Quick-Thoughts: John Carpenter’s They Live (1988)

Screened at The Alamo Drafthouse

“Wearing these glasses gets you high, but you come down hard.”

Probably the truest thing said in this movie. Sometimes I still do it, but for a while, I used to use the phrase “ok boomer” constantly like it was some programmed defense mechanism in me to instantly disregard and not process arguments against modern western culture, but honestly looking at the world today, the internet, especially in this TikTok / COVID era, is brainwashing us to sleep more than ever before, sedating us with less thought to comfort us into swifter dopamine consumption, and that’s how America has been accumulating as since its industrialization. But at the same time, you can’t deny, acknowledging reality – usually transpires when I happen to be more social outside of the internet – every once in a while gives you unparalleled jolts of freedom, and yet it becomes overwhelming at the same time for us to think when we’ve been mollycoddled to not most of our lives scrolling through the internet and allowing a highly regulated (by the media in terms of what’s popular and predominately broadcasted) screen to create your character and its beliefs. Not saying that the outside world doesn’t manipulate you like this as well, but by God, does the internet allow for it to happen far more.

John Carpenter discovers capitalism! Sure, the perspective on its mechanics is simplified here but the auteur is clearly having fun with it. From how I interpreted it though, I presumed that the aliens were the innately born rich + powerful humans and the aware humans were people who earned their wealth through giving into the corrupt system – i.e. sell-outs – but are obligated to not share the truth as it would decrease the power that they and the aliens hold. A cute “eat the rich” type narrative, but the ending is also trying to mimic an impossible dream. Maybe it’s time to accept the harsh reality or keep on pretending like it doesn’t exist. What’s worse? Being the invader? The bystander? Or believing you could be the hero against both? Carpenter probably thinks he’s the latter option, huh?

Also, that fist fight is amazing LOL.

Verdict B

John Carpenter Ranked

“They Live” is currently not available to stream on VOD.

Quick-Thoughts: Krzysztof Kieślowski’s The Double Life of Véronique (1991)

Screened at The Frida Cinema

“Why… why two?”

“I handle them a lot when I perform. They get damaged easily.”

More than any other cinematic portfolio out there, every time I watch a Krzysztof Kieślowski film for the first time, I feel like I am looking at colors, shadows, and lights as if I were a child again. The intensity he and his DPs bring to the visuals often appear unmatched especially during the time that they came out. No way did Jean-Pierre Jeunet not use this movie in particular as a direct inspiration for the cinematography behind his smash hit Amélie (2001).

Whether it’s in the form of a lifeless POV or a dream-replicating sequence of events, The Double Life of Véronique is very much glued to the trial-process in “death” through the eyes of God. Kieślowski aches on the importance of intimate relatability and near identicalness that come from a single creationist’s children. Perhaps he is quite literally reflecting on his own work of characters throughout the decade. Yes.

Verdict: A-

Kieślowski Ranked

“The Double Life of Véronique” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy (1969)

Screened at The Regency Theater

“Well, maybe you gotta think about those things for a while.”

Swindlers make swindlers. This is one of the most melancholy depictions of city life optimism I have ever seen because in hindsight it’s what fuels pessimism towards self-reflection. Some of the darkest psychosexual / Freudian upbringing material I’ve ever endured on-screen gets displayed in this feature-length’s memory sequences, from the incestual trauma to the suppressed romanticism. The juxtaposition between the primary narrative and these flashbacks / dreams are nourished sublimely by vicious editing. The film isn’t afraid to even lean into some borderline cinéma vérité as well with the claustrophobic handheld and close-up montaging, not to mention how the performances are allowed to often talk over one another. But, it also blends those techniques with rather traditionally strong compositions too, usually during the few moments where our two leads can take a breather with one another.

Your commercialized perception of reality prevents you longer from succeeding. Joe and Ratso are always dreaming but they never go anywhere. Everyone has to dumb themselves down with fantasy because their ability to be successful — and perhaps to add to the term in this film’s case, underlying themes of that translating to embracing your sexuality and not just what the radio tells you to be — is so shadowed by a population of swindlers who have to live on pillaging to even have the time to contemplate a plan. Joe’s character is written to not be the brightest in any given room, and because of it, he survives failure with his consistent glimmers of hope; he has fallen under the spell of capitalistic society and seeks to live in its dreams till death. He’s literally manipulated to think “money” is spelled “mony” by a giant New York corporation building — I don’t know how much more on-the-nose you would want than that. His friend is really just a brainstorming buddy to enhance their delusion; Ratso’s intelligence and eventual awareness get the better of him; the comfort-thought of an afterlife is just to lack trying. Him being told “Hey fella, you fell” is tonal foreshadowing of the movie’s ending that’s just *chef’s kiss*. This is a harrowing illustration of living as someone who isn’t truly yourself because you give too much into what the media tells you to be to the point where you never will be “someone”. John Ford may have not been gay, but just because you put on the cowboy get-up doesn’t make you akin to him.

I am sad now.

Verdict: A-

“Midnight Cowboy” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Screened at The Frida Cinema

The amount of plot this movie goes through — especially considering how much time is dedicated to full sing-along songs — in ninety minutes is impressive; they’re chained together *almost* seamlessly!

What’s worse: having your gift stolen or being OWNED in order to perform it? Introducing Brian De Palma’s absorbing impression of the rock scene and the fishy yet seductive industry that governs it: a balls-to-the-wall musical living on one serious hyperactive high of stylistic and narrative extremity. Not really surprised at this point that the director’s active camerawork and blocking are A-1 here, but what I am really taken aback by is how this fella can make a time-lapse montage anything but a cringy exercise in exposition? What??? Love the costume and set design as well, protruding the scenes with ultraviolet expression. 

AND HIS LEGENDARY SPLIT SCREEN. HE DID IT AGAIN. I’M A BOT TO THE DE PALMA ESTABLISHMENT AND I DO NOT GIVE A F**K. WHERE DO I SIGN FOR MORE? IN BLOOD? TAKE IT.

Found the soundtrack that’s gonna define the rest of my summer also. Long live Beef!

Verdict: B+

Brian De Palma Ranked

“Phantom of the Paradise” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Wong Kar-wai’s 2046 (2004)

Screened at The Frida Cinema

“It’s no good meeting the right person too soon or too late.”

Awe yes, the one true love. Gone. Forever. Those glimpses of euphoria from In the Mood for Love (2000)? Gone. Now, it’s become nothing but a shallow pit. An android-like conversion of a human – in this case Chow Mo-wan. A reckless f**k-phase of distraction to hide from reminisce. Your memories have resorted to being the prime source of income. Your desperation peaking a bit at the end of each fling. Potential romance is just for projecting in every instance. This feels like the state of defeat, the conclusion, and there are no happy endings here.

Mo-wan states that “2046” has no meaning to him other than a room number, and yet he uses it to oblige an erotic science-fiction dystopian novel that centers that combination into a future despite it referring to a past. Bai Ling almost feels like she’s having her own “true love” phase and yet Mo-wan is at such a distance from her that it’s easy for him to see past it; just as easy as it is for everyone in this universe to see past Mo-wan’s everlasting failure, to never bare a full connection with his demise. Living in 2047, but nobody has moved on. Mo-wan says he is the only one who has returned from 2046, but that’s a lie. His head is still living isolated in that room every single day. Each new encounter a game of Russian Roulette with no bullet. Cooped up in a writer’s block, not just on paper, but via woman to woman as well. 

This is Hell.

It’s probably going to require another watch for me to fully digest this — not to mention a first-time watch of Days of Being Wild (1990) — but consensus for now is I loved it. Nobody saw this coming… 

Verdict: A

All-Time Favorites, Wong Kar-wai Ranked

“2046” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Pixar’s The Incredibles

Screened at The Frida Cinema

“You have more power than you realize.”

It’s been almost twenty years, and I genuinely still think no superhero action sequence has topped the 100-mile Dash. Brad Bird’s scenario scheming in this is just consistently exciting and playful.

Right from the gecko, The Incredibles does better than what superhero movies such as Synder’s Man of Steel (2013) or The Russos’ Captain America: Civil War (2016) tried to do virtually a decade later. The damages that their protagonists end up creating (in this animated feature’s case, a suicide save, a mileage of broken bones, and some serious city damages) are met with punishment: suppress your talent and do the morally righteous thing and conform to the comforts of a safer environment; embrace “mediocrity.” A superhero, someone with the ambition to pressure their ideals onto others, either has to become a slave to capitalistic corporations or a nobody. This is why we can become unhappy enough to just let ourselves go if we fall towards the latter. 

Syndrome is the exploiter of false heroes who backs up the all too powerful corporations, but more importantly, he is the jealousy that comes from not having instantaneous approval for your talent, ridding genuine heroes so that you can control your own, and his ploy to deceive a nation feels very post-9/11 with all the conspiracy theories people had and still have. Though, my only complaint with his character is that if you read this movie in the most literal sense possible, he’s the one person not born of privilege here who is villainized, and while his “working hard to gain corrupt power” story does admittedly happen in the real world, the filmmakers just sort of overlook the fact that he’s the only main representative of a non-super besides Edna. Then again, if you look at the whole “born with powers” hunch as just learning to fulfill your potential, this dilemma can easily be resolved, which is obviously Bird’s intention; don’t go thinking you’re special, just go knowing you can be special if you really make an effort and choose to break out of the zone of living supervised by the ones in power. Also, Mr. Incredible works to become incredible again, and Syndrome works to become not so incredible, so at least there’s that ethical contrast in play as well. Ambition is for better or worse; it is what it is.

I love how the cape sequence though constitutes commercializing your heroism, and the unfaithful nature of it biting you in the back. It’s no surprise that we’ve come to worship supermodels more than we do superheroes in this climate. Some stuff here also about suppressing from the public the chaotic nature of divorce, of a family falling apart, chasing the high of being young and successful still, jeopardizing the family relationship. Lying, having an affair, we gain power, right or wrong, ugh! “Men Robert’s age are prone to weakness” so let there be power? Almost every scene in The Incredible really does introduce a new topic to enhance the realism of desired heroes actually existing in our world, and how their ideals can evolve. It opened up countless concepts to be explored that this genre has subsequently taken on one by one over the near two decades since its release. To me, Amazon Prime’s The Boys is the closest we’ve gotten cinematically to matching its status, expanding on how heroes can become villains from capital corruption.

It’s really strange to think of this movie as Bird living in a fantasy, but if it helped heal him somehow in the process, then that’s what’s important. His guilt and depression from potentially losing a family is so obviously felt here.

Verdict: A-

All-Time Favorites, The Best Animated Films, Brad Bird Ranked, Pixar Ranked

“The Incredibles” is now available to stream on Disney+.

Quick-Thoughts: Agnès Varda’s Vagabond (1985)

Screened at The Frida Cinema

“You chose total freedom but got total loneliness.”

Whole lotta “settling”, whole lotta “homes”, whole lotta homely stay-at-home “couples”, folks almost at the company of others around the clock, and yet a level of loneliness still subsists in every one of them. Sure, having control of a singular environment would require meeting the demands of capital rule to continue owning it, usually less so howbeit when you’re just hopping from one to the other. You may feel freer from what would rather be permanent, but the desire still prevails to be seduced by its comforts of routine every now and then. Unless, ironically, this anti-permanent fate becomes a routine itself once you’ve tried its kinks out enough. No wonder the act of being a vagabond eventually feels like running a house with the usual suspects residing in it: it still shows social consistency, but is just as lonely of a lifestyle to cope with if not more. 

Agnès Varda’s Vagabond debates the correlation between loneliness in the permanent and loneliness in the uncertain, the degrees to which they go, and the extent of freedom in each regard. We are all waiting to move on during both stages. Crazy how many anonymous identities there are out there despite their presence being known to all.

Also, W grandma. Unlikable protagonists go hard too.

Verdict: B+

“Vagabond” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

Quick-Thoughts: Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Screened at Regal • 3rd Viewing

“You must be dead, because I don’t know how to feel. I can’t feel anything anymore.” 

It’s a bit ironic that this film about learning to cope with what’s not ideal subsequently took on a huge role in popularizing fairytale idealism in western cinematic storytelling, but in spite of such to this day inspirationally, through Spielbergian quietude and minimalism, preaches doing the right thing for others and not necessarily for your species or clan, because — let’s face it — if they did dissect E.T., determining his source of power, then perhaps cancer could be cured, injuries could cease to exist, we could have unlimited agricultural supply, the environment could flourish once more, heck! Humanity could’ve probably became Valhalla! Oops, but…

E.T. is correct, we are ALL residing right here. However, the world isn’t only ours. Taking some of it one by one is no miracle, but perhaps sharing it would be. We’re always coexisting whether or not humanity’s mission seems involved with trying to ironically avoid it via pilfering. Animals will always appear like extraterrestrials to one another, and they/we will always respond in contrasting ways to one another based on our nature and evolution. We come or stay in each other’s vicinities, and it can both excite yet compel us from applying common morality to the new and unknown. Everything beautiful we want to ourselves — a father who could accept just a piece of this world, the love of your life, an outer-space discovery — but the reality is we can’t control it all. We can’t have everyone’s power or advantages no matter how close we think we’re getting. Not everything should and admittedly does promote human welfare. And yet, even with that reality-check in mind, we can still control how we compensate for it so that we can keep on living better. There is always a place to look towards, from either home or someone else’s, from the tangible and all the way to the imagined. Voids can be replaced, especially if we’re willing to barter with one another, and maybe most importantly, ourselves. Doing the right thing usually starts with doing the right thing for yourself as demonstrated by the film’s lead when he’s compelled to help a stranger “phone home”. 

It’s natural for us to want to understand whatever is “alien”, but we forgot to feel for whomever or whatever during the attempt as well; rarely does an Elliot come by to do that for us. “This is reality, Greg!” 

Verdict: B

Steven Spielberg Ranked

“E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” is now playing in IMAX theaters. 

Bodies Bodies Bodies – This Generation’s The Thing

The writers of this need to cleanse the Scream franchise ASAP.

As someone born around the very dawn of the 21st century, I can attest that it’s very easy for our generation to feel as if the world is working against us. We’ve become conditioned to treat every social interaction, online debate, etc. as transactions set in a hostile, constantly judgmental environment. In doing so, we cover-up behind stereotypes that the world has deemed most popularly the “correct” ways to be and think, and throw ignominious new ones out to those whose ideologies clash with them. But why do we do it? Because it’s easier to act like the victim, to not take the blame, to, if the time comes, have the advantage via your current resume that understands the “formula of the year” best based on what’s been broadcasted over the media and spread between peers who want you to only agree with them and literally nothing else. We rather have weapons up our sleeves at all times than a voice that comes from the heart given how competitive America has become, even if it means other people’s livelihood, whether truly guilty or not, will drop in the process.

While not done uber-thoroughly, Bodies Bodies Bodies allegorizes this through both horror and satire. An example of this can be perceived in Halina Reijn’s strong use of simple handheld claustrophobic shots and a damp, impressively near pitch-black-lit setting (our judgment is blind, get it???) occasionally supported by thin, artificial neon glowsticks (our judgment is sensationalized and simplified get it???). The performances aren’t supported by MCU quirk-quippy dialogue like you often see polluted in young horror movie characters today, but rather by constant self-absorbed cringiness, making the social climate it’s inflating have not only a negative, impulsive, chaotic, and frightening presence, but also a frankly obnoxious and embarrassing one at that — for the better! The film had a personal thesis and furthermore a way to showcase it via an underrated brand of horror: BEING HIGH ASF DURING A CRISIS.

I’m also assuming that Rachel Sennott is going to continue carrying her, I guess, “anxiety-driven cinema” curse from film to film. Good!

Between this and X, the slasher genre might get the revival it alas deserves for which straightly-sold-as “modern reboots” just aren’t warranting. I’m tired of those movies advertising themselves as “*well-known thirty / forty-year-old title* for a new generation” despite them all being preoccupied with how perfect their creator was by literally just unproductively copying it, professing the deed as “paying tribute”, and bargaining little modernization besides the given of digital age filmmaking tactics and obviously a new time period that it has to establish by those same Gen-X writers who rather linger over the past than open up to the new generation which they’re required to hastily write about because we’re, by default, living in different times. If anything, Bodies Bodies Bodies is John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) for Gen-Z, but it doesn’t have to pretend like it’s so directly related because the filmmakers are clearly confident enough in their own re-envisioning as opposed to so many big-shot Hollywood writers today. 

Verdict: B-

2022 Ranked

“Bodies Bodies Bodies” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thought: The Slumber Party Massacre (1982)

Screened at The Alamo Drafthouse

“He’s so cold.”

“Is the pizza?”

It’s very clear here Amy Holden Jones understands that the genre she’s working with is infamously known for essentially being just a series of punchlines, and she decides to double-up on this satirical formula for which is so often depended on during this era of slasher horror. Slumber Party Massacre is a raid of goofy tension releases, intentionally comedic one-liners, and an absurd amplification of horror tropes. I used to think New Nightmare (1994) was the initial prototype for Scream (1996), but now I feel plain gullible. 

Definitely must’ve been a major inspiration for the tone of X as well. 

I really dug the slasher villain in this because he’s just a bare-bones serial killer who’s occasionally gullible which sinisterly mitigates the fact that he’s been broadcasted as this mass force of evil parading the town. There is a glimmer of motivation to him though which almost seems metaphorical for defenders of misogyny in horror cinema. The two sisters in this actually provide endearing and over-the-top chemistry, while on the other hand, the slumber girls are so overtly depicted as everyday people who happen to be objects that it becomes noticeable as so many shots linger unusually on them nude to a point where it actually feels rather unprovocative, therefore discomforting the cliché. 

So admittedly, quite ambitious methods to convey genre commentary through parodying that doesn’t always work that constructively nor legibly, but you do get at least an idea of what it’s trying to do which sparks enough admiration. It sure is f**king funny though and that’s really all you need to give it your time. Watch it with others for sure too.

Verdict: B-

“The Slumber Party Massacre” is now available to stream on VUDU Free, Tubi TV, and The Roku Channel.