Epiphany 2016

Today is the Epiphany, which, in some Christian traditions, marks the official end of the Christmas season, commemorating the revelation of the Christ Child to the magi. In my traditions, it marks the official beginning of planning to watch a bunch of movies this spring.

Ash Wednesday will be on Wednesday, February 10. The film for this occasion is as yet undecided. In fact, at this point, all forty films are undecided. (Edit: As of whenever it occurred to me, the film for Ash Wednesday will be The Man Who Laughed)

Holy Saturday, the final day of Lent will be Saturday, March 26. I will watch my 40th movie that night, ending, as always, at midnight on Easter. Technically, according to classic Catholic liturgy, Easter begins at sundown that Saturday night, but we’re using my liturgical calendar here, not the pope’s.

With everything undecided, I seek your input. Please recommend movies to me. Recommend great movies, terrible movies, movies that should never have been made. I want all of your recommendations. I require it. I demand it.

And finally, this year, as in all years, Epiphany is also my dad’s birthday. Happy birthday, Dad. This is probably not what you were aiming for in your parenting, but here we are.

SIFF – Tab Hunter Confidential

Tab Hunter Confidential (2015) – It’s a little odd to do a documentary about someone who doesn’t want to talk about their personal life. That’s what we’re all here for. Although Tab Hunter Confidential touches on his personal relationships, it always stops short of telling us anything we didn’t already know. Tab Hunter is a very private person, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t make for a compelling story if every time something interesting happens, it amounts to “Yes, I spent a great deal of time with Tony Perkins for a while” and moving on to the next anecdote. I don’t want lurid details or graphic images of them together, but give us something we can’t just read on his Wikipedia page.

The fact that he struggled with his sexuality and public image is surely a big deal for him, but it’s a story that’s been lived and told and retold a thousand times over every year. We need something that makes this story uniquely the Tab Hunter story, and the fact that he loves his mother and horses doesn’t quite cut it.

SIFF – Spy

Spy (2015) – It’s marvelous that a movie can be made starring a woman hired for her comedic talents, with secondary and even tertiary characters also cast as women. Although there is a plot centered on a romantic interest, it never really becomes a movie about women’s interactions with men. It would be great if there were enough movies like this that it was no longer notable when a movie comes along that treats women as capable human beings, but here we are.

The politics of the representation of women aside, Spy is great. Director Paul Feig said in the Q&A afterwards that he builds his comedies the way he used to build his standup routines, by testing the jokes in front of audiences to see what works and what doesn’t. In the end, we have a finely tuned comedy with characters you can actually care about, and action sequences that are actually thrilling. The fight in the kitchen is my new favorite fight scene in any movie.

In the Lenterim – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Is it just me, or do a lot of movies these days, especially installments of long-running franchises, seem to have a common theme of death, decay, inevitability, and entropy? I blame the Baby Boomers for this turn in the greater culture to a morbid fascination with death. There have been similarly death-obsessed times in history, usually when there were horrible, deadly diseases running rampant, and all a person could do was hope they didn’t catch whatever makes you bleed out your eyes like that. Nowadays, the disease running rampant is being-born-in-the-forties, and the people who have been the center of the western world for the last seventy years or so are facing their mortality. I don’t mind a good story about death, and a little navel gazing is fine, but do we all have to gaze at their navels all together? Aren’t there nicer-looking navels out there? By the way, happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

I was talking about a movie at some point here, wasn’t I? In Age of Ultron, we have more of the meticulously crafted media juggernaut that is the Marvel cinematic universe. I have no complaints, which I guess is all they can ask of me in a superhero movie. Joss Whedon plays his usual tricks; sorry to spoil it, but someone will die suddenly, and it will provide another character with all the Whedonesque grief they need to develop as a character and rip some bad guys to pieces in a torrent of tears.

Still doing my best not to spoil things too much, but the character who gets Joss’ed off (I’m not committed to that phrase, but if it catches on, remember I coined it) gets surprisingly little screen time or dialogue leading up to their untimely Jossing (with or without the apostrophe? It’s a neologism in progress). That part is not Joss Whedon’s finest work, he usually makes us feel things about the people he brutally Josses, but the sacrificial lamb may need to be kept out of the way until their time comes. After all, there’s not quite two and a half hours to give roughly six thousand superheroes their fully-developed story arcs.

In the Lenterim – Dark Dungeons

Dark Dungeons (2014) – Every once in a while, Kickstarter brings us something worthwhile (shut up, Zach Braff, nobody likes you), and while I would never have thought of adapting Jack Chick’s deluded ramblings into a movie, I’m glad someone did.

I remember being promised that this was not a spoof, but a direct adaptation of the original story; after all, they had to get permission from the very earnest Jack Chick himself. This being a movie, however, and not a five-minute short (40 minutes, by AMPAAS standards, is just barely feature-length), some additional scenes and dialogue had to be written. Much of that additional material is obviously written by gamer nerds who have been to the internet within the last twenty years. There are many tongue-in-cheek references to insider nerd culture shuffled into the earnest and straight-faced story (a reference to the gazebo pops up, and the direct Satanic references are represented instead by Cthulu, who could not be a more tired reference at this point), but where the movie is at its best is when they are directly and literally reading Jack Chick’s own, original words or recreating panels from the comic, if even for a moment.

The fun of Chick Tracts is that they are completely out-of-touch and obviously misinformed, but absolutely deadly serious. The occasional breaks to throw the audience a wink and a nod are not helping.

Lent: Part 40

God’s Not Dead (2013) – I don’t know, I’m drunk, but it seems that maybe if Superman and Hurcules hugged it out, maybe God and Xena would smile upon this college. Or something. Drunk.

And so ends Lent 2015. For those who have forgotten to count, this was my 400th Lenten movie, ten years of twisting sacred traditions for my own amusement.

Lent: Part 39

Lawrence of Arabia (1962) – There is oh so much to be said about imperialism and self-determination and Alec Guiness in rather shoddy brownface. I am not sure I’m qualified to give those subjects the intelligent, serious discussion they are due.

I will content myself instead with the observation that Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif are very pretty men, and if a cutting room floor somewhere has footage of them maybe just kissing a little, I’d like to find that room.

Lent: Part 38

Weekend (2011) – I do not miss dating. Sure, it’s got its fun times, but it is, generally speaking, completely bonkers. I have dated versions of both of these characters: the neurotic closet case and the nearly unhinged artistic type, and the only thing I miss about those days is that I was in better shape. The fact that these two find something in each other makes me wonder if those guys I once knew eventually got together and made an unreasonably cute couple.

Weekend is a very sweet story, but feels a lot more honest and realistic than most I’ve ever seen. It’s hard for me to tell whether it’s because the story is so well told or because, unlike most love stories, it talks directly to the gay experience. There’s a scene where they talk about the coming out experience as a gay rite of passage, and that makes a lot of sense to me; so many dates from my dating years involved the conversation about how each of us came out to our families.

Lent: Part 36

Six-String Samurai (1998) – It’s good, but this would probably mean a lot to me if I cared more about the history of American pop music or classic Chinese martial arts films, or if I didn’t hate every piece of the kid character. A question you should always ask when writing a child character–especially if that child is going to spend most of the story in dire peril–is whether your audience will wish the child alive or dead. In short, if the child is not intended as a villain of some kind, I should not wish for a poisonous desert lizard to fly up into the child’s mouth and smother/poison him. I should not have thought up several amusing ways for that child to die, most of which involve his noise-hole being clogged.