PG-13: I just keep getting proven right time and time again. Unless the superhero movie is full on shooting for an R, it will always get a PG-13. This one gets a little scary for little kids, so I get it. Is it weird that many of these movies sell merchandise towards kids? You know what I just realized? X-Men stopped really selling merchandise for kids. I wonder if Marvel has some kind of hold over them.
DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer
This is really silly and emotional, but Joanie Lee cameoed with Stan Lee in this movie. I don't think that's happened before. Joanie Lee passed away fairly recently and my heart kind of went out to the family. Stan Lee has always been vocal about how much he loved his wife, so before I get all snarky and start the "Pun Intended" jokes, I just wanted to point that out.
This is the most recent X-Men movie to get panned. Out of the main franchise, the only other X-Men movie that was critically panned was X3: The Last Stand. X-Men: Apocalypse didn't get savaged as much as X3, but it didn't do well at the box office and I heard lots of people complaining about the movie fairly vocally. I didn't really get that. I really liked the movie both times I watched it, in the theater and at home. The movie is pretty good. Bryan Singer is really good at making an X-Men movie, so I wonder where the weakness lies in the movie. This was the overarching question I had while watching my copy for the first time. I'm about to rip this movie apart, even though I really liked it. This review isn't so much a criticism of the film because, I swear, it's a good time that I'll probably watch a few more times. I think this is more of a look back at superhero fatigue. I might get back on course over time and review elements of the film, but there's a larger phenomenon that is going on here. The critiques I have heard about this movie don't really make a ton of sense. Unless everyone suddenly got a way higher bar to meet taste wise, I think that we need to look at the overall problem.
1) The biggest thing that is happening now to comic book movies is comic book fatigue. This happens with every major trend. Think about when The Walking Dead came out and everyone was talking about it. The second there was a fall off in terms of quality, there was this "abandon ship" attitude. (I realize that The Walking Dead is also a comic book as well.) It takes a lot for me to abandon ship. I've stayed with shows way after they have lost their courses. I'm a guy who finished all of Lost and The X-Files with the hope that it would always get better. Heck, I stayed with Smallville because I loved those early seasons so much. I don't know if "fatigue" is a status thing. Perhaps the world is a hipster and wants to feel validated that their choice is the right one. Look at Pokemon GO! (I still play Pokemon GO!) When I tell people I still play the game, I get eye rolls and treat me like that is so last year. Perhaps people don't find any validity in fads. On top of that, with Marvel hitting quality films time and time again, but without much deviancy to the formula, it is easier to say that the movies don't hold attention anymore. The X-Men movies have it even worse than Marvel. Marvel, and this could be argued, really hasn't had a genuine failure in the MCU. The 20th Century Fox Marvel Movies have suffered time and time again. I know some will defend these movies, but after three bad Fantastic Four movies, X3, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Wolverine, I can see why people would want to lean towards Apocalypse's faults. After so many X-Men movies that could be hit or miss, comic fatigue could lead to people leaning towards failure. It kind of became a binary system. Unless the movie could be considered an unequivocal success like The Dark Knight, people tend to want to find fault in a movie. I think it is always easier to claim why a movie is bad than it is to say why a movie is good. Lord knows I could wax poetic on Man of Steel, my least favorite movie of the decade. But when I really love something, I tend to beat the same points over and over. That incommunicable trait that makes something beloved is exactly that: incommunicable. If an audience comes into a movie tired and demanding greatness, it is easy to pigeonhole a movie as bad because it didn't meet expectations. Remember, "only good" is now a synonyms for "abysmal."
2) Apocalypse is a hard character to do. He is kind of a paradox and I think the comic books mostly get him. Apocalypse is one of the X-Men big bads. He's the threat in the back of everyone's mind. Magneto is main antagonist to the X-Men, but he is intimately related to the protagonists. He is the dark side of the heroes. He acts as a fantastic allegory for the Civil Rights Movement and he just makes a ton of sense why he keeps showing up in these movies. Apocalypse, however, is the science fiction bad guy. He scares everyone in the X-Men universe because he is the worst case scenario. That really sets up unreasonable expectations because he is the unbeatable. I stopped reading X-Men a while ago. I dabble from time to time, but most of it doesn't make a lick of sense. But when I did read X-Men pretty closely, the reason that Apocalypse always worked (and this was supported by the awesome animated series in the '90s) was that he really never lost. He got delayed. He got postponed. But in a straight up fight, it didn't matter what the X-Men had on their side, Apocalypse would always win. It's the fight against Superman. Nothing could really stop Apocalypse. That makes him super scary, but not the subject of a narrative in film. A film is two hours where a resolution is expected. I could say that would be possible, like the upcoming Infinity War movie. But that has been built up and supported for multiple films. I feel like 20th Century Fox is always re-evaluating the status of the X-Men universe. To commit two movies to one plot seems a bit risky for them. But that's what makes the MCU work when the 20th Century Movies have hits and misses. If a Marvel movie misses, like some people say Age of Ultron did, there's still chatter to the movie. You have to see the movie because they are setting up some big stuff. It was actually one of the major criticisms towards Age of Ultron. Too much time was spent setting up future movies. I disagree, but I can understand that criticism. But it gave the movie value, regardless of quality of the film. The tease is important sometimes. Lost understood that. Even when the show got kinda garbagey, they still teased enough for much of its audience to keep coming back. So setting up a villain that can't be defeated and then to defeat him, that's a little disappointing. SPOILER: The movie did set up Dark Pheonix, so that's pretty cool. But that was definitely a bit of a deus ex machina. There are hints that Jean is more powerful than previously expected, but it isn't exactly a throughline in the piece. I imagine that Singer didn't want to telegraph the ending of the movie.
3) There is a bit of a pacing problem. I think it comes from the problem with fan service. Before this movie started, Singer and company (Donner, maybe?) kept telling the world that the Wolverine cameo was going to blow some minds. And it is a cool sequence. But the problem is that the story had to be changed to accommodate Wolverine. That entire Alkalai Lake sequence, which is pretty long, is just to shoehorn Wolverine into a story that he doesn't belong in. The same deal with Quicksilver. I will admit, the Quicksilver thing was the best part of the movie. But it was also the exact same joke as Quicksilver's bit in Days of Future Past. As much as I like it, it doesn't carry a lot of weight to have Quicksilver demonstrate the exact same set of powers as he did in the last film. He's hilarious and I love the joke, but it does limit the value of what is happening. Spinning off of that, the loss that these characters experience are either temporary or without impact. SPOILER: The X-Mansion is blown up and Havok dies. The movie ends with the X-Mansion being repaired very quickly with the help of Quicksilver, Magneto, and Jean. I had the same problem with the Enterprise blowing up in Star Trek Beyond. (Sorry if that was a spoiler for another movie.) If the place can just be rebuilt, what impact was there? Similarly, Havok's death should be a major moment of the movie. Scott has, maybe, two seconds of heartbreak over the loss of his brother, but that's really the only impact of that moment. He was a return from two films ago. He is friends with many of the characters in the film. He is the only death that occurred during the explosion sequence. Why isn't this a bigger moment? The pacing. There was far too many fan service moments to cover. On top of this, and this ties to item # 2, there is an intentional delay in confrontation with Apocalypse. Apocalypse is so powerful that there really can't be a moment where the X-Men get beaten up and make a retreat. If the characters fail against Apocalypse, they are dead. So the movie is spent distracting the audience from the fact that they will eventually confront the most powerful mutant in history. That doesn't necessarily make for good storytelling.
(Remember, I actually really like this movie. I'm just trying to be objective.)
4) This movie follows Days of Future Past. DoFP was the great hope for the X-Men franchise. The franchise was really getting tired after a string of fairly bad movies and I'm sure that 20th Century Fox was probably considering rebooting the whole thing. As a soft reboot, the movie works fabulously. The things that made people love the X-Men movies in the first place were returned. Original X-Men director Bryan Singer returned, who seems to fundamentally understand how to tell fantastic stories involving these characters. Both casts were going to meet. There was going to be a moment where Patrick Stewart's Professor X was going to meet James MacAvoy's Professor X. Hugh Jackman starting teasing that he would be leaving the X-Men franchise behind soon. This was one of the rare movies that threw everything at the wall and it worked. The casts were awesome. The story was complex, but cool. After many movies teasing the Sentinels, they were finally on screen. How do you follow that with a standard X-Men movie? The teaser after Days of Future Past hinted heavily at Apocalypse, which may have only made matters worse. People started to get expectations. That's gotta be a hard act to follow.
5) Small stuff. There's a lot of little things to get mad over that I've heard when people whine about this movie. People don't like how Apocalypse looks like. I don't care. I think he looks fine. I wish Singer made him huge throughout the movie, but I can see that being a problem when Apocalypse is learning about humanity. Psylocke and Storm are awesome in this movie, but like with these big cast movies, they don't really get their time in the sun. I didn't love the portrayal of Angel, but that's pretty nitpicky. Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique seems to be learning the same lesson about embracing her true nature in each movie. I'm sure the more famous that J-Law gets, the less she wants to spend 10 hours in makeup. So she always has the same character arcs.
But there is so much cool this movie. I told you that I like this movie a lot. Singer really sells me the X-Men when he gives Magneto character beats. I like that he doesn't treat his primary villain as a villain. Magneto's story in this one is crushing and it is only accentuated by the fact that Michael Fassbender is an acting tank. I think it is so cool that Singer doesn't have everyone speaking English throughout the movie. As fantastic and bizarre as this movie can be, the conversations ground the movie in reality. There is a sequence when Magneto is confronting the local police in the forest and it just feels like this really intense drama. His powers become a weapon like a man holding a gun. It's mindblowing. Plus, there's the opening credit sequence. That leap through time is so darned cool. I love cool credit sequences and this one is probably the best in the X-franchise.
It's not a perfect movie. But what happened to liking very good movies? The movie had so much against it, I feel like it almost couldn't win. The same thing will happen when Dark Phoenix comes out. People will either expect very little based on the ambivalence of Apocalypse or they won't even bother to give it a chance. It's a shame because I can't believe how lucky I am to be experiencing the era of great comic movies. Think about it. If this movie had come out in the era of the 1989 Batman, no one would give Batman a second look. That movie was as Burton-y as could be. The X-Men universe, as many comic movies do now, embrace the crazy stories from their source materials. But I hope that we move past this fatigue and eventually learn that a slightly imperfect movie does not mean catastrophe or...(pun intended)...cinematic Apocalypse.
Not Rated. Boy, I was asking how this one slipped under the family radar. It's got fun dancing, some wackiness. I should recommend it to ev--THAT'S FRED ASTAIRE IN BLACKFACE! WHY WERE '30s MUSICALS SO RACIST?
DIRECTOR: George Stevens
This was an actual moment I had. (I'm going back to the blue section where I talk about the rating. Sorry, I'm all over the place already.) I had started the movie indoors. My wife had some work to do on the computer and I didn't want to distract her, so I took the movie to my outdoor movie theater. (How fancy!) It's just my garage with some speakers, movie screen paint, and a projector. I was really loving the movie. It was way funnier than I thought it was going to be and I was enjoying the dancing. (Old timey tap numbers...I'm a sucker for 'em!) That's when it started. "Bojangles from Harlem." Way to throw something inexcusable into your movie, Swing Time. It was bad enough that you are one of the many musicals from this era with a criminally generic name, but then you had to get mega-racist. Do you understand how it makes me a bad person to have to critique the rest of the movie mostly positively knowing that you are subverting a very large part of society? You suck, Swing Time and the early-era-of-American-film-to-a-certain-extent.
This kind of racism is never excusable. Again, teaching the class means I have to run into a lot of different films that are overtly racist, often with the use of blackface. I can't whitewash history, nor should I. All I can do is give it a swift kick in the pants, publicly condemn it, and then review the rest of the movie assuming that bigoted jerks didn't love tasteless entertainment. (On a side note before I lose my podium, what was it about blackface in old movies? Was it, like, the most hilarious thing at the time? There are SO many old movies with blackface musical numbers. I know that the minstrel show was a kind of entertainment, but why was it SO gosh darn prevalent? There's nothing interesting about them. I'm going to continue to type on my future machine from the future as I ponder this from a point of chronological exile.)
I didn't realize that this movie was directed by George Stevens. The title card flew by and I simply assumed it was directed by Joe Nobody because a lot of these movies were directed by for hire schlubs who didn't really care. Either that, or they were directed by the star of the film, although we're a little early in history for that. George Stevens is a genius overall. Look at his IMDB credits. He directed Giant, Shane, a handful of other good movies, and a ton of movies you have probably never heard of. Regardless, to have a few real classics under your belt means that you have a bit of talent behind you. The weird part is that this movie is better than the musicals of this era. I commented on the generic title (which I haven't let off the hook yet..along with the racism) and I hate that (see!). These generic titles were always hard to remember if you had seen the movie because they were always good...for the era. It made it hard to remember which ones I had seen because the title gives you no indication about which generic plot is going to be used in conjunction with the descriptorless title. I say that these movies were good, but I have to stress for the time. We hadn't really gotten to the big musicals that would knock my socks off. But Swing Time really seems to be the precursor for things like An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain. (Two Gene Kelly ones, so what?) The story, like its compatriots, is very generic. But Stevens and company crafted it into something that made me quasi-character about the outcomes. Sure, I knew that Astaire was going to fall for Ginger Rogers. It's a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers vehicle. They're famous for that. But the jokes and the pacing really work for the film. It turns a very formulaic story into something that kind of matters. Sure, calling a movie from the 1930s "formulaic" doesn't make sense considering that the formula is in its developmental stage, but this wasn't exactly George Bernard Shaw. (Honestly, I couldn't get "George Bernard Shaw" without looking it up because I had the name "Francis Scott Key" stuck in my head. I swear, I know Shaw.) But treating the movie with a bit of value gives these moments some weight.
I do find it funny that Lucky is the protagonist because he is not a good man. I suppose that it is weird that I'm mad at rampant racism when there is some pretty horrible sexism to be had in this movie as well. Lucky is a bad dude, mostly because he constantly ignores his moral compass. I always find it interesting to find out what a character's moral compass is because it should determine whether the character thinks that he is a good person or not. Not so much with Swing Time. Swing Time has Fred Astaire's Lucky acknowledge the right and the wrong in each situation and then he proceeds to ignore it. But he still thinks he's the right guy for Penny. There is a sequence in the film where he is avoiding his fiancee' (right!) because he's falling in love with Ginger Rogers. He tells his buddy, Pop, to not leave him alone with Penny because he's falling in love with her. But he has also spent the movie intentionally finding reasons to not go back to his fiancee so that he can continue being with Ginger Rogers. He has acknowledged the evil is committing, told someone to stop him from committing more evil, avoided restitution for his own selfish gain, and still committed the evil. Yet, after all of that, he still considers himself to be the good guy. He sees himself as saving Penny from Ricardo, who is a jerk, but hasn't actually done anything wrong. He has simply avoided doing the right thing. This isn't to say that Lucky has to go back to his fiancee, but he does have to break it off with her. These things in romantic comedies always bother me. There's always a proper solution, but the tension is raised through the avoidance of the easiest possible solution. Regardless, I know how to stuff all of those complex moral questions into my hat and I know how to enjoy a movie. Pop might be the devil. Who knows? The movie also has a really weird attitude towards gambling that I'm not really sure what the message is supposed to be. (Bee-tee-dubs, this isn't Lucky's only moral weirdness. I just don't feel like going into all of these moments.)
I keep saying that this movie's pretty good, but I'm going to keep complaining about it. I first mentioned that it was wildly racist. Then I talked about how the protagonist is morally bankrupt. Now I'm going to talk about how the music is largely forgettable. The movie is famous for one song, "The Way You Look Tonight." I had to Wikipedia this one because this movie did actually create the song. The song has become way more famous than the movie. I get the vibe that the movie knew it had a hit on its hands because the instrumental for a lot of the movie is "The Way You Look Tonight." The rest of the songs, however, leave something to be desired. This was kind of the vibe of the '30s: a lot of spectacle and not a lot of substance. I don't know if the songwriters knew that "The Way You Look Tonight" was going to be the hit was going to be and just decided to phone in the rest of the numbers, but the other numbers are so almost narrative and boring to the plot that I just got befuddled. There's one song that Lucky sings about never dancing again because he can't be with Penny and then proceeds to end the song by dancing with Penny. I feel like Stevens should have said something about that before actually allowing that to happen. But I never really thought of Astaire as a necessarily good singer. I always watched him for the dancing. There's a reason that there is a chain of schools named after him because he's pretty awesome. (Even in the truly racist "Bojangles in Harlem" sequence. Do you understand how bummed I am that they threw all the money and spectacle at that song? What a choice!) I feel like I've seen a ton of Fred Astaire movies, but only a handful of Ginger Rogers movies. Maybe I'm the sexist. Astaire always finds a way to make dancing hilarious (okay, not always...), but Ginger Rogers has to be awarded for her sense of comic timing. There are a lot of characters who are solely comic relief characters, but Rogers nails the jokes probably better than a lot of her co-stars. It's kind of a shame because she doesn't get too many jokes to play with. What she has she nails. Then she's sidelined into the role of love interest.
So really, I'm just critiquing old timey stuff. That's a bit broad of me, but I'm picketing pretty hard. The movie is overall pretty good. The jokes, with the exception of the racism, really land. The romance is pretty good. It's a good dancing movie. Sure, it has a very forgetful title, but tell me one other musical from this era that really sell the title well. Should you watch it? Yeah. I love some Marx Brothers movies too and those get really racist as well. We can't necessarily forgive the past, but there might be something beyond ignorance.
There was too much nerd news! This extra-long episode discusses:
-The 13th Doctor: Jodie Whittaker!
-Comic Con News: Infinity War, Justice League, and some actual comic book news!
-Amazon's Marvel Digital Sale: Book recommendations!
-Spider-Man: Homecoming: Where does this fall in the great Spider-Man franchise?!?
Listen to it on iTunes, the Podcast app, Google Play, or SoundCloud!
This is an example of a heartwarming R. Oh, it needs to be R. It should forever be "R". But it's one of those R's that you watch with your mom. There's some disturbing stuff in the movie, but doesn't it just warm your soul like an electric chair without a sponge would?
DIRECTOR: Frank Darabont
This, somehow, became the summer of Stephen King. I really didn't want it to be. I bought A Farewell to Arms and As I Lay Dying, saying I was going to fill my mind with great classics that I'll eventually teach. Then I found out that The Dark Tower movie was going to be a sequel to all of the books, so I've been nonstop reading The Dark Tower books. Those things are tanks. My brain is now really wired to Stephen King. (I'm also listening to the audiobook of 'Salem's Lot because apparently Book 5 of The Dark Tower is a crossover with that one.) How did I get to The Green Mile in terms of film? We have Showtime free for three months and I realized I never saw this one. Since I'm on this Stephen King bender, I thought now was as good a time as any.
The way I understand it is that Stephen King released a series of novellas about The Green Mile. The movie, I suppose, is an adaptation of the entire collection of those short books. It kind of weirdly works. The story does feel like it is a series of scenes all involving the same characters that does, quite masterfully I might add, connect together into one giant arc. I have mixed feelings about Frank Darabont, though. Darabont is a genius and I can't deny that. Some of his framing in The Shawshank Redemption is inspiring. The Mist was one of my favorite Stephen King adaptations. He established such a good look for The Walking Dead and I have to applaud all of these endeavors. That all being said, he has a bit of "one-trick-pony" going on with him. His movies all look and feel very similar, which is not a horrible thing because that one trick is very impressive. To me, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are practically the same movie. I know Shawshank doesn't have any supernatural elements, but let's call a spade a spade. These movies are spiritual cousins. I know that people lose their minds over The Shawshank Redemption and that movie is very good. It just never knocked my socks off. I won't deny that most of it is due to my constant unflinching snobbery, but watching a movie that felt exactly like Shawshank kind of gives the vibe of watching a movie cobbled together from deleted scenes. That's not fair because The Green Mile has its own world that is very well built. The only reason I can really see the seems in the plot is that I've now read too much Stephen King. There are a lot of his formulas in play here. But, again, that formula is good. Percy and Billy the Kid are both very typical Stephen King archetypes. They are the psychopath who suffer terrible ends due to their excessive cruelty. SPOILER: I could imagine King's description of Del frying because that is a very King moment. But these aren't bad things. There is a reason that Stephen King has dominated my summer: he's entertaining.
I love Tom Hanks as a human being. As I write this, I don't know about him as an actor. He's one of the actors like Hopkins who is almost always Tom Hanks, but that's okay. I think Road to Perdition might be the only real change in character for him, shy of him putting on an accent. People might scream Forrest Gump, but he often plays the protagonist without a real obvious flaw. He's always likable and charming like he probably is in real life. (If you've never heard him talk, I recommend his Nerdist podcast episodes. I want to be friends with Tom Hanks.) He does his Tom Hanks schtick in The Green Mile and it works. He does hit the needs of the story quite well. He's morally uncomplicated. Even when the movie presents an artificial crisis of conscience, Hanks's character doesn't really have any turmoil about what is right or wrong. Instead, his character knows what is the greater good and moves to ensure that it happens. The more complicated role is Michael Clarke Duncan's John Coffey. While Coffey might be easy to play as a simpleton, there is a mystery that is never really revealed about Coffey. I have to wonder what backstory that Duncan gave to Coffey because he plays the part with confidence without winking to the character's history. The mystery is what makes the movie flow so well. I don't think the movie would without the two part planning of Duncan secretly knowing what's really going on along with the fact that Coffey doesn't need to be explained. The Green Mile shares that bit of magic with The Predator. Explaining what Coffey really is would only lead to disappointment. Admittedly, Hanks's character hints that the character is an angel, but elements of the story don't secure that. It very much feels like a man of faith making a leap to a conclusion that is neither confirmed nor denied.
Maybe one of Darabont's hidden talents lies in casting people who have exceptional chemistry. The prison guards really do have this magical relationship. Without ever beating a dead horse, the characters are clearly friends. They all have a different relationship with one another, but they are all clearly friends. This also plays out with the secondary and tertiary characters. Each person has a very involved backstory with one another. Hanks reacts differently to James Cromwell's character than he does with his wife or with Brutal. (Why is his name Brutal? That has to be in the novellas somewhere.) That's super cool. On the other end of the scale are the antagonists and these casting choices are somewhat inspired. I'm saying somewhat because there are moments where the choices are a bit too on the nose. I'm referring to some of the choices that Sam Rockwell makes. I love Sam Rockwell. Seeing his name on a bill makes me excited for a movie most times. Billy the Kid is a bit over-the-top for me at times, but I do like him overall in this movie. He is creepy and disgusting, but there is no moment of subtlety that would make him truly terrifying. However, Doug Hutchison as Percy is a perfect antagonist. There's a weird moral compass to Percy. The guy is clearly a monster, but there are moment when Hutchison finds himself scared of himself. He's evil for the almost sexual thrill of the moment, but then always realizes when he's gone too far. He feels like the kid who has been bullied his whole life and finally has a shred of power. He's used his privilege to command respect from those who need not respect him. Unlike Rockwell's character, he's not playing one note. There are weird moments where Percy is almost sympathetic. Darabont makes sure to have these small beats that keep the movie from Percy being a super villain. Super villains aren't scary. They're sometimes even admired. No one is going to be wearing a Percy shirt because his flaws make him creepy as heck. I like that.
The look of the film is good, but as I've mentioned before, I've seen it before. It is beautifully lit and I think that Darabont isn't just doing it to make the movie look pretty. Light plays an important part in the plot, so having the movie lit the way it is makes a lot of sense. While most of the image is lit quite brightly, Darabont leaves room for shadows and darkness. This makes sense considering the motif of light and electricity surrounding key scenes. Major moments in Paul and Coffey's life have surges of power acting as a representative of the supernatural. By lighting the movie the way Darabont did, these moments are clear without being annoying. He does close up on the lights as they are about to explode, but there are moments where the light simply pulses. Contrast the lighting of the isolation room to the moments where Billy the Kid is going wild in his cell. Both are easy to see and match the tone of the film, but the use of lighting as a form of emotional intensity is very clever. The isolation room almost seems removed from the rest of the film because Coffey never goes in there. That's pretty cool. It may be an overanalysis, but I like it.
I am weirded out with the films thoughts on capital punishment. Paul is clearly a good man. He has the strongest moral code in the movie and he treats the inmates with respect. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty, but finds no glory in it and acknowledges when evil is around him. There is one moment that is very telling. He is aware that John Coffey is innocent and verbalizes that he should be damned for his participation in John Coffey's death. Sure, Coffey mollifies him by giving his consent. But in that moment, he is a sneeze away from also saying that he is responsible for all of the deaths on the ward. He treats Del quite well, acknowledging his personhood and seeing rehabilitation in effect. Yet, he still can execute these prisoners and go home to sleep like a baby. At no point do I think Paul likes the job of executioner, but it is odd that he can draw such a fine line between executing an innocent man and executing a rehabilitated man. Even if Paul had to execute Billy, there is a weird line in the sand. He hands Billy a cup of soda (sure, it has sleeping powder in it), but he gives it to him with the terms that Billy behaved that day. He sees Billy's humanity, even though he despises Billy. The movie does a very loose commentary, most probably accidentally, about the nature of capital punishment. But the movie seems very pro-capital punishment, despite grounding it in the reality that all criminals are not insane psychopaths.
I liked the movie over all. I'm sure lots of people have it on their favorite movie list, but I don't think I'll ever get there. The movie is extremely well made and extremely moving, but there's a bit too much of a hint of Hallmark manipulation going on here. The movie wants to make you emotionally vulnerable, so it turns on the waterworks to eleven. I love emotional vulnerability, but I want to come a little more naturally than it does in The Green Mile. Regardless, I liked the movie a lot and I'm glad I saw it.
It's rated G, but the franchise now establishes that the cars can die. The cars can die from being murdered. The cars have guns. G. EXPLAIN YOURSELF, WORLD!
DIRECTORS: John Lasseter and Brad Lewis
I have been diagnosed with "antereolisthesis." It means the vertebra on my back aren't hitting quite correctly, causing an immense amount of pain. My wife is asleep in our comfortable bed and one of the few things that would make me actually feel better is lying down and going to sleep. I'm not doing that. At 11:11 (MAKE A WISH!) pm on a Monday, I'm writing far too many words about Cars 2, another of the films that I watched with my kids because they tend to lack standards. This rule about reviewing everything I watch is going to kill me and I might just be a masochist.
When I think of Pixar as a company, I think of them as geniuses. I love what John Lasseter has done for family friendly animation and I never think of them as having misstepped. Then someone will mention the Cars franchise and I audibly groan. I keep forgetting that the Cars films are part of Pixar Animation Studios. How do the same people who have made so many good animated films make these pieces of absolute garbage? If you haven't guessed, I don't like this franchise, but that's for good reason. The other movies that Pixar have made are so clever. They bend the mind a little bit and allow for this cool vulnerability to take place. Think about how smart the darned Toy Story movies are. I noticed a very subtle joke about the Pizza Planet truck that I never noticed before. It was in the background and I ask you to pay attention to the model of truck that it says on the user manual. That is great. There are so many of those moments in the other films. Even in the Pixar movies that aren't necessarily considered classics, like A Bug's Life or Brave, those movies still show a wealth of heart and creativity. The Cars movies are just plain dumb knock-offs of other movies and I don't get it. How can the same group of people just phone in these movies? It's not like there isn't stuff to really do.
First and foremost, there is no reason for them all to be actual cars. Toy Story has to be the closest in philosophy to the Cars movies and acts as a fantastic litmus test for what should and shouldn't work. The central premise in Toy Story is that everyone's childhood toys are actually sentient and choose the lifestyle of catfishing everyone on the planet. That's cool. As such, the toys have to interact with the mundane in a creative way. Through this interaction with the world around them, adventures ensue and emotional connections are made. In Cars, they just ARE cars. They are the only sentient beings on the planet (okay, all vehicles are somehow sentient), yet they live in a world that could only have been built by humans. They are surrounded by things that are clearly human sized and made for and by humans. Why are cars the only intelligent life on the planet? According to Cars 2, there's even frameworks for governments that mirror our own. There's a Queen of England car. No pun; just a Queen of England car. Why? There's a spy organization that has outfitted their cars with guns. Do they perform surgery on living cars to make them Robocop spies? Why? A car has a very specific purpose. They are made by humans to shuttle humans from place to place. The idea of car races is silly, at least in the way it is presented NASCAR-style. Shouldn't car races get as much attention as track and field stars? The very notion of sentient cars are dumb and shouldn't be outside the real of educational programming. At least Blaze and the Monster Machines acknowledges that there are humans around. There's so many problems I have with the even simple concept of a race of sentient cars that I can't get past, but I suppose that I should actually review the movie.
Cars was a knock-off of Doc Hollywood, a fairly forgettable movie starring Michael J. Fox. Cars 2 is a knock-off of The Man Who Knew Too Little, a good-but-forgettable comedy starring Bill Murray. Considering that Pixar is normally associated with innovation and cleverness, why outright steal these bad movies and make them about sentient cars? (I said I'd get over it. I lied.) The movie, first of all, isn't a very well structured film, but it fails at doing even its basic premise. For some reason, Cars 2 thought it important to comment on the espionage action movie by putting Mater in an international spy mission. During the course of this, Finn McMissile (yup) shows off that James Bond has had some rather absurd gadgets in his car over the course of his films. That's it. The gadgets that Finn uses aren't even funny. They are simply just things that a spy would use. If the movie's goal is to spoof the spy film, why not actually make a spoof. It feels like a one off story of a spy franchise that would never really take off because there is no substance. It follows a traditional, uninspired action movie plot and puts possibly one of the most annoying kids' characters front and center in the story. It's even odd that Lightning McQueen is in this movie because it just runs over tropes that the first movie already established. I don't know how I can stress that Cars 2's biggest fault is its complete lack of originality. When a cool character (the character is viewed as cool; not that I think he's cool) takes in the village idiot under his wing, what happens when the idiot screws up? There is a split between these two characters until the eventual emotional resolution. We've seen this story so many times that there's nothing to actually enjoy. "But this is for kids," you might say. These kids have seen it before. Just because the movie was made for children doesn't mean it isn't the role of the filmmakers to make a quality piece of work. I really do feel like the Cars movies are simple cash grabs. My son has Lightning McQueen PJs and loves the idea of him. But like I said, McQueen doesn't need to be in this movie. The movie is about Mater finding value in his stupidity.
Are we supposed to be applauding Mater? The very loose moral of this story is that Mater finds value in his hometown country-bumpkinery. (I'm totally coining that word.) Mater does mess things up pretty hard because he doesn't take two seconds to calm down and think of how he affects the environment around him. He's kind of selfish in his buffoonery, but the movie plays it up like that's cool. The moment that gets him in trouble, and I don't even have the respect to label this with a bold spoiler warning, is that he is not paying attention to the race that he was hired for. When he screws up McQueen's race, McQueen has a reasonable reaction to his shannanigans. Mater does not fit the requirements of a pit man and costs McQueen the race. That is Mater's job. But the movie is teaching kids that trying your best doesn't really matter and just being friends is the most important thing. I have lots of friends that I wouldn't trust to watch my classroom. Am I being unreasonable? No, because doing things right to the best of your ability is more important than making someone feel good. Friends are great, but that doesn't mean that they have to do everything together. Similarly, Mater continues to idiot himself into every situation and gets by with sheer luck. Somehow, he is able to gather his wits to solve a crime (that's obvious probably even for my three-year-old) that no one else has any insight into. There was no hard work on the part of Mater, just dumb luck and three-act structure. The only reason that Mater figured out who the big bad guy was involved the runtime of the film. There was no investigation or any kind of hard work. The film is teaching that it doesn't take hard work or ingenuity. It just takes stupidity and a good heart. Mater is a fun and positive guy, but that's not what kids should be taking out of a film.
The movie looks really pretty, I guess. The one thing that really works for the movie is the international setting. The first movie really overdid it with Radiator Springs, which gets a tad tedious. Having the cars travel from beautiful location to beautiful location does give the movie a little bit more production value that it might not have had before. I really didn't like the first movie, but I do remember a couple of jokes that really won me over, especially in the end credit sequence. I think that the look of Cars 2 far exceeds the first one, but the writing on Part 1 is probably superior. Not to say that it is good. I have yet to like anything Cars related that I've seen, but at least there was something going on. That's right! Paul Newman was in part 1. That's got something.
I'm sorry I'm a real Debbie Downer when it comes to the Cars movies. They just suck so hard and I find nothing entertaining about them. They seem so lazy and that's a bummer considering that the company that makes these movies make other way better movies. Maybe Cars is just meant for really young kids or people who like simple humor. I guess when you center the movie around Larry the Cable Guy playing Larry the Cable Car (not like something that takes you up a ski lift, but...you know. Like a car.) you get what you pay for. You know what I paid for with Cars 2? Nothing. I got it from the library. But I did lose two hours and I fought sleep just so I could write a review about another movie. *sigh*. I'm going to go to bed now and hope my back doesn't murder me on the way up. Good night.
Remember when I said that, if you give David Lynch a free pass to do anything he wants, he's going to do the dirtiest thing ever? I WAS RIGHT! SOLID R! It was so "R" it was aired on Showtime Beyond, the creepy late night version of Showtime. Gross.
DIRECTOR: David Lynch
I guess I get a place to gripe about Twin Peaks as a phenomenon here. Considering that Twin Peaks is mostly a TV show, I kind of put it in the back of my mind in terms of reviewing it outside of the podcast. (If you want to hear me talk about Twin Peaks season one, please listen to the podcast here!) Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me acts as a very strange prequel to the show. My buddy Dan doesn't remember this story. Actually he remembers it very differently than I do, but he made me watch this movie once a long time ago without ever having seen Twin Peaks the television show. He said that, because it was a prequel and that David Lynch is weird anyway, it didn't matter that I had seen the show. This isn't true. If --after I start griping about Twin Peaks at length-- you are still interested in watching this movie, make sure you watch the television show first. It won't make a ton of sense anyway, but at least you'll have a frame of reference for how lost you might be.
Fire Walk With Me was everything I don't exactly love about David Lynch. After the televisions how ended in 1991, a lot of the plot was left in the air. SPOILERS ABOUT THE SHOW: the protagonist of the show was left in a huge cliffhanger, probably never to be resolved. So a movie follow-up to the show that was made the very next year made a lot of sense. That resolution would be given, right? Nope. The movie actually hearkens back the best element of the show, the Laura Palmer murder. I have to give Lynch some points for that. The Laura Palmer murder was way more interesting than the Black Lodge stuff and the Windom Earle nonsense. Going back and filling in the gaps of the Laura Palmer murder makes a bit of sense. It also seems to be a big deal for Sheryl Lee, who was one of the more iconic parts of the show, but got to do very little as the character she was famous for. (Lee, on the show, was also responsible for playing Laura Palmer's cousin. But even that part was short lived and not very well developed.) Seeing who Laura was when she was alive is kind of interesting. The problem is that Laura was a terrible person. Lynch goes out of his way to stress that Laura Palmer did rebellious things. But like a lot of Lynch's portrayals of deviancy and darkness, it is a child's view of debauchery. It may have been shocking to see Laura snort cocaine once or twice, establishing that she is not the goody two-shoes that everyone portrays her as. But Lynch fills the film with her doing drugs. On top of that, ABC reined in Lynch's need to portray sex. On the show, One-Eyed Jack's was the cleanest evil bordello that ever existed, which it kind of needed to be. Lynch tastelessly shows Laura Palmer naked and sexed up as often as he can, and that's just sad. Like I discussed with yesterday's Batman: The Killing Joke, Palmer is simply used sexually to show her weakness. This is not a story about Laura Palmer fighting the demons, only to lose after an honorable battle. This is a tale of victimization at the hands of men as she avoids taking control of any aspect of her life. She uses sex to get people to like her and to tune out society. Blecch.
The movie is kind of unnecessary, but does have a sense of officialness (officiality? Officialdom? I'm really sleepy. Auto correct says "officialism", but that seems morally wrong.) It does cement a lot of the abstract elements of the Twin Peaks Laura Palmer murder. The issue with that is that it also has to change the characters to make that happen. And I'm not just making a snide remark about Lara Flynn Boyle being recast. I mean that there are fundamental changes to the characters to make the movie work. Listen, I gripe quite a bit about the Twin Peaks television show and one of my major concerns is that the characters are inconsistent and weird for weird's sake. But I also understand that the quirkiness of the show is also one of its selling points. I get why people like the TV show; it's just not for me. Fire Walk With Me kind of corrupts that whole feeling. I just started on the reboot series yesterday and that has the same problem. The fun weirdness is gone and the demonic weirdness has taken over. The tone of Fire Walk With Me is super dark. I get the vibe that Lynch enjoys torturing his characters and he didn't really have the opportunity to do that with the network watching over him. I can see why he was so adamant to have complete creative control when he was given the Showtime deal. But, like I mentioned before, Lynch works better with a little power exerted over him. He gets to be a bit more creative. So now I don't know what I want. The thing I hated most about the television show is that it was so concerned with filling 22 episodes in the second season that it relied on hammering out the same jokes about the C-list cast. Fire Walk With Me focuses almost exclusively on the main plot of how Laura Palmer died and I just found it kind of gross. I admit, I was kind of excited to watch it in the first half. Perhaps it is Lynch's perversion that turned me off for the second half. Laura Palmer becomes a terrible character. One point I kept bringing up is that she is going crazy from seeing all these supernatural hallucinations. The show has established that these images that she is seeing are real, but from her perspective, they would just be hallucinations. Dale Cooper took a long time to realize that the Black Lodge was not just the by-product of dreams. How would Laura Palmer know as much? So what does she do when she is hallucinating absolutely horrible things? She does MORE drugs. I have no sympathy for you at that point, Laura. Drugs are dumb.
The first third of the movie is also extremely baffling. I think I mentioned in another review that I was once on the worst quest ever. This stupid quest involved seeing every Kiefer Sutherland movie that was ever made. I so wanted to be a hipster, guys. In my mind, that was hilarious. Well, Kiefer was in this movie and I don't really get the involvement with him and the story. I read on IMDB that a movie was cut together from all of the deleted scenes from Fire Walk With Me, but I really have no urge to see that. Anchorman already fooled me with that offer and I will not be made fool of again! But there's this whole story of another murder that involved Bob that Chris Isaacs and Kiefer Sutherland have to solve. They go missing and that's the end of that plot line. Then Lynch goes super-Lynchian and starts having David Bowie appear without a lick of context. People show up in weird masks that never made their appearance on the show and I am just left scratching my head. I'm all for weird if there is purpose. Maybe I'm just stuck into a safe place when it comes to my film watching, but Fire Walk With Me just is an example of how goofy crap doesn't always really work. Please, don't make me watch Eraserhead again. Or Inland Empire. Those movies make Fire Walk With Me look normal. I just want a frame of reference for some of this stuff. I guess it is the same thing that makes me angry about putting in "the cool scene". I feel like Lynch believes he's a genius because everyone always calls him such, thus his cool scenes always make it into the film. I honestly believe that Lynch has fights with anyone who questions his choices. He seems like a crochety guy to begin with and he probably really believes that his artistic vision is the most important thing. I just want to know that someone out there is telling him that maybe he should look twice at scenes. But he is constantly affirmed for his weirdness. I like the Black Lodge stuff in moderation. But the more that Twin Peaks visits the Black Lodge, the less it really all matters. It's just like the Borg in Voyager. (I honestly think that might be the second time I've made that comparison on this sight.) Keep it a bit of a mystery and we're all friends. Entrench me in the Black Lodge and it becomes an annoying art piece. (Art pieces aren't annoying. There are, however, annoying art pieces.)
Twin Peaks will probably never be my jam, but I'm getting a thrill out of knowing that I'll have seen all that there is to see about this cult phenomenon. Maybe a part of me likes dogging these movies because my film friends love Lynch so much, but most of me genuinely gets annoyed with him. I feel like I want to like them, but my bar will always be slightly too high for someone who is so lauded for his genius. Who knows? I still have a bunch of reboot episodes to get through. Maybe my opinion will change. The worst part is that I'm probably such a hypocrite that I'll defend Twin Peaks and / or David Lynch at a party given the chance. I do prefer weird to safe, but I also have expectations in my weird soup.
SPOILER: Also, Bobby shoots a cop dead. That seems contradictory to his character in the show.
It goes out of its way to be R. My three year old says "poopy diaper" a lot because he thinks he's being a rebel. Same idea. The R-Rating is bad, but it's pretty adorable that they are trying to get the R rating. Oh, wait. It's not. It's all pretty horrifying and immature. I take it back.
DIRECTOR: Sam Liu
Oh my. I have seen too many DC animated films. They aren't good. I always hope that they are going to be great and they rarely are. The only one I remember enjoying was Batman: Gotham Knights. I kind of enjoyed Under the Red Hood, but in a very disposable way. This one received quite a bit of infamy and a lot of that came from the very odd unveiling of this movie. I had best give the background for this movie. Alan Moore is a crazy person. He's kind of a genius, but he's also completely nutbars. The guy hates everything and knows he's a genius, so that's all kinds of no good. He wrote the original graphic novel (or prestige 48 page comic book) of "The Killing Joke" and it went on to be one of the most influential Batman comics ever. Alan Moore hates it. Lots of people today hate it, but it is regardless completely influential. Next thing you need to know: Mark Hamill, the guy who is associated with Luke Skywalker, is almost more nerd famous for voicing the Joker on the Bruce Timm / Paul Dini Batman: The Animated Series. He's voiced him a whole bunch of times since then, including in the upsettingly successful Batman Arkham line of video games (with the exception of Arkham: Origins). He said that he wouldn't voice the character again unless it was in an adaptation of "The Killing Joke".
Now jump forward to 2016 San Diego Comic Con. The thing that took place almost a year ago to the day. The movie was screened for Comic Con audiences and they...didn't like it. There's a lot of problems with the movie and I'll get to those later. The big one is that it over-sexualized Batgirl. On top of that, it over-sexualized her in conjunction to Batman. Batman has always been creepily older than Batgirl and there really wasn't a ton of sexual tension in the comic books before this point. A lot of these choices came from Brian Azzarello, one of the big current names behind the Batman comic books. It's weird and doesn't fit into the film. On top of that, it is really tasteless because it was added as a choice to give Barbara Gordon control in a story that has made her infamously a victim. It really doesn't work. In fact, it goes even deeper by taking what little it did to pass the Bechdel test and trampling on it. When questioned about it by a journalist, Brian Azzarello used a derogatory term meant to emasculate the reporter in front of hundreds of nerds in Hall H (I think it was Hall H. That's the big one from Comic Con.) People turned on him really quickly and it turned a slightly tone deaf movie into a travesty. So of course I had to watch it.
There's some other politics behind the story of "The Killing Joke" as well. In the '90s, there was a Green Lantern comic where the new Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, is spurned into action after he discovers that the villain of the piece murdered his girlfriend and stuffed her into a fridge. From that point on, when a woman is victimized to drive the male protagonist's plot, it is known as "fridging." "Fridging" is really frowned upon in both the feminist community and the comic book community as well. While Barbara Gordon isn't the first woman to be fridged, she is the most famous and widely accepted fridged character. This is spoilery, but it is also common knowledge, so continue to read on. Barbara Gordon, who was Batgirl during this time in comic books, was shot in the spine by the Joker, undressed, and had photos taken of her to torture her father, Commissioner Gordon. There is implication that she might have also been raped by the Joker, but that was neither here nor there in the comics. So the idea that this movie sexualized her even more seemed in pretty poor taste. On top of that, Azzarello's script really drives the point home that the Joker probably raped her. It's an icky book that is a shame because it is a fairly solid read otherwise. When the filmmakers decided to make this movie, and it may not have been a mistake to do so, they were already on thin ice. Their job was to tread carefully; instead they bulldozed the whole thing.
Keep all in this in mind when I start reviewing it because it is really all in that context. The Killing Joke film adaptation isn't very good because it was originally 48 pages. My wife always wonders why I don't wake up and avoid adaptations of ridiculously short stories. For some reason, I thought Where the Wild Things are was going to be brilliant. (You can't blame me completely. Spike Jonze directed it.) So the movie is padded with a prologue. Normally, I don't whine about these things. I know that films and books are different things and those who try to stay too faithful to the book tend to burn down the main idea. (I'm looking at you, Watchmen...another Alan Moore story.) The prologue is completely tone deaf to the story of "The Killing Joke". You can read "The Killing Joke" and just notice the big difference. The actual adaptation part of the film is scary faithful. (Remember what I just said?) It is so much better written than the first part. The first part is meant to give Barbara Gordon some context. Her victimization needs to mean something to a new audience, so this story about Barbara taking down a creeper who is obsessed with her is meant to make her a valuable character. It actually doesn't do any of that. It makes her seem ridiculously emotional and frail, making silly decisions in the presence of actual sense. Add to that a crush on Batman that is manifested and that just makes her seem powerless in the face of men. It also is a really boring section of the movie. Knowing that the Joker is going to come in later in the movie and tear the world to shreds makes this part of the film really bad. Also, the bad guy's name is Paris Franz. The movie practically breaks the fourth wall acknowledging how dumb that name is, so I don't know why that name went forward in context with the rest of the story. During this prologue as well, the movie tries to be R-Rated, but it just comes off like Deadpool did in many ways. Not everything has to be dark and gritty, but whatever.
The actual adaptation of "The Killing Joke" is okay. It is really faithful and there's some really cool things about it. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are awesome as Batman and the Joker once again. Seeing some of those moments in the book portrayed in animation do give them some depth. Also, Hamill is on his A-Game. You know that he didn't want to get any part of those monologues wrong because his delivery is always awesome when it comes to Alan Moore's words. I can see the nerd in him gleaming in every moment. He doesn't joke around here (pun intended). He knows the intentions of each line and he has made choices when it came to choosing his delivery. I love his part so much. Conroy is always great, but Batman doesn't have a lot of character in "The Killing Joke". This is a story about the Joker and his insanity. It actually has a great premise if it wasn't so icky. The basic question is "What would it take to become the Joker?" Could someone become evil because they had one horrendous day? That's an interesting idea. (Alan Moore thought his own idea was dumb because Batman and the Joker aren't real. He has a point.) There's layers there. There's the look at Batman as the mirror of Joker, with his one bad day. The second act on really sell this idea. It's weird because the first third is devoted entirely to Batgirl, but she becomes such an afterthought after the first third that I wondered what the point of the first third was. Again, her sexualization doesn't really define her character so much as adds to the fridging element for Batman. Not only was she there to move the male protagonist's plot forward, but she also just became his love interest. Boo.
There were pains to match Brian Bolland's original artwork and the movie really tries its hardest. However, it still feels like an extension of the Paul Dini / Bruce Timm era of the DCU. Part of it is the color scheme. I Wikipedia'ed this one hard. Bolland always hated the original printing of "The Killing Joke" because the colors were all wrong. They popped and shined and Bolland always wanted a muted color palate. While The Killing Joke may have been muted compared to the stuff that was part of the WB Saturday lineup, the movie is still extremely vibrant and screams cartoon. That's where the R-rating really bumps into the tone of the movie. It looks like a kids movie, but with swearing, sex, and an exploded hand. I really couldn't get much investment in the darkness of the movie because it just seemed so cartooney. There was actually an episode (coincidentally, another story fridging Barbara Gordon) of the New Batman Adventures that was more effective in finding the tone that The Killing Joke was looking for. There's also one moment that really kind of made me cringe. The idea was sound. While Commissioner Gordon was being tortured naked in a funhouse, the Joker now has a musical number. I don't hate this. But the musical number is really hamfisted and doesn't really scream any production value. (I'm not trying to make this a musical number, but I don't believe the Joker would sing unless he got it right and truly destroyed Gordon with this moment.)
This last comment is more about "The Killing Joke" as a story. I love the idea of "one bad day". It is a great moment and a great question to ask, regardless of how surreal Batman and the Joker are. The book and the movie (with the exception of a buzzkill-y post credit sequence tagged on) end with a famous sequence that is meant to be ambiguous. It is really memorable, but I also know that everyone hasn't read this book. So SPOILERS. It ends with Batman offering rehabilitation for the Joker. The Joker has one moment of humanity and tells a joke straightforward. He stops being a supervillain as Batman stops being a superhero. He tells a joke, one guy to another. The joke is remarkably lame, but almost intentionally so, and the two laugh as the frame pulls away. It's a super cool ending...that might not at all match the rest of the story. (The ambiguous nature is one that questions if Batman broke the Joker's neck in this moment, but I don't buy that.) I like this ending, but it also makes no sense in the light of events. Batman hasn't gone insane. There's nothing insane about him at all. Knowing that Barbara Gordon has been paralyzed, I don't know why he would now let his guard down and laugh over a dumb joke. It's one of those things that I wanted to do when I was in high school. I wanted to make the darkest and coolest story ever. These ideas always had moments I really wanted to film, even if it didn't match up with the rest of the story. I now realize that maybe "The Killing Joke" is a remarkably successful version of the high school kid's "cool fantasy." Wouldn't this be cool? Sure, but it doesn't make a lick of sense.
I didn't hate this one, but it is awfully tone deaf. I don't recommend it. Fans of the original "The Killing Joke" should watch it, but with extremely low expectations. I don't know if this kind of story could or should be told anymore, so I guess I'll just watch knowing that it is the product of an era long gone. Mr. Moore, you were actually justified in leaving your name off of this.
A good R. A fine R. An R I will defend until my dying day. Sometimes a movie just needs to be R and that's okay. I would not show my kids this movie because it is a fine use of the letter "R".
DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright
Yeah, I watched one of my favorite movies of all time. I'm allowed. I don't always have to experience something new. Sometimes we watch things that make us happy. It also helps that I finally have this on Blu-Ray and not exclusively on HD-DVD. I've been watching my HD-DVD copy for far too long, which means I always had to watch it on the old TV in the basement. We have since gotten a 4K TV that's bigger than life itself and it is very pretty. I wanted to watch one of my favorite movies in a really pretty format on a big ol' screen. "How's that for a bit of fried gold?"
Edgar Wright is a genius. The man is absolutely brilliant and I don't think it comes across better than his first film. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg cut their teeth on their TV show, Spaced, and it has a lot of the elements that would make Wright famous later on. But Spaced is a bit rougher than the films and I kind of love that. Most directors have a first movie and it is a bit of rubbish. Yeah, the movie shows a lot of talent and that first movie eventually lets that director learn the ropes and avoid mistakes the second time out. Even early Scorsese is a bit tough to watch at times. But with Wright working out all of the bugs on Spaced, what happened with Shaun of the Dead is a bit unique. Wright had the time and patience to lay out a perfect movie before committing it to film. He's not Edgar Wright of film fame that he is today. Instead, he's a very hungry director with a passion project that he needed to get absolutely perfect before filming. He knew what pitfalls would befall him and he planned accordingly. No one from a studio is pushing him to get the film done because everything seemed to be done in pre-production. (Mind you, all of this is conjecture based on too many viewings of this film.) He's not being hounded for a second one in a franchise because he's dealing with small distributor Rogue Pictures, so he's just making the tightest film ever. While I don't normally gush about a script over the visuals when it comes to a film, perhaps Shaun of the Dead's greatest achievement is how tight the script had to have been before the film was made. I'm not saying that the film isn't beautifully shot. It is. Oh my stars and garters, it is beautifully shot. But it almost didn't need to be. The movie is so planned in terms of foreshadowing, callbacks, and plot structure that I'm agog. I don't think I've ever seen a movie so tight. When I say a few negative things about Baby Driver, it is only because it will never reach the heights of his previous film. If you haven't seen this movie, watch it. It is remarkably gory and the jokes get pretty blue, but it is nearly a perfect movie. There are no visible faults with the movie that I can point out, so put that out there.
Shaun and Ed might be my favorite protagonist / sidekick duo ever. Perhaps 2004 was a different era, full of cursing and filth, but there is something absolutely charming about Ed's dirty jokes. I don't think that something dirty necessarily makes good comedy. In fact, the joke has to be better than an average joke to make a blue joke work. I don't think anything really falls more flat than a blue joke that doesn't really have a punchline. If it falls flat, the character just comes across as a bit of a pervert. But when the dirty jokes land, they absolutely crush. (Please, world, understand that I don't want you to write dirty jokes. I just want you to appreciate a good dirty joke if you are of age and can appreciate the craft that goes into it.) Shaun's balance to Ed, in that frame of reference, is the audience. Shaun's attitude towards Ed is what ours is meant to be. Shaun is disgusted by what he says, but he can't help but laugh at Ed. As Ed says about his own personality, "I'll stop doing it when you stop laughing." That's a great way to treat Ed's dirty humor. You are aghast that you are laughing at an off-color joke, but you have to admit that you find it funny. A lot of what makes Ed work as well is Nick Frost. Shaun of the Dead is the first film in Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy. The Cornetto Trilogy are all genre parodies (a poor choice in word if not accurate. They are all loving homages) starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the lead roles. Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, genuine friends in real life, play off of each other so darn well that the chemistry is always there, regardless of character dynamics. In some ways, the last film of the Cornetto Trilogy, The World's End, flips the script on the roles and has Simon Pegg play the Ed role while Nick Frost plays a more straight-laced character. But in all of the films, the dynamics really work. Frost, in everything I've seen him, has such an earnest and innocent delivery to his performance that he can do high art or dirty humor and not really treat either with the reverence or contempt normally associated with those media. I love Ed, if you didn't guess.
But Ed only really works because of Shaun. Ed could become extremely tiring as a character because he is so a foil for Shaun. Simon Pegg's Shaun is the round character that makes his internal conflict believable. The thing that makes a zombie movie really work is that the external conflict has to be simply part of the setting. The zombies force the characters to constantly move and that affects whatever internal conflict is at play. Between Dawn of the Dead (The Romero Version!) and The Walking Dead (A TV show, I know), the stories that are interesting is how people deal with real world problems with a heightened sense of tension due to the constant threat of zombie attack. The mundane becomes important and exaggerated. Shaun's issue, appropriate enough for a comedy, is his feeling of arrested development. (Hey, that's the name of the show!) He can't seem to make any decisions that are life changing, so it comes to a life and death situation for him to make a basic choice: stay or leave. I love how simple that is, yet it makes the movie feel human. It makes the movie not about heroes or villains, but rather about melodrama with a shot of adrenaline. How cool is that? Add to that stupid crushes and how these small moments seem insanely over the top, I can't get over it. The dynamics between every character is raised to eleven because of Shaun's internal conflict with all of them. Ed is fun, Liz is cool. But Shaun changes the landscape for every one of the survivors. It doesn't help that he had a stepdad that he didn't exactly care for, but understood the complicated situation that they were in.
And maybe that's what makes this more than a zombie comedy. It is an understanding that drama and character play as much of a role as jokes and laughs. This is going to sound wildly pretentious, especially considering the subject matter, but the great zombie stories are about the drama, not about the scares. Scares and jokes heal the wounds brought about the emotional scarring that come with the drama. Feeling scared and laughing adds a shot of adrenaline to the pain of feeling vulnerable. Horror movies and comedies without emotional cores are like candy. They are enjoyable, but utterly fleeting. Adding that real emotional connection to a character and the problems that he or she has makes the movie memorable. I'm always kind of ashamed to say that one of my favorite movies is Shaun of the Dead, because I can see all the "Really?" looks headed my way. But Shaun of the Dead takes the ride that Hollywood and cinema can provide in terms of entertainment and grounds it with characters that we want to become friends with. That seems silly, but every movie should have that goal. I like artsy fartsy because I want to connect with the depths of my soul, but I also want to be entertained. As odd as it might sound, Shaun of the Dead delivers on that promise more than any other movie I can think of. It is really great and, when you are ready, I hope you give it a try.
IT'S HAPPENED! I found a movie that I have to argue against, even though I've been rallying against intense rating systems. This movie is rated G, but there is actual footage of a guy getting shot in the head. You know that footage from Vietnam? They show the whole execution. Rated G. 1968 may have taken it too far. Man, I wish the two tones of this rating didn't give this review a Christmas vibe.
DIRECTOR: Bob Rafelson
When I was a kid, I loved The Monkees. The way I flaunt that my five year old daughter knows every Beatles song? My mom did that for me and the Monkees. The Monkees were the coolest ever. Since then, I've learned a lot about the marketing end of the music industry and I now know the reputation of the Monkees. Their songs are super cool and I weirdly want to hang out with them in 1968, but that is all under the umbrella of knowing that they were a manufactured group meant to compete with the Beatles. So when I sat down to watch a movie named Head, part of my America: Lost and Found, I was surprised to find out that it was a Monkees movie. (C'mon, like you knew all about this movie before I posted it. I bet this is the first you are hearing of it.)
The movie really rides the avant-garde thing pretty hard. I had to Wikipedia the history of the Monkees to give me some context for this film because it is pretty mindblowing. Bob Rafelson, the director of Head, actually created the Monkees. He made the TV show, the tour, the whole nine yards. He had a product that he wanted to sell and he really sold it. They were created in 1965 and the movie was made in 1968. The movie has a loose narrative about the nature of fame and how it affects all other elements of American culture. That is one of a dozen or so themes and messages within the film, so please understand that I'm not doing the movie a lick of justice trying to sum up such a crazy idea so quickly. But the movie treats The Monkees in such an odd counter-culture way that it acknowledges the facade that they present by their simple existence. There is a commentary running all the way through the movie that the music and the band are an artificial construct meant to combat the sheer power of The Beatles. Rafelson actually created The Monkees in response to A Hard Day's Night and the nods in the film cement that idea. Peter Tork actually whistles "Strawberry Fields Forever" in one scene after a long diatribe about how people think that they are fake. This is the least of the weirdness that goes on with the film. I started by stating that this is completely avant-garde and the weirdness of the movie supports it. Honestly, if I had known about this movie when I was working at Thomas Video, this would have been playing in the store during a lot of my shifts. The movie is super cool and it acknowledges that it is being weird for weirdness's sake. (I know, I'm a David Lynch hypocrite.) This movie embraces the psychedelic format of the late '60s in such an acid trippy way that it screams "Mellow out, man!" I don't know why I give the '60s a pass, but I won't give Lynch a pass. But this movie gets really weird from moment one.
The odd thing is that the movie is super pretty. Perhaps it is the psychedelic feel of the whole film, but that color palate is super groovy. The movie starts off with a very Hard Day's Night sketch of a mayor trying to open a bridge and then the Monkees run by, jump off the bridge. Okay, fine. But then there are mermaids who play with the negative image with wacky colors. That's when I realized that Head wouldn't even attempt to present the same narrative that Hard Day's Night loosely played with. There is a narrative in the sense that the boys refer to moments that happened earlier in the movie, taking away the sketch element of the film. But the narrative is more philosophy. I think that this might come from the influence of Jack Nicholson (yup) and this period in his life. The rest of the movie is insanely frenetic, mirroring a pretty intense acid trip. I really wonder if the Monkees TV show had the same level of insanity and I just blocked it out. I was pretty young when I watched it, so I can't remember much outside of a laugh track and the opening credits. The frenetic stuff is pretty hard to really pay attention to. When I became aware that the narrative was going to be loosey-goosey, I had to force myself to pay attention to the story. I'm never a big fan of people just spouting philosophy at me, so it is always a little hard for me to invest as much as following plot. I know, I'm a simpleton. But the movie is more engaging than, say, your Koyannisqatsis because there is an attempt, albeit slight, to relate to its audience. There are jokes and there is a bit of charm to it. I technically could label Head as a musical. I actually wonder if it could be considered a musical, simply because the music and dancing is a way to entrench the movie further into the bizarre. I guess there's no rules against that, but the music in the film is only meant to make the acid trip all the more bizarre. (Let me establish right now that I don't do drugs. I have never done drugs. I will never do drugs. I abhor drug culture and you should never do drugs. That said, this visual acid trip was pretty cool.)
Part of what makes this movie work (or not work, because it bombed at the box office at the time) was the fact that the Monkees are both charming and self-depricating. The very concept of the Monkees is a hilarious one. I'm ashamed to make this comparison, but the Monkees were the Deadpool of their era. (Let me explain!) Deadpool is a superhero who is uniquely self-aware. As such, he is a critic of the entire medium of comic books and film. The Monkees are kind of the same way. They point out the artificiality of art and music. By doing so, they are actually creating a deeper kind of art. Their depth lies in their superficiality. They are commenting on the culture that elevated them to icon status and they think it's dumb. Okay, I don't know that part for sure. But this is counter-culture, baby! Money and fame are an artificial construct. I have to wonder if the audience of the Monkees were clamoring for a band that was so openly anti-establishment, so thus the Monkees became anti-establishment while secretly being rich jerks. But the movie gets so inside baseball that only a knowledge of the context of the era makes the movie all that much more important. There are moments in the movie, like the inclusion of evil giant Victor Mature, that are so on the nose culturally that the movie dares the viewer to try to avoid making sense of the whole thing. Add to that the almost lifted narrative from A Hard Day's Night of the missing Davey Jones. Sure, Davey Jones was the most popular of the Monkees in comparison to the missing Ringo, but the story kind of plays out the same way. The movie then delves deeper into commentary about war, the Hollywood studio system, the damaging authority of the military complex and the police, and into the constant barrage of insanity that comes with fame. If anything, the movie tries to cover too much that none of it really gets too deep. But it does limit how boring the movie get. I have never seen a more preachy movie that felt like it didn't beat a dead horse. It's a weird dichotomy going on with the film as a whole.
This movie will never hit my favorite movies list. But golly, I'd love to watch it a few more times. There's something so fundamentally cool about the movie that I'd love to have it in the background for a party or something. It would completely destroy someone who didn't know what they were watching and that's pretty nifty. The look of the movie is perfect and the music is pretty fun too. It's trippy as heck and I could always use a little bit more trip in my life.
Also, that photo above? A literal Head cannon.
A PG MOVIE THAT'S LIVE ACTION! Stop the presses! This movie is PG! I was even ready for PG-13. They say "damn" a lot, which made it weird with the kiddos. But PG is PG! I feel warm inside...
DIRECTOR: Theodore Melfi
It's been a while since I've written. Even worse, it's been a while since I watched this movie, so I'm reviewing it with a bit of staleness on it. In the past few weeks, I found out that I have a serious back issue (Not Amazing Spider-Man # 1, but more of spinal pain) and have started grad school. Grad school homework comes first to this website, so I'm going to have to slow it down. No more "review-per-day" attitude. But if I get a chance to update, I will.
I keep coming back to the same idea time and again with the historical drama involving race. It doesn't matter if it is fiction or nonfiction. (Okay, it kind of helps, but the point will still be the same.) This is a true story and, boy, is it an important story. I just wonder again who this movie is aimed at. What audience gleans the most from this film? In an idea world, African American girls should be eating this movie up. That's what should be happening and I really hope that it is. This movie is inspirational as heck for both demographics and I'm sure that's how it was marketed. I still get that the vibe of these movies is to make white people proud of the strides that they have made in terms of racism and sexism. If the goal of storytelling is to explain how a protagonist changes over the course of a story, the people who change their views are the white people. Now, this is because of the direct intervention of the women in this story, but the major inspirational moments are when SPOILERS a white guy takes a sledgehammer to a "Colored Women Only" bathroom sign and when an African American woman changes a white technician's mind that she is better at running this computer than she is. A similar scene? The scene where Octavia Spencer convinces Kirsten Dunst to give her the job. Again, these change moments are on the part of the secondary characters, not the protagonists. The message of the film is to endure and I just wonder who is watching this movie. "Endurance" and "perseverance" are important ideas that need to be communicated, but I just get the feeling that the movie is meant to appeal to the enlightened, who can pat themselves on the back for being so forward thinking.
The movie itself is very good. It takes the few things I liked out of A Beautiful Mind and then applies that to Apollo 13 under the banner of racism. I don't know what it is that speaks to our culture so much when we see people crazy smart on screen. When Katherine Johnson writes equations on the board, I have no idea what she is saying. Yet, the emotional connection is there. Perhaps it is a room full of white men looking at her work agape that gives us the reality of the moment. Because there are a lot of scenes where Johnson is writing up on a chalkboard. The story, itself, is very simple in that way. Katherine Johnson is the smartest person in the room and no one is willing to admit that until they grow enough to allow that to become a possibility. The movie is mostly about the frustration that comes from people hindering her growth. Add to that her two friends who are in similar situations at NASA. Very smart women who don't get a break because they are black and female. It is an extremely heartbreaking situation that needs to be told every so often. The biggest frustration I have about this movie is that it doesn't really cover ground that hasn't been covered. It is important that we keep getting reminders of our past so we don't recreate it, but I wish that there was something new about this movie.
I know it didn't get much play at the Academy Awards mainly because everything in this movie has been seen before. It does feel a little Oscar-baitish. I do find it funny that the definition of Oscar Bait is when a movie is extremely safe. It is usually the unique movies that really win the Oscars, so it is odd that we keep getting movies that look like they were shot by the same cinematographer as Forrest Gump. There is a look to a movie when it is filmed in the Civil Rights Era. Honestly, if it came down to it, I could probably make a template about how a Civil Rights Era feel good movie is supposed to look and sound. Hidden Figures kind of hits all of those points. This even comes down to the character development as well. (I KNOW! It's a true story. Doesn't mean that we have to beat-by-beat the formula.) I think the most telling element of how safe this movie was comes from the relationship formed with Mahershala Ali's character being shoehorned into the movie. It is this bit of comedy that the film needs to have to keep the characters real. He is in the movie almost to simply serve the formula. He really isn't a well developed character because he doesn't need to be in this movie. Rather, he's there so Katherine can have a sounding board to vent her frustrations about her workplace. He also provides context to how women were treated both inside and outside of the community. He's one character, but there are many moments like this. The movie needs these characters to advance the plot and establish context, but there is little emotional investment with these characters. Really, the heart of the film is with the three women.
The three women make the movie. They are wonderfully cast, although the inclusion of Janelle Monae makes it seem somewhat implausible. Sorry, she's too pretty for reality. The fact that no one is really commenting on her good looks is very weird to me. Again, this exists in Hollywood. Really, everyone is too good looking and symmetrical, but she is the "hot one" that no one really seems to comment on. For being three friends with similar situations, the three girls rarely interact and that is a bit odd. The three stories are all very interesting and I find it bizarre that the movie picks one of the three girls as the protagonist. But the three women really have great chemistry together for the few times that they share the screen together. The weirder casting choices involved Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst, who almost seem to be playing shells of real people. These characters hit on all of the typical beats of bigotry, which is all well and good, but I think there is a deeper version of those characters that could be portrayed. Kevin Costner, whom I normally loathe, did an okay job here. I don't know if I could ever say that he knocked it out of the park because his intentions and character arc is very weird. He's described by all of his co-workers as being closed off and unapproachable, but he never really sells that. He's more of a dude who is committed to his job and the success of the program. That's not the Scrooge character that is described by the other characters in the movie. I know that seems nit-picky, but I like to follow the rules established by the movie. I don't know if it is Costner who is messing up on that front or the director and the choices going on, but I noticed it. But normally Costner gets under my skin for how bad he is. He's not awful here. He's actually a moderately compelling character if it wasn't for the beats that felt Hollywood-y. (Again, I'm talking about a sledgehammer to the restroom sign. Sledgehammers are subtle.)
It sounds like I'm ripping this movie a new one and I don't think it was bad by any means. I actually enjoyed watching it, but I generally have a problem with these kinds of movies. I want something daring and challenging. This never really offered this. I think I'd have the same opinion of Apollo 13 if I watched it for the first time today. There's an important message here, but is that message for everyone or just the people that want to feel better about the progress in this country. I believe a movie should force you to get out your seat and fight for change. I don't see this movie stirring up a frenzy. But it could be great for the STEM movement, so who knows? Maybe I'm full of garbage.
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.