PG-13. I remember hearing about the first PG-13 Star Wars movie and I thought I was going to have kittens. Spoiler alert for a movie you would have seen by now: he kills a bunch of kids. You don't remember that part? The part where the protagonist who is on kids' lunch boxes murders a bunch of kids. Don't worry about it.
DIRECTOR: George Lucas
I finally did it! Shy of me seeing Howard the Duck for some reason, I don't think I'll really have to write a crap piece on George Lucas again. I've seen and reviewed all of the the Star Wars prequels and my thoughts are out there. As I've mentioned before, I'm doing a slow movie Machete Cut of the Star Wars saga. I accidentally had to tweak it a bit because I had the family come over and we had a request for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. (Side note: Upon second viewing, that movie is way better than I gave it credit for. It helps that I A. had lower expectations than my initial time out and B. had just recently watched the Star Wars prequels.) I am going to make a major statement for me. I'm growing. I've originally completely savaged this movie. People usually say, "The prequels are awful, but I liked Revenge of the Sith." To that, I would go into a long diatribe about how the movie is unwatchable and a crime to film everywhere. See, when I bought this on DVD when it first came out (It was a time where I felt like I had to have a complete set of everything), I couldn't even get through it. I saw it once in the theater and then tried to watch my DVD copy of it. I couldn't. It was so bad and so poorly paced that I shut it off, never to return. I rolled my eyes so hard at people who stood by that film and being a diamond in the rough in the prequels. I will revise my statement: While I still consider Revenge of the Sith to be a really bad movie, it is watchable and actually pretty entertaining. That said, the movie is still an atrocity.
The problem I always had with Revenge of the Sith and the prequels as a whole is that Anakin's logic on things is completely bananas. I, like many other nerds, hate Anakin's lightswitch moment in turning to the dark side. There are moments where Anakin makes some dark choices along the trilogy, but that motivation always seems really skewed too. I watched this movie with Mr. C, who is the uber-Star Wars fan and I was bothering him with questions about why things were happening. I'm sure it was probably a little annoying, but he enjoyed watching this movie on the big screen so there was probably a trade-off when it came to that. SPOILERS, BUT WHO CARES? Anakin's murdering of everyone he loves and spent a decade defending is just stupid. I never understood how someone just became evil that way and it always rang false. After rewatching this one and talking to Mr. C, there is an answer. But that answer is dumb too. But we had a long discussion and I actually found a way to make the Star Wars prequels work. The basic beats of the story are actually there. The reasoning that the film provides is that Anakin does evil things in an attempt to become so powerful with the dark side of the force so that he can undo death. There's a weird obsession with death that Anakin has that only really makes sense in context of the force vision he receives of Padme's death. The problem is that Anakin doesn't really do much to search for a way to prevent her death and leaps at the first opportunity that manages to be dangled in front of his face. There's a million plotlines in the movie distracting from what should be the A plot, which makes Anakin react like a crazy person. Think if Anakin had left the Jedi order and devoted all of his time to finding a way to save his wife. He starts alienating those people around him, including his wife who has made peace with her own death. However, Anakin grows obsessed and starts making small concessions towards evil. Finally, when he has accidentally grown strong with the dark side and Palpatine offers him this solution, he grabs it knowing it is the last possible way to save his wife. See, good story there? The bones of the original movie are in there, but the presentation changes everything. We don't get that at all. Anakin never really stops going on missions.
I also realized where George Lucas missed the directing boat. With the green screen sets all around, there's very little stage business to do. It makes Padme look like a crazy person. Padme literally has nothing to do in anything scene except for to focus on Anakin and what he is saying. This makes every single scene between them completely dire. They don't actually have a marriage. They simply exist for one another and that makes both people look like complete nutbars. Isn't Padme a senator? I'm pretty sure that job is a pretty intense and stressful job. She should be constantly swamped with work. Add to the fact that she is pregnant throughout this movie (Another side note: time passes very strangely in this movie. She goes from just discovering that she is pregnant to delivering twins by the end. The twins probably cuts a month / a month-and-a-half off of the delivery, but that's about it. Unless the people of Naboo deliver in a month...) and dealing with it alone could give Natalie Portman so much character stuff plus stage business. Also, think about how that could affect the A plot. Padme throwing herself into her work, knowing that she has a crumbling senate under her watch. She needs to get the good word out before she dies, ensuring her legacy is one of prosperity instead of collapse. Anakin feels like she isn't taking her pregnancy or her imminent death seriously, causing him to lash out? Padme feeling like his quest for her survival leads to her having to deal with the insanity of pregnancy alone? This is a good story. I don't need Obi-Wan Kenobi riding a dumb digital monster around fighting a bug-droid hybrid with four arms and goofy lightsabers. I need content and it is not in the place it should be. The mission statement for the prequels was "Watch how the greatest of all of the Jedis became the scariest bad guy ever." Instead, that story is such a secondary thought to cool fight sequences.
There is one really gutsy call in this movie that I don't think work, but I have to applaud how gutsy it was. The big bad guy is just there. He has no introduction or no explanation to what his motivations or background is. He clearly has this intense back story that is hinted at. General Grevious is one of the most insane introductions for a bad guy in a movie that I have ever seen. In an era where cinematic universes are just a thing, it is amazing that one of the biggest elements of the story for Revenge of the Sith is only for the people who go deep into Wookiepedia and follow the unofficial canon. He's clearly got a backstory. He looks like a droid, but he's got organic components. He has living eyes and he spends the entire movie coughing horribly. He has many many lightsabers and is remarkably adept at using them. He's in charge of the armies leading the Separatists. When did all of that happen? The opening crawl usually gives us enough of an insight into the world of the film that most moviegoers can appreciate what they learn about the characters later on. Not this one. The Star Wars movies are probably the most accessible science fiction fantasy movies compared to other franchises. You have to know very little going into these films. Lots of people who don't consider themselves nerds still really love Star Wars. To make a major character a complete enigma is such an odd choice. As an audience member, I have to simply believe that General Grevious is a big deal. Sometimes that works out just fine. I even think that works out well in the other Star Wars movies. But when we are being distracted from the main plot in the movie to deal with a character that we are only told is a big deal, there's a bit too much faith that is placed there.
I remember thinking that this was the Star Wars movie that was going to fix everything. Watching the opening sequence where the full on title of "War" of Star WARS was going to be lived up to was exciting. That battle seemed super fun and I always liked the dogfights in the Star Wars world too. Then I remember when the whole movie comes apart. The scene that changes the mood of the movie is R2-D2 destroying two of the most intense droids in the franchise with little effort. That's when I remember that the movie is dumb and I throw things at it. This entire paragraph is going to be a litany of things that I find dumb, but can't devote entire sections of text to. One of the big things that Star Wars as a whole franchise has a problem with is not determining how strong a character is. R2-D2 is the prime example of that. R2 has a hard time walking across rock and he falls over a lot on Dagobah. He is cumbersome and often the point of a joke because he's kind of goofy. Then he's able to fly all around and set fire to stuff on a whim because that scene would be cool. Darth Vader also has that problem. In A New Hope, Vader is a lap dog who has kind of a boring fight with Obi-Wan Kenobi, but then in Rogue One is just a force of nature. Yoda is a tank, but also hobbles around in fear in Revenge of the Sith. There's no consistency to what these characters can do because they all have overpowered moments. Giving tanks weird vulnerabilities that only show up sometimes is rough. Part of that is the fact that George Lucas wants to show these cool images that fans have been clamoring for, but don't serve the nature of the plot. That leads to the inclusion of Chewbacca. Seeing Chewbacca? Super cool. Does it make a lick of sense? Nope. It really changes Chewbacca's whole dynamic. Chewie in the original franchise is a loyal companion, but kind of an oaf when it comes to a lot of basic tasks. He has pet like qualities, despite showing intelligence. But in Revenge of the Sith, he's a high ranking general. By that logic, he really let himself go when the Empire took over. There's never that moment in the original franchise where Chewie makes a choice to lead people. He's always simply a companion to Han Solo and doesn't become a leader of men. There's also a moment where Lucas, trying to resurrect the Lucas of the American Zoetrope era, homages Frankenstein with the birth of Darth Vader. Yay, George Lucas, for trying to reignite that passion which you seem to have lost. Boo, George Lucas, for putting it at the worst possible time you could have. The entire series has been leading up to this moment and it has become such a joke that entire articles have been devoted to a comic book that interpreted the same moment better. Which leads me to...
...my final theory about the Star Wars prequels: how the can be fixed and how they are reflections on the author of Star Wars. What if the Star Wars prequels were about how Lucas had lost sight of basic human interaction? Anakin Skywalker's choices throughout these movies don't make any sense. They are always really big choices that everyone is simply supposed to get behind. He murders large groups of people because his emotions tell him to. He gets married out of sheer willpower. He gets really angry at Obi-Wan Kenobi despite the fact that Obi-Wan's requests are completely reasonable. On top of that, Anakin has been saddled with this great prophecy that he can't possibly live up to. He is meant to bring balance to the Force. He does so, through a series of dark choices. Luke is the one who brings light to the Force. Vader is who brings dark to the Force. It is balance, per the prophecy. What if that is all a metaphor for what Lucas was feeling at the time. I had an idea that many of Anakin's odd decision making comes from the fact that he didn't really have a childhood. He was a slave without a father and didn't have basic social interaction outside his mother (I'm ignoring that random group of kids because that doesn't mesh with my slavery narrative.) Lucas had become a slave to the Star Wars franchise. He stopped having basic normal interaction because he was only seen in context of his larger than life creation. Everyone was always star struck around him, so his choices were starting to be seen as more and more bizarre. He couldn't leave his home. When it was revealed that he would be making more Star Wars films, he knew that he couldn't possibly live up to what he had completed thirty years before. He stuck a near perfect landing and had reshaped the collective consciousness forever. What if he knew this ahead of time, so he made a movie about a guy who made odd choices that were so odd and out of place because he knew that he couldn't live up to his own press? Lucas is Anakin. He brought balance to his franchise: three brilliant movies and three dark bummer movies. That's bananas! If that's the case, slow clap. I mean, I wouldn't ever do that. But it also gives me the last bit of inspiration on how to fix the franchise. What if there was an intentional stress about Anakin's lack of basic social skills? What if no one really understood him except for Padme and Palpatine? He would have been an outcast in the Jedi order because of his upbringing? Think about if the Star Wars prequels could have been a commentary on Asperger's or social stigma? It would give Padme a far greater nobility and humanity that she could see the real person underneath this dark and socially complex character? When she is overwhelmed with her work and her complicated pregnancy, he falls under the attention of Palpatine, who teaches him ways to control his emotions? He gains social acceptance because of Palpatine's tutelage, which makes him defensive of Palpatine when people begin accusing him of horrible crimes. Finally, when Mace Windu asks him to betray the man who had given his life back, who was there when his wife lost herself in her work, the one who had been making him normal...that would drive Anakin to doing whatever Palpatine wanted. Those barriers that Palpatine had put in place would break and a rush of emotion would come back to him. I just know that it would be cool to see Hayden Christensen act as the emotionally devoid Vader, constantly in control before the suit came on. He wouldn't be doing evil deeds, but just to have that commanding presence before getting into the suit...that would be awesome.
The movie is better than I gave it credit for, but it is a flawed finish for an extremely flawed ending. I still have Return of the Jedi before I'm done with my modified Machete Cut, but I can say that the Machete Cut doesn't work. I had a good time watching these movies on the big screen, but it is a huge mess and it is such a shame.
TV-MA. This one is an HBO doc that gets pretty messed up, both visually and...um...content wise, I guess. It's messed up. That's a really good way to think about it going in.
DIRECTOR: Erin Lee Carr
My wife's true crime interests are very specific. I think I get what she likes. I'll buy her some true crime novel or nonfiction text and she looks at me like I'm a maniac. I recommend some documentary I hear is truly messed up and she looks at me like I betrayed her. It'll be quiet for a while and then she'll tell me about Mommy Dead and Dearest. (BTW, a little on the nose for a title of a documentary, right?) And, right as rain, this movie is messed up. It's a true crime documentary that just keeps getting weirder and weirder...until it doesn't. And it just repeats.
Like I review with most documentaries, I have to give a bit of a summary of the content. Since all summaries are somewhat SPOILERY, I am just giving this heads up. Gypsy Rose Blanchard murdered her mom. That's never really being disputed. She confessed to it a while ago and there's just oodles of evidence that supports that idea. This isn't exactly Making a Murderer. Gypsy Rose is weird. Just from the opening footage of her being interviewed by the police, you can tell that something is really off about her. She has this eerie childish voice that my wife keeps doing an impression of. (We're bad people.) But there's a whole backstory and the movie is really about why she killed her mom. Her mom is even more messed up than she is. When Gypsy was born, her mom kept claiming that she was really sick. For her entire life, Gypsy Rose would be in and out of hospitals and have these absurdly invasive procedures that made her somewhat of a local celebrity. I learned a fun term throughout this movie: Munchausen by Proxy. This is when someone develops a mental disorder because someone has convinced the person that he or she is sick. Gypsy Rose's story is about possibly one of the most intense examples of Munchausen by Proxy ever. Through sheer willpower, her mother convinced doctors to operate on her many, many times. The way I understand it, Munchausen by Proxy forces the sufferer to become dependent on another.
The story gets even more insane. That's what this movie is all about. It crams as much insanity into the film as it can. Any one of these moments, I wish there was more about. Her boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, deserves a documentary all to himself. Gypsy Rose is fascinating, but her story makes a weird amount of sense. Nicholas Godejohn has this really quick infodump and then nothing else. All of the information is completely riveting. But he doesn't make a lick of sense. He's just the right amount of crazy. Scratch that, he's off the chain crazy, but in the context of this movie, his story gets to be just another blip on the crazy train. That's possibly my biggest gripe with the movie. The movie does this amazing thing of constantly upping the ante when it comes to making each moment more jawdropping than then next, but it also can't keep up that progression. This movie should be about 45 minutes long. For 45 minutes straight, I kept looking over at my wife and screaming "No!" and "That didn't happen." Then the movie does something I wish it didn't do. It tried becoming a full length film and it got really repetitive. If the movie's mission statement was to give context for why Gypsy Rose killed her mother, aces. It knocked it out of the park. But then there's a lot of commentary on the whole thing. It is a really dark I Love the '80s. There's a post game where people meet Gypsy and talk about how it is or isn't her fault. There are interviews with her in prison that might be a fascinating special feature, but miss the point completely.
The other weak spot (okay, I lied saying that there was only one problem with this documentary!) is one of the choices of interviewees. It seemed like every time that there was some crucial exposition that needed to be given, the camera turned to an interview with a BuzzFeed reporter. I'm going to let that settle in: A. BuzzFeed. Reporter. I know, it seems like an oxymoron. But she has a lot of screentime. I don't know if she researched the living daylights out of this topic or she is part of the production team, but the amount of screen time she got was astounding. When searching for images, I had a really hard time finding a good picture that wasn't the publicity shot for the movie or wasn't lo-res. You know whose picture I found that was hi-res? Buzzfeed lady. It just seems super lazy, you know? I know the Amanda Knox documentary used the media to comment on this crime pretty often, but that's because the documentary was as much about the media as it was about Amanda Knox. Having a "reporter" from BuzzFeed give a bunch of information instead of just showing us the content was just a poor choice. I didn't even mind it from time to time. It was just that she was there so often. I know that other reporters had to have covered this case in depth. Why was she the representative from the world of journalism?
Sometimes a documentary just is meant to inform and grab attention. There was this weird miscarriage of justice that happened for Gypsy Rose, but I don't think that there is much alternative. Gypsy Rose really intended to murder her mother to stop her from torturing her. Gypsy Rose was undeniably tortured and the movie really went out of its way to prove that. She would probably still be tortured had Gypsy Lee not had her mother killed. It's just that I don't know what to do about something like that. I agree with both standpoints. She intentionally killed her mother and should go to prison. There were extenuating circumstances. Justice played the part it should have in this scenario. It's a super bummer and that's that. Perhaps some of the blame rests on the people around her. I don't want to play the blame game, but there were red flags all around her. There was a doctor who just didn't buy that Gypsy Rose had all of these conditions, so he delved into her medical history and caught the Munchausen by Proxy. I nearly stood up and gave the guy a standing ovation...until I realized that he did very little to draw attention to it. Yes, Mom was very smart in avoiding this doctor, but that's what someone who victimizes someone else does, they know how to avoid. I saw this moment and got really depressed. He saw what was going on and didn't get justice for this girl. I can't throw him on the heap because he's our lawful neutral. He did what he could legally and then threw his hands in the air when the result didn't pan out his way easily. I'm used to hearing that we need somebody to blame and I'm normally the kind of guy who thinks that is an oversimplification. But I do need someone to blame. I hate to think that might be me. I've chased down justice only to be stymied and it is a frustrating position to be in. I took it as far as it would go and I got no help, so the crime was left unresolved. But I feel like this doctor didn't go that far. He knew that Mom was a liar and that this was going to continue. I felt like there were other avenues to continue down and he just didn't pursue it. I know, I know. He's got oodles of patients and there has to be a line in the sand for doctors and how much they can invade a patient's life. After all, I'm sure that patients all over the world admit to constant health-crimes and a doctor is left to simply accept that. But Gypsy Rose was a kid who was powerless and unawares. Gypsy was the patient and Mom was trying to take power away from this patient. I get frustrated, guys. I'm sorry.
The mental condition of Gypsy Rose is also something that is intriguing. In many ways, Gypsy is a hostage in her own house. I can't help but make comparisons to Room and what long term imprisonment does to the human mind. Because I established that I'm a bad person, I will continue to make references to Gypsy Rose my entire life. There's just some insane stuff in this documentary. I kind of liken it to my reaction to Grey Gardens, only add a troubling backstory and a grizzly murder. (I may have realized at this precise moment that I'm genuinely a bad person, but I'm going to bury that revelation here on this quiet little plot of internet.) Gypsy Rose's mother was a complete lunatic. Looking back at her childhood, her mother did some absolutely terrible things. Imagine being raised in a household where your moral center was a completely nutbar. (Again, the title of this movie is a bit too on the nose.) Gypsy Rose, for the bulk of her life, found her only friendship in her mother. Even if Gypsy Rose's mother was a pillar of sanity and saintliness, that has to take a toll on her. Her bizarre behavior is such a reflection of her environment. I always go back and forth on whether people are primarily nature based or nurture based, and this movie is my Exhibit A for nurture based. Gypsy really comes across as autistic or developmentally disabled simply because she can't really talk like a normal person. There was abuse in the movie. It was proved and witnesses can attest to this abuse. But Gypsy had no frame of reference for what normality looked like. She lives like a poorly written kids' show character. Her voice is in this octave that sounds like the worst performer's choice ever. When she is alone, her voice still has this surreal chipmunk quality, but there is just the hint of a natural cadence somewhere in there. I don't think she actively puts on the Gypsy voice for people, but it is definitely another persona.
Watch this documentary, but be aware that it is not meant to be a full movie. If you watch it for no other reason, watch it knowing that I'm going to be making references to Gypsy Rose for a long time.
And here lies my problem with "G". This movie gets pretty scary and pretty messed up at times. The multiple headed Hydra? G!
DIRECTORS: Ron Clements and John Musker
I hate snobs. I think I hate snobs because I'm a huge snob. If you want me to hate you, share one of your worst qualities with my worst qualities. I always get mad at people for not watching a movie or starting a book because they are above that place in life. But I skipped many of the late '90s Disney movies because it was when I first started getting too old for them. I hear an outcry from the masses of Facebook. "But, Tim! You are never too old for Disney! We have a whole new world to hakuna matata" and all that nonsense I see in that Will Eisner knock off font. Okay, I'm glad you really like Disney and that you never got off the train. I got off the train. I think it was either Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pocahontas that I stopped going to Disney movies for my own entertainment. But this blog started a weird theme. With an attempt to watch everything critically, I realized I now watch a ton of more kids movies than I thought I ever would. If I was to ever give these '90s Disney movies a chance, I suppose it is going to be now. My brother-in-law swore by Hercules. He is insistent that it is a classic. I don't know about that.
I really wanted to like Hercules. Some of the movie I absolutely love. This movie has an insane amount of stuff going for it. Alan Menkin did the music, which already puts it into an elite category when it comes to Disney movies. Ron Clements directed it. He directed two of my favorite Disney movies, The Great Mouse Detective and Moana. James Woods voices the bad guy! Bobcat Goldthwait is in this movie. Look at all of those elements. But I don't think there has really been a truly great Hercules movie. I know someone is going to pull out a reference to Ray Harryhausen somewhere out there. Okay, assuming that this blog would draw the attention of a Ray Harryhausen fan, then there would be a comment on it. But I don't think that Hercules necessarily works that well for the big screen. The odd part about the fact that Hercules doesn't work is that he has this great story and we've plagiarized so many elements from this story for our modern pop culture mythology that it should work. A few hours before sitting down to watch Hercules (I swear, the kids do other things besides watching TV), we sat down and watched part two of the pilot of Superman: The Animated Series. Watching the first twenty minutes of Hercules, the beats were almost exactly the same. A supernatural child is left in a world inhabited by mortals to be raised by mortals. He has gifts far beyond those of mortal men and struggles to understand his origins because he feels like an outsider. He then has the truth revealed by his loving foster parents only to go on an epic quest to fulfill a great destiny. I mean, moment to moment. I thought, "This movie is going to be great." Then it introduced something that I really loved within the Hercules mythos: the quests. I thought this movie was going to be about Hercules overcoming the great trials and I was mad that I hadn't seen these movies. This is where the movie makes a bit of a misstep. The movie loves montage sequences, so much. There's this great story there of nerdy Hercules unable to control his abilities. Having to train under grumpy Phil, this movie could have taken the "Zero to Hero" motif and rain with it. I would have loved to see The Karate Kid with godlike super powers. Each trial could have been Herc learning to manage a new element of his abilities. Instead, Hercules simply does a training montage to show him losing the internal conflict off screen. He didn't believe in himself and then he did. Why do this? Following this, why even have the trials if we only get to see the first one and then everything summarized in another montage? All that stuff was more interesting than the main plot
The plot they chose was dull. Hades just throwing villains at Hercules until he goes away is pretty boring. Adding Meg to the story is even a worse choice. Very few of the Disney movies are led by the male lead. I'm very cool with this. Aladdin and The Lion King work, but they seem to be the exception to the rule. Meg's addition is an attempt to follow the Disney formula a little harder than is needed for this story. Meg and Hercules don't really have a relationship that is based on anything. Meg comes into the story as a deceitful character. Hercules falls in love with this character despite that little about her personality is actually based on truth. She has noble intentions, which I appreciated, but I never supported their relationship because he fell in love with the fake Meg. She also seems thrown into the story really late in the plot. This is a story about dudes I don't care about who eventually falls in love with a pretty girl because she's a pretty girl. I know the critics of Disney animated often comment on the fact that the women are there as love objects and I think Hercules might be the worst offender. I never got close to physically falling asleep for this movie because I was watching it outdoors, but I definitely got so bored at one point that I just was tuning out the movie. There's this plot with the titans, but the titans come across simply as other villains that Hades throws at Hercules that only seem successful because they come so late in the movie.
There's this ending sequence in Hercules that just murders the pacing, but is central to the character. Hercules himself doesn't really have a moral choice within the story. He is warned from falling in love with Meg from Phil and Pegasus, but that's not so much a character shift so much as he's being bombarded with conflicting info so he can't really make an accurate decision. So the final sequence, and I think I can avoid spoilers here, is about how good of a person Hercules really is. It is about his integrity and what makes a hero and the idea behind it is super cool. But it also comes at a really weird time in the story. The primary conflict is over. It kind of has that weird Lord of the Rings novel thing where Saruman attacks the Shire. The plot has ended, yet this whole mini story comes up that seems important, but the audience is spent. On top of that, the conflict with Hades is very quickly resolved to the point of anti-climax. For intense readers of this blog, I'm a big fan of the movie following its own rules. The movie, at this point, doesn't follow its own rules with Hades's downfall. It kind of does, but in a way that is a bit of a headscratcher. I know what the movie tried to do, but the ending is not satisfying. This mini plot leads into a denouement that seems arbitrary. The main plot of the film is Hercules trying to regain his stolen godhood and that idea is resolved, but his godhood seems like such an afterthought in this movie. The movie starts with that as the inciting incident. Zeus revealing that Hercules has the ability to return to Mt. Olympus is a cool start, but Hercules almost never addresses this moment again. Rather, it becomes a better commentary on celebrity and what makes someone a hero. Having the plot return to the godhood impetus is much more of an, "Oh yeah, that's what he was shooting for" rather than any resolution that I needed. It kind of feels like Hercules should be working his entire life to prove his worth rather than an arbitrary resolution to this plot. I hate to say it, this should have been a TV show. (And it was, but let's not overinflate that.)
A couple of the Disney stories really suffer from the fact that they are being adapted to be family friendly. I hear The Hunchback of Notre Dame is really messed up. Like, I shouldn't show my kids this movie because it's so messed up. (If you have an opinion on this, please put it in the comments below.) The Greek myths are dark. Zeus is not a nice god. He's awful. But this is a Disney story so a lot had to be cleaned up. I get it. It makes sense. A lot of storytelling has been Disney-fied in the past and Hercules committed no crime that dozen of other Disney movies haven't done before. The big problem with simplifying the plot is that I'm very familiar with this original story. With all of the clean up going on with this movie, I think the plot suffers from the clean up. There's a much more interesting story that is being ignored for the sake of being family friendly. That's kind of a shame but I get it. This is all griping, I realize right now, because I have no suggestions. In no way do I want the smutty awful version of Hercules on screen, but I also acknowledge that there is a much cooler version of this story that can't be told. But again, this all goes back to my original comment that Hercules has yet to be adapted into a truly great movie.
The one thing that really rocks (for the most part) in Hercules is the animation. There was a weird revelation a while ago that the animated Beauty and the Beast from Disney is actually animated quite poorly. That's the tops, yo. People love that film. I loved that film! I started watching it fairly recently with the kids and I was appalled at how bad the animation was in that movie. Hercules looks good. I like when the design is a little stylized. Hercules might take it a little far with the stylization at times, but I tend to err on the side of risky, so I forgive a lot. The art is very fluid and looks absolutely beautiful throughout...with the exception of the Hydra. Disney was always touted as innovators in animation, especially when it came to using computer animation to add another element to the movie. Beauty and the Beast used it for the famous ballroom shot. Aladdin used it for the Cave of Wonders. These scenes dropped my jaw when I was a kid. This was a major step forward in animation back in the day, but I have to say that a lot of the look doesn't hold up today. These are scenes I know kind of cringe at. Look, me, we wouldn't have stuff like Toy Story if it wasn't for these choices. I love the look of Moana and Big Hero 6, so I guess I have to suck it up and understand that Disney couldn't get it perfect on the first try. But these scenes pull me out of the movie. That and the fact that I couldn't wait for that scene to end so my kids wouldn't have nightmares for life.
So it's a classic to some. Disney definitely has dips and highs, and I think their late '90s stuff is pretty weak. I'm not sad I missed it, but I do appreciate it is out there. My kids got bored with it pretty quickly, but that's because they don't have attention spans and we were outside. Regardless, I had an overall okay time with it. It did the job and I had a fun movie night with the kids. And now I can say that I saw it...
PG-13. I actually wonder if Hancock was shooting for the PG-13 because there are moments where you know someone wanted to use the "F-Bomb".
DIRECTOR: John Lee Hancock
When I saw the trailer for this one, I said, "This. This is the movie I want to see." It looked gritty and rough and really intense. I'm not a guy who necessarily has a BEEF with McDonald's. (It's why I'm still in the business, folks...) It just seemed like this was going to be in the ballpark with There Will Be Blood. We were going to see the sharks of corporate America and watch how an honest business became synonymous with junk. Yeah, that wasn't this movie. I mean, the story of how one guy took a humble business and corrupted it into becoming the largest fast food establishment in history is there. The story is real; it's just that the meat isn't. (Ah, I did it again.)
I have to admit, I'm a little bias against director John Lee Hancock. I didn't know his name until I IMDB'ed it after seeing the trailer. I then saw his filmography and probably uttered an audible "Crap." Hancock directed some movies that really left me "meh" and may have directed one of my least favorite movies of the past decade. It's a movie that everyone loves and I'm going to lose the heartland with this one. I really can't stand his movie, The Blind Side. Everyone loves this movie. Okay, white middle class America loves this movie. Since this isn't a review for The Blind Side, I'll leave it at that. If someone demands I watch this movie again, I probably will. But I might need company and ideal conditions to get through it. But Hancock hasn't directed a lot and The Founder, from the trailer at least, looked like it had real vision. I hadn't given up on it. There are lots of directors where I don't like most of their stuff, but I tend to like them when a passion project shows up. The Founder isn't awful. In fact, I overall enjoyed it. But I saw a bunch of ratings that kind of proclaim the movie as "okay", and I have to agree with them. The movie is good, not great. Considering that this movie could have broken the mold, that's where the disappointment lies. There's content here and there's a functional delivery. It's just that when a movie has such potential, "okay" seems pretty damning.
The movie thrives in its cast. The cast is perfect. I love that Michael Keaton has a very different career after Birdman. I always kind of wondered how Michael Keaton made it into so many A-List movies. The casting of him as Batman still blows my mind. Mind you, this is the same guy who would have cast Nicholas Cage as Superman, so there's something going on there. But he's been in far more commercial movies and I'm sure that paid the bills. I learned to love Keaton in his smaller roles. I like the idea that Keaton in his later years is concerned more with perfecting his craft. That's nifty to me. He's also really good. He's really good in this. He's delivering lines that seem very expository, but he does an amazing job at kind of burying that outright exposition. Add to that casting Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch as the McDonald Brothers, I can't think of a better cast. I love Nick Offerman ever since I started watching Parks and Recreation. He shoehorns himself into the manly-man roles, despite personally being very open minded and vulnerable. His stand-up is very revealing about his real personality and, while I don't necessarily endorse any politics on this forum --let alone his --I do like the man quite a bit. It's always nice to see people you like get roles in movies. He's still a bit of Ron Swanson, but less so. He's a bit more even keeled here, but he still has a bit of alpha male going on with the part. He does it really well, so I can't begrudge Hancock for putting him in this position. John Carroll Lynch is still think as the guy from The Drew Carey Show. While perhaps more of a character actor, he really knows how to play up the sympathy for the brothers. Dick McDonald, played by Offerman, is too much of a local shark to really build sympathy. You want to see him defeat Kroc, but that's more of a competitive win. It's a hold on integrity. It is with Lynch's Mac that the story becomes personal. Mac is the vulnerable one. He isn't weak, but he is reserved. McDonald's, as a brand, represents the family that he created with his brother; perhaps an ironic thought considering that is how Kroc sells the franchise to new investors. Lynch really does a phenomenal job of being in the background, but not being hidden in the background. It only makes his lines all the more important and he hits each one perfectly. Finally --and I love this casting --Linda Cardellini is so gosh darned talented. I love her in everything. I've seen her in good stuff and I've seen her and stinkers and she is always on. Her part is perhaps not as vital to the story as I would have liked. The movie does fail the Bechdel test because this is a movie with tons of dudes and two women. I'm sorry that I'm not gushing about Laura Dern, but I don't know if she got enough to work with. She's a strong actress who nails what she is given, but the entire movie is just sadness. I've seen her do it before and I don't think that the movie gave her enough to do. She brings a hint of power to the character, but that is beneath the surface and there really is no resolution to those choices.
The movie's shortfall comes with the idea that Ray Kroc isn't a good guy or a bad guy. He's not an antihero either. He's kind of a schlub who has a point with what he does. He's a guy who goes from morally neutral to kind of bad because he kind of has a point. That's not that interesting of a character change. And the movie is about his moral compass. I mentioned There Will Be Blood earlier. Daniel Plainview is an evil man who accepts that he is an evil man. The internal conflict in the movie is when a man who is in control of a situation risks losing that control. Ray Kroc isn't the same story. This is about his very soul, but his soul is kind of blah to begin with. There's a hint that Ray was the kind of guy who saw behind the curtain of what things are versus what things could be. I don't think the real Ray Kroc was that way, but who cares? This is a movie. That idea could really have been pursued. Keaton probably used that frustration to show how Kroc related to rejection and disappointment, but that idea is definitely hidden and left mostly unexplored. Instead, we get more of a historical narrative and explanations of what drove a wedge between Ray Kroc and the McDonald Brothers and Ray Kroc and hist wife. It is very linear. There's not much room for development. The weird thing is that I can see Keaton really crushing this ethical choice. Why couldn't we have a scene where he starts to fall apart and ask if he's doing he right thing? Rather, the picture of Ray Kroc is just a "Get Rich Quick" guy. That character isn't riveting. There's a moment where Kroc just figured out how to save the franchises from going under by saving some money. He is instantly (pun intended) rejected by Dick McDonald and that moment is a major moment for the underdog, Dick. But why couldn't we have Kroc plead with McDonald? Why couldn't he be vulnerable for five seconds and beg? He could have told him the whole story. He could have been a normal person who is humiliated by this little fish who thinks he's being a big man for the first time in their relationship. Think about that moment, when Ray Kroc is metaphorically spat upon and decides to rain down fire upon the brothers because he's desperate. That is such an opportunity and I'm blown away that Hancock didn't take it. "Well, that didn't happen." It may have and, again, this is not a documentary. I'm sure a lot of the movie didn't happen. Except for that fried chicken bit. I'm sure that happened.
I think I hate safety in films. Hancock is a very safe director. The movie removes the vision of the director by giving a color palate that is aesthetically pleasing and reminds us of a better time. I love how we thing of the fifties as ultra-colorful, considering that most of our reference points are in black-and-white. McDonald's has a color palate that we associate and have an instant reference point for, but think of if Hancock went the other way with it. I keep comparing this movie to There Will Be Blood, but that color palate was a choice. Instead, The Founder takes the safe route with its look by giving us the same shades as Remember the Titan and the colorized scenes in Pleasantville. I think we must have collective understanding of what the '50s looked like that must not be at all accurate, but we accept. It's kind of the same thing when things are shot in Mexico with the heavy washed out sepia tint. Thanks a lot, Traffic. The movie also did a lame thing by tricking me with the opening speech. There was a hint that we were going to go all Frank Underwood with the narrative breaking the fourth wall. It would have been gutsy. We would have gotten such a cool insight into Ray Kroc, but it was just one of those things that was a mislead. He's talking to a guy? Lame. That speech is also rough. No one would stick by that speech, nor would a speech be that expository. I'm going to seem really snobby here, but I think he's making his movies for the lowest common denominator. Look at John Lee Hancock's filmography and tell me that he is challenging people. He has a message and I applaud him for that. I guess it is a good thing that he's giving the message to everyone as opposed to the elite, but that message didn't really land because it is so easy to digest. People sometimes need to struggle with material. The movie ended and I had to write this blog simply to become invested in the material. Ray Kroc is kind of a jerk and destroyed someone's personal business to make a buck. McDonald's only cares about money, despite pretending to be the family oriented fast food chain. But I knew that. There has to be a way to engage people to talk to each other and really break things down for themselves. I wish this movie wasn't so blatant and didn't spell things out so clearly. There's not much exploration of the internal conflict despite the fact that this movie is mostly about the internal conflict. It oversimplifies everything and that's a shame.
I can't stress this enough: this movie isn't bad. In fact, it's good. It's John Lee Hancock's best. It just needed to be great and it really could have been great. It just wasn't.
In this slightly supersized summer episode, we discuss The Dark Tower franchise and Twin Peaks season one. The audio is pretty great too, which is my pride and joy. As always, feel free to comment below with the exception of who killed Laura Palmer. Again, it's only season one!
Literally Anything: Episode Three -Literally Twin Peaks
PG-13, despite the fact that the movie is absolutely terrifying from moment one.
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan
I'm just going to get it out of the way now. SPOILERS. I have to talk about spoilers with this movie. It's a Shyamalan film, so the very nature of discourse will involve spoilers. Do you understand how hard it was to not talk about The Sixth Sense in a film class when the book constantly referenced it? It's a burden...a heavy burden that I bear.
And apparently M. Night Shyamalan remembered how to make movies again. He went through a rough patch. I feel like this is petty and spiteful, but I have to compare his directing career to Cuba Gooding Jr.'s acting career. He was a golden boy so quickly that there was no way to possibly maintain the level of quality he presented first thing. My students have all seen The Sixth Sense and the consensus is that it is mostly meh with the exception of the ending. Yeah, they may have a point, but I remember how that movie crushed. That movie had everyone scared. I thought the movie was terrifying. That was probably one of the first really solid PG-13 horror movies and I bought into it, hook-line-and-sinker. The movie was so scary. Then he had Unbreakable (more on that later) and I loved that even more...but that's only probably because I'm a dirty hipster who has a film blog that is being abandoned like a sinking ship. (My God! I'm the Shyamalan / Cuba Gooding Jr. of blogs!) Then I remember Signs coming out. Signs was a completely reasonable film, but those twists were becoming less important. Yet, he kept defining himself as the twist director. The Village had a twist that was pretty groan worthy and the world hated The Lady in the Water, a movie that I maintain was pretty solid. But I even refuse to watch that movie again in fear that I was absolutely insane and it was just the moment that convinced me that it was good. But that's when things got really bad. There was just a string of movies that were just awful. I mean, I gave a few of them a chance, but these movies were borderline unwatchable. The Happening was so disappointing. I just saw this director become desperate for another hit like The Sixth Sense. The acting was gone and this guy who had this vision just disappeared. (By the way, I'm also despondent because Weebly just deleted most of this article and I'm trying to recreated it from the point it last saved. The horror!) It was only with The Visit that there was a change in personality. M. Night Shyamalan made a fairly scary found footage movie. That's a tall order into today's film climate. Then this movie showed a movie that I hadn't seen in a while. I saw the hungry filmmaker who knew how to handle the camera. He knew how to make the movie suspenseful while forcing me to ask questions. He respected me enough to not spoon feed me information hand over fist. The movie felt personal again and I loved that. He stopped trying to be Alfred Hitchcock and he just became this awesome filmmaker again. Hitchcock never tried to be the mythical Hitchcock. He was an innovator and he always tried making the best movie he could. Yes, Hitchcock was the Master of Suspense, but he was a personal guy too. He liked dark humor and he would occasionally go off book and make odd movies. He made a romantic comedy named Mr. & Mrs. Smith, not associated with the spy comedy with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Sure, the movie bombed, but I never got the vibe that it really crushed him. The second that Shyamalan stopped trying to be the Shyamalan known for his twists and gimmicks, the movie got good again.
This is McAvoy's movie. Yes, there is a gimmick, but McAvoy uses this gimmick to the best of his ability. I think it would be easy to write this movie off as an acting exercise, swapping between very different character personalities. McAvoy embraces this and really builds these characters as very different people. The movie is great, objectively. But this might have a bit of staying power because of McAvoy's performance. I get the vibe that most people acknowledge that McAvoy is extremely talented, but I don't know if he's ever been accepted into those upper echelons of acting. You know? The William H. Macies or the Phillip Seymour Hoffmans. Maybe if we had insight into his middle name, he'd be there. But he honestly has the chops. What makes these characters work is not just in the major choices that he makes, but it is in the stuff that the camera doesn't focus on. I really want to know who made what choice for the characters. Regardless, I'm going to give the points to McAvoy because he executes these moments flawlessly. I think my favorite personality is Miss Patricia. There are so many layers to this character that I have to applaud. Shyamalan wrote this character as someone who is always in control of her situation. She is angry, but she doesn't let herself lose control of the situation. That's somewhat in the script. There's a moment when Patricia is cutting a sandwich and it isn't straight. We see underneath her persona and the dominance that she exudes over the situation. But McAvoy took this character and added so much nuance. The camera doesn't focus on these moments. They are personal. A man playing a woman in a man's body has to be complicated. The temptation to play the part as a stereotype with broad actions has to be ever-present, but McAvoy takes the part the other way. Patricia is in her subtlety. She is modest and ashamed of her body. The adjusts her shawl to cover herself around the other women. She hates the girls, yet sympathizes with them. When things go poorly for the characters, she doesn't get scared. She handles it. She is used to taking care of Kevin's mistakes and knows when to get help. These are all choices. McAvoy gives the same attention to Hedwig. My wife said that no nine-year-old acts like Hedwig. I thought about that. Hedwig didn't act like a nine-year-old because he's a nine-year-old that has no parents. He is given treats in exchange of cooperation. He is a bit neurotic and that's portrayed with McAvoy's small choices. It also kind of reflects that Hedwig isn't a nine-year-old. He's how an adult would view a nine-year-old. The fear and wonder in that kid's eyes seem very real. So, he's not a nine-year-old like we know nine-year-olds. He's a nine-year-old with a wealth of baggage attached. How cool is that?
This is becoming the review that has taken three days to write. Thanks a lot, computer, for your active attempts at sabotaging this review. This movie was spoiled for me. It was spoiled for me by clickbait that pretended like it was trying to keep a secret. Here's the clickbait title: "Did anybody know that Split was a [redacted] sequel?" Shut up. I hate you so much. Because I instantly figured out that "redacted" meant Unbreakable. Why, clickbait? Why? I click you from time to time. I thought we were buddies. Now I knew I was going into an Unbreakable sequel. Like I established, I'm one of the Unbreakable hipsters out there. I liked it before it was cool. I was jazzed to see this as a secret sequel. But that kind of ruined a bit of the movie for me. Split is so good of a movie on its own. Watching the film wondering how to get Bruce Willie or Sammie Jackson in this movie kind of pulled me out. I kept thinking, "This is where he's going to come in." Instead, they got Bruce Willie to come in Iron Man 1 style and just establish that there is a larger universe. (By the way, missed opportunity with not having Sam Jackson saying "I. Am. The Beast.") It feels like a cheap add on. Sure, I'm really excited for an Unbreakable sequel and that there's going to be another movie tying both together, but it kind of cheapens the movie as a whole. Sure, I wouldn't have known that had it not been for the evil clickbait article title, but I really liked Split. It has really solid legs to it and it was one Shyamalan's best movies. It's scary and interesting. I kept trying to figure out the puzzle and my wife really dug it. It really is the whole package, so why bother pigeonholing it as a sequel to one of this other movies? I know that there are pros and cons to both, but sometimes I just want a movie to be a movie. Not everything has to be a cinematic universe.
One of the cooler things about this movie that I forgot about is establishing why characters make certain choices. The movie starts with the haunting kidnapping of these girls. Because I was at home, I yelled at the screen for the girl to run. Why wasn't she running? She should be running. Lots of movies establish that people freeze in certain situations and, from what little exposure I have to this, I understand that this happens in real life too. Okay, so I wrote it off as just another person freezing in a terrifying situation. However --and without spelling it out for me --Shyamalan gives us this phenomenal B-story explaining Casey's choices. It is a heavy handed storyline that didn't feel heavy-handed. These flashbacks throughout the story turned the narrative from simply an escape thriller to a look at to what makes someone a victim. These flashes give just enough of the story. Casey also becomes a fuller person because of these moments. The other two girls don't really have the advantage of being round characters because they don't have the backstory there. The other girls kind of come off as cannon fodder because of their lack of story. I still had moments where I wondered why the three of them didn't work to overpower their attacker, but I can kind of get why they didn't. The situation seemed pretty hopeless all throughout. There are a series of blockades stopping the girls from escaping. Again, talking about spoilers, but I don't know what the location of the Philadelphia Zoo had to do with the rest of the movie. I guess the tie to the Beast might have had something, but it seemed a bit strained. Still, Casey's character was really brilliantly built. She made such strong choices that were reserved. She seemed passive to Kevin, but a leader within the group despite the fact that she was an outcast.
There's one moment in the movie that didn't really ring true for me and I saw it coming. The movie rides the fine line between being grounded in reality and embracing a supernatural element. I knew that it was going to embrace the supernatural. The movie just planted so many breadcrumbs leading to the fact that something outside of reality was going to happen. It also foreshadows the resolution to the movie way too hard. I knew exactly the image I was going to see, and --surprise, surprise --it happened just like I knew it would. I guess the movie needed it, but I would have loved to see that the supernatural hints would have all been garbage and that Kevin was simply a disturbed individual. Bee-tee-dubs, I can't imagine the D.I.D. community would have been a fan of this movie. I don't know if I'm imagining reading an article about it or not, but it does paint people with Dissociate Identity Disorder as criminal psychopaths. I know that the story is pretty cool and I wanted to see it, but it does have to be kind of a bummer to be depicted in that manner.
PG-13. for ridiculous Hollywood blockbuster action involving rotting shark corpses and CG absurdity.
DIRECTORS: Joachim Ronning and Espen Sandberg
I don't know how to put the line through the "O". I'm sorry, Mr. Ronning. That's not your name, yet I continue to call it that. Despite what you might think, a review for Muppet Treasure Island didn't exactly drive traffic to this site. But I have the give the background on why I watched this movie. I was on the Disney cruise and I had already seen Muppet Treasure Island with my kids. Then they had this one on board. As you will find out from this review, I'm not a big Pirates fan, regardless of interpretation. I don't think pirates are cool. I don't like the film franchise. I don't like baseball, hence I don't like the baseball team. There's little driving me to see this movie. But, it is still first run and free, so I went to go see it. You now have insight into my film viewing process. I felt like I was sticking it to the system, which ironically is a pirate-like attitude. I almost saw Cars 3 for the same reason. The insane part is that I broke one of my rarely broken rules to do this. I didn't see the previous entry in the franchise before seeing this one. Good news, there's not much to discover. (Although I'm trying to find a way to see the last Pirates movie just to balance my film karma...)
The best way I can explain my opinions on the most recent Pirates movie (I refuse to write the full title again) is to say that it is the second best in the franchise (assuming that On Stranger Tides reflects the taste of everyone who has actually seen it). The thing is, that really isn't praise. The second best in a mostly bad franchise means that the movie really has a lot of problems. I really liked the first one. I'm also now realizing that those titles are mouthfuls. The first one is a straightforward action movie with fun and goofy characters. The film doesn't mind doing larger than life set pieces and throwing everything at the wall. Like The Matrix, the first film does little to actually worry about setting up a franchise or a trilogy, which makes it a really pure film. Captain Jack Sparrow and Will Turner do some crazy things and it makes me chuckle. The plot is a little bananas, but there's little investment in what the world can provide. Rather, the audience is challenged just enough so that these moments in the film can play out without seeming like it a stunt video. I'm okay with this. Then parts two and three really hyped up the world. After all, the first Pirates movie was a phenomenon. Parts Two and Three had to have something to up the stakes and that is where the franchise fell apart. Like The Matrix, the films weren't necessarily worried about telling a good story, but rather making the movies bigger and more complicated. I've talked about this in the past, but many sequels try covering up their lack of plot by overcomplicating the stories. The Star Wars prequels did the same thing. So I fell off. The odd review for the most recent entry is that it gives the audience too many plots to pay attention to, but all of those plots are pretty simple.
Honest-to-Pete, I don't know who the protagonist of this movie is. It's not Captain Jack. I'm going into heavy spoilers here, so ye be warned. *sigh* I just did that. The movie starts off with the son of Will Turner trying to save his father. I know that this is fodder for the real Pirates fans out there, so I don't mind. But if this was the story, I'd say that's great. I can follow that. Henry Turner needs to find Neptune's Trident to undo the curse and I can get behind that. Then Captain Salazar's ghost tries getting revenge on Jack Sparrow and freeing his crew. That's a whole different movie there. Jack Sparrow could spend the entire film just escaping pirate ghosts again and that works. Then new character Carina Smyth is trying to decode a mythical book that would take her to an island to discover who her father is, who just happens to be Captain Barbossa. Captain Barbossa wants to hide from her daughter so she thinks she has an honorable man for a father. The British want to do something, which is even more loosey-goosey. What I'm saying is that we have five very different plots that are all wrapped up in the one search for Neptune's Trident. That's weak. I don't mind Mad-Mad-Worlding the plot a little bit, but they should have the same objectives. Creating plots A-E without stressing which is the most important is just bad storytelling. Instead of one or two strong storylines, I never really feel invested in any of the characters or their problems. I just have to shut off my brain and watch the action set pieces, which are...okay?
These movies love the CG set pieces. The franchise has gone a little Charlie's Angels / Friday the 13th, making many of its characters unkillable unless there is a very defined moment when they are meant to die. I do like movies that throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks, but this movie may have taken it a bit far. The first major action sequence starts off as very charming. Captain Jack waking up in an unbreakable safe is clever, but the sequence completely deteriorates past James Bond absurdity. Dragging the whole bank through St. Martaan is beyond the suspension of disbelief. This building is being dragged through town by a pack of horses. The building is hitting other buildings and knocking them down. The thing is that there's no scenario where this would work. It wouldn't even be close, so watching this moment just makes me groan. This sounds nitpickey and I know I should just enjoy the movie, but this breaks so many rules that it means no rules apply later on. I know many science fiction movie break the laws of physics all the time. Spider-Man's arcs alone destroy physics. It's just that there was never any real risk for Jack because physics was completely broken. You know that James Bond is going to make it through ridiculous scenarios unscathed, but that's because there's a one in a billion chance that it could happen. That one in a billion is all the audience really needs. But by making the horses impervious to damage and super powerful, there's no scenario where this could play out. Again, I realize it sounds stupid, but I can't help it. I have space to fill on this blog and who else is going to gripe like this. (Oh, there's a whole Internet out there? I withdraw my argument.)
There's something that I can't get out of my head when it comes to the pirate phenomenon. I think it was augmented by the fact that I was on a boat in international waters and the fact that we were celebrating being boarded. I kept making Captain Phillips references because pirates are intrinsically bad guys. I know that there are rogues and smugglers. Robin Hood and his Merry Men get a pass because they rob for noble causes. But Captain Jack and similar pirates are bad guys. I get that people have a sense of admiration for those who raise their noses to authority, but Jack causes more destruction than he fixes. He's actually a really evil dude. This is where my moral high horse comes in. Captain Salazar kind of is the good guy. He goes weirdly crazy with his quest for revenge, but he actually is somewhat noble. The only reason that he's considered the bad guy is because he's going against the protagonist of the franchise. Salazar starts his flashback stating that pirates had killed both his father and his grandfather. They had become a blight on the ocean and it was his job to clear the seas of this evil. Sure, he should have given mercy, but people root for the Punisher. (I'm not saying root for the Punisher. The dude is a psychopath, but you know where I'm going with this.) Salazar was the ocean's police. He was really good at it and then Jack got his whole crew killed and cursed. Seeking out Jack was a way of freeing his crew. Why is he considered the bad guy? Jack genuinely deserves the punishment chasing him across the seas. I can see why the pirates are admired in the other films. The British have their imperialistic attitudes all over the world and they have some dastardly schemes in the movies. Salazar is simply clearing the seas of murderers and thieves. It's a really weird intention that the movie gave him.
Captain Jack is a problematic character. In the first movie, his Keith Richards impression is hilarious and great. He's a pirate who looks out for himself and is always just a little bit drunk. But the thing about Jack is that he's an extremely talented fighter and captain. It's just that no one really takes himself seriously. Look at the wheel well fight in the first movie. That is a guy who is charge of his situation and has a specific set of skills that are amazing. Jack, in each of these movies, learns that he is a better man than he thinks he is. He knows that the sea is his home and that he will always be a pirate, but he is also aware that he has a heart of gold. The problem with that is that Jack thrives in his foibles. So he spends an entire film learning that he is a better man than he thought he was only to come back and have to learn that all over again. The only consistency to him comes from the fact that he has the same internal conflict over and over again. He also has slightly become a Mr. Bean character, getting into scrapes through oafishness and blind luck. That first movie had bad things happen to him, but he actively found a way around his situations. That bank scene was him just falling over himself and narrowly missing instant death by a hair by dumb luck. The character doesn't really have depth to him, so he's just fun to laugh at. But I don't find the joke funny anymore. I go into the Pirates movies with the thought, "Even if I don't like the movie, at least I have Johnny Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow for a good time." I liked Captain Jack the least, and that's kind of saying something.
Finally, the biggest problem I can think of is Captain Barbossa, played by Geoffery Rush. I never really understood his major plot through all these stories. He keeps getting reunited with Captain Jack Sparrow and is either a friend or an enemy in these situations. Geoffery Rush probably wants out of the franchise because, again SPOILERS, he dies. He dies saving his daughter immediately after revealing that he is her father. That's impressive, if there was any gravitas given to the whole situation. Instead, Rush goes out of the franchise with somewhat of a chilched whimper. There wasn't a time of bonding between the two characters. Instead, we are meant to feel emotional simply because the revelation is there. This goes back to the fact that we have too many characters with too many plots. None of these characters get the time that they deserve. I'm not saying that there isn't a story to be explored there. I just think that one of their stories developed into a slow building fire would have been interesting. I didn't care about her relationship with Barbossa because she didn't have one. She had an idea that her father was a great man and she seems satisfied with that simply because of one moment seemingly out of context. She knows nothing about Barbossa except that he is a pirate, which she loathes. That one selfless act is great, but it has no basis for a relationship. Perhaps if she discovered that Barbossa was her father from the beginning of the movie and he started to change for her, that would have been something. But he was a scoundrel until the moment he sacrificed himself for her. That's not all that great. It just felt like an actor getting out of a franchise that is coming to a slow and pathetic end.
The movie isn't good, but I had an okay time with it. I don't know why Paul McCartney is in the movie. Is it because Keith Richards was in another one of them? Johnny Depp is doing a Keith Richards impression and there has always been a weird background rivalry between the two bands. I don't get it. Either way, it's entertaining for the most part and the cameos are fun. My big recommendation is to shut your brain off and just enjoy. Hopefully you get to watch it for free while its in first run. I'll forgive a lot when it is free.
A LIVE ACTION MOVIE THAT IS G! Sure, it's got puppets in it. (Okay, Muppets.) But a live action movie that is G exists! Thank you, the '90s! You were a time of accidental reason!
DIRECTOR: Brian Henson
There are so many ways I want to open this review that I'm just going to lazy writer dump them all here. 1) I'm gone for a week and my readership plummets that hard? Geez. You didn't want to wake up everyday and re-read my review of Blue Velvet? 2) I love how Robert Louis Stevenson gets credit for writing the novel version of Muppet Treasure Island. I know that he wrote the actual novel Treasure Island. I do teach English as well. I just think it's funny to think that he wrote it with Muppets in mind. 3) I was on a Disney cruise with my family all week. I was surprised that I only saw two Disney movies in full while I was there. Both involved pirates and this was the one that my little kids could handle. My wife rolls her eyes really hard because I'm so obsessive about my review rules. I firmly believe that I have to review every film I watch in full on this blog or else I'd just start cherry picking. I also love rules, so I have that.
Muppets were always the nerdy indoor kids' entertainment. I loved the Muppets growing up. At least, I think I did. I think my parents convinced me that the Muppets were way better than all of the other garbage being put out for kids because they got the jokes. I pretended to get the jokes. Gonzo likes chickens! That's funny, right? As an adult and as a guy who writes a film blog that no one reads during the wee hours of the morning, I now really get the Muppets. My wife and her family never watched the Muppets. They were watching all of those mainstream Disney movies with the singing and the dancing. When I say that nerdy kids watched Muppets, I have to established that my wife and her siblings were homeschooled and performed plays based on Bible stories for fun, so I'm just setting the bar here. But I get why my parents said to watch the Muppets. The Muppets are really a variety act that is disguised as a kids' show. The Muppets, for the most part, are really funny. The jokes are the best kind of dad humor puns and the set ups and knock downs crush. It's just a matter of tricking your kids into thinking that they like these characters too. Muppet Treasure Island, however, falls into a scary category of "To whom does this appeal?" The new Muppets movie addresses this. Muppet Treasure Island was made in 1996, post Jim Henson. Without the creator at the helm, the Muppets were trying to find an identity for themselves. A Muppet Christmas Carol had come out in 1992 and I remember that achieving a moderate success. The formula was very simple and was a takeaway from both the original Muppet Movie and the television show. Attach a big name actor and have him play a part very seriously while the puppets did gags around him that he was rarely involved in. A Muppet Christmas Carol attached Michael Caine and he was great as Scrooge. The characters in Christmas Carol were named after Dickens's characters, with the exception of Gonzo and the movie worked. Treasure Island tried to do the same thing...only no one really cares about Treasure Island. I'm sorry, Mr. Stevenson. It is a small audience who really gets on board for that story. (Weirdly enough, Treasure Island has been following me around lately. I just saw the production at Stratford and bought the Little Golden Book version for my son. I'm becoming oddly familiar with the story considering that I've never read the Stevenson novel.)
I think back to the original Muppet Movie and I remember how funny it was. I showed my daughter the beginning of the movie about a year ago and I was cracking up. But like I said. the Muppets take a little bit of fibbery to get the kids on board, so I turned it off until I was really ready to lie to her hard. This Disney cruise did a bunch of things very well, but the most impressive was that it convinced my daughter that the Muppets were cool. When they were playing Muppet Treasure Island, she sat and watched that movie completely riveted. Okay, she was standing on her head and running around, but that was pretty good consider the venue was outside. There were some funny jokes in this movie and I loved it at times. But my wife kept poking me and saying, "You are enjoying this movie more than anyone else here." It was true. The parents around me were groaning and falling asleep. Yes, I was enjoying the movie, but it wasn't the meat of the movie that was keeping my attention. The movie itself was kind of dull. It was the occasional joke that kept my attention. But those jokes are just far enough between that I could invest in the film, but I felt like I was doing a bit of work. After all, I had already been indoctrinated into this cult. I wasn't the hard sell. I wanted the movie to be great, so I could enjoy it. The warm up was done for me and for me alone. All of the other cool kids were bored silly. Except for my daughter and I. She's going to be pretty dorky, that one.
Like I mentioned, I just saw Treasure Island in Stratford and the Jim Hawkins in that was pretty rough. I think it might be impossible to play a fully functional Jim Hawkins. Again, I haven't read Stevenson's novel, but I don't think that Jim Hawkins is meant to be that grating. (I apologize to the adult who played Jim Hawkins as a child in Stratford. You had a tall order ahead of you.) The kid in the movie is pretty rough as well. (I'm sorry to the now adult who was a child in a kids movie that I'm now tearing apart. I'm also sorry that you have so many IMDB credits, yet your photo is still from Muppet Treasure Island. Sir, if you don't hate me because I'm sure you are far more talented now than when you were a child, could you please tell me how you starred in a video game adaptation of Muppet Treasure Island in 1996? Please leave a message in the comments and --again --I apologize.) I has to be hard to play across from the Muppets. I have always heard stories that it is easier than it looks like because the puppeteers are always in character, but the Muppets are what draw audiences. Honestly, I love Tim Curry and all, but is he really the pull that the film needs. Tim Curry is great in R-Rated stuff, but he has his limited pull. The people are here to see the puppets do silly things, so I can't begrudge this teenager for not stealing the show. But Brian Henson gives him his ridiculously high falsetto note to sing and it is uncomfortable. It kind of reminds me of having to see a school concert where someone has a solo. Sure, he hits the note, but it doesn't exactly send me to a magical far away land so much as it is just gross. Also, 1996 loves mullets.
There's a weird beating of a dead horse in this time in Muppets history. Some of the jokes really work. Sam the Eagle has a character established that really fits within the storyline. I thought his jokes were great, especially his inspection of lifeboats bit. But Sam is a tertiary character. He has that kind of Simpsons appeal that really works in small doses and he's used just enough in this movie. It's the main characters that really don't have a leg to stand on. (They're puppets. They very rarely have legs on camera.) Kermit and Piggy's relationship is so boring at this point in history. I can't believe I'm not writing this with a sense of irony, but Piggy's relationship with Kermit doesn't belong in Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. There are no relationships in Treasure Island. Changing the character to "Benjamina Gunn" hurts my head so much. It just seems lazy. Yes, everyone's looking for Miss Piggy in a Muppet movie, but this might have been an indication that maybe the Muppets and Treasure Island don't exactly fit naturally. The same can be said for the other main characters. Fozzie doesn't make a lick of sense with his Mr. Bimbo jokes. Gonzo is simply the everyman, which is weird because he tries telling jokes. Keep going down that line and the story just gets ridiculous. I actually like the new characters in this one because it gives the story fresh jokes. I know that most people hated the Muppets TV show that went on from 1996-1998 because of all of the new characters, but this movie was in desperate need of fresh ideas. The old stuff didn't work.
I feel like I might be stepping on toes with this one because I know that there are hardcore fans of this movie. I think Muppets from Space might be the only one in the franchise that no one I know jumped on board, but there are redeeming things about this movie. Again, I laughed and laughed often enough to enjoy this film. I also have to standing ovation "Cabin Fever" because that might be the most joyful musical moment I've seen in a while. (Although the Muppets really know how to turn a musical number on its head by goin'-the-other-way with it...) The great thing is that it didn't kill my daughter's newfound love for The Muppets. I may try the original Muppet Movie with her again. Sure, she won't know who any of the celebrities are and I know that she'll fake laugh at stuff that she probably doesn't get. But that's the point of the Muppets, gosh darn it. It's something that I can watch with my kids that they won't necessarily get. Treasure Island might be one of the big missteps of the franchise, but that doesn't mean that the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater. There's still some good stuff going on here, it's just not Tim Curry. I might be Billy Connolly. Okay, it probably isn't, but I do enjoy a good cameo from time-to-time.
This one is so R-Rated I considered not posting it.
DIRECTOR: David Lynch
Oh, I am going to burn so many bridges with my opinion of David Lynch. When I worked at the video store, I quickly learned that everyone loves David Lynch. I do not like David Lynch...for the most part. But we have the Twin Peaks podcast coming up, so I wanted to knock out the one major Lynch film that I hadn't seen. Readers, if you have been perusing this blog for the objective, hard hitting criticism that I tend to offer (okay, even I can't take myself that seriously), I'm going to deliver some emotion here. This is a real confession. I always attacked David Lynch in the past for the reasons I'm about to present. I'd get into these major debates with my co-workers and customers and they would always say, "But what about Blue Velvet?" I would retort with a confident "Yes, even Blue Velvet," pretending I had seen it. Now I can actually say "Yes, even Blue Velvet" despite my shameless lies of the past...again, for the most part.
My major beef with David Lynch is that weirdness for weirdness sakes is easy. The real challenge to creating art is building upon the backs of the forefather's visitors, reliving each moment of photosynthesis until darkness foresakes its eternal prison and I nac etirw sdrawkcab oot. (If you didn't get what I was doing, I was flawlessly demonstrating how easy it is to be weird.) Now, this is where I run into a degree of hypocrisy. I do like weird things. I'm going to use Wes Anderson's direction as a contrast to David Lynch's because he's really good, but also really weird. Please understand that I think weirdness can be a good thing and there are many directors who use it extremely well. I'm just going to use Anderson as my example because I think he's really consistent in his stylization of film. Lynch loves to show weird stuff. He wants his audience to feel uncomfortable and he was not alone in that philosophy. Many directors want to alienate their audiences because that discomfort can throw an audience into a fury. They believe that complacency is the enemy of revolution and an audience that simply absorbs a narrative is less likely to make change. While I think that's a bit of malarkey to begin with, I don't know what David Lynch wants its audience to do. Does he want them to be weird? Does he want them to look at the world around them and think of the dark underbelly that feeds it. There is a point in Blue Velvet that would really support this theory. The movie opens with the title song playing over an overly-idealistic sequence of the Midwest before zooming to a swarm of beetles, contrasting its ugliness. As a metaphor, it really works. But that's about as far as the audience is thrown into a frenzy. He just wants me to know that the world is a bad place? Weirdness does not expose that theme. Wes Anderson uses his weirdness with a certain set of rules. Looking at the beginning of The Royal Tenenbaums, Anderson establishes the rules of the world. He shows what is acceptable and how people will react to certain scenarios. He establishes that the Tenenbaum clan is very intense to begin with in a world already pretty accustomed to strangeness. When something weird happens later, there is a level of plausiblity because that is what I was told earlier. The emotional attachment to these characters still happens because I have learned to love the characters. I always get the vibe that Lynch wants me to hate his characters because of their emotional aloofness.
Blue Velvet is actually pretty tame compared to many of his movies, maybe with the exception of Dune, oddly enough. There is a straightforward plot and something that can be somewhat invested in. I can see why everyone cited this movie in their argument against me. It is the blueprint for much of what would happen on Twin Peaks. The setting of Lumberton, the woman caught up in a hidden underbelly in distress, many of the actors...these would all be repeated in Twin Peaks. I think I have to read about the history of Twin Peaks. I know about the new Twin Peaks. David Lynch nearly left the new show because he wanted complete freedom to do whatever he wanted with the show. That's a dangerous thing, I think. Blue Velvet has the same plot elements, but he wants to show everything. The movie feels like it is trying so hard to be dark. If Lynch intended for Jeffrey to be so young to mirror what a teenager thinks deviancy is, he's a genius. I get the vibe that's not what's going on. Twin Peaks tries its hand with eroticism, but has to maintain television broadcast standards. Even there, what it views as uncouth feels like a community theatre production of "sexy". But letting Lynch off the chain without restriction lets us in on how juvenile Lynch's fantasies are. Honestly, the dirty part of the film feels like online fan fiction because I refuse to believe that the world acts like that. He's not calling for action; he's justifying perversion. Add to that Dennis Hopper's ironically evil character. I know, the f-bomb is ironic. It has to be. But the joke wears thin very quickly. I love Hopper, but good gravy that got under my skin. But again, I'm a hypocrite. I like Negan in The Walking Dead comics, so how is that okay? Anderson uses irony sparingly. He does callbacks and structures his films cleverly. Lynch beats weirdness into the ground and calls you an idiot for not liking it
But the movie is watchable. I think it is because this movie is holding back a little. He hasn't gone Eraserhead or Inland Empire yet, and I guess I can applaud that. The end was genuinely cool. It is weird, but fittingly weird. There are times I got really engrossed with the story, maybe against the creator's wish. Isabella Rossellini knows her audience with Lynch. Her choices are super bizarre, but that matches everything else. I love that Dean Stockwell got the "And" credit in a movie with Dennis Hopper. I'm not really sure why he's in the movie, but I always appreciate a good Dean Stockwell cameo.
Lynch lacks subtlety with his filmmaking, but that kind of works for a lot of it. He always seems to pick strong colors, which kind of make the quality seem chincy. I have the same problem with John Waters, so if you like him, I can also alienate you while I'm at it. But on the other end of that, he knows how to light and shoot the crap out of a film. I know this is one of his earlier entries, but Lynch shows that he's got director chops here. This seems wildly condescending, but I Idon't like his directorial choices so I question what happened. Regardless, I clearly am in the wrong here because consensus is against me. He's a quality filmmaker but --blech-- not for me.
For more on this topic, listen to our upcoming Literally Anything podcast sometime this month. We'll probably have some guests to defend Mr. Lynch's legacy, so fear not. I'm going to be taking a break from reviews for a while as I'm traveling abroad without Internet. I'll be back in a week. If you find a ton of mistakes, I apologize. I'm typing this on my phone in the back of a bus.
It's a murder thriller with stuff in it. Blood is in the title. Yeah, this one's R.
DIRECTORS: Joel and Ethan Coen
It's the Coen Brothers' first official movie! I got this as a gift from my mother (I love her and will not apologize for that. My adulthood and my masculinity are not on trial here.). I was thrilled to get the Criterion edition of this movie because the transfer was awesome, there's a fun essay in the Blu-Ray slip, and I'm super pretentious. While the tone of the essay was overall positive --they aren't going to attack their own product --it kept being kind of snooty about the movie. It treated the film as somewhat simplistic and tongue-in-cheek. Any weaknesses were chalked up to the directors taking the silly way out and joking around. Um, I guess the theme of this criticism is that this movie is fantastic, especially for a first time film.
I guess the reason that I was so floored is that the brothers take the film very seriously. Yes, there are moments that are over-the-top, but they are extremely effective. The Cohen brothers cut their teeth on Sam Raimi's Evil Dead and that was a study in how to make an audience extremely uncomfortable with the use of gore and violence. Blood Simple (For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to the avoid the punctuation in the title) never feels exploitative like Evil Dead, but uses graphic violence to ramp up the tension. SPOILERS, the end sequence with the knife is just brutal. I've weirdly become desensitized to knife through limb violence due to my obsessive content absorption and tendencies towards dark imagery (WHY ARE YOU CONFESSING THIS? We'll talk later.). But the knife through the hand sequence in this movie wasn't cornball like the essay implied. It is amazing. I haven't felt that uncomfortable in a thriller for a while and it is what the scene needs. There's something weirdly artistic about the whole sequence. The narrative is served first, which is completely respectable. But the way the bullets rip apart the drywall, freeing the light behind is gorgeously shot. Add to the fact that M. Emmett Walsh crushes the reality of that moment, and you have a near perfect resolution. It isn't a cheap escape. Rather, there is a desperate scenario that Walsh invests in completely. The amount of success he achieves is impressive, but believable. I don't get where the commentary on this comes from.
The way I understand this is that this is an adaptation of a Daschell Hammett novel. That could go anywhere. I always had a problem with noir / pulp writing, regardless of how iconic the author might be. I'm sure I'd like this novel, but the center that the Coens impress with is the fact that they tell a riveting story with a visual style that's impressive. The thing about thrillers and mysteries is that the auteur needs to know what to show and what not to show. Remember, this is the Coens' first movie. The smart thing would have been to do a straightforward delivery of the content rather than taking risks on stylistic choices. But the movie constantly reminded me that these would be the guys who made No Country for Old Men. The movie is polished to such a level that I don't know how they pulled off some of the shots. The best thing that the essay gave was insights into how some of the shots were done. There is the force focus that the Coens steal from Raimi and I loved knowing that. They are using all of these cool tricks that are just the tip of the iceberg. They borrow from the noir aesthetic, but use the color palate to make the story their own. The movie was made in '84, so they manage to make the film contemporary without resorting to overemphasizing the decade. (An example of overemphasizing the '80s? Any other movie from the '80s.). The Coens have a way of making things fit into the Coen-verse. They have the southern look to the things they do. Texas plays a part in this movie as much as any single location. Yes, the movie could happen anywhere, but the look that I tend to love from them comes out in full. It's such a strong choice and it helps the film.
When I saw that Dan Hedaya and Frances Macdormand were in this movie, I asked "how" and then realized I had found a special artifact outside of time. Their performances are absolutely great. Frances Macdormand is a young actress, probably at the beginning of her career. She's playing a very different role than what I'm used to seeing her in, but she's crushing the character. It is far more down-to-Earth than the other roles I've seen her play, but she makes some very interesting character choices. She easily could be relegated to a type, but she decides on moments. She presents these beats. Hedaya mentions that she would claim that something was "funny", obviously foreshadowing a moment for Ray later. Many other actresses would stress that moment, but she makes it important, yet ignorant simultaneously. I want to gush about Macdormand for the rest of this review, but it would be too fanboy-ey and it wouldn't contribute. She's great. Which makes it weird when I say that Hedaya destroys even more. The iconic image from this movie is an amazing sequence. The part I'm talking about is the cover of the Criterion. Hedaya is a disgusting human being, but his desperation is so sympathetic that I just have sit agog. This character is full. For the antagonist for the film, I can see every moral choice being made. The character has a thin moral code and Hedaya constantly finds himself breaking that moral code into pulp. Hedaya usually plays unlikable guys, but this one is pretty special.
The Coens have made some exceptional films, so I can't say this is one of their best. But for a first movie, I found myself jealous of their amazing talent out of the gate. Their career? It now makes so much sense.
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.