Sunday, June 24, 2018

Mini-Reviews for June 18 - 24, 2018

The rare A+... I guess it was a pretty good week at the movies.

Also, don't forget to catch up with my Disney retrospective if you haven't already. You can read this week's entries here, here, and here.


Hereditary (2018)
I don't think I've ever been so frightened by a theatrical experience as I was by Hereditary, and to find the last horror movie that terrified me like Hereditary did, you'd have to go way back to The Blair Witch Project (which I saw at home, in the reassuring light of day). I nearly left the theater in fright during the film's final act. When it was over, I emerged from Knoxville's Downtown West theater with pit stains of pure fear. Fear is subjective; you may not have the same experience I did. But hopefully we can agree on this film's magnificent craft: on the sumptuous uneasiness of every shot in the movie, on the pristine uncanniness that, like the otherwise completely unsimilar Game Night from earlier this year, the camera is often manipulated in such as way as to make the even outdoor establishing shots look like dollhouses. Or on this film's acting, wherein Toni Collette gives the performance of her life, and Alex Wolff comes out of freaking nowhere to maybe do the same. Or the way that the movie depicts not one but two of the most realistic psychotic breaks I've ever seen on film, as if they were snatched straight from my own family's memory, and all the terror and deep, deep sadness that entails. Or on the overall sweep of what this film means: the inexorable gravity of family as a force of both creation and desolation. Family is cosmos—science has not yet decided whether the mass and energy of our world will send us spinning further apart into eternity or pull us back together into a bright and terrible crunch. It's the unknowing that's the deepest horror of them all. I know we won't agree, because art, like fear, is subjective and arguments for perfection is are an albatross, and to push back at the chaos is to lose. But Hereditary is nearly perfect, the best movie I've seen all year, and the best movie I've seen in a very long time, and at the very least, there's no way I'm giving a movie this dialed in to my own psychology and sensibilities anything but the highest marks. Grade: A+

Unsane (2018)
God bless Steven Soderbergh for continuing to sneak his weird little genre and technology experiments into multiplexes time and time again. It's not the most consistent movie (and the fact that this story of a woman being gaslit changes genres almost every fifteen minutes certainly doesn't help it cohere), but it's a fun, mean little B movie with a fresh take on digital video cinematography. Claire Foy is also very good as the lead, and that freeze frame at the end is *kisses fingers like a French chef*. Grade: B

Fences (2016)
As a movie, it's not much more than a dramatizing of the stage play with camera edits and outdoor settings (though there is some very nice photography thrown in there). But this is one of those instances where the source material is so strong that it doesn't matter that the movie doesn't do a lot with it—because no matter how you slice it, Fences will always be a singularly great play, and so long as the movie lets it be that (and this movie does), you're in for a ride. Plus, Viola Davis and Denzel Washington (who also directs) revise their roles from the 2010 run of the play, and they absolutely CRUSH IT. Grade: B+

Ballet 422 (2014)
With the exception of The Nutcracker at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis when I was like 13, I've never seen a ballet live, much less the sort of high-class "op-er-ah" that this documentary captures. So for me, this documentary is largely an experience of learning what something is at the same time I'm learning how it's made. It's a at-times fascinating, at-times a little tedious depiction of how a large collaborative work of art is created, and while I wish it sometimes went a little more into how all these details all collectively contribute to the whole (the movie is essentially a collection of fly-on-the-wall scenes without any real sense of what the final product is going to be like), it's still valuable as that kind of portrait. Grade: B

Them! (1954)
A fine vintage of B-movie pulp and Nuclear-Age panic. It takes itself just seriously enough, and the result is the most sober-minded, competent version of "gigantic ants have overrun the American Southwest!" I can imagine (though if you're going to have your whole first act revolve around a mystery, maybe don't give away that mystery on your movie poster). Cleanly shot, excitingly staged, and entertaining in spades. Grade: B+

Ball of Fire (1941)
The film makes hay out of the objective fact that it's funny to see square old white dudes try to reason out contemporary slang (even diagramming the phrases out on a chalk board!), and also out of the objective fact that Barbara Stanwyck is wonderful. There's a plot and stuff, but does that really matter? Grade: B+


American Vandal, Season 1 (2017)
When a show as sublime as American Vandal appears on Netflix, as if from the aether, you have to ask where it came from. In the case of American Vandal, the answer is "pretty much out of nowhere." Created by Tony Yacenda and Dan Perrault, who have collectively only a few dozen writer/director/producer credits (most of them online at places like CollegeHumor) and starring a cast of virtual unknowns, American Vandal is a small miracle of a series, immaculately conceived and beamed right into our screens. Even more miraculous is that the show is good—shockingly good, one-of-the-very-best-Netflix-shows-ever good. What begins as a very funny parody of the Making a Murderer-style true-crime docudrama—someone has spray-painted penises on 27 cars in the faculty parking lot of a high school, and two students try to figure out if the school board's convicted suspect, a senior with a reputation for dick-drawing, is actually guilty—quickly morphs into both an engrossing true-crime docudrama in its own right and a rather sobering rumination on media ethics and identity, all without losing that tongue-in-cheek hilarity that makes the first few episodes such a blast. This is an uncommonly rich show, somehow managing to elevate the social minutia of modern high school (here depicted with more accuracy than I've ever seen on TV) into the tenor of Very Serious Journalism, a tonal decision that's both very funny for its straight-faced absurdity—an early sequence parses the meaning of putting two y's at the end of "hey" in a text with all the urgency of a linguist deciphering an ancient holy text—and kind of profound for the philosophical and emotional territory this allows the show to sneak into in the long run. It's tremendous. I know I'm a little behind the curve on this one, but if you, like me, had been putting this show off, stop it. It's only eight episodes, and it's incredible. Grade: A


Amen Dunes - Freedom (2018)
Slightly forgettable indie rock, and probably a bit too anonymous for its own good. But the songwriting is solid, and the production plays a good game of balancing the ethereal with the concrete. Grade: B-

Beach House - 7 (2018)
For a long while, I thought I only needed one Beach House album (either Teen Dream or Bloom), and the band seemed determined to prove me right, releasing album after album that did virtually nothing to expand on the sound of their early 2010s work. But here's 7, their aptly titled seventh album, and I guess I'm finally wrong. Without moving completely away from the otherworldly dream pop of their earlier records, the music of 7 feels at the same time more than dream pop, infused with strange electronic textures and dark disco underpinnings and kaleidoscopic song structures that, (as in the mid-album track and early single "Drive") at the slightest touch rearrange themselves from slow, brooding grooves to euphoric explosions of sound and dance. It's an album that's constantly shifting and shimmering, psychedelic and mesmerizing and probably Beach House's best album to date. Grade: A-

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Disney Review: The Jungle Book, The Aristocats, Robin Hood

Into the woods.

You can read the previous entry in this series here.

19. The Jungle Book (1967)
RIP, Walt Disney. The Jungle Book is the last Disney animated feature that Walt himself worked on before his death in 1966, and as such, it represents a historical turning point for Walt Disney Studios, though certainly not an artistic one (the classic Disney spirit of Walt's lifetime most definitely died sometime between Sleeping Beauty and One Hundred and One Dalmatians). As it is, The Jungle Book fits pretty comfortably within the run of xerographic feature films that the studio put out in the 1960s and '70s on either side of Walt's death: breezily mannered, lightly hip (or at least trying to be—see the mod designs of Dalmatians and the jazz inflections of the upcoming Aristocats), lightly plotted, loosely structured. As with The Sword in the Stone and One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Jungle Book is adapting a novel (Rudyard Kipling's classic, of course, though given the change in medium, one wonders why they didn't alter the title to The Jungle Movie); being a group of loosely connected folk-tale-style short stories, the original Kipling novel at least justifies the movie's episodic structure, though (as with Sword and Dalmatians) breezily mannered the book is not. No matter, though; Walt Disney never saw dark, brooding literature that he couldn't make just a tad less dark and brooding, and apparently, Walt's major contribution to this film's production was to steer the screenwriters away from their faithful-to-the-source serious take on the story and toward the bouncy family feature we eventually got.

And you know, whatever. I like the book, but I also like what this movie does with the setting, and the ways in which the movie is bouncy and breezy and family-friendly make for fun viewing. I like that the vultures near the end of the movie are basically The Beatles; I like that the elephants march with all the pomp and catastrophe of the most incompetent British infantry of all time; I like that Kaa is no longer a scary, chaotic-neutral murderer but a bumbling, mesmerizingly animated slapstick machine voiced by Sterling Holloway; I like the odd-couple dynamic between Bagheera and Baloo; I like the way Baloo dances—and while we're on the subject, have we talked about how obsessed Disney movies are with butts? Butts are all over the Disney canon, bouncing and jiggling and careening around the frame, and The Jungle Book and Baloo in particular (plus The Aristocats) are peak Disney Butt.

The music is also a lot of fun; of course "The Bare Necessities," but also pretty much every other song in the bunch (though I feel just a little bit uncomfortable about the racial subtext of "I Wan'na Be Like You" and its jazzy "apes" [including "King Louie," and please please please let me just be reading too much into things when I get the feeling he's a reference to Louis Armstrong] aspiring to humanhood). Then there's Shere Khan, a legitimately scary villain and an impressive bit of naturalism in this middle of this movie full of non-threatening, cartoony animals—he's probably the best piece of animation in the film, and quite an achievement within any era of Disney at that. I guess what I'm saying is that as much as I complain about all the narrative and technological complacency of this era of Disney features (the re-used animation is particularly distracting here—it's again from Bambi), I can't deny the appeal of The Jungle Book. The jungle is jumpin', as the poster says, and I'm having a good time.

20. The Aristocats (1970)
I don't know if this is an unpopular opinion or not, because who cares about The Aristocats, but I don't think The Aristocats is very good. There are a few factors contributing to this—first, the most personal: while I don't necessarily resent everybody automatically squealing and asking me if my last name is "like the alley cat," the sheer repetition of the phenomenon does make me a little weary of this movie (and confused—you guys know that like every third person of Irish decent is named "O'Malley," right? it's not some unusual thrill to encounter someone with that last name). So there's that. Its story is also basically a retread of One Hundred and One Dalmatians, which is fine in the abstract (Sleeping Beauty is basically Snow White, e.g.), but in practice: 1. I don't really like cats, and 2. this is like the lowest-stakes version of the Dalmatians story of all time, fitting a pet-napping story into that episodic narrative structure and breezy, "let's have lighthearted fun!" tone of The Sword and the Stone and The Jungle Book, and honestly, folks, it's just boring. Lastly, there's Edgar, the so-called "evil" butler and villain of the story, and there are three main problems with the guy: 1. I sympathize greatly with Edgar's motivation—can we all agree that to leave a wealthy estate to four cats is madness? So there's a weird part of me that's actively rooting for Edgar, even though I don't support the murder of cats for personal gain (and really, isn't this just Killmonger all over again?), except that 2. Edgar is a terribly uncharismatic villain, a boring character design married to a completely dull personality, which makes rooting for him an uninteresting prospect, and 3. then there's the problem of Edgar's plan itself, which on the one hand is like Cruella De Vil without the chutzpah and on the other hand is just kind of foolish—like, dude, why don't you just wait until Madame dies, and when the cats obviously can't manage an estate, you swoop in and run the place like a freakin' hero?

Similar to both The Sword and the Stone and The Jungle Book, there's little that's actively bad about The Aristocats; but of those three films, it has the least good to offer. There are exactly two good things about the movie: the finale (in which SPOILERS Edgar gets shipped off to Timbuktu, one of my favorite Disney villain fates ever for its sheer kookiness), and the mid-movie performance of "Ev'rybody Wants to Be a Cat," a song that I must admit is a banger, despite the fact that I do not want to be a cat, neither of the feline nor jazz variety. Otherwise, we're left in this bland wasteland of featherweight dramedy, forgettable characters, and barely-trying animation, and after a while, regardless of anything properly "bad," there's only so much white-bread mediocrity I can put up with before I look at my watch and wonder why I'm spending my time on this.

21. Robin Hood (1973)
Okay, I know I'm going to catch flak for this one: I don't think Robin Hood is very good. It's a step up from The Aristocats, but not a significant one in most regards.

The good (because there is some): I like the music a good deal. It has this fun, singer-songwriter quality to it, because we're in the '70s now, I guess, and I'm a sucker for the device of having the narrator walk thought the movie as an actual character (and for that matter, the best part of the movie by a large margin are the opening credits, which have all the characters running meta-style through the text of the film's production). I also like what they do with Little John, even though it's pretty much the exact same thing as they do with Baloo—i.e. take a character who is more or less serious in the original source material and turn him into a goofy bear with a bouncy butt; in fact, the movie does very little to hide the fact that Little John is just a recolored version of the Baloo character design, just with a hat and a shirt. But I like Baloo, so who am I to complain when I get an extra helping of him? I'm also a big fan of Sir Hiss, perhaps the most adorably named snake gentry in history, and his misadventures, which alternate between his Cassandra-esque curse of never getting Prince John to listen to him when he's figured out Robin Hood's schemes and his Wile-E.-Coyote-like accumulation of discomfort and injury in trying to foil Robin Hood's plans, are fun.

But y'all, that's about it. I've already talked at length about the diminishing returns of the xerography aesthetic, so I won't belabor that here. No, even technical gripes aside, my issues with Robin Hood come down to plain ol' story craft and characterization; you guys out there who love this movie, you're going to have to answer me this: what in the world is compelling about the bland, straight-laced Robin Hood at the center of this film? Or the even less interesting Maid Marian, whose sole duty seems to be to bat her eyes and be in distress? Or Prince John, who is more irritating than sinister and whose exaggerated childishness ruins any scene he's in? Robin Hood busts up an archery match dressed as a crane; is that what we're supposed to be into? He and Maid Marian dance to a nice song for a very, very long time (this is usually where I quit the movie as a youngster); are people into that? Do people just dig the way that Prince John's crown keeps falling down his face? Friends, what is dramatically interesting about any of this stuff? I've seen some weird stuff online regarding people who find the foxes in this movie sexy... is that it?

I'm harping on this movie's flaws not because I hate it but because my profound ambivalence toward the film feels at odds with a lot of the conversation I've heard surrounding it. So feel free to tell me off about how I don't understand this masterpiece or whatever. But I just can't muster any excitement over it (not even when Wes Anderson references it in the infinitely better Fantastic Mr. Fox). Oh well.

See y'all next time as we wrap up the 1970s!

Friday, June 22, 2018

Disney Review: Sleeping Beauty, One Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Sword in the Stone

Here we go again!

You can read the previous post in this series here.

UPDATE: You can read the next post in this series here.

16. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
I've lamented before that Disney never really aspired to be High Art again after the financial failure of Fantasia, and I mostly stand by that. There are little bits of that same ambition—pieces of Bambi, for example, and some of the shorts in the package films—but the studio never really tried again to make a sustained, feature-length leap toward Serious Cinema. And Sleeping Beauty is not exactly a repudiation of that either. However, one of the things that makes this movie so fascinating (and, it must be added, one of the very best Disney movies of all time) is the extent to which it manages to Trojan Horse some of those lofty, Fantasia-esque objectives into what basically amounts to an archetypal Disney film. There is a thin layer of Disneyness in the foreground here: a love-sick, reductively feminine heroine, a thinly characterized prince, a wicked villainess, cutesy animals, slapsticky comic relief who help the heroine (the fairies)—I mean, this is almost exactly Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

But if you peel back that foregrounded layer, it becomes clear what the majority of Sleeping Beauty actually is: a feature-length experiment in making medieval tapestries dance to a Tchaikovsky ballet. And as that, it's stunning. There's a warm, Currier and Ives quality to most Disney animation, but Sleeping Beauty's aesthetic is every bit this strange Gothic recreation that makes the European neverwhere of Disney's fairy tale films feel primal and mythic, as if this film is clawing its way directly out of the collective unconscious of the past. Those towering ceilings in the castle, the knotty, ghostly tree trunks, the geometric foliage with leaf patterns painted over them, the impossible, cruel architecture of Maleficent's mountaintop lair—aahh, I could go on for ages and ages. It's all so staggeringly beautiful, each image blocked and choreographed with such immaculate precision (including what is probably the single most perfect shot in the entire Disney canon), and Tchaikovsky's rich, sweeping orchestral ballet is the perfect accompaniment. This is jaw-dropping, ambitious stuff, stately and magnificent, a cathedral of sound and vision, slipped into the sweet formula of Disney archetypes. It's not abstracted and non-narrative like Fantasia, but it's not far off from its aesthetic reach.

But even those archetypes are notable here. Rendered in this angular style that's heavy on evocative outlines and light on the cherub roundness typical of Disney, the film's characters feel of a piece with the film's broadly medieval aesthetic, looking like nothing so much as figures stepping out of the pages of an illuminated manuscript—stark and gorgeous. And the story itself, while (as I said) firmly within the realm of Disney fairy tales, is a strikingly serious-minded execution of those tropes. Things like Maleficent summoning the power of Hell in the movie's climax or the fairies bestowing their gifts on Aurora in the movie's opening scene seem to reject American cinema's dichotomy between entertainment for children and entertainment for adults and instead arrive at something that has the audience-swallowing grandiosity of the sweeping silent epics of the 1920s.

Some have called this film chilly; I'd say it just isn't pandering. It doesn't invite you; it merely exists, and you either get swept up in its worship of archetype and architecture or you don't. I do, and so I'd call it one of Disney's greatest artistic successes.

17. One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
It's a stark juxtaposition that One Hundred and One Dalmatians was the movie Disney released next after Sleeping Beauty. With Sleeping Beauty, you have the studio's lushest, most ancient-feeling film in its history; with One Hundred and One Dalmatians, you have a movie resolutely modern, from its jazzy score right down to its Saul-Bass-esque artwork. Sleeping Beauty is a movie about a time so bygone that it's myth, and Disney could conceivably have released it any time between 1937 and 2000, whereas One Hundred and One Dalmatians is a movie that only could have been released in the 1960s, so specific is its mid-century-modern milieu. We have characters writing pop standards; we have television (a lot of it, in fact—I'd forgotten how much of this movie amounts to basically just watching characters sit around in front of the boob tube [complete with great little pieces of made-up television programming like What's My Crime?]); we have a post-automobile London. In some ways, it's jarring to see stuff this contemporary in a Disney movie after decades of purposefully vague "olden days" settings (I suppose Lady and the Tramp has a similar setting, though it's less self-consciously modern). But in other ways, it's charming, and its approach to modern life is certainly less patronizing than, say, The Aristocats.

Another stark shift from Sleeping Beauty: the animation. Whereas Sleeping Beauty was one of the most expensive and expensive-looking Disney films to date, One Hundred and One Dalmatians is the first feature in another era of cost-cutting that, really, would last the studio until the very end of the 1980s. This is Disney's first feature film done entirely in xerography, which (as I understand it) uses photocopy technology to rapidly reproduce the drawn outlines of characters without the artists having to hand-paint the cels themselves, thus saving a ton of time (and money) in production. The effect is not exactly cheap-looking (though subsequent Disney features using the technology definitely would look pretty cut-rate), but the process's distinctly sketchy, drawn style is a huge difference from the painted animation of all previous Disney features (especially Sleeping Beauty). As a style, it works well for a movie so heavy on blacks and whites as One Hundred and One Dalmatians; the film looks very cool, and the sketchiness fits perfectly with the movie's mid-mod design. But it's hard to look at this film and not think about all the crappy Disney animation on the horizon, too.

But oh well; we aren't to those movies yet. Right now, what I have is One Hundred and One Dalmatians, and it's a good one to have. The movie looks good and plays well, and its cheeky hipness is a breath of fresh air after the 1950s, where even the best Disney films feel like they're wearing stiffly starched collars. This movie is jaunty and light on its feet; the dogs are cute; the adventure is fun. And then of course we have Cruella De Vil, one of the unqualified triumphs of Disney character design (the contrast between her skeletal frame and the voluminous furs she wears is stunning) and one of a long line of female villains with perfect voice acting performances from Tennessee actresses (Betty Lou Gerson, from Chattanooga). And for as much as we've had our Queen Grimhildes and Maleficents plotting black-magic murder and our Strombolis and Captain Hooks attempting kidnapping, slavery, and child trafficking, there's just something incalculably more evil about Cruella De Vil's plan to turn a litter of puppies into a fur coat. It's just so loathsome, and I love her.

18. The Sword in the Stone (1963)
At least we can thank the transition from Sleeping Beauty to One Hundred and One Dalmatians for letting us down easy before The Sword in the Stone, because I can't imagine the awful fall it would have been to have jumped right from the majesty of Sleeping Beauty's towering vision to a movie that, while set in almost exactly the same world as that former movie—a vaguely timeless, mythologized feudal Europe—is quite possibly the least-ambitious feature crafted under the oversight of Walt Disney himself (it was in fact the second-to-last feature produced before the man's death, so who knows how much oversight this actually got). That's not to say that I don't enjoy The Sword in the Stone; it's a perfectly fun, breezy little feature, and I like it quite a bit more than several of the studio's more prestigious classics (sorry, Cinderella). But I don't think it would be controversial to say that there is exactly nothing going on in this movie, neither on a story level (the movie's plotting is resolutely small-scale and episodic—even when Wart becomes king, it's treated as a minor Sunday-afternoon nuisance rather than some world-shaking event) nor on a technical level.

Animated with the same xerographic technology of One Hundred and One Dalmatians but none of its cool style, The Sword in the Stone's world is a flat and an empty one, especially after the thundering Gothic spaces of Sleeping Beauty and the sketch-pad charm of Dalmatians's bustling frames; the environment that Wart and Merlin occupy seem more like a stage than a living universe (or even a living painting, as has often been the Disney aim), with a different set for each scene: here's the set for the fish sequence, here's the set for the jousting tournament, here's the set for the "let's use magic to make the kitchen clean itself" sequence (a strange and persistent Disney trope)—as if the studio has these things in a closet and can just roll them out when needed without any particular attention to craft (and in fact, there are quite a few animations re-used from previous Disney features, something One Hundred and One Dalmatians did as well but not nearly so noticeably nor extensively as Sword does). The movie doesn't look bad per se, but it does have the slap-dash feel of something that you might doodle on a scrap piece of paper during a boring meeting—which is to say, plain and quickly developed.

But as I said, I do like this movie, and for all its technical and narrative ambivalence, The Sword in the Stone skates by on pure winsome charm. As flat as the animation is, the character designs themselves are all either pleasingly gangly—Wart in particular is an adorable pileup of twiggy arms and knobby knees—or amusingly doughy. And as episodic as the story is, each of those episodes themselves are a lot of fun; the setpieces are gently comedic, infused with just enough (to break out some MPAA language) light peril to keep them moving quickly, and even if nothing really contributes too much to actual character development or progressive drama, the personalities of Merlin and Wart and the owl Archimedes are defined well enough that it's engaging to see them bounce off each other within these mini adventures.

It's basically the perfect example of a movie that does nothing exceptional but also nothing bad. Good enough for a mid-morning distraction, I suppose, or a just-a-tad-forgettable staple of your childhood. But a big-budget live-action remake? Errrrm...

Anyway, see y'all next time!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Disney Review: Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Lady and the Tramp

Sorry for the delay (vacations, weddings, etc.—you know, real-life stuff). But I'm back! Onward!

You can read the previous entry in this series here.

UPDATE: You can read the next entry in this series here.

13. Alice in Wonderland (1951)
In the Disney pantheon, there are the unassailable masterpieces (of which so far we've encountered Pinocchio and Fantasia, I'd say). Alice in Wonderland isn't quite that, but if we allow for a tier just a hair below those earlier classics, this movie fits on that level comfortably. It is one of two Great Movies created by Disney in the 1950s (the other we'll get to next time), and to this day, it remains singular not just in the Disney canon but in American film in general. It's a film that looks simultaneously forward and backward; more than any other Disney feature up to this point (except maybe The Three Caballeros, though that's a different story entirely), Alice's loose and playful relationship with reality recalls Disney's early Silly Symphony shorts, and more than any mainstream American film I can think of prior to the late 1960s, Alice's penchant for surrealism and loopy faux philosophy anticipates psychedelia—this is the main thing that separates the movie from its Lewis Carroll source material, in that it accentuates the strangeness and putty-like world of Wonderland rather than the logical puzzles that Carroll was so fond of.

In that regard, it's not too hard to see why the movie was a critical failure and a box office disappointment at the time of its first release. It's a film resolutely out of time, and there's a persistent feeling of uncanniness throughout the film. The choral singing in the music and the rich, brightly drawn animation place the movie within a solidly '40s and '50s Disney tradition, but the bizarrely plotless accumulation of dreamlike imagery and chaotic, non-sequitur dialogue promptly create a dissonance with that tradition. This is a wild, phantasmagoric movie dressed in the formal wear of a straight-laced Disney film, a strange contrast that's subtly uneasy and strange—more so than if Disney had completely abandoned its house style altogether. We have some very good Disney movies to look forward to in the coming few posts, but all of them fit a kind of narrative template that's more or less conventional (or at least persistently concrete); there's virtually nothing like Alice in Wonderland as far as the eye can see into Disney's future, and I cherish this immaculate little bit of otherworldly anti-convention.

14. Peter Pan (1953)
If we're looking exclusively at narrative in the traditional sense (i.e. a consistent conflict that escalates to a climax at the film's end, which means we're excluding great but unconventional features like The Three Caballeros and Alice in WonderlandPeter Pan is Disney's most successful feature film since Dumbo, nearly twelve years prior. It's a rollicking adventure story with exciting setpieces (the children flying through a nocturnal London is my favorite), a great villain (yoooooour aaaaa crook, Captain Hook), and fun protagonists (Peter Pan himself is a bit of a turd, but I suppose we should have expected that of anyone who literally never grows up). Like Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan is also tasked with turning a dreamscape into a comprehensible animated feature—J. M. Barrie's original novel quite literally makes Never Land the product of the random flotsam of children's sleeping minds—but Peter Pan deploys that premise to almost the exact oppose effect, applying real-life logic to a dream rather than savoring the blissful profundities of dream logic itself. It's an effective strategy, and the movie ends up toeing just the right line between head-in-the-clouds wonder and feet-on-the-ground precision. "You Can Fly!" is also one of the truly classic Disney songs of the pre-Renaissance era, too. So this is a pretty good movie.

But oh loooord have mercy, the qualifications I have to put on that assessment. Okay, look, I know that every film is a "product of its time," and that it can be very tiresome to sit here in 2018 and take pot shots at movies from 65 years ago for not being made with 2018 sensibilities. But I have my limits, and by golly, Peter Pan's depiction of Native Americans is one of them. I'm not above this movie's racism; when I was a kid, I enjoyed this movie's whooping, stereotyping, condescending version of indigenous peoples as a fun, noisy trope of adventure stories without ever really thinking about the ways in which it so offensively condenses an entire continent of people into some feathers and face paint (and this is basically how it's presented in the book—i.e. these Native Americans exist as the flattened, de-humanized archetypes that stick in children's brains from media and thus make it into Never Land, which would be an interesting idea if the book/movie didn't so sincerely engage with these tropes as "fun"). And I absolutely did not register the parade of uncut racist horror inherent in "What Made the Red Man Red." But hoo boy, it's all there, and it's impossible to overlook now. Every second involving the Native Americans in this movie is a checklist of every awful, marginalizing thing that American media did to Native American representation in the 20th century (and in some ways, continues to perpetuate). It's bracing and ugly.

Disney basically buried Song of the South, its 1946 joint-live-action-and-animated feature-length adaptation of the Uncle Remus tales. I'm not here to defend that movie because 1) its depiction of African Americans in the Reconstruction-era South is not good, and 2) even putting that aside, the movie as a whole is not good either. But if Disney's really so serious about scrubbing its history of all its racism (instead of releasing well-contextualized academic versions of those racist works that actually show the company coming to grips with its history rather than pretending it never occurred, which is what I'd like to see happen), what's Peter Pan doing out there in the wide-open world as not just a readily available Disney movie but one of the company's flagship features? I don't necessarily want Peter Pan buried either, but the inconsistency in messaging is striking.

And that's not even mentioning the weird, troubling choice to sexualize Tinker Bell and make her something of a woman scorned archetype. Or the way that Peter himself treats Wendy, which feels like "bad boyfriend 101." I guess what I'm saying is that this is one of those times in the Disney canon where the troubling "product of its time" pieces of the movie feel inextricable from the things that make the movie good, which makes it hard for me to enjoy sincerely now. Which is a real bummer, and I can only imagine is even more of a bummer for the people who are directly marginalized by this movie's depiction of women and Native Americans. Peter Pan used to be one of my favorites. Stupid racism. Stupid sexism.

15. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
I really hate the Uptown Girl trope. "Oh, I'm so privileged and such, but thank goodness for the virtuous poor person to show me what life really is; and hurray for our true love conquering systematic prejudice!" Yeah, no thanks. These are stories with these grand pretentions of social commentary, but they almost invariably focus on the rich half of the romance at the expense of any real commentary on poverty, which makes it obvious how much the storytellers like to use poverty as scenery for a story that, in the end, just affirms the hierarchies it claims to want to comment on. So Lady and the Tramp, whose central romance hinges on exactly this trope, already has an uphill climb into my heart (made even sharper by the intrusion of that good-time Disney racism—i.e. "The Siamese Cat Song," which I won't belabor because I've already said my piece about Peter Pan, and anyway, it's not quite as heinous or pervasive as the racism in Peter Pan, but still... yerg).

I won't deny the movie its charms, though. For starters, it's not completely an Uptown Girl love story; a good part of the film involves positioning Lady as a sort of older sibling becoming jealous of a new baby in the house, which, as an older sibling, I think is a more interesting story; another section of the story involves the scariest rat of all time trying to murder that baby, which is yet another entry of "extremely dark and scary thing thrown into the middle of a happy Disney movie" (also, do rats really try to kill babies in real life? the movie certainly seems to take this as a given, and if it's true... hello, nightmares). Another thing I enjoy is the film's Bambi-like ability to draw its animal characters in a way that's both naturalistic and expressive—it certainly helps that dogs are already extremely expressive animals, but the way that the animators are able to take such a variety of breeds and make each of them its own cartoon personality simply by depicting them more or less how they are in real life is a lot of fun. Some of it is pretty obvious (oh the Scottish Terrier has a Scottish accent, ha ha), but it's never not amusing, especially in the standout sequence at the pound.

So anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that once I get past my reflexive gagging at some of the romantic tropes of this movie, it's not bad. It's right there with Cinderella as the worst of this run of post-package-era films, but it's got enough to offer that I think it edges out Cinderella pretty comfortably.

See y'all next time!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Mini-Reviews for June 11 - 17, 2018

Record-low number of movies. But I did finish up a bunch of books!


The Giver (2014)
In a bitter reminder that this movie was released in 2014, the height (nadir?) of the YA dystopia boom, the film adaptation of the children's lit masterpiece The Giver adds a bunch of stupid YA dystopia tropes (they're attractive teens now! there's a love interest! there's an evil dictator villain! there are action sequences! Taylor Swift is here for some reason!) to Lois Lowry's beautifully efficient sci-fi parable. Yet as much as those additions gall, the more bitter pill to swallow is just how lackluster the whole production is. The acting is languid—our lead, Brenton Thwaites, who plays Jonas (and yes, he utters the phrase "My name is Jonas" in this movie, because apparently that little chestnut was just too irresistible for our intrepid filmmakers), is worst in show, but even heavyweights like Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep are performing way under their potential here. Abysmally lazy production design makes a mockery of the film's attempt to make a pristine, utopian future (the movie's idea of a futuristic bike is just to replace the spokes with plastic discs). And the dullest cinematography and editing of all time try (unsuccessfully) to string all these things together into a functional narrative. I have to admit, even granting the infanticide, the idea of The Giver's hyper-regimented society doesn't sound too bad if it means never having to deal with the pain of a book as smart as Lowry's being adapted into a movie this stupid. Grade: D+

Super (2010)
A strange, bleak take on the uncomfortable subtexts of superheroism—the vigilantism, the violence, the male entitlement, the delusions of grandeur, etc. This sort of thing has been done before, sometimes to more consistent effect, but there's something about the particular tone this movie strikes—like the Deadpool movies, only if they were actually serious about deconstructing the tropes of superhero stories and if Deadpool himself was, instead of being aware that he's in a comic book movie, unaware that he wasn't in a comic book movie—that's pretty compelling in pieces. On top of this, Ellen Page is unsurprisingly great (basically Juno, only with blood lust instead of Michael Cera lust), and Rainn Wilson is surprisingly great (mercifully free of the camera-mugging of Dwight Schrute). It's a real shame, then, that the ending completely forgets what kind of movie this is, concluding the film with a bizarrely tone-deaf indie-quirk sentimentality that seems to posit, "What if Taxi Driver and its ironically heroic ending, but post-Wes-Anderson and sans irony?" Grade: B


Black Mirror, Series 4 (2017)
Black Mirror has, like many Netflix series, a length problem. Say what you will about The Twilight Zone (and yes, references to the famous Rod Serling series are as inevitable in Black Mirror reviews as comments about Charlie Brooker's technophobia); at this that show's episodes—with the exception of the regrettable Season 4—got in and out within a brisk 25 minutes. Sometimes, a sci-fi parable just doesn't have enough ideas to go any further than that. Now that Black Mirror is on Netflix, it has virtually no restrictions as far as episode lengths, and half of the episodes in this fourth series comfortably hit the hour mark; the first episode in this set, "USS Callister," is the length of a short feature film. Unlike past series of Black Mirror, none of the episodes here are premised on a bad idea; however, almost all of the episodes overstay their welcome, stretching out their premise to cumbersome durations. It's not accident that the best episode of the bunch, "Hang the DJ," is one of the shortest (though to be fair, the worst episode here, "Metalhead," is the shortest). I like a lot of this season; in addition to "Hang the DJ," I enjoyed the very Tales-from-the-Crypt-esque "Black Museum" as well as "Arkangel" (the season's purest dose of the classic Charlie Brooker "technology is ruining our lives!"). But next time around, I hope there's a more judicious editor's eye for how these stories are told. Grade: B-

Arrested Development, Season 4 Remix: Fateful Consequences (2018)
I think I'm one of the few defenders of Arrested Development's fourth season, a fascinating and ambitious experiment with the formal flexibility of the Netflix platform that was uneven but fitfully brilliant. Netflix, in the run-up to its Season 5 release, decided that it would be a good idea to re-edit Season 4 into a more traditional season that progressed in chronological order and in standard 22-minute episodes. I've decided this was a bad idea. In addition to removing the structural experimentation that was one of the most interesting things about the original Season 4, this remix frequently doesn't make sense. Very early on in the season, it becomes clear how integral the structure of the original season was to this story; recurring jokes are prematurely deployed, the existential momentum of episodes like "Flight of the Phoenix" and "Colony Collapse" is destroyed as their plots are divvied out piecemeal over the course of a whole season, and the new episodes are burdened with loads of stilted exposition attempting to stitch the old plots into this new structure. We still have the best Season 4 bits (the "Sound of Silence" motif, Michael's elaborate roommate voting scheme, etc.), but we've got a whole lot of dysfunction along with it. I want family dysfunction when I come to Arrested Development, Netflix, not structural dysfunction. Grade: C+


Why I Left, Why I Stayed by Tony and Bart Campolo (2017)
I wish there was more to this book. For the son of one of Evangelicalism's most prominent leaders to become an open secular humanist after years of Christian ministry is a major event, and the fact that these two men are willing to engage respectfully in a book-length conversation about their beliefs and the ways that the other's beliefs affect their own is a vital premise. But as slim as this book is (not even 200 pages), there really isn't much room for either party to give but the most familiar overview of their respective beliefs and talk past each other in the familiar ways that Evangelicals and secular humanists tend to do. We need books like these, but we need them to be willing to be a lot thornier and more raw and more in-depth than this one ever is. Grade: B-

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes (1997)
In comparison to the movie (which I can't help, since I saw it so recently), the original graphic novel's meandering, episodic structure feels much truer to life than the movie's offbeat strain of romanticism, and hence, the character moments land a lot more strongly (particularly with Rebecca, whose character is totally underserved by the film). But I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a better time with the movie's plot, and in both, I'm left a little uncomfortable with the lackadaisical way that both film and book treat the casual homophobia and general dismissiveness of others in their protagonists (though I'd be lying again if I pretended that this attitude wasn't shared by me and my friends when we were adolescents). Regardless, it's a funny and poignant little capsule of late-Gen-X/early-Millennial white America, and I'm glad I live in a world with both the book and the film. Grade: B+

Foundation by Isaac Asimov (1951)
I hadn't read this in a very long time, so I guess my re-read deserves a review. Asimov's central idea here—following, via short stories set generations apart from one another, the gradual dissolution of a galactic empire into a dark age—is intoxicating, and it's reasonably well-executed. The book is lousy with great sci-fi ideas, too, like the way that a limited application of nuclear energy leads to the founding of a galactic religion. Still, as always when I read Asimov these days, I do wish there was more of a human element to his writing; we're mainly dealing in the realm of intelligent, unflappable men (and it's always men—where are you, Susan Calvin??) stroking their beards as they try to solve problems. It's never not engaging, but without a reason to care about the chin-stroking human beings we meet, it's rarely riveting. Grade: B

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Mini-Reviews for June 4 - 10, 2018

A little late (and a little short) posting today because I'm on vacation. Hope you enjoy regardless!


First Reformed (2018)
For Ethan Hawke's ailing pastor, Toller, it's the environment. "Will God forgive us for destroying His creation?" one character asks Toller, and it becomes the seed, the germ of an idea that won't let his mind go until that question has become a primal scream that Toller slings at his own church. But it's not just the environment. Will God forgive us—American Christians—for destroying the lives of immigrants, as much God's creation as the birds and the oceans and the snowy woods? Will God forgive us for exploiting the voiceless poor in other countries just so we can have a more convenient way to check our social media feeds? Will God forgive us for driving LGBT adolescents to suicide? And assuming, as orthodoxy encourages us, that He does, isn't there something fundamentally horrific about the fact that He would, that He would preserve an institution as corrupted as the American Evangelical Church? These are the questions that grip my mind, and I'll admit the appeal of the idea of destroying the Church altogether, as Toller eventually decides to do. I vocally wished for it on November 8, 2016. But the true power of First Reformed—the best film of the year and the best faith-based film since 2016's Silence—is not just that it articulates my darkest, most despairing thoughts about American Christianity; it's that it's able to contextualize these thoughts as horror, a that's as self-harming as they are self-righteous; a cage covered in thorns, one that, when shaken, hurts others as much as myself—Toller is as much Travis Bickle (to name another Schrader protagonist) as he is Tomas Ericsson from Winter Light (Ingmar Bergman's faith-in-crisis masterpiece and clearly an influence on this film). Because institutions are people. "Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind at the same time," Toller says early in the film, and that's it: institutions can be vile and worthy of destruction, but each one of them is the accumulation of human life, every life the image of God, every one God's creation. What to do with the wisdom of holding these two contradictory truths, I don't know, and the movie itself may not know either. There may not even be an answer to that oxymoron. Is this grace? Is grace so indecent? So unjust? Grade: A

The Treasure (Comoara) (2015)
A comedy, or maybe it's a satire, or maybe this is a straight drama—such tonal confusion seems endemic to my interactions with the Romanian New Wave—involving two men's search for buried treasure and the bureaucratic hassle involved with the government regulations of treasure-seeking. It's sort of interesting in parts, but the long, naturalistic takes and subdued acting are all a tad too dry for my tastes—honestly, the tonal confusion has more to do with this movie being somnolent than anything really radical. Plus, there's this out-of-nowhere ending that feels like a punchline—the most interesting part of the movie, for sure, and I could have done with more pointed thematics like that of the ending. Grade: B-

The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013)
As a documentary, it's fine—a typical talking-heads-mixed-with-archival-footage affair, but elevated by just how interesting these talking heads are in the context of the film's subject of the political life of Muhammad Ali (e.g. Louis Farrakhan). Rendered this way, it's probably a better depiction of Ali's struggles than the Michael Mann movie, actually. Grade: B

Ponette (1996)
So this little girl has to come to terms with the death of her mother, and it's very cute and crushingly sad and amazingly well-acted for a movie that's approximately 90% child actors. It also made me deeply uncomfortable: did the filmmakers actually convince the 4-year-old Victoire Thivisol that her mother had died? It's easy to complain about bad child actors, but it's just as easy to forget how upsetting it is to watch a child seem convincingly grief-stricken. Grade: B

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985)
The only thing I knew about Mishima before watching this movie was how his life ended, and that lack of knowledge was probably a liability for me. So what I got was a very stylish, very striking film (those sets! that lighting!) about the political and artistic philosophy of a man whose art and philosophy I know nothing about. I dug the look and structure of the film, but I'm guessing that having read some of the dude's novels (at least the ones re-enacted in this movie) would have helped me to get into the pretty conceptual, pretty monotonous dialogue scenes. Grade: B+

Song of the South (1946)
What they don't tell you about Song of the South is that it's really boring in addition to being really racist—and it's worth interjecting here that the racism of Song of the South is the worst sort of movie racism, too, wherein the creators actually thought they were doing something progressive (and, to be fair, it was so unusual to have so many African-American actors cast so sympathetically in a mainstream movie in 1946 that there is a sort of argument for the movie's progressivism, in a cock-eyed, representational sense) while perpetuating condescending and racist stereotypes about African-Americans and highly rose-colored depictions of the Reconstruction-era American South. But everybody knows about this movie's racism; what everybody also needs to know about this movie is that it's not the happy-go-lucky collection of Br'er Rabbit stories it's been construed as. No, it's the stiflingly dull story of how Uncle Remus helps the world's most tedious rich white kid overcome the bullying of his white-trash neighbors and come to terms with the fact that his parents are having marital problems. The animated sections starring Br'er Rabbit take up barely 20 minutes of the movie's 90. Song of the South is an undeniable landmark; its animation is some of the most fluid and technically accomplished that Disney did in the dark age between Bambi and Cinderella, and the way the animation interacts with the live action (something the studio experimented with throughout the 1940s, not always this successfully) is stunning. Then there's James Baskett, who, as Uncle Remus, deserves to be recognized with Gone with the Wind's Hattie McDaniel (who also appears in this movie) for breathing an astonishing amount of life into the most reductive of stereotypical roles. And nobody who hates on "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" is a friend of mine. But the pieces that make this movie a landmark for Disney are hardly the majority of the movie, and the other pieces, unfortunately, run this movie right into the ground. Grade: C

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Disney Review: Melody Time, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, Cinderella

The package films this time were actually good, but thank heavens we're at the end of this era of Disney.

Remember, first-time watches are marked with an asterisk.

You can read the previous entry in this series here.

UPDATE: You can read the next entry here.

10. Melody Time (1948)
At this point, I'm not sure that I have a lot left to say about these package films other than to compare them to one another. And on that note, I suppose this is where I call Melody Time easily the best of the whole set—at least, the best of the ones that aren't The Three Caballeros, and really, that one's working on a different rubric altogether. Unlike virtually all the other package films, Melody Time doesn't actually have a bad short in its runtime; some are clearly better than others (I don't know that the sleepy "Once Upon a Winter Time" is ever going to be anyone's favorite), but overall, there's a consistency of quality in these shorts that sets the movie as a whole above the others.

And even including The Three Caballeros, Melody Time is the finest-looking Disney feature in motion since Bambi. The animation is certainly more inventive in Caballeros, but it's still obviously a shoestring affair. Melody Time, on the other hand, has a fluidity and range of expressiveness in all its characters that the package films have usually reserved for celebrity characters like Mickey and Donald; it's the first movie in quite a while that has the feel of Disney animation being on its technical A game, from the nocturnal lighting in "Blue Shadows on the Trail" to the water animation in "Little Toot" to the triumphant amiability of the protagonist in "The Legend of Johnny Appleseed" to the nightmarish, "Pink Elephants on Parade" style freakout of "Bumble Boogie" (my favorite short of the bunch).

Don't hear me saying that this movie is any kind of classic. There's a good deal of American mythologizing that veers from cloyingly wholesome in that mid-century way I hate (such as appears in "The Legend of Johnny Appleseed," to say nothing of the short's heinous propaganda for the red delicious apple, i.e. the worst apple) to horrifyingly racist in a way I hope we can all hate (the "painted desert" section of "Pecos Bill")—either way, a bunch of Manifest Destiny baloney. It's also, curiously, the only Disney feature I can think of (correct me if I'm wrong, internet) that's openly religious, and of course that means this white-bread Christianity that's as boring and nutrient-free as unbuttered toast. On the less-ideological side, there's still a stiltedness to the package film format that never lets Melody Time truly break free into something as wildly creative as my old buddy The Three Caballeros (or even Fantasia, for that matter, though Melody Time really wants to be Fantasia at times). But as far as these package movies go, Melody Time is firmly in the "enjoyable" camp, and that's about all I can ask.

11. *The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)
Like Fun and Fancy Free, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (THE LAST OF THE PACKAGE FILMS, praise be!) is a double feature, pairing two lengthy stories that had been, in the post-war cost-cutting, been pared down from planned features into completed shorts. Unlike Fun and Fancy Free, however, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is actually quite good throughout, though also like Fun and Fancy Free, Adventures leads with the weaker of the two shorts. The first short, a jaunty half hour adapted from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, is the only one of any of the package-era shorts that feels worse-off for having been cut down from feature-length. Its recounting of Mr. Toad's misadventures from the novel is charming (Toad and Moley in particular are extremely cute in the best way possible), but it's also rushed and doesn't quite do the novel justice, even as an obviously condensed version of the plot. It's never boring like "Bongo," and overall, I'd call it a success. But it also is conspicuously incomplete.

The second short, though, is magnificent. Disney's adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one of the few unqualified successes of the package era, and likely as good an adaptation of Washington Irving's comic ghost story novella as we'll ever need. Ichabod himself is bar-none the best-designed human character of any Disney output in the 1940s, a perfect amalgam of Irving's absurdly angular description of the man in the book with Disney's cuddlier sensibilities, and to watch this strange bird human in motion is to be mesmerized. The rest of the cast has more great character design (if not quite on the level of Ichabod), especially Ichabod's antagonist, Brom Bones, who radiates with brutish cunning that the movie twists deftly from oafish to frightening in equal measure. And of course there's the movie's climax, the famed nocturnal chase through the woods as Ichabod tries to outrun the Headless Horseman; it's a strange sequence that walks a fine line between horror and comedy (it honestly reminded me of the dreamlike tone of Evil Dead 2), a strangeness best illustrated by the way that the Horseman's steed is lit from below with a hellish red light while Ichabod himself gawkily struggles with his own bony, cartoony horse—and it's fantastic. This is probably the last time for a while I'll see Disney's penchant for terrifying children rear its head, so I'm going to savor it.

12. Cinderella (1950)
I've always found Cinderella to be one of the weakest of the "princess" films. The songs aren't good—"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo" and "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" are the ones Disney seems most intent on making "classics," and if those snoozers are your golden girls, you know you're in trouble (and let's say nothing of the truly bad "So This Is Love" and "Sing Sweet Nightingale"). The characters aren't good—Cinderella is, typical of these early princess movies (my beloved Sleeping Beauty has the same problem), personality-free and gratingly virtuous, and the villain cast, while at least more distinctive, are all more irritating than menacing (though the movie does play some good work with light and shadow on Lady Tremaine); I'll grant that the mice are fun most of the time, but even then, they're too cutesy by half and not always interesting. And then there's the movie's greatest sin, one that not even the worst princess movie makes—the animation is drab. Cinderella, in addition to being boring on a narrative level, has the most anonymous character design in the Disney princess canon, and at times, she has the impression of being a moving mannequin; elsewhere, there's none of the technical wizardry or depth of field that made the early Disney features so breathtaking, not any of the shambolic poetry in motion of the studio's shorts (though again, I'll grant that the mice have some good animated sequences).

But when I've traditionally said all this, what I've usually been doing is comparing Cinderella to either the early Disney classics or the later Renaissance titles that solidified the princess brand. What I haven't typically done is view the movie with the historical context in mind, i.e. the fact that Disney hadn't made a proper narrative studio feature in eight years. Leave it to the package films to make one of the weaker Disney movies feel like a breath of fresh air. To be sure, Cinderella is still all of the above re: its characters, animation, and music; but relative to the package films (though, it should be clarified, not the above two in this post), there's a professionalism and high-budget quality to Cinderella that feels like a real return to form, even if the movie is mostly free of the experimentalism and playful spirit that energized the best of the package shorts. And on a structural level, it's just a relief to see a Disney movie stick to one coherent narrative the whole way through.

Thankfully, the studio's features would get much better than this in the subsequent years. But for now, I, like a starving prisoner of the package era emerging back into free society, will take whatever bread crumbs I can get.