G, and let's really stress this...the G stands for Genocide. How? How is this G rated? Like, I get it. It's 1953. I played this while my four-year-old was in the room. But there's a scene where a pastor gets point-blank vaporized. It's great and it's old-timey special effects, but that guy got vaporized. Also, the alien arms look upsetting. People treat each other like human garbage. It's brutal for 1953, that's why it's rated G.
DIRECTOR: Byron Haskins
Like, I knew I had seen it before. But I wasn't sure if I had A) seen it before when I was a kid and forgot about it or B) had watched it in the past decade and just gotten it confused with other B-movie sci-fi films from the '50s. (Okay, it's not a B-movie, but it shares a lot of biology with the B-movie sci-fi). The answer is: both? Do you know how I remember that I had definitely seen it recently? The main character's name is Dr. Clayton Forrester. You know, from Mystery Science Theatre 3000? That name always reminds me. I actually question if I've written about this movie before. But moving on...
There's something about the morality of the '50s that is really weird to me. There was a time in my life where I might have been passing around copies of The War of the Worlds as an example of how to make Christian films that would appeal to the mass market. Now, The War of the Worlds, as good as it kind of is, is just Left Behind in its messaging, something that I don't think H.G. Wells put in his original story. My goodness, the imagery there. There's a scene in the movie, straight out of Man of Steel, where a pastor decides to confront the aliens who are (let me check my notes) vaporizing everything in sight. Father comes out to the chanting of Psalm 23 ("Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death") and then gets completely obliterated. He's slaughtered off camera, unlike the immigrant who first encounters the alien. That dude dies the most rad on screen death in 1953, per my vote. No, there's the hysterical screaming of the pastor's niece, which will become a thing all throughout the movie. Anyway, the priest bites it and I'm like, "Oh, the spirit is moving through me." At least, the one in the past is. Because the new me is deeply troubled by this scene.
See, the priest is in the right in this situation. Condemning war and violence, this lovely chaplain decided to confront monsters whose only personality trait is vaporizing people. Okay, I'm not sure if the vaporizing thing was concrete yet, but there's evidence there. But the pastor is there for one purpose only: ensuring that military action is a moral deed. Two years prior to this movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still came out. This is my favorite sci-fi movie from the era and it probably always will be. It's full of moral ambiguity and paints humanity and war in a negative light. We're always so quick to pull the trigger that The Day the Earth Stood Still yells its message at us that we're war-crazy. But The War of the Worlds straight up has the title of "War" in the name. It has to be about war. There's going to be guns and rockets and missles and the whole lot aimed at these space invaders. But if we're damned to be war dogs, at least justify it. And the way that we do that is to sacrifice members of the clergy to show how much we tried to avoid war at all costs. Cool. I mean, I still respect how the clergy were presented in films in the 1950s, but it does seem like a tall order.
Anyway, all through this movie, the only havens from the aliens is religion. Yeah, aliens are shooting down churches. These things are from the devil, full of demonic imagery. They are smashing everything in sight, even attacking chuches. There's no respect for the sacred with these aliens. They are kill and destroy, without any notion of coexistence. It's why we're allowed to nuke them, but I digress. But notice, as many bad things that are happening in the world, Forrester and Sylvia survive the attack when in church? The movie doesn't mince words with it either. These aliens fall straight up dead while the two are in church, praying to God. The movie ends with people on a hillside, praising the Lord for saving them from the aliens. The funny thing is, I always read The War of the Worlds as a temple to science. The creatures die because of their lack of planning when it comes to bacteria. It's kind of sad and oddly sympathetic that they just can't survive things that we've grown accustomed to. But we also don't feel bad for colonizers because they tend to be the ones who bring disease into the world.
Wait, I'm having this epiphany right now. Okay, The War of the Worlds uses the colonizers' model for how disease works. The aliens didn't prep an immune response to Earth's diseases, so they died within days of landing. Okay, fine. I like that as an end, for some reason. It's very sciencey. But isn't the reverse true? The aliens are techinically bringing their Martian diseases to Earth. I mean, isn't every ship that crashes and every alien that is to be studied just one giant smallpox blanket? Sure, there are more of us and we'd eventually adapt compared to the limited landing party that comes to Earth in The War of the Worlds, but I guess we probably shouldn't be all high and mighty that the aliens couldn't survive our planet because Earth should be getting another surge of death.
But everyone on that mountain is giving thanks to God. The Catholic in me wants to sing for joy that such a movie exists. Ten years ago me is screaming the same thing. I don't deny the urge within me to embrace this message. There's a part of me that sees The War of the Worlds as a ministry. It's what I wanted all of my secular media to be. I wanted things to be stories first and sacred as something that was just part of the human experience. It's the same reason that I got really excited for the "Kill the Moon" episode of Doctor Who. But then there is also the other problem. There's the intellectual hole that fills my soul. It's where the faithful claim that the devil finds his power and that's in the knowledge that God also created the Martians. God, the all-powerful, could have made Martians unable to exist on Earth whatsoever. Heck, Mars has no air. Why not see Earth as this toxic place from moment one and avoid the mass carnage that runs rampant throughout this movie. I mean, The War of the Worlds has it mostly right. It's tempting to accuse God of manslaughter when we should be grateful for the salvation he provides. But it is still this really messy message that 2023 Tim has a really hard coming to grips with.
I don't mean to rail against religion and I really believe I'm not. I just don't like overly simplistic religion and faith messages. I was going to rail against Sylvia as the poster child for 1950s women. Sylvia is ground zero for most of this stuff going on. She's completely aware of Dr. Forrester's complete line of work (by the way, the irresponsibility of 1950s doctors, completely publicly speculating on how these aliens work and being right most of the time). She knows more than most of the population. Yet her role in this movie to be both hysterical and serve coffee. If a scream is needed, they bring in Sylvia Van Buren. If someone needs to disappear into a sea of human chaos and not face things head on, welcome Sylvia Van Buren. There was one moment where I thought, "Hey, it's something that isn't demeaning", she fails at that too. I'm talking about the fact that she's driving the bus full of scientists and equipment. But she crashes that bus too and then hides out in a church, emotional as ever. I know. I'm covering well-examined ground here. It's just very blah.
But where The War of the Worlds swings for the fences is its contempt for the downfall of society. There's a part in the movie where humanity confronts the Martians and fails. It's the best of us and we have failed. But I do love that we should have lost The War of the Worlds. There's a plan. It's not a perfect plan to stop the Martians, but it is definitely a plan. All of the scientists have to drive to this place with a bunch of equipment. It's not the Martians who take out these scientists. That would be depressing and say nothing. It's humanity. It's people throwing other people off of buses and trying to buy ways to survival. That's what's rad. I think the Tom Cruise version kept this stuff in because that's the telling. Honestly, The War of the Worlds might be kind of forgettable if it wasn't for this stuff. Sure, I like a saucer crashing into a farmhouse (Forrester has both the best and the worst luck by the way. Big open field, saucer crashes into house). But the stuff that sticks is people ripping other people out of cars and causing their own downfall.
I enjoy this movie. I do. I wish the religious propaganda was probably handled with a touch more subtlety. It's not that I want it out of the movie because I'm both a Catholic and acknowledge that film should have a message. It's just...you know, hamfisted and doesn't quite work.
Not rated, but it is pretty innocent for a part of the French New Wave. The only thing that I can count as a wildly uncomfortable bit was the drowning of kittens. Despite the fact that this is a visual moment, most of the work is done by the foley, which is pretty upsetting. I think that there's some conversation about infidelity as well. Still, not rated is not rated.
DIRECTOR: Agnes Varda
Apparently, I've seen this movie before. Oops. That's not my finest moment. I watched the whole movie and then, BAM, I see that La Pointe Courte is on the other Agnes Varda set I have. A natural mistake to be sure. We all own multiple Agnes Varda box sets and sometimes we forget which Agnes Varda box set has which Agnes Varda movie. *sigh*
I love early Varda so much that it makes me overly critical of late Varda. That's an unhealthy relationship to have, first of all. But how much can I really love it if I've forgotten that I've watched this movie. Now, I'm going to keep mining this ore because it gets to the crux of my argument about La Pointe Courte. La Pointe Courte is good. It's very good. I'll even go as far as to say that it's great even if it isn't the most fun movie I've ever seen. (It's way more fun than a lot of French New Wave stuff, but it still is French New Wave. Okay, French New Wave is fun too, but it's not Bullet Train fun, okay?) But as good as La Pointe Courte is, it really is almost the epitome of the French New Wave, especially from a first time director. (It's a work of genius, especially considering that it comes from a first time director.) It has artsy shots. It's mellow. No one really gets up in arms about things they are saying, despite the fact that they are saying potentially incendiary things. You know the parody of French cinema. That parody has to come from somewhere and La Pointe Courte has a lot of those hallmarks. It sounds like I'm saying it's a bad thing. It really isn't. But I have to acknowledge that culture has borrowed a lot from movies like La Pointe Courte.
I hate that I wrote that La Pointe Courte isn't fun. "Fun" is too all-encompassing of a word. It has a myriad of contextual definitions. It's not like La Pointe Courte is bleak. There are bleak elements to it. I mean, one of the main stories is about the potential dissolving of a marriage. Another is about how the government interferes too much with humble day-to-day existance of the working man. But at the end of the day, it's almost a celebration of the small working town. Yeah, it prods its subjects with sticks and makes them dance for the camera. But ultimately, it is a rallying cry for the small fishing village. It's the positive form of Death of a Salesman, championing the working man and all of his foibles. While all of this low grade misery is around them, the takeaway is that places like La Pointe Courte is full of the celebrated working man. Sure, they'll never get what they want out of life. It will always be a bit of a struggle. But because expectations are managed and that people kind of seem to love life, warts and all, there's something beautiful about it.
But for some reason, and I hope to parce that out now, this movie screamed mortality to me. I couldn't stop thinking about death, considering that this movie seems to fundamentally be about life. (Split infinitive, thank you.) I think I know why I went to death with this movie and it has very little to do with the movie itself. I've been listening to a lot of Pete Holmes talking about Transcendental Meditation. I'm not going to get into that. But one of the key concepts is the notion of a mantra. It doesn't matter what it is. The idea of the mantra is that it takes up a part of your brain that tries too hard and allows the rest of the thoughts to flow freely. He compares it to the thought process of saying a rosary, which is both interesting and terrifying. But there is something so somber about La Pointe Courte that it made me almost get meditative. With that in mind, I watched this movie through the lens that my meditative mind had ascribed to it, the lens of death. I'm going to use the couple as my primary focus because I think that their story is the most fleshed out narrative in the whole piece.
A couple goes to this quaint fishing village. With the title being La Pointe Courte, Varda rightly keeps all of the action of the piece inside this village. The microcosm serves all of the actions and the characters. As part of that, it reminds me both of the limited freedom of life. You can do anything you want, as long as it is within the walls of your life. I think it's Lui and Elli, so I apologize if I have the wrong characters. Lui is from here, and he finds it to be heaven. It's my wife and Cincinnati. I only kind of get it. But Elli only views the limitations of this village. Lui seems adorably small, molded by the conventions of this town. Elli wants to be anywhere but here. Because the movie is French, her protestation is more in her words than her emotions. But like how, as we become older, we grow more comfortable with the notion of death, Elli sees this life as one of opportunity. Yeah, there aren't a billion things to do in La Pointe Courte. But the people do what they do and they do it well. It's an appreciation of simplicity. As she sees the value of a simple life / a simple death, she also is reminded of the beauty of Lui's simplicity. He may not be a jetsetter, but he is a good man. Perhaps a good and simple life is all that is needed.
I will say, I don't see her in reality making the change that she does. Her entire character arc is almost what I like from cinema, but it doesn't seem real. Varda is smart for saying that this argument is going to happen again. It's just that she seems so committed to leaving that I don't see her turning like that, especially from the lack of something. Okay they have water-jousting. That's something.
But the movie is great as a form of mediation. Everything I say sounds like an insult, but it really isn't. Varda's somberness causes me to accentuate my relationship between audience and avatar. Those quiet moments are inviting to infuse the self and that's what makes it good. Some say boring; I say peaceful.
PG, but I almost want to say that this movie might not be for kids. If the bare-bones, family-friendly Disney version of Pinocchio tends to terrify children, I can't stress to you enough how traumatizing this version is. This feels like it is set in the same world as Pan's Labyrinth, especially del Toro's motifs of war throughout. It's scary and messed up. People straight up die horrible deaths here.
DIRECTORS: Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
Why have I seen more versions of Pinocchio in the past few years than I ever thought that I would? Is Pinocchio somehow reflecting our current culture? Is it a conflagration of ideas? Is the universe telling us something or is it artists inspiring each other? Or maybe it's all a coincidence that we keep getting Pinocchio as the story to talk about. Regardless, we keep getting the message that Pinocchio was a jerk of a kid but ultimately deserved to become a real boy.
I tell my students to write outlines before writing, which is advice I tend to ignore with this blog. I really should name this thing "Stream of Consciousness Movies" because so little thought is put into the organization of my arguements. I really hope to remember to talk about the role of parenting later in this blog because I'm going to talk about the title of this movie before anything else. I'm not saying Pinocchio. I have no thoughts about the appropriateness of the title Pinocchio. I'm talking about how this movie is named Guillermo del Toro's Pinocchio. First, I feel bad for the co-director, who seems to be doing a lot of the heavy lifting, especially when it comes to the animation element of this. But I can see why this movie is named after del Toro My goodness, he's unpacking a lot of his oeuvre in front of us. The odd thing that I have to criticize myself for is the fact that I'll lambaste Tim Burton for having one gimmick, yet sit in awe of most of the things that Guillermo del Toro does visually. But this is just Pan's Labyrinth 2, right? I mean, everything about this is Pan's Labyrinth. Like, every element looks like it could be an animated sequel set in the world of Pan's Labyrinth. I mean, if I'm going to spell it out (which is not a bad thing!), it's a children's story set against the backdrop of real world evil: war.
I really need to learn more about del Toro as a person. I know he's from Mexico and lived in Spain for a while. (When I say that I "know" that, it's in the back of my brain.) I know his dad got kidnapped and things got scary for a while. But what is del Toro's interest with children having to deal with war? Visually, it's striking. And this might be the point where I transition into my point about parenting. (You know, if I was an expert blogger, this segue would be seemless, but you would leave feeling special. Instead, welcome to this ham-handed crap.) The war, besides being this haunting spectre over the events of a story that have been told before, is something for Geppetto to rage against. It's something fundamentally evil, especially from an Italian perspective. It was a sense of nationalism that forgot what Italian culture was supposed to be about. (How should you read this section? From a very weary American who is aware that America is just sprinting in that direction.) But Geppetto is a victim who embraces his victimhood. It's really bizarre. While most versions of Pinocchio are morality plays about being a naughty little boy, warning real life children to not act like Pinocchio.
Instead, this is a morality play for parents. I'm going to say that I love this because I am not a naughty little boy. I'm a parent who probably screws up his kid because of unreasonable expectations. It's not like we're supposed to hate Geppetto. Geppetto reacts fairly naturally. He had Carlo, a kid who was way too perfect. When we just had our first daughter, we were convinced that we were the best parents who had ever existed. She was so good. She was so talented. But then, the more children we had, the more problems we started running into. Even from the oldest. If Carlo and Pinocchio had grown up together, Carlo would start massively misbehaving. But we sympathize with Geppetto. He is dealing with something supernatural. There's almost a monkey's paw element to Pinocchio coming to life. The allegory is screaming, "Every birth is miraculous and cannot fit in a box. Every parent is surprised by what their child is."
The idea of Geppetto as the focus of the story actually alters the Pinocchio story quite a bit. Again, this coming from a guy who has never read the OG Pinocchio, it was always something that was preachy for kids. After all, the OG Pinocchio slaughters Jimminy Cricket in the first minutes of meeting him. But I like the idea that Sebastian Cricket is someone who can nudge Pinocchio in subtle ways. He can never make Pinocchio do what is right, but he can condemn the heck out of Geppetto for finding Pinocchio to be a burden. I do think that del Toro goes a bit far, placing the onus on the parents at times. Like, the Nazi full on condemns Geppetto for Pinocchio not being perfect. We should always disagree with the Nazi, but I do agree that Pinocchio is perhaps a bit too rebellious for his britches. Like, cool it a little on the not-listening bit. But I do like the notion that Geppetto should understand that Pinocchio is minutes old and that he can't have a full grasp of the complex morality of society. Like, if you were born eight-years-old, you'd have eight-year-old needs and wants that have nothing to do with lofty philosophical debates.
But I really like what the message in the movie is. Like, I really like it. I was ready to hate the end of the movie because this version of Pinocchio is a bit unfair as a concept. In other adaptations of Pinocchio, Geppetto is just a lonely old man who has never had children. While I really liked the notion that Geppetto had a kid before, making him a fallible character when Pinocchio comes around, it does seem like it is messing with the rights and wrongs of the universe. In my head, he was going to get Carlo back, considering that Pinocchio and Carlo are both voiced by the same actor. Or, alternatively, Pinocchio would learn his lesson and become a better behaved child that would stop giving his father grief. Nope, and that's where I give points. Sure, I'm not sure if I'm a fan of Pinocchio getting an extra life because that's also false hope for parents who have lost children. But I do like the idea that Pinocchio's "real boy" status isn't one of flesh and blood like Carlo. His real boy status is one of mortality. It all ties together! (I regret writing that, but I also stand by it?) Pinocchio doesn't have to become a different person because society accepts that different person. If he became a physical flesh child (gross), it would be symbolic that he wasn't who he was born to be: a wooden boy. Yeah, it's dark and very del Toro-y that he will live an abnormally long life, like the Face of Boe. But I kind of like it too.
There are so many moments that I really like. But there are two that hold this movie back for me. The first one is just criticism of quality. This movie absolutely shouldn't have been a musical. The music isn't very good and often, it's incomplete. I'm sure it comes down to the fact that to animate a song-and-dance number with stop motion is unnecessarily challenging. But, man, those songs are bad. It would be an understatement to say that they aren't catchy or something. They honestly don't even feel like songs. It's like someone took lines of text from the book and tried to force them into a short song structure. And Pinocchio doesn't need to be a musical...at all. Like, nothing is forcing Pinocchio into a being a musical.
The second complaint is a lost opportunity. To get this rad moment where Pinocchio sacrifices his life for his father, he has to agree to become mortal. The whole infinite deaths element of the movie is almost wasted for the sake of getting to this end. The film is about war. The fascists have conscripted the immortal Pinocchio into war. For those who haven't seen the movie, I have to let you know the cost of Pinocchio's immortality. The rules are, that every time Pinocchio dies, it takes him a little longer to come back. That's the punishment. Look at the opportunity there. Pinocchio has been forced by the fascists to become this immortal soldier. Imagine waking up each time and find that the war is still going on, only to die moments later. That opportunity is there. Because he was so foolish about his desire to become a soldier, he never sees his dad again. Or maybe he sees him dying from extreme old age. Yeah, it misses the original narrative. But if you have these strong motifs running through a movie, you have to use both of them. It's so weird that it doesn't work at all. It is just rushed through and Pinocchio actually escapes the war pretty quickly.
So it's a great movie with flaws. I don't know why we keep coming back to the Pinocchio well though. It's a fine story, but I'm a bit Pinocchio'd out, if I'm honest. It's a movie that would have crushed had I not just seen a movie about Pinocchio last year. Del Toro crushes it, with the exception of a few elements.
Rated G, despite the fact that it safely the most damning and depressing Disney movie that has been created or will probably be created. Hypothetically, I could comment on the fact that almost the entire human race has been wiped out due to mass consumerism and pollution, but that's something that is more understood than explicitly conveyed. There's also some threat coupled with the eponymous character wearing a bra as glasses. G.
DIRECTOR: Andrew Stanton
I was sure that I had written about this movie. I remember writing about Andrew Stanton and how he was the most rebellious director in existence. But sure enough, my blog has no evidence that I've written about Wall᛫E in the past, so I just have to accept that I haven't. (God, what a blessing that would be. It's not anything against Wall᛫E. It's just that I would rather be reading my book.)
You may be asking, "Why Wall᛫E? I mean, my kneejerk reaction would be "Why not Wall᛫E?" After all, I watch things on a screwed up self-invented algorithm. I shouldn't have to explain myself. But the real reason is that I just got it for Christmas on 4K Criterion. I don't know why it gave me such joy to find out that Wall᛫E is a Criterion movie now. Maybe because it's recognizing art other than places it normally would look for it. Disney, especially recent Disney, has somehow ingratiated itself to me. I never really understood hardcore Disney fans. I always read them as nostalgia hounds or people who didn't appreciate a solid challenge. (I'm saying I like you, Disney fans. I'm just saying that I didn't understand you for a long time.) But there have been these films, probably starting with Wall᛫E that have existed because of the willingness to accept risk. Wall᛫E is a shorter movie than I remember it being, but this was a movie in my head that was borderline a silent film for the first act completely. That first act, in my head, was an hour. It's really about 25 minutes, but still! Then the movie comes down hard with the satire of the human race (in particular, White Americans) and how terrible they are.
Okay, there's the surface level attack on humanity, which I think everyone gets. This is the story of how, as a species, we are wasteful and obsessed with comfort. As such, we worship at the altar of Buy 'n Large (BnL) to the point where we destroy the planet. Good on you, Disney. I'm glad you are getting the message to the kids. Again, I've become this unbearable hippie in everyone's eyes, so I mind as well embrace it. But there's something absolutely telling about something else in the movie. I don't know if it is an accident, but can we talk about White Flight for a second? I don't really remember any Black people in this movie. I Googled it. There are some articles on it. I'm not the first person to come to this conclusion. Apparently, there's one person in the movie. Am I saying that only White people exist in the future? Not really, but kind of? There's something oddly sympathetic about future people who have grown so morbidly obese that they are unable to get around without flying chairs. It's depressing as heck and I'm not denying that. But they have the attitude of children. They are mesmorized by a new robot when Wall᛫E arrives and start noticing the beauty of the real world when deprived of TV. Cool.
But let's mirror the notion of White Flight here. For those not in the know, White Flight (in the most irresponsible shorthand ever) is the notion that White America moved away from the cities to the suburbs when property values dropped due to the influx of other races, particularly Black America. That White migration starting inverting cause and effect with crime rates because urban infrastructure started collapsing with the loss of White income. Okay. The Axiom is full of fat White people who don't feel like they've done anything wrong. They live a life of boredom, free of any form of discomfort. (For such a criticism of consumerism, I don't know how anyone besides the captain makes any money.) But this is a culture that doesn't understand the consequences of actions. From their ancestors' perspectives, these are people who had money, paid Buy 'N Large to ship them off on a luxury liner to save them from the collapsing environment of planet Earth. It's not that they actively hated Black people, but their need to take care of themselves ultimately led to an evil act.
This is where robots come in. I had a pretty deep dive discussion with other faculty members about the role that slavery plays in Star Wars. It's important to remember that the draw that brings us into the movie is that this is a love story between two robots. One of them is Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character, if you want to tie it to archetypes. But the most connection we have with any characters aren't the humans. The robots are the avatars for the audience. And like with Star Wars, the droids are the slave caste. They are forced to do jobs that they don't necessarily want to do. This isn't something that the movie screams at you, but I do want to talk about some very powerful imagery if you think of robots as stand ins for Black imagery. There are certain acceptable tiers of robots that are completely fine. There are robots that are menial workers. Humans are the only ones who experience comfort. But the image I'm looking at is the stand off between the flawed robots and the hospitality bots. It's the oppressed versus riot cops. They even have flashing lights above their heads in the stand off. When Eve fires a blast into the crowd, it goes full riot.
It's insane that this movie exists. I'm going to go even further that it might be insane that, as progressive as the movie attempts to be, it accomplishes some real subversive stuff probably by accident. I mean, for all I know, Andrew Stanton had all of this on a notepad while making the movie and somehow that would make the movie even better. But the imagery and the storytelling elements are there, regardless. I think a lot of parents probably felt pretty uncomfortable watching this movie thinking that it was brainwashing their kids. But the challenge comes from the idea that we've accepted society as something flawed because we'll outlive the change needed to fix society. But kids need to know these things young. "Why make it political?" Because everything is political. Being apolitical is a political statement. And what can we disagree with this movie? Sure, some people might not see the racial allegory going on and I can't even fight that. But the movie screams that we are a blight on our environment and commericalism is the cause of that. Why is that something that people get mad about? Is it a fear of communism? A fear of communism doesn't mean that we should embrace extreme capitalism. We shouldn't accept extreme anything.
Except for throwing all the guns into the sun. We should absolutely do that. My progressive is on display loud and proud in this one, right?
Rated R for a LOT of language and a lot of violence. It's weird, because for a film centered around the idea of ultra-death and violence, the gore doesn't seem exploitative. Maybe that's to our detriment, considering that we shrug off a lot of death in this movie. But it is over-the-top gore without trying to gross you out.
DIRECTOR: David Leitch
Shut up. I was not ready to like this movie so much. I was so ready to throw it into the ash pile of every other too-cool-for-reality Quentin Tarantino knock offs. But then, I come out of this movie having almost no notes. You want to know my one note? Train crashes totally kill everyone on board. Okay, two notes: bullets make loud noises that would garner attention. But if you really employ suspension of disbelief, man alive this movie really works.
I will be honest, as I tend to be on this blog. If I had my druthers, I would be reading right now. I have less than 100 pages left of a book that took me too long to read. But I also know that if I don't write this before the weekend, it's going to be a long time until I get to it. If I sound snarky, be aware that this isn't a reflection of the movie. I really liked this movie. The thing is, I absolutely shouldn't. This is a movie absolutely terrified about being vulnerable. Then why does it work when it has no right to work? Two main reasons and a whole lot of little reasons. The first thing is a consistent tone. The movie never really tries diverting from its mission statement of nonstop adrenaline coupled with humor. Is there going to be a really serious scene? Not really. Sure, there's parts that drive the plot forward and give characters motivations for being in the story. But that doesn't mean that there's any emotions that are communicated to the audience. If anything, the movie understands that cool is life. That's a Danny Rojas sentence, but I'm going to keep it in for momentum. That's why we have Brad Pitt in the lead role. This sounds like an insult to Brad Pitt, assuming that he can't do vulnerable stuff. He absolutely can. But do you know what I associate with Brad Pitt? Brad Pitt is Ocean's Eleven. He's not eating in this one (as far as I can remember), but he is taking these larger than life story moments with such a stride. Any one of the things that happens to Ladybug would leave me in a heap on the floor. Ladybug Brad Pitts everything away. It allows for a specific story.
Bullet Train makes me question everything. I already feel like I'm beating a dead horse. If I read this script, I would poo-poo it so hard. But the second thing is a script that ties everything together. I've taught playwriting twice. One of my key rules is not to be clever. Clever is what screenwriters do to cover up substance. If I had to attack one moment of cleverness, it's everything that Lemon does. For those not in the know, Lemon is a character who relates every situation, no matter how grim, to the lessons taught in Thomas the Tank Engine. Good golly, that joke should get old. Everything...every two seconds: a Thomas joke. But it works. And it makes the film have such a shorthand that emphasizes mood and plot. We don't need to know a lot about Lemon. Lemon, for all of his murderous cool, is a guy who likes the simple things in life. Contrasted to that is Tangerine, whose cynicism stops him from leading a life that brings him joy. And because the script continually makes Thomas the Tank Engine references, we see through the language of Lemon. People become Percies and Henries and Diesels. It's great. It takes something that could be kind of mundane and gives us a new lens to experience this world.
I don't know if the end really works in reality, but it does through the concept of suspension of disbelief. (Again, any advice I can give: suspend all disbelief because it makes the movie fun). Prince. I want to talk about Prince. I forgot that the character was named Prince and that's on me. But Prince is simultaneously a hero and a villain in this piece. Ladybug has a really dumb goal: take the case off the train. (Again, suspension of disbelief.) Hypothetically, if he wasn't unlucky, he would have been off in one. Heck, if Carter was there, the story wouldn't exist. Okay. But Prince's goal is to kill the White Death. From her perspective, she's gathered a group of absolute monsters, planted bombs on a lot of them, and sent them hurtling towards the White Death.
But now I have to question myself. I keep going back to the suspension of disbelief well. I keep using this as an excuse for me liking this movie. Maybe I should be rougher on it. I can't help that I liked it so much. But let's be real. A lot of this script doesn't make any sense. I'm going to be arguing the subjectivity of this movie, but I might have no leg to stand on. So some things work. Originally, I was frustrated that the White Death organized everything in this movie for the sake of getting revenge on Carver, who isn't in the movie. But that didn't work with the Wolf, who attacks Ladybug in revenge for the poisoning job. Then I remembered / quick-Google-searched that the Wolf was looking for The Hornet and was happily surprised to see Ladybug. But then something hit me pretty hard. The only reason that Ladybug didn't get off the train was because the Wolf stopped him. If Carver was there, the story would have ended when he got off of the train. After all, the mission was in its simplicity: get the case and get off the train. Let's pretend that Carver would also have been stopped by the Wolf. I'm not sure how it worked, but Carver could have been at the wedding hit too. Okay. What are the odds that the Wolf stops Carver at the exact train door?
See, I'm starting to highlight what cleverness gets you? The film is fun for its absolutely bananas complex plot. The same thing can probably be said for Glass Onion, which I also forgave. But Bullet Train holds up to very little scrutiny. Yeah, just because it tied up loose threads that I didn't think of doesn't mean that every loose thread is tied up. But then, I can't help but like it. If anything, for all of my criticisms of film, maybe Bullet Train acts as a criticism of me. I do think that Bullet Train should be out there. I also said the same thing about Shoot 'Em Up, a movie I desperately need to return to. The thing is, I think my blog persona might be something very different from my real life persona. Don't get me wrong: all versions of me like quality and classics. But I read a lot and preach the gospel that great things should be balanced with guilty pleasures. It makes us appreciate life more knowing that we're not mired in snobbiness. Bullet Train is simultaneously kind of smart and fantastically dumb. But it's that balance that makes life worth living. Lobster isn't lobster if you can't enjoy a cheeseburger everyone once in a while. (Thanks, The Menu!)
So I shouldn't try to defend this movie. I enjoyed exploring the plot of it. I even love the fact that the characters, as 2D as they are, are memorable. But this is a silly film that I'm not going to apologize for.
Not rated, but people die some pretty horrible deaths. Some of those deaths may require you to use your imagination, because there's a guy on fire in it, but the fire was done digitally. In 2003. It's fine. It just doesn't necessarily pack the same heat (pun intended) as a practical effect would. There's some language, but you are really on board for the violence more than anything else. Not rated.
DIRECTORS: Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
So they went all The Godfather Part II with this one, huh? Okay, I had that in the chamber since watching it. I don't know if I can follow through with a lot of deep commentary about this movie because I was resting all my argument on that. I have a feeling that there are just going to be a ton of Godfather comparisons with this blog. But that's okay. You know what would really help this blog entry? Research. Oh my goodness, doing a hint of research would do wonders for me right now. But between not having seen the third movie and the fact that it sets a precident for future blog entries, I'm going to just do my best and see if my sleep-deficient brain can compensate.
What research would I do? How did they make this movie a year apart. Part 3, same deal. 2002, 2003, 2004 are the years for the Infernal Affairs trilogy and I can't really understand it. Maybe they got approval to make them all at the same time? It has to be that. It had to be one of those James Cameron deals where they presented a proof of concept and got pre-approved to make all the movies at the same time. I mean, sure, the first film is the one that carries the weight of having a clever conceit behind it. But Infernal Affairs II isn't a joke by any stretch of the imagination. It's actually got another really complicated plot. It has a plot so complicated that I had to Wikipedia the plot a few times. Crime stories tend to get a little confusing sometimes, especially when you have different cast members playing the same roles. It's an odd movie. I know that I threw The Godfather as the example for Infernal Affairs II, but part of that comes from the notion of being a prequel. But prequels tend to spell out how the life of the protagonists or antagonists before the important story starts. Yeah, this is the story of moles still. But they almost carry the brunt of the B-story in this movie. Yeah, I know what it was like rising up the ranks of both the police force and a crime syndicate. But is that the main plot? Oh, man no. If anything, this is the story of Wong and Sam.
It's a different story than I would have gathered from the first movie,which is probably what makes the film so compelling. My vibe from the first movie is that Wong was so good at his job that he was comfortable being personable with someone like Sam. Instead, we find out that he's quasi-sorta-corrupt? Okay, he's a corrupt cop. Why am I dancing around this? I have the opportunity to spell it out right here. He's a cop that takes shortcuts and has a skewed morality, but does so in the name of justice. I guess the movie comes down on the side of Wong. Everything about these Infernal Affairs movies seems to be about how the pursuit of justice is one that corrupts, but that corruption is necessary. Even when it comes to Sam, it's got an opinion on that. Sam starts this movie not as a monster. He's a small time informant who enjoys the benefit of his station. Yeah, he's still morally in the wrong. He's never a good guy in this movie. But Infernal Affairs II inverts the role of the meal in this movie. The first Infernal Affairs has Sam eating a meal out of spite. (For some reason, I thought that police just gave suspects rad, multi-course dishes during interrogation in Hong Kong. Now, I'm only mostly sure that they do not.)
Sam's meal is very telling in this one to say how much this story has spiraled out of control. Sam and Wong have a relationship of cop to informant in this one. There's something ironic about Sam acting as an informant, considering that he's the impetus of the whole undercover mole thing. However, that first scene with Sam eating with Wong is a lovely bit of detail quickly establishing the civility of officer / criminal. In the first meal, when Sam disrespects Wong during that meal, I felt it was a way to make Sam unlikable quickly. But now that we realize that there's some real bad blood between the two of them and that Wong is desperate to undo the past, that first meal takes a deeper meaning. But if I did have to be critical, it's weird that so much hate goes Wong's way. Wong does have a weight on his shoulders. He is responsible for a crime lord's death. I mean, from what I understood, it wasn' t he who pulled the trigger but Lau, the big bad from the first movie. It's an odd move, considering that the only reason that Lau was in the police force was to rise to the ranks so he could be an infallible mole on the inside. But, whatever. It's a movie.
But Wong carries the weight of this crime. He genuinely views himself to be this corrupt figurehead throughout the film. But the film even verbalizes its themes by continually exonerating him from this assassination. There's even a line about the Brits agreeing to the notion that anything that would lower crime approach. But it is odd that so many people hate Wong. Maybe I kind of missed something. I can tell you that I missed why Sam is so cool with being killed, I'll tell you that for free. I mean, I can kind of bend my brain to it. Sam enters the final act of the movie wanting to take Hau down. (Hau makes a great villain with a great comeuppance, so I'll say that right here.) Here's where I start getting confused. Sam and Hau sit down and negociate. Hau, as per his characters, seems to hold all the cards. A hit squad is holding Sam's new family hostage. But then Sam throws the Reverse Uno card and says that he has Hau's family hostage as well. It's great. Great moment. Sam frees his family with his own hit squad. But it's in that moment, that Sam demands that Hau kill him.
Now, my brain went in a specific direction. Is this a metaphorical killing? After all, Sam's personality is based on the notion of survival and growth. The idea that he asks Hau to kill him as a means to maintain the status quo doesn't make a ton of sense. It's when Wong shows up and he kills Hau to save Sam's life that this is all thrown for a tizzy. Sam seems to get really angry with Wong. He says that he wanted to die in that moment. I really want this moment to work because the movie is pretty good. But I don't know when Sam went suicidal. It seems so against his character, especially in the original movie. That is a dude who gonedone loves his life. What is the turn that happened in that movie that made Sam suicidal? Maybe this is where my criticism comes down on the movie. Sam doesn't make a lick of sense to me in this as a prequel. That suicidal bit was a means to create a rift between Wong and Sam, but I don't know if it really works.
But...and here's what I promised, it works really well as The Godfather Part II. I know, I can't stop comparing Hong Kong films to American films. The Infernal Affairs movies could almost be anthology films because this movie almost doesn't need to be tied to the first film. Instead, what makes Infernal Affairs II oddly really satisfying is that humanity that criminals are given in this movie. The first film, as much as I adored it, was almost straight plot: cops v. robbers. Okay. Great. But this is the nuance of the world of Hong Kong crime. It's the Triads at family get togethers. Yeah, it isn't the center of the piece. But it is something that is prevalent throughout. There are just these moments of humanity. The cool is stripped away from crime and it becomes about survival and the abandonment of familial expectations. Criminals, for all of the awful things that happen in this movie, are somehow human. There's almost a demonization to Wong, which is reflected in the notion that he will do anything to shut down organized crime. It's gorgeous. Is it as effective as The Godfather Part II? Probably not, but it is certainly strong.
Part III has to be a sequel, right? I can't imagine it not being a sequel. But I will say, I didn't know how there were going to be three movies made out of a central premise. But here I am, pleased to say that Infernal Affairs II was a solid film on its own. It didn't seem to tread over the same points over again, yet still felt connected to ideas introduced earlier. It's a solid, if not a bit confusing movie that I'm glad I caught.
PG-13, despite a really in-your-face F-bomb. This is a high school dramedy from the '80s. There's going to be sex, alchohol, smoking...all of the bad things. But they're going to be talked about and alluded to more than the actual visual elements that would necessitate an R-rating. If anything, Pretty in Pink is probably one of the lesser worrisome movies that the Brat Pack made. Still, I'm surprised it got a PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Howard Deutch
How were you so close? Honestly, John Hughes! (I honestly thought you directed and wrote this movie.) I watched it in two shifts. I've always been afraid to watch both Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles. It's not the jump scares or the gore. I can handle those. (Someone out there doesn't get the joke and that's okay. It wasn't avery good joke.) It's just that I was burned pretty hard by The Breakfast Club. See, I watched The Breakfast Club with a friend that swore by the movie in college. I was out of high school. I saw it with an obsessive fan. When I didn't like it, my takeaway was that I wasn't the core audience. I'm curious how many of these blogs have that same takeaway. I might not be the core audience of a movie. But I've also prided myself on seeing practically every watershed film that has impacted the zeitgeist. How can I avoid Pretty in Pink?
The first day, I was pleased as punch. Yeah, the acting --shy of James Spader who is possibly doing his best work --is rough. Okay, Jon Cryer earned some respect in this one and I'm always happy to see Annie Potts. But the movie was...good. I mean, if you go into a romantic dramedy from the '80s with expectations of tropes, it's absolutely rad. There's insane costume pieces. There's the version of high school where cliques are so sacrosanct that it becomes a straight up warzone of catty comments. But most importantly, there are pretty people who all love/hate each other. Also, Jon Cryer is making the most out of every cell of film ever. What can I complain about? Annie is a perfect avatar for the audience. She is well-meaning, borderlining on saintly. There's a Cinderella element to the film as a whole. It's just compelling as get out. It was weird. I went upstairs after my workout was over (humble brag) and told my wife that I was absolutely loving Pretty in Pink, a movie that I wouldn't have given the time of day to for 39 years. (Admittedly, if I had given it a chance in the first ten years, there also would have been a weird moment to discuss.)
Then the end happened. Now, I know a lot of people get mad at Pretty in Pink, but I don't think it's for the same reasons I get mad. Maybe my anger is close to others' ideas about problems in this movie. But I want to talk about my nuanced anger. I've heard from some camps that Andie absolutely should have gone with Duckie. Okay, that's a fantasy and a toxic one at that. Other camps say that Duckie is toxic as get-out and shouldn't be in the movie. I'm going to pump the brakes on that for now and talk about that in a second. The problem I have is that Blane straight up gaslights her. He never apologizes for his behavior. Maybe I'm just Team Andie all the way. But when he says, "You didn't believe in me", there's a reason for that. Oh. My. Goodness. Andie's entire thesis statement for this movie is that we shouldn't just people based on economic class, even if it is about punching up. (Note: You are allowed to judge people punching up a little. Everything about this movie when it comes to money almost demonizes what money does to people.)
But Blane sucks. Not for the whole movie. There's a lot where I'm rooting for Blane in the movie. Maybe that's what makes the movie so good for me for a lot of the film. I have the benefit of being an old man in 2023 watching this movie, knowing the cultural history of this movie. I knew that a lot of people love Duckie and a lot of people hate Duckie. I also knew that she didn't end up with Duckie in the end. I didn't know if she ended up with Blane, but I knew that she didn't end up with Duckie. Duckie is the character my sad friends were all holding onto before we grew up and avoided becoming incels. But I was on board the whole Romeo and Juliet thing. It's great. Two cultures who can't possibly accept each other due to stereotypes that, in this case, actually end up being mostly true. It becomes this culture war and there are these two kids who just want to make it through the culture war? I love it. Sure, the movie needs to include a break before getting back together. I know how romantic formulae work. It's necessary because you need to explore the darkness before you see the light. Okay.
But the issue isn't that Blane freaked out a little bit about Andie. It's that he blamed her for the problems that ensued and never apologized. A lot of that was Blane's fault. Okay, I'm going to play Devil's Advocate. Andie accuses Blane of ghosting her. She calls him over and over. He claims that he's being punished for sneaking off. Let's pretend that it's true. I mean, it might be. That seems valid. But Andie then says that Blane saw her in the parking lot and avoided eye contact. When he says he didn't, there's a bit of gaslighting there. She has to question what she thought she saw. But let's go beyond that. Andie accuses him of breaking eye contact and he genuinely didn't do that. It's his responsibility to apologize. I'll even give him the right to defend himself, but then an apology for missing a social cue is completely reasonable. Instead, he just says that he doesn't want to talk. That's pretty bad. But then he lies to her and says that he asked someone else out to prom, which we absolutely know that he didn't. It's actually weird that we use this in his favor at the end. Duckie says, "Look, he's not with anyone." Why is that a good thing? It's just a confirmation that he's been lying about a bunch of things. Andie absolutely shouldn't have gone groveling to Blane (okay, forgiving him without an apology) because Blane is straight up in the wrong.
I don't think she needs to be with Duckie either. Now, this is what I've promised to talk about. Duckie would have been a hero to me in high school. I'm not saying purge Duckie from the story. If anything, I'm arguing that Hughes (I'm giving Hughes all of the credit as screenwriter because I pretend that I know him) is giving the message that Duckie is problematic in this film, a point that was probably missed by a lot of the audience. Duckie is this hanger-on nice-guy archetype. I think Duckie is meant to be a bit gross, but we keep hating to use Duckie as an avatar because he's the most critical reflections of the self. Yes, his intentions are good. He sees value in someone that people tend to disregard. But because he knows that he's sweet and doting, he feels like he is entitled to Andie as a person. It's why he becomes such a villain halfway through the movie. It's really bad. It's also why Duckie makes zero sense for the finale of this movie.
Duckie's agreeing to let Andie go to Blane is almost Exhibit A for a movie that has dug itself into a hole. The entire movie is about big personalities that aren't able to move. Andie is the avatar, sweet girl. Cool. Blane is so mired by his wealth that, when he tries pushing back, he fails. Duckie is an obsessive monster. But no one really comes to grip with the character trait that makes them bad. Duckie just...surrenders? It's not like he had a come-to-Jesus moment that would let him be aware that Andie is a person capable of her own decisions. If anything, Andie is about to relent to Duckie's bullheaded attitudes about love and settle for someone she doesn't care for. Now, someone out there is realizing that Duckie comes to the same conclusion. But reality doesn't work that way. Duckie has been fighting for a goal the entire movie. He's the star of the film, in his mind. His motivations and intentions are the most clear out of anyone in the film. He is about to win and then he just sacrifices the game? He genuinely thinks that Andie finally sees him as a valuable suitor and he's going to sacrifice that? She's smiling. It's not like he sees the misery that he's caused her. He sees that he can bring happiness to this girl who has been trashed his entire life and he loses that for a guy who has treated her badly? It's so against his character that the choice only exists to finish the film.
I've heard about a movie being redeemed by the last minute. Pretty in Pink lost all of my goodwill in the final moment. Nothing makes sense and then it just ends. Andie is going to be gaslit the rest of her life. The end. Boo. No thank you.
Rated R for a lot of death, violence, and more suicide than you are probably prepped for. If anything should ding this movie, it's how casually this movie treats suicide. One of the suicides is particularly brutal. The movie also has a sexual background without actually depicting any sexuality on screen. Either way, a valid-yet-classy R...for the most part.
DIRECTOR: Mark Mylod
Oh. My. Goodness. I had a ginormous list of movies to write about and I caught up...for now. (Oscar season is coming up and I'm going to fall behind...again.) I'm in a dangerous place, writing-wise. Near the end of the road, that's when I get all procrastinaty. Because, as of right now, I think I'm nine-days ahead of the blog, potentially the most I've been ahead...ever. The worst part is that I think that tomorrow I'll be able to relax. That's a joke. I have half-an-hour of Pretty in Pink left to watch, so tomorrow I'm going to come in here and do the exact same thing I'm doing right now. That's okay, because I love what I do. Kind of like Chef Slowik. (You see that seemless transition? That's why I make the no bucks.)
For all of that phenomenal skill and writing prowess, that Chef Slowik comparison is apt. I've been writing this blog for six plus years. Every movie I've seen, I've written about. If I haven't written about it by some fluke (it happens entirely by accident), I'll rewatch that movie stat just to write about it, regardless of if I want to watch that movie again or even liked it. I don't know why part of my life is completely dedicated to a handful of readers (but in reality, myself and the knowledge that I kept doing this). I was spiraling some The Menu memes and the world already captured one of my key thoughts about the movie: for as much as this movie has a message, it is also very wishy-washy about that whole notion. Slowik is this guy who loved what he did. He became the best in the world at doing something very specific. He drew the attention of food critics all over the world and they gave him money and opportunity. He had to want for nothing and then he grew to hate what he was doing. I'm just jumping to the line of the movie. Just deal. "This wasn't made with love."
Some of these blogs aren't made with love. Often, they are a commitment. For example, the Tom and Jerry blog entry. Not much love there. I watched it out of love for my children, but I knew that I had to write about that nonsense. But that's where the movie goes into high concept, little depth. I actually want to gush about this movie, but I do have to get something very clear out of the way: this movie needs you to be accepting of a lot of things. This blog is one of the lowest rungs of the creative ladder. I take what other people have made and I talk about those things. Sometimes, those things I write are critical. Sometimes it's exploratory, trying to unpack a dense idea. And sometimes, it is just a blog that is loosely themed around the movies. If you happen to be one of the few directors who have read my blog (which, oddly enough, is not zero; I can have that claim to fame), I apologize if I just mused for far too many words around a theme with your movie. Right now, Mark Mylod might be thinking this if he read the blog.
I'm going to take a real leap here and talk about how creation is art. By creating something, even if it is as low-brow as generating content, there's an artistic element to it. I sometimes go through great pains to choose words for this blog. Not often, but it happens. I strive for a conversational tone, mainly because I'm trying synthesize an artificial conversation around a dimly-lit table in a New York restaurant, post-film. It doesn't work most of the time, but it's a way for me to live that life. But Slowik in this film is the broken artist. He has created and created and he's only built up this spite for his audience. In the case of The Menu, he's found people to epitomize his wrath, with the exception of the girl from Brown. While I love the joke, especially tied to the "Eat the Rich" theme, is she really worthy of his wrath? I don't know. Sometimes jokes hurt the message, but okay. Going on. Slowik finds this group of people to take out his frustrations on. He's not necessarily mad at them as individuals, but what they represent.
But ultimately, Slowik hates himself. With the dish, "Man's Folly", Slowik subjects himself to being mutilated. It's unclear whether he was full-on stabbed in the genitals. It seemed like it was his thigh, which scans with the thighs being served with the scissors implanted. (But isn't the genital thing a bit more accurate, with the notion of castration? Unless animals are castrated through the thigh. If so, I'll shut up now.) As much as he's directing his wrath outwards, it's really something that's pointed at himself. But now, I have to tie all of this back to the meme: so what? As an exploration of the frustration of art (despite the fact that this movie looked actually super fun to make), Slowik is the antagonist of the piece. His character is defined by artificially and mystery. If the story is an unpacking of the artist, the only offering is that art is a waste of time and that all artists should self-immolate. Art, in itself, is painful. It's actually a celebration of low art. In the most messed up, superficial way, it is about how high art should destroy itself and low art should be embraced.
But The Menu is kind of prestige horror. I have a hard time ascribing the term "Black comedy" to it, or else I would have to do the same thing with Silence of the Lambs. It hits a lot of the same beats tonally. As prestige horror, The Menu offers a lot of the same visual contradictions that A24 has done so well. Three-quarters of this movie are classy as can be. Honestly, if my wife was a fan of the last quarter, which is straight gore horror, she'd probably dig it as an authentic film about cooking. Lord knows that I did as well. It offers more high art than it doesn't. And it's perfect. I'm a guy who is a fan of this movie and it hits every button. I'm the audience of the movie; I'm a patron of the restaurant. The worst part is that I know which patron I'm replacing. I'm replacing Tyler and I hate myself for it.
Okay, quick digression because the writing took me this direction. I'm Tyler not because I love Tyler. I hate Tyler. You're supposed to hate Tyler. In a movie where a cult slaughters a group of individual in food-themed murders, it's odd that Tyler is the real monster of the piece. Tyler ends up doing horrible things to make him the evil one. He was the one who knew that they were dying. He's the one who invited a prostitute, knowing that they were all going to their deaths. He is the obsessive otaku. Any personality trait that goes to an extreme is probably pretty toxic. But we're meant to be Tyler in this case. I love food. I love fancy food. I also love dirty food, so keep that in mind. I went to my first Michelin star restaurant and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. My wife had an embarrasing moment at the restaurant, so I'm never allowed to talk about it. But it might be on the top five experiences of my life. I adored it. But because fo that, I have to align myself with Tyler. There's such beauty in the works that a talented artist / chef can create in a kitchen that there's just a bonafide respect for the creator. It's weird to demonize Tyler. Tyler represents respect and appreciation. Yeah, again, any trait that goes to extremes is completely toxic. But it's weird that Tyler is the grossest person in the room. Is the movie supposed to say that we're not supposed to appreciate art?
There's a moment for Tyler that is very telling. If I had to try to find the message of Tyler, it is going to be in a few moments. Tyler not only loves the food to a point of sycophancy, but wants approval from Slowek. Everything is about trying to gain a conversation with Slowek. It's all about being acknowledged and equally respected. Maybe if Slowek notices how Tyler really appreciates the art more than the others in the room, they could somehow be friends. It's pathetic, but Tyler's version of that becomes murderous. While the movie literally is about food, maybe it's a commentary on celebrity culture. But Tyler really does seem to appreciate the artist, which is somehow poo-pooed. I am trying to make Slowek Taylor Swift. I imagine that the obsessive fan is one who buys every album and hates every one of the people that Swift has broken up with. But that's not really Tyler. Tyler, if he was a Taylor Swift, is someone who picks apart the instrumentation. He would know the craft of what Swift is doing and what instruments, both literal and those that record, that Swift is using. It's not about Swift's personhood or her celebrity. It's about her as artist. That's what I don't get by the creation of Tyler. Tyler is doing what he is supposed to as the audience. He's being critical. Again, I told you. An extreme version of this blogging thing is Tyler and I don't feel comfortable.
Back on topic, we're left with this story glorfiying art and artists while simultaneously asking us to shut it all down. I mean, part of me doesn't care. The movie's pretty and love pretty movies. It's also weirdly fun and spiking part of my brain normally reserved for cooking shows. But the last act...might not work? Slowek at one point accuses his diners of not really trying to escape. It's a weird thing, because they definitely do. They lack the competancy to escape. That's a very different thing. Slowek, with the "Man's Folly" dish, allows the men to try to escape. All of them get captured and sent back. But there's genuine fear. In fact, one of the men bolts before the time is started, showing his genuine desire to escape. Slowek's accusation that they didn't try to escape very hard is almost a justifcation for an ending that doesn't work. All of the patrons, except for Erin (whom I've not spoken of at all, because she's the avatar and meant to represent a general audience watching this horror), allow themselves to be flambeed in a killer s'more bonfire. I don't buy it. I like it as a visual ending, but I think we were told that they weren't going to run rather than shown that they weren't going to run. I'm sure fan theories show that they've been sedated through each meal, but that doesn't make sense with Erin's saaviness to flee. Also, they all ran for the door when they had a chance.
I want ot talk about Erin / Margot. Margot is the heroine of the movie. As I just mentioned, she's the avatar of the piece, despite the fact that I see too much of myself in Tyler. Margot is invited to this thing, but she instantly scoffs at the entire nature of fine dining. Sure, fine dining is a thing for the rich who are disillusioned with society. Okay. But is the movie making a case against art? Erin is borderline rude at the beginning of the feast, before things get bad. She is being paid to eat this food and pretend to enjoy it. Yet, before Tyler shows his true colors, she keeps berating his joy of the meal in front of him. (Admittedly, Tyler's a jerk who comments on her smoking. But that being said, she really shouldn't smoke.) She's oddly confrontational before things get really evil. Yeah, she's the hero, but only by sheer luck.
Yeah, I crapped a lot on it. I probably don't love the message of the film very much. But it didn't change that I absolutely loved it. All of this might mean that I might have to make the message myself and that message is one of self-loathing. I love something that hates art. I love art and love the message. By extension, does that mean that I am a paradox or is it that I cannot abide my own obsession? Either way, it's a good time with a weaker third act.
Not rated, but if any movie that involved mass carnage was made for kids, it's the Godzilla franchise. But wait! If there has ever been a Godzilla movie that has osmething offensive, it's probably going to be this one. Man, it's uncomfortable as can be, but there's just a mess of Blackface in this movie. I've never really associated Blackface than any culture other than America, but Japan apparently is very cool with Blackface.
DIRECTORS: Ishiro Honda and Tom Montgomery
I can't believe the Kong mashup happens so early! These collisions of franchises should take forever to get to. I'm entirely basing this on my gut and on Zatoichi movies. I mean, the current Godzilla franchise only had two movies before getting to Godzilla vs. Kong. I would say that they are just mirroring the original franchise with the new stuff, but we've already met Ghidora and Mothra, so that can't be an absolute thing.
I should absolutely read the history of this movie before writing this blog. King Kong vs. Godzilla was half an American movie, half a Japanese movie. My Criterion disc told me so. *insert snooty laughter here* Now, I have all kinds of theories that a quick Google search could probably solve. Did Japan make a King Kong vs. Godzilla movie that played differently? If so, why isn't thta movie on the Criterion disc? *snooty laughter* Did Japan start to make a movie and then America decide to make the footage work? Was it always planned to be split in half? Either way, the result is the stereotype we get about Godzilla movies, in the sense that they are poorly dubbed and barely function as films. That sounded harsh. It probably sounded harsh because it was harsh. I'm actually getting kind of cool with Godzilla movies. Maybe just watching enough of them has made me interested in the subject matter. Maybe the expectations of these movies has been so lowered that I can appreciate them for the serialized nonsense that they are.
For all my bluster that films need to be vulnerable and have a message, by this point in the franchise --only movie three! --it seems like the Godzilla movies have lost all of the relevancy that the first Gojira movie held so closely to the chest. I liked the allegory behind Godzilla. I liked that the Japanese were making entertainment while scolding the world on its use of atomic weapons. Now, I'm aware that since I'm seeing the American perspective on King Kong vs. Godzilla, I can't say that the Japanese have lost their messaging through the need to make fun monster movies. But the casualness of which people jump to the atomic bomb seems almost irresponsible. Listen, the crux of my argument lies on the notion that the Godzilla movies have lost their souls, but that makes for fine entertainment. I am aware that the people who say "Drop the bomb" on Godzilla are either evil or wrong. But when the notion of atomic destruction is used casually by people who know firsthand what the bomb is all about, it's a bit uncomfortable.
Remind me to talk about Blackface. I need to do that. I did a little bit in the MPAA section, but Blackface needs to get addressed. I'm still talking about the quality of the movie right now, so I need to discuss that first. King Kong vs. Godzilla makes so little sense as a concept. Because artistry is going downhill, so is quality of film. Yeah, I thought the movie was going to look worse than it did. That didn't mean that it didn't look really bad. But I'm more concerned about the shortcuts taken in a movie like this. Man alive, King Kong vs. Godzilla relies heavily on archetypes to get ideas across shorthand. I'm putting everything on the shoulders of Mr. Tako right now. He's not the only one, but Mr. Tako is representative of how lazy this movie was. I mean, this is borderline a clown in this movie. He's Jar Jar Binks (with all due respect to the actor who played Jar Jar Binks) in a Godzilla movie. There's literal jumping up and down in frustration. He is wacky and where did this come from? But do you know what archetypes are allowed to do that grounded characters can't do? Anything they want. The Mr. Takos of this movie excuse so much insane behavior that when the grounded characters do stupid things, it makes you forget them.
I think we need an example. I think it was Fumiko that does this. If it isn't, I'm so sorry. I was not paying attention to names during this movie. I allowed my brain to go completely numb for the monster fighting movie. For the sake of argument, Fumiko goes looking for another character in Hokkaido (which is pronounced correctly by an English-speaking Japanese character, but no other dubbed Japanese characters). It's stupid that she's going. All reports are that Godzilla is about to attack Hokkaido for the majority of the film. Ignore the fact that she's a moron for going to Hokkaido. It might be a noble and selfless character trait to look for someone who might be lost in the city. After all, I've never attacked other characters in other franchises for pulling an equivalent card. But do you know what doesn't make sense? There's a train going to Hokkaido. So much of the news has been about evacuating Hokkaido before Godzilla makes landfall that I'm pretty sure that any train headed for the town would be cancelled. But because this moment is excused because we have a bunch of Mr. Takos running around doing dumb stuff all the time. We tend to forget basic plot stuff when it comes to this.
Alright, Blackface! Why? Okay, I get why. It's 1963. The Civil Rights Movement in America is still in its early days and everything was permissable. Japan wasn't even American. I had an argument that Japan has as much culpability with old timey Blackface that America does. To a certain extent, that's not completely accurate. But I still argue that there is a culpability here. One of America's great tragedies that it doesn't get rid of racism. It can't. We thought we got close. In some ways, we're better now. In a lot of ways, we might be worse. But there is this notion of other cultures being backwards. It's why I kind of have a hard time watching Indiana Jones movies anymore. I don't think I've ever seen so much Blackface going on at once. Every person with Blackface was being described as a savage. The two men come on the island, looking for Kong. Kong could be this great god who can take down Godzilla. But they are instantly met with hostility. Okay, fine. Whatever. But these natives are placated with a radio and they give everyone cigarettes. I almost fell off the treadmill when the two Japanese men start handing the savages cigarettes and then gives one to the kid. Yeah, I'm over-exposing my White fragility right now, but could this movie be any more 1963?
Okay, so what's the takeaway? After all, by choice, there is almost no theme in the movie. King Kong vs. Godzilla is a movie that doesn't make a lick of sense, yet is still entertaining. This is me getting dumb, but that's only because the movie makes me stoop to its level. King Kong and Godzilla are mismatched. Godzilla is a strong giant who shoots radiation from a distance. Kong is a strong giant that can't get close to him. The movie even establishes that this is a terrible idea. Okay. So they just make something up at one point. They give Godzilla a vulnerability that, if you squint, might make a bit of sense. They make Godzilla fearful of electricity. I mean, I don't remember that being a bit in the other movies, but whatever. Then, they just say that King Kong is powered by electricity? How? How would they know that? King Kong lives on an island devoid of technology where he's the strongest one there is. Also, why would he be powered by electricity? He's an ape. Apes traditionally don't have electrical powers. Also, there's a lot of assumptions happening in this movie that we just have to accept. It's odd, because the recent remakes also do the same thing. Both versions of this movie assume that these alpha creatures would sense each other and be drawn into battle. That's...something. I know that apex predators, when in the same environment, fight for dominance. But they aren't called across great distances to defeat each other. It's really odd.
Do you know why Kong wins in this one? I mean, there's one really obvious reason: the movie has to end. If Godzilla is rampaging Tokyo and Hokkaido, that battle has to end somewhere. Kong is the hero and Godzilla is the villain of this one. Okay. Fine. But I get the vibe that there's a bit of symbolism here. King Kong represents America. He goes to New York where we take him down using planes. (I now realize how outgunned Kong should have been.) He's the story of the American. It's our OG monster movie and Japan can't have him. So there's Godzilla, who reminds us that we did this first. And then there's the American production company, Universal, who wants to sell this movie to Americans. After all, there are a lot of Japanese people in this movie and memory is long. So why not make a movie where the American OG star takes down the newest kid on the block? I wouldn't be surprised if Godzilla trounces Kong in the Japanese version and he just, you know, leaves. Or he gets trapped in a hole again. (Can I just say, trapping Godzilla in a hole seems to be the most effective thing against him? You aren't going to kill him. Just bury him.)
I'll also admit something else that I've hinted at. King Kong vs. Godzilla is incredibly dumb. But I also kind of liked it? It was so stupid and I had such low expectations, that I could watch another Godzilla movie today. It's a shame that this is where the franchise devolves. But I didn't really like the early ones, despite the fact that they checked off a lot of boxes for me. Either way, I don't regret watching these movies...yet.
PG-13, although I hear that the original cut of the movie might have been a hard R. It was a lot of back-and-forth between Warner Bros. and the MPAA. The reason is the kill count. Wow. Black Adam kills a lot of dudes in awful, awful ways. It's really a lighter toned Punisher with all of the live people being turned into dead ones on screen. It's almost uncomfortable that the message of the movie is that Black Adam absolutely should be killing people.
DIRECTOR: Jaume Collet-Serra
Well, I guess we'll never see Dwayne Johnson's Black Adam fight Henry Cavill's Superman, will we? I've railed against the DCeU. I have. While I think the DCeU / DCU is not good, I know that some people probably genuinely like it. But like a lot of otaku culture, it's devolved into something so awful that I actively hate it. I'm looking at the Snyderverse people. Man alive, you are keeping hate alive and well. Sure, a lot of us hate what you like (look, I used the word "hate"!), but you want to scorch the earth around you. I'm always an advocate for liking what you like. But stop claiming these movies are genius. If you find them fun, by all means, keep finding them fun. Honestly, when I heard that Henry Cavill was going to have another shot at Superman (before that was unceremoneously taken back), I was excited for him. Sure, Man of Steel is one of my least favorite movies possibly ever, but it's not because of Henry Cavill. (Besides, they played the John Williams Superman theme when he came on screen in Black Adam, so a lot is forgiven.) But Black Adam seems to almost be an embracing of some Snyderverse stuff that I thought was dead.
When I was really young and knee-deep in comic books (I'm now old and knee-deep in comic books), Marvel was always the edgy one compared to DC. DC was Superman and the Flash and Green Lantern. Sure, they had dark storylines. But these characters always stood out as beacons of light to society. They showed that there was another way. Yeah, there was plenty of violence. But the way that these characters often saved the day was thinking out of the box and played against their strengths for the sake of outwitting a bad guy. In my mind, Marvel was home of Daredevil, Punisher, and Wolverine. These were guys who saw the seedy side of the world and lowered their morals to fix problems. It's because they lived in New York, not Metropolis or Central City. Sure, we could argue that Batman had a dark tone and that Gotham was worse than any real world city. But Batman also has the Adam West version. (Real nerds are now screaming out, "Mike Murdock!" and they aren't wrong.) But since Man of Steel, it feels like DC has wanted to be the edgier brand. It's not that Black Adam shouldn't be edgier. It totally should. It's placing Captain Marve--I'm sorry, Shazam's villain in the driver's seat.
But what the hell is the message here? The movie is going out of its way to say that murdering people is for the betterment of humanity. Now, even the casual comic book reader is probably pulling out tomes of Punisher: War Journal right now. I totally agree. I kind of hate that The Punisher exists. But I will say this for Marvel. In the past decade, Marvel's pushed to slowly demonize Frank Castle more and more. While he exists as a character, there's the understanding that he absolutely should not be worshipped. Even Frank Castle hates himself. But in an era where we're trying to stop domestic terrorism, DC comes out with a character who just loves killing folks? I mean, there's this message throughout the movie where the Justice Society tries to stop Teth Adam from killing folks, but they just come across as naive and antiquated. Adrianna, the morally righteous character of the story who is trying to save Kandaq, advocates openly about Teth Adam's brand of justice. It just feels so telling about the Snyderverse movement. It just is a scream for more carnage and more gore and why? Why do you need your heroes to be active murderers?
Say what you will about The Punisher, almost every other hero thinks that he's an extremeist. He doesn't have a society or a group of supporters thinking that he's some kind of champion. There's a story where a bunch of cops start wearing Punisher skulls and try to take justice into their own hands. Frank himself calls them morons and stresses that he wish that he didn't have to exist. He then states practically point blank (if I remember correctly) that they should have hero worship for Captain America, not him. Instead, Teth Adam is embraced for his murderous rampage. There are some jokes that I could kinda / sorta enjoy. But it's not like Teth Adam is crossing some moral line that he swore that he would never cross. At least with Man of Steel, there's this moment where Superman hurts himself by killing Zod. He's broken for this moment. Teth Adam, killing like it's nothing. How depressing is that? And everyone rallies around him.
The smart version of me would save this point for last, because it is the most important point. But also, I feel like writing it now, so I'm going to do that. I loved Dwayne Johnson early in his acting career. It's not that I dislike him. The man has phenomenal comedic chops and has charm up to wazoo. But The Rock is getting in his own way, isn't he? I know. From the early days of the DCeU, Dwayne Johnson advocated for playing Black Adam. It's perfect casting. (Well, almost perfect casting. Maybe a Middle Eastern actor playing someone from the Middle East would be perfect, but that's a different argument.) The dude looks naturally like Black Adam from the comics. Okay, a bald version of the guy from the comics, but that could just be a choice. But this movie feels so ego driven it hurts. First and foremost, it's the Rock destroying everything. I read somewhere that, for playing a part in The Fast and the Furious, The Rock is not allowed to lose a fight on-screen. That explains so much about this movie. There's never really a physical threat to Black Adam. Maybe, MAYBE, in the final third act fight, there's a little something. But you know that the fight is going to Teth Adam. Dwayne Johnson has so much plot armor on that there's barely a story where he's the protagonist.
You know he's not the protagonist in this movie, right? For as much screen time as he has and that every shot I looked for regarding this movie, he has almost no agency in this film. No, the real protagonist is either Adrianna Tomaz or her son. They are the ones who make active choices. Everything they do is to change Black Adam, who is just borderline a force of nature. Yeah, the Crown of Sabbac may be the Macguffin, but so is Teth Adam. It's archeologists running around the world trying to stop this crown from falling into the wrong hands. That's the plot. Black Adam barely does that. It's the archeologists who are actively working out the goal of the film. They are the ones who make choices that affect the story. It's really weird. Heck, even the Justice Society, with a little editing, act as better protagonists than Teth Adam. Because I like dealing with one protagonist over protagonist roulette, let's make Dr. Fate the protagonist of the film. I like Hawkman, but he's a bit reactionary for me. Dr. Fate brings the Justice Society to stop a threat to Kandaq and the world. When they get there, they see this morally questionable tornado be as destructive as they thought he could be, but only to bad guys. They are then accused --kind of accurately --of being passive collaborators to the bad guys. They have agency to decide "Do we shut Teth Adam down or do we help the people of Kandaq?" Teth Adam himself, very little to do?
All of this is because Dwayne Johnson isn't allowed to lose fights in movies that he's in. They have to create stories around him because he's not allowed to be wrong. That's so messed up. Now, I'm going to give some credit here. Teth Adam, when he accidentally injures Amon, allows himself to be arrested. It's part of his troubled history and it probably is the only vulnerable part of the film. But then, everyone realizes that Teth Adam's way is the best way and he's released from his prison, in a really dumb way. But this could have been a movie where Teth Adam leads the story. This is borderline Captain America where someone has a second chance, only to realize that he's the villain all along. Teth Adam does these atrocities when he's younger. The world has rewritten history to make him a great champion. Cool. Imagine a story where he sees that he's branded a champion after 5,000 years only to discover that it's fundamentally against his nature. Maybe there's a consensus towards the end that Black Adam is a necessary evil and there's an ominous ending about what could Kandaq look like under a psychopath. That's a story.
But instead we get just the most chaotic grouping of story ever. There are moments where I had a really good time. I know I'm ripping into this movie, but I left thinking "meh, some stuff was cool". But I'm going to start listing things that made no sense to me and that's just me griping. First of all, gunshot wounds that feel fatal don't allow you to be the vanguard of a riot. That guy was straight up thinking that he was going to die from a bullet wound, which is super painful. The next time we see him, he's clocking around zombies left and right and telling jokes. No thanks. I'm pretty sure Dr. Fate didn't need to die. He just needed to convince Hawkman to use the Helmet of Fate to hold down Sabbac. Okay. Freeing Teth Adam from his prison is smart. Why did he wait to take out his breathing tube until he was in the water? I'm sure the power of the champions would have been really helpful in that Task Force X base. How does Amanda Waller have the dossier on Black Adam ready to go so quickly? Was she expecting the resurrection of Black Adam in her lifetime? He was gone for 5,000 years. This is all nitpicky. Heck, I could probably nerd explain some things in here with less-than-satsifactory answers. But I remember just watching this movie, thinking "Why are people acting absolutely bizarre?"
I'm pro-James Gunn. I know. I like Marvel movies and I like James Gunn now. But this universe needs to die. Any time they take a step forward, a less-than-impressive movie comes along. It's really weird that Dwayne Johnson doesn't want to make a movie with Zachary Levi. It's really weird that he wanted to make a Black Adam-centric movieverse. Just all of these things make no sense to me. For a guy who is burned out by reboots, I can't wait for a new DCU.
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.