Not rated, but as seems to be the norm for the Martin Scorsese World Cinema Project, there's weird random nudity and actual animals being slaughtered on camera. Oh, if you think you can prep yourself for that slaughtered animal, you can't. It seems like everyone is having a good time and then the camera pans a bit down and there's a goat in its death throes. I audibly "gah-ed".
DIRECTOR: Ahmed El Maanouni
Martin Scorsese and I have different tastes in music docs. I love music docs. I don't know why. I think I've written about this before. But there are a handful of music docs that just do absolutely nothing for me. The quintessential music doc that does nothing for me is Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz. I know. It's heralded as one of the greatest music docs of all time, but I think it comes from the fact that everyone's borderline afraid to disagree with Scorsese himself. (Yeah, I said it was overhyped. This blog isn't afraid to bear its teeth.) You want to have a little insight into some metacontext? Most people haven't heard of this movie, let alone seen it. I know few people are going to click this link. But if you did click this link because you are a Literally Anything: Movies Litanie (My forced fandom name), you can literally quit with that first sentence. That's all you need to know after this point. Everything in this is going to be me burying myself in opinions that don't really matter because it all comes down to taste.
But it probably comes down to the English teacher in me that bothers me when it comes to the music of Nass El Ghiwane. Note that I put "English" and not "literature" or "writing" teacher. I put English because my view is super-duper Western. Western writers have the luxury of exploring art through metaphor and symbolism. Much of the music in Trances, while not absolute, is very literal. There's almost no interpretation because it is all very on the nose. Often in the form of prayers, these songs tend to ask God to stop the burdens of oppressive regimes, lamenting the atrocities that have befallen the people of Morocco. Now, I get it. As much as I think that America is going to Hell in a hand basket, the fact that I can write about movies instead of partaking in actual meaningful protest shows how cushy my life is. But much of the music reminded me of "American Idiot". Some of you out there are ready to punch me in the face for slandering what many consider to be the height of Green Day's musical career.
What you might misinterpret is to state that art shouldn't be political. Back that truck up before it gets anywhere because I absolutely believe that art should be political. But when art leaves the realm of figurative speech, it becomes talking at instead of talking with. "American Idiot" left no room for interpretation. Americans were idiots for putting up with the Bush administration and Green Day was going to sing that loud and proud. The people who really liked that song were people who also agreed with Green Day. It was a preaching to the choir, only the choir was singing at the audience. It seemed like the majority of the songs in Trances (I choose to write the name of the movie because it is significantly easier than writing the band name over-and-over.) left nothing to the imagination. When a reader or an audience unpacks lyrics, there is an investment in the message, even if that message runs contrary to political beliefs. The audience becomes active instead of passive. While it isn't brainwashing necessarily, it is something that becomes part of the code. It's why so many people have the epiphany that Rage Against the Machine may not have aligned to personal values.
But there was something else that bothered me that I don't think I have proof to say definitively. Am I alone in thinking that this wasn't much of a documentary so much as having the members of the band pretend that they were being spur-of-the-moment. I know, there's the ideology that believes the very nature of documenting something strips reality away. I think we're a couple steps away from that even. Outside of one scene, where the band argues about revenues and lawyers, everything feels staged. It almost feels scripted to me. This brings up the role of reality versus perceived reality; is there such a thing as truth? We could look at wrestling and use that as evidence on either side of the debate. But something just felt inauthentic about the relationship between these guys. When one of the band members is waxing poetic about the role of God and their place in Islamic culture, it feels like he's reading off a script. There's a certain irony to that as well because one of the major comments that people make about the band is that they are more of a theatre troupe than they are a musical group.
But that's why the lawyer scene stands out so much to me. The fact that these guys are there to spread the good word of the people makes this feel like a political movement. We don't really get a lot of pushback in terms of risk from the group. If anything, this seems like a celebration of a culture that a regime might actually approve of, for the most part. But I like to contrast the arguments that happen that feel staged, like the men talking about the validity of lyrics, compared to the notion of getting paid, the results are very different. When talking about lyrics, the entire mood is, "We're all having a good time." It's beyond ribbing, but not by much. But when we look at that lawyer scene, they abandon the veil. Everything seems like the punk rock frustration that we should be seeing in a rock doc. It's the verisimilitude that much of the movie is lacking. It just feels so artificial. As much as the aesthetic might come from something like Monterrey Pop or Woodstock, it might have more in common with early reality television where people are posed into conversations.
The following is the most subjective thing I'll ever write because I can easily see a way to argue against it. I mentioned the fighting about money thing being punk rock. Fundamentally, there's almost nothing rock and roll about the band outside of the way that the documentary is made. There are these really cool images that are spliced between the scenes. Often, I don't quite get why this image is present in that moment, but aesthetically it is very cool. But the band is the least rock n' roll thing I've ever seen. The music is aimed at males. There are a few women at these concerts, but these are dude mostly celebrating their love of God and country. It's making a counter-culture doc about country Western music, only talking about valid oppression. I think the problem I run into is that this is a culture that is legitimately oppressed, but wants to replace it with another repressive culture. Again, I said that this was going to be subjective. But it is also ignorant. But when punk rock wants to see the world burn, writing lyrics about the goodness of the blood of martyrs makes me kind of cringey. It all stems back to the element I wrote about lyrics being on the nose.
There's something that should have affected me more than it did. We can write off a lot of my gripes as the notion that this movie wasn't made for me. I kind of have to accept that, so keep that in mind. But a bandmate had died prior to the making of this movie. It's kind of imagining the Beatles as if they kept playing after the death of John Lennon (and never broke up prior to that. I mean, Queen still tours...). For the people who have been following this band as most of the interviewees do, that would be a major moment and people who probably come in with that knowledge. But there is some peppering of memories to the previous band member. It's just that I'm supposed to break down crying, and there really isn't a whole section on the influence of that guy. There's this cross-cutting in the final song with a different song sung by the dead member of the band and it DOES NOT WORK. These are two very different songs sung at very different tempos and ranges. If the band played the old song and then cross-cut, that might be effective. Instead, it leaves a sour note in the last shot.
I know. I almost shouldn't be writing about this. There are cultural norms that I just don't get and were never meant for me to get. But part of me is also being the audience of Martin Scorsese. Martin Scorsese has the World Cinema Project for the sake of teaching the world about these films that have been left largely ignored. If I'm Martin Scorsese's audience, Trances does little for me outside of great cinematography. If anything, it leaves me a little frustrated.
PG, but it isn't exactly for all audiences. While mostly pretty innocent, there are some references to sexuality. It all tends to come out of nowhere, so it makes it really hard to fast-forward past. I also don't think that the movie would appeal to younger audiences. Heck, I know few adult audiences who would really invest in this movie. It's the definition of art house film. PG.
DIRECTOR: Federico Fellini
God knew I was frustrated with this blog and decided to have Weebly erase everything because I hit the backspace key. Control+Z did nothing to save what had happened and now I must write an extremely frustrating blog entry with an extra element of spicy frustration. I must confess that I don't necessarily get all of this movie. Part of that comes from the idea that I, in fact, do get quite a bit of it and that I'm left lacking with fulfillment with what seems to be a lackluster interpretation of this movie. Part of that comes from reading other people's takes on the movie and it aligning with what I thought the movie was saying as well. But it was almost like Federico Fellini, in 1983, decided that there would be a forum for future writers to cry about having to write too many words about a movie that is just meant to be felt, not interpreted. Then he would go back further in time and make 8 1/2 for the same reason, only making it so good that it is blasphemous to critique something so sacrosanct incorrectly.
Part of all of this comes down to is the idea that I do get more than I think I do, but I have a hard time verbalizing those feelings. And the Ship Sails On is about feelings. There's a message, but that message is something that is mean to be absorbed. But the idea is also incredibly inside baseball, which means that I can't show And the Ship Sails On to the masses with the hopes that there's going to be this glorious takeaway from John and Jane Q. Public. I'm in this middle ground, both a lover of the humanities and with a history of the humanities, but also grounded amongst the hoi polloi. (And I've become a new level of low, using the word "hoi polloi" without irony. What kind of monster have I become, simply because I'm forced to rewrite a film blog that probably no one will read.) I say that this is "inside baseball" because it is aimed at a very specific audience. This is a criticism --a satire --of the artist. There is a metacontextual element that Fellini himself is the ur-Artist making a film talking about the vapid personalities of artists.
Everyone on the boat is an artist and everyone on the boat is an archetype and a caricature of what a real person is like. While we have our fourth-wall breaking journalist, he is not the main character of the film. The movie lacks a protagonist. If anything, everyone on this ship is an element of setting. They are living, breathing mise-en-scene. And everything that I just said is what Fellini wants me to take away from the film. Like a less tongue-in-cheek Blazing Saddles, Fellini breaks the fourth wall and reminds us that everything in this movie is part of a movie. The fact that this large world is actually quite contained in the closed-off Cinecitta Studios in Italy is a statement on the role of artifice, which is what the artist presents. From the movie starting with the silent picture formula of yesteryear to the opera singers aboard, everything forces you to fight for the idea that this is art and it isn't real. It is Bertolt Brecht and "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" as a film. The second that anything happens, we are instantly reminded of the nature of illusion. What is odd, though, is that there is both a paradoxical love and disdain for art itself.
Every artist in this film, when framed in the lens of "art" and "the artist", comes across as flawed. There's a scene that I really liked. It's probably one of the more memorable scenes in the movie, if I had to guess. The opera singers are brought on a tour of the inner workings of the ship. (And an entire weekend passed between rewriting the first part of this blog and the rest. If I have lost my train of thought, I wholeheartedly apologize...) This is the scene I read up on and I was thrilled to find out that I wasn't the only one affected. The men of the ship are as working class as can be. If the artists represent artifice, the workers on the ship are the real world. Their real world is about problems that actually kind of matter. Listen, I'm all about art. I literally teach humanities. I write a film blog. I have a theatre degree. I can keep going, but know that I spelled "theatre" with an "-re", which may say enough. These men below are wanting their artists to provide a salve to their weary souls. To de-fancify the previous sentence, they work hard and they just need a distraction. By today's standards, they want to crash and watch The Big Bang Theory. They know that they have these very talented opera singers and they want to hear the high note. Naturally, from the perspective of a diva, this boiler room, devoid of any hope of staging or accompaniment, is not ideal.
We're left at a crux. The men deserve to have some entertainment. Their life is terrible. The boiler room mirrors a level of Hell and all they need is a distraction. But there's a certain "dancing monkey" element to the whole thing. This soprano (?) is an opera singer because of the love of art and is not here for tricks. But that's what makes this scene so much better because there is an opera singer is loves the bag of tricks that accompanies an opera singer. He can't wait to show off how well he can sing. That leads to this cascade of one-uppmanship and the bowels of the ship becomes a slam-dunk contest. If the film itself is about the artifice that comes with artists, this one scene sell it so well. What we once thought was a moment about the sacredness about art quickly reveals that, in her heart-of-hearts, the diva wants to be the best singer in the room. Seeing that someone else is willing to debase himself, she doesn't want to lose the value that her clout has given her. It's so deliciously human that this was the moment I jumped on board (no pun intended) the film.
It's really weird how the second half of the movie is the part of the movie that starts offering a plot. It's a little scant, I don't deny. But it is something that I adore. Again, playing up the themes of the artist versus the audience, there is a physical divide between the performers and the Serbians rescued at sea. Like with the diva, the veil of difference is dropped when one person comes in with a lack of ego. I think it is Violet who demands that the windows of the dining hall be opened and she brings the starving people food. I love this part because the Serbians makes the characters approachable. What start off as caricatures (elements of which stay around for the whole film) make these people human. Even though the Serbians exist almost as an element of setting, with the rare exceptions having names or lines, they are the most emotionally gratifying. Between having an actual storyline, they make the performers more human and vulnerability. Maybe that's my frustration with a lot of the movie is that the movie fears vulnerability for the majority of the film. There's a political message, but one that's muddy and may be more of a cultural theme than a universal theme.
I wish I liked this subcategory of Fellini more. It's the stuff that people rush to. I like absurdism, but I also like my absurdism as an extension of character. I've watched a lot of Fellini lately and there's stuff I like. This is the first one that brought me back to that 8 1/2 discomfort that I have a hard time getting into. Like I said, in the same way that I have a hard time with Bertolt Brecht, the same holds true for this kind of Fellini movie.
PG-13? How?! It's got full-frontal nudity and in a quasi-sexual context. It has actual footage of a guy getting trampled by police officers on horse. What? I mean, I get it is history, but that doesn't mean that it is appropriate for all children over thirteen. I promise you, if I showed that film in my class, I would get in a lot of trouble. There's some mild language as well, so keep that in mind. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Phyllida Lloyd
Oh mercy, I don't want to write this. I know that I won't finish another movie tonight, so I really don't have to write. But I also know that procrastination doesn't do anyone good. I probably won't finish this blog entry either, which doesn't exactly leave me inspired to knock this out. But who knows? Maybe this lovely cup of tea will provide a muse for a blog about the Margaret Thatcher biopic. I mean, it's not like I don't have anything to say about it.
Before I really get into it, I have to admit that I did some Googling. For the entire film, I wondered what this movie had to say about Margaret Thatcher. For all of my hippie dippie liberalism that I've embraced since the beginning of the Trump administration, I have a woefully outdated understanding of the subject of the film and the subsequent Thatcherism that accompanied her time in office. Much of it came from an alcoholic professor from my brief stint at Oakland University. Aggressively Irish, this professor would find ways to get off-topic and rail against Thatcher, regardless of subject matter in the class. A demon in his eyes, I got the notion that she was the devil's own puppet. This same professor would make me give him rides home from class. It was never made clear what forced him to bum rides from students-slash-only-me, but I simply shorthanded it to the notion that he had too many DUIs when it could have been something as innocuous as a seizure disorder or something. We would make small talk on those painfully long drives to his home and I pretended like I could hold my own when it came to talking about Margaret Thatcher. I was able to hold my own when it came to British cinema, especially political or war films considering that I had seen more than my peers. But his influence over who I thought Thatcher was clouded every interaction after that point. It's not that I thought that he was necessarily right. I was naively conservative during that time. But like Ronnie Reagan, she was someone you loved or hated.
So I had to Google what the point of this movie was. While the movie seems to be loving of this woman --not wholly, but overall --it seems odd that someone like Meryl Streep would paint the former prime minister in such a sympathetic light. It's not like the movie is a hatchet job, tearing apart what Thatcher spent a decade forming. But instead, it shows the nobility of a woman who seems to have lacked basic empathy. It's more about the notion of a woman who did pull herself up from her bootstraps (an issue that creates a toxic personality given time and distance) fighting the good fight in a patriarchal society. It's the story of an anti-feminist feminist, who knew that men were dismissive of women but didn't view privilege as something that existed. If anything, like most movies where the subject is beloved, the trial becomes slightly about how the subject was right, despite everyone saying that she was wrong. But even that is an oversimplified read of the events of the movie. Maybe it is in that complication that bias is removed. There are times that the film seems to swear that Margaret Thatcher was the greatest prime minister since Churchill and other times where she's given the short end of the stick when it comes to societal change. As one of my resources states (and I paraphrase), "For a movie so entrenched in politics, it's odd how apolitical it is."
It's really weird. This movie almost should have been about someone else. Maybe I'm showing my own bias saying that a movie should have taken a stance on Thatcher that was a bit more biting or loving. At least there would be something to say. But the real takeaway is the the fact that death comes for us all. By the way, Thatcher doesn't die. But she is in that liminal state. She was this powerhouse of a personality (at least in this version compared to Gillian Anderson's take on The Crown) is simply a living echo of the past. The notion that death comes for us all is reflected in the sadness of waning mortality. Her past is defined and recontextualized by her present, a woman who is haunted by the hallucinations of her husband. As a ghost, Denis is both loving and cruel. He is perhaps a version of Denis who never really existed. Because it is a biopic, we get all of these flashbacks to juxtapose who she was versus who she is now, but that might not be the point of the story. I railed against Spencer for defining Diana only by her illness. But I might actually call for The Iron Lady to emulate a movie that hadn't existed yet.
There's only one scene that really shows the problems that Thatcher really had. It's a scene where her own conservative party call for a little bit of empathy to the poor. In that moment, she berates her staff, especially those closest to her. The whole thing that many conservatives run into today is echoed in this scene. I'll use the example of the college loan forgiveness that has recently passed and the controversy that accompanied it to illustrate. Thatcher, mad that she came from little and as a woman, finds her own success to be something that is universal. Instead of wishing for the opportunities that she was blind to influence her choices, she sees everyone else looking for handouts that she didn't have. I mean, I see the point. The point of view is miniscule and somewhat heartless, but I get it. It's in this moment that we see the seeds of her own downfall. But that isn't something that is necessarily conveyed throughout the piece. In fact, the more progressive voices in this movie are regularly seen as stodgy and out-of-touch with the common man, which makes them, to a degree, villainous. (By the way, for those playing the "How responsible is the blogger game?", this is where I ran out of time.) It's almost like The Iron Lady is shackled by the formula of biopics.
The biopic has a script, you know. I've commented on this before. Sometimes it's harder to see than others, but most movies keep hitting the same buttons. With The Iron Lady, I really do believe that the filmmakers want to give a maligned character in history a fair shake. As much as Oliver Stone hated George W. Bush, W. never hit levels of absurdism when it came to its critiques of its subject matter. In both The Iron Lady and W., there's this attempt to be fair. It makes the voice of the author appear objective. I think The Iron Lady strays too far on that front. To make Thatcher appear to be the woman who may have lost her way, it has to make her seem heroic at moments. And I will grant that Thatcher had genuine wins in her career. But to make her seem heroic, she needs a villain. And the villain, in this case, is the collective group of progressive minded politicians, often encapsulated by a hobbit-like bald man with glasses who harrumphs his way through the movie. Now, imagine that you are me way before today, the Tim who voted for George W. Bush twice. Got it? I watch The Iron Lady and I view it exclusively as a celebration of her life and career. It would never dawn on me that she wasn't empathetic. At worst, I would see that she was tired of having to fight off men and she lost her cool with them once inappropriately. But that is a generous read for the movie. Yeah, I want to be about her dealing with failing mental health. Yeah, I want it to be about the roles of women. But I also don't want it to be blah.
And I almost lean that the movie may be political and that Meryl Streep has weirder politics than I thought possible. The movie starts off with Thatcher escaping her residence and buying groceries in a bodega. Surrounded by ethnicities painted in antagonistic lights, it implies that maybe Margaret was right about her isolationist attitudes. And I can see that the director might just be using the contrast between the bodega and the grocery store of her past as Thatcher's perspective on the weakness of contemporary Britain, but it doesn't read that way. It actually implies that she was right, which is horrifying because slums existed in yesteryear as well. The movie is dangerous because it must be watched with a critical eye, which is something that most movies don't require. Heck, the reason that I do it is because I know that I'm going to write too many words about every movie I see. So I'm left with the movie being one of two things. 1) This is a celebration of Conservative values, implying that England has lost her way without the eponymous Iron Lady or 2) this is an irresponsible movie that lacks clarity all of the sake of a solid performance by Meryl Streep.
I'm ashamed that I fall back to an intimate knowledge of Smallville where Lex quotes someone, and I paraphrase "So its either that I appear evil or I appear incompetent? I'll take evil any day."
PG and I totally agree. It's really weird because the movie is fundamentally about adultery. But it's almost the aftermath or the periphery of adultery. We don't see anything that would be objectionable. While the movie hides sexuality behind a curtain, we don't have anything that is even remotely sexual, despite the rumors contrary to that. The only thing that would make this movie not for kids is that it isn't aimed at kids. It's an adult movie with very little that could be objectionable besides what we bring to the movie.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
I'm really surprised that I haven't written about this one before. I showed it to my first film class and they really got into it. It's also the only Wong Kar-Wai movie I owned before buying the box set. I've watched it over-and-over again. But it must have been six years since I've watched this film, so I have to write about it. (Originally, I gave myself a pass to not write about movies that I taught, simply because I often didn't pay attention to the film while I was screening it. That has since changed.)
I'm glad that this was the Wong Kar-Wai film that I owned before the set. It might be my favorite because it is a love story that we really haven't seen before. I have been, overall, enjoying my Wong Kar-Wai box set, but I've always been disappointed to see Wong Kar-Wai use the Hong Kong storyteller's crutch of relying on violence and coolness. I don't know why that stuff bugs me so much. Maybe it is because I'm so familiar with In the Mood for Love. This is one of those movies that is just pure and vulnerable. Considering that Wong Kar-Wai's strengths lie when his films get aggressively vulnerable, I don't think he ever does it better than In the Mood for Love. Even with the other love stories that Wong Kar-Wai has given us, there's always an element of lust. Maybe that holds true for In the Mood for Love. But the optimistic part of me would like to think that everything in this movie is done in the preservation of love. It's not that Mr. Chow and Mrs. Chen don't love each other. They completely do. But there's a respect for the value of love. At least, that's what I choose to believe.
Wong Kar-Wai messes with me a lot in this movie. If anything, this is a masterclass in how to redirect attention through storytelling. There's a certain gullible element to the movie because Wong Kar-Wai keeps pulling the same tricks and somehow getting away with it. The characters will say absolutely sexual and angry things to one another, to only follow up with the notion that this is play-acting; prepping for their inevitable confrontation with their respective spouses. It's a kind of pornography in a weird way because the movie really doesn't let us see these characters using this practice for actual good. There is no break with these adulterous spouses. But that's what makes the actual ending so cryptic. As I have established, I want to believe that the two have never allowed themselves to have a physical affair. Instead, they toe that line, allowing each other to be comforts for one another. On the one hand, one of the key lines in the movie is that they refuse to be like their spouses. They know that their spouses hold no respect for the value of marriage. Starting as a support group for the cuckolded, they eventually develop feelings for one another. In that moment, they do the responsible thing: they separate physically. Mr. Chow moves to Singapore, knowing that he can't trust himself around Mrs. Chan.
But there's the hole in the tree. That story that Chow tells his slimy co-worker implies that there's a secret that even we don't know. Now, the easy answer (that I choose to believe is correct) is that he whispers his love for Mrs. Chan into the knot of the tree in the temple, burying it forever. It's tragic, yet keeping with the themes of the story. But there's the other loose string: the child. Mrs. Chan, in the three years between Mr. Chow's leaving and his return, has had a child. And, yeah, it could be her husband's child, which makes her loneliness all the more tragic. But it also realistically could be Mr. Chow's child. There is the allowance of hand holding as he leaves her forever. It's the combination of two things that make that end so darned --yet appropriately --frustrating.
It's the dual nature of our personalities at play here. I know that not everyone shares my annoying moralizing when they watch movies, but I get really annoyed when romance films are about forgiving adultery. Yet the entire film is about holding in that big breath and begging for exhale. The reason that this movie works for me so well is that they don't have the affair. But I can't deny that I was so begging for Wong Kar-Wai to find a way to have me justify their infidelity. It's this beautiful love that can never happen. And he establishes that it isn't about sex. There's no heavy breathing scene. There's no almost scene. No, it's about two people who have been hurt and the kinship they find in their mutual pain. They grow from that pain and find a way to survive. They don't thrive, but they do survive. And when it is that moment where any other movie would have their protagonists claim a well-earned happiness, they are aware that the happiness would be pervert what they mean to each other and betray who they fundamentally are. It's painful and it's perfect. I don't know how to work it.
I love that Everything Everywhere All at Once referenced this movie. Everything talks about the many choices that we make in the name of happiness and the idea that those two main protagonists find In the Mood for Love the template for "What could have been" is absolutely ideal. On top of that, I can't and dare-not try to write about this movie without talking about the absolutely perfect visuals that it holds. Considering that the 2000s were all about excess imagery, this movie holds both bold imagery with a tempered feel to it, matching the plot and the themes of the film. Both of those people are gorgeous human beings and yet, their behavior is never extreme. We are given the glory of 1962-1966 Hong Kong and it never takes an extreme position. Instead, the camera lingers on the reddest of reds you'll ever see in a movie.
As usual, I have a hard time writing about movies I love too much. It's partially because I don't have sounding boards. I know. It's a lame excuse. But be aware that this movie absolutely destroys. It's a perfect film and I adore it.
Not rated, but it has some pretty messed up content. In older movies, if you watch an animal get slaughtered, there was no PETA making sure that it was for the ethical treatment of animals. You know that phrase, "Like a chicken with its head cut off?" Yeah, I know what that looks like now. Also, a dog really gets shot. I feel bad putting those first because they are the most graphic elements of this movie, but there's also a sexual assault that happens off camera. Also, the movie is loaded with non-nudity sexuality and mild violence.
DIRECTOR: Metin Erksan
I spent way too long trying to find a picture above. While I agree that the image above looks far too sexual for this blog, it is technically showing a jerk sucking snake venom out of a wound. Also, the aspect is all wrong, but I needed something that didn't have a watermark and was high enough resolution. I'm really struggling all around now because I'm writing against a clock and I have little desire to write at all. I know. My life is the hardest.
I'm still wading through the many, many Martin Scorsese World Cinema project movies. It's not that I don't like them. Often, I'll like them quite a bit. But part of me really is in the mood for something fun and stupid. It's not that I don't get opportunities to watch that kind of movie. It's just that, right now, I'm in the mood to watch something stupid. And Dry Summer is overall pretty darned great. It's not perfect. It actually has a lot that I'm going to be griping about over the course of this movie. But the movie absolutely achieves what it set out to do, which is to talk about capitalism and gender roles in Turkey. It seems like all of the movies in this first volume love to talk about the upper class as the villain. The funny thing about Dry Summer is that, apparently in Turkey, the villain is still pretty lower class. He just has more money and resources than his neighbor. I'm pretty sure that I've watched and written about other Turkish films. But I rarely get the idea that Turkey is really about opulence. Rather, the culture in Dry Summer is about dog-eat-dog.
That's partially because the other farmers don't necessarily have individual personalities. We get the notion that Osman enjoys that he has power over these people and that everything that he does is unjust. It's how not-to-run-a-farm 101 undoes every bit of goodwill from such a character. But the film takes the hard stance of man v. society quickly and doesn't allow the other farmers to really become people. They often serve as an exposition for how the community rallies against Osman. Yet, somehow even with the anonymity of the individual farmers, the film is still effective to show how off-the-rails Osman really is. Perhaps the moment where Osman kills one of the farmers is a little dulled by the fact that we don't really know who died. But they just really use the death to get rid of Hasan, which is one of the central plot points midway through the story.
It's in this moment where the film could be confused for torture cinema. Hasan is in jail and almost disappears from the film until the conclusion of the movie. But the movie rapidly spirals into a force of survival between Bahar and Osman. That's what we really care about. I'm not saying it isn't about the water. It absolutely is. But the relationship between Osman's obsessive clinginess to property also applies to his obsession with Bahar. It's so uncomfortable and so cringey (it's supposed to be!) when Osman stalks Bahar once Hasan marries her. That joke goes on way too long, where he begs for male nephews. Erksan quickly follows that sequence with the honeymoon with Osman staring through a crack in the wall a 'la Norman Bates. But it is in his obsession with Bahar that we see how truly awful of a human being that Osman is. While we all should disagree with how Osman handles his farm, he does have a small point. If you really squint, you can understand that he's just taking care of his own land before allowing others to bleed him dry.
But that argument is almost annulled by the way that he treats Bahar. When Hasan goes to prison, it is with the understanding that Bahar will be fine when Hasan gets back. And I kind of believe that Osman may not have thought himself the scoundrel that he turns out to be. But Osman takes his greed to this next level when he starts destroying letters from Hasan. Everything becomes about ownership and coveting. When he believes that Hasan is dead (which isn't exactly clear if he really believes that), he assumes that he will be able to seduce Bahar, despite having abysmal social skills. But he then takes her. I'm not clear if the wedding happened or didn't, but it is implied that Bahar views herself as Osman's property. If you take the way he treats Bahar as understood property, his argument that he needs all of the water for his land becomes a bit absurd. He may need water, but the element of hoarding is the real issue. It's physically verified in the notion that Osman swims in the pool that forms from the dam from the spring.
Can I tell you what really got under my craw? It's so stupid. It's so stupid that I shouldn't even document it. It's the kind of thing that children cry about. I'm not crazy in saying that every fight scene was bad, right? I've always hated fast-motion added to fight scenes in old movies. It never screams anything about reality. But even more so, what about fight choreography? I know. Other cultures value different things than Western audiences expect. But there's nothing fundamentally budgeting about planning out violence ahead of time. When Osman takes on all of the farmers with an axe, it almost doesn't make sense that he survives that moment. And as bad as that moment is, I have to talk about the climactic battle between Osman and Hasan. What happened there? I know that the director wanted Hasan on the ropes when it came to Osman, so Osman had a gun. But that gun didn't make a lick of sense when it came to that fight. I was just watching that scene and thinking that every gunshot that was fired at Hasan should have killed him. And that scene is so important. If you just took the gun away, that scene would have played out beautifully. The idea of these two forces of nature battling in the life blood of the earth is perfect. But the gunshots? It feels immature considering so much of this movie warranted attention and craftsmanship. How can everything be set up so nicely and then that happen?
It's not one of my favorite movies. There's some good stuff there, but I feel like I want to like it more than I actually do. It's by no means a bad movie. It's just fine.
TV-MA because it is just one of those disturbing films. While there isn't much that is necessarily gory, it does always threaten to show some messed up stuff. In terms of graphic imagery, there are intentionally crude images of violence. Rather, the bigger takeaway are some of the themes of mental illness, pedophilia, and murder throughout the film. It's not easy to watch at times.
DIRECTOR: Jane Schoenbrun
I swear that I'm not shirking my writing responsibilities. I just haven't seen any movies for the past week. That's pretty insane for me, considering that I used to watch a movie a day. It's been one of those situations where real life never gave me the opportunity to sit down and watch a movie. Okay, I could have not taken a nap during the Paw Patrol movie, but that was a choice to avoid writing about it. It's funny, I write these very off-topic warm-ups. The entire notion about blogging in regards to a movie about Internet attention isn't lost on me. I know that only a few people read this blog, one of whom is a bot from Turkey who posts ads on my Blade Runner page. But unlike Casey, this blog is mostly for me anyway. (That being said, I miss my old numbers.)
I forgot how this movie fell on my radar. Maybe it was io9. Maybe it was something else. But I remember thinking that this was going to be one of those life-changing movies. To a certain extent, it is. It's hard to talk about this movie to people who haven't seen it. Again, many people won't end up watching it, so I have no problem dropping spoilers in this blog. But my big takeaway is that it is almost a genre unto itself. I would say that this movie has peers, like Eighth Grade or We Need to Talk about Kevin. But in terms of genre --or more accurately, subgenre --it is its own unique brand of horror. It is one of those movies where you wait for the other shoe to drop. I think we've been conditioned so long to associate imagery with trope that when the movie doesn't follow a tried-and-true path, it comes off as a little alienating for us. The movie starts with the inciting incident. Casey, in the opening of the film, is doing something called "The World's Fair Challenge." From the first shot of the film, we get what the director is commenting on. This is a film about the YouTube generation, where primarily adolescents fight over how their fifteen minutes of fame are going to look like.
We don't need to know about "The World's Fair Challenge." I mean, I can't deny that seeing the opening credits list something about "The World's Fair", which only piqued my attention, despite the fact that I'm supposed to be above such things. But the imagery in that initial shot, coupled with the worldbuilding that Schoenbrun brings to the rest of the film, indicates the world of Creepypasta. There's something underground and off-kilter about Casey and the real-estate she occupies on the Internet. We've been given the lesson before that we should not mess with demonic forces or else we ask for the supernatural to influence us. The tales that the Boomer generation warn us about come true and that's what makes a horror movie. But Schoenbrun never really lets us know through direct means whether "The World's Fair" has anything to do with reality until you take the film as a whole.
We can substitute "The World's Fair" for lots of different things that act as scapegoats for societal ills, especially those involving teenagers. Casey, desperate for attention (not judging her, but stating a fundamental element of her character), tends to lean towards things that others might find anti-social. She wears shirts evocative of heavy metal bands (although I am woefully ignorant of this subculture). She gets into Creepypasta fiction. She's deep into horror and has a YouTube page that is going unviewed. (Remember, kids, share the link literallyanythingmovies.com with your friends!) But what the film is about is that nothing in this world is making Casey lose her mind. Casey is dealing with a genuine undiagnosed mental illness and her only means of self-medicating are these outlets. It's a movie about correlation versus causation; about cause versus effect. I love that the movie puts so much emphasis on "The World's Fair Challenge" because it gives us a look into the world of this fictional subculture. It plays with the notion of tropes and archetypes and subverts those ideas. If the point of horror movies is to deliver scares that make us feel safe afterwards, this movie straight up tells you that things are not going to be okay and the real world is actually quite upsetting.
I want to clarify that last idea. I was talking to my students about horror movies. I don't know if this surprises you, but a lot of high schoolers really like scary movies. A lot of them don't. I don't judge either way. But one of the conclusions that we came to is the dopamine rush of an adrenaline comedown. When we get scared in a horror movie, we feel danger for a split second before gaining instant relief. We are not in danger. A fictional character is in danger, but our brain can't tell the difference. We let off instant cool down, in the form of laughter or hyperventilation. Contrast this with real danger and you can probably get where I'm going with this. I used the example of getting in a near accident. When we drive and nearly get into a catastrophic accident, our adrenaline spikes and stays spiked. We don't know we're safe for quite a while. Realistically, we shouldn't be driving. It's why that kind of scare is unhealthy. But We're All Going to the World's Fair introduces a new kind of scare. The very notion of being savvy horror movie viewers makes us have a sense of dramatic irony. All movies where the protagonist does a dumb challenge that is meant to have supernatural consequences is supposed to pay off with supernatural results.
But that's not what the movie does. If anything, what we see is a world of lies. It's the Ouija board all over again. Casey tells herself that she's experiencing symptoms of this event. But she's also the same person who has to Google what symptoms other game players have had. Sitting out in the woods without a coat on may be a fun first step towards a descent into madness, but it is also something that is easily faked. And that's what we get for the majority of the movie. Between the other videos that she watches and what they are experiencing, our movie-watching mind can't wait to see something real. In the worst way, we are JLB. We are voyeurs, waiting for something real and haunting to happen to Casey. But we want to define what happens to Casey. There needs to be this sense of justice. She has messed with the universe and the forces of the afterlife; clearly there must be a comeuppance. Instead, we get the story of a very sad girl who very well might become a school shooter. Her threats against her father may be part of some elaborate form of storytelling, but it seems like she's using that story to tell a truth. She wants to kill her dad and she is using the World's Fair to excuse her behavior.
There's one scene in the movie that absolutely destroys for me. It's when JBL exits "the game." Like any concerned dungeon-master (he's totally a pedophile and I want to talk about him before I'm done), he sidebars out of character and reminds Casey that his is a game. Casey's reaction in this moment is perfect. Like all placebo effects, Casey has to lie to herself about what is real and what is fake. There's something almost religious to her interpretation of signs of the supernatural. Like many people overwhelmed by the spirit, I genuinely believe that Casey thinks that her behavior is caused by The World's Fair Challenge. But when JBL sidebars with her, all of that comes crashing down. She feels like that stupid little kid at the beginning. This World's Fair Challenge gave her the permission to act like a violent person and now she has to pretend that it was all fake? That's heartbreaking. But it is similar to the thing that hypnotists and tent revivals do. I'm not saying that all spiritual experiences are false. What I am saying is that some people desperately need therapy and they get a version of therapy from excusing themselves from social norms.
JBL is gross. I was going to write a whole thing about this. But that end sequence, while intentionally cryptic, doesn't read with the rest of the film. I can't see Casey having a healthy life in another state. Also, his constant stressing of the contact that he is making with her screams that this unsaid voyeurism has a perversion behind it. It's really upsetting. But even more than upsetting, it is oddly more sad than scary. JBL believes that he is the hero of the story. He sees what he is doing as innocent. I love that he has a luxurious house because it is such a juxtaposition to what Casey is dealing with on the farm. He has nothing in common with Casey, yet he yearns for a taboo connection. It uses horror as a justification and an invitation to be creepy. But JBL is creepy. It's that fine level between a game and real life. When Casey is shocked that the whole thing is a game, she's not exactly at fault for doing so. It's about manipulation and kicks and it comes across as super gross.
Did Casey kill her dad? I think so. I really do. JBL, as our only source of info at the end, is perhaps the most unreliable narrator imaginable. He's this guy who really needs the world to be scripted to make him the good guy. Yes, he sat there with his hand against the screen. We saw that. But nothing about Casey screams what he claims. Instead, we're left with a broken girl who doesn't know what's real. Even more than that, Casey, with her realization that The World's Fair is a game, has to come face-to-face with the real truth that everything that she did and everyone that she threatened came from her. That's why mental health is so important, because there is a responsibility when it comes to the consequences. It wasn't The World's Fair that was threatening the kill her father. It was her. All of that was in her and scripted by her. She may not want to believe that, but it has to have some kind of outlet. Yeah, I wish I had a concrete answer to what happened to Casey. But on the other hand, the movie didn't really set up for this big bombastic ending. There was one moment when Casey leaves the frame, post Day-Glo paint and I thought that she was just going to shoot her dad. Sure, that doesn't happen. But like JBL, we write little stories justifying our actions. Thank God for me that Casey is a fictional character, or else every adult male watching this movie would have more in common with JBL than with Casey.
It's a powerhouse of a film. I don't know if I love it or not, simply because there is the slow stretching out of a premise. But it is a great movie that doesn't offer solace for the questions it raises. It doesn't provide a safe haven for troubling issues. And, as I mentioned, it doesn't make you feel comfortable about being safe in your house afterwards.
Rated R, which is surprising because it is the only Lars von Trier movie that I can think of that doesn't sport an NC-17. That's a broad stroke, but it is kind of deserved. Like many von Trier films, the amount of sexuality is overwhelming. There's nudity and sex acts performed throughout the film. The movie really plays around with blasphemous concepts, coupled with taking advantage of the mentally ill. The protagonist also deals with sexual assault, leading to her eventual death. But, R, I guess...
DIRECTOR: Lars von Trier
I don't like Lars von Trier. There. I said it. Anything I say after this --especially if you like the work of von Trier --lacks any credibility. You can write me off. It might be that I don't get it or that I'm too sensitive. But von Trier's work always leaves me criminally depressed. There's bleak and then there's the work of Lars von Trier. And with Breaking the Waves, that's as optimistic as he gets. If you look at my MPAA section, that's a pretty low bar to meet and it is still horribly, horribly bleak. But, and this is me going out on a limb, Breaking the Waves, for all of its misery, might be the most watchable von Trier movie for me because it at least makes the protagonist incredibly sympathetic.
I have so many thoughts that might not lead anywhere, so bear with me. Lars von Trier creates these worlds where people are just awful to each other and it tends to be manifested in sex acts. As much as they are erotic, there's something fundamentally unerotic about the movies that von Trier makes. The human body comes across as base and animalistic. Despite the fact that Bess is always motivated by the concept of love, every sex act she does outside of the initial sex acts between Jan and herself are debasing and painful. In the same way that I don't enjoy Eli Roth torture porn, I view Lars von Trier. Bess is this wholesome woman who is somewhere on the spectrum. Part of her is DID, but often she is treated as simplistic, not unlike Lenny in Of Mice and Men. There's this question about Jan as a character which I think von Trier wants me to believe: Is Jan taking advantage of Bess? I'm not adding that idea. That is there in the script. Dodo, before Jan's accident, accuses Jan of taking advantage of a poor girl. He denies it and it seems like the movie ends with Jan genuinely mourning the death of an innocent girl. Okay.
But the movie, on the whole, is about this perversion of what courage is supposed to look like. It is trying to paint Bess as a saint because she is a creature defined by sacrifice. When we think of sainthood, it is listening to God and putting the needs of others in front of the self. But this isn't some normal act. This is Bess making a bargain with an evil God who wants her to feel misery and sexual humiliation for the sake of a game. It's why I always kind of feel odd about the Book of Job. Old Testament God loves testing folks. But even Old Testament God had a limit. When Abraham is asked to sacrifice Isaac, the angel stops him from completing the act. The idea behind that is that God would never ask his people to do anything sinful in his name. I would like to stress that this is a movie about God. I don't care if you could chalk up a lot of the moments to mental illness. There is a point in the movie where von Trier makes his case on the behalf of God. When the movie was cryptic about the existence of God, there might have been something to talk about. But between the miracle that is Jan's recovery and the bells at the end, the case for God is clear. He's real and he's absolutely awful.
Why? Why do we need that? Lars von Trier paints the faithful of this movie as absolutely awful people. They are monsters, especially in this little village. And we aren't really given anything to compare it to. We could take Dodo's faith life as a healthy pace car for what faith should be, but Dodo's role isn't one of religious common sense. Her role is to both be an outsider for this community as a whole and to act as a foil to Bess when it comes to losing one's husband. Dodo isn't full fleshed out enough to pick up the notion of religious tolerance in the film. She passively resists the patriarchal ideals of this church as opposed to actively fighting for Bess. Part of that comes from her femininity, but more of it comes from the notion that she isn't active in the Church. She's a member of the parish, but she doesn't face the same struggles that Bess does. Bess, because of her innocence, starts the movie as this lynchpin of the role of faith. She prays and works for the betterment of the church. So when the church betrays her, as foreshadowed by the first funeral, it is meant to be heartbreaking.
But that's a little unfair, isn't it? While it is stressed that the church in this small village is filled with religious zealots, there's no healthy alternative in this small town. Even more so, Jan is oddly cool with the standards upheld by the clergy of this town. He almost becomes a gawker at that funeral, not at all trying to stop the fire and brimstone philosophies that the clergy lords over the people of this town. He almost enjoys it, like a secret club that only allows men to flex control over women. It's pretty gross. And yet, Bess needs this in her life because she believes that she is directly speaking to God. And, as much as I have a problem with the portrayal of the faithful in this movie as bigoted maniacs, Bess's relationship with God is somehow worse.
This movie had two potential endings. Bess had to go on the ship, knowing that she was going to be brutalized. I don't think we could cut that ending out. But it came down to a binary. In one scenario, Jan never recovers and that Bess really did deal with potential schizophrenia or DID. (I know that they are different things, but I don't know if she literally becomes the voice of God or it is a voice in her head that speaks to her.) In that scenario, it heavily implies that there is no God. All of the cruelty of this village are without merit and you would be a fool to believe in the notion of God. It would seem like the other ending is more cynical. In the version where Jan is cured, which is the actual ending, God likes torturing Bess. Because Jan is cured and the bells ring through the heavens, God is happy with Bess's sacrifice and wanted her to do all of these horrible things to herself, using Jan as a hostage. I suppose that there is another, less Occam's Razor way of looking at this and say that God was viewing a mentally ill woman do all these things that he didn't want her to do and wanted to celebrate her for trying to be faithful. But in that scenario, there's that fine line about when a miracle is necessary.
I just don't like this kind of stuff. While the soundtrack and the use of chapters really does help the film, why do I want to watch such misery? In the world of Breaking the Waves, it's saying that everyone but the mentally ill are sadists and that God is a sadist as well. Even the "good" people of the movie are problematic. The doctor, for all of his moral grounding, professes his love for Bess. That's wildly inappropriate. Is it because she tried seducing him and now he's all screwed up? Dodo, who is a tragic character in her own right, often says horrible things to Bess. Yeah, she does it for her own good, but there are things that she should and shouldn't mess with. The notion of calling Bess "stupid" is more weaponized than it would be for anyone else and it is a moment where a line was crossed. How can I celebrate anything in this movie? It's so bleak and I know it is the least bleak of anything that I've seen come from Lars von Trier. For a guy who likes really miserable cinema, there is a line crossed when it comes to von Trier.
Rated R mainly because it's a horror movie about kidnapping and murdering little kids. That should be your big red flag right there. But if you are oddly cool with kidnapping and murdering kids, know that there's some swearing and fighting and blood. One kid gets wrecked by another kid and that's just supposedly normal. Also, the swearing is done by little kids. There's also child abuse. So, really, offensive things happening with kids.
DIRECTOR: Scott Derrickson
See, I didn't know that this was adapted from a Joe Hill short story. I kind of love Joe Hill. I certainly haven't read everything Joe Hill, but I've read my fair share of Joe Hill stuff. There's something even more upsetting about the work of Joe Hill than that of his father, Stephen King. I don't know how I recognize Joe Hill stuff quite yet, but just seeing his name pop up in the opening credits was a bonus for me. In terms of interest garnered in the opening credits, there's also Scott Derrickson. I only really know Derrickson from his work on Doctor Strange and the low-key controversy with him leaving Multiverse of Madness. But add onto the fact that this was on Peacock, I was definitely going to watch it.
I also was intrigued because one of my students said it was the only movie he ever walked out of. That blew my mind. I asked him why he left, not caring about spoilers, and he stated that it all took place in one location. I used this opportunity to show the Community clip explaining "bottle episodes" and realized I kind of like bottle episodes. In this case, it's mostly a bottle movie. It's not perfectly a bottle movie. This isn't that Ryan Reynolds movie where he's in a grave and it isn't Phone Booth either. But this movie shares a lot of DNA with bottle storylines. A majority of the film takes place in the Grabber's basement. Bottle storylines work really well with horror for me because we are left with the same questions that the protagonist has. That third person limited perspective forces us to try to solve the same problem that the hero does. We use all of the elements of the room to try to take down the Grabber and we tend to yell at he screen advice more than unearned knowledge. There's something truly upsetting in not knowing what the stakes of the film are.
I'll explain the moment where I realized that giving me limited knowledge helped this film. It's the phone call with the Grabber leaving the door unlocked. This is the first time that we really have a conversation with one of the dead kids. The kid warns Finney that his is part of his trap, the killer's M.O. If Finney takes advantage of the open door, the beginning of the end will start. Now, from our perspective, we have no reason to think that ghosts haunt the phone. After all, a bunch of kids have been killed up to this point and I don't think that they had help from the paranormal. And because Finney is cautious about going up the stairs, we discover that the ghost phone call is actually true in real time. But the movie allows for the fact that the phone call might have been Finney's own self-doubts and fears. For all we know, Finney may have lost an opportunity to escape. While a sizable percent of me would have loved to play The Shining card, wondering if Finney really was receiving help from beyond or if he simply had lost his mind, I acknowledge that the story doesn't really allow for that interpretation of events. The ghosts need to exist for the story to play out.
But that same element, of having a limited perspective, never explains why Finney is special. The Grabber stresses that Finney is special, which confuses him. His sister, stealing Stephen King Daddy's Shining, also has an ability that is unexplained. And the movie really thrives on the idea that there is something unhealthy about these abilities while simultaneously stressing that these abilities need to be acknowledged and fosters. But the movie doesn't give us very much. Instead, we're left to our own devices, telling a larger scoped story that the rest of the film doesn't dare provide for us. After all, The Grabber is clearly a maniac. He talks about a broken phone that rings for him. The ghosts stress that The Grabber hears the phone ring in the same way that Finney hears, yet it seems like Finney is the only one who can have communication on this broken phone. And I know that, if this movie is super successful (and I don't know if it is or not), there will be a temptation to explain all of these things. And there's absolutely no reason to deep dive into whatever is granting a connection between Finney and the Grabber.
I don't think that I've written too much, but it is also based on a short story. As much as I liked it, it is one plot point belabored for an entire movie. I don't fault it because it does work to the notion that everything that happens in this basement matters and contributes to Finney's eventual escape. But what I do find as something that I want to talk about is Gwen's abuse. I'm sure that this element is in Hill's story because it just feels like it should be a Joe Hill story. But I'm mostly talking about how Gwen has to hide her gift from her father in fear of being beaten. It is this interesting idea. Instead of fostering her gift, she's being forced down this road that led to her mother's death. Sure, Terrence, Gwen's father, is trying to prevent the madness from being genetic. That makes for a compelling character, one who is flawed and who has let his good intentions make him into a monster. But do you know the consequence for the movie as a whole? We have to somehow forgive Terrence for his child abuse. The movie ends. Gwen and Finney are sitting on the back of an ambulance, typical movie where they have blankets and all that. And Terrence comes bursting through the police barricade and embraces his children because they've been returned to him. He apologizes to Gwen for doubting her vision and stifling any attempt to get Finney back.
But she shouldn't forgive him. Do you know why? There's the child abuse, which is unforgivable. But even more so, Terrence is a full-blown alcoholic. The reason that he's so quick to really beat his kids is because alcoholism is real and it impairs judgment. The idea that Finney killed a dude is hyper traumatic and he needs a stable figure in his life. Maybe, and this is me reaching, Finney and the Grabber share the idea of not trusting adults in their lives because they are abusive when it comes to recognizing gifts. After all, Finney has now learned that he could kill someone given the proper motivation. His father is a villain. Sure, he's potentially not as evil as the Grabber. But there is evil there that the movie wants us to forgive a bit. And I can't. Neither should the kids. I love that Finney asks the girl he likes to "Call him 'Finn'", but that doesn't change that this is a deeply traumatized kid and that therapy is important.
But ultimately, I really liked the movie. I don't get how a student could find this boring. But again, attention spans are really subjective. I remember not liking Casablanca for the same reason when I was a kid. Sure, this is a scary horror movie. But folks are folks. I think it is pretty solid.
Not rated, but this movie is a hard-R. It's got some pretty graphic sex stuff coupled with nudity (although, not at the same time...). The language is intense and there's some potential normalizing of domestic violence throughout the movie. Tonally, the movie is pretty dour as well. While technically not rated, I would probably give this an R-rating.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
I didn't know much about Happy Together before watching it. I'm kind of glad that I didn't because sometimes going into a movie completely blind is the way to go. I have to admit, splitting up Fallen Angels from Chungking Express may have burned me out on Wong Kar-Wai a little bit. I can't ever deny that he's a genius, but it is nice to see something a little different from him while still sticking to things that are in his wheelhouse. (How noncommittal was that sentence?) I think I've separated Wong Kar-Wai into two different things --which I'll admit is unfair. He's hopeless romantic imbued with a sense of tragedy Wong Kar-Wai and he's cool gangster Wong Kar Wai. I like the romantic Wong Kar-Wai better.
I know that there's a sense of irony behind the title Happy Together. But I wonder if that ironic ending song is forced. Sure, the song is effective as the film plays out, but there's something very hopeless about the movie as a whole. Maybe it is because the time with Ho Po-Wing just seemed so traumatic that I couldn't grasp the notion that it would work out with Chang at all. That's on me. I'm going to talk about Chang later in this blog, hopefully. But I want to focus on Lai Yiu-Fai's time with Ho Po-Wing. The movie starts with this glorious romantic idea (in almost a literary idea of romantic) of two secret lovers fleeing normality to find the majesty of Argentina. They have seen an image of this waterfall and are inspired to see it in real life. Mind you, this isn't the first thing that Wong Kar-Wai shows us in the movie. The movie starts off with a sex act that is fundamentally selfish. It doesn't have any emotion. It is one man treating the other as if an object. There's no talking or romance in this moment. Not for a second is there smiling or joy. The juxtaposition of Lai Yiu-Fai's narration of trying to find this waterfall implies that there is something there that keeps these two together, but it is going to take some work.
But everything that involves Ho Po-Wing seems toxic as heck. I was going to say that there was no domestic abuse, but they do shove each other and physically dominate each other when angry. But it becomes this toxic relationship that we keep see getting worse and worse. Even when they are "happy together", there's a sense of using Lai Yiu-Fai's hospitality. Po-Wing is with Lai Yiu-Fai not out of genuine love for Lai Yiu-Fai, but simply because he is in self-imposed exile, which has unforeseen consequences. Also, Ho Po-Wing is not simply caustic with Lai Yiu-Fai; he rubs other people the wrong way as well. The fact that his hands get destroyed gives the audience an insight into his character that is possibly more fundamental than showing us the nature of that violence. Wong Kar-Wai loves embracing the smallness of their world.
There's something to that. The idea of Argentina being a sense of "otherness" plays a really strong role in the notion of a relationship with these two characters. There's no scenario where either Lai Yiu-Fai or Ho Po-Wing can pass as Argentinians. When they leave the safety of their really crummy apartment, there's nowhere to really go. It's why that first breakup with Ho Po-Wing doesn't really last very long. The world outside the apartment is death. Whether Argentina represents the world in microcosm has a little bit of merit. Remember, this movie was made in 1997. I'm not saying that gay rights have come as far as we'd like to think that they'd come. But there's a very real chance that, for some, a gay couple could mean death, especially for two people that look different. Two men from Hong Kong would garner a bit of attention in any environment in Argentina. Even the Chinese restaurant warrants caution considering how close Lai Yiu-Fai plays it close to the vest when it comes to his relationship with Ho Po-Wing. There are moments where Argentina comes across as quite progressive. We see other gay men in this story, but we don't get many details about them.
I want to focus on 1997 as a setting for the movie. I mean, it was made in 1997, but Wong Kar-Wai almost goes out of his way to stress that it is 1997. Maybe there's something prophetic about the way that he's making this movie, but it gives the film a sense of timeliness to constantly point out the date through the narrator Lai Yiu-Fai. The film both screams 1997 and seems to be a picture outside of time. 1997 is in this era of Miramax filmmaking that is pushing the line. Independent film is pushing boundaries of topics. Contemporary films would be stuff like Boys Don't Cry, Clerks, and Slacker. Happy Together wants to talk about the homosexual experience in a way that challenges audiences. But it also comes across as extremely lonely. As much as I applaud the film for being timely, because Wong Kar-Wai allows us to identify the themes by ourselves, the audience of 2022 might see the idea of being gay as something violent and toxic. This kind of leads me into the inclusion of Chang into the story, so bear with me as I juggle a lot of these ideas.
The only major characters that are confirmed to be gay in this story are Lai Yiu-Fai and Ho Po-Wing. If you take them to be the example of a gay couple, there's major problems to be had. I mean, the second you think about it, they have to be the only gay couple of the film. If being gay is something to be hidden, then there's no scenario where these two guys can go out and find a healthy relationship outside of just pure sex, which the movie talks about. But then there's the issue of Chang. I have to be honest: I'm really bad at identifying gay characters in stories if it isn't made explicit. For many, many watches, I didn't know the characters from Rope, Strangers on a Train, or Diamonds are Forever were gay. Yeah, I'm really bad at identifying it. But I think that Wong Kar-Wai is playing it both ways in the story and letting me struggle with that issues. We know that Chang talks about girls that he likes and the types of girls that he likes. But his interest in Lai Yiu-Fai recontextualizes a lot of those moments.
The frustration of wondering if Chang is gay is probably the same issue that Lai Yiu-Fai deals with in the story. There's a heavy implication that he is gay, as implied with the notion that Lai Yiu-Fai knows where to find Chang if he wants. But Chang also comes across as this healthy element in the story where nothing seems to bode well for a lonely gay man in Argentina. I'm so quick to throw stones at Lai Yiu-Fai as well. Part of me just wonders why Lai Yiu-Fai doesn't just tell Chang how he feels if he's convinced that Chang is gay, but think about how normal it is to not confess a crush in fears that it might ruin a friendship. When Chang listens to the tape recorder at the End of the World and just hears crying, we get that it is all that Lai Yiu-Fai wants to do, to unburden himself of his feelings. It's tragic, which is odd that the movie ends on such a happy song, placed seemingly ironically.
But there is one more read of that ending. While Chang doesn't end up in Lai Yiu-Fai's life, whether through either cowardice on Lai Yiu-Fai's part or Chang's ignorance coupled with his heterosexuality, it could just be that Chang is most happy with himself. The irony of that being, of course, that there isn't any "Together" in the title Happy Together. Going even further with that read, it could have a "No Place Like Home" feeling. The fact that Lai Yiu-Fai starts smiling when he's back in Hong Kong might be telling about the role of isolation in a part of the world. I don't know if Wong Kar-Wai would be condemning world travel. But I think that he is mad at a world so dependent on capitalism that people feel trapped in a country that they don't find home. It's the idea that Lai Yiu-Fai doesn't feel that sense of aloneness and can be found dealing with normal problems, like people arguing about loitering at a lunch counter. That sense of normality allows him to feel literally "Happy Together."
I stress that I think that tragic love is where Wong Kar-Wai shines. The movie is absolutely gorgeous with its mix of hyper color and monochrome plays against the ups and downs of a relationship on the rocks. While I think some of the ideas might be buried, the film works overall. I tend not to like graphic sex scenes, especially when the characters don't seem to like the sex that is happening. But the movie is gorgeous and works overall.
Approved. I'm surprised that this movie hasn't been reexamined by the MPAA because it would probably get a PG-13 or an R. It's right on that cusp. It's full of racism, which is a central theme. But if you were ticking boxes to get an MPAA rating, there's partial nudity, murder, sexuality, and abortions to contend with. It's got a lot of content that, while not necessarily visually graphic, are heavy themes for a movie from '67.
DIRECTOR: Norman Jewison
I actually got a ton of work done, so I have time to write my blog today. Okay, I'll confess. I just didn't want to do the blog yesterday because I was technically ahead of schedule and was plumb-exhausted. I was falling asleep sitting up. But then I ran into the predicament of having actual, real-world work that started piling up and then I thought I was going to fall behind. Luckily, I'm motivated by productivity, hence the fact that I can now write about In the Heat of the Night.
I've seen this one before. I got it as a gift and it was a welcome gift. In the Heat of the Night is one movie that almost doesn't forgive and I completely appreciate it for that stance. It gives a little. I'm talking about the temptation to have Tibbs and Gillespie reconcile. I suppose I might be debating this idea all through this blog, but I honestly think that Tibbs doesn't really forgive Gillespie so much as have hope for change. I'm really putting the cart before the horse here. If the entire movie is about the stubbornness of institutionalized racism, particularly when it comes to law enforcement, there are a few moments where it hopes for a brighter future. I mean, we're living in the now and the past decade has either seen us backslide a ton or realize that we have a longer way to go than we thought we did. But there are moments, like I said, that show that we might be able to move forward from the bigoted crap that we deal with.
The two moments I'm talking about are when Tibbs stays at Gillespie's house and the final shot between Gillespie and Tibbs. The former example is this great misdirect. See, the entire movie makes you want to see Gillespie and Tibbs as friends. There's nothing more cinematically satisfying (hyperbole) as seeing people who rub each other the wrong way eventually become the closest of friends. It's the buddy cop dramedy that we keep returning to in Hollywood. But the problem isn't like most buddy cop stories. In most situations, the difference in ideology is often one where both characters represent extreme ideals that have merit. Both characters could learn from one another and their merging makes them both better people. But with the case of Gillespie and Tibbs, Tibbs is right; Gillespie is wrong. Sure, Tibbs is a fallible person. I'm going to talk about his witch hunt later. But the issue between Gillespie and Tibbs isn't one where they could learn from each other. Tibbs is absolutely morally right. From moment one, Gillespie comes across as bullheaded and racist as the day is long. Tibbs's entire persona is one of righteous patience. He puts up with so much and he epitomizes the Black experience with police.
So when Tibbs stays at Gillespie's house, it is a step forward for Gillespie. He even claims that Tibbs has the rare honor of ever having visited Gillespie. There's something to look at there. While Gillespie is definitely opening doors that he never would have considered before, he's doing so 1) under duress and 2) not really changing his point of view. Tibbs, to a certain extent, isn't really a person to him. At the front of his consciousness, Tibbs doesn't have a personal tie to Gillespie. He will be gone back to Philadelphia in a day or so. But the real deep part of his brain, which is both conscious and unconscious, views him as less than human. Perhaps Gillespie sees this as an olive branch, demonstrating how much he has changed. But his actions later in the scene really throw a wrench into that. When Tibbs bonds with Gillespie, it seems like the two are going to become unlikely friends. For all of Tibbs's loathing of this slovenly racist, he too offers an olive branch to Gillespie. But it is Gillespie who sees this moment of sympathy as something offensive. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, the worst thing that a Black man do is to feel bad for someone who is White. I applaud the fact that this scene plays out the way it does. It would almost be silly to see the two become genuine friends and it would be absurd to think of them as friends. (Hence, why there should never have been a TV show...)
But the end smile. That end smile kind of bugs me. It doesn't make-or-break bug me. But it also kind of feels like a betrayal. The entire movie doesn't let Gillespie and the town of Sparta off the hook. Their true colors fly loudly and proudly and their ignorance is on parade for the lion's share of the movie. Gillespie is shown to be borderline incompetent as a sheriff and the only man who have a good head on his shoulders is Tibbs. And Sparta, particularly Gillespie, is awful to him. Taking into consideration that Gillespie can't stop viewing him as a Black man soiling his White town, the mutual respect that they show to each other at the end isn't really earned. Tibbs shouldn't respect Gillespie. While Gillespie made strides, it was absolutely the bare minimum needed to get the case solved. I would even consider Officer Wood to be a better moment of hope than Gillespie. Wood starts off the story arresting Tibbs, manhandling him, and not allowing him to speak. He finds Tibbs to be a murderer simply because he is Black. But by the end of the film, Wood shows a genuine admiration for Tibbs. He gets mad at him, sure, but only because of his own self-interest.
If you place Wood at the train station with a sulking Gillespie in the car, that's an ending that kind of works. Wood owes Tibbs his life. Wood is facing a murder charge and hits rock bottom before Tibbs offers him a life jacket. When Wood comes out of the jail cell, he's an honestly different man. It was his friends that put him in jail and it is the man he abused who gets him out. All this kind of leads up to my questioning why there's a TV show of this.
Now, I've never seen the show. I am woefully unprepared to write about this. But when I prep a blog, I have the imDb page up in another tab to look up names of actors and some production history stuff. In my ignorance, I clicked the link for the TV show instead of the film and every picture looks like Tibbs and Gillespie become great friends due to their wacky antics. Boy, that seems like a backwards step, am I right? The entire film is about the fact that it takes a life-or-death experience to shake people from a world of bigotry and that's with just the sense of hope that the movie implies. How can you make these characters friends and still stay true to anything that Jewison or Poitier made here? It's the foundation of the story and you turned it into a fun procedural drama? I don't care for one bit.
The odd thing about In the Heat of the Night is that the plot absolutely does not matter. For a really cool crime drama, it ultimately doesn't matter who killed the real estate developer. Honestly, the reveal of who the killer is completely secondary to the fact that Tibbs is being hunted by the town. I mean, the killer being the first person you see on screen is almost a cliché at this point. There is no real reason why that guy killed the victim. His confession shows that he was just nuts and that there was no grand plan to tell this story. Nope, Tibbs is really good at figuring out timelines but not motives. It's all about character, which is what makes In the Heat of the Night watchable over-and-over. And I can't even deny that this movie is even formatted like a procedural drama. We go through all of the steps expected of a crime drama, but it is the most character driven story that follows this format that I can think of. It's a really good movie.
But I can't help but think that the last shot just bugs me enough. I might actually have a hard time recommending this because so much rides on the end. Maybe I'm being too hard on it. Maybe it's just the idea that Officer Wood should be replacing Officer Gillespie. But it is just flawed enough to keep it off that list for perfection.
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.