It seems like time has been flying by faster and faster lately. Graduating from high school was a far-off dream to me not too long ago, but now it’s right around the corner (well, 8 months from now to be exact). School might have slowed me down a bit these past two months, but I’ve still managed to keep watching and reading all of the things that I love and (when I’m not being indolent) talk about them on this blog in the meantime. With that said, this is the list of What I’ve Been Watching/Reading in September of 2017.
Notable YouTube Videos
- Is It Kino? by Mumkey Jones – Lately, I’ve been listening to these videos in the background while I do homework or play video games. Mumkey Jones is a personal favorite YouTuber of mine, and this series is him and his friend Erich talking about each of the movies they watch and answer that all-important question: Is it Kino? This month, they’ve talked about Logan Lucky, IT, 9/11, and mother!. You can watch them on Mumkey’s secondary YouTube channel, but I highly recommend you go check out his main channel videos as well, especially if you’re a fan of offensive, edgy, self-aware humor.
- The Core (2003) – The Core is one of those movies. You know the ones–you see a trailer for them on TV once or twice, dismiss them as more mediocre Hollywood milquetoast, and then forget about their existence for the rest of your life: effects-driven disaster flicks. Remove the thin veil of scientific intrigue that hides the stupidity of The Core‘s script and the impeccable cast of talented actors (which includes Aaron Eckhart, Hillary Swank, Stanley Tucci, and several more), and what you’re left with is cheap, popcorn entertainment. Look, to say this movie is somehow “below me” would be hypocritical and pretentious, and to say I didn’t enjoy it at all would be an outright lie. The worst crimes any piece of art can commit are to be painfully boring (and even then, many boring films have at least one or two interesting scenes or ideas), or, the worse of the two, to be downright insulting to the audience, to art, or to humanity itself, a feat which only a select few pieces of vile, sickening trash have ever been able to accomplish. The Core commits neither of these crimes, and to think it even comes close to the worst films ever made would be a grand misunderstanding. I say all of this because The Core and other movies like it are, without a doubt, schlock, but schlock isn’t as bad a thing as people make it out to be. These kinds of movies aren’t what people call “high art”, but they don’t need to be. They have the energy, daring, and self-awareness (or lack thereof) to fully embrace what they are, even if what they are is “trash”. In that way, they understand the value and purpose of cinema better than most so-called high art. I wouldn’t really recommend The Core since there are so many better popcorn flicks out there, but I do encourage you to open your horizons to films like it–thinking you have too much taste to enjoy them is a sign that you might really just have too little taste.
- Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – As the director’s 13th and final film, Eyes Wide Shut is possibly the most unusual entry in Stanley Kubrick’s filmography. Tom Cruise plays Bill Hartfold, a doctor who wanders into a bizarre erotic underworld after his wife, played by Nicole Kidman, confesses about having sexual fantasies of another man. The highlight of this movie is, once again, Kubrick’s incomparable directing. Eyes Wide Shut’s visuals have a slow, flowing style that hypnotizes you through its nearly 3-hour-long runtime. As for any deeper meaning behind the film’s fascinatingly strange story, I don’t have a clue. With Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket, I was able to draw numerous conclusion after watching other people’s analyses and mulling them over in my head for a while (though I’m sure there’s still a great deal more to uncover). But with Eyes Wide Shut, I simply don’t know what to make of it. Maybe I’m over-thinking, or maybe I’m not thinking enough. Either way, Stanley Kubrick has still managed to thoroughly impress me. I’ve now seen all of the films he made from Dr. Strangelove onward, and all that’s left to watch is Lolita, Spartacus, Paths of Glory, and The Killing. It’s easy to see why he’s regarded as one of the greatest visionary filmmakers of all time.
- IT (2017) – Yeah, I’ll admit it: I gave in and went to see IT in theaters before reading the original novel by Stephen King. Okay, look, I wanted to read the book first, don’t get me wrong. Unfortunately for me, IT is a staggering 1138 pages long–that’s longer than Moby Dick and not far off from the fucking Bible–and movies only stay in theaters for so long. Let’s not forget that I’m back in school now and haven’t had as much time to read lately–the fact that I finished two books this month is a miracle in of itself. Luckily, however, the new movie only adapts the first half of King’s sprawling horror epic, and I’ll at be able to start and finish the book before Chapter 2 gets released. Forget about all of that, though. Let’s actually discuss the film at hand–because believe me, I have a lot to say about it. Of the dozens of Stephen King adaptations that have been released over the years (which is a lot), IT stands out as one of the very best. After the disaster that was The Dark Tower movie, it’s a huge relief for King fans like myself that this film turned out as well as it did. Though it relies a little too much on jump-scares for my tastes, IT is one of the best horror films in years, and one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time. The jump-scare complaint should be taken with a grain of salt, anyway–I was hopped up on four cups of coffee (not my best decision) and jumping at every slightly loud noise throughout. Out of everything I loved about the film, my absolute favorite part of IT was the characters–Stephen King’s gifts as a storyteller lie not only in building fear and suspense, but also in creating characters so likeable, relatable, and three-dimensional that the reader can’t help but love them. Obviously, director Andres Muschietti understood this*. Billy (Jaeden Liebehrer), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Stanley (Wyatt Olef), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), and Beverly (Sophia Lillis) feel like real kids with real problems. These problems come not only in the form of Pennywise–the demonic, shapeshifting clown that lures children into the sewers of Derry, Maine and preys on their fears–but also in the form of cruel bullies, manipulative and overbearing parents, and their own personal flaws. I felt like I was right there with them, through every moment of horror and humor. And speaking of humor, did I mention that this movie is hilarious?. The banter between the kids had me in stitches more than a few times, and I found the dialogue overall to be incredibly honest to real-life–some writers like to pretend that kids are completely innocent and pure, when in reality, they talk even more shit and make even more locker-room jokes than most adults (especially pre-teens). I also really enjoyed that the film didn’t shy away from the darker themes of King’s original novel. Of course, when your working with source material from good old Stephen, it’s pretty much mandatory to cut out certain content if you want to avoid some uncomfortable conversations with the MPAA–or the police, for that matter. There’s one particularly infamous scene from the novel version of IT that’s probably better left off the big-screen for good. Aside from being a genuinely great film overall, what really made IT special for me was my specific experience of seeing it in theaters. I watch movies alone on the couch so frequently that I forget how enriching it can be to see one with a large audience. Plus, I’ve never seen a horror film on the big screen before, so this was something of a new experience. I had a really great time, and though I’m bound to re-watch IT several times on the small screen in the future, that evening will remain distinct and irreplaceable in my mind. I can hardly wait to go see chapter two next year (or whenever it comes out). Until then, I’ve got 1138 pages of the novel to catch up on.
- Lilo and Stitch (2002) – It’s strange how little of an impact Disney had on my childhood. Most people my age grew up on these films. I’ve always been a huge fan of Pixar (Toy Story and Toy Story 2 were probably the first films I ever saw along with Pirates of the Caribbean), but Disney itself? Not really. But for these past couple of years, I’ve finally started to give films like Mulan, Aladdin, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Fantasia (among others), the attention that they deserve. While far from the studio’s best animated feature, Lilo and Stitch stands out as an endearing and entertaining family adventure film. How anyone got the idea to combine sci-fi with Hawaiian culture is beyond me, but it works shockingly well. The film also says a great deal about family, and takes the unique approach of focusing on relationship between two sisters, as opposed to a romantic relationship. Lilo and Stitch was, overall, a fun time, and easily recommendable to fans of Disney.
- Memento (2000) – What makes Christopher Nolan’s Memento such a unique and fascinating viewing experience is its structure, or lack thereof. I’ve seen plenty of anachronistic films before, but nothing quite like this. Events play out in a chaotic, fragmented order, a million puzzle pieces that only reveal their true purpose once assembled together. It’s a brilliant way to get us into the head of the main character, Leonard (played by Guy Pearce), who has lost the ability to form memories. This one simple plot device single-handedly transforms Memento into one of the most original thrillers ever made. It’s currently available on Netflix, so make sure you add it to your watch-list if you’ve never seen it before.
- Once Upon a Time in America (1984) – At just over 4 hours long, Once Upon a Time in America is the single longest film I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t always this way, though. The American theatrical release was infamously butchered, with 90 minutes worth of scenes removed and others re-ordered into a chronological structure that ruined the film’s pacing. Luckily, this isn’t the version that American viewers like myself have to watch anymore. Thanks to the underappreciated arts of film preservation and restoration, we now have an extended cut that’s as close to Sergio Leone’s vision as it ever could be. A sprawling crime epic of friendship, greed, betrayal, and regret, Once Upon a Time in America follows four friends over the span of 50 years, from aspiring gangsters growing up on the streets of New York City, to bootleggers making a name for themselves in the underworld during Prohibition, to old men consumed by guilt. Presentation-wise, the film is an absolute marvel, with Sergio Leone’s painterly cinematography, Ennio Morricone’s heavenly musical compositions, and outstanding performances by Robert De Niro, James Woods, William Forsythe, James Hayden, and many more. Being 4 hours long did make Once Upon a Time in America a little exhausting to get through, especially since I watched most of it in one sitting, but it more than earns that lengthy run-time.
- Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) – Sergio Leone has always had a way of savoring all of his scenes, of using every painstaking little detail to his advantage. The opening of Once Upon A Time in the West, in which three bandits wait for a train to arrive at a station, is a perfect example of this: the rhythmic squeaking of a windmill in the background, the foreboding quiet of the surrounding desert landscape, the close-ups of greasy, sunken, sun-beaten faces, and one particularly pesky fly. Leone turns the monotony and boredom of waiting for a train to arrive into a masterwork of suspense, all without a single line of dialogue spoken. When the train in question finally does arrive, only one passenger gets off. He is our main protagonist, a man with no name (the irony is not lost on me) played by Charles Bronson. The three bandits approach the man and initiate a good old Mexican standoff. When the explosion of violence finishes, Bronson is, of course the victor. Now you’re probably be wondering why I’ve spent so much time talking about this one 7-minute scene in a movie nearly 3 hours long. Honestly, it’s my favorite scene in all of Once Upon a Time in the West, and it perfectly encapsulates Sergio Leone’s directing style. Unfortunately, none of the other scenes in the film, except maybe the final duel, managed to impress me the way the opening did. I’ll be frank (and I don’t mean Henry Fonda’s character): Once Upon a Time in the West is about as good as A Fistful of Dollars and For A Few Dollars More, maybe even better. But as far as Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns go, nothing can top his magnum opus The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and why so many people seem to prefer this film is a mystery to me. To each his own, I suppose. The biggest problem with it is that it’s too long. That probably sounds strange considering that I just complemented the patience and fetishistic attention-to-detail of Leone’s directing, and since I loved the aforementioned Good, Bad, and Ugly and the 4+ hour-long Once Upon a Time in America in spite of being even longer than this film. The difference is that those films make much better use of their time, while Once Upon a Time in the West feels needlessly dragged-out in areas. Other than that, I really don’t have that many complaints. This film maintains much of what I liked about the Dollars Trilogy: likeable and memorable characters (not as unforgettable as Tuco, Blondie, and Angel Eyes, of course, but I digress), larger-than-life cinematography, incredible western design sense, a beautiful score by Ennio Morricone, and some brilliant pieces of dialogue (“How can you trust a man who wears both a belt and suspenders? Man can’t even trust his own pants…”). Nitpicks about its length aside, I had a good time with Once Upon a Time in the West. I’ve already spent way too much time talking about it without any particularly good reason, so let’s just move on already.
- Zootopia (2016) – I never really understood why Disney went from exclusively 2-D animated features to exclusively 3-D animated features. For the longest time they were practically unrivaled in the former (except by the greatest animation studio in the world, Studio Ghibli), while Pixar has remained the undisputed king of the latter. After watching Zootopia, however, I feel as if I’ve been proven wrong. From beginning to end, this movie is breathtakingly gorgeous. I could honestly recommend it for the visuals alone–but luckily, it does a lot of other things right, too: Two lovable lead characters with great chemistry, an eclectic cast of colorful supporting characters, terrific voice performances, genuinely funny and surprisingly witty comedy, and a mystery plot that’s easy to follow and never boring. Overall, it’s a blast, and quite possibly the best 3D-animated movie Disney has ever made.
- [Notable Re-Watch]: Holes (2003) – Back in elementary school, I read a little YA novel by Louis Sachar called Holes, and it instantly became one of my favorite books at the time. I realize that this story is identical to the one I told about The Invention of Hugo Cabret last month, but there’s one important difference: Unlike Hugo, I’ve already seen the film version of Holes before. That was over half a decade ago, though, and it’s about time I re-visited it to see how it holds up to an older, much more film-savvy version of myself. So, what did I think of it? Look, maybe I’m just biased, but it’s just as good as I remember, if not even better. I love the sense of humor, the D-Tent boys and their camaraderie, the friendship between Stanley and Hector, and the way the main plot and its many seemingly unrelated subplots and backstories all weave together into one magnificently interconnected tapestry by the end, providing one of the most satisfying endings of all time. And of course, you can’t forget about the catchy end credits rap song, Dig It–courtesy of Disney. I had a big, dumb grin on my face almost the entire time re-watching Holes, and, whether it’s the book or the movie, it will remain one of the most cherished fictional stories of my childhood and in general.
- Dave Chappelle Comedy Specials: Killin’ Them Softly (2000), For What It’s Worth (2004), The Age of Spin (2017), and Deep in the Heart of Texas (2017) – Up until this month, I’d never seen any of Dave Chappelle’s work. The only reason I’d even heard of him was, ironically enough, because of Amy Schumer, who has repeatedly stolen and bastardized his jokes over the years. One evening, I happened to come across his recent 2-part comedy special on Netflix, and decided to watch it on impulse. And I have to say, I’m glad I did–really glad. In my opinion Chappelle is easily one of the funniest stand-up comedians of all time. His timing and delivery are impeccable, and he implements social commentary while never losing his focus on comedy, effectively taking the piss and vinegar out of politics and current events. Killin’ Them Softly and Age of Spin, in particular, had me laughing almost nonstop. If you need something to lighten up your day, any of these will easily do the trick.
- Jerry Before Seinfeld (2017) – Jerry Seinfeld has been a towering figure in the history of stand-up comedy, and the man who gave us Seinfeld, arguably the greatest sitcom series of all time. Netflix’s recently-released special, Jerry Before Seinfeld, shows us Jerry’s history as a comedian intermixed with a recent show he did at Comic Strip Live, the comedy club where his career began. If you have any emotional attachment to Jerry Seinfeld or any of the work he’s done over the years, this is a guaranteed good time.
- Boku no Hero Academia Season Two – When I watched the first season of Boku no Hero Academia last year, I thought it was just “pretty good”, relegating it to a 7/10 (which has since been raised to an 8/10). I had no idea what a roller-coaster ride I was in for when Season Two began this spring. The Sports Festival. I could on all day talking about all of the things I love about this series, but those three words seem to stand out to me above all others–The Sports Festival. Not since Yu Yu Hakusho‘s Dark Tournament Saga have I ever seen a Shounen-Action Tournament Arc this kick-ass. Uraraka vs. Bakugo and Deku vs. Todoroki are 10/10 fights that justify the arc’s existence on their own, but everything else about the Sports Festival–and I do mean everything–is damn-near perfect as well. I recommend watching Gigguk‘s My Hero Academia – How to do a Tournament Arc video for a more detailed analysis. Perhaps the best thing Season Two of Boku no Hero does is fleshing out its eclectic cast of lovable characters. I can safely say that Midoriya Izuku and Ochacho Uraraka are two of my favorite anime characters of all time. Aside from that, everything else I can say about this series has probably already been said–it’s insanely popular, and for good reason. I eagerly look forward to Season Three, which has already been confirmed.
- Little Witch Academia (TV) – Studio Trigger is the ray of light that shines brightest in the anime industry of today. While they have yet to achieve the godlike ethos of their predecessor, the legendary Studio Gainax, I have little doubt that some day they will. Two new original Trigger anime, Promare and Gridman, were announced at Anime Expo earlier this year, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch them. And as if creating one of my top 5 favorite anime of all time, Kill la Kill, wasn’t enough, they’ve gone and done it again with Little Witch Academia. Not giving this series a 10/10 on MAL pains me to no end, but it simply doesn’t touch the very core of my soul the way one of my top 10 might. It’s about as close to a 10/10 as a 9/10 can be. But I digress. I love pretty much everything about Little Witch Academia: the characters, the world, the underlying message, the design sense, the art style, the animation, the action sequences, the music–everything about it is simply magical, and I really hope it gets a second season–and maybe a third, fourth, and fifth while they’re at it. But for now, the first season is available in full on Netflix. Go watch it.
- The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands by Stephen King – If I ever had any doubt that Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is one of the greatest sagas ever put to page, those doubts are now gone for good. King has crafted a brilliant universe (or rather, multiverse) unlike anything I’ve ever seen or read in any other work of fiction. After maintaining secrecy and mystery throughout the last two books, The Waste Lands finally goes all-out with world-building–and it was well worth the wait. What an amazing world, and what an amazing cast of characters we get to experience it with: Roland Deschain, Eddie Dean, Susannah Dean, Jake Chambers, and of course we can’t forget about Oy. It took about 900 pages to do it, but the whole team–the whole ka-tet, rather, has finally been assembled. These are the kind of characters that leave a permanent mark in the mind of reader, as unforgettable as The Fellowship of the Ring from Lord of the Rings, or the titular trio from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, or Andy’s toys from Toy Story, or Gurren Lagann‘s Team Dai-Gurren…well, you get the idea–they’re up there with legends. The fact that I’m saying all of this after reading less than half of the Dark Tower in its entirety is a testament to Stephen King’s genius, and to the love and care he put into the series. It’s no mystery why he considers this his magnum opus. Strange as it might sound, though, I’m going to be taking a break from the series for a month or two. To celebrate the objectively-best holiday of the year, Halloween, I’m currently reading Misery and plan to read Night Shift, King’s first collection of short stories. After that, I plan on reading The Stand and IT because of their canonical and thematic importance in the later Dark Tower books, though I might read Wizard and Glass first. My plate is full, in case that wasn’t obvious. Until then, I highly recommend you begin your own journey through the world of The Dark Tower–and Stephen King’s novels in general–if you haven’t done so already.
- Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick – With Blade Runner 2049 just around the corner, I figured it was as good a time as any to read the novel the original film was based on, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. I say “based off of” loosely here. I’ll be blunt: Blade Runner and Do Androids Dream share little in common aside from their basic premise. You’ll find no terminology like ‘replicant’, ‘skinjob’, ‘spinner’, or even ‘blade runner’ in this book. Some of the names are the same, like Deckard, Rachael, Priss, Roy Batty, and even J.F, but the characters that they belong to are vastly different from their cinematic counterparts (if you can even call them that). As it turns out, the screenwriters of Blade Runner, Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, didn’t even really like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. Why they decided to adapt it to the screen in the first place is beyond me, but I suppose I can’t complain with the results. My reaction to Do Androids Dream wasn’t quite as negative as Fancher and Peoples’. It’s no Blade Runner, and from what I hear it’s not exactly Phillip K. Dick’s best work, but I personally found it to be an enjoyable and deeply interesting sci-fi novel with a lot of fascinating ideas. Both versions share themes of human empathy, social decay, and the blurring of the line between natural and artificial, but each explores these themes in its own way. Unique to Do Androids Dream is its ideas about religion, which come in the form of a fictional pseduo-faith called Mercerism. The book’s overall outlook on the future is much more troubling and pessimistic than Blade Runner‘s, which, with all due respect to Dick’s ideas, I wasn’t exactly a fan of. Even with all of that said, however, I still found Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?. It’s fairly short, so give it a read sometime if you want to see where Blade Runner got its inspiration.