Rated R, because zombies, I guess. I mean, there's language. There's a lot of gore. But a lot of it is silly. Like, I'm not going to liken it to the Disney Channel Original, Zombies. But I will say that this is more like Shaun of the Dead, but without an attempt to be vulnerable at any point. A few characters sleep around, but it's never really shown. There's a lot of gross out humor, but mostly involving gore and vomit. (The way I worded it makes it sound like vomit humor is okay in anyone's book.) It's probably an appropriate R.
DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer
The short version: Zombieland: Double Tap has a lot of the same problems that most sequels do. See, I'm in the camp of not thinking that it is the end of the world when a sequel isn't as revolutionary as the original. Yeah, I'm always a little disappointed, but I tend to have a good time. When the OG Zombieland came out a decade earlier, it was a welcome treat. A lot of people tried capitalizing on Shaun of the Dead's success and there were a bunch of weak copies of the same formula. (Comedy + Zombies = Cult Hit). But, honestly, I can't think of another great zombie comedy from this era. We were saturated with zombie content to the point where I even kind of almost swore off zombies. I will say that I was heavily on the zombie train when Shaun of the Dead came out and all I had was Romero and the Italian horror directors to turn to. But the wealth of zombie content eventually diluted the waters. That's when the 2009 Zombieland offered something good. It offered something different.
Zombieland's entire foundation, along with the sequel's foundation, relies on being self-aware. There's something really fun about killing zombies in unique and different ways. But the thing I always liked about the zombie apocalypse was the apocalypse element of it all. While the zombies were a real threat for the heroes of the story, what we cared more about was what it was like to live in a world without society. All of the joys of generations of progress was there. You could go hang out in a movie theater or rollerskate on the Golden Gate bridge. These movies, like one of my favorite shows, The Last Man on Earth, understood that there was something absolutely absurd at looking at the silver lining behind the slow extinction of mankind. Double Tap's use of the White House is probably my favorite element of the whole film. I like that we can juxtapose absolute absurdity over things that we considered sacred. I don't know why it works, but putting post-it notes over the eyes of Abraham Lincoln so he stops looking at you is positively adorable.
But Double Tap is part of the trend of sequels, especially nostalgic sequels, (I didn't know that ten years was the cutoff line), that is so beholden to the original movie that nothing really new is said. The first movie, to my decade old memory, focused on an unlikely combination of people forming a post-apocalyptic family. Columbus and Wichita were an unlikely couple. But over the course of the film, they put aside their differences and became romantically involved. But a sequel that has nothing new to say has to find ways to undo the first movie. Characters make mistakes that don't really seem plausible.
I'd like to stress this next point because it is going to be the crux of my argument for why nostalgic sequels are real problems, despite the fact that I will watch a nostalgic sequel any day. Ready for it? Ten years have passed. Ten years. That means that Columbus and Wichita have been together for a decade. We meet them in the comfort of relationship bliss. So, to get to the story we had in the first film, these characters have to be split up. But these two characters are treating their relationship like it is something unsure. Ten years into a story, people should be having difficult discussions without running off, just because. I mean, from the audience's point of view, nothing really happened between the two movies. But these characters have had a decade to evolve and to become something better off. The idea that Wichita would run off because of the possibility of a difficult discussion makes no sense. The idea that Columbus would sleep with someone else after a dedicated ten year relationship is silly. These moments were simply excuses to return to the conflicted state of the first movie. And with that conflicted state, we could return to some of the same jokes as the first movie. The non-diagetic elements of the first film were some of the best moments, having Columbus sharing his rules with the audience. But guess what? It's the same joke. It's a good joke and I don't mind hearing it again. But when I want actual new content, it doesn't do very much for me.
Also, Little Rock's story seems a little unfair. She definitely had the Hawkeye -from-the-first-Avengers-movie problem happening. She's an interesting character, but the movie did everything it could to minimize her interaction with the main characters. Tallahassee, Columbus, and Wichita are fundamentally the same characters that they were in the last film. They were all technically adults in the first film and their neuroses are still firmly in place. But Little Rock was a kid in the first movie. Ten years later, Abigail Breslin is now an adult. Little Rock was a kid who learned what family and survival were about in the zombie apocalypse. Every event that she had was skewed by a sense of normalcy. She should have weird questions about stuff that a kid would. Did she have an education? She acts like she knows a lot about stuff, despite the fact that none of the other characters seem aligned to educating her. It's even more confusing when she's hearing plagiarized music. It brought up a really good question: What would Little Rock really know about civilization? Yet, she's kind of dumped into a very far removed B-storyline. Sure, she's the Macguffin, but that's not much of a satisfying role.
And a lot of this comes from a lack of vulnerability on the part of the movie. The first Zombieland was fun. It kind of felt like a kegger for the zombie nuts out there. What's the funnest way to kill a zombie? Let's make a movie to find out. But the thing about all that mirth and partying is that it almost becomes like only eating dessert. The reason that dessert is so satisfying is that it is a stark contrast to the savory meal that happened ahead of time. When a dramatic moment happens in contrast to the funny, both moments matter so much more. The death of Shaun's mother in Shaun of the Dead was absolutely heartbreaking because it followed the funniest bit in the film, the choreographed attack to "Don't Stop Me Now". There was this opportunity to really make us feel something in the movie. My wife called that Tallahassee would die in the movie and I completely agreed. There was a moment where it was almost teased, which makes me think that the filmmakers really considered it seriously. But then, nothing. In fact, there is even a point in the movie where the heroes are completely overwhelmed by the new zombie, the T-800s. (Again, Zombieland thrives on being meta.) Then, Rosario Dawson's Nevada just shows up in a monster truck to kill all the zombies? That's a pretty intense deux ex machina. What happens is that the characters kind of become untouchable. It's okay to feel sometimes. Nevada is there almost as an excuse for Woody Harrelson to be back or not. It's this cake-and-eat-it-too scenario and it's kind of a bummer.
But this is why Madison works so well in the movie. Besides the fact that I love that her name is Madison, her jokes work really well, despite being not that complicated. (It's a backhanded compliment, but I'll explain.) Madison is an archetype. We get the ditzy valley girl as a character. We know what they can do and what they can't do. In most films, that character tends to be overused and forgettable. But the reason that Madison works in Double Tap versus in other films is the fact that she's really the only new thing in the movie. Yeah, we know Nevada. But Nevada is just Tallahassee III. (I do appreciate Albuquerque and Flagstaff jokes, but those characters are more bits than fleshed out characters.) She is there exclusively to compliment Tallahassee. But Madison is almost an anti-Zombieland character. She's not good at killing. She's not a perfect character. If anything, the joke is that she's nice when no one in this world is all that nice. I mean, even Columbus is appreciative of her niceness because his only trait is being neurotic. The fact that she Mr. Beans her way through the apocalypse is kind of great. It's something different and new and that's what I like.
So it all comes down to the problems that most sequels have: it is too in love with the original. Instead of ever being critical of the first film, it treats it like a hallowed text. Going off the rails may upset the die-hard fans, but it also creates something interesting and new that may be able to stand on its own two feet. This felt like a rewatch of a movie that I hadn't seen in a while, which is its own experience. But in terms of offering something new, it's not there.
PG-13. Good for you, little known X-Men spinoff. I thought you were shooting for that hard R. It is weird that the same audience that can have backpacks and kids' clothing can also apparently go see a horror movie where someone's ripped apart, survives, and is covered in bleeding claw marks all over her body. There's also a suicide attempt and lots of scary imagery. Some of that imagery implies that one of the characters was the victim of sex trafficking. The movie also seems to hate Catholicism, which isn't my favorite element of the film. So, you know, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Josh Boone
My excitement for this movie just kept changing, guys. Nerds out there will know the very troubled history of The New Mutants. The time around my birthday tends to be the B+ movies. These are the movies that I give my hopes up for. (For those wonder, it's mid-April.) These are the movies that tend to creep into the slate. Occasionally, some work of genius will fall in here. The genius movies tend to be directed by Edgar Wright and they don't get the press they deserve. But also, movies that sit on shelves that studios don't know how to market show up here. The New Mutants was supposed to be my birthday movie...
...two years ago.
There was a trailer two years ago and it looked rad. There have now been so many superhero comic adaptations that someone out there decided to change the genre and create a new subgenre: the superhero horror. Now, since then we've gotten another entry in this subgenre, namely Brightburn. But The New Mutants was going to take an already established Marvel property and adapt it to the horror genre. I loved it. I looked bleak and scary. It had some cast members that I was slightly excited to see in superhero roles. It took two things that I loved and then mashed them together. This was going to be the chocolate and peanut butter of movies for me.
But then it got shelved. It got shelved and it got shelved harder than almost anything else I've ever seen. It got shelved as hard as The Cabin in the Woods got shelved. That's pretty hard. Then the dreaded term --reshoots --appeared. And that's when the rumor mill started. Apparently, 20th Century Fox got really cold feet about this movie after the trailer was released. I think a lot of it came from the aftermath of X-Men: Apocalpyse and hearing rumblings of the problems that would plague Dark Phoenix. 20th Century Fox, pre-Disney, was a very gittery company. I've commented on this before. They weren't exactly Sony bad, but they were up there on the studio system suits list. It wasn't something I was excited about. There was talk about start to finish reshoots. They were talking about making it scarier. (Does that mean the original version wasn't that scary? Or did it mean that they were doubling down on the risk?) I really need to learn to take entertainment gossip with a grain of salt because, since then, I heard that the reshoots were pretty mild and that the version I ended up seeing was pretty close to the original. Who knows?
But what I can say is that The New Mutants ended up being a perfect April release in terms of quality. I mean, it is far from my favorite mid-April release movie (and considering that it didn't come out in April, as far as I remember, that's even more of a thing.) See, I'm always disappointed when something like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or The Cabin in the Woods don't get their massive summer blockbuster releases. Those movies totally deserve it. April is for "Hey, that movie was pretty good" or "It was better than I thought it was going to be." By the time this movie came out, and all of the drama was rolling the red carpet out for the film, I had pretty low expectations. Instead, what I got was a fairly servicable horror movies that had X-Men universe characters in it. Sure, we'll never get the A-List guys to show up for a movie like this, but they got name-checked for sure. (Okay, nods, but overt nods!)
I spent a lot of time explaining what happened behind the scenes here, so I suppose that I should actually talk about the movie itself. (Note: I had a nightmare where one of my friends critiqued how badly I wrote these. Dear subconscious, I'm aware, but I only have so much time to actually write these things on a daily basis.) The smartest thing that The New Mutants does is to tear something out of the Smallville handbook. This is a world where superheroes exist, along with superheroic powers. But not everyone in the world starts off as a superhero. Yeah, nerdy old me knows the fates of a lot of these characters, but that's not the point of the film. It's not even an origin story. The best thing about the X-Men is that you really don't need to have an intricate origin story. While we do get some of the background on Moonstar, the only thing we have to no is that she is a girl who bottles up her trauma. That trauma, in turn, manifests itself through psychic hallucinations that can actually hurt others. Sure, that's a bit of a twist, but it is also telegraphed way ahead of time. It's, like, a tiny twist in a movie that really doesn't need twists. But having them not act like heroes is great. If anything, it creates a vibe more akin to A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors. I'm one of the few people who wasn't obsessed with Dream Warriors, which makes me a bad person. But The New Mutants kind of gives that movie some validity. There is something there.
But the movie also has this weird thing that bugs me. I'm going to try to find a way to verbalize it because it is a little bit of me complaining about myself happening here. (That sentence got away from me. Sorry.) The images that Moonstar produces are pretty effective. I especially like Illyana's fear of the smiling men. These images work very well and are pretty darned creepy. But the fact that the protagonist is producing these fears and phobias is a little bit...disappointing? I think my logic comes from the fact that this place is very scary. These kids are isolated in an abandoned mental hospital that has an old, dilapidated church coupled with a spooky cemetery. While I don't know if a traditional ghost story is best coupled with the X-Men, having the protagonist doing all these things without control makes her less of a sympathetic hero. I know, I know. I hear myself too. After all, she's a poor girl who is constantly exposing herself to trauma and if that's not a metaphor for the self-sabotaging behaviors that the 21st century teenager deals with, I don't know what is. It's just that there is a villain in the piece. Dr. Reyes is straight up crazy evil. She works for Mr. Sinister (which the movie is afraid to name drop) and is recruiting for an evil X-Men. (See, that's a twist...that I also saw coming.) When she puts away her professional persona and tries to kill Moonstar, she becomes a very cool villain. But the horrors aren't about her. Instead, Reyes is simply a low level mutant and that's not interesting to me. The movie starts with Moonstar having these abilities and not controlling them. But she kind of ends the movie with not really controlling them either. The big fight isn't between Reyes and the kids. The big fight is trying to get Moonstar to wake up. That's a conflict I can't really get behind.
There's a metaphor right there waiting to be picked up and explored. From what I remember, Moonstar's gender has been changed? (I could Wikipedia this, but I have zero minutes and zero seconds of time today.) The center of our film is a girl who has lost everything. She is experiencing powerlessness. She's bullied by other members of her own gender and species and she should be a dynamic character who finds herself by overcoming her traumas. That's kind of the purpose of the scream queens. Characters like Ripley or Laurie Strode start off as marginalized characters who show their true colors through the adversity that follows them. They end up becoming a bigger monster, a monster for good, than the creature that is stalking them. But Moonstar never really has that moment. Instead, she is unconscious for the bulk of the finale. Reyes ends up being a non-threat and why should we care about that? I mean, the movie still works despite my hopes for a stronger protagonist, but it did definitely rub me the wrong way.
However, there is one absolutely great thing about this movie. While it feels like a technicality, having The New Mutants being the last X-Men film released by 20th Century Fox / 20th Century Studios is a mitzvah. Dark Phoenix was borderline unwatchable and it left such a sour taste in my mouth. Instead, The New Mutants kind of owns. It's not a perfect film, by any means. If the studio system got one thing kind of right, it does feel like the audience for this movie would be miniscule. Regardless, it is the last film in the franchise and I can't complain about that for one second.
Rated R for a lot of violence, but also a really weird scene of a striptease that has absolutely nothing to do with the storyline, yet is played out slowly and in full. I was so jazzed to say, "Ah, Fist of Fury only has a lot of violence and cartoonish blood." Then there's this whole nudity thing that seems completely to play up how shameless some kung fu films get. I also suppose I should mention that the movie discusses racism, but I'm not quite sure who is being more racist. R.
DIRECTOR: Wei Lo
There's a lot of great things that come out of watching a lot of movies, especially if they aren't all from one genre or one country. The more I branch out, the more I learn about cultural norms and I end up becoming interested in the politics of a region or a time period. Like, I wouldn't say, "I know this history because I watched such-and-such of movie", but it does open some doors to cultural literacy. But to truly understand something, you can't just watch one movie and say, "Done. I now know everything." I'm dancing around the fact that, because my knowledge of kung fu films is limited, I don't exactly know if this movie is racist or not.
Yeah. I'm trying to judge something entirely based on an exploitation film from the 1970s. I can't help it. I have known that, in the past, that there has been animosity between China and Japan. I think I gleaned this from a YouTube video. (Again, I'm a history minor and an English teacher. I should do better.) I think a lot of it came from Japan's long history of being an isolationist country. But that was always just a fact that I didn't have much investment in. Like a lot of history, it may just sound like a fact until you find out the cultural relevancy of such a fact. With the case of Fist of Fury, the film centers around the fragile and volatile relationship between the Japanese and the Chinese in Shanghai about a century prior to this movie. Again, this is very specific, yet crucial cultural knowledge that affects the movie. Fist of Fury paints the Japanese in an extremely poor light. They are bullies who instigate the events of the movie for almost unknown reasons. Honestly, it seems like the film's only motive for having the Japanese as the bad guys is because they seem like overt racists. And the message of Fist of Fury is that sometimes, racism just needs to be kicked in the face.
But the problem is, is that accurate? I have no idea. The film, starting off with the death of Chen Zhen's teacher, is simply "because." I am probably going to talk a bit about how the plot itself is extremely flimsy, but I want to steer back to the racism element of the whole thing. The movie posits that the death of the teacher is a mystery. This mystery aggressively points to the Japanese as the culprits. Post-funeral, the Japanese insult the mourning Chinese kung fu students with a plaque labeling the teacher as "The Sick Man of the East." They had it framed and everything. It kind of seems like they really went out of their way to insult everyone for what seems like no reason. This is the kind of over-the-top racism we see in cinema, but rarely in life. (Racism is a very real problem. It just rarely looks like what we see in Fist of Fury.) Sure enough, the Japanese were behind the death of the teacher and the only explanation behind it was, "Because they're Japanese."
See, this is where I can't pick a side. The racism behind the whole story is almost comically implausible. The Japanese murder the head of this school. Let's pretend it is because this teacher was the head of a rival school. (That also seems silly, but it allows me to say the murder wasn't entire race based. Also, it seems like there would be a lot more Chinese people to kill than simply the head of a kung fu school.) They do so through stealth, opting to poison the leader and make it seem like natural causes. Why come forward then, waving the insult in the deceased's face? There was a lot of effort to ensure that there would be no investigation into the murder of this man, but the swagger of the Japanese in this film adds a motive for murder where none existed previously. So again, back to racism.
I suppose that we have similar cultural shortcuts in America. I'm definitely not trying to compare the Japanese in Fist of Fury to the Nazis of American cinema, but we do have shorthand for cultures that are bad. The Nazis deserve to be scorned in every form of art and entertainment. We kind of do the same thing to the Russians. If America needs to punch someone in the face, we have two cultures that kind of allow it simply based on a rich history of distrust and opposition. I can't be wagging a finger so hard at Fist of Fury because, for all I know, the Japanese served the role of the Russians in a lot of our cinema. (Maybe I should be looking at how Hollywood continues to divide two countries in the name of nationalism. Who knows?) But there's a lot of "We're not being racists! They are the ones who are the racists!" going on in the movie.
But even with the racism in or the racism out, the story is really flimsy. Like, I enjoyed Fist of Fury way more than The Big Boss. This is a year's difference for Bruce Lee and it just seems like a more put-together film. It feels cinematic as opposed to studio lot. (Although we DO get a lot of shots of that one road...almost like it is on a backlot.) The Big Boss wasn't exactly a think-piece, but it did understand that maybe there needs to be some level of plot. Maybe the story should hold back on Bruce Lee going right into punching. But Fist of Fury ignores that concept and allows Lee to just start punching people to death almost from moment one. And we get the Bruce Lee that we kind of associate with. He makes all of the noises in this one. The punches are held longer, trembling fist and all. Heck, we even get one of my favorite memes in this movie. (In Giphy, type "skeptical" and you'll see what I'm talking about.) I'm never going to preach Fist of Fury because of its lack of plot, but I do really respect the spectacle going on. Fist of Fury may be far more cinematic and epic than The Big Boss, but it also never really tries to step out of its britches. It is a movie that understands that people just want to see a lot of death by punching and that's cool. Lee is a rock star in this movie. It's all about fight choreography and pushing the lines of plausibility. It's so odd that Chen Zhen is able to take on the entire school himself when he's in the mindset of not killing anyone, but his entire kung fu school is decimated by the opposing school when he is not there.
Because I'm obsessed with morality in stories, I do want to look at Chen Zhen as anti-hero. There isn't exactly a winning situation in the story. Because the Japanese school is so antagonistic in the movie, the option to do nothing doesn't really seem plausible. I mean, the absolute right thing to do, if this were reality, is nothing. If I owned a kung fu school and someone called someone I love "The Sick Man of the East" or something, I would do nothing while they were there, then talk about them constantly with people who shared like-minded views before stalking them on Facebook and scoffing at their posting of Daily Wire, Breitbart, and Church Militant articles all over their pages. But that wouldn't make much of a film. We cheer when Chen Zhen takes justice into his own hands because that's the crux of the film. But he is constantly rebuked for his willful disobedience of his master's rules. We know that Chen Zhen is in the wrong for his actions because the other students comment on this regularly. Also, we know that Chen Zhen isn't the one who has to deal with these consequences. (It's implied that Chen Zhen is shot to death at the end, right?) Like The Big Boss, the Chinese studio system kind of mirrors the film noir era of needing crime to be punished, regardless of how justifiable it may seem. Is he killed? Like, it really really nods towards it, but I hear that there's a sequel to this movie? Sure, it stars Bruce Li, but that ending is a little ambiguous.
Anyway, it's a very watchable movie, but it doesn't exactly knock it out of the park. That script is super lazy and really relies on Bruce Lee's abilities and charisma to hold the film together. That's okay, I guess, but I hope that the following films have a little more meat on them.
PG-13 for stuff involving grief and sadness. Like, the movie is a huge bummer, so little kids probably shouldn't be watching it. I know I worded that like a child, but it is as blunt as I can probably get. Conor has a horrible life. He is bullied and his mom is dying. The movie really plays up how ugly cancer can get. There's also a lot of anger stuff and there are these stories that end up getting kind of violent. Also, there's a monster. It's weird how the monster is the least disturbing thing about the whole movie, but it is true.
DIRECTOR: J.A. Bayona
What is with me and dead parent movies? Is everyone watching all these dead parent movies? Like, I get it. Maybe it is that thing --I forget the proper term for it --where once you buy a red Honda Accord, you only see red Honda Accords? I don't know. But I seem to be writing about dead parents a lot and how close to life these movies tend to get. I'm also clearly hitting my stride with my 2016 Netflix DVD account because I keep posting about all the movies I missed that year.
Patrick Ness is hanging out somewhere outside of my bubble. I see his name on a lot of the things I watch. The film of A Monster Calls is an adaptation of his novel, so I can't give too much or too little credit to the source material, not having have read it. But when I see his name, I always get a "B-" reaction to his stuff. It's always good enough to keep going with it, but there always will be something unfinished or loose about the final product. Again, Mr. Ness, if you are reading this, I apologize. I haven't written anything of note and probably should have my laptop taken away so I can stop being a jerk about things that are noteworthy. On top of that, I'm one guy being ho-hum about a movie that most audiences really loved. For me, ho-hum. I think that "B-" thing is dead on accurate. I enjoyed it and I found it to be a beautiful movie, but like a lot of stuff that I see Patrick Ness's name on, the conceit doesn't really follow through the entire thing.
See, the movie hinges on the concept that the monster is telling Conor three stories. Those three stories will inspire Conor to tell the fourth story, which is a secret that he has even hidden from himself. From an audience's perspective, this must mean that these three stories are integral to that fourth story, that will serve as the climax of the film. Instead, the three stories are more thematic than they are revelatory. All three stories are about how the protagonist is both a hero and the villain, but that is all a matter of perspective. While I adore the theme of it all, really one story could have done it. Instead, what we get is a serious problem with repetition. Also, once you see what the theme is, some of these choices told by the monster seem intentionally misleading. We're supposed to come to the same conclusions that Conor eventually comes to at the same time that Conor comes to these conclusions. It doesn't quite play out like that. There were moments where I was thinking, "Who would word things like that?" The monster is intentionally cryptic for the sake of teaching a lesson. But some of those lessons are really muddied. I don't know. I thought that these stories were going to be life changing. For example, the first story about the prince and the witch. The Monster says something like, "And rumors throughout the land said that the Witch murdered her husband." Instantly, realizing the point of the story, thought, "Oh, but those were just rumors and it was a misunderstanding." But then the Monster goes on and says that the prince and the maiden had run off together in the night. When the prince awoke, he found his love dead." The big twist is that the prince had murdered the maiden...
Which means that the maiden wasn't his love and that he didn't "find" her dead. There is misleading and then there is straight up confusing. The story was told from the prince's perspective. We knew what he knew. So to say that it wasn't true what we knew, what is the point in that? That seems more like a lie than crafty storytelling. I like the final result. I like the idea that characters aren't all good or all bad. But the story kind of ends with the prince as the villain and the witch as the hero. Similarly, there are really gross moments that the Monster never really elaborates on. The witch ends up being far more sympathetic by the end of that story, but it never really explains her lust for power. She offers to marry her own stepson to share power, which makes her, again, unsympathetic. While she probably doesn't deserve to die, I don't know how much of a victim she was in this story.
But this brings me to the fact that I overall liked the movie. Why? Because I kind of like the message. There's nothing normal or expected about grief. While the hole in the ground swallowing up family members was a bit much and I kind of got it, the idea that we think some very ugly things to deal with trauma is kind of normal. It's the way that Conor acts that really matters. So even though those three stories were a bit "Okay, I get it", the revelation that Conor kind of wants his mom to die so that he can go on with his life is actually kind of a gutsy statement to make. And it never presents it as a concept that Conor is selfish. But it is an emotion that exists. Similarly, the fact that his entire life is dictated by the shame that a feeling brings about is kind of interesting to examine. Now, this can get into some dicey territory. It really is a dark feeling to look at. After all, I could easily see this quickly evolving into a discussion about euthanasia. But that's not what Conor is really experiencing. He's just tired of hope. The entire film, he keeps getting mixed messages. The world is telling him that his mom is going to die and his mom says that she's going to live. I know that feeling exactly. It's something that I still deal with to this very day. But there is something very satisfying about having a clear answer. We act differently when options are removed from us. We start dealing with things and prepping ourselves. Would Conor always be sad when his mom died? Sure. It's just that he probably would have approached that death in healthy ways with a support system instead of being the only one who believed that his mom could be saved. That's too much to put on one's person's shoulders. Heck, Conor is borderline a hero because he buries his wish for the sake of his mother. After all, so much about the movie and its themes are about belief and the importance of belief, I don't see how he couldn't be confused about what his role in the grand scheme was.
I have a lot of little thoughts about the movie that might not justify having their own paragraphs. I apologize that this section is going to be a disorganized mess, but that's what might happen in the world of daily blogging. I love Sigourney Weaver, but why make her British? There are so many good actresses that could have filled this role. Was it an attempt to market the movie to Americans to get them to see it? She's fine, I guess. But her voice is so well know that it had the same effect the first Doctor Strange movie did. Some people are allowed to pull that off. Sigourney Weaver probably isn't. The other thing is that I don't actually know what the purpose of the belief in the monster is. There's this loose connection to the fact that the mother and the son both drew a very similar monster when they were children dealing with their problems. But is it a problem acknowledging that it is okay that the monster was never real? There's a need to present this as a possibly supernatural creature and I think that is a misstep. Why can't the monster be only real to Conor and that be enough? The movie is so grounded in reality that adding this larger than life thing seems like it is only detracting from the overall story. I don't need to know that the world is ancient and has odd things in it. I need to know that Conor's personal monster is forcing him to deal with the problems in his life. Does there need to be a connection with the Monster and his mom? Probably not.
But the movie mostly works. I know that's not exactly a glowing review. But it does the job. I can see why people lost their minds with this one, but it didn't quite do it for me. It's a fine movie that tells a sad story. But sometimes, I want more than a sad story. I want every piece to fit nicely.
PG-13 for possibly being the most intense Bond movie. There's the regular alcoholism and chauvinism, coupled with violence. But it is all just much more. There's nudity without actual genitalia being on screen. Major characters die absolutely tragic deaths. But the violence is actually about the intensity rather than the fun of it all. There's a pretty memorable torture scene. Daniel Craig's Bond is punishing. While I adore this movie, it probably will be the last Bond movie I'll eventually show my kids. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Martin Campbell
Apparently, when you want to redefine James Bond, you call Martin Campbell. I'll explain why in a second.
It's so odd that when I actually have the time constraints of a workday, I find these little nuggets of time to write. The few minutes between classes, I accrue these minutes like precious moments of time. It's either that or look at my phone and that I know is a waste of time. But when I'm home for Thanksgiving break, there's no scenario where I can actually get quiet writing time. So I took Thanksgiving Break for what it was: a break. I oddly didn't watch a lot of movies during break. It was all about Star Trek: Discovery for me. But it is good to come back. It's so funny that I knew that Casino Royale was going to be my next movie, a movie I really wanted to write about for weeks. But if something is ever going to get the ball rolling again, it's a movie that I really want to write about.
It's so odd that I'm almost at the end of my Bond watching. I mean, I have to go back and knock out some of the early Connery films. I apparently havent' watched Dr. No to Thunderball at least in four years. I never thought I would confidently be able to say that. I've established that I used to have the Bond movies on a regular loop. It's just that there are so many movies that I'll never be able to see and it's weird revisiting something that is so comfortable. But that's why I absolutely adore Casino Royale. I love this movie so much. I think a lot of people do. It might be a nearly perfect James Bond movie. Unlike GoldenEye, which was also directed by Martin Campbell, Casino Royale was never meant to be part of the same canon as the previous movies. Normally I'd huff about such a thing. After all, those movies are really enjoyable and reboots often seem lazy. But the Bond movies also have a terrible mythology. They often ignore their own character bible if the story suits it. It's really weird that Ernst Starvo Blofeld often has a hard time recognizing James Bond, despite the fact that they keep on meeting. As part of what is necessary to make a good reboot, Casino Royale somehow wins by dumping my favorite elements of a James Bond movie. Gone is Q and Moneypenny, for now. There are gadgets, but they are possibly the most practical gadgets ever. A portable defibulator doesn't even feel like spy-fi so much as something that we should all have in our cars. But most depressing is the gunbarrel.
Oh, I know the gunbarrel teases its way into the opening, pre-credit sequence. (Also, the credit sequence is my favorite sequence of all. Just putting that out there.) But Casino Royale takes a lot of its cues from Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins. One of the staples of the Bond movies is that it never really develops the character of James Bond. That seems to be a broad swipe at a long running franchise, but 007 has always been more plot and spectacle motivated than actual mythology motivated. One of the few actual sticking points that kind of / sort of sticks around is the death of Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which is why I kind of love that movie. But even that death doesn't really affect the other movies too much. Bond seems to be on a warpath at the beginning of Diamonds are Forever, although that film never directly addresses On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond visits the grave of Tracy at the beginning of For Your Eyes Only. There are also some veiled nods to the fact that Bond is a widower. But that's really about it. As a contrast, Casino Royale completely embraces that James Bond himself should have needs and character motivations. I don't think that I'm the only one who has subconsciously named Casino Royale "Bond Begins". It is about the man. While the pre-credit sequence may be about how the man got the number, he really isn't the James Bond of legend until the end of the film. While I haven't watched Quantum of Solace in years, I know that they tried extending that mythology into the second of Craig's films unsuccessfully.
So no gunbarrel and no Bond theme...until the end. That's because Craig's era is very focused on making sure that these stories have a coherent mythology for the character. They want him to grow. Or shrink. Maybe that's what's more telling about Craig's characters through these movies. He spends the film as the dynamic character. The beginning of the movie is almost him playing secret agent instead of being a secret agent. Yes, he's ruthless, but that's because he was trained to be ruthless. There are warmer sides to this character as Eva Green's Vesper Lynd slides into his life. We see him smile. He becomes vulnerable and sees his job for the toxic mess that it always was. I love that he's about to quit being 007 while on his first mission as 007. What's understood is that Bond is never about the talent. He has the talent from moment one, as shown by the parkour sequence leading into the embassy. Possibly no other secret agent at MI-6 could pull of what he did, despite the fact that he was reprimanded for his actions. But the film is about shrinking him back into the mold and understanding the value for his guardedness. Because at the beginning, Bond is conceptually guarded. He knows that if he lets people into his life, it will weaken him as an agent. But it is when Vesper betrays him at the end (I know it is more complicated than that), he knows what it is like to be vulnerable and how it has weakened him. It's a fireman studying fire versus actually fighting a fire. It's interesting.
And maybe that's why I never really understood the relationship that builds out of Spectre. I've only seen that movie twice. (TWICE! Do you know how many times I've watched the other Bond movies? The answer is "Too many times.") Because Campbell really makes us fall in love with Vesper like Bond falls in love with Vesper. It is low and slow. Honestly, despite having amazing action, there is almost a romance movie quality to Bond and Vesper's relationship. Because the Bond franchise has always kind of had a problem telling us that a woman was capable without letting us simply understand that a woman was capable. I look again to Exhibit A, Christmas Jones from The World is Not Enough. You can tell us all day long that a character is a genius who is not interested in a relationship. But Vesper doesn't have to say anything like that. Instead, we see these two people who genuinely have animosity for one another. Through trust and delicate situations, they actually seem to care for one another. You can see the moment where James Bond stops being 007. It's perfectly timed. It's the shower. Seeing that moment where Bond isn't afraid to look disheveled and perfect. He's not being a bull-in-a-China-shop. He's being a human being who understands what it is like to encounter death for the first time. It's really touching. It's why Vesper's betrayal, as justified as it was, hurt so much. He gave up himself and she took a risk.
Is Vesper a good person at the end though? There's a narrative there that could be explored. Maybe it has been through extended universe novels or something. But Vesper Lynd betrays Bond because she has a boyfriend who is being held hostage. She wears that jewelry as an oath to the one she loves. Yet she does fall in love with James Bond. There's actually a kind of gross thread running through the story of Bond being attracted to women in relationships. We think that Vesper isn't one of these women, but she is. It's this great amount of foreshadowing going throughout. But her attraction and love for Bond is romantic for us, but what about that guy? I mean, she sacrifices her life for not one, but two men. (Although that guy totally died, right? Oh. I just read the Wikipedia article. Apparently he is a character in Quantum of Solace.) But from Vesper's perspective, she is actually kind of betraying this guy who is going to be killed by Le Chiffre.
The last note I want to make about this whole thing is that it is really weird that this is a movie that was adapted from a book about people playing cards. In Fleming's original novel, it was Baccarat. Three movies exist based on this novel, mainly because the Bond people didn't feel it necessary to secure the licenses to a book that thoroughly lacks action. But somehow, Campbell made possibly the most riveting movie out of a kind of boring framework. Look, I like Fleming's novel. But if you are looking for the James Bond of the silver screen, this book doesn't really have it. Yet, the major foundational supports are in the movie. I mean, you probably wouldn't recognize these as the same stories, but it does tell the interesting parts of the tale. Le Chiffre, the Casino Royale, the betrayal, and the torture are all in there. Sure, the other elements are definitely Hollywooded up, but who cares? Considering that a lot of the Fleming adaptations have absolutely nothing to do with their source materials, this is a really impressive feat.
I always used to say that From Russia With Love was my favorite Bond movie. That was the snob in me. It's still my second favorite in the series, but Casino Royale is so darned good that I can't keep pretending that Bond's second outing was his best. Casino Royale has everything that I want in a Bond movie and I won't apologize for that. This movie holds up.
PG...because there's a bad guy? I'm not really sure where the questionable content is. Like with Up, the protagonist's wife dies, but that is told mostly through narrator's exposition. There's one moment where the kids are being chased down by the bad guys and are imperiled, but that's pretty minor on the grand scheme of things and their escape has a degree of whimsy to it. I don't know, man. It seems like this only got the PG rating over the G because it is live-action. Lazy MPAA, man. Lazy em-pee-aye-AYE! PG.
DIRECTOR: David E. Talbert
It's another one of the movies that I should have paid more attention to. Again, I consider this a personal failure of mine. I watched the whole movie, but my kids weren't exactly behaving during this film. Also, I was trying to get my steps in, so I was doing chores while watching. I know. Out there somewhere, David Lynch is cursing my name for not being the appropriate movie goer. I didn't watch it on my [expletive deleted] phone or anything, but I wasn't enjoying it as I should. Because this movie looked great. Like, it looked absolutely amazing. So take everything critical I have to say about this movie with a grain of salt, because I wasn't exactly watching with the most critical eye.
I have a feeling that Jingle Janglemight not have been originally planned to be a Netflix release. My old theory behind Netflix releases were that they tended to be cheaper than cinema releases. I mean, I know that Wonder Woman 1984 is coming to HBO Max on Christmas Day, but that's only because of coronavirus. I want to somewhat tweak my original theory. Streaming services are allowed to have second tier big budget movies, except when it comes to Christmas fare, which tend to be as cheap as you can make them. I know that Netflix tends to throw more money at their Christmas outings than Hallmark, but the quality still matches the rom-com versions of sci-fi's original programming, namely stuff like Sharknado. (I have this whole ranking system in my head that places Sharknado in the same production and quality category as anything on Hallmark. There's almost something ironically bad about both, yet I encourage people to enjoy what they enjoy...assuming that they're consuming quality as well. They're both the brand X version of Little Debbie, but maybe try a vegetable once in a while?) But there's nothing cheap about this. This feels fresh and crafted. It's not just a Christmas movie, but it's a musical. And, I know, Disney Channel makes all kinds of cheap musicals. But this is cinematic and the dancing is off the walls amazing. It's really a quality thing and I wasn't prepped for that. Honestly, I didn't even know it was a musical. I knew that they got Forrest Whittaker and that they had some impressive cameras, but that's about all the points I was going to give it before I came in. No part of me was thinking that I was going to get a big budget Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dickensian Apparel.
But I also noticed that a lot of the reviews for this weren't amazing. I mean, they were watching the same movie I (kind of) was, right? I mean, those actors that I never heard of had to be professional Broadway stars, right? They had to be. I mean, the singing in this was amazing. The choreography was nuts. The songs were pretty darned catchy. What was I missing? And then I thought about it. It's not insane to think that this movie didn't resonate with a lot of people. It's kind of because it never really hits the next level. The movie, for its amazing cast and performances, kind of lacks in story. We've seen this story before. On top of that, we've seen this story at Christmas. And because it is Netflix, our minds kind of treat it as disposable. For whatever changes that they made, the movie really kind of is just A Christmas Carol coupled with The Mighty Ducks. Jeronicus Jangle has this really impressive talent for making toys, but because of hardships and cruelty, has lost his Christmas spirit. While we don't have ghosts, there is magic in this world. It should be noted that I'm lo-key obsessed with "A Christmas Carol", so much so that I have to shift out of the italics and into quotation marks to acknowledge that it is a short story.
See, as much as the ghosts make a direct impact on Scrooge, it is really the people in his life that he begins to understand more clearly. The same thing holds true with Jingle Jangle. (I hate the title. Can't stand it.) This is a world of magic, but the magic isn't what changes Jeronicus; it just helps him see the world differently. So when people aren't exactly shocked by the plot, I can kind of see it. He used to be happy and is not, so we know that by the end of the story, he will be happy again. There's a little girl who has the same talents that he used to have? We know that she will serve as a reminder of his childhood. He will be hurtful to her before he becomes helpful to her later. The toy doesn't work now, but it will work later. There's nothing that comes across as a surprise in the movie. I think that's kind of what people are looking for in Christmas movies, but I think I like a little bit of dip-and-dodge in there before getting my results. I look at last year's Klaus, also released by Netflix. Yeah, things ended up being where they were supposed to be, but the movie offered some real threats to the problem being solved. It also offered a new Christmas origin. Instead, we kind of got what we were expecting with Jingle Jangle when it came to story.
And because I love picking apart weird moral choices, I want to look at the morally complex narrative of Don Juan Diego. This is the animatronic toy created by Jeronicus. He acts as the inciting incident for the piece. When he gains sentience, he acts as the antagonist for the film. Jeronicus Jangle created this toy and wanted to give the world this toy. From his perspective, he is living the capitialist's dream. He has a product that brings him joy and will also support his family. He sees his job as a noble profession that also allows him to be creative and leave a sum goal of other people's happiness. Yeah, if you just focus on Jeronicus, it definitely makes Don Juan Diego the bad guy of the story. After all, Don Juan takes away Jeronicus's drive and success story. He can't trap lightning twice, so the goal that Jeronicus starts off with fizzles. But Don Juan actually has a far more noble goal involving sentient rights. The reason we don't sympathize with him, by the way, is because he's a jerk. Honestly, if he didn't act like a jerk, this would be a story about a toy who has sentience forced upon him and then every choice in his life is the product of other's temporary happiness. He's sentient. That's very clear. He rises up against his creator and asks to make choices that are his own. He doesn't want to be copied and cloned. It may be selfish to be the only sentient toy, but he should have the rights as all sentient creatures. The idea that he will lose all specialness and value because there will be a million of him is actually his choice to make. When Buddy comes around later with a seemingly diminished sentience, Buddy is okay with that choice. While I may have problems with the idea of a creator intentionally bestowing a neutered sense of sentience, I'll let it go under the auspices that it wasn't a conscious choice on the part of Jeronicus to do so. Don Juan didn't want to be part of a lower caste system underneath humans, so he rejected the plan to be copied. It gave him authority and value and that kind of makes sense.
Which is what makes Don Juan's punishment especially cruel. Jeronicus never really learns the lesson that Don Juan's revolution should give him. As much of an ego that Don Juan has (which isn't a crime, but just sucks), he really does act out of fear. Instead of respecting Don Juan's wishes, he kind of goes A Clockwork Orange on him, stripping him of his free will. Don Juan is never really given the opportunity for redemption as much as he is simply wiped away. It kind of is a death sentence for simply choosing not to be copied and pasted a million times, which is his right. It's a really dark moment. I honestly thought, similarly, that there should have been redemption for Gustafson, who was clearly a pawn in Don Juan's plan. Yeah, Gustafson enjoys the fruits of his sin, but also feels misunderstood by Jeronicus, who apparently has a hard time communicating his true intentions. Maybe the movie wanted to have a cathartic moment by having the bad guys punished. But it is Christmas? What happened to forgiveness? Jeronicus is forgiven by both is daughter, but also by his granddaughter. His debt is forgiven quickly by the bank when they realize that Buddy is going to sell well. Is the meaning of Christmas based on financial success? There's a lot of things that I have problem with in that ending, but I kind of get why they did it.
Yeah, it's not fair that I'm writing about something that only got half of my attention. I'm going to have to figure out how to watch stuff while walking, because I need to get my steps up. Regardless, this seemed quality while potentially avoiding moral grey areas.
Rated R because it is a wildly depressing film despite the fact that it found a very wide audience. There's child exploitation and abuse, both sexual and physical. There's all kinds of disturbing violence. There's a lot of feces, which is used to comic effect. There's language, but again, that always kind of seems like an afterthought after writing about the things I just talked about. There's slavery. This movie has a lot of questionable content, but we only remember the parts involving Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? R.
DIRECTORS: Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan
I oddly thought that I would never watch this movie again. It's not that I disliked it / dislike it. In fact, I think the movie is way more impressive on a second watch. It's just that everyone was talking about this movie for a hot second. I don't know what part of my brain instantly gets into judgment mode when that happens, but I really just love the idea of being outside the zeitgeist, I guess. I remember a buddy of mine from the video store days railed against this movie. He thought it was the lowest common denominator kind of stuff. Mind you, he and I often disagreed, but I always respected his opinion. I think we might both be right about this movie. It is emotionally manipulative and kind of a gimmick, but it is that type of storytelling done really well.
I'm going to talk about things not in binary good or bad. There's just some things that I don't know if I would have done. Slumdog Millionaire is an exercise in keeping as many plates as possible in the air. There's almost too much going on here. I mean, I'm going to establish very clearly that Boyle pulls it off. He's a really good director and he knows how much things will work before they topple. But looking at this finished product really makes me feel like the whole thing is up there, but wobbly. Like, it's more impressive that it is up in the air as opposed to the individual beats. But that being said, I can't ignore that this is an impressive piece of cinema. The thing that puts it over the top, oddly enough, is the central conceit. I don't know if the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? stuff really needs to be in the film. Yes, there is tension on whether or not he is going to win. But it takes such a backseat to Jamal's personal history that it almost seems absurd that he's going to be one of the richest men in India because of this gameshow. Does he need the wealth? No. It's this nice coda establishing that he has earned the life he is about to receive. But that's where the plausibility really ends.
I think a lot of stories about Fate-with-a-capital-F really run into the same problem. I used to teach The Alchemist. It's not my favorite book, but my students absolutely dig it. It's a nice start off to the year and allows them to be more open minded when it comes to the more challenging books that we'd be reading later in the year. But stories like Slumdog Millionaire and The Alchemist really hinge on the concept of Fate being real. Myself, don't really buy it. It's almost like a Twilight Zone kind of story. Jamal shouldn't have been able to get onto the game show, but it was written that he did. Every single question (some of them oddly easy for final rounds of show that has apparently stumped doctors and scholars alike) aligns with his skill set, even if it means educated guesses. But is that also a condemnation of Fate as a concept?
Think about this: We read the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? stuff as the reward for a life of misery. Jamal has lost his mother. The love of his life has been forced into prostitution and slavery, along with probably being raped by his brother. He has immersed himself in feces and had his prized possessions given away in spite. He has been hunted and watched people killed at point blank range. One side of that is a story where karma returns all of the misery for outrageous fortune. But what if all of that is actually inverted? I mean, the questions may have always existed outside of time. What if Jamal's life simply took a path that would allow him to answer any question? After all, Boyle starts the story with Jamal on TV already. From our perspective, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? is the present and everything else is told through flashback or nontraditional chronology. That's a real bummer because I think that Jamal would agree that he would rather be without the millions if none of those miserable things happened to him. I know this because he risks an ungodly amount of money when he doesn't even know the answer for something. There's a message that says that money corrupts and means nothing, but he still gets it all in the end anyway.
While the central story has to be about the money, considering that it is in the title of the film, I do want to look at other elements that are either odd or genius. One of the weaker moments of the movie is the characterization of Irrfan Khan's police inspector. Part of me wants to believe that he's a dynamic character. He starts off absolutely believing that Jamal is cheating. He believes it so much that he encourages torture of someone of whom has no actual evidence against him. He goes really far too. It's not torture as in "Some of his rights are violated." It's torture in the sense that if anyone saw him do what he did, there would be serious criminal allegations behind the actions. Yeah, he's got his henchman behind him who seems to enjoy the torture more, but the rest of the film shows him to be good cop. He believes Jamal's story and actually invests in it, wondering whatever happened to Salim and Latika. By the end, it seems like the Inspector is Jamal's only friend, but that's kind of gross, isn't it? He's never apologetic for almost killing him. It's just that we find out that he has a good heart? I don't know how to think about that at all? I don't care what kind of heart he has. He's a bad dude who is remarkably comfortable with torture of a young kid coupled with an impassioned hatred for the poor. It's real gross.
But I do want to look at the story of two brothers. That's where the movie really flies for me. In my head, there's a version where the Millionaire stuff is taken out. When you take away the Millionaire stuff, you take away that police stuff, or at least recontextualize it to make it more plausible. The movie seems to be hiding a lot of really important stuff around a high concept. This is the story of two brothers. They were raised the same way. One was older and had to accept a lot more responsibility, coupled with a toxic understanding of masculinity. The other brother developed a thick skin and became a little more empathetic than the older one. It becomes a story about the importance of family and how society and money can completely destroy who we are. Because Salim knew that money would keep them alive, he did anything he could for it. At the end of the day, the money is also the thing that drove the brothers apart and would lead to Salim's death. Boyle didn't miss a beat having Salim die in a tub full of money. But Jamal, with one of his lower needs met, could have room to empathize. Because money wasn't his top priority and because he could rely on someone else for survival, he was able to reach out to others and become a good person. Part of me wants to read this as a genetics thing. Salim was born rough, so he stayed rough. But I think it is circumstance and priorities as well, based on cultural understandings of expectations on an older child. It's something to think about at least.
But at the end of the day, Slumdog Millionaire is really impressive and pretty entertaining. Yeah, part of me wants to play the snob card and say that it's emotionally manipulative. But I also liked it, so should I pretend that it isn't impressive?
GP in Australia, which may be a heck of a commentary on what Americans find inappropriate. GP is our PG (I have an amorphous joke about Down Under and everything being backwards, but I don't have time to really cook it.) I mean, this movie has a lot of nudity, which includes underage girls and boys. Some of it has an erotic context, much of it doesn't. There's also suicide and murder. While I can see where the GP rating could come from, it wouldn't pass muster in the states. Regardless, GP.
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Roeg
I'm all turned around. Since we're full on quarantined, there's not been a lot of time to write. The odds are that I'm not going be able to finish this blog today. But the worst part is that I have a draft of another blog just sitting there because, for some reason, my frantic mind started writing about the wrong movie. We'll see how this plays out. I watched my first Criterion release of Walkabout, which may be the first time I watched my copy of the film. I mean, I've seen it before. But actually watching my copy, picture-framing and all? It was an experience. I know that I'm asking the world for whoever is deliberately trying to get me bumped from Facebook, but please don't report the very questionable nudity above. There are so many great shots in the movie that have some degree of nudity from an Indigenous Australian that I had to give up, so please tolerate the shot that is mostly obscured.
For some reason, I consider Walkabout to be the most approachable artsy-fartsy movie. It's artsy-fartsy as all get out. I know that might not be the most intellectual thing to say, but I can't help it. I honestly put Walkabout into a mental category of "The Best of Criterion." Part of it is the idea that it is a very watchable movie. As next level as the movie gets, it still has a great sense of pacing, compelling characters, and a solid plot. Like, if you liked nothing about artsy fartsy movies, Walkabout kind of still works as just a movie about survival in the Australian Outback. It is an intense movie where you honestly question if they are going to survive. Roeg has the story really begin with a smash cut. The father, who is the definition of civilization (see, I'm already analyzing the film!), breaks from his routine of doing the most academic thing that could possibly be done, grading papers, to shift into a murder spree ending with a suicide. Thankfully, for the characters and the story, he's a lousy shot so he ends up just killing himself. But that instant smash cut takes what could be a commentary on civilization and drives up the suspense with an inciting incident that is disturbing. The boy goes from playing cops and robbers to unknowingly dodging real bullets. It's a really upsetting image, him firing his toy pistol back at his father, who is clearly off his nut.
But that's all I really want to talk about the evaluative element of the movie. It's a good film for nerds and casual watchers alike. What I really want to talk about is the role of civilization in this film and the concept of savagery, juxtaposed with the reality. Roeg starts his films with this montage of city life. He shows the absurdity of school, with girls making tribal sounds. We know, as members of the civilized, that these girls are simply preparing for choir. It's something that we've kind of accepted as commonplace. But there's something very ritualistic about the whole thing, isn't there? If you came from another world and saw girls, in unison, make guttural noises that had no meaning, you'd see these people as simple or savages. And those images juxtaposed to the Australian Outback are the point. While the film never shies from the idea that these kids could die out in the wilderness, there is an odd sense of normality and culture in the Outback. The boy and the girl do things that are reminders of their old lives. I find it extraordinary that the siblings can look so put together by the end. But it is when they abandon the confines of normalcy that things actually make a lot more sense. Like, it is absolutely absurd that the kid is still playing with a car. When he verbalizes that he might have torn his blazer, it comes across as absurd. Sure, they end up being right because they do make it back. But it really does feel like that, at one point or another, they should abandon all pretense of returning home. Because the more that they actually accept their situation, the more right it all feels.
In the MPAA section, I talked a bit about how this movie is full of nudity. It really is. There's just a lot of nudity throughout. But I also mentioned that some of it was erotic and some of it wasn't. I'm putting this all in context of the Indigenous Australian. This is a character who has no stake in being with the boy and the girl. We see him hunting when we are introduced to him. He doesn't even acknowledge that these two are dying out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, their ineptness seems absurd. I love how the boy and the girl cling to their civilized ways as if they are in charge. They yell their English louder as if that would change anything. But he's the new way of the world. He's the way of civilization that they have to accept. But as the story progresses and the trio grows closer, there is that sense of sexual attraction that goes on between the girl and the Indigenous Australian. That last sequence, where he is doing his mating dance, there's something absolutely tragic about what is happening there. This is where the two cultures need to clash. From her perspective, her virginity is hers. Her sexuality is her own. Because this man helped her, it means that she shouldn't necessarily share her body with him. But from his perspective, it feels like everything he has is about rejection. He did everything right. I could easily connect this idea to the "good guy" intention, but this is something very different. He views himself as a failure. His suicide has a ritualistic element to it. After the dance and the presentation of the self, that was his moment. That's what his Walkabout was about. There's where the communication really broke down. The girl, grown up to be a woman at the end with her husband, imagines him fondly. There is a love for that man, but that never really translated properly.
The last thing I really want to look at is the fact that the girl lies to the boy throughout. From one perspective, this is a story about a girl needing to adopt her womanhood far too early. There's never a question for her, having to abandon frivolous things. She goes from having an adorable picnic (covered in ants) to being the head of the family. There are moments when she questions her ability to survive, particularly when the boy is being kind of a butthead. But she never really misunderstands her role as the driving force for survival. She is a parent in a hot second. But that's why I look at the choice to lie to the boy as something that's worth noting. The girl is kind of a static character in the idea that she quickly acknowledges her fate. But the boy is dynamic. He's definitely not the protagonist of the story. If anything, he's the plot. (If the boy dies, the whole thing is a failure.) But he comes to terms with the idea that his father wasn't a good man, despite the fact that his sister was never really honest with him about the entire situation. Perhaps Roeg is talking about how we view our parents as we and they grow up. Sure, the children's father was an extreme case. But the boy, through a veil of imagination and denial, continues to view the walkabout, for all of its length and hardships, as simply part of the picnic for what must be weeks to months. (Although the boy's hair is at a reasonable length by the end of it.) Was it right for her to lie? It kept the boy alive. That idea that father will some day be there and perfectly fine is a powerful motivator, albeit impossible. It's an interesting choice.
I adore this movie. It's so good and so powerful. Yeah, I can see how people could view it as gross, especially considering how so many people got hung up on the Cuties thing not too long ago. But it is an amazing movie that is unquestionably gorgeous and meaningful. I loved returning to it after so long.
Rated R for a lot of reasons. It's a horror movie, but it is also a horror movie surrounding an autopsy. Because they are dissecting a corpse, there's going to be a naked person throughout the movie. Then they have to cut into this naked person and do some awful things to the body. Of course, Jane Doe has had horrible things happen to her and she's also haunting the coroners. There's a lot. I suppose there is language in there, you know, in case that's the thing that's holding you back from watching something. R.
DIRECTOR: André Øvredal
I technically should have written this yesterday. Yeah, I had a break in there because I had actually caught up with my backlog of blogs, but that's not why I didn't post yesterday. We're officially on quarantine. That's something that's part of the new reality. I'm home with the kids, which is four of them. Having a newborn that you are holding all day kind of puts a kink in the writing schedule, so I apologize if I'm sporadic about posting for the next ten days. I'm writing this stuff in the few minutes that the students are remotely working on assignments, so I don't know how in depth this blog will be. Regardless, I'd rather do something than nothing, so here's my best attempt to get a blog out in a criminally short amount of time.
I really need to stop believing hype. Maybe it is because I'm a broken person who has seen too many horror movies. (I'm not even a horror buff. I just watch a lot of movies and don't necessarily dislike horror.) It's just that I heard that The Autopsy of Jane Doe was supposed to be next-level. It was supposed to be one of those films that not a lot of people saw because it was just too terrifying. But after I watched it, I have a feeling that it was probably marketed as such and that it wasn't real hype that I was hearing. The marketing team probably knew that this was a small, low-budget horror movie that was going to be mildly okay and they decided to pretend that it was a cult flick that was going to blow minds. It really wasn't that. It was simply a movie that had some mild jump scares. Considering that the movie connects itself to witches, it only does an okay job, especially that we're in a post-The Witch era of horror movies.. The bar for scary witch stuff is pretty high and The Autopsy of Jane Doe really only ticks some boxes.
I have a few things I want to focus on in this blog. One of them is pretty petty. The other is a central philosophy to the story. I'm going to talk about the nature of scares in horror movies. There's a scene in the movie that involves a lot of story pieces being in place for this scare to work. I'm talking specifically about the bell thing. One of the more telegraphed scares in the movie involves the bell on the end of a cadaver's toe. Apparently, according to the film, back in the day, morticians and coroners would tie a bell to the toe of a cadaver to ensure that it was dead. It made sense back then because there wasn't great medical equipment to ensure that someone wasn't dead instead of displaying minimal signs of life. I don't know how accurate this is. It seems pretty legit. But the problem is, this isn't an old timey tale. This story takes place, for the most part, in modern day. When asked why Brian Cox's Tommy still does this, he says something along the lines of respecting the past or not letting things go. That's not a real good answer. By that logic, he would have to special order bells that attach to toes, which I'm sure a bunch of departments would have a real problem with. What I'm kind of dancing around is that there's a lot of effort for the film to get one very specific kind of scare into the movie. Because there is something haunting about the ringing of a bell getting closer and closer. But the fact that the movie is just begging its audience to be cool with something that really has no place in reality is cuckoo bananas. There's a lot of "Sure" reactions that I had.
This similarly applies to the song that keeps coming on the radio. It's a very haunting song that ties into some of the lyrics a cryptic message about Satan. Sure, we could say that Satan is pulling this witch's strings. But everything about the story is about how old and ancient the Jane Doe actually is. The more that the coroner uncovers, the more we find out how the body is hundreds of years old, a victim of the Salem Witch Trials. Why is a victim of the Salem Witch Trials committed to a song that sounds like it came out of the 1930s or 1940s? Yes, this is haunting. I won't deny that the song is very, very creepy. But it also is a song that doesn't belong in this movie. (A stray thought: The New Justice League Snyder Cut trailer came out today and, once again, he scored it to "Hallelujah", one of the most overused songs in cinema. He did it in Watchmen and he's doing it again for Justice League. *sigh*, back to our previously scheduled program.) This is my problem with a lot of the movie. It is doing things for scary sake, but not for story's sake.
I know it seems like I'm griping. Some things are allowed to throw everything at the screen and see what stick. But these movie tend to be a tad bit more corny than what we're watching in Autopsy of Jane Doe. This is a movie that is begging its audience to take it seriously. Every element of this movie shouts to the rooftops that it is going to be bleak and morose. If the movie is taking itself that seriously, it also has to be conservative with the details it sets forth. That song and the bell are things that don't belong in this film. They are haunting and spooky, but the narrative doesn't support either moment. Save it for another movie. Those things would crush in other films, just not in this one. Actually, I'm pretty sure the bell thing did happen in another movie and it was actually pretty good scene. The bells, in this case, were on the tombstone themselves and it was a fairly effective scare coupled with a story that supported that scare.
My other big beef with the movie is the motivation of the witch. I kind of went off with this when I wrote about Life. I like when morality is tied to consequences. Tommy and Austin are two good people. Their job is to help the silenced tell their story. The reason that they are autopsying the titular character is because someone has wronged this girl. From everyone's perspective, there is a mystery and they are trying to get justice for this girl. Heck, Austin is even more sacrificial. He has to put his relationship on hold because there's such a priority to solving this crime. So when it is revealed that Jane Doe is hurting all those who hurt her in the same way, it's a weird punishment. We have these two male characters who are committing disturbing acts to a woman who is ultimately technically alive. I'm not sure exactly how the story frames Jane Doe, but she's supposed to be still living kind of. But there's a crisis moment in the story where Austin asks his father to stop cutting her open. Tommy does not stop and that's when Jane Doe decides to get her revenge. But the intentions of the coroners is that of allyship. They view this woman as a victim and they want to restore her as best as they can. There is this big apology for continuing the autopsy, but why are they apologizing? Is the movie condemning the notion of justice and devictimization of women? The reason that Jane Doe is so angry is because men tortured and killed her. They victimized her brutally. But these two men are trying to fix the damage that they did. Why are they punished so? It's a really weird call because neither Tommy nor Austin have any kind of moral hangups that involve this. Heck, Tommy had lost his wife and decided to get closer to his son. If anything, Tommy becomes a victim for his entire life.
I probably don't have the patience or time to go deeper into this movie, but it quickly fell into the category of "Just another horror movie", which is a bit of a bummer. It's fine, but it also has a lot of loose ends.
Rated R for shock humor. Okay, I'm turning into an old man. There are too many jokes in this movie that are entirely around saying swear words and doing shocking things. There's nudity. There's urine. There's lots of sex and kids saying awful things. Really, I could spend a lot of time explaining why this movie is R. But just be confident that it was going for shock value in a lot of these cases. R
DIRECTOR: John Hamburg
Guys! I might be able to take a little bit of a break. This is the last movie on my list. Unless my wife and I watch a movie tonight, I don't see how I can get a movie up by tomorrow. I built my blog schedule into incorporate natural lulls. I was beginning to wonder if one would ever show up and it did! So if I'm posting tomorrow, it's because I'm a real go-getter or we ended up watching something last second. Please don't abandon the blog, my few followers. I just realized that creating natural breaks might encourage better writing and lower my stress levels a bit. Besides, you were probably wondering how I could possibly watch a movie a day. I swear that my life is actually remarkably hectic, so keep this in mind.
I'm not going to lie. I might have a problem with John Hamburg. Mind you, I didn't know who John Hamburg was before this moment. But when I'm formatting this blog, I look up the director and see what else that the director has done. In this case, John Hamburg directed a little film called Along Came Polly. Along Came Polly was this very weird creature that I had a hard time identifying. It had a stellar cast, a cool premise, and some jokes that absolutely should work. But when I watched the movie, nothing was really hitting. It kind of felt like it was trying too hard at times. There wasn't anything artistically special about it. Really, it felt like the attitude was to cast a whole bunch of good people and then assume that the movie is going to be great. I can say that Why Him? kind of suffers from the same problem. (I may or may not include the question mark in the title of the film, based on how motivated I am. I apologize in advance.)
By all intents and purposes, Why Him? should have crushed. It had everything going for it. Okay, I think James Franco is a little creepy now. But he's a funny dude. Bryan Cranston has become a national treasure. You had the talent all in place and a premise that was just basically a Meet the Parents from the other perspective. Oh, that's what the movie is, by the way. Instead of sympathizing with the boyfriend, you sympathize with the dad. But it felt like everything was just trying too darned hard. While I consider Along Came Polly to be kind of a comedy travesty, Why Him? mostly works once I became comfortable with mediocrity. That's a bummer sentence to type, but it is also super duper true. Once I realized that the film absolutely avoided artistry and craftsmanship, it became okay that it was just a raunch fest. Now, I will say that I never found the language funny. It got real old, real quick. It's not that I have a problem with blue language. It's just that all of the language was meant to be a joke. I think the reaction was "Oh my goodness, I can't believe he said THAT!" And it just wasn't. It was a one-note joke that just kept on getting returned to.
Now I have to question the central conceit of the film. The movie really harps on the idea that Laird is a good guy, despite his many many flaws. Okay, there's something to be explored here. We know that, by the end, Ned Fleming is going to bond with Laird because we've seen this movie before, again, when it was called Meet the Parents. Ned has a lot of the same personality traits that Robert DeNiro's character does. He abuses his power in the attempt to protect his daughter from someone who is driving a wedge between them. Okay, pretty standard trope stuff. But the movie alleges that Laird is actually not only an ideal boyfriend, but the ideal for humanity. I might be overexaggerating, but Ned verbalizes his admiration for Laird at the end, stating, "You really don't have a single dishonest bone in your body, do you?" On this principle, the movie's message hinges. (Note: I will give this movie a point for establishing that both male characters are selfish, as verbalized by Stephanie.) But is complete honesty actually a moral good?
Laird is a manchild. He's a well-intentioned manchild, but he's still a manchild. As much as his language is meant to be displayed as a joke, he lacks any maturity whatsoever. Part of what he is makes him a sociopath. While I believe that he thinks that he loves Stephanie, he really is concerned with his own happiness. He does all of these things because money holds no value to him. He can give all of this money because he is beyond money. I'm not saying that all of the rich believe this. It's just that he doesn't understand the value of money. He invades these people's privacy. While he seems to admire the family, it isn't a two way street. It's kind of an odd celebrity worship. What I'm really getting at is that he completely lacks boundaries. While this creates the majority of the jokes throughout the movie, that is actually a pretty disturbing trait. He's not a good person. He's trying, and that's really admirable. But this obsession with surprises isn't for the other; it is for him. He so wants to prove that he has value as opposed to finding the value in the action in itself. There's nothing that is actually a sacrifice involved in these actions. The goodness of someone giving someone else a gift comes from the sacrifice that the action involved. When everything becomes disposable coupled with the notion that someone should be thanking you afterwards, that's a real problem.
Is honesty a good thing? Yes. I can't deny the value of honesty. But treating any virtue with absolutes can be really problematic, as displayed by Laird. Total altruism becomes an issue of boundaries. Saying whatever is on your mind is actually somewhat toxic. The reason that we have these filters is for the good of the other. By having Laird spout off any offensive thing to Ned isn't a sign that he's good. It's a sign that Laird values his own cultural norms than the norms of his guests. Remember, Ned is not there to win over Laird. Laird is there to win over Ned. Ned respects certain cultural touchstones. Yeah, I don't want to jump on board the "Boomers are right" train, but there's something to be said that anything archaic is kind of dumb and absurd. Laird buys what he wants, including feelings and friends. Why would Ned be excited for Laird to be in his life? Now, I could understand a narrative where Laird starts off low-key and, through a series of mistakes and nerves, screws that up. I keep jumping back to Meet the Parents, but that's a central idea behind that film. Greg Focker is trying to respect DeNiro's cultural norms and fails at it. That's something. But Laird keeps ignoring requests by Ned because that's his character.
It's a fine movie, I guess. I wanted more. Comedies are hard and sometimes a formula should work, but really doesn't. It isn't the raunch that's the problem. It's the dependence on the raunch that makes it fall apart.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.