Rated R for crassness, drug use, addiction, and violence. Sure, I could throw smoking in there too. A lot of these vices involve minors, which makes it worse. It's odd, because the tone of the movie is so an attempt to be a tear-jerker. But there's a lot in here that would justify an R rating, so don't try pushing this one off on a younger audience. R.
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
I'm going to be a bully, aren't I? Like, I don't want to go down this road. I want to be able to go to bed knowing that I brought joy and happiness into the world. Instead, I'm going to be dunking on a child actor. This movie is pretty bad. A lot of people before me pointed out how bad it was. But I kept on seeing clips of Amy Adams acting the crap out of this role, so I wondered why it was so rough. Well, besides the fact that I fell asleep harder than I ever had and that I ended up laughing audibly at some terrible scenes, I did eventually get through it to comment on how this movie completely fell apart.
A lot of this comes down to the performance by Owen Asztalos. I honestly don't blame him for how bad the performance came across. He's laughably bad in this role, especially when he's across from Amy Adams and Glenn Close, who are giving performances of a lifetime. I saw this kid's other credits and he seemed pretty functional in those roles. (Sure, some of them are borderline unnamed, but I'm grasping for something here.) The thing that I kept repeating while watching this movie is that it was directed by Ron Howard. You know, the most famous child actor ever? These are scenes that are about nuance. While I don't necessarily find J.D. Vance's story all that compelling, I do acknowledge that he's the foundation for this movie functioning. Mind you, I don't love Gabriel Basso's performance either, so at least the young J.D. and the old J.D. feel like the same person. But J.D. needs to function as both the narrator for this piece and the emotionally resonant character.
The point of Hillbilly Elegy is that we sympathize with J.D. He is the character who is the product of circumstance. He lives with a mother with addiction, who exhibits love in her own way. The world around him encourages generational poverty, crushing dreams at every opportunity. So when J.D. kind of comes across like Mr. Bean, stumbling and bumbling into every scene, it is hard not to laugh at these moments. There is just scene and scene of spatially unaware J.D. running into something that he shouldn't be running into. At one point, I honestly thought that he would walk into a scene, unable to remove a turkey from his head. I don't know how the other actors were able to function and get such deep moments.
I had no idea that performances had to be so rich to generate sympathy. What Howard does manage to succeed at is the portrayal of Bev and Mamaw. I know that Glenn Close is up for the Academy Award and I think she totally deserves the nomination. But really, Amy Adams is the emotional center for me. I think that Close is getting the attention because she physically looks the part that she's playing and that the makeup team absolutely nailed the visual of Mamaw. But Bev is where we have those ups and downs. Bev is just a mess. Bev is the family member who continually ruins Christmas. She has moments of genuine love and kindness. But given the opportunity to choose between the right and the wrong, Bev will always make the wrong choice. Intellectually, we then feel for J.D. J.D. is the one who keeps on having to live with her choices. It's comes to a head when J.D. is encouraged to provide a clean urine sample from Mamaw.
It is interesting that Mamaw is considered the morally responsible character of the story. I mean, she is. She's the one who has this exile element to their lives. She is aware of how sad Middletown, Ohio is (which isn't too far from my house!). But Mamaw is both of the world and outside of the world. She sees the potential that J.D. carries around him and realizes that he needs tough love. But she's also the woman who made Bev what she is. She's the woman who asked a good kid to provide a clean urine sample for his mom, which only enables her bad behavior. I mean, for as much as we love Mamaw, Bev is still a hot mess in the future. She's somehow a bigger mess in the present day and a lot of it could possibly be connected to the decision that Mamaw and J.D. made in the past. I know that I'm oversimplifying addiction, but J.D.'s temper tantrum is valid.
I find the future version of the narrative more interesting. It's odd how I think of the Veronica Mars movie while I watched this. I know. I'm very deep and well-rounded. The Veronica Mars movie was all about Veronica leaving her law practice to return to Neptune, a dump, to help her father. In that story, Veronica finds the value of family and passion. She realizes that Neptune is more of a part of her than New York. J.D. abandons Yale Law (?), but has quite the opposite experience. Returning home to Middletown only fills him with shame. There's nothing that he really finds valuable in the town. Even his sister, who seems to have really cared for him, seems to only be a silver lining to a crummy situation. But the movie, based on a real story, takes the whole thing as a binary thing. I find it weird that J.D. doesn't take his mom with him to the interview. Like, leaving her in a hotel is a terrible idea. I get that junkies are manipulative, but it seems pretty obvious what's going to happen.
I hear the book is better. I know. I shouldn't be commenting on this, even if I had read the book. The book and the movie have to be different things. But I'm told that the book is super fun. This was just a slog through the misery of mid-Western values. Yeah, J.D. Vance may not be this great guy in real life either, based on his Twitter account. But there's no love for the things that were good. Instead, J.D., because of how bleak the story gets, comes across as completely judgmental. It's hard to really bond with a movie that only shows us misery. Yeah, we have small moments involving calculators. But it seems like we're in the dumps the entire time and nothing brings moments of joy. It's just a bummer of a film overall that bored me to tears when I wasn't laughing at a weak performance.
R, primarily because of the horrors of slavery. Part of this depiction stresses the inhuman violence and cruelty bestowed upon the slave. Rather than simply seeing the result of violence, the film often shows the blows as they occur. Similarly, there is regular discussion and depiction of rape. There is nudity in a sexual context. But the violence of the rebellion can also be inappropriate for children. R.
DIRECTOR: Nate Parker
I have it on good authority that my film class will return next year. I don't know if I would ever watch the 2016 version of The Birth of a Nation if I hadn't taught the original monstrosity in my film class. I remember that we used to watch the trailer for the 2016 version after finishing the original film and we discussed why Nate Parker would name his film about the Nat Turner Rebellion after one of the most heinous films in history. Yeah, I get it now. I don't know if the movie drives that point home as intensely as it should, but it is something to think about.
I read up about this movie. Back when I saw this trailer in 2016, I thought about how insane this movie looked. It looked visceral and painful to watch. There was all this buzz about the movie and how it was going to be a talking point about race. Then, it came out and it somehow faded away. It's not like there were bad reviews that were coming my way. Then I found out that Nate Parker, the director and star of the movie, had sexual assault charges against him, which caused this movie to kind of fall through the cracks of history. It's a shame. I share the moral outrage of the victims and Nate Parker should suffer the consequence of his actions. But this is also a man who would have had a voice. It's just this overwhelming sadness for everything involved (but, to be clear, primarily for the victims.)
I remember in high school reading about the Nat Turner Rebellion. It's nothing new to say that whiteness has tinted our accurate understanding of history. Nat Turner, according to the very little amount of text devoted to the subject matter, was a foolish slave who caused more problems than he solved. And I believed that. Oh, heck yeah I believed that. I also have a vague memory of my history teacher being the coolest guy in the world, only to realize that he probably believed in the Lost Cause conspiracy. I'm dealing with a lot of race realities in 2021 is the long-and-short of it. I'm really trying to not White Knight here, so please be patient. I read a lot of The People's History of the United States. My next book is How to be an Anti-Racist. But my knowledge of Nat Turner is spotty at best. It's odd, not being able to trust your own knowledge, especially being a teacher. It often feels like education is one giant game of telephone and we hope that we're lucky enough to hear the message before us clearly and accurately.
But in terms of narrative, I kinda / sorta love what The Birth of a Nation does is that it pretends like it is mincing words when, in reality, it's just prepping you for a sledgehammer to the head. One of the things that I really don't like about race movies is the concept of "the good slave owner." We have discussions about the possibility of the moral slave owner in my class and this is still a belief that a lot of my students hold onto. It's really gross. It really feels like The Birth of a Nation wants to mislead you into thinking that this is the story of the good slave owner, who when juxtaposed against other slave owners, allowed Turner to have his own thoughts and beliefs. It's really not that. We see young Nat play with young Samuel. When they age, we see Sam take Nat's feelings and desires into account. Elizabeth Turner teaches Nat to read. But we also see how microaggressions are significantly more dangerous than we realize in these moments. When Sam saves Cherry from the auction, he expects to be rewarded for this altruistic decision. When Elizabeth teaches Nat how to read, it is only from the Bible. She distinguishes the kinds of books that are appropriate for white people and for Black people.
And we see how race becomes a matter of superiority and inferiority really quickly. Sure, the movie presents the characters who are over-the-top racists. These are the characters that, in the White Savior films, give the white audience a sense of comfort. After all, "I'm not as bad as that caricature of a human being which makes me one of the good ones." But it's not in these portrayals that we learn anything. It is in the seduction of Samuel. Samuel can afford to be a well-behaved slave owner when things are going well. He sees affable enough for most of the movie. But when his family's success is on the line, he has almost no reservations about allowing a Black woman to be raped. And it is in that shift that Nat's perspective mirrors our own. Nat sees his world as a blessed one for most of the movie. He isn't abused. He has a master who seems to care about the welfare of his family. But it is in moments of disobedience and minor slights that he sees the reality of the illusion of the Deep South. Nat is used as a tool of propaganda with his faith. He knows the truth and has a hard time distinguishing which parts of his faith need to be spoken about.
I'm all about protest rights. I have been most of my adult life, but it's been since the summer of 2020 where I've really had to put my own beliefs into a pressure cooker. I was one of those people who believed in the white lens of Dr. Martin Luther King. I am a pacifist. I will probably always be a pacifist. When King's speech aligned with those beliefs, it was comfortable to find valediction in those words. But I also understand that I have the privilege to avoid conflict. Taking into consideration the position of Nat Turner, the narrative that I have been taught about him has been wildly misconstrued. Yeah, the attack on the slave owners was brutal. It borderlined a horror movie. But from the slave's perspective, it kind of became this just war. Turner and other slaves, regardless of comfort of circumstance, were less than human. They had their rights trampled upon and nonviolent protest would be a death sentence. Turner's rebellion made the most sense imaginable and it was done in the name of faith.
That has to be one of the biggest challenges for me, by the way. Turner's education was almost exclusively built around the idea that he was a preacher. He read no other book besides the Bible. He was an expert at it. He read what it said about slavery and his position forced him to ignore that element of the Bible. But isn't that what happens in today's society? We got really bummed out going to church last week. All these people without masks. I'm sorry to imply that there might be a hop-skip-and-a-jump assumption that the anti-maskers might also have other problematic politics behind them, but I'm not that sorry. I don't understand how the faithful can stand by the deaths of refugees or spit on the concept of Black Lives Matter. It's the same cherry-picking that the religious in The Birth of a Nation espouse, quoting the lines that ignore the context of the Bible as a whole. It bums me out.
Nate Parker made this film that is visceral. I don't know how accurate it is. I want to hope that it is accurate because my '90s / 2000s history courses were woeful inadequate when it came to racial issues. But it is a commentary about when fighting is necessary. I have the luxury to fight the nonviolent battle, but I have to acknowledge that there is a whole demographic of society that is fighting for survival. Do I wish that real change could be brought about through quiet demonstrations? Absolutely. But I also see how the world has revealed itself to be quite the bleak place over the past four years.
PG-13 for over-the-top monster on monster action. Like most of the movies in this series, you intellectually know that an offensive amount of people are dying by the minute. But because you don't actually see that death, it becomes abstract and you tend to focus on the rivalry between two characters that almost lack personality traits. Yeah, there's language and blood. But the thing that gets my goat? The sheer death. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard
Man, I feel like I watched this movie ages ago. It couldn't have been that long. It's not like I've missed a day or a week of writing. I know that I've kept up. But it feels like this movie was ages ago. That's okay. I've been prepping for this movie with the watching of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. I'm well versed on the absolutely stupid mythology leading up to this movie. And I have strong opinions on it, so I'm sure that I'll have something to write that might be of substance. Or I'll call it quits way too early because I have so much on my plate to complete. Who knows?
Out of the movies that actually have Godzilla in the title --at least of the current franchise --Godzilla vs. Kong might be my favorite. I have had it in my brain that grudge match movies, especially grudge match movies with the word "versus" in the title, are fundamentally terrible. There's going to be a let down in some way. Either the movie will choose to avoid actually providing an answer or someone would fundamentally disagree with the answer. I remember reading something that director Adam Wingard stating unequivocally that there would be a victor of this movie. I mean, I guess. I'm going to be talking about action figures hitting each other for a few minutes. Godzilla vs. Kong is fundamentally the story of pirates versus ninjas. Are they on land? Are they on sea? Do they have time to prep? With Godzilla and Kong, it's a matter of environment and if Kong has a weapon. I also get the vibe that it becomes a popularity contest at one point. So even though --spoiler alert --Godzilla wins (ish), I call shannanigans. But the real winner is me, for being aware that this title is academic and it will never make anyone happy.
But this is my favorite of the Godzilla movies and I can explain that very simply. It may not seem like the most intellectual argument, but it is accurate: you can see what is going on. I know that with The Bourne Identity, Paul Greengrass started treating action as something that's fundamentally about motion, not about clarity. The Godzilla movies took that way too much to heart. While Jaws didn't give us a good look at the shark, that was always for the suspense element of it. These movies, even when Godzilla was ripping apart cities or fighting behemoths, the directors loved to obscure him. It got to the point of being straight up annoying. So when Godzilla vs. Kong let us actually see the titular characters duking it out, that went a long way to making the movie super watchable. It's the first time I could actually appreciate the battle without being surrounded by technicolor storm vomit all over the screen. I said that this wasn't the most intellectual of arguments, but think about what the ramifications of actually seeing the guys fight means? That means, for as dumb as the concept may be, the film actually delivers on its promise. Godzilla fights King Kong a couple times and you can actually appreciate the battle.
But this is where the movie gets kind of only okay. People, from what I understand, have been really bashing this movie. I mean, it's not great. I haven't been brought into the fold of the Godzilla movies in any iteration yet. But I do see why people don't like this movie. And I'm probably going to take an unpopular opinion getting to my argument. We're constantly told that Godzilla is a good character. I always saw Godzilla as a hero only juxtaposed to the other kaiju who absolutely are terrible and celebrate the destruction of humanity. But Godzilla, for all of his protection of the Earth, really is okay with just massive amounts of casualties. He's also fairly erratic with his behavior. Like, he's all over the place with his intentions. And part of that comes from the notion that we're his pets. He treats us like pets. Clearly, we're an ant farm where death is just commonplace and he's not going to be too broken up about it.
So when the antagonist of the piece wants to create a man-made mech to combat problems like Godzilla, I kind of am on that team. Yeah, I know. I'm supposed to be this great pacifist who isn't about militarization. But if the other movies in this franchise have proven anything, lots of people die when we do nothing about kaiju attacks. And that's when the franchise has to force us onto a side that we don't want to be on. Walter Simmons is imbued with all of these slimy traits because he's supposed to be the bad guy. But Walter Simmons, for all his grossness, is really right. Look at all of the pancaked cities that Godzilla and his ilk have lain waste to. It's depressing thinking about it. And the movie does the same thing that King of the Monsters does: forgive Maddie way too quickly.
If you read that blog, I go into this long spiel about Maddie is a major villain of the piece and the only reason that we forgive her is because she is Millie Bobby Brown and that she wasn't as bad as her mother. It's weird when an actor's celebrity status affects how we're supposed to view them in movies. The same thing happened to J-Law with the X-Men movies. Maddie goes from being her mother's sidekick, ushering the kaiju apocalypse, to being the tip of the spear for saving these lovable monsters. It doesn't matter how dumb some of the arguments get. Everything based on theory apparently deserves to be preserved. But there it is. The movie really has to yell at its audience to ensure that they stay on the right side. Of course, the MechaGodzilla is going to get out of hand. Of course it is. But that's only because it was made by the guy that was named the bad guy. Personally, MechaGodzilla is just Gypsy Danger from the Pacific Rim movies.
So the movie isn't great. I knew it wouldn't be. But I think that making the movie about Kong, the more fleshed out of the two monsters, makes it kind of worth watching. With that comes a far more interesting color palate. I don't know why we need to visit the center of the Hollow Earth (a plot point that almost feels irresponsible in this era of conspiracy theorist and anti-science). But the movie is fun. The characters aren't that bad. I know that there was some criticism that the human characters don't do anything. I don't know if that is true. I do find it funny that Kyle Chandler is back for no reason. But the movie is still a good time. It's the definition of stupid entertainment. Secretly / not-so-secretly, I hope this is the end of the franchise. There's not much more to tease out for me and destruction has little value at this point. But I had a good time, especially knowing that I didn't have to pay to go to the movie theater to see it.
PG-13 mainly for violence and cruelty. There is the implication that a group of criminals wants to kidnap a girl to sell her into prostitution, but the movie isn't exactly explicit about those intentions. But there is death and violence. I would say that I was happy that I didn't let my nine-year-old daughter watch this movie, despite the fact that she wanted to. I especially can confirm this with the visual lynching that happens in the movie, which is gruesome beyond reproach.
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
Oh my gosh, I really don't want to write right now. I want to go to sleep. I want to play video games. I want to read my book or go for a run or anything than write this blog. I Have a stack of papers that I have to grade that I just collected. I just finished another stack of papers. I don't know why this takes priority. But I also know that if I didn't prioritize the blog, it would always be ignored given the chance. So for the sake of habit forming, here's a blog about News of the World, a movie that my wife described as being the same as every other movie about the Wild West that she's ever seen.
She's not wrong. I mean, I really liked the movie, despite the fact that my sleepy brain is having a hard time really choosing a stand out movie in the whole two-hour narrative. But there are instantly connections to True Grit (probably the remake more than the OG) and The Searchers. The idea of the American frontier being a dangerous place for a little girl has been one that has been talked about before. The major takeaway from these films is that the little girl, while her life has improved with the addition of a father figure, often is strong enough to battle the hardships of the West more than any man by himself. Yeah, the setting matters. Yeah, the genre matters. But this story isn't necessarily emotionally bonded with the idea of the Western. Instead, Johanna is representative of the general resilience of children. While Johanna probably would have physically survived without the intervention of Captain Kidd. But Johanna seems overtly unhappy for the majority of the film. This is going to get into some pretty dicey subject matters, so I'm going to explore this with kid gloves.
Johanna's primary goal at the beginning of the film is to return to the tribe that kidnapped her as a child. They murdered her family, but she has always viewed them as her family. Greengrass doesn't really allow the movie to explore the nuanced story of the indigenous people and how they viewed Johanna in the tribe. Instead, we get the idea that Johanna is a girl without a people. She is on the outside of white civilization while also being physically separated from people who took care of her for her life. I don't know if the movie necessarily makes it clear if the indigenous people didn't want her anymore or whether she is simply the byproduct of another tragedy. But we get the notion that Kidd and Johanna form a symbiotic relationship. While Johanna's trauma is very externalized, Kidd's seems to be a background pain that affects what he does in life. He doesn't seem overtly sad. If anything, his reading of the news brings him satisfaction. It awards him a quieter life and that seems to befit him. But as the movie progresses, we understand that Kidd is suffering deeply from the loss of a family and from the losing of a war.
But I want to explore that war and the weird narrative it presents us. I'm flashing to Firefly (created by also controversial Joss Whedon). Firefly starts off with Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his loss at the Battle of Serenity Valley. The interesting narrative is about a protagonist living amongst his enemy. Mal is forced to grin and bear civilization run by the Alliance, a faction that he fundamentally disagrees with. Kidd, similarly, was a Confederate soldier. He tends to bond with his audience because they, too, are formerly of the Confederacy and are simple people. But I want to talk about the difference between the Alliance and the Confederacy. It seems pretty standard to have former Confederate soldiers as the protagonists in the Westerns. They are men without homes. But I don't necessarily love the folksy wisdom that these Confederate nomads have. Kidd probably was responsible for his fair share of atrocities in the name of the Confederate States of America. The most powerful moment in the movie is when he is staring at the body of a Black boy, hanging from a tree from a lynching. It horrifies him...
...but it also has nothing to do with the story. It isn't this moment where Kidd repents for his choice of side. There isn't this major internal conflict where he questions his own allegiances. Kidd, from moment one, seems to be a guy with a square head on his shoulders. He has a mission and that mission tends to have moral implications. Yet, the movie chooses to have this moment of a lynching that draws his attention. He is a Confederate soldier. These are details that, in 2021, can't really be ignored. As much as the movie is about healing, I don't know if this is the healing that is exactly spelled out over the course of the narrative. What kind of spirals out of this --and I'm aware that I'm putting my own perspectives on this --is that same message we've been getting time and again. When a movie shows this degree of racism but doesn't directly make it about the racism, it kind of has the message of "My problems are more important." Kidd, a man who is deeply entrenched in the race issue, sees the product of the race issue and continues to stick to the problems of white people. I get that he doesn't judge Johanna for being an outsider among two separate cultures. I'm glad. But if God ever gave you a sign, dude.
At the end of the day, this leaves me in a position. It's a good movie that I've seen before. Like, it's really well made. If I'm on board your Western, especially if I've seen it before, that's a pretty good Western. But is it really fulfilling? Why have this stuff about race if you aren't going to address the stuff about race? Yeah, you have some really solid messages about family. But your protagonist is someone who is presented as this moral character who is just remarkably cool with not making the world's problems his problems. He takes in this girl because he feels bad for her, but what about how he helped bring about some pretty terrible atrocities? It's just the myth of the noble Confederate perpetuated. That's a bit of a problem. And if the only reason that we see this character appear time and time again because we've come to expect that trope, maybe we should change the trope?
Okay, I put my due diligence in. They don't all have to be tanks.
Rated R. While this is rated R for all of the reason that Academy Award nominated dramas are rated R, the movie really dives deep into almost exploitative nudity in a sexual context. Like, I haven't seen a movie try these kinds of sex scenes since the '90s. And these scenes keep happening and go for long periods of time. And the movie, as a whole, isn't necessarily about sex. But the movie also involves racism, drug use, homophobia, and all kinds of R-rated subject matter. R.
DIRECTOR: Lee Daniels
I have so much work to do. So much work. I really want to have a work free weekend and I don't know if I can pull that off at this point. I'm writing really quickly because I don't want this over my head and it is a break from grading a bazillion papers. We'll see if I can pull this off in a reasonable amount of time, okay?
If I was to make a guess which movie didn't deserve to be nominated before watching them, I wouldn't have guessed that The United States vs. Billie Holiday would be the stinker. I mean, it has a lot going for it. I know Lee Daniels only from reputation, so I wouldn't have thought that he would drop the ball in terms of direction. The only thing that this movie has really going for it is Andra Day's portrayal of the titular heroine, which is what the movie is nominated for. But man alive, this movie is almost straight up bad. I had to stop the movie the first night because it, no joke, put me to sleep. It's not like the story was bad. The things I learned about Billie Holiday, while heavily entrenched in speculation apparently, was fascinating. But this is a movie that hits every biopic trope along the way while simultaneously committing a cinema sin that completely ruins the film: it doesn't know what it wants to say.
I've said before that I'm tired of the musician biopic. I really went off on a rant when it applied to Bohemian Rhapsody. We get it. The world of music is a tragic and lonely one. I know that when looking at the life of Billie Holiday, you can't possibly ignore the tragic things about it. But it shouldn't also be the thing that defines her character in this movie. I'll get to that in a second. If I was to tell you that there was going to be a biopic about a musician, you can guess that the movie is going to show about how the rise to fame has corrupted this person. This person would fall down a tunnel of vice, whether it be booze or drugs or both. The protagonist will push everyone away, yet you will still be asked to root for this character, despite the fact that this character acts abominably. Everything I just said applies to The United States vs. Billie Holiday. But why have a title like that if the movie is going to be about the dangers of success?
Because the movie wants to do everything. It wants to do too much and it doesn't know that it needs to focus its lens on something and say that well. If I take it from the title of the film, the movie should be about the United States government going after Billie Holiday for singing "Strange Fruit." I love that as a tight, hour-and-a-half movie. I've mentioned this before, but my nerd knowledge is weakest when it comes to music. The story of "Strange Fruit", while underdeveloped in the movie, ended up being fascinating. Holiday would sing this call of rebellion at these venues as a means to draw light to the lynching happening in the South. The government, without any power to really stop it, decided to go after Holiday in other ways, both in terms of tearing down her public persona and arresting her on drug charges. That should be the movie.
Instead, we get a lot of threads. I want to use Selma as an example of how to do this correctly. (My goal of this blog was to write about every movie I had seen, but for some reason, as of the time of The United States vs. Billie Holiday, I hadn't written about Selma.) Selma is a biopic of Dr. King. It is an extremely focused storyline basically structured around King and Lewis's march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. It's a really tight story and it works really well. Like with Holiday, the FBI wanted to go after King without really having a legal reason to do so. So to tear him down, they decided to focus on King's vice: extra-marital affairs. But the movie never showed us these affairs. Instead, we have incrimination and inference that allows the audience to pick up on what's going down. But The United States vs. Billie Holiday decided to show us about every bad thing that Billie Holiday did. She alienated everyone around her. She was rude and selfish. The story should be about the United States being the bad guy in this narrative. But by the time that the United States had gone after her, she had made herself really hard to like.
The role of the biopic, especially the ones where celebrity is involved, is to create a sense of empathy for the subject of the film. With Billie Holiday, I started off empathetic. She was a Black woman with a strong voice during a time of extreme racial disparity. (I use this phrase implying that there isn't a divide today. That isn't accurate. We're at a new surge.) But because Daniels focuses so much on Holiday as a polarizing figure, there's only so much that can be tacked on. While the singing of "Strange Fruit" is a morally impressive act, it almost pales to the cruelty that she inflicts on others. A lot of that comes from the fact that she led a traumatic life that caused her to behave in such a manner. But that's a whole other story that gets kind of trampled on.
Because Holiday is not living in a void, her traumatic past is part of who she is. But is the movie about Holiday and her addiction or is it about the United States government silence a voice that could topple society? If that wasn't enough, the movie gives a third focus, which is even more insane. Daniels tries marrying the two separate narratives with the inclusion of a Black FBI agent who must choose between his people and the admiration of his peers. I don't really get why Jimmy Fletcher would fall so head over heels for Billie Holiday outside of her celebrity. Fletcher knows the whole show. He knows the drug addicted singer and he sees her personality. My mind can't divorce the concept that Fletcher is almost attracted to the stardom of Billie Holiday because her personality doesn't really explain the element that a lot of stories like this have: "You haven't seen the real her." We see the real her and it seems toxic as all get out. Coupled with this grab bag is the notion that Billie Holiday may have had a female, white lover and definitely had an abusive husband. This stuff is important. That is its own movie. The Many Loves of Billie Holiday is a film.
There's no reason that this movie should fall on its face as hard as it does. There's very little redeemable about the film outside of a few standout performances. There is this element that really annoyed my wife and I, mainly because this editing thing was so poorly executed. The movie wanted to give the old-timey feel to a lot of scenes by either going black-and-white or mimicking a Super 8 film. But the actual product of these moments look like they were done in iMovie. There wasn't also a consistency between these segments. Is the past in black-and-white or is it in Super 8? If the transitions tried matching time passing, it wasn't really made clear at any point how much time had been involved in the story. It's just a bad movie that has no sense of progression or focus. There's nothing to root for except for the end of racism, which is a vague background player in the movie.
This movie had so much potential. It has three great stories that really could have been their own films. I would have watched a movie about Billie Holiday enduring the slings and arrows of a racist institution. I might have tolerated a movie about a public figure going through the problems of drugs and fame. I would have probably liked a movie about Billie Holiday finding her self-worth through her relationships. But all three? That's a movie that is just a KFC bowl of sadness.
Rated R because it is an overall bleak movie that seems to comment that humanity is just of rotten human beings. There's a lot of vulgar talk during the film. People treat each other terribly. There's death and violence, often because of a cruel disparity of class. There is a mild amount of sexuality. I can't believe that I'm writing this, but the overly patriotic might be sensitive to some of the comments made about America. R.
DIRECTOR: Ramin Bahrani
They're all bleeding together. It's all become too much. My brain is leaking out so much stuff about movies that I just feel like I'm in a haze. A cup of tea, too hot to drink, is sitting next to me. I hope it gives me the focus I need to write today. If I'm way off about this one, forgive me. I don't know when I'm going to have time to finish, but I promise to at least try my darndest.
The White Tiger kind of came out of nowhere for me. I remember when Netflix recommended it to me. I watched the trailer and thought "pass". Maybe the cut of the trailer was weak, but it looked super cheap. When it showed up as an Academy Award nominated movie, I was flummoxed. I was beside myself. That movie didn't look like it was quality. I was wrong. The White Tiger, in a year full of impossibly great movies, added to the pile of movies that you should probably watch this year. My gut says to avoid saying the following, but I'm a sleepy peepy so here goes: I can't deny that The White Tiger is kind of a way more pessimistic Slumdog Millionaire. Maybe that is the story of India for the Western world. The movies that we get about India is about how the hero is poor and abused for bulk of their lives. It is through insane happenstance and the selling of souls that people are able to pull themselves out of their situations. The theme that money is the root of all evil seems to be this common thread. With movies like The White Tiger and Slumdog Millionaire, the storytellers choose to acknowledge that money is life.
I have commented on this before with movies about India. I didn't mention this in 3 Idiots, which really does paint a portrait of me in a poor light. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, in her TED talk entitled "The Dangers of a Single Story", comments on what I am doing as a dangerous way to look at a country. I often look at what Western directors and storytellers say about India rather than what the Indian audience hears about India. Directors like Wes Anderson and Danny Boyle have painted the country of India as a place of duality: the horrors of poverty against the sheer beauty of a rich culture. Ramin Bahrani, with The White Tiger, seems to step out of the narrative that Indian audiences see with Bollywood, presenting the country of India as both up-and-coming and toxic. But that toxicity doesn't come from the internal part of India. Instead, it is India's attempt to compete on a global market. The movie, like many of the stories paralleling the American Dream, is fundamentally about money. Everything is money. The characters in The White Tiger are triggered by money as a primary motivator, even if they say they are not.
Placing the caste system as the foundation of this piece, the film stresses that, if you don't have money, you are worthless. Balram, not a moral character in his own right, continually stresses how the poor hate the poor more than the rich hate the poor. As cruel as the rich are to the poor, they acknowledge that the poor are needed to survive and succeed in this society. They beat them and underpay them. But it is in Balram's treatment of his peers that we see what the rich have bred into the poor. Balram, for somehow being the most innocent character in this society, has a Walter White way of treating the people around him. He exploits the secret that his co-worker is a Muslim in a society that hates Muslims. He pretends to pray to show how devoted he is to his master. This breeds a very bizarre relationship with his employer. His love for his master borders almost on a sexual love. The movie never implies that Balram is a gay man (although it doesn't necessarily deny that too much either. He is attracted to Pinky, although almost because it is forbidden.)
Balram insists that this is the relationship that mirrors a relationship between a parent and child, but that's part of his entire schtick. It's the show that he puts on for Ashok isn't necessarily accurate. It is more complex than what I'm making it out to be, which is what makes The White Tiger so interesting. But his obsession with his master is this idea that is fundamentally tied to economics. Inside Balram blooms this conflicted personality. He believes that his master is both a good man while knowing that he is fundamentally corrupt. That's not all on Balram by the way. Because Ashok behaves differently and more compassionately to the rest of his family, it becomes really confusing. But we have to remember: there is no heroic character. Capitalism has bred society to always love / hate the other. So watching this movie becomes really this complex thing. I call the relationship between Balram and Ashok almost romantic because there is no better way to describe it. It is this absolute adoration that Balram has. And because that love is so intense, when that love fails, it is natural that hatred that boils out of this. And it isn't really about Ashok. Balram is in love with the idea of success. When he is betrayed by Ashok's family, which is a genuine and deep betrayal, part of that hatred comes from the potential that is lost. He cannot be Ashok and that's a major part of what is crushing him.
The weird part is that, for a majority of the movie, Balram is sold as the innocent character...despite the fact that we know that he isn't innocent. When compared to the other drivers, Balram is referred to as the country mouse. But he's a character that turned his back on his ungrateful family. He's the character that destroys other people. His narration is to convince a Chinese investor of his own ruthlessness. Yet, Balram also attributes his spiral into darkness into the night that Pinky kills the peasant girl. We get the sense that the show that Balram puts on for Ashok is partially honest. I don't mean to degrade the entire blog that I'm writing (despite the fact that the last paragraph reads like unintelligible nonsense), but it kind of borders on how Clark Kent is both real and a façade. Balram the servant is fake, but he's also probably a part of Balram that is human. There is a death of this character once the peasant girl is killed and that death is tragic. But it is also this dynamic that isn't typical. The White Tiger has a story of characters who aren't good. I can't think of a good character in this, with the exception of Balram's nephew who is bred to be corrupt.
And it is in Balram's corruption that he oddly becomes heroic. We get that rich Balram is kind of gross with his riches. But he also combats the predatory natures that his financial contemporaries indulge in. Yeah, he runs a car service. He destroys his competition in absolutely despicable ways. But also rewards loyalty. He is the capitalist's dream and the capitalist's nightmare simultaneously. Man, the movie hates people with money and what they do to society. It's violent and conflicted. And it also seems eternally pessimistic. Because of Balram's metamorphosis, it offers the best solution as a tragic one. He has to abandon almost any likable traits, with the exception of ponytail that only works on Balram.
But there are really no good people in this movie. Part of me wants to exclude Pinky. Yeah, that seems like a lame fight, considering that Pinky is the one who drives the car into the girl and is freed from responsibility. But we tend to identify her as noble. She fights her husband's family. She rarely does anything inappropriate to Balram. She seems to have a strong moral code. She's the one who wants to report the death to the police. But the fact that she does run is really a problematic element of her character. If this movie is a commentary on money, Pinky might be the most damning character of all. It apparently is easy to have morals if you have money. Pinky fights for the morally right things every time she's confronted with things. But when money can't save her, she flees. That subtext is odd for a secondary character, but it also makes the film's primary message all that more palpable.
While I don't know if everything I wrote was coherent, I didn't know I would have that much to say about this movie. Instead, looking this movie from an economic status gives it a lot of depth. Yeah, I liked it even without the analysis element of this blog. But now thinking about it, I adore this film. It really is very good.
R for most of the reasons that you can think of. The most obvious R-rating comes from the sheer despair brought about by almost daring alcoholism. But then from there, it spirals into this world of sexuality, vulgarity, vice, language, vomit, and blood. There's nothing pleasant about any of these things. This is the heroic alcoholism of Charles Bukowski. It blends the urban whispers of the nobility with leaving the system while embracing the sadness that comes with that lifestyle. R.
DIRECTOR: Barbet Schroeder
And with that...I started taking requests. The obsessed, dominant part of my brain screams at me for not just skipping over this one so I can get every Academy Award nominee up before the actual Academy Awards happen. But then I realized, these movies would be largely ignored and that's no good. By the way, this is not an easy movie to get a hold of. It's been out of print for as long as I can remember in the United States. I had to track down a Korean copy that was all regions. I know, it's a big red flag about the legality of the movie, but the copy seems pretty darned legit. The things I do for "all my friends!"
By the way, this blog will become significantly more entertaining to read / write if you read Barfly as an adverb.
I had a weird obsession about this movie a little over a decade ago. Like, it blew my mind. I think that's what post-college is supposed to be. It's supposed to be this time where you discover Charles Bukowski and feel like you want to stick it to society. I didn't know much about Bukowski shy of his name and his reputation. But I watched Barfly and it was eye-opening. There was this sexiness to misery that I had never really known before. Henry, a thinly veiled avatar for Bukowski himself, leads an epically awful life that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, To call him an alcoholic is downplaying the whole thing. He wears his alcoholism like a warm blanket. The idea of eliminating this vice from his life would be abhorrent. He revels in the misery that surrounds him. He compares functionality and finances as being in a "golden cage". (I'll discuss this imagery later. Possibly indirectly. Again, these blogs get a single pass and then I'm done. I got too much to do.) For a guy in his twenties, who just spent college sleeping on a futon and eating $1.00 cheeseburgers four days a week, I got it. At least, I thought I did. I lead a very comfortable life and I pretended, at the time, that I had it rough. For all of the head wounds that Henry receives, there was something attractive at being someone who never had to abide by society's rules. This movie mesmerized me. It was new and it was different and I wanted everyone to know that I liked Barfly.
But being out of print, I never really had a chance to watch the movie again until recently when I got the request. Luckily, there was the Korean print. You should see the adorable little sticker I got on the front of it from the guy who sent it to me. He also assured me that this was a legal copy (which, to his credit, a lot of this disc looks legal). And it is now from the perspective of someone who is near 40 and well established in his career that Barfly reads as something very different to me. Part of me is in love with the establishment. Mind you, a lot of me wants to tear down capitalism with every breath I take. A foot away from me sits a copy of Nate Powell's new graphic novel, Save It for Later: Promises, Parenthood, and the Urgency of Protest. The anti-establishment thread runs through me deeply. But it also paints the world of Charles Bukowski as incredibly immature. I'm not going to lie: I found this movie that I used to love hard to endure at times. It probably didn't age well with me and I encourage those people who still love this movie to continue loving it.
A lot of this spin started when I read a book of poetry from a Bukowski knockoff. I picked the book because of the title and the cover. But as I read it, I realized there's something very infantile about the way that Bukowski views the world. Barfly and Bukowski (coming from a guy who only writes a blog and has a novel half done that he's afraid to finish) are about justification. It always has a bit of "She doth protest too much" about the whole life of a wino. The glorification of misery ignores the notion that this is a story of misery. Henry and Wanda live these lives where they don't really have a sense of self. To Bukowski's credit, I think he's aware of this. Their humanity has been stripped down to this need for selfishness and vice. Wanda warns Henry that she will leave with any man who has a fifth of liquor available. Henry almost seems pleased with this horrific confession because it reads almost like a justification of his lifestyle. It's only when Wanda leaves with Eddie, the personification of all the things he finds wrong with the world, that he becomes truly upset at the confession that Wanda offers him.
And I always found the story sexy because the movie focuses on Henry. Henry brings all of the misery upon himself. He revels at being a big fish in the scummiest pond imaginable. He doesn't mind the beatings that occasionally come his way because he will get cheers one out of a hundred times when he gets lucky enough to win / go into a fight with a meal ahead of time. But the nearly 40 version of me watches the movie through Wanda's eyes. Wanda may be the most telling bastion for the male gaze imaginable. We assume that Wanda is a paramour for Henry because she is the love interest. We equate them as equals because it is easier to do so. But Wanda is hurting way more than Henry. Henry gets to enjoy this spiral into misery. But Wanda seems truly sad. She is used for her body. She seems traumatized and the alcohol reads as a way to escape that trauma that chases her wherever she goes. Henry, with his intentional abandon of society's rules, holds no element of society within him. He almost voluntarily blows a perfectly good interview because that's the kind of person he is. But Wanda understands that there's things that people need to do. While I wouldn't ever label her a responsible human being, she does understand that responsibilities exist devoid of supervision. She knows how to dress herself up and fake it for the sake of survival.
Because of the slight juxtaposition between Henry and Wanda, Henry really reads as scummier than Bukowski intends for him to be. He leeches off of society, ignoring the small kindnesses that allow him to be enabled in his lifestyle. Henry doesn't have to sleep with people he doesn't want to for a fifth. He'd rather just keep walking the streets until booze appears. Because he is a male extrovert with a scripted personality, he is allowed to only suffer minor indignities to continue his way through the world of vice. Wanda, however, must completely humiliate herself. The fact that she sleeps with Eddie is almost a commentary on that moment. Bukowski wrote that scene to make Henry a more sympathetic character. What it really does is paint a contrast for Wanda. Wanda has to sleep with guys like Eddie to maintain her alcoholism. Henry just has to take a punch, which he morbidly seems to enjoy.
There's also this metacontext that really bothers me about Barfly as a whole. Charles Bukowski wrote a coherent script. The fact that this movie exists kind of reads like the whole concept of Bukowski, the legend, is a façade. Bukowski was a poet. If he was anything like Henry, his poetry would stay written in a secret notebook, occasionally being sold off piecemeal for a little scratch. But he's a poet. It seems like a feature length film is almost the definition of the establishment. I'm not saying cinema is part of the establishment. Many movies are artistic attacks on the man and I love that stuff. I'm just saying that changing media seems like this isn't from the soul or a message to society. Instead, it kind of reads like cementing the mythology of the great Charles Bukowski into something that may be entirely artificial. Again, I don't know Charles Bukowski on a personal level. Maybe this was a passion project for him. But a lot of it reads like he's hitting the highlights of a stereotype.
To give Bukowski more credit than I have been so far allowing, he is the progenitor of this archetype. Henry isn't W.C. Fields, where his alcoholism is adorable. To call what he does as "immature" like I've been implying is unfair. When you start the archetype, that makes you somewhat special. Yeah, culture has turned the Bukowski archetype into a cliché, but it isn't an archetype if you are the first one doing it. Embracing the grotesque is now commonplace, but Bukowski's method of elevating depression is not only novel, but it was compelling. There's a reason that my 20s were about Bukowski's counter-culturalism. It's good that a movie like Barfly exists because this story needed to be told. Yeah, it doesn't hit hard in my 30s as it did in my 20s and I tend to be flippant and sardonic about the whole thing. But I also acknowledge that Bukowski is commenting on a culture that doesn't get the attention it deserves. He takes the common man mythos of Arthur Miller and perverts it, which is great.
And, at the end of the day, I still kind of enjoyed it. Yeah, it wasn't the slam dunk that I've associated with my rebellious side. But it is still a solid movie overall.
PG mainly because it is a live-action movie. Nothing really terrible or scary happens in the movie, but the animals get sad. There are also sad kids. Oh, an animal dies from natural-ish causes, but that can pretty much traumatize a kid, a 'la Bambi. I'm going to talk about this soon, but the movie recontextualizes some questionable behavior to make it family friendly. PG.
DIRECTOR: Thea Sharrock
Another blog entry that somehow slipped through the cracks. My process involves watching a movie and then, when the movie is over, opening my Notes app to remind me what movie I watched in what order. For some reason, I never entered The One and Only Ivan. I apparently had the state of mind to put it in the Academy Award section without actually entering it into my phone. It was only while I was updating the website that I discovered that The One and Only Ivan wasn't on the list anywhere. Now that you know how the sausage is made, please excuse my lack of freshness with this blog entry. I really don't think I'll get everything written about by the time that the Academy Awards come around. It's weird how I'm prioritizing The One and Only Ivan, but I also know that if I delay anymore, there's no way that I'll remember anything about this movie.
Perhaps that may be a bit damning. The One and Only Ivan has a couple things going against it. The first, and this tends to be a me thing (but I know I'm not alone here!). Because The One and Only Ivan is a Disney+ exclusive made for Disney+, it has a bit of a disposable vibe to it. Now, I've slightly changed my tune on original films made for streaming services. Heck, if pandemic has done anything positive, it has made movies more available to a general audience. The low stakes model has made me watch things that I know that I wouldn't have paid money to go see. But the other end of that model often involves an element of low-investment / low-return. The less I invest in a movie, the less I'll ultimately care about the movie's greatness. For all I know, if I spent money on a movie ticket to go see The One and Only Ivan, I might find myself watching the movie more aggressively and appreciating it more.
But the other element of this movie is that it feels wildly outdated. I'm not talking about visual effects or really anything that involves storytelling. It just seems like celebrating the concept of the circus has kind of died out. I know that with Tim Burton's Dumbo, that motif seems to had this attempt at reigniting the aesthetic and nostalgia behind the concept of circuses. But the politics behind the circus is kind of gauche. Heck, people are having a hard time politically supporting the concept of a zoo. I don't know how much love the circus is going to get. Compound this idea with the idea of a circus inside of a mall and there's this element of complete cynicism that washes over me. The movie starts off with the tag, "Based on a true story." Boy, this one really pulls at the threads of that story. Yes, the movie ends with the photos from the real story. But like Saving Mr. Banks, Disney has gone back to glorifying a problematic past by sanding out the rough edges to history.
I'm a big shot producer, okay. (This is an imaginary situation. I'm a small time blogger / teacher in real life. This is for the sake of argument.) I tell you that I am casting Bryan Cranston as a failing circus ringleader inside of a mall. I then pitch this as an escape movie where the animals flee the mall. This sounds borderline PG-13 or R. Why? In my head, a circus owner inside a mall is probably wildly irresponsible. In a post-Tiger King era, we get that the guy who probably unimaginably cruel to get the animals to do tricks. There's no way that the actual story played out the way that the film presents. The movie is absolutely terrified to present any point of view as wrong. But the problem of the story is that there are two very contrasting philosophies going on here. The first belief is that small mom and pop businesses can make it in corporate America. To do this, they need to have the things that other circuses don't. But a completely contrary belief is that animals shouldn't be held captive, especially inside of a mall in middle America. Yet, the movie promotes both notions.
And in the end, it caves on both of these beliefs. Mack sees Ivan's sadness in his painting. (I refuse to believe that Ivan just became this amazing painter just because.) He allows him to be freed. Mack's entire life has been taking care of this gorilla for the sake of exploiting him on a billboard. When the animals are freed, Mack...doesn't have a business. One of the subtextual motifs stresses that Mack is aging. He has only known how to run a circus. He borderline has no marketable skills in an era where circuses are dying. But even if he's hired to another circus, isn't he just perpetuating the same issues that he did in his tiny circus? But the other element of the movie that really gets under my craw is that the movie really redefines "freedom". Ivan's goal, along with the other animals, is to return to the jungle. After all, that's what his sadness painting was all about: a return to the jungle. Now, I'm going to be a bit of a jerk and say that there is no wrong answer. Ivan was never raised in a jungle, so returning him to the jungle might be a death sentence. But the movie gives the characters their cake and allows them to eat it too.
When Ivan is placed inside the zoo, he's happy. The camera pans back and we see this gigantic expanse that allows Ivan to roam free. I call shannanigans on how big this pen is. Perhaps the movie is justifying this choice by calling it a wildlife preserve. I simply don't remember. But Mack and all of the employees at the circus can visit Ivan whenever they want. I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way in anything but a zoo. So we're left with this story of Ivan's quest towards being a real gorilla in the wild, only to have him be satisfied with this fairly sad trick. I hear that there's a sequel novel to this, but I'm going to simply assume that I won't be seeing movie about that. Ivan is thematically still in the same prison that he was in the mall. Yeah, you and I get that a zoo seems better than a mall. But in reality, that pen has to be tiny. It almost seems more like an answer to the human concerns of "What do you do with an 800 lb gorilla?" than actually servicing Ivan's needs.
But it is a cute movie. My brain won't shut up, is the big problem. As much as my kids enjoyed the film, I really don't feel excited for them to watch something like this. A story like this should be watched critically. While not necessarily being an overtly gross story, there's so much skipped to tell a functional tale that it defies reality. I think we're beyond movies like The One and Only Ivan simply because we've told this story before. I didn't hate it, but I can actively say that I didn't really like it either.
PG-13 mostly for language and cruelty. Yeah, the movie gets a little bit scary at times. I really can't deny that. But it is a different kind of scary than something like a traditional horror movie, or anything else that Yorgos Lamphinos has his fingerprints on. I'm actually kind of shocked that the movie is only PG-13, but I honestly have a hard time really finding anything objectionable in the movie. It still should be viewed by an older audience. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Florian Zeller
It's a play! Do you understand how much I want to see the play now? This would make an amazing stage production. I mean, I kind of get it. The guy who wrote the play also directed the movie. But still, this movie is so trippy that my brain is scrambling to see the chaos that could happen on a stage. Part of it is that I'm a snob and want to say that I'm referring to the play instead of the movie. I know. A guy who runs a blog named "Literally Anything: Movies" wants to be even more snobby by referring to the play instead of the movie. I'm a hypocrite and I've never denied that.
My wife, on the whole, is smarter than I am. She gets things that I never really get in film. She tends to figure out the ending of a film before I do and I'm always a little jealous of what she discovers. This is one of the rare examples of where I discovered what was happening before she did. This isn't a brag. Her track record is far better than mine. But my wife also thinks in terms of chess strategies and I'm more of a "Red Rover" kind of guy myself. If you went into this movie with a sense of grandeur and expecting twists and turns, you might be thoroughly frustrated. From the first ten minutes of the movie, I was instantly aware that the movie was trying to give the audience the experience of dementia. But there is that little itch in the back of the brain that really makes one question "Is this all a trick?" And that's where Zeller's story kind of gains a sense of brilliance. Because even though I knew that this was all an experience of losing oneself, there is always the question, "Maybe Anthony is sane and this is all an elaborate ploy." (I'm not referring to Sir Anthony Hopkins as "Anthony" because I'm cocky or a poor writer. I may be a poor writer, but that's completely unrelated. The character's name is actually "Anthony".)
That meta-context is fascinating. And what it does is make you actually question what the genre of the film is. At the end of the day, this is a drama about a man losing his sense of time and feeling vulnerable by his own mental deterioration. Note: I really hope I don't get dementia. At least this blog will be a formal record of a time that I was lucid. We know it is a drama because the story is quite small. For all of the actors in the movie, including a surprising appearance by Mark Gatiss (I'm a huge Doctor Who fan), this really is a story about an aging Anthony with his daughter and his new caretaker. The only thing is, it feels like a much larger movie than that. Because Anne may be a hallucination or played by another actress, there's this scope to this movie that doesn't quite match the content. If I told you, "This is the story of Anthony Hopkins dealing with his dementia while he treats his daughter terribly", that would be an accurate description while also being a gross misrepresentation of the film as a whole. Nothing really seems real in the film and I adore that.
But the thing I really like about the movie is the fact that it all seems effortless. Florian Zeller, with the help of his editor, give the movie a vibe of a more vulnerable and subdued Michel Gondry. This is the movie that would exist if Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind aged and felt more confident about the story. I will always love Eternal Sunshine more than The Father, but I won't deny that The Father is one of the riskiest movies that I have ever seen. It's so high concept. I make the connection because, as depressing as this sentence is, both movies are about brain damage. Both movies thrive on the concept that we don't necessarily know the reality of our situation until the story is played all the way through. Not knowing reality is completely haunting. With these kinds of movies (and I know that Eternal Sunshine is unabashedly sci-fi), we get the vibe of science fiction and fantasy without actually participating in science fiction and fantasy. Part of that comes from the notion of what we define as genre. High concept film tends to be considered genre film because it doesn't necessarily have a traditional chronological or cause-and-effect storytelling method.
Instead, we're begged by the filmmakers to use our sense of critical thinking. Zeller forces us constantly to question reality for the sake of building empathy with Anthony. It goes beyond the idea of the unreliable narrator, but kind of goes into the world of unreliable content. Yes, we view everything through Anthony's eyes, albeit the film does maintain a third person perspective. But like Rashomon, we're experiencing the individual's truth in the moment. It is reality for Anthony, but for any other character --including us --it is all gibberish. And that's terrifying. I would fake it just as hard as Anthony does in these moments.
Can I go out of my way and commend Anthony Hopkins? I've, in the past five years or so, been pretty cynical about Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins, in my head, was always a very talented actor. But I always saw him as one thing. He did that one thing over and over in movies. I think I said this in The Two Popes. He's an institution, but he keeps doing the same thing. Finally, I felt like this movie was a bit of a challenge. There's this vulnerable character that I hadn't really seen him do before. I mean, he's still Hopkins and I don't even ask him to completely abandon his foundation. But it feels like Hopkins plus something a little extra. Teaming him up with Olivia Colman is just inspirational. It's such good acting with a tight script and powerful editing. I mean, I don't think it is going to win. But I wouldn't hate if The Father won for Best Picture. It has a lot going for it. I just don't see it being a heavy hitter.
PG-13 for Van Wilder-with-a-sense-of-maturity hijinks. There's a lot of urination jokes. There's some crass language. It feels more rebellious than it is. PG-13 might be the most accurate MPAA rating for this movie. While there is nothing that really raises eyebrows that I can remember, besides sophomoric humor, the real issue is the constant --almost flippant --attitude toward suicide. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Rajkumar Hirani
I have a really big confession. Like, really big. While I've watched Indian cinema before, I haven't ever seen a straight-up Bollywood film. You would think with the fact that I'm probably the guy who has seen the most movies that you know (unless you are in my film circles, where I'm the guy who has seen the least and how dare I have a blog?) that I would have seen a Bollywood film up to this point. I mean, I get the genre, kind of. I've addressed stuff like Slumdog Millionaire, which is almost an homage of the genre. But I haven't watched a pure Bollywood film. Part of it is that it is all so intimidating. I know that I would have to scour through a lot of dreck to find the really good stuff and I'm already kind of cynical about the whole forced musical element anyway.
So why did I watch 3 Idiots? I mean, it isn't horrible. But I can safely say that I hadn't heard of it before. My last birthday, I got a scratch-off poster with movies. Just by opening it, I realized I had watched most of the list, both American and International. But then there were four movies that I had never heard of. And they all happened to be Indian films. These weren't movies from The Apu Trilogy or Monsoon Wedding. This was a movie that I even had a hard time finding to ensure that I was talking about the right movie. Now what I'm basically writing about is my own ignorance. One of two things happened. The first option is that I'm wildly ignorant about Bollywood cinema and I feel insecure enough to blame the person who made this poster. The second option is that the person who made this list is a huge Bollywood fan and he really wanted to put some of the more popular Bollywood films on this list. Or maybe it is both. Who knows?
My take on this movie is going to be from a Western perspective. I acknowledge and own my own ignorance. Who knows? Maybe by the time I completely fill in the poster, I might have a more informed opinion. But 3 Idiots feels like an attempt to mimic the Western Hollywood sensibility while maintaining elements that would appease the Bollywood audience. Immediately, I felt like there were elements of (500) Days of Summer mixed with the raunchy comedy of Van Wilder. It wants to be a little bit of everything. It wants to be stupid and goofy and deep and heavy all at the same time. Does it work? It works better than I thought it would, but that's not exactly saying much. Fundamentally, the movie wants to be inspirational. For all of its whimsy, the movie is kind of aiming for a Dead Poets Society element without all of the hard work and pathos needed to get to that moment. I'm going to refer to Aamir Khan's character as Rancho for the bulk of this blog just for simplicity's sake. Rancho's story is the same thing that we've heard time and again. He's the anti-establishment genius. There are times that he reads as autistic and times that he comes across as a rock star. Perhaps the filmmakers really want him to be whatever the plot needs. When he enters, he seems completely anti-social, mimicking Rain Man when he builds something to electrify urine. But he also becomes this guy who makes raids on the administration building and helps make plans to switch speeches on the rich cocky stereotype who can't speak the language.
But the big thing about the movie that kind of gets under my skin is the film's message about suicide. I'm not sure if this is something that activated a real memory or gave me that sense of false memory, but the movie reminded me / brainwashed me into thinking about the suicide rates in India, especially at the university level. One of the recurring motifs in the film is characters committing suicide. The first of the suicides is handled well. It is a curveball. In the midst of this zany comedy, a student who couldn't quite hack his final project ends up killing himself. It's this smash cut to the reality of a situation. The juxtaposition of the singing to the reality of this dead student who was overwhelmed with stress was a powerful tool. The quick blame for this suicide falls to Virus, who is quickly established to be the primary antagonist of the film. And that is a valid appraisal. Had Virus actually taken into consideration the student's psychological needs and reasonable request, that student could have readjusted his priorities and finished the project in a reasonable timeframe. But does no one blame Rancho even just a little bit for his decision. Like, I can't go beyond negligence. But Rancho really wanted to surprise the kid. But at no point did he consider what kind of mental stress that could have been on his shoulders. Rancho had no guarantee that he could have repaired the drone. During that time, the student was convinced that he would be booted out of school. A human being would have said, "Hey, let me help you fix this" instead of offering a surprise. It's a really weird choice.
But it is the second suicide attempt that really bothers me. All of these suicides tended to be in response to Virus's trigger-happy attitude towards booting students from his school. But Raju kind of actually deserved it. He urinated on Virus's door for fun. He got drunk and woke up in a class. All of these things are valid reasons for expelling someone from an institution. Yeah, Virus takes things to a college comedy level with the joy he gets from expelling Raju. But all things even, Raju kind of deserved it. (Raju's story, by the way, is really weird.) So Raju attempts suicide and this is where the tone gets bizarre. One suicide in a movie is shocked. I suppose two suicides could be chalked up to foreshadowing, but I don't really get that sense here. But that second suicide is treated like a joke. The first one has this impact when it is on a tertiary character. But Raju is one of the titular 3 Idiots. When he attempts suicide, it should be a bigger deal than it is. Instead, the movie goes into all of these goofy subplots about tricking Raju out of his coma, including forcing another of the idiots to marry Raju's sister. It's all very uncomfortable and it kind of killed part of the movie for me.
But in terms of fun, yeah, the movie's got it. Is that the point of Bollywood? Is it steeped in making sure that a movie is constantly entertaining? It almost feels like it is based on vaudeville than anything else? It has this really sweeping story about these characters. Sure, the movie is almost three hours for a comedy (which I understand is very typical for a Bollywood film), but it still maintains entertainment all the way through. But there are also some things that really read as a soap opera. Anything involving medicine was absolutely goofy, especially when it came to delivering a baby during a monsoon. It's just that every element of this movie really begged me to shut off my brain and accept the absurdity of it all. To a certain extent, 3 Idiots almost solidified my expectations of what a Bollywood film was supposed to be. It never really got to the proper level of vulnerability, but it also wanted the payoff from being this sweeping and epic film. Did I enjoy it? Okay. Sure. I didn't hate it. But I also struggled to say it is a good movie. It's got a lot of good moments and things that I enjoyed. But it also lacked maturity in almost any way.
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.