The Batman (2022)
PG-13, but man is this pushing the R-rating. I know that the director says that the movie never really planned on being R, but there are so many elements that scream R-rating here. It's freaking disturbing as heck. The murders and the treatment of bodies is horrifying. An f-bomb is dropped. Batman is exceptionally violent. The body count is terrifying. There are just so many haunting images in this movie that it is mind-blowing that it isn't R. But, you know, it stars Batman...a guy on kids' lunchboxes. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Matt Reeves
Look at me! I'm writing about The Batman. I said I would get around to it and now I'm here. It's really, really weird that I don't feel like writing about this movie because I have yet to have an in-depth conversation about this one. Maybe it is because there are expectations. Maybe it is because it is the last movie I saw, which means I need to shotgun some films to maintain the blog. I also know that I absolutely loved this movie, but can only focus on the fact that I have one major complaint about the movie.
When the trailer came out for this movie, I just thought, "Geez, how bleak can we get?" It's not like the movie was false advertising. It was phenomenally bleak. It's just sadness and misery wrapped up into a three hour movie. But I thought that I would see it. (I knew I would see it, but I was going to do so in the begrudging way that uber-nerds talk about, ready to gripe.) Then the marketing department did the worst thing they could have done for my demographic: they released too much advertising. Honestly, this is one of the reasons that I stayed away from The Fast and the Furious franchise for so long. These movies were over-exposed and I was getting annoyed to see yet another The Batman trailer. (Note: I've stayed away from the last Stranger Things trailer because I got the gist and I still want to like Stranger Things.) But when I heard that the response to the movie was overwhelmingly positive and that it was more of a murder mystery than a Batman movie...I changed my mind. I grew obsessive about trying to see it. But I also saw how insane theaters were getting and I'm still a little Covid gunshy, especially considering the audience that I have seen at theaters so far. But then the movie came out on HBO Max on my birthday, so I treated myself.
I would like to point out that my wife felt like she had to watch it with me. I was given the opportunity to see it by myself, but I thought the murder-mystery element of the movie would raise her eyebrows. It didn't. She hate watched every second of that movie. At least she listened to it. She love-watched Candy Crush while hate-listening The Batman. I mean, I know that she's not alone on this take. It's three hours and there's hardly a joke in the film. Even the jokes that are there are more gallows humor than anything else. Considering that I've railed against DC's obsessiveness with being the edgier comic company since 2000, I find it odd that I got excited with a comic book film that had a vibe akin to Zodiac. Maybe there is a place for these movies. But I think it needs to stick with Batman and Batman-like projects. Not everything needs to be The Batman or Joker. Also, and I'm going to say something controversial: I get the vibe that Matt Reeves wasn't trying to make it dark.
To a certain extent, he had to, right? But most of that comes from the murder mystery element of the film. Heck, I decided to watch the movie with my wife because I thought she would dig the murder mystery. But part of the murder mystery is making a compelling villain. The funny thing is, I never thought the Riddler would be that guy. I know that Scott Snyder turned that on its head with "Year One" or "Year Two" (I honestly forget, but I'm too tired to investigate.) But Riddler works so well and so much of that credit goes to Paul Dano. I love how Paul Dano just knows the vibe he gives off. Even when he's not playing something like the serial killer he portrays in The Batman, he is still unsettling at best. His performance is next level amazing and I'm even more of a fan of his now than I was before The Batman. Yeah, it's a nice role to be allowed to go over-the-top, but I didn't care for a second. It makes the movie, honestly. If you are looking at performances, Dano makes the film. You could probably care less about the murder and just focus on the fact that Dano is haunting as all-get out. The funny thing is that you don't see him out of the mask very long, but he's somehow even scarier in person. The fact that he wears glasses over his mask somehow grounds the notion that we're not in a comic book. Gotham really feels like a place because of small details like that.
But you do have to remember, it is hard to write about something you like because gushing sounds stupid. And as much as I loved the movie, I have a handful of complaints about it. The first is the thing that a lot of people complain about (at least one person whom I agree with. That's a lot, right?) The final act is very tonally clunky. We live in world where Joker exists, a beat-by-beat remake of The King of Comedy, down to the tone and style. It's insane that the movie exists because it breaks the rules of a superhero blockbuster. The Batman can't get away with that. For all of the failures that the DCeU has brought, Batman films tend to keep Warner's superhero division afloat. This means that if Matt Reeves wants to make a three-hour Batman film, he's gotta put a bombastic action sequence at the end. It doesn't match the rest of the movie and it also...kind of comes out of nowhere. Nowhere does Riddler tease that the floodgates to Gotham are vulnerable. There is no theme of living underwater. It's just a separate plot brought in at the end. It's a fun sequence, but it also doesn't belong in this movie.
Also, the reveal of the Riddler is a bit...safe. There's a moment where Batman discovers a lot of the mystery once Bruce Wayne hits the chopping block. The Riddler releases a video of a reporter named Elliot who was destroyed by the Waynes. The screen explodes with the word "Hush", referencing the Batman villain Hush whose alter ego is Tommy Elliot. Now, if the movie was gutsy, we'd get a bait-and-switch. Because we know the comic books, we know that Edward Nygma (or his original identity) was going to be the bad guy. But what if we got this turned on its head. I know that a lot of people didn't care for the Mandarin twist from Iron Man 3. I did. But I also like when films aren't beholden to the comic source material. Make things original. Make the DCU something different. It's just a way better ending than simply a guy who was fed up with what was going on in Gotham. I like the idea that the Waynes caused their own pain. Sure, that's lifted heavily from TellTale Games' Batman series, but it is an interesting take on the Waynes. (I have more forgiveness when it comes to the portrayal of the Waynes than I do the portrayal of the Kents, mainly because Alfred is Bruce's emotional father.)
My biggest question, and something that I enjoyed, is that I have to question whether The Riddler won. The movie tells me that Batman won. But I'm going to disagree. The Riddler got exactly what he wanted. Sure, Bruce Wayne walks free. I love that there's a cryptic answer about whether The Riddler knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman or not. But with the amount of damage that The Riddler inflicted on Gotham, is Batman really the winner in this one? There's just that lovely question there.
I know that the film feels padded to a lot of people. I almost can't fight that because a three-hour runtime hurts my heart in a lot of these cases. But I found the entire thing fascinating. The three hour runtime gave me time to question every element of the story. It make the Gotham mob something that really seemed to exist as opposed to something just running in the background. I loved that the movie criticized the Gotham PD for being corrupt and teased the notion that Jim Gordon was the man to whip it back into shape. But there were so many beats and they all just worked for me...with the exception of the final action set piece. When I was a kid, I had no idea that one day we would have Batman movies like what I just saw. It feels mature and fleshed out. It's a comic book movie that doesn't feel like it has to be defined by its own genre. It's a solid win from me.
G! It was rated G, guys! Nothing is rated G, especially when people die and get replaced by robot clones! Also, there's some mildly scary scenes of Spock being driven insane by the vastness of V'Ger. But I'm never going to look a G-horse in the mouth. It's because he has amazing, family-friendly teeth. G.
DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
Oh man, I'm setting a really dangerous precedent here. I mean, I technically did this with Logan Noir, but I'm writing another entry about a movie that already has a post. I wrote about Star Trek: The Motion Picture when I first started this blog. It was this scant little thing and I didn't know what I was doing with this blog. (I still technically don't. I tell myself that quantity doesn't equal quality, but do I listen? No. No I don't. Look how much I wrote there.) But Paramount+ tricked me into thinking that "The Director's Edition" is a different movie from the original cut, so here I am trying to justify that decision. But this also allows me to revisit a movie that, for all intents and purposes, might be one of the weaker Star Trek movies.
My last take on Star Trek: The Motion Picture was that it was a 2001: A Space Odyssey knock-off that was hindered by creative differences and deciding whether or not that this was going to be a TV show or a movie. (I read one of William Shatner's memoirs because I'm that cool of a guy.) All that holds up. But something that I also have to concede is that Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the most Roddenberry Star Trek film by a mile. Roddenberry hated the space military that Starfleet ended up being in the movies. He was about the potential of mankind and knowing its place in the universe. He was about getting over the things that hindered our evolution and focused on building a future where ego disappeared. Like Rod Serling with The Twilight Zone, he wanted to tell tales with messages. Now, The Motion Picture is sci-fi storytelling through-and-through. It's not insane that something so entrenched in the genre would have a message attached to it. But there is a theme in the film that I never really attached to until this viewing of the film. Kirk's personal journey, which is far more subdued than his internal conflicts in future films, affects the external conflict in a way that is both fascinating and worth noting.
It's really weird watching Captain Kirk be the bad guy for a lot of the film. From what I understood, Kirk and his crew were not supposed to be part of Star Trek: Phase II. It was going to be the story of Decker and his crew. The idea that Kirk would be narratively stepping on Decker's feet to get a hold of that command chair is unsettling, to say the least. But what Kirk is all about is not about a love of the Enterprise, which is definitely a part of his personality. It's the idea that he has to meet his creator, albeit in his own way. Yes, it is the Enterprise that takes him to the unknown. But if we replace the idea of "God" with "Where No Man Has Gone Before", the story is about God meeting God. From Kirk's perspective, he is heading out to meet this unfathomable cosmic power with intentions of destroying anything that gets in his way. His conscious mind sees this as a threat and knows that, based on his track record of commanding the Enterprise, he can stop it. But his unconscious needs to experience this. It's why he's adamant about commanding the Enterprise rather than simply acts in an advisory capacity, which is what his rank affords him. Decker makes a strong point: the Enterprise in its current condition is not the ship that Kirk commanded. That's supported by the fact that Kirk almost kills everyone by going to warp prematurely, a situation that Decker has to rectify. That need for Kirk to be in command may be read as hubris, but it is more along the lines of needing to meet God, something that would be poorly revisited in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Similarly, V'Ger's goal is to meet its creator / God. It recognizes that it came from Earth, but imagines that the creator is in the form that mirrors its own. There's a weird irony that V'Ger is almost eager to destroy its own creator because it doesn't meet the expectation established by V'Ger. It's creator is flawed and does not recognize its creation. There's something laughable (in a sinister way) about V'Ger's thought process. After all, it can't imagine that it is the product of something so simple and primitive. But Kirk has the same attitude. Wise, with his lifting of visuals from 2001, establishes that V'Ger is beyond comprehension. It is so beautiful and so massive that Spock cannot comprehend it, despite the fact that it is a being of pure logic. But Kirk is there not only to understand V'Ger. He's there primarily to destroy it. Everything is about this countdown to the apocalypse for Kirk. He says the right things, like a proper 23rd Century admiral does. He acknowledges that he doesn't want to provoke it and treats it with all the grace and sensitivity that comes with a first contact experience. But Kirk also makes it known that he would destroy it given the proper opportunity and provokation. V'Ger wants to destroy its creator. Kirk wants to destroy God. All that's left is Spock.
I never really bonded to the Spock subplot of this movie. It always feels like it was written in to appease Leonard Nimoy, who vocally stated that "He was not Spock." But Spock's plot is also kind of interesting, the more I think about it. If the entire thing is about meeting God and dealing with expectations, Spock is the one who is searching for faith. There's something odd that happened to Spock between the events of the TV show and the film. The TV show was all about humanizing Spock. He was adorably curmudgeonly, treating human emotion as simplistic, despite being half-human. That formula would follow through almost all of the other Star Trek TV shows, so I shouldn't be saying anything shocking. But Spock starts off The Motion Picture as a logic zealot. Rather than evolving due to his time with humanity, he treats emotion like something to be scorned. About to achieve a state of absolute logic, he senses V'Ger as an answer to a next stage in the faith journey. He is haunted by the idea of the greatness of God and shoehorns himself into the mission to encounter V'Ger. There is admiration and love on the part of Spock, similar to that of a religious zealot. He sees V'Ger with the fear of God that Jonathan Edwards would sermonize about. It's odd that Spock becomes more human because of his encounter with V'Ger. While V'Ger views Earth as primitive and Kirk views V'Ger as hostile, God disgusts Spock to a certain amount. He finds himself enamored by that disgust, seemingly experiencing paradoxical feelings. But seeing the blindness that absolute logic presents, it offers him a morality tale of the dangers of absolutism.
What's weird is that Roddenberry presents an odd story of what it means to have a soul. Lieutenant Ilia is dead. When V'Ger probes the ship, it rips Ilia apart and integrates her knowledge into its collective hive mind. When the living probe comes in the form of Ilia, it is not her body. It is a recreation of her body with a robot brain controlling everything. The robot has access to Ilia's memory, but it is simply pulling this data from the network. But Kirk and Decker's plan involves trying to reason with the Ilia element of V'Ger, trying to merit sympathy. It's very heartfelt, but it is odd. On one hand, there's the Thomas Riker paradox (Oh yeah. I know me some Star Trek). Thomas Riker still has the thoughts, memories, and morals of Will Riker, but has the unfair disadvantage of being found second. The Ilia-Probe physically looks like Ilia. She has access to Ilia's memories. But Ilia is dead. The Ilia-Probe has a different set of directives. So when Decker wants to rejoin Ilia through the probe, there's that odd notion that the original Ilia has been replaced and everyone is cool with that. Not only that, but Decker is growing to be one with Ilia's killer. The woman she loved is dead and he's bonding with the killer who is wearing her skin. Now, I acknowledge that it is more complicated than that, but I also argue that the other argument has also been treated too simply.
What's funny is that, based on this blog, this movie sounds amazing. Heck, just writing about this again made me love it even more. But I also say that it still isn't that great. It's oddly mostly a bottle episode of Star Trek. For all of its starship [word redacted to avoid filters], it's still a bunch of actors in ridiculous outfits talking to a viewscreen. Yeah, I like that stuff. But it doesn't necessarily make a great film.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (2022)
Rated PG because it is a live-action (for the most part) movie for kids. Yeah, Sonic is going to run into a little bit of peril. But in terms of sexual content or language, I don't think that there's anything there. There's some Russian stereotypes, but that seems okay for right now because Russia is being the worst. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Jeff Fowler
What? You thought that this was going to be my long overdue blog on The Batman. Sir, you are just going to have to wait. I write in the order in which I watch the movie and I watched the Sonic the Hedgehog sequel first. Guess what? I also watched the new cut of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, so you have that to look forward to as well. I'm sorry that you have to force yourself to read a well-thought out blog about a video game character from the '90s whose whole thing was being more extreme than Super Mario.
I've come to like the first Sonic the Hedgehog movie a lot. It is a pretty regular staple in our house because my video game obsessed son really likes Sonic and the movie isn't that bad. I think I'm at a point in my life where I actually look forward to sequels for kids movies I like. I mean, The Lego Movie 2 kind of underwhelmed me as I distance myself from it. But when it comes to the original Sonic, the greatness of that movie compared to the absolute abomination that was its first trailer did so much for me. I knew that there was something behind the folks making Sonic that understood that the movie could be fun without overly pandering. And that's the insane thing about these Sonic movies: Sonic was almost created exclusively to pander. He was way more intense and extreme than Mario. He was Mountain Dew culture wrapped up in a blue hedgehog and we ate it up...for about three years. Then Sonic became this icon for what not to do with video games. Don't get me wrong: I think Sonic games are --for the most part --pretty playable. But they also have been cheap kids video games for a while. So the fact that these movies make Sonic completely sympathetic and relatable, despite being a blue space hedgehog, is genius.
But my complaint with the first movie was the origin story for Sonic. I think I might have predicted that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was going to do the same thing as Superman II and follow up on a plot device from the first film. And this is where I'm torn. See, I think that I like the first film better, despite the fact that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is oddly way more in line with the Sonic mythology. (Yeah, a grown man wrote the phrase "Sonic mythology" without a bit of shame.) Mario always understood that the greater canon of the Mario games was arbitrary. It was always about the game mechanics. Sonic, for some reason, wanted to give this whole backstory to chaos emeralds. They kept having to introduce new characters. But really, we have the same characters that have been in the Mario franchise pretty much since Super Mario Bros. 2. There is no canon. We just know that Mario has to fight some bad guys to get to Princess Peach. (Okay, I now realize how absurd Super Mario Sunshine is based on what I just wrote.) But Sonic is all about these hidden Chaos Emeralds. There are tribes of creatures and an underground movement. And yeah, the movies kind of broke that canon a bit. But Sonic 2 is a really good band-aid trying to get the story back to where it was before.
But why I like the first movie better is...the people. Okay, I'm defintiely getting older. Honestly, if Sonic 2 had come out when I was age appropriate for it, I would have hated Donut Lord and the whole human element of the story. I would have thought it simply diluted from mainlining Sonic into my eyeball. But we didn't get a lot of the human perspective on the weird events of Sonic. The first film was about Sonic finding a family and the attacks by Doctor Robotnik were means to push the themes together. This film has themes of family, but they are almost there in spite of the film being about Tails, Knuckles, and Chaos Emeralds. This movie is the game and it simply painted on a theme. Yeah, I can see the connection between Sonic and Tails mirroring Donut Lord and Sonic. (Note: If you haven't seen either Sonic movie and you read that last sentence, you probably think I'm a nutbar.) There was something simultaneously cheap yet wholesome of a world dealing with a Sonic the Hedgehog. Yeah, the first movie was silly, but it also made a great standalone film. Yeah, Sonic 2 made the right choice to expand the world. But it felt like the human characters were shoehorned into this one. We really didn't need any human characters outside of Dr. Robotnik (whose name I discovered the origins to during a deep dive into Wikipedia today).
I think the most successful thing that Sonic 2 pulls off, though, is making us forget that Sonic the Hedgehog was a rampant failure for years. It kind of feels like Sonic & Knuckles came out this year on the PS5 or something. When we see Tails and Knuckles, something inside me gets kind of excited. (Another side note: Can we all continue to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the characters were redesigned so we didn't have Tails and Knuckles abominations as well?) But in terms of developing characters for Tails and Knuckles, there's something missing that I'm not quite sure what it is. Sonic, as goofy as this sounds, is a completely fleshed out character. He's sympathetic for being a CG character. He's the character we bond with. Knuckles, however, is just an odd duck. Now, I can't believe that I didn't notice that echidnas had attacked Sonic's foster owl in the first movie, which gives this movie so much credit. It was staring me in the face all along and I can't believe I didn't notice that. But Knuckles has that old archetypal of the manipulated hero. Perhaps Knuckles is too much of an archetype. He comes across as really insufferably dumb sometimes. Now, I'm coming from my place as an audience member. The story establishes that the Echidna clan has a rich cultural history of Chaos Emerald zealotry, so that does excuse a lot. But Knuckles is very one-note for most of the film. I also have to say that it is really weird that Idris Elba voices Knuckles. Listen, I will watch Idris Elba in a lot. I like him. My wife is attracted to him and I've made my peace with that. But Knuckles is a foil for Sonic. He's what Sonic would have been had he been raised in a different environment. He's Batman to Sonic's Superman. But having hard-edged Idris Elba voice him takes all the childhood out of him. He's an adult beating up on a little kid. Knuckles's fundamental misunderstanding comes from the fact that Sonic has destroyed his life. But the scales of justice are completely tipped in Sonic's favor. I don't care that there's an explanation by Knuckles of how he views himself as the hero. You really have to squint to make it work. So while I love Idris Elba, I kind of would like a version of Ben Schwartz to contrast Sonic with Knuckles. I'm trying to figure out who that is. It's not quite coming to me.
But I'm going to end in the same way that I ended my last review of Sonic. (Note: Sonic the Hedgehog was the last movie I saw in theaters before Covid and Sonic 2 was the first movie I saw maskless since Covid. What a weird bookend to Covid.) As much as I gripe about these movies and nitpick about little things, these are really fun family action movies. They are genuinely funny and cute at times. I don't really worry about Sonic movies getting too dark. Yeah, some of the bits are a little dumb. I don't know what the Russian dance-off really has to do with the movie, nor do I think Donut Lord's sister-in-law wedding was vital to the story. But I also have a huge dose of "who cares" flowing through me. It's fun to see Sonic cracking jokes while fighting Jim Carrey, who again is a big ol' bag of too much. My kids love these movies and that makes me like them more. Maybe if I didn't have kids, I would be as annoyed as others by these films. But Sonic 2 mostly checks a lot of boxes of knowing exactly what it is supposed to be. Maybe I'm getting old and actually happy with a movie not stepping out of line. But Sonic 2 was fun, just like Sonic 1. I'll see Sonic 3 too.
Death on the Nile (2022)
PG-13, mostly for light gore and murder. There's a little bit of sexuality woven into the movie, but nothing really all that overt. I wouldn't recommend this movie for kids because it really tries to amp up the notion of murder for the big screen, differentiating it from the PBS version of the same material. Also, the film adds a racial element to the story. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
I'm breaking one of my rules. It has always been more of a guideline than a rule, but nonetheless I'm breaking it. I tend to have to watch movies in order of release. But I also saw the release of Death on the Nile in theaters as an opportunity to spark some life into my very senioritised seniors. I also was going to teach Murder on the Orient Express, but some people have seen that movie and know who the killer is. So I'm going into Death on the Nile without having seen Murder on the Orient Express...yet.
I think it is part of my obsessive personality that I want to read all of the works of Agatha Christie now. I read two of the Poirot novels and now I want the pleasure of having said that I've read all of them. There's something very readable about Christie's Poirot. We talked a lot about it while reading Death on the Nile. But similarly, that easily translates to film. I'm going say something backhanded and I don't want to apologize for it. It might be pretty hard to screw up an Agatha Christie story. It is actually really hard to write about Death on the Nile because I can't help but think that most of the work was done for Branagh before the movie even started filming. It should be noted that the film version of the movie isn't a direct translation to the screen. There were choices made when adapting the story for film that I will probably discuss later. But Christie's template feels almost made to be filmed. Because she was the Queen of Suspense, much of the pacing of the film is part and parcel with the book. And, yeah, Death on the Nile, the film, commits some acts (potentially crimes) that sequels must do. But I feel nervous attributing these decisions to Branagh so much as I do acknowledge that the heavy-lifting falls to Agatha Christie. Having read the book and then seen the movie, the stuff that really works is the tale of Linnet Ridgeway's murder laid out by Christie herself.
But what I can talk about is the deviation of the film from the book and how a book shouldn't be one-for-one with the movie. I can't stand when people go on about how "the book was better." Books and movies are rarely the same stories. We absorb stories fundamentally differently depending on the medium we absorb them in. But I also want to talk about how Branagh is a different storyteller than Christie. Now, I don't watch the behind-the-scenes supplements to these movies. I watched this on HBO Max like many people did. But from what we can glean about Branagh's tastes based on his history with the classics, I have to imagine that this is a passion project for Branagh. I don't think anyone is twisting his arm to play and direct the Poirot stuff. But it's something that he's now linked to these tales. And as a creator, it is almost his responsibility to tell the tale in his way. I was kind of amazed that he was nominated for Belfast because --and I say this in the nicest way possible --Branagh is kind of a safe director. For as much as the guy is an artist through and through, he often makes things with the studio in mind. These are adaptations that do not challenge. They are almost like a technically proficient fanboy telling a story.
Anything that is added to this story is almost fan service. I know that my friend Bob finds this frustrating when dealing with Star Trek: Picard. We always kind of need that extra level when examining the roots of a character. Picard introduces the notion of a potentially abusive father and a neglected mother to explain Picard's sense of morality. I suppose that Branagh does the same thing by giving Poirot an origin story for his outrageous moustache. Now, I'm going to give Branagh some points for this. Normally, we don't need an explanation for every little thing. It's the Han Solo dice from The Force Awakens for most people. Star Wars, in general, loves giving an origin for everything that appears on screen, down to extended universe stories about a guy stealing an ice cream machine in The Empire Strikes Back. The moustache background is dumb. I can't deny that. But all of the surrounding content about the moustache actually gives Death on the Nile a tangible theme. Because as much as I love Christie, her themes are fairly superficial due to the fact that she's writing for the sake of entertainment and profit.
I like the idea that Poirot has a story about love when it comes to the perversion of love throughout the story. Poirot, in my limited understanding of Christie, is almost a background character in his own right. He's an avatar for Christie, who is there to explain her own genius. He's there to tell us why our theories about murder are right or wrong. He can simply say that a theory is wrong and we're never really meant to question his confidence. (Although, knowing Christie, there's often an explanation to settle our minds.) But with so many characters in Death on the Nile, it is hard to nail down a protagonist outside of Poirot. A protagonist has to have investment in the story and, with the case of Death on the Nile, that investment comes from a sense of loneliness. I mean, it's not like we can expect Poirot to ever really make a change. (If they make another Poirot movie, you know that moustache is going to be grown back. That's the thing about shaving a moustache. It never has to be permanent.)I The whole love theme in the story is something that makes the avatar someone great.
But then there's the element where he's pushing the envelope. By shoehorning Bouc into the story, it makes the world too small. I don't know how many people are obsessed with the first film enough to say, "Hey, where's Bouc?" Bouc, in Murder on the Orient Express, was there as the audience. He was there to provide the right question at the right time to push forward the story without thought that Bouc was part of the actual case itself. (Again, I haven't seen the first film, so I can't give too much input about this.) But it kind of changes one of the key elements of the story. I know why Branagh does it. He wants to create stakes for Poirot. I'm sure it is boring to play the protagonist of a story constantly aloof and cold. By making Bouc have a moment of betrayal, it ramps up the story quite quickly. It gives the story gravitas and makes us feel for the characters. After all, upon Bouc's death, we mourn his passing. Bouc's death is there to make Poirot a more compelling character. If Bouc was a girlfriend, he would be considered fridged.
But I will say this for Kenneth Branagh: he's a much more commercial director than I had ever given him credit for. There's something really pretty and cinematic about this movie. I mean, that's the cinematography, but I like referring to it as a certain je-ne-sais-quoi. Gone is the PBS aesthetic. While I can't compare Hercule Poirot as the next James Bond or Jason Bourne, I can say that Poirot is garnering the attention that he would have during Christie's era. Perhaps the stories needed to be a little flashier than the '70s version. But in terms of popcorn mystery, Death on the Nile does more right than it does wrong. Maybe it is because I've read the book, but this seems bombastic and fun. I know that others have criticized the film as boring, but I don't really understand that takeaway. It's a fun film that tries injecting stakes into something that is fundamentally devoid of stakes. But it's a good time and I can't complain about that.
Perfect Blue (1997)
Rated R. I had to dig deep for this one because IMDB told me that it was TV-14 and I couldn't buy that. There's so much sex, nudity, sexual assualt, violence, murder, and blood in it that there is no way that this movie should be on TV...ever. It's a hard R and it should always be considered a hard R.
DIRECTOR: Satoshi Kon
So this is one of my student's favorite movies. It might be his favorite movie. He's been talking about it all year and swears it is so good. He got half the class to watch this movie, so I decided that I, too, should watch this movie. Geez, what are these kids watching? It's so much. Look at that MPAA section! It's so much. I mean, I now own this movie, so yay for me, I guess? But this movie isn't for the faint of heart.
I will say this: While the sexuality is intense and I would probably scale it back a little bit, it is a commentary on the role of sexuality in the media. If you are making a movie about what people absorb versus the reality of the situation, I can possibly see putting graphic content in the movie. (Now, there's more to the theme than what I just said. I'll probably spend the majority of this blog writing about that stuff. But for the sake of simplicity, there's at least precedent for all of this vulgar stuff.) I actually kind of feel bad calling it vulgar. I mean, it is. It made me feel really uncomfortable because it's not my thing. But the movie is directly addressing labels and sex shaming as a concept. The reason that Mima is being tortured, first and foremost, is because she is shedding her virginal persona for a much more adult acting role. Coupled with that is the ignorance by Mima's audience that her virginal character was almost more sexually exploited than her R-rated TV character, despite the fact that her character is sexually assaulted on screen.
The movie is smart, but I kind of hate how shameless it gets at times. The second half of the movie is extraordinarily weird and clever. But the tone of the whole film seems a bit cheap at times. I'm not talking about a lack of quality in the animation. I think the animation holds up for the most part throughout the film. (Please note: I got swamped with work and then Spring Break happened. If there is a tonal shift and a lack of quality from this point on, I would like to apologize.) I'm going to be talking in broad examples. I have never really been an anime guy. I mean, I've watched a bit of anime, but rarely does it speak to me. If I can latch onto anything of note, it would probably be the work of Miyazaki. Miyazaki films look outstanding. Is it possible that Studio Ghibli has the resources to ensure that these movies look amazing? Probably. Do I tend to watch remastered stuff that Disney puts out? Yeah. But visually, the Miyazaki films just have this level of quality to them that something like Perfect Blue lacked. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with how Perfect Blue looks. But part of me feels like Perfect Blue would be a completely forgotten movie if it was filmed in live action. There are these shortcuts that are taken to keep the movie interesting. Considering how much work goes into making an animated feature, the film doesn't really let us breathe in the visuals. What effect this creates is a sense of "cool" versus a sense of beauty.
This is where the Last Night in Soho and Black Swan arguments are lost on me. Satoshi Kon is clearly an auteur. There are things about this movie that scream passion and art. But anime is something in Japan that we take for granted. Anime is a medium, not a genre, especially in Japan. So when a movie doesn't allow the film to be told the way it wants to be told, something is detracted. This is a short movie. I'm --in a rare change of heart --stating that this movie needs to be longer. What happens very quickly in the film is that it breathes in the horror elements instead of the psychological elements. This movie has a lot to unpack (which I should have done weeks ago when this movie was fresh) and instead, it plays up the horror elements. Listen, I like horror. Heck, I'll go as far as to say that I love horror. But the most interesting parts of this movie aren't necessarily the deformed stalker. It's the idea of finding oneself and determining what is art. Satoshi Don has a strong message here. There are these two toxic environments that Mima inhabits. She seems happy with both of them, which is fine because she sees the positive elements of each. But the world is defining what she should find vulgar and what she should find wholesome. But because the film plays up the horror elements of the story, we get a lot more exploitation in the second.
Satoshi Don highlights the perversion of the teen beat world when she's part of the singing group by showing the incels that lust after Mima. But the cop show is aggressively sexual. And it is in that sexuality, it loses me. If this film is a critique of the sexualization of women to the point of madness. But by constantly showing us Mima naked, isn't it simply advancing the culture that it is critiquing. Allow the story to rest. We don't need quick flashes. We are allowed to interpret things instead of having things screamed at us. The funny thing is, there are a lot of questions that go unanswered in the film. Yeah, we get a concrete answer to Mima's sense of duality. I'm glad that it wasn't the same answer as Black Swan, but it also feels a bit cheap considering how deep the movie tries to go.
I feel so bad because I don't watch a lot of anime. From an outsider's perspective, there is some pretty cool stuff going on here. I can see why my students are obsessed with this movie. (Okay, I hope it isn't because they're all gross and should have serious talks with someone.) In terms of odd storytelling, once the first twenty minutes are over, the movie does really get to a place of messing with your head. So much of the movie lives in this space of what is reality and what is fabricated. It also isn't afraid to get dark. I remember as a teenager that I became obsessed with The Silence of the Lambs. There's something dark and sinister that needs to be scratched in adolescence sometimes and Perfect Blue might simply be the film that this group of students saw. The funny thing is, this movie came out in 1997. It should have been that movie that I was obsessing over. But also --which is appropriately stressed in this now dated film --the Internet wasn't the Internet of today. The idea of seeing Perfect Blue without meeting the right crowd wasn't actually a thing. So maybe it is the darkness of a movie like this that gets students to get obsessed with it. It is a good and dark movie, but it isn't going to be the obsession that these other kids have. If anything, it's just a cool horror movie that could have been more.
Under the Skin (2013)
Rated R for sexuality, violence, and sexual assault. There's very little dialogue in the movie, but the stuff in it kind of ties into the motifs of sexuality and violence. It's all very dark and haunting. I wouldn't treat the violence like action movie violence, but almost like a category of its own. There is quite a bit of nudity, considering that so little actually happens in the movie. The sexual assault is also very visceral due to the fact that it is on screen. R.
DIRECTOR: Johnathan Glazer
Well, I know that I'm not going to finish this blog in one sitting. I'm over-the-top busy, but I want to maintain this blog because it would stink to get overwhelmed with this. Heck, I already feel bad enough because I watched this film in an extremely disjointed manner. It's just been a crazy time in my life and I miss the days where I had guaranteed running days. It's not like I picked Under the Skin for any reason either. It was my next Netflix DVD movie and it showed up in the mail after I had lost the previous disc in the move from the old house. But none of this matters. I just feel the need to justify my watching of this movie because of its overtly sexual themes.
When I heard about this movie, I thought it was NC-17. It's not. It's definitely not. While the sexuality is intense and consistent, it's not exploitative, or for that manner, all that erotic. If anything, it is denigrated through this lens of horror that makes it seem bleak and sad. To read Under the Skin as a morality play warning about the evils of sex is a misread, but it is closer to that than it is something along the line of Species or anything in that sci-fi / horror subgenre. (Note: This is where I pick up the next day. I got a lot of work done and I'm patting myself on the back right now.) I never got into that erotic horror stuff. Maybe it's because I'm a bit of a stuff shirt and a prude, but those films felt so exploitative. As part of that sexual exploitation, there coincided a lack of quality. But Under the Skin is, by no doubt, a sci-fi horror dependent on sexuality to tell its story, but it isn't bad. I mean, I'm not going to write home about it. Honestly, part of me was super bored. It just doesn't change the fact that there is something obviously quality about the film, even if that isn't something that is always objective or easy to nail down.
The opening shots scream Stanley Kubrick. I don't know if Kubrick would ever go as far as Under the Skin in terms of silence, but who knows? (I mean, there are long periods of silence in Kubrick's film, so I'm already backpedaling on that assertion.) Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Glazer thrives on you not understanding everything in the movie. There simply...is. Now, Kubrick at least gives you something. Besides the fact that the Arthur C. Clarke novel is probably more grounded and has a mythos explaining a lot of the events of the story, Kubrick will at least play ball with what is happening in the story. Instead, Glazer leaves a lot up to interpretation. That actually works in a weird way when it comes to determining themes. Not everything needs to have a coherent and grounded story element for a theme to shine through. If anything, the cryptic plot elements force the audience to question everything that is on screen for the film. After all, themes tend to be lost the more grounded the film is, so this interpretive dance of a film forced me to look more at what I was absorbing versus what I was understanding.
That doesn't mean that I didn't go to the Wikipedia article. I totally did, multiple times. After all, I didn't want to be the only one who didn't get the story and look like a total idiot when it came to writing a blog about the movie. It's there that I discovered that the film, according to Glazer, wasn't what I thought the movie was about. The Female seemed to represent womanhood and how women are only viewed as sexual conquests. The horror of the whole thing, seemed to me, that she was inverting the trope on men a la Promising Young Woman. I mean, The Female actively hunts for men to absorb through sexual conquest, which by-the-bye is terrifying. It's when she shifts out of that sexual conquest that (and again, this is all my read considering that it is my blog) there's a commentary on the poison that sexual conquest is on both parties. When she abuses her role as executioner, preying upon a deformed man, her personality radically changes to that of victim. She becomes this catatonic mess, allowing herself to try to feel normal in what appears to be a twisted version of a consensual relationship, leading to her eventually to her sexual assault.
But Glazer implies that I'm not quite reading that right. He says this is more about the human experience than the gender experience. It's the role of the artist to make a story with themes, but it is the burden of the artist to relinquish those themes to the audience. I don't know how this movie isn't about gender. Masculinity and femininity play such a strong role in the movie. In her rides around Scotland, The Female encounters so many versions of masculinity throughout. Some of these personalities are toxic. Some of them and strong and responsible. Even the one death that she didn't directly cause, the one of a father, is a type of masculinity that is honorable and worthy of attention. But when she has an odd moral compass about partners whom she wishes to absorb, these choices are reacted to with a sense of disappointment. Perhaps we can look at the abandonment of the baby on the beach as a reminder of the perversion of gender. Now, I would be wrong to say that femininity would call upon The Female to act as mother to abandoned infant on the beach. But to leave the child there is almost a scorn for the appropriate behavior.
From a logical perspective, we can view her disregard for positive behavior as understandable. After all, The Female feeds on the perverse. Those who would take advantage of a lost woman who dresses not unlike a sex worker are her food. So when these people have redeemable traits, she doesn't care about the objective good that these people present to society. She is only upset that she cannot feed upon them. It's when she breaks her own rule, preying on the desperate and deformed, that she is perverted to her own code that doesn't actually seem to be her own. That's where the motorcycle guys come in. I am really stymied when it comes to the motorcycle guys. There's an element of pimp to these characters. While she feeds upon men, they seem to be supporting her through cleaning up the environment. After all, they dispose of bodies that are left in her wake. But she fears them when she stops intentionally consuming these men. The final act is The Female running away from these men. There's something horribly hopeless about the final act. While we don't necessarily have a moral protagonist to root for, The Female starts to exhibit hope for evolution.
Perhaps it is in her abandonment of her mission that we see that the possibility of change is real. But Glazer doesn't want to end with any sense of optimism. It is in her new identity, complete with a change of clothes, that she wishes to break out of a system where sex is the driving force. But she quickly falls apart in this system. I know some reads of the film talk about the black entity under the skin (hey, that's the title of the movie!) is a commentary on race and the notion that biologically, mankind has more in common than skin color. I don't really read that. I read that as beauty being something that is cheap and flimsy. It's torn off in the woods. But that true self was quickly burned up in a fire anyway. If you were wondering, Under the Skin says that the world won't let you change.
I will say that the movie does get tedious. There is so little plot for so much movie that I did keep an eye on the clock while watching it. I mean, I told you that I watched it in shifts. Part of that was because I kept falling asleep. It's not a bad movie, but it is painfully boring.
Rated R for being a slasher horror movie. The OG Scream was my first / second R rated movie. The thing that you really have to get past is the just the gore of people being stabbed. There's more commentary and innuendo when it comes to sexuality, but it is definitely part of the film. Also, couple that with the fact that teenagers are drinking throughout and doing morally questionable things, including swearing throughout. R.
DIRECTORS: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
My biggest advice for the new Scream movie: remember that it's just another Scream movie. That may seem extremely dismissive of the film, but know that I really enjoyed it. But the biggest thing that hurt my love for the movie is the reviews that said that it changed everything. It really doesn't. It's another Scream movie. In fact, I would go as far as to say it might be the second best Scream movie, but that's because I find Scream 2 to be disappointing.
Please give me some points. I mean, some of you will be wildly disappointed, but I really wanted to shotgun the first four Scream films before watching the recent entry. I mean, I know the first three movies intimately. I loved those movies. I own them on DVD (and I considered getting them on Blu-Ray because I imagine that the OG Dimension Pictures print is probably lacking by today's standards.) But I don't remember Scream 4 that well. I actually can't believe that it was made in 2011. But the Scream movies in general are special to me. They made horror something to be studied. Yeah, I've since learned that much of the horror community is pretty basic and afraid of change, but it doesn't change the fact that I now really like horror movies because of the original Scream. Maybe that's why it is so satisfying to get one of these movies every so often. These are movies that celebrate movies, albeit horror movies. As terrible as it is that people keep getting killed (which is why most people are watching these movies), Woodsboro hosts the greatest movie snobs in history. People have discussions about themes of film on a regular basis. Sure, if the Ghostface killer decided to visit me, I have no chance for survival. But as weird as it is, I love the dialogue as much as I do the suspense.
But I do have to talk about this entry of Scream. Why this entry works is because culture needed to be commented upon. I remember watching Scream 4 and wondering what was really being said. In the tradition of Halloween, Halloween, and the many other movies that are trying to requel themselves, I love that Scream got in the game by providing an actual, canonical sequel that refuses to ignore any of the entries in the franchise. Sure, the movie doesn't go out of its way to necessarily address every entry in the franchise so far. But it's nice to know that Sydney, Dewey, and Gail are still up to tricks. It's nice to know that people still remember Randy Meeks while fearing Billy and Stu. Even the dumber elements of Scream, notably the ultra-meta Stab films get a sufficient dose of attention. Perhaps it is the simultaneous acknowledgement that it all matters and the idea that it should be commented on that franchises are cherry picking the best elements from previous films that makes it so refreshing. Listen, I'm a guy who loves that Jurassic World exists without a confirmation that The Lost World also happened. But it always feels like a little bit of a cop out to pretend so much didn't happen.
With this entry of Scream, there's something very pure about the story. Maybe because it is a movie that is madly in love with the original story without being bogged down by the melodramatic retconning of Maureen Prescott. We don't really need to know about Cotton Weary or all of the side narratives that a single choice made. Instead, it is a pure analysis of the horror aspects of the original films take root. Now, I'm going to admit that the nostalgia card only carries so much weight. The fact that this requel is tied to Billy and Stu so heavily seems like it's aiming its target at me and my generation. The references are back, down to a three-degree deep refilming of the "Turn around, Jamie" sequence that I use to teach dramatic irony in my class. (Note: I also had a running commentary in my noodle that the characters are so dumb that they don't turn around when this scene happens before I realized that I wasn't turning around. I, too, am a dumb film character.) If this was your first entry into the Scream franchise, I can see these moments as alienating. But maybe this movie was only made for me and I can't deny that I kind of like that.
But my favorite thing still hasn't happened. Back when the original Scream came out, I really wanted Randy to be the killer. Everyone loved Randy and he was the movie obsessed one. He died in Scream 2, which stopped my hopes that he was the mastermind behind it all. But then, I had the hopes that Randy's niece and nephew were the killers, maybe along with Randy's sister. It works so well. Honestly, it works so so well. But apparently, we can't besmirch everyone's favorite character, so it had to be two new characters. In terms of their reasoning, I'm a little meh on the whole thing. See, Timothy Olyphant's killer in Scream 2 had the same motivation as Richie and Amber. We've been here before. I also really like when one of the killers has a personal tie to the events of the story. We didn't really get that. But what we did get is a rad commentary on fandom that is way more prevalent now than it was in the original trilogy days. See, the notion that people would kill because of a fandom seemed absolutely absurd in the Dimension Films era. But since then, we've seen a guy get stabbed at Comic Con with a sword or a wand and I now know that we've crossed that barrier.
Maybe it is a little depressing to think that a fun movie like Scream should be talking about this. But I also appreciate that Scream is the franchise that is most open to breaking that fourth wall and preach to an audience. Yeah, the Scream movies probably aren't making that much change to the culture, despite actually having something to say. And like I said, there's only so much we can do with the Prescott family to continue this story. Actually, there's an element to this movie that says we really don't need Sydney Prescott anymore. She doesn't actually contribute that much to the main storyline. The killers consider her to be a bonus opportunity. But would it be a Scream movie without Sydney? I don't know.
Can I give points for riskiness? Dewey has always somehow escaped his fate in these movies. He's gotten torn apart in so many of them, only to be rushed to the hospital and saved. Heck, his character limps everywhere because of ripped up nerves. But this film was not only willing to kill off Dewey, but they gave him unfinished business. That's a flex. The second that I found out he was estranged from Gale, I thought he was going to be safe. After all, he needed to die with the happy ending. But no, it's this amazing misdirect that made him way more interesting of character. I like the idea that the audience was robbed of that cathartic moment between Dewey and Gale, especially considering that it had the odd parallel connection between Courtney Cox and David Arquette. It's a move and I like it.
So remember, Scream does nothing new with the franchise. It just is a good time whodunnit and it works pretty well. I hear that they're gearing up to do it again and I'll end up watching it. Heck, I'm even considering revisiting Scream 4 again.
Jackass Forever (2022)
Rated R because I can't even say the title in front of my kids. If you are reading this to wonder if Jackass Forever is okay to show to your kids, it absolutely isn't. It has the most nudity ever. It has so much nudity that you get used to people showing off genitals on camera. There's also vomit and feces, per expectations with a Jackass film. Language and violence and people doing horrible things to their bodies. Yeah, Jackass Forever is not okay for your kids to watch. R.
DIRECTOR: Jeff Tremaine
I suppose it is kismet (or my subconscious screaming) that I write about Jackass Forever after finishing my last Academy Award nominated film for 2021, Parallel Mothers. I spent a month and change constantly watching films that were being recognized for being art (for the most part) and maybe I needed to purge. But it also inspired me to write about the value of low art.
Someone told me that there was an article about the death of art with the release of Jackass Forever. While I acknowledge that if the only thing that aliens absorbed about human arts and culture was a Jackass movie, there would be a complete standstill in terms of cultural advancement because we would be left so far behind as a lesser culture. But with all that in mind, I think the Jackass movies serve to do something that we desperately need to do as a culture: stop faking it. We all need a really good laugh and that's what Jackass does. Jackass Forever is one of those movies that makes you belly laugh alone and cry laughing, holding your side if you are with a group of people. That may not seem like a lofty ambition, but there is absolutely value in it. Because Jackass doesn't really view itself as art, despite the fact that there are some oddly artistic people behind the world of Jackass. I'm mostly looking at Spike Jonze here, but there's more than that.
The reason that society allows for Jackass movies are two-fold. One of them is insidious. There is a large percentage of the population who thrive in standing unchallenged. I'm going to come across as the ultimate snob, probably not for the first time (today), but a lot of people hate growing as people. For this crowd, Jackass Forever is detrimental. it doesn't challenge in the least, but that responsibility doesn't really fall on Jackass Forever either. But the other end of the spectrum is the second reason that Jackass Forever exists and needs to exist is to remind us what it is like to be with friends. Now, the Jackass crew seems to be a specific kind of friendship that boys have in high school and college. But that friendship is very real. When watching the boys from Jackass prank each other in the most painful fashions, I feel like I'm there, thankful to God that they aren't turning their attention my way. Because, while they are hurt --often quite badly --they are mostly laughing. There's a sense of pride of being in this group and getting hazed. It's the consensual attitude of challenging each other to bring their A-games.
And everyone settles into roles because it makes them happy. These are things that I would never in a million years do, but I appreciate and love because they have so much fun. Never do these Jackass movies seem like a chore, which is an absolute marvel. The second one of these things happened to me, I would be kvetching to anyone who would listen, complaining about the toxic attitude around me. But fiction has tried to capture these traits in fictional pieces like Tag and it never really seems to work. This is drinking from the tap and expressing a joie de vivre that I don't think we get in cinema anymore. Yeah, there's no greater message that is written on purpose, but the theme is one of the bonds of friendship. Jackass Forever is a reminder that childhood joy is always possible even in people who are greying and brittle, as shown by Johnny Knoxville's trip to the hospital. It's honestly admirable. But it is also a reminder that we are still close to those we lose. While Ryan Dunn isn't addressed until the credits, I have to imagine that performing some of these stunts reminded the cast of the good times they had with their lost friend.
But it is also interesting to see the inclusion of what I consider to be Jackass: The Next Generation. Man, I have so many thoughts but so few words (we'll see!) to express something about these kids. At the beginning of the TV shows and films, Knoxville warns the audience to not try any of these stunts with your dumb little buddies. Of course, there was always going to be those who took that warning as a challenge, as I think the cast of Jackass always intended. But it is funny to see these characters deal with reality in real time. There are four add-ons to the crew that stand out, but I only want to talk about Poopies. Yeah, he goes by "Poopies" the entire movie and that's the best part about him. They literally say his name and I start giggling (because I'm not afraid of looking absurd to people.) Poopies seems like he was built to be part of the Jackass crowd. He has this self-flagellating nickname, like Wee-Man, and seems like he's down to clown. But every time that people start looking at him to do something in the movie, there's an honest look of fear. Something became very real for him with this movie that I don't think that he was prepped for before. Maybe he thought that his name would carry him for the entire film because his name is very funny, but I might have more in common with Poopies than anyone else in the movie. He hasn't been conditioned that anything here is normal. The fear that he experiences is real. Yet, there's a percentage of him that is joyful as heck. He's hanging out with the people who modeled him to be who he is, as goofy as that is.
I really hated when Martin Scorsese attacked Marvel for being the death of cinema. Cinema is more than one thing. Now, I tend to watch high art more than I don't. But I don't like that people crap on movies like this. Yeah, you need to watch more than Jackass Forever. But the fact that a movie can make you feel like you are hanging out with your dumb little buddies, carefree, is something very special. As long as you are challenging yourself, watch a Jackass movie from time to time. They are really funny. Sure, they are really raunchy, but that's not the worst thing in the world either.
Parallel Mothers (2021)
Rated R for heavy sexual content, including nudity (I think.) There's a lot of language and the sexuality happens on screen. Oh, and it comes out of nowhere at times. You might think that the next scene couldn't possibly be intense sex, but you'd be wrong. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodovar
Okay, I'm about to write the filthiest joke I've ever written on this blog. I try to keep this blog very PG, but I absolutely nailed a joke while watching the movie and I need to save it for posterity. There's a scene where the eponymous Parallel Mothers do the do. In that moment, I wondered if the movie should have been named Perpendicular Mothers. Yeah, I'm proud of that one. Maybe you're not, but I stand by that joke.
I may have made a big mistake with this one. I think that this is a Netflix film...that I purchased. Listen, I have to make a mistake every once in a while. Sure, I'm not likely to get rid of Netflix any time soon. But at least I can say that I'm now the proud owner of an overtly erotic melodrama. You know, besides Call Me By Your Name. It's just that I'm always a little torn by having to write about last Academy Award nominee for the year. I'm always glad to watch another Pedro Almodovar movie, but I've never been in love with Almodovar. There's always this quality about his films that make me appreciate watching them. But I also can't deny that there's also something soap-operaish about his movies as well. Parallel Mothers, in some ways, might be the most egregious example of that melodramatic vein that Almodovar embraces. I honestly believe that this reads like a philosophical scenario more than an actual story. Imagine someone took the trolley-car scenario and then added a lot of sex to it. That would basically get you to Parallel Mothers.
And it's not like it isn't telegraphed. At least to a certain point, the movie is extremely telegraphed. When both children are separated at the hospital, there's this aggressive attention to the plot of women raising these kids. But there's what is considered plausible and what we actually get in this movie. Parallel Mothers keeps taking what could be a heightened version of reality and then keeps going. I could see the story of two women unknowingly raising another person's child. Maybe, just maybe, they discover the truth later in the story, creating a moral question that could be explored. But then the movie just keeps going. These women are in each other's lives. Then one of the kids dies and the other knows that it is her biological child that dies. Then the two have a steamy relationship despite being wildly different ages. Then there's this whole separate plot about discovering the victims of a genocide (which I hate to treat flippantly, but for the sake of "just too much", I feel like I have to bring it up). And yet, there's something very entertaining about the fact that this is a melodrama.
Almodovar makes a fun film. I mean, these movies tend to be kind of depressing, but it's what the core of drama is really all about. While nothing is aggressively shocking, Almodovar thrives in making us inhale in anxiety as another shoe drops and that's what makes the film worth watching. Characters are going to be terrible to each other because cool heads prevailing does almost nothing for interesting storytelling. Instead, people have to continue to make poor decisions. But that actually leads me to the final shot. I appreciate what Almodovar is doing with the connection between the lost dead and the lost daughter (no allusion intended) of Janis. Because that is super cool. But the actual dive into the lost of a genocide, an abandoned generation, doesn't really come into the forefront of the story. If anything, it feels more like business than something that is deeply personal to the characters in this story. It makes them come across more like intellectuals than it does actually sell the notion that all of these people have been separated from families against their will.
Perhaps Almodovar wanted to stress the notion that reality is a melodrama. I can't get over it. The main story is really absurd, but the connection between the A-story and the B-story almost feels like it is justified. There's just a slip there that isn't working for me like it should be. And again, I'm distant from the events. Heck, this movie gave me something to learn about because I'm woefully ignorant on the events that this movie refers to. That's on me. But from an outsider's perspective, I wish that there was something just more concrete about what I was watching in the film.
But as much as I gripe about the choices that Almodovar makes, I still really liked it. I mean, in no way is it one of my favorite movies and I can't imagine watching this movie again for any reason, shy of intellectual benefit. But Almodovar's method of storytelling is fun, despite being beautiful at the same time. The acting is pretty great, so much so that the film doesn't ask me to fully invest in the reality of the situation. Almodovar is always a good time. It just doesn't need to be as sexual as it always is.
Writing with Fire (2021)
Not rated, but the movie talks about the sexual exploitation of women and how women are killed in the pursuit of truth. There's nothing visual on screen that would be offensive by any means, but it is also difficult to deal with this exploitation knowing that this is a documentary. Not rated.
DIRECTORS: Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas
Originally, Writing with Fire wasn't supposed to come out before the Academy Awards. Then, I found out that I could rent it about 30 hours before the awards were presented. I was all jazzed until I had the epiphany, "What am I going to write about when it comes to this?" Honestly, Writing with Fire spells out so much for me that I don't feel like I'm contributing to the conversation. There's probably going to be an even greater sense of stream of consciousness when I write this because, if I think for more than a second, I'm going to run out of things to say. For what I publish, I apologize in advance. I am clearly on the outside of this narrative and that makes it difficult to write about.
I'm going to talk about religious extremism first because that was the part that I found most fascinating. This is clearly about the caste system and women in a society that has made it more than acceptable to degrade women and treat them like the lowest of the low. I do have to talk about that and I'll try to. But I do find the tie to religious extremism to be the most fascinating thing, because this is something that bugs me about the world that directly affects me. I don't deny that that I gain a larger sense of sympathy when I see pain around me. I'm not alone in that. But I also feel like I can expound on this concept because I'm not simply regurgitating someone else's ideas. I'm thinking about this stuff all the time. And there is a tie there. It's not like I'm making a wild leap there. I'm not the first guy to point out the inherent sexism in a lot of zealotry. But I am intrigued by the relationship between conservatism and zealotry, even in countries that seem fundamentally different in America.
While this is a story about women trying to garner the attention of a patriarchal society, the through line of the story follows the women tackling the rise of a political party founded around a specific sect of religion. Now, I know very little of the Hindu / Muslim divide outside of stuff that I hear on the news. I wish I could say that I've done a deep dive into this stuff, but I haven't. I am loosely literate at best. But in my head, Christianity hits this place of paradox. Christianity, in its teaching, is about caring for one's neighbors and the dismantling of classes, yet the religious right often worships at the feet of aggressive Capitalism. With the rise of Indian theocracy, it's haunting to see the parallels between America, which is supposed to have its act together, and political leaders who brandish swords for interviews. Every time that the are people covered in orange in this doc, there seems to be ties to violence as a means to keep the lower classes in line. From a Western perspective, the idea of castes somehow seems barbaric, but I can't help but notice the rhetoric paralleling racist and sexist policies in the United States. Honestly, even thought that this was a story about gender and caste, the horrors of what happens both domestically and internationally is what I wanted to talk about.
I feel like I can't critique this movie properly without coming across like a monster. So much of my life is taken for granted. If I studied and wanted to become a journalist, the way has been paved for me. Between being an American, white, and male, there are so many opportunities for me to be taken seriously, regardless of the quality of my journalism...unfortunately. After all, all this blog is good for is the constant editorializing about things that I have no right to talk about, so I'm most of the way there. It's not like journalism is easy, by any stretch of the imagination. But that is the element that one should go into this documentary with. Journalism is hard and it seems nearly impossible for a group of women who are scorned to get their voices out there. The amazing thing that I got from this documentary is that it really is possible to do the impossible. These are women who have had very little training in technology and are using phones that aren't even in their primary language to report on issues that a patriarchal society has deemed unworthy of attention. On top of that, people watch this and react to their reporting. That's super cool.
But from a documentary standpoint, I feel like I'm doing a lot of the heavy lifting. I'm not quite sure what is missing from the doc to sell the notion that there's a mountain being moved here. That's kind of the burden of documentary; you can only show what is really happening. Hollywood movies make journalism look sexy and dangerous. There's a score and the are conversations where people get really dramatic. Writing with Fire, I have to be reminded, is the real world. While there are all of these stakes, a lot of this is people sitting around talking to people who don't want to talk to them. There's no third act event drop that recontextualizes the doc to add drama. Their news office isn't burnt down. No one is killed that we know. (A famous female journalist is killed, reminding the subjects of the film of their heroic work.) All we really see are the soup-to-nuts form of journalism. On top of that, this is the journalism that we get on YouTube. Now, I totally get that it might be the only kind of reporting that women in their caste can make and get out there. But I don't really want to see a documentary about something similar to The Young Turks or Damage Report.
I love those videos, but I also can never really send them to anyone. There's an implicit bias that gets that kind of journalism dismissed. I understand that the future of journalism is stuff that can be found on YouTube and for the subjects of the documentary, it is probably the life blood of their industry. But I couldn't shake the notion that this was someone's YouTube channel. The fact that there's a "like" and "subscribe" option for a source of news screamed that it wasn't news. My stupid logical brain wouldn't shut off and realize that the actual broadcast news was part of the problem. The very notion of their existence is an attack on mainstream media. But I wish there was a direct attack on mainstream journalism. While the movie is about guerrilla journalism, it seems to fall in the background of this story because the movie is more about The Bad News Bears tell stories than an examination with the problems with state sponsored journalism.
I wanted to like it, guys. I really did. There's so much here that is up my alley. But I also found myself kind of bored with this, with the exception of the religious climate that was boiling over. And that's what I should be taking from this movie. These journalists got me excited and worked up about the rise of a theocracy in a country that I'll probably never visit. I now know something about a country that I needed to know, but it hasn't changed my opinion about the documentary itself. It isn't a great doc. It's just...interesting. I got what I needed from the first fifteen minutes, which may be more of a commentary on me than it is about the quality of the documentary itself.
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.