My kids are four and six. I showed this one to my older kid when she was two or three and she loved it. Okay, she didn't get a lot of it and got kind of bored. But she said she loved it. I don't really know why this movie couldn't be G. There is one moment of violence that is unsettling because it is grounded and realistic. It also deals heavily with mythology and there is the implication of a dragon in a cloud. There also a ton of baby butts in the movie. Also, Kaguya threatens to kill herself. I guess there are naked babies all about. Regardless, I kind of feel like this one should be G. But it's PG and that's okay too, I guess.
DIRECTOR: Isao Takahata
I love Ghibli. This whole binge-Ghibli-for-the-podcast isn't the worst job in the world. I can watch a lot of them with my kids in the room. They are pretty movies that are usually well made. It gives me an excuse to watch movies that I've mostly seen before, but now I get a chance to watch them critically. It's not a bad way to spend a spring break. I frontloaded The Tale of Princess Kaguya to the beginning of the binging because I knew that it wasn't one of my favorites. The odd thing is that it might be one of the prettiest due to the stylized art, but I also know that it had obvious pacing issues making it more boring than it should be. I also knew that I wouldn't be able to get to the scarier ones earlier and I knew that there wasn't anything too scary in it. It didn't stop Henry from getting scared at some stuff, but he gets scared at everything. We can't even play video games with bad guys in them because he gets so scared. But Kaguya is a great watch, regardless of how dull it can really get at times.
I really should do a little bit of research on this movie. This movie might justify a commentary watch simply because I feel like I'm under-serving this film by not knowing any of the history behind it. Realize that everything I'm saying is speculation, but the movie feels like a visual adaptation of oral tradition. I know that a quick Google search of "Kaguya" would get me my answer if I just scroll down a bit, but I also know that I'm insanely distracted right now and don't really feel like writing this. The reason I make the claim about oral tradition is that the visual look of the movie seems like something out of Japanese mythology. Also, the story arcs in here seem very much like mythology, talking about the many nonrelated storylines that all connect to the same protagonist. Kaguya's origin is important to the end of the film, but the way it is presented seems like a very old way of thinking. She is simply found inside the bamboo and the bamboo provides for her. Rather than starting the story on the moon (Watch it...this will all make a little more sense), the story starts from the almost religious origin of nature providing Kaguya to the woodcutter. Similarly, the archetype of the woodcutter and his wife really come out of a fairy tale tradition / mythological tradition. If this isn't based on an actual story, the filmmakers had to be keeping this in mind when this story was created. I'm actually feeling shame right now that I don't know enough about Japanese mythology to talk about this at length, especially considering that I'm writing about references to mythology in Sandman for a grad school class. But I am pretty good at archetypes and tone and Takahata really nails that in spades. The watercolor feel to this movie is just the most impressive and serves the narrative more than any other style provided. I suppose that I'm a little spoiled by Ghibli's other outings because I want everything to have that crispness that the Miyazaki films have, but I don't mind this one bit. In fact, I prefer it for this movie because it gives a completely different sense about nature than Miyazaki does. Miyazaki has this love for nature, but nature is always powerful and almost godlike in his films. Kaguya loves nature for a totally different reason. Kaguya loves nature's simplicity. They aren't contradictory, but rather examining the multifaceted elements of the natural world. You're welcome for that fancy analysis. This is why I get paid the no bucks.
I'm not quite sure what all of the themes are trying to say. There are some really superficial and obvious themes, like Kaguya's love of simplicity over luxury. This ties into the value of freedom and love over social stature and comfort. That stuff is on the nose. But I am confused about the stuff it is trying to say about mortality. There is a message about death in this movie. Kaguya's fear of returning to her people mirrors the loss of a child, but normally that child doesn't have such clear foreknowledge. Is this movie about the loss of a child? I don't full on get that vibe. I think her leaving is the idea that she never really got to appreciate life on the level she was meant to. This is where things get muddied a bit. The moon people (I swear, this will make just a little more sense if you watch the movie) provide for her all that she could possibly want. They give the woodcutter and his wife all of the richest that they could imagine. The provide clothes for Kaguya and the woodcutter, initially honorably, uses this money for Kaguya instead of himself. Yeah, he loses the forest through the trees, but he means to do good for his daughter. Like most parents, he doesn't know how to do it right all of the time. But why give the woodcutter all this money if he wasn't supposed to give the princess the most financially stable life imaginable? I mean, she comes in the form of a tiny adult princess. It seems like Princess Kaguya was destined by her people to be miserable. And the end, she has to convince her people that the Earth is not imperfect. But they set her up for imperfection. That hardly seems fair. Okay, Father Woodcutter got swept away, but he does it out of ignorance. I know it doesn't excuse the fact that he misses the point of what Kaguya was all about. He's stubborn and that's his character flaw. But he's getting all of this input from what he perceives as gods. (Let's put this on the table: the moon people look like gods.) He sees all these miracles telling him, seemingly, that Princess Kaguya must be raised to be a princess. He doesn't see that his daughter has a group of friends. (Okay, he sees the boys calling her "Little Bamboo", but he mistakes it for bullying.) He doesn't see that she likes scraping her knees and running with the kids. All he sees is that he has failed as a caretaker to provide his magical daughter with every luxury that should be available to her. That message is a little bit weird. It's just muddy, is all. Clearly, the woodcutter is in the wrong. The movie does a solid job portraying him in a fairly negative light, but it never makes him the bad guy. He is always still a loving father and is always shown as trying his best. But he also is one of the bigger obstacles for Kaguya. The message, I suppose, is that even the best intentioned of people can still screw up pretty bad. But what am I to take away? I guess it is to listen to children, but then again, he gets a ton of data saying he should act the other way. It's just very muddy for me.
There's a weird moment at the end. I guess I should put SPOILERS here because it is icky, but I know why it kind of had to be icky. When Kaguya leaves for the country at the end of the movie (which I have the feeling didn't really happen, but that's kind of cool in itself), she runs into Sutemaru on the mountain. The mountain is once again verdant and it seems like this is the last chance for Kaguya to express her love to Sutemaru. I love that we don't really know ever if she does love Sutemaru. I get the vibe that Kaguya was meant never to marry because people simply admire her for her beauty. But that's a separate section. This leads into a flying sequence that shows them hugging in the sky. They are now the couple that the movie implies that they should be, but it also seems like this is all a dream sequence. Sutemaru wakes up and is found my his wife and child. That's so weird for a love story. But it is also very cool. I want to discuss the icky element first and call out that it is creepy that he holds a torch for the woman of his past. What is he doing dreaming of this other lady and thinking that they could fly together? (Side note: Maybe it isn't a dream because the dream informs Sutemaru that Kaguya must return to her people. Now I don't know what the heck happened at the end.) But it also shows that time moves on. I kind of dig that it doesn't overidealize obsession and turns it into love. He doesn't seem to be sad with his wife and kid. Quite the opposite. It seems like Sutemaru, from the very brief interaction with his his kid, that he's happy and a good father. But there is always the part of him that acknowledges that his life would have been very different. It's still icky, but it is also true from his perspective. I don't know how I feel about it outside of the fact that it is very different than the messages of other movies having to do with a clear male and female coupling.
I can't believe that my kids sat through the second half of this movie. I guess it was because Olivia was telling jokes through a lot of it and I was just letting it happen. I'm not ready to have the discussion about emotional vulnerability yet. But I really enjoyed it overall, despite the fact that it is criminally boring at times. It is a beautiful BEAUTIFUL movie that just needs to have a little more fun at times. I also don't know enough about the story to really offer any real insight into the story. Regardless, I think Ghibli fans should check this one out at least once. It's a pretty looking picture, guys.
I think that Spielberg really wanted to make the child endangerment movies of my youth again. But he didn't want to lean hard into it. Knowing that much of his potential audience was composed of nostalgia nerds who loved stuff like The Goonies and Wargames, I'm sure he wasn't afraid to make his movie PG-13. But he also toed that line a little bit. He does some really kiddie things in the movie, making the intended audience of this movie. There's some swearing and violence in the movie, but nothing too insane except for their allowed one f-bomb. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
So many thoughts on this movie. It's such a weird concept. The thing is that I both loved and hated the book. I guess I can say the same thing about the movie, but lower the opinions on both ends. I liked and disliked the movie and I'm really beating around the bush. The biggest problem with the book is the thing that actually makes it kind of a fun read. I love me some nostalgia. My basement (I refuse to call it a "man cave", but if the shoe fits...) is a decade old rear projection television connected to a LaserDisc player, a VCR, my NES, an SNES, a Sega Genesis with a 32X, a Sega Dreamcast, and an N64. My XBox 360 is down there, but not for nostalgia's sake. The room is littered with pop culture posters. Honestly, everything that spawned out of my arrested development is hoarded in the basement. Let's call a spade a spade and say that it was relegated to the basement, but regardless, my obsession with pop culture is strong. I loved reading a book where the author clearly liked the same things I did. But in the very namedropping of all those things, the book kind of has an amateurish tone to it. It relies on founding a story on a very flimsy foundation of pop culture awareness. The very thing that makes it work is its biggest weakness.
Now, Ready Player One as a book kind of felt like this underground thing for a while. It was partially nostalgia porn, but it kind of seemed cool. I don't know why. There was this punk attitude about the whole thing. Honestly, I'm surprised that the audiobook wasn't released exclusively on cassette. But it was this thing that nerds told each other about and that's how it gained popularity. While it lacked the absolute quality of Firefly or Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was something that only a few people knew about and then it was passed around. That might make it a bit hipster, but it also gave it this cultish feeling. Eventually, like Firefly, it became part of official nerd canon and it kind of lost that mythic quality to it. Many people said the book was garbage and they wouldn't be remiss in saying so. It isn't an amazing book, but it is a fundamentally fun book. But then when Steven Spielberg said he was adapting it, that kind of changed the whole thing. I love Steven Spielberg. I'm not a fan or anything. But the man has made quality movies time and again. Some of his recent outings have lacked the specialness of his earlier films. But they are often well shot and well acted (sometimes). Even the worst movie he has is watchable. But he is also the establishment now. The irony of the whole story of Ready Player One is that it is about being part of the underground. The establishment and corporate stuff is the stuff of scum. It was the struggling creator who made the cool thing. Once he sold out, he became the enemy. We're not feeding Ready Player One to the guy who made Jaws (pun intended). We're giving Ready Player One to the guy who made War Horse and The Post. He's not the same guy anymore. He has the skills he had before, but he doesn't have the same eye. Ready Player One, unfortunately, feels as corporate as it comes. The movie is too pretty at times. There isn't that struggling filmmaker behind the screen. Rather, he's the guy who is pretending to be cool because he used to be cool...JUST LIKE THE VILLAIN OF THE MOVIE. Okay, Steven Spielberg is not a villain. I think he desperately wants to be the guy out of his garage. The movie is just so clean. The marketing kind of reflects that. I really wanted this to be filmed on tape. The Cinemark / Rave we went to had their own marketing campaign for Ready Player One and it was so much better. It was this retro pink font. Here's the movie I would have made. I would have had all of the real world sections look like a bad VHS transfer and every time that they went into the OASIS, I would have made that Hi-Def. Steven Spielberg, you can steal that for your demake of the DVD.
But at the end of the day, Ready Player One is closer to one of his older movies than it is to his new stuff. By that I mean, it's actually pretty fun for a lot of it. The movie actually suffers from the opposite I think of other movies. The beginning and the end are trying too hard, but the middle is actually riveting. Considering that the middle is the bulk of the movie is the fun part of the movie, I don't mind at all. The movie is a callback to the summer blockbuster, despite the fact that it is getting dumped in March. And this is where I think the movie has its biggest problems. The movie shines when Spielberg is a fan of his subject matter. If it came before 1995, Spielberg really nerds out of over it. Such detail and love are obvious in those moments. There's a big section involving the second key that is a love letter to Kubrick. Okay, some people will say it is ultimately blasphemy. They are probably right. Kubrick would have hated that entire section. But it him totally being a big film dork. It is also completely fun if you allow it to be. Like, this moment is what Ready Player One should be. It is a loving tribute to the things we love and how much we want to play in these worlds. Similarly, the car chase sequence at the beginning is so much fun. The references left and right do almost nothing for me, but I feel like Spielberg really loves those moments. But the dark side of making nerdy references is that Spielberg clearly isn't a fan of anything after 1995. He doesn't treat them with scorn, but it often feels like he's pandering to the kids. This comes across in the language and delivery. Perhaps I have to blame Zak Penn for these moments because there are so many moments in the movie where he's trying to talk like a kid that makes my eyes roll into the back of my head. It feels like my grandpa telling me about getting on MyFace or whatever such nonsense. It doesn't feel authentic like the stuff that he actually likes. There's this cool Back to the Future moment (that is made way better with Alan Silvestri actually scoring the movie) that is so small, but it is done with love. But then, there's also Overwatch characters just thrown in there. (I also got the vibe that the Holy Hand Grenade should have been done better.) Spielberg has this weird relationship with Kubrick, which made the Kubrick stuff great. When he nerds out, he nerds out with the best of them.
Spielberg is obsessed with Mark Rylance. I don't really get it. He does a fine job in the stuff he's in, but he's not the most amazing actor in the world. I really don't see him as Halliday. I do appreciate that he brought something different to the character than other people would, but I never really got him as this passionate guy. Also, while I love Simon Pegg and am glad that he's in the movie as a fairly substantial role, it's not the part I would have liked to see him in. Again, it's fine. It is almost thankless though, especially that he's such a figure in nerd culture. I weirdly didn't mind his American accent. I liked it even better knowing that there was a good reason for it. The kids performances drove me nuts. I don't actually blame the actors. It was an attempt at stylized acting that happens in movies. This harkens back to the thought that Spielberg really wanted to make a child endangerment film. I just wish that he completely committed to the bit. I don't know if he was worried about alienating audiences, but I think that had to be a risk. That might be the lesson learned from this film. A lot of money was thrown at this movie. The rights to characters had to cost so much money and it is a special effects laden movie. I'm sure that they thought that they couldn't take too many risks in making this movie because it needed to make its money back. But in not taking any risks and making it accessible to all audiences, the movie only has B- quality. I think this movie would have gotten insane support if it was only A+ for some audiences. Maybe not. But I'd rather have a Blade Runner 2049 than the Ready Player One we got. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun in this movie. But it is nothing all that special. I'll watch it and I'll enjoy it, but I should want to get this on VHS the day it comes out. (I'm still playing in a world that has the best marketing campaign ever.) That, unfortunately, is not this movie. Oh, and Ben Mendelsohn is fine, I guess. He's a bit goofy.
I really did have a good time at this movie, I swear. It just has these moments that are kind of cringy. I also wanted it to crush and it just ended up being a better movie than I expected. I really thought the movie would drop the ball overall and it didn't. But it is a very strategic March release. It's going to be the best movie in theaters until mid April and that's the best way to think about it.
Controversial! Infamous! These are words that have described mother! To some extent, I suppose those are accurate descriptors. I will say, while accurate, the movie isn't as offensive as I was prepared for. Yeah, there's some really cruel stuff that happens to a digital baby. There's violence. There's nudity. There's sex. It's just that I thought it would be throughout the film. Really, the really messed up stuff happens in a really concentrated and intense section that is meant to shock you. So yeah, those descriptors? Accurate. R Rating.
DIRECTOR: Darren Aranofsky
You're right, Jennifer Lawrence. I too hate when people disrespect the housekeeping rules I so closely abide by.
So I rented one of the most panned movies of last year. Not only was it panned, but it caused just a whole lot of controversy. I didn't rent it for any of those reason. Okay, I didn't rent it for those reasons directly. I kind of like Darren Aranofsky. I know. He's anti-organized religion and he made a whole lot of movies that I didn't like. But he also made The Fountain and Black Swan and I really liked both of those a lot. I had to watch the movie for myself before I made a decision. My really quick verdict on the movie is that it isn't as bad as people make it out to be. It is more of a failed experiment; a case study of why less is more sometimes. It's not good, but a lot of it is very watchable and kind of compelling. Also, perhaps really try establishing a clear theme, Mr. Aranofsky. Doing everything and mixing metaphors can lead to people just walking away and saying "That is dumb."
I think I want to do SPOILERS with this one because I can and there's so much I want to break down. I want to address the individual themes and why they make people angry. I can see people getting angry over this movie. It never really made me angry so much as I thought it kind of turned into the cinematic version of a tantrum at one point. I have a feeling that most of my analyses will be about the final twenty minutes of the movie, or the tantrum part. The first part is really cryptic and used to just show that something weird is happening in the house. I also guess it is really helpful with establishing the mood of the piece. There is something uncomfortable happening in this house that is outside the rules of reality. It is only as I write this that I realize that mother! is just an extreme version of the formula that he uses with his other movies. The beginning is to ground and relate the characters to us. There is tension and events that change the plot happen, but they are all pretty close to the ground. It is only when the movie crosses a certain threshold later in the film that the movie tries abandoning semblances of reality. It's not to say that this insanity isn't foreshadowed. It is. I'm thinking of the flashes to the sphere in the fountain or the weird hallucinations that Portman gets in Black Swan. But these characters all have a fairly grounded plot. In mother!, Lawrence is married to famous but frustrated author Javier Bardem, playing up the age difference between the couple. Apparently, this is similar in age between Darren Aranofsky and Jennifer Lawrence, but this seemed to be an after the fact thing. Anyway, talking about the most offensive aspect to me personally (which again, never really does...but I can at least see it) is the possible attack on theology. This might be a movie about the relationship between God and people. Having Bardem refer to himself as the creator and demanding adulation for all of his great creations at the sacrifice of the individual might be the central theme here. Lawrence's character admits that Bardem has created something "perfect". She sees the beauty in it and responds responsibly. But it is when organized religion comes in the form of fandom that shows the quick escalation of the tantrum section of the movie. This would be reaffirmed by the sacrifice of Bardem's son to the masses, similar to the killing of Christ. The baby being eaten (maybe this movie is pretty messed up) could mirror the Eucharist. But this is all liberal college theology. It is an oversimplification of the way that organized religion works, focusing only on the negative experiences that people have had with faith. I can see Aranofsky using this movie as a vehicle to talk about faith, but Lawrence's character doesn't fit well with this idea, especially considering that the movie is named mother!
In isolation, the theology thing doesn't really work all that well. If it is coupled with the problems of Aranofsky dealing with celebrity, the mixed metaphor works kind of. The problem there is that it really muddies the waters of the message. I leaned heavily into Aranofsky using the tantrum section of the movie to explore the evils of celebrity and the cost of art on the artist. If Aranofsky is Bardem and Lawrence is every healthy human relationship he has ever had, the message kind of works. Fandom is a pretty dark thing. I love being a part of multiple fandoms, but there is the sense of entitlement and ownership that comes with fandom. If the message is about that, I could really see it. Ed Harris comes to him as a fan. Not only is he a fan, but he is a fan who lies about his relationship to the situation to give himself a sense of self worth. Bardem needs Harris and the other visitors there to keep going, but the movie outside of Bardem's perspective is focused on the chaos and violence that surrounds the life of adulation. I actually really like this interpretation of the whole thing, but the movie focuses on the fact that the artist is wholly unaware of the destruction that his lifestyle creates. The very nature of this movie contradicts that. On top of that, the insanity of the tantrum scene is just too too much. I have to kind of applaud him. If he is trying to show how insane his life feels when he is torn between art and family, mission accomplished. I applaud him because everyone goes subtle. But there's also a really good reason why the rest of the world goes subtle: it works. Going this big and this hard into your theme quickly gets silly and preachy. People, myself included, like figuring out the message and extrapolating meaning from the movie. In a lot of cases, the viewer takes ownership of the art and derives his or her own message from their experience. Unfortunately for guys like Aranofsky who desperately DESPERATELY want their message heard, they run the risk of losing the point. But when a message is so screaming at the screen, people feel talked down to. The director becomes an authoritarian and nothing is more tempting for an anonymous viewer than to rebel against that very message.
The thing that kind of bums me out is that for a good chunk of this movie, I thought that everyone was wrong about it. I really enjoyed the first two thirds. It's odd and creepy. The performances are cool. There are so many cool visuals. Like, I haven't seen a movie drop the ball so hard as mother! and I know that the first two thirds are there just to give the last third a huge contrast. The obsessive homeowner really wanted to help Jennifer Lawrence clean the house. I don't know what the message of people being rude to J-Law was. Is it that people just have a sense of entitlement? That would be a real bummer of a message in a movie. If the movie is about how terrible everyone is but Darren Aranofsky and Jennifer Lawrence, I can see why people didn't like it. I started this review with the comment that I, too, lose my mind when people don't share my feelings about taking care of a house, so I just kept getting an emotional charge. When Michelle Pfeiffer drops the glass egg, I lost it too. When the couple starts bouncing on the sink, I kept thinking about how no one ever listens to my simple requests for things and then I started crying. (It's almost 12:30 in the morning and everyone in the house is asleep. This is the only time I can vent like this.) I don't know why we had to focus on Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer having sex. I don't get what it brings to the story outside the fact that it is just a hugely rude thing that they could do. I guess that might be one of my frustrations about the movie in general though. The movie teases a lot of concepts and cool imagery, but very little of it comes to fruition. The only guess I have about the house burning down and being rebuilt time and again might be a reference to Dionysus, but that might be a stretch. Also, it is a reference in isolation, which makes me really question if that's what Aranofsky is going for. It just seems weird. The blood stain where the son fell is also really odd. It clearly is a metaphor because the results of the blood stain are inconsistent when it comes to how Jennifer Lawrence views the events in the film. The tiny room? I know it was a set piece to blow up the house at the end and thus bookend the film, but why is that room a secret? Why did the blood outline the doors to that room? Why did the light bulb blow up? There is so much here that I feel like Aranofsky wants to bludgeon me with the metaphor, but doesn't ever want me to feel smart enough to feel like I figured it out on my own.
It wasn't a bad two hour watch. I was really expecting something horrible and I just got something preachy instead. I was told not to see it and that was probably a bit much. I don't recommend it to anyone and the movie does hit some intentionally offensive beats, but don't go into it trying to prove that you know better or that you want to see something messed up. It isn't the most messed up movie ever made, but it is enough to make you kind of grossed out. Also, Mr. Ananofsky, do one thing and do it well. Back up a bit. I still want to see your future films, but you don't have to make the ends of all your movies insane.
I've reviewed seven of these films! Seven! The whole box set is done! You know what these movies have! They have plenty of guns. They have plenty of cars. They have plenty of butts. They also have an occasional curse word. But you know what they really have in spades? Heart. No wait, they don't have heart. They just have lots of butts. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: James Wan
Wait! James Wan directed this one? He directs lots of horror movies! I had no idea. I thought it was the other guy! You know, Justin Lin! He directed a whole bunch of these. When he took over the franchise, they got pretty good. In fact, they all kind of got better. Like, Part 5 is better than Part 6, but the overall trend was going upwards. When this was the best in the franchise, I thought it had to be the same guy just honing his craft until he got it absolutely right. But James Wan crushed it. I shouldn't be surprised. I overall like his horror movies. He's the guy who directed the only good Saw movie. Which one was that? Saw. The guy has talent, even though I may not be his target market. Regardless, this is my favorite of the Fast and the Furious movies. Does that make it good? Heck, no. But I would totally watch this movie again because it is a good time despite the oodles of butts.
In some ways, Furious 7 is a complete paradox for me. It does everything that I really hate in the franchise and ramps them up to eleven. I often complained about how death really doesn't matter in these movies (unless you die in real life and now there's this awkward thing between us. I'm sorry for ragging on you so hard, Paul Walker. I still will probably critique your performance in this movie). I'M GONNA GET SPOILERY, so you have been warned. I can't stand when characters can arbitrarily survive things that are borderline unsurvivable. It makes death mean absolutely nothing. If the only thing that actually kills a character is the greater need of the narrative, there is a fundamental problem with the movie. Dom, who clearly should have died multiple times in this franchise, should be a splat on the side of a mountain in this movie. When he is surrounded by a bunch of guards pointing guns at him, he drives his car off a mountain. Not only does he survive and his passenger survive, both walk out of the car without a scratch on them. Where is the tension when something like that happens? Similarly, the Rock...he just survives stuff. He is fighting Jason Statham (I'm going to be writing that name a lot in this review) on the fourth floor of a government agency. They throw each other through convenient glass walls over and over again. Eventually, Jason Statham (told you) tosses a hockey puck that acts as sci-fi C4. The Rock, seeing his partner in trouble, grabs her and acts like a human shield to save her. They are launched out of the fourth floor of this building as the entire floor explodes like the Nakatomi Building and The Rock cushions their fall as they land on a car. He groans, indicating that he survived and is conscious. The only damage that he gets is that he has a broken collarbone which sidelines him for the bulk of the movie. I'm not sure if the Rock only had a limited shooting schedule for this one, but that's how that all played out. These are the two most egregious scenes, but there are so many moments like this in Furious 7. But at the end of the day, I think I've learned not to care as much. The movie is just so big that these moments were offered up to the reality gods in exchange for coolness. I hate that I'm writing this now because I hate when people only like movies because they are so cool. But Furious 7 is the cool kid in school and I can't help but somehow be enchanted by this film.
The tone of the movie can be summed up in the opening sequence of the movie. The movie starts with Jason Statham (a good choice) talking to the unconscious Luke Evans, who was the bad guy of the last movie. Apparently, they are brothers. Good for Luke Evans showing up with makeup all over his face, but I digress. Jason Statham (trademark pending) is giving the sappiest speech about protecting his brother and just info-dumping all over a sanitary bed. (They have bedpans for that, Jason Statham, Actor Extraordinaire!) Then the camera pans back and we get this amazing tracking shot of what Jason Statham, the Jason Statham of Comedy, has done to this hospital. He has killed everyone in the hospital, brutally. He left a wave of destruction in his wake and that is so darned cool. He establishes how much of a threat he is by just murdering everyone. That is this movie. Sure, Jason Statham ("came in like a wrecking ball") probably killed the doctors who were treating his brother. Sure, those nurses were probably vital to Luke Evans's survival. Doesn't matter. Like Furious 7 itself, it requires you to shut off every element of reality and to just accept that this movie is more about being cool than every making a lick of sense. I mean, it has Kurt Russell. Kurt Russell is building a nice ironic career for himself right now. He's entered the world of Christopher Walken and Jeff Goldblum to where people are just excited to see Kurt Russell on screen again and having a good time. I think it started in Death Proof, but it really works for him. He's doing the same thing that he will eventually do in Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, but on a smaller scale. But again, this movie is about being cool. I suppose that explains what Ronda Rousey was doing in this movie. Let's establish: Ronda Rousey is a really bad actor. Like, she's almost worse than Paul Walker is in this movie. (Again, to the family of Paul Walker, I cannot apologize enough. He seems like a real nice guy. He didn't act very well in these movies and I'm an insensitive and terrible individual.) She has this fight sequence with Michelle Rodriguez that is absolutely insane. The weird thing is that there is no doubt in my mind that Letty should be able to fight like that. There's not a ton of precedence to say that she could do that, but my brain has been trained to just accept that Letty can do stuff like that. But these guys were car thieves.
There's actually a part where Dom puts down a shotgun and tries to fight a trained MI-6 operative with giant wrenches like he was wielding twin swords. He does pretty good. There is no way that this guy should be an expert swordfighter with one sword, let alone two. But you know what, that's Furious 7. I don't care. That's what this movie is so good at, making me not care. Why don't they just shoot the bad guy in the head? There's actually a point where an entire strike team just watches Jason Statham, confident bad guy, just eating a meal. Of course, this was all a stall tactic, but they just wanted to watch him eat. One of the members of the team was also holding the very piece of tech that Jason Statham Master Planner and Djimon Hounsou Second Fiddle wanted. This is the movie. You really need to get comfortable with the movie being really dumb. They drop a parking garage on Jason Statham Super Villain and he surives. (You know, I'm good with that. That part I can wrap my head around. It's probably why the structure fell apart.) But that's something I have to come to grips with. I don't normally approve of this. I wonder if I could just recommend part 7 to people. I don't know. This movie might be even dumber than I'm making it out to be right now, but I've been beaten down by six other films that have set me up for this one. My expectations have been continually lowered time and again. It might be the thing that makes this movie so darned entertaining. I'm serious. I could sit down and watch this movie again. I never watch movies again. I'm not saying I even liked the movie, but it was super fun. There is a war inside of me between the snob who only finds artistic value in movies, (At the time of this review, there is an image of Toshiro Mifune to the left) and the guy who likes 'splodey things. It's weird. I'm completely a fan of stupidness when it is done with a sense of irony. Like I mentioned, I love Death Proof. I also like Shoot 'Em Up and a couple of others. But these are movies who are intentionally making self-aware action films. But this movie is a corporate nightmare that I have fully embraced. Golly, I want to beat me up right now for being such a snob, but I also know that this movie lacks all the heart I normally need a movie to have, but I still liked it.
The elephant in the room the entire time I watched this one was about Paul Walker. I thought for sure that they were going to kill off his character. For those who didn't know, Paul Walker died during the filming of this movie. I knew that the movie had to make some kind of thing in it. After all, Brian O'Connor is the central character in all but Part 3. But he survives. He completely survives the movie. So there is this epilogue that was clearly put together after the film was over. They all say goodbye to Brian as if the character wasn't going to be involved. The filmmakers gave Brian another kid to imply that one kid didn't really deserve his attention as a father, but two kids would make adventuring plum irresponsible. I don't get the logic, but I kind of respect that they didn't try to force a death in the plot just to satisfy audiences who wanted a tearful goodbye. Henson was moved by the tribute that they paid Paul Walker in the end. It kind of felt like a YouTube tribute and I'm just a bad person. These things are intimately related. I'm heartbroken about Walker's death, but I suppose that there was no good way to handle this. Regardless, I'm glad that they did something about it.
The boys dip their toes into the wide world of anime because Mr. Henson can't get over the film, Your Name. Check it out!
It's not rated and it's old. Most people throw that into the pile of okayness-to-watch. (It's very early and words are hard.) It's a great movie that screams British drama. But the end is remarkably dark. There are moments where one of the main characters is extremely dark and manipulative. What I'm saying is that I could never qualify this as a kid-friendly movie. I can't say exactly what happens at the end, because that would ruin it. But it is not exactly G...
DIRECTORS: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
There are people I'm just wrong about. It is something about liking the things I like. I stand by my opinion that David Lynch isn't as great as people make him out to be. I don't have any leg to stand on when it comes to the Archers, Powell and Pressburger. When it comes to Powell and Pressburger, I see the genius in front of me. I get why it is absolutely beautiful. It takes me a million watchings to actually like it. I don't know how that works. I usually love my first watching of a movie more than the others. With The Red Shoes, it took me four or five watchings to grow beyond an appreciation for it to a place of actually enjoying the movie.
The problem I have with the Archers is that their movies are so darned British. I often say that I'm a big fan of boring as long as I can see why it is boring. I watch lots of stuff that most people would call epicly boring, Yet, everyone I have shown The Red Shoes to are riveted from moment one. I don't know what it is. I still get a little bored at parts. The Red Shoes at least gives some moments to break up the movie that are really cool and abstract. It's their other movies, like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, that don't have nightmare ballet sequences that ask me to run the marathon with them. But that's what I really like about The Red Shoes. It seems to take these absolutely insane risks that I normally wouldn't associate with this era of British filmmaking. I guess it is not that weird. Powell and Pressburger did Peeping Tom and that thing is as bizarre as it gets. (I also like that one so I've already completely unraveled my original argument.) But Red Shoes toes the line (pun intended) between being a traditional story about the balance of art and love and a story that is about teetering into madness and obsession. This is the first time I've watched The Red Shoes since seeing Phantom Thread and I can't help but make comparisons. My students picked up on the same similar themes and motifs. The idea of the obsessed genius who lacks social graces and the woman that he transforms from nobody to star. Both characters indulge an unhealthy obsession with this woman because she is his property. It actually kind of makes Phantom Thread a little more icky. Both Lermontov and Woodcock are portrayed in a negative light by their respective directors, but there might be a toxic concept behind the idea that this belief is commonly held. The women in both of these movies become the art itself. When art rebels its artist, that is when the artist loses a sense of self. I love how I'm tossing all three directors under the bus right now considering that I loved both of these movies, but it is interesting to see such similarities. All this being said, there is a good chance that Powell, Pressburger, and Anderson are all addressing toxic masculinity and that my criticism is actually what they were shooting for.
I also love the idea of the artist destroying his or her own art. Lermontov destroys Vicky and Craster. Vicky abandons dancing and does something horrible to her art at the end. Craster abandons his opera. Vicky is both the artist and the art. There's so many levels to this movie that I get why it is lauded. There are some execution things that I might be alone on. Everything conceptually is perfect in this movie. The big win for me is the actual ballet of "The Red Shoes." It's such a gutsy and gorgeous moment. I love how trippy it gets. (Half pun not intended.) The use of color and imagery is absolutely gorgeous. On my notes page for this section, I have an image from The Red Shoes of Grisha covered in his playbill costume. I would have loved to be in the planning stages for this because this is an example of a concept coming to life flawlessly. The end AND I MIND AS WELL GET SPOILERY HERE dance sequence once Vicky is dead is one of the coolest ideas conceptually. The dance going on without her is a wonderful idea that kind of feels silly. This is my lack of vulnerability kicking in because everyone else cries at this moment. But I can't help but think of how ridiculous it would be for any play to go on without the protagonist in the role. It works for the context of the story. The Red Shoes will find a way to dance, regardless of circumstance. It's a phenomenal metaphor for obsession and I love it conceptually. But my brain won't shut off sometimes. But again, there are so many brilliant moments. Craster taking off Vicky's shoes only at death to reveal bloodstained tights. The image right before it where the Archers focus on her feet. There is this shot that just screams that the shoes are making her do it. That art crossing into the real world is just teased perfectly. Lesser directors would feel the need to exposition the crap out of that, but they just allow the visuals to take control.
I don't know what to think of Julian Craster. I love how complex his character is. Vicky is clearly the manipulated. In a creepy way, she acts as a Macguffin. She has clear goals and desires, but she is often very reactionary to the stronger personalities in her life. (I was going to say "men in her life", but then I remember that her aunt is also pushy about Vicky's career.) Craster for most of the film is the positive influence in Vicky's life. He offers balance to Lermontov's dominance. He encourages her skills while adjusting to her needs as a person. In turn, she offers him friendship and encouragement, leading eventually to their relationship. When they leave Lermontov, it is clear that they both sacrificed something for the other. Vicky has this decision to leave with Julian and it is a lovely story. (I just figured something out by writing about it. This is why I write...because I have no one to talk to.) Craster moves on with his life but doesn't see that Vicky is suffering more due to her sacrifice. When Vicky returns to Lermontov, she admittedly does so in a duplicitous way. I don't know why she didn't think she'd get caught, but that is part of the suspension of disbelief. Vicky begins to stand up for herself in the weirdest way possible. She misses the manipulation. That's really odd. Stepping into herself involves someone telling her what to do while telling her that she is brilliant. I managed to lose the topic sentence, but I'm coming back to it. Julian Craster's abandonment of his opera is seen as this grand sacrifice. He does all of this as a public declaration of love for Vicky. Vicky sees this but doesn't want him to do it. Worse, Craster wants her to reciprocate the sacrifice. But she wants to dance "The Red Shoes". Craster weirdly becomes the villain in a span of five minutes. The odd thing is that I would never call it a lightswitch moment. I hate when good characters are just evil. Craster isn't evil. He wants what everyone wants. He wants to be loved like he gives love. But his reaction is way over the top. This moment is deserving of a good argument. At worst, it is the moment that would require counseling. But putting the ultimatum on Vicky is insane. But Powell and Pressburger make him look insane, so it's appropriate. He becomes a version of Lermontov in that moment. He wants the control of Vicky, not her love. Sure, he doesn't see that, but it is there. I think there are also visual connections between Julian Craster and Lermontov in those last few scenes. It is almost like Lermontov is looking at a younger version of himself. I might be over reading into that, but there are moments.
See? It's that stuff that gets me excited. It took a lot of watchings of this movie to really love these moments. Powell and Pressburger can boring, but to the few people who are like me, there are moments of absolute genius in these films. The character development and the visuals are gorgeous. It's just the pacing from time to time that really bothers me. That's not the worst thing in the world either. Maybe I should give The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp another go. It's just that I'll then have to watch 49th Parallel as well. Oh well, I can always temper it with another viewing of Peeping Tom.
OH MY GOODNESS! HOW MANY TIMES IN MY LIFE DO I HAVE TO WATCH THE EYE CUTTING SHOT FROM UN CHIEN ANDALOU!? Like, for serious. I've seen it way too many times. But I digress. The movie is PG despite a healthy attitude towards butts and that gosh darn eye cutting scene again. The butts are there for the sake of art. I just think back to my wife's comment about The Fast and the Furious franchise and how people who like that franchise tend to be the same people who are obsessed with butts. I now throw out there that Agnes Varda might be a big fan of The Fast and the Furious movies.
DIRECTORS: JR and Agnes Varda
Agnes Varda might be my favorite part of the French New Wave. There. I said it. You Godard fans will probably hate me forever, but I never really got into Godard. Sure, I like Breathless a lot, but Godard was always just too inaccessible to me. (You can easily chalk to this up to the fact that I might not be smart enough to get Godard. I can live with that accusation.) Cleo from 5 to 7 and Vagabond are absolutely brilliant movies. When I saw that Varda co-directed a new documentary that was up for an Academy Award, I was really bummed that I couldn't see the movie before the actual Oscars. The thing is, the movie is okay. I would even say that the movie is enjoyable. But did it change my life? Actually, not really.
I hate dunking on a hero of mine, especially with what will probably (her words!) be her last film. She is such a talent and I always saw Varda as something larger than life. But this movie really sits in a cute place rather than a life-changing place. I always saw Varda's films as something revolutionary and extraordinary. They were challenging and begged me to analyze them beyond what I simply saw on the screen. Faces Places spells things out a bit too clearly for me. That attitude can be damning for someone who is just such an inspiration. For those people who aren't in the know, Faces Places teams Varda up with JR (I'm sorry, but I've never heard of him. I'm not exactly a student of photography) as they travel from village to village and use photography as art. I really like the concept. The idea of finding art in the unpretentious is kind of brilliant. The problem with this concept is that it almost feels like an Upworthy video put on repeat. The art is the same over and over. Perhaps that critique is a bit unfair. It is a variation on the same theme over and over again. Rather than matching the art to mirror its subjects, Varda and JR (I can't handle that he's just known as "JR") keep taking pictures of people and blowing them up to paste on the side of a wall. Often --and the movie doesn't really acknowledge this --the art comes across as commercial or pop art. There seems to be little depth because little thought is put into any of the pieces. They are going around from town to town and muraling a wall with a photograph. But it seems that they only spend a couple of hours from concept to execution (with the exception of a few pieces). There doesn't seem to be anything personal in it outside of the stunt of its very creation. I'm not saying all art has to be the same, but watching the process on repeat gives the film a very "reality show" vibe. What people can we photograph here? Where can we paste this photo for people to see it? It just becomes a cut and paste format (pun intended).
The bigger problem is that I actually agree with Godard in his opinion of the movie concept. (I agree with the monster that made old Agnes Varda cry on screen. It's mostly because I'm a terrible human being and need to get my soul checked out for rot.) The concept of the narrative is terribly commercial and poorly executed. The movie really toes the line of officially being a documentary. Much of the movie doesn't feel impromptu or of the moment. It feels like there is a loose script driving all of the different elements of the movie. Varda describes (and I'm paraphrasing) that chance is the greatest assistant. But there is so much that is clearly reenacted and a throughline that is superimposed on the film as a whole. As artists, I can completely understand the temptation to have fictional elements in the documentary. But the movie relies heavily on these moments. It's ironic because the New Wave and cinema verite were so crucial to the rise of a certain style of filmmaking that this movie really mirrors commercial entertainment. Since JR and Varda are both the documentarians and the subjects of the documentary, there is a complete lack of objectivity to the film. They are both artists who proclaim each others' genius. There is no criticism or distance. There is no real ugliness to their relationship. There is a story about Varda's obsession with JR's glasses, but the argument feels superficial. When JR leaves angrily, he isn't really angry. He is miming anger. He is telegraphing anger. What moments of actual teasing that Varda gives JR are kind of overblown and attributed to actual anger. It just all feels too fake. All this griping aside, there is something that I can't quite put my finger on that does feel like it has New Wave elements. Perhaps it is the use of voiceover and how it is coupled with startling imagery. That probably works the best. There are absolutely beautiful moments. I think the stuff with Varda dealing with her own mortality are very real. I think that the relationship with Godard is heartbreaking. I even think that Varda really feels for the people she meets. She does tend to love her subjects. I just think it is the relationship with JR that creates a lot of the problems with the film.
But the movie got a 100% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I can't hate all of the 100%s, can I? I also have to point out that this might be reflective of the fact that there are too many 100% movies now. That 100% used to be unfathomable. But it was also nominated for an Oscar. (I can already read the comments that say that the Academy Awards don't mean anything. I get it. You hate stuff. Move on.) There is value here. If I watch this movie as a road trip movie, it is very fun. Yes, there is a script, but it presents itself as a documentary. But is that just me holding onto the rules of genre too tightly? Perhaps I'm supposed to be seeing the cracks in reality. Perhaps the movie is only considered a documentary because there is nothing else to really call the movie. I associate the movie with reality television because it is clean and ultimately unchallenging. Is the fault with me? Perhaps I so want the movie to be one thing and it really isn't. The odd thing is that I usually love the art-themed documentaries. But I've seen all of the other nominees this year. They were particularly memorable and impressive this year. I can see why Faces Places didn't exactly win. It is more a matter of nostalgia and is about the subjectivity of art. The art often looks cool and I can at least get behind that, but I don't necessarily see it as art that destroys my sense of self. I like that all of the interviews (and I believe that this isn't intentional) have the subjects praising the art because it is so cool. They don't look into the role of art besides being surprising and that is kind of what is going on in my mind. I get the vibe that everyone wants to leave the interview as quickly as possible. There are even a few people who have a scripted out of their interviews, which I rarely see in other documentaries. Perhaps my Agnes Varda is the one where she isn't the subject. From what I understand, she has made other movies where she is in front of the camera. I don't know if I would love these or not. I just want my Agnes Varda to be challenging and this is just fun Agnes Varda.
The weird thing is that I've already recommended this movie to others. It seems like I really savaged it. I had a good time with it, but it just wasn't what I wanted the movie to be. I feel that this movie was almost too easy. Godard might have been right at the end. He was mean as heck about it, but he calls out Varda for her manipulation. I think that's on the nose here. I know that we're supposed to be on their side, but I do feel like the movie is just a fun romp. But sometimes a fun romp is the thing we need. I did feel good about watching the movie. I like I mentioned in my last review, this movie made me happy to be absorbing cinema. But I also can still have high expectations from the things that make me happy.
Actually rated G! Thank you, 1989! There was a time of reason. Okay, the movie is about a witch. There's nothing overtly occult going on here. It kind of feels like the rules of witchcraft in Kiki's Delivery Service is more along the lines of the X-Men with mutants. There are biological families of witches. Witchcraft isn't something that is chose, but it does have some kind of cultural significance. There's a really weird joke about Kiki being naked at one point, but it is shrugged off pretty quickly considering how awkward the joke actually is. Regardless, an actual G movie still exists.
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
This might be unrelated to Kiki's Delivery Service directly, but I do love me some movies. I had an "appreciation of cinema" moment today. I was just very aware how much great film there was out there and that I could probably go the rest of my life and keep discovering great movies. That said, I've seen Kiki's Delivery Service before. This was not a discovery. This was a snow day and I have started researching / rewatching Studio Ghibli movies for the podcast. This might be the closest I've ever watched this one though. I've always kind of set this one in the weaker category of Miyazaki movies, so I always considered it a "background noise" movie. I might have written this one off too early.
Ever since I saw My Neighbor Totoro, I've kind of been in love with Miyazaki. At the video store, we had a Miyazaki shelf that was always pretty rented out. I know that there are full on Miyazaki nerds. I don't think I'll ever get there. But there was a time when my daughter was in the cult of Miyazaki. She quasi-outgrew it (She's now the ancient age of six), but I did save her Totoro Italian language one sheet for my classroom. She was really jazzed that I was up for starting a loose Ghibli marathon. The thing about Miyazaki that I'm going to get really repetitive over the next few reviews is that his movies really have heart. Some of them get absolutely terrifying. I don't know what it is about kids' movies that deem it necessary to scare the living daylights out of them, but Miyazaki is very talented at doing so. That's what makes me really happy about movies like Ponyo, My Neighbor Totoro, and Kiki's Delivery Service. These movies offer very little in terms of genuine scares. (I suppose that there are subjective scares in Ponyo and that Totoro hits on some heavy themes of mortality.) But Kiki's Delivery Service only offers the lightest scares. My very cowardly son (I will show him footage of the sheer terror he has over little things when he's older and he will back me up on calling him "cowardly") was mostly cool with the movie. He didn't like the crows. That's not too bad. I like that there are movies that are honest-to-Pete G-rated. I honestly love The Peanuts Movie. I don't know why there has to be infused terror. I also think that Miyazaki is at his best when he is making a movie that has no questionable content. Why? Because Miyazaki has so much heart and when there is nothing flashy to throw at the screen, he is forced to be remarkably vulnerable. I'm not accusing the other movies in his ouvre of not being vulnerable. Far from it. His movies step out farther onto ledges than most other movies, animated or otherwise. But his G-rated stuff is pure, unadulterated heart. The movie is constantly risking failure. I originally considered Kiki's Delivery Service to be one of the weaker movies in his canon. I don't know if I can completely take it back. I have some very interesting theories about what is happening in this movie for Miyazaki. But it doesn't exactly have the same flash as the other ones. (I know, I just complimented him about being vulnerable and how flash wasn't a good thing.) I don't know why, but Kiki's Delivery Service just seems cruder somehow. It is a very simply animated movie, which is bizarre because I associate Miyazaki with these amazing worlds. I mean, look at the Oregon tourism video. They did a Miyazaki knockoff implying that the guy understood bombastic fantasy worlds.
Why I think that Kiki's Delivery Service both functions perfectly and falls flat on its face at times is really complicated and I think I just broke it down for the first time today. Kiki is an odd character and there really isn't a plot. That's fine. I can live with a shoestring plot because most of Miyazaki's stuff is just world building and character development anyway. Since I can dismiss this part, I would like to address Kiki's personality first. I don't quite get it. I feel like I should write off some of Kiki's choices as "I've never been a thirteen year old girl so I don't get it." (I, also, have never been a witch, so there are two strikes against me.) She seems like her personality changes on a dime. She is so go-with-the-flow for most things in the movie, but if there is someone who could be considered her peer, she gets really closed off and spiteful. I get that there are characters her age in this movie who are absolutely terrible people and that we should view with a degree of scorn. Miyazaki didn't hide these characters. But any time adolescents show up in this movie, good natured or no, she goes into this insane defensive mode. It made it really odd because Kiki is clearly the protagonist and I don't feel like Miyazaki is writing this choice as an outright character flaw. I never found myself screaming at the screen wondering why Kiki is always so angry at others. Okay, I'm writing it off. It's not me. But there is a really cool idea that I missed in the movie that is Miyazaki possibly commenting on himself. If my idea is true, then the movie is brilliant, but oddly not as brilliant as it needs to be to carry this theme. BASIC PLOT SPOILERS: At one point in the movie, Kiki loses her abilities. She gets frustrated and has no idea what to do. She takes a vacation with a(n aggressive) friend who does a pretty good job psychoanalyzing her. (I say good job in the sense that Miyazaki is writing both the problem and the solution and that her advice probably wouldn't apply to most of us outside of the metaphor going on in the movie.) The friend suggests to stop trying so hard. Taking a break and trying again when the inspiration hits is far better than losing sleep over trying to be what you once were. Now, Kiki's Delivery Service is pretty early in the canon. But it is following My Neighbor Totoro and Castle in the Sky. I wonder if the whole film is a metaphor for Miyazaki not actually being able to live in his own shadow. Kiki's Delivery Service does feel very different than the other movies in his ouvre. Perhaps this is intention. He still has his mild obsession with aviation, but that's more of a matter of taste. The film is simpler in so many other ways. I wonder if he's making this movie as a means to shake off the cobwebs. He might be acknowledging that they all can't be Castle in the Sky and sometimes Kiki's Delivery Service just needs to get out. If so, that's kind of brilliant. If this is his sketchpad, he's still pretty brilliant. It's a very functional movie that never really aspires to be anything but what is seen on screen. It is just cute.
It's very sad to hear Phil Hartman as Jiji. It's a little thankless. I always find that American dubs of Japanese anime (from my limited experience) always come off a little blah. I don't know if the American voice directors don't have time to get nuanced performances while trying to make voices to pre-animated visual tracks, but I feel like most of Hartman's lines get rushed. I'm overthinking it and if I wasn't such a Hartman fan, I would probably ignore this. The thing about it is that Jiji is the only comic relief for this movie. I'm not saying the movie is dark or anything; anything but. But Jiji has some lines (outside of the weird "naked" line) that could really be something great. I know that Phil Hartman was quite a talented voice actor, so I feel like he either got no direction or had to sacrifice comic timing for functionality. The rest of the actors do a fine job. I suppose that Kirsten Dunst had less on the line because Kiki comes across just fine. There are weirdly a lot of impressive names given to some pretty thankless roles. I can't help but think of Amy Poelher and Will Arnett in Secret World of Arietty. I thought that all of these movies were coming out at times before big name talent was attached to animated films. Going even beyond that, many of these movies never saw wide release. What was Disney distribution doing attaching these big names to parts that would never really see the light of day? Regardless, I'd love to see a documentary (Okay, I wouldn't love it) interviewing all of the bigger celebrities who did the American dubs of all of these movies. I know, I should be authentic and watch the Japanese dubs, but I was watching with the kids. Besides, aren't you curious to hear how these big name voices do with very little direction? I'm over exaggerating this. Everyone does fine, but no one really stands out. I suppose that's what animation should be.
I'm actually really excited for this Ghibli binge. I have a stack of them that I've already seen but haven't really reviewed. I know I reviewed Spirited Away (or at least, I'm pretty sure I did). I hope to catch some new ones before we record. But Kiki's Delivery Service is a good start. It really is a nice entry point because I have now gleaned new genius moments in a movie that I had previously written off, but I also know that they will get better from here.
Do you know what makes an excellent pairing with talk about Fast and Furious 6?
Winnie the Pooh!
Not rated! The Americans just rolled into Italy as the great liberators! We didn't have time to censor movies, let alone establish an MPAA! Also, it's Italy! You think they want to tell its audience not to imply that prostitution exists? They live differently, guys! Sure, prostitution and violence are frowned upon, but this is the nature of war! It's not going to be sanitized for me. Honestly, this movie would probably get a PG today if it was animated.
DIRECTOR: Roberto Rossellini
I love that I had an assignment that lined up with my intention to watch my Rossellini War Trilogy that I got for Christmas. (I'm a very specific and acquired taste.) I had seen Rome, Open City years ago and don't really remember a lot of it. It's on the list, guys. I'll get around to it. But I do really want to watch the other two in the box because of how much I (low-key) enjoyed Paisan. Okay, it's that and a need to watch everything that ever existed, but I gotta be me.
I've never even heard of a war anthology movie before. In the loosest sense, I suppose that Inglorious Basterds could be lumped in as a war anthology movie, but all of those stories intersect to form a single narrative. This is an anthology movie in the simplest form. What I find really weird (and hard to review without straight up reviewing every section individually) is that the segments really feel like they were made by separate directors. The only thing that ties these movies together is that they are about the influence of the American occupiers in Rome immediately following World War II. Look at the release date on this movie! 1946! This is a fresh wound for Italy. War movies during these time periods are so unique. Italy at this period in time has a weird relationship with the allied forced. The Americans are the liberators, but they simultaneously need to go home. There is such a cultural disparity between the Americans and the Italians. In a way, Rossellini is constantly examining that relationship and it makes sense that he uses the anthology format to explore these themes. It is odd that he makes almost every single story a bittersweet one. Often, despite having a positive mood throughout, the story ends tragically. In some sequences, like the first one, it makes sense. The nature of war often leads to tragedy. But there are some stories where Rossellini (I keep wanting to write Passolini, and that guy was really not the guy I'm talking about right now) has all the makings of a heartwarming tale and he intentionally left turns it into a wall. There is the story of the priests which seems heartwarming, but I don't know if it exactly sticks that landing. Pretty much a lot of these stories end up being total bummers, which I normally love. But in an anthology film, it seems like there are opportunities for different kinds of stories. Why the mood for the movies stays the same just seems like a lost chance.
The weird thing about Rossellini is that he's actually kind of a genius, but in the weirdest way possible. He makes these absolutely beautiful movies, but he was never formally trained. He made his greatest movies in the wake of an economic disaster. Italy was wrecked and he ended up giving birth to Neorealism. But, like I said, he was never formally trained. It's amazing to see him do these cinematic somersaults but get fundamental things about film so clunky. Like, his mistakes ultimately don't matter because the movies are absolutely gorgeous. They hit mostly all of the right tonal and thematic notes. But we normally don't find mistakes in our cinematic classics. From what I understand, Rossellini was multilingual. (Of course, he's from Europe. This sentence is a blatant attack on the American education system.) He ended up making Germany Year Zero completely in German, which means he has to have a fundamental understanding of language. But I get the vibe that he understands and speaks rudimentary English, but is far from a master of it. The acting of the American actors is rough. Like, really rough. Part of that comes from my American perspective. I am used to foreigners being non-American. When I can't understand the language, I don't exactly look at performances. Paisan shows Americans as the people who don't speak the language. They are actually speaking English, but from an Italian perspective, no one cares what they are saying. Their performances are there simply as the people who can't be understood. Boy, these performances (for the most part) can get really rough. The opening segment feels like amateur actors. I know that Rossellini rarely used actual actors. Rather, he employed actual workers. This idea would carry over into the rest of the Neorealist movement. But I'm sure that Rossellini gave these amateur actors plenty of notes and crafted their performances into something that would be considered nuanced. The GIs in these movies are not at all nuanced. They all seem to be doing these awful John Wayne impressions. This isn't true for all the segments. The second segment actually has this great performance, but I'm sure that can probably be chalked up to Dots Johnson's natural talent. More often than not, the non-Italian performances are pretty weak. Couple this with some pretty rough ADR and some of the portrayal can get pretty rough.
I am really confused about the story about the friars. I don't know if this is a criticism at this point, but I feel like I need to vocalize my frustrations. There is one story that is meant to be heartlifting. It is really weird to actually get pro-Catholic stories nowadays. We get a lot of pro-Christian stuff (most of it pretty rough), but most stuff is pretty anti-Catholic. There is this segment all about an American Catholic chaplain meeting with a group of friars outside of the blast zone. It is this cool look at the world inside the monastery versus the life of the world. It shows the value of what happens inside the world of prayerful. It is the beautiful look at the faith of these men and I really loved it. Then it also showed the value of the chaplain and the parish priest. There's this Prince and the Pauper vibe of how different lives they have. I really like it. Then the friars discover that two of the other chaplains aren't Catholic and they get really bigoted. Okay, the story needed conflict and it is pretty hilarious how they react. The chaplain acts as the voice of reason. He is the Catholic we identify with and that's great. But the scene ends in a very weird place. The friars, despite being wildly bigoted, still see the two other chaplains as lost souls. But because they are good people, they treat them nicely. I like it so far. But the chaplain is so moved by their hospitality, he kind of passively approves of their bigotry. I don't know if "bigotry" is the right word. They are genuinely concerned with the states of their souls. But they also see them as sinners version the Catholic chaplain who sees them as soldiers in the same spiritual fight. This is an awesome concept to cover and I'm really surprised that more stories don't cover this topic. But the anthology format really truncates this story into something incomplete. The story needs more finesse because part of me feels like the chaplain is converted to the perspective of the friars. I never want the chaplain hate anyone, but I do think that there is a lack of nuance in this sequence and that's kind of a bummer.
I really want to watch the rest of Rosselini's movies. He tells a really compelling and straightforward story. Even the idea of the anthology really works. It is, weaker, however, when the anthology stories are straight war stories. The mini war narratives are pretty dull, actually. I like the effects of war sooner than I like the war itself. The greatest war movies are about characters. They aren't about strategies or violence. Placing war narratives within an anthology film really highlights the weaker spots of the movie. I'm not saying that there is no characterization in these moments. In fact, the last shot of the movie, which is the end of one of these segments, is remarkably powerful. But a war movie is usually long because the length of the war does something to a person. We don't really get that character change in the course of a twenty minute segment. So instead, it becomes simply about the valor and bravery of the soldier. Perhaps I am too cold-hearted, but that doesn't interest me as much as it should. Patriotism is important, but it feels hollow in this short format. Regardless, the anthology movie format is always a fun one for me and I want to see if some of these themes and motifs carry over in Germany Year Zero.
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.