GOM syndrome

When I recently finished my rundown of Batman movies I had occasion to comment on how Joker (2019) wasn’t so much a comic-book movie as an attempt to remake Martin Scorsese’s The King of Comedy (1982), a movie nearly forty years its senior. Despite being so much older, however, I said I found The King of Comedy to be far smarter, fresher, more observant, and original than Joker. This left me to wonder if such a response was the result of my now being a grumpy old man, stuck complaining about how they “don’t make ’em like they used to.”

As further evidence of my GOM syndrome I went on to mention how I thought Gone Girl (2014), another big hit and favoured “water-cooler” movie that tapped into a cultural moment, was inferior, as a movie, to such schlocky genre entries in the psycho-girlfriend canon as Play Misty for Me (1971) and Fatal Attraction (1987).

What made this stick out for me was the fact that I wasn’t picking on tired, junky retreads. Both Joker and Gone Girl were huge box-office hits. Joker won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, and led the field at the 2019 Academy Awards with 11 nominations (Joaquin Phoenix winning for Best Actor). Gone Girl received good reviews, made many critics’ top-10 lists, and was also nominated for numerous awards.

But there’s more grumpiness. Around the same time as this I was watching the British-Irish police drama The Fall, which ran for three seasons starting in 2013 and stars Gillian Anderson as a detective tracking a serial killer (Jamie Dornan). I’d heard nothing but good things about The Fall, which isn’t surprising given that it has a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and received “universal acclaim” according to the survey of reviews on Metacritic. But while I like Anderson and thought the show had a few good moments, I came away from The Fall thinking the story took some silly turns and played up its feminist credentials in a way that was really heavy-handed. I also wondered at how Jamie Dornan got such freakisly large calves, but that’s beside the point.

Watching The Fall made me want to go back and watch Prime Suspect, the police procedural starring Helen Mirren as DCI Jane Tennison. The first series of Prime Suspect, which aired in 1991, had Tennison trying to break through the glass ceiling in a decidedly sexist (I think even by the standards of the time) workplace while chasing after a serial killer. And again the experience I had was of what a falling off there has been. Prime Suspect, dealing with a very similar story, is much better in every department than The Fall, and is far stronger stuff for being more honest and direct in its treatment of difficult subject matter.

So, what was going on here? Is this all just further proof that the film and television business has run out of new ideas and can only try to remake better films and TV shows from twenty, thirty, or even forty years ago? I think that’s part of it, but it doesn’t explain why these remakes are so inferior to their precursors. In most cases they are more expensive and better produced. Technically they’re very well turned out. But Joker, Gone Girl, and The Fall just aren’t very interesting, at least to me. I’ve seen this stuff done before, and done better. Which is as good a definition of Grumpy Old Man syndrome as any. I guess it’s all part of the aging process.

Batmen

Always on call. For a sequel.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching a bunch of movies relating to Batman. I say “relating to Batman” because the first and last movie I watched don’t have Batman in them. But the first was only a cheap joke trying to cash in on the popularity of the Batman TV series and Joker just underlines how the villains Batman faces are usually a lot more interesting than Batman himself. I didn’t include Halle Berry’s Catwoman (2004) but it would have been another example of the same phenomenon (the Batman movie minus Batman).

There hasn’t been a great Batman movie, and there have been quite a few very bad ones. For some reason he’s been hard to get right.

The Wild World of Batwoman (1966)
Batman: The Movie (1966)
Batman (1989)
Batman Returns (1992)
Batman Forever (1995)
Batman & Robin (1997)
Batman Begins (2005)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
Joker (2019)

TGIF

Yes, it’s Friday. But can you guess which Friday the 13th?

Over at Alex on Film I’ve just finished up reviewing the Friday the 13th canon. I didn’t rewatch these movies all at once. Don’t think I could have taken it.

Fans like to rank these movies but looking back on them I don’t see how that’s possible. I guess the first one isn’t that bad. Betsy Palmer’s turn as Mrs. Voorhees is the (lone) series highlight for me. Some of the later entries had their moments, and they did try to change things up a bit as things went along, but still there’s not a lot here. And the 2009 reboot may have been the worst of them all.

Friday the 13th (1980)
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)
Friday the 13th Part III ((1982)
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday (1993)
Jason X (2001)
Friday the 13th (2009)

End times

Looking a lot like my hometown.

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching various movies about what’s known as TEOTWAWKI or The End of the World As We Know It. It seemed like a good time.

Most such movies have a common ancestor in Richard Matheson’s novella I Am Legend, though there are earlier literary precedents. It’s just that Matheson’s story tapped into what would become the dominant apocalyptic paradigm: not just the last man on earth scenario, but the war of that last man against all that remains. Hence the zombie apocalypse.

Matheson’s novel was first filmed in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth, and most recently in 2007 under its original title, but its most famous adaptation was 1971’s The Omega Man (not coincidentally, given the genre, these were all star vehicles, with Vincent Price, Will Smith, and Charlton Heston as the last men on earth). Unfortunately, watching The Omega Man again for the first time in years I found it fell short of how I remembered it. It’s really not much of a movie.

The Road (2009) is a more general vision of the end of days, with lots of faux-Biblical mutterings and a muddier more realistic look. I didn’t like it at all. But then I didn’t care for McCarthy’s novel much either.

Red Spring (2017) replaces zombies with vampires, which is actually more of a return to Matheson’s story. It’s hamstrung by a low budget. The Night Eats the World (2018) brings back the zombies and takes us to Paris, which was at least a nice change of scenery. I Think We’re Alone Now (2018) goes in a slightly different direction, being one of the few such stories to posit a last man on earth who is happy in that role. Until others come calling. Though not a great movie, it’s the most interesting of this bunch.

Isolated thoughts

Three weeks in to the pandemic lockdown, some aspects of the experience, mostly negative, are coming in to clearer view. The following aren’t reflections on the broader impact of the crisis, which I’ll probably have a lot more to say about as this goes on, but rather things I’ve noticed at ground level. The loss of lives and jobs is a human disaster that will, I believe, have a profound impact on the way we live for years. What I’m talking about here are more mundane matters, along the lines of how to get a haircut (something I luckily haven’t had to deal with yet).

I find the saddest thing isn’t keeping social distance between myself and other people. That’s been pretty easy. No, the sad part is not being able to pet or play with the dogs that come running up to me in the park.

I’m not really scared of getting sick. The thought of getting COVID-19 isn’t something that bothers me as much as it probably should. What concerns me more is the possibility of finding myself in need of medical attention for some other reason while we’re stuck in this crisis. Already the system is overwhelmed, with non-essential services (a disturbingly elastic term that includes a lot of surgeries), being postponed indefinitely. There have also been numerous COVID-19 outbreaks in hospitals, including more than 20 cases reported in my own local General. This is not a good time to have to be dealing with any kind of health emergency. I also can’t imagine the backlog that is building up for some procedures.

The biggest personal disappointment has been my lack of productivity. You’d think enforced isolation would lead to getting more stuff done, but instead it has thus far mainly resulted in feelings of lethargy. Perhaps I need to make some “to do” lists. I hear that this helps with kids.

The worst thing is the shopping for groceries. This is an experience that has become very unpleasant. The grocery store is always packed, with long lines inside and sometimes outside, leading to the ironic conclusion that the most annoying part of the lockdown is that there are so many people around. My usual habit has been just-in-time grocery shopping, at hours when the store is only lightly attended. Now there are no such times, meaning I have to buy as much as I can at once since I don’t want to go the store as often.

This has, however, led to at least one positive result.

Because I’ve been a gym rat ever since high school, one of the biggest and least welcome changes to come with the COVID-19 outbreak has been the closing of my neighbourhood athletic complex. This immediately made me wonder just how out of shape I was about to get. I mean, I have some exercise equipment at home, but aside from the odd walk around the neighbourhood, where was I going to get a real cardio workout? I don’t jog.

Further reflection made me wonder about other possible outcomes. No doubt my cardio is going to go to hell over the next several weeks (or months). But was I going to turn into a full-blown couch potato? There were reasons to be pessimistic. I’m not going to be getting as much good exercise (with nearly everything closed I’m not even walking as much), and I’m likely to start eating a lot of snacks (comfort food) to go with all the increased screen time.

On the other hand, I also won’t be eating as much fast food, even of the take out or delivery variety. I can’t stress enough how important this is. As I pointed out in my notes on how to lose weight, eating at restaurants is a huge factor when it comes to keeping the pounds off. There is no healthy way to eat out. Meanwhile, another thing I said in that earlier post is that exercise, as a method of losing weight, is highly overrated. There are plenty of good reasons to exercise, but losing weight really isn’t one of them.

So by this calculation alone I was coming out ahead. Add in the fact that I’m not going to the grocery store as often, and trying to get in and out as quickly as possible, and the results have been better than expected. I am actually losing weight while in lockdown. I’ve been disciplined about not stocking up on crap on my grocery store runs, and I haven’t eaten fast food in a couple of weeks. I don’t know if this is sustainable, but it may lead to  some lasting changes.

People often talk about when things are going to get back to normal. This may be wishful thinking. I think normal is going to look different than it used to. And unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to be something better.

Impossible missions

Don’t let go of that plane, Tom!

Over at Alex on Film I’ve been watching the Mission: Impossible films, with Tom Cruise as super-agent Ethan Hunt. This is considered to be a rarity among movie franchises in that most people think the series got progressively better. I’m not so sure. The later offerings (and the series is still ongoing) have been slicker productions and more expensive but they’ve also been more generic. They have nevertheless, always been entertaining in a Hollywood blockbuster sort of way. Here’s the line-up:

Mission: Impossible (1996)
Mission: Impossible II (2000)
Mission: Impossible III (2006)
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

Lockdown

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to dominate the news.

It really is remarkable, and a bit depressing. Every day is like Sunday, with the streets nearly empty and most of the stores closed or only open for reduced hours. School has been suspended and I wonder what the kids are doing. Are they all online? I think they must be.

I don’t know if all of the precautions that are being taken actually work. My sense is that they’re less effective than we’re led to believe. For example, I had to go the bank yesterday. They had cut back the hours of service so it didn’t open until 10 (the other bank I had to go to opened at 11). In addition, people were only being let into the bank proper one at a time. The waiting area was the vestibule with the ATM.  Because of the reduced hours and the one-person-at-a-time rule a bottleneck was created so that more people were packed together than usual, in a smaller space, waiting for longer just to get in. I couldn’t see this as being helpful except as a way to discourage people from coming to the bank in the first place, which really wasn’t helpful at all.

I’m not that worried about catching COVID-19 myself. What does worry me is the amount of damage this is going to have on the economy (meaning people’s jobs) and how long it is going to last. I had a dentist appointment this week that was canceled and they asked if I wanted to reschedule in three weeks’ time. I asked, in some amazement, if they really thought this would all blow over in three weeks. They could only respond that this is what they’d been told. The public library system has also said that they will be closed for three weeks. I think it’s going to be a lot longer.

Falling down, falling down

Does the name Mike Banning ring a bell? You’d be forgiven for finding it the generic and forgettable name of a Hollywood action hero, which is the Mike Banning I’m thinking of. He’s the presidential bodyguard played by Gerard Butler in the trilogy Olympus Has Fallen (2013), London Has Fallen (2016), and Angel Has Fallen (2019). There are plans for more but I think I’ve had enough. Already I have trouble telling them apart. The perfectly generic and forgettable vehicles for a Mike Banning.