Rated R. This is A24 R. People told me that this is the most disturbing movie that I will ever see. Yeah, I now feel bad about myself because I have seen worse. Does it make the top 20? Probably. (Is it bad that I can't even commit to a top 10?) It is a very disturbing movie. There's lots of uncomfortable sex scenes and lots of nudity. There's drug use throughout. There's some very unique gore in the movie. There's also some pretty disturbing images of suicide. It is an R-rated movie that has a goal of being disturbing. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Ari Aster
My students were all talking about Midsommar. Yeah. That's when I knew that this one was going to be more popular than the other A24 movies I had caught before this moment. Knowing what is in this movie is pretty bad, and I was absolutely mortified to know that high school teenagers were watching something like this. I'm still on the side of, "They probably shouldn't be watching this kind of stuff", but I want to couple that with the admission that this was the prime time in my horror career. In high school, the more disturbing, the better. This is my time reading Fear Street books and finding ways into R-rated movies. I would talk about The Exorcist as if it was an urban legend. Yeah, I think A24 have probably upped the content standards of the horror movie. But let's be honest. I would have been first in line to see this movie in theaters. (That being said, I don't approve. I just get it.)
Midsommar is definitely shocking. I will never deny that. I won't downplay it. But it is also very on-brand for A24. Ari Aster's last movie, Hereditary, was actually more disturbing to me. But that comes down to what messes with your mind. Midsommar's big pull for me is the juxtaposed tone to what is happening with the movie. I'm going to be dropping Hereditary references a lot, so please just indulge me for now. Hereditary had an easy job, compared to Midsommar. Aster, when he was making Hereditary, made a horror movie that looked like a horror movie. It was troubling and upsetting. I played up the idea of shadows and things coming in the dark. Like many of the A24 films, it was shot marvelously. But it still relied on a whole bunch of horror movie tropes that were meant to scare. Midsommar does quite the opposite. Very little of this movie is in the dark. While Hereditary made the grotesque scary, there's an odd beauty in the grotesque of Midsommar. Everything is out in the open. With Hereditary, the horror is the minority of society. It is something small that takes over someone's life. From moment one, we're kind of aware that the protagonist is entering a world of horror. Couple those ideas together for a second. The world of Hereditary is the protagonist being stalked by something small that becomes big. It hides in the shadows and is unseen. Midsommar has the protagonist being small and surrounded by evil, but it is completely visible.
I kind of love that Midsommar is a commentary on cultural clash. I mean, I kind of hate it too. I don't know if the message of Midsommar will hold up over time. But there's this us v. them attitude going throughout, only the weapon is politeness. From an American perspective, the movie is about civilization treating complex cultures as a vacation. There's this innate desire to be respectful, which I get and embrace. But the movie isn't about behavior, but of thought. Mark's presence in the movie is the Ugly American. If you've ever gone abroad, we're all warned not to be the Ugly American when visiting. It's about Mark's comfort level and he vocalizes his disgust with things all the time. In a weird way, when the movie's themes are kind of absorbed, there's something almost right about Mark's behavior. But I digress. Instead, the rest of the characters come there with appropriate behaviors, but with inappropriate mindset. There's never really a moment where the characters absorb the idea that maybe the civilization that they are visiting is as complex and appropriate as American capitalism and its subsequent norms. This is where the themes of the movie get really muddy because, guess what? The Americans are kind of right. This place is horrible and they should totally judge it. After all, it gets most of the characters killed in horrible ways. Mark also bites it, but at least Mark bites it being right.
There's a moment in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where the protagonist knows that the killer is inviting him in to kill him, but decides to go in because it is impolite to show one's hand. I know this happens in the Fincher version at least. It's been too long since I've seen the original or read the original. That attitude is kind of taken to the extreme in Midsommar. There are moments where social norms are completely and objectively violated. It's a weird line to talk about because I'm totally on board witih not judging cultures for the things that we consider taboo. (Bee-tee-dubs, if I went to a country where the national dish was something that we'd consider a domesticated adorable animal, I would eat it in a heartbeat. Sorry everyone. You may continue to hate me.) There are things that are considered questionable. Placing pubic hair in tea might be the line in the sand for me. I don't know what side of the fence I fall on that one. But then there's the ritual suicide. The protagonists are visibly upset by this behavior. Yet, the people of the village are easily able to explain away and justify this action. Perhaps there's a bit of commentary on the fickleness of morals, but this moment is truly haunting. What is the right side of morality on this front? It feels like this is almost like a sociological / psychological hypothetical situation being played out in film. That's actually what makes Midsommar, and good cinema in general, so interesting. It gets people to think. I mean, I know for sure that I'd be rallying to leave as soon as possible from that moment. But it probably wouldn't end up very good for me.
If the entire thing is, indeed, about how fickle morality is, is the barn sequence the epitome of this argument? Because there might be the line of reality. There's something telling about sitting through ritual suicide. There might be all kinds of red flags when your friends go missing. The pubic hair scene...well, we have Fear Factor. But there's straight up cheating on your girlfriend. Then, there's cheating on your girlfriend when a whole bunch of naked people surround you. Sure, there's the drugs. Maybe the message of the movie is..."don't do drugs." But drugs are commonplace in this story. There's not really a narrative where the drugs are not an option. This ties back to the made up rules that associate horror movies since Friday the 13th.
I apologize for the bounding around, but that could account for Dani's survival. I love Florence Pugh and I don't know if it is actually an award for her to be a Final Girl that survives...technically. But Dani is the most moral character in the story. Throughout the story, her character is defined by her victimhood. Daily life is hell for her. Aster weaves this tale of what it is like to be a survivor when no one else is feeling pain. She does things that would be considered immoral in other horror movies. She does drugs, hesitantly. She trips and continues doing things that really toe the moral conventions. But Dani is aware of the problematic situation that she's in. She's not there to get high. She's there to give the impression to be normal. She's there to save her relationship to Christian, who sucks. The drugs thing, while technically her fault, is about the appearance of normality. She doesn't want anyone to feel left out. Aster makes her drug trip horrifying because it reflects the intentions of the drug use. There is something abusive about the way that the crew peer pressures her into drug use. While everyone else may be enjoying themselves, except Mark who is kind of xenophobic, Dani's drug trip is reflective of the lies she tells in her daily life. One of the coolest effects in the movie is the grass growing out of her hands. The concept of nature being parasitic kind of is a great image for the movie as a whole.
I give Midsommar so many props, but I have a really hard time saying it is a wholly original movie. Midsommar is a more intense The Wicker Man, which in itself is also pretty intense. I'm not talking about the Nicholas Cage "the-bees" travesty. I'm talking about the 1973 edition. I suppose I'm beating around the bush because I don't like the slippery slope that this goes down, but both The Wicker Man and Midsommar reflect the insanity of religion. It's so much easier to point fingers at cults because cults, by definition, are comprised of the outliers. They are instantly recognized as foolish by the rational world. But cults tend to be microcosms of the greater organized religion. This movie technically rallies against the problematic belief in religions. Unlike Hereditary, which gives us a clear cut answer about the existence of the supernatural, there's something more haunting about both The Wicker Man and Midsommar and their possibly misguided attitudes towards the divine. Everything in Midsommar is about ritual. Because these rituals are completed, the people attribute prosperity to these rituals. But it is critical of the academic atheist peeping in on the absurdity of ritualized religion. Also, William Jackson Harper is started to get typecast with that academic stuff.
I don't know if Midsommar is helping me get back on the A24 train. Since I see basically every A24 horror movie, I've been having a common thread on these essays that I'm burning out on them. I love that Midsommar's color palate actually existed. I loved that it was outside. But the tone is so oppressive in these movies that I don't know if I actually feel happy having seen them. It's kind of like binging Bergman without getting the street cred afterwards. You watch a Bergman or two, you love the intellectual stimulation and the attention to detail. But they are exhausting movies. A24 is smarter than the average horror movie, but they also are grim and bleak. There's only so much I can take to really be in the mindset of just dour misery. Either way, I can't say that Midsommar was a bad experience. It's just that I don't know if I could recommend it either. It's objectively pretty good. It just seemed like more on the sadness pile though.
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Rated PG for...um. How can Babe, a movie with blood and is live-action, get a G rating and The Lego Movie gets a PG? Here's me trying to figure out what direction the MPAA is taking this: It comments on commercialism? There is kinda sorta peril in the movie. There's some toy-on-toy comic violence? I mean, it's pretty tame guys. This? Writing this is a burden on me. It is so hard to figure out where the PG rating comes from. At one point, a prude might consider Wildsyle's dress in the Old West to be less than modest. But even that's a stretch. PG.
DIRECTORS: Christopher Miller and Phil Lord
I swear that I've written about this movie before! I've cited it so many times! I use The Lego Movie as the cornerstone for so many of my arguments that I'm a hypocrite. Still, apparently I haven't written about it before because it doesn't show up when I try linking things to it. I was so jazzed when my son picked this for his movie because I thought, "Oh, I've already written about this. Nothing to worry about." And then I checked. That's a real bummer, you know. Quarantine has gotten me to watch so many movies that I'm really working to play catch up. That's saying something, considering this is a daily blog.
I love The Lego Movie. I've said ths before and I'll say it again. Ironically, I was just complaining about Chosen One tropes yesterday talking about the most recent season of Doctor Who, so this all lines up with the fact that The Lego Movie is Exhibit A for my hypocrisy. I have always complained about the insane marketing and cross-promotion that films have. Listen, I get that all cinema isn't high art. But it is hard to defend a movie from every being art or even having quality when the movie is more concerned about selling a product than telling a story. The Wizard had potential in its narrative until the movie became all about selling Nintendo products. The Lost World: Jurassic Park bothers me because of how toyetic that movie is. (Toyetic was a word coined my studio execs to explain how this movie would help sell toys.) CastAway completely lost me when all of the FedEx boxes washed up ashore. There's something that really pulls me out of a movie when I'm aware that there's branding going on. It gets to the pit of my stomach, thinking that there's little attention to the value of the product as long as money is made. I'm not an idiot. I get that movies are made to make studios a criminal amount of money. That's the business. The business gets me stories to enjoy and I'll continue paying them for that opportunity. But Lord and Miller, whom I revere as geniuses, managed to take a crap property and turn it into something that transcends its conceit.
Legos are rad. I'm not saying that Legos aren't. But The Lego Movie is named after the product it was trying to sell. I love hot dogs, but I also think that "The Oscar Meyer Hot Dog Movie" sounds like a terrible name for a film. Lord and Miller don't necessarily strike me as Lego obsessed. What I do take them for is funny and nerdy. They get that it doesn't matter what the obsession is, it's what people love about that thing that matters. (For the syntax obsessed, I apologize right now for that last sentence.) The Lego Movie never really tries to hide what it is, but it does let you forget because it places storytelling and comedy first. Lego is never really seen to be a cool thing in the movie. Perhaps there's the consequence of Lego being cool, but the movie never asks you to take out money and spend it on the movie. Yet, the entire movie does look pretty cool. It is the flexibility of the product that is the only thing that is actively marketable in the movie. These guys cared about making something good, not just for Lego fans, but for movie fans. That's kind of the attitude to have in this era of filmmaking. Instead of saying, "Let's sell more toys", it's making licenses accessible for new viewers. You know how everyone's a Marvel expert now? That's because it was the same attitude.
But in terms of talking about the actual story, can I say something dangerous that is going to make me out to be the oldest man in the world? I agree with Dad. I know. I'm a bad guy for doing this. The entire movie is about being able to do whatever you want with your designs. Lord Business is obsessed with keeping the separate worlds. Initial reads of this theme are that Lego is supposed to be whatever you want it to be and stuffy Lord Business is trying to make it locked into one thing. I get that read. We want kids to express creativity and to expand what is considered normal. I love that. But the movie straight up drops a bomb on us at one point in the movie. Emmett leaves Lego world and we discover that everything that's going on in the movie is the product of the imagination of one kid playing with his dad's Lego. It's in this moment that the moral of the story is spelled out as tightly as it can be...except for a few lines. Dad's basement is a Lego heaven. It's something really special to Dad. He's spent years building his own Lego project and it is his passion. A quick glance at the movie makes it seem like Dad wants to horde the Lego all for himself. But Dad has purchased his kid a box of Lego. He doesn't want to build those Lego. He wants to build Dad's Lego.
Remember, I'm a fan of this movie so don't get angry with me. There are all these narratives that adults shouldn't grow up in every way possible. Adults are stuffy and boring and are all obsessed with business; hence the name "Lord Business". Dad's hobby is something that is considered by many to be childish. Instead of rewarding Dad for being passionate about something that he can share with his son (his son's box of Legos), he's supposed to kowtow to anything that's not his. As much as the son has this narrative going through his head, so does Dad. Why is Dad's story less valuable? If anything, Dad's story is more valuable because he was willing to put that kind of work and effort into creating a city. His son's desire to be involved with Dad? Great. I totally respect that. But think about how much Dad just wants to show how effort and dedication mean to finding joy. The kid totally has a right to make his own Lego worlds, but they shouldn't infringe on the joy of someone else. Again, this is a deep read that I've had about The Lego Movie for a while. I adore sharing my comic collection with my kids. I love sharing movies I love with them. But should I model good ownership to them as well? That basement is rad. It's totally rad. Yes, the kid is also good at Lego, but why not making something new instead of destroying something that someone put a lot of effort into? I know. I'm going off on The Lego Movie. But it always stares me straight in the face. That's kind of why The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part kind of undoes the rules of the first one. The son feels what it must be like to be Dad in the first movie.
But Emmett's story is the one we're caring for. I know, I focused a lot on the Dad and the Son, but that's the theme of the movie. So from Emmett's perspective, what is happening? For a Chosen One narrative, this one actually does flip some conventions on their heads. A common motif within the Chosen One narrative is the idea that it is someone who is ordinary that discovers greatness. Let's use Neo in The Matrix as our grounding element. Neo is mortified with how boring his life is. He's actively searching for his own (white male) greatness. When the world proves itself to be false, he goes through a series of trials and tribulations to shed the lies of his old life and embrace his new role as the savior of humanity. Emmett, however, finds his greatness in himself. There have always been expectations placed on Emmett to be somehow better than what he values. From an outside perspective, he's basic. He likes expensive coffee and whatever's on the radio. While I'm a huge snob, I can respect what the film is doing with these elements. Emmett...likes what he likes. Perhaps he does want a degree of acceptance, but that always seems secondary. He's a genuinely happy character who just keeps letting people down because he's somehow not more special. This actually makes Wildstyle such an excellent foil and, by extension, Batman as well.
Wildstyle is a poser. I'm Wildstyle, guys. Not always, but there are times. There's a reason that the movies I watch more often are in the basement, but the Criterion DVDs are upstairs on display. Part if it is because the art on Criterion DVDs are rad, but it is all of that attempt to gain street cred. But Wildstyle has devoted every waking moment of her life trying to redefine herself that she loses the point of it all. When she reveals that she knows all the words to "Everything is Awesome", coupled with the revelation that her name is Lucy, we actually get the tale of a lost girl who was so desperate for acceptance that she loses who she really is. It's in that moment that she sees herself in Emmett. Emmett likes what he likes. Part of it is because that is all that he has been exposed to, but also because the reaction is earnest. But it is important to remember that both Emmett and Wildstyle are dynamic characters.
Emmett's character arc takes him from a place of comfort to a place of challenge. A lot of this is done for the sake of humor, but it is remarkably telling that Emmett's mind is completely blank. He's never felt the need to challenge himself or to take risks. While his soul is honest and pure, it is lacking oxygen and food. It's when Emmett is forced to experience pure awe to help his friends that he realizes that these great things can actually happen. It's not that he doesn't want to be more cultured, but that he can't get good at something complex immediately...until the movie is almost over and then he can. (I'm not saying the movie is perfect. It still has the constraints of a runtime.) Wildstyle, in contrast, thinks that she has it altogether. She is so obsessed with finding value outside of herself that she destroys what made her great to begin with. I love the revelation that Wildstyle is the author of "Everything is Awesome" in the sequel because it is a wonderful backstory for the girl who is trying too hard. It's when she learns to love herself is when she learns to appreciate / love Emmett. She doesn't dislike Emmett because he's basic. She dislikes him because he reminds her of who she used to be. I get it. I always hate me nine years ago. But that's a story of self-esteem and I adore that.
I could analyze this movie all day. (Honestly, I'm running a bit dry right now and I'm looking at my clock.) But I also really want to stress that Lord and Miller get storytelling and that they get comedy. While I may not absolutely embrace every theme in the movie, it works for the sake of good filmmaking. I might be glad that the Lego movies are taking a bit of a break, but I will definitely see more if they make them.
The G rating in 1995 was amazing! There's so much blood and death in this movie! Like, it gets pretty gross at times. There are dogs that rip apart sheep. The cat tears up Babe's nose. The constant implication that lovable characters will be eaten by humans is just commonplace! And it's live action! I can't believe what the '90s allowed when it came to the MPAA! I kind of want to do a study on the shifting philosophies of the MPAA...you know, assuming that This Film is Not Yet Rated never existed. G.
DIRECTOR: Chris Noonan
I didn't know how woke children's cinema and television was in the '90s. I mean, I used to get straight up excited to watch Captain Planet and the Planeteers back in the day. I thought it was this really mythology heavy television show about nuanced issues. While I'm probably way more woke than I was oh-so-long ago, watching that show today shows that there wasn't even a whiff of subtlety to that story. Apparently, I was also completely lost on the whole vegan element that makes up Babe.
I'm not going to avoid it: Babe and Charlotte's Web are the same story. Babe has a little bit more time to play with the horrors a young pig must go through, but they both have the exact same conflict. An ignorant pig must find some unique value to avoid being eaten on a farm. I don't know if two separate authors came to the same conclusion about the role of pigs on a farm, but it is there right in the formula. Maybe I don't give much thought to the role of a pig from the pig's perspective. But that's the point of stories like this. With Captain Planet, it's your fault for not picking up on themes. Babe is mostly a guilt trip throughout. The movie introduces the character of Babe in context of being separated from his mother. He's an avatar for nature while he is juxtaposed against something mechanical and cold. From this point on, the story becomes about nature versus civilization. The Hoggetts, even named to parallel Babe's role in society, are wildly skeptical about civilization. But as the story progresses, Farmer Hoggett entrenches himself more in nature while Mrs. Hoggett embraces the fruits of civilization. By embracing Babe's abilities, he denies the technology of a farm. He distances himself from the house, a liminal setting between nature and civilization, and becomes one of the characters of the story.
Early in the story Farmer Hoggett is barely involved in the story. In fact, he's a bit of a threat. He is the one who slaughters the animals. He is distantly removed from that central location. It's once he becomes Babe's surrogate father (although it is tempting to put Rex in that role) that Hoggett finds both real value in Babe and real value in itself. I'm completely putting my own close reading on this film, but I can't help but make the connection that the sequel to this movie is Babe: Pig in the City. The first movie is all about the glory of nature. Since I just stated that the house is a liminal place for Babe, it is interesting that every time that Babe enters the house, whether welcome or no, he gets into trouble. There is a character shift in Babe in these moments. The first example is Babe and Ferdinand breaking the alarm clock, the Macguffin representing technology and civilization. Because the clock is replacing something that ought to come naturally, the crowing of the rooster / duck, these two enter the house and end up accidentally destroying it. It's the funnier of the two sequences, although it weirdly creeped out my son, who finds funny things scary from time-to-time. But the destruction of the house is very revealing of the Hoggetts' attachment to dominance. If civilization gives man dominion over the animals, the thing that separates Farmer Hoggett from the rest of the animals is the house. When Ferdinand tries establishing power over the people through the elimination of the clock radio, the balance is upset. The Hoggetts become the threat to the characters. Rather than a distant God, discussions of animal based meals starts getting brought up.
Because I like to tie all themes and motifs to ideas of parenthood, Babe gives a concept of the abusive parent. Both Farmer Hoggett and Rex are the paternal surrogate for Babe. We never meet Babe's father. Again, this is --and this is a stretch --attributed to the milking machine. It would be easy to say that the milking machine is a stand in for the matriarch, but Fly fills in that role. Similarly, the role of the milk machine is to separate a child from its mother. Well, if there's no more depressing metaphor for what a father does, I don't know what else it could be. But Babe never really has a lasting father figure, at least in a healthy way. Farmer Hoggett gets really close to a father figure character, but fails in certain elements. It's very telling that Farmer Hoggett has a hard time expressing vulnerability. Despite the fact that the very entry into the competition is extremely vulnerable to him, he has a hard time vocally expressing that. The phrase that the movie is probably most associated with is "That'll do, pig". That three word phrase is code for "I love you." Babe, for the most part, is a static character who simply gains knowledge, but maintains his core beliefs. Hoggett, however, goes from a role of master to that of father. We see that because Hoggett, clutching a shotgun that is pointed at Babe's face (an extremely traumatic scene that I never really grasped as a child) shows the abusive nature of fatherhood. Yes, Hoggett is granted a redemption arc. But when he's about to kill Babe with the shotgun, it is after Hoggett realizes Babe's objective value. Hoggett wasn't the master archetype when the gun is pointed at Babe. Instead, he is in the role of father correcting a mistake through violence.
The same can be said of Rex. Rex is associated with fatherhood because of his relationship to Fly. Fly is the overt mother character, being named as such by Babe. But Rex actively wants nothing to do with him. If Babe is kind of a carbon copy of the bones of Charlotte's Web, we can't deny that there are elements of The Jungle Book and Tarzan filled in as well with the adoption of another species of animal. But Rex never really makes the shift that the movie claims he does. Rex, the victim of circumstance, blames a disability for his cruel actions. Coupled with the jealousy of a child that has outshone him, Rex only really makes the shift to a morally healthy character not because of his love for Babe, but for the respect that he has for his wife. But Rex only respects Fly in ways that further his own sense of attraction and mating. Fly, a strong female character, is regularly undermined by her patriarchal coupling, who shouts and barks. Yes, his deafness should be considered an element of the story, but Rex regularly strikes out violently at anyone who rubs him the wrong way. Honestly, Babe in that household is somewhat the victim of domestic(ated) abuse. That decision in the end is good, but it doesn't really allow Rex to be considered a father to Babe. At most, it makes him a citizen of the farm and a character who acknowledges his new place as a retiree in this commmunity.
Hey, guess what? I was terrified to write this today. I thought, "I have nothing to say about Babe". I'm kind of proud of this one. I went super academic for absolutely no reason and found out about gender politics in a kids' anti-meat movie fro 1995. I'll consider this one a win.
PG-13, and I'm kind of glad. The Harry Potter movies get creepier the further you go into the series. I heard something along the lines of J.K. Rowling's attitude towards her series. Harry's age is the appropriate age for each story. Harry's gettin' up there by this point, so the maturity level should be reflected. Kids die in this one. There's talk of torture and death throughout. The bad guys are also excessively creepy, including the Doctor. A well-earned PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Mike Newell
No surprise, the blog is dying. I tailored it for years to a Catholic audience and now I'm not in the group anymore. There was a surge in readership once I got booted as a show of solidarity. But that was a couple of weeks ago and now the counter is on life support. I have to tell myself that the blog was never for other people. But I did have a regular readership. I have to find a way to A) get out of Facebook jail and B) find a new way to promote this page without being able to write the URL. Whoever reported me to Facebook, I'm not a fan of you.
And this is where I make all of the enemies. I have to say that I couldn't wait to write about this one. I am the terrible example of the self-fulfilling prophecy. When Harry Potter hit it big, I loved being above such things. I hate this attitude today. Don't be above anything. I now try to give things honest shots. If I don't like it, that's something else. But I try giving everything a fair shake. But considering that everyone loved Harry Potter, I wanted to be the elitist turd who thought it was dumb. But my students all loved Harry Potter. So I made them a deal. If they all did well on their final projects, I would read the Harry Potter books. Sure enough, they all crushed it and I read all of them. Now, my takeaway is that the books are bloated and really repetitive, but the mythology stuff in Harry Potter is actually pretty darned good. But I always held, and still do, that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a travesty, despite the fact that people like it so much.
Before I go any deeper, I have to whine about the 2 hour 40 minute runtime. My daughter and I have tried watching this movie over and over again. She loves this book. I'm not going to take that away from her. But I get upsettingly bored watching this movie. We finished it on the third attempt together. I mentioned that Rowling padded out her novels and Goblet of Fire is definitely a part of that. One of the major side threads in the story is that Ron and Harry are on the outs for a part of this story. Now, I get that characters need to evolve, but there's very little that ties the themes of broken friendship with the primary plot. Really, these characters are in disagreement because it is simply added conflict. But I love when the internal conflict is directly tied to the external conflict. Because there is no purpose to the internal conflict, it has a really hard time giving the majority of the film purpose. When I say that Harry Potter stories are full of filler, it's this stuff. Perhaps it is meant to tie Harry to the human stories of the average teenager, coupled with a dash of magic here and there.
The boredom that I get from the movie comes from the fact that it is overy bloated, despite an appearance from David Tennant. I've spouted off to my class about this before. I actually had a student, one who just graduated, write me a letter about how wrong I was regarding this theory. Now that he can Facebook friend me, there's a real good chance that he'll see this and write something epic in response. But the movie doesn't work. It has that problem that I talked about in my Gone Girl essay: everything is part of the villain's master plan, regardless of how absurd that entire concept is. The story really starts with Harry's name coming out of the titular Goblet of Fire. He's too young to be in the game. It's part of the rules. Harry insists that he didn't put his name into the Goblet of Fire (why wouldn't Ron believe that, by the way?). The fact that Harry's name pops out of that would come down to Dumbledore. It's not like they're going to enslave Harry for choosing not to be part of an absurd set of games that murder kids. (That's something that we should probably all think about. Every single one of these games seems to want to kill kids. Why is the wizarding world so great?) A lot of Voldemort's plan rested on the fact that Dumbledore would go against better judgment and force Harry to participate. What if Dumbledore just said, "No. This is clearly against the rules and it seems like Harry really doesn't want to be involved." That would be the end of the story. But let's say that, like it happens here, that Dumbledore ignores all logic and common sense and lets the story play out the way that it does.
The plan, according to Dumbledore, is that Harry is going to participate in these competitions against all odds. The other players are the best of the best from their schools. Harry is underage and has never even heard of the Tri-Wizard tournament or whatever it is. He's not been training for it. He's outclassed in every way when it comes to this. Voldemort's logic is that he's going to help him win these amazing and over-the-top feats of wizardry by placing Barty Crouch, Jr. into his life to help him get the competitive edge. But as we see throughout these events, it would still take the most amazing wizard to survive these events, let alone win even with help. Harry's almost completely vaporized by a dragon. Is that part of Voldemort's plan? I mean, Barty Crouch, Jr. helps him out in small ways. How is he going to ensure that Harry would win. He shouldn't win. Rowling and the storytellers remind us that there's no logical reason why Harry should keep winning these events. This is no more confirmed than by the fact that Harry and Cedric Diggory touch the cup at the same time. How do you iron out the edges of that? Harry and Cedric touching the cup at the same time shows how insane this whole plot is? The odds on that happening are astronomically small. It really should be Cedric who portkeys to Voldemort, much to everyone's confusion. There are so many places where this story could fail that it is absurd that the events play out the way that they do.
And this is where the story should be over in five seconds. Are you ready? Take into all that I've just said and realize: anything can be a portkey. There's specific instructions about this in the movie. The movie starts off with the portkey being an innocuous object. Why make the hardest thing in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to touch the portkey? Why not have Mad Eye Moody / Barty Crouch, Jr. just ask Harry for a pen when he's teaching all kinds of secret stuff? "Hey Harry, hand me that pen." Poof! Harry Potter delivered to Voldemort COD. My student argued that it had to be done secretly, so no one would know that Harry was taken by Voldemort. He also argues that you can't do certain kinds of magic on Hogwart's grounds. Well, there are a ton of solutions for that too. Why not do it during the summer? The Dursey's house is full of stupid stuff happening that's illegal in the wizarding world. What about at the tavern where the kids all get drunk on butterbeer? That place seems great. Harry also takes angsty walks, like, all the time. To have this complex set of adventures that all lead to Harry, despite every odd in the book, touch a trophy that, for all intents and purposes, shouldn't be able to touch, is silly.
When I point to why I'm not obsessed with Harry Potter, a lot of it can be chalked up to the frustrations I have with the plot. If it was interesting character development over a stupid plot, I could probably forgive the movie pretty well, like I do with Star Trek Into Darkness. After all, David Tennant is one of the big bad guys. It also introduces the formal idea of Death Eaters. The world is pretty intense in this one. The one thing that the movie probably does right is foreshadow a war very nicely. Instead of happy-go-lucky wizarding world, we get some scary stuff. I'm happy to be a muggle after seeing some of the events of this movie. But ultimately, the setting isn't enough to get me to like a really long movie that is phenomenally dumb plotwise. Again, you like it? Keep it. It's yours and I never want to take it away from you.
Because that's the thing: every franchise has garbage. Well, the MCU has things that are less great. This movie really rubs me the wrong way, but it shouldn't rub you the wrong way. I do want to make people aware that the story REALLY doesn't work . But why should that matter? If you like it, you like it. I just...really don't.
Rated R for blood and sex. Fincher uses blood and sex pretty sparingly sometimes. But when it is there, it is pretty graphic. There is some nudity involved. The f-word is just commonplace. Really, the movie gets pretty brutal at times. Even the descriptions of violence are pretty off-putting. It's not an easy movie to sit through for a decent percentage of the film. R.
DIRECTOR: David Fincher
It's almost closing a chapter. My film class ended last week. This was the assignment to watch two weeks ago. I had seen the movie before. It's a little unfair of me to be writing the way I am. I have two very different experiences with this film. My wife and I, in preparation for the movie coming out back in the day, shotgunned the audiobook of Gone Girl. From there, we almost immediately went into the movie, claiming to be experts on the original text. That might not have been the smartest move ever because the movie is very close to the original book. Gillian Flynn wrote both the book and the screenplay, so the movie just felt like a condensed version of the book. Now, we're a few years out. I had to watch this for a class. So the original takeaway was "too short, doesn't get the nuance." The new review is "Man, I'll always be happy when a movie is under two hours."
I didn't originally see why this would be part of a film noir curriculum. From first appearances, this feels like a thriller. At most, it could feel like an erotic thriller, considering how many sexual themes are running throughout the movie. But there is something there that makes it almost seem like film noir. I don't know if I would ever confidently defend it as film noir, but this movie relies heavily on one of the best crafted femmes fatale I've ever seen. The femme fatale is always an interesting character, especially from the white male perspective. She acts as this warning to white male privilege. She comes across as evil at times and this archetype may be part of the charge to keep the female down. After all, she probably is evil disguised as morality. But Amazing Amy is something very interesting to think about. The thing about the femme fatale is that rarely does she have a bulk of background. The film noir is a boys' club. The protagonist is always male. The femme fatale was evil eye candy. But Flynn's Gone Girl, both the book and the movie, steals back some of that power from the male protagonist. Amy gets enough screen time that she becomes even more fleshed out than the protagonist, making her significantly more interesting to watch on screen. Sure, it throws the traditional narrative structure out the window, but it does make for a compelling film.
The film noir infamously has the protagonist with a bunch of hang ups. Sometimes these hangups are criminal. Sometimes it's a bad habit spiraled out of control. But through the events of the story, the protagonist goes from suck to completely over his head. Ben Affleck's Nick falls easily into that category. He's a crummy husband and he's a teacher who is having an affair with his underage student. He's not a criminal, but it is really easy not to like him. But the events that Amy puts into motion are way more of a nuclear option than any of the crimes that Nick has committed. He deserves some kind of vengeance, but Amy's death is just insane. I find it odd that Amy's plan consists of eventually killing herself. Her plan, and this is heavily spoilery (but I just stopped caring), involves her enjoying the fruits of her labor and then killing herslef. Sure, she eventually backpedals from this decision, but it is interesting to watch. But Flynn's script gives us Nick as a protagonist for only a short amount of time.
It's really the weirdest element of the movie because Gone Girl is almost two separate movies. Nick is the instrument of his fate in the first half of the film. Discovering the disappearance of Amy and the implication that this is all a punishment, Nick is given a set of moral choices. He, of course, makes the bad ones. We're not supposed to really like Nick all that much because Amy's actually kind of a sympathetic sociopath. But at about the 45% mark, just shy of the halfway point, Nick's choices become moot. He is no longer in control of his fate. If he had the opportunity to fix is situation from the beginning of the film, that option is denied him given the runtime of the film itself. At that 45% mark, at the switch to Amy, he has failed and he becomes the victim of fate. The story, somehow, is still about Nick getting free from the situation that he has been placed in and into a world where he has to depend on others to free him. The shift to Amy is also fairly eyeopening. When we discover that Amy is alive and well, that everything in the story is part of Amy's master plan, we start seeing her as vulnerable as time goes on.
There had to be a temptation to make her a bit like Javier Bardem's character in Skyfall or The Joker in The Dark Knight. There's this category of villain where the plan is just a bit too perfect for anything good to come out of it. Amy's plan reeks of "a bit too perfect" at times. Her hand written journal corresponding to a very accurate calendar is just a marvelous device for a perfect murder. Also, the idea that she would write that much by hand and then risk burning it is also a bit of a stretch. But the second half of the film, while somehow a little less interesting than the main plot, also reminds us that the villains of a story can also be deeply flawed. There's this really odd shift from Amy the supervillain to Amy, the victim of her own hubris. Everything involving her own disappearance and the framing of Nick, perfectly aligned to a plan. Nothing goes wrong. It is exactly what she wanted. But the second that plan is over, reality takes a strong role in how Amy's life plays out.
I love the idea that Amy is a fictional version of herself in the story itself. The looming Amazing Amy character is so perfect for everything that is going on in the world. Her parents wrote Amazing Amy to be this fictionally perfect stand-in for their own daughter. People think that the real Amy is as amazing as the one that they meet. But then we're dragged back to reality with the idea that Amy herself can't be perfect. But even that Amy is a lie. Everything in Amy's life is built around the concept of lying. Amazing Amy is a lie. Amy Dunn is a lie. The real Amy lives in a world where storytelling is real. As much as the interesting stuff is around Amy and Nick, seeing Amy on her own is so much less cinematic...well, at least until the Neil Patrick Harris stuff. Watching Amy make basic mistakes about how to hide out and spend money is really telling for how this woman views reality. Nothing plays out storywise when she interacts with normal human beings. She's robbed and has to manually insert herself back into a fictional narrative to make things make sense. It's kind of cool and kind of weird when everything comes back together.
The first time I read / watched Gone Girl, the end bothered me. The bad guy wins. Amy comes across like one of the scariest bad guys in film because we all know she's evil, but she gets what she wants. Similarly, Nick just has to leave. I just finished A Doll's House and I get that authors can get their protagonists to abandon their children, especially considering that it seemed like Nick never really wanted kids to begin with. But that also so works with the overall themes and motifs of the film. Nick is most likable when he is playing the martyr. There's a lot of the story where Nick is considered sympathetic. His biggest crime is that he kind of subconsciously enjoys Amy being gone and that he's garnering all of this sympathy. It's only once the suspicion is cast on him does he show his darker nature. By having Nick offer himself to the pyre that is Amy and Nick's relationship does he actually get this smallest win in the world. And, yeah, Amy is a bad guy. But she's a bad guy who is kind of right. Listen, I'm about to go into some "Thanos was right" nonsense. I don't actually condone a darned thing that Amy does in the film, but the message she sends is actually kind of interesting. Marriage is hard. I'm speaking for everyone else, of course. My marriage is easy and I love my wife and please don't frame me for murder.
But marriage is fun for a while at the beginning. Everyone wants to see you succeed. You have all of these plans for so long that reality never really kicks in. Marriage is all about those day-to-day things that get frustrating. It's how we handle those moments that define our marriage. I know, I'm riding on my high horse after ten years of marriage, acting like I know the ins and outs of marriage like a seasoned veteran. For all I know, it'll be at the 60 year marker where I really piss my wife off and frames me for her murder. But that's Nick's evil. The adultery is terrible. But it isn't that it's just Nick's actions that make Amy hate / love him (it's complicated). It's the idea that he justifies his cruelties because life happened. There's this whole section of the film that talks about the recession. Nick and Amy both lose their jobs and Nick becomes this huge waste of space. I love me some video games, Nick, but you became such a jerk in those moments. We would all be amazing spouses if everything in life were easy. It's the small decisions when life gets hard that really define a marriage. Yeah, don't cheat on your wife. But even more so, don't cheat on your wife and mentally blame it on her.
Gone Girl is a pretty rad piece of storytelling that flourishes when it decides to take conventions and redefine them. Technically, a lot of the beats are typical thriller. But the movie is cool when it decides to completely avoid the expected and to throw formula and function out the window.
Rated G for its outright silliness. It's great when a live action movie that isn't necessarily aimed at kids is G. There's nothing really all that questionable about the movie. There are nods to the fact that the Beatles like all kinds of girls in their travels. That's a bit odd. The Beatles themselves, if I have to distance myself from the quality of the film, probably make poor role models in the movie. But it's G. Give it a break. It is mostly an innocent movie with very little to question. G.
DIRECTOR: Richard Lester
When I first read Crime and Punishment, I didn't love it. I thought that the first tenth of the book was great and then was bored stupid for the rest of the book. Intellectually, I got what the "and Punishment" part of the book was doing. I just didn't enjoy it very much. Then I had to teach it when I took over Honors English. I read that book a billion more times since then. One of those times, I really enjoyed it. I had memorized a bit of it and have some real highlight moments in that book. But after all was said and done, I eventually stopped teaching the honors sophomore class. Now I don't read Crime and Punishment anymore...and I don't mind one bit.
That's a little bit of what is going on with A Hard Day's Night. I keep watching this movie over and over. The first few times I watched it, I intellectually got a lot of it. I knew what was happening. I got some of the cooler shots that Richard Lester was doing. But actually enjoying it? It took quite a few viewings to get to that point. But I've rounded the bend. I think I've gotten as much as I can out of A Hard Day's Night, but it keeps somehow getting watched in our household. It doesn't help that we have three / technically four versions of the movie: the DVD, the blu-ray, and the Criterion...which has both the DVD and the blu-ray. We're a Beatles family. I know that makes us a little bit basic. I honestly believe that when people say that they hate the Beatles, it's a little bit of "she doth protest too much." There's street cred that comes with saying that you hate the Beatles. I get not being a Beatlemaniac. My wife, at one point in her life, was a Beatlemaniac. She still has threads of that lingering that she passes on to our children. My daughter went on a real bender with the Beatles when she was younger. What I'm getting at is that my kids have short-term memory and I have a feeling I'm constantly going to be returning to the Hard Day's Night well for a while.
The biggest issue I had with it originally and I've now returned to is that there is very little emotionally to hang out to except for joy. I love (some) music videos. I think I talked about it during Be Kind Rewind, but I continually share Michel Gondry music videos with anyone who will watch them. But the reason that I bond with something like a Michel Gondry music video versus a film length music video is because it is so digestable. There are a lot of music videos that I do not care for. In fact, the majority of music videos can jump off a bridge. But a few of those Gondry videos work because every element of the video, mise en scene and music, works for about two to four minutes.
There's something really vulnerable about A Hard Day's Night when a song ends. In the most cynical and broken part of my heart, I really believe that a lot of musicals are an excuse to link together songs in a way that loosely tells a story. This isn't true for all musicals, but there are far too many that are guilty of this crime. In some way, there's an attempt to hide it behind a coherent narrative. With A Hard Day's Night, the film feels like a variety show more than anything that can be appreciated outside the music. It's a well-shot Saturday Night Live bit, showing that the fab four have personalities. That has to be the goal behind the piece altogether. Now, I have a contentious relationship with Richard Lester. He took over Superman II for Richard Donner and directed the very uncomfortable Superman III. While he may get the most attention for A Hard Day's Night, I always tie him to the Superman sequels. That's fine. Those movies are fine, even Superman III. But I don't know if the shots of the movie in A Hard Day's Night are as mindblowing as film historians have made them.
Normally, I try not to spit in the face of history. I tend to lean with film scholars when it comes to a film's role in the cinematic canon. But I also have a really hard time taking A Hard Day's Night so seriously that it is considered one of the greatest movies ever. It's goal had to have been to capitalize on The Beatles' success by showing people who wanted even more Beatles that they can have a good time. That's the biggest draw to the movie. It's your favorite singers cutting loose, having a good time and telling jokes. The jokes, often, are pretty good. Even some of the deliveries are halfway decent. But let's put something else out there: a lot of them aren't. I'm going to put myself on trial right now with my American ear. I am a huge Anglophile. I watch way too much British cinema and television to claim that I can't understand people. But there are a lot of rushed lines and buried deliveries going on in the movie. I think every time but one, I have watched A Hard Day's Night with the subtitles on. Many of the jokes are really funny. I still guffaw at a lot of them. But some of those deliveries are cringy. I know. They aren't actors. But let's stop pretending that A Hard Day's Night is near perfect cinema. These are fun vignettes that show the Beatles having fun done in a pretty good way.
But all that being said, let's look at the movie from an analytical perspective. Do you know that I still have a hard time trying to figure out if the old man is actually supposed to be portraying Paul's grandfather? That makes me almost unqualified to talk about the movie with any sense of gravitas or authority. The only thing that actually bears weight in the movie is the film's depiction of Ringo. I'm critical of myself with this one, because it almost feels like I need to superimpose the plot of A Hard Day's Night over the many formulaic plots. The only time I can do so is with Ringo's feelings of abandonment. It's not enough to be considered a full length feature plot, but it is something that has a beginning, a middle, and an end while developing character in some esteem. Ringo wandering around London is what makes the movie for me. Perhaps it is because it has structure, but also the fact that Ringo playing the outsider really works emotionally for me. Much of the movie portrays the boys as footloose and fancy free, especially John Lennon. (I was about to go into a tirade on why I don't like John Lennon, but then thought better of it.) But I love the idea that Ringo rides the fence between celebrity and humanity. The things that he does are so ultimately human and personal. The boys live a life of partying and letter writing and Ringo likes to walk along the river. He likes to meet people. There's something very serene about Ringo's attitude towards being in The Beatles and it's touching and sad at the same time.
I won't even deny it: the movie as a whole makes me laugh. I watched it pretty closely this last time. Not perfectly closely. Again, I was doing the dishes. But A Hard Day's Night has always been a perfect background movie for me. Because there is a very thin through line in the film, I can look up and know that I didn't really miss anything narratively because there is no narrative. The only problem with that logic is that I miss a lot of the running gags that are absolutely phenomenal in this movie. It's just that it is a movie that doesn't really require the investment that I tend to give to movies, thus I don't really get the same outcome. When I do pay attention to it closely, all I can see are the loose ends.
PG. While a lot of kids' movies have child endangerment as a motif, this movie is about child endangerment throughout. The whole story, child endangerment. The Baudelaires' parents die in a horrible fire. It's pretty bleak throughout. The movie even prides itself on its bleak tone, so there's nothing that should be too shocking about the fact that the movie is actually as bleak as it claims to be. PG.
DIRECTOR: Brad Silberling
It's so odd to see a movie that never really had the chance to finish itself. A Series of Unfortunate Events chronicles the first three novels out of twelve of a series. But there are no other movies. This is it. With films like The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, there was the knowledge that the story would be completed in The Two Towers and The Return of the King. But with Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, that story would never be completed. So what have we left? We have a movie that feel like a long episode of TV. It's like finding a pilot for a show that was never picked up. Keep all this in mind as I rant like I do daily. I already apologize.
The story of the Baudelaire children is actually pretty great. I regularly tell my students that I love bleak endings. I don't know what it is about stories aimed for kids and adolescents that are just dour miseryfests. (That's one word I just coined, not two.) My daughter was really into the books for a while. She burns through franchises brightly, but also really quickly, It was our bedtime book series for a while and I loved doing my Patrick Warburton impression as I read them to her. See, I'm a fan of the Netflix series more than the films. The films are fine, but the films also represent exactly what I know about this franchise. I know...the first three books. I watched the episodes of...the first three books. It talked about exactly what I know about this series and nothing else. For me, and please feel free to ruin this for me, I believe Lemony Snicket.
The conceit is that this story will not have a happy ending. The Baudelaire children will encounter misery after misery, escape that misery, and then encounter new misery. From an episodic storyteller's perspective, that's actually kind of fun. Ultimately, they have to meet some kind of doom and gloom. I am not a fool. (Or maybe I am?) I have to believe that Lemony Snicket, the narrator, is lying to me to a certain extent. I can't imagine that an eight-year-old kid has the entire book series, gets to the end of book 12 or 13 and just discovers that the children are horribly massacred. I imagine that the sadness that they experience when everything is nicely wrapped up comes more in the form of some existential crisis. The hounding of Count Olaf put to an end, Klaus grows up to be an accountant and regrets never having an adventure again, or something like that. But the odd irony of the series never finishing is that I actually am delivered the narrator's promise. I will never know if the Baudelaires find any modicum of happiness shy of being free of Count Olaf for this moment.
I think I realized that I'm going to have a hard time divorcing the film from its source material. The way that the books are written are completely conducive to adapting them to film because the story is mostly about mood and nothing else. That sounds like I'm putting down the books and the film. Absolutely not. The way the film is laid out spreads out the plot of "The Bad Beginning" over the course of the three stories. For die hard fans of the book series, this means that the film takes a handful of liberties. As a loose fan, I think that the movie does exactly what the books set out to do: tell a bleak story about children escaping the fiendish schemes of the nefarious Count Olaf. But in terms of plot, this isn't one story. It's three. This movie condenses a lot of pages into a fairly short package. I went on a long tirade about this when it came to The Dark Tower, with the condensing of A LOT of text into an itty bitty movie.
It is far less of a problem here than it is in The Dark Tower, but the issues are the same. There's nothing at all really wrong with A Series of Unfortunate Events. It has a lot of the same elements that made the books series so beloved. But the studio didn't really seem to have faith in the project. This might be a hard sell. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the fact that there aren't sequels to this film, the studio was kinda sorta proven right. This is the chronology of a studio acquiring an interesting property and having no idea how to properly handle it. The Netflix series might actually prove what I'm saying as accurate. The Netflix series has a moderate amount of success. It's not like we're talking Stranger Things numbers, but the Netflix adaptation of the Lemony Snicket books garner a fair amount of attention. The model of the series is that each book garners two full length episodes, or the equivalent of a feature film. The content is there in the books to justify giving each book a certain amount of attention.
When the film divides the three books into a single film, it only moderately services the fans of the books to begin with and it does that quite poorly. When I saw this movie in the theater (I couldn't tell you why that was the movie on the list to watch), I remember enjoying it and having a certain degree of "so what"? We never really get to feel the stress of every situation. The structure of the film is that Count Olaf presents a threat to the children. The children, through deduction, solve the problem to that threat and are then taken to a new location where they will solve the problems of a new threat. We never really get to understand how and why the characters work. Instead, it's a game of leap frog. The story becomes about the conflict and not about the characters.
This is against the very conceit of the story itself. The adventures are there to tell fun stories and to give the stories a bit of structure. I don't want to downplay how fun these stories are. They are. That's what the movie does understand and gets right. But they are also tales of orphans who have very specific skills and very specific hangups. The fact that the narrator reminds us that this is a sad story is really important and we get that both in the books and in the television show. But by condensing three books into one movie, it becomes about the adventure and not about the people. Sunny has personality automatically because she's a baby. A baby doing non baby things is hilarious and all of her personality is on display from moment one. But Klaus and Violet are practically the same character. When gender comes into play in the film, that's the only time that they are differentiated. Instead, we never get to understand the struggles that these characters go through. Instead, we're looking to Count Olaf, who oddly has more depth than the protagonists of this story.
Honestly, it's really smart to have Jim Carrey play Count Olaf, especially in a movie formatted the way it is. Unfortunately, the biggest takeaway from A Series of Unfortunate Events is a reminder that Jim Carrey is returning to his man-of-a-thousand-characters rubber face right now. I remember not wanting to see the movie because the trailer sold the film as such. He's a great Count Olaf. It's absolutely perfect to see him shift on a dime between characters. (Yeah, I know that they are filmed at separate times.) But that's the conceit of the film. Jim Carrey is going to play different versions of the same character, similar to Orphan Black or The Nutty Professor. It's a fun gimmick, but's also a sideshow act.
I enjoy the movie. I enjoy the books enough to read them with my daughter. But this is one of those cases that feels like it could be so much more than it actually was. I can smell the studio all over this movie and picking and prodding at it. There is so much that could have happened with this franchise that a disappointing movie that shortens some of the adventures is a disservice to something that could have been really fun.
Rated R for a lot of language and a lot of violence. Harley Quinn seems to be DC's answer to Deadpool. Deadpool proved that you can do R-rated and make it fun. So the movie does a lot of the same beats. There's tons of violence. The violence often crosses over into gore, which involves compound fractures. There's also some sexual references, but no overt sex in the movie that I remember. It's a well-deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Cathy Yan
You guys need to stop telling me, "But this one is great" and "It fixed the DCeU". I want to like these movies! This isn't me, hoping that DC movies are going to be bad. I really really really want to like them. But somehow, I think I liked Suicide Squad better. Do you want to know why? Everyone told me ahead of time that Suicide Squad was hot garbage. I didn't waste my time on it in the theaters, so watching it at home wasn't the worst experience in the world. There were things I liked about it, minus Jared Leto. While Birds of Prey isn't the worst of the DC movies, it had a lot of "so what"?
Now, I have already acknowledged I'm in the minority of this one. Joss Whedon burned himself out of the MCU with their attitude that movies need to be bigger. I agree with Whedon. Not all superhero movies need to be the highest stakes. Birds of Prey, for what it is worth, actually has remarkably personal stakes. It is practically just a movie about the protagonists of the movie surviving and stopping a crime lord from getting a lot of money. The world isn't going to melt into nothingness if Harley Quinn and her team fails. I like that idea. But I never really got invested because the story was really amorphous.
Why do I care about Black Mask getting his hands on the diamond? I get the personal element. Attaching a really weird interpretation of Cassandra Cain physically to this diamond is probably the best way to get me to care. But there's an answer for that one: wait for her to pass the diamond. The movie even comments on that in the last few minutes of the movie. We know that she's going to pass the diamond and that time will solve the problem. What happens because of this decision is that the rest of the stakes are manufactured. The movie presents this one moment as the crucial moments. It makes a binary situation out of something that has far more answers than it will admit. While I like that there is a confrontation that aligns all of the elements of the movie into a climax, it does seem really forced overall. I hate to be that guy, but I definitely sat there thinking, "Why does all of this have to happen now?"
My complaint comes from the idea that this is an imbalanced movie. This seems petty, but it is kind of core to my way of thinking. The movie promises two things in the title: 1) This is a Birds of Prey movie and 2) This is a movie about Harley Quinn. It definitely delivers on its second conceit. I don't know why DC feels the need to group Harley Quinn in with other characters. Part of me believes that DC is always playing catch up to Marvel's litany of characters. But if you are going to make a Harley Quinn movie, just do that. There's this convoluted narrative going on to make way for all these side characters. The thing is, I kind of like some of those side characters better than Harley Quinn. I like the idea of Harley Quinn. I was a huge Batman: The Animated Series fan back in the day. I have the absolutely rad DVD box with the special book that came with it. Harley is fun as heck, especially when she is removed from the shadow of the Joker. But that's not what the movie touts. The foundation of the film is Harley Quinn. The actual structure of the film tries to be about the Birds of Prey. Harley, because she's already got one film under her belt and is HARLEY QUINN, is the most fleshed out. But every other member of the Birds of Prey is given a crash course in the essentials of the character and that's it.
We're supposed to care about the women that Harley surrounds herself with. Because Harley doesn't even remotely resemble the audience, we have to identify with the characters she surrounds herself with. Narratively, this is a story about someone who has lost her way completely redefining herself. She goes from being a bad person to being a roguish wild card. There's the tease that, by the end of the movie, Harley will stop looking inward and start looking outwards. What brings her through this journey is Harley's independence from men, specifically toxic types like the Joker, and more on her relationships with strong women. But these strong women (which I can't take away from them because they are objectively tanks of their gender) have almost no humanity. There are all these characters being introduced that have different personalities, but we can't really get a chance to relate to any of them. As much as I love Rosie Perez as Renee Montoya, she's there for most of the movie as a barricade from Harley's progression as a character. Dinah Lance seems to almost intentionally remove herself from the story. She's used entirely as muscle. Dinah Lance is Colossus in the X-Men movies, not in Deadpool. She's there to help make more violence happen on screen, but there's very little development of her character. And, like I mentioned, I adored the Huntress. She's got a great running gag and she's super impressive in a fight. But she's a deus ex machina. She is only there at the end because there was going to be a big fight that Harley is not allowed to lose contractually.
This is a story about a breakup. I'm going to move all the Birds of Prey stuff off the table because the story of Cassandra Cain and Harley Quinn (which is the story of Deadpool 2) is about Harley getting over a breakup. Okay, that's fine. Because the DCeU is a mess (and a lot of people will fight me over this), we're supposed to be emotionally shifted away from the Joker relationship. Harley deserves to be free of the Joker and that's a really smart move. But also, I never really felt anything for the Joker and Harley from the first movie. The core element of Harley that makes her work is that she no longer has to define herself by her sexual relationships. That's her accidental origin story. As the comics progressed, the more she held the Joker in contempt, the more interesting the character really got. The way that this film does it is that she finds Cassandra as a pleasant distraction from her old way of life. When she was with the Joker, she'd simply cut the diamond out of Cassandra and the story would be over. But because she spiritually adopts Cassandra, she finds that other ways bring her more joy which defines her as a character. That's actually pretty rad. So really, despite the fact that this story is so small, they tried to pack way too much into a package that didn't need it. The Birds of Prey stuff is there for visual fun and an attempt to bolster the line of DC characters that have appeared on screen.
I wish there was a greater relationship with Roman Sionis / Black Mask. I love the idea of Black Mask. Despite the fact that he's the villain in Arkham Origins, popularly accepted (admittedly anecdotally) as the weakest entry in the Arkham series. I never understood what was so cool about Black Mask. I just understood that he was cool. I just accepted that because I'm easily brainwashed. But considering that they got Ewan McGregor to play this top tier character...there wasn't much to him? Also, he died pretty violently. I guess we can't return to that well. The same thing with Victor Zsasz. There's so much potential there and then...just poof? Part of what makes a good story is the use of the villain. I keep dropping this theory that good villains are wasted on origin stories. But this wasn't an origin story and, still, the villains don't do anything of note. It's just blah.
I want there to be a great Birds of Prey movie. I want there to be a rad Harley Quinn movie. But I keep getting these movies that make baby steps tonally. For some reason, I don't think DC works as gritty. Batman can, but the rest of the universe doesn't have to be about violence. Maybe we just aren't ready for Harley Quinn, but we're trying to get there anyway. This movie did nothing for me and that's a bummer.
PG-13, for avoided language. I think it is because there is the mildest sexual innuendo in the movie. The movie is targeted at adults, so ultimately, the MPAA rated it as "a movie that adults would enjoy." I was surprised by how innocent this movie was overall. There's a little mild references to racism, but it is done in such an absurd way that there isn't anything really hateful behind it. An odd PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Michel Gondry
I really and truly thought that I wrote an article on Be Kind Rewind. I have a vivid memory of having seen this in the past four years, since I've started this blog. Maybe time is just slipping away from me and I can't tell the difference between yesterday and last year. It's probably a good sign, right? The reason why I thought that this one was fresh to me was the fact that I used to assign it as summer viewing for my film class. But I will never mind watching this movie again. I actually picked it for family movie night on my birthday, so that's kind of a testament to how much I enjoy this movie.
Part of me chalks it all up to being a Michel Gondry snob. When that man comes out of with a movie, I'm there front row. I just realized that I should be throwing his name into lists more often because I get as excited for a Michel Gondry movie as I do for an Edgar Wright movie. Gondry is the kind of director who makes the gutsiest calls with such ease. At least, it all looks easy. I have a DVD with Gondry's music videos on it. I am not really into music. I'm probably even less into music videos. The only music videos I own are Gondry's and the Beastie Boys anthology, and that's just because it is a Criterion release. I'm a bad person and I'll admit that.
But Gondry seems to really enjoy the art of making movies. I don't know if there's necessarily an active Gondry tone to his films. But the very nature of making art seems to put him in a playful mood. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is bleak as all get out. It's a real bummer of a movie. But the nature of making that movie always gets a big smile out of me. He's this expert at actually contrasting the visual tone with the content of the film. The same can probably be said about The Science of Sleep. These are movies that are about heartache and pain, yet they are so playful throughout. My film teacher knowledge is starting to slip because I know the term for this, but Gondry is one of the directors who wants you to admire the beauty of the film, not get lost in the film itself. His work with non-gory practical effects is completely unique. Very rarely do you need to know the history behind a director before appreciating his or her work, but Gondry's biography only enhances the joy that you can get out of one if his films.
With Be Kind Rewind, the DIY elements that made him such an effective music video director work marvelously. If I had to go against something I said previously, Be Kind Rewind doesn't fight against its story with tone. It's probably why it's not the highest on my list because I love the give and take that the visuals have with the imagery. But Be Kind Rewind embraces the nature of filmmaking and discusses it in the most universal way I've ever seen a movie do. I'm all about movies about movies. The episode of Community we watched last night kind of poked at Charlie Kaufman for doing exactly that, but I don't really care. There is a theme so quintessential to my heart for movies about movies that I just fall in love with them every time.
When we talk about making movies, we talk about the value of art. The stakes are so brutally low that we have to transcend into what it says about us as people. For the world of Be Kind Rewind, this means the death of a video store, and ultimately the home. Gondry places Mr. Fletcher's video store in such a time period where it is mindblowing that it is still open. Relying on VHS in a time when DVD reigned supreme for years is telling. Fletcher's video store isn't one that has a million titles. The customers who rent there regularly probably have seen the majority of his titles. It's actually so small, that the story is dependent on people knowing what a movie is supposed to look like enough to appreciate the Sweded versions of the movie. This is a love of film that isn't snobby. It's a love of film that is universal and communal. What brings people back isn't access to these films, but rather a sense of tradition. Mr. Fletcher watches out for Miss Falewicz and that's why she keeps renting movies from Mr. Fletcher. It's this symbiotic relationship that is celebrated throughout the film.
There's this wonderful shift that happens in the movie that absolutely epitomizes what it means to be a film fan. From a plot mountain perspective, the movie's inciting incident is that Jerry erases all the tapes. To make sure that they don't get in trouble, they decide to refilm each movie one at a a time. The conflict is that they don't want to get caught by Mr. Fletcher when he returns. But the movie abandons that premise at one point and it only thrives because of it. The inciting incident gets the ball rolling for the movie to pick up a wonderful theme along the way: the value of making something. Mr. Fletcher returns exactly when he was supposed to. Gondry doesn't abandon his premise so much so that he retcons it. He just doesn't place the same value on it that it once had. Mike and Jerry don't even try covering up that the films are Sweded. Instead, there's a sense of pride. Some may construe it for celebrity, but there's more of a pride in the product that these two guys made. It's why it is so crushing when Mr. Fletcher doesn't really understand that pride. From an outside perspective, and I suppose from our perspective as well, there's little value to these movies. They are only twenty minutes long and were shot on a camcorder in one take. Without looking at the effort that went into these films, they have no objective value. But the neighborhood, through their involvement and appreciation of these films, see themselves in that effort. In a way, Be Kind Rewind is a bow to the credit sequences of a film and everyone who made something happen.
It's such a gutsy move to have the studio be the bad guys. Yeah, Be Kind Rewind screams indie movie. But at the end of the day, I think it's a New Line Picture. Because the studio is technically right, in the most evil way possible. From their perspective, they are officially breaking the rules. I find it adorable that this tiny little outdated store in Pasaic, New Jersey brings down the suits from the studio, but there is something that is very confusing about the entire situation. (Can I also applaud that Sigourney Weaver, star of the non-Sweded Ghostbusters, is the voice of these suits?) But in a brilliant stroke of abandoning a second premise for a third, the movie then shifts into the value of art as a whole.
These movies that we watch, the ones I write about. We should be watching them critically. This blog is an attempt to stop watching movies passively and to watch them with an understanding of an author's purpose. The people of Pasaic found their love of movies by being inspired by them. But the message of the movie is to take it to the next level. My students interviewed Brian Michael Bendis and asked him what his favorite project was. Because he's a smart guy, he said that it is always his current project. There's something dangerous about being completely shackled to the past. Think about those shifts. The conceit is that they have to hide that they erased the movies. Then they gain pride in making what someone else made. But then they find their value as artists in making something new and original. That's the story of how art comes around. To many, art has no value. It's why people are so mad about the lack of sports right now. (Shots fired!) But then we become influenced with art. That's where I mostly am. I write about movies all the time because they inspire me to want to talk about them and to watch more. It's that next level that Gondry is at. It takes a lot of pain and reexamination to get to that point. It shouldn't be easy to get to that point because that's the journey of the artist.
Be Kind Rewind is a celebration of film. I show it to everyone who wants to get into movies. My kids wanted to watch a lot of the movies that were being Sweded. (Sorry, but there's very little that's cool for kids yet.) But the amount of excitement that they gained from watching joyful people talking about movies joyfully was a blessing. Gondry does what he sets out to do. Be Kind Rewind is not a love letter to Hollywoodd, but to the process of making movies. It takes entertainments as an ultimate goal and deepens it. It doesn't deny the fun element of moviemaking, but shows that it's more than just fun.
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.