PG, but remember! The original Lion King is a horrorshow for children. While I haven't seen every Disney animated film, it's gotta be Top 5 for scary movies. Now, take a scary animated movie and then make it MORE REALISTIC! That scene? In the movie. The hyenas, who were terrifying to begin with are now more scary looking. There's a scene where baby Simba and Nala are underground as hyenas rip through earth to tear them apart. It's got stuff. PG.
DIRECTOR: Jon Favreau
I'm going to argue against myself right now. I've discussed ad nauseum about the complete waste of time that the live action remakes are. My original thesis is that movies like Dumbo that have a less rabid fanbase have opportunities to get new audiences. Now, I'm going to tweak that argument because I actually really liked the live-action Lion King.
The Lion King is one of the big ones. People love that movie. I, personally, think it's fine. But I never really got on board the notion that it is one of the best movies. Age might have something to do with it. Also, the concept of enjoyment comes down to personal taste and I think that's something we all need to accept when we write / read stuff like this. But what the live action remake actually revealed is that Disney might have a point with the live action remake. Dumbo...wasn't great. My big argument was that it had a greater potential to be great compared to something like The Jungle Book. But I heard that people really hated The Lion King remake, and I have a good idea why.
When that trailer came out, everyone lost their minds. "Have you seen The Lion King trailer?" Yes, everyone, I had. It did nothing for me. It looked really pretty and the special effects looked awesome. But you could watch that trailer and know exactly what scene Favreau was recreating. And people couldn't get enough of it...until they did. The movie came out and it was a lot of beat-for-beat moments from the animated version of the movie. Disney has no idea how to handle a remake done by the same company that made the original. In previous remakes, there were noticable changes that made the movie something new and people just griped to high heaven about these changes. It wasn't the thing that they fell in love with, so it was an abomination. Favreau decided to give people exactly what they wanted and gave them almost an exact copy of the original film. That was when people said, "It's the exact same thing. Why do I care?"
Basically, people are going to be unhappy regardless.
But for someone like me, who had no allegiance to the original Lion King, the remake offered something just different enough that it made me appreciate what I hadn't appreciated before. There's a very mature story lurking around Lion King. I know that this isn't a major revelation for most. But I always found an incongruity between the cartoony art and the content of The Lion King. It always felt like Disney had defined itself by a very specific style of art (which isn't always true if you consider The Emperor's New Groove as a major release). It is always clean and kid centered. But The Lion King feels like it was meant to be a movie for an older audience, despite being an animated feature. Grafting realistic art styles with a bleak story kind of works. Instead of the comedy satisfying younger audiences who may be too afraid of the mature subject matter, the comedy acts as catharsis for a deep and troubling movie. I'm not saying that The Lion King is Requiem for a Dream or anything, but those jokes definitely create an interesting mood for a film that could easily be dismissed as a kids movie.
I also oddly like some of the slightly different interpretations of characters. I know that Nathan Lane completely crushed it as Timon in the original, but I absolutely adore Billy Eichner coupled with Seth Rogan. Timon and Pumbaa have always been the big pull to The Lion King. I almost never really cared about the lion drama of the film, but Timon and Pumbaa were always really watchable. It has to be an unenviable task to take on such a major role that people adore, but Eichner and Rogan kill it. Honestly, they might actually be better than the original. THERE! I said it! I know, they are standing on the shoulders of giants and they have this weird "telling a joke a second" time bit, but the timing is so good with the whole movie. Also, the problematic narrative of Timon and Pumbaa's freedom from consequences is somehow driven harder than the original film then.
But then again, I also have to consider who I am RIGHT NOW. The entire drive behind the remakes is a play on nostalgia. We're meant to reconnect to childhood with these remakes, but The Lion King wasn't about my childhood. I didn't really care about that one. All of the themes and messages that I gleaned from the remake were in the original film, but I wasn't necessarily in the headspace to appreciate those themes. It's only when I was able to view the remake divorced from the nostalgia of the original that I was able to actually enjoy the 2019 version by itself. This brings me to my new hypothesis. Maybe these remakes, while intended for the Disney fanbase, may actually serve new audiences more than old audiences. This is a flawed business plan, but it may be the unintended result. The live-action versions tend to appeal to older audiences. My kids shut down when movies aren't cartoons. But Disney has to be aware that modern classics are falling off the world. Drawing attention to these original films through their remakes ensures that Disney continues to get those sweet Disney dollars. It's just not working the way that they want it to.
And I have to admit, as much as I had fun with The Lion King remake because it was a fun, dark, and gorgeous movie, it isn't ever going to make me Lion King crazy. It made me appreciate something that I had dismissed better. For me, the remake is actually better than the original. But again, it is ultimately unnecessary. These movies are good times and I enjoy them in the moment, but I'll never really end up watching The Lion King again. It's enjoyable, but who really cares. There's something kind of soulless knowing that the remakes are more about business than storytelling. A shot-for-shot remake, while I enjoyed it, means that Favreau only did his best to please fans rather than offer much new. I'm such a small demographic to appease that I have to wonder if the remake train is really the best way for Disney to go.
PG, but for family-friendly action. The protagonist is a cryptozoologist who has a hankerin' for fighting scary monsters. As such, there's some stuff that little kids could find a little scary. I mean, I laughed pretty hard, but I was also terrified that my kids were going to run out of the room. There's gunplay and I suppose, human being die in horrible situations. But they're all made of toys and clay. It's not like we're watching bloody stumps on these characters. But it's meant to be a little frightening, so keep that in mind. There's some mildly crude humor on top of that, but nothing to write home about.
DIRECTOR: Chris Butler
The few times that I can watch Academy Award nominees in front of my kids seem to be in the animated feature category. I have a big question before I get into Missing Link. Not to say that Missing Link is a bad movie, but where's Frozen 2 on the nominations? As a guy who enjoyed the movie, despite some small faults, it is pretty clear that Frozen 2 is far and away the strongest film of the bunch. Again, this isn't meant to cast aspersions on Missing Link or even the other movies, but the quality of Frozen 2 is something that was just on a different level from the rest of the movies on that list. It's really weird. The only thing that Frozen 2 has is Original Song for "Into the Unknown." Great, what about the rest of the movie?
Okay, so far I haven't been overly impressed by the animated outings that have been part of the Academy Award nominees. But I can also say that, so far, Missing Link is probably the best of a so-so bunch. I adore Laika. I don't really have time to read my analysis of Kubo and the Two Strings, but I know that there was something really gorgeous going on there. Missing Link has the same style of art, but there's something missing that Kubo offered from this movie. Perhaps it is the setting coupled with a so-so storyline, but Missing Link is a tale that has merit when it comes to short films, but doesn't really hold a lot of water as a feature length film.
I guess my contrast to Frozen II makes a little bit of sense. If you read what I wrote, I acknowledge that the film isn't perfect. But what Frozen II offers that Missing Link doesn't is something new. As much as I liked Missing Link, it really runs the formula down pretty hard. We're touching on the same themes seen in Shrek and countless other movies. There are just so many beats that are covered that Missing Link is just the flavor of the moment. Honestly, if Harry and the Hendersons could talk, that would be Missing Link. I don't know how many times we have to befriend the strange cryptozoological creature only to find out that he has more heart than the rest of us. ET? Mac and Me? The Shape of Water? Okay, The Shape of Water is definitely not a kids' story, but you get my point.
But I still have to look at it as a film by itself. It's hard to divorce the stuff that came before it because I really want this movie to be great. Laika's reputation for being original is kind of at risk. The parts that even deviated from the ET formula picked up threads from Uncharted 2. It's a bunch of things kind of thrown together. The really original concept in the film is not having Frost and Adelina Fortnight end up together. I kind of want to explore that as a choice, especially considering that the rest of the movie doesn't really have the guts that the lack of relationship had. I know that my wife would completely disagree with me, but it's a bold choice that I kind of support. (Again, I wish the entire movie set up for that, but I digress.)
It is odd that a male protagonist and a supporting female protagonist have to get together in the end of a comedy to make the movie make sense. While Missing Link doesn't spell it out, it makes perfect sense that Adelina doesn't go for Frost, despite the fact that his character evolves from the beginning of the film to match her moral code. Adelina is a recent widow. She's a REALLY recent widow. Frost was friends with the deceased. He didn't go the funeral. The only reason that there would be a relationship between Frost and Fortnight would be because of an adventure, an adventure where they didn't get along for a lot of it. I can't believe that I'm arguing the nuanced romantic message of Speed and Speed 2: Cruise Control, but the movie kind of has a point. These two don't really belong together. While the film isn't about mourning in any way, shape, or form, the character is in a place where she shouldn't be in a relationship. And why do two people have to be together simply because they are in the same movie.
Mr. Link confuses me. I know. That was a hard right turn out of nowhere, but the film needs me to talk about this character, so I just do it. Mr. Link's knowledge of the world is really sporadic. I'm going to give props to Zach Galifianakis for not being the same character he always is. It's really weird that he did this movie, but I'm going to sidestep that entire idea right now in the hopes to talk about the inconsistencies of the character. It's a really fun idea that Mr. Link talks fluently and with a vernacular that can only be described as contemporary. Okay, that makes the movie funny. But what Link does and doesn't know doesn't necessarily make a ton of sense. I, too, feel uncomfortable commenting on a children's movie that is built upon delivering as many of the funny ha-has that it intends, but Link's skills don't make sense. There are times where he's really on board with slang and cultural norms. But when the movie is meant to be funny, Link has no idea what is appropriate. Yeah, it made me giggle, but it also made it extremely hard to treat Link like a character. It's a parallel idea to Drax from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. But Drax at least makes a little bit more sense with his very specific knowledge base. Mr. Link is all over the place and it makes it really hard to sympathize with him at times.
There's this message running through the movie that is supposed to be the moral of the story, but I don't really know if the film sells it very well. Frost is meant to be seen as an opportunist. He wants desperately to be in this club that no one wants him in, so he promises to bring back evidence of the Bigfoot. The movie wants us to criticize him for his selfish ambition, but his desires don't really hurt anyone. Mr. Link never really seems to be bothered by Frost's quest for fame and power. There's never really a division between these two characters that would demand a need for reconciliation. Frost's growth that Adalina observes is simply momentary. She comments on his evolution as a character, but there wasn't much for him to actually feel sorry for. His most abominable (pun intended) behavior comes from Frost's desire to steal the map from a grieving widow. But there's never really that moment where Frost is going to torture Link or capture him for personal gain. Instead, Frost agrees quite readily to help Link find other yetis. Why is that so bad? Yeah, he's getting something out of it, but he never really hides that fact from Link. We're told that Frost is kind of scummy; hence, he is scummy. But he seems like kind of an okay dude who is just following his dreams.
I will always find Laika movies impressive. Missing Link is no exception. But considering how much effort goes into physically making these kinds of movies, you would think that the movie would really nail the script before all of that effort is put into making the the animation so impressive. America and the Old West are kind of boring to animate and Shangri-La doesn't exactly sell itself in terms of plot like it should. Perhaps that's nitpicky, but it also doesn't really have the same punching power as the rest of the films in that series. It's a fine movie that relies too much on formula to stand, which is a bummer.
Academy Awards Update: The Lighthouse, The Edge of Democracy, "In the Absence", and "Walk Run Cha-Cha" added
The Oscar shorts are given a short mini-review next to each title. Please check out the Academy Awards Collection page for more info.
TV-14, again...because kids don't find the nuances of politics interesting. There's some language in here. It's translated through subtitles. At least, I think that I remember that being a thing. Mostly, this is a tale of corruption. The real disturbing thing is the rioting. There's a lot of real world violence and hatred here. People get really worked up over political situations and sometimes, that means lashing out at candidates or their peers. It's an emotional movie if you invest in it, and that can often change how images are viewed. TV-14.
DIRECTOR: Petra Costa
I normally lose my mind over the documentary category. I feel so wise and informed about the tragedy of the world that I question whether or not I should be watching narrative fiction whatsoever. I think watching documentary films makes me feel somehow better than most people, which ultimately makes me a bad person. But I had a hard time jumping on board this generation's documentary category. Maybe a nuanced understanding of the corruption of the Brazil tests me and my sense of empathy.
I mean, I do have some sense of empathy. I'm not a monster. It's just that politics to begin with is so overwhelming to begin with that it is hard to imagine adding Brazilian politics. Considering that everyone in the movie calls the documentarian "Petra", I too will forgo my rule about referring to directors by last name. Petra is heavily entrenched in Brazil's politics. She was born and raised in a world where democracy was being born in Brazil. It was something that her parents fought for. From that perspective, The Edge of Democracy is a vital film for Petra to make.
While it seems that she's a bit of a celebrity in Brazil, I really question her delivery style. While her narration is in English, it is over the Portuguese language argumentation of politicians and activists. Her voice is in such contrast to the vitriol being spouted by those on screen. Petra presents just tomes of information about Brazil and the complicated political situation in this flat affect. And it is just a lot of information. It's all very complex and, to Petra's credit, I think that I got a lot of it. But man alive, as bad as I felt for the situation in Brazil, I don't know how I got through the whole two hours about parties and their issues with the flexibility of law.
The movie, despite Petra's very calm demeanor and presentation style, is once again a reminder that the world is ending. But to do so, it feels like a very cold way for the world to end. Documentaries are often tasked with presenting information that may not be palatable. I often applaud these documentaries because they awake me to the truth. But maybe its just my learning style, but academics don't necessarily sell me 100%. In years past, I've learned about the horrors of Aleppo, but it's because my heart was moved. I also think of the travesties that have happened to immigrants, but it's because the movie allowed me to get to know those immigrants intimately.
But The Edge of Democracy is about a deluge of information. Petra is woefully aware that the average American probably doesn't know what the situation in Brazil is, so she's just dumping all of this information out. Dilma and Lula are foundational pieces to try to ground the movie, but they are presented as celebrities. I can't help but make a connection between Lula and Obama. Both are progressive leaders who both adorn such love and such disdain by the people. I'm sure it's not insane that I've made that connection. I'm sure that Petra also wanted me to make the same connection. But even though I respect Obama, I understand that he doesn't necessarily garner the sympathy that the average human being does. There's a wall between Obama and the common man. It's nothing created by him. If anything, he's probably devoted more time to minimizing the distance between Obama the President and Obama the Man.
But he's a celebrity. The same is true with Lula and Petra. So the movie becomes this defense of these two people who apparently were completely torn down by corporate interests and a corrupt government. That's really sad and logically, I can wrap my head around that. One part of that is that I have to accept everything that Petra does. I do, but that's completely due to bias that I'm aware of. If the movie is the tearing down of Dionysus, I have to relate to Dionysus first. When a film is devoted to me understanding the nuance of a very complex political system, the movie forgets to have me bond with these two people. They seem like good people. Based on the evidence that Petra presents, I see that some horrible things have been going on there.
But the movie also commits the sin of presenting the other side as monsters. That's a fair thing, I suppose, for Petra. She is dealing with corrupt politicians who build entire careers on lies and the hopes that the democracy will devolve into tyranny. But there are a handful of people who may be fighting for what they believe to be right. The world is ending. Yeah, it's some factions' faults more than other, but I refuse to believe that everyone in the world just wants to watch the world burn. But then why is the world the way it is right now? Trust me, I'm getting really depressed. I don't think I'm ready to doomsday prep yet, but I wonder what kind of world my daughters and son will inherit.
There's such a terrifying parallel between the role of the corrupt in the U.S. and the role of the corrupt in Brazil. I know that a lot of what is happening in Brazil is because of U.S. involvement there, but why are extreme conservatives coming out of the woodwork and taking over? There was that feeling like the marginalized finally had voices, but everything about securing a political position seems violent. All of those shots of protests had people stomping on faces and wishing the most evil for inconsistencies. It seems that everyone hates each other and it is not just in the United States. I thought that maybe it was just in the U.S. and the U.K., but maybe more people are angry.
Politics get people angry. I get that. I don't want to ignore that, but why has it escalated to such a level. The world is now us versus them and it scares the heck out of me. There are causes that need to be fought for, but it seems like antisemitism and hatred are the core traits that are coming forward. The Edge of Democracy highlights a president of Brazil who is vocally divisive. Why are people being drawn to hatred? I don't get what is happening to the planet, and I suppose that Petra only has a handful of answers.
But I can't recommend The Edge of Democracy. I know that there is important stuff here that people should be seeing, but it is a miniseries in the form of a movie. Rather than getting to know anyone who could actually humanize a lot of this horrible stuff, it kind of just spirals into a deluge of information that is distanced from humanity. We get these shots of people in riots that is powerful, but what if the film centered on a handful of these people. Make them become human instead of statistics thousands of miles away. I feel like a bad person for not being more moved by the events of this film. I stuck through it, but I need to open my heart more to really effect change.
Approved, which basically means that there was no MPAA in 1947. If a movie came out, it had to be approved. Sure enough, this one was approved with people getting shot, thrown down a flight of stairs in a wheelchair, and moidered. It's just violence and more violence. People treat each other like dirt and that's the point. The word "Death" is in the title. There's going to be some questionable content in this movie, but who cares? It's 1947. Approve the movie because a checklist said so. Approved.
DIRECTOR: Henry Hathaway
Funny story. I had to watch one of the movies that was in my reading for my film noir class. There were a bunch that I wanted to watch, but then I read about one where an old lady gets thrown down the stairs in a wheelchair and my brain said, "I have to see that one." So I look it up and I find it of all places on YouTube. I don't like watching movies on YouTube. I only watch it there if it is wildly out of print. So I start putzing around in my basement, looking for an alternative to watch when, lo-and-behold, there's my copy of Kiss of Death. I not only have seen this movie before, but I own this movie. Not only that, but I have seen this movie, I own this movie, and it's not a great movie.
The film's conceit is beautiful and genius in its simplicity. If it really stuck to its guns (pun intended) and focused on the primary premise, the movie could have been something phenomenal. Instead, it really buries what should be an easy concept to nail. Protagonist betrays psychotic antagonist. Antagonist is going to get revenge. Two icebergs collide. That's all you really need to the movie. In the first ten minutes, Victor Mature should have ratted on Richard Widmark and the rest of the film should have been Nick Bianco running away from Tommy Udo. There's so much premise to that.
The movie absolutely rocks when the Bianco is trying to protect his family from an insane Tommy Udo. The last fifteen minutes of the movie are just that. We know that Tommy Udo is a complete psychopath. As I established, Udo pushes an old lady down the stairs and does it while laughing like the Joker. Between The Man Who Laughs and Kiss of Death, we get a perfect inspiration for the Joker character. But most of the film is spent justifying itself to its audience. There's something beautiful about a simple plot that reveals something about character. The plot tries to make Bianco into something complex. There's all these twists and turns. People whom we never meet betray Bianco, which gives him a turn of heart. It's odd what morality this movie plays with.
If film noir is meant to play with murky morality to begin with, Kiss of Death is trying too hard to give Bianco a murky moral code. He's a career criminal in the beginning of the movie. He's actually a second generation career criminal. His life is mirroring his father's tragic downfall. When he gets shot, he impresses psychopath Tommy Udo with his refusal to cooperate with the police. At this point in the movie, it seems like a very different film from what we ultimately get. It's in this moment that I get invested. I think that the movie is going to be about all of the hardships that the police and the criminal justice system put him through to talk. I thought that the dark morality that the movie would be promoting would be about the thief's honor, refusing to rat on his friends and the Job-like tragedies that accompany those choices.
But then he narcs. He gets a new wife, who is oddly the narrator as well. As a narrator, she doesn't really make a lot of sense. She has this weird insight into things that she wasn't really there for. She's able to comment on Bianco's fears and morality. She's somehow omniscient and still a character. I suppose that Bianco could have told her all of his thoughts, but he still seems secretive around his wife for the majority of the movie, so that doesn't really gel with me. But there's this whole subplot of his wife committing suicide and possibly cheating on him.
And this is where the movie starts really falling apart. It has all of this complication that it honestly doesn't it. Okay, it's fine that the wife commits suicide. (That's a dark sentence to write and it might haunt me for the rest of my days.) But complicating that suicide with a possible tie into other members of the gang that causes him to rat. His character goes through a moment of crisis. He weights his loyalty to the gang to the loyalty to his code. Having a member of the gang harm his wife is a good move, but the suicide by itself really does the job without overcomplicating the plot. Have Tommy Udo's murder spree be something that Udo does regardless. There's is a cool thing that happens by having Bianco kinda-sorta order the hit, but that moral change doesn't do much for the character. I don't mind having a morally complex character, but Kiss of Death sells Bianco as the redemptive hero. He's made mistakes that he's going to pay for, but he's not actually a hero at the end of the day.
The kids should be motivation enough for the redemptive hero bit. The kids apparently are having a ball in that orphanage and don't mind that Daddy "has been away on a job in South America" while their mother is dead. Having Nick narc on his peers already gives him enough complexity to hold the weight of the movie. We don't need a hamfisted revenge plot because that revenge plot doesn't really go anywhere. However, him trading his moral scruples for the well-being of his kids is important. That's a choice. Also, three years in prison is a long time. There's so much there that sells better than having a character that doesn't really play a part in the story pulling the strings.
The movie had the potential to crush. Again, I go on tirades about how much I love the 73 minute movie. When a root plot is as simple as Kiss of Death, there's no need to spread that to an hour forty. Yeah, there are longer movies, but there's so much fat to cut here. There are these scenes that don't make a lick of sense to me. Part of them is to have exposition...ultimately unnecessary exposition. But there's exposition nonetheless. I'm talking about this whole subplot with Bianco's lawyer. There's lots of discussion about how the criminal justice system works. This lawyer, who seems a bit corrupt, promises to get him out quickly. He doesn't. He shows up for two scenes in the the same location and in the same outfit, despite the fact that the scenes take place three years apart. He has one other scene, also expository, which doesn't contribute to the film.
The French were obsessed with the moral ambiguity and complexity of the protagonists of the film noir scene. Yeah, Nick Bianco is complex, but that's almost in response to a poorly written script. The movie is trying to be smarter than it is. In the process, they actually sully a pretty solid potential with simplicity. There's a really good movie in Kiss of Death that's just buried by overcomplicated trash. I don't care if its old. Old doesn't mean good and this movie has a lot that's standing in the way of a good story.
Rated R for everything. This is one of those A24 movies that fits in everything it can under the R-rating banner. The more depraved it can be, the more likely it is to show up in The Lighthouse. Possibly the most disturbing thing about the controversial content in the movie is that it treats a lot of it with a casual nature, despite the brutality of some of these moments. There's self-pleasuring in this movie. Cryptozoological nudity. Not only violence towards birds, but to the point where the bird doesn't look like a bird by the time its done. Murder. (That seems tame in comparison). A lot of alcohol goes in dudes' bellies. Feces that manages to land on Robert Pattinson's face. It's got everything. I know missed a bunch of stuff, because this movie has got it. HARD R.
DIRECTOR: Robert Eggers
I knew nothing about this except that it was A24, in black and white, starred Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, and that my cinema friends really dug it. I adore A24. It's given some validity to the horror genre (which is weird, because I think that the Academy Awards are still really hesitant to give any credence to this corner of the artsy fartsy world). But I'm starting to develop something that I never thought that I would. I'm starting to get A24 fatigue.
Like, Midsommar is on my to-watch list. But it keeps getting shoved back because I don't know if I have the gumption to knock out another A24. A24 has so much going for it. These are visually gorgeous movies that don't treat genre films like second-class cinema. Almost any one of the big movies that A24 has released in the past five years, if not under the A24 banner, would be some of my favorite horror films of the past decade. They show time and passion and that's commendable. But they are also known for being incredibly disturbing. Apparently, when you remove the camp from a horror movie, you also remove a lot of the fun. There are kinda-sorta fun moments in The Lighthouse. I mean, I wasn't burdened by watching it. But there were a lot of disturbing moments where I found myself looking at the clock to see how much time was left in the film. That's a bummer because both Pattinson and Dafoe crush it with the script they have. It's an acting dream / nightmare, but they pull it off in spades.
But this all leaves me at a point where I have to pretend that I'm an English teacher and guess at an interpretation. I refuse to believe that a lot of it is a collection of disturbing images. This movie HAS to be influenced by Bergman. There's just too much in terms of shadows and imagery that allows me to imagine that Eggers doesn't want to be a little Bergman himself with this film. It's intimate and claustrophobic. As much as I love Bergman (and fail to interpret him EVERY TIME), he often uses intense symbolism that often can be read as random. It's probably not. If I had the patience and time to rewatch every film I have seen with commentary, I'm sure that I wouldn't be disappointed with the meaning of the images. But The Lighthouse uses a lot of that apparent random imagery. It's to keep the audience off guard. There's really no way to imagine how the movie is going to end (outside of violently) because Eggers and his team don't really let you get comfortable with formula.
As such, the movie is always asking me to question what is going on. While IMdB lists the characters as "Thomas Howard" and "Thomas Wake", a video I saw on Facebook showed that the script labeled them "Young" and "Old." That's apt. That's probably way more accurate than Howard and Wake. For a chunk of the movie --and I'm not sure I have completely abandoned this theory --I thought that they might have been the same person. There's a line in there that supports that theory, but I know it isn't the center of the film. If they are the same person, I get that more in a symbolic sense than any kind of literal "the guy is hanging out with himself and wants to kill himself" scenario. If they are the same guy, it's just telling the message about how people tend to hate themselves. I've said for years that I would always hate myself nine years in the past. I couldn't hang out with that guy.
Tackling the motif of madness doesn't seem terribly original for an A24 film. Seeing these two guys locked in a room together, from moment one, the story was there. I don't know how much The Lighthouse contributes to the world of mental illness. Rather, Lighthouse gets a little exploitative. It's not about logic, in the least. Rather, the film uses madness as means to talk about hatred and to exploit some truly impressive imagery. I know that the movie gets into some really icky sexual stuff. It's one of those movies that thrives on your discomfort. A grosser Bertolt Brecht, if you will. But that stuff makes the entire film about emotion. I think that Eggers wants you to experience hate. Not hate for the film. I don't get that vibe. But we're so stuck in the world of Ephraim (I'm going to call him that for the rest of this writing because it helps me keep them separated) that we hate Wake throughout the film.
Ephraim is more nuts than Wake. You could probably argue with me about that and win, but I'm standing by it. But despite the fact that Ephraim is the one with all of this secret history, it's Wake who we start criticizing. Because the movie places so much focus on Ephraim's character, we kind of understand his sporadic nature. When he starts losing his mind, it almost makes sense. His labor becomes our labor. His need for a drink becomes our need for a drink. As such, Wake becomes this antagonist that needs to be destroyed very quickly. As odd as Wake is, and he is odd, he's probably closer to a real character than Ephraim is. Ephraim is having hallucinations / real experiences with naked mermaids and Poseidon. Because Ephraim is an unreliable narrator, Wake becomes this very bizarre avatar for reality. Yeah, the man lives in a world of lies, but those lies seem tame compared to the things that Ephraim sees.
And part of that is because we are never really sure what Wake sees. He spouts curses about Poseidon striking Ephraim down, but that often comes across as sailor talk. Wake is just bizarre, from head to foot. His adopted vernacular is meant to distance himself from us, but his mental breakdown seems far more in character than Ephraim. Ephraim is sold to us as the avatar for the viewer. He isn't a wickie. He's there to do four-weeks work and get out of there. But over the course of the film, Ephraim becomes the one who is less reliable. Wake's testimony that time hasn't passed in the way that Ephraim thinks it has makes the audience make a choice. He can believe what Ephraim has shown us, despite the history of his predecessor and the bizarre imagery; or he can choose the dialogue provided by Wake. Wake, as weird as he is, is less prone to claims of odd things. He lives under a really weird sailors code, but it is more consistent than the flexible nature presented by Ephraim.
Yeah, I didn't love the movie. I'm sorry for that. I didn't hate it either. I just want A24 to push itself into the waters (pun intended) of visually compelling while not-being-the-bleakest-thing-it's-made. It's just always so bleak. I need a little bit of happiness from time-to-time, if for no other reason than to balance the misery provided in the film.
I have updated our Academy Awards page with links to all of the films discussed on this website. I will be updating the page as I add more commentary. Keep checking back for new articles and, as we get closer to the Oscars, look for my predictions!
Happy reading / viewing!
PG-13 for a lot of boozing, drugs, and language. It's got some stuff because it's a biopic about a famous alcoholic. It also shows how child stars are often tortured as kids. If you are looking for adults being terrible people, Judy contains a lot of it. It also has some interesting commentary on the solemnity of marriage. I mean, I don't think it takes a hard stance, but marriage is just something that you do in Judy. Really, we're looking at standard biopic fare. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Rupert Goold
You know what? I knew what I was getting into. From the moment that I saw the trailer, I knew that Renee Zellweger was shooting for the safe Oscar nom. I could tell you beat-by-beat how this movie was going to go and I don't even know much about the life of Judy Garland. I've been griping about the tragic celeb biopic for years and Judy is another one on the pile. This all leads me to think that this steady stream of tragic biopics about celebrities is aimed at a target audience of people who happen to really admire that celebrity. Judy Garland is a cultural icon for so many people. She is untouchable. For people who absolutely adore Judy Garland, Judy probably holds a lot of weight. For the rest of us, Judy is as color-by-numbers as it gets.
I don't know Judy Garland outside of her roles. I knew that she was a tortured soul. I knew that she indulged in vices, so much so that she could be considered an addict among addicts. I knew that she overdosed at a young age. I also knew that Liza Minnelli was her kid, but that barely plays into the movie. I can't tell you if Zellweger is doing an amazing impersonation of Judy Garland or not. I get the vibe that she probably did her homework. It ultimately doesn't matter because Zellweger believes in what she is doing. Even if the real Judy Garland spoke in a cockney accent (she didn't), it wouldn't matter because the bulk of the film is about commitment to the role. Is she singing herself? Probably. My wife mentioned that Zellweger was in Chicago and I instantly flashed-back the halcyon / embarrassing days of when I used to listen to Broadway musicals on the reg. Yeah, she's probably singing. There's a lot that's impressive about the performance. If Zellweger gets the Academy Award for this movie, that'd be fine. It would be fine, despite the fact that Judy isn't that great of a movie. Again, this is a vehicle for Renee Zellweger to get an Academy Award and it just screams it throughout. But again, I also said that about Joker and people hate me for that takeaway.
The thing is that we've seen this movie so many times. We know that Judy Garland is swallowed up by her demons. When she made A Star is Born, it was an act of hypocrisy. There are sections of A Star is Born where the narrator has to come in and explain entire sections of plot because they couldn't get Judy Garland out of her trailer. I know. I'm Catholic and I'm a human being. I should be advocating for Judy Garland's mental health and the respect that any human being has a right to. I'm aware of that. I'm hating me too. But a large part of me is just begging for Judy Garland to get out of the spotlight.
The film presents Judy Garland's problems as a binary thing. The movie deftly jumps between the events of Judy during her Wizard of Oz years and all of the terrible stuff that happened to her. This is the stuff that I'm sympathetic to. As a film, its greatest contribution to cinema is its commentary on the #metoo movement, hearkening back to the Golden Age of Cinema. That stuff is powerful. She's a kid who wants to be famous, but she's also a kid who wants a milkshake and not to be ogled by the head of MGM. That stuff is rough. But then I realized, fame is causing all of her misery. Yeah, she didn't have a normal childhood. But lots of child actors, who genuinely deserve our sympathy, redefine themselves outside of the constraints of their celebrity personas. The movie never once presents the option that maybe Judy Garland just do something else.
Judy starts from a time where the world is just sick of Judy Garland's crap. She doesn't show up for performances. She's often confrontational and wasted out of her face. She's borderline abusive, but she's still the protagonist of the piece. The majority of the film banks on the idea that despite her irresponsible behavior, we are still rooting for her to pull it all together. The directors beg the people to give her another chance, despite the fact that Judy is just this toxic personality in a world where people are all playing the game. Her band in the movie are so great. They are terrified that she will leave, but the film kind of portrays them as on her side. Their entire livelihoods are based on whether or not Judy Garland can be sober enough and empathetic enough to show up on stage that night. Why would they like her? Part of it is the starstruck natures that she's constantly surrounded by, but is that something that me as a member of the audience should be applauding?
One of the recurring motifs is Judy's obsession with her children. It's there, not as a real goal, but as a way to sympathize with someone who is ultimately unsympathetic. It's something biological about us, understanding that a mother wants to be with her children. But Judy Garland, despite her outward love for her children, is a terrible mother because it isn't about the children's needs, but about her own vanity. Yeah, the movie eventually confirms that idea, but it's still this heartbreaking moment when she gives up her children. It's because it's kind of a manipulative scene. And that's what I'm talking about when a film presents these binary choices that the film never decides to address. Judy could easily be a decent mother if she took ANY other job besides performing. If she skimped and saved a little, she would be fine. As good as a mother as Judy claims to be, she doesn't really sacrifice. She goes to London, which she considers sacrifice, but it is really the tip of the iceberg of what real parents go through. Real parents are in a constant state of sacrifice. This grand gesture is a good start, but it isn't what life is really like.
A lot of my boredom with this movie is that I've seen it before. I've been told that these are tragic lives. They are. But people have it way worse than these celebrities and I don't know what the point of glorifying these moments as tragedy really does. There are so many people who have drug addictions and are alcoholics that are deserving of love. Judy Garland was an amazing performer. She had a tragic childhood. But also, Judy Garland didn't have to continue being a singer. If the singing was killing her and she was getting these panic attacks about going on stage, just do anything else. Teach. Mentor. Yeah, she might have sucked at those things too, but introverts are also completely capable of leading full lives. The big reveal moment at the end wasn't a moment that showed that Judy Garland had for one moment beaten the system. Instead, she got the attention that she was craving. That was her drug and the audience just gave her another hit. Yeah, she's great to those two guys. But she really doesn't do it for them. She is satisfying the need to be loved in a world where she wasn't loved. She treated marriage as a dodge and a game, but never really did anything slowly. The metaphor of the drug works because everything she wanted to do was quick. If she slowly built up relationships and really honed her craft, we could have had something else.
But she didn't. It's a sad story that makes me want to shake it into a mental health program. All these people claimed that they loved her, but they wanted her to stay the same. There's almost a satisfaction that comes when Judy completely melts down. Her handlers act horrified, but they're also shocked that the bear mauled someone. I don't say that Judy Garland isn't deserving of our sympathy. I just need something new to happen in these movies and Judy isn't the movie to offer that.
TV-14 for language and just for generally adult content. Nothing offensive happens, but I dare you to show this to a kid. There's no way for a child to empathize with this movie. Maybe that is me assuming a lot. Maybe your kid is wildly vulnerable to the plight of others. But that's mostly what's happening here. There's also some stuff that could be read as pretty racist in terms of comments made on both sides, but it is more one sided than another. Regardless, most kids probably just wouldn't get on board American Factory. TV-14.
DIRECTORS: Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert
Yeah, it's the documentary that Obamas produced. Look at hippie-dippie Tim writing an article talking about how important the Obama's documentary is. He works as a teacher. His hands aren't calloused, except where he grades papers. (You could stab me right in my left middle finger and I wouldn't even feel it.) Yeah, I watched the Obamas' documentary because it is up for an Academy Award. But you know what? I wish I watched it before they announced the Academy Awards. A) That would give me amazing hipster street cred and B) it probably means that I'm a better person than I actually am.
When the trailer came out for this, my bias instantly colored it with what I believed about foreign companies coming into America. I always simplified the problem way too much. I thought, like many of the subjects of this documentary thought, that, while I would love an American company to create more jobs in America, jobs are jobs. It's good that a Honda plant or a Toyota plant comes into the U.S. because people need jobs. American Factory probably explains how icky that concept is, and probably by accident. I get the vibe that Bognar and Reichert probably were optimistic about the creation of a new plant in Dayton, a place where I used to live, to make up for the shut down GM plant. But American Factory is all about how culturally different we are versus how culturally the same we are. When I watched the trailer, I thought it was going to be all about how we're one big labor force worldwide. Now I get the vibe from this movie that America is considered the laziest country on Earth by people who never get to see their families.
China comes across quite scary in this movie. Like, I thought I understood the perception of the Chinese towards the Americans before this movie. Nope, I'm a big dope who understood nothing. It didn't help that almost every American in this movie is painfully overweight. I got back on the diet hard after watching this one. Throughout the film, the movie keeps showing groups of Chinese employees and bosses saying absolutely terrible things about America in general. I don't know if the people who were saying these things thought that no one was going to translate them for the documentary or that they just didn't care because they were focused on the now, but whoo-wee that was rough. It seemed like every time a group of Chinese people were together speaking Chinese, they found a reason to badmouth Americans. It's a real bummer because I'm paranoid that my exchange students are saying these things about me.
There's something really intimidating about the Chinese labor force. The movie shifts to Beijing for a couple of scenes. The American visitors show up to corporate headquarters to learn about how Chinese works stay so efficient. Of course, one of them is wearing a Jaws tee-shirt, which doesn't really sell America too well. The other gentlemen, while overweight, are at least wearing polo shirts, which I guess is better than nothing. But the Jaws tee-shirt is pretty cringe-worthy. It's this instant culture clash. The Chinese in Beijing are all fit and healthy looking. The people at the table are wearing suits and ties and then the Americans walk in, morbidly obese and wearing Jaws tee-shirts. It's such a rough moment to defend. But it is also a movie about culture clashes. For five seconds, I thought that maybe the Chinese were onto something and that maybe we need to look at ourselves as a culture. But then I realized that China seems like a terrible place to work.
The film from that point on stresses the almost obsessive Nationalism of the Chinese workers. Indoctrinated through song praising the glory of the corporation, there's something absolutely terrifying about the way that the Chinese workers make the American workers their enemies. Rather than questioning the profits of Fuyao, the Chinese workers try indoctrinating some American workers into the Chinese work ethic of one or two days off a month and not seeing family. The others, they start collecting evidence of their ties to the UAW. There's this really damning scene of a Chinese worker holding up his phone to show a picture of his friend. Pridefully, the worker tells about how that guy is going to be fired in a few days because he's been collecting evidence that he's a union sympathizer. It's oddly cutthroat for such a crummy paying job.
There are times that I'm pro-union and there are times that I am anti-union. I didn't love being in a union when I was teaching public school. It was all very aggressive and I didn't feel like I got a ton of support when I needed it. But I also know that some people absolutely need a union. The auto workers needed a union and the documentary proves that. There's a very disturbing scene in Beijing where all these old ladies were on a pile of broken glass, sorting it out by hand without special gloves for recycling. That attitude carried back to the Fuyao plant in Dayton. The Chinese were just dumping stuff in rivers. People would be injured on the job and their jobs would just be given away. It was always under the umbrella that the employee messed something else up, but that was just for legal purposes. And the most disheartening thing was that the people who were saying that they were going to take care of their employees were Americans. I know that it is a sin to make every comparison to Hitler and the Holocaust, but I couldn't help but be reminded of the collaborators who would turn on their own people for better conditions. It's heartbreaking.
American Factory doesn't really provide the answers to the problem though. On occasion, I've discussed this as a fault of the documentary. It stinks to find out all of this information and then not really have an alternative solution. But this is a really complicated concept. This isn't a quick fix. Fundamentally, the world is becoming a smaller place. Despite the fact that I completely believe that America is the best country in the world to live in, China economically has become extremely impressive. But there's something really telling in a world where people tell me that Trump is going to do great things for the economy. (He's not.) I keep hearing all of these issues being swept under the rug of the economy. Yeah, the economy is important, but also look at the quality of life of the Chinese workers. It makes sense that they should be working from sun up to sun down. It makes sense that they don't see their families ever. It is mind-blowing to them that Americans have social lives. Kind of all of this fight for the economy means a selling of the soul. I don't love hearing all of the awful things that have been sacrificed in the name of a better economy. I don't care how impressive Beijing looks economically. I don't want to live there because it seems like it treats workers who are struggling to make a buck like cogs in a machine. I'm bothered by the fact that they don't mind working insanely long hours. Why is no one yelling at corporate to take a smaller profit and ensuring that everyone has a modicum of quality in their lives?
If American Factory is about a culture clash, I, too, am part of that clash. Like the Americans in this movie, I wanted the Chinese to become the Americans' brothers, both in arms and in spirit. But this story was telling about how fundamentally different people are. Are the Chinese still people? Of course and there's so much respect there. But I also know that it takes more than simply transplanting people to a new country to find commonality.
PG-13. It's a pretty heavy PG-13. The setting surrounds the Church scandals that have plagued the Vatican for a while now, but this is specifically how Benedict handled it. From an objective perspective, The Two Popes treats the events fairly respectfully. But many Catholics could find the film objectionable. Also, the movie deals with despotism and torture. It's not an easy PG-13. I don't know if I would let a 13-year-old watch this. Maybe high school juniors and seniors could handle this, but there would need to be teaching behind what is on screen. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Fernando Meirelles
Let's just start with this. I keep hearing that the Benedict stuff is super inaccurate and that much of this is, at best, speculative. I always heard from people who are way smarter than me at this kind of thing that Benedict is way more progressive than his reputation is associated with. This leads me all to do exactly what this blog is set out to do: treat this like a film and talk about it as such. I can see why people get frustrated, though. It's so hard to get a straight line about what the Church is all about, especially when it comes to treating the Church with a modicum of respect. I don't know Meirelles's beliefs, but I'm going to go as far as to say that The Two Popes manages to talk about icky things without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
For my Catholic friends, this movie probably stands on a bit of dangerous ground. For my atheist friends, it probably doesn't go far enough. As Catholic as I am, I struggle. It's sometimes very difficult to say that I can see past the scandals of the past to continue being Catholic. My heart breaks for those people who have been harmed by the Church. As such, a movie like The Two Popes is probably something healthy. It confronts issues dead on without losing the fact that the Church is more than individuals and more than scandals. It is simultaneously an angry film, but also a desperate film. It needs the Church to do better, not just because people have been harmed (which the film focuses on squarely), but also because the Church has done so much good and is capable of so much better. I like that attitude. Rather than burning the whole institution down, it screams for accountability. Whether that accountability exists in the world of fiction or not, that's something else to be seen. The movie's end does kind of imply with the institution of Francis as pope, the problems of the Church have been repaired. They haven't. But it does leave the movie in a place of hope, and that's something important.
I didn't necessarily want to watch this movie originally. I think that Netflix did another series about Pope Francis and it was wildly inappropriate. I kind of hate being a bit of a moderate because most of my Catholic friends are pretty conservative and kinda/sorta anti-Francis. I don't know if they are pro-Benedict, but I tend to get a bit of guff because I like Francis. Yeah, I'm a pushover and a progressive butthead. I do find it odd how being progressive is equated with being good and being conservative is equated with being bad in this film. Remember, I'm pretty progressive compared to most Catholics I know, but there are moments where this movie paints with a pretty wide paintbrush. Francis can't stop seeming super-hip as he casually throws around problematic concepts for the development of the Church as Bergolio. Benedict, by contrast, is painted as completely out of touch. He has no idea who the Beatles are and he doesn't know how to eat pizza. (I laughed at this, but I also thought of the implications.) Benedict, in the film, has been given the great weight of being the representative of the old guard and its now criminally negligent ways while Bergolio comes across as someone who holds all the keys to great success. Again, it's a movie, but it also is a bit lazy, even dangerously so.
It is weird that Jonathan Pryce puts so much into his performance and Hopkins is just Hopkins again. I've had this commentary on Hopkins for a while. (BTW, I hear he is probably a terrible human being. I don't want to think that!) Hopkins is really good at what he does. He has that certain cadence. He has that emotional intensity. The thing is, he's always the same character. I know that he's mostly been playing the same part since The Silence of the Lambs, but it has gotten worse since he's gotten older. If you hadn't seen Westworld or The Two Popes, I could play generic clips from both movies and assuming that there were no context clues, you wouldn't know which movie it came from. Hopkins, playing a German pope who has lived in Italy for a majority of his life, just has his traditional Welsh accent throughout the film. But then there's Jonathan Pryce! Jonathan Pryce, you are an enigma to me. I loved Jonathan Pryce in this movie. He encapsulated every nuance of Jorge Bergolio. His accent, his mannerisms, his lust for life, and his insecurities. Each scene with Pryce is precious and gorgeous. If I liked Francis before, I like him even better now that I've seen Pryce play him. Does that make me wrong? Probably, but I don't really care. The performance is butter!
How do you stick Hopkins across from Pryce like that? I had the opposite issue with Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula. Hopkins is there, chewing the scenery and Keanu Reeves is just being Keanu Reeves. It's such an odd contrast. You would think that everyone would get on the same page before the shooting started. It is either everyone does an impression of the person that they are portraying or no one does. It's also really weird how Pryce got the role. We all remember the character that Jonathan Pryce played on Game of Thrones? The way that I and others described him was "Evil Pope Francis." How do you go from a character that kind of damned Pope Francis to making such a loving portrayal of him in a matter of years?
And that portrayal is loving. Again, probably an ounce of truth to the whole thing, but I like the idea that Jorge Bergolio was a man who deemed himself unworthy of the priesthood. I'm teaching my students An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen and Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. I like the idea that people, in real life, make mistakes because there was no right answer. Bergolio is in this situation, and this is central to the film's theme, where there was no right answer. He tried to do his best in a crappy situation and people got hurt in the process. Other people were saved, but I get Bergolio's tunnel vision in that moment. Seeing that he made the wrong choice for some is haunting. But this is everything that created an interesting character out of Bergolio. Bergolio seemed to be this man who tried to live by example. He was this charismatic guy who was shoulder-to-shoulder with the poor. His form of redemption for his mistake was to embody the charism of the people that he sacrificed. He would outwardly be this positive guy, but inwardly would be a storm at sea. The concept that Bergolio never forgave himself the mistake he made in his youth makes him an interesting person.
I mentioned earlier that the movie portrays conservative ideals as something to be mocked. The one time that the movie nails what it means to be a conservative at one time and a progressive at another is through the tale of young Bergolio. Young Bergolio is the guy who makes the mistake, but really that isn't his fault. He's doing his best with a series of events that are outside of his control. Young Bergolio had the burden of being young. He had faith in things that aren't deserving of that faith. He's never seen as stupid or a bad guy. It's just that he chose the worst of two bad scenarios. That's kind of what it is like choosing politics. Rather than saying, "Man, that guy is an idiot" or "That guy is evil" because of political decisions, Bergolio represents the opportunity for change. When presented with oh-so-much data, Bergolio made the sympathetic choice. He chose to believe that, if he spoke to the government, that they would have mercy on the people of Argentina. That makes sense. He did the best that he could in that moment. But he also is a character who was willing to change. He learned from his mistakes and moved on. I know that people often get stuck in their ways politically, but I think I'm constantly changing my views based on the evidence. (I'm saying that I'm the greatest human being that ever lived and that I'm very modest.)
As great as the complexity of this movie is, the best part actually kind of stems out of the fact that it seems like Francis and Benedict are actual friends. That's what the movie is founded upon, showing these disparate personalities and stressing that it is okay to be friends with people you don't always agree with. That also ended up being my favorite part about RBG, her relationship with Scalia. I don't love when people say that conservatives or progressives are evil or morons. It's something that we all kind of deal with. I know that there are real world consequences. That's why I tend to be more progressive than conservative, because I've weighed the outcomes of the stranger into account. It's not a perfect system. I'm still very conservative about a number of issues, but I like the idea that this, ultimately, is a movie about an important conversation that should be happening every day. These people bonded over their differences, not their similarities. Bergolio loved Ratzinger. Benedict loves Francis. That's what the core of the film is and I adore that.
It's heavy, but it's also funny and charming. It is as respectful as it can be, given a controversial topic. And it's on Netflix. So, you know, low stakes if you don't like it.
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.