Not rated, but let's talk turkey. This movie is sooper dooper R-rated. It's "R" in my heart. (There's an "R" in "heart" and I want to do a joke with it, but it doesn't translate out to typing as well as I would like.)
DIRECTOR: Mamoru Oshii
I've seen this movie before. I was in high school and my buddy was really into anime. He was preaching this movie pretty hard at the time and I remember the movie was kind of pervy. Boy, should I have trusted my memory before going into this one again. My memory of it being "kind of pervy" is such an understatement. It's so dirty that I felt icky afterwards. The reason I watched this one is because it is getting a live action remake and that looks marvelously cool. But now I'm not sure I want to watch it. If it is like this one, I don't want to feel icky in a packed movie theater. (Mind you, I'm simply assuming the movie is going to be a smash hit. There's a good chance that this thing could tank pretty hard.)
I'm going to hold off on my criticism of the perviness for right now. I'll get there, but I think I need to look at the bigger picture first. I've always had a hard time getting into hard anime. I think it is the same problem that I have with getting into hard scifi. There is so little relatable in these worlds and that's why I have a connection with cinema. A few years ago -maybe a decade -I tried watching Akira. I marveled at the beauty of the animation and the attention to detail that this world had encapsulated. For world-builders (heh), these movies are absolutely stunning. But my major problem surrounded that the movie ended there. It was a pretty movie. With Ghost in the Shell, I loved the attention to detail, but I was so driven out by the perviness that I couldn't even enjoy that the movie put insane amounts of effort into the world it had created. Part of world-building (I'm sorry, I can't take myself seriously even thinking of the word "world-building") is making a fictional and surreal environment seem like people really live in it. Both Akira and Ghost in the Shell honestly believe in the world that they have created. But they also don't care about holding our hands as we experience these new realities. Rather, technobabble simply needs to be accepted. This leaves its audience feeling dumber than the movie. Do I believe that there probably is an audience that gets every nuance of this world? Sure. But I don't like feeling dumb because no one decided to help me with some of the more obscure jargon. The reasons that doctors get mad when watching medical dramas is that everything is oversimplified. My wife (I should just rename this, "Mr. H's Film Class Blog Told Through the Eyes of His Wife") hated every time House would use a metaphor to explain a complicated situation to the other doctors in the room because they should know what he was talking about. The dialogue isn't for the other doctors. That dialogue is for me so I can follow along with complex and abstract ideas. Ghost in the Shell offers none of that. Most anime doesn't offer any of that. Maybe that's why I can't get on board.
I keep throwing the word "pervy" at this movie and perhaps that is unfair to a certain extent. There are cultural standards that Americans are often uncomfortable with. But since I put the "J" in "ENFJ", I can't help but be just a little judgey. A few reviews ago, I reviewed The Lobster, a movie that built its premise on the idea of discomfort. But anything put in that movie that might have had questionable content was to make the viewer uncomfortable. It was artistic and challenged the viewer. Ghost in the Shell really uses nudity in an attempt to arouse and that just stinks. I'm not saying that a movie can't do things like it did, but the angles and the gratuitousness of the scenes seems exploitative, even if the main character is simply animated. It makes this whole scifi venture seem very cheap and makes the whole thing bro-ey. I don't love that.
Two other major issues I had with this movie was its sense of pacing and its character development. No one can fault this movie for a lack of cool action sequences. Like most anime, it has it in spades. (Again, not an expert at anime, but the one's I've seen are choreographed beautifully.) But the movie has fight sequences and long debriefs, leading to a pretty bizarre arc structure that just leaves me baffled. I kept watching the movie and looking at the run time, knowing that the protagonists would have to confront the antagonist somewhat soon because the movie was running down. Considering that the film constantly talked about the Puppet Master, I had no idea what the Puppet Master's goal was nor why the protagonists had to stop him / her. When looking at a structure like that, I kept wondering where my investment would come from. With an antagonist that acts as a Macguffin, not knowing the character's purpose or plan really threw me for a loop. I even read the Wikipedia article at one point and tried rewatching parts. Nope. I understood it as much as I thought I did. I think the movie is just obtuse by its very nature. If people commented on this thing, I'm sure I'd get comments like "It's not the movie's fault that you're dumb." But isn't it? I'm really good at meeting people halfway, especially with high concept storytelling. But not really explaining clearly on a human level what is going on with the character is just bad movie-making. (Yes, imaginary commenter. I know it's based on a manga. I don't care. The filmmaker has a responsibility.)
The weirdest part is that I know that this movie is loved and adored by many, MANY anime fans. It's not my cup of tea, nor would I ever ask you to betray your love for this film. It just rubbed me the wrong way all around. It made me less eager to see the new one, but I'm sure I could be persuaded. But I'm not eager to feel icky again.
R. What did you expect?
DIRECTOR: David Mackenzie
I think the Oscars always choose a padding movie. This is where I'm going to get some enemies because people are going to swear by these movies as being the best of the list. I'm talking about movies that need to round out the competition a little bit more. People have been griping about the change from five Best Picture nominees to ten for this very reason. These are movies like Brooklyn or Nebraska that really have no shot at getting the Best Picture win. P.S. I know that someone's going to get up in arms about Brooklyn, but the movie isn't Best Picture great. These are movies that are perfectly fine in their own right, but kind of feel like we are giving out participation awards.
There's nothing special about Hell or High Water. Had I just watched this movie on a whim, I might be far more favorable towards it. But for a chap of whimsy like me, I'd like to still pretend that the Oscars have some magic behind them. These should be movies that awaken me to the beauty of cinema. This is all hypocritical hogwash -I'm aware -considering that I just talked about the complete cultural blindness that Oscar winners have shown in the past. But I watch the Oscars because I love movies and Hell or High Water isn't the movie that screams "I love cinema." It is a typical film of its genre and setting. Chris Pine and Ben Foster play bank robbers who have a semi-clever plan and execute this plan as a strange form of social justice. Their plan doesn't have the Robin Hood level of chivalry which would make us root for the characters, but it does take a little bit of the edge off of their selfishness. I do applaud the movie for addressing that these two guys aren't heroes, but this is also the type of film that asks "Are there such things as heroes?" This isn't new ground. I have addressed this issues before with far superior movies. Perhaps the movie took a harder or softer left or right than other movies like No Country for Old Men or There Will Be Blood, but these choices aren't necessarily the right choices to make. This movie is about treading water or walking the well worn path or mixing the metaphors.
Mackenzie really is more of a master of the scene as opposed to the whole. There are moments in this movie that draw attention and for those scenes alone, he should be applauded. Let me be clear: the scenes themselves are well done. This is where the problem lies. These scenes, sometimes, have no place in this movie. I'm going to pick the scene that stood out in my head the most, the steak dive bar. The scene is rife with charm. I emotionally connected in a real "Aw, shucks" way. But it provided nothing to the story. The emotional connection between Marcus Hamilton and Alberto Parker had already been established. We get the connection that they are reluctant friends and partners. This scene, while extremely well done, almost completely kills what little tension that the movie is building to. I agree that the movie can use some laughs, but this felt so shoehorned in that I can't help but imagine that Mackenzie loved the concept so much, he fit it into a movie that didn't need it. These scenes, and I can think of half a dozen of them, could be excused as character development. But I don't think the movie needed to include them. The movie is all about the relationships between these two sets of men and to shoehorn these scenes in kills the pacing of the movie.
It is odd to be bored in a movie with a semi-automatic shootout. Again, I hate when "boring" is used as a way to criticize a movie because boring in itself shouldn't be a bad thing. But this movie has the guts to really engage an audience, but its attempts at vulnerability are superficial. Pine and Foster do a great job. I love these two actors and I love them playing off of each other. Bridges and Birmingham, same deal. It's just that the moral crisis is simply played as a depressed ennui. There's something going on here. I'm teaching Crime and Punishment right now and there is so much that goes into a good man committing evil deeds. Toby Howard, while he is told that he will be haunted by his choices, doesn't seem to have that conflict inside of him before he starts. He is reluctant simply because there are too many wild cards in his plan. Pine portrays him with sadness and anger phenomenally, but maybe that's not what is called for in these moments. The Howard brothers are so confident in their plan that there isn't a moment of panic. In a fight-or-flight scenario, the characters naturally gravitate towards fight. Yes, they do run away at times, but they keep their cools while doing so. How much more powerful would these scenes have been had the characters become obsessed with the fact that they had turned into the villains of their own narratives. Instead, Ben Foster embraces it and loves the evil he has created. Mackenzie kind of drops the ball here and fails to show the absolute hopelessness of his actions. Allowing him to relish the murders he commits is a lost opportunity. Foster's suicide run never allows for hope, despite his successes. If there is one thing I hate, it's lost opportunity.
I kinda crapped all over this movie. It isn't horrible. I'll even go as far as to say I enjoyed it. It's just that this movie has critical praise and I can't say that. It is a movie about some bank robbers and they are jerks. 'Nuff said.
PG-13. I think I am genuinely surprised. PG-13 has come to mean "not great" or "not challenging." This movie is genuinely challenging. I'll have to watch it again so I can point out any R-Rated content...
DIRECTOR: Denzel Washington
I really wanted this to be my movie for the year. I saw the trailer probably six months ago and I almost needed this to be my movie for the year. Looking at the cast and the fact that August Wilson's play was finally going to be a film, directed by Denzel? C'mon. I'd love preaching that to everyone. I hate to get into my evaluation so soon, but the movie isn't...great? That might be completely unfair to this movie because the movie is really good. It is an actor's ropes course and just looks like it is ripping the hearts out of these people. But this movie needed to be more than just really good because it has the potential to be something truly special. I think back to Elia Kazan's A Streetcar Named Desire and I know that certain plays can permeate the culture's consciousness. Fences, I think, has the potential to do that. The problem with Washington's film adaptation is that it is depending too much on its source material.
The movie comes across as a play very quickly. Like Casablanca, the movie uses the same locations for most of the film. But where Casablanca relies on action and clearly established beats, Washington tries to use the same charm that makes the play work in film. It is dependent on the back-and-forth repartee of the characters. I suppose that matches reality. Discussions last a while and emotions get high in those moments. The only problem is that shot/reverse-shot gets a little dull after a while. With a stage production, the characters must make the stage into their playground. Characters draw focus through movement and choices and a shot/reverse shot, weirdly, actually limits what the audience can see. Instead of seeing poetry through movement, the limiting camera almost shoves my face into the important part instead of allowing the character earn that. The shame is that everyone in this movie is strong enough to hold his or her own. The direct translation from the play doesn't really work here. I can't even blame him. August Wilson's play is considered a classic at this point. It seems sacrilege to tamper with his work too much. With the other works, they were almost contemporaries with the original works. They had no outside awareness of the importance of what they were changing. Sometimes change isn't a bad thing.
As I mentioned, the performances are what really sell this movie. Let me say this clearly right now because it is going to sound like I'm crapping on him in a second: I liked Washington's portrayal quite a bit. But here's the "but." Denzel Washington might be the casting choice of the group. Viola Davis is always phenomenal. I don't think I've once been let down by her, even if she's been in a weaker movie. (I'm looking at you, Suicide Squad.) She always brings an intensity, but doesn't really settle for "intense" as a character choice. Fences gives her absolutely sublime moments of joy and love to balance the pain the character carries with her. She is injured emotionally, but she doesn't play that. We know it through her choices and like people who are injured, so does a phenomenal job hiding it. That is powerful and I give her a standing ovation for her choices. I think the theme for this year's Oscars is "kids I'm not familiar with who knock my socks off." Manchester by the Sea has one. I hear the kid from Lion is going to destroy me. Fences has Jovan Adepo. Man, this kid knows his character choices and subtlety. Mind you, it takes a good director to bring out a good performance, so I might have to give Denzel Washington some credit after all, but Adepo knows how to hold his own with people who could be emotional bullies. He knows his balance. He sees his character's nobility and balances it out with teenage pride and frustration. That's so awesome. I love this kind of stuff.
Okay, I take it back. Mykelti Williamson I thought was too safe a choice for Gabriel. He does a fine job and my heart breaks for him, but it was far too close to Bubba for a character to really see any stretch there.
I'd like to talk about Denzel Washington and his dual role as a director and actor. When Denzel first showed up on the scene, he made some bold acting choices and they all worked. He is an intense actor who can command a scene and draw the viewer into the world. That is the actor's primary role and he does it well. The problem I'm seeing with him is that I'm not seeing Variety. His happy moments are always tainted with the tinge of grossness. He hates his characters and sees them for the villains they are. We are sickened by characters like Troy because we're supposed to be. But because Denzel keeps doing this with all of his characters, there is little to make Troy Maxton special. He's a variation of the dozens of other unlikable characters that Washington has played in the past. Troy Maxton needed to make us love him before we grew to hate him. He has glimpses of that in Fences, but every time I see a vulnerable character, some wall comes up and we are brought back to a place of distrust. Maxton is a complicated character. He is a man who keeps doing horrible things to his family time and time again, but he thinks he has a good reason for the things he does. It is our role as audience members to judge Troy's actions, not Washington's to tell us that this character is unlikable. Maxton should believe that he's doing the right thing. That speech he gives about laughing and deserving to laugh is telling about his internal conflict. But Washington has already painted his character out be a jerk, even in the happy moments. It's a fine line to walk as an actor and perhaps, if he wasn't directing himself, someone would have caught him and guided him somewhere else.
Again, the movie is good. I'll even say it is really good. But it lacks the greatness that will make it a classic. And I really wanted a classic.
PG. Some movies deserve to be PG. This is one of them. Sorry I can't be more pithy.
DIRECTOR: Roger Ross Williams
I am genuinely mad at myself for not reviewing this earlier. This movie was such an emotional experience and I would have loved to write about this movie still riding those highs and lows. But, of course, I chose to make priorities and real life took precedence. I applied to grad school and had to write something else. I had my work evaluation today. Stuff happens.
I've gotten really close to crying at movies. Every year, the end of It's a Wonderful Life. The end of Scrooged. Probably a handful of other Capras or Christmas movies. This is the first time a tear rolled down my big, manly, and rugged face. Kids have ruined me, guys. While the premise seems a little too chincy and manipulative for me, I can't deny that the movie isn't effective. The premise, if you don't know, is that an autistic boy learns to communicate with his parents through the use of Disney films. (Geez, my heart just sunk into my chest writing that sentence. Maybe I will achieve some emotional vulnerability while writing this. Nevermind. The Mission: Impossible theme just came over Pandora. I'm good.) I don't love that this is a movie kissing Disney's butt and this coming from a guy who has learned to genuinely appreciate the artistry that Disney puts into their features. But it's a documentary and if this is all true, I have to accept that they're going to slobber all over Disney a bit to make this happen.
The format of this movie is quite clever. The story lets you know that Owen is going to be okay. Obviously, autism is something that never goes away, but the film starts with a functional Owen dealing with graduation with smiles across his face. As a vulnerable schlub, I kind of needed this. I've been Dear Zachary'ed enough in my lifetime to have to go through that again. (Another emotional documentary, but that one left me mad at the world. No tears, just jaw fully dropped.) The movie then jumps between two time periods, the time of Owen's regression into autism and back to present day Owen dealing with the real world. The footage of young Owen, very cleverly, is done through a very stylized form of animation. The movie is pretty powerful just through content, but the addition of animation really solidifies the tone as something special. I've watched far too many documentaries simply hold the camera on an object that is meant to capture the emotional spirit of the moment and it never really works. That's not true. It works sometimes, but it seems lazy for a movie like this. When the movie flashes to animation with Owen's narrative playing throughout, I never get pulled out. The two parallel stories are more playful and complimentary.
This movie works as a whole. On rare occasion, I become a spectator to a person's life. I hate sports, so I need to get that side of me out somehow. There were times I was yelling at the screen and there were times I wanted to clap. Williams understands the struggle of the parents, having to lose their two year old son, then having to replace him with one that is noncommunicative. As crass as it sounds, it would be easy to assume that the concept sells itself. But the documentary doesn't take the easy route necessarily. It traps the small moments perfectly. It doesn't badger or try to force the audience to an uncomfortable place, but the concept that these parents would be willing to try anything simply for a glimmer is sold very clearly. As much as this is a movie about Owen's successes, it is about parents and the sacrifices that must be made. I know it sounds like I'm talking down to all the kids out there or all those without children yet, but the dad part of me cries every time I think about it. It forces me to count my blessings and I thank the movie for that.
I want to talk about individual moments, but I also don't want to cheapen the experience for you. It was probably bad enough that I showed my film class the trailer and discuss important bits. I'm a human being, okay? I need to talk to someone about these things.
I have to admit that this is not the most important documentary this Academy Awards season, but it is the one that spoke to me. Does that make me a bad person? No, it just makes me a person. If it won, I'd be happy. But I also know that the other documentaries in the category need to be seen and this one is a bit of an emotional bombshell.
TV-MA. Um, this documentary shows some pretty brutal stuff. Like, stuff I didn't know could be put in film. While most of the movie should be seen, a small-but-relevant percentage of the movie is not for the squeamish.
DIRECTOR: Ezra Edelman
Let's talk, Internet. The Academy Awards decided an episodic, eight hour documentary was considered a movie. I posed this question to Facebook and got some mildly okay answers. It was shown in theaters in separate sections. But it was made by ESPN, a television network and broadcast the same way. This isn't an accusation on the documentary itself, so much as what qualifies a movie for the Academy Awards. Think how many other movies I could have watched in this time. (Four. The answer is four.)
There's a lot going on here. I can't say that I got too excited when I had the slowest opening credit establishing shots in the world overlapped with "ESPN" over them. For those who don't know me very well, I'm not a sports guy. Blasphemy, I know. This made going into a documentary about an athlete made by a sports network quite the feat. Part of the theme of this movie is that most people don't hear O.J. Simpson and think "athlete" anymore. ESPN sought to rectify that image. The movie is not exclusively a sports doc, but a major percentage of the first third focuses on his athletic career. And I get it. O.J. Simpson was a hero to a lot of people. My lack of love for sports has a pretty heavy criticism of sports heroes to begin with that the movie never really discusses in depth: the entitlement and the celebrity that comes with playing a game. Okay, I'm not going to win a lot of fans with this critique and frankly this isn't the forum for it. All I could think is that O.J. is very talented and there's no reason why he should want the world for that skill. Whatever. But Edelman does an excellent job showing why O.J. Simpson warmed the hearts of America. The first third of the documentary jumps between two perspectives: how Simpson became one of the most famous people in the country and how L.A. was the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement, for better and for worse. And that's what the movie really has going for it. It is a connection between O.J. Simpson's cultural identity and his perceived identity.
But it still is eight hours.
I've reached an age where documentaries are now considering my childhood somewhat historical. Edelman spells out every moment of the O.J. story that I remember from when I was 11. I didn't learn a ton. Part of what made this the Trial of the Century is that everyone was completely over-informed about every aspect of the case. Even me at 11, I knew what was up. Perhaps I didn't make all of the connections that the documentary spelled out for me, but there wasn't much surprising about watching this from an educational perspective. While I think that the documentary is overall great, I don't know why people are lavishing the documentary as a revolutionary work. If I had shown the same documentary in 1996, it would have come off as one of many documentaries talking about the exact same thing...only eight hours long. Honestly, I think that there probably was an E! True Hoillywood Story about the same material that was far more compact. A lot of the attention probably comes from the fact that O.J. has just resurfaced in the cultural awareness due to the TV show. I know Edelman had to be working on this for a long time. There is such an attention to every moment of O.J.'s career that this wasn't some fly-by-night operation. But the quality of the movie lacks some of the impact that other documentaries like 13th present. It is very straightforward, so I'm surprised that it is turning so many heads.
I do find the racial connection interesting. Considering that the actual O.J. trial came down to a trial about racial profiling and social justice, the setup for the historical context is extremely welcome. I don't consider what I am saying to be a spoiler because it is a historical fact, but the trial of O.J. Simpson was situated a very specific time in racial tension. So many different events happened in such a specific line that the trial had to be bigger than what it should have been. On a tangential idea, the problems we are having in society when it comes to race may be due to this trial. The message of the documentary? The O.J. Simpson verdict was a major civil rights breakthrough for Black America...and it couldn't have happened to a worse individual. The documentary pretty much proves that O.J. Simpson killed his wife and her friend and that justice wasn't served that day. But on the other hand, White America had, for one short moment in time, an understanding what it means for race to prevail over obvious injustice. White America will never know what it means to be black, but for one day, there was at least a peek through the curtain of racism and it never came back.
One of the comments I got when I posted that I would be watching this documentary is to wait for the last two episodes. They were cut differently than they are presented on Hulu, but I could figure out what was being said. The story I was interested in was how O.J. Simpson ended up in jail anyway. By that point in the story, everyone was so sick of hearing the name O.J. Simpson that I know that I didn't care. He was the guy who got away with murder for me. He was on every TV show and I just wanted the world to shut up. So watching the end was riveting. I had both a sense of justice and sadness at the same time. Spoiler alert: Simpson ruined what life he had left. And White America had to get revenge. It's a very sobering idea of what we can do. It was a scenario without a right answer and that's pretty interesting. And after eight hours, I learned what the documentary wanted me to learn. It's a pretty heavy idea and I'm grateful to have watched it.
But it was also eight hours.
PG. You know my thoughts about PG at this point. A movie with farting dogs: PG.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
Roald Dahl is tough. His books are explorations of imagination and that's all that really pulls a reader in. He creates these fantastic worlds , but I have to admit the plots are always kind of all over the place. It's not to say that Roald Dahl can't work on screen. We all know Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches. If you don't know The Witches, I'm going to choose not to scar you or your children with nightmares that will forever haunt them. The movies can work, but probably with a greater deviation from what Dahl presents. I know that literature purists are losing their minds right now, but literature and film are two very different media that allow for different things. My kid read the book with her mom and she really wanted to see the movie. She loved it. I...wanted to love it?
The big thing about both the book and the movie is that they are really charming. Spielberg grabbed that aspect of the book and encapsulated it. I kind of think the same thing happened with Matilda because the charm and the feel of the book is there. Mark Rylance as the giant speaking his gibberish language is all present and well-executed. Capturing dreams is beautiful and I really love the relationship between the two characters. That should be enough for me! I acknowledge this. The heart of the book is there, so I should continue on and start defending the movie from naysayers. But the movie is criminally boring and almost without purpose. We've seen this narrative before and we've seen it done better. Little guy gets picked on by big guys so he shows them what's what. The odd part is that I didn't feel like Sophie's story doesn't really mesh with that storyline. Her purpose is to be there for her friend. She is a character's whose chief traits are loneliness and self-reliance. The nature of bullying and morality really don't come into play outside of the goodness of her heart. So watching this movie through Sophie's eyes, the natural grounding of the movie, just seem removed. She is brave and caring, but we care about the well being of Sophie, not the well being of the BFG. Sure, I don't want to see the giant die, but the element of danger is really removed from the movie.
The saddest aspect of the potential for The BFG is Spielberg's over-reliance on CG. This is the director who brought me Jurassic Park, a movie that defined the relationship between computer generated graphics and practical effects and creature development. Like many CG heavy movies, it doesn't matter how good the movie looks and how good the CG looks, it always has the element of artificiality to it. Instead of going for ultra-realistic, I would have loved to have Spielberg take a note from the book's intentionally simplistic drawings. A claymation giant would have been beautiful. I know that The Little Prince wasn't perfect, but the visuals were stunning and charming and that's what the movie needed. Instead, I can see the burst capillaries in the giant's ears and that would be awesome if the color scheme didn't scream "Look at me, I'm CG!"
I really wanted to like the movie. My daughter fell in love with it and I'm super glad she did. My wife abhorred it, actively rolling her eyes at me. I think I fell somewhere in the middle. Farting monarchs are cool and can be funny, but I don't know if the movie earned the joke. I applaud Mark Rylance for his performance. I still find it weird that he got so much attention for Bridge of Spies, but this movie showed me that the guy has some chops. He's a good actor, but he didn't have much to work with. The world is bananas, but the lack of any kind of real grounding just made the movie feel more like a Star Wars prequel than something that Sophie could have interacted with. Die Another Day should have been the warning call for all computer generated action. There is no real threat when nothing is really happening on screen outside of a green screen. At one point, a giant uses a car as roller skates with Sophie inside. I should have been terrified. But none of it happened. It looked cheap and CG and golly, I am sounding like a broken record. CG has its place, but it should enhance reality, not replace it. You know what? The movie felt lazy. That's my problem with it. I know that Spielberg is a master craftsman and this just looked like something he slapped together. Ah well, I'll probably have to watch it a million more times if my daughter gets it as a gift.
So I had better learn to love it.
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.