Rated PG. At first, I was going to rally, claiming that Marcel was the most G-rated thing ever. Then I remembered that there was a character that was a tampon. In-and-of-itself, that's nothing that warrents a PG rating. But then I remembered further and remembered that Marcel comments on a pubic hair and there's a drug joke in the movie. Okay, PG is fine. I'll take it.
DIRECTOR: Dean Fleischer Camp
Oh man. Guys, this one got awkward for me. I don't know details about celebrity breakups, but I know that I want everyone to be happy and that no one should ever get divorced. (Then I remembered that people are monsters and things like Marcel the Shell with Shoes On are meant to temper my cynicism.) So much of this movie was just me looking at my wife, knowing that Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer Camp were married and that Dean Fleischer Camp, playing a fictional version of himself, is mourning the end of a marriage. And Jenny Slate is the eponymous character. Oh man. The cringe, guys! It's real.
I never really got into Marcel the Shell as a meme. Okay, I use the word "meme" like a Boomer, but you get what I mean. Marcel was this Internet phenomenon, something the movie actively comments on. But given a little bit of time, I love that Marcel was a thing. I came to this both because of the Academy Awards and because of Jenny Slate. It's really weird, because I don't get a lot of Jenny Slate in Marcel. Marcel is the epitome of innocence. (Geez, it sounds like I'm being really judgy of Jenny Slate.) Slate, in my mind, is partially defined by her first episode of SNL. She's a genius and a talent, but I couple her up with some of the bad boys of entertainment. There's always been this edge to her, so seeing her do something like Marcel is somehow a balm for me. It expresses this range that, although a bit silly considering that she's playing a sentient shell, reminds me that I can't and shoudln't define people based on what they have put out previously. Marcel, with all of the absurdity attached to even writing such a thing, is one of the deep characters that I felt proud to show my kids. For as goofy as Marcel is, he vocalizes what it means to be a kid the entire time.
The movie runs in two different directions for me. There's the message of the movie, dealing with the notion of dementia and family and loss and grief. Then there's also the story of Dean Fleischer Camp, who is vocalizing a pain that is too real to be comfortable. I wanted my kids to watch Marcel the Shell with Shoes On with me because I saw that it was PG and it was up for Best Animated Film. But I don't necessarily know if it is a family movie. That's probably not accurate. I think I need to expand my horizons for what a family movie might be. While there are some mildly offensive moments in the movie, it's not there for shock value. If anything, I feel like Slate and Camp are intentionally holding back from what Marcel the Shell could be. Rather, there's a reason that we have all of this from both a child's perspective (Marcel) and Dean's perspective. Yeah, Marcel is the hero of the story. But Camp is really playing up the notion of the role of the documentarian in this movie. Sure, it's fiction. I get that there's no sentient shells looking for lost families. But as a mockumentary, Camp really lays into the role that there is someone filming and that person has a perspective that needs to be communicated.
Marcel's story is intrinsically linked to Grandma Connie. Connie plays the over-all role of family. With Marcel's family gone, Connie is all encompassing. It's weird, because I get the vibe that Connie is an outsider in the story. There's no doubt that Marcel loves Connie, but he treats her in a way that we treat people in nursing homes. They are loved, but from a distance. As the story progresses, however, Connie plays a more important role in the story. It's not accidental that the role that Connie plays increases as Marcel becomes more interested in finding his family...or at least discussing his family. It's what makes it so heartbreaking as dementia overwhelms Connie. Yes, Connie has value in and of herself. She is this fully realized character and it is mortifying when she dies. But her role from the beginning of the movie is to die. It's depressing to write that, but every element of that character is to remind Marcel that people do end.
Maybe that's why Marcel gets his family back. I didn't know how I felt about that. Heck, I'm kind of just piecing it together as I write this. But death has always been the end of a story. We treat death as something that we have to grapple with. Maybe Marcel the Shell with Shoes On is screaming that life doesn't have to be isolating. Typically, movies go with the found-family element, making Dean Marcel's new family. But instead, it points out that family tends to be compartmentalized. Yeah, it's a dicey topic. I know that we're all different and that we all come from different backgrounds. It never feels like Marcel's departed family replaces Connie. But also, we do tend to built new relationships in our lives. I know that there are people out there who have no one else. But the reality of mourning is that, while it is an intensely personal experience, it is almost impossible to not build new relationships. We are social creatures and maybe that's the point of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. It's not saying to pick oneself up by the bootstraps; a message I have a great problem with. It's about finding new family, not to replace, but to grow with.
I can't be the only one talking about the meta narrative of Marcel the Shell with Shoes On. Even for a guy who didn't really get into the older short, it is stil one of those things that broke through the cultural zeitgeist and transformed. But throughout the story, Marcel deals with the notion that he's become Internet famous. It's a very specific kind of famous. Now, what's interesting is that Marcel doesn't follow the formula. Marcel never gets too big for his little shell shoes. Instead, Marcel always seems to be someone looking in from the outside. Even when he's meeting Lesley Stahl (perhaps the best cameo in a movie for a while because it just fits the movie so perfectly), he's this person who is just confused by the notion of fame. God forbid, he actually wields that power for good. Marcel's sheer joy of just meeting Stahl is feelgoodery. But it also is telling about the actual role of fame. Fame, especially when I complain about biopics, tends to be something that is fundamentally evil. It makes good people corrupt. And, yeah, Marcel is a fictional character (which is given away in the title defining him as a "shell with shoes on"). But Marcel instantly uses that fame for the betterment of Dean and for finding his family. He hides from the attention he gains. It's almost a burden for him.
Part of that comes from the fact that he is a child, but it also more screams to the earnest nature of Marcel's innocence. Part of what corrupts people with fame is the role of the mask. I don't deny that I have a mask. God forbid, I gain an ounce of fame, I don't become a monster. But I'd like to think that just because one has a modicum of fame, it doesn't make them monsters. After all, there's lots of famous people. I can't name any of them right now. (Not true. "George Clooney" is just running through my head on repeat. Just the name. And an image of him from Good Night, and Good Luck, for some reason.) But I didn't want Marcel to confront his evil past. It's not like the movie is devoid of plot because Marcel doesn't sell out his morals. Marcel --and I can't believe I'm saying this --is thankfully a static character. He goes through things, but he doesn't sacrifice who he is to get to that final story point. It's kind of uplifting in a weird way. It might give me the hope that I've been so desperately seeking during this bummer season of the Oscars.
Yeah, maybe Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, is the anti-2023 Oscar film. In a season full of bummer movies (I'm not looking at you, Top Gun: Maverick / Photocopied Star Wars.) It's funny. I've always wondered why A24 hasn't gotten more attention from the Academy. A24 tended to make bummer movies that looked gorgeous. Now we have two A24 movies that aren't really bummer films (Marcel the Shell with Shoes On and Everything Everywhere All at Once) and they're going against the grain to get nominations? It's a weird world, my friends. But it doesn't really get any pleasantly weirder than Marcel the Shell with Shoes On.
Not rated because it is a Bollywood movie, so it doesn't necessarily fall under the MPAA. But this is a movie that mostly deals with superhero level absurd violence. I would put it on par with a Fast and the Furious movie, probably one of the later ones, that has over the top, almost hilarious violence that is in no way realistic. There is a scene where a character is tortured and crucified that is a bit gory.
DIRECTOR: S.S. Rajamouli
I'm going to come across as so closed-minded in this blog. I know it. As many movies as I watch, I really keep away from Bollywood. Part of that phobia comes from not liking what little experience I've had with these movies and the other half comes from the sheer number of Bollywood movies out there. I'm not an expert at Bollywood as a genre (which I will be treating as a genre as opposed to traditionally Indian cinema). And because I don't really like Bollywood, I didn't really like this. (Man, I'm having a bunch of negative blogs in a row. It's exhausting.)
I'm going to use "melodrama" as a dirty word. It's a shame, because I have based so many of my passions on melodrama. Serialized television is entirely based on melodrama. The things that move me to tears? Melodrama. It's the bread and butter of most storytelling (I'm making that statistic up, but I'm sure there's a kernel of truth in that statement). RRR, and, by proxy, Bollywood, live and breathe melodrama. But while the melodrama I like tends to lie to me about what rings true / employs verisimilitude, RRR is trying to pull on my heartstrings with such a degree of absurdity that I tend to be laughing at the product as opposed to laughing with the product. It's funny, because I get the vibe that RRR might be one of the best productions of a Bollywood film, so me laughing at the movie might be in bad form. Because for all of the absurdity, of people launching themselves off of bridges and fist-fighting tigers, there's a story of two people on the opposite sides of the law finding friendship. I can see why some people really jump after this movie (much like a horse and a motorcycle coupled by a long rope) because there is something there.
But is there something three-hours there? I don't understand the Bollywood tendency to make everything an epic. (Again, wildly ignorant. There are incredibly frustrated people out there yelling at me to stop talking about something I know little about.) Fundamentally, this is a simple story that keeps adding plot points simply for the sake of extending the story. At its core, there's a real story there to unpack. There's the police officer who has to fight harder than any other police officer (but because it's Bollywood, he can quell a riot single-handedly) and the freedom fighter who is against colonization. But both of these characters lose sight at what should be a fundamentally character-driven story. Because the movie wants both characters to be in the right, Raju (who is far too handsome to exist) has to be secretly a freedom fighter as well. Similarly, Bheem (who is oddly significantly less handsome than Raju. Sorry, Bheem!) has to make it about saving a little girl's life the entire time. Now, the movie is begging for a reckoning. To a certain extent, the movie grants us this collision. Raju does eventually abandon the pretense of being a police officer for the sake of Bheem. But Raju also has crossed so many lines that the moment of change doesn't make a ton of sense.
Raju's entire mission, according to the absurd storytelling, is to gain access to military weapons (this movie is so pro-gun that I had to check my own privilege while watching it) so that the people can survive the aggressive colonization by Great Britain. (Okay, I can get behind that, even if the British come across like comic book villains. Okay, the British probably were comic book villains. I'm more cool with this than I care to admit.) But the introduction to Raju as a character is one based in cruelty. Buxton comments about his fear of Raju. His cruelty displayed in the middle of a riot causes him to recoil in fear. (Maybe it wasn't Buxton. It felt like it was an older dude.) It is only because Bheem is his friend that he abandons his quest. Now, this is the hero of our story. While Bheem is one of the protagonists, his heroism is crystal clear. But Raju? Raju does so much evil and it's not like the payoff is so overwhelming that problems just solve themselves. When Raju and Bheem decide to go Super Saiyan and take on the entire military, they defeat the colonizers. What was the darned point of going through all of the misery and literal flaggelation if they could just punch their way out of the mess?
Here's me being catty. I'm sick of trying to add lofty ambitions to this blog and sometimes I just need to vent. What did Jenny see in Bheem? I mean, the obvious is that Raju was right there and she should have been weak-in-the-knees for that moustache alone. As audience members, we know that Raju is spoken for and also it makes it more interesting if she's interested in Bheem. But from a practical perspective, Jenny meets Raju and Bheem at the same time. Raju can speak English. Bheem cannot. Raju is Raju and Bheem isn't Raju. But even moreso, Bheem and Jenny have nothing to talk about. They literally are in love over the concept of being in the same space at the same time. Jenny is this confident colonizer (that we just let off the hook because she's more progressive than the monsters around her). Bheem just sits there making noises. That's not me being racist. He literally phonetically sounds out things that Jenny said and thinks that he's communicating. I don't know how much they can emotionally bond over the notion of him trying to speak to her. Sure, it's the same issue with The Little Mermaid, but even Ariel communicates intent more than Bheem does in this movie. The only thing that I can see being something that would bond the two is Bheem's sweet dancing, which Raju throws in an attempt to get Jenny and Bheem together. There's nothing real there. It's just a means to get a love interest in the story and to create another bond between Bheem and Raju. It's something. I'm actually amazed that Jenny makes it to the end of the movie because that actress has no business (not in a snarky way; I'm talking about stage business) for anything past the halfway marker of the film.
I told you that there would be a lot here about the role of Bollywood. So I'm going to make connections between this and the Fast and Furious movies. So one thing that I actually like about The Fast and the Furious movies is that they get more insane the further you get into the franchise. They start off as very forgettable car movies and then become these summer tentpole films where cars fly off of parking garages. I haven't watched Fast 9, but I hear that cars go into space. But those movies are about escalalation. While the laws of physics get ignored to create digital stunts, the movies try to pretend like something like that could happen. I can't believe I'm defending some of these stunts, but also I have to kill some digital space here. But when Dom and all of his buddies (ahem...family) are hanging out, the laws of physics still apply. When they are passing around food at the picnic table, the characters don't start kicking around the bowl to show that they have sweet soccer skills. RRR really goes out of its way to leave no moments where you are not being entertained.
If you are following the story of RRR, a more important moment in the film is when Bheem tries breaking Raju out of jail. Raju, in his time in prison, has gotten even more needlessly ripped (because why not?). Sorry, I get off topic. Bheem is breaking Raju out of his floor jail (which I kind of dig) and because Raju has been sitting for a few days, his legs don't work. So the movie goes out of its way to find the least effective way to transport Raju. Basically, Raju and Bheem play chicken fight against an army trying to kill them and, somehow, they are more effective while Bheem is holding onto Raju's legs than they would be independently. That was a mechanic in The Simpsons arcade game, if you remember correctly. (I say "you" because I'm confident about that mechanic.) But The Simpsons arcade game was kind of laughing at itself by including that feature. It was never meant to be taken seriously. Instead, there's this obsession with making everything absurd be treated without a sense of irony behind any of it. That's my big epiphany!
Nothing in this film is ironic! That's why I'm so annoyed by this film. I know, you can argue that the entire thing is heavily sauced in irony, but I don't think so. This movie takes itself so darned seriously. It really thinks it is about the relationship between two people on opposite sides of a conflict and how they bond in their ignorance. That's it. You are supposed to cry when Raju is whipping Bheem with a superwhip. You are supposed to be inspired when Bheem lifts Raju on his shoulders and they form a Muppet Man of killing. Yes, I liked the dance number! That's why I watched this movie! But it doesn't mean that the movie is any good. It's all because the movie is afraid of not being entertaining constantly. Movies should be at a three sometimes. It doesn't always need to be cranked up to eleven. Despite the fact that both male characters were doing things for the women in their lives, we never got to know the women in any real way because the movie was afraid to talk for two darned seconds.
Big budget Bollywood reads like drinking Mountain Dew for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack. Do you taste anything underneath the extremes of the movie? No? It's because everything is bathed in pure adrenaline and special effects. I don't want to laugh at this movie. I want to watch the movie of two guys on the opposite sides of society see each other for the first time. I don't need digital tigers and bloodshed galore. I just want characters who matter that I can relate to. Even with my Fast & Furious comparison, those movies don't really stick to the ribs. Instead, it's just cotton candy deep fried and injected into my eyeballs.
Rated PG, for...um, Shrek stuff? I honestly felt like this one got tamer than the previous Shrek movies. That's not saying it is devoid of a little edge. After all, it didn't get the G rating. I think that there's still a lot of potty humor, but I don't remember characters outright swearing. That being said, I don't remember any real details from the third Shrek movie. This is going to be a fun blog.
DIRECTORS: Chris Miller and Raman Hui
Okay, complete honesty. After all, it's infamously the best policy. I remember so little of this movie because there is so little to remember. Also, I watched a pan-and-scan version, which automatically put me in a sour mood towards the movie. For all I know, this movie is great. But I was instantly thrown back into the primitive years where people were afraid of black bars on their square TV sets, so they'd release two copies. Why did I watch a pan-and-scan version? Because I got this from the library. I'm not paying good money for Shrek the Third, especially considering that I watched parts 1 and 2 on Amazon Prime. What am I? A savage? Now someone massage my fingers in fine smelling creams! I must type my treatus on the third Shrek movie, post haste!
Boy, it was a mistake going right into this movie following Shrek 2. There was an immediate shift of "Oh, isn't this fun?" to, "Oh, we're not done with this story?" While the Shrek films (geez, I have to call them "Films" to avoid being snobby while simultaneously being snobby for throwing the word "films" around. I hate me too.) have some character development from the eponymous character (Ooh, my pinky finger instinctively rose!), Shrek seems to work as episodic storytelling. The first one was Shrek v. Farquaad, where he discovers that Fiona is an ogre. Part two is about Fiona's curse. The fourth one is an alternate reality versus Rumpelstiltskin. But Shrek the Third desperately clung onto the goodwill of Shrek 2 because people seemed to like that movie. Again, all of my Shrek 2 data comes from my students, who have strong opinions on Shrek. I can see what the filmmakers were thinking. To a certain extent, there was a plot thread borrowed from the first movie in Shrek 2. Fiona's captivity is criminally vague in the first movie. Again, the first movie is a commentary on archetypes, so the damsel in distress doesn't need a reason to be in distress. It's just that she's a damsel. But the second film is about world-building and storytelling as opposed to just archetypal satire.
But Shrek the Third doesn't understand that there was a tonal shift from the first movie to the second movie with Fiona's background story. If anything, the intention for Shrek the Third is a desperate attempt to clone the second film. As such, there are threads that almost don't make sense. While I would have loved to have this movie about Shrek growing up (and the movie regularly tells me that this is about Shrek growing up), there's a divorce between the story's main plot and the themes of the film. Shrek is already about self-sacrifice. When Shrek embraces his human form, which he seems to detest in other people, that's the moment where he acknowledges that family life is more than himself. While having kids is a natural extension of the Shrek evolution (which from here on be referred to as the Shrekvolution, trademark pending), Shrek's actual responsibility doesn't change. The big moment for Shrek is that he's once again confronted with his freedom being at stake. (Again, I'm in the middle of Shrek Forever After, which handles this idea with far more verisimilitude than Shrek 2 or 3 handle it.)
I think that there is something to be said about the fear of fatherhood. Shrek verbalizes his fear that he will not be a good parent. But I never really get that in his internal conflict. Just to cut straight to the point, Arthur is meant to represent Shrek stepping into the fatherhood role. Arthur, apparently a dork despite being insanely handsome and voiced by Justin Timberlake, apparently looks to Shrek on how to handle responsibility. It's through his pairing with Shrek that he grows into the leader that he was born to be. (Or, when responsibility is thrust upon him.) It's just that, Arthur's growth doesn't really parallel or seem inspired by Shrek at all. Rather, Shrek acts more of a messanger and a cab driver than he does as a template for responsible adulthood. There's a scene where Shrek sacrifices himself for Arthur. As a metaphor, it works. Fathers are meant to sacrifice for sons. It's basic writing right there. But Shrek, in that moment, confesses to Arthur that he was not the first pick to take the throne, but actually Shrek was. Shrek confesses his own lack of responsibility, inspiring him to take on this quest to bring Arthur to the Land of Far, Far Away. Arthur, appropriately, gets upset and storms off. It's the other fairy tale creatures who make him aware that Shrek only said those things to save Arthur's life.
But what Shrek said was true. Shrek actively ignores the motive for his journey, passing off the role of ruler to young Arthur. Now, maybe I missed it because I was so bored (or that it was only in the widescreen edition where the side bars were, Simpsons style), I don't really remember a come-to-Jesus moment for Shrek when Arthur returns. After all, despite the fact that Shrek confesses his motivations under duress, it doesn't change the fact that the initial words hurt and, more importantly, that what he said was the truth. The only thing that Shrek learns about himself in that moment isn't that he would make a good father. It's understanding that there was no need for both characters to die when Shrek was going to die already. Shrek's faced death in two previous movies at this point. The choice to confront Arthur with the knowledge that Shrek could be a perfectly fine king is more of a message of withholding truths than the failure of fatherhood. Part of me really wants to read this moment as a commentary on fatherhood being an imperfect practice. There's something to be said for the fact that fathers shouldn't expect to be perfect fathers and that they would mess up. But Shrek is almost fundamentally the same person at the beginning of the movie that he is at the end.
Yes, Shrek accepts that he is a father by the end. Triplets? (The editing and the montage ending made the number of kids really suspect.) But that's a matter of time passing. The great gauntlet of discovering paternal instincts isn't part of the external conflict. Instead, the film foolishly focuses on Charming's need for validation and success. What started the film as a joke, that Charming is recreating an alternate reality where he defeated Shrek and wins Fiona's heart, is a really weird motivation in a movie that is fundamentally supposed to be about fatherhood. That's kind of my realization, as I write about these Shrek movies. Every time that there is a deeper message to be said or explored, the movie tends to Nerf that message for the sake of easy entertainment value. What goes from the role of self-sacrifice and the abandoning of youth turns into people need to grow. That's the same message as the first and second movies. I gave props to the Shrek franchise for having its eponymous character hold onto growth from the first to second films, with a little backpedaling to be sure. But Shrek the Third acts like the character from the first movie is confronted with the realization that he's going to be a dad and just is a better person.
I know, I keep mentioning that I'm in the middle of Shrek Forever After. I wrote a lot of Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third on the same day and I have yet to come back and watch the end of the fourth film. I know that Shrek, as a character, backpedals a bit for the movie, but it comes from a different place. I really hope that we get a drastically different character by the end of the movie, considering that it is the last Shrek film. (And I just Googled and apparently, it's been in post-production for a criminally long time. So much for a conclusion to a film franchise that takes into account growth.) As much as I am being a snob about being "forced to write about Shrek", these aren't bad movies. It's just that they love embracing the superficial compared to actually writing anything challenging. Shrek the Third may be a low point in the franchise, but I'm not down and out yet.
PG, but this one gets a little bit transphobic. Man, they make a lot of jokes about mannish women and gender-confusion. It's 2004. It doesn't give it a pass, but it is also in the hey-day of what people didn't know what they were saying. Once again, the raunchiness of the movie still is shocking. Still acting as a substitute to Disney's ultra-santized docket of films, there is more than I care to admit in these movies. Still, PG.
DIRECTORS: Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, and Conrad Vernon
I don't regret watching these movies. I regret that I watch these movies and have to write about them, considering that have Bardo on the docket and would much rather write about that movie than Shrek 2. I don't even have much to immediately look forward to, except for Shrek the Third, which I am now acknowledging that my brain has already filed away into the canon of forgettable films. So my big motivation right now is just the the powering through blog entries for the sake of being caught up. Sorry, Neil Gaiman's Masterclass on writing; I have to write about the Shrek movies.
My students consider this to be the high point in the Shrek franchise. Just to be a little bit blasphemous, I have to tell you that I'm genuinely enjoying Shrek Forever After, the one that nobody saw. I kind of love, kind of hate Shrek 2. I know. I'm taking a bold stance there of middling on a movie. Shrek 2 has an immediate budget bump that makes it look way less dated than its predecessor. But that doesn't mean that it isn't Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? all over again. I mean, points given for actually having a message. Sure, the allegory isn't really taking a ton of risks. It's no Zootopia or anything like that. Even with the message of race hidden behind the film's central plot, it's not even a one-to-one. Maybe as a metaphor for homosexuality, but I don't get that vibe based on the other comments made in the film. Still, I am going to give Shrek 2 some props for having a message when it really didn't need to have one. After all, it's Shrek. As proven by the other entries in the series, a message is almost happenstance as opposed to saying anything meaningful.
I'm torn about the whole thing, though. There's a problem with Shrek, as a franchise, being so darned popular. I mean, the second half of the film is Shrek storming the castle to fight the fairy godmother who cursed Fiona to begin with. In terms of plotting, it makes sense. After all, she might actually end up being the big bad of the franchise due to her manipulation of all of the events. Cool. But if the message fo the film is to talk about differences and how we shouldn't change for the others, isn't the entire point buried with the notion of being able to change? The very notion of magic puts a really weird spin on the whole story. Fiona, at the end of Shrek, embraces that she is an ogre. She is an ogre. She was always meant to be an ogre. It's a big step for her. Her arriving at her parents' house is coming out. Now, it goes poorly. Sure. Dad becomes more evil than I thought that Dad would be, but all of that scans. When Shrek makes change for Fiona, it's meant to be this noble-yet-stupid moment where he misses the point. That's what Shrek movies are all about, I guess. But the real problem lies with Fiona.
Fiona wakes up with Shrek missing and she has been returned to her humanlike background. She puts the gay genie back into the bottle and is relieved that her curse is over. Now, it doesn't change the fact that she's with Shrek. This is what makes me feel like this is more of a race allegory than it is a gender allegory. But it is a solve that doesn't hold up with storytelling the entire time. After all, it's not like she chooses Prince Charming when she sees that Shrek looks different than he is. There would be a moral component to that potential plot device. Instead, the story makes Fiona think that Charming is Shrek. It completely unfolds the message of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? The very notion of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? is about the internal conflicts we have to deal with because there is no external conflicts, shy of breaking up. That's never really played as a potential ending for Shrek 2. Maybe the role of magic in the world of Shrek gives too many options for digging one's way out of a hole. (As much as I'm into Shrek Forever After, the secret escape clause is exactly what I'm talking about. Why would Rumplestiltskin include this and allow for an origami alternative to count?)
Which all brings me back to my point. Messages in movies make them memorable. After all, Shrek the Third has borderline nothing challenging to say. It is about the nerd who finds his voice, which 2000's Disney storytelling. Okay. But Shrek 2 is the one that I remembered as Sidney Poitier's animated form. It just doesn't work. The need to make the movie entertaining, which it successfully does, undoes any value to the storytelling narrative. Instead, we're given pop culture references to cover up the fact that there isn't a lot of meat in this movie. Golly, the pop culture references. I'm right now spouting off against Shrek 2, a completely fun movie that I enjoyed watching with my kids. But any time that Shrek movies get vulnerable, they hide behind something that instantly dates the movie. Okay, fine. I'm griping because I'm running out of things to say. I have no idea what to say about Shrek the Third because these movies don't really want to evolve. I actually like the pop culture references. When Donkey and Puss sing "I Need a Hero", it's pretty epic. I know I'm not alone in this thought. I've seen the memes.
It's just that Shrek is all about growth. In the grand scheme of things, Shrek does have a character arc. He goes from being an isolated misanthrope to finding love and friendship. It doesn't change who he is. It's just that he literally does change who he is in this movie. Sure, Fiona recognizes that Charming and Shrek could never be the same person. While I'm writing this, I might have the epiphany that the Shrek movies start to not be great (again, Forever After is kind of doing it for me) because Shrek learns his lessons from previous movies. Shrek still has boorish behavior. I don't want to downplay that. It's not saying that people completely 180 and become someone wholly new. But Shrek 2 almost lacks a call to adventure. He sees the threat and is already in hero mode. Maybe Shrek 2 shares some DNA with Avengers: Age of Ultron (a movie that I still contend is stronger than the original Avengers movie). It's kind of nice when we get over a hero's origin story because we can get straight into the action. Origin movies tend to just scratch the surface of why a character does what he does. It's the sequel that allows him to embrace skills.
So why am I so ho-hum about Shrek 2? Part of it comes from having to write about Shrek the Third, which has had more than its fair share of digital real estate in this blog than it deserves. While I admit that I enjoyed Shrek 2 while watching it, I also know that some dangerous precedent was established during Part 2. There are so many callbacks to the first movie. There's a lot of evidence that the movie doesn't know what to do with Donkey, who might be the scene stealer. Also, my snobby butt won't stop looking down on Shrek, the people's family comedy. Why am I so above this? It's a fun franchise. I'm having a good time. But I just want depth and the Shrek movies aren't giving me much. It's the job of the blogger to find meaning that may or may not be there. But it feels like Shrek is wearing so much on its sleeves that every analysis feels forced. I just want more. I desperately want more.
Which is why I can't wait to write about Shrek Forever After..assuming I finish it soon.
Not rated on IMDb, but HBO labeled it TV-14. I'm going to go with TV-14, even though I don't really know why. If you are really bothered by injured animals (not in gross ways, mind you. Just being treated by doctors), then I could see how this might be traumatic. There's a lot of trash and squalor contrasted to living, breathing animals. I think there might be some mild language, but I don't remember anything that would be considered a red flag.
DIRECTOR: Shaunak Sen
Please don't make me write about this. I know that you write about every movie you watch and it's a thing. I know that this is a movie that is up for the Academy Awards. But I have been writing a lot lately and it feels like the barrel is pretty dry right now. Also, this movie. This movie is especially bad. Sure, lots of critics won't shut up about how it is great. One review even said that "Every shot is pure gold" or some nonsense like that. But this was potentially the most boring movie you watched all year and it's a waste of both our times (despite the fact that you are one person) to write about this movie.
Yada yada yada
Okay, that was dramatic, but well-deserved. I give my wife a lot of nonsense. She's a wonderful lady and I love that she watches movies with me. I tend to watch documentaries without her because I know that she tends to need a little bit more fun with her movies. I just put her through Fire of Love, which was a burden on her but at least it was a little fun. But All That Breathes is devoid of all fun. Now, that's not to say that movies need to be fun. If I've learned anything about the 2023 Oscar noms is that fun is few and far between on these movies, shy of Everything Everywhere All at Once. I would even love a movie that was depressing, but moved me. Man, this movie is depressing. But it does not move me. Now, as much as I'm going to rip this movie apart, a lot of this falls on me. I am not the audience for this movie. I've written that a lot over the last six years. (Has it been six years of writing these?) But I have never been an animal person. I don't dislike animals and I don't want these kites to die. But I also am not moved in the same way that a die hard pet person would be about these birds.
Birds, as my wife will constantly remind our family, are gross. In this case, their grossness is actually good for the environment. Kites are trash eaters. They apparently eat apparently a ton of trash a year. That's a lot of garbage. Considering the world is quickly falling apart, I can see the value of having kites around for the further existence of humankind. It doesn't make it less gross thinking about it. But there are two guys and one thing that the movie doesn't quite make clear is the qualifications that these two guys have. Part of that comes from the almost cinema verite style of documentary. We don't have a narrator. We don't have text giving us background on these two dudes and their kite obsession. Everything that we get from the movie must be gleaned from what actually happens. That means we know that they make soap dispensers. We know that they don't work in a hospital. The fact that these birds are brought in cardboard boxes makes it seem like --and I apologize for the judgment call that I'm making --kind of like animal hoarders, but more altruistic.
The only real information that we get is that these guys have been on American news for all of the work that they do. Don't get me wrong. If USA Today or whatever decided to do an emotional piece on the work I do outside of my regular job, I would show that as qualifications immediately. After all, I have a picture of me and Stan Lee next to all of my certifications in my classroom as a form of merit. But the big difference is that I have that next to my actual certifications. I'm at one of those writing impasses where something is going to get sacrificed for the other point to be made. Be aware that I have other thoughts on this. But the fact that they don't have certifications should be explored in this movie. Honestly, the content of this movie is that of a short documentary. (Note: if I've already pointed this out, realize that five days have passed since I started writing this until where I am today). I can imagine a deep frustration by these guys who want to help out every bird that they meet. They're constantly busting their heads against the wall, fighting for resources and time, not to even consider cleanliness. Is the thing that's stopping them the knowledge that time spent at veterinary school would allow countless birds to die?
Listen, for as progressive as I've gotten over the past decade, I'm still a guy who hates Upworthy videos. (That being said, I just watched a short of a little girl with cerebral palsy meeting Captain America and that got me). It just seems like this movie is lauding an inefficient system that makes no sense to me. I mean, I can't fault the message of the movie: Do anything you can. But this is one of those stories that's more depressing than hopeful. The good news I can take away is that there are good people out there. The bad news is that they aren't at all doing this in a way that will make any real difference, considering that they have the motivation to make real change. That's really easy for me to say as I type, type, type away a blog for a movie that I'll most likely forget. (Oh yeah, I'm not going to remember this movie two-three years from now. ) Why don't we have the story of med school? Why is this movie so focused just on these two guys? There is so much more to this story that is so important to the narrative. But by focusing on these two guys, all I get is frustrated. And then the movie will just cut to animals in trash.
The animals in trash thing is pretty damning to me, by the way. I have a really romantic view of the dirt in India. I really apologize for writing in large generalizations and I'm going to be accidentally rude in what I write. But I don't understand the living conditions in India. Everything is based on movies, so I apologize. It just seems like Indian culture is very cool with offensive amounts of waste. Part of that comes from population density and I have to understand that. But All That Breathes starts with an ungodly amount of rats scurrying around trash as the camera sweeps low across the ground. It just establishes so much about the sanitary conditions of the country. Now, my natural reaction to that is "Thank God I live in America, where pollution is not a problem." I don't think that's what the filmmakers want me to think. The message of the story is meant to be a global issue, talking about how industrialization and pollution is a problem that's affecting us all. But when I see these kinds of shots, it just makes me think of how much better we are and I hate myself for that. That's the worst feeling. It's the same thing that happens iwth White Savior movies. I see someone who is shockingly racist and I let myself off the hook for what racism I have festering inside of me.
I really have to drive this point home and I'm sorry that I'm the worst for it. All That Breathes is mostly criminal because it's boring. I began to hate the kites by the end of the movie. There's a narrative within the film. The growth of the hospital on the roof of their apartment building is the story of the film. That's the story that the filmmakers found and built around. It was frustrating and that's fine. But really, nothing about the film's message really evolved past that initial carrying in of kites in cardboard boxes. They spend all of their time taking care of kites and there are more and more every day. It's such a short story that I did anything to keep focused on it and I must say that I failed. I tend to throw my phone out of reach to force myself to pay attention to movies. At one point, I stood up and got it. It has to be an animal-lover issue, right? Honestly, this movie just kept going and going and I learned nothing new about kites that I didn't learn in the first few minutes. It was brutal. My wife is right. Some documentaries are just boring. This movie pushed me to my limits.
PG. I remember thinking that people were losing their minds thinking that Shrek was offensive when I was in college. No, they were pretty right. This was the era where animated films tried to put in jokes that went over the heads of kids so parents could enjoy them. But Shrek straight up swears...a lot. Also, figure out what Farquaad means. It's very Google-able. PG.
DIRECTORS: Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson
I'm ashamed, guys. I've gone too far. I acknowledge that I have a problem, but I'm really not looking for help. This year, Puss in Boots: The Last Wish is up for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards. Now, I've seen the first three Shreks before. (Okay, I'm fairly certain I've seen Shrek the Third before a week ago.) But I hadn't seen them since college. Do I need to see all of the Shrek movies plus the first Puss in Boots movie before seeing Puss in Boots: The Last Wish. Probably not. Am I going to do it so I can fill in the space on the collections page? Yeah. Yeah, I'm doing that.
There was a time, probably around the Moulin Rouge! years, where I thought that Shrek was brilliant. While I'm going to one day and cringe watch Moulin Rouge! again, I'm mostly happy to say that Shrek mostly holds up. It may not be a masterwork, but it is a very good film. Now, it seems like I should be able to dismount from this comment and ride off into the sunset, but why Shrek works doesn't make a lick of sense. The easy answer is that Shrek is painfully, PAINFULLY dated. My wife insists that she's never seen Shrek before. (I, for some reason, doubt her. She responded to the film as if it was old hat. Maybe it's just entered the cultural zeitgeist enough that there are no references that she hasn't secondhand absorbed.) But the first thing that she pointed out is that the movie looks bad. I forgive Shrek this. I don't think I had that reaction when I watched it in 2001. I probably thought that it was revolutionary. After all, I remember being blown away by the animation in Toy Story, and that thing looks rough by today's standards.
But more of the roughness comes from elements of plot. A lot of Shrek just...happens. For those not in the know, Lord Farquaad is a dig on the newly formed Dreamworks animators at their former Disney boss. Remember, I really liked the first Shrek. All this nonsense is somehow evidence for how it shouldn't work, but does. Farquaad is potentially one of the most underdeveloped bad guys in cinema. I'm sure that if I splice together all of Lord Farquaad's scenes into a supercut, it couldn't be more than ten minutes long. Farquaad is more of a concept than a villain. He's abnormally short. There's no explanation, except for his height in the same way that there's little explanation for my abnormally short height. Okay. But he wants a wife so he can become king, which is a concept that doesn't really have a lot of background behind it. Also, it seems like...anyone could be the Queen. Maybe there's a princess that wants to be a queen and wants to marry a short dude. After all, despite everything that Randy Newman believes in, short people can be lovable.
There's this whole subplot about fairy tale creatures being forcably removed from their swamps. For a hot minute, it seems like Shrek is going to tackle the refugee crisis. But, no. That's not a story that matters to Shrek. If anything, it's accidental characterization that honestly works. Shrek, self-centered hermit that he is, completely misses that some truly heinous stuff is happening. He just went through this whole labor camp moment and it didn't even phase him. It's what Donkey just escaped. But there is this real evil that could be the focus of the story and it is barely a blip in the plot. From Shrek's perspective, this is a story about how he hates neighbors and that he can't get any piece and quiet. And the weirdest part of that whole sentence is that the movie wants us to have the same opinion. Because Shrek doesn't care about the dictatorship and borderline apartheid happening in this story, neither do we. For a second, I thought that there was no reason that the fairy tale creatures were being displaced and even now, it's a little hazy. I do remember that when Shrek goes to Duloc, there's a competition to get Princess Fiona. Do you know what? I don't know if I remember a reason why all of the fairy tales are being moved out besides a general evilness. I thought I remembered for a second, but that's how confusing the motivations of Farquaad are. Maybe we just accept some things.
I'm ashamed to write this paragraph because Shrek wears its messaging on its sleeves. I'm the guy who is trying to talk about allegories of segregation and prejudice, but the movie itself won't even talk about those things. Nah, instead, I give the movie a round of applause for its primary message. I have the burden of time behind what I write. Dreamworks, in 2023, is simply an alternative for Disney. It's not doing anything revolutionary. It's just...not Disney today. But I want to jump to the really weird year of 2001, where Smash Mouth's big hit "All Star" can be heard in a variety of cinema. Dreamworks is a company built out of spite. It hated that Disney had become stale and soulless. (A sentiment that my Zoomer students are abhorred by, given that they often were raised by the Disney products of this era.) But if Dreamworks, in particular Shrek, exists to be a slap in the face to Disney, the takeaway of this movie is borderlne revolutionary. Fiona, for all of her weird characterization, will be the template for future Disney princesses. She is absolutely gorgeous in human form, yet fights better than Shrek. Her entire imprisonment is gaslighting by her parents to accept that princesses must be devoid of empowerment. But ultimately, the big takeaway is that she is beautiful no matter what she looks like.
Fiona's transformation into her true form, an ogre like Shrek, is fundamentally about refusing to accept the things that one actually values. There seems to be a sense of relief when, upon receiving relief from her curse, to find out that she's an ogre. There's no moment where she curses the turn in the curse. After all, the reasonable explanation is that, born a human, she would return to humanity. Now, this is where I can start analyzing. But it puts me in a compromising position. The breakdown of this read might be one of trans-rights. After all, there's the narrative that Fiona has always felt like a different person before her exterior matched her interior understanding of herself. She also exhibits traditionally male traits, especially given that Shrek is a send up of archetypal norms. She burps, eats what should be considered gross foods, and is naturally violent. (It's a problem that some of these traits are associated with masculinity, but it's there.) But I'm going to cite Shrek 2 with its transphobia as the example of how this can't be the message of the story. Yeah, the early 2000s were a super gross time. While I appreciadte the message of Fiona appreciating her body positivity (I hate me too for writing all of this), Shrek also displays this simplicity behind what is good and what is abnormal.
But, again, somehow Shrek just works. A lot of that falls on the entire notion of fun. The first Shrek movie is a lot of fun. I asked my students what they thought of the Shrek sequels and most of them had only seen through parts 2 or 3. That might be what makes the first two Shrek movies worth watching. When tackling tenets of storytelling, using fables as the focus, there are so many directions to go in. It's why Shrek is allowed to have so many personalities in terms of plot. These are more jabs and parodies of things that have been tried and true and are universal that we don't need a lot of story to explore these ideas. But the more that Dreamworks mines from the same well, the thinner and less important these commentaries provide. So Shrek works, not because of story, but because it is a fun poke at the world of fairy tales, especially when it comes to roasting Disney a little bit. But that's a joke that will probably ultimately get old. Again, I'm in the future as I write this. I'm about to start Shrek Forever After, the fourth entry in the franchise. I can tell you that the joke gets old now. But for the first movie, it's pretty good.
Also, it's got a good soundtrack that is just concentrated nostalgia.
Rated R for language and some pretty intense sexuality, despite not actually showing any nudity. The big takeaway is the racial violence, though. It's sad that I have to write that. We've become so used to racial violence that I have to remember to tell people that we shouldn't be used to that at all. Tonally, the movie feels lighter than it is. The scary parts are actually pretty upsetting though. R.
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
I had a couple of movies in a row that weren't up for Academy Awards. I don't necessarily know how to shift back into Oscar mode, so please bear with me. We're watching them a little differently this year. Maybe it is because of availability, but we're watching a lot of the lesser known movies first. These tend to be movies that have one nomination. I think it is because it is more difficult to get a hold of movies that haven't been released for home video while simultaneously being parents to four children. But when this showed up on HBO Max, I counted as a sign that we should immediately watch it. Sure, it's just up for cinematography. But "being up for cinematography" also means that the movie is going to look pretty.
Part of me wants this movie to be up for more than cinematography and part of me gets it. My actual takeaway is that Empire of Light is a beautiful movie, but that doesn't mean that everything in the movie should be in the movie. Mendes gives us this film that hits on a lot of emotional beats. It's just that those beats are all over the place. Everything I'm about to say is an oversimplification and I hate that I have to describe it as I do, but it's what my brain is allowing right now. Please know, I hate myself now. Is this a movie about cinema? Is this a movie about racism? Is this a women about female exploitation or the stigma that mental health carries? Is it about age and sexuality? Yes. Is any of these points fully explored? Probably not. I should take the first question and leave it in the movie. Is this about cinema? Yes, and we witness the power of film through the lens of any one of these other points. I would love to see a movie about cinema and racism. I would love to watch a movie about cinema and mental health. I would love to take any one of those talking points and combine it with cinema. But all of those points? Cinema is the element that takes the brunt of the sacrifice because the movie is the least clear about the role of cinema.
Realize that I really like this movie when I start to complain. Sam Mendes is a really talented dude, but I think the near win of 1917 probably got to him a bit. I really like all of the themes within the story. I think there's something there that really needs to be explored. But there's a certain element of Oscar-baitiness that might be hurting the elements of storytelling. Why all the things? All the things are fine in-of-and-in themselves. But all of them combined. Listen, I've been leaning heavily into racial politics ever since the Trump administration, so I'm naturally going to gravitate towards that message. When the episode of Doctor Who about Rosa Parks came out (aptly named "Rosa"), one of the biggest criticisms that my friends and I had was the misconception that the UK is somehow devoid of racism. Watching Empire of Light, it was such a strong message to show how racism looks like in the UK and how both simultaenously similar and different it looks. But those moments are almost just moments against a larger tapestry. It almost creates a shock effect against a larger story.
Do you know what's a really weird scene? Let's just accept that I pretended to have any academic merit and just talk like people who watched a movie together, all right? There's a scene pretty early on. Hilary is training Stephen and she may or may not have a crush on him at this point. I don't remember. Stephen, because he's full of youth and vigor, wants to see what is roped off from the public. Trust me, Stephen. I get it. Hilary, against her better judgment, takes him to a closed off wing of the theater. In that wing, we discover abandoned old screens and a piece de resistance, a fully blown dance floor and restaurant now inhabited by gross birds. (Also known as "birds".) Why is this scene here? I suppose, playing devil's advocate, it could be a commentary about the disrespect of cinema as time progresses, but that's not what the movie is about. Isn't there a foreshadowing that they're going to fix up the upper floor and make the theater something spectacular? It's just teasing me and there is no followthrough on the scene. It's really weird.
The funny thing is, I really like the performances all around. If I was to say that anything happened in this movie that rubbed me the wrong way, it's too much of a good thing and that my brain can't pay attention. But these are honestly Oscar worthy performances. If this was exclusively about a woman hiding her schizophrenia, the scene where Olivia Colman rants in her apartment at the police is spellbinding. If this was a movie about race, the scene where Michael Ward is backing away from the White Supremacists who have broken into the theater is haunting. If this was a movie about cinema, Toby Jones showing Michael Ward on how to change the reels is beautifully paced. Or even the silhouette of Olivia Colman against the projection of Being There would have been a knockout. But this is a movie that waters down all of these scenes. Nothing in the movie is bad. It's just all disjointed. It's steak and ice cream and sushi and cotton candy and summer salad and White Castle and all of those things are great ("Even the White Castle?" "Especially the White Castle." --Garak). It's just that nothing gels.
Which leaves me to the point of this blog. This is a movie that is up for an Academy Award for best cinematography. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous movie. But it also doesn't have a singular voice, even visually. Because the movie is ten things, those are discordant voices at times. Also, and this is not Empire of Light's fault, but Bardo crafts each shot personally and initmately. Nothing is used for function, but for aesthetic joy. Sometimes Empire of Light takes the easy road and that means it probably won't win. But who knows? If the Academy actually voted for the movie most deserving (I'm not as cynical as I sound here), they might ignore that this this is a Sam Mendes movie and give it to another film. But the name Sam Mendes might get this film some attention. Also, I don't know if this is up against Avatar, which is somehow the best selling film that no one I know has seen.
It's very good. I wish it was Cinema Paradiso, which it so desperately wants to be. But it's not. It's just a good movie that is shy of greatness because it is missing a singular voice.
R. It's been rated since the initial X-rating. This might be the longest MPAA warning, so bear with me. Infamously, Melvin Van Peebles didn't get this movie rated by the MPAA. He knew that it was going to be a movie that was going to be surpressed by "the Man", (not making a joke, his words). Because of this, it got the X rating. Now, I absolutely believe that this movie should have gotten something that keeps younger audiences away because it has some of the most questionable content. I tried watching this movie a few years ago and didn't realize what you could ethically show on camera. While there is a lot of on-screen sex involving nudity, one of these moments involves a child. It's wildly uncomfortable and, as much as I want you to watch something that is revolutionary, it is too much. R, but probably should have been more.
DIRECTOR: Melvin Van Peebles
Yeah, if this wasn't such an important film in Black history, I probably wouldn't have watched it. When I had Film Struck (a month before the streaming service announced its termination), I thought that I should watch this one. I knew that it was in the Criterion Collection since the Laserdisc days. When I watch fan videos of great cinema, the image of Sweet up top keeps appearing in that list. This was one of those movies that I just had to see. But then the movie starts off with a child, the director's son, being raped by a prostitute and it's kind of lauded as this heroic victory for the boy. The joke, despite the fact that the movie really rides a fine line between jokes and commentary (I think I just redefined "satire"), is that he is such a great lover that he started young. But it really comes across as gross. Yeah, I almost said I wasn't going to watch the movie. But say what you will, this is Van Peebles entire point with his marketing campaign.
Call me a rube, but when I found out about the history of the film that I mentioned above, I wondered if I could just power through it. I really hoped that the whole movie wouldn't be one giant statuatory rape moment. (Note: I also don't want to watch the infamous Romeo and Juliet that's lauded as the most important adaptation of the play either for the same reason. But Van Peebles calling out the Man, which unfortunately includes me, I knew that I should try again. Luckily, this is the most offensive thing in the movie. It's odd, and I'm sorry for digressing a bit, because so much of the movie is considered progressive by today's standards. It treats sex workers as human beings. It doesn't laugh at the gay community. If anything, it is a rallying of outcasts from traditional Conservative America. I love that. But by including the statuatory rape sequence, it provides evidence that the Man so desperately wants. By showing something objectively evil, it connects all those things that would be construed as moral relativism as also evil. There's no room for nuanced debate because the film okayed something that is absolutely inappropriate.
Anyway, I'm going to try to move on from the first five minutes of the film and talk about Sweetback as a movie in its own. I'm glad that Sweet Sweetback's gets context in a box set. I think the movie oh-so-desperately needs the other movies in the Melvin Van Peebles collection to see the evolution of a filmmaker. Sweetback is an appropriately angry film. It is the voice of a filmmaker who is fed up and sick of hiding behind allegory and inferences. No one can accuse Van Peebles of being a kind of director who doesn't let his themes and motifs known, but Sweetback takes it to a new level. The Story of a Three-Day Pass feels, in retrospect, like a filmmaker knowing what a filmmaker should look like. Yes, there's an authentic voice. There's a message to be said. But he also knows that there's a level of prestige that needs to be earned before yelling themes at the audience. If you really wanted to watch Three Day Pass just as a gorgeous independent movie, I suppose it's possible. Watermelon Man feels like he's got the embers of frustration. He's sick of the slow movement of society, so he's going to be louder with his criticisms. But he also wants the film to be marketable. Sweet Sweetback is an attempt to burn down the system.
Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song is 1971, the same year that Shaft came out. Black cinema is a real thing at this point and it is impossible to ignore. Shaft, for all of its raw attack on White America, is still a very marketable movie. There's a reason that we all know Isaac Hayes's hit sharing a name with the film. Most White people, who probably haven't seen Shaft, know of Shaft's reputation. Shaft is a fun movie with social commentary. Sweet Sweetback is something that is oddly fun for a lot of the movie, while simulatenously being incredibly tragic. I can't believe I'm going to do this, but I'm going to be using a compare and contrast paragraph to explain why Sweetback is important. (Also, the award for the worst accidental topic sentence goes to the previous sentence.) For all of Shaft's criticisms about White America and the state of racial inequality in the movie, it still lives under the assumption that success is possible for the Black man. John Shaft has White allies who stick by him. Like James Bond, we know that he's going to be successful and have adventures. Sure, he will often be annoyed by the racial inequality in America, but these tend to be opportunities to stick it to the man. Let's contrast this to Sweet Sweetback. Sweet starts off at the bottom of the pile. He is cooperative with police until they go too far. His only form of success comes from discarting society's norms and becoming a fugitive. He doesn't celebrate victories. Instead, he survives trauma. There is no laughter at the Man. There is a hatred of the Man who acts as a clear evil throughout the story.
From the audience's perspective, there is a delight when Sweet narrowly avoids his captors. But his captors aren't part of what White America considers evil. I would say that the bad guys are cops. That's mostly true, but the real villains in the movie are White people of all kinds. While the majority of villains in the movie are White cops, its even in the small moments where we see that any White person in the film is a villain in the piece. When Sweet and Mu-Mu evade the police only to fall prey to a motorcycle gang, the gang members go back on their word (after Sweet wins a challenge based on sexual prowess). It's not just that White people betray Sweet that we should be worried. It's the notion that a biker gang who prides themselves on being anti-police would rather collaborate with their sworn enemies rather than allow a Black man, who shares fugitive status with them, to thrive. The notion of allyship is dead in this movie. This isn't an exploitation movie. It's a Black power movie and it absolutely should be. Thank God I read the Wikipedia article on this. (Yeah, I should be reading more scholarly works. But also, Wikipedia is right there.) There's a reason why this movie was required viewing for the Black Panther Party. This was a movie that wasn't going to let White America off of the hook.
Apparently, making this movie was chaos. I also own Mario Van Peebles' film Baadasssss, which is about the making of this movie. I can't wait to learn about that stuff. But I am mostly curious about the last half-hour of the movie. The first two acts of the film, while kind of scant on plot, are traditionally what a movie looks like. There's an inciting incident. There's rising action. Even for a good chunk of the film, Sweet is running from the law, there are still elements of plot. But then then the movie turns into one of the longest montages I've ever seen. Now, the music is great. Heck, as a montage, it's great. But what it also is...is anticlimactic. Now, here's me being the analytical guy commenting on that. The analytical guy reads into what Van Peebles was probably doing: the journey never ends for Sweet Sweetback. Racism will never end, but that doesn't mean that people should actively stop fighting for basic survival. It's a message to keep fighting violently and to understand that it will never be easy. But as a story device, it feels like the end is a really intense stall tactic to make the movie an hour and a half long. That's the deal with escape movies. There's only so much plot that these stories can have. That's not even a criticism. Escape movies tend to be my favorite movies.
Do you know how much I want people to watch the majority of Sweet Sweetback? So much. But it is way too filthy in the worst possible way. It's kind of insane that I'm not reading a ton on the first ten minutes of the movie. But no one is saying anything and I suppose I have to live with that as a response. It's a militant as heck movie and I'm overall glad I watched it. That being said, those first ten minutes...too much.
PG-13, but for some reason, it feels R. I don't know why. I'm trying to think of specific moments. I think a lot of it has to do with the cruelty that the movie exposes often. There is drug use and alcohol use. There's some language. Oh, I know why it feels R but isn't! It completely downplays the fact that Elvis Presley seduced a teenager and married her. Yeah, the whole statuatory rape bit is part of the movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Baz Luhrmann
I don't know if I can write this one, guys. I just finished lambasting Kevin Smith in Clerks III. But even with Kevin Smith, he's a guy I like despite the fact that he often makes bad movies. Baz Luhrmann is on another level bad. And most of my critique of the movie is that I can't stand Baz Luhrmann after my brain clicked into adulthood and realized that Moulin Rouge! is not a good movie. Like, I don't want this kind of hate in my heart.
"Hate" is such a strong word. This isn't the worst movie. It's a bad movie that makes a lot of unforgivable choices. But I'm also just tired of the Academy Awards constantly making music biopics Oscar noms. These movies are so Oscar bait-y that I feel like I'm watching the same movie over-and-over again. I mean, didn't I just go through with this with Bohemian Rhapsody? We get it. The world of Rock 'n Roll is fraught with abuse and drug use. Rock stars used to be real people with real dreams until someone takes advantage of them and then they collapse. They may have a moment of glory right before the end so you can keep enjoying their music. But ultimately, the system beats them down and that's the movie. Wash, rinse, repeat. The biopic might be the most superficial formula of all the movies because they're based on true stories. We think that just because the same story happened to multiple people, that makes it a new story. It's not a new story. It's all variations of a theme. But Elvis has the extra crime of being almost 2 hours and 40 minutes. That's too much. Heck, with all of that time, Baz Luhrmann didn't even have Nixon in it.
Honestly, the best biopics aren't about a performer's entire life. It should be focused on one moment in time. (With the exception of Spencer. That was too intense. But for every rule, there must be the exception.) What if this was just about Elvis deciding to play the music he wanted to play that got him into the war? That is a great moment. It's the Elvis that the movie wanted to communicate. It's the guy who cared more about the music than what his producer wanted. It's this fantastic climax to a story that had built up in the course of the whole movie. We could have avoided the Priscilla stuff that is super toxic. It would have left Elvis off on a high note. We could have the memory of the King of Rock and Roll actually as someone who wasn't selling out. Instead, we make it all about Colonel Tom Parker.
We need to talk about Colonel Tom Parker in this movie. This might be the first time that I have something negative to say about Tom Hanks because (shy of any new news I hear about parenting style) he is a national treasure. The following are things that I completely understand. 1) Tom Hanks is a great actor (kind of. Sorry, he plays a lot of the same roles and those roles are great.) 2)Tom Hanks really likes music and making music movies. 3) This is a challenge for Tom Hanks. Okay, that's out there. We got it? How about, instead of having Tom Hanks poorly pretend to be a 300 lb Dutch man, we get a 300 lb Dutch man? There's never a moment in the movie where I'm watching Colonel Tom Parker and think, "That's not Tom Hanks in a fat suit doing a really bad accent." The worst part is that the movie is more of an expose of Colonel Tom Parker than it is a character analysis of Elvis. We get who Elvis is because of the actions that Col. Parker does. Sure, that's good storytelling. I don't hate the approach at all. It's just that the performance there needs to be so compelling that it makes us focus on Elvis. Nope. The entire time, "Tom Hanks is doing a bad accent in a fat suit and I don't know why". Also, say "Snowman" one more time. Stop it. I get it. "Snowman". It's his thing. But it never works and it just gets more annoying as the movie goes on.
But so much goes to Baz Luhrmann. As I indicated earlier, I thought that Baz Luhrmann was a genius for so long in my adolescence. Man alive, it was embarrassing how much I recommended Moulin Rouge! to people. (Secret: I still kind of want to see the stage production. Maybe I'm a masochist. Maybe I want justification for my love of the movie years ago.) Then I started watching Luhrmann's other works and I realized that his entire thing is just overwhelming the senses. Now, some people might just argue auteur theory at me. I mean, by Kubrick's definition of auteur theory, I am able to recognize all of Luhrmann's works without having to see his name attached to the credits. Maybe not Australia. That movie is just bad and boring. But Luhrmann's entire thing is overload. He doesn't really let you just sit there. With Moulin Rouge!, I feel like he gets a lot of his system in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. HIs chaos, while technically throughout the film, is in its most intense in the first few minutes of the movie.
Elvis, I suppose, shares some of the same DNA of Moulin Rouge!. But he's applying this philosophy for the true story of a real man when he's covering his whole life. It creates a really weird effect like you are just watching an almost three hour montage sequence. Insteading of letting any one moment in the movie breathe, it becomes about flashy images and instant takeaway. If this is meant to be a breakdown of what made Elvis who he is, there's a certain element of the movie wanting to keep you away from who he was as a human being. Sure, Austin Butler said he got music from his childhood. Sure, we saw flashes of young Elvis spy on Black gospel liturgies in awe. But that never became a real moment. I'm going to jump to an example of this idea done better and it also coincidentally has Elvis Presley. (Is it really coincidence, or did my mind just make an association with Elvis Presley and that example was a good one?) Forrest Gump, as little as I like that movie, tells the epic story of one man. But imagine that the scene where young Forrest seeing Elvis practicing his dancing affected everything he did in the movie based on two seconds of footage. Every time that Elvis did anything with the Black community, it flashed to those two seconds of film to justify every one of his choices.
I also am really skeeved out by the takeaway that this movie wants me to have. Not more than the Priscilla stuff. That stuff straight up grosses me out. I'm talking about Elvis's legacy on music history. One thing that music history has been very clear on is that Elvis Presley was successful as a performer because he took Black music and did it as a White man. It's a commentary on race and prejudice, that White culture can't actually handle authentic voices. Now, I won't put all of this onus on Elvis. Elvis was raised, to my understanding, alongside Black children. It's natural that he embraced the music. But the movie never really calls out White America or Colonel Tom Parker for the cultural appropriation that this movie is screaming all throughout. It almost deifies Elvis saying that he did the right thing. Yes, many of us listen to Black artists today. (I feel very uncomfortable saying "everyone".) But it's not because of Elvis. White people kept going to Elvis concerts because it was mentally safer for them to hear this music coming out of a White boy's face. I don't think that Elvis was this bastion against conservatism. Sure, people thought that his gyrations were lewd. Those very same people hated Black people. I don't know if Elvis was really this great hero in the narrative of Civil Rights Movement that the movie almost claims that he is.
This movie annoyed me. My wife loved the first hour of it and then even admitted that the movie really just went way too long. Yeah, I'm sick of biopics. I'm more sick of music biopics. But Elvis even outdoes other music biopics in terms of getting on my nerves.
Rated R for all of the language and sexual content, despite not actually showing any of it on screen. If Kevin Smith is known for drug and sex jokes, this is more of that. Honestly, this MPAA section is only for those who haven't heard of Kevin Smith. Not an insult, but I know that time passes. There's vulgarity and a heavy amount of blasphemy throughout, but his goal is to be sweet while crass. R.
DIRECTOR: Kevin Smith
Happy Valentine's Day! I guess I'm going to be writing about Clerks III. (Note: In an attempt to catch up to the offensive amount of movies that I've watched due to the Academy Awards, I'm not writing this ON Valentine's Day. It just so happens to be scheduled to be posted on Valentine's Day.) Why did I take a break from my steady diet of Academy Award nominees? I want to get nominee discs through Netflix DVD, but those aren't available. So I had to shotgun Clerks III in hopes that The Fablemans would be available next. It's a flawed system, but it's the best I got.
I hate that I keep coming back to this well. I've borderline written this review fairly recently, with Jay and Silent Bob Reboot. I love Kevin Smith. I specifically love him as a personality and a talking head because that man knows how to turn a phrase. Sure, he's crass. I have no problem with that. But my goodness, he keeps making the same movie. I know, I am being extremely unfair to a guy who tried to make a movie about who he is now versus who he was thirty years ago. But that's the thing he's always been doing. Okay, there's sometihng fascinating about coming back and reassing who you are. But Smith, honestly, hasn't grown all that much. I will give credit that Clerks III is probably his most mature film in the sense that he actually has something that he really wants to say with this one. But it's also just Clerks. Almost everything he makes is just a version of Clerks again. It's kind of a perversion of auteur theory. It's like a one hit wonder slightly changing the song over-and-over to maintain presence in the zeitgeist. I don't need a thousand versions of "Baby Shark". I want something new.
I guess that brings me to the obvious evidence against me: Jersey Girl and Cop Out. Now, he didn't write Cop Out, but I'm still going to count it towards something positive. Both Jersey Girl and Cop Out (along with Tusk and a couple of other movies that I didn't see...yet) aren't Jay and Bob movies. These movies are infamously...not great. Basically, I am advocating for him to make more movies like Jersey Girl and Cop Out. Yeah, that's a weird take to have considering how much consensus, even from the director himself, that these movies aren't great. But I am going to say that they are something new from Kevin Smith. I have this thing with my students who succeeded early on. As much as you would think it would be the kids who struggle that would be hard to teach, you would be wrong. It's often the kids who have natural talent and have received recognition for that talent that really are frustrating to teach. I'm going to use writing as an example because I was that kid and I relate.
As many typos and non-sequiturs litter this blog, understand that, if I really took my time and went back and rewrote my blogs, there would be some quality to them. Considering that my blog is just way too wordy and I am to bring daily content to the blog, that's kind of impossible. But when I was in high school, I won a state award for writing. I pat myself on the back to this day, even though I absolutely should not give myself any applause for that because that award destroyed my writing for years. What happened, and what happens to a lot of students, (and I'm lumping Kevin Smith into this) is that they hear affirmation about something that they did that was right. When something doesn't garner them positive comments or accolades, they revert to the thing that did bring affirmation. It's writing for one audience. They embrace that whole idiom, "Jack of All Trades, Master of None." See, it's good to hone a craft. But Smith isn't honing a craft so much as he's returning to the same well over-and-over. Even in terms of natural growth, I think he's afraid to step out of a comfort zone.
When Clerks came out in 1994, he was a student filmmaker with a limted budget and independent actors. He's not that anymore. In my head, Kevin Smith is doing just fine financially. He's directed big budget movies to limited success. But the big takeaway is that Cop Out didn't fail because of anything he did. He serviced that script exactly how it asked to be serviced. He worked with a big personality that was almost intentionally sabotaging the film. He can get performances out of people. He can work with a camera that moves. He can make better movies than he's making. I mean, Rosario Dawson is in two of these Clerks movies. She's clearly the only one who is delivering performances that are worthy of Smith's experience in the business. That's because she's bringing her A-game to every day of shooting, regardless of how little the filmmakers think about their own film. There's no reason to have these cue-card readings. It's because Smith keeps going back to what is safe: low expectations and his fanbase. Clerks III, for what it was, could have been something glorious.
I'm about to say something pretty damning. I don't know if I covered this already, but I'm writing over the course of many days. (I've written four blogs in one day once. I am so busy right now, that Clerks III has somehow taken me three days to write.) As much as Clerks changed the landscape of independent cinema, taking it from high brow to low brow and inviting the everyman to partake in the conversation, it's not as big a deal as Kevin Smith has made it. It's important to him. It's important to View Askew fans. But making a meta narrative about Randal basically recreating the first Clerks movie is cute without the emotional weight that Smith is trying to imbue. Any philosophy in extremes is problematic. Yes, I believe that an artist should make what he knows. It just scans. But Kevin Smith is almost only touching things that he knows at this point. Kevin Smith both directed Clerks and he suffered a life-changing heart attack. Clerks III is about directing Clerks and about surviving a life-changing heart attack. That's...too much. Do you know why I say that? He's non-stop talked about the heart-attack. Jay and Silent Bob Reboot also touched on the heart attack, if I'm remembering right. There is more to say than just this tiny myopic worldview. I love Kevin Smith. I do. It feels like I really hate him right now. I don't. I just think that he's better than the nonstop flattery he gets from his fanbase.
I loved View Askew for a long time. I was in college at just the right time to be into View Askew. I would write off Kevin Smith as a one trick pony if it wasn't for something that's a bit more off-the-grid than the rest of his films. I'm talking about his superhero comic works. Now, this seems like I'm just leaning into bias and maybe I am. But both his work on Daredevil and Green Arrow still hold up as some of the best work done with either character. These are stories that aren't littered with "Snoochie Boochies" or hamfisted drug references. These are stories that are infamously pigeonholed as action stories and they are injected with character and emotion. Not only that, but they're great superhero stories. I'm not saying that Smith should now do superhero stuff. Maybe he should. I don't care. I just want Smith to work for something with constrictions again. He can't be the start-to-finish guy who has to like these stories. He's far too talented to make stuff like Clerks III.
This next criticism is personal because I really don't like it. I fight with myself over this because I wonder if I'm just reacting as the butt of the joke. I don't think I am because I've heard the joke done way better and laughed a lot at the joke. (I'm really trying to free myself of bias, guys.) If all of Kevin Smith's jokes are childish, his religious jokes are infantile. Are there people like Elias? Maybe. But are you really criticizing Christianity if you use Elias as your example? Elias is so intensely over-the-top that there's no relating to him. What comment is being made about Elias' fair-weather obsession with Christ? Every single time that Elias was on-screen, it was a groan. Again, not on the actor. It's entirely on the sophomoric view of Christianity from the perspective of a vocal atheist. It's trying to capture Dogma all over again without even a hint of nuance.
Now, is that to say that there isn't anything worth redeeming in Clerks III? He covers this in the movie, but the original ending to Clerks had Dante die by gunshot. Now, that ending would have been the most try-hard thing ever. But Dante's death at the end of Clerks III was incredibly vulnerable. If the story is about dealing with a heart attack and surviving, Dante's death is an understanding of what Smith's mortality means. It's both an exploration of fear and an acceptance that he feels accomplished in his life. It's also Kevin Smith letting go of something. I mean, sure, Becky is back as a ghost, but she at least died between movies. Also, I can see Dante talking to Randal as a memory for small amounts of time. But I can't imagine that Kevin Smith would do a whole movie where Dante is there for the whole movie as a memory. (Now that I said it, it is totally doable and I feel guilty that I've somehow willed this into the universe.)
I feel like a heel for writing all of this. Maybe it is the overly aggressive English teacher in me, but I'm more disappointed than angry. Kevin Smith is such a talented dude that to laud this as his new magnum opus is just a lack of belief in himself. He needs to make bad movies where he's out of his comfort zone until he makes the one that's great. I know he tried it for a little bit, but there's a birthing process. Sure, he's older than I am, but he has so much talent that it's going to click when it clicks. I'm not even saying don't make independent films. I think he should still make independent films. But he needs to stop treating them like the independent films of the '90s. Make something impressive and leave Jay and Bob behind.
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.