Lizards, Logans, lovers, and losers.
CW: discussions of suicide attempts, gender dysphoria, and inadvertent misgendering and dead-naming.
Little longer than a fortnight since the last one, I know. Been dealing with a backlog of more time-sensitive articles you’ll see over the next few weeks, a mental block/self-confidence relapse whilst struggling through that Titanfall 2 write-up, and the continued appearance of menial tasks you don’t immediately think of when moving but still need to do. Site renewal time’s coming up so I need to work on domain transfer logistics, but I’ll discuss that some other day. For now, part three of “Hey, My Dad Tried to Kill Himself!”
I told my Dad three things when I finally saw him in Great Oaks a week after his suicide attempt. The first was that I understood why he did what he did, as fully as it was possible for me to do, due to my past history of depression and suicidal thoughts, and that I wasn’t angry or sad or anything else at him because of it. The second was that, despite what he may have believed (relayed to me by his explaining himself before I talked), myself and my brother do still need him even if it’s not going to be in the same way he was used to before the accident that left his legs paralyzed. The third was that I needed complete honesty from him if we were going to live together in his new bungalow and that, since I was demanding complete honesty and it was only fair to give complete honesty back, there was something I had been keeping from him.
My Dad’s always been… awkward about my queerness. As I somewhat alluded to in my official coming-out post on NYE, he’s a rather traditional manly-man’s man who self-describes as “being from a different time.” Doesn’t talk about his feelings much if ever, boisterously plays the casually-sexist lughead with women for semi-ironic laughs, still uses “poof” and other such terms, is heavily centrist if not outright Tory, and shies away from a lot of “girly” things whilst uncritically enjoying camp musicals and music in ways he feels he has to defensively qualify. Whenever I act non-masculine or casually express attraction towards certain men or present queer readings of media, he notably recedes and tries to steer conversation topics away to anything else in ways which go beyond just ‘a parent doesn’t want to hear about their child talk about anything even remotely connected to sex.’
He’s more understanding of my mental state that my mother is, always has been. In fact, he’s the reason why I was able to start getting actual treatment for my mental illnesses in the first place, helping get me in the door and communicate confidently to my GP the things I knew I needed but would doubt when doing the asking. And he does push me to be more open. But he’s also somewhat remote and difficult to connect with since it clearly doesn’t come easily to him, especially since I’m less traditionally masculine and joshing than my brother. So, a lot of the time, convos sputter out, I have to tamper down lots of aspects of myself around him, and we don’t really communicate. That’s why I hid the fact that I am non-binary from him. I feared it would further separate us, further confuse and unsettle him, or that he’d think I was just being ridiculous. This, after all, is a man who proudly wears his “being from a different time” nature on his sleeve and laments changing societal attitudes towards certain types of comedy and acceptable norms (albeit more in a bemused casualness rather than active bigotry or what have you).
But if I was going to demand honesty from him, I had to give honesty back in kind. So, I came out to him. He was… very Dad about it. Which is to say, it went about as well as I think it realistically could’ve gone even though I didn’t have the same relieving Social Link-levelling sensation I did when I came out to my friends, instead feeling kinda queasy and awkward for days after. I did my whole explanation thing of my dysphoria, what non-binary actually means since he was confused on that, and why I still wasn’t telling anyone else in the family besides my brother. This was where his “born in a different time” self-descriptor really did some work, since he was at least honest that he didn’t quite understand and wouldn’t really be able to have semi-regular conversations about any of this; I’m not 100% sure he’s even done any further reading on the subject since. But, the flip-side of that coin is that he was raised on an “I don’t care what you are or believe, so long as you’re not a prick then we’ll get on” attitude and so he was ultimately supportive in his own reserved 70s-born masculine way.
Since I’ve fallen super-behind on writing these pieces, I can actually provide a brief ongoing post-script to this part of the Great Oaks conversation now that I’ve spent a month living with him in the new bungalow. It’s been… good, surprisingly, and he has been trying to recognise me as I am. For someone who not only has had 26 years of calling me “Callum” and “his son/boy” to unlearn whilst remembering to keep misgendering and deadnaming when talking to nan and mother (on my request), he’s not been doing too bad. He slipped up a lot for the first few days with his nurses and carers, to a degree where they by and large can’t be bothered to fix their mistakes after I tried to correct them – which I don’t think is malicious since they have to remember a lot at all times, yet is disheartening all the same – and has a very “being a realist, I don’t think it’s something they’ll do for many years” attitude towards the ongoing fight to get non-binary legally recognised as a gender option in the UK. But I gently talked to him about the name and pronouns thing after a few days and he’s better at the name part now (misgendering unfortunately not so much but again 26 years to unlearn). The few times he’s called me Callie, cos he doesn’t use my name much anyway when talking to me, have been mundanely wonderful.
So, now it was in the open. We had finally talked, with full honesty. And, even if the coming out didn’t feel great, being able to look directly into the eyes of my father, who one week earlier had tried to kill himself, and both feel seen and know that he wasn’t going to try anything like that again did. Albeit that latter half was because he had decided not to get surgery on the cancer in his lungs.
And we’ll talk about that, consequently closing off this elongated belated personal update/vent, next time. Not sure when, though. As mentioned, I’m hoping to do site domain moves within the next few weeks which means this place is gonna be a mess if so, but I’ll make a separate post end of next week when I know for certain with all the info. For now, however, it’s been 1200 words and no movie talk in this ostensible movie talk piece so let’s get on with it.
Here’s what I’ve been watching this week and also a thing from the week earlier I’d already written up before having to abort the attempt. We don’t waste here at Callie Petch Headquarters.
Free Fire [Saturday 8th]
Dir: Ben Wheatley
Oof, going back to reviews mostly written almost half-a-decade ago is kinda painful, both for thoughts which don’t really hold up and for bad writing habits I’m hopefully getting better at breaking. For the latter, run-on sentences of, like, fifty words and five comma break lists; unreadable shit they were. For the former, I don’t know what was up with my glasses during the three viewings which constituted my LFF and later solo reviews of Free Fire, but the action and scene geography of this thing are anything other than “clear” or displaying “coherency.” It’s a confusing, ever-shifting, jerky miasma of bodies and dust and pillars with a constant offsetting shift in angles and perspective where spatial geography is impossible to discern. Yet, despite how that sounds, I don’t really consider it a damning strike against Wheatley’s film.
To be clear, I completely understand why some might think this completely fails on every non-performance degree. The characters are all one-dimensional loathsome caricature spouting dialogue which uses the word fuck as every form of punctuation mark possible in a movie that, even at 90 minutes dead, is still 10 longer than it has the material for and whose visual incoherence can sometimes be an exhausting drain. But, for me, it’s just enough of a blast and successful enough at its aims to be a fun if not-especially-memorable time. A lot of that is due to the performances, everybody having a tangible up-to-11 whale of a time that gives the film much of its vital bad taste fun atmosphere otherwise it’d truly become a slog. However, I do think that Wheatley and Amy Jump’s unique realisation of the big gunfight is successful at what they aim for.
In elevator-pitch terms, Free Fire envisions gunfights as a schoolyard playground finger-gun Looney Tunes slasher flick sound-mixed by Robert Altman. A chaotic, scrappy, blazingly-inaccurate affair where everybody is too angry and prideful to die, so every shot just nips you or takes out a leg instead of killing you nuh uh did too honest. Allegiances shifting every few minutes for the most part since only a few players have any kind of vested personal interest in specific rivals. Looney Tunes-y from the slapstick absurd black-comedy factor of everyone continuing to keep ticking despite their injuries and the physical spectacle of well-timed thwacks and shots reminiscent of a more-violent Buster Keaton-era piece. Slasher from Wheatley’s routes in horror providing some nasty injury detail, occasionally dank atmosphere in set and lighting designs, and most obviously the gnarly over-the-top and specific kill order of most of the cast. Altman-mixing from the often-overlapping and often-background dialogue which frequently hides the film’s funniest lines. It’s an interesting way to realise this premise, one that I think it mostly succeeds at. It’s quality frivolous fun, even if now tainted with Armie Hammer stink.
Logan Lucky [Sunday 16th]
Dir: Steven Soderbergh
Nobody does the pure warm-hearted thrills of an ensemble heist movie better than Soderbergh. Nobody. Sure, Logan Lucky was pretty much an effortless layup for the director’s official first movie back from “retirement” – one which lasted for as long and was about as permanent as one of Terry Funk’s – easing back in with the kind of film the man could make in his sleep and still have the results be above-average. But every facet of this thing really is just so casually masterful that one can’t help but sit in awe. That smooth transitory editing. That perfect balance between coolness (albeit a different kind from the Ocean’s movies), comedy, and just the right amount of sentimentality. That ability to get the best performances out of every actor regardless of their past track record or length of time on-screen; there’s a genuinely decent Katherine Waterston performance here which are words I have only ever typed in relation this one film!
And, as I wrote when deeming Logan Lucky my #15 film of 2017 – brief side-bar: we’re all in agreement that 2017 was the best year for movies last decade, yeah; just a stupendously stacked line-up of films that year – it also functions as a sincerely moving tribute to the Southern states normally portrayed as the butt of jokes. This was something especially nice to see in a time where the political discourse temperature regarding such things has only gotten worse. Instead of going for the pandering rah-rah patriotism Real America angle, Soderbergh and screenwriter Rebecca Blunt (really Soderbergh’s wife Jules Asner) simply write charming and likeable characters with smarts and depth. They get placed in the centre of a somewhat moral universe and are allowed to get one over on smug arseholes and uncaring systems by exploiting how those people stereotypically see them without sacrificing their essential homespun Southern goodness in the process. And Soderbergh films the areas that his story is set in with the same reverent stylish beauty other directors do L.A. or he did Vegas, making typically amazing usage of widescreen shot composition and mostly meticulous camera movement to paint his sets and landscapes with a distinctive glow. Wonderful little movie.
Nomadland [Wednesday 19th]
Dir: Chloé Zhao
Godzilla vs. Kong [Wednesday 19th]
Dir: Adam Wingard
Boring. Really, really boring. Look, y’all know me, I’ve been a relative defender/enjoyer of the Legendary MonsterVerse up to this point – I even handed King of the Monsters an outright “Needs More Love” award and still stand by both that fact and the unbridled enjoyment I had with the movie even though I haven’t gone back to it since. But, god, this was just dull and it was frankly dull in ways I fear signal the direction that future MonsterVerse movies will go in if they make more, which they might since this has been significantly more financially and publicly successful than KotM even with the pandemic handicap. To be fair, the fights are good. When they finally get to them, the fights are good. I don’t think they’re as good as in KotM, those had an awe-inspiring sense of scale and tangibility that Wingard loses just enough of to be noticeable in the shift towards wider-angled higher-up more-traditionally “legible” shooting, though they are good with some pleasantly gnarly finishes.
But, Mecha-Jesus, the journey to that last 20 minute or so smackdown jamboree is such a slog. I know that giant CGI monsters are really expensive and burn ungodly amounts of money with every second on-screen, but Legendary’s fixation on Monarch, endless Weyland-Yutani bullshit, and inexplicable pathology to overcomplicate and undercook everything is killing the MonsterVerse. There are three movies here: a decent premise for a King Kong sequel, an underdeveloped sketch of an idea for a Godzilla sequel, and a generic time-wasting Scooby gang Aliens knock-off. All are smashed together with no further development, none fit well, and for some goddamned reason the last of those three gets the most screen time. And I think the reason why the time spent artificially stalling us from the fireworks factory bothers me more than it ever did in prior MonsterVerse movies is that it feels significantly more like blatantly marking time than ever before.
Say what you want about the prior films, I feel like they at least tried to do something with their human sequences and genuinely invest in the melodrama they peddled. Godzilla 2014 attempted to bring the carnage mostly back down to ground level in ways more than a little indebted to Cloverfield just as much the original Gojira. Kong: Skull Island went all-in on B-Movie cheesiness whilst also trying to both passingly address the colonialist implications of Kong and retrofit the story into a Vietnam parable. And War of the Monsters wanted to be a doomer environmentalist tale with grand tragic family melodrama wrapping it all together. Now, I don’t think the execution on any of them worked as intended, mind, but I got what they were going for and they at least had a vision. That’s not true for Godzilla vs. Kong. No real effort is made to meaningfully tie in the human side to the monster side – the deaf orphan native just feels like cheap emotional bait, and the Weyland-Yutani bullshit that justifies Mecha-Godzilla is so stupid in the worst way – and I never got the impression that the film cares about either that fact or the characters at all.
Yet it makes us spend so goddamned long with these boring exposition vomiters. None of the overqualified cast getting to provide any of that goofy ham Skull Island allowed for aside from Brian Tyree Henry drowning helplessly under the weight of stale conspiracy theorist podcaster “gags.” And if the film can’t be bothered to care, why should I and, more importantly, why spend so interminably long with them in the first place? I’m guessing that, technically, there’s more monster screen time in this than any other MonsterVerse film to date, but it sure don’t feel like that. As always, the best part of these movies other than the fights are the far-too-brief beats where we get to watch these monsters interact with each other. Kong popping his shoulder back into place, the sadistic grin which spreads across Godzilla’s face just before he stops playing around, the show of respect both titans share with each other in the ending. Those 10 seconds where the two Hellhawks are arguing with each other over who gets to eat the Apex soldier display more compelling and entertaining character than Rebecca Hall’s scientist mother-expy does across 110 minutes.
It’s not a case of me dinging Godzilla vs. Kong over it not being the movie I want it to be. In fairness, I do absolutely think everybody involved with this has made the wrong movie in their stubborn insistence on overcomplicating the broth – JUST DO A MOVIE SOLELY FROM THE MONSTERS’ PERSPECTIVE WITH VISUAL STORYTELLING LIKE THE FIRST THIRD OF WALL-E, IT’S NOT THAT HARD – but I also don’t know what movie they’ve tried to make in its place. I couldn’t levy that charge at any prior MonsterVerse entries, but this one doesn’t seem to have a clear vision whilst refusing to just get to the damn point. Wingard does manage a couple of really slick-looking shots and the initial voyage into the Hollow Earth is the kind of empty spectacle-nonsense the film could’ve stood to feature more of whilst killing time before the smackdowns. But they’re outweighed by just the most creatively-bankrupt script and pedestrian presentation. If you’re going to admit that none of this matters besides the monster fights, then just get to the stuff which does matter instead of non-committedly dragging your heels through the motions leading to them anyway. My friend Kelechi Ehenulo goes deeper and better into this in her own piece over at JumpCut you should definitely check out.
Also, Monarch making Hollow Earth an outpost in the denouement, colonising part of Kong’s homeland – and that IS what they were doing since King Kong as a character and concept is all about colonisation and its effects… real bad look, that’s all I’m gonna say.
First Cow [Thursday 20th]
Dir: Kelly Reichardt
Reviewing this for Set the Tape, which should be going live on Wednesday, so not gonna say much about it here since the review hopefully says everything I need to. Despite what the score may infer, which I know is always the first and often only thing people look at with reviews, I did very much enjoy Reichardt’s latest even if it tested me more than a bit in its opening hour. I do, however, feel like I would’ve enjoyed it more had I watched the film in a cinema rather than at home with my laptop hooked up to the TV and ability to focus being constantly-tested by outside sources. A storm raging outside against my window, Dad’s self-admitted near-deafness meaning he can’t help but crank his TV and/or music up really high (plus the very expensive Sonos soundbar he has being an audio-balancing nightmare anyway), an office chair not being a particularly comfortable way to sit for two hours, and these two attention-hog cats demanding their fuss at the least opportune times. (That last one of which being where the image for this entry has come from.)
It’s not very professional, I know, and I really do try not to hold the home viewing handicap against anything I watch. I think I do a strong enough job at that – hell, almost every single WIBW entry I’ve penned since the plague kicked off has been the result of home viewing and there were definitely a few raves of new stuff in there – and have done a strong enough job at judging First Cow on its own merits. But, because this is the way my overthinking self-conscious mind works, I also cannot help but ponder the “what if?” of it all. Especially for when it comes to a Kelly Reichardt film which are extremely slow and reflective mood pieces you’re supposed to sink totally into and vibe on with no outside distractions. Sure, I found that difficult to do for most of the first hour because Reichardt as a storyteller unapologetically and permanently lives on the line between “deliberate” and “self-indulgent” to a degree where I can find the very laboured period of time it takes for her to get to the point the latter of those. But, on the other hand, would I have at least been more able or willing to force my brain into the headspace required if I were in a cinema screen or not getting used to the living arrangement of a new house? Probably not, but the hypothetical always follows me regardless.
My point in all this is that there was absolutely fuck-all reason why this needed to take 14 months to release on UK shores in any capacity. Come the fuck on, distributors.
Knives Out [Friday 21st]
Dir: Rian Johnson
The coveted “I actually really enjoyed that!” seal of approval from Dad, everybody! Highest possible praise and I’m not joking with that statement! And people have the nerve to insist that Rian Johnson cannot write! God, I love love this film. It may not exactly get better upon repeat viewings, but it’s yet to diminish at all either; a testament to just how high that first viewing set the bar and how impeccably crafted the film is that it never once sinks below that bar on further go-arounds. Whilst I’m not exactly gonna demand they be cancelled – I mean, have you seen that cast Johnson has corralled together for #2 – I will admit to being kinda disappointed that Netflix snapped up the rights to new Benoit Blanc movies. Knives Out, on all three screenings, was one of my all-time favourite cinema experiences (each one for different reasons) and I am a bit saddened about the almost-certain fact that Netflix won’t do proper theatrical runs for the sequels, especially here in the UK. Partly because of that aforementioned distract-ability factor which comes with home viewing (super-loud washer-drier for this one), partly because the communal experiences were so good for Knives. Shame.
As for actual movie criticism of the kind this article has been in relatively short supply for: I love how everybody in front of and behind the camera tangibly looks like they’re having fun. Think of it like being physically there in an audience for either stand-up or live comedy tapings. Watching at home or at a mostly-empty cinema, you naturally focus more on the quality of the jokes and, despite the audience/laugh-track cueing you as to what’s funny, aren’t as easily-susceptible to laughing at sub-par material. But when you’re physically there, surrounded by dozens of other people all arriving for the same good time and putting that energy out into the room, you often find yourself getting swept up in it all and laughing a lot easier and louder at stuff you may not otherwise. If everybody around you and the person on stage is having a great time, it becomes somewhat infectious and easier to yourself surrender too.
I feel that’s somewhat the same with Knives Out. Even if the film weren’t so excellent – or you’re one of those who, shock of shocks, doesn’t like the film for whatever valid reason – I could at least agree that it’s just a really pleasant film to sit with for two hours. Less in the ways that films usually get tagged with “pleasant” and more in that everybody is clearly just having so much fun which makes the overall vibe so breezily enjoyable and likeable. Johnson having a playfulness with his staging, tackily-specific production design, and sometimes-circular editing. The actors all having a complete ball hamming it up as updated campy whodunnit archetypes in ridiculous sweaters. It’s what I think allows Johnson’s clever bait-and-switch-and-re-switch writing to function like an excellent magic trick, you get so lulled in by the infectious fun that you don’t notice the hands working the trick in plain sight.
I also think this is why our biggest blockbusters are the MCU and Fast & Furious saga (at least until the backstage resentment started to bubble over in Fate). Cos everyone on those movies is having such tangible fun buying into the ride, the audience starts having fun with them and exit with a baseline enjoyment of that time even if the construction doesn’t excel at all or lacks in some aspects. Obviously, this wouldn’t work for all types of movies and you do still in fact need to back up that tangible fun with quality filmmaking and storytelling, but I’d like to see more genuinely fun popcorn movies when studios stop holding them back out of a misguided fallacy that post-pandemic releases are gonna automatically earn $1 billion easy like old times. Or, in so many words, Godzilla vs Kong should’ve been more like Knives Out. I’d gladly pay for a Kaiju whodunnit, is all I’m saying!
Callie Petch, on Concrete Island, waves to the businessman.