Zoning Out: “Walking Distance”

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The past is an elusive thing, we remember it but our memory is constantly changing, forgetting, being influenced by the world we are experiencing right now. I’d argue instead then that the the core of our memories for the past are more intangible. They don’t feel concrete, they’re simply impressions and feelings that we associate with the past we held on to. These aren’t always positive, in fact for a lot of people they can be down right awful, but when they are positive we tend to call it nostalgia.

Nostalgia didn’t occupy the same place in society in 1959 that it does now. So much of our pop culture is based on things that remind us of our childhoods, things that are often based on entertainment from the childhood of it’s creators. Think about how many peoples favorite movies are Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, all properties created from the nostalgia of their creators. It’s odd then that “Walking Distance”, one of the most critically acclaimed episodes of The Twilight Zone, feels very much out of a modern mold at first glance. Working off the classic template of a disillusioned man, and it is almost always a man, who seeks to leave his stressful modern life and return to his carefree youth, “Walking Distance” might at first seem fairly rote. For all its acclaim I found it fairly pedestrian, well acted, well directed, until the show put it’s own personal exclamation point on what could have been the same story I’ve seen a million times.

walking-distance8I’m speaking of the conversation that Martin has with his father, a masterpiece of acting, writing, and directing. Backed by a custom score made for the episode by Bernard Hermann, a titan of the industry who would do work for The Twilight Zone multiple times over its run, Martin and his father discuss how Martin needs to leave the past to his past self. While looking to find the joy in modern life through embracing ones inner child or teenager isn’t exactly a novel idea what makes it work for me especially here is the scene that proceeds it.

In that scene Martin attempts to reach his younger self and tell him to enjoy every moment of his youth but in doing so causes young Martin to fall from a carousel and injure his leg. We learn at the end of the episode that Martin now carries a limp from that fall, a fall he himself caused. This is what really got me, the idea that by lionizing the past, by yearning to return to it, we are not only harming our memories of the past by making them into something they’re not but that we also hurt ourselves in real lasting ways. We leave wounds in ourselves that stay forever.

Martin’s father addresses this by telling him that there isn’t any space in the past for him anymore. It’s not his summer anymore, it belongs to the past, to the Martin who exists there, not to the modern Martin. He shouldn’t try to make something that belongs to the past belong to the future as well. The conversation is incredibly well acted, with everyone playing their part in a subtle way that makes you feel that they really are father and son. Gig Young, a two time Oscar nominee before he played Martin and who would go on to win an Oscar for They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, is incredible. The way he plays Martin, transitioning from a worried, almost fatherly adult, to a scared child, and back to an adult in the space of a couple of minutes is nothing short of spectacular.

MV5BNjZjMGUwNmYtNzM4NS00NDI5LTkzMTMtYzEyNzQzOTQ0ZWUxL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDgyNjA5MA@@._V1_While I’ve already heaped a lot of praise on Serling in the past few reviews for his scripts, this is the one that feels the most personal. It’s easy to see this a reflection on Serling’s own past and the way he has felt about it . Often Serling’s status as an auteur when it comes to The Twilight Zone is a bit overstated, ignoring the other talented figures who contributed to the show and the nature of network television production at their time. I don’t want to down play the strength of Robert Steven’s direction here in his second and final episode (he also did the exceptional pilot episode) but if there has been episode so far that feels like it could have only come from one person, it’s this one.

I’ve struggled often in looking back at the way I used to be, to the my own better days, and giving in to the desire to try to get back. If this was an episode that felt deliberately personal to Serling, so to did it feel very close to my heart. I want to feel like the man that Serling describes in his closing narration, someone who doesn’t yearn for the past but when reminded of it smiles. He hears the past, as a wish, as a “wisp of a memory” and knows that it isn’t too important really. Serling says that trying to go back home again is something that all men try at some point. For those who like me have been trying for a while, we should take Martin’s father’s advice to stop looking behind us and to “try looking ahead”.

Rating: 9/10

The Twilight Zone

Season One Episode Five: “Walking Distance”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Robert Stevens

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Zoning Out: “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”

fb0c4f863213d6fafd97d34104f63b2cI’m sort of having trouble figuring out how to look at this episode. It’s hard to see it as anything other than a bit of a Sunset Boulevard knock-off with a science-fiction twist and yet I think this is one of the best episodes so far. Maybe that’s because it’s about an evergreen subject, one more relevant than ever, Hollywood sexism.

See, Barbara Jean Trenton is a former star of the screen and now that she’s older her opportunities have dried up. She refuses to do bit parts or play a mother, and so has retreated back into her old films. Her agent arranges to have one of her former screen partners come by. She’s horrified to see that he has aged and stopped acting, instead becoming the manager of chain of grocery stores.

I think that’s why I like this episode, it would have been easy to just do a Sunset Boulevard clone and while that is a lot of what it does, this episode goes the extra mile to give it just that little something extra. “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” takes the time to show someone who has chosen to stop looking into the past, someone who has chosen to get out of the game. For many shows, that would be enough, saying this is a corrupt and sexist organization and the only way to win is to not play the game.

MV5BMjllYzkxZjUtNDQ0Ni00OTU2LThkMmUtZjRkNDEwMDY4MzIwL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDgyNjA5MA@@._V1_However, The Twilight Zone acknowledges that this second act in American life is a luxury that is often only afforded to men. Barbara recognizes that what sway she may have had in 1950’s American life was based on her youth and fame as an actress, fame that has dried up as she lost her youth. There’s a subtle bit of commentary with how much older Jerry is than Barbara, speaking to the way Hollywood often teams up young women with men twenty years their elder as romantic partners. Jerry has the luxury as being seen as a whole person, of being judged on their skills, instead of by their gender.

This fact is echoed by the other two male characters in the episode, Barbara’s agent and the head of the studio she used to work for. Both of them make an effort to help break Barbara out of her existential funk but they both do so by appealing to vanity and to her past, not realizing that by doing so they are enforcing the same societal norms that lead to her present state. Instead in the end she retreats both literally and metaphorically into the past, becoming a part of the films that she used to be so renowned for. But, and this is important, it isn’t into an old film, instead Barbara creates a film resembling the ones she used to be in but set in her current home and starring her as she is now.

image-w1280In doing so Barbara has created a world, a society that judges her on her skills, especially that which she values most, acting. “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” recognizes though, that this is merely a wish, one that may or may not even be real. When Barbara’s agent finds her handkerchief lying on the ground it is an admission that this isn’t real, but it could be, that Barbara’s wish may come true. Yet by having a man say this and be the one to find it instead of Barbara’s maid, it’s a statement that it is sexism that is holding this back from happening.

Hollywood sexism is an evergreen subject, and one that can be a bit tricky to handle. I don’t know if this episode is ever a perfect handling of it, and I think a lot of that comes down to the time period. More than that though it’s a symptom of having been directed and written by two men. I think a lot of what I find in the episode is meaning that was found through the performance of Ida Lupino, an accomplished director in her own right, as Barbara. Not to say this isn’t well written, it is but I think it loses something that could have been brought to the surface from someone who had really experienced this sort of sexism. I still believe that “Where is Everybody?” is the best episode so far but “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” makes a strong case.

Rating: 8.5/10

The Twilight Zone

Season One Episode Four: “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Mitchell Leisen

Zoning Out: “Mr Denton on Doomsday”

maxresdefault (3)“Mr Denton on Doomsday” is quite interesting as it is the first time that the show leaves the modern-day setting that it had in the first couple of episodes. It’s also the first of the episodes to have a real cast of characters beyond the main character, or the antagonist. It’s a nice opening up of the world that the show can inhabit. On my first viewing I enjoyed it but mostly thought it was just fine, a little disposable, but as I thought more and more about the episode I came to appreciate what it’s doing. See, at its core “Mr Denton on Doomsday” is taking what is a pretty straight forward western story and using it as a way to talk about addiction in a subtle way for the time.

The episode begins with the titular Denton, played by Dan Duryea, drunk and being taunted by one of the other gunslingers in the town to sing for a drink. After diving in the dirt for a broken bottle of booze he finds a gun, appeared there by a mysterious man in black. Denton, a former expert duelist, picks up the gun and finds that his shooting touch has returned although he swears he isn’t in control. He embarrasses and defeats the gunslinger, and decides to get sober.

twilight-zone-mr-denton-on-doomsdayHowever, Denton feels no joy at this, explaining that the reason he had become an alcoholic was that he once was a great shooter perhaps the best in the west. People came from far and wide to challenge him, and the stress and pressure led him to drink, culminating in a moment in which he shot a sixteen year old. After that he hung up his guns and sunk to a low point. Knowing that now that he has picked up the gun again more will come to challenge him, he sobers up in order to die with dignity.

Finally, a challenge comes. Denton realizing that he will probably die tries to slink out in the night. As he walks through town he comes across the man in black from before. He reveals himself to be Henry J. Fate, a name that is way too on the nose for the role he plays, and offers Denton an elixir that will make him the fastest shot in the world for about ten seconds. As he draws his gun against the challenger he sees that he also has a bottle of the elixir. They both draw and shoot each other in their shooting hand. The doctor tells them that neither of them will shoot again, and the episode ends with Fate leaving town and tilting his hat to Denton.

MV5BMWZiZDRhYjEtZTViOS00MDRmLTlkNjAtY2JhOTcwNzg5OWVkL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDgyNjA5MA@@._V1_The episode for the most part is competent and while the first two episodes were actors showcases this one belongs to Rod Serling. He turns a story that takes western motifs and uses them to talk about addiction and recovery. This is expressed through Denton, who we first meet as an addict, an alcoholic, who has turned in one addiction, violence, for another. Through the episode we watch his recovery, his relapse, his low point, and finally a turning point where he finally decides to get well. It’s an episode that rewards looking deeper into it and succeeds because of its script. Perhaps not as good as “Where is Everybody?”, it is still an excellent episode. and well worth a watch.

Rating: 8/10

The Twilight Zone

Season One Episode Three: “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Allen Reisner

Film Review: Mock-Up on Mu

mockuponmuCraig Baldwin is a fascinating filmmaker, creating narratives from clips culled from both obscure and celebrated works of cinema. It’s a method that lends itself to creating some very interesting if albeit occasionally hard to follow works. Mock-Up on Mu is yet another film of his that follows this pattern.

Taking as its basis several characters from the birth of the modern American space industry and the southern California occult scene, including L. Ron Hubbard, Jack Parsons, and Marjorie Cameron, Mock-Up on Mu weaves together its footage to create a fascinating story. Touching on Scientology, memory, and the commercialization of space the movie is a great example of both the power and drawbacks of Baldwins style. Using the juxtaposition of the clips and the recorded audio lends itself to some really humorous moments.

I think that’s the secret to why I enjoyed this movie as much as I did, it has a pretty sneaky and sly sense of humor. In particular the dialogue from Marjorie Cameron who speaks mostly in movie titles which tend to be great at provoking a laugh based on the situation. There’s also the humor inherent using certain clips during certain parts. It’s also a fascinating exercise in taking the familiar and twisting it. It’s a sort of remix of a movie, really pushing what the medium can do but that means watching it at times can feel like an academic exercise. If you miss moments it becomes quite hard to follow.

review_MuIt is this that shows the failings of the style that Baldwin employs. Much like the previous film of his that I’d seen Spectres of the Spectrum, the difference between the relatively normal dialogue and the montage of different film styles can make it difficult to follow the plot. With the fever dream logic that the film seems to function on this can often make it hard to parse the goal of the film. You sort of have to be willing to just absorb the images and sounds coming at you.

In the end though I think I fall more on the positive side with the ambitiousness of the movie winning me over. Baldwins style is just fun, it’s fun to see what clip Baldwin will pull up next and his dialogue is absorbing in the best kind of way. Yes, his style has problems but it is undeniably his style. This is a movie well worth seeking out and watching.

Score: 8/10

Directed by Craig Baldwin

Starring: Stoney Burke, Jeri Lynn Cohen, Damon Packard, and Kalman Spelletich

Not Rated

Zoning Out: “One for the Angels”

The-Twilight-Zone-One-for-the-Angels“One for the Angels” is a bit of a let down. It’s a perfectly fine episode but ultimately it has a hard time following up the great opening provided by “Where is Everybody?”. It’s well written and well acted, especially by Ed Wynn as the main character, however it all feels a bit familiar. Maybe that’s a symptom of time but nevertheless it’s true.

“One for the Angels” begins by showing us a pitchman, named Lou, hawking his wares on the steps of a building, selling toys, ties and other small trinkets. As Lou begins wrapping up he notices a man who seems to be watching him and taking notes. This, as Rod Serling tells us, is Mr. Death played by Murray Hamilton. As this is told to us Death looks straight into the camera and smiles, a moment that I think is supposed to be played straight but gave me a bit of a chuckle.

murrayhamiltonAs Lou returns home he hands out some gifts to the children who are playing on the stoop of his apartment building. He enters his apartment and begins his daily routine, and there is Death, telling him that he will die at midnight. Death in this interpretation, is played mostly like a bored office worker, at one point Lou asks him if he’s a census taker. Lou tries to plead with Death and is told that there are only three ways to prolong his life once he’s been chosen. These are hardship, being on the verge of a great achievement, or unfinished business. Lou takes that last one to heart, saying that he’s never made a truly great pitch. Death agrees, and grants him a reprieve from dying. Lou takes this as a chance for basically immortality, throwing away his salesman case and pledging to never pitch again.

As Lou leaves his apartment, Death tells him that someone will have to take his place. Lou see’s this happen as one of the children he saw earlier is hit by a truck. From here it is pretty obvious what will happen, as Lou choose to pitch his wares to Death, selling him everything he has until after midnight. Having made Death miss his deadline and having finally made the great pitch he had always wanted Lou chooses to go willingly. As the episode ends he asks if he will be going “up there” and Death answers that he is.

The-Twilight-Zone-One-for-the-Angels-3Like I said, it’s all a little bit clichéd and obvious especially as the follow-up to an excellent opening. While Hamilton and Wynn do excellent work with what are rather underwritten roles. The direction by Robert Parrish is also fairly workmanlike nothing too flashy but sufficient enough to keep the story moving. It all works but in the end what it’s working towards is just not that exciting. It never really feels like it reaches beyond simply being a story about death, fear, and in the end the good nature of the average man. While that isn’t necessarily a bad theme, it’s all telegraphed and obvious lacking the subtlety and metaphor of the previous episode. Serling and company can and will do better than this one in the future.

6.5/10

The Twilight Zone

Season One, Episode 2 “One for the Angels”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Robert Parrish

Zoning Out: “Where is Everybody?”

MV5BYTZhYmNhZTktMDZkMi00Yzk3LTkzNDAtYzYzZmEzZDY5MjViL2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMDgyNjA5MA@@._V1_The Twilight Zone is an anthology show that aired on CBS from 1959 until 1964. Created and written predominantly by Rod Serling the show dove in and out of several different genres; science-fiction, fantasy, horror, and social commentary. It is perhaps one of the most critically acclaimed and influential works of popular genre fiction from the 20th century, and has influenced countless works. It’s been rebooted twice, had a movie made, and will be getting a third reboot soon with Jordan Peele at the helm.

I first came to the show in middle school when a teacher showed us “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” during a lesson on tolerance and cold war paranoia. Since then I’ve seen it in bits and pieces, catching parts of marathon or specifically watching episodes that I have heard are must-sees. With that passing knowledge of the show I’ve always wanted to delve deeper, see more. So, with the free time that I have found myself with recently I decided to finally take the plunge. Starting today until I get done with the series I’m going to watch and review one episode a day of the original series and the movie until I finish, that’s 156 episodes of television and a movie. A warning, this show has been available to watch for over fifty years at this point, and is famous for its twists, which I will be spoiling. Most episodes are only about twenty-two minutes long so I’d check them out before reading, and with that preface let’s get on with it. So without further ado, lets begin our new feature “Zoning Out” with The Twilight Zone Season 1 Episode 1 “Where is Everybody?”.

“Where is Everybody?” is an absolutely explosive opening to a television show, a statement of purpose in every way possible. The episode is a gripping exploration of paranoia and loneliness anchored by the direction of Robert Stevens and a captivating performance by Earl Holliman who is the sole person on-screen for a solid three-quarters of the episode.

The-Twilight-Zone-Where-Is-EverybodyThe episode begins with Hollimans’s character wandering on a dirt road, walking into a diner. He finds it empty, but the jukebox is playing music. He wanders through the diner looking for any people but is unable to find any. He drinks a cup of coffee and talks about how he doesn’t seem to remember his name, or much of anything about himself, only that he’s hungry. Not being able to find anyone at the diner he continue to walk along the road until he comes to a town named Oakwood. Once again the town seems deserted but the man can’t seem to shake the sense that he is being watched. Everywhere he goes it seems that there must be people there, a recently put out cigar, water running in a sink. He grows more and more paranoid and stressed until he enters a bookstore. There he comes across a rack filled top to bottom with copies of “The Last Man on Earth” and he bursts out into the street screaming in terror. He then waits on a bench playing tic-tac-toe until the lights come on at night.

He see’s the movie theater marquee light up, showing “Battle Hymn” a film about the Air Force starring Rock Hudson. From the poster he determines that he is a member of the Air Force, since he’s in a fighter pilot jumpsuit. There in the theater he see’s the projector go on, and upon seeing that there is no one in the projector room, runs into a mirror in the theater lobby. He bursts out onto the street, pressing the intersection walk button on a street crossing as he cries for help.

It is here where the twist is revealed, that this has all been a delusion conjured up by the man, astronaut Mike Ferris, to overcome the loneliness of an isolation chamber that he has been in for over two weeks. The people watching Ferris in the chamber report to the press that this is all in preparation for a trip to the moon in which he will not have contact with any other person for the duration. As Ferris is taken away from the chamber in a stretcher he looks up at the moon and tells it that he’ll be up there soon.

CBS_TWILIGHT_ZONE_001_IMAGE_CIAN_1280x720_1202655299954The easiest thing to talk about is the central performance by Holliman, who manages to convey both the fear and loneliness of having suddenly appeared in a world without any other people. It’s a performance that relies a lot on the tone of his voice, and his body language to reflect a man who is constantly on the verge of falling apart. His performance is also greatly aided by the direction of Robert Stevens. It’s a thin line that he has to walk, conveying both a claustrophobic sense of fear and paranoia, and the crushing loneliness that Ferris feels.

Stevens conveys this through blocking, set design, and camera placement that seems to enclose Holliman behind bars, or inside frames within frames, closing the frame down on him as he seems to lose his cool. It’s at these moments of maximum tension, when Holliman is most paranoid and manic that the camera will cut to wide empty shots where Holliman is isolated. It isn’t the most complicated or inventive technique but it works wonders.

It’s easy to see this episode as a commentary on the sort of paranoia that must have been prevalent within the United States during the height of the Cold War. The second red scare had only just ended and the idea that you were being watched can’t have been a rare one. But oddly the episode ends on a hopeful note, with Ferris being mostly okay, and promising to head to the moon shortly. If the episodes main story is one of Cold War fear and paranoia then the twist reveals that out of this fear, there can still come a good ending, one that advances mankind.

Yet, I can’t help shake the feeling that the twist doesn’t quite work. It doesn’t add much to the episode and unlike most of the best twists doesn’t seem to add any new meaning to the main episode. It seems to serve merely to hammer home the point that loneliness is unnatural and humanity needs companionship, both of which are made more than well enough in the body of the story. But that is a small nit pick in what is generally a great episode.

While never reaching the heights that the best of the show can reach, “Where is Everybody?” is a great jumping on point, an excellent distillation of what the show can be. With this as the start of the journey I’ll be taking, it’s hard to not be excited to see what else Serling and the rest of the creative team of The Twilight Zone can come up with.

Rating 8.5/10

The Twilight Zone (1959)

Season 1 Episode 1 “Where is Everybody”

Written by Rod Serling

Directed by Robert Stevens

Film Review: You Were Never Really Here

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You Were Never Really Here is the first truly great film I’ve seen this year, a tight, thrilling look into the mind of the type of person who would become a hit man. Directed by Lynne Ramsay and starring Joaquin Phoenix in his most compelling performance since The Master, this film is really something quite special. The minute I came out of my showing, I was prepared to turn right around and go right back in again, ready to look closer at every frame.

You Were Never Really Here tells the story of Joe, a veteran and former FBI agent who is now hired by people to rescue their children from traffickers or abusers. We first encounter him in the aftermath of his last mission and then see as he returns home to New York City and cares for his elderly mother. He suffers from flashbacks to his time both in the military and in the FBI. He copes with these by doing drugs and by suffocating himself with plastic bags. That day Joe receives his next job, rescuing the daughter of a New York State Senator. As Joe tries to save the Senators daughter the job goes south and the next few days prove to be a bloody, and tragic journey into Joe’s psyche.

Phoenix is absolutely brilliant in this film, turning in a quiet and subtle performance that you can’t help but watch closely. Phoenix is asked to convey so much emotion in just a simple look or facial expression and he pulls this off wonderfully. He reminds me a lot of Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea, yet another film about a restrained man pushed beyond his breaking point. However where that film chooses to look at the way grief and loss affects a person, You Were Never Really Here instead dwells on the way that one deals with trauma and violence.

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Ramsey chooses every cut and angle perfectly to compliment these themes. Perhaps most striking is that when Phoenix is committing violence he is almost always obscured, either out of frame or in shadow. Ramsay shoots him in much the same way one would shoot a monster in a horror movie. The combination of this and Phoenix’s performance reveal a deeply damaged man, one who sees himself a monster, and does incredible violence as almost a form of penance.

I’ve spoken at length at about the visual style that Ramsay brings to the film but I also want to shout out the score from Johnny Greenwood who continues to show why he is one of the best composers working today. Grimy, dark, and filled with pounding synths and haunting strings the score perfectly compliments the action and violence being shown.

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Yet, the film doesn’t only just work as a character study a la Taxi Driver, but also a terrifically effective action-thriller. While Ramsay tends to show only the aftermath of Joe’s violence, typically done with the business end of a ball-peen hammer, the moments where it is shown are rough, brutal, and shocking. I was consistently clenching my fists and gripping my chair due to how tense and on edge this movie made. There were even multiple moments when both I and the rest of the theater gasped at what unfolded on screen.

Never wasting a second of its hour and a half run time, You Were Never Really Here is a modern masterpiece by a director at the top of their game. While we’re still not even halfway through the year I find it hard to see too many films that will be able to top this one.

Score: 9.5/10

Directed by Lynne Ramsay

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov, John Doman , and Judith Roberts.

Rated: R

The 25 Best Films of 2017, Kinda (Part 2)

Over a week ago, I counted through number 25-11 of my favorite films of last year. Now I’m going to talk about my top ten favorite movies. These run the gamut from sci-fi blockbusters to small intimate character studies. From first time directors making explosive debuts to seasoned veterans continuing to pad their resumes. Any way, enough intro stuff, lets get into it.

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10. Blade Runner 2049

Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Making a sequel to one of the most influential science fiction films was always going to be tricky, making it a good sequel would be even more tricky. But with Denis Villeneuve, the director of Prisoners and Sicario, at the helm this film shines. At its core a film about what it means to be human, Blade Runner 2049 is as thought provoking as it is beautiful. While it could be easy to talk on and on about the many wonderful and powerful performances in this movie, I want to talk about one in particular, Ana de Armas as Joi. Joi, Ryan Gosling’s K’s hologram girlfriend, is the thematic center of the film, a character that truly asks us how we define our humanity. It would have been so easy for the character to have been shallow and functional, getting the job done of conveying plot points and informing Ryan Gosling’s character, Ana de Armas fills here with so much depth and empathy that we can’t help but almost forget she isn’t human. It is this depth and complexity that is brought to every little piece of this film that really makes it stand out. Combine that with an excellent Hans Zimmer score and academy award winning cinematography by Roger Deakins, and you have one of the most powerful science-fiction films in recent memory. It might not have demolished the box office but this is a film destined to last just as long as the original.

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9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Directed by Rian Johnson

Star Wars is my favorite film series, a group of movies that I don’t remember discovering, merely always existing in my consciousness. I’ve spent more days than I can remember simply thinking about and pretending to be in Star Wars, and yet I don’t know if there’s ever been a Star Wars movie that has ever touched me in a way The Last Jedi has. From it’s first moments until its stunning final image, every second of The Last Jedi feels new and exciting, and yet sits with me as though it has always been there. I believe that every person has their own Star Wars movie, and this is mine. In The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson jettisons the dynastic framework that has dominated the series since its very beginning, instead imbuing his film with a populist streak that really struck a chord with me. Who are Rey’s parents? It doesn’t matter, because it doesn’t matter who your parents are or where you come from, what matters is what you do. The heroes of this film are nobodies, from nowhere, doing all they can to merely protect the spark of hope they have. It serves as an indictment of the idea that you can simply abstain and stand by while evil is being done, and truly believes that the average person can make a difference, force powers or not. The Last Jedi also serves as perhaps the most visually stunning film in the series, a film cloaked in deep reds, golds, and greens. It features perhaps the most visually arresting moment in film this year, a moment destined to always be interrupted in theaters by the sound of someone going “whoa”. The Last Jedi may have been divisive among fans and movie-goers alike but I quiet honestly don’t care. This movie made me happy, and excited about my favorite series in a way I didn’t think I could be excited about Star Wars any more. It turned me into a child again, and for that I thank it.

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8. Phantom Thread

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Phantom Thread is a movie that seems to defy labels, part character study, part romantic comedy, part self satire, it feels like one of P.T Anderson’s most personal films. Anchored by the wonderful and brilliant performances by Vicky Krieps and Daniel Day-Lewis, this exploration of the relationship between a dressmaker and a waitress in 1950’s London is utterly mesmerizing. Perhaps the years most quotable film, Anderson has created an engrossing, dramatic, hilarious film that I still think about now, months after having seen it. The score by Johnny Greenwood is magical and works so seamlessly with the visuals in a way I seldom see at movies. I wish I had more to say about it but what more can I say that hasn’t already been said about the film. It is truly a one of a kind movie that could have only come from Paul Thomas Anderson, and it is just excellent artist executing a singular vision in a way no one else could. A career highlight from careers already filled with highlights.

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7. Dunkirk

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk is one of Christopher Nolan’s best films, in my count it’s probably third after Memento and the Prestige. But even more than that it is by far his most refined film. Building on themes and techniques that have always fascinated the acclaimed director. Nolan’s mixed timeline works best here, and is edited to perfection, moments where his three nestled timelines come together are some of the most rewarding of the year. This is also Nolan’s most efficient film, clocking in at a very tight hour and forty six minutes, not a wasted line or camera move in the film. Telling a story that feels more akin to a disaster movie than a typical war film, it feels so much more interested in the way people feel fear, despair, and relief than they do so. Dunkirk deals with war in way unlike most war movies and in doing so is a true cinematic triumph. You can read more about my thoughts in my full review here.

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6. Get Out

Directed by Jordan Peele

With Get Out Jordan Peele has a debut for the ages. A tight, scathing satire of modern American racial politics, taking direct aim at the type of privileged white racism so prevalent in “liberal” parts of the country Get Out is the rare mainstream horror film to break out of the horror bubble. Not only a smart satire but also a profoundly engrossing and masterfully made film. While much has been written about Peele’s incredible script, that drops hints and themes like breadcrumbs only to pick them up at the end and wrap the film up in a way that rewards multiple viewings, I want to shout out the great camera work. Peele has knack for creating unease, and has a mastery of the close up. So many of the films iconic shots feature close up shots of characters faces, forcing us into invading their space, in the same way that they themselves have had their own bodies invaded. The sunken place is perhaps the most iconic image of the film, and is one that seems to linger most with the viewer. Finally I want to talk about Daniel Kaluuya, who turns in a mesmerizing performance that is both subtle and powerful. In the end this is a film that deserved every accolade it received and is probably destined to be the film we most talk about when we talk about this year in film. But I don’t think it will be the last time we talk about a Jordan Peele film as a masterpiece.

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5. Coco

Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina

I have had mixed feelings on recent Pixar films. At times they create true masterpieces, such as Inside Out, but at other times can create films that prove to be utterly forgettable, like The Good Dinosaur. So it was with hopeful optimism that I looked forward to Coco, and it did not disappoint. So many of Pixars best films deal explicitly with themes of family and what it means to be part of a family. In Coco these familiar themes are filtered through the vein of traditional Mexican beliefs in the Day of the Dead and traditional Mexican family dynamics. This works wonderfully, creating a work that is at once both specific to a single culture and yet feels as though it can be apply to anyone. Of course, as someone who is Mexican, I am a bit biased but I don’t really care. I enjoyed seeing things from my own upbringing that are so rarely shown in a mainstream American film. It was nice, it made me feel warm about my own past and history. I loved the lush and colorful production design, creating a colorful and warm after-world that feels so distinct from those that we traditionally see in Hollywood. This film also feature a tearjerker of an ending in the Pixar tradition but that also feels distinctly happy. Combine all of this with a beautiful soundtrack and some excellent voice work, and you have another stellar entry into the Pixar canon.

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4. Lady Bird

Directed by Great Gerwig

Get Out would have been the best debut film of the year were it not for Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. Anchored by one of the years best scripts, strong direction and editing, and perhaps the best performance in Saoirse Ronan’s already terrific career, Lady Bird paints a complex and sincere portrait of the moment where teenagers begin to see their parents as real people. Equal parts funny and touching Lady Bird is one of the best films about the teenage experience in years. What I came to appreciate about it was the films sincerity, its joy in portraying things that have not been seen as cool, especially the Dave Matthews Band, as something that one should embrace simply because you like them. The Sacramento that Gerwig creates in this film is obviously a work of love, feeling so lived in and a place we want to stay in even as the films protagonist yearns to escape it for New York. No discussion of Lady Bird can be complete without a talking about the incredible performance of Laurie Metcalf as the mother of Lady Bird. A complex and nuanced performance of a mother who is doing her best to raise her daughter in spite of a myriad of problems in a rapidly changing world, Metcalf is allowed to be something rare in Hollywood, a parent who is allowed to not always be the best parent but with out being a villain. While Ronan may be the star and main character, it is Metcalf who for me is the emotional core of the film. It is Metcalf who guides Lady Bird to the moment at which everyone become an adult, when they see their parents as a whole human being and not just as their parents. In Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig, Saoirse Ronan, and Laurie Metcalf have created one of the most human films about being a teen. Gerwig has already stated she wants to make even more films set in Sacramento, and I will be looking forward to every single on of them.

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3. Call Me By Your Name

Directed by Luca Guadagnino

The first thing one might notice about Call Me By Your Name is that the movie is overwhelmingly gorgeous. Every shot in this film makes you want to drop everything, and move to the north of Italy. What is most affecting about this film is that despite how overpowering the visuals can be at times, this is a film that found a way to have ostentatious pillow shots after all, is the way that so much of the story is so quiet. This is a love story that is told through glances, pauses in a sentence, and the brush of a hand on another hand, and yet the romance never feels rushed, it always feels real. This is of course down to the incredible acting performances by Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer who deliver stunning, intimate, and vulnerable performances in the main roles of Elio and Oliver. But they aren’t the only ones bringing it, Amira Casar and Esther Garrel deliver great performances as the Elio’s mother and sometime girlfriend respectively. But perhaps the best supporting performance is give by Michael Stuhlbarg as the father of Elio and Oliver’s professor. In Call Me By Your Name, Luca Guadagnino has crafted a film where the visuals so perfectly compliment the quiet story about perhaps the most grand thing there is, love.

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2. The Florida Project

Directed by Sean Baker

For almost the whole year after I saw it, this was going to be the film that I listed as the best of the year. Timely, and powerful The Florida Project is the movie that most encapsulates the state of America as profoundly messed up place filled with people who are just trying to get by, and yet there still remains a core of people who are trying to be good. The Florida Project is at its core an incredibly empathetic movie by perhaps our most empathetic filmmaker. Sean Baker as a director works best when he examines the forgotten underclass of America, in Tangerine these are transgender sex workers, and here the invisible homeless. Starring a cast of mostly unknowns, The Florida Project follows the lives of the tenants of the Magic Castle, a motel in the shadow of Walt Disney World. Seen predominantly through the eyes of Moonee, played by a revelatory Brooklynn Prince, a six year old girl who spends her days with her friends generally getting into trouble and hanging out. Through her we meet her mother played by Bria Vinaite, and Bobby the manager of the Magic Castle, played by Willem Dafoe in perhaps his best role ever. Much has been written about Willem Dafoe in this film, and the truth is, its all correct. Dafoe is brilliant in this movie, caring yet stern, and who obviously cares a great deal about the people who live in the motel he manages. For so much of the past year the country has searched for a narrative, for a way to give a voice to the people we have left behind, and in this film Sean Baker continues to be the filmmaker most interested in telling the stories of those actually forgotten, not merely those who act as though they have been. Finally, I’d like to speak obliquely about the ending, I won’t ruin it here but let me just say that the ending of this film is one that I simply can’t forget about. It is an ending that is both devastating and yet oddly hopeful in a surreal and emotional manner. Heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal amounts The Florida Project is simply the kind of movie we should reward, that we should beg more filmmakers to make.

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1. Paddington 2

Directed by Paul King

First things first, yes this film didn’t come out until 2018 in America but it came out in 2017 in most of the world, and this is my list so I get to make the rules and categorize it as 2017 film. Beside this list is so late anyway that it might as well have counted as 2017 movie for America anyway. But enough about the details of my list making, why is this the best movie of the year?

In the late 1990’s television series Sports Night, there is an episode in which one of the main characters tries to get tickets to see the Broadway musical production of The Lion King. Initially dismissive of the show as frivolous entertainment, after she see it she says “ I didn’t know we could do that.”. That is how I feel about Paddington 2, I didn’t know we could do that. In a year marked by confusion, fear, and sadness this movie made me feel hopeful again. Not only hopeful but good, an emotion so rarely triggered by film. This movie made me feel good, not just about the world but about myself. Paddington 2 is an absolute joy to watch, a sweet and understated film about a bear from darkest Peru who just wants to get his mother a popup book of London. This gives director Paul King, who also directed the first film, a chance to stage some very touching and also very sequences, occasionally at the same time. But where this film really shines is when Paddington is sent to jail after being framed for theft by Hugh Grant who is doing one of the funniest performances of the year as a washed up actor. Once in prison, the gags get funnier, the film gets even warmer, and the movie truly wins you over. Incredibly well acted, incredibly well directed, and a film that moved me to tears of joy and left me feeling not just good and happy but optimistic about the future Paddington 2 is a true masterpiece. Paddington 2 made me feel a way that films so rarely do, it is a film I’m excited to revisit and one that I will think about a lot in the years to come. I didn’t know we could still do that.

The 25 Best Films of 2017, Kinda (Part 1)

The 25 Best Films of 2017 (kinda)

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for this site, part of that is just life getting in the way but most of it has just been not sitting down and trying to write things. Plus now that the Oscars are over and done with the film year is well and truly over. So now its a new year, and in that spirit I’m choosing to look forward by looking back. It has been a really truly great year for film, both when it came to the blockbusters and the smaller movies. While I may not have seen as much as I wish I had,what I did see blew me away. This year saw veterans performing at the top of their games, newcomers making big splashes, a lot of sequels that smashed the idea that sequels can’t be creative, and original ideas that continued to show why film is my favorite artistic medium. The list I’ve put together consists of the 25 movies that were released in 2017 that I enjoyed the most personally. Yes, its possible you won’t agree with me and I know it’s too focused on American movies, which I am going t try to remedy this year, but I hope it can at least serve as a jumping off point for your own thoughts and discussions on the year in movies. So anyway, without further ado, my picks for the 25 best films of the year. Part 1 covering numbers 25 through 11 comes out today with the top 10 coming in a few days.

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25. King Charles III

Directed by Rupert Goold

Based off the acclaimed play by Mike Bartlett, who also wrote the film for the BBC, King Charles III tells the story of a possible future in which Charles, Prince of Wales assumes the British throne. Written entirely in blank verse the story deals with the nature of power, political intrigue, and the freedom of the press. Anchored by a captivating performance by Tim Pigott-Smith in the titular role who’s every moment conveys the weight of a thousand years of history and the immense responsibility of the title he holds. Combine that with an excellent score by Jocelyn Pook and an engrossing story lead to a film well worth seeing, even if it was made for TV.

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24. Guardians Of The Galaxy Volume 2

Directed by James Gunn

The sequel to one of my favorite movies of 2014 and one of the best Marvel movies was always going to have its work cut out for it. It was always going to be hard to succeed at capturing the same sense of humor and fun that so defines the first Guardians film. While Volume 2 never quite reaches the same comedic heights of its predecessor what it sacrifices in comedy it makes up for in thematic heft. Writer-director James Gunn manages to craft perhaps this years most affecting exploration of fatherhood and family dynamics, well at least in the context of a film in which there is a talking raccoon. The visuals are spectacular and were it not for another movie on this list, they would be the best in the Marvel universe. Gunn’s writing and solid eye for visuals combined with a standout performance by Michael Rooker as Yondu create a movie that not only builds on the original but can stand on its own as movie well worth seeing.

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23. Logan Lucky

Directed by Steve Soderbergh

Steven Soderbergh’s NASCAR heist-comedy film is one of those films that managed to sneak under the radar this year, and it’s really too bad. Soderbergh is one of the most interesting filmmakers working in Hollywood today and this movie really shows it. Featuring one of Channing Tatum’s best performances and Daniel Craig is perhaps his funniest role ever, Logan Lucky is at its core just a really fun film. It is entertaining, funny, and at one pivotal moment very emotional. The direction is tight and efficient, and is welcome change of location from the New York City and Los Angeles settings of so many of America’s films. The movie doesn’t quite stick the landing but the ride there is so much fun you probably wont mind.

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22. Baby Driver

Directed by Edgar Wright

That this is probably Edgar Wrights worst film as a director says something about how excellent his career has been. But even if it isn’t his best effort this movie is still a blast, it features some of the most creative editing of the year and demonstrates why Wright is one of the most talented visual stylists working in cinema today. The standout performance of the film is Jon Hamm in some of his best film work to date as the villain. Throw in some excellent car chases and the best soundtrack of the year, and you can’t really go wrong. For even more on my thoughts check out my review of it here.

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21. Molly’s Game

Directed by Aaron Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin had always said that he had no interest in directing so when he was announced as the director of Molly’s Game I was cautiously optimistic. It turns out Aaron Sorkin is a perfectly competent director, and while his direction doesn’t add much to the film it does the most important thing, it gets out of the way of the writing. This is one of Sorkin’s best scripts, and it is brought to life beautifully by the actors Sorkin has rounded up. Jessica Chastain is incredible in the lead role, bringing a tenacity and fierceness to the role that drives the movie. Idris Alba is also great as Chastain’s sparring partner in some of the best scenes. While it may not be as good as some of what Sorkin has previously penned it does show a lot of promise for what he may do in the future as a director, and hopefully he can build off this very strong debut.

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20. Wonder Woman

Directed by Patty Jenkins

The only good DC movie also happens to be the only woman lead film from this current superhero movie boom, who would have thought? Wonder Woman shows what happens when you allow differing viewpoints into the superhero genre, creating a hero that succeeds because of her femininity and warmth. Yes the third act could have used some work and it is unfortunate that the ending is yet another boring battle against a CGI enemy but even that isn’t enough to dull my love for this movie. It was so refreshing to see a superhero movie with a female protagonist in a genre that could do with more women. While Chris Pine turns in a strong performance as Steve Trevor this is really Gal Gadot’s film. She is perfect as Diana of Themyscira and turns in a performance so full of power, warmth, and nuance that creates the definitive on screen portrayal of an iconic character. Combined with some strong use of color and very strong direction from director Patty Jenkins this movie was the shot in the arm that the DC film universe needed . I look forward with bated breath for not only the sequel but to what else Jenkins and Gadot do in the future.

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19. All The Money In The World

Directed by Ridley Scott

At 80 years old Ridley Scott remains one of the hardest working people in Hollywood releasing 2 films in 2017, including one of his best films in a while. It’s a miracle All The Money In The World was released at all, with reshoots done just weeks before its release to replace Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer after it came out that Spacey was a sexual predator. While having to replace a main character in a movie might have caused the studio to shelve it indefinitely Scott replaced him with Christopher Plummer, who turns in an excellent performance as oil tycoon J.P Getty. However, the real star of the film is Michelle Williams who continues to show why she is one of the best actors in the game today, turning a performance that is at turns heartbreaking, gritty, and inspiring as the mother of the kidnapped John Paul Getty III. Combined with all of the great acting is some of Scott’s most deft directing, taking what could have been a rote based-on-a-true-story movie and turning it into a taut, tightly paced thriller.

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18. The Square

Directed by Ruben Östlund

Although this follow up to Force Majeur never quite reaches the same heights, The Square is at its best moments hilarious and insightful. The rare satire on the art world that manages to be funny and thoughtful with out becoming too overbearing and smug. The main reason for that, Claes Bang who stars as the curator of a Stockholm art museum, who’s performance is spectacularly funny as well as delightfully cringe worthy. It helps that he is given excellent sparring partners, especially Elisabeth Moss as a journalist who’s relationship with with Bang becomes more and more complicated as the film goes on. Östlund directs the film with style, executing several tremendous set pieces that flow together brilliantly and lead to some of the most cutting moments in the film. It’s not hard to see why this film won the Palm d’Or at Cannes.

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17. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Directed by Jon Watts

The best film made this year that has six credited screenwriters, the more I think about it the more I am shocked that this movie works. While the workman directing of Jon Watts never lets the movie down, it never really elevates it. No, what does make this movie truly work is the two performances at its core, Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Michael Keaton as the Vulture. Holland is perfect as a Peter Parker just getting his start and absolutely crushes it in one of the best turns as the main role in a Spider-Man movie. In Keaton the MCU gets one of its few great villains and his role contributes to the films rather small scope and tone, refreshing in a series which often seems like it can’t figure out how to raise the stakes. Even though the film chronically under uses Marisa Tomei, its endearing tone, smart comedy, and strong performances make this an auspicious debut to a new Spider-Man series. For a deeper dive into my thoughts, check out my review here.

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16. The Post

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Yes, it isn’t Spielberg’s best work, and yes it is a bit sentimental but at this time what is there more appropriate to be sentimental about than the First Amendment. I have always considered Spielberg to be one of the best working practitioners of a quintessentially American style of film, and his talent is on display here. It’s so rewarding to watch a movie where everything just works, where everything just fits together perfectly. Spielberg’s directing perfectly compliments the excellent acting from the always perfect Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. This is the rare Spielberg film that features a woman as the lead, and shows that maybe he should be doing it more. It’s not Spielberg’s most ambitious film but even considering that he knocks it out of the park.

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15. Thor: Ragnarok

Directed by Taika Waititi

While I enjoyed the first Thor movie, directed by Kenneth Branagh, the second film is widely regarded as a low point in the MCU, a view I agree with. It was with that in mind that I hoped that the third film, directed by New Zealand indie darling Taika Waititi, would mark a new direction for the character. In Ragnarok Taika Waititi embraces the weird and cosmic nature of the hero from the comics and injects psychedelic visuals and whip-smart humor to create a film worthy of the Norse god of thunder. Everyone brings their A-game to this movie, Chris Hemsworth finally gets a film that allows him to demonstrate why he was such a good choice to play Thor. However the best performance belongs to Cate Blanchett who absolutely devours every single scene she is in, so much so that you find yourself wishing that she had even more to do. Visually the film is stunning and any film that features two perfect “Immigrant Song” needle drops is fine by me. Here’s hoping that Waitit gets even more chances to stretch his creative muscles for Marvel in the future.

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14. The Shape of Water

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water is not Guillermo del Toros best film, but it might be his most heartfelt. Building on the entirety of his career, it’s easy to see The Shape of Water as the culmination of all the work he has done before. The story of a mute woman, played brilliantly by Sally Hawkings, who falls in love with a mysterious humanoid amphibian held at a secret government facility during the Cold War is clearly a work of love by del Toro. The film is beautiful with striking sets and lush cinematography. While it is a simple film, a clear allegory told in a fairy tale manner, it is perhaps the best example this year that it’s not just what a film is about but how it is about it. Sally Hawkins is the true core of this film, doing so much acting with merely a look and giving the film its emotional core. She is buoyed by the tremendous supporting roles, with some incredible acting from Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, and Michael Shannon. It’s not my favorite film of the year, but it is a worthy Best Picture winner, and indicative of the great place we are in for films that a strange, small, romantic fantasy film can win Best Picture. I can only hope that this Best Picture win allows del Toro to make even more beautiful, personal films like this.

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13. War For The Planet Of The Apes

Directed by Matt Reeves

For all the curve balls that the Planet of the Apes series has thrown at us, the final film throws perhaps the largest, turning the film into a smaller scale, more character driven examination of the effects of war. The Planet of the Apes films have quietly been one of the most consistently great summer blockbuster series and this movie serves the a more than fitting send off to the trilogy. Once again Andy Serkis delivers one of his best performances as Caesar, the leader of the community of apes we have followed throughout this series. The effects are at their best here, with the apes being almost indistinguishable from the real thing. But perhaps the most remarkable thing is the way that Matt Reeves captures the humanity and emotion from all of his characters, even the villains. At its core this is simply a great blockbuster film created by a group of artists all working at the top of their game.

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12. The Big Sick

Directed by Michael Showalter

The Big Sick is the rare film that is based on a true story, written by the people who lived that true story, and stars one of those same people that actually manages to be good. Based on Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon’s real life story of their relationship, including its untimely interruption by Emily falling into a coma. Heartfelt, romantic, funny, and immensely emotional, this a film that depends so much on its brilliant Oscar nominated screenplay from Gordon and Nanjiani. Michael Showalter does the right thing and gets out of the way of the actors and the screenplay, and it’s easy to see why because everyone does such a good job with the excellent material they are given. Between Zoe Kazan, Ray Romano, Holly Hunter, and of course Kumail Nanjiani himself. This is one of the best romantic comedies in recent memory and the rare Judd Apatow film that doesn’t feel like it over stays its welcome. I genuinely believe this one of the romantic comedies that will stand the test of time, and join several other canonical films in the pantheon of great romantic comedies.

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11. Logan

Directed by James Mangold

Logan is a masterpiece, a film that represents some of the heights that are possible in not just comic book movies but also in the blockbuster franchise in general. Building on Hugh Jackman’s 17 year career portraying Wolverine, Logan brings the full force of that history to bear. Right alongside Jackman is Patrick Stewart as Charles Xavier who also brings a deep sense of history to the film. Logan is at its core a heavy, dark, and grim film, and yet what helps set it apart from other grim and gritty comic book movies is it’s hope. Logan is a film that finds the hope and humanity in its two main characters amid their own despair and pain. The action is brutal and bloody, and this is contrasted with its small, quiet moments especially those between Wolverine and Dafne Keens’ X-23. It’s only fitting that the last movie to feature Hugh Jackman as Wolverine is probably the best X-men movie. I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to end his tenure as Wolverne. Logan is a genre defining film that will serve as touchstone for comic book films for years to come.

That’s it for now, it’s good to be back. Check back in a few days for part 2 of my top 25 favorite films of 2017.

I Hate It Here: A Review Of Transmetropolitan

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That’s the title of the column that gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem writes in Warren Ellis’ comic book series Transmetropolitan. In it he chronicles his continuing crusade against a corrupt and unjust world. A world in an America of the future, a future different from and yet still similar to our own. Transmetropolitan ran from 1997 until 2002, and while much of it can be and was probably intended to be read as a commentary on contemporary society and politics, it remains a powerful and insightful work twenty years later. It portrays a society in which most people keep their head down and try to make a living, a world where people consume media at every moment and yet ignore the real problems in the world. A place where the poor and disabled are segregated away from view, where those whose lifestyles differ from the norm face discrimination and hatred, where politicians lie and toy with the lives of real people, and where the press is silenced by those who fear it. Transmetropolitan portrays an American that is has always existed and seems all the more real now.

It may seem that in describing the world of Transmetropolitan I’ve created a rather bleak image in your mind, and at times it is bleak. At others though, the story of Spider Jerusalem and his continued journalistic exploits can be inspiring, funny, emotional and uplifting. It begins with Spider being called back from a drug and alcohol filled mountain side cabin by the need to fulfill his contractual obligation to publish two books. Returning to The City, a mega-city located in an unspecified part of the United States, he begins working for his old editor Mitchell Royce as a columnist at “The Word”, The City’s largest newspaper. From here Spider along with his assistants Yelena Rossini and Channon Yarrow, begins writing about the inhabitants of The City and the myriad of lives they live.

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At first Transmetropolitan features a variety of one-off stories, in one Spider visits a community of people called Transients who use alien DNA to modify themselves into a new species and documents the brutal police response to their protests against discrimination. In another Spider watches the thousands of television channels available to the people of The City, with programs as varied as “Anthrax Cat”, “Sex Puppets” and ads for sneakers that let you walk on water called “Air Jesus”. In the backdrop of these anthology style stories is the continued narrative of the upcoming presidential election. As the series continues it follows this thread with Spider and his assistants working to expose the corruption and crimes of the two presidential candidates.

It’s here that the series goes from being merely very good to being incredible. The incumbent president, almost exclusively referred to as “The Beast”, and his challenger “The Smiler” are embodiment’s of all that is wrong with modern politics. One is a law and order politician who seeks to use the problems of society to divide people and create fear, and the other is an amoral power-hungry man who wants to be president solely to hurt those who have wronged him. As the series continues past the election and towards its conclusion it offers a powerful portrait of the society and people who are shaped by their corrupt and dishonest leaders. It looks at the power structures that hold down those who would dare try to change The City.

Transmet13_031In many ways Transmetropolitan’s closest cousin thematically is The Wire, both revolve around a city and those that live it. Much like The Wire, Transmetropolitan explores both those who want to make a difference, to push back against a corrupt and broken system in order to help those hurt by it and those who benefit from and enable that same system. It’s this idea that is echoed in the title of Spider’s column, “I Hate It Here”, a distaste for the world as it is and yet despite all the cynicism of the series, the implicit belief that it can be better. The conclusion Spider and Transmetropolitan reach is one and the same, that it is truth and exposing the misdeeds of those in power that will help us to create a better world, even if only marginally. This culminates in the climax of the series, a triumph of reporting, journalism, truth, bravery and public will on par with any in fiction.

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Outside of its expertly written story, Transmetropolitan is spectacular, its dialogue is memorable and leaps off the page. The art work is gripping and truly sucks one into story. It is at times dense with memorable images and other times stark and simple. The action portrayed within its pages feels visceral and gritty. The art beautifully compliments the themes of the series, showing The City as a foreign and frightening place to a woman awoken from cryogenic preservation, emphasizing the poverty and forgotten nature of ghetto, and above all bringing us into the mind of Spider Jerusalem.

Writer Warren Ellis and artist Darick Robertson explore fascinating ideas and themes about a world close enough to ours to be recognizable but far enough away to seem alien. Among these are the aforementioned Transient movements, an explosion of new religious movements including one in which people upload their consciousness to a cloud of nanocomputers, and places know as cultural reservations in which people from traditional cultures including Mayan and Tokugawa Japan live. The series touches on important subjects such as LGBT issues, corruption, the influence of the media, censorship, and ethics in ways that are both subtle and mature while never ceasing to tell a compelling story.

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Above all of these ideas the one I find myself thinking about most when my mind turns to Transmetropolitan is that of the “New Scum”, an idea that Spider coins in “I Hate It Here”. The idea that there is a group of people left behind by the system, ignored by politicians and told what to believe. That there is a large portion of society who the game is rigged against, the silent people, who won’t be remembered by history except as statistics. The idea that these people, most people, are important, valuable, and should have their stories told. The refugees, the students, people who work long hours just to get by, people who are being left behind, the nameless and faceless in the crowd and who just want to be represented and heard. Maybe this has always been a constant idea, a constant group of people, maybe each generation has its own “New Scum”, and yet in today’s political climate where groups and movements that reflect the idea of the “New Scum” have come to the forefront it feels oddly prescient. Transmetropolitan is not only one of my favorite comics but also one that I consider among the best but even it can’t give us a blueprint to follow to solve the grievances we as the “New Scum” have. No instead it offers us only advice, that we the “New Scum” have to decide for ourselves what kind of society we want instead of allowing others to decide for us and to continue to exploit us.

In the end Transmetropolitan leaves us only with the words of Spider Jerusalem:

“These are the new streets of this city, where the New Scum try to live. You and me. And here in these streets are the things that we want: sex and birth, votes and traits, money and guilt, television and teddy bears. But all we’ve actually got is each other. You decide what that means.”

Rating: 10/10

Transmetropolitan

Sixty Issues

Written by Warren Ellis

Art by Darick Robertson