PG almost exclusively for the villain. I suppose that you could find the undersea creatures to be a little unsightly. True story, I watched Jaws the night before a swim test growing up and got irrationally afraid that there was a shark in the pool while swimming. If that same button gets you, I suppose you could get scared. But there is the fear that these two will be hunted at different points in the movie. But the villain is the real bad guy. He's one of those arch-villains who might actually kill for arbitrary reasons. The movie even stresses that he's super evil with a silhouette against lightning. PG.
DIRECTOR: Enrico Casarosa
Geez, Pixar. When you completely knock it out of the park, you leave me wrecked. There was a time where I thought that Pixar could do no wrong. I was one of the people who liked A Bug's Life at the time. I completely skipped Cars, so part of that is on me. But ever since Brave was only okay, I've looked at Pixar as this hit or miss studio. I mean, aesthetically, these movies are always impressive. But in terms of story and characterization, you have to go into these movies one at a time. But Luca, like the best of Pixar, is pretty phenomenal. The weird thing is that the movie is great, despite the fact that it is mostly derivative of other Disney stuff.
My kneejerk reaction is the fact that, because it is a movie about leaving the sea, I'm instantly making comparisons to The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo. But that comparison isn't completely unfounded. There was a scene where Luca, as a sea monster, was just inching towards the surface, afraid to make that choice to break the film of the wave to become human. And in that moment, I just had "Part of Your World" blaring in my head. I may or may not have sung it out loud when that happened, so decide what the truth is for yourself. And, because I'm shooting for objectivity with this blog, it really has nothing new in terms of story. This story is just riding the archetype and trope train all the way through the story. But I think I know why the movie works over all, besides the aesthetic and character dynamics.
Luca is one of those rare kids' movies that keeps the stakes criminally small. Luca, from his perspective, has two eventual conclusions to his narrative. He could return to the sea and live a life with his gross Uncle Ugo or he could win a Vespa. I mean, there's the many variations of those two results. He could lose the race. He could get discovered. But really, Luca and Alberto are risking life and limb for the sake of personal greatness. They would be winning a local award and humiliating a bully. That's it. The big villain is someone who really can't grow a good moustache and keeps cheating at a child's competition. There's no kingdom to save. There's no end of the world. It's just two kids who want to win a bad Vespa so they can continue experiencing life.
And that's where the Finding Nemo comparison happens. I don't know why we have the fish connection to the idea of running away from home. Nemo believes that his life is meant to be something greater than the reef that he's been stuck on. I guess the same thing happens in Tangled. But Luca kind of makes running away super attractive. When Nemo runs away, it kind of gets bleak. It seems like the world of Nemo kind of punishes him for wanting to leave. The lesson that Marlin learns is that his son can survive in the big bad world. But Luca has a bit of a different lesson. He runs away from home and, not only does he run away, but he thrives.
The aesthetics of the film kind of support this. My wife's family is obsessed with Italy. I'm not saying that in a way that makes it seem like I don't like Italy. I do. It's just that my wife's Italian family gets obsessed with Italy in a very palpable way. We were supposed to go to Italy before Covid destroyed the planet. But there's the Italy of today and then there's the Italy of Luca. Don't get me wrong. These worlds are very close. But this is the Italy of Rome, Open City and Paisan. There's something remarkably Old World about the Italy of Luca. So when Luca leaves the sea, he's going to this idealized society. Yet, I find Luca to be both a damnation of society and a celebration of society. The town of Portorosso fears sea monsters. There's this fear that seems pretty unfounded. It was one of those urban legends that ended up being right.
But then the villagers change their feelings about the sea creatures. And we're supposed to support that idea. But I was doing the math. The look of Portorosso really implies that this movie is post WWII. The poster and the rusted Vespa. The fact that there is no cell phone anywhere in this film. It just screams that this is the Italy of a formerly fascist Italy. So when Ercole exposes the boys as sea monsters, it's kind of bizarre that the entire town embraces the boys as members of the community. Now, this is a Disney film. I want that to be the world that we live in. God, I want that to be the world that we live in. And I kind of can lie to myself that humanity is good and can support this kind of ending of the film. So when the town supports these boys, I can plausibly deny the reality of a post-fascist Italy. But then there should be two people who should totally be on Ercole's team: his two little henchmen.
The reason that I'm obsessed with this is that Ercole was trying to kill the boys...when he thought that they were human. And the boys were completely cool with the absolutely vicious brutality that is typical of films like The 400 Blows. So when Luca and Alberto are exposed to the truth, it's bizarre that the boys decide to turn on Ercole in this moment. Maybe it is the freedom that comes from the entire town voicing their support at once. It's just an overly happy ending, but that's okay to me.
Geez, I really liked this movie. I don't even care that I feel like I've seen this movie before. I love the dynamic between Luca and Giullia. I love the idea that a third of the big competition involves eating pasta. It's just a super fun movie that is full of wonder and potential. It's a great time and I had such a good time with this movie. I'm sure that I'm probably going to be in the minority when time judges this movie. But I encourage people to go in with a sense of beauty and wonder because it ticks all those buttons quite nicely.
To explain this R is to peek into my obsession with uniformity and cleanliness. Imagine you had never heard of this franchise. I mean, it's possible. This series is beat, despite the spinoff that came this year. The movie is called...Saw. It's not even just Saw. It's Saw VI. Horror movies can sequelize and keep going. It's brutal, guys. And the insane thing is that it prides itself on being gratuitous. I have seen the first five films, but I forgot how good these movies are at desensitizing you. I was grossed out by the first torture scene. But I quickly got comfortable with the rest of them. It's gross. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Kevin Greutert
*sigh* I had the evening alone, okay? There's a part of my brain that doesn't let things go. If I start something, it may take decades, but I want to finish them. I watched the first four Saw movies because I was watching every movie that came to my local cinema at the time. I was single with disposable income and the local movie theater had $5.00 matinees. So I would just go to the movies and pick the one that was closest to the current time. Thus, I binged the first four movies and then went to go see part five in the theater. It also had Scott Patterson and I'm oddly obsessed with Gilmore Girls. But when I found out that Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson were going to make a Saw film, guess what part of my brain woke up? If you guessed the part that was obsessed with completion, yeah, you guessed right.
I forgot how badly these movies were made. Honestly. I'm not going to be all high and mighty and claim that there's nothing watchable about these movies. I've always been flummoxed by how good the twists are for movies that came out annually. I actually forgot that these movies had a twist ending, with the exception of the first one that had a really memorable twist. But these movies just straight up look bad. I remember thinking back in the day that when I saw the LionsGate logo pop up on screen, I knew I was going to watch some absolute trash. But everything about Saw VI looks like trash. It's got the visual aesthetic of a Korn music video. When I found out that this movie was made in 2009, I actually couldn't believe it. I mean, this screams 1999-2002. It's everything about bad filmmaking.
Now, I know Tobin Bell was on board. Tobin Bell is one of the more respectable elements of these movies. He was an actor before the Saw franchise and I'm sure that he was mildly jazzed to become a household name because of these little gore films. But the rest of the cast screams Days of Our Lives level of commitment to the craft. (I think the police captain is B- recognizable, but that character is also wildly incompetent.) Which brings me to Hoffman as the primary protagonist / antagonist. (I'll discuss this in a second.) Tobin Bell is still in these movies and thank goodness that he is. He's the best part of these movies. But the Saw movies did something kind of smart and killed off Tobin Bell's character a few entries ago. I mean, for the healthy people who stayed away from the Saw movies, Tobin Bell's Jigsaw was diagnosed with a terminal illness that could have potentially been treated, but the world around him devalued his life. Thus, he finds himself plagued by this need to make people appreciate life by torturing them through ornate Rube Goldberg killing machines. Someone once joked that Kevin McCallister from Home Alone grew up to be Jigsaw. Meh.
Anyway, Bell's character is interesting. He's convoluted and his plot is a puzzle box in its own right. But it at least makes sense. But then there's Hoffman. Hoffman...is dumb? I always feel bad for writing about an actor and his portrayal, but there's nothing interesting about Hoffman. I suppose that's kind of the point. We want to see Hoffman taken down. As much as we intellectually rooted for Tobin Bell's Jigsaw to get taken down by the police, there's at least a sick pleasure that comes from knowing that Jigsaw is one step ahead of everyone else. (Honestly, I don't know when this cancer patient had time to design and build all of these death traps.) But Hoffman? He's boring. He's just a guy who kind of takes pleasure in killing people. And the thing is, I'm pretty sure that this is the second entry where he's Jigsaw.
There's this great twist at the end of Part V. My memory for these movies is trash, so I apologize for going into this kind of uninformed. I think the big reveal for Hoffman being the bad guy happens in the last one. But the big reveal that Sgt. Luke Danes of Stars Hollow actually accidentally saves Hoffman is the big moment. There are cool things about Hoffman, but Hoffman himself is nothing. He's woven into this impossibly complex story that is just meant to make the story keep going. It's the same thing that happened with the Scream movies, but at least the Scream movies were only made every so often, thus allowing for complexity to be planned out.
So what, then, is Saw VI? I commented that Hoffman is either the protagonist or the antagonist, but I'm not sure which. One of the cooler elements of the Saw movies is that a lot of the story takes place from the killer's perspective. As much as I don't love these movies, I give credit where credit is due. William, the insurance agent, is Hoffman's primary target in this movie. He's the one going through the mega puzzle that ultimately leads to his death. He's the one who is given the dark version of the It's a Wonderful Life character change. I normally think of the protagonist of a story as the one who is going to change throughout the story. That dynamic character learns something about himself and finds this day to be the most important of his or her life. Okay. That's definitely William. William went from thinking that he was a good guy whose hands were clean, despite the fact that he's responsible for the unfair treatment to hundreds to becoming this guy who self-sacrifices and causes injury upon himself to help others. Rad. Sounds like a dynamic protagonist to me. But William's story is definitely the B-plot of the movie.
And that's what's really weird about making the villain the main guy in the story. Unless the franchise took the character of Jigsaw and tried redeeming him so that, by the end, Jigsaw was repentant for his actions and became this force for good, there is no way to make that character dynamic. If anything, the only thing that can really happen is that the character can become a more extreme version of himself, which is what is implied by Hoffman's face being ripped open at the end of the film. If anything, we don't want William to escape. The Saw series is about begging for the same thing to happen over and over again. It's why the story is so dense. It needs to accommodate for the interesting story that can only happen in the flashback. That is a very packed flashback, guys. William, you just can't grab that kind of attention.
And yet...AND YET, I'm probably going to keep watching. It's the completion thing. But part of me wants to know if the kid who killed / overkilled William at all has a plot to deal with. I mean, he crossed a line. Also, what did William learn? If Saw VI did anything, it reminded us that the central conceit that Jigsaw is working from is very very flawed. It makes no sense because William didn't have a chance for survival. The kid who killed him wasn't suicidal. It didn't wake him up from a stupor. Instead, it was just good old fashioned revenge killing. What does that have to do with anything? These are dumb movies, but they aren't completely without some value.
Rated R, but I kind of think that it could have pulled off the coveted horror PG-13. It's probably the demonic stuff coupled with the fact that we see someone get stabbed on camera. Mind you, the stabbing is a hallucination and there's no actual physical trauma from this event. Still, it doesn't change the fact that you see that. Most of the movie is spooky. The more I think about it, no one actually dies in the movie. Regardless, R.
DIRECTOR: Gary Dauberman
I need to throw my phone away. I just finished watching Annabelle Comes Home about an hour ago, but between my emotional exhaustion coupled with my physical exhaustion, I just have this overwhelming urge not to write about this movie. It took me three days to watch it. Heck, the only reason I really watched it was because I realized I hadn't after I watched The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. I was filling out the Collections page and saw that there was a Conjuring movie that I hadn't seen. That's probably not a good reason to watch a movie like this, but it was good enough for me. Heck, I might continue down this obsession with completion and watch the rest of the Saw movies, and I really don't even enjoy those.
Do you remember that moment in Ghostbusters when Walter Peck and the EPA (still the only movie I can think of where the EPA are the bad guys) open the containment system and let all the ghosts out into New York? It's this moment that I'm going to say could have been expounded upon. I mean, Ghostbusters is nearly perfectly paced, so I'm going to take that back. But the nerd in the back of my brain really wanted to look upon that apocalyptic moment in greater detail. Enter Annabelle Comes Home. Annabelle Comes Home makes its foundation upon this moment. The Conjuring franchise up to this point has been teasing the idea that the Warren's artifact room is one of the scariest places on the planet. The worst of the worst stuff is in there. If all of those things escaped, it would be Hell on Earth. It's like Superman getting stuck in the Phantom Zone. It's no good. And giving credit to the Conjuring folks, they really set it up to be this Avengers: Endgame style movie. The only problem...is that it really didn't take advantage of this moment.
The movie starts with Ed and Lorraine Warren. Considering that this movie was called Annabelle Comes Home, I thought that this was the gutsiest move ever. I mean, Annabelle: Creation teased the notion that we were going to see the Warrens go head-to-head with the darkest item in their collection and the movie started really cementing the notion that our supernatural hunters were going to go against the most infamous item in the set. But considering that they got Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to come back and play their most famous roles, it's absolutely bizarre that they pitted the B-team against Annabelle. I mean, wasn't this supposed to be the knock-down, drag-out fight of the ages? Instead, we have a little kid and two teenagers try to take on these epic villains.
And it is because of all of the spooky-scaries that are in the house that the movie does what Aliens did. (I really need to rewatch Aliens just so I can write about it and probably apologize for how many times I cite this movie as an example of nerfing.) While all of the scares are actually pretty cool, the oogie-boogies seem fairly incompetent when it actually comes to causing damage. Despite the fact that this movie is the third Annabelle movie (and that it should have been called The Conjuring III: Annabelle Comes Home), the MVP award really goes to the Ferryman for most effective ghostie. The rest of the stuff was run of the mill. But the Ferryman *does that Italian good food kiss thing with his fingers*. But even the Ferryman does nothing but evoke screams. Now, we have to imagine that when the Warrens captured all of these bad guys, it was a heck of a fight. I mean, I saw the other Conjuring movies. It took two hours to really nail down these guys and there were all kinds of casualties. Why can their kid, who seems pretty terrified of the things she is seeing, coupled with a babysitter and an irresponsible girl who caused all of these problems hold their own against these monsters? I mean, Mary Ellen was grabbed by a dead evil version of herself and walked away just fine. That is the definition of "nerfed", right?
I really think that Annabelle Comes Home was probably forced to do some reshoots. I say this because Daniela's character is all over the place. Listen, I had a decent time with this movie. It was better than The Devil Made Me Do It. But didn't anyone else notice that Daniela's intentions seemed absurd. Daniela in the first act is the ultimate agent of chaos. Disrespecting the world of The Conjuring, Daniela comes across like a party girl. She sees the opportunity for fun in a small town and has access to this powder keg through her friend Mary Ellen. There's nothing sympathetic about her character in the first act. If anything, she comes across as a straight up antagonist. She's the foolhearty camp counselor who let Jason Voorhees swim alone. She ignored every warning and the events of the film are a punishment for her misdeeds. Heck, this character maintains this razor focused attitude of having a good time with possessed items until after the inciting incident happens. Daniela goes from good time party girl to guilt-ridden woman trying to find redemption for accidentally killing her father. I get that it could have been a mislead, but it doesn't account for Daniella's behavior in the entire first act. This burn-the-world attitude that she has in the grocery store doesn't make sense. Trying to get into the Warren's artifact room shows more persistence than desperation. Once that room is open, Daniela implies that she needed to get in there. It is her only chance to contact the beyond.
I mean, it's smart to make Daniela a sympathetic character. But I also feel like it is the same thing that happened to Elsa in Frozen. As much as Judy is the main character and Mary Ellen is supposed to be the final girl, there's something far more interesting about Daniela. Mary Ellen kind of comes across as a spectator to these events. She's a sweet girl who deserves to live because she follows all of the social rules that we need her to observe. Judy is interesting, but it is really hard to make a kid the interesting protagonist when there are characters that are older than her. She definitely has a vibe of a little kid in a Jurassic Park movie. They're interesting, but not captivating. They're there to up the threat level, despite the fact that kids don't often die in horror movies. So make her a sympathetic character. But maybe do so...in the script? Yeah, I'm Monday Morning Quarterbacking right now, but there is this very disjointed feeling about deciding who the most interesting character in the movie is.
But I'm going to finish up this shorter blog with the message: Why wasn't this a Conjuring sequel, straight up instead of a spin-off? As much as the Annabelle movies get a modicum of attention, they are always the spin-off films. If Ed and Lorraine were the protagonists of the piece, facing off against the Thanos of their universe, Annabelle, that was what audiences were waiting for. But the movie couldn't wait to get Ed and Lorraine out of there. The promise was broken and everything got way too nerfed for any real stakes to be in the film. Sure, if this movie did better, we'd be looking at a Ferryman spin-off film or something. But I'd rather see the royal rumble that this movie should have been. It wasn't really Hell on Earth, was it? It was more like Thirteen Ghosts or a Scooby-Doo special rather than actually being a cohesive Sinister Six movie or something.
Oh man, a Sinister Six movie isn't going to be great. (I'm hoping one would be great.)
Passed. This movie I should have watched in front of the kids. It's one of those innocent romances that we see all throughout this time period. There are some mildly questionable things, including one thing that I'm not sure that I'm getting or not. The overall questionable thing is the drinking on the part of one of the characters. It's done for laughs, but that guy drinks a lot of booze. But the thing that I'm not sure about is the almost Nazi salute that the characters do to one character. I mean, timeline supports this, but it also could just be silliness not meant to be a Nazi salute. To be honest, sometimes I just don't get the joke.
DIRECTOR: George Cukor
Man, I feel like everything in my life is super scheduled. I ate shrimp for lunch. I'm allergic to shrimp, so I have medication to balance that. But that being said, I'm not really allowed to exercise immediately after eating something that might kill me and I'm all alone right now. So if I died, this would be the last message I got to the outside world. Because of the lunch, I timed my run for 1:00, which should give me plenty of time to digest and be okay. But I have to be somewhere at 3:00 that is half-an-hour away. It is 12:11 pm and this is all completely superfluous to the world of Holiday.
I love this kind of stuff. I mean, basically, Holiday is just what you get if you want more of Bringing Up Baby. I mean, they made two romantic comedies with the same leads in the same year? How did people not just flip out over that? I know that it was the norm to see co-stars reappear in multiple films, like William Powell and Myrna Loy or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, but the same year? That's a bit much. Luckily, as slightly zany as Holiday is, it doesn't get to that whole slapstick stage that Bringing Up Baby gets to. I'm not saying that it doesn't work for Bringing Up Baby because it totally does. But it at least offers something slightly different. It is just that this story is crazy under-baked in so many ways which makes its protagonists kind of bad people.
There was something that happened on Gilmore Girls that I feel like I've talked about on this blog somewhere else. It's something that I really don't like in romantic comedies, but Gilmore Girls did it the best / worst. Seasons one and two, Rory was with Dean, portrayed by Jared Padelecki of Supernatural fame. He was the perfect boyfriend. He was secure, yet macho. He was respectful and did everything that Rory wanted. If he had a fatal flaw in those early seasons, it had to be that he lacked complexity, considering Rory was this deep well of a human being. But he was an overall great guy. The problem with that from a storytelling perspective was that it can't last. There is no conflict if the guy that Rory is with early on is absolutely perfect. So to make other boys look more attractive, Dean had to become an absolute dirtball. When people ask me to this day --and they do --who should have ended up with Rory, I always answer "Season One and Two Dean". People gasp because Dean sucks so hard in the later seasons. I tend to emphasize that I'm talking about the very different character that was Season One and Two Dean. The same thing happens with Holiday.
This is a movie starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. From moment one, you know that they are going to end up together. Do you know why you know that? Because they always do. Their names are the ones on the marquee for a reason. But the movie introduces Julia and Johnny together, madly in love from moment one, not Katharine Hepburn's Linda. If anything, Linda, Julia, and Johnny all get together swimmingly. Too swimmingly. Everyone is supportive of one another in that group. There isn't a lot of chemistry between Linda and Johnny with the exception that they share a similar life philosophy. No one is trying to steal anyone else away. And it's not that long of a movie. Honestly, at one point I questioned whether or not Katharine Hepburn was the leading lady in this movie or they gave her top billing to appease her agents. Because, honest to Pete, the movie was really selling the notion that this was a story about winning over stuff-shirted Dad on the marriage of Johnny and Julia. Linda was the wild card who tried to make that happen and that's what the story was about.
But then ol' Season Three Dean decided to show up. Closing up the primary conflict in Act One, Dad approves the marriage between Julia and Johnny and they both seem pleased as punch. The new conflict in the story is to ensure that Linda is included in the story. I'm realizing that every act of this story has a very different conflict. Because Linda was instrumental in helping Father come around to Johnny and Julia's way of thinking, she was the one who wanted to throw a party for the couple. This party was supposed to be reflective of Johnny's humble roots and was meant to take the pretention out of everything that doesn't represent their love. But it is in this moment that Julia becomes straight up evil. Okay, while it is pretty lightswitch-y, it's not as lightswitch-y as that. Johnny and Julia become completely aware that they don't really know each other at all. (One of the major problems I have with this story.) Johnny wants to retire early and travel the world while Julia, rightfully, has an expectation to be taken care of. But once this first fight happens (which Johnny handles admittedly quite poorly), Julia can't wait to call it quits. She becomes this wholly different character. Instead of being a free spirit, which is heavily implied in the first half of the movie, she becomes obsessed with money and success. I don't know where it came from, but it is there for the sake of storytelling. To make Linda more appealing, the film needed to make Julia less appealing.
But as much as I enjoyed the film, the biggest problem with the story is that it is really hard to root for the protagonists. Cukor does just enough to put the heroic characters on the side of being likable. But I also know that if I knew Johnny and Linda in real life, they would be the worst, the absolute worst! I would gossip about them so much and I know that says more about me than it does about them. I don't even care. Johnny is a child. Linda pouts too much. They're supposed to come across as these bohemian transcendentalist free-spirits, but they really just come across as the most privileged white people you've ever met. Johnny's plan is straight up selfish. There's something adorable and joi de vivre about being a bachelor and living on the land. That's great. Do that. But forcing someone to live your dream without ever discussing it is absolutely awful. Johnny wanting to live simply is completely appropriate. Johnny not wanting to work again by 30 is silly, especially if he has a wife and family to take care of. Now, I give a little more respect to Linda, who isn't as cut and dry as Johnny. (Note: Johnny does eventually try to compromise to save the marriage, but he quickly rescinds this offer once the family ignores his wishes.) Linda is fine, but she's such a brat about not getting her way.
Linda's big flaw is that she makes things about her. Yeah, it really sucks that Julia and Dad revoked their promise to let her organize the party. But by protesting the party, the only thing that she's accomplishing is drawing attention away from the married couple, who absolutely have a right to throw a party of their own fashion, and to hurt her sister. It's childish. It's appropriate that Linda's protest party happens in the playroom because she's acting like a baby. Don't get me wrong. The attitude of Linda's party is far more appealing and displays that Linda and Johnny are more copasetic than Johnny and Julia. But that characterization still doesn't detract from the methods of drawing this attention. You know, there isn't a hard-and-fast rule that there could be two parties. One could be a little shindig organized by Linda with close friends where everyone sang songs and did puppet shows. And the other party could be the big hullaballoo for the hoity-toities of society and the extended family. If anything, that screams more normal than what Linda is doing.
What this all ultimately leads me to is that the movie is fun, if not deeply flawed. It's very funny. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are their best in this movie. It's worth watching for them alone. But it is also super clunky. Heck, Johnny is almost a bad person because he wants to cheat on his fiancée with her sister over one argument. It also kind of leaves this big question of "Happily Ever After" with a giant question mark after that. I mean, is everyone very cool with Johnny just swapping sisters and still being in the family? Has Linda abandoned her family for the sake of love? It's all very awkward, the more you think about it.
But it's a cute movie. This is one movie where I'm just going to get out of the way and let it be cute. Oh, God, if this ever happened to anyone I know, it would be awful. But as pure voyeuristic entertainment, it pretty much works.
Rated R, but the back of my brain is really bothering me about this. I have this weird belief that the first two movies were PG-13. I mean, I could look it up right now, but I choose not to. Mostly, this movie gets the R-rating for demonic stuff happening to kids. I mean, there's a fair share of blood in this film, so that would probably get it an R rating. From a personal point of view, this movie continues the vaguely blasphemous version of Catholicism that is part and parcel for Hollywood horror. Regardless, R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Chaves
The more I watch the Conjuring movies, the less I know how I feel about them. I originally thought that the Conjuring movies were trash. Like The Fast and the Furious franchise, I came into the first Conjuring movie with a whole bunch of snooty notions. (Note: I just discovered that the art house theater that I grew up going to is closing down after 40 years. Maybe writing about The Fast and the Furious and The Conjuring is part of the problem.) But I tend to kind of enjoy them. They never really hit this sweet spot for me in terms of actual greatness. I know that some people really swear by these movies, but they tend to be just okay for me.
Part of it comes from the mythology of Ed and Lorraine Warren. I'm a real skeptic. Like, a real skeptic. I used to not be. When I was in eighth grade, my research paper was on UFO phenomenon. I didn't get a great grade, if I remember correctly. But after that, I tended to be pretty darned skeptical about a lot of things. One of those things that I'm truly eye-rolly about is the idea of psychics. It's all a fine line, because as a Catholic, I have to believe in exorcism. But the notion of Ed and Lorraine Warren as lay exorcists (who really just claimed to be psychics) seems like Hollywood really scraping the "Based on a True Story" plug past the bottom of the barrel and into the hardwood floors. It's just that none of it really rings true. I absolutely adore that we have protagonists that keep returning to the franchise over and over again. But I have to say, that the Warrens aren't doing it for me. I mean, the movies keep showing you the real Ed and Lorraine and they looks like the biggest hucksters imaginable. Part of that is on me. I get that. But it all seems like so much hogwash that I'm always pulled out of these films.
But I can't deny that these movies are fun...until this one. I mean, it has the great thing that a lot of these newer horror movies have: a great third act. The one thing that Hollywood has offered us, especially the stuff like Jason Blum and Blumhouse has to offer, is a great final act. The more boring the first two acts, the more spectacular that final act is going to be. If nothing else, look at the Paranormal Activity movies. Those movies are boring as sin, but you know that demon is going to tear someone up in the final act. So as much as I'm going to complain about The Devil Made Me Do It, I'm going to give it the most basic of props and say that the final act mostly delivers in the same way that the other movies also have that going on. Whenever you have that direct confrontation between the demonic force and the protagonist, of course it will be mildly worth watching.
But The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (or as I may refer to it as The Conjuring 3 from this point on to save me the sheer capitalization of the entire title) isn't all that scary. I mean, it does the thing that these movies do really well. It offers some good contortion possessions and loves giving us a haunting image to associate with the bad guy. But the movie isn't all that scary. I actually more felt bad for the little kid actor who played David. I mean, that kid got covered in a lot of blood for the sake of a pretty lackluster movie. (Another side note: I screened this in my garage for my brother-in-law to impress him because he tends to get scared by Conjuring movies. That left me extra let down when the movie was only passable.) And the problem comes down to two factors (until I accidentally figure out more factors while writing this nonsense because I don't follow my own advice when writing my daily blog when it comes to writing an outline).
The first factor is that we've seen this before. Yeah, I just mentioned that the contortion stuff is creepy as heck. I'm going to give it some bonus points even that the contortion stuff happens to a kid. But even outside of The Conjuring franchise, this is something that was established with The Exorcist. The idea of a human moving in a way that is inhuman is naturally troubling, but we have kind of grown to expect it. Like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, we can't keep on relying on that visual sense of awe. The magic trick has been done. Variations can only keep us moving too long. The same holds true with the long gaunt image of a woman haunting the protagonists. In this movie, we have The Occultist. (I didn't realize that she was credited as The Occultist until I looked it up on IMdB. I would also like to stress that I could have easily looked up the ratings on the other Conjuring movies, but that seems like more work that I'm ready to put into this blog.) It's just The Nun all over again. And the thing is...the nun is scarier. Not the movie, of course. That movie was kind of trash. But the imagery of the nun was super duper scary and the Occultist is more of a watered down repeat of the same idea.
But the bigger problem lies in the fact that this movie has no idea what it wants to be. The marketing people knew that. The trailer made this movie look like it was The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The tag / "true story" was about this trial that surrounded Arne Johnson, who claimed that he was innocent by means of demonic possession. (My wife claims that the real Arne claims so much shenanigans about the way his story was told.) So the story seemed like the events of the plot were going to be told in flashback form and we were going to have the 12 Angry Men version of a Conjuring movie. You know? Something different that we could absorb. But then it quickly sidetracked the whole thing. It offered this puzzle box that kind of lied to us. Arne isn't possessed, but he is? Then, we kind of get this antagonist who really has no proper motivation for this movie.
I'd like to point out that I'd really like this blog done before midnight. I might start really phoning it in here, but we'll see. I really don't get her motivation. I really try investing in movies and I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. The cool thing is that The Occultist is a mirror bad guy for Lorraine. That's kind of fun. But her entire character arc is that she is the child of an exorcist and she became the very thing that Daddy didn't want her to become. That's the beginning of a story, but it isn't the whole story. There really needed to be a greater tie for this character to the story because she really doesn't have anything to lose for failing, shy of being defeated by these two characters. Like, it almost comes down to mischief for mischief's sake and that doesn't make sense.
But then there's also the problem with Arne. Arne should be the central character in this story. This all ties back into the movie not knowing what it wants to do. Arne makes the mistake of welcoming in a demon into his soul to save David. Basically, he does the old sin of doing something evil to accomplish a moral good. I'm not going to talk about the principle of double effect or anything because 1) it doesn't belong here and 2) I really got distracted down a Facebook video hole for about an hour. But Arne is the sympathetic character that we should be caring about. He's the one who made an honest mistake. Sure, that mistake is one that we all screamed at the screen about. But Arne then becomes this real background character in his own story. There's this desperate shift to try to get back to the format of the other Conjuring movies and it is just this mistake. The movie really really really wanted this problem to be a story about the Warrens, but all of the stakes for the Warrens are artificially placed on them. It doesn't really make for good storytelling. But instead, we have this villain who mirrors Lorraine (which I already established was fun, but she doesn't have a personal connection) and a heart problem for Ed, that despite being a problem that Ed really had, seemed really convenient for the bulk of the story. Ed's heart problems and feebleness faded or returned as the story needed to be told.
I want to say that the movie could have done something with the Ed versus Lorraine ending, but it didn't really set up anything for that kind of story to be played out here with the exception of the forced flashback. I know I can't be the only person who said "They're showing this because one of them will have to remind the other one of their past to bring them out of something" right? It just all seems like it has elements of cool stuff, but refused to commit to any of them. And I really knew that Ed and Lorraine were going to be safe despite Ed's heart problems. Do you know why? This might be the most insulting thing that I could write on this blog, but I don't mean it to be. Here is goes: The Conjuring films are keeping Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga at the right level of celebrity. Neither one of them has exploded into Avengers level popularity like Robert Downey, Jr. or Chris Evans. The Conjuring movies are Farmiga and Wilson's way to keep doing what they want with their lives. These movies make a lot of money, but not ungodly amounts of money (pun intended). That means that it would take a lot for these characters to move on from these films. It's a bummer because those kinds of stakes are needed to tell a compelling story. But that's not what is happening.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Hey! I never called it Conjuring 3 since I said that I would) is typical of the third entry in a franchise. It's getting a little stale. It doesn't really offer anything new. The stakes seem artificial. It actually makes me question how good the first two entries really are...because I'm just removed enough to requestion everything.
R for lots of language, violence, sexuality, drug / alcohol abuse, and nudity. This is another one of those stories that is just about the world of outlaws and vice. Unlike The Outsiders, the movie has a less kid-friendly appeal. That means that we get to see the creepier version of the stuff that we saw there. It's far more bleak, while oddly kind of glorifying of the lifestyle. (The same thing happened with Fight Club, if that helps you understand what I'm talking about.) A well-deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola
I keep watching these Facebook videos of a BBC show called "Unpopular Opinion." Here is my unpopular opinion: I don't get what people see in The Outsiders. "But aren't you an English teacher?" Totally. But that doesn't mean that I have to love every book that ever existed. The Outsiders never appealed to me at all. There are elements of the book that I get and are pretty good. But on the whole, I never really liked it. It's not the rebel element of the book. After all, I really like Rebel without a Cause. But there's something about Rebel without a Cause that isn't in The Outsiders, or by the transitive property, Rumble Fish. It is the element of wanting to be out of that life.
I'm going to be making a lot of comparisons to The Outsiders because of S.E. Hinton, Diane Lane, Matt Dillon, and Francis Ford Coppola. It's the elephant in the room, so I'm just going to come out with it. This is borderline a sequel. Coppola immediately finished The Outsiders and went right into this movie. And that's going to come into play when talking about Rumble Fish. Both stories are about the embrace of vice. I know that Hinton has messages of the toxicity of crime with these stories. After all, these characters have absolutely terrible lives. They are surrounded by crime and vice on all sides. Everyone seems pretty darned miserable. But the thing about Hinton's stories is that they are kind of sexy, in the same way that the artist tortures himself for something greater. In the MPAA section, I made the comparison to Fight Club. I don't hold any disparaging thoughts on Fincher's effectiveness in that movie. But I know that he and Pahalniuk always commented that people just didn't get the message that anarchy was an empty promise. Too bad both of them made anarchy sexy as heck. The same thing in true with The Outsiders and Rumble Fish.
But Rebel without a Cause is about the desperation to redefine oneself. Jim in Rebel moves from place-to-place, desperately trying to reach that state of tabula rasa. It is the world around him that keeps throwing him back into that world. But Rusty-James (by the way, if you tried playing a drinking game and you had to sip every time the name Rusty-James came up, you would die) embraces this horrible world. He goes out of his way to make his life more and more toxic. If you really wanted to argue against my point that Jim is someone sympathetic while Rumble Fish has no one, you could use The Motorcycle Boy as your evidence. But The Motorcycle Boy is so aloof and emotionally distant in this movie that it is hard to say that he is really fighting for anyone's freedom, despite the fact that it is technically the point of the movie. But it is really hard to feel sorry for Rusty-James because he is given multiple opportunities to do the right thing, but he never EVER takes it. I mean, he goes as far as to have an orgy. That doesn't really make for a sympathetic character.
And yet, Rusty-James is supposed to be sympathetic. His flaw is that he is always in the shadow of his brother, who is wise enough to know that this lifestyle isn't really worth it. There's a weird irony with the whole Motorcycle Boy dynamic. Rusty-James oh-so-desperately wants to be the Motorcycle Boy. Okay, that makes sense. But The Motorcycle Boy looks on his own life with scorn. He's distant because all of this seems toxic or boring. (I'm not quite sure because Mickey Rourke's portrayal of this character --as much as I love the actor --is enigmatic as get out.) But there's this whole tree of how different characters view success in the world. Dad sees no one as successful. He's a loser and everyone around him is a loser. Rusty-James views The Motorcycle Boy as the most successful person imaginable, mostly because of his brains and his status. The Motorcycle Boy --and this is me taking a shot in the dark --views his mother as successful because she got out...
...but the Motorcycle Boy got out. He went to California. He found his mom. (Unless none of that is true which is a possibility based on the performance.) But he left to return to his throne and to take care of Rusty-James. That's the thing that I don't get. I get the vibe that The Motorcycle Boy loves his little brother and knows that he needs to take care of him. After all, Rusty-James is almost killed a few times in the movie. But I never got the vibe that he came back for the Motorcycle Boy. It really feels more like The Motorcycle Boy can't fit in normal society. He would rather be the king of the slums than simply a citizen in normal society. But that is in direct conflict with the end of the movie.
The Motorcycle Boy intentionally gets himself killed to force Rusty-James out of this lifestyle. Again, the end is a bit cryptic. You could argue that Rusty-James becomes the new Motorcycle Boy, but I don't like that as a conclusion as much as Rusty-James being free from the life. The Motorcycle Boy left California because he didn't fit in there. (I really don't read the story as the Motorcycle Boy returning for Rusty-James simply because he is so darned enigmatic and deified in the story.) Won't the same cycle happen to Rusty-James? I mean, we see him at the ocean, implying that he went to California. But The Motorcycle Boy is educated and can fit in with society. Rusty-James despises the idea of society. He's thrown out of school. He's distracted and is frustrated with his own intellect. If The Motorcycle Boy couldn't make it in California, what makes us think that Rusty-James would have greater success with The Motorcycle Boy's mantle?
I want to love the colored fish. I do. But the use of color, as much as I love the idea of it being a metaphor for seeing things differently, feels like Francis Ford Coppola is just getting in his own way again. Coppola is a talented director who believes everything that I believe about art. He believes in pushing himself and taking chances. But he also is so desperate to get out of his own shadow that it comes across as childish at time. There's a lot of shots in this movie where he's trying to be avant-garde, but it comes across as an art school student at times. I wonder if Coppola is depressed about the fading memories of American Zoetrope. I feel anything that isn't The Godfather is an attempt to recapture the glory days of his filmmaking youth. The aesthetics aren't really appealing in Rumble Fish as much as they are surreal. The entire movie has a hard time being vulnerable. Instead, it hides behind nostalgia filmmaking (despite the fact that Rumble Fish claims to be set in the present day). There's a lot that doesn't appeal to me here.
I wish I liked this kind of stuff. It's just that nothing here really screams clean to me. It feels like when I watch THX-1138. It is a cool experimental piece, but doesn't really hit the buttons it needs to, especially considering that Coppola is an established director by this point. I wish he would grow, not regress with his filmmaking.
Not rated, but it really felt like Sam Fuller was trying to upset people with this movie. It deals with mental illness primarily, but in a really exploitative way. As part and parcel of this, the movie discusses incest, racism (including racial slurs), murder, and sexuality (with a comically over-the-top portrayal of nymphomania). It should be pointed out that the female lead is a stripper, but there is no actual nudity in the film.
DIRECTOR: Samuel Fuller
Years and years ago --heck, definitely more than a decade ago --I got really excited to watch Shock Corridor. There were Criterion movies and then there were the deep-dive Criterion movies. You know, these often weren't the movies that showed up in conversation like a Bergman film or Jules & Jim. Nah, stuff like Shock Corridor fell into a category borderlining on cult. Yeah, it was a Sam Fuller film, but that just meant that it would be a hard-boiled noir to a certain extent. I got all jazzed up to watch this movie, saw the title screen...and then quit. I couldn't tell you what happened. Honestly, I got a couple seconds into the opening credits and I know I never watched beyond that point. I worked at the video store. I tended not to hold onto movies for more than one night. But something in me returned this movie before I had a chance to sit down and watch it. Well, it's 2021 and finally decided to give this one ago, especially considering that Criterion had it remastered.
Shock Corridor has a really appropriate title. It's somewhere between a cinematic masterpiece and absolute schlock. Like, it really has elements of both. I've seen my fair share of Sam Fuller movies. I know what to expect when I'm about to sit down for a Sam Fuller movie. There's going to be an examination of man's obsession with vice leading to his grim downfall. I feel like you should be making your way through a fifth of whiskey while watching a Sam Fuller movie. He knows how to shoot a movie and he knows how to tell a story. But I also knew that Shock Corridor was going to be a little bit different. I can think of the OG Criterion box and how it just mirrored one of those Something Weird titles we had in the cult section. And for my long way around the subject, for as much as this movie is kind of a hard-boiled film noir, it also is a super deep dive into exploitation cinema.
A lot of me is judging this from my comfortable, holier-than-thou perspective of 2021. Mental illness is a very real problem and is treated like this awful stigma, despite the fact that much of it is considered very treatable. But Shock Corridor probably shares more in common with Freaks than with any contemporary views on mental health. Johnny Barrett as the sane avatar / protagonist has an in-universe reason for being in this asylum. He is investigating a murder and he must pretend to be mad to roam freely among the residents. That's all fine and dandy. But the real reason that Johnny Barrett is in the mental institution isn't to find the killer. Instead, he acts as our guide for the multiple larger-than-life personalities within the system. He is taking us around the zoo and showing off the exhibits. But that's all okay, because it is under the notion of telling a story and mental illness just happens to be the setting. (There's a healthy amount of sarcasm in what I write. I don't know why I'm hiding behind this, considering that it makes my writing all that much more unclear.)
But it is so interesting to see Fuller apply the laws of film noir over Shock Corridor. As much as much of this comes across as a hard-boiled detective story, it kind of isn't. Johnny's downfall almost reads like a Twilight Zone episode. The structure is all there. There are very clearly delineated act breaks and we see this guy whose hubris seems justified for the greater good get his just desserts. I mean, everything kind of feels like Rod Serling. And it's funny, because Johnny is doing something objectively noble. If I removed all of the trappings of this story, he is a member of the fourth estate sacrificing himself to uncover the truth. That would make him a noble hero. But Fuller doesn't allow Barrett to have that kind of glory. Everything that happens to Barrett over the course of the story is well deserved. Cathy continually reminds him and warns him about the dangers of subjecting himself to those kinds of living conditions. And he's not pursuing the truth for altruistic reasons, like truth or justice. No, he just wants the Pulitzer Prize. By devaluing the lives of the inmates of the asylum, Johnny's downfall mirrors something that Rod Serling would stress: he has become the very thing he viewed as less-than-human.
Fuller's clear condemnation is the state of the mental health industry. Portraying it as formulaic and cold, the doctors involved with Johnny's incarceration seem cold and corrupt. (I'm not sure if I understood the story properly when the killer is revealed. I'm pretty sure that Dr. Cristo was the head of the whole conspiracy, but Johnny never really makes that connection. Perhaps that's because he doesn't care about the details; he just wants the answer.) But I don't know how effective --or how passionately --Fuller fights to get his theme across. This isn't exactly a well-researched piece about the conditions of the mental institutions across America. This is full of people who suffer from delusions about who they are. And every personality is grandiose. It's the kind of characterization that we would see in soap operas, where people were convinced that they were Napoleon and the like.
I do find it interesting that race plays such a big role in mental illness in this film. Out of the three witnesses who are given larger attention than any inmate shy of Pagliacchi, two of these disorders are tied to race. The first witness was a Communist sympathizer who now believes that he is a Civil War general for the Confederate States of America. For me, I instantly saw the racial connection, but Fuller treats this more as the Grand-Ol'-South of the Lost Cause Theory. (If you don't know the Lost Cause Theory, you should study the crap out of it right now.) But the second one is the more telling one. Dave Chappelle ended up making a whole bit about the Black man who is a Klansman because he doesn't know he's Black. (I'm not going to make a direct connection to one of my favorite films of the past decade, BlacKkKlansman, because that's a whole different scenario.) That character almost makes the film worth it by himself. I mean, it's really over-the-top. I can't deny that. But Fuller seems to be calling out his audience directly. Seeing what bigotry has done to this kid, forcing him to echo the sentiments that he has heard. Coupling that with the references to the Freedom Riders is something that is absolutely devestating.
The most effective element of the movie is the one that has me thinking the most though. Right before any character reveals moments of non-scientific lucidity, the film goes to full color. It's very striking. (Coincidentally, the next movie I'm writing about is Rumble Fish, another monochromatic film that dabbles with color.) It's very effective, but I don't know if the three times element is the best way to go about it. Fuller presents these flashbacks that seem like they are comprised of stock footage. The first one kind of works with Stuart's flashback to Japan. Because it is only one scene and it is weird that he's showing of Japan instead of Korea, I could pretend that was always intended for Fuller. But the other flashbacks clearly stress that these are just random shots. Johnny Barrett never once mentioned a fear of water. But when the end of the movie had to show colorful waterfalls, it did create that effective close of his hallucination tied to rain. It just all seemed a little forced. Regardless, it worked.
Yeah, it's a good movie. I actually really enjoyed it. But it is a bit too cornball for anything serious to really come out of it. I mean, the nympho scene alone look like it was set designed by community house players. These women came across like vampires or zombies without even a hint of nuance to the performance. The movie, as much as it draws attention to the mentally ill, never really treats them with any sense of humanity. If anything, they are considered to be a virus, stealing humanity from the unlucky souls who must share space with them. It's a good movie, but it is also a bit lazy at times.
PG-13 despite some pretty intense sexuality, often with a side of infidelity. Like, it's Hallmark-Movie-13. It's more risque than a Hallmark movie. But just imagine if the Hallmark Channel included sex in all of those romances. It would be something like that. Yeah, it's meant to be sexy, but it is also meant to be kind of adorable versions of what is really happening. There is nudity, but nothing that would be outside of bathing suit nudity. Still...it has a decent amount of sex in it. Also, the movie is super casual about a couple in love hitting each other. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Nick Cassavetes
This entire opening paragraph is going to reek of "He doth protest too much." I've never seen The Notebook. I'll give you a moment for your collective gasps. [allots pause for collected gasps] I know. I was notoriously single in 2004. I asked my wife once if she wanted to watch this because I had never seen it. Please, give her all of the credit in the world for being a wife who likes romance movies, but doesn't get much pleasure out of rewatching romance movies. I think The Notebook fell into the "It's fine" category, so that's not usually a tree I spend too much time barking up. But this movie is in a ton of my movie books. I have a scratch-off poster in my basement (that, unfortunately, I scratched most off when I initially got it) that has The Notebook. According to the algorithm, it was finally time to watch The Notebook.
When I saw that this movie starred James Garner and Gena Rowlands, I squinted really hard at the opening credits. I mean, the movie starts off with this absolutely gorgeous opening of a silhouette rowing against a setting (or rising?) sun. It starts off classy as heck and stars Gena Rowlands? Maybe I had misjudged this movie. I started to think of how the casting process for this movie came about. I mean, it has a pretty rock star cast. But this movie isn't known for exactly being the most memorable of performances. I mean, it made Ryan Gosling a household name. I think it may have jumpstarted the career of Rachel McAdams. But one thing it doesn't really have is the performances, despite having an amazing cast. And that's when I realized that the movie was directed by Nick Cassavetes. Somehow, part of me thought that John Cassavetes would somehow be in the film, despite how morbid of a notion that would be. But it kind of gets points for having this specific cast in it. I mean, I got to see another Gena Rowlands movie! How great is that? Sure, it wasn't my favorite. But part of me also really wanted to hate it.
And that's the problem with movies like The Notebook. I don't deny that it is very cool to hate on movies like this. While The Notebook is far from my cup of tea, I also refuse to begrudge anyone from liking this film. I'm probably going to spend a lot of time being really negative about it. But in reality, it's a perfectly fine film for what it is. It's meant to be sappy as all get out. Many romance movies, especially ones that want to make any amount of money at the box office, can't exactly afford to be subtle about the emotional manipulation happening in the film. It all makes a lot of sense. And for a romance movie, it hits a lot of great things. I already talked about the stellar cast. While a little heightened with its view on reality in order to play up the nostalgia card, the cinematography and mise en scene are pretty solid. The score is decent. The only thing that really bugs me is that it feels honestly and truly lazy in terms of storytelling.
I like bummer stories. I really do. Great storytelling thrives on conflict. Things can't always go well for the protagonists. It's funny. Most people who like romance stories tend to not like depressing things. But I often find romance stories horribly depressing. It's what makes them interesting. Getting two people together who are meant to be together doesn't actually happen in most movies. Instead, some sadist needs to put this couple through their paces. They need to have heaven and earth separate them so that when they finally get together, they can have a bittersweet epilogue, despite the fact that their prime years were injected with an abhorrent amount of tragedy. The Notebook takes these two characters, both a little flat and archetypal for my tastes, and then shows them the potential of their unity. But then, the movie has to physically force them apart because of a third party.
And that's what this great romance really is: punch after punch to the gut. Noah and Allie are happy together? Let's make economics and education a factor. Noah grows as a human being and tries to defy the fates? Mom will make sure that Allie gets none of the letters. Against all odds, Noah sees Allie again and tries to make a grand gesture to get her back. She's over the moon with some other guy. (You couldn't make him evil, Nick Cassavetes and Nicholas Sparks? It would have been really simple and far less complex if he was just a monster instead of nice sidepiece James Marsden.) Then, of course, she has to have crippling dementia. The movie goes out of its way to not name James Garner and Gena Rowlands characters. I mean, it seems pretty obvious that they're Noah and Allie. But the person who was in charge of the subtitles at one point just gave up the pretense that they weren't Noah and Allie and started labelling them as "Noah:" and "Allie:". I don't blame you. It was pretty transparent.
I can't help but be myself and I am completely aware that I am influenced by my setting is history. Noah and Allie are pretty gross, right? Allie doesn't welcome Noah's advances. Noah chases after Allie when he first sees her because he finds her physically attractive. I get it. He's handsome, so he's allowed to have that overwhelming confidence. But she straight up says "no" to him. She is with company. He doesn't know their dynamic. So the idea that he can ransom her into dating him is just gross. But Allie isn't exactly a great human being either. Allie...straight up cheats on her fiancé. I know that Noah cheats on the war widow (which is really gross the more I think about it), but at least he was always up front about his thoughts on the relationship. But Allie swears that she loves Lon. Even when he finds out, she still swears that she loves him. That's pretty messed up. And the lesson of the movie is that she has to do what she wants to do, not what will make other people happy. Is that really the best message of all time? I mean, yeah, she should do what she wants. But that doesn't mean that she doesn't have a responsibility to others.
And my least favorite romance trope showed up not once, but twice: the completely understanding significant other. I talked about how romance movies need just an insane amount of conflict and heartache to work. That's just part and parcel of romance storytelling. But romance movies also want to have the characters get together. To do this, these characters have to realize that they are side characters in someone else's story. There is no way that they think that they are the protagonists in their own tale. The war widow straight up wants to meet Allie. They have a lovely evening. Remember how her husband died, this depressed jerk used her for her body, and she was left alone again? Yeah, I'm sure that she would feel grateful for the time that they had together. Remember how Lon didn't do anything wrong? Remember how Allie kept stressing how much she loved him? How did that end? He let her go to be with this guy who stole her away. She didn't even get yelled at. Lon was a little mad at Noah and that's it.
Which leaves me with the framing narrative. It's very sweet that Old Man Noah took care of Dementia-Riddled Allie. It's remarkably sweet. But any story could have that as a framing narrative. There's nothing about the flashback storyline that ties into this titular notebook being written for the sake of preserving memory. It is really just a sweet gesture to know that Noah has always been a nice dude (except when he's break war widows' hearts). It just doesn't tie into the main plot in any significant way.
But this is some people's bread and butter. It hits so many buttons that I come across as a monster for not really digging it. I love me some romance, but I also really hate emotional manipulation. And that's what this movie really is. Emotional manipulation. But at least it was pretty to look at.
Passed. Man, "Passed" covered so much. This movie has murder of an invalid, a horrific abortion, suicide, and stalkery behavior. But, again, we're looking at the 1945 versions of these things. Like, the movie gets remarkably dark. But also, you know, I could have technically watched this with the kids in the room. I remember that one of my kids walked in and I didn't even bother to pause it because you don't really see anything. It's just disturbing content all around. Passed.
DIRECTOR: John M. Stahl
It's so bananas how much less time I have to myself when it is summertime. You would think that a teacher in the summer has just a wealth of time to be writing film blogs. I also just realized that I should probably start on the letters of recommendation this week as well. But it always happens that we fill up the calendar, especially now that Covid restrictions are loosening up a bit and we're vaccinated. (Note: Please get vaccinated and get your kids vaccinated when they are able.) But I watched this a few days ago. I planned to write about this on Saturday and everything just came together to stop me. It was a miracle that I was able to exercise given how busy I am. Regardless, I'm jazzed to write about this movie.
It's so special when you know nothing about a film. I threw this on my Amazon wish list almost exclusively because of Amazon's recommendation and the fact that it was a newer Criterion. (I admit, when it comes to Criterion, there's an element of me that is super basic.) From the color scheme and the art design on the cover, I thought that this was going to be a romance story in the vein of Rebecca or something. And for the first half-hour, I felt that I was dead on with that guess. I mean, Ellen clearly has a secret. She comes from this mysterious family who all give each other knowing looks and have dramatic funeral services. (While my faith prevents me from being cremated, I ask that you watch this movie and give my final repose the same degree of scope, scale, and intensity as Gene Tierney gives to the scattering of her father's ashes.) And then, Russell Quinton enters the story.
I noticed Vincent Price's name show up in the opening credits. Now, I thought he was going to be his old spooky self. I mean, I can't even imagine him playing a normal role in a film. I suppose I was both right and wrong about that character. Russell Quinton's character almost deserves a prequel of some sort. As enigmatic as Ellen is in the film, Quinton has this rich understanding and obsession with Ellen. It's so bizarre because the movie is fundamentally about toxic love. Ellen loves to the point of obsession. No one is really able to reciprocate Ellen's obsessive love, which is what makes the movie worth watching. But the film also kind of implies that maybe Russell Quinton can? Vincent Price brings this element of hidden knowledge to his portrayal of the character. It's like he is the only one who can possibly understand Ellen for who she really is. It's very interesting, and his character is what pivots the film out of gothic mystery into full on Spider Woman film noir.
Because it is Russell's appearance that prompts Ellen to come up with the weird charade that Harland has proposed. She really put all of her eggs in that one basket, assuming that Harland was going to be okay with the assumed marriage. After all, it is revealed that Ellen wrote Russell a letter saying that she was going to be wed tout suite. How that wasn't a big red flag for how Ellen works, I don't know what is. Film noir is one of those genres that tends to punish protagonists for something. It's really hard to be angry at Harland in this movie. There are many times where I try to sympathize with Ellen. But every time that Harland does something morally dubious, we find out that Ellen's context is way WAY worse.
If film noir punishes its male protagonist for something foolish, it's odd to think that the movie actually rewards Harland for when he actively embraces vice. I mean, I'm reading this with my own moral eye and I know that the movie wanted to give us a happy ending. But Harland is actually a morally focused character for a lot of the film. Harland's big inciting problem is going along with Ellen's lie. When Ellen lies about Harland's proposal, that's the only real vice that this character partook in. He's a writer who seems actually pretty clean cut. But once he goes along with the lie, that's what incites Danny's death. It incites the death of his unborn child. He sees someone who is emotionally manipulative and indulges her whims until he is completely broken. But the film wants us to have a happy ending to a certain degree. After all, Harland's misdeed is fairly mild and it seems like the punishment never really fit the crime. But to give him a happy ending...
...he needs to have an affair with the antagonist's sister. See. we can all shut our brains off to make this work. The movie actually begs us to do so. Ruth has been through so much. Harland has been through so much. They have this great chemistry. They're clearly meant to be the healthier couple. But...it also makes Ellen right. Ellen's obsessive love is rooted in the nature that people aren't meant to share love with any other person, regardless of what kind of love or who the person is. When Danny moves in with the two of them (by the way, what is Ellen's secret with Danny in the hospital? That's never really spelled out clearly), she views natural fraternal love coupled with sympathy an obstacle towards Ellen's romantic love with Richard. It's why she allows him to drown. (Her confessions later are great because they're just the right level of nuts.)
I can't deny that she is the one who actually causes her own fears to come true, but she's nonetheless right about everything. Putting Harland in a scenario where he is alone with Ruth caused Harland to see that Ellen was completely bananas. And for all of her paranoia, it's kind of weird that she's accurate about her fears. That's me oversimplifying everything once again, but it makes the movie really interesting. Because --and I'll stand by that --he shouldn't have dedicated the book to Ruth. He is straight up warned that he has to dedicate every novel that he writes to his wife. Ellen, despite the fact that she's actually nuts, has a valid reason to be jealous, especially in light of that dedication page. It makes her the slightest bit sympathetic, despite the fact that she killed Danny.
It's a really solid film. Yeah, it's a bit sappy and there are sections that could use some nuance, but it really works. I mean, it's going to be better than the next movie I do, so I have that going for me.
PG for intense kid-flavored violence. I suppose we could throw some meanness somewhere in there, which might invite pause for little ones watching this movie. For some reason, my brain shut off when I saw that it was PG and I confused that for "G". Because no movie is G anymore. But really, it's comic violence. It's a story about the apocalypse where the death toll is remarkably low. The robots are kind enough to capture the humans so they can deport them to space. The implication, however, is that humanity would just die in space. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTORS: Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe
Yeah, I'm a grown man who decided to watch a kids' movie without his kids. What? I heard it was really good and the kids just didn't have the patience to watch this. They, admittedly, were on a Teen Beach Movie kick and I wasn't going to 1) get involved with that and 2) stop them from soaking that in. But I also really wanted to watch this one because of whatever tie it had to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Right now, Lord and Miller can do no wrong. It's bananas to think that they had Solo: A Star Wars Story taken away from them because they seem to be Hollywood's blockbuster it-guys.
But again, I return to that old well of being emotionally vulnerable when it comes to family stories, in particular where it is about connecting / reconnecting with Dad. I'm not Katie Mitchell at all. Katie Mitchell is as Gen Z as it gets. (Okay, she's as Gen Z as Gen X directors and producers can conceive of her.) It's so bizarre that these movies are tying me to the old farts. You know, I bond more with the out-of-touch dad than I really should. I mean, I can't build a cabin out in the woods. I don't carry around screwdrivers. I'm wearing a Falcon tee-shirt. But I actively fear the idea that my daughter will grow up and just absolutely despise me. Watching something like Mitchells just preys on that sensitive subject. My little girl will grow up and stop liking comic books. There's going to be that moment where I ask her to put her future phone down and interact with me and something I do will be horribly tone deaf. This is going to happen. I mean, all of this blogging has been so passé for so long that it is having a vintage renaissance.
But I do love that films address this idea. There always seems to be this misunderstanding that people don't love each other because they don't speak the same love language. (I'm very hip.) And it is everyone but ourselves who see this problem. And where other movies fail to communicate this, movies like The Mitchells vs the Machines get that the theme is central. Listen, I love Up. I do. If my kids decided on Up as a family movie night movie, I would be there with bells on. But Up is very telling of the state of most children's films. There is a message that the movie really REALLY wants to tell. With Up, it is moving on from grief. With Frozen, it's about finding a sense of self. But the middle of the movie, the story is padded with a bunch of action sequences that are often entertaining, but distract from the central theme. But Mitchells offers a theme that is actually built and supported by the action sequences. When the robot uprising happens, it is a metaphor for the central idea: communication. Dad sees Katie as someone who is more consumed by pop culture and technology. From his perspective, she withdraws from reality when she makes quirky videos. Katie is the opposite. To her, technology is a means of deeper communication that her father fears and avoids. While not intentional, she sees her father's refusal to adapt to a new medium a means of rejecting who Katie has become. When the film anthropomorphizes this fear into sentient walking robot death machines, both of these characters has to come to grips with their own failures to understand the deeper meaning of technology as a form of communication.
But I do love that it doesn't make one of them the bad guy and the other the good guy. I mean, I suppose Dad is the one who has to make greater steps towards change as opposed to Katie. Katie has a lightbulb moment about the sacrifices that her father made for her. Dad actively has to change for the sake of the family and for survival. (I really wanted to send my mom a clip of Dad failing to do basic things on the computer, but I quickly realized the irony of that wish and put it in my back pocket.) But Mitchells takes it beyond that old Will Smith chestnut of "Parents Just Don't Understand" and applauds Dad for making the effort. It makes it weird to think that a movie really stresses the sacrifices that parents make for their children. Mitchells embraces the concept that parents lose that sense of individuality that children thrive upon. Yeah, I'm sure that there are plenty of stories out there that will encourage the mature parents to rediscover their dreams. But let's be honest: Dad kind of wants what Katie is desperately fighting for. He probably doesn't even realize that he's the one who is most standing in the way of Katie's sense of purpose.
It's a great movie. I don't know if it is perfect though. Into the Spider-Verse was everything I ever wanted out of both a Spider-Man movie and an animated film. It had this look and feel that just nailed everything. The Mitchells vs the Machines feels like an amalgamation of both Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Into the Spider-Verse. For as cool as the story was and how fun the film was as a whole, I don't know if there was anything visually or stylistically groundbreaking. Instead, it had that twee element about it that, at times, felt like it might have been trying a bit too hard. I'm being rough on this point, mainly because the rest of the movie is so good. But there are moments where it felt like it was hiding vulnerability behind these graphics. Regardless, it mostly works.
Nah, I dug it. My son, now that Teen Beach is done, wants to watch it right now. It probably had to do with the fact that I'm writing about it and we stopped having screen time for the day. But he got jazzed about it. And to be honest, I don't mind watching it again so soon.
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.