Friday, January 20, 2023

Notes on Film: Why Do We Hate Movies

 by Anthony King

Time to stop being a fun sponge.

A chef I worked with used to refer to his ex-girlfriend as a “fun sponge.” It's one of my favorite nouns and I use it constantly. But before I become a fun sponge about being a fun sponge, a quick recap of what I've watched recently.

As mentioned on this week's podcast by Patrick, Sick (2022) is a rad and tight home invasion thriller starring Gideon Adlon and Bethlehem Million. The only other John Hyams movie I'd seen was Alone (2020) which was fine but ultimately forgettable. Sick, while hitting too close to home for some people as I've seen on Twitter because it takes place during the 2020 quarantine, handles the subject matter differently, meaning it tackles quarantine head-on and almost uses it as a gimmick rather than being melodramatic about. I could be way off base here, but I'm ready for fun pandemic movies. While the reality of the situation is serious and absolutely dire, I for one don't want that in my movies. I need escapism, and Hyams provides it tenfold. Like Patrick said, avoid everything you can about this movie and go in blind as a bat. I've said all I'm going to about the plot. I will say, however, there is a moment in this movie that evoked a response from me unlike anything I've ever experienced. In less than 60 seconds I went from sitting on the edge of my seat with my heart pounding out of my chest to laughing hysterically and tears welling up in my eyes to my jaw dropping to the floor and question marks circling around my head in pure shock. In keeping with my movie goals this is the second 2023 release I've seen this year and I'm off to a banger start.
I watched my seventh John Woo film of the year, and as expected I was blown away. A Better Tomorrow II (1987) is the follow up to the first film from 1986 with Ti Lung, Chow Yun-Fat, and Leslie Cheung all returning. Chow Yun-Fat keeps his place as the King of Cool playing the twin brother of his character from the first film. Cheung's Kit is undercover trying to bust a counterfeit ring while his brother, Sung (Lung), is in prison. Kit isn't getting anywhere so the commissioner enlists the help of his brother. Along the way Kit and Sung realize they need help, and because they're buddy Mark died in the first film, they recruit his twin Ken. Like the first film and like most Woos, this has incredible action set pieces, thrilling and over the top shoot-outs, and plenty of gif-able moments.
I'm trying to get into Japanese cinema this year as I've found Japanese period pieces to be quite dull in the past. I will learn to love them, though. A great entry point I figured would be the Lone Wolf and Cub series, so I started at the beginning with Sword of Vengeance (1972). I saw the American, cut-to-hell version of the first two films, Shogun Assassin (1980), last year and enjoyed it enough to want to seek out the original versions. Like my friend Lance said on Letterboxd, “A completely unnecessary film in my opinion. However, if Shogun Assassin pulls in more folks to seek out & watch the original Lone Wolf and Cub films then more power to it.” And indeed that's what happened with me. Starring Tomisaburo Wakayama as the titular “Lone Wolf” aka Itto Ogami, a Shogunate executioner goes on a path of revenge with his infant son. Exciting, a little touching, but mostly bloody as hell, and clocking in at under 90 minutes, Sword of Vengeance only whet my appetite for the following five films in this series. I'll probably report back next week with the second film, Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972).
As per my 2023 movie goals, I've also kept up with watching at least one short per day. Here are a few of note:
Fantasmas (Andre Novais Oliveira | 2010)
The Tender Game (John Hubley | 1958)
Drag-A-Long Droopy (Tex Avery | 1954)
Because Men in Silk Shirts on Lagos Nights (Arie Esiri | 2019)

Now to the topic at hand. I've recently recorded a couple podcasts on movies I didn't really like. Caged Heat (1972), I will admit, I'm probably wrong about. I enjoy the women in prison sub-genre, I like Jonathan Demme, and god love an exploitation movie. It just feels... off to me. The other, Frank Capra's A Hole in the Head (1959), is a giant turd and I'm probably right about it. But both these movies got me talking, mostly about the things I hated in them. And I started thinking about why we like to talk about movies we don't like. We all say we'd much rather talk about movies we love, but I don't know if that's true. Like Rob mentioned on this week's show, “Sorry to the folks that thought this was going to be like The Chris Farley Show.” A Hole in the Head was an infuriating movie and I will never watch it again, but here I am slagging it in writing after slagging it for 30 minutes on a podcast. I can list off everything I love about a movie, but it's more fun to dissect everything about a movie I hate. Why? Is it because I want to figure out why I hate a movie? Is it fun to shit on stuff? Or is it something more? Something that is better suited for a psychology blog rather than a movie blog. Like most questions I ask in this column, I don't have the answer. And I don't think there's a correct answer.
There's something that lives in the front of my brain ever since I read it last fall. In “Movie Journal: The Rise of the New American Cinema,” Jonas Mekas writes in one of his columns for The Village Voice how he and his fellow like minded film writers would never write criticism on a film they hadn't seen at least 20 times, usually 30 times. He says you can't properly form a well thought out opinion and commit to your feelings about a piece of art/film until you've spent that much time with it. My first reaction to that is, “Are you insane??? Who has the goddamn time to watch ANY movie 30 times??? Even the ones you like!” But the further I get away from the moment I read that, the deeper it's burrowed into my head, developing a stronger root system by the day. The reviews I read and the podcasts I listen to are almost all initial reactions to the films being covered. Sure, maybe someone watched a movie two times in preparation for their review, but according to Mekas, who, I'm afraid, is probably correct, isn't nearly enough to really grasp what is being covered.

This leads me to think, then, that we love to be the fun sponge with movies because we haven't properly taken the time to digest everything going on in a single picture. We seek instant gratification, though. We want everything right this instant. There's too much on our plate to focus on one thing. We simply don't have the time any more. A weekly podcast dictates that, unless you schedule a year in advance, you will have time to watch the movie of the week once – twice if you have minimal responsibilities. Festival coverage is an entirely different animal where film writers rush out of the auditorium, hole up wherever possible in the lobby of the theater, and crank out 500 words in 15 minutes before film number two of 12 for the day begins. Movies and their creators absolutely deserve more of our time than we give them. So with that in mind, I'm going to try and make it a point to avoid spouting any snarky comments or shitting on a movie unless I'm able to give it its due time. That means I can't say A Hole in the Head is a giant piece of shit unless I watch it 19 more times.


  1. Hey, i just bought Lone Wolf Criterion. Now i have to watch it 😜

    I saw the first movie a long time ago, it was fun

  2. Baby Cart At The River Styx might be the most stylish of the Lone Wolf and Cub series. (I still have not seen the 5th and 6th films yet.)

    After giving Caged Heat a couple of chances to grow on me, I am in your camp about it, Anthony. The serious tone of a lot of the film gives me the impression that Jonathan Demme did not want to be making an exploitative WIP film. Comparing it Jack Hill's prison films of the time, there is not as much fun to had watching Caged Heat. It does have a great exploitation cast, though.

  3. Japanese films I highly recommend:
    - Ran. A historical epic. Long (2hrs 40ish mins I recall) but well worth your time.
    - Your Name. A dazzling and beautiful anime.
    - Battle Royale. A classic. Compelling and poignant in it's own way.
    - The Twilight Samurai. A period piece/historical drama. Via wikipedia: 'The Twilight Samurai won an unprecedented 12 Japanese Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay'.
    - Promare. When you want to have the most fun you've had in a long time, check out Promare. It made me feel like a little kid again. The movement, the music, the crescendos (!), the sheer energy and love for what they are doing (Studio Trigger - they are probably making the most ambitious animation in the world right now) comes right through the screen and into your brain. Unmissable.. yet no one I know has seen it.

    And many many more but those are some quick recommends.