Tagged: entertainment

Consumption: 2019

Screen Shot 2020-01-04 at 3.25.10 PM

I make this list every year, for fun and as a reference. It only reflects things seen for the first time; “POLTERGEIST was on again” doesn’t make the list. There are plenty of 2019 releases I haven’t gotten to yet. Of the films I did see, here are some noteables:

THE LIGHTHOUSE brought the crazy. Dafoe, Pattinson and director David Eggers deliver absolutely everything one could ask for in a two-guys-go-nuts-in-a-lighthouse movie. Shot on vintage cameras in black-and-white in 1.55 AR Claustro-vision.

ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD was my favorite Tarantino in a long time. 2018’s THE FAVOURITE was another, uh… favorite. Ditto for THE FAREWELL. Awkwafina, so good. Lulu Wang, so good. Most of PARASITE is watching grifters build a Jenga tower of lies and wondering when and how it’s gonna fall, and that = a good time at the movies! Meanwhile, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER was an imperfect end to an imperfect saga. I cried anyway.

What’s on TV? Well, I finally saw KLUTE. TCM, thank you. Jane Fonda, holy shit. They don’t make movies like this anymore; do they? Watching films from the 70s you realize how sanitized and smug most mainstream movies are now. We’re backsliding.

Also caught FIRST REFORMED on video. Paul Schrader’s still got the goods, and brings ’em. AT ETERNITY’S GATE features Willem Dafoe again, this time as Van Gogh. Heartbreaking and beautiful. In its own way, so was RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET… and it feels like this one kinda got overlooked. It’s endlessly clever, has great visuals, and an emotionally affecting core all about friendships and how they can change.

Marvel recently announced they will do a superhero movie centered on a gay character. But, they already have CAPTAIN MARVEL! I mean, come on…

If you like docs, TICKLED dives into the weird world of “competitive endurance tickling.” You’ll want to shower after. Also finally caught up with Berlinger and Sinofsky‘s 1992 doc BROTHER’S KEEPER – riveting. Highly recommended.

On the series side of things, I liked HBO’s “Dead to Me.” Great performances, and the first episode delivered not one but two A+ OMG moments. Held up throughout the season, too. Season 3 of “The Crown” introduced an entirely new cast without a hiccup. If I ever write anything as perfect and delightful as the last two scenes of episode 5 (“Coup”) I can hang up my mouse and die happy.

Adult Swim’s “Primal” was an amazing, totally dialogue-free animated series about a caveman and his dinosaur. The season (series?) finale may be the goriest thing I’ve ever seen on TV. “Undone” (Amazon) was another fine adult animated show. Come for the mind-bending premise and trippy visuals, stay for the writing and performances.

Mary Poppins Returns
Welcome to Marwen
The Favourite
Can You Ever Forgive Me?
The Kid Who Would Be King – Every boy in this movie has chapped lips. England’s cold.
Ralph Breaks The Internet
Apollo 11
High Life – Infuriating “art movie.” Somebody explain to me why this wasn’t terrible.
Pill Head
Avengers: Endgame
Toy Story 4
Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood
The Farewell
Ad Astra
The Lighthouse
Terminator: Dark Fate
Knives Out – My mom would have loved this movie. I loved it too.
Frozen 2
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Mary Poppins
Obvious Child
Avengers: Infinity War
First Reformed
Ant-Man and The Wasp
Eighth Grade
The First Monday In May
At Eternity’s Gate
Vox Lux
The Peanuts Movie
Blackboard Jungle
Victoria & Abdul
Lean On Pete
Where The Boys Are (1960)
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
Swim Team
The Invitation (2015)
Clouds Of Sils Marias
Miracle Mile
Spiderman: Homecoming
The General (1926)
Brother’s Keeper (1992)
The Men Who Stare At Goats
Wendy And Lucy
Late Night – Needed a rewrite
Captain Marvel
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Thunder Road
I Lost My Body
Marriage Story – Alan Alda, MVP
Rocketman – Bohemian Rhapsody ain’t brilliant, but still better than this mopey pity party
Empire of Dreams

The Orville
Russian Doll
Better Things
What We Do In The Shadows
Archer: 1999
Game of Thrones
Dead To Me
The Great British Baking Show
The Good Place
Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal
Bless This Mess
The Crown
A Year In Space
Mike Birbiglia: The New One – Delivered to me my single biggest belly laugh of 2019
Rick and Morty
The Mandalorian


Consumption: 2018

A moment from Leigh Whannell's UPGRADE

Leigh Whannell’s UPGRADE

I keep this list every year, for fun and for reference. The list only reflects films seen for the first time.

I don’t do a numbered ranking, but my #1-most-fun-I-had-at-the-movies award goes to Leigh Whannell’s UPGRADE. Visually inventive and spectacularly violent, this rough-and-ready cyberpunk B-movie felt like a return to the days of ROBOCOP, or peak John Carpenter. Bravo!

Kudos, too, to the makers of SPIDERMAN: INTO THE SPIDERVERSE. It’s got heart, it’s got style (more than one, actually) and it’s so smart, fast, funny and original it makes all the other superhero movies look kinda stupid by comparison.

Have you ever been watching a movie when a moment comes along that suddenly shifts your entire sense of what it is you’re watching? I LOVE that. It’s rare to get even one of those in a film, and it happened to me twice while watching Ali Abbasi’s BORDER. This one’s about a Swedish customs officer who can literally smell fear. That’s all I knew going in, and all you need to know too. Don’t read the reviews.

I’ll buy that for a dollar! Boots Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU takes place in the same universe as ROBOCOP and Terry Gilliam’s BRAZIL. That’s just my theory. But it’s true.

Other 2018 theatrical standouts for me included ANNIHILATION, A QUIET PLACE, THE FAVOURITE (seen in 2019 so it’s not on this list) and (sniffle) WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?

On the TV series front, favorites at our house included The Crown, The Good Place, Better Things, Travelers, and Killing Eve.

The rise of Netflix streaming is very much in evidence in this year’s list. Standouts include Tamara Jenkins’ note-perfect PRIVATE LIFE (Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn as a middle-aged couple racing against their biological clocks), and writer/director Macon Blair’s 2017 release I DON’T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE. By turns funny and violent, the latter stars Melanie Lynskey as Ruth, a woman in way over her head as she tries to recover her grandmother’s silverware from some burglars. Ruth’s simple, heartfelt plea is one for our times: “For people to stop being assholes.” Amen, honey.

Linked titles take you to my review, or more info on the film.

The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Post
Black Panther
Darkest Hour
A Wrinkle In Time
Isle Of Dogs
A Quiet Place
Finding Your Feet
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Incredibles 2
American Animals
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Bohemian Rhapsody
Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse
First Man

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping*
Double Indemnity
Dr. Strange
Hunt For The Wilderpeople
My Happy Family
Beauty And The Beast (2017)
All That Heaven Allows
The Secret Life Of Pets
I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Table 19
For The Love of Spock
Don’t Breathe
The Florida Project
The Informant!
Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story
Battle Of The Sexes
The Endless
Take Me
E Il Cibo Va
Henry Fool
The Land Of Steady Habits
Game Night
Private Life
The Trip To Italy
Book Club
Sorry To Bother You

The Crown
Rick and Morty
Modern Family
The Good Place
Better Things
The Orville
Big Little Lies
Abstract: The Art of Design
The Great British Baking Show
Killing Eve
The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes
F*ck That’s Delicious
Black Mirror: U.S.S. Callister

Spill Zone – Scott Westerfeld
The Best American Short Stories 2009 – ed. Alice Sebold
Orfeo – Richard Powers
Creatures of Habit: Stories – Jill McCorkle

*Surprise, Motherfucker!

Consumption: 2017


I make this list every year, for fun and as a reference. As always, it only reflects things seen for the first time. “POLTERGEIST on TV, 14th viewing” doesn’t make the list. Nor do films not viewed in their entirety, for example, Guy Ritchie’s THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, which got ejected from the Blu-Ray player after 15 minutes. I’d never seen Henry Cavill in anything before but he seems to emit some kind of anti-charisma particle.

I didn’t bother making a numbered best-of list this year. But if I had, LOGAN would be at the top. It’s perfect. Damn you James Mangold, for making me cry at your Wolverine movie.

Some of my other favorite releases of 2017 include THE BEGUILED, COCO, ATOMIC BLONDE, THOR: RAGANOK, and THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES. Of course, DUNKIRK was impressive – but cold, as is Christopher Nolan’s way. MOTHER! is a movie, alright. Darren Aronofsky swings for the fences. And whatever you think of the film, Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Pfieffer were very good. The BLADE RUNNER sequel was amazing, and very nearly great: only Jared Leto’s messianic super-villain seemed out of place, like a character from a different, dumber movie. THE LAST JEDI: wonderful, about 50% of the time. The compelling Rey/Kylo/Luke storyline almost makes up for how they couldn’t find anything interesting for Poe, Finn, or Rose to do. (Yeah I get that the casino plot is a critique of capitalism and arms dealers and yes intellectually that’s interesting for a Star Wars movie but dramatically it was a big bag of nothing and visually it looked cheap & reminded me of the prequels and like this sentence that movie is too long.)

Linked titles take you to my review, or more info on the film.

Manchester by the Sea
La-La Land
Get Out
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (live from the Old Vic)*
Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2
Baby Driver
The Beguiled
Atomic Blonde
Dave Made A Maze
Dawson City: Frozen Time
The Big Sick
Blade Runner 2049
Spoor (Pokot)
Thor: Ragnarok
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Lady Bird
Coco  (saw it January ’18)

The Jungle Book (2016)
The Nice Guys
Shadow of a Doubt
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them
The Handmaiden
The Trip (Steve Coogan, not Dennis Hopper)
Back To The Future III
Eat Pray Love
The Meyerowitz Stories
Hidden Figures
The Godfather (pretty good! why didn’t anyone tell me about this flick sooner?)
Personal Shopper

Orphan Black
Modern Family
New Girl
The Good Place
The Expanse
Better Things
Game of Thrones
Downward Dog
I Love Dick
Odd Mom Out
The Orville
Star Trek: Discovery
POV: What Tomorrow Brings
Big Little Lies
Abstract: The Art of Design

Other People’s Trades – Primo Levi
Broken Frontier (graphic novel) – Various
Lightspeed Magazine – Various
A whole bunch of screenplays

*I am calling this a movie. I saw it at a movie theater. Harry Potter guy was in it. It counts.

DIY Sci-Fi



Sci-fi fans! Hollywood got you down? Are you drowning in the mainstream? Weary of TRANSFORMERS transforming? Of mugging movie stars dressed as superheroes? Do you despair at what passes for science fiction on the big screen?

Hell, maybe I’m projecting. Maybe you think all that stuff is awesome. It takes all kinds to make a world. That’s why they make more than one flavor of ice cream.

Love or hate it, or love it and hate it, you can be more than a passive consumer of sci-fi film. Do what these guys did, and make some of your own!

Some of these films are unabashedly inspired by the mainstream aesthetic of Hollywood and Lucasfilm. Others serve as reactionary rebuttals. All substitute sweat and ingenuity for blockbuster budgets. Some are charmingly home-made in their look, others are polished productions that give Lucas a run for his money. This is DIY sci-fi.

These are labors of love: no studios and no investors. Budgets are shoestring, and often crowdfunded. Labor is often volunteer.

This article isn’t a comprehensive list of DIY sci-fi, not by a long shot – just some interesting projects I happen to know of. I’d like to know about yours, too. My intention is to append this list over time. Feel free to add your links in the comments.

All I Think Of Is You (Short, 2012)
In this stylish and moody short, a widow is hounded by a stranger claiming to be her dead husband. It’s currently doing well on the festival circuit, but you can see the first two minutes at writer/director Shad Clark’s website. Poke around and you’ll find some of his other videos, including an unsettling little diversion involving misuse of a safety razor. Shudder.

The American Astronaut (Feature, 2001)
Director Cory McAbee (lead singer of San Francisco cult musical act The Billy Nayer Show) cast himself as the lead in what RottenTomatoes.com described as “ERASERHEAD meets BUCK ROGERS by way of an MGM musical.” See the trailer here. McAbee’s singular vision took him to the Sundance Film Festival. Although, like McAbee, I live in the Bay Area, I’ve managed to miss every chance to see his film. What can I say? It’s in the Netflix queue. [Update, April 4, 2014: It’s also now available online for free from online distributor SnagFilms. Search the SnagFilms site or watch it here in this article on Indiewire.]

Bellflower (Feature, 2011)
This hallucinatory bromance depicts two guys preparing for an apocalypse they seem convinced is coming. How? By building a souped-up super car and a fucking FLAMETHROWER of course. It’s broken hearts and brain injuries, it’s geek culture meets machismo, and it will get under your skin. This debut feature played Sundance, is distributed by Oscilloscope and is probably a bit high-profile for this list. But the DIY aesthetic on display is undeniable, both in front of the camera and inside it: the filmmakers shot Bellflower on a home-made digital camera pieced together from vintage camera parts and Russian lenses.

La vie d’un chien (The Life of a Dog) (Short, 2005)
Would I be blogging about DIY sci-fi if I wasn’t making some of my own? My story of a scientist and the serum that turns him into a canine is told in a montage of black-and-white stills. This technique allowed me to depict biological transformation and societal upheaval for a pittance, while serving as homage to Chris Marker’s masterpiece La Jetée (DIY sci-fi from 1962!).

Microgravity (Short, 2006)
A tense, surreal thriller about an astronaut alone in orbit. Loneliness and boredom turn on a dime into claustrophobia, panic and fear of that cold, hard vacuum just outside the bulkhead. Beautifully, expressively shot. Great set design too. Watch the entire film, below:

Pig (Feature, 2011)
Pig begins with a somewhat familiar movie premise: amnesia. As the lead character tries to unravel the mystery of his own identity writer/director Henry Barrial demonstrates that sometimes it’s less about premise and more about execution. Strong performances from the leads keep this slow-burner absorbing, right through to the revelatory final scenes. [Update, April 4, 2014: PIG is now available via many outlets including iTunes and Amazon. Or cut out the middleman and get it from the filmmakers.]

Primer (Feature, 2004)
Shane Carruth’s debut feature marked the first time a science fiction film took the top prize at Sundance. It’s very self-assured filmmaking. What begins as a low-key, brainy story of engineers who accidently invent a time machine becomes increasingly strange and confusing as the plot begins to loop back on itself. I have yet to meet anyone who claims to fully understand it. Rent it. Or go to Carruth’s website for a digital download, and a preview of his second film, which looks to be even more disorienting.

Project Arbiter (Short, 2013)
It’s World War II. The Nazis have invented an invisibility suit, and the Allies have to steal it! Who wouldn’t want to see that movie? They just wrapped post, so you might be able to, very soon. Meanwhile, here’s the trailer and the website.



Project London  (Feature, 2013)
It doesn’t get more DIY than this! Chockablock with cool vehicles and giant robots, this futuristic feature out of Seattle, Washington was birthed by an all-volunteer crew using Blender, a free, open-source 3D software. Currently in post. Will it be any good?! Check out the trailer and Project London website and see what you think.

The Third Letter (Short, 2010)
Both director Grzegorz Jonkajtys and producer Bastiann Koch are SFX pros with serious industry credentials. It bleeds from every frame of this tale of futuristic dystopia.

Radio Free Steve (Feature, 2000)
This “1980s vision of the future” is like BELLFLOWER’s idiot trailer-trash cousin. It’s your basic post-apocalyptic road comedy, with nods to DAMNATION ALLEY and containing a crazy “lost film” backstory about the supposed director, one “Lars Von Biers.” Loose, profane and occasionally quite funny. The producer somehow managed to secure songs for a soundtrack that includes tracks by Luna and Boards of Canada. Watch the NSFW trailer here.

Radio Free Albemuth (Feature, 2010)
This indie feature based on one Philip K. Dick novel which is apparently so weird Hollywood hasn’t found a way to make an action movie out of it. I have yet to see it but it should be noted RADIO FREE ALBEMUTH has earned the approval of hardcore Dick fans and the Dick family estate.

They’re Made Out Of Meat (Short, 2005)
After an extensive survey of planet Earth’s dominant species, an alien reports his astonishing findings. A clever staging of the clever (and much-circulated) short story by author Terry Bisson. Watch it!