The Love Bug (1968)
G. But let's hold off on just leaving it with G. This is a G-rated movie that has aged poorly. This in the same camp as Breakfast at Tiffany's. Maybe not THAT bad, but racist is racist. At first, I thought, maybe it's not that racist. There's a lot of Chinese characters being associated with dragons and honor, which is pretty dicey. But then it just completely embraces some racist stuff against the Chinese people and it just gets icky all around. G, but racist.
DIRECTOR: Robert Stevenson
Is it bad that I didn't remember all the Chinese stereotypes within this movie? Let me backtrack. I think I have a very obsessive personality. If I liked something, I really liked it. When I was a kid, I loved Herbie. These are the movies that would just play on a loop in my house. I'm sure that my parents probably hated introducing me to Herbie because everything in my house was Herbie. My son and Sonic the Hedgehog right now? That was me and Herbie. A billion of my toy cars were bugs. It doesn't matter what the color of the car was, I would take a sharpie, draw racing stripes just right of center and write 53 all over the car. It was bad. So I had to have seen the original Love Bug a billion times. How do I not remember all of the uncomfortable racism in this movie?
I guess I was just a kid and it was a different time. As I age, I find myself saying "It was a different time" more and more. I know that I run into people who still smoke and say that they were raised in a time period where it was okay. (It probably wasn't, but I don't want to get off track.) At least I'm adapting to the times. A lot of the joy that I derived from this movie came from a sense of nostalgia. I don't think the movie is bad. Outside of the really uncomfortable racist bits, my family seemed to enjoy it. I kept distracting them when racist things would come on the TV. A good dad would have shut it off, but I was just there praying that it was probably over...and it wasn't. But the basic premise is pretty darned entertaining. My kids had a few too many questions about the mythology of Herbie, to which I had no answers. I think Herbie is one of those things that has fallen into obscurity. I could make Herbie references in a crowded room and maybe one or two people would know what I'm talking about. At least, someone might know Herbie: Fully Loaded. But the mythology of Herbie should stay a mystery.
There's a really weird message in The Love Bug that not a lot of other stories have taken. The surface level morality is that of avoiding pride. Jim Douglas is boastful even though he kind of sucks at driving. The movie doesn't really go over the top with the commentary on Douglas as a driver outside of the opening credits where it establishes that he's pretty washed up after all of the car accidents that he's been in. Okay, that's on the table. He gets bigger and bigger with the help of Herbie to the point where he buys a fast car to prove that he's the driver and not Herbie. The movie really just stays at this surface level morality. Jim needs to let go of his pride if he wants to win a race. But this brings up a whole different question that might raise eyebrows a little bit more. By this entire string of logic, Jim is a waste of space. I think every other sports movie has taken the exact opposite stance as The Love Bug. There are so many movies (and I can't name any of them) where this magical gift / sentient object is only covering up for the real talent of the protagonist. At the beginning of the third act, the protagonist loses this lucky charm and he or she can't seem to get their groove back. It is only upon discovering that they had the talent all along that the story can progress. It usually is in the final moments of the story and it's this great message about confidence. The Love Bug, on one level, could be about confidence versus pride. Confidence is good. Pride is bad. That's perfectly fine. But there's a way more haunting element to the story that the Love Bug plays right into.
Jim is fundamentally a useless person. He's there as Christian from Cyrano. Herbie is the prideful one in the story. Herbie is all about winning. He knows that he can't actually enter races without people involved, thus he needs Jim, someone with the bare minimum requirements to become a race car driver. Mind you, I never thought this when I was a kid. I just thought it was silly that Herbie kept peeing oil onto bad people and driving really fast. But Jim actually has no value in the story. If anything, the second that Jim starts having any pride in himself, that's when he is smacked down. Herbie wrecks his new Lamborghini and embarrasses him time and again. Yeah, the bad guy, Peter Thorndyke, is way worse. But Thorndyke is never really supposed to be a dynamic character. We know from moment one that Peter Thorndyke is going to be evil because he's British and rich. There's no changing that. What? Are you going to make him un-British? You can't do it. (Or can you?) No, the story has to be about Jim accepting that he's just a vehicle for Herbie. There are some famous cars out there in the world of pop culture. Baby from Supernatural. Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters. KITT from Knight Rider. (Okay, ignore that last one.) But imagine that Ecto-1 was busting ghosts and the guys were just an excuse to go from place to place. That's gotta be pretty disheartening.
Which leads to a concept of "With whom are we bonding?" At the end of the day, we bond with Herbie. Yeah, it's told from Jim's perspective, but I think Jim might be the most replacable element of the story. Buddy Hackett's Tennessee might be the most enjoyable human performance, but he's definitely the sidekick / Jiminy Cricket of the piece. Instead, we bond with Herbie. And now we've come full circle. (Ourobouros!) Herbie is the one who has to win the race. Jim, Tennessee, and Carole can help, but it is ultimately Herbie who is in the race, not Jim. Jim is, at best, an avatar for Herbie. He vocalizes the concerns that Herbie has. But we're full circle because we still have no idea who or what Herbie is. And we shouldn't. If there's ever a franchise that did not need an explanation for a sentient Herbie (which in my mind is a dead kid inside a car, not a sentient A.I. situation), it's The Love Bug movies. Herbie has personality. I will even say that Herbie has more personality than the other famous cars I put on this list. But Herbie's morality system is all over the place. We know that he's (or she?!?) mischievous and reckless. He likes messing with people. We also know that he's extremely jealous. In an odd way, Herbie could quickly be re-edited to make him a villain of the piece. He really does terrorize Jim, only rewarding him when Jim's intentions align with his own. There's no way for Herbie to be sensitive or vulnerable. Instead, Herbie has to be a bull in a china shop (no racist pun intended) to get what he wants throughout the piece. The fact that he does smash up the other car is almost not even funny. It kind of comes across a little psychotic.
Herbie is the spurned former lover throughout the piece. "How dare you break up with me, Jim?" I think that the only reason that Herbie permits Carole into the story is because Carole is so loving of the Love Bug. The actual name "Love Bug" is really kind of scary because Herbie isn't actually nice...to anyone. He drives Jim and Carole off on their honeymoon because he got what he wanted. And as far as I understand, the humans in a lot of the movies change. If Herbie is indeed sentient and has relationships with people, does he break up with them over time. I mean, I get the distance between The Love Bug and Fully Loaded. Maybe Jim and Carole are dead. But Herbie is actually kind of fickle if he jumps from owner to owner. After all, it is Herbie who chooses his owners throughout the entire franchise, as far as I understand. (I love that this blog allowed me to wax poetic about the problem with sentient cars.) How good can Herbie be as a moral complex being if he just keeps using people to win races? With Jim at least, it is a symbiotic relationship. Ideally, he's finding kindred spirits whose goals tend to align with his, but why not just stay with Jim? Jim literally could be a 100 year old man as long as he's in the driver's seat. At least in that scenario, there's a meaningful relationship with one person. "We're doing this together" and all that. It's actually pretty dark the more I think about it. Especially considering how intense Herbie wants to win races. Because the first time I saw these movies, I thought that Jim wanted to win. Yeah, he does, but this is all Herbie's master plan.
This got intense. I wasn't planning on that. In fact, I'm having just an awful teaching remotely day and I didn't want to write. Herbie's psychosis actually probably helped me get over a bit of a slump. Regardless, this movie is racist and would be really great to show my kids over and over again if it wasn't.
Cheaper by the Dozen (2003)
PG. It's got some pretty juvenile humor. Family movie night is starting to kill the MPAA section of this blog because all I can say is "child endangerment"? Also, it's implied that the oldest sister is sleeping with her boyfriend out of wedlock. Okay, I'll go there. I remember clamming up pretty tight, hoping that my kids wouldn't notice that little bit in the movie. But the movie is pretty tame. One of the kids is bullied by the rest of the family. Okay. PG.
DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy
Confession time: This isn't the first time I've seen this movie. I saw it...in the theaters, I think? "But Tim," you may be asking, "you didn't have kids in 2003." That is accurate. This is not a point of pride. This is more a matter of I was a big Smallville fan and it was college. I had nothing to do and I wanted to see a movie on the cheap at my local theater. So, I saw it. For Tom Welling. Yeah, that happened. Do you understand that I watched everything? Post-college, I would sometimes just drive to the movie theater, which had $5.00 matinees and just see the next movie playing, assuming I hadn't already seen it. "They were the best of times, they were the worst of times."
I think we still have this kind of movie, despite being super evolved / devolved in 2020. Now that I'm a parent, and a pretty intense one at that, I don't know if I love the Mr. Mom kind of movies. Admittedly, Cheaper by the Dozen is a pretty mild offender on that list. But we still live in a world where Dad is considered the alternate parent. It's the mom who is supposed to cook, clean, manage the house, while Dad sits on the couch. I really applaud Cheaper by the Dozen to respect the idea that Dad must do as much if not more than Mom. But it only really respects that rule when it wants to. The movie starts off with Steve Martin's Tom Baker, not to be confused with the Fourth (or whatever number thanks to the Timeless Child) Doctor, being super dad. He rolls with the punches and is able to handle a household with the support of his spouse. He really has no flaws outside of wondering "what if?" From his perspective, his life is stressful but awesome. Bonnie Hunt's Kate is the perfect spouse for him. They make a ton of sense because they're on the same page. But the movie somehow shifts out of this attitude and creates a new paradigm that is ultimately unfair. I'm writing this from the adult's perspective. While I don't have 12 children, I do have three with one more on the way. My wife probably picks these movies with large families to get me comfortable with large families. Spoiler alert: it's not working. But the new paradigm is that Dad isn't allowed to care about himself ever.
It's a really weird message. It's all done for laughs, but I do want to look at it from a wish fulfillment perspective. Parenting is all about sacrifice. If you aren't sacrificing for your spouse and your kids, you probably aren't doing it right. The movie even establishes this as the moral of the film in the opening narration. Tom and Kate moved from the big city and their dream jobs to take care of their large families. Now that they are old enough to stop having kids, when an opportunity falls in their laps, they go for it. Tom gets to coach his dream team (I can't relate to this moment at all) and Bonnie gets to go on a book tour for her riveting book about raising twelve kids. (I know that Cheaper by the Dozen was based on a book by the Gilbraiths. I was in a stage production of it in high school where I technically played the Ashton Kutcher role.) Tom, as part of his giving attitude, agrees to make it work, allowing Bonnie to go off and to do her book tour while Tom is responsible for twelve kids. Mayhem ensues or else it wouldn't be a family comedy. But the thing is, the movie devolves the characters a bit. Tom refuses to ask his wife for help because he doesn't want her to sacrifice her dreams any more than she already has. He sees his own dreams slipping away and he makes the morally good choice to say that he refuses to let this person that he married. But throughout the film, Tom is punished for this action. Bonnie returns home and chastises him for this decision. He is villainized because he can't manage a family. Instead of feeling any sympathy for Tom, who is continually tortured throughout the film, there's supposed to be this life lesson that he's meant to grasp out of this.
The argument could be made that Tom's sin is not seeing a marriage as a partnership. But really, he's in a Kobiyashi Maru situation here. If he calls Kate and says that things aren't going well, he's dumping responsibility on another in place for his own dreams of coaching a team. If he doesn't, it looks like he is neglecting the good of his children. But the children, and this is really the burnt out quarantine dad in me coming out, really aren't attempting to make his life better. Charlie, whom I from this point on will be referring to simply as Tom Welling, actively spites his father. He's passive aggressive throughout. I wish I could say that this isn't reality, but that's how things work. I really get grumpy sometimes with people, even thought it might not be their faults. But to give Charlie a free pass and say that his life is terrible when he's really kind of the bad guy of the story is bad. The younger kids are allowed to torture Tom all day. They're little kids. It's not their faults that they want to have frogs in cereal boxes or whatever. But there are a lot of older kids in this group who come across as charming when really, they're just dumping all of the moral responsibility on Tom, who is doing his best in an impossible situation. Here is me, not knowing the details of how things work. Tom wasn't a stay-at-home dad at the beginning of the movie. He was the coach of a winning Division III football team. He was there a lot and his family supported him. They all move against their will to where Tom can be the coach of a Division I team. While I understand that there's probably more to do with the Division I team, the kids are older and everyone's more of an expert at being a big family. Why is the focus of the movie Tom?
It's fun to laugh at Steve Martin dealing with nonsense. I love the neighbors and the contrast between their spoiled one kid and their unruly dozen. But the movie should really focus on Tom Welling and Hilary Duff. These characters really run along side the movie instead of actively participating in it. These two teenage characters have a lot on their plate, transitioning to a new school. But there's very little in terms of people who have dealt with large families over time. Tom technically never truly breaks the moral codes of what is expected of him. Really, he's having a very difficult two weeks. I had a 5-year-old and a baby last year for two weeks and it is very difficult to do anything with no help. But Tom Welling and Hilary Duff are there. (I will also call her Hilary Duff because Hilary Duff doesn't read this blog...as far as I know. Oh my gosh, can you imagine?) There is a moral story there, but it is completely focused in the wrong place. I can attest to this because there's no choices that Steve Martin could make throughout the film that would make the moral result any better or worse. Instead, if Tom Welling and Hilary Duff actually stood up and became the new parents of the house, there's all kinds of moral choices to be made. It becomes a tale of adolescence versus childhood versus adulthood. It's this liminal time where character defining moments are made. But that's where comedy falls apart.
Cheaper by the Dozen's fundamental problem isn't that it is a bad movie. It's just that it really strives not to challenge. Making Steve Martin the protagonist in isolation is really safe call for a fun family film. We know that Steve Martin can handle family friendly comedy. It's also hilarious to see what issues and problems Dad can deal with in a crummy situation. But the movie would actually kind of step into something interesting if the film were spearheaded by people who had to make life choices that really affected them. Instead, we're suppose to have Steve Martin feel guilty for getting offered a truly remarkable job and reinforce that by having Bonnie Hunt rip him apart for not being able to handle a nearly no-win scenario? I think a character really needs to have made a mistake to have such harsh criticism put upon him. To a certain extent, I'm defending dadhood. I'm really tired of clumsy dad not being as good as mom. I'm really not going to be talking meninism because those guys suck. But the only thing that Steve Martin does wrong in the movie is that he's the male parent. His incompetence comes when it is funny to be incompetent. But nothing in his character background really builds up to that moment. Can't a dad be super successful and have a job? It's not like he doesn't come home at the end of the day? He goes to work and takes care of kids. He's been doing that his entire life. Now that some of the kids are older, they should be able to help out around the house, leaving Tom to go and do an interview from time-to-time.
But it's a fun movie, kind of. It's not a work of genius. It's a random enough film to watch with the kids without producing any real guffaws. The problem with analysis is that you have to look at it from another perspective. If you are watching this movie to entertain your kids for shy of two hours, it does the job.
The Peanuts Movie (2015)
Thi is it! The coveted ACTUAL G rated movie. There's nothing at all offensive or even questionable in this movie. Is there peril? Nope! Not a thing! There's not a real action sequence in the movie. Snoopy imagines himself being the Flying Ace against the Red Baron, but it isn't real and the movie stresses it. The most questionable emotion you might have from this movie is the sympathetic heartbreak that you feel for Charlie Brown as he fumbles his way around a childhood crush. G. Actual. Real. G.
DIRECTOR: Steve Martino
I actually can't believe that I haven't written about this movie before. I've seen this movie too many times. It's Henry's absolute favorite of all time movie. He might not say that anymore. I had to move his poster from a prominent spot in his room to his closet. He's all into Sonic the Hedgehog now. This is a phase. (An expensive phase, but a phase nonetheless.) But when he picked this as his family movie night choice and saw how happy he was, I know what's up. He loves that this is one of the most innocent movie that never even gives him the opportunity to get scared. I think I may have seen this movie a dozen or so times, but I'm sure I don't stay for the whole thing. The Peanuts Movie quickly became the standard for long car rides and for "Dad needs to clean the house. You guys watch this movie so I'm not cleaning over you."
There is something absolutely gorgeous about this movie. I don't think it got a lot of attention when it was in theaters and I'm really not barking for a sequel. The Peanuts Movie, as much as I'm going to gush over it, is a movie that is far more important to today's culture than one would ever think. I can't say I'm a big fan of the Peanuts concept as a whole. We live a decent distance away from Kings Island. Kings Island, like the entire Cedar theme park family, has the Peanuts license for their kids section of the park. We have Planet Snoopy, which is super fun. Because we're fairly close to the park, we would regularly take our kids to Planet Snoopy, which used to blow their minds. Because of this, our kids took a deep dive into these characters. In my head, Charlie Brown and his friends were perfect animated characters to get obsessed with. It was only after watching some of the more beloved cartoons --and I beg you to separate your sense of nostalgia with what I'm about to say --that I realized those kids are huge jerks. Peanuts cartoons were about a bunch of bullies who practically hung out with Charlie Brown because they loved to comment on his constant failure. The strip might have been better. One thing I realized about a lot of newspaper strips is that they were rarely funny, but more tonally light-hearted than anything else. But those cartoons are about of mean kids, with perhaps the exception of Linus, who just loved discouraging this kid from trying in life.
Maybe that's what I love about The Peanuts Movie as a concept. Yeah, those other movies and shorts ended up being overall family-friendly because my kids didn't pick up on it (OR THEY DID AND THERE'S SOME THERAPY I NEED TO START PAYING FOR!). But the film rectifies the core of that problem. Charlie Brown is still a lovable loser. Nothing he does really comes out right. That's kind of Charlie Brown's defining trait. It's the Little Engine that Could that really can't. But sanding out the rougher edges of the ancillary Peanuts characters changes the whole thing. Charlie Brown's daily life becomes far more heroic in the light of an environment that is mostly supportive, shy of Lucy, Charlie Brown and his try again attitude make a lot more sense. The film vocalizes the small heroism of a kid like Charlie Brown and actively celebrates it. The Little Redhead Girl sees the goodness that is inside him. The movie never makes Charlie creepy or anything, but just cripplingly shy. That's an important distinction to make. The movie picks just the right side of the loser asking out the pretty girl narrative. I'm going to get to that in a second, but it is worth noting that Charlie is actually a pretty good guy. But the fact that he exists in a world where people don't mind him trying and trying again gives him appropriate confidence boosters. The big moment in the movie, which reads more like an anthology of Peanuts strips rather than a cohesive plot, is Charlie's test. Even though Charlie always fails, the idea that he got a perfect score isn't mind-boggling for people. Besides Lucy, no one calls out for a rescore or shames him into thinking that he didn't deserve it. Instead, the class celebrates him and draws their attention on themselves. I love that my kids see that. They know that Charlie Brown made a mistake and still, they are happy that he is celebrated. It's even more rewarding knowing that Charlie Brown is honest once he realizes the mistake that was made.
Charlie Brown isn't creepy. I know, you've probably never even put him in the context of being creepy. But the entire movie, it could be said that he's stalking this girl and the movie validates him for doing so by having the Little Redhead Girl return his affections. What The Peanuts Movie does successfully is that it doesn't punish feelings. Charlie Brown feels what he feels. He never forces himself into her life. If anything, the movie rewards him respecting her. It's a little depressing thinking that this kid doesn't have the confidence to basically talk to her, but he also is dealing with a lot. Rather than punish Charlie for what has to be a stressful childhood, it rewards him by stressing the good that he does throughout the film. The Little Redhead Girl isn't smitten with him, but she respects him. I'm not making this stuff up in an attempt to get some rad analysis into this writing. She straight up lists off all of the altruistic acts he does throughout the film, especially sacrificing his big moment to help with his sister's performance. She may not be enamored by Charlie Brown, the lovable loser. But she sees this self-sacrificing kid and admires that. Rather than thinking that she is above him, she models her life off of her choices. And Charlie, instead of thinking that he's done all of these good things, thinks of himself as unworthy of her affections. The toxicity of a relationship comes from thinking that one needs to be paid and compensated for good behavior. Charlie never really has that attitude. He doesn't fall into the category of "gross good guy" because he's just a kid who does good for good's sake. It's actually shocking to him to notice that people admire that about him.
The movie is just so unabashedly nice. This is a love letter to what Charles Schultz made, but also does a fine job updating the problematic elements of it. Charlie still isn't able to kick the football and that's really fundamental to his character. But he's also the model for sainthood. He bears his cross and refuses to give up, despite the fact that all evidence says that he's going to fail. By making the world cool with failure, Charlie is allowed to shine as a character that we're not laughing at, but laughing with. He's not this traumatized boy. He's just a kid trying to do his best when things don't work out.
R, for mostly sexual things. This is a deep look at sexual harassment. It goes into some pretty dark territory. This is intentionally an uncomfortable movie. The language is not just language, but it has the goal of stressing vulgarity. While this movie has this heavy content, that heavy content is necessary to stress the importance of what is happening. Every piece of adult content is not there to simply be exploitative, but just to stress the reality of the situation. R.
DIRECTOR: Jay Roach
I had my Fox News days. Okay, it wasn't really my Fox News days. I refuse to wear that mantle. When I had satellite radio, I did the 24 hour news cycle thing. When CNN went to commercial, I switched to Fox News. When Fox News went to commercial, I went back to CNN. Believe it or not, I was actually informed for a while. Now, I don't really give Fox News the time of day. I'm not a news junkie like I was before. I don't even give CNN that much space. If I do give any 24 hour news station a glance, it's going to be CNN. Fox News tends to have a pretty rough reputation. I often find that people who defend Fox News tend to be pretty die hard Fox News fans and nothing I can ever say can change their minds. I get it, man. I used to think that both channels did a solid job talking about the news. Now, I roll my eyes pretty hard when I hear the phrase "But did you see the Fox News [thing]?"
Bombshell has a lot to tear apart. Its primary audience is progressives and people who watch every movie. I keep saying this, but I kind of have to. To my conservative friends, I'm a super duper hippie commie who wants to take away guns and let all the illegals into the country. To my democrat friends, I'm never going far enough and my pro-life stance makes me a monster. There is no winning. I know that I consider myself probably a pro-life democrat, which makes me liked by no one. Jay Roach is definitely anti-Fox News, but that is a hard line to change minds. I really liked the movie and think that lots of people should probably watch and listen to what it has to say, but there's no winning when making an anti-Fox News movie. For a guy who gets conservatives, there's nothing that makes conservatives seem even slightly sane. It's not full on beating conservatives in the head, but it also doesn't really forgive them for the insanity of what is going on in this world. For progressives, the movie is self-indulgent. It reaffirms already preconceived notions about what Fox News is all about. If anything, it gives a little sense of superiority over the people in the film. It's a no win situation as a film, which is a bit of the same problem that The Big Short and Vice had going against it.
I keep returning to the no-win element. This seems like it should be a slam dunk. Fox News has a reputation for being gross. Here's one of the really gross things that they did. It should be the end of the story. But the movie really doesn't know how it feels about Fox News. I mean, I know how Jay Roach feels about Fox News. But its job is to make Megyn Kelly, Gretchen Carlson, and Kayla sympathetic. Roach and company clearly don't like conservatives, based on how problematic of a portrayal Kayla is. But also, to shame them on screen destroys the premise of the film. This is a movie about a culture that doesn't support women. That's the message. These women were sexually harassed and abused and they were the ones who were being lambasted in society. Rather than getting support for what they felt they had to do, Fox News and conservative America tried to take them down. It's a terrible comment on society. So, on the one hand, it's stupid to be conservative according to the movie, but not all conservatives are bad? It's a really muddy area. Roach handles the topic as well as he can, but there's a bit of a confusing message throughout, especially when it comes to interpretations of Roger Ailes.
But I kind of appreciate the muddiness of the whole thing. It does a little bit of a dodge and weave thing going on. Originally, I thought the movie was going to do a Rashomon thing. (Why don't I have a review on Rashomon? I've watched it in the last three years!) I thought we were going to get three very different perspectives on the same person. Megyn Kelly thought of Ailes as a father figure who also happens to be a media giant. Gretchen Carlson was going to view him as a sexist pig who thought little of women. Kayla was going to see him as a molester. But the movie eventually abandons the three characterizations of John Lithgow's Ailes into one cohesive sexual abuser. Again, if Bombshell has one thing against it, it's the muddy waters it tells its story in. I'm sure that Ailes and Kelly had an amiable relationship for a while, but the movie is fundamentally about telling truth and truth tellers. Giving this unreliable narrator element to the movie confuses a lot of things. These women, all blonde, are parallels for each other. Yet, they all have both the same relationship and different relationships with Ailes. I want to say that there's a message there. Maybe Roach is trying to make Ailes sympathetic so you hold the same skepticism about whether he did what he did or not. But the follow-through isn't there. It actually abandons this pretense fairly early on.
I also wonder about the inclusion about the secret democrat working at Fox News. This character, played by Kate McKinnon, is confusing as heck. I'm sure that something like this happened at Fox News. But she is there as a moral question mark. Is what she is doing right? Although she comes across as heroic, a quiet voice of dissent in a viper's nest, she doesn't really do anything to upset the waters. She's more concerned with getting ahead. She, if anything, is feeding the viper what it wants. Her story is that she would do anything to get a job in journalism, but she actively hates everything she's reporting on. She claims that she is a liar. I know that she's trapped where she is, but she also acknowledges that she would rather be in the sphere of journalism, even if she considers it corrupt, rather than be out of journalism. She's not trying to make a change from the inside. In fact, the image I have in my head of this character is the sight of beaming smiles at how hilarious today's headlines are. There's also the very odd idea that Margot Robbie's character doesn't think that she's gay. I'm not saying that something like that couldn't happen. I'm more in the ballpark of...it feels underwritten? It's an odd scene to include with very little follow-up. Is it saying that a lot of conservatives are actually way more progressive, but they just don't know it? Again, muddy waters.
The thing is, I'm giving all these comments about how imperfect the movie actually is when it does a lot of good. Like Roach, I muddied the waters of this analysis. When focusing on the harassment scandal of the film, it does the job of selling the ickiness of everything that was happening in Fox News. Perhaps Bill O'Reilly got off a little easier than Ailes, but he's still a monster when everything is said and done. The movie is worth a watch. It mostly hits up there with the Adam McKay movies that would be in the same genre. The performances are great and it does a really good job of being clear with its primary focus. It's just the audience for this movie is a bit puzzling. Regardless, a lot of it works.
The Rescuers (1977)
G, despite the fact that my wife finds this movie to be terrifying. It does get pretty scary at times. I know that a lot of movies that are G involve child endangerment, but rarely does a movie blatantly endanger a child practically as its end goal. The villain is a more terrifying version of Cruella de Vil, which is pretty darned intense. Lots of people find the crocodiles pretty scary. Also, apparently laughing at alcoholics was a thing. My kids handled it very well. My wife was more traumatized than they were. G.
DIRECTORS: John Lounsbery, Wolfgang Reitherman, and Art Stevens
My family movie nights are the deep cut ones. I don't want to watch the Disney movie that I've watched a billion times since having kids. Yeah, there are some Disney classics that I've never gotten around to, but I also wanted to celebrate the kinda crappy years of Disney. These movies are the ones I love, almost entirely because I grew up with them. I'm basically dating myself for my kids because I don't want these movies to be forgotten. Spoiler alert: My next pick is The Love Bug, so I just really want to establish what pond I'm pulling from.
I tease my wife for being scared of this movie, but I think that I was a little scared of this movie growing up too. The huge difference between my wife and I is that I love to be a little scared. There was something kind of forbidden about movies like The Rescuers and The Great Mouse Detective. It felt like I was allowed to see something taboo. It was wholesome, but it wasn't that wholesome. I think it is because we have, as animated as she is, a villain that is kind of grounded in her ambitions. There's no pretense or larger-than-life master plan for Medusa. Sure, it's absurd that there's a pirate treasure. But Medusa's big plan is to get a diamond that is too small for her tiny body to fit in. I'm about to argue something absurd, so please understand that I'm psyching myself up for it, but there's something oddly human about it. The pirate stuff and the mice and everything is window dressing for potentially a problem that the world actually has. (Oh man, I'm reading this and even I'm rolling my eyes.) The Rescuers, despite being kind of an absurd work of fiction for children, is possibly the most haunting because of the way it comments on the disenfranchised.
Penny is an orphan. Yeah, making the orphan the victim is nothing new. But there's this background commentary happening about how Penny likely isn't going to be adopted. I don't know the actual stats on this, so again, be patient. She is a product of a system that has failed her. Because this system is overtaxed, she falls into the hands of people who don't actually care for her. I'm in the camp that it is actually REALLY hard to adopt someone. But the reason that the adoption process is so expensive and so hard to follow through on is because of a history of people abusing the system. Society has been taught that people are basically good and that those people who adopt are modern day saints. I do have to believe that the majority of people who adopt children are wonderful human beings. I have to believe that or else I wouldn't sleep at night. But clearly, the system has been abused enough that these rules are in place to protect children. Penny is part of that silent minority of children who are taken and used to cheat the system. With Medusa and the diamond, that's rich storytelling that won't leave people depressed. But basically, Penny becomes a form of child labor. It is toxic to her health and she never really knows the true love of a family. It's not that this evil Disney plan has the potential to bring about sadness and victimhood; it's that Penny is already a victim and the movie is trying to undo a wrong.
That's what makes Penny so heartbreaking. There's a history behind her character that is never really said, but it is clear from the scenes in the present. We get moments and hints about her "normal" and her "normal" is pretty depressing. Bernard and Bianca's intervention doesn't actually promise her happiness. What it does is give her an opportunity to return to managable. Disney gave Penny a happy ending because this movie oh-so-desperately needs a happy ending, considering how bleak the entire movie is. But really, the goal of these mice is to stop her from dying in a hole. The Rescue Aid Society is borderline a charity that is meant to stop kids from child labor. I started this entire argument by saying the pirate treasure was a bit far-fetched, considering how grounded the actual message is. Um, this is basically a commentary on conflict diamonds and how child labor is used to get these diamonds. Whether that was a conscious choice or not, it really doesn't matter. These two adorable mice offer a tale of hope --possibly false hope --to a world where children are actually exploited. I don't actually know if children often are the direct victims of a Disney villain. I'm talking about children children, not teenagers. If it were teenagers, hoo boy.
Perhaps using Bernard as the unlikely hero doesn't just meet the requirements for good storytelling. After all, most of us have been bred with the DNA of The Little Engine that Could in our moral code. The underdog makes a far more compelling hero than the confident Mary Sue. We get dynamic character change through characters like Bernard. He starts off as a janitor and ends up the hero of the story? Cool. We all like that. But if The Rescuers is an allegory for charity and child labor, Bernard and Bianca kind of make ideal elements to support that metaphor. Bianca, a representative of the Rescue Aid Society, has devoted her entire life to helping the helpless. She is small, yet confident. She has the resources to at least begin the search for these people who need help. By herself, she can do very little. She gets her hands dirty and does her best, but she needs to be pointed in the right direction. Bernard is the avatar for the audience. Watching a PSA, we tend to think that we're not doing much to help others through our actions. (Geez, I'm getting preachy in this breakdown.) But Bernard's willingness to try new things is what ultimately leads Penny to safety. He lacks experience and confidence. It is the fear that our actions really mean anything that cripples Bernard to begin with. Bernard is a good mouse from the beginning of the story, but he is also in that position to rely on other people to do the heavy lifting. But Bernard and Bianca form a symbiotic relationship that end up being exactly what is needed in this scenario. Bianca can have all the resources possible, but it's the help from the little guy that gets the story moving.
Taking all the analytical stuff out, The Rescuers weirdly holds up. I thought this was going to simply be a nostalgia trip. Yeah, I don't love that alcohol plays such a huge part in the movie, but it is adorable and scary at the same time. This was a super fun revisit. I hear The Rescuers Down Under has practically no value, but we'll see if I ever get to that.
Adventures of Zatoichi (1964)
Not rated. Considering that everyone who dies in this movie dies by sword, the blood is actually fairly minimal if not absent completely. There's an implied rape attempt in the movie, which is troubling. But it is stopped early in the scene. That seems like I'm okaying it, which I'm not. I'm more commenting on the graphic nature of the film. Zatoichi kills a bunch of dudes, but you never actually get the vibe that the blade is even getting near any of the people, implying Zatoichi is just that fast. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Perks of being isolated: We watch a family movie every night. The problem with that: I'm watching a lot of family friendly films. That's okay. I mean, I am not against family friendly films. It's just that I don't really feel like adding to the writing list to the point where it gets out of control and that I'm only writing with the same audience in mind. Adventures of Zatoichi was a film that I started before the quarantine and finished the day that the quarantine was instituted. I mentally make these strategies (which is how most strategies are made, I guess) on how to tackle the "to-watch pile." Because there are SO MANY Zatoichi movies, I really have to space them out. But I finally hit another one and I remembered why I have to space them out.
The Zatoichi franchise is complete comfort food. I don't know if that's me being political because these movies aren't, by any stretch of the imagination, bad movies. But they are really, really, REALLY repetitive. I think any franchise that really hits those sequel numbers tend to get a little stale. I'm saying this reflecting on my recent viewing of For Your Eyes Only, because Bond got stale for a while. But I don't think I've seen a franchise so embrace its own formula and repetitiveness like Adventures of Zatoichi. I bet you I could binge every single Zatoichi movie (please don't make me do this) in a really short amount of time and I wouldn't be able to tell you what happened in each movie specifically. They would all basically be the same plot. Like the Lou Ferrigno / Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk, Zatoichi wanders from town-to-town. There's a gangster in town who is feuding with another gangster or the town itself. Everyone underestimates Zatoichi, except for a swordsman who has yet to find an even match. Zatoichi kind of feels love for what he claims is the first time in his life, but abandons any hope of love because of his blindness. He plays the idiot for a while while people trying cheating him. He then has to murder a bunch of bad guys before having a showdown with the amazing swordsman. The. End.
The funny thing is, I always think I don't understand the plot while I'm watching them. I simply assumed it was a weird racist subtext I had running in the back of my brain, but that's probably not actually true. When there are that many entries in the series and the archetypes and plot elements are all the same, the names and details ultimately don't really matter. As long as you kind of know who Zatoichi is, the movie is completely watchable. So what is the drive to watch all of these movies, besides the fact that I own the Criterion box set and I hate knowing that I own movies that I haven't watched my copy of? Like I said, Zatoichi stuff is meatloaf comfort food. I never absolutely adore meatloaf, but there is nothing really challenging about watching these movies. What kind of comes next is a breakdown of why things become completely formulaic. From a business perspective, a studio acknowledges that people come to see this movie. To make more money off of that film, they practically make the film again. If people keep turning out, they lather, rinse, and repeat the process for as long as it stays profitable. But from a psychological perspective, like meatloaf, there is a certain expectation. There is such thing as bad meatloaf. We all have eaten in a cafeteria at one point or another. But the best meatloaf in the world, and I've had some amazing meatloafs, is still meatloaf. And even if a meatloaf looks pretty rough, it probably has a taste that you know what is coming.
Viewers of Zatoichi films want a specific sensation every time that they watch a Zatoichi movie. There has to be a build up. The dramatic irony that comes when we know that Zatoichi can destroy any room of people is remarkably satisfying. There's a reason why dramatic irony is so emotionally movie. Knowing that you are in on a secret does wonderful things for storytelling. There's always that sense of comeuppance that happens. It's instant karma. The scoundrel trying to cheat Zatoichi thinks that he knows more than what everyone else does. He is feeling what we are feeling: we are in on a secret. It's actually situationally ironic that whatever rube tries pulling one over on Zatoichi is unaware of his lack of dramatic irony. (This is all the English teacher in me waxing poetic between teaching classes.) In this case, it is the casino gamblers. In a lot of the Zatoichi movies, it's some kind of gambling establishment that is trying to cheat a blind man. The only thing that an audience is gaining from this moment that is new is how Zatoichi is going to handle this familiar scenario. In this case, Zatoichi slices the fake dice in half, which is pretty rad. Because we never really see the blade move, Zatoichi kind of become Dr. Manhattan, wishing the dice to be split in half.
So really, Zatoichi becomes about tricks. It's the magic trick. The very honest thing about a magic show is the fact that you know the format, but you are just seeing how this performance tweaks expectations. There is no overarching narrative to most magic acts. The performer has a premise and the goal is to see a variation on what is expected. I don't remember writing about this particular director before. Admittedly, I write about Zatoichi movies infrequently enough that I can't remember director names behind these movies. But Adventures of Zatoichi really plays up the trick violence. There's this shot and this is the best takeaway from Adventures of Zatoichi. I'm talking about the top sequence. Like the end of Inception, there's a really long shot of a top spinning. I thought it was super bizarre that the movie was taking cinematic real estate to focus on this spinning top from the beginning of its spin to the end. But there's this absolutely perfect moment, when I let my guard down, that the top splits in half, explaining what had happened. I thought that the sword spun the top, which is cool in itself, I guess. But that also attests to my magic comparison. The expectation was that Zatoichi, with his amazing sword skills, was able to spin a top for a long period of time. My reaction was "Wow, they are really getting their money's worth with the length of the spin" and then the reveal happened. That's a great moment.
It also is telling of what to expect from a Zatoichi movie. Approaching most films, I look for emotional storytelling, compelling characters, or a combination of both. There are other things, but I don't feel like listing all day. Instead, Zatoichi is about small details in technical craft. It is setting up the magic trick with a different result. Some of the results will be the same. Watching Shintaro Katsu remove and return his sword in a split second while people fall to the ground is expected. But that's the magician distracting with the other hand. Zatoichi movies build up a sense of complacency in those actions. The trick is when it doesn't quite go as planned. While the top scene is the coolest thing that happens in the movie, my favorite is when Zatoichi misses the one guy. It's a great comic bit, where the guy chooses to fake his own death because he should be dead by all rights.
There's a story somewhere in here that really isn't explored. I'm often moved by the daddy story. Adventures of Zatoichi is a story of missing fathers and that's something new that can be pulled out of the movie. But because the movie is so obsessed with not really rocking the boat, we only get elements of Zatoichi's origin. It's actually Zatoichi's lack of origin is what keeps the series going. Adventures of Zatoichi is being frugal with their narration. I know that I'm adding my nerd's obsession with canon to something that probably doesn't really care about canon, but being a hoarder with Zatoichi's backstory and mental pitfalls allows the story to keep on going without having to create a thick bible of things that one can and cannot talk about. I like the idea of Zatoichi yearning for family. It makes sense with his character. Zatoichi is defined by his blindness, his skill, and his isolation. Giving a tease to one of those things makes the story somewhat compelling. But I don't ever get the vibe that there will be an emotional resolution to any of these things. I don't think Zatoichi 21 will be the moment where these things actually get called into question.
I might force myself to make my viewing choices more varied, simply because I don't want to write about this the entire time. Be aware, it will probably be some time before I hit the next Zatoichi film, but until then, I'll try to watch more stuff.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Not rated, but this one is pretty brutal for 1955. Someone technically self-immolates, which is probably the first time that I've had to write that word. There's a lot of violence and a lot of implied adultery. There's a real James Bond icky vibe about Mike Hammer, knowing that he just casually makes out with women. There's murder. Straight up murder. That's pretty typical for film noir. Regardless, this one is more intense than others. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Robert Aldrich
Man, I don't want to write about this right now. Without going into specifics, I just put together the most amazing lesson plan for the week of remote teaching. I've basically spent all day yesterday and a lot of my week killing every free moment to give my students the best remote learning experience possible. Now I don't know what to believe. I can't be too hard on anyone. It's their own opinions. But I don't want to write an essay on a movie that I watched a week ago that I have to be smart about. I want to do what everyone else in isolation is doing and curl up under blankets instead of remote teaching and being a smarty pants.
Kiss Me Deadly works because of the end. I have a handful of movies that full under that purview. It's not like Kiss Me Deadly is ever bad, but like Arrival, the end puts the whole beginning into perspective. I' m going to talk about the end a lot, mainly because it is the one thing that really sticks with me. I was remarkably tired when I watched this and had to sit up uncomfortably so I didn't fall asleep. It was for class and that means I had to watch it with a watchful eye. But that might ultimately be a commentary on how normal and kind of boring the movie starts off as. I mean, it starts with Cloris Leachman, whom I will never disparage. But Mike Hammer, as a character, kind of isn't the best. My wife kept on commenting on how she couldn't get past this guy as a protagonist. I never knew that Mike Hammer was an actual film noir protagonist. I thought it was one of those spoofy names. I can't help but jump to the TV show Sledge Hammer. It's just so over-the-top, which kind of fits Mike's personality.
Mike, and this isn't necessarily to the detriment of the film, which I overall enjoyed, is kind of underwritten. A bit of a Mary Sue character himself, Mike is almost entirely the toxic male ego put into a movie. Mike, if you knew him in real life, would be wildly annoying. You would keep him so far away from your life. I want to pretend that the filmmakers and the authors want you to think that he's a little scummy, but the way that the movie presents him is the same thing that happens with a lot of cool antiheroes. Like Rick Sanchez, he's a jerk and we're supposed to support that. Now, I'm a big Rick and Morty fan, but not a fan of the fandom Mike Hammer doesn't really have the self-awareness that Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland give Rick. Part of the entire vibe of this guy is "Isn't it cool that he doesn't really care about the rules or how society works?" Film noir is meant to comment on the dark, existential elements of man's soul. But Mike is such a superficial jerk that I don't know if there is a ton of heavy lifting going on in terms of the character. The movie as a whole has a lot of analysis that needs unpacking. But Mike himself is kind of vapid. He's all punching and kissing. That's it. It's really tough to say that the movie is asking me to go any deeper with him, which is odd because the movie's plot is asking me to go real deep.
That reveal of the Macguffin is absolutely insane. I wrote this response to that for my film class. We read this article talking about the fear of science and secrets. For the most part, I agree with that article, but I don't necessarily agree that the message given in Kiss Me Deadly is about secrets being kept. It's the willful ignorance of knowledge that is being part of the torture. I'm just going to come out and say what the end is because I've buried it deep enough for all intents and purposes. The box that everyone's been after, that's been kind of hidden behind the death of Cloris Leachman. It's just nuclear material that opens like the mouth of hell. It's terrifying. It's the ark of the covenant scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. I woke up real fast when that scene happened. It's so out of left field that I can't even begin to explain the surprise of that moment. Yet, it makes total sense for the era. The fear of nuclear annihilation permeated every element of popular culture during the era, so seeing this white light come out of this box as demons scream is remarkably appropriate.
But there's almost a deliberate attempt to divert from what might be in the box. Mike Hammer, as a protagonist, is so single-minded that any complications that come with this search for the box become almost secondary. Mike is almost trying to solve what the heck happened to Cloris Leachman that, when the box shows up, it is almost a computer error level failure. It's a recursive loop of making sense. And that's almost great. There's this box out there that has very little backstory from Mike Hammer's perspective. It is what a Macguffin should be. It shouldn't matter what is in the box and how it got there. Instead, it just moves the story forward and that's absolutely bizarre. But to compound everything, this Macguffin ultimately matters. It's this commentary on civilization that is absolutely horrifying. Listen, I'm stepping on my own toes here, but I have to call film noir a genre for a second. (Again, it really isn't a genre, but to make this point, I have to go there.) The movie turns from fairly typical film noir into nuclear horror in one move. Like, there is this tonal shift that I haven't really seen in film noir and it is a bizarre one. That scene, with the demon screams, is absolutely horrifying. I associate it with demon screams because I live in 2020 and am holed up in a basement. But those screams had to mirror the victims of the nuclear bombs. I'm just thinking about this right now. Yes, bright light has to be associated with noise. But I can't help but think about the haunting element of voices echoing through space. It's absolutely scary and it works so well.
But Hammer doesn't even think about this moment. Not once. He continues to do what he does. In fact, it's kind of bizarre how all of this seems normal for Hammer. When that right hook comes at the end, it's probably shocking to him as well. There's this entire feeling of normality being disrupted. I don't even know if I want to talk about the multiple endings because I don't know if that was an artistic decision or a studio decision with that call. But Hammer is taken to another plane. It almost becomes this alternate level of consciousness. It's so bizarre that the version I saw ended with Mike on the beach. Yeah, emotionally that's the place to end the movie. But there's this whole worldview that Mike kind of has to accept and he just has to end the movie there. I'm sure that I'm the only guy who comments that Mike is kind of a meathead, so seeing him deal with something that should shake him to his core is interesting. Instead, it kind of just ends like a lot of action movies do. We see the villain get her just desserts and the hero stands in the afterglow. But that's only appropriate in stories where action is the final end. The story begs the viewer to think about the fragility of life, but Mike Hammer is just too much of a blockhead to get anything out of that.
Emotionally, I kind of liked it. It's a bit boring at times, mainly because the relationships between cause-and-effect are really strained. Figuring out how the characters got to the endgame is very challenging, but that endgame is rad. It really is important to stick the landing and this one sticks it really hard. It actually redeems what is kind of a weaker movie.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971)
G for demonology. Look, I understand that the is a faction out there now that have relegated anything having to do with the supernatural and mysticism to the land of offensiveness. I'm not going to deny that demonic forces probably shouldn't be ignored, but the intention of this movie is to have fun with some animation. It just so happens that the movie has a framing narrative that in some circles comes across as a little uncomfortable. Also, like, it's Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Still G.
DIRECTORS: Robert Stevenson and Ward Kimball
Guys, I yell at my kids when they aren't paying attention to the movie. I glare at my wife when she's on her phone for the majority of a movie. This movie marks the beginning of the isolation film collection. Every night, we've been having family movie night and have been taking turns picking the movie. My wife got first pick, so we did Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I had never seen Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It looked darned charming and I was really stoked to see it. I don't think I've mentally checked out of a movie harder than Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
I don't even think I had a phone in front of me. Being about 50 mintues too long, I kept thinking that the movie was over. I mean, I was really grooving on the movie for a long long time. I thought, "How is everyone not talking about this movie? Shouldn't this be up there with Mary Poppins?" I knew that this movie existed, but it always kind of fell outside my watchlist. I make the Mary Poppins comparison because it shares a LOT of DNA with Mary Poppins. Besides the mixed animation / live action stuff, it's basically the same conceit. Woman with magic powers that people doubt becomes a governess of children. Has the dad from Mary Poppins? Yeah, there's stuff going on here with both. And like I said, I was really getting into the first part of the movie. The kids in Bedknobs and Broomsticks are way more hilarious than the Banks family. Those banks kids are just there to look at Mary and get gobsmacked. But these kids? They're super cockney! I mean, the most cockney kids that I've ever seen. I want them all to start reading Don Cheadle's lines from Ocean's Eleven. That's what Mary Poppins really needs, in my book, is just a bunch of people being super cynical and cockney around her. I know we have Burt, but Burt is American cockney and also super in love with Mary in a platonic way. I don't know if there's anything better than hilarious street urchins completely messing with what should be a completely straightforward concept: governess has magic powers / kids gobsmacked. The regularity of the magic in Bedknobs and Broomsticks probably makes it the most redeeming.
But everything after the 60 minute mark can kiss off as far as I am concerned. The movie relies way too much on its charms to carry it throughout the movie. Charm really only goes so far in terms in keeping a movie going for the long haul. I think that's what a lot of people had problems with when it came to Mary Poppins Returns. I loved Mary Poppins Returns. But I also like the character of Mary Poppins. Angela Lansbury's Mrs. Price is great, but there isn't that noticable shift in the kids. There's something remarkably confident about Poppins. Price seems more all-over-the-place and the kids are just along for the ride. It also never really seemed like the orphans (I know, they're orphans!) aren't that sad. Oh man, I just opened a door I wasn't planning on opening. I just realized that the destitute kids from London are less sympathetic than the financially comfortable Banks family. Why is that? The orphans from Bedknobs are so self-motivated that it almost seems like they don't need anyone. Perhaps this is more of a commentary on the direction of the movie. The movie tells us that these kids need a home, but it never shows us that they need a home. Instead, the Banks kids seem to have anything, but they are emotionally distant from their father. Their father is missing, so we see their sadness. There's something powerful, especially in a visual medium, to actually understand the emotional pain that the characters are going through.
Bedknobs and Broomsticks really fails to focus on the character development of anyone, but most importantly the children and Mrs. Price. As much as I like David Tomlinson's character, he's just a piece that doesn't really fit into the story all that much. He's almost there for the progression of a plot that doesn't really matter. We see the characters turn on a lightswitch when it comes to major dynamic choices. Mrs. Price SAYS she doesn't like kids, but really has no failure adapting them into her life. After multiple trips in the TARDIS / Bed, she just happens to like them. They didn't screw up her goal of being a great witch, so everything is really honkey-dorey. It seems like the family bonding is really incidental. While I love the orphans almost blase attitude about magic happening in front of them, that incredulity goes a long way to establishing relationships between all of the characters. There's no winning over. If characters just accept that there's magic, despite not living in a world of magical realism, where is the dynamic aspect. Instead of a major emotional shift, we just have a choice to accept. That is not what really moves me. Trust me, I get moved all the time by kids in peril. But this case, every character at the beginning of the movie is the same character at the end of the movie. Mary Poppins doesn't change, but everyone else in that house does. The lesson of Mary Poppins, at least the film, that being stuck in one's ways is ultimately toxic. There really isn't a lesson behind Bedknobs and Broomsticks, outside of criminally specific moments that are there just to push the plot forward.
What ultimately is left behind is an exercise in craft. I keep dropping Mary Poppins's name around because there creators of this film had to be dropping that name as much as I am. This is 1971. Mary Poppins was 1964. I'm sure everyone was just sitting on their hands, relishing the good ol' days when P.L. Travers was just yelling at everyone. They knew they had the technology to do it. It was a fun time doing it. Why not do it again? And so much of the character animation and designs are reused. Everything just feels a little bit more cheap with Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The lion from Robin Hood? He's the king of the island here, but why it just Prince John from Robin Hood? It's not even Bedknobs and Broomsticks' fault! Robin Hood wouldn't come out until 1973. (Robin Hood, despite being one of my secret favorite Disney films, infamously cut corners in the production of that film.) So much blah is going on here and it's weird to see Disney skimp. I wonder if it's just a problem with '70s Disney. That's a really wide net to cast and I don't want to completely burn bridges here, but the '70s, for as much joy as it gave me, kind of had a lot of lower quality Disney experiences. Bedknobs and Broomsticks is really just trying to capitalize on a previous success and it really doesn't hold water that well.
Again, if the movie was 73 minutes, I would be applauding the living daylights out of this movie. It's the reason that I like Dumbo. You can achieve great success with a simple movie done right. It's just that everything seems overblown and that's what it is, I guess. You know what Bedknobs and Broomsticks is? It's my kids looking at all of the junk food in our pantry and attempting to make a cake out of it. It's too much with almost no real heart to it. I mean, I never thought that I would poo poo a Disney movie that ends with Angela Lansbury fighting Nazis using magic, but I am.
Doctor Sleep (2019)
R for lots of old naked ladies. Also, it's trying to make you feel uncomfortable. There is so much violence done to little kids. There's toddler death. We actually see an 11-year-or-so-old get ripped apart and bloody, including his rotting corpse. The biggest upsetting moments are these graphic images done to kids. There's a lot of violence and a lot of language going on here. If there's a well deserved R, it's probably for Doctor Sleep.
DIRECTOR: Mike Flanagan
I don't know why I think that I've heard good things about this. Maybe my desire for this movie to be absolutely outstanding planted a review that didn't exist in my head. I know nobody who has actually seen this movie. I do concretely remember reading an interview with director Mike Flanagan about this movie, mainly because he was very "Yay Kubrick" about the whole thing. This interview basically said that he was going to marry Stephen King's version of The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining together and create a sequel to that. This is pretty commonplace trivia, but Stephen King loathed Kubrick's version of the movie. But to most people, the Kubrick version is the only version of The Shining out there. Maybe I put my hopes up too much for it to be exactly what I wanted.
Most of the issues I have with Doctor Sleep is that it never elevates itself above the genre. It's a snobby thing to say, but I've always professed that I'm a snob. The silver lining to this concept is that it isn't ashamed of its source material or its genre. Doctor Sleep rests firmly within the fantasy horror genre. If you are in this for just a horror movie that does some impressive nods to its predecessor, Doctor Sleep probably kind of works. But Kubrick's The Shining is something absolutely glorious. It tells King's story --mostly --without feeling the need to define itself by its own genre. Kubrick's Shining is a horror movie that really doesn't feel like a horror movie. It's contained and, really, it's character driven. Much of the movie doesn't give us a wealth of mythology about what it means to have the Shining and it really doesn't care to. Is Jack seeing ghosts or is he just insane? Who cares? (There are actual ghosts, or else he wouldn't have been able to get out of the freezer.) The Shining is a prime example of a movie hinging its bets on being able to tell character drama and tell it well.
However, like a lot of sequels, especially ones that don't give us too many concrete answers in the first entry, Doctor Sleep feels the need to expand on the mythology. I can't blame King for this. King has been teasing the concept of "Shine" not only in The Shining, but in just a wealth of his novels. He may not call it "Shining", but it's always there. But I really don't care what it is. Like the Predator (I KEEP MAKING THIS COMPARISON), it works so much better in the ambiguous. I found the connection with Ewan McGregor appropriate because he's a character in two movies where the mysterious force is over-explained, ruining the concept to begin with. Danny Torrence and his Shining was perfectly vague in the first movie. It was magical, but we also didn't need a million kids running around with that kind of power. It really does feel a little X-Men-y by the time that the movie ends. It seems like so many people have this ability and that they have to live in secret. The idea of vampires that feed on special people is also very like Stephen King. Again, I like the guy a lot. I've given up trying to be above Stephen King and have given him so many props for being a really talented writer. But the psychic vampires seems a bit too on brand at times. The villains did absolutely nothing for me.
I want to talk about the people that Danny Torrence let die in an alcoholic haze. It's really messed up. Like, it's really messed up. I'm normally good with really messed up, but I don't like something in a movie being messed up for messed-up's sake. Danny lets the woman and her kid die by abandoning them in the house. Like the audience, we think that the woman's alive when he leaves his apartment and that the kid will be just fine. Because of Danny's shine, they become part of the ghosts that haunt him after he moves out. It is very disturbing seeing a dead toddler. I had a similar moment in Boys Don't Cry that was pretty upsetting, but that moment contributed to the larger character development. As a storyteller, I would definitely include that moment in the story. Danny's actions needed to have consequences. To get Danny to rock bottom so he can be a recovering alcoholic, that moment had to happen. It's this great parallel to the demons that Jack Torrence carried with his alcoholism and I get that. But the movie doesn't really explore that moment as a huge crutch. It kind of treats that moment like Star Trek did in its more episodic eras. There are episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine where Picard and O'Brien, respectively, live entire lifetimes separately that traumatize them. These moments are rarely addressed again. I don't love that we never see those ghosts again. He places the Overlook ghosts in boxes. Those two ghosts deserve to haunt Danny. Danny being a good man in the face of those ghosts makes him a more compelling protagonist. Instead, it seems like he completely recovers and forgives himself for the death of a toddler.
So what is salvagable? Doctor Sleeps rests in the very heavy shadow of The Shining. It's the elephant in the room. This is a sequel, albeit a non-direct sequel, to The Shining. A large portion of the movie is devoid of Overlook references. Danny, after all, is an adult and living in a small town miles and miles from an abandoned Overlook Hotel. But those moments...aren't interesting? I don't find Rose the Hat to be all that interesting, so much of the movie is really me just begging to get the characters back into the Overlook. I knew it was going to happen. The movie starts off with the score to The Shining. It focuses on that bizarre carpet. Flanagan takes great pride in recreating scenes from The Shining with new actors (which I suppose I should discuss at some point in this). Teasing The Shining is only a reminder of all the good stuff we should be seeing. The most impressive thing that Flanagan achieves is the recreation of what Kubrick did the first time. It's kind of Ready Player One, but more likely it is closer to what Gus Van Sant did with Psycho. Psycho was a hot mess, but it was an experimental hot mess that needed to happen. The takeaway is that we see experiments in technicality that are fascinating. When Danny returns to the Overlook, the movie gets way less boring. But the tone never really fixes itself. It still feels like the movie is out for scares rather than anything to really think about.
So, the recasting, you say? Yeah, I said it and I'm still saying it. But that's only because I've been isolated for almost a week and I have to talk to someone. (For all I know, I'm writing, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" right now). Alex Essoe does a Shelley Duvall impression. It's a pretty good impression. Carl Lumbly, similarly, does a pretty good Scatman Crothers impression. It sounds really silly coming out of Alex Essoe, but I'll forgive it. Henry Thomas...doesn't do a Jack Nicholson impression? You know, the easy impression of the group. I get that he's melding The Bartender and Jack into one, but Danny calls him "Dad", so keep that in mind. Alex Essoe is a really weird choice for Wendy Torrence. I think we see the philosophy in casting between Kubrick in '80 and Flanagan in '19. Shelley Duvall is not a traditional starlet. She was cast as a character actor tied directly to her skill as an actress. It's weird how pretty they made Alex Essoe. It's like we couldn't handle someone who looked like a real human being to play this mom. There's something so quaint about the idea of re-casting look and sound-alikes for a movie like this. We are so knee deep in motion capture stuff that I simply expect to see a young Jack Nicholson in the movie and a young Shelley Duvall. But that's me. I really like those moments and I spent a lot of time dealing with the feeling of "That's a really good impression" versus "That's the character."
I wanted so much for Doctor Sleep to be a work of art. It's just a movie. It's a very forgettable movie. It's going to be 2010, but at least this one acknowledges the aesthetic choices of the first one. I don't regret watching it, but I just needed it to step outside the box of horror for a second and to say something.
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
It's a James Bond PG. I swear, James Bond movies got away with murder (that's what the license to kill is for!) when it came to getting PG ratings. There's straight up brief nudity in this one. I watched these movies over and over and over as a kid and I never noticed nudity. There's a full on chest exposure during on of Bond's sex scenes. (It's weird that I watched these movies as a kid, the more I think about it.) Also, Bond murders a man in a wheelchair and executes someone by shoving his teetering vehicle off a cliff. Admittedly, both of these guys were very bad people, but it's straight up murder in those cases. It's a Bond movie. Sex and violence are the norm. PG.
DIRECTOR: John Glen
Is it weird that I'm getting used to isolation? I actually played a video game yesterday. (I forced myself to take time to myself and the world didn't fall apart. I would like to thank my wife for video game time.) When they announced that they were making another James Bond movie, No Time to Die, I thought it would inspire me to binge the rest of the Bond movies again. I was a huge Bond fan as a kid. I have them borderline memorized. I don't know what it was about those movies that made me return to the well over and over again. I watched Moonraker and found myself way more bored than normal. I then stopped and forgot about the Bond plan altogether. When I saw trailers for No Time to Die, I thought it was too late to continue the franchise. After all, I don't want to JUST be watching Bond movies. This isn't like the MCU movies where I knocked them all out before Infinity War. This is a lot of repetition and I wanted to look at them fresh.
The thing about For Your Eyes Only is that I've never really cared for it. I don't know what it is about the movie. (Well, I kind of do now, because I'm forcing myself to write about it.) A lot of people like For Your Eyes Only,. While there are silly elements to the movie, it might be the most straightforward Bond movie in the Roger Moore era. Roger Moore always defined his Bond through its absurdity. I don't mean that in a bad way. A lot of people are dismissive of the Roger Moore era of Bond. I think it's fine. If anything, it defined that Bond is not just one thing. The only thing that the different eras have in common is wanton violence and misogyny. I can't say that I'm proud that I enjoy these movies. But I also kind of get them at the same time. But For Your Eyes Only read like it was wildly embarrassed about the content that Moore was producing. Roger Moore's era was wantonly silly, never more so than Moonraker. Moonraker set this dangerous precedent that kind of led to For Your Eyes Only trying to be closer to the Sean Connery films. Moonraker is almost a parody of a movie. It can claim that it was an homage to all of the great science fiction that was coming out in the surrounding years, including Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Instead of worrying about making a good Bond movie, they wanted to capitalize on what culture was talking about. As a shift from that subjectively-could-be-considered-a-mistake (because I don't actually hate Moonraker), the franchise knee-jerked into the polar opposite. For a Roger Moore movie, it is a really grounded film.
But Moore kind of relished in a bit of silliness. It's not like For Your Eyes Only is an overtly serious film. It just is the most serious of the Moore era. Maybe you could plug his final film A View to a Kill into that slot, but that was also more of the element of times-a-changin'. Bond's biggest problem had always been that the stories were getting stale. I'm never actually sure that we'll always have another Bond movie on the horizon. After Timothy Dalton, there was definitely this shift from classic Bond to nu-Bond. I always consider Timothy Dalton's Bond to be the Paul McGann for Doctor Who. I'm never quite sure whether or not to consider him to be part of the classic era or the new era. I mentally am putting Maurice Binder's time on the opening credits as the breaking point between classic and Nu-Bond. However, nowadays, I'm expecting Bond to retire for the long haul. It's always exciting news that they will be making another James Bond movie. Yeah, the movies make money, but the era doesn't exactly welcome the approach of a new entry in this franchise because of its backwards ways. The movies now have to be pretty good and somewhat original because there's no guarantee that these movies will keep on going. For Your Eyes Only really stresses that the spectre (pun intended) of cancellation wasn't really an issue because the stories tend to be the exact same thing over and over again.
The ATAC unit is really never the threat in this one. If Hitchcock could label the ATAC, it is the fundamental Macguffin. We never really get to see the ATAC in action. It's so nondescript that we find out that basically it does the exact same thing that Bond uses to defeat Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me. It's like the movie didn't even attempt to make a compelling story. Instead, it focused to an abnormal level on the coolness of the setting. Originally, I was going to say that I don't think that there was a Bond movie that was so obsessed with its culture than For Your Eyes Only and its setting of Greece. But then again, I also completely forgot about You Only Live Twice, which is so locked in Japan that it actually gets pretty racist about the whole thing. There are a lot of movies that are married to their settings, but For Your Eyes Only really embraces cultural norms and expectations more than some of the other films do. (Again, You Only Live Twice...) Melina Havelock as the Greek woman seeking revenge actually straight up name drops a reference to being Elektra. The movie establishes everything we need to know about her character from this moment. It creates an interesting dynamic for Bond. If anything is really successful for the movie, it's the idea that Melina Havelock is perhaps a better Agent XXX than what was seen in The Spy Who Loved Me. Because she is an independent agent who is able to handle herself, she gives the character some agency.
But that also being said, everything is kind of wishy washy. There was this licensed 24 video game for PS2. In that, the cops come after Jack Bauer. The way that the game was programmed, the cop cars were always instructed to take the shortest possible route to get Jack Bauer. What ended up happening was that the cop cars would take a B-line right into Bauer and crash into everything along the way. It's absolute chaos to the point where it's silly. Melina Havelock is kind of that. While I love the idea for her character, a woman with a crossbow completely hell-bent on revenge, her motivation is really under-thought. We don't really get any nuance with her character because her only goal is to get revenge...until it isn't her goal for some reason. There's this great line that I keep quoting from For Your Eyes Only that the movie itself is quoting, "Before setting out on revenge, dig two graves." It's such a cool establishment of what the movie is going to be about. But the movie is pulling itself in every direction and the entire concept of revenge consuming someone is really relegated to the back of the story. Melina is driven by revenge. But instead of baby steps to developing a sense of empathy, it's very much a light switch that ultimately doesn't really matter. Melina doesn't kill Kristatos because she really has a strong change of heart (which could be argued in that split second that she did), but because someone else killed him first. Yeah, Bond's prophesy is fulfilled, but more incidentally than anything poetically.
On a closing note, it's kind of cringey / the-worst-form-of-adorable to watch Bond try to be progressive. There's this really weird subplot with Bibi, implied to be a high school figure skater prepping for the Olympics. Bond clearly acknowledges that there is an inappropriateness to this being a sexual relation, which thumbs up. But also, Bibi is sexualized at the same time. Bond, to get what he needs, flirts with Bibi instead of shutting that down. I know that this is the first time that Bond has distanced himself from a heterosexual relation, but I don't know if the filmmakers really knew what side of the line to put Bond on. He teases her for her age, but also makes winky-faces at her, implying that her sexuality is healthy. It's really uncomfortable and I don't really know if it is sending the message that it intends to say.
Yeah, I enjoyed For Your Eyes Only more than I thought I would, considering that I never really cared for it. The story is borderline non-existent and they really wanted to create another Red Grant character, but there's something at least slightly interesting with some of the characterizations and stunt sequences. OH, EXCEPT FOR THE "I'll buy you a delicatessen! In stainless steel!" What was that about?
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.