PG...for DISRESPECTFUL CHILDREN! This movie is all about this kid...and he DOES NOT LISTEN TO HIS PARENTS! I am advocating for HARD R! There's actually a scene in here where a hip mom tries to relate to her kid, but he WON'T GET OFF HIS PHONE! The nerve! Listen, I'm pretty hard on specifically Christian cinema. This was difficult to get through, so I'm being pretty flippant. The worst thing in this movie is a kid falling through the ice and the scares that parents get when family is near death. Yeah, a well-deserved PG.
DIRECTOR: Roxann Dawson
Hey, B'Elanna Torres directed this! I don't understand how this movie exists shy of the very odd producer, Steph Curry. I have so many things that I want to say right now and they're all fighting for attention, so please bear with me. I am intensely Catholic. I'm proud of my faith. All that being said, I can't stand Christian cinema. There's a lot of reasons, some of which I'll probably end up discussing through the course of what I write here. But please realize that I'm rolling my eyes pretty hard. If you like Christian cinema, please, continue doing so. Don't let anyone tell you what you should and shouldn't like. I just don't find it very challenging. This is one big apology. Why did I watch it? It was literally the last Academy Award nominee that I could do before the Oscars that night. And it was for "Best Original Song." *sigh*
There's a line early in the movie where the protagonist is talking about the amazing basketball career of Steph Curry. Do you understand how much that drove me insane? One) Me and sports do not get along. My kids are signed up for track and now I lose the one day a week that I get to sleep in. We weren't fine before that, but that was an attack I wasn't ready for. Please don't relate everything to sports to talk to Middle America. Two) He's the producer of the film. I would rather he walked in the background of a scene, maybe someone named "Dr. Def Murray" or "Murray Stephenson", winked at the camera and kept walking than that conversation. It hurt my heart. But it's Steph Curry that probably brough attention to this film because it makes no sense the people who are involved in this movie.
I don't know much about Chrissy Metz or her politics. I hope that there's someone involved who honestly believes in this. Maybe I'm reading the room entirely wrong, but it feels like a lot of people are being paid big bucks to show up for this thing because the politics of their other stuff doesn't really align. Roxann Dawson directs a lot of stuff. It's a lot of stuff that I kind of like. I don't know her personally and it is completely unfair to put words in her mouth, but this feels a little paycheck-y for me. Josh Lucas is on the fence for me. He tends to do a lot of heartwarming drama, but he's also done some pretty dark things. The biggest question mark was Topher Grace in this movie. What is Topher Grace doing in this movie? He's done some pretty intense things. Now, I want to talk a lot about Topher Grace's performance. But I also want to stress that actors shouldn't be defined by one thing. It's just that I feel like Grace has had characters that have criticized conservatives. I know. There are nuances. If I was an actor, I would probably be doing the same thing that Grace is doing, but it just feels like he's taking the work for the money.
Which is why I want to look at Topher Grace in this movie. The last movie that I talked about Topher Grace in was BlacKkKlansman, which I absolutely adored him in. He plays David Duke (again, I can't stop making the connection that he's a leader that has devotion behind him from a conservative perspective). There's nothing really ironic about his performance as David Duke. He is clearly making fun of David Duke. There's no moment of respect that he has for the man, but he plays it to improve the film as a whole. Grace as Pastor Jason might sum up a lot of my feelings towards Breakthrough as a whole. Grace almost feels like he's mocking evangelical Christians with his performance. I know how casting works. When you want a neurotic hot dork, you cast Topher Grace. Or if you want Venom...kind of. Topher Grace fills that archetype really well. But bringing that neurotic dork to a pastor position is almost a distraction from the film.
The movie really needs the audience to understand that Jason is right. Jason is the distanced character. He is vulnerable and new. He's trying new things with his congregation and that's what ruffles Joyce so much. He acts as a foil to Joyce's character. If Joyce's strength is her faith and her weakness is her pride, Jason is the reminder of what someone could be when someone is both faithful and humble. But Grace doesn't really paint that picture. Instead of portraying the suffering servant, he's someone who is similar to his character from That '70s Show, only without the drugs and the sex. (Again, why I think that this is a paycheck more than anything.) I have a hard time sympathizing with Jason because Grace is portraying himself as someone who desperately wants to be liked. Now, this brings up a whole different situation that probably should be addressed.
As an actor, you want your character to be flawed. Grace is really riding that personal neurosis pretty hard. He wears his flaws on his sleeve. I kind of respect that. But Grace also doesn't realize what his role is to the greater picture. He has imbued his character with so much backstory that he draws attention from the main character. In an attempt to give his character depth, he's stealing scenes unjustifiably. He isn't a large part of the plot. There's a central throughline. Now, if Jason became a better pastor because of his relationship with Joyce, that makes sense. But Joyce isn't supposed to be the Ghost of Christmas Present for Jason. The story isn't, "Jason Finds His Footing". Rather, I think that just finding peace that he's doing the right thing is the only character growth he needs. Jason needs to be confident, yet humble. That's not what is going on here. Grace is justifying being on set by trying to find truth within his character, but he's not playing with the team as a whole. And I think it is because he really didn't want to be there.
And I wouldn't want to be there too. The movie brings up some really scary ideas about God that, to its credit, touches on. It doesn't really go deep, but I still think the problems are there, even if the film outright discusses these problems openly. God really feels like he's a hostage taker in this film. John Smith (apparently his actual name...unless he's the Doctor!) needs prayer. Now, I'm walking on thin ice here (pun intended), but it really feels like the movie is about God intentionally hurting a kid to bring a community together. I don't know why this is the movie that put me over the edge when it came to this theme. It's a common trope that I see in a lot of movies. But this time, it just focused on the importance of faith. It felt like if Joyce faltered for even a minute, John was going to die. The movie establishes this subtext behind everyone's choices. It makes Brian, John's father, look like a monster when he has doubts and prepares himself for John to die. Why is that something that's going on here?
Again, the movie really stresses that Brian is not the bad guy. I actually kind of respect its commentary on Joyce as a browbeating Christian. But it also doesn't not say that. Joyce, despite the fact that she's prideful and aggressive, is still the hero for not giving up. Her yells are double-edged. She comes across as brash, but ultimately, the movie says that is what saved her son. The Facebook groups set up (*eye roll*) and the community coming together is just uncomfortable. Are we only supposed to come together to find God when things go poorly? It's great that people found their faith, but it seems like a really comfortable community where faith was already cool. It's like Dawson and her team knew that they were treading on some pretty uncomfortable territory, but decided to plow through anyway, giving disclaimers as the movie continued on.
There is one story that I kind of liked. It's the one story that is kind of getting the C-plot for the movie and it's a bummer. Mike Colter's firefighter character is really interesting to me. I like the idea of God reaching out to an atheist through a minor miracle. I like that he doesn't come running to church immediately. I like that it is a little challenging to this life-changing moment. Faith is supposed to be hard. But this is the C-plot. We don't get a lot of Mike Colter. I think as a short story, it kind of works. But that's where the meat is. God taking a kid hostage is easy to understand the faith element. But questioning the small things is way more interesting to me. I like the journey of the cynic. But the other story really does nothing for me.
I hate that I'm so cynical about Christian films. It's just that the stakes seem planned out ahead of time. There's nothing there to really challenge me. If anything, it's just playing up to cultural bias. It's movies for people who already have faith. I don't like the cornball nature of them because nothing seems like it takes place out of a perfect little sphere of influence. If all the problems came from the suburbs, that would be one thing. But the Smith family seem to be fairly affluent and comfortable, and the tragedy is that they are dealing with tragedy. It's just so distant from things. Is it weird that I would have found it more compelling to have John Smith die and Joyce having to come to terms with that? But then that's just The Shack and that's also a problem.
PG...and the hypocrisy continues. I sound really militant, but it is absolutely insane that this movie is only PG. It's because it is a Disney movie based on a G-rated Disney property. This movie is really violent. Lots of characters die in violent, albeit fantasy-based, ways. Like, a fairly major Disney character dies. If that's too spoilery for you, 1) this site assumes you have seen the movie and 2) it's probably not the character you think it is. Regardless, PG, I guess.
DIRECTOR: Joachim Rønning
Okay, okay. I fell behind on writing. I took a few days off to work on grad school things. Basically, I was writing about movies...just not the movies that I talk about on this blog. Right now, I should be writing about movies. But nothing inspires me to write about a movie that I care nothing about than thinking that I have to be doing something towards my grade. Basically, I'm procrastinating from my homework by doing the exact same thing as my homework. I hate me too. But I will admit, there's a weird amount of stress knowing that my blog was dying on the vine. (Two days without posts and my count dropped through the floor.) Well, if an extra day (leap year) is a metaphor for getting an extra chance, I'm surely taking it.
There's a Hot Topic contingent that absolutely adores Maleficent as a character, right? I really don't quite understand the whole love for the villain thing with Maleficent. I'm kind of about to answer my own question here, but Maleficent doesn't really have a whole lot of depth as far as I understand. Sleeping Beauty is a gorgeous movie that really doesn't spend a whole lot of time developing its villain. She looks scary and evil and that's why she is scary and evil. Disney nerds, I already apologize for how flippant I'm being towards something that I'm sure has infinite depth. But from a lay person, I never really understood the adoration for this character. But the really insane thing for me is that this is a sequel to a prequel. And I saw the original one too. Was that up for an Academy Award for some technical credit too? I can't imagine I sat down to watch that movie assuming it was going to be amazing.
My biggest complaint with Maleficent, the first movie, was that to make a villain actually heroic, you needed to make someone else more superficial. I could have sworn that I wrote something about the first movie, but my search for an analysis came up empty. That's probably good because what I believe about the first movie holds true. I know that people adore Wicked. I get the idea. Wicked is the best template for what is going on here. I, and I'm absolutely mortified to say this, don't really like Wicked. While I think analyzing villains is actually pretty cool, there's a fine line when the movie comes to the conclusion that the villain is simply misunderstood. Say what you will for my distaste for Joker, it at least never had any reservations about making him a good guy all along.
What happens is this: The world establishes an unfair world that the villain inhabits. The villain tries his or her best to live in an unfair society. Something the villain does is horribly misunderstood. Sometimes its morally objectionable, but a reasonable mistake. Sometimes the problem isn't his or her fault at all. But what more than not happens is that characters that we previously thought were moral or victims in the original tale are far more insidious than the previously let on. What we get is a massive retcon that tries to sully the intentions of the original characters presented in the original story. What really happens is that we're left exactly where we started: we are presented with a villain that seems to have little motivation for what he or she is doing. With the case of Maleficent, we now know way too much about her character, but the villain seems to be completely two-dimensional.
This sequel does something good and bad for the character. (Ideally, it puts to rest the need for more Maleficent movies because I don't know if I have another one of these in me.) It establishes that Maleficent is more than her origin story. She lives in a greater world and has relationships beyond the narrative of the first film. Wicked is interesting, but it also seems really self-contained. That story is that story. We have to assume that the world will continue on with what The Wizard of Oz has established and that's perfectly fine. Maleficent has Aurora and that relationship has blossomed. Because this is a sequel to a movie that established that we didn't know everything about the original tale, the story is allowed to expand without the constraints of being tied to the source material of Sleeping Beauty. That's kind of a novelty in itself. The first movie is locked; the second movie is free.
But, honestly, the character of Maleficent had her just desserts in the first movie, which in itself wasn't that interesting. We're mining for more pyrite as we get these revelations that we just don't care about and, to be completely frank, aren't that risky. People didn't dig Prometheus (although I kind of did) because we needed to know everything about the race and species of this one-of-a-kind thing. But at the end of the day, the more answers that we get out of these worlds, the more disappointed we're going to be. I never really wondered what kind of creature Maleficent was. I simply assumed she was a dark sorceress and that's the end of that. Why do I need to know that she's a member of this secret race of hidden people. Wait a tick! This movie shares the plot with another Academy Award nominated kids movie that I found remarkably dull: How to Train Your Dragon 3! I don't care about that people. If anything, it makes Maleficent less interesting.
The lone survivor is an interesting concept. Doctor Who handled this concept extremely well when the reboot came back in 2005. Superman has always dealt with this issue and has done so fabulously. But these conceits were fundamental to the characters way before these questions were answered. It took a long time to see another Time Lord or another Kryptonian. It was something that was in the character's makeup so, when that revelation happened, it was glorious. But Maleficent wasn't wondering where she came from. In fact, that was Aurora's narrative. That made way more sense for her character than for Maleficent. Maybe if there was a theme of doubling, that might have played a bigger part. But this movie just kind of gave her this hangup and then instantly gratified her with a solution.
There's something that really had potential here, but I feel like fantasy has already tackled this theme better than Maleficent: Mistress of Evil could do. There's a theme of xenophobia and the idea that white America maybe isn't the good guy in these situations. Yeah, I can see this being pretty important to discuss. But there's no degree of nuance. When dealing with racism of xenophobia, often movies go in with these grand intentions. But then the movie makes the villain so remarkably evil that film viewers tend to distance themselves from the villain. "I'm not as bad as that villain. That's racism." Instead, we don't get criticisms of actual racism. While I'm sure that white America is committing horrible atrocities, I'm sure it doesn't involved trapping all foreigners at a mass event and making them disappear. And the people who are doing that aren't going to reflect on their lives after watching Maleficent: Mistress of Evil. What about all of the small evils that actually are xenophobic? Why can't that be discussed in a way that is allegorical?
Why is it so hard to make a good fantasy outside of The Lord of the Rings? I was about three-quarters through this movie and noticing the money being thrown at the screen. Since LotR, fantasy films just look epic and they are taken seriously. Yet, I get insanely bored watching these movies. They are straight up dull in a lot of cases and that bums me out. There's this huge fight sequence at the end where all kinds of effects are being used and I kept looking at my phone across the room. I was so tempted to get up, walk to the phone, and just stare at the random videos that Facebook recommends.
Maleficent: Mistress of Evil is just boring. Like, it's so boring. I don't know why I do this to myself. (I know exactly why: the joy of seeing my Oscar ballot sheet completely highlighted.) Regardless, this is a big skip.
PG-13. It's heart-wrenching, so don't let the PG-13 MPAA rating fool you. Out of all of the Syrian occupation movies, this one is probably the most sensitive towards graphic violence. But that doesn't mean that it is still not extremely upsetting. This is footage of real human suffering. There is blood. A lot of people die over the course of the film. It is really upsetting stuff, so please take that into account before deciding to watch this. But like I mentioned with all of the Aleppo documentaries, you almost have a responsibility to watch this. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Feras Fayyad
I have seen so many of these that it is a miracle that I can even write about them anymore. I also really want to backtrack my first sentence and stress that I deserve absolutely zero sympathy for my absolutely cushy existence. Life is very good to me and the fact that I can sit on a couch and watch movies about people who have it far worse than me is a very strange position to be in. It's just that I now have seen so much that I can now watch these movies critically. I have favorite Aleppo documentaries. That's a weird thing to say. While The Cave is not technically about Aleppo, it is about the siege on Syria and it is horrifying to think what it must be like to be Syrian over the past five years.
The Cave, as a film, is an odd beast. It has a lot of responsibility on its shoulders. While I've written about the siege on Syria in a lot of my film blogs, I know that many people don't know the horrors of what is / was going on over there. The Cave understands that it has a duty to let people know about the emotional and physical damage of what is going on there. Like its peers, The Cave stresses the violence that is happening to the civilian population of Syria. As such, the core of the movie is like other documentaries about similar subjects. It takes people in a place of care and support and focuses on how they can help more and more people, despite the sheer violence constantly surrounding them. This means that we do see absolutely terrifying things happening to real people, often children. These movies have made the concept of blood contrasted against white-washed children commonplace for me. I get that, because the nature of bombing is so impersonal, that a bomb victim looks the same and it is always haunting. The movie begs you to have hope for every victim that comes into that hospital and will reward that hope with success; but it will also severely punish that same hope when things begin to fail. It is the way of war and it is the core of the wartime documentary.
But The Cave offers something else that many of the other documentaries do not. The Cave is the first of these documentaries that is focused on the female gaze. Dr. Amani is a woman, a young woman at that, in a world where the patriarchy does not let her do her job in the best of environments. I know, the idea of the patriarchy ruining things isn't exactly a new idea. However, The Cave stresses the idea that the patriarchy and sexism is so prevalent in parts of the world that people would rather die than allow a woman to truly help. Dr. Amani is the same age as my sister-in-law. I know that phrase means nothing to people who do not know me. I'm 36. I still think of Julie as a young adult. I suppose she is. She lives at home and works in a hospital as a resident. Dr. Amani isn't a resident. She's the head of this hospital. This isn't exactly a point of pride for her. This wasn't an aggressive climb to the top for notoriety and promotion. Instead, she has a job that no one else wants and that no one else can do as well as her. The hospital that she runs in Syria is probably the greatest bastion against war that the residents have, yet she has to convince men to receive basic help. Her hospital is attached to a series of caves that allow people to stay out of blast zones. It connects to places all over the city and still, she has to move past basic sexism to let her do her job. Listen, I'm a white male and I know I'm on this whole white knight kick, but I just want to shake the world. It doesn't even directly affect me and I want to tear my hair out.
And yet, the movie really isn't about sexism. I mean, it is. But it is such a background thing that runs throughout the film. I know, my female readers are probably rolling their eyes right now because this is something that they probably deal with on a daily / hourly / constant basis, but the movie has to go on in spite of sexism. It's not constantly called out because of course everyone is sexist. There are times where the movie will express the frustrations that I'm talking about right now. But the majority of the movie treats this as "this is what life is like." That's disturbing as all get out. When Dr. Amani has success in the film, it is the smallest gasp of fresh air because we know that she achieved something marvelous in spite of everything that is going against her. The movie contrasts this with her co-worker, the older surgeon who has no anesthetic to work with. He's this older gentleman, someone who should by all rights be part of the old guard. Instead, he's the one who advocates for her. He naturally gains instant respect for being male and elder and he trades all of his goodwill and man points over to this woman who could be his daughter or granddaughter. It's just a bizarre world.
I get preachy with these things, so I'd like to apologize the fact that I'm probably about to double down on this idea. We don't know how good we have it. I'm not naive enough to think that I have readers in war torn countries. I have a hard enough time trying to get people who like me in reality to read this blog. But the movie returns to the motif of the ballet on the iPhone. There's no speaker system. There's no anesthetic. There's a surgeon who begs his patients to focus on the music so he can perform surgeries on them while they are awake. And he cries when he was to do it. That's a real reality for people that I can't even comprehend. This is a hospital without medicine. What makes it a hospital is its name and the fact that it has learned professionals who desperately want to save lives. The bombing makes the lights go out. The technology is a crapshoot. It used to work. It probably cost millions of dollars to get here. But it also tends to provide more shelter and wall support than much that can actually help. And yet, there are people all throughout the movie who do their best in the midst of terrible situations. I'm sure that no one wants a thirty-year-old in charge of a hospital. I'm sure that no one wants a nearly geriatric surgeon in charge of a surgery, especially one without anesthesia. Everyone in this hospital seems to be the definition of ragtag. A nurse doubles as a cook and it is heavily implied that, as much as she tries, she's not very good at either. Everything is makeshift and that's the way that it has to be.
I do have criticisms about The Cave as a documentary. There is this insistence on recapturing organic moments. There are just scenes in the movie where the dialogue seems to be re-enacted, much like a reality show. It's really a bummer commenting on this because it makes sense why they did it. It helps paint the broader picture of things that they deal with every day. It's stilted and weird. Similarly, the movie has too many focuses. Like I mentioned, I question whether the movie is about sexism or the siege. I find it odd that the movie is called The Cave because the labyrinthine tunnels are hardly mentioned throughout the movie. It's really about the people.
There is one absolutely horrific moment, though, that might be the most intense moment out of all these documentaries. The other documentaries often talk about the physical explosions throughout the siege. This is the first movie that dealt with the horrors of chemical weapons. It's very upsetting and it is uncomfortable to think that people out there would not only target civilians, but also those who would help those civilians. It's really scary and it isn't for the faint of heart.
My heart breaks every time I watch one of these movies. They are so important and I'm never going to downplay that importance. But I just want to live in a world where they don't have to make documentaries about the horrors of civilian casualties. More and more, I'm reminded that the world is a terrible place. I just need faith that things will get better.
Not rated, but there's the most punching that you will ever see in a fight. The sheer amount of punches per minute would power a small vehicle. There's some death. There's a lot of lying and theft. I don't know if that's one of your triggers, but the movie does offer ample amounts of lying and theft. There's a lot of bullets at one point as well. Like, the amount of bullets is probably dwarfed by the number of punches thrown in that one scene, but it's still a lot of bullets. That's more of a commentary on the punches thrown. Still, not rated.
DIRECTOR: Jacques Tourneur
Do you understand how much time I wasted trying to find a better image than the one above? I'm obsessed with getting the proper aspect ratio for my images, but everything that shows great images of the leads of this movie is behind a firewall. Yeah, I'm bummed out too. Anyway, I write and I write, but it still takes a long time to catch up to where I'm supposed to be. My to-do list is very impressive. The problem with watching a lot of film noir is that the movies occasionally tend to blend together. At least this movie's title has something to do with the plot, so I can't complain that much about this one. UPDATE: I just went home and got a picture from when I wasn't behind a firewall. INNOVATION!
There's something completely depressing about this movie. Jacques Tourneur may be one of the most cynical directors that I've ever seen based on this film alone. The French obsession with the bleakness of humanity in the film noir is never more apparent than in Out of the Past. Many of the things that I have watched often have a doomed relationship. One member of the relationship is doomed by fate to lose everything and it is usually because of one bad choice. I don't think I've ever seen a movie where the entire relationship, from moment one to moment ten, is based on a lie. It's usually a relationship that starts with good / bad intentions and it flips at one point in the narrative. But Jane Greer's Kathie is just a depressing femme fatale. It's odd that I like this movie so much because I now hate myself as a person after having seen this movie.
Kathie, as a character, is really problematic. The femme fatale, I suppose, now confuses me. On one point, she isn't the housewife or the wilting flower. She's this self-actualized character who goes after what she wants and stops at nothing. In a post-WWII era, that makes a ton of sense. I like the fact that there are characters who don't necessarily have to follow the formula of simply being a foil for the male protagonist. But there are femme fatales that are straight up hateworthy. They are written to be hated. In the grand scale of progressiveness, is this really the message that we want out there? I know. It's 1947. I have to be forgiving of the era. But I'm just seeing movie after movie of characters who find their value at the expense of others. With Gilda, she is redeemed and actually considered heroic by the end of the film. But it is only done at the expense of lies and misdirection. But Kathie in Out of the Past is the antithesis of Gilda. There is no turn in her character. Her character, from moment one, is lying for her own satisfaction. Gilda does something evil to achieve a good result. She pretends to be a heartless monster to wake up Johnny. Hugely problematic, but the story works in its own way. Kathie, however, pretends to be an angel when really she's manipulating the story from moment one.
It's hard to be sympathetic towards Kathie. We talk about the femme fatale a lot in class and how it is in reaction to men being afraid of women in the workplace. That's a gross and inappropriate summation of a much larger concept, but it'll do as a placeholder for the sake of what I'm writing. There are moments where we consider these characters sympathetic. Often, these women are under the thumb of the patriarchy and their evil ways are the only way to gain a kind of control. From that perspective, Kathie can also be lumped into this pool of women who manipulate men for the sake of independence and advancement. It's just that the way that Kathie portrayed forces us to fall in love with her as well. It's the perfect example of male hypocrisy though. Jeff starts off his interaction with Kathie with a lie. He pretends that he is just there out of coincidence, but forms a bond with her. We quickly forgive Jeff, at least we're meant to, because he goes from being a crummy guy to an honest guy who is willing to put it all on the line. But Kathie makes us fall in love with her. She seems like she is the victim from moment one. While Jeff confesses his true nature to Kathie, Kathie doubles down on the lie. She stresses that she is the victim in this situation.
But as much as the whole movie is about Kathie's lies and manipulation, is she really completely lying? Whit, who orchestrates many of the events, is a straight-up criminal. If the movie is about honesty, I suppose that Whit actually might be the most honest character in the entire film. He never denies his personality. He is possibly the most free character in the entire movie because he not only exercises a life of honesty, but relishes in the freedom that it gives him. But he is a monster. Honesty can't be mistaken for virtue. Sure, Kathie is pretty despicable because of her lack of honesty, but it is almost a by-product of being surrounded by vice and sin. Her entire background that we can confirm as true is defined by her relationship with Whit. She steals his money as a means to be free. Yes, she lies about it because that is her primary character trait. But she does so to free herself from Whit's control. She must continue lying because she realizes that she is closer to being caught than she had initially planned. This duplicity is problematic, but it kind of makes a bit of sense. She has a bit of "the girl who cried wolf" with this reasoning as well. She is constantly repeating that she is just trying to get away from Whit and this is mostly true.
But this also makes her return to Whit all the more disgusting to the viewer. Kathie fits in the world of the gangster pretty well because she does all that she can to get ahead. But Kathie is juxtaposed to Jeff, who would probably rank as chaotic good. He's a scoundrel to begin with. But we watch his redemption arc throughout the movie which is being stymied by Kathie, whom we take as a moral lighthouse. When Kathie reveals the reality of her allegiance, that's what makes us really hate her. It's a sponsor giving a recovering alcoholic a drink. Because she is placed in that place of trust, it feels not only like a betrayal to Jeff, who has sacrificed everything for his redemption story, but to us who urged him to trust Kathie. Perhaps we can pepper that with a lot of the fragile male ego, but Kathie comes across as more deserving of hate than many of the other femme fatales that we have studied in the class.
Out of the Past is a movie that is great because it gets me mad. I don't like always feeling comfortable with expectations. There are moments where the straying away from the formula can enrage me because important expectations aren't met. But in the case of Out of the Past, the movie simply throws an interesting curveball where I didn't see one coming. Perhaps the entire film noir movement was an attempt to make me not trust women. That's pretty abhorrent. But I also know that there is some amazing storytelling here and I completely dig it.
TV-PG. Um...what? If there has ever been an argument that says "Questionable content v. Intended audience", it's this rating. Everyone should watch this movie. But that also being said, you see real death and real blood throughout the movie. It is a documentary about Aleppo under siege. There is constant, real-world violence around. There's a part where I was sure that a baby was dead. Like, it was one of the most tragic things that I've ever seen. That moment is so vital to the movie and it ripped my heart out, but I would never let my little kids see this movie until they are older. TV-PG is a really weird call for this movie.
DIRECTORS: Waad Al-Kateab and Edward Watts
It's getting to be insane that there's still information coming out of Aleppo. It's these documentaries that really frame my political beliefs. Like, I run hot about refugee issues and the bombing of civilians. I know, I'm clearly a hippie, right? [Glares angrily at imagined haters.] I might have a hard time writing about For Sama because I've just seen so many of these documentaries about Aleppo. My heart hasn't hardened, and thank God for that. But at the same time, I don't know what new insight that I can provide by watching these movies. The best takeaway that I can offer is that I hope that I can stop watching these documentaries because real change will have been made and that the world won't actually be a terrible place.
This year, there were two separate Aleppo documentaries: For Sama and The Cave. Of the two, the more effective one is For Sama. I haven't written about The Cave yet, but The Cave has moments, albeit few, that read a little artificial. For Sama reads like it was a documentary that happened to a documentarian. Because the documentarian is referred to as "Waad", I too will refer to her as "Waad" instead of "Al-Kateab". It's not a lack of respect, but simply because the movie established a precedent and I'd like to respect the wishes of the filmmaker. Waad presents a film that takes the documentary to a new level. Many of the films in the past have been documentarians going in and filming a specific subject matter. Most notably, documentaries have given attention to the White Helmets (The Last Men in Aleppo), which gives a context for people who actually should be there. But the question I always had was "Why would anyone else stay?"
Waad and her husband answer that question. It isn't the central question of the movie. The central question of the movie is why the attacks are coming, stressing the senselessness of war and the bombing. But because Waad and her husband are residents of Aleppo and because the documentarian herself is the subject of the film, we really get an understanding of why people would stay there. In some cases, some people refuse to leave their home. One of the recurring families in the movie reminds us of the importance of home. The male child in the family sees death around him every day. All of his friends are dead or gone and he refuses to leave his home. I get this to a certain extent. It's odd to think that I live in a country where it is normal to simply leave home because a better job is offered elsewhere. I don't really have the cultural understanding for staying in Aleppo. But this child is so convinced of the rightness of staying in Aleppo that he considers his friends who have sought shelter to be emotional and spiritual traitors.
But then the biggest question that the movie raises, and I would agree that Waad might even be on my team on this one, is why is Sama there? The movie is perhaps as self-flagellating as it needs to be. For Waad, she is a journalist documenting war crimes. She is there to let the world know that Aleppo is under siege and that innocent people are being killed for simply existing. I get that. All documentarians in the same position have a duty to the truth. Her husband being in Aleppo makes even more sense. As a doctor, he understands the value of life. He stands when people run. It's heroic. Yeah, the documentarian is highlighting the nobility of her husband and that has to be taken with an understanding of bias involved, but I completely support that decision. He is one of the last doctors available in a city that is out of medicine and facilities. He's a hero.
But why is Sama there? Waad asks this question multiple times. Perhaps I know what I would do. There's no scenario where I could stay in Aleppo when my kids would risk death. Death is not abstract. Aleppo is not a heightened health risk. It's not me sleeping in my house with the doors unlocked or no batteries in the smoke detector. This is survival in spite of what everything is telling you. Everyone is dying in Aleppo. The majority of people have been wiped out. Every person has lost people. Only a fragment of society has survived. There's no way that I could have my kids there. There are multiple times in the movie where the grandparents beg to take Sama. If the parents have to be there for the greater good, at least let the grandparents take the kids.
It's heartbreaking for the majority of the movie. I thought with a title like For Sama, that Sama wouldn't have survived the film. God be praised that Sama and the entire family survives the siege of Aleppo, but why did that have to happen? From a parent's perspective, I can see never wanting to be separated from your child. I don't know if I would be able to handle it. But also knowing that my kids would be safe somewhere else would be the most important things. The baby scene, that is the scene that ripped my heart out the most. I audibly exclaimed when it started crying. I was having a terrible day before that, but that scene put it into perspective. But the thing that really damaged my heart is every time that Sama would have to hide from a bombing. Why is she there?
With a title like For Sama, I get that there is a greater meaning behind the film in general. The events of this siege needed to be chronicled. It is a message for all the people of the world of the violence that happened with the siege. But the title also has the dual meaning of being a message for Sama. She was there, although she probably wouldn't remember being in Aleppo. The atrocities are something that Sama must carry forward into the next generation. It takes this abstract concept of war and crime and makes it very real for her. It is her call to justice. I lead a very comfortable life. I have a blog, for goodness sake. But I have seen documentary after documentary about Aleppo and I'm worried that, a decade from now, I won't remember the horrible things that have happened there. There's a blessing and a curse that comes with distance. Naming the film For Sama is a promise that Sama's parents made for her.
I can't stress enough that I would never do what Sama's parents did to her. They are saints in many ways, but perhaps at the expense of parenthood. They clearly love their child and I believe that they did what they did out of love. But my kids will always take priority. There's a lot of stuff that I hold onto very closely that I would sacrifice for my children. It's just that there's a third option that I wish that Sama's parents explored. They knew that they should have let their parents take their child. There's so much out there that is good and Sama's parents kept her in the evil. Even if it was just from a medical perspective, all that garbage that Sama must have breathed in. It depresses me that the world probably isn't a good place. But even do-gooders make mistakes in the name of what is right.
TV-MA and that's pretty accurate. Despite the majority of the movie being a love story that has a weird and funky element to it, there is a severed hand that makes his way around a city, fighting off all kids of horrible things. There's a lot of blood. There's a lot of language. It's terrifying because the foreshadowing is so intense around the film. Like, it gets to a really uncomfortable level of suspense that I actually stopped the movie, caught my breath, and continued watching. TV-MA.
DIRECTOR: Jérémy Clapin
My wife instantly went "no" to the first ten minutes of this movie. I don't blame her. It's not her thing. The first few minutes of this movie are super-duper gory and it makes the rest of the movie look like it is going to be a really high concept movie. I mean, it still is pretty high concept. When I finished the movie by myself and told her that the movie was actually this pretty intense romance, I found myself shocked saying that is what the movie was about. I suppose that I'm a bigger fan of tragic romances than happy ending romances. But this movie worked when I just started thinking that it didn't.
The beginning of the movie really screams "short film." As a short film concept, I would probably be would be losing my mind over what a cool concept it was. But honestly, the hand thing is the thing that works the least for me in the movie. Yeah, it is this conceit that reminds me that a genre doesn't have to be one thing. It opens my mind to more fantastical ideas than simply "this is a story about a boy who can't tell a girl that he likes her." In that way, I suppose that conceit works really well. It does force me to get out of my comfort zone about what a romance could and should be and gets me to take it to the next level. That's what this animated film does best; it takes the idea of the romance to new places and I absolutely adore that.
The thing about when genres fuse, they tend to be far too tongue-in-cheek for much greatness to shine through. The ultimate exception is Shaun of the Dead, one of my favorite films. But Shaun of the Dead has an advantage that I Lost My Body lacks. Shaun is a comedy. I know that people say that comedy is hard, but we tend to be really forgiving of comedies when it comes to exploring this genre fusion. I don't know what it is. There seems to be something self-aware about high concept splicing where neither actual genre is served. I Lost My Body is a fusion of horror and romance and both genres are treated respectfully. My theory is because the genres don't actually mix that much. For the majority of the film, the crawling hand, while sympathetic, stays away from the protagonist of the film. The protagonist of the film has his story. The hand has its story. Yeah, they interact in the end, but even that is at the end of both characters' journeys.
This split allows storytelling to progress unhindered. It's like Game of Thrones. Much of that storytelling really worked because individual plotlines seemed to be told in isolation. We knew of the multiple threads existing at the same time, but that only added to the suspense and curiosity of what would happen when those disparate storylines interacted. And that's the tease throughout the film. We are allowed and encouraged to bond with each character's narrative separately. They became fully fleshed out (pun intended) and we could continue from there. When genres are truly blended, it takes a master storyteller who is able to divorce themselves from overindulgence to tell a great story, regardless of concept.
There's a lot going on here. The complexities for romance tend to work better. If you've read this blog for a long period of time, you know that I can get pretty cynical about romances. Romances, in particular romantic comedies, tend to get really into lazy trope stuff. Filmmakers and studios know what sells and they keep recycling a lot of the same stuff. Instead, I Lost My Body can be called a romance simply because the protagonist's main goal is to enamor the girl he likes. But Naoufel has a complicated backstory. The fact that this story ends in a bittersweet way, with Naoufel perhaps lower than ever, encourages a tragic backstory. I don't think we get a lot of that in romances. Usually, a romantic male lead tends to be a confident guy who is kind of a jerk. But Naoufel has more than simply a harder life because of popularity. Naoufel is a reminder of the trials of the orphan / refugee.
The contrast between Naoufel's old life and his new life reminds me of a modern day Les Miserables. Through the existence of a hard universe full of difficult people, Naoufel never really seems to catch a break. Because he is thrust into an unfair lower caste, this bright kid who could realistically be conquering the world is stuck serving pizzas, Spider-Man 2 style. There's this weird thought that poor people realistically should be able to pull themselves up from their bootstraps, but I Lost My Body reminds us that the world is against the impoverished. It becomes painfully clear that Naoufel can't really ever succeed in his job. While he tries with all of his might to deliver pizzas on time, the world is a far more challenging place than that.
When love is presented to him in context of a difficult life, that romance becomes all the more important. This is where the real cynic comes out. I desperately want the relationship to work out, but Naoufel is also kind of toxic. He's definitely the hero of the story. He is doing his best despite his own fears and phobias. But the right thing to do is to be honest in that moment. Instead, Naoufel's misguided understanding of what someone wants just covers up the fact that the only right thing to do is to ask the voice on the speaker out there and then. Over the course of the film, Naoufel really kind of stalks Gabrielle. He inserts himself into her life as some grand gesture. But that's a lot of pressure to put on someone and I respect the fact that the film doesn't applaud his gestures.
This is tragic, but appropriate. While my heart weeps for Naoufel and his broken heart --a fine companion for his broken life --that kind of behavior is a really old way of thinking. Is taking his hand a bit much? Oh my goodness, yes. But narrative storytelling has rewarded those choices for decades and I Lost My Body is a strong reminder that women aren't just one thing. Everyone is complex. They aren't something just to be wooed, but treated like a person. Naoufel should expect Gabrielle to just love him instantly and that message is conveyed.
So then why the loss of a hand? We all knew that he was going to lose his hand, right? The movie telegraphs that pretty intensely. That part is pretty clear. When you write everyday, you tend to write your mental issues out through your repetitive writing. I got all kinds of family things. I constantly lose it when a movie deals with dead fathers. The hand is fun to animate and it does what a ghost cannot do. The living hand takes damage. It evokes empathy. It is extremely fragile. The hand does a good job of representing the need of a father to take care of his kid. Because Naoufel, despite the fact that he makes a major mistake in his life choices, is never actually a bad person. The hand is the desire to take care of a kid who can't take care of himself. But he can take care of himself. Sure, it involves him chopping off his own hand, but that's a kind of self-care. There is a lot of "this looks cool" behind the hand, but I don't slap that hand down. I think it works for the most part.
Yeah, it won't ever win the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, but I do want people to watch this movie. It hit me pretty hard and I know I can't be alone here.
PG-13. At one point, Jojo says the f-word. I need to write that now because I will totally forget later on. Tonally, the movie is aimed for a wide audience. While I can't call a movie that is in the shadow of the Holocaust family-friendly, the movie wants people to watch it. There's blood and death, but death is important when talking about World War II. The biggest thing that gets people mad is how the movie treats Hitler like a joke. To these people, I have to scream as loud as I can, "Everyone's on the same side." You are meant to laugh at dark things here because it is insulting to Nazis. This is an example where you are meant to laugh AT the subject matter, not with the subject matter. It shines a light on racist buffoonery. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Taika Waititi
This was the movie I wanted to watch in theaters oh-so-badly! I was preaching this movie. The trailer came out and I showed it to everyone. So how is it that I'm only writing about this movie right now? Well, life is very hard and my days are very busy. I know. I maintain a blog and I talk about media a lot. I clearly have some time. It just slipped away. But now that I've seen it, I have to decide: is Jojo Rabbit or Parasite my favorite movie for 2019?
I mean, I really like Parasite. I'm not going to undo that at all. When asked, I'll probably say Parasite because it completely knocked my socks off and it is coupled with having some pretty impressive street cred. But I've watched Jojo Rabbit twice and I liked it as much the second time. I'm not going to do that with Parasite. I'd like to think that I'll watch Parasite again, but I haven't really watched The Host a second time, despite the fact that it is sitting on my shelf right now gathering dust. (Don't throw my movies away, wife! I'd love to watch The Host with you.) The thing about Jojo Rabbit is that it is a helluva inviting movie. Parasite, tonally, while making me laugh for a good portion of the movie, never makes me guffaw. It isn't meant to. It hits a very appropriate tone quickly. I would not want to change that. But there's something about Taika Waititi's movies that seem fun enough to make you want to watch them again.
I've seen What We Do in the Shadows multiple times as well as Thor: Ragnarok. I love these movies. Both of these movies are perhaps on the goofier side of Waititi's art though. They are comedy for comedy's sake. I have no problem with that. Waititi is a master of the genre and these movies prove that he's at the forefront of his craft. But Jojo Rabbit takes the skills that he has cultivated with his other films and give the film a central message. And the way he pulls it off is by daring you to watch the film in the first place.
In the MPAA section, I commented on how people are hesitant to watch a movie about nazis as the protagonists. It seems like it is making light of the Holocaust. There are other films that make fun of the Holocaust, but it is important to know the origins of these movies because it kinda / sorta matters when it comes to talking about such a vulnerable subject matter. Mel Brooks was infamous for making jokes about Hitler. He, too, exemplified his craft. But with Brooks, he rarely took it to another level. His goal was either parody or farce, but rarely got into satire shy of Blazing Saddles, which really asked the audience to meet it where it was. Jojo Rabbit provides the funny as a way to develop a sense of vulnerability that many people are afraid to explore.
When Life is Beautiful came out, people flocked to see that movie. In a year where Parasite was the first foreign language film to win Best Picture, I can't help but flashback to when Roberto Benigni ran up on stage thinking that he had won the award. Life is Beautiful made people laugh at the love of a father while weeping at the indignities of concentration camps. It was a message of hope that allowed people to feel something different, yet vital while experiencing something profoundly sad. This is criminal that I'm writing this, but I can't help but make the parallel between salty and sweet. Often movies about darkness see how infinitely sad we can become. I think of movies like Schindler's List, that cinematically illustrated the cruelty and goodness within the hearts of man. I know that people comment on The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as one of the saddest movies that they have ever seen. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's something else to be gained by both laughing and crying at the same time.
Laughter makes us fall in love. Jojo, as a Hitler youth, is oddly sympathetic. The movie starts off with this little kid spouting all of this racist filth, yet he still seems like a kid. It's hard to get mad at him because, from moment one, we understand that he doesn't completely get it. If the entire country can be brainwashed by Hitler, it's not surprising that a ten-year-old boy, too, can be a member of the master race. What Waititi does, and I applaud him for it, is normalize racism. By showing that Jojo and the people around him think that they are in the right, we understand that when that shift happens, there's something important going on in that moment. It's not a bad guy becoming a good guy. Movies have taught us that bad guys become good guys and that's okay. (Ben Solo and his Good Boy Sweater). Instead, Jojo is at an age where not a lot of things make sense. He starts to see the world through a different lens. The fun of childhood and irresponsibility have faded away.
Because all that laughter and good times is because he only cared about himself. He's never fully evil. He says awful things and does even worse, but he has no idea the impact that his choices have on him. It's only when he experiences sacrifice on the part of his mother that things start to really make sense for him. And that's when the tears happen. It's because we spent so much time laughing that we realize the horrors of what is happening around him. Like Jojo, this tragedy comes out of nowhere and it is truly painful. I know that I'm deep diving into the "why" of laughter right now, but I don't think I've had a moment cinematically like Jojo seeing his mother's shoes. Waititi keeps planting that seed subtly throughout the film. The shoes. Those shoes instantly became iconic for me and they meant so darn much. If Schindler's List had the red coat, Jojo Rabbit has mother's shoes.
When we cry after laughing so much, those tears mean so much more. With sad movies, we steel ourselves to sadness. We cry in spite of attempts otherwise. But with laughter, we aren't prepped. That vulnerability means all that much more than going into a sad movie. And the movie needs to be sad. People's criticisms would be accurate if there was no sadness in this movie. It's kind of why I have a hard time revisiting the works of Mel Brooks. I enjoy Mel Brooks and I thank him for all the great things that he has done. But it's films like Jojo Rabbit that are going to stick with me long afterwards.
The movie both flattens and contours its characters. There are moments where I don't know if everything works. I'm really torn about Scarlett Johansson's interpretation of Paul, Jojo's father. I love that scene for the most part. But part of me also says it might be the most artificial thing in the entire movie. There's some weird stuff in this movie, but it all seems to fit with the exception of that part. It's one of those things that, as a director, I would have to question because it is beautiful. But it also is a little silly and provides a lot of exposition to who Jojo's father really was.
But I can't think of a part of this movie that doesn't really work. Elsa is such an interesting character. We have seen this character before. Based on the experience of Anne Frank, what would it be like to live in a wall? But the Jewish refugee has always been portrayed from a position of victimhood. This isn't a commentary on what SHOULD be presented, but rather that this is something just different and new. I adore Elsa and her lack of fear. Waititi incorporates (and this really could be from the novel) a narrative reason for her courage. She has very little to live for, thus her relationship with Jojo is the only thing that keeps her going.
At the end of the day, the movie is also commenting on the fact that racists of any kind don't like leaving their comfort zone. The movie organically presents a world where the norm is disturbed. If Nazis have always been the villains of the story, showing them as the protagonist only forces us to shine the light on ourselves. From Jojo's perspective, Germany will always triumph because he always believed that Germany is right. But it has to come crashing down sometimes. We're not always right. The world around us is way more terrible than we've ever felt comfortable acknowledging before. But sometimes, all it takes is being able to laugh at our own stupidity and make a change.
PG. I kinda-sorta-not-really-but-kinda got scolded for putting this on for a group of kids at our Christmas party. I didn't screen it, but I had a bunch of kids who wanted to watch a movie and Netflix was already there. Now that I've seen it, the beginning can be kind of scary. It might be something that is considered part of a Christmas tradition to juxtapose the goodness of Christmas with something evil and disturbing. I don't think the movie is that bad. The town is full of awful people who are trying to kill each other using comic mischief. Klaus can come across as a bit scary. But really, the movie is mostly fine. I ended up watching it with my kids and they loved it...once the scary stuff was over. PG.
DIRECTORS: Sergio Pablos and Carlos Martinez-Lopez
Okay, I see the danger of this one. I'm with you. I was watching this movie and super nervous throughout. The elephant in the room is that the movie is actively divorcing the Santa Claus myth with its tenuous attachment to St. Nicholas. It's not the first movie to do so and it probably won't be the last. But considering that Klaus is meant to be a Santa Claus origin, it does get into some dicey places that might make some people upset. If the movie wasn't so good, I would probably be angrier and less forgiving. But the movie is pretty good. It never actively fights against the Christmas mythos, so much as it wants desperately to reinterpret the story.
Yeah, do I wish Jesus and the nativity played a bigger role in this movie? Definitely. I want my faith told well. (I have to write about Breakthrough coming up, so pray for me on that one. Sheesh.) But Klaus does something that I also kind of support. Klaus works because it tells a new story well. Christmas movies, at least for me, are getting real tired. There seem to be a set of rules that state what one can do with a Christmas film and what one can't do with a Christmas film. Thanks to Hallmark, the corporate Christmas nightmare, we've beaten every combination of Christmas trope into the ground. It's not on Hallmark alone. That's a bit unfair. For the most part, they stay out of the way of the supernatural elements of Christmas. Those are the ones that get me interested in the story.
But Klaus presents the concept that really has been done before: what if Santa wasn't always the good guy of the story? That's a gross misrepresentation of what actually happens in the movie, but it is a nice starting point when presenting this movie. Santa has always been the morally perfect character in the story. With The Santa Clause, the movie tried playing with this concept by imbuing a normal human being with Santa's essence, but it still is a bit of a cheat. It's not like Klaus himself is evil or anything. But the movie posits that it would take something marvelous and special to want to become Santa Claus.
Which actually might make the movie an even more important story than I realized. With St. Nicholas always being, at least in popular culture, a good dude who was almost divinely inspired to do something great, it is hard to associate with that character. I know that the saints serve as inspiration for us to do the same, but St. Nick has always been on another level. He's always come across as something supernatural and superhuman. We tend to relate to those who receive gifts, not the ones who make them. But by making Klaus a human guy with human problems, it allows the viewer to somewhat sympathize with him. With the ability to sympathize with Santa Claus, that means that we too should be Santa Claus.
Because Klaus is stubborn. I'm taking a really deep dive into the titular character and not into Jesper. I hope I have the foresight to wax poetic about Jesper. But the real close read comes from looking at Klaus. His super power is his normality. The world that the film inhabits is one with limited magical interaction. Yes, it is larger than reality. There's something exaggerated about the way that this island operates. It's not unlike other settings we see in children's animation, but it does kind of follow a lot of the same rules. I don't quite know the world building of this movie. Christmas, for example, does exist. Jesper is aware that Christmas is coming up and makes the plan to put everything on the line for the celebration of Christmas annually. Outside of a mysterious wind meant to represent Klaus's deceased spouse, there's not much supernatural happening until the end.
This is oddly important for the creation of the Santa Claus myth. It's so easy to write off the character as something magical and the shift that Klaus has to make is only minor if magic is ever-present in this world. But it's only the faith that we have that Klaus's decision to be gifted with seasonal immortality is what drives us. There's always the question of how this will keep going. I adore that Klaus and his operation is so small potatoes for the majority of the film. Yeah, it's more than I could ever do and there is a little bit of a suspension of disbelief to understand how many gifts he gets delivered in such a small time. But it also seems half-and-half plausible that two guys could pull off a plan like the one presented in the movie.
I think the reason that I'm not that interested in Jesper is, despite the fact that I really like him, he's a little bit of a trope. It was weird when I saw that Jason Schwartzman was voicing him because I could have sworn that it was David Spade. And do you know why I thought it was David Spade (in tandem with the fact that Schwartzman kind of sounds like David Spade throughout)? It's because he's doing Kuzco throughout. The dynamic between Jesper and Klaus is just Kuzco and Pacha. I'm sorry to ruin everyone's day like that. I know. It's heartbreaking to get the rug pulled out from you so quickly, but it's the truth. If there's one thing that I am, it's a truth teller. After I just wrote this paragraph, I Googled it. I'm not the only one who has made the comparison.
And that honesty is that the framing narrative of it all is the same quest that is presented in The Emperor's New Groove. Jesper is a narcissist who is taught humility by being around the gentle-giant that is Klaus / Pacha. Now, I adore The Emperor's New Groove. It might be the most overlooked Disney film of all time. Well, either this or The Great Mouse Detective. But I've seen that story before. I like that story. It's why I'm very forgiving of that story. But it's simply a framing device to get to Klaus. So why even have Jesper? After all, I was preaching about how the movie brings to life the idea that Santa Claus is more than simply good for goodness' sake. (Allusion intended, and I'm proud of it.)
I think that Jesper only reaffirms the message that it isn't up to Santa to be a good man. Once Klaus has found his mission, we know that he's going to follow through with it. The movie becomes about how the individual beats are going to happen. Since Santa is so well known, it's almost a little unfair to have a movie about him because all of the fenceposts are visible from the distance. Jesper, however, is a wild-card. Yeah, we know that he's going to be redeemed. But we also don't know how he's going to be invested in the whole thing. His narrative isn't technically written, besides the fact that it was The Emperor's New Groove. There are times in the movie where I honestly thought that Jesper was going to be a co-Santa Claus throughout history. I still don't hate that idea and someone should make that movie.
But it's also a lot to constantly focus on Klaus. Klaus works in this movie because of the mystery he presents throughout. He's a man with a hidden past. I don't mean to comment on weight and size, especially of a fictional cartoon character, but he's a boulder running downhill. He's only going to gain speed. There's only so much that you can do with a character like Klaus and still make him satisfying. Instead, Jesper has to personify all of the internal conflicts that come from Klaus. He's a good man who has doubts, but no one wants to hear that from Santa. Instead, we have Jesper voicing all of those issues and Klaus simply moving forward. It works.
I know. It seems like we are straying farther and farther away from conventional Christmas stories. But Klaus has an amazing message. It reminds us that saints are among us. They aren't always perfect. They aren't always charismatic. But we are all called to be saints. Do I wish that Klaus was the real St. Nicholas? Totally. But this is a nice second place trophy.
Unrated, mainly because this is practically a cinema verite foreign documentary. I'm so torn to write about what is considered controversial or questionable material. In my heart of hearts, this movie is completely tame. But it also has child abuse, kids being stung by bees, dead animals, dying animals, and language. That kid swears! He's so angry. It's odd to think that the movie would be considered inappropriate, but I can kind of get that many people wouldn't feel comfortable watching this. Regardless, unrated.
DIRECTORS: Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov
Our group of friends...we're rascals. Just old fashioned rascals. I don't know why I'm ashamed of a common game that we play in our circle, but it's always led by one member of the group. My friend loves to pretend that a movie that he considers unwatchable is a must-watch film. It's not just movies. He does this with TV too. He spent years trying to convince all of us that Cougar Town was one of the funniest shows on television. When I say that he pretends, that does him a disservice. He lives that truth. There's a better chance than normal that he's reading this right now and that he'll actively be mad at me for revealing his game to the world. For the past few weeks, he's been living the lie that Honeyland is one of the best movies ever made. Is it weird that I feel like a bad person for not digging a documentary?
I'm not as intense on the dislike of the film as my friend. But I also saw the signs coming. He was really intense about Honeyland and I know that if there is one thing that my friend dislikes in a movie, it's boringness. I'm going to stumble into my hypocrisy camp once more. The intellectual snob part of me, which is safely 75-90% of me, understands that documentaries should document the truth, regardless. This is the attitude that the Maysles had with their brand of cinema verite documentary. It didn't matter if there was a story there or not. They documented the film as they were and they released that film in a loose cohesive narrative. Listen, I've seen Grey Gardens a few times. I've watched Salesman and The Beales of Grey Gardens. I get it. I completely intellectually appreciate those films. But the 10% of me that oddly appreciates The Fast and the Furious films, despite every inclination that screams that those movies are dumb gets real bored at those movies.
At the end of the day, I'm making the argument between high art and low art. I'm a big fan of where they cross. If something can be entertaining while stimulating my brain, I will tout that as something genius. Honeyland definitely belongs in the high art / intellectual camp. Kotevska and Stefanov film Hatidze for what looks to be a year. Apparently, and I only understood this from the IMDb summary, she is the last female beehunter in Europe. I didn't know that she was the last. I just got the vibe that she depended on the bees for her very isolated livelihood. There is conflict, both internal and external. The neighbors are nomadic beekeepers. They seem friendly at times, but their presence near Hatidze is parasitical. They plunder the land they are on and move on. Okay, there's a throughline to this movie.
But ultimately, the documentary never really spikes. Something major doesn't happen in the film. (Okay, that's a gross understatement that I hope to defend throughout what I write.) Rather, the film is about the small things that compound in this woman's life. Her neighbors suck. They're not overtly evil for a lot of the movie. But the movie shows how the tensions between the patriarch of the household and the rest of the family is completely toxic to everyone involved in the movie, related or no. He keeps making these horrible business deals and he kind of is terrible at being a farmer. If anything, the big message to the movie is to not be a farmer unless you are guaranteed to be awesome at it. His incompetence is really the bad guy of the movie.
But those small things end up leading to tragedy throughout. I don't know if this is shocking to anyone, but the oldest woman in the world who might have every disease known to mankind dies before the end of the film. That seems like I'm being really insensitive, mainly because I am and I'm now a little ashamed of it. But upon seeing Hatidze's mother, remembering that Hatidze is no spring chicken herself, it's a miracle that she's even alive at the beginning of the film. She lives on a diet of honeycomb and bananas every once in a while. She can't even hear the radio's one song because she is so near death. If she didn't live in the middle of nowhere, the woman would clearly be in hospice from moment one of the movie. Her death, while heartbreaking for Hatidze, is glaringly obvious. From an outside perspective, we all think that the tragedy is coming and we steel ourselves from it. Did it hurt a little? Yes, but I really mourned for Hatidze.
The only real emotional response that I kept getting out of the movie is how incompetent the next door neighbor was. He is this small man in the world. This buyer really seems to bully him throughout the film to take deals that wouldn't behoove his family. It's one of those situations where they have so little and the future is so murky that the family has to take what is offered to them, regardless of how it might play out. But this man is bullied by others, which causes him to bully those that he can. He is cruel to his wife and he's cruel to his kids. There are moments where his frustration makes sense. His wife seems to be all over the place personality-wise, so his frustration evokes sympathy. But it's really that they all live in a toxic environment, so they all behave in toxic, self-sabotaging manners.
But really, the movie is boring. Like, it's really dull. I've seen more boring things and I've even liked more boring things. I know that I should care about the films commentary on class and the third world, but I'm just so bored for a lot of the movie. The movie sits in this spot and allows, like honey creeping downhill, this slow slog to take over the film. Starting with Hatidze scaling a rock cliff, this phenomenal juxtaposition, the movie never really gets all that much more exciting from there. We see a lot of an old woman feeding another old woman. There are arguments with the neighbors. Hatidze gets frustrated with them, but never really puts her foot down to stop the behavior from happening. When the film ends and her livelihood is destroyed, it's heartbreaking but understandable. Hatidze never really fights for what she believes in. Instead, she watches as these atrocities are done to her. Yes, a lot of it is done clandestine-like, but that's kind of just a depressing movie.
And maybe, that's what the movie is. Kind of depressing. There are moments of normality. Buying hair dye at the market makes her seem more human and more sympathetic. Playing with dogs and going to fairs are solid moments in the story. But most of the movie is just her watching the neighbors ruining everything around them with their incompetence and selfishness. I don't mind bummer movies. In fact, I tend to lean pretty hard into bummer movies. But there's a bummer movie because the protagonist gave it all they got and still lost against fate. But then there are movies like Honeyland where nothing really happens and then the movie just kind of ends sadly.
It's odd that I don't really regret watching Honeyland. Like I said, there's something intellectual there to really appreciate. Cinematically, it is a very impressive film. It looks like a series of National Geographic photographs brought to life. It reminds me that the world isn't just what I see and what I interact with. People live all kinds of lives. The Western privilege in me questions throughout the film why she doesn't just pack up and leave, but I also know that isn't a choice for all people. I feel smarter for having seen this movie, but I can't claim that I had any part of me that actually enjoyed the movie for itself. Instead, it's more didactic than anything else. I learned about this one woman and now I know that she exists. I suppose that makes me a better person. But whatever karma I collected from watching the movie, I probably lost by writing about it.
Not rated. I was going to say that not much happens that could be controversial, and then I thought about it for more than a second. The bad guy has a cane that turns straight up into a sword. He stabs folks with this sword cane. Also, the titular character, at one point, is almost stripped naked in front of a room full of people. There's gambling, implied infidelity, murder. I don't know what I was thinking. It's not the most offensive movie in the world, but the world of film noir is a dark place, ladies and gentlemen. Oh. And smoking...as seen above.
DIRECTOR: Charles Vidor
It's kind of a testament to how many movies I watch, particularly during Oscar season, that I'm two weeks behind on Gilda and I've been writing almost everyday. This is all part of the film noir grad class. Since the Academy Awards are over, I can take a little bit of a break on the film binge. I should be catching up to the class pretty soon. It'll actually be a boon to have the film noir class because it'll probably give me just the right amount of mandatory film watching that I need to get through my film blog and its arbitrary constraints on my time.
I fought pretty hard that Gilda might not actually be film noir, but just film-noir-eque. I'm going to talk a lot about how this film is just Evil Casablanca, but I do want to examine what makes something film noir. The big discussion in class is that there isn't technically a set of rules to make something film noir. There are recurring themes and motifs in a lot of film noir, but you can't technically make a checklist to determine whether or not something is considered film noir. I'd also like to cover my bases now by stating the thing that we keep repeating in class: "Film noir isn't really a genre." I can get behind that, so I wander out into some murky waters during my arguement, please bear with me.
Gilda reads a lot like a romance. Since I made that comparison to Evil Casablanca, I'm going to use that as my argument for what is and what is not film noir. Not a lot of people consider Casablanca to be a film noir. Yeah, it's got Bogie and shadows, but some of that is the product of the age. Casablanca came out before the era of film noir mostly. The alienation of the American solider parallels the existential crises that one finds in a good film noir, so Casablanca doesn't really meet that considering that it is released during the earlier years of the war. But Gilda has a lot of the same foundational points and beats as Casablanca. I know I'm intentionally being vague, but it also helps that I'm not the only person who pointed this out. The second I started noticing this, I did a quick Google search and someone bulletpointed every single connection that Gilda has with Casablanca. I know that I'm not crazy.
Both films are set in a remote place, free from the rules and norms of the West. The protagonist is an outsider who has made his way through life by husslin'. The majority of the film takes place in a casino. In said casino, the national anthem is defiantly sung in response to Nazi tyranny. A state official is being paid off to ignore the gambling within the casino. Someone is murdered in the casino. There's an employee who is older, overweight, and acts as the comic relief. There's a scene where the police chase the protagonist to an airfield. The protagonist has lost someone he has loved and she shows up in the middle of nowhere, implying they could have a second act. There's a love triangle between these people. It's a lot of Casablanca.
So if Gilda is just Evil Casablanca, how can it be film noir? I suppose it's the fact that I tacked on the word "Evil" to the whole thing might be a giveaway. Rick in Casablanca is cold, but he's not a villain. The movie teases that he might have villainous traits, but he's kind of just out for himself. Gilda doesn't have the same morality. Rick is morally neutral and he becomes good. Johnny Farrell is a guy who starts bad and becomes worse. It's only because the movie must have needed a happy ending that the film allows Johnny to have his wildly out-of-character redemptive moment. But throughout the story, Johnny is kind of a jerk. He's on his way up and he's hungry. But once he has what he wants, he instantly becomes unlikable and kind of a jerk.
Han Solo, at the beginning of Star Wars is a bit of a scoundrel. We get the impression that he's cheated people before. He's lived for himself and found himself at times at the bottom of a gutter or a glass. But because Luke and Obi-Wan intervened at the appropriate time, his morality skewed good. He's this guy who becomes better with each film. He uses his background to use the tools that he learned while being a punk for good. But I have to imagine that a guy like Han Solo would probably be a monster if he actually accomplished what he wanted. Johnny Farrell is a bad guy who would do anything to get ahead. He's kinda/sorta likable at the beginning of the movie when he has nothing. It's only when he gets everything he wants that he becomes kind of a sociopath. There's something alluring about having a goal and working towards something that can be admired. When Farrell achieves his goal, he becomes kind of a punk.
Which brings us to the titular character. I'm sorry that I keep identifying with the many many many white male protagonists in stories. It's something I need to work on because A) it's unfair and B) it limits truly identifying important moments in film. The movie is called Gilda, which means I should be talking about Gilda. I love how we don't know much of Gilda and Johnny's life before Gilda arrives. We get the idea that they had a toxic relationship. Johnny had to learn that life of crime somewhere. But when Gilda enters the picture, Vidor paints this portrait of a jezebel willing to do anything and everything to get what she wants. When the movie reveals that Gilda is actually a saint, it makes the movie more compelling. But also, it brings up a big question of "Why?"
Why would she go after this guy? Johnny at the beginning of the movie isn't exactly a charmer. He looks gross (sorry, Glenn Ford. You'll always be my Jonathan Kent). He cheats and steals from American servicemen. By the time she sees him, he's a monster. Yet Gilda was ready to cross the ocean and marry a psychopath to get Johnny out from this world of crime. That's the way I have to read the movie. There's no other reason why she would fake all of those things if it wasn't to get Johnny out from this life of misery. But Johnny also believes that Gilda would do something like that. When the big reveal happens that "Gilda didn't do any of those things", he also accepts that. Which leaves the question...
Who is Gilda? I don't know if the movie can hold up weight under that question. It's a great question that the movie intentionally leaves unanswered. I've never seen a movie leave so much in the dark, seemingly on purpose. I understand why they didn't too. It all ties back to my Casablanca theory. One of the few things that these two movies don't share is the flashback sequence. We see Rick as a heroic character who had his heart broken in France. We understand after that moment the choices he makes in the present. He is broken so he's going to act broken. But Gilda needs to be the good guy of the story. Showing a different personality would kind of end the entire conceit right there. Similarly, Johnny has to be worthy of saving and I don't know if the movie has the gumption to do something like that. I can think of some things, but that would make them both pathetic and my imagination would probably be happy with a more ambiguous ending than a more concrete one.
Regardless, Gilda did it for me. I love the movies that have been catered for me. Usually when I deep dive into a genre, I have to wade through some absolute garbage, hence Kiss of Death. But getting a nice list of guaranteed good movies is fantastic. So what if I repeat a couple? I've seen my fair share. But I also acknowledge there's ones that I've never gotten around to and this class is really working for me.
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.