Blog Archives

Back in Time: 2019

As I noted in the previous Back in Time article, it seems kind of silly that we put out a “best of the year” list at the end of each year and then just walk away, as if we never watch another movie from that time period again. I watch older movies all the time. Just a few days ago I watched a movie from 1929 that makes me totally re-evaluate that list (as there are now two films on it). So why don’t we ever step back, look at a year again, and amend our best of the year lists? That’s what I’m doing here, going back a year at a time. In this second installment, I’ll talk about my favorite films of 2019, pointing out as I go which ones wouldn’t have made my list at the end of that year because I hadn’t seen them yet.

12. Point Blank. Joe Lynch’s remake of this French thriller was really strong – energetic, exciting, with strong characters and just the right amount of comic relief. It’s a blast to watch.

11. Zombieland: Double Tap (watched in February 2020). While not quite as strong as the original, the second Zombieland film extends the universe in a logical way (at least from a character standpoint – there’s some handwaving going on about how the universe functions from a technical standpoint, but that’s acceptable in a comedy of this type). It’s funny, and it’s fun to watch.

10. Yesterday (watched in February 2020). Richard Curtis has gone in an interesting direction with these sorts of magic realism romcoms. A movie about a man in a world that has somehow forgotten the Beatles is really high concept, but the likable characters and good direction by Danny Boyle carry this forward and make it a winner for me.

9. Klaus. There are a lot of Santa Claus movies out there, including a lot of origin stories, but I never knew that what I really needed was the one that linked old St. Nick to the postal service. This animated film is one of the most charming Santa movies I’ve ever seen.

8. Tread (watched in May 2020). Paul Solet’s bizarre little film is half documentary, half reenactment, and all totally bonkers. The true story of a man who got fed up with his small town and decided to build a tank to flatten it is totally gripping and utterly engrossing.

7. It Chapter Two (watched in March 2020). I know that a lot of people didn’t think the conclusion of this two-film saga was as good as the first part, but I was pulled in and moved by the whole thing. It is my favorite Stephen King novel, and I really felt like this film did it justice.

6. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (watched in June 2021). I never thought that Quentin Tarantino would make a fairy tale, but that’s kind of what this is. As he did with Inglorious Basterds, he created some amazing and moving characters, dropped them into real historical events, and then let things go completely off the rails in a highly satisfying way. In fact, this is now my second favorite Tarantino film, after the aforementioned Basterds.

5. Spider-Man: Far From Home. It almost feels quaint writing about this movie, having seen No Way Home, but this remains one of my favorite Marvel movies. Tom Holland is my favorite Spider-Man, and I thought this film was a fine epilogue to the Infinity Saga that ended in Avengers: Endgame.

4. Joker (watched in Jan. 2020). Batman villain by way of gritty crime drama, Joaquin Phoenix absolutely nails his performance in this movie about a man whose own weakness and the crushing weight of his life ultimately leads to an explosive self-destruction. If they never make a sequel to the film, I think it stands just fine on its own. 

3. Shazam! Outside of Superman, the original Captain Marvel is my favorite DC hero, and I had high hopes that this film would be a lighthearted adventure worthy of the premise of a boy who transforms into the world’s mightiest mortal. What I did not anticipate was a film with a profound message about the power of a found family, and a finale that left me giddy, as it introduced beloved characters that I never would have guessed I would see in a feature film.

2. Knives Out (watched in February 2021). Of all the films on this list, this is the one I’m most angry with myself for sleeping on. The trailers looked like it would deliver a quirky little murder mystery. I was unprepared for how layered, complicated, and altogether satisfying the movie would be – to say nothing of how much fun it was to watch this phenomenal cast tear up the scenery. I couldn’t be happier that there are more Benoit Blanc mysteries in the works.

1. Avengers: Endgame. This topped my list the moment I saw it, and I sincerely doubt there is anything that can possibly topple it. The grand finale of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe up until that point was epic, moving, heartbreaking, triumphant, and contains perhaps the single greatest moment in any superhero movie ever made. Yeah, you know what moment I’m talking about. That one. Magnificent. 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. In 2019, he thought that the last couple of years had been lousy, but they were bound to get better, right? 

What I Watched In… May 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

Favorite of the Month: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. The Time Travelers (1964), D+, MST3K Riff, B+
  2. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), A
  3. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), A-
  4. Fast Five (2011), B
  5. Inglorious Basterds (2009), A+
  6. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), A
  7. It Follows (2014), B
  8. Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) B
  9. Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics (2013), B
  10. Avalanche (1978), C-; MST3K Riff, A-
  11. Lord of the Flies (1963), A
  12. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (2005), B
  13. The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956), F; MST3K Riff, B+
  14. Prometheus (2012), B-
  15. Tombstone (1993), A-
  16. Aziz Ansari Live in Madison Square Garden (2015), B
  17. Phantasm (1979)
  18. Invasion of Astro-Monster aka Godzilla Vs. Monster Zero (1965), B+
  19. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie (1995), C+
  20. Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017), B+
  21. Aliens (1986), A
  22. The Painted Hills (1951), D; MST3K Riff, A-
  23. Alien: Covenant (2017), C+
  24. The Mars Generation (2017), B
  25. The Prestige (2006), A-
  26. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), A
  27. The Unknown Marx Brothers (1993), B-
  28. Knights of Badassdom (2013), B-
  29. Super (2010), B
  30. John Carter (2012), B+
  31. The Noose Hangs High (1948), B+
  32. Gargoyles (1972), C
  33. Starcrash (1978), D+; MST3K Riff, A
  34. The Land that Time Forgot (1975), D; MST3K Riff, B
  35. The Loves of Hercules (1960), D-; MST3K Riff, B
  36. Yongary, Monster From the Deep (1967), D+; MST3K Riff, B
  37. The Legend of Tarzan (2016), B
  38. The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues (1955), D

What I Watched In… January 2017

wishful-drinking

Favorite of the Month: Wishful Drinking

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Yoga Hosers (2016), C
  2. The Wild World of Batwoman (1966), D; MST3K Riff, B
  3. Girl in Gold Boots (1968), D; MST3K Riff, B-
  4. The Killer Shrews (1959), D+; MST3K Riff, B
  5. The Hateful Eight (2015), A-
  6. Africa Screams (1949), C+
  7. Wishful Drinking (2010), A
  8. Pod People (1983), F; MST3K Riff, B+
  9. House of Frankenstein (1944), C+
  10. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), A-
  11. R.O.T.O.R. (1987), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  12. Youth (2015), B+
  13. Jim Gaffigan: Cinco (2017), B+

What I Watched In… April 2013

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. The Neverending Story (1984), B+
  2. John Dies at the End (2012), B+
  3. Hotel Transylvania (2012), C
  4. Seeking a Friend For the End of the World (2012), B+
  5. Ruby Sparks (2012), A
  6. Evil Dead (2013), A-
  7. Hitchcock (2012), B
  8. Plan 9 From Outer Space (1958), F; RiffTrax Riff, B
  9. Idiocracy (2006), B+
  10. Slumdog Millionaire (2008), A
  11. History of the World Part I (1981), A
  12. Buck Privates (1941), A-
  13. Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953), B-
  14. Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003), B+
  15. Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004), A-
  16. Pumaman (1980), D; MST3K Riff, B+
  17. Time Chasers (1994), D; MST3K Riff, B
  18. Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders (1996), D-; MST3K Riff, B
  19. The Wizard of Oz (1925), D
  20. The Apple (1980), F; RiffTrax Riff, B
  21. Carnage (2011), B+
  22. Iron Man: Rise of Technovore (2013), C+
  23. Oblivion (2013), C+
  24. Midnight in Paris (2011), A-
  25. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), A
  26. Horse Feathers (1932), B
  27. Journey Back to Oz (1974), C-
  28. The Wiz (1978), B+
  29. Return to Oz (1985), B+
  30. Kingdom of the Spiders (1977), D; RiffTrax Riff, A-
  31. Condorman (1981), C+
  32. Reservoir Dogs (1992), B+
  33. Pulp Fiction (1995), A-
  34. The Galaxy Invader (1985), F; RiffTrax Riff, B
  35. The Matrix (1999), A-
  36. The Matrix Reloaded (2003), B
  37. The Matrix Revolutions (2003), B-
  38. Shame (2011), D+
  39. Tin Man (2007 Miniseries), B
  40. The Looney, Looney, Looney Bugs Bunny Movie (1981), B
  41. Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Vacation (1992), B-
  42. The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie (1979), B

2 in 1 Showcase At the Movies Episode 34: Double Feature! Django Unchained/Les Miserables

In addition to the many, many other projects on my plate, friends, I also co-host a weekly podcast about comic books and pop culture. We also have periodic “at the movies” mini-episodes, where myself and my co-hosts talk about a recent film we’ve seen. In this episode, my fiance Erin and I discuss a double feature of Tarantino’s Django Unchained and the musical Les Miserables.

2 in 1 Showcase at the Movies Episode 34: Double Feature! Django Unchained/Les Miserables

Gut Reaction: Django Unchained

Welcome to the first of my Gut Reaction reports, guys. This will be my blanket term for when I give my thoughts about a film fairly soon after watching it – hopefully the same day, if not within the first few days. As such, these may not be quite as deep or complex as the regular Reel to Reel episodes, but it will also make for a way to record early thoughts and early reactions to a movie, which I’ve learned are not necessarily always the same as the opinion I ultimately settle on after having time to think it over and allow my thoughts to collect. Also, since I will often write about movies that I’ve seen in theaters, don’t expect a detailed synopsis. I can’t really write a beat-for-beat report the way I do for my other projects, people tend to get irritated at that guy typing on his laptop in a darkened theater. That said, you should expect spoilers in these pieces, since the goal is the same – to examine the ideas and tropes that make up fiction.

My first Gut Reaction report will be my thoughts on director Quentin Tarantino’s newest film, Django Unchained. So again, warning, if you don’t want spoilers you should stop reading now.

Django UnchainedDJANGO UNCHAINED

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Johnson, Tom Wopat, Bruce Dern, M.C. Gainey, Cooper Huckabee, Doc Duhame, Jonah Hill, Zoe Bell, Tom Savini, Quentin Tarantino

Thoughts: Considering his well-documented preferences and sensibilities, it’s kind of surprising that it’s taken Quentin Tarantino this long to try his hand at a western. We’ve gotten lots of crime and revenge thrillers from him, we got his World War II epic (I still consider Inglourious Basterds to be his masterpiece), we’ve gotten Blaxploitation and, even though he didn’t direct it himself, we even got a vampire film out of him in From Dusk ‘Till Dawn. It took him nearly 20 years to attempt a western. Fortunately, it was worth the wait.

In Django Unchained we follow a bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (the amazingly good Christoph Waltz), who rescues a slave named Django (Jaime Foxx) because he can help him identify the three brothers he has been hired to track down, dead or alive. Along the way he begins to feel a sense of responsibility and friendship for Django, ultimately promising to help him in an elaborate ruse to buy his wife Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) from her owner, the cruel Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

This film has been pushed hard as a Jamie Foxx vehicle, as the film that’s going to garner him another Oscar, as a chance for cinema to right the wrongs of the pre-Civil War south and allow a former slave to get the sort of bloody revenge that Tarantino raised to an art form in Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds. I was surprised, therefore, when I watched the movie and realized that Django isn’t really the protagonist at all. Until the final act, the viewpoint and the main character arc all belong to Christoph Waltz’s Dr. Schultz. Schultz finds Django, takes him in, finds himself changed somewhat by the relationship, and takes a rather bold anti-slavery stance to right the wrong done to Django and Hildy while at the same time trying to protect his own hide. (Waltz, incidentally, gives as great a performance as an anti-hero here as he did as the cold-blooded Nazi in Inglourious Basterds. He sincerely deserves another Oscar nomination.)

In fact, the only thing that really marks this as Django’s story instead of Schultz’s is the fact that (again, last time, SPOILER WARNING) Schultz dies in what appears to be the climactic battle. And in fact, if it actually had been the climax, it would have still been a perfectly suitable and highly satisfying motion picture… Unless you judge satisfaction by the amount of bloody retribution handed out on the screen. Which Tarantino most certainly does. The fight that kills Waltz also kills our villain, DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie, plus several other men before Django surrenders himself to save Hildy. The screen cuts to black and for a moment it seems the movie is over. But then it comes back and we see a sequence of events (a slightly overlong sequence at that) showing Django on the brink of torture, being given a reprieve and sent to work in a mine, outsmarting his transporters (including Tarantino himself sporting the worst Australian accent ever heard in a motion picture) and returning to kill everyone who’s still alive in yet another bloodbath. Satisfying if that’s what you’re there for, and for most of the viewers, we were. It’s Tarantino, we expect lots of gunfights, lots of clever dialogue, and more blood per wound than is technically probably possible for the human body to expel. There’s even a bit where Django gets off a nice shot to kill one of his tormentors that sends her hurtling in a direction that completely defies the laws of physics. As ridiculous as it looked, though, it still got applause in the movie theater, because people aren’t going to a Tarantino movie for strict realism. They’re going to view into the sort of hyper-violent alternate history that it has become clear he’s created through many of his movies.

That said, I think it’s important to note that Django doesn’t really come across as a hero in any sense of the word. Sure, he has a noble cause (saving his wife), and the people he kills are pretty much all bad… but he is driven by revenge pure and simple, not by the nobler motivations of a motion picture hero. Schultz is a bit better – he’s a bounty hunter, yes, but he shows a personal disgust at the slave trade in general and Calvin Candie in particular. He almost blows his cover at one point when he tries to intercede to save the life of a slave who is about to be killed for trying to escape. And what stops him from saving that slave? Django, willing to let another man die rather than risk Candie catching on that Schultz is playing a con game on him. Django, who is forced to play the role of a black slaver (something he specifically says is the “lowest of the low”), takes to the role a little too easily, even seeming to take some twisted pleasure out of berating the slaves in Candie’s jurisdiction. Once again, it’s Schultz who objects and tries to get Django to back off… and Django refuses.

I do think Tarantino deserves full marks for not going the obvious route many filmmakers would have taken with this film of “white=bad, black=good.” Real life is far more complex and so is this movie. We’ve got the vile Calvin Candie and the pre-KKK lynch mob led by plantation owner Big Daddy (Don Johnson in a small but very funny role), but we also have Dr. Schultz, who is so disgusted by the slaver that he takes a chance to kill Candie even when all he has to do to walk away safe is shake the man’s hand… he can’t do it. Broomhilde comes across as angelic, as near-perfect, but on the flipside we have Samuel L. Jackson’s Steven, a house slave who has very much sided with the Candie family against the rest of the people in bondage. He’s also entertaining, but also despicable. In the screening we attended, people actually were shouting for his death… but you could tell they were having a good time doing it.

Tarantino takes lot from the spaghetti westerns of his youth, but as always maintains the incredible level of violence that’s become his trademark. Django himself is thematically related to a series of other Django films from the time period – most of which were only loosely related to each other. The most unexpected influence comes from Schultz, who takes the name of Django’s wife – “Broomhilde” – as a sign. He tells Django (and by extension the audience) an abbreviated version of the Norse legend of Brunhilde and Siegfried, and from there it becomes very clear that Django Unchained is really a loose adaptation of this part of the Ring of the Nibelung, in Western drag. There’s no attempt to disguise it, and in fact, any attempt to do so would probably feel disingenuous.

It’s a good movie… a very good movie, in fact. It’s not like most westerns and it’s not really what I expected when I sat down to watch it. It very much has the distinct flavor of a Tarantino film, though, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’re looking in the right place.