It's R-rated mostly because people are cruel to one another. There's some nudity and sexuality. It's not uber in-your-face, but it is there. Also, the f-bomb is a favorite word of Reynolds Woodcock. He loves it. He almost loves the f-word as much as he hates the sound of toast being buttered. R.
DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson
I love Paul Thomas Anderson movies. Even with my fairly prudish self, I even love Boogie Nights. Anderson makes amazing movies and when one of his films is announced, that's the one I know I have to see. It was weird, then, that when I saw the trailer for Phantom Thread, nothing really jumped out at me. I knew it was Paul Thomas Anderson. If anything, that was one of the few things I was confident about. I knew that Paul Thomas Anderson had directed it and that Daniel Day Lewis was going to be in it, but that was it. I thought that avoiding any info about it might get me more in the mood. After all, my favorite Paul Thomas Anderson experiences were blind. Why shouldn't this one? I don't know what it was, but I wasn't excited to see it. I know that some of my Thomas Video friends had reservations about Phantom Thread. I can see why. While I can say that I liked it, it definitely felt different.
It took me a long time to realize what I was watching. It seemed like this was supposed to be a love story. Knowing what I do about Anderson, I know that he's not going to present the traditional love story and call it a day. But Reynolds Woodcock is an odd guy. It takes a while to figure out what his deal is and even about twenty minutes in, I had made peace that I only kind of get what makes him tick. He is a terrible person who is burdened with genius. I guess geniuses have to be terrible people. If Hollywood has taught me anything, it's that Meryl Streep will be nominated for everything and that geniuses are terrible people. It is off putting not knowing what a character's moral boundaries are. Perhaps that is also what makes Phantom Thread unique. The movie is a constant exploration of what this character's moral boundaries are. I like to know how far a character will go. When a character defies his moral code, the film presents complexity. Anderson relishes in complexity, but he breaks with expectation with Reynolds Woodcock. The film is not about a man breaking his own moral code. He does do that, in a way, but that is really secondary to the fact that he is uninterested in morality whatsoever. He is a man driven by obsession for perfection and has an almost autistic view of how humans play into that quest for perfection. It is a bit weird though. I know, this is close minded of me. But they are only dresses. Admittedly, the dresses look nice (I know little about dresses and I'm kind of okay with that). The idea that he is getting violently shaken about dresses is odd. But that also might be a bit of subtext for Anderson. For Woodcock, the dresses are everything. To many people, the dresses might be everything. But for most people, the dresses are simply very pretty. I am the drunken bride wearing his dress (forever burned into your heads). I cannot possibly understand his madness because it is precisely his madness. That's why Alma kind of works for him. She understands his madness, given time.
One of the review blurbs that the movie publishes is that it is "funny" or "hilarious". That is accurate, from a certain point of view. Lauren and I found ourselves belly laughing at part, but at no time was there a single real joke in the movie. Woodcock and Alma have the most serious relationship of all time. I kind of wonder what their attraction is. Why would anyone want to be in that relationship? I guess people get into abusive relationships all of the time, but there is usually something to base it off of. I imagine that the power dynamic might be attractive to some. After all, Woodcock has a very specific fame and Alma's life, to her, seemed small. But he's terrible to her. That's oddly where the humor comes from. There's a tipping point where the cruelty just gets out of hand. Woodcock becomes so mean that it actually becomes funny. I know, it sounds like I'm a bad person. But my wife was laughing really hard too and she's only kind of a bad person. Out of the many MANY movies I've watched this year, the only movie I've really been quoting since seeing it has been Phantom Thread. From here, I just have to speculate about Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson is a genius. He often makes movies about big personalities and takes things to such a shocking level. He doesn't make these movies to be shocking. They just happen to shock because he's exploring souls or something. It's always hard to criticize geniuses because they are oh-so-smarter than me. I'm not saying that as a bad thing or a thing of self-esteem. I'm saying that there are people that I know are way smarter than me and Paul Thomas Anderson is probably on that list. He had to see the turn that the movie was making. It was probably in the edit. There was this moment when Anderson probably loved how absurd the whole thing was getting and leaned hard into that. Also, as much as I disapprove of this in reality, cruelty in film can sometimes be funny. It is something that we hopefully don't see very often. It almost might be a reflection on the viewers' lifestyles. If you are accustomed to cruelty, that scene plays out like a Greek tragedy. If your life is blissful, like mine (jealous? Wait. I AM a bad person), then the scene is absolutely absurd. Anderson, you got me again!
It's been reported that this is Daniel Day-Lewis's final screen performance. He's retiring at 60. He's really good in this. He's really good. But I don't know if it is his finest performance. That's difficult because he delivered a perfect performance in practically everything he's been in. He's infamous for inhabiting roles. He never messes up, but there are moments where I'm just watching Daniel Day-Lewis be weird. Often, I didn't see Reynolds Woodcock. He was doing a voice, again. I don't know why he always needs to do a voice, but that voice was extremely distracting. As amazing as he is, there are still tricks that he is using and I don't always know if that's the best decision. But again, he's awesome. He's probably going to win Best Actor as a tribute thing for his retirement. It's how it works. Alma, played by Vicky Krieps, (spooky pun not intended) really might be the protagonist of this movie. You know what? I'm saying she is. It is from her perspective and she has the goal to achieve, so she's the protagonist. I just realized that, by the way. It's what happens when there is such a big personality in the movie that the protagonist gets overshadowed. Regardless, Krieps is great. She's got the range of emotions in there. Day-Lewis vacillates between annoyed with everyone and full on angry. There are two moments in the movie when he is happy. One of the times, it is a show. The other time, it is a reaction. Those moments are important, but Krieps's character has to really make gutsier choices. It's a shame that she's going to fall under the radar because she's acting across from Daniel Day-Lewis. She's really good. They're both good, how about that?
My wife left the movie not sure if she liked it or what she thought of it. That might be the most fair assessment of the movie. It isn't necessarily a fun movie, but it is something that you have to kind of absorb. My opinion shouldn't matter. I liked it a lot, but if you didn't...that makes total sense. It's not a polarizing movie. It's just how the movie rubs you.
Sometimes animation needs to be PG-13. I'm very okay with this being PG-13. I recently read The Handmaid's Tale, which is about a world where women are tortured simply for being female. They have no rights and cannot leave the home without a man at their side. Despite being animated, this is the real world version of The Handmaid's Tale. The sexual stuff is kept at a minimum, but the violence and the abuse is very present and shown on screen. Just because something is a cartoon doesn't mean it can't handle adult themes. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Nora Twomey
It's not going to win and I'm mad. I'm actually a little more mad that the Academy just limited this movie to animation category. Instead, the Best Animated feature award is going to Coco and I can't do anything about that. This studio, the same one that made The Secret of Kells keeps putting out what looks to be top-notch valuable animation. It gets attention from the film folks out there, but commercially kind of always falls under the radar. I often praise Disney on this blog, but Disney might be the reason why this animation studio doesn't get a lot of attention. If you are an expert out there about this animation house, please let me know. For all that I know, Disney is distributing their stuff like they did with the Studio Ghibli stuff. This company actually reminds me a lot of Studio Ghibli with their attention to quality and their comfort with presenting difficult content.
By the way, I'm telling you right now to watch The Breadwinner. Don't watch it with your kids. You'll be tempted, I'm sure. It is very heavy material. But this one showed up on Netflix on the exact same day it was put on iTunes. This was the hard movie to get out of the group. If I had the money or time to watch Ferdinand, I could tell you if it was the best movie right now. I have a feeling that it blows Ferdinand out of the water, but I also have been surprised a few times this Oscar season. The basic plot surrounds Parvana and her family during the Iranian Revolution. When her father is taken for accidentally insulting a religious zealot, Parvana must wear her dead brother's clothes, cut her hair, and pretend to be male to take care of her family. I am really reminded of Persepolis with The Breadwinner. Every so often, I forget that the Iranian Revolution exists. That's because I lead a life of privilege and I tend not to think of the world as a terrible place. Twoney presents a very harsh world. I don't think that Twoney is a pessimist. As extremely dark as this movie gets, there seems to be an optimistic edge to most of the movie. Parvana argues with her mother and sister throughout the film, but Twoney really walks that line to establish that these characters love each other throughout. Their fighting is relatable, but it occasionally comes off as harsher than what might be seen in other family squabbles. This is all reflective of the events surrounding Parvana. Their family fights not because they want to be right. I think that might be the last thing on their minds. But rather the arguments stem out of a need to protect one another. These characters often seem selfish, but that can't be further from the truth. They are on the constant watch for what the best course of action for the survival of the family. It's an argument where everyone is right and that's what makes it interesting. Parvana's need to feed the family and free their father is central to her. Mama-jan's conflict between bringing her husband home and fear of losing another child is her drive. And her sister is helpless to do anything and is constantly trying to figure out how to protect her little sister from danger like she is supposed to do. This creates this conflict that, as an audience member, a conflict where I find myself constantly jumping between who is right and what the right course of action should be.
While the movie presents a proper antagonist in the form Idrees (who performed by the same guy who voices Sulayman), the real success that The Breadwinner can present is the setting as the villain. When Idrees appears on screen, the movie gets so tense I can't handle it. But the movie is extremely suspenseful, even when there officially is nothing going on. I talked about this in the Dunkirk review, but it is almost a horror movie not knowing where the next conflict is going to appear. Every time Parvana leaves her home, there is a pervasive sense of dread that surrounds her actions. Keeping this in mind, the relationships she forms in the film still really work. I'm always worried about her well being and how she is going to escape this torment that is her life, but the friendships that she forms are heartwarming. I'm kind of surprised that the movie allowed itself to be that vulnerable based on what the goal of the movie must have been. I think Twoney had to know that Parvana had to be more than an avatar for children, but rather a message of hope in the most bleak situations. I'm not saying Parvana is perfect. I never vocalized this, but I really wanted to scream at the screen at her. There were so many times that she was frustrating, but that just made her a more compelling character. She was always a kid. She is stripped of her identity, but she also enjoys the new identity that she created. It is unique to see someone discover freedom. That's what Parvana's story is about. It is what other people take for granted being given to someone. I don't mean to get all sappy about it, but there's this moment where Parvana just buys some groceries by herself. Everyone is teasing her because she is unused to social customs. They call her an idiot and all she can really do is laugh. That's such a cool moment. She is aware of the blessing around her and ignores the fact that she is going through a moment that would make another person fall over in tears. She is so well developed and I think that she really works as one of the better animated heroines that I've seen in film.
The one thing I didn't exactly love is a trope that I've seen in too many stories. It is the parallel story. The Breadwinner has Parvana tell a story about a boy retrieving stolen seeds from an Elephant King. The events of the story are meant to parallel the events that Parvana is experiencing throughout the story. The animation style is different. I almost looks like paper doll theatre and that's pretty cool and all...but I've seen it before. It also kind of takes the story out of the grounded nature that it presents throughout. Parvana's world is our world. It follows the same rules and laws, only more so. She lives in an oppressive country and jumping out of that world to the world of fantasy isn't exactly a bad thing, but it is a thing that has happened before in other movies. I tend to see this in serious animation, the metaphor fairy tale. I think Kubo and the Two Strings did the same thing. In this case, it is a bit odd. Parvana is the primary storyteller of this tale and it takes place over the course of weeks in the story. Why has she never finished this story? This is so nitpicky so I really hate complaining about it, but the movie goes out of its way to remind us about the beginning of the story. But these narrative breaks happen so often that I really didn't want to have any reminders. The only thing that I really like about the stories is the way it integrates the character of Zaki. Zaki is adorable. I know that he's fictional animation, but Zaki feels like one of the more realistic children in film. He desperately wants this story to be told, which again brings me to the question of why Parvana never finishes telling the story until the end of the movie. The conclusion to the Elephant King's tale is also weirdly less than satisfying for me. I don't know why it doesn't work. It is an emotional ending that tears down the barriers between fantasy and reality, but I don't really get what it is supposed to be. The movie presents it as a powerhouse moment, but it doesn't succeed as much as it should for me. Not to say that any of the animation or storytelling doesn't work. It just doesn't feel like it works as much as it should in the movie.
I don't want to go any deeper. The movie is absolutely beautiful and might be one of my favorite movies from this year. I don't know who would watch it in my inner circle, but I do want to talk about this movie desperately with someone in real life. Regardless, this one gets my full recommendation, even if you don't get to watch it before the Oscars.
Yeah, I'll agree with this one. This is a well deserved PG-13. It's got some uncomfortable stuff in it. That's really fun when you a teacher who shows this your classes every year. Multiple times a day, I hear language in songs and people wearing skimpy clothing dancing when showing this one. Also, if looking at the book in context of the movie, it is a story about extramarital affairs. If I had to step back, I guess the movie could have been more in your face because the movie was shooting for a PG-13 rating, without a doubt.
DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann
Baz Luhrmann tries too hard.
Oh, I have to write more? That's pretty much most of my review for the movie version of the book. I'm really going to have to watch what I write with this review because my boss loves everything F. Scott Fitzgerald. I bet she's reading this right now. Out of all the reviews I've written, this one actually has personal stakes. Regardless, I'm going to try to maintain my standards and review this honestly. Also, Hemingway rules. (Unless, of course, that involves me keeping my job. In that scenario, F. Scott Fitzgerald is the only real author that exists and I've never heard of Ernest Hemingway. I think he's the owner of some kind of tropical themed chain restaurant that closed in the early 2000s. Can't even make a decent tilapia, that guy.)
I used to be a big Baz Luhrmann fan back in the early 2000s, around the time that Hemingway's restaurant closed. I thought Moulin Rouge! was the best movie ever made. I watched that movie way too much. I was what they referred to as a "cool guy". The soundtrack would be blasting in my car. Then I watched a lot of movies that were considered classics. After I became a learned scholar of film, I revisited Moulin Rouge! as a blast from the past. That movie is a pile of hot garbage. I rewatched William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet and then watched Australia. Oh my goodness, Baz Luhrmann has no idea what subtlety means. Everything is just screamed at the audience. His films are the equivalent of writing in all caps. So how do I approach Gatsby knowing that I no longer like Luhrmann and, by proxy, seventeen year old me? I mean, I show the movie every year. I could be really embracing my inner and outer snob and show the Robert Redford version. It's on Netflix. I wouldn't even have to buy it. The thing is, the 2013 version gets a lot right. It has Baz Luhrmann's dirty gross filmmaking style all over it, but The Great Gatsby is a fun book to do that with. I would love, as a cinematic experience, to have a bunch of directors who have a very noticable film style and all have them adapt the same classic novel. I would love to have Martin Scorsese's The Great Gatsby and Wes Anderson's The Great Gatsby and Francis Ford Coppolla's The Great Gatsby. You'd have to name them with the directors, but that's something I'd kill to see. Anyway, I treat Lurhmann's Gatsby with that kind of attitude. He can't help but be himself sometimes and if I can accept it, the movie kind of works. It's not an absolute success. Like his other movies, he gets in the way of himself with his obsession with flash. Like Moulin Rouge! or Romeo + Juliet, the first fifteen minutes and the last five minutes are so over the top that it is just distracting. It's only when he focuses on the narrative that he gets things right.
From an English teacher's perspective, Luhrmann does something that I normally would criticize him for, but I like it in this case. There are moments where he is slavish to the novel. Except for the absolute beginning and the absolute end, he hits every beat of the Fitzgerald novel. Like, he hits little details that were important to the book as a whole, but make little sense to show in a film that is meant to be streamlined. Like, Gatsby catches the clock. From a literary perspective, that moment is key. But from a story that doesn't allow for beats to happen, Luhrmann decides to give this moment an odd amount of importance. I think that Luhrmann absolutely loves the book like my principal loves the book. He knows the value of that moment. My students also know the importance of that moment, which is awesome as an English teacher. But this might be more of an example of how Luhrmann gets carte blanche when it comes to movies. I don't know how gets it. Maybe its part of his contract or maybe he's just self-financing a chunk of the movie, but I can't imagine a studio being cool with some of the moments he stuck in the movie in respect for Fitzgerald. (I just realized that I'm writing a paragraph about how Baz Luhrmann, a guy seemingly impressed by his own brilliance, is respectful to Fitzgerald. This is the same movie that has a hip hop score and turned Leo raising a champagne glass into a meme.) Perhaps that's what makes this movie work better than the other works he has adapted. Romeo + Juliet felt like an experiment. It felt like he took a play that wasn't reaching teenagers and trying to see if he could make it cool for kids to like Shakespeare. From that perspective, there has to be a bit of disregard for the author in that case. He took something that he saw as boring and turned it cool. (I don't think he achieved it. I like Shakespeare and that movie is an abomination.) The same is true for Moulin Rouge! After all, opera is boring, but Moulin Rouge! isn't. It may not be a great movie anymore, but it isn't boring. And look, they're still singing. But Gatsby feels like he wants people to love Fitzgerald as much as he does and that's probably the best attitude to go in with.
The anachronisms are an interesting choice. I'm writing this to the soundtrack. If you haven't seen this movie, YouTube the soundtrack. You'll instantly get the tone of this movie. It is very intense and I think a better director could handle this choice with a bit more sophistication. I love the hip hop soundtrack. I even love the fact that it is blatantly anachronistic. But I hate the fact that, like much of Baz Luhrmann, it is showing off how clever it is. "Look how this works", the movie keeps screaming. There's one scene that goes a bit too far and that I sell the movie out. Dancing in the cars with champagne as Rhapsody in Blue is sampled was just a show of going too far. Part of this comes with the fact that almost every scene is ramped up to ten. I'm going to transition from the music being at a ten and segue into how having everything ramped up to ten kind of ruins the moments that deserve to be ten. The movie kind of peaks in the first half of the film with Gatsby's introduction. Leo raising the glass becomes the most interesting part of the movie, which is really weird because someone SPOILER DESPITE THE FACT THAT YOU SHOULD HAVE READ THIS BOOK BY NOW gets hit by a car on camera and Gatsby gets shot in a pool. But does that really matter if constant stimulus is being thrown at the camera? I have to believe that Luhrmann thinks that teenagers are in need of constant things to look at. He's probably not wrong, but it does wear a little thin when you are in an adult and you can handle boring scenes. The movie needs to be at a 3 sometimes for me to process everything that is happening. I like being able to be calm and collected. But that would make The Great Gatsby like every other adaptation of a literary classic and we can't have that going on. This is why the beginning and the end are so jarring. The movie goes out of its way to make a flashy beginning and end, grabbing the audience from the outset and leaving them emotionally vulnerable. This is where Luhrmann betrays Fitzgerald a bit. He thinks that his opening and closing are better than the novel's. This isn't necessarily a conscious choice, but it is a choice nonetheless. For a guy who clearly loves Gatsby, it is a bit of a shame to have him miss some central themes, especially when it comes to the end.
In terms of casting, I think I really like this cast. In my hypothetical experiment with the different filmmakers approaching the film, I'd love to have different casts. But I really like the choices in this movie. I never felt bad for Tobey Maguire before. There were many Spider-Man jokes, especially his delivery of "Pizza Time". (BTW, his lack of enthusiasm in that delivery is the perfect choice for that scene and you kids don't always get irony.) It's so bizarre that both Joel Edgerton and Jason Clarke are both in this movie. It's a Pullman / Paxton situation for me. But I really like Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. When I was a kid, I always had Robert Redford in that role, despite the fact that I never saw the movie. Redford always seemed like an adult in that situation. DiCaprio, despite being around his forties in this one, gives the movie a sense of the unadulterated (pun intended) hope that Gatsby really holds. It is easier to try to warn Leo's Gatsby of the fool-heartiness of his quest. We want to dissuade him and point out his mistakes. Redford, in my head, always seemed like a character who knew what he was doing, which isn't always Gatsby. Leo is a man with a plan and that plan doesn't always work. I like that in my Gatsby. Carey Mulligan too, (thank goodness Emily Mortimer is not in this movie or I was have had a double Paxton / Pullman to deal with) fills the role of Daisy fabulously. She is lovable when she is supposed to be and despicable when it comes time. That's excellent casting. They also seem to get the tone of the movie, so they go for it at every chance.
The Great Gatsby might be Baz Luhrmann's most successful film. I don't think I'll ever love it, but it isn't a bad watch. There are a lot of cringe worthy moments where I want to scream at the screen, "Take it down a bit". But I also admit that I'd prefer a director who takes chances and has a voice than a movie that is completely devoid of personality. What I really want is a director who makes choices and serves the narrative rather than his own ego.
PG-13 mainly because of subject matter. Vincent Van Gogh (probably) killed himself. A lot of this movie explores why someone would kill himself, which automatically puts it in a category of me not wanting to show my kids this movie until they are older. In terms of actual content, there is an unflattering word for "prostitute" that is thrown around once or twice, but I don't necessarily think that the language is anything to worry about. You can kind of see a painted version of Vincent Van Gogh's cut off ear and there is some mild violence. Oh, someone uses a crass version referring to male genitalia.
DIRECTORS: Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman
One of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who (I can't help myself) is "Vincent and the Doctor." In this episode, the Doctor and Amy travel back to meet Vincent Van Gogh, subsequently pronounce his name correctly and teach me the proper pronunciation, and save him from a monster. But one of the running themes in the movie is that depression isn't simple. Vincent Van Gogh was clinically depressed and would kill himself, regardless of the pretty things that were shown him. I get a little teary eyed by the end of the episode. I like Van Gogh. I think my wife loves Van Gogh. But I've never been a learned scholar of art. I'm in the "I know what I like camp" and that's about as far as I've taken it. The story of Vincent Van Gogh is not interesting because he was a talented painter. I find the world of Van Gogh interesting because he was a genius who dealt with bitter depression and that he never knew his genius in his lifetime. Loving Vincent is (pun intended) a love letter to Vincent Van Gogh that teeters on the line of something very dangerous.
What almost breaks and simultaneously makes the movie is that the story is almost presented as a murder investigation. Armand Roulin, portrayed by Douglas Booth, has been tasked with delivering Vincent Van Gogh's final letter to his brother, Theo, who is also dead. In the process, he aims to discover why Vincent Van Gogh killed himself. Over the course of the film, sometimes presented slightly Rashomon-style, he and the audience are led to believe that perhaps Vincent was murdered. This isn't way off the mark. Immediately after watching the movie, I did some Google searching and there are some seemingly credited scholars who forensically believe that Van Gogh was murdered. It isn't out of the ballpark. If this is true, yes, it should come to light. But there are also many people who say that Vincent Van Gogh committed suicide and that there is also evidence that supports that. The murder mystery makes the movie compelling. There's something to watch. At times, the movie feels a bit like a self-aware museum piece, discussing the history of Van Gogh with characters who are almost instructing. I'll get to that later. But the murder mystery gives the movie a real story. Instead of just looking at the character of Van Gogh, the murder gives the viewer something to examine and participate in. This might be the worst comparison I've made on this blog, but it could be a very watered down version of Zodiac. This is an unsolved mystery that will most likely stay unsolved. But presenting all of the facts at least gives people theories on which way to go. I like and hate this. In terms of storytelling, it was the right choice to make. There isn't much a dramatization of Vincent Van Gogh's life because it would just be a guy who was sad the whole movie. But it also slightly diminishes the mental illness that Van Gogh dealt with on a daily basis. I have to give the filmmakers some props. They do acknowledge often that Van Gogh was deeply troubled. It examines the ups and downs of personality disorders and says that he very well may have committed suicide. But the very idea of him being murdered is kind of conspiratorial. I remember when there was the spread of the conspiracy that Shakespeare never existed. People still hold to that idea today. I know that, regardless, Van Gogh's life was troubled. But I don't want to pull away from the idea that mental illness needs a support system and it seems like really shaky ground to mettle with. The filmmakers walked the tightrope as well as they could, but I don't know if I would have touched it had I the choice.
I mentioned that this kind of felt like a museum piece and I think that might be the movie's real weak spot. When I say "museum piece", I'm referring to low-budget reenactments that were never really meant to be considered traditional films. There is some major talent in this movie. Between Chris O'Dowd and Saoirse Ronan (who actually delivers way better than she did in Lady Bird), there is some legitimacy to the movie. But the thing that really hurts it is that the filmmakers really relied on the rotoscoping to sell the movie. I was going to have this whole section on how beautiful the painting is and that the rotoscoping looks fantastic. It really does. The painting look to the movie is what drew attention to the movie and I can't blame them. But the directors kind of knew that. They were making the first oil painting movie and every frame was going to look like a Van Gogh painting. That's a cool idea. The problem is that the film wasn't shot like a movie. It often felt hampered by its own idea. There is just a perfect storm of problems that occur with the concept of making every frame a Van Gogh. They used Van Gogh's actual paintings for locations in the film. This really limits the world. There's no playfulness with the camera. Rather, it almost seems like the characters are reverse Roger Rabbited into the movie. It's that style of greenscreen acting that just looks so artificial. I don't think that it necessarily a rotoscoping problem. I remember A Scanner Darkly being really cool with the camera movement. But that style of filmmaking is still heavily based on a gimmick. The film is serving the gimmick. The gimmick is cool. I will never deny that. But the movie is just jumping from location to location and being super economical with their shots. They know that every frame has to be painted over, which means that it has that old school, predigital logic of not wasting a single frame. That's cool in some ways, but also it means playing it extremely safe with every single shot. Every shot has purpose and that can't be the best attitude to have when making a movie. Like most gimmicky visual masterpieces, there is a weak spot. In the case of Loving Vincent, it is the actual direction. Don't let the prettiness do all of the heavy lifting. Make the best gosh darn movie possible and then make it super pretty.
I watched the movie twice (kind of). The second time I was pretty distracted. I really like the movie and I do think that it is a fun experiment. But this is almost more about the experiment than the actual movie itself. Not to be treading into blasphemous territory, but the movie had elements of the Star Wars prequels that were not the best. The concept of meeting the various people in Vincent's paintings was an interesting one. I think it is a cool concept and works on paper (or canvas). But it got to be like a big ol' cameo show. How is the next person going to be integrated. Instead of living characters, we kind of got archetypes. The exception to this generality was Saoirse Ronan's Margaurite Gachet and Jerome Flynn's Dr. Gachet. So really, just the Gachets. These characters had rich storylines and were integral to the plot. It didn't hurt that they are both remarkable actors who gave their characters a wealth of complexity, but the stories really revolved around these two. The other characters were almost forced into the story. Even Armand is a bit of a waste. There is an attempt to give him depth with his initial annoyance with his task, but this is only skin deep and I'm a little bummed out about it. Some of my favorite detective stories are when the detective himself is as complex as the story he is unfolding. Armand is simply an avatar for the viewer. He is a blank slate (kind of pun intended because I avoided the canvas thing again) when he could be something far more. There's a moment when Armand bursts out in anger and reveals his big theory about how Vincent died. It felt really tacked on to the character and just a bad choice. He had done little to earn that outburst, so when it came, it just felt cheap. Again, I think this isn't the actor's fault so much as it is the directors' faults. There is this rush to get the story out that the character development isn't as solid as it really needed to be.
This is a fun experience and an emotional look into Vincent Van Gogh's life. It is moving, but it isn't full. I think I heard about this from a viral video on Facebook a few years ago and that is kind of the same depth that I give the film as a whole. I acknowledge that the movie is absolutely gorgeous looking and I'm so glad that I've seen it. The story is a pretty smart one, but I don't think it was the one I would want to tell. But the direction is remarkably blah. It is safe and uninspired. It's so odd to see one element of the film succeed only to have another element simply checking off boxes. I might revisit this one in a couple of years to see if I can watch it outside of the context of the Academy Awards, but I think that there is some extra lifting that needs to be done with the movie.
The seniors are on retreat, so I used this time to organize their class notes. If you are taking this class or are just curious what we study, visit the "Mr. H's Class Notes" page by clicking the menu button at the top left or simply click here.
I thought there was only one non-R Best Picture nominee this year. I'm sorry, The Post, for assuming you were R. There was really nothing R about you. But I also have to say that there wasn't much that was PG-13 about you either. Yeah, you threw a few s-bombs in there. I'm sure that was just an attempt to stay kind of edgy. But you aren't an edgy movie, The Post. More like White Toast. (And that, right there, was the moment I became a real film critic.) PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
I can't win with this review. I liked it better than everyone I respect. I hated it more than everyone who loved it. What can I do with that? My biggest takeaway is that I've already seen a better version of this movie when it was called All the President's Men. Heck, HISTORICAL SPOILER ALERT, the movie teases this almost as a prequel to All the President's Men. It's like Samuel L. Jackson showing up at the end of The Av--you know what? I've used that joke too many times. It's like one of the other blatant teases of another film, but I'm too lazy to actually figure out what that other film is. (How's that for ensuring that my writing stays in the blogosphere?)
This is the Academy Award nominee that I was least excited to see. It reminded me of Spotlight based on the trailers. I'm kind of right and I'm kind of wrong about that review. For those who don't remember, Spotlight took Best Picture, I think. Like Spotlight, these are stories that would be better served as documentaries. I talk about this quite a bit on the podcast, so I won't go too deep here. I get why biopics like this are made. Documentaries are for the snobby elite. They can't really get nominated for the Academy Awards and no one really sees them. The problem with these kinds of movies is that they aren't necessarily cinematic enough. I think Spielberg fights against this impulse with The Post and good for him. But these kinds of movies, especially when it comes to what I'm now referring to as "reporter movies" is someone getting off the phone and infodumping the crap out of some stuff he just heard on the phone. It kind of sounds like this:
Guy 1: I just got off the phone with my guy from the White House.
Guy 1: He says he heard about our guy meeting with a man from the Nicaragua thing three months before Ivanovich says he had received the telegraph from Bahrain.
[Editor then takes the Lord's name in vain and there's a discussion about the necessity of publishing this]
I'm kind of right. That's most of the movie. Okay, I made up the details, but that's how all of these movies tend to be. There's something riveting about that for a certain amount of time. It makes you feel like you are somehow important, listening to these conversations with important men about important men. But then you should realize that you could be watching a movie about the Ivanovich and the Nicaragua thing instead of hearing second or third hand about it. A documentary would give you interviews and actual copies of the documents so you could interpret it for yourself. Why do I need Tom Hanks pretending to be someone else to do it for me? It's because people don't watch documentaries. I thought the content of Spotlight was necessary to cover, but dramatizing it just seemed like a huge waste. There's nothing cinematic about the experience. Like I mentioned, Spielberg has to be somewhat aware of this. He's letting his camera play like there's no tomorrow. I pulled out my phone in the theater (like a monster) to check IMDB to see who had directed this because the look of the movie felt familiar. After I saw that it was Spielberg, I realized it had his thumbprint all over it. The color tinting, the performances, the pacing stuff. It was all there. I wonder why Spielberg has slowed down on the summer blockbuster and focused on the Academy Award. Has he gotten a Best Director award? (Wikipedia tells me he got it for Saving Private Ryan.) It just seems like he is fighting for it. I know that he's directing Ready Player One, but that seems few and far between.
The thing that might frustrate me more about this movie is that I don't really want another Nixon movie. Not only have I felt that this movie has been made about newspaper men taking down Nixon, I feel like Spielberg has made this movie before. He hasn't, but Zemekis touched on it pretty nicely with Forrest Gump. Nixon always seems to be our allegory for when the government isn't functioning correctly. I think that filmmakers should be going after a government that they are unhappy with, but I think we need to start being more creative with our veiled allegories. The Post tries so hard to stress about the importance of a free press and I respect that. But touching on this one time in history with Vietnam and Richard Nixon is just getting old. The message has been told. It has been heard loud and clear. The problem with tapping the same well, despite the fact that the message gets old, is that no one really wants to listen to it anymore. It becomes preachy. I almost started this review with the phrase, "That old chestnut" because this exact movie has been made before. In this case, it was made with some of my favorite actors, but that's not a good excuse. (I know, Meryl Streep is in this one. I'm going to talk about her in a moment.) But a lot of them are in this movie because they get along with Spielberg. (Holy crap, Tom Hanks is also Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks, I like you too much to consider you to be obsessive with Vietnam.) Speaking about the actors of this movie, putting David Cross and Bob Odenkirk in a dramatic film seems like a choice. This is a dramatic piece. There's, like, zero jokes in this one. Okay, there are lighter moments, but this is kind of a serious movie filled with serious people. How are you supposed to ask me to take you seriously when you stand Bob right next to David for many scenes? Like a monster again, I texted a photo of the two of them standing next to each other to my friend Dan in Canada. This might be an indication of how engrossed I was in the movie. I couldn't stop watching it from an outside perspective. While I wasn't exactly distracted, I kept watching it like I was watching a movie. That's a problem because that's not what Spielberg wanted me to do. He wanted me to fight the system alongside him. I didn't. I was looking up technical specifications and taking photos of Bob and David to send to Canada. I wasn't disengaged from the film, but I wasn't strictly locked into it either.
Let's talk Meryl Streep. The past year has had me spouting vitriol about American treasure Meryl Streep. Last year, I just about had it with her. She made Florence Foster Jenkins, a movie that continues to enrage me to this day. That movie was bad, but Meryl Streep got an Academy Award nomination for that piece of trash. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes, someone turns in a good performance in a bad movie. This was not one of those times. Meryl Steep was terrible in that movie and I want to erase that. I questioned whether I should be watching the complete nominees based on that film. Meryl Streep was good in The Post. In fact, she was really good in it. Her part might have been the most riveting part of the movie. I'll even go as far as to say that she should have been nominated. But this might be more telling about the fact that the Academy needs to stop nominating her. It is coming across as a running gag. I was really about to write her off. I almost didn't watch this one and I will say that Meryl Streep was one of the reasons that I almost didn't. Her performances have been so safe that I couldn't sign up for another one. Then she turned this in. I'm not saying it is the performance of a lifetime, but because the Academy kept nominating her, I actually grew a distaste for her. It was starting to cry wolf and I almost missed a time when she was there. She's good. I don't know if she deserves the award, but she definitely deserves the nomination. This isn't a bad movie, so I won't say that it is a good performance in bad film. I will say that she's better than the rest of the film. The odd thing is that I don't consider the performances by anyone bad. I just don't think that a lot of the movie requires range when it comes to their infodumping.
The Post overall was okay. I'll go as far as to say that it was solid. I just think that filmmaking needs to evolve past this kind of movie. Today's Westerns don't look like John Wayne movies. Same thing with war. Dunkirk was a new kind of war movie completely. Why are we handing in the same kinds of journalism movies? Let's push ourselves and find a way to either make this a documentary or make it something completely new.
TV-MA...and boy-oh-boy is it MA. It's a movie about the creation of National Lampoon, a magazine infamous for raunchy content. As part of that, the movie tries to mirror the vibe of the magazine, presenting nudity, language, and drug use in spades. It is also about the creation of Animal House and Caddyshack. Have you seen those movies? Yeah, A Futile and Stupid Gesture is Animal House / Caddyshack TV-MA.
DIRECTOR: David Wain
I just went on a long rant about how biopics are problematic and there aren't any that really have the value that they need. I'm a real turd sometimes, you know that? I also really ripped into Wonder, a movie about a kid with a facial deformity that I thought was dumb. I now just feel absolutely terrible because I'm about to preach about A Futile and Stupid Gesture, a movie about some real terrible people who make me laugh a lot. What is wrong with me? At times, I go on and on about the value of sentimentality and vulnerability. Then there are these times, where crassness reigns supreme. I don't know. Don't listen to anything I say. But do, because I would be disheartened if people stopped reading these things again.
It would help to go into a little context about why I don't think biopics work as well as they should. When I started preaching about Darkest Hour being a very well made movie, but ultimately suspense free, it was because we know the story of Churchill. Darkest Hour dramatized those events, gave some possibly unknown details about Churchill while imagining others. But at the end of the day, we know that Churchill is going to be a key figure in defeating Adolf Hitler. The dramatic premises are always kind of flawed because we know almost exactly how the movie is going to end. There is no suspense. But then I watched A Futile and Stupid Gesture. Oh man, I both really want to go into spoilers, but I also know that some people might consider watching this based on this review. I'm very full of myself and I am convinced that these words have meaning. (Actual spoiler: They don't.) Wain adapted a story that works by itself, but made it better. The thing that is that Doug Kenney, the focus of this biopic, is not commonly known. We know that National Lampoon existed and we can recognize the name, but the name has been associated with the Vacation movies and this movie doesn't touch on any of that. Rather, this focuses on the birth of the magazine and that information isn't exactly commonplace. The story is interesting and I don't know if I've been living under a rock when it comes to the beat-by-beats of the whole story. But this is where a good director can adapt a work of nonfiction and bring suspense back into the story.
Wain, and I'm going to leave it up to you to discover why this matters, uses Martin Mull to play a contemporary version of Kenney. Mull is fantastic as an unreliable narrator, but it fits into the story quite nicely. Kenney, with his drug and alcohol fueled past, wouldn't always be the best narrator for an audience that craves authenticity. The reason being is that he doesn't actually remember details of what happens. The biopic, then, is this marvelously meta presentation of things that may or may not have happened. Mull as Kenney is self-aware of the film around him. He points out inaccuracies and discusses the role of film as a means of conveying information in an entertaining way. Sometimes when a movie breaks the fourth wall, it's a means of being cute or clever. Rather, when A Futile and Stupid Gesture breaks the fourth wall, it is meant to give a greater context for the events in the story. After all, real life rarely follows act structure, so Mull's commentary act as footnotes to the events on screen. I love this so much. Mull becomes a running commentary, watching the movie with you. But he's funny, so it just adds to the whole mood of the picture. And since the movie is painfully meta, the casting of the movie only adds to the film. Unlike Churchill, who has a famous personality, Doug Kenney was always the man behind the page. He played characters on his radio show, but rarely was it Doug himself. This leaves Will Forte to do whatever he wants with the character. I have a feeling that Wain's direction was in the ballpark of "Do what's funny" because Forte often relies on many of his comic deliveries to represent Kenney's voice.
But the casting is inspired. Every time a famous comedian from the '70s would appear in the movie, some other contemporary actor would fill in that spot. I don't want to put a list here, but if you are just curious without having to watch the movie, look at the IMDB page. It is fabulous. The weird one that weirdly works is Domhnall Gleeson. It's weird that I feel like I discovered him in In Time, but he's just all over the place. Also, kudos to Gleeson for having such a good American accent that I didn't recognize him with a wig on for the first portion of the movie. (My reaction? "Hey, that guy kinda looks like Domhnall Gleeson." Aces, Tim. Aces.) There is one casting choice that makes me fall in love with this movie than anything else. It's the guy who plays Chevy Chase. Now, my wife disagrees with me on this one. She said that casting choice was too distracting (see how coy I am with avoiding spoilers? You're welcome), but I thought it was a wonderful send up. The movie doesn't necessarily over-rely on how much the actor looks like the real person so much as leans heavily into someone who can portray the essence of a character. This, far and away, is the best choice for the film. Every time a new celeb showed up, I watched carefully to see if they got the mannerisms right. Based on my limited knowledge of these celebrities inner lives, I couldn't stop chuckling. (I watch a lot of pop culture, guys. They got it.)
I'm kind of always impressed by Wain's restraint. I always associate Wain with Wet Hot American Summer (one of my favorite comedies), Stella, and The State. The watermark on Wain's comedy is absurdism. It's absolutely bonkers, but I keep forgetting that he knows when to rein that in and when to let it fly. A Futile and Stupid Gesture is a masterclass at maintaining balance. The movie is a biopic and deals with the darkness that Kenney dealt with. These moments are tonally perfect and addresses a seriousness that haunted this comedian. It then uses comedy not to relieve the audience from what has been seen, but to contextualize it in the world of Doug Kenney. What happens is this back-and-forth between the darkness and the light. It never becomes preachy; it never becomes absurd. Instead, what it does right is that it becomes risky. The choices made throughout the film are inspired and this might be my favorite biopic. I can't help but compare it to American Splendor or Man on the Moon, both of which tell traditional stories in non-traditional ways. Kenney's story is really good. Yeah, it's about how fame corrupts and we've seen that before. But it is in the context of a man who was relatively unknown himself, despite the fame of his creations. I love this movie and I might actually give it the honored acclaim of giving it a rewatch. It is offensive as get out, so I can't recommend it to anyone. But it is also a brilliant movie and I loved every minute of it.
PG, mainly because this movie is really aimed at kids. It isn't even attempting to appeal to adults. I think that's what the rating system really is. It is not a content censor, so much as "This is who the movie is for." It doesn't matter how appropriate the movie actually is. In this case, you'd be a monster if you thought it was PG-13. The movies and its audience is allowed to publicly judge you.
DIRECTOR: Stephen Chbosky
This movie, guys. Like, this movie. People don't know this, but I might actually be a bad person. Whenever I get tricked into clicking an Upworthy video, it asks me if I want orphans to be eaten by sharks or something. You know what I say? "Yes." Every. Time. Heck, I'll cook them up first because I hate emotional manipulation. I can't stand it. Oh my goodness, this movie just gets me grumpy. I know. I'm taking a stand against the movie about the kid with a facial deformity, but got really excited about Black Panther. I'm a bad person and everyone should absolutely know it.
I watched it because it got a makeup credit. I don't know why I think that the technical awards are good movies. I keep getting lower and lower on that list and assume that the movie is still going to have the same quality as the awards higher in that list. It's silly. But I know that Wonder is a pretty popular novel and my daughter is reading it. I read the first twenty pages and it isn't terrible, especially considering that it is aimed for kids. But the movie wrecks what little goodwill I have going for this movie. First of all, the subject matter could be handled well. I've seen this story before. Admittedly, I haven't seen the specific subject matter handled before, mainly because I'm instantly associating it with Man Without a Face. (Remember that one? You thought I was going to go with Elephant Man or Mask. Nope, Mel Gibson. Man Without a Face.) But the big problem with Wonder is that it is not exactly aiming for a unity or for interpretation. It is going for the cry-and-feel-better moments. These problems are not the problems that Auggie would actually have. Rather, they seem overwhelming, but they are completely contextualized in a world that acts nothing like our real world. I think I'm going to have to go into SPOILERS, mainly because I don't think anyone is on the fence about renting this movie. I highly doubt that I'm the lynch pin that decides who sees this movie and who doesn't. Auggie's problems are real. I don't mind a story about a boy who has Auggie's deformity. I think there's probably a bit of meat in there (pun definitely not intended). Even reading the book, the content is the same, but I don't get the same tone. It's just that the world adapts to Auggie's condition in the most Hollywoodish way I've seen in a long time. This movie doesn't belong in 2017. This is a 1993 movie if I've ever seen one. The movie is loaded with tropes and archetypes and the movie coasts on those tropes and archetypes. Rich bully? Yup. Does he learn his lesson about friendship by the end? Sure. Best friend messes up big time? Okay. Do they forgive each other? Yes. There's actually a scene towards the end of this movie where Auggie is given an award (that the audience has yet to hear about before this point) for being an outstanding student. The entire student body claps and cheers for Auggie. C'mon. Everybody claps for Auggie? For coming to school? The principal, played by great actor / real life demon Mandy Patinkin, actually states that the award normally goes to that student who does the most service. How much would it suck to be that kid? You bust your hump all year to help others and the one time you thought you might get a "thank you", the kid who everyone's always paying attention to gets an award for being different looking. No, thank you, movie. Make Auggie a kid who cares about others instead of himself and we have a stew going.
The movie has a cool concept behind it that perhaps could have been executed better. Rather than just focusing on Auggie, which would have been understandable, the movie breaks and shows the events of the film from other people's perspective. I really like this idea. Auggie's life affects others and that's one concept that I haven't really seen explored in depth. The problems with the actual portrayal of these problems is where I kind of get disappointed. Immediately after the character breaks (the movie shows the name of the person to focus on), there is a three minute focus on the events from that character's perspective. When the movie focuses on his sister, Via, the film rewinds and we get her narration about the events going on. But the following sequence of events doesn't necessarily stay on Via. Rather than Rashomoning the whole thing, the movie jumps back to its normal narrative and that chapter really isn't about Via. It just gives a two second wrapup of the events from another perspective. Most of the movie is still about Auggie. There is one character, Jack Will, of whom I'd like to hear more. His name came up and I learned very little about Jack Will's perspective. I just got some of his economic background. It felt a little lazy and didn't really give the message it was trying to convey.
Also, does Owen Wilson have to keep putting down dogs in movies? Sorry, that's all I wanted to say about that.
There is this weird message about the role of parents. I don't know what the movie was really trying to get across. Julia Roberts probably should stop consider playing parents and start transitioning into grandparents. If Selma Hayek is playing Aunt May, Julia Roberts can play fun older aunt. I know. She's only 51. Double standard. But the movie really tried to make Julia Roberts look glamorous and I've never really been a fan of hers. Okay, I really liked her in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. (By the way, I know that me ripping into Julia Roberts is the moment when some people actually agreed that I was a bad person. It's okay that I rip a heartwarming movie about a disfigured kid apart, but Julia Roberts is too far? Who is the bad person now?) But I'm being a hypocrite and I retract everything. Owen Wilson is the same age and I don't know why I had a double standard. In my head, Owen Wilson is 37. He's not. He's 50. I take it all back. But I have bigger problems with the portrayal of Mom. Mom is built to be this complex character. I like that. She's not portrayed as all knowing. She's often frustrated and doesn't know how to handle situations. I like that. This movie has enough feel good moments without adding the perfect mom who knows how to save everyone. Good on you, movie. But you couldn't stick the landing with that characters. There were so many issues brought up about Mom's place in the family. Dad is clearly secured as the good guy. That trope is still there. But Mom is confronted by her daughter for being a negligent mom when it comes to anyone but Auggie. But that problem is quickly resolved when Mom comes to the play. (By the way, the cartwheels that the movie quickly jumps through to get Via into a play were hilariously unrealistic.) Mom and Via have so much to discuss and work through, but the movie implied they were going to be great from that point on. Nope. That's not how that works. All of the characters, that's not how they work. Via as the good sister is cliche. Miranda and Via's breakup being fixed? No. People don't come to those decisions that quickly. Every single choice by Via's boyfriend is the most bizarre. There characters are paper thin. I don't think I've seen flatter characters in a movie before. People don't act the way that the movie Wonder thinks they do and it is frustrating to watch.
The crazy thing is that I'm going to watch this movie again with my kid. She's going to finish the book and I'm going to put a smile on my face and watch it with her. I hate sappy. But I think that Olivia should have sappy from time to time. I hope she questions things, but I'm not going to bring up any of this to her. If she asks if this is how real life happens, I'm going to be an adult and balance the fact that the world can be a really mean place, but it still has wonderful things in it (pun intended). I just can't see the world presented in Wonder as anything close to resembling reality.
I'm going to give you a guess. It's a live action Marvel Studios film. What could it be? Could it be G? No. G doesn't exist anymore, especially for live action films. Could it be PG? Nope. Could it be R? I mean, we have Deadpool, but that's not Marvel Studios. Of course this movie is PG-13. I now took up a bunch of lines of filler. You're welcome for this quality writing.
DIRECTOR: Ryan Coogler
It's another one of those podcast ones. We just threw up the podcast yesterday, so I ask that you give it a listen. I can't wait to watch this one again. Marvel is seriously crushing it and I just keep gushing and gushing about how great these movies are getting while the DCEU is getting more and more meh. It is making me a full on Marvel Zombie. I know that there are those who will defend the DCEU tooth and nail, but Black Panther is all about how to make a franchise feel fresh despite hitting a lot of the tropes that the MCU has been criticized for. I'm not sure about this because I want to watch both movies again, but Black Panther might knock Captain America: The Winter Soldier as the best film in the series.
I was really worried. The early reviews for Black Panther were so good. They were too good. It was being touted as a Shakespearean epic. It was being labeled as the best. I've been there with the Marvel U. Marvel has been on such a streak lately that I have learned to take that with a bit of hyperbole. The Marvel movies have been amazing, but to say that each one is the best is problematic. When I started watching Black Panther, the first twenty minutes didn't warm to me. In fact, I was really worried that I was going to be in a Wonder Woman situation. I was wondering if people needed it to be amazing, so they were just saying that it was. Again, I enjoyed Wonder Woman, but it is a fairly generic superhero movie that succeeds because it is simply functional. Black Panther had a lot of that going on in the first twenty minutes. The first twenty minutes spend so densely discuss the background and political background of the Black Panther mythos. Wakanda is so important to understanding Black Panther that the movie, admittedly wisely, spends a lot of time establishing why Wakanda matters. For a guy who already knows the ins and outs of Black Panther because I've been reading the books for years, this came off as boring as sin. But then I thought about it. This is Black Panther's big debut. His story is way more complex than getting bitten by a radioactive spider. The movie really needed this. There was a turning point in the movie where the main plot takes off and separates itself from its setting and that's when I realized that everything I watched was super important not only to establish the character, but to make the plot make a lick of sense. Sometimes I have to be made aware that everyone isn't a nerd like I am and if I want more of these movies, sometimes they have to be made more accessible.
And the movie is accessible. Coogler does something nearly impossible. He takes a complex political climate of a fictional universe and makes the eighteenth movie of a franchise in ten years something completely accessible to new audiences. I have a student who hasn't seen a Marvel movie. I would say that she's living under a rock, but she's seen every nomination for Best Picture this year. She went into Black Panther as her first movie. (She may have seen The Avengers. I may concede my point.) She loved it. She knew everything that was going on. That's insane that Coogler didn't take the easy way out and simply assume that everyone's seen the movies that everyone's seen. That's genius. People can go see Black Panther without having any understanding of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But it isn't so accessible that it isn't interesting to people who know the MCU. The world has been established for people. There is a deeper appreciation for T'Challa assuming you knew Captain America: Civil War. The movie, and I can't establish how genius this really is, builds upon the other movie while presenting something that might actually be fresh. I can't say "wholly new" because the movie does use tropes only to subvert them, but Black Panther feels both closely related to the rest of the movies while feeling completely new. I keep using the following as my description for Black Panther: It's a sci-fi Game of Thrones. The other movies are nowhere near hitting anything close to that description. But it also feels like the other movies in the franchise. I talk about this on the podcast a bit, but what is really interesting is that Marvel took the thing that they were most criticized for and fixed it. I thought they'd avoid it, but they just dove deeper and made it right.
I'm talking about the villain problem that Marvel movies have been criticized for. Many, many of the Marvel movies have a villain that is a mirror image of the hero. Erik Killmonger is the mirror of T'Challa. He goes as far as to become the Black Panther himself. (It's in the trailer. I'm not counting it as a spoiler.) That got old in other movies. I think the worst example is Ant-Man. But Killmonger is the closest to T'Challa, but he also makes the most sense for a villain. Killmonger works because he's kind of right. This is the fine line that Coogler had to walk while making this movie. Killmonger is always the villain, but he might be the most sympathetic villain at times. I don't want to give too much away. The podcast does that already, but Killmonger's ideology is noble, but he enjoys the violence element too much. His motivations throughout the film actually make the hero become a better hero. T'Challa starts the movie as a hero and he never loses that status. But he also makes T'Challa see the flaws of his own personality. I've seen movies and read books where the noble protagonist has to question if he is a good man. T'Challa never goes through that, but rather, through his encounter with Killmonger, becomes a better hero. It's so weird that the entire MCU might be centered around T'Challa sooner than Steve Rogers in the future. Killmonger's confrontation with T'Challa gives Black Panther more value. That's super cool. There's a real meta element to that. If I told you a decade ago that there was a Black Panther movie, that might have been considered uncool. Other people of color have had superhero movies and they tended not to be amazing. (Sorry, Blade, I really like you. But you are just about being cool.) The movie itself might be a metaphor for Black Panther's cultural importance.
The movie is socially relevant as all get-out. It is an important movie to see because it gets into some really complex stuff. (If you want to hear my thoughts on this one, please listen to the podcast. I can't stress this enough. That's where my spoilers are.) But the movie itself is great. The action is absolutely fantastic. There's this scene in Korea that is absolutely perfect. I know, it's a car chase. It's not Vanishing Point or anything, but it still works as great superhero action. I think Feige realized that Black Panther really works as a high speed action hero. There's the scene in Civil War where T'Challa is racing cars on foot. Adding the technology that the movie adds makes the action sequences even better. The fight sequences are absolutely fantastic. Occasionally it can be hard to tell what's going on, especially when you have two characters who look almost completely identical in matching costumes, but it's never for long. Coogler does some cool camera and costume stuff to make sure that you aren't confused for too long. Also, every character is great. I know people are crapping on Agent Ross. It will take a lot for me to sell out Martin Freeman in a functional performance. But the star of the movie is Letitia Wright as Shuri. The movie is less funny than the other Marvel movies, but Shuri not only adds a nice dose of humor to the movie, but she also is a complex character who has this rich future history in the Black Panther canon. An honorable mention also goes to Danai Guria as Okoye. I often found myself rooting for her than I was for Chadwick Boseman's Black Panther. Her fight sequences -and pardon the colloquialism -were DOPE. Like, so great. I know that is a very simple look at the movie, but every time she was on screen, I knew something was going to go down. Remember when Legolas did stuff in Lord of the Rings? Same deal. If she was on screen, something amazing was going to happen. I loved her.
This movie is so good, but I think I managed to write a pretty solid review without delving into too many spoilers. I can't wait for this to hit Blu-ray. I hope I can convince Lauren to see it before then, but we still have to knock out Phantom Thread. Regardless, it's an absolutely fantastic film.
Also, hooray! It's first review of film from 2018! I think Logan was my first last year, so superheroes in February is the way to go.
Unrated. I remember when I was a little kid, I walked in on this movie when my parents were watching it and no one shooed me away. Sure, people die in the movie, but in a 1942 way. I also remember being bored silly because I was a little kid and the movie was black and white and only in one location for most of the film. Man, little kids and their tastes are the worst. There's some kissing. There's some Nazis. There are no kissing Nazis.
DIRECTOR: Michael Curtiz
Man, I hate reviewing movies from the canon that I love. There's nothing to say. Everyone knows that this movie is nearly perfect. There was one documentary about the history of film that I considered showing my film class that kind of dumps on this movie, thinking of it more as a movie than a piece of art, but that's as slammed as it gets. If I have to slam this movie, which I really don't and don't care to, I would have to agree that the movie is really the product of Hollywood. But I also don't think of Hollywood as a bad word, so there's absolutely nothing wrong with this movie.
I watch this movie a lot. It is the movie that I show as my example of Hollywood in the 1940s because it checks off a lot of the boxes of things that we study. I also think that everyone should see this movie. The thing about it is that I think that everyone who has the patience to sit down for this movie with an open mind tends to leave thinking it is really great. I don't count people who go in begrudgingly. They hate everything and I'm not going to cowtow to that bullheaded market. Rather, for being an adaptation of a stage play that takes place primarily in one location, the movie is pretty great. It also is the anchor for my theory that every movie that plays "La Marseillaise" is a great movie. (Although my kids watched Mr. Peabody and Sherman in the car the other day and I heard the instrumental in there. I can't judge that one yet because I have yet to actually watch that movie.) There's something special about this movie and I think it is in the fact that it really doesn't ever misstep. My students would disagree. They think that the most memorable ending in film history is a bad one, but they liked the movie over all. I have to write them off as "they're young and they don't know any better." Casablanca is one of those movies where just every element comes together to make a perfect film. It's really odd, too, because I watched Casablanca in a new light and it does share traits with other movies that don't have the same staying power as other movies. (I know people are going to say that these other movies are lesser films. They aren't. I actually like a lot of these movies to death, but I am using the fame as a point of comparison.) Casablanca shares many of the traits as both the film noir and the romantic drama. I can't think of why Casablanca works so much more famously than Now, Voyager. I love Now, Voyager, but I admit that there are times that I tune out. I think it is because Casablanca takes the epic romance and places it against a setting that is oddly patriotic.
SPOILERY BECAUSE YOU'VE DEFINITELY HAD ENOUGH TIME AND OPPORTUNITY TO SEE THIS: Rick and Ilsa's story works because, at the end of the day, the relationship is the perk of the story. The world exists and keeps existing outside of their love. On the most superficial level possible, Casablanca taps into an overused trope: the impossible romance. I'm thinking of so many movies where guy loves girl, but girl is married. In the romance, we are meant to get the happy ending. The husband ends up evil or terribly flawed, allowing the relationship between the new suitor and the lady to thrive. He becomes this shining knight, who (either justly or no) saves his mate from a life of cruelty or sneezing. (I still hate you so much, Sleepless in Seattle, for this very reason.) But Victor Lazlo isn't bad. If anything, he is a saint in the true sense of the term. He isn't prideful or vain, but rather wants to help others. Traditionally, this character would help others at the expense of his wife, but he does not do that. He considers her needs equal to those around him. Lazlo also understands the insanity of war. Instead of reacting emotionally, he reacts sympathetically to Ilsa's situation. Not even fully understanding it, he allows that Ilsa has something going on and does not press her. Contrasting this to Rick, Lazlo has all of the answers. The only reason that we are really rooting for Rick is that he is the protagonist of the piece. Okay, that's not the only reason. Rick, too, has been slighted. But Rick feels more like we do. We want to get angry and spiteful towards Lazlo. Curtiz never paints Lazlo as the villain of the piece, but rather as the impediment from the protagonist's happiness. Rick starts the narrative as unhappy, but stable. He is then thrown into turmoil, still unhappy but chaotic. His rule set is thrown out the window because of Lazlo's and Ilsa's arrival. From a storytelling perspective, getting rid of Lazlo is the course of the story. From a goals perspective, Lazlo is the external conflict. But what makes Casablanca interesting is that Rick cannot destroy something that is actually good. What comes across as a traditional love story is actually a battle for Rick's broken soul.
Think about all of those "soul-saving" movies. They often come across as heavy handed and sappy. There's nothing really sappy about Casablanca, but it is a tale about the true nature of romance. It is about self-sacrifice. Everyone is constantly willing to sacrifice their own happiness for the others, which is an interesting way to look at love. I can't say that the movie isn't romantic. It is amazingly romantic. I get all choked up over it as a romance movie. But what makes Rick such an interesting character is that there is this really organic transition from someone who wouldn't help another person regardless of moral need to being a hero of the revolution once again. Looking at his relationship with Ugarte shows Rick's detached nature. He is not a bad man at any point in the story, but he also does not see the need to take risks. There's this scene where he helps this girl win at craps and that's such a small telling moment. Rick's entire character is spilled on the screen and at no point does it get preachy. It's so odd to see this character who is clearly deserving of love due to his changes understand the true nature of love: a woman is not a prize. Maybe I'm giving the movie a 21st Century morality where it really doesn't intend to have one, but the movie works for that reason. I could keep going with this, but I'm going to point out something that history doesn't exactly support.
Louis is kind of gross. I get it. We all got woke only, like, yesterday. But Louis is pretty much a sexual predator. I don't think I ever saw Louis in that light until my students pointed it out. Every time I watched Casablanca, I knew that Louis wasn't a good guy. But Louis is actually an absolutely horrible human being. He's just an extremely likable awful person. Louis does change for the better at the end, but his change is so lightswitchy. I'm thinking of how that beautiful friendship is going to end up and I have to be hopeful. But if the movie is actually telling me anything is that Louis is just going to go whichever way the wind blows. That's an extremely cynical interpretation and I'm not exactly proud of that. But again, I watched this with a new light. It also helps that I've seen this movie a billion times so I'm allowed to watch a little more critically. But let's establish: Louis as a character doesn't really work today because he might be a rapist.
This movie is still so great. I get why it is a classic. While I love Citizen Kane, I never really have a good time watching it. Casablanca is a great movie all around. The performances, while kind of dated, are perfect. I don't want more nuance from this movie than Bogart or Bergman offer. I like the complex storyline and the fact that the movie chose the riskier ending out of all of them. The story works on this absolutely perfect level and I can't wait to show my students the movie again next year. This might be my favorite movie to show, perhaps tied only with Singin' in the Rain. Considering that I started this review commenting on how little I'm going to have to say, I'm pretty proud. When I love a movie this much, I guess I can expound on some greater ideas. Yay, me, I guess. Regardless, I'm going to have "As Time Goes By" stuck in my head for the next month, so you're welcome.
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.