This week, I give you two weeks. I didn’t watch enough stuff to merit an entire post (read: I didn’t manage to write enough in time), so I decided to throw everything into one big blog bonanza. It’s only slightly less fun than it sounds. I played one game, saw 4 movies, and watched 1/5th of a TV show these past couple weeks and have at least a little bit to say about all of them, so here they are:
The Witness (PS4)
Yikes. Not only is this a video game, it’s a game I haven’t even freakin’ finished. Me and Noah have been working tirelessly to 100% complete the entirety of this sprawling, peaceful, and infinitely frustrating puzzle game, and though I have the option to just get it over with right now, I want to exhaust every single puzzle Jonathan Blow has curated for me. The Witness takes place on a mysterious and exquisite island, an island populated not with people but with an endless assortment of grid-based puzzles that must be completed to unlock more grid-based puzzles, and then those give you more grid-based puzzles, and then sometimes you look into the sky and see some clouds and think hey, is that a grid puzzle? Do the clouds connect in some way? And the answer is yes, because this damn game’s goal seems to be to drive you insane. Circles and lines, circles and lines, that’s all anything ever is. Is that shadow on that log over there actually a hidden puzzle? How about those girders, if I line them up perfectly do they make a puzzle? The grass? I knew it, there’s a puzzle in every single blade of grass!
If you look real hard, you might be lucky enough to find a handful of tape recorders. In most games, these would give you insight into the lore, perhaps the history of the island and the reason why everyone vanished, but instead, The Witness provides you with a collection of philosophical quotes. Some from famous authors, some from people I’ve never heard of, and if you’re really lucky, you may find a puzzle that leads you to a live action video of what seems to be some kind of TED Talk type thing involving a woman lecturing on how we have to stop looking for what makes us happy and understand that we already are what makes us happy, or something like that. It’s all kinda profound in a way that I don’t fully understand, but that’s okay. Jonathan Blow spent about 7 years working on this game, putting his heart and soul into every single inch of the island, and it paid off. You’re a genius, Mr. Blow, but you also make me extremely angry. Circles and lines, it’s all just circles and lines, circles and lines, circles and lines…
Too Old To Die Young, Episodes 1/2 (Amazon Prime Video)
Though my policy on TV is that I have to finish an entire series before reviewing it, I’ve made an exception for Nicolas Winding Refn’s newest work. Many of the episodes are upwards of an hour and a half long, and that merits a movie caliber review every few episodes, at least for this week.
As you may know, I’m a massive Refn fan. Drive is in my top 5 movies of all time, and the rest of his filmography is not too far behind. I mean, Only God Forgives is pretty far behind, but that’s a rare exception. Here’s an insane question nobody’s ever asked before: is Only God Forgives really that bad? Refn defends it so adamantly, and he’s such a fascinating director; is it possible that he sees something in it that nobody else on the planet does? What are we all missing? All I saw was Thai karaoke and some freaky Ryan Gosling incest, but is that it? I’m sure none of you have bothered to check it out, but if any of you have, let me know your theories on what the fuck is really going on. For those of you who haven’t seen it, please treat yourself to the most unintentionally hilarious moment in Ryan Gosling’s career: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h0FGD7XLM4o
Too Old To Die Young, at least so far, raises some extremely compelling questions: what lengths would you go to in order to save yourself? Is true peace between rivals ever attainable? And most important of all, who the fuck greenlights a 13 hour movie where it takes 20 minutes to painstakingly get through what should be a quick conversation? And here’s a bonus question: why do I enjoy it so much?
If Refn is infamous for his lengthy scenes in which people stare unblinkingly at each other for unhealthy amounts of time, he must be famous for his incredible use of colour and atmosphere. That has to be the main reason I find Refn movies so entertaining. It’s like admiring a painting: you know nothing is going to move or happen, but god damn, is it ever pretty. In Too Old To Die Young, you have scenes that work where Only God Forgives fails in that there’s actual tension. One of my favourites so far is a simple family dinner. You have Don Ricardo, the elderly Don of a Mexican cartel currently in a tentative truce with the cops, his son Miguel, an asshole but still the heir, and Jesus, the Don’s nephew who he loves far more than his own son. The scene plays out in slow motion, dragging on forever as the Don attempts to tell a story about his childhood and Pele the soccer player, but he keeps falling asleep in the middle of sentences. Now, a normal show would either play this for laughs, cut to pace it better, or more likely, not do it at all. Refn opts to show every second that they wait as the Don cycles through falling asleep, waking up, and attempting to finish his story. The whole scene, I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the old man to finally kick it. Every time he falls asleep, I think it’s gonna be the last time until finally it is, and we have to settle in to the notion of Miguel taking over and ruining the brief peace everyone else was thoroughly enjoying.
You know what, this sounds boring as shit. And to 99% of people, that’s exactly what it is. But I love it. And I’ll probably continue to love it.
Overlord (The Fucking Cineplex God Damn Rental Shite Store [That I Hate])
I’ve seen Inglourious Basterds, I’ve played Wolfenstein, and now I’ve seen Overlord. Seeing Nazis get killed in horrible ways will never, ever get boring. Overlord gives Nazi occupied France a wonderful smattering of disgusting body horror. That’s my favourite kind of horror! As far as plot and characters go, this isn’t one to forget about, either. The characters are likeable (no, obviously not the Nazis), and the plot may go exactly where you think it will but you’ll be having too much fun on the way there to notice. Of course, this was also one of the worst viewing experiences of all time. The Fucking Cineplex God Damn Rental Shite Store (That I Hate) is truly the most excrutiating thing I’ve ever had to endure, and I’ve been in a theatre watching a kids’ movie with a bunch of teens hollering like absolute buffoons the entire time. Hmm, speaking of…
Toy Story 4 (Theatre)
Am I actually the target audience for a film about toys? I grew up on the first couple movies, watching the second one over and over on VHS. the third one came out a while later and enjoyed it enough, but Toy Story 2 will always be a little more special to me. Pixar knows that the kids who grew up on Toy Story are now in their twenties, so they have a little dilemma: make a movie for the new kids, the new fans? Or appeal to the older, loyal audience? Toy Story 4 actually does a pretty fantastic job of mixing the two, and might even lean a little more towards appealing to my fellow twenty-somethings. There are some antique dolls in this movie that most certainly scared the shit out of plenty of 4 year olds, especially in a scene that tries to show us what a Toy Story horror movie would look like.
The movie also deals with some pretty heavy themes, stuff that little kids simply won’t understand. I theorized with my friends after that a couple characters are struggling with mental illness: Forky with suicidal thoughts since a lot of the movie involves Forky attempting to reach the sweet release of a trash bin, and Buzz dealing with schizophrenia, as his pseudo-arc revolves around him listening to the voices in his head aka pressing his voice line buttons. I’ll admit, the theory holds very little weight, but there are some tough decisions to be made and moral quandaries that have to be resolved, many of which involve our main villain, Gabby Gabby. She’s one of the best kids’ movie villains I’ve ever seen, and though I think they could have gone a different direction with her in the end, she remains complicated and interesting throughout.
The biggest issue with this fourth installment is the fact that it feels far, far less vital to these characters’ stories than the previous three films. Despite being funny, heartfelt, and beautifully animated, it never manages to justify its existence. Noah put it well: it feels like it should be called Woody and Friends go to the Carnival rather than being a true numbered entry. Even though the Toy Story universe is changed permanently at the end, I still don’t feel as though anyone but Woody (and Forky by default, I guess) evolved or was given any more depth. Toys gaining more depth of character in a kids’ movie; that’s what I’m complaining about right now. I’ll just finish by telling y’all to appreciate the fact that I liked this one; I got some anger directed at my dislike of Incredibles 2. Which is still a bad movie that has far less of a reason to exist.
Oh, and fuck those fucking kids who were whispering loudly to each other and saying “oh shit!” whenever something happened. Fuck those kids. One of those shitstains was wearing a McGill sweater, and I pray he was borrowing his sister’s or something because I’m extremely ashamed of my school if he goes there. Assholes. Let me watch my kids’ movie in some god damn peace and quiet.
Baby Driver (Netflix)
Watching a movie for a third time can expose some cracks. Baby Driver remains an incredibly fun and meticulously edited action movie, but I left this viewing with a confirmed theory:
Ansel Elgort is a really, really bad actor.
Does that mean I would want anyone else in this role? Absolutely not. He looks the part, he feels the part, he just can’t act the part when he’s given more than a couple words to say. Some of his line readings are just awful, and him frequently being in a room full of great actors certainly doesn’t help. I think there’s a reason we haven’t really seen him since Baby Driver. He was perfect for one role and one role only.
This brings me to my most important opinion that is barely even tangentially related to Baby Driver:
Maika Monroe and Ansel Elgort are soulmates.
Think about it. Both had breakout roles in movies where they barely said anything, Maika’s being It Follows. Both followed up their success with absolutely awful movies in which they had to speak a bunch (Tau and Billionaire Boys Club respectively, the latter of which made $126 on opening day). And both are attractive blond(e) white people. Has there ever been a pairing more meant to be? I wonder if they’ve ever met. Any Hollywood execs reading this? Can you set up a date between them, please? We have to make this happen, it’s too important to this random guy who sits at home writing movie reviews.
Watchmen (It’s a graphic novel. I’m reviewing a graphic novel.)
In anticipation of Damon Lindelof’s Watchmen HBO show (the dude who wrote The Leftovers, so he’s obviously a genius), I decided to take a stab at my first graphic novel, and why not start with the one known as the best of all time? It’s not usually my cup of tea, but I’ll do anything for Lindelof.
Watchmen begins with our heroes retired, in a city that no longer wants them. These masked heroes have no superpowers, but still put plenty of criminals away in their heyday. Meanwhile, the world does have a single superhero: Dr Manhattan, a blue, muscly man with the power to basically do anything you could possibly think of. “God exists, and he’s American”. He’s been weaponized by the US government, and his involvement has heavily elevated tensions between America and Russia. World War III is just around the corner when the Comedian, one of the retired masked heroes, is murdered.
Nearly every chapter introduces a unique way of weaving the narrative, often jumping in time, and sometimes even jumping between comic books. Alan Moore’s writing is innovative and excellent, and Dave Gibbons complements this with his immaculate art. This story is one that can only be perfectly told as a graphic novel as it uses its medium in incredibly clever ways that can’t be reproduced on the silver screen. Of course, it’s been attempted…
Watchmen (Amazon Prime Video, but I had to get a fucking Starz subscription, like what the fuck Amazon, you’re making me subscribe to more shit through your subscription service?)
Zack Snyder is bad news. I recoil in uninterest every time I hear his name attached to a project. He can do CGI, he can do slow-mo, and that’s it. Do either of those things even involve him? He’s pretty much talentless when trying to make his own story, and only slightly more competent when adapting someone else’s.
But he loves Watchmen, I can tell. I feel bad for him, because even though there’s a lot of love on display in his adaptation, he doesn’t get it; not at all. He doesn’t get that adapting Watchmen so accurately is actually a bad thing, in that the graphic novel, at its core, cannot work as a movie. It’s split into 12 extremely distinct chapters, and like I said, each chapter has its own personality and style to it. Mash that into a nearly three hour movie, and you get a mess of ideas that coalesces into a massive CGI snowball rolling downhill, heading straight for New York. Also, if you’re gonna be accurate to a fault, why not, you know, stay accurate? Why change the ending? I mean, the new ending makes sense in its own way, but why not finish what I’m sure you worked so hard to put together? If you think it’s an improvement, Zack, you’re wrong. It’s not bad, but it comes off as insulting to adapt religiously and then tweak it at the end; it drives home the message that you thought you could do it better. You can’t, because you have the narrative acumen akin to my phone’s predictive text function trying to put together a sentence.
Lindelof, I trust you 100%. If any of you are fans of Watchmen and are wary of his new adaptation, read the letter he wrote for you wary fans, or read his letter if you want a lesson in how to write a perfect letter. You can find it here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BjFsj6JHEdq/?igshid=32ad0ajx3myk . He guarantees an appreciation of the original while putting his own spin on it, and whatever that means, I’m all in. Anyone who can write The Leftovers I’d trust to hold and/or raise my hypothetical firstborn.
No dates this week. That means I forgot to record when I watched stuff and didn’t feel like making up dates like I usually do. It also means I went on no dates this week. I can’t make those up, either.
This week’s shoutout goes to not having pickles on my Big Mac. Look, I don’t like pickles, so why the hell would I want them on my Big Mac? Can’t the McDonald’s employees tell just by looking at me that I’m not a damn pickle person? I mean, come on.