My goal for May was to knock a bunch of movies off my To Watch list. At first glance it will look like I did exactly that. But I must admit I watched eight of these movies in that last nine days of the month. That was solid work!
The Last Dance
Well, shit, I never got around to writing about this. I guess it’s because I’ve talked about it so much to so many people I never felt the need to share more here. So I’ll try to sum up quick.
I loved it. It brought back a ton of memories. I understand that the control Michael Jordan had over the series was problematic, but that’s true no matter who makes a film. And if giving him control was the cost of getting him to talk, it was worth it. I’ve fallen a little out of love with MJ in his retirement as we’ve seen just how pathological his need to win is and how he’s struggled to shut it off. But putting it back in context of his playing days made me overlook the troublesome aspects of that drive. I thought the most powerful moment of the series was the final scene of episode seven or eight, when he was explaining the cost of his personality. In general I don’t think MJ has regrets or shame or pain for anything he’s done. But in that moment, he showed that there is a price. He may have “boys” from his playing days, but does he truly have friends, when his goal was always to dominate everyone, even the players he was close to?
This was great and I’m equal parts craving and dreading the next attempt to do a series like this. I’m not sure it will work for other athletes the way it worked for MJ’s story.
A cool little short that recreates the Apollo moon landings with pictures taken on the Apollo missions.
A Parks and Recreation Special – Full Special – YouTube
Who better than the P&R cast to give us a moment of happiness in the midst of this horrible time? Except for that Jerry. God, Jerry!
I have no excuse for putting this off so long. Goodfellas is one of my very favorite movies ever. I also loved Casino. Another Martin Scorsese mafia epic with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci would seem like a no-doubter, right? Especially when you throw in Al Pacino’s addition to the gang.
I put it off from months for one reason or another but finally – FINALLY! – started it on Friday, May 8, and watched about an hour. The next evening I pulled it up on my laptop with earbuds, thinking I would watch a half hour or so until the kids started to head upstairs and I finish on a TV. Next thing I knew it was two hours later and I had watched the entire movie.
So, worth the wait? Absolutely. A fantastic third chapter to Scorsese’s mob trilogy. It is a compelling, wonderfully shot, entertaining movie. Al Pacino is especially fantastic, adjusting his typical manner to fit Jimmy Hoffa’s upper midwest accent. That said, it was weird hearing a bunch of New York/New Jersey Italians attempt to speak like Philly Italians, Irish, and Detroit Germans.
What stuck out to me was the tone of the movie. It felt like a long, bittersweet good bye. It is hard to imagine Scorsese, DeNiro, and Pesci doing another three-hour mafia movie together. This was their valedictory lap, and for all the goodness, there was that hint of sadness knowing that this is the closure of one of the great chapters in American film.
After watching I looked up Frank Sheeran to learn more about him. I came across this article which pokes a lot of holes in the biggest assertions made about Sheeran’s activities. Reading it makes me think of this movie more like JFK. JFK was a brilliant movie, but it was also full of shit. From a historical perspective, I think The Irishman has to go into the same bucket as JFK. And it is a reminder even if Goodfellas and Casino were based on journalistic accounts of mob life, there was also plenty of Hollywood polish put on those stories, too.
Beastie Boys Story
We have Apple TV+, or whatever it’s called, free for a year thanks to buying a new Apple device. That gave me the chance to watch this, an ATV+ exclusive. All I knew about it going in was “Spike Jones Beasties documentary.” Which was enough for me. So I was a little surprised by its format: a live, on-stage show by Ad Rock and Mike D in which they basically ran through the same subjects the wrote about in Beastie Boys Book. It was fun, funny, touching, and perfect for a Gen Xer that grew up on the band.
Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill
Seinfeld stand up, what’s not to like? It felt like he left his fastball behind, but it was still a decent watch.
John Mulaney: Kid Gorgeous at Radio City
This was some funny shit. My stomach hurt from laughing through the first 40 minutes, and then he got to Trump stuff and I had to pause a few times to catch my breath.
The Crying Game
I don’t know that I had ever seen this all the way through, back in the day. Actor Stephen Rea, who plays Fergus, was married to Dolours Price, a key member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army in the 70s and 80s, and a main focus of the book Say Nothing. With the references to the movie in that book, I figured it was worth a watch.
For those not old enough to remember, this was a very controversial movie when it came out. There was a big twist, about halfway through, that Miramax asked audiences not to reveal after they saw it. The secret got out quick, but it was still shocking when you saw it. Hell, it’s kind of shocking now, 30 years later, but that’s more because of what kind of nudity we do and do not allow in our cinema even today.
What this really made me think about was a college roommate, who one night after a few too many beers and some late night, reality TV, asked how we would all react if we brought a “lady” home and found out she was not, in fact, a lady. This roommate and I butted heads often, and I wasn’t having his theoretical exercise. “I would know right away and never make it that far,” was my response. This instigated like a 90-minute, drunken argument that several other roommates zinged in and out of. He thought I was dismissing a legitimate question. I thought he was spending too much time worrying about a situation that was highly unlikely to happen.
The film? It felt very dated production wise. There were some elements I thought were strange: the tone shifted from light to very heavy randomly, for example. But it deserves credit for tackling a huge issue in a very honest way and in setting the stage for all the other noir-ish, arty films that would come in the ‘90s.
I keep a long list of movies I want to watch, but only knock off a couple each year. I just always keep movies after books, music, sports, and TV sports when dividing up my media time.
I noticed last month that several of the movies on my list had a common theme or genre. I’ve never been a big Western guy, but several movies on my list could either be classified as modern Westerns, or were influenced heavily by the classic genre. So about a week ago I decided to dive in and knock a bunch out. Along the way I added some more, so I have a long list to still get to. Below is an accounting of that week-plus of viewing.
There Will Be Blood
This has been on my list for years. Years I tell you. What a performance by Daniel Day Lewis. What a great story. How wonderfully photographed. A nearly perfect movie.
It’s Tarantino, so you kind of know what you’re getting. A dazzling story with plenty of problematic moments. Lots of violence, often almost cartoonish in its gore. Homages to great films and film genres of the past. Sharp writing. A+ acting performances. Thus, nothing about the movie really surprises. But I really enjoyed Tarantino’s take on the classic Western. Jamie Foxx and Christoph Waltz were fantastic as the two lead characters.
Hell or High Water
I had never heard of this movie before, yet it was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. That just shows how out of it I generally am with movies.
Thus it was a great surprise. This feels like the ideal modern western: it has nothing to do with cowboys and Indians, or life on the range. But its bank robbing theme and gorgeous cinematography draw clear lines to the classics. The lead characters were all wonderfully filled by Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Gil Birmingham. The movie makes you root for both the cops and robbers, and sometimes against both. A nicely ambiguous ending.
No Country for Old Men
I read this book sometime around when the movie came out and, as per my usual style, never got around to watching the flick. So the details were fuzzy but I remembered the basics. And the Cohen brothers nicely added their own twists while remaining faithful to Cormac McCarthy’s original story.
Here we divert a hair for a movie that in most ways is not a Western at all, but pulls in so many references to that genre that it can safely be called a modern Western.
This one takes place in the Australian Outback ten years after an economic collapse has caused massive upheaval. The almost always amazing Guy Pearce has his car stolen and spends the next hour and forty-five minutes trying to get it back. Along the way there is much violence, most from Pearce’s gun. At the end, after he recovers his car, we see why it was so important to him. At first glance, it seems utterly ridiculous that so many died for this cause. But, considering the world he lives in, you realize despite his acceptance of brutality and death, he maintains a strong connection to the past and that he isn’t the cold, emotionless killer he seems to be. This is one of the bleakest movies I can remember watching.
Hey, two Cohen Bros Westerns in one month! And this one is a legit Western, a remake of a John Wayne movie that takes place in the late 19th century. This had a few more quirks than No Country For Old Men, which made it feel more like a Cohen movie. Jeff Bridges with another fine performance, and I absolutely loved Haile Steinfeld
To wrap up the month, S and I watched this together Sunday night. I think we had very different views of the film. She found it depressing. I was, honestly, laughing out loud at some scenes. I felt like it was really playing up the ridiculousness of the process of getting a divorce.
But I also found it to be very powerful. I was a child of divorce, and while my parents’ divorce was not heated in any way, it was still hard, and I was sympathetic to that angle. Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver were excellent. And there’s that scene, that one scene, which if you’ve seen this, I’m sure also left you breathless. My first thought following that scene, once I was able to breath again, was how many takes did that require and how wrecked were Johansson and Driver after? Oh, and the scene when Charlie walks in on Henry reading the letter Nicole wrote to take to their initial mediation? Yeah that really go to me.