Um...GP? It's like they are messing with me. What am I supposed to do with that? I mean, besides Google it. Which I just did. I knew that it stood for General Patronage, but it was the equivalent of "General audiences accepted with parental guidance." So, you know. PG. There's a pretty solid sexual vibe that this movie gives, but it isn't overly vulgar or anything. I wouldn't want my kids watching this one, but that's just because it's about hippie free love and a creepy Orson Welles who gets annoyed that animals won't just disappear.
DIRECTOR: Henry Jaglom
Again, I was planning on putting some distance between Drive, He Said and this movie. I just know me. I know that there would have been a chance that I never would have gotten to the second movie on the disc and my sense of completion would have been completely stymied. This is terrible for me to say, but A Safe Place is quickly becoming one of the most forgettable movies I've ever seen. The worst part is that I know that there is merit to this movie. But I saw this movie about two weeks ago, give or take, and I'm struggling to remember details about the movie. That has to be one of the downsides of making these almost stream of consciousness movies.
There were some surprises. When the movie starts off with Orson Welles, I quickly realize that I have at least checked something off. Welles was known for being in stuff he loved and stuff he hated. He was a guy who did one for himself and then did another one to pay the bills. Sorry, Transformers: The Movie. I couldn't tell you which one this was. Knowing what I know about Welles, I'd like to think that he considered this one as part of his artistic canon. But he is the only real star in this movie. There's also a very real chance the entire budget went into giving this movie a degree of validity by simply hiring Orson Welles. It's kind of like Marlon Brando in Superman: The Movie. As I write this, I'm now kind of amazed at the similarities between Marlon Brando and Orson Welles, but I digress. I don't think many people have heard of this movie. I keep mixing up the title with A Quiet Place, which is a drastically different film. I'd like to say that this movie broke my brain opened and made my brain into a scrambled egg, but it really doesn't even come close. Even some of the BBS movies that were less than impressive at least challenged me a bit. A Safe Place really feels like the movie was made up on the fly and covered up the rough edges with the use of montage. The long and short is that this movie is a hippie version of Dharma & Greg, only it is absurd for the Greg character to be such a square all of the time. The Greg character, here named Fred and played by Phil Proctor, is attracted to Susan / Noah (yup) and they date. For the sake of time, I'm mostly going to refer to the female protagonist as Noah because most of the film does that. Just know that she adopted that name after Orson Welles gave her a Noah's ark magic trick as a child. It's a spoiler that no one really cares about. Noah is really out there. Like, there's nothing really to attach to that is real about Noah. She is aloof. She's on another planet conversation wise. Fred tries a traditional courtship, which is just silly. I suppose we're suppose to sympathize with Fred. He's head over heels for Noah, but she's the kind of girl that you ask what time she has to be home and she would probably just scream "Pumpkin!" at you for half-an-hour. The movie presents this behavior as charming. I just find it inaccessible. This also creates a weird other dynamic. We're supposed to really feel for Fred. He's trying his hardest to hold onto this girl that he just can't understand most of the time. But if you step away from that for two seconds, that means he's only really attracted to her looks and outright sexuality. That all seems kind of gross as I type on my blog in 2018. Do I want him to love a girl the way he does because he likes having sex with her? Sorry, but that's just not my bag, baby.
In the weirdest, most Monday morning quarterback sort of way, the BBS films set might be the strongest promotion for monogamy and abstinence that I've ever seen. I know that it probably wasn't the message that Jack Nicholson and company were trying to get across. I get the vibe that his cronies were all for drugs and promiscuity. But everyone who leads this lifestyle in these movies seems absolutely depressed. Head is a straight-up drug fueled nightmare for the Monkees. Easy Rider does not give the happiest ending for these guys. Five Easy Pieces is about a guy who can't form even basic relationships. A Safe Place has everyone cheating on each other and is about constant frustration. Noah just seems absolutely confused about what she wants constantly. Where is the message that things make more sense when you just let go? Perhaps it is a sense of pessimism coupled with the drug-fueled lifestyle that tells these stories, but they actually work as fantastic PSAs for me. I want to believe that writer / director Henry Jaglom has a real message to say about identity in A Safe Place. The movie is constantly cross-cutting between the present day narrative with Fred and Jack Nicholson's Mitch to the past of her as a child with Orson Welles. It also teases the horrendous relationship that Noah has had with Mitch in the past. What Jaglom does quite successfully here is present that chaotic nature that Noah must be constantly feeling. She is this woman who, upon initial meeting, seems to be controlling her life the way she wants to. But as the story unravels, she seems to be the victim of alpha male characters. These alpha males aren't necessarily good or evil. Welles's character seems to care for Noah, then called Susan. Okay, that's a hard statement to stand by because his behavior is possibly more bizarre than Noah's. But he's not the antagonist of the film and that's as close as I can get to defending my initial statement. But then there's also selfish Mitch, who uses Noah for sex when he is frustrated at home. Noah, over the course of these flashbacks, is actually revealed to be more of a leaf on the wind. (Not like Wash. That's a great leaf on the wind. Watch how he s--.) She is moved by people who are clear with their expectations, unlike Fred. Fred seems to be what refer scornfully to as "The Nice Guy." Because he's wishy-washy, he is walked all over until he just snaps and then becomes the bad guy when he vocalizes his entitlement.
What Jaglom has in A Safe Place is a framework, not a story. Many romance stories, especially ones that unite the protagonists early, become about separating them through a series of wrong turns. I know I shouldn't be citing a movie that is so polarizing with recent audiences, but La La Land shows how to do it right. This movie seems just lazy enough to depend on people watching it with the attitude of "How avant-garde!" It's really not. It is a square dating a love child and how it quickly goes south. I have to believe that Orson Welles probably filmed a lot of his scenes in one or two days, possibly improving entire sections. Again, this is entirely speculation because I watched nothing about this movie nor did I read the essays in my Criterion box yet. But Welles is a talented enough actor who understands what is compelling enough that his character as an improv exercise might be the most riveting thing about the movie itself. Fred has no reason to be in the story with Noah. Noah seems consistently apathetic about Fred's presence, which makes it difficult to gauge the situation between the protagonists. Noah doesn't care that Fred is there. She appreciates the attention, but they are in no way equals in this situation. Noah does what she wants to do and Fred just kind of orbits her world. Now, if this movie was a commentary on that, I think we would have something way ahead of its time. I never really got the feeling that Jaglom wanted to the tell the tale of obsession. Rather, Fred comes off as rather pathetic. Then Noah, too, becomes rather pathetic. I do think that Jaglom was looking at how the choices in our youth affect our present day and that kind of works in the movie. But Noah isn't a compelling enough character to sell that. Her needs are a secret. She's that leaf on the wind. Whatever way the wind takes her, she's going to go. This is the main character of the story. Again, while I take this as a PSA, I don't think that's the intention of the film. She is not a self-motivated character outside she just does what feels right to her. She's spearheading the film. Noah is most definitely the main character of the movie, not Fred. Fred may have almost equal screen time, but Noah is the one with a backstory. By the end of the movie, I know very little about Fred outside the fact that he is a milksop. I don't really understand everything about Noah, but I at least see the attempt being made to tell that story.
I think I'm burnt out on the BBS movies. I am doing this whole cycling thing between the movies and I have a whole bunch of stuff to get through before I have to finish the box set. It is also a silver lining that I have had less and less time to write these reviews. But A Safe Place honestly was a bit of a chore to me. I don't recommend it because hippie movies can be great, but a blah one might be one of the bigger wastes of time that I've had in a while.
Oh my gosh, you guys. You guys! You guys. They did it. They made the most juvenile movie that ever existed. When parents complained when we were kids that the stuff we watched was extremely immature and we felt bad about it? That's nothing. Like, this is almost a parody of what kids like. There are so many fart jokes. SO MANY! I love fart jokes. There's actually one gag in here that is so immature that I was the only one laughing. It's really immature guys. My son got scared, but I shouldn't write that anymore because that is par for the course. The movie is fine. I regret showing my kids because I feel dumber, but that's about as far as I could condemn it. PG.
DIRECTOR: David Soren
I was going to try and write this blog before my daughter woke up. She's now sitting on the high table behind me, watching as I type every word. I'm sorry, Olivia. I might be making some pretty scathing commentary on the state of poop jokes in America. Strap in, because this is the fifth sentence in what is sure to be a riveting take on how some movies just propel forward on the steam of "we can finish this movie" rather than saying anything interesting.
Big surprise: the Captain Underpants movie is kind of dumb. I'm not saying dumb is always a bad thing, but too much dumb is too much dumb. (Oh golly, I've gone dumb!) I wrote about The Emoji Movie once and these movies are kind of best friends in terms of placating to children. Often, I find myself commenting on the fact that "this movie isn't for me", but I have to now put a caveat on that statement. The Captain Underpants movie isn't for me, but I also want it to be something that adds something positive to my kids. I don't know if it gave them much to grow on besides the fact that I walk around the house and operatically sing "Tra La La!". This sounds like a lot of movies, but this one really takes the cake in a weird way. Let me contrast this movie to Boss Baby. I know a lot of people rolled their eyes at Boss Baby, especially when it was nominated for an Academy Award. I'm not saying that Boss Baby had a lot of substance. But there was something there. There was this artistic merit that the movie had. Read my review. In it, I talked a lot about how the movie dealt with a real theme of experiencing something new. There was this design that the movie implemented when the protagonist would dream and use his imagination. The movie had a solid amount of heart, despite the sheer amount of diaper jokes. Now looking at Captain Underpants, the deepest theme is the power of friendship. But that exploration is pretty face value. The biggest takeaway from the film is that friends are great. Really, the biggest message is the fact that you should make poop jokes as much as humanly possible and anyone that doesn't find them funny is an awful human being. Oddly, as much as I'm panning this film, I kind of agree with that message. But that's not a message that exactly needs to be preached to kids. Instead, this oddly feels like the biggest money grabbing thing in the world. Now, I have to take a big step back. My daughter really wanted me to stress that this is based on a set of books that I have not really let her read. I haven't really avoided them so much as she's never gravitated to them. As far as I understand, the Captain Underpants movie is pretty faithful to the stories and the characters. (I know, here I'm talking about a faithful adaptation from the source material and it is the Captain Underpants movie.) But she now wants to read these books. The movie did that. Some of you are shouting, "Hooray for this movie...getting kids to read!" Hold your horses. She was reading good stuff before that. She was obsessed with the Anne of Green Gables books for a while. We're reading the first Harry Potter book and the first Series of Unfortunate Events books right now. I know that those last two aren't that impressive, but they do have a bit of heart to them. I think, after seeing the movie, that these books would be a big step backwards.
But then I have to actually look at the value of this movie. Honestly, I worked really hard to laugh. This was family movie night and I really wanted my kids to like it. It's kind of a bummer when my kids get bored on family movie night. They didn't really laugh at the first few jokes. I really didn't find them funny either, but I laughed. They saw me laughing and got on board. That eventually built into some genuine laughs. But I found myself meeting the movie more than halfway. Like I mentioned, there is one gag that is so immature that I found myself honestly laughing at the absurdity of it, but I didn't really find it funny. Again, I like fart humor. It's great. But I like a well-crafted fart joke. I need to know that a team of writers really workshopped the heck out that fart joke before I get really excited about it. Call me a fart joke hipster, but I like it beyond just the basic joke. One thing most funny kids movies understand is that the movie doesn't have to be for adults, but the adults will have to sit through it. The only cast member who kind of knocks a joke out of the park is Nick Kroll's Professor P. He has this great delivery that is marred by one thing: he's recycling a joke that's done before. I love Nick Kroll. I think he's one of the funniest comedians working today. But I recognized the bit from other things he's done before. While he's knocking the jokes out of the park with little to work with, this kind of feels like he's just getting a paycheck. Thomas Middleditch and Kevin Hart do a fine job in this movie. My wife, who is honestly a savant at recognizing voiceover work, instantly knew it was Thomas Middleditch. If I stretched my ear, I guess I could hear his cadence in the movie, but it was hard. Ed Helms was Ed Helms, but I also think that he handles a tougher job with panache. The big takeaway from all this is that there is this absolutely tremendous cast in the movie and, outside of Nick Kroll, they don't really add much to the movie. They have a very specific job that doesn't really need an expensive cast like the movie offers. Really, this voiceover work could have gone to anyone with a modicum of experience. These names are just attached to the movie to pull bigger audiences. I can't stress this enough: This is a corporate film kind of without heart. Why get these names? Because we'll make more money.
I ended up watching part of this movie a second time. On vacation, my kids watched this movie with their second cousins. Henry was still scared. He gets scared really easily. Olivia kind of seemed to enjoy it, but she also looked a little bored. But her cousins were kind of excited. I bet there's a bunch of kids who really dig this movie. I mean, as a family, we had an overall good time with it. But that's because we wanted to have a good time, regardless if this movie was good or not. But her cousin had a bunch of those books on his shelf. Despite the fact that his eyes were drooping out of the fact that he had seen this movie a bunch of times and that it was also 10:30 at night, he still spasmed with something that could be construed as laughter. He still found it funny and it served its purpose. This movie is a frozen pizza. You could go into eating a frozen pizza as "I don't feel like cooking" bare-bones sustenance. Or you could go into frozen pizza as a fun treat that isn't that good for you, but you'll enjoy it anyway. When we watched it as a family, we made the best of a pretty lame movie. But like a frozen pizza, I don't want to make a habit of watching that movie on a regular basis.
When I did a Yahoo! image search for "Drive, He Said", the first dozen or so screencaps were just the nude images from this movie. I knew that I was going to have a hard time finding a hi-res and compelling image for this little known movie. I mean, look at the gem I had to settle on. But I wasn't expecting such a stark reminder of how R-rated this movie was. There's a lot of nudity in this movie. There's language. There's sex. There's a lot of screaming. I know that's not something that the MPAA really registers, but it is pretty intense screaming. So let's just support the R for Drive, He Said and go on with our lives.
DIRECTOR: Jack Nicholson
It has been way too long since I wrote something. Life got really busy and then we went on vacation. I thought that I could get to a computer on vacation, but I couldn't. That's not the worst thing in the world. While I find a great deal of peace writing these little essays, they do require more time than I usually have. I actually couldn't fall asleep last night because I had these little fantasies of a world where I just had infinite time and I could just knock out the many many film commentaries I wanted to in one day. What I'm really apologizing for is that this review is going to be based on a movie I saw way too long ago. If I don't remember some things accurately, I apologize. I just know that I don't really have the time to go back and watch the movie again. Also, I'm good with this one.
There's something really seductive with falling in love with the black sheep. I tend to do it because I feel like it gives me hipster cred. Drive, He Said and A Safe Place are on a single disc in my Criterion BBS Story box set. Normally, I try spacing out these watchings of the BBS movies because I feel like I would be mentally reviewing the whole set rather than the individual films in the box. So I alternate genres of movies. Honestly, there's such a method to my madness that people feel like I drive the joy out of the viewing experience by being such a stickler for order. But I also didn't want to forget about A Safe Place when I came back to it, so expect a review for that movie ideally pretty soon. But Drive, He Said is more of a piece that is telling about its creator, Jack Nicholson. Yeah, I was pretty jazzed too when I saw that Jack Nicholson had actually directed this one. The thing about the BBS movies is that they are all radical (in the denotative sense) movies. They are counter-culture and they are reacting to the hippie movement. Remember, Easy Rider is in this box set as well, so just use that as your pace car / pace motorcycle. Tonally, Drive, He Said is tonally very similar. It feels just like the other BBS films. This one may deal with the issues going on at the time a little more head-on. Larner and Nicholson wrote a screenplay where one of the more compelling characters fears his drafting into Vietnam. We've seen that in other movies, but it is pretty abstract. The movie starts off, and this might be one of the more effective openings in the BBS box, with a staged faux-mass shooting. History has made this moment pretty bleak for me. It doesn't help that there was another shooting today and here I am writing about a movie in 1971, but I also can't seem to ignore it. I want to talk about this culturally, but I'm going to finish describing the sequence. Drive, He Said is a pretty slow movie that kind of highlights a lot of the faults of the BBS films, despite my appreciation for them. Like many of the BBS films, there's a lot of meandering with the narrative and with the characters. Rather than building arcs, many of these characters prefer an anti-structure. They go from one moment to another, probably accidentally paralleling the cinema-verite style. There is a climax to all these choices, but these climaxes don't really seem like a breaking point that has been built up to, but rather as simply a cool moment. That opening of Drive, He Said, however, is methodical.
The opening of the film, directed by Nicholson, seems to buck the trend of the other films. It is very tense and it is very confusing. Nicholson is slightly shameless in his love for basketball in this movie. But there's this attitude, especially in light of our gun violence culture, that makes that opening terrifying for us. Columbine changed a lot for society, but we have been a messed up people for a long time. There's this false nostalgia that is present. People wonder how society is crumbling and I say that society has been crumbled for a long time. Drive, He Said is effective because it shows how desperate youth culture was to make change. I don't like when adults pick on this generation. "We never used to do that kind of stuff." But movies like Drive, He Said --and more famously, Rebel Without a Cause --shows us that we've been screwed up for a while. The movie grabs your attention with a bunch of college kids taking a basketball game hostage with fake assault rifles before the security of the area boots them and everyone moves on with their lives. Admittedly, there were no actual shots and the lackadaisical attitude of the police and security shows that no one was honestly concerned for their lives for very long. That is a drastic change from today's society where it would be rare to stage a hostage crisis and have 100% survivors. But Nicholson is filming from his perspective on the era. He sees that the world is screwed up and he vocalizes the frustration of the era.
But I haven't even discussed the fundamentals of this movie. At the end of the day, Drive, He Said is The Paper Chase with basketball and free love. Hector's quest for self-realization, on the bright side, probably mirrors real arrested development. He's this guy who just keeps tanking himself. Hector keeps making these bonkers decisions because he's fed up with life and he's fed up with the world around him. But his choices don't really make him a hero. I don't know what Nicholson is trying to really say with Hector. He's our protagonist by default. Nicholson makes him remarkably shlubby. He stands for nothing outside of the message that everything sucks. There is this beautiful moment at the end where he reacts to Gabriel's fate that is pretty impressive and kind of powerful, but I also don't really believe that moment is earned as much as Nicholson wants him to be. Nicholson's message, instead, kind of seems to be something along of the lines of the world being a terrible place. We should watch out for ourselves because everyone else will do the same. This will make everyone miserable, but there's no real alternatives. I often write that whatever movie I'm discussing has no likable characters. Drive, He Said really plays into the "no likable characters" film. The closest I can get to liking a character is Gabriel because his story is just so intense. Gabriel has something wrong with him and I at least find that fascinating. Gabriel's story also houses the emotional core of the film. His fear and his insanity at least make a little bit of sense. But, again, Gabriel sucks. Sorry, he just does. I think I mentioned in my review for Head that that I normally love these counter-culture films. I'm not counter-culture. I feel like a real rebel for not having my morning tea right now. I'm really itching to use my Barnes & Nobles gift card. My life is pretty chill. But I used to really look forward to the movies in the BBS series because they have this attitude of "Damn the Man" that I never really had. But Drive, He Said just shows how much change could have happened if members of radical movements didn't act like psychopaths the entire time. Gabriel's big scenes in the movie aren't for enacting the change he wants. They are him venting his emotional frustrations and making a spectacle of himself. No one would ever listen to Gabriel.
But at least Gabriel had a message to scream. Hector is simply this guy who wants everything. If anything, this movie is a retroactive attack on the sexual revolution. Hector and Olive are both sleeping around and they seem absolutely miserable because of it. The great experiment has left both Hector and Olive just angry at the world and at themselves. That quest for happiness and gratification has actually left them more distraught. Hector goes from scene to scene, questioning Bruce Dern and every other adult who has their acts together. Nicholson, of course, paints the members of the authority as squares who don't really get it. But these characters have purpose in their lives. Dern as the coach seems to make choices and meet the needs of his frustrated star player. He changes tactics and doesn't make authoritarian choices, but comes across from Hector's perspective as the man trying to get him down. I leave this movie somewhat frustrated at what Nicholson was trying to say with this movie. The people who have their acts together and are playing by the social contract are the real squares in this movie. Normally, I would comment on the white male majority being the focus of power, but that's not even true in Drive, He Said. Rather these people are villains while the people who are miserable and not willing to have a rational discussion about anything are the heroes. Is misery the only way to live? Is fleeting happiness valuable? I don't know. Perhaps I can only view this from a perspective of comfort. I'm not the target audience. My social frustrations are enacted other ways because I'm not part of the oppressed. Regardless, I think that Nicholson has some wishy-washy views in Drive, He Said that probably need a little bit more spit and polish.
Like all silent films, this one is also unrated. I bonded with my daughter over this one. I read somewhere that silent films are great movies to expose kids to because they are very clear with their intentions. Safety Last! might be one of the better ones because my daughter thought it was hilarious. Mind you, there is one moment that is straight up anti-semetic, so keep this in mind in case your kids ask you why you are cringing at that moment. Not rated, but mostly fine.
DIRECTORS: Fred Neymeyer and Sam Taylor
My daughter is a convert. I knew what I was doing when I borrowed The Invention of Hugo Cabret from the library and read it with her. I was indoctrinating her. I'm a devious and despicable human being who brainwashes his kids so he's allowed to watch good movies with them. What? Just because you didn't think of it. I also made one of my daughter's first words "Hodor", which is all she'd repeat around the house. That one actually probably did make me a bad person. But as part of this whole study of early film, she really wanted to see why Harold Lloyd was hanging from that clock in her book. So we watched 10 to 15 minutes a day (not ideal way to watch a movie, but it also kept her attention way better than trying to shotgun the whole thing in one sitting) and she cracked up. The jokes work.
When prepping this essay, I looked for high quality photos of Safety Last! There aren't a ton. Almost all of them are Harold hanging from the clock and I know why. That image is iconic. I keep thinking what it must have been like to be a filmmaker during this period in history. There was no book of rules and regulations. This was the Wild West (occasionally literally) and filmmakers had to make due. I think of Buster Keaton and some of those shots. You know that the guy had to do all of his own stunts in the way that you are seeing them. Unfortunately, that shot of the clock showed another picture killing the magic for me a bit. It's got the background really happening, but there's a mini set built around the clock that is a nice hybrid of a real stunt and a set. Still, there's something so ingenious about how that shot works. It's weird, watching it with my daughter. She knows about the clock. The entire time, she's guessing how Harold is going to get to the clock. She didn't care much about the threadbare plot of Safety Last! In fact, I don't think the economic breakdown of the characters even sunk in one bit. She's much more a slapstick girl at this point. But that last scene...we didn't watch that in a ten minute block. Oh my, she stayed up late that night. We had to watch that whole sequence unbroken. I feel like I'm treating Olivia like a character in a film herself. She would watch, wide-eyed, and squeal when Harold almost fell. She'd cover her eyes, but peek through her fingers to keep amazed at what she was viewing. She had some weird questions. I think that's par for the course when it comes to Olivia watching movies. She has this odd understanding that actors exist and that the people on screen aren't their characters. But she keeps asking "Is this real?" and I'm not quite sure how to respond. I discuss with her the distinction between fiction and nonfiction. I talk about what an actor's job is. I try to explain to her what a documentary is. She seems to get all this when we watch these things, but then always ends with the question, "Is this real?" I have no good answer for her at age six. But she gave the perfect emotional response to the daring of film. Appropriately, her reaction was similar to the kids in Hugo watching the same film. I hope she wasn't trying to mimic them. I really have the vibe that she really reacted the way she felt. But that might be the joy of those early films. They have the ability to make us more afraid than anything that we get today.
I don't want to go on a huge diatribe about the value of old movies versus new movies. It actually drives me up the wall when people argue this way. Both have their values and both should be watched for what they are. But one of the real advantages to watching silent films is the knowledge that you don't know which way the wind is going to blow. The things I watch in silent films seem impossibly dangerous. Perhaps this extended into the late Chaplin era stuff, but these were guys who put themselves on the line. I think that's why we keep gravitating towards Jackie Chan and Tom Cruise. (More Chan than Cruise, but those Mission: Impossible stunts are getting pretty insane.) We know that there are performers who know the easy way and the hard way to do something and that they know that the hard way is oddly more compelling than the easy way. I watch Lloyd's antics in this movie, which really culminate with the end and I just see how much the envelope is being pushed. Most of Safety Last! is actually pretty tame, but they use the space remarkably well. Lloyd, while being quite the physical comedian, is more about timing and wit. Buster Keaton, from what I've seen of his work, might be a completely physical guy. I don't know how he survived any of his movies, but his jokes work. Lloyd is somewhat different. Lloyd is making more commentary on society than his peers, at least in this time in history. Perhaps his thoughts on women shoppers is a bit outdated, but it is also mostly harmless. This era loved the false pretense and the dramatic irony to sell its humor. The entire middle section of the film is just an excuse for the other shoe to drop. (I am using idioms like there's no tomorrow.) Harold's lie is extremely entertaining to watch. It's odd to think of this in terms of suspense, but Lloyd manages to sell that idea that he should have been caught, yet the story keeps going on. There's a little bit of a teasing that happens with the audience. Each button has to be hit. Every uncomfortable encounter has to happen and there has to be a way for Harold to get out of the situation. It's absolutely fantastic and I love the story, despite its lack of depth.
I wonder why I'm so content with Safety Last! having such a simple plot. I mean, this is as thin as it comes. The entire plot is a setup to get Harold Lloyd to climb a building, despite the fact that his character shouldn't be the one doing it. But to do that, there has to be this roundabout story about Harold pretending to be rich for his girl. I know that's a very simple story, but there's something very sweet about it. Sure, he's lying for the entire length of the movie. But there are these sweet moments where Harold is sacrificing his own happiness for the sake of this girl who thinks he's successful. It's a relationship that's based on lies and is completely unsustainable, but it's sweet regardless. Harold never really has his come-uppens. He just continues to thrive, albeit barely. The final scene is really a deus-ex-machina that allows the bare bones story to continue towards its assumed happy ending. I'm think about the era that this film came out. I would normally attribute a story like this to Depression-era storytelling. Harold represents the kind underdog who jumps through hoops and provides entertainment throughout. But this is 1923. This is the Jazz Age. The attitude of the films were still that of novelty. Safety Last! is not simply novelty. Maybe the filmmakers didn't think that way. I could easily see that they were all just trying to tell some jokes and make some money, but there's a lot more going on to this film than simply what they could get away with. Safety Last! might be one of the hallmarks of the silent slapstick comedies. I know that the name Harold Lloyd doesn't exactly have the clout of Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, but I consider him to be a genius for this movie alone. Keaton's movies are funny. Chaplin's movies are fun. There's something sweet about Lloyd. This is all subjective and you can tell me to go jump in a lake, but Lloyd uses the same tropes that we've seen in other silent films to somehow charm his audience. That's what this movie is! It's charming. Sure, it makes me nervous and I probably have my blood pressure raised with all of the near death moments at the end, but it is all because Lloyd creates a much more lovable guy than I've seen in Keaton's movies. Chaplin might have a little bit of a leg up. I can't help but love the Tramp, especially in The Kid. But Lloyd never allows Harold to become annoying or unworthy of our love. I honestly root for Harold throughout the movie, despite the fact that I've seen this one before.
I don't know what separates Safety Last! from other silent films. But it is really something special. My son, Henry, really wanted to enjoy it. He can't read, so a lot of the movie was lost on him, even with me reading. But he was mesmerized whenever he watched a part with us. In a few years, I'll probably watch it again with him. This movie is a great introduction for kids into the silent era. I can't stand when people go their whole lives avoiding silent or black-and-white movies. But I'm so glad that my kids seem to be getting it at such a young age. Give this one a whirl. It's a really fun time.
It's rated R, but I don't remember if it got really offensive or if it just always threatened to get really offensive. I'm pretty sure that there is some language and there's some sex talk. On the grand scheme of raunchy comedies, this one is pretty tame. Like, if you had to make The Man Who Knew Too Little barely R-rated, this would be it. There's some blood and some violence. That's the big stuff. But this is America. We love blood and violence in our comedies. R.
DIRECTOR: Mark Perez
I want to go on a date with my wife. We used to go to movies, but now we have a little baby. This is a blessing, but I want my wife to be excited for these movies. (She now reads these, so this is all very self-aware.) I don't think that Happy Anniversary did the job exactly, so I thought something more light-hearted might make a better choice. Game Night is extraordinarily light hearted, considering that there's blood and murder in it. But it isn't a romantic comedy. I need to stop being such a snob guys. This is all on me. Do you understand that I want to find a way to make my wife watch Her under the disguise that it's romantic? I'm a bad person.
I love that Jason Bateman has a career in comedy again. I know that he's in a little hot water after the Arrested Development press tour, but the man has a way with comic timing. I know that a lot of people didn't know what movie we were talking about when we recommended this one. If you are thinking, "Hey! Jason Bateman wasn't in Game Night. Steve Carrell was." Well, then you are thinking about Date Night, a similarly named movie with a superficially similar plot as Game Night. But I rented this because I knew that the ol' ball-and-chain (remember, I know she's reading this) likes Bateman and so do I. I also got this because Lamorne Morris is in this movie. Lamorne Morris kind of needs to have a super-career at this point. If you haven't watched New Girl, you have missed out on one of the most talented comic actors in Hollywood. So on a completely superficial level, we rented this for Jason Bateman and Lamorne Morris. I can tell you what happens when I go in with this attitude. Whenever I watch a movie because it has some of my favorite television comedians in it, the movie ends up being far worse than what they produce on television. While I think that Bateman and Morris have made better, the movie actually kind of holds up with them. Actually, this movie became a "Holy crap! [That guy] is in it too." In this case, my wife just shotgunned all of the television version of Friday Night Lights and not one, but two actors from Friday Night Lights are in this show. And they all did their job well in a pretty solid movie. The reason I can't praise this to the heavens, though, is that it all seemed fairly parroting a lot of other movies. I've already claimed Date Night and The Man Who Knew Too Little, but there were elements of The Game in there as well. Thank God that the movie wasn't self-aware or it would have been titled exactly like one of the Scary Movie parody pieces of garbage. No, the movie stole a whole bunch, but never winked at the camera once. I think this was a good call. Again, there are only so many movie plots out there, but this one is a bit more shameless than the other ones.
The shamelessness really highlights the fact that this movie was trying to make a quick buck. It's fun and that's the point. But there's a bunch of stuff that really highlights that this isn't anyone's passion project. The advertisement is off the chain in this movie. I swear, having Bateman talking about Tostitos Scoops (not just tortilla chips) while the logo was peeking out of his grocery bag is pretty shameless. There are a lot of these moments. When the movie is a major endeavor that seems to involve a modicum of personal feelings, like CastAway or Superman: The Movie (I know these aren't great examples, but they do seem bigger than simply popcorn movies at times), I think I get more upset. With Game Night, all it really deserves is an eyeroll. I think the only disappointing thing is that Game Night is actually a pretty good movie. There were lots of times that I laughed aloud. I wanted to see it succeed and, as a good audience member, I kind of got what I wanted. The action in the movie, while ridiculous and done more for comedic effect, is pretty solid. But there's one thing that really stands Game Night out from the rest of the silly forgetable comedies that are constantly coming out. This is a weird thing to say, but it is the weird use of the camera and the weird stylization of the establishing shots. Let's talk about the camera. The camera in the action sequences is actually kind of intense. There are these really quick (almost Michael Bay quick!) driving shots where the camera is following the vehicle from the rear. For some reason, these shots are actually insanely tight tracking shots. My theory is that the cinematographer or director want to mimic Grand Theft Auto. While there is a board game motif throughout the story, the movie doesn't exactly hide away from video games being part of game nights. Similarly, and I don't know how effective this choice is, but the use of the establishing shot as part of a game thing. Do you know in old timey movies where there's an establishing shot that is clearly a model. This is when the production couldn't afford to shoot anything on location, so a model was brought in and it is clearly a bunch of toys that we have to lie to ourselves about. Well, Game Night did the same thing, but for stuff that would be very easy to film. Then the establishing shot slowly tracks into the reality of the scene. Like, that shot is way more complex than it needs to be. Heck, that shot probably cost way more money than simply doing either process. There had to be computers to transition between the two images. My guess is that the model piece might look like game pieces, maintaining the game motif. I don't know if it necessarily sells that. I think it looks really cool and I love that it wasn't a boring choice. But I don't know if it screams game. At best, "toy".
This is one of those movies that really rides hard on the character dynamics. The jokes are all okay, but there is nothing that is pee-your-pants hilarious. Rather, we like these characters right off the bat. I'm sure that if I put the leg work into these reviews, I could probably link each personality type with a million other movies to show that there is a certain combination to make a friends dynamic work. But I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to say that there is a reason why that friends dynamic works. Part of it comes from the fact that I'm married and I really like the friends' groups that are composed primarily of married couples. The idea of the will-they / won't-they is removed from the equation. That's probably going to make it hard to find a rom-com that appeals to me. But I like the fact that a lot of the running gags kinda sorta mirror conversations I have with my friends. I think my favorite bit, and I loved this bit, was Kevin and Michelle's back and forth running gag about celebrities. It was pretty great. I also have to give a big ol' shout-out to Jesse Plemons who just played his part with absolute grace. It has to be weird to be the weird guy in every movie now. I don't think it was Friday Night Lights that got him to this place in his career, but rather Breaking Bad. But as long as Jesse Plemons doesn't mind playing that part, I would love to see more roles like this for him. He's just so weird and a lot of that comes from the fact that he looks like a big ol' weirdo. There is a point in the comedy where you know that entire set pieces are created just to keep the movie going. There's a loose attempt to get logic on board this story, but it is very thin. These scenes are just meant to keep the audience hooked. There's the scene in this movie, like many of these movies, where the entire plot is explained and it is in this moment that all reality is thrown out. The fact that someone could have claimed to orchestrated a lot of this is beyond absurd. But the movie is supposed to be beyond absurd, so I should just shut up right now.
The long and still longer? The movie is a fun time. It has moments where it aspires to break convention and be better than what it presents, but then also has moments that really sabotage that effort. It's got a great cast in a movie that appears to be pretty fun to make. I'd love to see Lamorne Morris making more movies, so that's always a good time. If you want a good time without much thought, Game Night really hits the spot in the way it is supposed to. (Also, I feel ashamed that I didn't make a game pun with "scoring a point" or something at the end.) Finally, enjoy delicious Tostitos Scoops for whatever party you might be hosting. Or maybe you are just hungry while reading quickly written blogs. Regardless, Tostitos Scoops: Scoop it up!
TV-MA, for suggestive content and language. Honest to Pete, I think this is what teenagers think that adults talk like all the time. Just running their filthy mouths off all of the time. Okay, some adults talk like this, but the movie leans on the adolescent views of sex. Also, there's a lot of actual sex without the nudity. That makes it kind of okay. Wait, no it doesn't? Does it? I don't know anymore. WHERE IS MY MORAL COMPASS? Oh, that's right. Still heavily judgey. TV-MA.
DIRECTOR: Jared Stern
I don't want to lump wives together. It seems like I'm taking a potshot at an entire gender if I assume that all lives love rom-coms. My life loves rom-coms. It's not that I don't like rom-coms. Some of my male friends absolutely adore rom-coms. I seem to have a higher standard for rom-coms than other movies. I always want mine to be a little cynical. I tend to gravitate towards rom-coms that take the male perspective. Like, if the box is pink, there's a good chance that I don't really like it. Let's say that I'm a High Fidelity guy. My wife wanted to watch a rom-com and I force her to watch way too much pretentious nonsense or sci-fi mumbo jumbo. We run to Netflix and realized quickly that their rom-com section is desperately lacking. We see that Ben Schwartz is in a rom-com made by Netflix, which autoplays an actual trailer and we said, "That looks good." In terms of getting the job done, I guess we can say that we watched a rom-com. This isn't the movie that my wife was looking for and I didn't see any slam dunks here, but it was technically a rom-com. More importantly, after watching a seven hour French silent film, I was happy for a 78 minute movie.
The first thing we noticed --and this was almost immediate --was that this felt like a play. We don't think it is. If it was, a lot would be forgiven. This movie rests heavily on clever dialogue that seems like it is playing for the back of the house. I'm not saying a script can't support a movie. I still like Woody Allen movies, even if I don't necessarily like the man all that much. His scripts lean extremely heavily on the dialogue and often little else besides tame jazz. But Happy Anniversary almost feels like a senior thesis. It has all of the elements of storytelling there. There is a functional narrative. There are compelling characters. I love the fact that there are few characters and that we really get to know them by the end of the movie. Heck, the script is even funny. But the script also feels in no way realistic. The premise is really realistic. The movie is an examination of what happens when the obsession part of love ends and people have to think about if they truly love each other. Mind you, the two protagonists are way more awful than people I know in real life. (I think! If you know me in real life, way to have me fooled!) But no one talks like this. There's a fine line between Joss Whedon cleverness and what I'm really seeing here. I mentioned that this feels like a senior thesis. I'm sure that a college senior thinks that everyone talks like this. When I write, I tend to write characters like this because everyone is as clever as me and responds the way I want them to. The writer has to be convinced that his friends talk like this and I'm sure that there is a certain degree of truth in that. But this movie kind of feels like a quarantined environment from reality. There's the real world with people talking to each other in vulnerable conversations and then there is this movie. It's a bit of a shame because this movie really taps into what it means to be vulnerable throughout. This is a relationship on the verge of a breakup. There are a few times in the movie where both the characters and the audience is convinced that they are broken up. (In terms of the audience's awareness, I think we all knew that they would somehow interact again because it would be a real bummer of a movie if they didn't.) But these characters just live such a twee lifestyle. They are one continual meet-cute.
Lauren is often hard on female leads. I'm not saying all the time. But she often says, "I don't like her." Sometimes she has a reason. Sometimes she doesn't. It isn't my place to comment on that, but it is one of her traits and golly, I love her for it. But she had a reason. Apparently, Noel Wells, who plays Mollie, seems to be channeling Zooey Deschanel's Jessica Day from New Girl. That might be a thing that is becoming an archetype. She is this march-by-your-own-beat indie fun girl and that character is cool. I have no problem with that character being the female protagonist. In fact, I didn't really mind it all that much. I think this is me just discussing Lauren's thoughts on it. But Lauren does have a point. I've seen that character before and I've seen it done better. Also, there's a really weird selfishness behind this kind of character. Ben Schwartz's Sam has a lot of the same faults. His delivery is awesome because he's Ben Schwartz, but this movie might be really telling of an overall problem. This is a movie where the people in the story are often only considering their own happiness. I know, you can't make anyone else happy. But Mollie is almost looking for an out the entire movie. She knows that Sam hasn't done anything wrong, but she isn't happy. That's a real problem and thank God that a movie is analyzing it. But both characters are often just concerned with what they are feeling at all times. Sam has the stuff on his place. Mollie has the stuff on hers. We actually have a flashback at one point showing how they met. Sam is an inherently selfish human being. He shows his positive side when he is in a relationship with Mollie, but Mollie is attracted to a bad dude. There's a reason that these characters have hit this roadblock in their relationship. It's actually a much bigger obstacle than it should be because the two of them haven't been working to build each other up. They are always just concerned with the feelings of being in a relationship. One of the central themes that I adore is that relationships are tough, but Mollie is instantly ready to run away from this relationship when it gets tough. She's not married. She is allowed to leave. But she is looking for ways out of this commitment because she's already done the tough part of telling Sam that she is not happy. That's frustrating for me as a viewer. There needed to be a much deeper conversation than either of them was ready for, so instead the two sabotage what was already going on in the movie. They were angry because they wanted to be angry.
Like much of the movie, there are some amazing things that are going on that really need to be ironed out. The format of the movie is a chronological narrative that is constantly interrupted by flashbacks. Often, these flashbacks match what is going on in the chronological narrative tonally and that's actually cool. It reminds me of The Last Five Years, only not as creative and probably not as effective. (Sorry, Happy Anniversary. The Last Five Years really had its act together.) I love the idea that, in such a short span of time, we really got to see how the characters grew together. There's a bit of a cop out with one of these flashbacks though. There's a really cool image of the two of them sitting in a classic car, enjoying a malt inside an electronics store. If I was Stern, I would want this shot. It's almost iconic for the movie. It shows up in the trailer. But this location plays an important part in the overall plot and it is only introduced minutes before the resolution to this moment plays out. It's not absolutely vital to the plot, but I can tell that he wanted to get a lot more meat out of this sequence. That has to be a temptation for any director. There's this cool image in your head and you want to convey it. I have this opening for Hamlet that just rocks. But I also know it is absurd. The idea of fighting that instinct has to be a hard one. But I do like the flashback sequences over all. Where Stern succeeds, despite the fact that these characters don't really exist in reality, is the idea that they are three dimensional characters. I said that they are awful people and I kind of stick by that. But they do grow and develop. I suppose that is what we should be seeing: growth. I don't know if Stern really gets them to where they need to be by the end. There's this great ambiguous moment that I absolutely dig as a metaphor. I won't spoil it, but I like the idea of that last moment being very representative of the relationship. It's a shame that I don't really know if they are going to make it. I know, they aren't married. They should have been at least engaged by this point, but that's a whole 'nother thing. But Happy Anniversary is kind of typical of a rom-com in the world where people don't fight for relationships. The natural instinct in both characters' perspectives is to cut and run upon seeing the first fault. It's a bit of a bummer, but that might be the most real thing in the whole story.
For people who love rom-coms, this might not be the movie for you. It is horribly bleak at times. It does feel more grounded in terms of theme than most rom-coms. It's odd that this might be the most realistic premise for a romantic comedy, but often feels the most artificial because of the somewhat artificial dialogue. Regardless, I had a B- time. I'm not instituting a ratings system. I just kind of liked it a little.
Clearly not rated, but think about it this way. This is a serial in the classic sense. (Not in the serial killer sense. Where's your head at?) It feels like it was made for children. It has a children's understanding of how crime works. Despite the fact that this is supposed to be a story about a journalist trying to take down the criminal underworld, it's understanding of what makes a bad guy is adorable. Yeah, I guess people die. But, like, barely. This serial is super tame. There's nothing to worry about here. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Louis Feuillade
THERE AREN'T ANY VAMPIRES IN IT! I'm not saying that's a spoiler. That's a fact. It's a hard core fact that you need to know before you undertake this epic undertaking. I knew that this was a seven hour French epic. (This was meant to be a balance compared to the many 90 minute movies I've been knocking out recently.) I wasn't excited to watch a seven hour French movie. But I thought...at least it is about vampires. Old timey stuff about vampires is actually pretty spooky. Nosferatu? Vampyr? I thought that I struck paydirt. Then I found out that the gang in the movie is just named "The Vampires." That's a cop out. You aren't allowed to just pick the coolest name for your movie and then ride high on the hog for people who were looking for vampire movies. Not a darned vampire in sight. So I can establish pretty quickly, I was not a fan of this movie.
That sucks because every time I try to dunk on a classic, I lose credibility. I guess if I liked everything that was considered a classic, that would be equally terrible. But this might have been the largest burden yet. Seven hours is a lot. I keep trying to maintain an air of class and dignity, but I was bored as crap for a lot of this movie. The weird thing is that silent films tend to get a bit of a pass with me. These are the people experimenting and figuring out the bare bones. The formula wasn't there, so I can understand when there are pacing issues because no one had figured it out yet. But this was just beyond the pale. The movie starts off with my favorite opening line of any film. It was something along the lines with the protagonist walking in, opening his desk and exclaiming, "Someone had stolen all of my research about The Vampires." It was such a great opening line for a seven hour film that I posted it on Facebook. This was when I thought that this was a seven hour movie about vampires. But that is such a mislead. I thought that the movie wasn't wasting any time getting into the story and then I realized that the story just meandered all over. I think this is why I am critical of this film. Movie making was in its infancy with Les Vampires. When it comes to the actual production of this movie, I suppose it is fine. But basic storytelling was down to an art by this point in history. I can forgive elements of filmmaking, but this story is practically nothing. Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of the action serial. Mainly, Les Vampires comes in ten parts and they are all about the same story over and over again. The protagonist, journalist Phillipe Guerande, is searching for The Vampires. The Vampires are after him as well. Someone gets kidnapped. One of the Vampires replaces an important person assuming that no one would recognize them. (I was really critical of this trope throughout the serial, but then I realized that I kept on confusing characters as well. I guess I have to hold the characters to my standards if I couldn't tell one character from another.) But it is just this over and over again. An even more problematic aspect comes from the fact that rarely do the protagonists ever succeed through their great ingenuity. Rather, they stumble upon either the plot or the solution of the plot quite through happenstance.
There is a real flaw when it comes to the Vampires. That flaw is that that The Vampires kind of suck as a gang. Like, all of France is under their evil. But they also constantly make huge mistakes and beg to be found. For example, they are just outright enemies with another criminal lord. They all know where to find each other. They also leave messages filled with clues on where to find them. Remember that scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie decodes that message from Ovaltine? That's about the level of challenge that the Vampires put into encrypting their secret plans. Guerande is moderately able to decipher things in the sense that everyone else is truly incompetent at it. I can't say that I'm a particularly amazing fiction writer considering that I just have pages and pages of incomplete manuscripts lying around. But I think I have a knack for words when I really try and I get basic plot structure and character development. One type of character that I never really trying writing is a genius character. All my characters are Everymans (Everymen? You see why I have all these incomplete texts waiting to have closure.) A genius character is nearly impossible to write because the author has to almost be a genius to write that character. The alternative is that the author bluffs his reader / viewer into simply accepting that the protagonist is a genius. This is what Les Vampires does. Feuillade writes these puzzles that he knows the answers to pretty easily. But the way that Guerande solves all of these puzzles is way more simple than the movie tries to make it. That just feels cheap. The alternative is the inclusion of Mazamette. Don't get me wrong. Mazamette is probably the best character in the movie. He's silly and the movie hopelessly needs him to get through the story. But Mazamette keeps accidentally solving crimes and becoming a hero. He's brave and he has positive qualities, but he's not really doing a ton of actual detective work. The kind of detective work that Mazamette deals with is pointing out the Vampires' obvious mistake. For example, they are chasing a car. The car gets away, but not before the heroes of the story put a bullet into the car. The car is dripping oil. Mazamette is the guy who points out that they should follow the trail of oil back to the hideout. That's the level of detective work that is going on in most of the stories. And since I'm pretty unforgiving of the story to begin with, I'm now going to comment on the pacing. Man alive, you have to accept that this movie had to be for little kids that needed everything spelled out for them. Each serial episode took about 45 minutes to an hour to get through. There might be two or three things to figure out per episode. That means that the film spells out exactly what is happening in each scene and really telegraphs how the story is going to unravel. There were just moments where I would scream at the screen, "We get it! He's going to follow the oil back to the Vampires' hideout! Get on with it." I know that's unfair, but I got pretty riled up over this one.
But I refuse to dump on this movie altogether. This is 1915 (and 1916? I'm confused why IMDB gave me just the 1915 date on this one) and there are some things going on here. D.W. Griffith with Birth of a Nation does some awful things with racism and some kind of cool things with storytelling. (I am not looking forward to writing that review.) But Les Vampires does some fun things with storytelling elements. The cast on this movie is huge. When there is a ballroom scene, there are a heck of a lot of extras. Also, a common thing that this movie really loved to do is to yank people out of windows with ropes around their necks. Now, the reality of these scenes is really fast and loose. It's very cool though. The Vampires would get a noose around someone's neck from the ground floor of a place by lassoing it up to the third or fourth floor and then they would just rip them down. These people wouldn't die. That's just how the Vampires just captured folks. It was a simpler time. But these action sequences were kind of baller. Like, it didn't look real. But it did look more real than a lot of the crap that would be happening later on in film. I'm looking at you, any movie that threw someone off a building or a cliff before the era of CG. But I have to go back to dumping because these kinds of shots really existed in isolation. I have to say, there are some really iconic images in this serial. In episode two, there's this cool ballet that is ridiculous in terms of costuming, but haunting in its execution. But to allow a scene like that to happen, there had to just be oodles of loitering to get to these cool scenes. I have to be wrong about this, but was Feuillade stalling to fill the 45 minutes at times? There are so many moments where people just stand around and visit locations for no reason. Guerande keeps giving his card to people and we, the viewing public, would have to see that card yet again. Was it part of the spectacle that people paid to see a 45 minute entry in the Les Vampires saga. ("The" and "Les" next to each other seems a bit redundant.) The worst part of the whole thing is that the movie had so much padding that there would be so much padding to some of the episodes that I left some of the episodes having no idea what happened in that 45 minutes to an hour. I complain that some scenes were overspelled out, but the movie kind of has the needle in a haystack element to determine what was important to the plot.
Can I say that I actually really liked Irma Vep? That's not a bold stance. Her face is the most iconic element to this movie. I was going to put a picture of her at the top of this review, but every image was way too lo-res. There's this cool moment twice in the picture where the letters animate and dance to reveal that they are serving as anagrams. One of the times is with Irma Vep and that's when you knew that she was important to the Vampires. The letters danced across the screens and then revealed that "Irma Vep" was an anagram for "Vampire." Okay, that perfectly defines this movie. It's absolutely absurd and I know that it is meant to be mindless entertainment. But it was really boring, guys. I wanted to be the kind of guy who loved a seven hour silent French film, but I didn't have any vampires. I loved Phantom India. I. LOVED. It. Les Vampires? Mostly garbage.
Hey, PG! How you doin'? I love that this movie is PG. It hits this really sweet spot for kids and adults. Like, the movie is genuinely moving and engaging, which allows me to watch this year after year. But it also grabs my kids' attentions enough to let them watch it all the way through. I feel like this kind of movie was a standard when I was a kid. Not so much. I mean, the Station Inspector and his dog can get slightly intense. Also, Hugo has some messed up dreams and some messed up dream fake outs. But besides that, this is a valid PG.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
How have I not reviewed this movie? You know how I remember that I didn't review this yet? I haven't reviewed Birth of a Nation. That is a dark connection to make. You see, for my film class, their summer work is to watch Hugo and The Purple Rose of Cairo as a form of appreciation for film. Then, the first unit culminates with Birth of a Nation, which is super dark. I've always dodged that bullet when it comes to my film reviews. I'm not looking forward to writing that review, so that's that. But I don't want to taint my Hugo review with a discussion of the most racist film in film history. I was first introduced to Hugo Cabret when I was working at the video story. I was working a shift with my man Jeff. This is all super vivid for some reason. He was working at a book store named Book Beat at the time and he just kept gushing over how great The Invention of Hugo Cabret was. Little did I know that it would be so peppered with film history stuff, but I always remembered that. When Marty (we're friends) announced that he was making this movie, I knew that it was going to be something special. He was right.
There's something magical (pun intended, but not for comedy's sake) about the story of George Melies. I read the Wikipedia article. It's not as touching as the movie. But there is something very fundamental about the early history of film. These were people who made movies as roadside attractions. It's appropriate that both the book and the film tie heavily into Melies's magician / illusionist roots because there is an element of showmanship to it. It's hard to explain why I love movies so much. I like movies for entertainment value, sure. But Hugo taps into something primordial that a lot of people ignore. I can't really hold people to this standard. I get it. Films are meant to be entertaining to a certain degree. But there's something so fancy and artsy fartsy about paintings and opera and novels. I love all of these things by the way. But I also love film when it hits the level of art. What is odd about Melies's story is that he was a con man and an artist at the same time. He liked tricking people. He liked seeing people laugh and he loved the joy that his movies brought. But he wasn't filming on a level that anyone else was. If you study the chronological history of film, it totally was a gimmick up to Melies. It was people kissing and feeding their babies. I know that the Lumieres eventually came around to the artistry of film, but they were playing with rudimentary narration. Melies was hand-coloring his films with these insane sets. I know, I'm not going to throw everyone under the bus during this era. There were certainly people who were artists. But look at those sets. Scorsese manages to really make people understand the majesty that went into these movies. I also love how causal the whole thing seemed. It was a time before studio systems and celebrities as actors. There were craftsmen who experimented with form. There was no returns or success to be considered. Rather, these were stories to be told. Melies made movies because he needed to express himself. That's why he did magic. That's why he made movies. Man, Scorsese is an amazing guy. I'm writing all this stuff about Melies and that's what Scorsese is preaching. He's just communicating this love for this forefather of film and he's nerding out while staying technically proficient. I love it so much. Honestly, I don't cry at movies. But this is one of the movies that actually gets me pretty darned close.
So I just read the book with my daughter. It was the first time I had read it. When I showed her the book, I thought she was going to faint. It's huge. But honestly, just flip through the pages. Most of the book is composed of all these amazing drawings and photos. It's gorgeous. (Jeff was right.) But it is a very short story actually. There's a very odd padding to the movie that works better than most books. My wife often gripes when short children's books are adapted for feature length films. I remember getting all excited for Where the Wild Things Are because I both love the book and love Spike Jonze. But she was right, as she often is. These short books often have a bit of a struggle when it comes to the feature length versions because they have to make up all of these side plots to fill up the film. Hugo is actually kind of a long movie. While watching it, we were an hour in and an hour left of the film when I realized that the book was practically done. This is where I had to analyze the subplot that is completely added to the film. In the book, the Station Inspector is barely a character. The threat of him is pretty much the extent of his involvement until the end. But the movie treats the Station Inspector as a fairly major character in the story. I think a lot of this comes from the casting of Sasha Baron Cohen. Again, I don't know what process went into casting. I'm sure that the script probably padded out the Station Inspector before he signed on, but this character really got some meat. It's odd that the Station Inspector gets so much attention because he serves both as comic relief (It IS a kids' movie) and provides some depth to the man. It's like Scorsese saw the placement of the film and realized that there was far more going on when it came to the storytelling elements. The juxtaposition of the war to Melies's life actually adds this deeper layer. SPOILER BUT IT IS HISTORY: Melies was disenfranchised by the war. It's kind of interesting having the Station Inspector as a veteran to make Melies's frustration personified. This man is the antagonist of the story, no doubt. But his silliness and mission are part of his adjustment to society. Cohen's Inspector gets a brace as a constant reminder of his war injury. He is less than a man and devoid of the humor that he might have had before the war. Also, the parallel of the automaton is actually really cool. The idea that this little boy could fix him, but that never could enter his mind adds this depth. To really top all of this is the idea that the train station is the Station Inspector's world. Hugo is physically removed from the biodome that is the train station. He knows everyone but has little interaction with them. Rather, we experience their lives from the perspective of the Station Inspector. They do not see him as an evil man. Rather, we view him as evil because Hugo sees him as evil. But everyone in the station seems appreciative of this man. It's a kind of cool dynamic. Yeah, he's the comic relief. In isolation, many of his antics could be considered cringe-worthy. But Scorsese doesn't allow him to simply be a prop or simply padding for the film's fairly short plot. It provides this amazing context while telling jokes. I couldn't pull that off. Mind you, I've also never directed a major motion picture (or a minor one, for that matter). But it's still very impressive.
Isabelle's story always kind of rubs me the wrong way. Chloe Grace Moretz is a very talented actress. I know this. I normally get pretty jazzed to see her name attached to projects. She's just not awesome in this. I think it's the accent. Like, it seems like a little kid playing acting to choose that acting out of all the accents that could exist. I mean, Asa Butterfield doesn't have an accent. Also, they are in France. Why choose that accent? It is a thing that, when people show that they are being translated, they choose the upper crust British aristocracy accent to show that they are not from America. I don't know why. It worked for Jean-Luc Picard, but it sounds really odd coming from Moretz. I also know that Isabelle serves an important function in the story, but her aggressive invasiveness into Hugo's life is troubling. I mean, the movie even toned it down a bit from the book. She gets full-on furious with Hugo in the book for keeping secrets. But Isabelle really doesn't have a sense of boundaries in this movie. I know. She's a kid. Some kids are like that. But she's also one of the key protagonists in this story. Why can't we just sand off some of those aggressive traits a bit more? Okay, Scorsese did that already. But I still want to go a bit further with it. I know that main plot points of the story wouldn't make sense, but it does get under my skin a bit. Is she so bored with her life that she has to aggressively invade anyone else's problems? It seems like Hugo has a pretty rough life. Why would you be mad at him for keeping things from you? Also, you just met him. Give him a chance to invite you into his world. I'm glad that you invited him to meet the bookstore owner, but not everyone is that outgoing with their family secrets. I know. She's a kid. I don't even dislike Isabelle, but there's always those personality quirks that kind of drive me up the wall. I just need her to tone it down a bit.
Regardless, I love Hugo so much. I'm still baffled by the fact that I haven't written a Hugo review in the past. If you love film, watch this movie. It is a celebration of film as an art form. If you don't love film and just love entertainment, there's plenty here. Also, it's just a genuinely uplifting piece. Honestly, I can't find a demographic that this movie wouldn't work for. Angsty teenagers?
Oh no! That's whom I teach!
Sorry about the delay. It is hard to get things done during the summer. Here's our discussion about Brian K. Vaughan's Saga, a very R-rated epic love story set in space. If you like your comic books with a hard-R attached to them, but you also want to weep from time to time, pick this one up.
But again, the podcast is totally PG. Enjoy here!
I mean, was any one shocked by PG-13? Sure, at one point, a Star Wars movie with anything above a PG was considered blasphemous. But now it is the rating of choice. I mean, this one seems pretty tame. It's got some action, but it's Star Wars action. It's good-time-Charlie action. I don't see what makes this movie particularly PG-13 outside of the fact that there are bad guys in the movie. Regardless, the intended audience is pre-teens to adults, so I guess PG-13 really works.
DIRECTOR: Ron Howard
It's kind of amazing. I had more time to do these when I was actually working. I watched more movies. I wrote more. Now that it is summer, I have no time to do anything. I actually saw Solo: A Star Wars Story while I was still at work a week-and-a-half ago. If this review isn't exactly timely, I really apologize. These aren't exactly ideal conditions. But Solo is probably the movie I started out least excited about, grew kind of excited about, got less excited about, and then had a really good time at. The thing about Solo was the problem I had with the Star Wars prequels. George Lucas failed at turning a good kid into a villain in the course of three films. It wasn't interesting. How was a movie about an angsty kid turn into a slightly more angsty adult work? I don't know if I have an answer to that. But there clearly is something going on here. (Important note: It has been four days since I started writing this. I tried writing this May 24. It is now June 7. My life is very packed.) There's also all the drama behind the creation of this movie. As I established, there is something very cool about this film that is very fun and I think works. I want to watch it again. But I also was more excited about Phil Lord and Chris Miller. I love these guys. I'm a big fan of The Last Man on Earth and I was a fan of their other projects as well. I still talk about how The Lego Movie is one of my favorite repeatable kids' movies of the past few years. But they were fired from this project. Honestly, when a Han Solo prequel was announced, I rolled my eyes super hard. It was a dumb idea to me. But then I discovered that Phil Lord and Chris Miller were on this project, I actually got excited again. I was expecting this quirky take on the movie. I was going to see some subverted expectations. I mean, Ron Howard is fine. Ron Howard is a more than capable director, but he also is part of the old guard of directors and I think that New Star Wars needed to be in the hands of the new guard. Apparently, that's where Disney thought that they made their mistake. I don't know. This is a very roundabout way of saying that I really enjoyed a movie that I had little faith in.
Let's answer one of the big questions right now: How does Alden Ehrenreich hold up in the long run? I saw that trailer and said, "No!" really loudly. Okay, I didn't, but I griped about how the movie looked good except for the guy who played Han Solo. Then I read early reviews for the movie and one totally summarizes how I feel about Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. In summary, it said that you get used to him after the first half hour. That is exactly right. This is somewhat shameless, but I really appreciate a good mimic. I still give Men in Black 3 props for Josh Brolin's Tommy Lee Jones impression. I really wanted Ehrenreich to have a spot-on Harrison Ford under his belt. It is not a spot on Harrison Ford. In fact, there are lots of times where I wondered if Han Solo was even in that performance. But there is this level of plausible deniability where it could be assumed that a younger version of the character wouldn't have all of his stuff together. Maybe he was really different in his early twenties. I don't know. I mean, Ehrenreich really leans heavily into the bravado for the character. But Ehrenreich's Solo is extremely insecure. I guess that's fine, but I always got the vibe that Harrison Ford's Han Solo didn't need to be there and he would probably be fine with ghosting on that entire party if it came down to it. I think Ford's Solo probably mirrored Ford's attitude about having the part to begin with. If Ford left the set at any time, it would be no skin off of his back. Ehrenreich isn't that guy. I get the idea that Ehrenreich is really trying. That's actually kind of an interesting dynamic. A problem that I have with prequels is that the main story should be the most important moment in that character's life. I always thought that the original Star Wars was the most insane thing that ever happened to Han Solo. But apparently, the heist on Kessel was pretty darned important, enough to change elements of his personality.
There's also the weird element of namedropping stuff. I don't know how to deal with prequels and namedropping / fan-service moments. If something happened in your life that was absolutely insane, you'd be dropping references to that in situations that reminded you of that situation later on. Han mentions the Kessel Run. I kind of have beef with that. I'm not saying it is awful. But the Kessel Run is such a fan service moment that I almost feel like I didn't need to see. I have to give credit to Howard and his team that they made the Kessel Run something really worth watching. It's crazy. But I wouldn't just be talking about the Kessel Run as if it was just a race. On one part, I want my worlds to be free of retcons. On the other, I don't want every namedrop to be its own story. Honestly, I think that Solo leans more into the fan service stuff than anything else. Like, in one movie, we see how Han meets Chewie, how Han beats Lando at cards, what Lando was like before they were friends, how Han became an outlaw, Han's experience with the Empire before A New Hope, and the Kessel Run. That's a lot. It's all cool. I'm so torn about the whole experience. This movie, and I'm not really sure if this is a criticism or a compliment, is extraordinarily overpacked. This review is an exercise in both patience and indecisiveness. Here's the thing. We could have had an entire movie about how Han and Chewie met. It would have been great. I don't think that's a terrible idea. But then again, how perfect is it that Han and Chewie just meet and have an adventure together. Do we really need young seven-year-old Han Solo orphaned and raised by Chewbacca. While I'm writing this, it sounds more and more awesome, it also would have been an exercise into how to extend a franchise beyond its natural scope. I know that we're starting to deal with Star Wars fatigue. I never thought there would be a moment where we had too much Star Wars in such a limited time, but it has happened. But I'm sure that Kathleen Kennedy and the other bigshots at Disney / Lucasfilm were considering probably milking every Han Solo moment for what they could get. For all I know, there's going to be a Solo 2. It is probably less likely after failing to perform to expectations, but who knows? There are a million characters out there in the Star Wars canon that could helm a movie that it is only natural to think that this ride could last forever.
Which kind of brings us to Lando. Every review has Donald Glover as the perfect Lando. People say that Lando sells the movie. I love Donald Glover. I LOVE Donald Glover. But I also feel like Donald Glover was kind of slumming for Solo. I read that he bought a big pizza and watched Empire Strikes Back upon hearing that he would be playing Lando. People love that story. I think it might be the most natural thing to do. It's what I would do. I know that he wanted to make him mom proud with his performance. That's awesome. The thing is, he's got a great Billy Dee Williams impression. He's got the swagger, just like Ehrenreich does. I think that Glover is closer to the attitude of Lando, but there is another issue that comes with that. While his impersonation is pretty impression, it is also pretty broad stokes going on. Like, it's almost a parody of what Lando was all about. He's obsessed with capes. His swagger is palpable. He believes his own press. I always kind of saw Lando as a guy who put on a very public front because that's what got Cloud City running. SPOILER: There's actually a part where Lando is recording the video chronicles of himself. It's like it is a step too far. I loved having a very Lando-centric movie, but I also appreciate a bit of nuance. I know all this sounds like nitpicking, but it is just the consistent stuff that keeps a good movie from becoming great. There are all these elements in this movie and all of them just fall a little flat. Not completely flat. More like a stumble.
In terms of an actual movie, it does kind of hold its own. I think the movie actually works best when it forgets that it is a Star Wars film. There's a major cameo that is totally unnecessary to the movie. In fact, it is one of my least favorite elements from the Star Wars non-movie universe. (For those people who aren't really aware of Disney's deal, here's the scoop. When Disney bought out Lucasfilm, it turned all of the expanded universe (or non-film Star Wars stuff) into something called Star Wars Legends. It's non-canonical. Everything that was released after Disney bought Lucasfilm is apparently canonical.) That one cameo tries to give this movie greater significance than it really deserves. Solo thrives when it realizes that it is an isolated film. Sure, there are all these nods to the series. I'm very whatever about those nods, but when it is about the heist and Han getting out of scrapes, that's great. All the stuff with Woody Harrelson is fantastic. We get to see what Han both aspires to be and what he fears in one character. That's very cool. He's not as interesting as Han Solo, which means I don't have to wonder what that character's origin story is, but he is compelling enough to understand the template he is filling. Emilia Clarke's character is pretty good also. It does kind of put a little stain on the whole Leia thing, but not in a reasonable way. We know that we aren't rooting for her to be the female love interest for Han Solo because we know what happens in the long run (another prequel problem), but I suppose almost everyone has an ex. I guess there is no reason to demonize her. Her story is left a bit ambiguous. I don't know if this is for the sake of future movies, but whatever. Regardless, if this movie is watched as simply fun space action drama, it's a decent film. If it isn't, then...well, there might be a bit of disappointment.
Started May 27. Finished June 8. And to think I used to write one of these a day.
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.