The Howling (1981) Written by John Sayles and Terence H. Winkless Directed by Joe Dante
1981 might have been the year of the werewolf between this film and An American Werewolf in London and lesser-known Wolfen. Special effects, both makeup and puppets, had improved to the point that movies could showcase spectacular transformation scenes, something older werewolf movies had always made a highlight of their runtime. Seeing the werewolf transform falls into that same category as Bruce Banner switching to the Hulk. There’s something oddly cathartic about watching a person’s body transform into an agent of chaos. Those werewolf transformations are on full display here, with the film reveling in their visceral detail. It’s also a fun, campy horror flick, just the type of thing Joe Dante has always been a master at making.
So today, I am 40 years of age. It is a bit surreal because my perception of time makes me feel like it wasn’t that long ago that I was getting my Master’s degree or getting married. But those were a decade ago or longer. Undergrad is even further in the past. From today to when I was born is a longer amount of time than when Marty McFly traveled in Back to the Future. I’ve begun to use Back to the Future to gauge how old things from my past are. For instance, if the film was made today using the present (2021) and traveling back 30 years, Marty would have gone to 1991. Now, I think about my perception of how long ago 1955 was as a kid in the late 80s watching the film over and over again, and that felt like such a bygone era. Meanwhile, I have vivid memories of the 1990s, and it doesn’t feel like something as “old” as the 1950s.
In honor of turning 40 years of age, I am presenting a list of my 40 Favorite Films in order. The long list was over 200 items so this has been pared down and mulled over considerably . The films that make up the bottom part of a list like this are often the “just made its.” They had some unique element, in some cases utterly indescribable, that qualified them for a spot over something else. We begin with Wet Hot American Summer, a film I saw in 2001 while a college student. I had become tangentially aware of The State through one of my friends Keith, the same friend who introduced me to Mr. Show and for whom I am incredibly thankful. These shows ultimately helped shape my personal taste in comedy in a significant way.
Michael Mann has made a name for himself for producing some of the best American crime films of the last 40 years. Beyond Thief, he has directed Manhunter, Heat, and Collateral. Outside of the crime genre, Mann directed The Last of the Mohicans and the political drama The Insider. Along the way, he co-created Miami Vice and adapted it to the big screen in 2006. It started with Thief, his feature film debut, exploring the life of a talented safecracker in Chicago. From the start, we can see the atmospheric lighting and the attention to detail that would become a hallmark of Mann’s best work.
Crisis on Infinite Earths Part 4 (of 9) Reviewing stories found in Legends of the DC Universe: Crisis Special, Crisis on Infinite Earths #5, All-Star Squadron #53-56, Infinity Inc. #22, Superman #413, and DC Comics Presents #95 Written by Marv Wolfman, Roy Thomas, Dann Thomas, Cary Bates, Tony Isabella, and Alan Gold Art by Paul Ryan, George Perez, Mike Clark, Arvell Jones, Mike Harris, Todd McFarlane, Curt Swan, and Richard Howell
The Multiverse is on the verge of extinction. The antimatter waves sweep across realities destroying universes en masse. Barry Allen, the Flash, has retired and lives in the future with his wife Iris, but the Crisis is pulling him back into action. He tries to use the antimatter destroying his own point in time to go back but finds himself transferred to Earth-D. Here the superheroes are much more diverse than on Earth-1. Tanaka Rei is the Flash of this world, and he teams up with Barry carrying on a tradition of the Flashes of the Multiverse helping each other out. Pariah and Lady Quark are transported here following their escape from Earth-6 in the pages of Crisis. Pariah realizes what has pulled him to this world; it is about to be destroyed. This leads to a team-up between Earth-D’s Justice Alliance and the Justice League for a fight that is destined to be lost.
Loki Season 1, Episode 2 (Disney+) Written by Elissa Karasik Directed by Kate Herron
After this episode of Loki, it was clear to me this and the first entry should be viewed as the entire pilot. It reminded me of the 1980s and 90s when some network action-dramas would debut as a two-hour made-for-TV movie that served as an origin story and set up of the series’ conceit. For Loki, it seems the show will be about trying to repair the now fragmented timeline before time runs out. It was established in this episode that the TVA agents can only enter branches in real-time, unable to go back to before the incidents happened to erase them. That sort of ticking clock scenario is the hallmark of much procedural television series.
Body Heat (1981) Written & Directed by Lawrence Kasdan
I don’t think I’ll ever consider Lawrence Kasdan as one of my favorite writers or directors. However, I do believe he has made some excellent movies. He wrote The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, which makes him miles above much of his competition. I am not a fan of Return of the Jedi, which I see as one of the worst Star Wars films, but I don’t necessarily blame Kasdan for that. I have been able to tell that he has a deep love of film, including all genres. I’ve found it interesting that he didn’t achieve the level of public acclaim as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg when Kasdan is arguably as responsible for their successes in the 1980s as they are. Having penned such iconic films makes him deserving of a much closer look and appreciation of his work.
My Dinner with Andre (1981) Written by Andre Gregory & Wallace Shawn Directed by Louis Malle
Growing up, I heard about My Dinner with Andre in the context of making fun of it. As a young person with limited knowledge of film & art, it did sound like a silly idea for a movie. Two people at dinner talking in real-time. My expectation of film was that you would have the standard five-act structure with conflicts and character arcs. These seemed like a super boring and dumb idea. It became a movie that kept coming up on lists and in internet discourse, so that I developed some respect for it from a distance, still having not watched it. Now I can say it’s one of the best films I’ve watched this year and is a challenging but also easily accessible watch. We’ve all had dinner with people we maybe weren’t elated to see and had to converse with them. In that way, My Dinner with Andre is about a universal experience.
Beatty delivered one of his best performances near the end of his acting career as Lotso-Huggin’ Bear, the villain of the third Toy Story movie. By now, the shine of Pixar has faded a bit, but for the longest time, it seemed they could do no wrong. I was pretty skeptical going into a third Toy Story if the quality could be maintained, yet they presented one of the best outings yet. Helping that work was Beatty in the role of the antagonist. Lotso holds a grudge after he is left behind at a rest stop by his owner. This is made even worse when he arrives home and finds she’s had a replacement Lotso bought for her. Now he spends his twilight years in a daycare where he runs things with an iron fist when the humans go home. Beatty does a great job bringing layers to Lotso, showcasing his charisma and grandfatherly charm at the start. When things get dire, he doesn’t hold back on the villainy, and it is what makes the character one of the more compelling villains created by Pixar.
This last week I’ve really noticed how relaxed I feel. Getting out of a work system that just pulls everything out of you made a big difference. I sleep deeper and wake up more energized. There are certain things to feel anxious about, and some items on our list have big question marks on them. I guess I just feel like if we stay level-headed, we can work through them and move with ease. I’ve taken to manage my anxiety in ways that are simple and helpful. I’ve been setting many alarms for online classes or tasks I need to do that are scheduled. Before, my brain would fixate on the appointment and basically keep me from doing anything else out of a fear of being late. With the alarms on my phone, I just relax, knowing it will go off when I need to be ready. I think so much of our society is built around keeping people on edge all the time, and we need to break free from that.