Not Rated, which I find really bizarre considering that it is an Academy Award nominated movie. I actually don't know where to put this one, if I was in the position to make this decision. I have a feeling that the MPAA would stick this at an R rating, because the intended audience is adults. I think I remember this movie having all kinds of language. There's also this oddly sexual nature to the movie, considering that technically the movie is about an affair. But the movie deals with heavy themes that would be lost on younger children. Regardless, the movie remains unrated.
DIRECTOR: Kaouther Ben Hania
Almost to add stress to my life, almost all of the foreign language Academy Award nominees dropped the weekend of the Oscars. See, I tend not to see the foreign language options for the Academy Awards. It's not by choice. It is just that it is extremely hard to see these films in the Midwest. They almost never are available to stream. Most of the time, no theaters pick these movies up unless there is major buzz for them. If there is a theater, it's an arthouse theater in the middle of nowhere with limited seating and limited showtimes. So I tend to watch the foreign entries after the Academy Awards, if at all. But because the Oscars were so late this year and because Covid convinced distributors to try streaming services, I'm going to look at this as a blessing. Yeah, I was planning on taking a little break from writing. I guess I'll just have to push that back another week.
If you are you to press my buttons and make me up in arms, make a movie about the plight of the refugee. We have it so good here. I mean, sure, we're in the middle of a culture war where seditionists tried to take over the Capitol Building. But I also have the freedom to leave. That's a weird thing to consider. I often wonder the philosophy of a lot of people. Perhaps it is my weak sense of patriotism, but I never understand the need for people to stay in their homelands, regardless of strife. But The Man Who Sold His Skin is about a man who is trapped. Not only has he been forced to abandon his home due to unjust laws, but is then stuck away from his fiancee / wife. (It's really questionable who is legally married in this movie, but that's really a point that is not necessary to the story.) The movie, like Barfly's very thin commentary about golden cages, will often comment on the nature of restrictions in general. Sam has it bad in his homeland.
He loses the love of his life and his sense of community. When he escapes, he lives the life of a refugee. If you want to see me get really emotionally invested, tell me a story about refugees. He has made it out from the place that was trying to imprison him and torture him. It's a big win for him. But now he's facing a lifetime of remedial jobs and staying under the radar so he doesn't get sent back to the place trying to arrest him. He finds himself appropriately unfulfilled. He's struggling to eat. His friends seem kind of toxic. It's all around a bad situation. It's better than where he was, but it is still pretty rough. He's also locked into that scenario. When he agrees to become an art piece, Sam sees this as a big step up. He's allowed to be seen by society. He will have money coming in. He's allowed to see the love of his life. He's living in a big five-star hotel. But he has also sacrificed his humanity. After all, the very thinly veiled subtext about Sam's value is that he isn't a person anymore. Heck, I can't even say "thinly veiled" because the movie straight up says its theme clearly.
And that's when the whole film gets meta. I can't at all condemn this movie for what it is doing because I absolutely adore the message that's both confrontational and well-presented. But there is a weird meta element that I keep thinking about. Ben Hania, the director, is telling a story about how the art world both brings attention and abuses the lower levels of society. For the sake of clarity, I'm going to be using the term "refugee" because the movie specifically talks about refugees, but it is easy to use the term "downtrodden" as well. Jeffrey understands Sam's situation remarkably well upon meeting him. He sees this guy who has no sense of identity because his entire life has been about survival. A dual morality starts building within Jeffrey. The altruistic side sees that this man's story needs to be heard not only for Sam's sake, but for all in the same predicament. But Jeffrey gets paid extremely well for being a provocateur. It is his business and his purpose. In that moment, Sam the survivor becomes an art instillation. He provokes a response by wearing the clothing of the villain.
But isn't that kind of what Ben Hania is doing? Okay, it's on a far smaller level. In a certain sense, I'm doing the same thing when I check my ever dwindling readership numbers. Ben Hania is using the plight of the refugee and the downtrodden to bring artistic merit to himself. It's a Catch-22. If The Man Who Sold His Skin garnered no attention, the message of exploitation is lost. But by drawing the attention of awards ceremonies, the artist is low-key complicit in the exploitation of the downtrodden. I mean, I'm firmly on the side of the artist condemning the exploiters out there. But there is an element that feels like self-flagellation. Ben Hania, as an artist, hates artist...which in turn feels like hating himself. Because if there was ever an avatar for Ben Hania, it's not Sam; it's Jeffrey.
But at the end of the day, the movie is about giving people visibility and agency. People need to be seen. Sometimes, that may be in dehumanizing ways. I'm not saying we do that. But we need to get messages out there without being part of the problem itself. Sam problem is, as much as he is physically seen, his humanity keeps slipping away because he is the biproduct of a larger cause. Even those people who are advocating for his human rights are unaware that they, too, are exploiting him for their own goals. It's dark, but it is at least talking about something that may be something we don't like to talk about.
Rated G. Oh man, it's such an odd experiment writing about the MPAA rating for things every day. I remember as a kid both loving this movie and being absolutely terrified by it. The idea that people wanted to eat frog legs seemed absolutely demonic, despite the fact that I think that I even ate frog legs at the time. But the giant Animal at the end, for some reason, really perturbed me. It just seemed like so much. That's why I showed it to my young children. Because I don't learn my lessons. G.
DIRECTOR: James Frawley
For years (FOR YEARS) I tried to get my kids to sit down and watch this, mainly because I grew up with it. I don't know if the philosophy was that I hate the idea that generations of films get forgotten under the surplus of forgettable films that come out often. (I'm sounding so old. I acknowledge some of the stuff that is coming out is pure genius. I am just stressing that the concept of the modern classic is far more malleable than I'm comfortable with.) Then one day, my kids just beg to watch this movie. Now, I love the newer Muppet movie as well, simply titled The Muppets. My kids like that one enough to watch it every so often. But every time I tried to get them to watch this one, they burned out quickly. I don't know what changed, but we got a full family viewing out of the The Muppet Movie.
Now, while watching The Muppet Movie, I had the epiphany that The Blues Brothers and The Muppet Movie shared the same plot, structure, and tone. I mean, I instantly forgave The Muppet Movie. After all, making a kids' version of a phenomenon makes a ton of sense and the story really lends itself to The Muppets. But then, surprise surprise, The Muppet Movie came out first. How can I live in a world with this truth out there? See, The Blues Brothers is one of my be-all, end-all near perfect films. I adore that movie. It's kind of shameless. It's self-aware. It twists the notion of musicals on its head. And then I find out...that the Muppets did it first. I guess I shouldn't be that upset. After all, I watched The Muppet Movie before I watched The Blues Brothers. But there's something really charming of the very meta commentary happening in both films. Building off of the concept of The Muppet Show, the film just parades celebrities out in shameless cameos and that's the movie. Perhaps, in a nerd's perfect slice of nostalgia, it's actually even more adorable seeing the celebrities of yesteryear mugging for the camera next to these puppets. What must it have been like being Milton Berle, one of the infamous divas of stage and screen, playing apart from a puppet while telling cornball jokes?
I get what makes these movies appealing. But 1979 was a time where you could tell a story that was aimed for kids, but didn't necessarily have to feel childlike. I think it was when Pixar did the first Toy Story movie that there was a conscious decision to throw in adult jokes to allow parents to enjoy these movies as well. That's not what is really going on. The drive behind stuff like The Muppet Movie was to make everyone have a good time without necessarily having a core audience. It was about storytelling that was more universal, but just ensuring that the movie didn't cross too many lines. There's something a little rebellious and edgy about The Muppet Movie. It is a film that's stemmed out of counter-culture and acid. I don't know the rich history of Jim Henson, but the movie thrives in the fact that it is unpolished and rough. It's the garage band days of The Muppets. Kermit played a banjo and went to seedy bars to find work. Doc Hopper wanted Kermit to be complicit in the deaths of frogs everywhere. The band from The Muppets are straight up hanging out in an abandoned church. These moments aren't sanitized for the audience's sake. Rather, they embrace the fact that the '70s were almost about guerilla cinema.
As such, The Muppet Movie becomes a very specific kind of road movie, almost sharing more in common with Easy Rider or Bonnie and Clyde than Muppet Treasure Island. That may seem like a stretch, considering that the audiences for stuff like Easy Rider is very adult. But the movies are about harshness. The jokes are central to the piece, but they aren't written for children. I mean, there's a lot of Hari Krishna jokes in the movie. It was a popular joke at the time, but that wasn't exactly done for the kids. Maybe, in a way, I'm just defining who the Muppets were at the time. We associate the Muppets with the product of the Walt Disney company, smiling and having fun-loving adventures. Instead, The Muppets were devised so that Jim Henson and his buddies could show off their writing prowess. If Sesame Street was a safe place for kids to learn in fun ways, The Muppets were art for art's sake. I know that is me imbuing them with a sense of grandeur that may or may not be deserved. But The Muppets are part of Americana, for better or worse. And part of that Americana comes from the central motif of the film: finding the American Dream on the road.
Geez Louise, listen to me spoutin' off all this mumbo jumbo. But there is something very purely 1979 about the whole story. We were really built to believe that you could redefine yourself if you just pursued the dream. Kermit it playing the banjo in a swamp. He lacks ambition. "The Rainbow Connection", without actually being indirect characterization, has a sense of ennui to it. When he offers advice and directions to a man in the swamp, something kindles within him. He never had ambition, but this man opens to door to America. Given a set of tasks, Kermit is able to have a chance at success. He has to assemble a team of likeminded Muppets to traverse this land and sample what makes America great. He goes into dive bars. He eats at fancy restaurants. He visits a local fair. The movie climaxes in a ghost town in the Wild West, all with the resolution of the paradise of Hollywood. It's this journey of self-discovery which parallels the many elements of America. I mean, I just defined the road movie. But the road movie, for Kermit, isn't just about the journey. It is about the physical and cultural geography of this land.
He even has the crisis of faith moment, where he realizes that the American Dream might be a complete sham. It's the knowledge that people may depend on him, despite the fact that he made no promises along the way. But that might actually reveal the most earnest, if not a little naïve, element to Americana. The Muppets (and I keep hearing myself talk as if there's this great cultural significance that isn't there) band together, realize the common goal of success, and become honest-to-Goodness friends. And they do so all in the name of fighting Capitalism. Isn't that funny? A movie all about the American Dream that fights Capitalism pretty hard. That's what Doc Hopper represents. He's there for the sake of making a buck, not caring whose happiness he steps on. So this little group of hippies decide to show that the real American Dream isn't about the money of work. It's about seeing Orson Welles and making art for the rest of your life. It's about making puppets and telling jokes with your friends. Because the Muppets are successful. As much as they're a source of revenue for Disney nowadays, it was about telling stories with your buddies. And that's the message of the movie. It's a bunch of hippies sitting around a campfire, driving an old, beat-up Studebaker, while telling fun stories and jokes.
So there is a heavy message that probably wasn't intended. But I also think that it stems out of the notion that Jim Henson probably couldn't stop from being earnest and vulnerable. There's nothing preachy in the movie, shy of the evils of Doc Hopper's Corporate America. But it is a heartfelt message. Also, "Rainbow Connection" is still a bop.
Rated R for sheer over-the-top slasher movie violence. Because the movie takes place in a high school for a good chunk of the movie, there tends to be some high school inappropriate crassness. But that tends to be completely forgettable when you see human bodies get ripped apart in all kinds of awful, awful ways. Um, also drinking, I guess?
DIRECTOR: Christopher Landon
Guess what? I apparently get a mini-break from writing about Oscar nominated films. This sounds weird. It's not like I really approach the day differently when I sit down to write about an Academy Award nominated movie. I open up my Notes app, see what movie I'm talking about today, and then wing it...hoping to remember what thoughts I had at the time. When I teach film, I talk about bringing a notebook while writing. But I watch most movies on the treadmill, so that is out the window. Also, writing already is one of those hobbies that borders between sheer ecstasy and awful burden. I don't need to be adding things to the burdensome category. But with a movie like Freaky, any kind of wisdom I bring to the table is all on me. That's kind of liberating. I mean, I would hate to do it all the time. But as a nice break, it is helpful.
For a second, I thought that Christopher Landon wrote Happy Death Day. That's not quite accurate. He wrote Happy Death Day 2U. I didn't care for the sequel, but he did DIRECT the first movie. So there's something. But Freaky is starting to become something of a subgenre that I really like. I mean, I've always liked horror comedies. Shaun of the Dead and An American Werewolf in London are two of my favorite movies even devoid of genre. There's something remarkably satisfying of wittiness coupled with suspense that just hits in the right spot for me. Perhaps it is the stress that is placed on dramatic irony that does it for me. But I would say that Happy Death Day and Freaky, the two products by Christopher Landon released by Blumhouse are something a little different. Both Shaun of the Dead and An American Werewolf in London are quality films that really stress the craftsmanship of film. But Landon's films, and I mean this with all respect, almost embrace the schlock element of horror movies. There are some genuinely great schlock cinema films.
Because horror comedy is hard. Once Shaun of the Dead came out, there were a glut of movies that really attempted to pull it off. They took Landon's route, offering cheeseball films that tended to come across as tedious. But there's something about Landon that kind of gets it. I always felt that I could sell An American Werewolf in London to a non-horror audience. I don't know how much I could sell something like Freaky to a non-horror audience. I mean, I kind of know. I used my birthday free pass to watch Freaky with my wife. But the way I did it was that I posed it as a scary version of Freaky Friday. And that's what Landon does and he does it well. See, Edgar Wright and John Landis took horror genres and added jokes. Landon kind of takes the opposite route. He takes genre-themed comedy and adds horror to them. It should give the same product, but the result is tonally very different. With Happy Death Day, he took Groundhog Day and made it involving death. Other people have done it. Off the top of my head, I can think of both Edge of Tomorrow and Supernatural. Freaky Friday was a Disney staple and then it became this fantastic horror movie.
And what made it work was that it was heavily horror. By applying the aesthetic and tone of a horror movie to a comedy, instead of dulling the edges of a horror to allow jokes, it sharpened the edges of a comedy. If I had to put movies in a category, I would put Freaky and Happy Death Day in horror, despite the absolute absurdity of both. It's kind of telling. These make these movies real crowd-pleasers when it comes to Halloween and I absolutely love it.
I don't know if there could be a more perfect casting as Vince Vaughn as the Butcher / Millie. I never really saw him as this intimidating dude until this movie. Like, Landon saw something and just embraced it. I know he's played serious roles before, so I'm not pigeonholing him as a comedic actor. But he comes across as genuinely scary in the movie. Sure, Landon decided to ramp up the violence, playing up the horror movie tropes in the sequence at the beginning. But then, he's able to embody Millie with hilarious results. I have to tell the truth: I acknowledge that he's more playing a stereotypical teenage girl sooner than playing Millie. I can't fight that battle; I won't fight that battle. But that's also the right choice for the movie. Millie is a character in a horror movie, not a comedy. What this ultimately means is that Millie isn't allowed to be funny when she's not in the Butcher's body. But the joke comes from the paradox of this feminine little girl in this tank's body. It's the same gag that we get out of Freaky Friday, so I think that everyone gets where I'm going with this. If Vince Vaughn played a nuanced version of Kathryn Newton, it would be a bit of a dud.
But I'm kind of also surprised how risky the movie got with Vaughn in the role. A decade ago, the scene in the backseat of the car would be played up for laughs. I'm not saying it was the most comfortable I've ever been while watching a movie. It brought up questions about body identity that I hadn't really thought of before. But considering that a lot of the movie was focused on laughs per minute, Landon really does take a huge risk with that scene. We're rooting for Booker and Millie to have the relationship flourish and it's amazing that the scene with Vaughn not only doesn't derail that, but oddly strengthens it. Yeah, I have a hard time divorcing 50-year-old Vince Vaughn from playing a teenage girl, especially considering that he's the most famous actor in this movie by far. But the scene mostly works.
I almost feel bad for Kathryn Newton. Newton is the protagonist of the movie. She's Millie. But the majority of the movie is Millie in The Butcher's body. One of the things about the slasher in the slasher film is that he tends to be mysterious. The more we find out about this character, the less power that they have. They are intentionally dehumanized. This works as a joke for a little bit. I adore that The Butcher just lives in an abandoned warehouse with homeless people and toilets full of doll heads. But it makes me realize how unsatisfying it must be to play Jason, Michael Myers, or Leatherface. There's a lot of internalization that never really gets translated to the screen. It's the knowledge that all that is really calling this actor to the set is the knowledge that they are a big guy. That big guy could really be replaced at anytime and few people would know. But back to Millie, tt really works as a joke. I even love the idea that Millie's mother keeps avoiding near death by accident. But it can't be as satisfying to play that for an entire movie. The funny thing is that the movie poster that has Vaughn's reflection in the knife brings up something that might be explored in the world outside of comedy: the inversion of the villain.
What if Freaky was a commentary on the infantilization of women in genre storytelling? Millie, for all of her brute strength being sucked up in The Butcher, comes across as kind of scary when she's hunting down Vince Vaughn. She's easily overpowered often, but that doesn't necessarily stop her from being too scary in the whole scheme of things. Despite the fact that Alan Ruck in what must be a wink to his Ferris Bueller days still gets it in the end. Promising Young Woman kind of touches on the same idea. It's all the notion that we've grown accustomed and expectant of the large white male to be torturing girls and that it is somehow okay. Yeah, the joke is that this tiny little girl is hunting this big burly dude. But why isn't that occasionally the norm? Why have we completely clothed ourselves in the archetype and allowed the same story to play out time and again. Originally, the casting of the female lead in horror movies was an attempt to give women strength and agency. When Alien cast Sigourney Weaver, she was a powerhouse. When Jamie Lee Curtis was in Halloween, she redefined what it meant to be a Scream Queen. But now the young female has become disposable. I think that Freaky (at least Freaky's marketing team) is aware of the potential for commentary, but the movie never really embraces it.
I really like these movies. Yeah, they're not amazing films. But they really do elevate the horror genre as opposed to pulls away from it. It's a fun movie that gets a little cornball, but I can't complain.
Rated PG-13, mostly for monster horror action. The movie prides itself on its character creation, so there's some genuinely gnarly looking oogie-boogies in this movie. But the movie also really stresses a sexual element. The movie actually starts with the protagonist narrator commenting on all of the people in his life that are having sex. But that's kind of a background thing to the gross deaths that the movie stresses. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Michael Matthews
I'm so stressed out now, you wouldn't believe. When I have to make a To-Do List for all the stuff that I need to get done before I go home, you know things have gotten bad. Well, blogging was on that list. I know. It seems pretty low priority. It's just that, if I'm balancing when things can happen, I can only blog right now. So this is going to be written with a frantic energy that I'm probably going to regret later on, but that's okay. Done is better than perfect.
Love and Monsters showed up on my watch list because up for visual effects. These are the dangerous movies, if I have to be honest. You don't really know what you are getting into when it comes to these movies. I mean, I watched a lot of the Disney live-action remakes because of the visual effects category. Love and Monsters is almost exactly what you think it is. Michael Matthews delivers on the central conceit, so at the end of the day, it all comes down to you. To really love a movie like Love and Monsters, a movie that shares a title with an infamous Doctor Who episode, you have to have a couple things under your belt. Do you mind a movie that is derivative? It sounds like a real slam against this movie, but it is also really honest. Everything is derivative of something else, but this one is almost shamelessly a clone of Zombieland. So, if you are okay with a movie kind of being a copy of something else, you also have to be cool with the OG version of the same film: Zombieland.
Now, I loved the first Zombieland. Zombieland: Double Tap didn't do too much for me because it felt like a rehash of the first movie just a bit too much. That statement alone should give you insight into what I thought about Love and Monsters. If Double Tap was fine, then Love and Monsters is going to come across as just fine to me. It has the slightly twee indie narration. It's about fighting monsters in the post-apocalypse. It's got over-the-top characters and gore beyond belief. But the only big differences are the fact that Love and Monsters prides itself on being PG-13 and that it is bugs instead of zombies. That PG-13, by the way, oddly allows me to give the movie a sense of respect. That may seem like I like my stuff watered-down or that I'm a prude. I suppose that might be some of my personality. But I also really look at it as something that will slightly adjust the tone.
I'm going to preface this next section by stating that I have rarely had more fun than the original Zombieland when it was in theaters. My wife and I saw it together and had a great time. It was superfluous and over-the-top. It hit some of the same notes that Grindhouse did in the best possible ways. But there is something about getting too much of a good thing. When Love and Monsters decided to go for the PG-13 route, it had a potentially unexpected side-effect: It made the movie more vulnerable. I'm not going out on a limb and pretend that this is some wholesome and emotionally aware movie. But because the protagonist couldn't be slightly the worst, he had to become somewhat heroic. As much as we root for Columbus in Zombieland, we do so because we want to see hilarious carnage. Yeah, he's a relatable protagonist. He doesn't have that superhero element to him. But he's also super-punchable. Joel in Love and Monsters, however, is actually an honestly sympathetic guy. He's a guy who sees the goodness in others. As bleak as the world is, his optimistic perspective, due to a PG-13 attitude, make him someone worth rooting for.
It doesn't take for granted that Joel's quest for Aimee is naive on the point of being criminal. Clyde and Minnow take care of Joel, which only endangers them all the more. But because Joel has a little-engine-that-could quality, we want to view the world in the same way that Joel does. I know that lots of stories, especially genre stories, stress the importance of the journey over the destination. But Joel's journey is what makes him far more interesting. He isn't better for arriving at Aimee. Aimee, as sweet as she is and as fair as her reactions are, kind of sucks in a very specific sense: she can't possibly live up to Joel's expectations of her. I really want to backpedal that she sucks because Aimee is more of a fully realized human being. It's almost obvious from moment one that Aimee can't possibly be the girl that Joel has built her up to be. But Joel is able to find self-worth through the course of the story. Sure, I'm advocating that a movie about a white male needs to focus on his self-worth, but I work with what I got.
Joel voluntarily goes back to his original commune because of the things that he learned along the way. And he also decides that life isn't all about coupling (although it totally is and I love you, my wife). Rather, his relationship with his dog and the knowledge that he can hold his own, despite the fact that no one believes in him makes him this courageous and fantastic character. I mean, as clever as this movie is, I think that Columbus in Zombieland is more clever. But do you know who I root for more? Joel. Joel has got the nice balance of what a nice guy character should have. He's actually nice and there's never this expectation that Aimee has to love him because he's nice. He actually accepts rejection quite gracefully, which is why he ends up with the happier ending in the long run. Yeah, it might be considered a little gross, making the grand romantic gesture. But he's also painfully aware that the huge romantic gesture would probably fall flat on its face. It's this great balance of romantic and pragmatic that we don't often get in stories like this.
Yeah, the pirate story seems a bit much. It's there for the sake of plot and to show that Joel has actually grown in his travels. But in terms of actual plot, I don't really care. The story isn't actually very good. But Love and Monsters --and I don't think the filmmakers would really deny it --is all about characterization and atmosphere. It's a bit of the indie rock traverse of the post-apocalypse and I slightly dig it. It's not great. Lord knows I grew a little bored of it at timers. But it has pretty solid heart in it, considering it is almost a direct copy of another movie franchise. But that's okay in the long run. If you go in with low expectations, this movie shouldn't really disappoint.
PG-13, but that might be a pretty intense PG-13. I mean, the movie is about both children being trafficked to sell drugs and about prostitution. It's not like the film plays up the sexuality of these situations, but the kids are constantly aware of the sex work going on around them. It's a pretty bleak movie throughout and it doesn't help that the protagonist has the most terrible life ever. But PG-13 is PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Edoardo Ponti
You know that I'm close to having seen all of the Academy Awards when I'm just writing about a movie that is nominated for Best Original Song. That's its only nomination. The song isn't even integral to the film, which is a beef that my wife has with this category by the way. I literally could have just YouTubed the song and then made an assessment. But I know me. I have met me. It feels like the song, in isolation, isn't exactly what I'm judging. But because I'm not going to be talking about the song here, I'll just tell you it is fine and forgettable. What I'm really interested is talking about the unique experience of seeing a remake without knowing that the original existed.
Apparently, Italy hates this movie. That's what my wife told me. They all think that this movie is a real stinker. Me? I was flabbergasted. I mean, I'm probably not going to go out on a limb and say that this movie changed my life. But it is a better than fine movie. My biggest criticism (on a sleepy Monday morning) is that it is a bit sappier than I normally like my movies. But in terms of quality and acting, the movie kind crushes. So why do people hate this movie while I like it? I've basically already stated. The Life Ahead apparently is the third adaptation of a book where the other adaptations are considered kind of sacred. Can I throw stones at this? Probably not. I know that I saw a trailer for Steven Spielberg's West Side Story during the Oscars last night and thought that looked awesome, but I also don't really adore West Side Story. But I can imagine if someone decided to remake Casablanca or Citizen Kane, I might be skeptical about how necessary that adaptation would be, considering that the originals still hold quite a bit of water. But by itself, The Life Ahead really works. I'm almost a little afraid to watch the original versions. I honestly probably won't seek them out, which feels very un-me. The only thing I really could gain is a disrespect for the version I watched.
But the story of Momo is one that reminds me that the world is both a terrible and a beautiful place. From an aesthetic perspective, Ponti has shown this version of Italy that we've come to expect. Even amidst the poverty that these characters are surrounded with, there is a rich culture. And that setting mirrors the personality of Madame Rosa. Rosa is this almost elemental figure in the movie. She is the centerpiece. Perhaps I gravitate to her so much because she is played by Sophia Loren, who absolutely crushes it with this film. But the setting is symbolic of who Rosa is. It is simple and basic, but it it stable. It isn't ever this life of luxury. And Momo, despite the tough love, receives a sense of deep acceptance from Madame Rosa. As much as she is angry at Momo for his behavior, she's more mad at what the world made of Momo. And we, as the audience, don't always have the opportunity to see that. We follow Momo, not Rosa, through the story. While I found myself shouting at the screen for his poor behavior, I understood that Momo was bred, not born, to be the way he is. And Rosa understands that.
It's because she is Momo. She was a prostitute who has taken it upon herself to care for other prostitutes. She sees how malleable and easily influenced children are and adjusts her behavior to that. But the irony is that she is the one who has never truly healed. Her secret basement hideaway is Momo's room. As her vulnerabilities become more and more apparent in her fugue states, that place shows that, as much as Madame Rosa is a caretaker for Momo, she is more of a peer at times. It's odd to think that Momo is the one who steps up in her fugue states as well. When Rosa comes across as confident and powerful, he fights her tooth and nail. But it is only when he sees that façade disappear, he becomes the Momo we want him to be. As tragic as the whole story is, it is also a powerhouse.
I've never seen a movie that has made the antagonist so appealing. He's never sympathetic. I really want to make that decision. But I can see how Momo can gravitate to someone like Spacciatore. Spacciatore is this guy who makes drug dealing look fun. As much as Madame Rosa is a mother figure, she kind of comes across as the worrisome grandmother at times. But Spacciatore is the fun dad. He's the guy who has Momo sell drugs, but is constantly about affirmation. He threatens him not with violence, but with an end to stardom. There's a scene where cinema has taught me to believe that Momo was going to get attacked. Nothing. It's uncomfortable, sure. But Spacciatore goes for Momo's sense of belonging more than anything else. It's so odd how psychology works. It all makes perfect sense, although it seems paradoxical. Momo has a place that would service to be his family. But as long as he is there and everything is working out fine, he hates the notion of these people infringing on his sense of freedom. During adversity, he's perfectly fine. It's only in the trauma that he finds value. On the other hand, he's basically isolated from people his age with the drug dealing family. He's invited to party with Spacciatore and that's what he really wants. It's a major step for him to distance himself from this world because he's losing out on his sense of self.
It's a gorgeous movie. It really is. I mean, I try not to get too sappy with my films. But the movie absolutely hits on the levels it was supposed to. I'm a little bummed that I watched it during Oscar season because it forces me to be rushing past it while comparing it to the other films. But it does the job. I wish it, at least, got a Best Foreign Language credit.
Rated R for some truly dark material. But if I had to quantify what actually gets it an R rating, it would be nudity, sexuality, questionable issues with consent, and language throughout. One of the protagonists also deals with alcoholism. The entire thing is rather bleak, but that's also the point. Very R.
DIRECTOR: Kornél Mundruczó
I don't think just anyone can watch this movie. I suppose that could possibly true for lots of movies, but this one really hits hard to a specific audience. Part of me wants to beg those who have had a miscarriage to watch this because of how powerful the movie is. Part of me wants to shelter the same audience because I don't want to bring up past trauma. The antithesis is also true. While I want an audience who have never experienced this event to watch with the hope of engendering sympathy, I also feel like it shouldn't be viewed as pure entertainment. Film is meant to connect us. It's at the bottom of my page. It shouldn't always be comfortable.
But I find it difficult to both write this as a male and to imagine that a male directed this. From the husband's perspective, a miscarriage is a lot of things. It's nothing compared to what a woman must go through. But it is the story of fear. A baby, while emotionally there, is still mostly understood in the realm of intellect. I imagined the potential of what a child would be. But I never felt that child. I didn't have my body change. So the other end of the husband's perspective on miscarriage is the fear that my wife, the way I knew her and loved her, would never return. It's a lot of sadness, but it also is the willpower to understand that it isn't about me. It won't be about me possibly ever. So it is the balance of being vulnerable while also being a fortress, being able to turn it on and off. Pieces of a Woman talks about this because it can't possibly ignore this. But like when dealing with a real miscarriage, it is about the mother and how she has to cope with an impossible situation seemingly alone.
A few years ago, I, Tonya was nominated for Best Actress for Margot Robbie (I think. It may have been for Allyson Janney for Best Supporting). That movie completely destroyed and I was almost mad that it wasn't up for Best Picture. It might have been my favorite movie that year. I don't know if Pieces of a Woman would be my favorite film, but it is definitely a stronger outing than Promising Young Woman. Again, I didn't hate Promising Young Woman by any stretch of the imagination. But it feels like Pieces of a Woman has so much more to offer than simply a Best Actress nomination for Vanessa Kirby. Kirby is absolutely a tank in this movie. She crushes every scene she was in and I love to see her in a role outside of her part in The Crown. But Pieces of a Woman is such a vulnerable film that is well shot and well-paced. I don't really see why it hasn't transcended the place it stands right now. I tend to think of movies that just get a Best Actor / Actress nom as Oscar-baity movies, like Judy or The United States vs. Billie Holiday. But honestly, Pieces of a Woman is such an intimate story that really turns the concept of mourning on its head.
There's something insanely smart about this film. I have this love / hate relationship for the central conceit of the film. I'm not talking necessarily about the miscarriage here. I'm talking about the trial. I've often quoted Patton Oswalt with his stand-up bit about hospitals and lasers. I want every single piece of medical technology available to my wife when she gives birth. I can feel some people tensing up, thinking of the horrors of hospitals as well. That's not the camp we're in, sorry. But the movie definitely uses the concept of the midwife as a placeholder for the scapegoat. The hate element of my thoughts about this is how much media attention this case garners. But I do like the fact that the filmmakers decided to make the movie about something external to represent the internal conflict that Martha goes through. Instead of having the movie about wallowing (which it is definitely about, but...), the movie becomes about this court case that seems so vital to everyone. And then, the movie just flips the script and says what I was thinking the entire time: this poor woman really didn't do anything wrong.
Okay, I'm going to be walking on really thin ice here. But the movie went on thin ice first. Do I think that there might be an issues with midwives taking dangerous situations and making them worse? I'm not informed enough to really comment on it. But the film starts off with the labor happening in real time. Like 1917, we aren't given the opportunity to infer what might be happening in the in-between (syuzhet). It creates this very intimate feeling with the labor and delivery. (It's Vanessa Kirby's piece de resistance, by the way.) But we see a situation where there are no winners. This midwife knows that there is rarely a situation of things going by the book, but she played it mostly safe. So when it comes down to where the midwife may have made a mistake, we're looking at approximately thirty seconds difference between nailing everything and finding blame on this woman who was in a hopeless situation. And the insane thing is that the filmmakers show us this sequence and ask us to kind of forget about it. We have this psychological experiment of logically remembering that the midwife wasn't really at fault while simultaneously harboring an emotion memory for justice.
And then the protagonist came to the same conclusion. That was probably the most shocking thing for me. It wasn't a matter of "if she was guilty" throughout the movie. Everyone had a foregone conclusion that she was guilty, so when Martha speaks up for her...it's absolutely shocking. I mean, part of me really wanted that to be the answer. Part of that really needed it to be the answer. But then it was. And there's this whole commentary about learning to heal. Martha had hit this low. Her husband, for all of his grieving, revealed himself to be a jerk. She had alienated everyone around her. Her mother ended up being this toxic person. And she realized that it was about her relationship to other people. She doesn't have a kid, although it is implied that she would have another child down the road. Her first child died and it was tragic. But the movie is about not blaming each other when tragedy strikes. It's really this powerful message that absolutely crushes.
I loved this movie. It is hard to watch, to be sure. But I'm kind of floored that it didn't get more attention than it did.
Rated R for crassness, drug use, addiction, and violence. Sure, I could throw smoking in there too. A lot of these vices involve minors, which makes it worse. It's odd, because the tone of the movie is so an attempt to be a tear-jerker. But there's a lot in here that would justify an R rating, so don't try pushing this one off on a younger audience. R.
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
I'm going to be a bully, aren't I? Like, I don't want to go down this road. I want to be able to go to bed knowing that I brought joy and happiness into the world. Instead, I'm going to be dunking on a child actor. This movie is pretty bad. A lot of people before me pointed out how bad it was. But I kept on seeing clips of Amy Adams acting the crap out of this role, so I wondered why it was so rough. Well, besides the fact that I fell asleep harder than I ever had and that I ended up laughing audibly at some terrible scenes, I did eventually get through it to comment on how this movie completely fell apart.
A lot of this comes down to the performance by Owen Asztalos. I honestly don't blame him for how bad the performance came across. He's laughably bad in this role, especially when he's across from Amy Adams and Glenn Close, who are giving performances of a lifetime. I saw this kid's other credits and he seemed pretty functional in those roles. (Sure, some of them are borderline unnamed, but I'm grasping for something here.) The thing that I kept repeating while watching this movie is that it was directed by Ron Howard. You know, the most famous child actor ever? These are scenes that are about nuance. While I don't necessarily find J.D. Vance's story all that compelling, I do acknowledge that he's the foundation for this movie functioning. Mind you, I don't love Gabriel Basso's performance either, so at least the young J.D. and the old J.D. feel like the same person. But J.D. needs to function as both the narrator for this piece and the emotionally resonant character.
The point of Hillbilly Elegy is that we sympathize with J.D. He is the character who is the product of circumstance. He lives with a mother with addiction, who exhibits love in her own way. The world around him encourages generational poverty, crushing dreams at every opportunity. So when J.D. kind of comes across like Mr. Bean, stumbling and bumbling into every scene, it is hard not to laugh at these moments. There is just scene and scene of spatially unaware J.D. running into something that he shouldn't be running into. At one point, I honestly thought that he would walk into a scene, unable to remove a turkey from his head. I don't know how the other actors were able to function and get such deep moments.
I had no idea that performances had to be so rich to generate sympathy. What Howard does manage to succeed at is the portrayal of Bev and Mamaw. I know that Glenn Close is up for the Academy Award and I think she totally deserves the nomination. But really, Amy Adams is the emotional center for me. I think that Close is getting the attention because she physically looks the part that she's playing and that the makeup team absolutely nailed the visual of Mamaw. But Bev is where we have those ups and downs. Bev is just a mess. Bev is the family member who continually ruins Christmas. She has moments of genuine love and kindness. But given the opportunity to choose between the right and the wrong, Bev will always make the wrong choice. Intellectually, we then feel for J.D. J.D. is the one who keeps on having to live with her choices. It's comes to a head when J.D. is encouraged to provide a clean urine sample from Mamaw.
It is interesting that Mamaw is considered the morally responsible character of the story. I mean, she is. She's the one who has this exile element to their lives. She is aware of how sad Middletown, Ohio is (which isn't too far from my house!). But Mamaw is both of the world and outside of the world. She sees the potential that J.D. carries around him and realizes that he needs tough love. But she's also the woman who made Bev what she is. She's the woman who asked a good kid to provide a clean urine sample for his mom, which only enables her bad behavior. I mean, for as much as we love Mamaw, Bev is still a hot mess in the future. She's somehow a bigger mess in the present day and a lot of it could possibly be connected to the decision that Mamaw and J.D. made in the past. I know that I'm oversimplifying addiction, but J.D.'s temper tantrum is valid.
I find the future version of the narrative more interesting. It's odd how I think of the Veronica Mars movie while I watched this. I know. I'm very deep and well-rounded. The Veronica Mars movie was all about Veronica leaving her law practice to return to Neptune, a dump, to help her father. In that story, Veronica finds the value of family and passion. She realizes that Neptune is more of a part of her than New York. J.D. abandons Yale Law (?), but has quite the opposite experience. Returning home to Middletown only fills him with shame. There's nothing that he really finds valuable in the town. Even his sister, who seems to have really cared for him, seems to only be a silver lining to a crummy situation. But the movie, based on a real story, takes the whole thing as a binary thing. I find it weird that J.D. doesn't take his mom with him to the interview. Like, leaving her in a hotel is a terrible idea. I get that junkies are manipulative, but it seems pretty obvious what's going to happen.
I hear the book is better. I know. I shouldn't be commenting on this, even if I had read the book. The book and the movie have to be different things. But I'm told that the book is super fun. This was just a slog through the misery of mid-Western values. Yeah, J.D. Vance may not be this great guy in real life either, based on his Twitter account. But there's no love for the things that were good. Instead, J.D., because of how bleak the story gets, comes across as completely judgmental. It's hard to really bond with a movie that only shows us misery. Yeah, we have small moments involving calculators. But it seems like we're in the dumps the entire time and nothing brings moments of joy. It's just a bummer of a film overall that bored me to tears when I wasn't laughing at a weak performance.
R, primarily because of the horrors of slavery. Part of this depiction stresses the inhuman violence and cruelty bestowed upon the slave. Rather than simply seeing the result of violence, the film often shows the blows as they occur. Similarly, there is regular discussion and depiction of rape. There is nudity in a sexual context. But the violence of the rebellion can also be inappropriate for children. R.
DIRECTOR: Nate Parker
I have it on good authority that my film class will return next year. I don't know if I would ever watch the 2016 version of The Birth of a Nation if I hadn't taught the original monstrosity in my film class. I remember that we used to watch the trailer for the 2016 version after finishing the original film and we discussed why Nate Parker would name his film about the Nat Turner Rebellion after one of the most heinous films in history. Yeah, I get it now. I don't know if the movie drives that point home as intensely as it should, but it is something to think about.
I read up about this movie. Back when I saw this trailer in 2016, I thought about how insane this movie looked. It looked visceral and painful to watch. There was all this buzz about the movie and how it was going to be a talking point about race. Then, it came out and it somehow faded away. It's not like there were bad reviews that were coming my way. Then I found out that Nate Parker, the director and star of the movie, had sexual assault charges against him, which caused this movie to kind of fall through the cracks of history. It's a shame. I share the moral outrage of the victims and Nate Parker should suffer the consequence of his actions. But this is also a man who would have had a voice. It's just this overwhelming sadness for everything involved (but, to be clear, primarily for the victims.)
I remember in high school reading about the Nat Turner Rebellion. It's nothing new to say that whiteness has tinted our accurate understanding of history. Nat Turner, according to the very little amount of text devoted to the subject matter, was a foolish slave who caused more problems than he solved. And I believed that. Oh, heck yeah I believed that. I also have a vague memory of my history teacher being the coolest guy in the world, only to realize that he probably believed in the Lost Cause conspiracy. I'm dealing with a lot of race realities in 2021 is the long-and-short of it. I'm really trying to not White Knight here, so please be patient. I read a lot of The People's History of the United States. My next book is How to be an Anti-Racist. But my knowledge of Nat Turner is spotty at best. It's odd, not being able to trust your own knowledge, especially being a teacher. It often feels like education is one giant game of telephone and we hope that we're lucky enough to hear the message before us clearly and accurately.
But in terms of narrative, I kinda / sorta love what The Birth of a Nation does is that it pretends like it is mincing words when, in reality, it's just prepping you for a sledgehammer to the head. One of the things that I really don't like about race movies is the concept of "the good slave owner." We have discussions about the possibility of the moral slave owner in my class and this is still a belief that a lot of my students hold onto. It's really gross. It really feels like The Birth of a Nation wants to mislead you into thinking that this is the story of the good slave owner, who when juxtaposed against other slave owners, allowed Turner to have his own thoughts and beliefs. It's really not that. We see young Nat play with young Samuel. When they age, we see Sam take Nat's feelings and desires into account. Elizabeth Turner teaches Nat to read. But we also see how microaggressions are significantly more dangerous than we realize in these moments. When Sam saves Cherry from the auction, he expects to be rewarded for this altruistic decision. When Elizabeth teaches Nat how to read, it is only from the Bible. She distinguishes the kinds of books that are appropriate for white people and for Black people.
And we see how race becomes a matter of superiority and inferiority really quickly. Sure, the movie presents the characters who are over-the-top racists. These are the characters that, in the White Savior films, give the white audience a sense of comfort. After all, "I'm not as bad as that caricature of a human being which makes me one of the good ones." But it's not in these portrayals that we learn anything. It is in the seduction of Samuel. Samuel can afford to be a well-behaved slave owner when things are going well. He sees affable enough for most of the movie. But when his family's success is on the line, he has almost no reservations about allowing a Black woman to be raped. And it is in that shift that Nat's perspective mirrors our own. Nat sees his world as a blessed one for most of the movie. He isn't abused. He has a master who seems to care about the welfare of his family. But it is in moments of disobedience and minor slights that he sees the reality of the illusion of the Deep South. Nat is used as a tool of propaganda with his faith. He knows the truth and has a hard time distinguishing which parts of his faith need to be spoken about.
I'm all about protest rights. I have been most of my adult life, but it's been since the summer of 2020 where I've really had to put my own beliefs into a pressure cooker. I was one of those people who believed in the white lens of Dr. Martin Luther King. I am a pacifist. I will probably always be a pacifist. When King's speech aligned with those beliefs, it was comfortable to find valediction in those words. But I also understand that I have the privilege to avoid conflict. Taking into consideration the position of Nat Turner, the narrative that I have been taught about him has been wildly misconstrued. Yeah, the attack on the slave owners was brutal. It borderlined a horror movie. But from the slave's perspective, it kind of became this just war. Turner and other slaves, regardless of comfort of circumstance, were less than human. They had their rights trampled upon and nonviolent protest would be a death sentence. Turner's rebellion made the most sense imaginable and it was done in the name of faith.
That has to be one of the biggest challenges for me, by the way. Turner's education was almost exclusively built around the idea that he was a preacher. He read no other book besides the Bible. He was an expert at it. He read what it said about slavery and his position forced him to ignore that element of the Bible. But isn't that what happens in today's society? We got really bummed out going to church last week. All these people without masks. I'm sorry to imply that there might be a hop-skip-and-a-jump assumption that the anti-maskers might also have other problematic politics behind them, but I'm not that sorry. I don't understand how the faithful can stand by the deaths of refugees or spit on the concept of Black Lives Matter. It's the same cherry-picking that the religious in The Birth of a Nation espouse, quoting the lines that ignore the context of the Bible as a whole. It bums me out.
Nate Parker made this film that is visceral. I don't know how accurate it is. I want to hope that it is accurate because my '90s / 2000s history courses were woeful inadequate when it came to racial issues. But it is a commentary about when fighting is necessary. I have the luxury to fight the nonviolent battle, but I have to acknowledge that there is a whole demographic of society that is fighting for survival. Do I wish that real change could be brought about through quiet demonstrations? Absolutely. But I also see how the world has revealed itself to be quite the bleak place over the past four years.
PG-13 for over-the-top monster on monster action. Like most of the movies in this series, you intellectually know that an offensive amount of people are dying by the minute. But because you don't actually see that death, it becomes abstract and you tend to focus on the rivalry between two characters that almost lack personality traits. Yeah, there's language and blood. But the thing that gets my goat? The sheer death. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard
Man, I feel like I watched this movie ages ago. It couldn't have been that long. It's not like I've missed a day or a week of writing. I know that I've kept up. But it feels like this movie was ages ago. That's okay. I've been prepping for this movie with the watching of Godzilla: King of the Monsters. I'm well versed on the absolutely stupid mythology leading up to this movie. And I have strong opinions on it, so I'm sure that I'll have something to write that might be of substance. Or I'll call it quits way too early because I have so much on my plate to complete. Who knows?
Out of the movies that actually have Godzilla in the title --at least of the current franchise --Godzilla vs. Kong might be my favorite. I have had it in my brain that grudge match movies, especially grudge match movies with the word "versus" in the title, are fundamentally terrible. There's going to be a let down in some way. Either the movie will choose to avoid actually providing an answer or someone would fundamentally disagree with the answer. I remember reading something that director Adam Wingard stating unequivocally that there would be a victor of this movie. I mean, I guess. I'm going to be talking about action figures hitting each other for a few minutes. Godzilla vs. Kong is fundamentally the story of pirates versus ninjas. Are they on land? Are they on sea? Do they have time to prep? With Godzilla and Kong, it's a matter of environment and if Kong has a weapon. I also get the vibe that it becomes a popularity contest at one point. So even though --spoiler alert --Godzilla wins (ish), I call shannanigans. But the real winner is me, for being aware that this title is academic and it will never make anyone happy.
But this is my favorite of the Godzilla movies and I can explain that very simply. It may not seem like the most intellectual argument, but it is accurate: you can see what is going on. I know that with The Bourne Identity, Paul Greengrass started treating action as something that's fundamentally about motion, not about clarity. The Godzilla movies took that way too much to heart. While Jaws didn't give us a good look at the shark, that was always for the suspense element of it. These movies, even when Godzilla was ripping apart cities or fighting behemoths, the directors loved to obscure him. It got to the point of being straight up annoying. So when Godzilla vs. Kong let us actually see the titular characters duking it out, that went a long way to making the movie super watchable. It's the first time I could actually appreciate the battle without being surrounded by technicolor storm vomit all over the screen. I said that this wasn't the most intellectual of arguments, but think about what the ramifications of actually seeing the guys fight means? That means, for as dumb as the concept may be, the film actually delivers on its promise. Godzilla fights King Kong a couple times and you can actually appreciate the battle.
But this is where the movie gets kind of only okay. People, from what I understand, have been really bashing this movie. I mean, it's not great. I haven't been brought into the fold of the Godzilla movies in any iteration yet. But I do see why people don't like this movie. And I'm probably going to take an unpopular opinion getting to my argument. We're constantly told that Godzilla is a good character. I always saw Godzilla as a hero only juxtaposed to the other kaiju who absolutely are terrible and celebrate the destruction of humanity. But Godzilla, for all of his protection of the Earth, really is okay with just massive amounts of casualties. He's also fairly erratic with his behavior. Like, he's all over the place with his intentions. And part of that comes from the notion that we're his pets. He treats us like pets. Clearly, we're an ant farm where death is just commonplace and he's not going to be too broken up about it.
So when the antagonist of the piece wants to create a man-made mech to combat problems like Godzilla, I kind of am on that team. Yeah, I know. I'm supposed to be this great pacifist who isn't about militarization. But if the other movies in this franchise have proven anything, lots of people die when we do nothing about kaiju attacks. And that's when the franchise has to force us onto a side that we don't want to be on. Walter Simmons is imbued with all of these slimy traits because he's supposed to be the bad guy. But Walter Simmons, for all his grossness, is really right. Look at all of the pancaked cities that Godzilla and his ilk have lain waste to. It's depressing thinking about it. And the movie does the same thing that King of the Monsters does: forgive Maddie way too quickly.
If you read that blog, I go into this long spiel about Maddie is a major villain of the piece and the only reason that we forgive her is because she is Millie Bobby Brown and that she wasn't as bad as her mother. It's weird when an actor's celebrity status affects how we're supposed to view them in movies. The same thing happened to J-Law with the X-Men movies. Maddie goes from being her mother's sidekick, ushering the kaiju apocalypse, to being the tip of the spear for saving these lovable monsters. It doesn't matter how dumb some of the arguments get. Everything based on theory apparently deserves to be preserved. But there it is. The movie really has to yell at its audience to ensure that they stay on the right side. Of course, the MechaGodzilla is going to get out of hand. Of course it is. But that's only because it was made by the guy that was named the bad guy. Personally, MechaGodzilla is just Gypsy Danger from the Pacific Rim movies.
So the movie isn't great. I knew it wouldn't be. But I think that making the movie about Kong, the more fleshed out of the two monsters, makes it kind of worth watching. With that comes a far more interesting color palate. I don't know why we need to visit the center of the Hollow Earth (a plot point that almost feels irresponsible in this era of conspiracy theorist and anti-science). But the movie is fun. The characters aren't that bad. I know that there was some criticism that the human characters don't do anything. I don't know if that is true. I do find it funny that Kyle Chandler is back for no reason. But the movie is still a good time. It's the definition of stupid entertainment. Secretly / not-so-secretly, I hope this is the end of the franchise. There's not much more to tease out for me and destruction has little value at this point. But I had a good time, especially knowing that I didn't have to pay to go to the movie theater to see it.
PG-13 mainly for violence and cruelty. There is the implication that a group of criminals wants to kidnap a girl to sell her into prostitution, but the movie isn't exactly explicit about those intentions. But there is death and violence. I would say that I was happy that I didn't let my nine-year-old daughter watch this movie, despite the fact that she wanted to. I especially can confirm this with the visual lynching that happens in the movie, which is gruesome beyond reproach.
DIRECTOR: Paul Greengrass
Oh my gosh, I really don't want to write right now. I want to go to sleep. I want to play video games. I want to read my book or go for a run or anything than write this blog. I Have a stack of papers that I have to grade that I just collected. I just finished another stack of papers. I don't know why this takes priority. But I also know that if I didn't prioritize the blog, it would always be ignored given the chance. So for the sake of habit forming, here's a blog about News of the World, a movie that my wife described as being the same as every other movie about the Wild West that she's ever seen.
She's not wrong. I mean, I really liked the movie, despite the fact that my sleepy brain is having a hard time really choosing a stand out movie in the whole two-hour narrative. But there are instantly connections to True Grit (probably the remake more than the OG) and The Searchers. The idea of the American frontier being a dangerous place for a little girl has been one that has been talked about before. The major takeaway from these films is that the little girl, while her life has improved with the addition of a father figure, often is strong enough to battle the hardships of the West more than any man by himself. Yeah, the setting matters. Yeah, the genre matters. But this story isn't necessarily emotionally bonded with the idea of the Western. Instead, Johanna is representative of the general resilience of children. While Johanna probably would have physically survived without the intervention of Captain Kidd. But Johanna seems overtly unhappy for the majority of the film. This is going to get into some pretty dicey subject matters, so I'm going to explore this with kid gloves.
Johanna's primary goal at the beginning of the film is to return to the tribe that kidnapped her as a child. They murdered her family, but she has always viewed them as her family. Greengrass doesn't really allow the movie to explore the nuanced story of the indigenous people and how they viewed Johanna in the tribe. Instead, we get the idea that Johanna is a girl without a people. She is on the outside of white civilization while also being physically separated from people who took care of her for her life. I don't know if the movie necessarily makes it clear if the indigenous people didn't want her anymore or whether she is simply the byproduct of another tragedy. But we get the notion that Kidd and Johanna form a symbiotic relationship. While Johanna's trauma is very externalized, Kidd's seems to be a background pain that affects what he does in life. He doesn't seem overtly sad. If anything, his reading of the news brings him satisfaction. It awards him a quieter life and that seems to befit him. But as the movie progresses, we understand that Kidd is suffering deeply from the loss of a family and from the losing of a war.
But I want to explore that war and the weird narrative it presents us. I'm flashing to Firefly (created by also controversial Joss Whedon). Firefly starts off with Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his loss at the Battle of Serenity Valley. The interesting narrative is about a protagonist living amongst his enemy. Mal is forced to grin and bear civilization run by the Alliance, a faction that he fundamentally disagrees with. Kidd, similarly, was a Confederate soldier. He tends to bond with his audience because they, too, are formerly of the Confederacy and are simple people. But I want to talk about the difference between the Alliance and the Confederacy. It seems pretty standard to have former Confederate soldiers as the protagonists in the Westerns. They are men without homes. But I don't necessarily love the folksy wisdom that these Confederate nomads have. Kidd probably was responsible for his fair share of atrocities in the name of the Confederate States of America. The most powerful moment in the movie is when he is staring at the body of a Black boy, hanging from a tree from a lynching. It horrifies him...
...but it also has nothing to do with the story. It isn't this moment where Kidd repents for his choice of side. There isn't this major internal conflict where he questions his own allegiances. Kidd, from moment one, seems to be a guy with a square head on his shoulders. He has a mission and that mission tends to have moral implications. Yet, the movie chooses to have this moment of a lynching that draws his attention. He is a Confederate soldier. These are details that, in 2021, can't really be ignored. As much as the movie is about healing, I don't know if this is the healing that is exactly spelled out over the course of the narrative. What kind of spirals out of this --and I'm aware that I'm putting my own perspectives on this --is that same message we've been getting time and again. When a movie shows this degree of racism but doesn't directly make it about the racism, it kind of has the message of "My problems are more important." Kidd, a man who is deeply entrenched in the race issue, sees the product of the race issue and continues to stick to the problems of white people. I get that he doesn't judge Johanna for being an outsider among two separate cultures. I'm glad. But if God ever gave you a sign, dude.
At the end of the day, this leaves me in a position. It's a good movie that I've seen before. Like, it's really well made. If I'm on board your Western, especially if I've seen it before, that's a pretty good Western. But is it really fulfilling? Why have this stuff about race if you aren't going to address the stuff about race? Yeah, you have some really solid messages about family. But your protagonist is someone who is presented as this moral character who is just remarkably cool with not making the world's problems his problems. He takes in this girl because he feels bad for her, but what about how he helped bring about some pretty terrible atrocities? It's just the myth of the noble Confederate perpetuated. That's a bit of a problem. And if the only reason that we see this character appear time and time again because we've come to expect that trope, maybe we should change the trope?
Okay, I put my due diligence in. They don't all have to be tanks.
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.