Grizzly Man (2005)
Rated R and probably that might be on the nose. Okay, the big reveal in the first ten minutes is that the subject of this movie and his girlfriend were eaten by a bear. It's something that runs throughout the film. That idea is pretty gruesome enough. It is very respectful of the actual event, which is caught on audio but not revealed. But Timothy Treadwell, who seems to be this weird, out-of-touch dude who seems really innocent, will just let loose with a stream of expletives. That's pretty deserving of the R-Rating.
DIRECTOR: Werner Herzog
Hi, I'm Tim. I'm the last person to watch this documentary that people were obsessed with almost fifteen years ago. I don't know why I waited. I left my Werner Herzog days a while ago. You would think that I would have watched it then. This would have been my lynch pin. Forget Fitzcarraldo. I would have constantly referred to Grizzly Man as the Werner Herzog movie to get them into the insane mind of Werner Herzog. That being said, I actually am pretty excited to write about this. There's some stuff that is going to make me look like a bad person here. But with that in mind, I think I have to say it.
Herzog is kind of a genius and I don't think I understood that until I saw this movie. Herzog has to know what he has on his hands here. It is staring him in the face with this movie. Grizzly Man might be the most polarizing film that I've seen. For a story about a guy who got eaten by a grizzly bear, he made this oddly political without really going overtly political. This...this is Harambe before Harambe. It's so bizarre. Herzog even gives his opinion on the events of this movie. Vocally, he's wildly sympathetic to the philosophy and life of Timothy Treadwell. But his visuals and his narrative might not necessarily match this. On first glance, watching an ecologist getting eaten by a bear evokes the same sympathy pains that Steve Irwin brought about. Steve Irwin devoted his life to ecology and zoology (I think I'm using the proper term). He loved animals unironically. He didn't care how dorky he came across and his death was a proper tragedy. I think that Steve Irwin used his celebrity not for himself, but to raise awareness for animals. But then we have the tale of Timothy Treadwell. Timothy Treadwell, from moment one, reads as a really weird dude. For those who are unaware of Treadwell's story, he was a self-proclaimed ecologist who lived with grizzly bears in a protected park for the bears. He would film himself living with these bears in the hope that he could cut together a movie from that footage. He did this for years. Finding out that he was mauled and eaten by a bear, with that knowledge alone, would evoke a bit of sympathy. Okay, yeah, I laughed when I heard in 2005. I was a broken person back then who guarded his heart. After all, it seems obvious that, if you live with bears, you will be eaten. I mean, people don't really yell at Jane Goodall for her experience with the monkeys. But the movie, over the course of about an hour and forty-four minutes, implies that Timothy Treadwell was the worst person to be an advocate for these bears. If I have ever seen a movie that has shown both sides of an issue thoroughly, it is Grizzly Man. Herzog verbally says that what Timothy Treadwell did was beyond belief. From a filmmaker's position, he shot some of the absolute best footage that has ever existed of these bears. It is all rudimentary. It is all shot on camcorder. Sometimes, the movie comes across a little like The Blair Witch Project. But because he was encamped with these animals, he caught moment in nature that no documentarian would get on a regular basis. He had so much footage that he could pull out some really gorgeous stuff.
But through interviews with others who actually have educational training, Treadwell wasn't good for the bears. As much as his message was one of taking care of bears, Timothy Treadwell ignored all sound logic and science for what ended up being about making himself famous. There are interviews that showed that by living with the bears and playing with the bears, he was making the bears unafraid of humans. That natural fear is what was protecting them. They brought this information to him and it would make him fly into a rage. Also, the mythos that bears are huggable is actually a dangerous precedent to set. We should continue to think that bears are dangerous. This is an odd point in Treadwell's philosophy. Treadwell, and I'm really jumping to the point on this one, was obsessed with his own celebrity. He wanted to show that he was the most impressive ecologist out there. He kept referring to himself as a samurai and that he was a unique individual. He wanted to show people that he was the master of living with grizzly bears and that he was the only one capable of earning their respect. There's this interview with his parents where his parents inform Herzog that Treadwell was second-in-line to play Woody Harrelson's part on Cheers. That never happened. His interviews are just so delusional that it is almost hard to process what he believes is reality and what is fiction. What we see, through the course of this movie, is that the only reason that he survived as long as he did, was through luck. There's this eye-opening movie where two grizzly bears get into a violent, violent fight and Treadwell just admires what happens. But he never puts together that if bears treat each other like that, what will happen to him? The movie gets to be absolutely haunting because of this. He is constantly speaking of the fact that he will probably die out here, but his voice doesn't really match what he's saying. He has a key misunderstanding of what death actually entails and it is very scary.
Treadwell was this guy who would lie to himself about believing things. There's this odd conversation he has with the camera where he defends his heterosexuality. But it is this conversation that is completely unsolicited. He uses masculine wording to compensate for his fairly effeminate nature. It's really odd, because he keeps using these toxically masculine terms to show how much he is attracted to women. He almost seems hateful of women at the time for not understanding how good of a lover he could be. Herzog cuts in many of his former flames to confirm that he was obsessed with seducing women. This all has to be taken into account that his current girlfriend was also eaten by the same bear while she was out there with them. The entire Amie story is almost more fascinating. Amie's family did not agree to appear in the movie, which is somehow really appropriate for what her entire story is. She was brought along on this journey. The journey started with her as Treadwell's girlfriend, but she's practically in no footage. Treadwell, in his obsession with telling his story as the lone protector of the grizzly bear, ignores her altogether. Part of his story is about isolation, but he has his girlfriend with him the entire time. From my perspective, Treadwell comes across as a braggart. He's obsessed with his own success and his own mission. In the hundreds of hours of footage, there's barely that acknowledges that Amie exists. She wanted to dump him. I don't blame her. She was increasingly upset with Treadwell and wanted to leave, but she stayed because there was a timetable. The appropriate element is that her parents have surgically removed her from the events that happened in the Grizzly Maze. The few shots of her in the movie show her looking terrified. Unfortunately, that only lives up with Treadwell's explanation of what would happen if someone was scared. But as much as Treadwell wanted to care for these animals, he's also treating them like something that they were not. He wanted grizzly bears to be the sanitized versions of grizzly bears. It's so appropriate that one of Treadwell's favorite objects was a stuffed teddy bear. He wanted them all to be like that.
But my reaction to this whole thing is almost part of the narrative that Herzog is going for. There's an interview pretty early on in the movie and it makes the trailer as well, from someone who straight up condemns Treadwell. He says that "he got what he deserved" or something like that. Do I instantly jump on board the victim blaming? Part of the element of watching gruesome documentaries is that we feel the need to blame someone. We enjoy hating and disparaging stupid behavior. I mean, I could say the same thing about Abducted in Plain Sight. We need to have someone to blame. We need that scapegoat. In the case of Treadwell, it is pretty evident who is to blame. But from a lot of people's perspectives in the movie, Treadwell wasn't a man who wanted stardom. A lot of people really called him friend. I know that's really weird that I should be taken aback by that, mainly because listening to him talk was grating for a lot of the film, but people really loved him. There is testimony after testimony telling how good of a guy he was. Honestly, I think that Treadwell probably thought that he was more than a stand up guy. This might have been the most altruistic thing that anyone could do from his perspective. Sure, he bought into his own hype, but that might just be honesty that a lot of us feel uncomfortable about feeling. Again, Herzog seems to have quite a bit of admiration for him. There are people who didn't know him that see him as a great man. The odd advocate for Treadwell was his coroner, who saw him as doing somewhat noble actions, even in his final moments. Yeah, that coroner is really dramatic. But he also makes a point. There are real moments of goodness in this movie. He is trying to do the right thing. I know that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but I don't think that applies to Treadwell. Treadwell is a study in the complex morality of ecology. We have been taught to stand up for the weak and helpless. By that logic, Treadwell is saintlike. But he is also completely fallible. He takes shortcuts. He wants fame. He is slightly delusional. There are times that I laughed at Treadwell. Naming a bear Mr. Chocolate doesn't help me take him seriously. But then I also see that his death was a tragedy. The movie, with its avoidance of the audio file, does something kind of dangerous. I can't sell myself as a good person. Herzog tells about this audio file and teases it. But he doesn't play it. He does so as a means to show respect to Treadwell and Amie. But it's a Chekhov's gun that doesn't go off. It is teased. Yeah, I Googled it and hated myself afterwards. Can Herzog be blamed? These were the halcyon days of 2005. The footage was private back then. But you know that the footage was going to become something special and coveted in that moment. It's such a complex web.
I can't believe I didn't see this movie earlier. It's so insane that I kind of want to watch it again with the wife. It scratches this itch that I'm never quite proud of, but I'm glad that I know about now. It's a tragedy and a morality play. I don't think Herzog has made a smarter film.
PG. It's one of the few live action PG movies that exist anymore. I mean, the original was G, so my logic is still in place. I keep using my sensitive son as the example of what is scary and this terrified him. For some reason, Disney movies love showing peril. I think every kid goes under the seat and begs to turn off the movie at some of these scenes. A lot of them spring back though and love the rest of the movie. Not all, though. There's a lot of peril. On top of that, there's a lot of cruelty to a baby elephant throughout. The new Dumbo is scarier than the original, so keep that in mind. PG.
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
I have a review with Catholic News Agency coming out pretty soon. I write the Catholic News Agency far more professionally. Those are mostly meant to be reviews as opposed to analyses. I also have to maintain a certain tone when I write those. I understand that not everyone wants to read my blog-heavy musings. It's okay. I highly encourage you to please read that one when it comes out. It is far more thought out than what I have going on right now. This blog space is mostly for discovery and we'll see how this plays out.
I didn't love Dumbo, but I also didn't hate it. I normally rail against Tim Burton. Oh man, do I love doing Tim Burton impressions. I know that he made Batman Returns. I know that he also made Big Fish. I like both of those movies. But Tim Burton has devoted so much of his career to the macabre. I often think of him as a one-note director, pretty much making the same movie time and again. But then again, Big Fish is something different, isn't it? It's not like the morbid look at everything isn't interesting. It just gets a bit stale. With movies like Big Fish and Dumbo, I now realize that he's a two-note director. He either likes the weird dark emo landscape or he likes that stylized version of yesteryear. I will say this, if I hadn't seen Big Fish before, I would have adored Dumbo. I know, that's not fair. Those movies are very different, but they hold the same look and aesthetic and I love new things. If I love new things so much, then why am I looking at a remake by Disney. In the review, I talk about the strategic nature of releasing a remake of Dumbo right now. I think I'm firmly in the camp of no-more-live-action-remakes. I know that the Aladdin trailer looks rad, but I also know that I've been tricked a few times now. Dumbo has the real problem of being kind of derivative and also not being that great of a movie. The original Dumbo from 1941 was practically a morality play that had some very loose character development. Clocking in at 64 minutes, the movie really felt like a longer Fantasia bit. It was so tied to its score and imagery that the movie almost can't stand on its own two legs. It's a gorgeous movie to watch, but we never really tie to the characters because Dumbo as a character is a reactionary character. The titular character makes almost no choices in the entire film. Rather, it is a series of characters yelling and Dumbo and telling him what to do. Honestly, I think that people probably watch Dumbo for the happy ending. The movie tortures this poor elephant all throughout the film and the last two minutes are happy. It's almost a reward for sitting through brutality. The new movie covers a lot of that stuff, but then doesn't really give us the reward for that brutality. The events of the original film are covered extremely quickly. Everyone makes fun of Dumbo with the exception of the kids of the film. (Shocking.) He is constantly treated poorly, but when he discovers his gifts, his pain isn't over. The other film treats Dumbo's gifts as a liberation from this world of oppression. Instead, Dumbo's power of flight, which is discovered shockingly early on in the film, is only a means for people to exploit Dumbo even further. I think that I talked about how that was an idea for the new film to develop and it does happen. But by adding this, we have a film that doesn't really fit its own genre.
It's so bizarre what the second half of the film does to the first half. Dumbo was never really meant to be an adventure story. Yeah, the elephant flies and there are so many possibilities with that. But I like that the flight is the end in itself. It's the Ugly Duckling having to prove its value as a swan. That's a really weird choice. The moral of the story is identifying value in the self. (If you read my other Dumbo review, I talk about how that moral is even problematic in itself.) But to actually battle someone using those gifts is so tonally almost inappropriate for a Dumbo film. Dumbo is a baby. Why is he fighting evil Walt Disney or corporate greed? It's odd that people want more out of Dumbo. Maybe that's the message of the story. Maybe Burton was shooting for the same message that Jurassic World offers, saying that people are bored with the old and looking for the bigger and badder Dumbo. This is the Dumbo who has to continue to do tricks and impress people with every moment. Honestly, Dumbo often feels pretty soulless because the movie doesn't know what it wants to focus on. Is the story about this poor little elephant that is constantly abused throughout the film and how he finds his own self-worth or is the movie about escaping from the corporate world through a series of tricks and explosions. Dumbo shouldn't be about the explosions. There's almost nothing cool about the original Dumbo. The elephants all scale each other, but that's not a scene about winning. That's a scene about how too many expectations are placed on this character. In the original world, everyone but Timothy Mouse are bad guys. Everyone is selfish and concerned with his own income and success. But this movie really separates the good guys from the bad guys. Listen, I'm not going to go off on this whole hullaballoo about how the original movie was so great because it really isn't. But it is way more morally complex. The remake kind of takes a lot of that moral complexity out of it. The human beings love Dumbo and support him once he can fly. But it seems like they actually care about the animal. That's not in the original.
Which leads to me to something that really shifts the whole film for me. The focus of the original film was on the animals. There were humans, but the humans kind of acted like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoon. They are in the background. Instead, we have a focus on the animals. I understand why Dumbo himself didn't talk. He was a baby and I can write off that he was incapable of language. But why doesn't Mrs. Jumbo talk in the original one. The other elephants speak. Timothy Mouse speaks. Why that? Anyway, none of the animals speak in this movie. It shifts focus away from the animal driven narrative to one where people are the decision makers throughout. I'm going to say it: it cheapens the movie. Honestly, Dumbo now just feels so generic. There's no new view. We have two kids who are archetypes at this point. We have the one kid who wants to be like his father and the other who wants to use her mind. This is Lex and Tim from Jurassic Park. They, of course, have insight into Dumbo that no one else has. And then, everyone else is a pretty stereotypical archetype. We have the widower who is less of a man than he used to be after the war. He struggles to relate to his children, but he does the best he can given bad situations. Danny Devito is the Danny Devito trope. He is his own trope. Michael Keaton is the evil evil evil rich guy who is evil because he's rich. Michael Keaton's character doesn't make a lick of sense to me. The movie does everything it can to make him evil. Again, I don't know why Disney let him make the bad guy evil Walt Disney. That font for Dreamland is just Tomorrowland all over again. But they make him so evil. The good guys present a solution to make Dumbo the star of Dreamland that makes everyone happy. Heck, it's also the easiest solution presented. Keaton's character would naturally see that as a means to make money. It's a win-win for everybody, but instead, he chooses the most evil scenario for everyone involved that eventually leads to his downfall. What kind of choice is that? You know what kind of choice it is? It's a choice that sets up a bombastic climactic ending. I don't think I've seen a movie so desperately ignore all the rules of natural logic to build up an action set piece. The movie even addresses that that was a terrible decision. Tim Burton was aware that no one in their right minds would act like that and then ignores it outright. It's such a bad choice. Like, it's really bad. The Dumbo template doesn't want to be this movie. The weird thing, and I mentioned this in my CNA review, that this is the best version of a remake of Dumbo that anyone can make. Dumbo really shouldn't be remade. There's not enough content in the original film even before cutting all the racist stuff out. The movie is barely a film as much as it is an experience. When you graft a story to a non-story, it almost becomes something else. I could almost see Dumbo working as a sequel. Maybe building up the second half of the film and focusing on the animals instead of the people might make an interesting Dumbo 2. But as a remake? There's nothing really there.
My kids were being monsters at the theater. My daughter said that she adored it, which is probably something that I should really listen to. She's seen a lot of movies for a seven-year-old. There's something that's interesting to kids about this film, so I can't completely discount it. My son, he absolutely hated it. I think it's how your kids are wired. My son and I just get depressed about how Dumbo is treated throughout the film. It's the reason that I don't want to watch The Passion of the Christ again. But The Passion was a phenomenal movie. This is just a lot of misery without the real payoff of something that is glorious. I don't really want to watch the movie again. But it's fine. It lines up with the other Disney live action films. Is it weird that I still want to watch the new Aladdin? I know it is going to be more of the same, but I also have a short term memory.
Inherent Vice (2014)
Rated R for everything. I'm going to start with the most flagrant, but probably least offensive thing in the movie: drug use. There's a lot of it. There are plenty of different kinds of drugs and they are consumed in many different ways. You can't say that about all movies. Some movies only have some drugs. Other movies, I hear, have no drugs. But the big bad of the movie is the amount of sex and violence throughout. Okay, the violence is fairly tame, but the sex is pretty explicit and it runs throughout. Because of all of these things, the language gets pretty intense at times. But if you are watching this movie and thinking, "Whoa whoa! Language," you've probably missed the point.
DIRECTOR: Paul Thomas Anderson
A buddy of mine from the video store days loudly proclaimed on Facebook that PTA lost it when he made Inherent Vice. This buddy and I disagree on everything except The Fountain and only one of the Marvel movies. When I read that, I disregarded it. I love the guy, but his taste in movies is the polar opposite from mine. I just never really got around to actually watching it. I don't know how it happened. I used to lose my mind over PTA, but then I just didn't watch The Master or Inherent Vice. I don't think that the trailer really grabbed me. Also, I know that sometimes movies are hard-sells with my wife. After all, if we're going to get a babysitter, I want to make sure it is worth it. I actually agree with my friend. Inherent Vice is so far from a masterpiece that I almost have a hard time figuring out that it is from the same director as There Will Be Blood.
Paul Thomas Anderson is the film snob's security blanket. I say that as the greatest compliment that I can give him. If a Paul Thomas Anderson movie is going to come out, I often lose my mind pretty quickly. I know that his films are quality. He puts so much attention into everything he does. Every one of his scenes carries an emotional resonance coupled with absolutely stellar cinematography. Appropriately talking about Inherent Vice, many of his movies are the most effective when it comes to manipulating emotion. It's like watching a depressant. I enter a completely new headspace when watching his movies. But Inherent Vice isn't really that. Inherent Vice is something new. I don't blame PTA for doing something new. Heck, I almost expect it from him. But Inherent Vice feels like a massive failure of trying too hard. I have a confession to make about my English teacher credentials: I haven't read Thomas Pynchon. I've always been way too intimidated and overwhelmed with dozens of other books that I feel guilty about to even attempt to read Pynchon. I don't know what it is. I have never really felt called to do it. It doesn't really seem up my alley. Since I'm about to start talking trash about Inherent Vice as a movie, I have to put the caveat to it that the very concept of Inherent Vice might not be my cup of tea. I'm the most straight-edge guy people meet. I love the rules and structure. While I like avant garde and experimental film, I'm also somewhat attached to narrative structures and rules. Inherent Vice is none of those things. But I'm probably going to be linking Inherent Vice closely to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Fear and Loathing is not one of my favorite films, but I really like it. Even from an outside perspective, we can attach ourselves to Hunter S. Thompson, regardless of how bizarre and non-linear the film gets at times. Inherent Vice is a film that is trying to capture the unfilmable. Doc, played by Joaquin Phoenix, is a character that is almost without background. I don't want to stick by that description altogether because the movie tells us lots of stuff about him. He loves drugs, which is his primary descriptor. He was in love with Shasta who has left him for someone else. I suppose that he's a doctor, a gynecologist, but he's also a private investigator. The movie is really rooted on the idea that we should know who Doc is before the film even started. We visit Doc's office a few times throughout the film, but we never really see him working. Rather, the movie uses drugs as the primary category throughout the story. If he's in a scene, he's doing drugs. It seems like a lot of drug-related films use drugs as character. I don't love it because someone on drugs is almost an archetype in itself. I never really understand Doc because he is just Hunter S. Thompson or Jason Mewes. Cheech and Chong work as characters in comedies because we're never supposed to identify with them. They are vehicles for comedy. Doc is teased with emotional traits. His obsession with Shasta and their past seems important in the story, but we never really get what happened with their relationship. He is consistent throughout the story. There are few highs and lows with one or two exceptions. Instead, we get that flat affect that we would get in a film noir, but replacing cool detachment with drug addled middleness.
I read some other reviews of this movie before writing. I had to see what people got out of this movie. This entire paragraph might be chalked up to what people find funny is often wildly subjective. Inherent Vice wants to be funny. I can't help but think back to the Paul F. Thompkins bit about PTA. Thompkins was supposed to be in There Will Be Blood because PTA saw his set. PTA is a fan of comedy, as can be seen by his casting choices. He's married to Maya Rudolph. He tends to cast comedians in odd roles. But I get from that movie that he is on the outside, looking in. He wants so desperately to be funny, but it isn't his wheelhouse. I had this theory that dramatists can do comedy once and it works while comedians can do drama for the rest of their lives and be fine. I think mostly of Robert DeNiro after Meet the Parents and Jim Carrey after The Truman Show. There's one thing that I have to get across: Inherent Vice is not funny. This makes me question one principle of comedy. I have always held the advice that people trying to be funny aren't funny. I suppose that is still true here. But the related idea is that the people involved in the story don't find things funny. Something is or isn't funny by nature. It shouldn't be imbued with jokes. The film is filled with jokes, often jokes that don't work. But many of these scenes aren't played for laughs, which I respect. But none of these jokes even land. Some of them are just bad jokes. I think of the naming situation going on throughout. But there's one moment that is so attempting to be funny that never really works. I think it is in the trailer, but it is Doc's reaction to the photo. All the beats of a joke are in there. I even think that, on paper, the joke should crush. But watching that scene play out is just uncomfortable. It never made me laugh. I know the movie as a whole isn't a comedy. But it definitely is more than a dramedy. I keep thinking of working to service the movie, but the jokes don't do any of that. All of this ties into my philosophy that PTA is trying to get to. Thomas Pynchon is apparently kind of unfilmable. His works are very cerebral and apparently break rules of storytelling. There is an experience of not understanding that prevails throughout the books. That odd narrative creates a hilarious effect of constantly being put off guard. A book can work on that idea slowly. PTA, in an interview with Vice.com, mentions that he secluded himself in a room for days reading the book. The experience is slow and deliberate. Yeah, the movie is two-and-a-half hours long, but that's not a book. That's not the same process that we get for one thing communicated in the second thing. The movie seems to stare at me and scream at me to get the absurdism and it never really is conveyed effectively. Rather, the movie rides the rails of a traditional mystery narrative, but with the same confusion that would accompany a movie with structural issues. I often get lost in mysteries. Sometimes that's kind of fun because it all comes together at the end. Inherent Vice wants you to play that game a little bit. It wouldn't hold the tropes it did if it didn't want some investment in the story. But it also wants you to watch the movie and have structural tropes collapse at the same time. I really can't invest in paradoxical ideas like that. It's either that I'm all in your story and I'm riding along with Doc to solve this mystery or I'm commenting on the absurdism of even trying to make a mystery narrative anymore when there's drugs involved, but I can't do both.
It's weird that I'm talking so harshly about a PTA movie. I know that I didn't lose my mind about Phantom Thread, but Inherent Vice was rough. The thing is, it isn't rough all of the time. PTA is still a functional and gorgeous director who can establish tone well and that's what initially got me on board, despite my boredom with the story. Throughout, there's a cool vibe to everything. I felt cool watching it. I have it under my belt and I can now throw it around snobby conversations about both the works of Paul Thomas Anderson and the drug culture of the late sixties during the Manson Trials. Yay, for me. But there's this odd tipping point where the movie quickly becomes "Okay, I get it." A tone can become somewhat oppressive at times. The movie tosses all of these elements into a stew. Honestly, the elements thrown into this movie are actually kind of juvenile, making the film as a whole somewhat disheartening. If I wanted to talk to you about making a hilariously insane murder mystery, there are some things that would just be so clever that they become stupid. Nazis would be one of them. Dentists and drug dealing would be another. The thing is that these moments don't actually line up in any meaningful way. The movie offers these disparate absurdities and then doesn't really effectively tie the two together. The a-ha moment that really makes us all laugh is a convincing reason why these two bananas moments are in the film. That moment is actually kind of lame. It's a magic trick that has an answer that isn't that impressive. It is the way you would do that magic trick if you put absolutely no thought behind it. The mystery is almost meant to release an endorphin rush. That moment of epiphany is almost necessary to a film because the audience is being inundated with seemingly useless information. These infodumps are actually quite oppressive. They're necessary to the story. But we stick through horribly dull expositional moments because we know that there's going to be a payoff. I think we all knew that there wasn't going to be a satisfying payoff in this movie. PTA telegraphs that. Instead, what we get is Josh Brolin saying all kinds of plot related gobbelty-gook and Joaquin Phoenix looking at him as confused as I am. But Doc understands. We don't necessarily have to. So if the movie isn't funny, except for kinda-sorta Martin Short, and the movie doesn't really have a narrative to glean onto, and the mystery kind of has a forced solution, and the tone is easily identifyable in the first few minutes, what is there to look forward to? The entire movie is based around Doc, who as I mentioned is barely a character. You can like that character, like you would bond with Jay and Silent Bob. I like lots of stoner characters. But Jay and Silent Bob tell decent jokes sometimes. Hunter S. Thompson is a well rounded character. I don't get much of that from Doc or his peers. I still don't get what Bigfoot's deal is in this movie.
I get why people didn't like this movie. It tries way too hard to be something more than it is. Some insurmountable mountains are actually kind of insurmountable. They should be. Not everything has to be filmed. Sometimes something can just be a book. Maybe Inherent Vice is a success and I just don't get it. But I tried to find something I could really latch onto and I had nothing.
Literally Anything: Episode Seventy-Two -Literally The Man Who Made The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot
IT'S OUR BIGGEST EPISODE TO DATE! After our discussion of The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, we actually got the chance to talk to the director of the film.
Robert Krzykowski was such a champ! Listen to the story of The Man Who Made The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot!
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)
It's R and I should have really taken that into consideration when I watched it with my parents. It's extremely hard to get my parents to sit down and just relax with us. Scrolling through Netflix, we thought we could appeal to my stepfather with a movie starring Clint Eastwood that was shot in '74. We thought the R would be for '70s violence and some light cursing. Um...apparently, it's R for random nudity and sex acts that come out of the blue. You can't prep. Every time you think it's done being inappropriate, something really sexual just sneaks in there. It's really weird and uncomfortable at times. Also, the '70s might have been pretty regressive when it came to gender politics. R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Camino
Oh my gosh! Michael Camino directed The Deer Hunter and Heaven's Gate? I didn't see that coming. I had always heard about Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. As in...I had heard of the title and I thought that Clint Eastwood was in it. That's about as much as I had known about the film before going into this. We were desperate. We wanted something old and engaging and that's kind of what we got. What I didn't realize that we were sitting down to watch one of the more insane movies I had seen in a while. The thing is that it caught me off guard. '70s action movies are almost in a subgenre of their own, so I should have been ready for this. But I just wasn't. It was amazing that my parents actually were willing to watch something with us and I just thought, "Hmm...Clint Eastwood." The Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers love Clint Eastwood. (I, too, like Clint Eastwood.)
And that's when the naked ladies started showing up. Okay, the movie is more than naked ladies. But I do have to warn everyone: you can't steel yourself for these moments because a lot of them happen when you aren't expecting them. I would ask why director Michael Camino decided to do this in the film, but I kind of get it. The movie is constantly about defying expectations. It thrives on delivering the unexpected. This is only kind of a spoiler, so I won't bold it, but the movie literally starts with Clint Eastwood delivering a sermon in a church which leads to a shootout. Yeah, I wasn't ready for that. Camino is kind of amazing with playing with the concept that you should be on your toes. If you expect the movie to veer left, it is going to veer as hard right as it can. There are moments where you think you know what you are watching and it just takes this trope as far as it can in the other direction. I really want to talk about one of these moments because I kept looking over to my wife and reminded her, "Remember when this happened?" I am going to avoid going specific with it because the joy of this movie comes from just the shock value that is attached to the most bizarre scene in a movie that really doesn't seem to be about shock. (Okay, I don't know if that made any sense or if I even stand by that, but let's leave it for now.) When I think about Clint Eastwood, I often think of him being removed from any absurdity. Sure, he drove a truck around the country with an orangutan in two separate films, but that seems like he was tricked into that. Maybe I just didn't really understand Clint Eastwood in those days. It's odd to think that this is the director of Letters from Iwo Jima and really serious films like that. But I kind of like absurd Clint Eastwood. Couple that with the idea that the movie stars a young Jeff Bridges. A lot of people love Jeff Bridges as The Dude. I don't have an opinion on The Dude. I like him (which I suppose is an opinion), but I also don't like the fact that a lot of Bridges's performances have been tainted by The Dude. There's a little Dude in every character he's done since then. Even the ones you wouldn't think of like Obadiah Stane have a little Dude in them. Yeah, Jeff Bridges is still Jeff Bridges and I suppose the Dude is part of who he is. But this might be my favorite Jeff Bridges role. Bridges has always played kind of a carefree guy. Age never really seems to follow many of his performances unless he's intentionally playing older. But his template is kind of ageless. But it is interesting to see what he does when he's actually young enough to match those character choices. I adore Lightfoot. He's probably my favorite part of this movie because it actually looks like Jeff Bridges is having as much fun as his character is. I never really buy Clint Eastwood enjoying this trip. But Bridges? He's having a blast. He also has some of the major acting chop moments of the movie. Honestly, Bridges makes this movie really worth watching.
This movie is challenging me a bit. There's a deeper level to this movie that exists, and it might be hard to attach to because I think it was made with a superficial attitude. I honestly think that the movie is just trying to have a fun time. I could look at the latent homophobia running through the movie. But I don't really see that as the primary concern of the film. If anything, I kind of want to defend the drag scene because it really rides the line between being outright offensive and just working for the part of the story. Okay, here's me playing devil's advocate for the drag scene: it really doesn't need to happen. From a narrative perspective, and the film even verbalizes this, the drag scene doesn't work as planned. It's a flaw in the entire idea, which makes the joke work better. But I saw this ad for how Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is homophobic because of that scene. I will say, if someone is offended, I can't really hold it against them. But I think that scene is not really laughing at a group of people so much as it is taking Lightfoot as a character and putting him in a scene of discomfort. Lightfoot, throughout the story, is carefree and gung-ho about the whole life of crime. He's willing to do a lot and kind of stumbles into a lot of luck throughout the piece. His conflict with Red makes him a hero because he is often right in his argumentation. Red is constantly in a state of discomfort, mainly because he's often shown for being wrong and buffoonish. By having Lightfoot wear drag to distract the guard in that scene, Lightfoot never comments on the sexuality of the situation. He never really fights kicking and screaming, questioning his sexuality. Rather, Lightfoot's character is revealed that he can put his money where his mouth is. If Red is uncomfortable having Lightfoot on his team or even recreating the original heist, Lightfoot is matching his discomfort by drawing the short straw. I'm not saying that the sexual politics of the 1970s wasn't regressive. It was. There's this whole story, tying back into the obsession with surprising and shocking the audience, where a man describes tricking that security guard into performing a sexual act. That scene is a "laugh-at" scene. But I don't know if the drag scene is as cut and dry as the rest of it. Again, I'm fighting a battle where I have no stake in either side, which doesn't exactly make me an authority on what is or is not regressive. But narratively, had that part of the story played out the way the plan was meant to go, kind of works with the whole even. The alternative, which I think is equally problematic, is that the crew hires the prostitutes the the film had been alluding to the entire time.
The end of the film is oddly satsifying to me, but I'm going to point out that there should be some real moments of "beyond belief" logic in the film. SPOILERS FOR THE END OF THE FILM: My wife knew that Clint Eastwood still had the money and she was mostly right. She thought that Eastwood knew where the money was the entire time and was just doing this second heist to get everyone off of his back. The moving of the school is slightly absurd. I don't know why I'm okay with it. The odds that they run into by accident while Lightfoot is dying is positively nuts. But this ties back into what I've been saying about the movie the entire time. The movie dares its audience to take it seriously. So many insane things happen in the film that when the school moves to a new location, that seems to be the least absurd thing that the film could have posited. Do you know how much I want Michael Camino to be a mastermind right now? Think about this. Michael Camino has a heist film where he knows that his characters have to fail the heist and still have a happy ending, removing all of the troublesome characters along the way. He has this great idea of sticking all of this money behind a chalkboard of a one-room schoolhouse and he knows that Eastwood can't just get the money. So he can't figure out how to get that money until he thinks that he has to move the schoolhouse. But that idea is kind of silly. How do you justify the end of your movie having a silly and cop-out ending? By making every moment in the film absolutely bonkers. This ending only works because of the dozens of outrageous things that happen before this point. Maybe the ending dictated the entire fun tone of this film. Maybe there was a version that was a straight up heist film that had little frivolity. After all, the movie is about these killers who are trying to hunt the protagonists down because one of them double-crossed them. If you've ever seen '70s revenge thrillers, they are painted red with blood. And the blood is really red...mainly because it is made of paint. I would never have thought that. To fight for an ending that didn't work, they made a much better to movie to make the end work. I mean, look at Camino's other films. Do they really look like absurd action comedies with touching ends? I don't get that vibe from him at all, yet here is Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. The movie needs Lightfoot's death. It's so odd and I don't think that the movie wanted anything but a memorable ending. But Lightfoot's death is oddly haunting compared to a lot of movies that feature the death of one of the protagonists. Killing off a main character of a story is a pretty common way to end a film. But by killing Lightfoot, there's something that's being communicated that's actually kind of heavy. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot are two guys who aren't strapped for cash. They kind of have a Bonnie and Clyde thing going on in the sense that they are nomadic and just take what they want. Having a major score to retire isn't their personality. But they are robbing the place almost for the thrill of it all. Yeah, the morality is terrible throughout the film. Because the movie isn't about the money, Lightfoot's death has to be the close of the film. The score wasn't the cash. The score was about two friends doing something huge together. The thing that kept them together was the fact that they helped each other out of small scrapes here and there. By succeeding in their big crime, there's no need for the little crimes anymore. That symbiotic relationship is broken and their friendship can only exist on its own merits. I don't really think that either character, in their heart of hearts, really cared about the money. It's only a physically verifiable way to define their own success. That's what the White Cadillac was. It was a way of saying that we had a set of goals and that proves that the goal was achieved. It's really interesting as a choice. The choice is sad, but it is almost like saying that they crossed off the last thing on the bucket list. The guys had nothing to look forward to, so the innocent one had to leave. He was no longer an innocent (in the sense that he wasn't a pro). He was just another rich gangster and that doesn't really fit his personality.
The movie is really dated and I feel so nervous saying that I liked it. It's really a fun film and it is only taken to a level of transcendence with its absurdity. If you want to see what Gary Busey was like (weirdly high credit for him) before the accident, you can watch him here. The sex stuff is so unnecessary, but the rest of the film is really fun.
I Think We're Alone Now (2018)
Man, it's another one that is rated R for language. There's no nudity. There's some violence that eventually leads to someone's death. The apocalypse is spooky and I don't ever really foresee a PG version of the post-apocalypse. It's a somber setting where we have to understand that everyone is dead. We see a lot of corpses in varying stages of decay, which is pretty gross. Also, there's some willful cruelty in the movie. I don't know if any of this tallies up to R rating, but it has one. R.
DIRECTOR: Reed Morano
I'm kind of dumb. I write a lot. I include lots of typos because I only do one draft of many of my analyses. Also, writing on a daily basis is pretty intense. But this is the first time that I thought I was sitting down for one movie and got a completely different movie. What I'm saying is that I rented the wrong movie. I thought I was renting, Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot with Joaquin Pheonix. What I got was I Think We're Alone Now. You know what? I criticize rom-coms for having very generic titles, but lots of movies have generic titles. Regardless, I quickly realized that I had the wrong movie and the odds of getting a functional film with that logic is astounding. Regardless, I Think We're Alone Now wasn't a bad time.
I Think We're Alone Now doesn't really blow my mind. I mean, the cast blows my mind. I rent the wrong movie and it ends up being a movie with Peter Dinklage, Elle Fanning, and Paul Giamatti? That's a pretty lucky situation. On top of that, it's also kind of an artsy fartsy movie too? I should get a lottery ticket. But I got this watchable film that really is the result in the A24 attitude. I have been accidentally dancing around this idea for a while with all of my A24 reviews. I know that A24 is bigger than what I've been reviewing or analyzing, but I noticed that the titles that get my attention are the genre pieces. Man, A24 really dives deep into genre, especially horror. But A24 horror is something very different than standard horror fare. It takes many of the tropes of horror and the generic conventions of horror and then slows it way the heck down. It pads these scripts with character development and gives directors the opportunity to make the movie look absolutely gorgeous. I love that. But the thing about A24 is that those slower stories tend to make a lot of sense. Every scene adds to the next. Yeah, some of them could be trimmed a little bit. I wouldn't be surprised if I've written that before. But, those movies really work as cohesive storylines. I Think We're Alone Now isn't that. First of all, I Think We're Alone Now isn't from A24. I think it is Bleeker Street or something. The production company logos didn't inspire me with hope. But this is a movie that looks gorgeous, has great acting, and a desperate need to imply that these scenes have significance. Reed Morano has directed a lot of stuff I like, primarily TV stuff like The Handmaid's Tale and Halt and Catch Fire. But with a story like I Think We're Alone Now, Morano is kind of treading on well worn territory that, in many cases, has been done better. The post-apocalypse has been the home of social commentary. We have The Walking Dead, which has often lost its way only to return later. That show is bleak. But we also have The Road, which covers a lot of the same commentary with greater effectiveness. But neither of those exactly suits the message that Morano is trying to cover in I Think We're Alone Now. Morano seems to be aiming for the normalcy of being alone. Del, while horribly depressed, probably finds some joy in being left alone. He does exactly what I would do in the post-apocalypse and cleans. Okay, I'd leave lawns to grow because there's no way that you'd be able to maintain a whole town. But the problem with I Think We're Alone Now's message of normality in the post-apocalypse is that a show did the same way better.
I Think We're Alone Now shouldn't be a dramatic and slightly pretentious look at a world without people. It should be the TV called The Last Man on Earth. I adored that show. Watching that show simultaneously with The Walking Dead made me realize that getting really dramatic about people doesn't sell the messages of isolation and frustration. Absurd comedy with dramatic moments actually sells it better. Del and Grace aren't as fleshed out as the movie implies that they are. One of the things that is stressed in the film is that there's a bit of a monotony that comes with being alone and giving oneself tasks. Thank heavens that the movie is only an hour-and-a-half because I was wondering when something else was going to happen. I kept watching I Think We're Alone Now and wondered why Del wasn't taking advantage of all of the possibilities of an America without civilization. When we meet Phil / Tandy from The Last Man on Earth, his frustration with the post-apocalypse is actually pretty sympathetic. Tandy is a horrible human being, but we still feel bad for him because he's exhausted every possibility. Del's sadness comes from almost being bored with something that he really doesn't have to do. The movie even almost addresses it accidentally. There's a throwaway line asking how Del didn't know what was going on outside of his town. Because Del is an isolationist, he never really leaves his house. But he never really addresses this in a meaningful way. He simply skirts the issue when he is directly confronted with this issue. The odd thing is that he hates the people of his town. He treats everything around him with scorn. So we have to make this leap of faith and suspend our disbelief that he would get this deep into a project without seeing how the rest of civilization was fairing. I mean, he's conserving batteries from houses without seeing if the next town over that has a Costco has batteries. We are begged to follow Del's line of thinking when it really doesn't really scan. If Del loved his town, maybe I could see it. If he finally felt accepted, then whatever. But Del is disgusted by everything in his town. That could be interesting, but it takes a lot of work on the part of the audience to stick with Del. I suppose the same could be said of Grace. Grace has all of this knowledge that is kept from the audience. She has these secrets, but we don't really know that she has a secret. She's playing by rules that we don't really know was broken.
And that's when the movie relies too much on the twist. SPOILERS ABOUT A TWIST IN THE FILM: The movie outright lies to us for the entire film. It never really loads the Chekhov's Gun, but just fires it without answer. Del is an intrinsically private person. Not knowing what makes Del tick is part of the story. Even when his background is revealed, it is very scant. But Grace almost seems like an open book. There's never any implication that she's hiding anything except for the fact that, like Del, she is private about her own life. If Del is private and Grace is private, we have to assume that the apocalypse is private. She even outright lies (kind of). (That's a terrible sentence.) She screams about having lost everyone and that she cared about them. She stressed that the world was over and that there are no other people. When she finds a dog, she finds it miraculous. There is no implication that society still exists. If one person was open the other was closed, I could see this choice to make sense. It's actually bizarre that Del is willing to let the only other person in existence go so willy-nilly. He actually seems to be making a big character leap when he asks Grace to stay. The relationship between Del and Grace is actually very not romantic. I wish I could say that I Think We're Alone Now was more romantic because there are seeds of that throughout the film. A lot of these narratives are based on a characters who hate each other to characters who love each other. Del and Grace go from being annoying to one another to tolerating each other and that's considered love. It's pretty bleak. But this leads all to the twist. I don't want to throw the word "twist" around because it actually seems to cheapen what filmmakers are trying to do. But think about it: the movie had no way to end. It's such a bombastic ending. By having Paul Giamatti and Charlotte Gainbourg show up and talk about civilization again is meant to make our jaws drop. That's interesting, but it brings a ton of baggage with it that shows that it doesn't really work narratively. If civilization exists, that means that Grace is actually a terrible person. I posit that Grace is a problematic character regardless, but I'll move on because I can sympathize with her choice. But if Grace has been keeping society a secret, that means that there has to be a reason. Grace has to be the good guy, not the bad guy. She can't just be a runaway who wants to live in this abandoned town with Del. The movie wants to get that ending, but wants something to actually happen in this film as well. So the movie adds this whole Stepford Wives thing. The Stepford Wives (despite the fact that I haven't actually seen it! Oopsie!) brings up real questions about feminism and free will and is really quite complex. I even think that the setting of I Think We're Alone Now or The Last Man on Earth could tackle something like that really well. But if The Last Man on Earth had that plot twist, it would be a season finale or premiere idea and then the intricacies and implications could be explained slowly. Instead, we're thrown into the deep end of the ocean and the story takes the easy way out. There are lots of people like grace being lobotomized and Del and Grace just...leave. Well, I'm glad that Grace is better. What about all of the other women who have that cut in the back of their necks? It's really upsetting that the movie takes such an easy answer to a complex idea.
I Think We're Alone Now was a very watchable film. I like the post-apocalypse. Having two characters develop without the strings of subplots is pretty great a lot of the time. But I Think We're Alone Now wants to be a more important movie than it is without actually having the substance of something life-changing. It wants to do too much, but doesn't really accomplish anything new. It's super serious and that's a real bummer. This story works better as The Last Man on Earth because there's the fun juxtaposition between the context of the story and the way that people are acting. It's kind of a bummer film, which is allowed. It just would have worked better if it wasn't a bummer.
Jason Bourne (2016)
PG-13 for violence, which tends to be on the brutal side, and death, which is the result of violence. I'm sure that there is some mild language, but most people should be horrified how much hardcore punching there is. There's blood, again the result of that violence. There's nothing sexual, so big ups to the Bourne franchise for keeping it pretty tame. But you know, I wouldn't show my kids this movie. Mainly because they're wildly unfamiliar with Black Ops operations and the moral ambiguity involved. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
I don't care about Jason Bourne. I'm sorry. I got this movie for free when I got Movies Anywhere. Jason Bourne never really caught my attention. I think I'm just becoming an old fart. Maybe I'm just becoming an uber snob because old folks are supposed to love the Bourne movies. But me? They don't do a ton for me. I don't know what it is. You know what, that's not even that true. I know exactly what it is that isn't doing it for me and it all stems from two movies that kind of dropped the ball. I know that people really liked The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. People love those movies. I didn't care for those movies. I thought that they were way too complex and way too CIA heavy. See, John LeCarre does nothing for me. Normally, I ride the line of "it's just not for me." I don't think that's actually the case with the Bourne franchise. The Bourne movies are just The X-Files all over again.
I loved The X-Files when it was originally on TV. I watched it wth my mom. My dad never really cared for it. He says it was too serious and I disagree. But The X-Files had a fundamental flaw that they repeated when the new season. The reason that we all watched The X-Files was the conspiracy. There was a great mystery behind the scenes. I now realized that I liked the Freak of the Week episodes because the conspiracy episodes were the worst. The mystery doesn't matter. It doesn't. I know X-Files and Bourne fans. You think it really does. The mystery doesn't matter when it comes to franchises. Is Mulder very different in Season One versus what he's like in Season Twelve? Nope. Not at all. Okay, Scully is a different character, but that's more along the lines of things that she has seen. Jason Bourne, with all of his memories intact, is practically the same character that he is in The Bourne Identity. Each time there is a bombshell revelation, it has less and less of an effect. The narrative, honestly, is done in The Bourne Identity. We don't get all of the mystery. But look what these movies have added to the characters? Pretty much nothing. Jason Bourne is Jason Bourne is Jason Bourne. Jason Bourne (heh) is a reminder that everything is a template. We've seen this movie before. Jason Bourne knows most of his past, but something he didn't remember showed up. A female character who was a big deal SPOILER dies, inspiring him to take the fight to the CIA. (Yup, the character is fridged.) The movie surrounds this big bombshell moment. Jason Bourne's father got him involved with becoming this super soldier. But we don't care about Jason Bourne's father. The CIA is terrible in these movies. He's going to go on the run from them. But what does this actually build to the mythos? As complex as these movies pretend to be, the structure is very very similar just running down the list.
So then it comes to Jason Bourne fighting? Paul Greengrass really shocked me when he made the first Jason Bourne movie. There's nothing wrong about Jason Bourne if this was the first movie. But we've seen that kind of filmmaking before. Heck, The Bourne Identity changed the way we view action. It was frenetic and violent. The movie seemed so brutal because the camera fought against other standards. It was never clear and thus introduced chaos. But Greengrass keeps going back to the same well. The real problem with that is the fact that other people have done the same. What was once forward thinking is now becoming wildly dated. It seems like every action movie seems like a Bourne film. Remember when The Bourne Identity was the only Bourne entry. It was mind blowing. But in the same way that The Lost World: Jurassic Park and even furthermore Jurassic Park III showed us too many dinosaurs, we have seen this before. We are no longer mesmerized by what we are seeing. Instead, it seems like Jason Bourne is going through the same story cycles time and again. I know that a lot of people had a problem with The Bourne Legacy. That makes sense because the movie is not amazing. But the advantage that The Bourne Legacy offers is that it is almost something new. But even that film isn't all that different. The CIA sends out a special asset to take care of the character that can't be taken down. We've seen this before. The MCU (I hate that I keep coming back to this well) learned that you can't keep on using villains that are mirrors for the heroes over and over again. That has to be special. By saying that every villain is special, it honestly makes none of them special. While I kind of applaud the social media angle of Jason Bourne, it doesn't really go anywhere. It is almost something that is flying in the background of this film. We know something is going on with Deep Dream, but it is just part of the complex web that never really gets broken down. There's something there that, by the end of the movie, I didn't really care. We honestly just know that it is sinister. How am I supposed to relate to anything that is just sinister for being sinister?
Are the movies just meant for die hards? Going back to The X-Files, I found myself as one of the last stalwarts for that show. Like The Bourne Legacy, there was actually a change in cast that caused most of the audience to abandon the franchise. But again, I stayed with it (Thanks a lot, Movies Anywhere). That X-Files thing is becoming a better and better comparison. Think about what we learned from this movie. We learned practically nothing. Jason Bourne is still Jason Bourne. There are moments that are teased for future films, but who really believes that anything will change? Alicia Vikander is the new Bourne girl, I guess. Is that a term? I guess it is now because that's what is happening in these films. I oddly believe that the lead actresses just get frustrated with having these underwritten parts that they return for. But Vikander plays this character believes that the character of Jason Bourne can be brought back into the CIA. What a fun tease, if anyone actually believed that it would stick? If this movie ended with Bourne being brought back into the CIA, A) I wouldn't believe it because we are just told that there's a chance that Bourne could be brought back, and B) that might be kind of cool for a second. But the filmmakers are so afraid of change that the only thing that actually is risky is the title. That's a really weak change. But I do want to analyze the whole "Bourne can be brought back in". What it does for the Bourne girl is that it gives her a new motivation that we haven't seen before. Cool, but let's really look at that. The only reason that we can believe that Bourne can be brought back into the CIA is that a document said that he has that profile. That's really bad writing. I think that there are five Bourne films. Everything about every Bourne film says that Jason Bourne hates the CIA. He is trying to take them down. We simply have to believe this document. It's a cool concept, but how about planting little seeds where Bourne shows interest in that. If anything, Bourne isn't morally complex. There are no times where he's stuck in a complex situation and has to decide between two bad answers. He just is single-minded. Saying that he's complex is lying to the audience. Yeah, he might be a patriot. But the definition of patriot has been so skewed in this world that word means nothing. It's just so frustrating to try to squeeze water from a stone. I don't care what revelation happens. These movies are all the same and we don't care. Like television, there is no growth. It's just one character running away from something in the first half of the film and then running towards something in the second half.
The movie isn't terrible. I found it really weird to see Tommy Lee Jones as a full on bad guy. I got the vibe that Tommy Lee Jones retired from stuff life like this. I don't mind at all. I know that these movies are fun. But they are selling Jason Bourne as the intelligent James Bond and it totally isn't. It is full of boring CIA jargon that they're making up. Every time I saw the word "Treadstone", I knew that I was supposed to gasp. I didn't gasp. I just wanted the movie to end. It's fun. Yeah, but I don't like these characters. I honestly don't care about Jason Bourne because I've seen the same movie four or five times. I want something new. Formula can be a good start, but it needs to move away from the thing that we saw last time. It just gets boring over time. I like Matt Damon. I know that he might be a bit of a scumbag. But normally he strives at being charming. The idea behind Jason Bourne is that he's a tabula rasa. He started his life all over again and the first movie teased that he was going to completely change his personality. But he's just the same guy over and over again. The movie first shows Jason Bourne as a cage fighter or something. I don't know what the proper term for the whole thing. Regardless, that's a big step backwards. He's already a Mary Sue. He can crash a car into a casino and walk away. It even goes further down the Mary Sue road with the fact that injuries don't matter. If the entire movie is about getting these two tanks to fight, Jason Bourne should lose. He's got a bullet in him. He can barely walk. He should be bleeding out. In that moment, he should be walking to his death. If the Asset was going to be a challenge to Bourne at full health, he should be unstoppable in that situation. Now, if Bourne had used his intellect to beat his enemy, everything is forgiven. But it's not. Paul Greengrass wants to see a slugfest. Sure, he's been teasing it for a while. The asset is supposed to be scary. But what actually happens is that all we do is nerf the bad guy. If Jason Bourne was a Mary Sue before, he's an even more unforgivable example now. Bourne leaves in almost the same condition he walked in on. What this does is make every other action sequence sanded down. There's a part where he's fighting in the ring and he's bloodied. But when he sees his peer, he takes down the combatant in a moment. That fight was never a threat. Nothing in these movies is ever a threat. Compare that to Casino Royale. Bond is tortured. He loses. He's saved, sure. But he actually has to shift his mindset to continue on in storytelling. Bond is one of the most flat characters that have ever been written. But even Bond has failed more than Bourne. That's no good.
There needs to be something new. No, I'm going to take it back. Bourne needed to end many many films ago. I would stand by the idea that the movie has sold itself with the first film. But I'll even forgive the first three because a trilogy might close off some ideas for die hard fans. Yeah, I didn't like those two, but that's okay. I can live in a world in a Bourne trilogy. But we have completely lost any investment in this character. When The Matrix sequels came out, it kind of ruined the first film for me. These movies have done that for Jason Bourne. I don't like the movies any more. They are just popcorn fluff and that's the last thing it needed.
Rated PG. It's probably going to be one of the few live action superhero movies that gets a PG rating. I mean, this is me playing hardball with the MPAA because I think lots of superhero movies should be PG. But if I wanted to be a stickler, an entire planet of people explodes violently. Lois Lane apparently writes about the most horrific topics on the planet and asks people to spell it out for them. Lois Lane apparently is a heavy smoker and is at risk of lung cancer. She also asks Superman to peep her underwear and he totally complies. Also, people die and undie. Miss Teschmacher jumps into a pool in skimpy see-through clothing. But again...PG.
DIRECTOR: Richard Donner
Do you know how long I've waited to write something on Superman: The Movie? I have an original Superman: The Movie poster in my basement signed by Margot Kidder and framed. I adored this movie as a kid. I try to watch it every year. This might actually be the largest gap since I last watched it because I haven't written anything on it so far. When I found out that the Warner Archive was going to release the longest cut of the movie yet, I lost it. I had to own yet another copy of this film. Let me save you some money. The movie starts off with a disclaimer that this was a producer's cut and does not reflect the director's choices, which can be seen in the theatrical cut. For me, the huge Superman nerd, yeah, it was worth it. The thing I love most about the original Superman is the interaction between Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty. Apparently, a lot of that stuff was cut out of the theatrical cut and I totally agree with Richard Donner. It completely ruins the pace of the film and often gets a bit too goofy. With that being said, HOLY MOLEY! More Otis? MORE OTIS? Yes and yes.
But most of the new cut is belabored establishing shots. There's a lot of extra "car driving to location" or "Clark walking to North Pole" stuff. Did you not understand that Krypton died a horrific death? Well, now you have safely double the amount of Krypton exploding and people falling to their deaths. The long and short? If you are a die-hard Superman: The Movie fan, then watch it. You might not even have to own it. Honestly, the next time I watch it, I'll probably just watch the Special Edition. The extra padding makes the movie way more boring. There's nothing really iconic added to the story, except for the fact that the movie clarifies that Eve Teschmacher is indeed Lex Luthor's girlfriend. (I never really made that connection. I know that there's a weird relationship going on, but I thought it was henchman or something.) Yeah, I love Superman: The Movie, but I almost love it because of what the movie means to me. I've read up on this one. I know the background of how it was made. (Honestly, Superman: The Movie was almost the Fyre Festival of films due to the Salkinds.) The ending doesn't even belong with this film. I don't know what is common knowledge anymore and what is me just knowing all kinds esoteric hullaballoo, but SPOILER the film's end actually belonged originally to Superman II. They couldn't think of an end to the first Superman movie, so they just reshot the end to Superman II and gave that movie a new ending. I mean, the ending is a get-out-of-jail-free card. Like, it's really bad. I adore this movie and will make references to spinning the Earth backwards on its axis whenever I can. But it's a cop out. I'm about to break down and attack a movie that I absolutely adore because that's my job, so please sympathize with the fact that I'm playing a full-on devil's advocate right now. If you haven't seen Superman: the Movie, shame on you because it is super-duper rad. Yeah, you won't love it because it will seem dated. But I loved it because it was mine and it will forever be mine. I can't even get my kids excited. But I swear, it's great. But I have an idea for an end to this movie way after the fact and after too many viewings that would finally work. Yeah, I can poke a hole through it too. The big problem with the end is that it completely goes against what Superman is told. Heck, the movie even reminds us of this. Jor-El, in the clouds, reminds Kal-El that he must not interfere with human history. I'm not going to go into time travel violations and the fact that there are probably two Supermen running around or that one version of Superman is erased from existence. Nah, but Superman needs to have consequences for breaking one of the few rules that have been given to him. Why not have Jor-El gone? Maybe the Fortress collapses? I don't know. But if Superman is not allowed to go back in time, why not have Lois...I don't know, save herself? Lois is out of gas. She sees the hole opening behind her and she keeps turning the key. What if Lois pulls a Jimmy and just hauls it out of there. She screams, bringing Superman to the rescue. Heck, if you want to have the visual image of her being buried alive, that's possible. Just have her dig herself out. Superman flies to find Lois but finds her car buried. He instantly rages out. He starts tearing apart the ground and finds Lois's mangled car. Lois watches him just causing this insane devastation and is terrified. She's never realized how powerful he actually was. He starts to go back in time and she starts crying. She whispers something along the lines of "Superman, stop" and he can't hear it because he's so distraught. It is when she collapses in tears and her teardrop hits the dusty earth. It is in this moment that he pauses. He listens to her heartbeat and returns to her. He offers him her hand and she initially recoils. But they reconcile when Jimmy arrives, causing tension for the next film. Right? It doesn't break its own rules. Anyway, that's my idea.
There's something so wholesome about the whole film. It really teeters on cornball at times. But I have to continually applaud Richard Donner for the tonal tightrope that he walks all over this movie. The original version of Superman, before it started filming, was an Adam West style Batman version of Superman. Mario Puzo apparently didn't take the project very seriously and the Salkinds just wanted the guy who wrote The Godfather to have his name on the project. I think it was Donner who fought for an appropriate tone. Superman is fun, but he doesn't have to be completely campy. But considering that it really is the first modern superhero movie, it knows exactly what a movie needs to thrive. There are moments where Superman really plays up that he's a big blue boy scout. He literally rescues a cat from a tree for a little girl. But Clark Kent is a real person. That’s really fascinating. There are so many sides to Superman and I find that cool. Okay, let’s back up. The standard thought is that Clark Kent and Superman have two separate personalities. There’s dorky Clark Kent. Dorky Clark Kent is the cover for a god in disguise. He has to be the complete opposite of Superman so that no one questions the glasses disguise. It’s a flimsy disguise, so be a huge dork that no one would even think would be the Man of Tomorrow. Okay, then there is Superman. Superman is an inspiration for us all. Even though he has the power to end all life on civilization in a moment, he chooses to take care of people. People want to be Superman even though that there is no way we could be anything like him. He is inspirational so we can be the best humans possible. But Donner and Reeve get something about the character that even most of the writers of the comics tend to ignore. Clark Kent is also a boy from Smallville who loves his mother. He feels responsible for the death of his father. He has to hide who he is and he is frustrated that he can’t tell the girl he’s had a crush on since childhood that he’s something special. Then there’s Kal-El. Kal-El isn’t what we expect him to be. Grant Morrison always saw something alien with the Kal-El element of Superman. I find Kal-El to be something very different. He is lost. He’s the vulnerable Superman. He can talk to his father, but he has to be reminded that the image of Jor-El is simply a computer simulation. He can only understand his heritage for a moment. Kal-El looks like Superman. (Okay, I’m getting really nerdy now.) But he questions his purpose. Superman can’t do that. Superman has to be confident and corny and inspirational. There’s a scene in the Fortress of Solitude where Kal-El actually reaches out to give his father a hug when he’s forgotten that he’s been long dead. He disputes whether his father’s projection could possibly understand what it means to be the most powerful creature in creation. And all of these characters explode into one character. Characters are meant to be multifaceted, but it is so bizarre to see a character that is multifaceted while keeping the personalities disparate. There’s one moment that all of the characters bleed together and it is such a risky moment. When Superman screams and launches himself into the atmosphere, there is no segmented element to the personality. They all feel the same thing. They strip away the pretext of what Superman as a character is. Instead, Christopher Reeve just emotes and emotes the heck out of that moment. Other performers, it would come across as silly. Honestly, it’s the same emotion that Darth Vader has in the “Padme, no” section of Revenge of the Sith. But look how intense the Superman reaction is versus what Darth Vader has. That is due to Christopher Reeve’s understanding of the character. Think about how weird that must have been for Reeve. He’s standing in a unitard with a cape. He is borderline unknown and he has to play an iconic comic book character when no one else has ever really done that. And he takes it seriously? He says some absolutely insane things, but he says them convincingly. It’s so good. When people tell me that I need to let go of Christopher Reeve as Superman, I can’t. He makes that movie work. Yeah, Donner does a lot of the heavy lifting, but Reeve brings the skill.
What's odd about this film is that it is almost a bunch of different films put together. I know that I'm talking about the television cut that is overly long, but it takes a long time to get to Earth. Krypton looks very '70s, but it is also completely stuffed with pathos. We have this very detailed mythology that is laid out for us. Yeah, we never get to Game of Thrones levels, but it gets pretty darned close at times. The movie starts, with the exception of the comic book framing device and ten minute credit sequence, with the trial of General Zod. We are teased this story of insurrection and an elder council that denies scientific evidence. We find out about a Phantom Zone. I know most of this is because Superman II is being filmed at the same time and they are setting up for a movie down the line. But there's a political world that is in play on Krypton. Jor-El and Lara get their own tale. Really, all the story needs to be is that Jor-El sends Kal-El to Earth. Instead, there's a whole world where it explains why parents would send their baby boy to Earth by himself. Yeah, it's the goofiest part of the film, but it somehow seems really dramatic. But then comes the second film, Clark in Smallville, Kansas. Do you know how much I love the Smallville sequence of Superman: the Movie? Honestly, when I die, I hope they play the Smallville Cemetery score when they lower me into the ground. I know that my wife will be disappointed that it can't be somber, but it works so well. There's all this character stuff, mostly surrounding Glenn Ford. I occasionally just post the Jonathan Kent speech on Facebook from time-to-time. (Admittedly, I usually post it when Man of Steel fans start dogging on this film.) But then we have the Daily Planet and Lex Luthor and this comic book comes to life. I love the MCU. I've preached about how great those movies are and how much they have contributed to making genre acceptable and impressive. But Superman made a world that is unashamedly both comic book and reality at the same time. We have jokey moments with Larry Hagman (which is oddly uncomfortable today.) Ned Beatty as Otis is one of my favorite characters ever. Lex Luthor, played masterfully by Gene Hackman (who might be having the most fun of his career in this film) is just straight up a super villain. There's nothing nuanced about him and it's fun because we have these other nuanced moments to make up for it. Yeah, I'll always preach about Clancy Brown or Michael Rosenbaum when it comes to great portrayals of Lex Luthor, but Gene Hackman added so much to my Silver Age understanding of that character. The end is just an adventure. Honestly, the first half is better than the second half, but the second half acts as a release for all of the pressure put on the audience. If the first half takes itself dead seriously, the second half lets us breathe out and just enjoy an adventure. But it doesn't forget that Superman is a character that has feelings. That end, with all of its flaws, reminds us that great storytelling can be entertaining, but shouldn't lose the heart and stakes of the characters.
Yeah, I won't ever be able to sell Superman: the Movie to lots of people. It might be one of those modern classics falling into obscurity. But it is an absolutely wonderful film that hits all of the right notes when it comes to tone and fun. I loved writing about it because it is a special movie to me. There's depth and I can't wait until I can trick my kids into watching it again.
G, but hold on a second. Dumbo has one of the most racist characters in Disney's history. It's perhaps not as on the nose as Song of the South, but the crows are wildly offensive. It also is a super bummer of a movie. Dumbo and Timothy get into some booze and trip pretty bad. Regardless, it is still considered G. My kids watched it and they didn't pick up on some stuff. But that itself might be a bit of a crime...
DIRECTORS: Sam Armstrong et. al
I got hired to write an advance review of the new live-action version of Dumbo. Who loves Dumbo? I don't know if Dumbo ever had the cultural importance that the other Disney characters did. But I decided to knock this one out of the park. Anyway, it's only 64 minutes. Do you understand how easy it is to knock out a 64 minute movie? Well, this all leads to the fact that I totally forgot that Dumbo is the one with the racist crows. Apparently, the leader of the crows is actually named Jim Crow. Isn't. That. Fascinating.
All of this brings back an argument that I've probably thought of time and again. Where is the line drawn when it comes to art? Can we enjoy things that are fundamentally problematic? If we flash back to Birth of a Nation, we can't divorce the overt racism from the storytelling. Birth of a Nation resculpted the historical landscape of America. Then we have second tier racism. That's the kind of stuff that we deal with in Dumbo. Dumbo never led to the insurgence of the Klan like Birth of a Nation did. But also look at the intended audience of Dumbo. It's aimed at my four-year-old son. I'm taking my son to the new movie for his fifth birthday. But can a four-year-old really appreciate it? Should he watch Jim Crow and his flock shuck and jive when there is so much better stuff out there? I don't know if Dumbo has the legs that many of the other Disney creations have. The one thing that my wife noticed is that Dumbo is actually very light when it comes to the script. It's kind of just bleakness. Dumbo, as a film, almost feels like it is a precursor to Fantasia. Rather than being a traditional narrative, Dumbo almost acts like the background character study. I don't mind a character study. It's fine. But there really isn't a story. There are moments. I can't deny that there are elements of a narrative. Mrs. Jumbo protecting her child and being locked away is a plot point. Dumbo and Timothy getting drunk and ending up in the tree is a plot point. SPOILER: Dumbo flying is a plot point. There are things that make the movie fairly traditional. But oddly enough, I think that Dumbo kind of has more in common with The Passion of the Christ than it does with other films. Imagine that The Passion of the Christ had a happy ending. I mean, it kind of does. It totally sets it up for a sequel. But both Dumbo and The Passion of the Christ takes a character with whom we quickly love and admire. But within moments of that introduction, we have to start sitting through greater and greater tortures from almost all places. From moment one, Dumbo is bullied by the other elephants. The drawing of Dumbo shows how innocent and adorable he is. He has these bright blue eyes and these adorable ears and he smiles all of the time. But he's being ridiculed without his knowledge. Every single character with the exception of Mrs. Jumbo hates this kid. Timothy isn't in the story yet. He only shows up once Mrs. Jumbo is incarcerated. But everything in the story compounds with the torture. We feel worse for Dumbo than Dumbo himself feels.
But The Passion of the Christ isn't exactly for kids. It's an important story. Disney is doing something really weird with this movie. It's a movie about bullying and if we were to distill a theme, it would be just that. It is a story about bullying. But it also doesn't really have the character have any agency. It's the ugly duckling narrative. Yeah, there's no shift between a misunderstanding and realization. But the very thing that makes Dumbo ugly is the thing that ends up being his escape and realization. It's so weird. I'm going to continue to make comparison with other movies, but this ties into Babe and Charlotte's Web. Most movies give the characters agency when the protagonist realizes that he or she has abilities, that is where the morality falls upon the character. The second that characters have that skill, it is how they use it and whether or not that they will turn the tables. However, the film just kind of ends once Dumbo discovers his abilities. It's kind of a fairy tale rather than a morality play. We don't know what Dumbo really does with his abilities. There are these fun newspaper clippings. The circus finds its star in the flying elephant. If anything happens, the circus doesn't actually have any consequences for their treatment of Dumbo. Dumbo is tortured throughout the story. Then they get the show the century, the only flying elephant. So what's the message that can be read in the narrative of Dumbo? Dumbo is almost talking about the utilitarian value of the individual. Dumbo is ignored by the entire circus with the exception of Timothy and Mrs. Jumbo. But everyone likes him once he can fly. Rather than taking care of Dumbo, the elephants who should have a responsibility for raising this child hate him. They blame him for every discomfort and actually sell him to the clowns. But the movie ends with this overly happy ending. The elephants all seem to love him now that he can fly. There's no moment of atonement. I know, it's a kids' story. But that scene might be important. If you are good at something, people will like you? Why do I want my kids to have that idea? I want my kids to know that they have value in themselves. I want all of that great love and all of those great skills to only add to their experiences. It's a really problematic story. Bullying doesn't often end in happiness. Dumbo lives in this toxic environment and yet continues to look for validation from his peers. Why? I'm not saying that there isn't a version that doesn't leave Dumbo with the circus. There definitely is. But Dumbo doesn't really make choices. He's a silent character. All of the other characters make choices for him. Bullying needs to have Dumbo making choices and at no point does he. Think about it. Dumbo, at one point, has to climb all of these elephants. (I don't know why this wasn't rehearsed.) But he is terrified. The choice he makes is to flee. That's a valid choice. I can stand behind that choice. But Timothy puts a pin in his butt, forcing him to run forward. The same thing with the flaming towers. Dumbo just does what everyone tells him. Why would there be a story about bullying without having the character make any choices? You can't get mad at Dumbo because there is no expectation for Dumbo to make these choices. Instead, we have to relate to Timothy, who is definitely a secondary character and doesn't really have a stake outside of love for Dumbo. It's a really weird setup. But that's why it is more of a Fantasia segment rather than a story in itself.
Now it all comes full circle. Remember, I watched Dumbo with a purpose. I was getting ready to see the live action version and I had to brush up on the original for the sake of the new article. This brings something into my thought process besides the fact that people in 1941 knew that circuses were just animal torture factories. One of the things I've been riding pretty hard is the notion that the live-action Disney remakes are wholly unnecessary. They can't be as good as the originals because they are made to play on our nostalgia of the originals. But they also make money because of people's obsessions with the originals. But the new Dumbo might actually end up having some value. Few people are obsessed with the original Dumbo. It's one of the ones that kind of flies under the radar, mostly because it is so problematic. It's a bummer movie with racism. No one wants to revisit that. But what this does is open doors for Disney that financially make a lot of sense. They have this property that only a select few absolutely adore. They are rolling out all of these live action films. It's only going to be a matter of time before all of the beloved ones are gone and there will be a streak of titles that don't inspire nostalgia. Not only that, but these movies would be coming out at a time when there's going to be live-action remake burnout. But if you make Dumbo before Aladdin and The Lion King, Dumbo actually can do something new with the property. The new Dumbo can course correct a lot. If no one is in love with the original version, the changes that can be made can actually fix a lot of the problems. No one is beholden to the original vision because that would just be a weird choice. The byproduct of this choice, then, is the opportunity to actually fix a bad movie and have something that might actually have legs after it is gone. I'm one of the few people who really dug the Jungle Book remake. But even I acknowledge that, immediately after I watched it, I had a "who cares?" attitude about the whole thing. These movies don't last. They are meant for quick cash grabs. But the new Dumbo could have potential. The original has some foundation for good storytelling, but it mired in the age it was made in and also is just a huge bummer. A retelling of Dumbo is kind of what Hollywood has been playing at for a while. Why remake a good movie that is close to everyone's hearts when you can remake a movie that has lots of problems despite having a solid foundation? That's what I'm looking forward to in the new movie. Yeah, I'm not a Tim Burton fan. But lots of people are big Tim Burton fans. So I can look forward to this film in the hopes that there's something great here because the original Dumbo, while pretty looking, is barely a movie. And when it is a movie, it makes some big mistakes mostly because it was made in a different time. The good news is that my kids didn't really pick up on the content. But it also made me aware that maybe I should be more careful before just throwing on anything that is aimed at children.
But could you imagine me binging Dumbo alone? That might actually be creepier.
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.