Winter 2021 – Week 5 in Review

Hello folks, and welcome back to another Week in Review! I’m actually keeping up with a weekly anime this season, as Wonder Egg Priority feels like one of those Event Television shows that you really want to be there for, right on the ground floor. You can still watch a show like Samurai Flamenco anytime, but you can’t recreate the experience of being there when Guillotine Gorilla first showed up, or the resultant wave of “what the fuck did I just watch” that washed over twitter. All that said, I’m also writing full articles about each of its episodes, so you can check out my episode two thoughts here, my episode three thoughts on Friday, and hopefully my future thoughts on a weekly basis. In the meantime, we’ve got some movies to break down, ranging from genuinely unimpeachable classics to memes that go on for two fucking hours. Let’s get right to it!

This week’s most prestigious watch was Rear Window, another Hitchcock classic, centered on a photographer played by James Stewart. After injuring his legs attempting to secure a great photo, Stewart is wheelchair-bound for weeks, and spends most of his time staring out over the enclosed city block outside his window. Fortunately, there’s a whole world of motion out there; distinctive neighbors flank him on three sides, all living out their lives on the boundaries of his little world. However, one night he hears a scream in the dark, and the next day one neighbor is missing, leading him into a murder investigation conducted entirely through his open window.

As usual, Hitchcock’s gift for staging is incomparable, and Stewart’s romance with Grace Kelly is endearing and genuinely funny. But the real star of Rear Window is its marvelous set, constructed at scale on a Hollywood lot, and absolutely brimming with charming, distinctive characters. There’s the old couple who always sleep on the fire escape, and who lower their terrier to the street with a rope and basket. There’s the tormented pianist, surely on the urge of a breakthrough, for now simply playing his beautiful half-song. There’s Miss Lonelyheart, a first-floor resident who always does up the table for two, but is always disappointed. Rear Window’s unique format makes for a brilliantly constructed ensemble drama, where you end up caring about this neighborhood as a whole as much as you care about its individual residents. It’s both the funniest and warmest Hitchcock film I’ve seen, and it might well be my favorite, too.

One of my housemates hadn’t seen the original Alien, so we took another ride through one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve loved Alien since I was probably much too young to love Alien, and watching it this time, I was struck by how formative many of its choices must have been for me.

The film takes over thirty minutes to get to any meaningful scares, instead working hard to capture the precise ambience of the Nostromo freight hauler, as well as the distinctive personalities of its crew members. The dialogue is unusually naturalistic for a horror film, and the set design is utterly incredible; the eerily sanitized crew quarters, the smoking menace of the engine areas, and the strangely organic ship they find are all remarkable settings, beautiful and terrifying at once.

H.R.Giger actually contributed designs for both the monster itself and the alien ship, and seeing them now, it’s clear this film made me fall in love with Lovecraft before I even knew who Lovecraft was. Then there’s the marvelous sound design, making use of ominous diegetic beeps and a persistent heartbeat to build up perfect climaxes of horror release. And the cast is great, and the film’s dramatic escalation is perfectly paced… I mean, Alien really is just one of the best horror movies of all time, and a film I find new things to appreciate in every time I watch. We don’t get to pick our formative pieces of art, but I’m glad Alien was one of mine.

We also checked out The Road Warrior, George Miller’s sequel to the original Mad Max. I watched the first Mad Max several years ago, but that film doesn’t really resemble the franchise that follows it; it’s essentially just Mel Gibson shot by George Miller on a highway, with a few thugs and a revenge plot thrown in. Miller does what he can with what he has, but the film is undeniably limited by his production resources; but with Hollywood money behind him for the sequel, The Road Warrior essentially sculpts the Mad Max universe.

The Road Warrior is one of those ur-texts that has gone on to influence a massive swathe of pop culture, from the way chases and action films are constructed, to the aesthetic of post-apocalyptic fiction at large. If you’ve played Borderlands or Fallout, you’ve seen Road Warrior’s look; its influence is as inescapable as Aliens in terms of videogame design. And beyond its influence, Road Warrior is also just a goddamn great action movie, elevated through Miller’s unique ability to convey grounded filmic drama (the way this film uses ammunition as power is brilliant), as well as some delightfully devilish raiders. The ending is a bit abrupt, but on the whole, The Road Warrior is a must-see for any action fans, and an absurd upgrade from its predecessor.

Finally, I am ashamed to say we finished this week with a meme movie, as Netflix wouldn’t fucking stop advertising The Bee Movie. So yes, I have seen The Bee Movie, and thus can relay all of its manifold horrors to you. I wish I could say, “you know, bee-human romance aside, this movie actually kinda works,” but that would be an abdication of my moral responsibilities. The Bee Movie sucks, and not not even just because it’s attempting to convey a romance between a human woman and a bee-shaped Jerry Seinfeld.

First of all, the romance in this movie is actually terrible! As a long-time anime fan, I’m used to seeing love bloom between unusual partners – but I’m also used to seeing empty-headed haremettes, whose only thoughts relate to their overbearing love for the main protagonist. And Renee Zellweger’s Whatever Her Character’s Name Is is exactly that type of character, with essentially no personality beyond “I love this bee, this bee is so funny, I love laughing at all this bee’s jokes.” And of course, the underlying fact that this is, you know, a human-bee romance continuously undercuts any sense of tension or investment, meaning most of this film’s true laugh-out-loud moments come when the leads are doing absurd googly eyes at each other.

Oh god, the googly eyes! That reminds me, this film’s CG animation is atrocious, and Zellweger looks like a glassy-eyed corpse at basically all times. Also, the explanation for bees being able to talk is “bees could always talk, it’s just there’s a rule against talking to humans, but then Jerry breaks that rule immediately and no one seems to care and then bees can just talk generally I guess,” and that is one of this film’s better sketched-out pieces of worldbuilding. Also also, it’s clear the scriptwriters could only come up with maybe a third of a film with their base idea, so they pad the film by adding in shit like heist segments and extended courtroom debates. THEY HIRED JOHN GOODMAN TO BE AN EVIL LAWYER WHO CHARACTER ASSASSINATES A BEE.

So yes, The Bee Movie isn’t just “meme bad,” it’s genuinely one of the worst, most ineptly constructed films I’ve ever seen. It’s so bad that it approaches The Room’s incredible “unintentional laughs per minute” ratio, so if you’re ever in the mood for a truly terrible film, know that The Bee Movie has got the goods.

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