Rated R for more nudity than you would think, but not so much nudity that you would comment on this movie being about nudity. There's sexuality as well, but nothing graphic. It's more R than other Wes Anderson movies, but the tone is still pretty whimsical. If you weren't expecting language, well shame on you. R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
Last night, my wife had an impromptu meeting. When I say "impromptu", it means she straight up forgot that she had a late night Zoom meeting until it happened, so I found myself with unexpected free time. After the kids went to bed, I was going to keep working on the basement (we're still unpacking from a move) when I realized that I was exhausted. I sat down and decided to watch part of a movie. It's been a minute, after all. It was in that moment that I remembered that I really enjoy watching movies and I enjoy writing about movies. So I now have the drive to write about The French Dispatch.
The funny thing is...I watched about half an hour of Soylent Green.
Anyway, it's so bizarre watching all of these movies at home. I know that the world is screaming that Covid is over, despite a staggering amount of cases per day. So movies like The French Dispatch, a movie I would 100% rally to go see in theaters, end up being home video views. Part of me might be a little happy that this ended up being a view-at-home film because it wasn't my favorite of Wes Anderson's. Now, I want to put a big ol' caveat on that. I'm a guy who likes Wes Anderson a lot. It's pretty basic of me to claim to like Wes Anderson. He's my generation's / Generation X's leading artistic voice that is wildly accessible. And part of me even loves The French Dispatch. But I also acknowledge that it is missing something while gaining something simultaneously.
Okay, let's stop beating around the bush. The French Dispatch might be Anderson's most ambitious and technically successful film. For a guy who is all about craft and timing, everything in The French Dispatch is nailing the intention that Anderson wanted. Each shot is a painting. Each delivery is spot on. He does this in every movie, but it's almost like he's pushing himself to an extreme of craftsmanship in The French Dispatch. So why is it less than my favorite if it changes the rules of cinema? Honestly, it might be a bit too much.
I started feeling this with The Lego Batman Movie. (This is how comfortable I am with my writing and my argumentation. I am willing to make a direct link between Wes Anderson's recent opus and a corporate kids' comedy movie.) The Lego Batman Movie has definitely grown on me over the years. I've now seen it probably half a dozen times because my kids like it so much. But on my first viewing of the film, I thought it actually might be too obsessed with being funny and not interested in being vulnerable. The French Dispatch might have the same deal going on. There's this obvious need to transcend the form that some of the human moments are lost, which is ironic because Anderson feeds on commenting on the small human moments that make existence absurd. Somehow, for all of its glorification of those small bits, the movie often feels cold. Considering that the throughline of the film is the death of Bill Murray's character, you would think that this is something that Anderson is shooting for intentionally. But with that coldness comes a disjointedness that affects the consumption of the film.
It's not like any one of the vignettes is bad. If anything, I would have applauded these as separate short films, free of the linking narrative of the final issues of the eponymous newspaper. But together, there isn't really a takeaway. Now, part of me wonders if this is true about the anthology format of films altogether. After all, the only thing that is connecting these three stories is the setting and style. But there isn't a message that we're meant to leave with in these stories, at least ones that really get under your skin. I want to say this is more of a celebration of the long form journalism that has somehow shifted to the world of cyberspace. If I had to force a theme, it may be that The French Dispatch is a eulogy for print, Murray's character serving as an allegory for the death of a medium. But The French Dispatch doesn't really lament that storytelling will stop. While The French Dispatch of Liberty, Kansas may have printed its last issue, it still feels like there are stories to be told. Anderson never juxtaposes the old school editorial staff to something more contemporary. If anything, there's a deep respect for the curmudgeonly boomer, devoid of empathy a'la J. Jonah Jameson. So when I say that Murray's death is meant to represent the death of journalism, I don't know if he really nails down that theme.
Part of this movie is a satire on the absurdity of art. Then it jumps to the nature of revolution before concluding on absurdist pulp action. Maybe the fact that Anderson's themes are hard to nail down might come from the fact that he's commenting on the nature of humanity, interesting and diverse. Regardless of the situation, because of Anderson's style, it's going to come across as absurd. There's nothing normal or down to Earth in The French Dispatch. It's all colored with Anderson's personality. But that's kind of what makes it quirky and cool. None of the scenes would really work without Anderson's obsessive nuance added to every moment. It actually kind of feels like it could be Anderson's last picture, considering that everyone seems to be involved in the movie in some portion from his other films. (My apologies to Jeff Goldblum and Bryan Cranston because I may not have noticed you.) And as a celebration of Anderson's style, it's great.
But as a movie in itself that is meant to leave us feeling feelings? I don't know if it is that. And it's a shame because for all of Anderson's absurdism in his other movies, I often am left emotionally attached to characters. But the vignettes in this film are there for fun and I suppose that's cool. But the movie is so big that, like The Lego Batman Movie, it kind of collapses in on itself.
But there's a moment of hope. While I laughed at The Lego Batman Movie while thinking it was flawed, perhaps I'll turn around on The French Dispatch. I now love Lego Batman and I see potentially changing my mind on The French Dispatch as well.
Rated R, which is a reminder that just because something is aesthetically pleasing, doesn't mean it can't be considered genre. At certain points, the movie gets extremely bloody and violent. There are a few impressive jump scares. But the thing that is probably most notable is that the plot is fairly sexual in nature. There's one shot that makes me question whether or not I saw nudity and I didn't rewind to decide if I saw it or not. Regardless, there's a lot of violence and sexuality. R.
DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright
Oh man, it's been a while since I sat down and watched a movie. I don't want to live in a world where I'm not watching a billion movies, but I can't deny that it was relaxing not having to write blog entries. Also, since I started writing this yesterday (Yes, I have already taken a break with what little writing I've gotten done), I'm now really angry. Like, fuming, annoyed, can't function angry. I'm asking for affirmation. The fact that I'm writing this right now is one of the most impressive things that I've ever done and I'm patting myself on the back for being such a strong goalsetter.
The thing is, I loved this movie. I'm not going out on a limb here. From what I understand, a lot of people loved this movie. I know my students absolutely dug it. I'm last to the party because I don't really go to theaters to watch movies anymore. Last Night in Soho was the movie I was waiting to watch. I'm sure multiple times over the course of this blog, I've proclaimed my absolute obsession with Edgar Wright. He's my favorite living director and I really need him to be a good human being because the world is a dumpster fire and I have lost all faith in humanity. But I must have been low-key annoying to watch this movie with. I finally bought the Blu-Ray and my wife and I are sitting down for a lovely evening. What do I do? I gush about visual and music choices. The entire time. Like, I've gushed before. This was next level. I was annoying me. If I could have thrown popcorn at myself, I would have. But the movie really is that gorgeous. I have probably made my feelings clear about genre being art, but Last Night in Soho makes an excellent contribution to the notion that horror can be art. From the first shot, which made me question what kind of brain Wright has, to the final moments, there are these absolutely perfect visual and auditory synthesis moments. I want to break down how the visuals and the music are these rad dares against type, but it's really hard to preach about how something is so great without actually watching it.
But the thing that I might secretly love most about Last Night in Soho is the unexpected thing. I mean, I know Edgar Wright. I know that everything's going to be extremely well crafted and built. But Last Night in Soho fills the void that Promising Young Woman left vacant. Listen, I like Promising Young Woman. But if you read that review (which I refuse to do because I just don't have the gumption to read that hack's point of view. He was so two years ago), there's definitely a small level of disappointment. It was supposed to be this artistic piece addressing sexual assault and the expectation that men have all this power. Now, I'm definitely partially in the wrong that I'm siding with the male director's perspective on the #metoo movement, but Wright does effectively bring the proper horror and magnitude to this issue. Now, the trailers effectively covered up that this was a story about sex work. There's implication that there's a sexual motif running through the movie, but the notion that Sandie was basically sold into white slavery is kind of hidden in the film. It's because Eloise is forced to watch something that seems alluring to her at first is what makes her this ideal avatar.
Eloise might make the perfect avatar. While she has this supernatural ability to see ghosts / the past, she starts the film with a laissez-faire attitude about her ability. The movie never becomes about Eloise discovering what she can do. It's her discovering what she can do about it. I mean, Wright does that old chestnut of the small town girl moving to the big city, forcing her to be even more alienated with a story that begins over her head. But it also forces the story to just start. We don't need to have Eloise's in-depth origin story. Instead, the story is allowed to highlight the themes of women being believed in society. Yeah, her reasoning for telling the story of Sandie comes from a high concept fantasy zone, but it works as an allegory for women not being believed. In that interrogation room, when Eloise tells the police about Sandie's murder, both people in the room don't believe her. But the man in the room instantly jumps to a place of entertainment. We hear him gossiping with the other police officers when Eloise is out of the room. But the female officer treats her with respect. Part of this is the notion that some things are hard to swallow. It's not that being skeptical is wrong. But it is how you treat the information before you dismiss it. That second officer naturally is skeptical, but follows up on it, regardless of how far-fetched the scenario gets.
I'm really wonder if my in-laws will like it. I mean, it is bloody and scary as heck. But Wright has created something absolutely unique here. It's this love-letter / criticism of a time period. When I wrote about American Graffiti and Stand by Me, I mentioned that those movies were a piece of nostalgia for a time that never existed. It's nice and interesting, but it's also completely skewed by nostalgia. I get the vibe that is a running motif throughout Wright's film. Eloise is obsessed with the '60s, primarily the aesthetics of the '60s. That I get. When I wrote about Cruella, I gushed about how gorgeous '60's London was. I understand Eloise's perspective. Honestly, I'm a little taken aback that people didn't comment more that she was a bit hack relying on old timey fashions, but I get it. However, the turn of the movie is the drop that '60s London was plagued by sex trafficking and prostitution. The fact that Mrs. Collins states that someone has died in every room in London may be a bit of hyperbole, but the point is made. Why Eloise is tortured in this film isn't that she's a bad person. She just has a very privileged view of history. History is the voice of the winners, not the oppressed and Eloise gets a haunting lesson of what it means to be part of a system that runs on oppression.
There was one moment that the movie was almost ruined for me. At one point, I thought that Wright was going to make the Johns victims and sympathetic. When the reveal of Mrs. Collins happens, the ghosts beg for Eloise to kill Sandie. After all, Mrs. Collins is after her and wanting to kill her. The house is on fire and her boyfriend (literally named John, which feels on purpose coupled with "Jack", a nickname for John) has been stabbed and is bleeding out. They have this sympathetic moment. But when she said "No", I straight up cheered. They aren't ghosts because they are worthy of sympathy. They were ghosts because they were damned for creating a Hell on Earth / London. It's a great moment and I completely love that Wright doesn't let the ghosts off the hook, despite making Sandie the antagonist.
If you didn't guess, I loved this movie. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. It's not my favorite Wright film, but it is a welcome edition to his oeuvre.
PG-13 for violence, potential mass extinction, moral conundrums, and on-screen sexuality without nudity. I learned my lesson from Don't Look Up and put the sex thing last. Honestly, that was pretty shocking. I know that Disney + warned me that there was sex, but it was very awkward distracting my kids from what was going on-screen. It's also weird that I'm going to have shield my kids from Moon Knight. Hopefully nothing canon-breaking will happen in that show because it looks violent as the day is long.
DIRECTOR: Chloe Zhao
It's the first Marvel movie that I didn't watch in theaters and it's the first Marvel movie that I watched out of order. Listen, I take Covid restrictions pretty seriously. I went to go see Spider-Man: No Way Home, thinking that maybe the world got better and it only got worse. Luckily for me, as much as there are major moments in this movie that would affect the MCU as a whole, Eternals is one that can go in any order...at least in the fourth phase of the MCU. Like, it affected No Way Home in no way (home). You'd think that a Celestial visiting Earth would garner at least a comment in either Hawkeye or No Way Home, but...naw.
Now, before you MCU nerds start attacking me saying that No Way Home takes place immediately after Far From Home, I'm going to fight you on that one. No Way Home takes place over the course of months, so there's plenty of time to see a Celestial. But you know what? That's my only argument. So if you know something that I don't know, more power to you.
Anyway, I know that Eternals is probably one of the less successful Marvel movies. I only know one other person who really liked it. Most people I know claim that they were bored. I kind of get it. It's Marvel's riskiest film. I'm not saying it's a completely inaccessible film. Part of it can be chalked up to the source material. But then again, Guardians of the Galaxy wouldn't work if that was the only criteria. Eternals just doesn't necessarily feel exclusively like a Marvel film. There are Marvel elements. Sure, the characters talk about Thanos and the Avengers. Okay, that's something. They also name drop Batman and Superman, which is more off-putting than any Marvel name drop. There's a post-credits sequence. There's connections to the larger Marvel U. But if Eternals wasn't necessarily a Marvel movie, I could honestly see it as more of a sci-fi epic than a superhero movie. There's almost intentionally nothing accessible in the film. Sure, there is some humor in there. I loved Kumail Nanjiani and Harish Patel's back-and-forth. Brian Tyree Henry brought amazing banter. But this is some heavy sci-fi stuff.
I've tried getting into Eternals comics before. My comics collection is insane. I have me some Eternals stuff. But the Eternals are the creation of Jack Kirby. Jack Kirby was a mad genius. He got into some crazy cosmic stuff. While Stan Lee was making relatable allegories for the common man, Kirby was imagining bizarre other worlds, flooded with color and insanity. These stories were the stuff of Frank Herbert and Ray Bradbury. He wanted an excuse to draw absolutely bananas things, so he would create stuff like Eternals or New Gods to justify mind-breaking artwork. I have a deep appreciation for Kirby. In some ways, I love Kirby. But my relationship with Kirby's work has always been one of intimidation. I'm vocally advocating for art to be challenging, but my lizard brain sometimes wants what is easy. Comic books, especially stuff from the superhero genre, tends to be easily digestible. It's not to say that these stories don't go to deep places. I'll argue that some of the greatest moments of melodrama come from the pages of comic books. But the plots of Kirby works are far more challenging. I never really got the Eternals, until now.
That's where Chloe Zhao has done something amazing. Maybe it is because I'm such a visual learner that I appreciate what she's done here. And if some people leave Zhao's version of Eternals completely lost, I don't blame them. But she made something that is relatable, despite the fact that Eternals is composed of alien robot people that formed our cultural history. There's so much going on in this movie that it seems like Zhao combined a wealth of books into one plot. But there's a really strong thread going through the story as a whole. As complicated as it gets, there's a clean thread about truth and identity that overrides the most insane sci-fi premises that the film presents. That's what good science fiction is supposed to do. It's supposed to have us question what it means to be human by seeing these larger than life genre concepts put to the test. For a two-and-a-half hour movie, the movie decides to dole out major character moments every twenty minutes. There's a lot to accept and it has to do with our relationship with God.
That's what a Celestial is, right? I know that Stan Lee was pretty intensely atheist, despite writing a poem about his relationship with God. But the MCU has a very complex theology behind it. Asgard is now the world of other planets, but Thor and Odin are revered as gods throughout history. The Eternals themselves represent multiple religions' beliefs, with Thena standing in for Athena next to Gilgamesh and others. But the notions of Celestials being the gods of science is kind of interesting. There's something remarkably cold and isolating about the notions of Celestials. The Celestials populate the universe through entropy and rebirth. When the Eternals fight back against these Celestials, they are fighting back against God. Sure, it's easy to make the Celestials the bad guys because they are so unfeeling, especially towards the people of Earth. But they are gods in this world. They are responsible for creation and death. There's no afterlife that's mentioned, but that doesn't change the allegory of creation going after the notion of God.
I love Eternals' complex morality. It's really rough. Ikaris is definitely the bad guy for a lot of the film. Zhao gives him his evil moment to justify which side we're supposed to fall on, with the murder of Ajak in the most visceral way possible. I'm on board with that. But it does take some of the nuance of the story out of it. With a lot of the Marvel movies, the villain often has some degree of sympathy. The "Thanos was Right" memes is kind of an example, but it works even better with Black Panther and Erik Killmonger. With Ikaris's choice to support the Celestials, he's--on the most base level --finishing the mission that they all agreed to, despite lack of knowledge of such a concept. But even more so, Ikaris is a numbers guy. He's completely logical in his decision to allow the Emergence to happen. Although Earth has X-number of people on it, he contrasts that to the trillions of lives that will never have been created for this one planet. Yeah, I live on that planet and my morality is definitely in line with the heroic Eternals and their attempt to stop Ikaris. But it isn't necessarily an easy answer.
So when the movie isn't fun (and for much of it, it isn't fun), there's a reason for that. Eternals doesn't coast in the comedy of the Marvel movies because it is dealing with something very complex: what is the value of life? And it is aggressive in the understanding of that argument. The eponymous protagonists find out that they aren't even really organic. They are flesh robots with powers and feeling. But there's this deep and passionate understanding of the value of sentience and a soul. Those words aren't thrown around too much, but Zhao and the storytellers are debating the role of an individual life. This is biblical stuff. The idea that a city wouldn't be considered damned for the value of one good life is something that we've grappled with for a long time. So there isn't a traditional supervillain in the story. Who cares? This is an exploration of what it means to be human. Trust me, my love of humanity has grown really thin over the past six years. I went from thinking that humanity was overall good with a few bad eggs to flipping that dynamic completely. But Eternals screams that humanity is worth saving. I don't want humanity destroyed and maybe fighting for it is what makes it beautiful. Seeing the need for art and culture to expand makes the story interesting.
On a completely superficial level, there are things that bother me about the film. I will probably watch this one this least, which seems pretty damning. It is a long film. It's really odd that Kingo is not in the final fight, considering that Nanjiani is one of the more recognizable people in the movie. I also think that the Deviants are a bit undercooked as a concept, despite having some real potential. But it's a solid film overall. I know that people have been screaming about its beauty and I think that's in there. But I care more about the odd gray area that the Eternals exist in. There's this major Earth crisis and we have to realize how dubious the major players in the story were. But these are people to care about. I was heartbroken at the death of Gilgamesh because Thena cared about him so much. For being ancient alien robot gods, they are oddly sympathetic. And while I can't say I love the notion that gods need to be killed, it does make for an interesting tale.
Rated R for a lot of language and sex. While I don't remember any nudity, there is quite a bit of innuendo and on-screen sex (ish). On top of that, it has to do with an affair. Oh, also, practically everybody dies. I suppose that might say a lot about me as an American that I'm more concerned with people having sex in the precursor to the apocalypse than I am about the mass extinction that this movie is all about. Go me and my myopic perspective. R.
DIRECTOR: Adam McKay
When I saw the preview to this one, I knew it was going to be a big deal. I mean, I was lost on how this was going to go directly to Netflix. I mean, I'm thrilled that it did. It kind of keeps in line with the message that the film gives. But I do love that Don't Look Up as a movie became a parallel tale of how everyone is looking out for themselves and that social media is only making things worse.
I have so many ways that I want to start, so I'm just going to pick one. First of all, it is okay to have your own opinion of this movie, regardless of political message. While the message in this movie hits me in a sweet spot, especially if I prioritize my anger over how America handled it's Covid response over global warming, it's not a perfect movie. I think it's actually about an hour too long and the allegory wears a bit thin in the middle. See? Politics aside, I can be critical of something. But there's this whole thing going on where Facebook is accusing the press of being bias against the film. I don't know if that's necessarily true. Okay, it's partially true. No one likes being the butt of the joke and Adam McKay is pretty rough on all parties involved. But there's an almost conspiratorial vibe about opinions on this movie. We apparently need a good conspiracy to keep us running, don't we? I mean, I'm getting straight up angry anytime I even catch a whiff of someone hinting at a conspiracy, so my dander gets all up in a tizzy. I think that the movie is better than a lot of outlets are claiming, but I also see their points. For Adam McKay, a guy that I'm starting to really respect for his political cinema, he might be doing a little coasting.
Not that it is bad. If we're talking about auteur theory, he's nailing a style. Post Anchorman, McKay has this quick and poppy way to make movies about politics. While The Big Short and Vice were both films that were political as well, Don't Look Up is the first one to write a fictional satire, but it has the same vibes as the "Based on a True Story" works. I refuse to call them nonfiction because he has to fictionalize a lot of elements to make his style work. This also places the onus of expectations on the audience's shoulders. Because McKay has been so successful with previous entries, especially in terms of awards, I can see how we have forced him into a corner of expectation. We want to be able to recognize an Adam McKay satire pretty darned quickly. But sometimes that means that he can't really stretch himself as much as he wants to. But this also feels like I'm calling him less than ambitious. Don't Look Up is definitely ambitious. But it is also preachy as get out.
I love McKay. I love that McKay makes these kinds of movies. They are brutal and accusatory. Not much is left to interpretation. It's great. Some people really need to be called out. But one thing that McKay probably needs to learn from someone like Arthur Miller is to find the intended audience of a film. The intended audience of this film is liberals. We're right, you're wrong. It's a problem that progressives have. We love our high horses and that's apparently enough. But there's nothing in the film that is even remotely welcoming to the people who can make honest change. It is such an accusatory film that it comes across as boorish. And the fact that people are claiming that the media is angry at this movie isn't helping when honest change needs to be made. I'm gonna get really soapboxy, which is ironic because I'm railing against soap boxes right now. Donald Trump is going to be a real thread in 2024. It's going to be a problem. I don't know if progressives can turn around and stop him twice. We keep relying on other people. We also have a horrible short term memory and Joe Biden isn't exactly knocking it out of the park for history right now. Alienating the media right now might not be the best thing in the world for climate change actually getting addressed. Some elements of journalism need to be taken down a peg. I completely agree. But McKay is going to the throats of everyone who can make honest change and doesn't challenge them. He berates them and dares them to continue what they're doing. If it was me, I would do what I was doing, only harder. I would encourage people to dismiss this very important movie for the sake of comfort.
But I will say, McKay did get me to talk about it. I mean, I have to wonder if the people I recommended it to will give the movie a chance. The fact that it is imperfect might make it really problematic. Yeah, it's climate change. But the whole eponymous metaphor of not looking up works really well for coronavirus. There's so much evidence in our faces about how bad things are going in the United States and in the world and it baffles me that people can't just accept all of the data being thrown at them. The fact that hospitals are overrun and that the world is on fire, but we're having people fighting for medical freedom in the face of mass death is so disheartening. And that's what McKay is screaming. As much as this is is a criticism of global warming, it's an attack on the comfort of willful ignorance. The more obvious the message is, the less people are willing to believe it. I remember that I used to find conspiracy theories fun. I'm listening to You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes right now and he's talking about all these fun conspiracy theories. Mind you, I'm in the 2012 episodes right now and I get that he was probably me back then. (That sentence got away from me.) But it's this thing where conspiracy theories have ruined society. We kind of are living in the apocalypse, but refuse to call it the apocalypse. The metaphor of the meteor headed to Earth and it can be seen, yet people still deny it is insane.
I have to applaud some of the performances. I thought it was really weird for Meryl Streep to play the president because I don't think that we have a society that was progressive enough to elect a woman president. But Streep's portrayal of a Trump / Marjorie Taylor Greene hybrid works. Couple that with a Jonah Hill borderline just being Donald Trump, Jr. is dead on amazing. It's all these small moments that really put together this great story. There's also this story of corruption that goes pretty well with the narrative. Randall Mindy never loses his goal, but it is seductive to see how he stops paying attention to that goal. Having him juxtaposed to Dibiasky is something perfect. Dibiasky is such a great avatar for the audience, considering that she's a genius scientist. Having this character who sticks to her guns when Mindy loses the plot is such a condemnation of this anti-science movement. Because it doesn't take much for Mindy to lose the thread. It's a little extra TV time and the fact that people like him. Heck, the only reason that Dibiasky might keep her intentions is that she is so unliked. There's nothing really tempting her to deviate from her path. But there also is that chauvinism that is part of society. Of course people deviate to the male perspective about this. Of course, she's overlooked because she's a woman. There was no scenario where she would be the voice of reason to America because she looks the way she does.
But circling back to the beginning: it is too long. It's so so long. It doesn't need to be that long. The message is clear at every moment. Corporations would do anything to make a buck. People hate facts and love confirmation bias. Science is wildly oppressed. It doesn't need to be everything that it is. Honestly --and I can't believe I'm saying this --maybe we should cool it on the character development. We get that every character represents a concept, so why do they need arcs? Honestly, Mindy's entire affair sequence is a great narrative, but almost gets in the way of the actual story being told. This is a movie about message and that's what needs to be told. It's just that too much is happening in an already bloated film.
I did enjoy it. I actually really enjoyed it. But it is a flawed film. Just saying that something is flawed is not a crime. Most movies are flawed, but they're still beautiful. Appreciating something while being critical of it is fine. Perhaps the media is making a bigger stink about it. But I have the vibe that this is being used as a political tool beyond the original intention.
Not rated, but it probably should be pretty hard R for 1964. While there isn't nudity, the movie is about prostitution and pedophilia. It's a pretty brutal film at times. Because it is 1964, the movie has this heavy tone without showing a ton of stuff. If you just walked in on a scene, there wouldn't be anything necessarily explicit. But the central conceit is pretty gross and it is an uncomfortable watch at times. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Samuel Fuller
I almost forgot that I had watched this movie over break. It was one of my Christmas gifts, which is horribly awkward when you think about it. When you have a bunch of Criterion Blu-Rays on your Amazon wishlist, sometimes Christmas gets really awkward after the facts. After all, my mother-in-law bought me In the Realm of the Senses without either of us really knowing what it was about. But I can always say that I have received some of the more uncomfortable films from absolutely innocent sources.
I want to jump on the Sam Fuller exploitation train. Part of me wants to like movies like The Naked Kiss and Shock Corridor more than I actually do. Heck, despite the fact that I just wrote about Shock Corridor, I don't remember what I actually wrote about it. I suppose that I could just look it up and find out, but that seems like a lot of work on my part and who has time for that? (You, reader. You are the reason that I write all of this nonsense.) Like many films in the exploitation-noir subgenre, there's a lack of subtlety that comes with these movies. I mean, they are considered exploitation films, so I shouldn't be shocked that the movie sacrifices nuance for grit. But in the attempt to make these hard-boiled cheap films, there's something almost inhuman about all of the characters. It feels a bit like someone who imagines what criminals are like versus what people are like.
Kelly, as the protagonist, is so much. When she's angry, she's a force of nature. The film starts off with bald Kelly vengefully tearing apart her pimp for her rightful cut of her profits. Fuller establishes her as someone who cannot be messed with because she absolutely would destroy you. He's going to use this moment again later with the character, so it is good that it is in there. But Kelly with her own hair is someone very different. She's a saint. There's no nuance. There's no frustration or learning curve for Kelly. She's either going to be a hard-boiled sex worker or she's going to be a nurse who has a way with handicapped children. There's no in-between for her. From an audience's perspective, this makes the movie about plot over character. Kelly is unrelatable from both ends of the spectrum for the common audience. She can't possibly serve as an avatar for the viewer because she's either all good or all bad. Yes, we root for her to find her place in society because we're viewing her from a moral high horse, but that doesn't really allow much room for her to become like us. We're fighting for the good ending because we know that she wants to be good.
Yet, Fuller telegraphs the need for Kelly's downfall. Considering that the movie is named The Naked Kiss, it's ages before we discover what the eponymous terms refers to. Everything about Grant screams messed up and toxic. He's just too perfect and he's surrounded by absolute scum. The fact that he asks Griff to be his best man informs us that this altruistic benefactor for the town is kind of an act. That's not even a read by me. I can guarantee that Fuller is screaming this from the top of his lungs. Because we can't have Kelly having it all, we know that whatever Grant has up his sleeve, it is going to be bad. Now, I never heard the term "The Naked Kiss" to refer to molestation. I am glad that I never knew that term. But it is interesting that is what the movie is titled. As much as "The Naked Kiss" is shocking, it almost isn't what the movie's about. I mean, it is and it isn't. The film is a condemnation of sex work and that's on the movie. But considering how much focus is put on Kelly as opposed to the horrible misdeeds that Grant performs kind of is a distraction from the meat of the film.
Ultimately, Fuller just needed to give Grant some abhorrent vice. He needed to go from philanthropist to monsters insanely fast. It needed to hit Kelly like a ton of bricks. Sure, we all saw it coming, but Kelly doesn't view herself as a character in the movie. She sees this nice guy who turns away the sin and corruption that surrounds him and naturally loves him. It's just that it doesn't really matter what the crime is. It just needed to be gross. So, as much as the story is about Kelly, Kelly doesn't really change. Her change doesn't come from the revelation of Grant's past. If anything, it solidifies her personality where it. is. Her real change comes from the beginning of the film, when she escapes the life of prostitution and goes to this small town.
But that change happening so early also confuses me. The opening scene, again, shows her at her roughest. We know what she is capable of, fine. She then goes to this small town and begins being a sex worker in this small town, this time with a smile. She happens to attract Griff, a slightly corrupt cop who sleeps her her only to reveal his true employment. Kelly has this new personality and Griff reveals how on the take he is in this town while revealing his skewed moral code. But the movie ignores Griff's crimes in the final act and presents him as this upright police detective trying to do the right thing. Kelly, even moreso, takes a hard-left into nursing. I don't know what inspires her to make this choice. I would love to think that getting caught by Griff might have been her inspiration. But the movie never really makes that clear. We just know that her plans shifted aggressively hard and there really is no reason.
And that's what kind of bugs me about exploitation cinema: the strict adherence to archetype. No one in this film is actually a full character. Instead, we get aggressive two-dimensional characters playing types. Those types are sometimes interesting to watch, but they aren't fully fleshed out by any stretch of the imagination. Trust me, as a film snob I want to scream that I love these kinds of movies. But honestly, they're only okay.
PG because kids' movies have to have scary parts. I suppose that Barney actually sees real danger. Also, if you consider Ron to be alive, he goes through a lot as well, including a version of death in the movie. I know that my son, who gets nervous at really weird things, got stressed out at times in this PG film. But it is overall pretty innocent. Because it comments on the dangers of social media, kids are cyberbullied and genuinely depressed. The word "poop" is thrown around (no pun intended) a lot as well. PG.
DIRECTORS: Sarah Smith, Jean-Phillipe Vine, and Octavio E. Rodriguez
I have strong opinions. I don't want to write them out. If you have ever seen a case of burnout, this is what it looks like: a 38-year-old man sitting at his laptop wanting to do anything except write about the movie that he saw for quasi-free on Disney+ with his kids on New Year's Eve. On top of that, the movie wasn't that good. It wasn't bad. I won't say that people shouldn't see this movie. But I will say that the movie is nothing special. There are amazing animated movies and then there is this, a 20-Century Studios film that Disney was just dumping to get rid of it. It lacks real quality and it has a really sloppy message, despite being kind of funny and having some smaller ideas that are communicated.
It's weird that Zach Galifianakis made this movie. I always get the vibe that Galifianakis hates the notion of Hollywood or success and he's just all about art. Maybe he has to do one for the bank account / SEO and then do whatever he wants that will not be as financially solvent, but artistically holistic. But he's in Ron's Gone Wrong, a movie that will be forgotten by the end of the year. I'm so bitter about this movie for no reason, be aware. I'm more in the camp of not-wanting-to-write-about-a-forgettable-film than actually upset about the movie. I know what's going on and I'm not going to hide it. It just seems like this movie is wildly underbaked. I've been listening to a lot of podcasts, primarily "You Made It Weird with Pete Holmes" where all these creators are talking about how important it is to write a funny script. I think that Ron's Gone Wrong has a really funny script with a lot of bad storytelling. Maybe Galifianakis was attracted to decent jokes, but there's so much work that needs to be done.
There are a lot of stories about personhood when it comes to artificial intelligence. While AI has to be a part of the discussion of Ron's Gone Wrong, I think this is more of a relationship with a boy and his favorite toy. It's a less nuanced Toy Story, the more I think about it. I think of the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation entitled "A Measure of a Man." In that episode, Data, an android, must fight for his own personhood and that he is not the property of Starfleet. Because there is nothing biological about him, it gets into dicey territory about what makes autonomy and life. In the course of about 45 minutes, that episode of Star Trek made me question the heck out of what it meant to be alive. It was deep and spiritual. I agreed with things. I questioned my own biases. Ron's Gone Wrong isn't that. Ron, a toy that is meant to have a base programming, has a corrupted file due to physical damage. Because of this damage, he acts differently than the other robot toys. He doesn't mirror back everything that Barney does. He only has downloaded information the letter A (which doesn't really hold water because of Ron's speech patterns). While Ron does things that the other robots don't do, such as express opinions and calls Barney out on his hypocrisy, there's very little evidence that Ron considers himself "alive."
Ron's Gone Wrong is really on the outskirts of a Black Mirror episode. It keeps punching the same area when there really is a wealth of problematic morality to explore. The movie really wants that E.T. element to it, where Barney mirrors Elliot and Ron mirrors the eponymous alien. But there is something really missing. While Ron has a personality, a lot of that is stressed to be code. Marc keeps stressing that he screwed up in the code somewhere, making the bots way too generic and sanitary. When he views Ron's logs, he views these events as code and the movie supports that. Marc is the sympathetic character. He had these altruistic reasons for designing these toys and none of that was exactly what he wanted them to be. When he views Ron and his interaction with Barney, he advocates for that being his intention. That statement means that Ron is actually a toy. He's a toy. He's intended to be a toy. All of Ron's faults are simply more interesting than the other models of machine.
This creates an interesting element. While the plot seems to parallel E.T., it's really about a boy leaving reality to run off with his toy into the woods. He can't actually make human friends, so he runs off with his toy. When everyone questions their relationships with Barney, there's the notion that people discover that they should put their social media devices on hold for the greater good. But we're supposed to be rooting for Barney. The movie makes Barney's escape to the forest as the thing we're supposed to be supporting. While I don't want the film's villain to find him, it is a better alternative than him almost dying for the sake of a toy that he finds important. When I mentally replace Ron with a cell phone, it becomes wildly toxic thinking that Barney can't divorce his feelings for his social media device and reality. I don't care how cool the toy is, it shouldn't be asking him to risk his life for the sake of its continued co-existence. Barney is actually irresponsibly co-dependent for Ron. And Ron, if he was a friend, would stop his friend from destroying his life for the sake of their symbiosis.
But the movie does actually touch on some things that I really like. These are things that the filmmakers intended, so I'm not really reading anything too crazy. As much as the A-story is kind of gross, the B-stories actually work really well. The robots are thinly veiled symbols for kids' attachment to devices. Every kid in the movie, with the exception of Barney, starts the film as wading through social media as a form of life. While the bots look extremely fun, it is the social media elements that are this dark element behind everything. It seems like every kid is obsessed with viewers and subscribers. Even the fictional company that serves as an avatar for Google admits that everything serves to collect data and advertise to kids. The movie is incredibly cynical regarding the role of big tech with the common person. That's why the juxtaposition of Marc to the villain, Andrew, is so important. Marc serves to be the idealist who goes into tech for the greater good. But Marc is instantly bullied into being a corporate stooge. It's a weird choice to make Marc part of the solution, but it is a kids' movie and we need a quasi-happy ending.
But the role of cyberbullying is probably the movie's greatest addition. We tend to get cyberbullying in hamfisted messages in pop culture. It tends to be the stuff of episodes and it doesn't really carry through into long-form storytelling. But Savannah's entire life is ruined by one moment that seems pretty innocuous. I read the article on Vulture (I think) about the Gersberms girl. That was a joke that the point of the photo. But I don't deny that I found that meme extremely entertaining. A dark part of me was actually kind of disappointed that it was done ironically. But the way that Gabrielle goes through something that was passive for her is very real. She lives with a stigma that really isn't her fault. (You could make a case, but I would roll my eyes at you.) It's a powerful message and the movie gets my applause.
But the movie isn't great. It is just fine. There are so many kids' movies that I end up watching that there is stuff that is going to get forgotten. Down the line, this movie is going to take a lot of prodding to get me to address anything that happens in the movie. It's fine, I guess. But sometimes, fine isn't good enough.
PG-13, but mostly for scares. When you slightly improve on the 1984 special effects, it becomes way scarier. Instead of being stop motion characters, the terror dogs becomes actually pretty disturbing. There are some sex jokes that mostly go over the kids' heads and there's some mild language, but it's really the spookiness of the movie as a whole that can wreck some younger audiences. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jason Reitman
Okay, I'm a nostalgia nut. I'm saying that up front considering that I'm going to gush about this movie. It's not even going to be a little bit fair. Honestly, and this is even keeping in mind Spider-Man: No Way Home, Ghostbusters: Afterlife might be my favorite movie of 2021. I'm going to be even more blasphemous. I can't believe I'm committing this to writing that people can read. But I might have to say, Ghostbusters: Afterlife might be the best Ghostbusters movie?
Okay, I'm going to do a little bit of triage after that sentence. If we're all accepting that the 1984 Ghostbusters is the Ur Ghostbusters film, I have to say that it will still be one of my favorite movies of all time. For the sake of vulnerability, it is a funnier movie and way more groundbreaking than Ghostbusters: Afterlife. But my central thesis is that Ghostbusters: Afterlife might be a better structured movie in terms of storytelling. There's always a villain problem in first movies. Well, Marvel has recently started fixing that problem, but older films definitely had this issue. If you are doing a big genre film, the bulk of a film has to be devoted to the origin story of the heroes. The villain has to just settle into a role that plays either parallel or second fiddle to the hero's origin. Gozer the Gozarian, in the first film, is wildly underdeveloped. There's all this cool world-building stuff that is said in passing that I completely appreciate about the original film. But the first film is really about confronting skepticism while developing a solid business model for trapping ghosts in a cynical market. Gozer just happens to be part of that story. Okay. Enter Afterlife.
Afterlife does what a sequel is supposed to do. While there is a lot of origin stuff going on with the contemporary generation of Ghostbusters, Jason Reitman riffs off of his father's work and allows all of those foundations to do some heavy lifting. In doing so, Gozer isn't exactly relegated to a B-plot. If anything, from the first shot of the movie, there is some degree of ghostbusting action happening against Gozer. When Gozer actually appears, they get a bit more attention than the previous film afforded them. This makes Gozer scary. Gone are the days of gimmicky crossing the streams and the random survival that might ensue from it. Instead, Jason Reitman embraces the notion that there is a deep lore to the world of the supernatural that Answer the Call seemed to ignore. It's appropriate that it has always been Dan Aykroyd who has kept the Ghostbusters dream alive because this is all the stuff you felt that Aykroyd added to the canon. I always loved that Ray was the canon guy. Egon was the scientist. Peter was the goofball. Winston was the man on the street. But this is Ray's canon paying off. These ghosts just don't exist; they have a rich history.
But then there's the Harold Ramis thing. I know that the actors from Answer the Call were bummed that Jason Reitman was going to make a movie that basically nixed their film. I can get that. But none of this feels like a reactionary move on Jason Reitman's part. If anything, this feels like Jason Reitman paying tribute to a childhood that was shaped by Ghostbusters. As part of taking over Ivan Reitman, his father's, franchise, he really is writing a love letter to both the franchise and to Harold Ramis. Now, I think I felt what a lot of people felt while watching that big reveal at the end: torn. It is such a loving tribute to a man who made these films in terms of script and performance. The whole movie sets up for it, so it doesn't feel gimmicky. But it also feels like it is toeing a line between honor and entertainment. Is it being done for Harold Ramis or is it being done for Egon fans? Thinking of how many personal connections are tied to this movie, I have to believe that Jason Reitman is doing to pay tribute to an avuncular figure in his life. For me, it was saying goodbye. I know that Bill Murray regretted the deterioration of their friendship, so seeing him in the movie next to a representation of his friend went a long way. It feels just so personal.
I think I have a million things to say about this movie, but I also want to give props to Jason Reitman for mending some of the bridges when it came to Ernie Hudson's Winston. I read somewhere that Afterlife fixed the problems that the other movies created. (Note: I think that Leslie Jones should also be mad about how her Patty was treated.) While watching the movie, I kept getting an itch in the back of my brain wondering when someone was going to address Winston. But then came the after credits sequence. I love that Winston is the only one of the group to really become self-actualized. While Winston was always kind of on the outs of the Ghostbusters, the hired hand who does the schlep work, he's the one who has the healthiest relationship to his youth. He's become wildly successful post-Ghostbusters and owns the firehouse, preserving it for the future. It's not everything, but it's a smart move for Winston. He was able to maintain a healthy work / life balance and that's rad. I also like the idea of Ernie Hudson being excited for Ghostbusters. It's not a secret that Hudson was written in for the fact that Eddie Murphy said no, so there's a lot of reason for him to cast off the franchise. But having his character being the new heart of the series is smart.
But this movie gets a lot of grief for leaning heavily into nostalgia. I can't deny that there's a large heaping of nostalgia. I started this blog with that exact comment. But Jason Reitman kind of does nostalgia right. Sure, it's easy to say that he simply applied the Stranger Things formula to Ghostbusters. After all, Finn Wolfhard is in it as a pretty significant role. But so much of Ghostbusters is about New York. Simply taking it out of the metropolis environment does so much to distance itself from the original movie. You can make this Gozer follow-up that hits a lot of the same beats, not limited to the Gatekeeper / Keymaster stuff. But we have all of these new characters that seem real. They aren't stand-ins for the other OG Ghostbusters. They are their own characters. Sure, the kids are the grandkids of Egon Spengler and there are Egon traits to them, especially Phoebe. But they come to the series from very different perspectives. They have different senses of humor and are super relatable. While Peter was the avatar for the audience, really all of the characters come from this grounded perspective that made the movie completely accessible.
And as much as I said that the original Ghostbusters is funnier, Afterlife is pretty hilarious. Like, I laughed a lot. The chemistry of the kids is wonderful. Podcast is a wonderful addition to a world that probably didn't necessarily need him. But the best part is that the kids never once became annoying. I wasn't watching a movie that tried marketing itself to kids simply to sell toys. Nope. The movie works just as it is and I absolutely adored it. Now, I'll admit that I tend to really like things that I just discovered. But I'm honestly waiting for my pre-ordered Blu-Ray to come in the mail so I can watch it again. It's that good.
PG-13. It somehow feels more offensive than the OG Ghostbusters, but that can't possibly be true. I know that I felt more trepidation showing this one, but it might come from the fact that it is just a little bit more overt. Chris Hemsworth's ghost designs are funny, but kids can also pick up on that joke. Also, there's a lack of subtlety in general that makes it easier for kids to get the raunchy stuff. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Paul Feig
This movie was supposed to be the great hope. For all of my obsessions with pop culture, my '80s obsession was Ghostbusters. Transformers did nothing for me. The same deal with Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe. So when my wife and I went to the UK for a much needed romantic getaway, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call came out. (Note: For the sake of ease, I will be referring to the 2016 version as Answer the Call.) I really wanted it to be great. I knew that there was all kinds of gross controversy, placing four women into the protagonist roles that were so beloved for generations. But it was supposed to be the door that opened towards all kinds of Ghostbusters movies. Heck, that Ghost Corps logo starts this film and that is something I rarely see. So when this movie didn't live up to expectations, I took it pretty hard.
But now my kids are obsessed with Ghostbusters. I did my job and I'm proud of that. I knew that they were going to see this movie eventually, so we just watched it together. Because of my low expectations and the memory of disappointment, I watched it from a different perspective. I'll have lots of time to tear this movie apart and I probably will tear it apart. But I would like to state that my kids adored this movie. As much as they liked Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2, this movie kind of spoke to them. The disappointing part to me is that it was just newer to them. I know that '80s movies seem really watchable to me as new movies, but from their perspective, these are 40 year old movies. It's like me griping about movies from the '50s as a kid. That's something that is valid to them. On top of that, Ghostbusters: Answer the Call is actually kind of fun. It's got bright colors. It has slapstick. It's obsessed with telling jokes that they'll mostly get, for better or worse. I can't exactly throw stones at this. I get why they like it and it makes me like it all the more.
But it isn't a great movie. It's a better movie than I remember, but that's not something that really holds its own in the long run. There's a lot of talent behind this film. I mean, every single element of this movie seems like a home run. I adore Paul Feig. The Ghostbusters cast is absolutely brilliant. The cameos by the original Ghostbusters is phenomenal. But I'll tell you what, this movie claps on the ones and threes. Part of it is that it just doesn't feel like Ghostbusters. In terms of plot, all of the elements are there. There's the skepticism about the serious sciences. There's the jokiness. The ghosts look right. But this movie feels like one big Saturday Night Live skit. It almost feels like the movie is making fun of the notion of Ghostbusters. Part of that is the fear of the vulnerable that is happening in the movie. There are so many jokes that have nothing to do with the plot as a whole. I'm trying to think of a moment like that in the 1984 version and I don't think that I can. Let's use one of the funnier bits in the movie: the running gag of the wontons.
I do laugh at that gag. It is just so down to Earth that I can't help but giggle. But what does that have to do with the character development. The 1984 version is an exaggerated version of our world. When we have someone like Louis Tully, he's funny because he's such an odd duck in this world that views him as an odd duck. Instead, Answer the Call is a world that is fundamentally goofy. Everyone has their little quirks, thus making the protagonists simply part of the goofy tapestry. And even looking at Louis, he comes across as a lovable loser who is an exaggerated version of real people we know. He's a nerd that we don't feel bad about laughing at. Kevin, on the other hand, couldn't function as a human being. He's really funny, but those jokes don't necessarily tie to the characters as a whole. The same thing with the Dean at the school. Heck, we actually have one dean serve as a stand-in for the other dean. When we meet the dean from the 1984 version, he's concerned with the reputation of the university. The faculty has been in trouble for so long that the moment that they are fired is the straw that broke the camel's back. Instead, Answer the Call decided to go for some really base jokes, making the college that Abby works at such a joke that the dean is more obsessed with flipping the bird and marketing his band than being a real character.
It all seems to cover up the notion that it doesn't want to be 1984 Ghostbusters (which, honestly, is admirable). But it also covers up the fact that the story is not up to scratch. There's an actual villain in this one that rides the whole movie, which is a gutsy and respectable choice. Rowan actually provides elements that the movie needs to distance itself from the classic. Instead of retreading the Gozer storyline, which is teased for a future film that will probably never happen, Rowan offers something fresh. He's grounded compared to a lot of the other characters. Ironically, it seems like he's annoyed by a lot of the foolish characters that the real world apparently provides. While Rowan is kind of rough, he's at least a character that is kind of interesting. There's something that could be done with him given enough development. But the thing is...there is no development. Rowan is meant to carry all the weight of being a villain in his evil cackle. We get that he's bullied because he's a weird dude, but that doesn't really give him a backstory enough to carry it out. I'm going to keep comparing Answer the Call to the 1984 version, so I apologize. Even though Gozer is also kind of underdeveloped, there's this cataclysmic element to the notion of Gozer's return.
Ghostbusters: Afterlife would capitalize on the pseudo-science that Ramis and Aykroyd would put down, establishing that there was a rich history in the worldbuilding that the authors did. The whole notion of an Ivo Shandor and an evil cult that tried to bring about the apocalypse made the villain something larger than life. But Rowan is just a dude who has almost no sympathetic elements to him. The only thing he's annoyed at is the unrealistic world in which he lives. He wants to tear down the world because he's a crazy person. Okay, but that's nothing something that gives the heroes something to push against. If anything, it almost feels like a coincidence that these characters are at all in the same movie. Rowan brings ghosts into this plane of existence; a group of ghost eliminators appears on the scene. And those ghostbusters are just absolutely making leaps and bounds of technological advancement. Holtzman is my favorite character in this movie, but she goes from not being able to get enough power to a proton pack to unleashing another to in each scene she's in. And those toys really feel like Sony pushing the button on being toyetic.
It's just so much. Everything is just too much in Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. Maybe if the original films didn't exist, we could use this as a summer tentpole franchise to replace the Men in Black franchise. But the movie as a whole is a tonal misfire. There's nothing that really feels all that honest or vulnerable in this movie. Instead, it's such popcorn cinema that there was never a consideration for something that could be thought to be a classic.
PG-13 for sexual innuendo and violence. It's so bad, because I thought my kid couldn't watch it because of the sexual jokes, but was totally cool with her watching something where a man and wife try actively murdering each other for the length of a feature film. Yeah, I live in America. There's also some mild language. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Doug Liman
I actually skipped yesterday. I know. I don't know why I want to write these blogs sometimes. I know that I have a readership. I write that out because it helps me really believe it. But there are days that I don't want to write about Mr. & Mrs. Smith. There's nothing particularly wrong with the movie. I even have a read on the film that would give me something to write about. It's just that my brain gets all foggy and sometimes the tea is too hot to drink, so I can't wake up. Regardless, I should write about this movie so I continue to find value in the Internet.
There are a couple places that I want to go with writing about Mr. & Mrs. Smith, at least this version of the movie as opposed to the Alfred Hitchcock rom-com. (A thing that exists.) But the first thing that I associate with this movie is something it has in common with Mission: Impossible III: the stars of the movie overshadow the story. With Mission Impossible III, Tom Cruise had just done that "jump on the couch" thing on Oprah. It was that time that we all thought that Tom Cruise was crazy. Some of you still probably hold him in that regard, so I won't go too deep into that. But I remember when I saw the movie, I couldn't see Ethan Hunt. All I saw was that Tom Cruise, the crazy man with all of the memes of him shooting lightning at Oprah, was on the screen. I liked the story and I thought it was pretty well made. But I couldn't get past the idea that Tom Cruise was bigger than the role on screen. The same thing is true with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Their former marriage was the stuff of tabloids. It was a big deal and sometimes is still considered a big deal. Even at the time, people were choosing sides between Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Aniston. Me, I'd like to say that I don't care about such things. I pretend that I'm above it and to a certain extent, I am. But even me, who honestly doesn't care about celebrity relationships outside of the failed marriage of Amy Poehler and Will Arnett, can't watch Mr. & Mrs. Smith without that knowledge of the real world coloring it. Even when the movie was made, it was capitalizing on their tabloid status. Not only had Brad Pitt left Jennifer Aniston for Angelina Jolie, but he was making a big action tentpole movie capitalizing on the drama. Here I am, in the early days of 2022, knowing that Pitt and Jolie don't really work it out and now I'm watching a movie where they shoot at each other about how much their marriage is terrible. There's life imitating art and then there's art writing life. It is awfully distracting. But the movie still works, despite the fact that my brain can't keep performing a Pop-Up Video about their real world marriage.
But the other thing is that Mr. & Mrs. Smith might be a solid piece of evidence on the whole high-v-low art argument. There's nothing really all that artistic about Mr. and Mrs. Smith. It was one of those movies that was meant to move popcorn. I know what Marty Scorsese has to say about these kinds of movies. After all, what are the Marvel movies if just really lucrative low-art. But to criticize Mr. & Mrs. Smith as a weak film because it doesn't aim for those high levels might be a mistake. It really does feel like an apples and oranges situation. How can I compare Mrs. & Mrs. Smith to something like Umberto D? They approach cinema so differently, that it is almost like a grudge fight between them. So when I start gushing about why this movie mostly works, please be aware that I look at this movie from a very different perspective than I do the majority of my Criterion DVDs.
This movie is actually one of my father-in-law's favorite movies. I'm not actually sure if he knows I have it. My mother-in-law was cleaning out the DVDs and I rescued some before they hit the curb. I know that this was in there, but no one said anything about me taking it. (Note: If any of my in-laws need this movie back, just consider it being safe at my house, ready to be returned to its original home at any time.) When I grabbed it, it's not like I had grand expectations for the film. I had seen it in theaters originally and remembered that I had a pretty good time. But I tend to watch things differently knowing that I have to write about them later on. Keeping that in mind, there's actually something kind of important when watching the film. It's not like the film's allegory is well hidden. Heck, Simon Kinberg, the writer of the film, (I KNOW!) has the therapist office scenes in there to verbalize what is happening through the action. But he kind of does have an interesting message that is still pretty darn functional: marriage takes work.
I don't know if I really need to wade out into deep water to state this, but we don't really know our spouses when we marry them. At least most of us don't. I knew my wife for nine years before we got married. Sure, when I proposed, we were only dating for less than a year. My wife told me that I needed to propose quickly and I'm smart enough to know to listen to her when she thinks something is important. But the extended metaphor of two spies on different sides actually really works to describe marriage. With John and Jane, they make a lot of assumptions about who the other person is. While they go into their marriage with true emotional feelings for the other person, there is an element of convenience for both parties. The other person would be gone for work often, so it makes it easy to be a spy under this household. Never is there a discussion of really getting to know the other person beyond sexuality. That becomes the root of their problem. Ironically, once the sexuality became the least important thing in their life and left the role of foundation, the two began running into actual, real-world problems. They found themselves saddled with problems and a partner that they didn't know or actively resented.
The ironic part is that most action movies tend to get pretty quiet once the action starts. The dialogue goes away, shy of quips and punchlines. But Kinberg and Liman actually make both characters quite verbose once the action begins. The drama elements are rooted in silence. Everything is small talk. Both people have walls up. Between the characters, there is no growth. Between the characters and the audience, there is almost a lack of characterization. We deal with archetypes: cold, miserable spies. But once the dramatic irony fades and the two characters are aware of the other's profession, it's odd that real dialogue actually starts. Now, if anything, this means that Mr. & Mrs. Smith is a celebration of arguments. There's that thought that marriage is all about being nice to the other person. But it is only once John and Jane start fighting that they actually discover who the other person is. I mean, it's appropriate that the movie takes place five or six years into a marriage. The person you thought was your spouse is someone very different and the person who argues is your spouse now. You just hope that the person who argues is the person you love as well. I am lucky. I know my wife and as angry as I can get at her, I love who she is at all times. That's what the movie is.
And the action is really good. It's really good and really fun. Honestly, there's something about Brad Pitt in this era of his career that made some fun movies. It has this Ocean's Eleven quality to it. It's this attention to detail while still making the movie fun. Is it life-changing? Probably not. But sometimes film is just about fun and Mr. & Mrs. Smith is definitely pretty fun.
PG, back when PG meant absolutely nothing. There's some mild swearing in here. But there are a lot of sex jokes, including Louis and Janine making out pretty hard. There's also some pretty terrifying imagery, especially when Janosz turns into a ghost nanny and grabs Oscar. But I also showed my kids this, so it can't be that bad. Either that, or I'm a bad father. PG.
DIRECTOR: Ivan Reitman
See, I wanted to write about Ghostbusters II! It's a very different experience, opening one's blog knowing that one gets to talk about Ghostbusters 2 (It's easier than the Roman numeral). I've always loved Ghostbusters 2. I know, that seems like a bit of blasphemy. But I can tell you right now, if Ghostbusters 2 is on, I'll probably watch it. Now, I had a brief Twitter discussion with Doug Benson (Ooh, name drop much?) about this movie. Benson, like most people, think that Ghostbusters 2 is an inferior sequel. He'd probably go as far as to say it's a bad movie. That's kind of fair. His argument had the weight of, "It's basically the first movie over again." Lord knows that I've hated movies for the same reason. I absolutely detest Home Alone 2: Lost in New York for the same accusation. And while I can concede that there are elements of the movie, like swapping the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man for the Statue of Liberty in the third act, that are the same...the story stands pretty well on its own two feet.
Considering that Ivan Reitman directed both movies only five years apart, Ghostbusters 2 feels like a tonally different movie. I mean, it has the same actors and some of the beats run parallel to the original Ghostbusters. And maybe it's just that it is 1989 and film is starting to look different, but Ghostbusters 2 feels less like guerilla filmmaking and feels almost cinematic. When looking for stills for the movie, I noticed that the aspect ratio is tighter. The high resolution of these stills looked clean. The color palate has less of a brown saturation and everything just feels richer. I would give Reitman a standing ovation if it had something to do with the motifs of the film, having a Romantic era painting like Vigo the Carpathian as its central villain. Can you imagine that, knowing that much of the movie was going to take place in an art museum that Reitman made sure that all of his colors would fit within a painting? I mean, it's a stretch, but I want to live in a world where that happened. Realistically, it's probably that first theory of just time passing and Columbia Pictures throwing more money at what should have been a commercial success.
But like many sci-fi action comedy sequels, much more of the movie is given to the development of the villain. We know who the Ghostbusters are now. They aren't completely successful, which does feel like a bit of a backtrack considering that the first movie did so much heavy lifting getting them to be successes. But removing the Ghostbusters as commonplace does do the job of giving the characters some conflict to rise up against. Because I'll be writing about Don't Look Up fairly soon, there is this prophetic message about people choosing to ignore evidence to confirm cultural biases. Harris Yulin's judge outright states that he doesn't believe in "the existence of spooks, specters" or anything else similar. Remember, this is five years real time after New York was almost decimated by Gozer the Gozarian. Faiths had rallied to come together against ancient evil and it only took five years to forget that everyone in New York was pestered by ghosts. Enter Vigo the Carpathian, a commentary on the cynicism of New Yorkers.
While Reitman, Ramis, and Aykroyd specifically comment on the behavior of New Yorkers, there is something fundamentally American that is being satired here. Vigo, an ancient god who has no ties to the present, can only grow strong on the ill will of humanity. This leads me to something that I've been carrying around in my pocket for a few weeks now: Ghostbusters 2 is a better Christmas / New Years movie than Die Hard. Because Ghostbusters 2 is so critical of humanity, it also offers humanity a chance to redeem itself. In the first film, most of the conflict is placed upon the eponymous Ghostbusters. It's the four of them versus Gozer and Walter Peck. If anyone else had to make a choice, it's Mayor Lenny, but that seems like a pretty tiny plot point. If Christmas and New Years is about humanity coming together and purging itself of its negative attitudes, having Vigo and his river of mood slime as the antagonists is probably the smartest move to go. With Stay Puft, the colossus pancaking police cars was the villain. But with the Statue of Liberty, there's this unifying concept that says, "Can't we all work together to believe the world can be a better place?" Look at Die Hard. It just happens to be set at Christmas to get McClane and Holly back together. That's it. But Ghostbusters 2 is all about the potential innate goodness of humanity. It is actually a little vulnerable about it as well.
But I did try watching this movie with a critical eye. After all, Doug Benson has "Doug Loves Movies". He watches a lot of movies too and he has strong opinions. There is one weak element. It's really minor for me, so please be patient as I extend this blog entry to a deeper level than it really should take. If I had to be critical of anything, it's Kurt Fuller as Hardemeyer. I have no problem with Kurt Fuller. He was perfectly cast and he did a fantastic job. Similarly, you may be asking who Hardemeyer is. When you think Ghostbusters, you probably don't think of that memorable role of Hardemeyer. Hardemeyer is the mayor's assistant. He's a minor part, but he actually causes some damage for the movie as a whole. He's the guy who actively hates the Ghostbusters. He keeps Peter Venkman away from the mayor when he's at the studio for some reason. He's the one who stops the Ghostbusters from going to the press with the headline "Slimes Square." But most importantly, he has the Ghostbusters committed to a mental institution when he has the opportunity. The reason that Hardemeyer is a bit frustrating as an audience member is that it is one of the spots where the movie desperately wants to be the first movie.
Benson's argument that the movie retreads a lot of the same ground has some merit. Instead of having to prove the existence of ghosts, the Ghostbusters are in a place where they have to be the martyrs for something that people had a hard time grappling with. Dana Barrett, once again, finds herself at the epicenter of a spectral nexus, this time her involvement with a museum instead of her apartment. I know that there's a line explaining her time away from the orchestra, but I do find it hard to believe that her temporary job is probably someone's career that had to involve a lot of studying. There's Stay Puft v. the Statue of Liberty. But the one thing that made the least amount of sense is Hardemeyer. There was a beat missing in the film and they wanted to fill it with another Walter Peck. I watched a video saying that the first Ghostbusters was about nothing because no single element really gets a lot of attention in the first film. I argue that Walter Peck, representing cynicism, is the true antagonist of the film and that Gozer really is a White Walker situation. (An explanation? If the humans could just get their act together and work in harmony, this problem could be solved before it becomes a problem.)
But Hardemeyer isn't needed for the second film. We already have the judge filling that role. We've evolved past the flint-nosed cynic who can't accept what is right before him. And Walter Peck is actually kind of developed. The fact that I could just drop the name Hardemeyer and nothing really happens means that he's woefully underdeveloped.
But I have to say, I honestly don't hate Hardemeyer. I wouldn't have noticed this weak spot had I not listened to Doug Loves Movies. I absolutely adore Ghostbusters II, despite the fact that most people don't care. Maybe it's my obsession with Christmas stories or maybe its just the fact that I often find funnier quotes than the first film. (I will never dog the first film, pun intended.) Ghostbusters 2 is a much more solid movie than anyone really gives it credit for and it might be one of my favorite sequels of all time. And if you think it is weird how much I'm gushing over Ghostbusters II, wait until you read my blog on Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
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.