Cocaine Bear (2023)
R, and mostly for things that are described in the title. You want me to be more explicit? There is drug use and strong violence. Also, there's some sexual references made along with a lot of language. If you want me to get really specific, not only does the bear do cocaine, so do some kids. Honestly, that's probably the most shocking thing in the movie. Lots of death; lots of cocaine. R.
DIRECTOR: Elizabeth Banks
Listen, I want to get some conspiracy theories and headcanon out of my way. Normally, I stall for momentum like I'm doing with this specific sentence, but I want to talk about the opening of the movie. The Universal logo comes up and "Jane", by Jefferson Starship starts playing. Cool. It's a great song to establish the era and the entire coke-fueled vibe that the movie is going for. But do you know what else started that exact same way, minus the Universal logo? Wet Hot American Summer. Do you know who was in that independent movie years and years ago, putting her in the comedic spotlight? Elizabeth Banks. Now, I'm willing and eager to assume that this movie inspired her and it's tongue-in-cheek. After all, David Wain was a young director who was probably figuring out a lot of things while making Wet Hot American Summer. There's a good chance that Elizabeth Banks learned a lot of practical things about being a director while hanging out with David Wain on Wet Hot American Summer. Sure, she's directed other movies. But I can't imagine but helped there was a little bit of inspiration out there in the ether, encouraging to revisit that moment fondly.
Okay, now to the normal blog. You all overhyped this movie, okay? I can't say that I'm immune to the allure of ironic movies. I mean, I've seen them. My buddies and I went to a late show of Snakes on a Plane and passed around a flask (I didn't partake, but I like to give myself a little bit of an edge because my morality at this point comes across as boring.) I've seen The Room. I own way too many Mystery Science Theater box sets to think that I'm above watching things ironically. But we need to stop thinking that the new ironic movie had transcended because --BECAUSE --you guys gave me such hope! I thought that this was going to be the movie that got it. I thought it was going to be the movie that didn't rest on its laurels. I mean, the movie brings an insane premise. To a certain extent, there are elements that deliver. But this movie needed to be as coked up as the bear was. I think The Meg 2 is going to do that if I can base anything off of the trailer. But there's a real tight leash on this movie. There's studio money going into this and someone is sticking their neck out for the sake of the movie. But that's not good for something like Cocaine Bear.
It's funny that these movies exist, you know? I should just be thrilled about that. There was a time where there was nothing ironic about animal attack movies. Think about it. Jaws is still considered a classic today. But I think that these movies need to be ironic today. Maybe because it's that we use Jaws as a template. Listen, I love Jaws. It delights me to no end. But by today's standards, that movie is a crawler. But one thing that Jaws managed to pull of that no movie has really even attempted, shy of Jurassic Park by the same dude, is the animal attack masterpiece. In terms of Cocaine Bear, which established early on that this was meant to be hilarious, there isn't a huge body count in this movie. (Oh, maybe Cujo was an attempt, but didn't quite transcend.) Part of it comes from the notion that we both want to see the animal immediately and kind of get bored by the animal. Jaws never shows you the shark for the majority of the movie. It's something "out there". Something that your imagination has built into the unfathomable. The bear in Cocaine Bear is in the first minutes of the movie.
That's because the movie is ironic. The irony of the movie has to embrace the only salvagable parts of things like Sharknado and make you feel like you are on cocaine. (I genuinely have no idea what any drug is like, so be aware that any reference to rebel culture is just posturing by an English teacher with a film blog.) But again, this is where wishy-washy is the enemy of genius. This movie had two choices: artful and nuanced like Jaws or an-insane-mess like Shoot 'Em Up, a movie that I really need to watch again. Trying to live in both worlds only dilutes both options and that's what we get with Cocaine Bear. It's not to say that the movie is bad. I had fun with it for what it was. The movie is a fun movie. But I'm blaming everyone for making it their favorite movie ever. I have no problem with an insane and fun movie being people's favorite movies. I know that I'm the snobbiest dude that ever existed, but I can appreciate a good time at the movie theater. My biggest problem is that people like saying that Cocaine Bear is their favorite movie. There's no way, right? It's just a fun survival movie that's a little cheeky. That's it.
Can I tell you the most bananas thing about the movie? I've gone on long tirades about how survival movies always have kids who make it through the movie. This movie doesn't break that trend. That's disappointing, but expected. (It's not that I want dead kids in movies. It's just that those kids have such plot armor and, instead of upping the stakes, lowers them.) The most insane thing is that they had these kids try drugs. Before you laugh, knowing that these kids ate drugs and the joke is that you shouldn't eat drugs if you are going to do drugs, those kids have cocaine in their systems. I don't know how that wasn't the focus of the rest of the movie. But it also exposes one really weird thing about the movie: what cocaine is in this movie.
For the sake of both plot and humor, the role of cocaine is a battery. The bear in the real life encounter died almost immediately after eating cocaine, because that's how cocaine works. That's the only real thing in this movie. A bear once ate a lot of cocaine. But that's where the story ends. But in this one, the cocaine is what keeps the bear going. I mean, I kind of love that. It might be my favorite part of the movie. It kind of makes cocaine somehow this magic elixir that makes the bear spit out bullets. (The entire movie should have that kind of bananas logic. I mean, why stop at the bear? Why not have the kids become feral monsters, murdering everything in their paths?) I mean, I was waiting for those baby bears, all drizzled in sweet, sweet cocaine to start something. It was right there. But this leads to my most disappointing moment: the conclusion.
The entire movie is a flee from this bear that is going to maul anything it sees. I don't know why the bear is forgiving of human children. There's a weird element to the movie where they really stress that the cocaine bear is a mother that is just trying to protect its babies. But did we forget that this bear is motivated by nonstop ingestion of cocaine? Where did that "protect the babies" thing comes from? And that's why this movie needs to define itself a little better. That conclusion was anticlimactic as could be. I thought we were going to have a massive body count at the end. Sari spends the movie trying to save her kid from the bear, who has taken her. Why it doesn't eat her doesn't make sense to me. It ate Elsa and she had zero cocaine as far as I could tell. But Sari finds Dee Dee and they leave as the bear kills Syd? Okay, they got away from the drug dealer who is the secondary antagonist. But remember how there's a cocaine bear who might kill everyone? Everyone seems so calm knowing that Syd was being eaten by the cocaine bear and its cubs. Why is that the end of the story? That bear is still full of cocaine. According to the rules of the movie, if the bear is full of cocaine, it will murder everything in sight. We saw that with the EMTs. We saw that with Margot Martindale (who wins MVP for the movie, by the way). Why do they think that they're in the clear? How is there not a showdown between Sari and the bear? That's the movie. Right there. Instead, they just walk away from the bear? No. Anti-climax.
So I'm left thinking that Cocaine Bear is just another movie. It's Rise of Skywalkering me. Yeah, I said it. This movie is fine and it needs to be either amazing or terrible. It's neither. Instead, I can just say that I saw it, which is not where I want to land on Cocaine Bear. Also, I feel like I've been misspelling "cocaine" this whole time. I'm pretty sure I haven't. Either way. This movie needs more in one direction or another.
Not rated because it's a Cuban film from 1968. It's got a lot of questionable material though. Rape and general sexual assault is commonplace thoughout the movie, especially in the first vignette. This is on screen along with nudity. Sexuality is a key motif throughout all three pieces. Spousal abuse plays a large role within the third vignette. There is also violence leading to death, which includes nudity while the violence is happening. There's one f-bomb, so really they're cover the gamut of things that kids shouldn't walk in on.
DIRECTOR: Humberto Solas
I almost broke my own rules. I almost decided to sit down and write this while I was watching this. I know, this is fascinating to the reader, but I also wanted to really break down each individual story in separate pieces, despite being in the same movie directed by the same person. Part of that comes from the fact that the film does hold one voice. With anthology films, there is a responsibility to talk to the individual work and to the work as a whole. Also, it was the weekend and I didn't feel like it. It was Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom weekend with a dash of Star Wars: Jedi Survivor so maybe I decided to follow my own rules.
Speaking on the work as a whole, man this is a good looking movie. I can't help but point out the transfer, something that I never make a big deal about. My goodness, the 4K transfer makes this movie look so good that I really question whether or not it was made in 1968. Golly, it's so clean and so modern looking. It has that same cleanliness that something like The Artist had, giving it the feeling of a 21st Century filmmaking but trying to make it look retro. Also, Solas is not afraid of light. Golly, this movie is defined by its use of light. This movie is the anti-noir. Often, a movie will be gorgeous because of its use of the negative space. But Solas (his name seems appropriate right now) is about the use of white space. You could read by the light of this movie it is so bright. But it works. It's what makes the movie look like something special. I don't think a lot of movies have this kind of visual element to their palate. It's complex and personal. Solas also keeps the focus on the individual protagonist, even when there are war sequences. The camera gets close, almost invading the space of the actors. To a certain extent, it creates a sense of melodrama behind all of the stories because everything is so intimate when it comes to emoting. But man alive, it's gorgeous as a film.
The only downside to a film like this comes on my part. Like when I had a problem with Argentina 1985, there requires a little bit of local knowledge for me to really get the dynamics of things happening in the movie. Scorsese introduces this movie as part of the Cuban propaganda machine. I kind of get that. In fact, I can probably list this as professional development because I'm going to be talking about this movie when it comes to the role of Soviet cinema. But these movies are fundamentally political. Now, as much as I pretend to not understand the movie I watched intellectually, I think I get it. But I also have to consider that I was never meant to see this movie. It's actually a key concept when watching this movie is that I'm the intellectual Yankee who is picking this apart. Instead, this movie is speaking to the heart of the patriot, proud of the land of Cuba. Maybe I'm well-read. Maybe I'm not. But that last section really screams that I'm being taught about the dangers of ignorance and that the government really has the citizens' best interest in mind. Okay, now to focus on the dividual films.
It's the most epic one, that's for sure. The first movie has the hardest sell and I get the vibe that Solas is giving his all for this one. There's something a bit off about this being a short, however. The story has this message about women being used while having the allegory about the evils of Spain. But the allegory kind of feels...mixed? Again, this can come down to the notion that I don't understand a lot about Cuban history. But the setting plays the foundational role in "1895". Everything is colored by the war between Cuba and Spain. The fact that the male love interest is half-Cuban and half-Spanish makes him representative of the role that Spain has in Cuba. Lucia loves him, but what she loves is a lie. After all, he has a wife and child in Spain. There's a moment where she despises him and that seems where the story should end. After all, it works for the allegory. From a propaganda perspective, Spain seems like the wholesome homeland, spouting works of love and support while, in fact, it is more obsessed with the domestic than losing anything in terms of ownership.
Lucia, as a representative of Cuba, is treated more as an object. While she values her Spanish heritage and loves it in the form of a significant other, that love isn't reciprocated in the way that she thinks it is. If the entire movie is about revolution from Spain, her romance needs to reflect that. Now, I'm trying to make the allegory work, so please be patient. I understand that for all of Rafael (?)'s lies, there is a romantic element to that relationship. In some ways, Lucia will always love Rafael, despite his lies. Rafael, in turn, probably believes that he loves Lucia. But there is a discrepency of intention there. Maybe Solas wants to sell the notion that, for all of the bad blood between two countries, there will always be a love there. But that final sequence screams "weak woman" in the face of sexual assault. She has this rallying sequence where she hates what Rafael has done to her. She seems like she is going to destroy him at the abandoned church, but she submits to his physical pestering. It makes the rape of the nuns an odder sequence because Lucia does not learn the lesson that she's presented with earlier. Perhaps the whole thing is a cautionary tale, presenting Lucia as the flawed woman who should not harbor wistful feelings toward Spain.
The middle one is the hardest one to remember always. What's the middle one? Oh, right. It's the even more complicated revolutionary piece. Again, my own weakness is the lack of knowledge in this piece of history. I like that Solas allows for what seems like a healthier relationship than what we saw in the "1895" segment. There's still something completely screwy about their romance, but there's something far more sympathetic about this doomed relationship. This is the piece that possibly has the most healthy romantic overtones, you know, despite the fact that he dies from his own involvement in the revolution. My only guess is that this is a warning against future revolutions. You know, some revolutions are fine and some aren't. (You know, this would have been a really sarcastic comment if we didn't have both the American Revolution and Jan. 6.)
But this is actually kind of a heartbreaking story. Lucia, in this one, seems to find herself because of her bond with her husband. It is the rising from a sense of childhood that makes the relationship something greater than what it starts with. Her overbearing mother can only view men through the lens that she sees with her husband / Lucia's father (unless I completely misunderstood that dynamic, which might be the case! I told you that I wanted to write these things in real time so I would remember details better.) Her beau (whose name I may never have gotten and I lack a good summary page to explain these things) seems to have the betterment of society ahead of him. But he views the world through a lens of corruption. Something in him has broken with the violence he has taken place with. Admittedly, he's not paranoid. Those around him quickly seem to be taking the places of the oppressors that they strove to remove from office. But that's the heartbreaking things. It's this knowledge that, in youth, evil seems like such a distant concept. There's that thought that if we got rid of "those" people, the world would be a better place. When we grow up, "those" people are the people that occupy our neighborhoods. They hold gross perspectives on things and you're just supposed to live with them.
Now Martin Scorsese is bothering me a bit. From an educated perspective, I get what he's saying. In the intro to the "196..." section, he calls it a comedy. In terms of technique and neoclassical precepts, you might be able to squint and see this as a comedy. After all, the first two are such clear tragedies that any kind of shift in intensity gives it comic vibes. Also, no one dies, so there's that. I even want to go as far as to say that Solas probably thinks that this is his comic piece, making Scorsese in the right. But good God, this segment is deeply disturbing. It's got funny music. It's got a kid laughing as the woman and her husband fight on the beach. It even has some mild sex jokes. But from any contemporary perspective, it would be a haunting story of domestic abuse. But again, this movie was made in 1968 Cuba. Who am I to say what is considered inappropriate from this perspective. For a good chunk of the movie, including elements from this vignette, there's the notion of the strong woman powering through. As a propaganda piece, it's about abandoning the old Cuba for the progressive future of Cuba, where women must learn to read and write and are not the slaves of their husbands. Cool.
But then she goes back to him. And that's apparently where the joke lies. The entire movie, she is kept hostage by her husband, who tells her she may not work or interact with anybody. Perhaps there's an element of his character which seems so extreme that it may come across as comic. But we all know this really happened to many people, right? The husband's extreme jealousy becomes greater and greater and he gets scarier and scarier. The thing is, the movie knows that the husband is outright villainish. It's why the tutor instructs Lucia to escape. She even does and there's nothing really played for laughs, with the exception of the soundtrack. In terms of making things funny, the only thing that makes the tone lighter in this movie is the boisterous soundtrack that has a moralistic narrator describing the events of the movie. I honestly could replace the soundtrack with something more haunting and this segment would match the tone of the other movies. Maybe that's Solas's thing. Maybe he's really good at making movies where women are tortured because of the faults of the men. But the music kind of kills it for the last one.
But at the end of the day, these shorts were dope. They were gorgeous films that I can't imagine being made in 1968. Do I think I'll watch more Cuban movies? I don't know. It's not like I have a vast knowledge of Cuban cinema. But that being said, this was was pretty solid.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
Not rated and I don't even know where to take this review. Fundamentally, this is a movie about sexuality. But knowing that it is a Hollywoodized adaptation for a movie about far more than what we're seeing on screen, it's both raw and intense while simultanously being overly sanitized for America's protection. It does involve cruelty and drinking and there is a lot of sex talk. Also, there's the love for the Confederacy that was part of Lost Cause Theory in this one. Still, not rated.
DIRECTOR: Richard Brooks
I did something that is very not me. I watched the movie before I read the play. That's something I shouldn't do with a movie that has a history like this. I knew that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was a thematic departure from Tennessee Williams's original script. There's a reason that he didn't get credit for writing this script, even as a co-author. It's because this is a movie that is so afraid of saying anything that it's a miracle that some people can still consider the movie to be a classic. Okay, let me give a little background and it might give me the inspiration to write for the next half-hour.
Next week, I'm teaching A Streetcar Named Desire. It's going to be a speedrun, unfortunately. (Completely off-topic, it was an incredibly productive year.) But I show a little documentary on Tennessee Williams and I know all about his homosexuality and the drinking and the suicide in the family. The documentary goes into Cat on a Hot Tin Roof a lot, so I thought that I should finally catch up on that one. Normally, I watch a staged production of the play before watching the movie. Why not read the play? Because plays are meant to be seen. (Then I read it. I'm obsessive and it's probably healthy that I'm bending instead of staying rigid.) But I Googled and couldn't find a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that was filmed available that wasn't amateur footage of a college production. (I'm also super judgey, I realize.) So I was stuck with the film version, which is considered a classic. Anyway, I know that the documentary mentioned that the movie version had to make some pretty intense changes because it was going to be made into a film. So I did some research, read some summaries, and boy...those changes are substantial.
The story of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is first and foremost about the shame of homosexuality. Dealing with Tennessee Williams's own status in society, he has Brick being the avatar for him. This is a guy who feels washed up and a has been. He was the star and forced into a world where heterosexuality is expected of him. His stardom overwhelms his sense of self. Okay. But that's not the movie. The movie is all about being a has-been and just not loving his wife. That's a very different story. Brick, in the movie, comes across as a bit of a narcissist (which I bet is probably true in the play too). But while the play version of the story has an unstoppable force (the need for an heir from Brick) meeting an immovable object (the fact that he is unable to be attracted to women), this immovable object is replaced by something that comes-and-goes with the weather, romance. The stakes are so much different in the movie because of this. All of the responsibility falls on Brick in the movie. All he has to do is stop drinking and make love to his wife. The problem is solved. There's a male heir for Big Daddy and that's the root of the problem. You are allowed to yell at someone for being unappreciative and drinking too much. You can't really yell at someone to stop being gay.
It's kind of what makes the ending of the movie a hot mess. Man, the end does not feel like the rest of the story at all. There's no scenario where Tennessee Williams wrote that ending. From what I know about Williams, he's the guy who says that some problems can't be solved; they can just get worse. But then there's this movie, which tonally changes and Brick just gets his act together in a minute. Maggie comes across as entirely too sympathetic in this movie. She still does that really odd thing, pretending to be pregnant to ensure that Gooper and Mae don't have a claim to Big Daddy's estate. But that problem is mostly solved by the agreement that they're going to try. I know that the play has Brick taking sympathy on Maggie by getting her out of that jam, but that's a stay of execution versus a solution to the problems that Big Daddy is facing. Like, I don't know. I can't stress enough how much the movie misses the point of the play because it censored the key conceit of the story. Why even make a movie? (I mean, the answer is clearly money. Tennessee Williams was a marketable name at the time and people be wanting money.)
But let's watch the movie for being a movie. Sometimes, knowledge isn't power. It's thing that cripples you and my anxiety is spiraling into a light depression right now. My writing has just defined my feelings. Anyway, without the homosexual thing, the Skipper thing is super cryptic. It's almost too cryptic for the story. So the thing that Brick is hung up about is that his wife seduced Skipper and didn't follow through on it? I mean, sure, that would make me mad too. But the bigger takeaway is that HBO's Succession owes a lot to the film version of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. This was a coincidence, of course. We're on the finale of season two and the parallels are hilariously on point. But it is an interesting story with really weird acting. Part of that comes from the very on-point Tennessee Williams nicknames that everyone seems to really hold onto quite tightly. It's so hard to take the acting seriously when everyone's like "Sister Woman" this and "Big Daddy" that. I know. It's Paul Newman and Elizabeth Taylor. I thing they do a fine job (although Brick is just a bit too handsome for that role and I can't stop thinking of Tennessee Williams in that role). But it's a lot.
I will say, though, give me 20 minutes and I was hooked. I was anti-the movie for a long time. I wanted to like it from moment one, but it has a lot of stuff thrown at me. But once I was in, I was really in. Sure, the play would probably wreck me. But the movie started picking up once dynamics were messed with. The thing about the beginning of the movie is that Brick is a bully from moment one. I'm so used to Stanley and Blanche being a give and take. I don't see a lot of that in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Instead, there's a desperation in Maggie that Brick chooses to negate a lot. But then when the tables are turned and Brick has to confront Big Daddy, there's something fascinating about something else to play in that moment.[ As the film continues, Brick then re-establishes control over Big Daddy. With the case of the film, it's implied that Brick instantenously got over his alcoholism. But it is in that moment that the story progresses into something that is complex. Now, I don't know about the love comment. I know what the movie is trying to say about love versus ownership. I know that Big Daddy is meant to represent domineering male personas and corporate America / the Glory of the Old South. But it also seems like a really simplistic view about love.
I do believe that Brick hits the nail on the head when he says that Big Daddy doesn't love his wife. There's a real point to be made there. But buying her things wasn't exclusively about ownership. It's about being illiterate emotionally (I'm darned proud of those words combined). Big Daddy has grown so big in his britches (oh, now, the movie has me doing it!) that he forgot what it means to be a normal person. Part of that comes from his environment. Everyone is fawning over him because of his money that he forgot what real love looks like. I want to believe that his wife really loves him, but she's so overshadowed by play acting all day that he forgets what he saw in his wife to begin with. It's frustrating, because Big Daddy isn't a villain in that scene, which Brick plays up a bit. I actually have a lot of empathy for Big Daddy because he's so lost that it's heartbreaking.
It's a good movie by itself, but it is completely tarnished by the fact that it loses the point of the original play. Too much knowledge hurt in this case.
F9: The Fast Saga (2021)
PG-13 for cartoonish violence and some language. Most of this language is associated with childish insults, so it's pretty innocuous. But it still is a Fast and the Furious film, so just keep the vibe. These movies, in terms of sexual content, have actually grown more tame over time and borderline on superhero films at this point. A lot of people should be dead, but few are. One guy gets blown up with a grenade. I'm sure there are other quick deaths, but the body count should be way higher than it is.
DIRECTOR: Justin Lin
Is this really the 20th anniversary movie of the first Fast and the Furious movie? Oh my. Why am I watching F9 out of nowhere? I mean, the new movie is coming out. But the bigger point is that I've watched this many Fast and Furious movies, mind as well just maintain the collection. While looking for a picture to put on this blog, I ran across a headline for a review of the film that absolutely beat me to the punch on this one. Don't feel bad for me. It made me feel validated on my opinions because it was dead on.
"F9 is too much." One thing that saved The Fast and the Furious franchise is its gleeful absurdity. The second these movies realized that this story should have nothing to do with reality, the movies got fun. Even a guy like me who is, unfortunately, hyper-critical at times (some accuse me of liking everything. It doesn't make me NOT a judgmental turd a lot of the time), I have fun with a lot of the later movies once they abandon the whole car-crimes thing. But maybe this shouldn't be a franchise comprising of nine/soon ten movies plus a spin-off. I was thinking of how insane it is that there are a lot of Fast movies and whether or not these movies would have the same cultural permeability that, say, the James Bond movies would have on the zeitgeist. I can't imagine so. But then again, my generation is starting to be considered one of the older generations. The way we view cultural impact is different. The Fast movies are these silly car movies that clearly people keep coming back to because they keep making them. I'm sure that Vin Diesel is thrilled about it. It's the thing that really cemented him in our collective consciousnesses.
But as silly as these movies are, this one is silly even for the franchise. I've always had a problem with how people just survive things that should absolutely kill them. F9 isn't ignorant of this problem. It's this whole subplot / running gag with Roman and Tej. Someone at their computer had to address the elephant in the room that people are somehow able to survive anything. But having Roman talk about how no one should be able to survive the things that they survive is the equivalent of "Somehow, Palpatine returned." It's kind of lazy and a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card for the franchise. And boy, it gets really bad. People don't even seem to get injured anymore. Dom has no right ot be alive in this movie for one of the accidents, let alone all of the accidents. There's a scene where Dom drives really fast (I should leave the sentence there) at a cable. He somehow knows that if he drives really quickly at the cable, it will latch onto the car and swing him across an ungappable ravine. Okay, that's where most Fast movies end. We can accept that because the series has told us that physics doesn't matter. But then the car rappels the cab only to get completely demolished on the other side. Dom and Letty? Joking about how crazy Dom is. That's not okay. That impact would have killed anyone on the planet. There was no getting out of that. At least lie to me and say that they were hurt and there's a time gap where they got better.
I don't know why I need that lie all of the sudden. I just know that Dom's little tank at the end was hit by missles and he just rolled out of it. The other little bad guy survived a lot of that too. He only died because it was time for him to die. Action films lose their stakes if people can just walk away from anything. I keep using James Bond movies as touchstones for action films because I know them very well. They've also committed this crime in Die Another Day. What I really like about the Daniel Craig movies is that there are these absurd action pieces where physics can be completely ignored. But Craig's Bond takes damage. As much of a powerhouse that version of Bond is --similar to the powerhouse archetype that Dom is --Bond often is injured. The entire premise of Skyfall is the fact that you can't survive everything. So many people should have died. I can safely say that there's a good chance that Dom should have died at least a dozen times in this movie. Nothing matters at that point. The movie just decides what is survivable and what isn't at any point in the film.
Even worse --and this is a commentary on the whole franchise --death doesn't stick. I know, the comic book guy is whining about people coming back from the dead, but it's silly when it comes to Dom's world. No one on the planet has had the real world experience of confirmed death and someone coming back. We've had people give up hope. We've had extreme cases of people faking their death without bodies. But Dom has had two significant people in his life die and then come back. Man, one of those would have been pushing it. But two? Letty and Han can't both live in worlds where their deaths can be faked so realistically, despite people viewing their deaths. It's so much. And it's got a lot of "Palpatine returned" elements to it. A good chunk of this movie is devoted to having Han return. Listen, I think that weaving Tokyo Drift back into the franchise is kind of fun and nice. But that explanation for how Han survived is so underbaked. In fact, like Roman's commentary on invincibility, he's shushed the second that anyone points out that it doesn't make sense. Death needs to be something with consequences. This movie even gave Dom a clear goodbye death scene AND THEN IMMEDIATELY TOOK IT BACK. I'm not talking about a death fakeout. That's what Roman had. I'm talking about the sad music, the slow motion fall, AN ENTIRE GRAIN SILO COLLAPSING AROUND HIM, goodbye and all. You can't keep pulling that card and expect people to have investment in life or death.
The thing that bugs me is that, while lots of franchises have formulas, this is the one that tries to hide it the least. Something something something spy equipment coupled with ANOTHER of Dom's secret family members who is on the outs. Lather, rinse, repeat. I could not tell you what the Macguffin did, not because the movie didn't explain it, but because I just didn't care. They're all the same. The threat never really felt real. I knew that John Cena wasn't going to be the big bad of the franchise. Also, Charlize Theron was in the movie for practically no reason except to remind you that she's the big bad and that everyone is going to have to team up to beat her in the next one. Golly, if there's ever been something that really sells the notion of a stop-gap movie, it's stuff like that. If I asked an AI to write a Fast and the Furious sequel, it would look exactly like this. There's nothing new here. Nothing is a surprise. It's just explosions and lines about "family." There's a reason that there's a meme about Vin Diesel saying "Family" a lot. It's not a motif if that's all you do to make a new movie. It also makes no sense that Jakob existed before this point. He would have been the main point of conversation so many times. It's got that whole, "Everyone knows Spock" thing that Star Trek kind of sucks at.
I'm really on a tear now. I'm sorry if you liked this movie and it's not like I hated it, but it's silly to the Nth degree. The magnets? Listen, each of these movies has its gimmick to make car chases somehow different. I like the idea of super powerful electromagnets to throw cars around. It's just that...those magnets were the most trained magnets ever. They only picked up and spun around what the characters needed them to do. Instead of being magnets, they were giant hands just swinging cars around. All this probably comes across as nitpicking, but it's just telltale signs that the series is cutting corners for the sake of money. It's not like the Fast series is about elevated art, but there's also just not caring to a certain extent. That might be a bit unfair. I'm sure that there are people behind this franchise who are really gatekeeping the heck out of it. But if anything, this feels like a quasi-penultimate (I say that because the last "film" is actually split into two movies.) movie that is just getting out of the way of a much more epic film. I don't know.
This franchise started off with me scoffing at it. Then I had a lot of fun with it. Now I'm back to scoffing, but still having a little bit of fun. I'd sooner watch F9 over The Fast and the Furious, but that's not an impressive sell.
PG-13 for being pretty terrifying. Okay, before I forget, this movie has the same swearing as the other Guardians movies, only this time there's an f-bomb. I have to thank Marvel for releasing that scene early so I could prep my kid to not hear that word. But back to the body horror that is Guardians 3. It's a movie about animal cruelty, so the torture elements are out in force with this film. It's a lot and my son really didn't care for how in-your-face a lot of the visuals were. Couple that with some pretty intense violence and I would consider this one to be intense. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: James Gunn
Man, I'm upsetting people with this take. This might be my least favorite Guardians of the Galaxy movie, but that doesn't mean it did a thing wrong. It is a great movie that did exactly what it needed to do. It's just that...man, it was bleak as could be, right? The movie is an exercise in Chekhov's gun. For multiple films, Rocket says that he can't talk about his past because it is so traumatizing. In the final act, he has to talk about it. I mean, James Gunn couldn't leave this franchise and close up his story without full-on addressing the horrors that Rocket went through.
And to his credit, he didn't play it down. This trauma was as bad as Rocket has been teasing. I don't know if it outdoes Nebula's. It's the one line that kind of threw me. Nebula viewed the data in Rocket and saw that the High Evolutionary was a monster and immediately sort of forgives Thanos for being lesser than the High Evolutionary. I mean, low-key disagree. Thanos took Nebula apart and put her back together for fun. Also, humans. The High Evolutionary is the Victor Frankenstein of the MCU. (Except for the fact that Frankenstein exists in the Marvel comics, I think. I know Franken-Castle exists, but that's a different beast altogether. Pun intended.) The High Evolutionary is completely callous. He's a great villain. But he also has this idea that he can make the universe better. He knows that there's something inside potentiality that could be unlocked by someone smart enough to play God, so he plays God. It's awful, but from his perpsective, he's doing what needs to be done. I'm in no way defending animal testing here, but it's not like the High Evolutionary is the only guy to make this choice. People have tested on animals for far less altruistic moments. I still think that Thanos is more evil. That doesn't change the fact that the High Evolutionary might be a near top-tier villain.
Okay, back to the point. It's odd how this movie is fundamentally a Rocket Raccoon movie, but actually feels like it has the least amount of Rocket in it. Part of the movie is a desperate attempt to hold onto something that we used to have. Between the loss of Gamora to retcon and Rocket unconscious, Gunn intentionally paints the film as "something is off" about this team. For as close as they are and have learned the lessons of embracing a found family, people change and move on. Nostalgia is the happy sadness of a memory that will never return. Gunn putting Rocket on a gurney the entire time removes such a powerful dynamic to a team that really needs his cynicism. It's not that the Guardians of the Galaxy aren't all cynical in some way or another. It's just that Rocket's specific brand of cynicism is heavily missing in this film. I need someone to poo-poo everything really hard. I need someone to be that agent of chaos who marches to the beat of his own drum, despite the fact that so much of the plan rests on his shoulders. But that is removed. We get Rocket, but we get a sweet, martyred Rocket for the majority of the film. There are moments where we felt honest sympathy for Rocket in the previous movie. But this movie is the gut-punch. Rocket kind of balances his misery with his caustic behavior in the previous films. This Rocket is just beating up on a kid.
Now, as progressive as I come across (to the point of annoyance, I'd say), I'm not really an animal guy. I'm not pro-hurting animals. It's just that my attentions are focused elsewhere. But Gunn must be someone who takes this message seriously because he does this gorgeous thing about making each animal a real, fleshed out character that crushes in every scene involved. I'll be honest, maybe I had a harder time with Floor than the othe rmembers of the HIgh Evolutionary's prison. But Lylla is someone that is for the books. When I think back on this movie, as much as I'll think of this being a movie about Rocket, it's really because of Lylla that I'll be thinking about it. Lylla is a balance of mother and sibling in this story. If Peter Quill has Mommy issues all through the franchise, we have to remember that this movie is about the loss of parents, whether welcome or no. Lylla needs to be the story of Rocket's biological mother. Now, all the flags are going up. They should. But the High Evolutionary's entire gig is to take animals and give them sentience. It's heavily implied that Rocket has no memories of life as a raccoon. When he meets Lylla, he bonds with her on a maternal level. She, too, views Rocket from that maternal perspective. She's the one who comes up with the idea of naming selves. It's not one-for-one, but she borderline gives Rocket his name.
This is also a great break-up movie. Yeah, I was rooting for Peter Quill and Gamora too. But considering that the movie ends with a healthy breakup of the team --no one hating each other, but just going separate ways --it's appropriate that Gamora and Peter Quill stick a fork in it. Part of me wondered how they were going to get Gamora and Quill together again. I mean, Gamora had changed so much. And there was always this little tease that somehow, he was going to get her back. But realistically, that Gamora was not the same person that Peter had fallen in love with. Sure, sure, it would have been kind of hilarious to have Peter Quill and Nebula together. I think it works better as a joke and that's what ultimately happens. But this is a story about moving on. That's what makes Drax's conclusion to this story so poignant. Yeah, Gunn really calls a spade a spade in this one. It's the first time that people have addressed Drax's stupidity as a liability and it is a hard moment to watch. Drax is my guy. I know that Dave Bautista doesn't want to be Drax ever again, but I love Drax. When Nebula full on scars him and Mantis has to do some morally dubious mind-erasing, it's a moment.
But still, we understand that Drax isn't an idiot. He lives a life that gets him through trauma. When he speaks the kids' language, it's simply assumed that he would be the least qualified to communicate an idea. Sure, I don't know why he does the monkey-robot thing if he can just talk to them, but that's also kind of being a dad. He knows that the kids are scared of them and he knows what makes kids laugh. Giving him this moment when he can bond with these children who have lost everything is such a good turn of character for him. Drax is an odd character. He is incredibly rude, but part of the bit is that he doesn't think that he's incredibly rude. The films haven't forgotten that he has lost everything up to this point and that his biggest wound is his loss of actual family. But he's called the Destroyer because he's so violent. But Drax seems to thrive in community more than anything else. Giving him a massive family is the key to giving Drax a good ending and I adore that.
When a movie franchise says goodbye, it almost feels like it has to telegraph that sentiment by having long-running speeches and held camera shots. It beats us over the head. I mean, saying goodbye to Jodie Whittaker's Doctor, especially when it came to Yaz, almost bored me despite the fact that I liked her character (not the story, but her character). But Gunn subtlely lets us say goodbye. He makes the story about healing and moving on and I absolutely adored how he pulled it off. It's a solid conclusion to a trilogy. The weird part is that it will be the one I watch the least. But that's okay. A lot of good things are hard to watch sometimes.
Rated R because Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was X Rated. The movie is about this movie that pushed all of the boundaries. Mario Van Peebles's biopic about the making of that movie is more tame, but that doesn't mean that it is family friendly. There's nudity all throughout, often in the context of sexuality. But there's language pervading the film. Just because something is more tame in contrast, doesn't make it tame. Rated R.
DIRECTOR: Mario Van Peebles
It's so unfair that I have so many criticism of this movie. This is perhaps one of the most personal movies I've seen in a while and it drops the ball so hard that I just get a little depressed thinking about it. For those who don't know about Baadasssss!, it's a biopic for Mario Van Peebles's father's film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. I didn't love that movie either, but it wasn't made for me at all. I treat it as a fascinating historical piece of Civil Rights History because of its influence on the Black Panther movement. But I also think of this movie as a movie that is partially a crime for what it did to Mario Van Peebles. I have a lot of thoughts on my blog entry for Sweet Sweetback, so if you want a deeper dive after this is all said and done, you have that resource at your disposal.
The Van Peebles name actually showed up for me in high school in a movie I didn't care for, Highlander: The Final Dimension. I used to be a big Highlander fan, despite the fact that the movies may be kind of unwatchable for me now. But Highlander 3 starred Mario Van Peebles as the villain of the piece. Already, I have a weird connection with the guy, but then I found out that his dad kind of screwed him up. Listen, I'm not letting the beginning of Sweet Sweetback off the hook. I think Walt Whitman was quoting Emerson or someone about the complexity of people. People aren't one thing. I constantly point out my own hypocrisy on this page, so I suppose I should give Mario Van Peebles a chance. Van Peebles made a movie about his dad's most famous and influential movie. His dad, Melvin Van Peebles, made one of the most insane movies ever made and it changed Black cinema forever. It was funamentally and intentionally abrasive. It was meant to be a movie for Black people without giving any concern to how White America would have felt about it. But in the process, I'm going to say that Mario Van Peebles was raped because his dad wanted to get a rebellious shot. The beginning of Sweet Sweetback has Mario as a younger version of the eponymous protagonist losing his virginity to an older woman on camera.
(I'm sorry to use first names as shorthand, but the movie is Mario Van Peebles portraying his father, Melvin Van Peebles. Calling them "Mario" and "Melvin" is just to minimize confusion.)
The movie, made by Mario, discusses the morality of this sequence. It is kind of damning. But can I also say that it is only kind of damning. In an attempt to preserve Melvin's legacy, it kind of gives Melvin a pass. Now, I'm a son who is making a movie about my dad who is still alive. He's also looked at by history as a visionary civil rights leader and director. Do I feel comfortable taking my dad down? It's not like Melvin's crimes are completely whitewashed in this movie. But at the same time, some of the rough edges come off in the making of Baadasssss!. Because the movie doesn't really take a hard stance for or against Melvin, a lot of Melvin's crimes come across as eccentricities or stress-motivated. I don't care for that one bit. The movie sets up Melvin as a guy who doesn't really live in our world. There's something outside of reality for Melvin. A lot of that comes from fighting the good fight. But again, this is Mario making a movie about his dad. Mario is a character in the movei. There's this real split about who Melvin really is because Mario is writing about his own experience with his dad during these events, but he's also using his dad's journal to make the movie.
Because there are two very disparate sources of information -- emotional memory and potentially an unreliable narrator -- there is no actual consensus to who Melvin is. He's either this great director who had to put everything on the line to work with incompetents, or he was an abusive jerk who lashed out without reason. To a certain extent, I have to defer to Emerson; maybe he was both. He probably was. But we're seeing this all through the narrative of Mario Van Peebles, a grown man who is still a kid, scarred by his dad's behavior. The entire movie has the vibe of an abuse victim. He hates the abuse, but loves the abuser. There's something really sad about the movie because Mario's cries for help are whimpers in this movie. This seems like I am bullying Mario Van Peebles. Listen, I'm just a big advocate for mental help and I think that Mario kind of needs it. Who am I to diagnose this guy? I'm a guy with a Weebly account and that's it. But I just kept seeing these moments where I felt like Mario wanted to scream something profound, but it just got buried under his father's legacy. The rape of Mario Van Peebles is such a small part of the movie that let's his dad off the hook, between highlighting concessions that Melvin made and the positive feedback that others gave Mario, that I feel icky that this movie exists.
Now, if I had to move on beyond that point, there's a lot of misfires happening. Occasionally, I would watch the movie and point out competence. But Mario's movie does not have the narrative quality that Melvin's film did. Both movies are made on a shoestring budget. It's key to understanding Sweet Sweetback. That movie was done on the super-cheap that it was a miracle that it was ever made. But that cheapness came from the fact that Melvin Van Peebles divorced himself from the studio system when he wouldn't play well with others. (He absolutely shouldn't have played well with others, so keep that in mind.) Mario's movie reads as equally cheap, but without having the benefit of the freedom of storytelling. I'm not saying that Mario would have made something life-changing had he chosen not to get in bed with Showtime Pictures, but everything about this movie screams that it was made to be shopped to a distributor for little money. The filmmaking style comes across more like community theater than the guerilla filmmaking that his father employed.
It's not that Mario didn't have an artistic voice. He totally did. But they exist as moments in the story, not the story in total. They are all disparate elements that lack cohesion. For instance, there's a scene of Mario on the ceiling as an angel. It really has no tie to the story as a whole. Mario as Melvin would often talk to Mario as Melvin as Sweetback as a means to convey Melvin's frustration with the production process in general. But that Sweetback character is more used as a practical thing than it was a real issue that Melvin dealt with. It doesn't really help the movie. Also, large amounts of the story are told in voiceover. It's not like the film was all voiceover. It's just when moments needed to be truncated. There was one artistic element that I kind of liked, the faux-documentary style of character interviews. But because so many other artistic choices were being made, it lessened the impact of those documentary conversations. Those interviews would have worked, by the way, by themselves. Mario made the right decision to have real interviews with the actual peopel involved during the closing credits and that was effective, even if one of the interviewees was Bill Cosby. (We didn't know at the time! Also, Cosby, for all of his flaws, oddly had his fingers in a lot of moments of history.)
But the biggest disserve that Baadasssss! has is the fact that it doesn't sell Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song as the historical movie it was. I know that I could drop that name to a bunch of people and they wouldn't know what it was. Heck, without my history at the video store, I don't know that I could spout facts about the movie either. But the impact of this movie is neutered because of the lack of time devoted to what it did to society. In some ways, Dolemite is My Name follows a lot of the same beats that Baadasssss! does, but Dolemite is My Name is actually pretty darned fun. Dolemite is My Name knows what Dolemite's impact is on pop culture and sells it hard. It knows that it has importance, but also knows exactly where in the zeitgeist the movie falls. Even though I knew a lot of the stuff that was in Baadassss!, the film undersells the importance of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. If anything, it undersells a lot of things because it tries to do too much at the same time. That's the movie. It wants to just talk about this time period without having much to say. At the end of the day, this was about a movie that had a hard time being made. That's not a takeaway. Come down hard on something.
But also, you have to realize that I'm overly hard on biopics. It's not a surprise. I loved Dolemite is My Name because the movie itself became special. But biopics have the burden of reflecting reality and sometimes, reality isn't as interesting as fiction. When it is, I lose my mind. But when it's something like this, it oddly made Sweet Sweetback less special. I hope that Mario Van Peebles got something personal out of this movie because he needs that. But from an outside perspective, there's a lot of smoothed over edges when this thing should be as edgy as it gets.
Batman Begins (2005)
PG-13 for really intense action. I'm going to be writing about this a lot, but while Batman Begins is definitely a comic book movie, it's almost just a really intense Christopher Nolan movie. That means that a lot of the violence or scary parts don't necessarily come across as cartoon-y or fantasyesque and I'm not really sure why. Perhaps this movie is so cinematic, that it just seems scarier. Also, one of the villain's M.O.s is fear gas, so that makes things scary. There's also so mild language and moral debates about guns.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
Man alive, it's been a long time since I sat down and watched this movie. I forgot about how good it is. Honestly, I'm afraid to watch The Dark Knight now, because I know it's even better than this one. But I want to sit in a place in time where Batman Begins is potentially the best superhero movie of all time. I remember leaving this movie and thinking that there will never be a Superman movie as good as this and it depressed me. It all comes down to Christopher Nolan, by the way. There was a time where I don't know if I could put my finger on what made Batman Begins such a good movie. I think I have the words now.
I actually showed this movie to my Honors English IV class as they read The Count of Monte Cristo. I was really riding that fine line between "How educational is this?" and "Dear God, will my seniors please pay attention to something the last few weeks of school?" But I think I nailed it with educational value. They just did this compare and contrast presentation between Monte Cristo and Batman Begins that really took me back and made me reexamine the film from different perspectives. What I'm saying, seniors, is "Good job", I guess? I wouldn't show Dark Knight or Dark Knight Rises for that comparison, by the way. But because Batman Begins is the ur-origin story movie, a lot of it based on Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, it works so well as the story of a man stripping away his humanity to become a concept. Nolan doesn't exactly hide that theme in his movie either. Nolan verbalizes his intentions so clearly that my students were easily able cite elements of the joint themes clearly.
But because Batman Begins is so origin heavy, it almost becomes something outside of a comic book movie. It's not that Nolan is ashamed of comic books or the comic book movie. It's just that he wants to do a deep dive into a character that is both somehow universal and nearly impossible at the same time. Like with The Batman, there is a need to give the World's Greatest Detective an apocalyptic threat. But the meat of both movies comes from the notion of having to redefine oneself. Nolan, wisely, treats this as a global adventure. It's weird that we always lock Bruce Wayne in Gotham because he literally has the money to go anywhere and do anyhting. I've heard --and agreed with --so many people say that Bruce Wayne should just use his billions to renovate Gotham instead of pounding on poor people. But that's a different point. The fact that it takes a while to get to something that is proper Batman in this movie is pretty satisfying. A lot of movies forget that the heart of a good superhero story lies in the altar ego. It's why I forgive so much of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. It's because Peter Parker is perfect in those movies, even if Spider-Man is a little bit wooden.
I think I'll always prefer character over plot. Don't get me wrong, Batman Begins mostly nails both. The plot is tied into the character in a way that is incredibly satisfying. But I love that we don't realize that we lose the protagonist, young Bruce, fairly early in the film. One of the last lines of the movie is Rachel commenting on Bruce's mask. She claims, rightly so, that the Bruce Wayne of the end of the movie is not Bruce Wayne. Neither is Batman. He's potentially elsewhere. She's right. Nolan creates a third Wayne persona at the beginning of the story: mopey Bruce Wayne. It's a bit unfair. His parents were killed. But Nolan is almost aware of the absurdity of the Batman concept. Lots of people lose their families. Heck, I'm horrified to think of the sheer number of people who have lost their loved ones to violent crimes. (I'm sure that comic books would have us believe that all of us have lost our families to criminals post Detective Comics.) But there's this moment in the movie that is so small and yet, we see it as the death of a character. When Bruce is about to assassinate Joe Chill and Rachel scolds him, Carmine Falcone is the one who creates Batman.
God, I wish the movie just went a little further with this moment because it's one of the Batman elements that I actually really like. (Again, I'm a Superman guy.) Carmine Falcone talks to Bruce like no one else has dared talk to him. He refers to him as the Prince of Gotham and fabricates a story that Thomas Wayne begged for mercy. (It's a weird attack because Bruce was there and knew exactly how it went down. Maybe he's gaslighting him?) But Bruce walks out to Gotham Harbor and throws the gun into the water. I love how the abandonment of a gun makes Bruce Wayne disappear and institutes the birth of Batman. I mean, Nolan has regular bat imagery to stress that the form of Batman comes from Bruce's fear of that childhood trauma. But it's in the moment that the gun gets thrown in the harbor that we understand that Batman has killed young Bruce Wayne. Golly, so much I want to do, but I also know that this, to a certain extent, is a movie about restraint.
What makes Batman Begins such a powerful film is that it is fundamentally and primarily cinematic first, comic books second. The lesson that a lot of directors and studio head took from Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy is that movies have to be serious and dark. Batman Begins, in many aspects, is serious and dark. I don't necessarily call it a serious or dark movie, but I get where those descriptors come from. But it's not good because it is serious or dark. It's because it is crafted with nuance. Now, we're going to be walking a very fine line here, because we're going to empower the Snyderverse people here in a second. Both Nolan and Snyder are auteurs. I know that Nolan had his toe dipped into those early Man of Steel Snyderverse movies. But if I want to simplify an arguement before I even start one, Batman Begins is a better movie than anything Zack Snyder's made because Nolan is just a more talented director. Nolan knows how to tell a joke and balance that darkness with other stuff. It's never an experiment in cool. It's just Grade A storytelling that doesn't care that it's about Batman.
The fact is that the movie comes from a complete lack of shame. One of the most questionable choices in adaptation of comic books came from the Adam West Batman show. I don't blame the Adam West show. I kind of liked it when I was a kid. But there was the understanding that comic books are-and-always-would-be something for kids. It took a lot of movement away from Batman when stuff like Superman: The Movie came out and even more so when Tim Burton's 1989 version of Batman came out. Because studio execs would use Adam West's Batman as a touchstone, even if a director chose to not use Batman as a template, there is still the active decision to go against what West's Batman presented. But there's something that is quintessentially Christopher Nolan about Batman Begins that almost makes it a crime that Batman Begins had two sequels. I know. The Dark Knight is not just a great comic book movie; it's a great movie period. But Batman Begins is also a solid piece of cinema. It's compelling and well-filmed. Its narrative is captivating and its visuals are borderline unmatched.
But I do want to nitpick. Nothing I say will be new. There's nothing controversial to what I'm about to write. Christian Bale makes an amazing Bruce Wayne, but an absolutely silly Batman. Sure, I'm not the first person to point out the voice, but I do have to mention it. But do you know what I have a bigger problem with? I have a bigger problem with the costume. They really fix it in later Dark Knight movies, but golly the costume just looks bad. But for as much as I complain about stuff that they just didn't get right, the attention to detail in other matters is far more interesting. Can we have a conversation about how Christopher Nolan made Scarecrow stuff scary by showing elements that are only on-screen for seconds? The scene of Scarecrow's Batman hallucination are something else. It's only there for a moment. It's borderline blink-and-you'll-miss it. Yet, that's the stuff that goes into making a movie absolutely memorable.
Part of me considered only half-watching Batman Begins. When you are teaching a movie, it's not exactly watching for entertainment. But it had been long enough since I had seen this entry and I wanted to remind myself. Golly, this movie still holds up. I know that a lot of people preach either The Dark Knight or The Batman for best Batman movie. I really love Batman Begins. I know. If I went home tonight and watched The Dark Knight, I might be changing my tune. But this movie absolutely hits in all the parts that matter to me. Sure, it's weird that he has so many Daddy issues in this movie and Martha Wayne can go jump off a bridge according to this movie, but I don't even care. It's so good and I forgot how much I enjoyed it.
Rated R for ultra-violence and language. It's funny, because I remember being kind of grossed out by the violence in the first John Wick movie, but was oddly cool with the violence in this one. If anything, the violence is only ramped up. If anyone wants to talk about how movies desensitize us, use the John Wick movie as your foundation. R.
DIRECTOR: Chad Stahelski
I'd like to apologize for how bad my writing has been this week. I took a longer break than normal and binged all my viewed films so I could get a break. But then I came back and had to play catch up on the few movies I watched during that break and now just feel overwhelmed. Also, ity was my birthday and I didn't feel like devoting a bunch of mental energy to writing well. So if that Super Mario Bros. blog is hot trash, I apologize. That was an exercise in endurance rather than finesse.
So I've caught up! I went from, "I'm never watching another John Wick movie" to watching and oddly loving John Wick: Chapter 2. I was fairly insufferable for the past two weeks, by the way. I really wanted to watch Chapter 3 while part 2 was still fresh in my mind, but I didn't own it. Did I consider buying it? Yeah, I did. I stared at a $14 Blu-Ray copy at Walmart for a really long time. I also considered buying a $22 three-pack, despite the fact that I probably won't watch the movie again. I could have just watched it on Peacock, but I hated watching Chapter 2 with commercials. Then I started asking anyone I knew if they owned the movie and if I could borrow it. I then got confirmation that no one buys physical media anymore and the era of lending movies is dead. I don't even want to start the discussion on how I might be the last guy who is anti-piracy. But I waited and got it on DVD.com (Netflix's DVD at home service). But now that's dying so I hope I'm never in a John Wick 3 quandry again.
Here's my complex thoughts on John Wick 3. (Good writers tend to write "Here's..." and then just dive into their thoughts.) John Wick 3 both simultaneously pays off the promises of the cliffhanger of 2, but also kind of nerfs the entire thing as well. At the end of Chapter 2, we're given the knowledge that John has an hour to get his affairs in order before he's the target of every assassin in the world. Because this is the world of John Wick, everything is ramped up to eleven. It's almost absurd how society works in John Wick because apparently most people are assassins. (Remind me to get back to my evaluation of the nerfing in a minute because I really need to talk about this.) The John Wick movies really want you not to think too hard about how employment works in John Wick. At the end of Chapter 2, it shows everyone getting text messages saying that John is now a target. Like, it's John Wick v. the Planet. That's super cool, but absolutely bonkers. The first one is "Why?" Why did everyone decided that professional hitman is the most normal job imaginable? But the bigger question is, "Why all the secrecy."
The thing that makes John Wick kind of cool is the odd secret world beneath what we call "normal". I guess Keanu Reeves really likes movies where he takes a pill that lets him see how the world really operates. (Hey, Lawrence Fishburne is also in these movies!) But if everyone is in on the secret, why is it a secret? It seems like no one is allowed to talk about how commonplace murder is for the five people who don't murder people? Like, the secrecy makes it cool. The Continental is the crux of this story and it's this whole secret hotel that houses assassins in luxury. That's fun. But basically, every homeless person is an assassin. Little old ladies are assassins. And it seems like John Wick knows all of them or knows about all of them. It's kind of the problem with escalation stories. But again, I tend to overthink these things and this movie really wants you not to think about it too hard. But back to my original point before I started overthinking things: it both fufills its promise and kind of nerfs it at the same time.
It's not as much of a nerf as Aliens is. (I know, I'm the only person who is mad at Aliens, so just accept it.) The movie starts out exactly how I want it to start. For a long time, John Wick is just fighting everyone. Now, this blog is about my acceptance of hypocrisy. I acknowledge that I don't like when people say movies are great because a fight sequence is "sick." But these fight sequences are SICK. The reason that I excuse it? It's because John Wick never pretends that it is something elevated. I knows it wants to stick an unstoppable force against an immovable object. That's the movie. Sure, John can, for some reason, take an insane amount of damage, especially in comparison to his peers. It actually makes for really weird storytelling because John often gets out of problems by having people, rightly so, assuming that he's dead. Like, the movie is John losing a bunch of fights and then just being gone. But whatever. Back to the point. The first forty minutes of this movie is just violence and I almost couldn't believe that a movie would commit to a bit that hard. I thought the entire movie was just going to be John Wick surviving attacks until everyone is dead. Sure, it makes for a completely fluffy movie, but it's also gutsy.
But that's where the movie nerfs. Because at one point, they get John out of the situation of survival and it introduces a plot that almost seems like a cop out. This is me being a little bit nitpicky, but the end of Chapter 2 made it sound like John's contract is so dour that there was no way out except for killing everybody. But then, there's a secret meeting that you can arrange? There's a way back into good graces? No! The rules were "kill everybody." I mean, John still does kill nearly everybody. But I don't like the idea that there's a way out of this. As much as we were promised that it was John v. the World, where the movie mostly delivers, I also don't want a Get-Out-of-Jail option. I saw the moment when the filmmakers stared death in the face and then flinched. And I'll give them points. They lasted longer than a lot of other filmmakers would. But still, I had a contract, Jonathan. You are called to fulfill that contract and, ironically, this is a movie all about being called to fufill one's duty.
But they undid it pretty quickly, so I can't harp on that too much. Can I tell you what is good filmmaking because it makes me the right level of mad? Winston's betrayal is perfect. It's absolutely perfect. Sure, I don't love that John just survives falling off the Continental because that clearly would have killed any other character and it also minimizes how much John has to put up with, but whatever. But I didn't see it coming. It felt like the movie was putting this nice little bow on the story and then Winston ends up being a realistic jerk? Now, I'm sure that there's probably a faction that says that Winston is acting out of character. I can see this. After all, we're in the third movie and it seems like John and Winston are so buddy-buddy that Winston would be willing to upset the high table by not instantly killing John on the spot. But we also, over the course of these three films, understand Winston's priorities. Winston isn't devoted to the High Table. He's not devoted to those he cares about. He cares about one thing and one thing only: being in charge of the New York branch of The Continental. When he shoots John, it is a deep understanding of what his character is supposed to be. It's about priorities and manipulation. It's kind of amazing and it makes me mad. It's because we like that character so much that villainizing emotionally shifts us. It's making sure that no character is too precious to make it out of this intact.
Can we talk about Halle Berry for a second? I don't know how appropriate the following comments would be, but I feel like I want to talk about these ideas. Halle Berry seems to make choices about movies based on a lack of risk. Ironically, most of these choices tend to bite her in the butt. I don't know how John Wick: Chapter 3 affected her overall career. But Halle Berry as Sofia in Chapter 3 is the same as her character Jinx in Die Another Day. She comes into franchises as female versions of the male protagonist. They are as capable as the male protagonist. If anything, she puts the male protagonist in their places. Now, I should be rah-rah about this, but it feels like she isn't advancing the cause as just being a copy of something that already exists. Listen, She-Hulk was one of my favorite things that Marvel has done. I know. I'm the one who loved it. But She-Hulk, the show, was a commentary on the lazy writing that men did with comic books. In an attempt to get more readers, male writers would do the bare minimum amount of work to just copy the main character and change the gender words around it. This is Halle Berry's bread and butter. AND I CAN'T STOP SEEING HALLE BERRY! Listen, John Wick might be Keanu Reeves' best role because I don't see Keanu when he's there. That's beyond amazing for me. But I just see Halle Berry trying to make a buck. I want her to be a new character. I want her to have her own franchise that's risky and built from the ground up. Sure, she can be kicking butt, but at least start with something fresh. Have it be unlike anything I've seen before. Yeah, I'm writing from a place of privilege. I know that it must be incredibly difficult to sell a new concept as a Black woman. But I just don't think that Halle Berry is doing herself a service taking these roles.
Listen, I tried catching up for Chapter 4. I hear insane things about that one. Also, I wanted to watch the movie while I was still excited. Chapter 3 is really good. It's not as good or original as Chapter 2, but it is still in the right place.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)
Rated PG for being a little scary. Once. But that once did make me anxious for the real little ones. We took the whole family for this one because it was a Mario movie from Illumination. The only really scary part is when Luigi lands in Bowser's domain and they played up the skeleton turtles. But it's a pretty clean movie otherwise. It was nice to see a kids movie specifically made for kids. PG.
DIRECTORS: Aaron Hovarth, Michael Jelenic, and Pierre Leduc
I used my Spring Break as a time to destress from watching too many movies and writing about them. I feel really cobwebby right now and I apologize if I miss some of the nuance of the...um...Super Mario Bros. Movie. Honestly, I wish I wrote this immediately after seeing the movie because the traction that this blog woud have might be slightly better. But that's okay.
The only thing that I'm confident to write is the lessons that filmmakers should take away from a movie like The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Video game movies were the hardest things to crack for a really long time. It was a joke. Part of the issue is that it tended to be this balance between a solid story and staying true to the source material. But The Super Mario Movie is more about staying true to the tone than it is about staying close to the source material. I want to talk about this very specific difference for way too long because I might not have much to say about it. I'm going to compare Super Mario to Max Payne. Both are examples of films that stay true (for the most part) to the source material. Yet, I hope we can all stand behind the notion that Max Payne was no good and Super Mario is a delight that everyone should watch and have a good time with. I'm sure that there were a lot of frustrated studio execs looking at Max Payne and wondering what went wrong. After all, that movie absolutely was the game to the point of being borderline annoying. But Super Mario somehow succeeds?
Part of the logic lies in the fact that Max Payne, in of an in itself, is trying to be cinematic as a game. Making a pastiche of something that's already working as homage to a medium seems a bit too insular. But also, Super Mario unapologetically loves its source material without feeling devoted to making every bit of Mario lore make sense. There's something really bizarre about Mario to begin with: the story was never really supposed to make sense. Mario, for all of the things that followed in the hallowed halls of Mario canon, was a sprite that had to get to the end of each board, only to be told that the princess was in another castle. That was it. Everything that we were told about that character came from outside sources for long periods of time. It was from instruction manuals and Nintendo Power. And those stories didn't make a lick of sense. I'm sure that had to be both a burden and incredibly freeing at the same time. Here's the things we absolutely know about the Mario Brothers from Nintendo Power and the like: The Mario Brothers are plumbers from Brooklyn. For some reason, they have to save Princess Peach from Bowser / Koopa in the Mushroom Kingdom. The end. Sure, there's a couple of other details in there that have come up over the course of some games, but it's all gobbelty-gook anyways.
I do have to be critical of the movie though, right? I mean, I want to lavish praise on this movie, but I do have one really big question. Story wise: this thing is too simple. I don't mind that. This is a movie meant for kids and it is unapologetically kid friendly. Keep the story simple. But I believe that any audience, Super Mario friendly or no, could follow the basic plot, there is something slightly unapproachable about having that deep of a Mario lore surrounding the story. I mean, the movie hinges on you knowing what a Super Star does. That's the climax of the film. Bowser is holding onto a star. The stars do different things in different games, so we're all left with a series of answers. But imagine you hadn't played a Mario game. All of the sudden, our heroes are on the ropes and everything looks hopeless and all of the sudden, the two protagonists are suddenly unkillable? Any other story that pulled that card would be unforgivable. But for Mario, if you are a Mario fan, of course that's the answer you want. It's the ending to Superman: The Movie. Seconds before Superman decides to go back in time, we're reminded that he shouldn't mess with human history, but he still does. No consequences, just it happens. Listen, Superman is one of my favorite movies. I love it. But it has kind of a crummy ending. Heck, it has the same crummy ending twice if you count the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II. The same thing happens with Mario. It's such a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card and the bad guy just basically taunts the heroes with it. It's also really weird that Bowser thinks that Peach would be impressed with that. He was already unstoppable.
But that's my only real beef. Do you know what element of the movie I'm not hearing about? Donkey Kong. I didn't think I would get behind the Donkey Kong stuff. I've never really liked the Donkey Kong games, but I can't deny the connection --albeit thin --with the Mario games. Because the filmmakers wanted to really focus on the legacy of all of Mario, down to his habit to "Kart", both as a verb and with a k, to ignore Donkey Kong would have been a mistake. It's funny, for all I'm hearing about the Mario movie with "Peaches" and how fun it is, I don't hear much about Donkey Kong. It's funny, because the heart of the movie is Mario's relationship with Donkey Kong. Sure, this is a wild misread of the film because the movie is really about brothers, especially when it comes to Luigi. But Luigi doesn't have a greater metaphor behind him. As much as I love Luigi in this movie, there's no conflict there. The conflict lies with Donkey Kong. Both of these men are expected to be heroes, despite inconsistencies with archetypes. Donkey Kong, especially considering that he's played by Seth Rogen, often fills the shoes of other Seth Rogen characters, adult man-children who could do great things if they just were given proper motivation. He's a great foil to Mario, who should not be able to survive in this deathtrap that is the Mushroom Kingdom. (Apparently, the Mushroom Kingdom isn't the planet, so much as a region of what must be a Nintendo land that is as-of-yet unnamed.)
But with Donkey Kong, Mario finds a comrade-in-arms that is interesting. I love Charlie Day and I love the fact that he plays Luigi. But he's really serving the role of the Princess in this story. God bless the creative team behind the movie for not making Peach the kidnapped woman in this story because I love the characterization of Peach that makes more sense in this film. But this also means that I think that Luigi's character is going to have to change over the course of this franchise. In this movie, Luigi has no qualms with Mario's shannanigans. (In reality, I don't think he should have qualms. Mario seems like a pretty good guy who's just trying his best.) But I think this franchise might be smart to either separate them because there is no conflict between these two guys or instill some artificial conflict in future films. (I bet it's going to be about how Mario is so in love with Peach that he doesn't have time for Luigi anymore or that Mario forgot about their dreams to open a sweet family business with his brother.) But Donkey Kong fulfills that role of the conflict between brothers. Sure, it's a found-family story, but it's a story that probably works better for a movie like this.
I mean, I'm not alone in saying that The Super Mario Bros. Movie works on a level that Illumination keeps presenting. Yeah, there's some real Illumination stuff happening in the movie. But honestly, it's a really smart IP licensing. Illumination has never been necessarily the most high brow animation studio. But they also know how to distill something down to the most fun version of itself. If Super Mario had this massive history over it, coupled with a really bad live action movie in the past and a hurdle of being another "video game movie", then passing the ball to Illumination was the smart move. It's got some goofy music cues with pop culture, but the film really works and I loved it.
R and we should be happy that it stopped there. I mean, the title of the movie is X, which is a horror movie surrounding the creation of a pornographic movie. Yeah, there's a lot of objectionable content here. Besides the sexuality, nudity, , sexual assault, language, and drugs, you can add violence, gore, scares, and blasphemy. It's got everything.
DIRECTOR: Ti West
I wasn't going to watch it. From the trailer alone, I thought that I didn't need this in my life. If we were to diagnose me and characterize me, you'll now realize how much of a role that FOMO plays in my life. Honestly, I only heard good things about this movie. I can see why people are kind of obsessed. But all that being said, I can say that I'm a bit tired of a lot of horror. If you want everything shocking and things that are upsetting per A24, that's great. In fact, I'll even say that X is more fun than most A24 movies. But in terms of actually delivering something that is satisfying, I think I'm just a tired old man who probably keeps his serial killer old lady wife in a farmhouse.
It's not that I don't have anything to say. I do. If anything, X is a celebration of the low budget cinema of the '70s. Is there a pornographic element those films, sure. As someone who tends not to endorse such films, it didn't really hit that button for me. But I'm talking more about the can-do attitude of ambitious filmmakers in the '70s. X has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe that is super fun. I don't know what it was about the horror movies of the '70s. Maybe the fact that no one really seemed like a celebrity. (Now I have to pretend that Jenna Ortega didn't just blow up in the past twelve months.) There's something very garage rock about the whole thing and I think that X captures that vibe. It's the cinematography. It's the acting. It's funny, because there's a lot of work that goes into X to make the movie look cheap while we're all wholeheartedly aware that there's nothing cheap about it. This has to come from Ti West. I don't know much about Ti West. The reason I know the name comes from the face that there are now three movies in this series (despite the fact that the movie has a 2022 release date). But I've seen House of the Devil and I realize that West's big thing is his attention to detail, especially when it comes to pastiche.
But, per usual, I want to explore the morality of X. X has a message and I'm kind of giddy to say that it's a bit more complicated than what my gut is going with. From the start of the movie, we meet the gang of pornographers. The majority of the protagonists are there for fame and fortune. They have a lovable-conmen vibe to them. We know that they are not naturally gifted with success. From an outside perspective, both because we have the dramatic irony of knowing that this is a horror movie and the fact that this archetype rarely ends up with pennies from heaven, there's an understanding that this movie is going to go poorly. There are two in the van who consider themselves to be artists: the director and his girlfriend, the church mouse. I do love that so many of these characters fit into archetypes so readily because it makes analysis so much easier. Anyway, like many of the morality slashers that I grew up on, we acknowledge that, because they are morally grey, the film allows them to be victims of this mass murder. It's really screwed up that we're wired this way when it comes to storytelling, but West kind of wants to point that out. From all perspectives, the Church Mouse should be the Final Girl of the movie. After all, she's Jenna Ortega (admittedly, not of Jenna Ortega fame yet). Because she's the prudish outsider, it only makes sense that she's going to escape the carnage that occurs at the farm.
But the film refuses to stay on the Church Mouse. Maxine quickly grabs the attention of the camera. She's the more shy of the two porn stars, which seemingly gives her a foot in both worlds. She's somehow distanced from the audience because of her profession, but also so shy that she can observe the world from the same perspective of the audience. Bobby-Lynne is too cartoonish to be our protagonist. Her loud disposition is there for both comic relief and for sex appeal, which doesn't necessarily make for a well-rounded heroine. This is where West pushes archetypes even further becacuse Maxine isn't one person either. While Maxine sober is the blank slate to relate to the audience, her drug use almost rockets her into another personality. Maxine on drugs is haunting, eventually leading to the blurring of lines of heroine to potentially even worse villain than Pearl and Howard. Maxine's true personality is the coke-addled one, by the way. That's what the movie feeds us. So we're left with almost no real everyman because even the Church Mouse abandons her moral code for the thrill of stardom.
This is where things get complex. To a certain extent, Ti West is advocating for the "whatever makes you happy" / judgement-free lifestyle of the filmmakers. As kind of gross as Wayne gets, he's not wholly wrong. All of the filmmakers seem genuinely pretty happy. They have a devil may care attitude that real life would absolutely destroy. But the Church Mouse realizes that she's the most upset part of the group. Now, West uses these Easy Riders to contrast the view of the conservative right. Throughout the piece, this deep south farmhouse is being peppered a televangelist. There's something automatically gross about the televangelist. If I wrote it out right here, I'd come across as bigoted, but he's the gloom-and-doom, fire-and-brimstone type. The televangelist's congregation is Pearl and Howard. They're the villains of the piece. They're the ones who chop up kids for having a good time and that's what most movies leave us at. But Pearl is somehow more complex than all that. Pearl and Howard do seem to believe the words of the preacher, but Pearl holds more in common with the filmmakers than she does with the religious right.
The climax of the film almost leaves us with the message that everyone's the same: pornographers and preachers. Howard has his heart attack after killing the Church Mouse. It comes down to Pearl and Maxine, both played by Mia Goth. This is where the double-casting kind of plays a loop with the brain. Maxine's entire philosophy is to take the life she deserves, which is echoed from the preacher's mouth. It isn't Pearl who is repeating the words of the preacher. West reveals that Maxine is the wayward daughter of the preacher on TV, a point that almost has no meaning to me. I don't think this moment needs to happen. But I do love how think the line between holy roller and condemned sinner actually is. It's when Maxine takes her role as Final Girl to a new level where we realize that Maxine's drug fueled survival mechanism makes her the ultimate predator. Time has repeated itself (from what I'm assuming, these ideas will be cemented in Pearl) and Maxine has become the new Pearl (something that I'm sure that MaXXXine will cover.)
But, I do think that there's a little bit of messiness there. I like the movie a lot and I'm glad that West makes the film more challenging than a standard slasher film. But I don't know if the double casting is absolutely necessary. There's something very fake about Pearl and Howard that comes across as somehow distancing. For a long time in the movie, we don't get any shots of Howard and Pearl. Part of that is to save for later in the movie when the two go on a rampage. But the other element is that it isn't convincing. There might be something actually scarier with casting actual old people. The movie might be missing one of the more important elements because I just kept seeing behind the camera for scenes with Howard and Pearl.
But do you know what I like most about the movie? There's something very meta about the film itself. I think there is no greater comment on the rise of A24 as a film studio, especially when it comes to horror films, than X. RJ, the director, is out there to prove his craft. He knows that what he's making is pornographic, thus hiding in the lowest escelons of pop culture. If genre storytelling is low-art, then pornography is even lower than that. But RJ's entire purpose for being the direct of this movie is to create a movie that even the greatest naysayer can stand behind. How on the nose is that for A24? It was only this year that A24 really cracked open and dominated the Academy Awards. As gorgeous as many of their other genre films have been, they've largely gone ignored by the cinematic canon. Somehow, horror seems like lesser movies. And the point of all of the goings-on in X are about making a movie that people can't ignore, despite the subject matter. Now, I find it funny that X really leans hard into cheap slasher territory for a lot of the movie. In an attempt to make it come out of the '70s, some of the artsier techniques that we see in things like Midsommar or The Witch aren't seen in this movie.
But what greater comment on genre storytelling is there than to compare horror movies to pornography? I have that emotional and logical distance between the two. But horror, like pornography, to a certain extent ties to those baser instincts of society. The crazy thing is that I can justify watching a horror movie in my brain. It, like much of entertainment, is meant to be intentionally false. It's that feeling of adrenaline that is undeserved. But the entire movie has the victims of these attacks somewhat sympathetic. Yeah, again, Wayne is a jerk. But every one of the victims of this movie tends to be an overall good person. Ironically, the most unsympathetic character in the movie is church mouse, who takes out her own insecurities on Maxine immediately after Maxine saves her life from Howard. It's got some legs, this analysis stuff.
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.