My wife was driving us home the other day when a young fella wandered in front of the car. He looked like a student – late teens, slouch-shouldered, head drooping to stare at the phone cradled in his hand. Lucky for us, luckier for him, we weren’t driving fast so stopping in time wasn’t an issue. The student didn’t look-up. Simply shuffled along unhurriedly lost in whatever gripping content his phone was transmitting. Enraged, my wife beeped him. She was born in Saudi Arabia and some of that blistering desert heat never left her. The student looked up, his eyes wide with surprise. He didn’t seem embarrassed that he was standing in the middle of the road. Merely confused in a bovine kind of way that someone might beep him for this behaviour.
After staring unblinking at us for a moment or two, mouth slackly open, he shuffled on. When we got home my wife sighed. She felt guilty for beeping the student. Was worried she may have spoiled his day. I was about to point out that running him over would have really spoiled his day when she said We have to look after the dummies. I found this absurdly touching. Not all of us are born with the sense to look up when we cross the road. Some of us need a little patience, a little understanding. We have to look after the dummies.
This is what I watched and listened to over the past week when I should have been writing:
Breaking Bad didn’t become a massive cultural juggernaut until the fourth season aired. Similarly, Mad Men, The Wire and The Sopranos weren’t instant hits but grew in popularity as they went on. For the past couple of years, I’ve been seeing The Americans crop up in critics best-of lists and reading think pieces on how it’s poised to be the next big thing. The story has a compelling hook – set during the Reagan administration, two Russian spies are sent to America to fight the cold war. They adopt flawless American accents, get jobs, marry, have children, buy a house in the suburbs, become part of the community. Meanwhile, they continue to carry out covert espionage operations for the Russian government. Their children believe their parents and themselves to be American. Proudly so. This grates on the wife and less so on the husband who is beginning to question the sense of their mission. The Americans is ostensibly a spy show which is why I think it hasn’t enjoyed the same popular success as its fellow critical darlings. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, The Wire all had that rare strange attractor quality (a fantastic term I discovered via Terry Rossio’s screenwriting blog) essential for a word-of-mouth hit. Holy shit, have you seen that show about the cancer patient science teacher who decides to cook and sell meth? Or what about that show where the brother and sister are having sex and there’s ice zombies and dragons and a kick-ass little person? For this reason, I only started watching The Americans recently. It didn’t look like something I had to watch. It looked like a spy show. Something I’ve seen before. Something disposable. Two episodes in, I can quite safely say that The Americans isn’t that show and if it continues to maintain this quality for the duration of its run which, from all reports it does, then I can see no reason why it won’t join the ranks of all-time greats. It might not be Breaking Bad. It might be better.
Chatting with some friends about our kids viewing habits, the topic of favourite cartoons came up. The usuals were listed: Peppa Pig, Fireman Sam, Go-Jetters, etc. The conversation then shifted to what we watched when we were very young. Looney Tunes was mentioned and it occurred to me that there was a very real possibility my son didn’t know Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd and the rest of the Looney Tunes crew. If the cartoons are still being broadcast then they’re not on free-to-air and don’t seem to be trumpeted on the streaming channels. Thanks to YouTube that glaring cultural omission has been rectified. As I suspected, my son loves the Road Runner. Mainly because he enjoys seeing cartoon animals being blown up with dynamite. Who doesn’t?
Imagine a movie that’s like Aliens, except instead of Aliens its ghosts and instead of being set in space, its takes place in a middle-eastern warzone and now imagine the best possible version of that movie and that’s Spectral. Which means its pretty great.
Bride of Re-Animator
Re-Animator is a legitimately good film. Directed by Stuart Gordon and featuring the memorable Jeffrey Combs in the titular role it is hands-down the best H.P. Lovecraft adaptation. Working with Lovecraft’s thin Frankenstein homage story, Gordon infuses what could have been be a schlocky production with wit and style. The sequel, Bride of the Re-Animator, doesn’t quite manage the same feat. I still like it though; the effects by Screaming Mad George are well-executed and appropriately gross, the performances solid, the music evocative. The story isn’t as compelling but there are a few striking images that have stayed with me since adolescence.
The big budget occult thriller enjoyed a brief period of popularity following the success of The Exorcist in 1973. We got The Omen, The Changeling, and a few other classy fright flicks before the genre lapsed back into the realm of cheapie exploitation. Deliver us from Evil feels like a throwback to that earlier time. Based ostensibly on the true crime accounts of Sgt. Ralph Sarchie, the movie stars Eric Bana as a cop investigating horrific crimes in the Bronx while grappling with demons, both psychological and literal. For the most part it is effective. The jump scares are deftly orchestrated, the mood suitably grimy and laced with dread, and the acting, specifically by Bana, better than this sort of movie usually gets. The climax unfortunately lets the whole thing down by being the overly generic exorcism sequence we’ve all seen a hundred times by this point (The power of Christ compels you!, etc.). One spooky incident occurred while I was watching the movie that bears mentioning. Just at the point of the story when Eric Bana’s radio is hissing static due to the presence of evil spirits the fire alarm in my room started going off. There was no smoke and the battery was fresh. Demonic presence or faulty wiring? You be the judge.
During a long drive to visit my parents in Port Macquarie, the wife and I put Serial on and were quickly hooked. S-Town comes from the same producers and is similarly addictive. What starts out as a murder investigation in Woodstock, Alabama (the eponymous Shit Town) slowly reveals itself to a devastating character study with vaguely apocalyptic undertones. To say anything more would be spoiling the surprises of what is one of the most compelling experiences I’ve had in any medium. Click to listen:
That’s it for this week. Enjoy Easter, remember to brush your teeth, read, watch and listen to good things.