors or witnesses to the event, which left a woman raped and her husband dead. The characters recount what happened to an unseen judge at an open-air court trial in 8th century Japan, each testimony interwoven with a new flashback of what happened in the grove three days before. Interestingly though, the larger framing device means that all of these stories are coming to us through just two of the witnesses, as they repeat what was said at the hearing to another man sheltering with them from a rainstorm. The last memory we see is that of the woodcutter, the primary witness, who is ultimately the only one to speak to us first-hand (the dead man’s story actually even coming to us from two steps removed, initially through the medium claiming to be channelling his spirit). Perhaps appropriately then, the woodcutter’s is the one version that is distinct in any significant formal way: unlike the first three, there is no musical score in his. This effect of sudden unadorned quietness absolutely works to make his tale seem more credible than the others, though the film is still deliberately constructed to keep us uncertain.

Overall, my response to Rashomon was similar to my response to recently watching The Seventh Seal for the first time. I see why this movie, which even 70 years later still does carry some of that air of novelty it had upon its release, was so influential on filmmaking to come, but unlike other black & white movies from the 1950s that I’ve super loved, I was just not that into either of these. Both have plenty that people can write serious essays about, given the films’ engagements with such big ticket topics as God and Truth, so maybe that’s partly why their legacies endure. I would hope it’s not for their poor treatment of women, which was once again a real drag to watch here!

The ‘Rashomama’ episode of CSI also features a number of unflattering female stereotypes, and a woman’s murder. Though she is confirmed by all who knew her to be a cruel and conniving piece of work, which is what allows this to be one of the show’s occasional lighthearted episodes only possible when the victim is a villain in their own right. Anyway, was rewatching this thing ever a full-body astral projection into the past. The number of times I discovered that the way an actor had delivered a line was still lodged in my brain somewhere was, frankly, more horrifying than any of the network-cleared gore. At the same time, boy I had forgotten a lot! The roster of guest stars in this episode was its own trip that I was entirely not expecting. Ray Wise is in this. He’s introduced lurking through a window with a creepy grin and I said aloud “SURELY NOT.” But oh yes, it was Leland Palmer, little as I would have known that back in 2006. Continuing in the Lynchverse, Amanda Seyfried’s appearance a scene or two later I actually accepted quickly, as I think one of my first memories of her was an appearance on House, another of my high school faves.

But the guest actor that really threw me, the one I believe no one anticipated transforming into the outright jump scare it is today, was when, into a faintly fishbowl close-up shot, Chris Hardwick’s face suddenly swung into view. My blood fully ran cold for a moment as my brain’s gears screeched in shock and dismay. Truly chillingly, he’s even playing a “Nice Guy.” Wow no thank you, The Past!

Besides that part though, this episode was still the somewhat ghoulish but fun-having romp that I remembered (it’s CSI, it’s always kinda ghoulish). The CSIs are given time to just joke around with each other with that comfortable, broken-in familiarity you get from actors in a long-running program. The gradual reveal of the [spoilers] ad hoc nature of the crime diffuses homicidal responsibility among a number of people, with the added bonus of lending the story a dash of that getting-the-team-together collaborative spirit of a heist movie. And of course, there’s that distinct Rashomon story structure lighting the whole thing up.

In writer Sarah Goldfinger’s version for CSI, the different perspectives we see don’t fundamentally contradict one another as they do in Kurosawa’s, where the manner of the death and the person left holding the weapon changes from tale to tale. Interestingly, Goldfinger’s is deployed with the opposite intent: where in the original Rashomon each character’s version of events further confounds what happened, in ‘Rashomama’ each telling actually brings us closer to the truth. Meanwhile, the stylistic differences between the memories has been greatly amplified from the movie’s more subtle framing, even moving fully into genre by the time we hit the noir, which is a direction for this four-part recollection format that I support with my whole heart. Like, every single one of the investigators remembers the flowers of the archway differently, and that is that kind of surreal thrill of a detail that I love.

So at the end of the day, CSI may be still be a simple, schlocky little episodic slice of murder sensationalism, but its sixth season Rashomon episode really did do some great things with the concept.


Spoilers below

Bacurau is a Brazilian Weird Western with lots of bullets and blood, and not, as I had originally thought, mostly about a Google Maps dystopia erasing indigenous communities. It’s still about the erasing of indigenous communities, in a big way, but that erasure is not merely surreally technological, but very directly literal through a group of white people who have rolled up upon Bacurau to carry out their own personal Most Dangerous Game.

And that’s where this movie started to kinda shake apart for me. Just because they’d done such a good job endearing me toward this little town through an unhurried, nuanced, funny and beautiful opening. These characters and their relationships to one another were all so rich and layered, and then after about 45 minutes or so, these blood-thirsty cartoons showed up. I mean, it’s a whole conversation whether it’s more artistically moral to depict bigoted characters as just flat evil and irredeemable or more complicated and humanized, and my answer would be: each has their place in different kinds of works! I have no problem with deranged trigger-happy white supremacists as a genre concept, by all means go RIGHT ahead. My issue is just when these one-note monsters started taking story space away from the real characters. Sure it’s definitely The Point that the people of Bacurau feel alive and human and interesting and the hunters do not, but it’s just a fact of simplistic characters that they’re less engaging to watch. My solution would be really simple: just cut down a whole lot of their screen time. We don’t actually need it, we can put together what’s happening as the people of Bacurau do, alongside them. I think that would have been a better balance just from an entertainment perspective, maybe also an artistic one for that matter, without losing the central conceit of what this movie is trying to do as an anti-imperialist revenge fantasy.

I do think Bacurau is ultimately successful, I just found it noticeably not as strong as it could have been, in that latter part. Again, part of it comes from how much I really enjoyed the beginning portion. Things like the couple on the outskirts of town radioing over to I think everyone’s cell phones to let them know someone’s driving up, all like “you’ve got two minutes until that asshole mayoral candidate shows up, two minutes,” is such a fantastic way to illustrate community, something deep in my human soul just thrilled to that. And it’s visually fun and pretty too, with some psychedelic little bits of editing that had my quietly cheering, just sitting alone on my couch. And there was the one part about the town disappearing from maps for me to enjoy, as the map freak I apparently suddenly am.