This time around, in the spirit of April Fools' Day, SB Nation writer Seth Rosenthal does a deep kayfabe dive on Michael Jordan's climactic game-winning dunk from the 1996 blockbuster Space Jam (a movie I 100% wore out the tape of as a nine-year-old). High points include a critique of the players the Nerdlucks stole skills from (no Shaq? no Hakeem?), a reconsidering of Marvin the Martian's alleged impartiality as referee, and the folding of real-life events into the machinations of Space Jam's deeply silly, deeply crass plot. Rosenthal is a good writer, so good in fact that at several points in the video I forgot that it was a goof.
This video actually pairs up nicely with an episode of one of my favourite podcasts, Blank Check with Griffin and David, where they discuss Space Jam in depth as the dumbfounding cultural artifact that it is.
Also... Michael Jordan kind of looks like a wax sculpture of Michael Jordan on this poster.
We all are born with a certain package. We are who we are: where we were born, who we were born as, how we were raised. We're kind of stuck inside that person, and the purpose of civilization and growth is to be able to reach out and empathize a little bit with other people. And for me, the movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.
Roger Ebert, one of my film-crit heroes, died six years ago today. I owe Roger more than I care to admit. He was the first person I encountered who looked at movies as art objects. He wrote with warmth, clarity, and respect for the medium. He was smart and persuasive even when I disagreed with his conclusions (and seriously, if you're not locking horns with your heroes on a semi-regular basis, what the hell are you even doing?). He taught me to trust my gut. His work will always be a resource and an inspiration to me.
Brewis juxtaposes the light, sugary Saturday morning antics of the TV show (which, I insist on repeating, was a glorified toy commercial) to the darker, more nihilistic tone of the movie. He calls it the point in his life where he realized that all things die. It's not exactly a close reading, but it gets to the heart of why this movie is so beloved people or a certain demographic without chalking it up to pure capitalistic cynicism or multimedia brand loyalty.
There's a prevailing sentiment that nostalgia should be looked at with deep suspicion or even outright hostility. I do get that. At the risk of making outlandish statements that I can't possibly back up, nostalgia has poisoned the pop culture landscape. It's why we're stuck in an ongoing cycle of regurgitated IPs spearheaded by warring monopolies, or why grown men who bequeath sacred cow status to a fart comedy where Dan Aykroyd gets a blowie from a ghost derail actual-ass human lives with cries of “cooties!” Nostalgia is a tempest that provides its own teapot, only now that teapot is the internet, and we all have to live inside of it.
But nostalgia is also a useful lens through which to view the artifacts of our past. This is how Brewis frames The Transformers: The Movie: a not-great film that shines brightest when it leans into a kind of optimist philosophy, where “the power of leadership and hope and unwarranted positivity in a dark universe has successfully vanquished the pessimistic nihilism that encroaches upon us all when bad things happen in our lives.” Galaxy brain shit maybe, but still a fun, thoughtful, emotionally-engaging trip through the cultural detritus of the 80s. Also any excuse to jam arena-cheese titan Stan Bush or force of good in the universe “Weird Al” Yankovic is right on by me.
Speaking of Yankovic, Brewis's journey with The Transformers: The Movie mirrors mine with UHF. It was one of the first DVDs I ever owned and I played the shit out of it. I thought of it as little more than a series of goofy pop culture riffs that 0% of my peers got. Which obviously it still is. Now, a lot of those jokes haven't aged well (is there an actor who got a rawer deal in the 1980s than Gedde Watanabe?), but I still love this movie because there's a community-minded anti-establishment streak to it. Goofiness for the common good. Daring to be stupid, if you will.
This Sunday, I had a conversation with my longtime friend and fellow Dim the House Lights co-editor Juan Barquin about writing and pitching. Pitching is a grind. Pitching is a hustle. Pitching is functionally a second job that I would get pennies per hour to do. Just elbowing my way to the table where all the editors sit would make a giant dent in my work-life balance (which is already kind of precarious, if I'm being 100% honest with myself).
And so I had an idiot's epiphany: just write for fun, you dingus. And dig this, genius: it doesn't even have to be about movies! It can be about music or wrestling or fucking occult horticulture if that's what grabs your attention that day. You can just write what you feel like writing because there's nothing more liberating than realizing that no one really gives a shit. Says the homie Austin Kleon:
Nobody’s really paying attention. This is the big secret. Even if you think you have an audience, nobody’s paying attention. It’s depressing at first, but once you wrap your arms around it, it’s liberating. Enjoy it. Have fun with it.
When I first bought my dot-com, my modus operandi for Ahead on Differential was to make it “like Kottke, but shittier.” So far I have done a piss-poor job of jumping over even that low bar, but I endeavour to at the very least give it a shot from here on out. Obviously longer film stuff will still be at Dim the House Lights, but everything else will go here.
The first hint is right there in the poster copy: “The Spaced Out Odyssey.” The photo beneath the tagline, of a body on ice with electrodes affixed to its face, would normally evoke chills. But in context, we understand that a face frozen in a rictus of dulled pain visually rhymes with what being gacked out on primo bud looks like.
Dark Star, directed by John Carpenter and co-written by Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon, premiered on 30 March 1974 at the Los Angeles International Film Exposition. At the risk of being glib, it plays like a stoner Alien (not surprising since O'Bannon strip-mined Dark Star for parts for his Alien script), similarly concerned with the existential tedium of being a working stiff on the final frontier. But it is above all else Carpenter's weed-dad opus, a heady, rambling, pseudo-philosophical cosmic yarn about mental entropy that for no short amount of time prioritizes a slapstick set piece featuring an alien that looks suspiciously like a beach ball. This movie would slot in nicely on a shelf next to Star Trek: The Motion Picture on VHS or a dog-eared copy of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
There isn't really much competition for Dark Star's weed-dad title belt in Carpenter's oeuvre; after his debut, his movies almost immediately became leaner, sharper, and more sinister. The only real challenger for the crown is They Live, with its EC Comics-indebted anti-authoritarian, anti-consumerist sci-fi phantasmagoria. And if there's two things weed dads hate, it's the Man and how the Man tells 'em what to do, man. But there's too much ire and fury in They Live for it to be Carpenter's weed-daddest movie. The key moment of political discourse in They Live is Roddy Piper beating the dogshit out of Keith David so he can make him wear his false consciousness-obliterating sunglasses. The key moment of political discourse in Dark Star is when a Bill Ward-looking motherfucker raps with a bomb about phenomenology to keep it from exploding. Far out.
Doubling down on being away from Twitter and starting my very own Mastodon instance, laserdisc.party.
Starting a brand new long-term movie podcast with my friend Michelle where we put the IMDb Top 250 in a bracket and work out which one is best, single-elimination style. It's called Middlebrow Madness and it's great fun to do.
The podcast actually gave me an excuse to rewatch a handful of masterpieces: Paper Moon, Unforgiven, Sherlock, Jr., Modern Times, Spirited Away, The Passion of Joan of Arc, Paths of Glory, Howl's Moving Castle.
David Fincher's Gone Girl. I made the key mistake of watching this on Valentine's Day.
Turning 30. Had a smoked meat dinner with friends and loved ones. It was sweet.
Mandy. My most anticipated film of the year, my favourite film of the year, and one of my favourite films of all time. Also the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson's score for this movie is the stuff of drone-metal nightmares, it rules so hard.
Two podcasts from the Ringer network of products: one is The Watch (Chris and Andy are some of the most thoughtful people out there regarding pop culture) and The Rewatchables (fun civilian film-crit, curating what is basically a canon of “cable movies”).
Finally buying derekgodin.com and making my own little Web 1.0 homepage.
I tried streaming video games a couple of times. It was fun!
Jon Hopkins' Singularity. House music to wake up in the desert to.
Leaning heavily into the side shave as my default haircut.
Good show notes for podcasts.
The infinite vaporwave radio station known as VaporFM.
Plex has been a gamechanger in the way I watch stuff at home.
Support the Girls. Between this, Results, and Computer Chess, Andrew Bujalski has made three of my favourite movies of the past five years.
Taking longs walks.
The great Dan Olson had a hell of a year, the crowning achievement of which was his three-part, 160-minute “lukewarm defence” of the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey. (You can start with part one here.) His video on the use of metaphor in Annihilation is also quite good.
Gritty, the freaky-looking mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, becoming a weird leftist icon.
The RetroWeatherChannel Twitch channel, which pairs vintage Weather Channel bumpers with everything from period-accurate cuts to vaporwave to smooth jazz to ambient to Chet Atkins.
Mandy, or Nostalgia as Cinematic Language
It's getting to be list season very soon, and while there are a bunch of movies that are in the running for my big gold belt that I have not seen yet (I'm looking at you, The Night Comes for Us), I sincerely doubt anything will knock Mandy from the throne. It's no secret that I am in the tank for this movie (wrote a glowing review of it and everything). After watching the equally mind-melting Beyond the Black Rainbow in 2011, I was excited to see what writer/director Panos Cosmatos had lined up next. My patience was rewarded with what is not only my favourite movie of the year thus far, but a surefire first-ballot entry into the Head Film Hall of Fame. There's rad bugfuck details stacked floor to ceiling, but it's also a film of cosmic sadness and great warmth (Nicolas Cage gets to be wild and tender in this).
And it looks fantastic. Cosmatos and director of photography Benjamin Loeb (Hello Destroyer, King Cobra) saturate the frame with bold colours, evocative lighting, and glorious phantasmagorical excess. The always-perceptive Evan Puschak over at The Nerdwriter released a video last week diving into the film's style by examining its use of grain as an aesthetic signifier. What has come to be an analogue fetish object in a digital age, Puschak explains, is delpoyed by Cosmatos as a tool rather than as a reference. Even though Cosmatos' pool of images is easy to parse (70s/80s Euro-trash, sci-fi paperbacks, prog rock album covers, back issues of Heavy Metal), the way he creates his visual tableux are unbound in time and inextricable from the story. “Style over substance” doesn't hold water as an argument when the two are so deeply intertwined.
I found a couple of orphaned capsule reviews in the Dim the House Lights archives and decided to put them here.
The Errand Boy (Jerry Lewis, 1961)
What you first notice is Jerry Lewis' eye. He has a gift for cock-eyed mise-en-scene, staging and blocking that feels familiar and yet is somehow... off. The second thing you notice is his pronounced goofiness, the yelling, the fodder for cheap jokes and bad impressions. Sure, this is silly as hell, but not really the work of a master. But then you get to the scene in the elevator, a comedy high-wire act, the tension and claustrophobia contorting Lewis' face as his character Morty Tashman tries to keep this whole interaction as close to a normal as he can. Then you get to the boardroom orchestra scene, as simple and as elegant a formalist gag as they come, and you realize that yes, you are indeed in the hands of a virtuoso for whom the gag is king, yes, but the craft is the crown. But the best gag is the throughline: this is literally a movie about Jerry Lewis wreaking havoc on the Hollywood machine from the inside. Self-aggrandizing, sure, but also self-deprecating: only in a system this ill-calibrated can a clown like him become a cultural force, a fitting mantle for auteurism's holy fool.
The Ladies Man (Jerry Lewis, 1961)
Jerry Lewis' other 1961 film has a set-up not wholly dissimilar to that of a second-tier porno: a jilted college grad (Lewis) becomes celibate and gets a job at a handyman at women's boardinghouse, where he is at the beck and call of dozens of sexy ladies. The story is by far the flimsiest aspect of the film, playing second-fiddle to the real stars of the show: sumptuous colours, opulent dollhouse-like sets, and brilliant choreography. Lewis the director is in top form, trading in the claustrophobia of The Errand Boy for lush, lilting movements that tinge his work with the surreal. There are the usual Lewis shenanigans on display: mispronunciations, mugging, chaos on a set. The gags land and fall flat in roughly equal amount, but they are all executed with equal brio. After all, Lewis is not one to half-ass things. Case in point: the magnificent dance sequence he shares with dancer Sylvia Lewis (no relation), who is introduced suspended from the ceiling from a black cotton cocoon. The pair then engage in a chase/dance while Harry James and his band kind of just appear from behind a wall, decked out in white like big band angels, and just start to wail. A jewel of a film.
Gage specializes in taking well-worn casual game mainstays (word puzzles, chess, solitaire) and twisting them in small, clever ways. Often these are simple mechanical tweaks; Really Bad Chess gives players one king and 15 other random pieces to duke it out with, while Sage Solitaire elegantly splits the difference between classic Klondike and poker. His latest game Pocket-Run Pool is his version of an arcade-style billiards game, with rotating pocket multipliers and three lives (i.e. scratches) to clear the table. As with all of Gage's work, Pocket-Run Pool is dirt-simple at first glance. But continued play will reveals a game of surprising depth; the constrained rack (10 balls instead of the usual 15) and the novel scoring system both give a new strategic angle to the kind of game I'd kill hours on in the bad old days of Windows 98. Ever since I bought it, I have found myself chaining game after game after game, and before I know it, 45 minutes have passed. That's about as good an endorsement you can give a mobile game.
[NOTE: I wrote this in May, intending for it to be part of a bigger thing, but that bigger thing never happened, so here it is all by its lonesome.]
You may not be able to place Graham Gouldman's name, but you definitely know his work. Gouldman, who turned 71 on Wednesday, is the co-founder and bassist of 10cc, one of the great British bands of the 1970s. His bandmates Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, the true-blue weirdos of the group, get a lot of the glory, but Gouldman's contributions shouldn't be downplayed. I mean, dude co-wrote the immortal “I'm Not in Love” and played one of my favourite bass lines of all time on the bridge.
One of the pillars of the 10cc sound is pastiche, but they weren't just lampooning or parodying pop music. They were twisting their forms and conventions into weird art-rock shapes. Doo-wop, teen tragedy ballads, 70s boogie, progressive rock, adult contemporary: you name it, 10cc warped it into something unique. In a way, they're the ancestor groups like Ween, albeit a lot less puerile and aggro. Gouldman currently tours with a skeleton of the mighty band that once was, and the group hasn't put out new material in nearly 25 years, but 10cc's initial '73-'76 run is full of treasures, and Gouldman was a core component of them.