Monthly Archives: April 2020

ūüďĹÔłŹ Disney Time – Ralph Breaks The Internet

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 57/58Title: Ralph Breaks The Internet
Year: 2018

At time of writing, this re-watch of Ralph Breaks The Internet (which I previously wrote about last year in a post looking at the Best Animated Feature nominees at the 2019 Academy Awards)¬†marks¬†the end of an almost year long quest to watch all the entries in the Disney Animated Canon. This is, of course, a soft crossing off as Frozen 2 is out in a fortnight and will have probably been an Oscar nominee itself by the time this post rolls around. Still though, high fives all around – it’s nice to be able to temporarily complete one of these larger lists.

Ralph Breaks The Internet, as you know, is the sequel to the highly successful Wreck-It Ralph which tried to do for video games what Toy Story did for the toy box. It didn’t quite reach the heights of Toy Story, but they still came out with a good film with memorable characters. Here, in the sequel, they try to expand the focus and try to make personifications of the wider internet with a multitude of well known brands (such as eBay) being integrated and some even getting their own characters. It’s an ambitious idea and, whilst a bit undercut by the large amounts of corporate synergy, there are a lot of successes here.

However, there are also a lot of failures as well. In tackling something as vast as the Internet it is clear that the writers’ room was chock-a-block with ideas of different areas of the Internet to lampoon. With the growing trend for Disney films to have lengths closer and closer to two hours, this undoubtedly gave them license to include as many of their favourite ideas as possible. This means that rather than having a few tight storylines, you have a bunch of loose threads and vignettes united by two best friends who have a massive falling out as one cannot deal with the idea of the other wanting to peruse new and separate goals.

There’s a real heart in this film though and, by depicting how a friendship can change as one starts to slightly outgrow the other, they’ve done something that I have never seen in a family film before. At least, not in the way that you see different types of personal conflict depicted by the two characters. The final message comes across as a bit ham-fisted with the characters being persued and almost crushed to death by a literal manifestation of insecurity, but I guess the remit called for an overblown action sequence at some point in the film and choices were made.

It’s not the best film that Disney have produced, but it’s still a sign of how high the bar has been re-raised in the last decade that this feels like a disappointment. By now I’ve seen Disney at their best and their worst and this falls somewhere in the upper middle. Going forward, I do wonder where the canon is going to lead. I gues I might have more of an idea soon when I watch the final film on my list: Frozen 2.

Acclaimed Albums – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot by Wilco

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 205/250Title: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Artist: Wilco
Year: 2002
Position: #75

Well, it’s been over a month since I did my last post for this list. That’s the problem with deciding that you are going to make a ‘best of the decade’ list – so many albums to listen to in order to place them. I bet, if I were to look back on it when this post goes up, I will already be taking umbrage with my ordering.

Since I’ve been so focused on music of the 2010s, it felt a bit weird to go right back to listening to the older albums for this list – so I settled on an album from the 2000s that I have owned for YEARS because of a recommendation and never got around to listening to. Boy, have I wasted years without actually giving this a proper go and by proper go, I mean a few days of listening to it.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot¬†is one of those great albums where you find new things and new favourites in every listen. Being a bit of a pop fan, my instant favourite was ‘Heavy Metal Drummer’ because of it’s instant sing-a-longability and that I could change the repeated line of ‘she feel in love with a drummer’ to ‘she fell in love with a llama’, which brought me so much joy that I cannot tell you.

Later listens had me then focusing on ‘Jesus, etc’ with it’s variation in strings and lyrics that foreshadowed the 9/11 attacks (the album was originally due to be released on the day of the attack) and ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’ with it’s percussion lines. The list of influences on this album must be absolutely massive as they swing between different elements of rock music.

You can find elements of The Beatles, Beck, Serge Gainsbourg, Radiohead and a whole mess of others in here. Similarly, the list of those influenced by this album must be similarly massive – just off the top of my head I can hear elements of later albums by The Magnetic Fields and Fiona Apple with this music – and that just speaks to both the reach and the lack of discernable genre.

If you have to classify this album, I guess you could call it smorgasbord rock. There’s alt-country, psychedelia, art rock, indie, Americana, soft rock – I mean if you can think of a subgenre of rock that isn’t too hard, then you can probably find parts of it here. Yet, and I guess that’s thanks to some of the bleaker undertones in the themes, this album is remarkably cohesive. I’m sure that, later on, I’m going to play songs on this out of context like I have finally started to with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea, but for now it feels wrong to try and break this album apart and insert it into my other playlists.

I want to try and get back on the album horse before the end of the year is out (for the record, it is currently early November), but this is an album that I want more time to savour before I have to come up with cogent thoughts about Wu-Tang Clan. Maybe a few more days and then I can move on.

XL Popcorn – Eraserhead

List Item:¬†Watch all of the ‚Äú1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die‚ÄĚ
Progress: 784/1007Title: Eraserhead
Director: David Lynch
Year: 1977
Country: USA

Well I’m definitely making up for not covering 1001 films for nearly a whole month. Originally I was meant to watch this on Halloween, but I ended up doing my fourth re-watch of¬†Over The Garden Wall¬†and so here I am a week later having watching Eraserhead and wondering what on Earth I just watched. To be honest, I’m not sure anyone has quite worked it out.

Now, it’s not like this is my first time adventuring with David Lynch. Aside from Twin Peaks, I’ve seen¬†Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, Fire Walk With Me and (thanks to the husband)¬†Dune.¬†This isn’t some sort of weird flex, but just to say that this isn’t the first time that I have seen his surreal side. I mean,¬†that¬†episode of¬†Twin Peaks: The Return¬†is one of the best of the decade and I’m not sure I still understand what more than 10% of it actually meant.

Eraserhead, whilst also being Lynch’s feature film directorial debut, is probably the longest stretch of time that I have spent in his surreal world. A world that is a nightmare of body horror, singing women who live in the radiator and whatever the Sam Hell prop they used to make the creepiest baby-proxy that I have ever seen. Seriously though, I expected grotesquery from Lynch, but that skinned rabbit puppet (or whatever that was) was something else.

Whilst there is a plot to this movie along the lines of ‘man has one night stand and then ends up looking after a grotesque skinless baby’, this is very much secondary to the atmosphere and mythos that Lynch sought to create. Creations that you see coming up thematically in his later works, right down to the carpet patterns on the floor and the general handmade look of some of the sequences.

Here’s the thing though, with this being his debut, I have seen him do this sort of surrealism in¬†Twin Peaks: The Return¬†and ultimately do it better. Also, since this is a standalone film, there’s little context to anything we’re seeing so it’s all about having to just go with the insanity. Something that, to be honest, I can find quite hard to do as I get a bit too hung up trying to make sense of things rather than going with the flow.

Eraserhead¬†really is one of those films, however, that whilst it didn’t do too much for me, I can understand both how this could have been so influential and how this is film managed to successfully do what it set out to. It’s a brilliantly executed piece of surrealism, but it just turns out that this kind of surrealism just wasn’t made for me. Gonna be haunted by that baby though. That’s going to be in my nightmares tonight.

XL Popcorn – The Wrong Man

List Item:¬†Watch all of the ‚Äú1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die‚ÄĚ
Progress: 783/1007Title: The Wrong Man
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Year: 1956
Country: USA

Until very recently, I had never heard of The Wrong Man¬†let alone that this was one of the last remaining Hitchcock films left on the list. It’s not even in my Hitchcock Blu Ray box set, which has pretty much all of the big films and some of the minor ones. It’s pretty bizarre really, but I do love it when this list throws up a pleasant surprise like this one.

Like many films from decades ago,¬†The Wrong Man was poorly received at the time only to receive a later re-evaluation and be seen as one of his lesser known masterpieces. It wasn’t all bad reviews at the time though. With this being one of the few times that Hitchcock attempted something close to realism and actually depicted a real event faithfully (well, as faithful as Hitchcock would allow) it makes sense that upcoming directors like Godard, Scorsese and Rohmer¬†would have seen something in it that the mainstream may not have.

Viewed nowadays, The Wrong Man¬†is a tense true story of a man who was falsely identified as the perpetrator of multiple robberies and assaults. We watch as the cards are stacked against him, such as the natural deaths of key witnesses and his spelling mistakes, and he and his family are brought on the brink of destruction. Being a true story, we know that the ending has to feature some sort of exoneration, but that doesn’t make the ride any less stressful or the fact that (despite what the final card says) his wife never recovered from the mental breakdown she suffered.

Films like this are why I love black and white films from this era. A story like this that is so devoid of life’s colour because of the constant Damoclean dread are so much better told when everything on the screen is similarly devoid of colour. It makes the shadows in the jail cell just that much more ominous and helps with the sterility of the scenes in the mental health institution where the wife ends up.

Being a true story the finale feels a little bit rushed but, as they say in¬†Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,¬†life doesn’t make narrative sense. It does come as an extremely welcome relief and a lesser director would have milked the ending for as much as it was worth – but there is no melodrama to be made here. There’s no tearful reunion or dramatic confrontation, just the sheepish glance of an ashamed witness and the slight rankle at the true criminal.

Once the 1001 is over, I really want to start mopping up the major Hitchcock films that the list didn’t cover. For the most part I enjoy then, some I rank amongst my top films ever and every single one at least has something of interest. Just¬†Blackmail¬†and¬†Strangers on a Train¬†left. I guess that I’m going to have to space these out and keep doing my unintentional ‘one Hitchcock a year’ policy.

XL Popcorn – The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith

List Item:¬†Watch all of the ‚Äú1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die‚ÄĚ
Progress: 782/1007Title: The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
Director: Fred Schepisi
Year: 1978
Country: Australia

Well, if you ever wanted to watch a film set in Australia that has both mass murder and awful racism towards aboriginal Australians – then boy do I have the film for you. If this was not something that you’ve ever wanted to see, then I’m not sure what else there is left to recommend this on.

There’s a good film and good performances in here somewhere, it’s just that this begins so bleak that there really wasn’t much else to go – so by the time you hit the first deaths that form part of Jimmie’s killing spree (at the film’s halfway point) I’d started to switch off because his life was just so terrible. I know that this isn’t the best reaction to have as a viewer as, to real people like Jimmie, these awful acts of racism was just a part of their everyday life, but there needed to be more of a ramping up for it to be effective instead of it middling around the same baseline.

It’s this lack of ramp up which makes his snapping and committing mass murder feel a bit out of the blue. Not to say that experiencing the same baseline may not lead to someone snapping, but for the sake of a film with a limited run time this just doesn’t work too well. At least for me anyway.

Also, for a film that ended up getting banned in the UK, the killings were very tame. It’s not like I was wanting¬†Saw¬†style evisceration, but the level of violence is similar to what you would see in a 1970s TV period drama like¬†I, Claudius¬†with pretty much everything happening off screen and the occasional shot of red liquid falling on the ground. One thing it does do, that I did not expect, was have him kill a baby. That wasn’t shocking per se, but more a moment of ‘huh’ so they chose to go there.

So yes, it’s an interesting movie at times but ultimately just didn’t engage too much with me. I’m sure there are better films out there that deal with the racism and general garbage faced by aboriginal Australians, so if you know of any please let me know.

XL Popcorn – She’s Gotta Have It

This is the first film post I’ve written since the 1001 book was updated in early October 2019. Usually I luck out and end up with being able to been the numbers in my progress bar the same, but this time that didn’t happen. So that’s why the number has jumped between this post and the last one I did for the 1001 list.

List Item:¬†Watch all of the ‚Äú1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die‚ÄĚ
Progress: 781/1007Title: She’s Gotta Have It
Director: Spike Lee
Year: 1986
Country: USA

I was going to watch this on my tablet on the plane ride back from Seoul, but I got distracted by some actual Korean movies so I ended up just catching it on regular Netflix at home as I tucked into a KFC bucket for one. Makes for a bit of a pathetic image, but this is what happens when a cinephile is home alone for the first time in a few months.

This is the third Spike Lee that I’ve seen and, since the last one I saw was his most recent, it makes it all the more interesting that I am now watching his feature debut when he was very much part of the independent film scene. The by-product of this is that¬†She’s Gotta Have It¬†lacks polish and, for some of people involved, decent acting. It made for a bit of a wild start of the movie for me where I instantly regretted pressing play.

The film managed to win me over though, and in the end it was kinda nice to have a film that felt a bit more informal. Sure, there were times where it started disappearing up itself, but on the whole this was interesting to see Spike Lee’s origins and him poking a bit of fun at himself in the role that he gave himself.

In the end, this film is all about choices and their consequences be it for good or for ill. The central character’s big choice being whether to stay true to herself and continue her journey exploring her female sexuality or to settle down with one of the three men she is currently seeing. The fact that one of them rapes her and she then chooses him is incredibly problematic, but at least she ousts him in the end in order to continue her journey. Given the light-hearted nature of the film up to the rape scene I had a really bad feeling at the message that Lee was going to leave us with – thankfully it’s ultimately one of being true to yourself but that was still rough to see.

She’s Gotta Have It¬†made for the first in a rather strange double bill this evening. What film did I end up pairing this with just because I had it to hand? Well, that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Let’s Get Literal – The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

List Item: Read 100 of the greatest works of fiction
Progress: 60/100Title: The Scarlet Letter
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Year: 1850
Country: USA

It’s been over a month since I last read a book from this list, so to get back into it I figured why not go for the entry right at the bottom. After all, there are a number of books high up in the list that did very little for me so placement means very little. Also this is one of those stories where I know next to nothing despite it being fairly big in US pop culture, so it’d be good for me to get to know¬†The Scarlet Letter¬†a little bit better.

Well get to know it I did and, ultimately, I enjoyed it. It’s one of those rare books that, when you read it, you can really understand how the the core idea became so instantly iconic. I mean, the image of a woman being shamed in public with a scarlet letter stitched in gold, that’s something that evokes a very specific and somewhat original image.

It’s pretty impressive that the rest of the book is able to live up to this initial sequence.¬†¬†This is one of those books that’s part historical novel, part doomed romance and part magic. The last of the three doesn’t really come in until the latter half, but the build up of omens do make for a rather fantastical ending that makes good on the overall themes of stigma, shaming and the idea of a person’s outsides reflecting the interior turmoil.

I want to stick with the literary train for a while, so I don’t think this is the right time to pull out¬†Finnegans Wake¬†as that will likely put me off the written word for the next 12 years. Given that I am in the midst of listening to¬†You Must Remember This¬†where the topic is¬†Song of the South –¬†I think that I am going to finally start on¬†Huck Finn.¬†I really hope I can shield my Kindle every time I come across the n-word…

(‚úŅ‚ó†‚ÄŅ‚ó†) Anime!!! – Detective Conan

List Item:  Watch the 100 Anime to See Before You Die
Progress: 47/100Title: Detective Conan
Episodes Aired: 950+
Year(s): 1996 onwards

Covering a show like Detective Conan¬†was always going to be hard. This is an anime that has run for half of my life and, as such, finding representative episodes was always going to be a bit of a headache. So, I just opted to watch episodes from the collections that I found on Netflix and Crunchyroll. I guess that’s just my way of saying that this was a swing and a miss for me.

In the end, this list of anime isn’t meant to be the best but a way to watch a selection of classic and influential shows – so Detective Conan¬†very much deserves it’s place. I mean, you don’t run for over 950 episodes without being popular. The core idea is interesting as well, a genius detective trapped in the body of a child who solves mysteries. However, with him being a child, that means the rest of the show becomes similarly child-friendly and I was hoping for something with a bit more bite.

If these were in English, this would be one of those shows that would make for perfect show to have on in the background when updating Play That Game or whilst I am cooking. However, if I am going to be giving my undivided to a show there needs to be more going on than there was in Detective Conan.¬†Still though, I’m glad to have given it a shot.

Well, we’re off on holiday again in two weeks, so I probably won’t be starting new anime until I am back since I have a lot of back episodes of my currently watching shows to catch up on. Technically I am still watching the¬†Dragon Ball¬†anime, but I’m waiting until a good point before I do a write up for that.

ūüďĹÔłŹ Disney Time – Moana

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 56/58Title: Moana
Year: 2016

Watching¬†Moana¬†on the seat back of a long haul flight really does not do it justice. The same can be said of most films that try to do anything overly aesthetic or awe-inspiring, but watching this in high definition did a lot to close the opinion gap between this and Zootopia.¬†I think I still prefer Zootopia,¬†but it isn’t as cut and dry as it used to be.

Where Zootopia was Disney flexing the Pixar muscles, Moana is a much more traditional Disney story featuring a female heir (technically not a princess in this instance), songs and a lovable animal sidekick. It ticks all these stereotype boxes of a Disney princess movie, but this develops and improves on the work done by Frozen to smash them.

For one thing, there is no love interest other than Moana’s love for her people and her own dreams. The film is about her own journey towards maturation and unlike all the princess films that have come before, there is no man at the end of this journey for her to end up with. You also have a complete subversion of the animal sidekick, who is usually smarter than the typical animal (think Meeko the Racoon from¬†Pocahontas)¬†and instead you have a chicken who might very well be dumber than the average chicken.

Speaking of¬†Pocahontas,¬†given that many of the cast are native Hawaiians or are of Polynesian descent, this is how you do a film with cultural sensitivity and not end up with a song like ‘Savages’. I guess that Disney have since learned from the mistakes of¬†Pocahontas¬†and instead put the proper time and effort in to make something that celebrates and has fun with Polynesian mythology and history rather than a film that ages poorly. The fact that the story takes inspiration and tries to explain a period of history where Polynesian peoples stopped sailing for 1000 years (for which we have no explanation) is especially excellent.

Other than ‘How Far I’ll Go’ the songs aren’t especially memorable, but that’s fine as they’re mostly there for mood and story than meme purposes. I mean, this is a film that contains a song inspired by the music of Flight of the Conchords and actually has Jermaine Clement singing it, how can you not enjoy that? Especially as he’s playing a sociopathic, gold-obsessed crab.

I know that by the time that this post goes up I will have seen Frozen 2 in the cinemas 5-6 months earlier, but I think I can make a bold claim Р2016 is the peak of the current post-renaissance Disney and I really hope that their 2020 film, which is the first film they have released in 4 years that is an original intellectual property, can continue the work done by Moana and Zootopia.

So that’s the final disc of the collection polished off. Next up will be Ralph Breaks The Internet¬†which we had to purchase separately in order to fill in the gap left in the box set. It’s going to be interesting for me as this is the first (and probably only) time that I will be writing about the same film twice in this blog. The first time being my Best Animated Feature post about the 2019 Academy awards. I wonder how it will do during a re-watch.

ūüďĹÔłŹ Disney Time – Zootopia

List Item:  Watch The Disney Animated Canon
Progress: 55/58Title: Zootopia
Year: 2016

Given that they skipped releasing anything in the previous year, 2016 was one of the rare times that has two entries in the Disney Animated Canon. Both are excellent films within the canon but, personally, Zootopia (or Zootropolis as it was called in the UK) is the better of the two. In fact, Zootopia is one of my favourite films in the entire list Рso this was something that really helped my post-South Korea adjustment all the easier.

I first saw¬†Zootopia¬†in the cinema, back when I was on the tail-end of my wrist injury recovery. It’s the first Disney animated release that I’ve been excited to see in the cinema since I was a small child and, thankfully, this actually delivered (unlike¬†Hercules). Might have also helped that, given its take on discrimination, it managed to really capture the political feelings of early 2016 despite production starting before a lot of the political shit hit the fan.

The big thing that¬†Zootopia¬†succeeded in, that most Disney films didn’t actually attempt to do, is to construct a living breathing world. The city of Zootopia itself, as well as the surrounding areas, are not only beautiful to look at but are full of character and are rich enough to warrant further exploration. Also, thanks to the Pixar influence, each distinct area is very distinct and full of Easter eggs that reward multiple watches.

All this is done with minimal, and ultimately enjoyable, exposition that also brings in the central predator-prey conflict that lays in the film’s core relationship between rabbit-cop Judy Hopps and fox con man Nick Wilde. It’s a clever way to depict something very adult like racial discrimination in a way that can be taken in by young children. Moments of intolerance, like Nick touching the sheep deputy mayor’s hair and Judy’s ‘speciesist’ press conference, are clever ways to make a fable-friendly version of things that would otherwise be too adult for a family film.

Within this wider message of tolerance and, ultimately, acceptance –¬†Zootopia¬†is able to construct a well-made detective story. Unlike the reveal in¬†Frozen¬†that seemingly comes out of nowhere, the final confrontation is well-earned. The clues and the motivations are all there and, upon repeat viewings, it’s brilliant to see how everything is foreshadowed from very early on. This (like the¬†Breaking Bad¬†references that happen near the end) is what turns this into a proper family film rather than a children’s film with a few adult-friendly joked attached.

Unlike the final two films in the canon (as it stands right now)¬†Zootopia¬†feels like a franchise that really would work well with some sequels. In this way, we can explore areas of this world that we never got to see and it would be interesting to see how they would handle similar topics now that we are coming to the end of Trump’s first year as president. Also, given the amount of bootleg Zootopia merchandise I saw being sold in South Korean markets, there is clearly a lot of money still to be made from these characters.

Whilst I do prefer¬†Zootopia¬†of the two 2016 entries in the canon, that’s no slight on¬†Moana. In fact, it’s actually really cool to have one year demonstrating the more Pixar-influenced films and the those more influenced by classic Disney. It’ll nice to actually see¬†Moana¬†on a proper TV and not on a plane, maybe that means I’ll enjoy watching it even more.