Scream VI (2023)
Rated R and this one probably deserves it the most. I remember cringing in Scream 2 with the knife through the bathroom stall. Yeah, there were a lot of vocalized "Oh geez." It never gets into torture levels, but this is a really violent movie, even for the Scream franchise. As per yoozh (the acceptable spelling of the shortening of "usual), there's swearing and sex jokes without actually having on screen nudity. There's talk about date rape as well.
DIRECTORS: Matt Bertinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
Man alive, I'm glad I rewatched Scream because I forgot everything about that movie outside of mostly liking it. The thing is, I'm kind of an expert on Scream, Scream 2, and Scream 3. Scream 4, despite a second watching, is still kind of a haze. All you need to know is that Kirby exists and that she wasn't the killer in that one. And somehow, Scream VI became the second best Scream movie, even without any Sydney Prescott in it. I'm on board.
I really wish that I was posting this immediately. I want to get it while the FOMO is still kind of palpable. The only problem with being ahead of writing (because I'll tell you, it's awesome), is that no one cares about the Oscar nominations at this point. But one a day for a lot of days takes a while and I'm not burning off all that labor-intensive content. So let's talk about Scream VI, way after anyone really gives a darn about Scream VI. Scream VI works for so many reasons. If I put those reasons on paper, you'd have a handful of reasons for it not to work. In an attempt to not get list-y, I'm going to try to write slowly and in an organized fashion. You know, the method that English teachers like me swear by (despite making a blog mostly composed of word vomit?).
I need to talk first about how Ghostface is straight up scary in this movie. Ghostface, a name I hate writing out, has always been someone who is a killer, but lives in the real world. The thing I always dug about Scream is that it always acts a commentary on fandom. There's always something a little pathetic about the villains once they are revealed. Billy Loomis was a loner on the other side of town. Stu Macher was a spoiled rich kid with too much time. Heck, Mrs. Loomis wasn't suspected because she was a tiny little lady that you could probably push over. But there's a couple of scenes in this movie where Ghostface comes across like Michael Myers. Now, normally, I would be bemoaning this. (I SHOULD POINT OUT RIGHT NOW THAT I'VE ALWAYS TALKED ABOUT SPOILERS, SO I'M STRAIGHT UP GOING TO DROP THE KILLERS NAMES AND MOTIVES THROUGHOUT THIS PIECE. I DON'T NORMALLY MAKE SPOILER WARNINGS LIKE THIS.) But golly, it makes so much sense why, sometimes, Ghostface is just a tank. Detective Bailey is a cop and a sadist. He's probably the first Ghostface who regularly works out and is probably a doomsday prepper or something like that. He's committed to being a nutbar before he decided to become Ghostface. That scene in the bodega seems like nothing is going to touch him. Ghostface has always been someone you can temporarily dispatch and he'll run away, like a video game or something. Not so much here. He just booms his way through things and it's upsetting. They always throw in that "The old rules don't apply anymore." Yeah, I finally believe that. That line about not caring about movies? Yeah, thank you for understanding that meta only works so far. Bailey's need to kill his son's killers makes way more sense as motivation than simply wanting to be famous.
New York should not work as a location for a horror movie by the way. I mean, it does. But there's something about sleepy little hamlet that is haunting. The notion of Woodsboro being the home too all of these Stab reenactments works because there's always a limited suspect list. I'm going to try to piece together why the suspect list stays small in Scream VI, and that comes from the notion that Scream VI is a direct sequel to Scream (the reboot). Knowing that this isn't about Maureen Prescott (whose name isn't mentioned once in this movie, to my understanding) and that it's all about Richie keeps the suspect pool small. Sure, we have to understand that we don't know that three characters in the movie are Richie's siblings. But there's this suspension of disbelief that one of the people in the room has to have a tie to Richie. For all intents and purposes, it could have characters outside the group of friends. But that's why Jason and Greg work so well to establish the rules. (For all my love of this movie, I want to talk about the alternate reality where Jason and Greg are the lead villains of this story.) Because Jason and Greg are only tangentially related to the characters, we understand that it has to be someone in the friend group. Jason and Greg, being distant classmates, defeats the idea that someone outside of a personal relation to Sam and Tara could be the killer.
Let's divert from things I love about Scream VI to Jason. I love the openings of the Scream movies...except for 4. A very special sorry to everyone involved in that opening. It's not the actors' faults. It's just that I can't make heads-or-tails of that opening. But Scream VI answers so many things I had about how to make New York work as a location. After all, the entire notion of New York is that it is overly crowded. LA in Scream 3 was weirdly absent and depopulated for being a sprawling metropolis. But that opening with Jason in the alley is fundamentally perfect for how the city acts as a character. This version of New York is the worst of us. If the world of Scream is a world built on idolizing villains, even in the most tasteless ways, seeing how people choose not to see violence is fascinating. It never really feels fake. (Man, I'm doing it again. I'm talking more about New York than Jason.) Let's get back to Jason. Watching that scene where Laura is killed, it fulfills the needs of the opening of the film. It's a cool reminder of the protocols of Scream.
But when Jason takes off his mask the opening titles don't appear, oh my goodness. There was this moment that I thought that Scream had truly redefined itself. I mean, every article I read about Scream VI was that it was a gamechanger and I thought the gamechanger involved Jason. Again, this is Alternate Universe Tim talking. Scream VI was such a banger of a horror movie that I don't want to detract from what I saw. But Scream's formula is ultimately a formula. The surprises come from the reveals. Some of those reveals are more disappointing than others. See, as much as I liked the last Scream, the reveal of Richie and Amber as the killers is a little vapid. If anything, Sam and Tara had more connection to anything in the story than Richie and Amber. So when we see Jason take off that mask, there's part of me that wants to imbue the villain with the amount of attention the hero gets, which is something is both congruent with the message of these most recent Scream movies by being so blatantly against what the message is. Like I said, the world of Scream is a cynical one. The world embraces serial killers in Scream as if they are all a kind of game. As satire, we have to take that criticism. But the notion that the biggest revenge that one can take on Richie and Amber is by keeping their identities secret is beyond me.
Which brings me to Gale. Gale has become a depressing character. One of her fundamental traits has become never becoming a better person. The lesson that Gale always learns in these movies is to put people first and career second. Yet, every time that there's a new killer on the loose, we see her knee deep in her career, sacrificing the little guy to get ahead. There's always this understanding that Gale needs an arc, but by placing Scream and Scream VI so close together, we are now aware that Gale is actually not a good person. It's depressing, but it's also what we've earned by having Gale in every one of these movies. She's had the opportunity to change, but we realistically know that she will not. My goodness, that is bleak, considering that Scream acts as satire. Instead of Gale having relapses, Gale barely has a moment to keep the promise that she made at the end of the last Scream movie. Instead, we've just embraced her for her terrible commitment to her friends.
But the thing that makes me love this movie is the lack of Sydney. I know. I would have loved to have Neve Campbell back and I know that the studio was doing her rotten by offering her little money. But Sydney's story, for all intents and purposes, is done. Gale oddly makes way more sense than Sydney, especially in this story. The thing is, and I mentoned this earlier, is that Maureen's story is done. There has to be a degree of realism that was almost completely shattered by the retconning done in Scream 3. Maureen became the center of a soap opera that reached absurd levels. The odds that Maureen Prescott caused that level of insane trauma just by following her dreams of going out to Hollywood almost demonized her. I know that we have no right to be mad at Maureen (outside of abandoning her family), but the odds that so many serial killers were the byproducts of her infidelity is a little silly. Yeah, the very notion that so many people want to get invested in the Ghostface story is a little absurd. But I also get that Detective Bailey separating himself from the narrative of Sydney Prescott makes way more sense than anything I've seen the franchise do for a while.
Scream VI just works. It looks different. It feels different. And yet, it ultimately is a Scream movie that was made because the directors were having fun making the last one. If anything, it ironed out some of the weaker stuff in the last one and made it work. Is the whole thing perfect? No, I think Detective Bailey gets a little nerfed once he's unveiled to be the killer. I also absolutely think that Kirby should have been the killer because she's not the cult figure for any good reason. There's good stuff here and it's all about a good who-dunnit. Maybe it's why, for a guy who only likes horror once in a while, to get really excited for Scream movies. They are really good whodunnits with a slightly different vibe every time.
Tell It Like a Woman (2022)
Not rated...again. Was 2022 the year that the MPAA just phoned in and said that they we're going to give ratings to films? Anyway, the closest thing to issues that might be offensive to younger audiences is that many of the women in these stories are treated poorly. One deals with schizophrenia, so it is just said. There seems to be a woman with DID. Also, there's the story of domestic abuse. There's implications of sex work done in one of the stories as well. There's some language, as far as I remember. Regardless, not rated.
DIRECTORS: Taraji P. Henson, Sylvia Carobbio, Catherine Hardwicke, Mipo Oh, Lucia Puenzo, Maria Sole Tognazzi, and Leena Yadav
Oh dear. Oh dear dear dear dear dear. So much went wrong with this movie. It hurts to almost think about this film. This is the last movie off of my list of Oscar nominations. My inbox will be cleared out if I can just remove this movie from the list. But I'll tell you what. There's going to be nothing flattering about this review. The thing about the "Best Song" or "Costume" categories is that you have to sign up for the idea that a bad movie has something that really works well. You aren't judging the movie as a whole. The Academy is judging a single element. But even the worst of these movies tend to be watchable. I don't know how this movie was made. Maybe it is an example of complete control over content. But, boy. This movie looks bad. (In the sense of being visually awful).
I tend to freak out about writing about anthology films. There's no single throughline in a lot of them. Especially movies like Tell It Like a Woman have different voices talking about femininity, there's no one person to pin it on. I suppose the nicest thing I can say about something like this is that some of the stories kind of work. Nothing is a real grand slam, but the stories work. I don't know what it is about the diminishing returns of anthology films either. When I saw Paris, Je T'aime, I loved it. Then came New York, I Love You and I was less excited about it. Finally came Berlin, I Love You (which should have been in German, right?) and I just got straight up mad. It almost feels like Tell It Like a Woman is part of that franchise, simply due to format. Maybe it is because all of the best storytellers already came out for the first movie and we kind of just take who shows up for the other films. But I will tell you, Tell It Like a Woman feels cheap throughout. The other movies I mentioned have a certain degree of prestige. I read that Tell It Like a Woman was released on VOD? It feels like it. Anyway, I freak out about these movies because I don't know what to say about anthologies. But if I write a paragraph about each movie, that thing writes itself, right? Besides, I have the benefit of knowing that there's going to be a dopamine rush knowing that my To-Do List is done and that I can take a mini-vacation from writing. Fingers, don't fail me now!
It's odd how "Pepcy & Kim" is the biggest crime out of these movies (with maybe a bit of a finger wag at "Aria" because it starts off the whole thing. I know why it did and it's for a dumb reason. The first movie on the list is meant to grab attention. "Taraji P. Henson directed this?! I know her!" That's the entire reasoning behind putting this movie first. I'll tell you why that's a dumb idea. The entire piece would have been better if this movie was stuck dead center of the pile. "Pepcy & Kim" looks cheap. Not all of the shorts do. Some of them actually have some visual quality behind them. While none of the stories necessarily knocked me back, I could have been tricked into thinking that this movie had some quality to it if "Pepcy & Kim" wasn't first. The short is so poorly made and so cheaply made that I had to Google all of Tell It Like a Woman. That camera shaking effect did nothing for the film. Considering that this is a story about marginalized Black women, it should have been crafted and honed. Instead, it feels like community theater coupled with first year film students. I like the idea of the story, but so much of it tarnished by hamfisted execution.
"Elbows Deep" was written by Catherine Hardwicke, who wrote "Pepcy & Kim". You can kind of tell. It's directed by Hardwicke, who wisely plays it a little safer on the narrative elements. It's a very basic story. Both "Pepcy & Kim" and "Elbows Deep" are about true heroes of mental health and I thought that was going to be the theme of the whole anthology based on these two shorts. (This is why it is important to plan ordering. Albums are analyzed closely before dropping tracks so it doesn't feel like a mixtape.) Like with the first short, the acting is rough because the script is...not good? Everything feels disjointed. I get the vibe that Cara Delevingne really thinks that what she's doing is important (and I don't blame her!), but it comes across as more preachy. Part of that is that we don't really get the subjects of mental illness in a state that they have a goal. If anything, Delevingne is just playing schizophrenic. That's it. It's kind of an ABC Afterschool Special about the dangers of drugs. While important, no one really considers it impressive cinema. But points should be awarded for making the visuals watchable.
"Lagonegro" is the first short where I had hope for the movie. It's a gorgeously shot short (say that a bunch of times fast), but I wonder if it is just smart to film things in Italy because Italy is so beautiful. There's a story here and there's stuff to mine. I wish so much of the movie didn't have Eva Longoria on her phone because that feels like the most cheap way to get information across. Instead of having the element that big budget films do, we know that Longoria is just talking to herself and delivering far too much exposition for the sake of keeping the story going. But the character's motivations to balance work and family is something that at least is kind of valuable. I'm going to feel really awkward, but casting such a big name actress, whose background is LatinX as an Italian really sticks out. It's not to say that it can't be done. But it also stands in the way from really investing in the character. It's really hard to bond with characters in a short. When I'm spending the majority of the short trying to figure out if Eva Longoria knows Italian or if she just memorized things phonetically, that's probably not great for the overall digestion of the piece.
"A Week in My Life", oddly and for no reason, might be my favorite of the shorts. There's something incredibly serene in the knowledge that this is a story of nothing else but the frustrations of being a full-time mother. It might be the movie that embraces the notion of a short the best. I've been writing about the International pictures for the Academy Awards and commenting on how these full length movies focus on such a simple subject matter that they should be shorts. This might be my example that I give. We get a sense of pacing in the movie by the progression of the days of the week. There's something almost Groundhog Day about the whole thing. It's the same behaviors, but somehow it gets more and more overwhelming as time goes by. Yeah, the end is a little bit cornball, but I really like it. It is a natural conclusion that both alleviates the misery that the mother is going through while also validating the character's existence. It's not perfect because its scope is so small, but I did like this one the best.
Now I'm unfortunately embracing the straight white male stereotype and I'm a little ashamed. (But not ashamed enough not to point the following out.) If you knew that Tell It Like a Woman was about women telling stories about women, "Unspoken" is the one that most embraces that. It has an element of Lifetime behind it. It almost fits tropes all the way through. There is the strong doctor who has to put her family on the backburner yet again. Then we find a woman who has been abused and her abuser is there. While "A Week in My Life" may have wisely kept the story simple, "Unspoken" needs to build a plot into this because we've seen these archetypes before. Domestic abuse is a real problem, especially with men abusing women. But if we become placated into treating people like thes simply as poorly constructed archetypes, it somehow becomes less real. Nothing about this really felt real. It looks pretty and the pacing is on par with most short films. It just does a disservice to abused women when it should be deep diving into this subject matter. Also, spelling is important.
I was mentally done by the time "Sharing a Ride" came along. My wife has this notion that live action shorts almost have no purpose for existing. They seem like they're made for the sake of getting Oscars. I don't agree with her, but I also don't have the mental ammunition to fight that argument in the least, especially when it comes to shorts like "Sharing a Ride." Visually, the director wanted to do something cool. But there's something almost Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin about the whole thing. This is a story about basic empathy, aimed particularly at cis upper class women. Okay, I love it. Why is everyone acting so weird? The motivations seem really weird and it just screams like it wants to be artsier than it actually is. I don't really know how this plastic surgeon gets from the beginning of the story to the end outside of the fact that she has a weird spiritual and mental break from who she is in the beginning of the scene. It's Ebenezer Scrooge without any of the slow change that happens over the course of "A Christmas Carol." It's just bananas.
Finally "Aria". I wanted to love this one so much. When I saw that one of the shorts was animation and it was going to be the last one, I kind of had my hopes up. I was desperately counting down now. I had thrown my phone across the couch so I couldn't distract myself and I had actually gotten up to pick it up twice because I needed to know that I was almost done with this movie. It starts off strong and I kind of like the minimalist animation and character designs. But once the creature escapes its cage, I realized it was minimalist because it either wasn't very good, they didn't have any money, or they didn't have any time. Realistically, it was all three. The metaphor of being trapped in cages feels like a freshman level philosophy class. You could have told the exact same story if the story was told out of animated doodles in the margins of a composition book. At least there would have been a meta element to the story with a cool visual approach. Instead, this last one ended up being almost soul-crushingly empty. I left hating the movie, which is rough.
Do you know how much I needed the woman's anthology film to succeed? I feel like it's becoming my own little sexist thing that I keep saying with movies. But nothing about this anthology was great. There was the one scene that was good and one scene that probably could be good with some tweaking. But everything about this felt rushed and cheap and that's the last thing such an important movie needed.
PG-13, but mostly because of the suicide that happens throughout. This is about suicide in homosexual culture, especially in adolescents. It's a rough subject and the entire movie is saturated with themes of responsibility in the wake of a tragedy. There's some stuff that could be considered hate crimes. Still PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Lukas Dhont
As we started getting close to the end of the Oscar list (I still don't know if I'm going to watch Avatar: The Way of Water or not), things kind of got rough. I don't think it was intentional. It's not like we saved the worst movies for the end. Maybe there was a subconscious element to that. But really, it came down to the International Feature Films (which I thought used to be named "Foreign Language Films", making me question why The Banshees of Inisherin wasn't on that list.) Usually, the international pictures were always a bit hard to get a hold of, maybe because of international release dates being different. But the only one we couldn't get a hold of was The Quiet Girl because it doesn't come out until the end of the month. Still, the international pictures, films I usually like, were a bit of a slog again.
Like with EO and All That Breathes, Close was a movie that absolutely should have been a short. I'm not an editing guy, but I think I could have easily cut half-an-hour off of this movie and it would have actually worked better. I think that comes from a notion of simplicity. Simple isn't bad. If anything, there's something absolutely beautiful that a movie that is laser focused on one idea and tells it well. As much as I'm already poo-pooing Close, it does a lot right. It captures something very difficult to translate in film, the confusion of growing up coupled with elements of burgeoning sexuality. Once again, to save time, I'm not going to include the accents while writing. Please excuse me, but I have a difficult time when typing quickly figuring out the combinations of keys to make that happen. Leo is this fully fleshed out character that benefits from a third person limited perspective. While there are scenes without Leo in it, the central focus is so on Leo that Remi comes across as an enigma. The result is what the movie probably intended: Leo's relationship status and culpability for Remi's death are extremely confusing.
But beyond that, the message gets a bit muddy. I kind of want this movie to do the impossible. I want the movie to feel like Remi's death is Leo's fault AND stress that mental health is not the burden of a thirteen-year-old boy. Yeah, we want to have the emotional journey that Leo is going through. While he's thirteen, there's something universal about the confusing feelings that people have for each other. Okay. That's reasonable. In terms of watching characterization, I want Leo to go through the gauntlet of figuring out what suicide is all about and questioning his every action. There's something there. Suicide is a confusing topic and there's no clear right answer. Adults struggle with it; teenagers struggle with it even more. But the movie, due to the camera being so focused on Leo, never really gets the message that Remi clearly had undiagnosed depression and that nothing he did was his fault. There's a little bit of that, when Remi's mother initially accuses Leo of her son's death. there's one message. Yes, Mom immediately takes back her accusation. But I don't think that Leo, and by proxy the audience, gets the message that needs to be conveyed there.
It's all because, the entire time with Leo, I was thinking that Leo has the right to question what is going on both physically and emotionally with his friend. We're all on the outside. We can clearly see that Leo is gay. (My wife argued that Remi might not have been gay until way later in the movie.) We have the benefit of being removed from the situation. We see that Leo starts "butching himself up" when he attends school. There's a cause and effect that we have the benefit of distance to explore. But from Leo's perspective, he's thirteen. Who knows who they are at thirteen? Other people can tell us, but it's natural for Leo to question his own sexuality. But let's say that Leo made peace with the notion that he's probably gay. Let's give him an amazing sense of insight. As much as friendship and relationships matter, Leo's journey is not to make sure that Remi doesn't kill himself or explode over jealous moments. I know that it made Leo look pretty bad throughout the movie. But no one is contractually obliged to be in a relationship with someone else.
Yes, Leo and Remi were extremely close at the beginning of the movie. It really implies that both sets of parents knew about the unstated and unclear relationship between them both and were cool with it. But they're thirteen. As much as Leo comes across as a stereotype, being gay doesn't mean being one thing. I don't want to say that this story wasn't about homosexuality. But thirteen is this age where people find so many other parts of themselves. If I was the same person my entire life, I'm clearly not exploring the potentiality of life. I don't think that Leo is necessarily lying to himself; I think that Leo is experimenting and living life to the fullest. There's this misconception that living life to the fullest is always this joyful thing. It's about stepping out of comfort zones and exploring new things. I get the vibe that Close is damning Leo for his behavior with Remi. Sure, there was probably a better way to handle a lot of it, but this kid is still just a kid, for goodness' sake!
I do wonder what the obsession was with this movie and hockey. Here's me unpacking things as I was watching it. "Okay, to redefine himself, he's going to do a tryhard and join a masculine sports team. I hope he can skate." "Oh, he said he can skate, but he doesn't seem that good at it." "Oh, another hockey scene." All this eventually leads up to "Is this a hockey movie?" The answer, of course, is no. This is not a hockey movie. But the movie kind of forgets that the point of the hockey was an attempt to redefine himself so that he doesn't have to be thought of as the gay kid or the gay kid who lost his boyfriend kind of. I don't really get that Leo ever really cares about hockey or anything that he's redefined himself as. This is where my half-hour of movie would get cut out. I get that we need to see time pass and him grow more and more confused about his feelings about Remi. But it never really escalates so much as has a holding pattern as Leo gets really good at skating. I like the idea that Leo can communicate what seems incommunicable by talking to others. After all, even the bullies, oddly enough, are trying (yet failing!) exude empathy.
It's kind of all circling back to why I want this movie to be a short. That limited perspective does damage to a far greater conversation. The movie should absolutely have Leo as the protagonist. That's the core of the film. He's the foundation. His emotions are what matters. But most stories have a clear protagonist while exploring the greater world of suicide. As a short, Leo can have this limited perspective. People can say things that should be consoling and Leo can lose it on them. That's actually a fascinating short. But it almost feels like the movie forgot what it is was supposed to be because as Leo embraces his myopic perspective, generally lacking greater empathy as a thirteen-year-old, there are important things that happen that we never get to take a part of. For example, there are hints that his family are really concerned about him, but we can't ever really glean that because we only get what Leo sees. This is one of those movies where a cool concept (in this case, limited information) hinders the greater story and forces the movie to deal with a lot of filler.
I really want to like this movie. There's something absolutely brilliant about it. The only problem is, the structure gets in the way. If the point of storytelling is to communicate ideas, only one idea really gets through and that idea is rough to the point of almost being problematic. This could have been one of those great films, but instead it kind of comes across as boring, losing its way once Remi kills himself. Like a thirteen-year-old often doesn't know what to do, neither does the movie.
Not rated, but it gets really sad. The most noticable thing about this movie, which made me think that this movie was going to be R, was the fact that the donkey is beaten savagely with baseball bats. There's death kind of pervading the whole movie, both figuratively and metaphorically. Then there's a very weird incest thing that I can't make heads or tails of. Still, not rated.
DIRECTOR: Jerry Skolimowski
I actually don't know what to think about this movie. This was something running through my head the entire movie. I genuinely was saying, "I don't know if I absolutely love this movie or absolutely hate this movie." I don't know why a middle ground was not an option. I'm going to lean into love, mainly because my wife did not care for this movie. Sure, it's preachy as can be, but that almost made it a bigger sell for me.
EO has the bones of a short film. I think I said the same thing about All That Breathes, but I straight up hated that movie. There is something that is so simple about the structure of EO that it almost makes its point in the first minute of the movie. This is another one of those, the-writer-hates-himself-for-doing-this moments, but I am going to compare something to Family Guy. Yeah. That's me today. I'm drinking water out of a plastic cup and comparing an animal rights film to Family Guy. While I wouldn't say that I'm necessarily a Family Guy fan, I find it entertaining. If I had to break down what makes Family Guy funny is the notion of taking an absurd concept and extending it to the point beyond belief. I know, there's more to Family Guy than just gags that go on too long. But that's what EO is. There's this message that people take animals for granted. Even those who are animal advocates tend to be very in-the-moment with their animal activism. I'm sure that's probably true about a lot of activism. I don't see as many Black Lives Matter signs like I used to. We, as a people, get bored quickly. The entire film is almost pointing out how we only treat animals well if they are in our direct field of vision, and even that isn't absolute.
The inciting incident of this movie is the animal rights group pulling Eo away from his circus family. It's a weird moral conundrum. Infamously, circuses suck for animals. They abuse the animals so that they do tricks on repeat over-and-over. It's a crummy life. The protesters should be the good guys in this story. But the movie is about the aftermath of this choice. After all, Eo has a pretty good life with his circus co-star (who honestly treats Eo almost sexually, but that could have been a misread of the scene because there's nothing about that in the Parents' Guide.) The notion comes from the idea that we have good intentions, but we honestly don't follow through. It's an arguement that the pro-choice movement has been saying about adoption for a long time. Once the problem is solved, from a human perspective, poof, all followthrough is gone. Nothing says a movie is truly progressive than attacking the base. It's good. They absolutely should / the world is a terrible place and its never going to get better.
Eo then goes through all of these sad adventures of people taking the donkey for granted. Oddly enough, the worst I felt for him, shy of him getting nearly beaten to death, was his time at the horse farm. (Also, is Eo a boy or a girl? Is everything just a social construct? Should I even be spending this digital real estate talking about this?) The horse farm bummed me out. It wasn't because he was getting ignored compared to the circus. It wasn't even because the trophy case falling over wasn't even his fault. It just made me realize that horses seem like the jerks of the equine world. (I don't quite know where donkeys fall in compared to horses, so let's leave it at laying my ignorance bare while someone gets furious on my lack of knowledge.) I want to say that the director is stating something about pretty animals here. These horses are brushed and groomed daily. There's an almost slavery element going on with the footage, in the sense that there's something inappropriate about the dichotomy between beauty and abuse in these scenes. But I'm going to make the connection between the horses and Eo and dolphin-safe tuna. Everyone at that horse farm is obsessed with maintaining the perfect environment for these horses, that seem kind of angry all the time. But the donkey gets nothing.
It's not like they're abusing the donkey. It's just neglected. The donkey is fine. Heck, if this was another movie, it would just be scenes where the donkey is an observer. But considering that the donkey is our protagonist and the subject of the themes, it comes across as cold and empty. That's a lot of this movie. There is a moment of absolute cruelty, coupled with the end of this movie. But for the most part, it is the apathy that animals get. This is a bit of me stepping out of my comfort zone. I'm infamously not an animal person. I'm the guy who gets mad when someone saves the dog instead of a person in a movie. But I'm also trying to be a better person all around, so I'm going to embrace the message of the movie for what it is. Yeah, there is something that comes with respect for nature that the movie is stressing with these animals. Maybe the goal isn't necessarily the notion of equality, which is something my brain won't even comprehend. Maybe it is a matter of fundamental respect. Maybe I'm assuming that I want my movies to be so world changing. Maybe EO is just shooting for fundamental respect for animals, which I can get behind.
I want to talk about the hardest scene to watch. I'm not going to talk about the incest scene outside of the fact that it detracts from the movie because it has no ties to the story outside of the fact that it pulls in an actor who needs some scenery to chew. I want to talk about the baseball bat sequence. Man alive, I don't want to live in this world. I don't want to live in this world not just because that scene is shocking, but also because it felt the most real. There's a guy whose team loses a game. This guy screams skinhead and domestic terrorist and I don't want to think that people like that exist. But they totally do exist and probably in droves. Like, there's a motivation to this skinhead. He lost the game because the donkey brayed. But also, would he destroy a car because the horn went off? That's entirely possible and I'm not dismissing it. But also, can he not tell the difference between a living creature and an object? These are questions that make me think that we're not all built with a sense of empathy. It's just depressing.
I'm going to cut this one short. I don't have much to say. The message is pretty on the surface. Sure, there's a sense of silence behind this movie that is peaceful and haunting. Some people might consider it boring. I suppose the end is lightly cryptic, which I've already pointed out. My wife texted me the ending explained in the middle of the night, waking me up and forcing me to have "meh" thoughts about this movie since then. But it's a fine movie. Like many of the Academy Award films, it's just depressing. Thank God it isn't too long, but in a way it is, especially if it should have been a short film.
Not rated, but it is pretty sexual, especially when looking at Nan's early career. The film is fundamentally anti-drug, especially when it comes to Big Pharma. I suppose that the movie is supporting safe drug administration and is probably pro-recreational use of non-pharmaceutical medication. There's language and domestic violence as well. Still, not rated.
DIRECTOR: Laura Poitras
Well, now that the Oscars are over, I have to still write about this? I have such little motivation when it comes to this movie. I don't want to write and I am going to use this time whining about my amazing life. It is amazing. My unborn child is healthy, according to the OB appointment. I'm not addicted to Oxy, which is what this movie is all about. I have a few minutes to write about a movie that I did not enjoy. How blessed is that life? It doesn't mean anything. Realize that every single word written about All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is a moment of willpower over what I want to do versus what I am doing.
There's a story here. I know that there's a story here because people have been preaching Dopesick to me for a while. (I haven't gotten around to it because I'm busy watching other shows that I don't want to watch. Again, very very blessed.) Ever since Martin Shkreli, the Pharma Bro, became a household name, I've been at least invested in how Big Pharma works. I'm going to use my blessings to contextualize what I feel about the whole thing. I have an incredibly addictive personality over stupid things. I intentionally don't drink and I don't use drugs because I see how incredibly addicted my body gets to processed sugar or fried foods or anything I do to replace those addictions. God, I can't even imagine how I would be if I was addicted to pain medication. The thing about pain medication is that it is something justifiable. It's not done out of a sense of irresponsibility. It's something to make life functional. Because I'm an old man (kind of), I have back issues. My back issues tend to be worse than most because of really bad scoliosis exasterbated by a surgery at a young age. My back got wrecked a few years ago and I was in such pain that my personality changed. While I didn't take intense meds because of the pain, had I been slightly less-critical of my tendencies towards addiction, I might be a fundamentally different person.
I don't want to downplay the addiction and abuse elements of this movie. These are real things. The need for talks about addiction in this country need to happen on a scale that bring about real change. Trust me, I do not care for what drug companies are doing to this country, coupled with the stigma of the addicts in the world. But the way that this film is organized does a disservice to the message that the film wants to communicate. A personality gets in the way of a message and that's kind of the worst. Now, to play Devil's Advocate (because, as you clearly see, I don't like this movie), I get where the movie was trying to go with the whole thing. There's this whole other level with the notion of stigma and the artist that the movie really trying to sell as a concept. But the movie is split into two parts: the protests that are happening, bringing change to the art world in context to the Sackler Foundation, and the need to tell the story of Nan Goldin. Now, part of the problem is me. For as artistic as I am, when I'm done, I'm genuinely done. I go really nerdy into the arts, but I also have a hard time empathizing for the artist.
The Nan Goldin portion of the movie might be one of the worst character references for the need to protest. I've said this about other things, but if I start out on your team and by the end, I've backslid, something went really wrong. Nan Goldin, as a survivor of Oxy dependency, is a person that I'm behind. I want to see these elaborate protests put on by an artist who has an eye for disruption. I'm all about that. But most of the movie is about Nan Goldin, the photographer. Nan Goldin, the photographer, (who has an amazing eye for art and that's not the problem), is a dramatic mess. This is going to sound closed-minded (because it is), but imagine the stereotype of the artist living in New York. You nailed it in one. Nan Goldin hits every beat of the eccentric artist, drugs, alcohol, abuse, prostitution, and all. At a different time in my life, I would have idolized Nan Goldin. She has all of the elements of Charles Bukowski without a need for Barfly to make it sexy for me. But the two elements of the film don't work well together.
The sympathetic part of the whole arguement over Oxy is that it gets its grip into anybody. Nan Goldin is the wrong face for this movie. Oxy is so dangerous that you don't have to have an addictive personality to die from a need for Oxy. The story is about how the Sacklers, for all of their artistic altruism, is wholeheartedly aware that their number one product kills so many people per day and absolutely don't care. The most important scene in the movie is when the Sacklers have to do a Zoom call and listen to the tragic tales of how this medication caused so much pain and that they just sat there. The story shouldn't be about Nan Goldin. The story is right there. Yes, Nan Goldin needs to be a part of All the Beauty and the Bloodshed because the immediate goal of the movie is the removal of the Sackler name from any of the wings of the multitude of museums that carry their name. That's great and Nan Goldin needs to be a part of that. But that seems like such a small part of what is a far more tragic story. I want to contextualize my frustration about this in a way that means a lot to me. (It's the me that matters, apparently.)
During the BLM movement, one of the many facets of that protest was the removal of statues that were in commemoration of monsters. Trust me, I'm all about that and, if we meet, I have lots to say about how all racist statues should be removed, your perverted version of history be damned. But, if the movement was just about one person removing statues and how we ignored all of the systematic racism that BLM was fighting for, we'd feel like it would cheapen the overall message. All the Beauty and the Bloodshed isn't so much a movie about arresting the Sacklers. There's the cathartic moment of seeing them be miserable on a Zoom call and I guess that's nice. But the story is really about museums giving up massive donations on the part of the Sacklers. The Sackler Foundation was really about the progenitor of the Sackler family. That guy is long dead. He was the art nerd in the family and he's the reason that all of these wings carry the Sackler name. I'm sure the extended family probably love the good press that these museums afford the Sackler family. But it kind of feels like it's no skin off their backs. They're already the villains of the story and they've embraced that villainy. Removing the names off of the Sackler wings is less about the Sacklers getting their comeuppance as much as it is having Nan Goldin make a splash sticking it to the man.
I do sympathize with Nan Goldin's journey with Oxy. It is a terrible thing to go through and she seems genuine in her need to stick it to the Sacklers. But the world of Nan Goldin and the Sacklers seems so myopic compared to what the story that is playing out in the background. There are all these tales of how people were affected, but it kept going back to Nan Goldin and P.A.I.N. (don't get me started on forced acronyms). The movie just feels like such a disservice to what could have been a powerhouse of a movie. Instead, I was watching a lot of Nan Goldin's art as if I should have been applauding for her work. I get it. She's very talented. Make a movie about Nan Goldin separate from the goal of taking down the Sacklers. These movies don't go together. They are weakening each other, leaving a movie that makes me feel more apathetic than activated. I want to be activated about something like this, but I couldn't imagine having to get through this movie again.
To Leslie (2022)
Rated R for a lot of substance abuse and cruelty. The protagonist is beaten and almost raped. There's language every time the movie gets a chance. It shows the cruelty of homelesses and the misery that accompanies that. It's a pretty bleak showing of alcoholism, bordering on a bit preachy using Leslie as a cautionary tale at times. R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Morris
If I'm not mistaken, this movie has some controversy behind it. I kind of wish that my wife didn't tell me that before I started watching it because I wanted to watch it objectively and see if I really thought it was an Oscar worthy performance. I'll tell you what. While it wasn't a perfect movie and normally I wouldn't consider it Oscar worthy, in the sludge that has come out this year, it's actually pretty good. Sure, it was campaigned for a bit shadily, but that doesn't change that the movie mostly works.
Okay, even I acknowledge that this is well trod-upon ground. Going all the way back to The Lost Weekend, the morality play about the dangers of addiction are something that have been covered before. I'll even say that it has been done better than To Leslie. But if I remove this from an Oscars setting (which I should because I'm now post-Oscars at this point), To Leslie is mostly a character study. It's more of a commentary about our empathy than it is necessarily a morality tale. Don't get me wrong. Leslie is a hot mess. She hits about every beat that an alcoholism movie should. There's the cycle of lies. There's the physical and emotional abuse. There's the lows and then there are the low-lows. It's not really saying that those things don't happen. But if anything, the character of Leslie is a commentary on who we are in these scenarios. The thing is, I don't know if I really see myself in any one of these scenarios. That's okay. Not everything's about me. But I'm sure that, if someone is keeping score with how movies are supposed to work, the characters are supposed to be avatars for me. Maybe I'm just privileged enough to not be in the movie, which is possibly the greatest commentary on me.
Before I go into Sweeney, who should be the focus of this blog, I want to talk about Dutch and Nancy. Dutch and Nancy are a bit of a mislead. James starts off the movie establishing that we don't know Dutch and Nancy the way that we think we do. That's not shocking. When James says this, we don't know who Dutch and Nancy are. But considering that the movie flies pretty hard into formulae that we're pretty used to, the notion of Dutch and Nancy being the sage archetypes is all I can wrap my heads around. After all, we have James, a character that is most put out by Leslie's blatant selfishness and alcoholism, vouching for the morality of these two characters, I expect them to live up to such a swimming recommendation. That never really happens in the movie. The entire time, Dutch and Nancy kind of suck. Now, here's me putting on my analytical hat and trying to view the forest through the trees. (That's gotta be a mixed metaphor, right?) The film promises that Dutch and Nancy are these holy people, but they end up being the antagonists of the film.
Part of that is the knowledge that James views from his limited perspective people who were good to him when he needed someone to be good. We're all supposed to be kind of sympathetic to that plight and get that James may not be the best judge of character. Also, James has the right to think well of Dutch and Nancy. But also, the morality play is also about the transformation of Nancy as much as it is about the transformation of Leslie. Sure, Nancy doesn't get the screentime that Leslie does. Part of me thinks that it is because it is a role that was given to Allison Janney, who might be doing this movie a favor by being in the movie. Okay, that's me being a bit harsh, but it also feels like she's doing someone a favor. As is Stephen Root. But keep all of this in mind and maybe we need to be hopeful about Dutch and Nancy. Dutch and Nancy become awful people pretty quick. It's just that it is a bit of a mislead. I'm assuming that Dutch and Nancy are kind of like the shelter people for Sound of Metal. That's a movie I need to watch again, by the way. I assumed that they were these harsh taskmasters because they wanted to break Leslie down into someone that could be reformed and healthier.
Instead, they take that archetype and love that Leslie continues to fail. That's where I'm jumping on board the movie, by the way. As empathetic as I am (and my heart bleeds way too much), I think that there's a part of us that roots for failures to keep on failing. I don't know what it is about our wiring, but the knowledge that any progress is superficial is somehow comforting to us. I don't know. Maybe it is a me thing. But Morris points his camera right at Nancy for a lot of this. Nancy, the character who is labelled a saint, is the one that consistently forces Leslie to backslide. There's the scene at the fair. For all of the misery that Leslie has been through in forcing herself to go cold turkey, there's an element that wants to go back because Nancy is the one who doesn't believe in her. The knowledge that the saint has no time for you is pretty darned damning and that's what kind of gives me something to talk about with this movie. Yeah, Leslie can give the performance of a lifetime (and I don't know if that's true so much as it is just very good), but it is how critical the movie is of people who consider themselves good people that makes me want to care about the movie.
Honestly, I think that Dutch and Nancy see themselves as the heroes of the film. They are people who took a risk on someone who they knew would fail. They weren't subtle about it. They instead saw themselves as these altruistic do-gooders. But there's this element of stacking the deck against Leslie. This is fascinating for one reason: what's the role of tough love? I'm genuinely torn what I would do in Dutch and Nancy's situation. Let's say that I was open to welcoming someone into my home to get them clean. There would have to be rules. After all, James sets up Nancy with rules and she immediately breaks those rules, disappointing him beyond imagination. It's a hard scene to watch. We're led to believe that Dutch and Nancy would be these pillars of structure to the structureless. But there's also the notion of an unwinnable expectation.
Perhaps my frustration from this movie comes from the fact that it doesn't have a clear message. Okay, that's how reality is. I can't be that mad at the movie when reality doesn't have a clear answer for how to help people. But the closest takeaway is based on the notion of empathy. I often screamed at Sweeney because there is a danger to what Sweeney does. Okay, I said that there's no one in this movie that's me. If you remove the romantic elements of the story, I guess I can sort of relate to Sweeney. Leslie, sleeping on the outside of a motel, is worthy of pity. (You know, the definition of "pitiful"?) I would want to give Leslie a job. But also, where are his expectations that Leslie would be able to complete this job? I mean, he knows nothing about this woman. (Oh, I hear it too.) But he realistically could have had a dead body on his hands. See, now I'm torn. Leslie deserves a second chance, but Leslie is reactionary. There's no will to try to turn things around. If anything, Leslie never has that kind of redeemable trait where she tries to get healthy, but doesn't have the willpower to do it. Instead, Leslie seems to be the one who self-perpetuates her own misery.
All this leads to the notion that Sweeney develops romantic feelings for Leslie as something wildly inappropriate. I'm about to be me right now and I hate it too. The power dynamic between Sweeney and Leslie is night and day. Sweeney has his life together. He holds all of Leslie's sanity and health in the palm of his hands. Of course she reciprocates that love. It's the love of a child to a parent. Man, I know that this is based on a true story. But I wanted Sweeney and Leslie to just be friends so badly. Instead, this whole thing is based on dependence. I want to be on board. I did. Everything worked out fine. But...it shouldn't have? I mean, that could have gone down the toilet real fast. Ah well.
It's a good movie. I mean, I'm going to forget about this movie in a year. There are a handful of Oscar noms that stick out and this is another movie. But for the evening, I kind of got on board.
Rated R, primarily for implications of suicide. Also, considering that this is a story about a little girl and her dad, there's a lot of swearing and drinking that goes on. Not so much that the movie is about swearing and drinking. But it is definitely present. I can't say that the movie is visibly about suicide, but the notion of suicide lingers over this entire movie. R.
DIRECTOR: Charlotte Wells
I could have sworn this movie was 4:3. My brain must be playing tricks on me because I watched so many 4:3 movies in a row. Yesterday, I wrote so many blogs that I high-fived myself. But between the new episode of Picard and just a day that I can't push to find any free time to write, I'll be lucky if I can finish this one. (In the back of my brain, I'll find time to write one more, leaving too many left to write.) Aftersun was listed #1 on someone's list of best movies of the year. I feel dumb when I see that kind of stuff. Because...I got very little out of Aftersun.
I think that movies like Aftersun act as a mirror. Unlike most movies, Aftersun doesn't give its audience a lot. It's more about character than something that can be described. I tried. I did. I tried explaining the plot to someone who wondered what it was about and the summary was painfully simple: a daughter goes on vacation with her father, who is depressed and he probably kills himself sometime after the vacation. I have to use words like "probably" because nothing is really concrete in this movie. I'll admit that I started getting frustrated with the movie. After all, to a certain extent, the movie is almost the equivalent of watching a stranger's vacation videos. Not much happens in the movie in terms of plot stuff. It's just the general sadness that can accompany a vacation. It's the equivalent of having an existential crisis in the middle of a wedding. So I did a quick Google search and one of the summaries claimed that not everything in this movie could be trusted. We were dealing with an unreliable narrator.
To a certain extent, that is obvious. But I don't know if there is anything imagined so much as limited by the perspective of a daughter who couldn't have possibly predicted that her father was suicidal at that age. Golly, I can't believe that I have to spell this next part out, but at least it's content. Technically, nothing in this movie actually spells out that Calum kills himself. There is evidence that he does, especially the scene of him crying by himself in his room and that he falls asleep on the bed. Also, the fact that adult Sophie looks back on this vacation with overwhelming sadness. Look, I'm spelling something out for you that is right there on the screen. But I have nothing smart to say, so who cares? See everything I'm typing? Digital real estate that I'm just laying claim to. Yeah, that dude totally committed suicide (and, in hindsight, I should be more sympathetic) and the story is about a girl looking back on her father's death.
So, if I'm such a guy with Dead Dad issues (talk to my friends about how much I play that card and you would be mortified), why am I not moved by this story? That should be me up on that screen! I should be experiencing full on sympathy. There's an element to this movie that makes me feel needy as heck and I don't like that about myself. The movie, in an attempt to allow the audience to craft its own story, leaves me hanging with almost nothing to work with. I know. I'm alone in that. It's A24 non-horror distilled. Everything is up to interpretation. But I am now thinking when everything is up for interpretation, almost nothing is a valid look at the movie. If anything, my interpretation is that the moment before death is the calm before the storm. This vacation looks a little crummy. Everything just feels a little bit off. (I mean, sure, it's a family all inclusive --I assume --in Turkey during the '80s or '90s. How good can it be?) But it's not like this is a story about a great relationship that Sophie has with her dad. If anything, Dad --like in real life --is there as a glorified chaperone.
I know that Paul Mescal is up for an Academy Award for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor. In the scenes where he's breaking down or barely keeping it together, I completely agree. I suppose that's true for a lot of movies that the performance can be chalked up to one or two scenes. But with this movie, Calum is almost painfully stoic. There's not a lot there. I don't really know what to say about him except that he is a dad. He seems to love his kid, but in the same way that most dads love their kids. I get that he's special to Sophie, but Sophie is doing a lot of the emotional and vulnerable lifting. I'll talk about a scene that should have absolutely destroyed me and it didn't do much: the karaoke scene. Sophie, in an attempt to continue a family tradition, surprises her father by submitting their names to sing. Dad cops out and Sophie sings very poorly by herself. Okay, there's a lot telling there and I regret making this whole setup. That scene should have destroyed me. It could have been about this moment where we see a dad's tank drained. It was about depression and how we can't always be the people we want to be in that moment. But I didn't really see that much of a shift in Calum from the beginning.
It seems that a lot of Calum is about a very thin facade of what a person should be. Maybe that's the message of depression. I just keep staring at this movie and wondering who gave this guy a kid to take care of. (The answer: The Lord.) Now, I'm letting my own mental health just be shaming people, but I'm trying to get to a point. From an outside perspective, this is just a sad vacation. I guess from Sophie's perspective, this was a happy way to say goodbye to her dad, but it didn't change the sorrow that she has for the passing of her dad. (Her dad committed suicide! We need to make peace with that!) But the entire movie just feels like vanilla. It's intentional vanilla. It's so obsessed with the audience imbuing meaning on this vacation that it doesn't really have the meat of other movies about dads dying. I mean, heck, I guess Aftersun and The Whale have so much in common in that respect. But let's talk about The Whale and how the value of honestly gives us something to talk about. From moment one in The Whale, we know that Charlie is facing his own mortality. He's going to die within the week. Heck, he should die by the end of the day, but it's through the majesty of Hollywood cinema that he survives until the end of the movie. Ellie (whose name sounds eerily like Sophie...) is aware of Charlie's near death and the film becomes about closure.
But Aftersun says that closure be darned. (I went this far without swearing, I mind as well continue the trend.) Sophie is a husk at in the present timeline. It's almost like the most vanilla vacation in the world would make her live a sadder version of that lifestyle. I don't know. I know that people love this movie and I'm the oddball who got so incredibly bored by it, despite lots of neuroses that involve dead fathers. I want that confrontation to happen between Calum and Sophie. Instead, it's a lot of snipping and a lot of general happiness. It becomes about the visuals of having a girl handle a camera, capturing microaggressions that may be indicative of a deep depression that might be leading to a suicide. But there's none of that. There's no major blowout. There's no things coming to a head. It's a zit that just stays beneath the surface. To the movie's credit, that's probably more realistic than what happens in the movies. But sometimes I need the movies to do the things that I don't have the guts to do. I get it. I preach verisimilitude. I get that people's processes shoudl be different. But there's abstract and then there's watching paint dry. I suppose that there are things that I'm actively ignoring. It also probably hurts that I just watched two very cinematic movies about mortality and loss that to transition into something that lets me put my own meaning over it might come across as boring.
It's just that I was bored. I hate that I was bored, but I was quite bored. I needed something. Anything. I loved that we saw Calum break down. But that wasn't Sophie's story. That was about the repression of mental health and it almost felt like it was just cruel to watch this guy suffer by himself for the sake of a movie. I don't know. It's probably way better than I gave it credit for. But I didn't care for Aftersun.
PG-13 for mild stuff. This is one of those movies that almost teeters on PG. At one point, the protagonist, in a moment of drunkenness, goes to a strip show. Nothing is seen and it is intentionally tame. But it still exists as part of the movie. Also, you know, the fact that he is drunk. There's also an element to the movie that implies that the protagonist is having an affair when he actually isn't. Still, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Oliver Hermanus
My brain was itching the entire time watching this. I knew nothing about the movie going in except for the fact that Bill Nighy was in this movie playing a very Bill Nighy part. The promotional image was perhaps the most vanilla thing I had ever seen, with Bill Nighy standing around in a bowler hat looking mildly annoyed. Then the movie started and I see Akira Kurosawa's name on the movie because of a foundation started after his death. Then I see Japanese names all over the introduction of this movie and then color-me-intrigued. It didn't hurt that we had this lovely found-footage technicolor throwback for the opening credits, which sold me originally.
I really wanted to have watched Ikiru before writing this blog. I have seen a lot of Akira Kurosawa movies. I love Akira Kurosawa. There was a time in my life where I made it a conscious effort to watch as many Kurosawa movies as possible. And then one day, I just stopped. It wasn't that I had moved on from him. It's not that I saw a movie of his that I didn't like. It's just that life got away from me. In the name of variety and making Kurosawa special, I missed seeing Ikiru. My itchy brain? It didn't get satisfactorily scratched until the conclusion of the film where I paused it and exclaimed "This is Ikiru!" For those who don't know what Ikiru is, the cover has a picture of a man in a hat sitting on a swing. Ikiru means" To Live" in Japanese and now I hate myself for not making that connection. But let's be honest, that poster didn't do a lot to help me get to that point. I don't know if it was simply to keep the ending a secret, despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing secretive about the ending. But I did put Ikiru on my To-Watch list. Honestly, if it hadn't been for the Academy Awards being on Sunday, I would have absolutely added another movie to write about. Despite the fact that I still have to catch up on another five blog entry from the point I'm at right now.
I mean, I'm a sucker for this exact subgenre. I'm talking "A Christmas Carol." I just wrote about The Whale mere minutes ago, stressing that I love hopeful movies when they are about change. I think that, as a culture --be it American culture or human culture --we do not understand hope. Hope is often simply something we have that says "Everything will turn out all right." I think I had that feeling for a good chunk of the time leading up to this point. I keep going political and I'm okay with that, despite the fact that it probably annoys the Dickens out of people (Hey, I just mentioned "A Christmas Carol"!). But post-Donald Trump, I have very little hope for humanity. The world, in my small world, is a terrible place full of terrible people. Part of me thinks that these people think that they are doing the right thing and that oddly brings me a little solace. But I also very much believe that humanity is colored with people who revel in their own misery and know that they're being the worst. I suppose the director of EO would agree with me as well.
But stuff like Living might be what we need in a post-Kurosawa world. The thing that I loved about Kurosawa is that there was an optimism to a lot of his works. Not all of them. From my limited memory of The Bad Sleep Well, I don't think it's absolute. But I like the idea that man, at his core and stripped of all pretense and responsibility, can be something wonderful. I mean, we all play that game, right? What would we do if the world was going to end? The scenario I most go through is the 24 hour scenario where everything ends. But I should start thinking about the six-months-to-live scenario. (It's kind of why Ikiru or "To Live" works as a better title than Living, but whatever.) The notion of mortality seems to be a common motif within storytelling, especially this year. But there's a reason for that. There has to be an element of rebirth in the notion of death. Mr. Williams dies to his self. His self is one that is motivated by being the most British man that ever existed. There's a reason why Bill Nighy is playing this role. He's really good at playing proper British. (Don't drop the t. That's the wrong kind of British from what I'm talking about.)
But the values of being a British gentleman is both a criticism on the British and on humanity at the same time. (This is where I would be citing Ikiru left-and-right, assuming I had seen it and it went down the way I thought it would.) Everything about Mr. Williams is seen as morally good. He's stodgy. He's earned the nickname "Mr. Zombie" and there's a weird pride in that. The idea of not being infused with passion is something that is applauded in this culture. Heck, I find myself typing the phrase "Late-stage capitalism" a lot, despite the fact that I've only derived the meaning from context clues and anecdotes. But that's what we have bred ourselves to be. But it's knowing that money doesn't matter anymore that we can be our best selves. I almost weep for the notion that the only way that we stop thinking about money is the idea of death on the horizon and the need to buy things kind of disappears. But I also want to live in a world where we use the last moments of our lives to make something better for someone. Again, this makes an excellent double-feature with The Whale, despite having drastically different tones.
I keep coming back to that itchy brain. I gotta get an MRI or something, for curiosity's sake alone. Part of that itchy brain is screaming that people aren't Mr. Williams. Maybe they were at one point. I see people as snivelling and whining about a six-month prognosis. But isn't that why we have movies and stories? I'd like to think that a movie like Living is molding me into becoming something better. I also love that this blog is forcing me to take the jump. Here I am, arguing whether or not, faced with death --that we become better people. But the point of the movie is that Mr. Williams, while an inspiration for humanity, is a cautionary tale. He's only happy when he's stripped the role of capitalist off and sees the fact that he can do little things for people to make them happier. I mean, the scope of this movie is small. It's so small that the movie changes format in Act II and tells the rest of the story through anecdotal tales (I hate that I accentally referred to "anecdotes" twice in the same analysis in two different ways. It makes me feel like a one-trick pony.)
Williams comes across like a saint because he built a park. That's it. Honestly, it was his job to build the park. There's a really dry bit of ironic humor to the whole movie, knowing that Williams was always supposed to build that park. Everyone passes these forms and files to different departments who, by cultural norms, either pass that form on or bury it until it is forgotten. Yet, the value of Williams just using capitalism as an opportunity, that has to make people question the way capitalism is today. There's nothing really communist about the whole thing. It's just the knowledge that capitalism could be used for good, despite the fact that it isn't. Williams is getting paid for a very specific gig. He's there to ensure that the city is providing the proper services to the city in a timely fashion. Now, because time is a form of economy, everyone in this building has commodified their time and thus, the output becomes about looking busy instead of actually being busy. But the real purpose behind what capitalism should be is an equal exchange. Golly, I'm sounding more and more communist all the time. Williams realizes that these women are investing in a park. They have put the due diligence in and are getting nothing in return. It's so small. It's so small, but it matters so much to them.
The thing is (THE THING IS!) that the decision by Williams to put in the park ripples. So many people are moved and inspired. There's one line that talks about the fact that one day, the park will degrade. It will fall apart because entropy exists. But it doesn't matter. For a moment in time --for a handful of moments in time --people are genuinely happy, none moreso than Williams. All of this seems pie in the sky, but the story doesn't give humanity the complete benefit of the doubt. I love that everyone on the train makes the commitment to make change like Mr. Williams. Yet, a few months pass and the new head of the department buries a reasonable request that would take a bit of work. I know. I'm stretching because I'm so embittered by the role that money has over people. But money continually shackles us. The notion that efficiency is the most important thing over actually prioritizing effort is something that is always going to dictate what we do in life. But still, I love that Living points out the potential of humanity. These are the movies I love. There's a reason that I get so moved by It's a Wonderful Life. I'm always mindblown that those people who are aggressively pro-capitalism are people who would invest in movies like It's a Wonderful Life, "A Christmas Carol", and Living. These are stories that scream, "Give the underdog a chance." "Fight for the little man!" "Abandon societal conventions and do what's right!"
Yet, we don't listen. We're Mr. Williams's replacement. We talk a good game, but the applicaton of Williams's philosophy continues the machine to keep churning. I love how this movie surprised me. I can't wait to watch Ikiru. God bless whosever idea it was to remake this for 2022. It's a movie that I desperately needed.
The Whale (2022)
Rated R for being mostly hard to watch. For such an important tale, tinged with hope, there's quite a bit of heavy R rated content. The movie starts off with the protagonist pleasuring himself to pornography. The language is intense throughout. Also, the protagonist, at one point, tries to kill himself by eating himself to death. There's a lot going on here and it isn't always an easy watch. R .
DIRECTOR: Darren Aronofsky
What's up with the resurrection of 4:3? Don't get me wrong, I get the artistic merit behind it. We don't need Cinemascope or VistaVision anymore. The 4:3 creates a sense of intimacy, especially in a movie where the walls are closing in on a man who gets increasingly larger. But I'll tell you, from a practical perspective, it is hard to find screengrabs in the right ratio. I still want the widescreen format because I don't want my page littered with giant images. But I also want to display screengrabs in the proper ratio. These are problems that I have that you probably don't.
Secretly, this is the movie I was waiting to see. It was hard to justify putting it early in the queue, mainly because it's only up for a few of the (unfortunately) slightly less prestigious awards. (Yeah, I get that Best Actor is up there, but it's no "Best Picture" or "Best Director".) But Brandan Fraser has been the talk of cinema for a little bit now. He went through a lot and it's odd how candid his story has become post #metoo. The odd thing is, I didn't really care for Fraser's work in his heyday. He did a lot of goofy stuff that was based on the fact that he was a good looking guy oozing charisma. But time has passed and he's embraced something very different in his comeback. His roles tend to be smaller or angrier. It's terrible to say, but his return has allowed him to act a little bit more. Everything is about realism and pushing boundaries and --God forbid! --challenging the audience in terms of subverting expectations. Now that Brendan Fraser is back (and I never wish the misery he went through onto anyone), I really like the work he has been doing and I want to see him win the Academy Award for this.
Somehow, The Whale is both the least Darren Aronofsky and most Darren Aronofsky movie that I've ever seen. I always have to remember that Aronofsky did The Fountain, a movie that I absolutely adore. But Aronofsky has always been this guy who wants me to hate myself. Because I'm Catholic, I keep thinking of Aronofsky as the guy who genuinely hates me because of his faith. He doesn't shy away from that aspect of himself with this movie. After all, the notion of what religion does to people is a major part of his storytelling, especially when it comes to a missionary who may mean well, but is tortruing a gay man who desperately wants to be left alone. Also, the notion of religion is what causes Charlie to spiral as much as he does because religion, through the closemindedness of high ranking officials, may have contributed to the death of his significant other. Yeah, Darren Aronofsky still hates me and I would feel uncomfortable in a room with him because I would just feel the hate eminating off of him.
But The Whale is oddly hopeful in the darkest way imaginable. Most people wouldn't look at The Whale and think, "My, what a lighthearted romp!" and nor should they. What a weird request that would be of people. But I will say, if I had to boil it down, there's almost something heartfelt about the whole thing. There's a guy who can't see the failure around him because he's so in love with his daughter, who through any other eyes looks like a trainwreck. I mean, if you didn't see the same guy try to take his own life by power-eating, a visual I have never seen before and I question how I watched it, you would think that this was the movie you'd want to share with your parents and grandparents. My students and I were talking Best Actor category yesterday and one of my students is fighting for Austin Butler to get it for Elvis. I showed Brendan Fraser in The Whale trailer and there were people who were choked up just from the trailer itself. There's something so heartfelt about the whole thing that it might say something about the juxtaposition between visuals and message. I got a positive comment from another blogger whom I know(ish) when I talked about it last time, but real hopeful stories need to have that contrast. We need to see the dirt and the grit before we accept that the world is a good place. When everything is happy and sunshines, it feels false. That sense of conflict minimizes life's real trials. It's why Hallmark never works for me.
Can I tell you? (Guys, can I?) Can I tell you that the reveal of the essay is one of the best reveals I've had in a movie. I don't want to put it as a twist. I'm starting to fear the word "twist" because it's equated with just being clever instead of honest. But I will say, the reveal of the essay is the perfect dismount for this movie. The entire time, I'm thinking that Charlie is a terrible writing teacher. It's not the first time I thought that about English teachers in movies. (Yeah, you're trying to count them. The answer is Dead Poets Society, Finding Forrester, Renaissance Man, and Dangerous Minds.) I thought that they were calling bad writing "good writing" because it was Charlie's significant other. Nope. The reveal that it is young Ellie, before she was completely broken (or, in spite of having been completely broken) as an eighth grader. When that reveal happens, so much changes for me. I mean, the entire time in the movie, Ellie is just a turd to Charlie. She kind of ends the movie as a turd, but less of a turd, but let's move past that so we don't lose the thread. But Charlie keeps telling her how amazing she is.
Now, from a father's perspective, Charlie should believe that his daughter is amazing. It's touching, but it is a bit much in my mind. It almost feels like Ellie is doing everything that she can to disprove that she is amazing. Heck, making Charlie write her essay just as emotional blackmail is pretty low. (Note: I'm so happy that he didn't write that essay for her. That was just my moment of integrity kicking in.) But when we find out that, while her craft could use some work, her analysis game is so on point that she could be confused for an adult. That was the point. I was looking at that essay and being a turd (not Ellie level turd, but a turd regardless), and there's this insight into a girl who thinks well beyond her years. Just because the construction is a little rudimentary, it hides a wealth of information behind a person. To a certain extent, the paper is treated almost as a magical item, curing Charlie from actual heart attacks. But I also have the suspension of disbelief that he believes that the paper will calm him down, so it in fact does. Not a placebo effect so much as a comfort object.
I already touched on my thoughts on Thomas. Thomas, as much as Darren Aronofsky hates religion, isn't a bad person in himself. You are supposed to get angry at Thomas (who is filled with doubts! Ah, very subtle!), but he's this guy who is in a place in his life that is malleable. Charlie, as much as he needs Thomas for physical things around the house, like getting dropped keys, provides more empathy for Thomas himself. It is odd, though, the role of Thomas in the greater characterization of Charlie and Ellie. Ellie doxes Thomas. She writes home to Thomas's parents, letting them know where he is. Now, both Thomas and Charlie view this moment as a sign that Ellie is a good person at heart. I think we're all supposed to question that. So much of Ellie's personality is rebellion and chaos. She doesn't want to be liked because it allows her to control a narrative that has escaped her long before. But it's interesting that both Charlie and Thomas view this action in terms of the consequences. Because Thomas's family forgives him for the theft he committed, these two guys view the action that Ellie takes as good. But we're all sitting on the outside, aware that the story could have and probably should have gone the other direction. But this ties back into the whole notion that the world is a hopeful place. As miserable as everything is, that light of hope shows that people are good. It's The Lower Depths for 2022, I guess.
God, I adored this movie. I kind of feel bad that I didn't talk about Liz at all. Liz is a major character in this movie. But as good as Hong Chau was, I kind of viewed her for a sounding board. After all, Charlie is such an optimist with most people, that Liz is the excuse to say what Charlie is really thinking. I'm sure that Hong Chau probably disagrees. After all, Liz has a direct connection with Charlie. Still, I wanted more.
I hate that I almost can't recommend this to everyone. Yeah, I'm going to stand by the fact that it uses grit and grime effectively. That whole belief is still there. But I also know that this movie is probably too much for a lot of people. It's the one time that I watched a hopeful movie and left more sad than when I entered. But that doesn't change that this is probably one of my favorite Darren Aronofsky film ("probably" meaning "definitely") and it is one of the better films of the 2023 Academy Awards.
Argentina 1985 (2022)
Rated R, more for description than for anything else. The movie chronciles what a dictatorship did to its citizens and the descriptions are grizzly. While there isn't anything on screen to really see, considering that most of the movie is in a courtroom involving legal drama, it's still pretty harrowing to listen to. It falls into the category of "too depressing." Hard R, despite seeing nothing.
DIRECTOR: Santiago Mitre
Okay, I was going to go for one more, but then I saw that I was going to have to write about Argentina 1985 and admitted it was too much for me to do. This movie, guys. I know some of you absolutely love this style of filmmaking and cinema. Me? Good golly, I could not have been more bored. For a guy who doesn't necessarily mind boredom, this may have pushed me into a bad place, which is odd because I love taking down conservative governments. (Note: It is the next day and I'm more tired than I've ever been. God really wants me to write about Argentina 1985 while holding onto vestiges of sanity.)
Anything I write about Argentina 1985, for the most part, will be more of a criticism of me than of the film itself. It happens sometimes. Sometimes, I am so out of my depth that all I can do is gripe about things. I genuinely believe that there's actually a pretty populous audience who might herald this movie as one of the greatest films ever made. A lot of the problem comes from two things: A) I don't love legal dramas and B) I'm painfully American. Okay, "painfully" might be a bit tough. But I can tell you with 100% certainty: I have little to do with Argentina or Argentinian history. Yeah, the intro text does a little to help me get on board of Argentinian history. But it's extremely dense and very quick. The movie assumes that I know a lot about not just dictatorships in Argentina, but this specific regime and the things that they have done. It's not like you absolutely need to have a background in this stuff. After all, there are some quintessential universal themes throughout the movie. But I will tell you what does kind of hurt when you don't really know what's going on, the appreciation of character.
Strassera, the protagonist of the film, is aggressively flat affect. There are blips and peaks in his anger or outrage. But the dude is in lawyer mode the entire movie. From moment one, we don't really have an understanding of who he is beyond his underdog archetype. Yeah, I'm not into law stuff, as I mentioned. Most law movies, including and especially this one, really are a bunch of talky-talk and little showing. When that kind of stuff happens, you need dynamic characters to really imbue the story with some levels. Do you need proof? "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!" Okay, so that was the witness, but that's the climax of a pretty heated scene. We quote that line because it is the most memorable. Jack Nicholson gives that line so much life and it is a good thing that he does. If anything, that line is something that could be a throwaway line. It's in the passion of the moments that these scenes happen. Instead, the protagonists, Strassera in particular, plays it so close to the vest, it almost comes across as Columbo.
And with Columbo, while Peter Falk might have been able to ingratiate himself to audiences by pushing other characters into losing their cool. After all, Tom Cruise emoted a little bit in A Few Good Men, but it caused Jack Nicholson to really emote. None of that. This sounds awful, especially if you've seen the movie, but thank God the victims of the atrocities emoted somehow. I want to talk about the victims of the dictatorship because that's where I appreciated the film as being a film. The politics and the relationship to criminals in this piece was completely lost on me, but there is a pretty long montage that is absolutely worth watching. If I had to guess, this is going to be the clip for the Academy Awards. But there is an element of the Holocaust happening with the testimonies going on. Yes, the goal of the story is how the underdog lawyer took down a regime that no one thought that he could beat. But that really takes second fiddle to the anguish that the victims of this regime went for. Now, I would say that would be enough to hold up a movie. After all, those scenes stayed with me. But the movie is two hours and twenty minutes. (Again, meeting the criteria of being too long, too depressing, and too sexual.)
Maybe this is where I rally against the long runtime. As I mentioned, most of the movies this year just go on too long. But the bigger issue is that a lot of these movies just try doing a bit of everything. That's the problem. This should be a movie about the victims. I get that the victims are needed to tell a compelling courtroom drama, but everything that wasn't about the victims kind of fell flat. There's one victim, in particular, who had to give birth in a car and had her baby taken from her. Just to establish how graphic this scene was, there's talk of an umbilical cord and how someone who had just given birth was forced to work for the entertainment of the soliders. This is a major moment in the testimony. But instead of focusing on the lawyer, who plays a prevalent part in the story, what if the story was shorter and focused on her getting to the point of testifying against the regime? Okay, I'm going to put my foot into it, but if we're looking at arcs, that lady had far more of an arc than the protagonist of this piece. From moment one, Strassera knew what he had to do. He was a little ho-hum about the whole thing. But he never really goes through a change. Ocampo at least has the moral crusade behind him. But that woman's story is the most powerful. Imagine seeing her recovering from her ordeal and knowing that she'd be shamed.
But there's one reason to stand behind the movie as it is. I mean, I've made it pretty clear that this was a bit rough for me. But in terms of universal storytelling, I do want to talk about something that actually plays out pretty nicely. I like the idea that old people can change their opinions. I know, it sounds like I'm being ageist. But I would like to stress what's going on in the United States right now and in the whole world. There is this notion that "I've been around the block" as a means to avoid confrontation. The older generation had drunk the Kool-Aid when it came to the regime and, because they may have supported it based on misinformation, felt the need to defend the regime, regardless of how much information came out against the regime. But I do like the value of listening. That woman's testimony changed the mind of one woman. There's this whole obsession with being right and I adored the simple phone call where the mother of the prosecution was able to shift her perspective, even for a second. Sure, her son was prosecuting the regime. She has the most reason to change her mind. But it was still this moment reminding us that we should fight for what's right.
I know that I probably watched a good movie and I just didn't like it. That's not my favorite feeling in the world. I should be able to have my own opinions. But I also see that there was a valuable and politically important story. It just did very little for me. That's on me. That's less so on the movie. If you are reading this and deciding whether or not to watch it, maybe read up more on it than just using my narrow-world point-of-view.
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.