Rated TV-MA for lots of language, some sexual humor, and a regular reference to cocaine addiction. It's not an overtly raunchy comedy, but it also doesn't shy away from that humor either. The most intense thing is the guest who keeps sneaking off to do drugs. That's played pretty regularly for humor. Also, there's the casual use of the word "roofie", not for sexual exploit, but to knock out a guest. TV-MA.
DIRECTOR: Dean Craig
I was so hopeful. My wife started watching this rom-com way too late. It was one of those choices that we both knew was going to lead to giving up. I've been on this reading kick lately and I set these goals for myself, so I thought that I could sit out watching the beginning of a rom-com that we wouldn't finish. Sure enough, we pulled the plug pretty quickly, but my wife was insistent that this would be one of the ones I would enjoy. Apparently, it made her actually laugh a few times. Okay, that's fine. We wanted to do a movie date night in quarantine, so we tried to figure out what the name of the movie was. For some reason, it wasn't showing up in her "Recently watched" queue. It's one of those rom-com problems with a generic title. Oddly enough, even though we got most of it wrong in the search, it still showed up. We were destined to watch this movie.
And for a while, my wife was right. The movie was actually pretty funny. It looked like it was going to be about Olivia Munn's character, and I think she's pretty solid in the stuff she's been in. I kinda / sorta recognized everyone else. The rest of the cast is compromised of actors who tend to play second fiddle in things. That's fine. In fact, it made the movie less distracting. There were a lot of moments where I found myself genuinely guffawing. It's a well-written funny movie...
...until the conceit.
See, that title, as forgettable as it is, is actually apt. There's a twist. The movie generously steals from Community's best episode, "Remedial Chaos Theory" mostly just once. The thing is, the movie doesn't really let us in on the joke until it happens. It teases it a bunch. There's a narrator who implies that the world is a crazy place and we're supposed to take that as foreshadowing. Okay, fine. I don't know if a movie like this needed a twist, but let's just pretend that it was a good decision. The setup plays out as such: You're watching a slapstick rom-com that takes place at a wedding. Through insane contrivances that actually play pretty well, everything goes wrong and a really goofy house of cards falls on itself. It's pretty hilarious. This is the majority of the film. At about the 60% mark, the narrator comes back and questions, "What if the characters at the table sat in different spots?" She implies that there's an astronomical number of combinations and we start playing with the multiverse.
I never thought I would discourage a film from dabbling in a multiverse, but Love Wedding Repeat should have stayed on Earth Prime. The primary storyline is so good. It's a really tight experiment in comic timing, creating such a strong comedy of errors that I wasn't interested in the other universes. The game when it comes to multiverse gags is that it has to get worse in each timeline. We get this very quick montage of potential other Earths that play out. There's enough context to figure out what is going on, even if we don't understand how the characters got to that point. But the narrator then teases that there's one universe where everyone ends up happy.
That's the trick, right? If all of these insane elements are in play: with one character destined to be sleepy, the cokehead at the table, a best man speech at varying degrees of preparedness, a girl-of-his-dreams sitting by various single men, that takes a lot of work to make happen. The joke could even be the skillful management of all of these pies in the air. Instead, Dean Craig decides to put the characters though another dog-and-pony show, one that mirrors the jokes of Earth Prime. The characters find themselves at low points all over again and we wonder, "How is this the best Earth?" And then Craig does the worst thing that this movie could have done: he makes them all better characters.
It's such a cheat. It's such a lame and dumb cheat that it kind of ruins the movie. I don't think I've ever been more charmed by the first half of a movie and more let down by the second half of a movie. Because one of the pies in the air is all of the characters imperfections. Jack is always burdened by taking care of his sister, who isn't amazing. He's also terrified of making the plunge. He can't just decide not to do that anymore without consequences. Even more so, Bryan is put of by Rebecca, who is annoying most of the movie. (It's hilarious. Aisling Bea might be my favorite performance of the film.) She never really lets up. But in this timeline, for no reason, she becomes just a smidge more vulnerable and earnest. Bryan is just more open to suggestion. They end up together. I'm not saying, "Don't let them end up together." I'm saying, find a reason besides, "They're just nicer in this seating arrangement." The biggest crime is that the Cokehead just decides to do the right thing. Every single timeline that is shown doubles down on the idea that Marc the Cokehead is a force of nature. He's so deep in a world of cocaine that he can't make rational decisions anymore.
But he does. Jack gives Marc almost the exact same speech he does in Earth Prime, just sleepier. Sure, he doesn't lock him in a wardrobe in this timeline. But Marc wasn't going to change his behavior when Jack was actually convincing. Sleepy Jack, who was barely there for the discussion, shouldn't have had that much of an impact. (Also, Jack's come and go sleepiness was lazy writing.) The thing about stuff like "Remedial Chaos Theory" and Love, Wedding, Repeat is that they live or die based on how the Butterfly Effect happens. By this point, we've all been inundated with the loosey-goosey understanding of the Butterfly Effect. It's something along the lines of "A butterfly flaps its wings in Central Park and there's typhoons in Japan". The concept, however, isn't meant to be A causes B. It's meant to imply that it's like dominos. Small changes compound, leading to big things. "Remedial Chaos Theory" shows exactly how that works. We see how the change of die roll affects every version of the timeline and its pretty genius.
Love, Wedding, Repeat, however, just takes a shortcut to the result it wants in a lot of cases. We start seeing how the timeline plays out differently, but the character changes bring them home. Every single character somehow becomes a better person without a direct tie to the external factors. In Earth Prime, Hayley accidentally kills her newlywed spouse after he found out that he cheated on her. In this one, apparently her growth was just the acknowledgement to herself that what she did was wrong without actually having to confess her infidelity. It's a weird "You're off the hook...just because."
I don't know how the guy who wrote such a first tight half to a slapstick comedy couldn't apply the same logic to the second half of the movie. Good slapstick and comedies of error requires some really impressive writing chops. Maybe it was the freedom to write a comedy of errors knowing that he didn't half to put it back together again. It's really easy to explode people's lives, but it is really hard to put them back together again. When we see him trying to put it together again, it feels like it was done with scotch tape and everything seems tentative. Dina has no reason to take Jack back. Jack doesn't even tell her what went wrong, but she's that open to Jack that they live happily ever after. It's also really weird that she didn't even realize that she was being paged to go to Mexico. Also, is Jack going to Mexico? There's so many questions.
This movie has the elements to be great, but the absolutely ramshackle way of trying to resolve conflicts is borderline lazy. This could have been a lot of fun, but --and I'm floored that I'm saying this --the multiverse element to the movie just ruins it.
Rated R for language and violence, both war and civilian. It's a pretty brutal movie and you are going to see some gore. It's not exploitative, although there was one time that I shouted an expletive because I never really got caught off guard. Fundamentally, it also is a movie about race relations again. Spike Lee never makes race an easy topic, so prepare to get into some pretty heavy stuff. A well-deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
I don't think it happens very often that I have that moment. Watching this movie, I had the epiphany that I was watching a masterpiece. Like, I had to Instagram Spike Lee and congratulate him afterwards. Sure, he'll never read that message or this article. But this is one of those moves that completely transcends. I love Spike to begin with. BlackKklansman was my favorite movie of the year. But there have been a lot of Viet Nam films that I have seen and I appreciate a lot of them. Da 5 Bloods may have achieved more in an hour-and-a-half than the other films have tried in all this time.
Part of it is slightly unfair. Da 5 Bloods has a slightly unique scenario, shy of the fact that it is paralleling that Simpsons episode with The Fighting Hellfish. So many movies have tried to discuss the lasting impact of the Vietnam War after the fact. I keep making mental connections between Da 5 Bloods and Born on the Fourth of July. The thing is...I didn't really like Born on the Fourth of July. Da 5 Bloods has an advantage in the sense that it talks about aging with the knowledge of what went over there coupled with the very specific racial dynamic that the Bloods dealt with both overseas and at home. Born on the Fourth of July had this really important message that it had to get out. It had a responsibility to talk about PTSD and generate sympathy for the American soldier. It put pretty boy Tom Cruise (I'm sorry, Mr. Cruise. You are very pretty and that's completely a compliment) and asked America to be moved by the effects of war. But Born on the Fourth of July was saddled with a responsibility and a driving goal that lost the idea of subtlety. There's a tipping point in that movie where I started on their team and ended on "Okay, I get it." Da 5 Bloods, however, uses the fact that we are fundamentally different people in this day of age to talk about the horrors of the Vietnam War, and that distance makes all of the difference.
(Note: I'm insanely distracted today, so I apologize for the disjointed nature of this whole thing.) Setting the film in 2020 does some really interesting things for the piece. While Lee sets a small percent of the movie during the Vietnam War, the majority of the film is about the aging GIs as they discover that trauma isn't one thing. Lee wisely doesn't make the story simply about a reunion in Viet Nam. That would be heavy handed. The story of finding Stormin' Norm's body and recovering the hidden gold gives the story a much needed external conflict that allows them to deal with the internal struggle that all of them carries. It's interesting to see how varied the trauma is. Delroy Lindo's Paul is probably the character who most stands out as the PTSD archetype. I hate using the word "archetype", because Lindo is sublime in this film and I agree that he should get the Oscar for his portrayal of Paul in the film. But Otis, Eddie, and Melvin all have their own ways of dealing, all of which lack a sense of perfection. They all have toxic elements in their lives. Otis has never really loved again, at least in the way that he did in Viet Nam. Eddie has the business acumen to accumulate wealth, but it was coupled with a toxic head space that forced him to squander his earnings. I'm not quite sure what Eddie's issue is, but Eddie just seems to be a hanger-on. These guys all are dealing with a lot of trauma, yet they are surprised to see their peers going through the same thing.
Spike Lee is the master of talking about the complexities of race. I just wrote about Do the Right Thing, one of my favorite films. There's a lot of comfortable films about racism. These are movies where there is clearly a good guy and clearly a bad guy. Lee doesn't like to do that because that's not what racism is. Racism is ugly and no one thinks that they are racist. Lee crafts this view of the Vietnam War, probably the most shockingly accurate atmosphere imaginable, where the war was again an exploitation of minorities in this country. Rather than painting the image of white men and Black men shoulder to shouder, Lee stresses the narrative that people of color were sent to the front lines and given the worst and most dangerous jobs. But like Do the Right Thing, our protagonists don't have clean answers. They aren't these perfect characters. Because white America isn't really represented in the film, nor should they be, the protagonists are representatives of America to the world around them as they hold onto their cultural identities. Lee even makes his most compelling character, Paul, a MAGA hat wearing Trump supporter. It doesn't make things boring. It makes things interesting. I mean, Paul's the psychopath of the group. I'm reading it the way that Lee has it and I totally agree. He's the character who is the wildcard of the group. But it doesn't make Paul completely unsympathetic. He has been the one who has been disillusioned since returning home to the states. He has this emotional baggage and he found comfort in his hate. It makes sense. Soldiers returning home from war were scorned by the left, regardless of the complex politics. The other members of the Bloods understood the overall message, but Paul felt alone. So when someone was willing to scoop him up and make him a token representative, he leapt at the chance. It makes his character fascinating.
Paul is the reason to watch this movie. We love Otis, but we watch Paul. There's a lot going on in the movie. I love that he's named Paul. There's this really rad scene where Paul is alone in the jungle and he's talking to God. He's really talking to himself with some of his non sequiturs, but it is Saul on the road to Damascus. The thing about Saul is that he really believed he was doing the right thing when he was still Saul. He had this cause that he stood by. It was when God opened up his eyes and he became Paul that he realized that his holy quest was actually sinful. Lee doesn't quite give us that 180 that the Bible did, but Paul's personality in the hole is one distant from the one before the hole. Lee allows the viewer to determine the divine intervention in that scene. Because Paul is bitten by a snake, a lot can be written off as simply the hallucinations accompanied with poisoning. But that change in his character is so powerful. He sees signs of the almighty all around him. He never renounces who he is. Desroches coming in with his MAGA hat, however, is a trophy of the loss of Paul. It hasn't been buried with him. Considering that death is such an overwhelming motif throughout the film, the donning of that cap carries significance.
Man, there's some Apocalypse Now references all over this movie. I mean, the title shot is in the film at a nightclub. I love that juxtaposition, balancing the glory of war to the fickleness of clubbing. But Lee also incorporates the Flight of the Valkyries over a casual boat trip. Similarly, Otis, bullet ridden, moans "Madness, madness". I don't know if Lee is paying homage to the film or criticizing it. Apocalypse Now is probably the best film adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Joseph Conrad is kind of a turd and Lee knows this. Apocalypse Now, like its source material, both condemns the invading whites while glorifying them at the same time. Both the movie and the book take time to criticize the white invaders, both treat the natives as a sense of "other." With Heart of Darkness, it treats the people of the Congo as animalistic. With Apocalpyse Now, it does the same with the Vietnamese. I can't imagine that Spike Lee would be the biggest advocate of Apocalypse Now, but he never outright attacks the film either. It's an odd take, but I can't ignore the allusions to the film throughout.
I'm sorry that I didn't have more to say about Da 5 Bloods. It honestly blew me away, but I'm crazy distracted right now and will bow out before I completely mess this up beyond recognition. This was a fantastic movie that completely blew me away. Lee presents a complex narrative of America both post-Vietnam and during the Trump administration. He presents another complex look at race and brotherhood, but does so through complex storytelling elements and gorgeous understanding of cinema regarding Vietnam. It's an excellent film.
Rated R for persistent language throughout, drug use, and a pretty intense sex scene, coupled with some mild sex scenes. Like, it really adds stuff to make it feel R-rated at times. Every time you feel comfortable with the rest of the movie being this twee joyride, it then adds something remarkably aggressive when it comes to content. It's fine. The movie has every right to do that. I don't know why I'm giving it permission. I just forgot how much questionable content there was in this movie. Oh, also a casual use of the word "retarded". R.
DIRECTOR: Zach Braff
I'm just on a tear of movies that I used to watch in college / post-college on repeat. It wasn't planned this way. It's literally one of the movies in my Fox Searchlight box set and it was the next film on the list. What am I supposed to do, not watch it? That's an element of chaos that would just throw me over the edge. It's so funny to not only watch the movie for cultural influence, but also to think who I was as a film fan in 2004. Again, this is the era where I owned a lot of movies, but I would watch the stuff I owned on repeat. It's just a very different philosophy. I love coming back to an old favorite, but part of me also can now see some flaws that I didn't necessarily see before.
I'll be honest, I thought that this movie would age way worse than it actually did. Garden State was one of my few exposures to independent film. It was one of those movies that I could drop in college that was mainstream enough that it hit my radar, but was also obscure enough for me to say, "You haven't seen Garden State? It'll change your life." Really, the biggest influence that this movie had on me was its soundtrack. I don't think a soundtrack has ever been played harder in my class than the Garden State soundtrack. I think I subconsciously used that soundtrack to make me seem knowledgeable about music. Music, as much as I invest in cool stuff, is always going to be my Achilles heel. I can try to be a pop culture savant, but my taste in music has always been heavily influenced by movies.
Anyways, Garden State still mostly plays for me because it has the core of a great film underneath its trappings. The things that attracted me to the movie in 2004 were the moments we all remember. Ultimately, these moments are the ones that are more cringy for me now. It was the hip soundtrack coupled with twee visuals. The movie opens with a plane crashing while Largeman sits there neutrally, waiting to die. This very expensive looking scene opens the film and ends up immediately revealed to be a dream. It kind of encapsulates my feelings about the movie as a whole. It quickly identifies that Andrew Largeman is so emotionally stunted that he wouldn't even mind a violent death. But it also is a baseball bat to the head in terms of establishing character. Immediately following this scene, we get a look into his medicine cabinet. Rather than having a few pills, the cabinet is lined with pills. A great visual, certainly, but it lacks any subtlety whatsoever. There's really no opportunity to misinterpret the themes in this film because Braff is really selling it pretty hard.
But this also brings up something that I really have to consider. Without the visuals and the heavy-handed storytelling, would Garden State have ever made it to my radar? I started by saying that Garden State has a lot to offer still. By the end of the film, I was still as genuinely moved as I was as a kid. The movie still has the chops, but Garden State kind of permeated the public consciousness because it was so aggressive. It's not surprising that, around the same time as Garden State, I was also obsessed with the visual imagery of Baz Luhrmann. Yeah, Moulin Rouge! was one of the movies on heavy repeat. I'm not proud of that confession. I kinda-sorta rewatched it somewhat recently (not the past four years, I guess), but it did not hold up. It was for a lot of the same reasons that I'm commenting with Garden State. I thought it was visually aggressive, so much so that I had a disconnect with the characters, at least with Moulin Rouge!.
But Braff has something to say in this movie. I'd like to state from an objective point of view: "Don't just go cold turkey off your meds without the approval of a doctor". Braff is talking about a part of culture that has been so overmedicated that the world has no meaning. From an artist's perspective, I can see how this would be a pretty sexy throughline. Similarly, he has something very profound to say about death. I'm a pretty broken individual about death. While Largeman can't cry over his mom's death because he really can't feel anything, there's also a much more complex relationship that he has with the living and the dead. Yeah, the movie really rides that fine line between advocating euthanasia and simply stating that Mom was in pain for a very long time. But Largeman's experience with death is married to the concept that his father has always held Andrew as a villain in his own personal narrative. (Note: I really wanted to watch Alien to celebrate Ian Holm, but I was floored that I forgot that Ian Holm was in Garden State.) These ideas are mutually related. Sure, a lot of that comes from the idea that Largeman was unable to comprehend what it meant to mourn his mother, but it comes from the idea that he views his mother only in relation to his father. His mother's accident has defined his mother as the cause for his numbness. It's this need to want to love his mother, but being unable to separate the trauma he experienced from the empathetic nature to comfort his mother. From his perspective, he vacillates between blaming himself for his mom's condition and blaming her for not being able to handle the push from a 9 year old. And his father, for all of his attempts to be the perfect father, only encouraged those dark thoughts because he, too, had the same thoughts. It's a weird line, but it also feels hauntingly real. That's probably what gets me so hung up on all the twee stuff is that the movie has something very real at the center of the film that kind of gets buried under The Shins. It's odd that a lot of the movie is dodging the conversation that establishes Largeman's growth. It's because of the events of the story, but Braff is also dead on by saying "You've been avoiding me."
The message that kind of comes out of the film, and that explains the disclaimer, is that medication numbs and the healthiest thing you can do for yourself is to get off of them right now. Andrew goes to the neurologist, who is floored by his regimen. The odds that Largeman could get just go cold turkey off of all of them in a long weekend is a scary prospect. He's been on those things for the majority of his life. His brain chemistry has to be different and dependent. Also, how does he not have a hangover from all that. Did the ecstasy he did at the party counteract those symptoms, because that means the movie advocates anti-medicine and pro-drugs and that's a weird stance to take. I don't really think Garden State is advocating for that, but it does really play with that concept a lot. I should note that Andrew, before saying goodbye to Sam, establishes that he has to find a new therapist, so that might give the movie some mental health points.
Is it weird that I was in love with Natalie Portman's Sam when I watched this movie? I thought that was the girl I was supposed to find, someone who doesn't live within the constraints of reality. Portman plays Sam REALLY young. In my mind, Sam was an adult who just didn't play by the rules. But Sam comes across as a complete child in this movie and I had no concept of that as a child. It's actually really weird that Largeman falls for Sam so hard. She is aggressive as heck and regularly lies to him. Don't get me wrong. I'm totally on board for them at the end of the film. I'm in their corner, cheering when "Let Go" plays over the telephone booth. But it's weird that they become an item to begin with. Their dynamic is very weird. Maybe it is because she sees him. Everyone's excited to see Largeman, the fallen hero returned home. But she doesn't know the myth of Largeman. Okay, she kind of does, because she's seen the movie that he's in. But she meets him from a new perspective. She's also the only one who really acknowledges his discomfort with social situations.
While I criticized the opening dream on the airplane, the pool scene is far better characterization than this dream that's a tell-all. It's because we have reaction by other characters. The use of the foil in a story tells me the real problem that Andrew Largeman has. He's this myth to people. He exists as an urban legend to those around him. He got out of a town that breeds gravediggers and get rich quick schemes. He also is the guy who was sent to military school because they worried that he was a threat to others. It's not that Mark doesn't love him; he does. It's just that Mark also is incapable of jumping into the deep end like an outsider would be able to. Sam is able to view Andrew's discomfort. Yeah, it comes from the inability to swim. But the inability to swim comes from the fact that he didn't have a normal childhood. The other swimmers view him as a freak. Sam, an outsider herself, is able to view Largeman from a sympathetic place. Wearing a helmet to work, knowing that she could never be an Olympic skater, she understands Largeman. It's why I get them together at the end. But I don't see it from the beginning, especially after Sam calls Andrew out for his tasteless joke regarding Jelly.
So Garden State is now a weird thing for me. It's bones are amazing. The emotional stuff is so good. It's just when Zach Braff tries manipulating me into emotions that are now off putting. But you know what? I would have made the exact same moves as a young director. It's so effective for reaching a target audience. Get welcomes people inside and then takes them on an emotional journey. It's a movie that holds up way more than I ever thought it would. It's not the obsessive movie that I saw back in the day, but it is still pretty fantastic.
PG, for a kid in danger and the promise of death that really is pretty sparse. Yeah, people die. Oh, also, something that should be considered blackface. The guy is a spy and he's trying to "blend in", but it reads as something super uncomfortable for the most part. It's really brief and it's not meant to be insulting, but it doesn't change the instant gut reaction I have to this moment. Still, for a movie about a kid that's going to be killed, it's a pretty tame movie. PG.
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
I've been itching to crack into my Alfred Hitchcock box set for a while. I've seen a lot of Hitchcock. I have three box sets and I've watched all of those movies. I adore the man as a director, but there's so much out there that I haven't seen from other people. It's always hard to find an excuse, at least for me, to go back and watch something I've already seen before. But revisiting The Man Who Knew Too Much kind of wanted to put my Hitchcock box sets back into circulation. I might do that as a replacement for the BBS box that only has one more movie left in it. We'll see. This is how my super organized brain runs. I need to find excuses to watch the movies I want to.
My first year teaching my film class, during October / Hitchcock month, I assigned that the students watched any Hitchcock film and presented on it. One of my star students did The Man Who Knew Too Much. I was ready to hear rave reviews and discussion on the movie. Instead, she said that she didn't care for it. She loved the other Hitchcock films we watched in class, with the exception of The 39 Steps. But The Man Who Knew Too Much got, at best, a "fine, I guess." For a bit, I wondered if she watched Alfred Hitchcock's first run at this story, the one with Peter Lorre. I mean, I liked that one too, but I acknowledge that it is a little rougher and lacks the charm of the remake. Nope, she meant the 1956 version with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day. That boggled my mind. Sure, the only thing I can remember was the "Que Sera, Sera" stuff in the movie (which Wikipedia apparently labels as a "Doris Day Song"). But I also really remember enjoying it. Also, it has Jimmy Stewart and I think I like every Jimmy Stewart movie.
But there is a fundamental flaw with The Man Who Knew Too Much that actually limits the movie. The Man Who Knew Too Much is a movie that continually breaks its promises. Like, it does it throughout the entire movie. It sets up a binary situation where there should be consequences. Benjamin McKenna is told something that, if he repeats this information in any way or tries to prevent the murder from happening, his kid will be killed. Okay, we've seen this trope. What will a parent do to ensure the safety of his child while trying to save his own soul? It's a great dilemma. It's an amazing external conflict coupled with a relatable internal conflict. I love this stuff. Naturally, the way that this formula works is that the parent has to test the boundaries of this. They can't sit on their hands because they know that there's a chance that their kid could die anyway. I'm pulling from a litany of movies in my head where I've seen this scenario and I'm blanking on all of them. Taken? (I actually haven't seen Taken or its sequels.) But the way this normally rolls out is that the parents start making a little bit of headway. They have a series of small victories until the kidnappers discover their meddling. What happens in this moment is that there is a consequence. Now, we're dealing with a PG 1956 movies. We don't need Hank losing fingers. But the kidnappers keep shifting that line back further and further without consequences.
Benjamin and Jo McKenna get off the plane and one of the kidnappers straight up watches them. They have already broken the rules of engagement. They're not supposed to interfere with this assassination plot in any way, but there they are. In London. Not hanging out in Marakesh or back in the United States. They are in the one country that they aren't supposed to be. Shouldn't there be a consequence? But what happens is that they get another warning about not interfering. Do you know what that would do to curious and cornered parents? It causes them to push back harder. That's literally what happens. The McKennas keep making headway. They keep getting warnings about why they shouldn't interfere. The whole thing cycles until the McKennas get what they want. There's a scene, and for people who have seen this movie can probably attest to this, where the McKennas find the Ambrose Chapel where the kidnappers and Hank are. While Jo McKenna goes to phone the police, which is already a violation of the rules, Benjamin tries confronting the kidnappers single-handedly. He fails, miserably. He's old man Dr. Jimmy Stewart and they are a bunch of kidnapping assassins. This is where Ben should die. After all...they're kidnapping assassins. Instead, Benjamin McKenna gets a slapjack to the back of the head and wakes up to find himself locked inside the empty Ambrose Chapel. It's one of those places that apparently locks from the outside and you can't do anything if you are inside. (I get it. It is very dramatic to have Jimmy Stewart climbing up the bell tower rope. Also, "bell tower" and "rope" seem to be Jimmy Stewart / Alfred Hitchcock staples.)
These murdering kidnappers just keep giving the McKennas more and more chances that make no sense. These guys are trying to overthrow a government by murdering a prime minister. They have clearly passed the "casual murder" stage of psychopathy. The entire story makes even less sense. Just murder the McKennas from step one. They murdered a spy in Marakesh: check. That guy must be harder to kill than an aging doctor and his celebrity wife. There was no moral compunction about killing Louis Bernard. It's not a kill-or-be-killed situation. Bernard is clearly on the run from a whole bunch of murderers. They even get Bernard in their hideout moments before the actual assassination. It almost seems like killing him would be the only choice. But there's a lot of moments where the McKennas are spared, not for character reasons, but for storytelling necessity.
This creates something very love / hate about the movie as a whole. Hitchcock tries explaining this change in behavior away through the character of Mrs. Drayton. Mrs. Drayton is the character who has a bit of an arc to her. She is in charge of ensuring that Hank is hidden from his parents. She comes across as a nurturing mother / grandmother throughout the story. It's why Hank is not in a constant state of freaking out. The idea behind this storytelling device is that Drayton is learning to love by being reverse Stockholmed by Hank. It's kind of cool. I get that she cares for the kid. But on the other end of the scale, this is someone who has been in the spy game for a while. The Draytons are the focus of this investigation. Louis Bernard was looking for the Draytons because of their infamy and all of the sudden, she gets a heart? It seems like Drayton might actually be cool with death, just as long as she's not the one pulling the trigger. After all, she doesn't really try to help Hank escape until the absolute end of the movie, and even that is pretty subtle. I really like the idea of making one of the villains sympathetic. But it also seems really odd for her character to be going through all of this, coupled with the idea that the Draytons aren't the only assassins in the story. There's a lot of scary crazy people in on this assassination plot, including, you know, the assassin. Why doesn't the assassin, whose job it is to kill people without emotion, kill Benjamin McKenna and / or the kid? Perhaps the squinting logic is that, if the kid dies, there's nothing stopping the McKennas from confessing what they know. Again, this is where kid fingers do the job pretty well. But again, he's not that good of an assassin considering a distraction caused him to miss his target.
There's one plot point in the story that downright confuses me. It's the idea of the ambassador. Why are the McKennas keeping the search for Hank a secret from the prime minister? That guy really loves Jo McKenna, both as a celeb and for being the lady who saved his life. There's this grand conspiracy happening within the embassy and you know that the prime minister is not involved. After all, he was the target. Why not tell him the truth and have him help you out? There's this whole attitude of "it's technically foreign soil." That's true...if the prime minister didn't give you the okay to begin with. It's a really weird decision for the movie, but it does ramp up the tension pretty well.
But despite all of these flaws, I still really like the movie. There are these shots from the film that absolutely scream Hitchcock. Yeah, the plot is full of holes, but it doesn't stop the tension from being amazing. When Doris Day gets Hank's attention with the song at the end, it's pretty great. Also, Bernard Herrmann is a treasure and having him cameo in the movie is perfect. My student probably has a point: the movie is kind of fine, I guess. But it doesn't stop it from being a joy to watch. I just have to forget about all of this stuff before watching it again.
PG probably for the pre-marital sex. It's such a pure and innocent movie for the most part, but then they go and do-the-do and it suddenly becomes something we have to talk to our kids about. (We didn't watch it with them.) The completely coincidental thing was that I was going to do a family movie night of Superman II, and then Somewhere in Time came in the mail and both have the same pre-marital sex stuff in them. There's also some mild violence and probably some pretty basic language stuff. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Jeannot Szwarc
Guys. Jeannot Szwarc directed the live action Supergirl movie. I saw his name pop up on the screen and I thought, "Hey, isn't that the guy who directed the live action Supergirl movie?" And I was right. I should just call it quits for this article right now because that's a heck of a takeaway. I swear, I wasn't in the mood for a Christopher Reeve movie when I was about to watch Superman II, but it kind of worked out that way. I had never seen Somewhere in Time before this point. Everyone (my wife) thought I was kind of goofy that I was excited to watch this over-the-top romance from 1980. But you know what? It's a time travel story with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Yeah, I'm going to watch that, especially when it is on SOME lists.
And you know what? It's a pretty great time travel movie. I am not joking one bit. It's not perfect, but there are a lot of bad time travel movies and this one isn't one of them. A good time travel movie has to set up a series of rules. What kind of time travel is this going to be? I keep throwing this paradox down because Doctor Who straight up explained it, but Somewhere in Time sets up a Bootstrap Paradox and then adds some flair to it. I'm very cool with this. Motivations might be a little bit weird, but nothing you can't explain away. Because I have plenty of space to write and I'm still warming up, I'm going to explain the Bootstrap Paradox as I understand it and then explain how Somewhere in Time lives up to the paradox.
A Bootstrap Paradox is entirely based on the idea that the events of the story can only happen if the events of the story were always going to happen, regardless of cause. It's actually impossible to determine what started the whole event because the existence of time travel is the only loosey-goosey determinant. In the case of Somewhere in Time, a voice from the past, Elise McKenna, asks Richard Collier to come back in time to find her and hands him a watch, presumably her watch. This eventually plants a seed in his mind and he researches some pretty new-agey means to time travel. (I'm actually really cool with it, but the logical part of my brain is skeptical.) The watch, from Elise's perspective, is now Richard's. When Richard loses the watch in the past, it inspires Elise to give it to him in the future. What makes this a Bootstrap Paradox is the question of "how did the watch get thrown back in the past in the first scenario / how did Richard initially meet Elise to set this events into motion?" Now, that's a great question for time travel nerds, but I have a better one...
"How old is that watch?" That's an even cooler question for me. I hope to talk about romance and feelings and all that, but I really want to look at time travel stuff way more. (This is pretty typical for my entire life and I'm so sorry to those people in my life that I love because I keep talking about time travel theories.) Here's something that the filmmakers probably didn't think of before. Richard and Elise keep dying over and over again. The story continues in a time loop. Elise dies of old age at the Grand Hotel in the future. Richard dies (and I want to talk about this) a little afterwards after he returns to the present. They meet up in the afterlife. Cool. But do you know what doesn't have a closed loop? The watch. (You probably guessed that I was going to say "the watch" because I started this paragraph talking about that watch.) Let's say that Somewhere in Time starts at a low number on the time loop. Maybe this is the second or third iteration of these events. We're still not sure how it started, but we know what is keeping it going: the constant exchange of watches. There's about sixty years between Richard and Elise, so Elise keeps it going for sixty years every time that there's a time loop. That's pretty good to keep a watch. Now, we can assume that Elise reveres this watch. The movie even states that she does, so she probably maintains it as best as she can. But the watch never leaves the time loop. It keeps getting passed on. Eventually, that watch will go through thousands of time loops. How does one maintain a watch for millennia? The easy answer is that it becomes a Ship of Theseus, which allows the time loop to continue. There are small changes in the sense that Elise keeps taking it a watch repair shop and they replace different part as time goes on. But the harder question comes from the idea of the watch showing wear-and-tear.
You could, hypothetically, make a sequel to Somewhere in Time where the pair notices that the watch is ancient. This could give Richard clues to his fatal mistake. But it would also place the relationship in jeopardy. If the watch is trash, would Richard even be tempted to go back in time. We understand that the watch is a physical manifestation of hope and love. It's not just a watch. The story could technically still go on if the watch is worn out from old age. But that watch has resonance. It's not nothing. It's something that the movie really hinges on and it is getting older and older.
Also, a weird time travel question. Old Lady Elise approaches Richard at his senior production of his play Too Much Spring. (We made a lot of Too Much Spring jokes throughout the movie.) Elise probably knows she's dying. After all, she died the next day. It could be one of those Charles Schultz things where her life's purpose is complete and she just dies. (Much respect to the late Charles Schultz.) Elise's strategy is a weird one, and a sympathetic one at the same time. She doesn't know when she's supposed to encounter Richard again. She sees him wiped from existence and starts doing some research. She figures out by some of his weird mannerisms that he might be a time traveler. Maybe he even leaves the penny in the past (which would be rad, but doesn't really line up with how time travel works in this story). She researches and researches until this philosophy book about time travel comes out. The biggest coincidence is that Richard knows the guy who wrote the book, but I'll let that slide. It could be explained away by the idea that she simply read the book because it was by a local author, so I'm good. But she has to be investigating Richard. Like, starting around 1950, does she start looking for birth certificates that say Richard Collier and does she hope that he'll always live in Chicago? Heck, does Richard even live in Chicago by the time she meets him? Part of it comes from the odd choice to mute a lot of the dialogue between Richard and Elise in their sequences. I have no idea how honest Richard is with her about the time travel stuff. My takeaway was "not really all that honest" based on her reactions.
But why doesn't she try to change time? She knows that the watch creates a loop. Giving a younger Richard the watch means that Young Richard is not Her Richard. Young Richard just sees a weird old lady. She has to be aware that she's just ensuring that the events of Somewhere in Time actually happen. Cool. She's clearly cool with messing with spacetime. But why not give him a hint or something? Tell him about the pocket full of change. It won't mean anything to him until he starts putting together a costume, but it very well might make sense then. If it fails and he has the epiphany seconds before he makes the mistake, it'll have the same effect and she won't be any the wiser.
But this what good time travel narratives do. They make us think about "what ifs" and scenarios that open our brains up to new idea. It's really weird that Somewhere in Time is the movie to open this kind of discussion. But the best part about it all is that the time travel narrative, as central as it is to the events of the story, are the background. Like Back to the Future, we care more about the characters and their internal conflicts more than we do the external conflicts. Fundamentally, this is a story about the love interest and how one man seeks to break it apart. If there is one weakness, it is the complete mislead with Robinson. Elise meets Richard with the phrase "Is it you?" or something like that. We get this story about how Robinson seems to see the future and warns of "the one". Now, a lot of it probably was intended to be written off as a guy who simply saw which way the wind was blowing from experience. His leading ladies probably always ran off with some handsome guy and the cycle continues. But the movie really baits you too hard on that fact and it is never really formally explained. Regardless, this is a story about true love.
A lot of the choices don't make a lot of sense, unless love is treated a supernatural phenomenon. Richard goes eight years not thinking about the watch. He gets married and then divorced in that time (which makes me question, "What happened there?"). He has a bit of writer's block, so he returns to the Grand Hotel (or visits it for the first time, I guess?). He's pulled places and becomes obsessive. He doesn't even try justifying it to himself. There's never this moment where Logical Richard takes over and questions if he's having a mental breakdown. He makes up this lie to tell people that he's writing a play about Elise McKenna, but doesn't actually believe it himself. This causes him to do all kinds of crazy things to time travel. Don't get me wrong. I get the need to time travel, but he comes across as a huge nutbar with is obsessiveness. He puts people out with his white privilege, keeping the librarian after hours for some magazines that he could just...get the next day. He wakes Arthur in the middle of the night. Arthur becomes the main spectator throughout the history of the story because Richard is so invasive. It's through sheer willpower that he time travels to see Elise. Love, in the story, isn't something that develops. It's something that always exists. I suppose that the storytellers believe in soul mates so hard that there is nothing stopping these two from coming together. Thank God Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour have chemistry or else the whole thing wouldn't really work.
It might be a little dramatic that Collier dies from being separated from Elise. That's a very Bronte thing to happen. That moment of fate, where he pulls the penny out, is perfect. Don't lose that for a second. But the story hinges on the idea that Richard will do anything to go back in time when he doesn't know that it's possible, but loses hope when he knows that it is possible. Like, he loses hope really fast. Criminally fast. He gets frustrated and just quits on life. Now, that's a great ending for the story and it's the only way that it can really work. The movie even implies, "Yeah, he can't go back." But Elise spends her life trying to find a way back, why doesn't Richard? Richard stays alive about a week and then just dies. I suppose there is something romantic about the Lost ending where they meet up again in the afterlife, but it also is really depressing in a way. Also, he's wearing the same crappy suit that everyone comments on. (He wears that suit for three days and no one comments that he's getting a bit stinky?)
I really enjoyed this movie. Good time travel movies delight me. I don't know if I could consider myself a fan of the movie. There's something a bit to Harlequin novel about the whole thing, but I don't even care. The movie is a good time and it scratched the exact itch I wanted it to.
Rated R / NC-17, depends where you are looking. I think we saw the NC-17 version, but there's not a ton of difference between versions. There are digital people blocking sexual acts, but you know what's going on behind them in the R-rated version. Eyes Wide Shut is infamously an erotic thriller, but it isn't as insane as history portrays it. It has about a ten minute scene that is wildly shocking, but the rest of the movie doesn't actually show a lot. There's a prostitute who is having a bad drug trip who is naked. Also, the protagonist continually visits a prostitute, but nothing sexual actually happens. The really upsetting thing is the threat of death looming over the movie. Hard R / NC-17, depending on the print.
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick
I'm not even supposed to be writing about this. Occasionally, my wife will tell me that I'm not supposed to write about a movie because someone will see. I get the logic. I tend to bury these and not advertise them. It's a weird thing because I view the movie as artistic, but she views it as smutty. I suppose it can be both. She's probably in the right, but I have things that I want to talk about when it comes to this movie. It's part of the discussion. Let's say one thing: I don't find Eyes Wide Shut sexy. That's not a high horse. That's more the idea that I'm watching it because I am interested in the mystery of the whole story. I also think of it as a Kubrick film first. There's something remarkably unsexy about the whole thing. That doesn't mean that I'm not going to bury this article somewhere in the archives.
PG-13, for just enough raunch to make you uncomfortable in front of your kids. MST3K has always been pretty tame, but I think the movie format gave them just enough guts to add the smallest amount of swearing and innuendo. It's pretty tame for a PG-13 film, but when you were mentally prepped for G-rating, it can make you a little uncomfortable. My kids didn't pick up on anything offensive, which may be telling about the audience it's aimed at. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jim Mallon
How do you possibly write about the Mystery Science Theater 3000 movie? There's not a lot of actual film outside of the movie that they are mocking and I'm not really watching This Island Earth. Like, I was just excited to find an excuse to watch a Mystery Science Theater episode while adding a movie to my blog, but I didn't think of the problems that I would encounter. I have a feeling that this movie will be representative of Mystery Science Theater as a whole, so that's part of where I'm going with this.
I loved this movie back in the day. I suppose I still love it. But Mystery Science Theater is really hard to share. It's kind of like forcing someone to sit down and watch an old Star Trek television episode. Most of the people who would enjoy it have found it on their own, so trying to get new fans to understand what makes it so great can kind of be a tall order. This is probably what happened to my eight-year-old daughter and my six-year-old son. Henry absolutely loved what he watched of it. He giggled so hard that I thought he was going to pee himself. But at one point, he was giggling at a Wilt Chamberlain reference and I realized, "He thinks that people talking over the movie is funny." My daughter had a harder time getting into it. One of the jokes finally landed and she started laughing. She then stopped and kept asking me to explain jokes. I told her that one of the things about Mystery Science Theater is that she wasn't going to get all of the jokes and that's okay. She then started asking why these guys were making fun of the movie, so I showed her the opening credits of the TV show, which she probably enjoyed more than the entire movie. At one point, I think she was laughing because Henry was laughing uncontrollably. I honestly thought she was laughing at the movie, but between gasps, she would exclaim "I don't get any of this."
That's kind of the thing about Mystery Science Theater. I wonder if this was a product of a time that was itching for stuff like this. I know that early millennials tend to look down on later millennials and zoomers for their obsession with irony, but MST3K was the gateway to hatewatching stuff. There's something really charming about Mystery Science Theater that makes it more good-natured than anything else, but that same itch is being scratched. The people who make these episodes seem to enjoy bad movies both ironically and unironically. There's only so much you could do if you honestly hated these movies. With the case of This Island Earth, I think that there's an understanding that this movie isn't terrible so much as it is "of that era". I remember as a kid, pre-MST, that my dad showed me This Island Earth for family movie night and we all thought it was fine. It actually is one of those Universal classics and everyone had to pretend that the movie is fairly terrible because Universal actually let them have a REAL movie. The fact that This Island Earth has a modicum of quality may be the reason that the commentary is actually way funnier. One of my theories, coming from a guy who has watched a lot of MST, is that the better the movie, the better the commentary. There are some MST episodes that are borderline unwatchable. The commentary does nothing for the film and it is a chore to sit through. Because This Island Earth has a degree of respectability, the entire experience is a good time.
But in recent years, I've gotten aboard the RiffTrax train. I secretly kind of like it better. Part of it comes in because they are making fun of all movies, not just terrible ones. But I'm going to be honest, and this makes me feel like a bully, it's because the skits aren't funny. They almost never are. There's something very public access about the whole thing, which makes sense considering the origins of the show itself. The film starts off with Dr. Clayton Forrester doing his things. The production value is pretty impressive (although Cambot has been wiped from existence because there are multiple camera angles now). It's just that it is the same community theater acting and bits that pushed the narrative of the TV show on. The scene literally ends with Forrester spanking himself with his clipboard. It's the stuff that made the Ghoul famous and I don't know if that humor is necessarily...the most crafted? The odd thing is that you have these absolutely genius jokes during the films and these absolutely boring banal jokes during the skits. Part of it comes from the guys just having fun. Part of my brain is flashing to perhaps an imaginary special feature talking about the skits. The part of my brain that is really undercooked is telling me that the team enjoyed making those skits more than the actual movies themselves. But those bits really don't really scream "quality." Even with the enhanced budget for a feature length film, the skits are probably the hardest to sell to anyone.
Really, Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie is just a really good episode of the show. And that's probably okay. Because this was going to be released in theaters, albeit on a smaller scale than other films, the movie never really feels boring. Those jokes land a lot more than they did in other episodes. The mythology is mostly non-existent, with the exception of the disappearance of Dr. Forrester. But watching a better movie with a slightly bigger budget and jokes that overall land pretty nice creates a nice sense of rewatchablility. Heck, there's a ton of jokes that I remember seeing from previous watches that still made me giggle a ton. It's a great film. If you aren't familiar with MST3K, I still want you to give it a chance. But as I said, it might be a harder sell.
G, because the '90s were still very cool with every animated film being G-rated. There's a lot of death by avalanche. Also, there's some slightly uncomfortable stereotypes being perpetuated around this film. Regardless, there's nothing all that bad. I mean, Mulan is trying to disguise her gender and she's put in a situation where she ends up skinny-dipping with a bunch of dudes. It's tame versions of adult-oriented situations. G.
DIRECTORS: Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook
For those people just joining us, I swear I'm not a Disney blog. My hipster traits help me make my blog as snobby as possible. But realistically, I watch everything. I also have three kids with a fourth on the way. Since I write about everything I watch, that has to include Disney films. Now, I'm not anti-Disney. I actually love what Disney's been churning out lately. But if you scroll my page, you'll see that I just wrote about the live-action version of Aladdin. Trust me. I'll get out of this trend soon. Not necessarily tomorrow, but soon.
I hadn't seen this one before. This is considered part of the lost-era of Disney for me. I was in high school when this came out and I was really diving deep into horror movies and R-rated comedies. That obsessive part of my personality meant that I probably lacked the vulnerability to admit that Disney movies might still be pretty amazing. But because Mulan wasn't part of my Disney upbringing, I tend to be a little bit harder on movies like this. I ran into the same problem when I watched Disney's Hercules. These are movies that people preach, but mainly because there's some kind of positive association with these movies. Disney's not above this problem right now either. It's just that I'm watching them from a perspective of an adult with an acknowledgement that Disney is pushing the envelope. Instead, I'm looking at a snapshot of Disney in 1998. In general, film is in a really weird place starting in this era. There's this atmosphere of coolness that films are trying to adopt to their atmosphere. I'm kind of dancing around the idea that Mulan didn't really do anything for me. I actually found myself remarkably bored.
Part of what makes Mulan admirable is its good intention. In this era, Disney is pushing out from its comfort zone. With Aladdin, the story was adapted from the Arabian Nights stories. With The Lion King, Disney invested in the cultural richness of African cultures to tell King Lear from a non-white perspective. I completely applaud that idea. But Mulan kind of does something that I think Pocahontas did (I never saw that one either! It's in this era of lost-Disney film.) Cultural richness comes from a place of respect and Mulan slightly feels pandering. From what I understand, the story of Mulan is a commonly known legend in China. It's a great place to start. But rather than investing in the challenging story of Mulan, the movie feels like it is trying to take this story of a woman who stood up against an invading enemy and force it into the Disney template. Mulan herself doesn't feel like that strong of a character. Rather than being an active figure in her narrative, it seems like she is responding to challenges as they come along. Mulan, while not fitting into the model of servile women in China, is hardly an advocate for women fighters.
The only thing that really drives her on this quest is an understanding that her father wouldn't be able to survive this draft that pushes on. Yeah, it makes her a problem solving character to say that she could replace her father. But it doesn't feel like there's this big understanding of philosophy in this moment. She doesn't really go through this crisis of character to pick up a sword and fight. Part of that comes from the idea that her choice is entirely internal. She doesn't share this information with anyone, so we don't really get an understanding of what she is going through. I'm about to rip into Mushu pretty hard, so be aware of this nugget that I'm giving him. That's why Mushu is in the movie. He's a character that is meant to give us insight into Mulan's plight. Unfortuantely, Mushu kind of does the heavy lifting for the character. He's really bossy as a character, which makes Mulan look kind of weak. If Mulan and Mushu switched personalities, I think that there would be this huge improvement. Mushu is bullying Mulan into making these strong decisions. The thing is, Mulan is plenty strong on her own. The moment that defines her is the avalanche sequence. No one tells her what to do.
Now, there's something really important about the avalanche sequence that might be very telling about the themes of the story. It doesn't really get conveyed, but I give the movie a lot of props for Mulan's characterization in this moment. Everyone is always yelling at Mulan to do the traditionally masculine thing. She feels like an outsider. But when the squadron is overwhelmed by a massively larger force, Mulan doesn't really say anything. She just kind of springs into action. Mushu's prodding and advice is kind of moot. She doesn't need a masculine voice to tell her what the right thing is in that situation. We get from moment one that her fellow soldiers are buffoons from moment one, but we trust Mushu because he's likable. But Mulan makes that decision on her own. Ultimately, that is the only decision in the entire movie that really makes a difference. The "Making a Man Out of You" sequence is for fun and is really meant to stretch the plot a bit to show that it is difficult to hide one's identity. But the avalanche sequence is what we care about.
I kind of got lost for a second. I was talking about how Mulan Disneyfies a rich cultural history and that's Mushu. First of all, let's step back on the name "Mushu" for a second. Naming a character after a Chinese dish that Americans would know is pretty low hanging fruit. But there's also the white concept that it treats complex beliefs like lucky fortunes and oversimplifies things to make them adorable. Americans do this with the Native Americans and genre storytelling all the time. But Mushu as a representative of honor and the ancestors seems pretty disrespectful. Like, it's done with the right attitude. But it really comes across like the fortune cookie version of Chinese culture. It's something that the remake is trying to avoid. Also, giving Mulan a love interest is similar to sticking her into the princess formula. Why does there have to be a relationship there? It's really distracting from the message that the film is trying to convey.
But my wife liked it. She had criminally low expectations going into the movie. I had kind of high expectations. There's a lot that comes from going into things with low expectations. I really wanted this to be the golden movie in the group of films that I missed. But do you know what this did for me? It got me excited for a remake that is going to make changes. I don't tend to care for the live-action remakes. But because I didn't love Mulan, the changes in the story might work for me. Who knows? There's a lot of potential here, but it really got tainted by the year 1998. There's a good foundation for a movie that isn't here.
PG, for highly stressful situations galore. It might be glorifying thievery. Also, there's talk of genocide that wasn't in the original movie. In terms of innuendo, it's pretty minor. Really, most kids would be bothered by scary imagery and that's about it. I kind of stand behind the PG rating of this movie.
DIRECTOR: Guy Richie
I'm actually out of movies. When we were sitting around and had an impromptu movie night, I jumped at the chance. If you've read the other things I've written about the Disney remakes, like Dumbo, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast, you'll know that I'm kind of over them. I really want to avoid rewriting the same argument again, so please check those out when you have the chance. Aladdin deals with a lot of the same issues, so just know that the rules still apply. But I do want to write about this new version of Aladdin from a perspective of what's going on with this specific version of the movie.
I'm not going to lie, I didn't hate it. It's oddly less scary than the animated version. A lot of that comes from my nostalgia and my childhood fears. But there's something more approachable about the whole thing, Maybe because Jafar seems like a real dude as opposed to one of the more insidious Disney villains. I'm thinking of the end of the animated version, when everything is tinged red and there's a giant snake version of Jafar. Since I'm already talking about this scene, I do really want to get something off my chest. In an attempt to add some surprises, Richie decides to swerve left instead of right with some of the major moments in the story. He aims for the same results, but the how-they-get-there is just a little bit different. As always, I'm talking about spoilers, but does the change in this movie really work? the animated film has Jafar wishing to be "an all-powerful genie." Good. No wiggle room. Jafar is nailed. Richie does this fun thing where Jafar hates being in second place throughout the film. It's a motif that runs throughout and defines Jafar's character. Cool. I dig it. But the wish that Jafar actually makes is one that says "I want to be the most powerful creature in the universe." Now that's a bit of a wonky way to look at the wish, making him a genie. The genie, arguable, has the least amount of power in the universe because he lacks free will. It seems like Genie is intentionally misinterpreting the wish to make the movie work. The same thing kind of holds true with Aladdin not rubbing the lamp for his first wish. He had no idea that's how it was supposed to work. Also, I feel like the Genie should be an expert at that loophole.
Which all leads me to my question, "What are the rules for the Genie?" This is a very me question. I hate me for being this guy because I'm aware of how it comes across. But I want to really get down and dirty for this. When the Genie is being all Genie-like, telling jokes and being all around charming, he's whisking Aladdin and Abu all over the place. There's some regular teleporting happening within the confines of his power. He clearly has some free will in these moments. It's all part of the dog-and-pony show that the Genie has going on. However, Aladdin has to use his second wish underwater and even the Genie acknowledges that they are going into some gray area. But why is this such a big idea. Why doesn't the Genie just lift him a few feet? Is it intention? Is it because Aladdin wants to be saved? If teleporting is some how cool, why can't the Genie just move him a couple feet up so he's on top of Carpet? Okay, I'm going to go even further. Let's say it does come down to Aladdin's intentions. Aladdin never actually says the words "I want to be saved." What if, you know, the Genie temporarily teleports Aladdin to Carpet and tells him "Do you wish for me to save you? I'll have to put you back if you say 'no'." That seems way more on character and in story than simply pretending like Aladdin made a wish. It's something that irked me with the animated version. It's not doing a good job of changing my mind now.
I feel bad for Will Smith. I shouldn't. He's a multi-millionaire and he's culturally permeated everything. He's doing just fine. But I didn't think it would be such an uphill struggle jumping in for Robin Williams. It's not like other movies, shy of The Lion King, have gotten their original casts back for the remake. Is there something so fundamentally tied to Robin Williams with this character that it becomes something very different when tied to a different actor? The Broadway show did something else with a different actor and I think that worked swimmingly. My wife didn't care for Will Smith in this one. I agree that Robin Williams added something really special to that role that made the character his. But I enjoyed, to a certain extent, Will Smith's different portrayal of the Genie. There's something really schizophrenic about Robin Williams's version of the character that is missing from Smith's version. Smith's version is funny, but I think he's more concerned about being cool. It actually feels like a buddy comedy, Aladdin and the Genie in this one. There's a great line in this version of the movie that is pretty telling about how the character has somewhat evolved from the original incarnation. He says something about "In the ten thousand years I've been a genie, I've never been a friend to my master" or something along those lines. It is something that we take for granted in the animated version and I get the idea that Will Smith adds something vulnerable to the character. Williams's version had moments that came across as quite sympathetic, but I had an easier time empathizing with Smith's version. Perhaps it is because the Genie, for a lot of the live action version, is presented as human instead of giant and blue. The giant and blue moments were actually way more off-putting.
But the smartest thing that the movie does is connect the narrator of the tale to the events. In the animated version, which I'll link here, Robin Williams voices the narrator as well as the Genie. There's fan theories that the narrator is the Genie, but that really doesn't really explain a lot of what is going on throughout the film. While the live action version perhaps tips its hat a little to early on, considering that Will Smith is such a famous actor, I do like the idea that the Genie ends up living his ideal life. He seems...normal. The animated version ends with a supernatural creature who is almost godlike exploring the world and ending up at Disneyworld. However, there's something far more satisfying in seeing this guy who just wanted to have a family...have a family. He seems like a good dad who really appreciates the simple things in life and that's what makes the Genie's throughline so interesting to watch. I also really appreciated that we got a strong love interest in the story as well. These two, despite their limited time together, actually have really great chemistry.
Points also to the live action version for making Jasmine a better character. I commented in the animated version that Jasmine's intellect is all over the place. That's true here too, but the live action version is at least a little bit more plausible. It's still absurd to think that the future ruler of Agrabah has no idea what money is or why those kids just don't take those loaves of bread, but the rest of the movie actually makes her self-actualized. Part of what does it is the songs. Jasmine is the heroine of her own story. Aladdin is just this guy who complicates her life. But she has a fully understood story. She actually looks at Ali with scorn not because he completely sucks, but because she knows that she might sacrifice becoming a ruler for someone who is kind of a blowhard. I mean, the ending of the story is still very convenient for Jasmine, getting to be sultan and all. But it at least lines up with her character a bit better.
The second I forgave the fact that this was a sequel, I enjoyed it a lot. It doesn't really feel like Guy Richie, with the exception of one or two shots (oddly enough, Aladdin falling into the water in slo-mo), but that doesn't mean that it isn't fun. Will Smith will never be Robin Williams. No one really can be. But I like that Will Smith was different enough to avoid trying Robin Williams's performance. Yeah, it's a different character, but that's okay. The cast is fantastic. Mena Massoud and Naomi Scott fill their roles perfectly. It actually works better than I thought. I was never really pulled out of the story for their character choices. It overall works, and is probably one of the better Disney remakes.
Rated G and for good reason. What? Where am I supposed to go from here? There's almost nothing to admonish in Hello, Dolly! I suppose I could come down on the way that the movie treats the institution of marriage, but that's more a comment about a cultural norm in a different era. It's pretty darned tame. A well-deserved G rating.
DIRECTOR: Gene Kelly
My wife keeps picking this movie for family movie night because it keeps coming in these musical collections. Despite the fact that this has to be a third viewing in five years, I still have no real understanding for one of the most basic plots of all time. Maybe my brain won't let anything kind of absurdity into my brain, but I always get actively frustrated with this film. Maybe it's because the movie has too many characters and just runs crazy long. Maybe its because a lot of the songs don't really advance the plot that much. Regardless, I tend to ask a lot of questions while watching this movie that seems to annoy my wife
The goal of this movie is the part that frustrates me. Dolly Levi / Barbra Streisand (I will be interchanging both "Dolly" and "Barbra" a lot through this article because I see more Streisand than Levi in this role), as a matchmaker, is trying to set herself up with a second husband. Her first husband died and it seemed like she was madly in love with him. Cool. I get that she understands how marriage works. But she is actively pursuing Horace Vandergelder / Walter Matthau (Again, same deal) because he's rich? Okay, I've seen this plot before. I can even get behind this plot. But the point of a movie like this is that Vandergelder is supposed to become a better person through her interactions with Dolly. I don't really get that. The movie starts with a goal of getting Vandergelder's fortune and it kind of ends on the same note. I talked about this idea with My Fair Lady. But My Fair Lady at least does the audience the courtesy of lying to us and pretending that Henry Higgins is a better person. Horace Vandergelder...really never changes. The movie even, for the sake of spectacle, ends with a mega-mix of all of the songs, which includes the "Dainty Woman" song amongst it. He hasn't grown in the least from the beginning.
And that's what really has me confused. Dolly doesn't exactly look like she's strapped for cash. She leads this very extravagant lifestyle. But let's pretend that maybe she's not as well off as she comes across. Sure, I may have missed that part. It is really hard to pay attention to the first half of the movie, shy of the Wall-E segments of the film. Let's pretend that Dolly is on the verge of being destitute. Everyone in this movie is in love with Dolly Levi, hence the titular song. Everyone loses their minds whenever Dolly shows up. Really, her matchmaking thing seems like this hobby to keep her rich mind occupied. I get that she's a trope. Wheels within wheels, plans within plans. So her big plan was to marry a huge turd? It's not like it's my opinion that might be unpopular that he's a jerk. That's his character. No one likes him. He's played by Walter Matthau for goodness' sake. But he never changes. From moment one to the end, he's a huge jerk. Is her plan to turn him into the perfect suitor? It really doesn't seem so because she would have mentioned it? She may have put him through more paces. Her entire plan surrounds the idea that he's going to go on a bunch of terrible dates to make the actual date great. That's a pretty small scope.
As much as the primary conflict is Dolly's, I care far more for the employees of the shop. I know that one of them is named "Barnaby" because of Wall-E again. Those guys have a great through line and a story that works really well narratively. I think it's Cornelius Hackl who states his goal for the film clearly: "We aren't leaving New York until we're kissed by girls" or something like that. Sure, the goal is a bit regressive, but it is also concrete. They have obstacles: they're broke and have never been kissed. They run into two girls whom they adore. These girls are completely out of their leagues, both financially and confidently. There's some dramatic irony where we know that the boys are more broke than they let on. This is all the stuff that we need to tell a good story. Everything that's tacked onto that story is only extra. They can't afford the bill. They get discovered, but the girls don't care. They all have to find a way to pay. There's a dance contest. It's clean storytelling and I absolutely adore it. I don't think I've ever seen a B story so gloriously outshine an A story.
Thank goodness for her conversations with her dead husband, or else Dolly would be completely unlikable, or at least unrelateable. She is too perfect of a character. People literally burst into song whenever she walks into a room. So what makes her compelling? Perhaps the reason why I never really get emotionally invested in Hello, Dolly! is that I know that Dolly has too much control. She's borderline Harold Hill. But Harold Hill's confidence is in defiance of the odds. The deck seems stacked in Dolly's favor. The only real obstacle is that Vandergelder is a grump. That's pretty low. If she doesn't hook this bait, who cares? I actually think that her life would be better.
Hello, Dolly! is a pretty movie full of nice songs. But considering that Gene Kelly is directing this film, it doesn't really scream anything Gene Kelly. It's a musical. That's it. I wish I got behind this movie. I would love to have Hello, Dolly! on a favorites list, but it does nothing for me. It's long. I care more about the side characters. It's a pretty movie that just stumps me.
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.