PG-13. Oh, you thought that Pinocchio would be something made for kids? I mean, it is made for kids. But these are European kids. These kids have seen things. Apparently, they are cool with the protagonist being hanged from a tree. There's all kinds of messed up stuff in this movie. At one point, Pinocchio's feet get burned off. It's just a generally upsetting movie. But did we show it to our kids? Most definitely. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Matteo Garrone
Guess what, guys? I'm finally going to take a little break from the blog. We're talking about a writing vacation. I've been catching up on TV shows, despite the fact that there are at least half-a-dozen movies that I want to see. But I've been looking forward to this break for a while. As much as I love Academy Award season, I acknowledge that it makes me binge watch movies too hard. These movies should never really be a chore for me. So I'm going to take at least a week from blogging and see how that plays out. Mind you, if my wife wants to watch a movie, we're gonna watch a movie and I'll write about it. But if everything goes according to plan, I'll actually be able to relax for a bit. Sure, I'll probably lose my ever-diminishing readership if I take a week off. But if I'm writing because I want popularity, I clearly haven't learned my lesson.
Roberto Benigni really wants to be in a successful Pinocchio movie, doesn't he? I'm pretty sure that he played the titular character post Life is Beautiful, which means he played him as a grown man. I get it. People have things that they really want to make work. I can't say that I saw the original Pinocchio, so I don't have too much room to critique it. I just remember after Life is Beautiful became part of the cultural zeitgeist, people were a little let down to see that Benigni's follow up was the Pinocchio movie. I remember the reviews were straight up bad. So to come back to the same project from a different perspective takes guts. I don't know if it necessarily paid off, but there is something kind of watchable about Pinocchio. Part of me is really spoiled by the Disney version of the movie. It's not like I love that movie. When my son said that he wanted to watch the animated version after we watched the live-action, I was enthusiastic. Not because I wanted to watch the Disney Pinocchio. It was because I could use the time to take a 70 minute nap...which I did. I review that nap 4-stars. Could be longer, but nobody bothered me for the length of the nap.
The thing about Pinocchio is that it really follows the rules of fables. Fables, being narrative stories, have a lesson at the crux of the story. "Little Red Riding Hood" is about following instructions. "Hansel and Gretel" instills fear of strangers. "The Three Little Pigs" is about doing things correctly the first time. Pinocchio, however, is about not being a jerk to your parents all of the time. Garrone's version really nails that point home. It's staring at all of the delinquent Italian children watching this movie and pointing at them for the length of two-hours-and-five-minutes. I'm really going to stress the five minutes because the movie is just too darned long. What I never realized with a much longer version of this movie is that the titular wooden child becomes way more unsympathetic given a longer runtime. The Disney version and this newest entry both stress that kids shouldn't be bad and that they should listen to their parents. But the Disney version is way more likable because he has to work towards his redemption arc early.
For a good hour-and-forty minutes, Pinocchio does absolutely awful things that make Geppetto distraught beyond recognition. And Geppetto is the most likable character in the story. He's Roberto Benigni. Take a second and think about how lovable he was in Life is Beautiful. Now give him a kid who is a huge turd and doesn't care about his feelings at all. Yeah, you feel bad for him, don't you? That's the movie. Considering that I only really think of this movie with Roberto Benigni front-and-center, he actually isn't in the movie that long because Pinocchio keeps on doing awful things farther and farther away from home. And what we quickly get is the beating of a dead horse. I realize that the original story was about the hi-jinks of this wooden boy who keeps falling prey to temptation and being given extra chances by magic, but holey moley. Tom Sawyer is somewhere on the shelf asking this kid to take a break from the naughtiness. At one point, we were sure the movie had to be almost over and we realized that we weren't even at the halfway point. I mean, what other evils did he have to accomplish that day? I have a to-do list on my board that would be shamed by Pinocchio's machinations.
And then there's the fever dream element to this movie. Disney has really made stories way more palatable for most audiences. I get that a lot of the original versions of these stories are meant to be weird. I get it. It's why people like the books. But Garrone's version takes every single weird thing about the original story and brings those in. There are other living puppets. I always thought that Pinocchio was special because he was the only living puppet. The "I Have No Strings" song was meant to be synecdoche, the missing strings representative of the entire magical transformation. But in this case, apparently, if you are a puppet, you are alive, but you have strings. This brings in the weird concept of slavery and classes of citizens. I mean, Geppetto is amazed to find that the magic wood created a boy who had emotions. That's fun. But I guess the expectation was that it would only have life if he gave the puppet strings? It's all very bizarre.
There is something really Terry Gilliam about the whole piece. I love me some Terry Gilliam. I haven't seen enough to really say that I love the complete oeuvre of Gilliam, but he makes these movies that are more visual experience than it is about the content of the story. I wish I could make a stronger connection to Brazil, but I remember having the same experience with Pinocchio as I had with The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Mind you, it's been a dog's age since I've seen that movie. But with both movies, I remember being happy to have seen it because of the sensual experience it provided. That's what Pinocchio is. It's all about the imagery, which is why it was nominated for an Academy Award. Visually, the movie is absolutely stunning. I mean, it's a horrorshow for a lot of the movie, but it was the horrorshow that the movie intended to have. So as much as I'm kind of dunking on the movie, in no way do I regret it. Sure, the protagonist is a huge tool who keeps falling for the same tricks. Sure, the movie is about forty minutes too long. But it is a visual feast and probably exactly what the filmmakers wanted to make.
Also, Roberto Benigni is a doll. But in this case, not literally.
Rated R for being Mortal Kombat. Wait, the other Mortal Kombat movies are PG-13? Well, that was clearly a mistake because the most infamous element of Mortal Kombat is the over-the-top gore. I mean, it's just a perk that characters in this are allowed to swear in a movie that completely embraces the concept of the fatality. While I was expecting way more intensity, similar to the remake of The Evil Dead, it is pretty darned gory. R.
DIRECTOR: Simon McQuoid
Yeah, I thought I was going to sit this one out too. It didn't look like it was going to appeal to me. But then I thought of how I wasn't going to the movies anymore because of Covid-19 and embraced the "Well, it's free at least" attitude. And while I had a mostly okay time, I quickly came to realize...Mortal Kombat, as a narrative concept, is kind of dumb and it is bizarre that we have a mythology behind this video game.
Part of me was really tempted to binge all of the Mortal Kombat video games. There I was, reading the Wikipedia article on the Mortal Kombat stories, and I realized that should probably play these games. Then I realized that I have a stack of games that I want to play but can't due to time constraints. Then I realized that I don't like the Mortal Kombat games that much. So when a movie came out which heavily cites the insane Mortal Kombat narrative, I really became aware of how silly this storyline is. Now, I acknowledge I have no right to write that phrase out. Time and again, I have defended absolutely ridiculous storylines. A self-proclaimed geek who shouts it loud and proud, who am I to judge about what makes mythology silly? After all, I have a student who is deep into the Mortal Kombat narrative and I totally love it...if it wasn't for all the gore. There are probably healthier outlets. But something about Mortal Kombat seems sillier to me than most stories. And I suppose it is about the fact that the mythology seems way too complex for the format of the game.
I'm very skeptical about video game movies in general. I mean, I'm not exactly being revolutionary by saying this. It seems just part of the zeitgeist to say that video game movies suck. I'll go as far as to say that this new Mortal Kombat movie doesn't completely suck. But the format of the fighting game doesn't really lend itself to complex storytelling. If I'm playing Mortal Kombat, I see two fighters, one on each side of the screen. My entire purpose for playing is to see these two characters destroy each other in the most brutal way imaginable. It becomes beyond winning and losing. It becomes about seeing bone-breaking animations. But what I don't care about is the complex life of these characters. I love complex characterization. But stuff like Mortal Kombat begs for an audience to invest in the absolutely bananas story that these characters are going through.
And that's where Simon McQuoid deserves a little bit of credit. McQuoid is a director of commercials. A lot of these commercials are for video games. I get that he's excited to make a movie involving characters that he's passionate about. That passion comes through in the movie. For what it is worth, these characters are taken with the right degree of seriousness that a franchise like Mortal Kombat deserves. He seems to really like some of his characters. Sonja Blade (and I feel absurd writing this) actually has a character arc. It just feels like her attempt to uncover this mystical fighting tournament in a NetherRealm has no way to make seem relatable. Jax is at least sympathetic. He's there for altrustic reasons and he has his arms ripped off. (Yeah, there's only so much sympathy that someone can dole out to these kinds of characters.) But that's why we have Cole Young. From what I understand, the director had nothing to do with the screenplay. If I'm wrong, I apologize. But focusing on Cole Young creates this avatar for us.
I had a love / hate relationship for Cole. Cole, not being a character, is mostly unburdened from a dense mythology that I don't appreciate. He's outside the story and acts as an avatar for me. Yeah, we understand that he is somehow tied to Scorpion, a prize that I don't really care about in the long run. But he's this guy that could be one of two things. He could be this clean slate character for a casual audience (me) to relate to while having some deeper tie to the mythology (MK nerds). Or he could be a travesty to the purity of the mythology while being kind of blah for the apathetic. Unfortunately, I think he's more of the latter. I know. I'm being a huge punk with this. But Cole does absolutely nothing for me. I honestly wanted to look up to see if he was in any of the Mortal Kombat games or something to justify his presence in the story. It's not like Mortal Kombat is exactly missing the roster of charactrs that this could be about. I mean, I only got up through Mortal Kombat 3 (technically, I got to Mortal Kombat: Sub-Zero, but that's an abomination apparently in itself) and I knew there were a billion characters.
Cole just isn't compelling. I like the idea that characters in this murderverse have families and whatnot. But Cole's entire character arc is being kind of lame. He used to be a good fighter. We're not exactly sure what happened to him to make him a bad fighter. He can't exactly switch on this turn or whatever makes him a special fighter (that's a bizarre choice, by the way, explaining away the magic within the Mortal Kombat universe). It's only when he's nearly beaten to death by Goro that he gets his stuff. It's really weird. Goro is supposed to be the big bad. They bring him along because he'll get the job done. But when Cole gets his little magic trick, which seems way too overpowered to tell balanced story, he beats up Goro pretty quickly. Why not send anyone against him? From that point on, he has very little story to fall back on.
I'd also like to point out that, for as gory as the movie is and as dark as Mortal Kombat is supposed to be, I don't see why Cole's family survives Sub-Zero's freezing. (Yeah, I'm really nerding out on this movie.) The movie starts off with Hanzo Hisashi getting his family frozen to death by Sub-Zero. The movie is okay with killing kids, according to this. But Cole's family survives...because we really wanted them to? It seems oddly like a happy ending for the movie that really didn't need to happen.
But my biggest comment, and I would like to stress that this took me way too long to write because of a lack of motivation, is that this feels like a prequel to the actual movie. When Star Trek came out, J.J. Abrams and IDW made a prequel comic book series called Star Trek: Countdown, explaining how the normal Star Trek universe led to the leaving of Ambassador Spock. It's this fun, ultimately unnecessary, story that really prefaces the audience for the real story, for those people who want to have a fuller experience. Fun. But Mortal Kombat...never actually gets to the tournament. The one thing that is Mortal Kombat is the knowledge that these fighters are fighting in a tournament and they never got to the tournament? Listen, I don't care about the tournament. But there's this absolutely almost unearned confidence to assume that there will be a sequel based on this first movie. I know that a lot of films tease a sequel. But I've never seen a movie so dependent on a sequel. What if this movie bombed? Did it bomb? I have no idea. I mean, I enjoyed it more than the other entries, but they don't make filmmaking decisions based on whether or not I enjoyed the film.
Regardless, I find myself hating myself. Not because I watched Mortal Kombat, but because I feel so judgmental about a franchise that was never mine. I'm sure that lots of people view the franchises I'm obsessed with carrying a look of disdain. I'm just bummed that I can't appreciate Mortal Kombat on any respectful level.
Approved. I'm surprised that the MPAA ain't got time for these. Actually, what I think actually happens is that a film distributor has to pay the MPAA to rate their film, so who has time for that? Anyway, the content matter is pretty troubling, especially for those who ache for the plight of the refugee. While much of the violence doesn't happen on screen, the film deals with genocide and the fallout that occurs with that genocide. There is a scene of mass extermination. It's pretty bleak.
DIRECTOR: Jasmila Zbanic
I'm so grateful that the foreign language nominees were released in a way that was accessible to the public. Yeah, I wish that I got them a while earlier. But now I'm just being ungrateful. It's such an experience seeing art from other countries. The Western world has important stories to tell and I'm always fascinated about what we have to say. But the rest of the world has a message that can be so personal. For many Americans, the Bosnian / Serbian conflicts seem almost the thing of fiction. We have a hard time really visualizing the tension of real world disasters and atrocities. Movies like Quo vadis, Aida? both serve to remind me of my blessings and to break my heart over my comfort at home.
My wife commented on the fact that this is a fairly simple story. She's right. I can't even fight that. The narrative of Quo vadis, Aida? is so straightforward that it offers not even a hint of deception. The entire movie is an attempt to escape the inevitable ending of the film. We are watching how dramatic irony creates suspense for the length of a 100 minute film. We should know about the Serbian genocide. Even if we don't know the particulars of the genocide, Zbanic starts the film off with this shot of refugees piled in, shoulder to shoulder, trying to get into a U.N. camp. We see the inside of this building and the hopelessness of it all. Things never look good or optimistic. But that puts us in the shoes of the titular Aida, who is reading the writing on the wall. She knows that this whole thing has been turned pear-shaped. Yet she still fights for the small victories.
One of the key concepts in To Kill a Mockingbird (a movie that I might need to rewatch pretty soon) is the notion that we have to fight for battles we know that we're going to lose. With the case of Atticus Finch, his battle is altruistic. The right thing to do is to fight for Tom Robinson. But the easy thing to do is to walk away. Aida isn't Atticus Finch. Aida is fighting a battle of bureaucracy. She sees this solution that seems fairly simple. She is employed by the U.N. She is safe from whatever oncoming storm is coming after her. She knows that it would simply take a blind eye to allow her family into a place of safety as well. But instead of just fighting a bloodthirsty dictator who wants to kill her people, she has to fight against a spineless organization filled with weak-willed individuals. That's the most frustrating part of the whole a story. After all, dictators gotta dictate. But the point of the U.N. peacekeepers is to keep as many people alive as humanly possible. They are the voice of the people who have no power behind them. They are at their lowest place, facing extinction all so some general can feel like a big man.
So when we realize that the people that we should consider allies are almost greater enemies than the actual enemies, something really resonates. No one really expects Aida to fight the general with words or actions. She can't use her gift of speech on this guy or his cronies. But the fact that the film is about her losing her most powerful gift to allies is what is crushing. She should be able to change someone's mind in the U.N. camp. Instead, she's constantly butting her head up against a wall with reasonable requests. And that's the greater message of the story. Yes, this movie is fundamentally about remembering those who were slaughtered just because they lived in a place that someone didn't want them to live. I can't deny that is the foundational purpose of the storytellers. But Aida being a woman is also part of the story. The fact that she is a woman who primarily deals in communication and sees the big picture is the role of the story.
It is the men who are slaughtered. The traditional strong male archetype is inverted. The men in this movie all seem impotent. The dictator seems evil for evil's sake. He's obsessed with his own media coverage of the events. His soldiers are the ones who really do all of the legwork, leaving him in a place of comfort. Even the soldiers do their murdering from a place of safety and invisibility. The U.N. representatives are almost bullied by this general. The lead representative is almost obsessed with being liked and making sure that everyone is happy at the expense of the refugees and Aida's family. Even Aida's husband questions his role in the greater tapestry that Aida sees. He second-guesses her because he sees himself as male. It is Aida, a woman, who understands the dangers of words. Her hesitancy to translate at times shows that she knows more than the people around her. She understands the power and value of these words and it is telling that she is nervous to say those words aloud. When her male family members are stuck outside the camp. she uses her words to offer them a modicum of safety.
But it is when she gains too much control over the situation, the male characters do anything that they can to strip her of that power. Instead of taking the smallest efforts to help her, they become obsessed with control. I think that's why the guard ousts the man dressed as a woman who is trying to escape. They all turn on him, but that was a moment where the guard felt a moment of power in a powerless situation. The generals all ignore Aida because they want to put up a front for power. But it all comes down to words. For Aida, her words are one-to-one with action. She is there to deliver messages of actual change. When she says something, she intends for success. The generals, however, have words that ultimately lead to nothing. They are almost putting on a play of strategy. Because at one point, everyone knows everything is lost. The lie that the buses are there to help the refugee becomes a straight up farce, especially considering that the buses are segregated by gender. So the notion that the U.N. can't be bothered with Aida isn't for a good last-ditch effort. Instead, it is about maintaining the façade.
I loved this movie, but it crushed me. I might be alone on this one. But sometimes a movie is more about character and suspense than it is about story. My wife is right: there was almost no story in this one But in terms of heightening a single emotion, Quo vadis, Aida? did exactly what it was supposed to do for me. I was rapt with attention. That specter of doom over the horizon terrified me and it broke my heart. This was a powerful film.
IT SAYS PG ON HULU! It straight up says "PG". IMdB doesn't have an MPAA rating, so I don't know if this is at all official. Um, this isn't a PG movie. At all. It should be considered Hard R. It's about insanely violent bullying, suicide, rape, crime, and torture. It honestly is a lot. It's a bleak romance. So I don't know what o color the font. I suppose "green" because...um...it's the only data I have and I can't just break my own rules. PG...by sheerest technicality.
DIRECTOR: Derek Tsang
I'm going to put a pot of tea on. I honestly took a nap in my car before work because I'm so tired. I have time to write this today. But I know that, because I have time, I'm going to dilly-dally and then fill my time with this blog. I do have other things that I would like to do or should do today, so maybe writing this intro will shame into getting my rear end into gear about writing. Wish me luck, reader. Wish me luck.
My wife has watched her fair share of Chinese romance films. She's also watched her fair share of Japanese and Korean romance movies. For as many movies as I watch, I don't tend to watch newer Chinese romances unless they draw attention from the snob community. I kind of wish my wife was sitting next to me, telling me what to think about the other movies she's seen. But the biggest takeaway she gave me was that a lot of Asian films love the dynamic presented in the film. The studious and shy girl coupled with the bad boy male protagonist goes a long way in this subgenre of film. I kind of get that vibe. I mean, even though I don't necessarily binge these kinds of movies, I get from what films I have seen that this seems pretty on point. What is it about this dynamic that forces filmmakers to have this formula in every film? It's not like Americans necessarily shy away from this coupling. But I don't think we go into it so hard. It's not like these films get aggressively sexual. As much as Better Days has quite a bit of graphic and uncomfortable content, I don't ever see a moment when it glorifies that kind of content.
I think a lot of it comes from a similar notion seen in Western cinema: dynamic characters need to grow up and get out of their comfort zones. For Western teenagers, the concept of high school is considered one's glory days. These are the stories that are told over and over. In popular culture, Americans imbue high school with rebellion and popularity. It's why we have so many high school football games at the center of storylines. Yeah, we deal with bullying narratives as well, but there's a real jump between stuff that we see in American dramas when it comes to bullying and things that you would see in international cinema. The reason for the character dynamics comes from the philosophical shift of what high school is meant to represent in other countries, especially with China and Hong Kong. High school is a time to buckle down. The academically successful are the powerful in school. While in America, we have elements of backbiting and competition in academics, I don't think it is as open as it is in Hong Kong. Bullying stems out of the academically powerful worrying about losing that power.
Chen Nian's primary antagonist is Wei Lai, a popular girl who finds it necessary to torture Chen Nian once the social pariah kills herself. That's a pretty dark beginning to the story to begin with. But as much as Wei Lai makes an excellent villain, Derek Tsang doesn't exactly hide the fact that he knows where people like Wei Lai come from. Wei Lai is the product of an institution that thrives on spitefulness. The teachers throughout the film comment on the problems of bullying and suicide, but seem to understand that those things are just part of the process. Instead, they are the ones driving home the need for success and domination. For the next two weeks, my students are taking AP tests. While I want and need them to do well, my number one thing is their mental well-being. I've taught them the content and I've told them how to study for it. But I can't imagine only compounding their stress by reminding them constantly of the alternatives to failure. Tsang regularly will stress the insane environment that encourages students to end it all if they can't succeed.
I've questioned this before, I think, in my blog about The 400 Blows. What is it about international kids that decide to ramp up the bullying to supervillain levels? Seriously, these kids in these movies do things that would get them life in prison levels of evil. I'm not saying that these things don't happen. I taught in a very scary school and I saw the awful things that kids would do to each other. But these moments of torture, coupled with mind games, seem so excessive. At one point, Wei Lai has one of her girls approach Chen Nian with a boxcutter as she holds a cage of rats. That took some prep work. Then there is the straight up sexual assault that happens with a head shave that seems so over-the-top excessive. Derek Tsang grounds his movie with the message of bullying in his opening and closing. But do almost hilariously villainous attacks on the protagonist really sell the notion that bullying should be curbed. It's kind of the same thing that we see in White Knighting movies about race. As important as it is that we know that there are insane examples of racism in our history, showing an over-the-top racist only really does one thing to change society: it lets low-key racists think "At least I'm not that guy."
When we see that savage attack on Chen Nian, the people who don't bully are horrified. Lord knows, I was aghast at what I was watching. But isn't the message for the people that need to change, "Well, at least you aren't as bad as Wei Lai." A girl could have committed suicide because of microaggressions. Heck, Chen Nian probably would have broken down a long time ago from small things like being excluded or getting beat up once in a while. But I will say, because Wei Lai is so insanely evil in this movie, Xiao Bei's intervention seems all that much more cathartic.
And this ties into the dynamic of the protagonists (I had my first sip of tea and found my way back). As virginal as Chen Nian is, it takes someone like Xiao Bei to offer perspective on the fact that life isn't all about a stupid test. Xiao Bei brings clarity to how stupid this all is. Wei Lai, for all of the power that she throws around in the movie, isn't remotely prepared for the real world. She's able to be as cruel as she is because the high school system allows for girls to be that insanely mean as long as they are academically successful. But it's over so quickly when Xiao Bei shows up. All that complexity falls apart when they are met with brute force. I should be grossed out by this, by the way, but it is hella cathartic to see Wai Lai taken down a peg very quickly by something that seems so simple. Also, Chen Nian is a very sympathetic protagonist, so there is that.
The movie is straightforward to a fault. It's kind of a long movie and it really doesn't need to be. The movie really goes out of its way to stress that Chen Nian is bullied. That can be cut by an hour, safely, because there isn't a lot of story. But the story decides to throw in this complicated plot at the end that almost doesn't make sense. The movie really wants to have a tragic ending for Chen Nian and Xiao Bei as their relationship starts looking healthy. When Chen Nian accidentally kills Wei Lai, the movie takes a really hard left and kind of drops the ball. Considering that movie is also comprised of a lot of wanting stares, Derek Tsang tries to force this tragic ending that doesn't make Chen Nian as sympathetic as it wants her to be. Up to this point, she's earned a lot of good will. But she kind of cashes in all of those chips to let Xiao Bei go to prison for her. At first, I totally get it. The idea that Xiao Bei's life is already kind of ruined makes sense that he would take the hit, especially with the lie that he would only serve two years as a minor in prison. But when Chen Nian discovers that he would get life in prison and still allows for him to be incarcerated...that doesn't make her a good guy.
And yet, the movie really wants us to like that scenario. When the police officer (who oddly has a whole B-plot in this story that seems like it is meant to set up a gross love triangle) holds her as she weeps, begging for one of them to be free, it doesn't really hold water. It seems like she's just being selfish, knowing that she can greatly diminish his involvement in the crime. I mean, they both have a shot at happiness if she just abandons the structure that has taught her that academic excellence is everything. I'm pro-academic excellence by the way, but not at the expense of the self. So the end doesn't really make sense.
All of this leaves me in a place that has to simply absorb the movie from an emotional, if not logical perspective. I mean, Better Days is a gut punch. It is visceral and I really like the relationship that it builds. But if you think about the movie too hard, it kind of falls apart simply on third act problems. Regardless, I kind of dug it.
Not Rated, which I find really bizarre considering that it is an Academy Award nominated movie. I actually don't know where to put this one, if I was in the position to make this decision. I have a feeling that the MPAA would stick this at an R rating, because the intended audience is adults. I think I remember this movie having all kinds of language. There's also this oddly sexual nature to the movie, considering that technically the movie is about an affair. But the movie deals with heavy themes that would be lost on younger children. Regardless, the movie remains unrated.
DIRECTOR: Kaouther Ben Hania
Almost to add stress to my life, almost all of the foreign language Academy Award nominees dropped the weekend of the Oscars. See, I tend not to see the foreign language options for the Academy Awards. It's not by choice. It is just that it is extremely hard to see these films in the Midwest. They almost never are available to stream. Most of the time, no theaters pick these movies up unless there is major buzz for them. If there is a theater, it's an arthouse theater in the middle of nowhere with limited seating and limited showtimes. So I tend to watch the foreign entries after the Academy Awards, if at all. But because the Oscars were so late this year and because Covid convinced distributors to try streaming services, I'm going to look at this as a blessing. Yeah, I was planning on taking a little break from writing. I guess I'll just have to push that back another week.
If you are you to press my buttons and make me up in arms, make a movie about the plight of the refugee. We have it so good here. I mean, sure, we're in the middle of a culture war where seditionists tried to take over the Capitol Building. But I also have the freedom to leave. That's a weird thing to consider. I often wonder the philosophy of a lot of people. Perhaps it is my weak sense of patriotism, but I never understand the need for people to stay in their homelands, regardless of strife. But The Man Who Sold His Skin is about a man who is trapped. Not only has he been forced to abandon his home due to unjust laws, but is then stuck away from his fiancee / wife. (It's really questionable who is legally married in this movie, but that's really a point that is not necessary to the story.) The movie, like Barfly's very thin commentary about golden cages, will often comment on the nature of restrictions in general. Sam has it bad in his homeland.
He loses the love of his life and his sense of community. When he escapes, he lives the life of a refugee. If you want to see me get really emotionally invested, tell me a story about refugees. He has made it out from the place that was trying to imprison him and torture him. It's a big win for him. But now he's facing a lifetime of remedial jobs and staying under the radar so he doesn't get sent back to the place trying to arrest him. He finds himself appropriately unfulfilled. He's struggling to eat. His friends seem kind of toxic. It's all around a bad situation. It's better than where he was, but it is still pretty rough. He's also locked into that scenario. When he agrees to become an art piece, Sam sees this as a big step up. He's allowed to be seen by society. He will have money coming in. He's allowed to see the love of his life. He's living in a big five-star hotel. But he has also sacrificed his humanity. After all, the very thinly veiled subtext about Sam's value is that he isn't a person anymore. Heck, I can't even say "thinly veiled" because the movie straight up says its theme clearly.
And that's when the whole film gets meta. I can't at all condemn this movie for what it is doing because I absolutely adore the message that's both confrontational and well-presented. But there is a weird meta element that I keep thinking about. Ben Hania, the director, is telling a story about how the art world both brings attention and abuses the lower levels of society. For the sake of clarity, I'm going to be using the term "refugee" because the movie specifically talks about refugees, but it is easy to use the term "downtrodden" as well. Jeffrey understands Sam's situation remarkably well upon meeting him. He sees this guy who has no sense of identity because his entire life has been about survival. A dual morality starts building within Jeffrey. The altruistic side sees that this man's story needs to be heard not only for Sam's sake, but for all in the same predicament. But Jeffrey gets paid extremely well for being a provocateur. It is his business and his purpose. In that moment, Sam the survivor becomes an art instillation. He provokes a response by wearing the clothing of the villain.
But isn't that kind of what Ben Hania is doing? Okay, it's on a far smaller level. In a certain sense, I'm doing the same thing when I check my ever dwindling readership numbers. Ben Hania is using the plight of the refugee and the downtrodden to bring artistic merit to himself. It's a Catch-22. If The Man Who Sold His Skin garnered no attention, the message of exploitation is lost. But by drawing the attention of awards ceremonies, the artist is low-key complicit in the exploitation of the downtrodden. I mean, I'm firmly on the side of the artist condemning the exploiters out there. But there is an element that feels like self-flagellation. Ben Hania, as an artist, hates artist...which in turn feels like hating himself. Because if there was ever an avatar for Ben Hania, it's not Sam; it's Jeffrey.
But at the end of the day, the movie is about giving people visibility and agency. People need to be seen. Sometimes, that may be in dehumanizing ways. I'm not saying we do that. But we need to get messages out there without being part of the problem itself. Sam problem is, as much as he is physically seen, his humanity keeps slipping away because he is the biproduct of a larger cause. Even those people who are advocating for his human rights are unaware that they, too, are exploiting him for their own goals. It's dark, but it is at least talking about something that may be something we don't like to talk about.
Rated G. Oh man, it's such an odd experiment writing about the MPAA rating for things every day. I remember as a kid both loving this movie and being absolutely terrified by it. The idea that people wanted to eat frog legs seemed absolutely demonic, despite the fact that I think that I even ate frog legs at the time. But the giant Animal at the end, for some reason, really perturbed me. It just seemed like so much. That's why I showed it to my young children. Because I don't learn my lessons. G.
DIRECTOR: James Frawley
For years (FOR YEARS) I tried to get my kids to sit down and watch this, mainly because I grew up with it. I don't know if the philosophy was that I hate the idea that generations of films get forgotten under the surplus of forgettable films that come out often. (I'm sounding so old. I acknowledge some of the stuff that is coming out is pure genius. I am just stressing that the concept of the modern classic is far more malleable than I'm comfortable with.) Then one day, my kids just beg to watch this movie. Now, I love the newer Muppet movie as well, simply titled The Muppets. My kids like that one enough to watch it every so often. But every time I tried to get them to watch this one, they burned out quickly. I don't know what changed, but we got a full family viewing out of the The Muppet Movie.
Now, while watching The Muppet Movie, I had the epiphany that The Blues Brothers and The Muppet Movie shared the same plot, structure, and tone. I mean, I instantly forgave The Muppet Movie. After all, making a kids' version of a phenomenon makes a ton of sense and the story really lends itself to The Muppets. But then, surprise surprise, The Muppet Movie came out first. How can I live in a world with this truth out there? See, The Blues Brothers is one of my be-all, end-all near perfect films. I adore that movie. It's kind of shameless. It's self-aware. It twists the notion of musicals on its head. And then I find out...that the Muppets did it first. I guess I shouldn't be that upset. After all, I watched The Muppet Movie before I watched The Blues Brothers. But there's something really charming of the very meta commentary happening in both films. Building off of the concept of The Muppet Show, the film just parades celebrities out in shameless cameos and that's the movie. Perhaps, in a nerd's perfect slice of nostalgia, it's actually even more adorable seeing the celebrities of yesteryear mugging for the camera next to these puppets. What must it have been like being Milton Berle, one of the infamous divas of stage and screen, playing apart from a puppet while telling cornball jokes?
I get what makes these movies appealing. But 1979 was a time where you could tell a story that was aimed for kids, but didn't necessarily have to feel childlike. I think it was when Pixar did the first Toy Story movie that there was a conscious decision to throw in adult jokes to allow parents to enjoy these movies as well. That's not what is really going on. The drive behind stuff like The Muppet Movie was to make everyone have a good time without necessarily having a core audience. It was about storytelling that was more universal, but just ensuring that the movie didn't cross too many lines. There's something a little rebellious and edgy about The Muppet Movie. It is a film that's stemmed out of counter-culture and acid. I don't know the rich history of Jim Henson, but the movie thrives in the fact that it is unpolished and rough. It's the garage band days of The Muppets. Kermit played a banjo and went to seedy bars to find work. Doc Hopper wanted Kermit to be complicit in the deaths of frogs everywhere. The band from The Muppets are straight up hanging out in an abandoned church. These moments aren't sanitized for the audience's sake. Rather, they embrace the fact that the '70s were almost about guerilla cinema.
As such, The Muppet Movie becomes a very specific kind of road movie, almost sharing more in common with Easy Rider or Bonnie and Clyde than Muppet Treasure Island. That may seem like a stretch, considering that the audiences for stuff like Easy Rider is very adult. But the movies are about harshness. The jokes are central to the piece, but they aren't written for children. I mean, there's a lot of Hari Krishna jokes in the movie. It was a popular joke at the time, but that wasn't exactly done for the kids. Maybe, in a way, I'm just defining who the Muppets were at the time. We associate the Muppets with the product of the Walt Disney company, smiling and having fun-loving adventures. Instead, The Muppets were devised so that Jim Henson and his buddies could show off their writing prowess. If Sesame Street was a safe place for kids to learn in fun ways, The Muppets were art for art's sake. I know that is me imbuing them with a sense of grandeur that may or may not be deserved. But The Muppets are part of Americana, for better or worse. And part of that Americana comes from the central motif of the film: finding the American Dream on the road.
Geez Louise, listen to me spoutin' off all this mumbo jumbo. But there is something very purely 1979 about the whole story. We were really built to believe that you could redefine yourself if you just pursued the dream. Kermit it playing the banjo in a swamp. He lacks ambition. "The Rainbow Connection", without actually being indirect characterization, has a sense of ennui to it. When he offers advice and directions to a man in the swamp, something kindles within him. He never had ambition, but this man opens to door to America. Given a set of tasks, Kermit is able to have a chance at success. He has to assemble a team of likeminded Muppets to traverse this land and sample what makes America great. He goes into dive bars. He eats at fancy restaurants. He visits a local fair. The movie climaxes in a ghost town in the Wild West, all with the resolution of the paradise of Hollywood. It's this journey of self-discovery which parallels the many elements of America. I mean, I just defined the road movie. But the road movie, for Kermit, isn't just about the journey. It is about the physical and cultural geography of this land.
He even has the crisis of faith moment, where he realizes that the American Dream might be a complete sham. It's the knowledge that people may depend on him, despite the fact that he made no promises along the way. But that might actually reveal the most earnest, if not a little naïve, element to Americana. The Muppets (and I keep hearing myself talk as if there's this great cultural significance that isn't there) band together, realize the common goal of success, and become honest-to-Goodness friends. And they do so all in the name of fighting Capitalism. Isn't that funny? A movie all about the American Dream that fights Capitalism pretty hard. That's what Doc Hopper represents. He's there for the sake of making a buck, not caring whose happiness he steps on. So this little group of hippies decide to show that the real American Dream isn't about the money of work. It's about seeing Orson Welles and making art for the rest of your life. It's about making puppets and telling jokes with your friends. Because the Muppets are successful. As much as they're a source of revenue for Disney nowadays, it was about telling stories with your buddies. And that's the message of the movie. It's a bunch of hippies sitting around a campfire, driving an old, beat-up Studebaker, while telling fun stories and jokes.
So there is a heavy message that probably wasn't intended. But I also think that it stems out of the notion that Jim Henson probably couldn't stop from being earnest and vulnerable. There's nothing preachy in the movie, shy of the evils of Doc Hopper's Corporate America. But it is a heartfelt message. Also, "Rainbow Connection" is still a bop.
Rated R for sheer over-the-top slasher movie violence. Because the movie takes place in a high school for a good chunk of the movie, there tends to be some high school inappropriate crassness. But that tends to be completely forgettable when you see human bodies get ripped apart in all kinds of awful, awful ways. Um, also drinking, I guess?
DIRECTOR: Christopher Landon
Guess what? I apparently get a mini-break from writing about Oscar nominated films. This sounds weird. It's not like I really approach the day differently when I sit down to write about an Academy Award nominated movie. I open up my Notes app, see what movie I'm talking about today, and then wing it...hoping to remember what thoughts I had at the time. When I teach film, I talk about bringing a notebook while writing. But I watch most movies on the treadmill, so that is out the window. Also, writing already is one of those hobbies that borders between sheer ecstasy and awful burden. I don't need to be adding things to the burdensome category. But with a movie like Freaky, any kind of wisdom I bring to the table is all on me. That's kind of liberating. I mean, I would hate to do it all the time. But as a nice break, it is helpful.
For a second, I thought that Christopher Landon wrote Happy Death Day. That's not quite accurate. He wrote Happy Death Day 2U. I didn't care for the sequel, but he did DIRECT the first movie. So there's something. But Freaky is starting to become something of a subgenre that I really like. I mean, I've always liked horror comedies. Shaun of the Dead and An American Werewolf in London are two of my favorite movies even devoid of genre. There's something remarkably satisfying of wittiness coupled with suspense that just hits in the right spot for me. Perhaps it is the stress that is placed on dramatic irony that does it for me. But I would say that Happy Death Day and Freaky, the two products by Christopher Landon released by Blumhouse are something a little different. Both Shaun of the Dead and An American Werewolf in London are quality films that really stress the craftsmanship of film. But Landon's films, and I mean this with all respect, almost embrace the schlock element of horror movies. There are some genuinely great schlock cinema films.
Because horror comedy is hard. Once Shaun of the Dead came out, there were a glut of movies that really attempted to pull it off. They took Landon's route, offering cheeseball films that tended to come across as tedious. But there's something about Landon that kind of gets it. I always felt that I could sell An American Werewolf in London to a non-horror audience. I don't know how much I could sell something like Freaky to a non-horror audience. I mean, I kind of know. I used my birthday free pass to watch Freaky with my wife. But the way I did it was that I posed it as a scary version of Freaky Friday. And that's what Landon does and he does it well. See, Edgar Wright and John Landis took horror genres and added jokes. Landon kind of takes the opposite route. He takes genre-themed comedy and adds horror to them. It should give the same product, but the result is tonally very different. With Happy Death Day, he took Groundhog Day and made it involving death. Other people have done it. Off the top of my head, I can think of both Edge of Tomorrow and Supernatural. Freaky Friday was a Disney staple and then it became this fantastic horror movie.
And what made it work was that it was heavily horror. By applying the aesthetic and tone of a horror movie to a comedy, instead of dulling the edges of a horror to allow jokes, it sharpened the edges of a comedy. If I had to put movies in a category, I would put Freaky and Happy Death Day in horror, despite the absolute absurdity of both. It's kind of telling. These make these movies real crowd-pleasers when it comes to Halloween and I absolutely love it.
I don't know if there could be a more perfect casting as Vince Vaughn as the Butcher / Millie. I never really saw him as this intimidating dude until this movie. Like, Landon saw something and just embraced it. I know he's played serious roles before, so I'm not pigeonholing him as a comedic actor. But he comes across as genuinely scary in the movie. Sure, Landon decided to ramp up the violence, playing up the horror movie tropes in the sequence at the beginning. But then, he's able to embody Millie with hilarious results. I have to tell the truth: I acknowledge that he's more playing a stereotypical teenage girl sooner than playing Millie. I can't fight that battle; I won't fight that battle. But that's also the right choice for the movie. Millie is a character in a horror movie, not a comedy. What this ultimately means is that Millie isn't allowed to be funny when she's not in the Butcher's body. But the joke comes from the paradox of this feminine little girl in this tank's body. It's the same gag that we get out of Freaky Friday, so I think that everyone gets where I'm going with this. If Vince Vaughn played a nuanced version of Kathryn Newton, it would be a bit of a dud.
But I'm kind of also surprised how risky the movie got with Vaughn in the role. A decade ago, the scene in the backseat of the car would be played up for laughs. I'm not saying it was the most comfortable I've ever been while watching a movie. It brought up questions about body identity that I hadn't really thought of before. But considering that a lot of the movie was focused on laughs per minute, Landon really does take a huge risk with that scene. We're rooting for Booker and Millie to have the relationship flourish and it's amazing that the scene with Vaughn not only doesn't derail that, but oddly strengthens it. Yeah, I have a hard time divorcing 50-year-old Vince Vaughn from playing a teenage girl, especially considering that he's the most famous actor in this movie by far. But the scene mostly works.
I almost feel bad for Kathryn Newton. Newton is the protagonist of the movie. She's Millie. But the majority of the movie is Millie in The Butcher's body. One of the things about the slasher in the slasher film is that he tends to be mysterious. The more we find out about this character, the less power that they have. They are intentionally dehumanized. This works as a joke for a little bit. I adore that The Butcher just lives in an abandoned warehouse with homeless people and toilets full of doll heads. But it makes me realize how unsatisfying it must be to play Jason, Michael Myers, or Leatherface. There's a lot of internalization that never really gets translated to the screen. It's the knowledge that all that is really calling this actor to the set is the knowledge that they are a big guy. That big guy could really be replaced at anytime and few people would know. But back to Millie, tt really works as a joke. I even love the idea that Millie's mother keeps avoiding near death by accident. But it can't be as satisfying to play that for an entire movie. The funny thing is that the movie poster that has Vaughn's reflection in the knife brings up something that might be explored in the world outside of comedy: the inversion of the villain.
What if Freaky was a commentary on the infantilization of women in genre storytelling? Millie, for all of her brute strength being sucked up in The Butcher, comes across as kind of scary when she's hunting down Vince Vaughn. She's easily overpowered often, but that doesn't necessarily stop her from being too scary in the whole scheme of things. Despite the fact that Alan Ruck in what must be a wink to his Ferris Bueller days still gets it in the end. Promising Young Woman kind of touches on the same idea. It's all the notion that we've grown accustomed and expectant of the large white male to be torturing girls and that it is somehow okay. Yeah, the joke is that this tiny little girl is hunting this big burly dude. But why isn't that occasionally the norm? Why have we completely clothed ourselves in the archetype and allowed the same story to play out time and again. Originally, the casting of the female lead in horror movies was an attempt to give women strength and agency. When Alien cast Sigourney Weaver, she was a powerhouse. When Jamie Lee Curtis was in Halloween, she redefined what it meant to be a Scream Queen. But now the young female has become disposable. I think that Freaky (at least Freaky's marketing team) is aware of the potential for commentary, but the movie never really embraces it.
I really like these movies. Yeah, they're not amazing films. But they really do elevate the horror genre as opposed to pulls away from it. It's a fun movie that gets a little cornball, but I can't complain.
Rated PG-13, mostly for monster horror action. The movie prides itself on its character creation, so there's some genuinely gnarly looking oogie-boogies in this movie. But the movie also really stresses a sexual element. The movie actually starts with the protagonist narrator commenting on all of the people in his life that are having sex. But that's kind of a background thing to the gross deaths that the movie stresses. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Michael Matthews
I'm so stressed out now, you wouldn't believe. When I have to make a To-Do List for all the stuff that I need to get done before I go home, you know things have gotten bad. Well, blogging was on that list. I know. It seems pretty low priority. It's just that, if I'm balancing when things can happen, I can only blog right now. So this is going to be written with a frantic energy that I'm probably going to regret later on, but that's okay. Done is better than perfect.
Love and Monsters showed up on my watch list because up for visual effects. These are the dangerous movies, if I have to be honest. You don't really know what you are getting into when it comes to these movies. I mean, I watched a lot of the Disney live-action remakes because of the visual effects category. Love and Monsters is almost exactly what you think it is. Michael Matthews delivers on the central conceit, so at the end of the day, it all comes down to you. To really love a movie like Love and Monsters, a movie that shares a title with an infamous Doctor Who episode, you have to have a couple things under your belt. Do you mind a movie that is derivative? It sounds like a real slam against this movie, but it is also really honest. Everything is derivative of something else, but this one is almost shamelessly a clone of Zombieland. So, if you are okay with a movie kind of being a copy of something else, you also have to be cool with the OG version of the same film: Zombieland.
Now, I loved the first Zombieland. Zombieland: Double Tap didn't do too much for me because it felt like a rehash of the first movie just a bit too much. That statement alone should give you insight into what I thought about Love and Monsters. If Double Tap was fine, then Love and Monsters is going to come across as just fine to me. It has the slightly twee indie narration. It's about fighting monsters in the post-apocalypse. It's got over-the-top characters and gore beyond belief. But the only big differences are the fact that Love and Monsters prides itself on being PG-13 and that it is bugs instead of zombies. That PG-13, by the way, oddly allows me to give the movie a sense of respect. That may seem like I like my stuff watered-down or that I'm a prude. I suppose that might be some of my personality. But I also really look at it as something that will slightly adjust the tone.
I'm going to preface this next section by stating that I have rarely had more fun than the original Zombieland when it was in theaters. My wife and I saw it together and had a great time. It was superfluous and over-the-top. It hit some of the same notes that Grindhouse did in the best possible ways. But there is something about getting too much of a good thing. When Love and Monsters decided to go for the PG-13 route, it had a potentially unexpected side-effect: It made the movie more vulnerable. I'm not going out on a limb and pretend that this is some wholesome and emotionally aware movie. But because the protagonist couldn't be slightly the worst, he had to become somewhat heroic. As much as we root for Columbus in Zombieland, we do so because we want to see hilarious carnage. Yeah, he's a relatable protagonist. He doesn't have that superhero element to him. But he's also super-punchable. Joel in Love and Monsters, however, is actually an honestly sympathetic guy. He's a guy who sees the goodness in others. As bleak as the world is, his optimistic perspective, due to a PG-13 attitude, make him someone worth rooting for.
It doesn't take for granted that Joel's quest for Aimee is naive on the point of being criminal. Clyde and Minnow take care of Joel, which only endangers them all the more. But because Joel has a little-engine-that-could quality, we want to view the world in the same way that Joel does. I know that lots of stories, especially genre stories, stress the importance of the journey over the destination. But Joel's journey is what makes him far more interesting. He isn't better for arriving at Aimee. Aimee, as sweet as she is and as fair as her reactions are, kind of sucks in a very specific sense: she can't possibly live up to Joel's expectations of her. I really want to backpedal that she sucks because Aimee is more of a fully realized human being. It's almost obvious from moment one that Aimee can't possibly be the girl that Joel has built her up to be. But Joel is able to find self-worth through the course of the story. Sure, I'm advocating that a movie about a white male needs to focus on his self-worth, but I work with what I got.
Joel voluntarily goes back to his original commune because of the things that he learned along the way. And he also decides that life isn't all about coupling (although it totally is and I love you, my wife). Rather, his relationship with his dog and the knowledge that he can hold his own, despite the fact that no one believes in him makes him this courageous and fantastic character. I mean, as clever as this movie is, I think that Columbus in Zombieland is more clever. But do you know who I root for more? Joel. Joel has got the nice balance of what a nice guy character should have. He's actually nice and there's never this expectation that Aimee has to love him because he's nice. He actually accepts rejection quite gracefully, which is why he ends up with the happier ending in the long run. Yeah, it might be considered a little gross, making the grand romantic gesture. But he's also painfully aware that the huge romantic gesture would probably fall flat on its face. It's this great balance of romantic and pragmatic that we don't often get in stories like this.
Yeah, the pirate story seems a bit much. It's there for the sake of plot and to show that Joel has actually grown in his travels. But in terms of actual plot, I don't really care. The story isn't actually very good. But Love and Monsters --and I don't think the filmmakers would really deny it --is all about characterization and atmosphere. It's a bit of the indie rock traverse of the post-apocalypse and I slightly dig it. It's not great. Lord knows I grew a little bored of it at timers. But it has pretty solid heart in it, considering it is almost a direct copy of another movie franchise. But that's okay in the long run. If you go in with low expectations, this movie shouldn't really disappoint.
PG-13, but that might be a pretty intense PG-13. I mean, the movie is about both children being trafficked to sell drugs and about prostitution. It's not like the film plays up the sexuality of these situations, but the kids are constantly aware of the sex work going on around them. It's a pretty bleak movie throughout and it doesn't help that the protagonist has the most terrible life ever. But PG-13 is PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Edoardo Ponti
You know that I'm close to having seen all of the Academy Awards when I'm just writing about a movie that is nominated for Best Original Song. That's its only nomination. The song isn't even integral to the film, which is a beef that my wife has with this category by the way. I literally could have just YouTubed the song and then made an assessment. But I know me. I have met me. It feels like the song, in isolation, isn't exactly what I'm judging. But because I'm not going to be talking about the song here, I'll just tell you it is fine and forgettable. What I'm really interested is talking about the unique experience of seeing a remake without knowing that the original existed.
Apparently, Italy hates this movie. That's what my wife told me. They all think that this movie is a real stinker. Me? I was flabbergasted. I mean, I'm probably not going to go out on a limb and say that this movie changed my life. But it is a better than fine movie. My biggest criticism (on a sleepy Monday morning) is that it is a bit sappier than I normally like my movies. But in terms of quality and acting, the movie kind crushes. So why do people hate this movie while I like it? I've basically already stated. The Life Ahead apparently is the third adaptation of a book where the other adaptations are considered kind of sacred. Can I throw stones at this? Probably not. I know that I saw a trailer for Steven Spielberg's West Side Story during the Oscars last night and thought that looked awesome, but I also don't really adore West Side Story. But I can imagine if someone decided to remake Casablanca or Citizen Kane, I might be skeptical about how necessary that adaptation would be, considering that the originals still hold quite a bit of water. But by itself, The Life Ahead really works. I'm almost a little afraid to watch the original versions. I honestly probably won't seek them out, which feels very un-me. The only thing I really could gain is a disrespect for the version I watched.
But the story of Momo is one that reminds me that the world is both a terrible and a beautiful place. From an aesthetic perspective, Ponti has shown this version of Italy that we've come to expect. Even amidst the poverty that these characters are surrounded with, there is a rich culture. And that setting mirrors the personality of Madame Rosa. Rosa is this almost elemental figure in the movie. She is the centerpiece. Perhaps I gravitate to her so much because she is played by Sophia Loren, who absolutely crushes it with this film. But the setting is symbolic of who Rosa is. It is simple and basic, but it it stable. It isn't ever this life of luxury. And Momo, despite the tough love, receives a sense of deep acceptance from Madame Rosa. As much as she is angry at Momo for his behavior, she's more mad at what the world made of Momo. And we, as the audience, don't always have the opportunity to see that. We follow Momo, not Rosa, through the story. While I found myself shouting at the screen for his poor behavior, I understood that Momo was bred, not born, to be the way he is. And Rosa understands that.
It's because she is Momo. She was a prostitute who has taken it upon herself to care for other prostitutes. She sees how malleable and easily influenced children are and adjusts her behavior to that. But the irony is that she is the one who has never truly healed. Her secret basement hideaway is Momo's room. As her vulnerabilities become more and more apparent in her fugue states, that place shows that, as much as Madame Rosa is a caretaker for Momo, she is more of a peer at times. It's odd to think that Momo is the one who steps up in her fugue states as well. When Rosa comes across as confident and powerful, he fights her tooth and nail. But it is only when he sees that façade disappear, he becomes the Momo we want him to be. As tragic as the whole story is, it is also a powerhouse.
I've never seen a movie that has made the antagonist so appealing. He's never sympathetic. I really want to make that decision. But I can see how Momo can gravitate to someone like Spacciatore. Spacciatore is this guy who makes drug dealing look fun. As much as Madame Rosa is a mother figure, she kind of comes across as the worrisome grandmother at times. But Spacciatore is the fun dad. He's the guy who has Momo sell drugs, but is constantly about affirmation. He threatens him not with violence, but with an end to stardom. There's a scene where cinema has taught me to believe that Momo was going to get attacked. Nothing. It's uncomfortable, sure. But Spacciatore goes for Momo's sense of belonging more than anything else. It's so odd how psychology works. It all makes perfect sense, although it seems paradoxical. Momo has a place that would service to be his family. But as long as he is there and everything is working out fine, he hates the notion of these people infringing on his sense of freedom. During adversity, he's perfectly fine. It's only in the trauma that he finds value. On the other hand, he's basically isolated from people his age with the drug dealing family. He's invited to party with Spacciatore and that's what he really wants. It's a major step for him to distance himself from this world because he's losing out on his sense of self.
It's a gorgeous movie. It really is. I mean, I try not to get too sappy with my films. But the movie absolutely hits on the levels it was supposed to. I'm a little bummed that I watched it during Oscar season because it forces me to be rushing past it while comparing it to the other films. But it does the job. I wish it, at least, got a Best Foreign Language credit.
Rated R for some truly dark material. But if I had to quantify what actually gets it an R rating, it would be nudity, sexuality, questionable issues with consent, and language throughout. One of the protagonists also deals with alcoholism. The entire thing is rather bleak, but that's also the point. Very R.
DIRECTOR: Kornél Mundruczó
I don't think just anyone can watch this movie. I suppose that could possibly true for lots of movies, but this one really hits hard to a specific audience. Part of me wants to beg those who have had a miscarriage to watch this because of how powerful the movie is. Part of me wants to shelter the same audience because I don't want to bring up past trauma. The antithesis is also true. While I want an audience who have never experienced this event to watch with the hope of engendering sympathy, I also feel like it shouldn't be viewed as pure entertainment. Film is meant to connect us. It's at the bottom of my page. It shouldn't always be comfortable.
But I find it difficult to both write this as a male and to imagine that a male directed this. From the husband's perspective, a miscarriage is a lot of things. It's nothing compared to what a woman must go through. But it is the story of fear. A baby, while emotionally there, is still mostly understood in the realm of intellect. I imagined the potential of what a child would be. But I never felt that child. I didn't have my body change. So the other end of the husband's perspective on miscarriage is the fear that my wife, the way I knew her and loved her, would never return. It's a lot of sadness, but it also is the willpower to understand that it isn't about me. It won't be about me possibly ever. So it is the balance of being vulnerable while also being a fortress, being able to turn it on and off. Pieces of a Woman talks about this because it can't possibly ignore this. But like when dealing with a real miscarriage, it is about the mother and how she has to cope with an impossible situation seemingly alone.
A few years ago, I, Tonya was nominated for Best Actress for Margot Robbie (I think. It may have been for Allyson Janney for Best Supporting). That movie completely destroyed and I was almost mad that it wasn't up for Best Picture. It might have been my favorite movie that year. I don't know if Pieces of a Woman would be my favorite film, but it is definitely a stronger outing than Promising Young Woman. Again, I didn't hate Promising Young Woman by any stretch of the imagination. But it feels like Pieces of a Woman has so much more to offer than simply a Best Actress nomination for Vanessa Kirby. Kirby is absolutely a tank in this movie. She crushes every scene she was in and I love to see her in a role outside of her part in The Crown. But Pieces of a Woman is such a vulnerable film that is well shot and well-paced. I don't really see why it hasn't transcended the place it stands right now. I tend to think of movies that just get a Best Actor / Actress nom as Oscar-baity movies, like Judy or The United States vs. Billie Holiday. But honestly, Pieces of a Woman is such an intimate story that really turns the concept of mourning on its head.
There's something insanely smart about this film. I have this love / hate relationship for the central conceit of the film. I'm not talking necessarily about the miscarriage here. I'm talking about the trial. I've often quoted Patton Oswalt with his stand-up bit about hospitals and lasers. I want every single piece of medical technology available to my wife when she gives birth. I can feel some people tensing up, thinking of the horrors of hospitals as well. That's not the camp we're in, sorry. But the movie definitely uses the concept of the midwife as a placeholder for the scapegoat. The hate element of my thoughts about this is how much media attention this case garners. But I do like the fact that the filmmakers decided to make the movie about something external to represent the internal conflict that Martha goes through. Instead of having the movie about wallowing (which it is definitely about, but...), the movie becomes about this court case that seems so vital to everyone. And then, the movie just flips the script and says what I was thinking the entire time: this poor woman really didn't do anything wrong.
Okay, I'm going to be walking on really thin ice here. But the movie went on thin ice first. Do I think that there might be an issues with midwives taking dangerous situations and making them worse? I'm not informed enough to really comment on it. But the film starts off with the labor happening in real time. Like 1917, we aren't given the opportunity to infer what might be happening in the in-between (syuzhet). It creates this very intimate feeling with the labor and delivery. (It's Vanessa Kirby's piece de resistance, by the way.) But we see a situation where there are no winners. This midwife knows that there is rarely a situation of things going by the book, but she played it mostly safe. So when it comes down to where the midwife may have made a mistake, we're looking at approximately thirty seconds difference between nailing everything and finding blame on this woman who was in a hopeless situation. And the insane thing is that the filmmakers show us this sequence and ask us to kind of forget about it. We have this psychological experiment of logically remembering that the midwife wasn't really at fault while simultaneously harboring an emotion memory for justice.
And then the protagonist came to the same conclusion. That was probably the most shocking thing for me. It wasn't a matter of "if she was guilty" throughout the movie. Everyone had a foregone conclusion that she was guilty, so when Martha speaks up for her...it's absolutely shocking. I mean, part of me really wanted that to be the answer. Part of that really needed it to be the answer. But then it was. And there's this whole commentary about learning to heal. Martha had hit this low. Her husband, for all of his grieving, revealed himself to be a jerk. She had alienated everyone around her. Her mother ended up being this toxic person. And she realized that it was about her relationship to other people. She doesn't have a kid, although it is implied that she would have another child down the road. Her first child died and it was tragic. But the movie is about not blaming each other when tragedy strikes. It's really this powerful message that absolutely crushes.
I loved this movie. It is hard to watch, to be sure. But I'm kind of floored that it didn't get more attention than it did.
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.