Sunday, December 31, 2023

What Are YOU Lookin' At?: (New Year's Eve 2023)

Ah, 123123

Welcome to the Blogging By Cinema-light Annual Report. I know for you investors out there, you'll want us to get to the bottom-line first, so here we go.
No. We did not make a profit this year. As a result, there will be no stock dividends. This will come as a disappointment to no no one is an investor.
On the other hand, we didn't have any losses, so we do not foresee any lay-offs. As I'm the only employee, this comes as a big relief. And a bit of a disappointment, as my hands are getting a little "crampy". 
There was one major milestone this year. Blogging By Cinema-light began with its first post January 26, 2014. It will be our tenth Anniversary this coming year (yay!), which means that it took nearly that long to get to 1,000,000 views, which rolled over sometime last year early in the year.
Now, this is a curious thing: if you look at our total pages views (located in the right column somewhere between the Word-Cloud that we never update and the spinning globe showing current views) you'll see that we have—as of this writing—1,335,253 page-views currently.
So, looking at this took us 9 years to get 1 million views and 1 year to add one-third of a million to that total. That's right, we had 329,000 views (roughly) last year. 
"Oh boy," I hear you say. "We're growing!!" 
Yeah, (scree-ee-ch!) not so fast. 
I check this blog quite a bit (my own page views are kept out of the numbers, by the way) and I noticed a real up-tick in page views this Summer. I mean, they, a tall building in a single bound. Just in the last 6 months, there have been 226,000 page views (out of 329,000, remember).
Now, it's not consistent. In the last 3 months, there have been 56,000 page-views, a lot less than half of the 6 month number. Still, nothing to sneeze at and please cover your mouth when you do.
So, what's going on? Well, Watson, when things started spiking I did a little investigating. It seems most of these page-views were coming from Singapore. Singapore? I don't know anybody in Singapore! And these page-views were 1) from an Android phone and 2) done as a google search for a could be anybody and some of them were for industry people I'd never mentioned or tagged in a single article.
But, a trend started...suddenly, a lot of views started showing up on the review I did for Wonder Woman 84 (a mostly negative review, I should add). The motivation for this eludes me—a fan of the movie (but not the first one? Which was—I thought—far superior.) Was it a Gal Gadot fan (in which case, she's got a lot of coverage on the inter-webs that would have proved more useful). Was it that I managed to score a motion-poster gif of the poster (something I love to do and wish more movies had them). I have nary a clue. "Its origin and purpose still a total mystery."
Until that started to change. Seems like there was a popularity contest going on between between The Batman (positive review, by the way) and Wonder Woman 84. "The Bat" finally won. Why? "He's Batman."
So, this long drawn-OUT explanation of what you're about to see here...the stats on the most popular posts this year (and only one from a movie that came out this year—you guys ARE going to movies, aren't you?). 


Honorable mentions to
Next, we have the most visited posts OF ALL TIME. The only changes from last year being a couple super-heroes knocking two off the list.

Honorable mentions to:

So, that was 2023. "Onward and Upward." Last year, I made the mistake of saying I'd be putting up an Index of everything on the site and that WILL happen in 2024, but I'm not making any other promises (although I'd love to tell ya what I got in mind). Better to surprise you. (And myself, if I get them done!)
Finally, I'll leave you with a couple of videos (even though they sometimes go missing after awhile) starting off with a couple Trailer Mash-ups:

And, then, TCM's yearly "In Memoriam" Clip—always so smart and so celebratory and always leaves me not despairing of what we lost, but grateful for what we had:

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Past Lives

Past Lives
(Celine Song, 2023) "Woah!"
"There is a word in Korean – inyeon. It means providence or fate. But it's specifically about relationships between people. I think it comes from Buddhism and reincarnation. It's an inyeon if two strangers even walk by each other on the street and their clothes accidentally brush because it means there must have been something between them in their past lives. If two people get married,they say it's because there have been 8,000 layers of inyeon over 8,000 lifetimes."*

It begins from an outside perspective. Three people sit at a bar—two men, one woman (not that it would matter, really)—two of them are Korean and one is Caucasion/Jewish (not that it would matter, really). We never see who's talking, but a man and a woman are talking about them—"Who do you think they are to each other?" There's idle speculation over who's the couple, what the "third wheel" is doing there then, and what the trio (if they are a trio) are doing at a New York Greenwich bar at 4 a.m.? The ideas keep getting more elaborate and less specific and finally the woman just gives up the little tavern game: "I have no idea."
The story will span 24 years, but not the full 24. There will be long stretches that we're not privy to, and we'll see only the sporadic bursts of activity that have brought us—and them—to this bar and this conversation. It's like it was meant to happen...but not in this way.
Past Lives is a love story, but it might as well be a multi-verse movie, too. No super-heroes, no diverging time-lines, although it's not without divergence. It tells the story of Hue Sang (played
Leem Seung-min as a child, then Teo Yoo as an adult) and Na Young (Moon Seung-ah in childhood)—or "Nora" as she will call herself (Greta Lee as an adult)—two very intelligent students—they're constantly competing about who'll get the best grades in school—in South Korea. When Na comes in second, she cries, and Hue is always there to comfort her...not that it happens too often. They are best of friends and in "puppy love"—Na announces that she will marry him—and they seem inseparable. But, in reality, they are: Na Young's father is a filmmaker and to advance his career decides to move his family to Canada. The two have a pre-arranged date before she leaves, and then, she is gone.
Twelve years pass and Nora is now 24 and living in the United States. One day, she asks her Mother if she can remember the name of her long-lost friend and tries to find him through the internet. To her surprise, she discovers that he is trying to find her, leaving a message/comment years ago on her father's web-site. She follows up and they begin to talk on Skype, reconnecting and catching up, and then becoming inseparable despite the distance and time-zones...and the vagaries of the internet. She's pursuing a writing career and he's studying engineering and they start adjusting their schedules to talk every day, even if they miss sleep or are late for class. They make the time. They've missed each other and make plans to meet again, whether in New York or in Seoul. But, the plans don't solidify with each others' commitments, and they can only leave it at a hopeful "See you then." Life's what happens when you're busy making other plans.
Then, Nora says they have to take a break. The visit's not happening any time soon—even though she's constantly looking up flights to Seoul—and he's committed to a language exchange program in China for a year and a half, and she has a residency in Montauk and she really wants to make a "go" of it in New York. It's a devastating decision, but they both agree to give each other space, even as they wonder at why it's mutually heart-breaking. This is crazy that something as ephemeral as an internet connection should be so important that its loss can wound. What is love, anyway, but something we imagine, something we hope, something we dream, even if its impossible?
I think about this often and too much, actually, to be practical. When I wrote about my favorite Hitchcock film, Vertigo, I started it recalling that old song "What is this thing called love?" To me, love is a form of insanity—and even that is too simplistic (and too cynical)—it gets in the way, complicates matters, makes you do things against your self-interest, and can knock you for a loop if it isn't letter-perfect. Love pulls at the heart-strings. And we don't HAVE heart-strings! We have connections...which are metaphorically the same thing. Yes, love gets in the way. But, it also makes the way better, the way sugar sweetens your coffee, even though you'd drink coffee, anyway. And the effects of sugar are ephemeral, too, they don't last, even though we keep reaching for the spoon. It makes the medicine go down, after all.
And, as I mentioned in that Vertigo article, I like movies that question love, and distrust the ones that make it look so easy, with their formulaic tropes of
the "meet-cute," the "song-montage," "the-rough-road," and the "happily-ever-after,"—which always reminds of the Orson Welles quote "If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story." Movie love stories, especially "rom-coms," usually stop with the swell of strings and all complications resolved at the best of times...and then stop, leaving us with the sugar-rush of good feelings.
But, it ain't sugar. It's saccharine, which only feels like the same thing.
So, how does Past Lives resolve itself? Do they ever meet again? Well, I'm putting up the pictures, you can see for yourself, that, yes, of course they do! Do they still love each other? Yes, of course they do! Are they still bonded to each other and understand each other in ways no one else can? Of course they do. And a lesser film-maker than Celine Song would have ended it there.
So, of course, she doesn't. Along with her lovely shot choices, her impeccable casting and direction, and her seemingly simplistic and natural writing, she manages to make something so natural and common and ever-present, and yet so singularly individual, something really big. And something to contemplate and wonder at, like the sun coming up in the morning, or looking to the horizon and wanting the best life we could possibly have. She makes it look so easy.
But, good and wise love...are hard work.
This might be my favorite film of the year.
* Yeah. Before we make a throw pillow of this or jot it down to use as conversation at dinner parties, the character who says this—Nora—will parenthetically add "
That's just something Koreans say to seduce someone." Hmm. Maybe you can use it at dinner parties.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom

Put a Hook In It!
Basting Away Again in Peter-Jackson-ville
"Everybody's good at something," Arthur (Aquaman) Curry (Jason Momoa) exposits at the beginning of Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. "Me, I talk to fish. Some people think that makes me a joke. But, I'm also good at something else. Busting heads."
Just what you want from the King of Atlantis. A lot has happened since the first Aquaman movie. Arthur is now the King of Atlantis and he's just managing to keep his head above water, finding that it requires more compromise with the multi-species Atlantean Council than merely busting their heads. He has now "put a ring on it" (and not one of his telekinesis rings) and is married to Mera (Amber Heard—she's in this a lot more than people were gleefully speculating, proving once again that the Internet is a very fallible, mean-spirited place), and they have a son, Arthur Jr. (too many babies to mention), who is just starting to take on Dad's traits. The couple are living at the lighthouse of Arthur's Dad (Temuera Morrison, again) and Mom Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) stops by every so often to help manage the chaos.
But, these are troubling times: Arthur's mentor Vulko (Willem Dafoe, MIA) has died in "the plague" which is glossed over more than at Kennedy for President Headquarters. Half-brother Orm (
Patrick Wilson) is in prison for his crimes while King of Atlantis (Hmph. Must be nice.) and the Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) has skipped a couple steps of the grieving process and is still plotting revenge against the A-man for the death of his father and given to going around the lair muttering things like "Every day I don't fix my power-suit is another day Aquaman lives." That's not exactly a good morning affirmation and hints that not only the power-suit has a screw loose. He's aided and abetted by some disposable Manta-mob and Dr. Stephen Shin (Randall Park), one of those brilliant McGyver-esque scientists who can use alien technology on the first try but just not brilliant enough to get a legitimate job.* Dude can't even get a grant!
Anyway, the plot is some nonsense about Manta being so OCD avenging his Father that he puts the entire Earth at risk, seeking out a power source to revive Kordax (
Pilou Asbæk), the frozen dead King of the Lost Kingdom of Nekrus, that was banished from the 7 Atlantean kingdoms a long time ago in a Peter Jackson-style flashback. Manta has a found a green-glowing trident (called "the Black trident") with which he can communicate with Kordax, but it's usually a one-sided conversation of Kordax telling him what to do.
So, Aquaman and Atlantis get wind (or current) of all this, and A-man decides that he needs to recruit some help, which he does by springing his brother Orm out of prison, with the help of a invisi-suit, and a stealth octopus by the name of Topo (which stands for Tactical Observation and Pursuit Operative) and, as Mom Atlanna explains he has a "genetically engineered intelligence for infiltration and espionage." "And," she explains further "he also plays a variety of musical instruments" (I only remember him playing drums in the comics, but it's been a while).
Orm and Arthur (of course) have "history" so they bicker and feud and bust each other's chops perpetually and it would get very tiresome if it weren't for Momoa's boisterousness and Wilson's acting response to him. Which (in its brilliant way) is to underplay to such a degree that one gets the impression that all of this mayhem and craziness is pretty much run-of-the-mill stuff and as real as clammy palms. I thought Wilson and his Orm character were the dullest part of the first Aquaman feature, but here, he's an absolute tonic of dead-pan stoniness and competence.**

It's needed. The surprise of him is needed because this one feels a bit rote. The first film had all the gee-whizzery of a new play-set, but this one seems to be missing a couple of necessary parts. Oh, it moves like anything, with whooshy, spinny, disorienting action sequences every ten minutes of so, but there are no great set-pieces like the first film's violent mad dash across Sicilian roof-tops. Nothing drops your jaw here.
Except for some of the special effects and not in a good way. The first film was a fun world-builder with its undersea kingdoms and giant seahorses and mounted sharks. But, you get the impression that since the first one was a hit the producers felt they could scrimp on the CGI budget and take full advantage of the murky, shimmery water overlays to hide some dodgy pixelation. There's one whole sequence where it feels like everybody's head is slightly askew of their bodies, and it's a bit of a relief when a sequence shows up with no digital effects at all. But, they're few...and far between.
It's a bit of a plunge from what the first one offered, even factoring in the "thrill of the new." This one feels clogged with recycled material--from The Lord of the Rings, Black Panther, even Iron Man. The comic book world is naturally self-reflexive and the same tidal forces apply to comic book movies. You have to do something different, risking the loyalty of fans, to reinvigorate a property, and that is something that producers are not brave and bold enough to do. It's a question of stemming the tide or just becoming back-wash. Forget about Lost Kingdoms. This should have been called Aquaman and the Lost Opportunity.
 Aquaman, Storm and Topo...together again.
* Imagine Shin's job interview with Black Manta: "Dr., what do you see as your five-year goals?" "Well, developing a more powerful energy source." "WRONG answer! It should be to KILL Aquaman!" "Uhhhh-huh! (uncomfortable pause)...Do you offer insurance?"
** Ya know who else is good in this movie that you'd never guess? Dolph Lundgren. He was very good in the first Aquaman, but here, he's given more to do and he's subtle and majestic. The man was born to play kings. 

The Boys in the Boat

Pulling Together in Swing-time
Depression and (Water) Displacement and Ripples in Time
As a University of Washington alumni, I know all about "The Boys in the Boat" (the legend, not the book or movie, although I know them, too). The UW Shell house still sits on the Montlake Cut* like a shrine of dessicating timbers and peeling, faded paint. But despite the appearance, no one would have it any other way. Because that is where it happened and where it started. Like the ancient armories that still haunt our nation's cities, it is there as a reminder, and is one of the more precious buildings on the campus, despite its humble beginnings and its lack of marble and columns. Those other buildings are more impressive in their architecture, but they don't have the memories varnished into them like the shell house has. It's a Historical Monument in Washington State, nestled as it is among the weeds and well-pooped-on concrete of the cut itself, which separates Lake Washington from Puget Sound and the ocean beyond. A former airplane hangar built in 1918 to house seaplanes and teach WWI pilots, it was repurposed for the UW rowing team to house the rowing shells. They nearly tore it down in the 1970's—when I was going to school there—but cooler heads prevailed, and they're even thinking about restoring the thing. For me, I think that'd just upset the quiet. And the history.
George Clooney has been working on The Boys in the Boat for ten years off and on after M-G-M acquired the film rights for the best-selling non-fiction novel (by Daniel James Brown) from the selling of the assets of the Weinstein Company. One can see why he wanted it to do it. Tim Egan in his review for the New York Times said it best: "'The Boys in the Boat' is about who we used to be. And who we could still be. Like the best history, its then and now wow factor is both embarrassing (to the present) and inspiring (to the future)." 
The true story of nine Depression era young men, who were underdogs in every aspect, they applied to the University of Washington Husky rowing crew just hoping for extra cash in their pockets—for the central figure, Joe Rantz (played in the film by Callum Turner, evoking a younger, less contemporary Ben Affleck), it meant he could continue paying the University's tuition pursuing an engineering degree—and a rent-free residence on campus. Rantz had been living in an abandoned car in a Seattle Hooverville
, and had been on his own since the age of 15. He was about to be kicked out of the U-Dub if he couldn't make up the other half of his tuition. A notice on a bulletin board suggested opportunity and he took it. He needed the job.
The school's rowing coach, Al Ulbrickson (played in the film by 
Joel Edgerton), was under pressure to re-energize the program after some disappointing seasons, and took a chance on finding new blood with his bulletin board notices. He already had a varsity team, but he was looking for a back-up crew in a junior varsity team, and he needed options if he wanted to compete. He wanted to keep his job.
But, there's something about synergy. These guys with everything to lose have to build up their endurance, brave the blisters and calluses and the brutal Northwest mornings and form a team and a rhythm where they're perfectly in sync in order to cut like a knife through the water without any hesitations, off-timing, or mistakes that might undercut the boat's momentum. Add in a slightly non-conformist coxswain in Bobby Moch (
Luke Slattery) and you have an interesting mix...if nobody screws up.
Well, SPOILER ALERT** they go on to win gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics against the best in the world—after qualifying against well-funded Ivy League crews ("That's something money can't buy" the coach says at one point.)—as well as threats from UW Husky boosters that Ulbrickson is championing his junior varsity squad over the legacy varsity team (the jv's are faster, give me a break), and Ivy League snobbery about whether the rightful winners, although poor, should be going over to Berlin when the losers could afford the trip. There are so many potential compromises and double-crosses in the theme of legacy and office politics that there seems to be a constant struggle just to achieve one's goals despite working harder. There is also the internal pressure on the athletes who suffer from imposter syndrome, performance jitters, and an ill-timed flu.
It's all so earnest and old-fashioned and Clooney leans into it like he's actually on the oars himself, hearkening back to an era where money was tight, people were desperate, but still managed to have the dignity to pull together rather than fly off, self-centered and self-absorbed, in the interest of "looking out for No. 1." Sure, I can get all cranky and say that the film lacks suspense (See **), and that Clooney, with his limitations on "where to put a camera on a racing shell", can't quite generate the adrenaline surge an audience expects in these things. But, I think I'd be missing the point of the picture—that people should be working for something better than themselves. And the more fat and sassy you get, the more it weighs everybody else down. It's a message that should resonate with all Americans these days, but, instead, I think that, cynically, it will be met with suspicion...and from circles that the film SHOULD appeal to.
But, the world is topsy-turvy now, so much so that Orwell would be shocked and appalled (and be forced to say "you can't make this crap UP!"). But, the bottom line is these guys were winners. They won the gold. They beat the odds and outlasted the hurdles placed before them by lesser mortals. 
 And nobody can argue with that.
* The indigenous Duwamish tribe had a word for the area that would be dug out to become the Montlake Cut—sxWátSadweehL , which is Salish for "Carry a Canoe."
** C'mon, this happened in 1936. The book's been out since 2013. At some point, there's a statute of limitations for spoilers on historical fact. Blame me? Blame yourself!  

Tuesday, December 26, 2023


Come With Me/And You'll Be/in a World of Re-Imagination
Chocolopalypse Now
Did they need to make another "Willy Wonka" movie? Not really. The original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was such a fine confection, a combination of elements so slick and shabby that it far exceeded the sum of its parts. It hit the brain like dopamine, the same reaction as when chocolate melts on your tongue.
And like chocolate, it was a surprise that it was as good as it was, given its meager budget and its less-than-pure beginnings (Originally, envisioned as a marketing tool for a new line of candy, it pretty much had to stand on its own when Quaker Oats, the company making the stuff, had production problems and scrapped the "Wonka" candy line). The book's author, Roald Dahl, is credited with the screenplay, but he didn't really write it—his script was shelved—and David Seltzer wrote the egg-creamy Gene Wilder version. He and director Mel Stuart turned it into a perennial, one of "those" movies—the ones like The Wizard of Oz or The Black Stallion—that you have to show your kids knowing that those movie-memories will be golden, enriching and last a lifetime. Quaker Oats' loss was our gain.
So, there didn't need to be another Willy Wonka movie. In fact, the only reason to make another Willy Wonka that Wonka is so darned good.
A prequel of sorts to the 1970 film, it follows young Wonka (played by a winsome Timothée Chalamet), new immigrant from wherever, sailing into England (I think, hard to say), full of hopes and dreams, visions of chocolate trifles dancing in his entrepreneurial head. He has a vision, this guy, inspired by his mother (Sally Hawkins, always welcome) of making the sweetest chocolate this side of Loompaland (from which he has absconded their out-sized cacao beans) and with the magical thinking that if he can just establish his choco-shop, it will fulfill his late mother's promise that she would be at his side at the opening to divulge her secret of chocolate-making.
Illiterate, and in shabby clothes with only 20 shillings in his threadbare pocket, he ends up sleeping on a bench, when he is offered accommodations at the rooms of Scrubbit (Olivia Colman) and Bleacher (Tom Davis), where the rent is only 1 shilling to be paid by end of next day. Wonka is sure he can sell enough chocolates to pay oodles more, but before he can sign the contract, he is warned by the waif Noodle (Calah Lane) to "read the fine print" But, he can't read, so he signs—not that he would have read the slogan on the wall "Come For a Night, Stay For a Lifetime" if he could.
After a night of making confections, he goes out into the street and with just his brio (and a song), he sells his wares, only to confronted by "The Chocolate Cartel" of Slugworth (Paterson Joseph—he's great!), Prodnose (Matt Lucas), and Fickelgruber (Mathew Baynton) that his chocolates are "...weird." And is told by the Chief of the Police (Keegan-Michael Key) that he cannot sell his chocolates without a shop and without a shop he cannot sell chocolates, so he must cease and desist.
And if that weren't enough of a bad day, he is informed by Scrubbit and Bleacher that he has incurred a debt of 10,000 shillings from his stay and the fine print, and must work it off in their considerable laundry service, alongside past tenants Abacus Crunch (Jim Carter), Piper Benz (Natasha Rothwell), Larry Chucklesworth (Rich Fulcher), Lottie Bell (Rakhee Thakrar), and Noodle. Only two days in the city and Wonka is Catch-22'd into no work, no income and no hope (not to mention that when he's able to make chocolate, it is being stolen by someone nefarious that he hasn't been able to catch yet).

What's a Wonka to do?
Well, it's a musical-comedy based on a children's book, so, obviously he has a lot to do. Nobody working on Wonka is doing something world-shaking or revolutionary.
Other than making a darned good movie.
Oh, sure it takes about 20 minutes and a so-so song before it finds it's legs, but right about the time Wonka mentions that one of his chocolates is "salted with the bittersweet tears of a Russian clown" I was fully on-board and the film did not disappoint. In fact, it made this jaded old film-writer laugh out loud several times.
Credit must go to director/co-writer 
Paul King, who may be something of a magician himself. With the two Paddington Bear movies under his belt, he seems to have developed the recipe for making a charming entertainment that appeals to both kids and adults with equal rapture. There was a funny through-line in last year's The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, where Nic Cage, in attempting to bond with his millionaire benefactor asks him what his third favorite movie is and the response to his shock is Paddington 2. The Cage character is aghast, but after watching it, is moved to tears and cannot help but agree. I haven't seen the Paddingtons. On the strength of Wonka, they are now on my ever-expanding list of "must-sees."
The cast is uniformly superb. Doubts about Chalamet being a suitable Willy Wonka should be put to rest given the evidence (the reason Chalamet is so ubiquitous in movies these days is that the man's extraordinarily talented). If he's not quite Gene Wilder's sly loony Wonka, consider that this is a prequel when the character is just getting started and hasn't yet come to the point where the pressure of industrial food manufacturing will throw his gears off-slot. If such a movie is made, King might not be the best fit for it, maybe someone a bit more perverse would be in order.
But, for now, for this movie, King has done a masterful job, even finding lovely roles for such British institutions as
Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Grant, who is cast as a perpetually vexing Oompa Loompa, named "Lofty," and does it with such an air of haughty superiority (and no Grant dithering) that he very nearly walks away with the picture. No small feat.
So, if one is putting off going to this one because of rumors on the cranky internet, turn it off and go. Go immediately. And take a child. Get permission, of course.
Where most movies skewing towards a younger audience are as disappointing as biting a hollow chocolate Easter bunny, this one is pleasingly solid.