I hope you’ve all had a pleasant couple of weeks out there as quarantines around the country seem to taper off – at least for now. I’ve used this time to watch a few films up for review, which I’m hoping to have done in the near future. First we have Scoob!, the newest film in the Scooby-Doo canon. I’ll be holding off on my thoughts until the review goes up, but Scoob! turned out to be…a deeply weird film. It, in many ways, feels like a relic of a time gone by in children’s Hollywood history. However, Scoob! is not the only new film I saw this period. I also rented Capone and Emma. for review in the near future. One is an absolute delight, and the other is the weirdest f*cking movie I’ve seen…maybe ever? Make of that what you will. And naturally, I spent last Friday watching the three biggest releases of the summer thus far: Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, Kenneth Branagh’s Artemis Fowl, and Judd Apatow’s The King of Staten Island. It was a varied day filled with “mehs,” shocking lows, and thrilling highs, and I can’t wait to share my thoughts with you all soon.
Meanwhile, as a means of countering some of the bad films and news I’ve been seeing during this time in quarantine, I also branched out to watch a litany of classic films that I’d either seen before or not. For example, at my mother’s request, we watched the animated Robin Hood (with the hot foxes) and Life Is Beautiful around Mother’s Day, each of which is terrific in their own way. Robin Hood is one of the most straightforward, well-made films in the Disney canon, even though much of the animation is recycled due to the company’s near-bankruptcy during production. Meanwhile, while I understand some of the criticisms surrounding Life Is Beautiful, its message surrounding gallows humor and finding the beauties and humor in life in the face of unbelievable cruelty is incredibly touching and well-handled (I’d also argue that its misdirect with a first-act romantic comedy is one of the most successful feints in cinematic history, and makes the second half all the more devastating). Meanwhile, I also utilized The Criterion Channel to see some classics, including a series of first watches that blew me away. For example, Jason and the Argonauts may suffer from some slightly dated special effects, but I’m shocked at how much better they look than some of the CGI from even ten years ago. I’d take Harryhausen puppetry over green screen technology any day of the week. Meanwhile, In Cold Blood was a luscious, shocking film noir that had me enraptured from beginning to end. Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets was an eerily prescient neo-noir horror film that featured one of Boris Karloff’s finest performances and a horrifically poignant message that remains ignored to this day. Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle, while not a perfect film, features a series of bits that offer a critique of Hollywood’s treatment of African-Americans in a horrifically, hilariously spot-on way. And with the news cycle currently the way it is, I felt now was a perfect time to see the timely films of the 60s The Battle of Algiers and Z. Algiers is a shocking piece of docudrama realness that deserves its title as one of the greatest films of all time, but it is Z’s brutally, hilariously blunt message of government corruption, abuse of power, and so-dumb-it’s-true conspiracy theories that truly won my heart. It may be one of the best films of all time.
Meanwhile, I finally fulfilled my goal of the past few years to watch The Longest Day on the anniversary of D-Day. I was a little skeptical going in considering Zanuck as a producer tended to be a little ham-fisted and saccharine. However, while there were certainly moments of that in the three-hour epic, I was pleased to find that the film really does hold-up from beginning to end. Even as films and shows like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers come along to give a more accurate, brutal depiction of what D-Day was actually like for the soldiers in question, it is hard to not be blown away by the scope and structure of the story and performers. And Phantom of the Paradise proved to be an insane journey inside the mind of Brian De Palma, and one of the most pure Cult Classic experiences I’ve ever seen. I’ve never wanted to see a film on the big screen with a full audience at midnight more. In fact, the only film to disappoint from this list of classics was my Memorial Day viewing of Coming Home. While it may have had lasting power during the 70s, not only did I find myself negatively comparing the film’s message to contemporaries and later entries like The Deer Hunter and Born on the Fourth of July, but the performances from Jane Fonda and Jon Voight just don’t hold up. I found myself more interested in Bruce Dern and Penelope Milford to be far more intriguing than either of the film’s leads. On the comedy side of things, I showed my brother The Naked Gun for the first time, and it is incredible how well those jokes hold up. I also revisited The Bad News Bears for the first time in years, and am incredibly pleased to report that it holds up remarkably well all these years later (outside of one or two uses of slurs on the part of the protagonists). And the other night, I decided to pay tribute to Fred Willard with Best In Show. I’m sure there are better films out there, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a comedy series with a better cast or funnier jokes than the Christopher Guest mockumentary series. Finally, I concluded this period with two of my favorite films from the past few years: Mandy and Hustlers. Mandy is a far weirder film than I even remember (if that’s possible), but that weirdness, and a soulful, moving performance by Nicolas Cage made it one that I can’t stop thinking about all these years later. As for Hustlers, it is still remarkable how well that film holds up even a year later, thanks to great acting and writing. However, one thing that should be talked about with the same level of enthusiasm is Lorene Scafaria’s direction. It is a brilliantly shot and executed film, and is still a treat a year later.
On television, I’ve found myself balanced evenly between reruns of some of my favorite shows as well as new releases that I’m absolutely adoring. In terms of reruns, I’ve recently revisited Parks and Recreation, in honor of their terrific Quarantine Reunion they held the other week. I watched several of my favorite episodes, including “Soul Mates,” “Bailout,” “The Fight,” and the introduction to Ben and Chris at the end of Season 2. Similarly, I’ve been revisiting 30 Rock, as a means of restoring a sense of joyful comedy to my life. It’s really astounding how well those jokes hold up – and based on the episodes I watched, how well Carrie Fisher can act. I’ve also been entertaining myself with trash television, like the finale to The Masked Singer and the premiere of (*deep inhale*) Ultimate Tag. These are two of the dumbest shows on television and I will never get over the sheer joy of their existence. In terms of revisits and binges, I’m still working my way through Grey’s Anatomy, although my pace has significantly slowed, while I’ll leave The Office on every time it’s on cable. And I want to give a shout out to Saturday Night Live’s Quarantine Episodes, which remain high points in the show’s recent seasons. Rick and Morty came and went with its usual level of dark humor and pseudo-intellectual pop, and I’ve been really digging Lil Dicky’s television premiere Dave. However, I’d say that in these past few weeks as the world falls to sh*t, there have been three shows to properly give me the release of comedy I’ve so desperately craved: What We Do In The Shadows, Harley Quinn, and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Meanwhile, with the world still in lockdown (and our chances of a happy reopening diminishing with every Karen to leave the house without a mask…no offense meant to my actual Aunt Karen…), I’ve started resorting to entirely new ways of entertaining myself during these troubling times. My strangest, yet most soothing hobby has involved finding recordings of Broadway original casts and reliving some of my favorite musicals with their greatest performers. Some of my favorites have included the toe-tapping joy of Thoroughly Modern Millie, the silly joy of Spamalot (David Hyde Pierce is truly remarkable in it), and the dark glee of Reefer Madness: The Musical. In terms of podcasts, I listened to Marc Maron’s tribute to his late partner, Lynn Shelton, on WTF with Marc Maron, a show that I legitimately loved and has drawn me into the Maron universe. In a quest to get back into reading, and long before their author made an ass of herself online, I began a journey in which I reread the Harry Potter books several times, each from a different side character’s perspective. My greatest discoveries note that Sirius Black is a far more interesting character than we realized, and Ginny Weasley may in fact be the series’ greatest character, and an underrated gem. Oh, and I’d like to let you all know that my good friend Tamar Shahrigian has recently published a book of her poems, titled Since I Won’t Say This Out Loud. I kind of hate poetry, and I especially hate Rupi Kaur brand of poetry, so take my word for it when I say that most of these poems are moving and well-formed. It’s on Amazon right now, you should give it a read.
That wraps up this week’s What I Watched, What You Watched. I’ll be back next week with a new list of classics I’ve been checking out – especially while the Criterion Channel still offers an impressive list of Protest films and Black filmmakers. I’ll also try to finish a few reviews I’ve been working on, but I won’t make any promises about when those will go up. In the meantime, feel free to comment below with the films and shows you’ve been watching, as well as your thoughts on the pop culture I’ve been consuming. See you all next week!