Rated R for being about statuatory rape all the way through. There's on screen sex and nudity. There's language. Really, the whole thing is incredibly sexual and there's no dancing around it. This is one of those movies you need to know what it is about before you start watching it. Once again, a movie about cruelty. R.
DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes
Again, I'm in the camp that didn't enjoy this movie. Maybe it is because I'm becoming more of a prude or that I've always been a bit of a prude, but I don't enjoy movies that are entirely built on the foundation of sex. I suppose that's a very specific kind of prudishness. I just remember, as long as I have been alive, that movies that talk about sex as its driving narrative factor, always seem bad to me. I can't explain it. Maybe a therapist can explain it. It's why I'm usually turned off by the films of John Waters when everyone else loses their minds over him. I have come to terms with the fact that John Waters must be an incredibly talented director and it's my weird hang-ups that make me annoyed by movies of that kind of ilk.
But while I tend to have respect for John Waters, his movies are at least a celebration of a culture. That's why I mentally, if not emotionally, respect these movies. May December isn't an awful movie. There's technical skill here and a story that has a compelling element to it. After all, there's a lot of Black Swan happening here and it's not just the casting of Natalie Portman. There's that beat of sexuality leading to a place of "becoming." But to detract from May December, Black Swan did it better. I just wrote about Four Daughters, which also dealt with the notion of becoming someone else through acting. I get that there's a story here to unpack. When does someone lose their sense of self when trying to become someone else? That's a fun story, but I just don't like how either of these movies handled this idea. Again, I know that a lot of people really enjoyed this film and talked about stand out performances throughout the story. But I'm not getting a lot of that.
Part of that comes from the shock value that the whole movie presents. I know. I said that I was a prude sometimes. It's not that I'm pearl clutching. It's a lot of "I get it." Elizabeth keeps pushing boundaries of what is shocking as she tries living Grace's lifestyle. (Just because I don't have a paragraph for this, I would like to point out that I know that this is about Mary Kay Letourneau, but that's so out there that me talking about it ad nauseum might detract from my focus. I'm going to refer to this as Grace because that's in-universe.) The moments are cool. Haynes, to his credit, times these moments out really well to know that Elizabeth is potentially the more unhealthy of the two people. When given a lewd question from a high schooler, there's this cool moment where she considers herself being the professional and answering so honestly that it comes across as crass. She's encapsulating both Elizabeth and Grace here. She has the professionalism and voice of Elizabeth with the "aw shucks" faux naivete of saying wildly offensive things without seeming to have malice.
As I'm writing this, I have to explain some things. I thing the elements of a truly great story are here. I don't think it is executed as a whole well, but some things are positively brilliant. I kept Googling, "What's up with the music in May December?", only with different words so I could get actual results. The music and vibe of the movie are...silly? I mean, honestly, the whole tone of the movie is seemingly intentionally Lifetime. It's elevated Lifetime movie. There's a reason in my head for why this is the way it is. It's one of the things I probably would have done with this movie. I just don't think it sells the way that it supposed to. The Latourneau thing was the fodder for stuff like Hallmark. The movie is about the fact that Grace has had all of these cheap, exploitative movies made about her. The reveal at the end is that Elizabeth is also making a cheap and exploitative film about Grace, despite doing all of this research and throwing herself into the role. The actual bit of footage we get to see about the movie within the movie is absolutely terrible.
But the thing is, it's very sledgehammer. I have a hard time getting past it. There are moments where we have this interesting character study of Elizabeth who has to feign that she's not judging Grace when she absolutely is judging her. There's the odd sympathy that she has for Grace as well, wanting to feel the sexual feeling of embracing a taboo in the back of the pet shop. Then we have that shift to where Elizabeth comes across as emotionless and distant, referring to children by degrees of attractiveness. Grace, similarly, is a character who spirals and we get to see the toxic world she has fosterd around her family. This is interesting stuff. But when we're told through music and visual cues that none of this stuff is elevated material, it is hard to really say "My, how fascinating." Again, somewhere along the way, I might have gone the same way at Todd Haynes and tried this as a method for delivering some intense acting and storytelling. But when it didn't work, I would pivot. Haynes didn't pivot. It honestly makes all of this seem cheap and worthless when there is something to say here.
Oddly enough, I really did like Joe's story. Elizabeth and Grace get these great moments of dialogue. Joe, however, is mute for a lot of the film. He's a character that we don't get to see even in film. He might be the first character I've ever seen in their thirties who has to deal with being an empty nester. His wife is aged and he lives this complicated life where he doesn't know what a normal family looks like. Part of that comes from the fact that he has to double down on a decision that he made when he was thirteen. He built this whole life that depends on him completely embracing something that has no real solid foundation. He believes that he's in love with Grace, but every moment is wracked with guilt and doubt. When Elizabeth seduces him, we realize that his feelings for Grace were not about Grace herself. It was the notion of something either taboo or just being seen. As much as Grace claims that she sees Joe as a partner in her marriage, she treats him like a child, bullying him to move his bug collection from room to room.
I kind of love that Joe is hiding a relationship from his wife the entire time. This is something about maturity that comes with actual growth. Technically, there's nothing wrong about Joe having a text conversation wtih Michaela from the bugs group. He's being above board for the most part and focusing on the bugs. But he keeps the text messages secret from his wife. Basically, he's allowing this open door for a relationship to flourish (appropriately, like the butterflies that are changing throughout the film) because it's an escape plan. It's an alternative to a life without Grace. But that's the sign of an immature relationship. Secret friendships are problems because secret friendships bloom into other things. While Joe's kids look at him like he's Dad, he regularly collapses under stresses that should be easy for an adult. He's more of a peer to his kids than an actual father and he so wants to be them all over again. I honestly don't really invest in Elizabeth or Grace. I'm all about seeing this movie for Joe.
Maybe in the course of writing this, I have a greater appreciation for the movie. I just don't like the delivery. It's so melodramatic and shock-for-shock value. But when the movie embraces vulnerability and lets us sit on a moment, the film actually gets some legs. I wish I liked it more. Again, it may be me. But I am glad to put this one behind me.
Not rated, but the movie is about rape, murder, terrorism, and religious extremism. It's also just a very upsetting movie for many reasons. Most of this blog will be me belaboring these points. There's some physical abuse that is talked about quite a bit, but it also oddly isn't part of the story directly. Regardless, it's pretty brutal as a movie.
DIRECTOR: Kaouther Ben Hania
I'm going to have the unpopular opinion on this one. I hate to be that guy. It's almost impossible to gripe about a movie that has an important message. The message here is so important. The movie is about the dangers of fundamentalism and I'm here for that. But I'm also writing a film blog about the quality and practices of the film. For that, man alive, I wish I didn't have to write what I'm about to write.
First of all, I have to confess something that may taint my frustration with the movie. The subtitles on the film were slightly off. I don't know what causes this. Is it Amazon itself? Is it just a weird sync issue that is happening with the moment or is it something that the production company who released this movie did? I don't know. I wish I could be more open-minded about the movie keeping this in mind. It's just that there were times when I didn't know who was saying what and it was frustrating for me. That's not the crux of my frustration with this movie. But I can tell you that it did kind of dogpile an issue I was already having with the movie.
I hope someone agrees with me on this one, but did the movie feel unnecessarily cruel? In an attempt to do something different with a topic that apparently has been covered in Tunisia, Four Daughters has the actual people who were involved with the events that the movie discusses reenact the events that caused them so much trauma. At first I thought that this was cool. There had to be a reason why they got the actual people to act out events alongside actors that portray the girls' mother and sister. (Olfa, the mother, played herself until it got too emotional, and then she was replaced by an actress.) From the beginning of the movie, we knew that two of the girls were no longer with the family. I'm going to get spoilery so just watch out. The movie really heavily implies that the two other girls, Ghofrane and Rahma, had died somehow. The story starts off with this story of an abusive husband and father and that he was somehow going to beat these girls to death or something. Then it turns into another dude, also played by the same man (for some reason, all of the men were played by one guy). We thought that guy, who was abusive and a murderer/rapist would have killed them.) The big reveal was that the girls are still alive, but in prison for becoming radicalized terrorists.
The story of the four daughters needs to be told. I won't deny the value of this tale, even taking the twist into account. I know that a lot of people liked the twist. I think it's fine. The problem I have is the correlation between the conceit of having this be a documentary about making a documentary and the reveal of what is happening in the movie. One of my students just asked me to Google Piece by Piece, an upcoming biopic about the life of Pharrell Williams. It's going to be made in Lego...because Pharrell likes Lego? Listen, this movie hasn't been made and I am probably going to give it a chance. But doing cool things just to do them detracts from the story happening here.
But the bigger takeaway is that the whole thing just seems mean. Maybe it is done because the story itself is not that long, so we have to have all of this footage of actors interacting with their subjects. (Oh great, I realize that my next blog is actually going to be May December, a very similar idea). The footage that the actors have with the subjects creates something interesting. (This is me giving credit where it is due.) The real girls seem to almost have a sisterly relationship with these actresses. They so want to see their long absent sisters in these girls that they laugh and cry with them. That's nice. I even like the actress who is playing the mother calling the real mom out on her crimes. That's all part of the documentary. It feels a little reality show, but some of those moments are actually pretty important to the story.
But these are girls who went through real trauma. The movie is aware that it is crossing a line. The male actor, who is playing the rapist in the scene, feels really uncomfortable with how the scene is playing out with one of the real victims of rape and stops the scene. He asks that is concern not be filmed, so he goes off camera. While he did the best thing in that situation, that still gives the movie what it wants: controversy. Golly, it seems like they want these girls to break down and cry on camera constantly. I'm a guy who will watch true crime documentaries and listen to true crime podcasts. I mentally think that they are pretty icky by format. After all, someone is listening to real tragedy for entertainment. I don't deny that's pretty gross, but there's a degree of altruism in the format. The idea is that the victim has a chance to be heard and receive some justice. Those true crime stories ask some hard hitting questions. Sometimes they cross over a line, but I always feel like there is at least a line drawn in the sand.
When the actors feel like they are manipulating perfectly fine people is there really a moral good that is happening? I think Four Daughters might affect Americans more than Tunisians is because the story is new for us. But if you are sitting in the writer / director's shoes for this, people know this story. This feels like shock value storytelling.
It's not to say that there's nothing good in this. I've teased this a little bit, but there is something fundamentally human about the whole thing. The two surviving girls, Eya and Tayssir, have this light about the whole thing. They, luckliy, see elements of this documentary as a means to talk about woes that have come their way both from the actions of their sisters and with the tyranny of their mother. One thing that seems pretty clear is that this is a loving family, but I don't want to just leave it at that. The family unit is fundamentally toxic. One of the recurring motifs of the film is Olfa flying off the handle. Now, I'm making a lot of judgment calls as an American. Part of me can't help but see some of the cultural practices that Olfa and her family deal with as backwards. But there's even an awareness that Olfa regularly takes things too far. There's a scene where Ghofrane goes goth (I want to talk about that scene a lot) and shaves her legs. Olfa, upon discovering this, beats her for hours. Olfa, in the present, knew that she did something wrong. But on camera, there's almost an epiphany for how damaging that action was.
Honestly, the stuff where Olfa becomes aware of what a problem she is gives the movie some value. Olfa seems wildly uncomfortable with some of the testimonials that her daughters give her. It's interesting because, through news footage, we see how young the two girls were when the events took place. Because the events that the documentary is describing took place oh-so-long ago, these are girls with different philosophies and a different degree of agency than what they had before. These confrontations are almost the price of all the trauma. But the crazy thing is, even as I write that, I realize that it didn't have to go down that way. I seem to be harping on this, but I don't like that I'm watching people probably undoing years of therapy just so a documentary can win an Oscar. It's really weird.
The goth scene? There's no way it went down like that. There's no way Ghofrane and Rahma were jamming out the way that they were and Olfa just came in beating them. I get the importance of bringing up the goth stuff. Ghofrane and Rahma were desperately looking for a counter-cultural identity and they totally became goths. I'm just saying tha the scene we saw was absurd. It felt like it was made by someone who scoffed at goth culture and treated it with such simplicity that it became silly that they ever dressed that way. I'm going to be honest. A lot of those reenactments seemed pretty ham-fisted. I wanted to be moved by what was happening, but it felt like a Lifetime movie at times. Again, everything in this needed to be said. I just didn't like how it was said.
I guess I don't have too much more to say about this movie. I know that I'm the loner who didn't like it. It was just so frustrating knowing that this was almost just traumatizing women who were doing their best to cope. Sure, they get some surrogate sisters and that was great. But I don't know why this had to border on abuse to make the documentary work.
Rated R for a lot of innuendo, a lot of off-screen sex, some language, drug use, and all around misery. It's a bummer of a movie and it feels more R than it probably is. Mostly, it is about Leonard Bernstein's sexual history and makes it R. Here's the deal, if you watched with without sound or subtitles, it would only mostly be inoffensive.
DIRECTOR: Bradley Cooper
Guys, he tried so hard! Do you understand how much I wanted to absolutely love this movie? I mean, I straight up dislike this movie. I don't hate it, but boy-oh-boy, I do not care for this movie at all. All my gripes about how biopics tend to get dull, especially around Oscar season. Not only has Maestro committed every biopic crime. It is somehow less than those other biopics.
I hate beating up on Bradley Cooper. He put his heart and soul into this. If anything, the movie shows a deep commitment to a passion project and every single frame of the movie reflects that. There's all kinds of stuff going on with Leonard Bernstein's nose. I'm not the guy to forgive that, but I never actually noticed it. I think he just wanted to not look like Bradley Cooper for the movie and I kind of get that. It's one of those things that a lot of artists have to deal with. As much as a famous face is a money maker that opens doors to make movies like Maestro, I understand how it can detract from a performance. I think Clooney has to make that decision a lot. He's been in a lot of historical stuff and he always just says, "What if that guy looked and talked like me?" Honestly, I would have preferred that approach, but Cooper's choice to wear prosthetics kind of makes sense. It's almost a reflection to the dedication of such a movie.
And as a director, he kind of directs the crap out of this movie. He uses different aspect ratios to reflect different time periods. Some of the movie is monochromatic, to stress eras of Bernstein. There's some color grading that is actually wonderfully effective. Bernstein in the '70s, which is the hardest to get right, looks beautiful. Maybe, if anything, Maestro gets a cinematography credit because some of those shots are phenomenal. Our introduction to a young Leonard Bernstein in a maze of corridors that transition into one another is just perfect. I have no complaints about the visuals or the music in the movie.
It's just the story.
(I hate all these gaps, but I really want to make that pause obvious. You're welcome.) This story is rough. The story is rough in the sense that there is no real story. Part of that comes from the fact that Bernstein really has no motivation. There isn't a tortured genius. This is a story of a genius who things just come easy to. Sometimes he's a little hard on himself. There's an interview in the movie where Bernstein is frustrated that he hasn't created more groundbreaking work. But for a movie about a famous musician / conductor / composer, this movie is shockingly devoid of focus on music. He says he likes it. He says that it is his life. But so little of the movie is about him creating music. Music of his plays throughout the movie to remind the audiences of the works that Bernstein has worked on, but it's never about the creation. Rather, when you take away all of the sex stuff and relationship stuff, it's just people telling Leonard Bernstein that he's a genius. Music just seems like it is so in the background of this movie when it should be the foundation of the film. Instead, what the movie focuses on is the fact that Leonard Bernstein felt like he was allowed to sleep around with anyone he wanted.
I want to love Carey Mulligan's Felicia. I really like Carey Mulligan and she delivers some knock out performances in this one. (I don't know about Best Actress performances, but they're pretty darned good.) But Felicia is an incredibly reactionary character. She starts off the movie saying that she knows about Bernstein's proclivities and accepts them. I don't know whether this meant that she is okay with Leonard having an open relationship or not. It could just means that she knows that he's bisexual (leaning towards exclusively homosexual) and that's fine. I also don't know whether that means that Bernstein is not romantically attracted to her or whether that means that he simply loves her as the best friend who understands him most. But the movie then jumps all over the place, showing how much Felicia puts up with to make the marriage work. There's a peppering of the role of Jewish performers in America, but that takes a quick backseat to the Leonard Bernstein seducing anything that moves. Felicia grows weary of Bernstein's sexual nature and confronts him on it. But here's the deal...
...Bernstein doesn't care. One thing Cooper is trying to sell us is that Bernstein does love Felicia, despite the fact that he keeps sleeping around. There's a subtext that love is more than sexual love and that polyamory might be the most natural thing for a person like Leonard Bernstein. There's a couple of problems I have with that. The first is that Felicia is obviously hurt about how much he sleeps around. He does it publicly and she establishes rules that he shouldn't embarrass her with his outright sexual advances. He keeps doing that. He never even tries to slow down, even as Felicia spirals into sadness, ultimately dying of cancer. I know that the movie plays up that Bernstein took care of her. That's great and I'm glad that happened. But that's not exceptionalism. That's what a spouse does when the other one has cancer. Heck, the movie might have been more interesting if it was the story about how Leonard Bernstein didn't care for his wife while she was dying.
PG-13 and probably pretty well-deserved. It's got a decent amount of mild language. The bigger issue is that the protagonist has a history with gangs, which mostly included drug dealing. They talk about drugs more than I'd like. Normally, I'd be fine with a lot of this, but we watched the movie with the kids on Disney+. Yeah, yeah. I knew it was PG-13. The movie is mostly fine with content, but it isn't squeaky clean.
DIRECTOR: Eva Longoria
Sorry, I normally don't mess with the font colors, but I wanted to find something that would be genuinely "Flamin' Hot" red. I felt like the "Director" section was probably the safest place to go. I have to give you a little bit of context before doing a deep dive into what might have been one of my favorite movies of the year. We had started Maestro the night before. It was late and the baby was crying, so we called it at a certain point. Maestro wasn't grabbing us. The following night, the older two kids were up with us and we wanted to find something on the Academy Award nominees that would be fine to sit through with the kids. Flamin' Hot, up for Best Original Song, was on Disney+. Well, after the absolute slog that was Maestro, Flamin' Hot became the discussion topic of "Oscar Snub that Came Out of Nowhere".
Honestly, I might be overselling it right now. One of my students said that almost nothing in this movie was based on fact and that bums me out. Again, these are things that I could be Googling right now, but I choose not to. Part of me wants the movie to exist both as absolute truth and a tall tale existing in the background of the cultural zeitgeist. I have so much that I want to break down, but I'm not sure what direction that I want to start with. Part of the conversations we've been having is the need to show films that highlight cultural differences to our kids. So much storytelling is about White, Cis-gendered Americans that look like us and are well off. I know. I'm sounding incredibly woke. Every time someone says that this is the story about this culture or subculture that isn't about a straight White male, the word "woke" is thrown around. But it seems when talking about racial issues, movies tend to be incredibly dour. Now, this brings up an interesting concept: where does the line sit when it comes to deciding whether culture is valuable only when exceptional or when it comes to its inherent value.
Comedies, when it comes to race, tend to draw with broad strokes. There are some minor issues with Flamin' Hot that could be considered broad stereotypes. Richard-as-Narrator addresses this. He knows that Mexicans are often associated with gangs and drug deals, but he also states that the story wouldn't be the story without those things. The movie is aware that it could be going back to some of those same old wells that other movies have done with characters of Hispanic descent. Instead, the movie acts as a celebration of culture. Never is the Hispanic background something that should be laughed at. If anything, societal norms are the things that deserve a little bit of mockery in this story. Richard, as a child, sells bean burritos to the White students at his school. The happy reaction is that this kid knows how to hustle. But the derision comes from the closeminded White kid who scoff at anything different.
Keeping all of this in mind, the movie taking racial inequality in the work force and making a comedy out of it. It embraces some hard truths: White people tend to be the group that fails upwards. Richard is so thrilled to have a job as a janitor because every other job that Richard would be qualified for is unavailable. While there are people in the film that come across as antagonistic, the real evil is Reaganomics and the lie of trickle-down spending. The minority characters highlight that there is a healthy culture that has to fall back on less-than-reputable sources of income because life is never easy if things are done in the wholesome way. It's a lot of that. Here's me as a parent and that's exactly how I show descrepency. Is there a day that I might show them something more serious? Yes, I can't wait. But since Disney has this movie available for me right now and it is completely accessible, I'm going to show my kids Flamin' Hot. It's the exactly level of approachablity that a movie about this topic should have.
It is weird that I'm celebrating a movie that makes Pepsi / Frito Lay the good guys of the story. I mean, Pepsi really comes across as winners in this movie. Roger Enrico is shown to be the greatest human that ever lived. The way that he's written in this movie is that he's a guy who is entrenched in a corporate culture that silences voices while he is the guy who wants to raise up the little guy. I established that I don't know the reality of what happened with Flamin' Hot. I don't know if it's all malarky. I don't necessarily want to read the book that this movie was based on. But I do know that Roger Enrico comes across as a filippin' saint in this movie. The movie wouldn't really exist if Enrico was portrayed in any different matter though. There's this moment in the story where Richard steals the phone number to Enrico's office and calls him. Enrico's secretary is dubious, but secretly becomes the hero of the movie by patching Richard through to Enrico. It's stuff like that. I almost need to know how the real story.
Unfortunately, that story isn't really out there. (I kept making comments how I wasn't going to Google this. I ran into enough roadblocks where I needed to find out the answer myself.) There's a dispute between the real Richard and the Los Angeles Times. I can see where the real Richard Montanez would want to attribute the development of Flamin' Hot Cheetos to the goodwill of Pepsi and the wisdom of Roger Enrico. After all, Montanez is the marketing director of the company and that yarn got him the notoriety that he was looking for. It's just that issue that I have when I go on a rant about Disney has it all together. I don't want to be the guy who is celebrating a major corporation that has probably done more evil in the world than good. After all, I watched Pepsi, Where's My Jet? I get that the folks at Pepsi have done more evil than good in the world. It's just that I want this story to be something glorious. I teach about the American Dream and Flamin' Hot is one of the first really outright celebrations of the American Dream out there. I doesn't sugarcoat America as a magical place. Rather, it is a portrayal of something that America should be.
The greatest selling point of Flamin' Hot is that this movie is better than it has any right to be. Again, we were watching Maestro, a movie that is up for so many Academy Awards. I'm going to savage that movie pretty soon. I don't want to, considering that Bradley Cooper worked really hard to make that movie. But Flamin' Hot has strong characters, a great script, phenomenal direction by Eva Longoria, and is just darned funny. It took a concept that should ultimately be unfilmable and turned it into something that we had genuine fun with as a family. Flamin' Hot, for all of its absurdity, knocked it out of the park.
Not rated, but Gongora really loves the f-word. He uses it casually, especially in flashback sequences. I mean, this is the story of a marriage. They have always been open people. The bigger issue with showing this to younger audiences is the fact that it instills fear that who you are might just disappear one day. But the f-word is the only controversial thing in this movie.
DIRECTOR: Maite Alberdi
I'm really trying to knock these guys out. I mean, nothing like alienating an audience in your intro paragraph, pretending like these blogs mean nothing. No, I'm just trying to write this while it's fresh. Not to pluck some low hanging fruit, but memory is only so good for so long. If I'm writing about a movie about the value of memory and here I am trying to grasp moments lost through a sheer glut of movie watching, that can't be good, right?
I both absolutely love this movie and want to share it with everyone and also think that it is nothing special. The latter thing I said is pretty horrifying, when you think about it. First truth: Alzheimer's Disease is an absolutely cruel and awful sickness that no one should have to suffer. Second truth: This happens to so many people. The first truth, about the Alzheimer's being awful? That's what makes this story beautiful. It is a frank discussion about Alzheimer's, using a loving couple to highlight how insane the entire concept of Alzheimer's is. The second truth is that there isn't much new that is unpacked here. It's a very sad story and the fact that Gongora and Pauli are very charismatic and beautiful people is the only thing that makes The Eternal Memory something that I love. Everything in my body just wants to take this pain away from this couple.
The movie does something that I absolutely would do too, but it isn't really enough. Gongora, the man with the Alzheimer's, led a fascinating life. He was a journalist and an author. He married an seemingly prominent actress and led a life devoted to academic and artistic pursuits. But as a man riddled with this disease, it is difficult for him to do basic things. He often will argue with his reflection, not recognizing the person in the mirror. From that perspective, it is the most painful thing to watch. Honestly, when he's talking to the reflection in the door, one can't help but think of all that this man achieved in his life and now is reduced to this. But as a criticism, The Eternal Memory fails to do one thing. It had a choice to stress the universality of a condition like Alzheimer's (at least as much as it could have by giving us context of how many people are affected or seeing other couples) or by saying this is an important, unique tale by showcasing someone who should not have been affected by this, but was. I know. I'm putting unfair expectations on something that is ultimately supposed to be a personal tale.
But as a personal tale, that's where it works. I know that I want this movie to be bigger and somehow change the narrative of how we treat those who are losing their personalities as days progress. Instead, we get this absolutely gorgeous story of Pauli and how she continues to love a man that is less and less responsive to even the most basic of stimuli. Alberdi probably had little control over how this film came out. I choose to believe that the film is told chronologically. After all, Covid-19 is the third act and it would make sense to see the degredation take full force during this time. But Pauli, for as sad as she is to see Gongora go (I'm going to keep calling him that because it's my favorite pet name ever), she never seems to lose that romantic love. Often, the story of Pauli is about love that endures despite conflicts. It's the love that comes with a contract. If a spouse starts falling apart, you have to be with them or else you would be a monster. But the coolest thing about The Eternal Memory is the feeling that she gets to be with this man who loves her, despite not remembering her very well.
I hate that I have to make the next comparison. I don't want to do this because there's no version of this that makes me look good. A certain element of this very personal and emotional moments is Fifty First Dates. Yeah, I hate me too. I have the option to erase that sentence --this whole paragraph even --and I know that I'll still hate myself thinking it. The narrative we keep getting about the effect of Alzheimer's is that it is grueling torture. It's not like The Eternal Memory doesn't hit that beat. It a thousand percent does. But the majority of the movie, which makes the painful part all that more painful, is a love story where Pauli makes Gongora fall in love with her every day. There's something profoundly sad about their love. Most of this movie is him smiling at Pauli, which is sweet in its own way. But a lot of that smile is Gongora faking it so that no one would question the fact that he has no idea what is going on. But he seems so happy to be around Pauli for most of the movie. I know that the movie only gives us a peek behind the curtain of bad days, but the good days seem so good.
The real challenge would be what we saw in the last few minutes, when the bell doesn't go off for Gongora. For the most part, Pauli's interaction with Gongora is one that reminds him that he's a happy man who led a fulfilling life. But the fear behind the whole thing are the days when, no matter what Pauli does, she can't get Gongora to make the connection that the two of them are married. It's frustrating because I know how I would handle these things. It seems like Alzheimer's is all about hope. That hope has to be toxic, right? There's parts where Gongora is talking about the politics of Chile in such depth and expertise that you have to wonder why he would be considered at all an invalid. But the end reminds us, that's a very special day. The fear that comes with being an invalid is haunting. The fact that Pauli continues to act and to work is mindboggling, She has to. For her own sanity, maybe for her finances, she has to work. But the unsteadiness of it all would drive me wild.
I love this movie and I want to give Pauli a big hug. But also, I don't know if this movie is everything it could be. It is so unfair to throw any stones at this movie because I'm sure, to Pauli, this is the exact movie she wants it to be. But I just feel like we're peeking into something far more in-depth than we're getting here.
Rated R for murder. All the murder. And it's the worst kind of cinematic murder, where it is so matter of fact and blunt that it is just horrifying. There are some brutal murders that just happen. Also, the gore is pretty on point. It is a lot to take in for the majority of the movie. The characters in the movie are incredibly racist, so that's something to contend with. There's some innuendo and language too. Really, R all around.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
Now that it is Oscar season, I'm nonstop watching movies. For the first time in ages, I'm now behind on writing. I haven't taken a day off or anything. I'm just watching movies faster than I can write about them. Killers of the Flower Moon? Still fresh. The only problem is that it took three days to watch this movie because Martin Scorsese doesn't follow that ol' Hitchcock chestnut about the length of a movie coinciding with the size of someone's bladder. If my take on this movie is a bit skewed, please forgive me. Between breaking it up and having watched a billion other movies since then, it may not have the most salient points. Do you know what? I'm going to have some confidence in myself. My very sleepy goal right now? To give you the best Killers of the Flower Moon breakdown that this guy has in him.
I always hate talking about a very impressive movie with a less than impressed tone. Martin Scorsese did something incredible with Killers of the Flower Moon. This is the Scorsese I missed, especially with my lackluster viewing of The Irishman. He's been this director who has not really challenged himself to do a story in under two hours in a while. I know that his next movie is going to be pretty darned short. But Scorsese has gotten a bit long-winded with his movie. Again, hate the tone that this thing is heading in, but I really want to recenter that. Killers of the Flower Moon almost needs to be this long. Okay, maybe not THIS long. It's pretty long. But this is both a story about the murders that happened, told in the even longer form of the true crime novel, but also a study of how two cultures simultaneously blend and become parasites.
It wouldn't be a parasite if it worked both ways. We get that White people became parasites on the Osage, right? Look, I learned a ton from this movie. Do I have a rich knowledge of the financial wellbeing of the Osage people and the subsequent predatory behavior of the White people in this era? No. I had to refer to it as "that era" because I can't be bothered to Google it right now. I told you, I'm behind on my writing and I'm filling in what I can when I can. I just watched this movie with the most confused eyes imaginable. There was this period in history, where cars were a novelty (I should be able to do the math just by that fact) where White men were intermarrying with Native Americans and that was just acceptable. If people think that White America doesn't maintain power through unjust financial practices, it's interesting to see what happens when a subjugated people all of the sudden become the dominant financial decision-makers in a region. And that's what the story is about. It's about White pride and what it looks like when money is out there.
It takes a while to show two cultures that don't necessarily live to traditional stereotypes. Now, if conservative America really wanted to take issue with White portrayal, I can see some frustrations happening. I happen to think that the portrayal of White America by De Niro and DiCaprio is pretty fantastic (going as far as to say that Robert De Niro's performance in this movie might be the best thing that we've seen in years, if ever). But it is interesting to see how the Osage transitioned from being completely divorced from the White man to intermarrying and financing the White people of the area with purchases. I mean, we've seen part of this story before. The second that money starts erupting from the ground, there are going to be vultures. I think the movie refers to them as coyotes. That part isn't shocking. It's just the acknowledgement that the Osage come across as both blissfully ignorant of human behavior while simultaneously masters of morality and what they see.
The entire thing builds this paradoxical vibe. Every character in the film is duplicitous. While "duplicitous" may have negative connotations, some of that duplicity simply comes from complexity of character. Mollie Burkhart starts the movie aware that Ernest is just chasing her for her money. She calls him out on it. It's a central conceit to their relationship. But because he's more handsome than the other men who have attempted the same thing, she's open to the prospect. She can't comprehend that a man who is after her money could do such horrendous thing, despite the wealth of evidence to the contrary. She both absolutely believes that he is a scoundrel and that he is a good man and a good husband. It's a weird character trait for the character who is closest thing the movie has to a hero in the story. Ernest, in contrast, who is the protagonist of the film, is all over the place morally. He's ultimately villainous, with moments of moral goodness. But this is a guy who believes paradoxical things.
It's odd, because Scorsese shapes these people to be paradoxical morally, mostly because they are stupid. Bill Hale, he's the smart guy in the story. But he's also the least paradoxical. Ernest is a big ol' dumb-dumb. He starts courting and ultimately marrying Mollie because Hale tells him to. Ernest states his inner need quite vocally. He "loves money." Everything that Ernest does is for a dollar. But he keeps flip-flopping on his motivations between what seems to be a genuine love for Mollie and the need to destroy her to inherit all of her wealth. Also, as dumb as he is (which I cannot downplay in this movie whatsoever. He's a big ol' dummy all the way through), he seems aware that he's being taken advantage of by Hale. There's a scene where Ernest is on the ropes. Suspicion has been placed almost squarely on Ernest and he's hesitant to sign papers giving Hale complete proprietorship over Mollie's wealth should anything happen to Ernest. The thing is that Ernest has been doing the same with other people for Hale. He knows the score and still pushes it through.
All of this stems from the charisma of Bill Hale. Golly, De Niro is so good in this role. I'm all for him, man. He's so good. Anyway, Hale's motivation is the most clear cut. His double nature comes from the fact that he's choosing to play a character 90% of his day. He gains the accolades and love of the Osage people and it's just this lovely treat that covers up his criminal nature. But Hale is something else. When it comes to that charisma, I feel like the Osage know that they cannot trust him, stating clearly that they can't trust any White man even while Hale is present. But they keep doing what he says. I mean, every single recommendation from Hale is returned with a resounding yes. They thank him for all of his efforts. He's at every wedding and every ceremony. There's De Niro, speaking Osage to them throughout and I get it. This movie gives us one of those rare Hannibal Lecter moments where we see this immense evil underneath the skin, yet we keep wanting more. Honestly, Ernest testifying against Hale was simultaneously the most satisfying thing and the least satisfying thing ever.
And that epilogue? Hale barely served any time for the multiple murders of the Osage? It's there and it's the responsibility of the viewer to be up in arms about the injustice happening to these people. It's so much. I am flabbergasted by this movie and I absolutely love it.
The bummer of it all is that I already have a bunch of movies that I love more. Scorsese is such a good director that he can make a movie like Killers of the Flower Moon, something that really doesn't make any mistakes, and it still isn't my favorite Scorsese. It's just a year to put into contention with other great films. Guys, this movie knocked my socks off, but I won't be rooting for it. It's a bit too long and it sometimes loses my attention. But it is objectively great.
PG-13 because it has absolutely uncensored real world violence, blood, and death. This is a documentary that reminds you that dictators don't pull punches. Throughout the story, innocent spectators and supporters of Bobi Wine are killed by the government. There are scenes where people are bleeding out because it is footage that is captured by news cameras and documentarians. This is a hard to watch movie. PG-13.
DIRECTORS: Moses Bwayo and Christopher Sharp
I normally don't try to write two of these in one day, mainly because I know that my writing suffers (and because I really don't want to). But I also know that the closer that I get to the Academy Awards, I will have to start stockpiling them and I'll end up rushing a whole bunch anyway. So this is an active attempt by me to stay on top of work. Besides, I have grading to do this weekend, so mind as well do this now.
I didn't want to watch this. I don't know what it was about this movie that made me want to just skip it. I think it was the combination that it was on Disney+ coupled with the banner that was attached to the movie on Disney+. Yeah, I was wrong. This is one of those movies that you absolutely must see. While I will wholeheartedly recommend this movie (especially for the masses who need to be political and are simultaneously not squeamish), I have to admit that I've already seen this movie. Only the last time that I saw this movie, it was called Navalny.
Both of these movies were made the same year, despite the fact that Bobi Wine is up for the Oscars in 2024 and Navalny was up for an Academy Award in 2023. The really upsetting part of this is that I now know that there is a dictators' playbook. God, no documentary should share beats with other documentaries when it comes to oppression. But honestly, there are scenes that I can put right next to each other and it would be the Pam Beasley holding up the same photo meme. If my wife reads this, she might get upset because I become way too emotional when it comes to politics. But how did the world get this way? There are probably a ton of books that I should read that might depress me even more, but why is the need to hold onto power such a toxic trait? I've always said that it takes a sociopath to want to lead a bunch of people. There is some kind of mental condition to think that you could do a better job than everyone else. With the case of Bobi Wine at least, there is a read on the man that it is a burdened candidate versus the eager candidate in office.
With Putin, Trump, and Museveni, I don't know what it is about holding that much control over people that makes it so attractive. I tried putting myself in these people's shoes for a second. These are people who are literally willing to kill scores of people to hold onto something that is about pride. You know how there's healthy pride and unhealthy pride? There has to be a word for the insanity that comes with dictatorship. There's no shame in leaving office. Honestly, you have left your imprint on society and that's what you did. I don't know if there is the notion that there still might be time to make changes that were not available before. But these people are so beyond the notion that they are good people that they almost embrace the concept that they might be the world's supervillains. I know, there's probably someone on the right in America who is mad at me for calling Trump a dictator. Part of it is "His words, not me." With the case of Meseveni, he has followers. The documentary, for its one-sided position that I'm not wholly read up on, shows that some people genuinely think that Museveni is doing a great job.
But at the same time, Uganda --according to the doc --is okay with showing the world that it doesn't mind giving into violence and illegal activity to secure something that is ultimately useless. The thing that drives me up the wall is that everything that Museveni does in this movie seems way too overly complex. It has to be pride, right? Throughout the movie, Bobi Wine is arrested, attacked, and beaten. He's almost killed a few times in the movie too. Scores of Bobi Wine's followers are killed and beaten. We get footage of this happening. Bobi Wine is even in a press conference via Zoom when he's arrested live in front of the world. Why do all this? Why does Museveni go through all of this political capital when he can just either close elections or fake election results. He gets everything he wants. The military does not question his role in these elections, regardless of how corrupt the orders are. Why not make it at least appear that there is a fair and safe election? Part of me knows.
A lot of it has to come with a divorce from reality. Museveni lives in a world where he can do these things. He wants to scare the opposition. If Bobi Wine submits to Museveni's threats, there wouldn't be another Bobi Wine. Similarly, people like me are the problem. I like to think that I'm pretty politically in touch. After all, there's only so much political real estate that I can invest in before it becomes overwhelming. But I had no idea who Bobi Wine is. Museveni, in one of the interviews from the documentary, claims that the West is trying to influence his country's elections and democracy. The reality is only international news junkies probably could have had a strong grasp about Uganda's electoral system before watching this documentary. I'm part of that fault. I'm sorry about that. Museveni can get away with this because the only reason that I was able to understand the events of what happened with Bobi Wine in Uganda is because of this documentary well after the events happened in the story.
Bobi Wine seems like an interesting dude. Again, I'm taking all of this from a documentary placing him in the spotlight as the hero of Uganda. My bias and inclination is to believe that he's as wholesome as the movie makes him out to be. The reason that I really like him is that he's the poster child of what it means to make art political. Okay, I don't like his music. I don't. I'm listening the a generic reggae beat while I write this, but his lyrics are...well, music tastes are subjective. But I do love that he makes these songs that get messages across to his people. Golly, when you listen to those songs, there's no ambiguity about the role of the people towards reshaping Uganda. See, the association I have of pop culture figures in politics has been shaped by the absurdity of such a thing happening. Again, Trump has completely changed how we talk about politics for the ever-loving worst. But Bobi Wine also establishes that pop culture opens doors to people. It seems like he's a pretty smart dude who understands the needs of the common man. But he's got this leg up over a traditional politician because of the charisma that he exhibits.
My favorite moment in the documentary had to be something that happened to Bobi Wine in an interview. It was the moment that I really started loving the dude, so bear with me. In an interview, Wine is asked whether or not that he himself would be corrupted by office. Instead of instantly jumping away from such a grenade, he thought about it. He confesses to genuinely admiring Museveni when he was a revolutionary back in the day. In these moments, he reflects on what could have happened. He didn't promise to not become a dictator (which sounds sketchy). He was just filled with a sense of disappointment that Museveni held such potential. It was personal for him. The entire quest to remove Museveni from office was politically the right move for Bobi Wine. But beyond that, he was seeing that Museveni's long dictatorship was the destruction of such potential for his country. It read more optimistically than any kind of instant denial. What does make someone like Museveni go from being the change that people need to being something like he is? It's a weird thought. Maybe he was always like that. Maybe Bobi Wine is like that too. I doubt it, but I hate the idea that everyone who has power must be corrupted by it.
My bleeding heart liberalism was fed today. I know. It annoys everyone around me. I wanted to fight for a country that I didn't ever pay attention to. This section is going to be a little unfair because I really don't want to make it about the U.S. This is Uganda's story and it doesn't lessen it because it is a Ugandan story. But I can't help but see that we can view the horrors of Uganda because we are looking at it from the outside. It all seems so backwards. But I'm someone who was torn up by Trump firing tear gas on innocent protestors during the BLM protests. Like, I told my wife that is is my Roman Empire. I can't stop thinking about it. We have a lot of these beats happening here. Yet, because we can't imagine that America could turn into a dictatorship, we ignore the hallmarks and the siren song of the end of an Empire. These are the documentaries that make me feel not crazy for speaking up. Yeah, the tale of Bobi Wine is not an American tale, but I also want to add the caveat "yet." We are inching closer to the word "democracy" being a word that we say means us, but is actually something that is just there to give us a sense of moral superiority.
It's powerful guys. Really intense stuff.
PG-13 for a lot of blood and upsetting imagery in context that this is an animated movie about a child. There's some self-harm, not in a suicidal context, but rather in the context of the protagonist hurting himself so he wouldn't have to return to a school. There's some messed up stuff in it that necessitates the PG-13 rating. I'd be nervous to show this to my younger kids. Also, the protagonist's mother dies in a fire, inspiring haunting imagery.
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
I got a field trip for my film class! It happened! Yay! The last time I was able to get a film class field trip was La La Land, so I've been trying to recapture that magic for years. The great part is that I actually teach Miyazaki when we get to the Japan unit, so this is super-cool that they can all see a Miyazaki at the same time and form opinions on it. Coupled with the fact that it is nominated for an Academy Award, I'm sitting pretty here with the knowledge that I'm a pretty great teacher.
But can you imagine? I'm a teacher who blind took 21 students to go see a very weird Miyazaki film. Miyazaki is always a little weird. But I can classify his movies into approachable weird and buckle-up weird. The Boy and the Heron might be one of his more "buckle-up weird" movies ever. I'm not saying that as a bad thing, but it's that feeling of sharing something very personal with someone who might not like it. That was me, the entire movie. I know that some of my students probably absolutely hated it. I mean, I'm going to find out when we meet for class today. They'll be writing a blog showing off their writing skills when it comes to this movie over the weekend, so you can follow that here. That might be a perfect assignment considering that there is so much to unpack from this movie. Now, I wonder if any of them will try stealing what I'm about to write because my job is to unpack The Boy and the Heron right here.
I think this is a movie for people who have experienced loss at a young age. I've pointed out on the blog before that I just wrote a novel. I lost my father when I was 12 and a lot of my book deals with the loss of a parent. My book is light fantasy (in the sense that I didn't want to explain crazy random happenstance of coincidence, so I put fantasy elements in the book). The Boy and the Heron embraces the heck out of fantasy. It's his Alice in Wonderland (which also might be Spirited Away). My father died in October. In November, I was at my godmother's house. We weren't close, but we were there for a Christmas party. On her fake tree, she had fake candles for her Christmas tree lights. I remember as the party drew on, I refused to leave. Any fun event, I refused to go to because, in my mind, I had told myself a story. I told myself that if I looked at a single flickering light and didn't take my eyes off of it, I would have my dad back. I stared at that light for hours. Eventually, my mom took me home and I had to take my eyes off of that candle. My father wasn't there. But for a few hours, I had control over the uncontrollable. My coping mechanism was to try and insert myself into the grand plans of death and undo it.
A lot of The Boy and the Heron feels like me and the candle. There's a very real chance that, like Alice in Wonderland, this strange world is both real and fictional. You can read Alice in Wonderland as a fantasy adventure where Alice really went and met the Queen of Hearts, the White Rabbit, and the Mad Hatter. Or you can just view it as the effects of a dream (or a drug trip) and Alice just over-invested in it. The same is true for The Wizard of Oz. Heck, there's probably a whole subgenre of "Is this fantasy world real or a dream?" Honestly, I was watching The Boy and the Heron as a mix --finally! --of Pan's Labyrinth and Labyrinth. Honestly, I think The Boy and the Heron is the way that this boy processes trauma and it all starts with the rock to the head.
The rock to the head is upsetting. I mean, it's animated blood, but there's a lot of it and it seemingly comes out of nowhere. But the rock to the head is a choice. Up to this point, everything in the movie is fairly grounded. There are elements of oddness. The boy's attempt to save his mother and he launches himself towards the burning hospital has streaks and elements of heightened reality, but that feels more about the absurdness of a chaotic moment. He thinks he sees haunting things as he sneaks out at night. The duality of Hisako and Natsuko as sisters is a slap in the face to Mahito is confusing to him. There's something otherworldly about the entire situation. But this is all in the realm of reality, which is starkly shown compared to the absurdity of the tower. Much of the film before the head injury foreshadows elements that take priority in the otherworld where Hisako and Natsuko are. The heron that swoops down and glides past him is the center character, serving as both antagonist and unwilling ally. The duality of that bird, by the way, probably comes from the hostile dive bombing that welcomed him to Natsuko's home while simultaneously acknowledging the noble stance that the heron takes outside of his window. He also is obsessed with the irrational backwards crawl. When he feels he's going to be caught staying up late, he crawls backwards. Similarly, when he is escaping the graveyard, he's warned clearly that he must not look backwards or else it wouldn't work.
I love the idea that Mahito subconsciously chooses to put himself through an adventure so he can process the traumatizing events that haunt his dream. He seems like the shell of a boy, doing his due process in the shadow of a war that needs him to stay strong. While the rock to the head was intended to allow him to skip school, stressing how dangerous the school is for him (a scuffle could lead to a gory head injury in Mahito's logic), it is almost a choice to withdraw from social conventions. The movie shifts so hard between reality and fantasy. I have to tell you that I love the little old grannies living on the estate. But all of the sudden, the most bizarre looking one becomes a major character after the head injury? I hate making the whole thing a definitive head injury. Instead, I think the rock serves the same function as the tornado in The Wizard of Oz. It is a reason to have this long dream. And that's super important about these movies. It isn't "just a dream." There's something incredibly dismissive about "just a dream" as a read of the story. Yes, it is a dream. Is it literally happening? I don't get that read. But to Mahito, the stakes are as real as if nothing happened. The choices he makes with Granduncle are formative moments for him.
The fact that Granduncle doesn't come across as a villainous character, yet is still wrong is the point. There's something incredibly seductive. In that world, he's with his mother. She doesn't act like his mother. There's an age desparity happening there. But he has his mother. He also is the hero of his own story. He's not useless like he was with the hospital. The decisions he makes defy the odds, yet he is still successful. When Dave Bautista the Bird (the most on the nose casting I've ever seen. Miyazaki didn't write the General Parakeet with Dave Bautista in mind. The American casting team said, "Gee, that parakeet looks a lot like Dave Bautista. I wonder if he'd do it?") starts destroying the stairway, it's the same hopelss action as Mahito running towards the flames. But in this version, his insistence that he can do it delivers him to Granduncle, despite it being a literal impossibility. This world is accommodating to him, This world being the creation of Mahito's mind, his wants and his needs, he feels the guilt of being unable to save his mother. It's a difficult journey. I almost giggled when the rocks started electrocuting himself, but that's all just part of his need to punish himself for failing to save his mother.
It's so good guys. It's weird, though, how anti-bird this movie gets. My wife hates birds. I think they kind of suck too, but my wife can't stand them. Normally, birds are all majestic, especially in Miyazaki stuff becuase the dude is obsessed with flight. But the birds in this are creepy. Because the movie is also all about the nuanced relationships between life and death, the birds have reasons for their behavior, as proven by Willem Dafoe the Bird. But golly this movie really nails the gross out elements of birds and their mean talons and gross molting. Also, Miyazaki, everyone seems very cool being covered in bird poop. That's not exactly my jam and I can see people being turned off by it. But whatever. It's great.
There are some movies that just need to be unpacked and this might be the best example. This easily could be dismissed as chaos on film. I mean, if you watch the way Miyazaki plans out his films, it wouldn't be surprising if something turned out to be a jumbled mess. But everything in this works. Is it a perfect movie? Maybe the pacing could be a little better at times. But I adored this film. It might not win the Academy Award because it does ask a lot of its audience, first and foremost being to watch it. But it nails so much throughout.
PG for kinda / sorta scary stuff. I'm more surprised by the PG rating because people get impaled and killed throughout this movie. Like, there's no gore, but some of those hits are kind of brutal. There's a bit of a joke with Nimona bleeding from time-to-time, but it's not really something that one would consider gory. PG.
DIRECTORS: Nick Bruno and Troy Quane
Fun story! I swear it was a wild coincidence. My uncle, ages ago, got me the Nimona graphic novel. It sat on my shelf for ages. Too long. I had no reason to not read that book ahead of time. My goal over the past few years has been to read everything that I own. It's a crime that it just sits on a shelf. About a year and change ago, I read the book, really liked it, and thought, "Man, that would make a decent movie." The next week (THE NEXT WEEK!) the trailer for Nimona came out. Why didn't I watch it? Reasons. I don't know. But now it's an Academy Award nominee and you know how I am with that nonsense. I watch all of it.
One of my students swears by Nimona. If you read my blog on Vivarium, you'd realize this is a dangerous thing to say to me. The thing with student recommendations is that I always really want to really like these movies, but my brain instantly starts picking them apart. What is wrong with me? Honestly, it's messed up, Maybe it's a fear of developing the same tastes that I had in high school or what, but I started to do the same thing with Nimona. The biggest takeaway, and the thing that mostly encapsulates my feelings on the movie as a whole movie is the tone of the book versus the movie seems like two very different things. The book feels like a cool garage band. It's punk in the sense that it is calling for anarchy in everything it does. The movie feels like overproduced pop punk. It says "anarchy" a lot, but it feels incredibly corporate. Part of that comes from the very neat and very clean animation style. The funny thing about that is that we are in the era of rough art being kind of awesome. We have stuff like Into the Spider-Verse or Mutant Mayhem that ask their audience to love their rough edges. Nimona, which is a graphic novel that looks intentionally very sketchy, has this movie that looks like Dreamworks made it over a weekend in 300 animation farms.
On top of that, some of the character stuff is sped through with the film version. I loved that the book treated Ballister Boldheart as a villain for a lot of the text, only to reveal that he's the hero of the piece. I know, movies are different than books. Pacing and story are meant to serve the medium. But by making Ballister this wronged person, Nimona's desire for chaos seems off. It's silly that she latches onto him, especially considering that she knows almost immediately that he's been wronged. It seems against her narrative of finding someone who burn the world down. Ultimately, we find out that this relationship makes a lot more sense, considering that both of them have been wronged by a society that detests its stigmaed classes. But I don't read Nimona as the kind of character who would have that kind of self-awareness so early on in the movie. The revelation that Ballister is probably innocent really doesn't change her outlook on their relationship outside of seeing him as somehow lamer. If she was looking for commonality, a comrade-in-arms unjustly exiled from society, she would have admired him more.
I'm going to get to what I liked about the movie in a second. I like it more than I dislike the movie, but griping while writing is so much easier than gushing about why a movie is so great. The jokes don't land. One of my least favorite feelings is forcing a laugh. The thing about family movies nowadays is that they tend to be genuinely hilarious. The jokes tend to be low-brow (which is an unfair generalization, but for the sake of argument...) but timed really well. I saw a lot of what was going on behind the page on this one. When the movie ended and I saw all of the names on the script for this film, so many questions were answered. The movie had jokes that, on paper, were funny. But pacing wise coupled with a rich desperation to make the movie funny kept hurting these moments. I was on their teams, guys! I kept waiting for the guffaw and I kept trying to give the benefit of the doubt. I didn't get much of that. Instead, I got light snorts out of my nose and those even felt kind of forced. When that happens, something toxic happens. The funny character in this movie is Nimona. She's the one telling all of the anarchy jokes. But when few of them land, it makes it harder to be sympathetic towards Nimona.
Which is why, thank goodness, the drama and action work in this movie. Nimona is a lovable character not because she craves nonstop violence (although the book handles that a lot better). She's lovable because of her story coupled with a society that satirizes our own. If all stories are meant to be political, this one nails that vibe well. Yeah, it's preachy. I would have a hard time standing up for this movie claiming that it didn't wear its philosophy on its sleeves. But it never felt like it was laying it out. Instead, the world adapts for the platforms where these political discourses become organic. It's no shock, but the core of this movie is a discussion about homosexuality and trans rights. What I ultimately love about the movie is that part of the politics is "The fight isn't over." Ballister and Ambrosius have a relationship from moment one. People don't hate Ballister because he's gay. They hate him because he's a commoner. Ambrosius stays closeted because of his relationship with the socially beneath him Ballister.
This is where things gets amazingly complex in terms of world-building. There's almost this progressive attitude about being gay in this world. At the end of the movie, Ambrosius and Ballister walk hand-in-hand without fear of scorn. The climax of the film doesn't show that they're gay together. The climax of the film shows that Ballister is a hero and that a hero can come from any rank. But that message's complexity comes not from the existence or acceptance of homosexuality; it comes from the media spinning truth to make it seem like Ballister shouldn't even exist. I mean, sure this is a world that has Nimona, a shapeshifter. I, too, found it odd that they didn't release the whole video showing Nimona changing into Ambrosius to trap the director. I mean, they made it too easy to Fox News the whole thing by saying that the footage of the Director wasn't her. I mean, if they wanted to submit the footage that they sent in, they could have just filmed Nimona at home saying all of those things.
This [chef's kiss!] spirals into the idea that society lives and breathes on the fear that the government can set out there. People are so willing to fear the person that looks different, like Riz Ahmed's Ballister. He has all of this stuff and only one part of him is the gay part. He's hated for everything he is. If I had to be really critical (and the reason that I don't hold it against the movie is that I can't find a way around it) is that Ballister has to be exceptional to be simply accepted. It's that Jackie Robinson thing. Ballister should have just been accepted into the military because he wanted to do the right thing. (I also adore that Ballister is brainwashed enough to immediately try to defend the institution that condemned him, despite so much evidence from guys like Todd. I do hate that he was right in the end, though.) But that manipulation of storylines is fascinating because that's all we're dealing with right now. You guys probably know my politics right now. I mean, just the fact that I'm excited about a kids' movie talking about media spin means that you can guess what I can think about the potential return of a dictator in the next year. But we watched all of these atrocities in real time and Fox News just recontextualized them to build fear in a base.
Honestly, the most fictional part of the whole movie is the fact that people saw things with their own eyes and changed. I want that to be the world. I know why that's the ending too. The movie wants us to fight for change as we see it. We should be screaming at our TV sets, saying that we know what we saw and that spin isn't going to change that. It may be a bit much to ask this movie to ask to fight the Atticus Finch battle of knowing that he was going to lose and fighting anyway.
So the second half of the movie is better than the first half. I want to love this movie. I really do. There's so much greatness in the film that the look and feel of the film throwing the movie off is a bummer. My frustrations have always come from a place of "I know how to fix this" and this is one of those movies. I would keep the look of the movie closer to ND Stevenson's. But I also get that kids might not watch something like that. Either way, this is a mostly successful film.
Rated R for sex, nudity, and genocide. If that combo isn't the most punk rock combination for an R-rating, I don't know what is. In terms of questionable content, it all kind of fits tonally. Considering the content, it isn't surprising that the tone of the movie is quite bleak. There's also a suicide in the film, matching the tone of the other stuff that is in the movie. We don't see that much viscera or gore, but it is present in brief imagery. The sex and nudity, as much as it could be argued as gratuitous, is more depressing than anything else, explaining a lot about Oppenheimer's personality. Still, R it is.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
Part of me was ready to hate this. I didn't want to hate this. Honestly, if I could have had the freedom to Barbenheimer this movie, I would have. Mostly, my feelings about this movie come from my genuine weariness when it comes to biopics. My complaint about the biopic is that they have a formula. You wouldn't think that real lives would line up in a formula, but they tend to, especially around Oscar season. Oppenheimer is more of a Christopher Nolan movie than it is actually a member of the subgenre biopic. For better or worse, Christopher Nolan really Nolan's it up. I say that for the better. I've been a little tired when it comes to Nolan over the past few movies. He's an incredible director. Absolutely incredible. That being said, part of me has grown weary of the distortion of temporal storytelling coupled with every shot being filmed in upper case.
Oppenheimer, however, absolutely lends itself to Nolan's means of storytelling. That eternal crescendo kind of works because the movie, if I had to lay it out on paper in the worst way possible, is a nerd who really thinks abstractly. How hard is that to film? We've had lots of films about geniuses and, I'll even go as far as to say that these were good movies. But we've trodden over that ground. If my hatred of biopics is that they are all based on formula, you need someone like Nolan to redefine what a biopic could be. The funny thing is, I like a very different part than what I thought this movie could be. Again, Oppenheimer is causing me to question what I like or dislike in a movie. This is a three hour + movie. It did that thing that I often absolutely abhor in long movies: it's really two movies. Oppenheimer is that. It is two movies and one of the movies is better than the other one. But for the first time in my memory, that first movie only makes the second movie better.
The first movie is what you think it is going to be. It's that nerd growing up and figuring out how to do what no one else could do. There are false starts and fears that history won't play out the way that it is supposed to. There's a lot of "What if...?" that ultimately goes nowhere. But the first half of the movie, with Oppenheimer meeting all of these famous theoretical physicists and that's all cool. But while that's all historically fascinating, Nolan uses this time to paint the picture of a man almost detached from reality. Sure, a lot of geniuses tend to be a little bit off. I understand that. But Robert Oppenheimer is also this tumultous bag of angels and demons constantly at it. He's this guy who tried to kill his professor / tutor for scolding him, a man that he admits to liking quite a bit. He's also this guy who is thoroughly political. But he doesn't really view politics through the lens of the impassioned. So much of these political moments are almost like a scientist observing an ant colony. There's an understanding that something of value is happening without the passion that would come with something like that.
By the time the first bomb goes off, the one we see on screen, we see this complex guy whose genius allows him to dodge and weave through situations that don't really want him there. He's the guy in the room who is always right and we see him make enemies with so many people, even people that would consider themselves friends. It's what makes Strauss so interesting. Nolan got me. He 100% got me. I knew that Robert Downey Jr.'s Lewis Strauss was a big character who was going to be tied to Oppenheimer. But when that shoe dropped, I was all on board. It took that first movie, the making of the bomb, to reveal a villain character and that was a villain that I wasn't prepared for. Robert Oppenheimer is a hard man to root for. He's a guy who made a bomb that killed so many people. He redefined what war and peace meant in the 20th Century. In case you needed more to dislike about him, he's a guy that continually cheats on his wife and doesn't seem all that moved by it. There's almost nothing redeemable about this man and yet, he becomes the absolute hero of the film. Yeah, I didn't see that coming.
Part of that is that Oppenheimer did a lot of the wrong things for the right reasons. But the bigger element is that this is a story about a man finding his humanity in his mistakes. He never full on says that he shouldn't have invented the bomb. The images in his head echo a very different story. He sees people being wiped off in horrifying burning sequences and that says enough. But he has this odd moral fiber that is built from the beginning of the story into something very different. It's like watching the scientist become the ant. The second half of the movie is not only the acknowledgement that workers need rights. He never completely divorces himself from the philsophies that associated him from the communist party, but instead builds a vocal following about disarmament and the closing of an arms race. That's what makes Strauss such a fascinating villain. I mean, he's Trump, right? I don't want to be that obvious with my read on the character and why I love the movie so much.
But there's this politician / admiral who, the second that someone might be talking negatively about him, burns the world around one person. Those last shots of the movie, by the way? Chef's kiss. I can't sell that last reveal of the movie without losing my mind about the effect it has on the film. When they reveal that Oppenheimer and Einstein had no thoughts about Strauss one way or another, that's what I needed to see. It's almost like someone else was viewing the world through my eyes. Strauss is this guy who sees himself as the good guy of the story and forgets that this isn't about himself. Oppenheimer, for the evil that he unleashed on the world, is this guy who is within sight of putting the genie back in the bottle and it's a guy like Strauss who is so insecure about how people think about him that he can't even imagine that he's not on the radar of two of the smartest people on the planet? It's just something to unpack.
I want to have a bit of time to write about Kitty in this movie. I am not quite sure what I want to say about her. There are so many wheels in motion with this movie, especially considering that this is the most insanely cast movie that I can imagine. But Kitty is her own thing. We don't get a lot of Kitty as a character. I was about midway through the movie and I don't think that there was a scene that didn't have Cillian Murphy's Oppenheimer on screen. We don't get time to really unpack her as a character. We get that's she's a little bit selfish because both Robert and Kitty decide to get rid of their child for their own mental health. (Sorry, I get frustrated by stuff like that.) But Act III Kitty is something to be reckoned with. For a chunk of the movie, she is just the doting housewife, ensuring that Robert can do his job. Okay, that's fine. But when she's being attacked by Strauss's people, he becomes something very different. I love that last shot with her. There's something interesting about how Robert Oppenheimer treats people that conflict with him. He's this guy who is crucified and set up for failure. His weird detached personality doesn't allow him to really show emotion. That's why we have Kitty. There's the scene towards the end when we get the coda for Robert. He's shaking hands with people who denounced him in the hearing and Kitty's the one who is allowing the emotions to show. It's an interesting choice.
Golly, I was not prepared for this movie to go as hard as it did. I mean, I knew it was going to be great. But I thought that this was going to be a bro movie like a lot of Nolan's other movies. Instead, it's this fascinating character study coupled with gorgeous images. It's more of a political drama than a traditional biopic. I really wish that I could Barbenheimer sometime because I loved both movies so much, Honestly, it might be a three hour movie that I watch again. I mean, I own it now on 4K. I'm sure that'll give me an excuse to really watch this closely again. But I'm going to keep giving Christopher Nolan the benefit of the doubt because this was a work of art. It's paced beautifully. It's intense start to finish. I looks gorgeous. This movie is marvelously crafted for being such a bummer of a movie.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.