We all go a little mad sometimes, so from Nov. 27-Dec. 11 we’ll be dragging the swamp behind the Bates Motel for insight into the films of the “Psycho” franchise. First up is “Psycho” (1960):
When I saw “V for Vendetta” in theaters in 2006, having gone in mostly cold, it washed over me like a new, surprising experience. Although I’d always been suspicious of authority, this movie – which often makes top 10 lists of most libertarian films – clinched it for me. Oddly, I don’t think it’s entirely because of the messages. “V for Vendetta” is certainly a message movie about the value of freedom and the untrustworthiness of governments, but more than that, it’s such a beautifully engrossing work of art.
John Carpenter has built up enough of an oeuvre that everyone has their own pick for his elite work, but for me it’s “The Thing” (1982) in a landslide. I appreciate “Halloween’s” status as a slasher trope codifier, and “Escape from New York’s” guerrilla grit, but “The Thing” is the director’s most fully formed masterpiece. It’s mentioned a lot for its elite practical creature effects and its portrayal of paranoia within a small group, and it has made must-watch lists during the coronavirus pandemic thanks to its story of a mysterious infection. But what most defines the film for me are its sense of place and sense of dread.
Back to the Future” (1985) is one of the all-time great films, utterly fun and free-wheeling, yet it rewards film nerds’ deeper explorations with its flawless storytelling structure and genre balance. It’s adorable despite being about a teenage girl crushing on her future son, it’s smart despite being about something that’s impossible, and it accurately captures two out of three eras. Its 1955 and 1985 are pitch-perfect; the flying-cars version of 2015 not so much. But it does promise more time-hopping fun, teasing the possibilities of further adventures with that classic ending where Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) views his own actions from earlier in the film.
Aside from its wonderful locations and car designs that capture the 1960s, director James Mangold’s “Ford v Ferrari” (2019) is a sober re-creation of a niche slice of history. He trusts that 24-hour racing at Le Mans and Daytona will be exciting enough to capture and hold the layperson’s attention. He pushes it with the 2-hour, 32-minute run time, but ultimately he’s right. While non-racing-fan moviegoers aren’t likely to tune in to TV coverage of the next 24-race, this sport plays tremendously well in movie form.
Foreign filmmakers, particularly in Asia, have been making long, engrossing, surprising statements about human issues of the day for a long time, and “Parasite” (2019) may not be the elite example of the form, but it’s a worthy Best Picture winner. If this first-ever foreign film to win Best Picture gets people to check out more subtitled gems, it’s worth it. Director/co-writer Bong Joon Ho, along with co-writer Jin Won Han, crafts a darkly funny commentary about South Korean class relations that the American film “Us” wishes it could’ve approached.
The Oscar-nominated “Joker” has brought a key question about art front and center, perhaps most prominently since the early part of this century when sample-laden songs started to become radio hits. Where is the line that separates homages from ripoffs? Inspiration from theft? Two Martin Scorsese films are regularly mentioned as the most obvious forbearers to Todd Phillips’ “Joker”: “Taxi Driver” (1976) and “The King of Comedy” (1982). I’ll look at “Taxi Driver” here.
In 1988, Alan Moore wrote “The Killing Joke,” imagining the Joker’s origin story outside the primary DC Comics continuity. And now director/co-writer Todd Phillips (“The Hangover” films) does the same with “Joker,” a movie set outside the DC Extended Universe that imagines the Joker’s origin story in more robust fashion than ever before seen on film. It happens to be better than anything in the DCEU so far, so it’s a shame that this is a side project, especially since it builds up Gotham and the Wayne family so effectively.
Blade Runner” (1982, with director Ridley Scott’s “Final Cut” following in 2007) serves as a demarcation of child and adult movie tastes. I grew up a “Star Wars” kid, and as a teenager in the 1990s, a friend helped me catch up on other sci-fi classics via VHS rentals of “Alien,” “Terminator” and “Blade Runner.” Hoping on some level for space battles or at least flying-car chases, “Blade Runner” seemed slow and nonsensical to me.
The grand experiment is over, and it’s a success. The first 22 films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe comprise a saga similar to a TV serial, but with way more characters, way more side journeys and way more money. And most remarkably for a movie series, it has an ending for the initial batch of six Avengers, with “Avengers: Endgame.” We knew all this going into the film, which itself raises one final question: Does it stick the landing? The answer is a qualified yes.