There's a very long section of the movie that takes place in a strip club, so of course it is PG-13. (Admittedly, this seemed pretty tame, but it is in there for a really long time.)
DIRECTOR: John Landis
I have so many clever hooks to this one I don't know where to start with. 1) It felt really spiteful writing the title Blues Brothers 2000 and following it up with the year (1998) right after it. I don't mean to throw mud this early. 2) IMDB and the credits list the part of the little boy named Buster as "J. Evan Bonifant". I know it is a lie. That little boy was played by Scarlett Johansson. Sure, there's no evidence on the internet to substantiate what I'm saying. Doesn't mean my gut lies. 3) One of the first movies I ever reviewed was Blues Brothers 2000. I was editor of our high school newspaper and I loved The Blues Brothers. I couldn't wait to see this movie and I wasn't going to let anyone tell me that this movie wasn't going to be great. I owned the soundtrack and I probably watched this movie a dozen times. I often tell my students that I hate the high school version of me. (Oh geez, I'm now Bruce Willis in The Kid.)
After rewatching The Blues Brothers and loving it as much as I did, I thought the same magic could be repeated with the (near) universally panned Blues Brothers 2000. I mean, I loved this movie. I was convinced it was nearly as good as the original. I am so ashamed of old me for this thinking this movie had any merit. This movie is so cringy bad and I don't want to be the guy who adds yet more criticism to older Dan Akyroyd than he's already received. Old Dan Akyroyd is not the neurotic mess of his youth. His younger neurotic mess is adorable and kind of works for him. Old Dan Aykroyd is so deep with his own franchises that he has completely lost the forest through the trees. Listen to him talk about Ghostbusters. He just doesn't have that youthful sardonic attitude. He lost the fact that the movie is fundamentally a comedy with a solid science fiction structure to it. Rather, he is all about the science fiction element then going back to add jokes. The same logical flaw happens with the Blues Brothers sequel. He misses the point of what made the first one so great. Yeah, it is unfair to say that Belushi carries the first movie, but what I can say is that the dynamic between the two brothers is what sells the movie. Aykroyd is Silent Bob. He works so well as Silent Bob. (Okay, Stan Laurel.) It is in the rare moments that Elwood speaks that sell the movie. Instead, Landis and Aykroyd elected to combine the personalities of both Jake and Elwood into the same character. Watching the first movie, Elwood is the one who really doesn't understand Jake's mission from God. He goes along with it because that is his character. However, the motivation to drive this story doesn't really mesh with Elwood. The result is that this feels like a show that you'd see at Universal Studios where an employee is doing an Elwood impression. It is very sad.
Commenting on the lack of magic just seems sad in terms of writing a review. But this movie lacks all magic. Perhaps some of the most awkward moments in the first film involve the ridiculous physics jokes. But the movie earns enough good will that these moments come across as playful and slapsticky. 2000 tries the same absurdity, but with such a self-awareness that I actually felt uncomfortable. There's a moment where the new Bluesmobile (why a cop car? Because it is iconic!) just does a dozen donuts (I get it!) in a parking lot, spinning on its center. The scene lasts so long that I almost considered skipping the scene. It was cringe worthy. The insanity of the movie kept trying to get back that old feeling, but it felt like a fan film versus something that honestly belonged in the movie. And that's what is true about most of the movie. Looking at the musical numbers, the scenes are thrown in there for good measure as opposed to being truly great moments. I have to compare (which I just noticed I'm doing far too often) the original Aretha sequence ("Freedom") to 2000 ("R-E-S-P-E-C-T"). The brothers are sitting at the counter eating their four fried chickens and a coke / dry white toast and letting the number pass. When they do get involved, they go into it with a flat affect. It is their job and they have to dance. It is a weird sense of responsibility and they complete it. Elwood is more than pleased to have a very poorly executed dance number with Mack and Buster. It feels like the choreographer was in a high school production of the show and needed everyone to be smiling for their parents. This, oddly enough, was around the time of The Phantom Menace and it has many of the same problems. The dirtiness of the movie is gone and the movie is so pretty that it looks unloved. I know that sound flippant, but it is kind of true.
I cannot help but comment on the most cringeworthy moment. It wasn't the donuts. The donuts were tame. I have to say it is the zombie Caribbean number with Erykah Badu. I love Erykah Badu. This? This was a travesty. At one point, magic becomes a plot point and that's when I have to just say "I quit." It is so missing the heart of the story. It felt like a cartoon by this point. This isn't about two crass guys putting together a band while on the run for the law. The cops were silly for chasing them and it led to a swamp. I guess what I'm saying is that the movie suffers really bad from a case of trying too hard. I like the fact that Landis and Akyroyd used to be hungry and they had this passion project that screamed independent filmmaker. 2000 was a movie that was made after both filmmakers were trying to recapture the past but just cheapened it. It's why I don't want to see Ferris Bueller's Day Off 2020. (This isn't a thing as far as I understand.) The entire movie would be about trying to recapture that joy versus creating something new. There is nothing confident about recapturing the past. The Blues Brothers could possibly exist without John Belushi, but it has to be something new and Blues Brothers 2000 completely sullies the memory of something that was truly epic.
I'm sure I have a copy of my original review somewhere. I'm curious to see how glowing that review might have been. Perhaps that little kid would hate me as much as I hate him. But this movie is genuine garbage and I can't believe I'm listening to the soundtrack while I write this.
This movie contains every single kind of nightmare fuel imaginable. I left being afraid of things I've never even considered being afraid of. What's that? It's a Disney animated release? PG-13. [smacks forehead]
DIRECTOR: Hayao Miyazaki
We're at a crossroads, people! One thing about me, I really like Miyazaki. I have always understood that he is one of the great masters of cinema, let alone of animated film. His visuals are phenomenal and he has the ability to speak in terms of emotion and honesty, regardless of his subject matter. Lauren and I started watching him when Olivia was younger with My Neighbor Totoro and Ponyo and I've fallen in love with his movies time and again. Second point: I never really got into anime. I have desperately tried. I really like the idea of anime, but man alive, anime often is alienating. You'd think a big dork like me would be head first all about anime, but there is something so bizarre about the storytelling that I could never really get into it. I explored this problem in my Ghost in the Shell review. Princess Mononoke, however, is the inner turmoil between these two concerns. How do I appreciate a film from an amazing director nearly at the height of his game when he completely embraces the medium of anime?
Miyazaki, regardless of how successful the film might be considers, makes a pretty looking movie. Princess Mononoke is considered one of his great successes, so that's not necessarily the problem I'm commenting on here. All I can say is that this movie looks absolutely phenomenal. The opening shot is completely terrifying yet mesmerizing. The boar running out of the woods scared the living daylights out of me. I often think that Disney's PG-13 movies are merely suggestions, but I decided to throw caution to the wind. I would have had a crying five-year-old on my hands quite quickly in this movie. But the movement and the way he portrays the physical manifestation of evil is gorgeous. Miyazaki takes horror elements and attributes them to folklore and it is effective. The boar establishes the tone within the first moments of the film and. despite the fact that I can't actually describe or explain what was going on, I understood the heart of each sequence. I knew what the movie was going to be, regardless of how much of my logic was tied to that understanding. Miyazaki doesn't really rest there, however, because the movie might be the prettiest of the group. Watching Ponyo or My Neighbor Totoro established that the Studio Ghibli vibe is surreal, but Mononoke looks something truly unique. I have to guess that it has to do with Miyazaki's use of light within the movie. The movie is set within the forest, but he uses the forest similar to the way that Guillermo del Toro does within Pan's Labyrinth. His imagery is tonally appropriate to the setting of his world. But the version of that setting is always larger than life. Ponyo uses the bioluminescence of ocean life. Totoro uses the dust mites as parallels for field mice and country life. Mononoke, similarly, uses the aesthetics of a living forest, teeming with intelligent life. I really dig it.
The problem I start having with the movie is finding my antagonist. Perhaps I am used to my archetypes being cleaner, but it seemed like we had too many bad guys and too many questionable goals. I'm used to the "man is terrible for his encroachment on nature", but nature seems to be a horrible jerk here as well. Perhaps it is the fact that nature in Mononoke tends to bear its teeth sooner than finding a means of coexistence. I really don't want to compare this to the defensiveness of the Na'vi in Avatar. (If I didn't punctuate "Na'vi" right, it's because I don't care.) Nature is given the same pride that humanity has in Mononoke, which makes them slightly unsympathetic. Furthermore, although it is clear that the ironworkers are villainous with their attempt to clear the mountain, they are portrayed in a sympathetic light. They are composed of the outcasts and ignored of society. They are a group of strong women who depend on their own determination, which is admirable. But we also know that what they are doing is wrong. They are just doing it for the right reasons. I know that Miyazaki has always commented on the dangers of industrialization and that is very prevalent. Maybe it is something to be admired that he brings a degree of complexity to a situation that really deserves it. But the lack of a clear antagonist makes the movie very frustrating. I cannot root for nature because of its blind militaristic attitude. I cannot root for humanity because they are the destructive force. All I can do is stand by my protagonist, who serves more as an outside perspective, not unlike a narrator.
Then the movie just gets confusing. Perhaps the movie ties into Japanese cultural norms and beliefs, but there is a lot of mythology that I simply cannot understand. I mention often with Japanese films that the movies really benefit from an understanding of culture that we simply do not have in the States. Yeah, it seems a cop out. I might find myself dogging the movie at this point, but I can't stress enough that Miyazaki does an admirable job of ensuring that the viewer has an emotional tie to the heart of the movie. But the movie is super confusing. Alliances are very muddled and it seems like character intentions are all over the place. The protagonist not having complete control of his body is also extremely frustrating because he does absolutely horrible things that are not really his fault. Confusion isn't exactly my favorite place to approach a film. I know, I know. I like sci-fi and that's all mumbo jumbo. But there were times that my mind wandered from this movie because I had long periods of time where I had no idea what was going on. I have to wonder if it is the way my mind is wired because I know that there was something great. I also know that some people didn't find this movie at all confusing. But if I think back to the other Miyazaki things I watched, there were elements of that in those movies as well. Is it because the other films were gendai-geki and I could relate to those scenarios sooner? Perhaps I could jump on board weird concepts in a safe environment? I mean, I got most of Spirited Away, and that movie was completely bananas. Is the jidai-geki an aspect too far for this poor gaijin to relate? I don't know. I think the movie just took it one step of confusion too far and that let my mind wander more than I would have liked.
I will probably watch this one again. It won't probably be any time soon because it is just too fresh and I will always have a backlog of movies that I want to watch sooner than having to rewatch. But I also know my kid and when she is old enough, I can just see her wanting to get into all these films. I mean, we've watched Ponyo more times than I care to admit. If the tide keeps rolling in the same way, I will eventually have Mononoke memorized. I just hope that I can glean a little bit more upon further viewings because I think I could love this movie.
The movie is about a serial killer who murders folks because he's all about murdering folks real good. R.
DIRECTOR: Rick Rosenthal
I have no understanding of where this movie fits in people's hearts. Some people say it is the gem of the series. Some people spit at this movie. Some people really swear by Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I left this movie completely confused on how to feel, except that I have something to say. What that is, I guess I'll discover with you.
I'm a big fan of the original Halloween directed by John Carpenter. The movie is pure and creepy as all get out. Michael Myers, for some bananas reason that probably has to do with me witnessing a murder as a child and blocking it out, resonates as one of the creepiest horror movie villains out there. (Hey, maybe I witnessed William Shatner murder someone. That would explain so much!) I've seen that movie at least a dozen times over separate Halloweens and I always look forward to seeing it. I have seen the fourth and fifth entries in the series and have spit at those, but really liked Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, despite the perfect storm of a name they created. I really like the reboots done by Rob Zombie. So the only movies I hadn't seen in the franchise were the original Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Now, my love for horror has been curbed by my age and my wife's stares of disgust, so I don't have the passion for this franchise that I once did. I have shown Lauren the first Halloween and possibly the reboot. Again, I tend to block things out. But I have to say that I didn't go into this one that excited to watch it. I went into this movie knowing that Lauren wouldn't want to watch it and I better watch it when she was out of town. That might not have been the best choice.
Under a fine layer of garbage, there's something absolutely brilliant going on in the first twenty to thirty minutes of the movie. The movie explores something that I haven't really seen in a horror movie, let alone in a franchise. The movie, smartly, picks up immediately after the first movie ends. Michael has disappeared from the front lawn and he's on the loose. Now, had the rest of the movie followed the building blocks that it set down, this review would have taken a very different turn. I would have been lauding its praises to the heavens for doing something gutsy. The next twenty minutes are about Michael Myers regrouping after getting wrecked by Laurie Strode. The cops are after him and he is without a weapon. They are closing in, but he's not scared because all we see are the unfeeling eyes of a William Shatner mask. (You now get my reference.) That is a nifty idea. We never get the vulnerable juggernaut, trying to regroup and assert his dominance again. There's a cool moment where Michael just sneaks into someone's house to steal a knife. Everything just takes place in the background and, as a horror fan, have never experienced not knowing what was going to happen. That adrenaline had returned that I first got when I first started watching scary movies and I wanted to slow clap. The problem is...MIchael regroups way too quickly.
I don't like when the killer becomes unkillable. What's the point? The motivation of the protagonist is to just get away from the killer. They really have no motivation to confront the murderer because he is untouchable. The bad guy has to reach an Act-of-God-level of onslaught to stop the narrative. The first Halloween film presented a perfect story: a mute serial killer escapes captivity to stage an attack on the town of Haddonfield and Laurie Strode. The second mythos is brought into the story, it kind of cheapens the purity of the other movie. I know. This is problematic. Movies and franchises need to grow or else they are just rehashes of previous films. But when many horror franchises decide to sequelize, they kind of retcon the story of the first one. Laurie Strode didn't fight a demon in the first movie. Or did she? It forces disbelief and that means we have to shut our brains off for the movie to work in the first place. Michael becomes a force of nature and I don't want to see that. Also, speaking of retcon, the end of this movie is very obviously retconned, so what is the point? I know I might be overly idealistic, but I like the idea that, at one point, Halloween was a passion project. A passion project about a a killer in a William Shatner mask, but a passion project nonetheless.
I feel like the opening credits lied to me. I don't know what John Carpenter's relationship to this film is, but it doesn't check out that it is what it says in the opening credits. I feel like his hand was remote from this film and they just tied his name to it to give it a sense of authenticity. The feel of the movie feels very clunky at times. Plotlines are thrown in the movie and barely resolved. The hit and run / explosion scene (yup.) is very thrown in there for stretching out a threadbare script, but the weight of the moment is ignored. That moment is a big deal. Yet, we never really get a sense of the gravity of what is happening in this small town. Outside of the opening sequence with Michael around the neighborhood, the rest of the movie is quite utilitarian. On top of that, the character portrayals become very one-dimensional. Donald Pleasance comes across like a psychopath, but he's the character we're meant to be supporting. The first film portrays him as the voice of reason in a town where people are burying their heads in the sand, but this one has him a gun wielding maniac. And what is the movie saying about guns? It seems to have a message, but I have no idea what that message is. Pleasance almost blows some kids' heads off, but he needs the gun to stop Michael. Is it advocating proper procedure, because I definitely didn't get that vibe from watching this movie.
By the time the movie gets to the hospital, I was checking out. Then we stayed there for a really long time. Like a really long time. By the time the movie was over, I was just begging for the movie to be over. It seemed so useless. Considering that Jamie Lee Curtis was headlining the movie, there was almost no point for her to be in the movie. She was simply an avatar for a target. Yes, the movie gave her a ridiculously retconned (sorry) mythology, but Curtis added nothing to the story. She just sat in a bed until she started running away. She displayed such strength and independence in the first film and this one just had her fleeing from a very slow moving killer. (Let's point that out as well. Michael was overconfident on his slowness in this one. I felt like he was going out of his way to slow down.) This makes the whole movie feel like a cash grab. They got the stars from the first movie to come back for the second movie, but they aren't really doing much. They have no purpose except for being cannon fodder for Michael. The same logic goes for the new characters introduced to the film. There is little done to make these characters develop a sense of attachment. The closest thing to an actual new character is the nurse, who has the sped up version of a storyline attributed to her. But she isn't, by any means, a protagonist. She is unaware of the creepy things happening around her. She screams unknowing victim from moment one and she typifies the way death is treated in the second half of the film. Characters are just in the movie to delay the end of the film and that seems pretty criminal when it comes to making a horror movie. I want to scream at the screen for killing a character that I liked rather than simply watching another murder simulator.
Really, Halloween II might epitomize why people critique horror movies. This movie doesn't form attachment or offer consequences to horrific acts. Rather, it is just about making death look cool and that bums me out to no end.
James Bond, for a good portion of the franchises early days, was considered as offensive as Fifty Shades of Gray would be considered today. PG.
DIRECTOR: Peter R. Hunt
So I had seen The Blues Brothers so many times that I had to wait nearly two decades before watching it again to see if it still held up. The problem is that I am always in some state of rewatching a Bond movie. I get through the whole franchise and then I start again. This might have been the longest gap of nearly two years between watching You Only Live Twice and getting back to On Her Majesty's Secret Service, only that isn't exactly true either. I watched most of the movie, got interrupted and never came back for two years. How can I fairly even enjoy a movie properly that I've seen so many times?
On Her Majesty's Secret Service used to be my favorite Bond movie because I'm a snob who has a film blog and makes students write on film blogs. I loved the idea that the Lazenby entry was the best in the franchise because it was George Goshdern Lazenby and I'm a unique little butterfly in a sea of nerdy caterpillars. Then Casino Royale came out and I couldn't deny that Daniel Craig's first entry was absolutely stunning. Then I thought about and understood that From Russia With Love is an amazing movie and my entire world fell apart. Heck, if it wasn't for the fact that The Living Daylights had Timothy Dalton's Bond, that would even rank higher. But I loved this movie and this time didn't hold up. So what can I say about what changed my feelings about this movie? Is it the fact that I had seen it so many times? Was it because my pause in the franchise threw off my groove? (MY GROOVE! Beware the groove.) I don't know, but I suppose it is like knowing a record so well that you are probably now authorized to comment on it. I'm going to partially destroy something I love because I'm in a rare place where I can be more distanced from the film. I watched it without it being precious and that is a rare opportunity.
1969 was a super confusing time for the Bond franchise. It so wanted to be the Goldfinger days. By the time that Goldfinger came around, the formula was set. The look was the same. The casting was the same. I'd love for Topher Grace to spend some times editing the first five Bond movies into one cohesive storyline because the look of those movies is identical. I'm not going to look it up, but I think Guy Hamilton had his hands all over those movies. Also, the Broccoli and Saltzman knew that they had a hit franchise that was busting the banks worldwide and they weren't going to mess with success any more than they had to. But 1969 looked very different from 1963. The world was changing and it was getting more and more Austin Powers-y. Sean Connery had very publicly left the role after Broccoli and Saltzman had doubled down on saying "Sean Connery IS James Bond." So they had a choice: Go the old way or embrace the new. They made the mistake of trying to do both. On Her Majesty's Secret Service has the fundamental problem of just dipping a toe in the water when it comes to making changes. The lead actor was switched and was just trainwrecking media interviews and there was no getting around that. But the movie just tried incorporating the upcoming decade through some aesthetics and that really doesn't feel like the movie is confident with itself.
The big success with the movie -and there are a few -is the casting of Diana Rigg as Tracy. Some people might point to Honor Blackman as the most powerful leading lady, but I think that might have to do more with her character's provocative name rather than any kind of actual screen presence. (Okay, she does a darn fine job, but nothing compared to Diana Rigg. Also, do I call her "Dame Diana Rigg" if she hadn't been given the title yet?) Diana Rigg is what every Bond girl should be. The story is fundamentally about her. She has many of the primary conflicts and relationships with the story. Perhaps the message that producers and studio heads get from Diana Rigg is that you just need a female James Bond, and that's cool, but she has investment in the story simply beyond her life being at stake. She plants herself in Bond's story because she has planted herself in Bond's life. That is an interesting approach. The other Bond girls tend to bleed together because they are often caught up in a circumstance beyond their control. Tracy chooses to be involved in the conflict and that makes it interesting. The reason that Tracy isn't often thought as the prototypical Bond girl is that she is paired with George Lazenby, of whom I have been too forgiving for too long. There was a lot of stuff going on back then, but much of it came with George Lazenby's ego. I kind of think that Bill Murray wishes he was George Lazenby because Lazenby's reaction to celebrity is underground and a level of creepy that few would understand. Long and short, I don't know how much George Lazenby allows himself to be directed. The guy isn't awful, but he by no means carries the scenes he's in. It often seems like he is on a track, being led around from plot point to plot point because the script says he must go on.
There's also something remarkably lazy about On Her Majesty's Secret Service. There are so many shortcuts that really hurt my head in terms of "what were they thinking" because there is so much that is good about this film. The score depends way too much on Monty Norman's version of the James Bond theme. I don't know if the producers really wanted to stretch that nothing had happened in terms of Connery leaving, but I would have loved a new orchestration of the score rather than the same canned music on repeat. I'm speaking of the final battle and that scene is just a mess. On top of that, and I'm really yelling at far too many older action movies, is the speeding up of film for dramatic effect. It's a bad choice and my heart hurts because of it. A film on fast forward isn't exciting; it's a bad special effect. The nostalgia also tries taking over the movie. From Maurice "Kinda Pervy" Binder's opening credit sequence to Bond's nostalgic desk of trinkets to the constant references to how much knowledge that Bond has about cool stuff, it just seems like the producers are terrified of losing the cash cow and are fearful of doing something different.
I still love Bond and I still love this Bond movie. It's just not as much an obsession as it once was and I can really acknowledge some weaknesses. This won't be the last viewing of this movie. I'll probably get through the franchise again within a decade and I'll start all over again, probably when it is beamed directly into my head.
Holy moley do these movies deserve the hard R! But it is 1972 Japan, baby! We don't have time to warn the public about insane violence!
DIRECTOR: Kenji Misumi
This! This is why the movie after the origin story should be better than the first one. I might be a little biased. While I love me some origin story, I acknowledge that the A-story always becomes a bit of a B-story. It's why I don't like when the big bad guy is in the first movie. That character becomes a bit of a throw away. Look at the '89 Batman. The Joker is completely wasted. Now look at the Joker in The Dark Knight. He becomes much scarier because he gets all of the attention. Lone Wolf and Cub gets this. Sure, I dug Sword of Vengeance. But Baby Cart at the River Styx? Finally, there's a cool story there. This is something that Zatoichi doesn't really seem to get. Lone Wolf and Cub has a very intense premise, but doesn't lean on it hard yet. It is simply a cool movie.
The movie rides pretty hard on a subject I've seen in other movies. I'm ashamed to say it, but there are similarities with the Thomas Jane version of The Punisher. Misumi, however, takes this simple premise and crushes it. Lone Wolf and Cub have become a burden on the local gangs, so they hire the best assassins in the world to take care of him. Meanwhile, Lone Wolf receives a contract to take out some other amazing assassins, so it is a story of who is going to kill whom first. Misumi, and perhaps credit is due more to the manga storyline that preceded it, creates absolutely amazing bad guys in this movie. They are scary as anything I've seen. Admittedly, there is always a hint of Bond villain / cornball factor that comes into having a bad guy prove his or her own evil, but I didn't mind it with this one. The villains show their villainy and how in this one. It is a group of female assassins who prove their worth through the almost piranha like destruction of a ninja. His jump to the ceiling is chuckleworthy. The moments following are jaw dropping. If you watch just one scene from this movie (and why would you?), try to watch this part. It is absolutely crazy what happens to this guy by the end of the scene. Small spoiler: Imagine if the scene with the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail wasn't funny. Then make it grosser.
Like I said last time, the chauvinism in this series is still palpable. It might have diminished a little bit from last time, but the movie does still have a bro-ey vibe. Yes, I feel a little gross enjoying these movies, but I do have to acknowledge the ickiness of the whole thing. There is a woman who is afraid of being raped, but that fear is almost portrayed in a way that is meant to excite rather than looking at the entire moment as abhorrent. I can't applaud the movie for that and I have a feeling the rest of the series is have the same stance when it comes to its views on sexuality. The audience is bro-ey guys and I'd like to consider myself not super bro-ey. Again, Lone Wolf and Cub is an example of low art. But as a fan of pulp, I have to accept that sometimes when something loses the focus on changing the world and just creates something for the sake of being cool, there comes a danger with the product. The film actively ignores the responsibility of what it is presenting and that's a shame. Is a sacrifice in tone more important than the moral responsibility that the filmmakers are sidled with? I now know that we can no longer say, "Well, that's how it was." Also, this is 1972, not the early 1900s. We have to accept some responsibility. This may have been culturally acceptable, but that doesn't mean that I have to applaud it.
There is a weird moral center in these movies. While Lone Wolf is definitely our protagonist, he is a fairly awful human being. He takes care of his "son" for the film, albeit with a stoicism that is added almost exclusively for tone, but he is still an assassin. I kind of commend the storytellers that they didn't shy away from this plotline. Lone Wolf is paid an astronomical amount of money to murder someone who is in a moral gray area protected by ronin who are morally gray as well. There is a clear cut villain in the story, but that's not Lone Wolf's objective. He must murder excellent ronin to stop an industrial spy. So many people die for the sake of protecting money. What is great is that Misumi doesn't try painting that in a more flattering light. He presents both sides of the debate and Lone Wolf goes in with few scruples about what he is doing. The movie never forgets to remind the audience that Lone Wolf is not necessarily a good man. He is a man who kills for money. He is the villain of someone else's story. The only real traits that make him redeemable or even salvageable is that he takes care of Cub and is really good at killing folks. Both of those traits are simply filling my reptile brain as opposed to feeding my soul, but when a movie presents itself as junk food, I should be allowed to say if it is a Symphony bar with toffee (my favorite) or a Bit-O-Honey. The movie leans toward Symphony bar (maybe Mini M&Ms because of its lack of perfection) and that's pretty cool. Lone Wolf bears the burden of me thinking he's cool from a distance, but I would be terrified to know him in reality. Kind of like Don Draper.
The movie is beautifully shot gore. I think my future distaste for some of the Zatoichi movies might be caused by how good these movies look. What is very bizarre is that the gore in these movies reminds me of a great '70s or '80s practical horror effect. The movie has all of the gore of a horror movie with the same looks, but with the tone of a an action movie. Yes, we have gory action movies today and some of them are very cool, but the cut of the film is so frenetic that it never lets you sit on that gore. Lone Wolf and Cub presents truly impressive gore effects and just lets you watch them while you hold back a gag. This is true from the first shot to the last fight. The first shot in the movie literally is a guy getting a samurai sword to the head, surviving long enough to give a moving monologue while his brain fails him. Blood runs down the blade and we just stare at the guy trying to talk with a blade an inch down into his brain. Cool. The movie also maintains the tradition of absurd gore; flying swords and stuff constantly fills the screen. But the movie establishes a world where people bleed more brightly colored blood than any person really would. I have to wonder what it's like being the kid in this movie. That's a disturbing thought.
Again, Lone Wolf and Cub isn't for everyone. In fact, it's not for most people. But for those people predisposed to gross out violence, the sequel is actually better than the original. I don't know if the franchise can maintain this, but I'm sure I'll eventually get burned out on this as well. The turnaround time is just too quick.
When I was a kid, I thought, "Why is this R?" Now, I'm an adult and I know it's R. See, MPAAing is hard!
DIRECTOR: John Landis
It is absolutely bizarre coming back to a movie that I loved as a kid. I know, what was a kid doing watching R-rated movies? My parents were responsible, I swear. I think I got a kick out of watching an R-rated movie so I watched it a billion times. This was a movie that I used to be able to quote from memory. But it may have been two decades since I watched this one so I had the rare opportunity to go back to one of my former favorite films and watch it objectively. Normally, this hasn't gone so well for me. (Sorry, Moulin Rouge!, I was wrong about you. You aren't great.) But this? The Blues Brothers? Completely and utterly holds up. I am back to spouting the good word of Jake and Elwood Blues until the cows come home.
I am going to confess something that no film teacher should ever confess. I often confuse John Landis and John Hughes. They are both mildly obsessed with Chicago and were roughly working about the same time in many of the influential movies of the '80s. Part of me honestly probably thought they were the same guy. IMDBing John Landis's career kind of bummed me out when I was watching this movie. Landis also made another movie on my hit list, An American Werewolf in London. Unlike The Blues Brothers, I had only seen Werewolf once and then hid it away for a rainy day. There's also an element to me that feels uncomfortable with watching gore on repeat. So Landis really has some cred in my book and I think that cred comes from the fact that he never holds back. Yes, subtlety is a wonderful commodity in many films, but Landis in unadulteratedly excited about the films he makes. The Blues Brothers might be the most joyful experience I've seen on the screen. Considering that these characters are the real first SNL characters who are showcased in film, this movie crushes. Think about all of the SNL failures. Then there's this movie. I also have a love in my heart for Wayne's World, but Wayne's World knows what it is supposed to be an has no delusions of grandeur. The Blues Brothers takes expectations of a typical comedy movie with some rhythm and blues in it and completely subverts that expectation. It makes the film an epic and unapologetic spectacle, admittedly exposing some flaws in the process, and leaves the viewer with a sense of awe in what he is watching.
I had an epiphany while watching this movie. The Rev. Cleophus James, immoralized by James Brown, might have had one of the biggest influences over me theatrically than any other work. As snobby as I am (I admit while writing a film blog), many of my attitudes to theatrical staging comes from what I'd like to think of as "choreographed chaos." That scene establishes such a tone for the film and lets the audience in on how big this movie could possibly be. It is the perfect balance of teasing how far the boundaries can go for filmmaking without undermining bigger scenes later. I'm positive when producers and studio heads were looking at that script, they had no idea the scope of what was going to happen. The same has to be true about the police chases. There is a scope this movie that is blockbuster with the attitude of a fun indie blues concert film. In this moment, I really believe that my jaw drops more now thinking about the mall chase in The Blues Brothers than I could muster for watching the Battle of New York in The Avengers. Movies like this aren't made anymore. I don't know whether we have become more cynical as a culture, but I can't think of a movie that takes it to this level. The closest I can think is This is the End, but that it its own (pardon the pun) beast.
The Blues Brothers is also genuinely funny. The great thing about watching it as a twelve-to-fifteen year old is that I remembered all of the quotable moments, but there are some real howlers that I probably just shrugged off in the day. If you had watched me watch the movie (and if you did, shame on you!), you would have seen me beaming the entire time. It was childlike. My face hurt from smiling too much during the film. That is mostly on Landis, but I also loved just the relationship between John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Knowing a little bit about these two powerhouses only adds to the dynamic. Belushi was a force of nature and Aykroyd suffered from anxiety, pretty much the nice guy of the group. Belushi was his outward persona while Aykroyd kind of was the nerd we know him today. But they both came together and played these characters so perfectly that only built on their personalities. Jake has elements of Belushi, but Elwood is a drastic departure from Aykroyd. Yet, it worked. I never felt like Belushi was scene stealing, even in the "How much for your women?" sequence. He is playing amazing ball with everyone else in every scene. I posted on Facebook the Aretha sequence. Jake and Elwood are at the counter and barely interacting. When they jump into the dance, they play the flat affect. The joke works because they aren't scene stealing, which kind of steals the scene in the long run. I know it all seems paradoxical, but that is why it works.
I keep thinking I'm a blues hound because I want to be a blues hound. That seems just pretentious enough to add to my bag o' pretention, (Sure, it's not a word. Whatever. Coinage is also pretentious. Talk to Shakespeare.) But the music in this movie is just perfect. I don't know if "Freedom" was more popular than "Respect" at the time, but I love it so much more than "Respect" in this film. For all I know, Aretha hadn't written "Respect" yet. But man alive, the music in this movie should forever be on a loop anywhere I go. But then I'd be walking down the hall, shaking my tail feather everywhere I went and that seems somewhat irresponsible. The music works and the dancing works. The weird moment was the fact that "Rawhide" became my least favorite song in the movie considering that I'd watch that scene on repeat over and over. Sure, it's the theme song to a TV show and that's really the joke in the movie, but I now just like it for the joke because the musical numbers throughout the movie are so well executed that "Rawhide" only really works for the joke now. I'm going to watch Blues Brothers 2000 pretty soon because my Blu-Ray came as a double feature. (I also had the blessing of watching the theatrical cut of the film because that was also an option on the Blu-Ray.) I remember the music being good in that one, but I don't know if it will hold up.
I'm a little sensitive about sharing this movie with others. I do think it is objectively great. Considering that I've turned my back on a lot of the movies from my past, I feel that I'm clearheaded enough to judge this movie as a critic. It is great. I just now feel super protective of it and I hope that it becomes a gem for everyone else as well.
Hey! A pretty accurate PG-13! But now I wonder, if Disney released it, would it get a hard PG? The world is topsy-turvey and someone's gotta do something about it!
DIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols
My wife is out of town for the week, so my goal is to watch a movie a day. Oh, what a privileged life I lead. I can't guarantee a review a day (although I would be genuinely proud of myself if I pulled it off), mainly because I'm collecting a stack of tests today and work comes first. But so far I'm going strong. I have a little backlog of reviews to get through, so let's start with something that was on my Netflix DVD queue because of the Academy Awards.
The only reason that I even heard of this movie considering that being a parent of two is that Ruth Negga was up for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Seeing the clips and the trailer, I was floored that this movie wasn't up for Best Picture. I mean, it looks all Best-Picturey. The color palette alone! It's all warm muted sunsets. How does that not get a Best Picture nom? I mean, it worked for Hell or High Water! (boom) Now that I've seen the movie, I kind of get it. I mean, I'm still surprised and all that, but the movie isn't perfect. The movie IS really good, but it is far from perfect. On top of that, I find it interesting that Ruth Negga was up for Best Actress. She does a solid job in this movie as does Joel Edgerton, but both of the characters are fairly quiet and reserved. They seem to be passengers in their own crisis. Both Richard and Mildred seem to be criminally introverted, which makes it hard to really see what their choices are in terms of storytelling. Many of Negga and Edgerton's scenes involve either approving or disapproving of the ACLU's choices to help them. Their primary accomplishment is muted reaction. The things that happen to them are horrible and should be condemned, but considering that these are reserved people dealing with horrors in a reserved way, the performances are all based around reactions that never really get out of control. I remember watching the clip that they played for Negga at the Academy Awards and thought, "Oh, they are showcasing the range by picking a reserved moment." Nope. That's her the whole movie. Very chill. It serves the movie, but the performance isn't much to really talk about. Both of these actors are solid, but I don't think Loving showcases that very well.
With Jeff Nichols as both director and screenwriter, the weaknesses of this movie are on his shoulders. It is based on a true story and the story itself is pretty riveting. The strengths are in the truth to begin with, so I have a hard time really handing Nichols too much credit outside of pursuing this thread to its final result. If I must give him credit, the movie is beautifully shot. It is absolutely gorgeous. But there are some real slip ups when it comes to conveying the nightmares that the couple are going through. The story of Loving v. the State of Virginia is something I'm now very interested in and the consequences of the case. But the problem is that many of the moments that really make me sympathize are told, but not seen. Mildred hates the city, but I only know that because of things that are said. Washington seems like a fairly wonderful place through the lens of film. It actually seems like a paradise. But this is contrasted with the line that Mildred says, "They are growing so fast and it is like they are in a cage." When we talk about juxtaposition, it is contrasted with boys laughing and playing inside. The story really is about how exile affects the way we see the world and the value of home. That idea is explicitly stated, but is contradicted in the way that the movie is filmed. Perhaps Nichols was trying to grasp reality and the nature of depression, but none of that is conveyed in the film. If anything, I kind of saw the movie as a mother trying to get back home despite the fact that the kids love their home. There is one scene that really validates what Nichols is trying to accomplish. Without giving too many details, one of the children is seriously injured in the city. Perhaps the use of editing might make this scene a homerun, it is tense. But then I thought of how the city and the country both have their dangers. In fact, considering the Lovings' situation, the city seemed safer.
What the Lovings did was so important and so vital to the Civil Rights Movement that I can't understand how the movie really failed to have me sympathize with them at every moment. There was a movie a couple of years ago about people trapped on Everest during a snowstorm. The trailer showed climbers Skyping with their families and saying that they had to do this. All I could see were people being selfish and putting their families last. I, unfortunately, had moments like this in the film. When the Lovings return Virginia for the first time, all I could think was how they were risking the life of their child for something that could be rectified in a dozen of other and safer ways. I get it. That's not the point. It was meant to show their courage and standing up for what was right. But Nichols writes the characters not as people standing on the right side of morality, but rather as people who want what they want and they are going to take it. The same thing comes from when ACLU lawyer Bernie Cohen, oddly played by Nick Kroll, tells them to get arrested. They share the reaction that I had, but then go back on that idea. This is a family with kids who are going back because they like where they lived. Again, there is a moral core to this movie and they are in the right, but the movie really fails to portray that motivation. I suppose that is probably closer to what the real Lovings believed and that truly is how reality works, but I could help but feel frustrated for all of the collateral damage that didn't have the same priorities that the parents did.
And that's what weirds me out. I supported everything that the Lovings deserved. They won and that's what is important in the end. They have suffered a great injustice, an injustice that needed to be fought and crushed. But they also tried to compensate themselves on the risk of others. As a parent, my heart screamed out for those children who risked losing their parents. If their parents were fighting for the greater good, I could get behind it. But they weren't. The movie paints them as a couple who just wants to live in Virginia and that bummed me out. There were so many opportunities to do this differently, and I acknowledge that we wouldn't have the big leap in history that came with this choice, but I can't sit back and think that is how I would have handled it.
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.