The week has flown by, between the arrival of season 3 of The Mandalorian and a brief respite last weekend to get some writing done in the wilds of Arkansas. The latter took place at Castle Farms and Weddings, on the farm owned and operated by Yard Dog Press head honcho Selina Rosen. The retreat was organized by Pro Se Productions, and it was a welcome break from the signal to noise ratio. Selina built us a veritable bonfire on Saturday night:
I came back on Sunday and have been steadily typing ever since. Sometimes you have to lift the needle on the record and get out of town.
The former was met with earnest cheers and gasps in the North Texas Apocalypse Bunker, and all of us in the Administration department were rapt with childlike wonder. Bunker Ops was similarly engrossed, but they may have been taking a measure of amusement from the antics of some of Admin’s more enthusiastic viewers, who are emotionally and otherwise still 10 years old.
We were high on our own stash, when this popped up on the screen at the end of the first episode:
I was quite put out by this—haven’t I bled for you enough? But curiosity got the better of me and I scanned the QR code into my Motherbox and this opened up a Boom Tube to The Disney Online Store. Okay, flunkies, let’s see it. I’m here. Show me your exclusive “merch.”
I’ve not seen a more lackluster display of wares in my life. Oh, sure, the $250 replica lightsaber props were there, along with the helmets. Sure, sure. But let’s head over to the starter section—show me all of your Mandalorian tee shirts, Watto.
I remember when Disney and Star Wars used to really want my money. What the hell was I looking at? That long sleeved tee has four mismatched, unequal panels of storyboard from the first season. Storyboard. And this ain’t no Ralph McQuarrie-looking storyboards, neither. Not even that beautiful digitally-painted concept art they run with the end credits. I mean…I love the style of the shirt, but how about the Mudhorn emblem on the chest? Something I would really wear.
That Olive drab green “exclusive" tee shirt is only for Disney+ subscribers. Know what it is? The log line from the series. And a Disney+ logo underneath it. What fan wants that? These are both shirt I’d have to explain to people who keep staring at my chest in a polite conversation. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
I need a tee shirt that some rando walking on the other side of the street can see and yell at me, “Cool shirt, Bro!” And, frankly, Disney wants that, too. Talk about a swing and a miss. But, then again, I live in a world where this product exists:
Weekly Report from the N.T.A.B. Division of Media Review
Gunpowder Milkshake/ By the Numbers: “Are Best Picture Winners Getting Worse?”
Gunpowder Milkshake (Netflix)
I don’t know how this one slipped by me; I was trying to think about what I was doing in July of 2021 that I put this in my Netflix queue and never went back to it, but there you have it. I did a cursory glance to see if any of my friends talked about it, and they were evidently as busy as me two years ago. No matter. We are doing this now.
Karen Gillan plays an assassin who grew up in that lifestyle, thanks to her mom, played by Lena Headey, and hanging out at the “library,” which is a lot like booking a vacation stay at a hotel called “the Continental.” She kills the wrong guy, through no fault of her own, and the Firm decides she needs to make amends or be “downsized,” if you know what I mean and I think you do. But a kidnapped girl complicates a job that was supposed to be a cake walk, and now she’s on the run and trying to stay alive long enough to make things right.
Yeah, I know, it sounds like John Wick. It sounds like The Professional. The way it’s shot, it might sound like a four-color offshoot of Sin City. And there’s nothing in Gunpowder Milkshake that prohibits the story from taking place in the same world as John Wick’s council of assassins or even The Kingsmen’s spy agencies. In fact, I’d be a little disappointed if it didn’t.
This is a Gun-Fu movie, pure and simple. It’s got really good actors doing absurdly cool shit with guns, knives, and other improvised weapons, in the service of a plot contrivance that is more than a Macguffin, but less than an emotional anchor. I mean, we got a four movie franchise because someone killed John Wick’s dog and stole his car. Why not have an assassin with a soft spot for orphans?
What I like best about Gunpowder Milkshake is its look and feel—less neon and garish than Dick Tracy, but still bright and colorful for a world of death and violence. Also, I don’t know anything about Israli director Navot Papushado except that he may be the first director of the 21st century to make better use of Zach Snyder’s toolkit than Snyder himself. All of the familiar gimmicks are in the movie, including the super-slo-mo crawl, but each one of these visual flourishes is sparingly used and appropriately placed and these things add to the movie and give it a comic book sensibility that helps to lighten the heavy death toll.
It's an easy two-hour watch. There’s enough cinematic badassery in Michelle Yeoh, Angela Bassett, and Carla Gugino all by themselves, but Gillan and Headey are the real linchpins. Gillan’s scenes with Chloe Coleman (the little girl in My Spy) are just about perfect. I don’t know if I like the Diner more than The Library, but both of them feature some jaw-dropping scenes that you’ll want to watch more than once.
By the Numbers: Are Best Picture Winners Getting Worse? (YouTube)
Ordinarily I wouldn’t post a YouTube link, and especially not from so clicky a clickbait organization, by “By the Numbers” is a little different, and, this particular episode was worth checking out.
It should go without saying that you can pick other objective criteria to look at and come to very different conclusions. However, for the purposes of this video essay, I think they did a good job of at least identifying some trends and rooting out a few key points to consider.
A brief digression: I always recommend John Kennedy Toole’s novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, as the funniest Pulitzer Prize winner you’ll ever read. I do this mostly to bolster the book by mentioning it’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, but also to point out in my oblique way that the Pulitzer Prize winning novels are not upbeat. They are all by and large sad and depressing, or sad and dense, or dense and depressing. It’s just how they are. I’ve read enough of them to know that when I see the little brag-badge on the cover of the book, it’s nearly a guarantee that it’ll be something I won’t enjoy reading.
I told you that to tell you this: The Oscar doesn’t mean what it once did, and it’s gone appreciably off the rails during my lifetime. There was this weird moment in 2002 when geek culture broke through to the mainstream and one of those data points was the sweeping of the Oscars for Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Finally! We all thought. And then when the Best Picture category got expanded to ten movies, all it really did was fill up the new slots with more things we’d never seen or even heard about.
And I say this as a film guy; I love small movies that tell a story, or explore a time or a place or a state of being. The budget doesn’t matter to me, nor do special effects. I only want a good story, one that is told in the unique language of film, and to that end, I’ll also accept and appreciate grand spectacle for what it is (with the assumption that there’s some kind of story holding up the tent so that the elephants can run around inside).
Back in the day, I used to seek out the Best Picture nominees that I hadn’t already seen, or knew about, or both. There was usually one, maybe two, that I had to go hunting for. Remains of the Day comes to mind as one that I didn’t flock to theaters to check out when it premiered. Now? I still only seek out one or two movies out of the ten nominees. The others either don’t interest me in the slightest—not even as a “Best Picture Nominee”—or are movies that I don’t bother watching because I know I’ll hate the experience, regardless of how well its made, the quality of the acting, the brilliance of the cinematography, etc. Just like the Pulitzers.
Despite all of this, I still look to the Oscars as a measure—maybe not an exact one, such as when you use the word “smidgeon” to represent one ounce—of cinematic excellence. I still do the calculation for every award, such as the Apology Subtraction, which is when a veteran actor wins an award for a lesser role in a lesser movie because last year, they didn’t win the amazing role in the amazing movie that everyone thought they were a shoo-in for. I just wish I liked them better than I do.
To me, the Oscars have lost some of their gravitas because our attention is much more fractured than ever before. To be fair, I'm saying this as someone who's first theater going experience in 3.5 years was to see Cocaine Bear last night, so maybe not the best source.
As for the Disney shirts and the nonstop onslaught of QR codes and upsells masked as exclusivity? No thank you.
P.S. Cocaine Bear is a lock to sweep the Oscars next year.
Damn, I miss seeing and talking to Selina. Next time you see/talk to her, ask her to pop me a line or something, just to say "hey".