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MCC Home Video Scorecard #12: Year-End Title Dump, 2017 Edition

Bob Newby!

Bob Newby, worthiest descendant of the House of Gamgee.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: the recurring feature that’s me jotting down capsule-sized notes about Stuff I Recently Watched at home. In this batch: once again this ostensibly regular feature wound up saved for a rainy day, only to be held in reserve through any number of downpours and snowstorms. I’m already several viewings into a 2018 edition, which means it’s now or never for my 2017 catch-up. I’m a little annoyed at how much time I devoted to Netflix shows throughout the third and fourth quarters of the year, but if I’d watched a lot of movies instead, then this entry would be three times longer and take at least twice as long to write, thus making all the easier to procrastinate into 2019 and beyond. Or all the easier never to write. But I grow weary of finding reasons not to write. One of my many reasons for creating a blog nearly six years was to find reasons not never to write.

Hence: on with the writing! And the viewings! And the writing about the viewings! Double bonus points if I’m not the only one who reads what I write about what view!

Stranger Things, season 2 — The Duffer Brothers had a lot of game pieces to keep in play around the board this time. Some turns were more engaging than others, but the entire team came together nicely with crowd-pleasing satisfaction in the end, complete with closure for Barb if not necessarily justice. Now I demand justice for poor Bob Newby instead, the greatest employee in Radio Shack history, but that’s just me. I was also among those who gnashed their teeth at the jarring digression of episode 7 (Eleven’s improbably super-speed round-trip bus ride to Chicago) that fell a bit flat and sucked so much tension out of episode 6’s frightening cliffhanger. If this had been comics, Stranger Things Season 2 would have been an eight-episode miniseries, and Eleven’s big-city trip would have been handled off to one side as a Stranger Things Annual and stressed far fewer fans. Too bad most TV shows beyond Doctor Who don’t have annuals or specials like that. Food for thought.

Additional random notes: Billy the hair-metal bully reminded me of a ridiculous number of guys I knew in high school, none of whom I called friends. Kudos to former Pixar powerhouse Andrew Stanton for strong directorial contributions. And Dustin’s moments in the season finale — from pride to heartbreak and back again — broke something inside me and inspired a three-page brainstorm list that’ll be a separate MCC entry in the future if I can talk myself back into that uncomfortable head space. In all, I’m looking forward to season 3 someday, in which I’ll be curious to see what Will Byers’ actual personality looks like when he’s not in use as a MacGuffin or a puppet.

Mindhunter, season 1 — Somewhere between the horror films I used to watch and the basic-cable true-crime shows that my wife likes is this inspired-by-actual-events series in which David Fincher and other directors fascinated by darkness recreate the FBI’s pioneering 1970s exploration into the minds of serial killers, who used to be humanity’s worst fears made manifest until today’s mass shooters stole their spotlight. I was excited to see Holt McCallany in a leading-man role after playing a solid Lead Henchman in approximately six hundred different action films and B-movies, second-fiddle to far too many scenery-chewing former A-listers. As one of the G-Men who volunteer to interview the sick and the depraved about their mating and killing habits, McCallany stole the stage as the old-school lawman struggling to grasp new forms of cruelty and sadism that defy emotional logic and baseline decency, standing in for any and all of us who just weren’t made for these times.

Meanwhile at his side is our antihero Holden Ford, the modified stand-in for legendary FBI profiler John Douglas as played radically differently by Broadway star and Frozen costar Jonathan Groff. As the precocious wunderkind who comes up with the plan to dive into the minds of murderers, Ford is full of revolutionary ideas and grateful to be given the latitude to explore them, only to see the moral boundaries around his personal life slowly eroding as he goes, like a young Will Graham in the making. Roughly 40% of internet users seem to have undergone that same journey from young genius to angry self-absorbed horndog, and it was tough to watch that personified. I tend to avoid straightforward horror these days, but the Mindhunter underworld and its parade of broken souls made for a captivating if deeply unsettling learning experience. And if Cameron Brittain’s calmly twisted Ed Kemper doesn’t return for season 2, I shall be rather disappointed.

The Punisher, season 1 — Perhaps saving a capsule review of Gun Guy Wins at Gunning until the day after America’s eighteenth spree-shooting of 2018 wasn’t my best bit of timing, but that’s the hole I’ve dug for myself tonight. Jon Bernthal remains the ultimate embodiment of Marvel’s favorite vigilante gunslinger and walked tall as the solid core of a show buzzing with subplots of wildly varying interest level. I’m not sure which characters I would’ve subtracted to make season 1 leaner and meaner, though I found my attention wandering most whenever the cameras turned to Homeland Security. Ben Barnes, formerly Prince Caspian from the Narnia series, is suitably charismatic as Frank Castle’s Iraq buddy turned security exec with a dark side. I wish we’d gotten a bit more of Karen Page’s adventures in journalism. I was sad to see the seedy C. Thomas Howell exit so soon. I realize those complaints sound odder after I just wrote “THERE’S TOO MUCH STUFF” a few sentences earlier. Such are the contradictions in the wild world of Shooty Shooter Shoots Shootists with Shots.

Static Shock, season 1 — In the Warner Bros. media empire there’s a little boutique corner called the Warner Archive that brings obscure and forgotten gems to home video that might sell too poorly in mass markets. I love that they’ve set their minds to rescuing this four-season Kids WB animated adaptation of the wonderful Milestone Media superhero, who deserves a shot at live-action someday among the heroes I hope to see lining up for their turns after Black Panther earns all the monies this weekend. The early episodes in the first season saw a little shakiness as the WB’s animators worked at figuring out a few things, but co-creator Dwayne McDuffie and everyone around him gets things stabilized by the finale, which sees our young hero Virgil Hawkins reconciling memories of his dead mother, a tremendously weighty topic back in the fading era when Saturday mornings still gave a home to shows like this.

The Unusuals, season 1 (and only) — This ABC one-season wonder about strange cops and stranger cases flew by in a summer eyeblink, but represents an early showrunning effort from Noah Hawley, the future one-man brain trust behind Fargo and Legion, who paired future Avenger and Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner alongside a distressingly mismatched Amber Tamblyn. With a supporting cast that included Lost‘s Harold Perrineau and Oz‘s Terry Kinney, things got better after the painful pilot, but I can only conclude ABC dropped the ball pretty hard on damage control.

If you’re like me and my wife, and you love poring through old movies and shows to find glimpses of recognizable actors in offbeat settings, The Unusuals includes moments for Chris Sarandon as Tamblyn’s dad (I like to think he would’ve been more involved in future seasons), a young Miles Teller as a teen trapped in his family street gang, Ant-Man‘s Corey Stoll as a cop-buddy of Renner’s with a blackout problem, Walking Dead‘s Emily Kinney as a Concerned Girlfriend, veterans from The Wire including David Costabile and Isiah Whitlock Jr., and, in the hard-hitting finale, a teenage Adam Driver as a rich kid who turns to the Dark Side. Fun forgotten times.

Pottersville — I don’t usually cue up non-famous holiday films at Christmastime, but Ron Perlman seemed pretty proud of this one on Twitter, so I figured why not. In this fluffy lark of a winter’s tale, Perlman is a small-town sheriff whose deepest secret is that he’s a furry. Y’know the fans who wear heavy animal costumes and just hang out like that with each other? One of those. His best furry pal is Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks, but she’s married to the actual main character — Michael Shannon in his least angry, least shouty-est role ever. When non-furry Shannon discovers his wife’s second life, he responds poorly by getting drunk, stumbling around town for the night, and getting mistaken for Bigfoot. Small-town conspiracies and hilarity ensue, sort of, like a zero-calorie version of Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole.

Ian McShane adds some scruff as the resident big-game hunter, but the hunt is truly on when comedian Thomas Lennon shows up as a Steve Irwin knockoff who hosts his own basic-cable Ghost Hunters ripoff with monsters. Lennon is the most amusing of all, while the rest of the cast just barely rise to the level of mild-mannered goofiness. Bonus points for positive inclusion of Judy Greer, who I will basically watch in anything after the way she stole The Descendants with ultimate intensity, but I remain flabbergasted at the notion of casting Michael Shannon in a film in which he never loses his temper. At all. Not even once. Not even when his wife is mad at him or committing weirdness without him. Who does that with Michael Shannon? Was he not feeling well on set? Did someone bet he couldn’t do it? Are there outtakes of him screaming in Perlman’s face till he cries? I don’t get it.

Gregory + Shawn!

Autographed souvenir from last fall’s Cincinnati Comic Expo.

Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn: 3 Films — One of them you may not know; the other, you know from such films as The Princess Bride and the Toy Story series, among countless other supporting parts, but he’s had his serious side as well. The biggest Criterion Collection boxed set on my shelves features one reasonably well-known film and two little-seen stage adaptations from this same pair of collaborating friends, each made in different decades. Many film fans know the centerpiece, the 1981 classic My Dinner With Andre, about two intellectuals who go out for fine dining and talk and talk and talk and talk and talk, and that’s the whole movie, but if you’re patient and willing to wait for subtleties to reveal themselves, it’s an experience so unlike today’s bombastic action blockbuster extravaganzas (like, say, the nonetheless awesome Black Panther, now in theaters!) that Andre practically qualifies as cinematic detox in the best way. Immediately after watching, I popped in the Community episode that paid it homage. It was funny without context, but twice as funny with.

In 1994 the pair reunited with Andre director Louis Malle for Vanya on 42nd Street, performed as a full-length rehearsal of the Chekhov play with no costumes or audience in the tattered ruins of Manhattan’s New Amsterdam Theater before it was renovated years later. (Ironically, today it’s the Broadway home of Disney’s Aladdin.) As the director-within-the-production, Gregory appears largely as a framing device between scenes, stepping back to let Shawn spar with the likes of George Gaynes (Punky Brewster, Police Academy), Brooke Smith (Silence of the Lambs, Bates Motel), and future Academy Award Winner Julianne Moore, whose part is no larger or smaller than the rest but whose giant head takes up nearly the entire movie poster.

Gregory’s involvement was minimal (a single scene) nine years later in the late Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of Ibsen’s A Master Builder, but their shared moment is electric in the scarred history between their characters. Shawn’s scoundrel of a protagonist dominates, but has to step back at times for a powerhouse performance from Julie Hagerty, putting the slapstick of Airplane! far behind her for good as Shawn’s put-upon wife. In the film’s most devastating scene, Hagerty demonstrates a life hollowed out by a blind faith deeply misguided by a grief that never healed. This made about twenty bucks at the box office but deserves consideration.

Sicario — The first 90-odd minutes of Denis Villeneuve’s Mexican-cartel thriller are a riveting showcase for Emily Blunt and her partner Daniel Kaluuya, who — spoiler alert — shockingly does not get killed. I didn’t mind Josh Brolin as the showboating CIA bigwig until he revealed that the film’s first twist was (barely a spoiler alert) sometimes the CIA does horribly crooked things in other countries (gasp!), a stunning revelation if this had been shot forty years ago. But I lost my cool when Ms. Blunt was shoved aside and Benicio Del Toro stepped forward to reveal the other twist (bigger, more annoying spoiler): that he was, in fact, the movie’s main character, not the woman who’d done all the heavy lifting up to that point and whose name was above most marquees. Her complete absence from the trailers for Sicario 2 is disappointing yet unsurprising, and the chief reason why I’ve no plans to reward this bait-and-switch trap by caring about its sequel.

Apocalypse Now ReduxMy first viewing of the original cut was so astonishingly 11/10 that it took me months to work up the nerve to sit through Coppola’s “director’s cut” for fear that it would be inferior. My fear wasn’t unfounded. I liked the added scenes surrounding Robert Duvall’s arrival in the movie, which expand upon his innate looniness. I could take or leave the extra moments with the Playboy bunnies — which, I guess, showed how the Vietnam War made women lose their minds too? I was even less enamored of the insertion of the 20-minute overnighter at the French plantation, which didn’t take long to lose my interest and became my intermission. In general, I prefer the original.

Insomnia — Not the Christopher Nolan remake but the Norwegian original, in which Stellan Skarsgård is a flawed Swedish cop who travels toward the Arctic — in this case, the nether regions of Norway — to investigate a young woman’s murder. The framework is the same, but whereas Al Pacino grew increasingly harried and fatigued as the movie wore on and the perpetual daylight degraded his mental state, Skarsgård devolves into a flat-out creepazoid that I had to stop rooting for after a while. Nolan’s do-over is flashier and more intensely interested in its own shot lighting, but original director Erik Skjoldbjærg creates a cat-and-mouse game that feels more disturbing and honest without those Hollywood A-listers around.

Ip Man — Before he was one with the Force and the Force was with him, Donnie Yen starred in martial arts movies I never watched till now. This one’s based on a true story, so in a way, watching this made up for some of the really shoddy history classes that failed to teach me what I needed to know throughout childhood. Yen sparkles as a Master even when the realities of World War II all but destroy his happy martial-arts-loving community. He was great in Rogue One but outstanding in this, up to and including the climactic bout that’s like China’s answer to the Rocky IV finale. I mean that as a compliment. My son has already watched the rest of the series and warned me to lower my expectations when I get around to them. Eventually. Rats.

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