Rated R because Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song was X Rated. The movie is about this movie that pushed all of the boundaries. Mario Van Peebles's biopic about the making of that movie is more tame, but that doesn't mean that it is family friendly. There's nudity all throughout, often in the context of sexuality. But there's language pervading the film. Just because something is more tame in contrast, doesn't make it tame. Rated R.
DIRECTOR: Mario Van Peebles
It's so unfair that I have so many criticism of this movie. This is perhaps one of the most personal movies I've seen in a while and it drops the ball so hard that I just get a little depressed thinking about it. For those who don't know about Baadasssss!, it's a biopic for Mario Van Peebles's father's film Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. I didn't love that movie either, but it wasn't made for me at all. I treat it as a fascinating historical piece of Civil Rights History because of its influence on the Black Panther movement. But I also think of this movie as a movie that is partially a crime for what it did to Mario Van Peebles. I have a lot of thoughts on my blog entry for Sweet Sweetback, so if you want a deeper dive after this is all said and done, you have that resource at your disposal.
The Van Peebles name actually showed up for me in high school in a movie I didn't care for, Highlander: The Final Dimension. I used to be a big Highlander fan, despite the fact that the movies may be kind of unwatchable for me now. But Highlander 3 starred Mario Van Peebles as the villain of the piece. Already, I have a weird connection with the guy, but then I found out that his dad kind of screwed him up. Listen, I'm not letting the beginning of Sweet Sweetback off the hook. I think Walt Whitman was quoting Emerson or someone about the complexity of people. People aren't one thing. I constantly point out my own hypocrisy on this page, so I suppose I should give Mario Van Peebles a chance. Van Peebles made a movie about his dad's most famous and influential movie. His dad, Melvin Van Peebles, made one of the most insane movies ever made and it changed Black cinema forever. It was funamentally and intentionally abrasive. It was meant to be a movie for Black people without giving any concern to how White America would have felt about it. But in the process, I'm going to say that Mario Van Peebles was raped because his dad wanted to get a rebellious shot. The beginning of Sweet Sweetback has Mario as a younger version of the eponymous protagonist losing his virginity to an older woman on camera.
(I'm sorry to use first names as shorthand, but the movie is Mario Van Peebles portraying his father, Melvin Van Peebles. Calling them "Mario" and "Melvin" is just to minimize confusion.)
The movie, made by Mario, discusses the morality of this sequence. It is kind of damning. But can I also say that it is only kind of damning. In an attempt to preserve Melvin's legacy, it kind of gives Melvin a pass. Now, I'm a son who is making a movie about my dad who is still alive. He's also looked at by history as a visionary civil rights leader and director. Do I feel comfortable taking my dad down? It's not like Melvin's crimes are completely whitewashed in this movie. But at the same time, some of the rough edges come off in the making of Baadasssss!. Because the movie doesn't really take a hard stance for or against Melvin, a lot of Melvin's crimes come across as eccentricities or stress-motivated. I don't care for that one bit. The movie sets up Melvin as a guy who doesn't really live in our world. There's something outside of reality for Melvin. A lot of that comes from fighting the good fight. But again, this is Mario making a movie about his dad. Mario is a character in the movei. There's this real split about who Melvin really is because Mario is writing about his own experience with his dad during these events, but he's also using his dad's journal to make the movie.
Because there are two very disparate sources of information -- emotional memory and potentially an unreliable narrator -- there is no actual consensus to who Melvin is. He's either this great director who had to put everything on the line to work with incompetents, or he was an abusive jerk who lashed out without reason. To a certain extent, I have to defer to Emerson; maybe he was both. He probably was. But we're seeing this all through the narrative of Mario Van Peebles, a grown man who is still a kid, scarred by his dad's behavior. The entire movie has the vibe of an abuse victim. He hates the abuse, but loves the abuser. There's something really sad about the movie because Mario's cries for help are whimpers in this movie. This seems like I am bullying Mario Van Peebles. Listen, I'm just a big advocate for mental help and I think that Mario kind of needs it. Who am I to diagnose this guy? I'm a guy with a Weebly account and that's it. But I just kept seeing these moments where I felt like Mario wanted to scream something profound, but it just got buried under his father's legacy. The rape of Mario Van Peebles is such a small part of the movie that let's his dad off the hook, between highlighting concessions that Melvin made and the positive feedback that others gave Mario, that I feel icky that this movie exists.
Now, if I had to move on beyond that point, there's a lot of misfires happening. Occasionally, I would watch the movie and point out competence. But Mario's movie does not have the narrative quality that Melvin's film did. Both movies are made on a shoestring budget. It's key to understanding Sweet Sweetback. That movie was done on the super-cheap that it was a miracle that it was ever made. But that cheapness came from the fact that Melvin Van Peebles divorced himself from the studio system when he wouldn't play well with others. (He absolutely shouldn't have played well with others, so keep that in mind.) Mario's movie reads as equally cheap, but without having the benefit of the freedom of storytelling. I'm not saying that Mario would have made something life-changing had he chosen not to get in bed with Showtime Pictures, but everything about this movie screams that it was made to be shopped to a distributor for little money. The filmmaking style comes across more like community theater than the guerilla filmmaking that his father employed.
It's not that Mario didn't have an artistic voice. He totally did. But they exist as moments in the story, not the story in total. They are all disparate elements that lack cohesion. For instance, there's a scene of Mario on the ceiling as an angel. It really has no tie to the story as a whole. Mario as Melvin would often talk to Mario as Melvin as Sweetback as a means to convey Melvin's frustration with the production process in general. But that Sweetback character is more used as a practical thing than it was a real issue that Melvin dealt with. It doesn't really help the movie. Also, large amounts of the story are told in voiceover. It's not like the film was all voiceover. It's just when moments needed to be truncated. There was one artistic element that I kind of liked, the faux-documentary style of character interviews. But because so many other artistic choices were being made, it lessened the impact of those documentary conversations. Those interviews would have worked, by the way, by themselves. Mario made the right decision to have real interviews with the actual peopel involved during the closing credits and that was effective, even if one of the interviewees was Bill Cosby. (We didn't know at the time! Also, Cosby, for all of his flaws, oddly had his fingers in a lot of moments of history.)
But the biggest disserve that Baadasssss! has is the fact that it doesn't sell Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song as the historical movie it was. I know that I could drop that name to a bunch of people and they wouldn't know what it was. Heck, without my history at the video store, I don't know that I could spout facts about the movie either. But the impact of this movie is neutered because of the lack of time devoted to what it did to society. In some ways, Dolemite is My Name follows a lot of the same beats that Baadasssss! does, but Dolemite is My Name is actually pretty darned fun. Dolemite is My Name knows what Dolemite's impact is on pop culture and sells it hard. It knows that it has importance, but also knows exactly where in the zeitgeist the movie falls. Even though I knew a lot of the stuff that was in Baadassss!, the film undersells the importance of Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. If anything, it undersells a lot of things because it tries to do too much at the same time. That's the movie. It wants to just talk about this time period without having much to say. At the end of the day, this was about a movie that had a hard time being made. That's not a takeaway. Come down hard on something.
But also, you have to realize that I'm overly hard on biopics. It's not a surprise. I loved Dolemite is My Name because the movie itself became special. But biopics have the burden of reflecting reality and sometimes, reality isn't as interesting as fiction. When it is, I lose my mind. But when it's something like this, it oddly made Sweet Sweetback less special. I hope that Mario Van Peebles got something personal out of this movie because he needs that. But from an outside perspective, there's a lot of smoothed over edges when this thing should be as edgy as it gets.
PG-13 for really intense action. I'm going to be writing about this a lot, but while Batman Begins is definitely a comic book movie, it's almost just a really intense Christopher Nolan movie. That means that a lot of the violence or scary parts don't necessarily come across as cartoon-y or fantasyesque and I'm not really sure why. Perhaps this movie is so cinematic, that it just seems scarier. Also, one of the villain's M.O.s is fear gas, so that makes things scary. There's also so mild language and moral debates about guns.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
Man alive, it's been a long time since I sat down and watched this movie. I forgot about how good it is. Honestly, I'm afraid to watch The Dark Knight now, because I know it's even better than this one. But I want to sit in a place in time where Batman Begins is potentially the best superhero movie of all time. I remember leaving this movie and thinking that there will never be a Superman movie as good as this and it depressed me. It all comes down to Christopher Nolan, by the way. There was a time where I don't know if I could put my finger on what made Batman Begins such a good movie. I think I have the words now.
I actually showed this movie to my Honors English IV class as they read The Count of Monte Cristo. I was really riding that fine line between "How educational is this?" and "Dear God, will my seniors please pay attention to something the last few weeks of school?" But I think I nailed it with educational value. They just did this compare and contrast presentation between Monte Cristo and Batman Begins that really took me back and made me reexamine the film from different perspectives. What I'm saying, seniors, is "Good job", I guess? I wouldn't show Dark Knight or Dark Knight Rises for that comparison, by the way. But because Batman Begins is the ur-origin story movie, a lot of it based on Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, it works so well as the story of a man stripping away his humanity to become a concept. Nolan doesn't exactly hide that theme in his movie either. Nolan verbalizes his intentions so clearly that my students were easily able cite elements of the joint themes clearly.
But because Batman Begins is so origin heavy, it almost becomes something outside of a comic book movie. It's not that Nolan is ashamed of comic books or the comic book movie. It's just that he wants to do a deep dive into a character that is both somehow universal and nearly impossible at the same time. Like with The Batman, there is a need to give the World's Greatest Detective an apocalyptic threat. But the meat of both movies comes from the notion of having to redefine oneself. Nolan, wisely, treats this as a global adventure. It's weird that we always lock Bruce Wayne in Gotham because he literally has the money to go anywhere and do anyhting. I've heard --and agreed with --so many people say that Bruce Wayne should just use his billions to renovate Gotham instead of pounding on poor people. But that's a different point. The fact that it takes a while to get to something that is proper Batman in this movie is pretty satisfying. A lot of movies forget that the heart of a good superhero story lies in the altar ego. It's why I forgive so much of Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy. It's because Peter Parker is perfect in those movies, even if Spider-Man is a little bit wooden.
I think I'll always prefer character over plot. Don't get me wrong, Batman Begins mostly nails both. The plot is tied into the character in a way that is incredibly satisfying. But I love that we don't realize that we lose the protagonist, young Bruce, fairly early in the film. One of the last lines of the movie is Rachel commenting on Bruce's mask. She claims, rightly so, that the Bruce Wayne of the end of the movie is not Bruce Wayne. Neither is Batman. He's potentially elsewhere. She's right. Nolan creates a third Wayne persona at the beginning of the story: mopey Bruce Wayne. It's a bit unfair. His parents were killed. But Nolan is almost aware of the absurdity of the Batman concept. Lots of people lose their families. Heck, I'm horrified to think of the sheer number of people who have lost their loved ones to violent crimes. (I'm sure that comic books would have us believe that all of us have lost our families to criminals post Detective Comics.) But there's this moment in the movie that is so small and yet, we see it as the death of a character. When Bruce is about to assassinate Joe Chill and Rachel scolds him, Carmine Falcone is the one who creates Batman.
God, I wish the movie just went a little further with this moment because it's one of the Batman elements that I actually really like. (Again, I'm a Superman guy.) Carmine Falcone talks to Bruce like no one else has dared talk to him. He refers to him as the Prince of Gotham and fabricates a story that Thomas Wayne begged for mercy. (It's a weird attack because Bruce was there and knew exactly how it went down. Maybe he's gaslighting him?) But Bruce walks out to Gotham Harbor and throws the gun into the water. I love how the abandonment of a gun makes Bruce Wayne disappear and institutes the birth of Batman. I mean, Nolan has regular bat imagery to stress that the form of Batman comes from Bruce's fear of that childhood trauma. But it's in the moment that the gun gets thrown in the harbor that we understand that Batman has killed young Bruce Wayne. Golly, so much I want to do, but I also know that this, to a certain extent, is a movie about restraint.
What makes Batman Begins such a powerful film is that it is fundamentally and primarily cinematic first, comic books second. The lesson that a lot of directors and studio head took from Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy is that movies have to be serious and dark. Batman Begins, in many aspects, is serious and dark. I don't necessarily call it a serious or dark movie, but I get where those descriptors come from. But it's not good because it is serious or dark. It's because it is crafted with nuance. Now, we're going to be walking a very fine line here, because we're going to empower the Snyderverse people here in a second. Both Nolan and Snyder are auteurs. I know that Nolan had his toe dipped into those early Man of Steel Snyderverse movies. But if I want to simplify an arguement before I even start one, Batman Begins is a better movie than anything Zack Snyder's made because Nolan is just a more talented director. Nolan knows how to tell a joke and balance that darkness with other stuff. It's never an experiment in cool. It's just Grade A storytelling that doesn't care that it's about Batman.
The fact is that the movie comes from a complete lack of shame. One of the most questionable choices in adaptation of comic books came from the Adam West Batman show. I don't blame the Adam West show. I kind of liked it when I was a kid. But there was the understanding that comic books are-and-always-would-be something for kids. It took a lot of movement away from Batman when stuff like Superman: The Movie came out and even more so when Tim Burton's 1989 version of Batman came out. Because studio execs would use Adam West's Batman as a touchstone, even if a director chose to not use Batman as a template, there is still the active decision to go against what West's Batman presented. But there's something that is quintessentially Christopher Nolan about Batman Begins that almost makes it a crime that Batman Begins had two sequels. I know. The Dark Knight is not just a great comic book movie; it's a great movie period. But Batman Begins is also a solid piece of cinema. It's compelling and well-filmed. Its narrative is captivating and its visuals are borderline unmatched.
But I do want to nitpick. Nothing I say will be new. There's nothing controversial to what I'm about to write. Christian Bale makes an amazing Bruce Wayne, but an absolutely silly Batman. Sure, I'm not the first person to point out the voice, but I do have to mention it. But do you know what I have a bigger problem with? I have a bigger problem with the costume. They really fix it in later Dark Knight movies, but golly the costume just looks bad. But for as much as I complain about stuff that they just didn't get right, the attention to detail in other matters is far more interesting. Can we have a conversation about how Christopher Nolan made Scarecrow stuff scary by showing elements that are only on-screen for seconds? The scene of Scarecrow's Batman hallucination are something else. It's only there for a moment. It's borderline blink-and-you'll-miss it. Yet, that's the stuff that goes into making a movie absolutely memorable.
Part of me considered only half-watching Batman Begins. When you are teaching a movie, it's not exactly watching for entertainment. But it had been long enough since I had seen this entry and I wanted to remind myself. Golly, this movie still holds up. I know that a lot of people preach either The Dark Knight or The Batman for best Batman movie. I really love Batman Begins. I know. If I went home tonight and watched The Dark Knight, I might be changing my tune. But this movie absolutely hits in all the parts that matter to me. Sure, it's weird that he has so many Daddy issues in this movie and Martha Wayne can go jump off a bridge according to this movie, but I don't even care. It's so good and I forgot how much I enjoyed it.
Rated R for ultra-violence and language. It's funny, because I remember being kind of grossed out by the violence in the first John Wick movie, but was oddly cool with the violence in this one. If anything, the violence is only ramped up. If anyone wants to talk about how movies desensitize us, use the John Wick movie as your foundation. R.
DIRECTOR: Chad Stahelski
I'd like to apologize for how bad my writing has been this week. I took a longer break than normal and binged all my viewed films so I could get a break. But then I came back and had to play catch up on the few movies I watched during that break and now just feel overwhelmed. Also, ity was my birthday and I didn't feel like devoting a bunch of mental energy to writing well. So if that Super Mario Bros. blog is hot trash, I apologize. That was an exercise in endurance rather than finesse.
So I've caught up! I went from, "I'm never watching another John Wick movie" to watching and oddly loving John Wick: Chapter 2. I was fairly insufferable for the past two weeks, by the way. I really wanted to watch Chapter 3 while part 2 was still fresh in my mind, but I didn't own it. Did I consider buying it? Yeah, I did. I stared at a $14 Blu-Ray copy at Walmart for a really long time. I also considered buying a $22 three-pack, despite the fact that I probably won't watch the movie again. I could have just watched it on Peacock, but I hated watching Chapter 2 with commercials. Then I started asking anyone I knew if they owned the movie and if I could borrow it. I then got confirmation that no one buys physical media anymore and the era of lending movies is dead. I don't even want to start the discussion on how I might be the last guy who is anti-piracy. But I waited and got it on DVD.com (Netflix's DVD at home service). But now that's dying so I hope I'm never in a John Wick 3 quandry again.
Here's my complex thoughts on John Wick 3. (Good writers tend to write "Here's..." and then just dive into their thoughts.) John Wick 3 both simultaneously pays off the promises of the cliffhanger of 2, but also kind of nerfs the entire thing as well. At the end of Chapter 2, we're given the knowledge that John has an hour to get his affairs in order before he's the target of every assassin in the world. Because this is the world of John Wick, everything is ramped up to eleven. It's almost absurd how society works in John Wick because apparently most people are assassins. (Remind me to get back to my evaluation of the nerfing in a minute because I really need to talk about this.) The John Wick movies really want you not to think too hard about how employment works in John Wick. At the end of Chapter 2, it shows everyone getting text messages saying that John is now a target. Like, it's John Wick v. the Planet. That's super cool, but absolutely bonkers. The first one is "Why?" Why did everyone decided that professional hitman is the most normal job imaginable? But the bigger question is, "Why all the secrecy."
The thing that makes John Wick kind of cool is the odd secret world beneath what we call "normal". I guess Keanu Reeves really likes movies where he takes a pill that lets him see how the world really operates. (Hey, Lawrence Fishburne is also in these movies!) But if everyone is in on the secret, why is it a secret? It seems like no one is allowed to talk about how commonplace murder is for the five people who don't murder people? Like, the secrecy makes it cool. The Continental is the crux of this story and it's this whole secret hotel that houses assassins in luxury. That's fun. But basically, every homeless person is an assassin. Little old ladies are assassins. And it seems like John Wick knows all of them or knows about all of them. It's kind of the problem with escalation stories. But again, I tend to overthink these things and this movie really wants you not to think about it too hard. But back to my original point before I started overthinking things: it both fufills its promise and kind of nerfs it at the same time.
It's not as much of a nerf as Aliens is. (I know, I'm the only person who is mad at Aliens, so just accept it.) The movie starts out exactly how I want it to start. For a long time, John Wick is just fighting everyone. Now, this blog is about my acceptance of hypocrisy. I acknowledge that I don't like when people say movies are great because a fight sequence is "sick." But these fight sequences are SICK. The reason that I excuse it? It's because John Wick never pretends that it is something elevated. I knows it wants to stick an unstoppable force against an immovable object. That's the movie. Sure, John can, for some reason, take an insane amount of damage, especially in comparison to his peers. It actually makes for really weird storytelling because John often gets out of problems by having people, rightly so, assuming that he's dead. Like, the movie is John losing a bunch of fights and then just being gone. But whatever. Back to the point. The first forty minutes of this movie is just violence and I almost couldn't believe that a movie would commit to a bit that hard. I thought the entire movie was just going to be John Wick surviving attacks until everyone is dead. Sure, it makes for a completely fluffy movie, but it's also gutsy.
But that's where the movie nerfs. Because at one point, they get John out of the situation of survival and it introduces a plot that almost seems like a cop out. This is me being a little bit nitpicky, but the end of Chapter 2 made it sound like John's contract is so dour that there was no way out except for killing everybody. But then, there's a secret meeting that you can arrange? There's a way back into good graces? No! The rules were "kill everybody." I mean, John still does kill nearly everybody. But I don't like the idea that there's a way out of this. As much as we were promised that it was John v. the World, where the movie mostly delivers, I also don't want a Get-Out-of-Jail option. I saw the moment when the filmmakers stared death in the face and then flinched. And I'll give them points. They lasted longer than a lot of other filmmakers would. But still, I had a contract, Jonathan. You are called to fulfill that contract and, ironically, this is a movie all about being called to fufill one's duty.
But they undid it pretty quickly, so I can't harp on that too much. Can I tell you what is good filmmaking because it makes me the right level of mad? Winston's betrayal is perfect. It's absolutely perfect. Sure, I don't love that John just survives falling off the Continental because that clearly would have killed any other character and it also minimizes how much John has to put up with, but whatever. But I didn't see it coming. It felt like the movie was putting this nice little bow on the story and then Winston ends up being a realistic jerk? Now, I'm sure that there's probably a faction that says that Winston is acting out of character. I can see this. After all, we're in the third movie and it seems like John and Winston are so buddy-buddy that Winston would be willing to upset the high table by not instantly killing John on the spot. But we also, over the course of these three films, understand Winston's priorities. Winston isn't devoted to the High Table. He's not devoted to those he cares about. He cares about one thing and one thing only: being in charge of the New York branch of The Continental. When he shoots John, it is a deep understanding of what his character is supposed to be. It's about priorities and manipulation. It's kind of amazing and it makes me mad. It's because we like that character so much that villainizing emotionally shifts us. It's making sure that no character is too precious to make it out of this intact.
Can we talk about Halle Berry for a second? I don't know how appropriate the following comments would be, but I feel like I want to talk about these ideas. Halle Berry seems to make choices about movies based on a lack of risk. Ironically, most of these choices tend to bite her in the butt. I don't know how John Wick: Chapter 3 affected her overall career. But Halle Berry as Sofia in Chapter 3 is the same as her character Jinx in Die Another Day. She comes into franchises as female versions of the male protagonist. They are as capable as the male protagonist. If anything, she puts the male protagonist in their places. Now, I should be rah-rah about this, but it feels like she isn't advancing the cause as just being a copy of something that already exists. Listen, She-Hulk was one of my favorite things that Marvel has done. I know. I'm the one who loved it. But She-Hulk, the show, was a commentary on the lazy writing that men did with comic books. In an attempt to get more readers, male writers would do the bare minimum amount of work to just copy the main character and change the gender words around it. This is Halle Berry's bread and butter. AND I CAN'T STOP SEEING HALLE BERRY! Listen, John Wick might be Keanu Reeves' best role because I don't see Keanu when he's there. That's beyond amazing for me. But I just see Halle Berry trying to make a buck. I want her to be a new character. I want her to have her own franchise that's risky and built from the ground up. Sure, she can be kicking butt, but at least start with something fresh. Have it be unlike anything I've seen before. Yeah, I'm writing from a place of privilege. I know that it must be incredibly difficult to sell a new concept as a Black woman. But I just don't think that Halle Berry is doing herself a service taking these roles.
Listen, I tried catching up for Chapter 4. I hear insane things about that one. Also, I wanted to watch the movie while I was still excited. Chapter 3 is really good. It's not as good or original as Chapter 2, but it is still in the right place.
Rated PG for being a little scary. Once. But that once did make me anxious for the real little ones. We took the whole family for this one because it was a Mario movie from Illumination. The only really scary part is when Luigi lands in Bowser's domain and they played up the skeleton turtles. But it's a pretty clean movie otherwise. It was nice to see a kids movie specifically made for kids. PG.
DIRECTORS: Aaron Hovarth, Michael Jelenic, and Pierre Leduc
I used my Spring Break as a time to destress from watching too many movies and writing about them. I feel really cobwebby right now and I apologize if I miss some of the nuance of the...um...Super Mario Bros. Movie. Honestly, I wish I wrote this immediately after seeing the movie because the traction that this blog woud have might be slightly better. But that's okay.
The only thing that I'm confident to write is the lessons that filmmakers should take away from a movie like The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Video game movies were the hardest things to crack for a really long time. It was a joke. Part of the issue is that it tended to be this balance between a solid story and staying true to the source material. But The Super Mario Movie is more about staying true to the tone than it is about staying close to the source material. I want to talk about this very specific difference for way too long because I might not have much to say about it. I'm going to compare Super Mario to Max Payne. Both are examples of films that stay true (for the most part) to the source material. Yet, I hope we can all stand behind the notion that Max Payne was no good and Super Mario is a delight that everyone should watch and have a good time with. I'm sure that there were a lot of frustrated studio execs looking at Max Payne and wondering what went wrong. After all, that movie absolutely was the game to the point of being borderline annoying. But Super Mario somehow succeeds?
Part of the logic lies in the fact that Max Payne, in of an in itself, is trying to be cinematic as a game. Making a pastiche of something that's already working as homage to a medium seems a bit too insular. But also, Super Mario unapologetically loves its source material without feeling devoted to making every bit of Mario lore make sense. There's something really bizarre about Mario to begin with: the story was never really supposed to make sense. Mario, for all of the things that followed in the hallowed halls of Mario canon, was a sprite that had to get to the end of each board, only to be told that the princess was in another castle. That was it. Everything that we were told about that character came from outside sources for long periods of time. It was from instruction manuals and Nintendo Power. And those stories didn't make a lick of sense. I'm sure that had to be both a burden and incredibly freeing at the same time. Here's the things we absolutely know about the Mario Brothers from Nintendo Power and the like: The Mario Brothers are plumbers from Brooklyn. For some reason, they have to save Princess Peach from Bowser / Koopa in the Mushroom Kingdom. The end. Sure, there's a couple of other details in there that have come up over the course of some games, but it's all gobbelty-gook anyways.
I do have to be critical of the movie though, right? I mean, I want to lavish praise on this movie, but I do have one really big question. Story wise: this thing is too simple. I don't mind that. This is a movie meant for kids and it is unapologetically kid friendly. Keep the story simple. But I believe that any audience, Super Mario friendly or no, could follow the basic plot, there is something slightly unapproachable about having that deep of a Mario lore surrounding the story. I mean, the movie hinges on you knowing what a Super Star does. That's the climax of the film. Bowser is holding onto a star. The stars do different things in different games, so we're all left with a series of answers. But imagine you hadn't played a Mario game. All of the sudden, our heroes are on the ropes and everything looks hopeless and all of the sudden, the two protagonists are suddenly unkillable? Any other story that pulled that card would be unforgivable. But for Mario, if you are a Mario fan, of course that's the answer you want. It's the ending to Superman: The Movie. Seconds before Superman decides to go back in time, we're reminded that he shouldn't mess with human history, but he still does. No consequences, just it happens. Listen, Superman is one of my favorite movies. I love it. But it has kind of a crummy ending. Heck, it has the same crummy ending twice if you count the Richard Donner Cut of Superman II. The same thing happens with Mario. It's such a Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card and the bad guy just basically taunts the heroes with it. It's also really weird that Bowser thinks that Peach would be impressed with that. He was already unstoppable.
But that's my only real beef. Do you know what element of the movie I'm not hearing about? Donkey Kong. I didn't think I would get behind the Donkey Kong stuff. I've never really liked the Donkey Kong games, but I can't deny the connection --albeit thin --with the Mario games. Because the filmmakers wanted to really focus on the legacy of all of Mario, down to his habit to "Kart", both as a verb and with a k, to ignore Donkey Kong would have been a mistake. It's funny, for all I'm hearing about the Mario movie with "Peaches" and how fun it is, I don't hear much about Donkey Kong. It's funny, because the heart of the movie is Mario's relationship with Donkey Kong. Sure, this is a wild misread of the film because the movie is really about brothers, especially when it comes to Luigi. But Luigi doesn't have a greater metaphor behind him. As much as I love Luigi in this movie, there's no conflict there. The conflict lies with Donkey Kong. Both of these men are expected to be heroes, despite inconsistencies with archetypes. Donkey Kong, especially considering that he's played by Seth Rogen, often fills the shoes of other Seth Rogen characters, adult man-children who could do great things if they just were given proper motivation. He's a great foil to Mario, who should not be able to survive in this deathtrap that is the Mushroom Kingdom. (Apparently, the Mushroom Kingdom isn't the planet, so much as a region of what must be a Nintendo land that is as-of-yet unnamed.)
But with Donkey Kong, Mario finds a comrade-in-arms that is interesting. I love Charlie Day and I love the fact that he plays Luigi. But he's really serving the role of the Princess in this story. God bless the creative team behind the movie for not making Peach the kidnapped woman in this story because I love the characterization of Peach that makes more sense in this film. But this also means that I think that Luigi's character is going to have to change over the course of this franchise. In this movie, Luigi has no qualms with Mario's shannanigans. (In reality, I don't think he should have qualms. Mario seems like a pretty good guy who's just trying his best.) But I think this franchise might be smart to either separate them because there is no conflict between these two guys or instill some artificial conflict in future films. (I bet it's going to be about how Mario is so in love with Peach that he doesn't have time for Luigi anymore or that Mario forgot about their dreams to open a sweet family business with his brother.) But Donkey Kong fulfills that role of the conflict between brothers. Sure, it's a found-family story, but it's a story that probably works better for a movie like this.
I mean, I'm not alone in saying that The Super Mario Bros. Movie works on a level that Illumination keeps presenting. Yeah, there's some real Illumination stuff happening in the movie. But honestly, it's a really smart IP licensing. Illumination has never been necessarily the most high brow animation studio. But they also know how to distill something down to the most fun version of itself. If Super Mario had this massive history over it, coupled with a really bad live action movie in the past and a hurdle of being another "video game movie", then passing the ball to Illumination was the smart move. It's got some goofy music cues with pop culture, but the film really works and I loved it.
R and we should be happy that it stopped there. I mean, the title of the movie is X, which is a horror movie surrounding the creation of a pornographic movie. Yeah, there's a lot of objectionable content here. Besides the sexuality, nudity, , sexual assault, language, and drugs, you can add violence, gore, scares, and blasphemy. It's got everything.
DIRECTOR: Ti West
I wasn't going to watch it. From the trailer alone, I thought that I didn't need this in my life. If we were to diagnose me and characterize me, you'll now realize how much of a role that FOMO plays in my life. Honestly, I only heard good things about this movie. I can see why people are kind of obsessed. But all that being said, I can say that I'm a bit tired of a lot of horror. If you want everything shocking and things that are upsetting per A24, that's great. In fact, I'll even say that X is more fun than most A24 movies. But in terms of actually delivering something that is satisfying, I think I'm just a tired old man who probably keeps his serial killer old lady wife in a farmhouse.
It's not that I don't have anything to say. I do. If anything, X is a celebration of the low budget cinema of the '70s. Is there a pornographic element those films, sure. As someone who tends not to endorse such films, it didn't really hit that button for me. But I'm talking more about the can-do attitude of ambitious filmmakers in the '70s. X has a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe that is super fun. I don't know what it was about the horror movies of the '70s. Maybe the fact that no one really seemed like a celebrity. (Now I have to pretend that Jenna Ortega didn't just blow up in the past twelve months.) There's something very garage rock about the whole thing and I think that X captures that vibe. It's the cinematography. It's the acting. It's funny, because there's a lot of work that goes into X to make the movie look cheap while we're all wholeheartedly aware that there's nothing cheap about it. This has to come from Ti West. I don't know much about Ti West. The reason I know the name comes from the face that there are now three movies in this series (despite the fact that the movie has a 2022 release date). But I've seen House of the Devil and I realize that West's big thing is his attention to detail, especially when it comes to pastiche.
But, per usual, I want to explore the morality of X. X has a message and I'm kind of giddy to say that it's a bit more complicated than what my gut is going with. From the start of the movie, we meet the gang of pornographers. The majority of the protagonists are there for fame and fortune. They have a lovable-conmen vibe to them. We know that they are not naturally gifted with success. From an outside perspective, both because we have the dramatic irony of knowing that this is a horror movie and the fact that this archetype rarely ends up with pennies from heaven, there's an understanding that this movie is going to go poorly. There are two in the van who consider themselves to be artists: the director and his girlfriend, the church mouse. I do love that so many of these characters fit into archetypes so readily because it makes analysis so much easier. Anyway, like many of the morality slashers that I grew up on, we acknowledge that, because they are morally grey, the film allows them to be victims of this mass murder. It's really screwed up that we're wired this way when it comes to storytelling, but West kind of wants to point that out. From all perspectives, the Church Mouse should be the Final Girl of the movie. After all, she's Jenna Ortega (admittedly, not of Jenna Ortega fame yet). Because she's the prudish outsider, it only makes sense that she's going to escape the carnage that occurs at the farm.
But the film refuses to stay on the Church Mouse. Maxine quickly grabs the attention of the camera. She's the more shy of the two porn stars, which seemingly gives her a foot in both worlds. She's somehow distanced from the audience because of her profession, but also so shy that she can observe the world from the same perspective of the audience. Bobby-Lynne is too cartoonish to be our protagonist. Her loud disposition is there for both comic relief and for sex appeal, which doesn't necessarily make for a well-rounded heroine. This is where West pushes archetypes even further becacuse Maxine isn't one person either. While Maxine sober is the blank slate to relate to the audience, her drug use almost rockets her into another personality. Maxine on drugs is haunting, eventually leading to the blurring of lines of heroine to potentially even worse villain than Pearl and Howard. Maxine's true personality is the coke-addled one, by the way. That's what the movie feeds us. So we're left with almost no real everyman because even the Church Mouse abandons her moral code for the thrill of stardom.
This is where things get complex. To a certain extent, Ti West is advocating for the "whatever makes you happy" / judgement-free lifestyle of the filmmakers. As kind of gross as Wayne gets, he's not wholly wrong. All of the filmmakers seem genuinely pretty happy. They have a devil may care attitude that real life would absolutely destroy. But the Church Mouse realizes that she's the most upset part of the group. Now, West uses these Easy Riders to contrast the view of the conservative right. Throughout the piece, this deep south farmhouse is being peppered a televangelist. There's something automatically gross about the televangelist. If I wrote it out right here, I'd come across as bigoted, but he's the gloom-and-doom, fire-and-brimstone type. The televangelist's congregation is Pearl and Howard. They're the villains of the piece. They're the ones who chop up kids for having a good time and that's what most movies leave us at. But Pearl is somehow more complex than all that. Pearl and Howard do seem to believe the words of the preacher, but Pearl holds more in common with the filmmakers than she does with the religious right.
The climax of the film almost leaves us with the message that everyone's the same: pornographers and preachers. Howard has his heart attack after killing the Church Mouse. It comes down to Pearl and Maxine, both played by Mia Goth. This is where the double-casting kind of plays a loop with the brain. Maxine's entire philosophy is to take the life she deserves, which is echoed from the preacher's mouth. It isn't Pearl who is repeating the words of the preacher. West reveals that Maxine is the wayward daughter of the preacher on TV, a point that almost has no meaning to me. I don't think this moment needs to happen. But I do love how think the line between holy roller and condemned sinner actually is. It's when Maxine takes her role as Final Girl to a new level where we realize that Maxine's drug fueled survival mechanism makes her the ultimate predator. Time has repeated itself (from what I'm assuming, these ideas will be cemented in Pearl) and Maxine has become the new Pearl (something that I'm sure that MaXXXine will cover.)
But, I do think that there's a little bit of messiness there. I like the movie a lot and I'm glad that West makes the film more challenging than a standard slasher film. But I don't know if the double casting is absolutely necessary. There's something very fake about Pearl and Howard that comes across as somehow distancing. For a long time in the movie, we don't get any shots of Howard and Pearl. Part of that is to save for later in the movie when the two go on a rampage. But the other element is that it isn't convincing. There might be something actually scarier with casting actual old people. The movie might be missing one of the more important elements because I just kept seeing behind the camera for scenes with Howard and Pearl.
But do you know what I like most about the movie? There's something very meta about the film itself. I think there is no greater comment on the rise of A24 as a film studio, especially when it comes to horror films, than X. RJ, the director, is out there to prove his craft. He knows that what he's making is pornographic, thus hiding in the lowest escelons of pop culture. If genre storytelling is low-art, then pornography is even lower than that. But RJ's entire purpose for being the direct of this movie is to create a movie that even the greatest naysayer can stand behind. How on the nose is that for A24? It was only this year that A24 really cracked open and dominated the Academy Awards. As gorgeous as many of their other genre films have been, they've largely gone ignored by the cinematic canon. Somehow, horror seems like lesser movies. And the point of all of the goings-on in X are about making a movie that people can't ignore, despite the subject matter. Now, I find it funny that X really leans hard into cheap slasher territory for a lot of the movie. In an attempt to make it come out of the '70s, some of the artsier techniques that we see in things like Midsommar or The Witch aren't seen in this movie.
But what greater comment on genre storytelling is there than to compare horror movies to pornography? I have that emotional and logical distance between the two. But horror, like pornography, to a certain extent ties to those baser instincts of society. The crazy thing is that I can justify watching a horror movie in my brain. It, like much of entertainment, is meant to be intentionally false. It's that feeling of adrenaline that is undeserved. But the entire movie has the victims of these attacks somewhat sympathetic. Yeah, again, Wayne is a jerk. But every one of the victims of this movie tends to be an overall good person. Ironically, the most unsympathetic character in the movie is church mouse, who takes out her own insecurities on Maxine immediately after Maxine saves her life from Howard. It's got some legs, this analysis stuff.
Rated R for good ol' ultraviolence and language. Like, it's the sheer body count. It's not like these movies are all that gory. Okay, so one guy gets both kneecaps shot out before being immediately killed. Sure. Really, the biggest problem I have with the John Wick movies is the comfort with guns that these films show off. Then there's the suicide sequence. It's graphic and there's some distant nudity to it. But if you can get past a grotesque amount of gunplay, then these movies end up being mostly fine. R.
DIRECTOR: Chad Stahelski
Of course a guy named "Chad" made these movies. Okay, I don't think I've 180'ed on a franchise as quickly as I had between John Wick and John Wick: Chapter 2. I question everything about my sense of taste. Here's the deal: I'm really susceptible to hype. I know my own flaws and one of those flaws is a deep respect for FOMO. It's not healthy. Like John Wick, I thought I was going to temporarily retire and lead a quiet life. In my case, it was free of writing movie blogs until I caught up on all my TV. But then, some reviews said that John Wick: Chapter 4 might not only be the best John Wick movie, but it might be one of the greatest action movies of all time. Them's fighting words, so I decided to play a little bit of catch up.
Now, be aware, I was going into John Wick: Chapter 2 absolutely ready to hate it. I really didn't like the first movie. I can't say I remember most of the first movie outside of the notion that it took itself too seriously, a comment that I can probably hold true for its sequel as well. But it seemed like the violence got boring at one point. So what made Chapter 2 something that I not only tolerated, but would hestitantly recommend? (I say "hesitantly" because I have a snobby reputation to uphold.) All of that comes down to is scope and promises fulfilled. The first movie lives in this world where John Wick is the Boogeyman. It is formulated in a reverse horror movie. Everyone is coming after Freddy before Freddy can get them. I don't hate that. But everyone in the first movie is kind of an idiot. These gangsters who kidnapped John's dog are asking for that sweet death that comes from pissing off the wrong guy. Chapter 2 definitely has elements of that. But we were never really fearing for the Boogeyman. This is a guy who outclassed every one of his enemies. Chapter 2 is the movie that delivers on the promise of a bigger world that was teased in the first one.
The funny thing is that I'm completely aware that each movie is just setting up the following film. The way that John Wick tee'd up Chapter 2 is what Chapter 2 does for Chapter 3. Everything is about the promise. We need to see the stories of John Wick are true. But I like that Chapter 2 is embracing that, for once, bigger actually is better. John's both not going against stupid gangsters, but he's going against his peers. There's this wide world where John Wick is at the top of his game, but the top of his game is also a place that is difficult to maintain. Somehow, the film makes all of these assassins both just cannon fodder and somehow makes them all human. There is a weariness that comes with being an assassin in the John Wick universe. That's the conceit for the main character, sure. That's why we sympathize with him, because he was out. But even more so, characters like Cassian are also tired of this game. They just don't necessarily have the motivation to make the same mistakes that John did. Cassian is fundamentally human. He sees John, a guy that he knows from the office. He knows that John isn't supposed to be there. It's this moment, for about a beat, where Cassian just hates the most Monday day that he's ever been thrown into.
It's that stuff. Cassian knows the score. He knows that John isn't doing this as John, but it doesn't matter. There's almost no discussion of the matter. Santino talks to John. It makes him the ur-villain of the piece. But Cassian, there's this respect and almost avatar element to him. He's watching the movie, like us. He knows that Santino is the bad guy of the piece, hiring the hit on his sister. But he also knows that John is the one who caused Gianna's death. We're all sitting on the outside of this story, screaming at Cassian to go after Santino, not John. But we also get that this world doesn't work that way. It also gives Keanu Reeves something real to play besides rage. (I'm having the epiphany about why I like this movie.) John Wick was almost completely defined by sheer rage in the first movie. It's The Punisher, which is only a tired trope to me. But seeing John in this dispassionate place. It's a cool dynamic that we don't see in many worlds. There's something almost akin to being a lawyer in the world of John Wick's assassinverse. You can fight someone tooth and nail who causes you misery, but that doesn't mean that there isn't a bond there. When this is over, everything may be fine. John giving Cassian the option makes him such a cooler character.
But a lot of this goodness comes from the scope of the whole piece. I know. I don't even know if I'll have enough to say about this to justify a paragraph, but I'm sure as heck going to try. The first movie was around John's house. John fighting the Russian mob felt like the worst of Lionsgate film. It's cheap and dirty and I suppose that I should be preaching that movie. But taking John out of his small shell makes the movie fascinating. I don't think a movie has ever done a job of pulling the camera back better than John Wick: Chapter 2 does. I know, it's Italy for a lot of it. That's fine. But even when it's not Italy, the world just seems like it's been built up more. I can't believe I'm going to defend this moment because I should absolutely hate this "get-out-of-jail-free" moment, but the inner working of the homelessness network sells so much of the film. I like the idea that things aren't exactly what they seem. I mean, John Wick in general takes it to the absurd. But maybe because the franchise embraces its own absurdities that it becomes a good time. Sure, it's silly that every third person is probably a trained assassin, but John Wick kind of needs that to survive.
Can I say something? John Wick, as a franchise, doesn't have a moral character. I'm saying this so I have a ton to write about, but we'll see how I'm actualy feeling at the end of seven minutes. That's when my lunch officially starts. John is the main character and probably the closest thing we have to a moral character in this story. But we only want John to be the hero of the story because the camera is focused on him and he's really good at killing other bad guys. But this movie is just a bad guy fight. John, despite the fact that we're supposed to be rooting for him, is a guy who made some really dumb immoral decisions. Santino, who admittedly sucks, was always forthright with his intentions. I don't quite get how John getting back in the game made it okay. Santino just says that moment confidently, so I believe it. But beyond that, John sold other people's lives for a chance at happiness with his wife. Yes, it's very sad that he lost his wife, someone who seems to be morally fine. But John isn't killing anyone for a greater good. Everything about this is about survival and the joy of knowing that he took out the people who set him up.
I'm enjoying the heck out of Monday morning quarterbacking, but John, frustrated and hating Santino for sending all those guys after him and burning down John's house, goes after Santino after he kills Gianna. He doesn't want to kill Gianna and he's made that quite clear. But John kills Santino inside the Continental. (If you keep repeating that a rule is sacred, you have to break that rule. That's why I'm putting money down that we'll eventually see The Armorer's face in The Mandalorian.) The notion is that John knows that his life is forfeit. After all, that seven million dollar bounty isn't going away, regardless of Santino's mortality. By shooting Santino in the Continental, he's doing something ultimately selfish. Yes, everyone agrees that Santino on the board (very confusing what that inner circle actually does) is a bad idea. He also sees the immorality in killing Gianna. Part of the message of the story "The way things done isn't always the right way." But Gianna should be alive. It seems like John's plan was always to kill Santino after Gianna was dead. Why not just kill Santino immediately? He blew up his house.
The answer, of course, is character. The character has a very specific moral code and it doesn't make a lick to anyone outside of Klingons. I think that there's a version of reality where honor takes precidence over everything. Okay, John decides to fulfill Santino's marker, despite the fact that Santino blew up his house. (There's also a weird logic that Santino blew up John's house so that he would fulfill the marker, so I'm even more aware of the disparity between reality and how things work around John Wick.) I know, I get all flustered that John fulfills the contract before breaking the rules of the Continental. And I know that his disregard of code comes from the fact that he has a seven million dollar bounty on his head (a number I thought would be infinitesimal in the JohnWickiverse.) Part of me wants to say that shift from a sense of honor and duty to sheer anger is what we call a character arc. But the movie really telegraphs that John is going to go after Santino immediately after killing Gianna. I am arguing cross points, because it is in the fact that Santino tries assassinating John immediately after the contract is fulfilled that gets everything going for John's abandonment of the samurai code.
Can I tell you how happy I am that the movie completely abandons the kidnapped dog / missing car bit? Sure, I suppose the blowing up of the house with all of his wife's stuff is a jumping off point. But the movie starts with John taking back his car and killing the last of the gangsters. (Note: I'm really glad that we got this pre-credits sequence because it reminded me where we left John at the end of John Wick. Or if that's not where he was left off, then whatever. It put me in the right headspace.) But there was a moment where I thought that the movie was going to be about the car. There's something very tongue-in-cheek about mass murder for silly reasons. I mean, there's a reason that Keanu was made. It's just that we needed more. I get that the events of the first movie are a jumping off point. We get the rules of John Wick in the first movie. We know what he will and won't do. Like the victims in a horror movie, the victims of John Wick have poked the bear so many times that there is this odd sense of false equivalency to what John does. But it also gives us a sense that we should be cheering for bloodshed. It makes me wonder how we are wired, now that I think about it. I mean, we see these horror movies, especially ones where unstoppable forces find new and awful ways to dispatch people and we cheer. I'm not even pointing at a segment of society. There's times that I've giggled from creative death. But I think it comes from that sense of false equivalency. I do think that the house exploding gave John nothing to return to, making his bloodbath somehow justified?
Either way, I'm super excited that I gave John Wick another chance. Maybe I'm just coming around to this kind of filmmaking. I mean, between liking Nobody and John Wick: Chapter 2, there might be hope that I could start getting into these kinds of movies. Sure, I wish they were just a little bit more silly. Maybe a nod to the camera or something. But in terms of fun and world-building, I don't know how John Wick kind of garnered my respect. But I'll tell you what? I'm genuinely psyched for John Wick: Chapter 3.
Not rated, but the same thing that happens in the remake happens in this one. He visits a strip joint at one point. While we don't see any nudity, we definitely get his exaggerated expression. The protagonist is also more suicidal in this version of the story, making his drinking a part of the desire to kill himself. Still, not rated.
DIRECTOR: Akira Kurosawa
God really wants me to write about this movie today. I just posted the remake of this film Living the day I write this, so that's gotta be some level of kismet. Not very impressive kismet, mind you. I mean, I only have ten movies in the chamber and that was one of them. Still, I would like to point out that I don't feel like writing whatsoever. I'm going to use that to color my blog about this movie because I did love it. But that's kind of the point of the movie, isn't it? Sometimes, we do things out of love and sometimes we forget why we do things. Also, capitalism is a bear and will destory a person.
I really wanted to have seen Ikiru before I wrote about Living. For the whole breakdown of how I realized that Living was a remake far too late, feel free to read my other blog. Man alive, I love Kurosawa. I don't want to go into which movie I necessarily liked more. I can confidently say that Ikiru is masterfully made and a better movie. I'm more wondering which I'll watch more. I mean, I own them both at this point. I should figure out which one I want to see more. Living is short; way shorter than this. That's such a plus for me in terms of entertainment value and sharing it with others. But Ikiru is simultaneously the same story, yet filled with so much more pathos that I can't help but consider it the superior product. I don't know how Kurosawa added a half-hour to an hour to the original story without hitting any more beats. If anything he hits fewer beats than Living, yet it feels like every minute is swallowed up by story. It mostly comes from the notion that Kurosawa lets us feel scenes to their emotional conclusions.
It's really weird, though, certain elements of the original. Living really rides into the fact that this is a feel good movie. Considering that I like the movie, it handles the feel-goodery pretty well. But Ikiru, as touching as the movie is, ends up still kind of bleak. A lot of that comes from the characterization of Toyo. In Living, the Toyo avatar is forthright with the protagonist. She tells him in no uncertain terms that this is not a romantic relationship and Williams never even considers that it would be a relationship. That probably stems out of the notion that the concept that Watanabe seems genuninely lonely compared to Williams. There is a little bit of that notion in the air. But I kind of find it fascinating that both Japanese business culture and British business culture have variations on the same norms. It's still thought that there are creepy old men who would bring shame on their homes, thus needing to have the conversation. But their reactions say a lot about the role of mortality. Miss Harris, the Toyo of Living, actually displays an incredible amount of empathy for the dying Williams. Yet, the actual Toyo harbors no hints of sympathy to a man who is dying. Oddly enough, it kind of disgusts her. She flees when he confesses his true reasons for being around her.
Now, this should be a red flag moment. After all, from Toyo's perspective, the alternative to Watanabe dying is that he's a sad old man who has a crush on a girl half his age. (Oddly enough, since movies like Harold and Maude, my kneejerk reaction to this kind of romance has kind of blunted.) But she didn't want him to be an old man with a crush on a young girl. All of this kind of means that Toyo liked the attention that Watanabe lavished on her, both through gifts and attention, but didn't want any of the follow-through that she clearly expected him to want. But this also ties into the whole notion of hiding the truth from the elderly. I forget the movie right now that was a big deal a could of years ago...The Farewell! This is potentially the biggest jump from the Western adaptation of Living that couldn't translate in England. While Williams also keeps his illness a secret, it's more a matter of feeling like a burden on his family. But in the Japanese version, there's a far darker element.
One of the key parts of the story is that no one tells Watanabe that he actually has stomach cancer. If it wasn't for the gossip that he recieves in the waiting room, Watanabe would be living out the kind of gross (and I'm going to get a little judgey here) lying that happens to the dying. I'm basing so much off of the The Farewell, but apparently it is tradition in a lot of Asian cultures to lie to the dying. I suppose there's something about lacking honor in weakness (man, I'm swinging for the fences here) or the fact that people might not be able to enjoy the end of life knowing that there is death on the horizon. But if that's the case, Ikiru is a movie based on fighting words. It's openly against this attitude. Fundamentally, the message of the story is that it is only when facing our own mortality, that we truly begin life.
I mean, Kurosawa doesn't hide from the despair that comes with facing death. Watanabe faces a dark night of the soul. Like society expects him to, he becomes borderline suicidal with the night at the carnival. But his mentor through death is someone who defines what it means to live. Now, this character is not a perfect character. There's some pretty gross stuff about this guy. Sure, he's a novelist. Gross, right? Just kidding. I envy this man. But the novelist, as progressive as he is about death compared to Japanese culture, is still a dude who views living as something that's for the flesh. He brings Watanabe fleeting joy. It's the joy that Watanabe wants, in a way. The novelist pays for Watanabe's night out, which is odd because I think he's secretly giving Watanabe insight into what it means to be altruistic. But it's because he's --as Arthur Miller would put it --"blowing the guy to a big meal". It's a one off versus a way of life.
I have to view Kurosawa as an optimist. I mean, I just have to. I love his morality movies so much that he has to view the best in humanity. But there's something really depressing about the message of the movie the more you think about it. Watanabe becomes a better person on his death bed. That's cool. The notion that one can't view one's legacy until faced with death is depressing, but human. But it's the next level that kind of bothers me. It's the idea that Watanabe was meant to inspire the next generation of workers to continue what he has started. It's not like Kurosawa is hiding this message. It's straight up part of the dialogue. But these characters are incapable of actually making lasting change. Humanity is almost meant to wait until the final moments to become better people. It's almost this notion of moral procrastination. I would say that there's hope with the youth. There is one man who stands up to the new district chief (or whatever that title is), but he sits back down. If I take that to its logical conclusion, the idea is that he will never have the backbone to be different than the older generation.
But maybe that's why I like Kurosawa! I'm riding this train all the way to the station. I do think that Kurosawa views humanity through rose-colored glasses. But he doesn't make it easy. There's optmistic and then there's saccarine. I wouldn't like it necessarily if Kurosawa claimed it was going to be easy. It takes a man dying to build a tomb for himself, but one that would take care of others. It's a touching story and I completely dig that I've seen both versions now.
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.