Friday, January 27, 2023

Notes on Film: Drop the Pretense

 by Anthony King

I don't want a “that guy” reputation.

My movie goals have been front and center in my head lately, and I feel good about them. Not only because I'm keeping up with said goals, but also because I'm avoiding becoming a “that guy” guy. But before I go deeper, here's a quick recap of what I've been watching lately.

As promised I watched the second film in the Lone Wolf and Cub series, Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972). Having already seen Shogun Assassin (1980), I'd seen probably 75% of this movie. Like the first, I was treated to another stunning performance from Tomisaburo Wakayama. Unlike the first, though, I was treated to a hundred times more blood. The opening scene finds Ogami up against fellow assassins. Driving his sword directly down the middle of his opponent's skull, opening the dam to a reservoir full of bright red blood caused my wife to turn towards me bitterly and ask, “Is this whole movie going to be like this?” To which I responded gleefully, “Oh yeah!” Which brought forth the response, “Yeah. No thanks.” before she left the room. This opening sequence only ushered in more of the same, which my eyes ingested with reckless abandon. At one point Ogami kicks the titular baby cart, jockeyed by the titular Cub, toward a row of assassins. With a push of a button, the kid unleashes blades from the wheels which amputate the feet of the killers. The movie ends in a Jodorowski-esque sequence of Lone Wolf and Cub continuing their journey through a barren desert where they encounter more assassins. If this is what the remaining four films have in store for me, I will be the happiest of campers.
A couple weeks ago I asked Mike Scott to send me a list of 10 action films I have to see. This is all leading toward the topic of this week's column, but I love action movies yet I never seem to watch any. So, being the great friend he is, Mike sends over a list of 31 action movies I have to see. I began checking the boxes with Steve Wang's Drive (1997). This being my first Mark Dacascos picture, I had zero clue to what lay ahead. What lay ahead, dear reader, were some of the swiftest and cleanest martial arts moves I've ever seen. I realize I'm very late to the game on this movie, but boy am I glad this was the first one I watched on the list. The fight choreography, especially when Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison are handcuffed together, was very reminiscent of my all time favorite kung fu movie, Dirty Ho (1979). Insanely rewatchable with plenty of laugh out loud moments and action sequences that literally made me guffaw several times, Drive was a hit with me.
Finally, speaking of movie goals, I watched my first Geraldine Chaplin movie of the year. She starred in several of (her then-husband) Carlos Saura's films in the '60s and '70s, all shot in and around Spain. My friend Vinny had been singing the praises of these movies since they were streaming on the Criterion Channel, so I pushed play on Peppermint Frappe (1967). Chaplin plays a dual role here, one as a nebbishy nurse, the other as a wild and free new bride. The nurse works for a doctor whose friend has just returned from a trip, bringing along his new bride. The doctor seduces his friend's wife but fails, so then turns to the comfort of his nurse. It's a tale of paranoia, obsession, and lust from all sides that kept me hypnotized the entire time, and only spurred me on to watch all the other Saura/Chaplin films.
Now to the topic at hand. I understand most people don't choose to be a certain way -- most sane people, that is. We are who we are, and we like what we like. But there are some people I can't help wondering if deep down they're being their authentic selves or if they're playing a character and saying things they don't really believe. This also brings to mind something my sponsor's sponsor always says: “If you spot it, you got it.” So yes, my name is Anthony and I'm an alcoholic and sometimes a try-hard. Some mornings I wake up and think, “I wanna be the '80s cop movie guy,” or, “I wanna be the '70s movie guy,” or, “I wanna be the cult movies guy.” And while I love '80s cop movies, movies from the '70s, and cult movies, that's really limiting myself as a film fan and, more importantly, a film supporter. We see this constantly on Twitter, and lord help me I hope I'm not seen as one of those guys. You know what I want to be? I want to be nice and someone who just likes movies. Because movies are neat. And so is being nice.
In the first month of 2023 I've reexamined my film-viewing habits. I think 2022 was a good start when I went through the Star Wars series for the first time and came out a giant fan of the movies and TV shows. I always thought I was too good for that stuff. “Oh, everyone's talking about this certain thing?” I say to myself before making the conscious decision to turn the other way with a snort of derision and holding my nose high. “New releases? Please. I'll go watch this shitty copy of a Platoon ripoff on YouTube instead because it's soooooo much better.” Of course, I would never say these things flat out in conversation or writing because I'm a coward, but it's there in the subtext and it's there echoing in my head. Some (most?) of you reading this may be thinking, “Jesus, I'm certainly not like that. What the hell's wrong with this guy?” And you're probably not like that because most people just watch movies and either like them or not and that's where it stops. But with me, it has to be a whole production for some reason. So in short, I'm going to stop being a prick. And I feel pretty good about it.

Thus, my 2023 movie goals. And really, these goals fall under the umbrella of “I'm not too good for any piece of art or entertainment.” I didn't watch Ambulance last year because everyone said it was great. Then I watched it last week, and guess what? It's fucking great. I only punished myself by choosing not to see it on the big screen. Infinity Pool seems like it'll be one of the most divisive movies of the year. Old Anthony would've hopped on his high horse and shouted, “You simps go on an argue over your new movie. I'm going to go watch this adult film from the Golden Age of Porn that was made for $12.” New Anthony? I already bought my tickets and will be sitting in row six, seats four and five, Friday night at 7:30. I'm the weirdo that makes a calendar spreadsheet for what movies I'm going to watch and when. Each week I need to tick each of these four boxes at least once: one John Woo movie, one Geraldine Chaplin movie, one non-English speaking movie, and one new release. This holds me accountable so I don't get lost up my own ass like I do every year.
Here's what I've learned about myself and my movie-viewing habits so far this year:

I LOVE action movies and explosions and punching and guns (in movies).

If I put down my God-forsaken phone, Japanese cinema is spectacular.

While there are still shitty movies being made, there are some really great movies being made in the year of our Lord 2023.

Again, these are obvious things most people already know and/or love. Apparently I was not most people.


  1. Well, to me you're that guy who does the articles on friday 😁

  2. I think part of someone becoming "that guy" is that there's so many voices out there on social media now that nobody is going to remember the post from the latest person out of hundreds of millions to discover that Star Wars is good. This leads to people staking out niches for themselves in order to sort of define their online personas/brand more and that becomes 90-100% of what they want to post about.

    Ultimately I guess there's nothing wrong with being "that guy" (especially if you've got a podcast or website or something you want to get noticed), but yeah I'm sure sometimes it's good to take a step back and get some perspective from time to time.

  3. Baby Cart At The River Styx may be the best of the series. With the third Lone Wolf and Cub entry you might notice some spaghetti western influences. The lethality of the baby cart only intensifies.

    Drive is one of my top candidates for a Junesploitation watch this year. Found a good sale at Black Friday for it. Somehow I never stop thinking about Junesploitation. "Hey, this film would be perfect for June," goes a thought in my head. Thus another disc gets added to my collection to find the time for.

    I never seem to get excited about current films no matter how much effort I put into watching them. Sometimes a new film will call out to me to watch it, particularly within certain genres, but I seem perpetually drawn to cinema's past. I accept it at this point.