Movie Review – Imitation of Life

Imitation of Life (1959)
Written by Eleanore Griffin & Allan Scott
Directed by Douglas Sirk

This was the final film from Douglas Sirk. He didn’t die following its release. He just left the United States and lived in Switzerland for the next twenty-eight years when he passed. He taught briefly in the 1970s at Munich’s University of Film and Television. But this was it. When asked about this stint in America making movies, Sirk said in a 1975 interview: “When I went to the United States, I was making films about American society, and it is true that I never felt at home there, except perhaps when my wife and I lived on a farm in the San Fernando Valley. But I always wanted my characters to be more than ciphers for the failings of their world. And I never had to look too hard to find a part of myself in them.” Sirk and his wife, Hilde, would quickly become tired of the Hollywood scene and return to Europe, but never Germany for too long. The memories were too harsh.

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Movie Review – Infinity Pool

Infinity Pool (2023)
Written & Directed by Brandon Cronenberg

Is a fine a proper punishment for people with near-endless disposable cash? There are growing arguments against the death penalty, which are good, but there’s not enough conversation about the fundamental nature of carceral punishment. The presence of a fine allows the wealthy to act above the law, as these fines are often not substantial enough to harm their finances. On the other hand, a working-class or poor person can be left on the verge of destitution if a heavy fine is levied against them. Should there be a more intense punishment system for the wealthy than for the working class & poor? I am not opposed to that idea. Brandon Cronenberg has been thinking about this and his new film Infinity Pool. If it does this well… that’s a different thing altogether.

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Solo Tabletop RPG Review – The Portal at Hill House

The Portal at Hill House (Press Pot Games)
Designed by Travis Hill & Linda Farris-Hill

I don’t know if I’ve ever felt scared by a tabletop roleplaying game. Plenty of games fit into the Horror genre label: Vampire the Masquerade, Call of Cthulhu, the smaller horror games, the horror scenarios for other non-horror games, the list goes on & on. I’ve never been genuinely scared by tabletop games. Admittedly, I only really got into tabletop around 2012 and checked out of group play in 2018. I found most horror games to be action-adventure games with horror genre elements. It’s the same way Blade the Vampire Hunter isn’t horror; it’s superhero stories. Horror, for me, is a growing and eventually suffocating sense of dread. There is something you cannot explain, and it is slowly getting closer, and once it does, you have no hope. That’s horror. So, when I came across The Portal at Hill House I wondered how horror would work in solo play. Maybe in this context, it would be scarier?

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Patron Pick – Hard Eight

This special reward is available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 monthly levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. If they choose, they also get to include some of their thoughts about the movie. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Hard Eight (1996)
Written & Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

The Western United States is often seen as the “territory” of various filmmakers. It varies quite a bit depending on the era you grew up in, your tastes, and your love of specific genres. For some, the West is where the stories of cowboys are told. For others, it’s the realm of thematically complicated noir. There are beach movies. There are movies about the movies themselves. For me, the West is best captured in the work of Paul Thomas Anderson. His early slate of films so perfectly captures a tone, a certain feeling that was coming to the forefront and emerged in the early 2000s. In 1993, Anderson spent $10k to make Cigarettes & Coffee, a short film that introduced the character of Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), a veteran gambler in the twilight of his life. The film connected with enough people and interested Anderson, so he developed this short into a feature film.

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Comic Book Review – JSA by Geoff Johns Part 7

JSA by Geoff Johns Part 7
Reviewing JSA #73-87
Written by Geoff Johns, Keith Champagne, and Paul Levitz
Illustrated by Don Kramer, David Lopez, Jim Fern, Dale Eaglesham, Rags Morales, Luke Ross, and Jerry Ordway

The issues in this final batch are only partially written by Geoff Johns. Keith Champagne (normally an inker) and Paul Levtiz (an icon at DC by this point) cover a couple long arcs while Johns was writing Infinite Crisis (and Green Lantern and Teen Titans and the weekly 52 series and something else I’m probably forgetting). This also isn’t Johns’ final say on the Justice Society. He’d write the first twenty-eight issues of Justice Society of America, the follow-up ongoing to this one. Johns currently writes two JSA-related mini-series: Justice Society of America and Stargirl & The Lost Children. Because these are in a period of somewhat confused continuity right now, I don’t get the feeling he’s folding in everything that happened way back here in JSA.

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Movie Review – Written on the Wind

Written on the Wind (1956)
Written by George Zuckerman
Directed by Douglas Sirk

Is melodrama something that naturally occurs in real life? Our inclination is to say, “No, people behave melodramatically. Life isn’t that way on its own.” But sensationally strange things happen in the real world all the time. What we often attach to melodrama are the characters’ reactions to the dazzling explosions of emotion. People, especially Americans, flock to melodrama. Look at the popularity of sensationalist politics and reality television that has only built over the last two decades. It could be argued that America is the most melodramatic country on the planet. Check out the frequency of road rage, mass shootings, political violence, racism, and the list goes on & on. My personal view is that Americans are drawn to this exaggeration of life because it makes the mundane misery of their actual existence feel somewhat more important. Rather than engage in the collective struggle to improve life for themselves and their fellow human beings, Americans fall listlessly into an opium-like fantasia where they are central characters in a big story.

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Movie Review – All That Heaven Allows

All That Heaven Allows (1955)
Written by Peg Fenwick
Directed by Douglas Sirk

There is a way to use the tools laid out for you by fascism to strangle it. As mentioned in my Magnificent Obsession review, Douglas Sirk left Nazi Germany when it became intolerable. It was harder to protect his Jewish wife, and his ex had used the law to make it illegal for Sirk to see his son. Eventually, Sirk would find his way to “women’s pictures.” While not as strong a genre as it once was, these types of domestic slice-of-life stories still exist, mostly on television more than in movie theaters. There’s a wide variance in quality these days, with some being prestige cable dramas while others being formulaic churned-out Hallmark Movie trash. Sirk himself commented on this perceived schism in art: “This is the dialectic—there is a very short distance between high art and trash, and trash that contains an element of craziness is by this very quality nearer to art.”

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Movie Review – Magnificent Obsession

Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Written by Robert Blees, Wells Root, Sarah Y. Mason, Victor Heerman, and Finley Peter Dunne
Directed by Douglas Sirk

Douglas Sirk discovered a love for the performing arts at a young age. While being born to Danish parents, the future director’s homeland would be Germany. In his teenage years, Sirk discovered Shakespeare and went to the cinema more often. He would speak about this period as introducing him to the intensity of emotion and the drama that comes with that. After that, Sirk studied the law and wrote for his father’s newspaper but kept wandering back to the arts. By the early 1920s, he would be directing stageplays, set on the path the rest of his professional life would follow. But, if you know anything of history, then you know Germany in the 1920s was a prelude to something terrible, and Sirk experienced it in a cruel & painful way.

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Looking at Art – Self-Portrait of Suffering

Welcome to Looking at Art. Here’s what we do: I just spend some time looking at the piece, writing down thoughts & questions I have. Thinking about how it makes me feel and trying to make connections. Then I will do some research and report back to you with any details that are relevant to the piece. Finally, I put all that together and contemplate how the piece’s meaning has changed for me & what my big takeaways are. Today’s piece is:

Self-Portrait of Suffering (1961)
Ibrahim El-Salahi
Oil on canvas
30 cm × 41 cm

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