PG-13 and God bless them for this rating. If James Bond was always a bit too risque for its MPAA rating, the Daniel Craig entries really feel like the most intense version of that rating. Yeah, it never really gets into R-rated material, but Skyfall might take all of the tropes of James Bond and ramps them up. Bond's alcoholism is stronger. The violence seems more intense. Good people die. There's sexuality (which oddly might be the most tame in this one). At one point, we see why cyanide does to a person's face. It's a lot, but definitely PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
I was convinced that I had written about this movie before. In fact, I'm going to check one more time right now. Nope, I haven't written about Skyfall. I just created a false memory. It's possible that it is due to the fact that Skyfall might be the one James Bond movie that doesn't try to hide a theme in the movie, but openly states it every two seconds. It might be because I write so many of these that I'm starting to lose track. Or maybe it is all due to the fact that I'm aging and memory might be a little bit more loosey-goosey than it was when I was in my 20s. Either way, I'm actually kind of jazzed that I get to write about Skyfall because it gets right what Die Another Day got wrong.
Die Another Day was a celebration of James Bond at 40. It was the 20th Bond entry in 40 years (which might have been part of the problem, come to think of it). Skyfall was the big 5-0. Man, the amount of things that were coming out between 1962 and 1964 that would affect pop culture is staggering. But James Bond's 50th Anniversary would actively address the problems that James Bond had faced culturally since GoldenEye. In that blog entry, I refer to GoldenEye as the birth of Nu-Bond. I think Albert Broccoli had stopped working on Bond and there was this cinematic feel that the other Bonds kind of lacked due to the adherence to formula. But as the West became more progressive, the problematic with chauvinist James Bond became all the more apparent. It was quaint and simple in the Connery era to have James Bond bed women and never speak to them again. It was easy to be kind of xenophobic towards an entire nation. Smoking was cool and drinking was even cooler. But from the '90s on, we kind of knew that James Bond was kind of a toxic personality. Die Another Day tried to celebrate that old way of thinking by referencing everything that came before it and covering up the problems with visuals. Skyfall, however, took a different approach.
I regularly have this moment while writing my blog. I'm going to establish that I don't love the message of Skyfall. It feels very Boomerish. You'll see what I mean later. But I will be praising the fact that Bond took a stance, even if I don't necessarily like that stance. Skyfall verbally states its theme throughout the film. If anything, it comes across as heavy-handed and slightly sophomoric. But considering that Bond doesn't necessary focus on having a message, at least not an overt message, it makes sense that Sam Mendes would allow a message about "being old-fashioned" to be harped upon time-and-again. Maybe I'm putting a bit too much of myself into the message of the movie, but I feel like the script said, "Be old fashioned", but the director said, "Be old fashioned, but..." When GoldenEye had the scene between M and Pierce Brosnan's M, about Bond being a relic of the Cold War, the message was kind of lost. Yeah, it does a really good job and I don't want to slag that movie. But Bond in Skyfall equates being old-fashioned with having a human element, not about being a drunk anti-Russian tank.
Because Bond is very fallible in this movie. A lot of the movie harps around the fact that Moneypenny ends up accidentally almost killing Bond. Like a few of the Bond movies, the movie stresses the concept that appears in many of the Fleming novels: James Bond has lost a step. But even with his fallibility, the man-on-the-ground approach is key to defeating Silva. Silva, too, is a man-on-the-ground. But Silva is so obsessed with abandoning his past that he loses what it means to have any objectivity. He talks to Bond about how many problems he can stop by following algorithms and trusting data that he has become the very villain he's trying to stop. Coupled with the fact that he holds M in contempt for holding him back from this new enlightened ways (the pulverized face may be the text, but the subtext leans into "the past is toxic"). And that's where I think a skilled director like Sam Mendes comes in.
Mendes never audibly says it, but there is this vibe that the message isn't binary. Yes, James Bond is the hero of the old guard. But it is because Bond, after fifty years, is willing to adapt and change himself for the better. He is given that chance. When Bond comes back to MI6 after looking ragged for the majority of the movie, he relies on his old tricks that don't really cut the mustard anymore. He can't fire a gun straight. He finds himself exhausted and mentally broken. Yet, M, the personification of the aging establishment (sorry, Dame Judi Dench), gives him another chance. And it is because he is willing to depend on his fallibility as opposed to his perfection, that is what makes him strong. I was thinking that it was a little weird that the therapist says "Skyfall", which sets Bond off. The film's title seems a little coincidental, to have this therapist drop this word that we've never heard before, and it ends up being the final bombastic set piece of the film. But Bond always stressed that his power came from closing off his humanity. After all, that's the final message from Casino Royale (and this, after I started by saying the other Bond movies didn't have overt messages). But in acknowledging his own vulnerability, it opens him to humanness.
So what the movie actually shows that it isn't about Bond's brute force and his cold nature. When he embraces the things that scare him, which is a combination of the past and the future, that's what allows him to prevail in the end. I love that Craig's Bond is the one who has to perform this. I always thought that Daniel Craig was the tank of the Bonds. He took Timothy Dalton's intensity and personified it. So that he turns to M in a time of need and James Bonds with her (pun very intended), that's important. There was always a relationship there between the two of them, but it was always shielded behind a wall of professionalism. But Bond returning to his home and acknowledging that M is important to him allows him to open up his world to new things. And when he Home Alones Skyfall, he's not using brute force. He's relying on technology and a war of wits. It's very not Daniel Craig. It's very mix of old-and-new. It is a strong choice.
It's a good Bond movie. Like, we all know this. Skyfall nailed exactly what Die Another Day failed at. It was this accessible piece that allowed Dame Judi Dench to retire on a high note. Yeah, I do think that Silva technically wins in this one, but it is a satisfying film that figures out that tone is more important than flash. It's a great Bond movie.
PG-13, despite having WAY MORE butt nudity. Like, it's an entire shower room full of dudes' butts and that's okay. Also, I feel like the movie feels pretty ableist at times, considering that they really teeter on making fun of a mute and deaf gentleman. Like, he ends up being this great martial arts expert, but there's running gags about how silly he sounds. It's PG-13, but not one that I would readily show my kids. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jackie Chan
Okay, full disclosure. I thought that I had just watched the final entry in this franchise. Apparently, there are eight film. Eight. At one point, they completely reboot the series as this dark and brooding action series, still staring Jackie Chan, but as a different guy. I can't even wrap my head around this. These movies are so adorable and goofy. There's safely a five minute fart joke with a callback to that fart joke. How can this series decide to tonally shift genre so hard. It's a really weird choice. Regardless, I will admit that I once again had fun with this movie.
Gone is the attitude of cheap filmmaking. I commented that in the first Police Story, the movie kind of felt like it was made by a bunch of college bros who were really good at filming stunts. I mean, a lot of Police Story 2 is an attempt to capitalize on a movie that was probably pretty successful, considering that the film really goes out of its way to tie into the first movie. It's odd. There's a whole second plot here. It's not like there were a ton of unresolved issues going on with the first movie that a sequel would need to correct for giant plotholes left open. Why doesn't the movie just start with the bombing plot and make the movie a cleaner hour-and-a-half. For some reason, Police Story 2 stresses that Mr. Chu is still a major person in Chan's life. I don't know why. It seems like he got stomped pretty hard in the first movie. And then, even when bringing him back, it brings him back in the weirdest way possible.
The first film ends with Chan completely disregarding police protocol and beating the living daylights out of his suspect. The final victorious shot is Chan kicking this old man through a glass display, as if that would solve the problem of...things. But the second movie says that Chu was arrested and sentenced, but freed for health reasons. We could just go that he violated a suspect's rights and that's why he's free? I mean, that seems to be the straight line from action to consequence. I mean, part of me gets why the film didn't go that way. It would make Chan pretty unlikable, that his thirst for vengeance got in the way of making a conviction. But the entire second movie is Chan desperately trying to follow the rules, but constantly getting trapped for screwing up. It's one of the central themes of the film is the attempt to do things the right way, only to get stymied and caught at the most inopportune moments. It's just so bizarre. This is also coupled with the notion that Chan is fired in the first act of the film from the police force. I mean, the movie is called Police Story 2, but I could see Chan having to take the law into his own hands.
Instead, the movie decides to fire him and immediately rehire him. Part of this is an attempt to form a wedge between Chan and May. Again, May is a saint in these movies. I will say that the sequel does a better job of making Chan more sympathetic to the struggles that he has with May. Often, the things that happen to Chan and May aren't directly Chan's fault in the second film, unlike the first film. But I do appreciate the attempt to grow the character of May from the background persona that she had in the first movie into something that actually kind of matters. I mean, when you give a character a mom, I feel like your character might have more than one layer. (I'm being sarcastic...kind of.) And it is in writing this that I become aware that the only reason that May actually has any characterization in this movie is that she can get kidnapped. It's a bummer reason, but at least it kind of gives Chan some actual motivation for this character.
What is pretty weak in this movie is the lack of characterization for the villains of the film. The first film had Mr. Chu, this guy who took it upon himself from the first act of the film to make Chan's life miserable. Even though the two of them didn't have a previous connection to each other, by the end of the film there was a real animosity. Chu became this archvillain and someone who needed to go down for his nefarious acts. But the second film really stresses that the bombers are anonymous. There's a real problem about creating a mystery like that. When we have characters who are in the background of the movie, there's no way to 1) possibly guess who they are and 2) discover any real motivation for them. While Chu became tied to the life of the protagonist, it seems like Chan and the bombers are almost unaware of each other until the final act of the film. There's nothing personal about the fight between the protagonist and the antagonist outside of the fact that they use May as a bargaining chip. And yet, the entire story of Chan is linked to the concept that his professional life intrudes on his personal life. But, you know, with a lot of punching and kicking.
I enjoy these movies. I'm really really really really tempted to get the laserdisc of Supercop and continue this going. It would make an amazing addition to my collection, despite the fact that I would have to explain this addition to my wife. After all, who really needs Laserdiscs anymore?
R. It's for drug and alcohol abuse, coupled with some pretty regular sexuality and language throughout the movie. Also, I hope you have a healthy relationship with seeing vomit because he pukes a lot in this movie. It's one of those portraits of fading stardom that gets pretty bleak and depressing, so all of that kind of secures it the R rating.
DIRECTOR: Scott Cooper
Is it weird that I own this movie? It's pretty weird. It was part of my Fox Searchlight box set. I remember watching this movie back in 2009 with my soon-to-be wife and thinking, "That's fine." There isn't anything wrong with this movie. I mean, it's not going to sound like that the more I write about it, but it's fine. Everything I have is more of a commentary on the saturation of the same formulas and tropes until the point where we hit everything being "just fine." Okay, that all sounds pretty damning. I'll say that director Scott Cooper did a fine job with this story that almost ultimately didn't need to be told.
The current bug I have is the music biopic. (That bug is somewhere where he shouldn't be because his location causes me great discomfort.0 I know that Crazy Heart isn't a biopic and that Bad Blake isn't a real musician. Thank you, world. I am also aware of how fiction works. But Bad Blake as a fictional character isn't that interesting because we've seen Crazy Heart a dozen times with the music biopic. I've complained about Bohemian Rhapsody and Walk the Line. We get the formula. It's why I liked Rocketman so much, just because it was slightly different than the rest of the pack. But there seems to be this story that needs to be told. Heck, I can't even blame nonfiction. Crazy Heart is really just another A Star is Born. And that movie was remade, like, four times! As a culture, we're so obsessed with the concept of the aging artist, particularly the music artist, self-destructing given free reign to do anything. Like, I would love a movie about a musician who finds fame and is completely responsible with it. That movie doesn't exist. Instead, Crazy Heart comes out and acts borderline in the same fashion as the rest.
We've seen the portrait of a man burying his alcoholism until it completely shatters the remains of his life. As much as I applaud Jeff Bridges for his performance, which is great, a million actors have had to do the same thing. Heck, it almost feels like it is on the nose to have Lebowski play an alcoholic. This is me being cocky as heck, but I feel like functional alcoholism might, at this point, be the easiest thing to play. (I just remembered Judy. Give my brain five minutes of a silence coupled with a lot of caffeine and I can probably throw five more movies out there with the same performance going on.) And this is where the problem happens. When I keep seeing the same characterization of debilitating alcoholism in my protagonist, I become jaded. I'm sure that there was a time of my life where I would have been moved to tears by the characterization of Bad Blake in this film. It's a tragic tale that affects a lot of people. But like I did with horror movies, I've become desensitized.
That's a problem. Getting desensitized to a horror movie is pretty bad. After all, I shouldn't be comfortable with seeing people getting ripped apart. But alcoholism is a real thing that I've interacted with. I know it is a problem for people. A movie that shows the human condition should have me relate to the human condition. But because we have this same story over-and-over-and-over, how can I get that effect of anything new? I mean, I'm just touching on music movies. I'm not even venturing out into other subgenres like movies like The Wrestler. These performances are just the same things over again. We get three quarters of the movie of toxic behavior and then the film decides whether or not to provide a redemption arc or not. With Crazy Heart we get it. The arc is pretty simple. There are a few odd Chekhov's guns that aren't fired, like Robert Duvall saying that Bad is probably going to fall off the wagon, despite the fact that it doesn't look like he does. But that's the difference.
So instead we're left with what makes Crazy Heart different from Judy, The Wrestler, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, Walk the Line, and others. (I have only started sipping my tea and I don't have the time or wherewithal to make a list.) I suppose that would be the inappropriate relationship between Bad and Jean. Yeah, I'm laying on my particular judginess over the film from my high horse. It's my blog and these are fictional characters. It's really weird that Jean is considered to be such a saving grace in this movie. Don't get me wrong, I started saying this movie was fine and it is totally is. I actually do ship Bad and Jean pretty hard like the movie wants me to. But both Bad and Jean seem kind of toxic characters to root for. Bad is obviously the toxic character. Cooper is doing that intentionally. I also believe that Jean might not be the healthiest person either. The knee-jerk reaction is that she knows that Bad is a terrible idea for a boyfriend. Bad, after all, seduces Jean completely drunk. When she meets him, he is who he is in all his glory. There is nothing hidden. He's nude, drunk, and pathetic. He comes onto her and she wants nothing to do with him. (By the way, the movie has a really weird definition of consent.) She is significantly younger than him and has a child at home. But she keeps leaving in the middle of the night, under the guise of journalistic integrity (there is none) to meet this celebrity that she's sexually attracted to.
But Jean gets the moral high ground for some reason. She knows that Bad is a dangerous choice to introduce to her son. She says so multiple times in the film. But she still does it. She knows that Bad is a raging alcoholic who can barely stand, but she leaves her kid with him. Yeah, some of the rage that is directed towards Bad is really an attack on herself, but she definitely seems to play the healthy character in this story. Part of me kind of wishes that Bad and Jean turned out to be Sid and Nancy. It's with this revelation that I just had that I realized how the movie could have been different for the better. Bad could potentially bring Jean down even lower. After all, I like me a bleak movie. But when Bad gets help for his alcoholism, his real redemption arc could be saving Jean. Instead, Jean pretends that her life choices are good ideas and that Bad is way more toxic than she is. (Okay, he is. But not by much.)
So it's a fine movie. I love me a music movie. The music is pretty darned great and the performances are great. It's just that we get this kinda/sorta lazy movie that refuses to take any chances. The actors in this movie have the acting chops to really push the line, but everything in this movie is just too darned safe.
Rated R for mild language and an attempted suicide, kind of. It's a fairly harmless movie and I feel like all Jim Jarmusch's films tend to lean R. But the content isn't really there. This feels like another R for the intended audience who would appreciate the movie. I don't remember any sexuality, but maybe I'm just forgetting something. Regardless, this is R, but shouldn't really offend too many people. R.
DIRECTOR: Jim Jarmusch
Of course I bought a collected works of William Carlos Williams after I watched this. That was always my little secret thing. One of the most horrifying things about being an English teacher is that everyone assumes you've read every major work ever. I mean, I try. I really do try. I love me some lists and I love crossing things off of that list. But I've faked my way through a pretty poetry intense master's degree without ever formally sitting down and reading the collected works of William Carlos Williams.
But I do tend to love poetry now, which kind of transitions me into my thought process about Paterson. See, I keep trying to like Jim Jarmusch. I keep trying and failing. Like my dislike for David Lynch, my disregard for one of the great auteurs seems to be damning my taste into a lower category. Everyone I know and respect, film wise, tends to love these directors. I want to love them so much. I really do. Do you know how much street cred I would get if I said that Lynch and Jarmusch were my favorite directors? Instead, I have to go around saying that Alfred Hitchcock and Edgar Wright are my favorite director. While lightly snobby, I'm clearly in a category that isn't all that impressive. But I keep plugging away at their films, hoping that something will inspire me to view the films in a new light. While I'm still going to be striving to watch the complete oeuvre of Jarmusch, I don't know if Paterson is going to do much to change my mind about what I've already seen. But what I will say is that "I now get it."
Paterson is kind of a special movie. Jarmusch tends to feel very comfortable with his small stories. They tend to be stories about characters with fairly minor conflicts. The titular Paterson is almost an observer of his own film. He acts as a vehicle for the camera and we can see these snapshots of other characters' lives. Paterson just wants to be happy with his wife and write his poetry. The most insane conflict he has to deal with is the notion to share his art versus keeping it sacred and private. Yeah, the story comes to a head, but in a very minor way that is almost arbitrary to the story being told. Really, Paterson mimics the experience of writing and creation. The movie centers around the creation of art with all of its joys and insecurities. Paterson seems like a very talented poet. The mundaneness of his job contrasts to the depth of his writing. I know I liked the poetry, so keep that in mind, and if I'm missing something big, I apologize. But I'm rarely impressed when a film tells me that art is good. In the case of Paterson, I really do like the poems. And the fact that, in universe, this poetry is written by a bus driver is gorgeous.
And that's why Jarmusch's take on real world art is fantastic. Paterson seems like such a healthy soul. He rarely gets upset. He seems to thrive in routine. There's a gratitude for his small life. Yet, he's constantly at odds with the notion that his poetry is worthy of anything. He regularly denies that he's a poet, despite the fact that he's always writing. He hides the poetry until its ultimate destruction. And he's surrounded by an artistic wife, as supportive as she is, that acts as a reminder of the problem with artistic folks : they tend to be flighty and fickle. Within the film, Laura is obsessed with her monochromatic painting style, creating a new project per day. She is on an artisanal cupcake kick. And she wants a new guitar to become a country fan. The only thing that actually has any consistency with Laura is the black-and-white aesthetic. But there Paterson is, everyday, affirming her life choices. I love their marriage. It's almost a marriage of saintliness, if that's something I can say. I know that they don't have children and it seems a little shallow, but they are constantly working to affirm each other. There's a very deep love that comes from two creators constantly creating. While I don't want to every change my marriage or the fact that I have four kids, there's something very appealing about two people who affirm each other's passions and encourage further exploration.
The destruction of Paterson's notebook is a little off for me. I mean, I like plot. The reason that I've never really gotten on board the Jarmusch train is the almost intentional anti-plots he offers. The movie does all of this foreshadowing in terms of storytelling that often doesn't play out. For example, the boys telling Paterson about dog-napping, coupled with the dog being left outside the bar. Any traditional narrative would couple those scenes in juxtaposition as indication that the dog would be kidnapped. Not so. Similarly, the combination of Laura's flightiness and obsession with making these cupcakes for a farmer's market implies that she will be unsuccessful in her endeavors. After all, most films need conflict and hopelessness is fodder for conflict. That doesn't happen. Instead, the cupcakes sell really well. It's this kind of stuff that implies that the rules of plot shouldn't really matter. So when Paterson and Laura come home from the movies, the idea of something major happening to something that both characters deem as vital being destroyed happens, it really throws us into a complex plot very quickly. On top of that, the inciting incident happens pretty late in the movie. Paterson undergoes an existential crisis, wondering if he could continue being a poet knowing that his work no longer existed. But he comes around pretty quickly.
Maybe because the movie was about poetry, that was the film to bring me around to Jim Jarmusch. Perhaps all of his other movies speak to their audience because they surround the passion of a very specific subgenre that I never really understood. Because I get Paterson, with its every day obsession with creation and art, I get excited. So I actually look forward to watching another Jarmusch movie with the hopes that it will at least open my eyes to something else that Jim Jarmusch has to offer.
PG-13 for violence and implied nudity. I mean, there is fighting for the majority of a movie. In a way, it's kind of a war film without a formal war being started. But there is all kind of stunt work going on here. I suppose that there's a degree of peril. I don't know if I would advocate for a PG rating here, but it is close. It's probably more uncomfortable dealing with the very implied sexuality of the movie than any of the violence. But then again, I live in America, where violence seems commonplace. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Niki Caro
And we're back to doing another Disney remake. There are weird challenges that show up when writing a daily film blog. One of the things I didn't see coming is how film trends make writing difficult for variety's sake. I guess I'm probably going to lean heavy onto what I've written before, like with Dumbo or Aladdin, but try to say why Mulan is somehow different from those films. We'll see how this plays out together, eh reader?
So I was the only one in the room who was mesmerized by this movie. It was our New Year's Eve movie (which shows you exactly how far behind in writing I am) and the wife and kids weren't actively complaining. But they were also distracting themselves during the movie with a palpable boredom that I didn't understand. It wasn't that long ago that we had watched the animated Mulan, which bored me to tears. For those who want the Cliffsnotes version of my take on the animated Mulan, it was that the movie wasn't for me. It was the first time I had seen it because it slipped into that era of Disney film where I was just too old to appreciate what was coming out. But I found Mulan tedious and reliant on a few too many stereotypes. So when I was watching the live action version, it seemed like this was almost a new movie.
From what I understand, there is a bit of controversy regarding the live action Mulan. I can get that. I saw that there are a lot of white people behind the cameras on this movie, considering that this is a story so important to China. I also know the Uigburs were kind of slighted once again in the making of this movie, so I am hesitant to throw a lot of praise to this film. But because I'm not an expert at the specific production of this film, I'm going to write from a perspective of simply a consumer of entertainment. It's not the healthiest way to watch a film, but it does happen sometime. If I learn more, I may watch the film in a new light. But as of right now, I kind of just enjoy the movie, flaws and all.
The reason I kind of dug this movie is that I didn't like the original form. Disney has been churning out these live-action remakes to capitalize on marketable properties. But it's all been a nostalgia hunt, which is a double-edged sword. They get the money from the theatrical releases, but the reviews tend to be pretty meh because it doesn't live up to the childhood experience that colored so many youths. It's kind of why I thought that Dumbo was a good concept, despite poor execution. With Mulan, I know that lots of people love that movie. They love, love, love that movie. I don't know if it is was a Lion King level of love, but it was still something pretty palpable. But as a guy who thought that he would have to slog through a boring piece of garbage again (I'm sorry, Mulan fans), I was pleasantly surprised to see this gorgeous film that had compelling characters and solid performances. Yeah, there's wire work and CG. But the rules were established early, so we get that Hua Mulan lives in a world of fantasy action versus completely realistic violence.
The film gets a little shaky, however, when it comes to discussing themes. Mulan came out in 1998, I think. We were just back to getting over our politically incorrect phase (or getting back into it). There was this movie where a woman was the hero of the story and she didn't have to be a princess to do it. The message of the film was that it was foolish to relegate women to second class citizens because they were completely capable of being better than men given the proper opportunity. Cool, the new movie does that too. But I think that there was a bit more zealousness when it came to planning out the narrative of the live-action Mulan because there isn't exactly a subtlety. When Xianniang is introduced into the film, her scene is absolutely rad. She's this mystical fighter, teasing the notion that Mulan is simply the next of a long line of closeted female fighters in China. I like that. But Xianniang is really poorly developed throughout the movie. Her B-story doesn't really have the meat as the A-story, yet she keeps on weaving herself into the A-story. She is created without sympathy. We are never really given the time to bond with her character, but instead must hear about how difficult her life was. Mulan, we instantly get. We have these moments where her disruption of cultural femininity have gotten her into trouble. We get that, because she tends to lean into traditionally masculine behaviors, she is considered difficult by her family and society. But Xianniang is just a strong female fighter who has allied herself with the wrong side.
So as much as Xianniang is physically a capable warrior, it also kind of demonstrates female simplicity by accident. As strong of a character as she is, she teamed up with someone who is over-the-top archvillainy. And the more she is on screen, the dumber she looks. She was put in the movie to compensate for the antiquated elements of the animated movie and, as a result, becomes the newly antiquated concept in the film. And the thing is, she has so much potential. Another byproduct of her being in the film is the dilution of the actual villain. One of my major criticisms of the first film is the very thin characterization of the primary antagonist. He's just this force of nature, which is fine. But he seems like a caricature. That's even worse here because the only reason that he's the big bad of the movie is that he's the last guy to fight, coupled with the fact that he's good at fighting. It's kind of like making Jaws or Oddjob the big bad. We understand that there has to be an intellectual force behind all of the evil of the film and this movie just doesn't offer that.
So the movie is gorgeous and I'm going to have that as my big takeaway. Yeah, it is very imperfect. But considering that I don't traditionally love the Disney remakes, even with the exception of the 2019 Aladdin, Mulan takes some healthy steps towards resolving my issues with these movies. Yeah, I still think that they are pretty unnecessary. I'm sure that I'd lose my mind over a live-action version of The Great Mouse Detective, but it would just be hitting that nostalgia button that I've been holding onto for so long. Mulan is good enough, though, for me to appreciate it for what it is. It's a better movie than I thought it was going to be.
Not rated because it's old. (I sometimes don't write fancy-like.) It's the fairy tale. We've all been kind of blind to the Beauty and the Beast story for a long time. It seems fairly harmless, until you take into account the fact that the Beast is absolutely awful. (I will be going into this later.) In this version, some of the more unlikable characters die. There are little cruelties that characters perform, but nothing that would be objectionable to children. Not rated.
DIRECTORS: Jean Cocteau and Rene Clement
I suppose I live in an era where I have to get used to writing, despite national tragedies. How unfair is that? This is the country right now and I now realize that if I didn't maintain my arbitrary schedule, the world will just keep getting worse and worse. I don't mean to sound so pessimistic, but it's shocking how bad the world gets. I guess I have to take some degree of solace that I get to write about Beauty and the Beast as opposed to something that is going to get me really riled up.
The Cocteau version of Beauty and the Beast is one of those gorgeous movies that I feel is the product of an artist being allowed to be an artist. The story naturally lends itself to experimentation, especially in 1946. I'm going to be going into some of the choices that are made in the movie, both story and script wise, but watching the Cocteau version of Beauty and the Beast kind of makes the Disney one feel vapid. When I was a kid, I loved this movie. I was just the prime age for it when it came out. It wasn't my favorite. I reserve that one for Aladdin. But it was a solid movie. Yeah, some of the animation stuff, when it came to the implementation of computers, was probably pretty revolutionary and Gaston's song is a bop. But watching that movie, it isn't really a quality work. If anything, it looks cheap not just by today's standards, but by other Disney standards. And I'm clearly alone on this one because it was nominated for a ton of awards. But for Disney, Beauty and the Beast was always going to be a slam dunk. It's kind of why the Cocteau version is so appealing.
The framing of the story really allows Cocteau to have fun. While Disney decided to anthropomorphize the objects in the house, Cocteau implies hidden sentience behind every object. The objects in the Disney version are cursed, sure. But they lead basically functional lives. The objects in the Cocteau version seem truly magical. The candles on the walls being escorted by hands, our first real introduction to the cursed objects, are particularly effective. I know that he filmed that scene in reverse to have the candle magically ignite, but it is some cool, other-worldly stuff. I love the faces in the wall. The only thing that Cocteau does that didn't really grab me as a cool or spooky effect is the door. You probably don't remember the door either. The door speaks to Belle and declares its presence. That's it. The door doesn't really have a big part. It just says, "I'm a door and I'm alive." Cool. That should have probably been an important moment, but it just didn't happen.
But I really want to look at the same themes that I looked at when I wrote about the 2017 live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. This is a bad story. Now, I will say that Cocteau makes it a less bad story, but it is still a terrible message running throughout all versions of the tale. Before I start condemning the story altogether, I will stress things that make Cocteau version more palatable. Yes, the Beast is a real threat in both versions. The only reason that Belle is there is to save her father, who made a reasonable mistake given the circumstances. But the Beast in Cocteau's version is actually fairly well-mannered. It's got that golden cage element that I will talk about, but he's not a dynamic character so much as someone who is trying to prove his own worth. His beastly behavior comes from the idea that he physically is another species. Instead of being angry and mean, he drinks like a dog. He often finds the need to hunt. These things make him far more pitiable than the Disney story, showing a Beast who is actually a jerk until Belle teaches him not to be a jerk. Now, it sounds like the Disney version has a bit more of a message to the story. Eh, I'm going to contest that pretty hard. The Beast is rewarded for his bad behavior in the Disney version. Despite the fact that he makes changes, it kind of sells the notion that a man needs to put in minimal effort and stresses that the "nice guy" thing is all a woman needs. Belle would change her feelings about him because he's nice when he used to be mean. It overshadows the abusive relationship that the Beast is full on building in the movie.
Also, the Cocteau version does a far better job establishing that Belle is a prisoner, no matter where she is. The reason Belle acclimates so well to the Beast's castle is that she's used to that kind of behavior. I don't know much about the original Beauty and the Beast story, but there's a really strong thread of Cinderella running through the Cocteau version. Belle has two evil stepsisters and a greedy brother. One of the cool themes is that Belle, and thusly, good women everywhere, are prisoners of their environments. Dad in this one, as much as he's more likable than the other members of the family, still kind of sucks. Everyone expects Belle to do everything for them. When she returns, the sisters who hate her trap her for their own selfish needs. So when Belle doesn't recognize the evil that the Beast has hoisted upon her, it's because that's what her life has always been. She's always been the prisoner of a loved one. With the case of the Beast, it's a little more literal, but it still parallels the life she had before. The Disney one kind of teased that with the song at the beginning, but it's much more understated. In the Disney version, she's trapped by the notion of a small town where things are boring. Cocteau's very oppressive home life makes the Beast's attractiveness make more sense.
But this is where I really wanted to get to: A better version of a problematic story is still a problematic story. The Beast is desperate for someone to recognize his humanity. To accomplish this, he takes a girl hostage and Stockholms her for the majority of the story. He makes her dependent on him. His logic is "If she sees that I'm a good guy, she'll have to love me." See, it's not just that he's asking to be recognized as a person. His curse is dependent on love, so he continues to ask her for her hand in marriage, knowing what the answer will be. The fact that a woman has to be convinced to love you is a really troubling message, because that's not how that should work. Belle really has no autonomy in any version of the story. She realizes that accepting her crappy scenario makes her emotionally less under duress, so she starts moving in that direction. That's not vulnerability. It's a lack of choices. She sees the world in this binary fashion: marriage or sadness. And it's only when she doesn't choose sadness that she's able to find any degree of solace. Yeah, the Beast turns into a handsome prince. That's fine. But that's a perk that she didn't know was coming. The story gives us a happy ending because that's what we want. But really, she views the Beast with love only because of what he has been compared to. The Beast is tragic, but not necessarily a love interest. He has all the power and she has none. As more relatable as the Cocteau version is, it still has major faults.
But I acknowledge the artistry of this movie. This is a movie with soul. I don't know if I needed the meta elements of the film in there, but it is a well-told story, even if the story kind of sucks.
R and it feels like a really weird R. Like, I get it. When I spell out why this movie earned the rating it did, we can all kind of see it. It's very violent. There's blood and death. It's that great '60s / '70s red paint blood too. There are multiple grizzly weapons used. Yeah, I can see an R rating too. But the tone and feel of the movie honestly gives it kind of a Technicolor musical vibe. Like, I would show this to my wife and she'd probably get into it. But still, lots of blood feels like R, so it's R.
DIRECTOR: Chia Liang-Liu
This is the true origin of Santa.
I told you I was watching a lot of Chinese action films, didn't I? I don't know how it happened. I mean, I know what got the ball rolling. I got Police Story on Blu-ray. But then, I intentionally started padding my film algorithm with non-Chinese martial arts films. If I allowed my schedule to play out the way it would, I probably would have watched four martial arts films back-to-back. It doesn't make for good writing and I wouldn't have appreciated any of them individually.
But The 36th Chamber of Shaolin was always my first Chinese martial arts movie. I had seen exploitation and blaxspoitation up to this point, but I never really saw where its source material had come from. And for a while after this movie, I kind of thought that this is what these movies looked like. I mean, I immediately adored this movie. It's so good. It's weird that it isn't so famous that it would enter the public viewing. I think only film nerds and action fans tend to watch this film. But my comparison is to the Bruce Lee movies that I've watched. And despite having just absolutely insane action behind both of these films, they feel so much different tonally.
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin very much feels like a musical from the late 1960s. I didn't notice that the first time. A lot of that comes from the Technicolor mixed with the CinemaScope (it's called something different, but we get it. ShawScope? Does that sound right?). It gives the film this epic Hollywood feel to the film. There's nothing really cheap about this movie. It has an absolutely giant cast. It's almost like the movie was made to appeal to a much broader audience than simply the Chinese market. Yeah, I dig Police Story and the Bruce Lee stuff, but until Enter the Dragon, these films definitely felt small and underbudgeted.
Instead, with The 36th Chamber, there is a sense of scope and purpose. While I don't think that the movie was necessarily made with the hope to promote the martial arts, I will say that the movie gives the practice of martial arts a grandeur that we haven't seen. I've always viewed impressive martial arts movies in terms of spectacle. It's a cross between very impressive tricks and a well-choreographed dance. I mean, very rarely is a well-executed action sequence something that is meant to be moving the plot. Punching a guy once and knocking him out, for all intents and purposes, moves the plot along in the same way a ten minute action set piece does, filled with acrobatics. Yeah, I really appreciate the acrobatics, but that's just fluff to show off skills. But The 36th Chamber does something a little more than that. I kind of thought that the film was one giant montage sequence, but the elements of montage stripped away. San Ta's primary plot involves going through each of the steps of learning. From a structural perspective, these are exercises that must be varied enough to keep an audience interested, yet must connect to the idea that these are all training vehicles.
Yeah, the number "36" is almost completely arbitrary. (The number is actually "35". San Ta creates The 36th Chamber to teach laymen about martial arts.) We don't actually see all 35 chambers. But we also get the idea of scope. Very rarely does a chamber get sped up. Instead, the film is all about the growing pains that each test offers to San Ta. And like most great sports films about an underdog learning the skills necessary for success, San Ta learns about his own abilities. It's kind of great, because San Ta becomes both an insanely dynamic character while, I guess, staying the same by the end of the film. He starts off the 35 chambers extremely cocky, yet motivated to save his fellow rebels. He gets humiliated quickly by the magic powers that the other Shaolin monks display. (I just realized that he never gets that ability or else the film would have ended pretty differently.) But that adversity that he faces makes him a far more compelling character. We see all these people passing through the different chambers. But once San Ta strips away his pride, he is the guy who keeps working after hours for the skill that others simply practice during the assigned times.
But he does stay the same. The movie stresses that the martial arts is a discipline within Buddhism. San Ta spends years with the monks, living with them and learning from them. He has become a Buddhist monk and one of his major criticisms is, despite is physical prowess and aptitude in the chambers, that he hasn't gotten high enough in the study of Buddhism to continue on. I won't pretend to know the intricacies of Buddhism to comment on that in the least. But one of the main ideas that the monks try to bestow is that the knowledge of martial arts 1) should be isolated to Buddhist monks and Buddhist monks alone and 2) that all of this is for mental discipline, not physical action. But that's the reason that San Ta is learning this discipline: so that he can beat up the bad guys. And that's where the message of the movie gets kind of muddied.
San Ta is fighting for a good cause. (The joy of children everywhere.) He sees the people being harassed and beaten for wanting to be free. The movie, by the way, is way too much like Star Wars for me not to notice. He is right to want to free them and to use his skills to help others. Similarly, he wants to be the teach-a-man-to-fish guy who wants the people of China to be self-sustaining and protect themselves. These are both noble goals. But the monks are also built up in the film as the pinnacles of wisdom. The understanding that San Ta was supposed to glean in the process of learning the martial arts in the 35 chambers was humility. When San Ta leaves, the same monks don't understand San Ta's motivation. In a way, the monks kind of become antagonists because they refuse to support San Ta's beliefs. He's temporarily exiled from the monastery because of his refusal to listen to the tenets of the monastery. He hasn't focused on his devotion to Buddha (again, I don't claim to know the details of this faith), but he still comes away with what he wants.
Now, the movie really works. I don't think it doesn't. But it does have a really weird message where we have to question the morality of the Buddhist monks, who act as the sages of the film. I jump back to the Star Wars parallels with The Empire Strikes Back. In Empire, Yoda warns Luke to stay when he sees his friends suffering. His appearance at Cloud City will bring nothing but pain. Sure enough, Luke goes and Yoda's warning proved accurate. Han is still captured. Luke doesn't really rendezvous with the group until all the damage is done. He loses his hand and discovers that Vader is his father. (Spoiler alert.) But San Ta ignores his sages. Instead, he goes right into the thick of it...and wins? Ultimately, this means that the sages are kind of the bad guys of the piece. They don't want the 36th chamber to exist. They don't want to use their talents for good. They take the old "With great power" Spider-Man thing and completely go against that. It makes the Buddhist monks partially culpable for the evils that happen in China.
But as a movie, it completely slaps. It's weirdly great and I can't think of a movie like it. It feels like a cinema classic, but really, it's just a martial arts movie that completely indulges everything you want out of a movie. Like, San Ta just fights the big bad guy and wins. The. End. It's great.
Rated R for all the R-rated things. With most mafia films, there's violence and language. That's still in this movie as well. But there is a lot of sexuality in this movie, and a lot of that sexuality involving incest. Yeah, it's there. The movie also really takes an aggressive stance on the Catholic Church. As part of that, there are desecrations of Mary that are pretty upsetting. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Francis Ford Coppola
Gosh darn it, I did it again. I wrote a good chunk of this blog and then I didn't save. This time it was all my fault. I should have done it, but God forbid I actually prioritize my job. I know. I could have just hit save on my progress and gone from there. So if this blog is a little shorter than my normal ones, you at least know the background of this.
I have opinions. I have feelings and opinions and those feelings and opinions are all over the place. My logical self knows that this is just a director's cut of The Godfather: Part III. I don't mind writing about director's cuts as separate blogs. After all, I went as far as writing a separate blog for Logan Noir, and that was just the same film desaturated. But this is a director's cut that refuses to be called a director's cut. I feel like the Director's Cut being a common thing was the product of DVD and the attempt to double-dip the same film. I remember Ridley Scott, in his notes in the packaging for the Director's Cut for Alien, mentioning that he prefers the theatrical cut to the director's cut, but Fox was giving him all kinds of money to put out another version of the movie. I know that's not what is going on with Coppola, but I really just want to call him and tell him to just called this The Godfather Part III -The Director's Cut. Because it really is basically the same movie.
But then I also pity Coppola and want to give him the benefit of the doubt. The Godfather: Part III is kind of poo-pooed in a lot of circles. For years, I didn't watch this one because people implied that it was a waste of my time. Honestly, it might be my favorite in the series. It may be the fact that nobody likes it and I love being contrarian or the fact that I'm not a Godfather addict like a lot of film lovers that makes it so appealing. So trying to distance himself from the original cut of the film makes a bit of sense. In a note from the director at the beginning of the film, Coppola insists that he and Mario Puzo originally named the film The Godfather Coda, which I hold little stock in. I'm sure a draft of the film was called that. But I also know that Coppola and Puzo were considering making a Godfather 4 at one point in time, so I'm skeptical. But renaming the movie implies that this is going to be a different film experience.
I mean, I like it. It fixed a few of the problems I had with the original theatrical release of The Godfather Part III. I don't love when movies are overly long for the sake of being long, which the original cut of the movie definitely was. Also, streamlining some of the unnecessary plot stuff is a good idea. I'm not an expert on The Godfather Part III. I mentioned that I've seen it recently enough to blog about it. But I haven't memorized every single little nuance of the film. I do remember that the movie focused more on the casinos for Michael Corleone. I also remember needed to pretend to know what was going on with the Vatican corporation in the movie. While there are still allusions to this plot in the film, it's okay that you don't know the ins and outs of the movie. What we are left with is a strong look at the character of Michael Corleone in the shadow of Vito Corleone coupled with a still damning look at the Catholic Church. (I still don't love this. It feels like it is trying too hard to attack.)
But that leaves me with the second part of the title. I don't feel like this movie is a Coda, but rather a film that stands on its own two feet. Coppola's new title feels ashamed of what the movie is. Rather than being an epilogue, so we can find out what happened to Michael Corleone, this is a good story in its own right. An epilogue implies that the decisions have been made and there's no escaping. However, the Michael of this film is dynamic. He's a man seeking redemption and comes close to having his soul saved. There are moments where Michael almost escapes the crushing sin that has influenced his entire life. I can't imagine that the most important change of a character can happen in a coda. Rather, this is the battle for Michael Corleone's soul and I appreciate that. If this was simply Michael sitting on the sidelines and watching Vito becoming a bigger power player, I would agree that this is a coda. But there's nothing particularly old or senile about Michael in this film. Yeah, he's got diabetes. Yeah, he sees the clock running down. But he's fundamentally still the man who killed Fredo. Why are we treating this as something lesser than it is. I know that "coda" shouldn't mean "lesser." But we have all new information here. Also, a 2 hr 45 minute coda isn't exactly a coda when it's almost a third of the story. Unless, of course, you are The Return of the King.
I also want to talk about "The Death of Michael Corleone." There's something far too cheeky in this title. I'm sorry. But it almost like Coppola is being too clever by half and that's kind of irking me a bit. The big reveal is that, in Coda, Michael Corleone physically doesn't die like he does in the original theatrical cut. Instead, we're treated to a fifteen second shot of old man Michael feeding birds, mirroring some of the things we saw in some of the previous entries. He watched his daughter die in an attempt on Michael's life and he's had to live with that. Instead, the "death" that Coppola is teasing is the concept of Michael dying off. This character that had been built up over the course of the films is no longer and the redemptive character has taken over. His Faustian agreement, however, doesn't allow him to escape consequences, hence the death of his daughter. But the title doesn't work without having the original film in the minds of the audience. Okay, I'll give it a "it kind of does", but I don't necessarily think it can exist with that title as an independent concept.
I never had a problem with Sofia Coppola's performance. I read somewhere that the cut of the film presented her performance in a more favorable light. I'm iffy about that. She's fine the entire time. She's a kid doing her best. From that, she actually gives some really genuine responses to this world that she's surrounded herself with. If it is a criticism of her acting, she feels more natural in a world that possibly feels too artificial.
I don't know if this was a choice in the re-edit, but I like Vito Corleone's journey in this one. I don't have the time or patience to rewatch the OG Godfather III to see if it is as effective in that cut of the movie, but I really like that Coda is more focused on character. Without all of the complicated plot stuff, the Vito stuff works really well. Michael and Vito drive this film, their sympathetic / antisympathetic traits playing off each other marvelously. There's something about the way that Michael treats Vito throughout the film serves as a cautionary tale that is unlearned by Vito. Part of me believes that Michael would love to see the entire Corleone syndicate shut down, but the sheer willpower of Vito is what keeps it going. I love this dynamic. Andy Garcia as Vito is a scary dude. If Michael wants to see the end of the Corleone syndicate, maybe Vito is there as the gas can to blow it all to heck. I don't know, but I really like it.
So did I like it? Yeah. I think calling it The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone might be way too full of itself considering that this is a simple re-edit and not a whole new look at a different story. Yeah, the ironic survival of Michael changes it a bit, but not so much that it is a fully different movie. Rather, it's just a tighter film. I appreciate a tighter film. If I watch this again, I'll probably choose Coda over the original theatrical release. But that's kind of like me saying, "I'll watch so-and-so movie, but the director's cut, which just reads better." Mentally, it's the same film. I just want to watch that cut. Perhaps that makes me a weak film blogger, but it's also how I feel.
PG-13 for violence, blood, death, and Jackie Chan's butt. What? It's honest. This is an action movie through-and-through. There's so much action that it actually gets to be hard to breathe out. But the movie is an action-comedy. The tone, for the first three quarters, super light! Then, it becomes Lethal Weapon and becomes ultra serious for the final act. But there is a really awkward uncomfortable joke about rape and abortion that doesn't hold up over time, so keep that in mind. PG-13.
DIRECTORS: Jackie Chan and Chi-Hwa Chen
God bless Criterion. There was a period there where everything was hoity-toity. I mean, I kind of loved that because the brand "Criterion Collection" stood for something almost untouchable. Sure, there were the early entries in the series, like Robocop and The Rock. But Criterion has come out the other side and started releasing stuff like Zatoichi, Godzilla, and now Police Story. There's almost nothing hoity toity about Police Story outside the fact that it is in another language. That doesn't mean it's not a great film. But first and foremost, Police Story is a fun film.
I got these movies for Christmas and they oddly fit my needs exactly. I saw that a friend of mine had purchased this set and I was really curious to see the early work of Jackie Chan. I have always kind of dug Jackie Chan. Like, he's not on my radar most of the time and it's not like I'm part of the fan club. But I also know what I'm getting into when I start watching a Jackie Chan movie. Even if the movie isn't amazing, I know that Chan is going to be doing some absolutely fantastic acrobatics and fight choreography. I mean, I hated Shanghai Knights. It doesn't mean that I wasn't impressed by Jackie Chan. (Full disclosure: I have yet to have an inkling to watch Rush Hour 3.) But I had no idea what I was missing. I know that the Drunken Master stuff was the pinnacle of his Hong Kong career, but Police Story shows Jackie Chan in his prime. If I thought the stuff he was doing in America was insane, the stuff that he could do over there was mind-blowing. Part of me feels like we got retirement Jackie Chan and we were happy with that.
I heard somewhere that Jackie Chan has broken every bone or nearly every bone in his body. (I had to put that second clause in there because, in my mind, he would be dead if he had broken every bone in his body. I also get that these breaks probably didn't happen at the same time.) But Jackie Chan pushes himself. Do you know how we get mid-credits bloopers of Jackie Chan failing at stunts and they are hilarious? Apparently, the Hong Kong film audience doesn't need these bloopers to be hilarious, but also horrifying. There's footage of him and other stuntmen being taken away in stretchers. All this is meant to be funny in a way. Don't get me wrong: some of these bits are hilarious. But the fact that he's showing how perilous the entire shoot is terrifies me. I can't imagine the same thing is true for Hollywood productions. There's definitely not a sense of pride for almost getting killed on the movie set. But that almost might be what makes Police Story so darned watchable. There's really nothing left on the court. I can't imagine wanting to be Jackie Chan and planning for the next thing that is going to kill you. But it really shows in the movie. I don't think that I've ever seen stunts like the one done in Police Story. It's actually kind of funny because the stunt that they are most proud of, Chan going down a mall elevator (they showed it three times in the movie back-to-back-to-back) isn't nearly as insane as it got for me.
And that's Police Story's real success. It is everything that spectacle should be. It's really weird though. Starting the movie, it feels like something that me and my buddies would have shot over the weekend. The acting is rough at times. The story is almost non-existent from moment one of the story. But then they launch a handful of cars into a shantytown and the whole thing feels like the movie is going to be one giant action sequence. I thought that was the movie for a while. I questioned, "Could a movie be one giant stunt spectacular?" I mean, it wasn't. There was a point where the sequence ended and we got more story, but it felt like Jackie Chan was showing off the potential of stunts in film.
In terms of character and story, there's some really weird choices going on in the movie. Chan (the character) is oddly likable, despite being a huge jerk. We sympathize with him for being this adorkable hard-on-his-luck cop. But he also is genuinely crappy boyfriend. Police Story plays up a lot of the tropes of the action-comedy. We know that his family life is going to take a backseat to dangerous world of law enforcement. But it seems like Hong Kong decided to take that to the next level. When Chan is berating his girlfriend and offering to sleep next to his witness, there really isn't a miscommunication there. He's actually offering to sleep next to the witness, despite the sexual connotation. He also really is slandering his girlfriend to this attractive stranger.
And then the story takes a hard right. I mentioned that the tone was pretty light and airy for a lot of the movie. I mean, I shifted pretty uncomfortably during the phone call sequence. But you can tell that the sequence was meant to be a charming look at this cop. It has an element of Charlie Chaplin, this guy over his head and trying to do a mundane task with the utmost difficulty. But after he discovers the dirty cop within the business, the movie just ignores all of the tone set up for the first part of the movie. Chan goes Rambo on every guy he sees. It's a heck of a choice that his character makes too. He knows that the police won't believe him when he turns himself in, but then gets really mad when they act in the exact way that he predicts. It's almost like someone behind the screen wanted to give the movie a sense of legitimacy, so Chan becomes this other character out for blood. There's jokes and humor all through the majority of the film, and then the film wrestles with the importance of the law and the rights of the criminal. It gets dark. I suppose we're supposed to applaud when Chan decides to beat up and destroy a suspect in custody. It's not like the movie really had to bring up this moral ambiguity either. It would have been a happy ending having Chan take the criminal into custody. Heck, he could have even won the case. But kicking him through a glass display before the credits roll is a really weird choice.
But I can't wait to watch Police Story 2. It was an accident, but I have been --through the intervention of fate --watching a lot of Hong Kong martial arts movies. I didn't decide this. This is all part of the really weird algorithm I have going on for deciding the next film. Regardless, Police Story 2 has already grabbed my attention and I'm excited for it.
PG-13 for superhero violence and sexuality. The tone of the movie somehow tempers what little violence there is. One of the big thing is that Wonder Woman bleeds for a little bit. But the most important thing is that there is some noticeable sexuality. Steve and Diana, after having not seen each other for forty years, sleep together. When I was a kid, the same thing happened in Superman II. But this time, it seems more problematic...probably because I have kids. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Patty Jenkins
I had this whole bit about how it was a blessing to have New Year's Day on a Friday so I could write something and have it say "2021", but then have the weekend to take off. But then I wrote this whole thing and lost it after being called away for a second. So if I come across as a little terse, you know. Yesterday, my sister-in-law came over and asked if I was going to make a list of the best movies of 2020. I originally shrugged it off, but my wife knew the insanity that my brain would do. Sure enough, given fifteen minutes, I was deep in the hole of organizing my blog entries for 2020 films. But then I realized that Wonder Woman 1984 wasn't on the list.
Unfortunately, it wasn't very good.
Yeah, WW84 is a bad movie. There are good things about it and I didn't absolutely loathe the film. But it is not a good movie. If anything, it kind of returned me to an unpopular opinion. The Wonder Woman movies aren't amazing. I mean, the second watching of the first Wonder Woman movie added a lot of points to it. But I'm part of the Funny or Die skit of people who think that the Wonder Woman movies are overhyped. And the thing is...I really want the Wonder Woman movies to blow my mind. When Man of Steel really just wrecked my hope for the DCeU, I turned to Wonder Woman as my new pillar for potential for the DC superhero. Superman used to be this role model who inspired everyone to be their best selves. Created as an allegory for the immigrant, he made sense. But I didn't hate the idea of Wonder Woman filling in this role. After all, Wonder Woman was a woman steeped in gender politics and had a thick accent while wearing the colors of the American flag. Yeah, I can get behind that. If anything, it works better.
And Wonder Woman is really good at inspiring. In WW84, there's actually a scene where Diana talks to the whole world and tells them to believe in themselves. There's no subtlety, and I'm very cool with that in that moment. It's so weird that I don't love these movies (despite the fact that I think that the first Wonder Woman movie is mostly successful) because I love the characters. But I think that DC is kind of over-relying on that. It happened with the Superman movies and it seems to be trending in the first sequel to Wonder Woman. As charismatic and perfect as Christopher Reeves was in the Superman films, Superman III and IV rested far too much on Reeves carrying a weak script.
And WW84 has a very weak script. I was shocked to see Geoff Johns's name attached so heavily to this script because I really like his comics. I always felt like Johns understood what the tone of the DC Universe should have been, but his films really seem to underwhelm. It's like he's trying to be Kevin Feige, but is mostly unsuccessful. The biggest problem is that this feels like a shallow decision when it comes to a lot of the choices. The movie is set in the 1980s, which immediately made the trailers super fun. I was jazzed to see this movie because I'm part of the demographic that loves to be nostalgic for a very ironic time in my childhood. But there's nothing that really requires this movie to be set in 1984. It's really all a response to Guardians of the Galaxy and Stranger Things.
Listen, let me play Devil's Advocate for the film's time period. The first movie was set during WWI, which was this contrast for Diana and the rest of humanity. We saw humanity at its worst and Wonder Woman accepted humanity, despite its flaws. The only thing I can see that might be appropriate about 1984 is the over-greedy Max Lord and his lust for power. But Jenkins never really makes that connection between Lord and the excesses of the '80s. Instead, he comes across as a comic villain that I never really take seriously for the majority of the film.
And the villains are almost the definition of undercooked. As much as I love the first Superman movie, I can admit that Lex Luthor is a completely vapid character with his motivations. But compared to Max Lord, Luthor seems nuanced. Really, the campy villains of the movie throws me back to Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Lord can be genuinely scary if crafted well. Heck, he becomes this power player in the comics and I thought that the movie was building to the famous neck-snap of the comic. But Max Lord has the dumbest motivations.
He's built initially as this sympathetic character, a dad who has gotten in over his head. It makes sense that he would use this wishing stone to get himself out of the jam that he got himself in. I can even see trying to amass so much wealth out of the situation he's in. (I don't know how he became the expert on a wishing stone.) But he seems to pride himself on ruining others. How is that sympathetic? The world seems to be headed for the apocalypse based on his actions. The apocalypse affects his son. It seems like his likes his kid when his kid is in the room. Why is he cool with just the world catching fire? The villains' motivations make no sense.
Similar is true to Kristin Wiig's Cheetah. The movie tried to pull a Spider-Man Peter and Norman, really quickly. Barbara doesn't have friends, so Diana befriends her. The movie posits that, because Diana wants to strip the world of these cursed wishes, that Barbara fears about going back to being normal. Fame and attention have corrupted her. But she literally hates Diana by the final showdown and I don't know where that came from. She wants to be an apex predator? Where did that choice come from? I get that she's a cryptozoologist, but there's nothing in her character that makes sense that she would want to be the ultimate killing machine. The choices don't make a lick of sense.
There's just a lot that wants to happen in this movie without a hint of justification behind these choices. I do think that the life of Steve Trevor is worth more than Wonder Woman's powers. I don't think that they should have sacrificed that poor random guy's life for the sake of their happiness. And the rules of wishing is completely bonkers. Max Lord can just trade wishes for anything after the wish has been made? That's not exactly a monkey's paw so much as super-convenient. There's just so much that doesn't work in this movie.
I want Wonder Woman to be amazing. When people tell me that she's the cat's pajamas, conceptually she is. But WW84 was almost a burden to watch. It's campiness was over the top. I could talk about Steve Trevor being the new fish-out-of-water character that Diana was in the first one, but I think it is mostly unsuccessful. (They steal a jet just to get to the invisible jet element of Wonder Woman? Come on.) This is a rough movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.