Filmism.net Dispatch May 10, 2023

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Anyone who knows anything about me personally knows I've been a professional film critic and entertainment journalist in the past. Today, in the media landscape of early 2023 I don't feel like I can call myself that anymore, owing to how little work there is in that area (for me, anyway).

But when I was doing it as a more or less full time job, occasionally I'd have to write a bio. You know, the little blurb about the writer of an article not many people care about?

Being in the comparatively more light-hearted entertainment sector, I always thought it appropriate to try and raise a wry smile in my bio whenever a magazine or website owner asked for one.

One of the standard ones I used always ended with an amusing riposte calling for global film and TV production to cease for 12 months.

It was supposed to be a funny way of expressing how many shows and movies I had on my list to watch and how I'd never get caught up. Throughout the VHS era, indie film movement and the streaming age it's only grown longer no matter how many titles I've crossed off it.

Then, global film and TV production did mostly stop for over a year or more, and it wasn't nearly as funny as I'd wanted my offhand comment to be.

A lot of people lost livelihoods, including me. Nowadays I'm a barely-employed jobbing writer, reduced to the industry equivalent of standing on the side of the road with a cardboard sign saying 'will write for food'.

But I'm lucky. We all got COVID in my family but it was after mass vaccination movements had taken hold and it was little worse than a cold. Millions didn't even survive it and if that applies to someone in your family, my condolences and thoughts are with you.

But if you've been similarly caught up in the mass layoffs during the years of lockdown and upcoming recession fears, just remember you're not alone. Nobody's as successful or content working in the arts as they look from the outside.

But to a lighter topic, I was thinking recently about the movies you watch over and over again. Movies as comfort food, if you will.

I've already talked in the Filmism.net Dispatch about how I used to set my little cassette stereo player up in front of the TV, play my favourite movies and listen to the soundtracks while I went about my business in my bedroom.

These days we're of course not constrained by the media culture and technology of magnetic music cassettes, VHS tapes and households with only one TV, but the way I appreciate certain films hasn't changed. Specific movies have a very specific time and place in my life despite not being what I'd call 'favourites'.

As a freelance designer I spent a couple of weeks every year typesetting company annual report a few years back. Each one would take about a day and a half and it wasn't exactly boring work but you didn't need to concentrate on it as closely as you do when you're a writer.

That meant I could put music, podcasts or anything else I wanted on in the background. For some reason I always had The 40 Year Old Virgin playing while I did those, and since that kind of work went away I don't think I've watched it once. For some reason Guy Ritchie's Snatch is still a regular I watch at least once a year.

The strange thing is, I don't like either of those films as much as many of the those I describe on Filmism.net in far more glowing terms.

I've only ever seen Fernando Mierelles' blistering City of God once, in its original theatrical release. I did go to see it in an IMAX theatre with the giant screen once more, but the theatre had a blackout or something as soon as it started.

I watched some of Whiplash, the one that blew all our socks off when it arrived, a second time and was actually quite alarmed because I didn't love it as much the second time (as always, these things depend what mood you're in at the time).

Although it's my favourite movie of the 2000s I've only watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind three times. I even owned in on DVD at once stage, so I could have watched it until I wore it out, but I have this barely-acknowledged fear that I won't end up liking it if I watch it too much.

I've only watched Terrence Malick's The New World and David Fincher's Zodiac once more each on DVD after seeing them in theatres, but despite their brilliance they're hard work.

So is Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void, if for no other reason than because of its length, and though there are plenty of other long movies those three just feel like ones you have to make a particular investment in because of how dense and sometimes languorous they are. Again, I'm very conscious of having to be in a specific mood to appreciate them.

I watched Lenny Abrahamson's brilliant POV exercise Room once more on streaming after seeing in at cinema, but the subject matter demands you be made of stern stuff.

I liked Jaco van Doarmel's Mr Nobody far less on a second watch and I know I'd love Todd Phillips' Joker just as much if I watched it a third time (after a streaming and theatrical viewing), I just haven't found the spare hours.

And I know that at some point I won't be able to hold off sitting down the Denis Villeneuve's most transcendent films, Dune and Arrival a second and third time, respectively.

Among all the above, as well as the list of 306 films I have on my 'must see' list, I barely even have time to watch actual favourites like Star Wars, Robocop , The Last Starfighter or Ghostbusters anymore.

I sometimes wonder if I'd see more flaws in movies I love because in many cases it's been a few more decades. I rewatched Starship Troopers a couple of years back in preparation for interviews with the writer and director for the first time in a long time, and with 25 years of hindsight I noticed some of the CGI is a little ragged around the edges.

Maybe that only applies to films you see outside the formative period of your teens, the ones that are really seared into your film consciousness.

Either way, I'm endlessly fascinated by movies we love, movies we merely like, movies we find easy to watch, movies we love but rarely watch again and the differences between them all. Liking or not liking a movie isn't a binary proposition, it's a spectrum.

On screens recently, I won't strictly recommend Butt Boy as much as call your attention to it. You might like it more than I did as a story and a movie, but as a piece of direction it's got the most confident blending of tones and styles you'll see all year.

It's about a guy addicted to ingesting objects and people inside him through his rectum, and even that's not the weirdest thing about it. That would be the perfectly in-tune aesthetics of a bored modern office drone comedy and an 80s action thriller cop drama.

If you're a horror fan you'll also get a kick out of the neat, slick little chiller The Vigil, which takes an orthodox Jewish tradition and wrings the creepiest story possible out of it that's well staged and shot and not one to watch on a dark night alone.

But the most rewarding time I've had watching a movie lately is the brilliantly crafted and pitched Promising Young Woman, the most incisive movie about taking down misogyny and rape culture I've maybe ever seen.

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