A Quiet Place (2018)
It's one of those trendy PG-13 movies. You know, the successful ones? I'm always a little bummed out when a pretty solid horror movie is PG-13. It's because it goes against my code of PG-13 movies always being a little less than perfect. I know. I'm a complete hypocrite because I'm ignoring tons of data that says that PG-13 is actually a valid rating system. Regardless, this movie is scary enough to be an R. Those monsters are pretty disturbing. I can imagine that thirteen-year-olds get pretty nervous around this kind of stuff. Also, there's some blood and a cringy, yet tame scene involving a nail.
DIRECTOR: John Krasinski
Jim from The Office made a movie. I'm sure he loves that. All his hard work and his efforts only amount to being the guy from The Office. I have to write this pretty quickly. My wife thinks I'm taking a nap. She's out by the pool on her birthday and I'm pretty much done with my list. If I told her that I was going to write an unnecessary movie review, I don't think that she'd be exactly thrilled with me. Regardless, I did want to write about A Quiet Place because it feels like I saw this a million years ago. It's been less than a week, but I still want to write something about this movie. Mainly because I write something about every movie I see, but regardless.
This movie is one of those movies that shouldn't have been a big deal. It slipped through so many demographics to hit this sweet spot of cultural influence that most horror movies could only dream of. I didn't think it would blow up that much. I mean, look at the generic promotional material that came out of this movie. It was practically given the contemporary movie font with the right shading and released. But then people were actually pretty scared by this movie. A Quiet Place works entirely on having a cool premise. The thing that kind of gets under my craw --and I'm not proud of this --is that it is an imperfect premise. I know that the Krasinski and crew (Is Blunt part of that? I hope so.) put a lot of hours into making sure that this movie worked. This seemed like a fun, corporate-friendly passion project that Krasinski probably has thought about quite a bit. But there are some rough edges. I mean, don't get me wrong! I loved it and the part of me that really just enjoys films ignored these things just enough to get through the movie. But there are so many moments that just don't make a lick of sense. I don't know why I have to nitpick. It's ridiculously stupid and I know I should be a better person. But someone before I saw it said "waterfall" and then that giant loophole happened. My big question is how there were as many survivors as there were. But that's all moot. The movie works. The movie works. I have to keep repeating that. Fundamentally, the movie works because the core elements work in conjunction with a high concept monster. I don't know if the family in this story (I had to look up the name "The Abbots" because no one calls each other by name in the movie) is any different from other horror movie families, but there is the dynamic of frustration that comes with most kids despite the horrors around them. It's odd having the characters so entrenched in the horror world that is in this movie that it almost becomes common place. The boy (Marcus? Really? Okay.) still is afraid of the world, but he also has these insecurities. Regan (okay, I think her name popped up once) has a little more depth. But it is her character that I'm mad at.
Regan kind of sucks. There, I said it. A big message in this story (and I've just decided to go into SPOILERS) is how nothing is really Regan's fault. Okay, the beginning of the story is Regan's fault, but it is forgivable. She didn't listen to her parents, but didn't know that the kid was going to grab batteries. That one makes a lot of sense and I can see how that can be a defining moment for the character. She harbors guilt and then manifests that guilt outwards against her father. I do like how John Krasinski isn't the typical angry father in this movie. Regan is just a crazy person / teenager. But then she leaves her mom, who is very pregnant, alone. She only does so to be mad at everyone. First, I don't know why this big trip with Dad has to happen so close to the delivery time. It's all a bit much. It seems like the movie jumps through these giant hoops to get Emily Blunt to deliver her own baby. Like, that scene is awesome, but who in their right minds would leave this very pregnant woman alone at that time. When she checks the calendar, the rest of the movie is just spelled out right there. While I think that Dad and Son leaving is stupid, it at least makes a little bit of sense. They are getting food. I don't think that Son needs to go, but there's somewhat of a sense of logic to that whole experience. It's just that Regan...geez, Regan! I mean, teenage angst can only go so far. The big message communicated to Regan is that it is not her fault that the following things happened. Agree to disagree, A Quiet Place. Regan's selfishness may not have intentionally brought about the terrible events of the later part of the movie, but it is full-on negligence. In a world where everything is calculated and survival is dependent on constant vigilance, you'd think leaving your very pregnant mother right before she is due to both make a statement and visit your brother's grave is just in poor taste. Also, why is that grave all the way out there? I know he died there, but think about how much easier it would be in a world without sound to just bury him near the farm.
The movie does play up on one of my least favorite tropes. It's not awful and I do like the movie quite a bit, but the magical answer for beating the monsters is obnoxious. You'd think that we'd figure out that the creatures who kill by sound would be susceptible to high pitched frequencies. I mean, we just talked about this with Fight, Zatoichi, Fight, didn't we? I don't like when answers are stumbled upon. Dad has just too much knowledge in this world. It's got a little bit of that I Am Legend versus The Omega Man thing going on. What is Dad's endgame with the cochlear implants? Were the previous generation's implants not working, so he was trying to fix them? Why was she still wearing them if they weren't working? I don't know what was going on there, but again, that might be my own ignorance. I don't know why a movie like this needs resolution. Yeah, it is awesome when mom shotguns a monster in the face and it is optimistic knowing that she'll know how to do it again. But these characters can't create a solution for the world, can they? That seems a bit absurd. As part of this dislike of the ending, I do like how I know very little about the origins of these creatures. (Don't be surprised if this shows up in the sequel that's already in development. If there's a shot of space at the beginning of that movie, I'm going to be very disappointed.) Movies like this and Predator work because there's only so much info we need to tell this story. Yeah, a well developed origin story can be thrilling, but very rarely is that origin story absolutely vital to the storytelling process. In a movie like A Quiet Place, the only thing that we really need to know is that the monsters react to sound and that they seem pretty unkillable. There's a kind of shameless dry erase board where Dad apparently just wrote "ARMOR?!?" I don't like that kind of stuff. Yes, it is necessary. I know that some test audience member probably wondered why they didn't just blow them all to hell. There has to be a really frustrating element to making movies accommodating for morons, but these moments just come across as ham-fisted and silly.
Regardless, despite my constant nitpicking, A Quiet Place is a scary movie with a pretty good concept to it. I would write more about the positive elements, but those elements just make sense. It's quiet, which is terrifying. (I gritted my teeth at anyone who shifted during the movie or took a swig of their sodas at high tension parts.) The monsters are jump-scary, which I like. (I know a lot of people don't.) It's fun and makes you think. That's all great. Yeah, it's imperfect. But I'd rather see this imperfect movie than the dozens of "scary" movies that are released regularly.
Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
I love when things I teach are PG. It gives me a sense of joy, knowing that the world not only made something that people needed to know about, but they did so without language and explicit content. I imagine that there was quite a bit of swearing going on at CBS or with Joseph McCarthy, but this movie doesn't really portray that. There's nothing objectionable in it. I will say, despite having a PG Unicorn rating, kids wouldn't really be all that interested. I think I managed to get one or two high schoolers kind of interested with this one.
DIRECTOR: George Clooney
Man alive, it is going to be hard to write during the summer. Oddly enough, I have more silence and time at work to get stuff done. I get my work done or I get to work before anyone else does and I write. But I have three kids and a wife. One of those kids is a newborn. (Oh, thank you! I wasn't fishing. No, I'm not getting enough sleep.) We'll see how I maintain this schedule. Regardless, I'm going to try my best. If I fall off the horse, I apologize. Regardless, this was not part of the plan. This is the first year that I taught The Crucible. It's actually in our textbooks. Well, as a supplement to The Crucible, there was an excerpt from the screenplay Good Night and Good Luck. We only had a few days left of class and I wasn't going to start a new unit, but watching the movie of the screenplay we just studied? Man, just send the Teacher of the Year awards to Villa Madonna Academy.
I saw this movie when it was in theaters. It got a lot of buzz. My stepfather really dug it. It's odd that he really dug it because the man was a tried and true conservative. I probably was at the time too. I don't like defining my political affiliation now because I think everyone's nuts. (Okay, I'm a moderate and I keep advertising that like it is going to get me an award. Not the Teacher of the Year award. A different one.) From a historical perspective, this is a great docudrama about the events surrounding Edward R. Murrow's reaction to Senator Joseph McCarthy. I don't know why I get so heated about this historical event. I actually have a history minor, but the only thing I really get really excited to study more are McCarthy and the McCarthy hearings. This is my bread and butter. When I teach film, I go deep into studying the Hollywood Ten and stuff like that. It's a very scary time in this nation's history. I think I really like it because it isn't exactly taught in all schools like the Civil Rights Movement or slavery are. This is a time of national shame that people get to if they have the time. I haven't taught The Crucible before because I already teach Death of a Salesman and there are too many great authors to double dip into Arthur Miller twice in one year. But I find all this stuff fascinating. Good Night, and Good Luck is a movie that's aimed for me. But there's nothing that makes you feel more self-conscious and makes you more aware of a movie's foibles than showing it to a skeptical audience. I don't think the kids hated it. It was the last week of school and I'm sure that I was not the only teacher showing the kids a movie. I'm probably the only one who showed them a movie that was part of the curriculum and meant to educate. I think I got a little more self-conscious about this movie because I knew that there were those who were bummed that this movie wasn't an MCU film. As such, there were some things that really bummed me out. I do like Clooney as a director. The man has a very cool way of storytelling that involves crisp imagery mixed with some really awesome jazz stuff going on at the same time. The movie is absolutely gorgeous. Clooney uses black and white for a very functional reason. He blends authentic footage from Murrow's broadcasts with the actors re-enacting the events. It actually happens a lot. That makes sense. It's a news program. There are going to be a lot of prepared footage. But Clooney manages to keep the imagery sharp. It actually makes the world somehow feel more real. There's this graininess to the original footage. The color isn't the contrast when it switches back to the station. The world just seems more real. I like this choice. And again, he has the jazz. The jazz is awesome. I was just listening to Bob Mervak's episode of Armchair Expert with Dax Shepherd and he actually pointed out Clooney's love of jazz. (Also, the Rosemary Clooney thing completely eluded me until that moment.)
But there is a weird element to the whole thing that tends to bother me in movies. It's the gabbiness of the whole thing. There are people who love when people throw around a lot of jargon. These are the fans of John LeCarre. John LeCarre does nothing for me. I get the logic of liking these kinds of stories. It adds this very insane level of authenticity that a lot of movies kind of fail to do. It is meant to feel like you are part of this real world as opposed to this obviously artificial cinematic experience. After all, the point of making movies is to engulf its audience in the action. But the John LeCarre only engulfs people who are really into this. I can't believe it, but I tend to side with studio choices on this one. I never find overly jargony movies that interesting. I feel like I'm sitting at someone else's work and pretending that I know what's going on. To give Good Night, and Good Luck credit, it is no The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. That's just beyond me. I know the basic plot of Good Night, and Good Luck. I can follow the major beats throughout. Considering that I really find McCarthy fascinating and I brought my own background into the movie, that probably helped a lot. But this is one of those behind-the-scenes movies. "Look how newsmen talk." While I got all of the broad strokes of the movie with their dramatic beats, I often found myself confused in the moment to moments. Remember, I'm watching this intently. I'm riveted by this kind of stuff. I had a room full of kids itching to get on summer vacation and probably passive aggressively mad at me for attempting to make them learn during the last week of school. (When I said "movie", a lot of them were cool with that. I'm not a monster. There was no test but I did say that they could cite the movie on the final exam essay.) I can't fault Clooney for authenticity. There's something completely baller about having every detail right. There are these moments where you feel like a fly on the wall in history. There's a brotherhood being forged in that newsroom that is very intense and you cheer for them often...even if you don't know what's always going on that is building it. This seems like I'm crapping on the seriousness of the script in this one, but I suppose it is better than seeing the Hollywoodized version of it. This movie wouldn't work if it pandered a bit. Yeah, I would have enjoyed it more, but I also wouldn't have taken it as seriously. I would wish for a middle ground, but if I asked Clooney and his screenwriters for the earlier versions of this movie, I theorize that the movie might be even more intense and less accessible.
The performances! *mwah* [pantomimes kissing his fingernails showing pleasure]. I think the way this one got on my radar is that it was up for some Academy Awards. You shouldn't be surprised. This movie kind of screams Oscar bait. It's odd to think that this movie is before Iron Man. I remember that Robert Downey, Jr. fell off the map before showing up again as Tony Stark. But there he is, in all of his monochromatic glory. He's great, but I really shouldn't be talking about him. David Straitharn is where the movie is. I have seen this guy over and over. He always seems so mousey. I'm not saying that Murrow is out of his range because he absolutely nails his depiction of Edward R. Murrow. He's fantastic. It's just really alienating to see him so confident. Straitharn depicts Murrow as a even-keeled bulldog. He doesn't let his emotions get away from him at any moment, but Straitharn makes it clear that Murrow was passionate about what he did. The decibel level between the times he has to do a puff piece and when he is attacking the head of the network is negligible. But Straitharn makes it clear that there is a totally different emotional intensity going on between those two scenes. I honestly love that performance and I really hope he won something for that performance. I always find it weird when a director also acts in a movie. Going back to Iron Man, Jon Favreau would play Foggy for a long time after Iron Man, but that part seemed pretty minor. But Clooney placed himself pretty front and center in this movie. While he's not the lead, he is definitely the supporting lead in this movie, maybe only third to Frank Langella. Clooney does a great job as Fred Friendly, the best named man in history. The only complaint I have about Clooney's portrayal is that it is a bit too safe. Clooney is one of those actors who is great, but really hits a lot of the same notes between his separate films. I kind of want someone to shake Clooney up a little bit in this one. There's a lot on the line and it's odd seeing two guys in control. I will say that I don't know much about the real Fred Friendly. Maybe the guy was an anchor, unable to be emotionally moved. I don't know. But I highly doubt that the real Fred Friendly had the cool of George Clooney. That's just my theory. I will also say about casting choices: what makes Alex Borstein fit into period pieces from the '50s and '60s? I keep seeing her in these kinds of roles. She doesn't have a major part in this movie. In fact, I'm not even sure what role she served in the overall narrative. But she is definitely in the movie and she definitely looks like she fits. I mentioned Frank Langella as well. My mom was weirdl obsessed with Frank Langella, especially his portrayal of Dracula. I like him too. I don't know why. I have no specific moment that says, "Frank nailed it!" But he did. He's great. It's so weird that Paley is so famous and revered considering that this movie seems slightly damning to his character.
I now own this movie. Sorry, Lauren, but I'm going to need it for class next year. I'm excited to teach this again. I loved it the first time I saw it, but may have been too vulnerable this time. I'm going to watch it again every year and I'll probably get sick of it after a while. But the movie is great for certain audiences. I just think that, this week, I wasn't that audience.
Rated R for lots of weird reasons. Without being too overly spoilery, there's a lot of sexuality and a lot of misleading sexuality. That's really hard to explain. I will say that this is a hard R, but there are some things that appear to be truly filthy that actually aren't. Then there are some things that appear to be truly filthy that actually are truly filthy. There's just a lot going on here. Add to all this some solid violence and language and the movie just earns that nice A24 R-Rating.
DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos
I'm going to try to go spoiler free as much as I can in this review. I will say that reading this review is automatically going against what director Yorgos Lanthimos wants you to do. I have to believe this. When I saw the trailer for this, I had no idea what was going on. My wife and I used to joke that Mad Men did the same thing weekly. The clips in the trailer give you no context to what is actually happening and that's why the movie works really well. For fifty minutes, the plot is intentionally misleading. It plays up the idea of archetypes and tropes only to completely subvert these archetypes and tropes in exchange for a surreal story that is super compelling. The trailer is cryptic for a reason. The movie is meant to be entered blindly. If you want to know if you should watch this movie, all I should tell you is that, if you like absurd hard-R surrealism with emotional resonance, you should watch this movie. If you are at all squeamish about emotional stuff or don't really enjoy a movie that confuses you, avoid it. Everyone else who is interested in reading this review should have A) seen it or B) entered this knowing you aren't going to be watching this ideally. I suppose the third option is C) I'm not going to see it and the best thing I can do is pique my interest enough to know that this movie exists.
I saw this trailer almost immediately after seeing The Lobster. The Lobster is weird as heck. I like weird most of the time and The Lobster actually kind of hit a sweet spot with me. But the trailer for The Killing of a Sacred Deer is tonally very different, despite being weird. Lanthimos has this odd direction that he gives his actors. Everything is done with a flat affect, which is really bizarre considering the the tones of the two movies are very different. I will say that the main thing that separates these two movies is not film style or performance, but just the fact that The Lobster has funny moments. The Killing of a Sacred Deer is seriously intense from moment one. I guess you could find funny things to laugh at in Killing, but it's mainly on you for that one. Part of Lanthimos writing style, both dramatic and comedic, is the idea that people will be saying stuff that no person would naturally ever really say. But that's more of a matter of how uncomfortable you feel about surreal language. It's really odd. I love me some surreal screenwriting, but it is only successful if the characters somehow resonate outside of the words on the page. When Kim is talking about losing all of the MP3 players, those words are almost arbitrary. They are odd commentaries about possession and capitalism, but they aren't brow-beating. I get the vibe that Lanthimos just finds the world to be an absolutely absurd place, so he's using absurdity in his writing. Every part, even when it comes to killing (it's not a spoiler. The word is in the title), is so colored in the mundane. There is some high emotion in this movie. I mean, it is a very stressful topic. But the actual screaming and crying element is still maintained at a three...tops. There's actually a scene where Colin Farrell has to throw a temper tantrum. He's breaking plates and ripping apart a kitchen. But his emotion intensity matches almost everything else that is boring in his life. Maybe Lanthimos is noticing that reality isn't like the movies or that he just thinks its cool. I will consent that it is very cool, but it isn't even close to reality.
When looking at a movie like this, I don't know how to judge the effectiveness of the acting. My big message that I'm trying to convey is that each performance and casting choice is tonally perfect. Everyone seems to really get the mission statement of this film and I'm loving that beyond recognition. Each performance does what it need to do. Each performance is appropriately haunting. But none of the performances can really be standout performances with the exception of Barry Keoghan's Martin. (I hate that last sentence because I refute myself within the same sentence.) The kid is weird and weird looking. I'm sorry, but that's probably why he was cast. He is such a bizarre character that he drives the film. He holds all of the cards. Considering that the actual answer to what is going on is a bit of magical realism, it is frustrating to see this kid seemingly understand everything that is happening while sharing practically none of it. There were many times, because of Martin as a character, that I tried to explain what was happening to myself. Martin, at the 50 minute mark, reveals everything that you need to know about what is going on in this story. That explanation is phenomenally Spartan. Being me, I kept trying to put rules on that explanation. I love rules. No one can tell you otherwise. But me trying to put rules on the explanation is one of the more frustrating things I've done in my experience with film. I'm so used to searching for loopholes and work arounds and cleverness that I wasn't prepared for the fact that this was just a story about an impossible choice. I know that this was adapted from the tales of Agamemnon by Euripides. (I was tempted to crack open the collected plays that was just sitting on by bookshelf by the TV and pause the movie to appreciate it more.) But The Killing of a Sacred Deer really boils down the story to an impossible choice. It's why the title is just so perfect. It's really an on-the-nose title without being too obvious about the whole thing.
Visually, this movie is amazing. It's got that A24 vibe to it, but doesn't confine itself to an A24 mood. I'm so used to my A24 movies being low-light and grey movies and Lanthimos kind of takes the attitude of A24 to do something different. The movie plays heavily with the uncomforableness of artificial light. Considering that the protagonist is a doctor and that much of the film takes place in a hospital, there is this striking fear that comes with florescent bulbs. It's really fun. I don't really remember there's being a tint to the film. Rather, it seemed like Lanthimos was trying to make the world as overly bright as possible. It does the job. I have to say that Lanthimos is the kind of guy who gets his tone. Perhaps it might be a little easier to achieve when that tone is so in-your-face, but the mise en scene and the actors combined are completely blended together. There's nothing here that is trying too hard, but it is very obvious what he's trying to achieve. I don't remember any of the music choices, but that might be on me. It also could be about the fact that the individual elements seemed so seamless (seemed so seamless! What is wrong with me?) that I couldn't pick up on any of that. I actually, in retrospect, might think that large swaths of this movie might be without a soundtrack. It just adds to the uncomfortable factor that this movie really portrays. I started this recommendation with a brief explanation of who would and wouldn't like this movie. I like this movie a lot. It's, again, one of those movies that I wouldn't really want to watch again. I think I left The Lobster the same way. But this movie is far more uncomfortable about seeing it again. Both movies have this very mundane-yet-graphic sexuality to it. Like I mentioned in the MPAA section, there is a bit of a mislead. I wonder why Lanthimos decided to paint the beginning with a strong sexual undercurrent considering that the movie isn't fundamentally about sex at all. Like, I felt really icky in the first part of the movie. Remember, I decided to watch this with almost no knowledge of what was going on. That was Lanthimos's ideal situation. But he wanted us all to think that we were watching something fairly perverted only to undo all of that. Is it an attempt to place a degree of guilt on the viewing audience? I don't know. Regardless, it was a choice.
I loved this movie and I hope lots of my friends see it so I can talk about it. But I am also painfully aware that I don't think I could recommend it to anyone either. There's a lot to unpack with this movie and I should just find the crowd that has already seen it to discuss it. If you watch it, I'm not saying it is the most uncomfortable movie in the world. But the movie should make you pretty uncomfortable. That's part of the experience.
Deadpool 2 (2018)
I keep hearing stories about how parents think that Deadpool (his name, right?) is just another Marvel superhero movie. Sure, he looks like an action figure and people like talking about him. Heck, one of the motifs in the movie is how this is a family film. Let's just be clear because I don't want people citing me for taking their kids to this movie. Deadpool 2 is a hard-R with tons of language, vulgarity, and violence. LIke, those are the foundations upon which this movie is built. You have been adequately warned. It is a hard hard R.
DIRECTOR: David Leitch
I haven't formed an opinion. At least, I haven't formed a good opinion. How am I supposed to review a movie while my mental jury is still out? Basic background: I kind of liked the first Deadpool movie when I saw it in theaters. People were losing their minds about the movie and I thought it was pretty good with some pretty good laughs. I enjoyed it way more when I saw it on DVD, but I didn't lose my mind like the entire world lost theirs. I don't know. I had to check to see if I even reviewed that movie. Spoiler: I haven't. But the Deadpool 2 trailers really made me laugh. Like, I watched the one with Peter skydiving and I just completely lost it. But here we go. I'm going to review and analyze Deadpool 2 considering that I just saw it yesterday at 10:50 am in a theater with four people, which I would consider probably the least conducive to comedy way to see Deadpool 2.
Last week, I reviewed Lost in America. I watched it with subtitles, which let me understand everything that was being said on the radio in the background of the opening credits. In the credits, Larry King was interviewing Rex Reed about his preferred way to see movies. Reed said that preferred to be well-rested and see things in the morning alone. King then questioned that a comedy should be seen with lots of people and Reed said that if something was funny, it was funny regardless. Seeing a movie with practically no one in the theater and no one laughing highlighted some of the weaker spots of Deadpool 2 for me. I admit, it is a Herculean task to get me to find something funny when no one else was laughing. As such, I sat through most of the movie a little bit bored. The good news is that when a joke was really funny, it was genuinely hilarious. There are three or four moments where I couldn't stop dying from laughter, despite the fact that Yahoo! news spoiled one of the bigger jokes of the film. (Thanks a lot, Yahoo! News. Grumble.) What I quickly realized that Deadpool is kind of a one note joke. When comedies get sequels, they often have to do a fair bit of pandering. People expect callbacks from the first movie, but these jokes are often just rehashing of the same material. This might be the most on the nose with Dopinder. Dopinder was hilarious in the first movie. I died. Absolutely cracked me up. Dopinder in this one seemed like such a stretch of the imagination that he would still be involved. On top of that, Dopinder's gag is really just a logical next step of the same joke that we got in the first movie. In the first one, he killed someone despite being this unassuming guy. In this one, he wants to kill more people, despite the fact that he's still unassuming. I guess I smirked, but I also felt instantly tired when it came to that. The same thing goes with the X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern jokes. When they said that the first time in the first movie, I died. But it is like a magic trick. The more I see the same trick, the less impressed I am by the whole thing.
But then there were also the jokes that I didn't know why they didn't slay. Again, empty movie theater. But the opening credits were fantastic. I mean, it just established that there was a budget to this movie that the first movie didn't really have. I loved the opening credits. But not one laugh escaped my mouth. I don't know why some things didn't work like they should. X-Force worked great. Domino, comedy aside, worked really well. But then there was stuff that fell just flat on its face. I honestly couldn't stand Russell. I know. Putting kids in action movies is a trope. But this trope is about how likable the kid is. Russell more than kinda sucks. I think I had the same theory that Deadpool 2 had: people with New Zealand accents are funny. I always thought this. Russell disproves this. There is nothing likable about that kid. The problem is that the entire movie hinges on this kid being worthy of Wade's attention. He's a punk and a jerk. I get it, Wade is the same character. But the kid is pretty selfish. He ignores all advice given to him. He's got a chip on his shoulder and I'm glad that he's not a goody-two-shoes, but I actually think that his performance makes him annoying as get out. I don't want to crap on a fifteen year old for a bad performance, but he's in that category of insufferable kids. These are the characters that make our eyes roll. But the movie is about Russell. Wade keeps saying that he wants to save him and it doesn't make a lick of sense. That kid can't be changed with one moment. He's a huge jerk. Yes, he has this dark background and I'm coming across as a real jerk. But, man, I just did not care about that kid's well-being. So you have this really weird combo of repeated jokes and characters I didn't care about. That's not a good combo.
But I said that I really liked Domino. Domino is absolutely perfect in this movie. There is also a bunch of stuff that is absolutely perfect. I can't really hold the movie responsible for the problems with marketing. I didn't laugh at Peter in the movie at all because I had seen all of these jokes in the trailer. But Peter is a great addition. But the thing I kind of respect about the movie is the attempt to give Deadpool some pathos. In the comic series, there was this tradition of making Deadpool exclusively a comedy character. But then Brian Posehn and Gerry Duggan came on board and made it hilarious while simultaneously being tragic. The movie tries riding this line, and, occasionally succeeds. But the movie had a bit of cake-and-eat-it-too attitude. The opening sequences completely changed Deadpool's status quo. It was great. He was given this character definition and it seemed like there were going to be major changes to make Deadpool 2 its own movies. It looked like Wade couldn't be the jovial merc with a mouth, but the big tragedy didn't affect him like it should have. His personality was exactly the same, but the movie stopped the movie every twenty minutes to just tell us that Wade was hurting. That's a cop out. It is either that Wade is now a tragic character or he's the Merc with a Mouth. I'm sorry, but those tonal shifts don't really gel. I mean, I love that it happened. In isolation, the dark stuff actually plays really well. But the movie just wanted to do too much. I know that a bunch of people would have been really bummed had the rest of the movie just been this intense film about Wade trying to redefine his status quo. But having none of these things have consequences also cheapens what little good will that the movie earned with me. As part of that, I now realize that I might not like the movie Deadpool that much. There's something really weird about Wade and Vanessa just hanging out. Part of what makes Deadpool who he is the idea that he's kind of meta and insane. He's allowed to talk to the camera because he's not a normal character. He's madcap (not Madcap) and zany. When he's talking about having kids and watching Yentl, how does that gel with a guy who can blow himself up and talk to the audience about Hugh Jackman? It's just so weird. I don't want to be all "comics Wade" v. "film Wade", but there is a striking difference. Part of that comes from the mind of the storyteller. Wade is whomever the director wants him to be. That's fine. It is just jarring.
I really want to like this movie. Perhaps it is the elitist in me, but I just couldn't love it. So many people like this movie. I don't really get it. But I'll give it another shot. For all I know, I just wasn't in the right place to watch it. I didn't even talk about Cable at all. I just didn't care enough to talk about Cable. Cable's fine, I guess. It's just that he doesn't feel very deep. It's weird how Thanos is a better developed character than Cable. There. I talked about Cable.
Hey, we did it! But more importantly, YOU DID IT! You stuck with us for the entire Fast and Furious franchise. And as a special prize, we got you a final episode of Literally Anything where we discuss the last film.
I think what I'm trying to say is, "You're welcome."
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Not rated, but there's some language. Let's also talk about the fact that this is a true crime story. There's drug use. There's violence. There are lies and abuse. Also, for some reason, when they show the diagram of where a bullet entered and left a body, that is pretty unsettling. I don't know. It just gives me the heebie-jeebies. The movie is overall pretty haunting, so definitely show some discretion when watching it.
DIRECTOR: Errol Morris
I, like most of America right now, tend to indulge the sick part of my brain that is into true crime. My wife is the real deviant when it comes to this stuff. She loves true crime stuff. I dabble and I only really dabble because Lauren likes / liked it so much. Before you go any farther, yes, I will probably watch Evil Genius. I don't know what makes it so fascinating. I'm pretty much bored with police procedurals. But this is the story of an innocent man (or someone who is probably innocent) sitting in a jail cell because the justice system is all screwed up. I don't want the justice system to be all screwed up. I want it functional and defending the innocent. I want to know that I'm living in a country that is planned to account for the innocent. Yeah, this is not that story. This is the story that tells me that we have a long way to go.
As a pro-life Catholic, this might be the perfect moral tale about how a country that choose to kill its criminals causes more problems than it solves. The Thin Blue Line wouldn't happen if we got rid of the death penalty. I'm going to go into some spoilery stuff. I'm going to try to keep it to the periphery, but I also don't plan these things very well. The movie not only posits that Randall Adams is innocent of the crime was convicted of, but kind of proves it. There's a straight up confession from the guy who really did it. History, because of this documentary, would side with Adams, eventually granting him his freedom. But the reason why Adams was in prison to begin with was solely because of the existence of a death penalty. People wanted vengeance and Randall Adams could be the scapegoat for that vengeance. The basic premise is that the murder of a police officer came down to two suspects: Randall Adams and David Harris. David Harris was 16 and could not be tried as an adult. As such, he could not receive the death penalty. Randall Adams, however, was an adult. The long and short of the whole thing is that Adams had far less evidence pointing his way. The police seemed to know this and were doing anything they could to make sure that there was a public display of justice in the death of a police officer and a sixteen-year-old boy who could not receive the death penalty wasn't going to do it. Why is the world kind of a bummer? Inherently, this review is going to be political because this movie was inherently political. I'm also saying that not all justice is like this. But The Thin Blue Line is a scary concept. This isn't one or two police officers who made this choice. This was the institution of justice that made this happen in Dallas County. There are so many steps along the way during Randall Adams's trial that should have been cleared up by someone honest on the prosecution that it becomes somewhat disheartening. I guess the theme is that people will do anything to protect themselves.
Early in the movie, it is obvious that there's a lot of pass-the-buckery. Someone needs to take the blame for why things went so badly. The biggest example was the other officer at the scene of the crime. Don't get me wrong, it looks pretty bad for her. There are a bunch of scenarios that are presented. It's like a documentary version of Rashomon. In the reenactments, the information is performed matching statements of different people's testimonies. Even in the best of the scenarios, the slain officer's partner made a lot of mistakes. Some of them are minor mistakes, like she was in the back of the vehicle instead of on the side of the vehicle. Some versions of the story, which are kind of supported by evidence, says that she was still in the cop car drinking a milkshake. That one is not so good. But these moments are almost inconsequential as opposed to the desperation to find a reason why things went so poorly. The slain officer's partner was one of the only women officers on the force. Oh. My. Goodness. There are so many people trying to blame this woman for everything going wrong. Don't get me wrong. She made big ol' mistakes. I don't think any part of them had to do with her being a woman or her being one of the first woman officers on the police force. I think that most of it comes from an institutional laziness. If the slain officer (and I'm REALLY not blaming him) was concerned, I'm sure that he would have insisted on the other officer providing backup. I think that this was an example of taking a shortcut that many people, not only police officers, do. But this incident is so telling about how everyone wanted to pass the buck to someone else. Yeah, the movie makes the defense look like they are the moral crusaders we need in this civilization. The movie is clearly bias, but that's not the worst thing in the world. There are so many gaps in what should be happening versus what does actually happen. It's so odd to think that the true crime documentary is just commonplace now, but what Morris is doing is really revolutionary. He's questioning a system that is considered sacred here. I'm positive that this movie made a lot of enemies. It's not at all flattering to the police departments of America or to this justice system. We're so used to criticizing these institutions today that it must have been complete sacrilege at the time to do so. But the movie really does establish a clear point of view. I think that's where people could argue against this movie. Most documentaries have a very clear perspective. They are editorials on the events in some ways. But certain topics need to be presented without objectivity. They need to present the truth and I hope to God that the events included in this story are the truth. But Morris is fighting for social change and that is important.
The way the movie is made is pretty interesting. I normally don't like reenactments in my documentaries. I don't know why it always distances me from the events of the story. It always seems cheap. There are some complaints I have about the reenactments. It think it is odd to have the cops played by people who clearly look nothing like the original people and are as white as can be. Avoiding the racial choices was very very weird and I think it might have soured some of the milk for me, but it wasn't the end of world. But the reenactment sequences are powerful. I don't know what makes a scene like that come across as goofy or heavy handed, but the scenes in The Thin Blue Line are actually remarkably powerful. It's really weird because there was some really artificial foley going on with the police lights, but it did create this very cool effect. Morris has a cinematic view of things. The recreated footage looks more like a movie than anything else. This is all intercut with interviews by talking heads, so it creates a documentary feel to it. But even the interviews are on film. Again, this movie was made in 1988. I know that video existed for this stuff, but I don't know if it would have been so prominent as an alternative to film at this juncture. Also, there has to be Morris's acknowledgement that he had to give this film a degree of legitimacy. He was going to be spitting in some very powerful faces. I imagine that if the movie looked chincy, that would have instantly taken away all legitimacy from what he was trying to achieve. There are sound issues, but I have to blame recording equipment from the time. It had to be portable and it had to record a lot of audio. As such, some of the dialogue is a little garbled, but I was able to watch with subtitles, which helped a lot.
The movie is extremely effective. Don't get me wrong. It's a huge bummer, but it is one of those stories that kind of needed to be told. I can't imagine we would have Serial or Making a Murderer without The Thin Blue Line. My friend told me that this movie was garbage and I can see it fundamentally being polarizing. I hope most people give it a chance. It's pretty low risk. It's on Netflix right now, making it an easy view. I have to read more about this movie later because I need to know if anyone is contesting it, but it is really interesting.
Frances Ha (2012)
Rated R for being pretty crass. Like, the movie isn't dirty, but it edges on Clerks dirty. I know, I'm talking in circles. Visually, there's very little that would be constituted as R. However, lazy conversations tend to lean sexual, which apparently mimics how people really talk. I get it. Like, I do. Honestly, the sex talk is scandalous and edgy, but like I said, I got that out of my system when I saw Clerks in high school. I think this topic has been pretty well covered. Regardless, R.
DIRECTOR: Noah Baumbach
I thought Greta Gerwig directed this too. I was watching this as "The other Greta Gerwig" movie because people told me to. I know, she co-wrote the screenplay and starred in it. But I wanted to see a better version of Lady Bird. Lady Bird got really close to making me like it with the exception of Lady Bird herself, so I thought I should give Frances Ha a chance. I'm super glad I did, despite the fact that I think this might be another example of a nitpicky review. Let's make this very clear. I really liked this movie. I actually liked it way more than Lady Bird. As a study of Gerwig's work, this the more solid movie. That being said, there are some absolutely bananas decisions when it comes to this movie and I kind of want to know why.
The first thing, and this kind of sticks in my craw a bit, is the directing style of Baumbach. I think I go back and forth on Baumbach. I just raved pretty hard about The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) as being one of my favorite movies of last year. It had an indie feel, but with such a polish that it didn't feel like it was trying too hard. I am kind of forgiving of directors' early works when there is a garage band feel to the whole thing. There's a reason for those rough edges. Directors tend to lack a budget for impressive actors and are inexperienced in bringing out strong performances. But we are well into Baumbach's career by this point. Yeah, there's Adam Driver, who does a really good job in this movie. But the performances reflect the style of an early director who doesn't really know how to elicit strong performances from people. Instead, like a lot of indie movies, it leans heavily on the cleverness of the dialogue. Baumbach and Gerwig are both clever writers. Sometimes they can be a little too clever in an attempt to recreate the witty banter of their real lives. I like witty banter. In fact, in Frances Ha, the thing I simultaneously love and and loathe is the witty banter. It's very on point. But the dialogue shouldn't really carry the movie beyond the performances. Gerwig, as Frances, actually has a lot to work with. She isn't completely inept at delivering these moments, but there are a lot of safe choices being made. Gerwig is in a few movies, so it's odd to see her lean so heavily on the dialogue. She is a vehicle for her own dialogue rather than exploring what could be done. I know. I'm not allowed to comment on this. She wrote the dialogue with the intention of it being read that way. But the movie, because of these flat choices, keeps the same monotone the entire film. That monotone kind of works, but it isn't always the best choice. There could have been some other vulnerable moments rather than the same self-loathing that goes throughout the film. Again, I got the vibe that this is semi-autobiographical. I know that Gerwig probably lived the life of Frances to a certain degree. Perhaps it is an attempt to gain a degree of authenticity, but this borderline could have been audiobook.
Perhaps there was a goal to have that garage band feel to the movie. I mean, the monochrome is a strong and obvious choice. Perhaps Baumbach felt like he lost his narrative voice. The mise en scene really screams '90s Linklater. It is cool, but the biggest beef I have is that this movie was made in 2012. Instead of redefining what it means to be an independent film, it rested very heavily on old tropes and directing choices. The best thing in the movie is the baller soundtrack. I'm listening to this baller soundtrack right now. (I tend to listen to the soundtacks of movies I'm reviewing while I write. It puts me back in the headspace of the film.) The soundtrack is the most playful thing in the movie. I don't know if this was a conscious choice or not, but the camera tends to be most playful when the soundtrack is really ripping. There's the score from The 400 Blows (I told you!) that has this absolutely phenomenal tracking shot of Frances looking for an ATM. This is the movie I want throughout. Instead, these are much welcome moments of excitement in the midst of a lot of clever talking. But all this stuff aside, the movie does actually get pretty fun. There is a lot of negative stuff I'm preaching, but Frances as a character is straightforward thanks to the direction. I know. Baumbach is doing a character piece and servicing the character over the film itself. Because of this, we get to know Frances really well, foibles and all. Actually, Frances really is just a combo of foibles and that's awesome. This is maybe what I like about Gerwig's writing choices. She writes these characters that are moral tales in themselves. In Lady Bird, it's about finding love and joy in the reality versus in the world outside. So what is Frances Ha's message?
I have to believe that Frances Ha is about placing too much value on the arrested development / early 20s. It's probably all about the dangers of overconfidence and self-glorification, but I want to look at how this seems to be a prevailing theme in Gerwig's work. Frances isn't a bad person by any means. She's a bit selfish and self-centered, but so am I. But she also wants things to either be the same or better. She places so much value on her best friend. One of the cringiest things about the movie is every time that she mentions that Sophie is just her clone or twin. I would like to say that I've never said it, but there was too much trauma when she said it to say that I've never pulled that card before about a good friend. But she places too much on Sophie's shoulders. Sophie is growing while Frances is standing still. My friend Pat moved to Texas when I just wanted him to stay around the corner. Dan moved to Canada. I get Frances's very real predicament. She wanted her friend to hang out with her forever. Friendship, as the movie establishes, is absolutely valuable. But friendship also desires the best for the other person, regardless of whether or not that friendship suffers. In Frances Ha, the relationship falls apart and kind of redefines itself. I love the reality of that. I still consider Pat and Dan among my best friends. If I saw them, I would red carpet it like nobody's business / play it SUPER COOL so they don't know I miss them a lot. But it takes Frances a lot to make it to that point. I do love that Gerwig made this a story about accidental / subconscious jealousy. Frances's life is pretty terrible. She has lived this life of self-delusion, convincing herself that she is deserving of all success. (I refuse to crap on millennials right now. While this is a big danger sign to millennials, millennials are so much more valuable than anyone is aware of.) But she is prideful and desperate to prove that she can succeed. It comes down to the unfairness of life. Why does Sophie get to move on with life and, more so, why does Sophie deserve to do that without me? That's a heavy idea. It is so interesting seeing Frances lash out at those people around her when they leave her in the dust. She rarely breaks down, but that's the truth. I went through a period of travelling around trying to make connections and redefine myself. Frances just makes a lot of sense.
I regret trashing this movie a little bit. The direction choices I think are a bit lazy and a desperate attempt for Baumbach to regain his street cred. Like Wes Anderson's middle movies, he seems very self aware. Also, there could have been some more innovative choices. But at its core, Frances Ha is a great examination of what arrested development really looks like. It is a bit of a wake up call film without ever being preachy. It kind of says that people need to go through what Frances does to redefine herself. OH MY GOSH, is that what the title means? Is it about her new name and her new definition after she comes to peace with her life choices? Man. Instead of a call to action, maybe this is just the warm blanket. This is to say that if you are willing to make change in your life, those changes will come to something positive. They may not always be what you want those choices to be, but it can be something positive. I know that Gerwig will never give a religious connection to her films, but part of this movie is a look at faith. It's about taking dangerous steps. It's also about leaving Sacramento.
The great thing about reviewing Criterion releases is that a lot of them never really got an MPAA rating. Let's establish: French kids are really evil to each other. Like, these kids are really badly behaved. I know I shouldn't be taken aback by smoking, especially in a French movie, but these kids smoke a lot. They also steal and lightly swear, so this movie has it goin' on. But considering that this is a movie about juvenile delinquents, it's pretty tame. I mean, you barely know that those girls in prison are prostitutes! Not rated.
DIRECTOR: François Truffaut
I have Truffaut copied and ready to be pasted. I love Truffaut. But for an entire year, I completely misspelled his named and spelled it "T-R-U-F-F-A-U-L-T". My students noticed and it led to a joke about it being my True Fault. So I guess everything turned out okay. I love this movie. I always have. In fact, this is the movie that got me obsessed with François Truffaut. That's not shocking. It is his most famous movie. After watching this movie the first time, I ended up binging the entire Antoine Doinel box set. This is one of those analyses that kind of might end up off the rails because I've seen it too many times and I'll just be "Chris Farley Showing" the whole thing.
As I mentioned in the MPAA section, these kids are so bad. I'm always taken aback. I introduce this movie academically at first. But immediately before hitting play for my students, I always stress that, based on my knowledge of The 400 Blows, all French kids are terrible. I've seen other French movies with French kids and they are always really poorly behaved. I don't know if this is reality or what, but I base a lot of my opinions about French children on Antoine Doinel. Remember, Doinel is an avatar for Truffaut in a lot of cases. His Antoine Doinel movies might be the most semi-autobiographical (is it just "autobiographical" in this situation? I don't care. I didn't sleep much last night.). Was Truffaut just a bad kid? I think I remember reading something about that. Regardless, what Truffaut's perspective on adolescence brings to the movie is a sympathetic view of juvenile delinquency. Doinel, behavior and all, comes across as a rascal. I know this sounds cheap and like I'm not very smart, but there's an element of Calvin or Dennis the Menace in him. We all know that Antoine's conflicts all stem from self-induced situations. He does the wrong thing knowing that they are going to have consequences. This is early established when he graffitis the wall with his own name. He doesn't act shocked when the discipline heads his way, but he does seem spiritually and emotionally injured when the teacher provides a repercussion. The scoundrels are the heroes in this movie, Doinel being the most important. This is Truffaut at his best. He portrays the teacher as such a villain, despite the fact that the teacher is trying to maintain calm in a world of chaos. (Also, he's really effective at maintaining an academic environment, despite the evil little children in the room. It's probably all that hitting. Ooooh...that's why he's the bad guy. He hits kids and enjoys their misery.)
AND THEN WEEBLY DELETED MY STUFF!
Okay, back to reconstructing this. Truffaut does this really cool thing with ton in The 400 Blows. He's basically tasked with a genre of his own. This is a story that should be a kids' movie. We've seen this narrative before. It is about children and how they don't get along with adults. The kids live in a world that is only really understood by children. One of the major motifs of the story is much like Will Smith's "Parents just don't understand". Everything is from the perspective of Antoine and the way he sees the world. He is complex and he is frustrated with everything around him. But the movie isn't for children. While Antoine is a prototypical adolescent, he has this wealth of pathos that needs to be explored. He is constantly getting into trouble and knowing he'll get caught at what he's doing. I know that I couldn't live Antoine's life. Antoine breaks the rules. I always followed them. This is still true today. But Truffaut captures something very cool. He manages to convey the adrenaline that comes with spitting at authority. On the few times I was peer pressured into misbehavior (I'm the kid who checked to see if Antoine was feeling better after he missed school. That kid.), it was a huge rush to know that I was doing wrong. I actually don't know how I got away with it those few times. My Saturday school teacher (a Ukrainian thing that I still try to repress) must never have communicated with my parents. But the thrill of knowing that I would be absolutely destroyed when I got home was a big part of my childhood. Like Antoine, I would also get away with murder some of the time. Again, I cannot stress how good of a kid I was. But Truffaut captures that. Doinel, at one point, sits in class after telling the teacher that his mother was dead. The second that the teacher is called out of the room, he tenses up and knows that this about him. Being fourteen is complex and that's Truffaut's story. He remembers what 14 is all about. The movie is far deeper than that, but Truffaut, on the most simplistic level, manages to convey what childhood is really like. It isn't a facsimile of adolescence. He is giving his adolescence to us.
Similarly, this is a scathing critique of what poverty does to children. It is about the role of adults. Like I mentioned, every adult in this movie is the enemy. They don't understand or try to understand Antoine at any time. Even Antoine's father, while likable for a lot of the movie, is only superficially tied to Antoine. It almost seems like he cares more about being liked than he is about knowing what is going on with his son. Really, the adults in this movie are kind of selfish. Maybe that's what Truffaut is really reflecting on. The adults in this are so concerned about their own happiness and trust that they lose this kid in the system. Antoine is already pretty poor. He has money for mild luxury items. They go to the movies at one point. Mom asks him to run out for food from time to time. Dad has Michelin magazines. But Antoine sleeps on a couch. It seems like him needing money is always a major inconvenience for everyone involved. But Mom is so concerned with keeping her own affair secret that she simply sees Antoine as a risk. Dad wants Antoine to be his buddy, but does nothing to get Antoine back on track at school. The teacher really wants to bust this kid down to size. I know, the movie is from Antoine's perspective, but there is truth to the scenes. Antoine does stuff knowing that he will be caught. He signs his name to the graffiti that he creates. It's odd that he is personally hurt by his punishment in every case, but there has to be a degree of attention that Antoine wants. I just watch this movie (after a million other viewings) and see a kid whom no one puts in a place of priority for positive reasons. I mean, Antoine had to know that the dead mom thing wasn't going to last. There is no sustainability there. If Truffaut is commenting on his own childhood with this movie, it's heartbreaking. That end shot is so perfect as well. There is no clean ending for this story. Sure, we have the sequels, but one moment isn't going to change this kid. He needs some degree of care and the person that is in charge of rehabilitating him sees him as a liability.
Mom is the worst in this movie. She's never evil. She actually has some real moments where she tries different tactics. But she never really wants to grow up either. In Mom's world, she is the hero of the story. She is burdened by this husband and child and just wants to find a way to be herself again. I think this might be Truffaut's commentary on the selfishness of the era. Sure, that selfishness probably still exists, but Mom is the most fleshed out adult in the story. There is so much baggage with her character that really isn't spelled out but just makes sense. The only thing we know is that she is having an affair and that she is put out by her kid. But there's a moment where Antoine's eye-line rises and we see a fancy hat. We see that everything that she tells Antoine carries a threat with it. She is strategic and afraid of the fallout of her mistakes. But she doesn't take control. She blames all of her problems on this child who just has no peer. The odd thing is that Mom and Antoine seem more at odds than Antoine with any other character. But they should be best of friends. If you had to talk about similar personality traits, Antoine and Mom really have more in common than any other two characters, his friend included. His friend does awful things with Antoine, but he does it for the thrill of it. Antoine seems to do it as a form of escape from the misery that is constantly encroaching on his life. That's why the movie theater scene is so cathartic. He just wanted stuff like that for two seconds in his life without being told that he is wrong. That's great.
I could go on with this forever, but Weebly already put me behind my schedule and I'm tired as get out. The music in this is beautiful. Crazy random happenstance: immediately after finishing The 400 Blows, I watched Frances Ha and loved that the soundtrack was in that one too. It's such a good soundtrack and that goes a long way with me. I love The 400 Blows and I feel like I didn't do this review justice. Regardless, if you haven't seen it, you really should. It is absolutely phenomenal.
Fight, Zatoichi, Fight (1964)
Not rated, but let's call a blind swordsman a blind swordsman. There's some violence...like a lot. But there's also nudity. I will give Fight, Zatoichi, Fight credit over its counterparts. Much of the movie has nudity in the form of breastfeeding. Sure, the camera angle could be described best as exploitative, but the sexuality itself is at a pretty mild level in this one. If I had to rate it, it would be R. However, it isn't rated so it gets the blue over it.
DIRECTOR: Kenji Misumi
I'm so bad about watching these. It is hard to binge these movies because they are just so similar in plot and tone. Honestly, it might take me 22 years to watch the whole box set. That's no good. I bought these things forever ago and I want to give each of them their due as opposed to just lumping them all together. I thought that Fight, Zatoichi, Fight was going to be the special one. It was setting it up to be a special movie in the franchise that was going to change everything. It really changed nothing, and I suppose that's my biggest criticism for the franchise.
These movies came out way too often. I think that there were three Zatoichi movies a year. That's like Sherlock if Sherlock wasn't all released within the same month. They're movies only in the sense that they follow the film distribution model. The way I understand Zatoichi is that they were wildly successful. I understand. They are really fun movies. But the thing that kind of falls flat and explains why I don't just review TV episodes all of the time is that the Zatoichi movies, with their massive presumed success, are afraid of change. They have something that seemingly works so any kind of actual change to the franchise doesn't really hold. So this movie ended up being kind of a precursor to Lone Wolf and Cub. Zatoichi has to take care of a baby and get him to his destination while people are trying to kill him. It's the Three Men and a Baby where he really bonds with a kid that he can't stand taking care of. Over time, they clearly bond and Zatoichi becomes his surrogate father. That's the way the movie was indicating it was going to go. Heck, they even gave Zatoichi a love interest. This is movie eight. They had teased a love interest before. This part wasn't new. SPOILER: When the son is returned, we find out that the father is a horrible human being and doesn't want his child. This sets up Zatoichi for taking care of the child forever. That's what the series should have been. To grow Zatoichi as a character, making him a father and giving him a mission would have completely upset the Lone Wolf and Cub apple cart. Instead, this monk who we have never seen before convinces Zatoichi that he couldn't possibly raise him and Zatoichi just submits. He also would have had a thief as a wife. C'mon! This is character mother's milk (pun intended). This is my beef with the Zatoichi franchise as a whole. I'm a big fan of Fight, Zatoichi, Fight. It finally has a slightly different plot from the rest of the series. I mean, it's a bunch of gangsters trying to kill Zatoichi. I'm not asking for miracles. But instead of some gang war where Zatoichi has to trick both sides or whatever, he's just trying to get this kid home. That's a great simple plot. It works. How cool would it be to have the kid growing up over the course of the movies? Have Zatoichi age a bit? That would have been awesome. He could be teaching his wife about morality and she would be teaching him how to love. (Yup, I'm not aiming the bar high narratively or progressively.)
There is one thing about Fight, Zatoichi, Fight that made me happy and made me question my own intellect. Remember, this is the eighth movie in the franchise. These movies have always been about gangsters trying to kill Zatoichi. Usually, it is in the form of "more guys" or "expert swordsman showdown" or a combination of both. Of course, we know that Zatoichi is going to win this fight. It's just the way things work. But this one, they actually come up with the most obvious plan that ever existed and I'm floored that I didn't think about it. I've been reading Daredevil since high school and why didn't I just do the thing that Daredevil's villains do? Their big plan, and the point of my shame, is that they plan to take out of his other senses. Yes. The guy fights by sound, so distract him with sound. It is beyond me how this wasn't brought up before this point. The execution of this plan, in world, is dumb. Cinematically, it is awesome. But if you were in the world of Zatoichi, the Blind Swordsman, it is a pretty dumb way to go about it. The gangsters all set their staffs on fire and attack him with fire staffs. As an audience member, it looks awesome. Katsu is actually on fire and I'm kind of floored because his face doesn't seem to have any protection. Also, a night time fight with flaming staffs looks absolutely great. It is bananas. But if they are thinking that fire is such a loud sound that Zatoichi wouldn't be able to fight back, that's absolutely ridiculous. The movie has to be aware of this because Zatoichi doesn't come up with some grand master plan to compensate for his lack of auditory input. No, he just fights like he normally fights. The entire end of the movie is based on a grudge match that simply says that Zatoichi is as cool as he says he is. This kind of leans on my problem with letting something ride the cool factor all the way to the station. Yes, Zatoichi is that cool, but by the eighth movie, he's a Mary Sue. He's got nothing that can stop him. Yeah, he gets more beat up in this one than he does in some of the others. The fire thing works for a hot second (pun intended). But he just overcomes and beats everyone involved because he's awesome. That's not very clever. That's just lazy screenwriting. How's he gonna win? He's going to fight really hard, like he always does.
A franchise needs to grow. While I like watching Zatoichi films and I get why Tarantino likes the Zatoichi movies, there's only so far that this series can go. (There apparently was a TV show based on the IMDB credits of the director.) The original director came in to film this one and it does feel like one of the better entries in the franchise. He'd also go on to do Lone Wolf and Cub. Go figure.) But there's no meat to this. When I finish this series, I'm not going to remember which entries were awesome and which ones weren't. They are all the same movies with different degrees of success. This is an era of serialized storytelling and studios making money. Maybe they were afraid that Zatoichi wouldn't work if he changed his dynamic even an iota. But Zatoichi could be this rich universe. There's a very empty template there. Like Daredevil, Zatoichi is just a superhero. I know that superhero comics for decades were afraid to change the status quo. In 1964, Spider-Man was only a year or two old. But in the next few decades, Spider-Man would constantly change the status of Peter Parker. There were major shifts and that's why Spider-Man still exists as a character. Zatoichi doesn't have the motivational fuel to sustain itself. I'm going to watch the whole thing because I own the box set and because I'm a completionist, but I can see myself really burning out by the time I get into the mid-teens. Heck, I might even start to resent these movies because there's just nothing to really grab my attention. There's only so many ways that people can try sneaking up on a blind man and getting instantly dispatched before you start to yawn. It's the same magic trick again and again and this is the biggest lost opportunity. Everything was set up to have a growing narrative and it just fell through. That's a real bummer.
Lost in America (1985)
It's a well-intentioned R. Like, it's an R that could have easily been a PG. Yes, make this movie "R". They swear occasionally. Albert Brooks tries and fails to seduce his wife at work. But, like, that's it. It's an R that could have easily not been, but Brooks doesn't care. R gives him validity. I get that. So R it is!
DIRECTOR: Albert Brooks
I have this habit. I'm not saying it's a bad habit, but it is a habit. I have this habit of just throwing Criterion movies on my Amazon wish list. It really hasn't failed me yet. Even if I don't like the movie that's on Criterion, I'm always interested to watch it and I'm pretty glad that I have that one under my belt. I knew nothing about this movie when I threw it on my Wish List. (I'm sorry, honey. Sometimes you just got to let a bird fly.) But I saw that it was Albert Brooks and I weirdly really like Albert Brooks movies. Albert Brooks movies fall into a very specific category of film. They aren't quite Woody Allen movies. Woody Allen seems to withstand lots of personal drama and is still kind of considered a genius. Albert Brooks doesn't have any drama that I know of. (I refuse to do a Google search because I at least have some admiration for the guy. I also don't want to write a billion words about the challenge I have admiring a creeper.) His movies are extremely technically proficient. I will even say that he's pretty respected. After all, his movies go to Criterion now. (I'm talking post Michael Bay era.) But he's never that appreciated. His movies play on television at 2:00 am. They are, by-and-large, forgettable. I really like the guy and I can barely list too many of his movies. But I do excited to watch them. Like most of Brooks's oeuvre, it's a fun time and a pretty great movie. I guarantee you I will have forgotten that I've seen this film a year from now.
I don't know what makes Brooks so forgettable. I giggle at a lot of his scripts. That's mostly what these movies are: filmed script readings on location. Like Allen, much of the movie comes from just absolutely fantastically clever dialogue. I told you, I couldn't tell you one line from this movie right now, but I can tell you that it was really funny. I looked at a list of Brooks's movies and I kind of remember Defending Your Life. (Mr. Brooks, you do not need to defend your life whatsoever to me. This is the worst backhanded compliment I've ever given.) I would say that Lost in America is completely unmemorable or important to the canon in any way if it wasn't for one thing. Lost in America might have the most bananas message a movie has ever had. I'm not actually quite sure what the message is, but it is there somewhere. I mean, this is a road movie. It's two people trying to find themselves while driving across the country in an RV. It keep saying that it is Easy Rider. It's not. It's National Lampoon's Vacation. Tonally, these characters are the Griswolds way sooner than they are Captain America. That's fine. I don't know if Brooks actually has any actually aspirations to be Easy Rider with Lost in America. That would be nice. But the movie doesn't really cover new territory with the road comedy. There is a plan. Along the way, things go atrociously wrong. Comedy ensues. There's even a degree of laziness to the whole thing. Tropes are straight up wagging their fingers at the audience. The movie starts with Brooks lamenting that he bought a house before he officially got the promotion he needed to buy the house. What is going to happen? STUPID SPOILER: He's not going to get the promotion. The couple goes to Vegas and swears not to lose any money. What's going to to happen? STUPID SPOILER: They lose all of their money. Like, it's fine. This is the mashed potatoes and gravy of filmmaking. Getting the characters to their miserable spot is the important thing. It doesn't matter how they got there. It only matters that they got there.
But the weird thing! I keep saying I'm going to lament the weirdest message in the world and I keep getting distracted. SPOILERS FOR THE END OF THE MOVIE: Is the message saying that corporate capitalism is the best way to go? The whole movie is about this marriage that is falling apart because these two are so obsessed with their jobs and success that they have lost that spark. When they go on the road, they do so to live the simple life. I acknowledge that there's a message to be found with extremism. Going completely off the grid seems like a bad choice, but this couple wasn't really about that. They had a nest egg (now I'm quoting the movie.) They were going to live an upper middle class life on cheaper real estate and explore the country. It was a movie about early retirement and how awesome that seemed. Most importantly, they were going to rekindle their marriage. The reason that they even go to Vegas was to get remarried. He realized that he had put his family second and he wanted to put them first. Great! Apparently, according to Brooks, that's a whole lot of hooey. After they lose all of their money in Vegas and things go poorly for them, they realize that they can't live a simple life without a backup plan so they go and beg for their jobs back. They get those jobs back at a lower pay and live happily ever after. That's a really creepy message. Perhaps it is about doing what they are built for, but the characters really were miserable in their marriage at the beginning. Linda, played by Julie Hagerty, was considering getting a divorce. Aren't they just going to go through the same self-destructive cycles that the beginning of the movie showed? I mean, there's a chance that this disastrous road trip may have given them an appreciation for each other. That might be in the cards. But they were miserable in what they were doing. Forever, it will be about work and promotions. That's a real bummer. They never had that revelation that they could find value in each other. What kind of nonsense is that?
There's also something that I've never really seen in a movie before. Linda kind of sucks, but she still apparently is the good guy in this story. It is Linda who gambles away all of the nest egg. Remember, this is the nest egg that was going to support them for the rest of their lives. These people are in their early 40s. That's a lot of money that she lost. She then asks Brooks's character, David, to get angry and to scream at her because she deserves it. When he finally vents in an argument (which is admittedly intense, but not THAT intense), she leaves him on the side of the road with a complete stranger. There is this series of false promises that somehow make David look like the bad guy despite the fact that he's trying his best with an impossible situation. I know what I sound like. I could easily be accused of defending the "nice guy" trope. I don't think that's what is really going on here. She is actually at fault. David actually starts the movie as the bad guy. He needs to change because his neurotic tendencies would drive anyone crazy. But when he is attacked over and over again for his personality traits, he has made major changes. He is a completely different person. Imagine that Ebenezer Scrooge got his comeuppance five years after the end of "A Christmas Carol." Let's say Bob Cratchit burned the place down and he just started screaming at Scrooge for all of the stuff that's ever bothered him. That's kind of what goes on here. David is really doing his best to be attentive to his spouse in this section of the movie and she's coming across like the good guy. It's really weird. They end up together still, but that change almost makes no sense. It is only once David gets punched, again due to Linda's choices, that Linda takes him back. I don't get it, but it works for a comedy.
This movie might not meant to be scrutinized. Brooks wasn't trying to make a classic. He was making a road comedy that referenced a film that he liked a lot. It's fun, but it is weird. Hopefully this overly long-winded analysis of the movie will help me remember it...
...but probably not.
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.