Pen15 Season 2 Part 1 (Hulu) Written by Sam Zvibleman, Gabe Liedman, Anna Konkle, Vera Santamaria, Josh Levine, and Maya Erskine Directed by Sam Zvibleman
The first season of Pen15 was a wonderfully funny, absurd examination of female adolescence at the start of the 21st century. The creators and writers managed to balance the pathos & pain of growing up with inventive moments of comedy, most notably the two leads being played by thirtysomething against a cast of age-appropriate classmates. Season two took a slightly different route and ended up being much heavier & downbeat in its episodes’ conclusions, highlighting the melancholy nature of being a young teen in the 2000s.
The Human Voice (2020) Written by Jean Cocteau & Pedro Almodovar Directed by Pedro Almodovar
The present COVID-19 global pandemic has forced those in the film industry to change many of their practices. From production to distribution, those who are forward-thinking are adjusting to a world where the traditional exhibition of movies just isn’t going to be possible for a while. I have been most pleased to see many film festivals offering limited virtual viewings of the film they show this year. I will likely never travel to Vancouver, Toronto, or New York City to attend their respective film festivals, but I am willing to pay to view festival circuit films in my home. The Human Voice is the first picture I have viewed in this manner, and it has made me excited to do it again.
Class Action Park (2020) Directed by Seth Porges & Chris Charles Scott III
In 1978, businessman Eugene Mulvihill opened Action Park in Vernon Township, New Jersey. The park became famous throughout the 1980s and 90s for having some of the most dangerous and ill-conceived rides in the country. For example, there was a waterslide with a vertical 360-degree loop that resulted in people getting stuck or breaking bones. There was the Alpine Slide, a downhill sled ride without rails on a smooth concrete trench that caused numerous injuries and a couple of deaths. The documentary uses tons of file footage of the park, from marketing materials to guests’ personal home movies.
Basketful of Heads (2020) Written by Joe Hill Art by Leomacs
It helps to have a famous dad, I suppose. In 2019, DC Comics announced a horror comics imprint, Hill Comics, that would be overseen by horror novelist Joe Hill, son of Stephen King. I have never read any of Hill’s prose, but I did read his previous comics series, Locke & Key, which is quite a fun & disturbing horror mystery with all sorts of twists and turns along the way. Hill Comics’s opening salvo would include Hill’s own Basketful of Heads, The Dollhouse Family by Peter Carey, The Low Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, and more. I plan to read through these as the trades are released, and we have some great horror comics that bridge the gap between the pulpy comic anthologies of old and more modern horror sensibilities.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020) Written & Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Ending things can have many different meanings. At first, we assume our main character’s internal monologue is referring to breaking up with her boyfriend. For most of the movie, that appears to be the intent of the phrase. However, as the walls of reality melt away, and our perspective begins to shift, we start to think about how much more fatal “”ending things”” can be. Does anything end or, when we think life has ended, do we fall into a jumbled void of memories and imagined experiences, drowning in our own confusion? Charlie Kaufman never gives us something easy to decipher, and he desires to challenge our mindset.
Tenet (2020) Written & Directed by Christopher Nolan
So the long-awaited Christopher Nolan film Tenet has finally been released, and it is…okay. Nolan took five years to develop this script and produce the film, which feels incredibly derivative of his previous films, especially The Dark Knight and, even more obviously, Inception. That doesn’t mean Tenet is terrible from top to bottom. There are some very innovative ideas woven throughout the picture, and of course, Nolan is a master at practical effects-driven large scale set pieces, including computer effects conservatively and skillfully. What is not included in this mix are emotionally relatable characters with complex relationships.
The New Mutants (2020) Written by Josh Boone & Knate Lee Directed by Josh Boone
And so the 20th Century Fox X-Men franchise comes to a strange, pitiful end. Dark Phoenix came out last year and appeared to be the intended conclusion, made and edited with the end of the series in mind. However, multiple delays and then COVID-19 caused The New Mutants to make a three year trip to the big screen. The signs that the X-Men film series was over were apparent years ago with X-Men: Apocalypse, a movie that seemed conflicted about what is trying to be or how it would fit in the post-MCU landscape. I would argue that, despite a few highlights along the way, the X-Men film series was always disappointing and felt like it belonged to another era gone by.
Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020) Written by Chris Matheson & Ed Solomon Directed by Dean Parisot
It has been 29 years since we last saw Bill & Ted and the world is a very different place or is it? Maybe the flaws we see now are simply amplified with time and were always there. We’re just living in a crisis point where you can’t deny that things are falling apart around us. We’re the grown-ups now, in our forties and fifties, and, if we have a conscious, feel a level of guilt about our inaction during those prime years of our lives. But the world hasn’t ended yet, and we still have time to do something. We just have to overcome our baggage to have a clear mind about what to do next. This is where the Wyld Stallyns find themselves in 2020.
I have not dug into Stephen Graham Jones as much as I should have, but the work I’ve read is fantastic. This is his latest novel (released in July with another book coming out in September, the man is a workhorse) and continues his blending of Jones’s indigenous background with his love of horror. The Only Good Indians centers on four Native men who took part in an elk hunt a decade earlier. During the hunt, they did something and witnessed a horror that haunted them to varying degrees. The plot is structured to move from man to man and see how the curse on them plays out. In that way, the book is sort of a mish-mash of linked short stories and novellas. The book’s core is Lewis’s story, a postal worker who has moved away from his hometown and is living with a white woman. There’s some cultural guilt there, especially when a Native woman a little younger than Lewis starts working at his job. He’s torn between his individual wants and the expectations of his culture looming over him. Through this triangle, the horror begins to manifest itself, culminating in the middle of the novel and creating ripples that shape the rest of the text. There’s no way this story could be recast in a different culture, especially not whitewashed. This is a specifically Native people’s horror story, yet Jones taps into universal themes that cause the novel to resonate on multiple levels.