Literally Anything: Episode Seventy-Five -Literally The Curse of La Llorona (Guest Starring Raymond Cruz)
Okay, NOW it's our biggest episode ever! In a 75th episode celebration, the boys invite Brian Murray to discuss the horror renaissance and Tim interview's The Curse of La Llorna's Raymond Cruz before discussing the validity of the jump scare. ENJOY!
PG-13. This is a marvel that it got a PG-13 rating. If you know anything about Alejandro Jodorowsky, you will probably know that the guy is very comfortable, borderline enthusiastic about straight-up nudity. But this is a documentary about his drawings and stuff, right? Well, yeah. Most of the movie is fine. But most people don't really know about Alejandro Jodorowsky. So there's a little bit of a retrospective of his works. That stuff...has nudity. A lot of it is butt nudity...but the very nature of that sentence implies that some of it...is not. Also, he seems mighty comfortable with mind-altering substances. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Frank Pavich
Okay, I try writing this once a day for every weekday. But I wrote a bit and then my daughter wanted to write a letter to Marvel Comics. Not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I helped her out. I took it to the mailbox and when I came back, she was in my seat playing some kind of web-browser game. She pretty much just erased whatever I wrote. So if I don't write the best analysis for Jodorowsky's Dune, I apologize. I know a little bit about Alejandro Jodorowsky. When I worked at Thomas Video, my boss told me about his favorite film. For the three years I worked there, I know that he told a lot of people about that movie. But I got the job, so I immediately watched his favorite film, Santa Sangre. It was my first exposure to Jodorowsky. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. I think while I worked there, I may have seen El Topo too. I would never check it off a list or anything because I remember nothing really about it. Jodorowsky...isn't my kind of filmmaker. Perhaps a bit too avante-garde and culty for me, I never really vibed with any of his movies. Now, this is also to take into consideration that I also just watched The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? I don't know why I'm obsessed with Morpheus's library of imagined films, but it is an interesting topic. The weird thing is, I remember being obsessed with Superman Lives. I've never had a thing for Dune. (That's not completely true. As a five-year-old, I was obsessed with the David Lynch version because it felt so adult. My dad watched it and I now own it on HD-DVD.) But I'm not a big Dune fan now. I'm not a Jodorowsky fan either. So what is it about Jodorowsky's Dune that really gets me interested in this documentary?
I ended up writing a poem named "Jodorosky's Dune". Admittedly, I'm taking a class in poetry and I needed to write a poem for the day. It made sense that I wrote about something that was on my mind. Probably the biggest takeaway I can have from Jodorowsky's Dune is that it is about a very odd means of filmmaking. When I was watching Tim Burton's take on Superman Lives, I instantly knew that this was a corporate movie. Burton seethed with distaste for superhero films. This was all under the watchful eye of Warner Brothers. Instead, Jodorowsky makes movies in the same way that I would probably end up making a movie...if I ever had the guts or the time to do that. The film is smart in introducing Jodorowsky and his background to start off the film. Jodorowsky is a surrealist. He was born out of the theatre scene and everything makes sense. Everything he learned about how to make movies came from just making movies. He isn't necessarily classically trained in making movies. Instead, Jodo (as one guy calls him and I adore that) is an expert at tone and emotion. He wants his attitude to be wildly uncomfortable throughout the film. He has these grandiose ideas on what cinema could be. One of the things that keeps on getting repeated throughout the film is the concept that this movie was supposed to be transcendent. It was supposed to break the basic conventions of cinema and become a prophet. It's his words, not mine. I have to step out of myself and place myself in some very different shoes because there's something to admire here. I am a man of faith. I think cinema has the potential to bring people closer to God, but I think it is also very difficult. I am not talking about what Jodorowsky is talking about here. It probably is the closest thing I can get to without abandoning some key ideas about my faith. But I do agree that artistically, film should strive for something besides profits and entertainment. Film can be art and art can bring us closer to something outside of ourselves. From that perspective, I completely respect Jodorowsky. Do I think that he's kind of nutbars and very full of himself? Sure. But sometimes that personality needs to be on hand to make a movie as compelling as what Jodorowsky is talking about.
The thing that is mind-blowing is that all of these great filmmakers talk about how this movie would have changed everything. Like with The Death of "Superman Lives", everyone is really convinced that a lot of terrible ideas would have made an extremely innovative movie. I tend to at least lean with Dune over Superman Lives. But I've seen Jodo's other movies. At least one of them. Probably two. I get him. I get what kind of movies he makes. The message that these filmmakers are saying is that no one was ready to absorb a movie like Dune. Are there movies ahead of their time? Sure. But it's been decades since Dune was tossed around to be a real film. It sounds absolutely insane. Would I have liked to see it based on what I saw in the documentary? Probably. But I also watch absolutely insane things almost just to say that I've seen them. Dune should be one of my favorite properties. With my tastes knee-deep in the science fiction genre, Dune is one of the granddaddies of genre storytelling. But there's nothing really there that grabs my attention. Am I super stoked about the new one? Yeah, kinda. Game recognize game in this case because I respect everyone who is involved in the film. But Jodorowsky's Dune would have been something completely different from any other version of this film or any version of the text. His Dune was meant to mess you up. The thing that grabs my attention is that book. The film shows us what Dune would have looked like because he storyboarded the living daylights out of that movie. Also, that movie would have been, like, fifteen hours long. I've watched a fifteen hour movie and it was pretty good. But this kind of leads me into what the real attitude of Jodorowsky's Dune would have been. I can't be the only one reading the subtext of the film, right? I feel like it is right there, just beneath the surface. I'm going to call it out.
The reason that the film is unmade is that the film was meant to be unmade. I know. I'm really a cynic here. Jodorowsky and his team put a lot of work into that film. That's awesome, but it is also a big old hint that the movie wasn't supposed to be made. Look at how big that book is on Jodorowsky's shelf. He took that book from studio to studio, starting with the Walt Disney Company and we're supposed to believe that he expected to get it made? The documentary is an exercise to the extremest that Jodorowsky went to to get the most insane elements of a film and throw them into a pot of insanity. (I get it. That's bad writing.) He was offering things to people that no one in the world expected him to get. He offered Dali insane stuff left and right. Orson Welles, he offered to get him the head chef of his favorite restaurant to cater to his needs during the shoot. He had a book that would take forever to shoot with a budget that seemed impossible. I don't care what the movie said. That budget would have been insane. No theater would be able to run that film. This kind of leads me to the idea that the movie really wasn't meant to be made. Instead, it was kind of born to be this hidden and oppressed thing. It is the symbol of the establishment shutting down the artist from doing something truly marvelous. I'm going to be devil's advocate to prove my point. Imagine if Jodorowsky went to Disney and they actually paid to make this. The documentary stresses that every studio thought it was brilliant, which I kind of refuse to believe as well. Imagine, Disney pays for the whole thing and more. It takes up theaters. They can only show it once a day because the movie is so long. Middle America is not going to see the fifteen hour version of Dune. Also, I get that Star Wars has elements of Dune in it. That doesn't make it Star Wars. I'm really excited for the new version of Dune, but I don't think it is going to dominate the cinemas like an Avengers movie would. No, of course not. Instead, if the movie was made, it might, at best, make a couple of cinema books for being overlooked and ahead of its time. Instead, Jodorowsky has his cake and eats it too. It can always be the great unmade oppression. It can be a reminder that art always takes a backseat to dollar signs and Jodorowsky leads the martyr's life, a champion for the downtrodden filmmaker. Look at how bizarre the creation of this film was. Everything was done before it got greenlit. There's a way to get Jodorowsky's Dune made. It involves one tenth of the work that they did. It involves coming in with some promo art and a script. Maybe have a scene or two storyboarded. But that book is overwhelming as heck. How do you expect a room full of suits to be able to absorb all of that. Trust me, I'm the guy who does all of his work in the shock and awe method. I want people to be overwhelmed with how much effort I put into things. I mean, look at this blog. There is no reason that every single movie that I write about is massively long and complicated. But I'm not trying to sell it, am I? Instead, this is an exercise for me. That's what Dune was for Jodorowsky. It was an exercise in making the most insanely complicated thing ever and ride off on his high horse. That's fine. I actually really like that idea. But I think Jodorowsky is smarter than he's letting himself be filmed as.
I'm trying to think if Frank Herbert fans would ever accept Jodorowsky's Dune. With both The Death of "Superman Lives" and Jodorowsky's Dune, there's an almost pride in trying to disrespect the source material. With Jodorowsky, he at least respected the concept of the book as a whole. But then he says something really icky. I don't love his attitude on rape, let's say that. No matter what way you take it, that entire section is super gross. But as open minded as Jodorowsky is about the source material, it also kind of points to something that kind of bugs me. Film is film and books are books. When they work together, sometimes it can function. But I agree that the two are separate objects. But there's something that is completely rough about treating one of the objects as something lesser. Jodorowsky has such pride in his ending to Dune. He also laughs that he bought Dune without ever reading it. It's like the whole plan was to show off that it was something different. The nerd in me fights upstream for this. I don't know if people really respect the work they are adapting. Again, do your own thing, but the pride of "ha ha ha, that was never going to be an option" is kind of depressing. Why even make it a Dune thing. If the film was going to be prophet (again, his words), why not just make your own thing. Why name him Paul and have the Harkonnens? It's just so odd. Also, I don't really get how Jodorowsky was allowed to have a kid. I get it. It's not the same for me. But forcing a kid to become a ninja for a movie that was never going to get made. Heck, I spend a lot of time thinking and talking about film, but it is just a movie, right?
Jodorowsky's Dune is absolutely fascinating. It's actually a pretty rad documentary. But I don't know if I actually want to see Jodorowsky's version of Dune. Instead, it is way more impressive as a pipe dream. Honestly, the entire hour and a half is just a pipe dream and a condemnation of the studio system. Which is great. That should be the focus of the movie, but I also know that the best thing that could have happened for Alejandro Jodorowsky is someone making a movie about unfair it was that he didn't get to make his movie.
PG-13. I am pretty sure that this is the first PG-13 Star Trek film. That's kind of for good reason. With the other entries in the series, I watched the movies with the kids in the room. What scary parts were in the films were pretty ignorable. But with First Contact, it's kind of playing up the alien horror elements that Star Trek usually avoids. I kind of described it as a kid as a PG-13 Aliens. I don't know how accurate that is, but I'm sticking by it. It's got some creature horror things going on. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Frakes
It's my birthday! I mentioned in my Please Stand By review that I hoped that I could trick my wife into watching this movie. But you know what's not good for relationships? The answer is "trickery." So I just asked her straight up to watch one of my favorite Star Trek movies without having the safety net of her phone. And because she's a good wife and love me, she did that. She even made it a good chunk of the way through the film without falling asleep. I mean, she did fall asleep. I really have to stress that. But I gave her points for roughing it through a notable portion of the film. She fell asleep right before the Dixon Hill Holosuite section.
I don't know what it is about trying to sell Star Trek movies to people. In lots of my other Star Trek look backs, I point out that the Star Trek films aren't really pure Star Trek. They are meant to be accessible to non-Trekkies while still building upon the fan base that will be addicted to them. You know, like me. When I was a kid and my cousins REALLY weren't into Star Trek like I was, I tried convincing them that Star Trek: First Contact was an objectively great movie. This was 1996. I have learned nothing since 1996. I don't know what it is about Star Trek that alienates (pun intended) other people. Science fiction, as a genre, can be accessible. On the grand scale of accessible franchises, Star Trek weirdly should be able to understood. The characters are fundamentally regular people, sometimes with exaggerated traits. The scenarios are weird, but they mostly handle the situation through ingenuity. Yeah, there's technobabble. I don't deny that Star Trek has its fair share of technobabble. But the characters are fairly charming and you can identify with most of them. The hardest to identify with is actually fan-favorite, Data. But for some reason, these movies don't really click. I can kind of see why someone wouldn't want to get on board for Star Trek: Generations. I mentioned in that review that Star Trek: Generations is kind of the deep cut for the group. It really feels like a continuation of the series, which isn't going to win over new fans. But First Contact is a tonal shift from everything that Star Trek was before. I adore this movie, but it is also probably the cause of why the other movies in the series kind of are terrible. As a standalone piece, it mostly works. (As I wrote that sentence, I can now fight the other side as well. I'll try to do that later.) There is a new Enterprise. The movie starts off with a very scary recap of everything you need to know about Picard and the Borg. The movie just looks different from every other Star Trek film. And on top of that, it actually starts with one of the bigger guilty pleasures of Star Trek: rad space battles. For a guy who will wax poetic about Roddenberry's view of the future, I do like when space ships do the splodey-splodey thing. The thing that might be the most polarizing in the film is the use of a really weird version of time travel, but that time travel strips the film of a lot of the science ficiton conventions. Instead of being a complex world like Star Trek normally deals with, Earth is more basic than it is today. A world war has wiped out most governments. A small group of drunk scientists are trying to make a spaceship out of a missile. How much simpler can it get? I mean, they listen to Steppenwolf, for goodness sake. How much more down to Earth (pun intended) can the movie get? But I suppose, by that argument, I should provide the Devil's Advocate response. Again, I think that Star Trek: First Contact is one of the best primers to the Star Trek universe as it gets. (At least, the main universe.) But here's me stepping back and being my wife / my cousins. Who the heck is Captain Picard and why should I care? That might be the center of my argument.
The film starts off with Picard captured by the Borg. Frakes establishes them as scary, but the film is pivotal on the idea that something massive happened to Captain Picard before this moment in the film. That moment was super traumatic and we're going to play that up so we can get the Moby Dick metaphor throughout. Sure. But you just told me that the biggest moment in this character's life happened before this moment. That instantly kind of throws this film into sequel territory. On top of that, if you didn't know who the Borg were, it would take some catching up to figure out their schtick. The film does a solid job of informing newcomers on who the Borg actually are, but the big "No way" moments really are only for Star Trek: The Next Generation fans. Alice Krige coming down from the ceiling should mean something to all audience members, not just for people who have a thorough understanding of who the Borg are. And maybe the very nature of the Borg, as cool as they are, aren't as easy to swallow as the Klingons. First Contact continues to deliver on the concept that there is a race of creatures out there that should be able to obliterate everything that Star Trek stands for with very little effort. The very concept that the Federation has managed to hold them back is interesting. But this is a payoff for fans. They're scary, sure. But impressive? I don't really know if you could sell that without a TV buildup. Compare that to The Wrath of Khan. I had probably seen The Wrath of Khan a dozen times before I ever saw the television episode "Space Seed." The Khan of Wrath of Khan was the version of the character I knew. "Space Seed" kind of just worked like a prequel to the character for me. It's great to watch, but it is by no means required viewing. Anyone can just watch The Wrath of Khan and be perfectly fine. I think that there's a very strong connection between Star Trek fans and the Borg...that we expect everyone else to get on board. You know what makes the Borg work for Joe and Jane Star Trek Fan? They are creature horror. The United Federation of Planets is all about how alien races may look weird and have different cultural elements, but none of them are actually all that scary. The worst we have are the Klingons (easily argued against...), but they still have a cultural background. There are no monsters out there in space. It's the same thing as Reavers in Firefly. They are something that we can't relate to at all and they are borderline unstoppable.
Hey, I just realized that Captain Picard euthanized a guy. It's the whole zombie rules. The Catholic Church has to be anti-euthanasia during the zombie apocalypse. I'm not saying that as a negative thing. Soon, I'm going to be getting all kinds of anti-Church email because I side with the Church about zombie infected euthanasia. It's just weird because the movie does treat it like a dark moment for Picard. Lily, a young Alfre Woodard, watches Picard execute one of the Borgified crew members and sits there in horror. Then there's the whole Ensign Lynch discussion. I don't think that First Contact is necessarily going for the conception to natural death argument, but it does kind of acknowledge that Picard is going into some morally ambiguous territory. Picard is the example of the fact that people can be brought back from Borg interference. Now, this is where the "Well, actually..." folks probably step in. It could be argued that because Picard was supposed to be a bridge between humanity and the Borg, the chances of bringing him back were significantly more impressive. (Also, how is Picard reading the Borg collective? Is it a spiritual awareness of the Borg because there's no way that Picard should have any Borg technology running through his system?) First Contact actually builds a solid ethical dilemma. I know that this probably wasn't the fight that the movie was going for. I know that it is mostly a theme that anyone can make the future because Zephram Cochrane is an alcoholic who just wanted to make money. But the more interesting examination is Picard's treatment of his crew once they have been taken. From Picard's perspective, he knows the absolute hell that goes on when someone is infected by Borg technology. Apparently, it has haunted him for six years (unlike that time that he lived an entire lifetime with a recorder and never mentioned that again shy of playing that recorder). He wakes up from nightmares about being infected again. He knows that people couldn't live with themselves and the actions that they would partially be responsible for. Also, if we're playing zombie rules, you are taking down Borg before they gain Borg immunity. Okay, I get all of this. But also, Picard survived! He ended up saving the Federation countless times. He has been an inspiration for many. When Picard guns down all of these Starfleet officers, he's saying that there's no way to save you when, in fact, he has been saved. Heck, think about it. The way that the movie works out, all of the Borg are defeated with one move. Who is to say that those people who weren't in the blast radius couldn't have shaken off the Borg technology? Okay, I'm sure that there's a Star Trek fan who knows exactly what assimilation entails. For all I know, the only reason that Picard survived because he already had a cybernetic heart or something. But it's so bizarre that those people who were on the verge are gunned down. I'm not ducking the moral ground because I would have been hesitant to shoot down fellow crew members, but also the entire history of humanity was on the line. Okay, whatever. It still makes him look bad and I think that the movie knew that.
Star Trek gets a bit corny sometimes. I don't want to admit that. Maybe it is something about the quasi-family-friendly environment. Maybe it is a product of the '90s. Maybe it is the fact that it is forcing television acceptable standards into a cinematic package. But there are things in this movie that I love that my wife thought were horribly corny. But I like that James Cromwell plays Zephram Cochran. Star Trek, like Doctor Who, might have been on the air too long because continuity is a mess, especially when it comes to Zephram Cochrane. Seeing him here as an older man is really interesting. I guess it isn't full on off from the canon because one of the messages of the movie is that we really don't know who historical figures were really like. But seeing Kirk meet Zephram Cochrane and then have James Cromwell play a drunk Zephram Cochrane who dances to Roy Orbison is a little off. But what the Earth stuff provides in the midst of this movie is a fun exhale. The Borg stuff on the Enterprise is DARK. For Star Trek, that stuff is bleak. People getting killed left and right. Even just the color palate is great. The Enterprise is so claustrophobic. Then we go to Montana? Big area of land? Trees? Yes, the movie needs that. And then, the stuff on Earth is light. Riker is joking. Deanna is drunk. Yeah, it's cornball, but the movie really needs a big dose of cornball when people that we should be attached to are being assimilated left and right. What's funny about the whole thing is that the stuff on Earth is the stuff that really is important. That's the future. Considering that Star Trek Beyond was all a tie to the history of Star Trek, I feel like First Contact acts more like an anniversary movie. The birth of the Federation and the ideals of Starfleet are on that planet and we get to take all the pomp and circumstance out of it. I adore that so much. It's a great use of mythology to play with. Is it a bit of a retcon? Sure. But it is also a responsible use of retcon. It shows what happens when a franchise respects its mythology, but isn't slavish to its mythology.
I adore Star Trek: First Contact. In my heart of hearts, I wish my wife liked it too. But I know that this is one of those movies that's really special to me, despite the fact that I will probably be alone on that argument for a while. It's a really fun movie that holds up and still stands as the last great Star Trek film of the old guard.
R, and oh boy do I hope I cover all of it in this one. At first, the movie seems kind of tame. Then there's an affair and whatever. Perhaps I shouldn't be so lackadaisical about infidelity, but then I forgot about genital mutilation. There's genital mutilation that leads to the character putting blood on her face. I forgot about that for a second too. It also has a not unnoticable amount of nudity in it. It's a pretty brutal movie at times and the R rating is right on target. R.
DIRECTOR: Ingmar Bergman
My mood is not a Cries and Whispers mood. IMDB says I should use the ampersand, but other websites say the word, "and", so I'm going to go with what I remember from the Blu-ray box. For those people wondering, I'm not on a Bergman kick. Sometimes I get on a Bergman kick. But I was at a used DVD store and I found both Persona and Cries and Whispers on Criterion blu-ray for a really low price. Yeah, I'm going to pick those up to write about them. What? That's a reasonable thing to do.
I'm so happy, especially, because I get to review and analyze something that came from Cinefix. Every year, I show the kids the Cinefix video talking about the effectiveness of color and Cries and Whispers is number seven. It's one of the few films that I hadn't seen on that list and it always looked so gorgeous. Yeah, Bergman can make a pretty picture. Cinefix talked about the fact that Bergman thought of all of his films as black and white with the exception of Cries and Whispers and boy, oh boy, do I love it. Look at the still above. That still is not one moment in the film. Almost every shot of that film has that really intense look of color, mostly focusing on red. I'm going to go off of the deep end with some analysis stuff and most of it is going to be wrong. There's one real downside to producing this much content is that there is only so much research I can do before I post yet another analysis. I justify it in a way that helps me get five minutes of sleep before I go on and do something else for my media empire. (I'm getting there, guys. Media empire, AWAY!) But the way I justify it is that, if I stay somewhat ignorant of all of the essays written about the subject, I can offer something that is truly unique. It may not be the best criticism in the world, but it also doesn't necessarily stand on the shoulders of those greats. I read a lot and if I have time, I read what smarter people than me have said about artistic giants. Instead, I kind of have to just slightly adjust my schema to what is being said about these great moments in film. So please, continue reading and telling me I'm wrong. I'm very okay with that.
Cries and Whispers did something else to me that Persona really didn't. If Persona is kind of a distancing movie, relating to issues that are attached to specific personalities, Cries and Whispers seems to be a far more universal film. Dealing with the sickness and death of a sibling, the fact that everyone encounters death on some scale instantly allows Bergman to kind of tie into some of the weirder elements that we see in his films. Again, I hate the word "weird" to be ascribed to Bergman. It kind of feels like I'm treating his works as something "less than" when I'm really quite in awe of a film like Cries and Whispers. "Weird" seems to be the realm of Tim Burton. But Cries and Whispers uses the color and the world of these family members as something quite gory. I mentioned in the MPAA section that there's genital mutilation. That part wasn't a lie and the gore there is very uncomfortable. But the movie as a whole really doesn't deal with death directly. Instead, there's an element of The Masque of the Red Death (or, if talking about the short story, "The Masque of the Red Death") to the whole thing. The setting matches the emotional and spiritual state of the entire film. I get that setting is supposed to do that, but this is in your face. The odd thing about how Bergman pulls of his color scheme is that it is in your face, but it isn't on-the-nose. I know it seems like I'm splitting hairs, but I'm not. The color choice of the film, the blaring red, knocks the viewer on his rear end quite quickly. Part of that is that it creates an instant emotional connection with Agnes, who starts off the film as an invalid, dying. We get to see snippets of her in health, but we don't really know her outside of the context of death. But even without the removal from that context, Agnes is a very real character for us and I think a lot of that is her surroundings. The red is oppressive and unavoidable. There are moments where Agnes and her sisters walk around the garden, giving us relief from the oppressive colors. But we always tend to return to this stark environment. The jump from red to the garden only makes the return to the red more intense. Bergman scares us with the red, we become comfortable with it. But then he brings us back and allows the juxtaposition between the two places to remind us that the red shouldn't be seen as something passive. Instead, like the spectre of death, it is a force to be reckoned with. This is me waxing poetic, but that's a little bit how sickness is. For some reason, folks around me keep dying from horrible debilitating diseases. It's hard to think of sicknesses like cancer as defining elements, but they really are. Cancer changes people. It changes our relationships. The sisters in the film have an artificiality about all of their interactions because of the uterine cancer. But Agnes is a character who, at least for them, has lived a life that did not involve the uterine cancer. Bergman's exploration of the almost artificiality of invalids is kind of powerful. There's almost a hatred for Agnes and what she has brought upon this house.
One thing about Bergman is that he tends to strip away the politeness of society. I just gave a long treatise about how the film deals with the artificiality of dying and I'm going to try and stand by that. But the way that Bergman really nails that idea down is how everyone else in the house treats each other. I can't help but look at the relationship between Maria and Karin and how much more dramatic it gets than real life. I don't know if I'm just living in a bubble where people don't talk to each other like that, but Bergman seems to revel in it. I suppose this is drama and it just makes sense to get to the heart of the matter. But it is interesting the world that Bergman lives in. People repress everything for a while and then just completely unload. I mean, I get that I'm not suppose to really get a light tone in Bergman movies. I don't remember anything that could ever be considered a joke in a Bergman film. But what Bergman is playing with in Cries and Whispers is the natural tension that is ramped up in the wake of death. One of two things happens when someone dies. People get way too overly polite or people break down. Normally, Bergman doesn't really need an excuse to have people yell at each other and completely tear each other down. But in the wake of death, that kind of makes a bit of sense. Emotions are all out of wack. If Bergman's movies previously have a surreal quality to them because of intensity, this one actually kind of seems...realistic. I know. There's stuff that couldn't be seen on a daily basis. But that also doesn't seem like it exists in a different world from ours. As existentialist and avante-garde as he gets, this world is a heightened version of our own. People make weird decisions. They cheat on spouses. There's almost something melodramatic about the whole thing. There's a fairly functional narrative. There is one moment in the film that gets outright bizarre. I actually did a quick Google search on this one, despite the fact that I prided myself on coming up with my own insights. There's the idea that the scenes near the end might be a dream. There is a sequence where the two sisters discover that the dead sister might not actually be dead. I mean, she dies pretty clearly. There's a funeral. The conversation is otherworldly, so the concept that Agnes was just asleep doesn't really scan. But both sisters interact with the corpse. The one sister, who has been reserved and distant for the majority of the film, shies away from her. She sees this moment as unnatural and bizarre. She wants no part of the resurrected Agnes. However, the other sister is somewhat pleased by the change in fortune. She talks and communicates with Agnes, returning to her role as nursemaid to the dying girl. But in this moment, the corpse grabs her and attacks the girl, pulling her down. Probably not a moment of reality, but I don't want to discount anything in a Bergman film. This is the moment that made the movie for me. It is this gutsy moments where Bergman can really get his point across. Instead of one of the sisters being psychologically healthy and the other unhealthy, Bergman explores the toxic nature of both personas. The reserved sister, Karin, survives the resurrection. But in no way is she happy. She still refuses to be touched at the end, despite that moment of catharsis earlier in the film. While she is alive, her misery isolates her and she must treat life with disdain. Agnes actually turns away from Maria, showing that the dead would even reject this kind of character. It's really just damning. I have a couple of theories on this scene. Like I mentioned in my Persona review, any single interpretation isn't really doing it justice. Using the dead and the element of wish fulfillment, Bergman is able to comment on the falsity of relationships. It reduces the binary of good and bad to open up the doors to the fallibility of all. I want to backpedal a bit though, because, as depressing as Bergman gets, his films never seem wildly pessimistic. Perhaps its the way he films his movies, but his films never have a toxic attitude towards life. Yeah, I don't watch him when I want to be uplifted. But these are movies where people are cruel to one another, but don't feel like movies about cruelty.
There's a lot to break down in Cries and Whispers, but I think that the film works best as an experiment in mood and tone. There's something extremely almost hallucinogenic about watching the film. This is coming from a guy who doesn't do sensory altering substances. But there's something out of body that comes with watching this movie. I actually feel a little bad for analyzing this movie because it is almost a feeling of the film doing what it needs to with you. The colors and the performances are almost just an experience. Honestly, if I watched the movie without subtitles, I might have had an even crazier experience because I don't know if I need to understand every detail. Bergman is a weird dude. While I adore Fanny and Alexander, I think Bergman is sometimes like art. Understanding every element might make it better, but a lot of it comes from reactionary moments. The movie is quietly savage. I think I love Bergman, but I'm never going to be smart enough to be able to wax poetic correctly.
PG, because Data says the s-word. He puts a "Holy" in front of it. Also, a major character dies. Because of that, there's blood. If you really want to be a stickler about content, Klingon outfits can be revealing at times, but that's really a stretch of the imagination. OOoh, Geordi is tortured off camera. That's kind of bad news. PG.
DIRECTOR: David Carson
It's the movie that really got me to be a Trekkie! (Wait, this one? Out of all of Star Trek, this is the one that got this film nerd to be a big Trekkie?) I was the right age, guys. I had seen the other Star Trek movies before this with my dad. He wasn't a big Trekkie, but they were fun family movie nights so I had a pretty solid background in all things Trek. But I was just the right age. If you are wondering, that age was 11. I hadn't even imagined that Star Trek could do something like a crossover. I didn't know that movies could exist as cross different franchises. Do you know how everyone is losing their minds over an Avengers movie coming out in the next week and every single character is going to be in it? That's what I thought in 1994. Sure, we only had Kirk, Scotty, and Chekhov in it. That's an odd assortment of characters to put together. I even hear that there was this whole other scene where Kirk wears a flight suit to keep himself busy during retirement. . But in my mind, a crossover couldn't get any bigger.
Now, I know that Star Trek: Generations hasn't aged well. I get that. I'm not going to try to defend it objectively as a film because I can see why people wouldn't like it. I do like it. I think it is actually pretty darned fun. But I kind of want to fight the battle that goes along the lines of that Star Trek: Generations, not Star Trek V, might be the closest in tone to an actual episode of Star Trek, but just with a bigger budget. Okay, not many people would fight that Star Trek V had a big budget. That movie had practically no money attached to it, so let's put that in perspective. But Star Trek: Generations practically is the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. While watching that movie, there's very little primer for what the relationships in Star Trek: The Next Generation were all about. There's a little bit of that, but really, the movie throws us into the deep end for expecting the story to continue. With Star Trek: The Motion Picture, there's a lot of setup. All of the characters are practically given their own entrance, none more so than Spock. But Star Trek: Generations takes a lot of the plot threads from the show and continues them on, some more forced than others. One of the B-plots of the story is Data's quest to be human. From his introduction on screen, we quickly understand that Data still hasn't completely understood basic human interactions, shoving Dr. Crusher into the water after Mr. Worf has fallen in by accident. Yeah, I just read this whole thing about how Geordi's reaction might have been inappropriate to Data's tiny sin, but we simply have to go from there. I remember that I hadn't seen a lot of the TV show by this point. I knew that Data was an android and that he had problems with emotions. But the central conceit of Data's emotions stemmed from an emotion chip that he gained over the course of the show. Because I was so on board the movie, I simply had to believe the film that Data got that emotion chip and that moment was important. I understand this moment as being a moment for fans, but it is so entrenched in the television story that I'm amazed that they made it a central plotline for the character in the feature film. Remember, this was the '90s. The X-Files: Fight the Future would try pulling the same card. But then there's the entire story with Rene, which is Captain Picard's driving force. On the podcast, we kind of explored that Picard is given all of these external tragedies to make his character a little bit deeper. While Rene and Picard's brother had been characters on the show, they really were relegated to one or two episodes. The idea that their deaths would have had such a profound effect on this man who encountered real tragedies in his lifetime is a bit of a stretch, but I kind of forgive it. This would also be an issue with his time as Locutus in Star Trek: First Contact. It's just odd that he became this Ahab character when he went season after season barely acknowledging that it happened. I suppose that's the problem with very episodic television. It downplays the mythology, but the movies have to upsell that idea. It's a bizarre relationship.
But it is just a continuation. I love the finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. "All Good Things" is such a tonal conclusion to the series without actually having to kill anyone off. It shows the past, present, and future of Star Trek and we understand, without having to vocalize it a la Angel that real people don't just end their quests. Life continues on. But Star Trek: Generations kind of acts like an alternate ending. SPOILER: Blowing up the Enterprise-D is a spiritual end to the television series. The other movies don't really have the casualness that Generations has to the mission of the Enterprise crew. We have the Next Gen crew hanging out on the holodeck, but then we go back to the format of the show with Picard's Captain's Log. Their appearance at the Amargosa Observatory is the way that one of the shows would start. Compare this to the rest of the movies in the franchise. The crew always had to have an excuse for what they were doing. In the original film, Kirk has to co-opt the Enterprise. In Khan, it's used as a training vessel. Then from there on, it's an internal trilogy. We have one movie where they are called away from shore leave. But the mission of Star Trek, the TV series is continuing on in Generations. They are just doing busy work. They don't know that the visiting of the Amargosa Observatory would lead to the direct destruction of the Enterprise. That's routine for them. Maybe they could chalk up their bad luck to a change in uniforms. But Data implanting his chip is something that an episode would do as either an A story or a B-story. It's so casual and I kind of love it. It's kind of like when Doctor Who came back with Matt Smith. The effects budget was heightened, but it was tonally very similar to things that we had seen before. I adore it. So that's what the big question is. Does Star Trek: Generations really work as a film? I think that the reason that I like it is that it feels like a really ambitious episode of the television series and I kind of love that. As a film, it might just be falling on its face. I mean, you have Malcolm McDowell as the villain of the story. He's great and I absolutely adore him. I would be terrified to have him sign my poster that is over the bed in our basement. (It has both William Shatner's and Patrick Stewart's signatures!) I know that this is me inserting myself into the history of this movie and none of this is based on fact, but Malcolm McDowell's seeming apathy towards this role is what is stopping it from reaching its absolute potential.
The movie is barely there. Okay, let me slow down. This movie is a very tight film. But it is almost too tight of a film. It has so much going on, but there's barely any plot involved. SUPER SPOILERY: The movie starts off with the Enterprise-B saving the El Aurian refugees as a prologue. The Enterprise arrives at the Amargosa Observatory and Geordi is kidnapped. The Enterprise goes to Veridian III. The Enterprise crashes. We see the Nexus. Repeat the last few items. It's a very simple movie. There's only one moment where the crew of the Enterprise isn't reactionary. Holy moley, I just realized that. That's what is missing from the movie. Things happen to the crew and the crew just responds. That's the entire film with the exception of stellar cartography. Think about it. The crew receives a distress call from the Amargosa Observatory. From that point on, they are either failing to investigate or just responding to threats to their well-being. Normally, the Enterprise crew is super proactive. The Amargosa star explodes and they run away. Insert Stellar Cartography, the only scene where actual solutions are found. Even that has to be coaxed out of Data. Then they are fired on by the Bird of Prey with the footage that was reused from the last Star Trek movie. They have to land because they were blown up. Picard responds to the Nexus telling him that it is the Nexus. (What a choice. I want to look at that!) And all this reactionary stuff leads to the death of Captain Kirk. Why does Kirk have to die in this movie? I kind of get it. There has to be the temptation to constantly bring him back. Shatner has been playing the on-the-verge-of-retirement Kirk for a while. Having him in the 24th Century is actually too dangerous, especially with the dramatic irony that Spock and McCoy are alive and well in the 24th Century. Also...Scotty. It just seems like the movie really tried to be important even though at heart it wasn't important. You have this major crossover of characters. Two of the captains meet each other. The two grand-daddies of Star Trek, Kirk and Picard, are going to team up. But the story doesn't really allow them to have a real adventure together. Rather, Kirk is a side thought in the film. (Remember, I'm a big fan of this movie and even I notice this.) His death is underwhelming. It's almost the death of potential. I'm not saying "Don't kill Kirk" in Generations. It just feels like his death is utilitarian. He can't exist in the 24th Century. The movie doesn't really set up for sending him back to his home time. That means that there's always the temptation to continue Mary Sueing him throughout Star Trek, the way that Spock was in the Kelvinverse. It just seems like a waste. I really want a full on crossover. It's what Please Stand By called for: a true crossover.
Why does the Nexus remind Picard that this is all fake? It's a little bit of a cheat to have Picard be strong enough to resist the pull of the Nexus. Honestly, I keep comparing Generations to Star Trek V. There are some real common threads that I think Generations does better. The Nexus is Heaven. We get that, right? It's an afterlife. Soran is a religious zealot who will do anything for his faith. It covers the same stuff. It's the same reason that Kirk, Spock, and Bones aren't moved by Sybok in Star Trek V. But the Nexus lets Picard know that this is all fake. Like Star Trek V, it really doesn't make sense that Picard can shrug off this perfect reality. Part of it comes from the fact that Picard's family was fake while Soran's family is alive and well again. But Guinan says that it took her a long time to leave the Nexus behind. I get it and I weirdly approve of it. The tale of the refugee means that a return to status quo would be a greater pull. But Picard's ability to dismiss perfect happiness doesn't make sense with the context of the great drama that the film presents him. I already fought for the Rene narrative being grafted onto his character, but it allows him to move on way too quickly from Rene's death. From Picard's perspective, his greatest gift has been given to him with more. Not only is Rene alive again, but the family he always apparently wanted is there too. But this transitions me into something I really like about Generations. I love the idea that both Kirk and Picard share the notion of not having a family. The captaincy apparently is a position of solitude. The entire franchise kind of deals with that. Apparently, the studio told the filmmakers that Carol Marcus couldn't be in the film, a decision that I completely don't understand. But they attach Antonia to Kirk and it kind of works if it wasn't such a studio move. They are heroes because they continue to make the unselfish choice in the face of comfort. They are fundamentally heroes, unlike Soran. He is a creature of selfish comfort and that's what transforms him from someone who wouldn't hurt a fly to the Soran of the movie. It's interesting. I don't know if it is properly explored, but I tend to give this movie the benefit of the doubt anyway.
I really like this movie. It's on my list of bad movies that I really like. It's just because it is an undercooked film when there's really no excuse for it to be. It is a weak swan song for Kirk and a bad finale for The Next Generation when "All Good Things" was really the amazing finale it needed. I still think of it as a finale despite the rest of the films because there is a tonal shift with the other movies. I adore First Contact, but it definitely feels like a very different beast, especially with the gargantuan Enterprise-E. Regardless, I dig this movie and I'm grateful for the fact that it really got me into Star Trek.
Not rated, but Kevin Smith says the f-word a lot. But that's just because it's Kevin Smith. It's asking the sun not to shine. Some of the people in this film treat this like a professional interview. Some of the interviewees love swearing like sailors. But really, the only thing that is really objectionable is the occasional intense swearing. You can go through long sections of movies without any language. Then there will be an interviewee just going off on the English language.
DIRECTOR: Jon Schnepp
I've been obsessed with the unmade film. In Neil Gaiman's Sandman, Morpheus has an entire library entirely devoted to books that haven't been written. There's something really intriguing about what could have been. I have to warn you that I also spent this weekend watching Jodorowsky's Dune. I got this blood boiling, friends, and I wonder what the world would have been like had these movies been made. Like Jon Schnepp, the creator of this documentary, there's been this splinter under my craw about Supeman Lives. I love(d) Superman. I give it the caveat because I loathe what the DCeU has done with that character. But when I heard that Tim Burton was going to be making Kevin Smith's Superman script with Nicholas Cage as Superman, I was all over the place emotionally. Only once have I really seen a train derail as hard as that. It was the most recent adaptation of Fantastic Four. I don't know what it is about knowing that a movie would crash and burn so hard that I just had to see it.
I was so confused when I heard that Superman Lives was going to be made. I'm such a fanboy for the Christopher Reeve incarnation of that character that I just wanted more. I think Kevin Smith is a better writer than he is a director. Actually, to go a step beyond that, I think he's a better personality than he is anything else. I really like his comics writing, but there's some steps between him and great filmmaker. (In high school, I was obsessed with him. That's a sweet spot for Kevin Smith.) So when these images started popping up on the internet, I couldn't stop looking for more. It was just a trainwreck. There's the image of Cage, clearly not ready to be photographed, in one of the ugliest costumes I had ever seen. I mean, Nicholas Cage wasn't ever meant to be Superman, except in Teen Titans Go! to the Movies. I think that most people probably felt the same thing. When Jon Schnepp decided to make a documentary about this movie, I'm sure that he had the same curiosity. I get the vibe from having seen the documentary now that he was on the opposite side of my coin. I had actually known a lot of the content of this documentary before it came out. Years ago, Kevin Smith released a hybrid stand-up / Q & A bit called An Evening with Kevin Smith. In that special, he talks a lot about Superman Lives. He tells the story of Jon Peters and his nutball ideas. We get the idea that this was a doomed idea from the start. The documentary really doesn't take a different path than that. The one thing that Schnepp kind of fights for is that all of these ideas would have brought about an interesting film. Schnepp definitely has his opinion about this movie clearly laid out both in the text and in the subtext. I know that Schnepp isn't just anybody. He worked on Metalocalpyse and has friends in the industry. But Schnepp is more civilian than celebrity. He has a very human response to interacting with his heroes. I get the same vibe. My film critic gig has weirdly put me into the path of interacting with people above my station. I am pretty decent at keeping my cool, but my brain is screaming when these things happen. I really don't want to offend. Schnepp isn't exactly objective with this documentary. Understandably, he thinks that Jon Peters is a weird dude who may have helped tank this movie. But he also is completely in love with the other creators of this movie. Now, I want to backpedal a little bit. I really think he wanted to see Tim Burton's Superman Lives unironically. But the movie keeps unrolling all of these moments that seem like they would have been terrible and then...
...he would imply that it would be great. There is such a disparity between the way that Schnepp would treat everyone else and the way he would treat Jon Peters. I don't deny, Jon Peters seems like a terrible liar. Every single testimonial aside from Peters claims that Peters and his general personality put a strain on every element of this film. It's not his fault, at least not single-handedly, that the movie. But The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (A clunky title, to say the least) is almost a love-letter to an unmade movie. I really don't like Tim Burton. I think he's fairly terrible. But there have been moments over the past decade that made me question my assessment of him. If there has ever been a moment where I have gone back to my original opinion of Tim Burton kind of being a hack, it is this documentary. He's one thing. He's one thing and he does that thing over and over. He calls it art. But I don't think I've seen a director who is so in love with his own brand like Tim Burton. I kept hearing this phrase over and over again, "Tim Burton doesn't read comic books. Tim Burton doesn't like comic books." Now, I get where this is going. I get the idea that a comic book should be one thing and a film should be another. But a disdain for an entire medium shows that Burton seems really closeminded. This felt like a burden for him the entire time. It's very odd how The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? is kind of a check list of #metoo offenders, but Bryan Singer's Superman Returns was used as a litmus test for how not to do a movie. I have come around to the fact that Superman Returns is not a great film. But calling it a bad film is far from the truth. It isn't perfect, but it gets the core of its movie right. It understands Superman and it understands Clark Kent. Yeah, the movie isn't great. Okay, I can make peace with that. I'll watch it again sometime soon and I'll write about it. But to use that as an example for what sucks is rough. Tim Burton seems to loathe what that movie brought to the table. I think that Tim Burton really just likes showing off how weird he is. I think that his sensibilities tend to align with Batman. There's this concept that Tim Burton shaped Batman into the character he is today. I don't deny that he holds a lot of responsibility for making Batman a grim character. But that's the way that the comic books were. I don't know why Burton rallies against the idea of a comic book when they seem to have all of this great stuff in it.
But I'm going to play against my own philosophy. There are a few moments in this movie that actually justify the idea of a Tim Burton being made. This is Jon Schnepp's success element to his film. By the end of the documentary, I realized that I wanted to see Tim Burton's Superman Lives. I didn't want to see Superman Lives as a Superman film. That seems really confusing. I think I wanted to see what this movie could have been. There's one moment that sells the idea of Nicholas Cage as Superman and that I've never really considered. Nicholas Cage might have worked as Superman because I never really saw him as Superman. Okay, I'm going to give that a little bit of context. Do you know what other casting gig never really made a ton of sense to me? Michael Keaton as Batman. That is still absolutely bananas to me. I wonder how Schnepp got all of these people to come back and talk about the movie, but didn't manage to get a hold of Nicholas Cage. Cage confuses me. I know that the guy is a huge comic book nerd. He named his kid Kal-El for goodness sake. But there are moments where Tim Burton and Nicholas Cage are doing some character stuff with costumes and I don't think I have been that uncomfortable with watching something awkward like when I saw the "Scott's Tots" episode of The Office. What Nicholas Cage was playing for Clark Kent was just full Cage insanity. I actually really like Nicholas Cage in a lot of things. The only solace to Cage being cast as Superman was the fact that I thought a comics nerd would really get what made Superman tick. Yeah, he's a goofball a lot of the time and looks nothing like I imagine Superman should look like. But then there's this bizarre full Cage thing going on and it bummed me out. I'm listening to the score to Superman Returns right now and it is so motivating. I've had a hard time writing this because this writing seems to just suck the life out of me a bit. But I watched so much of this movie in storyboard form. There are so many moments to what would have been this movie that are kind of cool sounding...if it wasn't really Superman. It's bizarre. Yeah, I want to see the movie just so I can leap over some of the more challenging ideas. But honestly, this might be a bullet dodged.
The documentary really doesn't look great. I know that it was a Kickstarter project and I think I remember hearing that it just kept clearing goal after goal. It never really looks great. I think the biggest pull for the documentary is getting Tim Burton to talk about this picture, let alone Tim Burton talking about this picture in his dungeon home. Yeah, the movie really explains what really went wrong with this film and I can get behind that. I still only want to see this movie as a carnival freakshow. It kind of hits the same button for me as watching the Turkish Superman movies on YouTube. I know that this is completely a terrible idea, but I don't understand how a whole team of people could say that this was going to be brilliant. There are few moments that actually really sell the piece and I think that this would have ruined yet another superhero property.
Not rated, but folks die. I mean, that's really about it. If you really want to get into objectionable material, the worst thing in this movie is that 1939 is not exactly known for its wokeness. It's got some basically regressive ideas. Nothing that stands out for the era or even for some movies today, but it could be better. But basically, people die in this film and that's all that can be seen as objectively objectionable.
DIRECTOR: Howard Hawks
As of right now, I still teach a film class. In that film class, I discuss Howard Hawks. It's not very much. He gets a slide during his era of Hollywood. In that slide, I talk about how the textbook describes him as a macho director who is obsessed with flight and airplanes. My association with Howard Hawks has always been Bringing Up Baby. That movie is not macho and has the bare minimum amount of airplanes. Now, I'm not a Howard Hawks expert. I've seen some of the bigger ones, including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I never really understood when he's categorized like this...until I saw Only Angels Have Wings. Okay, I get it. The textbook was right. I'm a good person for saying what the textbook told me to say. (That's all teaching is, guys.) (This is sarcasm. Teachers take things very personally.) (That last thing, not sarcasm.)
I'm never quite sure what Only Angels Have Wings is. It seems to constantly shift what kind of movie it really is. Look at the IMDB page. It's labeled "Adventure, Drama, Romance." You could throw some light comedy in there as well. The main thing I take away from the movie is that it really could be a much lighter accompanying piece to The Wages of Fear. It deals with the whole, transporting dangerous materials while focusing on the fragility of man element that we see in that movie. I want to kind of explore that a bit, but I do want to say that the movie doesn't really initially sell itself like a Wages of Fear movie. Instead, we have a couple of really tropey situation. We are introduced to Bonnie at the beginning of the film. Bonnie is considered tough as nails. Boy-oh-boy, do the fellas love her. But she won't take no guff. (I've written too many sentences in a row with this voice and I can't get out of it organically.) We're looking back to 1939 and I think that this is one of the movies that is the product of a regressive era. I think that the movie thinks that it is being progressive with the introduction to Bonnie. Rather than meet Bonnie directly, we see the terror she inflicts on the porter. There's the juxtaposition between the porter's injury and the petit unloading of Jean Arthur that kind of plays as a mix between a gag and character development. There is one really problematic thing that even probably 1939 shouldn't have gotten away with in terms of its introduction. I know that Hawks is probably selling Bonnie as a strong woman. Okay, I get that she can hold her own in a fight. But there are two different character choices being made in this moment. One scenario is that Bonnie won't put up with advances made by men. She doesn't need a man and will let them know by clawing and bruising. That's what is implied by the injury on the porter. If it was that, we could have let the whole thing go. But that doesn't really scan with the way that she acts for the rest of the film. The first thing that the men from the airport do is sexually harass her and she seems to absolutely adore the attention. Often, she's treated as lesser than the rest of the staff of the airport. She's considered strong in the sense that her sensibilities are aligned with Geoff and the rest of the crew, but she is often treated with kid gloves because she can't handle a lot. This puts her introduction into perspective. It can't really be that Bonnie is a character that doesn't put up with advances, so much as she is a character who was almost raped. That porter is no longer a good guy. Also, the fact that the guys are hitting on her after they see what she can do means that they have regressed the character as simply being "feisty." That's really icky in my mind. It's a romance. I get it. There needs to be an interesting character, but we're being fed two very different narratives in the story. Also, why does she like Geoff? Hear me out. The traditional romantic dynamic is that the characters start as pig-headed guys and they discover the vulnerability beneath. Okay, that happens here. But somehow he convinces Bonnie that he isn't responsible for the pilots death. From moment one, the pilot establishes that it is way too dangerous to fly. Geoff is the guy who is supposed to fly if things get too hairy. He doesn't fly. He still sends the guy up. I get that the pilot wasn't supposed to make dumb choices to impress a girl, but it totally is Geoff's fault that the pilot died. I know that is part of his job, but she ends up kissing him by the end of the night. Really weird choice.
But in terms of The Wages of Fear element to the movie, I think I like that. Listen, I'm always going to advocate for the value of a human life in everything I say, act, and do. But there's something really interesting when a story talks about people who do the most dangerous things in the world and find value in those things. Okay, Free Solo doesn't really apply. But I like Man on Wire and stuff like that. If I asked all of my students about money over survival, I think my answer, for the most part would be that money isn't as important as being a good person and surviving. But that argument would turn something into a binary that really isn't. I mean, these guys aren't itching to die. But they are constantly surrounded by death. In fact, death is so prevalent with what they do that they actually make up odd coping methods for dealing with death. Why? Because the next day, they need to be so focused on their task that any kind of distraction like that is likely to get them killed. It's almost superstitious. What makes a movie like this so interesting? I suppose it is the fact that not only is it unrelatable, but it is wholly and completely unrelatable. It's a sideshow circus. Why would someone do this? Because they can. Yeah, Hawks touches a little bit on the fact that this is the only way that these characters can live. Geoff needs to fly. In fact, the central theme of the movie is that life without flying is not a life at all. He is keeping Bonnie at a distance because he has had a relationship that has attempted to draw him away from the life that truly motivates him, despite the fact that the life is wrought with danger. It is a bit bizarre that Judy ends up acting as a cautionary tale for him. Bonnie is just Judy Part II. Hawks does a solid job of making Judy just unlikable enough to make Bonnie Geoff's object of affection, but what is there in that? This is where the movie becomes a bit of a stretch for me. There are a string of coincidences that are almost beyond belief for the film. Because I overall liked it, I'm going to say that these coincidences can be written off with a suspension of disbelief. But I also know that if I had to be completely objective, these moments are absolutely absurd. The fact that Judy comes into his life and is married to Bat, the one guy who was a bad guy before. He also got Kid's brother killed? I mean, we get that she has to be a bad guy, but that seems a bit much. But for a movie that is all about the low cost of human life, there's another message that is the complete opposite trying to wedge its way in there.
Bat's redemption almost flies in the face (like a condor) of everything that the movie up to this point has been preaching about. I like a good redemption storyline and this one is pretty great. Bat, a coward who left Kid's brother to die, does all that he can to rescue Kid, even putting his life at stake and taking on burns. But Bat isn't a character until really the final third of the film. So many different things have to happen to get Bat and Judy into the story that I just kept on reevaluating what this movie was really about. There's a balancing act going on with the elements of the plot and Hawks kind of pulls it off. If you want to have people believe something absolutely absurd, make them focus on a sense of urgency. In terms of scripting, there's a very concrete goal that probably doesn't really exist in the real world. Geoff has to have so many mail flights consecutively to earn a contract to keep the airport open. They are risking their lives, after all, and they want to get paid. But it is such an all-or-nothing situation that they have to hire this guy that they recognize as a coward and a liability. It's odd. Bat is a character that we are told is bad. From the description of him, he actually does sound pretty rough. But he is instantly likable. The story initially was about Geoff and how we were trying to redeem him. He actually gets redeemed far too early in the story and has to backpedal some of his behavioral growth. Honestly, that happens. In the first half of the movie, Geoff tones down the whole macho act and decides to return Bonnie's random affections. I know that I'm overly simplifying it. I'm a bit of a Strawman right now, but that's kind of what happens. In a gross way, he kind of wants that one-night-stand, tragic relationship rather something of substance. It makes sense with his character, but it is really gross. He can't fall in love again because the same problems that happened with Judy would just repeat with Bonnie. But Geoff gets kind of a clever moment that really takes the legs out of the movie. SPOILER FOR THE END OF THE FILM: By offering her the double sided coin, yeah, the Chekhov's gun is fired. Yay there. But it also gives him a cake-and-eat-it-too moment. He's allowed to make enough of a change that his character would technically be considered dynamic without actually having to be vulnerable in the moment. Instead of actually communicating with Bonnie, he gets to run away and be both a pilot and a significant other. He made the big change, but is too proud to actually admit that major change. It's a cop-out. Regardless, it is what it is. I think the movie kind of needed the clever ending, but that is a problematic character to begin with.
I guess the movie is fine. I loved Bringing Up Baby and Only Angels Have Wings does the job it signed up to do. But it also has the problem of trying to be a dozen movies and has a bit of a Jack of All Trades problem. Every single genre represented in here has been done similarly somewhere else and far better. If you want a bite of each genre, it appeals. But I would love to see this movie really address the value of human life on a scale of The Wages of Fear. I would love to see a redemption arc throughout the course of a film. I want Geoff to make some real changes and allow the female character to have the upper hand for once. It's a lot of cool moments that feel vapid as a final product. That doesn't meant the movie isn't worth watching.
PG-13, but I'm not exactly sure why. It might have a little bit of language. I suppose some of the arguments get pretty intense. But the movie is fairly tame in terms of actual content. Apparently, there's a cut of extremely brief nudity, but the version I saw didn't have this. (I watched it on Hulu.) There's one f-bomb, but that's about it. Extremely tame PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Ben Lewin
Yeah, I'm being pretty indulgent right now. I can totally call myself out on that one. I love Star Trek and any excuse to find a way to find Star Trek related properties seems to make my list. Do you know how much I want other people to watch something Star Trekky with me? I know my wife doesn't care about Star Trek, but I'm trying to figure out how to get my wife to watch Star Trek: First Contact for my birthday with her phone locked in a box. (She sometimes reads my writing if she watched the movie with me. This is just a giant hint dropped.) But I even want to go as far as seeing What We Left Behind, the new Deep Space Nine documentary. (That trailer, yo.) I know that Star Trek related property isn't as substantial as actual Star Trek stuff. I'm thinking primarily of stuff like For the Love of Spock. But Please Stand By is possibly the easiest sell that can I can do to watch something Star Trek-tangential without getting looks from non-sci-fi fans.
I'm not really going to gush about this movie. It's good. I enjoyed it. It really did its job. But in terms of great film, I don't know if it actually does anything outside of expectations. This crossed my path a while ago with a trailer. It is one of those movies that is so accessible that is almost Serkian in its irony. (You're welcome.) The movie is meant to move you. It's end result is to move its audience. It's a really good meatloaf. If Hallmark is hospital cafeteria meatloaf, a movie like Please Stand By is your mom's best meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes and buttered peas. Yeah, it's real comfort food. The fact that it is about Star Trek is almost arbitrary. As a huge Star Trek fan, it slightly dips its toe into the Big Bang Theory pool by showing that only the marginalized really find value in Star Trek itself. It kind of is a no-win situation for me. (A real Kobiyashi Maru!) I love when people talk about Star Trek lovingly. This movie does it for me in spades. It talks about how Star Trek is tied to people who feel on the outside, but does so in a positive way. It's Roddenberry's message distilled into a twee indie dramedy. I love that so much. But the other end of that story is that element of Star Trek being only for the outsider. Yeah, it's great that Star Trek seems to appeal to the Spocks out there, but what about the people who just love wonderment? I get it. It is really hard to have one without the other. The bigger element is the win. I think that a movie about how Star Trek appeals to people who are on the spectrum is smart. One of the protagonists, Spock, has a hard time understanding emotions. I can't even just attribute this to Spock. The show has gone out of its way to continually bring back this archetype in some form or another. The Next Generation had Data. Deep Space Nine had Odo. Voyager had Tuvok (kind of a cop out when it came to that.) Enterprise had T'Pol, again a cop out. Discovery kind of has Burnham, Tilly, and Saru all filling that role. There's something appealing to viewing a great big universe when you have a hard time relating to others. Yeah, it's a bit on the nose to tell the tale of a girl on the spectrum relating to Star Trek. But I don't know if everyone necessarily gets that. I'm a part of a bunch of fandom groups on Facebook (I'm so proud of this moment) and the ones that surround the genre television I enjoy tend to be comprised of a noticable percentage of people on the spectrum. Maybe I also like that kind of thinking. I mean, I write a blog a day talking about movies that I like because no one will really talk to me about them in my real life. That level of obsession draws a certain crowd and I love it.
I don't think that this movie really has nuance, though. I think we've avoided the autism-as-superpower trope that a lot of movies carry. But Wendy does kind of seem broad strokes. I think I realized this pretty quickly when she describes her job at Cinnebon. Again, I'm completely basing this on my own thoughts, but is Dakota Fanning learning from people on the spectrum or has this become another Rain Man impersonation. Clearly, Dustin Hoffman got something right. But Wendy, as a character, is almost more reinforcing of a tone than actually building a unique character. In the world of otherness, I feel like everyone's functionality is their own. Yet, we keep seeing the same archetypal character show up for the people on the spectrum. It is interesting because the home where Scottie works (Yup...Scottie) has people with varying conditions. Yet, the character we see most often is the character like Wendy. I have theories why this is. Is Wendy considered "functioning enough" to justify a narrative. Wendy has bad days. She probably has bad moments every day, but her character is categorized by structure. The more rigid to her structure, the more successful she is probably deemed. (That's a clunky sentence that I just don't have the gumption to fix.) If one of the great narrative structures is the fish-out-of-water story, a character who exhibits traits like Wendy's is the ideal situation. The more uncomfortable that the protagonist can get, the more the story can move forward. Because Wendy has strategies for overcoming problems, the narrative can continue on towards an ideal conclusion. This means that when the filmmakers need her to breakdown, it isn't that hard to justify it. It also means, because the concept of Wendy being on the spectrum can seem foreign to a lot of us, that when she is successful and functional, we can also justify it. Not only do we, as an audience justify it, but it also appeals to that sense of relief. This is where the comfort food moments happen for us. We have a secondary, removed sense of success for ourselves. It's kind of a win-win for a filmmaker to make a movie like this. We instantly feel moved during Wendy's breakdowns. We feel the sense of control leaving us, but that sense of control is instantly restored when a scene transitions. Heck, sometimes we can even get it within the scene. The title of the movie, Please Stand By, refers to her mantra to bring a sense of calm in tense situations. Those words actually give a signal to the audience that they can prepare for a sense of normality again. It's really odd. I never realized how kind of manipulative the Rain Man formula is. I also know that people on the spectrum don't necessarily love Rain Man. I don't know if it is just because of the magic powers imbued upon the differently abled, but it is something to look at. Like, it's interesting when a character has "real" superpowers, but I also think it might be an unfair representation. Regardless, Please Stand By avoids these tropes.
I don't know if Please Stand By is too simple of a movie. I keep flashing back to Little Miss Sunshine, even though these are completely different films. I suppose the connection is the travel narrative presented in each. The aesthetic of the film seems to be almost be duplicating the twee aesthetic of the family comedy. As much as I liked the film, the movie almost seems to be a photocopy of all of the things that came before it. I know that Toni Colette seems to be playing this role a lot. Like comfort food, the movie is almost completely devoid of surprises. Actually, there is one surprise in the movie and I really don't like it. I mean, like meatloaf, I don't care that much. But it is kind of breaking one of my rules. The trailer shows this moment, so if you need a refresher, you can check that out. Wendy drops her script. Her four hundred something page script goes off a balcony and she can only rescue part of it. It's the Macguffin for this film...kind of. When she drops it, she has a choice to make that is crucial to the film: does she go home or does she finish her journey with a fraction of the script? The script is the motivating drive within the story. Yeah, I knew that it wasn't going to win. You can't film a script that is that long. But the moment she decides to go through with her initial plan, despite not having a finished product is an agreement that the film makes with its audience. By giving her her script back, there's kind of a cheat. She never actually has to problem solve what to do with an incomplete script. The choice is taken out of the protagonist's hand and we get this deus ex machina ending. Her family found the remaining pages of her script and gave them to her. Out of the myriad of deus ex machina endings, it at least is a nice ending. It stresses the value of family and that dependence isn't the worst thing in the world. But we are stuck wondering how she's going to solve this problem. She never does. It's kind of like Indy leaving the temple and the knight just handing him the grail afterwards. The decision to abandon the script has happened and we're supposed to live with the consequences. But because this movie is meatloaf, we have to have the comfortable ending. I mean, it leads to her saying that great line about having written something, again in the trailer. There's a lot of quality that is sacrificed for the sake of tone. I would have loved to see the gutsy ending where she didn't get to turn in a full script. It would have been a marvel to have someone see her story and help her get a Cinnabon-y type job as a PA or something for Paramount Pictures. Okay, that ending is cornball, but it also isn't breaking the pact that we made with the audience. If the prize is unobtainable, you can change the prize. After all, she never was going to win the contest, so why don't we have her shift her perspective. Maybe the missing script pages fall by the way of someone else, who is inspired to finish the script? Maybe that person makes a really good fan film and brings together a community to actually make the movie she wanted? I don't know. I'm just spitballing now. But it is a bit of a cheat.
I liked the movie. It's not amazing. I wanted my wife to really get into it, but she didn't seem very interested at all. I'm not going to take that personally. It was a fine movie that does exactly what a Star Trek related property should do. It is meant to remind me how much I like Star Trek, but rarely does it actually have the quality of the material it is honoring.
TV-PG, but hold on! TV-PG doesn't mean "PG." Yeah, it's more PG than it is R, but it still has an abundance of language and questionable situations in it. The movie's target audience isn't for kids. It's really a movie for indie hipsters without being bogged down with content. The protagonist asks whether or not she is attractive enough to be sexually harassed. That was a conversation I didn't really want to have with my daughter. TV-PG.
DIRECTOR: Brie Larson
How was this made in 2017? I'm losing my entire sense of time. I thought that Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson got to know each other through Captain Marvel, and like Joss Whedon did with Much Ado About Nothing, threw together a movie. Oh, no! I really wanted that to be the story. Everything else should take a back seat because that's the only scenario I was really prepped for. My wife is always looking for stuff that we can watch as a family that doesn't make the adults want to lose their minds. There are times that this is successful. There are times that are less successful. I have to say, although this is rated TV-PG, the target audience is not families. It is a very indie movie that wears its indie cred on its shoulders. That's not a bad thing. But it also can add a point to the category of Netflix-films-that-I-Won't-Remember-a-Year-From-Now. I'm so sorry, Brie Larson. It's not bad. It just didn't speak to me.
I adore Brie Larson. She's an actress with really knocks it out of the park with her performances. I'm not going to lie, I also like the fact that she calls it like it is. Her devil-may-care attitude is pretty refreshing and she has given me so much ammo against close-minded fanboys. God bless you, Brie Larson. All that being said, Unicorn Store is an example of being just fine when it needed to be way more. I think a lot of it comes from taking the choice that works, but not the choice that is perfect. Independent film sometimes has the reputation of being bare bones. But that doesn't mean that independent film has to look cheap. If I'm going to talk about American independent film, I have to talk about one of the forefathers of independent film: Slacker. Slacker is not my favorite movie. I know, people worship at the feet of Richard Linklater. I have a love/hate relationship with him. But Slacker works for a reason. The world influences the characters. The setting embraces the themes really well. The entire thing is completely unified and it works because of that. Unicorn Store posits something very different. The conceit of the film is that Brie Larson's Kit has something meaningful to say, and no one is really letting her say it. But instead, what happens is that we get the sitcom version of what art really means. It's a film of shortcuts and easy answers. I know that the theme is about growing up and the value of staying both true to yourself as you age out of childish things, but it doesn't accurately sell the value of childhood. Kit had an imaginary unicorn. There's one scene that actually sells it very well. Her discussion with the unicorn vocalizes what the movie should have been about. It should have been about not art, but the idea that one can integrate one's personality into anything that they say or do. I'm going to hit some SPOILERS (I think I need to lean heavy into spoilers sometimes because that's where real analysis happens). Kit has her big moment in front of the board. She has the epiphany that her life shouldn't be split into professional and emotional. But that presentation is hot garbage. It's really bad. The good guy is supposed to be Kit for risking it all and the bad guys were supposed to be the PR firm. I would have reacted the exact same way in those situations. Maybe that's what Larson was shooting for, but she has her team vocalize the important message of the film immediately afterwards. Yeah, that message is great, but I wouldn't trust this product with Brie Larson's character.
I can't get over how cheap this movie looks at times. It's got such a great cast and has a solid theme. But the execution is kind of lacking. I don't know if the movie necessarily gets it own message throughout the film either. There's a scene, which actually might be the funniest scene of the film, where Kit has to make amends with her parents. It's a great idea. She has to do a Circle of Truth (Fun fact: I just hit a wall and want to stop writing this blog forever.) with a group of people who have been infamous lying in this Circle of Truth for as long as they have attended. In this moment, Kit reveals the truth of her plans. Everything that she has been working for has been building up to buying a unicorn that will live with the family. Initially, her parents are flummoxed. Imagine if you were in their position. You would be flummoxed as well. Also, "flummoxed." There, I got it out of my system. But quickly, Kit and her father, played by Bradley Whitford, have an honest conversation. These parents who have been granola eating adulters throughout the film, seem to be good people. Yeah, they are overbearing at times and have a hard time relating to their freewheeling daughter. But Whitford's character exposes the truth of his soul. He reveals that he knows that everything in the circle has been a lie. It doesn't matter to him. He sees the value of every individual in that circle. He's a human being. He may come across as overbearing, but that's just because he's too close to Kit. I think my wife and I are harder on our daughter than we need to be. We have such love for her and such joy when she is succeeding that it is a real bummer when she's playing the fool. And she plays the fool a lot. There's such a fine line between tough love and jerkishness that the movie examines and I adore this scene. It is so vulnerable and great...but it leads to nothing. Kit claims that she hasn't really repaired her relationship with her parents. Kit is meant to be the dynamic protagonist. She's growing, and I think the movie does a solid job of showing her growth. But we are fighting for Kit's cause and she kind of becomes a bad guy in this moment. The unicorn at the beginning of the film is an object of whimsy. We are on board her getting this unicorn because it is the last chance she has from becoming a broken automaton. The unicorn is representative of something far more innocent and unbroken. But in this moment, when Kit's father bears his soul and Kit goes into the next scene unmoved by what was done, completely changes the message of the film. What are we aiming for? What is the goal of this story? The adult world that is free from unicorns and imagination is terrible. Everyone who works for that PR firm (with the exception of Kit's assistant) is completely dead inside. The boss of this company uses women and the women that are used by the boss are catty and hate the new girl. Kit shouldn't dump her personality because of adulthood and we're rooting for that. But then, the childhood is considered something selfish at the moment. I know. I'm presenting a binary / black-and-white fallacy as my argument. But that's because that's what I take away from Unicorn Store. Larson kind of 180s the plot and presents the protagonist as a good guy, regardless. It actually seems to minimize Dad's heartfelt revelation to let the story continue on. There's no moment when Kit shifts and realizes that her father is really trying after that moment. It's a bizarre choice because Larson is emoting in the moment with her father, but then states that she really hasn't done anything to fix their severed relationship. It's only once Kit's mother, played by Joan Cusack, has the drawings that Kit made as a child up that Kit realizes that her parents loved her the entire time. Kit's vulnerable moment is the revelation that she is getting a unicorn. That's a big deal and that's how she fights for her parents. But this moment is completely underscored by the fact that the only thing that saved the family is the fact that Kit's mother never stopped loving her. Kit isn't the one making the sacrifice; her mother is. This might even come down to flipping scenes. Putting the mother conversation first and then the phone call second puts the onus on Kit as opposed to Mom. If the mother sequence happened first, Kit would realize that she hasn't done anything to fix her relationship with her father. When she reveals that she is getting a unicorn, she is then being vulnerable, which in turn, allows Dad to open up about his intentions with the group.
The movie really wanted to be funny. I don't think I ever really laughed. There is a relationship with Virgil that is probably the closest thing to being funny in the movie. I think that Virgil, played by Mamoudou Athie, is absolutely a charming male lead for the film. I like when the film takes the alpha male archetype and spins it on its head. Kit actually verbalizes something that may have been one of my personal misconceptions that I've never thought about before. Virgil works in a hardware store. I like the idea of the hardware store employee that knows nothing about building or construction. I worked at Organized Living, a home decor store, for a period of a few months. It wasn't a fun job and I realized that quickly when I was put in the closet design section. I knew nothing about closet design, nor did anyone teach me about closet design. That has to be a universal idea. Virgil is cute, but I don't really understand his intentions from time-to-time. What is the message that Larson is trying to get across with Virgil? There's a moment where he promises not to freak out. This is Kit's confession to Virgil about the unicorn. The easy joke would have been to have him freak out in the restaurant. He's taken aback a little bit, which I really like. But when he sees that there is no Unicorn Store, he is supportive and treats Kit like a human being. That's great. I adore that. But there's one moment where Kit, once she's come to terms with the fact that the store doesn't exist, receives a phone call from Samuel L. Jackson. (Not the actor, the store owner.) I get that he wants to stop her from getting hurt. This seems like a scam and I get that element. But he becomes ultimatum-y. He gets kind of visibly upset by the whole situation and Kit goes by herself. If he's really concerned about her getting hurt, why doesn't he simply try to go with her and protect her? He ends up in the right place, I get that. But he shifts from being sympathetic towards being duped to demanding that she grow up in that moment. Virgil isn't really grown up. He's a kindred spirit to Kit, so his request that she grows up is really out of character. Even more, this is all for naught because the right answer was that she goes after the unicorn. That's when she discovers what adulthood is. Virgil meets the unicorn. Why make him the barrier to the end of the film? Virgil is almost punished for being a sympathetic character throughout and that's a really weird choice for me.
I didn't like it. The more I think about this movie, the less "fine" it gets and the more I dislike it. Shortcuts bother me. If I think of a better moment than the storytellers do, I tend to really hold it against the movie. There are so many moments that I would have cleaned up and tightened that the movie is kind of spoiled for me. It's not terrible. It's just a long way from being the product that it could have been.
Rated R for really intense violence. If you watch that trailer, you get it. It's violence involving scissors and sharp objects. Everyone is in peril, including kids. It's a movie that rides hard on its intense imagery, so be ready to squirm, like, a lot. If you haven't seen the trailer, I almost want to recommend that you don't. I will talk about it later, but it is very, very scary. There's also some burns that can be pretty gnarly. R.
DIRECTOR: Jordan Peele
Yeah, people are torn on this one. I get it. I do. But I can't help but tout Us as a work of genius. I'm going to defend the living daylights out of this movie. Is it perfect? No. Is it really close? Yes. Someone said to me yesterday that we are living in the Golden Age of Horror movies. I responded with the '80s were probably the Golden Age of Horror movies, because I'm a nitpicky turd. I get what he was saying. This was an argument that we live in an age where genre is starting to be respected. Rather than simply making movies that have scares and calling it a day, a handful of genre films try to elevate what makes a movie great. Should the end result be simply scares? I can think of lots of movies that terrified me that might not be considered great films. Jordan Peele is kind of leading the movement of still making authentically scary movies, but also movies that are so narratively tight while actually addressing social ills. Jordan Peele makes movies that show that passion can take any story and make it amazing film.
Now, we're also in the era of A24 films. Peele's horror probably shares a lot in common with the films under the A24 banner. I'm going to declare SPOILERS right now because I really want to break down so much of this film. There is a lot that I just need to process and this is going to be the venue for that. The opening shot of the film is so perfect. Can I please applaud the opening? Yeah, I have learned to watch for details in Jordan Peele movies after Get Out. Peele might be the most artistic fanboy that I've ever seen. I love Edgar Wright (and I won't shut up about it). Both of these guys are cut from the same cloth. Rather than relegating their passions to dorky things, they integrate them so seamlessly into their films and it works. That opening shot with the television playing Hands Across America is a single shot that tells so much about the movie...only after you have seen it. It hits this second chord that I find absolutely marvelous. The one tone that is really hard to hit right is nostalgia. Nostalgia can be pretty alienating when a director is really shooting for nostalgia. I think that's what my main complaint for Ready Player One was. It's that line that Stranger Things rides pretty hard. I don't know what it is about the '80s. Again, I'm the target demographic for a lot of this stuff. Jordan Peele is older than I am, but not by much. He would have been a senior when I would have been a freshman. We grew up with a lot of the same surroundings. But the entire movie isn't a tribute to his childhood. I tend to find nostalgia a bit of a virus when it comes to storytelling. Most movies really ride the nostalgia card pretty hard. But really, we only get snippets to this era. As much as I dug Captain Marvel, it couldn't really get free of the burden of looking at the '90s. Instead, by starting the movie in '86, Peele can scratch an itch pretty hard. That beginning is so removed from the rest of the story. It is vital to the piece as a whole, but the setting of the carnival instantly engrosses us in the movie. I want to look at the little things on that shot. One of the things that I think really alienates people is that it takes some work to get to the theme. But the opening shot has that. It's the Hands Across America commerical. Showing the gentleman digging through the trash is a commentary on class structure. Hands Across America, I'm sorry to say, didn't do much to stop poverty. It just was the precursor to Internet wokeness. I know that's ironic because I run a blog and I tend to be woke while blogging. You have the C.H.U.D. VHS right there. Us is about CHUDS! Then there's The Goonies. Of course The Goonies were part of the '80s. We could chalk it up to that. But wait, "It's our time up here?" He straight up homaged the quote. Honestly, the only tape I didn't really get was A Nightmare on Elm Street. I'm sure if I Googled it right now, I'd get some response that would make me happy. But I'm not going to do this because I have too much writing to do. Do you understand that a single shot made me this happy? It made me wildly happy.
Winston Duke, in two films, just climbed up the list of my favorite actors. I thought he was just M'baku. That's it. I thought he was always going to be the physically intimidating guy in everything. I suppose that he still is. But I've never been sold on anyone playing a dorky dad than Winston Duke. In terms of performances, this movie owns. I don't want to downplay Lupita Nyong'o's performance whatsoever because she's so darned good. But Winston Duke was the one who surprised me. Every person in the movie plays double duty. It would be too simple to say that you play your character and then you play the zombie version of your character. But the doubles are way more complex. I'm trying to imagine if I was on the set as one of the doubles. Some of the doubles don't have originals that we see on screen, so I had to kind of think about this. The doubles are, by-and-large, vapid. They are following orders, but we can't know that there's anything special about Red or Adelaide. One of the big complaints I debated was why Red toys with Adelaide's family. I saw the end coming, but I didn't mind at all because it fit in pretty nicely. But that end, that seemed to just be another twist, is the reasoning for most of the film. It's such an interesting decision to make to have Red be the original Adelaide. Yeah, it feels very Sixth Sense, but it isn't. All the choices that the doubles do really tie into Red's isolation. The more I think about it, the more that Red plays the role of revolutionary. Whoever Lupita Nyong'o is, she has a template of being special. The woman who would be Adelaide is the only one to abandon the hive. She does so when the woman who would be Red also was called to leave. But Red ended up being a creature of revenge while Adelaide ended up being an artist. It's the assumption that the underground people were evil that the world of light is morally good.
But it's all about privilege. Adelaide came from a world of have-nots. She does something abhorrent to get free. She kidnaps her double and swaps places with her. She chains her to a bed. But once Adelaide was given comfort, she picked up language. She became normal. The film posits that these people were born without souls. The doubles were never really people. But Adelaide gains a soul. She dances and becomes a loving mother. Yeah, she holds the secret shame in her heart. But she seems pretty normal otherwise. Okay, I hate small talk too. I'm not one of the doubles (despite the fact that I'm wearing red and have scissors in arms reach). It's easier to think of the people of the underground as second class citizens. And that's the break in the story. Yes, the protagonists are people of color, but the movie is stressing that morality is almost the burden of the rich. People do what they can to survive. It doesn't mean that the poor are below morality. But if I ever seen an allegorical version of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, I can't see it otherwise. So when Red tells the story of the people in the shadow, that story comes from being have-nots. What would it be like if the people we stepped over all day rose up? We think crime is bad now, but if the poor decided to make a Hands Across America display one day? I don't even know how we would handle it. It would just be pandemonium. I love the way that Peele played off assumptions to what the movie would be about. I had no idea that the doubles involved everyone. The one casting moment that I thought was a little bit off was Tim Heidecker, but I suppose he fills the role fine. I actually love Elizabeth Moss (that's not shocking. Why did I word it that way?). Having their characters as the revelations for the doubles was interesting. But I love the statement...and when I mean "love", I mean I'm wildly depressed about the state of our society. But I like how it is implemented.
Oh man, my mind is blanking. There was one big point that wanted to make and I completely forgot it. Can I say that the movie is appropriately scary? I guess I have to compare it to Get Out. I think I'll always adore Get Out as one of the best horror movies ever made. It wore its message on its sleeve and it was scary. But the thing about Get Out is that it feels like social commentary. There's not that much scary stuff happening throughout because the film builds to a climax. However, Us is a different beast altogether. Us has a slow setup, but it doesn't really let up. If Get Out is spooky, Us is meant to play with our adrenaline. In the same way that Jurassic Park fires a starter pistol to get the events going, Us plays on the same notes. The protagonists are always on the move, moving from danger to danger. If I'm in the Jurassic Park camp, I love how the doubles have very specific personalities. Pluto and Umbrae are as different as can be, but both present their own threats. Honestly, there's something really disturbing about both that the parents don't have. I know the iconic one is Pluto, but I have to give points to Umbrae for scaring the living daylights out of me. The pleasure that she gets from chasing down her prey is downright terrifying. Pluto is more of an interesting character. But each of these doubles holds a tie to their originals. It's really bizarre. Regardless, I adored Us. I know that I'm going to make some enemies with this one. But I wanted something that was quality that wasn't just another Get Out. That's exactly what I got.
OH! I REMEMBERED WHAT I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT! People were annoyed that the answer to the doubles was kind of corny. Agreed. It was kind of corny. But you know what else was corny? The reveal for the plan from Get Out. Horror movies get corny. It's how it is treated that gives the movie legs. I will say that I don't get the rabbits things besides the "spawn like jackrabbits" idea. Also, what's with Jordan Peele and rabbits. He had the "run, rabbit, run" thing going on with Get Out and now this. Maybe they are just creepy enough to include. Regardless, I adored 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.