PG, but 1984 PG. We got away with murder when we were kids. Things could be wildly, wildly inappropriate and they would just get a PG rating. Mainly, we're looking at a time before PG-13. This would be a solid PG-13. There's a decent amount of swearing. The terror dogs are actually kind of scary. Ray has a wildly inappropriate dream. The way Peter treats Dana is a little icky. PG.
DIRECTOR: Ivan Reitman
Do you want to know how the sausage is made? When I write these reviews, I tend to listen to the soundtracks to the movie I'm writing about. It actually puts me in the same headspace as when I watched the movie. I find most of these soundtracks on YouTube. I don't have a Spotify account, so I apologize. What quickly happens is that, because I YouTube so many movie soundtracks, I get recommendations for videos that discuss movies. There was one video that said that Ghostbusters was about nothing. He put a very clear caveat in the video. Just because Ghostbusters was about nothing didn't make it a bad movie. In fact, he loved the movie. I don't know if it is about nothing. By my entire blog is about finding a deeper meaning in film; to watch it critically and find substance where others gloss over. I'm not saying I'm always accurate. In fact, since I do these daily, I'm sure that many of them would be considered giant leaps in logic. But I have always adored Ghostbusters. I can quote the movie nearly start-to-finish. It's wonderful. It's a comedy that I still laugh at. So I don't think that I've ever wanted a greater challenge than finding what Ghostbusters is about on a deeper level.
A lot of the video's arguments lie in the fact that we have flat characters versus dynamic character. Because there are four people who could be considered the protagonists, it is hard to pin down who has a character arc. A character arc often is indicative of the theme. So this puts me in the position of having to isolate one of the Ghostbusters as the protagonist. If push came to shove, we'd have to go with Bill Murray's Peter Venkman. I mean, I'm tempted to pass that responsibility to Sigourney Weaver's Dana Barrett. She actually undergoes both a physical and emotional change throughout the film. But she's also not in the movie all that much. Similarly, Ernie Hudson's Winston Zeddemore would make a fascinating character to examine, but he comes into the story really late in the movie. (And the movie kind of treats him like a second class citizen in the real world. Why does he never get any real billing for this movie, even on contemporary re-releases of the movie?) Egon and Ray are almost tropes. They're great. But they have very little emotional connection to people so much as they are devices to make the plot move forward. Again, I love all of the characters, so these comments are just setting up the premise. Peter Venkman is the protagonist. Many of the choices of the film rest on his shoulders. Considering that Peter is at the crux of a lot of decisions in the film, there are small choices being made with him. When we first meet Peter, he is actually sabotaging his own experiment to impress a girl. Science to him is "a con" or "a dodge." But over the course of the film, Peter, while not vocal about his belief, actually kind of becomes a hero.
Yeah, the hero's journey. What did you expect? But Peter actually finds value in his work by the end of the movie. He goes from being a con artist to a being a genuine hero. The thing is that the movie doesn't really get all heavy handed with how Peter gets there. We're really accustomed to the Dan Harmon / Joseph Campbell story circle. Peter never really rejects the call. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a moment where he has to make a choice. He makes a dozen or so baby steps in the process of becoming a hero, but the moment where he actually makes the transition from con artist to hero is his date with Dana Barrett. ("Are you get the Gatekeeper?") Up to this point, Peter is not acting out of altruism. Rather, the Ghostbusters becoming national news is affirming the con that is working. Yeah, ghostbusting isn't a con because Egon and Ray know what they are doing. But Venkman is riding the acclaim that his partners get. Realize how much work the other two guys do in the preparation of this business. Egon is the technical guy. Pretty much, every piece of technology is based on Egon, with the help of Ray. Ray is the metaphysical guy. He is the guy who bridges science and the lore. He fixes cars and mortgages his mother's house once again. He has value. Peter probably justifies his existence as being the face, the heart, and the soul of the Ghostbusters. But honestly, he is kind of a leech on the team as a whole. He wants to use what little petty cash that the team has to take a girl he finds pretty to go on a date. Yeah, he confronts the nasty little spud, but he's often put out by actually having to do the work that the rest of them do. Walter Peck is the antagonist and I'm not giving the EPA a free pass here. (It's weird. I think that this is the one movie where the Environmental Protection Agency is considered the bad guy of the movie.) Peter is the one to provoke Walter Peck. Peck actually has a point that Peter's handling of their first confrontation is what made Peck play hardball. Peter doesn't apologize for this moment, but he also becomes dolefully aware that becoming a ghostbuster involves responsibility and sacrifice. When he sees Dana possessed, there's a shift in character. I don't think that he believes her from his initial inspection of the place. Admittedly, he's probably not using that device correctly. At least, I don't think he's using that device correctly. The movie doesn't really spell out that moment where he made the shift and the theme is definitely something that has to be interpreted with a little bit of effort. But the movie is actually about something. It's about realizing the moment when your fun little hobby actually has merit. It is the moment when Peter has to grow up and become something bigger than he was at the beginning of the movie. The Peter at the beginning of the movie wouldn't agree to the plan to beat the form of the destroyer. Nope. But because the movie is about baby-steps, sometimes it is hard to keep track of a character's evolution. If it helps, compare Peter in the opening scene and in the scene where they are crossing the streams. Ask if the character from the beginning would do that and I posit that he would not.
I got real jazzed when I heard that Jason Reitman was making Ghostbusters 3 or whatever it is going to be called. I know that there's some controversy to this. When I heard that Paul Feig was going to make a Ghostbusters movie, do you know how excited I was? Then, a bunch of comedians I liked were going to be in it? Gender didn't play an issue. I'd like to establish that. But I didn't like Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. MoviesAnywhere gave it to me for free so I'm going to try watching it again soon. But Ghostbusters, while first and foremost being a comedy, doesn't really think of itself as a comedy. A lot of the jokes in Ghostbusters come from the absurdity of the normality of everything going on. I keep harping on Venkman, but he's our everyman character. Ray is an expert in the occult and an enthusiast. Spengler emotionally flatlines. Winston should be our avatar, but he only shows up in the latter half of the movie. So Peter becomes the audience member and he's handling things in stride. He says things as they are, but he never really gets truly scared. He screams when the spud comes at him, but his result is mild annoyance. Everything is mundane in the movie and that's what makes it amazing. In the new one, everything is a Saturday Night Live skit. There are dance numbers and over-the-top performances. No one actually plays it cool. The Ghostbusters are all about day-to-day conversations about the apocalypse. Seriously, look at some of the lines where things are absolutely dire. "Tell him about the Twinkie." "Your girlfriend lives in the corner penthouse of Spook Central." Even the discussion about Ivo Shandor is told like a ghost story as opposed to a rallying cry. The new ghostbusters were hyper-reactive to every threat, which makes perfect sense. But jokes don't work in context of these big moments. When Egon is "too frightened beyond the capability of rational thought", he says it in the same tenor as "I collect spores, molds, and fungus." I wish I was the advocate for the most recent Ghostbusters movie. I was so excited for that film when everyone else was dogging the trailers. I bet on the movie being way better and the opening shot gave me hope. But everything after that? It almost felt like a skit. It grew tedious and that's what's a bummer. The exception is Holtzman, who compeletely nailed the sardonic delivery.
After seeing Ghostbusters far too many times to count, I still find this movie absolutely perfect. I know, it's actually kind of an odd fandom to have. It's a comedy and it is silly. But it hits a lot of sweet spots for me. There's some stuff that can be considered regressive, but I think I need to learn to be unapologetic for my love for the original Ghostbusters.
They Live by Night (1948)
Passed! It's a life of crime, baby! People are gonna get shot! But even worse, people are going to get hurt. Is that person gonna be you, chickadee? Maybe you can see people turnin' on each other, showing the worst parts of their souls! A life of crime ain't kid stuff (although I totally let my kids be in the room while I watched this.) Passed, baby. Passed.
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Rey
Is it weird that Farley Granger might be stalking me from the grave? I know that isn't exactly sensitive. But I've seen way too many Farley Granger movies. How is his name not thrown around willy-nilly like Clark Gable or anything? He's in a lot of classic films. Like, a lot of them. I never realized it, but he keeps showing up in movies that I wasn't expecting him in. This was a Christmas gift. I love me some Criterions and They Live by Night was in that lovely packaging under the tree. I think I go in blind for a lot of Criterions. I know that, even with my least favorite Criterion entries, I'm going to get something out of it. (I'm talking to you, Last Year at Marienbad.)
Nicholas Rey famously directed a bunch of really good stuff, but I don't find it coincidental that he also directed Rebel Without a Cause. His name lives on as the guy who makes really really good juvenile delinquent films. But there's something odd about how well reputed Rey really is. I love me some Rebel Without a Cause. I oddly might kinda like They Live by Night a little better because the stakes are higher. But at the end of the day, they are JD films. It's so odd how there's almost an element of propaganda to these movies. I know that the studios probably hire Rey to make these movies because kids relate to these movies, but they are kind of heavy-handed morality plays. If I watched a billion of these movies, I'd probably get annoyed pretty quickly. There's something about JD films that always kind of feels false. With Rey, the performances are way better. There's an earnestness to a lot of it. It's like Rey knows the reputation that JD films have. It's like there is the basic template. The boy gets into trouble. He then gets into more trouble leading to his eventual downfall. He's aware of the problems that come with being on the wrong side of the law, but he's kind of sympathetic until he continues to make bad choices. But Rey injects something else. Yeah, the characters are a little tropey. I don't deny that. But there's an art to these movies that I can't really define. JD films, for the vast majority, are pretty cornball. It seems like no one really puts their hearts and souls into these movies like Rey does. They seem like fairly disposable B-movies, mainly because their audience are teenagers. Teenagers have lower standards for things and I'm going to stand by that sweeping statement because why not? But Rey has these characters that I tend to care about. Farley Granger is playing that same role that I've seen him play a million times before. While he plays different parts, there's something kind of uniform about his performance. It feels like I'm being rude about Farley Granger. I'm really not because I get low-key excited when he's in a movie. It's just that he keeps playing this victimized protagonist. In Rope, he's the killer who doesn't want to be involved. In Strangers on a Train, he actually is a victim. This one, he's a guy who just keeps getting buried deeper and deeper into a world that he desperately wants to escape. Yeah, he's typecast, but who cares? He's so good in these roles and I absolutely love the dilemma.
What I kind of dig about movies like They Live by Night is that they are fundamentally a little bit silly, but any kind of investment in the movie unpacks a moral complexity that most people don't give them. Bowie and Keechie (ha! I still laugh) keep getting swept up in these complex moral situations that lead to people dying. They never really want to be part of this world, but they have the philosophy of the ends justifying the means. It is so odd to examine how they view the world. Their entire relationship is almost like a toddler's view on what romance is. Keechie never really had anyone respect her, so they get married while barely knowing each other. Yeah, I buy the romance because to movie asks me to buy the romance. But they have a pretty sweet honeymoon period because it all has to come to a fall. When they are dragged back into a life of crime, I always wonder why they don't run. They have this attachment to a building that is something out of the past. While Bowie's mindset is pretty juvenile because he's been in jail for most of his adolescence, Keechie seems to have never encountered the real world before. Her old home disappoints her. She expects to just stay in this pretty sad building the entire time. They both delude themselves that this is somehow going to work out. It's genuinely naive when they don't take the "pastor" (I have no idea what else to call him) up on is offer to move to Mexico. It's even weirder that it doesn't play out later. The movie really implies that the man recognizes Bowie almost right away, but I'm going to let that go. Their choices are just so bizarre. They have these good hearts, which make them sympathetic characters. Bowie offering his share of the money to the other gang members as a form of reparation humanizes him to us. But he also gets these clear instructions about the right course of action and the wrong course of action. And like most JD films, he chooses the wrong course of action. Everything goes wrong. The confusion of emotions that I experience is as such: the film will follow a moral formula. If you make a bad choice, there will be a one-to-one consequence. Bowie ignoring Keechie's warning leads to his partners dying. Okay. Sure. But then we also get these stories of people honestly trying to do the right thing. They are presented with a handful of pretty bad situations and they have to choose among these terrible scenarios. How can a movie be both complex and so straightforward at the same time? That's why movies like They Live by Night work with me. If you want a straightforward morality tale, you have it. If you want to break down the story a little bit, you can as well.
From a pacing perspective, They Live by Night is pretty impressive. There's a little bit of a learning curve needed to adapt to the film. The language is something that is come to expect from the gangster films of 1948. The dialogue is a little bit stilted, but is delivered earnestly. If you aren't a fan of jargon and dialect, the performances clearly indicate the desired result for these films. We know character intentions pretty well. Like I mentioned with JD films, they really thrive on tropes and archetypes. These archetypes really provide an easy shorthand for most of the characters' intentions. One-Eye, believe it or not, doesn't like when you mention his one eye. He gets mad and flies off the handle. When one character is warned not to drink, of course he's going to drink. These characters are pretty superficial. We have Bowie and Keechie, who are deep in some ways and shallow in others, surrounded by everyone else who is a trope. There's the jeweler, who keeps wanting to make a sale and is overly friendly. Dad's a drunk and will always be discussed as a drunk. The landlord of the motel is teaching his boy how to run the business. These tropes are charming, but it is very simple to make these characters. All of the character, except for Bowie and Keechie, have one single goal and they are constantly pursing that goal throughout the film without exception. It's odd how sometimes a simple movie can actually be refreshing from time-to-time. So the dialogue may be dated, but that quickly fades to the background once you peg what character does what. As part of that formula SPOILER, the main character has to die. Is it because he decides to run without his wife? It's this odd choice. It is expected that Bowie cannot survive the events of They Live by Night. But Bowie actually brings up a way more complicated an interesting scenario than death that I kind of want to explore. He plans to leave Keechie for her own sake. He knows that his life of crime is drawing a lot of attention and he just wants to protect her. So he makes that old bonehead decision to runaway, leaving her with the money. What kind of punishment would that be? The odd thing is, I kind of wanted to see Bowie get mowed down. I know. I'm a real psychopath. But the movie presented this really complex scenario for the main character to endure and I was just cool with that not happening.
I don't know what button movies like They Live by Night press. I don't think many o of my few readers have actually seen They Live by Night. I can't really hope to have a meaningful discussion about it. All I know is that Bowie is a sympathetic character who is kind of the worst. He thinks that he is the good guy in a story where he is kind of the villain. He's better than most because he thinks that he is the hero, but that doesn't outright make him a hero. I love that. I love that the movie doesn't really let him off the hook, despite his intentions. That's the morality I like in my movies. It's never really all that great, but it is pretty darned good.
I called it! I CALLED IT! I actually say somewhere in this podcast episode something along the lines of "BlacKkKlansman? Green Book has a better chance of winning." Listen to how one of my favorite movies of last year got robbed in this pre-Oscars recorded episode of the Literally Anything podcast.
Rate R, mainly for one really aggressive, non-naked sex scene. Like, it's uncomfortable, because it is intense. But there's language and drinking and all that stuff. But this movie could be easily edited to a PG-13 if it wanted to. But the movie doesn't want to be PG-13 and that's its prerogative. But at the end of the day, rated R.
DIRECTOR: Sean Mewshaw
I really wanted to watch Shoplifters this night. We watched Tumbledown. This shows that I'm flexible and have value as a person, beyond the needs of this blog. It also is a romantic comedy, so I have that openness as well. I feel like people think that I hate romantic comedies. I'm just very picky about romantic comedies. When we decided on Tumbledown, I thought it was going to be heavier on the comedy. Really, it's a dramedy. The drama plays way harder than the comedy in this movie, which is fine. I prefer that anyway. (Oh my gosh, I just defended how much I like romantic comedies and then said that I loved that this movie pulled the comedy out. I am a liar! Trust nothing I say!)
SPOILERS: This movie commits my least favorite crime in a romantic movie. I hate this so much and this movie does it. It didn't tank the movie for me like it normally does, but I am miffed. My least favorite thing about romance movies is when the protagonist has a significant other and they just get rid of this person. Now, in the grand scheme of things, there's a hierarchy of how bad this can get. This is all my own rules, but it should be taken as dogma. In some films, the significant other is a terrible person and we discover their evil through their interactions throughout the film. That is the least problematic narrative. It acts like a hurdle narratively. I'll let it slide. A bigger problem is when this character has an annoying trait, like sneezing too much. (Sleepless in Seattle, I judge you actively.) But the worst, which is part of Tumbledown, is that the significant other has NOTHING wrong with them. In fact, that person might be a good person. Tumbledown breaks up Jason Sudekis's relationship because she's actually a fairly committed significant other who supports her boyfriend. Yeah, that's it. The movie implies that she's controlling, but I didn't see anything wrong with her except that she was blonde and well-taken care of. That's really about it. It all kind of came down to the country girl versus the city girl. The movie doesn't even really address how that whole thing went down. Admittedly, the movie doesn't shy away from the fact that the only thing that broke up that relationship is that Andrew fell in love with Hannah. It almost leans hard into it. But that also makes Andrew kind of an adulterer. That's really weird. I hate that. While I overall liked the movie, there's a really weird message that the movie plays around. Andrew is a professor, giving him some degree of respectability. It makes him seem less creepy. But ultimately, Andrew inserts himself in Hannah's life because he is a fan of her husband. It puts Hannah on his radar and Hannah's initial reactions to him seem actually kind of valid. Sure, they are the Hollywood version of that feeling, where it is overblown to the point of being comical. But he is kind of an example of an obsessive fan. Of course he's going to fall in love with Hannah. He's devoted his life to Joe. He invades her space and her private moments. From the movie's perspective, he has an objective reason to be so snoopy. But it's not like Andrew has done this a billion times. He places Joe's music in a special part of his heart. It is his fandom and he attaches himself to it. It's very creepy the more you think about it. Yeah, Hannah makes the world seem attractive, but she does so almost by being a victim. He is in love not with Hannah, the woman. But Andrew seems to be in love with both Hannah the Injured Puppy and Hannah, the woman who lived this life. It's problematic.
But the movie does something that gets my gears spinning and I think I appreciate this a lot. The movie makes Andrew's perspective seem like it is canon. It's not. That's really interesting. Joe's death is a mystery throughout and we're placed in Andrew's shoes as he investigates this death. The movie telegraphs and indicates that Joe's death was a suicide. I love that it probably wasn't. It never gives us a straight answer on the subject. Instead, we learn something about Andrew the character through the things he sees. That's really fun. I like when characters become three dimensional, especially in romantic stories. This is a gross overgeneralization, but romantic stories tend to have very archetypal, trope-y characters. I always yearn for nuanced characters, but I rarely get that. So the story is about a romance that is budding between Andrew and Hannah. But somehow, the B-plot becomes as important as the A-plot. Yeah, it's the love story. You can watch this movie for the love story and that's absolutely fine. Sure, you have to accept my rules above and still manage to get by them to have the end work. But you can also watch this movie from a point of view of a survivor coming to terms with grief and acceptance. It gets a little preachy and a little heavy handed. However, it never really feels cheap. Instead, Tumbledown feels like a work of love. I mean, it's an independent film, I think. I don't know the situation of the screenwriter and director, but the throughline of suicide seems very personal. This is why I embrace Tumbledown despite the problematic elements of the film itself. Tumbledown wants to be more than just another romantic movie that's disposable. Unfortunately, I don't think that this movie will ever really break through as one of the greats. But it treats itself like one of the greats. It really crafts these moments of slow character development. When these two end up together at the end, despite the fact that they shouldn't, it seems believable. They are not completely fixed of their neuroses, but they are actively working towards self-help. Tumbledown seems like a tale of men fixing women. Hannah is broken. Andrew seems to have it together. But we discover that Andrew is just as broken as Hannah is, but he's unaware of that. I like that character development. They help each other grow and that's really fun from a viewing perspective.
What drew me to this movie was the cast. I don't know why Jason Sudekis works for me. I saw him in Colossal where he played the rare example of a romantic villain. But he works as an everyman character. Sure, he usually tends to be educated because he works so well with wit and comebacks. But he's a charming dude. I heard him on Harmontown a while back and he made an amazing guest. Rebecca Hall just works. I only really know her from Iron Man 3, I think. I would have to really explore her IMDB page to determine whether or not she was in something else that I like. But she plays Hannah marvelously. Hannah is a tragic character who refuses to be tragic. I know that she's kind of an archetype. But I also think that Hannah is an example of an archetype that's a tightrope walk. She has to be pitiable, but not too pitiable. We're not allowed to let her wallow. She still has to be compelling and interesting to us. She's still powering through to be driving the story. She almost has to drive the story. It's her decisions that keeps all the events happening. Andrew can easily be pushed away, so she has to be take charge. It seems like she's passive in this story, but she really isn't. All the choices are hers. She holds all the secrets. I tend to bond with the male characters of these stories, being a member of the patriarchy and all. But Hannah is far more crafty than other examples of her archetype tend to be. I like that. Joe Mangianello is great in everything. Yeah, I haven't seen the Magic Mike movies and I probably won't. But it's weird seeing him as kind of a bad guy again. Not since Flash Thompson...but I like him a lot. He's oddly funny as a jerk character. Yeah, his scenes are the most uncomfortable. But he plays that part well. I found myself smiling at some of the horrible things he says. I shouldn't have. But he's pretty great.
Tumbledown is a much better movie than the small release it got. There's a weird Catch-22 to the whole thing. If it didn't have this tiny release, we probably wouldn't have the tone that the movie actually has. But the limited release and the quiet debut it got probably also means that a lot of people won't see it. I know that we were exploring Amazon Prime and that's how we came across it. It's worth the watch. I don't know if it will ever change how you feel about romantic movies. It's deeply troubling in some ways, but I respect that the movie deeper than your average film.
PG because it is animated. I can't think of anything that is too offensive in this movie, but it just feels like it should be aimed at older kids. This is all completely subjective. I know that some sections can be considered kind of scary. The plot is oddly complicated that I'm still piecing together. My son was kind of just along for the ride, but there's some heady things going on here. Also, the idea of a post-apocalypse might be a bit much for some kids. PG.
DIRECTOR: Mike Mitchell
My opening paragraph is always a gimmick to hook you and to strip away the cobwebs. But I have way too many gimmicks to grab a hold of. First of all, I'd like to apologize for breaking my own rules. I wrote a lot last week. I wrote two a day to get everything posted for the Academy Awards. To do this, I had to actually skip some movies in my list. I didn't just watch this movie. I watched it week two of its release. But the second thing I want to mention here is that I almost completely abandoned the whole blog thing today. I did so much work on the site last week that I just want to hang up the whole thing. But then there's also the fact that this is the first movie of 2019 that I'm writing about. I got to write "2019"! Weeeeeee!
Apparently, I don't have to capitalize every letter in "Lego". This is according to IMDB, so I'm going to let it go because it saves me five seconds. But The Lego Movie 2 has the problem that most sequels have. It isn't as good as the first one so thus, the world is going to disregard it. The first Lego Movie destroyed me. It shouldn't have been as good as it was. The Lego Movie 2 is probably closer to what is expected for these movies. The reason why it doesn't really work on the level as the first one is that it isn't as gutsy as the first one. The first movie created this absolutely insane template for a kids movie. It was frenetic and meta. It was aware that it was a movie about a kids' toy. To make it insane, they referenced every random Lego thing that ever existed. When the movie pulled out cameos, we were blown away. It was that thing that we got when we first saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit? or Wreck-It Ralph. There was this synergy that we really don't get very often. So when something is completely revolutionary, the sequel has a really high bar to hit. Instead, The Lego Movie 2 takes the safe path. The first movie is anything but safe. That movie is nuts. No one saw that coming. I even thought that the movie was going to be more insane than it was. I saw that trailer and saw the Mad Max style sequel and thought, "That's fantastic. What a gutsy move." But the Mad Max stuff was really just a skin for the first movie. And that's where the movie really kind of loses the lasting impression: it's just the first movie in so many moments. I don't want to say that everything is the same. We're not looking at The Force Awakens or Mary Poppins Returns. I'm looking more at Ghostbusters 2. I love every movie I just listed. But these movies aren't special compared to their predecessors because of the repetition of beats. The Lego Movie 2 keeps making references that the first movie already made. Benny still likes spaceships. "Everything is Awesome" plays through. Heck, Wyldstyle has a tie to it now. Emmett is good at building things, but the double-decker couch appears again. Callbacks can either be amazing or they can be weak. This one has the latter. I don't think any of the callbacks did anything for me. It's the new stuff that worked.
If I treat this movie as something without a high bar to reach, I think it mostly works. It's not as bad as people are making it out to be. Again, I loathe when people seethe over movies because they weren't as good as the original. The one thing, as a grown man going to see these movies, is that the story has a fun complexity to. The movie completely telegraphs some tropes on purpose, only to misdirect what the actual answer is. It's so fun to play with those ideas. I want to go into spoilers because I kind of want to discuss if the twists work and I also want to look at the morality of some of the choices going on in the movie. THE OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT: Rex Dangervest is clearly voiced by Chris Pratt. The movie plays up such a good trope that I absolutely adore it. The movie plays with the idea that Emmett thinks that Rex doesn't exist. It's what all of the adults in the movie are thinking. Chris Pratt's voice is not even slightly different from Emmett's. If you were listening to an audio play of The Lego Movie 2, you'd not be able to differentiate between Emmett and Rex. I love it so much. Emmett's running gag that people can see Rex is just perfect because it is hack. Rex as a time-travelling version of Emmett that's a villain is way better, though. It's pretty great. Now, as a time-travel snob, I normally need to have the time travel work. But that's what's even better. We never get an explanation of how Rex time-travelled. Do you know why? Because everything that we're seeing in the Lego movies is based on a child's imagination. We should be happy that the narratives in these movies are as cohesive as they are. But there is a lot of insane stuff going on in this one as well. The reason being is that we're getting two narratives layered over each other. Remember, the story isn't one kid's story anymore. It's two stories with different intentions. It's the frustration of one person not "yes, anding..." the other person's improv. We don't know which narrative to follow. I have no idea what my kids think that The Lego Movie 2 is about. But they didn't care. I was trying to break down what was happening in whose imagination. It's weird that the story takes place over five years. That's an odd choice. I get it. The kid from the first movie grew up. When we see the real world version of Bricksberg / Icksberg, I thought that the boy's sister had destroyed Bricksberg. But apparently, the boy actually built a post-apocalyptic playset. That might not read to me. After all that had been transgressing, maybe the story is about how the boy's impulses have turned him from the good guy of the story into the bad guy. The first film is all about being able to express yourself creatively. He takes his dad's sets and rebuilds them to reflect his own personality. I like the general message of the first film, but then I also think that he should respect his dad's stuff. This rings home to me, just let it go. But the second one is that he doesn't allow his sister the same freedoms that he has earned. His sister comes down, destroys Bricksberg with her Duplo toys and he rebuilds it as Icksberg. The sister is wrong to destroy the things that he was playing with to begin with. But isn't that what he did with his father's set? He destroyed it and the adult had to learn to deal with the fact that these were just toys that should be played with. I guess that does work with the over all story. There is no real good guy / bad guy situation with the exception of Rex. Rex is interesting because he is definitely the bad guy, but only because the movie can't leave things morally complex as is. It's so odd that it is Emmett. Emmett is the most wholesome character of the bunch and imagining him as the villain is something clever. The boy is mostly at fault for being so cold to his sister when it came to playing with her. But he was also bitten when he first allowed her to play along. The boy is the bad guy. The sister is the bad guy. Rex is the bad guy. I just said that this movie had no bad guy, but really, it is actually the opposite. Everyone is the bad guy. This movie is rotten with bad guys.
There's some stuff I love and there's some stuff that I think is only okay. I like the fact that they are not beholden to any Batman mythos to tell the Lego version. But it is odd to see that The Lego Batman Movie has practically been undone by these. The Batman from The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie are the same guy, right? Is there an attempt to de-canon as much of the character as possible so A) they don't step on each other's respective movies and B) so that audiences don't need to know much going into each movie? I thought that there was a moment where they loosely addressed the themes of The Lego Batman Movie. That's all well and good, but did they do my least favorite thing about sequels? Did they undo the lessons from the previous movie to excuse the events of this movie? I want characters to retain their arcs. I don't want them to go back to square one. I oddly wanted to like Tiffany Haddish's character, but she really didn't do anything for me. And this is me being really nitpicky, but what is this loosey-goosey idea of marriage? Are we back to political marriages based around ego? That's such an odd idea to have in a kids' movie. I know. That's me fighting a battle that no one is really fighting. Batman is an absurd character in this and the idea is that these are little kids playing with toys. But it is a painful arc to watch. I feel like there wasn't much to actually play with some of the characters. Metalbeard, Unikitty, and Benny had nothing to do in this movie. It's so odd because those are great characters. What they did with Batman was only so-so. It's odd. But there's some great jokes. I love the Banana man. Banana Man is my favorite by a lot. But in terms of leaving here, all I can say is that I dig the soundtrack and Banana Man. And that's fine. The quality for a decent kids movie is there. It's just not going to be my favorite thing in the world, like the first Lego Movie was. Okay, I use hyperbole. But I do hold up that the first movie is how kids' movies should be made. It's a fun time, but sometimes you want more than that. I'll probably see this movie a billion more times with my kids. But for right now, I can just say that I had a good time.
Mary Queen of Scots (2018)
Rated R for an uncomfortable amount of non-nude sexuality. It's pretty graphic, considering that a lot of the movie touts around the word "Catholic". People treat each other terribly. There's a fair amount of violence and conniving. It should be R, but it also remarkably bleak. If you can get an R-rating for just being kind of a bummer, then this deserves even more of an R-rating. It's fine. It's got what you expect. R.
DIRECTOR: Josie Rourke
Would would ever want to rule? Seriously. What kind of sociopath not only thinks that they are the most deserving to rule everyone, but would kill and declare war for it? I think that is where the disconnect happened for me. Like a lot of movies where there really isn't a hero in the story, I kind of had to do that thing with Breaking Bad where I attached myself to the person with the most compelling narrative. I don't know if that's what the movie wanted me to do, though. I really think that I'm supposed to be unironically sympathetic of Mary. I am, more than the other characters. But Mary throws around the world "Catholic" while the movie intentionally has her do some wildly not-Catholic things throughout.
I actually have more insight into Mary Stuart than most other historical eras. In college, I had to get into the nitty gritty of Mary's life because I was taking a stage design class where our primary focus was on the play aptly named Mary Stuart. The story of Mary Stuart is known for its complexity. This is a story, based on your allegiances, that shifts who the good guy is and who the bad guy is. If you are Catholic and / or anti-England, you are instantly going to bond with Stuart. Her exile and strong will seem like she is fighting for a cause that desperately needs organization. She has a more tolerant attitude than Elizabeth, who demands that all of her subjects fall under the purview of the Church of England. However, if you are pro-Protestant and an anglophile, Elizabeth kind of has a point. Mary is intentionally trying to usurp the throne. She has some claim on it, but it is Elizabeth's right to determine succession for the throne. She is also the head of the Church of England and probably wouldn't be conducting herself to minimize the effectiveness of the church. See where this is going? It's just that I'm not quite sure what direction Mary Queen of Scots is trying to take. Saoirse Ronan as Mary seems to be the sympathetic character in the story. I want her to fallible and I appreciate that the story made her fallible. But her character makes these choices that are wildly anti-Catholic. It's the problem that falls with politics and religion, especially when it comes to war. I really think that the movie wants to stress that religion, although it is the center of this conflict, has nothing to do with religion itself. Rather, religion is used as a label. But I sympathize with Mary because she is Catholic. It's kind of like reminding me that a ballplayer (I'm terrible at sports) doesn't really represent your city because he's being paid to be there. Mary seems to really be devoted to the faith at moments in the story. But it seems like she also doesn't get some basic tenets of the faith. Contrast that with Elizabeth who is clearly painted (pun intended) to be the bad guy for a lot of the movie. I'm really wondering if the protagonist is always the one is supposed to be dynamic because Elizabeth is the dynamic character in this story. Elizabeth is shown as cold and heartless while Mary is very human in her portrayal.
This is the story of two queens. The parallel nature of the film is intriguing. One can't help but notice the shockingly similar hair when the film shifts focus between Elizabeth and Mary. While I'm never going to say that I love this movie, there is a lot of depth to this movie that absolutely adore. Mary's world is bleak, but it also feels like home. Both worlds are ones entrenched in politics. It's just interesting to see that the way that politics is played out is different in the two worlds, but both has the same results. Elizabeth's world is one of conniving and courtly drama. The court listens and plots behind closed doors. They give each other sly glances and knowing looks, pushing Elizabeth to make choices that may not be in her best interest. They look at Elizabeth as the placeholder for the throne and think of the best interest for the throne at all times. On the flip side, the Scots seemingly love Mary. They are cheering and huzzahing with every bit of good news. They seem like a proud rebellion, standing up to the oppressive England and are grateful to have Mary as such an outspoken public figure. But every time that Mary has a misstep or makes yet another enemy, it seems like the Scots simply grab power. It's so odd how the monarchy works. When Mary is being imprisoned or threatened, people still bow to her. That bow is a representation of fealty and servitude. But these people act as her captors. Are they bowing to the throne? What is the relationship there? It is in there as irony, but I'm sure that was happening in reality. The film then takes it to a great other step. The world of the monarchy is the world of men. This parallel is about the strength of women ruling in a world of men. Everyone treats the monarchy, regardless of which queen we see, with a kind of scorn. I noticed that when I watch tales of female monarchs, the backbiting gets way more heated. Younger me and those quick to judge may use this as evidence for why women make weak rulers. I don't think it is that and I think Mary Queen of Scots wants me to think about that. It is because women in these courts aren't given the same trust and benefit of the doubt that their male counterparts receive. The secrecy and plotting comes from the fact that every edict that is sent forth may be questioned. Honestly, I don't know how it is done. There is a time when Mary is in prison and she gets her husband to get them out, even though that he was part of the conspiracy to get her. Mary Stuart, the play I was working on, focuses exclusively on Mary's time in prison under Elizabeth. I knew that she was going to get out of the Scottish prison because I knew exactly how she died before I started the movie. But there were so many times where people just turned on Mary in an instant. It's absolutely bizarre.
I don't love the commentary that the movie is making on faith. I kind of have the feeling that David Tennant might be a hardcore atheist. He's not. I just looked it up. But Tennant's character seems to point out the dangers of organized religion. I wonder what his filming schedule was like. Almost every one of his scenes is him shouting from the pulpit, slandering Mary Stuart. Did they just change the lighting and got new extras in the scenes? But the inclusion of Tennant's character almost is a reminder that faith isn't real. Again, I'm a man of faith. It is always being challenged and that depresses me more than I can state. But there are these moments that stress that faith is a joke. Mary's misunderstanding of what it means to be Catholic is terrifying. She holds some elements of dogma with absolute certainty. She refuses to get a divorce. Good for her. But then she plays it all fast and loose with what constitutes sex and lust? Also, the fact that she's willing to fight and kill and call it a holy war? No one here is actually faithful. Mary talks to the soldiers about heaven and they borderline just feel awkward about the whole thing. David Tennant is a political figure as much as he is a minister. And don't think it isn't lost on the audience that Tennant is calling Stuart a "whore" with a giant cross in the middle of the room. It just seems to say that people of faith seem to be dumb. One of the last lines of the movie is something around the lines of "She thinks she's going to be martyred," like that is absolutely absurd. I know that this is based on Mary Stuart. I've done research and I'm still not really sure who the real Mary Stuart is. But I like the idea that Mary Stuart died for her faith. I want to believe that her faith was something more than just a political ploy and that she wasn't a simpleton when it came to her beliefs. My soul kind of depends on the idea that faith is a real thing and not simply an identifier or a marker for a census. It's a real bummer watching the movie in this light.
In terms of quality of film, Mary Queen of Scots checks all the right boxes. It's a gorgeous looking movie. Most movies from this time period offer something pretty to look at. But Mary seems to take pride in every shot. The costuming is outstanding. It also doesn't hurt that Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie are absolutely phenomenal. My first introduction to Margot Robbie was in The Big Short where she plays a version of herself. In a million years, did I imagine that she would be playing the Virgin Queen? Not for a second. But Robbie has become one of my favorite actors of the past decades. She is remarkably talented. I love her performance here and I like her in most things. Regardless, it is a solid work, if slightly unremarkable as a piece of historical drama. But it does have depth, so I can't complain too much.
Green Book (2018)
PG-13, but there's so much language. So much language. Like, it's adorably used. It is so odd that we can forgive language if it is good-natured. That's an odd thing that we kind of allow. Tony shows that he's uneducated and crass, so he swears a lot. But really, we allow the swearing because the movie is aimed at all audiences. Again, the MPAA doesn't really monitor the content of movies, but just establishes who the movie is meant for. There's some violence and some sexuality, but the sexuality is mostly off camera. Characters are handcuffed naked, but nothing is really seen.
DIRECTOR: Peter Farrelly
Wow. Broad strokes here. I mean, geez. This really lines up with everything I think about the 2019 Oscars. So much here is a repetition of things we've seen done before and better. Again, there is nothing really wrong with Green Book. But I used to write the phrase "paint-by-numbers" a lot. I don't think I've seen such a flagrant example of paint-by-numbers filmmaking. On our podcast, I literally (pun intended) predicted every beat that this movie was going to make accurately. I think you could. I'm not exactly a psychic. This movie is the racial film equivalent of meatloaf. It's comfort food. The problem is that stories about race shouldn't be a balm. They shouldn't be too comforting, because the problem that stems out of that is that we think that we solved the problem.
Again, I'm charged right now. I'm really standing behind BlacKkKlansman right now. We have two / three movies about race right now. But while the other one(s) don't really challenge us, BlacKkKlansman asks us not to be complacent. But I do want to look at Green Book as a movie. Green Book reminds us a lot that formulaic filmmaking works for a reason. People like formula. Sometimes, we just don't want to be challenged. As snobby as I am, there are times that I don't want to be challenged. I want to sit back on the couch and just watch a charming movie. That's kind of what happened here. I actually really enjoyed Green Book, kind of in the same way that I enjoy Forrest Gump. There's something that goes on with a movie like Green Book. It is the safe movie. It has a message. That message has value and weight. But Green Book might be another white savior narrative. I want to give the movie way more credit than that. There's a lot of value that comes with the fact that it is based on a true story. I'm interested in reading the true story and finding out what did and didn't actually happen. But there were some really cringy moments in the movie. I'm kind of taken aback. I know. I'm getting offended and it isn't even my culture. But there are a lot of moments when Viggo Mortensen has to teach Mahershala Ali on how to be black. This goes as far as to teach him how to eat fried chicken. It's cute. Honestly, it's adorable and I know why it is in the movie. It is a tender moment (pun unintended) where the two men bond. But this also creates a problematic character arc for Dr. Shirley. Dr. Shirley has defined himself as his own man. Tony Lip is a character that is the product of his culture. He is deeply Italian, to the point of being a stereotype. He has moments where he thinks for himself, which establishes his moral code. That's all well and good. But Dr. Shirley has been free of his culture. Instead, he defines the elements of his culture that he wishes to embrace. His apartment is decored in artifacts from Africa. He chooses to dress a certain way and present himself in a certain way. Yes, it could be seen as pretentious. But it can also be read as personal and unique. Instead of a culture only being one thing, Dr. Shirley represents diversity. It's not like he is acting white. I don't know if Shirley ever sells that. Admittedly, he is very palatable for his white hosts. That's a bit of an issue. But to say that all African Americans have to eat the same food and like the same music is a bit of a problem. Shirley never abandons his sense of self, but rather becomes more accepting of others' senses of self. This is how it worked out because this is the ideal narrative. Tony Lip is not a character who works in subtlety. Tony Lip is telling Dr. Shirley to act more black. It ends up being a bonding moment and it is fun, but the message is that the white driver wants him to act differently so he knows how to act around him.
I'm really concerned because this movie is kind of pushing Viggo Mortensen as Best Actor. Really? He's not great in this. I mean, he's not bad. He's doing exactly what Peter Farrelly, a man who is known for directing with broad strokes, is asking him to do. There's nuance behind the eyes and in some of the smaller moments. But Mortensen's Tony Lip is a stereotype. I honestly could play that part exactly the same. It's not at all challenging. Tony Lip, even in the small moments, is still over the top and kind of huge. I think I may be focusing on Mahershala Ali for Best Actor. He seems like one thing for most of the film. He seems aloof and distant from all of the other characters. But Ali's Dr. Shirley has a lot of shifts in character. He's a character that keeps it together and prides himself on keeping it together. He's got pride to the point of excess. But often through the movie, these walls come a-tumblin' down at a moment's notice. He kind of has this sundowning attitude where the world falls apart if it is night. These breakdowns are not uniform. They look like lots of different things. I really like that. His cold face stays the same throughout the movie. But then when he falls apart, it is earnest. Ali has to find the core of each of those breakdowns and it shows. On the patio, he's lost in the distance. He simply looks like a broken man. When he's at the bar getting accosted, there's a desperation to find the man who can distance himself from the abuse that he's getting. Sometimes, it is the cold man who is having the breakdown and the two personalities fuse together. That's when the movie really soars. Ali's analysis of loneliness and depression is what kept me coming back to the story. Viggo Mortensen is a very talented actor. He's played similar roles to Tony Lip before. I now actually really want to watch A History of Violence and Easter Promises again because I know that he has this character on lockdown in other places. I kind of want to blame Peter Farrelly. I don't want to hate on him. I like the idea that he's branching out and trying drastically different things from his normal fare. But Tony is too easy. Part of this ties into the idea that this movie isn't meant to challenge us. The second that Mortensen opens his mouth with that Bronx accent, we know exactly who Tony Lip is. There's character defining moments in the movie, like when he dumps the glasses in the trash can, that only really are meant to provide background. But honestly, this is a minute into the movie and all I could think was "I get it. Go on." If Mortensen gets it for Green Book, it's making up for something else.
So what if this wasn't up for an Academy Award? Would I like it? Yeah. But I also enjoy eating at Bob Evans from time-to-time. It's a drama that has jokes. Those jokes mostly land because of the caliber of the performers who are performing these jokes. I laughed when I was supposed to laugh. I even like both of the characters, especially by the end. But there is one moment that was SPOILED for me that I am going to SPOIL for you now: The end of the movie. The end of the movie is too idealistic. Dr. Shirley's life was probably way harder than the movie allows it to be and that's a bit of a tragedy. It had a moment that let us know that they had crossed into the North. A police officer helps them change a tire in the snow when the day before, a Southern police officer arrested Dr. Shirley without cause. I get that the South during this time was mostly pretty terrible. It's the title of the film, after all. But to assume that when he got North, everything would be daisies, that's ridiculous. The movie ends with Shirley going to Tony's apartment for Christmas Eve. His entire family is there and Tony even has to correct someone in the group about racist language. It looks like there is going to be tension between the family and Shirley when he arrives. But it's almost like the entire family escorted Dr. Shirley through the South because they treat him like a member of the family. This is the same family that all hung out in the house because they didn't trust two black guys. Tony threw away glasses that people of color had used because they were unsanitary. How in the world did everyone get the memo to be open minded by the end? That's absolutely absurd. Racial tensions are solved because one guy opened his eyes to the struggles of the marginalized. That's the problem with a movie like this. It makes everything way too simple. I'm not saying not to teach the story about Dr. Shirley. No. Please, tell this story. But also challenge us with this. Compare it to the events of today. Remind us that racism is still a thing and it isn't something that can be swept away with white oafishness and buffoonery. It's too easy to claim what is happening here to be okay.
The good news is that I now own the movie? I mean, it sounds like I really hated it. It's functional. It's a good time. It's something good to watch with my parents and in-laws. But I also kind of need more. The entire Academy Awards roster is a series of safe bets when we should be getting groundbreaking film. Green Book is just another entry into the anesthetizing kinds of films about race that we keep getting as Oscar bait.
Rated R for some sex stuff. One of the women in the movie is a kind-of prostitute? I don't know how to word it, but she does sexual acts for money. Although there's no nudity in this sequence, it feels pretty graphic. Oddly enough, the scene that has nudity feels far more innocent. I mean, it's not. But it feels that way. There's probably some language. Nothing really jumped on my radar. For an R-rated movie that deserves to be R-rated, the tone of the movie seems pretty wholesome. R.
DIRECTOR: Hirokazu Koreeda
Maybe I'm just a contrarian. Maybe I like liking the movies that don't get the Best Picture nod. A student of mine recommended this movie out of the bunch for the Academy Awards and, boy, was she right. This movie is gorgeous and challenging. It is inspiring in a weird way. It made me think and it doesn't take a safe position. The performances are absolutely beautiful and the film looks stunning. Too bad that Roma is going to win.
I'm going to say the only negative thing I have about the whole thing first because I'm going to gush about this film. The turn is weirdly satisfying, but it is confusing as get out. I don't think it makes a lick of sense and I'm still trying to piece the end together. When the characters are all in the police station (it's in the trailer), all of the secrets are revealed. The one that involves the rich daughter makes no sense whatsoever to me. Aki's involvement with the family confuses me more than anything else. There's this moment where she's completely flummoxed by the truth and I don't know exactly why. I tried talking about this with my student. She didn't get it. I tried Googling it. I can't really find an answer because I don't think I'm looking in the right places. Honestly, if you know the answer to this, please comment below. I really want to know how this works because this is the one hangup in a nearly perfect movie and I just need to have that level of peace and support. Aki's relationship to the rest of the family might be an example of a slightly larger problem with the film, which I honestly don't really mind. The movie hinges on being really cryptic. It keeps throwing these little clues around and I'm not going to be cryptic. SPOILER ALERT SIMPLY BECAUSE SOME PEOPLE ARE HARDCORE ABOUT THEIR SPOILERS: It seems pretty obvious from about ten minutes in that many of the people aren't biologically related. There are little comments and little nods that they biologically aren't a family, but there still is a vibe of mystery about how they actually know each other. Is it because Koreeda wants to have that explosive revelation towards the end of the film? I have to think it is. I wonder if the movie would still work as well as it did if we knew outright what everyone meant to each other. I mean, it is pretty satisfying having that infodump that explains every cryptic conversation that the characters had been having since the beginning of the movie. But it also seems to be pulling away from the vulnerability of the piece as a whole. The movie is so vulnerable that I'm surprised that it is guarded with its secrets. I think that the story has merit without the twists and turns. But again, I'm screaming at a wall because I like the format of the movie as it is right now.
If I told you the theme right now, you would say that message is pretty heavy-handed. It also seems like something that a former co-worker with whom you never really got along with would post on her Facebook page. It seems so corny. But when you watch the movie, it never really feels like that. Instead, the message of the movie is "of course! Why doesn't everyone do this?" Okay, I never want to be part of the family. I'm going to verbalize it and I have given enough lead in. Be aware, the message is more subtle. "You can choose your family." I've always had a pretty great relationship with my family. It hasn't always been perfect, but I also acknowledge that people out there are toxic. Koreeda does something really interesting with the molding of the characters. These people seem to be constantly using each other. From an outside perspective, it looks like they don't care about each other beyond what they get from one another. But the second you get to know any of these characters, we realize that they seem to love each other completely. The way that this is achieved is through the use of an unspoken code. One of the Hierarchy of Needs is that survival always comes before love. Love is actually a luxury on the grand scheme of things. But Shoplifters somehow manages to show how both of these abstract concepts can become a priority. I'm thinking of the other Japanese classic, The Lower Depths. I know that it is a Russian classic first and that it was also a French classic. I'm just making the comparison to Shoplifters. Get off my back. The Lower Depths stresses the misery of poverty. It shows all of these people treating each other terribly because poverty makes us do terrible things. There are elements of The Lower Depths in Shoplifters. The family is willing to abandon each other if absolutely necessary, but they do help each other survive throughout. The dynamics of these people is fantastic. It's a fairly large cast in the grand scheme of things, but each character is completely developed. There's this idea that I adore in the story that I'm still kind of unpacking. I like how Osamu wants to be called "Dad", but Nobuya doesn't. It is this odd family dynamic where no one is really on the same page, but there isn't fighting. Rather, the entire environment is one of gratitude. These kids learn these skills that most people would consider abhorrent. But they seem closer bonded than anyone else. When Yuri / Juri is added to the family, we can understand the addition. It actually seems really natural. Mind you, if that happened to our family, I would think of a dozen things to do. But their family, this is the only thing that really makes sense. It's very organic and gorgeous. These people are full of love and it's interesting.
The split between Osamu and his son is particularly interesting. It kind of has to happen to create a bit of conflict, but I like it regardless. Part of me, a guy who absolutely adores rules, is a little concerned about the moral relativism that's going on in this movie. The movie addresses this head on. I like the fact that this movie never really seems all that sappy. These people lead kind of terrible lives. Yes, they care for each other and that is enviable. But it isn't an easy answer. There's nothing Hallmark about this. One of the members of the family kind of prostitutes herself. I know that there's a term for what she is doing and I'm not quite sure what the proper term is. But she can only find a relationship with someone through this method. She has this broken idea of what love is. Some of it is right. She sees wounded as an attractive property. But there isn't the split that comes with traditional empathy. Instead, she thinks that relationships are about one person taking care of a weaker person. It's romantic and tragic and all screwed up at the same time. The very nature of stealing is a crime. They find it to be a game or a way of life throughout the story. But Shota is growing up throughout the story. The beginning of the movie has Shota living this lifestyle as if it normal. But he is the character that grows the most throughout. His form of puberty is realizing that his life is not normal. He starts questioning his own morality. Instead of having that form of rebellion that questions why things are right, he starts questioning why things are wrong. With Shoplifters, there's a very clear delineation that the actions of the family are a little bit off. Again, the movie doesn't hit this idea home with a sledgehammer. Rather, it slowly builds to what it needs to be. Shota doesn't really seem to hate his father, but he realizes that adults are flawed as well. Osamu, to people who are well adjusted, is well-intentioned but criminally flawed. He's very lovable, but he also is ambitionless and justifies every action that may be considered morally questionable. Shota starts to see this character the way we do. But the way the movie ends is wonderful. Like a family, the characters evolve into something that is beyond the premise of the movie. People grow and grow up. Some people stay stagnant. The line at the end of the film isn't exactly clear. Instead, we get this idea that people are multifaceted. Osamu and his family aren't one thing. The police aren't one thing. Some people are stuck in their ways. Some of the members of the family live a tragic life and that may never change. But people try their best in a complicated world and that's interesting.
I adored this film. I want to watch it again because I know that there are things that I am missing. The movie isn't overly complicated, with the exception of one vital scene. But I also know that there's a lot going on between the characters. I'm sure that there is more to unpack knowing what I know about the characters. There has to be some shading that I never picked up on the first time. I highly recommend this film because it might be one of my favorite movies of 2018.
I don't know if anyone is shocked, but Adam McKay's look at the life of Dick Cheney is pretty R rated. I mean, mostly it's because the f-word is thrown around a lot. It's not like the f-word is thrown around in isolation. It's joined by all of its friends, so you can expect plenty of other language. There's smoking, drinking, and fighting. But probably the other thing to expect is some pretty violent and disturbing images. Between war imagery and some pretty explicit uses of blood through wounds and surgery, there's some graphic content.
DIRECTOR: Adam McKay
This is a weird year for the Academy Awards. Maybe 2018 wasn't the best year for movies. I don't think the year was bad by any means. I even really like a lot of the movies that get mediocre reviews. But there are some Oscar contenders that may sweep that have critical reviews in the 60 percents. That's really weird. I took my wife to see this movie on Valentine's Day. I think most Valentine's Days, we tend to see Oscar nominations. Depends on whether or not we have a baby at home, we sometimes do a double feature. Considering that we have a baby, we only could pick one movie to see. We knew that Green Book was coming to iTunes before the Academy Awards, we decided to knock out one of the few that wouldn't be available before Sunday. I don't know if this shocks anyone, but Vice is not a great date movie, especially considering that I'm turning into a dirty hippie while my wife doesn't care for hippies.
I'm not a huge news buff anymore. Oddly enough, during the Bush / Cheney administration, I was. I had Sirius XM and I jumped between CNN and Fox News every time I was in my car. But so much has happened between then and now that a lot of Adam McKay's film seemed to be a bit of a revelation. I want to spoil something really minor, but totally important to the film as a whole. I know that I should take it with a grain of salt. I know that the film holds all of the cards and they can reveal things out of context. I'm not dumb. But I do find the post credit sequence to be one of the funniest, most appropriate post-credit sequences. I'm not going to go into details, but this is a minor spoiler. After the credits, this happens. No one really comes out of that looking good, but one party looks worse than the other. Yeah, the movie has a liberal slant. The movie is a takedown of Dick Cheney. It's really interesting to see a movie address the elephant in the room, even if it won't really change minds. Honestly, while I loved that clip, I can see that clip infuriating others. I don't blame people for getting mad at that clip or this whole movie. It does paint with broad strokes. This seems to be a recurring discussion in my analyses. The movie does have the feature of preaching to the choir. Possibly the best thing for political discussion is giving the movie an Academy Award nomination because there might be some people going to see a movie that they normally wouldn't simply due to the nomination. But should Adam McKay be making movies that won't change anyone's minds? I don't know. Perhaps there is a push in Hollywood to grab people like me, the people on the fence. I knew that Dick Cheney didn't have the best reputation. While I don't remember much from my 24-hour news cycle days, I do remember that Cheney was a problematic figure. Seeing all of that stuff laid out was interesting. But even talking to Bob, he says that there was problem with the characterization for the sake of Hollywood. And that's where we have the problem that we've had before. Do all stories need to be biopics? Does a well-made documentary have the ability to be a little more objective? The answer is that I don't know. I want to say "yes." But I also know that only a tiny percentage of the population really sees documentaries.
But the reason why Vice might not be making the same waves as The Big Short is that Adam McKay has kind of shown his cards. He's either the silly outright comedian, like his stuff with the Anchorman movies, or he's The Big Short guy. He's going to take a political hot button and try to make it relatable by slightly dumbing it down and adding comedy. The Big Short felt fresh. It was unapologetic in the way it was made. The housing crisis seemed like it was going to be the most dramatic movie of all time, but people watched The Big Short because McKay remembered that it was important to be entertaining with your film. I totally agreed because I thought that The Big Short was extremely smart and entertaining, considering how dry the subject matter was. With Vice, The Big Short acts as a template. That might not be a good thing because The Big Short is really funny for a lot of it. When Dick Cheney's life doesn't really fit the mold for The Big Short, there are times when some of the jokes kind of fall short. Don't get me wrong. I laughed out lout more than a handful of times. But there were also a bunch of moments where jokes kind of seemed off or inappropriate. The jokes weren't inappropriate because they were offensive. They were just there to cover up for weak spots in the film. The thing about Dick Cheney's crimes is that they are mostly paper crimes. So there's this weird thing that happens in the movie. The beginning and the end of the movie are interesting. These are the moments that explain what makes Dick Cheney tick. It's closer to the biopic format than anything else. I never knew that he was an electrician with a DUI before he went to Washington. His relationship with Lynne is fascinating. Sure, it may not be accurate. Even McKay points this out by stating at one point that no one was actually there, so he had to imagine what the conversation was through Shakespeare. But the really damning stuff in the film is mostly just montages of paper and people signing things. What this creates is that we get really invested in a character that we know is going to do some bad stuff. But the only part that we really care about is the time before and after he did the bad stuff. If anything, and this is not what the movie is shooting for, is that the bad stuff is minimized. I'm not saying it doesn't have bite. It totally does. If you are invested in the movie, like I was, I found that stuff horrifying. But if you aren't invested in this section of the movie and found it boring like multiple people have said (my wife and Bob), what does it matter? You are missing the important thing and then that defeats the purpose of the movie.
Christian Bale, as you probably know, gained a ton of weight for this movie. It's kind of his gimmick at this point. I'm sure that telling Christian Bale that what he does is a gimmick would get me yelled at belligerently like I was some sort of lighting or sound guy. But his massive weight gain drew a lot of attention towards this film. The odd thing is, Dick Cheney doesn't seem to be a challenging role. Cheney is a soft spoken individual. He kind of sucks at talking. Instead, Amy Adams's Lynne is the one who is far more interesting. Cheney is this quiet guy who keeps making these strong choices. But the blowhards are all surrounding him. Bale doesn't really have to act much because he's just awkward for much of the movie. I know. Being awkward is acting. But Cheney doesn't offer Bale a ton of range. He kind of stays at the same level for most of the movie. Instead, we are drawn to three other actors: Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carrell. Adams crushes it. If there is a takeaway performance in the entire thing, it is Adams. If Bale gets it and Adams doesn't, shame on the Academy. Adams is the bad guy of the film for real. Bob compared her to Lady Macbeth and I totally 100% agree with him. She's manipulative. She's power hungry. She is charismatic. She's the whole nine yards. Sam Rockwell is fun, though. That's probably true about Steve Carrell too. I remember seeing Josh Brolin in W. a few years ago. He was so good because he's a chameleon. He's really good at impressions and kind of nuances Bush a little bit. Sam Rockwell is not that. Sam Rockwell is what we all think of George W. Bush as a caricature. He is the Bush for this movie. Again, these are real people. But having this version of George W. Bush as a foil for Cheney is perfect. We get to see how sedate Cheney is and what he sees in this situation. Rockwell's performance also makes the decision to become VP make sense. The movie succeeds there. I love Carrell as Rumsfeld, even though I don't know much of the personality of the real Rumsfeld. He heightens the movie and makes it more of a comedy, but that's fine.
If there's a takeaway from seeing Vice, it's that the Academy Awards this year are about mediocrity. Vice is a perfectly fine movie. I would even probably recommend it to people who hadn't heard of it. But it isn't exactly amazing. The portrayals are very over-the-top at times to match the tone of the film. It almost seems to be trying to capture the quirkiness and uniqueness of The Big Short. But this movie could have been something if it was allowed to be its own thing. I don't want to see Adam McKay become his own little Oliver Stone. Stone became kind of a bore when he got preachy and simply copied and pasted his style over every film he did. There's some meat here and I don't think McKay got to it in an effective way.
At Eternity's Gate (2018)
Rated PG-13, mainly for distress. Golly, I can't even think of any language in this movie. I know that it can get pretty intense with how agitated Van Gogh gets at times. I mean, he smokes and he cuts his ear off. We don't see him cutting his ear off, but we do see his bandaged head. I don't know, man. This one seems pretty innocent. I'm sure I'm blocking out some stuff. I know that the Church gives him some pretty bad advice. Oh, I guess he does drink a lot. That's something, I guess. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Julian Schnabel
Two years in a row now, we have gotten Vincent Van Gogh biopics. What I've learned is the people of France are terrible to artists and the mentally ill. What is it about Van Gogh that tempts filmmakers to make the same tonal movie as the other? It's the whole pairing thing that happens with movies. But both movies kind of committed the same crimes, which I suppose is fine.
Like everyone else in the world, I love Van Gogh. And like most people in the world, saying that I love Van Gogh means that I like Van Gogh, as long as studying him doesn't become too invasive. I've taken one class on classical painters and I get some rudimentary stuff about painting that perhaps Tom, Dick, or Harry don't know. But I've never been a visual artist. I am obsessed with being culturally literate, but there's only so much that one can fit into one's day before one's head melts into a beautiful landscape that Van Gogh himself could have painted. I'm ashamed of myself in many ways. I got really obsessed with Van Gogh with Doctor Who. It was "Vincent and the Doctor" that got me interested in Van Gogh and his mental illness. I know who I am and I'm not going to apologize. But Van Gogh's life is tempting to cover. I think we want the greats to have really interesting lives. But as proven by the string of biopics that I've watched lately (I'm looking at you, Bohemian Rhapsody), some of the greats don't really have intersting lives. I don't think that the same applies to Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh actually has some real formal beats to his life. He died a mysterious death. We know that people tortured him for the majority of his painting career. We also knew that he dealt with real mental illness. Now, these stories range from what we see in At Eternity's Gate, as borderline schizophrenia to bipolar disorder and depression, as seen in Loving Vincent and "Vincent and the Doctor". That's an interesting story to tell. It's just that our recent obsession with dramatizing Vincent Van Gogh's life is the biggest hurdle that this movie needs to overcome.
If At Eternity's Gate was the only film to cover this ground, I would probably think that this movie had a degree of genius. The movie is plenty competent. I adore the casting overall. I don't know why I'm on board the Willem Dafoe train lately. I think it was his work in The Florida Project last year that got me excited to hear that he might get the Academy Award this year. Oscar Isaac is also absolutely brilliant. I want to see him in everything. It's weird that I'm watching the very serious acting of Poe Dameron and the Green Goblin. But these are both talented actors who chew the scenery of every moment. I adore them in this. But I also don't know if it's the role that defined them. Honestly, if Dafoe gets it (which I don't think that he will), this might be the apology award for not getting it with The Florida Project. The dynamic between these two actors is something to behold because they are portraying these two giants who apparently knew each other. (I don't want to take a hard line about them knowing each other because I don't remember much about that class I took years ago.) But Gauguin across from Van Gogh is interesting. I'm teaching my English II class about what makes an interesting foil and Gauguin is perfect as a foil for Van Gogh. There's a lot of interpretation of what could have been having Gauguin in the movie. They both are obsessed with art. They both actually seem to like each other. But Gauguin is this man of charisma. He is as outgoing and forward as Van Gogh, but he comes across as charming as Van Gogh comes across as psychotic and demanding. I don't know if the message revolves around who is the true master. I know that people view Van Gogh as the greatest painter of all time. But Gauguin isn't exactly a spring chicken. Part of the story involves Gauguin constantly telling Van Gogh what he's doing wrong in his art. Schnabel doesn't create a Mozart / Salieri situation a la Amadeus. Rather, it seems like Gauguin doesn't quite understand Van Gogh or doesn't want to understand Van Gogh. I think that he is one of the few people who understands that Van Gogh is a genius, but still underestimates him. I'm not sure if the movie really knows what its stance on Gauguin is, but it is interesting having him as a foil.
There are certain elements of Van Gogh's insanity in this movie that really effective and there are parts that are way less effective. The movie employs this yellow filter over the screen. It also looks like they are bifocals somehow because there's a line of blur between the top and bottom of the screen. The first person perspective builds a sense of anxiety and stress that I haven't seen a lot. The weird part about the use of the very yellow wash is that it kind of matches the scenery of Van Gogh's world. It never seems to clash with the beauty of the rest of the film. (I never mentioned this earlier, but I'll throw it in right now. The movie's setting is gorgeous, as it should be.) It never actually creates a sense of insanity. Vincent's actions still seem wrong and misguided, but we at least can get into a different headspace with the visual shift. The thing that doesn't work for me as well is the looping of the audio. The film loves having Vincent experience what he just heard repeated immediately after it is said. I don't know. It's an idea that I would have loved on paper, but probably would have scrapped when I realized that it didn't work. I don't mind the cacophony that eventually starts forming from the repetition. But the repetition is used too often and too tightly together. Yeah, it conveys that Vincent has a hard time determining what is real and what is false, but it also completely pulls me out of the movie. This is a bigger deal than I'd care to admit because this is the movie that deals with Vincent's madness more than the other biopics. This movie stresses that Vincent should have had a healthier wellness plan and that's what stopped him from being healthy. Oddly enough, the movie has a really odd way of concluding this thread with his death. All three Vincent Van Gogh stories treat his death very differently. This movie posits that Vincent was murdered by two oddly dressed kids who wanted to bury his painting equipment. There is no leadup to this. I was fortunate enough to see Hamilton last night. I'm so amazed that Schnabel doesn't ever tease the end of the film. Perhaps Schnabel is shooting to talk about the randomness of an unfair universe, but it doesn't really come across this way. The movie just kind of ends. There's this comment that Van Gogh never really talked about how he died, implying that there might be a bit of mystery. But the film really isn't about this. It's actually odd that the movie has to have him die. I don't know if it is meant to make you more depressed about the fact that Van Gogh never found happiness or peace. But it is just done. The movie just ends. We know that Van Gogh died. Why not add that to the tag at the end. Let us know that he never found happiness. Instead, the movie just kind of finishes.
There's nothing wrong with At Eternity's Gate. It's just that, structurally, I don't get too much from what I've seen in other adaptations. Why do we keep doing this? Is this Academy Awards show going to be a celebration of things we've seen done before. With Loving Vincent, we at least had the gimmick of the oil painting format that hadn't been done before. But At Eternity's Gate, we just get a slight shift in focus. I mean, the movie also shares the biggest sin, showing where Van Gogh got his inspiration. We had all of those moments of famous paintings walking around, waiting to be painted. I get it. Those people existed. But these moments are starting to get me massaging my temples. These movies are just full of moments that are meta and pull me out of the movie. I don't want these movies to be better. I just want something different. It's beautifully performed and the scenery is gorgeous, but that isn't enough to make me rave about this movie. Give me a few years. Maybe I'll revisit this and be okay. But I just absorbed Loving Vincent. I don't need one immediately following.
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.