Symptoms: Fear and despair over the state of the world
Treatment: Stranger Things.
It’s supposed to be a horror series—bizarre stuff happens, and some of it is quite scary—but its real hook is nostalgia. Specifically 80s nostalgia: Steven Spielberg of the Close Encounters and E.T. era; Stephen King’s The Body/Stand By Me, It, Firestarter; Goonies; a smattering of 80s music from The Clash, Joy Division, Foreigner, The Bangles and others; Winona Ryder as a harried single mom whose Dungeons and Dragons-playing kid goes missing. The early episodes are the best: they create a mood of unease and “What the hell!” while telling us nothing. When they start explaining the baffling events, the intensity slackens. The series becomes less interesting, but by that time you’re emotionally invested and you have to see it through. Part of the fun lies in identifying the movie references and predicting what happens next. Kids protecting a fugitive and fleeing the authorities on bikes: Will they fly?
Effects: Watching horror mysteries makes us feel that we can make sense of the absurd. And nostalgia is very comforting: it takes us back to a past in which we believed we could understand what was going on.
Symptoms: Life has lost its flavor, and you are mired in ennui.
Treatment: The Great British Bake-Off.
I’ve never been much interested in reality show cooking competitions in which judges terrorize the contestants and reduce them to tearful blobs of jelly. That does not happen here. Everyone is polite, the hosts are funny, the competitors don’t try to destroy each other (if they do, it’s not in the final edit), and the criticism is constructive (The judges soften the blow because life is hard enough as it is).
Effects: Observing the process of creating cakes and pastries is deeply soothing.
Symptoms: You suspect you will never fulfill your ambitions and that you have wasted your life.
Treatment: Sing Street
This musical drama-comedy by the guy who made Once and Begin Again (and got a lot of flak for bad-mouthing Keira Knightley) is about a bunch of kids in economically-depressed Ireland in the 80s who deal with domestic strife and school bullies by forming a band, writing songs and making primitive music videos. The pastiches of songs by Duran Duran, The Cure, Hall and Oates are actually good. I would buy “Drive It Like You Stole It”. The film features the best brother in the world, who makes the nerdy kid listen to Joe Jackson and tells him to follow his dreams while everyone else is mocking or ignoring him. Listen, it’s corny and it’s usually an over-promise, but everyone needs to hear some variation of the “Go for it” speech as a kid. (Technically I got a lot of “Go for it” speeches but they were couched as “Why are you wasting your time when you could be blah blah blah.”) Jack Reynor plays the big brother, and Littlefinger Mayor Carcetti is the dad. Think of it as The Commitments, junior edition.
Effects: The film has a contagious joyfulness, and may remind you of your younger, brasher, more optimistic self.
Geoffrey Household’s wonderful thriller Rogue Male is coming to the screen! The film will star Benedict Cumberbatch, who will also produce.
It will be the third adaptation of Rogue Male, after the Fritz Lang version (Boring) and the TV movie starring Peter O’Toole (Somewhat better).
The novel is the gripping tale of an unnamed hunter who decides, on his own, to bag himself a dictator in an unnamed Central European country. He gets caught and tortured by enemy agents, but manages to escape and make his way back to England. There he is hunted by enemy agents, so he goes on the run in the English countryside, and Household’s description of the countryside makes me want to go camping (I have never gone camping in my life, being suspicious of nature). The hero makes himself a hideout, where he holes up for many days. His only companion is a stray black cat who has decided to stick around. He calls the cat Asmodeus, and I am looking forward to scenes in which the Cumberbatch converses with a cat.
Asmodeus is possibly the greatest role for a cat since Jonesy in the first Alien movie, so I hope they cast the right cat. No whitewashing: let it be a black cat.
The world has caught up to the Bourne movies, and the latest installment doesn’t deny it, name-checking Snowden at least twice and featuring an Assange-like character and a global network of hackers. After Bourne Legacy, which should’ve been a better movie considering the hellish inconvenience we in Metro Manila had to endure while it was being shot, Jason Bourne brings back the elements that made the series work: its original star Matt Damon, who has less and less dialogue as the series goes on, and the director responsible for its relentlessly kinetic style, Paul Greengrass. (It is also unswervingly loyal to Moby, whose song is still played over the closing credits.) This movie is almost exactly like the previous ones, with new players. Tommy Lee Jones is the scheming CIA guy, Alicia Vikander the hotshot surveillance girl, and Bourne’s former handler Julia Stiles sets events in motion. Vincent Cassel is the fearsome fighting opponent, a role that was filled by Clive Owen, Marton Csokas and Karl Urban, among others. The new element: Riz Ahmed as a tech billionaire launching a social media platform that guarantees privacy. As for character development, we don’t get speeches, we get fists—to punish himself, Bourne participates in underground fights.
If it’s the same movie, why should we watch it? Because it is executed so well, and it just hurtles along so fast, we have no time to complain that it’s all been done. Greengrass takes the most memorable elements from the previous movies—the car chases, the hand-to-hand combat, the tradecraft, the surveillance—then ratchets up the degree of difficulty. The chase scenes occur in even more crowded locations: a protest march in Greece, a tightly-packed convention center, a traffic jam in Las Vegas. It’s all chaos and confusion, and yet we always know where Bourne is in relation to his pursuers. Clarity! Geography! We see a world that seems to be falling apart, but its silent center holds.
My ancient Star Trek paperbacks, which the cats attempted to use as scratching posts
Star Trek Beyond is brisk and efficient, with impressive set pieces and the comedy partnership of Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban). All that was missing was Bones saying, “He’s dead, Jim.” The big action scenes could be clearer—the geography is muddled, the lighting murky—and the evolution of the villain Krall be explained better (How did he start draining his victims?), but the writers have homed in on the essence of Star Trek: scientific thinking employed with humanity, Spock + Kirk. Also I approve of a universe in which the Beastie Boys is classical music. And appreciate the lovely tribute to Leonard Nimoy even if I’ve forgotten how there came to be two Spocks, and how the writers paid tribute to the living George Takei by revealing that Mr. Sulu is gay. I will miss Anton Yelchin.
I understand that given the cost of making special effects movies, the filmmakers have to make the product accessible to the widest audience possible. What I’m missing is the compelling, brain-bending science-fiction I took for granted when I was watching the reruns of the original Gene Rodenberry series in the late 1970s. The effects were laughable, the sets tore during the fight scenes, William Shatner was pure Roquefort, the make-up was hilarious, but the stories!
The current writers are hard-put to create storylines that boldly go where no movie has gone before, so why not do a bit of time-travel and retool some of the classic Star Trek stories? City on the Edge of Forever, Amok Time, Mirror Mirror, even The Trouble With Tribbles. They need not be slavish remakes, but tweaked, expanded, reworked. That episode where Kirk split into his good and bad halves—Chris Pine would kill in it. Amok Time, where Spock goes into heat (Vulcans do) and fights to the death for a mate—Quinto would be brilliant.
Why are people furious over the very concept of a Ghostbusters movie starring women? Since the Ghostbusters remake was announced there has been a concerted campaign to make the project fail. What, only guys can design and aim proton packs? Ghostbusters starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones is amiable, amusing, and hilarious in parts. The funniest bits are in direct response to the irrational online hatred: Kristen Wiig reading a comment on YouTube (Never do that), Bill Murray (the original cast all have cameos, inc Annie Potts at the hotel reception and Sigourney Weaver in the end credits) wondering why women would want to catch ghosts, and best of all, Chris Hemsworth as Kevin the receptionist. Because men aren’t the only people who can be scientists, and women aren’t the only people who can be hot and brainless.