PG-13 for being a '90s PG movie. It is a family friendly movie that REALLY pushes the limits of what is considered family friendly. There's a lot of language being used by kids. The bad guys are actually pretty scary looking. Also, there's a really brief joke about a gentleman's club that gets revisited at one point. Kids also try beer, but they spit it out. I guess I should also include violence because it is a superhero movie.
DIRECTOR: David F. Sandberg
I saw this the day after I saw Endgame. How unfair is that to Shazam!? First of all, it's a DCeU movie, and you know how I tend not to like those. But seeing this movie after Marvel delivered its crowning glory? That's just unfair. Did I like it? Sure. But the stakes are so low! Everything isn't the end of the world! I want to weep ugly tears and I don't really have the opportunity to do that. The worst part is that this is the step I wanted the DCeU to take! This is the movie I've been fighting for. The DC Universe should have absolutely fantastic and fun movies, but the DCeU is a place for bleak, CG insanity to reign. Is Shazam! a good movie? Probably. I can even say that I enjoyed it. But it is also a reminder of how much catching up we need to do to get this franchise off of the ground.
By the way, I was going to see Marvel's Captain Marvel about a month ago and I saw Shazam! on the board right next to Captain Marvel. Do you know how confusing that is for me? If I had just stepped out of myself for a second, I could see what was going on. But I hadn't thought about it. When I was growing up, the character was named "Captain Marvel." I knew there was a Captain Marvel at Marvel and I knew that there was a Captain Marvel at Disney. There's something really depressing about hearing jokes covering up for the fact that they can't call him Captain Marvel. In DC Comics, his name is "Shazam." It's a weird name. A) Doesn't that give everyone way too much information about you? B) He can't say his own name. It's such an odd choice to name the character that. Anyway, the movie plays around a lot with what his name should be versus what his name probably is. Where Shazam! succeeds is the tone and mood of the movie. Shazam! is a competent superhero movie to begin with. It has a solid formula for the most part. It is filmed like a DCeU movie is filmed. The one thing that I actually like about the DCeU is that those movies mostly look pretty. Except when they are CG nightmares, the cinematography is actually pretty good. In terms of the look of the movie, nothing is distractedly obnoxious. But it is also a fun film. The DCeU has needed to get a stick out of its butt for a while now. Aquaman really took the first necessary steps to getting out of that slump, but I didn't really like Aquaman. Wonder Woman is great, but it can take itself too seriously at times. You know that the execs at Warner Brothers are waking up because they cast Zachary Levi.
Zachary Levi makes too much sense as Shazam. I mean, I never really thought of him as a muscle man. He's always going to be Chuck to me. But he's got traditionally good looks and a manchild persona for a lot of his characters. The great thing about Levi is that he sells the conceit without a problem. While physically an adult, he has the attitude of a child. One thing that never got me into Shazam! as a comic is that I had a hard time distancing the idea that Captain Marvel was actually a kid. I kind of treated Billy Batson as the kid and the superhero form as something like the Hulk, a different personality. Levi completely fixes that. I don't know if there's really a more perfect reintroduction to a character since Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man. When you look at the first Iron Man movie, comic fans kind of realize that RDJ wasn't playing the comic book Tony Stark. All the traits of Stark were there, but his charisma and smugness made the character come to life. Like Iron Man, Zachary Levi got something that the rest of us didn't get. Fifteen year olds aren't always perfect. In fact, fifteen year olds are often quite obnoxious. Most of the movie is based around the idea that Shazam never really fits in with the other hero. As part of that, Levi gets the mannerisms of a fifteen year old. There are parts of the movie where the two actors switch back and forth: Billy Batons becomes Shazam. Shazam becomes Billy Batson. But because Levi gets the attitudes of the fifteen year old, the characters never really get swapped in my head. there's no delineation. There's never that moment where you have to lie to yourself that it's working. He actually works it pretty hard. On top of that, he does look like a superhero. It's great.
I never understood why Billy Batson was chosen to be the champion. Perhaps the movie sells it a bit better than the comics in the sense that there's a desperation by the Wizard Shazam. Billy is a bit of a brat. Yes, he's had it harder. But then you look at characters like Freddie who completely deserve the title more. I don't know if there's something flawed in Freddie's character that determine why he wouldn't have been the champion from moment one. Having Freddie as Billy's mentor is fantastic, but it also reminds us that Billy isn't really suited to be the champion. If we use Thor as a tale of working to be worthy, Billy isn't really ready to be Shazam until late in the film. But it is interesting that being Shazam makes Billy both a better person and a worse person at the same time. The moment that actually gets him to open up to Freddie is when he needs Freddie's help. He is this sad kid for the majority of the intro and only finds happiness when he's in the suit. As a character, I actually might find Billy Batson more interesting than the DCeU's Batman. Batson is flawed. I can't help but make really strong connections to Spider-Man: Homecoming. There's actually some straight up copying, but I'm not going to narc too hard. (Sorry, the ending credits is just straight up the end of Spider-Man: Homecoming.) I think that studios might only have one idea what kids are. That might be hand-drawn scribbles to '70s punk. But the humor is very similar. Freddie is just Ned. Ned is just Ganke. And the circle of life continues.
Can I tell you that my favorite moment in the movie is the same as everyone else's favorite moment in the film? Again, there are SPOILERS, but the Marvel Family is so integral to the whole idea of Captain Marvel that I'm glad that the movie didn't stretch this to other films. Adam Brody as Captain Marvel, Jr. is inspired. I also had no idea that this was coming. Understanding that Shazam is about family is really smart. As much as I love the duet between Billy and Shazam, Shazam! really thrives on its supporting cast. Watching how the rest of these kids interacted with Billy really sets up nicely for the entire family getting these superheroic avatars throughout. The only problem with the Marvel Family is that it takes away Billy's importance. I suppose that this is part of his quest to become worthy, but why is the story about Billy at that point? They all have powers. What I didn't quite understand is if any single member of the family had all of the abilities. Freddie seemed to fly the entire time. Darla seemed to super speed everywhere. Pedro seemed to be about super strength. I guess that makes Billy the de facto leader, which is great. But also, how does that work? Ah, it doesn't matter. All of this is nitpicky. I just think it is smart.
The thing that doesn't really work for me is the villain story. It's got origin movie problems all over it. It's so bizarre that Mark Strong has been two supervillains in the DC movies. He's fine, I guess. He just keeps playing variations on the same plot. On top of that, Dr. Sivana...confuses me. Part of this comes from the comic books. If Captain Marvel started off as a Superman rip-off, Dr. Sivana always seemed like Lex Luthor to me. Giving him abilities doesn't really lead to anything of a sequel with Black Adam. I know the movie doesn't really tease Black Adam too hard, but I heard that Dwayne Johnson was supposed to play him. Billy's already taken on the origin mirror version of himself. Sivana has all of Billy's powers with a back up of the seven deadly sins to help him out. I don't love the visuals of the seven deadly sins. There's so much opportunity there, but they just kind of seem like generic monsters. Sivana is the big bad guy. That's fine. But the bad guys are supposed to be epic. If Sivana just wants power, the seven deadly sins are suppose to take down the world. They are supposed to subject everyone to their whims. They are meant to soak in evil and see where that goes. But they don't really read that way. They are just so-so monsters that I've seen in dozens of movies and I don't necessarily want that. I want something bigger. Yeah, the seven deadly sins were probably the scariest part of the movie and kind of scared my daughter. But they are almost treated like the scary parts of a Disney animated feature. We can do better. Honestly, there's a lot of this movie that read like MCU's Phase One. The origin is kind of a throwaway story for the villain and the villain is just a copy of the hero. I could do without that. Also, I never really got the connection between Sivana's origin story and his quest for evil.
Shazam! is a fun movie. I'm glad to see that the DCeU is doing good things with their characters. While Wonder Woman is still my favorite, Shazam! is super fun. Heck, it might have actually been my favorite if I hadn't just come down from the epic experience that was Avengers: Endgame. Regardless, it's a really good time and I can see owning this one.
SPOILERS GALORE! It's been the long weekend! It's time to talk about the conclusion to the Infinity Saga, Avengers: Endgame. Brian Murray joins Bob and Tim in this extra long, spoiler filled discussion about Avengers: Endgame.
Avengers: Endgame (2019)
PG-13 for language and violence (I'M SAYING EVERYTHING IS A SPOILER, SO I'M STRETCHING THIS LINE OUT AS LONG AS I CAN SO IT DOESN'T SHOW UP IN THE PREVIEW) involving the deaths of childhood icons. I'm not saying which yet. I'm just saying that it might be traumatic to watch more of a kid's favorite characters die sad and brutal deaths. Call me modest, but I don't want to explain to my five year old that the character is dead, but that the movie is made up. Things traumatize kids. Besides, the movies play pretty fast and loose with the language sometimes.
DIRECTORS: Anthony and Joe Russo
I wrote 1000 words on Avengers: Endgame for Catholic News Agency where I didn't spoil anything. Do you understand how hard that was? THIS IS MY SPOILERY REVIEW! I'm going to talk about everything from this movie. I just recorded a podcast about Avengers: Endgame and I have so many thoughts. Just be aware, I'm straight up going to be talking spoilers throughout, so you have been warned. If you want no spoilers, read the Catholic News Agency one. I'm very proud of that piece. But I also want to actually break down the movie.
Can we finally agree that a movie pulled off what was thought to be impossible? I didn't think that the Russos could make one satisfying Avengers movie, let alone two back-to-back. Expectations for movies are always a bit much. I don't think people have been so hyped up for the final entry in a franchise as much as Avengers. Honestly, I think the hype was probably on Return of the Jedi levels. Listen, I'm a guy who absolutely adores Return of the Jedi. It's a warm blanket for me. But people fight, and perhaps rightly so, that it is the weakest of the franchise. Avengers: Endgame might be the perfect film to end the series. I know that we're not done with the MCU, but we are done with The Infinity Saga. It's pretty big, that Infinity Saga. This was an experiment that wasn't really supposed to work. Instead, for about a decade, people really understood what comic book fans were obsessed with. The scale and scope of these films actually reached a level that effectively communicated why comic book nerds loved these characters. Avengers: Endgame surely is a film that may not work in isolation. It is a film of culmination, as implied by its title. But the Russos made that movie with such conviction that it doesn't try to water down its formula. Instead, the movie embraces the fact that everyone who is coming into this movie has seen an unhealthy amount of film going into it. As such, we get actually satisfying conclusions to our characters narratives.
Sometimes, these ends are real bummers. The death of Tony Stark seemed inevitable. Robert Downey, Jr. has teased that he wanted to leave the franchise before he burned out on them. I never got the vibe that he hated Iron Man. Quite the opposite. I actually think that Iron Man is something special to him. But as an actor, I'm sure he's terrified that Iron Man is something that he would be stuck with for the rest of his career. But the Infinity Saga is really the tale of Tony Stark. As is almost culminated in Captain America: Civil War, it takes two very sympathetic, yet contrasting philosophies and pits them at odds. Tony Stark is a character who is about learning from mistakes. He consistently considers himself the smartest guy in the room almost because of his mistakes. His guiding personality trait is cockiness. Despite almost always being wrong on a major scale, he also knows what is coming next. The character in the comics is a futurist. He sees which way the wind is blowing and can adapt from those insights. But he's a character that fundamentally starts off not only as cocky, but as kind of selfish. The first movie ends with him announcing that "I am Iron Man." He does it because the lie is silly and doesn't allow him to be himself. He enjoys the spotlight that Iron Man brings him. He enjoys taking down bad guys and playing loud music. Look at Tony in Iron Man 2. He's insulting senators on national television and having a blast. Now compare that to Endgame Tony Stark. Iron Man is a necessary evil to him. He has found happiness, despite continual failures. He knows that Iron Man will lead to his death. He actually comes down to the choice between happiness and Iron Man and chooses Iron Man. Iron Man was his happiness in the first film. But choosing Iron Man leads Tony Stark to sacrificing himself for everyone. The new Infinity Gauntlet is made out of Stark Tech. It's this thing where Tony has now made the ultimate weapon. A redemption arc that started with him vowing not to make weapons makes the ultimate weapons and it kills him. Tony Stark's arc is such an interesting one because he rides the fine line of what justifies changing from his old life. Look at what he did at the end of Avengers. He goes out into space and is about self-sacrifice. That's kind of what I love about Iron Man 3. It is the shift in character for him. There's a real aftermath to the events of Avengers. It's so dark. It bums me out that he has a kid. He seems like a good dad and a good husband. I'm depressed for his daughter. Why would the Russos do that? Is it to give us the sense that Tony is supposed to survive? It's such a good story.
But the Captain America thing? Are you kidding? It's perfect. I didn't see it coming until Cap goes to the '70s. I was ready for Cap to die. I was ready to cry sad and ugly tears over Captain America dying on the field. Instead, he gets this perfect out for his character. First of all, he dominates the movie. I don't think I noticed how small a part that Captain America played in Infinity War until I started reading stuff about Endgame. I kind of understand that a movie with a billion characters kind of has to use screen time frugally. But Cap gets to be the Captain America that I didn't realize that I missed. He gets all of these moments that show that Captain America is the spiritual heart of the MCU. He gets Mjolnir. Guys, he gets Mjolnir. On the podcast, we debate whether he's always been able to do that or his life has made him worthy of carrying Mjolnir. I don't really care, but I'm leaning towards his events during Civil War and on have made him worthy. But there's this shot of him holding the cracked shield and Mjolnir at the same time and I honestly believed that he could take out a quarter of that army by himself. But the Peggy Carter reunion. I know that his throughline is that he's always been a man out of time. That's his origin story. But I'm so used to Marvel Comics continuing in stories that have had him planted in the present for so long that having him go back to World War II just escaped me. Cap was always someone who had that on his shoulders. If you told me that Bruce Wayne would get his parents back one day, I would probably scoff at you. It's what I do. I scoff. But Cap returning to Peggy as an out for the franchise is perfect. He's not allowed to mess with history because he knows what is at stake. It neuters him while giving him a happy ending. I want that for Tony. I want that more for Tony's daughter, just so her dad can give her all the cheeseburgers that she wants. But the Peggy story was such an open wound on the character that I stopped seeing. It just seemed beyond my comprehension that Cap could somehow heal that situation. But he does. He does heal and he actually gets a happy ending. I don't know why we assume the superhero needs to have the tragic ending. It's what makes a character compelling. It's so appropriate because I'm teaching the word "catharsis" to my junior classes in vocab. That. That there is catharsis. He keeps getting beaten down and getting back up. When he gets up for the last time, he is surprised to find history waiting for him. That's beautiful. I never really cried. I got close when Tony saw his dad, but that's all personal issues for me. But Cap getting Peggy back was everything that I wanted out of the movie. If the rest of the movie was terrible, I would still applaud the Peggy choice.
But the rest of the movie is rad. While I wish that there was a way for Thor to get magic abs again, I like the fat joke. Thor and Hulk, once the MCU realized that they were the funny characters, work so well as a means to just breathe out from time to time. Yeah, Avengers: Endgame was bleak. But it was also very funny. We were laughing in a movie where half of all life was wiped out of existence. People were living in the post apocalypse and we were laughing. Do you understand how difficult it would be to get people laughing genuinely when all of this stuff was going on? The movie STARTS with Hawkeye seeing his entire family dusted. That's pretty bananas. But the movie strikes such a solid tone that we're never removed from the gravity of the things going on and the fun tone of a superhero movie. Honestly, Avengers: Endgame is a masterclass of blockbuster cinema. It demands that you watch the other movies for FOMO, but also because you want to be part of the water cooler discussions. I live in a world where my comic book characters are wept over by people who have never read a comic book. This is fantastic. Thank you, Russo Brothers and Feige. Thanks for making one of the most epic rad series in cinema history. I honestly think that the MCU is something that has never happened in film and may never be repeated again. Well done, everyone.
R for brutality. There's no nudity, which is usually my red flag. But I don't think I ever feel more American than when I think a movie is okay because of violence. Upgrade is as much a horror movie as it is an action movie. It's shot like a horror movie in terms of lighting and gore. But the plot is straight up action. That hybrid can get pretty disturbing. The violence is somehow more visceral in this film. Sure, there is language and the movie fridges a character pretty hard. But this is not an easy movie to watch throughout. R.
DIRECTOR: Leigh Whannell
I suppose this blog has a fine line between analysis and straight up journal. I don't know if people actually think about it that much, but it takes a lot to watch a movie a day and to write a billion words of analysis on that movie. I really try to do this five days a week. That's a lot of writing. Part of what is going through my head is length. If good writing is supposed to be brief, this is the opposite of that. It really is an extension of a writing exercise that I've had to do for a few classes. It's that old chestnut where you really aren't supposed to stop and think about what you are writing. If you stop, you are doing it wrong. I really enjoy film and I really enjoy writing about film. But I also know that if overthink this blog, I'm going to stop doing it. What this really means is that I write it throughout the day piecemeal at times. For example, just so I can say I hit my routine on the right day, I'm starting this analysis at 11:30 at night. It still counts as Friday so I have the timestamp that I'm looking for. I apologize if I leave typos. I honestly am fried after each one of these things. Good proofreading and good editing should happen when you have time to rest and come back to it. With the turnaround time that I put into these things, it makes it impossible to really do that. So I have a choice: write everyday and just accept that sometimes what I write is full of typos and mistakes or write less. If I write less, I probably might not come back to this.
Okay, actually to the movie. This is another Cinefix recommendation. They get me, man. Okay, I probably get them more. This is what the video store used to be like. I would stumble across trailers for movies that looked good. Sometimes I would follow a director pretty close. But the video store was all about finding that absolute gem of a movie that may not have permeated the public consciousness. Upgrade would have been something to talk about back in the day. It hits a really sweet spot of a lot of things that I like coming together. I would like to establish that the movie has a certain quality of shamelessness about it. When I work with student actors, which doesn't happen that much anymore since I stopped teaching theatre, I always wanted to impart to them to let go of shame. If you are worried about looking silly, you never will get anything great. This doesn't mean necessarily to go big, but just to risk being kind of ridiculous. Upgrade learned that lesson in spades because it almost doesn't care that it isn't for everybody. If I had to explain the plot to you without all of the twists and revelations, we're just dealing with just another revenge plot. In this case, the revenge plot has a sci-fi twist. Grey and STEM are just a science fiction version of The Punisher. I normally roll my eyes at this kind of stuff. The same narrative has been told time and again. I actually don't even love The Punisher anymore because people have copied that old dog and pony show a billion-and-a-half times. But Upgrade really uses the Punisher plot simply as window dressing. The movie needed an excuse to let loose and show violence in a way that hasn't really been filmed before. If the Punisher plot gets us there, it gets us there. But Cinefix was completely right in its recommendation of this film. It's completely underrated and it kind of changes how we view violence in movies. When The Matrix showed up on the scene, everyone wanted to be The Matrix. Bullet time was all the rage. With The Matrix's plot, bullet time was kinda sorta justified. But the copy cats really had no reason to do it. It was fine. It was pretty easy to ignore. But the violence in Upgrade might only work with the story attached to it. The two things that make it work: the locked camera (WHICH IS JUST READ MIGHT HAVE BEEN AN iPHONE?!?) and not Tom Hardy.
I'm sure that there's an actually name for the effect with the camera. Again, it's almost midnight and I ran four miles within the last hour so my brain's all over the place, but I'm just going to call it the "locked camera." That locked camera has been used with other things. It's normally something to create a sense of tension. It's such a jerky effect that keeps one object completely stable while the rest of the world comes across as insane. The effect that it creates is almost an anti-Paul Greengrass / Bourne Identity shaky cam. The purpose of the Greengrass shaky cam is to create a sense of chaos. It makes violence look way more brutal than it probably is in real life. We can't really focus on any one thing, so our brain relies on foley and quick motion to assume that the world is completely nuts. What Upgrade's locked camera does is get the same insanity from the background, but the actual action is completely clear. We get the insanity of motion and the tension of artificiality that is associated with STEM, the machine. But then you also have not-Tom Hardy. I'm super sorry, valid actor Logan Marshall-Green. But for the sake of this analysis, you are now not-Tom Hardy. I honestly thought that Tom Hardy was playing Grey. I was, like, "Man, I guess they only got one famous actor int his movie." Now I would also like to apologize to the rest of the cast. Dear The-Rest-of-the-Cast, you are probably way more famous than me. Okay, let's move on. I don't know how not Tom Hardy pulled it off. One of the conceits of the film is that Grey is not in control. The machine inside of his spine is doing all of the kung-fu. He's supposed to move like a machine that knows the precise amount of energy to rip someone apart. It's very cool. Again, I was talking about the camera helping out with that. But there's this great juxtaposition of what is going on the film . Every fight scene that I can think of has the character emote in one specific way: fight-time-rage. Okay, sometimes if the character is a villain and really good at fighting people, like a bad guy in Mortal Kombat or something, they could look bored. But rarely, do we have the actual person doing all of the fighting acting like a spectator in the film. His emotions are almost like he's on a ride and he doesn't like the way this is going. And the character grows. Honestly, the first time that he lets STEM take over, he's in shock and horror. But through the film, he actually grows comfortable with violence. That first gory moment in that guy's kitchen? That shocked me too. But by the end, as gross as the movie got, I grew really comfortable. I guess as Grey grows, we grow / regress into something that needs to feed his soul.
I hate that my go-to about these kinds of science fiction cautionary tales always make me want to say, "This would make a great Black Mirror episode." I'M GOING INTO SPOILERS, SO WATCH OUT! I think I figured out the major blocks of plot pretty early in the film. It telegraphs some things, but I also realized that this movie was way smarter than an average action movie for those blocks to work out. I Princess Bride'ed the whole thing, only I actually guessed correctly. I didn't necessarily know how to connect all the dots. I just knew the ending I wanted and I got there. The filmmakers actually did all of the heavy lifting (like that's new?) by finding a way to make that ending work in a really, REALLY satisfying way. I love downer endings. The Punisher ending often leaves us with the following: the protagonist gets what he wants. He goes into a showdown with the big villain of the film only to discover something about how the whole thing was made to bring him to this very moment. Yeah, he gets his revenge, but is not healed by this event. Okay, I don't like John Wick so I can't argue that one very well. But I really didn't want this movie to just be another one of those movies. I've seen that movie way too many times before. Do I really need that again? No, instead, I needed a second twist on top of the first twist. Whannell does this thing with telegraphing who the bad guy is the entire time and I know that's not satisfying. I don't know why I'm not satisfied with the industrialist being the monster the entire time anymore. It's just so trite. I honestly don't think that moment can ever be surprising again. But I knew that STEM had to be evil. I just wasn't really sure how. I also don't know how Grey was going to win. For a guy who really loves super bummer endings, I don't know why didn't see the movie ending on a bummer note. It's such a bleak ending and I absolutely love it. For a second, I almost decided to curse the movie. I knew that they couldn't end on "it was all just a dream" ending. I knew that they couldn't. But they planted that seed of doubt in me. It was a moment where I thought, "There's only a 10% chance that this movie is going to end with the 'it was a dream'". But it was enough! IT WAS ENOUGH that when the dream was explained, I was amazed. I knew it was what I wanted from moment one and I finally got it. This is making me sound really cocky, but that's only because I am really cocky.
I don't love fridging characters. One thing about the Punsher revenge story is that wives and daughters tend to get killed really hard. The movie seems almost to be a throwback to the Cannon film world. The design of this future almost exclusively seems to be at night. The futuristic cars look like Blade Runner knock-offs. But I don't want to go back to the Cannon Films if it means that it treats women as second class characters. I think that there are three female characters in the film. We have Grey's wife, Asha. She dies the fridge death pretty early on. We get just enough to feel for her as a character and then she dies. I want to wax poetic about this, but I don't know if I have it in me at 12:30. My baby is awake I'm trying to outlast her. Then we have Mom, who is barely a character. She's only there to show how much of a jerk Grey is being and to narc on him to the final female character. The final female character almost gives me a little bit of hope. She's pretty capable of keeping up with Grey, but she's also pretty incapable of actually making headway in this crime. Also, she's technically the antagonist for most of the film. If the story is a revenge film, whoever the cop is who is trying to stop the protagonist from getting the guy is the antagonist. Often, the antagonist is a round character who realizes that the struggle that the protagonist is undertaking is a just cause. (Heh, you can really see this in the two seasons of Netflix's The Punisher.) By having her as the antagonist, she has to be somewhat ignorant of the real stakes. She lives in a fantasy world. This means that all of the female characters, what few there are, are deficient in some way. Asha doesn't really count as a character because her only sense of ownership comes from her definition as Grey's wife. She lets computers do things for her. She isn't capable of anything. Mom represents the idea that women will betray because they are impulsive. Detective Cortez, the closest of the three women to actually get close to being a strong character, is ultimately flawed and weak. She doesn't realize what is going on and is way weaker than the antagonist. Yeah, the movie is a little broey. I can't deny that. But does it have to be? I don't want to get too gender politics for some of my readers, but would it have killed the movie to give it some women of agency? Think about how rad Fisk would have been as female? Maybe, don't fridge the wife. I know, it's part of the story. But what about fridging a kid? Asha is fighting to move on, but Grey is screwing up? I kind of like that better.
Regardless, the movie is absolutely fantastic. Upgrade is what I want to see out of an action movie. So rarely do filmmakers have something unique to offer. Perhaps it stands on the shoulders of genius, but it definitely has left its own mark on the action sci-fi landscape.
My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Rated R for disturbing imagery, language, and nudity. What's interesting about My Friend Dahmer, considering its subject matter, is that we never actually witness any of his murders. He fantasizes about murder. We see his rough treatment of animals. But the movie goes out of its way not to show him physically harming anyone. There's some really uncomfortable sexuality in the movie as well. Straight up R.
DIRECTOR: Marc Meyers
I wasn't going for disturbing when I watched this. My wife wanted to show our kids Teen Beach Movie, starring Ross Lynch. There was a moment in our history where we knew who all the Disney Channel kids were. My wife really went deep down that hole. It made sense. The content was appropriate for our daughter, the only one born at the time. She also has a thing for musicals. But since then, Ross Lynch went onto do a movie about a serial killer before he was a serial killer. While popping my head from time-to-time during Teen Beach Movie, I became really curious to see what Ross Lynch did with this movie.
The big pull that my wife kept mentioning that Ross Lynch wasn't great. Yeah, he's not amazing. But I also have to say that his part kind of calls for a very specific kind of acting that doesn't really give a lot of range. I don't know if this is something that Lynch chose to do with his character or what. But Dahmer is borderline Napoleon Dynamite. I actually made that crack and there were times that I wanted to edit in Ross Lynch's Jeffrey Dahmer into Napoleon Dynamite. I think that Lynch probably nailed exactly what was given to him. There are moments that felt a bit artificial. The entire film is based on Derf Backderf's graphic memoir of his time knowing Dahmer. The movie is both sympathetic and cold towards the character. It makes a very tough line to take because the movie asks us to treat Dahmer like a human being. Backderf kind of places a lot of the responsibility on himself for how Dahmer turned out. It follows the false-friend trope. Honestly, for being an adaptation of a memoir, the film really is just Carrie with real people. That comparison works kind of amazingly because Jeffrey Dahmer is kind of treated like he has power. He's is somehow a force of nature that everyone doesn't realize that they are toying with. If you sat down and watched Carrie right now, you'd realize that everyone is kind of poking this bear that could wreck them all. The reason that you watch Carrie is because you know that the ending is coming. She is able to destroy everything in sight and you watch the dramatic irony unfold. The same thing holds true for My Friend Dahmer. The Dahmer Fan Club are just messing with this kid would slaughter seventeen or eighteen people. We in the audience know that. From their perspective, Jeff Dahmer is just a weird kid who fakes having seizures and makes fun of the mentally handicapped to get attention. It's such a weird relationship that the Dahmer Fan Club has with Jeff. Throughout the film, they are constantly stating that they don't understand Dahmer. They are always with "What's his deal?" I don't really know if the film actually settles the debate of what the boys were to Dahmer. The film is named My Friend Dahmer. He often hangs out with them. But at the end of the day, the boys have private conversations about him without him there. They discuss whether or not they had gone too far in what they get Jeffrey to do. I don't know how the movie really pulls this off, but they come across as both good guys and bad guys at the same time. Like, Backderf hangs out with him one on one. Backderf, according to his own memoir I guess, is the de facto leader of this group. He is kind of picking on him, but he's also hanging out with him. Perhaps a lot of this comes from the fact that Jeffrey Dahmer occasionally has really weird reactions to normal situations. There's this point in the movie where they boys are all fishing. One of the boys stresses that the fish have to be thrown back and Jeff just carves it up with a pocketknife. He doesn't even do it to clean the fish. Rather, he slashes at it like a maniac. The fact that Jeff is there and fishing like a normal kid makes me believe that he is honestly and unironically part of the group. But then he does stuff like that and it seems like the boys are just hanging out with him because he's kind of a freakshow.
The movie definitely plays up the idea that you have to have a working knowledge of who Jeffrey Dahmer was. My wife and I both regularly confuse Jeffrey Dahmer with Ted Bundy. (I know! Right! We're such n00bz!) I won't lie, a quick glance at his Wikipedia page definitely helps. There's a lot of stuff in the movie that we weren't sure what the point was until we read some details about him. The biggest one is his fascination with Vincent Kartheiser's character. Playing with reality often creates a sense of confusion when it comes to stuff like this. Because we often see through Dahmer's fantasies, it is confusing to see where lines blur. Like I mentioned, we never actually see Dahmer kill anyone. But we didn't know that when we were watching the movie. For all we know, the entire final act was going to just be a bloodbath. So when we see Dahmer cradling the doctor's body, how were we supposed to know that it was a fantasy. There's a couple moments like that. There's a scene where Dahmer is hiding his fingers because there is blood on them. We never see where that blood came from. He calls it paint. I mean, it could have been paint. The only reason that we don't think it is paint is because we know the truth about Jeffrey Dahmer. I find it interesting the way that the story is told because of this. I want to read Backderf's book before making any firm statements, but the layout of the story is odd. If the entire movie is about Backderf's friendship with Dahmer, we only have Backderf fear Dahmer in the final scene with him. It almost feels like the final moment between the two of them was planted in his memory once Dahmer was caught. The entire thing could have been about suspicion and red flags. Instead, the movie is really about these guys hanging out with a big weirdo. What are the odds that Backderf's final interaction was one where he almost died. Dahmer is holding the bat outside of his car. Did Backderf just use the force or his spider-sense to know that something was up? I honestly beleive that something like that scene happened. But the scene is injected with the dramatic irony losing its secrecy. It's very fun as an audience member. But I also have to wonder if this is an element of memory. Has he made this moment sacred? Has his memory imbued with details that didn't happen? Those two hung out a lot. They never really had a firm falling out. Why would Jeffrey Dahmer murder him in that moment? I mean, he was nuts and I believe that it could have happened. But it also is a nice cap on the the entire film.
Can I talk about a performance that may be changing my mind about an actress that I've been ho-hum about? Anne Heche as Joyce Dahmer is inspired. I kind of want to see a spinoff movie just called "Joyce Dahmer." Golly, if this wasn't a memoir, I would find that story actually more interesting. The movie never posits that Joyce Dahmer's decision made Jeffrey Dahmer. I don't know much about psychology, but I get the vibe that it takes at least some degree of biology to make someone into a Jeffrey Dahmer. But I think a lot of these stories deal with some degree of mental illness. Taking the film from Joyce Dahmer's perspective, the film actually does a lot to talk about the frustrations that come with psychosis. We often get the noble and powerful survivor of mental illness. There's always a Patch Adams element to the whole thing. But My Friend Dahmer kind of tells the story that I find far more interesting. Joyce Dahmer had some kind of mental break. She was out of the hospital one months since the film started. She's not evil. She's not even overplaying crazy. But rather, she is eccentric. She is convinced that she is right. And most of all, she has no way to effectively communicate her frustrations. Couple this with Jeffrey, who has very different exhibited behavior. While Joyce is vocal and loud and frustrated, we juxtapose that with Jeffrey, who goes undiagnosed. He is in his cabin, melting roadkill like the future serial killer he is. But from an outside perspective, he's just running away from the chaos that is his house. Heck, I love the fact that Dad blames himself for all of this. A biologist and chemist himself, he sees Jeffrey as running away into what he himself ran away into when he was younger. When he brings a set of weights, it rang remarkably true. He wanted him to do something positive. It is so odd because Dad comes off as kind of an overbearing idiot. But there are lots of moments in the film that I don't know how I would have handled it differently. He sees all these toxic behaviors and nothing is changing for the better. So he makes these drastic decisions and it just comes across badly. The family dynamic, shy of the little brother not getting any attention from either the parents or the film, is perfect. I mean, the little kid has to eat bloody chicken. "We eat our mistakes." But besides that, it makes for a really interesting dynamic. No wonder that people could write off Dahmer's eccentricity. His family was going through a divorce. His mom was this poison in the house. His dad kept on making desperate choice after desperate choice. Yeah, I wouldn't blame anyone's odd behavior if they were going through with that.
One scene was injected with importance and I don't know if it really works. The mall scene doesn't really do anything for me. This is apparently the prom scene from Carrie for the film. It is the scene where they push him too far. The thing about it is...he was that far beforehand. If anything, he was just getting paid to do all this ridiculous stuff at the mall. But Jeffrey Dahmer was doing all of that weird stuff unprovoked beforehand. I don't know why the film decided to tell me that the mall was the most important part of his character development. It's good scene and it's well filmed, but a lot of the weight of the movie depends on this scene. It really can't hold it because it doesn't really have the content to do so. It's a bummer because the movie really needed to have that cathartic moment and it doesn't really have it.
My wife didn't love the movie. Considering that she was always into true crime stuff, I thought she would really dig it. I enjoyed the film a lot. Yeah, Ross Lynch is a weird choice for this. I can't even really blame him because a lot of the film is just voice and mannerisms. There's not a lot of subtlety to the characters. It's a lot like Rain Man. People loved Dustin Hoffman's performance, but I think that a part like Raymond and Jeffrey are about voices and mannerisms. In this case, it is probably more noticable. But I think that the movie works as a whole. It is awkward. It is gross. But it also did what it was supposed to do.
Three Identical Strangers (2018)
PG-13 for pretty mild stuff. From time to time, there's some mild language. Apparently, the three boys went on a bender once they all grew closer. This was described as "sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll." It's a tame movie that really isn't for kids. Like, if my kids walked into the room, the content wouldn't be bad or anything. It's just that there are some really dark sides to humanity in the film and I'm not exactly excited to show that to them. If you were checking things off, PG. If you are giving it context, valid PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Tim Wardle
I saw the trailer for this and thought "I have to see this." Then, I forgot about it. Yeah, I'm not exactly on top of everything. I know that it seems like I have it together, but...okay, I actually have it pretty together. But still. Life happens. When I saw that this movie was on Hulu, I just put it on. I didn't tell my wife what it was about. I just watched it. I actually might have read an article of the Top 8 documentaries you can stream right now. THAT'S when I decided to watch it. IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THIS, PLEASE STOP READING. Spoilers are what make or break this movie. It's one of these films that was described as being better if you know as little as possible about it beforehand. I completely agree. I knew the bare bones premise: three separated triplets accidentally find out about each other, not knowing that they were triplets ahead of time.
The first twenty minutes seem like the most optimistic film of all time. My wife kept saying "...and credits." It was this remarkably uplifting film about triplets finding each other and becoming best friends. How great is that?! Man, maybe we just need some twenty minute documentaries all about how great life is. Wait, that's Upworthy. Upworthy is the worst. Whatever happened to Upworthy? Doesn't matter. What I care about is that the movie takes a hard right turn and goes into a moral conundrum where you don't think that one exists. It oddly becomes hard-hitting when you would think that a movie would be pretty cut and dried. I was watching my kid at the playground and the parent next to me was talking about her twins and how different they are. Of course, being the turd that I am, recommended Three Identical Strangers. I explained her the line that I said about the three boys finding each other and told her I didn't want to go any deeper for fear that spoilers would ruin the film for her. Like most people, she responded by saying that it seemed like a pretty short premise and she didn't know how the film could expand to a full length film. That's the thing. It actually presents a pretty compelling moral argument that goes beyond the initial response. AGAIN, WATCH THE MOVIE FIRST! Okay, everyone ready? We all know the message the movie is presenting. It is about the fine line between science and morality. My analysis may not go that deep because the filmmakers really did that. Some documentaries have messages. Some don't. Three Identical Strangers really wears its theme on its sleeve. That's fine. It's actually kind of necessary. These boys were a science experiment. I knew that there was a scientific element to the story, but Three Identical Strangers grounds what irresponsible science looks like. These boys were separated on purpose. They had a biological background of being predisposed to mental illness. Yet, the scientists found three intentionally different households. Now, there's a scene in the movie where one of the lab assistants comes forward and claims that she didn't know that she was doing anything wrong. I kind of believe her. When I look to the past, applying woke 21st century morality to what was going on back there is just a means for making ourselves feel better. But does that let people off the hook? From a scientific perspective, a set of triplets with the same conditions act as a control for science. It's rare that something like that works out the way it did. If I was completely cold and distant and I had these ambitious ideas, I could see how this is an ideal situation. I have to think about my role as a parent and how many times I have to tell myself, "They're probably fine." I know, it's a dark element of parenthood. But that moment exists. Today, at Meijer, they wanted to look at the horsey. It was just out of view and the cashiers around me knew that they were there. So I said "They're probably fine." But I'm not a scientist dealing with other people's kids. What they wanted to accomplish was somewhat altruistic. It would have changed the way we view parenthood. They were studying what was the relationship between nature and nurture. Did socioeconomic class really determine the quality of the parent? They picked three people who had done a fine job raising another orphaned child. One was poor. One was middle class. One was rich. They placed these triplets, one in each type of home. They then observed them under false pretenses. It's super gross from an outside perspective, but it makes sense scientifically.
But if the entire message of the Butterfly Effect was to come into play, that's what is going on here. No scientific experiment is truly objective or controlled, especially when it comes to people. There is a worst case scenario that can play out and that's what this film explores. Again, these kids came from a place of mental illness. Apparently, that's pretty common in adoption situations. It's not absolute, but it is more common than not. The worst case scenario is that one of these kids may be violent or cause self-harm. Sure enough, one of these kids did. All the data was there in front of the scientists. Sure, the potential was remote. But suicide is such a fragile thing. Depression isn't an easy thing to deal with under ideal conditions. I'm amazed that all three kids didn't commit suicide. If the point of the experiment was to see that people were biologically predisposed to certain traits, why would this factor be part of it unless that was the ultimate test? I believe that the people who ran this experiment did so with the best of intentions. It would completely change how we parent our children, knowing that genetics did the majority of the heavy lifting. But like a lot of the experiments that had a human component, there's so much more at risk for so small a payoff. Yeah, the brothers really demonize the scientists past the point where I go, but I also didn't lose one of my brothers due to this experiment. I also didn't lead a lie for the majority of my life. This kind of leads into something else: the importance of expectations on people. When I was in high school, they brought in a hypnotist. Of course, I was a volunteer. Like most of the people on the dais, I made a fool of myself. But I also knew what was really going on in that moment. I think about it every time I hear the word "hypnotism." You want it desperately to be true. I did silly things up there because it would be really lame for everyone if I just was a cynic about the whole thing. Pretty much, I'm a sheep. The beginning of the movie really sold the idea that these three kids were almost exactly the same, despite distance and socioeconomic background. That's a really fun idea. But the second half of the movie was that they played up what they had in common more than they didn't. They all smoked Marlboros? Well, that's terrible that they are all smokers. But a lot of kids their age smoked Marlboros. They had similar tastes in girls? Okay, that's true about a lot of guys. There's even the moment that is in the trailer where they all cross their legs and answer in unison. That's pretty rehearsed. It also isn't really in unison. It's close. They aren't doing these things as a matter of trickery. They just loved the idea like we all enjoyed the idea. It's really an interesting story. We want so desperately for these three to be the same person. But they also need to express their own personhood.
Why is it that we want these kids to be the same? I suppose it is a tie to the love for Upworthy that went away over time. We want the world to make more sense than it does. It doesn't directly point to God, but it does kind of get close. We want the universe to be a little cheeky. It's kind of why we tend to compartmentalize the horrible things that are part of nature. I know that some people really enjoy the dark side of nature. But the need for these kids to be the same actually brought them a degree of celebrity. They were able to open their own club and restaurant. But the opening of the club and the fallout that ensued is really interesting from a sociological position. My weird obsession with Kitchen Nightmares and Hotel Hell have wired me to fear the restaurant business. It seems extremely hard. It actually seems kind of impossible. I don't know how restaurants exist. But it is fundamentally the venue of the intense and precise. One of the brothers seemed to have his head really wired around it. He worked hard. But there were brothers who hated it. One of them left. Considering that the restaurant is built around the idea that the three brothers all love the place, one of the brothers leaving kind of was a death knell. America's obsession that they were all the same person kind of destroyed their lives. I think they liked it for a while, but when the older version of the brothers show up for the interview, it was kind of a shock. It's almost like the documentary stressed the opposite narrative that was being pushed. The boys didn't even really look like each other. Well, not as much as they used to. But they look like normal brothers. There was such a difference in all of them. They still carry the same DNA, but what do we think connects that to likes and dislikes? Because they were kind of living a lie, they grew to dislike each other a bit. When one of them died, it was a wake-up call that this false life that they were living was toxic. They volunteered to sacrifice their personalities to the masses. I can't say that I blame them. I would love / hate to hang out with another me. Also, think of the fear that comes with a brother dying. The guys mention that they all struggle with depression. I never would have to view my body in a casket. Even if you weren't the one to discover the body, which has to be traumatic for anyone, you would have seen your own body in the funeral. Everyone stressed that they were the same. They believed that they were the same. They were living together and the one that died seemed like he had it the most together. He had a family. I don't understand suicide, especially in context of having a family. I'm not judging, but I can't help but stand in the other brothers' shoes. They look at this body and how do you not make your mortality your priority forever? It just seems spooky to me. For all the blessings that come out of this, it seems like there was a bigger toll than people were really comfortable in imagining.
I can't go that deep into this movie. Director Tim Wardle nailed it. He showed the goods and bads. The boys vocalize the implication of everything that happened in the story. It's a really interesting documentary that goes to a level that I would never have expected, especially considering the topic. It's a disturbing world and it is hidden behind joy and smiles. The movie isn't full on depressing, but it does seem like a conspiracy theorist's nightmare. Check it out. It's on Hulu. It really is one of the more bizarre documentaries out there right now.
Literally Anything: Episode Seventy-Six -Literally Fallout and Skyrim (with Special Guest Avery)
Congratulations to Avery for being our Villarama auction winner. Avery wanted to talk about Bethesda Games and we weren't going to stop her. Bob and Tim give their separate opinions on Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Skyrim as Avery lets them know what's what.
The Curse of La Llorona (2019)
Rated R for horrible and scary things happening to kids. If you want a movie with dead kids, this movie has that. Kids have had it easy for too long. Forget that. Kids die in this movie. It's kind of like The Ring, only the kids don't have a free pass and that the monster really wants to kill those kids. I'm sure there's some language and there's a lot of really questionable theology here. It pretty much deserves the R because you'll probably jump a lot.
DIRECTOR: Michael Chaves
Oh man, this movie has affected my life way more than I thought it would. It's just taken over my life. I've written about this before, but please, check out my Catholic News Agency article on this movie for something a little more coherent. Also, listen to an interview I did with star Raymond Cruz here for the Literally Anything podcast. Did I get everything out of the way? Anyway, a lot of that stuff was talking about the responsibility of theology in Hollywood, which means that I kind of have to approach this analysis from a different perspective. If I had to say something about this movie, I kind of liked it. The thing about The Conjuring movies is that, while they aren't really amazing, they are pretty solid overall. In terms of actual scares, these movies kind of deliver. When I go to scary movies, I want to be scared. The thing that The Curse of La Llorona wants me to say about it is that it is actually a pretty scary movie. And guess what? It actually deserves this. I will add some caveats to that. I saw it on IMAX with an amazing speaker system. The movie is full of jump scares and they got me a few times. It was those kinds of scares where I couldn't help but laugh immediately afterwards. So that's great...
But I do want to talk about a troubling critical read of the movie. I will be delving into SPOILERS to get the analysis out, so please bear with me. It's just that I've been holding onto this since I saw the movie and I haven't really had the venue to talk about this issue in the film. There's actually a couple of things, but I've hinted at one of them. The thing I want to talk about here is the troubling racial narrative that the movie presents. (I just realized both issues were related, so I might bleed over into the second issue.) The La Llorona folktake is something that has been passed down from Latin generation to Latin generation. With my interview with Cruz, he talked about how grandparents pass that story down time and again and that he prides himself in spreading that myth. Okay, that might not be my bag, but I kind of get it. La Llorona is something intrinsically Hispanic and culturally important and I love that. The film is taking this cultural cornerstone and giving it to the world. I love that. But in doing so, it puts some of the Hispanic and Latin elements into the background and giving the reins over to white audiences. The movie is The Curse of La Llorona. It is a Latin being who kidnaps and drowns children to replace the children she murdered when she was alive. She was a cautionary tale told to children to keep them away from the water. "Listen to your parents, or la Llorona will get you." "Don't play in there. La Llorona will get you." It's great. The problem is that it treats Hispanics as somehow lesser people. In a movie about Hispanic culture, it has white people make the problem real. Linda Cardellini is the star of this film. She has two adorable white children who really haven't done anything wrong. But it is when Patricia's kids are murdered, she puts this curse on Cardellini's Anna. Anna was her friend and tried to help her. Yeah, she was a social worker, but she was a respectful social worker. She opened the door because it honestly looked like Patricia was torturing her children. Hey, if this movie was really trying to be woke, it might say something about white people thinking that they know better, but the movie really kind of downplays that element of the narrative. Patricia's kids are killed and to get them back, Patricia puts the curse on Anna. The trade-off is that La Llorona would return Patricia's children if she gave her Anna's kids. Well, yeah, Anna should fight for her children. Patricia is also kind of doing something evil to get her kids back. But let's also look at the worst case scenario. By the logic of the whole story, we save some Hispanic children in exchange for some white kids? Why are the white kids more valuable than the Hispanic kids? That's a really weird story to tell. Anna and Rafael beat La Llorona, which means that Patricia's kids are still really dead. What kind of ending is that? It's not like when La Llorona is beaten, all those kids return to life. I can kind of get behind that ending. But saying that Anna needs to keep those Hispanic kids dead so her white kids can survive is really troubling. We get to know her kids. They seem really nice and almost completely innocent in terms of behavior. But when we see Patricia's kids, they are just cannon fodder. We should be mortified that her kids got killed. But they die in a really scary way. We end up laughing because we were so scared by that moment. Oh, thank goodness they only got those other kids. Patricia is seen as this crazy person, but she's a grieving mother. Yeah, her actions are pretty terrible, but that's almost completely justified considering what she has gone through and the fact that it is Anna's fault.
There's something that gets a little boring when a movie franchise goes a while. Okay, I know that I'm a pretty big cynic. I tend to believe nothing except for my love of God and even that is fighting with my rational brain. But so much of this movie wouldn't be a problem if people talked to each other. For sure...FOR SURE something supernatural is going on. Patricia's lack of communication doesn't place her at fault. But if she could have just gotten her act together, a lot of the movie wouldn't have happened. The same thing holds true with the kids. Chris definitely saw La Llorona. That scene is in the trailer. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you can see how much he actually sees her. Heck, he's burned by her. Of course he knows that she is real. But then Anna shows up and he says "nothing happened." Okay, you have a burn mark on your arm, sir. You can be open. Samantha...same thing. For some reason, this choice for silence is really bizarre in the film. Anna is blown against a wall and doesn't talk to her kids, who clearly have seen the same thing. When you watch The Ring, there's a degree of subtlety to the haunting. She makes you questions whether or not what you are seeing is reality. La Llorona is not that. From the first haunting to the end, she is blatantly obvious, yet they all try passing her off as a part of their imagination. I have kids. The kids blame everything but themselves for when they get scared. Why is there this pact between everyone not to talk about La Llorona? I wouldn't even really mind if they think that La Llorona was alive instead of a ghostly character. At least, you could write it off as someone playing a trick on the character. But a lot of the movie are characters dancing around this character that is torturing them. The answer tot his whole thing is a little bit obvious: it is expected. The supernatural horror movie has a handful of generic conventions. I suppose that means that horror movies are formulaic. They kind of are. But supernatural horror movies have the element of tiptoeing around hauntings. Again, I'm not a ghost guy. If you met me back in middle school, I could have told you about all the many ghosts I believed in. But now, I'm actually really good with being skeptical about everything. But if I saw La Llorona, a not at all subtle creature, I would tell you about it constantly. You wouldn't be able to stop me. I'd show my you burned hand. I would be telling the heck out of that story. LITERALLY! (Bum bum bum!) I almost feel like we can't make a supernatural horror movie without everyone just assuming that the ghost is the wind. This actually leaves a lot of pressure on the shoulders of the filmmakers. If the movie calls for a healthy dose of skepticism, then we have to make La Llorona a creature of mystery. She has to be there and then not. One of my favorite bits in the movie is the umbrella sequence. It's got a little bit of "what am I looking at" element to her. I mean, that's a pretty big moment by the end and I would have been hootin' and hollerin' about demons comin' to get me. But for the umbrella part of it, I could see why Stephanie wouldn't want to mention what she saw. I wish I could say that this entire section was a message on not narcing. This goes back to my hopes that the story is about minding our own business. But by that logic, the family is punished for minding their owns. Again, we have two conflicting themes going on.
I think my big complaint about the movie that I mostly liked is the ending. The Conjuring movies know how to deliver on an ending. That final boss battle is often pretty epic. I also love the fact that I don't know who is going to win in these scenarios. The great thing about a good horror movie is the uncertainty that the villain can be defeated. Often, we get kinda-sorta defeats. We think that we've beaten the bad guy, but wait! The Curse of La Llorona actually has a pretty rad final battle. Any time that La Llorona shows up in the movie, things got real creepy real fast. I'm not quite sure on her rules, but why doesn't she just kill the kids. It's not as though Anna could really do anything. But that final sequence where she's just all over the place. She's scary. She's a powerhouse. I don't know what their plan to beat her is...and then they just stab her with a cross. Come on. So the thing that would kill anything kills her. The movie toys with the idea that the could find a specific thing that would take La Llorona down. There's Rafael and his plans, which seem to be kind of half-cocked, but explained with confidence. It kind of sounds like he never really had a plan, but the movie convinced me that he did. Then there's the mirror bit. There was something cool about the mirror bit that should have been explored. I love the idea that the monster doesn't realize that she's the bad guy. If there was something that could have been crafted out of that moment, I think that ending could have rocked. But no. They just took a holy object and stabbed it through the heart. Why? Why would you consider that the bing-bang-boom ending? La Llorona seems really complex and the stuff of cultural nightmares. It seems more important than the other side villains we've dealt with. Instead, we have the laziest conclusion to the bad guy ever. Also, the movie teases this necklace as being important to her, but that thing does not play out. It just slows her down for a second. Heck, I just realized what would have worked better. Maybe the dead children could rise up against her. Maybe, the kids could have tricked her into believing that her abusive husband had returned. Something. Something that would tie directly into the character's story. A cross through the heart is such a shortcut! It also really reinforces the lame theology of the movie. For some reason, the message of the film was that the Church isn't all that important. It's all about spirituality over religion. It's a bummer when a priest actually vocalizes that and then the hero of the film confirms that idea. This is a movie that's released during Holy Week. Then we have crosses used as knives? I don't need that in my life. The really weird thing is that none of this needed to be in the movie and it's such a safety net for the film. There's a cool way to end the movie and that wasn't it.
But the big win for The Curse of La Llorona comes from the fact that I would totally watch the movie again. Maybe I wouldn't find it as scary a second time, but the movie is actually pretty good. After Annabelle: Creation, I thought I was done with this franchise. But The Curse of La Llorona is genuinely scary. Yeah, it plays up jump scares more than other films, but those jump scares are actually pretty good. It has a heavy dose of laziness. But if I went into the film with pretty low expectations, I could leave saying I had a good time.
The Nun (2018)
R and that's probably for the best. I know that a lot of horror movies today that market themselves to teenagers are PG-13. While the movie is R, at least from the MPAA's perspective, primarily for scares, it is super blasphemous. There's no ducking around that attitude. The Conjuring franchise wears the mantle of being pretty religiously accurate, but this movie just blows up sacred imagery in the name of being scary. It totally deserves its R rating, without a doubt.
DIRECTOR: Corin Hardy
One of the more recent developments of my life is that my movie reviewing has reached a new level. I've finally gotten to that level where I'm actually given assignments to review. Part of this means that I get to see advance showings of movies so I actually have time to craft a review. That's super rad and I completely dig it. But it also means that I have to be on top of my game when it comes to being prepared for these movies. I just reviewed The Curse of La Llorona for Catholic News Agency. As part of that, I got to interview Raymond Cruz from Breaking Bad for the film because he's a pretty big deal in the movie. You can hear that podcast here. This is all great, but I felt like I should watch the last entry in The Conjuring universe before going to see the most recent entry. I know that I should have labelled that as "spoiler", but you can figure that out from the trailer. But I never wanted to watch The Nun. Honestly, from the trailer, I could tell that they were playing pretty fast and loose with theology and the sacred. Why would I want to watch it?
...let alone analyze it on Easter Monday? This wasn't the plan. This is just the way it worked out. For the most part, I analyze movies in the order I watch them. Unless there's a rush, like with the Academy Awards, I want to keep them in order so I don't just cherry pick which ones I want to talk about. For the most part, I kind of enjoy The Conjuring franchise, especially the core films. They aren't amazing, but they are very entertaining, especially if you love jump scares. I was really hesitant about the first Annabelle movie, but even that ended up being pretty good. It's only once the second Annabelle movie came out that I noticed a drop in quality. Annabelle: Creation is rough. I mean, thank goodness I own it now. (The things I do for the podcast.) But it was such a drop off in quality that I kind of severed ties with The Conjuring movies. If someone asked me to watch them, as was the case of The Curse of La Llorona, I would. I would even watch them if they somehow just showed up at my house. But in terms of spending good money to see them, not so much. There's something in Annabelle: Creation that carried over to The Nun that I absolutely loathed. For as much pride as they take about doing research to make the movies authentically scary, I definitely got the vibe that they shortcutted some really basic stuff. In Annabelle: Creation, they had sisters perform the transubstantiation rite over the bread to make it Holy Eucharist. This one isn't as bad as that. This one is simply an attack on the Church that is pretty unfounded. Listen, I know that there may be Catholics who are anti-evolution. I went to a pretty conservative school and I know that misinformation gets around. But the Church is actually pretty cool with the whole evolution bit. Why is there a weird attack on the church in the beginning of this movie. But the big beef I have with this movie is that it is in no way respectful to the Church in any way, shape or form. Okay, you can steep the movie in all this Church-y things. But honestly, where is actual faith in all of this? There's a part that is repeated through the film to scare audiences. It says something the lines of "God ends here". While that sounds rad from a secular perspective, it is the exact opposite of what we should believe in terms of faith. How can these characters claim to have any faith in God when the movie shrouds itself in a world where God is absent? I watch Supernatural, which kind of plays around with the same ideas. But with Supernatural, they admit to changing theology. I don't love that they change theology, but at least it plays out as an alternate reality. The Nun is almost more dangerous because it claims to be so accurate. I love how I'm really teetering on the line that "people are sheep." But a movie like The Nun is almost playing with gasoline. And the thing is, it is playing with gasoline for something REALLY dumb. The thing about religious horror is that it actually has a little bit of weight to it. These movies exist with the concept that the devil is real. That's fine. Theologically, the devil is real. I get that. But the devil works when people lose faith in God. (That's a broad stroke and I totally acknowledge that it is a way deeper argument than that.) These movies don't show the morally challenged and how they are ripped apart. There is a scene where the protagonist of the film has to maintain perpetual adoration to keep the evil away. Prayer is not a spell. It shouldn't be treated as a spell. Also, she is doing a great job at praying and the demon still manages to scar her back with a pentagram. How is that showing that faith in the Lord does anything? If anything, it does the complete opposite. It shows how stupid prayer is. The most effective attack on the demon is a gun that one of the characters brings with him. He's not faithful, but he's the one who does the most damage.
The thing also is...they managed to make the titular nun not scary. In The Conjuring 2, that nun is terrifying. Say what you will about the religious significance of making the bad guy a nun, the icon that has grown out of that image is impressive. By the way, if you really want to be disappointed by what the people behind the scenes think of their characters, watch what the actress who plays the nun thinks about religion. But I'm already spiraling out. The movie...isn't scary. I watched it on a treadmill, which isn't the best way to watch a scary movie. But the point of watching movies while exercising is that they are supposed to take my mind off of the timer running down. In this case, I kept getting bored and looking down at how much time was left on my run. I'm not saying that jump scares aren't effective. I'm actually coming around on that argument. I know that they're cheap and easy, but they are extremely effective normally. It's just that they should be used sparingly. As blasphemous as the film is, it is also very VERY lazy. We've seen the imagery in The Nun before. The Nun actually plays like a greatest hits of theological horror. Crosses turn upside down. Religious objects are defaced. There's fire and water and all of the core elements used in scary fashion. There's one concept that was actually pretty clever, but I don't think it is executed that well. They use that old timey fear that people had about being buried alive and the bell that is associated with it. But it is a fly with an elephant gun. Okay, I want to talk about how this cool idea completely fails the film. Admittedly, it's something I haven't seen a ton of, the being-buried-alive-with-a-bell bit. But there's this creature that is either A) trying to scare them into weakening their faith, so she can have power over them or B) trying to kill them. Okay, that's fine. If it's trying to kill them, why not just do it? The movie establishes that it is trying to escape the monastery, so the killing is out. It needs a host to get away. So why go with this nuclear scare? It shows that both characters maintain their faith throughout and it can still hurt them. The Nun is way too powerful. It doesn't matter where their faith is because she can still do damage regardless of how faithful a person is. So it gives Sister Irene the chance to save Fr. Burke? Why? That's a big question. Why is the Nun doing what it is doing? It has a goal. It wants to inhabit humans, but it either kills them or allows them to kill themselves. (I'm shorthanding.) Sister Irene was not meant to find Fr. Burke. It does this bell trick to make it hard for her to find him. It is only through her patience and resourcefulness that she finds him. This kind of leads to the even weirder theology of the nuns all being dead for perpetual adoration. They are meant to be scary too, I guess? Is God putting the ghosts of the nuns in there because they probably should tell Sister Irene that it is her responsibility now that they are all dead. It's all over the place.
And this stems from the goal of having the audience scared, but not follow the rules of the story. The movie gives us a motivation for all of the hauntings going on in this convent. It actually kinda sorta has a decent idea behind it. The reason for the convent is actually B- smart. I don't hate it. But it also doesn't follow its own rules. The Nun almost comes across as incompetent. There's no way that she could have known about Frenchie and his interaction with the team. The Nun is completely basing her actions on the luck of these people. If the Nun had done nothing and waited for Frenchie to show up, it would have been way easier to achieve her goal. Maybe the damned aren't exactly brilliant strategists. Maybe this is a problem with the ghost story in general. Do ghosts want people to be scared? Usually, a ghost story involves little reasoning behind actions. Ghosts tend to be unsettled spirits. They are mostly insane. But the Nun actually has a very concrete plan and constantly underminds it. The best villains are the ones who work against their very nature. She is in a convent. She's disguised as a nun. Why not just come across as normal? If it is about faith, which I've established doesn't exactly float here, why not needle the outsiders into small slights so she can inhabit their bodies. Also, SPOILER: Is Frenchie the Nun now, because that's an odd choice? So much of this movie is resting on a very poorly planned conceit. It's kind of the same problem that the Alien movies have. They look rad, but there's not much to build upon sometimes. The Nun looks cool. So, if you were to make a Nun movie, you'd probably want to go to the religious well. But this is an example of writing the character in reverse. Instead of having a smart story, it's just throwing all of this religious mumbo jumbo at the screen. I don't know why the jump scares don't work. I think the more we see of that character, the less scary it gets. It's a little bit like the Borg in that fashion. Use the Nun sparingly and steep her in mystery, you actually have kind of a good character. But the more we know about her, the less impressive she really gets.
I borderline hated this movie. In terms of construction, it doesn't break THAT many rules. It is a lazy movie. It blows my mind that Taissa Farmiga is now in The Conjuring franchise. She's a great actress, but I can't be the only one who is bummed out that she's almost exclusively doing scary things. The theology and research is both great and lazy at the same time. It says all of the words without really getting the meaning of those words. I ended up enjoying The Curse of La Llorona, despite it being theologically terrible. But The Nun is just an un-fun experience that really picks at religion in a way that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Films about religion need to be better than this. They seem to be made by secular artists who think it is cool to blow up images of the Holy Family. Think about how much different this film would have been if you had a filmmaker who honestly got what having faith meant. If I was assigned The Nun, I wouldn't blow up images of the Virgin Mary. I would have shown this demon slowly creeping into the doubts of these characters. That would have been terrifying.
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.