Thursday, March 3, 2022

NO TIME TO DIE: How James Bond Advanced Beyond


The most radical James Bond run
has reached its fearless conclusion.

No Time To Die movie, stars Lea Seydoux and Daniel Craig




Chapter links:
What James Bond Was.
What James Bond Might Be.
What James Bond Needed To Become.
Where Does James Bond Go After This?

(This article speaks generally about all Bond
films, without any specific spoilers.)






What if the revolution happened in front of you, but you failed to recognize it?


1
What JAMES BOND Was.



Hoagy Carmichael, and cover of book Casino Royale
Fleming's ideal of Bond, Hoagy Carmichael;
"Casino Royale" (Swedish edition)


Beginning in the 1950s, Ian Fleming’s James Bond books featured a hardboiled government assassin drowning his emptiness in wine and women. The Cold War man, cool demeanor, icy heart.

Actor Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief (1955); and Playboy publisher, Hugh Hefner
Cary Grant, TO CATCH A THIEF (1955);
Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner


The 1960s films, influenced by the impossibly suave Cary Grant in TO CATCH A THIEF (1955), streamlined him as a Hefner fantasy stud, macking and mocking as he fought spectral villains in Mod futurist lairs. His charm seduced, his expertise triumphed. The impact was so seismic in the mainstream that Bond-mania dominated all pop culture in the ’60s, from screen> to music> to comics>.

The Bond formulas became like cultural codexes imprinted into our collective consciousness, omnipresent and almost immutable. He was always perfect, he was always single, he would always escape in the end.

Actor Sean Connery in Dr. No, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice
DR. NO; THUNDERBALL;
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE poster


Under all the pulp exploits and cool style we enjoyed lay a lot of macho flaws that didn’t weather well across the franchise’s passing decades (or feminism): elite man, sexy girls, gunkill, flip quips, nationalism, warfare, bed tucking. (Think about how many other franchises that formula has inbred, from Matt Helm to THE KINGSMAN.)

While the enemy storyline of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. loosely threaded the ‘60s films, there was no character growth, no emotional turnover, no commitment for the man himself. Each contained adventure became a vogue of male conquest without any self-awareness for inner evolution. Unmussed, detached, invulnerable. It’s the subliminal undertow that reminds you that this is all a fantasy instead of realistic. (Contrast this against the gritty and downtempo counter-films about agent Harry Palmer, played by everybloke Michael Caine.)

To avoid being a shell, a statue, or a parody of himself, James Bond needed a radical fix that liberated him from stasis.



Diana Rigg and George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Diana Rigg and George Lazenby,
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE


2
What JAMES BOND Might Be.


Actors Diana Rigg and George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Diana Rigg and George Lazenby


There was a moment they tried to fix this. After Sean Connery left his breakthrough role, the producers made the bold experiment ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969) with a new lead, which tried humanizing Bond as an agent, a person, a lover. It reached a shocking conclusion that no one saw coming. And, expecting the formula they’d become accustomed to, not enough patrons came to see it. Retreating from the promise of change, the franchise then reverted back into cycles of formula ever more stylish and less risky (Connery’s brief return; Moore’s ‘70s films). Bond had become a posture on a poster, interchangeable but invariable.

There are essentially two Bond films: Spy and Spectacle. Across the years, the franchise sways between the two.

Sean Connery in From Russia With Love, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE;
GOLDFINGER; THUNDERBALL;
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE


After the initial light adventure of DR. NO (1962), the Bond films defined themselves with the serious Cold War spy film, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963): all practical stunts and political intrigue, noir tone and sober suspicion. Spy. With the next film, GOLDFINGER (1964), they redefined themselves by going more spectacular: pulp adventure, sci-fi devices, theatrical villain, giant lair set, huge finale. Spectacle. Then the hybrid comes in, THUNDERBALL (1965). Then the ultra-Spectacle of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), which went so far so well they didn’t know how to top it, only to repeat it in variations later.

The Moore films of the ‘70s essentially remade this same arc, getting more stylish and less serious as they went. (All fine fun, by the way, to be fair.) But after THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) remade YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE underwater, and MOONRAKER (1979) remade both in outer space, the cycle had played out. Stylism and trend-chasing had eaten itself and it was time to start over.

Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only; Timothy Dalton and Maryam D'abo in The Living Daylights
FOR YOUR EYES ONLY;
THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS


Fully in the spirit of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, the reset movie FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981) began a stealth change in Bond conventions: more realistic and less fantastic, more stunts and less effects, more flirty and less sexist. This continued with the underrated OCTOPUSSY (1983) and the first half of the wonky A VIEW TO A KILL (1985). From this decade on, the Bond franchise is trying to streamline Spy and Spectacle into one, now becoming taut intrigue thrillers with spectacular practical stunts and locations. It’s like sobriety after a long bacchanal.

Still the suave agent icon we'd come to expect, he will become tougher and more shrewd as the years continue. The intense Dalton’s takeover in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) gave the franchise a chance to do a smoother variant of MAJESTY’S, flexing change again. (Note the unusual turn at the end. But also how continuity never followed up on it.) Maybe the truest seed of things to come is the brutality of Dalton’s performance in LICENSE TO KILL (1989), where he has the smooth veneer of Moore but the flinty edge always underlying Connery. This synthesis of manner and actions ushers in Brosnan, who will arc from the practical Spy of GOLDENEYE (1995) to the hybrid Spectacle of DIE ANOTHER DAY (2002). Suave while steely.

To go forward, Bond had to be more real for us to relate to him anymore.



Actors Eva Green and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale
Eva Green and Daniel Craig,
CASINO ROYALE


3
What JAMES BOND
Needed To Become.


Lee Marvin in Point Blank; Steve McQueen in Bullitt
Lee Marvin, POINT BLANK (1967);
Steve McQueen, BULLITT (1968)


During one of the Bond franchise’s periodic hiatuses, THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) stole their car and put a kit on it, stripping the Bond archetype down to a robotic rogue agent doing astounding physical stunts which seemed real. [re: Hong Kong action flicks] Meanwhile, the current producers had finally reeled in the rights to the first Bond book, "Casino Royale" (1953), and made the brazen choice to discard all formula and start over.

If Connery/Lazenby/Moore/Dalton/Brosnan had each reflected Cary Grant, all charm and coif at embassy receptions, the new archetype was instead in the mode of Lee Marvin and Steve McQueen, all tough pug and coiled rage from street brawls. Enter Daniel Craig.

Actor Daniel Craig in Casino Royale
"Bond. James Bond."


BOURNE had raised the heat and the Bond creators responded with the flamewar of CASINO ROYALE (2006), a comprehensive beatdown from which the usurper never recovered: the stunts were better, the vision inspired, the story eternal. James Bond was rejuvenated in ways we had never seen or (most importantly) felt before. The film’s excellence is so universally hailed that it has become a standalone classic beyond the franchise itself.

To a fault, the love for the film is so fervent that it is held unfairly against its follow-ups, often obscuring their own merits or awareness of the progressing story they are telling. Looking closer, it was the beginning of a James Bond origin arc that would tell how he came to be the agent we know. Deeper still, it was a complete rewrite and upgrade of the man for the present, replacing the sexism and sleek perfection with vulnerability and rough realism, humanizing him as an agent, a person, a lover. And it reached a shocking conclusion that no one could get over, including him.

Actors Eva Green and Daniel Craig in "Casino Royale"
Vesper Lind and James Bond


The book "Casino Royale" ended on an uncensored statement that sealed Bond as a callous killer going forward, a dead-hearted gunman. The film deconstructs this, making that spoken line ironic as time -and the following film arc- reveals his conflicted soul. It’s the key to the new doorway. Now the blunt thug of the books is a front for a fractured spirit.

Daniel Craig in Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall, and Spectre
QUANTUM OF SOLACE;
SKYFALL;
SPECTRE


Rather than a one-off adventure like the past installments, the film began what seemed like a sly ongoing prequel arc to Connery’s ’60s run, sewing the origin seeds for everything that was fully in place in those films, but now told solely in realistic, contemporary terms.

Watch how the seeds took root: the spy games, the secret enemy organization, the front villain, and the (real world Ken Adam-style) Mod hotel in the wrongly under-valued QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008); his outcast past, M, and Q in SKYFALL (2012); and reaching familiar fruition with Eve, the proto-crater base, the unstoppable henchman, and the Enemy in SPECTRE (2015). All there now: the gun, the car, the suit, the demeanor, the mistrust, the jokes, the devices, the team, the enemy, paced in piece by piece.

Daniel Craig in Quantum Of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time To Die
QUANTUM OF SOLACE;
SKYFALL; SPECTRE;
NO TIME TO DIE


Look again, at what wasn’t there before in the agent: hurt by any collateral death; comforting Vesper after a trauma; working with Camille and Paloma as a colleague instead of a lover; trolling M yet respecting her, while she scolds him for behaving like a thug; the reveal of his Scottish/French heritage and hard childhood; his absolute disdain for establishment, class, rank, arrogance, rote, slickness, red tape, falsity; saving his civility for working people; helping save the Bolivian poor from the soulless Capitalist; choosing not to kill a villain (directly); using devices, vehicles, credentials like throwaways (but never so regarding loyalty, trust, respect); treating the suit like a costume, and resorting to casual clothing every chance he can; slicing through protocol, manners, borders, buildings like a scythe; his brotherhood with Felix; intimation of wider sexual latitude; his reflexive pride, stealth loyalty, tortured mistrust, aloof loneliness, soft forgiveness; reading heavily in his off-time (including "Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance"); the arc of his love, from her to them.

He’s a different guy. There’s been a stealth switch-up underneath. The hardboiled assassin transplanted from the first books now sheaths a wounded soul onscreen. A lover corrupted into a killer, looking for redemption. Daniel Craig’s Bond occupies the same conceptual space as his suave predecessors, but he is the direct counter to them in every way: appearance, motivation, subtlety, complexity, outlook, moves, edge, possibility. Beyond his buff form, always watch his eyes.

Set designs for Dr. No and No Time To Die
DR. NO;
NO TIME TO DIE


This is the moment where everything could have gone conventional, a fifth film wrapping the saga up in a crowd-friendly smoothie of the standard Bond we expect him to become. Though seeming to hem itself into the outlines of the vintage Bond, the previous movie SPECTRE had instead ended with three things that can’t happen in continuity as we know it. The ominous implication was that the creators would have to wipe all that away to go back to what’s expected.

But, with admirable bravery, the producers instead stayed true to the course in the final Craig film. This wasn’t really just a prequel arc harkening the classic Bond. It was a five-chapter story, from beginning to end, of the new Bond beyond. NO TIME TO DIE (2021) is the yang to CASINO’s yen, the other bracket, the inevitable endgame. It sews all of the aspects (and foreshadowings) of the previous four chapters into an unparalleled climax completely past the range of any Bond film done before.

George Lazenby and Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty's Secret Service; Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux in No Time To Die
George Lazenby and Diana Rigg;
Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux


Look at how it now only echoes the past to replace or counter it. If ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE was the fledgling seed for a possible new Bond, then this film is the arboretum of its fruition. Deep fans will note the quiet use of MAJESTY’S music, locations, and inversion of key story beats in NO TIME TO DIE, a metatext for what was being replaced with what will be.

Note also how it covertly mirrors Connery’s run, if only to reconsider every allusion with other options. Not imitation, but reformation. Just as Connery’s run started with the Jamaican lilt of DR. NO (1962) and climaxed with the spectacular Japanese volcano base of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), Craig’s arc went from the Bahamas of CASINO to the pan-Asian waters military island of NO TIME TO DIE, with the unwavering distinction of staying realistically grounded the entire span. NO TIME TO DIE’s finale may have parallels to YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, but only as a realist overwrite. Notice how the fantastic volcano base is replaced by an actual Cold War base, referencing the Connery-era history as an architecture that has been repurposed. The Craig arc has built a new past for Bond with a different future.

This is the movement where the Bond films had the courage to grow up. Consider everything NO TIME TO DIE does that hasn’t been done before. The elongated opening, the emotional break, the eerie flashbacks, the artful framing, the sober angst, the fatalism, the skewed humor (from co-writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge), the hope, the complex romance, the kinship ties, the fully proactive women, the anti-villain villain and his score-settling, the personal reveals, Bond's mea culpas, the formula inversions, and the epic length.

Most crucially, an unprecedented revelation in the heart of the film is the decisive moment that breaks from all formula and hinges everything straight into completely unknown territory. And it all pivots on unconditional love.

CASINO ROYALE;
QUANTUM OF SOLACE;
SKYFALL;
SPECTRE


The quiet truth of the Craig arc is that James Bond has been revealed as what he has always been, not a charming libertine, but a hired killer. Bereft of love, embittered by any betrayal of it, he has lived heedless like he has nothing to live for. He's not afraid of death because he is death. And this starts to destroy everyone around him as it steadily catches up with him. Watching the five chapters in sequence, the foreshadowings of this inevitable spiral are everywhere. (Spirals are used to denote death and life throughout NO TIME TO DIE.)

No Time To Die, a James Bond film starring Daniel Craig and Lea Seydoux

But what if there was something worth living for? Something more important than yourself? Under the pain, this Bond does care and wants to make a difference. His compassion has come to the fore in the abstract -for country, justice, the world- as well as the implicit -for friends, lovers, mentors. Each loss that leaves him alone deepens a grief that hastens his self-destruction cycle. He seeks redemption through eros, but unconditional love can regenerate in new forms. In NO TIME TO DIE, this revelation comes home to him in a profoundly personal way.

From that point on, Bond goes fully from paper doll to person, operating off-mission for personal reasons beyond any Bond we known, with motivations and outcomes that change our entire perception of what is now possible in these films. With the Craig arc, we don’t look at Bond anymore, we now fully see and feel him. All of this change culminates in a shocking conclusion that no one can get their head around.

Actor Daniel Craig in No Time To Die

What if re-evolution happens in front of you, but you lack insight to asses it?

15 years for an arc is a bit of a span. (More production delays.) When pop culture reviews are now often written by novices with no cultural memory for context, all trivia and no awareness, this thoroughly subversive film gets mistaken at face value as more franchise formula. But it’s been the precise opposite all along for those paying attention to the revolution. Maybe some diehards were threatened, coasters were baffled, latekids shrugged. That’s fine. Go watch the previous 20 films before Craig if you wanted the past to stay fixed. But what was before has now gone beyond.



Actor Daniel Craig in No Time To Die

3
Where Does JAMES BOND
Go After This?


He’s not the same guy. And realizing all Bonds are actually separate liberated the creators to go forward into the future.

The long-time fan theories were off-base, holding the concept hostage to formula. No, all six actors are not playing the same guy with a single continuity. No, ‘James Bond’ is not a rotating codename shared across successive agents. James Bond is a book character, interpreted like a standard song by different singers. Imagine each actor/era as a parallel earth in a Bond multiverse, each telling its one arc across a select run. Craig is the unique ballad of Earth 6. Yes, James Bond will return with a seventh face, a new person. And, if the creators hold true to what they’ve just accomplished, will be more unbound, human, and believable than ever before. And hopefully do what hasn’t been done but now can.

Bond beyond.



© Tym Stevens




See also:


BEST MOVIES + TV: 2021

JOHN BARRY: The Influence Of The JAMES BOND Sound On Pop Music, with 2 Music Players!

20 Most Badass JAMES BOND Women!


THE PRISONER: Its Influence On Music, TV, and Comics, with Music Player!

JIM STERANKO, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E.! - His Inspirations and His Influence


2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY - Its Transcendent Influence on all Pop Culture, with Music Player!

How STAR WARS Is Changing Everything!

TWIN PEAKS: Its Influence on 30 Years of Film, TV, and Music!, with 5 Music Players!


The Real History of ROCK AND SOUL!: The Music Player Checklist



Tuesday, March 1, 2022

BEST MOVIES & TV: 2021


The Great, The Good, and The Interesting!


MAID TV mini-series
M A I D




Shortcut links:
BEST MOVIES: 2021
BEST DOCUMENTARIES: 2021
BEST TV: 2021

BEST RESTORATION: 2021 NEW +!
C R I T E R I O N


Note: This will often spotlight directors for special merit.
But Auteur Theory is a shoebox; films are a collaborative effort with everyone involved.



Spoiler-free film summations in italics.







"And... Action!"



B E S T
M O V I E S :
2 0 2 1







T H I N K



Bad Luck Banging, Or Loony Porn movie from Romania

✭✭✭✭✭ Film Of The Year.
BAD LUCK BANGING Or LOONY PORN (Romania) ⇧
A woman’s personal life is misused against her by a hypocritical society.

An acerbic satire in three acts, unfolding like a casual documentary. Connecting the thread between Covid-deniers and latent Fascism, it mocks the selfish as the social cancer which poisons democracy, progress, and public health.

It’s also deviously funny, whip smart, and climaxes with brazen verve.

See also:
WEEKEND (France, 1967), THE FIREMAN’S BALL (Czech, 1967), THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (France/Spain, 1973)


__________



Judas And The Black Messiah, Annette, Macbeth, The Card Counter movies

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH
A true story of how the Black Panthers were infiltrated and terrorized by the FBI.

Fred Hampton was the charismatic leader of the late-‘60s Chicago branch of the Black Panther Party. This biopic traces their betrayal by an informant, and exposes to a mainstream audience the relentlessly bigoted and fascistic drive of the FBI, and their puppet cops, to destroy all populist empowerment movements.

Which makes it a precisely relevant parable for now, as the corrupt heirs to this in today’s precincts and courts and assemblies continue that persecution. Kudos to director Shaka King and star Daniel Kaluuya for bringing this crucial history to life.

Hell should exist, solely for monsters like Hoover.

See also:
COINTELPRO



ANNETTE
An unlikely romance and an unworldly wunderkind propel this postmodern musical.

The avant-popsters Sparks and director Leos Carax (HOLY MOTORS) homage -while completely deconstructing- Classic Hollywood and musical extravaganzas. A song cycle that lilts like Piaf with a punk heart, impelled by Marion Cotillard and reaching its startling pinnacle in a duet/duel between Adam Driver and young Devon McDowell.

See also:
THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (France, 1964), TOMMY (1975), TRUE STORIES (1986)


THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
The lust for royal power corrodes a treacherous couple’s souls.

Filmed in black and white, with serious debt to Orson Welles, the enduring cautionary tale writhes with a sterling cast led by Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand, but purloined by the unnerving performance of Kathryn Hunter as the Witches.

See also:
MACBETH (1948), OTHELLO (1951), THRONE OF BLOOD (Japan, 1957)


THE CARD COUNTER
The stealthy card shark cruising the casino circuit is haunted by traumatic secrets.

Paul Schrader's latest quietly follows a stealth nobody (the typically great Oscar Isaacs) milking from the margins as life catches up with him.

See also:
ATLANTIC CITY (1980), THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986), 'Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib' (doc, 2007)




A HERO (Iran) ⇧
On a brief furlough from debtor’s prison, a man does a good deed that makes him an unintended celebrity and target.

Asghar Farhadi’s low-key and subtly complex film (Grand Prix winner at Cannes) questions motivations on everyone’s part, from the desperate to the vacillating to the cruel. With quiet ease, it grills bureaucracy, incarceration, social media, greed, and notions of pure intent.

See also:
Kafka’s “The Trial” (1925), A SEPARATION (Iran, 2011)


PARALLEL MOTHERS (Spain) ⇧
Two pregnant women bond in the hospital, and their lives become intertwined in ways they’d never suspect.

Almodovar triumphs with this excellent return. Penelope Cruz and newcomer Milena Smit mesmerize in a story that keeps trysting like desire while twisting like a thriller. All this amid a strong bracket of antifascism.

See also:
THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE (Spain, 1973); VOLVER (Spain, 2006)


THE POWER OF THE DOG
In 1925, the rift between two rancher brothers becomes dangerous for all involved.

Jane Campion inverts Western conventions telling something else. Conflict, romance, abuse, secrets, seduction. Where do all these stray strands lead?

See also:
REBECCA (1940), THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)


THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (Norway) ⇧
She could have a great life, if she could just figure out what she really wants.

This relaxed dramedy flows like real life, following the brilliant while mercurial lead in her journey to herself. By turns funny, odd, amorous, thorny, and then poignant, it logs the soul on the cusp. Renate Reinsve won Best Actress at Cannes, and rightfully so.



WEST SIDE STORY
Can two lovers cross all the lines of division that force them apart?

Robbins, Bernstein, and Sondheim’s 1957 street-opera musical -inspired by “Romeo And Juliet”- became Wise’s essential 1961 film, with its stunning craft and immortal songs.

This screen version by Steven Spielberg equals the film original, while enhancing it. It rings truer, with tougher edge, truly inclusive casting, and a deeper social context that speaks directly to now. If the original was a warning about social division, this is an indictment for not listening before.* WSS always told more truth than the times could handle and here every box step comes with a body blow. The leads -Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort- are as perfect as destiny, Ariana Debose steals spotlight off from them often as Anita, and Rita Moreno (the original ’61 Anita) swipes it from everyone simply by being.

See the original, see the new.

See also:
BLACK ORPHEUS (1959), WEST SIDE STORY (1961), ROMEO + JULIET (1996), RENT (2005)


Human History spoiler alert: the Elite always play the poor against each other with false divisions while stealing their land for power.
For example, New York City.


TICK, TICK… BOOM!
A biopic/musical about Broadway playwright Jonathan Larson, detailing his years of struggle in NYC before the success of ‘Rent’.

The directing debut of Lin Manuel-Miranda captures an artist under intense pressure, who has to face his flaws to unlock his strengths. Andrew Garfield is a powerhouse as Larson, and the inventive structure and musical exuberance jolts.



RESPECT
A biopic of the almighty Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

Broadway director Liesl Tommy breaks out and star Jennifer Hudson amazes in this loving while honest tribute to an essential artist. Any formulaic moments are offset by a wealth of bracing edge, from the shocking trauma in her childhood to the struggle to be her own person. And (like the records) the scenes in the Muscle Shoals studio are absolute gold.

See also:
RESPECT YOURSELF: The Stax Records Story (doc, 2007); MUSCLE SHOALS (doc, 2013)



Cliff Walkers, No Sudden Move movies


CLIFF WALKERS, a.k.a., Impasse (China) ⇧
The Chinese resistance undermines the Japanese occupation in the early 1930s.

Zhang Yimou, restlessly expanding outside of his stylish Wushu epics, unfurls a gripping spy thriller that rivets like a heist.

NO SUDDEN MOVE
1954 Detroit crooks recruited for a quick job realize something shadier is going on.

Steven Soderbergh unpeels levels of crime, from oppressed poor to suburban middlers to board rooms, on the heels of hoodlums Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro.

See also:
THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973), ‘Fargo’, Season 4 (2020)


BERGMAN ISLAND
A filmmaker couple visits Ingmar Bergman’s island locations for inspiration.

Is it an interesting postscript to a celluloid legacy by a promising new creator, or a newbie coasting on impressions? Maybe both, still works. Mia Wasikowska has an interesting turn in the film within the film.

See also:
Bergman’s SUMMER WITH MONICA (Sweden, 1953), PERSONA (1966), SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973)



Also:

PASSING
Where does your skin give you passage in an arbitrarily ‘black-and-white’ world?

Noted actor Rebecca Hall writes and directs this version of the 1929 novel, examining how binary outlooks poison our lives. Tessa Thompson is grace, and the cinematagraphy of Eduard Grau is luminous.

NIGHTMARE ALLEY
A carny hustler swindles his way to his big reward.

Guillermo del Toro’s languid and dreamy expansion on the 1946 noir allegory novel is a well-crafted ride, if a bit on-the-nose and overlong.
(I think the 1947 film version is more potent in less time.)

TITANE (France)
J.G. Ballard’s “Crash” gets high with HOLY MOTORS and BOYS DON’T CRY.

A head-fry with some admirable verve that might shock the impressionable.

NOBODY
The bad guys just messed over the wrong nobody.

A black comedy about vengeance casting Bob Odenkirk against type, best when it parodies JOHN WICK with ‘Better Call Saul’ wit, less so when it blows out into Tarantino aggro.

WILD INDIAN
A traumatic event in their youth splits the paths of two Native American men.

The three acts feel like short stories, each of which should have become a developed film. Chaske Spencer gives a standout performance.






S M I L E





THE FRENCH DISPATCH
Amazing and absurd chapters in the history of a literate magazine based in Paris.

More design, thought, and humor than many films put together, and demanding of repeat viewings. With a spectacular cast, lucid wit, impish lust, and a healthy perversity, Wes Anderson reminds you why films are a forum of all art forms.

His meticulous dioramas revolve with the precision clockwork of Ware, breezing in light and air like Demy, tweaking on Godard radicalism, politely stinging like Baldwin, burlesquing through silly gauntlets like Tati, all metronomed with the street ballet of Chaplin. Ba-dap-BAP!

Long live writing, journalism, and cinema!

See also:
LOVE ME TONIGHT (France, 1932), AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951), MON ONCLE (France, 1958), THE YOUNG GIRLS OF ROCHEFORT (France, 1967), LA CHINOISE (1967);
‘New Yorker’ magazine



Shiva Baby, Plan B comedy movies

SHIVA BABY
At a Jewish wake gathering, a young woman’s entire messed-up life gets grilled.

Rachel Sennott’s knack for making the awkward and uncomfortable stone hilarious is a marvel, and a crack ensemble -including Paula Draper and Fred Melamed as her parents- are so effortlessly great you’d think it’s a documentary.

See also:
ANNIE HALL (1977), A WEDDING (1978)


PLAN B
When she thinks she might be pregnant, the friends’ epic road quest begins.

An especially savvy flip on teen films by director Natalie Morales (star of ‘The Middleman’ cult TV show), zigzagging the ludicrous with the poignant.

The rollicking chemistry between stars Victoria Moroles and Kuhoo Verma could drive any film to success, hint hint.

FREE GUY
Guy is beginning to realize there may be more to life than being a video game cipher.

Beyond all the gamer (and superhero) metatext, anyone can easily enjoy this engaging and clever farce, rolling smooth on the droll deadpan of Ryan Reynolds.

See also:
THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998), WRECK-IT RALPH (2012), READY PLAYER ONE (2018)




THE PAPER TIGERS (2020)
Three former martial arts prodigies reunite in middle age to stop a killer.

Goofy fun in the Jackie Chan mode.





D R E A M




No Time To Die, James Bond movie

✭✭✭✭✭
NO TIME TO DIE

The most radical James Bond run reaches its fearless conclusion.

A brilliant film, precisely for all the reasons that haven’t happened before.

For a more comprehensive view of this singular film, read:
NO TIME TO DIE: How James Bond Advanced Beyond


Dune movie, with Zendaya


DUNE: Part One
There is a power struggle on the desert world that could raze the galactic empire.

Frank Herbert’s timeless book “Dune” (1965) combined Burrough’s ‘John Carter Of Mars’ books, the galactic anthropology of Asimov’s “Foundation” series, and the haunted messiah and panoramic sweep of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). It helped push sci-fi out of pulp into literature, sifting the electrifying into the Shakespearian.

In the spirit of the Bard (just as much as Coen’s MACBETH above), director Denis Villeneuve (ARRIVAL, BLADE RUNNER 2049) strips the saga down to its political moves and canny language, dressing it in brutalist architecture and atmospheric panoramas lensed like graphic art. This balance of soliloquy and spectacular creates a dynamic tension that feels and looks like nothing else out there. Arise, Arrakis.

See also:
Heinlein’s “Stranger In A Strange Land” (1961), Fellini SATYRICON (1969), Lynch’s DUNE (1984)

__________



The Matrix Resurrections movie


THE MATRIX Resurrections
Wake up and control your narrative.

When Warner Media’s bad leadership* threatened to reboot her franchise without her, Lana Wachowski instead transhipped the script with this clever flip-off to the Machine.

Her sharp humor makes the MATRIX more relevant than ever, covertly using the elastic constructed-conformity metaphor to satirize Greedy Corporations, TechBros, sexist gamers, ageist trendies, consumer kapos, copbots, dittoheads, pop psychologists, meme media, digital classism, perpetual upgrades, cynical reboots, male messiahs, and the global brainwash of binary absolutism.
(Cue kneejerk media backlash from the guilty in 3-2-1…)

There’s also fresh inclusion, surprise revelations, a new sense of fun, and some casual spoofing of its own vaunted seriousness and cultural impact. All this and “White Rabbit”!

Along the way she gave us a lovely coda that rejuvenates as it renovates.
Re/vision, upgrade, remedy, postscript, rebirth, open sky.

✶ ➤ ”Inside the flaming dumpster fire at AT+T/WarnerMedia/HBO Max“

__________



Ghostbusters Afterlife, The Green Knight, Wendy, Lapsis movies

GHOSTBUSTERS: Afterlife
Two kids in badlands nowhere discover their connection to the legendary ghost events of 1984 NYC.

Jason Reitman, the literal next generation, does a fine homage to his dad’s original, the mythos, and the fans. Laudably innovative in its fresh style, shot like a handheld indie film about homeland misfits, it folds wily into the classic mode by its climax. Good call.

THE GREEN KNIGHT
How far will Sir Gawain go to prove himself worthy of the Arthur legacy?

An oblique fable, a phantasmic odyssey, a lovely nightmare, a revelatory choice.

See also:
EXCALIBUR (1981), GRETEL AND HANSEL (2020)



WENDY (2020)
A contemporary indie reimagining of “Peter Pan”.

Shot loose and impressionistic in rustic wilds, this rough hewn tale in the U.S. backwoods with magic realism touches chases after kids on the confusing crux of maturity.

See also:
LORD OF THE FLIES (1963), WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (2009), BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (2012)



LAPSIS (2020)
People are lured into a strange gig spooling cable through forests to mysterious computing cubes.

A bunch of indie newcomers impress in this wry jest on tech utopianism, pyramid scams, survivalism, and the gig economy.

NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN (Poland)
The enigmatic masseuse in an upscale community may be more than he seems.

Low-key, sardonic, ambiguous.

UNDINE (Germany, 2020)
Who is the mysterious historian, who seems so haunted by the water?





N I G H T M A R E




A Quiet Place II, Last Night In Soho, Come True horror movies

A QUIET PLACE Part II
Like semaphores, the mute rebellion against the invading aliens begins.

A smart sequel worthy of the classic original, advancing the characters and the scope.

LAST NIGHT IN SOHO
A modern fashion student keeps dreaming her way to 1965 London, but something is wrong there.

Edgar Wright’s labor of love evokes many film classics, from the Kitchen Sink class struggle of Richardson and the Mod energy of Lester, to some Argento and Romero chills in its third reel. Special kudos for including ‘60s screen icons Rita Tushingham, Terence Stamp, and Diana Rigg.

See also:
A TASTE OF HONEY (1961), BLOW-UP (1966), TEOREMA (1968), SUSPIRIA (1977)


COME TRUE (Canada, 2020)
The dark figures in a troubled sleep study patient’s dreams seem real.

Wide-eyed and wary Julia Sarah Stone is impressive in this smart chiller.

See also:
INK (2009)




A NIGHTMARE WAKES (2020)
Lord Byron dares the Shelleys to a ghost story contest.

There are multiple film interpretations of the storied night that produced “Frankenstein” (and “The Vampyre”). This is another interesting one.

See also:
GOTHIC (1986), MARY SHELLEY (2017)






G R A P H I C
I M A G E S




Black Widow, Shang Chi, Eternals superhero movies

BLACK WIDOW
The secret life of the mysterious spy hero, Natasha Romanoff.

Under-appreciated, this taut thriller grows surprisingly nuanced introducing her dysfunctional family, a complex history, and perpetual plot twists. If you wanted an inversion on traditional James Bond films and couldn’t get with NO TIME TO DIE, you have it all here.

NO TIME TO DIE: How James Bond Advanced Beyond

SHANG-CHI And The Legend Of The Ten Rings
The haunted son of a crime lord must face his past while saving the future.

At last, the greatest martial arts master in comics history gets global spotlight. Instead of the ‘Bruce Lee in YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE’ blow-out we always wanted, here is the Wushu Fantasy we didn’t know we needed so much. Rise and advance, spirit.

ETERNALS
They have guided humanity since its beginning, but to what ultimate celestial purpose?

Legendary artist Jack Kirby, the perpetual idea machine behind many of Marvel and DC Comics greatest concepts, gets his due. Chloé Zhao’s interpretation of his alien seraphs is a meditative epic bridging Kubrick to Malick in tone and subtext, by turns faceted and naturalistic while quicksilver and wry. Those who expected rote formula didn’t get it, but quality still lasts for the long.

See also:
2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), THE FOUNTAIN (2006), THE TREE OF LIFE (2011), NOMADLAND (2020)


2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: Its Transcendent Influence on all Pop Culture


Spider-Man: No Way Home movie

SPIDER-MAN: No Way Home
One day, Peter Parker fractured the Multiverse.

What if all eight Spider-Man films, with their varied actors and approaches, were actually all one long story coming to a head?
A splendid time enjoyed by all.





A R T F L I X




Raya And The Last Dragon, Luca, Encanto animated movies

RAYA And The Last Dragon
A panoply of South Asian mythos fuses into an innovative Fantasy about empowerment and unity.

If SHANG-CHI raised the bar for exemplary action Fantasy this year, RAYA may even have surpassed it with its clever freshness, nuanced inclusivity, inspired visions, downright funniness, and its unusually brave climax. Wonderfully done in every way.

LUCA
Two fishboys break the rules turning human to explore a forbidden Italian coastal town.

This Pixar love letter to Italia (and its cinema) is great fun, and gorgeously rendered. The pandemic kept away the movie crowds, but don’t miss out on enjoying this gem.

ENCANTO
A magic realism fantasy about enchanted homes and haunted families.

This crowd-warmer bursts with beautiful design, always dancing fluid and fleet (if at times manic), with enough catchy songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda (‘Hamilton’) to tickle your synapses for days.



THE MITCHELLS vs. THE MACHINES
A dysfunctional suburban family may be the key to defeating a mad Singularity from conquering humanity.

Sometimes spastic works. This chaotic tumble starts off clattering, but gradually its goofy heart and snappy wit hit lift-off.







B E S T
D O C U M E N T A R I E S :
2 0 2 1



Get Back: The Beatles documentary

NO ORDINARY MAN (Canada)
A known Jazz musician since the ‘30s was covertly transgender.

BRIAN WILSON: Long Promised Road

A doc following Brian around on loose drives, reminiscing about the history of The Beach Boys.

GET BACK

LET IT BE (1970) miscast the end of The Beatles as an acrimonious divorce, marring Rock history. Peter Jackson’s new 6-hour mini-series recasts the early-1969 sessions in a fuller context: an emotionally varied and complex but fruitful transition from “The White Album” to “Abbey Road”, where their final triumph would allow each the confidence to go it alone.

SUMMER OF SOUL (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

A previously unreleased doc of the 1969 Harlem Culture Festival concerts, with knock-out performances from legends like Mahalia Jackson, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, The Staple Singers, and the godly Sly And The Family Stone.

Fanny: The Right To Rock music documentary

FANNY: The Right To Rock
Proper respect for Fanny, the first all-female Rock band signed to a major label to make albums. As a Pinay power pioneer, leader June Millington went on to usher Womyn’s Music, and helms The Institute of The Musical Arts where young women learn to Rock.

FannyTheMovie.com
"Snapsnots": June’s new solo album
"Land of a Thousand Bridges": June’s bio book

1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything
It’s true. The apex of the Counterculture was a tsunami of inspiration and emancipation that has lifted all creative (and political) boats ever since.

THE SPARKS BROTHERS
Peeling back the mystery of the Maul brothers, making malleable Art-Pop since the early-’70s as the band Sparks.

See also:
their musical, ANNETTE (2021)


WITCH: We Intend To Cause Havo, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliche music documentaries

WITCH: We Intend to Cause Havoc
For a too brief but vital period in the mid-‘70s, African rock bands like WITCH waved their freak flag high. But rebellion was overcome by government goons, and the scene was left only on wax and memory.

POLY STYRENE: I Am A Cliché
“Oh, bondage… up yours!”

The leader of X-Ray Spex was anything but cliched; a Somali teen with braces and mania fronting a punk band of barbed guitar with screeching sax, an alien visitor tearing up consumerism and misogyny.
Riot Grrrl 101.



MY OCTOPUS TEACHER (2020)
A jaded filmmaker discovers an unlikely bond with a small octopus in the kelp reef.

Opens your heart and your mind.



ATTICA
In 1971, prisoners rose up against systemic abuse.

SABAYA
The struggle to liberate sex slaves from the terrorist group, ISIS.



SWIMMING OUT TILL THE SEA TURNS BLUE (China)
3 revered writers share their lifetime overviews of China's modern evolutions.

TENZIN
A personal tragedy exposes the abuses to Tibetans by occupying Chinese.

76 DAYS (China/USA)
The early spread of COVID in China.








B E S T
T V :
2 0 2 1



Best TV Shows 2021


(The season number follows each title.)





N E W S




The Daily Show, with TrevorNoah comedy news series

Feed your mind and your activism will follow.

The Rachel Maddow Show

LAST WEEK with John Oliver

PBS NewsHour

PBS FRONTLINE

THE DAILY SHOW, with Trevor Noah





D R A M A




A Handmaid's Tale TV series

THE HANDMAID’S TALE 4 ⇧
The tide begins to turn against the oppressors in the penultimate season.

This important series, fighting valiantly against all fundamentalism and its core misogyny, has done an admirable job expanding out Margaret Atwood’s classic book.

But what if the path you’re forging starts forking into the wrong one? This season, while notably game-changing in its second-half turnaround, is troubled by a blind vengeance streak. Keeping the direct spirit of the book, our revolutionary hero should be more akin to Harriet Tubman or Ann Frank than ‘John Wick’. Consider your final steps thoughtfully.


Ms. Jackson

POSE 3 ⇧
The final season.

'Pose' was so richly abundant that it always did everything at once. In syncopation, its story beats made success of playful excesses: simultaneously dopey and divine, sappy Soap and inspired drama, scene-chew and soliloquy, flashy trash and fine art, catty and classy. It always made you cry and laugh, and felt more real for being so conversely perverse.

Strongest in its activism, grounded by its deep heart, the series has been invaluable. First, for its heartbreaking chronicle of the AIDS crisis across a decade span (1987-'98). Second, for its breakthrough representation for the LGBTQ community and most especially for Trans performers. The belles of the ballroom, Michaela Jaé Rodriquez, Indya Moore, and the imperious Dominique Jackson all blossomed as fine performers who deserve major success in the future. Vogue like you know.

See also:
FAME (1980), 'Angels In America' (mini-series, 2003), TANGERINE (2015), 'It's A Sin' (mini-series, 2022)



M I N I - S E R I E S

Maid TV miniseries

✭✭✭✭✭ Mini-Series Of The Year.
MAID
A poor single mother struggles to support her young daughter and get forward in life.

TV suburbia never existed. Based on Stephanie Land’s true memoir, this brave series strips life to the real.

Poverty is a rigged game, designed by the high to crush the low. Survival is a daily gauntlet, which aspiring writer Alex desperately threads with her wits and a resolve driven by fierce love. It’s a familiar path to the struggling. Toxic peers, screw-up family, dead-end local, serf jobs, hell commutes, jaded aid. Living in trailers, campers, shelters, cars. Working too hard for the spoiled, indifferent, cruel. Hustling triple to get a third as far. Helplessness, anger, exhaustion, joys. ‘Maid’ feels like a documentary and rings true with every memory you have. Central star Margaret Qualley is hypnotic, and Andie MacDowell (her actual mother as her mother) has the wildest role of her career.

Most shows are fables you step out of after. This one followed my thoughts for weeks, as if I was worried about actual loved ones and our shared problems.

That’s how stories should be told and felt.

__________



Mare Of Easttown, It's A Sin, The Underground Railroad TV miniseries

MARE OF EASTTOWN
Fighting her own demons, a Phillie hamlet cop’s life becomes entwined with a devastating murder.

Numbed by grief, a tough sarge is confronted by a crime that fissures her from all sides. An intricate mystery, harrowing and constantly surprising, as funny as it is blunt, riding on a deep character play, with the excellent Kate Winslet supported by a first-class cast.
Don’t miss it.

A VERY BRITISH SCANDAL
A treatment of the true events surrounding a royal scandal in 1963.

The scandal siege surrounding the Duchess reveals the perfect storm of hypocrisy created by a classist elite, a sleazy press, and a trashtalk public.
(Which is why you are punked by every headline narrative now.)


IT’S A SIN
The turmoils to gay liberation caused by AIDS during 1980s Britain.

Russell T. Davis (‘Queer As Folk’, ‘Doctor Who’) parallels ‘Pose’ with his memoir of his London youth. Often funny, always frank, we follow winning freespirits devastated by a stealth disease, misinformation, a lax press, a repressive government, and family bigotry. Along the way, humanity carries the day.
You’ll laugh, cry, and feel love.

THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
An alternate history allegory where the anti-slavery escape system is not just a metaphor.

Barry Jenkins (Best Picture for MOONLIGHT) adapts Colson Whitehead’s acclaimed 2016 book. Using the device of a literal freedom railway system as a hinge, this symbolic parable follows a runaway woman through the hierarchical spaces of slavery. Bittersweet and brutal, clear-eyed and piercing (if consistently absolutist), proudly human and fiercely rebellious.

Thuso Mbedu is arresting as the tortured lead. Jenkins turns every chapter into a mesmerizing short film, cinematographer James Laxton’s lucent use of natural light evokes Hal Ashby and Haskell Wexler, all filled with ominous ache by Nicholas Britell’s haunting score.

See also:
Ellison’s “The Invisible Man” (1952), Márquez’s “One Hundred Years Of Solitude” (1967), Haley’s “Roots” (1976)



Station Eleven TV miniseries

STATION ELEVEN
In a post-plague dystopia, a haunted woman in a traveling actors show is obsessed with a visionary graphic novel from before.

Like Brian K. Vaughan writing a Vertigo Comic countermanding King’s “The Stand” with a Fellini sensibility. Stitching the mysterious synchronicities of motley characters across before and after, this fresh mosaic about starting over is as startling as it is touching.

See also:
'Star Trek', "The Conscience Of The King" (S01/E13, 1966), 'Lost' (2004), 'Utopia' (UK, 2013)



BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR
A promising filmmaker comes to LA, encountering monsters real and surreal along her struggle.

Rosa Salazar notches another genre win in this demented black comedy / thriller / stylefest / nightmare / cautionary tale.

MIDNIGHT MASS
Something terrible is rising amid a remote fishing island community.

All the foreboding and chills you expect. But also a deeper homage to ’70s horror novels, with rich world-building and actual conversations at length with depth between characters.

See also:
THE EXORCIST (1973), JAWS (1975), 'Salem’s Lot' (1979)







D E T E C T I V E




Clarice, TV detective series

CLARICE
The return of Clarice Starling.

As a fan of Thomas Harris’ books, “Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs”, I enjoyed Bryan Fuller’s prequel TV series 'Hannibal' (2013-’15) like everyone else. Even though it was tonally wrong.

Harris’ books were procedural thrillers more akin to “All The Presidents Men” and ZODIAC, whereas Fuller was channeling them as a Lynch-esque gothic delirium, essentially turning Lecter into a symbolist and somnambulistic version of “Dracula”. The acclaimed 'Hannibal' show entranced its admirers so much for three seasons, no one thought to challenge that. When the separate TV series 'Clarice' arrived (a sequel to “Silence”, made by other rights holders), many partisans dismissed it unfairly as an interloper when in truth it was an intervention.

Harris’ two best books balanced their sensitive profilers. If Will Graham had intuited crime investigations through a cognitive empathy with killers, Clarice Starling did so through an instinctive empathy with victims. 'Clarice' restored the sober investigative procedural tone of the books, but now infused with welcome new dimensions: her folksy warmth and mysterious past, new sensitivity to LGBTQ+ identities, an especially welcome spotlight on Ardelia Mapp, and a canny focus on wider crimes than serial killer formulas. Currently in limbo, the sharp series deserved better reception and more seasons.


Hannibal, Clarice TV series

Here’s how to make everyone happy. Let Bryan Fuller make Phase 2 of his original plans, adapting an expansion of “The Silence Of The Lambs”, with the star of this series, Rebecca Breeds. Then make Phase 3, where Will and Clarice team up for Fuller’s all-new finale, (while acknowledging that the 'Clarice' series fits in between them). All the fans will be happy, and the various rights-holders will get a mutually lucrative success. Balance wins the day.

See also:
‘Mindhunter‘ (2017)


__________



LUPIN 1
A modern admirer of the literary “Gentleman Burglar” uses his techniques to clear his father’s name.

Omar Sy is a charming lead in this breezy homage to the Auguste Lupin books, at its best in its stylish heist sequences.

PROFESSOR T. (UK) 1
A hypersensitive crime historian helps Scotland Yard solve murders.

This is the fourth iteration of this series, with previous versions from Belgium, Germany, and France. A variant on Sherlock Holmes and the neurotic 'Monk' (2002), this familiar but fun mystery procedural is continually entertaining thanks to its solid leads, Ben Miller and Emma Naomi.





A N I M A T I O N




__________

M o v i n g
A r t


For a century, the assembly-line production of traditional Animation has always been restricted to 2D characters on 3D backgrounds, essentially looking like comic book figures pinned onto a watercolor painting. It’s a shotgun wedding of two good/mismatched styles we’ve all grown used to.

Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, Spirited Away animated films
Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs (1938);
Sprited Away (2001)


After two decades of SFX houses creating photorealistic CG creatures in live action films, it’s f-i-n-a-l-l-y dawning on both cel and CG animators to make the foreground look like the background. This year saw notable advances that way, by varied degrees.

Star Trek: Prodigy, Star Wars: Visions, Arcane animated TV series
'Star Trek: Prodigy';
'Star Wars: Visions'
'Arcane'


'Star Trek: Prodigy' mapped more painterly textures onto its CG characters’ faces to enliven the puppetry. Among all the slick CG in THE MILLERS vs THE MACHINES, the hands and figures of the characters often have textures like loose production art. The stunning samurai opener in 'Star Wars: Visions' unfurled like bamboo ink drawings moving. And most advanced of all, 'Arcane' unified its characters and backgrounds in one style like it had all been hand-painted in oils.

Art from New Gods, Tintin, Kingdom Come, Black Hole, and The Spirit; plus, Jerry Pinkney kids books
'New Gods'; 'Tintin';
'Kingdom Come'; 'Black Hole';
'The Spirit'; Pinkney's 'The Lion And The Mouse'


So let’s go forward. Make animated films that reflect the exact art styles of the original sources; for example, a 'New Gods' that duplicates Jack Kirby’s actual cubist-futurism style; a clean-line 'Tintin' that sprints like Hergé come to life; a 'Kingdom Come' adaptation in Alex Ross’ qouache naturalism; the eerily exact inking of Charles Burn’s forest noir, 'Black Hole'; a 'Corto Maltese' adventure in Hugo Pratt’s organic inks, or a 'Terry And The Pirates' in Milton Caniff’s swashes, or 'The Spirit' in all of Will Eisner’s noir glory; childrens’ tales in Jerry Pinkney’s lush watercolors; 'Fun Home' adapted in Alison Bechdel’s real hand; or Studio Ghibli crafting foregrounds as painterly as their legendary backgrounds.

And avoid the CG puppet lope underneath all these mapped textures; like AVATAR, use mo-cap of real actors making the actual moves as they act the lines instead of just reading in a booth, for more realistic actions and expressions (and vocals) to guide the animators’ finishes.

We’ve had fine harbingers: Disney’s metatext approach on their 'Winnie The Pooh' cartoons; the roto/shop of A SCANNER DARKLY (2006); the hand-painted oils of LOVING VINCENT (2017). Draw on the possible.

__________



City Of Ghosts animated TV show

CITY OF GHOSTS 1 ⇧
A kids group investigates Los Angeles looking for ghosts, meeting friendly spirits who teach them the eclectic histories of the city.

An all-ages delight, genuinely adorable and deftly smart, with a natural voice cast and inspired music.

DISENCHANTED 3
Matt Groening’s Fantasy spoof is more engaging for its plots than its jokes as it goes, but it’s always fun.


Arcane animated TV series

ARCANE 1 ⇧
A steampunk Fantasy spiraling around spectral futures and haunted pasts.

This adaptation based on the popular online video game ‘League Of Legends’ thrills with its sumptuous world-building, painted style, and power intrigues, but what surprises is the deeply heartfelt story that catalyzes its engine.
Terrific in all regards, for casual viewers and gamers alike.

STAR TREK: Prodigy 1
The first Star Trek geared for young viewers takes flight.

It had all the warning signs of typical CG Animation excess*, but instead turned out to be just great. A fresh and innovative All-Ages series following young space cadets that gets richer as it goes.

✶ The CG Animation Blunder List:
Over-designed, hyperbolic, frenzied, strobing, slick, faddish, no-brow, shrill, clatter-chatter.
Please stop.

STAR TREK: Lower Decks 2

More of an ensemble approach this season instead of focused through the irrepressible Mariner, jogging then sprinting to new spaces.






W O N D E R




Star Trek: Discovery TV series

STAR TREK: Discovery 4 ⇧

The franchise’s most radical series does the most unexpected thing of all… going conventional? Reaching a point in space and time to start over, it retools itself to tell Berman-era ship stories with all the flair of Abrams’ films still intact. Trad/Rad at the same time.

Cowboy Bebop live-action TV series

COWBOY BEBOP 1 ⇧
A live-action amplification of the classic 1998 Anime series.

Purists reacted puerile, wanting precise literalism. Meanwhile, on the real side, the brave series jettisoned some of the original’s flaws (cheesecake, homophobia, damsel-ing, rote stoicism, noir fatalism) and revved up needed upgrades (deeper interplay, double story time, character depth beyond postures, surprise turnovers, metatextual in-jokes). Once it had its feet by the fourth episode, it was running full tilt.

The gripers won and Netflix canceled it. The quality still remains regardless, so the adults in the room see ya, Space Cowboys.


Doctor Who TV series

DOCTOR WHO 13 ⇧
The third and final season of Jodie Whittaker as The Doctor.

Never mind the sexists, here’s The Doctor!

Showrunner Chris Chibnell (‘Broadchurch’) continued to bravely deconstruct and revitalize The Doctor’s secret history, liberating it from continuity constraints and twerking at the kneejerks by opening up an inclusive and infinite range of new possibilities.

Wipe the froth off, PubYobs, and get with. Next.


P H O T O
LOST IN SPACE 3
This space-faring series was first-rate from start to finish.

The final season, always exciting and touching, wrapped up all of its bows in fine fashion.

SNOWPIERCER 2

Sometimes, when a key character leaves, you can feel the hard rattle of an entire series straining to switch gears. (see also: 'Wiseguy', 'Misfits') This season worked to switch tracks while trying to go forward. Results varied.

THE WHEEL OF TIME 1 ⇧

What could have been a New Age gloss on Tolkien conventions finds its own feet as an inclusive and crafty advance in Fantasy. And it has the most breathtaking scenery (drone-cam swoops) on Television.






H E R O E S




The Falcon And The Winter Soldier, Loki, What If? and Hawkeye TV shows

WANDA/VISION
In the wake of loss, the magical Wanda finds herself rotating through a sitcom reality.

Getting meta with television, film and comics continuity, and its audience’s expectations proves a fun mindwarp.

THE FALCON AND THE WINTER SOLDIER
The mantle of Captain America is heavy, but who will take it on?

The films have celebrated the classic ‘60s and ’70s Marvel heroes. The comics have moved on to diverse young upstarts inheriting their mantles.

Now the shows and films are translating those transitions, bringing us a new wave of contemporary heroes that reflect the present world and the audience.

LOKI 1 ⇧
Given a second chance, will the trickster choose a better path?

The God of Mischief has always been malleable, but now he’s beside himselves. A double buddy comedy with ‘70s futurism, alternate selves, cosmic grandeur, cool elan, and a great library.

WHAT IF? 1 ⇧
The Watcher reveals alternate realities of how key Marvel movie events may have forked differently.

DC had 'Imaginary Stories' in the ’60s. Marvel responded with "What If?" comics (1977) where key comics events each took a different turn.
This animated series does the same for pivotal MCU film events, before becoming something much more surprising and crucial.

HAWKEYE 1 ⇧
There’s a new archer in town and she may be better.

More mantle turnovers, as the new Hawkeye and Black Widow arrive, in this very funny action series.

Christmas! Pizza Dog! Boomerang Arrows! Combat bonding! And a shocking villain!








C O M E D Y




We Are Lady Parts comedy TV programme

WE ARE LADY PARTS (UK) 1 ⇧
A Muslim punk band in London smashes all barriers, social and internal.

The smartest comedy on television: like 'Fleabag' smashed into 'The Young Ones', an outrageous romp taking on immigrant challenges, dogma doctrine, pub slobs, shoulder chips, social vampires, and projectile vomiting. Add great music, stir up hotheads, serve justice.

Anjana Vasan is constantly hilarious, her guitar playing chameleonic, and her a capella version of Radiohead’s “Creep” a complete jaw-dropper.

Reservation Dogs comedy TV series

RESERVATION DOGS 1 ⇧
Four Native Americans teens cope with wild ups and downs on an Oklahoma reservation.


The other smartest comedy on television: like Sherman Alexie trolling John Hughes, a hilarious coming-of-ager livewired by potato chip heists, Rap cousins on banana bikes, chucklehead gangs, the loopy Spirit Guide, elder nudism, and The Dear Lady in flares.

See also:
SMOKE SIGNALS (1998)


ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING 1
Who is the killer in the elite apartment building?, ask the amateur podcasters.

Steve Martin and Martin Short reunite, abetted by Selena Gomez, for a wily spoof on murder mysteries, cliffhanger podcasts, Manhattanites, Sting, superfans, Broadway, TV detective shows, and some REAR WINDOW. Tune in.






B E S T
R E S T O R A T I O N



Classic Films are the timeless canon from which all movies expand. They are essential to be seen, and should be enjoyed at their best.
Here are some of the important film restorations of the past year.

Citizen Kane, Rear Window, The Human Condition classic films

NUMBER SEVENTEEN (Britain, 1932)
Alfred Hitchcock • 4k (Kino Lorber)

BRINGING UP BABY (US, 1938)
Howard Hawks • (Criterion)

CITIZEN KANE (US, 1941)
Orson Welles • 4K Blu-Ray (Criterion)

PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET (US, 1953)
Samuel Fuller • Blu-ray (Criterion)

REAR WINDOW (US, 1954)
Alfred Hitchcock • 4K (Universal)

THE HUMAN CONDITION Trilogy (Japan, 1959)
Masaki Kobayashi • Blu-Ray (Criterion)

The Cloud Capped Star, Onibaba, The Learning Tree classic films

THE CLOUD-CAPPED STAR (India, 1960)
Satyajit Rey

BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE (W. Germany, 1963)
Michael Powell

ONIBABA (Japan, 1964)
Kaneto Shindo • (Criterion)

THE STORY OF A THREE DAY PASS
(US, 1968)
Melvin Van Peebles

MANDABI (Senegal, 1968)
Ousmane Sembene

THE LEARNING TREE (US, 1969)
Gordon Parks • (Criterion)

El Topo, A Clockwork Orange, Nationtime classic films

EL TOPO (Mex, 1970)
Alejandro Jodorowsky • 4k (Arrow Video)

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Britain, 1971)
Stanley Kubrick • 4K (Warner Brothers)

NATIONTIME (US, 1972)
William Greaves • (Kino Lorber)

HOLY MOUNTAIN (Mex, 1973)
Alejandro Jodorowsky • 4k (Arrow Video)

TOUKI BOUKI (Senegal, 1973)
Djibril Diop Mambety • 2K (Criterion)

THE MIRROR (Russia, 1974)
Andrei Tarkovsky

Black Life: Losing Ground, Silence Of The Lambs, Mulholland Drive classic films

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (US, 1978)
Philip Kaufman • 4K Blu-Ray (Kino Lorber)

BLACK LIFE: Losing Ground (US, 1982)
Kathleen Collins

THE THING (US, 1982)
John Carpenter • 4K Blu-Ray (Universal)

MISSISSIPPI MASALA (US, 1991)
Mira Nair • (Criterion)

THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (US, 1991)
Jonathan Demme • 4K (Kino Lorber)

MULHOLLAND DRIVE (US, 2001)
David Lynch • 4K (Criterion)







Criterion classic films: M, Boudu Saved From Drowning, Notorious, Beauty And The Beast, Seven Samurai, The Seventh Seal
M; Boudu Saved From Drowning;
Notorious; Beauty And The Beast;
Seven Samurai; The Seventh Seal


C R I T E R I O N



Netflix is like the flashy dance club of streaming entertainment, but The Criterion Channel is for the deep cuts of real culture.

It needs to be said. Netflix and Amazon Prime and Hulu impress with their glossy New Now, and they do have many current gems, but they completely lack heritage classics. All width and no depth. That's all fun, but how long can you chew gum for supper? At some point, when you crave for a more well-rounded diet of substance that sustains your mind and soul, there's only one place to get serious about learning full-quality cinema... The Canon Of Great Films That Actually Matter.

Criterion classic films: A Raisin In The Sun; Lord Of The Flies; 8 1/2; Easy Rider; Lady Snowblood; Claudine
A Raisin In The Sun; Lord Of The Flies;
8 1/2; Easy Rider;
Lady Snowblood; Claudine


While other streaming sites are High School, The Criterion Channel is Oxford.

The Criterion Channel film-streaming site is the best cinema from around the world and every decade since film began, along with new indie films and acclaimed documentaries. Plus, Criterion is the vanguard in restoring great films to a precision standard of picture and sound that matches the present. Restored classics now look better than the day they were struck. If you've watched Mark Cousins' "The Story of Film: An Odyssey" documentary series as a primer >, this site is the true library to expand your enjoyment into the most essential film classics. Every fine film we appreciate now branches directly from the roots of these timeless works of cinematic art, whether it's a romance, period piece, character drama, guerilla handheld, Rock film, style fest, rebel indie, or avant garde. Get the whole picture.

Later for sugar, next for substance. Subscribe today.

Criterion classic films: Repo Man; Wings Of Desire; The Princess Bride; Y Tu Mama Tambien; In The Mood For Love; Parasite
Repo Man; Wings Of Desire;
The Princess Bride; Y Tu Mama Tambien;
In The Mood For Love; Parasite



(also explore: Fandor, Filmatique, Mubi, Turner Classic Movies, Kanopy, Filmhub, IndiePix, IndieFlix, Ovid, BFI Player (UK), OpenCulture)





THINGS TO CATCH UP ON, Dept.



Hey, who has access (or money) to see everything, even during a lockdown?

Films
KING RICHARD
THE LAST DUEL

PARIS, 13th DISTRICT (France)
WHO IS SLEEPING IN SILVER GREY? (China)

LICORICE PIZZA

THE CHANGED
SPACE SWEEPERS
THE SUICIDE SQUAD


TV
Y: The Last Man
30 Coins

Flatbush Misdemeanors
Girls5eva

Naomi 1
Batwoman 2


© Tym Stevens



See also:

Four Color Films, THE Comic Movies Review Site!


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