Friday, December 22, 2023

Notes on Film: In the Wilderness

 by Anthony King

The identity struggle continues...

I've been MIA for the past two weeks, and I'll share a little secret: I kind of loved not having to worry about watching, writing, or podcasting commitments. As much as I love movies, sometimes it feels like a job, and I don't want movies to feel like a job. More in a bit, but first, what I've been watching.
Radiance Films recently released Yuzo Kawashima's way-ahead-of-its-time social commentary film Elegant Beast aka The Graceful Brute (1962). The story tells of a family living above their means solely by scamming others out of their money. Every single character portrayed is awful, including the victims. I love a movie populated with terrible humans because we rarely get movies like that any more. Elegant Beast is essentially a bottle story in that it all takes place within a tiny apartment. There are a few moments where the camera is put into the hallway or in the neighboring apartment, but for the most part it's a Rear Window-style tale centered around a late middle-aged couple and their two adult children who swindle lovers and business partners out of millions of dollars. When visitors come knocking, Mom and Dad hide their expensive taste and posture as a poverty-stricken couple. I was also reminded of David Mamet's American Buffalo (1996), not so much in story, but in the fact that it takes place in one location and it feels very much like a stage play. Having done zero research, I wouldn't be shocked if Bong Joon Ho was heavily inspired to write Parasite (2019) because of Elegant Beast.
On a lazy Friday afternoon our family threw on Angel Manuel Soto's Blue Beetle (2023). Most of you know I'm not the target audience for superhero movies, but of the ones I've seen I much prefer DC to Marvel (don't ask me why; maybe I've written about it in the past; I gotta be me). As I'm writing this I'm looking at Letterboxd and Rotten Tomatoes and realizing I need to change directions mid-paragraph. I was prepared to “defend” Blue Beetle but it looks as though it's not as hated as I assumed it would be. Now, is Blue Beetle a great movie? No. Is it a great superhero movie? No. Did Anthony hate it? No. Did Anthony love it? No. I found it to be very mid-level in the genre (considering I've only seen a dozen modern superhero movies). What I did love was the representation. A cast almost primarily consisting of non-white people that didn't seem forced or shoehorned in was refreshing. Recently there's been a spate of movies that attempt to rally a liberal crowd into shouting and praising the progressiveness of said movie. Most of them are either bad or disingenuous. Blue Beetle is neither. It's authentic while following the same old superhero mold, but there are some genuinely funny, exciting, and touching moments. I consider it a win for DC.
Tis the season and all that junk. I've been watching your standard December cinematic fare: Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Elf (2003), Meet Me in St. Louis (1944), A Christmas Story (1983), Black Christmas (1974), and Holiday Affair (1949). A new accidental tradition for our family that began three years ago is that we watch Frozen (2013) on ABC every year now. I still haven't seen it without commercials. Frozen sits firmly in my top three Walt Disney Animation Studios pictures behind The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and Robin Hood (1973). I won't extol my love for Frozen here, though. I bring it up because I think there's something magical about watching a feature film on network television with commercial breaks. I understand this isn't how most films are meant to be watched, but there's a delightfully cozy aspect to watching movies on live tv. Maybe it has to do with the season. After all, we were all cuddled up on the couches surrounded by twinkling Christmas lights while Olaf sang about his love of summertime. Maybe it's the fact that I grew up in the age of made-for-tv movies. Commercial breaks don't bother me. Except for maybe when I have to sit through the 39th ad for boner pills so the grands can bump skins. Whatever it is, I don't think I'll ever watch Frozen without commercials.
Now to the topic at hand. As I commonly do, I seem to be going through a bit of an(other) identity crisis. For the past several years movies have been my identity. I wrote about movies. I talked about movies. I neglected responsibilities to watch movies. Life has shifted now. I wake up at 5:20 every morning and make coffee and drive to the high school two miles from my house and unlock coolers and freezers and closets and turn ovens and fans on. I get home in time to shower and get ready for my kids to get home from school. Then I cook dinner. Then we go to the ice rink. By the time the boys are in bed and the house is finally quiet enough to watch a movie, I can barely move. It's not one of those defeated types of exhaustion, though. It's a satisfying, I-worked-my-tail-off sort of weariness. And I love almost every single minute of it. It's not until I collapse into bed that I think, “Shit. I should've watched Arrow's new release of Barbarella (1968) so I can write about it.”

It's all about finding that balance. I used to write my columns on Wednesday nights. Well, dear reader, it's currently 1:45 on a Saturday afternoon. I've got a load of laundry in the dryer, one in the wash, trash that needs to be taken out, dishes in the sink, smelly boys that need baths, and we're leaving for a birthday party in 90 minutes. You know what I'm going to do tonight, though? I might watch Carlito's Way (1993) because ever since I got the newest release of it I look at it and all I can hear is Adam's impression of Al Pacino as Carlito. Or I've got Tar (2022) screaming at me to rewatch. There's also Day of the Locust (1975) from Arrow. The options are endless. And as I peruse said options I begin to feel overwhelmed. “Look at all these movies in my to watch pile! And what about everything streaming!”

In the past, as most of you know, I used a handy dandy spreadsheet to map out what I needed to watch and when. Now that I'm not podcasting every week, I haven't whipped out the ol' Excel in several months. I suppose what I'm getting at is that I'm feeling a little lost. For so long I've labeled myself as a “movie guy” (ew). I'd write about movies a couple times a week. I'd podcast about movies a couple times a week. I watched at least twice as many movies, most of the time THREE times as many movies, as there are days in the week. I didn't know how to talk about anything else but movies. But now that part of my brain (most of my brain) that was reserved solely for movie talk is shrinking. It's being overtaken with things like bread orders, staffing changes, scheduling kids' activities, lots of hockey stuff, combatting addiction.
As I've written about in the past, I think I'm ok with these changes in my life. (I better be, because they've already happened!) Possibly the best outcome of all these changes is that I spend considerably less time on social media. I am so out of the loop with everything happening in my movie friends' lives and creative endeavors. And while it may sound harsh, I'm totally fine with that. Because I'm putting so much more focus and energy into other things I love. Worry not, though, friends. I'm still watching movies. Speaking of, I know what I'm watching tonight.

1 comment:

  1. It is always possible to over-indulge in anything that you love. It has happened to me with movies several times. A little break, or just a general decrease, from the activity can do good.

    I also know what its like when life gets busy and that mental space for cinema shrinks. That is how it has been with me for the past few weeks. Forcing a watch because you feel like you should be watching something is generally going to lead to an unsatisfying experience.