Mary and Max (2009)
Unrated, but it would get a pretty solid R if I had to guess. Don't assume animation is for everybody. This is a movie that deals with mental illness, suicide, alcohol addiction, sexuality, prostitution, bullying, and more. It treats religion kind of like a joke. Really, there's almost an attempt to be edgy to a certain point. I'm not talking about South Park style humor, but the movie does cover some pretty heavy topics throughout the film. Regardless, unrated.
DIRECTOR: Adam Elliot
*sigh* I know. Any list of the greatest anything is going to be subjective. I have always been obsessed with completing lists. I don't know what it is about me. Part of it comes from the fact that I trust the great canon of both books and films. And for the most part, these lists have gotten me to watch some absolutely stunning and important cinema. They challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and to educate myself. But this scratch-off movie poster list? Man, the subjective entries are really subjective. On this list of 100 films, I have to guess that ten of them are really just the creator's favorite movies, regardless of actual influence on cinematic history. I know. I'm being flippant towards Mary and Max and I'm sure that there's a community out there that is obsessed with this movie. But between Mary and Max and 3 Idiots, I get the vibe that there were some personal favorites that were thrown in that might not be as revolutionary as the poster implies.
I'm going to be coming at this movie pretty hard. It's not that I hated it, but I was rolling my eyes pretty hard. I know that Adam Elliott did basically everything on this movie. He wrote the script; he did the art. You know, everything? But Sweet Christmas, I don't think I've seen such a mismatch of content to form before. The film starts off with the phrase "Based on a True Story." For the sake of time, I'm not going to look up what really happened. I have a baby trying to find me and I have seconds to write this thing. But if this is a true story, for the most part, there's something really compelling about this story. The story itself can do so much legwork on this film. But then there's Elliott's style of art. Adam Elliott is an artist who wants to show off his quirky sense of visual claymation. In terms of skill, it's all there. But Elliott is a guy who stands in his own way to tell a story. One of the first things about storytelling is that there are good ideas that just don't belong in this story. Every storyteller runs into that problem. They have this image in their heads and, upon execution, realize that it doesn't quite gel with the story that they are telling. The rookie storyteller powers through, fearing that their precious moment might have to be scrapped. But a veteran storyteller will realize that this moment can go somewhere else. It is added to the bag of tricks and done later. It feels like the entire visual aesthetic of Mary and Max is an attempt to distract us from a perfectly serviceable story.
Mary is an absolutely sweet little kid who leads kind of a sad and quirky life. I don't deny that Elliott should stress the quirkiness. But the things that Elliott adds for the sake of bleak humor detracts from the real emotional resonance of the story. For example, Mary apparently had a rooster as a child. That rooster is in the entire movie. Any time the movie has a chance to be vulnerable, the rooster does something macabre and inappropriate. It's there for a laugh, but the story is plenty on its own. The same thing holds true for Max. Max deals with initially undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. While some of his observations, because they are through the eyes of a person with Asperger's, come off as funny or odd. These are things from his letters. But Elliott makes Max this character who comes across as completely unrelatable. There are moments in his life where it almost feels like Elliott is making fun of Max, which seems to be the exact opposite point than the story is supposed to make. At one point, Max is committed to a mental institution for nine months, leaving Mary to think that she was alone again. Instead of letting us breathe in this moment, we instead get a bunch of dark jokes about what is done inside a mental institution.
And this all leads me to the problem of trying too hard. I mean, this movie tries and tries. It's a showpiece for the artist rather than servicing the story itself. Toni Colette and Philip Seymour Hoffman are great, as usual. But they completely are drowned out by distracting visuals that are trying to show off the creator, Adam Elliott. It's not like there aren't stories for this kind of visual art. I'm thinking of the works of R. Crumb when I discuss this. But there's something in this story that is being blocked. I think there is no more important moment than when Mary attempts to commit suicide. Mary's parents are characters out of something created by Tim Burton. Maybe Beetlejuice or Edward Scissorhands. I'm dancing around the idea that they are caricatures of real people. But Mary, for all of her weird quirks, kind of feels like a real person. She has real dreams and asperations. She has a character arc that builds her to being successful, due in part to her correspondence with Max. Mom is only described as drinking sherry until she dies and Dad is only described as being into taxidermy until he dies. When Mary is at a high point in her career, she upsets Max and spirals into a dark place for her. She becomes her mother, drinking sherry all day and watching the Nobletts. Her husband runs off with another man and she is left alone to commit suicide. It's a really depressing part of the movie.
But because the entire film has this tone of misery throughout the story, that scene has little emotional resonance. Even Mary's high point is saturated in this grey fog that exists in a world of ugliness. Instead of having this juxtaposition between Mary's success and Mary's attempted suicide, it just feels like more of the same. Max has a similar low point. While Max's character is more static compared to Mary's, he does make some growth. He is proud that he has made a friend and that keeps him motivated to becoming a healthier human being. (He doesn't succeed, but we root for the notion that Max wanting to take risks is important.) But at one point, in a rage against Mary for writing a book about him, he accosts a homeless person asking for money outside of his apartment for littering. (This is a Max thing.) This moment needed to breathe. It's Max's low. He went from being harmless and alone to escalating to a violent member of society. That's no good, but Elliott decided to focus on making the homeless person as grotesque as possible. The story called for Max to destroy something innocent and Elliott, with the obsession with style, robbed that moment of its importance. Rather than Max seeing his own crime through the destruction of another person in his situation, we have Max almost ridding the world of a creature unworthy of life. And that character keeps on showing up. We get silly signs from that homeless person throughout the film after that, as if the assault wasn't traumatic in the least. Come on, there are moments where vulnerability goes a long way.
Which leads to the touching part of the movie: the Death of Max. There's all this lead up to Mary and Max meeting and Max dies hours before Mary gets there? That's heartbreaking and the movie actually kind of pulls it off. But it is a nerfed version of what should have happened. The movie does everything it can to force us out of relating to these characters. It's almost like Bertold Brecht made this film (look that reference up, kids!) and wanted us to remind ourselves that this is a story, not reality. There was such potential with this movie and I get why the poster guy likes it. It's just that the filmmaker kept getting in his own way. I hate talking negatively about one person so much, but this was an exercise that just got out of hand. I really didn't care for this movie.
Now, Voyager (1942)
Passed. Listen, this is an old romantic movie. You might be tempted to write it off as a completely innocent film. But there's some ickiness in this movie. The obvious element is the fact that Charlotte's mom is straight up cruel to Charlotte. Like, we're at a level of Munchausen's by Proxy level of evil. But the other thing that's absolutely bizarre is the adultery that is glamorized all the way through the movie. Trust me, this is going to be the meat of my commentary.
DIRECTOR: Irving Rapper
"My name is Irving and I'm here to say, that I'm here to rap in a very special way!" Sorry, that dumb joke has been hovering in my brain for about a week, which is how long it has been since I started watching this movie. I'm going to add onto the fact that I've spent the bulk of the day writing letters of recommendation so I really don't want to write. But then again, I really want to get this done so I can maintain a sense of momentum when it comes to writing future blog entries. My life is very complicated and it is because of my own decisions that it gets so chaotic.
I don't know if I can trust my memory. Now, Voyager has always been in my film textbook as an example of a "Woman's Picture". Trust me, I didn't come up with the term and it seems really antiquated. What that mostly means is that it was released as a film that was meant to be watched as a matinee, kind of filling the role of a soap opera style melodrama. At the time, these films weren't necessarily considered real art until films like Now, Voyager put a feel of quality behind the film. Now, I say that I can't trust my memory. I swore that I had seen this movie before. Part of me is absolutely screaming that I saw this movie, but when I watched it, I barely remembered anything. I mean, the intellectual element of me knew that it involved Bette Davis on a boat. But I can't chalk that up to real experience. I mean, any image that I see of Now, Voyager has the shot of Bette Davis on a boat with a wide-brimmed hat. But when I saw that the cast was basically the cast of Casablanca? I would have remembered that, right?
But the thing that pushes my button is the fact that this is a glorified story of adultery. I hate when movies do this. From an artistic and storytelling perspective, this is a great movie. But come on. I'm going to throw something down and I know that someone can probably dispute it. If you knew Charlotte Vale and Jerry Durrance, you would think that they are the absolute worst. I'm not talking about frumpy Charlotte who is tortured. I'm talking about Camille Charlotte, who is almost making up for lost time with Jerry. Jerry, from moment one, is very clear about the fact that he is a married man. Yeah, he seems absolutely miserable in his marriage. There's probably a good reason that we never actually get to meet Jerry's wife because it would make it real. But he definitely comes across as a guy who goes on sexy cruises and hooks up with single sad women. The movie tells us that Jerry and Charlotte are in actual love, but it never really is sold to me like that. I just keep seeing as this guy who is latching onto Charlotte and is surprised when they start kissing. Perhaps it is because Jerry is played by Paul Henried, who is supposed to be this ultra-attractive male lead. But this is one of those stories of "let's put this affair in the past" and they just never do.
I have more sympathy for Charlotte. The smartest thing that this story does is show Charlotte's first love. (By the way, I really thought that this was going to be a story about Charlotte reconnecting with that sailor. I would have gotten behind that story.) But when you couple this story with this sad and frumpy Charlotte who is locked in a house with a psychotic mother, she actually becomes a compelling character. But there is something that reads a little false. When Charlotte goes away for her mental health and takes a trip to Rio with Jerry, she comes back as a different person. There's this moment where she hears the voice of her therapist, Dr. Jacquith, saying that she can't be too hard on her mother. This all seems for the sake of storytelling, not reality. In my head, Dr. Jacquith would probably be stressing the notion that Charlotte needs to practice self-care and that her mother is a criminally toxic element in her life. From Charlotte's perspective, one of two things would happen. If Charlotte respected her mother's wishes, she would regress into sad old Aunt Charlotte. But if she was around her mother and didn't comply with her choices, the story would have ended the way it did, with the death of her mother.
Can I preach about the notion of dying of sadness? Listen, I gave Revenge of the Sith so much garbage about dying of sadness, but I loved when old stories embraced the idea that someone could just willfully die because they were sad or spiteful? I don't know why this is so effective in melodrama. I mean, people can die from being lovesick. That's fine. But when Charlotte's mother decides to go further than simply throwing herself off of the stairs and just full on dies out of spite? [mimics that thing that stereotypical Italian chefs do with their fingers when something is delicious. It involves kissing fingers. There has to be a term for it. Regardless, "Mwah!" So good!] It honestly might be my favorite moment in the movie.
But now I want to look at a concept that I both absolutely love and absolutely hate. I'm talking about Tina. Having Charlotte cure Tina is a really weird call. Charlotte becomes this de facto mother for Tina and I don't think that is appropriate at all. If I was on Team Charlotte before, I definitely don't stay on it when she revisits the rehab center. Charlotte knows that Tina is at the rehab center. While it seems to be a secondary concept to her own mental health, there seems to be an "Oh yeah!" epiphany moment that comes across as kind of gross. Now, since Rapper is shipping Charlotte and Jerry, we're supposed to see her taking care of Tina as empathetic and self-sacrificing. But isn't Charlotte really just indulging in an inappropriate fantasy of being the ideal mother? I believe that Tina's mother / Jerry's wife sucks. It's a fictional world and two characters have established that Tina's mother is just the worst. So when Charlotte steps in, she has the ability to be the perfect mother. She has infinite resources, being the sole heiress to one of the wealthiest families in Boston. She's only had to deal with a fresh slate that her mother doesn't have access to. When Charlotte comes in and offers everything that Tina has ever wanted / what Charlotte desperately needed as a child, that dynamic is skewed. It also kind of makes Tina love Charlotte as opposed to her own mother, which is kind of unfair, especially considering that mother is dying somewhere.
But it's a lovely film, right? I don't know. The emotional train wreck that is my English teacher brain is all about the feels. Jerry and Charlotte are two impossible lovers and there's something completely romantic about that. But being this bastion of morality who loves judging others, Jerry and Charlotte are just the worst. Anyone in this world would probably notice the same, that there are a million better ways to handle their respective situations. And that comic scene to get them together in the car? What a weird tonal moment for the movie, considering how dry and almost gothic certain elements of the story are. But I can't deny that I enjoy the movie, despite being something that sports an absolutely abhorrent message. I guess that is just how it is sometimes.
Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)
PG for violence. I think that there's a category of Disney movie that is really centered around normalizing violence. I suppose that some people might call this an "action movie". But if I had to be completely objective, there seems to be a lot of pretty intense fighting. Rather than being a low stakes film like Luca, Raya is one of the movies that spells the end of humanity. While people aren't technically killed by the villains, the film kind of gets it both ways by having them dead-without-being-dead. The monsters also are kind of scary, despite being amorphous. PG.
DIRECTORS: Don Hall, Carlos Lopez Estrada, and Paul Briggs
There's no way I'm paying for Disney Premiere...until Black Widow shows up. But there was something early on about Raya and the Last Dragon that screamed, "You'll watch it because it's Disney, and that's about it." I don't know why the action Disney movies don't do anything for me. It's the smaller tales that really get me. When the movies get big and bombastic and there's an actual threat, I don't know what it is that shuts me down. It's not like I don't like these movies. I do. I mean, I still think Frozen is rad and that has huge stakes. But when my family wants to do family movie night and the movie is just plain-ol'-streaming on Disney+, then I'll go in with enthusiasm.
Everything about me knows that this is not a bad movie. It's actually super quality. It got me laughing a couple of time. The story is probably the movie that we need right now. And a lot of it might come from the fact that I had just watched Luca, a Disney movie that completely wrecked me. But all I could see were the faults of the movie, which were fairly nitpicky. This entire blog might easily turn into a reflection of how the audience brings their baggage into a movie and it's not the movie's fault. But my tastes were definitely coming front and center of this movie. The first moment where I realized I was being very critical of the film was with the very long opening. There's an unfortunate amount of mythology and backstory to make this movie that make it almost inaccessible. Like, when a movie begins and there's just this long period of narration explaining the world, isn't that a little off-putting? David Lynch's Dune had the same problem.
(Note: I really tried finishing this on Friday, but that day was stressful as all get-out because we left for a weekend vacation. If there is a drastically different tone to the rest of it and that I've forgotten things...I'm just saying that I'm going to forgive myself.) So what is it about the action Disney's that don't exactly get me excited? I suppose it is the same thing with having an action movie as a favorite film in general. It's almost afraid of vulnerability. But Disney films, by and large, have a message that is front and center. They want kids to leave better people than they came in. (Okay, the storytellers want that to happen. The higher ups at Disney just want all of the money in the world.)
And the film does have an absolutely fantastic message. That's what makes me split. A film shouldn't go so heavy into its themes that it feels like we're being preached to. But I think that Raya goes too hard in the other direction. It has a moral that needs to be told, but it hides behind too much adventure to the point where the visual and the experience is more important than the underlying themes. Because I'm dancing around them way too much (speaking of which, would it kill Raya to be a musical?), the themes of the movie are ones that are pertinent today: we need to find a way to unite, despite the fact that differences seem insurmountable. While I wish Sisu had a more overt allegorical meaning, the concept of a nation divided seems pretty on point. And because I find myself to be the hero in my own story, Raya has to be progressive America. (Everything is about me, guys.)
Heart is America under Obama. I'm not an Obama sycophant, but a lot of things were working. There was hope that we could be one country. After years of partisan politics, a lot of good things happened. (I refuse to establish the Obama Administration as the utopian world because, like all administrations, it had major problems that shook me.) But it was mostly working. We thought that we were building to a post-racist society and taking active steps in the right direction. But, like the meeting of the five nations at Heart, revealed how progressive America was just lying to itself. There was back-biting and greed festering the entire time. People were concerned with their own self-interests and we discovered that it was easy to offer a hand of peace and unity when things are working for you.
Enter Raya. Raya is experiencing what I'm experiencing right now. (Remember, I'm always morally right and I never make any mistakes. In general, while reading this blog, you can simply take this as a given.) Raya knows the objective good: the unification of both the stone and of the nations. Her father believed in this unification of nations, so Raya works towards that greater good. But she's twice bitten at this point. She sees the evil of men and, like me, has given up on the notion that people would do the right thing given the opportunity. Trust me: "Same, girl. Same." So she wants to control what she can. While she can't reunite the nations, she can take control of her own little world and return it to the status quo. She can bring back the literally petrified people and at least get back to a sense of normality. But she absolutely believes that the world can't get better.
Heck, despite the fact that Raya's fatal flaw is the belief that things can go back to the way they were, but not better, she comes across as an optimist compared to where I am. I know that we have a new President. But the more I drive across America and the more I look on the Internet, I'm in this place where the country just seems unfixable. So I get Raya's predicament. She keeps running into people who say the right thing and then keep doing the wrong thing. Golly, there are people who keep also saying the wrong thing and she still has to trust them. That's why I get the Namaari distrust. Namaari is one of the principle problems with the world. She caused all this. She is Q. She is someone who spread messages that 5G towers spread coronavirus. She's a talking head on Fox News who just makes stuff up. Having Raya have to extend an olive branch to her seems not only miguided, but it seems suicidal. It's a real bummer.
But that's the only chance for healing. And as much as I saw this in the story, it really does get buried. I'm pretty sure that these are the same guys who made Zootopia, but Zootopia wore its message on its sleeve. Because there was so much worldbuilding happening with Raya, this message only seemed to resonate with people who really wanted to find it. By the end of Zootopia, you knew that this was a story about injustice. With Raya, it all seems like it could be too universal to apply to something pertinent. Listen, a storyteller who presents universal themes is doing his job. Good on you, movie. That's the way to go. But when we're in this crisis moment in time, I need something more in the now. Make it about now. You can appreciate the visuals later. I actually wouldn't mind a sledgehammer right now.
My last complaint, despite the fact that I still stand by the fact of the movie being fine, is the sheer amount of comic relief characters. Raya has to play straight woman to a lot of over the top characters. Sisu herself is Genie. She's wise-cracking, yet instrumental to the story. But then I started to find Boun to be this fantastic comic relief beyond that. Like Iago, (only, you know, a good guy), Boun was less central to the story and provided some levity. Okay. But then you introduced the con baby. The con baby, while offering a giggle from time to time, seemed like it was pandering. Then coupling the con baby with monkeys? Really. There's already so much. Then we get the inept warrior? There's so much attempt to make this movie appealing and a laugh-a-minute that there's no actual cohesion.
It's fine. At the end of the day, it's fine. It's a Disney action movie that buries what could be something great away from vulnerability. Maybe because a lot of this movie had to be made in isolation, it comes across a little stilted. But it's a fine movie that really pales in the light of Luca.
In the Heights (2021)
PG-13. I think the filmmakers were aiming for that sweet PG-13 money versus the R because In the Heights is way more General Audiences friendly than Hamilton was with the f-bombs and the like. There is language, but it is almost tactical in its use. There are some sexual references throughout, but it kind of leaves it at "references" as opposed to anything overt. I know that my wife, who at this point has memorized the soundtrack, strategically asked kids distracting questions over any sexual references. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jon M. Chu
For the sake of my wife, who is now obsessed, this is a perfect movie and you don't have to read any more. The rest of this blog is only going to be a repetition of the phrases "This is a perfect film" and "Didn't I tell you to stop reading because this is a perfect film?" It's also one of the few blog entries I can almost guarantee a looksee from my wife. (I write a lot. She has a life. This is how the world works.) Honestly, I really did love this movie. My wife was able to watch this a week before I did and played the soundtrack non-stop. Everyone she talked to, it was In the Heights this, and In the Heights that. Considering how much she hyped it up, I was genuinely pleased by how good the movie was. Unfortunately, I only have key phrases stuck in my head, which does not a song make. (For those questioning, the phrases I have are "Good morning, Usnavi" and "Piragua" just over and over, which may be driving me insane.)
Lin-Manuel Miranda might be one of the most talented human beings alive. I know that I've heard criticism that his rhymes, considering that his influence is hip hop, might be a bit safe and easy. But I don't think that his fandom really hears that. Perhaps from a deep dive perspective, there might be an element of truth. I really want to be the total package when it comes to the arts, but my understanding of music is by far my weakest area, so I can only comment that a soundtrack like In the Heights straight up spits fire. It's bananas to think that Miranda wrote this during his sophomore year of college and that it translates so well into film today.
A lot of that comes from the fact that Jon Chu, who did Crazy Rich Asians, understands what it means to celebrate a culture while simultaneously making things look real pretty. In the Heights, keeping this celebration in mind, might be the most optimistic movie that I've ever seen, and it deals with the death of a sweet old lady. That's not supposed to be the case. But if you ever wanted to show Exhibit A about why gentrification is completely toxic without being preachy about it, show In the Heights. Chu and Miranda stress the fact that the warts of a culture are absolutely gorgeous. No one in Washington Heights exactly has what they want. Usnavi sees America as a land of failed dreams and sees potential in a dilapidated bar thousands (?) of miles away. Vanessa desperately wants to leave Washington Heights, despite the fact that everyone she knows and loves is there. Nina sees the Heights as a place she let down. Sonny sees the Heights as a prison, a place of safety that hides him from immigration. The only main character who finds value in Washington Heights is Benny, and --as much as I love him --he is only a secondary or tertiary character.
But the film keeps telling us that Washington Heights is a magical place. Usnavi makes the kids repeat the phrase "Washington Heights" so, like Tinkerbell, the children will believe and the place will not disappear. But instead of just telling us that the place is magical, the film makes us see beyond the misery of a hot day in New York and helps us understand what makes this place so special. With gentrification on the horizon, the movie implies that places like Washington Heights will no longer exist unless the people who love it stand up and believe in it. It's an absolutely gorgeous concept that is balanced marvelously.
But because this isn't necessarily a film review blog, so much as it is free-flowing mental garbage that I want to discuss with friends, I do have to question the framing device. I don't know how this works in the play version (which I'm really curious to watch now based on the visuals that Chu put in his version), but Usnavi is an older storyteller from the perspective of being in the Dominican Republic. He's sitting on a beach with his father's bar, now rebuilt, and telling the story of his glory days in Washington Heights. About ten minutes into the movie, I kind of guessed that there was more to the framing narrative (because I'm smart!) than simply Usnavi talking to kids on the beach about how he ended up in the Domincan Republic. But my theory was that everyone in that scenario didn't exist. I thought that Usnavi was talking to the road not travelled. I mean, I'm partially right. But we find out that we're still in his bodega and that it has just been painted to look like a beach.
I'm really trivializing this. I know that the physical manifestation of the beach is Usnavi's sense of compromise. He gets to celebrate his Dominican roots while embracing his role in Washington Heights. But part of me feels like this is a lie. Also --and this is me being a real butt -- it kind of feels like Usnavi settled. The film is about Usnavi and his relationship with Vanessa. He absolutely adores her for her. I mean, I'm sure that she's sick of being hit on by men, so I don't know what she sees in Usnavi. But we're rooting for them. They have the biggest dilemma in the film because the spectre of the Dominican Republic looms over their relationship the entire time. It manifests in the form of lost investment and short fuses. But it's heavily implied that Vanessa is the mother of those children, so we're trying to piece together how Usnavi ended up in the DR while still being with Vanessa. And what happens is that Usnavi is the one who makes all of the sacrifices.
It's really weird that Vanessa never really bats the idea around of going to the Dominican Republic. When I mentioned this to my wife, she stated that they hadn't dated that long to justify her leaving. But I'm going to fight that because the reverse is true for Usnavi. Usnavi had always wanted to return to continue his father's legacy. He wanted to own something that was his family's. Yeah, the bodega works, but it feels like it only really works if you are squinting. Vanessa shows off the bodega, adorned with fashion dummies with her work and wants Usnavi to see the Heights through his eyes. That's really touching. But Usnavi has the same vision for the collapsed bar. The ceiling is on the ground and the pipes are rusted, but he still sees something that would connect him to his father. Also, Vanessa could be a fashion designer anywhere.
But I get it. It is about supporting this land. I've always been of the mentality that, if a place is oppressing us and stopping us from being our full selves, we should leave. But I know that doesn't necessarily apply to everyone. I can see myself borderline living anywhere. But some people are really attached to region and that's the difference between Usnavi and Vanessa. While Usnavi really wants to go to the Dominican Republic, he finds his happiness with Vanessa. He'll do anything for her and that's what makes it touching.
And as much as I've been writing about Usnavi and Vanessa, my wife and I both agreed that Benny and Nina were way more interesting as a couple. Nina, Benny, and --by extension --Sonny are way more interesting. There isn't much that is toxic in that relationship. Vanessa seems very put off for a lot of the movie. She knows that she's attractive, mainly because every male character seems mildly obsessed with her. It forces Usnavi to address his internal conflict about taking risks and being vulnerable, which makes him low key toxic as well. But Nina and Benny seem like the lovers that were always meant to be. Nina has a genuine crisis of character. She doesn't want to contribute to a system that exploits her people, but also knows that the only way that she can change the system is to fake it for a while. It's this existential crisis and Benny never really passes judgment on her. His entire role is to remove stress. He's the least pushy character and sees the morality of every situation. The only time that he really hurts Nina is when the power goes out and he takes it upon himself to ensure that everyone is safe in a cab. That's a great relationship.
It's a pretty great movie. Yeah, I wish that there was a better ending for the main characters. But I can't deny that that it is a pretty good ending. It's not perfect, but that's okay. It's a gorgeous movie with very impressive visuals and music. That's what you need out of a musical.
PG for old-timey serial style violence. Don't get me wrong. People get stabbed and die on camera. But there's something wholesome about these stabbing death that we just don't get anymore. The Greatest Generation, they knew how to stab someone on camera and still leave with their souls in tact. But there's violence and the justification of thievery. With time and recent history against us, there's some things that seem even more gross, but I'll probably talk about that later. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTORS: Michael Curtiz and William Keighley
Do you know what has been hanging over my head for a while? Errol Flynn was probably a Nazi and an all-around monster. I say probably because I did a Google search for "Errol Flynn Nazi" and got a lot of hits. There's a long Washington Post article all about it. It was one of those long-form storytelling articles and I realized with a baby getting mildly fussy in the background, I only had so much time to peruse it. But it seems like the consensus was, "Yeah, he probably was a Nazi and super gross." The thing is, I grew up with The Adventures of Robin Hood. These are pre-Internet day (okay, commercial and domestic Internet use). I was a kid and my dad was super into Robin Hood, with the exception of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Boy, he hated that movie.
But I grew up and slowed down on the Adventures of Robin Hood re-screenings. I went from watching it on the reg to having seen it once in the past two decades. (I realized that I'm getting very old based on the sentence I just wrote.) See, I didn't watch The Adventures of Robin Hood because I was itching to see Errol Flynn as a Nazi. No, it's part of this weird algorithm that decides which movie comes next. (That sounds fancier than it is.) The Adventures of Robin Hood was next and I thought that I was going to go in for a good time. The last time I watched it, I had this nostalgic good time. Beyond the movie itself, I remembered my childhood and hanging out with my dad. It was more of the personal experience than it was the movie. But this time, it wasn't about revisiting the past. It was about watching a movie that I had seen a bunch of times and had gotten the feels out of the way. And do you know what I discovered? The Adventures of Robin Hood isn't great.
I know. That's a bit of blasphemy. I never got into other Errol Flynn adventures. For some reason, Captains Courageous always seemed like it wasn't going to be my cup of tea. One day, I'll probably really get into it. It's just one of those cultural touchstones that seems to be fading away and losing validity. But The Adventures of Robin Hood almost feels like it was made for real little kids. I compare this movie readily to those old-timey serials. There is no one cohesive story in The Adventures of Robin Hood that makes it a strong narrative. Rather, the filmmakers wanted to do all of Robin Hood. What happens is that the film comes across as extremely episodic. There is absolutely zero characterization in the movie. And that comes from the idea that people know who Robin Hood is. The whole "rob from the rich and give to the poor" element of the movie is so culturally ingrained in the collective consciousness that everything seems like a shortcut. Little boys (sorry, I'm aiming for stressing the gender norms of the early 20th Century) would tell these stories so much that the only thing that the movie could offer was a visual confirmation of what these boys imagined.
I read an article on Cracked.com (I think) about why there is a Robin Hood film every couple of years. A lot of it comes from the fact that it is public domain. The same reason that we keep getting Sherlock Holmes interpretations is the same reason that Robin Hood keeps on thinking that it is relevant. They kind of have a point. The Adventures of Robin Hood is possibly one of the better Robin Hood movies, almost because of the lack of characterization. This seems like a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. Because The Adventures of Robin Hood tried covering the bulk of the Robin Hood mythos, with the exception of the content covered in Robin and Marian, it really forced every other interpretation to focus on the deep dive of characterization. What I want out of a movie like The Adventures of Robin Hood is a healthy medium.
My biggest issue is Robin's itch to take down Prince John. It was 1938. The Capitol riots hadn't happened yet. But I think that the run-and-gun approach to storytelling in The Adventures of Robin Hood is kind of irresponsible when it comes to Robin's motivations. Robin starts off the film ready to rebel against Prince John. Richard the Lionheart had just gone missing during the Crusades. Robin sees a man arrested for poaching and instantly gets violent with the soldiers arresting. Because we all know, we know that Prince John is starting to tax people into abject poverty, forcing the people to break the law to survive. But from Robin's perspective, this guy is just breaking an established law. Any level of thought would place Robin as an anarchist.
The same thing holds true for Robin's visit to the castle for the first time. Robin, knowing that he broke the law, spits in the face of Prince John and comes in, ready to fight everyone. He doesn't even really have a plan. He just plans to fight everyone to escape and insult the Prince. But again, from his perspective, when Prince John claims that he must tax the people to raise the ransom to free Richard the Lionheart, there's no reason to really think that he's lying. It's only because we know that Robin Hood is the good guy that his actions seem justified. Because --and this is important --Robin claims to be taking the money from the people he's robbed to raise the money to free Richard.
Now, the reason why I'm still on Robin's team at the end is because I'm all about taxing the rich and holding law enforcement accountable for their actions. But Robin never really gives anyone a chance to fail before he declares a revolution against John's temporary leadership. Give them a chance to fail before standing up for the rights of citizens. Yeah, he ended up being right, but he didn't really know that, did he? Everything worked out because the tale of Robin Hood technically exists in the world of Robin Hood. (This is pretty heady.) Robin Hood can justify all of his actions in this movie with the knowledge that he is absolutely in the right. There are no doubts, despite the fact that there are no laws broken. Robin, from moment one, is dressed in his full green regalia, ready to fight crime with the confidence that he is in the moral right. But that's only because this is a world that needs Robin Hood. In the trailer for Man of Steel (one day, I'll have to power through this to give it a fair shake), there's a young Clark Kent running around his backyard wearing a red towel for a cape. In that world, Clark is emulating Superman. In The Adventures of Robin Hood, Robin of Locksley is emulating Robin Hood.
There's something almost childish about the movie that is kind of heartwarming while being fundamentally stupid. It's almost like the movie is playing improv as children. Marian, while Robin is being held prisoner for his own hubris (which he's never really punished for), escapes and lets the Merry Men in on a plan to save Robin from being hanged. It becomes this pivotal moment for Marian because she has chosen her allegiance and she is now at risk from Prince John and Guy of Guisborne (why is the Sheriff of Nottingham such a small part in this version?). But what is her plan that she needed to do this? How did she really change Robin's fate? Her plan, honestly, was to break Robin out? That's not a plan. That's just encouragement. They were going to do that anyway. And that scene is so typical for the movie. Any time that Robin needs to stymie Prince John, he just punches his way through things.
One thing that actually made me really happy was the relationship between Much and Bess. Maybe it was because it was one of the few original elements to the story that wasn't trying to fill in the entire canon of Robin Hood legend, but it was really cute. It was also actual characterization. Sure, it was thin, but it was characterization. I suppose that I'm throwing Marian under the bus for characterization, but it also is kind of weak. She really changes her entire political beliefs mainly for love. I don't know how much I should be advocating that Marian is a well-developed character. It doesn't matter though. It's fun.
I feel like I'm somehow betraying my father by now bowing down at the altar of this movie that I loved growing up. It's still fun, but that's really all it is. It's the Transformers of 1938, which may be too harsh because I consider Transformers to be unwatchable. It's a movie that plays up to little boys' fantasies, which is fine. But I do want to point out, my favorite thing about this movie is the massive sword fight at the end and the totally inaccurate foley that is going on during it.
PG almost exclusively for the villain. I suppose that you could find the undersea creatures to be a little unsightly. True story, I watched Jaws the night before a swim test growing up and got irrationally afraid that there was a shark in the pool while swimming. If that same button gets you, I suppose you could get scared. But there is the fear that these two will be hunted at different points in the movie. But the villain is the real bad guy. He's one of those arch-villains who might actually kill for arbitrary reasons. The movie even stresses that he's super evil with a silhouette against lightning. PG.
DIRECTOR: Enrico Casarosa
Geez, Pixar. When you completely knock it out of the park, you leave me wrecked. There was a time where I thought that Pixar could do no wrong. I was one of the people who liked A Bug's Life at the time. I completely skipped Cars, so part of that is on me. But ever since Brave was only okay, I've looked at Pixar as this hit or miss studio. I mean, aesthetically, these movies are always impressive. But in terms of story and characterization, you have to go into these movies one at a time. But Luca, like the best of Pixar, is pretty phenomenal. The weird thing is that the movie is great, despite the fact that it is mostly derivative of other Disney stuff.
My kneejerk reaction is the fact that, because it is a movie about leaving the sea, I'm instantly making comparisons to The Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo. But that comparison isn't completely unfounded. There was a scene where Luca, as a sea monster, was just inching towards the surface, afraid to make that choice to break the film of the wave to become human. And in that moment, I just had "Part of Your World" blaring in my head. I may or may not have sung it out loud when that happened, so decide what the truth is for yourself. And, because I'm shooting for objectivity with this blog, it really has nothing new in terms of story. This story is just riding the archetype and trope train all the way through the story. But I think I know why the movie works over all, besides the aesthetic and character dynamics.
Luca is one of those rare kids' movies that keeps the stakes criminally small. Luca, from his perspective, has two eventual conclusions to his narrative. He could return to the sea and live a life with his gross Uncle Ugo or he could win a Vespa. I mean, there's the many variations of those two results. He could lose the race. He could get discovered. But really, Luca and Alberto are risking life and limb for the sake of personal greatness. They would be winning a local award and humiliating a bully. That's it. The big villain is someone who really can't grow a good moustache and keeps cheating at a child's competition. There's no kingdom to save. There's no end of the world. It's just two kids who want to win a bad Vespa so they can continue experiencing life.
And that's where the Finding Nemo comparison happens. I don't know why we have the fish connection to the idea of running away from home. Nemo believes that his life is meant to be something greater than the reef that he's been stuck on. I guess the same thing happens in Tangled. But Luca kind of makes running away super attractive. When Nemo runs away, it kind of gets bleak. It seems like the world of Nemo kind of punishes him for wanting to leave. The lesson that Marlin learns is that his son can survive in the big bad world. But Luca has a bit of a different lesson. He runs away from home and, not only does he run away, but he thrives.
The aesthetics of the film kind of support this. My wife's family is obsessed with Italy. I'm not saying that in a way that makes it seem like I don't like Italy. I do. It's just that my wife's Italian family gets obsessed with Italy in a very palpable way. We were supposed to go to Italy before Covid destroyed the planet. But there's the Italy of today and then there's the Italy of Luca. Don't get me wrong. These worlds are very close. But this is the Italy of Rome, Open City and Paisan. There's something remarkably Old World about the Italy of Luca. So when Luca leaves the sea, he's going to this idealized society. Yet, I find Luca to be both a damnation of society and a celebration of society. The town of Portorosso fears sea monsters. There's this fear that seems pretty unfounded. It was one of those urban legends that ended up being right.
But then the villagers change their feelings about the sea creatures. And we're supposed to support that idea. But I was doing the math. The look of Portorosso really implies that this movie is post WWII. The poster and the rusted Vespa. The fact that there is no cell phone anywhere in this film. It just screams that this is the Italy of a formerly fascist Italy. So when Ercole exposes the boys as sea monsters, it's kind of bizarre that the entire town embraces the boys as members of the community. Now, this is a Disney film. I want that to be the world that we live in. God, I want that to be the world that we live in. And I kind of can lie to myself that humanity is good and can support this kind of ending of the film. So when the town supports these boys, I can plausibly deny the reality of a post-fascist Italy. But then there should be two people who should totally be on Ercole's team: his two little henchmen.
The reason that I'm obsessed with this is that Ercole was trying to kill the boys...when he thought that they were human. And the boys were completely cool with the absolutely vicious brutality that is typical of films like The 400 Blows. So when Luca and Alberto are exposed to the truth, it's bizarre that the boys decide to turn on Ercole in this moment. Maybe it is the freedom that comes from the entire town voicing their support at once. It's just an overly happy ending, but that's okay to me.
Geez, I really liked this movie. I don't even care that I feel like I've seen this movie before. I love the dynamic between Luca and Giullia. I love the idea that a third of the big competition involves eating pasta. It's just a super fun movie that is full of wonder and potential. It's a great time and I had such a good time with this movie. I'm sure that I'm probably going to be in the minority when time judges this movie. But I encourage people to go in with a sense of beauty and wonder because it ticks all those buttons quite nicely.
Saw VI: Director's Cut (2009)
To explain this R is to peek into my obsession with uniformity and cleanliness. Imagine you had never heard of this franchise. I mean, it's possible. This series is beat, despite the spinoff that came this year. The movie is called...Saw. It's not even just Saw. It's Saw VI. Horror movies can sequelize and keep going. It's brutal, guys. And the insane thing is that it prides itself on being gratuitous. I have seen the first five films, but I forgot how good these movies are at desensitizing you. I was grossed out by the first torture scene. But I quickly got comfortable with the rest of them. It's gross. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Kevin Greutert
*sigh* I had the evening alone, okay? There's a part of my brain that doesn't let things go. If I start something, it may take decades, but I want to finish them. I watched the first four Saw movies because I was watching every movie that came to my local cinema at the time. I was single with disposable income and the local movie theater had $5.00 matinees. So I would just go to the movies and pick the one that was closest to the current time. Thus, I binged the first four movies and then went to go see part five in the theater. It also had Scott Patterson and I'm oddly obsessed with Gilmore Girls. But when I found out that Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson were going to make a Saw film, guess what part of my brain woke up? If you guessed the part that was obsessed with completion, yeah, you guessed right.
I forgot how badly these movies were made. Honestly. I'm not going to be all high and mighty and claim that there's nothing watchable about these movies. I've always been flummoxed by how good the twists are for movies that came out annually. I actually forgot that these movies had a twist ending, with the exception of the first one that had a really memorable twist. But these movies just straight up look bad. I remember thinking back in the day that when I saw the LionsGate logo pop up on screen, I knew I was going to watch some absolute trash. But everything about Saw VI looks like trash. It's got the visual aesthetic of a Korn music video. When I found out that this movie was made in 2009, I actually couldn't believe it. I mean, this screams 1999-2002. It's everything about bad filmmaking.
Now, I know Tobin Bell was on board. Tobin Bell is one of the more respectable elements of these movies. He was an actor before the Saw franchise and I'm sure that he was mildly jazzed to become a household name because of these little gore films. But the rest of the cast screams Days of Our Lives level of commitment to the craft. (I think the police captain is B- recognizable, but that character is also wildly incompetent.) Which brings me to Hoffman as the primary protagonist / antagonist. (I'll discuss this in a second.) Tobin Bell is still in these movies and thank goodness that he is. He's the best part of these movies. But the Saw movies did something kind of smart and killed off Tobin Bell's character a few entries ago. I mean, for the healthy people who stayed away from the Saw movies, Tobin Bell's Jigsaw was diagnosed with a terminal illness that could have potentially been treated, but the world around him devalued his life. Thus, he finds himself plagued by this need to make people appreciate life by torturing them through ornate Rube Goldberg killing machines. Someone once joked that Kevin McCallister from Home Alone grew up to be Jigsaw. Meh.
Anyway, Bell's character is interesting. He's convoluted and his plot is a puzzle box in its own right. But it at least makes sense. But then there's Hoffman. Hoffman...is dumb? I always feel bad for writing about an actor and his portrayal, but there's nothing interesting about Hoffman. I suppose that's kind of the point. We want to see Hoffman taken down. As much as we intellectually rooted for Tobin Bell's Jigsaw to get taken down by the police, there's at least a sick pleasure that comes from knowing that Jigsaw is one step ahead of everyone else. (Honestly, I don't know when this cancer patient had time to design and build all of these death traps.) But Hoffman? He's boring. He's just a guy who kind of takes pleasure in killing people. And the thing is, I'm pretty sure that this is the second entry where he's Jigsaw.
There's this great twist at the end of Part V. My memory for these movies is trash, so I apologize for going into this kind of uninformed. I think the big reveal for Hoffman being the bad guy happens in the last one. But the big reveal that Sgt. Luke Danes of Stars Hollow actually accidentally saves Hoffman is the big moment. There are cool things about Hoffman, but Hoffman himself is nothing. He's woven into this impossibly complex story that is just meant to make the story keep going. It's the same thing that happened with the Scream movies, but at least the Scream movies were only made every so often, thus allowing for complexity to be planned out.
So what, then, is Saw VI? I commented that Hoffman is either the protagonist or the antagonist, but I'm not sure which. One of the cooler elements of the Saw movies is that a lot of the story takes place from the killer's perspective. As much as I don't love these movies, I give credit where credit is due. William, the insurance agent, is Hoffman's primary target in this movie. He's the one going through the mega puzzle that ultimately leads to his death. He's the one who is given the dark version of the It's a Wonderful Life character change. I normally think of the protagonist of a story as the one who is going to change throughout the story. That dynamic character learns something about himself and finds this day to be the most important of his or her life. Okay. That's definitely William. William went from thinking that he was a good guy whose hands were clean, despite the fact that he's responsible for the unfair treatment to hundreds to becoming this guy who self-sacrifices and causes injury upon himself to help others. Rad. Sounds like a dynamic protagonist to me. But William's story is definitely the B-plot of the movie.
And that's what's really weird about making the villain the main guy in the story. Unless the franchise took the character of Jigsaw and tried redeeming him so that, by the end, Jigsaw was repentant for his actions and became this force for good, there is no way to make that character dynamic. If anything, the only thing that can really happen is that the character can become a more extreme version of himself, which is what is implied by Hoffman's face being ripped open at the end of the film. If anything, we don't want William to escape. The Saw series is about begging for the same thing to happen over and over again. It's why the story is so dense. It needs to accommodate for the interesting story that can only happen in the flashback. That is a very packed flashback, guys. William, you just can't grab that kind of attention.
And yet...AND YET, I'm probably going to keep watching. It's the completion thing. But part of me wants to know if the kid who killed / overkilled William at all has a plot to deal with. I mean, he crossed a line. Also, what did William learn? If Saw VI did anything, it reminded us that the central conceit that Jigsaw is working from is very very flawed. It makes no sense because William didn't have a chance for survival. The kid who killed him wasn't suicidal. It didn't wake him up from a stupor. Instead, it was just good old fashioned revenge killing. What does that have to do with anything? These are dumb movies, but they aren't completely without some value.
Annabelle Comes Home (2019)
Rated R, but I kind of think that it could have pulled off the coveted horror PG-13. It's probably the demonic stuff coupled with the fact that we see someone get stabbed on camera. Mind you, the stabbing is a hallucination and there's no actual physical trauma from this event. Still, it doesn't change the fact that you see that. Most of the movie is spooky. The more I think about it, no one actually dies in the movie. Regardless, R.
DIRECTOR: Gary Dauberman
I need to throw my phone away. I just finished watching Annabelle Comes Home about an hour ago, but between my emotional exhaustion coupled with my physical exhaustion, I just have this overwhelming urge not to write about this movie. It took me three days to watch it. Heck, the only reason I really watched it was because I realized I hadn't after I watched The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. I was filling out the Collections page and saw that there was a Conjuring movie that I hadn't seen. That's probably not a good reason to watch a movie like this, but it was good enough for me. Heck, I might continue down this obsession with completion and watch the rest of the Saw movies, and I really don't even enjoy those.
Do you remember that moment in Ghostbusters when Walter Peck and the EPA (still the only movie I can think of where the EPA are the bad guys) open the containment system and let all the ghosts out into New York? It's this moment that I'm going to say could have been expounded upon. I mean, Ghostbusters is nearly perfectly paced, so I'm going to take that back. But the nerd in the back of my brain really wanted to look upon that apocalyptic moment in greater detail. Enter Annabelle Comes Home. Annabelle Comes Home makes its foundation upon this moment. The Conjuring franchise up to this point has been teasing the idea that the Warren's artifact room is one of the scariest places on the planet. The worst of the worst stuff is in there. If all of those things escaped, it would be Hell on Earth. It's like Superman getting stuck in the Phantom Zone. It's no good. And giving credit to the Conjuring folks, they really set it up to be this Avengers: Endgame style movie. The only problem...is that it really didn't take advantage of this moment.
The movie starts with Ed and Lorraine Warren. Considering that this movie was called Annabelle Comes Home, I thought that this was the gutsiest move ever. I mean, Annabelle: Creation teased the notion that we were going to see the Warrens go head-to-head with the darkest item in their collection and the movie started really cementing the notion that our supernatural hunters were going to go against the most infamous item in the set. But considering that they got Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to come back and play their most famous roles, it's absolutely bizarre that they pitted the B-team against Annabelle. I mean, wasn't this supposed to be the knock-down, drag-out fight of the ages? Instead, we have a little kid and two teenagers try to take on these epic villains.
And it is because of all of the spooky-scaries that are in the house that the movie does what Aliens did. (I really need to rewatch Aliens just so I can write about it and probably apologize for how many times I cite this movie as an example of nerfing.) While all of the scares are actually pretty cool, the oogie-boogies seem fairly incompetent when it actually comes to causing damage. Despite the fact that this movie is the third Annabelle movie (and that it should have been called The Conjuring III: Annabelle Comes Home), the MVP award really goes to the Ferryman for most effective ghostie. The rest of the stuff was run of the mill. But the Ferryman *does that Italian good food kiss thing with his fingers*. But even the Ferryman does nothing but evoke screams. Now, we have to imagine that when the Warrens captured all of these bad guys, it was a heck of a fight. I mean, I saw the other Conjuring movies. It took two hours to really nail down these guys and there were all kinds of casualties. Why can their kid, who seems pretty terrified of the things she is seeing, coupled with a babysitter and an irresponsible girl who caused all of these problems hold their own against these monsters? I mean, Mary Ellen was grabbed by a dead evil version of herself and walked away just fine. That is the definition of "nerfed", right?
I really think that Annabelle Comes Home was probably forced to do some reshoots. I say this because Daniela's character is all over the place. Listen, I had a decent time with this movie. It was better than The Devil Made Me Do It. But didn't anyone else notice that Daniela's intentions seemed absurd. Daniela in the first act is the ultimate agent of chaos. Disrespecting the world of The Conjuring, Daniela comes across like a party girl. She sees the opportunity for fun in a small town and has access to this powder keg through her friend Mary Ellen. There's nothing sympathetic about her character in the first act. If anything, she comes across as a straight up antagonist. She's the foolhearty camp counselor who let Jason Voorhees swim alone. She ignored every warning and the events of the film are a punishment for her misdeeds. Heck, this character maintains this razor focused attitude of having a good time with possessed items until after the inciting incident happens. Daniela goes from good time party girl to guilt-ridden woman trying to find redemption for accidentally killing her father. I get that it could have been a mislead, but it doesn't account for Daniella's behavior in the entire first act. This burn-the-world attitude that she has in the grocery store doesn't make sense. Trying to get into the Warren's artifact room shows more persistence than desperation. Once that room is open, Daniela implies that she needed to get in there. It is her only chance to contact the beyond.
I mean, it's smart to make Daniela a sympathetic character. But I also feel like it is the same thing that happened to Elsa in Frozen. As much as Judy is the main character and Mary Ellen is supposed to be the final girl, there's something far more interesting about Daniela. Mary Ellen kind of comes across as a spectator to these events. She's a sweet girl who deserves to live because she follows all of the social rules that we need her to observe. Judy is interesting, but it is really hard to make a kid the interesting protagonist when there are characters that are older than her. She definitely has a vibe of a little kid in a Jurassic Park movie. They're interesting, but not captivating. They're there to up the threat level, despite the fact that kids don't often die in horror movies. So make her a sympathetic character. But maybe do so...in the script? Yeah, I'm Monday Morning Quarterbacking right now, but there is this very disjointed feeling about deciding who the most interesting character in the movie is.
But I'm going to finish up this shorter blog with the message: Why wasn't this a Conjuring sequel, straight up instead of a spin-off? As much as the Annabelle movies get a modicum of attention, they are always the spin-off films. If Ed and Lorraine were the protagonists of the piece, facing off against the Thanos of their universe, Annabelle, that was what audiences were waiting for. But the movie couldn't wait to get Ed and Lorraine out of there. The promise was broken and everything got way too nerfed for any real stakes to be in the film. Sure, if this movie did better, we'd be looking at a Ferryman spin-off film or something. But I'd rather see the royal rumble that this movie should have been. It wasn't really Hell on Earth, was it? It was more like Thirteen Ghosts or a Scooby-Doo special rather than actually being a cohesive Sinister Six movie or something.
Oh man, a Sinister Six movie isn't going to be great. (I'm hoping one would be great.)
Passed. This movie I should have watched in front of the kids. It's one of those innocent romances that we see all throughout this time period. There are some mildly questionable things, including one thing that I'm not sure that I'm getting or not. The overall questionable thing is the drinking on the part of one of the characters. It's done for laughs, but that guy drinks a lot of booze. But the thing that I'm not sure about is the almost Nazi salute that the characters do to one character. I mean, timeline supports this, but it also could just be silliness not meant to be a Nazi salute. To be honest, sometimes I just don't get the joke.
DIRECTOR: George Cukor
Man, I feel like everything in my life is super scheduled. I ate shrimp for lunch. I'm allergic to shrimp, so I have medication to balance that. But that being said, I'm not really allowed to exercise immediately after eating something that might kill me and I'm all alone right now. So if I died, this would be the last message I got to the outside world. Because of the lunch, I timed my run for 1:00, which should give me plenty of time to digest and be okay. But I have to be somewhere at 3:00 that is half-an-hour away. It is 12:11 pm and this is all completely superfluous to the world of Holiday.
I love this kind of stuff. I mean, basically, Holiday is just what you get if you want more of Bringing Up Baby. I mean, they made two romantic comedies with the same leads in the same year? How did people not just flip out over that? I know that it was the norm to see co-stars reappear in multiple films, like William Powell and Myrna Loy or Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, but the same year? That's a bit much. Luckily, as slightly zany as Holiday is, it doesn't get to that whole slapstick stage that Bringing Up Baby gets to. I'm not saying that it doesn't work for Bringing Up Baby because it totally does. But it at least offers something slightly different. It is just that this story is crazy under-baked in so many ways which makes its protagonists kind of bad people.
There was something that happened on Gilmore Girls that I feel like I've talked about on this blog somewhere else. It's something that I really don't like in romantic comedies, but Gilmore Girls did it the best / worst. Seasons one and two, Rory was with Dean, portrayed by Jared Padelecki of Supernatural fame. He was the perfect boyfriend. He was secure, yet macho. He was respectful and did everything that Rory wanted. If he had a fatal flaw in those early seasons, it had to be that he lacked complexity, considering Rory was this deep well of a human being. But he was an overall great guy. The problem with that from a storytelling perspective was that it can't last. There is no conflict if the guy that Rory is with early on is absolutely perfect. So to make other boys look more attractive, Dean had to become an absolute dirtball. When people ask me to this day --and they do --who should have ended up with Rory, I always answer "Season One and Two Dean". People gasp because Dean sucks so hard in the later seasons. I tend to emphasize that I'm talking about the very different character that was Season One and Two Dean. The same thing happens with Holiday.
This is a movie starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. From moment one, you know that they are going to end up together. Do you know why you know that? Because they always do. Their names are the ones on the marquee for a reason. But the movie introduces Julia and Johnny together, madly in love from moment one, not Katharine Hepburn's Linda. If anything, Linda, Julia, and Johnny all get together swimmingly. Too swimmingly. Everyone is supportive of one another in that group. There isn't a lot of chemistry between Linda and Johnny with the exception that they share a similar life philosophy. No one is trying to steal anyone else away. And it's not that long of a movie. Honestly, at one point I questioned whether or not Katharine Hepburn was the leading lady in this movie or they gave her top billing to appease her agents. Because, honest to Pete, the movie was really selling the notion that this was a story about winning over stuff-shirted Dad on the marriage of Johnny and Julia. Linda was the wild card who tried to make that happen and that's what the story was about.
But then ol' Season Three Dean decided to show up. Closing up the primary conflict in Act One, Dad approves the marriage between Julia and Johnny and they both seem pleased as punch. The new conflict in the story is to ensure that Linda is included in the story. I'm realizing that every act of this story has a very different conflict. Because Linda was instrumental in helping Father come around to Johnny and Julia's way of thinking, she was the one who wanted to throw a party for the couple. This party was supposed to be reflective of Johnny's humble roots and was meant to take the pretention out of everything that doesn't represent their love. But it is in this moment that Julia becomes straight up evil. Okay, while it is pretty lightswitch-y, it's not as lightswitch-y as that. Johnny and Julia become completely aware that they don't really know each other at all. (One of the major problems I have with this story.) Johnny wants to retire early and travel the world while Julia, rightfully, has an expectation to be taken care of. But once this first fight happens (which Johnny handles admittedly quite poorly), Julia can't wait to call it quits. She becomes this wholly different character. Instead of being a free spirit, which is heavily implied in the first half of the movie, she becomes obsessed with money and success. I don't know where it came from, but it is there for the sake of storytelling. To make Linda more appealing, the film needed to make Julia less appealing.
But as much as I enjoyed the film, the biggest problem with the story is that it is really hard to root for the protagonists. Cukor does just enough to put the heroic characters on the side of being likable. But I also know that if I knew Johnny and Linda in real life, they would be the worst, the absolute worst! I would gossip about them so much and I know that says more about me than it does about them. I don't even care. Johnny is a child. Linda pouts too much. They're supposed to come across as these bohemian transcendentalist free-spirits, but they really just come across as the most privileged white people you've ever met. Johnny's plan is straight up selfish. There's something adorable and joi de vivre about being a bachelor and living on the land. That's great. Do that. But forcing someone to live your dream without ever discussing it is absolutely awful. Johnny wanting to live simply is completely appropriate. Johnny not wanting to work again by 30 is silly, especially if he has a wife and family to take care of. Now, I give a little more respect to Linda, who isn't as cut and dry as Johnny. (Note: Johnny does eventually try to compromise to save the marriage, but he quickly rescinds this offer once the family ignores his wishes.) Linda is fine, but she's such a brat about not getting her way.
Linda's big flaw is that she makes things about her. Yeah, it really sucks that Julia and Dad revoked their promise to let her organize the party. But by protesting the party, the only thing that she's accomplishing is drawing attention away from the married couple, who absolutely have a right to throw a party of their own fashion, and to hurt her sister. It's childish. It's appropriate that Linda's protest party happens in the playroom because she's acting like a baby. Don't get me wrong. The attitude of Linda's party is far more appealing and displays that Linda and Johnny are more copasetic than Johnny and Julia. But that characterization still doesn't detract from the methods of drawing this attention. You know, there isn't a hard-and-fast rule that there could be two parties. One could be a little shindig organized by Linda with close friends where everyone sang songs and did puppet shows. And the other party could be the big hullaballoo for the hoity-toities of society and the extended family. If anything, that screams more normal than what Linda is doing.
What this all ultimately leads me to is that the movie is fun, if not deeply flawed. It's very funny. Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn are their best in this movie. It's worth watching for them alone. But it is also super clunky. Heck, Johnny is almost a bad person because he wants to cheat on his fiancée with her sister over one argument. It also kind of leaves this big question of "Happily Ever After" with a giant question mark after that. I mean, is everyone very cool with Johnny just swapping sisters and still being in the family? Has Linda abandoned her family for the sake of love? It's all very awkward, the more you think about it.
But it's a cute movie. This is one movie where I'm just going to get out of the way and let it be cute. Oh, God, if this ever happened to anyone I know, it would be awful. But as pure voyeuristic entertainment, it pretty much works.
Rated R, but the back of my brain is really bothering me about this. I have this weird belief that the first two movies were PG-13. I mean, I could look it up right now, but I choose not to. Mostly, this movie gets the R-rating for demonic stuff happening to kids. I mean, there's a fair share of blood in this film, so that would probably get it an R rating. From a personal point of view, this movie continues the vaguely blasphemous version of Catholicism that is part and parcel for Hollywood horror. Regardless, R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Chaves
The more I watch the Conjuring movies, the less I know how I feel about them. I originally thought that the Conjuring movies were trash. Like The Fast and the Furious franchise, I came into the first Conjuring movie with a whole bunch of snooty notions. (Note: I just discovered that the art house theater that I grew up going to is closing down after 40 years. Maybe writing about The Fast and the Furious and The Conjuring is part of the problem.) But I tend to kind of enjoy them. They never really hit this sweet spot for me in terms of actual greatness. I know that some people really swear by these movies, but they tend to be just okay for me.
Part of it comes from the mythology of Ed and Lorraine Warren. I'm a real skeptic. Like, a real skeptic. I used to not be. When I was in eighth grade, my research paper was on UFO phenomenon. I didn't get a great grade, if I remember correctly. But after that, I tended to be pretty darned skeptical about a lot of things. One of those things that I'm truly eye-rolly about is the idea of psychics. It's all a fine line, because as a Catholic, I have to believe in exorcism. But the notion of Ed and Lorraine Warren as lay exorcists (who really just claimed to be psychics) seems like Hollywood really scraping the "Based on a True Story" plug past the bottom of the barrel and into the hardwood floors. It's just that none of it really rings true. I absolutely adore that we have protagonists that keep returning to the franchise over and over again. But I have to say, that the Warrens aren't doing it for me. I mean, the movies keep showing you the real Ed and Lorraine and they looks like the biggest hucksters imaginable. Part of that is on me. I get that. But it all seems like so much hogwash that I'm always pulled out of these films.
But I can't deny that these movies are fun...until this one. I mean, it has the great thing that a lot of these newer horror movies have: a great third act. The one thing that Hollywood has offered us, especially the stuff like Jason Blum and Blumhouse has to offer, is a great final act. The more boring the first two acts, the more spectacular that final act is going to be. If nothing else, look at the Paranormal Activity movies. Those movies are boring as sin, but you know that demon is going to tear someone up in the final act. So as much as I'm going to complain about The Devil Made Me Do It, I'm going to give it the most basic of props and say that the final act mostly delivers in the same way that the other movies also have that going on. Whenever you have that direct confrontation between the demonic force and the protagonist, of course it will be mildly worth watching.
But The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (or as I may refer to it as The Conjuring 3 from this point on to save me the sheer capitalization of the entire title) isn't all that scary. I mean, it does the thing that these movies do really well. It offers some good contortion possessions and loves giving us a haunting image to associate with the bad guy. But the movie isn't all that scary. I actually more felt bad for the little kid actor who played David. I mean, that kid got covered in a lot of blood for the sake of a pretty lackluster movie. (Another side note: I screened this in my garage for my brother-in-law to impress him because he tends to get scared by Conjuring movies. That left me extra let down when the movie was only passable.) And the problem comes down to two factors (until I accidentally figure out more factors while writing this nonsense because I don't follow my own advice when writing my daily blog when it comes to writing an outline).
The first factor is that we've seen this before. Yeah, I just mentioned that the contortion stuff is creepy as heck. I'm going to give it some bonus points even that the contortion stuff happens to a kid. But even outside of The Conjuring franchise, this is something that was established with The Exorcist. The idea of a human moving in a way that is inhuman is naturally troubling, but we have kind of grown to expect it. Like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, we can't keep on relying on that visual sense of awe. The magic trick has been done. Variations can only keep us moving too long. The same holds true with the long gaunt image of a woman haunting the protagonists. In this movie, we have The Occultist. (I didn't realize that she was credited as The Occultist until I looked it up on IMdB. I would also like to stress that I could have easily looked up the ratings on the other Conjuring movies, but that seems like more work that I'm ready to put into this blog.) It's just The Nun all over again. And the thing is...the nun is scarier. Not the movie, of course. That movie was kind of trash. But the imagery of the nun was super duper scary and the Occultist is more of a watered down repeat of the same idea.
But the bigger problem lies in the fact that this movie has no idea what it wants to be. The marketing people knew that. The trailer made this movie look like it was The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The tag / "true story" was about this trial that surrounded Arne Johnson, who claimed that he was innocent by means of demonic possession. (My wife claims that the real Arne claims so much shenanigans about the way his story was told.) So the story seemed like the events of the plot were going to be told in flashback form and we were going to have the 12 Angry Men version of a Conjuring movie. You know? Something different that we could absorb. But then it quickly sidetracked the whole thing. It offered this puzzle box that kind of lied to us. Arne isn't possessed, but he is? Then, we kind of get this antagonist who really has no proper motivation for this movie.
I'd like to point out that I'd really like this blog done before midnight. I might start really phoning it in here, but we'll see. I really don't get her motivation. I really try investing in movies and I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. The cool thing is that The Occultist is a mirror bad guy for Lorraine. That's kind of fun. But her entire character arc is that she is the child of an exorcist and she became the very thing that Daddy didn't want her to become. That's the beginning of a story, but it isn't the whole story. There really needed to be a greater tie for this character to the story because she really doesn't have anything to lose for failing, shy of being defeated by these two characters. Like, it almost comes down to mischief for mischief's sake and that doesn't make sense.
But then there's also the problem with Arne. Arne should be the central character in this story. This all ties back into the movie not knowing what it wants to do. Arne makes the mistake of welcoming in a demon into his soul to save David. Basically, he does the old sin of doing something evil to accomplish a moral good. I'm not going to talk about the principle of double effect or anything because 1) it doesn't belong here and 2) I really got distracted down a Facebook video hole for about an hour. But Arne is the sympathetic character that we should be caring about. He's the one who made an honest mistake. Sure, that mistake is one that we all screamed at the screen about. But Arne then becomes this real background character in his own story. There's this desperate shift to try to get back to the format of the other Conjuring movies and it is just this mistake. The movie really really really wanted this problem to be a story about the Warrens, but all of the stakes for the Warrens are artificially placed on them. It doesn't really make for good storytelling. But instead, we have this villain who mirrors Lorraine (which I already established was fun, but she doesn't have a personal connection) and a heart problem for Ed, that despite being a problem that Ed really had, seemed really convenient for the bulk of the story. Ed's heart problems and feebleness faded or returned as the story needed to be told.
I want to say that the movie could have done something with the Ed versus Lorraine ending, but it didn't really set up anything for that kind of story to be played out here with the exception of the forced flashback. I know I can't be the only person who said "They're showing this because one of them will have to remind the other one of their past to bring them out of something" right? It just all seems like it has elements of cool stuff, but refused to commit to any of them. And I really knew that Ed and Lorraine were going to be safe despite Ed's heart problems. Do you know why? This might be the most insulting thing that I could write on this blog, but I don't mean it to be. Here is goes: The Conjuring films are keeping Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga at the right level of celebrity. Neither one of them has exploded into Avengers level popularity like Robert Downey, Jr. or Chris Evans. The Conjuring movies are Farmiga and Wilson's way to keep doing what they want with their lives. These movies make a lot of money, but not ungodly amounts of money (pun intended). That means that it would take a lot for these characters to move on from these films. It's a bummer because those kinds of stakes are needed to tell a compelling story. But that's not what is happening.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (Hey! I never called it Conjuring 3 since I said that I would) is typical of the third entry in a franchise. It's getting a little stale. It doesn't really offer anything new. The stakes seem artificial. It actually makes me question how good the first two entries really are...because I'm just removed enough to requestion everything.
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.