Unrated, but this "movie" is borderline an extended episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It was under Warner Bros.' family banner, which is interesting because it has that kind of violence that we tend to ignore. Mr. Freeze straight up freezes people and abandons them, implying that he just killed those people. Also, Mr. Freeze employs polar bears, which come across as kind of scary. I also can't help but mention that the heroes solve their problems through violence. I mean, that seems like it is obvious, but Robin and Batgirl are pretty young and it might encourage that behavior.
DIRECTOR: Boyd Kirkland
See, I was thinking that I was going to have the day off, then my stupid schedule allowed for a movie that barely clocked in at an hour. I always have a hard time justifying a movie that has an hour-six runtime as technically a movie, but the DVD disc said "Play Movie" and this never was an official episode of Batman: The Animated Series, so it had to fall under the purview of my film blog. Yeah, this is how my life is. I have to think long-and-hard to decide if Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero technically qualifies as a movie. Do you have these problems? I'm going to guess, no?
This also kind of kills my street cred. As much as I enjoyed this one (It's not amazing, but it was a fun watch), it completely throws my artsy fartsy aesthetic into question. I suppose I should give some background. Remember, there was a time when we weren't overwhelmed with superhero content. Sometimes, if you wanted a Batman story on a scale larger than television, you had to buy a direct-to-DVD story that probably received very little attention. Warner Media still makes these kinds of movies, but I'm not exactly flocking to watch a lot of these because there is so much superhero content out there that I don't need to see something that probably won't have much continuity or lasting effect. Now, I don't want to downplay the value that these movies have. I know people who religiously watch these movies and I applaud their passion. I was there once. But from the quality of movies that I'm watching most of the time, it is always a little chincy to pull something like Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero off the shelf for a rewatch. There's so much good stuff out there. This is all to confirm that I'm a snob that I wouldn't hang out with. You read that right. After reading this whole diatribe, I decided that I wouldn't hang out with myself.
But there is a certain joy that comes out of watching something like SubZero. I don't seem Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's name all over this movie for some reason, so I don't know their involvement. I mean, the character design and voices, coupled with the mythology of Dini and Timm's Batman are throughout this movie. The only thing that doesn't really feel like it might be part of the same universe is the use of Tim Burton's / Danny Elfman's Batman theme. (As far as I understand, Danny Elfman adapted his own theme to create a variation for Batman: The Animated Series.) A bunch of the other names seen in the opening credits, including director Boyd Kirkland, were fundamentally involved in the creation of the animated series, so I'm going to treat it as canon. Recently, I watched and wrote about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, a movie spin-off of The Animated Series that actually was in theaters. It reminded me of how much I liked the animated series, but I acknowledged that it was more polished (but still kind of dodgey at times) than the series itself was. But something like SubZero is actually pretty cool for one reason specifically.
See, SubZero really looks and feels like Batman: The Animated Series. That might not be a big deal, but The Animated Series received a soft reboot the year before with The New Batman Adventures. While set in the same universe as The Animated Series, the characters were older and hardened. Dick Greyson had become Nightwing and Robin was young Tim Drake. (Sorry, Jason Todd. You wouldn't get attention until way later in the animated movieverse.) But most importantly, there was a visual change to the characters. Batman became clothed in black and gray. Gone was the yellow symbolled bat. It was replaced by a large black bat emblazoning Batman's chest. Everything was just a little bit streamlined. While a lot of people didn't care for this change (I did, but I also liked both), it somehow felt just a little cheaper. So with something like SubZero coming out, it kind of felt like it was like one last journey with the old style. It never actively attacked the new art style of The New Batman Adventures, but simply a celebration of the old guard. And to have Mr. Freeze as the villain is a choice.
For all of the many accolades that The Animated Series had, it also garnered attention for giving substance to genre storytelling with an episode titled "Heart of Ice". It won a Daytime Emmy Award for storytelling. While the series did so much right for Batman, it made the Mr. Freeze story so important. Think back to the worst Batman movie, Batman & Robin. Mr. Freeze came across as this goofball full of ice puns. But giving Mr. Freeze a bit of a dismount is actually pretty nice. I'm going to be critical of him in a second, but allowing Nora Fries a second chance at life is really moving in a way. So it's a great decision for its existence. It's just weird that there's just not a little more polish to SubZero.
And this is where the story kind of falls apart. While completely entertaining (and I can't believe that I'm arguing against a short runtime), the bulk of the movie doesn't really have a lot of substance. The capturing of Barbara Gordon seems very flimsy in terms of plot. It's almost like the movie needed to have a Princess Toadstool to be kidnapped. I will applaud that Barbara manages to fight off her assailants before she is killed, but it does feel like the boys have to rescue the weak woman for a percentage of the movie. Also, this movie is really a Robin movie and it's a mistake to title it Batman & Mr. Freeze, because Robin has the potential for the most growth as a character. Instead, we have a Batman who is in the background of this movie without the emotional stakes needed to make him the protagonist of the piece. With Phantasm, Bruce was the one who was driven by the high stakes. For Batman in this movie, it all kind of feels like a job. I know that he's worried about Barbara, but Dick is the one who really goes through the wringer.
And Mr. Freeze, shy of the bookends of the movie, comes across as a pretty standard Batman villain. I love the character stuff that the beginning when he's taking care of the kid and finding peace in the Arctic. I love the last shot, of him walking away in the snow. But the rest of the movie, he's this arch-villain. Part of me wants to write that off as desperation for his dying wife. But he's also this scientist who is supposed to be smarter. Instead, he's a guy who fires first and asks questions later. There's a lot more character that the series has established than what we get on screen. There's a way to show that desperation besides just anger and violence.
So ultimately, this is a movie that I enjoyed, but could never really recommend. It's more of a nostalgia piece at any rate. But every, while few, minute was making me question if I wanted to watch Batman: The Animated Series again. It was a great episode. It never really transcends to the cinematic level that other television spin-offs do, but it provided a good time reminding myself of something that I adored as a kid.
PG. This may be the most shocking thing that I've ever discovered in my blogging. There's an A24 movie that is straight up live-action and PG. In my head, it was R. But I don't think there is much actual content that would be considered R. Probably the biggest red flags involve smoking and drunkenness. But thematically, the movie deals with death. It is an oddly bleak movie, considering the cast. Still, I applaud the PG rating.
DIRECTOR: Lulu Wang
I'm still agog. I'm so used to movies being R simply because an adult audience would enjoy it more than a young audience. Yet here we are: an A24 movie about elderly mortality and it's a healthy PG. Thank you, President Biden. (For the Train-ers out there, first of all, gross. And second of all, I know that this movie came out during the Trump administration. It. Was. A. Joke.) But it is refreshing to think that A24 can release a movie without making it the most disturbing thing that I've seen that month. I know that there are a handful of A24 films that don't fall under the horror banner at A24. I think that 20th Century Women, my favorite movie that I watched last year, was an A24. I just like the idea that A24 isn't defined by just one thing.
My wife and I saw this trailer and, unfortunately, shoved it to the back of our minds. It's not like we didn't want to see it. If anything, it looked really good. ( NOTE: Weebly just lost all of my progress. I'm really not sure what my train of thought was here, but I'm going to try really hard to recover. ) But we were thinking that this was going to be a bittersweet dramedy. I wanted to feel phenomenally sad, but find myself laughing pretty often. I'm sure that there's an element to the final product of the movie of this, but it is a far bleaker movie than what I was ready for. You'd think where a movie where Awkwafina was leading the cast where there definitely are jokes that the movie would just be so dour.
Now, I have to make a confession. I'm not a perfect human being. I'm close, but I'm not a perfect person. I have to be aware that I'm going in with a certain bias. I've become more progressive when it comes to arranged marriages in other countries, for example. But as a Westerner, I know that I come with a cultural disposition about the role of the medical community when it comes to dying. That's what the movie is all about. The movie exists to talk about Western bias towards death in the West versus the East. In China, apparently it is commonplace to lie to the elderly who are dying about their own health. The problem is, I don't know if The Farewell properly sells this notion the way it thinks it does.
Billi was raised in the States. Everyone says her Chinese sucks. I can't comment on that. Let's say that her Chinese is better than my Ukrainian. She has the same values that I do at the beginning of the film. She finds the lie that her family tells her grandmother abhorrent. Heck, the inciting incident is her arriving to the fake wedding to disrupt the family's plan to keep this a secret. But through the course of the film, Billi comes around to the belief that she should be keeping this secret with the family. After all, apparently this is a true story and the real grandmother is still alive. But the movie doesn't really do too much to convince. There are moments, sure. There's a line that says that the grandmother also does this with her friends. She's a firm believer in lying about death. But really, it does kind of infantilize a person.
I know. I don't live in the culture. There's nothing that the terminal patient can do to get rid of it. But there's this whole string of lies that comes out of something that is considered a relatively good act. Part of that comes from the notion of a farcical marriage. Maybe that's one of the thorns that stick in my craw. The culture that seems to embrace the importance of tradition and ceremony has treated both death and marriage as fake and lies. There's a real choice that Hao Hao and Aiko are making. After all, if Nai Nai is still alive, are Hao Hao and Aiko still pretending to be married? Have they been actually married all along?
The funny thing is that The Farewell touches on something absolutely beautiful but never really sells it as well as the dourness of the story as a whole. Death can be a celebration of life. I swear, the movie gets really close to this idea. All of these people have gathered for this wedding and put on brave faces for Nai Nai, but they can't just be open with what they want to say. Because the lie is there, everything is about repression. When Uncle Haibin breaks down during his speech, it is considered unmanly and weak because he's very close to revealing the truth. There's a line in there somewhere about a terminal diagnosis is something that the family should take on instead of the patient. But that is also a weirdly perverted idea of what grief is. We mourn not for the sake of the deceased, but for the sake of the living. There's nothing to say that a person can't have a big party celebrating life before they die. Heck, if I get terminal cancer, I want people to tell me and then throw me a big party where I get to enjoy their company to the best of my ability. That sounds rad.
The movie also kind of plays fast and loose with the idea of consent. I'm not talking about the consent that comes with sexuality, but I'm talking about a patient's rights. Nai Nai's sister is the one who begins the process of hiding her terminal disease from her. But the first thing that Nai Nai says once she finds out that the diagnosis are just "shadows" is if her sister is telling her the truth. There's what we think that we want to know and then actually confronting that. We're meant to take care of each other as a collective human spirit, but that doesn't mean stripping power away from someone until later. It feels really glossed over. And this is where the movie really lets us off the hook. Nai Nai, in reality, survived for six years after the diagnosis and is still alive as of the release of the film. But how many people go through this and are confused and miserable. By giving Nai Nai this get-out-of-jail-free card, we never really get to see the true despair that comes from a mix of pain and confusion. It's a little unfair, and this is coming from a guy asking for a little more humor to the film.
I don't know. I knew what the movie was trying to sell me and I'm never sure it did. In terms of emotion and family, I got a lot of that. But the movie had a very clear goal and I don't think it nailed it with that one.
Rated PG. This movie will catch you off-guard. Tonally, the movie is possibly one of the most innocent films I've watched all year. Because it is based on a Japanese comic strip, it feels very much like a series of Peanuts jokes about wacky characters within a family. But for about one minute of film, the movie implies that the son is trying to sneak porn past his parents. My kids weren't paying attention, nor was my wife. I just let the moment pass. Also, Dad smokes too much. PG.
DIRECTOR: Isao Takahata
It was my family movie pick and I just have all of the luck. This was a potential movie earlier during quarantine, but it lost out to Pom Poko, a movie about raccoons with giant genitalia. But with HBOMax hosting all of the Ghibli movies (Okay, a lot of the Ghibli movies) is one of the great joys of the service. Admittedly, we own a lot of them, so it almost seems like a moot point. But I've mainly seen the Miyazaki entries, so My Neighbors the Yamadas was a wholly new experience for me. And let me tell you, it was delightful.
I mean, I didn't know what was going on for the first few minutes. I had heard of the movie from the title and a single image, so that was the only understanding of what this movie was all about. Really, I know that Regal Cinemas have been doing Studio Ghibli screenings with the Fathom Events, so that's the bulk of my knowledge about the movie. My wife and I quickly picked up that this felt like a series of comic strips put into movie format and that made all the difference in the world. It's kind of funny, isn't it? I'm sure that My Neighbors the Yamadas depends on your schema and cultural background. I'm sure that if someone from a country free of the influence of Charles Schultz (it sounds so ominous when I write it that way!) would be completely overwhelmed by watching The Peanuts Movie. I guess the same could be said about trying to jump into the deep end of My Neighbors the Yamadas. There's a family dynamic that is clearly established before we started watching. The first fifteen minutes were absolutely bananas.
Because the movie kind of throws you into the deep end of the ocean, there is this very surreal vibe to the film at first. Honestly, the first few minutes --and this probably is a stretch --felt like the film Koyaaniqatsi. It became this emotional experience versus a conscious experience. Takahata focuses on this very specific art style that feels like a watercolor painting. I think he did the same thing with The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. But there is something remarkably serene about the whole thing. It's not like I didn't laugh. I suppose one could laugh at serenity. But the movie starts off by playing up the aesthetics of the piece as a whole. Coupled with the fact that many of these scenes really employ a phenomenal understanding of juxtaposition when it comes to the use of Japanese poetry, it feels like a very comfortable low stakes film.
It's odd to see a children's movie ultimately about nothing. There are no high stakes in Yamadas, just looking at family dynamics. Yet, there isn't anything disjointed about the film as a whole. It's not like we're just binging a whole bunch of minisodes of these characters. There's an emotional throughline of the film. We get to experience the quirks and joys of every character. Perhaps the movie does have a bit more of the sitcom characterization behind every character. The father is short-tempered, but well-meaning. The grandmother is bossy. The mother is frazzled. The son is a bit of a problem child. The daughter is adorable. But by clustering the stories into character clusters, we get these emotional connections to these characters. I wouldn't go as far as to say that they are alive or anything because they do seem fairly simplistic when it comes to the real family dynamics that exist, but they are real enough to bond with.
What ultimately is created is the understanding that there is joy in the mundane. Yeah, the characters bicker, but My Neighbors the Yamadas is really a celebration of domestic life. Despite the fact that the characters are annoyed by their situations constantly, there's something enviable about the quietness that the Yamadas experience. They are only subconsciously aware of their own joy and that's pretty fantastic. Sure, the father is constantly at work, but he finds value in nature and the skies. Mom is flustered, but she sure enjoys her cookies. This is a tale of blessing without saying the word blessing. It would be easy to argue that the problems that the Yamadas have are problems of privilege. But really, there's something so zen about the whole experience that it never really feels snobbish. These characters envy what they don't have, but it never really becomes a driving force for them. Instead, it is about the little things in life that they can't see, but we do.
My Neighbors the Yamadas is a pretty solid movie. There's something about Studio Ghibli that is more about the experience than it is about the content. If I tried telling you what this movie was about, I really couldn't. Instead, I simply consider it to be a balm. It is relaxation and comfort put into an hour-and-a-half film. It doesn't feel long. It doesn't feel short. Yes, it should be actively watched, but it doesn't hurt the brain to do so. I really liked it.
PG, for comic mischief. Also, there's a little tiny teeny bit of innuendo. Oh, and a handful of dead parents. I suppose that you could find the movie terrifying if you are afraid of fires, considering that the movie surrounds a group of smokejumpers that constantly talk about fires. But let's be honest: this is a movie for little kids who like potty humor. PG.
DIRECTOR: Andy Fickman
I told myself that I wasn't going to watch this. I knew that, if I watched this, I would have to write a movie about it. I mean, everything about the trailer just screamed "Don't watch this." Based on the fact that I'm writing about this movie, I watched it. Dominos gave us a month free of EpixNow, without needing a credit card! Do you understand the temptation? Now, EpixNow has a very odd selection of films on it. There might be one movie that I haven't seen that I want to see on there. But we had family movie night and a brand new streaming service. It was my wife's pick that night, and we may have found her favorite kid subgenre film: the burly rugged man takes care of adorably, yet mischievous kids movie.
I don't know what about this genre gets my wife cracking up. I mean, if we all had to pin down the formula for this kind of movie (like The Pacifier and The Tooth Fairy), we get the irony that comes out of the juxtaposition of a wrestler taking care of tiny things. It's why my brain spends an extra two seconds looking at the videos on Facebook of people making tiny food. We acknowledge the disparate nature of what we normally see to what we're seeing now. But typically, these movies are...not good. While I'm not going to preach Playing with Fire because a lot of it is...not good, I have to say that I enjoyed this one more than others. I almost can't tell you why. The first act of this movie is a chore. It's a very painful experience. I was talking about this movie with my students and they asked me why the first part was so painful. My answer initially was because all of these movies have to prove what a macho man the male protagonist is. Many children's movies, in particularly live action children's movies, need to paint with a wide brush. There's no room for subtlety.
But I think it goes deeper into the movie than that. Kids come to the movie for laughs. I mean, there's probably a good reason that there aren't a ton of hardcore dramas aimed at five-year-olds. The attention span of children is really, really short. So if a kid isn't laughing in minute one, there's a real problem in the film. What this means is that there's no real warm up act. Comedy isn't really earned in children's movies. I'm not saying that the adult oriented comedy isn't shamless. They often are. But everything in the kid's comedy has to be over the top. It's the reason that my kids tell jokes really loudly. Most of my son's "jokes" involve screaming and running away. The style of humor in these kinds of movies is the same thing. For me, that's more annoying than it is funny. I recently wrote about what works for the Home Alone movies and that is that it doesn't really pander. When Home Alone resorts to physical humor, we know and understand the dynamics of everything that is going on. In movies like Playing with Fire, the movie gets so saturated with physical jokes that the damage really doesn't matter. For example, there's a kind of funny bit when Supe gets knocked around by a helicopter in a house. The movie states multiple times that Supe might be one of the most talented smokejumpers around, but this scene contradicts that notion with his incompetence. (Admittedly, it's not his fault, but the idea still stands.) This scene is added to lighten a dramatic scene. But this moment downplays the trauma that he'll go through later.
But remember when I said that this one wasn't bad? I mean, sure, a lot of that comes from the idea that I had criminally low expectations for this movie. I like John Cena, but I don't think that this is the one that was going to show off his nuance. (I sarcastically imply that The Marine is the movie that did that.) Yeah, there's a lot of dumb jokes in the movie, coupled with the idea that these kids were full on rotten. I mean, I will quickly state that I don't understand why the kids are so rotten in this one. It is really hard to sympathize with the kids when they almost seem to go out of their way to make this place Hell. But the second the movie starts to be vulnerable, that's when the movie kind of gets good. So if anything, this movie pulls and inverted Home Alone. The movie tortures Supe and his men for the first 40% of the movie. It's almost quit worthy. But once they undergo this crucible, the movie oddly becomes about building relationships. Instead of making the physical humor last throughout the film (admittedly, there is still SOME physical humor in the final two acts), it focuses on the shifting of personalities. I mean, I'm giving the movie a lot of credit, giving this much analysis to it, but it kinda sorta deserves it.
It's so funny that the movie finds its heart in My Little Pony. Yeah, it feels like low hanging fruit. But the fact that all these manly men start enjoying what the kids enjoy makes the meaning behind it all the more valuable. It all culminates in a joint birthday party for all of the kids. These closed-off titans express vulnerability and that party is a celebration of that vulnerability. The joke is that John Cena is wearing a too small My Little Pony Princess Celestia shirt. But wearing that shirt is about showing that people don't have to be one thing. I mean, I'm really reading into it, but it doesn't mean it isn't there. I can't just apply critical thinking to stuff that is problematic. If a story has a good message, even accidentally, I kind of appreciate it. Sure, it's very silly to think that Supe should be adopting kids or would even be able to adopt kids, but it makes for a nice neat wrapping.
I'm also going to say that Keegan-Michael Key can rescue any silly situation. He's got a pretty weak script, but delivers on each and every delivery. Sure, John Leguizamo is pretty great. But Key gives each scene he's in some degree of comic authenticity. It's pretty solid.
Listen, Playing with Fire won't blow any minds. I think I appreciated it more because I was able to sit down and watch a movie with my family. Going in with low expectations is a good idea, but it doesn't make or break a movie that is mostly pretty okay.
Not rated, but that's because it is a pre-MPAA movie. This is a disturbing film involving a serial killer. Yeah, the fact that it is a silent movie often means that we don't see truly disturbing content (although I'm flashing back to "Blood of the Beasts" and can't stand by that statement absolutely.) The movie is meant to be haunting. Spinning out of the main plot are themes of gender difference and toxic masculinity. It's a pretty messed up movie, but nothing would be a big red flag here.
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
It is another sleepy morning and I don't even have time to make tea to wake me up. It's going to be a busy one, so let's see if I can squeeze out a blog about a silent film before my life gets too busy. (Is your life like this? If so, you are probably pretty blessed.)
I recently made the mistake of misremembering stuff about the remake of this movie, simply titled The Lodger. I had seen A Story of the London Fog a long time ago. It was a rough print. (Although, now that I'm thinking about that, where is that box set?) The silent Hitchcock movies never really spoke to me back then. Even today, as much as I'm open to the notion of watching everything and appreciating silent film, I don't deny that there is a bit of a burden placed on me when watching the silent film. It's one of those things that really test my concentration. I typically throw my phone on the opposite side of the room with any movie, but I can't deny that my mind drifts from time-to-time. With silent film, you really can't get away from that. So when I watched the remake of The Lodger, I didn't remember how the original film ended. But now I've rewatched the OG Lodger and I guess I have things to say. I mean, that's probably a good thing when you have to write a daily film blog.
I think that Rear Window might be one of the most influential movies when it comes to the grand scheme of pop culture. I know, Star Wars probably holds the number one spot. But in terms of tropes and suspense, Rear Window has influenced our collective consciousness more than we realized. Hitchcock keeps coming back to the idea that the world is more insidious than it appears. The innocent in stories of murder are never really innocent. One's neighbor has a dark secret and one can't trust him. Since Rear Window (and probably previously a million times), we keep having that story about the person who just has to be guilty. But I kind of love that London Fog (I'll be using this term to differentiate it from the remake) actually subverts that trope. We feel like we're watching this clearly guilty man and part of me just felt like, "What if he was innocent?"
What ends up coming out of that is a story about the evils of society. It's all about our paranoia. When I drive to work, I see those signs asking me to look out for missing persons. I take them very seriously. It becomes a little game for me on the way home, looking at license plates hoping that I could be the big hero. This is something that is bred into society. Now, I'm sure that I'm probably one of the minority that takes these warning seriously, despite my last sentence. But the quest for justice has brought civilization to some pretty dark places. If I found one of those cars on the way home, I'm sure that I would consider myself a hero. I would ride that story until the end of time. Narratives like London Fog make us feel entitled to be stuck in the middle of the action. Daisy and her family are part of this culture of fear and paranoia. From an audience's perspective, of course they have to be intimately involved in the story of a murderer. Why else would we be watching this story? Daisy, like other blonde women, feel fear from this violent force somewhere "out there" and Daisy must be important because we're watching this movie about her.
But she isn't. Daisy proves to not be special at all. Her story is extremely telling. It is a story of the victimization of women and how women like Daisy have to exist every day. While Hitchcock sensationalizes the story of Daisy, her story is really every story of a woman weaving her car keys into her fist so she can go to her car safely. It's the idea that a man that seems so intimate to her can somehow be a monster. The Lodger, as implied by his name, lives with her. He is around her at his most vulnerable. And she --and by proxy, we --can only see his worst idiosyncrasies. But that's how women have to view the world. They have to pick apart the weirdness that men present. They have to make choices about whom to befriend because it could turn out so, so badly.
Tippi Hedren recently spoke out about the behavior of Alfred Hitchcock while she was filming The Birds. She spoke out about how he sexually harassed her. Now, I believed her immediately, but my film teacher fought me on that. I don't know what information she would have that I didn't have, but now I'm really not sure whom to believe. But I do know that London Fog seems really progressive for 1927. Joe, the police officer, has many of the traits of the male protagonist. He represents chivalry and masculine strength. After all, it is Joe who is meant to bring in the Avenger to justice. But there's something that reads really icky to me about him from moment one. There's a certain Gaston quality about him that reeks of old timey masculinity. Now, I wrote his toxic masculinity off as a product of the time. After all, it's not like Hitchcock comes across as someone in touch with his feminine side...except for Mr. & Mrs. Smith. But when my gut reaction actually proved to be right, I was flabbergasted. Joe assumes that Daisy would love him because she was beautiful and he was 1920s handsome. (It's a very specific type.) But Hitchcock paints him to be this gross individual who actually ignores evidence just so he can win a woman over. The movie provides this fascinating commentary on the idea of women as objects. Yeah, Daisy still needs to be romantically attached to someone. The movie is progressive, but not THAT progressive. But still, subverting my expectations for who the heroic protagonist is fascinates me. Sure, the Lodger's backstory seems really cockamamie, but that's showbiz.
All-in-all, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog slays, especially for a silent piece. I have to give a final note to the effective title cards and music with this movie, especially when the repeated motif of "Golden Curls, To-Nite" keeps happening. It's a really solid movie that subverts expectations. I don't know if it would work today, but it really crushes for 1927.
Rated R for being a very Judd Apatow film. There's just a bit more drugs than normal, a bit more sex than normal, a bit more language than normal. When I say "normal", I'm referring to Judd Apatow's standards. What this means for you and me? A lot of drugs, a lot of sex, a lot of language. It's a bleak comedy, so there are going to be some heavy themes throughout. R.
DIRECTOR: Judd Apatow
The writing process today will be one of sheer willpower. It's not that I don't want to write about The King of Staten Island. It's one of the movies that really sparked joy for me recently and I'd love to talk about it. It's just that it is very early in the morning and I had a baby who didn't sleep so great. Right now, I'm running on post-shower adrenaline, which is going to crash very soon. If I don't get the lion's share of writing done on this thing quickly, the rest of the day will be composed of really short writing stints and constant self-recrimination.
I really worry about Pete Davidson. I mean, I'm sure that a lot of people are worried about Pete Davidson. Normally, I glean all I can from culture news without actively engaging with culture news. But I know that Davidson has had a struggle. He seems to have a really hard life and The King of Staten Island cemented that thought for me. While not a biopic by any stretch of the imagination, Davidson and Apatow have been very forward about the semi-autobiographical nature of the film. A lot of the movie include events that really happened to him. His father, a firefighter, died in the attack on the World Trade Center. Much of Davidson's life involved his personal battles with mental illness and self-worth. The tattoo thing seems pretty on the nose, shy of him working to become a tattoo artist. To make this stuff into a raucous comedy, that takes courage. But what Davidson and Apatow do with The King of Staten Island is what good comedy should do. The film is about turning pain and tragedy into something cathartic.
It's funny, because I think The King of Staten Island will probably be filed under Apatow's more forgettable films. I have yet to see an Apatow film that I didn't like, so please understand that I hold The King of Staten Island in such esteem. It is a glorious film. It actually might be one of his better movies. But it also is such a vulnerable film. Most things that Apatow touches involve some autobiographical elements. He's a guy who puts his heart on the screen and makes you feel like you are one of his buddies. I remember thinking about This is 40 and how dangerous of a film that was. He made a movie about how marriages really take work and he made it funny. But with The King of Staten Island, this is Pete Davidson. We have Judd Apatow's directng aesthetic coupled with the toxicity of Pete Davidson's past. Because one of the major elements of Judd Apatow, despite whatever dangers he's presented on screen, he's always seemed like a pretty healthy guy. His big conflicts involve being lazy and doing drugs. But Scott in Staten Island? That guy could go off at any minute.
Scott has a lot of the same vices that Apatow's other protagonists have. He loves drugs and hanging out with his buddies too much. But when we look at Scott, for the first time there is real pity there. I firmly believe that Scott's comfort zone of drugs and tattoos comes from the fact that he is not mentally prepped for the rigors of the real world. Throughout the film, Scott is juxtaposed to all of these characters who seem to have their lives together. Scott's mom seems to be enabling him (until she doesn't). Ray is a volunteer fireman who is respected by his crew (until we find out more). His dumb little buddies, for their many faults, also seem to have a smidgen more ambition than he does. At least one of them does. The tattoo artist thing at least is a goal. But Scott seems so volatile compared to the rest of Apatow's protagonists. It's hard to imagine Seth Rogen or Paul Rudd flying off the handle when dealing with small problems. It's when Rogen and Rudd hit a low point, that's when the stakes are raised. But Scott in Staten Island has no filter. Small adversities set him off.
And that's why the discovery of the firehouse and the job there is so important. There's a great joke in the film where Scott returns home after working odds-and-ends at the firehouse. His mother full-on belly laughs at him, implying that Scott has no idea what the real world is like despite the fact that he's playing janitor for a fire station . But it is still touching that Scott finds value in this place. Emotionally, the location is charged with memories. But socially, Scott embraces a community that is positive for him. Yeah, the work isn't hard. But he is appreciated there and finds value beyond drugs and laziness. It's not like the drugs and vice stops when he gets there. But he realizes that life is more than just being a stoner. They baby-step him out of his arrested development (I've used this term now two days in a row on my blog) and into the greater world.
I keep posting about movies that have daddy issues. I really am drawn to them. I can't help myself. But Apatow and Davidson really bring up almost something new when it comes to dealing with dead fathers. Scott, while hanging out with a bunch of firemen at a minor league baseball game, confronts the firemen, claiming that being a fireman while having a family is absolutely the worst idea imaginable and is fundamentally selfish. Scott has a real point. I'm not saying this about firemen nor would I begrudge anyone from having a family. But from his perspective, Scott's life has been so polluted by the noble badge of first responder that he can't handle life normally. And again, it is from this low point that Apatow builds catharsis. Scott's argument at the baseball game makes sense. But seeing that his father was a real human being who shared many of Scott's faults while aspiring to something greater is a wonderful message. Note: I love that Steve Buscemi is a volunteer firefighter without being portrayed as his typical weirdo role. What we discover is the glorification of the dead might be worse than the reality of the warts of life.
Scott has always resented his father's choice to be a firefighter because it robbed him of having a dad. In his eyes, Scott's dad was always someone who chose strangers over his own son. Every time that Scott failed to live up to expectations, he could only compare himself to Captain America, which is an impossible comparison. But it is in the stories that he discovers at the fire station that he realizes that you can be a screw-up and a good person at the same time. It is in his father's fallibility that hope is inspired within Scott. I know that Scott's mental health will always be an issue and I don't think that the movie denies that. But what it also allows Scott to see is that whatever he is dealing with isn't going to hamper him from having real ambition. It's an absolutely inspiring story that showed this guy that he has real intrinsic value, despite the fact that the world doesn't find him valuable.
It's a great movie. Apatow has a way of taking these small moments in life and he invites us in. While I probably would never hang out with Scott's crew in real life and I would abhor the way he treated his girlfriend (at least before the final act), they feel like my buddies. I feel bad for them because they are my friends. I'm angry at them because I really believe in them. Once again, Apatow knows how to tell small stories really well. It's a bummer that The King of Staten Island probably didn't penetrate the collective consciousness as much as it should have. But it is a brilliant movie and Apatow at his best.
R for a lot of stuff. There's some really brutal violence in this movie. Couple that with the fact that it is gangland and wartime violence, it makes it very uncomfortable to watch. There is also nudity in a sexual context and language that is pretty intense. It's an R rated movie for a reason. R.
DIRECTOR: Jacques Audiard
I made a list on Facebook at the end of the year, ranking my favorite films from 2020. At the top, with a bullet, was His House, a horror movie that focused on the horrors of the refugee in England. I praised the film for being this powerhouse of cinema, both original and horrifying. Well, apparently, it isn't absolutely original in the sense that Dheepan, a movie that I don't actually remember throwing on my Netflix DVD queue, is very similar, only without the horror movie aesthetic. I don't know if it somehow delegitimizes my love for His House, but I do know that it stands on the shoulders of giants. Dheepan wrecked me as much as His House did, but somehow feels like it is treading new ground.
There's no way to write this without stressing that I'm going to be white-knighting a bit. I have some causes that really move my heart, and probably the number one cause is the treatment of immigrants and refugees. With a story of Dheepan, it covers some of the territory set forth by His House. Both films feature characters who aren't entirely innocent. This is smart. I know. I shouldn't be the one who can comment on the smartness of things. Regardless, here I am, doing exactly that. When both sets of protagonists are problematic, scamming the system to escape their home countries, it provides an emotional context to the dangers of home. Dheepan was a violent monster who was raised to kill for local warlords. Yet, this moment provides him a story of redemption. It's odd how quickly I bond with Dheepan and Yalani, despite the fact that both of them are deeply flawed individuals. They may not have had it the worst that would allow a country to embrace them in a safety state, but they still risk being caught and captured for a world of safety.
Audiard does something fascinating with his portrayal of Dheepan. We know that they are lying from very early in the film. We know that they have adopted these identities to escape their homes. But we don't really know much about Dheepan's background of violence. Yeah, there's a lot of problematic behavior, especially when it comes to gender expectations. But Dheepan almost seems to be a good person until we find out the details of his violent background in the third act of the movie.
I'll be honest. As much as the end of the movie makes a lot of sense and that I enjoyed the film as a whole, the end feels a bit Rambo for me. It definitely takes a tonal shift. But it detracts from the emotional resonance that the movie portrays. There's also something, and this is because I am trying to watch the movie as critically as I can, that might reinforce a few stereotypes about the dangers of refugees. But I just wanted to get that out of the way before I talk about what I liked about the film.
Dheepan's shedding of his violence shows that humanity is a tabula rasa. Yeah, he's not perfect throughout. He's a bit too forceful with Yalani and I really don't want to downplay that tendency or excuse that behavior. But he becomes kind of a good man throughout the piece. He is in this squalor. He cleans up for drug lords who insult him and hurt him, but he finds value of living in France. It's so interesting the setting of this film because both His House and Dheepan remind us of the problems of how we treat refugees. Dheepan, for the shame he puts on himself, seems to really thrive in this new location. He finds joy in the small things around him. It's interesting watching him repair an elevator that will go totally unappreciated, yet finding value in that work. He hates the Dheepan of Sri Lanka. He doesn't try to be the Dheepan of France, but just someone who is new and isn't going to be defined by a home country.
But I find it interesting that the film is actually titled Dheepan. Like, he's a major character and I don't deny that he's got a pretty rad character arc, but Yalani feels like a more fleshed out character. Yeah, she's quickly a victim within the story. But in terms of internal conflict, Yalani probably has a lot more to unpack. She's faking being a mother, which seems to have the potential to be a movie in itself. But when she oddly befriends Brahim, that's a deep story. She is this character who is being pulled by two very strong forces. She knew the trauma of Sri Lanka. She knew the steps that she took to get to France. She abhors the evil of her past, yet she instantly gleans onto the first dominant corrupt personality. Her interactions with Brahim are extremely telling. Her embrace of the ignorant foreigner persona contrasted to her actual desire to be footloose and fancy free says a lot about how we view the refugee. The refugee, according to Yalani, is much more fragile and deep than the assumption we have about these people. Instead, everything we see is a learned behavior, built around the fear about being sent home. There's the scene, and I'm sound a bit "Chris Farley Show" right now, where Yalani is sitting with Brahim and he comments on her head tilt. It's a clear memorable scene because there's a callback to this scene. But her honesty juxtaposed to her tone of voice is really very telling. There's this assumption in the West that immigrants are simple people who don't understand. Instead, we get this very heavy story about her constant sadness that is regularly buried because she really doesn't want to go back.
I have stuff that I want to say about Illayaal, but it does kind of fit within the story. She's this absolute powerhouse of a character and it almost makes her the least accessible character. There's this very cool irony that happens with Illayaal. Her character has been through the wringer. She's an orphan who has an entire pretense of being these people's daughter. But instead, she has the emotional maturity that Yalani absolutely lacks. Her relationship with Yalani is really interesting because there are moments throughout the story where Yalani seems to be bonding with Illayaal in a way that seems maternal. But it all kind of comes down when we realize that Yalani is the most unprepared for this lifestyle. She never wanted to be a mother. She's pretending to be significantly older than she actually is and we see that she grasps desperately to that stage of arrested development. Instead, Illayaal becomes the parent of the family. She teaches Dheepan on how to speak English and actually parents Yalani into becoming a parent of her own. Her loneliness is the only thing that really reveals her age and that is beyond understandable.
I adored this movie. I always have a hard time writing about movies that absolutely slay me. It's probably a fault that I need to overcome, considering that I've been writing this blog for four years. But Dheepan, for whatever moment of impulse I threw it on my queue, is one of the better movies I've seen in the past decade. It's not perfect. I don't love that Dheepan goes Rambo on the movie. But it also is the ending that makes the most amount of sense.
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.
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.