Rated R for some really meta nudity. Because John Travolta's character is a foley guy on horror films, we get to see those horror films. Those horror films have a lot of nudity. Brian De Palma can take a weird high ground saying, Blow Out itself isn't a dirty movie. It's just all the stuff INSIDE of Blow Out that is dirty. Brian De Palma, you cheeky monkey. I mean, the rest of the movie has a bunch of swearing and murder. There actually might be nudity somewhere else in the film, but my check box was ticked in the first fifteen minutes. R.
DIRECTOR: Brian De Palma
After a streak (A STREAK!) of mediocre to bad movies, I finally get to write about one that actually really impressed me. I'm a fan of The Conversation. I'm kind of a fan of Blow Up. When videos and special features told me that I hadn't really seen the quintessential version of this movie in Blow Out, I didn't believe them. The Conversation and Blow Up are so good. I almost avoided Blow Out because I'm the snob's snob. I get snobby about already snobby films. I mean, Blow Out is a Criterion release. (So is Supercop if you go back far enough, but you know what I mean.) So I watched it and was genuinely impressed...with the exception of one scene.
I really want to complain about this part first because it is the only thing that stopped me from instantly buying this movie and showing it to everyone. MAJOR SPOILERS because I need to really break down this scene. The movie is so good and I really can't stress this enough. But for some reason, there's one long sequence toward the end that completely wrecks the movie. Sally has been captured by John Lithgow's Burke. They have taken a subway train and he has to catch her by vehicle, so he's pulling a Die Hard with a Vengeance. He has to drive super illegally, leading him past police roadblocks and into a parade. Because he isn't an action superstar, he crashes his vehicle right into a department store window, where he is knocked unconscious. He wakes up seemingly hours later. It is now night. I don't know where Burke has taken Sally that has delayed him killing her before this point, but that is only a minor hiccup. The big thing is that the parade is still going on. Jack gets up and just leaves the ambulance. There isn't an APB to find him. He just exits the ambulance and starts looking around for Sally with his audio equipment. Why is this scene in here? Was there a need for a big last act moment that heightened the tension? This movie isn't an action movie. It's a thriller, sure. But it's a psychological thriller. There's no need for this sequence. It completely pulls the audience out from the reality that this movie has created. It's such a tightrope that the movie maintains throughout the film and then it throws it all away. Part of me thinks that this is to get Jack holding Sally's body juxtaposed and lit with the fireworks from the Liberty Celebration. But there's other ways to make that work. Why not just have Sally meet Burke at twilight? Maybe straight up make it night. That's completely reasonable. I also have a feeling that De Palma really just wanted to film a Jeep driving through downtown Philadelphia structures. This sequence doesn't serve the film at all. It's so nuanced and then this sledgehammer just takes a whack at it. I don't know if I'm the only person who has a problem with this or if this is a common criticism. If fireworks were ever a metaphor for being bombastic, this is it. The movie is so intimate and then it just loses the tone at the end. It's really weird. I love the absolute ending, but the climax is kind of a disaster.
But the rest of the film is amazing. I don't know what it is about these kinds of stories that really intrigue me. I like the idea of the unsuspecting hero. Jack at least has ties to police work before this moment. But he was always the tech guy. The police background for him does a lot to service his character. It is a little bit of plausible deniability. The fact that Jack keeps his cool when a lot of people would handle this way worse can be explained away by his limited exposure to police work. It also gives him a reason to not trust the police and regret his own decision making skills. When someone needs to build a character, Blow Out should be tool to explain what makes a good character work. Jack isn't awesome at everything. Rather, he's good at one thing. I'm teaching Emerson's Self-Reliance today. It discusses how people are really great at only a few things and that they shouldn't try to be other things. (That's a real mess of an explanation, but I'm trying to avoid being distracted.) Jack could easily have become a Mary Sue. Instead, he's good at a handful of things, but kind of sucks at others. He has reasons why he sucks at some things and is bad at others. It's really weird, but there's this flashback in the middle of the film that could easily be seen as an infodump. But De Palma times that flashback really well. We actually get to know Jack pretty well before his past is revealed. When that past is revealed, it kind of just takes what we know and gives us perspective on the whole thing. It's fascinating. If this scene was at any other point of the movie, it'd almost seem melodramatic. It seems odd that this foley guy for garbage films would have had this police background. But it also gives, within the world of Blow Out, a tonally appropriate explanation for what makes Jack tick. I love when the plot services the character, not the other way around. Blow Out has an extremely tight plot. It's very very good. But this is fundamentally a study at what makes Jack and, to a larger extent, people tick under pressure. Jack takes the same ideas that we saw in Blow Up and puts it under a pressure cooker. (I wrote "under pressure" too many times, but "pressure cooker" works really well in this case.)
Jack's breakdown is really well balanced. I like when movies play with the idea of paranoia being justified. Unlike some films, Blow Out never really makes you question whether or not the paranoia is justified, like in Rear Window. We know that everyone is lying. We see that moment that is pretty rare to see in a film like this. We get to see Jack choose to maintain the conspiracy pretty early on. We know what the truth of the matter is through Jack's skills. His recording and memory of the events is really interesting. De Palma's use of audio coupled with how Jack views the world instantly eliminates any question of what happened. Because Jack doesn't necessarily know the "why" of the entire situation, we have to deduce why things happened, very much like Jack. But Jack really holds our hands through the situation as he solves very different elements. I also like that Jack uses the tools at his disposal to unravel a very complicated knot of mystery. Seemingly, a recording of a blow out shouldn't be enough to piece together the events of an assassination. But all of those steps keep the story going. I think of forensic procedure shows that try doing the same thing and it is never as clean as all of this. There's always a computer simulation that assumes a lot. Jack's grass roots way of solving what happened is compelling. But when all of this happens, the movie holds off on telling us that Burke is involved in the story. Burke does not come into the story until pretty late in the game. I love how John Lithgow has a history of playing creepy serial killers. I adored him in his season of Dexter. He's genuinely unnerving and so outside of the characterization that the other characters receive. We get Nancy Allen's Sally and Dennis Franz's Manny, although both of them kind of play stereotypes of their characters. Lithgow's character we can only piece together based on people's reactions to him. It's really interesting seeing what kind of character that he is. He's simultaneously this destructive force and agent of order. It's really complex and the movie is smart to not explore it. Instead, he becomes this chaotic element that doesn't really have any limits. We never really get to know how skilled or insane this character really is. When Burke is holding Sally, Sally is genuinely at risk. The only thing we know is that Burke doesn't make mistakes.
Sally is interesting. She might be the byproduct of 1981. She is a very shallow character compared to how deep Jack is. I mean, I love her backstory. I love her involvement in the entire conspiracy. I love that she dies. (Not because I want the woman character to be fridged. I just like the idea that the movie needed to not have a happy ending because consequences matter.) But it's so striking to see one character get so much attention to becoming a realistic character and then Sally is just an archetype. She's pretty flat and ditsy as a character. I don't mind having a character have a strong trait, but this seems kind of lazy. Considering that the movie is so good, this moment kind of bothers me. But Blow Out is such a good movie. I love being surprised by films. Every so often, I need a movie to hit my favorites list. This is one of my happy surprises for the year. Yeah, that one moment in the parade is such a misfire and some of the things come across as lazy. But the movie as a whole is absolutely wonderful. I don't regret catching this one for a moment.
PG. Geez, Shatner and Paramount must have fought hard for that PG. I mean, it's not like Star Trek V is the one where they started getting wildly offensive. But like Kirk pointing out why God might not need a starship, I'd like to point out some things that might not be the most wholesome elements. Um, there's a three-breasted cat stripper. That's the first time I've written that...at least on this blog. Since there is a three-breasted cat stripper (second time), there must be a strip club for that stripper. Then there's a more than small amount of violence and peril. They mildly swear. Also, they questions and doubt the very existence of God. You know, PG?
DIRECTOR: William Shatner
Back in the halcyon days of AOL and my Compaq Presario 4160 (why do I remember this?), my error sound was William Shatner asking, "What does God need with a starship?" But even in those days, I knew that Star Trek V was only appreciated with a sense of irony. I was a Star Trek nut in those days. Now, I'm just a fan who really really likes it. But then, my bedroom was decorated in Star Trek stuff. I had multiple versions of the Enterprise in both toy and model form. But I distinctly remember, and this is a moment that I'm not proud of from both perspectives, that I was listing off the Star Trek movies in order. It could have been to someone or just for my own nerdy gratification. I tend to do the same thing with the James Bond movies. I remember thinking, "Weird. Star Trek V doesn't have a subtitle." It did. It's The Final Frontier. But most of Star Trek V was always forgettable. The only things I ever remember out of that movie, which I always watched less than the rest of them, was camping and God wanting a starship.
Star Trek V is not great. I think through the course of me writing this / you reading this (that's how this works), we're both going to discover the major faults of the movie. But Star Trek V is a low point in the franchise because of the many little mistakes throughout versus the travesty that a lot of people heap upon it. It's a very watchable movie that just isn't amazing. I'm actually really forgiving of Star Trek V after watching it because it might be the closest movie to wanting to be the original Star Trek. The original Trek was extremely lofty. It wanted to explore bigger ideas than just humans and aliens fighting in space. It was about big concepts and how to use allegory to tell those stories. One of the common threads within the original Trek (which I may or not be referring to as TOS for "The Original Series") was human's relationship with God. That's what Star Trek V is focused on...kind of. It is the A plot. Put that on the table. Sybok (who will get a pretty deep discussion at some point) is on the hunt for Sha-ka-ree. (I refuse to Google the spelling of this.) The thing is...Sybok is the bad guy. He's a sympathetic bad guy to be sure. I'd like to think that Shatner and his production team were really commenting simply on religious extremism versus his thoughts on the absurdity on trying to find God. Because the movie can be viewed both ways. Regardless on the stance of the movie, Sybok is a religious extremist. He pursues his quest for God through the use of violence. Sure, he says that he abhors violence, but he's constantly going into places with guns blazing. His capture (which I'm still not sure what's going on there) of the ambassadors seems like a commentary on Iran, but don't quote me on that because I only look smart. Then there's the brainwashing element. Shatner and company didn't really figure this out the way it should have been figured out. I keep guessing on how production meetings went for things, so I'm going to continue speculating in my normal fashion. I can imagine that one of the cool ideas that were floated around the table was that the big three; Kirk, Spock, and Bones; were going to have to go against the Enterprise crew. It's a fun idea. Lord knows that I would probably float that around too. They had their religious motif going throughout and thought that they were be cult like converts. But upon execution of this underproved idea really showed some weaknesses in the very concept of brainwashing.
For a good chunk of the film, we see characters we've known and loved for decades all of the sudden turn on Captain Kirk. They don't seem hateful, but they are trying to indoctrinate Kirk into the Sybok Society. What I instantly wanted to know is how Sybok did it. I mean, these characters have proven their mettle for so many stories. And this brainwashing happens fast. I mean, characters meet Sybok. They go into a room and they come out completely indoctrinated. Whatever he showed them had to almost be supernatural. But then we see it. In possibly one of the more meaningful elements of the film, we get to see Sybok try to brainwash Bones. Sybok shows you your biggest regret and gets you to forgive yourself. That's a cool idea...except that it doesn't work on Bones. It doesn't work on Spock either. Bones is at least tempted. Spock, it does nothing for. Shatner doesn't even posit the question for Kirk. If lame-o's Spock and Bones can handle it, of course it wouldn't work for Kirk. Why even try? (By the way, I would give the story so many extra credit points if Kirk was subjected to the brainwashing and it worked. Give him a flaw that actually affects his decision making.) What that says, unfortunately, is that the other characters aren't heroic. It also doesn't work on Scotty, but I feel like Sybok didn't really try with Scotty. Scotty is kind of a lovable buffoon in this one. (Also, Kelvinverse, how did we all forget that there was an Uhura / Scotty relationship? Is it more interesting to throw the relationship over to Spock?) This is pretty typical of Star Trek V. It has a good idea. Heck, it has two good ideas. But it doesn't really have time to execute them properly. The search for God is an interesting idea. Star Trek having toyed with it in the past deserves to tackle this idea straight on. Kirk, Spock, and Bones versus the Enterprise crew is also a pretty fantastic idea. But these ideas are muddled. A lot of the movie is getting Sybok to steal the Enterprise. Also, why does he need the Enterprise? It seems like a Federation starship would be the hardest to steal. He's already brainwashed a Klingon, so that seems like it would be easier. This movie alone has a Klingon rogue. He seems to be off the grid and is able to enter the nebula. That guy didn't even need brainwashing to enter the nebula. And this is all really indicative of the too much with too little. The movie felt it necessary to include the Klingons. The only movie in the franchise that doesn't address the Klingons up to this point is Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Does the franchise find it necessary to include the most recognizable alien from the franchise. I know that the Dr. Who (I know how I spelled it! That's how it is written to distinguish it from the BBC character) movies both had Daleks, but they were adaptations of Dalek based serials. Also, Terry Nation was in charge of them. The Klingon B / C plot really seems tacked on. That character is the least developed character in Star Trek history. He's literally there to kill Kirk for fun. I was bored and watched the behind the scenes of the Klingon crew. They had to make up their entire backstory because there was no story.
Now, Paradise City. Oh geez, Paradise City. You get me on the Enterprise and we're copacetic. The movie is pretty watchable, if not a bit of a bottle story. But the Paradise City stuff is so shoddy. The budget on Star Trek V is crap. Like, the movie looks really pretty in sections. It's those sections that are just based on cinematography. It looks a little film school, but I actually kind of like that. Shatner had aspirations for this movie and I applaud him for it. But the budget...gee whiz. The Enterprise just kind of shrinks into the nebula when it goes to warp. Paradise City is supposed to be this amazing getaway. The perfect resort to the super rich? (Also, whatever happened to not using currency in the 23rd Century?) There's this commercial playing INSIDE Paradise City that looks like it is run by a guy running a used car dealership. Honestly, it looks like something out of Mad Max. This is a side commentary, but the Star Trek films make the future look way less utopian than the TV show. It's odd how a cheap budget made everything look idea. But the movie makes the future look kind of terrible. I mentally group Star Trek V: The Final Frontier with Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Both movies want to say something. But the budget really holds the movies back from becoming anything special. I think I got interrupted talking about Sybok and the search for God. As a pretty hardcore Catholic, it's kind of a bummer to see Star Trek go from "religion should be healthy" to "religion is pretty dumb and blinds people." Star Trek V never full on says that God is a myth. If I had to stay completely objective, it is that God isn't easy to find and it's what you think he is. But I can also read where the wind's blowing as well. Cynical Kirk who views the religious as insane is the good one. He never really thinks that they found God. He is always clear headed and can't be swayed by the zealots of Sybok. I want the Enterprise crew to look for God. I mentioned that earlier. But this is a story that needs to be nuanced. It needs to be challenging. It shouldn't be in an action movie. The movie paints these characters with wide brushes. I don't want the crew to be brainwashed. I want people struggling with what they are finding. I want people questioning their faith and beliefs. I want them examining their lives and regretting decisions. Faith is difficult and complex. Kirk should question his own atheism at times. The god of Sha-Ka-Ree is false, but that never raises bigger questions in Kirk's head. Maybe we don't really like Star Trek V because it never got deeper than it claimed to. It asks all these marvelous questions, but then provides really easy answers that don't mirror our real quest for answers.
Finally, I want to talk about Sybok. Spock's mythology is a hot mess. Because Spock is the center of Star Trek, there is always an attempt to get deeper into what makes Spock tick. I know that Star Trek: Discovery is bringing in a pre-TOS (I DID IT!) Spock to complicate his narrative even further. Discovery also brought in Michael Burnham into Spock's mythology to complicate it even more. This movie is supposed to be really important for Spock. Sybok is meant to be his brother. He stands for everything that Spock does not. I don't think Sybok gets ignored because Paramount wants people to forget Star Trek V. I mean, that's probably part of it. But Sybok doesn't really fit in the canon very well. Spock and Bones are completely shocked that Spock has a brother. They know Sarek really well. They spent time on Vulcan. Sybok is an example of us being told rather than shown the relationship. Like many of the ideas behind the movie, this is a cool concept that had no idea how to execute it. While Spock is the center of Star Trek, Sybok is borderline not-canon because no one ever mentions him again. It's an odd character to include. There are moments of sacrifice and growth with this character that are kind of met with a "who cares" attitude. His arc is inconsequential because none of our characters really move with Sybok, even Spock. He brings about this cool moment with McCoy, but that's one moment in time. That's about it. Sybok is played just fine, but there's nothing to him.
Oh, and there's Uhura's fan dance. I don't know what was going on there.
Regardless, Star Trek V is first and foremost a movie with great ideas, but terrible execution. The movie looks pretty at times and chincy in others. It's not as bad as you remember it, but that doesn't make it good either. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is my favorite in the series, but it will be a while before I can get to it because of Oscar season.
The boys use Jason Momoa's Aquaman to deliver the State of the DCEUnion.
PG for violence and scariness. The term "Kung Fu" is in the title. There's a lot of Kung Fu. But the bad guy, Tai Lung, is actually pretty darned scary. He's lit in a scary way and he growls a lot. If this was live action, it might hit PG-13, but that's just because I'm sure someone would throw in some language. It's pretty harmless if you are okay with violence, as most Americans are, it's a pretty okay movie. PG.
DIRECTORS: Mark Osborne and John Stevenson
Everything I say about this movie you should take with a grain of salt. Since I started this blog three years ago, I've tried to stay super focused on the film. I always know that I'm going to be writing about a movie, so I try throwing away all distractions. But the kids wanted to watch this one while I was doing the dishes. I hadn't formally watched it before, so I thought I could knock this one out while doing the tail end of the dishes. Keep the following thought in mind while reading this: real multitaskers are extremely rare. I've always acknowledged that I'm not a multitasker, so the beginning of the movie is a bit of a blur. I'm sorry to people who love this movie because I haven't really given it the experience it deserved.
I don't know what it is about Kung Fu Panda, but I'm never excited to watch this movie. I've always kind of gone into it with the "I'm good" attitude. Part of it is the Dreamworks attitude of animation. I liked it with Shrek in college, but that's even kind of a burden to me. These movies always seem very forgettable. They are kind of unloved. I don't think that Kung Fu Panda is unloved. But I also don't get the same vibe of quality that I would see in a Disney movie. Part of that could come down to budget. I know that Disney has all of the money and each movie kind of shows that. But Kung Fu Panda feels very tropey to me. I'm about to rip into this movie and keep this all in perspective. I think the movie is fine. As a kid, I would have adored this movie. But from a dad's perspective, I have a couple of points. Children's film can be absolutely marvelous. Honestly, I have quite a few movies that are aimed at kids that completely blow the mind. When I watch a movie that is merely okay, I can now kind of hold it against the film. Kung Fu Panda kind of feels like a cash grab that was taken by its production team. I can completely see the pitch among the Dreamworks corporate suits. Look at the name. The title of the movie is the most marketable title I've ever seen. Kung Fu. Panda. "Boys love kung fu and fighting and stuff." "Girls think that pandas are adorable." "Get a big name that people will like. Jack Black!" They got the School of Rock guy to play the part he does time and time again. He's the rock-star loser, only a panda. I have so many points I want to split off into, but I want to give the most credit where credit is due. This was a cash grab, but the folks who made it really made something pretty great here. It's just that the tapestry was pretty hacky to begin with.
But this brings me to children's programming tropes that get really old. This one deals two real problematic tropes that I really don't like. The first example is the "white savior" trope. I know. They're all animals. So are the animals in Zootopia, so let's not go there. Most of the characters in the movie are based on Eastern ideals. I know that they are mostly voiced by caucasian actors, but their mentality is that of Eastern philosophies. Po is insanely Western. He's overweight. He admires kung fu as something rad and cool. He has no sense of mystery or depth and he's supposed to be the savior of kung fu. I don't even think it is offensive. It's more just lazy. Yeah, it's real problematic. But even worse in a case like this, it's lazy. I can't stand another entry into the grand list of movies that all have a very similar plot. I'm talking about Ferngully: The Last Airbender. I'm talking about Avatar. I'm talking Dances with Wolves, Pocahontas, The Last Samurai and countless others. The other narratives has the white savior come in as villains and learn their true morality by associating with a more spiritual people. Kung Fu Panda doesn't get that bad. But he clearly is the least qualified person to be the great savior of kung fu. (I'm sorry I don't remember the title. Dragon Warrior? That seems right.) The second trope is something that is almost exclusively found in kids' films. It takes the transcendentalist idea of the value of the individual and takes it to an illogical conclusion. Because Po really wants to be the Dragon Warrior (I'm just going to call it that without looking it up), he can be that in an irresponsibly short amount of time. I'm not against kids believing that they can be anything that they want when they grow up. But it does kind of wash over the hard work that goes into it. The other warriors (Furious Five?) have trained their whole lives. They have devoted every element of their existence to becoming the best warrior that they could possibly be. That's why the bad guy is mad! He's devoted himself to becoming the best and then the title is given to someone who hasn't trained himself. Po is almost an egregious case. Po's entire life has been about gluttony and comfort. Yeah, he goes into training with the right attitude, but he has done nothing to earn the title that is given to him. For the grand gesture that you can be anything you want, I'm on board. But it shouldn't make the other characters villains when they don't see any value to that.
I'm going to compare this to another movie that has a similar message, but handles it a bit better. Pacific Rim: Uprising has the narrative of someone being given great responsibility without having been trained nearly as formally as everyone else. This is the savant archetype. Amara Namani (I looked it up) is treated poorly by her fellow recruits because she's younger than the rest of them. She's attacked and has to prove herself time and again. But Amara has created her own Jaeger. She is downtrodden and would have been the ideal recruit had that opportunity been presented to her. The reason that she's accepted into the Jaeger program is because of her innovation in spite of the lack of resources. Po, however, has done nothing to hone his craft. Admittedly, he studies the history of the masters, which is admirable. But that is a fanboy sooner than a trainee. He's morbidly obese. The problem isn't that he works in a noodle shop. That's actually a compelling character trait for me. I like the idea of finding kung fu in the simple things, which the movie touches on a bit. But he doesn't train to become the best, only to be a weaker version than those trained by the best. Instead, the mantle is just given to him. I don't really understand the reasoning behind the decision to have Po as the Dragon Warrior. One of the themes of the movie that I like, but it isn't supported throughout, is that mysticism is kind of phoney baloney. But choosing Po because he was destined goes against that idea.
But the other elements, besides the very tropey nature of this movie, are kind of great. The movie is kind of funny and I have to hand that off to Jack Black. Yeah, he's a variation of his School of Rock character. Really, Jack Black plays that type of character a lot. It doesn't mean that I don't like it. It really works for Po. Po, despite looking like a panda, has insanely good energy throughout the movie. I'm kind of glad that the movie doesn't take the Kung Fu stuff so seriously. It's really weak that Po kind of beats his opponents through his sheer girth and luck. Tai Lung gets really nerfed in the final fight. But it doesn't really matter. Instead of being really intense about kung fu, the fight sequences work because of fun framing and clever thinking. Yeah, Po shouldn't have won. If I had to place bets, I could guess that Po gets wrecked in the second movie because luck doesn't work like that. But for a first film, the movie does get me to like Po overall. The other warriors, considering that there are some names in there that I really like, aren't that exciting. I can see them being built up in future entries that I'll, no doubt, be exposed to through my kids' obsession with these kinds of movies. It also really helps that I'm pretty sure that Kung Fu Panda 2 is on Netflix. The movie isn't bad by any means. I just get so tired of worn out formulas and fairly lazy tropes. The reason that I like Disney stuff is that they occasionally bring out some fresh stories to work with. I made the comparison to Zootopia earlier, showing that, just because they are animals doesn't mean that they can't go deep. Kung Fu Panda really doesn't offer too much new, but it is a good time.
Unrated, but I cheated. For me, I wanted to watch the unrated cut because it feels more like a real Die Hard movie. But I also know that the theatrical cut was actually pretty low on swearing. This also might be a commentary on how okay we all are with violence over anything else. It seems like 2007 was a totally different time. I know it wasn't THAT long ago, but this movie is still in the era of shock pop culture. There's a lot of regressive ideas in this movie. But otherwise, it's just another entry in the Die Hard franchise.
DIRECTOR: Len Wiseman
Gah! Len Wiseman. Seriously, I will give you a second to look up this guy's production credits. In 2007, I was 23. I knew then that giving Len Wiseman the newest Die Hard movie was a bad idea. The guy only knew how to make Underworld movies. I don't love the Underworld movies. They seemed like absolute nonsense washed over with a blue filter. I suppose I could stop writing my critique of Live Free or Die Hard with that descriptor. This movie is kind of a lot of nonsense with a blue filter. I mean, at the time, I thought the movie was rad and that it was okay for the movie to exist with a PG-13. But Live Free or Die Hard's biggest problem isn't that it is bad. It's a completely watchable movie. I actually had fun with it for a certain amount of time. The worst part about Live Free or Die Hard is that it is completely forgettable. I watched this movie a week ago. Admittedly, I watched a billion movies after Live Free or Die Hard, but I am having actual difficulty picking out major moments of the plot while writing this. I paid attention. I did my due diligence. It isn't even the first time that I've seen this move, but I still don't remember much about the movie.
The thing about Live Free or Die Hard is that it just feels like the action-movie-of-the-week. Die Hard with a Vengeance wasn't made to be a Die Hard movie. It was supposed to just be an action movie. But when you watch that movie, it feels like a very special entry in the franchise. It transcended the movie of the week formula and added to the canon. Honestly, Live Free or Die Hard kind of feels like if you changed Bruce Willis's character name to anything other than "John McClane", you wouldn't know any better. I know that people would instantly make the comparison between his character and John McClane, but that's true about any Bruce Willis vehicle. (Except for the one that he drives down an elevator shaft! ZING!) Part of that comes with the topic. In the planning stages of this movie, I can completely see a screenwriter thinking that it is genius to take John McClane, the original analog action hero and put him in the digital age. I'm not going to complain about how dated the futuristic world of 2007 looked like. It holds up better than I give it credit for. But that conflict isn't the focus of the film. John McClane is really good at adapting to situations. That's kind of his schtick. He hates all of it, but he adapts anyway. He learned how to seal off floors and take back a tower. He learned how to land airplanes during a blizzard. He solved puzzles and that guy seems like he hates puzzles. Saying that John McClane can't deal with cyberterrorists is pretty silly. They even gave him his own white hat hacker to help him out. That barrier between what he can and what he can't do isn't really there. I can't help but think of Zeus in Die Hard with a Vengeance. I mean, on the surface it looks like the same thing. But McClane really thought that he was contributing to solving the puzzles presented to him. This created a nice dynamic between Zeus and McClane. Instead, Live Free or Die Hard has a very different dynamic. McClane shot people and did all of the action sequences. Justin Long did all of the computer stuff. Neither one wanted the other's job. Farrell was afraid of guns. McClane was annoyed by computers. Everyone got in his comfort zone and that was that.
I'm going to go on my big woke rant now. I'm sorry that I keep doing this, but analysis means that I have to watch things critically and comment on them. The opening lines of this movie has Ferrell talking to Maggie Q's character. The first line that this character gets is him sexually harassing Maggie Q. The only reason that he recognizes that Maggie Q is faking being a dispatcher is because he sexually harassed her over the phone earlier. That's our hero. If you really wanted to fight me tooth and nail --and who doesn't? --you could say that he learns his lesson by the end. But the thing is, he learns lots of lessons. Not sexually harassing women isn't one of them. If anything, his toxic masculinity is the thing that saves them in this situation. Yes, Maggie Q is one of the villains. But Bruce Willis regularly calls her the b-word throughout. Sometimes he's doing this to get a rise out of Thomas Gabriel, played by Timothy Olyphant in his worst performance to date. (For years, I refused to watch anything with Timothy Olyphant because of this movie. I then watched Justified and realized that he's an enormously talented actor and it was probably Len Wiseman's lack of direction.) Honestly, Live Free or Die Hard might be Exhibit A for how backwards we got in our filmmaking and representation. I haven't watched A Good Day to Die Hard yet. But the reason that it may have failed miserably is that John McClane is too outdated. I know, as a James Bond fan, who am I to say that some character is way too regressive? But McClane really became unfunny for a lot of his quips. When he's talking to a terrorist and calling him names, they tend to not reflect on gender or gender norms. But even when Maggie Q's character is dead, he is referring to either her gender or her ethnicity. To get Gabriel mad, he refers to how she looks and that's supposed to be okay? It's just gross. I'm a white male preaching and I know that I'm mentally patting myself on the back, but I was actually a little taken aback. Also, it makes me not really like Justin Long's character. He's this love interest for John McClane's daughter. McClane says "No", but in the most adorable way possible. He should honestly be mortified with how Long's character thinks about women.
But again, the movie has the biggest problem with being forgettable. Look at moment one in the film. We have the opening credits and the screen shorting out. The font is what the early 2000s thought technology would look like. I don't think the other Die Hard movies really tried being anything that they weren't. I love the opening to Die Hard with a Vengeance so much. But the movie just looks like trash. I also think that part of this can be chalked up to John McClane doing bigger and badder things. In the first film, John C4's Nakatomi Tower. He has to. It's very big, but it is somehow grounded in the film. He does it to get the attention of people. He does these larger than life things, but they don't feel that insane. In Live Free or Die Hard, McClane is constantly doing things the hard way. McClane shouldn't be James Bond. He should be always trying to use a gun to blow open terrorists. Instead, he drives a car up floors of a building. While I find driving a Suburban through a facility fun, it also seems like the least practical way to take out Maggie Q. There have to be a million obstacles stopping McClane from getting there. Look how many floors up he is. That seems like the SUV should have some problems getting from point A to point B. Who would design a building like that? I'm actually a little peeved about this entire sequence the more I write about it. I know that the F-35 jet is usually the moment of excess in the film and it totally is. But McClane runs everything into Maggie Q and she keeps on going. It's completely absurd that McClane intentionally drives the car with him inside into the elevator. McClane makes these choices that don't make a lick of sense because it puts him into awesome sequences. But I don't see anyone actually making these choices. It's so bizarre. What this actually does is give McClane insane luck instead of control over his situations. That F-35, he doesn't actually do anything besides drive safe. He takes down a jet by simply surviving long enough for that thing to take him out. Yeah, he jumps on it. He should never have been able to get this close.
I also can't stop thinking about Kevin Smith's rant in this movie. (By the way, Kevin Smith really lost a lot of weight. I'm feeling depressed and therefore eating, but Kevin Smith is super tiny right now.) I won't post that footage here, but Kevin Smith has spoken out about how he thought that Bruce Willis was a cool guy based on his interactions in this movie. But Kevin Smith actually might be the most fun part of this movie. Bruce Willis looks bored doing these movies. The fun is somehow missing. It's between Len Wiseman and Bruce Willis to take some credit for why the magic is gone. Yeah, Justin Long does an okay job. I like seeing Mary Elizabeth Winstead in this movie. But this movie is just okay. It's a fun time, sure. But I'm never going to find myself quoting Live Free or Die Hard. This is another one of those franchises that had a pretty tight trilogy. But once it hit four, there's just this dip in quality. It isn't abysmal or anything. It's just stupid. I love how there's this credit to say that it's based on an article. I want to know what the author of the article thinks of this movie. The movie shoots for bombastic when it should focus on a tight story. This is the first movie of the group that focuses on McClane as a cop. The first two, McClane is accidentally at a place he shouldn't be. Part III, he's full on brought it by the bad guy. But this one, he's just responding to a call. This kind of leads to the movie trying to be bigger than the other entries. This is a movie that tries to make the entire nation in danger. The first one is a tower with his wife. The second one is an airport with his wife. The third one is New York City. Scaling upwards is not the way to go. A tense small situation is oddly more impressive than McClane driving to multiple states to take care of the problem.
It's not a terrible movie. It's just not good. I am oddly looking forward to A Good Day to Die Hard, despite the fact that everyone called it terrible. But it's a new Die Hard movie. It's going to be some time before I get to it because it's Oscar season. But regardless, I'm having a good time.
PG-13, but pretty much for violence and regularly shirtless Jason Momoa. I would take my kids to this if it wasn't so long. I'm sure you could chalk some stuff up as scary. There's a big monster sea creature in the movie. That might be scary. But this is PG-13 because it is a live-action superhero movie and it's aimed at a teenage audience, as proven by the annoying teens sitting in the back of the theater who had to let everyone know that they were there on a Thursday night. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: James Wan
This made a billion dollars? This. This is the movie that did it? I know other movies made a billion dollars, but Aquaman is the movie that told everyone at Warner Brothers that DCEU movies are valuable. (Apparently, that still got seven people fired and a corporate restructure, according to the news.) I had just come around on Wonder Woman after a recent rewatch. Shazam looks absolutely fantastic. And Jason Momoa seems like a pretty cool guy. Sure, he behaves boorishly at times, but nothing criminal. I really wanted to like this movie. Then everyone told me that the movie was pretty good. I thought, "Geez, good for Aquaman." But am I the only one who saw a remarkably stupid film?
I've gotten off the nuke the DCEU kick. While I loathed Justice League, I did notice that the film was taking things in the right direction. Superman smiled. That went a long way. Wonder Woman is pretty rad. Since I know a reboot doesn't appear anywhere in sight, the only thing I could really hope for is that the movies get better over time so we can forget a lot of the earlier entries. That's growth on my part. I should be applauded for such thinking. In terms of success, I do have to applaud James Wan and his crew for tonally ripping Aquaman out of the DCEU mold. There's not much angsty going on with this movie and I love that about the movie. But I think that people are way too happy that the movie isn't a bummer to instantly give it all of the accolades that it really probably doesn't deserve. I'm a huge comic book fan. I tend to give comic book movies a pass for the most part. I'm still a fan of The Dark Knight Rises. I even like Aquaman comics. Geoff Johns's run was actually pretty interesting. Aquaman went from being a character that was kind of a joke to being fairly interesting. But this movie was boring and corny to me. It is just so much. I know that there are long movies that are absolutely great and riveting, but I just watched this one bored out of my mind. It's not that nothing happens. Way too much happens. It's constant. The movie is afraid to be alone with itself for two seconds. Geoff Johns and the folks at DC gave Aquaman this really intense mythology. It took a long time to get there. The world of Atlantis became this really intense place after decades and decades of silliness. But that mythology was built into the series slowly. It would take years to get Aquaman fans on board for the complex soap opera that existed under the water. Aquaman, the film, tries doing everything in one movie. There are so many plots in this movie and none of them get any value. Honestly, every other scene is someone revealing something massive about the history of Atlantis to Arthur. It's flashback after flashback. It's monologue after monologue. It all becomes wildly tedious. I'm not saying that that stuff shouldn't be in Aquaman. That stuff should completely be in Aquaman...2, 3, and 4. Why am I being overwhelmed with all of this stuff in one movie? LIGHT SPOILERS: Here's what the movie should have been. Arthur finally has the gumption to return to Atlantis and he has to depose the king. He has to prove to the people that Ocean Master is corrupt and that the world of man does not hate them. In the process, we are teased the creation of Black Manta and that Arthur's mother might be alive. The movie ends with him tentatively becoming the King of Atlantis. That's it. That's your movie. Everything else, shy of a really brief origin story (which I enjoyed) should be saved for the next film. There is so much nonsense in this film that distracts from what the focus should be. He has to look for a mythical trident? There are different categories of Altanteans, include cannibalistic ones? There's a lost world? There's an abandoned kingdom in the desert? There's a series of clues that lead to the true ruler? Why should I care about an ancient king? Why do I need to know the origins of Atlantis? What is that giant monster? Who made a war? Honestly, even going as far as the mentor who trained Arthur? That can be saved for the future. Give us someone to care about in part 2.
This leads to the Black Manta problem. Imagine if the Joker was treated as a second fiddle in a movie. It wouldn't work in a second. Black Manta is the end all, be all villain for Aquaman. James Wan and DC knew this. They talk about him as unstoppable. But Arthur keeps beating him down in this movie. BIGGER SPOILER: The next movie teases the return of Black Manta. But we found out in this one that he is very defeatable. Sure, he's going to be more of a threat in the next one. Who cares? He's a guy. He's a guy who keeps losing. On top of that, Black Manta kind of has a point. Arthur didn't need to kill his dad. Based on the tone of this one, I don't think that the next one is going to be Arthur fighting for his very soul. It's not that kind of movie. The big villain in this one is Ocean Master. I guess this all ties into my greater thoughts on the movie: direct translation doesn't mean that it is good. Ocean Master looks exactly like he does in the comics. I'm actually blown away how much he looks like his comic book counterpart. But it came across as silly. I mean, he looked real cosplay-y. Add onto that the very odd casting choices throughout this movie. I loved Patrick Wilson in a lot of the things he does. He is great in James Wan's other franchise, The Conjuring. I actually mostly liked him in Watchmen. But Ocean Master? He doesn't really seem all that villainous. He's just kind of goofy. Putting him in that helmet made me feel something that I've never really felt before. A lot of people look at sci-fi and fantasy as silly. This felt like that. I felt like I was watching Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon. (I'm getting bored writing this. That's how bored I was.) It's exactly what I want genre fiction to avoid. On one side, I don't want it to be afraid of being fun. Looking at Bryan Singer's original X-Men, that movie was afraid to embrace comic book elements. But then there's this comic book-y throw-up. This seems so mean because I didn't hate the movie. But this is the example of being too inside baseball. But I must be insane. People clearly loved it enough to give it a billion dollars. I know that China lost its mind over this movie. But you know what I most compare this to? Tim Burton's Batman. Tim Burton's Batman is a perfectly fine, even great movie, for 1989. But I don't think it would survive in an era where superhero films have become their own subgenre. Superhero movies shouldn't be one thing, but Aquaman is so entrenched (pun intended) in its own mythology that there's very little to ground the film. A film is allowed to be comic book-y. Look at Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. There is a way to embrace a heritage, but I don't think that Aquaman really achieves that.
But I don't want to hate on this movie altogether. I don't regret watching Aquaman. It did its job, kind of. They finally shifted the tone. This is a big step for the DCEU. I was discussing with Bob how tonally awful the other movies are and this one has a little bit of fun. Again, I'm a Jason Momoa fan. He seems like he really enjoys being Aquaman and mazel to that. There's a scene in a bar where he has fun with these bikers. Yes, more of that. He jumps out of an airplane. That's great. Oh, no. I just remembered what I thought during the movie and it's going to make me look bad. I remember liking Jason Momoa's Aquaman, but thinking, "Is this Aquaman?" Flashback to Iron Man. Robert Downey Jr. changed Tony Stark to being a funny guy. But Arthur Curry has always been a stick in the mud. Jason Momoa might actually be a better Aquaman than the actual Aquaman. It's just so odd to think what goes into making these movies. The movie gets overly obsessed with the mythology of Aquaman, but then just makes Aquaman a surfer bro? I don't...I don't get it. I mean, it works. It's probably the only part of the movie that does work. But I also never really felt like I was watching Aquaman. I felt like it was an Uncharted movie with a guy who could breathe underwater. Geez, the more I think about it, that kind of does work. There are these giant action sequences that are way too insane to actually exist, but Aquaman does it. I also don't get Aquaman's power base. Now I've lost the forest through the trees. The big point I'm trying to make is that Jason Momoa is fun and thank God that the DCEU learned to be fun, but Aquaman himself isn't supposed to be fun. Superman is supposed to be fun, but he's terrible. Aquaman is supposed to be grumpy, but he's a delight. I don't get what I'm watching anymore. The only one that really hit the right tone is Wonder Woman. Good job, Wonder Woman. You really are the successful one.
Again, this might be the second best DCEU movie. I find these movies so distracting and gross. Honestly, it is CGI throwup everywhere you look. There are so many moments where I just kept pinching my temples and thinking about how corny the movie is. I hate that I'm dunking on this movie so hard because I really wanted to have a good time with this film. But the movie is boring and silly. I would have been ashamed if I convinced my wife to join me for this one. Still, it is leaps and bounds better than Man of Steel and that's a shift in the right direction. I want these movies to be good. I know that they aren't going to scrap anything at this point. But they need to be way better than this to get my attention.
Not rated, but there is something that might ruffle some feathers if you know what they are talking about. The movie surrounds the concept of the "college widow". This is kind of an icky topic. I'm going to leave it to you to research it, but it doesn't necessarily mesh with today's politics. Also, the college widow wears some wildly uncomfortable clothing. I tried wrapping my head around one outfit (this is not time for Groucho-style comebacks) and it was uncomfortable. From a 21st Century perspective, the Marx Brothers would probably be charged with assault.
DIRECTOR: Norman Z. McLeod
In college, one of my buddies sat me down to watch Horse Feathers because I had never seen a Marx Brothers movie. I humored him for about seven minutes and then thought it was dumb. It was only once I went on my great journey of artistic discovery that I started to have some love for the Marx Brothers. Duck Soup is absolutely genius and I watched a ton of their movies. I have two very impressive box sets that have made me giggle more than I care to admit. When I thought that I should introduce my students to the Marx Brothers, I chose Horse Feathers. One of them had seen Duck Soup and didn't care for it. I thought, "Horse Feathers might be their second most famous movie that didn't have blackface." Yeah, I realize that Horse Feathers, while being a very entertaining movie, might not be the best starting point in the franchise.
The Marx Brothers' style of comedy isn't really all that different. It's just how much we're allowed to warm up before the real comedy starts. Horse Feathers' big problem lies in its opening. Meeting Professor Wagstaff at the beginning of the movie is a deep end dive into what the Marx Brothers are supposed to be. The Groucho warmup helps with a lot of the movies. These jokes aren't the best of the film, but really are supposed to shake off a lot of the cobwebs that people bring into the theaters with them. As products of the travelling variety show, the Marx Brothers tended to structure their loose narratives around their stage acts. The beginning of a stage act is warming up the crowd. But Horse Feathers' warm up is pretty weak compared to a lot of Groucho stuff. I love Groucho. He's probably not my favorite Marx Brother, but I also could watch Groucho talk for hours. I find him fascinating. But even as a fan, I forgot how dry that opening is. Honestly, Harpo ends up being the true warm-up. The problem with that is that Horse Feathers is an hour-and-eight-minutes. It's not very long. To get through Groucho's warmup means that you are actually though a fairly sizable percentage of the movie. My students were not sold on Horse Feathers. They laughed at parts. But they commented that a lot of these weren't side-splitting laughs. They saw what was funny, but weren't properly warmed up to fully appreciate the rest of humor.
If I analyze a bunch of Marx Brothers movies, I think I might need to hand out MVP awards. I tend to oscillate between Groucho, Chico, and Harpo. Zeppo can always jump in a lake. Honestly, I actually get angry any time that Zeppo is on screen. He's the worst part of any of the Marx Brothers movies. I know that movies need a straight man, but Zeppo even kind of sucks as a straight man. Look at me! I'm getting angry right now at a guy who is probably long dead. (He died in 1979.) Like I mentioned, I'll probably watch Groucho talk for hours on end, but really, the selling point is Chico. Chico might by my favorite kind of humor. I know that I'm forcing every Marx Brother to roll over in his grave (except for Zeppo...he has no right), but puns and plays on words are my favorite. I'm ashamed how much I love the guys who walk around stores and make puns all day. That's Chico and Horse Feathers might have some of the best moments. The interaction with Harpo and Chico asking if he's got a pick is absolutely fantastic. It's no surprise that Harpo is a close second, but Chico still entertains during the musical numbers. The musical numbers always confuse me a bit. I know: Variety Show! But Chico is very entertaining while he plays. His fingers become characters to enjoy. Harpo tends to lose on that front because his scenes are played straight when he goes for the musical number. That's fine, I suppose. But Chico and Harpo steal Horse Feathers. Oddly enough, considering that Groucho is the one who drives the narrative and is technically considered the protagonist, he doesn't have a ton to do. But every time that Chico and Groucho are on screen, they are driving the action. The entire latter half of the movie has them doing some kind of major action. They are the ones who break into the football players' rooms and attempt kidnapping. That sequence alone is pure genius. I don't know why, but the actual football game is the most memorable part of the movie. But I laugh really hard when Chico and Harpo try kidnapping the guys. The saws through the floor is an absolutely fantastic gag. But the football sequence is also fantastic too. Maybe that's what I'm noticing most about Horse Feathers. I like the other Marx Brothers movies because of the wit involved. But Horse Feathers might work best because of its physicality. I completely forgot about Harpo shoveling books into a fireplace. It's fantastic.
What we all noticed about Horse Feathers is how everyone who isn't one of the four Marx Brothers (or three, because I hate Zeppo), kind of is terrible? The movie starts off with the professors all standing around Wagstaff and there's a dance. These actors clearly aren't dancers. I honestly think that they were hired on because they had beards. There's one of the professors who is so off tempo that he just draws attention away from Groucho. How do you possibly draw attention away from Groucho Marx while he's dancing on a desk? But this isn't a one off. The football players from the other university are just the worst. Every single one of their lines are poorly delivered. It's 1932 and expectations for comedy aren't the same that they would be later. I also think that the Marx Brothers are making a lot of the stuff up on the fly. The movie is centered around making the four leads seem competent, so any supporting elements can be phoned in. These were vaudeville actors who weren't used to working with outside parts. They'd probably handle everything themselves. They knew what worked with each other. The stage shows were probably as tight as could be, but the narratives weren't attached. Four people can't represent the whole college. Well, The Kids in the Hall weren't around yet. But I get the vibe that the story was a burden to someone like Groucho Marx. This feels like a studio intervention. They wanted to tell the jokes that they wanted to tell and that would be it. To have a company come in and say that the story needed to be rounded out or it wouldn't be considered a movie might be burdensome. I mean, the movie is an hour and eight minutes. A stage show probably was an hour. The jokes are the center of Horse Feathers. Well, the jokes and the music. But golly, the other elements occasionally just feel thrown in. But the jokes, when they work, are really tight. I can't imagine the process on making a Marx Brothers movie. Probably 90% of the movie was done in the first quarter of pre-production and everything else was probably slapped together. That kind of ties into my thoughts on the whole plot. The plot and consequences seem very simple. If Groucho loses the game, he might lose his job. But he barely is involved with the job. The college widow aspect seems like this is all kind of arbitrary. Perhaps it's the element of being a big fish in a small pond, but I don't really think that there is a story here. The team losing a game means that someone else will be the dean? That's what I'm supposed to understand. It's so odd to think of other sports comedies. There is the big game that the team is supposed to win. But usually, it takes a terrible team and makes them great over a series of small victories. Because the plot is completely inconsequential, the entire movie is about one game against their rivals without any real growth.
But there's something absolutely charming. It sounds like I'm dogging on Horse Feathers. I don't think Horse Feathers would really work in any other fashion. Part of what makes the Marx Brothers work is the casual attitude towards formula. A film is just a way to convey jokes. Yeah, if all movies were like that, there wouldn't be substance or art. But the art of the Marx Brothers lie in the timing of the thing. This is a masterclass in highlighting what matters to a performer. The Marx Brothers know humor. So the story doesn't really work. Who cares? The narrative is a vehicle and nothing more. But in an hour and eight minutes, we get how characters interact and we care about them. Like Chaplin and the Tramp, the comic archetypes are present beforehand. But I care about Harpo the dogcatcher. I don't know why. But he's in this story and I really bond with him really quickly. Heck, I don't even really understand who Chico is beyond his work as a bouncer in a bar, but he really works in the whole scope of the story. Horse Feathers is a classic. But I don't want to be blinded by the fact that it is in the canon, kind of. Horse Feathers is a fabulous movie that pales in comparison to the other films. But standing alone, it works on a comic fun level. It is very entertaining and spotlights what each of the Marx Brothers does well. While I will always recommend Duck Soup, Horse Feathers still works marvelously.
PG. Oddly, the most kid friendly one is probably that has the most language. It's a running gag. People in the '80s swear a lot. The crew of the Enterprise tries to swear. They aren't great at swearing, so it is funny. It is possibly the least offensive swearing in history. There aren't really scary parts outside of a trippy time-travel computer generated sequence that is more odd than frightening.
DIRECTOR: Leonard Nimoy
I don't know what I was thinking. I was adamant that my wife watched Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It was the one you showed to non-Star Trek fans. I even tried selling it as the rom-com Star Trek entry. Okay, that's kind of true...if the couple ended up together. My wife kinda sorta watched it. She said it was the equivalent of watching a Mystery Science Theater episode. This was the one that everyone watched at some points. It's included in lists (along with Star Trek II) as the one you have to see. People refer to it as "the one with the whales, right?" Yeah, it's the one with the whales. I mentally call it the big time-travel one assuming people don't leap to Star Trek: First Contact. But Star Trek IV is such a good time that I'm going to gush about it the whole time.
It's such a Nimoy movie. I know. It's like I know Leonard Nimoy. I did watch the documentary, For the Love of Spock, after all. Leonard Nimoy has such an odd relationship with Star Trek that it is interesting to see him really embrace the whole concept. People list Leonard Nimoy as the perfect Star Trek film director because of Star Trek IV. But people also forget that he directed Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. You would think a movie that had the word "Spock" in the title would be the movie that Leonard Nimoy would be known for, but his opus really is The Voyage Home. I think that's because The Voyage Home is about being inclusive. This movie is the least Star Trek-y of them all. You wouldn't necessarily know that from the first twenty or so minutes of the film, but it almost isn't a Star Trek movie. Instead, it is Nimoy and company playing around with the format while addressing environmental issues in a playful way. I always used to groan when I heard it referred to as "the one with the whales" because the whale thing always got under my skin. I don't know why people knee-jerk reaction to political messages that aren't their focus. But I also realized what it takes for a director to make something kind of special. Leonard Nimoy, possibly for the first time in his long career as Spock, was making something that he absolutely loved. Spock was always a double edged sword for him. He wrote that book, I am not Spock. He wanted Spock to be killed off in The Wrath of Khan. But then he'd always come back. Sometimes, I have to believe, Paramount showed up at his house with a dump truck full of money. Sometimes there was probably pressure to show up. But Nimoy would be an icon from this character. Then he was allowed to direct. One of the movies had to bring the character back to the franchise. But The Voyage Home feels like the carte blanche movie that he wanted to make. Nimoy gets a bit preachy, sure. But in the process of getting the message out about whaling and environmental awareness, he had to make sure that people were going too actually see this movie and care about this movie. To do that, he had to strip down all of that Star Trek mythology and just focus on the adventure elements of Star Trek. Now, I wouldn't say that I watched Star Trek for the adventure element. I watched it for the trippier philosophical arguments that the stories told. It was about exploration sci-fi that got me jazzed. But Star Trek IV offers a lot to both Trekkies and plebs alike.
For me, the die hard Star Trek fan, the whole movie is kind of fan service. The crew of the Enterprise was never starving for time-travel antics. Whatever set was left up on the Desilu lot often offered a story that allowed the cast to cut corners budget wise. Chicago gangsters? Check. Greek / Roman gods? Check. The Wild West? I think even The Next Generation followed that idea. But even when Star Trek would tease going back to a contemporary era, it went back to the sterilized version of television. It wasn't real. It wasn't a commentary on society. But Star Trek IV was there to say something about us. It was about the viewing audience. Were we filthy and silly and far away from the standards of the Federation? Heck yes, we were. The San Francisco of Star Trek IV hits every major commentary moment I can think of. Within minutes, the crew of the Enterprise has to deal with something that the Federation only touches on with extreme characters: people actually speak their mind and are selfish. The Enterprise dealt with Harry Mudd, who was more braggadocios more than anything else. Instead, the whole world of 1986 was crass and simple-minded and that's funny. Think about how bizarre it would be to be transported to Kirk's 23rd Century? Everyone is elevated and trying to benefit society. You tell that a cab driver who almost hits a moron with his car. Nimoy is just letting loose with the satirical comedy and it works really well. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home works because it knows its target audience at the same time. I keep telling my students that the key to writing is knowing your audience. Nimoy is making this movie where he's lambasting his viewers. He has to make our world seem dirty and disappointing, but in such a lighthearted manner that you could take your kids to it. It's fun laughing at ourselves while watching this movie. Some of the references are really dated. The authors who are name dropped are intentionally meant to be dated, but we kind of all get the joke. That's the point. Even though this is a sendup of the 1980s, it really is pretty easy to get all of the jokes. Is it odd to think that the commentary that Nimoy is offering seems so innocent compared to the junk we deal with now? Sure. But we also still relate to these problems as well.
It's so weird watching a Star Trek movie without the Enterprise, for the most part. I always hated that Bird of Prey. It seems like a betrayal. I know, we get an Enterprise at the end. (Deal with that. I'm not bolding "spoiler" or anything.) It works so well for this story because of the cloaking device. I mean, a cloaked Klingon ship in the middle of a park makes a pretty solid joke, but it also really reminds me that this movie is the least Star Trek-y. The Enterprise is a character and I love me the Enterprise-A. But for the entire film, we have the crew of the Enterprise walking around, most of them without their uniforms. They are technically fugitives from Starfleet. They have a Bird of Prey. Kirk is wearing that absolutely hideous pink shirt, red sport jacket combo that makes me want to gouge my eyes out. I mean, I'm thank for Uhura and Scotty for at least being low-key Starfleet officers during this. But the completely odd thing is that The Voyage Home might be the most crew-focused movie out of all of them. We removed some key elements of Star Trek, not to mention the time period. But The Voyage Home has the most activity for everyone to do. Don't get me wrong. This movie is still very Kirk / Spock heavy. Heck, McCoy is kind of relegated to second fiddle in this movie. But every crew member on-board has a job that actually matters in this movie. Uhura and Chekhov, thank the maker, actually have something to really do in this movie. I know the joke is going to Chekhov, but Uhura actually does some heavy lifting. I mean, it's no fan-dance, but she has something to do. Scotty's narrative is fantastic. Bob pointed out that Scotty's narrative doesn't make a lick of sense because there's no reason that the whales have to be in a transparent tank for the whole ten minutes of transportation to the 23rd century. But who cares. His story works. McCoy's hospital sequence is absolutely hilarious. I thought my wife would get on board that section. Actual spoiler: She didn't.
I like Catherine Hicks's Gillian. I know that Carol Marcus was meant to be the love of Kirk's life. But we were more told that she was than shown. The entire relationship between Kirk and Marcus happened off screen. It was Marion without the actual payoff. I called this movie a rom-com because I think that the movie pushed for sparks between Shatner and Hicks. It's weird to think that this movie might have considered William Shatner to be the romantic lead in a rom com. But the entire movie is flirtation between those two. There actually is a date sequence in the movie that is cut really short. Is it a lost moment that Kirk didn't get to try 1986 pizza that wasn't replicated? (Note: I forget if there are replicators in the Kirk era of Star Trek. I'm pretty sure that Discovery has replicators.) But to not end with them together at the end is actually kind of disappointing. When a franchise swaps out of a female lead in every movie, it's a bit icky. As I write that, I kind of shudder, but I'm moving on. When a franchise decides to replace a female lead to spice up the story, usually the movie leaves this unaddressed or has a throwaway line in the next film. Instead, Gillian gets her own science vessel. That's a weird choice that I both love and hate. I hate it because it just seems too easy. Also, let's live in a world where we pretend that they are together. Or why not just stick her on Enterprise? (Because Kirk didn't know that he would get Enterprise! Stop asking questions that you know that answers to!) But it also weirdly gives her an agency that I haven't seen a lot of movies do. The movie acknowledges that Gillian just met Kirk, like, 24-48 hours ago. She discovered that time travel existed, went into the future, and saved the whales while becoming the only marine biologist in the future that knows about whales. The idea that she would sacrifice any element of that for a guy she just met and has mostly lied to her is actually kind of interesting. They leave in this amicable place and that's fun. But the superficial version of me knows that they had good chemistry and I'm selfish.
I always hated that everyone loved Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home the most. My favorite entry is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. But it makes sense. Star Trek IV is the least pretentious in the franchise. It is closer to what Star Trek is all about. It provides commentary on our society through a science fiction premise. On top of that, the jokes actually work. While I'll laugh at other Star Trek jokes, they tend to be a bit inside baseball. It's a bummer that my wife didn't latch on, but that's to be expected. The movie is way better than I remember it being and I really had a good time during it.
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Rated R for gross stuff and absolutely insane language. Like, Shane Black loves language and using it in all kinds of combinations. Then he gave a character Tourette's. This is the funny, probably not real world version of Tourette's where every vulgar thing is timed perfectly with the worst possible time that it could be said. It's pretty out there. But remember, this is also a Predator movie, so that means we get some spines and tearing and violence. Lots of gunplay. A kid swears at one point, I'm pretty sure.
DIRECTOR: Shane Black
Um...I messed up guys. I watched too many movies and now I'm really far behind on my reviews. I write one of these a day, but I also have had time to watch movies. That's on me. Completely on me. So on the day that they announce The Academy Award nominations, here I am writing about The Predator. It's bad timing. It's just bad timing and I'm not going to apologize for it right now. I'm going to power through and write a long essay about, you know, The Predator.
One of my students told me that he absolutely loved this movie but it was also the dumbest movie he's watched in a long time. I don't know if that's dead on the nose (is that a phrase?). I get where he's coming from. The Predator made me realize something pretty profound that I wasn't ready to admit to myself. You're going to be all, "Well, duh." But I'm sure you haven't verbalized it in the way that I'm about to verbalize it. The Predator movies are actually pretty dumb and it's ridiculous that we have expectations about them. I probably hit the nail on the head for a lot of you, but some of you might be coming to the Predator movies' rescue. "The first one was really smart!" I wouldn't say that. The first one was really smart in how it was executed. (pun intended). The first movie works really well as a movie. It probably is the most functional of the bunch. It's been a while since I've watched it so I can't pretend to be an expert on it. But I do want to say that the reason that the OG Predator works is because it gives us almost no information or mythology. It's the same thing with Alien. There's a reason why those two properties are thrown together. They both start with a barebones understanding of what we're dealing with. We know that the Predator is extremely deadly and is hunting the guys. We know that it only kills things that it considers worth fighting. Heck, even that last statement is kind of vague. But with a sequel to a really stripped down movie, the only place that it can go is into exposition. Now, I've never seen Predator 2. But I have seen the Alien vs. Predator movies and Predators. My student's insight into The Predator is kind of accurate. It's remarkably fun. I had a really good time watching this, despite what most critics have said. But the reason I had a good time at it is because I had practically no expectations set on it. I don't want a deep mythology for the Predator movies. I want them to be simple entertainment and The Predator does that really well because it makes characters funny.
It's biggest mistake is that it tries to build on previous movies. I won't even call it a mistake. Predators tried to keep it simple as well and people forgot that the movie even exists. When you forget that a movie exists, something had to happen wrong. But The Predator's biggest missteps happen when they start guessing what the monsters are doing. And the monsters have a plan. I always liked that the monsters in Predator were kind of single focused. They were international game hunters. They were on safari and we were the target. That's all you really need. But The Predator adds a layer that is frankly kind of stupid. I don't know if I'm going to go into spoilers or not, but I'm going to try and avoid it. There's this whole plan to quickly get the greatest and strongest human. That's pretty on message, but it gives it a reason why they need the greatest and best. That's what I don't need. The reason is so convoluted and it is an excuse to introduce a new version of the monster. Part of me hates this and part of me loves this. So, a typical predator is in the six to seven foot tall range, right? The new predator is eleven feet tall. I'm pretty sure we didn't need that. But yet, I fell for it at times. Mainly because the eleven foot one ripped apart the seven foot one. That's absolutely ridiculous because it's what sequels do. By presenting a stronger, impossible to kill version, it just nerfs all of the characters. It was difficult taking down the eleven foot one, but it seemed like less of a chore than Arnold taking down the original sized one in the first film. Basically, I feel like The Predator is an impossible movie to make. Making the same movie as the OG Predator is forgettable, as proven by Predators. Making the movie bigger and badder is pretty stupid because it becomes overly complex and the OG Predator was already to the max.
But the movie works, in an odd way. Shane Black is hilarious to me. He hits a pretty sweet spot. I don't want to seem regressive because I'm always shoehorning sensitivity into these reviews, but Black seems to toe the line of what is and isn't offensive. Shane Black and Fred Dekker are kind of the old guard and it's amazing to see that Black can still get into the movie making game without completely alienating everyone. Oh, and don't get me wrong, I kind of cringed at some lines in the movie, amazed that he could get away with saying that kind of stuff. I don't know why, but having Keegan Michael Key say a lot of that stuff made it okay. I know, it's not. But Keegan Michael Key somehow gets a pass when a lot of other people don't. Do you know why it works mostly? (Again, it doesn't completely work.) The other movies really lacked relationships. The character dynamics are actually kind of fun in this movie. McKenna is the fish out of water in this story of a bunch of psychiatric patients / soldiers. He's the McMurphy to the rest of the inmates of the sanitarium. But they're all soldiers, so they seem to be able to hold their own against a predator with little issue to credibility. I'm trying to think if the other movies really had that dynamic. In the OG, we don't really get that dynamic. They are all professionals who mostly act professional or flex arms when greeting each other. Rather, McKenna trying to maintain the group while solving this whole predator debacle is kind of interesting. The inmates give the film a whole chaotic vibe. Yeah, the humor with the inmates is a bit too broey for my liking at times, but it also really fits with the feel of the rest of the film. The only character I have problem with is the tropey son of McKenna. He's got magical autism. I'm not trying to dismiss autism. If anything, I'd like to stress how autism is a real thing and it isn't quite Rain Man. He's the kind of character who can solve any problem because he has autism. Besides being very dismissive about the life of a family of autism, it is also lazy writing. Any time the characters are backed into an intellectual hole, McKenna's kid can just solve something just by looking at it. He actually is able to read the predators' language because of his autism. That's no good. Can you see the problem there?
But the action is fun. I don't know how to explain this. I'm probably never going to watch the movie for the action ever again. It's got a fun cast and if someone wanted to watch it as a comedy, I would be down. But as fun as the action is, there's nothing that feels all that special in the movie. I'm thinking back to the OG Predator. I've seen it once and I remember that action sequence that closes the film vividly. It's so clever and so well shot. There's nothing all that wrong with how The Predator is shot. It's a fine movie with few aspirations. Maybe that's why I'm very cool with this movie. Oddly, it might be my favorite Predator movie. It doesn't take itself as seriously as the other movies in the series. I'm sometimes cool with a movie just being fun. I know that I don't seem the type and I think it comes on a case-by-case basis. But The Predator is simply cool being what it is. It is an entry in a long dead franchise that weirdly keeps coming back to remind us that it can sell tickets. I know that only a few people actually ended up seeing The Predator. I think that people see that as a failure on Shane Black's part. I used to have these Superman floor mats. When I'd get comments on those floor mats, I would assume that people were huge Superman fans and I'd start talking about the character. Then I realized that Superman made more of a cultural impact than simply the storytelling. I think the character of the Predator is extremely recognizable, but that's about it. Few people can honestly talk about it beyond the cultural talking point. That's the level these movies should be shooting for. From that perspective, Shane Black's The Predator is a slam dunk. It's a fun sequel in a series that really doesn't deserve to have fun sequels. I don't want The Predator to die off, but they should be mildly entertaining without expectation. Shane Black and Fred Dekker have a movie with a wildly entertaining script. Sometimes it gets bogged down by its own mythology, which is a bummer. But between having an absolutely great cast and some really good jokes, the movie works. I'm more there to see another Shane Black movie than anything. I know that there was some controversy surrounding this film and that really bums me out. I hate when I have to start distancing myself from auteurs that I enjoy. But The Predator entertained me when I wanted it to. It's better than critics say it is, but it is far from being great. Instead, a violent monster kills a bunch of people violently while comedians tell funny jokes. That's not the worst thing in the world for me.
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.