Rated R. It's got a lot of language. That language happens to be in front of their kid. Also, if you are woozy at the sight of blood, maybe Marriage Story isn't for you. It's not a gory movie. I think I have to make that absolutely clear. But there is a scene that involves an unhealthy amount of blood. The story is going to gut emotionally more than anything content wise. People are absolutely horrid to one another and that's probably what's stopping most people from watching it. But it's great, so R rating in this case mostly means, "Good movie." R.
DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach
This is just my life for the next few weeks. Go to work. Make dinner. Put the kids to bed. Watch an Academy Award nominee. I'll try to get my Academy Award page updated when I get the chance. But for right now, I'm just all about knocking out as many entries in the Academy Awards category as I can. That's not the worst thing in the world. This is actually my favorite time of year, if I'm going to remove my martyr robe for a second. My wife gets into watching Academy Award nominees, so we just get to watch a bunch of good movies. Regardless, it is a lot. This year, while we didn't watch a ton of movies, so many movies decided to sweep categories, meaning I have a leg up over previous years. But those gosh darn shorts might be a while before they come out.
Noah Baumbach made me believe in the Netflix model. The funny thing is that I don't really like pre-Netflix Noah Baumbach. There's something a bit more human about Baumbach's movies since he went to Netflix. I'm talking about this and The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), if I was beating around the bush too much. I used to think that Netflix movies were pretty disposable. While Roma got a lot of attention, I didn't resonate with me on a level that Baumbach's films did. But Marriage Story is something that is a contender for Best Picture. I mean, I am willing to bet that 1917 will probably get it and I'm very cool with that. But Marriage Story is a solid blend of an acting workshop and a truly emotional piece.
I didn't jump on board Joker because it just felt like a vehicle for Joaquin Phoenix to act the living daylights out of it. The movie without the scene chewing isn't much. But Marriage Story thrives on its vulnerability. It is all about knowing the uncomfortable elements of marriage. It's odd how this movie opened up discussions that I never thought I would be having with my wife. We're very happily married. (I'm not protesting. My wife and I are pretty great.) But the movie really resides in the uncomfortable elements that people don't like to talk about. At least, my wife and I don't. Divorce is an ugly word. I'm going to be dancing around an issue pretty hard. 1) This may sound overly cocky, but my wife and I aren't going to get a divorce. It's just not us. I know. That's incredibly naive to say because who we are now may not be the people we will be tomorrow or the decades after that. But we're both not wired for divorce. 2) We're Catholic, which makes divorce even more complicated.
But we understand that divorce is a real thing. The numbers of people who get divorced is mindblowing. I can't even wrap my head around it. The few people we know that get divorced confuses us. It's a whole different world and I'm never going to judge. I have to idea what that must be like. But Marriage Story kind of opens the book on that. With Marriage Story, it's all centered around career and happiness. My favorite element is how the movie starts and how the movie ends. Baumbach, with his misleading opening that talks about how much these people love each other is so heartfelt and so well-written, that the movie implants me with a sense of investment in the marriage in moment one. That hairpin turn when Nicole won't read the letter is so painful. But that's what the movie needed. It needed to be more about a divorce. The movie, wisely, isn't called Divorce Story. The movie is about the marriage. They aren't divorced from moment one. They are going through the divorce. And boy, the movie makes divorce look ugly.
These people are in love. It's probably the most heartbreaking thing about the movie. Okay, check that because having a kid named Henry is the most heartbreaking thing about the film. I don't think that everyone who gets divorced is still in love during and after the divorce. I couldn't give you numbers because I don't think that the formalized numbers exist. But watching these characters that are still in love being so vitriolic is painful to watch. The insane thing is that the movie starts off from a place of respect. It's the second that the lawyers get involved that the whole thing comes crashing down. Knowing that lawyers are going for the win and not for the happiness of the person is terrifying. Laura Dern's Nora Fanshaw comes across as this sympathetic lawyer who wants the best for her client. But there are moments where she is going for the personal win. Knowing that Nicole doesn't care about 55% custody is such a character moment for both of them. Nicole, despite the fact that both of the spouses are making toxic decisions, knows that Charlie is a good dad. It's incredibly telling about their relationship. Similarly, the duality of lawyers, as she embraces Ray Liotta's Jay Marotta, is such a weird thing. The movie isn't pro-divorce, by any means. But rather, it's pro-people talking. Divorce is something that simply exists in this world and a part of life. Do I wish it wasn't? Sure. But Baumbach is looking at how humans treat each other when things get challenging.
Is it bad that I wish that Charlie didn't have an affair? Yeah, I know. I instantly take the side of Charlie. I'm sorry that I'm part of the patriarchy, but I couldn't help but see him as a closer avatar to me. I think I know why Baumbach added the affair to the story, but I don't think I agree with it. Nicole leaving for L.A. makes her look like the one who is being selfish in the marriage. Charlie has all these good traits, mostly associated with him being a good father. He cooks and he cleans. He gets up for the kid and handles the tantrums. He's too good. But I think that there's enough weight with his inflexibility to make it a more real choice. My wife and I are often shocked when we find out that affairs are real. I have somehow relegated that threat to the world of stage and screen. It is bizarre to think that people we know are probably having affairs, but we're just ignorant of them somehow. But it makes Charlie always kind of the bad guy. The division of L.A. versus New York puts them on an even playing field. I suppose that we didn't want to victimize Charlie's ability to be a parent just because he's male, but it is a bit of an uncomfortable, almost Hollywoody way to make Charlie a bad guy.
Maybe this movie was made for me, a 36-year-old. My heart is naturally moved towards Henry, the kid in the movie. The movie doesn't make it about Henry's reactions to the massive change in his life. I know that he grew up in a performance household. He's probably somewhat used to the odd hours and the shifting locales. But Henry handles a lot of the movie like a champ. He's old enough to understand a lot of this. He's older than my kids, at least. But even without making Henry the touchstone of the film, I keep shifting my gaze from the bubbling hatred of these two characters to the vulnerability of Henry. He's very flat affect and I don't think that's a terrible thing. Kids don't telegraph everything that they are feeling. But that's where my heart really breaks. Yeah, Charlie and Nicole should be good together, despite Charlie's verbal diarrhea that states the opposite. But I really want Charlie to have a sense of normality.
I don't know what's the truth, really. I watch a movie like Marriage Story with the same attention that I would give to a National Geographic documentary. I can only comment on what I see and it's not necessarily good to base all my feelings off of a work of fiction. There are those, and I'm probably in this camp, who view divorce as rough on kids. I'm sure it is. A happy marriage is probably the best thing for a kid, but people can't always have that. But others argue that it is more toxic to have parents who are always fighting. Marriage Story doesn't really comment on that whole pickle. It still doesn't change the fact that my heart absolutely weeps for Henry for the entire film. But Henry doesn't even react like I want him to. He's like what real kids are like. He's in his own little world, almost incapable of empathy on a level that matters. He cares about his toys and the green stuff on food. That's the truth. Maybe if we get a Marriage Story: 2040, we might see how Henry dealt with the events of this film in his own little way.
I've liked Scarlet Johansson for a while. My wife wasn't on board the Scarlet train until fairly recently. I honestly think that she used to hate her in things. She is great in this movie. That's not surprising to me because I tend to like her in everything. But the performance that surprises me is Adam Driver. I know that Adam Driver does some indie stuff. My wife told me that he was on Girls and now I totally can see that. But he's probably an actor that I pigeonholed to be a Star Wars veteran, akin to Mark Hamill. Again, Mark Hamill is a talented guy who is starting to have a bit of a renaissance free from his voiceover work. But Adam Driver might be a serious actor who is going to get past the Star Wars stuff and become something that is more like Harrison Ford. He's so good in this. Yeah, he does heavy emotion really well. But he also does the small beats phenomenally. As an acting exercise, Marriage Story works for both protagonists really well.
I completely dug this movie. Is it depressing? Heck yeah, but that doesn't mean that I didn't smile throughout. It's pretty great. Ignore the runtime. It'll fly by.
Passed, because it's 1945. It's a film noir. There's drunkenness and murder. There's also some accidental death and theft. Oh, and blackmail! Considering that the movie has a body count, it's pretty tame. If you are worried about inappropriate content, consider the fact that people treat each other terribly for the bulk of the movie. I mean, I wouldn't show my kids this kind of movie because they love happiness and sunshine. But they aren't my target audience. Are you an adult who has a modicum of patience? You'll be fine. Passed.
DIRECTOR: Edgar G. Ulmer
God bless you, 68 minute movie. You used every second appropriately and left me with an open evening. I just started a Film Noir class. That's right. A guy who has taught a film class for three years and maintains a practically daily film blog is taking a film class. If you are wondering what it must be like to be in a class with me, the answer is I'm insufferable. I can't keep my stupid mouth shut and I keep answering EVERY question. But I'm super relieved that I have this class now. I have to watch all these movies for class and I get to keep my film count up for the blog. It's a symbiotic relationship.
I haven't seen Detour before. As much as I love film noir, I don't consume as much as I'd like. I tend to like these movies a lot, but film noir tends to have really forgettable titles. Film noir and rom-coms have really forgettable titles. I think part of me is anxious to watch the same movie again, which is a terrible attitude to have. But we learned all about Detour and I'm jazzed to talk about it. The best things going into it? It's 68 minutes and it's a B movie. It's one of the rare B-movies that have transcended its branding and is considered to be a classic, despite the shoestring budget attached to the film. In my head, this is one of those masterpieces that came out of a 24 hour challenge to make a movie. The movie, when you look at it closely, looks cheap. There's a lot of driving scenes with rear projection happening. There are sets that can come across like a stage production versus a big budget movie. But none of that really hampers the movie. Rather, the movie rests on a very cool concept coupled with great characters.
I want to say that I had my expectations pretty low. The movie has a lot of exposition leading into the movie. The protagonist, Al (portrayed by Tom Neal), has a lot to explain about his past before the story really gets going. I don't know if the movie needs it. It actually might because the movie is short enough as is, so maybe it decided to pad out the movie a bit with some exposition. But once the inciting incident drops, I was in. On top of that, Ulmer scales his drama up appropriately. For a movie that starts off so expository, when the story gets going, it really hauls. I'm ashamed of myself a bit on this front. I know the guy who sits next to me in class a bit. I couldn't help but whisper my theories over to him. That's a good sign in a mystery: me not being able to shut up.
The big question that the professor ran by us is the concept of evil and femininity. Female characters in film noir tend to be a bit evil. But the professor ran the idea past us that they often might simply need to be opportunists in a land of chauvinism. Vera is a great villain. She's more than simply the antagonist. She is a villain. She lacks even the most basic morality. When she finds out that Haskell is dead / had been murdered, she seems morally outraged. But within moments, she comes up with a really complex scheme to get ahead. I love Vera. She is infuriating, but there are these moments that explain her character that aren't really telegraphed. I love that Vera has nothing to lose. As a character, she has decided that she has been put upon too much by God and fate, so she lives a life of anarchy. She's this nihilistic character that is out to get out as much as she can from life. She's dying. But she's not dying in a way that screams "I'm dying."
It's such a compelling character. I'm not going to lose my mind over the performance because it has to be kind of easy to play. But it is such a choice. Ulmer and Ann Savage create this character that dares you to feel sympathy for her. I think it would have actually been easier to have Savage play the part as sympathetic. Instead, she comes across as this spitfire. Her face is contorted with hatred for the duration of the film. It demands that the viewer remember the backstory to humanize her. There's a moment, and even this is up to interpretation, where Vera comes across like a human being. There's a scene where she's completely intoxicated on a couch. She's not a good human being in the moment. I can't actually help but judge her because I'm a bad person. She's not a good person in this moment, but the genius thing about it is that she's vulnerable.
Because Vera's defining trait is control in the face of control. The entire movie is chaos and coincidence. There's so many things that just don't line up with how the universe works. Al runs into every single person that can make his life worse and that's how it all plays out. I mean, we discussed the idea that Al is probably an unreliable narrator. I find it more interesting if he is actually a reliable narrator, but that's a whole new argument. Instead, Vera takes the chaos that encircles this couple and doubles down on it. She's picked up by a familiar car and she insists that Al is a murderer. I'm not saying that she is wrong to come to that conclusion. What is nuts is her reaction. She goes into this righteous fury and instantly schemes blackmail. It's phenomenal. If I thought that someone I was riding with was a murderer, I wouldn't wake up from a nap ready to lead this guy by a leash. But that's what makes it compelling.
Similarly, Vera's big plan with the newspaper article. The newspaper article is part of the insane coincidence motif running through the story. Vera doesn't need 15 million dollars. She's dying. She is living moment to moment. But she comes up with this insane scheme that will obviously fail. Al's problems with the plan make so much sense. Al knows nothing about Charlie Haskell shy of what he gleaned over the course of an eight-hour car ride. Al, in this moment, represents logic and intellect. But Vera is all emotion. It's odd to see the id and the ego fighting so clearly in personified form. It becomes knock-down and drag out. It's all the forms of compelling that it can be.
Yeah, the narrator probably is unreliable. The end of the movie, if he was a reliable narrator, makes Al kind of dumb. It's so weird that he pulls on that end of the cord. Yeah, it makes a dramatic ending that is kind of rad. But it also makes no sense. There's coincidence and then there is the result. The only reason that I think that Al might be a reliable narrator is his reaction to things in the framing narrative. Al is genuinely shook and unstable, making it seem like he's not used to the kind of lifestyle that would lead him to accidentally killing someone. Regardless, I kind of hope that he's a reliable narrator. It creates a cool narrative about fate and the universe that may be implausible, but I like that.
Detour was a great watch. It made me excited to take this class. Also, I will almost always recommend a 68 minute movie that has any value to it whatsoever. The only problem is that I'm going to get this mixed up with every other noir I'm going to watch over the next few months. But that's not a bad problem to have.
G. It's a movie that has a significant amount of Nazis that's rated G. Yeah, I mentally played the score from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade whenever a black Rolls Royce roared past the screen. But it's a movie with singing and dancing. The father's a bit of a jerk, but that's all that can really be chalked up to questionable content. It's a G movie through and through.
DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
My wife is going to leave me over this one. I don't like Rodgers and Hammerstein. I've tried. I've tried and failed multiple times. I don't know what it is about that certain brand of musical. I thought I didn't like musicals at all because of my dislike of Rodgers and Hammerstein. But then I saw other musicals and then realized I actually like musicals quite a bit. Maybe it's the operatic element to these movies and plays, but good golly, I find these movies dull. I know that The Sound of Music is a classic, but I just can't get into it. It doesn't hurt that the movie is three hours long.
I'm going to try to respect it as a work of art though. I spent a semester abroad in Austria in college. Big surprise: everyone there was obsessed with The Sound of Music. You'd think that people would start pointing out Arnold landmarks, but it was all The Sound of Music. Like Roman Holiday, if you want a movie to show off how gorgeous your country is, have something like The Sound of Music. For all my griping about this movie, the scale of this film is insane. There are just shots and shots of Julie Andrews in front of some of the most impressive scenery imaginable. I have to imagine that there are certain scenes in the movie just because it is an excuse to film in front of something pretty. When the kids are going on a day trip, that montage is just an amazing excuse to show how pretty Austria really is. It's why they all act like maniacs. There's no reason narratively to have the scene play out that long, so the kids have to act like they are losing their minds in excitement for just being out in nature. It's fine. It's a very pretty movie. It's a good movie to own on Blu-Ray.
I really have the impression that Rodgers, Hammerstein, and Wise have never met a child, let alone an unruly child. The first half of the film, as a parent, stupifies me. I honestly can't wrap my head around it. The kids start off with the traditional Problem Child issue. These kids just won't behave for any of their governesses. But Julie Andrews shows up? She decides to anti-Mary Poppins the whole thing. (It is odd that Julie Andrews has made a career by portraying two separate governesses who act completely differently from one another and gets completely similar results.) But within a day, Maria manages to turn these little ragamuffins around without much to-do. It's her joie de vivre that turns them around. The kids are turds from the moment they meet her. One of them sticks a frog in her pocket and they run off laughing. Liesl straight up comes across as antagonistic to Maria, showing that she's going to be the alpha dog in this relationship.
But Maria does two things and the kids are on board? The first thing she does is kind of narc on them. Did no one else try that? The entire table is crying out of shame for what they did. Um...bad kids don't feel bad for doing bad things. The second thing she does is...not narc on Liesl? Liesl instantly trusts Maria after this moment. They are best of friends. Somehow, Maria becomes an outlet for Liesl, who is apparently desperate for attention. Now, I'm griping about all this. This is Hollywood logic, but Maria takes the easiest role possible in shaping these children and they are just on board. This kind of leads to them acting like absolute nutbags for the rest of the movie. Seriously, they find fun in the most ridiculous things. I know that Captain Von Trapp starved them of fun, but then why are they villains to people who could offer an alternative to the tyranny of their father? Out of all the governesses that attempted to have this job, did none of them say, "Okay, kids, playtime?" I don't buy it.
I'm griping about this movie because I can. People who like this movie are better people than I. They simply see the joy of a musical and the emotions that accompany that joy. But there are some really weird choices. "Do, a Deer" is a song literally explaining what singing is. The kids don't know what singing is. That's a really weird choice considering that the Von Trapp family become famous for singing. Dad goes away for a month. These kids don't know what singing is and he comes back --they know complex eight part harmony. Then Captain Von Trapp joins in? He's ready to fire her and he's like, "Oh, they sing now? You're the best."
Maybe it isn't the operatic nature of Rodgers and Hammerstein that blows my mind. It's the weird logical leaps that the stories take while progressing. I have the exact same problems with Oklahoma. The characters shift where they shouldn't shift. The plot needs to move forward, so we're just going to ignore character development and conflict up to this point for the sake of the story moving forward. And The Sound of Music has too much plot.
The Sound of Music has the following A plots, but not at the same time:
A) Maria needs to find her true calling
B) These kids just won't listen
C) Dad needs to rediscover his happiness
D) Maria needs to win over Dad's love
E) The family needs to escape the Nazis
Now, lots of movies have multiple plot threads. Some of those plot threads above could blend together. But then the last third of the movie is Captain Von Trapp fleeing Nazis. The movie stopped even writing new music for this point in the movie. All of the songs are played before the Intermission. Every song in the second half of the film is a reprise from the first half. Christopher Plummer sings "Edelweiss" twice. Was he contracted to sing at least one song and the film just decided to use it as much as possible?
I love scenes where rebels sing the national anthem in the face of the Nazis. Someone on my Catholic Movie Geeks group on Facebook commented that everyone hates the scene in Casablanca where La Marsaillaise is chanted in face of the Nazi interlopers. That's one of my favorite scenes and it is a weird assumption that people hate that scene. So why doesn't "Edelweiss" sell me like that? I mean, it might be one of the better scenes in the movie. It's conceptually great. But it doesn't have the same effect on me that Casablanca does. There's something missing. Perhaps that the Nazi stuff doesn't get the devotion that the rest of the film does. The first act teases that Rolfe is a Hitler youth, but not much is done with the exception of an odd mention here and there.
I was going to write this whole bit about how history is rewritten to make the story more epic here. But then I realized that complaining about that would just make me a turd. Having the Von Trapps cross the mountains is way more epic. I don't care if the geography doesn't really support it. Narratively, there needed to be a way that was epic and included the landscape of Austria to build into the escape. I don't think that my complaints reflect the idea that the events didn't reflect reality. Reality is one thing; cinema is another. That is one thing that I'm going to let go.
I'm sorry I don't like this movie. People absolutely adore this movie and I get why. It's just that Rodgers and Hammerstein drive me up the wall for the most part. There are so many things that they have created that do absolutely nothing for me. Watching this wasn't a burden because the music is extremely memorable. But in terms of being emotionally moved, I'm just dead inside, I guess.
PG and a well-deserved PG as well. I know some friends of mine, who happen to read this blog, were upset that the alcohol flowed so freely, considering that Alcott specifically mentioned that the March family basically abstained from drinking. Okay, I'll give you that. Laurie is also a kind of a jerk from time to time in the movie, which can be jarring. But in terms of questionable content, the movie is remarkably tame. That's right, a well-deserved PG Greta Gerwig movie.
DIRECTOR: Greta Gerwig
There are some properties out there that are very precious to people. These are the people like my wife. She was really hesitant to see this movie. It was almost kicking and screaming. Okay, maybe not that. She went into this movie skeptical and apathetic. I can kind of see where she was coming from. Little Women has been made and adapted into film multiple times. There are beats that have to be hit and there's only so many ways that we can see the same movie over and over again. But both my wife and I left the movie pleasantly surprised. Greta Gerwig may have proven herself the master of balance with Little Women.
See, I wanted to see the whole thing burned to the ground. That's right. I'm the Joker. I'm an anarchist. I wanted Marie Antoinette for Little Women. Yeah, I'm the bad guy in your story. The thing about a property that has been done so many times is that it becomes untouchable. You have to do this, you have to do that. But I know Greta Gerwig movies. She's got a thing for fun dialogue and an indie-punk tone to accompany that rad dialogue. There's a certain rebelliousness to her ouvre and I wanted to see Little Women, a heartwarming story, colored in that light. I didn't get that. I got a little bit of that. For all that I'm about to write about, Little Women is still a Greta Gerwig movie. But Gerwig decides to shade something that works instead of breaking everything down from scratch.
And my wife liked that a lot. Instead of watching a movie that she has seen before, she got a new angle on the same events. Gerwig, with her framing devices, changes the way that we view the events of Little Women. Rather than simply presenting the events chronologically, having Jo reflect on her life from a point of nostalgia adds a new dimension to an established plot. We know from moment one that Jo and Laurie don't end up together. Because Jo and Laurie have already endured a failed proposal, Jo is in a place of despair. But Jo March's despair is such a fine color on her because we get to know who she is as a character from the first fifteen minutes without having a painful amount of exposition. The opening shot, Jo March selling a short story, gives us the background of her passion. Her joy in that moment of selling a short story below price also tells us her value system. But quickly, we discover the concept that she is a fish out of water. Her home is her family. She thrives in the world of the March household. As much as Jo is thriving, she too is floundering. She is afraid to return home because of the consequences of her choices and that makes the events of the story interesting.
I read on a comments thread that the events of Little Women might be unintelligible with this play on chronology. I don't know if that is true. I know Little Women. I haven't been in the cult of Little Women by any means. I like the story enough and I've seen more than one adaptation of the text. But there were still surprises in the movie that I had forgotten about. It was still a fresh story. I like the jumps back and forth in time. It breaks up the biggest problem I have with the original story, the slow pace. Jumping back and forth creates a fun sense of stakes that I don't think other productions have offered in the past.
The movie isn't necessarily perfect, but a lot of the negatives really could be chalked up to nitpicking. One thing that we whispered back and forth is how the character don't seem to age whatsoever. Seven years in the lives of early 20-somethings is actually kind of a big deal. But is it worth really being upset about? Probably not. The women of the March household exist almost outside of reality. They are paragons of their gifts. While reading Little Women, the characters seem older than their actual ages. Thus, when they are older, I never read them as not being the proper ages. Amy, who in the flashback should be along the lines of 13, never really bothers me with the age issue.
I also feel bad for Laura Dern's Marmie. Laura Dern is a rad actress and I really like seeing her in this movie. But her character is pretty undeveloped. But that's a small sacrifice, because...
AMY'S CHARACTER IS REALLY GOOD! I know that in Lady Bird, I complained about how blah Saoirse Ronan was. She's significantly better in this movie and does a great job as Jo. But I cared so much more about Florence Pugh's Amy March. I never cared about Amy before. Amy is so central to this story and I'm ashamed that I never really made that connection. A lot of the credit goes to Pugh and Gerwig for making Amy a likable and relatable character. Yeah, she's still the devil for burning Jo's book. That knee-jerk reaction will never leave me, no matter what I do. But Amy comes across in this version as a well-developed supporting role. The relationship that she has with Laurie, partially due to the chronology of the film, comes across as authentic. I absolutely adore it. Because Amy interacts with Laurie from the earliest moments of the film, when she ultimately ends up with him, it actually makes sense. Also, her line about not wanting to have Jo's hand-me-downs is completely built through the film. If you are questioning whether or not to watch Little Women, watch it for nothing else than an amazing development of Amy March's character.
But I have to say this. This has been the least analytical thing I've written because I'm still emotionally high over the movie. One thing that I don't know has ever really been said by me is that this version of Little Women is straight up fun. For all my grumbling about Lady Bird, I think that Greta Gerwig is a fun director. I enjoyed Frances Ha. The joy that is imbued in this film left me entertained. It became less about a love story and more about how family interacts. Is the love story in there? Yeah, and it's great. I love knowing that the story isn't giving me the easy answer. Little Women allows for the stories and interactions to be complicated. Will the Marches always be just off reality? Sure. But that is also what makes them special. I kind of get it now. Yeah, true devotees will probably scoff at my newfound affection for these characters based on this movie, but I hope that someone appreciates it. I know the source material is great, but I really had a fun time with this movie and I'm thrilled that it is up for an Oscar.
Approved! It's about kids dying at war. Yeah, it's based on something that is in the literary canon, but the movie is fundamentally about death and cowardice. It is a G-rated version of war. We don't really experience any real blood. There's a part in the movie where the injured march this parade towards safety. But the injured are primarily composed of bandaged folks sans blood. Henry takes a hit to the head, but the blood is pretty minimal. Despite being named The Red Badge of Courage, there is surprisingly very little blood to be seen in the film.
DIRECTOR: John Huston
Man, I'm not ready to rag on John Huston. I had all of these talking points that I wanted to make about this movie, but Huston is infamous for making war movies and adaptations of famous novels. The big thing is that I want to be writing about the Academy Award nominations now, but I'm in the middle of clearing off the docket of stuff that I watched before the nominations came out. Regardless, I swear to you, my devoted reader, that I will try my best to not be distracted by the million things that I still have to do. I will write without the spectre of slight boredom over my head.
I taught The Red Badge of Courage one year. If you read my review of 1917 for Catholic News Agency, I pile it on pretty thick that I'm a pacifist. As such, traditional war stories don't really appeal to me. Stephen Crane is an impressive writer, but he also really drives the red motif home in that book. There was a time where I actively rolled my eyes when Crane would drop a reference to the titular metaphor. It's just so present throughout the story. But The Red Badge of Courage, for all its heavy-handedness, is a respectable book. It's very gritty and internalized. The novel explores what it must feel like to be a soldier. It humanizes the soldier and addresses the hypocrisy of emotion. It's complex in all of the right ways and, while I don't love the novel, I appreciate and respect it for challenging the traditional war story while also creating a microcosm for its protagonist.
But the one real takeaway is that The Red Badge of Courage might be on the list of sort-of unfilmable movies. I tend to shy away from that list because I love what cinema can do for storytelling. I know that Cloud Atlas was on that list of unfilmable movies. From what I understand of "unfilmable" is the idea that making the text into a visual medium only detracts from the foundation of what the book tried to achieve. The Red Badge of Courage nails some of the plot points of the story pretty well. But if you read the novel, the plot points really are second to the character. Huston does his best with this. With a disembodied narrator, sections of the novel are read over the film, trying to connect what Crane was saying with the visuals. It's functional, but doesn't really have the same effectiveness.
Narrators are kind of a big ask for an audience in film. Sometimes, they are instrumental to the mood of the film. Alec Baldwin as the narrator in The Royal Tenenbaums is part of the odd tapestry that Wes Anderson created. Morgan Freeman can pretty much narrate anything, that is, if it is a documentary or wildly meta. But even with a classic film like Blade Runner, there is a cut where the filmmakers just couldn't make it work. In The Red Badge of Courage, rather than contributing to the film, it reads like a shortcut for actual character development. The movie starts off with the prideful claim that the film uses the words of the immortal novel to supplement the film. This oddly handicaps the film. Instead of allowing us to view Henry's self-doubt and growth, we kind of view the events of the novel as a summary.
Because Henry never has to make that slow decent into cowardice, it feels like the film acts as a SparkNotes version of a much richer movie. The narrator does a lot of the heavy lifting. Rather than reading the complexity of what this story is about, the narrator just tells us that the character has changed. I don't want to detract from Audie Murphy's performance as Henry Fleming. It's not an amazing performance, but it isn't bad either. It's just that it all comes across as very clipped. Rather than allowing the story to play out in long-form, the movie lets us know what has happened and then it moves on. Like 1917, the movie keeps its eye on the protagonist. In the novel, this creates a sense of isolation. We don't know what major battles are or aren't happening. The news of others comes across as hearsay. But with Henry having a narrator giving all of this exposition, these scenes tend to be very short. No location really matters.
And now the pacifist comes out. The Red Badge of Courage, as a novel, works because of its complexity. It is both damning of war and celebratory of the soldier. War is no joke in Stephen Crane's novel. I always saw the theme as the unpreparedness of the person to enter a transcendental experience. There is an element of propaganda to it, allowing Henry to rise above his own insecurities and fears to eventually grow into the veteran soldier. But the movie hamfists the whole thing and the movie, ultimately, becomes a propaganda piece. When Henry finally overcomes his fear and runs into battle, it is a tense and uncomfortable moment. While the novel has been building up to this climax, it feels like Henry's going to die as a consequence of his earlier cowardice. I was convinced the first time I read it that he was going to die. When that moment completes, it is exhausting.
However, the movie uses a sprawling soundtrack to show the glory of battle. I don't know if The Red Badge of Courage is really about the glory of battle. I mean, it is. But it isn't at the same time. There's something very personal about Henry in the novel. He is an avatar for the common man. He's got the flaws of humanity woven into his moral fabric. He's both confident and fool-hearty. He's a hero and a coward. But I never really read The Red Badge of Courage as a recruitment tool. It was more of a commentary on the soul in the face of war. When, in the film, Henry is charging with the union flag fluttering behind him as the score swells, it undoes a lot of that moment. The rest of the movie feels like a recruitment film and I hate that. It's not a terrible movie, but I don't like how it manipulates a text to get what it needs. The movie just feels icky from that point and I don't really like it.
It's also really short. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. I talked about how this movie feels truncated from its source material. I love me a short movie, especially when I don't really like the movie to begin with. But this movie's shortness adds to its weakness. The bulk of the novel is Henry out in the woods, questioning how he can live with himself and justifying his own cowardice. The movie is really too short to explore the main purpose of the film. I can see this movie really working if it just allowed itself to exist with itself for five minutes. Instead, the breakneck pace of the whole movie just tears its soul from it until it just is seen as a student project summarizing the major plots.
I guess I ripped into this movie pretty hard. I suppose its fine. I just think that I have a standard for the film because it is both in the literary canon and could be considered to be part of the film canon. But there is just such a break between the source material and the final product that I wish that this movie wasn't called The Red Badge of Courage. It's claim to respect the source material is actually what harms the film more than anything else. If it was just another movie, maybe I would have been fine with it. But nothing really does it for me with this movie, which is kind of a bummer.
Rated PG-13, but this is quintessential 2000s comedy. It's wildly offensive because of the lack of PC culture. Characters play insanely overt stereotypes. It really rides that fine line of laughing-with and laughing-at. There's a lot of sexual innuendo throughout the film. Some of that humor is disparaging; some of it is not. There's also some language, but that's mostly pretty tame. While the movie should be PG-13, it is also the product of a bygone era. Regardless, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Guest
My wife and her family have seemingly gone deep into Schitt's Creek. This actually all started because of my sister-in-law, who was wildly obsessed with the show. I like the show. I find myself gufawing at it once or twice an episode, which is pretty high praise. But my wife and my sister-in-law adore it. My wife and I are now oldish. In college, both of us were obsessed with the films of Christopher Guest. In the nicest way possible, compared to us, my sister-in-law is a baby. She has never heard of Christopher Guest. There were no moments where she could just quote Waiting for Guffman. So, because I got her as my Secret Santa, I bought her the Christopher Guest collection on Blu-Ray. But that just made me want to watch them as well. Thanks, TCM, for accommodating.
I know that I talked about this in the MPAA section, but I have a need to get this off my chest. I adore the works of Christopher Guest. I laugh a lot at these movies. There's something really uncomfortable about these movies now. Maybe times have change and maybe I'm just more woke, but there's a bit of problematic content in these movies. Between Corky St. Clair and Scott Donlan, there's some uncomfortable representation. 2000 was a very different time. I think I comment on this in other things I write, but the era between 1998-2002 was kind of the Wild West. Howard Stern reigned supreme and we were fighting for political incorrectness. The films of Christopher Guest aren't trying to be edgy, but there's also some low hanging jokes that tend to pop up in these movies. I always thought that Guest and John Michael Higgins, who play Corky and Scott respectively, might themselves be gay, kind of giving validity to the jokes. But both are cis-gendered males who are doing the voice throughout the films. A lot of the jokes in both films are "Aren't they flamboyant?", which probably doesn't hold up today. It feels different when Dan Levy does a variation on the character because he identifies with it. But Jane Lynch is in the film. I don't know if that is an example of tokenism or what. I don't know if it is unfair to ask her to sign off on jokes, but there it is. Regardless, it's a bit icky and I do want to point that out.
I'll always point to Waiting for Guffman as the quintessential Christopher Guest vehicle. There are times that I want to give that to This is Spinal Tap, but that's really Rob Reiner's baby. But Best in Show might be the most perfected of all the works that Guest worked on. The smaller the stakes, the tighter the film, in some ways. Best in Show treats the subject matter closer to an actual documentary that we might see. Realistically, if one was to make a documentary of the people involved in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, I imagine it would look a lot like this. In terms of plot, that means practically nothing. Like Salesman, the documentarian would have to simply follow the lives of these people. If nothing happened, nothing happened. In terms of delivering content, that means that the characters are given the opportunity to spout off varying philosophies. That's where the jokes really land.
Waiting for Guffman has an odd conceit that clashes with reality. I adore that film and can't wait to watch it again. But like The Office, you kind of have to shut your brain off about why this documentary exists and how a camera crew would have struck such gold. What would be the odds that a documentary film crew would be filming a movie about a play about Blaine that coincidentally was going to get picked up by Broadway? It's ludicrous, but that's where some of the humor comes from. On the other end of the scale, Guest's stories actually grow in scope and scale. A Mighty Wind follows quasi-celebrities for a grand reunion concert and For Your Consideration dives deep into the world of Hollywood politics.
But that's kind of what gives Best in Show its heart. The story ultimately doesn't matter, so it really comes down to crafting fun and relatable characters. There is a big payoff. Guest's films thrive on knowing that there's some deadline on the horizon and that these people will have to transcend their mundane lives to pull it off. With Guffman, it is the arrival of the titular character. With Best in Show, it is the Dog Show with the question of who will win. A Mighty Wind has the reunion and Consideration has the release of the film. It's so sad that I don't remember much about Mascots because I know I only watched it a few years ago. That big payoff creates this tension all throughout the film, which forces people who have never had to deal with something bigger than themselves to flounder. The stakes are elevated, so the personalities are elevated as well.
There was a documentary named Spellbound that came out about the same time as Best in Show. This isn't the Hitchcock movie of the same name. This is a movie about kids in a spelling bee. I'm not a sports guy or a gambling man. But during spring break in college, a bunch of my buddies and I rented that movie, put out snacks, and started aggressively betting on who was going to win that spelling bee. It's so odd that Best in Show and Spellbound kind of hold the same format. In retrospect, you know who is going to win. I mean, it never really matters who is going to win, but that part of my brain starts buzzing really hard when I know that's an option. But Guest is smart when he presents all these disparate folks together.
These personalities range from the lovable to the lamentable. While we root for winners Gerry and Cookie Fleck, the traditional underdog Charlie Browns of the group, Guest also gives us Harlan Pepper. I said that Guest really builds the Flecks up to be winners, but Harlan Pepper is also an extremely sympathetic character. Perhaps the most innocent of the group, Pepper lives in a world mostly isolated. He has his friends from the bait shop, one of whom is such a simpleton that even Pepper can only try to tolerate him. But he's also a really nice guy. He loves his dog and his attendance at the dog show is because he is proud of his dog. There is no real push for fame and glory. He just knows that he has a good dog and he wants his dog to be happy. I'm not a pet person, but Guest's character is such a nice guy that you can't help rooting for him.
But I'm also in love with the Flecks. Cookie is absurd. The running gag is very funny and it makes the movie full on hilarious. But poor Gerry. Eugene Levy is a genius. I'm just putting that out there right now. The man's comic timing and ability to make people laugh at the straight man is dead on perfect. I don't think I've ever seen something so appropriate as making Gerry Fleck literally have two left feet. It seems like an easy gag, but it also works as a reminder of who this character is supposed to be. He's a guy who has married out of his punching class. I know that Cookie seems silly throughout the film, but the actors really build these characters with a backstory that is on their sleeves. From Gerry's perspective, he was the left-footed dork who got the prom queen to like him. It's this sad story that is made funny by two outrageously funny actors. I adore it.
The variety of characters absolutely stunning and perfect. Yeah, I sympathize with the noble characters, but I find myself quoting the Swans more than anything else. The absurdity of those two characters is just perfect. Their opening interview talking about the J. Crew catalogs is one of my favorite things. I know the Starbucks joke is already pretty trite by 2000, but I don't even care at that point. I also love the line by Sherri Ann Cabot talking about "how we could talk or not talk for hours." There's just these beats that work.
Yeah, Best in Show might come across as a bit uncomfortable at times. But the jokes really work for the majority of the film. I also adore how small the movie is and it just relishes in it. It was made by Castle Rock, but it oddly epitomizes the independent spirit that the 2000s probably got right. This is a group of funny people doing funny things while caring about the product of the film. It's pretty great.
PG-13, but it is a very icky PG-13. While the movie isn't entirely about kids exploring their sexuality, that stuff is definitely explicit in there. Like, it's really uncomfortable at times. There's some jokey violence. It kind of comes across like some of the things that would eventually be seen in Isle of Dogs. There's also some mild language. Wes Anderson is really good at pushing MPAA ratings. Like how The Fantastic Mr. Fox shouldn't be PG, Moonrise Kingdom probably shouldn't be PG-13. But it is.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
I've griped about it and I've griped about it. For some reason, Moonrise Kingdom slipped through the cracks when it was in the theater. I think we had a newborn or my wife was insanely pregnant at the time, but we just didn't get out to see this one when it came out. Being new parents, we were tired all the time, so we didn't even get a chance to rent it. A couple years later, it was on Netflix and my wife and I were excited that we could watch a new Wes Anderson movie. We finished the movie almost stone-faced. Considering that we were both Wes Anderson die hard fans, we both felt like we got very little out of the movie. I remember having that awkward feeling of forcing myself to laugh in desperate attempt to like the movie. Well, I decided to revisit this movie in hopes that maybe I was just in the wrong headspace while watching it.
I've talked about this phenomenon with Anderson before. There are certain entries in his ouvre that feel like he is trying to make a Wes Anderson movie. Obstructed by his own shadow, these are the movies where he has to keep up appearances. Everything in Moonrise Kingdom feels like a Wes Anderson movie. He's got the great soundtrack. You can bisect a lot of his setups. Kids act like adults. Adults act like kids. There's a self-aware narrator. The color palate is all on-brand. It just doesn't gel like the other movies do. I have theories about this. I definitely place blame on certain actors. But fundamentally, I get the vibe that Moonrise Kingdom isn't a movie in itself, so much as it is an attempt to do what has worked in the past, coupled with the urge to create Isle of Dogs.
Moonrise Kingdom comes right after Fantastic Mr. Fox. The humor is very similar. It plays up far more physically than a movie like The Royal Tenenbaums. I adore the animated films. I completely recommend them and will stand by them. But the physical humor of those movies works significantly better in animated form than in live action. I do believe that Anderson is in the headspace that will put him on track for Isle of Dogs, but I don't think he mentally shifted out of Fantastic Mr. Fox to make the movie that he really wanted to with Moonrise Kingdom. The physical humor really falls flat. The most glaring moment is perhaps when Sam gets struck by lightning. There are elements of the cartoon world in Moonrise, but it never really goes all in. The setting reads more like something we'd see out of Anderson's other vehicles. The closest I got to laughing was when Sam gets hit by lightning, but that moment should slay. As evidence of Anderson's love for the animated form, Sam doesn't actually suffer any consequences of getting hit by lightning. Rather, a comically Wile E. Coyote style blast mark around him reminds us what happened and Anderson tags scenes with Sam still emitting electricity.
Similar to the lightning strikes are the drastic shifts in emotion. Now, Anderson has been playing with this in his other movies, so I can't say that all of this is the result of his foray into animation. But the shifts are far more jarring than what works with live action. There are moments when Sam and Suzy just break out into dance or take hard right turns emotionally. I want to compare this to the moment when Eli Cash sneaks out of the Tenenbaum household and Royal catches him. The same intent is there. Eli Cash reaches out to Royal seemingly out of nowhere. I defend this moment, because Cash's character is an eccentric. But even more so, that moment lasts for a beat. There is no audio cut that would have the same effect as a smash cut, so that odd character choice only exists for a moment. The reality of how bizarre that shift is actually is the joke. Compare that to blaring music while the two kids dance on the beach. It's supposed to have the same effect. That smash cut feel of being thrown into a different emotional state is really jarring. That kind of stuff is all over Fantastic Mr. Fox, but the surreal world of Mr. Fox kind of allows for that kind of stuff to happen.
I'd like to talk a little speculation stuff here. If you didn't guess from what I wrote, I don't really like this movie. Lots of people do and I encourage them to keep liking it. Always like what you like. But my theory about the thing that really sticks the nail in the coffin is a lot of guesswork. I don't think that the cast is probably the right one for this movie. When writing about The Royal Tenenbaums, my big marvel is that Gene Hackman works in this movie. My theory for that one is that he had no idea what was going on, but just went with the flow and found himself in a touching movie. There are two actors in Moonrise Kingdom who are infamously hard to work with: Bruce Willis and Edward Norton. With Edward Norton, he has a history of making more risky films, so I can see him eventually getting on board to the film. He is able to adapt and meet the needs of the film. But after hearing Kevin Smith talk about Bruce Willis, I wouldn't be surprised if he just refused to play ball. None of his jokes really land in the entire movie. He seems to be put out for a lot of this movie.
And this is where I hate myself. I feel like I'm throwing a little girl under the bus, which makes me both a jerk as an old man and in the fact that she's a girl and I feel like a bully. Kara Hayward is one of the two leads. She's a major part of this movie...and she doesn't really take a bunch of risks. Anderson has his tropes. He keeps returning to the same well for a lot of his movies, and that includes character types. Suzy is Margot Tenenbaum. She's the flat-affected rebel runaway. The entire movie, it feels like Kara Hayward is just doing an impression of Gwyneth Paltrow's Margot and that doesn't offer anything new. There are moments in Royal Tenenbaums where Margot offers a different take from her character's disinterested flat affect. She looks genuinely moved and taken aback. Paltrow gives the character a battle to maintain her persona. While she wins the war, there are moments where she loses battles to maintain that aloofness. Suzy, however, with an almost carbon-copy delivery of Margot, misses some of those important beats. She is the same character throughout. Choices aren't really being made, but rather a voice and a posture are delivered. It's such a bummer because Suzy holds up so much of the movie. While I'm not in love Jared Gilman's Sam throughout, there are some real moments of vulnerability that he delivers. Suzy just seems like a robot while Sam feels like he's at least covering up some vulnerability.
This entire writing exercise proved to be more evaluative than I would have liked, but it is really hard to plumb the depths when you find a movie to be tedious. I don't think I've ever felt so good to see a runtime be reasonable because I just get bored. Aesthetically, everything is on point. It is a pretty movie to look at and to listen to, but nothing really grabs in terms of both story and character. It's odd, because Anderson usually nails his characters. I'm going to point the lens at myself for a second because I also know my tastes. You can probably throw out a lot of my criticisms knowing the following: I'm also not a big fan of Rushmore. As much as I claim that Moonrise Kingdom in the byproduct of Anderson's cinematic canon, it actually probably shares a lot of DNA with Rushmore. Having children as the protagonists in a film is fine. It's just that children acting as adults, for me, works better as a side joke than as the basis for an entire film. Ari and Uzi are fine because Anderson cuts to them for juxtaposition. Max Fischer, however, becomes insufferable.
So as much as I can complain about all these things, my opinion is ultimately just my opinion. I know people that I respect that absolutely adore this movie. They're probably right. It's just that all the things that I like about a Wes Anderson movie kind of fall flat here.
PG-13 and it really feels like PG-13. Lots of people die. That's a really weird to say, but it's about to get weirder. So many people die simultaneously that it has that effect of being a statistic. There's some sad deaths, but it is more incomprehensible. Similarly, with most PG-13 Jack Ryan entries, there's mild language and some action movie violence. Also, the movie works really hard to play up the Ben Affleck sex symbol element. There's some implied premarital sex. It's all very PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Phil Alden Robinson
I finally did it! I was able to watch all of the Jack Ryan blu-ray box set. It's been sitting on my coffee table for almost a year, daring me to watch it. But I can finally put it on my shelf. That's such a happy moment for me, when it joins the collection. Sure, there's also something disappointing about that moment. The dopamines associated with purchasing it are long gone. The only way that the Jack Ryan box set will probably bring me more joy is if someone sees it on the shelf and wants to watch it with me. I don't know if that's going to happen.
Post 9/11 was a weird time. There were a handful of movies that were clearly in production before the tragedy of the World Trade Center that ended up evoking a haunting sense of vulnerability. I know that The Siege with Denzel Washington came out in 1998, but post-9/11, I remember watching that movie a whole bunch. The same can be said for The Sum of All Fears. A lot of America didn't want movies like that. It was too raw and too fresh. But these movies provided commentary, albeit in a setting that was mostly supposed to be entertaining, about who we were after a major attack. The Siege, from what I remember, perhaps stronger in its criticism of fear in the wake of tragedy, but The Sum of All Fears with its 2002 release date was a movie that kind of starts a dialogue without really finishing it.
When the nuclear device goes off, it kind of changes what we think of in terms of political thrillers. I don't know if the movie is structured perfectly in terms of narrative, but sticking this major tragedy in the latter half of the movie makes for an interesting story. When something crazy happens in movies like these, I always expect it to happen in the first few minutes of the movie. There's an expectation of formula that is messed with when a movie decides to throw the major tragedy halfway through the movie. It becomes something important. If looking at a plot mountain, that disaster at the beginning of a Bond movie or something similar is the inciting incident. Instead, with Jack Ryan, it's the role of analyst that changes how we view these movies.
Jack Ryan is an odd beast, I suppose. In Tom Clancy's world, we have John Clark. John Clark should be the protagonist of these movies. He's a right proper action hero super spy. He's the guy who goes on all these missions and is sent in when things go poorly. But Jack Ryan looks at data. There's nothing really sexy about looking at data. He's a guy who is talking with a sounding board of other analysts who don't see what he sees. It can't be a rewarding job to be one of these other analysts because they are there to have Jack Ryan talk and make them seem ignorant of what's going on. Look at how Jack is introduced in this movie. He's the guy showing the room full of people that he knows his stuff better than his peers.
That conversation means that we are only let in on fragments of what the story is actually about. Instead of having a spaceship eat a space capsule a 'la You Only Live Twice, Jack has to look at what might be happening. The satisfying moment is when he gets a theory that will ultimately be mostly right. It can't be all right because there has to be an epiphany moment later in the movie. That epiphany moment is also remarkably satisfying. But Jack Ryan kind of allows for the major disaster to happen in the middle of the movie. I haven't read the Tom Clancy novels, so I don't know how the source material plays with the nuclear explosion in Baltimore. But most movies don't let it get that far. In Man of Steel, Metropolis is destroyed as an afterthought. I know that Batman v Superman tried making a bigger moment out of that, but I think that's because of fan outrage. But Baltimore is the failure of the protagonist. It's not Jack's fault, really. Because he is an analyst, the information trickles in so slowly until it is impossible for Jack to stop the event.
I have to applaud the stakes changing that The Sum of All Fears actually allows. I don't know how it is possible to live in Tom Clancy's America. Again, I'm not an expert. But the first few movies seem like there would be a business-as-usual result to his world. I also don't know how interconnected his books are. In my head, it's all one world. Like, the Rainbow Six team probably can and have met Jack Ryan. Does this mean that there is no more Baltimore in the world of Tom Clancy? That's kind of cool / really dark and I probably shouldn't be writing with such enthusiasm about the end of Baltimore, Maryland.
But that twist is gutsier than a lot of people give it credit for. The movie becomes a very different film after that moment. I don't want to say that Jack Ryan becomes another character because he doesn't. The Jack Ryan of The Sum of All Fears is very similar to the Jack Ryan of The Hunt for the Red October. His intimate knowledge of a Russian leader causes him to clash with his superiors in an attempt to save the world from complete ruin. (Oh geez, I just had the epiphany that The Sum of All Fears is a cut and paste over The Hunt for the Red October and that I need to stop being so nice to this movie.) But the movie becomes about Jack stopping a tragedy and getting the bad guys to stopping the end of the world. I love that shift. The movie teases the fact that Jack doesn't know how to schmooze with the political bigwigs from the beginning, but then it becomes about life and death? That's pretty nifty.
I know why they keep rebooting these movies, but I don't like it. There's something wildly uncomfortable about how young they make Jack Ryan in these movies. Tom Clancy movies are for old men. I'm sorry. Everyone else is allowed to like them, but the target audience is old folks. I'm sure that Paramount hates that. Old men don't spend all the dollars. I don't hate Ben Affleck. I never really have. As a human being, he might not be amazing based on tabloid nonsense. But the guy is way more talented than people give him credit for. It's just such a studio choice to make Ben Affleck Jack Ryan. He does a perfectly fine job with it. He's a pretty good actor and, as the movie ACTUALLY STATES, he's very handsome. But I don't know if Jack's mythology is so tight that we needed to have an origin story for the character. Think about it. From this point on, Jack Ryan gets younger and younger. We always have to have that moment where Jack is pulled out of his comfort zone to do something that shouldn't be his job. It used to be about this old guy who decades ago was a Marine. Now, it's a guy who recently was a Marine and now has to do some actual wetwork to save the day.
There is one advantage. By the time that Clear and Present Danger came out, Jack had been on enough adventures where being thrown into the mess was just par for the course. The second season of the TV show also has that issue. He's also the Deputy Director of the CIA. I guess there's nowhere else for the character to go, so it makes sense for him to be a guy who doesn't even know how to dress for the job. It's just that the movies make him even younger with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. The Sum of All Fears didn't do great at the box office because of the collective experience of 9/11. But again, there's that studio element that's just hovering over the movie. If something didn't work, there's a need to reboot it again. Clear and Present Danger definitely feels like the last true Jack Ryan film. The TV show is doing some good stuff, but in a way that John Krasinski's Jack Ryan seems like a wholly different person than Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan.
But this movie is still pretty good. I really enjoy this one. I'm ashamed to say, but after binging all of these movies recently, I might say that I'd rewatch The Sum of All Fears out of all of them. It's not the best one. But it is possibly the most entertaining and the most gutsy of the group. I know that people will preach Hunt for the Red October all day, but I like the balance that this one strikes. The biggest issue it has is that it has a legacy hanging over it that people can't really ignore. I bet if it looked less early 2000s, this movie would have more legs today. There's good stuff going there.
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.