Literally Anything: Episode Twenty-Four: Literally The Legend of Zelda (Breath of the Wild)
The boys talk about their lifelong love of The Legend of Zelda franchise and Mr. H laments about not being able to finish a quest in a time limit.
Lady Bird (2017)
R-rated, mainly because teenagers curse like sailors and love being contrarian. There are scenes where Lady Bird acts like a turd and is wildly offensive, but the film overall kind of has a good message, I guess? If I have to make a concession, the movie isn't as offensive as it could be, but it does hit a few anti-Catholic buttons in the name of showing what the Catholic school experience is like.
DIRECTOR: Greta Gerwig
100%, Rotten Tomatoes? Really? I know that you are an aggregate site and really all you are doing is measuring a binary good-to-bad ratio without a sliding scale, but 100%? Someone didn't say, "Nah, this wasn't my cup of tea?" I can't even jump on the bad scale because the movie is pretty good. But I'm going to be the big shocker that no one wants to listen to. It was only pretty good. It was not change-my-life, end-of-the-world good. People need to stop using hyperbole and critics need to start thinking like audience members. This recent shift from critics to audience has gotten bigger and movies like Lady Bird are part of the problem
This has to be Greta Gerwig's semi-autobiographical film, right? This movie feels personal as heck and there are scenes in there that just read like things that she probably did when she was in high school. The movie goes out of its way (that line in the first few minutes of the movie establishing the year...c'mon.) to establish that it is 2002. The only reason that the movie had to be in 2002 is A) they wanted to use "Crash Into Me" unironically and B) it was probably the actual year that Gerwig went to high school. That makes her a year younger than me and I should be able to relate to this movie more than my students. Admittedly, I'm not not a high school Catholic school senior girl, but I may as well be. I can totally love on the nostalgia that this film has. I'm finally getting to an age where movies that are nostalgic are about my youth. That's weird. We're finally past all of the eighties flashback movies and we kind of just skipped over the nineties to arrive at 2002, but let's be honest. A '90s movie would be kind of meh. (Sorry, Everybody Gets Some...I have yet to see you. You are on my Netflix DVD queue.) As a tale of the early 2000s (or early "aughts", because I know you people), I don't think it is entrenched in the nostalgia like many movies of its kind are. That's what kind of makes me question the chronological setting at all. It almost screams like Gerwig is saying "This is me! Know me!" That's fine. It's just that I don't really like Lady Bird as a person.
Yeah, I know. I'm the worst. I told my students that I didn't really like her and I think I full on made some people hate me. "I related so much." I'm sorry, but Lady Bird reminds of people I know and those people are absolutely terrible human beings. What's odd is that I normally love my protagonists flawed. Lady Bird learns lessons throughout the films and I want to give those lessons a warm hug because it needed to be said in film, but I also feel like Lady Bird's changes were small and reactionary as opposed to a massive change by choice. She goes from someone I dislike to someone I dislike somewhat less. That's not the big revelatory moment I was hoping for as an audience member. The problem that I can't wrap my stupid noodle around is that it is a change that is probably truer to life. We don't often have these Scrooge moments where we make a calculated decision. Shy of reaching rock bottom and seeking help, most of our choices react to our emotional states. We learn lessons by living life and making small choices. So why can't I get past that and learn to love Lady Bird as a person? It felt a little too little and a little too late. Also, like I mentioned, I know Lady Birds in real life. Why would I want another Lady Bird in my life? (She named herself Lady Bird. That's already pretty telling.) On a completely different level, I also have to say that Saoirse Ronan didn't exactly knock it out of the park with this one. I love Saorise Ronan in other stuff. I think she's a phenomenal actress and has a nearly perfect time at bat. Lady Bird feels like a caricature. Yes, her moments scream true to life, but I always felt like Ronan was doing a voice and an impression as opposed to inhabiting the character. I've seen her in other things that are so much better and it bummed me out that this is the movie that is getting her all of the attention. I don't know if anyone agrees with me outside of my wife, but I thought everyone, with the glaring exception of Coach Director, did a better job than she did.
The reason that I actually call Lady Bird a good movie is because of every secondary character in this story. I found every other character, morally righteous or not, extremely compelling. I'm going to top heavy my review which is going to leave the rest of this review dull as sin, but Laurie Metcalf is my new favorite. She is so good in this. I wholly support her getting an Academy Award for her portrayal as the mom. This is a tough role. It is a really tough role. Metcalf never is portraying one emotion. She is a character who wants to be more easygoing. She hears how caustic her criticisms are, wants to say just one comforting thing, but is compelled to tell how she really feels in every situation. There are moments where Metcalf's eyes just betray every word she is saying and it is fascinating. I had the same feelings that Lady Bird had about her mom. I simultaneously loved and hated her and that's what Metcalf had to be going for. She is such a rich and complex character and I had no idea that she had it in her. I'm full on rooting for her because she made this movie for me. But then I have to talk about my other favorite character: Dad. Tracy Letts, who plays Dad and has apparently been in every Oscar movie ever despite the fact that I didn't recognize him, is so good. SO good. A lot of that stems from his character. Gerwig does this amazing thing with the movie and with her characters like Dad by giving them a rich backstory that never really gets focused on. Dad deals with depression in a way that is unfortunately very true. There is an emotional breaking point, but the rest of the time it is commonplace and ignored. The theme of accepted depression is handled beautifully, especially considering that it isn't the central focus of the movie. There are so many characters who deal with everyday mental illness and these characters ring so true. It is so weird that Lady Bird is the focus because her story is perhaps the most artificial in its portrayal. I'm not saying the moments aren't true. The moments are truer than true. It's just the connecting fabric that is Lady Bird herself artificially strings together these life changing moments. I think Gerwig might be a better B-line storyteller than an A-line storyteller. Also, Kyle is the worst and I applaud the portrayal of being the worst.
There's a lot more I could get into this movie. But then I start entering spoiler territory and I think I've conveyed my emotions on this film. The beats are near perfect, but the connecting tissue is what bothers me more than anything else. I don't love the intentionally offensive scenes, but what can I really do about that? The movie has heart and the movie has power, but it rubbed me the wrong way too many times.
Strong Island (2017)
This is TV-MA because of dark content. While I don't particularly remember any foul language, I'm willing to be it is only because I was invested in the documentary itself enough to ignore any language. Based on the content, I'm fairly sure that there is some pretty intense language in here. In terms of visuals, that is fairly mild. These are people's experiences of the night where a family member was killed. The graphic nature comes from their accounts.
DIRECTOR: Yance Ford
I kind of feel like a scumbag even reviewing this. Yes, it is a film. Yes, I watched it. Yes, it is up for an Academy Award, which means many many people are actually reviewing it. But how do you evaluate how someone grieves? This movie is an elegy for William Ford, Jr. The filmmaker, Yance Ford, made this movie to bring attention to the death of her brother, a man who was forgotten not by those who knew him, but by the justice system. It is not a look into what makes a justice system succeed or fail. Rather, it is exclusively the tale of William Ford and the night of his death. It is odd having this on Netflix. It is odd that "True Crime" is actually considered a genre because there is something inherently morbid in it. I don't know if I've always thought that way, but Strong Island kind of makes me aware of that. The documentary isn't trying to solve a crime. It isn't a look at the investigation and trying to go deeper than the police originally did. Rather, this is about how justice was never even really considered for William Ford. That's something new in itself.
As I mentioned with Icarus, I hate reviewing documentaries because I feel like I have to give way too much background. The short version of the story is that William Ford, Jr., the older brother of the documentarian Yance Ford, was shot and killed during an argument with a guy who was supposed to be fixing his car. William Ford had had an argument with the guy previously, but was overall a pretty upstanding guy. He wanted to be a corrections officer. His mother was a high school principal for years and had started a program teaching inmates at Ryker's Island. From the point of view of his family, he was a pretty awesome guy. When Ford was shot with a rifle, it seemed like something was hushed up pretty quickly to prevent the guy who shot him getting into trouble. The Grand Jury found that no actual crime had been committed and the family went from living by the motto, "Judge a person by his character and not the color of his skin" to "White society failed my son." There is more to the movie and I recommend everyone watches it, but that is the short version that you need to understand before I start really getting into it. Yance Ford created something very intimate and personal here. His is Ford dealing with her pain. The greatest thing that Ford communicates with this film is that William's death was not just about William leaving the family, but how William's death ended the family in a way. Yance and her mother still have a relationship based on the many interviews with her mother, but it is evident that her mother became a different person after William's death.
William's death may have affected Yance's mother the most. Yance and her sister definitely feel the effects of William's death, but Yance's mother became someone else in fundamental philosophy. I applaud Yance Ford for simultaneously examining the life and death of William Ford, but for also looking at who her mother was before and after this tragedy. A look at Barbara Dunmore Ford, Yance's mother, is a fascinating tale of a woman who has worked for social justice her entire life. She married a man whom she loved more than life itself. They worked insane hours, sacrificing parts of themselves for their children and for the students under Barbara's care and she honestly seemed like a modern day saint. Yance Ford clearly has / had the utmost respect for her mother and seems to love this woman. She has an awareness of the sacrifice, something many children have a hard time wrapping their heads around. But that relationship is also very complex. These interviews with her mother, and this is my complete interpretation, seem like a conversation long necessary. I know that Yance Ford had to have much of the story that Barbara had to share, but the tone of the interview seems to be vulnerable. This conversation has probably happened in pieces before, but to sit down and go through the nitty gritty of the whole thing probably had to be rough / cathartic. I weep for Yance for the loss of her brother. It clearly has shaped the rest of her life. But I also weep for Barbara, a woman who has stayed strong for the sake of a decaying family and the lost innocence she received that night. I also weep for her husband, dead before the making of this documentary. There is a complex emotion that is captured in this movie. It is extremely vulnerable and I hesitate to talk about. When Barbara talks about her husband, William Ford, Sr., she has such love for this man while being so angry at him for things that are somewhat out of his control. She pities what he went through, but is also mad that he couldn't empathize with the rest of his family. William Ford, Sr. dealt with this pain by hiding from his family. A year later, he had a stroke. I can't help but think that it couldn't have been a coincidence. I have been angry at the dead for failing to live and that is a very complex experience to communicate effectively.
I have to be critical. I can't state enough that this movie is important to see. As a Catholic and as a human being, I am glad that I watched this because it is the celebration of a life lost too soon. But I do have to look at the filmmaking as well and the successes and failures within the story. Yance Ford does exactly what she needed to do. She made a movie for her and her family. She wanted people to know about William Ford, Jr. and that's exactly what she did. There is no kowtowing to a greater agenda. She isn't meeting the needs of a studio or trying to win an Academy Award. The only benefit of this Academy Award nomination is that more people will see her movie and, as such, will know about the death of her brother. But a movie trying to topple a system and a personal film have very different needs. The movie might be a bit too intimate. Most of the information about this story comes from her family members and William's best friend. While Yance Ford does eventually reach a police officer who will speak to her (the opening of the film involves Ford talking to an officer on the phone who refuses to comment on anything), this scene is very fleeting. The bulk of the film comes from her family and that leaves this story mostly untold. I know that this isn't a true crime film in the traditional sense of the term, but the movie does a lot to avoid the "warts and all" attitude that many documentaries need to have to be truly effective. They mention that William had a temper from time to time, but counter that immediately that he was not one to get into fights. I am going to recommend this movie in my Catholic News Agency column, and I am terrified that this is going to become political because Ford leaves so many open questions about Ford's background. I respect her choice because one movie isn't another movie. She's not making a movie about proving her brother innocent. She is making a movie about her brother whom she knows is innocent. I can just see people flocking to political agendas because of this vulnerability. I just want people to watch the movie with Yance Ford's motivation. I want people to know that this isn't about politics, but rather about knowing a kid who was shot. As part of that, Yance Ford introduces a conspiracy that never gets traction. There are flaws with the format, but flaws that I might intentionally make. Perhaps the most problematic is the fact that many of the gaps are filled in by the filmmaker herself. She often films herself talking to the camera. This is her story as much as it is anyone else's and she needs her voice to be heard. But that also pads out a movie with (God, I'm a jerk) somewhat manipulative moments when needed. I get it, but also I wish that she handed the camera to someone who wasn't involved. Her interviews are vital, but she also keeps coming back and that hampers the objectivity. But I can't stop saying this...this movie isn't meant to be objective and we should all just move on. It's just that I couldn't stop thinking about it.
I don't know if I want to think of this as an Academy Award nominee. I want to think of it as me getting to know a family that has been ignored for too long. I am saddened for the Ford family and I know that this pain will never go away. But bringing William Ford's death to the forefront is an important step in the healing process and I hope this brings some sort of justice to future generations.
TV-14, but there be some language in this movie. Like, in subtitle form...but that's still language, yo. Some of it is just said in a heavy Russian accent, but that doesn't make it any way less the f-bomb. Heck, it might even make it more of an f-bomb. It might make it MORE of an f-bomb. Regardless, TV-14.
DIRECTOR: Bryan Fogel
I'm kind of a troll when it comes to sports. On the Catholic Movie Group I belong to, I called this my favorite sports movie. (I originally put Black Swan, which warranted a few confused reactions.) I've always wondered why people love sports so much. I know the standard answers, but it seems to make way more people miserable than it does happy. It, for some reason, has more power over societal choices than any other form of entertainment. Heck, the only reason that I even would watch this movie was that it is up for an Academy Award. But there is something remarkably telling about the value that society has placed upon a game. Unfortunately, it will never change. Also, I hope everyone enjoys the Super Bowl this Sunday. I'd watch, but I'm not a big bowling fan.
The craziest part of this documentary is that it kind of fell into Fogel's lap. It was supposed to be a very different documentary. I actually liked the idea of that doc as well, so I'm just amazed that there are two sports themed documentaries that I kind of like. (I also love Hoop Dreams, but that's a whole 'nother story.) For those who aren't in the know about this documentary is that it kind of started as Super Size Me for sports doping. Frustrated that there was such a gap between athletes who perform cleanly and those who had partaken in doping, the documentarian Bryan Fogel decided to see if he could take Lance Armstrong's regimen without getting caught before a massive biking event. In the course of this experiment, Fogel meets Grigory Rodchenkov, the man who was in charge of WADA during the Sochi Olympics. He helped Russian athletes pass what was supposed to be an impossible test to pass. All of this is reading as part of the documentary until Rodchenkov is outed for his participation in the doping scandal. This is where it becomes a much better documentary. I would have watched Super Size Me with drugs, but the documentary becomes an investigation about the obsession that Russia has with being the most successful country in the world with everything. Over the course of the movie, the focus shifts from "Can someone get away with doping?" to "Rodchenkov becomes a literal target for assassination by the Russians." Man, the Russians. Being Ukrainian, I've been watching a lot of documentaries on Putin and this one belongs up there. Yeah, the focus is on sports doping and that in itself is a pretty solid evil. But this doping documentary shows the kind of insanity that Vladimir Putin regularly subscribes to.
I want to be talking about the facts, but I also don't want to convince you not to watch this documentary because I reveal all of the major moments. It is always hard to talk about documentaries from a film perspective because there is an inherent temptation to talk about the content rather than the filmmaking process. Fogel really hasn't made that much outside of this, but he threw a lot of artistic chops into this film. The movie isn't a cheap looking film whatsoever. I can't say that I really respected the initial premise, but I will acknowledge that my hypocrisy tends to win out in these situations. It really seemed like stunt filmmaking, subjecting oneself to an insane illegal drug cocktail. I could also criticize him for being a guy who had a story kind of fall into his lap, but what I can't criticize him for is how he delivered on this very intense story. Fogel really researches the living daylights not only of Vladimir Putin, but he also gets to know his subject, Grigory Rodchenkov. Admittedly, he paints Rodchenkov is a very forgivable light, which is easy to do. Rodchenkov is the Russian friend we all want. He's funny and learned. He has a family and loves dogs. He has a bit of a Boris-and-Natasha accent, but is completely fluent in English and grammar, with an occasional adorable misstep from time to time. He also has an extremely tragic past, which explains his involvement in the doping scandals that he orchestrated. By the end of the movie, Rodchenkov becomes the good guy, but there is also that horrible itch that you know that he did what Russia asked him to do for a long time. There doesn't seem to be a degree of remorse for what he did. At one point, Fogel goes before the Olympic committee and one of the members asks for Rodchenkov's apology because she is appalled by Rodchenkov's crimes. This is an interesting moment because Fogel kind of puts the committee member in her place, accurately-but-that's-only-part-of-the-story stating that Rodchenkov is putting his own life on the line revealing his part in the whole ordeal. Rodchenkov is the most interesting part of this documentary, but he doesn't seem morally turned inside out about the past. Rather, he is a man worried about his own life and that kind of makes sense.
The movie looks beautiful. Considering that the tone of the movie changes about thirty minutes into it, Fogel adapts the look of his film to match the content of the film. The movie is edited using a great visual style that feels like CNN produced this documentary. The color scheme of the info graphics is haunting and informational. There is a lot of abstract ideas here that could have been lost without the visual element that Fogel and his team create. I know that John Oliver has talked about the Russian doping scandal in the past and he blew my mind with a lot of this stuff. Fogel kind of goes beyond that with showing the step-by-step of how each thing happened. By the end, I felt like an expert on how to trick any government into swapping pee with me. Similarly, Fogel uses a different visual element to tell Rochenkov's story. Using monochromatic and stylized art, Fogel tells Rodchenkov's narrative about his time in a mental institution. As part of the theme, Fogel stresses Rodchenkov's favorite book, 1984, to stress the parallels of working under Russian supervision. While perhaps heavy handed at times, the 1984 structure of the film is extremely effective. I also can't say that I hate when a movie stresses the value of literature and how it affects the common man. If I was directing this movie, I would have been terrified that there are just too many elements to the film. I would normally call this movie jumbled, but the disparate pieces somehow really seem to mesh in a way that works. There's so much going on with this doc and I think that Fogel really sticks the landing. Yeah, I like crapping on sports, but this movie takes the relationship of sports and makes you think instead of preaching at you. I get the vibe that Fogel still is really big into athletics, but is also aware of the evils happening in the background. As a fundamental zealot against sports (I will not rest until they are destroyed!), I dug this as an I-told-you-so, but I also acknowledge that the movie has merit on its own.
R for violence. This isn't the violence that is cheered for. This is the kind that makes you want to weep. It's rough and digs deep into the soul. There's language and there's hatred. Sometimes I simply state that a movie is R because I list all of the MPAA ratings. This one is R because it shows the ugliness of the human condition.
DIRECTOR: Dee Rees
I'm well entrenched in Oscar season. It's my favorite time of year by a lot. I know, people roll their eyes at the Oscars. "They don't matter." I get it. They really don't. But people see it as self-congratulations. I see it as a time to celebrate film. This is real and proper film. Sure, I often disagree with the Academy and there are often movies on that list that I properly dislike. But these are all movies where people tried really hard. I know that there is a studio behind them and that studio wants to make money, but often there is a proper artists who wants their story exposed to the world. Mudbound is a Netflix original. I don't think it got a proper theatrical release and before The Meyerowitz Stories, I believed that Netflix originals was just a dumping ground for good-but-not-great movies. While Mudbound will never really make any of my greatest films list, Mudbound represents what a movie is when it gets truly personal and engaging.
The first half I did not like. There. I said it. I really thought I was going to be enraptured from minute one, but the format of the movie isn't necessarily always engaging. This is not to say that there isn't a quality movie there. I don't even think mistakes were made. It's just that a lot of the movie, especially the first half, is dependent on characterization and style that I was desperate for some cohesive narrative to tie the film together. I know, film doesn't technically need a traditional narrative. But I often like narrative and if a story lacks a traditional structure and I say that I don't mind, I'm probably lying to both you and myself. There are very few stream of consciousness movies that I jump on board. That's probably not an absolute, but I know me and me likes story structure. I also might be a bit tainted by the casting of the guy I until this moment thought was Joel Edgerton. Nope, it was Jason Clarke. I dare you to go back and forth between those two guys and tell me that you recognize one from the other. I was going to point out that Joel Edgerton was Carey Mulligan's husband in The Great Gatsby, but none of this is true. I was also going to point out that Joel Edgerton tends to play a lot of racists (except in Bright, where he is apparently the target of race). But I had noticed that Edgerton / Clarke tend to be in a lot of okay movies versus amazing movies. Regardless, a lot of the first part of the film depends on the aesthetics. The odd choice, and I think it works in the long run, is the bookending structure that this movie provides. Having the chronology all mixed up implies that there will be quite a few strong dramatic beats in this movie only to find out that the movie is kind of a slow burn. It is only once WWII starts that the movie picks up in anyway that's really worth salvaging. Really, the last hour of the film is completely aces (pun intended). I know why the first hour and twenty minutes of the film are there, but I think the characters are fleshed out faster than the filmmakers give it credit for. I get Henry's foibles and I understand Hap's frustration with white America. Laura, perhaps, is the most fleshed out. The things that we need to know about these characters are very clearly laid out through narration, so the very long intro into this movie is slightly indulgent. I mean, I like the fact that the director wants us to have relationships with these characters, but pacing really becomes a problem in the first act.
Once the last hour of the movie begins, that's when things get great. As compelling as the seemingly primary cast is, it is the relationship between Jamie and Ronsel that sells the film. I want to believe this is a movie about farming and rural Alabama (?), but this is a tale of two guys who find healing in a friendship that no one else can understand. The race idea is central to their friendship, but the reason that they bond is that they can't adapt from being genuine heroes to being seen as a blight on this backwards society. Perhaps the themes are ones we've seen before, but condensing the meat of the movie into the last hour might actually be extremely beneficial. I wonder if the Rees saw her options as either A) we don't have enough content for a really good intense movie or B) if we go through the whole thing, we could make two movies squashed together into a kind of a long film. She went with the second and I can't begrudge her that. By the time Jamie and Ronsel start hanging out together, they are really well developed characters. So it works. Also, both of them have a relationship with the antagonist, played by the excited-to-see-him-in-a-movie Jonathan Banks. I love Jonathan Banks and boy-oh-boy, does he ever play such a turd. He's so good at it. Pappy is the worst and I have to compliment both Banks and Dees in establishing his character. He is this constant threat looming all of the characters. He's just so scary and so messed up. He's not even a character you love to hate. He's just a despicable character and that makes this movie kid of a horror movie.
I want to talk about Carey Mulligan because my wife will watch anything Carey Mulligan is in. She's great, but I also only really appreciate her across from Mary J. Blige. Mulligan seems to play a lot of characters in the vein of the put upon bride. This one is a fair deal of torture to her, but she doesn't always play it with grace. This is a choice, I think. Perhaps I'm just getting weary with Mulligan playing the same part again and again, but she seems to be more annoyed by the environment she is in than actively fighting against it. I think it is the line where Mulligan's Laura is first introduced. She is complaining about the mud that surrounds her farm (she does know the name of the movie, right?) And then we get to see how she got there. I think it is my disrespect of dramatic irony, but as the audience, we know the mistake she is making marrying Henry. When things go poorly for her, I can't help but kind of blame her. It is only her relationship with Florence that she becomes tolerable, but never actually likable. Florence is this woman of grace who never seems like this situation is beneath her. I don't love the "white savior" story because it is kitty litter for many. I don't think Mudbound is doing that. There is one line that says that the black family had never seen a white woman in that way, but I don't think it is falling over this one act of gratitude. Rather, narratively (sorry!), it gives Carey Mulligan's character someone to focus on other than herself. Really, I'm surprised that the kids don't get any real attention this story shy of paying attention to a terrible whooping cough.
The end is rough. I can't dance around that. It is a bummer and people know that I like really rough endings on things. It isn't completely devoid of hope, but you aren't going to leave this movie feeling like a million bucks. Honestly, watch the trailer on Netflix and tell me that you thought this movie was going to have a happy ending. You can't, and hopefully it isn't because you don't have Netflix. It's a movie about racism in the South, so let's just say that we know how this story was going to go. I really like the end, but I also know that most people now get mad at me for recommending movies and books that are complete bummers. But the world isn't always completely happy. Ignoring the dark isn't always a good idea. Ignoring history is an even worse idea. The darkness of this movie is real, but Mudblood isn't presenting evil because it can. It is presenting evil because it shows good people enduring and overcoming that evil. I really like this movie, but it does have some major pacing issues. Regardless, I'm overall impressed with it.
There has to be a bit of irony that the government doesn't really go after PBS documentaries. This movie isn't rated and I'm not at all shocked. There's really nothing really wrong in terms of content here. Yeah, you could show it to your kids free of fear. Just assume that your kids are totally into the minutia of the housing crisis. But there's nothing really here. I don't think that there is even a use of bad language. They're probably saving all of that for the uncensored, too-hot-for-TV DVD.
DIRECTOR: Steve James
I guarantee you that director Steve James was secretly hoping for a different ending. It would have spiked that ball right where it needed to go and he could just run up on the stage, holding his Oscar and scream "This is for the Sung family!" That probably won't happen. This is the first of the Oscar Nominated docs I've watched, but even with the first few minutes of Icarus under my belt, I can see where the wind is blowing. There's an Aleppo documentary that's nominated. I don't know if Icarus is the story that wants to be told. That said, I've been surprised before. For all we know, the people voting just chose alphabetically instead of watching them all. (I hear that happens.)
Abacus is a fascinating story that has an inherent problem with it. The people actually screwed up. For those who have no idea what this documentary is about, Abacus: Small Enough to Fail is about the one bank that the government went after in the housing crisis. This is a small bank located in Chinatown that serves the Chinese community there. During the housing crisis, several lower level bankers at the Abacus staff actively took part in loan fraud. When the upper management discovered this, they reported the fraud to Fannie May, which actually made those upper managers the target of a police investigation. The documentary really comes down to "Can the managers prove that they knew nothing of this fraud?" and that kind of seems improvable. That being said, that's the center of justice in America, that whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thang. The movie goes to great lengths to show the moral fortitude of Mr. Sung, the 78 year old founder of Abacus. Casting him in the shadow of George Bailey by means of showing clips from It's a Wonderful Life, Sung is shown as the banker who wanted to serve his underserved and undervalued community. This is done primarily through testimony by Sung himself. It is supported by a few light comments by other members of the Chinese community along with his children, but there isn't a ton of outside research into this. There isn't a wave of people all coming forward saying, "If Mr. Sung hadn't such and such, I wouldn't be the man I am today." The documentary definitely takes the side of the Sung family and it is probably pretty accurate. I'm not so much asking for a conviction of the Sung family. I want the documentary to find something else outside of a man's conviction that he's a good man. If someone keeps telling me, "I'm a good person", guess what I'm going to think. (That he's a good person. I'm a very trusting individual.) There's also the bigger problem of the fact that this is a story of corruption v. incompetence. I really hope that the Sungs had no involvement in the fraud. They seem like nice people. But in that scenario, they lost customers' money for years and didn't notice that the bulk of their loans department was stealing money from Fannie Mae. There's this constant comment of the fact that their reputation will be forever ruined because the FCC dragged them into court unjustly. That's not at all true. They should have gone to court. They should have been found innocent, but wrongdoing was done and it was very suspicious. Abacus as an institution failed to protect their customers from their very institution. What am I really fighting for?
The documentary is pretty fascinating though. Any time it comes down to a court case, there is an element of reading the room. I'm always convinced there is going to be a mockery of the justice system because that's what makes the movie fascinating. I don't think, as a culture, we care about court cases that play out the way it is supposed to. James, as a filmmaker, kind of is aware of that feeling as he makes this documentary. I genuinely believe that there were some prejudices involved on the jury. There's one moment, and this might be truly telling in terms of what the climate of the time was, that a juror refused to vote "Not Guilty" because a message had to be sent to the banking system. There is actually a line in the trial tapes that say that "you can't do that." In terms of building up suspense --and this seems awfully flippant considering that I'm talking about real people's real lives here --the documentary does what trial films do. SPOILERS BECAUSE I HATE BEATING AROUND THE BUSH LIKE I AM: The "not guilty" verdict almost goes against the movie that James is trying to make. The movie, like many movies about similar subject matters, focuses on a fundamental misunderstanding of what makes up a cultural community. It focuses on the ignorance of white America while implying that many non-Chinese people are racist towards the Chinese community. I know that this is a truth. I know it. When James was on the ground with the Sung family, I'm sure he experienced that bigotry first hand. But the movie keeps telling me about this bigotry, but never actually shows it. If anything, the movie shows both individuals and corporations go out of their way to try to identify and communicate with the Asian community. The movie has the problem of telling me one thing, but rarely ever showing me the other side. The odd thing is that I believe the words that are told me. It's just that I keep hearing it from Mr. Sung, the guy who is on trial for possibly defrauding a whole bunch of people. Yeah, I don't believe he did it, but the only word I have is his. I kind of have that problem with The Blind Side. We assume that the people on trial didn't do it because they seem like nice people. That's nothing that actually makes me believe you.
This is a dry subject matter. I don't even like writing about it. This review is not fun for me because I have no desire to break down the 2008 housing crisis. That seems boring to me. But the movie does a fairly solid job of keeping my attention despite the fact that I really don't care too much about this matter. I know. I'm a bad person when it comes to keeping up with current events and, in particular, a moment that destroyed families. But banking is dull. The thing that really got me invested in the story was actually a person who is kept fairly out of reach: Ken Yu. Ken Yu is clearly the bad guy in this story. Everyone hates Ken Yu. He's the guy who they caught red handed and got fired from Abacus for loan fraud. This guy sucks. I wondered the entire time why he wasn't in the movie proper. There are drawings and photos of him with an award that is written poorly. A re-enactor reads all of his testimony from the trial and I loved wondering what happened to that guy. For a while, I felt kind of bad for this guy who didn't get to give his side of the interview. The reason, and I only found this out at the end, is that he was in prison for doing all of these things. That makes me so happy. That is such a great moment in what could have been an otherwise boring movie. I know that it wasn't all the housing crisis stuff that bored me because I loved The Big Short. I think the big problem is that the movie attempts to demonize the investigative community for even bringing charges against the Sungs. I know that the results were fairly minor, but I didn't really see the trial as unnecessary. There were all these documentary moments where they are clearly painting interviews in a bad light. But I kept thinking about what the interviewees were saying and I kind of respected it. There was this part where the lead investigator said "A crime was committed. It happened to work out for everyone, but the crime was still committed. They gambled with other people's money and you can't do that." The movie then pans over to one of the daughters and said that "We made Fannie Mae money. What's the harm?" It was in this moment that I realized that this trial needed to happen. I keep saying this and I believe it, but I'm glad the Sungs were acquitted. But there was wrongdoing and I don't really respect the documentary for continuing to play the "why even bring this up?" card. Just because the big guys got away with it, doesn't mean the small guys should. More along the lines of, "They should have gone after the big guys too."
It's interesting enough. I don't see this as a documentary that deserves the Academy Award. If I was still a channel flipper, I would have put this one when I was feeling lazy. The problem is that you are going to ask me a year from now any details about this and I won't remember a darn thing. I don't think that makes for an amazing documentary.
Paddington 2 (2017)
I have clearly stated my thoughts on "PG" and live action. Heck, Paddington is even an animated bear and they gave him the ol' PG. Apparently, live action films will destroy children. I use my son as a litmus test for what is scary because that kid is terrified by everything. He got really scared...at the haircut scene. That's it. He cuddled with me in the theater and he got over everything else. I guess I am an example of "Parental Guidance". I TAKE IT ALL BACK!
DIRECTOR: Paul King
I really wanted to take my wife out to knock out some of those (then) potential Oscar nominees. We couldn't get a sitter so we went to go see Paddington 2! That story is relatable to way too many parents and I'm desperately trying to get my page shared more on social media. Parents, if you also like wine or coffee, I can try to reference those more often as well. Regardless, if you are a deep-cut kind of reader who knows my thoughts on the first Paddington movie, you probably know that I didn't mind seeing Paddington 2. There are certain movies that my kids are steered away from and there are certain movies I don't mind them putting on. I like them, even if they only become background noise eventually. The top two kids movies in the house are The Lego Movie and Paddington. Not going to even try to bury the lead: I loved me some Paddington 2.
It got a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes! 100%! How is this not # 10 on the Academy Award Best Picture list? Okay, it was fun and I really enjoyed it, but it also wasn't THAT good. Is it weird that I'm already crapping on a kids movie that I really enjoyed? I just find it odd that it go 100%. Like, 100%? Now I'm not sure how to read Rotten Tomatoes. I was thinking about how critical response has been pretty skewed lately compared to audience opinion. It's like it's a culture war out there people. (And this is where my blog about a bear who wears a hat decided to get unnecessarily woke.) But the movie is a really good time. What's odd about the love for the movie is that it is has been a while since kids movies have gotten something so simply right that maybe there is a nostalgia for the kind of movie that Paddington 2 is. What Paddington 2 does right, which should be a no-brainer, is that it doesn't make an absolutely frenetic insane movie that kids are used to. Don't get me wrong, I laugh at ridiculous innuendo for the adults in kids movies. I know, I should be vehemently opposed, but I always appreciate when a studio realizes that adults usually have to watch these movies with their kids. Paddington 2 keeps the same philosophy about keeping adults entertained, but it does so with cleverness and aesthetic. There's absolutely nothing dirty in the movie, but the kids still laugh. At least I think they laugh. I laughed way louder than anyone in the theater and my wife was once again mortified by my behavior. I don't know why she married me. She's always embarrassed about me. But the humor is great in this movie and it is charming. Most of the jokes I laugh at with my kids' movies, but that's because I also like potty humor. I guess it is the difference between eating dessert and eating something of substance. I'm always going to like dessert, but I also feel kind of crummy afterwards. I would prefer to have an amazing meal that knocks my socks off. That's the humor in Paddington 2. I mean, some of the jokes I laughed at were simply okay, but I didn't even care. The tone of the movie got me in the feels, so that even dumb jokes really destroyed me.
Lord Grantham is in these movies. Hugh Bonneville is a national treasure. Not my nation, sure. But I'm sure that the Brits are mighty proud of him. I'm a little bummed that he didn't have the meaty role that the first movie provided him. I guess giving Mr. Brown a huge storyline again would be rehashing the same movie over again. Similarly, Sally Hawkins doesn't really get the same amount of attention that the first movie provided her. (Can I just say how uncomfortable it was seeing Sally Hawkins in Paddington 2 after watching...all of her...in The Shape of Water.) But while my favorite cast in the world is back, including a still grumpy Peter Capaldi, the major cast change was Hugh Grant. In my last review, I talked about the problems with Julianne Moore's character in Kingsman: The Golden Circle. Hugh Grant's character actually does what a sequel should do. The villain becomes the focus of the movie and it becomes way more compelling. Again, this is a silly villain. I'm not talking about a villain that is out to emotionally and spiritually destroy the protagonist, a bear who likes marmalade. But the second villain gets a lot more investment than the first movie gave to Nicole Kidman. The villain is entertaining in himself. I do feel awkward that Hugh Grant is playing a washed up actor. He still has a career, right? Like, I don't think he's gotten to the point played in movie, but I can't help but have that seed planted in my head. Is Hugh Grant falling off the map? Is he now my responsibility? Probably not, but he plays the part so convincingly. King frames the character in a way where he is clearly the bad guy, but that he is part of the entertainment of the film as well. Rather than a simple plot device, his character is pretty charming while thoroughly dislikable. But, like, in the best way? (Guys, I teach writing!)
But as much as I like Hugh Grant as an addition to this movie, Brendan Gleeson as Knuckles McGinty might be my favorite thing in the world. I feel like Brendan Gleeson has been crushing it in the TV cameo circuit lately, so it only makes sense that he's one of our fifteen British actors who show up in everything. But Knuckles McGinty (I'm avoiding spoiling a joke) might represent my favorite element of the movie, the juxtaposition of aesthetics. The jail sequence in the movie is insanely pretty. This is such a great choice for the movie and it is typified in Knuckles's transformation throughout the film. (Read my further essay on this subject entitled "The Metaphysical Knuckles: He Kant Make Marmalade Himself"). I know that the joke of having prisoners doing traditionally ironic things has been a staple of the kids' movie for a while, but I think Paddington 2 takes it to a new level. Every scene within the prison just doubles down on how adorable a movie can get. We've been watching quite a bit of British cooking shows and the look of the jail reminds me of a village fête. The color palette in all of Knuckles's scenes are so absolutely perfect that it reminds you that joyful things should make you feel better. I keep thinking of the details of many of the animated movies that I see with the kids. Rarely do they ever hit the level of full on charming. Rather, many of them go with "cool" or "cute", but I think it is really hard to pull off charming. Paddington 2 really crushes the charming element that I haven't seen in films. I think authentically charming things hit my belly laugh button harder than anything in a while. Reminder, I am a thirty-four year old man.
My wife pointed out that she was bored in the middle. I suppose that is a valid critique. While I loved every minute of it, I think it takes a bit of investment to really love the movie as a whole. I wanted to love it and I got what I put into it, but that's also because I have an unhealthy love of the first film. If I had to be a bit more judicious about the whole thing, I could see the middle being quite boring. But it's not that I necessarily love Paddington (although I do!), but just that the theme of these movies is a call to optimism. The opening sequence shows how this silly bear who gets in trouble a lot brings joy to an entire neighborhood. When Paddington is removed from that equation, the neighborhood becomes grumpy and is soured. The message of the individual's mission to bring joy to all around and how infectious that joy is so endearing. Ironically, because Paddington's goal is to spread joy to his neighbors, I, too, leave feeling joy. That's what I want out of a movie. I don't need some blockbuster fight scene at the end of my films. My son gets really scared from those. (Again, he got scared at the haircut scene.) I want him to leave feeling positive and like he can bring joy to those around him. Sure, he probably didn't pick up on that, but it can't hurt to saturate him with a sense of optimism.
The Truth is Out There...in here? Anyway, the guys talk about the new season of The X-Files and discuss Mr. Henson's time at GameStop. Also, we talk about the remarkably short life of Universal's Dark Universe.
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Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)
The premise is to comment on how every over-the-top spy thriller should, by no means, be PG-13. The foundation for this film is to stress that every spy thriller should be R because the things that spies in movies do, if exposed to even the most rudimentary light, should be R. James Bond is a perv. Eggsy is just showing us that all spies are violent pervs. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn
Man, people tend to really hate the first movie. Like, I really liked the first movie. The only reason I saw it, besides the fact that I read the Mark Millar comic The Secret Service, is that it was on bananas sale at Target on its release date. I don't know why it was that insanely cheap on the day it came out, but I knew that my wife was going to be a thing that evening and it seemed like a perfect garage movie. Sure, I knew I'd have to be closing the main door so people couldn't see in, but it was a beautiful evening and I knew that I had the house to myself. And. I. Loved. It. There is a subgenre of action film that I really really like where it throws everything to a wall in the name of sheer joy and that's what the first Kingsman movie was all about. The best example I can think of a movie like that is Shoot 'Em Up with Clive Owen. The really bad part of that subgenre is that a movie really fails when it takes itself too seriously. When it is trying to make money and be commercial, the "throw it all at the wall" attitude really doesn't work. I'm looking at the Charlie's Angels franchise here. But a good no-holds-barred action movie that is unapologetic for its disregard of physics can really be a good time sometimes. I'm really sorry to those people who hate Kingsman, but I really like it. That said, there's a fundamental problem with the very existence of this franchise.
The first movie does what I mentioned in the MPAA section. The purpose of this movie is meant to deconstruct. I love me some James Bond and the British spy thriller often gets me in a good mood. I know so much about James Bond that I'm actually a little ashamed of myself. James Bond has been spoofed and commented upon ever since Our Man Flint (or the Peter Sellers Casino Royale, if you want to argue.) Austin Powers had its time with the genre. Heck, even Spy Kids decided to deconstruct the franchise. I think that Kingsman might have been the first franchise to add something new to it. I really like the commentary in the first movie. It's not like it needed to happen or anything, but I do like when a franchise nails what other franchises miss. The spy-fi genre is such an easy target that I feel like other commentaries on it get lazy and rely on the tropes rather than an attempt to subvert the tropes. But that's Kingsman: The Golden Circle's first major problem. The commentary has already been made. I now get it. The thing that made Kingsman unique is now lost in the franchise. It is starting to become the very thing that it was commenting on. Establishing Eggsy as a real spy defeats the purpose of having him at all. In a way --and this isn't the worst thing in the world either --Eggsy is just James Bond or Jason Bourne who says the f-word and "bruv" a lot. The thing about the first one is that I was never meant to be attached to the Kingsmen. They were a vehicle to tell a story. Making a moment in the sequel where I watch the sad moment where all the Kingsmen are murdered is meant to elicit a reaction. That reaction is counterproductive to the very nature of what the movie is supposed to be. I shouldn't be questioning "How are they going to fix this?" because it doesn't have to be fixed. In the Bond franchise, especially recently, MI-6 is continually attacked. A villain makes it personal and we question how life can ever be the same for this beloved franchise. By making Kingsman a franchise, it establishes that there has to be status quo and that kind of is poison for the series in the long run.
The other major problem with the movie is the villain. Superhero action movies often tend to have a weak spot when it comes to the villain. Again, it is why Bond films keep going back to the Blofeld well. When the villain is intimately related to the hero, the film becomes more compelling. Poppy is barely in this story. It's very weird. Yet, she is the one who has done what no other villain actually could have done for as long as the Kingsmen were said to be around. She destroys the organization quite quickly. That should elevate her status from throwaway bad guy to archvillain, but the film never gives her that gravitas. Rather, she still feels like she is secondary to the A plot. Poppy is always a distant character who seems extremely defeatable. She has no personal stake in the events of Eggsy or Harry. She is far from invincible. Really, any kind of well coordinated strike would take out her base of operations. She's not really insane so much as she is gross. (That hamburger scene? No thank you.) Samuel L. Jackson's Valentine, who is regularly referenced in this movie, seemed far more entertaining. Really, Poppy almost feels like an attempt to copy the quirkiness of the first villain without actually believing it. I don't think that this is Julianne Moore's problem. I just didn't see all for the weirdness with her character actually jiving with her personality. Heck, I just complimented Valentine, but even he seemed a little forced. Mainly, the story has the very odd balance about needing a convoluted world domination scheme despite the fact that the scheme is just a construct to tell a story of a fish out of water. There never really was a threat because civilization in these movies are statistics we are supposed to care about, but it doesn't actually mirror reality. (I get it with the President stuff, but it's a broad strokes portrayal.)
But the movie shines when it asks you to shut your brain off. I'm sure that I've already put more thought into this movie than the producers of the movie have, so let's talk about why I actually really like this movie. The watchword on spyfy is that it is meant to be fun. (I know that I've spelled that portmanteau differently twice. I stand by both.) Kingsman: The Golden Circle is just an insane amount of fun. While I normally detest CG fight sequences, the movie really justifies them because of how frenetic the camera gets. Paul Greengrass tries making action really insane by not letting the audience really see the violence from a distance. Rather, he mirrors the insanity of actually being in a fight by showing quick cuts interlaced with a shaky camera. I like Vaughn's attitude of providing that same insanity, but actually allowing the audience to try to understand what is going on. This comes from impossible shots though. The camera magically dances around fight choreography, much of it actually impossible to create. Now, often this gets very stupid, but it works in Golden Circle. The reason is that the fights are tight and ramped up to eleven. I know, I know. Here I am preaching a movie because the fights are cool. But the fights are really cool. The thing about the fights is that there is never a moment where like "aw man, that guy got wrecked." Rather, the fights are more about being clever. Being clever when trying to do something important is deadly to a film. Being clever because nothing really matter allows me to enjoy a movie just for the fun of it. Not to jump back to a Fast and the Furious review, but that's what the later movies get right. They try being clever and emotionally distant. That doesn't work. Cleverness and fun, however? That works really well. I found myself laughing and clapping like a pretentious snob the entire film and I absolutely adored that feeling. Similarly, much of the movie involves that feeling of attention to detail and absurdity. I mean, Elton John is in the movie. Oh, not only is Elton John in the movie; he's all over this movie. I mean, I thought we were done with Elton John, but he keeps coming back for more absurd sequences. It kind of toed a long Family Guy joke, but it keeps it right on this side of funny. Similarly, the use of the Statesmen was just perfect for me.
If anything, the Statesmen is where the commentary really thrives. It's so odd to think of British intelligence as tailors (because it is what Pinewood has presented for the past fifty years), that to present American intelligence as literal cowboys / bourbon makers is just perfect. I like that we have just acknowledged British intelligence as what James Bond has presented that we can't actually imagine the real thing. I'm amazed that American spies have always been the CIA guy. That's really weird. For a country that lives for fun at the movies, why haven't we ever addressed ourselves as cowboys. The best part of the movie was anything to do with the Statesmen. The joke of their names still makes me giggle. Jeff Bridges as the head...that is the best example of a minor role done well. Champ is barely in the movie, but he fits that role so well. I hate to make another Bond comparison, but it is kind of like the way that Skyfall used Ralph Fiennes as M. Some people were meant to play a part and I really hope that I see Jeff Bridges in future installments if there are future installments. (I'm actually okay with saying "no more", but I also know how Hollywood works. It will beat it into the ground if it can.) The only disappointing elements were how poorly Halle Berry and Channing Tatum were handled. Those were minor parts under the guise of major parts. Pedro Pascal was great, but he didn't have a presence like Channing Tatum. The movie teased him so much and he's barely in the film. He actually might share screentime with Elton John, so keep that in mind. Halle Berry's character might have had a great emotional arc, but it was really sped through. I don't know if it was a pacing thing because her moments are very static, but I keep feeling like she shows up for these major parts and then they become these tiny little scenes. Yeah, Halle Berry used to command a screen. It's just odd now.
I think I have to give the VIP to Mark Strong, however. I like Mark Strong as a character actor. He always knows his character and what is meant to presented. Yeah, Mark Strong is usually the muscle gruff guy, but he wears that character well. I also like that his Merlin is actually quite the opposite. It's another moment when Kingsman plays on expectations. I talked about how this movie asks for vulnerability despite the fact that it shouldn't. The one exception is Merlin's character because he kind of earns his place in this franchise. The slow burn of the character is awesome. In contrast to that, I'm a little disappointed in the retcon that is Colin Firth. I love his character. That's why they brought him back. Everyone loved his character. But that is one of the more shameful retcons I've seen in a while. It also establishes that death means nothing in this universe. I kind of hope that the movie full on embraces how death means nothing for the future because that's the only absurd thing that would justify how Harry is back in the franchise. I don't know. I really have a problem with characters coming back from the dead now. Amnesia is even worse.
While I really, really enjoyed this movie, I also feel like it is an overall misstep in terms of undoing the good will of the first movie for me. I can see this franchise just becoming so unironic that it becomes another broey film, which is exactly what it shouldn't be. Regardless, I'll probably watch them and laugh, but they won't have the same meat on the bones that the first one did.
Not rated...for having too much heart! They couldn't handle all of the emotions and decided that this movie transcended the need for a petty rating. It's like the truce at Christmas! If only that feeling could break the binds of traditional rating systems. Alas, La Grande Illusion is a glimmer of hope against the cold ratings of an evil MPAA. Either that, or this is an old French movie that wasn't under the purview of rating at the time. One or the other.
DIRECTOR: Jean Renoir
Guys, it's Criterion # 1 (on DVD) for a reason. Maybe that reason was that they could get their hands on it, but I don't think so. Sorry, it's hard to find an actual justification for those early Criterions. After all, I do love my copy of Armageddon on Criterion. Don't get me started on Laserdiscs. The readership would crash the website if I started talking about that hot button topic like Laserdiscs. But I've always loved The Grand Illusion. I always liked Renoir. I always find these topics way harder to write about because I'm really good at griping. I'm not always great at unabashedly praising something.
Renoir is such a great director, but he's also such a mixed bag. I want to say that his movies are overloaded with heart, but after rewatching The Rules of the Game last year, I noticed that he can also be cold and distant with purpose. I'm going to state that The Rules of the Game does have heart to some extent. I don't think that Renoir can completely shut it off. After all, The Lower Depths, one of the most bummer movies of the era, is also full of heart. But The Rules of the Game intentionally plays it close to the vest for a good portion of the movie to make us hate the characters. La Grande Illusion might be one of the best examples of maintaining two simultaneous tones. This is simultaneous and heartwarming movie while also being cold and calculating. I know that there are some real Rules of the Game fans and I really can't blame them for saying that Rules of the Game might be Renoir's best film, but I really really like La Grande Illusion. Being the bummer turd that I am, I think that The Lower Depths might be my favorite of his movies. But that's under the umbrella of being one of the many movies that I claim to love but have only seen once. The tone of La Grande Illusion definitely feels like a war film. Jean Renoir was a famous pacifist, so the fact that he is making a war movie without any war in it is kind of cool. It never really misses a beat in terms of not really showing violence. There's only one scene of violence in the movie, captured by a single gunshot. That single gunshot, because of the absolute lack of violence in an apparent war movie, has such a chord of discomfort. I never really thought about the lack of violence in it and it works so well. I think my favorite kind of war film is the escape film and I'd love to teach an entire unit just on the escape film. But the mood that the movie presents is really character driven. We often don't see gunfire in these movies except once the escape happens. I'm thinking of that scene in The Great Escape where McQueen is testing the fences. These gunshots aren't the same as watching something like Where Eagles Dare or The Dirty Dozen. When a gunshot is heard in an escape film, the status quo has changed. The system is being torn apart. There's an element of failure on the part of the camp. I know that technically, the camp is establishing the center of power when it fires a gun. But it also means that the inmates aren't as afraid as they thought they were.
There's an interesting moment in The Grand Illusion that really typifies what I'm talking about. There's this moment where the warden (I can't spell the word I'm trying to spell and autocorrect is not helping in the least) sits down with the officer in charge. He does not interrogate or search his possessions. Rather, he asks him quite plainly to tell him if he has any tools of escape in the room. There is this odd trust that is based on a mix of fear and respect. There is never really a threat from Erich von Stroheim (whom I adore in this film), but rather an acknowledgement of the power dynamics that he holds over the officers in his care. SPOILER: It would later be Stroheim that ends up killing Boeldieu despite this relationship. It was his only shot and it was on a man who simply carried a flute near the wall. It's such a powerful moment. I can't really verbalize this scene as much as I would like to mainly because there's a complex feeling going on there. I'm sure that the Germans probably have a perfect word explaining how Boeldieu and Rauffenstein feel about each other. It's just such a slap in the face. I don't want to be interpreting with garbage interpretations here because that would be a disservice to this movie, but I can't help but think that Boeldieu puts on the glove knowing that he is going to be emotionally slapping Rauffenstein in the face. There's this odd dynamic between the two characters. One of the major concepts that I love that this movie explores is the respect between soldiers. Remember, La Grande Illusion is a WWI movie, not a WWII movie. The Germans aren't Nazis in this one. That wouldn't happen until the sequel. But Rauffenstein is shooting his friend. I don't know if Boeldieu ever feels the same friendship that Rauffenstein feels, but there definitely feels like there is respect there. But Boeldieu needs Rauffenstein to shoot him. It is their relationship. It is this weird automation to their existences that has to happen. I don't know. I could be talking about of my rear end.
The structure of the movie is absolutely bizarre. I showed this movie to my class over the period of three days. The beginning of the movie establishes the tone without being hamfisted. My students were confused about how the movie began because Renoir forgoes the standard introduction of setting. Rather, the movie starts with Maréchal already in prison. I have to think that Renoir is making an active choice to avoid showing what the world is like outside of captivity. We never actually get to see the character enjoying any degree of freedom until BIG SPOILER the last shot of the movie. But the first act is entirely devoted to the role of the imprisoned soldier. It is the job of the soldier to get to safety, regardless of what luxuries he may be receiving in captivity. Renoir really paints the life of the POW as one of advantage over that of the battlefield. Yet, no one in these camps questions the concept that it is his sole duty to escape. The second act is the actual plan to escape from the perfect prison. This is the Rauffenstein stuff that I was talking about in the last paragraph. It's funny that Maréchal is even in this part of the movie because he is the protagonist, but the plan is far from his. He simply plays a part in its execution and experiences the fruits of his labor. I really like each act better than the last, mainly because of the charm of ACT III. Act III is he and Rosenthal on the run. I love how tense this scene is despite that there never really is a formal chase in the story. We understand that they are on the run from the Germans, but the tension is both internal and external. The external conflict comes with the sheer terror of getting caught in the German countryside. The internal conflict is how Maréchal and Rosenthal get along with Rosenthal's impediment. It really is great and it is only balmed by the introduction of Elsa. I love the Elsa story. Elsa and her daughter is what Renoir portrays best. I was talking about this being a movie with heart and that last act with the family is absolutely heartbreaking. It's odd that in the final act of a film, Renoir introduces a story about belonging and how war potentially rips people apart. Simultaneously, he is also presenting how war is composed not of armies, but of soldiers who happened to be people. There isn't much time for trust and distrust in this movie. Elsa trusts the gentlemen implicitly. You'd think that Renoir would be tempted to show Elsa's torn loyalties based on the death of her husband, but Renoir has her as the best of humanity. She loves because she sees the value of life. They are not evil men and she will not contribute to their deaths. I love that so much. The two men become like family for her and her daughter and I needed at the end of my prison escape movie. This is why I watch Renoir. This stuff.
I'm going to see this one again and again. I always show it for this unit in French cinema, so I'm going to revisit it. It isn't my favorite escape movie, but I'm always really excited to watch it. Again, it's Criterion's number one. That probably means it is their favorite movie.
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.