"The Long Goodbye" and the videos of Jon Bois are this week's selections.
Each week, I try to say something funny or inspiring to open this column, and at the moment I, like much of the world, am feeling neither.
When all else fails, I try to bring relevant entertainment news, of which there is a tad this week: HBO Max, the latest streaming service from a giant company, will officially launch May 27. If you currently subscribe directly to HBO Now, which is essentially HBO, just online, you'll get HBO Max for free. Otherwise, you'll need to subscribe separately, but because it's the same price as regular HBO ($15 per month) with all the same content plus some, it's a no-brainer to make the switch.
That's it! That's all the news. I wish there were more. It's going to be a long road before film and television productions begin again. It's going to be just as long before movie theaters open, before new projects get announced, before, in essence, the wheels begin turning again. It sucks, but what can we do?
There is a sliver of good news, though. When HBO Max launches, it will come with the films of Studio Ghibli, an animation house. If you're unfamiliar, Studio Ghibli is more or less Japan's version of Disney, if Disney made films about themes like climate change and the horrors of war and also targeted them as much at adults as they did kids. Overseas, people view animation as a style, not a genre. It's respected much more than it is here. The godfather of Studio Ghibli is Hayao Miyazaki, a beloved figure who created films like "Spirited Away," "My Neighbor Totoro" and "Princess Mononoke." Despite his films carrying heavy themes, a lot of them still offer hope. So instead of me being inspiring, let Miyazaki comfort you:
"Even in the middle of hatred and killings, there are things worth living for. A wonderful meeting or a beautiful thing can exist. We depict hatred, but it is to depict that there are more important things. We depict a curse to depict the joy of liberation."
The world sucks right now, but there can be moments of joy on a Zoom call with friends or in the warmth of your favorite film, and when this is all over, we'll value our lives more than ever. Things, or people, we take for granted will be noticed. It doesn't make now any easier, but it's something that can help you push through the tough times.
Jon Bois video content (???-present)
YouTube, unrated, length varies, incalculable hours of content
The 2020 NFL Draft began Thursday night, which is well after this column's deadline, so let me just say how shocking it was that [Player X] dropped to the [NFL Team]! Can you believe it? And what about [Player Y] being taken at [pick number]? That's so high! Can you BELIEVE [NFL Team] was so stupid? I can't. I mean, I can, but I can't.
Anyway, the draft will continue tonight and tomorrow, and then it will be over, as will sports. All sports, indefinitely, unless you could golf as a sport (It's a hobby. Fight me.), as that is scheduled to return in June — scheduled being the key word there. This makes me sad. Not because, as some people would tell you, sports are some apolitical fantasy world where people of all ideologies and races come together to root for something bigger than themselves — sports aren't, and never were nor will be, apolitical — but because sports are filled with humans. Humans accomplishing incredible things and overcoming incredible odds to do so. Sports are filled with hope, even if it is miscalculated, and the world sure as shit could use some hope right now. "The Last Dance," the 10-part docuseries airing on ESPN each Sunday night, is a great reminder of all this. But in a different way, so too are the videos of Jon Bois.
Who is Jon Bois? Well, he'd probably tell you he's just a guy who likes sharing interesting stories. He's a lot more than that, though. Bois is a producer at SB Nation. He has been making videos about sports for close to a decade now. If you live in a certain corner of the internet, you know this. Bois' work has brought him critical acclaim even though a lot of his videos are about unfathomably stupid events and/or people. But they're great. Bois knows how to get at the heart of his subject, climbing the ladder of abstraction and finding the thing that makes them the most human. He manages to do so while maintaining a consistent aesthetic, which I'd describe as "home video chic meets an early-'00s screensaver."
Take, for example, Bois' video on the stupidest internet fight in history:
Bois could make fun of these guys, who are arguing about how many days are in a week on a bodybuilding forum, for all eight days of the week. (… Wait.) He doesn't, though. He spends just as much time on the guys viciously shaming the people who are wrong, delving into why they felt the need to be so mean to someone who is obviously quite confused. It transforms the video from a funny recap of an internet feud into something deeper. It's what I aspire to do when I write, including, sometimes, this column, even if it doesn't seem like it.
Bois has a lot of different series. The bodybuilding fight is part of a series called "Pretty Good," which is on his own YouTube channel. There, you will find other series, such as "Breaking Madden," where he creates compelling narratives while pushing video games football to its absolute limits, and "Chart Party," which is more analytical and data-driven but still compelling. On SB Nation's channel, you'll find even more Bois content, such as his current project: A six-part, three hour documentary on the history of the Seattle Mariners franchise, which involves normal sports things like serial arson, hotel room theft and someone named "Mr. Jell-O." That's all in episode one, by the way. It's good stuff.
It also covers unbelievable athletic feats by Hall of Famers like Ken Griffey Jr. and Randy Johnson. It does those things that sports do. It reminds me of what humans can achieve, in positive and negative ways. It's helped me get through this period, and I hope it helps you, too.
P.S: I swear I started writing this before the New York Times did the same thing. But if you need more reason to trust my opinion, well, there you go.
"The Long Goodbye" (1973)
Prime Video, rated R, 112 minutes
Instead of watching the garbage that makes up 75% of what streaming services produce during this quarantine, I've been going back and watching older films I have never seen. I have an embarrassingly large gap in my Robert Altman knowledge, so I started with "The Long Goodbye," the classic Philip Marlowe detective story starring Elliott Gould. I didn't know what to expect, and I think that made the experience all the more wonderful.
Gould's version of Marlowe is a back-talking son of a bitch with complete disregard for authority. He has his reasons, though. Marlowe is surrounded by bigger assholes than himself. "The Long Goodbye" is a mystery — Marlowe is trying to solve the murder-suicide of his friends that he believes is a sham — but it's also an analysis of masculinity. This is a movie where one man strips naked in an intimidation attempt. This is a movie where a man (may or may not have) murdered his wife, then himself, because she found out he was having an affair. This is a movie where Marlowe is the only man not to ogle his new neighbors, a group of college-age women, as they do yoga on their balcony, instead treating them like human beings.
But make no mistake, Marlowe has all the classic traits of a noir detective. He's constantly smoking — even after getting hit by a car. He's calm and collected, though he doesn't exactly find clues as much as he stumbles into them. In a world of dogs, Marlowe has a pet cat, a cat he'll make a 3 a.m. run to the store for, after discovering he bought the wrong brand. (His cat is picky.)
While Marlowe moves through this world of menacing mobsters, quack doctors and suspicious widowers, violence is on the edges of the screen. It almost never bleeds, though, but when it does — two specific instances come to mind — it is genuinely shocking, a sign of a director being in complete tonal control of his project and knowing that dynamic tone, when used right, is much more effective than static tone.
I was also pleasantly surprised to connect the dots between Altman and the filmmakers of today he now obviously influenced, like the Safdie brothers ("Uncut Gems," "Good Time") and their use of overlapping dialogue. Gould has become someone who plays the "caring father figure" role in a lot of movies, but here, he's a force majeure, carrying every scene with the magnetism of … a big-ass magnet. I don't know. He's great, OK?
This is anecdotal, but I think a lot of younger viewers, and even some older ones, are reticent to watch films and shows more than a few years old. This is stupid. Films aren't fruit. They don't get moldy as they sit on your counter (or your Netflix queue). They aren't time-sensitive. Yeah, some of them will seem out of date, comedies especially. But that's all the more reason to watch them, to see how far we've come. In the process, you'll discover films like "The Long Goodbye," which not only "hold up" but also seem as prescient as ever.