The audio is much better on our podcast discussing 2 Fast 2 Furious. We still have work to do, but it is coming along. Feel free to comment in the link below.
Episode 2: Literally 2 Fast 2 Furious
Maybe I'm asking for micromanagement at this point. I don't like the idea that 2 Fast 2 Furious is PG-13 as is Fantastic Beasts. That's weird.
DIRECTOR: John Singleton
See? This is what I was afraid of. I knew that watching The Fast and the Furious franchise was going to be tough, but the first movie tricked me! That's not fair! The first movie was watchable! 2 Fast 2 Furious was so bad. Like, if the entire franchise was thoroughly awful, I could have prepped by hate watching the whole thing. But I at least expected the movies to be quasi entertaining while being awful. When I watch RiffTrax or Mystery Science Theater 3000, there's a tipping point with how bad the movie can get before it gets to be hard to watch. This movie got really close to that.
Probably the worst thing I can say about an action movie that has a moderate amount of action is that the movie is plain boring. The Fast and the Furious didn't really have that problem. Again, and I can't state this enough, The Fast and the Furious is not a good movie. But it understood some fundamentals about action and pacing. This movie starts off with another street race (big surprise) and then this is where the movie establishes that it doesn't really have the chops as the first film. The one thing that the first movie really got right was the insistence on practical stunts and effects. This was a slight CG nightmare from 2003. 2003 wasn't a pretty time for CG special effects. There's aren't heinous, but they are very noticable. In this one moment, when I saw a cropped and pasted Paul Walker head inside of a digital race car, I could feel the sadness leak into my soul. I didn't care. I didn't care about Bond in Die Another Day for the same reason. No one was really doing these stunts. I know that I bemoaned that the races weren't that impressive because it was straight line racing where a guy had to push a button. But there was a real car and there was a real button. This movie starts off with a sequence that has insane car stunts that could never be done because no one had actually done them. These cars are all over the road, doing tricks and insane things that just pass plausibility. I don't watch this franchise for its attention to accuracy, but I need some suspension of disbelief.
I also have to wag my finger at something even more important. This movie might present the biggest emotional cop out imaginable. (I didn't mean the pun and I'm not going to explain it any further. I feel like a bad person.) The first film set up a stinger for Vin Diesel's Dom to be hiding out in Mexico and the short attached to the first movie showed Brian on the run from the police, facing consequences for his actions. I was really ready for this cool, albeit probably superficial, look at a man looking at the choices he made with his life while fleeing the police. Think of the opportunities! What does the movie do? Completely ignore the stakes that the first film set up and do a really bad rehash of the first film. They made Brian work undercover for the police all over again, this time under marginally different circumstances. He teams up with Tyrese Gibson's Rome, who is meant to serve as a poor substitute for Vin Diesel. I may mention this later, but I really think that 2003 might have been one of those writers' strike years. This movie is a really bad rehash of the first film, only throwing Brian into the crime element all the harder. I hate this plot so much. Besides missing the pathos that should be explored, the reality of the situation is absurd. There is no real threat of permanent incarceration, a lifeline, or an emergency freeing Brian from his crimes. Rather, immediately after capture, he is thrown back into another case, not forgiven, but who cares? They brought back the guy from the first movie and they have no problem with each other. Brian betrayed everyone and everything he knew, but there were no repercussions. Why? Was the movie that hard to make?
Let's go deeper into lazy storytelling. The first movie was an extreme version of the real world. Cops were pretty incompetent and action sequences were possible. You know? Action movie logic. Then movie two invented a science fiction magic car gun. I'm not even going to bold spoilers because I want you to avoid this movie. The police have this weird claw gun that manages to EMP a car pretty instantly. There are so many ways to keep the world of The Fast and the Furious kind of related to the reality it established. But there was a lazy writer who said "Magic Science Car Harpoon" and everyone weirdly got cool with that notion. Were spike strips ever discussed? Those stop a car pretty quickly. I actually started booing the screen when the harpoon showed up later in the movie because they didn't really follow their own rules. (I know that defenders for this movie will have an apology for why the magic harpoon doesn't work the same way. All three contact points weren't synced correctly. Shut up. Okay, don't shut up. But we can all admit that was some malarky.) But I did "boo" pretty hard. I got mad.
I mentioned that there had to be a writers' strike. I'm sure I could Google this. But that is the only explanation for the fact that nothing seemed like it was written correctly. There were so many moments in the movie where I knew that Singleton wanted me to laugh, but there was nothing really funny in the movie. So all of the movie is dependent on Tyrese Gibson confidently selling this absurd character without an actual punchline. Like, I can't fault Gibson for anything in this movie. The script was garbage and there is nothing to work with, so he does the best he can with a nothing situation. Yet this movie managed to grab Eva Mendes and Ludacris! That very casting is ludicrous! (You are welcome.) How did this movie manage to pull so much. I have to wonder about the box office return of the first one and everyone wanted to get into the sequel in the hopes that the franchise would take off like it did.
I don't really know what this story was about. I knew that there was a bad guy and he was a bad guy because he was rich, looked slimy, and had evil music over his sequences. But the movie is once again about generic tropes. I know that John Singleton is a famous director. He directed Boyz in the Hood, so he has to have talent. Why would he attach himself to such a crummy property. Was Universal in such a rush to release this movie. I know that the sequel on a lot of franchises is often the worst because the studio usually have to strike while the iron is hot. But this is a movie of sheer laziness. Every time the movie ran into a problem, it ignored the problem. Brian straight up gets some thugs murdered and doesn't even blink an eye. In fact, he smiles. How does the movie not address that he has clearly become a monster? This is the guy who revealed his identity and previous life for a guy who was making his life a living hell before. Why is he pancaking strangers and why is he excited about it? I can't stand the laziness of this movie, yet I set a goal to watch the rest of this franchise. This is the movie that makes me never want to open the box set again. I wish that I believed that the studio would see this as a wake up call, but I have a feeling that Tokyo Drift is going to try to squeeze water out of that stone one more time.
I can do this. I can do this. I've watched bad movies before. Regardless, I go into more detail on the podcast. Ideally, that will be out soon. I'll link it on this page.
PG-13. Okay, sure. Why not?
DIRECTOR: David Yates
So this is what it feels like! This is the curse of the passionate nerd. (AKA Harry Potter and the Curse of the Passionate Nerd.) I have now seen both sides of the puzzle and I totally sympathize now. As a passionate nerd, I often try forcing my fandoms on other people. I do this all the time. I now feel bad for my wife and the fact that she regularly is the target of many of my nerd rages. I've tried getting so many people addicted to Doctor Who that my wife has referred to me as the John the Baptist of that show. I regularly try getting my wife into comics and I'm the guy who whispers about Easter eggs in Marvel movies. By the bye, I'm sorry about that. I just get really excited. The thing is...I never got into Harry Potter. It's not like I've avoided Harry Potter. I've read all of the main books and I've seen all of the movies once. I gave it its fair shake. It just never took hold of me. Considering that Harry Potter fans are really giving Star Wars fans a run for their money, for once I'm on the outside of a nerd culture looking in and not quite getting it. Maybe that's so Ravenclaw of me, but I will never get Hufflepuff memes. I need to establish this clearly: I love Harry Potter fans and the fandom. I just don't like Harry Potter. Continue liking what you like. You are one of the nicer fandoms out there.
As such, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a bit of a burden on me. It looked so cool. Setting it in F. Scott Fitzgerald's America and then having wizards and stuff show up? My goodness, I thought I was going to be a convert. But this movie had the problem of being too inside baseball. This movie was a movie for the nerds. And everyone's a nerd about this stuff, so I guess I really don't get it. But there were so many references to stuff I didn't get. Like, these were references inside of references. This movie was for people who read the footnotes and cross-reference stuff. I suppose I have to go into spoilers. The big reveal at the end about Colin Farrell's character. There was a moment where -I swear-David Yates put in a pause for the collective audience of Harry Potter to gasp and all I could think was, "Who's that guy?" Yeah, they dropped his name a few times in the movie, but it all seemed like typical villain setup. Nothing that blew my mind when they revealed who was really behind everything. I Wiki'd that character once the movie was over (Thanks, thorough Harry Potter nerds for your attention to detail) and, sure enough, he has been teased throughout the series. I read up on him and his character has gotten shout outs in multiple books and films. I didn't know this! It's like Thanos in all of the Marvel movies. I know who Thanos is! He's a big deal! So is Johnny Depp, apparently. (Okay, I know that the real Johnny Depp is a big deal. He made Australia mad one time or something.)
This might also be one of those plots that doesn't make a lick of sense. Stuff was happening and there is a ton of happenstance. I will give Rowling props when it came to creating Voldemort. Voldemort was a proper baddie. He had a very clear motivation and a straightforward agenda. Get borned and kill all the good wizards. Pretty standard bad guy fare. I have no idea what Grindelwald really wants. Is he Magneto? I feel like he's Magneto. But I don't see how what he does really Magnetos folks. Perhaps that's what happens when a movie tries overcomplicating the plot. On paper, it is brilliant. No one really sees it coming and it is treating its audience with respect. But when a plot becomes too overcomplicated --and this has happened in the franchise before with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire --it becomes completely unbelievable. Fantastic Beasts has the problem with A) No one could have foreseen the events of the plot playing out the way they did and B) any moment in the plot could have undone the events of the bad guy's plot. Keep in mind, I don't really get all the Harry Potter rules, but the storytelling is just super clunky. A lot of blockbuster films have these problems because the plot needs to be padded out. As part of that, Newt Scamander has only a remote interest in the main plot, which makes it a little hard to ignore the coincidences that constantly rope him back into the main conflict. Yes, it makes the character innocent and morally pure, but the odds that this character stopped this very intense plot to Magneto folks kind of silly.
I'm not sure what I feel about the preachiness in this movie. I really liked Ezra Miller's portrayal of Paul Dano in There Will Be Blood, but the allegory was way too overt for my liking. I like the idea that this world exists in the Harry Potter universe. Religious zealots would be a thing and they might even be louder than in our actual reality. I know from people constantly snapshotting J.K. Rowling's Twitter account that she's quite the champion of the progressive one-liner. I actually like quite a bit of what she writes, but there doesn't seem to be any moral gray area for her. She feels what she's doing is right and everyone else seems very portrayed as heartless psychopaths. That's where I have a problem with her characters who are portrayed as religious. She makes the head of the household so incredibly evil and unforgiving that I can't help but roll my eyes. As much as I like Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor because he's fun, I really applaud Clancy Brown's Lex Luthor because he feels morally justified in many of the things he does for good reason. I like the villains who have seen a moral gray area and are trying their best to deal with it versus "I'm wholly unlikable the entire time." The concept there is very cool. The execution makes the bad guys a little cartoony.
David Yates, during the height of Steven Moffat's reign over Doctor Who, announced that he was going to make a Doctor Who film. Steven Moffat said "Not on my watch," and the issue fizzled away. Yates clearly was influenced by Doctor Who because Newt Scamander / Eddie Redmayne is overly knocking off the Eleventh Doctor / Matt Smith. I love the idea behind Newt Scamander. He's passionate about seeing new things that are wonderful beyond the imagination. He has a means of transportation that is bigger on the inside filled with wonders, yet he has this sadness behind the eyes. Even the outfit and hair scream Matt Smith and I kind of wonder what's up with that. I stand by it, Newt is a cool cat. But there is something cheap about the whole thing. Redmayne plays the part brilliantly, but I don't see that much fleshed out in the character. He is joyful and sad, but I don't know why he's sad. I don't want to chalk it up to supernatural environmentalism, because I'm not the biggest Ferngully fan. It is the first movie and there's probably going to be some character development with him, but I didn't understand many of the choices that were going on. I do love his companion, though. Tying a muggle / No-Mag to the story of wizards gives me something to relate to. He's probably the funniest part of the movie, which weirdly needs a bit of comic relief despite the subject matter. Jacob Kowalski had just the right level of fun innocence in this world of the bizarre to make the story really worth watching. I was more tied to his tertiary plotline than I was for the actual Harry Potter world. I wanted him to get his bakery. I wanted him to explore the bizarre and see more things that would blow his mind. That stuff was super fun. They have to bring him back, right? Like, they have to. Geez, look at me already planning to see the sequel to a movie I didn't even like that much.
I'm glad this movie exists. I really want this movie to be successful and I want people to get behind it. I just don't really love Harry Potter, so I'm not going to love the spin-off. It's not the worst in the franchise, but it is also far from the best. But I do love me a good Jazz Age New York.
Kids, "R" stands for "Ridiculous Rebellion." This movie has a lot of ridiculous rebellion.
DIRECTOR: Alex Cox
I'm going to lose friends over this one. I know one person who holds this movie so close to his heart and I'm worried that anything shy of a glowing review (pun intended) might come across as flippant. That's the thing about cult movies: they are scratching an itch that the general population doesn't get. I love many many cult movies. But I also find cult movies to be the hardest to recommend to people. The movies are so niche that it would almost be disappointing or wildly impressive if the masses accepted it. I don't know if a movie gets more cult than Repo Man.
I watched this movie over two weeks ago. Yes, it has been a very busy two weeks, which partially excuses me from writing this review. But there was something willful in my lack of writing when it came to this movie. I was ashamed because I really just didn't get it. When I was in college, I often dismissed things I read because I didn't get it and I regret this attitude. If there's one thing that I try passing onto my students is to not dismiss art because you don't necessarily get it. That is more reflective on the viewer than it is on the work. So I read up on the movie after I watched it. I'm probably not the best to formally critique the movie, but I'm going to try my best. One day, I may come around. I'm open to watching it again and really digesting it in another light, but I think this might fall into the category of "eh."
The movie screams cult and weird. It prides itself on such. This is one of those movies where nothing is grounded in reality whatsoever and that actually kind of works for the aesthetics of the movie. This is a world where product placement is violently avoided --except when it isn't. This is a parallel universe, not wholly unlike They Live where the world is such a bummer and so evilly disturbing that the audience is just asked to accept it. In my reading for this movie (Thank you, the Criterion Collection, once again!), an idea I had for this movie was confirmed. The movie is so heavy-handed in its portrayal that it reads more like a ninety minute music video. The music is what latches onto the audience and I'm not necessarily opposed to that. The music is very cool and very '80s punk. The images on the screen are there to support the ride you are taking aurally. But as I've said many times, I'm about the characters and the development. I kind of love music videos that have a bit of a narrative to them and Alex Cox has that attitude in the movie. Not much is explained, especially considering that this technically could be considered a science fiction film. Yet, I think I cheapen both Repo Man and the science fiction genre by tossing this movie in that genre. But the opening sequence shows a police officer getting vaporized by a beam of light coming out a weird dude's trunk. I'm not going to try to explain what little I can about this light, but that does place this movie in a bizarre world where anything can happen. The undercurrent for the movie is that this is science fiction, but it almost seems that everyone, characters and production team included, don't really care that this is a science fiction departure from reality.
Instead, this movie is about attitude. Emilio Estevez's Otto learns from Harry Dean Stanton's Bud about the life of a repo man. There is the background story of trying to reel in the really big fish. (Oh my goodness! Is this an '80s retelling of The Old Man and the Sea? Now I want to write that essay!) But that story really is a passive goal for Otto. That expensive car is out there and someone has to get it, but it is more about the setting than actually Otto's primary concern. Rather the story focuses on his internal conflict of trying to find success at something while being comfortable in a world that wants to punch his face in. I'm pretty sure that I've already put more thought into that analysis than Alex Cox probably did, but sometimes there is a deeper meaning to the movie than what the auteur provided. I know that Alex Cox went off the deep end later, especially by the time that he made the sequel Repo Chick. Otto isn't the most compelling character and there are times that I wanted to punch his face in like everyone else was doing, but he definitely has layers despite the fact that he wears his heart on his sleeve. I have a little bit of that guilty pleasure / Breaking Bad / Tony Soprano feeling when I am compelled to watch Otto because he is a fundamentally bad dude. But he's also a bad guy living in a world with worse guys.
I said that I didn't really get this movie, but I'd like to slightly amend that. I got the heavy handed satire of American society. When I say that I didn't get that, I feel like there has to be another level that I'm not getting. There are many moments when archetypes replace round characters to comment on the nature of consumerism and religion with their effects on the unthinking public. I think I might be overthinking it, but the analysis and criticisms portrayed within were just so simple. The parents who had given all of their money to the TV preacher is such a small moment that doesn't really strike home because the alternative is that Otto gets the money for his own selfish gains. I can't really shake my head saying, "Oh no, look what they did to their baby boy because the TV bilked them" because Otto would be doing the same thing. Using archetypes to satire always feels a little bit cheap. When I can relate to a character and see myself in him or her and then they let me down, I seriously look at my own life and wonder if what I'm doing is right. Two-dimensional archetypes like the TV preacher, the parents, the store manager, the security guards, the UFO conspiracy theorists, etc. allow me to distance myself from these characters. I'm sure it gives the audience the self-satisfaction that they are better than these guys, but how does that bring about change? If this is such a scathing satire about America, why isn't there opportunity for change. It seems so short sighted. So my initial statement? The one about "Ridiculous Rebellion"? That's what this movie offers. It is about self-satisfaction and knowing that you are better than the man when in no way is that true.
The most glowing thing that I can say about this movie is that it did keep my attention. I don't think I peeked at my phone once during the movie and that is pretty high praise. (I swear, technology has broken me and turned me into the worst version of myself...I say while typing a blog.) Yes, the plot is really secondary to the atmosphere, but that atmosphere is pretty cool. Harry Dean Stanton's Bud is a riveting character. In the booklet, it mentioned that many of the complaints about this movie is that it didn't really sell the concept of how dangerous it is to be a real repo man. If that's true, that's crazy. This movie portrays repo men as drug addicts who regularly get beat up and in gun fights. I know that there are television reality shows about real repo men, but those seem even more staged than this movie did. I guess that world is completely foreign to me and I find it very cool to just peek into that world. That might be the most punk rock thing about the movie as a whole: legal theft. Everyone who worked there were expert thieves who regularly got into car chases and were involved in gang style fights. How cool is that? I guess Alex Cox gets it right because he named his movie after the most important element of his film: being a repo man. It's really just the throughline structure and the unlikable anti-hero that makes the movie truly blah for me. It's not forgettable and there's something very cool about the movie. But it isn't good and that's something that I wish I could get past. I just needed one more layer and then I think there would be something marvelous here.
The first episode of our podcast is up! The audio is a little rough and we're still figuring this whole format out, but please click to listen!
Episode One: "Literally The Fast and the Furious"
Unrated. I'm going to try and be as clear as possible. This is animated, but it is disturbingly dark. The imagery is powerful and nothing is offensive, but it is definitely for a mature audience.
DIRECTOR: Isao Takahata
Well, I'm bummed out. I don't think people have left Grave of the Fireflies ever in a different mood. I'm not exactly changing hearts here. (If you did leave Grave of the Fireflies in a weirdly chipper mood, there might be cause for concern.) Studio Ghibli has always been known for its depth and perhaps some of its overt themes, but this movie is a sledgehammer and I think that the topic deserves the sledgehammer it wields.
Considering that Miyazaki didn't direct this one, I am amazed at the parallels between Grave of the Fireflies and My Neighbor Totoro. The setting in terms of time is the big shift between the audiences involved. While My Neighbor Totoro takes place in an unnamed village in Japan during peacetime, Grave of the Fireflies focuses on the fire-bombing by the Allied troops during World War II. Both, however, deal with a child's view of mortality. Morality is hard for kids. Mortality is hard for adults. Mortality is, well, just hard. Now, I'm about to go into some very spoilery stuff, mainly because I'm about to get analytical. My Neighbor Totoro deals with two kids dealing with their mother in the hospital. They deal with their anxieties about her deteriorating health with the supernatural and their reliance on each other. Totoro keeps the viewer in constant suspense about whether or not mother is going to die (she doesn't). Because the movie is aimed at very young audiences, Mother survives with a few scares along the way. But it is an impressive way to look at illness within a family and how to cope with that. Fireflies takes the other perspective. Mother dies fairly early on and Seika has to lie to his sibling. Setsuko goes through the same internal conflict that Mei deals with throughout the film. She grows attached to nature as a companion when her mother can't be there. The fireflies act as a proxy for the supernatural dust mites and provide solace where little can be found. Seika, too, is going through the same conflict, believing that his warbound father will return to them and solve all of their problems. Death has a greater punch in Fireflies. It is the death that I know because it is a death that holds permanence. It is cruel and selfish and Fireflies sells that idea stronger than Totoro does. But both do their jobs. Totoro preps their audience for coping; Fireflies lets us feel the fallout of the coin toss of fate.
Like much of the Ghibli stuff, the imagery is gorgeous. I always feel the need to compare animation studios to other animation studios, but that mainly comes from the sense of attitude that the studios present. Ghibli films always feel more artistic than commercial. Animation isn't limited to children with the Ghibli films. So the beauty perhaps is parallel to the best of Disney, but they are allowed to capture the attractiveness of the unappealing. There is a weird feeling (I'm sure there's a word for it in German) that is fascinating and intriguing about seeing the disgusting presented well. I swear I'm not a monster, but I'm more commenting on the idea that Takahata goes out of his way to show the true nature of death through his attention to detail. There's a closeup shot of maggots feasting on a corpse found on a beach. It is gut-wrenching, but it is also powerful at the same time. Death isn't put on a platform, but rather shown in the mundane. We, as the audience, experience the same reaction that the children do. Death is ugly, but it a part of life and a part of war. These details, perhaps, are the most effective ways of conveying the message that war is disgusting.
I think I've been re-evaluating myself politically and philosophically. Some people would view this as growth; others would view this as flip-floppy. I've been having a really hard time wrapping my head around war and the glorification of it. I still love the war movies that I love. I think I can appreciate them from a cinematic perspective. But I also weirdly now am having a problem with the amount of conflict on this planet and that the lives of innocents are affected by the actions of war. I don't know if I'm full on becoming a pacifist, but Grave of the Fireflies definitely moved me in that direction. The movie is extremely effective and it makes me question all of those who glorify death and honor. I know, I'm over-simplifying the entire issue by taking a black-and-white stance on a very complex concept. The world will always be at war somewhere. But it sickens me. I want to show this movie to all those people who have a lackadaisical attitude toward violence. In that way, I suppose Fireflies is propaganda, but it is effective propaganda. This movie is nearly perfect this execute...
...but it is not perfect. And this is where we have to argue about the international release of a movie versus its domestic content. There are two concerns that I have about the movie that may seem nitpicky, but one of them really is important. I'm going to talk about the really nitpicky thing first. There's a weird narration at the end of the movie tying it to the beginning of the film. The pacing of the film is absolutely perfect. Most of the film is told in flashback as we see the spirits of the children reflect on the last year or so of their lives. There is a candy tin that serves as a reminder for time passing and that is remarkable. Every time the story gets cheery, the candy tin reminds the viewer that things are not going to go well. It dispels any hope for survival in this already bleak world. The weird thing is that the movie almost sticks the landing with the candy tin as a frame of reference in the story. The movie ends with Seika walking to the place where he will die and it is appropriately subltle. And then the narration starts, spelling out exactly what happens. I get the vibe that American distributors thought that Americans wouldn't necessarily get the ending. I never like feeling dumb. I can't tell if this is in the Japanese version, so I'm curious. The other thing is kind of a movie killer: Setsuko's voice. I know that there is a long debate about dubbing versus subtitles and normally I don't care. Setsuko's voice for the American release is absurd. It is clearly an adult doing a kid's voice. Were they trying not to bum out a kid? Setsuko doesn't say anything terribly hard or inappropriate because much of the war is seen through the ignorance of a child. There were multiple times in the movie that I was just pulled out and had to tell my brain to shut up so I could be emotionally vulnerable.
But the film still made me emotional. The relationship between brother and sister is so gripping. Yeah, there are a few tropes that I've seen across different stories, like the grumpy aunt and the boxcar children feel to the whole thing. But considering that the movie was animated, I related to their story more than most war films. I rooted for them, despite the lack of hope established by the flashback. I wanted the world to be a different place and I grew sad for humanity. A lot of people I know don't want to be bummed out. I think I need to be bummed out like this from time to time. It hurts, but it also makes me prayerful. Should you watch this one? Yeah. Sometimes you need to be bummed out.
If we were following trends, this movie would definitely be PG-13. Didn't stop me from watching it with the kids! PG!
DIRECTOR: Irvin Kershner
I've said everything I can say about the Special Editions! I can't beat this horse anymore. The special editions are dumb; let's look at the actual movie. I might say that this is the greatest science fiction film of all time, so the review itself is going to be hard to write. I hate to sound gushing and the reason that this movie works so well is incommunicable. Also, this is one of those universally loved movies. Add to that the fact that it is hipper to say that you like The Empire Strikes Back over A New Hope. It's so dark and moody. The best thing I had going for me was that I forgot how good this movie is.
A weird element to this blog is that I've been rediscovering my love for Star Wars. I've been a Trek guy for a while and I'll probably always be a Trek guy. But my kid likes Star Wars. My co-workers like Star Wars. Disney is making new fun Star Wars movies. Diving deep into the Star Wars universe makes a bit of sense right now. As part of this blog, I've had to look at the philosophy shift of George Lucas. I can't wrap my head around the guy he was before Star Wars and the guy he was afterwards. From his perspective in 1979 to 1980, he was a guy who had a few hit movies under his belt. I've called him hungry in previous reviews and he just wants to make the best movie that he can possibly make. I can't help but make comparisons to Joss Whedon and his first Avengers movie. Whedon had the advantage of having limited cult success on television before becoming a filmmaker, so he already had earned his reputation. Lucas had American Graffiti and the first Star Wars film. I can just think of a guy who doesn't want to drop the ball while he's successful. I know that THX-1138 is more of a student film, but it also doesn't have the pull as the rest of his oeuvre. This is the story of a filmmaker who has a healthy amount of fear, so he did the most natural thing he could do: he asked for help. Perhaps this is the beginning of his paranoia and the birth of the new Lucas. He didn't direct the most successful film in the franchise. Yes, his name is all over this movie and he gets the most credit for practically everything Star Wars. But he didn't get to direct the best movie in the series. What can that do to someone? He becomes Mr. Star Wars after this, only popping his head out to remind the world that he made the greatest science fiction franchise of all time. That and Indiana Jones.
Considering that we live in an era where gritty tonal shift is the watchword, it is so bizarre to see that The Empire Strikes Back figured that out before everyone else. Everyone always ties the second movie in a franchise to Empire because it works so well to the point where we get frustrated at the comparison. The one thing that most studio execs don't really understand is that Empire is that it is a smaller and different movie from A New Hope. It is a complete redefinition of what the franchise should be. In fact, the movie only takes the best part of a sequel and runs with that. Kershner doesn't have to establish his characters and setting, but that's the only advantage he has. He is telling a whole new story with these characters. Yes, Han has to pay back Jabba and Darth Vader is mad about the destruction of the Death Star. But very little is actually beholden to the story. The joining of the Rebellion is such a background thought. The story starts with a reverse structure to A New Hope. The entire first film was trying to get Luke to the Rebellion. The second film spends the opening sequence trying to get our protagonists away from the Rebellion. They are fragmented and the movie is about disjointedness. It is in this separation that the characters actually get legs (except Threepio...pun intended.) Han goes from archetype to compelling lead. Leia isn't a victim in this one. I'd like to think that Carrie Fisher's contribution to the script probably helped with this. Luke loses much of his whininess and the idea that he really isn't ready to take on a leadership role is explored. In some ways, this is a criticism on adolescence. Luke's overconfidence is exposed to him and he rejects it. I can't think of a better allegory for growing up. But this can only exist because the movie is smaller. It is character driven.
But that doesn't mean that the movie doesn't get action and excitement. I honestly get a little bored with A New Hope. Yes, the Battle of Yavin is awesome, but it doesn't hold a candle to my love of the Falcon in an asteroid field. Right now, John Williams's score for this section is blaring in THX in my head. I also have to applaud my print of the movie. The star field and the blackness of space makes this scene look absolutely gorgeous. I also love the escape from Hoth more than I like the Death Star escape. As dark and brooding as this movie is, it doesn't forget that spectacle is supposed to be fun. I honestly feel like the movie takes brass knuckles to my emotions as Luke struggles on Dagobah and Han gets put into carbon freezing, but that is all balanced with the adrenaline that comes tow cables and minochs. This is pre-production, pacing, directing, and editing all coming together into a perfect storm of a movie. The movie is great. Add to this that Kershner seems more like an actor's director. Lucas has always been weak at giving his actors something to work with, but Empire breaks the mold because the performances are rich, deep, and nuanced. The most famous Han Solo line is "I know." That line comes from a place of trust that I don't think Lucas has by himself. Perhaps that is why a lot of the Indiana Jones movies really work. It comes from collaboration.
I put this on Facebook, but I want to point out a character that I love more than other characters. I love Yoda. But I don't love the Yoda that everyone else loves. I don't love wise, old Yoda who is strong with the Force. I'm a big fan of backwoods hillbilly Yoda. I want a movie with that guy again. Yeah, there's no reason to ever see goofball Yoda, but he's a funny character. But Goofy Yoda actually is very telling of where the franchise was at the time. Goofy Yoda was playful and a muppet and who cared? The puppetry on Yoda is outstanding. He crawls into a bin and starts to throw stuff around. It's really well done. Yes, he looks like a puppet. But I prefer the tangible puppet to the constantly shifting CG that is the new Yoda who can do flips and lightsaber tricks. The reason that it is so marvelous that Yoda lifts the X-Wing out of the swamp is because you know that this is a level of Force ability that we haven't seen before and that it is just the tip of the iceberg from this little puppet. Having Yoda do flips and having Darth Vader crushing things with his brain kind of cheapens that moment. Williams delivers a majestic score during this part because it is a display of majesty. He's tired of failure and distrustful versus this all-knowing sage who is kind of a Mary Sue. With a character as powerful as the prequel Yoda, why isn't he on the front line of every fight? I watched a bit of the Clone Wars miniseries and series and I don't understand that dynamic.
Regardless, this movie really does deserve to be labeled the best science fiction movie ever. I think if I really sat down with notes, I could write a book about this one. Rather, this movie speaks for itself. Every time I underestimate how good it is and it always knocks my socks off.
PG-13...you are so hilarious. Honest to Pete, there is little to check off a list. There's just a lot of women being objectified and a solid core of bigotry. But again, if you had to check the actual things off a list...well?
DIRECTOR: Rob Cohen
I'm starting to feel ashamed for the list of movies I've watched lately. There was a very cool artsy fartsy quality to this blog and now I'm reviewing the first Fast and the Furious movie? C'mon, Mr. H? Where did your snootiness go? Is summer film season really affecting you that much? Also, I'd like to make a disclaimer. For those in the know, Mr. Henson and I are starting a podcast that will be discussing the Fast and the Furious films. We would like to thank the senior class for donating the funds for our equipment and I don't want to jump the gun on some of the things we'll be talking about in the podcast, but I also want to review this movie while it is still fresh. Worse comes to worst, this will be more of a brainstorm for the discussion we are going to have, so I'll have my thoughts on digital paper.
I watched this movie in college once to impress a girl. (Sorry, Lauren.) She was all about this movie and I thought I could go in open minded. Um, that didn't turn out the way I had planned it to and I loathed the movie. Like, seriously hated the movie. Since 2001, I've been vocally rolling my eyes every time a Fast trailer dominated TV and the beginning of movies. Then I started hearing rumblings that the tone of these movies drastically changed after Fast 5 into a weird amalgam of superhero and spy films. I heard that these movies stopped taking themselves so seriously and actually became fun. So Mr. Henson and I decided to shotgun them and see what the hubbub was all about. Now that I've rewatched it, I guess I have some new thoughts on the world's most financially successful franchise. (Okay, I'm making that title up. But people have seen these movies!)
It really helped that I went in with abysmal expectations. My hatred for this film was the perfect attitude to go in with. I watched the trailer for this one before watching it and I was just strapping in for the worst ride of my life --angry pun intended. 2001 was a weird No Man's Land for film. This is slightly pre-9/11 and movies really had that Training Day vibe. Blame Fight Club, because everything was desaturated and gritty was something really easy to achieve. The Fast and the Furious wanted to be the bro-ey movie of the decade and it weirdly achieves it. I'd like to state that I'm definitely not against car movies. Considering that I'm not a car guy, I love car movies. Vanishing Point and, shamefully, the remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds are super exciting films. Add to the fact that the James Bond franchise is just a car movie with guns and booze and I'm full on in. But that's why I've always been far more critical of this franchise. Car movies have always been about the fun and The Fast and the Furious has simply been about being "extreme." That review might not be completely fair because there is some fun to be had, but that fun is when we ignore the plot and just look at the car stuff.
That's a fundamental problem when making a movie. I will not back down from my initial opinion that this movie isn't good. It really isn't. But it is much more fun than I thought it would be and that's because I knew when to shut my brain off. The characters and the story are criminally underdeveloped and terribly executed (for the most part...I'll get to that.) It in the few times that the car sequences play out in this movie that the movie becomes entertaining. I understand that this is the first in the franchise and I'm sure that Universal didn't really know what it hand on its hands when it was presented this movie. I'm sure the world "sequel" was thrown around, but I don't know if they every considered making ten films out of this idea. (NOTE: There was a recent news article that said that the franchise is going to stop after the tenth film. I'll believe that when I see it. Or don't see it. I'm trying to prove a negative is what I'm saying.) So the long and short? The car stuff is absolutely great and really impressive, but there's just not a lot of it. Yes, the cars are throughout the movie and yes, those cars race. I don't care about street races in this films. I care about the heists. The heist with the shotgun strapping trucker is the best thing in the movie. I unironically loved that part. I was actually feeling a bit of suspense. It was really well shot and really well paced and I somehow gained a bit of sympathy for a character that I absolutely loathed throughout the film. The street races? Those are pretty weak. I feel like those drag races were meant for real gear heads and not film fans. The problem I had with those scenes is that they all came down to "hitting the button." I know that Gwenyth Paltrow should never be cited as a credible source for anything, but that was her big frustration with her part in the first Iron Man. Her part came down to hitting a button at the right time. That's not exciting for anyone. Yes, the car went faster, but I didn't really see the difference between Dom and Brian when all it takes is looking at computer screens and hitting a button.
Can I talk about the major surprise in this film? Vin Diesel. I've been pretty hard on Vin Diesel in the past, especially young Vin Diesel. I don't understand his career at all. I hate to bully a nerd, especially one who could absolutely destroy me both physically and professionally, but he is normally terrible in things. In the first Fast and the Furious, he is riveting. Every scene he was in, he commanded the screen. Could that be because everyone else on the screen was possibly the worst? Maybe. It could also be that Dom is in his wheelhouse --pun intended again. For some reason, Dom pulls the focus from Paul Walker's Brian so often that I grew to hate Paul Walker. Yup. I'm the guy who is the first to trash the memory of Paul Walker. I know the wound is still fresh, but there are some groan worthy moments that Paul Walker has in this movie. Part of the Wasteland that was the year 2001 was the casting of The WB hunks and assuming that they could really hold a scene. For him to have such a career means that he had to get better than what he presents here. Another odd performance that I really didn't like was Michelle Rodriguez's Letty. I might just not like Michelle Rodriguez. I like the idea of her. She gave Lost a sense of validity because she was a bonafide celebrity. But she really just plays aloof really well. That doesn't always work for a movie and it kind of just screams "This movie is gritty." If you are telling me you are gritty, you might not be that gritty.
The last thing I think I'll comment on is the fact that the plot is really weird. This movie is a street racing movie. It is the Step Up of cars. How can Paul Walker impress Vin Diesel with his adorable driving skills. I guess my comment about buttons probably affected someone during the production of the movie and they decided to make the street racing the B-plot that weirdly has more screen time than the A-plot because the new A-plot became about an undercover cop trying to bust truck thieves. Both elements of this movie don't need to be here because it is fundamentally two very different films and neither of them is executed very well. The B plot could really be something impressive if they focused on the escalating tensions between the Asian gangs and the violence that is stemming out of these street races. (*sigh* I just wrote that.) The A-plot would have been awesome if the truck thefts were getting more and more reckless and we actually saw Paul Walker's character really have to make a choice. Rather, we just get a light switch moment when Paul Walker just chooses what side he is on. (Let's also establish that the revelation to Dom didn't need to happen whatsoever.) There is a double edged sword that forms here. What happens is that we get two weak storylines that show that The Fast and the Furious has larger aspirations than most bro-ey movies, therefore forming a franchise. If either of those other plots were done well, this might have been a single movie, or at least just a trilogy.
We're probably going to be talking way more about this movie than what was said here. I'll try to link the podcast to this page, so keep an eye out for it. Also, I swear that I'll put some classier films on here. I have a Grave of the Fireflies review coming and I just got Blood Simple and Repo Man on Criterion Blu-Ray that I really want to watch. I'll give this page some film chops yet!
You know how Rocket and Groot are on kids shirts? PG-13.
DIRECTOR: James Gunn
Hee hee hee. There is a weird sense of pride and shame that comes with full on belly laughing constantly through a movie when you go by yourself. I was that guy the entire time. I'm ashamed of myself, but I also knew that this might be the best way to experience Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I knew that I never had to have the movie live up to someone else's expectations. I could just enjoy the absolute silliness that this movie allowed me to experience. I'm not going to bury the lead: I love love love love loved this movie. I haven't had this much fun at the theater in a long time and it really gave the summer a good start. It's so weird that I find myself singing James Gunn's praises when he has a budget, but man alive, this movie was just the best.
I'm not going to bury it. I don't think I get such a great showstopping conclusion as ending with the following comment: Michael Rooker crushed it. I never saw it coming. It is the theme of this entire review and why I can praise James Gunn forever. Michael Rooker is a cult hero. He's never been the leader of my cult, but I enjoy him in movies. The problem with Rooker is that people love working with the silly guy that he is. He plays the over-the-top violent idiot in most things. I've listened to podcast after podcast with him and he is just as ludicrous as the characters he's played. But Rooker is the emotional center of this film. Perhaps I have been unjust in my portrayal of Michael Rooker, but I can't think where he's delivered that level of emotional intensity in other films that he's done. He's good. He always does the job he's needed. But usually when I'm watching his movies, I just see Michael Rooker. Admittedly, when I started this movie, I just saw Michael Rooker in blue paint again. But he transformed into a character that I sympathized with and grew emotionally attached to. He's great. And that's considering that he kills a ship full of people in this movie. Oops. Sorry. Spoilers. I have to blame the fact that I tend to overanalyze themes for the sake of this website, but we've seen this story before. Again, every story has been done and every moral has been preached. It now comes to how effective the final result is and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 delivers on that. The idea that Yondu is the criminal moron with a heart of gold and that we actually care about that is pretty fascinating. The first movie only touches on this concept and makes Yondu to be a pretty unlikable guy. But for all the explosions and the cosmic tomfoolery going on screen, Yondu is pretty grounded. It isn't preachy -which for once is kind of a shame because I really like this idea of the man with regrets finding value in himself - but it does tell the story well.
Maybe it's just my obsession with fatherhood motifs that get me so jazzed for these storylines. I have Daddy issues, sorry. But balancing Rooker against Kurt Russell is only the more important. The major question left dangling from the first Guardians movie was about the identity of StarLord's father. As a fan of the Guardians of the Galaxy comic, I initially was really disappointed that Ego was going to replace J-Son of Spartax. The origin story is so cool in the comics and my inner fanboy couldn't initially get past the massive change to the storyline. There's something so clean about having a space dictator as a dad that brings baggage. Also, the fact that Peter Quill would have to be half-Celestial just rubbed me the wrong way. Gunn figured out a way to make this work. I'm going to put a caveat on this: there were times I shut my brain off for the logic to make sense. But the emotional core of this relationship was right. The "space dictator" aspect of the story was left intact, but it was compounded with a sense of insane righteousness that made the story even more bombastic than I thought possible. The first movie involved Thanos, Ronin, and the Infinity Stone. That movie seems quaint compared to the scale that what was presented in this movie. And it all stems from folks who clearly share the same Daddy issues I do. (I capitalize "Daddy". That might be part of my psychosis.) But the movie is big and I get annoyed by movies that simply try to be bigger than their predecessors. Bigger shouldn't mean better and yet, it worked here. Maybe my brain is just shutting off. Man, I wish I had a father figure to talk to about this this kind of stuff.
But I started off by saying how funny this movie is. It is really funny and I can I say thank you to God and the universe for providing us with Dave Batista. The guy went to acting school so he can play Drax. That guy nails it. 100% of his deliveries land and this is from a wrestler. I normally don't find James Gunn that funny. I find him crass and sadistic and mostly a bummer. Not out of Dave Batista's mouth. In a way, I'm selling out Nathan Fillion and Rainn Wilson because neither of them has the comic timing that a wrestler covered in green paint can pull off. That's so weird to me. I saw Batista in Spectre and rolled my eyes. He's in this? Please, all the time. He had the best lines in the first movie and I normally play it close to the vest when it comes to giving the best part of the first movie more to do. His story arc was nowhere to be seen in the sequel, but who cares? It let him tell all of the jokes as well. The more bizarre thing is that I like Dave Batista more than Chris Pratt, Kurt Russell, Zoe Saldana, and Bradley Cooper and I like all of them. Chris Pratt has his face all over this movie and he does a great job, but I was just itching to have Drax onscreen and telling ridiculous jokes.
The movie is great. I want to see it again and again. I'm a little sad that I didn't get to take my wife to see it, but she'll suffer through it at home on Blu-Ray. Also, let's shout out to the best Stan Lee cameo that could ever be. 'Nuff said.
PG. Honest to Pete, this movie is practically animated. Okay, it's not. But can something please get the G rating? Yeah, it kinda scared my kids, but no more than an animated movie.
DIRECTOR: Paul King
I've heard the audio to this one a dozen or so times. That makes me an expert on this one, right? To follow up that bit of bravado, I have to say that this is the first time that I've watched it all of the way through. There is a truth as a parent. As much as I like some quality children's movies, if I have the opportunity to do something more productive, I'll probably take the opportunity. I know my kids are going to watch this movie again and that I'd probably get sick of it over time. I have to plan my time right. So I don't mind relegating this one to an audio observation. All of that being said, this is the first time I actually watched it and it was super fun.
I cringe at some of the reviews I have put on this page. Being a dad, I can't be reviewing the movies I would have watched a decade ago. Golly, the sheer quality / snobbery of this page would be unmatched. But usually weekends mean family movie night and Paddington fit the bill pretty nicely. We opened the garage and did this one on the big screen. My kids had already known the movie and the cousins were over so the adults seemed to be the only one who were experiencing this movie for the first time. The great part is that the movie plays on an aspect that I'm pretty critical about, but it definitely makes the movie watchable. In an era of the big screen reboot for book and television characters of yesteryear, The Brady Bunch Movie discovered that an ironic reboot tends to work better than the overly respectful return to form. Yeah, I hate what that says about us as a culture. We should be able to accept the tone of what worked before. But I love that this movie is really funny and somewhat irreverent. I like the idea of liking classic Paddington. I just know that would only appeal to children and, frankly, Paddington is a little dull. I know! This is all on me.
Paddington might be one of my favorite kids' movies. It isn't exactly the most emotionally vulnerable of films. It has touching aspects to it, to be sure, but it doesn't pull on any heavy themes. Once again, the theme of "what defines family" takes over the classic kid trope. We've seen this before; we'll see it again. But the movie oozes charm. Between the performances and the aesthetic, the movie is comforting. The sandwich in the hat is a great image for this movie. It is having a moment of innocent comfort at the ready. When my kids ask to watch a movie, I often suggest Paddington. It portrays a world that I want my kids to live in. Sure, I'm a snobby Anglophile, but this boils down what I love about England in a palatable two hours.
The cast in this almost defies expectation. My wife and I keep joking that there are only fifteen British actors. They're all in this movie. They needed a sixteenth, so they invited an Australian to jump into the sandbox. Weirdly enough, Nicole Kidman actually contributes the least considering that she's the primary antagonist. I will never slander Kidman. She is a remarkably talented actress, but considering the rest of the cast and the problem that lies with her part, she's less than engaging. None of this is her fault. This might be my one criticism with the movie. Out of necessity, this movie needed a plot. I don't care about the 101 Dalmatians external conflict. The internal conflict was enough. I'm sure a studio knew that kids needed to have some action, but the relationships were far stronger than the artificial conflict hoisted upon this tiny marmalade eating bear. Part of me wishes that this was a Wes Anderson drama targeted at adults. Okay, no I don't, but I like the idea of this existing in another universe. But who cares really? The external conflict scared my kid and it did its job. I'm preaching about the acting and I think the MVP of this movie is Hugh Bonneville. I loved him in Downton. Forget Downton. He's way better when he's making 'em laugh. Add to that Peter Capaldi and Matt Lucas and the movie hits the Whovian in me as well.
Yeah, some of these jokes pander. But those jokes made my kids howl and that's what I'm looking for as a dad. But there is some real genius in this film, most so with the joke that goes with the photo above. I quote this movie. To whom? Doesn't matter. The other person getting the reference never stopped me before. It won't stop me now. Parents, between this and The Peanuts Movie, there are two films that you can enjoy with your kids without feeling dumber. I highly recommend this one.
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.