The Bad Guys (2022)
PG for protagonists being...um...bad guys? Like, I don't know how much I have to spell it out. Sure, the film is all about finding the value of being good. But it doesn't change the fact that it makes crime look super fun and appealing. Also, the movie contextualizes what it considers to be "real" bad guys and "fun" bad guys, which is kind of a murky area for a kids movie. Still, I don't deny that the movie is probably accurately rated at PG.
DIRECTOR: Pierre Perifel
Guys, I finally did it. I finally got Covid. Okay, some context. I know that The Bad Guys is in theaters right now. I did not go out to the movies to watch this. I watched it on Amazon Prime Early Access rental. Also, I kind of got Covid on purpose. This has nothing to do with the movie (outside the fact that we had family movie night because we're all on Covid lockdown), but my wife got Covid and we're supposed to go on vacation in a few weeks. So to make sure that we wouldn't ruin our vacation, we realized that if I just got it on purpose, locked down completely, we could go on vacation without fear of being stuck there. Pretty clever.
Anyway, my son was really into these books. I know almost nothing about The Bad Guys outside of the fact that this is an animated movie based on books of the same name. But I live in a post-Zootopia world. When complex morality comes into play in children's movies, we now have a new standard. Honestly, if Zootopia didn't exist, I would look at this film very differently. Because if I look at this film without the juxtaposition, it is a movie about choosing who you want to be, despite expectations. Have an older brother that set you up for failure? Rise above. That's what the movie was shooting for. But Zootopia changed things. Zootopia made it about race. It told the story of cops and robbers from the perspective of race and institutionalized racism. (I really need to watch this movie again.) The Bad Guys kind of does the same thing. With the case of The Bad Guys, it says that wolves, snakes, sharks, spiders, and piranhas are criminals. It takes the focus primarily on wolves because Wolf is the protagonist of the piece.
Now, Wolf can't be the only wolf out there. After all, the movie is about how he was culturally raised to be a bad guy in this society. That's what wolves become, so hence he's just matching cultural expectations. But it is how the film handles everything after this that kind of falls apart. Wolf, when he does something nice for an old lady, realizes that doing nice things makes him feel good. When he publicly saves a kitten from a tree, Wolf's actions trend on social media. What this becomes is an example of Tokenism. The reason that the world is celebrating is that Wolf is one of the good ones. People are amazed that individuals can rise out of their stations in life and become better than what is expected of them. But people were so quick to turn their backs on Wolf when he actually went straight. (Note: I have a real problem that Wolf couldn't help but do another crime given a second opportunity. I want to throw stones at the people for being quick to judge, but he genuinely was going to commit another crime.) (Also note: my 1-year-old threw a really big rock at my shoulder yesterday while my back was turned and it really hurt. That is all.)
To a certain extent, the movie is saying that not all Wolves are bad (which even writing makes me feel icky). If you really squint, I suppose that you could say that we shouldn't judge people by what they look like, but even that's a stretch. But there's also no attack on society on the whole for being bred to accept a society that makes someone like Wolf into a stereotypical wolves. This movie sets up this lovely chessboard of allegory and never actually attacks the people who need attacking: White people. The White police chief is just silly, but she's also not in the wrong for her pursuit of Wolf and the Bad Guys. If anything, she comes across as simple minded, but not bad in any way. Really, the entire movie is driven by the notion that society has placed these characters in a situation that requires them to be Bad Guys and never really attacks the society that does that. The Bad Guys go to jail (despite being pardoned for all of their crimes?) and accept that they can just lie low and be good without the comfort of crime paying.
Okay, but let's move out of this section. We get it. Zootopia was a very good movie. But I do want to look at The Bad Guys as a form of entertainment because there's something here. I had a good time with it. I mean, I did laugh and I had fun with the movie. I do watch everything way too critically, so it hurts to be me. But I want to talk about things I liked. That odd blend of CG-style animation with hand-drawn / appearing to be hand-drawn animation is really cool. I mean, it is really cool. I think ever since Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, movie studios have been far more experimental with the way that movies look and we get to benefit from it. Considering that the movie takes heavy influence from Ocean's Eleven, down to even citing George Clooney at one point, it's great to have animation that makes the film feel so kinetic. I know that the great car chase comes from Bullitt but the film just nails how the film is supposed to look and feel. Even more so, there's some really good casting and design choices happening here. It's really REALLY weird to think of Marc Maron as Snake because it does and does not sound like him at the same time. Probably the biggest compliment is that I realized that I wouldn't hate to see this cast in live-action form. If you made them not animals, oddly the film would be amazing. It's a fun crime movie, even if it does get a little silly for kids.
So where I'm left is in a place that realizes that it is a fun movie that has some dangerous implications behind it. Is it going to tear down society? No. But what it will do is probably minimize my times watching it. Knowing that there are other movies doing the same thing, only better, makes me want to watch those other movies sooner.
Not rated, but there are some of the most brutal images I've seen on film in this movie. Like Blood of the Beasts, this film shows the slaughter of multiple real animals from start to finish. There is real blood and real gore from these animals throughout. There's also violence and nudity, coupled with a pretty dated homosexual stereotype.
DIRECTOR: Djibril Diop Mambety
Oh man, I'm having the roughest of days. Like, really really rough. I don't want to write this. I don't want to do anything but crawl under my desk and rock back and forth. I honestly am in that place right now. But I also know that today is so rough that there will probably be a chance that I won't be able to write for the next couple of weeks and am I going to remember the nuance of Touki Bouki by then? Also, I'm just praying that this distracts me for the amount of time that it takes to write this.
I just cracked open my first box of the Martin Scorsese World Cinema set. I was so torn about getting it to begin with. From what little Bollywood you have seen on my page, you know that --for all my braggadocio about watching international films --it tends to be a safe attempt to enter cultures. With Bollywood, I always had the excuse that it was too big of a jump without a place to start. Then my brain took another leap in the opposite direction. After all, there are a billion countries (don't correct me right now. I'm not in the mood) and a lot of them don't exactly have thriving film cultures. But I also know that it is nonsense. I just didn't want to open doors to feel like an amateur again, so I didn't touch it. But Criterion releasing box sets? I'm just the right level of snobby to try anything if it is in a Criterion box set. Do you know why that is, reader? It's because...I'm the worst. Hey, you know that guy that you absolutely hate? Hi, my name is Tim and I'll be writing a blog about how I experienced my first film from Senegal and mostly liked it.
I'm really glad that Martin Scorsese was holding my hand and curating my meanderings into the cinema of Senegal. It's not like I go and search out films from Senegal, nor would I without this lovely box set. But as I established, it's in my house and I'm going to approach it with an open mind. But since Scorsese put it out there, I don't know why I was surprised that it was so good. Golly, this movie is just part of the New Wave in the best way possible. I did a speed round of teaching the French New Wave and I got really jazzed for the best of the French New Wave. Part of it is that avante-garde --when you are in the right head space --can be very cool. Part of me didn't want Touki-Bouki to just be a movie about the culture of Senegal. For a while, that's what I thought the movie was going to be. Like with much of the New Wave, there's always that element of amateur acting that happens with everyone who isn't the main character. That's probably true about Touki-Bouki. The film spends a lot of time just establishing the world of Senegal. (Sure, I'm writing this from the perspective of the single story, which is unfair. But I'm also reacting to what the director gave me and that's all that I have to work with.) The acting is really rough in these scenes. It actually started playing to some of my inherent biases to what I thought much of African cinema was like.
But then there was this very loose story that was charming. The film depends on Senegal as a backdrop, but then splits from there into a character motivated story. Sure, Mory and Anta have a bit of a Wes Anderson quality to them. They aren't exactly heavy on verisimilitude, but they are characters that are likable and sympathetic, despite being thieves. I had a discussion the other day with a student about why people are obsessed with Bonnie and Clyde. I still don't really get it. I mean, I get it is the beginning of the American New Wave, but that's something that doesn't strike me as all that interesting, despite the fact that I watched a whole 'nother box-set with the American New Wave. But Touki-Bouki was a more fun Bonnie and Clyde. That's a pretty strong and gutsy take, if I do say so myself. But Mory and Anta are far more fun and divorced from history than Bonnie and Clyde. With Bonnie and Clyde, there's this avante-garde element that is still kind of attached to a studio system. That means that there's this commitment to the story and the marketability of the film. I don't get any of that from Touki-Bouki.
Also --and I suppose this is all I thought during the movie so you have to suffer through it --Bonnie and Clyde aren't that sympathetic. Part of the historical appreciation for these outlaws is that there was something almost psychotic and self-destructive about them. It was the glory of the gangster. They were done living by society's rules, so they were going to go out in a blaze of glory. In my brain, that's way more romantic than what the film portrayed. Mory and Anta are genuinely poor. There's something noble about wanting to escape to Paris and become something greater than the region had ever seen. If that meant lying, cheating, and stealing, by gum they were going to do it. Now, I would find such behavior abhorrent in reality. But in a location that wants to see them fail so badly, these moments of Mory and Anta walking around in finery (finery that, for all intents and purposes, should not fit them but does) is fantastic. Yeah, there's a lot of moments where reality couldn't possibly play out that way. But that's what makes it avante-garde and cool. It doesn't matter about the individual story beats. It matters more that we see them succeed and fail because that's more interesting. There's an everyman quality to these two characters. Yet, these are everymen who are completely crushing the expectations of the society.
It's what makes the cow slaughter so tragic. The entire film, Mory's bike is adorned with these bull horns, reminding us of the gory imagery of the slaughterhouse. I hate this kind of stuff because it just hits me hard. I think it is supposed to hit everyone hard. I just get really sad when I see this stuff. (Again, I think this is an everybody thing.) But I didn't get the imagery for most of the movie until when Mory's name gets called out on the boat. There's a moment when this bull is being slaughterd that it resigns to its own death. It fights and it fights until it slips on the blood of its bretheren and there's this forfeit that happens. When the bull is being slaughtered, it looks alive still. I'm not sure if this is a camera trick. I'm so used to the stun bolt being a thing in American slaughterhouses (I'm such an English teacher) that I don't know if the bull is alive when the skin comes off. It's brutal, but that's also Mory. Mory is kicking against the constraints of culture and expectations. It's that economic battle that he's never going to win and so he runs. He finds the bike and refuses to escape. At least Anta gets away, but it is almost because she is the less vicious fighter.
Anta confuses me a little bit. As part of the avante-garde tone of the film, Anta is kind of the Silent Bob of the movie. I hate to sound like I'm slandering the movie because I'm not. But Anta is there almost to make this a romance story without any kind of physical interaction. She is there to show that one just falls into what fate has in store. She wants Mory to be there, but she also acknowledges that fate has put her on that boat. It's not that people don't escape Senegal. It's just when they need something so desperately, they tend not to get it. It's not like Anta doesn't want to go to Paris. It's just that we don't get much from Anta in terms of high or low emotions / dialogue. We imbue our own reads on her as a character. There is something bittersweet, though, about her escaping on this boat. Because we make Anta who we need Anta to be, that ending plays with our expectations.
I can't imagine that all three Martin Scorsese World Cinema movies are as good as this, but I hope that Touki-Bouki was an indication of quality of these films. This movie crushed.
PG. If I had to list what was offensive about this movie, it would be absurd. It's cartoon characters from the '90s in an ironic reboot. But for the adults, there's some slightly off-color jokes. For example, Monterey Jack's cheese addiction is definitely implied to be a drug addiction. There are also occasional jokes to the fact that "Chip n' Dale" is meant to sound like "Chippendale", which the film associates with the erotic dancers. Still, PG!
DIRECTOR: Akiva Schaffer
Oh you guys. You guys. Do you know how excited I was when this first trailer debuted? Like, I was too excited. Besides being a full-on Rescue Rangers nut (Like my obsessive personality now, there were definitely hints of it back then), seeing that this was going to be a send-up of the Rescue Rangers by the Lonely Island guys was positively brilliant. But there is the question that I have to criticize myself for: When is nostalgia appropriate?
I keep jumping back to The Lego Movie for nostalgia done right. The Lego Movie, for my first (and probably only) time readers, was this revelation that a corporation could make an unabashedly corporate movie that was somehow good. I had always written off these films, often citing movies like CastAway as films that not only shouldn't be made, but actually ruined cinema. But then The Lego Movie came out and I realized that, if corporations didn't take themselves too seriously, these movies actually ended up being charming. I suppose a lot of this actually should fall on the shoulders of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, but the message of that film wasn't exactly taken perfectly. I think a lot of studios saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and thought that animation + live action still had some legs after Mr. Limpet. But Chip 'n Dale (it is odd that I'm writing about two movies that use 'n as an abbreviation this week despite never having done so before) understands, like The Lego Movie, that corporate films need to be able to laugh at themselves. They need to be honest criticisms of their material. In the case of both these movies, these stories tend to be a little more absurd than not. But that kind of dig at their source material is perfect. While these films aren't saying that Lego or Chip 'n Dale aren't great, they also are aware that the source material isn't perfect.
I will say that Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers is more of a baseball bat to the knees than The Lego Movie, if that's saying something. I mean, this movie really rips into Disney pretty hard. I just found out this morning that the whole Sweet Pete thing is bordering in offensive humor that I didn't really realize. I was wondering why Sweet Pete would be the villain of the Chip 'n Dale movie. Then I was just told the story of Bobby Driscoll and I'm amazed that Disney greenlit this film. I mean, it wasn't in theaters. Maybe that was something that corporate tried to put a lid on. But Bobby Driscoll was the voice of the OG Peter Pan from Disney. He seemed to be in the Disney stock for a lot of the films that appealed to kids. But when he aged out of the roles he wanted, he basically died unnoticed. I think he might be buried in an unmarked grave because his life ended up so tragic. So when this film, which is sending up a lot of the Disney stuff comes out, I am floored that one of the darker stories ended up being this key plot point of a silly film. Now, I know that a lot of people are mad at the movie for making light about the tragedy of Bobby Driscoll, but I can't help but think that this isn't so much an attack on Driscoll as much as it is a criticism of Disney for failing to take care of its own. Perhaps it might be a little bit in poor taste to make this character humorous and technically the villain of the piece, but it also makes him incredibly sympathetic. I also like the idea that the film wasn't going to pull any punches about this time in history. I kind of love that these guys decided to bite the hand that feeds them.
But if I had to have a bit of criticism about the movie --which is my responsibility to turn inwards --is it really a Rescue Rangers movie? I mean, they say that name a lot. The movie surrounds the eponymous characters and the crux of their relationship is based upon the cancelling of the show. But really, this is a send-up of Hollywood and animation. When DuckTales came back as a less than reverent (or MORE than reverent) send up of the original show, it still was fundamentally DuckTales. This really didn't have to be Rescue Rangers to tell this story. Honestly, this movie could have been TaleSpin with the same plot line. I don't mind because the movie is fantastic and the casting is inspired. But when I mention that this is Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, it kind of is. This actually works better as a Who Framed Roger Rabbit? sequel than it does as a Rescue Rangers story.
But at the end of the day, this movie is just funny. I have such a hard time explaining why I love a movie so much. Maybe part of me really wants to love the movie more than I do. But I ended up watching it partially twice in a weekend because it was such an entertaining experience. There's something about irony and just establishing a tone that reflects in the entire work that is insane. Part of me is also just amazed that this movie could possibly exist and not get a theatrical release. I mean, the rights alone in this movie are beyond understanding. When people talk Roger Rabbit, that's the insane thing. This could also be true about Wreck-It Ralph. But Wreck-It Ralph was a major studio release. Someone did a lot of work to just get a Disney+ release? Now, I don't want to play the value of streaming services. But it's not like Disney+ was super hyping up this movie before releasing it. It really feels like this movie was buried and it is an achievement. Even from a technical perspective, this movie shouldn't actually exist. Yet, here it is. On Disney+. Without ceremony. I don't know how to take it. But it doesn't change the way I feel about the movie. It is absolutely brilliant and I can see watching it a dozen more times.
Days of Being Wild (1990)
Not rated. The concrete thing you could point to is some of the violence. While a much more tame film than As Tears Go By, there are scenes of brutality and violence. People die. That's a thing. But the more ambiguous issues involve the fact that the protagonist (?) of the film sleeps around a lot. While there isn't any nudity that I remember, it does feel sleazy at times. Not Rated.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
How?! How does a director improve so much in one movie only two years later? This is the Wong Kar-Wai that I know. This is what made me want to buy the box set. I've never seen Days of Being Wild before, but my buddy Jeff (unless I'm hallucinating my memories...which is possible) really dug this movie. He goes from being a not-very-good director to being a genius in one film? Seriously? It's such a reserved and vulnerable film and I wasn't ready for that, considering that he made it a movie about gangsters and tough guys again.
I don't know how I'm going to talk about Days of Being Wild without looking at In the Mood for Love. There's a lot there that's similar. Part of me actually hopes that the rest of the films aren't like In the Mood for Love simply because I want to get new things and I don't want this blog to be one thing over and over again. But I don't know how he did it. What happened between 1988 and 1990 that Wong Kar-Wai became this absolute master auteur? Part of it makes me feel like As Tears Go By might have been a cultural expectation for him. It might have been a young director doing all of the radical things that he thinks cinema needed. I listen to a lot of comedy podcasts and the biggest critique that I hear about early comics is that they haven't developed their own voices, but rather mimic other voices. There's so much John Woo in As Tears Go By that I can understand that maybe Wong Kar-Wai had to strip all of that away to get to something like Days of Being Wild. Because the elements of Wong Kar-Wai are there. I don't know how setting something in 1960 is so effective when it comes to his storytelling, but it helps so much.
I think that might be something that is fundamentally him. 1960 allows Wong Kar-Wait to have a certain aesthetic that really works for him. Sure, his version of the '60s is a saturated color palate. But it is also the notion of rust and atrophy. Nothing is overly sleek. It's beautiful, no denying. But there's a beauty in the stains that infiltrate every frame. It creates this contrast to the costumes that scream the disappearance of Old World China. The odd thing is that there's almost nothing in the film that requires the story to be set in the '60s shy of the presence of gangsters. But even the gangsters could be something in the '90s. I don't even care though. I don't need the justification. In the same way that Wes Anderson creates his own sense of timelessness, Wong Kar-Wai's fictional China is perfect in its own way.
I do wonder why Jeff (again, this is almost two decades ago) picked Days of Being Wild as his Wong Kar-Wai of choice. I think I know. Yeah, the gangster stuff doesn't really get to me. But I love what Wild does for the romance. The movie is incredibly romantic, but it doesn't let itself be a movie solely about romance. In the first few minutes, this reads like a movie about a romance doomed to fail over time. Well, that's right to a certain extent. That romance dies almost immediately. We have this mislead of who the protagonist of the movie is because we simply assume that the narrator Su Li-zhen had a lot to gain or lose in the first shot. She is the one who spurns Yuddy's flirtations only to eventually succumb to his charms. He's gross from moment one, no doubt about that. But because we've all been wired with tropes, they seemed like they were going to bring the best and worst out of each other. But then they break up almost immediately and Su Li-zhen seems like she has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. It's only once we have forgotten about her as a character do we get treated with this wide world of Su Li-zhen.
That world is one of pining and self-pity, leading to actualization. It becomes this welcome break from a movie about miserable people being miserable together. She has this whole other life outside of her relationship with Yuddy. Yeah, we get to meet her through her ties to Yuddy, but then we get this cool interaction with Officer Tide, who ends up playing this pivotal role in the film. But even me writing about this the way that I am seems like it isn't taking everything into account in terms of storytelling. Because it is a romance story and it isn't. There are all these stories out there where a romance is shoehorned in possibly to gain a greater audience. I know that my wife will hate a lot of movies that don't really have some romantic plotline involved somehow. But Days of Being Wild inverts that. It has romance as its foundation, but the drama is injected to make the romance real somehow. There's nothing really fake about these characters. It isn't a film about grand gestures and tropes. It's about romance revealing the whole person, whether or not that person is to be valued or not.
When I read the summary for this movie (after I had watched it and it was just at the top of the page of imDb), it was about Yuddy trying to find his real mother. What's interesting about this film is that it is hard to pin down what the movie is really about. Heck, at one point, Yuddy, the protagonist, shifts from the main character to being a setting for the film. (I'm confusing myself.) It's the world that Yuddy has created for the people around him. He is this fundamentally broken person. It's odd, because you would think that he would be the most dynamic. He is the one who is coming with the most baggage and internal conflict to work through, but Yuddy starts the movie and ends the movie in the same place. It is everyone else in the film who changes because of their interactions with Yuddy. He finds his mother and it becomes this almost side note to the film, despite the fact that it was his driving motivation while he lives with his adoptive mother. But all of those other characters lead these full lives because Yuddy is so broken. It's like being aware of a character's juxtaposing traits when you are one of the elements being juxtaposed.
Even Leung Fung-Ying ends up a different person. I don't want to say that she ends up a good person. But she also ends up as this person with hope. When her character was introduced, there was a bit of ickiness that I didn't care for in the film. She's this character who is borderline raped, but kind of likes that she is raped. I don't love that because it seems controversial to be controversial (hold on!). But even that it so contrast her relationship with Yuddy to the relationship that Su-Lizhen has with Yuddy. She is this character who is defined by her crassness and her unlikability. She even ends the film confronting Su Li-zhen, but there's something in the performance that makes you question what she really believes at the end. Instead of having this grand gesture about the changes a person goes through, she has this far more organic shift into her character. She's someone who is ready to meet someone healthy, yet strong. She's left as a character full of possibility and that's great.
Sure, there's an element of "Isn't it a small world?" to the whole piece. The fact that Tide meets Yuddy and the two go through these amazing circumstances together is beyond belief. But that relationship also ties into the notion that people lead fuller lives beyond the archetypes that they are introduced as. Tide as a cop was someone different than Tide the sailor. He's different with Yuddy than he is with Su Li-zhen. He's richer and he's fuller. Yes, it has to take a little suspension of disbelief to get these two into a room together, but the benefits far outweigh that logical leap.
The movie is gorgeous. Even if you watch it exclusively for the mood that Wong Kar-Wai creates, it is heaven. It's so passionate and vulnerable that I get why Jeff loves it so (if he even does!). After my disappointing time with As Tears Go By, I'm excited for the rest of the box set.
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
Rated R for lots of violence, language, sexuality, and nudity. Okay, the main takeaway is the violence part. The movie is meant to depict real-world violence in a way that doesn't glorify it. R.
DIRECTOR: John Singleton
Here's a thing you should know before I go too deep: I watched the Pan and Scan version of this. Netflix DVD decided that they would send me the oldest copy of Boyz n the Hood. I mean, we all know why. I'm sure that Netflix's DVD department is almost a burden on them. It's odd to regress to a '90s movie in pan-and-scan. So if I comment on how non-cinematic this film looks, realize that I'm watching it like a caveman, on pan-and-scan DVD.
I might not love John Singleton. That's a bit blasphemous. I mean, I wrote my blog on 2 Fast 2 Furious and commented on how this was the guy who made Boyz n the Hood...without ever having seen Boyz n the Hood. Last week, I also wrote a blog about As Tears Go By, a movie by Wong Kar-Wai that was less than impressive because it was his first film. I have to remember this as I write this because Boyz n the Hood is John Singleton's first movie. It has so much going for it that is great, but so much of it feels like a first film. Do I just really hate first films? Am I such an unforgiving person that I can't understand that who we are in our youth is not the person we are when we are experienced? I know that if I met me as a first year teacher, I would be constantly pinching my sinuses in frustration with that ragamuffin who had just a bit too much Dead Poets Society in them. But Boyz n the Hood was embraced as part of the cinematic canon. It's one of the movies that changed who we were as a culture and from a cinema standpoint? Not good. It's actually a bad movie that had a good heart...for the most part.
The worst part is that I know how to fix the movie. The final act is actually pretty good. That's when it starts being a movie. But it is also when the movie starts. Start the movie in the final act. I have complete respect for the late Mr. Singleton, but I see what he's trying to do and it doesn't work. The movie starts with the commentary on Black-on-Black crime. At first, I was really worried where movie was going to go from that point, but I allowed it. Thank God for Lawrence Fishburne's Furious for straight up contextualizing so much of the movie because there would be some real problems from there. But Singleton wanted to do two things with the first two acts of the movie. He wanted to establish setting (which most of the movie attempts to do) and he also wanted us to bond with Ricky. But both are done with these broad strokes that makes us say, "Okay, we get it. Move on with the story." What we need to know for the sake of Act III is that Ricky is a likable character, who despite overwhelming odds, has a chance to escape his surroundings. While Ricky is certainly sympathetic, he's also completely static. Because Tre is such a dynamic character, we bond with Tre more than Ricky. Ricky's death becomes a bit of a fridging situation for Tre rather than being emotional itself.
Once Ricky is shot, there's something to tell. The film becomes The Outsiders for '90s. There's something there. The story becomes about Tre deciding what it means to be Black, whether that means embracing violence and perpetuating a cycle of violence that society wants him to embrace or making his own decision. Tre sneaks off to join Doughboy as he's about to get his revenge for the death of Ricky. There's the moral conundrum that Tre knows that he is doing the wrong thing, but stuck in a situation where he can't get out of it without making sacrifices. That's the story. Right there. Tre being stuck in a car where he's physically heading towards an event that he can't return from. Instead, that entire sequence is rushed and made into a beat rather than making it the crux of the story itself. What I want is so much of the movie stripped. This movie wants to be both the life of a Black teen in South Central L.A. and a story about --as Singleton puts it --increasing the peace. But it really doesn't do both very well. If anything, the life of the Black teen comes across more as a montage and an afterschool special. There's a problem with this that I want to address because I know that John Singleton is doing God's work with a lot of the movie. He just isn't necessarily doing it well.
But back to that moment in the story. There's something good about Tre and Doughboy being stuck in a car together. The other characters are good as archetypes to bounce dialogue off of. But both Doughboy and Tre feel like they are doing the right thing. Their goals are aligned in a moment of adrenaline, but those two ideas diverge. Tre asks to get out of the car and Doughboy ignores him. Cool. That tension is good for the point of character and theme. Placing two people who are both right in their own ways in a place where one of them has to lose something is just plain old good storytelling. But then Tre asks again and he's out the car. Doughboy never even holds it against him. Part of that is because he loves Tre. But that also isn't his character. One could argue that maybe Doughboy learned something about himself because of his last interaction with Ricky that may have gotten him killed. But there's not much that is supporting that, considering that Doughboy is very business-as-usual when it comes to maintaining his hard-edged persona. And then when the story is resolved, we get some text saying that Doughboy was killed two weeks later? That's so important to the theme of the film and it is done as text? If there is a moral decision to be made with Doughboy's decision to assassinate three people, we need to see Doughboy's grappling with that. Tre needs to see the experience from the third person and see that it could have been him. Instead, there's this really heavy handed lesson that is told to us instead of shown to us.
And now to my complaint to John Singleton's film: The characters might be reinforcing Black stereotypes. LET ME FINISH! Okay, do I deny that this movie might be an accurate representation of what it means to grow up on the streets of South Central? No. I'm sure that the film is rife with verisimilitude. But the movie starts off with that statistic of Black-on-Black crime and then goes to show the majority of characters as gang-bangers. This is what white America is already saying about a culture. There is this moment --this absolutely vital moment --where Furious gathers people around and tells them about the history of conditioning that the government has done to Black youth. He talks about the drug trade and the cycles of violence that stem out of gentrification and thank God this scene is in the movie. Sure, he has to straight up say it instead of letting us experience it because it does contextualize a lot of the movie. But almost every character is embroiled in this world of violence. Even Furious himself perpetuates Black stereotypes. The only two characters who aren't concerned about maintaining appearances are Tre, who is the avatar for the audience, and Ricky, who befalls tragedy because he doesn't perpetuate a cycle of violence. There are these scenes of helicopter spotlights constantly flooding the houses of the characters and it makes the Black community look like savages. Again, I cite Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, which talks about the nature of racism and the same content where most characters come across as well-rounded. I can't help but think about this movie across from Do the Right Thing and it just drives me nuts. There's so much good happening in this movie, but it doesn't read the way that it is supposed to. If anything, this is a movie that simply accentuates the fear between cultures because there isn't enough effort in building these characters.
I wanted to love this movie. It is in the cinematic canon for a reason. It just has issues with a first time director trying to get a message out without having the technical prowess to do so in a way that would make a lasting impact.
Not rated because it was meant to be a pilot for a TV show that got turned into a movie because no one was able to release it on TV. That's a very specific example. But the movie is mostly fairly innocent with the exception of the lyrics of some of the songs in Company. Yeah, some of those lyrics don't hold up to time.
DIRECTOR: D.A. Pennebaker
Oh man, the temptation to not write about this palpable when I first started this movie. It's 53 minutes long and was meant to be a TV pilot. I feel like that was a good enough reason to not write about it. Couple that with the idea that this was simply the soundtrack to a Broadway musical made it almost impossible to write about. But then the movie did exactly what it needed to and became super compelling.
It's because of Pennebaker, you know that? As much as I love Woodstock as the ultimate concert documentary, I give so many more props to Pennebaker's Monterey Pop. Golly, I used to play that movie on a loop while working in the store. There were directors who understood how to tell the story behind the art. Part of that comes from the era that they were filming in. There was this yard and Elmer's attitude that everyone kind of had. Working in art was always an uphill battle and that is rarely communicated to the audience. That was the magic. It was about cigarettes, late nights, and the expectation of constant perfection. When Pennebaker turns that camera on his subject, it is a celebration of the hours of pain before going on that stage. Maybe Monterey Pop didn't quite go to that place, but it was about the performance of it all. I don't think I would ever want to watch a Pennebaker that wasn't filmed on something that was probably Super 8. That yard and Elmers? It's in the documentarian's camp too. There's this odd kinship between documentarian and subject that is almost wholly unique in Pennebaker films.
But for a guy who has a theatre degree, I have to say that I would never want to work in theatre itself. I imagine that there were so many tears behind the scenes of Stephen Sondheim productions because he was such a genius. This film has a focus on the frustration of creativity. Sondheim never comes across as a diva or a monster in this film. But he is a perfectionist. I wonder if this is still part of this era or if this is something of a bygone era. But a lot of this movie is watching these amazing, heartfelt performances that are never, ever used. It's not because someone was stopping this music from coming out. It just wasn't...perfect. When I'm talking about perfection, there are moments where it sounded absolutely beautiful and Sondheim would just state, "That was supposed to be an A. Let's do it again." God, just so many faces staring at you and you'd probably make the same mistake or an all new mistake. What starts off as simply listening to the music of Company becomes this horror show of anxiety that just elicits so much sympathy from me.
But the most painful moment is what Pennebaker also focused on. Elaine Stritch was such a legend. A legend. You can feel it in the documentary without anyone saying anything. She's just this presence. Part of it comes with people keeping a wide berth. She's there, down front, singing her face off. She is emoting in every song while other people are holding cigarettes and trying to stay awake. So when her song comes up as the last of the night, fourteen hours in, it is possibly one of the most painful things I have seen documented in film. Stritch is a staple to the stage. She wants to do it better than anyone else there. But even in 1970, she's older than her peers. Her character has a lot more talking than singing, even in her songs. So when her big solo is there, she wants to steal the show...and she just can't. There's something almost violent about making Elaine Stritch sing over and over. It's torture for her. She starts her song a half-step down under the condition that she be given the opportunity to sing it again in the right key. To do things worse, she can't even salvage the song in an easier key. She goes from being this smiley performer to staying a performer, but a hurricane of a performer. There's something manic and violent about her attempts to rescue her voice in these moments.
Yes, the movie gives her the redemption. She comes in the next day, fully rested, and destroys. We hear the song the way it was meant to be sung. We understand what Sondheim and company (no pun intended) were shooting for, especially with Elaine Stritch. But the walls had already come down. We saw how the sausage was made. In that moment, this woman who I didn't know that I idolized became painfully human. There's this look of self-reproach that is heartbreaking. It's not even seeing a legend fall. It's your aging mother coming to terms with her own mortality. She hates her voice and she hates herself in that moment. It's such a bleak third act to a short documentary, but I am also so glad that it was there. It is both a cop out and a necessity to see her successfully accomplish her goal the next day. But the spiraling mania of singing this song --this angry, angry song --just slightly worse every time. When Sondheim calls out that they were hitting diminishing returns, it was putting a pet out of its misery. You know she went home dejected.
It's one night of her life. But how many nights has her value to her profession been questioned. Her body betrays her. As much as this is a story about the dehumanization of the entertainment industry, it is also about people coming to grips with her own mortality. Because there's something in Elaine Stritch's face when she is functional, saying that she loves the brutality of the entire profession. She never gets angry at the producers of the film. That never really enters her mind. Instead, we get film of pure self-loathing. It's painful, yet it carries with it a sense of verisimilitude. If Broadway is about spectacle (It's not), then this is the humanity. It's about mistakes not being okay. That's depressing. But that's okay.
I like depressing.
As Tears Go By (1988)
Not rated, but the movie would probably be rated R in the United States. The movie is laden with violence and brutality. There's some nudity that isn't prominent, but the main relationship is between two cousins. It's apparently a cultural thing that isn't really treated as taboo, but know that is fundamental to the plot. Also, the gangsters treat women violently, especially surrounding the discussion of abortion and torture animals. There's a lot here that would be R, but it is still technically not rated.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
I feel bad. I don't know if Wong Kar-Wai prefers Kar-Wai Wong, but I'm going to go with what is on the box set as what is the preferred nomenclature. I now have a box set of Wong Kar-Wai's that I bought at the new Barnes & Noble near my house, so I'll be writing about Wong Kar-Wai for awhile. If someone wants me to give me a heads up about Wong Kar-Wai prefers to be called, I'll adjust. I'm going to go based on the box art and what I grew up learning about him.
Boy, it is interesting seeing the first film from a director. I kind of had this same experience with a Martin Scorsese box set I bought years ago. The only famous movie in that box set was Raging Bull, so that might give some context for the era that might be included there. I used to teach Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love, one of the most gorgeous romantic dramas I've ever seen. Honestly, I've always been a bit too intimated to watch things like Chungking Express. I think I saw 2046 once, but that was so long ago that I can't even confidently say that I saw it. But I remember being so moved by In the Mood for Love that I would teach that work. It was this slow and extremely vulnerable work that focused on visuals and character. So to see something like As Tears Go By, it's almost confusing to say anything about it. It screams youth. God, I can imagine myself writing this screenplay in hopes that I would change the landscape. It's just so violent and so all over the place that there isn't much to really glean from it. But let's assume that I'm watching this movie without the burden of legacy. There are elements of the film that would shape Wong Kar-Wai's films down the road.
There's a love story in there. My knee-jerk reaction to that romance is one of ickiness. The movie keeps pointing out how the two are cousins. There's that cultural divide which makes it really hard to get behind that relationship. This means that I have to put something else behind me as I'm watching the film. So there's a destiny of greatness that I have to ignore and a cultural loss of translation at the center of the film. Keep all of this in mind as I talk negatively because I do have to keep my emotional relationship with the movie real. There's a lot there that I have to fight through. I can see a lot of people liking this movie. There's a lot of John Woo in this film, which is something that I might not necessarily scream as a positive. The one thing that I don't want out of a director is the desire to be John Woo or Quentin Tarantino. John Woo and Quentin Tarantino already exist. I don't want another copy of them. Also, if I am talking about the relationship, it is really hard to root for them beyond the cousin aspect of the film.
These are two characters who are barely together. The film is meant to have this redemptive arc for Wah, the protagonist. He's a real jerk. He is abusive to women. The only really redeeming feature to him is that he sticks up for his brother, Fly. Okay. That's something. But he doesn't really form a relationship with Ngor for the majority of the film. He only realizes that he is at all interested in her once she leaves his apartment. The odd thing, it's not like Wah and Ngor had much to talk about when she was staying with him. When Wah goes to visit her, she is already in a committed relationship. I get the vibe that Wong Kar-Wai wanted to created something forbidden for Ngor to overcome. She needed to sacrifice something to be with Wah, making the tragic ending only the more tragic. But we never really experience a moment of romantic bliss between the two of them. If anything, we get a fragment of a montage explaining their love. Wah may abandon a life of crime, but we don't ever really see him come to terms with the decisions he makes in his life. He leaves because he can. That's not much of a story. I would say that the film is too short to explore that character change that brings him back to a life of violence, but the first act of the film is squandered on this.
That comes from the notion that the film wants to be cool. It treats violence as a gloriously sexy thing and that is done at the expense of the characters. For example, Wah and Fly keep running into Tony. There are these moments of cool, "Ha, we embarrassed the triad" moments. There are also these low-framed shots (that John Woo uses in a lot of his '80s films) of people torturing cats. There's so much about how Wah and Fly survive that we don't get a lot of introspection into the characters. You could say that the film is showing more than telling. But I argue that the film isn't telling us anything at all. Wah goes from a not-great guy to a good guy just because he wants to. The only narrative device we have to show Wah's transformation is his juxtaposition to Fly. Let's establish: as lame as Wah is at times, he's a million times better than Fly. (I think I wrote earlier that they are brothers. They are work-brothers?) Fly just keeps making these stupid mistakes. Now, Wah's big character arc comes from the notion that he has to constantly protect Fly from his own mistakes. But why? I mean, I thought that they were actual brothers for a lot of the movie, but now I get that Fly is simply a guy who hungers for a terrible lifestyle.
I'm being a little unfair, I suppose. Fly is an archetype that we've seen time and again. Heck, that archetype is in Rebel Without a Cause, so I can't really throw stones. But Fly is also this character who keeps just poking the bear and wondering why things are going poorly. It goes beyond bad luck. Fly has bad luck when Tony gets him arrested. But Fly is immediately let go and he knows that Tony is too big to deal with himself. If I have to make a concession, it is this: Wah has given him an unfair expectation on how confrontation should work out. Wah keeps embarrassing Tony and getting away with it. When Fly feels inferior to Wah, he overcompensates. But there are these moments in the film where Fly just keeps going. It's not like he's putting one over on Tony or doing eye-for-an-eye stuff. Fly straight up spits on Tony and gets him soaking wet. He pulls a gun on him. I would also like to stress that Fly is the one of who often instigates these issues. In the pool hall, it is Fly who picks the bad bet and then does the dishonorable thing by cheating the game. It's just so hard to say that Wah is making the right choice in defending Fly in these moments.
It's all really because a young filmmaker wants to have a cool and tragic ending. There are almost two endings to the film. Both Wah and Fly escape with their lives after being humiliated by Tony. The illusion is washed away of Wah always being right. When Fly goes back for more, there's this disconnect. Man alive, I'm embarrassed to say, but there's a Death of a Salesman connection in there too. Listen, Arthur Miller might be spinning in his grave when I compare one of his seminal works to As Tears Go By, but I can't help myself. Salesman is about one brother learning the lessons of reality and changing his ways to avoid fate. The other brother, however much evidence he is confronted with, continues in the way of his deadbeat dad. Fly is Hap Loman. There's a sense of overconfidence and a break from reality that stops this character from ever growing. But Biff never goes back to the life in that play. (For the sake of accuracy, it's implied that Biff has left that life.) When Fly goes out for a suicide mission, Wah follows him. It's meant to be this great tragedy, but of course that was going to happen. If the message is that Fly has deified the notion of honor, what does the message say when Wah finishes the job? It becomes about the job being more important than Ngor. It's a really muddied message.
But I also have to forgive a lot. Like I said, this is the movie I would have made right out of college. I keep wanting to things that are cool. It's only my old age where I discovered that quiet things have great beauty. There's a potential story in here that could be quite moving. But in the form it is now, I can't really see it.
PG-13, but a lot of people have been pushing for R. I'm not there, yet. I'm definitely agreeing that this movie isn't for kids. But by that logic, Spider-Man 2 also shouldn't be for kids. There are jump scares all over the place. There's also a substantial amount of death. Like, it's impressive how people die. One of the moments I keep talking about is one of the gnarly ways that a character dies. Sam Raimi loves doing horror elements in other genres and this movie is no exception.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
Guys, I've wanted to write about this movie for a week. I'm just in intense stress mode. But I put it on my To-Do list today, so I get a pass to write. I have a lot of writing to do today. I'm also at a standstill with one of my writing projects, so I'm going to use today as an excuse to catch up on the writing I've put on hold for a while. It's a bad attitude. It's a good attitude. It's at least me being somewhat productive. Hey, I could be playing video games.
When the reviews for this movie came out, I was a little bit worried. Sure, there were fanboys who absolutely loved the movie, but I read a lot about how this movie was disjointed. Well, maybe I'm a fanboy because I got 0% disjointed. I loved the movie through and through. But that happens to be a theme with me and Marvel Studios. My favorite films are the ones that disrupt the genre. Did I just say that Multiverse of Madness might be one of my favorites? That's weird. I mean, I loved it. (Understand that I'm processing my feelings for this movie as I write. It's a dangerous strategy, but I have too much to write to plan these suckers out.) I know that I picked a safe position by saying that this wasn't one of my favorite movies when I left the theater. Part of me is always nervous to pledge allegiance to anything too early. But sleeping on it, it might be up there. And that comes from the notion of genre-defying. For the longest time, I claimed Captain America: The Winter Soldier as one of my favorite Marvel movies because it was a spy film disguised as a superhero action flick. I'm not going to be the first one to spill the beans and say that Doctor Strange 2 (just bear with me because I have a lot of writing and I have to take shortcuts where I can) is straight up a horror movie for a lot of it. I mean, it is called Multiverse of Madness.
When I heard that Multiverse of Madness was going to be the title of the Doctor Strange sequel, I got excited. The funny thing is that I was so lackluster about the first Doctor Strange movie that, to find myself actually jonesing for the Doctor Strange sequel seemed impossible. I like Strange as a tertiary character in the Marvel Universe. Even the good Doctor Strange comics always had me wishing for other characters. It's just that Doctor Strange are hard fantasy at times. I know that hard fantasy fans will quit me right here and now, but I think back to the really weird Kirby stuff that was associated with Doctor Strange in the early days. So when the movie decided to go super weird, I shouted "Yes." Because when I saw Thor for the first time, I finally got Thor. This is no disrespect to Stan Lee, our unblemished geeklord, but Thor was boring to me. But it was a movie that embraced some of the weirder stuff and presented in an approachable way that the character became real. The one thing I always knew about Strange is that it should be exactly that. It's weird when people try grounding Doctor Strange. The movies and the comics should be absolutely bonkers and that's what we got in this movie.
Now, one of my students got mad that Wanda was the bad guy of the film. No. I mean, I'm also sad to lose Wanda. Wanda is great. WandaVision was one of my favorite TV shows of the past decade. The character is compelling. But the movies always seemed to want to avoid the fall of Wanda. It's an integral part of Wanda's mythology: "Avengers: Disassembled". It led to the character really getting interesting. But even more than that, it isn't really Wanda who is the bad guy. It's Wanda's mistake of trusting the Darkhold, assuming that it wouldn't corrupt her. It's The Lord of the Rings all over again. We adore those stories and the Darkhold is a good knock-off of those stories. (I don't say books. I don't say movies. I say stories.) The key theme of the movie is that you can't use evil to do good. Wanda has genuine pain. It makes so much sense that she needed a whole TV show to explore that pain. Throwing in the background of a movie would have done the character a disservice. But Wanda is taking something that is legitimately sympathetic and corrupting that notion.
When Wanda wants to save her children, who are very real to her, there's something good about that. But it's through the eyes of the Darkhold that she cannot possibly understand that things have cost. In this moment, it becomes Smeagol and Gollum. Wanda and the Scarlet Witch become very different people. Elizabeth Olson is too good of an actress to play a one note bad guy. For a portion of the movie, the Scarlet Witch just rips people apart and doesn't read like the Avenger who saved all of those people at the cost of her own joy. But there's a scene in the end of the movie where Wanda encounters Scarlet Witch. Sure, these are multiversal variants of each other, but the points still stands. We get to see Wanda at her healthiest and it is when Wanda sees how far she has fallen. It's because we love Wanda that it makes her a compelling villain. Yeah, she's overpowered. But what was always a little bit haunting about Wanda is that there were seemingly no limit to her power. The only thing that held her back was her innocence.
Now I flash to Dark Phoenix. As we remember, both of these films were travesties that had a character who became overpowered through evil. But everything about Wanda didn't scream evil. It screamed tragic. There is an element of choice to Wanda. She's making decisions under the influence and isn't even aware that she is being manipulated by this Darkhold. But there is this strong line of goodness in her, despite the fact that she's ripping people apart. I'm never going to be in the "Wanda was Right" camp, but that's because Wanda isn't the Scarlet Witch. She's compelling as heck and I love that she causes so much damage in the universe.
But the movie is also an insane amount of fun. A logical portion of me is hesitant to embrace multiversal stories. It's almost like we've become inundated by the Multiverse. (That being said, I am really jazzed about Everything Everywhere All at Once). It's where the Marvel movies are going and now the concept of a multiverse is commonplace. I think back to a time when I first started to date my wife and I made a multiverse reference. She looked at me with such disdain! But now everyone is multiverse-this and multiverse-that. Maybe it is the snob in me screaming this because I didn't hate any element of this. Sure, Rachel and Strange don't have a ton of chemistry despite the fact that I like both actors. But when I saw John Krasinski as Mr. Fantastic, I was just filled with joy. (Note: Emily Blunt HAS to be the Invisible Woman, right?) But that entire scene with the Illuminati, while almost unnecessary, was perfect. Honestly, the part I was alluding to was Black Bolt's head just exploding and caving in. It did everything I wanted a horror movie to do. It was fabulous. Part of me thinks that this is someone claiming that The Phantom Menace is good because the lightsaber sequences are so rad, but it is more than that.
It all comes from Sam Raimi having fun. Yeah, I need to give the screenwriter a lot of credit, but even he claimed that he wrote it for Sam Raimi. This is Sam Raimi and Drag Me to Hell. I know that a lot of people claim that this is Evil Dead 4 and I won't go that far. The thing about the Evil Dead movies is that they are for that underground crowd. But stuff like Multiverse of Madness and Drag Me to Hell is that Sam Raimi can still be an auteur and make movies for wide audiences. This movie is very much in Sam Raimi's playground, yet there's this mass appeal to the movie. When he makes that Fantasia style music fight, I nearly cheered. I don't know a lot of directors who could have gotten away with that. I've always harbored a bit of resentment against Marvel for forcing directors to abandon their voices. I mostly flash to Edgar Wright cutting ties with Ant-Man. But when I think of Doctor Strange 2 and Taika Waititi's work with the MCU, with a little James Gunn thrown in there, I don't know if I can completely throw that stone anymore. Yeah, there is a little bit of padding to the craft. Maybe a movie can't deviate from the formula too much. But I see so much Raimi in this film and I love it.
You know what? I'm going to gush. I don't even care. Multiverse of Madness lived up to my expectations in spades. I love that the movie wasn't afraid to even be a little bit scary. Yeah, it is brutal, especially for a Marvel movie. But it is still a good time and I'd watch this one over and over again.
Dead Ringers (1988)
Rated R BECAUSE IT'S A CRONENBERG MOVIE! Honestly, Dan Harmon used the word "Cronenberg" to establish the quintessence of sexual gore. This movie is about rape, violence, mutilation, death, drugs...the works. David Cronenberg is trying to make people as uncomfortable as possible and it's weird that it is only an R-rating considering that so much stuff happens in it. R.
DIRECTOR: David Cronenberg
I don't think that Cronenberg is for me. Before I get into it, I have to establish the print I watched of this was less than stellar. While I had access to really nice prints of this movie, I had the OG Criterion DVD of the movie. Normally, Criterion raves about having the best print of a movie, but this is early Criterion DVD. Considering that Jeremy Irons is acting across from Jeremy Irons and he's using his full Jeremy Irons voice, I really wish that I had subtitles at the time. A lot of this is on me. If you are an expert on Dead Ringers, I would like to apologize that this isn't an ideal way to watch a movie. I also split it into two sections a week apart. Yeah, I'm not the guy who is going to have the final judgment on Dead Ringers.
I don't think I like Cronenberg. One of the things that I've had an epiphany regarding this blog is the idea that some emotions are meant to be paradoxical. When I say I don't like Cronenberg, I admit that there's something really perverse that attracts me to it. We're talking about that concept in some of the Japanese films of the early '90s, how there was this attempt to introduce conflict into audience reaction. From Cronenberg's perspective, I'm reacting the exact way that he wants me to. He wants me to shy away from the grotesque and hate myself while simultaneously staring enraptured at that very same grotesquery. The thing is, people come to that moment and have to make a decision. Some of them want to treat it almost like adult films, claiming that they are above such things while still secretly enjoying it. But I actually don't really enjoy it. I acknowledge that there's something in everybody that finds beauty in what Cronenberg is doing. But ultimately, I don't really desire to see more. I remember kind of liking The Fly a million years ago, but I also remember hating Videodrome, Naked Lunch, and eXistenz. But then there's also Eastern Promises, which I really want to rewatch before I commit to how much I love that movie.
Dead Ringers almost feels like this is both Cronenberg figuring himself out and in his prime. Cronenberg, for some reason, screams out that he should be embedded in the '80s. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that he thrives with practical effects and gore. There's a scene where Bev has a nightmare about being fused to Elliot. In that moment, there's a tumor (because of course there's a tumor) that pulses. Everything about this screams '80s horror to me. It is there for the gross-out moment that matches the overall tone of the piece. It's not like these moments are completely out of context with the piece. Often, Cronenberg's visuals match the emotional truths that he weaves throughout the film. But as polished as the film is and how unhampered he appears while making it, the story seems like a bit of a mess. (This is where all of you Dead Ringers fans cite the fact that I watched it in less than stellar situations.) I'm going to try and justify my thought process as best as I can. A lot of this reads like a filmmaker throwing everything at the camera and seeing what sticks. Part of this movie is about the role of brothers and the intimacy that lies between them. Then it is also a movie about drugs and how they change a person fundamentally. Then there is a message about attempting to de-sexualize the female anatomy simply because it is in a gynecological setting. I want to pile on the role of art and genius, coupled with madness. Lies and the thin line between violence and healing is there. It's so much. It's so so much. And where it falls apart for me is the idea that Cronenberg goes in with these themes that he wants to explore without having a story to support these notions.
My real evidence? No one acts like a person in this movie. People say why they do things as if that makes the most sense in the world. But none of it is true. Bev and Elliot share this anecdote about a conjoined twin who died from grief over the loss of his sibling. It's a repeated thing. So that inspires Elliot to take the same drugs that Bev does? The movie even points it out, how insane their logic is. Claire states directly to Elliot that it is not how things work, but Elliot must follow the whims of David Cronenberg. There's almost a meta-narrative that might be more horrifying. Because Elliot is so driven by this concept of fate that Cronenberg has created for him, he is incapable of being persuaded, regardless of tactic. Elliot and Bev have to make these positively bizarre choices because Cronenberg wants to see these characters torn up by the end. Maybe that's what makes the film somehow unique. When you have one character make wonky choices, it can always be written off as the character being broken mentally. But these are two characters (whose recurring theme, I admit, is the notion of oneness) yes-anding each other, despite the fact that these choices have no place in reality.
I jump back to the '90s Japan comparison. American films are about spectacle. European films are about psychology and sociology. But Japanese films are about mood. More than actually telling a story, Cronenberg is reveling in the mood he creates throughout the piece. While watching the film, I had to stop to Google the surgical scrubs that Bev and Elliot use. I mean, we all acknowledge that these scrubs would be wildly impractical in a surgical situation. I also know that these garments would later be used in other science fiction, most notably Star Trek, if I'm not mistaken. It is just about the notion that Cronenberg revels in my discomfort and every element of the movie, whether formally grotesque or not, builds upon the notion of discomfort. I'm slightly abandoning my line of reasoning here to talk about the biproduct of this discomfort: the use of rape as a means of entertainment.
When this film starts, it really feels like the movie is about two brothers conning a woman into a rape situation. Bev and Elliot, being identical twins, have seduced a celebrity into loving them because they pretend that they are the same person. It's a gross idea to begin with, but it has a way of being told that might actually be culturally relevant. Claire discovers the twins' trick and chides the brothers. (They should be arrested and a lot more should have happened in this sequence.) But Claire still cares for Bev, to whom she initially was attracted. This is really gross, but that shared sexuality never really comes back into play again. Elliot doesn't talk about the fact that there is a biological imperative that the two brothers share a woman sexually. Nope. If anything, that plot almost doesn't come into play except to acknowledge that Claire is attracted to both brothers. (There's a weird dancing sequence with Claire and Elliot as Bev descends into madness. Again, my complaint with the movie is that people act in absolutely bizarre ways for the sake of the visuals.) What this ultimately does is use rape as an element of entertainment, not for the message. The movie doesn't really come down hard on the two brothers for keeping their sexual secrets away from Claire. If anything, it bolsters her bond with the two. I'm really striking this point hard: there's no place for this. It's abhorrent, which is why what Cronenberg makes is a bit dangerous. There's a tacit acceptance of this kind of behavior because that part turns out okay. Yeah, the two brothers die, but not because of their seduction of Claire.
I just feel like Cronenberg, whom I acknowledge is smarter than I am, tries too hard. It's a fear of storytelling and greed for imagery. The imagery is divorced from reality, so Cronenberg just uses a sledgehammer on every sequence. Nothing in the film is subtle. It's about violence and abuse. And what is the takeaway? Wouldn't it be weird if twins were more biologically connected than we think? I don't actually believe this, but there are so many themes that there ultimately is no theme. There's no message to take away shy of, "Wouldn't it be weird if...?"
The Adam Project (2022)
PG-13 for '80s / '90s style swearing. There's a lot of violence, but summer blockbuster style violence. If you really think about it, I'm pretty sure that all of those guys are dead. But it's kind of unexplained what exactly happens to the guys that Adam dispatches. Also, there's some sex talk, but family friendly sex talk. It's got the objectionable content that a Marvel movie would. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Shawn Levy
See, I was about to write off Shawn Levy. But before I really spiral down a blog entry that I'm kind of terrified to write, let's establish that A) I really want to write and B) I don't want to write about this. Most people wouldn't want to write about this because it's disposable Netflix content. Not me. I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. But I'm also in the rare place of having to defend something that is absolute fluff and that other people don't like. My students all thought this movie was dumb and that Free Guy was great. I can tear apart Free Guy with the best of them. But defending something? I mean, I could summarize that it was fun and we don't get a lot of fun movies that aren't directly franchises.
But The Adam Project is Literally Anything catnip. It's a time-travel movie that deals with lost fathers. Come on. You don't have to try that hard to win me over, Netflix. I'm going to watch you. I feel a little bad because I watched it without my wife there. I was at my mom's house and she wanted to watch a movie. I assumed that Lauren wouldn't want to watch this one, so I watched it with my mom. Then, I find out that Lauren wanted to watch this one and now I don't know what to do. I will say that I enjoyed it quite a bit, but not enough to make veiled references to it in a tee-shirt. It just might be the best thing that Shawn Levy ever made. Look at that. You made me lash out at Shawn Levy, guys. I didn't mean to say that. It's a very fun movie. A lot of my point of view comes from the trailer that has reviews in it. This is the kind of movie that Steven Spielberg used to make. It is absolutely a popcorn film, but it isn't absolutely stupid either. I know. I shouldn't complain about movies like Transformers and have a weird line in the sand. But The Adam Project takes some of the ideas that all time travel nerds think about and just made an action-comedy out of the film.
Now, the weird thing about The Adam Project is that I'm not scrutinizing the rules of time travel. That's my thing. Every time a new set of time travel rules comes out, I start talking obsessively about those rules. I think I like the time travel rules of The Adam Project, but I haven't really thought about them ad nauseum. Just for the sake of clarity, I'm going to lay them out right now. Whenever time is changed, memories won't adapt to the new changes until the time traveler returns to his or her original timelines. It's not a perfect set of rules because the movie suffers from that final event where the bad guy accidentally kills her younger self, wiping herself from the reality. I think that the people behind this movie are smart, keeping the rules of time travel a little cryptic. We aren't given a ton of information on the minutiae of how time travel works, which is all for the best because it simplifies it. The fact that I can watch this movie and not come down hard on paradoxes means that I don't have enough evidence to either support or refute the rules of the movie.
Now, is that lazy? I don't think so. There's something very smart about keeping it simple. Because the film is fundamentally about character and plot, muddying the waters with pointless exposition would only hurt this film. This is the kind of time travel that we've always imagined. We want the stories of going back in time and visiting our younger selves. Heck, the movie is really aimed at younger audiences, so it's also about knowing what you will be in the future. It's addressing the issues we deal with in a manner that puts us in the third person. And that's what the movie captures so beautifully. There's got to be a German word for when you identify your flaws in other people and dislike those people all the more. That feeling usually takes a heavy dose of introspection, but with a time travel tale, no introspection needed. Every foible that either Adam commits, he recognizes it as something that he's never dealt with in a healthy way. I always have the idea that I would hate myself always nine years ago. If I have to meet a version of myself that was nine years younger, I would not care for that person. But that's what makes fun drama. These people automatically have their walls lowered because there's no pretense. It's the family you've never known you had.
But I'm the guy who keeps jumping into the dead dad pool. There's the torturing mom stuff. I don't know how much of that I did. I mean, I took out all my aggression on stepparents, so keep that in mind. But it had to hurt and I like the fact in this action sci-fi comedy that the movie takes the time to talk about the role of the grieving mother. God, it's just hitting so many buttons that only the suffering really understand. I'm not saying any of it is smart. There's a difference between vulnerable and smart. But The Adam Project is about emotional intelligence. It's the idea that your father isn't who you think he is, but that doesn't make him not your dad. Those interactions between both versions of Adam is haunting. I don't know if I would ever be older Adam, angry at Dad for dying in a car crash. (I actually misunderstood the film and thought that Maya killed Adam's father and made it look like an accident.) But that would have been something that might have been a bit too wish fulfillment. I mean, the film is largely wish fulfillment, being able to go back and time and have an adventure with your dad. I talked about this a lot with Onward. But getting him back? That might be a line too far. It's such a happy ending that I actually can't get behind it. But older Adam's reaction to his father...like I started. I don't know if Adam wouldn't turn into 12-year-old Adam when sitting down with his father. I can see animosity between the two of them. Heck, that even makes sense because it is how Adam learned to cope. But I don't see him keeping that wall up when he views someone that has defined his entire personality without a little bit of waterworks behind it.
If I do have to complain beyond my passive aggressive, backhanded-compliments, I do want to talk about the awful awful awful uncanny valley behind Maya. When I saw Tron: Legacy (I think it was called that), I was amazed what they could do with Jeff Bridges. But ever since Ant-Man made Michael Douglas look exactly like he did in the '80s, I couldn't look back. This is me at my worst. I acknowledge that I'm a flawed human and that I need to adjust. But keep in mind, this is the same feeling that got me to hate the first Twilight movie so much. Now, with a Netflix film, you kind of write off the fact that these are movies that have big budgets. And some of the effects are cool. I will say that the vaporizing of people in these movies is pretty gnarly. And while there's nothing groundbreaking with the time travel visuals, it also doesn't pull me out of the movie. This brings me to Shawn Levy. Shawn Levy just got a tangential nomination for his work on Free Guy when it comes to visual effects. I couldn't stand those images. It was all popcorny and meh. But it feels like he's very cool with functional, not amazing. I'm writing on a laptop right now with no budget on this things, so I understand settling to make the movie happen. But maybe this stuff didn't have to be done with de-aging technology. I can't understand why this wasn't addressed in pre-production. If they knew that they couldn't do it well, why do it? This might be a bigger criticism on the dependence for de-aging. I mean, even Star Wars has an issue with making these images convincing. But it is just so rough.
Listen, I know that there are things in this movie that are cornball. The full on fourth wall Deadpool joke almost made me forget that I was having a really good time with this movie. But it has more good in it than bad. If you take into account that this is a movie that knows what it wants to be, a popcorn movie with heart, it nails that. It nails it hard. It has some themes. Those themes are pretty well explored. Heck, I'm a guy who has written off Shawn Levy and I really dug it. It's a fun strong narrative with decent jokes. That's all I think I really needed.
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.