Merry Belated Christmas and Happy Fucking New Year, you loathsome bastards. Tired of me posting nothing but What I’ve Been Watching/Reading posts? Well, don’t you worry–I’ve got a couple of Top 5 lists in the works that should be finished during the first week of February. Plus, I’ve made it a New Year’s goal (I call them ‘goals’ because ‘resolutions’ are for normies) to write at least twice as many blog posts as I did last year. Considering that I started the blog about halfway through the year, that shouldn’t be a very difficult thing to do, but I digress. I’m in my last semester of high school right now, so it’s about time I stop being an indolent clod and shape the hell up. That goes for all aspects of my life, including this shitty blog. Prepare yourselves, because 2018 is about to be the Year of Thiccness, whatever that might entail. But for now, I present to you the list of What I’ve Been Watching/Reading in December of 2017.
- Bronco Billy (1980) – Clint Eastwood’s Bronco Billy has to be one of the most criminally overlooked movies ever made. The only reason I knew it even existed is because it was briefly mentioned in a documentary included as a bonus feature on one of the discs of the Dirty Harry blu-ray set I bought last year. Maybe the reason nobody knows about it is because it isn’t really a genre film. It’s kind of a comedy, kind of a drama, and kind of a romance, but not any one of those in particular. Despite how the title makes it sound, it’s by no means a western, at least not in the traditionally sense. It follows a troupe of wild west show performers, lead by the titular Bronco Billy, facing financial struggles as a result of declining interest. During their travel around the country, they encounter Antoinette Lily, the snobbish daughter of a wealthy who was abandoned by her would-be-husband in a money-making scheme. As she learns more about the troupe and becomes caught up in their plight, she and Billy develop a blossoming romance. The story is refreshingly down-to-earth, and the actual plot doesn’t really matter that much. What really carries this film is its interesting characters and solid performances. Clint Eastwood is fantastic, both as the director and as the film’s titular character, Bronco Billy. It’s one of the funniest and most light-hearted roles I’ve ever seen him in, as well as one of the most emotionally compelling. The aforementioned Antoinette Lily is played by Sandra Locke, who also appeared alongside Clint Eastwood as Jennifer Spencer in Sudden Impact, the fourth Dirty Harry film. Antoinette starts off as a whiny, spoiled snob but really grows into a lovable character by the end of the film. The cast also includes Geoffrey Lewis, Bill McKinney, Sam Bottoms, Dan Vidis, Sierra Pecheur, and the endlessly delightful Scatman Crothers. The backstory behind Billy’s troupe–which I won’t spoil here–was a really interesting revelation that genuinely surprised me, and Billy himself becomes a truly inspiring character once you learn more about him and his past. And on top of all of that, the ending of the film put a huge smile on my face, and left me thoroughly satisfied with the story as a whole. In case it isn’t obvious, I really, really enjoyed Bronco Billy, and I can’t recommend it if enough if you’re looking for a hidden gem, or if you’re as big of a fan of Clint Eastwood as I am.
- Clerks (1994) – Clerks represents everything great about independent filmmaking. With a barebones budget of $27,575, Kevin Smith earned back a whopping $3.2 million (that’s a profit of over 10,000 %) and, more importantly, created one of the most beloved cult classics of all time in the process. Everything about Clerks feels authentic, from its characters, to its sharply-written dialogue, to its strikingly accurate depiction of working class life. I especially loved the dynamic between the two main characters, Dante and Randall. The film never needs to go out of its way to convince you that they’re best friends–you can tell just from the way they interact with one another. Even the more absurd elements of the film, like the wacky side characters and some outlandish plot points, never feel out of place. I’m not sure why Smith chose to film in black-and-white (budgetary reasons, maybe?), but it just kind of works. The amateurish feel of it all just adds to the flavor. I can’t even think of a single complaint for Clerks. I’ve already ordered the rest of Kevin Smith’s View-Askew movies on Amazon (except for Dogma, which has been mysteriously out of stock since the dawn of time) and am eagerly looking forward to watching all of them. I wouldn’t say Clerks was my favorite film of the month, but it’s pretty damn great.
- Dawn of the Dead (1978) – George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead is the greatest zombie movie I’ve ever seen. The mere idea of setting a zombie movie inside a shopping mall was a stroke of pure genius–it opens up an infinite number of fun and creative possibilities, and Romero takes full advantage of that. Plus, as so many reviews of the movie love to point out, the nature of the setting creates satire by poking fun at American consumerist culture, comparing mall-shoppers to zombies. When Dawn of the Dead first came out, it pushed the envelope for gorey, gruesome body horror, though it’s far from overwhelming by today’s standards. Even after 40 years, the practical effects are still fucking awesome. You’ve got to love those big, bright splatters of cherry-red blood. The soundtrack is also great–it was done by an Italian prog band called Goblin. But what really makes Dawn of the Dead a masterpiece isn’t just its aesthetics. Romero really makes you fall in love with these characters by the end of the film. The only character I really had a problem with was Francine, played by Gaylen Ross. She’s more likable than the women from Night of the Living Dead, but Romero clearly still didn’t understand how to write compelling female characters when he made this film. I realize that not everybody would be a total badass if a zombie epidemic broke out, but that’s no excuse for being completely useless. On the other, there’s Peter and Roger, played by Ken Foree and Scott Reiniger respectively. They’re two Philadelphia police officers who have all of their skills put to the test by the zombie horde, and are all-around lovable characters from beginning to end. Stephen (a.k.a ‘Flyboy’), played by David Emge, comes off as a bit of a nuisance at first, but he really comes into his own over the course of the film, and I ended up liking him just as much as Peter and Roger. Romero really makes love you care about these characters, and all of the action and bloodshed is enhanced by that emotional attachment. In comparison to Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead is a much more optimistic look at people in general, and shows how they can work together to make the best of a terrible situation. At the end the darkest of nights, the dawn will come. And if that wasn’t enough reason to love the film, it’s also really funny. But I think I’ve rambled on long enough. I intend to watch Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead, sometime in the near future, so they’ll probably show up on one of these lists during 2018.
- Escape From New York (1981) – The year before John Carpenter and Kurt Russel collaborated to make on the greatest horror movies of all time, The Thing, they made this little gem. The main reason Escape From New York kicks so much ass, aside from its interesting setting, punk-rock attitude, and fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat directing, is its main character, Snake Plissken–a grizzled, eyepatch-wearing, black tanktop-wearing, submachinegun-wielding war veteran forced into completing one last mission. If his name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he was one of the main inspirations for one of the most iconic video game characters of all time, Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid (who also uses the codename ‘Pliskin’ briefly in Metal Gear Solid 2). Kurt Russel and Snake Plissken are one of those special character-actor duos, like Bruce Campbell and Ash Williams, or Harrison Ford and Han Solo (oh, wait–). What I mean to say is, you couldn’t imagine any actor playing that character, because they just fit into that role way too perfectly. John Carpenter, besides directing the film, also gave it a damn good musical score–I especially love the main theme. Overall, Escape From New York is just a really solid action flick. I don’t have much else to say about it right now, but I do highly recommend it.
- The Godfather (1972) – The Godfather is widely regarded as the greatest film of all time, and it’s not difficult to see why. It’s impeccably well-directed and well-written, with great performances by Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, John Cazale, James Caan, Talia Shire, Robert Duvall, and too many more to list. On top of that, it’s darkly beautiful and atmospheric, makes us feel right at home with people we would otherwise see as evil, shows us the world of organized crime from an inside lens, and weaves a timeless tale about the cyclical nature of violence, vengeance, death, and succession. If any one movie could ever be objectively named the greatest of all time, The Godfather is probably that movie. It’s essentially perfect in every way, and I can’t think of a single substantial criticism. Does that make it my all-time favorite? Not even close. When it comes to Francis Ford Coppola, I actually prefer Apocalypse Now, which is not only one of the top 10 best films I saw this year but one of my top 10 favorite films of all time. The Godfather is a film so deified that it’s hard to go into it and form a completely subjective opinion of it. Regardless, I was compelled by it from beginning to end, and was overall satisfied by the experience of watching it. Just because I don’t think it’s the greatest movie ever made doesn’t make me appreciate it any less.
- The Godfather Part II (1974) – The Godfather Part II is widely regarded as the greatest film sequel of all time. I don’t really agree, but it’s certainly exemplifies what a good sequel should be. It builds upon its predecessor while also distinguishing itself as its own piece of art. On top of that, The Godfather Part II is not only a sequel but a prequel. One half of the story continues where the original left off with Michael Corleone as the new don of the Corleone crime family, while the other half is a backstory chronicling the rise of Vito Corleone from orphaned immigrant to Mafia kingpin. The contrast between these two stories highlights the differences between 1st-generation immigrants to 2nd-generation natural-born Americans. The original Godfather had a lot to say about what it means to be an American, and Part II delves even deeper into those ideas. I like how it doesn’t make any attempt to deify or condemn America, but simply shows what American life is actually like and captures the immigrant experience in general. This is also my older brother’s favorite movie of all time, and has been called one of the best films ever made by Martin Scorsese, my second-favorite director. Many argue that The Godfather Part II is superior to the original, but, unless I change my mind after re-watching both films, I can’t really say I agree. To be fair, I think this film is even more visually impressive than the original, with astonishingly beautiful cinematography and downright poetic directing. Marlon Brando is absent, but in his place is Robert De Niro, in one of his earliest performances, as the ambitious young Vito. Pacino, Duvall, Cazale, Shire, and Keaton all return from the first film, and deliver performances that equal and maybe even surpass their performances in the original. Even James Caan makes an appearance in a flashback towards the end of the movie. But putting all of that aside, I feel like the movie is a little longer than it needed to be, and isn’t as tightly-written as the original. I had a hard time following the plot, and I even started to space out a few times while watching it–something that never happened to me while watching the original. I might have just been too tired or too mentally exhausted at the time to be watching a 3-and-a-half hour-long film, or maybe it was just another case of cinematic ADHD on my part. Is The Godfather Part II one of the greatest films ever made? Probably, but I won’t say for sure until I give it a re-watch.
- Gremlins (1984) – Gremlins is one of those rare lightning-in-a-bottle movies that shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s a family-friendly comedy, a softcore horror flick, and a Christmas movie all in one, and it just works. For starters, Gremlins is a feast for the eyes. From the snow, to the lights, to that warm, fireplace-like glow–it all perfectly captures the cozy aesthetic of Christmas in small-town America. On top of that, the practical effects of the mogwai–the “gremlins” that the movie is named for–are incredibly well-done. The story is simple and straightforward, but only because it has no need to make itself complex. The protagonist, Billy Peltzer, is easy to like and relate with, and he’s surrounded by a supporting cast of other fun, lively characters. I don’t really feel the need to go too in-depth with this movie, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. It might be a little to late now to be watching holiday movies, but I highly recommend Gremlins nonetheless.
- Jurassic Park (1993) – Jurassic Park is another universally loved classic that I can’t believe I haven’t seen before. Although Steven Spielberg is far from my favorite director, I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve seen of his filmography (aside from Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) And yet, I somehow still haven’t seen E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Schindler’s List, or Saving Private Ryan. Well, let’s save those films for another time, and talk about Jurassic Park. But then again, does this film really need an introduction. What can I say about it that hasn’t already been said? It’s been revered for its groundbreaking special effects, its sense of wonder and adventure, its likable characters, its all-around solid acting, its disappointing sequels, et cetera, et cetera. Chances are, you’ve probably seen it already. But if you somehow haven’t, I recommend it.
- The Road to El Dorado (2000) – Before Dreamworks started pumping out 3D-animated films every year (some good and some not so much), they made two oft-forgotten 2D-animated films: The Prince of Egypt and The Road to El Dorado. I can’t say much about the former, since I haven’t seen yet (I do have it bookmarked on Netflix, though, so it’ll probably show up on one of these lists eventually), but the latter is one of the best animated films I’ve seen all year. To be exact, The Road to El Dorado isn’t strictly 2D-animated. Rather, it combines traditional animation with computer-generated 3D animation to create a unique visual experience. Some of the 3D is a little dated by today’s standards, but it doesn’t stop the film from being beautiful to look at. The story follows Tulio and Miguel, two mischievous con-men who hop aboard one of the ships of the real-life Spanish conquistador Cortez and go on a journey to find the legendary City of Gold, El Dorado. When they do find it, they end up in a rather peculiar predicament: the locals think that the two are actually gods. Their only hope in getting out of the city alive–and with the boatload of gold they came there for to begin with–is a seductive woman named Chel. Part of what makes this film both unique and extremely entertaining is that all of the characters are always trying to deceive and outsmart each other. Tulio and Miguel have to keep up the ruse of being gods, hoping to steal the golden city’s treasures. Chel agrees to help Tulio and Miguel with the promise that they’ll split the riches and take her with them when they go back to Spain. The villain of the film, a priest named Tzekel-kan, takes advantage of the situation and tries to seize control of the city from the kindly Chief Tannabok. What I also loved is how, in their quest for gold, Tulio, Miguel, and Chel end up discovering more important motivations. Tulio and Chel start a romantic relationship, and Miguel finds value in the peaceful lives of the city’s people. It’s these things, in addition to the sense of adventure that envelops the entire film, that end up becoming their true rewards by the end. The Road to El Dorado is really fantastic, and it’s a damn shame that it was overlooked when it came out. Everybody who’s actually seen the movie loves it to death, yet it didn’t even make its budget back at the box office. Just look at the difference between the Rotten Tomatoes score (48%) and the user rating on google (94%). Now that it’s available on Netflix, I hope that more people will find out about it. In fact, if any of you haven’t had the pleasure of watching The Road to El Dorado already–why are you even still reading this? You owe it to yourself to watch it as soon as possible. If nothing else, go listen to “It’s Tough to be a God”–a lyrical song that appears about halfway through the movie and is good enough to be in a Disney musical. I can assure you that will not regret either of these decisions.
- Silence (2016) – Religion and faith have played a major role in many of Martin Scorsese’s films. Scorsese grew up in a devoutly Catholic environment, so it makes sense that it would become such an important aspect of his filmography. Silence, his most recent film, is essentially his definitive thesis on the subject. It is, at its core, a film about the Christian faith. Taking place in the 17th century, the film follows two Portuguese missionaries who journey to Japan order to search for their missing mentor. This wouldn’t be such a perilous task, were it not for the fact that Christianity is outlawed in Japan, and that any Christian worshipers who are caught must either renounce their faith or face excruciating physical torture and be put to death. The rest of the story is better left unspoiled. Even as someone who hasn’t gone to church in over 10 years and has never really been religious, I found Silence’s ideas about faith and its outcry for religious tolerance to be extremely captivating. The film is difficult to watch at times due to the weight of the subject matter, especially considering that much of what happens in the film actually happened in real life, but Scorsese’s directing is so magnificent that I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Andrew Garfield delivers an incredible performance as Father Sebastian Rodgrigues, and Adam Driver and Liam Neeson are also great as Father Francisco Garupe and Father Cristóvão Ferreira. It’s been nearly 50 years since Scorsese made his debut as a filmmaker, and the man has only gotten better and better at his craft over the years. I hope that his next upcoming movie, The Irishman, will be yet another great addition to his already legendary filmography.
- Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) – It’s been a long time since I’ve had such mixed feelings for a movie. The Last Jedi is far from the worst entry in the Star Wars franchise, but it’s also far from the best. I don’t really have a singular, solid opinion on it just yet, and I think I’d prefer to write an entire post breaking down the good, the bad, and the ugly of the movie in detail, instead of just rambling about it here. One thing I will say is that, god damn, Kylo Ren is a great fucking character, and Adam Driver does an incredible job playing him. I loved pretty much every scene that involved him, and he’s the main reason I still have high hopes for Episode IX. If there’s any silver lining to everything this film does wrong, it’s him. I’ll talk about The Last Jedi more once I’ve gathered my thoughts and opinions enough to write a full analysis–stay tuned until then.
- Angelic Layer – As one of the earliest works of Studio Bones, Angelic Layer‘s action scenes kind of disappointed me. Don’t get me wrong–by pretty much any other anime studio’s standards, these action scenes are perfectly fine, especially for something made in the 2001, when the medium was going through growing pains in its transition from hand-drawn to digital animation. But this is Studio fucking Bones we’re talking about, the guys who are known pretty much exclusively for unbelievably badass fight scenes. I went into Angelic Layer expecting one of the best action anime of the early 2000’s, and in that regard I was let down. What I did get, however, was a really fun and heartfelt show full of interesting and lovable characters. What really hooked me on this show was its main protagonist, Misaki. She’s just so sweet and endearing, and every second she was on screen filled me with an overwhelming urge to hug her. I wouldn’t go as far as to say she’s a contender for my Top 10 Waifus list, but she’s pretty goddamn adorable, and the emotional arc between her and her mother made the last few episodes of the show an emotional roller-coaster ride. Overall, Angelic Layer might not be the greatest anime I’ve ever seen this year, but I did genuinely enjoy it. I give it an 8/10.
- [Notable Rewatch]: Eureka Seven – My history with Eureka Seven might be one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had with anime. I started watching the show for the first time in late 2014, but didn’t finish watching it until late 2016. Keep in mind, Eureka Seven is about 50 episodes long, and I’ve been able to finish shows with twice as many episodes as that in much shorter spans of time without too much . So what the fuck happened? For some reason, I had built up Eureka Seven to be one of the best anime I would ever watch. I have no idea how I came to this conclusion–in fact, I have no idea how I even found about the show at all. Either way, I ended being wildly disappointed, and I gave up on the series before I even got to the halfway mark. Back then, I never used the On-Hold” or Dropped” sections of MyAnimeList for some reason, so the show ended up sitting on my Currently Watching list for two whole years, practically untouched. And then, on one fateful summer day in 2016, I decided to give the show another shot. I didn’t even start over or anything, either, I literally just resumed where I left off. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying the show. By time I got to the 30’s episodes, I was really enjoying it. And by the time I got to the 40’s? Holy fucking shit, this show is amazing! When I finished watching the last episode, I impulsively gave it a 10/10 on MAL, and then almost immediately retracted upon further reflection. I really didn’t know what to think about Eureka Seven as whole, considering the bizarre dissonance between how I felt about the first half back in 2014 and how I felt about the second half two years later. Alas, there was only one solution. I got the complete blu-ray set that Christmas, aaaannnddd then I put it off for the next 10 months. If you’re surprised by this in the slightest, you haven’t been following this blog long enough. Regardless, I’ve finally re-watched it, and I finally have clear and confident opinions about the show. Overall, I give it a 9/10. The last 12 or so episodes are seriously some of the best television I’ve ever had the joy of watching, and easily worthy of a 10/10 on their own. However, there are a few episodes here and there that only deserve around an 8/10, and a majority of the show is a consistent 9 for me, which still puts it in my top 20 anime of all time. And that about sums up my history with Eureka Seven. Well, shit. I just rambled on for way too long without even explaining what I like about this show, didn’t I? I’ve been wanting to talk about my bizzarre history with it ever since I started this blog, so I ended up getting a little self-indulgent. This post is already way too late as it is, so I’ll make the restt brief. In case it hasn’t already been made clear, I really love this show. I love the world-building, the unique aesthetic, the colorful cast of characters, the romance between Renton and Eureka, and the incredibly well-animated action sequences by Studio Bones. It’s an all-around great series that I can’t recommend enough.
- Soul Eater (Vol. 9) – Yeah, I didn’t really make much progress with Soul Eater this month. Volume 9 is really goddamn solid, though. It contains one of the funniest stand-alone chapters in the entire series, “Legend of the Holy Sword”, as well as a hard-hitting emotional chapter in which Maka and Black Star have to come to terms with eachother’s differences in order to work together as a team. It also moves the current story arc forward, with the conflict between DWMA and Arachnophobia really heating up (ironic considering the second half of this volume take place in a cold, snowy setting, but I digress). Overall, Soul Eater continues to be a fantastic read. Recently, I’ve even put it at the #6 spot of my top 10 favorite manga list on MAL, just below Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and just above Satoshi Kon’s Opus. As for whether it will rank higher or lower by the time I finish it, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll continue talking about the series throughout 2018.