PG-13 and that's mostly for a lot of swearing. You know how kids' movies from the '80s had the kids swear a lot? I think that the folks behind the Shazam movies grew up on those movies and really tried to emulate them. They even had the innocent character say a clipped-short mf'er in there. This one is not as scary as the last movie, but it still has some scary imagery. Thank goodness the Seven Deadly Sins are gone, but we have a lot of Greek mythology that can be creepy. There is also some innuendo, but that's pretty mild. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: David F. Sandberg
A couple of facts before I start the deep dive. Firstly, I thought that I would have seen The Flash by now. That hasn't happened. Secondly, it's not like I was planning on being on a DC kick. It just so happens that I watched the '89 Batman in preparation for The Flash, but then I just wanted to have a family movie with the older kids. Finally, I'm also watching Man of Steel to prep for The Flash, so I must be a liar. I mean, for all my griping about the DCeU, I've now seen all the movies in the proper order, haven't I?
I'm surprised that Fury of the Gods is the pariah of the DCeU financially. I think people are kind of done with the DC superhero movies. I'm in the party that is excited that James Gunn is coming in and shaking things up. I'm even more excited that Rachel Brosnahan is Lois Lane, but that's something that is a me-thing and might not be selling the Literally Anything brand as much as I want it to. Fury of the Gods got wrecked at the box office. Honestly, for some reason I felt really bad for Zachary Levi, despite the fact that he might be more anti-vax than I would like. (I know. He would swear that he's anti-big pharma, which is fine, but I am also reading between the lines.) The thing about the Shazam movies is that they are all about fun, in spite of a universe that kind of wants to see everything burn. Wonder Woman 1984 tried touching on the specific tone that the Shazam movies embraced, but kind of didn't build up to it. But we watch these movies because they don't take themselves super seriously. It's not like these movies are skimped upon or look cheap. They just have a good time making these movies. Be aware, the next blog I'll write on is probably Man of Steel, a bleak movie by the most generous of standards. But Shazam? These movies are about fun and Fury of the Gods maintains that tone.
People aren't necessarily wrong with their criticisms for these movies, you know? I mean, I liked Fury of the Gods. There are things that I don't like, which is fine. But there is one criticism that I had with the first movie and that carried around to the second movie. It feels like the world read that blog (they didn't) and ran with that criticism. It's weird how much different Billy Batson's personality is from Shazam's. I think the fault is both in the writing and a little bit in Levi's performance. Listen, Zachary Levi, I think you are great, vaccine-politics aside. You brought me so much joy in every performance you have been in. I think you are a great actor. I even love your Shazam. But there's almost a parody of what it means to be a teenager in your Shazam. He's too goofball. No teenager acts that way. Now, part of that might come something that mostly left unexplored in these movies: why he acts differently. In the early Stan Lee Spider-Man comics, Peter Parker acted very differently than Spider-Man. I mean, that still happens, but Lee would address why he would act so differently in the suit. The concept that Lee came up with was that being Spider-Man was so liberating for a kid who carries the world on his shoulders so much that Spider-Man was a whole separate persona. Fury of the Gods teases this concept in the smallest way: by having Shazam go to therapy.
I like the idea that this is an exploration of Billy Batson carrying the world on his shoulders. I find it weird that that moral of the story is that Billy cares too much and needs to back off, but whatever. It needed to make sure that you had a central protagonist, now that the Philly Fiascos all share Billy's abilities. But it seems like this is a movie that really doesn't know its own themes. The Wizard returns in this movie and, for some reason, hates Billy. I'm sure if he saw the Rock of Eternity, there might be some grousing. But the Wizard spends the first half of this movie lamenting that he gave his powers to Billy. Does the Wizard watch the news? I mean, I'm jumping back to the Lee Amazing Spider-Man, but I love the idea that Billy gives his all, does so much good --but he can't stick the landing. He's a kid trying to do his best and society is dumping on him given every chance. The bridge scene is great for establishing the status quo for these heroes. They clear the bridge, get everyone to safety, but they aren't bridge architects or engineers. Of course that bridge is coming down. But why would the Wizard be following the news for how people react to him?
Also, there's a lot of "pointing out our own plot devices". Billy, in this film, learns what "Shazam!" actually means, stressing "The Wisdom of Solomon". It's a funny gag throughout. But Billy never really got that power. The movie tries giving me an answer for it, saying that Billy's wisdom has always been in his heart. That's touching and nice, but Billy had that on the table before he got the Wizard's abilities. Also, it seems like that Wisdom of Solomon hasn't helped him to always make the right choices in the past. Also, let's weave in some Black Adam into this blog. If the Wisdom of Solomon was an "in-his-heart" thing, Black Adam definitely doesn't have that going on. This is also a moment to point out that Dwayne Johnson's need to separate these two linked characters makes no sense for this movie because I don't think that the Wizard would be lamenting Billy getting powers out of the two of them. Moving on.
I have to agree with the criticism about the villains of the piece. The gods in question aren't all that...interesting? Like Wonder Woman, we tend to care about the heroes of the piece, not the villains. It's not like these characters don't have a rogues gallery. But they aren't exactly top tier. With stuff like Shazam, it's almost upon the writers to figure out new villains because no one really cares about Mr. Mind...yet. Also, that gag got me. The end credits gag was inside baseball enough, but I still found it really funny. Who knows if we'll ever get a follow-up to this movie to pay that joke off, but I hope they do. But back to the villains. It's really hard to relate to these characters because they tell us why they're mad, but we never really experience it. Also, Anthea is too superficial to be considered a real character. Just to get to my point faster, Anthea romances Freddy and is one of those villains who has a change of heart, much like the Sean Connery Bond girls. It's weird that Freddy doesn't hold her accountable for much in the movie. He's quick to forgive. It's called a redemptive arc, not a redemptive moment. From moment one of her disagreeing with her sisters, Anne is all of the sudden part of the heroes? It's just a choice. Also, and I really hate to be rude to anyone, but is Lucy Liu sometimes not good in things? I loved her in Kill Bill but she is playing this part arch as can be. Helen Mirren, fine. Lucy Liu, over-the-top. It's weird.
But I'll tell you what? I liked it. Maybe I like it because everyone else doesn't really care for it. That's fair. It's a forgettable superhero film. I'm not so obsessed with the DC movies to really hold a candle or fight for it. But if you really lower expectations, it's better than most people made it out to be. I wish I had something that really sold this narrative and elevated it to a work of art. No, this is distilled popcorn fun. It's got some faults. But if you are just in the mood for a fun superhero movie, especially a rare fun DC superhero movie, then this is it. It's pretty good, but not great.
Rated PG-13 and it absolutely should be. It's kind of funny. Batman kind of gets credit for being the first real superhero movie, but I really give that honor to Superman: The Movie. But Batman is the movie that established the PG-13 tone to superhero movies. There's a reason that all of the superhero movies have an edge to them after Batman. This is the movie that established that you needed to kill your primary villain, something that superhero movies up to The Dark Knight continued doing. (I know that the Riddler survives, but he's left as a husk.) I mean, Batman straight up kills people in this movie. Also, the Joker is actually a serial killer in this movie. It kind of a disturbing movie overall.
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
I'm sure I'm like every other blogger or Letterboxder out there. I'm watching the 1989 Batman before seeing The Flash. Now, for a while, I was going to watch this in an ideal format. I had access to a personal movie theater room for a week and was watching the 4K version of this movie. But there were lots of kids who thought this movie looked old and boring, so I could only watch about twenty minutes at a time. I had access to a personal movie theater and I got one movie to myself for the week. It's a crime, I tell you. Honestly, I thought that Batman was going to be a crowd pleaser. But also, in the back of my head, I'm one of those people who doesn't love Batman.
I mean, I've seen this movie a lot of times. There were dark ages where the only real superhero movies we had coming out of any quality were the Batman films, pre-Batman Begins. Eventually Marvel would get on the bandwagon and release some rad Spider-Man films. But there was a short stretch where there were slim pickings. But even at my best, I only kind of liked Tim Burton's Batman. I'm a little ashamed of this, but I regularly compare the '89 Batman to complaints about less-than-perfect Marvel movies. (As in, "You think Black Widow is the worst movie ever made? If I showed that to you after showing you the OG Batman movies, Black Widow would have blown your mind with how good it was.") It's not that Batman is bad. It's more successful than it isn't. But I do think it is lauded as one of these perfect movies because of nostalgia.
The superficial thing in the movie is that Batman himself doesn't seem like he would do a very good job stopping crime. Infamously, Michael Keaton couldn't turn his neck in this suit. He looks cool as heck in this one. I can't deny that. He might have the coolest, most original Batsuit in the franchise. (Remember, Batman was blue and grey at the time. Even after that, he was never a single solid black.) But this light moment brings us to what caused a lot of problems for Batman. It's a Tim Burton thing. I am one of the five people who probably doesn't fawn over Tim Burton. I like Big Fish, but that's even just a movie to me. Tim Burton is all about putting all of his energy into atmosphere. It's a very cool (if getting a little old) atmosphere. Everything is gothic and dark and, for a lot of Batman, it's great. Burton had one chance to define what Gotham was going to be on screen (besides Schumacher's neon Gotham nightmare) and he got so much personality into the city that it's imagery is memorable.
But he's so busy making the movie look cool that he's not being practical about anything in the movie. Batman stands there a lot. The joke in Raiders is actually the solution to a lot of Batman's functionality problems. I'm talking about Indy shooting the swordsman joke. We all know that Harrison Ford had a fever that day and probably couldn't do the fight with full energy, so they let him shoot the swordsman. It's this memorable moment and I love it. That said, Indy just doesn't shoot everyone who walks his way. That would make a terrible action movie. I hate to say it, but Batman has to cop out of every fight because he can't turn his head. All of his fights are over with one easy to avoid punch. If it goes longer, we realize that Batman isn't that good of a vigilante because the lower echelon henchmen seem to get the drop on Batman all of the time. "But doesn't that make it more realistic?" Nothing about this movie is realistic. Those bad guys are doing flips and spin kicks and all this trampoline nonsense. That means that Batman should be doing the same thing. Instead, it's all his kevlar that keeps saving him.
But it's not just the suit that causes problems. This movie...doesn't have a story. I really wish that I rewatched The Dark Knight before writing this because it's been a minute. One of the key things that Burton brought that is smart is that the Joker is about chaos without motivation. He loves his own insanity. Nicholson is oddly great in this, even if his character doesn't make a lot of sense. (And his jokes aren't actually jokes. They're just words with an odd delivery and laughter.) I know that The Dark Knight embraces this element of chaos and that's great. But I dare you to tell me what Batman is about. What is Joker trying to do? I mean, he wants to gas Gotham, which is a thing, I guess? But that plot is a few minutes of the movie. Really, the Joker just glams onto Batman and they annoy each other for the bulk of the movie.
I just gave Burton so many points for designing Gotham to be this art deco gothic playground and he did that. Okay, he did that one street. The Monarch Theater is everywhere in that movie. But I'll ignore that. I'm talking about not the visual look of Gotham, which is untouchable. I'm talking about what Gotham is as a city. I'm going to tell you right now: Gotham City in the '89 Batman takes place in the Mad Max universe. No one in Gotham City, shy of some of the main characters, acts like a person. Lots of stories have treated the masses as the worst of humanity. It's probably true. But there are a lot of scenes where Gothamites are just there. Maybe this comes down to whoever was coralling the extras and giving them direction, but a lot of Gotham are just people spouting gibberish and putting their hands in the air. The climax of the film has the Joker co-opting the 200th Anniversary of Gotham City. Now, post-COVID, I get that the masses are idiots and are completely self-destructive. But the Joker just tried killing all of Gotham. When he says that he's going to drop 20 million dollars on Gotham, no one thinks that he might be up to his old shannanigans? I mean, it's got Adam West / Cesar Romero vibes with this whole plan. All of Gotham is totally cool with showing up at a party from the guy who, THAT DAY, tried poisoning them. Then they're all shocked when he, indeed, poisons all of them.
I genuinely think that Tim Burton doesn't really like Batman all that much. Tim Burton kind of feels like he's slumming it for this one. I mean, he does his best work here, but you can almost hear him gritting his teeth here. Tim Burton kind of hates other people telling him what to do. Sure, he gets a little carte blanche, shy of whatever Jon Peters is doing. (Golly, what if Jon Peters is the only thing that made this a watchable movie?) Maybe it's just that Tim Burton seems disappointed in himself and Hollywood all of the time that I get that vibe from the film.
But let's talk about the stuff that works. Nicholson does a lot with a pretty minimal script. I don't really get the idea that Jack Napier was a gangster before becoming The Joker. It's like, a really weird choice. (Okay, maybe I'm not ready to start talking about the good stuff yet.) Honestly, Joker doesn't make a lick of sense, but Jack Nicholson is giving his all towards this character. I don't love that theJoker is the man who killed Batman's parents. Batman has no moral scruples with killing the Joker once it's revealed that the Joker killed his parents. (Also, it's this movie that makes me cringe when people ask "Didn't the Joker kill Batman's parents?") But he looks super cool and sells jokes that don't work. He's also kind of scary as heck. I mean, he's not as scary as Ledger, but they're playing different versions of the character. Nicholson is probably a bit closer to the comics at the time and he's giving Cesar Romero a lot of credit. Nicholson's Joker is the guy Joker would be if Cesar Romero's Joker lived in a Mad Max hellscape.
I also kind of like the Vicky Vale / Bruce Wayne / Alexander Knox thing. Maybe it's because it's the only thing that makes it look like humanity does indeed exist in Gotham. We're left with so much bleak nonsense that something as silly as a love triangle does actually play pretty well. I like all three of them as characters. Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne is better than his Batman. It's weird, because I still don't imagine Keaton as Bruce Wayne in terms of looks. But I like that his Bruce Wayne is kind of silent. He has a hard time being a normal dude. It's why, when Vale enters his life, he's growing as this person. He can't be himself and he's still that messed up little kid, but there are moments where we almost had the Bruce Wayne from Mask of the Phantasm. Unfortunately, Hollywood needs to have a different leading lady in each movie. Also, the movie acknowledges that Batman can't really have a long term committed girlfriend.
Anyway, I still like the '89 Batman for nostalgic reasons. It's just that, as a movie, it's really loosey-goosey with what it is trying to do outside of establishing tone. Characters aren't real or effective. The plot doesn't make a lick of sense. Like most of Burton's works, it just looks cool. In terms of looking cool, nailed it in one. Also, the 4K transfer lets us see too much of the miniature work done in this movie and it comes across as silly.
Rated R because it is incredibly gory. There's a lot of swearing. Really, Renfield is one of those movies that is unabashedly R and embraces the living daylights out of it. It's so happy to have an R rating. There's some sex jokes, but they're so clouded by the non-stop gore and violence. It's kind of great.
DIRECTOR: Chris McKay
My dad was a huge Dracula nut, you know. This sounds weird because it doesn't read in the way I intend it. He was such a Dracula nut that I remember my parents holding vampire parties where people dressed up as vampires and vampire hunters. It was an intellectual thing, not anything bizarre, as far as I know. I have this gnawing thought in the pit of my stomach that he probably would have hated this movie because I think that we have very different tastes in things. But Renfield was one of our favorite parts of the Dracula lore. Renfield was this guy who sits almost in the background of the story. But honestly, there's something fascinating about Renfield because he just goes mad quickly.
Yet, I didn't want to really watch this movie. There's going to be a lot of Cocaine Bear comparisons in this blog, so mind as well get the first one out of the way. Renfield marketed itself the same way that Cocaine Bear did. No judgement because it works. It got people to see it. But in the same way that Cocaine Bear decided to market itself on the absurdity of a premise, Renfield decided to market itself on going full Nicholas Cage. I can't blame you. He's a meme for a reason. But I'm going to go out and say this from moment one: Nicholas Cage makes an amazing Dracula. I'm not saying that ironically. I think that Cage had just the right amount of fun with this while keeping absolutely tied to a master of the undead. Yes, go see this movie because of Nicholas Cage, but not because you are laughing at him. Go see this movie because Nicholas Cage absolutely rules in this role and he should always just be playing Dracula. That's what he was born for and that's what you should be watching this movie for. Maybe not for playing a version of Superman that never happened. Who knows? I'm judging a movie I haven't seen yet. Anyway.
This blog is going to be a little disjointed. Being on vacation is oddly more stressful than a standard workday because I can't depend on time. I started writing this two days ago and I'm just coming back to it now and Renfield isn't as fresh anymore. But we're going to continue on. Renfield is suprisingly funny. The trailer got me with one joke. I knew that Renfield would be kind of fun based on the joke in the trailer. The joke in the trailer that I'm referring to is the support group "Growing to full power" joke. I knew that there had to be someone behind the movie that at least had a sense of humor. But I got behind the entire movie pretty quickly. It's because the movie was written by Ryan Ridley. Now, I like Rick and Morty as much as the next guy. (To see where I'm going, Ryan Ridley is one of the higher ups at Rick and Morty and just just swirls around Dan Harmon.) Renfield is almost a healthier evolution of what Rick and Morty should be sometimes. I'm never telling Rick and Morty to change. But one of the things about Rick and Morty is that 90% of the show is about intellect and guardedness. Rick is never really going to grow up, partially because he's on a serialized show. All of the characters are fundamentally going to be a version of themselves that we saw on the first episode. Sure, there's going to be some growth. After all, Morty is far more comfortable with the bizarre than he was episode one. He's probably a little more jaded as well. But everything in that show is building to miserable characters being more miserable with only glimmers of hope. Renfield is...not that.
Renfield lives in a world where RIck and Morty like events can happen. Not only are there vampires out there --let alone Draculas --but these monsters are over the top. Rick and Morty relishes over-the-top. If you are going to have something like vampries, at least make them gory and ultraviolent. Like Rick and Morty, casual death is commonplace for the smaller characters. Let those NPCs wither away, I guess. But Ryan Ridley --being not Dan Harmon --instead decides to let the bloody violence be a contrast to what the themes of the story are: redemption. Rick vocalizes that he never really wants to be redeemed. Sure, that's hanging out in the background of the story in certain episodes. But Renfield is a story of regretting one's decisions. As much effort that was placed in making Renfield a violent comedy, it is about acknowledging one's responsibility in a cycle of abuse. Ridley does something kind of dangerous with his theme and pulls it off. The in-your-face message of the story is about the role of the abuser over the abused. After all, the support group is about vocalizing that powerful narcissists make you believe that you caused all this and deserve all of the bad stuff that happened to you. It's a joke for the sake of the movie, but it's fundamentally right. In codependent relationships, someone is either actively or passively controlling another and manipulating them into doing things that are not in the abused's best interest. But Renfield isn't a good guy. Renfield crossed a line a long time ago.
But I love that the line that was crossed a long time ago wasn't the mass murder. Don't get me wrong, Rebecca is probably really turned off by the notion that she's hanging out with a guy who has killed untold numbers of people, not all of whom are these bad guys that he's been trying to find. We all look at this character and know that his red flag should be the serial killing. But Ridley points the story further back at the initial decision to become Dracula's familiar. It's the one thing that most of us, as the audience, probably forgive Renfield for. Renfield was a dude on a job who was put under the thrall of Dracula. Now, I've always understood it as a supernatural thing. I kind of assumed it was a powerful suggestion that was beyond control. But Dracula and Renfield both point out that, while there is an element of the supernatural involved, there has to be a moment of choice. Renfield, a man who had a family, chose his ambition over his previous life. Maybe he didn't understand how much mass murder and bug eating that there was going to be in this life surrounding Dracula. But he did choose to abandon his family for the sake of power and success. Does Renfield deserve to be stuck in this world that he chose: no. But a lot of the story comes to riding that fine line of accepting what responsibility is yours to process and forgiving yourself for what was not your fault. I like that.
Do you know why that's a successful message? I know a lot of people have pulled something like that in other stories, but I think that Renfield is one of the more successful narratives that get an absolute monster total redemption. The funny thing is --and this is slightly depressing to me --that Ryan Ridley probably doesn't really care that much about co-dependency. I mean, he might. I don't know. For all I know, Dan Harmon is Ryan Ridley's Dracula in this scenario. But I don't know these people. I can listen to Harmontown on a loop for all it matters. It doesn't change that I don't have a relationship with these people. But I think that Ryan Ridley is just a talented comedy writer and that's not something that should punish him. It gives him a healthy distance from his subject matter, which probably allowed him to talk about something without having absolute reverence for it.
Can I tell you one thing that bummed me out? It's a joke end and I know it is a comedy, but it rhymes witth "Dracula Blood." (Okay, It's just an issue with "Dracula Blood.") I love the idea that Dracula's blood can heal injuries. I don't love that it cures death. This is where my big whiny voice needs to shut up. But anytime a movie casually discovers immortality, I roll my eyes. I mean, there were some real flashbacks to Star Trek Into Darkness watching that end. I think it is too easy to write it off as "it's a comedy." As silly as the movie was, the death of the support group is the hinging beat of the movie. Renfield's actions have consequences. Just getting them back without consequences is a real flat note on the film. I don't want to have that moment. Have them come back as zombies or a vampire support group. You know, a support group of vampires who don't want to be vampires? I mean, it's right there. But bringing back characters just because we like them is a weird choice.
But I dug it. The main reason is that it did what Cocaine Bear promised. (Oh no! I now remember my initial conceit too late.) Cocaine Bear promised a violent world of irony that would go over-the-top and never apologize for the conceit. And they kinda / sorta delivered. But then watch something like Renfield. Renfield promised to be silly and delivered on that. But then it went full Cocaine Bear for real. Honestly, there are so many over the top moments that you forget that there's a real story going on at the same time. I mean, this is all points to McKay because he's having so much fun with this. About 20 years ago, I co-directed this show that I normally wouldn't give the time of day to. We couldn't decide on a work in the canon (because I'm a snob) and we decided to delve into junior shows. But we were going to direct it like it was the most important show that ever existed. It was called, appropriately enough, Dracula Spectacula. It was made for little kids, but we kept adding more and more blood. That's Renfield. It should be a throwaway Universal property. Instead, good direction and good writing took what should have been a dumb dying property insane life. This is what Universal should be doing with their monster properties. Stop taking them so seriously. Have all the fun with them. Make them hard-R and silly. That's what these movies need.
So as you get, I enjoyed it. I don't know if Universal will learn the right lessons from this, but Renfield is the vibe these movies should be shooting for.
I'm changing things up. I have The Complete Films of Agnes Varda box set. At first, I thought that this meant only the feature length films. Nope. This includes the short films as well. Since I'm painfully a completionist, I'm watching all of these short films as well. But I also know that I can't write an essay about each and every one of these movies. So instead, I'll do some blurbs about each one as I watch them. So I'll keep updating as I go along.
Les 3 boutons (2015) -I think I like Varda's early work a lot. I've talked about this in Varda by Agnes and Visages / Villages. It just seems like it was trying less to be art and simply was art back in the day. Again, I don't mean to poo-poo. Varda has more artistic merit in her pinky than I'll ever have. To a certain extent, this movie felt like some of her earlier work. It had a narrative. It had a confusing narrative, but it was a narrative. But in the mix of visuals, I kind of lost the point of it besides looking pretty and being artsy.
Ô saisons, ô châteaux (1958) -There is something incredibly satisfying about this. There's an innocence to Varda as she's making what ultimately is a comissioned travel film. She seems worried about upsetting those who are hiring her while trying to maintain an artistic integrity and it is near perfect. Yeah, it's a travel promo film. It's the equivalent of a town asking for an extended infomercial. But it works so well. But not as well as...
Du côté de la côte (1958) -...this. In the same year, she's hired for basically the same job with the French Riviera. Then she just goes bananas and makes her own art film that happens to be emotionally about the French Riviera. When the folks who hired her saw that she claimed that the best view is from the grave, were they all excited about it? This is Varda that I adore. She's spunky and adorable and has social commentary, even when she's hired for travel videos.
L'opera-mouffe (1958) -I'm living with a very pregnant lady right now. She doesn't go around the streets of Paris making little art films. This one is pretty. Maybe things in black-and-white get a little bit of a pass compared to things in color. I'm not normally a fan of strictly experimental cinema, but this mostly works for me. Maybe because it is so hypnotic and relaxing that one can't help and view the movie through the lens of calm. It's sad at times. I lost myself in my own mortality watching this one today. There was this old woman who looked so rough and the camera just stayed on her for longer than was appropriate. I then realized that this lady, along with almost everyone involved in this movie, was probably dead. But that old lady also has this specific form of immortality because film snobs like me will watch everything that Agnes Varda has ever made.
Les dites cariatides (1984) -Varda still has it going on in 1984. I think it is when film goes digital is when I get off the Varda train. I think she picks her shots so beautifully when film costs money that, when it is disposable, she doesn't quite get that same sense of grandeur. She has a specific subgenre of experimental art film. It's almost a documentary, but with little done in terms of informing. Varda shows all of these women carved into stone and tells the story of the inspiration of these pieces. But the point of the documentary is not to have you leave and tell your friends about what you learned, but to experience the same sense of awe that Varda does while looking at these moments. The 2005 update doesn't really deserve its own section. That's just someone's slideshow of statues. But it shows what can happen when a filmmaker really pays attention to the small stuff.
T'as de beaux escaliers, tu sais (1986) -I almost didn't write about this. I'm actually kind of amazed that I found an image of this. It actually is probably from another movie. It's funny. Varda says that this isn't an advertisement; it's a documentary. It's both. It's an excuse to say that Varda really likes film and I have no problem with that. It's what I really like and to claim that this is my favorite of Varda's shorts is a bit too much fan service. Doesn't mean that I don't like it.
Not rated, but there is nudity (oddly enough, not very sexualized nudity, but it is also riding that fine line.) The entire movie has a subtext of sexuality, although there is no formal sexuality in the film. Mostly it's about sadness and how people deal with their own mortality. There's some mild drinking and probably tame language in the movie, but I don't really remember much in terms of language.
DIRECTOR: Agnes Varda
Oh man, I have the house all to myself right now. My father-in-law grabbed all of the older kids. My youngest is asleep. I have so many video games to play, but I feel like this is the best time to write about Cleo from 5 to 7. (Once again, I'm skipping accents while typing because they're annoying and I don't quite know how to do them quickly.) Cleo might have been my first real awakening to Varda. I'm now all over the place with Varda. I want to love everything that she's ever done, but I think I'm a fan of her up until mini-DV became a thing. But Cleo is such a good place to start, right? If you want the French New Wave made by someone who wasn't in the Cahier du Cinema, Cleo from 5 to 7 might be a perfect movie. (That being said, I also remember being moved by Vagabond, which has to be somewhere in my near future when it comes to rewatching movies.)
I wonder if the audience plays a bigger role in Cleo than they do in other movies. I honestly forgot that Cleo starts in vibrant color with a fortune teller. Now, I'm a very specific type of cynic. I want to have a better faith in Catholicism than I have right now and it is something that I'm working on. But I look at stuff like tarot card reading and palm reading as absolute hooey. Now, Varda gives so much characterization in this scene that I am in awe of how she does it. We don't see much of Cleo outsider of her hands. But if you were to talk about how important it is to foster indirect characterization, I would be hard-pressed than to look beyond the opening of Cleo. The astrologist has a very flat affect. Everything is professional and even keeled with this sequence. It's Cleo's inflections and choices that reveal anything that we need to know about the character. The astrologist says to choose nine cards and Cleo is the one to explain the role of the individual cards. When the astrologist has to pivot on the widow line, she rolls with the punch, leading to the most revealing moment of the scene.
The scene ends with Cleo pulling the death card. It's the inciting incident of the piece (for us...really, this is the nail in the coffin for something that Cleo was already going through). The astrologist pulling the death card comforts Cleo, establishing that Death doesn't necessarily mean literal death, so much as it means the transformation of one person into another. Cleo doesn't stand for that nonsense. Death is in her mind and the cards have confirmed it. Varda shows us something that a lot of movies really wouldn't have the guts to show us: the aftermath of that scene. Considering so much of the movie focuses on Cleo and her real time exploration of Paris, Varda takes her eye off of Cleo and onto the astrologist. Now, we learn something really important in this moment. The astrologist confesses to her coworker (?) that Cleo has cancer.
Now, this is where my cynicism comes in. The next two hours of her life, Cleo is stuck in a funk. She knows she has cancer. The astrologist tells us that she has cancer. We're just waiting for the confirmation from the doc. But everything else in the movie that this is a typical Tuesday for Cleo. Everyone else, to varying degrees of sympathy, consider Cleo to be melodramatic. Some are nicer than others. I think that, more accurately, Cleo is predisposed to listen to certain people over others. But I watch the movie thinking that there's only a small chance that Cleo has cancer. Maybe the idea is that pretty people in movies don't get cancer. But I'm on team Everyone-Else. I think that Cleo might have cancer, but she shouldn't get as worked up as she is based on little evidence.
I mean, I kept having the idea that Cleo from 5 to 7 was a story about dealing with mortality. But that's almost too easy of a read. If anything, this is an examination of faith and self-fulfilling prophecies. Now, I'm incredibly sympathetic to Cleo. Had I been in her shoes, I probably would have been a mess as well. But this is a story of someone who also has a hard time living from day-to-day. It's almost a story about someone who doesn't see life in front of them. That's why Antoine is so important to the story. It's weird, because Antoine shouldn't work as a character. He immediately gives off gross vibes. There's a parallel between the man reaching out in his car for Cleo and Antoine. I think that's supposed to be there. After all, Cleo finds the rude comment somehow funny, but that may be more on her.
Antoine is this guy who is reflective of the political landscape of France in '62. He's on the front with Algeria. He's fighting a war he hates, but also finds a joie de vivre that Cleo just can't seem to grasp. She is surrounded by art of all kinds around her. She's a singer, surrounded by talented musicians all day. Her friend is a nude model, understanding the value of art. Her friend / assistant takes her through the boutiques of Paris to take her mind off of the looming reaper on the horizon. Yet, she still gets upset. Instead, it's Antoine who shepherds through the most annoying news of all: she is not going to get a diagnosis at the end of the movie. Varda breaks her promise of an answer to what is going on and finds out the most awful thing of all that Cleo has to deal with is the unknown.
It would be easy to make Antoine "anti-art" or something, but he's the one who seems to appreciate art the most. He's not using art as an escape. Instead, art is what fills him. It is what keeps him going in the worst of times. Maybe he didn't know that Cleo was a singer, which is actually pretty likely given the fact that no one recognizes Cleo so much as remember her name when she drops it. But if Cleo's faith system is the mystic, the idea that someone who is so into art would be naturally drawn to an artist, even an artist dealing with an existential crisis. It's not like Antoine moves her to be the best performer in the world. As far as I remember, that's never discussed. But he's this guy who loves art because it speaks to the soul and he meets up with an artist in despair? Come on.
I'm going to keep this one short. I told myself that I had to stop writing these tomes and I said what I wanted to say in terms of analysis. In terms of joy, this is what I love with Varda. There's something hypnotic about Cleo from 5 to 7 that doesn't need deep analysis. It's a peaceful walk around Paris in real time. As much as this movie is about a woman dealing with an existential crisis, it is also just Paris: 1962. So much of it is that. It is gorgeous. It didn't even need to be black-and-white, you get that? The opening proves it could have been in sprawling technicolor, but no. Varda chooses the palate because it is gorgous and light. I almost hate the frame that I picked because it seems darker than the 4k version I just watched. Regardless, this is the movie that probably made me fall in love with Agnes Varda.
Passed. Yeah, I almost don't know how to label this one. Tonally, it's adorable. It seems super innocent because it's a madcap comedy by Billy Wilder. But any level of scrutiny would bring up some really questionable stuff. I mean, there's the surface level question of women in drag being a laugh-with v. laugh at element. But probably the bigger one is the sexual coersion that accompanies Tony Curtis's character. There's also the oddly prescient story of Marilyn's alcoholism to cover up pain that is running through the story. You know, sometimes you can know too much about a movie.
DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder
Okay, this is either an incredibly progressive film or it might be one of the more regressive films of the 20th Century. I want to pigeonhole it as one or the other really bad, if for no other reason than White Knighting / giving me something to really focus this blog. But I think the story might be more complex than anything that I can ascribe in just a few words.
My kneejerk reaction that this is a movie in 1959 made by Billy Wilder, a director that I suspect just wants to have a good time. I mean, I love Billy Wilder. Honestly, he is guaranteed in my top five directors of all time. On top of that, I really like Some Like It Hot. I'm clearly not the only one. I mean, it's Some Like It Hot. But I also love Annie Hall, so I'm just burying myself faster by the word. But again, Billy Wilder. 1959. It's not exactly a time in history where this is a great discussion about nuanced gender norms. Basically, it wasn't within the last ten years where this thing started to be treated seriously. I think of Billy Wilder with Ace in the Hole and I think he's got at least to be somewhat progressive, right? Regardless, I can't help but see this as laughing at men in dresses. I mean, there's straight up a line that says, "You're a guy! Why would a guy want to marry a guy?" It feels so off the radar that it feels a little bit gross. Honestly, the middle of the movie as a whole feels like grosser than the whole of the piece. It's not like Wilder was alone in this philosophy. I mean, Kids in the Hall made their entire bread and butter off of men in dresses. But for some reason, Scott Thompson's seal of approval made it somehow okay. Also, the new show, for some reason, made us get over the whole novelty of men in dresses.
But then, there's the thing that I kept seeing in the movie that somehow gave me hope for making this movie justifiably timeless. As much Some Like It Hot is considered farce, it's not NOT saying things either. We're meant to laugh at men in dresses, but the key theme of the movie is how the other half lives. It's purpose is to entertain, but it isn't going to skimp on the messaging of how men treat women. The first thing that the boys realize when they have dresses on is that men are absolutely awful. Within minutes of coming into contact with the male upper crusts, they're sexually harassed beyond comprehension. There's a line that says that Daphne isn't even pretty, but it doesn't matter. It's an expectation that women are sexually harassed. The bellhop comes across as a monster. Sure, Billy Wilder never ignores that this is a comedy and we know that the men are fine because they can always just become dudes again. But the key joke in the film is that being a woman sounds like an absolute nightmare.
Everything about being a woman is almost tragic. The only time that the women are happy are in the company of other women. Now, again, 1959 and it's not a movie that has the intention of raising awareness of feminism, but the women in the movie almost seem brainwashed into embracing the status quo. (I know, I have unreasonable expectations and no living experience as a woman to make a statement conclusively about societal roles.) But the women seem so much happier when there isn't anyone else around. Wilder, potentially subconsciously, made a story of two worlds. When the girls around men, they act one way. They aren't necessarily subserviant, but there is something about letting one's hair down. I kind of love the scene on the train when everyone decides to have a party in Daphne's bunk.
Can we talk about Gerald / Daphne? Maybe it's because I just like Jack Lemmon more than I like Tony Curtis. Joe / Josephine is always kind of gross. Sure, he's got a great Cary Grant impression and that goes a long way with the Shell Oil bit. But Gerald goes through stuff. I mean, it's for the sake of a joke. Gerald explores his feminine side, but there's something kind of interesting. Gerald is all over the place personality wise at the beginning of the film. He's the prudent one from the beginning. I mean, I can't help but see The Odd Couple when I watch this movie, so I can't help but make the Oscar / Felix comparison. But Gerald is the one yelling at Joe for being a gambling addict. Similarly, Joe is the one who uses women and moves on. Honestly, Gerald seems like the morally strong one from the beginning. But all of the sudden, he puts on a dress and his entire character shifts to active horndog. But the weirdest thing happens. In a very specific way that I have a hard time defining, Gerald changes because of his relationship to Osgood.
It took a lot for the movie to get there. There's a moment that Jo needs to get on the boat, so he demands that Gerald take Osgood out on a date. Now, Joe gets really dark in this moment because the story needs Osgood out of the way. Okay, but it is his relationship with Osgood (who I still think is gross), that opens Gerald's eyes to what a quasi-healthy relationship looks like. Gerald never felt more taken care of or respected than when he was with Osgood. Yeah, it's the same guy who pinched his butt in the elevator. But the fact that Daphne was willing to get married to Osgood is oddly touching. Okay, okay. I know he's doing it for the money. But, honestly, Gerald seems earnestly happy for the only time in the movie when he gets the proposal. Sure, it's all for a joke. I can't deny that it's all for a joke. But there's a door being opened in that moment. There's all this backpedaling that happens immediately afterwards, but the ending!
The last line of the movie is a joke. I keep having to state, "The entire thing is a joke." But the happiest moment of the movie is the last movie that Osgood says. "Nobody's perfect." Look at the smile on that guy's face. I mean, he's just happy to have connection. I'm going off the deep end, guys. I know. I'm making all of this through a queer theory lens, but it's right there. The Criterion essay inside the box says that I'm doing too much. I agree. I am doing too much. But it is also the thing that I want to write about, so I'm giving the big raspberry to the essay because I find it interesting. I mean, if the movie is going to be talking about it the entire time, I feel like I should be talking about it as well. After all, not only does the movie touch on feminism and drag, but it also touches on homosexuality and asexuality. Tony Curtis's entire gross manipulation of Marilyn is the notion that's either gay or asexual. I lean asexual because he tells the story of the time that he had a crush on a girl who died (which, as I write this, comes off as extremely gross). But there's something to discuss, even if there isn't a conclusive answer.
As clear as I can make it: I love Some Like It Hot. It's peak Wilder. But I also am torn about how much it holds up. It's so much "laughing at", but with lots of moments of introspection. I mean, there's a whole history of cinema that involves laughing at men in dresses. They all tend to lean into a beat of empathy after throwing punches for a good chunk of the film. I am not angry at Wilder at all. Heck, it doesn't even tarnish anything because I don't believe that the movie was made with hate. But also, you know.
PG-13? Okay, I watched the unrated version, so I don't really know the differences in the cuts. In my mind, longer holds on violence like most unrated cuts for home video. But fundamentally, this movie is about human trafficking, forced prostitution, forced drug addiction, violence, and torture. There's probably some language in there, but I've probably forgotten about all of it considering that there are a million actually offensive things in the movie. I don't know how this movie got a PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Pierre Morel
Man, it's weirdly hard to write during the summer. I think a lot of it comes from the fact that the only real scheduled work I have is writing letters of recommendation all of the time. Still, I'm trying to knock them out before I get too overwhelmed. I should finish Some Like It Hot tomorrow and I have all kinds of thoughts on that one. The Taken movies have always been movies that have slipped through the cracks for me. I watched the trailer, it did nothing for me. Then everyone tells me that it is one of those movies that everyone's seen and I should probably watch it if I want to have a cultural reference. You know? FOMO? That's what's going on here. I finally caught up to a FOMO reference from 2008.
I kind of don't get this one. With The Fast and the Furious movies --a franchise that shows up way too often on this blog --I kind of understood. They'd never be my favorite, but there's something incredibly fun. But with the first Taken movie, it's all just very bleak. I suppose I have to put myself in the mindset of 2008. It's been a minute since they've made one of these movies, after all, so I have to give the movie some cultural context. I bet 2008 me would have really dug this movie, so I suppose I get it. I was into 24 with Kiefer Sutherland back in those days and this is really capitalizing on the same kind of idea. Heck, Taken is almost just 24 season one. But I think my tastes have changed since then. I don't really want the bleak look at the underworld sex trafficking world anymore. I honestly want something with a bit more character. I know that human trafficking exists and it is abhorrent, but maybe it is the idea that the far right has weaponized fictional human trafficking so much that it feels weird to absorb this concept as the fuel for my entertainment nowadays. I mean, I still am considering watching Taken 2, just because of my sense of completeness when it comes to franchises. And it's not like there was anything awful about the first Taken. To me, it was just an action movie that I'm going to grumble about until I get bored and post this.
I think I pointed out that Rambo: Last Blood was just a bad version of Taken. I know that I wasn't the only one that thought that Last Blood wasn't good, but that might cement my idea that time had passed on this story. There is something xenophobic about the whole thing. Maybe it's even worse that the protagonist of Taken is played by Liam Neeson, an Irish actor. I mean, it really makes America look like this Shangri-La, free of sex crime unlike that dirty old Europe. I mean, the filmmakers of Taken are really trying to ride a line. For the sake of the story, Bryan Mills has to be right in all of his assertions. When he knows that Kim (again, the name of the daughter from 24) is going to France with Amanda, he flips his lid. It's an odd choice immediately. I could see him freaking out about going to France alone. (Although I hear that both mom and Kim are captured in Taken 2.) But to have him be right, France needs to be painted as this den of sin and evil. There are corrupt politicians, even people that Bryan used to consider friends before this point. I mean, Kim and Amanda are also picked up quick. It's not like a week into the vacation, they take a chance on a guy. Literally, the first guy they meet off the airplane is the guy who ends up kidnapping them. That makes France a pretty rotten place if you can get kidnapped that quickly.
But then again, it's because they didn't follow Bryan's instructions. There's something almost supernatural about the way this movie works, very much like a horror movie. There's the whole notion of following rules that defines how safe someone is going to be in a movie. The thing outside of control, kinda sorta, is the setting. If you end up at Crystal Lake, that doesn't define your survival necessarily. The same thing probably is true for France. The thing that gets someone killed or kidnapped is following the rules. Kim was given a handful of instructions and she actually seemed to break all of the rules until she was in the process of being captured. (She was oddly understanding of how much of a beast Bryan was while she was being captured because she followed each one of those instructions to the letter. I think that the movie was trying to build empathy for the character in that moment.) But the movie is kind of playing it both ways. I don't know. It's all a bit much. My major takeaway is that the movie is telling me never to leave home. I wish it was commentary about the sexualization of women, which it never really hammers home. It just dances around that subject. Regardless, what an odd choice. Like Last Blood, it kind of makes every other place in the world this awful, awful place while America is a place where you get horses and karaoke machines in peace as your ex-wife belittles you all of the time.
Man, do I feel bad for Famke Janssen. There is nothing for her to play in this movie. Maybe Taken 2 will give her something to play with because everything in this movie is meant to serve Liam Neeson being the downtrodden hero. I'm talking about the face that Lennie / Lenore is the most shrewish human being that ever existed. I get that there is animosity between formerly married couples. I can even get behind that. But this movie kind of hates women, right? Oh man, I just came to that conclusion. I was talking in the last paragraph how this movie should have hit harder on the exploitation of women. But Taken might be a meninist movie all because of Lenore. Bryan Mills has no faults. His marriage fell apart because he was too patriotic to his country. While he was busy ensuring that freedom didn't fail in America, his wife leaves him and harbors such resentment towards him that he can barely see his daughter after the fact. When Bryan tries to reach out to his daughter, she's sweet, but is quickly blinded by the luxury that her new father gives her, ignoring poor Bryan, the working class hero. When he's defending a pop singer, she's rude to Bryan's attempt to help his daughter until Bryan proves to be right about potential threats towards her. The pop singer only opens up to him as a form of apology. Then Kim, who naturally should want to see her father considering that he moved close and retired to be near her, makes a date to have lunch with her dad, it's an ambush with Lenore so that she can go to Europe.
Everything bad that happens in this movie is because all of the advice of the White male is ignored. Women keep on lying and doing whatever they want and horrible things happen to them. The White male never really makes a mistake. Sure, the bad guys are males as well, but they aren't American. They can't be trusted. (I thought for sure that the guys in Bryan's little crew were going to have something to do with the kidnapping, but they're too patriotic to do anything like that.) After that, the movie kind of becomes about watching women get their comeuppance for not listening to White American values from that point on. I doubt that's the intention of the movie, but there might be something in the background for the film. Now, I know. The movie was written by Luc Besson, a French guy. I'm sure that he's pointing out the flaws of his own country. But I would also like to stress that there's something xenophobic about the movie beyond them. The sex traffickers are Albanian. They then sell Kim to a shiek. It's a complaint almost of the move to inclusion in France from an actual French guy. Maybe he's saying that America had it right by strongly enforcing borders during a Republican era America. But, again, my big take on this is that the movie passively hates women and is probably not even aware of it.
Still, as an action movie, most of the beats work. I mean, some of the acting is rough, even from Neeson. But part of that comes from the fact that something feels really underbaked when the movie is not in full-on action mode. Full-on action mode sequences are great. But I'm talking about when Bryan and his buddies just have to be people. Man, Mills shopping for a kareoke machine is far too telegraphed to be considered real character development. Red meat and beers night is such a shortcut to making Bryan Mills a real character. It's taking the action movie playbook and just hammering out the notes that need to happen in this movie. It's not bad as an action movie, but I find it weird how much this painted our cinematic zeitgeist for the next decade at least. I mean, everyone had seen Taken. What was clearly supposed to be a one-off action movie became a little franchise that clearly I had to watch in 2023.
It's not a bad movie. It's a movie that shouldn't have been as big of a deal that it was.
PG. My wife argued that this movie was less aimed towards kids and, to a certain perspective, she has a point. I thought that the first Into the Spider-Verse movie was pretty darned intense. I mean, Kingpin beats a Spider-Man to death in the film. None of that really happens. But I will say that maybe this entry is less accessible to younger audiences. There's superhero violence and a few mild curse words throughout the movie. But I think the PG holds up on this one.
DIRECTORS: Joaquim Dos Santos, Kemp Powers, and Justin K. Thompson
Lord and Miller are untouchable for me, guys. I can't be objective. It doesn't hurt that they are dealing with a property that I've been low-key obsessed with for as long as I can remember. Now, I would like to point something out before I start gushing (which makes for very difficult writing, if I may add). I loved this movie. I thought it knocked it out of the park. The reviews for this movie, same deal. People were amazed by how much weight that this movie pulled. My family liked it, but didn't love it. I know that almost everyone acknowledges that it is a good movie, but does it beat the last one. That's a very tough battle to fight either way and a lot of it comes from a story of complexity.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse changed things for superhero movies. It too a property that has having a harder time finding relevance, and --with little oversight from a studio that tends to crap its pants on a regular basis --made an animated movie that knocked people's socks off. It was visually stunning. It was heart-felt and it sold a movie where the central Spider-Man protagonist wasn't Peter Parker, but a Black / Puerto Rican kid. That probably scared the suits at Sony, but it also showed that the tried-and-true studio system didn't work. But I have to imagine what it was like to be Lord and Miller, along with the other filmmakers, at this time. They knew that they had one shot to get this right. They knew that there was probably a really good chance that the first movie was going to fail. They made a movie and they knew that it had to work on the first try. There wasn't a need to plan a franchise. There was a need to get one tight movie out under the cover of darkness and to prove that this absolutely insane idea would work. I remember watching the special features for the last Spider-Verse movie and hearing of all of the last minute changes to this film because everything had to be just so.
The byproduct of that stress chamber was a razor's edge of insanity and simplicity. Sure, Into the Spider-Verse introduced the idea that Marvel had What-If'ed Spider-Man so many times that they had a backlog of great, well-developed unimportant Spider-Men. But the story had to be simple. As crazy as a concept as a multiverse collapsing in on itself was, it was really just a story of a team of likeminded heroes joining together to stop the bad guy who is trying to do something that could destroy the city. As brass tacks as it gets, I suppose. And that movie is watchable. My kids really got that.
Across the Spider-Verse...isn't that.
I mean, I'm glad it isn't that. I'm the nerd who has signed up for the more-insane-the-better tour of Spider-Verse movies. I trust Lord and Miller and they haven't failed me. But that attitude is kind of selfish on my part. I mean, I do have a bunch of little kids who want to see a funny Spider-Man cartoon again. Sure, my oldest daughter was whispering theories about the film throughout. It was weirder mainly because she wasn't sitting next to me. But she couldn't wrap her mind around the idea that this was a two-part movie. (We had a real discussion on how plot mountains don't work on movies that are "To be continued." Something in her broke with that idea.) But my kids went through all kinds of stuff with this movie. I mean, there were times where they were in love with the film. It's the punching and the kicking and the jokes. But then, during a quieter part, I would lean over to my five-year-old daugter and ask what she thought about the movie, hoping that she would love it. She just stated, "Nothing important is happening."
I mean, important things were happening. Absolutely bananas things were happening. We were discussing the value of individual lives and the metacontext of tropes. It was an addictive drug for an English teacher. Literally, the first lesson that we talk about at the beginning of the American Literature class that I teach is the archetype and the trope. Here's Across the Spider-Verse, making it the central concept of the film: supporting the trope. (We should all point out that some tropes are meant to be violated and not all the Spider-People need the death of Captain Stacy plot to work.) But I loved it because it puts Doctor Who in direct conflict with Spider-Man.
For all of Miguel O'Hara's waxing poetic about ensuring the canon of a universe ("canon" is also a word I teach through Wordly Wise 3000 vocabulary and now everyone's going to know it), he missed the central tenet of Spider-Man. Say it with me: "With great power, there must also come great responsibility." His entire thing is the value of every human life. In the film, there are half-a-dozen moments where Miles ignores the destruction of a large object getting destroyed for the sake of the people who would be harmed by the collapse of these structures. Miles gets it. He's a hero that is there for the sake of the people, not for the good of society. It's what Marvel and the MCU have been trying to say to varying degrees of success with their admittedly awesome Spider-Man movies. Spider-Man is a street level hero and he only deals with the bigger issues because the little guy gets stepped on.
So the notion that there is a multiverse of people who have forgotten this story is actually a little disheartening. They aren't bad guys. I mean, for the sake of analyzing needs and intentions, sure, the Spider-Verse Spider-Men are the bad guys. But from their perspective, they're trying to save entire universes. They lost that perspective by doing this for so long. After all, Spider-Man fought Thanos. He's been to space. It's hard to remember that your the guy who has a relationship with the cashier from the bodega. And can I blame them? They've seen when one of these canon events gets stepped on.
But Miles's story in this one gets to something so key that I can't stop smiling about it. In the face of all of these Spider-Men, Miles remembers that no innocent person could be offered up as a sacrifice for the many. Heck, there's something insanely pro-life about the whole thing. (I'm talking about the real definition of pro-life, which has been perverted by the rise of nationalism and now I've gone off of a tangant AND a run-on...) Yeah, Miles has a responsibility to those universes to make sure that they can stop encursions. But you know who is probably so grateful to Miles's grounded look at heroism? Pavitr and Captain Singh. Sure, Miles is fighting to save his dad. But that just ups the stakes. I get the vibe that Miles would be equally committed to fighting for an individual offered up as a sacrificial lamb to the needs of philosophy.
I mentioned Doctor Who before becuase I will always go that route. This is really a whole time-travel debate, but I will use the season 1 of Nu-Who episode "Father's Day" as my foundational text. The entire premise of "Father's Day" is that Rose refuses to watch her father get killed the same way over and over again. She goes to see her Dad on the day he gets hit by a car so he doesn't have to die alone. The Doctor, knowing this is a bad idea but full of empathy, allows her to make this voyage. But Rose, understanding that Pete Tyler is an individual and she loves him, saves him, causing time and space to be ravaged by time parasites. (There's a weird element to this saying, basically, that this wouldn't happen every time that time would be screwed with, but it weakens the walls between dimensions. Anyway.) The Doctor gets mad at Rose and gives her a speech about the nature of cause and effect. It's a similar arguement that Miguel gives both Miles and Gwen about Miles's decisions. The issue with that is somewhat different though, isn't it?
Miles isn't a time traveller. He's a dimension-hopper and he has knowledge into the future. But time hasn't been written yet. This is an arguement of selfishness versus destiny. Me, going back in time against the wishes of others to save my dad, that's morally uncomfortable. But for everyone, Jefferson Morales / Jefferson Davis (yeah, I can't help it) is still alive. It's in the trailer, but Miles is right. He's allowed to write his own destiny. It's not the role of other people to say that Miles can't do the small moral good by saving his father. I mean, we know how the next movie is going to end. Miguel himself said it. Miles wasn't supposed to be Spider-Man. He's the OG anomaly. That means, he's not teathered to Peter Parker's fate. Also, I kind of think that Miles has already dealt with his sacrificial act when it comes to losing Uncle Aaron, but that's something that could be tied to Uncle Ben. Either way.
But do you see how much I wrote about this? I mean, I loved this movie and I'm just yammering all day. I'm not even talking about parts I liked. This is just stuff that I want to talk about because I love when the bad guys aren't that morally wrong, and yet have an abhorrent trait about them. I love that Across the Spider-Verse allowed itself to get insanely complex. Some movies can't pull off the complexity of a sequel. But here I was, watching Across the Spider-Verse and getting goosebumps about the moral complexity of the whole thing. I mean it was rad.
And don't get me started about how beautiful the movie looked. Everything was stunning. Genius choices making the other universes visually different, even if some of them were only in subtle ways. There's also that whole plothole that they fixed for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, where people questioned why Wanda couldn't just replace a dead Wanda in another universe. AND THE BALLER SOUNDTRACK? It's nearly a perfect movie.
But this leaves a big question: Is it a better movie than Into the Spider-Verse. My gut is going to tell me "no", but a lot of that is just becuase I'm the only one who left absolutely in love with it. (Not going to lie, I got a little more defensive about it than I thought that I would.) I don't know if it is better or not or if I'm just playing cop-out, but it's just different. It's the same vibe as the first one, but without being held back. It is exactly what I needed it to be and I love a good cliffhanger. My kids, not so much. They forgot that the first trailer told us that this was only going to be part one. Regardless I really dug the movie.
Not rated, but the movie deals with the aftermath of war, including the trauma of war crimes. There's murder and implied prostitution. Nothing is too graphic on screen, but the content of the movie is pretty bleak. I don't remember too much cursing or anything like that, but it's not like this is a fun, lighthearted romp.
DIRECTOR: Usmar Ismali
Maybe, just maybe, if I write really late, I might have an easy time writing. These are all possibilities and I can only hope that it is true. But I also don't like writing assignments over my head, especially considering I'm going to have a houseful of bored children asking me to entertain them. Just realize that I could be playing Assassin's Creed: Valhalla right now and I chose this. I'm a modern day writing saint.
I'm kind of amazed that this movie exists. By all intentions, I shouldn't be that shocked. Instead, I just need to recontextualize my cultural scope. For some reason, I thought modern American cinema invented the PTSD film. I'm talking about the films that may not necessarily call it PTSD (which is probably less than accurate, if I'm looking at the DSM-V), but the idea of the soldier coming home from war being unable to adapt to the mundaneness of civilization. There's a lot of DNA shared between After the Curfew and films like The Hurt Locker and Born on the Fourth of July. I'd also like to point out that this is the first time in the World Cinema Project that I didn't watch the Martin Scorsese introduction, so if I say anything smart, it is entirely original. Mind you, if I contradict Marty, I'm probably just being an idiot, which is pretty par for the course.
After the Curfew has the distinction of being a movie that has such fundamental cultural themes while simultaneously being universal. After watching Lucia, which also dealt with the notion of revolution, it's weird to think how the notion of the modern revolution drastically differs from the narrative of a government-organized military. The story of Iskandar isn't one that makes him inaccessable. But it is something where the revolution is such a different beast than the notion of a soldier away at war. When Iskandar gets back from his time in the army, he's constantly confronted by other soldiers that he knew. It's either that Indonesia is really tiny (which it might be, now that I'm writing this in real time) and everyone knows each other or the concept of fighting for your country borderline domestically creates a different balance between war and normality. I should probably research this before writing about it, but I think I've already done enough by watching a movie that few --if any --of my peers have heard of, let alone writing about it.
I could watch this movie thinking that Iskandar is coming back from this distant war and he doesn't know how to adapt. Again, The Hurt Locker. But I'd like to think that he never really left the war and the veil has been lifted from his eyes. Iskandar's entire personality has been rewritten based on his service to the revolution. That's pretty standard faire for this trope, so that's not what's crazy. But it also feels that Iskandar is viewing the world through a new life. Much of the early movie reminds audiences that Iskandar was actually quite innocent before his time away from the revolution. The film stresses that he was interested in being an engineer and was still a student when all of this went down. But he's this guy who feels the need to throw himself into normality. Appropriately --or inappropriately --it's this very action that ultimately unravels what trauma that he has left unresolved. The day he gets back from the front, he's automatically tries finding a job. There's this sense of responsibility to him that is almost a manic trait.
He says that he is getting this job for his fiancee, and there's an element of truth to that. I believe that Iskandar believes that. But there's this job that almost exists so he doesn't have to sit alone with himself. The first gig is one that is meant to be telling about how the veterans are treated upon returning home. This is the most telegraphing section of the film, stressing that of course the world isn't the same and that civilization is filled with terrible people. Iskandar is given what seems and impossible task and we see him crumble under the scrutiny and criticism of lesser men. Listen, I am a pacifist on an annoying level, but even I'm like, "These guys are really mean to veterans. Probably because everyone but these guys are veterans and they feel marginalized." But the point of this scene beyond acting as a mirror to civilization is to give Iskandar unwelcomed quiet. By having Iskandar fail at a test (we don't know how hard this test actually is, but it gives "rigged" vibes), he's forced to deal with the complexity of what should be a simple situation.
The simple situation is that finding one's place in life is actually quite challenging. But he's also probably having the realization that the old Iskandar is dead. We don't quite understand Iskandar's neuroses at this point. We find out later that he was the man who pulled the trigger on some war crime stuff that he had nothing to really profit from. But it's in this moment that the naturally curious student version of Iskandar can't awaken. He just sits, staring at this piece of paper and taking the punishment for what ultimately is inaction on his part. Now, I'm assuming that his boss is being painted out to be a monster. I mean, that dude is harsh and the group bullying is absurd. But then we get the notion that Iskandar is a broken individual from the ground up. He hits his boss. That's a choice. Because there's the moment that we think that Iskandar is going to have his "take this job and shove it" that ends in real assault.
But this is where I kind of fall off the movie. Everything I've written up to this point is analysis and good on me for staying there. But the part of the movie that I don't really dig is probably the same thing that I actually disliked about Born on the Fourth of July or The Deer Hunter. I actually might not like the PTSD film, despite that I do want to analyze the horrors of war and what combat does to the mind. (This is all echo-chambering my own naive pacifism and I'm wholly aware of that.) Iskandar goes quickly into the spiral. The entire movie is about Iskandar's spiral into something that is telling us about the horrors of war. He seems like a dude at the beginning. He chases chickens and loves his fiancee. But the rest of the film is him having a bad day and Falling Down. Okay, that's a weird PTSD movie that I kind of like. That's more of a mental break movie, but they're cousins. It's at this point that there's nothing to really root for. Iskandar makes weird choice after weird choice and it's all written up to the fact that he's having a mental break at odds with normal, non-military civilization.
I mean, it has a great climax to that mental break: the murder of his CO that was the root of his mental trauma. That's pretty cool. But there are so many moments where he always takes the dramatic way out of things. As the movie stresses, there's a curfew in Indonesia duing the revolution. The movie really Chekhov's guns the crap out of the curfew too. In a bold sign of foreshadowing, the movie stresses that that curfew is going to come into play later. But Iskandar almost wants to get gunned down by the police. The whole movie, we are teased with the notion that Iskandar needs to get home before the curfew or bad stuff is going to happen. He does, just in the nick of time. He has the opportunity to just chill out and enjoy the party that is all for him and he runs out into the night. He's still picked up (in a moment that doesn't make total sense to me because I don't like in a revolution-era Indonesia) for it almost being curfew and still, he runs out into the night. It's just that he has these dramatic moments that could have been had at home.
Becuase I'll tell you what I thought that this movie was going to be. I honestly thought that it was going to be Iskandar dealing with dramatic moments and being unable to leave. Maybe those moments would have built up and then he would be forced to leave. But Iskandar is the kind of guy who will do anything to get out during a curfew. No news is too small for him to flee out into a curfew controlled Indonesia. I get it. I make smart decisions because my trauma is far more managable than Iskandar's. But still, I kept thinking that he is just making his life harder for himself the entire time.
Did I like the movie? I'm not really sure. I think I did. I know that I didn't love it. There's something so lovably simple about the movie as a whole. Maybe it's too simple, but I'm not going to say that. It's a movie where we know what it's about for most of the film. Sure, the murder was a little bit of a curveball for me. But this is a story that reminds you that war is hell. That's very me. I want movies to not glorify war. Maybe it has that really fine-line message of supporting the solder, but not the war. Because that end, by the way, is over-the-top in support of the troops. Iskandar, even though he was gunned down by his friend for --let's see --not being inside during a curfew, he has this very sympathetic speech said about him with text that reminds us of the cost of freedom. Maybe that's not exactly the button I'm all about all of the time, but I think it works.
Rated R for brutal, but-mostly-offscreen, violence. Like, it feels like the movie went harder than it actually did. There's some real f-bombs in there. There's also ritualistic suicide and mass death, despite having a very small cast of characters stuck in an intimate setting. There's a hate crime that is shown on-screen that colors the film as a whole. There's also a kid in danger, which is also the trait of Disney movies. R.
DIRECTOR: M. Night Shymalan
This might be the longest time that it has been between movies. Am I done with movies? I will admit that there's something remarkably freeing in not having to write. But I was seeing plays for a week straight, so I didn't really have a chance to watch any movies. I'll tell you some truths that I'm coming to grips with right now. 1) I don't want to write. It was liberating not writing, so be aware that there is some real willpower happening right now. Hal Jordan levels of willpower. Secondly, I might have to enforce newly minted summer rules. I said for a while that this was going to be a blog of quality over quantity, but that went away when I saw how pretty long blog entries were. I have about half-an-hour to write and I'm going to see what I get done in that little amount of time.
I keep seeing these Shyamalan movies. Part of me is really rooting for him. He seems like he could have been one of the great directors of all time. The cinematography in his films isn't phoned in. He seems like a real film nerd. But he's been chasing his own past for so long that it is a little hard to take him seriously. The other half of me --for some awful reason --really wants to see this man fail again. I don't know why. Maybe because I know that his movies aren't drawing the audiences that they used to, so my commentary seems to be a voice alone in the darkness. No one is really seeing these movies. I mean, honestly, if Peacock didn't continue to remind me that I had this at my disposal for free (and I didn't feel like watching an Indonesian movie as my first movie back in the pack), I probably would never have seen it. (Somehow, they keep falling onto my list, so I can't really say that with any degree of authority.)
The thing that I kind of applaud with Knock at the Cabin is that it wasn't an original concept by Shyamalan himself. My major complaint with the films since The Village is that Shymalan has been trying to find a way to write a twisty puzzle that don't live up to the twist of The Sixth Sense. Seeing that he's been branching out into adapting novels is actually kind of encouraging for him. Now, I don't know much about this book that he adapted. My buddy Bob read it and really liked it. I actually am considering adding it to the pile. But Bob also mentioned that it was one of those books that has been infamously impossible to adapt. I don't know what it is about some books that just swear that you shouldn't adapt them, but I also think that directors shouldn't treat them as white whales because, at the end of the day, Knock at the Cabin really stays in its lane so hard that it just kind of proves to be forgettable.
When you hear the premise for the film, you know that the movie can only go in so many places. I tend to run while I'm watching these movies and my mind does some weird things with the endorphins that accompanies these films. I also try to actively watch these movies knowing that I am going to have to write about these movies later on. But the only thing that I could think of while running is that the movie tried to give emotional stakes to the Trolley Experiment. It's weird. Because of The Good Place, I didn't have to explain the Trolley Problem to people. But now I find myself constantly explaining the Trolley Problem. Don't worry. I have a YouTube clip of The Good Place ready to go. But Knock at the Cabin is fundamentally the same problem: Ignoring logic or reason, would you sacrifice someone you love for the good of society? Now, most of the movie is making peace with the fact that this scenario seems truly outlandish. After all, if given a proper trolley problem, you'd be questioning why outside factors aren't affecting those people in the way or why there are so many circumstances that should be in our control.
As a fun, philosophical problem, there's something really cool going on there. After all, the reason why we have the trolley problem is to start a philosophical debate. If Bill is reading this, I'm sure you probably loathe the trolley problem at this point. (Bill is a philosophy professor who posts some truly gnarly memes.) But is the trolley problem a movie? I mean, that's what's going on here. There is a binary choice. Good storytelling is about binary choices. There are characters who need things that are diametrically opposed to one another and they will do anything to get them. For the sake of Greg, Andrew, and Wen, they need to escape the trolley problem before they have to make a choice. For Leonard and company, they need to have one of these people sacrifice another to save humanity. It's odd, because the moral choice for them has already been made. These four come across as zealots, which I suppose the movie needs. But to get their needs, Andrew and Greg try to undo their commitment to a cause.
Where I see the most Shyamalan is casting doubt. I don't know what the book offered. I kind of wish that I did. But the audience's investment in the story is the question of the authenticity of the zealots' claims. There are all these moments that make us question the sanity of these people. After all, there's something romantic about Leonard's belief in what is happening. I love Dave Bautista and I want to talk about his influence on his movies in a minute. But I also need to separate Dave Bautista from his character. He comes in as this gentle giant. He is truly the burdened of the entire scenario. At his core, he's already sacrificed himself for God and humanity. God has asked the unthinkable of him, something that is so abhorrent that he vomits when he discharges his duties. He calls Greg and Andrew his friends at one point (and it's haunting). He seems insane for a lot of the movie because how committed he is to his cause. But the real reveal is the Redmond reveal. It just seems so much more plausible than Leonard's story, especially in contrast to one of the weaker elements of the film. The reveal I'm talking about is how Redmond was an alias. He was directly tied to Andrew, holding a violent history with the protagonist.
And yet, there's the fun idea that maybe Greg and Andrew weren't the good guys of the piece. There's something really bananas thinking of the metatext of the whole piece. The movie wouldn't really work if the four are mentally ill. It's a drastically different movie. The only way that they can be insane is if Greg or Andrew bought the story and then found out it was malarky. I think you know that the four are telling the truth and for all of their bluster about being as sympathetic as possible, you know that they're the bad guys. Yet, they are the ones who made sacrifices without ever thinking twice. The fact that Redmond is the first one to die is almost bananas to think about because he's the other big name of this film. (The film, by the way, is littered with a lot of A-minus names. I don't mean to be rude, but it's got names that are recognizable without necessarily being marketable on their own.) But we're so rooted in the tropes that we can't help but watch this as movie as a home invasion movie. It's the only thing that really makes this movie worth watching, the subverting of a trope. Yes, we should root for Greg and Andrew. After all, it's got the final message of the original Star Trek movies were working towards: The needs of the one may outweight the needs of the many. It's transcendentalist...until it isn't.
I want to unpack how morality isn't one thing or the other. It would be really easy for the film to be embraced as either pro-or-anti-COVID. I want to distance myself from that argument because that is a flawed allegory. Greg and Andrew aren't doing something that is incovenient, like wearing a mask or getting vaccinated. They are asked to kill a member of their family. If Greg and Andrew were asked to do something reasonable, albeit at gunpoint, there would be this message of intense freedom and nationalism that we've been looking at for the past nearly eight years. But it's not. It's actually really weird that Greg and Andrew kowtow to the apocalypse. I mean, as much as I compare this movie to the Trolley Problem, it shares a lot of DNA with a movie that has a similar title: Cabin in the Woods. But while The Cabin in the Woods embraces transcendentalism; we cannot oppress the individual at the cost of humanity's collective oversoul. But Knock at the Cabin decides to go the other way with it and for one reason: we needed to know if the zealots were right.
I don't necessarily buy Greg's change. There's a mystery reflection in the glass and that is very vague. But I also love that their original mission statement screamed, "We'd sacrifice the world rather than hurt one another." There is a shift and it's a bit disappointed. But it's mainly because we needed answers. Ultimately, the movie forgot the morality of the Trolley Problem and understood that it wanted to have a concrete, science-fiction problem that needed addressing. That leads to the notion that we have a cruel god, who doesn't step in like Abraham and Isaac, but instead will allow the faithful to die awful and horrible deaths after sacrificing their own moral codes for him. It's a bummer, but also makes the movie have a point of view.
Before I close up, I want to talk about Dave Bautista. Man, he acts his face off in this movie. I get the vibe that he wants to do this all the time, but in better movies. Knock at the Cabin is fine. But I see him try to distance himself from traditional genre storytelling because there's nothing to do with character in stuff like that. Leonard might be the role he's been looking for in a while.
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.