What I’ve Been Watching/Reading – July 2017

I feel that I owe an apology to all of you, though you’ll probably find it unnecessary and over-dramatic. You can skip it if you want.

Over the course of the month of June, when I first started this blog, I wrote a total of 10 posts—11 if you count one that I deleted for being too gay and retarded, even for me. Not exactly the James Patterson of WordPress (which I wouldn’t exactly consider a compliment anyway), but still, not too shabby. That said, what in the actual fuck happened this July? In the past four weeks, I’ve only published four posts—two of which were written impulsively in very short spans of time. Of course, I have plenty of excuses—lack of motivation, summer homework, a week-long vacation in Florida without access to a computer, and let’s not forget the abundance of films, books, and YouTube videos overstuffing my backlog. My Top 10 Waifus list was likely a culprit in this as well. At almost 8000 words, it was an exhausting task—hell, just choosing who my waifus were was a challenge, since there are so many great choices to consider (hence the Honorable Mentions section, which could have been much, much larger than it ended up being). Still, as burnt out as I was, the effort I put in was more than worth it. That list is by far the most viewed post on this blog (due in great part, I imagine, to the oh-so-wonderful clickbait of the angelic goddess that is Nia Teppelin) and probably my proudest achievement on this site (not saying much, I realize). Ironically, I noted in the Afterword of the list that I intended on becoming more and more prolific over the next couple of months. Looks like I made a promise I couldn’t keep. And let’s be real, one post, no matter how long doesn’t justify slacking off for most of an entire month, especially when it’s the middle of the summer and I’m a 17-year-old with no job, few responsibilities, and as inactive a social life a teenager can have without being friendless. In all honestly, it’s probably just the sin of sloth, which thrives during summer break, that caused this little writer’s drought. With school coming up shortly, I can’t really make any promises about becoming more hard-working and prolific in the near future, but I’ll at least try and do the best I can. This monthly update series is about the closest thing I have to a sense of consistency on the this blog, so I suppose I might as well start there.

With that overly-long apology out of my mind and out of the way, let’s take a look back at What I’ve Been Watching in July of 2017.

 

*NEW SECTION* Notable YouTube Videos – Looking back on the previous entries in this monthly series, I don’t know why I haven’t started doing this already. I spend a downright unhealthy amount of time on YouTube, so it only makes sense that I should include it in this series in one way or another. Of course, I can’t talk about everything I watch on YouTube—if I did that, we’d be here for days. Instead, I’ll be limiting it to a select few videos that I’ve been itching to talk about. Hopefully this new innovation works out—if it does, it will unquestionably become a staple of these posts.

  • “In Defense of the Elevator Scene from Evangelion” by Super Eyepatch Wolf – Super Eyepatch Wolf has rapidly become one of my favorite anime analysts on YouTube. He can take even the simplest of topics and make something utterly fascinating out of them, and his most recent video—“In Defense of the Elevator Scene from Evangelion”—is a perfect example of this. First off, did this scene really need defending? Unfortunately, yeah. NGE is my second favorite anime of all time, but there are huge number of people who don’t exactly share that sentiment—I suppose we’re all entitled to our own tastes, but I’ve always thought  most of these people are simply misunderstanding the series. Needless to say, watching this video was not only entertaining and informative—as all of SEWs analyses are—but also incredibly satisfying as a die-hard Eva fan. Whether you love or hate NGE, you owe it to yourself to give this video a watch.
  • “Verlisify (Official Music Video)” by shofu – I didn’t even know who Verlisify was until a couple of days ago, but that doesn’t stop this music video from being pure heat in more ways than one.  Not only is this one of the sickest and most hilarious roasts I’ve ever witnessed, but it’s also a fire-ass rap song in general. I’ve probably listened to it a few dozen times in just the past couple of days—hell, I’m listening to it as I write this. Few things are satisfying as seeing someone like Verlisify, who’s essentially a tumor to the Pokemon community, getting his ass put into place in such a creative way. Huge thanks to Etika from the Etika World Network for giving this song a shout-out in one of his most recent streams—if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have known about this masterpiece. I guess including it on the list is cheating since I saw it in early August, but I simply can’t wait another month just to talk about it. If you do decide to go listen to Verlisify (which you should), I also recommend watching the actual music video at least once—it’s incredibly well-made and adds a lot to the experience.

 

Films

  • Blood Simple (1984) – After watching No Country for Old Men and re-visiting The Big Lebowski last month, I knew I needed to see more of the Coen Brothers’ filmography. And what better place to start than indie classic that started it all? Blood Simple is one of the best examples of modern film noir ever made. It’s dark, gritty, suspenseful, and entertaining from start to finish. Much like Mean Streets and Reservoir Dogs, you know you’re seeing the work of a genius—or geniuses in this case—through a less experienced and lower budget lens. But instead of becoming a flaw, these limitations only seem to make the films better, creating a certain charm that is seldom replicated in larger productions. Throughout the film there is an ever-increasing feeling of doom—although Blood Simple is filled with unexpected twists and turns, everything that happens somehow feels inevitable. It’s one hell of a satisfying experience. If you love the Coens’ later work, you owe it to yourself to see where it all started
  • Carrie (1976) – Last month, I read the entirety of Stephen King’s Carrie in just two days. Afterwards, I was eager to watch Brian De Palma’s 1976 film version, which has been hailed as one of the greatest Stephen King adaptations ever created. The King himself even called it an improvement on his debut novel. After seeing the film myself, I can safely say that I share those sentiments. Carrie is a near-perfect adaptation, replacing King’s vivid writing style and elements that only work in the medium of writing with De Palma’s fantastic directing and stylish cinematic flourishes, not to mention a brilliant cast. Sissy Spacek plays the role of Carrie White almost perfectly, and the same can be said of Piper Laurie as her psychotic fundamentalist mother, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance. Before they worked together with De Palma on the excellent Blow Out, Nancy Allen and John Travolta were a whole different kind of dynamic duo as Chris Hargensen and Billy Nolan. The more empathetic couple of the novel and film, Sue Snell and Tommy Ross, are played by Amy Irving and William Katt. To top it all off, there’s even a brief appearance by Sydney Lassick, the man who’d so wonderfully played the hyper-sensitive Charlie Cheswick in Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest the previous year. I don’t really have anything to say about Carrie‘s story, since I already talked about the novel last month, and nearly everything I loved about the book is also present within the film. Carrie is commonly regarded as one of Brian De Palma’s very best works, and it’s easy to see why.
  • The Departed (2006) – Two months ago, I watched a belove cops-n-robbers film called Heat. Although I didn’t dislike the film, Michael Mann’s directing style and writing failed to appeal to my personal tastes, and I was ultimately disappointed as a result. Martin Scorsese’s essentially takes the same subject—exploring the dynamic between cops and criminals and blurring the line between the two—but executes it in an entirely different manner, a manner that pushed all the right buttons for me. I suppose it’s no surprise—after all, Scorsese is probably my second favorite director of all time, and The Departed is a testament to his prowess as a filmmaker. More so than almost any other director, he has a way of capturing the attitude and aesthetic of each and every time period and location his films are set in, creating some of the most immersive cinematic experiences imaginable. In the case of The Departed, Scorsese takes a break from the Italian-American New York gangsters his past films are known for and delves into the world of Boston, Massachusetts—home of the Irish. It follows not only the perspective of  gangsters but of the police as well. Moreover, The Departed is a film about fakers. Billy Costigan is an undercover cop who gains the trust of Frank Costello, Boston’s deadliest crime boss. His total opposite is Colin Sullivan, a career criminal who grew up under Costello’s wing and has managed to infiltrate the police department inconspicuously. On the surface, you’d never think either of them weren’t what they claim to be—Billy is violent and unstable, while Colin excels in his police work and even starts a serious relationship with a psychiatrist named Madolyn. There is always the sense that each character is being drawn further and further into the worlds they’re meant to be fighting against, throwing their identities into chaos and nearly destroying the line between cop and criminal. And speaking of people pretending to be other people, talk about one hell of a cast. Leonardo DeCaprio and Matt Damon give some of their all-time greatest performances as Billy and Colin respectively. Then there’s Jack Nicholson as in one of the best roles of his later career, making Frank Costello equal parts humorous and menacing. And let’s not forget Martin Sheen, Alec Baldwin, and Mark Wahlberg, who all fit their roles excellently and then some. Needless to say, this is one hell of film. If a dark, gritty crime drama is what you’re craving, The Departed will more than satisfy.
  • Despicable Me 3 (2017) – Let’s get this out of the way: I actually really enjoyed the first two Despicable Me movies. Make fun all you like, but I found them to be some of the better 3D-animated films of the past decade, even if they fall a little short when compared to the likes of Disney and Pixar. That said, I was a bit disappointed when I heard that the third film didn’t quite live up to the quality of the first two. I do think, however, that knowing this ahead of time allowed me go into the film without too many expectations, and let me to see exactly what it did right and what it did wrong. The characters of Gru, Lucy, and the three girls are all still a delight. They’re essentially the series’ backbone. The Minions are still a complete waste of time, but they’re used sparsely enough here to be at least tolerable. One of my favorite of parts of Despicable Me 3 in particular was its villain, Balthazar Brat, played by South Park’s Trey Parker of all people. He’s basically one massive caricature of 80’s pop culture, and he was a blast to watch whenever he was on-screen. Unfortunately, he really wasn’t on-screen for that long. And that’s where Despicable Me 3’s real issues start to show. Instead of actually focusing on the conflict between Gru and Brat or further fleshing out Gru’s relationship with Lucy and the girls, the film introduces us to Dru, Gru’s long-lost twin brother and the most unnecesary character ever conceived or created in the history of mankind. Dru is literally just an annoying, useless version of Gru who adds nothing to the film and distracts from the parts of it that are actually interesting. Why, Universal? First the Minions movie and now this? You have an animated IP with tons of potential behind it and this is what you do with it? Why am I not surprised? But yeah, in case it wasn’t clear, the amount of time this film devotes to such a pointless side character rubbed me the wrong way.  Moreover, it leads to a broader problem with the film: it’s lack of focus. In Despicable Me 2, all of the subplots were interconnected with the main plot—in Despicable Me 3, everything feels disconnected and unimportant, taking focus away from the main plot to such an extent that it loses all of its weight. Despicable Me 3 is an okay movie. It has parts that I really liked and parts that I really didn’t. I still think the Despicable Me 1 & 2 are some of the best family-friendly films of recent years. I just wish that the third film had done a better job of living up to the series’ standards. I think I’ve talked about Despicable Me 3 for a bit too long already, so let’s move on to some less disappointing films.
  • The Dirty Harry Series – In case you missed it, I wrote a post a couple weeks ago discussing all of the Dirty Harry films in detail (click here if you want to check that out). I won’t regurgitate any of that here, but I will say this: this is one hell of a film series. Clint Eastwood just keeps giving me more and more reasons to watch his filmography—we’ll be seeing more of him in future iterations of What I’ve Been Watching/Reading, you can be certain of that.
  • Django Unchained (2013) – It’s no secret that Quentin Tarantino is my favorite director of all time. I realize that’s he become something of a typical choice in that category, but there’s good reason as to why so many people love his work. The fact that it took me so long to finally watch Django Unchained is baffling even to myself, but it was well worth the wait. It’s probably one of Tarantino’s weaker films, but in all honesty, that really isn’t saying much—his most recent film, The Hateful Eight, is easily the weakest he’s ever made but still managed to be one my favorite films of 2015. Transformed from a freed slave to badass bounty hunter on his journey to rescue his wife from the clutches of the ruthless Calvin Candy, Django is one of the most compelling heroes Tarantino has put to screen, and is played excellently by Jamie Foxx. Leonardo DeCaprio makes one hell of a villain as the aforementioned Candy. But the real show-stealer once again is Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz. While not as spellbinding a performance as Colonel Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds, Waltz is an absolute joy every second he’s on screen. Tarantino himself makes a brief appearance as a grizzled Mining Company employee. While he’s not exactly an award-winning actor, his cameo appearances are always a delight. Django Unchained tackles an incredibly serious topic—that of slavery—and shows it with unflinching gruesomeness while still managing to create humor and satire out of it, similarly to what he did in Inglorious Basterds in regards to the cruelty of the Nazi regime. Tarantino has yet to ever truly disappoint me—I love each and every one of his films for one reason or another. He’ll likely continue to be my favorite director for a long time.
  • Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)  – Stanley Kubrick’s films have always been deceptively funny. Full Metal Jacket‘s boot camp episode gave us some of the most creative and hilariously offensive insults of all time, Jack Nicholson’s psychotic performance of Jack Torrance in The Shining borders the line between comedic and terrifying, and A Clockwork Orange is essentially a dark comedy. But no film better displays Kubrick’s rich sense of humor than his satiric masterpiece, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Bomb. At once hilariously ridiculous and terrifyingly believable, Dr. Strangelove shows the U.S government’s futile attempts to stop a nuclear holocaust after Air Force General Jack D. Ripper goes completely insane. Roger Ebert called the film Kubrick’s second greatest masterpiece after 2001: A Space Odyssey, and while I’m not sure I agree with him, it’s easy to see where he’s coming from. Dr. Strangelove is filled with some of the best comedic performances ever put to screen. There’s Peter Seller’s triple-performance of U.S President Merkin Muffley, who argues with the leader of the Soviet Union as if they were an old married couple, Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, who’s efforts to stop General Ripper are constantly rendered useless, and the titular Dr. Strangelove, a wheelchair-bound ex-Nazi scientist with a hilarious case of alien arm syndrome and some questionable ideas for survival in the post-apocalyptic world. Then there’s George C. Scott’s delightfully over-the-top performance of General Buck Turgidson, Slim Pickens essentially playing himself as Major T.J “King” Kong, and Sterling Hayden as the aforementioned General Ripper, whose communist paranoia puts Joseph McCarthy to shame. What makes all of these performances and the entirety of Dr. Strangelove one of the best satirical comedies ever made is its use of “serious comedy”. The characters in the film try to take themselves seriously, only to end up making fools out of themselves—in almost all cases, this approach is comedy is a hell of a lot funnier than if the characters were actually attempting to be funnt. Moreover, it takes as serious a topic as you can get—worldwide nuclear annihilation—and treats it like a complete joke. And it’s a damn funny joke, too. If you have any interest in Stanley Kubrick’s filmography, or are simply interested in seeing what is perhaps the greatest Cold War satire ever made, Dr. Strangelove is essential viewing.
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – Ferris Bueller can do anything he wants. It’s that sense of freedom that makes Ferris Bueller’s Day Off‘s so appealing. It’s more than just a great high-school comedy—it’s a film that speaks to the human desire to simply let loose and live every once in a while. The premise is simple: It’s almost graduation time for Ferris Bueller, so he decides to take one last day off to show his miserable best-friend Cameron a good time. Thus begins a rollicking comedic adventure through the streets of Chicago. Then again, most of you probably need little introduction to this film. It’s carved it’s way into recent cinematic history, and it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future. It’s one of those movies that anyone can enjoy and relate to in one way or another. Ferris is the kind of person most of us would like to be, while Cameron is what most of us actually are. Ferris’ girlfriend Sloan is somewhere in-between, I suppose. Maybe it’s because I’m a senior in high school now myself, but there’s something that about these three and their little adventure that really struck a chord with me. I ought to give it a re-watch before graduation. Anyways, I could talk all day about everything else Ferris Bueller’s Day Off has to offer, from its sharp comedic writing to its excellent casting, but you’ve probably already seen the film yourself—and if you haven’t, I encourage you do so as soon as you can. It’s a fun time for everyone.
  • Fight Club (1999) – It’s easy to see why Fight Club has become one of the most celebrated cult classics of all time. It’s a film that quite literally packs a punch, with top notch performances from Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, impeccable directing by David Fincher, a countless amount of brilliant scenes and memorable lines, and a fascinatingly unique story. Thematically, it takes a hard look at hyper-masculinity and consumerist feminization, ultimately concluding that both can be equally harmful and destructive. I’d already been spoiled on the massive mind-fuck plot twist toward the end of the film, yet it lost almost none of its raw power and shock value because of how good the film is at building up to it. Maybe it was because I’d only gotten a few hours of sleep the previous night and had opted for drinking an unhealthy amount of coffee instead, or maybe it was because I’d been listening to way too much Linkin Park (this was the same day I impulsively wrote that post about Chester Bennington’s suicide—I think at some point I actually became my autisitc 12-year-old self at some point, thought that’s hardly important), but either way, my viewing experience of Fight Club really did feel like an insomniac fever dream—one that I was in no hurry to wake up from. It would take another viewing, preferably one where I didn’t feel like I was simultaneously getting Ludovico Technique’d and being turned into a Star-Child at the same time, to decide whether Fight Club deserves to be called one of my favorite films of all time. But I’ll be damned if it wasn’t one hell of a good time. Well, I’ve already broken the first two rules of the fight club, so let’s hurry up and get to the next film.
  • Raising Arizona (1987) – They say a good story “knows what it wants to be”. Raising Arizona has absolutely no god idea what the hell it wants to be—or, at the very least, what it wants to be is completely lost on me. The never seems to exist on any single level of reality at one time, creating one of the most jarring  viewing experiences I’ve ever sat through. The fact that it’s filled with exaggerated and downright incomprehensible Southern accents didn’t exactly help. I won’t call Raising Arizona a terrible film, or even a bad one at that rate. There were a few scenes here and there that were genuinely entertaining, and if nothing else, it’s certainly unique. But what the hell was the point? What were the Coens trying to do here? Is there some kind of underlying message here—something about the difficulties of raising a family, maybe? I’m not asking a rhetorical question here—if someone could point me in the direction of an analysis of this film, I’d be more than happy to give it a watch/read. There’s clearly something people see in it that I don’t. It has a staggering 91% on Rotten Tomatoes and is even listed among masterpieces like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day AfternoonRaging Bull, and the aforementioned Dr. Strangelove on director Spike Lee’s Essential Film List, meaning that he considers it a must-watch for anyone who wants to make films. Maybe I’ll change my mind and realize that Raising Arizona is great film in the near or distant future—our tastes and opinions are constantly evolving, after all. The Coen Brothers are filmmakers who always aim high, even if they don’t always hit the mark. If you want to see them do an absurdist comedy done right, I’d recommend The Big Lebowski in a heartbeat over Raising Arizona, but maybe that’s just me. Miller’s Crossing and the universally-acclaimed Fargo are next on my to-watch list of their films, so expect to hear all about those next month.
  • The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) – When you see Leonardo DeCaprio getting his dick sucked while driving a Ferrari and then snorting cocaine out of another woman’s asshole within the first ten minutes of a film, you know in you’re in for an interesting ride. The Wolf of Wall Street is F.Scott Fitzgerald’s worst nightmare come true. It makes the excess shown in one of Scorsese’s previous films, Casino, look modest in comparison. It constantly rides the line between seductive and repulsive, tempting and disgusting. It is pretty much everything wrong with the American Dream. And it’s one of the absolute greatest films of the decade. What an extraordinary filmmaker Martin Scorsese is, to not only be able to look at some of the most amoral and despicable characters imaginable and finding something deeply likable and funny about them, but also to convey that dark and bizarre sense of warmth and humor on the screen so flawlessly. GoodFellas is one of the best examples of this, making the audience feel like “one of the guys” in the company of criminals and pretty much becoming a black comedy at many points, in much the same way as Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t considered a comedy, but it had me in stitches by the time it was over, and for as loathsome as its characters, you can’t help but enjoy being in their presence—they have so much fun being scumbags that you almost admire them for it at first. Like with GoodFellas and many of his other films, though, Scorsese makes it clear that this kind of lifestyle comes at a steep price. I think it’s important that films like The Wolf of Wall Street exist. Whether we like to admit it or not, the depravity shown in the film is part of who we are, and doesn’t it make everything better when we take a step back and laugh at ourselves a little bit for it? After half a century, Scorsese hasn’t lost his touch even a little. He constantly evolves as a filmmaker—he only gets better and better at his craft. I eagerly look forward to whatever he has planned for the future.
  • Notable Rewatches: The Matrix (1999) and Gattaca (1997) – Back in the 8th grade, I picked up a cheap DVD set from Best Buy containing the entire Matrix series. I’d wanted to watch the original film ever since I saw a parody of its climactic shootout scene in a YouTube Let’s Play of the N64 game Conker’s Bad Fur Day. I know that sounds like an incredibly retarded reason to buy a movie, but I’ve always been a huge autist about these kinds of things, and it goes to show that YouTube has basically shaped who I am as a person over the years. Anyway, I watched The Matrix on my computer soon after the purchase, and it blew the ever-loving fuck out of my 13-year-old mind. The intrigue of the story and world, the stylish visuals and action scenes, and special effects that still hold up to this day—I knew that I’d witnessed a true sci-fi masterpiece. And then I tried watching the sequel, The Matrix Reloaded, and I couldn’t even make it through the first hour. It didn’t even have anything to do with the needlessly weird and confusing elements it adds to the Matrix mythology—I just thought it was unbearably boring. I was disappointed that the series fell apart so quickly, but it didn’t change my opinion of the original film. Why oh why, then, did it take me four years to finally give it a re-watch? As someone who watches and re-watches films frequently, I honestly couldn’t give you a good answer, but I’m glad I finally decided to purchase a blu-ray copy this month. After re-watching The Matrix, my opinion of it has only improved. It’s a perfect combination between pulpy, stylish action and smart writing and directing. Keanu Reeves, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Laruence Fishburne form one of cinema’s most memorable trios as Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus respectively. The shootout I mentioned earlier, in combination with the subway duel between Neo and Agent Smith, formed one of the greatest climaxes ever put to screen. The Wachowskis, who wrote and directed the film, reportedly took influence from anime like Akira and Ghost in the Shell, which were themselves influenced by western films like Blade Runner. I always find these kind of webs of influence between Western and Eastern culture fascinating. But regardless of its predecessors, The Matrix truly carved a unique identity for itself in the world of science-fiction, making it stand out among its contemporaries. Another sci-fi film that instantly became one of my favorites was Andrew Niccol’s Gattaca. In a similar fashion to The Matrix, I saw it for the first time in the 8th grade and inexplicably waited four years to finally purchase it on blu-ray and re-watch it. I actually saw it in school of all things, as part of a genetics unit in my science class. It’s the only film I’ve ever seen in a classroom setting that I consider one of my favorites. I thoroughly despised everything about middle school and personally believe that think high school is better in every conceivable way, but the fact that I even know about this film’s existence justifies all of the shit I  had to put up with. Gattaca is undoubtedly one of my favorite movies of all time, maybe even one of my top 10. It takes one simply sci-fi element—genetic engineering—and creates an entire new world out of it, desnsely packed with interesting ideas. It’s also a masterfully-crafted thriller and a compelling story of the power of the human spirit. It’s bold, smart, visually captivating, and emotionally profound. Niccol truly had a unique vision—one that has been flawlessly translated to the screen. I can’t reccomend Gattaca enough.

 

Anime

  • March Comes in Like a Lion  I really slept on anime this month—I didn’t even finish a single series. But, having reached the halfway point of March Comes in Like a Lion (known as Sangatsu no Lion in Japanese), I finally have an excuse to gush about it. Studio SHAFT is a treasure trove when it comes to great visuals. Every shot of this show feels distinct and meaningful, all wrapped up in an absolutely gorgeous art style. Kiriyama Rei might have a difficult time conveying his emotions, but the show he’s in certainly doesn’t. The emotional turmoil and struggle Rei endures throughout the series form the meat and potatoes of March Comes in Like a Lion, creating a character who’s impossible not to become invested in and want to see succeed. But of course, you need more than meat and potatoes to cook a delicious anime stew. Besides Rei, Sangatsu also contains a fantastic supporting cast full of likable and relatable characters, from the trio of sisters who make every moment they’re on screen a delight—Akari, Hinata, and Momo—to the chubby, lovable goofball that is Nikaidou. I realize that seeing ‘shogi’ in the description of a 22-episode anime would make most viewers pull out faster than a dad after being on Maury, but the show manages to make even shogi seem genuinely interesting (even if you only ever have the vaguest idea of what the hell is going on during the matches). Moreover, Sangatsu is a human drama first and foremost, and it’s an excellent one at that. To those looking for heavy-hitting emotional storytelling and compelling characters, March Comes in Like a Lion is an absolute must-watch, and one of the best anime of 2016.

 

Manga

  • My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness – I bought this on complete impulse after watching a video about it on Digibro After Dark. After reading it in just two sittings, I’m glad to say it was an impulse that paid off. An autobiographical tragic comedy by Kabi Nagata, My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness is both a great quick-read and a thought-provoking introspection of a person struggling to find her place in life. Nagata’s simplistic yet expressive drawings made the book a treat for the eyes as well. Something that I realized when reading this, is how small  my problems are when compared to other people’s. That probably sounds strange coming from me, the self-proclaimed god of autism and perpetual example of poor lifestyle choices, but I’m 100% serious about this. I may have poor social skills, nonexistent athleticism and coordination, terrible work ethic, and the attention span of a baby chimpanzee with ADD, but I’m still able to get up every morning, eat two to three meals a day, get homework and chores done, maintain relationships with friends, and so on. For some people, even these simple things can be a constant struggle, a soul-crushing nightmare that they can’t wake up from. Maybe it’s just because the author and main character ends up becoming a mangaka herself, but the book really reminded of me of why I’ve always been drawn to art forms like video games, books, films, anime, YouTube videos, and so on and so forth in the first place, whether I realized it or not. Even if a piece of media can’t change your view on the world or move you on a deep, emotional level, the least—and perhaps most important—thing it can do is lighten up your day, to distract you from the bad and give you at least a few moments of good. I don’t know if I can ever become some kind of bestselling, Great American author or even turn writing into anything more than a hobby, but if I can use the ability to string a few words together to make even one person’s day just a little bit better, whether it’s through a blog post or a short story or maybe even a novel, I think I’ll be more than satisfied with just that.

 

Comic Books

  • Superman: Braniac – Included in the paperback volume of Superman: Last Son, Superman: Braniac was a refreshing take on some of the most classic aspects of the Superman mythos. Although it’s plot is fairly simplisitc, the book is dense with gorgeous artwork by Gary Frank and fantastic characterizations of some of DC Comic’s most recognizable characters. Geoff Johns understands what makes Superman a great character at a fundamental level, both as a hero who always does the right thing, and as an individual with the flaws and longings that make us human.

 

Novels

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – With school starting in just a couple days for me, books that I read for English class will become pretty common for this series. Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist was my summer homework for this year, and while I haven’t been a fan of every novel I’ve read for school, but certain ones such as 1984, The Crucible, The Great Gatsby, The Things They Carried, and perhaps most of all One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were some the best books I’ve read in recent years. The Alchemist, while not quite as good as those books, was a thankfully short and enjoyable read. I happened to be traveling while reading it (I finished most of it on the plane ride to Florida), so the sense of adventure throughout the novel really resonated with me. Most of all, the book’s themes of self-discovery and fulfilling one’s personal destiny makes it a wise pick to start off senior year, a time which can be critical for discovering one’s personal life goals and how to achieve them. I guess I have to give some credit to the school curriculum for that. The Alchemist isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s worthwhile read. It’s a book that shines in its simplicity and manages to be dense with wisdom in spite of its brevity.
  • The Dark Tower Book I: The Gunslinger by Stephen King – Out of all the dozens of books Stephen King has written in the past 40+ years, it’s the massive Dark Tower series that he considers his magnum opus. After reading The Shining and Salem’s Lot last year, I was hooked on King’s work, so I got the entire box set for Christmas. It might seem like a risk to by an entire series before reading a single word of the first book, but I was fairly confident I would enjoy them. And besides, it’s a real nice set—though it would be a bit nicer if it didn’t have “A Major Motion Picture Starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey” plastered all over it, considering how big of a flop the film turned out to be. Anyways, you’re probably wondering why it took me until July to read the first book of a series I got for Christmas. Honestly, I just had other things to read and decided to get them over with first. Plus, I was a bit daunted by The Dark Tower‘s 4000+ pages and was worried that I wouldn’t be able to read anything else during my lengthy trek the series—looking back on it, that idea was complete B.S, since I’m more than used to reading multiple books at the same time, but I digress. The general consensus among Dark Tower fans is that the first book—The Gunslinger—is easily the weakest in the series, and that it took the second book, The Drawing of The Three, for the series to really find its footing. After powering through half of the aforementioned Drawing of the Three in just a few days, I can safely say that this is true—The Dark Tower is already on its way to becoming one of my favorite series of all time. That said, The Gunslinger is probably the weakest Stephen King novel I’ve read so far. It’s still a solid book, don’t get me wrong. Figuring out how to begin a series so massive, ambitious, and truly unique as The Dark Tower seems like it would be nearly impossible, and for what it’s worth, The Gunslinger manages to do just that. It does a great job of getting the reader intrigued in the bizarre world King has envisioned—not so much with how much we learn about it, but how much we don’t. It also does a good job of introducing the series’ central hero: Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. I also like what King did with the ending—not only does it take place a mere seven hours before the beginning of The Drawing of the Three, but it takes a interesting turn by substituting a typical final showdown for a world-building revelation of cosmic proportions. So what didn’t I like about the book. I think what threw me off about it was, strangely enough, the writing. The Gunslinger doesn’t read like a Stephen King novel—hell, it doesn’t even read like a Dark Tower novel. It somehow feels more amateurish than Carrie, his debut novel, despite being written an entire decade later. In all honesty, it isn’t too huge of a deal, since The Gunslinger is also the shortest book in the series at just over 220 pages. As I said, I’m already halfway through The Drawing of the Three and I’m absolutely enamored with it. I eagerly look forward to sharing my progress with this series over the next year or two. Until then, I encourage you to start reading the books yourself, especially if you’re already a fan of Stephen King’s work.

An Overview of The Dirty Harry Series

If Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy made Clint Eastwood a star, it was the Dirty Harry films made him a legend. After watching all five of these classics over the course of a week, I can safely say there isn’t a single bad or even mediocre entry in this series—all of them are great films in their own right, and each has its own unique set of pros and cons. So instead of talking about the series in summary, I’m going to give each movie the attention it deserves, one at a time. In doing so, I hope to do justice for one of the most entertaining and influential action series in the history of film.

Dirty Harry – Although the level of quality within the Dirty Harry series is fairly consistent, nothing could ever surpass the original. Dirty Harry is a testament to what action-thrillers can and should be: it’s quick and easy to follow, but also smart and nuanced. Plus, it’s got plenty of kick-ass action and some unforgettable lines. Director Don Siegel brings a darker and seedier side of San Francisco into the spotlight, making the city a character of the film in its own right. Composer Lalo Schifirn delivers one hell of a soundtrack—the jazzy main theme perfectly compliments  the movie and its titular character, and the haunting voices of Scorpio’s theme seem to echo from the villain’s own twisted psyche. And of course, you can’t talk about Dirty Harry without talking about Clint Eastwood, who inhabits the character of Harry Callahan in a performance that shaped the future of the cinematic action hero (especially the anti-hero). Eastwood makes this film and the series as a whole larger than the sum of its parts, and without him we wouldn’t have the Schwarzenegger’s, Stalone’s, and Willis’s of the 80s and 90s, not to mention a countless number of cop movies and characters. The appeal of Harry Callahan is flawlessly encapsulated in the unforgettable bank robbery scene toward the beginning of the film.  Among the chaos of blaring alarms and panicking bystanders, Harry is perfectly calm. Pay attention to the way he walks in this scene—in pretty much every scene he’s in for that matter. He always goes straight forward, never circling around the issue at hand. When the bank robbers open fire, he doesn’t hesitate in firing back, handling his iconic .44 Magnum with laser-like precision. Before you know it, the situation has been taken care of, finished as soon as it began. To put the icing on the cake, Harry wasn’t even on duty when this scene started—he was on his lunch break. Hell, he hadn’t even finished chewing his hot dog. This brings up an important aspect of Harry Callahan’s character: although he’s on the side of the law, he’s more than willing to take matters into his own hands. He follows the rules until the rules stop working. He hates bureaucracy and the restrictions the system places on him, but he puts up with it for the sake of doing the right thing, sacrificing his reputation, his dignity, and maybe even his sanity to do the jobs that no one else will—“the shit-end of the stick”, as his partner Chico Gonzalez puts it.  As great as all of the aesthetic qualities of his character are, it’s this defiant sense of individual morality that makes Harry a truly great character. The sequence ends with one of the most iconic moments in all of cinema: Harry pointing his revolver down at the incapacitated robber in an image of total power as he delivers one of the most cold-blooded lines ever written. I don’t need to recite it here. Even if you’ve never seen Dirty Harry, you’ve probably heard this line before, or at least a misquoted version of it. This scene has almost nothing to do with the main plot of the film, but it’s a testament to the character of Harry Callahan that hasn’t lost a fraction of its power after over 40 years. You may have noticed that, after over 500 words, I haven’t even provided a plot synopsis. Dirty Harry’s premise is so straightforward that it needs little explanation: the city of San Francisco is being terrorized by a rooftop sniper, a maniacal murderer who goes by the name of ‘Scorpio’ (played by Andrew Robinson in a haunting performance), and it’s up to Harry Callahan to put a stop to him. The simplicity of the plot could be seen as a limitation, but Dirty Harry is a film that shines within its limitations. Something that shouldn’t be ignored is the historical context in which Dirty Harry was released. This was 1971—the Vietnam War dragged on, becoming more and more unpopular with the American public. It was a time of political unrest that makes today’s political climate look comparatively stable. Liberals and conservatives called each other communists and fascists so frequently that the words pretty much lost their meaning. This was also a time when urban crime was on the rise, and the law enforcement system was making changes—some for the better, but some for the worse. The worst of these negative consequences was the rights of criminals overpowering the rights of their victims and of the police officers who pursue them. Upon its release, Dirty Harry became controversial for taking a more right-wing approach to these issues, and for defending the use of violence by the police. Some critics panned it as being ‘fascist propaganda. Looking back on the film today, these criticisms were obviously hyperbolic. Dirty Harry does present some conservative ideas, but it certainly isn’t fascist propaganda—hell, it hardly feels like a political film today at all. Above all else, Dirty Harry is a film which prioritizes being thrilling, entertaining, and undeniably cool above all else. It goes to show that you don’t always need to agree with the things you enjoy, and it never hurts to consider views that oppose your own. Today’s audiences seem to understand that better than those of the past, and the universal praise Dirty Harry receives today is testament to that. If you haven’t seen this film yet, add it to your watch-list—you won’t regret it.

Magnum Force – Part of the appeal of this series is how each film offers new insight into Harry Callahan, forming an extensive character study when it’s all put together. This is apparent almost immediately with the sequel to the original film, Magnum Force. Whereas Dirty Harry criticized the bureaucratic nightmare of left-wing law enforcement, Magnum Force tackles the other side of the issue by examining what happens when the police go too far. By doing so, director Ted Post and screenwriter John Milius blur the grey line that Harry treads, testing and ultimately reinforcing his moral code. Instead of the maniacal, peace-sign-garbed Scorpio, the villain this time around is the intelligent, calculating Lieutenant Briggs (played excellently by Hal Holbrook) and his rookie gang of vigilante traffic cops (who look ominously similar to Nazi stormtroopers). I suppose Magnum Force is also the most noticeable drop in quality within the series—as I’ve said, the original film stood above its successors, never to be surpassed. That isn’t to say Magnum Force is a bad film by any means. On the contrary, it’s a great sequel. If you enjoyed the first film, you’ll probably find yourself thoroughly entertained by this one as well.

The Enforcer – In Dirty Harry and Magnum Force, the dynamic between Harry and the main villain was a major factor of what made the films great. Unfortunately, the Vietnam-vets-turned-terrorists of The Enforcer are probably the weakest antagonists in the series. What instead carries this movie is the chemistry between Harry and his newest partner, Inspector Moore (played by Tyne Daly). This is an aspect of the Dirty Harry films I’ve held off on talking about until now. In each film, Harry is assigned a new partner. All of these partners have one thing in common: they always end up in the hospital or in their grave by the end. Aside from giving Harry someone to interact with throughout the film, the partner adds a tragic element to his character. It’s as if Harry is doomed to fight an endless battle, the inevitable fate of lonesomeness always haunting over him. Dirty Harry‘s Chico Gonzalez and Magnum Force‘s Early Smith were fine characters in their own right but The Enforcer stepped up its game with Kate Moore. Out of all of the partner characters, she’s the only one to go through a complete character arc. We first see her at her final test for becoming an Inspector, then struggling to keep up with the far more experienced Harry in their attempts to get to the bottom of the terrorist case, and then finally proving herself by helping him take down the terrorists and rescuing the mayor. All the while, she develops a strong bond and charming chemistry with Harry, which makes her tragic fate at the end of the film all the more heartbreaking. In spite of its forgettable villains, The Enforcer still stands as a solid entry in the series.

Sudden Impact – Six years after the release of The Enforcer, Clint Eastwood returned to the series once again, this time as both actor and director. What resulted was perhaps the most unusual of all the Dirty Harry films. A small town outside of San Francisco has become the hunting ground for Jennifer Spencer (played by Sondra Locke), a gang-rape victim looking for revenge, and it’s up to Harry (on a forced vacation) to find her and get the situation under control.  Although the original touched upon some similar ground, Sudden Impact stands out as the darkest film in the series. If Magnum Force blurred the thin grey line between right and wrong, this film nearly destroys it all together. The “victims” of the killing spree arguably deserve their punishment, but Jennifer isn’t exactly in the right, either. This dilemma comes to a head when Jennifer discovers that one of the rapists has been left in the same comatose state as her little sister (who was also a victim of the gang-rape). Besides moral ambiguity, the way this film approaches the character of Harry Callahan is also quite unique—he’s still the same badass as always, but we get to see a not-so-‘Dirty’ side to him. Clint Eastwood was reportedly tired of playing the same role over and over, and decided to spice things up a bit. Harry empathizes with Jennifer in a way he never could with Scorpio, Lt. Briggs, or the terrorists. He even becomes romantically involved with her, completely unaware that she’s the one he’s after. I suppose I can’t avoid the fact that Sudden Impact is also the most flawed film in the series. The most glaring issue is something it shares in common with The Enforcer—a bland and forgettable antagonist. Instead of sticking with Jennifer, the film does a sudden 180 by making one her past aggressors a downright cartoon villain. But I can’t really put all the blame on Eastwood—a majority of casual viewers didn’t go to a Dirty Harry movie to see thought-provoking moral complexity—they went to see Clint Eastwood blasting away criminals with his .44 Magnum. You could accuse Eastwood of having his cake and eating it too, but doing otherwise would have been too great a risk. And even if the villain is as flat as the great plains, the film still delivers a kick-ass finale and a powerful ending. Harry ultimately decides not to arrest Jennifer, giving her a second chance. Don’t let the mediocre score on Rotten Tomatoes scare you away from this one—Sudden Impact is well worth a watch.

The Dead Pool – Where Sudden Impact focused on the darker side of the Dirty Harry series, The Dead Pool focuses on the fun, light-hearted side. After his latest escapade, Harry unwillingly becomes a local celebrity, and subsequently finds himself a target in a series of murders. The only clue in catching the serial killer is a celebrity-death betting game called The Dead Pool, created by a B-movie director named Peter Swan (Liam Neeson). Why this film has such a low score on Rotten Tomatoes is beyond me—in terms of sheer entertainment value, The Dead Pool is probably the sequel that comes closest to rivaling the original Dirty Harry. Just take a look at what this film has to offer: Harry’s new partner is a Chinese-American karate master; Jim Carrey makes a cameo appearance as Johnny Squares, a washed-up rock-star who becomes the serial killer’s first target; there is an undeniable romantic tension between Harry and TV reporter Samantha Walker (Patricia Clarkson); the movie makes a thrilling chase sequence out of a remote-control toy car (which just so happens to be rigged with explosives); Harry takes out the main villain with a harpoon gun from the set of Swan’s latest film. To make a long story short, The Dead Pool is an absolute blast from start to finish. And in spite of its lighter tone, the film is also an insightful look on all things media and its obsession with death and violence. It’s fascinating to see a series which is known for being violent and controversial tackle this sort of topic. For me, it made the film all the more enjoyable. I’ll admit that The Dead Pool was a strange way to conclude Harry Callahan’s story, but at the same time, a neat little bow-tie ending would be unfitting for him anyway. For as much as I enjoy the series, all good things must come to an end.

Conclusion: What’s not to love about Dirty Harry? Its impact on the modern action genre is immeasurable, and the films are still great after over 40 years. Even among the unhealthy amount of media I consumed this summer, Dirty Harry stands out as one of its highlights. If you’re as interested in the legendary Clint Eastwood’s career as I’ve recently become, you owe it to yourself to watch all 5 of these classics as soon as possible.

 

What I’ve Been Watching/Reading – June 2017

You guys do understand that this series is just me rambling about all the shit I do in my free time each month, right? Why the hell did my last list get twice as many views as the movie analyses that I actually put effort into? Well, shit, I ain’t complaining. I could talk about this stuff all day. June wasn’t quite as densely-packed as May when it comes to the amount of content I consumed. I would like to say this is because I’ve been busy writing the blog for the first time, but I wasn’t nearly as prolific this June as I had hoped to be—hell, I haven’t posted anything in almost two weeks now. I’m going to try step up my game for July. I have a whole lot of stuff in the works right now, so for all zero of you people who even know I exist, get ready. For now, though, here’s What I’ve Been Watching in June of 2017.

 

Films

  • Barry Lyndon (1975) – I’m honestly not sure how to feel about this film. I know that I enjoyed it, but I’m still trying to figure out why. It’s probably the weakest Kubrick movie I’ve seen so far, which isn’t really saying much since I’ve only seen three others (2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and The Shining), all of which are masterpieces. Barry Lyndon is an absurdly beautiful movie. Why Kubrick went from a lurid future-shock black comedy to a subdued, quill-pen era historical drama is a mystery to me, but the result was a truly remarkable achievement in cinematic visuals, and I don’t think anyone can complain about that. Kubrick is a director who continues to amaze me with each film I watch of his—the man died before I was even born, but his films have taken on a life of their own. I’m planning on watching both Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut very soon, so I’ll probably be able to discuss both of those next month.
  • Dog Day Afternoon (1975) – Without a doubt the best film I saw this month. I already said this in my analysis of the film, but I’ll say it again here: Dog Day Afternoon is a lesson in creating empathetic characters. Sonny Wortzik is one of the most compelling, funny, and tragic characters ever put to screen. This is due in great part to Al Pacino, who is so good in this film it’s absurd. If you’ve ever doubted Pacino’s ability as an actor or think he only knows how to overact, his performance here is guaranteed prove you wrong. This is also one of only five films to star the inimitable John Cazale, who brings a wealth of life to the character of Sal Naturile with half as many lines as Pacino. The hyper-realistic style of Dog Day Afternoon and the fact that it was based on a bizarre but true story adds an entire other dimension to the film. While I didn’t enjoy it as much as last month’s Blade Runner or One Flew the Cuckoo’s Nest, there are few films I can recommend more than Dog Day Afternoon—it’s the latest addition to my list of favorites.
  • Jaws (1975) – I’m not sure why it took me this long to finally watch Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, one of the most iconic films of the late 20th century. Jaws is a movie oozing with as much humor and heart as edge-of-your-seat suspense, accompanied with an iconic soundtrack by the inimitable John Williams. Most of you reading this have probably already seen the film, but if not, make sure to do so as quickly as possible. It’s the perfect horror movie for summertime.
  • Logan (2017) – This was the perfect sendoff to Hugh Jackman’s iconic portrayal of Wolverine. This is a film that not only manages to cast new light on the character of Wolverine but also reminds us of why he’s such a great character to begin with. It’s also an incredibly bleak and gruesome yet defiantly hopeful look at the X-Men universe and superhero movies in general.
  • No Country For Old Men (2007) – While I didn’t respond to it as well as I had hoped, No Country For Old Men is a film so well-crafted and so well-directed that it’s impossible not to appreciate and enjoy. It’s a fascinating study of how the Western paradigm becomes dysfunctional in a modern setting, something that’s been touched upon in films like Taxi Driver but has never been the main focus. Javier Bardem steals the show here with his portrayal of Anton Chigurh, a killer so remorseless he might as well be death personified.  I’ve done the Coen Brothers a disservice by only seeing two of their films so far, but I can promise you that I’ll be talking about the rest once I get around to them.
  • The King of Comedy (1982) – Like Dog Day Afternoon, I’ve already written a full analysis about this film, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. The King of Comedy is a darkly funny look at the celebrity culture of the 1980’s, yet it has only become more and more relevant over the years. It feels like a prophecy for the celebrity culture of today. Rupert Pupkin (played excellently by Robert De Niro) is a passionate and talented man with an honest and ambitious dream, but he uses only the most dishonest and heinous of methods to achieve that dream, and is driven by naive and unrealistic motivations. For as reprehensible as his actions are, Rupert is a strangely likable and even somewhat relatable character at times. Martin Scorsese delivers once again with excellent directing and cinematography. There’s a reason he’s my favorite director after Tarantino, and The King of Comedy is a testament to his brilliance.

 

Anime

  • Interviews With Monster Girls – This show is pretty decent, which is a high compliment for something made by A-1 Pictures. The characters are likable and the way the show explores the challenges of monster girls (or ‘demi-humans’) was actually pretty fascinating at times. And at the end of the day, not all shows need to be masterpieces—if they have enough good ideas, they deserve to be watched.
  • Kado: The Right Answer – This series just finished airing the other day and I’ve been itching to talk about it more. Kado is not only a fantastic hard-sci-fi series packed with interesting ideas, but it’s also a testament to the potential of 3-D animation in anime. I’d like to write a blog post on it once I’ve more clearly processed my opinions about the show. For now, I will say that Kado’s final message about human progress (the “right answer”, if you will) was something that really resonated with me. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching this anime yet, go do so as soon as you can.
  • Nekomonogatari: Kuro – Though I enjoyed the indulgent dialogue and fanservice of Nisemonogatari, it lacked the same level of insight, character-building, themes, and romance as Bakemonogatari. Don’t get me wrong, I could look at Kanbaru’s naked ass 24/7, but that’s not what makes Monogatari a great series in the first place. Thankfully, the four-episode prequel series Nekomonogatari: Kuro is a return to form, showing us the events that took place over Golden Week. The story arc, also called “Tsubasa Family” focuses on the character of Hanekawa, her troubled home life, and her relationship with Araragi. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the “Tsubasa Cat” arc from Bakemonogatari, but the two are relatively close in quality. As I’m writing this I’ve already started watching Monogatari Second Season and I’m really looking forward to talk about it in next month’s installment of this list. This franchise is already becoming one of my favorite experiences of 2017.
  • Repeats from last month – I must confess that I’ve done a pretty poor job of keeping up with anime lately. I haven’t gotten much farther in Little Witch Academia, Re:Creators, or Sakura Quest, so they’re not really worth talking about on their own just yet. I’ve kept up with Boku no Hero Season Two and some of the episodes that aired this month were absolutely incredible, as anyone watching the show right now could tell you. Studio Bones has been doing fantastic work lately (which only makes me feel worse about how slowly the project I announced is coming along). They’re a studio that only improves their craft over time. Still, I think I’ll wait until the series is finished to discuss it any further. The Pedantic Romantic made a fantastic video on the Uraraka vs Bakugo fight that I highly recommend you go watch.

 

Comic Books

  • Batman: Made of Wood – This hidden gem by Ed Brubaker was included in the reprint of Batman: The Man Who Laughs (see next entry), and was one of this month’s biggest surprises. It follows Batman as he tries to solve a mystery that is ominously similar to a famous case from Gotham’s past. Along the way, he gains the alliance of Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern and protector of Gotham, who comes out of retirement to fight one last battle. Made of Wood is a small but sweet gem of a Batman story that I can recommend to any fan of the caped crusader.
  • Batman: The Man Who Laughs – This short graphic novel by Ed Brubaker details the first encounter between Batman and his archrival, The Joker. It is sort of a follow-up to Batman: Year One, following both Batman and Jim Gordan in their early careers as they try to make sense of the situation and stop the Joker’s killing spree. It doesn’t take long to read and contains solid writing and art. Like Made of Wood (which is included in the current paperback print of The Man Who Laughs), I can recommend this story to any fan of the character and mythos of Batman.
  •  Crisis on Infinite Earths – Back in 1985, Marv Wolfman and George Perez set out to clean up the mess of continuity and inaccessibility that the DC Universe had turned into after over four decades of history. The sheer size and scope of their task and the revolutionary effect it had on the comics industry is impressive, but I don’t think I can recommend Crisis on Infinite Earths to those who aren’t big fans of DC and interested in the history of its universe. It is an utter clusterfuck of a story filled with hundreds upon hundreds of characters, and nothing that happens is interesting enough to make it truly compelling in my eyes. The fact that it is also an extremely long book doesn’t help. I wouldn’t go as far as to call Crisis bad. It’s still one of the most important comic books ever made and we owe a great deal of respect to Wolfman and Perez for changing the face of superhero comics. But you might be better off just watching Comic Pop’s Back Issues episode on it instead of going through the trouble of buying and reading it yourself.
  • Superman: Last Son Last Son was quite possibly the greatest comic book I read this month. It introduces a new character, a young Kryptonian boy who crash lands in Metropolis, implying that Superman is not, in fact, the last son of Krypton. Superman and Lois Lane adopt the boy, naming him Christopher Kent. However, the arrival of the classic Superman villains General Zod, Ursa, and Non quickly breaks the newfound family apart, and it is revealed that the boy is none other than Zod and Ursa’s biological son. The rest of the story follows Superman as he teams up with Lex Luthor, Parasite, Bizarro, and Metallo in order to stop Zod’s invasion and prevent him from turning the Earth into New Krypton. The story brings into question Superman’s belonging in the human world, and there is a nature vs. nurture motif relating to both Christopher and Superman himself. Last Son is also credible for re-introducing General Zod into the DC Universe in the mid-2000’s. It is written by Geoff Johns, who is the current president of DC Comics, and Richard Donner, the director of Superman: The Movie (1978). Everything about this comic was solid, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it from beginning to end. Not a masterpiece, but I give it a high recommendation to fans of the man of steel and superhero comics in general.

 

Novels

  • Carrie by Stephen King – I read this book in two days. For someone who reads as slowly as I do, this is a considerable achievement, and a testament to Stephen King’s extraordinary ability as a writer and storyteller from the very beginning of his career (this was the first novel he published, after all). Carrie is a startling look at the darker sides of adolescence and of the human desire to overpower and manipulate others, as well as a great character study of a tormented young girl. Even though you know what her inevitable fate will be, even though you know it was never meant to be, King makes you hope with all your heart that Carrie White will find some kind of happy ending. Reading Carrie was a truly great experience, and I’m greatly looking forward to watching the 1976 movie adaptation by Brian De Palma.

Sympathy for the Devil – A Clockwork Orange Character Analysis

Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange is one of the most amoral characters ever put to page or screen. It’s no exaggeration to say he’s a representation of the Devil, an incarnation of primal evil. He spends his nights preying on the innocent with his derby-topped droogs, committing every crime from robbery to rape, and enjoying each and every minute of it. He’s one bad kid, to say the least. In spite of this, he’s also one of the most compelling protagonists in all of fiction. There are plenty of characters that we ‘love to hate’, but Alex is one of the few we ‘hate to love’.

A Clockwork Orange, especially the movie version, is sometimes seen as a sort of precursor to the punk-rock movement. This is mostly referring to the film’s memorably bizarre but undeniably stylish aesthetics, and to its individual-vs-society undertone. Despite this, Alex is hardly a punk-rock character, who are usually defined by an anti-establishment attitude and deliberate rebellion against authority (“fighting the system” as it were). Instead, he is utterly indifferent to authority, and seemingly to society as a whole. There is no greater purpose or politics to his crimes—he is simply looking for a good time and doing as he pleases, driven by raw impulse and desire. There is an almost jovial energy to him that contrasts the horror of the acts he commits. He treats crime like a child treats playtime. No scene better exemplifies this than the infamous ‘Singin In the Rain’ sequence, where Alex and his droogs break into the house of a writer and his wife and beat the living shit out them, all while singing one of the happiest songs in existence. I doubt Gene Kelly was pleased with that. The fact that the song was exclusive to the film version is a testament to the brilliance of both Stanley Kubrick and Malcolm McDowell.

There is more to Alex than just sadism. If this wasn’t the case he wouldn’t be as likable of a character as he is. With his love for violence and sex also comes a love for art, music, and language. A man of wealth and taste, so to speak. While others around him mock the arts, Alex holds them in high regard, especially the works of Ludwig Van Beethoven. The way he describes the power of Beethoven’s symphonies (the 5th in the novel and the 9th and the film) demonstrates a high level of intelligence underneath his animalistic behavior. There is something eloquent about the way Alex uses language, even when compared to his droogs, who use the same teenage ‘Nadsat’ slang. The narration, in particular, has a seductive power to it, grabbing hold of the audience and never letting go. He is also undeniably funny, with an almost ironic sense of humor. He certainly isn’t lacking in self-confidence either—in the book he occasionally refers to his youthful good looks and he maintains a certain level of charisma in even the most intimidating of social situations. These are all traits that demonstrate individual power, suggesting that Alex’s behavior is not a result of lacking self-control. He simply does what he does because he wants to. He is evil by choice.

And while Alex is amoral and bad-natured, the world around him and the government that rules it are shown to be just as bad, if not worse. While Alex’s evil is grounded in chaos, violence, and sex—which lie in the dark heart of human nature—the evil of the world around him is grounded in hypocrisy, deceit, manipulation, and the desire for control—which lie in the synthetic, artificial underbelly of modern society and the corruption of authority. We constantly see “innocent” people indulging in the same cruelties Alex, but only he is punished. Just to name a few examples, we see Alex being physically abused during his ‘interrogation’ after he is caught (by a group of four, no less, just he and his droogs). There are even implications in the movie that Alex has been sexually abused by his post-corrective advisor P.R Deltoid, first when he smacks Alex in the crotch after lecturing him in his parents’ bedroom (strange place to be hanging out, no?), and second during the interrogation, where his spit lands right on Alex’s mouth (the number of takes it took for Kubrick to be satisfied with the shot is proof that this detail was intentional). The Ludovico Technique is sort of the epitome of systematic, authoritative evil within A Clockwork Orange. It’s like a libertarian’s worst nightmare—complete robbery of the freedom of choice, one of the most basic of human rights. By taking away Alex’s ability to commit acts of violence and rape, they also take away his ability to defend himself from his vengeful former victims or even engage in healthy sexuality. This creates a moral dilemma within the viewer/reader’s head. Which is the greater of two evils—the consequences of free will or the consequences of taking that free will away?  I’ve already mentioned how Alex is essentially a representation of the Devil, but the Ludovico Technique acts as a sort of reversal of the fall of Lucifer. Instead of an angel corrupted by sin who falls to hell, Alex is a devil brainwashed out of sin who falls to an artificial ‘heaven’. Consider the scene in the film where Dim and George—Alex’s former droogs—reappear as police officers and carry Alex off to brutalize him. There is a great easter-egg here, courtesy of Kubrick—the numbers on the back of Dim and George’s uniforms are “665” and “667”, with Alex placed in between them. In other words, 666, the number of the Beast. But notice how he’s only associated with the number after he’s been brainwashed.

There is an entirely different way to interpret Alex’s character, however. When you consider that he is the one telling the story, through his own biased perception, you have to wonder if the audience only favors Alex over the world around him because that’s what how he wants you to feel. There is a great video by film analyst Rob Ager entitled “The Ludovico Lie”, which I highly recommend you watch for further detail—basically, Rob suggests that Alex only pretends to have been brainwashed in order to get out of prison, and that his narration is nothing but a pack of lies, seducing the audience into sympathizing with him. The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist, after all. In my opinion, this alternate perspective only adds to the appeal of Alex’s character, as a symbol of individual power in its most sinister form, and yet another testament to great writing by Burgess, great directing by Kubrick, and great acting by McDowell.

And speaking of McDowell, I simply can’t write a post about Alex DeLarge without mentioning the man who brought him to life on the screen. In the book, Alex was more of a symbol—a raw force of nature and evil—rather than just a person, and this made adapting him to film a tricky task. But McDowell fulfilled that task with flying colors. His performance in A Clockwork Orange is undoubtedly one of the greatest movie performances of all time, at least in my mind. He embodies all of the humor, energy, charisma, and raw, horrific power of the character.

There is one last element of Alex’s character, and of A Clockwork Orange in general, which has left many an audience scratching their heads: the ending. The original ending of the novel has been subject of controversy among readers. Being the symbolic “twenty-first” chapter, it has Alex giving up his old ways by choice in order to pursue the happiness of family life. It implies that the rampant violence and sexuality which Alex and his droogs were so enamored with is merely a product of adolescence, something that exists in all young men to some extent. It’s a bit of an odd ending, I’ll admit, but I satisfied by the book either way. Although Kubrick claimed he never read the original ending, the cryptic final shot of the film might suggest otherwise. I was utterly confused the first time I finished watching it—it has the same final line from the book’s twentieth chapter (“I was cured, all right.”), but the line is paired with this bizarre final image. It shows Alex engaged in sex with a woman on a floor covered in what appears to be either snow or white confetti,  surrounded by applauding spectators. Once again I’ll have to call upon film analyst Rob Ager for explanation. In his video on hidden jokes and metaphors within A Clockwork Orange, he suggests that the final shot is symbolic of marriage and the sexual fulfillment that Alex can finally have as a result—almost identical the original conclusion of the novel. A Clockwork Orange can be very ambiguous and open-ended with its themes, so there could be another possible meaning to the ending, but the evidence for the marriage interpretation seems solid to me.

Alex from A Clockwork Orange demonstrates that even the most despicable of characters can be compelling, even sympathetic, and proves that there’s more than one way to create a great character. I tip my derby and raise my glass of moloko-plus to the genius of Burgess, Kubrick, and McDowell.

I’m already planning on writing another analysis of A Clockwork Orange, so keep an eye out if you enjoyed this one, and don’t forget to slash that like button with your cutthroat bratva, my dear brothers. Ciao.

The King of Comedy Analysis

“Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime” -Rupert Pupkin

One night. That’s all Rupert Pupkin needs. And he’s willing to get that one night at any cost, by any means necessary.

When director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Zimmerman created The King of Comedy back in the early 80’s, they thought were merely critiquing the celebrity culture at that time—they had no way of knowing that their comments would only become increasingly relevant over the years. Despite this, the film feels like a prophecy. It’s strange how, out of all of Scorsese’s work, The King of Comedy, a movie where not a single bullet is fired nor a single life taken, stands out as something uniquely disturbing. Roger Ebert went as far as to call it “one of the most arid, painful, and wounded movies I’ve ever seen”. Putting my infinite respect for Ebert aside, I think he was just a bit too hard on the film. Still, I have to agree that certain scenes in The King of Comedy are downright painful, even embarrassing to watch.

Rupert Pupkin, played by the inimitable Robert De Niro (in his fifth collaboration with Scorsese), has the passion and talent to become a great comedian, but pursues success in all the wrong ways. He manipulates, lies, stalks, and kidnaps his way to fame, indifferent to the potential repercussions of his actions. He is constantly rejected throughout the film but is so desperate and delusional that he is incapable of accepting that he has even been rejected at all. What is more disturbing is that, in the end, he succeeds. In fact, the dishonesty of his methods only elevates his sudden fame. Unlike Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver, there is almost no defense to be made for Rupert’s actions. But like Travis, the audience can empathize with Rupert upon analyzing his deeper, unspoken motivations, if to a lesser extent. There is a sequence that plays out in his imagination which perfectly encapsulates the self-hatred and anger he has bottled up inside of him. The scene is a talk show turned into a wedding, with his school principal as the officiant. The principal gives a speech about how wrong he was about Rupert, offering an official apology from everybody who ever wronged or doubted him. This is what Rupert wants. He sees fame as a way to prove the world wrong, to show everybody that he isn’t just another nobody loser, that he’s the “King”, and he bases his self-worth entirely on whether or not he can achieve that fame. It is a childish but undeniably real and relatable motivation. Too often we base our self-worth in the most trivial matters—a grade on a test, a number on a scale, or the amount of likes on a social media post. It is for this reason that The King of Comedy is more relevant now than ever before, especially with the advent of the internet and social media. You could argue we live in a world full of Pupkins. Celebrity culture, back then and even more so now, often centers around meaningless drama, gossip, and exploitation. Celebrities are supposed to be famed for their unique talents, people to look up to as sources of inspiration or even role models. Yet many lack any real talent whatsoever and haven’t struggled a day in their lives, and even the ones who do are often unfairly misjudged or exploited by the public. Some are downright unbearable as human beings on even the most basic levels.

When Rupert finally makes it onto Langford’s talk show, there is something deeply disturbing about his jokes that the people watching seem to be oblivious to. It leaves you wondering how much of the story he’s telling them is the truth. At the end, he literally admits that he kidnapped Langford to millions of people, who still think he’s just joking. Rupert’s final words summarize the film’s critique on celebrity culture to a tee: “Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime”. When it is revealed to the public that Rupert really did kidnap Langford, he is met not with backlash and rejection—instead he becomes a nationwide phenomenon, the new biggest thing.

The antithesis to Rupert Pupkin is his idol, talk show host and comedian Jerry Langford, played by Jerry Lewis. He wants nothing more than to regain his privacy but is haunted by stalkers and rabid fans, ultimately being the kidnapping victim of Rupert and his partner-in-crime Masha, who is obsessed with Langford on all levels, even sexually. She is arguably even creepier and more delusional than Rupert, with just as much self-hatred bottled up inside of her. The casting of Sandra Bernhard, a relative unknown at the time, was a stroke of genius. She so perfectly embodies the character of Masha that any other actress would have paled in comparison.

I haven’t even mentioned that, despite the film’s darker and more disturbing elements, it is still immensely funny. Some of the best comedic moments come from the small verbal clashes between Rupert and his off-screen mother, played by Martin Scorsese’s real-life mother Catherine Scorsese (who would go on to play Tommy’s mother in GoodFellas). Reportedly, Robert De Niro actually burst out laughing in one the takes because of how funny it was.

Martin Scorsese brings his trademark style of hyper-realism mixed with surrealism once again. No director creates paints such compelling images of New York City as he does. Instead of the seedy, hellish, and claustrophobic yet hypnotically beautiful city from Taxi Driver, we get a New York that feels vibrant and alive, yet still hiding something sinister beneath the surface, much like Rupert himself. Even more so than that, Scorsese’s films are unrivaled in capturing the best and worst sides of America and of the human condition in general. After Quentin Tarantino, Scorsese is probably my favorite director of all time. I’ve only seen six of his films but all of them are among my most beloved, with Taxi Driver currently residing at the number two spot on my favorite live-action films of all time. The King of Comedy is yet another fine example of Scorsese’s genius as a filmmaker.

 

 

The Deer Hunter: An Intimate Epic

I first learned of Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter while scouring YouTube for Quentin Tarantino interviews of all things. In one of these interviews, Tarantino was discussing Robert De Niro’s outstanding career throughout the 70’s and early 80’s, and his roles in such films as Mean Streets, The Godfather Part II, Taxi Driver, and Once Upon a Time in America. One of the films that happened to come up was The Deer Hunter, which he described as an “intimate epic”. I finally saw the movie about fourth months ago and just re-watched it a few days ago. It’s easily one of my favorite movies, and I think Tarantino was spot on in his description. The Deer Hunter certainly has the makings of an epic, with a three-hour run-time split across three acts. These three acts come together to demonstrate the devastating effects of the Vietnam War on not only the people who fought in it but also their friends, families, and communities. It has often been labeled as an anti-war film, but I think that label, while not necessarily inaccurate, is somewhat misleading, and has provoked some undeserved criticism. The Deer Hunter is not a film that take sides. It does not seek to vilify The U.S or the Vietnamese (though it’s depiction of the VietCong is, admittedly, completely monochromatic). It does not exist for the sake of pushing Michael Cimino’s ideology or opinion on the war, nor anybody else’s for that matter—if anything, it allows the audience to form their own opinion. It is an acknowledgement of the pain that real people experienced, of an era in U.S history that should never be forgotten, and above all else, it is a film about people, their lives, their emotions, and how those things are irreparably changed by war.

To be more specific, The Deer Hunter follows three steelworkers from the small industrial town of Clairton, Pennsylvania—Mike (Robert De Niro), Nick (Christopher Walken, in a performance that won him the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), and Steve (John Savage)—before, during, and after their service in the U.S Army in Vietnam. The film is book-ended by large gatherings of people, the first a wedding and the second a funeral.

The first act is possibly the most vital. The film takes its time establishing the characters and the world they inhabit. From the scorching heat of the steel mills to the coziness of the saloon, the town of Clairton, shot beautifully by Hungarian-American cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, feels so alive it’s like we’re right there with the characters. It’s the little things that make this hour-long introduction something truly special. By the end, we have an incredibly vivid understanding of the characters, of their relationships, their beliefs, their traditions, their lifestyle, their strengths and their flaws. Mike, Nick, and Steve aren’t the only characters we learn about; there’s their friends Stan (the last performance of  John Cazale, who was terminally ill during the filming), Axel (Chuck Aspergen), and Jack (George Dzunda); there’s Steve’s overbearing mother (Shirley Stoler), and his bride-to-be Angela (Rutanya Alda); and finally there’s Nick’s girlfriend Linda (Meryl Streep), whom Mike has an unspoken longing for. Small, seemingly unnecessary details like Linda’s abusive, drunken father (Richard Kuss) or Jack’s talent for music (we see him in the church choir during the wedding sequence and playing piano in the saloon) give the setting a level of depth which other filmmakers tend to overlook.

Most of the first act consists of Steve and Angela’s wedding. It is a time of celebration—we see the characters laugh, dance, and drink obscene amounts of alcohol. The characters are enjoying their last moments of peace before they have to leave. There is some foreshadowing to the effects the war will have on the characters, the first from a spaced-out green beret officer at the party and the second from a personal conversation between Mike and Nick, who asks Mike not to leave him in Vietnam—a promise that will become important much later on in the film. The morning after the wedding, the characters go hunting in the Pennsylvanian hills, providing us some exquisitely beautiful cinematography. At this point, killing still has a sense of meaning and purpose for the characters. There is a great scene after the deer hunt where they listen to Jack playing piano in the saloon—there’s no dialogue, just silent contemplation.  Immediately after, the audience is thrust into Vietnam.

Compared to other Vietnam movies, The Deer Hunter lacks the large-scale action you might find in Apocalypse Now, Platoon, or Full Metal Jacket. In fact, there is very little action at all. There is a short sequence where we see Mike kill one of the Vietcong with a flamethrower. Nick and Steve arrive at the site via helicopter. Their reunion with Mike is cut short by an enemy attack, in which the three are captured offscreen. What follows is the unforgettable POW-camp sequence, otherwise known as the Russian Roulette sequence. Regardless of what you think about Michael Cimino or even The Deer Hunter as a whole, this is indisputably one of the greatest and most fully realized scenes in all of cinema. You can feel the characters’ friendship solidify itself more and more with each click of the revolver. Few movie scenes are so effective at building tension, to the point where it becomes almost unbearable. No matter how many times I re-watch it, it makes my heart race every single time. You could argue that, despite the scene’s incredible execution, there is the issue of historical inaccuracy—prisoners were never forced to play Russian Roulette in Vietnamese POW camps. I would like to counter this with a famous quote from Vietnam veteran and writer Tim O’Brien: “Fiction is the lie that helps us understand the truth”. The Russian Roulette might not be a historically accurate plot device, but it is one of the most effective central metaphors of any movie I have ever seen. The revolver takes and spares life at random; there is no ideology, no morality, no human judgement. There is only fate, if such a thing really exists. It is a small symbol with a meaning of enormous proportion, perfectly fitting for The Deer Hunter as a whole—an intimate tale with epic scale hidden beneath the surface.

After escaping from the camp, Steve is left physically crippled and Nick utterly disillusioned, wandering through the dark and hazy streets of Saigon’s red light district. This is the only part of the plot that seems a bit contrived for me—Nick finds himself at a professional Russian Roulette ring, where he nearly reunites with Mike before the two are ultimately separated. While it allows the Russian Roulette metaphor to reappear, it sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the film.

The character least affected by the war is Mike, whose return home initiates the film’s third act. When he sees that his friends are waiting at his house, he finds himself incapable of facing them. There is a great moment where we see him sitting silently in a motel room. De Niro’s fantastic acting demonstrates Mike’s inner emotional turmoil. The next morning, Mike tentatively approaches Linda and his friends. The comfort and openness from the first act are gone—replaced by a shyness, even awkwardness at times. The way the town feels is deliberately different—it seems colder, darker, and emptier. Parts of the third act mirror the first act, showing similar situations before and after the disillusioning effects of the war. There is another deer hunting scene, where Mike tracks down a deer but ultimately spares its life. Killing has lost its meaning. He and Linda grow closer, trying but ultimately failing to fill the void that the absence of Nick has caused. After visiting the unresponsive Angela, Mike finds out about the veterans hospital Steve is staying at. Steve refuses to come home, clearly feeling the same emotional distress as Mike. When Mike goes to the hospital, he discovers that Nick has somehow been sending money to Steve from Saigon, where anti-war protests are reaching an all-time high. He returns to Vietnam one last time to bring Nick home.

By the time Mike finds him at the Russian Roulette ring, Nick is in a delirious state, seeming to have forgotten who he is. Mike takes the place of Nick’s opponent in the game, and after bringing up a conversation the two had at the beginning of the film about how deer should be taken out in one shot (“one shot is what it’s all about”). For a moment, Nick seems to remember who he is and recognize his best friend. “One shot” he repeats, taking the revolver and pulling the trigger. Nick is killed, taken away by the 50/50 chance at life or death.

Nick’s body is brought home, and a funeral is held. Afterwards, there is one last scene where the characters gather at the saloon for breakfast. After some quiet moments, they  begin to sing “God Bless America”. While the POW Camp sequence is undoubtedly the film’s best scene, the ending is a close second. The use of the song is not meant to be patriotic nor satirical. It touches on so many emotions all at once that it’s difficult to put into words. It is at once incredibly sad but also strangely uplifting. I won’t interpret it any further, as it is something you should experience yourself if you haven’t already. After the song, the film ends with a toast—“to Nick”.

I’ve gone this long without even mentioning The Deer Hunter‘s soundtrack. The main theme, “Cavatina”, a classical guitar song performed by the legendary John Williams, is one of my favorite pieces of music in all of film. It is so like the rest of the film, seemingly simplistic yet conveying a rich spectrum of emotions and possible meanings.

If The Deer Hunter‘s intimidating run-time or Michael Cimino’s understandably poor reputation (Heaven’s Gate pretty much destroyed the studio system single-handely) have kept you from watching this excellent film, I urge you to change that immediately. The Deer Hunter is not only one of the best Vietnam films but one of the best films of the 1970’s, and of all time for that matter.

 

Dog Day Afternoon Analysis

There’s a scene toward the end of Dog Day Afternoon where Sonny (Al Pacino) has just said goodbye Leon (Chris Sarandon) and his wife (Susan Peretz)  in two back-to-back phone calls. He’s visibly exhausted and coated in sweat from the summer heat (and no A/C to boot). He’s sitting there quietly, when, just for a moment, we see him break down into tears before burying his face in his hands. There is not a single line of dialogue in this moment—Al Pacino’s facial expressions and body language do all of the talking. It’s a great piece of character acting, but it only works as well as it does because of the empathethic bond between the audience and the character of Sonny.

Dog Day Afternoon is based on a bizarre but true story of a bank robbery that took place in Brooklyn in 1972, three years before the film was made. The opening shots of New York City tell us what all we need to know—it’s a hot, sleepy, boring summer afternoon that’s about to get a whole lot more interesting. Moreover, they establish a sense of naturalism and realism that pervades throughout the film.

Sonny is a person who wants to make everybody happy, but only ends up hurting everybody in the long run, himself most of all. He wants to make up with his homosexual wife Leon (Chris Sarandon) by paying for his sex-change operation, but chooses to do so by robbing a bank. The reason for this is unclear, since it’s immediately obvious he has no experience as a professional criminal—when he pulls out a rifle to threaten the tellers, it gets caught on the ribbon of the present box he was hiding it in. Sonny believes everything he does is the right course of action but almost always regrets it immediately afterwards. When the bank robbery immediately goes sour, he refuses to give up and continues to worsen the situation throughout the entire movie, terrified by the prospect of going back to prison. He tries to act menacing to the hostages but can’t help being nice to them at the same time, even demanding that the cops order them pizza because they’re hungry. Sonny desperately wants to be with Leon—a desire that is reciprocated—but everything he does only pushes the two farther apart, and we know that their relationship would never work out, even if we wish it could. There is never a moment where the audience can truly condemn Sonny—we can’t help but feel that it is fate itself which has condemned him. Even though he’s a bank robber, someone who would normally be the villain in your typical cops and robbers flick, and even though we learn some unsavory facts about him and his recent past, we want him to succeed. In fact, it is Sonny’s flaws—his incompetence, his naivety, his erratic and seemingly self-contradictory personality, his inability to help who he is—which make him more empathetic to the audience than most film protagonists could ever hope to be.

Consider the scene where Sonny’s mother, played by Susan Peretz, shows up at the scene and tries to convince him to come out. Pacino almost effortlessly conveys Sonny’s utter embarrassment at the situation. There’s a great moment that shows exactly what kind of relationship the two have: she’s going on about how Sonny’s actions aren’t his fault, trying to avert the blame from him to his heterosexual wife Angie. Sonny keeps trying to tell her otherwise, but she doesn’t listen to him—she just goes on and on. From this scene alone, we can tell that she hasn’t truly listened to him since the day he learned to speak. The scene also shows that Sonny is well aware of his problems: “I’m a fuck-up and an outcast, and that’s it. You get near me, you’re gonna get it—you’re gonna get fucked over and fucked out!”

Al Pacino is often accused of overacting, to the point that many underestimate how brilliant of an actor he truly is. He is as capable of excess as subtlety, often blending the two together flawlessly. This can be seen in full force with his portrayal of Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon, which is perhaps one of the greatest movie performances I have ever seen. He offers so much to the film that a mere script can not, truly bringing the character to life.

I’ve already talked in great detail about Sonny, but let’s not forget his partner in crime, Sal, played by the inimitable John Cazale. We learn very little about Sal throughout the film, but there is an unspoken depth to him that is only possible because of Cazale, a naivety, sensitivity, and vulnerability that makes him just as endearing and tragic as Sonny. Nearly every single line delivery is genius. John Cazale is an actor with an unmatched ability to open up all of his emotions, all for the sake of becoming the characters he plays. He shows parts of himself that most actors want to keep hidden. Had he not died tragically young, I have little doubt that his work would have continued to rival that of Pacino, De Niro, and other immensely talented character actors.

Dog Day Afternoon can be best described as a ‘tragic comedy’. The line between comedy and tragedy is practically invisible; some of the film’s funniest moments are also the most heartbreaking. There is a particularly famous improvised line from Cazale—when Sonny asks if there’s any special country he wants to go to, Sal says “Wyoming”. For as uproariously funny as the answer is, it’s also incredibly sad, since Sal is dead serious. “Wyoming…” Sonny replies, “…That’s not a country.”

The film’s most heartbreaking scene comes right at the end. Sonny and Sal are so close to their goal, yet the audience can feel an impending sense of failure and doom. They’re at the airport, about to make their escape to Algeria (“I’m going to the tropics—fuck the snow!), and Sal is visibly nervous, since he’s never been on an airplane before. The hostage who they let go in exchange for the jet, Maria, tells him not to be scared and gives him a necklace for good luck. A few moments later, we see a revolver that the FBI agent has been hiding. Before we know, Sal has been shot, and the agent has Sonny at gunpoint. It’s over.

I was also impressed by way the film treated the topic of homosexuality. For a film that came out over forty years ago, when the LGBT movement was treated as a joke by many, it never uses Sonny and Leon’s relationship in a disrespectful or exploitative manner. Chris Sarandon’s portrayal of Leon (another of the film’s excellent performances) never feels like a caricature—if the audience laughs at one of his lines, it isn’t because he’s gay. The locals watching the situation go down and even the police might laugh or make fun of them, but the film itself never does. Sonny and Leon’s relationship is treated no differently than if it was heterosexual. While this isn’t vital to the film’s quality, it’s a good thing that a film based in reality treat its subject matter with as much realism as possible.

Dog Day Afternoon is a testament to realistic filmmaking and creating compelling, empathetic characters. Over the past couple of months, I have incredibly lucky with my movie choices—never before have so many of my favorite films been ones I’ve seen so recently, and Dog Day Afternoon doubtlessly belongs to that category.