The 120 Days of Sodom: A Horrific Masterpiece

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For those of you who can measure your encounters with movies in a timeline, I am about to introduce something to you that will split that timeline in two. Why? Perhaps I take some sick pleasure in exposing you to one of the most controversial movies ever made? Perhaps I want to make you gag as you watch it as what happened when I did (or even watched the trailer)? You might say that this desire of mine is a little… sadistic?

The movie I am speaking of is entitled Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom. Set during the Fascists’ last stand in World War II Italy, it tells the story of four aristocrats (the Duke, the President, the Judge, and the Bishop), all of whom are libertines (people with an extremely loose concept of morals, or have none at all) who seek to achieve the ultimate sexual pleasure. To accomplish this, they arrange the abduction of nine teenage boys and nine teenage girls and take them to a palace and expose them to one hundred twenty days of physical, mental, and sexual torture. It is basically a movie that is all about rape.

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Those of you who have just read the synopsis I have provided are probably revolted by it. Congratulations, that is exactly what the author of the novel this film is based upon, intended when he wrote it. Infamously he warned the readers to “prepare [their] heart[s] and mind[s] for the most impure tale ever written since the world began, for no such book may be found among either the ancients or the moderns.” This comes from The 120 Days of Sodom. I found a copy in a bookstore one day (already aware of its existence), and read through the final few pages out of curiosity. After finishing it, I set the book down and said aloud: “WHY???” This applied to what made me decide to actually read it even though I was aware of its contents, as well as a question as to what would motivate anybody to write something like this?

Now who is this man who had the audacity and complete absence of shame to ever write something as abominable as this (Wow, I sound like a puritan!)? He is referred to as “the Marquis de Sade”, a French aristocrat from the Enlightenment era. Born Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, he gained a reputation for his insatiable lusts, as well as his cruelty, and often spent his life in prisons for, not just the attributes I just mentioned but also, blasphemy. Sade famously wrote “God is the sole idea for why I cannot forgive man.”

I must remind you that in Sade’s case, prison was not as horrific as we would imagine, as his cells were quite spacious and decorated to his desires. He possesses a type of legacy that very few are able to achieve, in that a word was added to dictionaries based on his name: Sadism. Or sadomasochistic, sadistic, etc. Very few people have achieved this in life. Other words that come to mind are Christian, Jeffersonian, Platonism, Marxist… His school of thought was that he was logical to the extreme, one example urging society to disregard the poor and suffering because they held us back (a case of social darwinism). This goes on top of him praising rape, too.

This novel was blended with several other pieces of literature: Friedrich Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, Dante’s Inferno (at some point I’ll do a piece on why I am opposed to people just referring to the first installation of Alighieri’s epic poem), Ezra Pound’s poem The Cantos, and Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. The setting was then transported to the waning days of World War II in Italy, kept the same characters and their social positions but made them fascists. This was all done by the genius Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. Despite the film depicting rape for the most part, Pasolini turned it into something more. It was highly philosophical, as it dealt with politics, social darwinism, religion, sexuality, and morals among countless other topics.

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Pasolini had just finished his Trilogy of Life, which consisted of his adaptations of The Canterbury Tales, The Decameron, and The Arabian Nights. Salò would serve as the introduction to his planned Trilogy of Death. However, just before the movie was released, Pasolini was brutally murdered (and it remains unsolved to this day). I cannot even imagine what the man was intending to make as the next two installments, as I believe this covers the worst of human cruelty: taking pleasure in causing horrific suffering. An interesting bit of trivia regarding this film’s production was that Ennio Morricone (who is possibly the greatest living soundtrack artist) only agreed to score this because he was friends with Pasolini.

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I discovered this movie by accident in the summer of 2015, after screening a video made by, who make videos covering a wide variety of culture in the form of Top 10 lists. This particular video I saw was “Top 10 Movies You Can Only Watch Once”, and while Salò did not make the list, it was included as an honorable mention with a brief ten second clip in which one of the characters utters an extremely disturbing line. Shocked by this, and curious, I googled the movie, and experienced every emotion that I have described throughout this post. I could not get it off my mind for months, and I felt the urge to discuss it with people. The rhetoric that I used made me sound similar to a highly sensitive fundamentalist condemning an emerging controversial trend from the pulpit. I joked with people that after learning about Salò, every other movie that existed was now the equivalent to a Disney movie for me. It calloused me to all sorts of horrors in the world, so much so that when I watched HBO’s Chernobyl in 2019 and came across the scene depicting the Soviet military killing all the dogs abandoned by their Pripyat families in order to prevent the spread of radiation poisoning, I did not flinch.

I finally saw the movie three or four years later after I purchased a copy distributed by the Criterion Collection, and I was not as horrified as I anticipated myself to be. I did gag throughout the “mangia la merde” scene (you will be spared from imagining its contents if you cannot read Italian, or any other Romantic language). It was very similar to when I discovered The Exorcist just before I turned thirteen. After being horrified and obsessed for months, I finally saw it and realized the bark was worse than the bite.

This movie struck a nerve with me because of what it depicts: privileged figures getting away with crimes simply because of their social status. That must be the greatest injustice in the world. There is no justice in Salò, as the four main characters go off to live the rest of their lives as they please. Or at least we are left to that assumption, as history tells us that the war will end and countless persons from all across the social spectrum will be held accountable for their crimes against humanity. But for the sake of this film and its thesis, these men will get away with it.

But why am I writing this post and sharing the details of what is likely the most controversial movie of all time? Perhaps it is because the Marquis de Sade has left an impression on me, and I will take joy in exposing you to this nightmare? As I do not drink, I often serve as the babysitter for my intoxicated friends, and the benefit of being sober is that I sometime get to play games with them. On some occasions I show them the trailer and giggle at their reactions.

Many of my readers (which will hopefully include more than just my mom and my brother’s girlfriend) will likely shut their window containing this post and move on, yearning for a more neutral post that will not elicit crazy reactions. But this is the reality of art, sometimes controversial and disturbing themes are needed and they can prove to be masterpieces, as Pasolini has proven here. Those of you who have the stomach to pursue their curiosity after reading this essay: all I can say to you is “Good luck”.

Go See Sonic!

Last summer, the first trailer for a live-action adaptation of the iconic video game character, Sonic the Hedgehog, was released and immediately garnered an appalling reception from the public, all due to the CGI for Sonic’s design. While my aunt had one of the original Sega Genesis (I don’t know how to make this plural) and I would play it every time I visited their house, I was not a passionate fan and was unconcerned when I learned about the negative reception. I simply thought: “Wow, those guys blew it! Just another example of studios taking too big of a bite in an attempt to adapt something nostalgic, I guess?”

But in November, Paramount released an updated version of the trailer, with Sonic’s image changed from an attempted realistic hedgehog-like design to the traditional image that has been marketed since his beginning in 1991, just months after I was born. This version’s reception was in stark contrast to the one introduced in the original trailer, fans loved it. I immediately saw social media posts about us viewers having an obligation to see this film due to the studio’s willingness to respond to the fan’s opinions.

My cynical mother will likely interject that Paramount’s decision to re-animate Sonic was motivated by business, fearing a financial loss if they did not change anything. Perhaps that is true, but it does not mean it was the ONLY reason they made these changes? Perhaps the filmmakers feared the negative reaction forever staining the franchise and letting the viewers down? Perhaps they were pure in heart about the desire to entertain everyone?

Whatever the case was, the point remains that the studios took the viewers seriously and were motivated to fix everything for them. That alone is commendable, and because of this, I urge everyone to consider catching this flick when you get a chance. The perks include seeing Jim Carrey in action as Sonic’s nemesis, Dr. Robotnik, James Marsden as small town sheriff Tom Wachowski (who will aid Sonic in this installment), and Ben Schwartz (whom you may remember as our favorite dim-witted spoiled brat, Jean-Ralphio Saperstein from Parks & Recreation) voicing the iconic video game hero.

So if showing character and appreciation, and being a good sport isn’t enough to get you to see this movie, then perhaps a cast of beloved entertainers will persuade you to hand over the cash to be entertained for 99 minutes? Maybe it will be good, maybe it will be bad? But let’s just be good sports about it and thank the studios for appreciating the opinions of the viewers.

The Oscars: What’s the Point?

Over a decade ago, when I began to visit the city of Cinema with more ambition, I sought to broaden my horizons and familiarize myself with what are considered “good movies”. As a novice, it made sense to start with the Academy Awards, as they are the highest achievements for those in the entertainment industry.

Being educated in a Catholic school, I had just finished a course that introduced my classmates and me to Catholic philosophy, and to learn to look at things in a critical and objective manner. One of the lessons I vividly remember was the understanding of the word “best”, and how, as an idea, it is not something to toss around freely like a football. If we are to refer to something as “the best”, it must be singular and superior to all others, (while we can have multiple bests in certain circumstances, for the awards it is a singular scenario). And being briefed on Church history, I learned about when the Church would speak “ex cathedra” (definitively) and infallibly, from councils to matters of faith and morals such as the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception and her bodily Assumption (these are the only two times papal infallibility has been invoked). I assumed that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences approached the awards the same way the Church did when regarding certain subjects: with a consensus among their members after debating the subjects. This was the way the American Film Institute created their lists of the greatest films, their heroes and villains, and musical scores.

So maybe there was a reason for declaring A Beautiful Mind and Chicago superior to the first two installments of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and then reward the Best Picture Oscar to its final piece The Return of the King? Maybe there was a reason Dances with Wolves beat GoodFellas? I was aware that Citizen Kane, arguably the greatest film ever made, lost out on the Oscars as a result of the influence of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who, upon discovering that he served as the inspiration for the character Charles Foster Kane, demanded his critics vilify the movie upon its release, and that it was rediscovered as a classic in the post-World War II era. But for everything else, there had to be a reason, right? The members must have assembled to debate the merits of each movie and determined that, while GoodFellas was more enjoyable than Dances with Wolves, the latter had more artistic merits.

I was not aware that the decisions came down to sending out ballots to their members (who were granted admission after making a few memorable movies) who would then submit their ballots via mail, which would be counted, and then presented at the show.

So I began to familiarize myself with the world of cinema, and eventually I learned about the artistic genius of Stanley Kubrick, who placed so many intricate details into his films visually and audibly that would reinforce the story he was telling. His greatest achievement, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was not just a science fiction flick: it was an intellectual look about man’s journey through all of life, ranging from the day he learned the basics of technology to voyaging through what appears to be an eternal cosmos. It poses a question: just as man evolved to our current physical and intellectual capacity, where will we go from here on out, if evolution and life are continuing to this day? Are we alone in this universe? Where do we stand in relation to technology and artificial intelligence?

This movie was not even nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. It did win Kubrick an award for Best Visual Effects. It did not garner any other awards.

Which movie did it ultimately lose to? Which movie did the Academy pick as the “best” for the year 1968?

Actor Gary Lockwood on set with director Stanley Kubrick during the filming of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Oliver! A musical adaptation of Oliver Twist. Enjoyable, perhaps, but superior to 2001? (if there were a sentence that could perfectly express a dumbfounded look on one’s face, I would type it up as I do not think the world would look to kindly on putting an emoji in an essay).

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I am not taking a snarky position that enjoyable mainstream entertainment is inferior art. Disney would not be the empire that it is today (not giving corporate Disney a card blanche for the unethical practices through business or grooming young entertainers) if it originally did not possess quality, and continue to produce quality. 2001 takes a great investment of attention to get through, but when you later recall everything you saw, there is no other description of feeling but humbled.

When I began to watch all these movies for myself and further immerse myself in cinema as an art, I came to understand that the Academy was far different than my Church. Not just in the sense that its members were contrarians with the Catholic positions on sexuality (tell me which other industry would have quarrels like this?), but the Academy did not approach their subjects with the intellectual rigor that produced geniuses such as Augustine of Hippo or Thomas Aquinas.

After many years of immersing myself in iconic movies ranging from Disney to the Criterion Collection, and watching the Academy Awards on an annual basis, I came to a conclusion: the Academy Awards are not celebrating the best movies of each year, they are just a party for A-list entertainers.

This might be a bit of a blow to younger me, who sought to win an Academy Award one day, but it is the truth. While many films are rightly honored over the years (The Godfather: Part I & II, Casablanca, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Schindler’s List, to name a few) there are plenty of other films that do not get the honor they deserve mainly due to politics. One of the greatest examples was awarding Crash the top prize over Brokeback Mountain, controversial in its time as it dealt with a gay relationship with two cowboys.

But as my life has progressed, I have seen the emergence of many stars, and wondered what it would be like when I could look them up on IMDb and see “Nominated for/Won Oscar” on their profile, and if that gave them the status of respectable actor. When I have watched them win in real time, I look back and wonder if this has changed anything? Are they even more worthy of respect now?

And then it comes down to the fact that Oscars are a show. Take for example when the award for anything beyond performance, directing, music, or overall movie, itself, is presented. An A-list entertainer comes forward and reads an introduction to the category of the award they are presenting (such as cinematography or art direction), and the writing sounds contrary to their own artistic trade marks (if this star has any), and the winner comes forward and gives his or her speech, then departs. But this winner never returns to the awards again as a presenter.

Rami Malek sprays Piper-Heidsieck, the sole champagne of the Oscars for the past five years.

The best way I can describe the Oscars are that they are parties for A-list entertainers. The next day we recall the show and gush over what each star is wearing, who appears to be the most glamorous, who are their guests, who made the most memorable speech (good or bad). These are all the things we discuss when the subject is a party, and unfortunately this is a party that a majority of us will never be invited to. I am not bringing in a “working class hero” mentality, but it is part of a conversation we need to have when discussing which movie is the best or has the best quality, and whether or not these awards that are heralded as the ultimate achievement are truly relevant in the debate?

I, unfortunately, have to conclude that: No, they are not worthy of being included in these debates. It is just a sign that you have made it into a community of iconic people and have achieved general mainstream success. The awards can bring these movies into our own debates.

This the difference between art and sports. I am not arguing that art is strictly subjective and nobody is ever right, as I view that to be a cop-out to avoid necessary and honest discussions, but it is easier to be objective in sports, as we deal with numbers. Even in the quest to reign as champion, each team needs to go through a rigorous playoff bracket, which is a fight for survival, and adding another story to the sport. It is easier to present awards based on merit there, but even then we occasionally run into biases.

If we truly want to declare which flick is the best, or which artist achieved the greatest honor, we need to do away with the Oscars and award shows as we know it and come up with a new setup. And above all: we need to make it appealing to the masses. We need to plead our case! I do not have the solution at the moment, but let us begin to brainstorm on how to do away with a system best represented by a statuette that resembles an expensive sex toy.

But who knows? Perhaps I will win an Oscar someday, and reference this blog post and stick my middle finger up to it in the height of emotion as I am embraced by a beautiful actress and applauded by artists that I am admired over the years? Until then, I must stick with this position.


Rey and Kylo Ren's lightsaber duel in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I’ll be up front: unless you are what Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) refers to as a “UPF” (Ultra-Passionate Fan [qualifications include naming every planet and recognizing each spot in the saga by just listening to a piece of the soundtrack]), then you probably will not enjoy Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, what is intended to be the final installment in the Skywalker saga (until Disney begins to count their box office receipts).

Still reeling from visionary filmmaker Rian Johnson’s attempt to add diversity and change to the saga through Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (which had the same consequences of the introduction of “New Coke”), I anticipated the release of this film with as much enthusiasm as awaiting a prostate exam: clearly do not want to do it, but I am obliged to. There was no excitement upon the release of the trailers, and it did not help that my brother shared early reviews published a week before the release. But I was wrong with this one, much to my relief. This proved to be my favorite installment of the sequel trilogy, as it tied together every loose detail by alluding to instances throughout the previous eight movies.

Unfortunately, if you need to ask “who is who” and what happened in certain instances, this movie may fly over your head and you may leave confused. The term “spoiler alert” may not apply. I do not believe this film was made for your average movie-goer, it was made for us fans. Mark Hamill made the distinction between those who go to see the movie and may enjoy it, and those of us he refers to as UPF’s (as I explained earlier): fans who approach him on the street who not only make clear how much they enjoy watching the movies, but will confess that the saga was their escape vessel during their mother’s illness or declaring bankruptcy.

It was made for those of us who owned merchandise as children, and may still purchase collectables well into their adult lives (such as the Force FX Lightsabers that are guaranteed to bring out everybody’s inner-child, regardless of how “suave” or “sophisticated” they may view themselves to be). It was made for those of us who still daydream about living in that galaxy far, far away, and groan when cosmologists and astronomers tell us that our favorite scenes are physically impossible.

But the biggest question is how did they give resolution to the character of General Leia Organa, due to the death of our beloved Carrie Fisher? Through unused footage and their creative editing, I can answer that Fisher was given the conclusion that her iconic character deserved.

If you can name Chewbacca’s home planet right off the top of your head: why are you waiting for me to review this movie? You should have seen it already! Shame on you!

If you think that Chewbacca might be the name of Indiana Jones’ Egyptian ally… you have my pity.

“I’m a cotton-headed ninny muggins!”

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Today proved to be another arduous day at my job as a night manager for a posh hotel in Boston. I often struggle with complex financial transactions, such as when a guest wishes to pay their fee on two separate credit cards, which turns into a disaster.

Wallowing in self-pity, I recognize that this is job is not part of my vocation in life, and it should come as no surprise that folks in my inner-circle through family, friends, and work encourage me to pursue my passion for writing as my career. Unfortunately I have not reached the point where writing provides me with rent money or healthcare, so I will be stuck with barely trucking along through the hospitality industry.

Considering that it is December and Christmas themes run amuck, I can’t help but think of the timeless holiday classic, Elf, in which Will Ferrell’s human character, Buddy, lives a life among elves and clearly sticks out like a sore thumb. Acknowledging his lack of skills, Buddy declares “I’m a cotton-headed ninny muggins!” which scandalizes the elves who struggle to reassure him that he has talents (which ultimately have nothing to do with your average elf).

After our accountant arrives in the morning and corrects a mistake I have made, but points out a small detail that I do that others forget, I smile as this scene comes to my mind. I am not depressed with my current work situation. It provides me with what I need, allows me to do what I want in my life as a bachelor (bachelor, not a playboy) in Boston, and am surrounded by a wonderful community of coworkers. But it is self-evident this career is not for me. I will continue to truck along in my hopes that someday I will be able to get my material under the radar of someone who can promote me to a larger audience, and not just people in my life who chance across my self-promotion on Facebook.

The Psychology Behind Disney’s Live-Action Adaptations

Over the last four years, we have seen Disney produce live-action adaptations of our favorite animated classics. It began with Cinderella and has made it all the way to Lady and the Tramp. In between, there have been some animated versions that have been created to resemble reality, such as The Lion King and The Jungle Book. I think this is highly inappropriate as an art form, but I have theories as to why Disney is following this trend, beyond the fact that corporate Disney wants to rake in as much box office cash as possible.

In order to understand why Disney is seeking to make a profit from this trend, we need to remember the basics of marketing: if the public wants something and we can provide it to them in exchange for money, then that is what we need to do. It boils down to the point that WE, the audience, WANT to see live-action versions of animated classics. And this must be rooted in our natural desire to be entertained.

What has always made us love motion pictures is that they are the culmination of all forms of art: all things visible and all things audible. The movie begins with the script (writing) and is filmed to pick up certain images (visual art), contains performers (acting), and sounds to support (or even contrast) what we are seeing (music). It should come as no surprise that when we fall in love with a piece of art in any form, our first thoughts include the desire to make a adapt it into a movie (this is usually the case with books and plays).

But this happened before the invention of cameras and movies. People still desired to see performances of their favorite stories, and so for thousands of years they attended the theatre, where they would see the story unfold before their very eyes. We do not want our entertainment to be restricted to only our imaginations, we want to see it as we see world in front of us.

But theatre is a limited form of art, it is all depending on the audience being there in that specific location in order for people to be entertained. In order for a resident of Wyoming who cannot afford to attend the original run of Hamilton on Broadway, he must depend on video to see it.

That is the beauty of cinema: it is theatre that is accessible to the whole world. While the stories of J. R. R. Tolkien have been adapted to the stage countless times since they were introduced to the world in 1937, artists always strove to bring it to the big screen (and by the time they did with New Line Cinema and WingNut Films helmed by Peter Jackson, the only way to describe it was miraculous, and as good of an adaptation as anybody would have wanted).

And this proves to be the case with our favorite animated classics that Disney has been turning into live-action films. We want to see these movies as if they were a part of the world we live in. I remember bringing a copy of The Lion King back to my dorm during my freshman year of college as my roommate and a close friend of ours watched it. The roommate commented that Disney should make a live-action version, to which I voiced my disagreement. Nine years later, Disney granted him his wish with their recent release of the iconic movie. While I was impressed by the adaptations of Simba’s presentation to the kingdom, it quickly lost my attention after that.

Why was I not as interested in this? Because the beauty of cartoons is that the artist has the ability to convey anthropomorphic qualities to dumb brutes who express their emotions in manners different to ours. We could not see the comedic effect in Billy Eichner and Seth Rogen’s performances as Timon and Pumba, respectively, or the fear in Scar’s eyes when he realized he was to die and the “paws” of the hyenas he threw under the bus. There was also the inability to accompany the iconic songs with visual aids that came with them. That was the beauty of the original version, which we cannot replicate if we attempt to make it as realistic as possible.

I will restrain myself from concluding that live-action adaptations of cartoons cannot be done, since there were many who asserted The Lord of the Rings was too complicated to turn into films. However I find it very unlikely that we can achieve the same affection for a live-action as we do for the original animated piece. Not just the fact that it’s a remake, as films such as A Star is Born are incapable of being remade into an awful piece of entertainment.

I will conclude that we should stop giving Disney a reason to make poor updated versions of our favorite movies, and the best way to do that is NOT SEE the new versions. With the pace that Disney is already at, I find it very unlikely that Mulan or The Rescuers will fare any better.

Been away, forgive me…

I realize that I have not contributed to this blog since early October, and it is now a week or so away from Thanksgiving. What kept me away? Distraction and ultimately no motivation, as there have not been many movies that I’m eager to see until now.

Hopefully there will be more activity here in the coming weeks, as I am looking forward to the release of Scorsese’s The Irishman (which I WILL NOT be watching on Netflix, as any film by an artist as legendary as Scorsese deserves to be seen on the big screen, as movies were intended), A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (as we all need a reminder of Fred Rogers, perhaps the nicest human to ever walk this earth, in an era of turmoil and division across our country revolving around one man), and Knives Out (while still holding onto frustration from director Rian Johnson’s botched take on the previous Star Wars movie).

It’s also quite expensive to see a movie, nowadays, which very easily explains how so many popular films sail across the $1 billion mark. If this blog DID accrue a following that would provide me with the financial liberty to devote myself to the movies full-time (hint, hint) then maybe I could contribute to the readers’ interest in cinema.

Until then, I am going to have to take the budgeted approach to movies and occasionally make my way out to the theaters or find a pirated version of whatever is popular right now (hopefully the government is not reading this… but that’s assuming that there ARE people reading whatever has been posted on this cheaply assembled website).

I hope to be back soon. I need to keep going.

JOKER: Give Me More Time

Last month I emerged from screening It: Chapter Two with great satisfaction, and went on to write a review asserting that the IT movies were practically gospel for horror fans. A month has passed and in that time I was able to see the multiple variations of reviews for the film and see the IMDb rating drop to a 7.0 out of 10, with a dip in the the 6 range highly likely in the foreseeable future.

Just last night I emerged from seeing an early showing of the highly anticipated origin story for the clown prince of crime of Gotham City, and I left with the same feeling of satisfaction, particularly with the characters and their actors’ portrayals. I chatted freely with my friend about how Joaquin Phoenix could possibly win the Oscar for his performance, making this the second time in Oscars history that two separate actors have won awards for playing the same character (the first, and so far ONLY pair has been Marlon Brando and JOKER’s very own Robert de Niro for Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, respectively). He would be joining said duo with the late, great Heath Ledger, who gave one of the most phenomenal performances ever in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. We parted ways for the night, and I proceeded to look up JOKER on IMDb and was impressed to see that it was already on the Top 250 list at #13, but quickly saw that it holds a 62 on Metascore.

That stopped me in my tracks and made me think: “Wait a minute…”

I then proceeded to search the Rotten Tomatoes profile and saw that it held only 69% approval from the critics… Certified fresh, yes, but it still kept me in my spot, puzzled. I looked over to the next column to see that it holds a 92% rating from audiences.

This left me thinking: “Is this one of those moments when the critics don’t get what everybody loves? Or am I missing out on something?”

I will agree that there were some moments that were predictable and cliched, but that is generally the case when one is presented with an origin story for an iconic character. In this case, it is the classical fall into villainy and madness, with several rites of passage, including the first killings, that help bring Arthur Fleck to Joker, Batman’s eventual nemesis.

But I can say with pride that the movie left me satisfied when it came to finally giving the world an origin story to the Joker, whose background, until now, has been just as mysterious as it was the day he made his debut in 1940. We have been given a gritty presentation of a vulnerable man coping with mental illness clashing against a society that has so often kicked him while he was down (literally at one point). Robert de Niro delivers, as he always does, this time as the bully talk show host who exploits Arthur’s desperate desires to make the world smile, but while Zazie Beetz (best known from Atlanta and Deadpool 2) gave an acceptable performance, we need to acknowledge that it is because her role could have been made bigger than what she was left presented as a brief girl-next-door love interest.

So I must admit that I am hesitant to give this film a definitive, case-closed review due to my poor judgement with IT, but I can say that I would highly recommend seeing it if you have a chance. The movie may hold up, or it may very well dwindle into a disappointment, but hey, you might as well get a look while you can.

Best Time of the Year for Movies

If anybody were to ask what is the best time of year for movie fans, the assumption would be from October to January, as one would reach the conclusion that it is award season and everybody wants to familiarize themselves with what will potentially be nominated. As a movie fanatic, I must correct you by saying that is bullshit. The award shows are nothing but parties for Hollywood A-listers, and one can never hold the Oscars as the maxim for defining superior movies. Can one really say that Chariots of Fire is superior to the first Indiana Jones installment, Raiders of the Lost Ark, the movie it defeated at the 54th Academy Awards? Or that Dances with Wolves is better than GoodFellas? Or, the most obvious, How Green Was My Valley is a cut above Citizen Kane, Orson Welles’ iconic masterpiece that is considered the greatest movie ever made?

If it is not award season, then what can it be? Summer for the blockbusters? No. Just because it is popular does not guarantee a good experience. Christmas? No, Christmas is the time of year that I always hope passes by the quickest, due to the fact that I have worked three seasons in retail… Okay, maybe that one is subjective, but it’s my blog so we will continue with my proposal.

The best time of year for movie fans has to be September and October. Why? Halloween. And Halloween is horror movie season.

The movies, along with so many other forms of storytelling, serve as a means to satisfy our natural desire for adrenaline-related sensations. This is evident in our forms of play, which is seen in all animals. We, humans, have the ability to introduce creative aspects to our forms of conflict. All stories most require some obstacle to be overcome, otherwise nobody would pay attention. Hitchcock summed it up perfectly by saying “Drama is life with all the dull bits cut out.” The Master of Suspense also brought up how many times a woman will share that she went to the movies and had a “good cry”, and if it had been a “bad cry” she would not have paid the money for the ticket. We love to play with our emotions. The grandness of the conflict can range from finding the missing groom in time for the wedding, as seen in The Hangover, or saving an entire civilization in the fight against the personification of evil, as seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nobody wants to encounter danger or drama in real life, but when we know that we, ourselves, are safe, imagining some character being confronted with conflict gives us pleasure, but not in a sadistic way (though maybe there are some folk out there who do think like that).

And what better way to experience a rush of adrenaline than a common theme throughout horror movies: the endurance and survival through an interaction with a terrifying force? Whether the conflict has a miserable or happy ending, or whether we are watching for the first time or the hundredth time, we simply want to experience that rush that comes with this simulation of emotions.

I have seen The Shining countless times that I know the story every which way. But I love watching Jack Nicholson descend from family man to madman, and the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel trying to take control of Shelley Duvall and Danny Lloyd as they flee Jack’s rage, and I observe something new every occasion.

But horror movies work in September and October because it is Halloween season, and it is festive to be scary. Again, none of us like to be scared in real life, but when we know it’s all arranged/play/or not real, we love it. But none of this excitement happens with Christmas, either. Sure, people like to delve into magic and wonder, but it does not give us the rush of a horror film. And I include the month of September because I believe that Halloween, as a season, deserves more than 31 days (at best).

As the season goes by, I plan on re-watching all of my favorite scary movies. From mainstream Hollywood’s earliest scares with the Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and The Mummy), to the pioneering Psycho, the one horror flick to win the Best Picture Oscar (The Silence of the Lambs), to the obscure masterpieces such as The Changeling (not the 2008 movie with Angelina Jolie, I mean the ghost story with George C. Scott), Suspiria, Night of the Demon, and one of my favorite silent films: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s begin to scare ourselves beyond comprehension to get that natural rush that all living animals experience! May we look to Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula greeting us as this season starts as he says “I bid you welcome!”

No Excitement for Star Wars

2015 was all about Star Wars for me. It was the year in which Disney would release their first installment on the Galaxy Far, Far Away since purchasing Lucasfilm back in 2012. This would be following what happened after Return of the Jedi, we had no idea what was coming next. It was not a prequel, in which we had a rough idea what would happen, just not the minute details and how’s. Two important highlights of the year for me were in April and October, in which new trailers were released. And when the movie, Episode VII- The Force Awakens, was released that December, I was more than satisfied, and I began to ponder what would happen next.

Now it is September, 2019. Episode IX- The Rise of Skywalker, will hit theaters in three months. And let me be frank: I worry that I don’t care.

I fell in love with the Skywalker saga when I was just five-years-old. I cannot tell you the countless items of merchandise I have owned over the years, from toys, costumes, books, models, collectables… Certain collectables include Force FX Lightsabers, and there would always be a disclaimer printed on the box: “Do not play with. These are collectables, not toys”. Well, then do not sell it at Toys R’ Us! (a relic of the past now)

There is no passion. There is no excitement. Why? Just three words are needed: The Last Jedi.

When the first trailer was released in April of 2017, I was caught up in excitement. And above all: confusion. Luke Skywalker stated in the trailer “It’s time for the Jedi to end.” WHATTTT???? Holy shit! I, like millions of others, began speculating what this was all about, and was anxious to see the movie then and there.

But as time went by, I started to learn more about how different this movie was from the rest. I could not forget how Mark Hamill shared that he confronted Rian Johnson, the writer and director, that he could not disagree any more passionately with the direction he was taking with this movie. However, he stated he got that off his chest and needed to proceed with helping Johnson bring his vision to life. Then when the full length trailer was released in October, I was warned on social media not to watch the trailer, as it would give away spoilers, but I eventually caved in and watched it, not noticing anything that had me thinking I could predict where the movie would go.

I finally saw the movie with my brother and a childhood friend of ours, and we were chatting afterwards about all the expectations that came from fan theories about the backgrounds of Rey and Snoke being completely different… Well, there were not any differences, there were no explanations for their backgrounds. I chuckled thinking of the hardcore fan theorists who were let down by this installment.

I noticed something was different this time. I was putting up an effort to like this movie when I was reflecting on what I had just seen. This lasted for not even a month until I conceded to myself: I hated it.

I had countless complaints about the movie. The character Admiral Holdo, the Canto Bight storyline serving no purpose except promoting an anti-rich people agenda, the use of flashbacks, Johnson attempting to make the characters morally ambiguous, and above all: killing off Snoke and saying Rey had no important backstory.

The Force Awakens left us scrambling left and right to understand who this mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke was, on top of who are Rey’s parents? This mysterious man (or whatever species) who seduced the son of Han Solo to the dark side and create the First Order, the Galactic Empire’s successor, was tossed aside as trivial. Rey, who explained that she remained in Jakku waiting for the return of her family who left her there (who turned out to be self-centered people who sold her), and was abnormally powerful with the Force is, well, simply powerful. There is no explanation as to why this girl could rival Yoda without ever been trained in the slightest way. She just WAS.

I could go on and on, but I feel this has been tackled by many other commentators before. It would be akin to beating a dead horse. But the best way to describe it is that JJ Abrams enticed me to come towards him in this journey through the Skywalker saga with The Force Awakens, and then he allowed Rian Johnson to continue the tour, and Johnson, through The Last Jedi, proceeded to pull the rug out from under me, which caused me to collapse. I asked him to justify his actions, and he said: “Just because. This is how I’m running this tour now.”

However, there is one tragic aspect of why I am not excited for Episode IX: the death of Carrie Fisher. I was crushed to learn that she had passed, and worried about how they would handle Leia’s story arc now that Fisher was no longer with us. I fear that there is no way we can do her justice by keeping her in the story. Not only did we love her character, but we also loved Fisher as a personality, which was an unusual blend of motherly love with a raunchy, provocative sense of humor.

I am depressed as I ponder what to expect in The Rise of Skywalker. Fan theories exhaust me, but there is always room to wonder what will happen next without diving into all the small details in the previous movies for clues. Billy Dee Williams has returned as Lando Calrissian, but that still is not enough. C-3PO is seen with red eyes, indicating a potential turn to the Dark Side, and I just shrug it off. But the Emperor/Chancellor/Sith Lord Sheev Palpatine laughing in the background of the trailer? Man, I don’t even know what to expect.

After the disaster of The Last Jedi, I pray that with JJ Abram’s return to the helm, The Rise of Skywalker will make up for the disappointment I have been experiencing for over twenty-one months. I have often re-watched the final scene from The Force Awakens: Rey has found legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker in self-imposed exile, and offers him his old lightsaber as his eyes widen in bewilderment… A PERFECT SETUP FOR THE NEXT MOVIES!

Only to see Luke toss the lightsaber behind him in a comedic manner and sulk past Rey.

This? This is what we were waiting for? That’s what that amazing setup was all about?

That was not funny, Johnson, that was a let-down! It depresses me to think that this is now how the story continues. There have been countless petitions to pull The Last Jedi from the canon and re-do Episode VIII. Unfortunately, this will be impossible without our beloved princess/general. We have no choice, this is how the story must continue.

In a strange manner, I echoed Leia’s immortal words: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!” thinking that Kenobi’s spirit was out there somewhere, and that those who had passed on to the Force could intervene and save this saga.

My brother, who is an even bigger fan than me, insists that we should give it more time, and that it will eventually be recalled in a nostalgic manner, as people are being kinder to the prequels over a decade after their release. There are still numerous valid criticisms, though, but perhaps he is right? But in this moment, my optimism has been drained. I pray that The Rise of Skywalker will provide the. joy and wonder that these movies have given me since I was in Kindergarten