PG-13, and you know what? It's about time! These are the glory days of PG-13, back when it meant something. Ironically, I think this might have been my first Indiana Jones movie in the theater. I would have been six years old, which is the same age my daughter is now. I wouldn't let her watch it because some guy rapidly ages on screen. Also there's beheading and scary rats. Also, Elsa claims to have slept with both of the Joneses. This is some PG-13 stuff, guys!
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
We got to my favorite one in the series! It's always been my favorite one. That's right, die hard Raiders of the Lost Ark fans. I'm standing my ground. The third entry in the series for the first time is the best one. Heck, it was supposed to be the last one in the series. Man, I want to live in a world where Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the perfect dismount to a series. On top of that, Last Crusade probably has the least amount of racism in it. I probably subconsciously knew this as a little kid and that's why I've been advocating for it the whole time. Boom. Always woke.
One thing that has been bothering me about this movie since I was a kid --hence the crowd-sourcing question --is the underground petroleum. It becomes an excuse for fire-related nonsense. But Indy's first reaction is to grab a torch. He's covered in petroleum and he lights a fire. I'm not crazy. I just googled "Petroleum flammable" and, sure enough, it is. You watch that scene. His torch is constantly dripping fire into the petroleum. What is the logic here? Why not just give Indiana Jones a flashlight? He's an archaeologist. You would think that would be a basic tool for exploring catacombs. (I know. This is where the very nerds I'm crowd-sourcing pipe up and say that he wasn't looking for catacombs. He was exploring a library. Come on. The way that Indy works, you think he shouldn't be prepped to go somewhere gross and dark?) This entire paragraph I'm getting out of the way because it's nitpicky, but I had this weird epiphany while watching Last Crusade for the first time as a grown man. Indy goes to Berlin by bike. Isn't a zeppelin kind of a dangerous mode of transportation to get out of Berlin. I'm only half-and-half criticizing the plan because it would be assumed that Elsa told the Nazis that the Joneses were in Berlin. But still, there seem to be a lot of hoops to jump through to get on a zeppelin. Then there is a moment where Indy talks to Vogel in German (behind his back) and then translates it to English. Vogel goes out the window and Indy says "No ticket" in English. While many people would have been bilingual, no one questions that the ticket taker is clearly American? I get why it is in there. I would have even done the same thing. I'm sure there was a version where Harrison Ford said it in German with a subtitle, but it probably didn't play as well as when he said it in English. These were just observations.
I think many of my memories of my father have been replaced with Henry Jones, Sr. My dad was a short and educated bearded man with darker skin. He was in Mensa, so I could imagine him working on his grail diary in our basement. I mean, he was translating poetry for publication, but in my mind that's the same thing. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is the pinnacle of the series because it is the entry with the most heart. SPOILER: Elsa is revealed as evil pretty early on in the film. We never really expect Indy and Elsa to end up together. When the story doesn't include a "get-the-girl" element (at least, not as intensely as the other films), the heart has to come from something else. Indiana Jones, while still kind of a womanizer, doesn't allow himself to hide behind a wall. Instead, the relationship that is built through this adventure is one of father and son. It is also a relationship that is strained, but one that seeks approval. Every time that Harrison Ford acts like Indy from the first film, he's kind of reprimanded. His braggadocia, normally embraced by those around him, are pointed out for being a cheat. That's such a fun dynamic. Indiana Jones is not really allowed to be in charge for once and that makes the movie really different. On top of that, the dynamics between Sean Connery and Harrison Ford is perfect. It's so odd to see a father character that is written so well. So much of Henry's persona is imprinted on Indiana, but how they deal with the same passion makes them constantly butt heads. Similarly, it is really weird to see how Henry is flawed as a father, but not necessarily the bad guy in the story. So many stories have deadbeat fathers re-enter their adult children's lives. I'm thinking of the most recent Doctor Who episode, "Resolution". Most fathers are jerks and the well-adjusted one is the adult child. Instead, Last Crusade muddies the waters a bit. Henry is not a saint, but his actions can be interpreted through a complicated lens. Indiana Jones is not the easiest person to get along with at all times. Seeing the two men come together in quasi-healthy ways is interesting, leading to an ending the wraps that all up. Nicely done, Steven Spielberg.
It's really hard to gush about a movie. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade might be the most fun of the entire series. People disagree with me, but I really think that the Egypt stuff in Raiders kind of drags. I never get bored in Last Crusade. This is probably due to script and editing. I know I went off the deep end in my Temple of Doom review about how much I loved the opening credit sequence of that movie. But then I forgot about the River Phoenix opening in Last Crusade. How did I forget this? It was so good, it inspired a much weaker television show about Young Indiana Jones. I never liked that show (although seeing that it is on Amazon Prime, I'm really tempted to watch it again and give it a chance). But the opening to Last Crusade is so much fun, despite the fact that it commits every prequel sin ever seen. Honestly, we get all of Indy's origin from this one sequence. We understand his obsession with archaeology. He gets the hat. His fear of snakes gets an origin story. He gets the whip. Heck, the movie even creates the scar that Harrison Ford has on his chin. Like, in a ten minute sequence, everything that has ever affected him shows up. (Now I'm really curious to watch The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles because he starts as a real little kid in some of them. Also, is Sean Connery at all involved because we saw a photo of him as a young man and it's just bearded James Bond.) (Second note: I just watched the first five minutes and it's a guy doing a Sean Connery impersonation. Man, the show didn't have the same quality as the movies by a lot. I don't think I've ever been transported back to the '90s faster than watching the first few minutes of that show.) But then it is constantly moving. Sure, it's weird that Indy just abandons office hours. Is Indy a bad teacher? Why is everyone lined up outside of his office? I always assumed that it was because everyone was star-struck with Indiana Jones and wanted to get to know him, but how would his office hours look like? Just people staring at him? Also, he's really behind on his grading, unlike other teachers. (This guy is on top of it!) But the movie really spends the right amount of time at every location. There's also the right amount of globe-hopping going on here. It's a bit silly that they're in Venice, but Venice is pretty. I can't blame them for wanting to do a boat chase. (Speaking of boat chase, Indy's boat diversion doesn't make a lick of sense. They quickly see that the boat is empty and he really uses the motorcycle too early.) But then there's the tank sequence. The tank sequence is phenomenal. Chalk this one up to the list of goofs, but Indy is afraid of getting smooshed against the rock because his satchel is stuck around the tank's gun. When it turns and he gets up, he's just fine without the bag being wrapped around the gun. Regardless, this is gnarly. I don't know, man. I never get bored in Last Crusade. I don't necessarily think all of the elements work as well as others, but nothing is straight up boring. This one flew by.
From a Catholic perspective, the narrative about faith is optimistic, if not a little cornball. It's so weird that Indiana Jones seems to be kind of an atheist. He's got that Han Solo skepticism all over these movies. He respects the history, but doesn't seem to actually believe in God, despite the fact that he's one of the few people in the 20th century who have had firsthand contact with God himself. It's kind of why I don't love Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (well, one among many reasons). Crystal Skull isn't really about faith in religion. It's about faith in aliens. That's a very different theme going on there. But Last Crusade focuses on the two very polarizing views of exploration into faith. Indy is about facts and history (and blowing stuff up) while is father is on a holy quest. There's a reason that this is called the Last Crusade. His father expresses his faith through the hunt for this ancient object. You'd think it would be easy to convince Indiana Jones to have faith considering all that he has experienced, but it is a major moment for him. He's always believed once he's seen, but even then it is temporary. (Well, not seen or his face would have melted away...or would it?) But to save his father, he has to believe without seeing. It's so bizarre that the actual faith ended up being a series of tricks. He has this faith and I know that God didn't make the traps to protect the Holy Grail, but it does kind of take the wind out of our sails. Indiana Jones finally has faith and it's a series of tricks. That's a bummer. The weird thing is that the supernatural elements of faith are there, but you can only accept them after you watch someone rapidly age to death. It's an odd message being sent, but I low-key like the idea. The more you think about it, the worse it gets. My advice, which I try not to have to do with my faith: try not to think too hard about it and it kind of works.
Part of me wants to give Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull one last chance. Last Crusade is so good that I have a lot of goodwill left over to go into the one that has yet to really impress me. I know that billion-year-old Harrison Ford wants to do one more to end on a positive note, which I can't blame him. Regardless, I can always mentally treat Last Crusade as the last entry in the franchise.
An R rated Judd Apatow entry. I mean, get ready for all of the explicit content you can handle under the umbrella of a cheery disposition. It's got so much cursing. Adults cursing, kids cursing. Old people curse in it. I mean, old people are adults, but if that's your hot button, they curse. Also, there's more than a little bit of casual nudity, sometimes in a sexual context, sometimes not. There's some pretty mild violence and blood. None of it is done with malice or with the intention of being erotic, but you can't say it isn't there either. R.
DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow
Yeah, I like this movie. I don't know why I'm instantly apologizing. I like Judd Apatow a lot. I think he's a funny dude. Would I ever want to watch this movie with my parents or my in-laws? Golly, no. No. Forever no. When my wife was in the hospital giving birth to our first born, we watched The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Do you understand how awkward that was? We were constantly lowering the volume and doing side-eye to the hallway. Judd Apatow hits a sweet spot with my wife and me. It's crass and perhaps more than we should be okay with, but it is always sweet. That's the thing about Judd Apatow. He's gross, but in the way that a lot of people are gross. I'm not saying that the characters are anywhere near our moral sphere, but I also kind of understand the characters.
We thought we were so hip and old when we saw this in 2012. Seven years ago, I was 28. My wife and I looked at each other and said, "Boy, they finally made a movie for us." We had one kid at the time and she was a baby. We were lying to ourselves now. My wife already thinks she's 40 and she's practically the same age as me. Apatow's stories are stories of the universal. Mind you, these stories would be universal if everyone we knew was hilarious and topical. I don't know if movies like This is 40 exist in reality or maybe a version of Hollywood reality. But Apatow gets people at their cores. The characters in Apatow movies act how I want to react to things. Those really mean things I think in my soul, they actually verbalize. But Apatow isn't encouraging people to let fly with their repressed emotions. Rather, these characters are painted in pretty rough lights when they spout off on their spouses or strangers. It actually makes me feel better as a person because we all see what should have been done versus what actually happened. This is 40 kind of takes it a step further considering that it defines itself as "the sort of sequel to Knocked Up." It's a spin-off, but the tagline they have works perfectly fine. Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd's characters are the ones who think that they have their lives together compared to the rough and tumble Seth Rogen. But they are mean people for a lot of the first movie. This is 40 doesn't necessarily change them. They are still kind of selfish and mean, but in realistic ways. I suppose that This is 40 should be way more depressing for me than it actually is. But instead of focusing on the selfish elements of them, they are more about survival. Like all of us, they have been fed the same lie that they are special and deserving of dream fulfillment.
That's pretty cynical. I'm really not doing the themes justice, but I can't help but address the issues that come with pursuing a dream. They have a family. They have the nuclear family, for goodness sake. They have a beautiful house and kids who, despite being rough for a lot of the movie, are absolutely lovable. But the adults of the film can't stop worrying about their own happiness. I am constantly fighting for my wife's happiness. It's kind of my priority in life. But a large part of me also wants to be happy. The This is 40 version of me would flip priorities. At no point do I think Leslie Mann wants Paul Rudd to be sad. The same holds true for Paul Rudd. He always wants his wife to be happy. But these are people who look out for themselves first. Pete wants Debbie to be happy as long as he can keep pursuing his dream of being a record producer. There are moments in there that I completely relate to. I want to be an author. Part of me is absolutely terrifying. I suppose I use my family as an excuse to not finish my novel. But I also know that I can't pull that card unless I am able to write for multiple hours at a time without interruption. (These blogs are written piecemeal in the five minutes here and there over the course of a day. It's why they get clunky from time to time.) But I'm always going to put my family first and that's what This is 40 kind of addresses. It's not a perfect analysis, but it's like 40 is the age that we have to decide how much we invest in ourselves versus the other. It's never a clear break like that in the film, but 40 is hard. Heck, 30 was hard. I can't imagine how my body is going to fall apart by 40. It's all these desires to be something bigger than you are and how that always doesn't work out. It's just so weird to see Debbie come down on Pete for his eating habits considering that he's really in shape and looks like he's younger than me.
Perhaps the complexity of Apatow's themes makes it hard for me to hit this analysis the way I want to. I think I don't like a lot of romantic comedies because they never seem like real relationships. Pete and Debbie belong together. They are absolutely in love, but love isn't always as easy as just doing what we want to all the time. It's obstacles from the outside. It's weird to think of my wife at work right now. She might be having a wonderful day. It might be the worst. But I want her just to be happy and I think that Apatow gets that. It is failing despite our best intentions. It's failing because our best intentions don't work, so we resort to the worst elements of our personalities. I'm terrified to see what happens when my kids stop seeing me as a god. It's going to be when I hit 40. My oldest is going to look at me and see the dork that everyone else sees. She's going to regret knowing so much Legend of Zelda trivia and I don't know how I'm going to handle it. A major element of how everything changes as we age is the relationship we have with our parents. In This is 40, Pete's dad is around the corner. He's a mooch and is loving the change in dynamic between parent and kid. Then there's the missing father story. Golly, John Lithgow is uncomfortable in this movie. Don't worry. He's supposed to be. Both my wife and I come from families that stayed together. I dealt with death on my side, but my wife hasn't experienced that. But I don't know what it would be like if my family decided to completely abandon us for years. This is 40 never deals with death, which I find odd. That seems like something that is way more prevalent for people our age. But This is 40 deals with abandonment and the balance that comes from wanting to be taken care of again. I love how earnest and honest Pete's birthday party is. Mind you, I wouldn't ever want to experience what they experience at Pete's birthday party, but the relationships don't always work out the way they are supposed to. People do let us down more than we care for. But there are moments, these silver lining moments, that warm the heart.
I suppose that, as bleak of a look at marriage This is 40 is, this is a story about the wonders of marriage and family. Pete and Debbie will always have problems, but they have these problems together. You get the vibe that Pete's 40th birthday party is the biggest hurtle that the two of them have faced and that they have both come out alive. Money issues suck, but they are just problems. Love is constantly changing and the movie stresses that marriages should be work. Considering that Pete and Debbie fight for the entire film, they don't really discuss divorce. There's a dangerous moment in the movie when an athlete (football?) hits on Debbie thinking she's single. She's wildly flattered, but she never even leads him on. The second she understands that she is the apple of his eye, she talks all about her marriage. She's actually confused by the flirtation and understands that not everyone is in the same situation. Marriage isn't always fun, but This is 40 explores why it is worth it. It does it in a really funny fashion. Sure, I don't love Jason Segel being around for the bulk of the movie. That confuses me more than anything that everyone is okay with that relationship. But these two will always be together. And I don't think it is because of the kids. I don't love their parenting style. In fact, it makes me cringe to think that real life couple Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow probably talk that way in front of their kids, who are the kids in this movie. The swearing makes me cringe, but I digress. These are people who are so devoted to marriage and family that the absence of any of these things doesn't even click with them. This isn't a film about divorce and how they rediscover their marriage. This is problem solving through marriage and that's pretty admirable. I know. Now I'm making this film a holy experience. It is far from that, but I still consider it a noble film.
Judd Apatow movies, for the most part, are all about the heart of the matter. Yes, they are wildly filthy. This is 40 only works when I watch it with my wife. It is about marriage and how rough it is, but that's a great thing. We kept on laughing at the movie, but we also laughed at ourselves. We felt better about ourselves as a couple as we inch towards our mutual 40th birthday parties. Yeah, it can be a bit of a bummer at times, but that's what life is. Apatow captures that through his characters in ways that make us smile, despite the fact that people are sometimes terrible to one another.
It's an exceptionally self-indulgent episode this week as the guys get to talk Trek. We explore the long-mentioned Federation-Klingon War that is the centerpiece of Discovery's (pretty good) first season, as well as a little more meandering journey through the themes that Star Trek loves to revisit.
PG! Glorious PG! The grossest thing in the movie are these microorganisms that grow to insane sizes. They look like maggots the size of snakes and they try to choke out the Klingon commander. The Klingon dog also looks a little gross. But honestly, the movie is pretty chill. They talk about Pon farr, which involves the coming of age of a Vulcan, but that's pretty low key. If you wanted an actual PG action movie in the '80s that was actually PG, look to Star Trek. It's great. I get to watch these at home and if the kids walk in, the kids walk in.
DIRECTOR: Leonard Nimoy
Simon Pegg, before the heavens decided to put him in a movie that disproved the point, said that the only good Star Trek movies were the even numbered entries. There might be a moral tale to be told from the Star Trek franchise that I don't think many studios think about nowadays. There is always the knee jerk reaction to reboot a franchise the second a weaker entry enters the series. I'm not talking about a bad entry. I'm talking about an entry that wasn't as good as the previous movie. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is a blessed movie that can't be blamed for destroying a franchise because it landed smack dab in 1984, a time where a weaker entry could still find footing.
I have very few negative things to say about The Search for Spock. It may not appear that way because I tend to get real negative about film the more I write about it, but keep in mind that I kind of like The Search for Spock. It's one of those movies that I'm aware is shameless because it instantly tries to retcon Spock's death. Oh wait, you didn't know that Spock died? I mean, the title of this movie is The Search for Spock. Spock's death is one of the most famous scenes in Star Trek history. I'm not bolding that for you. Instead, I'm going to write all this filler to justify my outrage. Part of me can't get over the fact that Star Trek II killed off perhaps the major character of the franchise only to bring him back in Star Trek III. I'm sure that the folks over at Paramount knew that they couldn't sell Star Trek without Spock. The only thing that really makes me happy that this movie exists is that Leonard Nimoy directed it. The way I understand it, and it has been decades since I read the books about this stuff, is that Leonard Nimoy wanted out of the franchise at the beginning of Star Trek II. He agreed, in his most Harrison Ford attitude, that he would come back if Spock died in Star Trek II. But once he was filming Star Trek II and he knew that Nicholas Meyer had a good head on his shoulders and that test audiences loved it, they refilmed the end to imply that Spock had a chance to come back through Dr. McCoy. Again, it is so odd when narratives only exist because of business decisions. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock kind of cheapens the emotional impact of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I mean, people still love The Wrath of Khan. But we never actually get one of the original series movies without Spock. That's really odd. I'm not saying that Spock shouldn't have come back or even that Star Trek III should completely ignore Spock. But what about the slow roll out that Spock might come back in Star Trek IV? Do some teasing. Lay the groundwork. Have Nimoy appear in III in hidden teases. Maybe I've been corrupted by the Marvel movies, but it is so very odd that it exists.
But Nimoy directing the movie? He went from being completely out and done with Spock to directing a movie that has his character's name in the title. Star Trek III isn't amazing, but it seems like Nimoy is excited to direct it. There's a lot of good that actually happens in this movie to push the franchise forward. I know that this seems small, but the tease of the U.S.S. Excelsior is such a smart move. The Excelsior comes into play in Star Trek VI and I don't know if any of that is intentional here. But the Excelsior plays a part of showing that the old dogs have some new tricks. At the onset of Wrath of Khan and, to some extent, The Motion Picture, the Enterprise is played around with being a ship with gusto. She was refitted with all kinds of bells and whistles and she kind of, if you squint, appears to be the flagship. But then it is put side-by-side with the Excelsior and you forget that she's a training vessel. I teach "Old Ironsides" and I can't help but make the comparison with the poem. It seems unceremonious to have ships like the Excelsior fancying up the galaxy while the Enterprise is meant to be decomissioned and rotting. Honestly, the bad-teacher part of me wants to show my English class The Search for Spock now because it is Holmes's thesis played out in film. SPOILER: Nimoy blows up the Enterprise. (Okay, that might be a fabulous metaphor for how Nimoy felt about Star Trek. If anyone is going to blow that thing up, Nimoy would.) In "Old Ironsides", Holmes laments the decommissioning of the U.S.S. Constitution, a ship that couldn't be sunk. He advocates for putting her out to sea one last time and letting the sea take her violently, fulfilling her fate of being a warship. Kirk and company have to steal her to make it happen. They actively go against orders and betray the Federation to steal the Enterprise and get Spock back. The destruction of the Enterprise is what makes this movie feel worthy. There's something slow and decrepit about how the Enterprise is treated over the three movies. The original crew's movies constantly address their aging. Big surprise, The Simpsons picked up on that. But the Enterprise is a cast member. Being more of a Star Trek guy than a Star Wars guy, I always had more love for the original Enterprise than the Millennium Falcon. Watching the ship blow up is paradoxical for me. Watching her grow old and have big old holes in the side of her hull is depressing. Watching the ship blow up to take out the bad guys, however, is glorious. It also seems to be something major. SPOILER FOR STAR TREK IV: I know that they get a new Constitution (I GET THE CONNECTION!) Class ship named the Enterprise. I know it looks almost exactly the same as the one that blew up. But the actual ship was in pieces on Genesis. Well, it was, before Genesis blew up too. Man, when Kirk wrecks something, he really wrecks it. Kirk and crew standing on the surface of Genesis, watching the wreckage burn up above, is heartbreaking. But it is the moment that the movie needs more than anything else. It makes the movie.
I always thought that another part made up the movie and this watching changed my mind. The crew stealing the Enterprise was always cool to me before. But it also is way too easy. The Federation is wildly incompetent to actually make it work. There's lots of moments that we kind of just have to accept to explain how easy it is to steal a Federation starship. The big one I have that the movie actually points out is Uhura's new position as transporter chief on Starbase Whatever. It's amazing that she requests a completely stupid job transfer, immediately gets it, and does so in a timely manner that allows the Enterprise crew to steal back the Enterprise. In my head, it was Danny Ocean trying to get the Enterprise. It wasn't. They borderline just pointed guns and took it. Scotty managed to get the ship to run on minimal staff. I didn't realize that was really a thing. There are so many things to trip up and a lot of it was explained by Scotty being a miracle worker. Why did I have that moment in my head as being this big elaborate thing? In my head, it involved me shouting "No way!" a lot and trying to wrap my head around things. Nope. They just kind of do it. On a parallel thought, what do you think Christopher Lloyd thinks of Star Trek III. He's the big bad of the movie. He's clearly Christopher Lloyd. Christopher Lloyd: The Klingon. He had to put on annoying makeup everyday, but I don't think he's in the movie that much. He also has to get beat up by Kirk. I feel like Kruge seems to be a big villain. I mean, SPOILER, he kills David (one of the quickest returns to status quo I've seen in a franchise). But he also gets beat up by Kirk. Most of the movie is just Lloyd sitting in a captain's chair barking out orders. The orders aren't even that good. The Enterprise spots a cloaked Bird of Prey, which is pretty impressive. But the only reason that Kruge is able to stop Enterprise is because she is minimally staffed and Scotty hadn't planned on combat. That doesn't really show competence. The killing of David seems like such a moment of housekeeping that it is almost irresponsible that it is in this movie. The second movie introduces a major element to Kirk's story. He was not allowed to raise a child. He finally has this child accept him as his father. He is going to bond with the kid and the kid is unceremoniously killed by a random Klingon who wants a missile? I suppose that's how stupid death really is, but it feels very cheap. David Marcus / Kirk really has no character to explore. We know that he doesn't trust Starfleet in Wrath of Khan because of Kirk, but we never get to know David beyond that point. He continues his study of the Genesis device, but only dies to the fact that he failed in his calculations to create life from nothing. I guess that's double housekeeping because Genesis also doesn't work. It can't show up as a device (pun intended) if Starfleet scraps it for not working. Also, where is Carol? How does she feel about David's death? There's all these questions.
Young Spock is fun. Saavik constantly changing roles is confusing to me, but for a movie called The Search for Spock, I thought that we'd get far more insight into Spock's origins. Really, the most interesting stuff with Spock is the stuff that DeForest Kelly brings to the character. That might be the most satisfying element of The Search for Spock. For decades, these characters have gotten on each others' nerves and this movie explores the understanding that McCoy finally gets by carrying Spock's soul. It doesn't undo their fighting, but shows how valuable their friendship was to one another. Oddly, as much as this is a search for Spock, it is also a mission to save Doctor McCoy. I still completely miss the entire cast getting movies to play. This is not the ensemble movie really. We have this moment at the end of Search for Spock where they all simultaneously reach to say hi to Spock. That might be a metaphor for the experience for the cast in general. They all kind of just wait around for the big name to have yet another big scene and then they get to congratulate him on it. I really feel bad for Nichelle Nichols. She's hanging out on Vulcan. I dare you to tell me how she escaped the starbase after the Enterprise escapes. They didn't beam her anywhere. I don't know why they didn't, but they all said that they would meet up at the appointed destination. The second Enterprise left those starbase doors and Excelsior shut down, she should have been the first one investigated. I'm just saying. But in terms of serving the big three of the original series, this movie does it in spades. I love that McCoy finally gets a story. The other movies are really just the Kirk and Spock movies. But McCoy is always present. Giving him a real plot connecting him to Spock is a great choice and I still miss DeForest Kelly.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock is a better movie than people give it credit for. If it wasn't constantly trying to backpedal for what happened in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, it would be considered a much better entry in the franchise. And thank God that reboots weren't a thing because then we wouldn't get Space Splash with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
PG, but it's 100% my "Exhibit A" for how the MPAA is full of snot. It looks and sounds and feels like a kids' movie. It isn't a kids' movie. This is full on a Wes Anderson R rated movie. I can show parts of the movie to my kids, but there's so much going on in this movie. The big one is that Anderson curses like a sailor in the movie, but replaces every word with the word "cuss." He even goes so far as to say, "Clustercuss", to really let you know exactly which word is being replaced. Also, Fox kills another animal. There's just stuff in this. Bean is in charge of making alcoholic cider, which is interesting as a choice. I don't know if this is in the Dahl version. Regardless, technically PG.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
For Christmas, I received both Isle of Dogs and the Criterion version of Fantastic Mr. Fox. I had already reviewed Isle of Dogs, as proven by the hyperlink above. But I wanted to watch both of these movies again to see if Wes Anderson had become a different animation director from his original outing with animation. In the course of watching both of these movies so close to each other, I now realize that I might absolutely adore Anderson as an animation director more than a live action director. Before, I had written Fantastic Mr. Fox off as his gimmicky offshoot. But between Isle of Dogs and Fantastic Mr. Fox, I realized that this earns a spot at the table as much, if not more, than his other live action outings.
I always want to show Fantastic Mr. Fox to my kids. I kind of already tiraded about this in the MPAA section, but it is so bizarre to think that this movie was marketed to kids. It is licensed from Roald Dahl's novel of the same name. Wes Anderson is an art house director who makes quirky comedies for hipster adults. It is bizarre to think that he wanted to something that was built around material made for children. I'm sure that 20th Century Fox (heh) thought that they had a goldmine on their hands. (Okay, I have no idea what studios think about Wes Anderson, but he can give a bit of street cred to a studio.) There's this big name director wanting to do your kids' movie. Sure, they gave him free rein. But for years, I tried showing my kids this movie. My kids wanted nothing to do with this movie after watching the first minute of the movie. It was only after I told them that they couldn't watch parts of it that they really wanted to see it. There were sections that I allowed them to watch. But they weren't laughing at it. I was howling. I think every parent has lamented about the trend with kids' comedies. The jokes are meant to be aimed at both kids and adults. Some movies, like The Grinch, only aim the jokes at kids. Wes Anderson almost intentionally shoots himself in the foot and makes none of the jokes for the kids. All of the jokes in the movie are pretty heady and artsy jokes. I actually had the best time in the world when I watched this movie after the kids went to bed. The other time, I was praying that they weren't getting what was going on. These are children's characters with very grounded realities. One of the animals is a realtor for goodness sake. That's the big joke that Anderson is playing at. These are animals that have very boring lives. We're only reminded that they are animals when someone points it out or they start eating savagely.
But if you take the kid element out of Fantastic Mr. Fox, it holds up as one of the better Wes Anderson movies of the past few years. The addition of animation to Anderson's narrative sense adds as a sense of grandeur. Until The Grand Budapest Hotel, his stories often tended to be people talking and walking with little action to be added to that. But animation lets stunt work happen that I haven't really seen in Anderson's other films. Fox has the playground / antagonists in Boggis, Bunce, and Bean. The addition of action, somehow, still fits in the voice of Anderson himself. As Anderson's characters tend to be criminally direct with one another, the action of Fantastic Mr. Fox is also brusquely direct. Fox is matter-of-fact about all of his heists. I love that George Clooney has entered Wes Anderson's world, which kind of blows my mind. I'm not saying that celebrity has shied away from indie movies, but I just want to be a fly in the room when Anderson asked Clooney to bring Danny Ocean to an animated fox. Clooney nails it and the meta humor of the Danny Ocean trope being injected into a fox that steals chickens and apple cider is just sublime. I guess what I'm dancing around is that Anderson, despite a completely new medium, is still a master at character and satire. Clooney nails the message of Mr. Fox. Fox is, like Anderson's other protagonists, a child in terms of dealing with aging. Oddly enough, despite the fact that Fox is lambasted by his peers for being irresponsible and childish, is possibly the most mature of Anderson's protagonists. He has a wife and child. He has a job. Really, the story is about a midlife crisis that hits him. It isn't called that. But Fantastic Mr. Fox is about that grasping for youth that fades with responsibility. Fox is still a likable character throughout. I suppose that I should be criticizing Anderson's man-children, but I tend to see his male protagonists as simply flawed, not criminal.
If I think about Fantastic Mr. Fox, I think of a simple story about a Fox who outwits his human neighbors through a series of thefts. But what seems to be the A plot is almost the setting. Anderson continues his obsession with relationships and family. The fact that Fox has decided to go back to his life of theft despite his promise is a tale about how families adapt and how communication is vital to life. Fox has the cockiness of a Steve Zissou and says a lot. But he doesn't often say the right thing. This is telling with his relationship with Ash and Mrs. Fox. Ash is a wonderful character who is the perfect foil for Fox. Fox is confident and mostly successful in his efforts. Ash...isn't. Ash wants to be tall and athletic, but he doesn't possess any of those qualities. He just tries really hard. When Kristofferson enters the picture, there's this whole deeper level. While Fox can't communicate in a healthy manner with Ash, Ash can't communicate well with Kristofferson. Fox and Ash is a narrative about approval. Ash and Krisofferson is about jealousy. There's levels there. Mrs. Fox possibly has it even worse. She is the strong family head who isn't seen as the family head. She makes the tough choices while her husband is galavanting around reliving his glory days. There's this completely heavy line that probably would destroy a child. She tells her husband that she loves him, but wishes that she hadn't married him. That's a weird paradox and is telling about the regrets of her life. Mrs. Fox and characters like Mrs. Fox tend to get completely ignored by the male protagonist. I'm not saying that Fantastic Mr. Fox is a sufficient answer for how women are treated in cinema. But Mrs. Fox comes across as validated for being the glue in the family. Her painting is fun, but it is also the way that she deals with the fact that she's not a kid anymore. She has embraced adulthood in a way that shows how irresponsible Mr. Fox is. The movie is a journey of people discovering that "The Fantastic Mr. Fox" is an inappropriate title because it forces him to try to be that time and time again. It's a fine line. Anderson seems to have this great cake-and-eat-it-too attitude about the whole thing. Fox is scolded for his obsession with his own ego. His actions have effects on those around him. He has this epiphany that he is causing everyone's misery. This is the moment where the unstoppable force of the theme meets the immovable object of having the Hollywood ending. It would be a real bummer if the movie ended with Foxy's surrender and eventual death. SPOILER: Instead, we get an even bigger hair-brained scheme that seems to contradict everything Fox learned in the course of the film. That's great. I didn't want this one to be a bummer. I love bummer endings, but a bummer ending attached to this would have made me rather sad.
I wonder if animation scratches a certain itch for Anderson. My theory is that it addresses a need to create from scratch. Now, I know that he's not the one hand animating the puppets. But I'm looking back at his other movies and I keep noticing what role art and creation have in his mise en scene. He has a very particular style. Heck, I can probably recognize some of Anderson's artwork (which I don't think is actually created by him) sooner than I would recognize a Monet. But Fantastic Mr. Fox almost exists in the world of his miniature images in the setting of his other films. I think back to The Darjeeling Limited and how art played a role in that. From a color scheme perspective, everything seems like it is plucked right out of Anderson's brain. I'll tell you what, and this is personal. These are the colors that I really enjoy. This movie is a warm blanket for me. It's very pretty to look at. Like I mentioned, I watched this with Isle of Dogs. I think that I like the look of Isle of Dogs a little better. There's a bit too much movement on everything in Fantastic Mr. Fox. I want to blame it on the fact that every character is covered in hair. But dogs have hair too, so I don't know how accurate that guess is. But both movies look absolutely gorgeous. I guess it is a blessing that Isle of Dogs was on his docket. I suppose that means that the animated entries will keep coming back into play because I really like how these movies feel. They have a scope that the other movies don't. Oddly enough, if they weren't animated, I'd have to qualify them as action comedies rather than simply comedies. There's a lot going on there. The movement gets us to these really great locations. I don't know why it sticks out more than other locations, but Bean's Cider factory is gorgeous. His use of light through the bottles of cider is weirdly effective. I just realized that if I wanted to have something play in the background of everything I did, it might be the cool look of this movie.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is a much better movie than I ever gave it credit for before. It's interesting. It's funny. It also seems to be Wes Anderson unfiltered, which is odd because he actually has to watch out for the MPAA this time. Sure, he replaces his language with the word "cuss", but it really does the job overall. Also, I want to play whackbat. I know someone out there has tried it...
R. I wanted to write, "Rated R because it's Die Hard, but that's not true. The next one is PG-13. Regardless, we have quite a bit that would be considered R-rated in this film. The language alone is pretty intense. Let's add onto the fact that a lot of it is racially motivated. Then there's the violence. Oy, the violence! There's some violent sex, but I don't think that there's any nudity. Regardless, this movie has earned the R-rating.
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan
This movie is not the same movie that it was in 1995. In a weird conglomeration of moments that reminded me of the events that have transpired 24 years, there's a lot of establishing shots of the World Trade Center. In a movie without a ton of references, they namedrop both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. In that Hillary Clinton example, they were fairly certain that Hillary Clinton would be president. It's a very step-out-of-yourself movie. And it's Die Hard 3. I shouldn't be constantly removed from a movie based on some weird fourth wall breaking stuff. I should be thinking about how great the third entry in the series should be. I think Die Hard with a Vengeance was my favorite at one point in time. It's a very great "return to form." I use quotations because I am one of the die hard Die Hard 2 fans. (I can close up the blog after that wonderful bit of writing. It gets no better than that.) But Die Hard with a Vengeance was only fun this time. It didn't blow my mind this time. I don't know if any of it is actually Die Hard with a Vengeance's fault. Mainly because Die Hard with a Vengeance shows its age stronger than the other entries of the series. I'm not used to feeling like '90s films show their age so hard, but Die Hard with a Vengeance shows what the blockbuster films of the '90s were really like.
You know that old idiom, "Yesterday's liberal is today's conservative"? Yeah, Die Hard with a Vengeance was revolutionary entry in the series in 1995. It feels like I'm writing about the 1950s, but Die Hard 3's themes of race really run smack dab in the middle of our discussion of race today, it's odd to think that this idea probably was once progressive. I love the addition of Samuel L. Jackson to the DieHardiverse. (Patent pending.) He's great, especially because I have no real love for Bruce Willis. He's a fun actor and all, but I actually really like Samuel L. Jackson. My wife might not care for him that much, but he's okay in my book. But Samuel L. Jackson's Zeus brings up a political climate that is as powerful today as it was then. The only issue is that it is in the background of this film as opposed to the forefront where it belongs. Zeus hates McClane because of the history of abuse by white police officers in Harlem. This is huge. Die Hard with a Vengeance talks about race relations with the police and makes one of the two protagonists a crusader for change. But part of Zeus's character is that he is the one who changes. John McClane can't change. I mentioned in my Die Hard 2 review that McClane's changes actually stuck from the first movie. But John McClane is set back to zero in terms of his growth. Because this character is now spearheading a franchise, he has to be a tabula rasa. He can't actually retain any of the character growth that he experienced in previous films. He has no relationship with Holly. He can't even have Alan. His dynamic is that of a lone wolf burdened with help that he didn't really look for. (Okay, he kind of looks for Alan, but not Alan specifically.) If the movie needs a character arc, McClane can't really have that change. He doesn't actually get back with Holly in this one. He makes the phone call, but then it doesn't really end with a happy ending with his wife. Heck, he's even a New York cop again. So all of the character growth has to be heaped upon Zeus.
And that leads me to the line that irks me a bit. John McClane calls Zeus a racist. He hates white people. This is a time that we thought that race was simple. I remember thinking in the '90s that anyone could be racist. (I'm aware of what I'm writing. I'm writing a film criticism. There's even nuance to the nuance that I'm writing.) But there is no understanding of privilege when it comes to Die Hard with a Vengeance. Zeus makes his character change. He becomes far more cooperative with McClane. They actually kind of become friends when Zeus gets woke. But I can see how this was a big progressive moment in the '90s. It's the whole "Give-Peace-a-Chance" moment that has some value, but is wildly too simple. It's such a weird moment when Zeus is seen to be the morally questionable one. It's so interesting to think of Zeus in the 21st Century. Zeus can exist as a character. He's actually a minable character because there is a depth there. He's fallible, but that's because he lies to himself. When Zeus confesses why he saves McClane, he says that he is stopping a white cop from being killed in Harlem. But Zeus doesn't know McClane is a cop when he saves him. He values life and I don't think he realizes this. He is a more noble hero than he is aware of. He sees mental illness and doesn't respond with hate. Having McClane point out his genuine goodness might be a better character change for Zeus. Instead of being accused of being a racist, he could acknowledge that he finds value in the preservation of life and the progression of a cause. I really like that angle of it. Regardless...
It's really weird to think that Die Hard with a Vengeance wasn't already a Die Hard movie. I don't understand how Die Hard 3 was made. It had to go through a million drafts, right? It was simply supposed to be a good action movie. But Die Hard with a Vengeance is the first one that gives John McClane a mythology. Die Hard 2: Die Harder is a copy of the first film. The only thing that really ties part 2 to a greater universe is the fact that everyone has to acknowledge, but ultimately ignore, the events at Nakatomi Tower. But Die Hard with a Vengeance embraces the events of the first film. I mean, John McTienrnan directs the first and the third entry, which is odd because the movies look very different from one another. (It takes place in the middle of the summer. That helps.) The ties to Hans Gruber are central to the film. What did the original film look at? I mean, making John McClane the protagonist is such a shorthand. The movie ultimately feels way more personal than the first two films. The first two films have a larger than life story fall into John McClane's lap. It's actually so boggling of the mind that the character has to address this coincidence multiple times in the second film. But the problem finds McClane here. It chases him. In the film, McClane is on suspension and spends the entire time on a bender. It is the event that calls him out and singles him out as the only person who can deal with this threat. So who was the original protagonist? The back of my brain is scratching at me and telling me that this movie was called "Simon Says" or something like that. But the movie is ultimately personal, with a twist that mirrors the original Die Hard. It's just such a Die Hard movie at heart. Who wrote this? Was he a Die Hard fan? Is it anything like the original film? I'm sure all these questions have been answered at one point or another. But the movie is really interesting. It's a real simple concept that I'm surprised more screenwriters haven't done before this. When building a plot, there have to be certain hoops that a protagonist has to be thrown through. A direct line from A to B makes a boring story. But this movie smartly just uses the obstacle course as something very literal. John and Zeus have to get from one point to another because the bad guy tells him to. Why didn't we just do that earlier? Having Simon create this labyrinth for McClane keeps the movie constantly movie. Heck, the very nature of transportation becomes a major plot point. Rather than McClane just being at a new location is riveting. I mean, there's some parts of your brain that need to be shut off, but that's not the worst thing in the world like this. Hans Gruber will always be the uber-villain of the Die Hard films, but Simon actually kind of dwarfs him a bit.
The way that John captures Simon is a bit...weak? It seems like such a stretch. SPOILERS because I really want to talk about it. It's weird that Simon is carrying a bottle of aspirin on him. The fact that he throws it to McClane as an insult is even more odd. The fact that this bottle of aspirin has the exact location of the bad guys' getaway point is just beyond expectation. I really like that it looks like McClane actually loses in this one. But to resolve this very deep hole that is dug, the ladder has to be taller. We get a good ending to the movie, but not a great one. The thing about Simon is that he's really good at this. I know, it is satisfying to have the master planner stymied by something completely dumb. But this moment is beyond reproach. On top of that, the big resolution and face-off is just meh. I know that McClane doesn't really have that with Hans either. There's no big fight. Instead, he just drops him off a building. Shooting down Simon's helicopter is only okay at best. It feels like Jeremy Irons and Bruce Willis aren't even in the same location with this face-off. That's odd. Also, why is Zeus there? I mean, I'd have Zeus there too. But realistically, he's done with the story. It would actually be endangering a civilian to bring him. Is the hotel in Quebec? Is it on the American side? I don't think so, with all of the French stuff going on. Were the Canadians cool with allowing American law enforcement planning a very intense operation all willy-nilly? Considering the crafting of the rest of the film, the customs at the Canadian border is just a really weird choice.
Die Hard with a Vengeance used to be my favorite in the series. It was still a good time, but it feels really dated today. I know it's no one's faults, but it is so odd to see moments reminding you that the world has changed beyond people constantly using payphones. Regardless, it is a fun entry in the series and possibly the last great entry in the Die Hard franchise.
Rated R for really uncomfortable maturity things that happen in eighth grade. There's language, but the language isn't the red flag. There's a lot of people dealing with their sexuality uncomfortably. A boy makes lewd suggestions to the protagonist. An eighth grade boy pleasures himself during a health class video. An older student tries pressuring the protagonist into sex. I heard that some classes went to go see this because of its accuracy to eighth grade problems, but it is a pretty explicit film. R.
DIRECTOR: Bo Burnham
My big question is that Bo Burnham didn't really have a normal childhood. That's what I understand and I might be way off. If I am, I apologize to everyone in the world, simply because I can. But how in the world did Bo Burnham write such a truthful tale about being a junior high girl? Okay, I'm not a junior high girl. But for half of my career, I taught junior high girls and boys. The other half of my career has been high school (ride or die!). Yeah, Eighth Grade is fiction, but it feels so real. It feels so real that it is uncomfortable. That's kind of the message. Being a teenager is way more uncomfortable than it is cool. College is great. High school is rough.
I'm not saying that I didn't love high school. But can you imagine a more angsty time in your life? (If you are one of my students, you always have my utmost respect.) Eighth Grade is special because it doesn't take broad stokes at taking potshots at puberty. By that logic, Napoleon Dynamite has been the pace car for defining the awkward teenage experience. Instead, Burnham presents a protagonist who is complicated (which all authors should do). Elsie Fisher's Kayla is such a sympathetic character. My heart aches for her struggles. I want to find her a friend so badly. She is deserving of all of the attention. That being said, Kayla is kind of a terrible person. I don't think that Burnham would want me to shy away from that assessment. I don't know. He might be furious wherever he is. She is mean to those who love her and kind to those who scorn her. Do you know why that is? It's because everyone does that. Maybe everyone doesn't do it on the same scale as Kayla, but we all want to be appreciated by those higher ranked than we are. For some reason, we welcome the hurt that accompanies rejection. Now, think about how hard it was back in eighth grade. Yeah, that's tough. It's really hard to make new friends as a 35-year-old man, but I don't need that support system as much as I did then. I have people in my life that I love and appreciate. But I was convinced in junior high that no one would ever really love me. Kayla represents that fear better than I've seen on screen. She is so mean to her father. Her father loves her unconditionally. Kayla doesn't want unconditional love. I am paraphrasing Dan Harmon here, but unconditional love has an almost biological tie. It's almost being forced to love someone. Conditional love means that it is love that is given freely and an honest acceptance of someone else. It's probably why when conditional love evolves into unconditional love, we tend to treat that person a little worse. They can't reject us then. Kayla doesn't think about any of this stuff. From Kayla's perspective, she just wants to know why no one really likes her. Burnham imbues her with this duality that is so truthful. She simultaneously believes that she is the most worthy of love and the least worthy of love. Her videos is her thought that she is the most valuable creature in humanity. (This blog is mine. Please also check out my podcast at literallyanything.net.) But the show constantly presents to the social elite shows how little she actually likes herself.
I feel guilty giving credit to a white male for capturing the adolescent girl world. The world of Eighth Grade is a series of intricate traps that I never have to deal with. There's a scene where Kayla has to drive home with an older boy that she doesn't know. I've read testimony about the horrors of this experience and thought that I understood the fears that women face constantly. But empathy and sympathy are drastically different things. I've never felt it before until this moment. Like a good horror movie, I found myself screaming at the screen, begging for Kayla to get out of the car and running. I started breaking down Kayla's psychology and wondered if she had the gumption to run. I wanted that character break so badly to happen at that moment. I wanted her to make major leaps in personality and discover that the world wasn't built around social acceptance or popularity. It was watching a snake trying to devour a scared mouse. I knew that the mouse had no way to defend itself because it had never known a world where defense was an option. This actually might have been the most stressed out that I had ever been in a movie. Remember, I love and hate Kayla, but I became a father again instead of an audience member. That's the primary emotion I experience for the whole of Eighth Grade. I knew that my daughter would be in eighth grade in six years. I always feared the day that she left home and that we wouldn't have the same relationship that we do now. But now eighth grade scares me. Kayla's journey with her father is painful. Yeah, I criticize the choices that her father makes. That's very easy for me as the father of a six-year-old with a support system. But I also know that if I ever lost my great relationship with my daughter, I might do anything to get it back. I know that it is not about me and that's why I kept getting mad at dad. I suppose that my relationship with Kayla is the same relationship that I have with her dad. He is so flawed and wrong, but sympathetic simultaneously. Also, he's a guy with the best of intentions and knocks it out of the park at the end. Burnham has created this world that is just like ours...with the exception of a few scenes. There are some cinematic moments that kind of ring untrue for me throughout. We're maybe talking about two minutes of screen time total, but I can't help but point these out. Kayla's karaoke is cryptic. I might have misinterpreted this scene and it actually is a dream, but it just seems very Hollywood. I suppose it isn't too Hollywood-y because Kayla's life doesn't turn around because of one moment. Burnham claims that he had a very "karaoke" moment in his life, but it still reads a bit false. Then there's the scene that's for the viewer who has been kicked throughout the film. It is the confrontation and it's just the world of cinema. I really don't see Kayla making that decision. I mean, it feels great and cathartic, but that isn't the tone of the movie.
Her relationship with Gabe is great. Gabe seems a bit much, but Gabe kind of needs to be a bit a contrast to Kennedy. This kind of leads me into thinking about the entire supporting cast because the movie is so intimate. Shy of Kayla and her father, there are no real big parts. They all take a sliver of the movie, which oddly makes them more noticable. Gabe is the one who stands out. Gabe is the obvious poke to the audience. We all want Gabe to be embraced and accepted, though I doubt many of us would upon first meeting. It is great that his introduction is in Kennedy's pool because he is a life raft for Kayla. Her surrounding of water shows that she is drowning in this situation that she doesn't want to be in. I think of all of the parties I went to in high school and how I clearly didn't fit in. I had more confidence than Kayla, so it worked out B+ well. I'm mostly casual friends with a lot of the kids in high school. But the temptation that Kayla faces in that pool to hide is so palpable. I actually probably feel more of that at parties now than I did then. But Gabe comes across as this guy that gives her the excuse to hang out where no one can see her. For us, it's obvious that Gabe is a good guy from moment one and we see her mortified by the whole experience, to a certain extent. Kayla splits her dual nature, indulging in moments of appropriate childhood behavior. But then she puts on the show for Kennedy immediately afterwards, despite being almost instantly discovered for choosing a poor gift. (Oh, the gift that is unappreciated! Gosh darn you, Kennedy!) But then there's Olivia. For a character trope, she surprised me. It was so weird to see a character as earnest and healthy as Olivia in this movie. She's this double edged sword. She shows her that change is possible and that high school might be a time to redefine herself...but Olivia won't be there. Perhaps Olivia is the only healthy teenager and that's something I considered while watching Eighth Grade. It's so odd that Burnham makes me think like a teenager all over again.
It's such a small movie. I love it. I'm saying "small" in the sense that it doesn't try doing everything. Rather, it is a very intimate look at what makes a junior high student work. It's character and emotion and Burnham just nails it throughout. Thank God I didn't have a phone in high school. It was bad enough that I had AIM, but that social media pressure is tough.
Regardless, I hope you keep reading, because, um...you know. It's good to read! Reading, um, you know, makes you a better person. And you want to be the best person you can be. So you can, um, be the best, or whatever. Okay, thanks for reading. Remember to keep checking back because I'm, I'll, keep writing or whatever. Okay, bye! Gucci!
Rated PG. Again, we're looking at pre-PG-13 era of film. I don't mind watching Star Trek movies in front of my kids for the most part. They're mostly pretty harmless. In fact, I'd consider them probably more harmless than Star Wars movies. But Star Trek II is actually kind of gross at times. There's the ear things with Chekhov. That thing gave me nightmares when I was a kid. Today, it looks a little goofy, but practical effects always get me. Also, Khan gets a little gory and a guy is burned alive. But again...PG.
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Meyer
I got the Star Trek movies on Blu-Ray for Christmas! Don't worry, I rewatched Star Trek: The Motion Picture before watching Star Trek II. I do have standards. But these Blu-Rays are amazing. I have owned the Star Trek movies in so many formats at this point that I actually held off on these for a while. I had to get them as a gift to justify it, but I'm so glad I got them. I got the "Stardate Collection", which comes in a rad box. This box is out of print, but I asked for this version because it looks fancy. Yup. You can judge me all day. I give you permission. But this also gives me an excuse to rewatch these movies that I've seen a billion times. I haven't watched them since I started dating my wife. That's a decade ago. It doesn't matter. I remembered every moment of The Wrath of Khan.
The Wrath of Khan is considered the pinnacle of Star Trek. It is the one that a lot of people have seen and it is great. But it isn't actually my favorite in the series. It's so weird watching The Wrath of Khan immediately after finishing The Motion Picture. They are such different animals that I almost don't consider one to be a sequel of the other. But I kind of want to take it a step further than that. I almost consider Star Trek II on to not really be an extension of the TV show. I know the canonical answer. Jim Kirk is Jim Kirk...shy of Kelvinverse extensions. This is an older version of the same guy we saw on the TV show. But it seems like everyone is a drastically different person from the people we saw in the Original Series. A lot of these choices have to be coming from the actors themselves. After all, they aren't kids anymore. As the actor ages, I suppose it's smart that the characters age as well. But I think a good chunk of this comes from the mind of Nicholas Meyer, whom I hold in high regard. There's a certain terribleness that Nicholas Meyer brought into the world in his shaping of Roddenberry's universe. The original Star Trek was so pure and wild that it was probably unsustainable. What Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan does for Star Trek is that it grounds the whole thing. We still watch stories of strange new worlds, but in a way that seems to be an extension of what we can possibly understand. Science fiction seems to reflect the culture of the present. Writing science fiction in the sixties is drastically different from writing science fiction in the eighties. It should be. Perhaps Roddenberry was just too pure for us, but Star Trek II is the militarization of Starfleet. I'm bummed by this, but it really works. Like, it REALLY works. Gene Roddenberry's dream was to show how evolved humanity had become, focusing on exploration for exploration's sake. But that also is kind of toxic for engaging storytelling. The characters on Star Trek: The Original Series were too perfect. Their moral compasses were too optimistic. Nicholas Meyer militarizing the whole thing makes consequences for actions. I mean, that's the premise of the entire movie. Captain Kirk, in his optimistic youth, simply assumed that everyone would be fine on Ceti Alpha V. While Khan is a psychopath and a great villain, he's right about Kirk's blind optimism.
Kirk had a duty of care. Assuming everything will be fine is kind of the attitude of the old show. I will defend the old show to the death. I really like it. But there are a ton of episodes where the episodic format could be criminally problematic. The Federation, despite the Prime Directive, overthrows governments and religions all in the name of being evolved. That's dangerous. There's a reason that change is slow. Things need to develop in their own ways, their own pace. People need to take ownership. I know that Khan is an exceptional individual, but guards are in prisons for a reason. I just did a whole podcast on this by accident. Not to spoil next week's episode, but our discussion of Star Trek: Discovery breaks down the environmental shift from the original series to Star Trek II. Oddly enough, I do clearly see Khan as the villain and Kirk as the hero in this movie. But if I'm thinking critically, Khan has reason to be angry. I don't know if he is driven to be revenge angry. I mean, his wife did die because of Kirk's choice. The way I understand it, the only ones who really survive are those who are genetically manipulated to survive. It's Khan's mania that makes him an interesting villain. He has motive to enact revenge on Kirk, but the other members of Khan's crew don't hold the same obsession. They have the Reliant and are pleased to move on with their lives. It has to be assumed that there are many years ahead of them. After all, I don't remember children on the Botany Bay. (It's been a while. I can't guarantee that they weren't on board.) I know that the revenge tail has been told too many times, but The Wrath of Khan kind of nails it perfectly. If you didn't have all of the Genesis stuff, this movie would be insanely simple. It would be a starship v. starship thing. It's odd, because the Genesis stuff doesn't interest me all that much. It kind of feels like Star Trek related padding. Rather, the insanity of Khan is what drives this story and I love it. Ricardo Montalban is suitably goofy. I don't know why I'm so forgiving of his performance. Maybe because it makes him a larger than life villain that makes up for not living up to some of his characteristics.
Khan, as great as he is, doesn't really live up to his reputation. Part of that comes from the fact that Kirk is a Mary Sue. The entire story actually is a commentary about how Kirk is a Mary Sue. Kirk literally beats the unbeatable scenario by cheating. Kirk, as a character, is a cheat, but a fun cheat. So we have this unstoppable force meeting this unmovable object. Khan is meant to be smarter, stronger, and faster than Kirk. The closest fallibility that Kirk has is that he's aging. It's weird how Kirk makes it through Star Trek: Generations and they address how old he is in Part II. But a lot of what we get is that Khan has a B+ plan to sneak up on Kirk, which works because it is a surprise. That's really the only impressive part. He does go to Regula I and slaughters everyone, but we never actually see that savage brilliance in action. As much as I love Star Trek II, it is an exercise in "tell, don't show." It's a bummer. I simply believe that Khan is a threat. He is equally matched with Kirk, not a force to be reckoned with. Part of that comes from his inexperience with space travel. But a lot of his plan is on the fly and that kind of excuses him.
I don't know about the Carol and David Marcus element of the story. Since this movie is about consequences, Kirk's reputation as a womanizer comes to him as an old man. He has a child that he never raised. The movie does a solid job of defending his character in this situation, which I find odd. I still kind of view Kirk as a creep for not raising his kid. But the movie firmly establishes that Carol Marcus wanted nothing to do with Kirk and insisted that he stay away. I don't love David. I'm spoiling the next movie, but we never really get to know David as a compelling character. Attaching David to an adult Kirk is an odd choice considering so much surrounds Kirk's obsession with aging. He has apparently carried this secret with him for decades and it is interesting that he's also dealing with his negligence of fatherhood. It seems tangentially related, but it seems like these are two different issues that he's addressing simultaneously. There's something there that really needs to be addressed and I don't know if I have my finger on it. It's mostly because David is a milksop. (I just decided to stop mincing words.) He's just so blah and Kirk is so interesting.
MORE SPOILERS: Considering the fate of Spock in this movie, I find it interesting that Spock is actually not the center of attention in this movie. I think of the first film. Spock is so front and center of the first film that it seems necessary to attach his big story to that one. The Wrath of Khan forever transforms the views on Spock. Spock has this major revelation at the end of this film and it is teased once or twice before hand. While "The needs of the many..." quote is interesting and a motif, it is hardly the center of the plot. Spock's decision at the end stresses his dual nature of both Vulcan and human. He logically knows that the ship and its crew are more important than his own fears. But he does what he does out of love. He's a captain at this point. He literally could order someone to their death, but he chooses not to. The speech at the end confirms Kirk's weirdly xenophobic comment about being the "most human" is confirmed in that speech. Honestly, Spock's death should have come as a surprise. You'd think that a movie that leads to Leonard Nimoy leaving the franchise (ha!) would focus more on Nimoy. I do like Spock's change between part 1 and 2. Spock is cold in The Motion Picture. He's still very Vulcan, but approachable so. I think that Nicholas Meyer has a very different view of the Vulcans than the rest of the series has offered. Kirstie Alley's Saavik curses, for goodness sake. It is interesting that the 2009 version of Star Trek has Spock inventing the Kobiyashi Maru. That now feels very retconned because Spock took the test at one point. He knows the independent scenarios. Regardless, I like Spock in this one, despite the fact that it isn't his show. I don't think I've ever seen such movie that ignores much of its ensemble.
Star Trek II is great. It really is. I might have a hard time selling it to non-sci-fi fans, but it has a lot of legs. It's a space battle with levels. (Pun intended). It's not the Kirk I know, but I like Jim Kirk in this and following movies. It has no exploration and almost isn't Star Trek. But if this is what defines the cinematic Star Trek, it is a really fun movie. It transplants what characters we have grown attached to and gives them a world where everything doesn't work as planned. That's a pretty worthy watch.
R, for people doing horrible things to themselves and each other. Like The Happening, something out there causes people to kill themselves in calm, but extremely violent ways. But then there are also killers and that makes things even creepier. The movie itself is very creepy. In terms of frightening images, that's kept to a minority of the film. But then there's what is unseen is completely unnerving. It's R, but you could maybe fight for a PG-13. I'm sure there's probably language in there, stopping it. R.
DIRECTOR: Susanne Bier
I'm one of you! I'm part of the rabble! (Nothing wins over readers by referring to them as the collective, uncultured masses.) Everyone in the world watched this movie. Netflix never reveals its viewing numbers...unless they are insanely high. 45 million people watched Bird Box opening weekend. Then there were memes galore. Let's establish, I have yet to be impressed by the Bird Box memes. When I heard that Bird Box memes were taking over the internet, I was ready. But they were lame. Regardless, I was hesitant to see this one. Like everyone's commented, isn't Bird Box just a variation on A Quiet Place. Even though I was really hesitant to give Bird Box a try for that very reason, Bird Box holds its own way more than I thought it possibly could.
SPOILERS: Susanne Bier gets tone and suspense. I, too, read the article saying that the creature looked like it had a baby's head for a face and Sandra Bullock couldn't stop laughing. Thank you, Sandra Bullock. I thought we were done. But your keen insight when it comes to making this movie work better without a visible monster is the best choice. I wanted my wife to watch A Quiet Place before we broke into Bird Box. I don't know if we could go back and watch A Quiet Place now simply because they show monsters. I don't care how good the monsters look. There's always something uncanny valley about the whole experience. But then you have this monster that is based on looking at it. It has to be absolutely terrifying. You aren't allowed to have a garbage looking monster when everyone is avoiding looking at the monster. Okay, not everyone is avoiding looking at the monster. You know who really wants to see that monster? Me! But thank you everyone involved for not showing me that creature. Instead, I get something almost better. I get drawings. Those drawings are something out of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. That's the best. Thank you for that. That messes with my head way worse than some CG nonsense. The only monsters that have ever worked for me is in John Carpenter's The Thing and copies of those would only be disappointing. There is also another level we have to discuss with how effective this monster has to be. The monster has to mentally change you. I don't know the rules of the monster. I want to talk about that at length as well, but I really have no clue what is going on on the psyche of those people who see the monster. But all I can say for certain is that looking at the monster changes your perception of reality. It alters your brain chemistry and makes your eyes all goopy. You show me a creature effect from The Thing and I would have to be changed to make it all make sense. It's not going to do that.
You kind of have to make a deal with this movie. It's an unsaid agreement. The movie wants you to have all kinds of question. Keeping the monster so ambiguous means you almost don't have a sense of what works and what doesn't. The movie gives you some hard and fast rules. The monster can't be inside. You can't look at it, even through a camera or digital image. It can talk to you. It can make crazy people even crazier. That's really about it. But in terms of, "Why", there's a lot to be imagined. The big one that my wife and I kept trying to wrap our heads around is why it can't go inside. Oh, it can send crazy people inside all day. Those people are far too scary and I love it. But it can't enter a house. It seems like it has no corporeal form. It's shown onscreen as wind and leaves, but it has to exist, right? Nothing is breaking. We don't have kaiju effects going on in the movie. Why can't it go in a house? That seems like a major thing and it is just explained away by a news report saying to stay inside. But this also leads me to the voices in the forest. The monster constantly tries to trick characters into looking at it. These messages are always personal. It's voices of loved ones. It makes me wonder why people run away from it. That seems kind of silly. If you're blind, why are you running? The wind can't affect you. It's just a light breeze. The only time that physical conflict should be involved is with the crazies. That guy should have been silent, tipped over the boat, and removed the blindfold. I guess there is another question there. It really seems like the monster thrives on being accepted out of free will. I'm going to talk about the allegorical aspect in a second. But in terms of fantasy horror, the creature has a lot of rules that we just accept. It's kind of like the original Predator in that way. The reasoning behind a lot of the choices of both the monster and the plot are just left up to simplicity. The more complex this story becomes, the dumber it becomes. Please, film studios, no sequels. I know that A Quiet Place 2 is apparently happening. But Bird Box seemed to have plumbed the depths of this creature. I mean, it got me to ask a real big question that apparently the novel covered. I wondered if I would have blinded my children to have avoided the threat altogether. It's a dark thought, but the movie kind of teases that idea. Regardless, I don't want more. I need this creature to be hard and fast with its rules, but have no explanation for those rules. That's the only way this works. I mean, you could just do a sequel with other people going through this problem, but that's disappointing to me as well.
I am not coming up with this explanation. I'm just passing it along from io9. I read that website way too much. I know that they aren't the only people throwing this around, but I do kind of want to get my two cents on this one. I love the allegory of social media. It isn't perfect. But considering that an allegory is an extended metaphor, swimming around the realm of figurative language probably makes the most sense. I'm going to pick it apart and use some of the stuff from the io9 article. Now, I don't have it in front of me and I don't have the time of day to go through proper citation, but I'll do my best. They mentioned in the article that the painting that Bullock was working on was about how people fail to connect truly. BTW, making her profession tied directly to visual medium made me roll my eyes a bit, but I'll continue. But the entire thing is about how toxic the internet gets. It's weird to think of the things that my daughter will see in her lifetime that I caught only glimpses of in my childhood. My students grew up with the Internet. I got my Internet in junior high. I was terrified of it. I think our technology phobic parents taught us to distrust what was online and that's probably pretty healthy. I love me the Internet, as seen by this very blog. But that healthy fear was eventually washed away by being exposed to terrible things. I remember a couple of years ago a news reporter was shot and killed on television. That footage was ambiguous at best. Then it was announced that the killer filmed it POV and I remember having the page loaded up and the whole thing on pause. I could literally watch a person die if I wanted to. As a kid in the '90s, there was Faces of Death, but that was hard to get a hold of. Also, it was kind of a ghost story that people told. You knew that the bad kids in the school would watch that tape, but the rest of us wanted nothing to do with it. I don't want to see people die, yet I was so tempted to watch the video that the killer had made. Something sick within me wanted to rewrite who I was and make me something way worse. That's the metaphor. This monster wants you to look at it. It is going to kill the person you were because you need to look at it. It will be something tempting. The voices from the woods are trying to convince you. Similarly, the people who want you to look at the monsters are the trolls of the Internet. They want to take you down. I want you to think about that. This movie is right on the nose. It never preaches, but it feels like there is something right underneath the surface. It's like good poetry. There is this surface message that you can take away immediately. The movie itself is scary and watchable without this other level. But then add that level and things take on a whole new meaning. These arbitrary rules have a bit of sense. (Okay, why they can't enter houses is completely beyond me. Is it just so we have a sense of comfort that can be violated by intruders?)
I don't know how I feel about the motherhood angle of the entire movie. I suppose that Jurassic Park has dictated that we need to put kids in danger. Yeah, the movie is R rated, but it is a wholesome R. This never feels like we're full on horror, but simply an R-Rated cousin of The Sixth Sense. That means we can put kids in danger with the promise that they can't be killed violently on screen. There are moments when the kids are extremely effective, mainly when we yell at them for doing dumb things. Why does she stand up and leave the boat so quickly. I have so many questions about the kids. They grew up in a world infested by the monster of the movie. According to them, the world never existed before the monster. How is Girl so bad at being alive? She keeps doing dumb stuff as if she was thrown into the chaos like the rest of humanity. She should be amazing at this. She should always be afraid of outside. Adding the kids to the movie makes it creepier (except when Sandra Bullock is obviously carrying two dolls. That part is silly). But there's this arc of Bullock learning to become a mother. It kind of just resolves itself. Also, them not having names is not nearly as effective as the movie thinks it is. It just seems atmospheric as opposed to a hurdle that needs to be leapt. I don't deny that it gives Bullock another level to play, but the movie tried to make it a central character flaw. I don't know if she slowly grows into that moment or it just turns off like a lightswitch. There is the great moment in the boat when Boy volunteers to take off his blindfold. That part makes the kid section totally worth it. But overall, do we really see small character growth throughout? She has moments of growth, but all those scenes don't really add up to the resolution we get.
I loved Bird Box. I really didn't think I would. I might even like it better than A Quiet Place. There's something deeper and richer about Bird Box, which is weird considering that it came out second. Mind you, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt may have read the book first, so who knows how this played out. Regardless, it's on Netflix. If you aren't part of the everybody who caught this one, check it out.
"Gather around for I have news!" Okay, it's the wrong movie, but the Coen Brothers are back...and this time their on Netflix. Special guests Joe Cordonnier and Alex Weil join the guys for a discussion about the Western anthology "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs".
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.