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PG-13. It's the Marvel Cinematic Universe, folks. The MPAA doesn't even need to watch these. It's going to be PG-13 until the end of time. The only reason I can think is that the Vulture is a little scary. The more I think about it, this might be the most PG superhero movie ever. Can someone remember a reason why it earned the PG-13?
DIRECTOR: Jon Watts
I know I'm going to go spoilery on this one. We're going to be doing a podcast on Spider-Man: Homecoming and probably the Spider-Man franchise as a whole, but I do like getting my thoughts into writing first regardless. In general, I try to avoid spoilers, but there's a lot I want to unpack here, so consider the opening paragraph to be one giant SPOILER WARNING.
I know a lot about Spider-Man. I think I might know too much about Spider-Man. I love Spider-Man. I have every issue of The Amazing Spider-Man to present and I keep reading comics. I watch the movies. I absorb the entertainment news. I think it might be the fandom that gets me the most response because everyone nowadays has a fundamental understanding of the character thanks to Sam Raimi's 2002 film. When I saw Tom Holland in Captain America: Civil War, I was blown away. I'm a defender of both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. I feel like Andrew Garfield gets a bad rap, but I thought he added a ton to the character. Tobey Maguire got Peter Parker perfect, but the Spider-Man stuff I could take or leave. Andrew Garfield really nailed the in-costume Spider-Man, but Peter Parker came across as a little too cool for my liking. Tom Holland gets the balance and, despite the fact that I too what reticent about what Marvel execs were saying, that is because Spider-Man needs to find is identity in high school. Andrew Garfield kept both of his films in high school, kind of. But he always felt like an adult pretending to be a kid. Tobey Maguire graduates high school in the first half of the first film. Tom Holland is 20, I think. But the kid looks and acts like he's a fourteen-year-old. Seeing a kid react to superpowers at that age is something great. This might make Spider-Man: Homecoming as unique. Every superhero movie that keeps the kid young is aimed at a really young audience with potty humor. Think 3 Ninjas Kick Back. Not the first one. Calling out the sequel is a better joke. If the audience is adult, the movie deals with adult themes with a very thin veil of high school. Tom Holland's Spider-Man feels like he is in a high school with high school problems. It works so well.
This isn't to give all of the credit to the setting alone. Holland himself is perfectly charming in the role. He gives an innocence to the character that I really haven't seen on screen before. He gets humor and timing, and that's part of what makes the movie work. The movie is founded on Holland's performance as both Peter and Spider-Man. He isn't the Spider-Man of canon that we all know and love. He's a kid who sucks at his job of being a superhero and that is interesting. We see a bit of that in the first Iron Man movie with the creation of the Mark II, but that is one moment in time and there is such a quick learning curve for Tony Stark. Maybe that's why the decision was made to put Tony as Peter's mentor. Yeah, there's the comic book Civil War stuff, but I don't really get the same vibe as that Tony. Besides, that Tony / Peter relationship was between two veteran superheroes. This was a very different relationship. Perhaps the metaphor stemmed from the fact that Homecoming is a unique movie in itself, a new outing. Having the partnership with Sony feels like a brand new opportunity for the MCU and having the initial Avenger who started the whole MCU seems appropriate. Regardless, Spider-Man in this movie isn't about stopping the world from ending or the death of his whole family. It is a very small story about a kid finally running into a real crime worth the attention of his abilities and how hard it is to take control of even a small situation. The thing that the movie gets right about Holland's Spider-Man is that his choices don't necessarily affect him as much as they affect the world around him. He is constantly disappointing those around him and that's kind of what Spider-Man is about. It is about doing the right thing and not getting praise for it. It is knowing that the greater good really is about sacrifice. It isn't about ticker tape parades and a key to the city. It is only being noticed by a select few while those around you tolerate you for your moral uprightness. That really works with the smaller scaled Spider-Man. The Netflix MCU kind of deals with the same thing, only this is far more light-hearted. When Joss Whedon (I need to stop name dropping him) said that the only way for the MCU to grow was to introduce smaller stories, I think this is the movie that he wanted to make. It is the biggest name in comic books right now and it is the smallest story outside of Ant-Man (pun intended). Actually, the more I think about it, this movie very similar in plot to Ant-Man. This movie probably handles it better.
The double-edged sword comes from the fact that the mythology of Spider-Man has hardly been touched. Out of any character, Spider-Man probably has the most exciting collection of citable stories. He has major character development moments and the other films have covered them. So the good news, this movie is brand new! Spider-Man can be whoever the MCU wants him to be because this movie was not beholden to some of the greatest stories that Marvel has ever written. However, it also sometimes didn't feel like Spider-Man either. The character was still there, but those moments in Spider-Man history have given him a ton of baggage to deal with as well. The Harry Osborn story brings character development. Gwen Stacy brings character development. Spider-Man vs. the Vulture? Perhaps that moment wasn't the most important in terms of character development. But the other movies did those stories already and they always felt a bit rushed. Spidey's world was always the worst because he went from one major outing to another and kept on pogo sticking between the different stories. There probably was a bit of mythology fatigue, so a small story kind of works. After all, the comics didn't start in the middle of Kraven's Last Hunt. Green Goblin was kind of a throwaway character while he was fighting for the Hulk. If the MCU is aiming for that attitude, boy-oh-boy, that is ambitious. But probably the one adjective I could give to the MCU is "ambitious", so that's not necessarily a bad thing. And that's not to say that there weren't elements of the mythology shoehorned in there. SPOILER: Liz Allen's story really was just Harry's story if you think about it. I admit, I always get really excited for a Norman Osborn tease in these films, but I guess that goodwill has been spent. After all, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wasted that collateral with a dying Chris Cooper.
The weakest part of the story is late in the first act and early in the second act. I remember my wife getting remarkably bored at one point in the movie. I tend to get less bored with movies, but I admit that the pacing was a bit more rough than I cared to admit. The movie really established how much of a small fry Peter was in the grand scheme of things and that does get a bit tiresome. Watching a dude fail over and over again gets a bit blah, but once the main plot actually picked up, the story really works. I also have a problem with the Iron Spidey suit that Peter ends up with. I don't like the idea of Peter being dependent on other for his technology. Everyone always thinks it is weird that Peter Parker, a high school teenager, was able to create such a cool looking suit. I always chalked that up to suspension of disbelief. But I believe the creation of the costume and the inventions was part of Peter accepting his mantle as superhero. Having Tony Stark do all of the heavy lifting makes Spider-Man kind of feel like Iron Man, Jr. Having Peter wear an Iron Man suit is hilarious and really works for a first movie. Having Peter shed the influence of Tony Stark and become his own person is what I'm really looking for in terms of character development. Maybe it is the fact that the suit interaction is so good, that the filmmakers decided to go forward with it. For all we know, Homecoming 2 will start with the destruction of the suit and Peter having to recreate it. The final thing that I have mixed feelings about it Ned / Ganke. I love Ganke. I love the actor who plays Ned. The actual execution of this character is as good as it can get. I just don't know why he's being used in this movie. Is Harry too cool to tell jokes? I know that Ganke's creator, Brian Michael Bendis (a moment of respect, please) was confused to see that Ganke had been usurped into Ned and I wonder the same thing. Part of what makes Miles work is his relationship with Ganke. That has now been given to Peter Parker and I don't know where it can go from there. Is there going to be a meeting of Ganke and Ned? Regardless, I recommend reading what Bendis did in his book. It's pretty hilarious.
The final comment about Spider-Man: Homecoming is that the world seems a bit small. EVERYONE seemed like he or she had a tie to a comic issue or something. The sheer amount of super villain introductions in this one was borderline silly. Maybe it is just establishing that these actors will get their due. After all, Spider-Man has quite the rogues gallery, but there was a bit too much coincidence for my liking. I know Stan Lee was a fan of characters meeting each other in New York, but I could have made a checklist for how many references there were in this movie. Please, for your health and safety, do not make a drinking game based on Spider-Man comic book shout outs. You will die. Regardless, the movie is fun and I'm stoked to see it again sometime.
1973: A year in an era that allowed a character to have pictures of naked women on the wall and still earn a PG rating. It really is a testament to what "R" meant back in the day.
DIRECTOR: Guy Hamilton
This is the first review I'm writing on our new home desktop. I feel so fancy. Most of my other reviews were written on a laptop that cut into my arms, so maybe my overall disposition will be far happier knowing that I'm not feeling physical pain while writing this. I meant to review this movie around the time of Sir Roger Moore's death, but my stupid obsession with doing things in order meant that I had to review Diamonds are Forever. I HAD to. This wasn't a choice. It's not like the entertainment I consume and critique is arbitrary and only fits with my weird personal neuroses. Anyway, this movie is something.
I always referred to this as the blaxploitation Bond. It is shamelessly capitalizing on the whole blaxspoitation era of cinema, but seems to put even more "exploitation" into the portmanteau. I'd like to thing that the rest of the movement was about making movies that the community found valuable and fun and it just happened that they were more appealing to a larger audience than was initially planned. Making Bond a blaxspoitation film is a bit cheap. The audience is still the same that it ever was. Perhaps a studio head wanted to get more of an African-American audience, but none of that was a matter of artistic integrity. This was about getting more people in the seats. In an era that is striving for wokefulness, it is a bit cringe worthy to see that the only way that the movie became a blaxsploitation movie is by making all of the bad guys members of the community. Yeah, there's a CIA agent named Strutter who has a very minor role and Quarrel's son, Quarrel Jr. *sigh*, shows up, but that is against a wave of African-Americans portrayed as criminals. Not exactly the balance that probably should be represented on screen. As a white male, I feel like a bad person for saying this, but it was the '70s. Taking cinema into context is a luxury that I enjoy, but I also know that it is somewhat important. It never forgives Birth of a Nation or other such atrocities, but I do always keep it in scope of what I'm watching. But the blaxspoitation aspect of Live and Let Die defines it. The odd thing is that this movie is directed by Guy Hamilton, the guy who did some of the most iconic Bond films of the Connery era. He made the format and the formula. Watching the early Connerys, there is such a repetition in style and Hamilton doesn't necessarily negate that by infusing the blaxspoitation elements. Really, the movie comes across as more of a hybrid rather than a whole new feel. I'd normally say that this shouldn't work. Infusing a different genre with a conflicting formula shouldn't work. There should be some graft v. host, but it kind of does work. I think that comes down to the inclusion of Roger Moore as James Bond. But I'll get to that in a second. Cementing blaxspoitation over Bond gives it kind of a new feel. Bond, like Doctor Who, has been around so long that it needs to have a foundation that maintains its voice, but also needs to grow and change over time. Live and Let Die might be the only real original Bond film until GoldenEye or Casino Royale in terms of risk. Yeah, Moonraker is a gutsy call, but it really is a traditional Bond movie until the final act, which is always bombastic in the other movies. Instead, Live and Let Die gives the movie a color palate (pun definitely not intended) and a funk to the soundtrack that makes this movie feel way less stuffy. Bond is never boring, but there's something a little fancy to Bond that is removed here.
Like I mentioned, a lot of this has to do with the adoption of Roger Moore in the role of Bond. After watching Becoming Bond, the choice to embrace Roger Moore does make an odd amount of sense. Lazenby had done a copy of Connery. The whole history is that You Only Live Twice marketed itself with the tagline, "Sean Connery IS James Bond" [sic]. Lazenby tried being Connery to a certain extent and looks like a Mann's Chinese Theater version of Connery. Roger Moore doesn't look like Connery whatsoever and this is what I think makes Bond work. Live and Let Die forced the filmmakers to decide what was quintessential to Bond. Roger Moore could never be Sean Connery like Lazenby tried to be. The film acknowledges that he had to be classy and that he had to be an action hero womanizer. But a lot of the other moments are up to Roger Moore. Sean Connery interacted with his world very quickly. He acts and reacts, but Roger Moore lives in the moment. Connery never really tried to be cool; he just was. This seems like an attack on Moore, but it isn't. Moore really plays up the cool. He knows the phrase, "My name is Bond" sounds super awesome. He isn't introducing himself; he is marking his territory. He is forcing others to let their guards down. Similarly, there is a level of destruction that accompanies Roger Moore that makes the character almost intentionally comical. That really works for Roger Moore. There are times in the past where I really rolled my eyes thinking about Roger Moore's Bond. I always liked him, but that always somewhat felt cheap. Not really. I think I was wrong about the whole thing. Moore's Bond was just that. It was Moore's Bond. It is what the character had to become to survive and it works. It's the ebbs and flows of time. I find it funny in an era of gritty remakes that the Bond franchise somewhat predicts the whole movement. Moore's Bond is a response to Connery's dry wit. Moore's Bond isn't afraid to smile and be in on the joke versus the Connery Bond who was almost aware of how lucky he was to be in all of these romantic entanglements. So it's not Connery. Who cares?
I love Yaphet Kotto and mostly because of this movie. The past three Bond movies all had Blofeld as a villain and, by Diamonds are Forever, I kind of get tired of him. This is not to throw Blofeld under the bus because one of my favorite conventions is the Moriarty. But when super villains keep returning, they get less and less scary. Think of the the Borg on Star Trek: Voyager. (I'm sure all of you thought about that and this reference helps keep context. You. Are. Welcome.) Yaphet Kotto is a nearly perfect Bond villain because he is a gangster. His influence is over what he cares about. He's not trying to blow up the world in a volcano hanger. He's a guy who has a secret basement under a Filet of Soul restaurant. Okay, he is a dictator of a private island, but that's just so he can grow his drugs. This movie is about stopping a drug cartel, but it is still funny! Like, there are such charming moments and all I can think about that this is just like Blow or Traffic. (Or Licence to Kill...) If Bond fails to stop Mr. Big, that just means that he makes more money and he isn't put out of business. It is almost bizarre that Bond is even chasing after him. Honestly, if Mr. Big hadn't gone after all of the agents keeping an eye on him, Bond wouldn't have even been involved. It seems so small fry and that is the perfect antidote to just a stream of blockbusters that need to get bigger and bigger. But the great part is that the scope of the film is tightened with Mr. Big, what Hamilton does within that smaller swimming pool is all the more impressive. The action sequences in this film are fantastic. The boat chase in Louisiana is still one of my favorite moments in Bond and the compound that with the double decker bus chase.
That's not to say that everything in this movie really works. This movie tries doing a bit too much at times. The most famous henchmen are Oddjob from Goldfinger and Jaws from Moonraker and The Spy Who Loved Me. This movie has an upsetting number of gimmicky bad guys. TeeHee, Whisper, and Baron Samedi all fight for attention. The odd part is that Baron Samedi is the iconic villain in this one, but he makes the least amount of sense. Whisper is a joke and Tee Hee actually should be the main henchman, but Samedi is just there. This is also a commentary on what the movie is actually trying to do. It kind of messes with the world of Bond a bit too much. This is the only Bond movie that acknowledges that the supernatural exists. The question was raised in the first Bond movie, Dr. No, with the inclusion of a dragon. Like how Scooby Doo completely undid their mission statement on the supernatural, this movie just establishes that magic and voodoo are possible. Never does this come up again in the series and it is odd to have Bond fight against an unkillable villain. Some people might argue about the fact that Baron Samedi was a trick put on by Kananga, but the end of that movie firmly establishes that Samedi is a member of the dead. Also, the whole Solitaire bit is straight up supporting that the supernatural is possible. (Bee tee dubs, I've seen this movie so many times and I've never thought of someone using religion and belief to sexually decieve someone as a problem before. It's...uncomfortable.) I know that I was preaching growth in a franchise only a few paragraphs before, but I wish that there was a grounded reason for all of the weird behind the scenes things. It's just too much in this movie. That said, I can also argue against myself and much of the movie would fall apart without this goofy element included.
The movie is fun. Secretly, it might be one of my favorite Bond movies and that makes me a bad person. I like Roger Moore and I'm excited to get through his series, although I do acknowledge that many of those movies will be troublesome. I guess I should just jump ahead to Octopussy and A View to a Kill because that's the next real jump in tone. Anyway, I enjoy this one and I'm not going to apologize for it anymore.
I was going to write this whole thing about how this movie is R, but it really isn't that bad. Then I did "An American Werewolf in London" image search on Google and then realized that this movie is super disturbing and maybe my litmus test for innocence is skewed beyond repair. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: John Landis
I think I'm far too sensitive for my own good. I had only seen this movie for the first time a few years ago. That said, I instantly threw it on my favorite movies list. It definitely hit the top horror films list and I felt safe to say unequivocally that I was cool in throwing this on the list. After all, it's pretty lauded in the film community without being sequelized to death. (It was tried once and failed horribly. I have yet to see that one and I really don't think it will hold a candle to London.) But I was afraid to come back to it. I loved it so much and had preached it so hard that I started to grow nervous about how much of an impact this movie could possibly have. I tend to do that. These movies get too dear to my heart and I want to cherish that moment of enjoying a perfect film. But I can't live my life like that. I don't want to live my life like that. So I got a copy of An American Werewolf in London for my birthday and, gosh darn it, I was going to watch it. And you know what?
I had nothing to worry about.
This movie is so good. It is one of those weird modern classics that film buffs have all known and seen and discussed, but I think the general population pretty much misses out on it. I have this theory that the modern classic is starting to disappear from society. There will be films that my generation considers sacred that the next generation will completely miss and I have a feeling that An American Werewolf in London will be one of those films. Heck, I know some of my peers have probably never heard of this movie. London is impressive on two fronts. It is an outstanding horror movie in its own right. I'll go into detail about that in a second. But it is such a great study into filmmaking and manipulating mood that I wish I could recommend it to everybody. (Again, I can't. This movie is disturbing as all get out.) But I think many of the best directors don't allow their genre to dictate the content that hits the screen. Many of the contemporary horror movies I can thing of use tropes and tricks to drive right at the emotion that the director is trying to evoke. I think The Ring might have been one of the moments in film history that defined the past few decades of horror movies, so I'll look there. Again, I loved The Ring and in isolation, it might be a beautiful movie. But every movie has copied that formula because the end result is "The scariest movie wins." The Ring uses a washed out color palate coupled with jump cuts and piercing foley to drive its audience into a panic. That panic is what both the studio and the director wants the audience to experience. That panic is viral and drives word of mouth. It fills theater seats and I can't blame them. People want to see the scariest movie ever. An American Werewolf in London doesn't really use tropes in the sense that The Ring does. There is blood and gore. There are even a few jump cuts that are fairly startling. But the movie goes against convention and that's what makes the movie fairly great. It is scary and it is effectively scary at that. But the movie goes to levels beyond what is considered traditional. Rather, the balance of humor without outright being a comedy makes the movie moments all that more effective. This is something that Tarantino and Rodriguez picked up on long ago. A good soundtrack coupled with great characterization make the emotion elicited all that more important. It turns cannon fodder into something personal. Jack as a corpse is more of a real character than dozens of protagonists in contemporary horror movies because he has depth. I care about Jack's life and afterlife because Jack is not simply there to push forward the plot. He is there to make me care about David's choices. There is a weird morality behind the horror movie. Horror movies, typically, are about the protagonist trying to wrestle control from an outside force with varying degrees of success. Rather, Landis ignores that convention and places the choices in David's hands early on. It turns the genre on its head and allows the movie to be both riveting and scary simultaneously.
But the movie is scary as well. I can't stress that enough. I have always thought that werewolves were dumb. They are on the low end of the totem poll (pun intended...kind of?) But Landis pays homage to the mythology of the past while completely introducing his own mythology and rules to the game. Like Joss Whedon did with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the new rules of werewolves are not introduced in a hamfisted way that wink to the audience. These are the ways of this world because other werewolf movies don't really exist. (I know that Whedon was somewhat self-aware about the rules about vampires, but he didn't beat them to death...pun intended kinda.) Werewolves were always on the boundary between full on supernatural creatures and an infection that didn't make a lick of sense. Landis places them well within the realm of the supernatural by having them affect their victims after death. These are the moments that are riveting. There's no sci-far jargon about how this is working; the victims simply exist and are suffering and it is up to David to take care of this. David's sacrifice is an outstanding one. He has this weird moral ground to take that would be difficult for anyone. David's flaws, similarly, add to the storyline. He isn't necessarily a real person because he is too handsome and smoldering to be a day to day human being. (I imagine that very few patients who have been mauled by wolves can seduce their attractive nurses into allowing them to stay at the nurses' flats.) But he does have a real world understanding of the world around him. His skepticism is feasible and that's what makes the movie very interesting. We have this dramatic irony that David clearly does not. We know that the world around him is real. The very understanding that we are watching a movie named An American Werewolf in London implies that the events around him are real. I would probably be making similar choices to David given the circumstances, even with the visit from Jack in mind. That makes Jack all the more terrifying to us than it is to David. It doesn't hurt that this was made during Rick Baker's golden age. Watching this movie felt like I was leafing through an amazing Fangoria collection because almost every shot is beautiful. Since I'm gushing pretty hard about this movie, I had better point out the effects that don't work. The wolf in full frame looks a little off and Jack's last form has something to be desired. But these complaints must be taken in stride. These concepts are hard to convey even in words, let alone having to make it visually cool. These moments aren't even that bad, but I could hear naysayers scream "Fake!" because the world is a terrible place.
Landis can't help but be a little funny, I feel. I looked through his IMDB credits and most of them have some obvious comedic element to them. I don't know why this works for him as a director. He's never making fun of the genre he's dealing with. He's more adding his personality to the sandbox he's playing in. As part of that, he never considers anything too sacred. His use of music is outstanding. Maybe it is a bit of a super lucky happenstance, but his use of songs with the word "moon" in them is tonally perfect. I would be the first to admit that I normally roll my eyes when it comes to "on the nose" music, but these songs work so darned well in this movie. If my kids weren't watching DuckTales right now, I'd be blasting "Bad Moon Rising" because it is the song of the film. Like I mentioned, Tarantino got something from Landis. The idea of the song being contrary to expectations in the film separates this movie from the rest of the pack. (Absolutely pun intended.) The comedy plays so well because the music establishes a tone. On top of that, the story is very small. It's a personal tale that comedy is allowed to breathe. I love that there is no big quest for the thing that is going to cure David. There is no token or MacGuffin that would free the beast. Heck, David is even given the answer on how to remove the curse, to a certain extent, and he never tries hunting down any previous versions of the wolf. The story is about a cocky American kid studying abroad facing his own mortality at the expense of others. There shouldn't be comedy brewing here, but it is there regardless.
Landis is wonderful director at the height of his prime here. He knows how to handle a camera and play with expectations. An American Werewolf in London might always be one of my favorite horror movies because it knows that it doesn't have to play by rules or raise the stakes for a scream. Landis likes that you scream, but he doesn't need you to scream.
I never thought I would need to organize the content on this page. This website was pretty much just meant to put aside some space to write, but I've done quite a bit of writing this year. The links are now at the bottom of the photos on the left for simpler navigation.
TV-MA. George Lazenby has led an infamously debaucherous life. While this movie has its fair share of filthy stories and images, it could have been way worse. There is nudity and the movie has an extremely casual attitude towards sex, but I can't help but think that it could have been so much worse.
DIRECTOR: Josh Greenbaum
Not that long ago, I wrote a review of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. In that review, I alluded to the fact that George Lazenby is a weird guy who apparently has led the most insane life on par with Gene Simmons, Bill Murray, and Adam West. Apparently, Lazenby has all of these crazy underground stories that would make the most hardened veteran blush. He references this time in his life, but much of that is glossed over. It should also be noted that Becoming Bond ends after the press tour for On Her Majesty's Secret Service and I hear that some of the truly jawdropping stories happened after he left the Bond franchise behind for good.
It is hard to say what Becoming Bond is. It's labeled as a documentary because Lazenby is narrating the events of his life. It feels like Lazenby had an extremely long interview about his life and Josh Greenbaum decided to make a biopic around those scenes. Many documentaries, including The Jinx which I happen to be watching right now often include short reenactments to explain complex ideas that have no video evidence. Becoming Bond goes way beyond this. Lazenby is portrayed primarily by Josh Lawson, who seems to improvise jokes. It has a bit of a Drunk History vibe to it, only taking itself slightly more seriously. The reenactment sequences are very stylized. It doesn't feel like Lawson and company are going for perfect recreations of the events as they happened, but more along the lines of how Lazenby simplifies it. Many of the reenactments are more played for laughs because Lazenby finds such humor in his storytelling. As a documentary, it is fascinating. As a biopic, it needs the narration to link it together and make it work, but it is extremely fun. I kind of got the Big Fish vibe from the tone of the film. At one point, the interviewer --presumably Greenbaum --asks him what aspects of Lazenby's story is true. Lazenby seems incredulous about this question, but the question makes a lot of sense. Much like Big Fish, this does feel like a tall tale. Lazenby's entire life seems to be one that is larger than life. He has an almost Forrest Gump like quality, being in the right place at the right time. That makes the biopic element of the movie all the more fascinating. The story is so big that the movie must be fun to act in.
The reenactments are silly, but they are extremely effective. I think something that makes George Lazenby who he is involves a certain degree of self-effacement. Some of the moments in this movie could be seen as somewhat disturbing. Lazenby, towards the end of the movie, kind of acknowledges that he doesn't know why he turned fame and fortune down. The movie introduced me to something I never really knew about Lazenby: he was offered a six picture deal after the amazing success of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He had himself set. The big revelation is that he didn't want to sign a contract. There was an active decision to turn away from Bond. He said he'd prefer to be a car salesman all over again. It makes Lazenby looks possibly a bit more heroic than he actually is. He bows out with this weird artistic integrity that the rest of his tale never even hints at. Lazenby wasn't this good guy who was all about his art and only chose to do what was good for the soul. He led the life of a rock star as hard as he could during the shoot of On Her Majesty's Secret Service. He took everyone for as much money as he could get out of them. The final moment where he turns away from the Bond franchise is heartwarming, but I get the vibe that keeping up appearances was way too hard to maintain and that he had already made more money with that one film than he had ever seen. It's still pretty impressive when he turns down a suitcase with a million dollars in it. Lazenby, in that moment, became a cautionary tale for studio execs. Lazenby became the worst case scenario for every studio head when the lackadaisical attitude towards contracts became a problem. I can't think that anyone could have predicted the moment when he decided to turn his back from what everyone had only dreamed of. I wondered this morning whether or not we were living in an alternate universe where George Lazenby had done all seven films and Roger Moore never became Bond.
There's a moment where Lazenby cries and I hope it is real. That makes me seem like a bit of a jerk, but it humanizes Lazenby so much. The movie is about humanizing an urban legend and it does a great job. But the movie has a bit of a throughline when it comes to the girl who got away. The story of Belinda is a tragic tale and it is a really nice counterbalance to the P.T. Barnum aspects that Lazenby normally presents throughout the normal film. It's a bit saccharine and Hallmark-y, but it helps knowing that in the middle of the sexual revolution, there was a moment of true affection that Lazenby experienced. He seems to be filled with regret to this day about how that played out, despite the fact that he is pretty proud of the life he lived, debauchery and all. The Belinda story has a moment of "eh" in it, but I think that comes from the fact that Greenbaum can only portray what Lazenby explains in his interview. Belinda is portrayed as the perfect human being. She is the victim completely, with the exception of one moment that is built up pretty high and ignored pretty quickly. SPOILERS: Belinda leaves Australia for London for three months. During that time, she leaves Lazenby and starts dating the captain of the Oxford cricket team. When Lazenby follows her around the world and finally finds her again, he seems very passive about Belinda's transgression. Perhaps the problem comes from the fact that Lazenby only started dating Belinda because he grabbed her away from her boyfriend. It makes it very strange that Belinda was so shocked that Lazenby would cheat on her later on. The sting makes sense and is very human, but there's a weird hypocrisy that the audience is kind of meant to ignore. But again, I think this comes from Lazenby's subjectivity. Belinda, in his mind, is a saint and she is also his biggest failure. He had happiness and gave it up for a life of partying and con artistry.
I really like the aesthetic of the whole thing. It is odd seeing so many elements of the Bond franchise used in this documentary / biopic (I still can't decide what to call this movie!). The movie is separated by chapters. It uses the opening gunbarrel to break up the elements of the movie. Starting with the traditional dots across the screen, those dots morph to match the climate of the era it is portraying. To add to the whole thing, the chapters are puns of the titles of Bond movies and Bond elements. It is super fun. On top of that, the actual Bond theme is used for the credits sequence, which I rarely hear outside of The Goonies. The production value on this movie is phenomenal, especially considering that it is a Hulu original. I wonder if the movie was made before and they sold it to Hulu or vice versa. Regardless, the production value on the whole thing blows my mind and doesn't feel simply like another look at the movies made by EON productions. I've seen many of those and I enjoy them, but they are definitely a water down version of history to sell the movies. This is quite the opposite. It seems like a love letter towards Bond, but in a way that likes them --warts and all. After seeing enough interviews talking about the genius of Cubby Broccoli, it was great seeing him portrayed by Ralph Garmin. I mention Ralph Garmin, because the movie is full of very big named cameos. One of the cameos is intimately linked to the Bond franchise, which is great. Garmin has one of the biggest roles, but the rest of the big cameos are on screen for maybe a minute or two. I don't know why these people had been cast in these roles, but it makes the movie all the more fun. Perhaps the actors are a big fan of Bond or Lazenby or are just doing it for a paycheck, but it just adds to the surreal nature of the whole endeavor.
I love Bond and I have great affection for On Her Majesty's Secret Service. This movie was made for me, but I kept thinking that I wanted to share it with others. I'm not sure who those people would be, considering the content is a little more R-Rated than the standard fare with the same tone. If you don't mind a little tongue-in-cheek debauchery, give this one a whirl. It is very fun and you might learn a little something about an underground legend.
PG-13, for naked mermaids that eat people. I really wanted them to make a Little Mermaid reference while these sadistic mermaids ripped into a bunch of sailors. But noooooo. They have reeeeesssppppeeeeccttt for their other licensed properties.
DIRECTOR: Rob Marshall
I hate when I take the hipster route. Okay, no I don't. I like being the guy who likes the movie that everyone else hates and hates the movie that everyone else loves. I don't know what compulsion is in me that makes that happen, but it happens. Well, it happened again. After I was pretty flippant about this movie when writing a review for the most recent Pirates movie, I decided to go back and give the one that no one saw a chance. It's the one I like the most. This movie was great. I was nearly everything I wanted out of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie, despite the fact that nothing should have really worked. Also, this movie almost made me have to go back and rewrite my recent review for Dead Men Tell No Tales because I griped about people aging in that one for a long time. Then I found out that On Stranger Tides was all about the search for the Fountain of Youth and I just started pinching my temples really hard. My hubris!
I don't think that I'll ever be a fan of this franchise. These movies are watchable, to be sure, but I never really fall in love with the characters and the stories are always a little weak. But what makes On Stranger Tides works when I don't think many entries in the franchise do is the idea that it does a simple story well. The other movies have the attitude of overcomplicating the living heck out of each film. This movie is very straightforward and it kind of works. I admit that the secondary characters have goals and side stories, but they are intimately linked to the A story in natural ways. Watching Dead Men Tell No Tales, it was painful to see how these characters tried to get shoehorned into the story. On Stranger Tides really just follows multiple groups to the same challenge. It's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with less comedy and more people being eaten by attractive ladies. (Maybe one extra lady eating a guy. Otherwise, the same film.) The story surrounds Jack Sparrow, finally in the role as the protagonist, as he is coerced into revealing the location of the fountain of youth. Multiple parties, including the inexplicably tied Captain Barbossa, race for the Fountain of Youth before their separate lives are put in danger. Oddly enough, Jack's motivation is the weakest considering that he's the hero in this situation. Jack Sparrow really has become a bit of an Indiana Jones in this one, searching for mysterious artifacts since he lost his precious Black Pearl. LIGHT SPOILER / NOT A SPOILER IF YOU'VE SEEN DEAD MEN: It is a wacky random happenstance that he runs into the Pearl in its current condition, which seems to be typical of the Disney "Small World" (Pun intended) So much happens in these movies that defies the laws of coincidence, but that's part of trying to tell a complex story with a little more than two hours at your disposal.
It's odd reviewing On Stranger Tides after seeing its sequel. There are beats that the filmmakers wanted to share that may not have been deemed successful in On Stranger Tides. (Again, I disagree because I think that On Stranger Tides is the superior film) The whole theme of the relationship between estranged parent and child plays very heavily into this movie. The exact same theme is revisited in Dead Men Tell No Tales, which is an odd choice because it really is effective here. HEAVY SPOILER: It takes the opposite message in the end. Dead Men Tell No Tales examines how blood is thicker than water and that there is always a tie between a father and a daughter. On Stranger Tides seems to contradict that message with Blackbeard's ambivalence towards his daughter. He is selfish and evil through and through, which makes Ian McShane's Blackbeard all the more fun. Sometimes a less complex villain is what a movie needs. I can't help but compare his character to that of Javier Bardem's complex pirate captain. I didn't like the complexity of the character because it kind of made him the hero in a way. Blackbeard never really shows a moment of goodness that makes him likable, which is even the more strange knowing that the character is meant to be a real person. Adding all of this historical fiction in the form of fantasy just feels odd because there's no real benefit to including the real pirate Blackbeard in this story. There's the instant recognition of the Queen Anne's Revenge and the association with Blackbeard as an infamous historical figure, but his origins and story play little into the narrative of this one. The best one could pull from having Blackbeard appear in this story is the legend that the details of Blackbeard's actual death are ambiguous and there is a legend of him surviving beyond his public death. Any pirate legend could fit there, so it is odd that the character isn't fiction. Regardless, I still liked the idea of a supernatural version of the Queen Anne's Revenge spewing fire everywhere. It looks cool and I can shut my brain off on command.
One of my many complaints about Dead Men Tell No Tales is that it is a big step backwards for Jack's character, whom I found really annoying in that film. People must like the idea that Jack is a bit of a scoundrel, but that also eliminates any growth for him. I don't want him to be a TV character, staying the same and only having minor character changes. I liked this one because Jack has a weird sense of rogue chivalry (chaotic good) in this one. He was the Zorro / Han Solo of this movie. He jumped and leaped and fought with a sword while stealing a little on the side. He looked out for the greater good and sacrificed himself for others. He even shows regret towards his previous actions and much of the movie is him trying to redeem himself from his awful ways. He never loses the character of Jack Sparrow in those moments though. He still has the overarching selfishness that the character has been associated with, but also has a much greater moral compass (pun unintended) than he did in the other films. It makes it all the more somber to see him as a useless drunk in the next film. I like that Jack learned something from the events of the first three movies. He's allowed to be salty (I don't even know if "salty" is a pun here) about his losses in the past, but that saltiness should come with a bit of a smile. Having him drunkenly survive situations makes him come off as cheap. Nah, I liked this version of Jack. He is brazen in the face of the king and knows how to control a situation. A world of coincidences and good luck is good for a punchline, but not for a long running franchise where character development is a must.
Penelope Cruz's Angelica was super fun, especially when she out Depps Johnny, but her choices are very very odd. I don't know if the people steering the ship (I'm just going to stop) know what they want out of this franchises, but Angelica kind of feels like a Bond girl: far too disposable. I can understand the frustration of the higher ups. By having Jack get his life together and achieve all of his goals, it is a momentum killer. Having Jack win over woman after woman as he finds his wife in the sea means the story goes on forever. But it also makes these women far more vapid than they should be as characters. The shame of it all is that having Angelica act as a foil for Jack is really great. The big success that the movie presents is that Jack is not unkillable (okay, he kinda is) because someone else has the same skill set that he does. It's just that Angelica never really undergoes the emotional trials that she should be. The main plot of the search for the Fountain of Youth really affects her more than any other character, but she ends the movie even more deluded than when she started the film. She seems so fun and in control and then just becomes a flat character who doubles down on the initial character trait that she presented in the first few minutes of the movie. Why do this? Regardless, the inclusion of Angelica brought my favorite kind of action to this movie. The Pirates movies, when done right, kind of mirror the wire-fu action sequences of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They are larger than life and there is definitely someone doing them. These movies are overloaded with CGI, but the movie always becomes way more watchable when I see actors doing real stunts and real fight sequences. Since Angelica is modeled after Jack, watching two Jacks with their distinct ridiculous fighting styles is just a joy. I could watch some of the swashbuckling sequences all day. They never really get going.
On the question of faith, I'm not quite sure what the movie is trying to say. There is a character who is a chaplain who keeps getting spared from absolutely awful things that happen at sea. He acts as a good luck charm for the crew, strapped to the mast so nothing happens to his ship. I love seeing Christian characters in stories that actually have their faith defended by the events. I know, that's not how God works, but it is refreshing to see a religious character not portrayed as a complete nutbar. But he starts becoming kind of dumb. The mermaids in this movie are monsters. I loved that that the mermaids are evil beasts who drag men to their deaths, only to eat them beneath the waves. Upon capturing one of these mermaids, they must collect a tear from a mermaid because of made of mythology. This is where I get confused on the message of this story. Many of the men fall in love with the mermaids because they are drop dead gorgeous. They're over sexualized and the men think that a beautiful girl needs a strong strapping man to take care of her. This is their folly and it leads to their dooms. However, when the mermaid is captured, the chaplain falls for the mermaid real hard and defends her from any cruelty that the crew throws her way. His major plot surrounds his defense of this poor creature. Because he's handsome and she's gorgeous, they fall in love...which seems to be the opposite message that the movie was talking about only moments before. The chaplain constantly refers to her beauty, using that as his justification for the fact that she must be innocent. I kind of have a problem with that. All of the mermaids were Hollywood pretty, but they murdered left and right. Why is it she who is the right one? Why is her beauty more of a validation of her innocence than anyone else's? Why is beauty tied to morality whatsoever? It's a really weird call and I don't know what the story was there. Happy to see someone religious in a place of non-craziness; not so happy that God uses him as a lucky rabbit's foot and nothing makes sense with his character.
I repeat: I'd rather see a simple movie done well than a complex movie done poorly. That said, I like complexity. This movie might be the best in the franchise, but it is far from perfect. A lot of that comes from the fact that I'm not a Pirates of the Caribbean fan nor will I probably ever be. The movie is a good time, but I don't think we'll be seeing any more in the franchise mirror the attitude of this film.
A valid R, mostly for language and one scene of gore that I can think of. We're not talking hard R here, but R none the less. I want to find another organic way of saying "R", but out of context feels like cheating.
DIRECTOR: Edgar Wright
This is the movie, guys. This is the one I was excited for this year. I was more excited for Baby Driver than I am for Spider-Man: Homecoming. I fanboy out over Edgar Wright real hard. My entire film class was me not shutting up over Baby Driver and it finally came. My moment of clarity: Baby Driver is an outstanding movie that could not possibly live up to the hype I gave it in my old mind grapes. I still loved it more than I've loved most movies, but it might be my least favorite Edgar Wright film. But who cares? Edgar Wright has yet to let me down and I will continue to hype myself up for his movies way too hard.
The worst thing I could have done was to read South by Southwest reviews. There was something out there along the lines that Baby Driver was a musical action movie romance story. Okay, yeah, kind of. When I saw that, the word "musical" stood out most in that grouping. The movie is not a musical. It has musical elements and a killer soundtrack that defines the movie beautifully. It didn't help that the opening credits totally were a musical sequence. And it was a cool musical sequence. It was a near perfect music video with a great narrative that got me in the mind of Baby and golly, could I gush on it enough. The opening credits were my favorite part of the movie. It's selfish of me,because I wanted the entire movie to be the opening credit sequence. I will be rewatching footage of just the opening again sometime because that sequence was gnarly as heck. The musical elements I'm talking about has to do with cool timing stuff. Other movies have tried to do it to this level, but I don't think many of those other movies have really achieved that level of timing. It all comes down to completely fluid editing on the part of Wright and editors Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. I'm rarely an editing nerd. I'm actually part of the camp of editing should be part of the background with rare exceptions. This was one of those rare exceptions, and even then it strikes a very close balance. The movie plays extremely well without an awareness of the editing choices going on, but achieve new heights because the editing is so gosh darn playful. I was being annoying to my wife pointing out cool little music beats. Wright does the Mulholland Drive street lines scenes, but then there was a double beat. What does he do? Patch in the road. Shut. Up. That's beautiful. It's not a musical because the only real sequence that follows that kind of musical format is the opening credits. But Baby lives in the world of his music. His music affects his performance and he's obsessive about it. It is such a fun little quirk that it makes the movie what it is. It is a fun action car movie without it, but such a joyful movie considering the dark content otherwise.
The odd thing is that this is Edgar Wright's most straightforward, serious film and I still found myself laughing. There's very few actual jokes in this movie. (Okay, the Mike Myers thing in the trailer is a straight up bit and it is hilarious.) The movie finds its joy around the reactions of the movie and the way that the movie is cut together. Wright, like his usual style, uses the camera to tell more story than the narrative. He plays tricks with the camera. Baby is looking for a job? He walks in to apply and walks out to deliver a pizza. Lots of movies handle that moment in that way, but they use it as the exception to their straightforward film. Wright has this as simply a moment in the movie. It is no more or less playful than any other scene in the movie. Considering that this is a car movie, that gives a new playground for Wright. I know that he touched upon his love of Point Break quite loudly with Hot Fuzz, but Hot Fuzz was always more of a lampoon than it was an homage to this very specific genre. Wright is doing more of a love letter and trying to deliver an awesome car movie at the same. It has many of the same attitudes that Tarantino does towards his movies. Both directors love their respected genres and only wish to add to the pool with a movie worthy of their favorite films. That's exciting to watch as a fan. I always kind of get depressed knowing that directors have to do so many "for hire" projects to put bread on the table. Maybe it is a blessing in disguise that Wright never got to do Ant-Man because I think it would have broken him a little bit. Every single movie he has done so far has been completely his and his alone. I can see why a major studio like Marvel might drive him away because these movies are love letters, not jobs.
It is odd seeing such an American movie come out of Wright. I weirdly still think of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World as a Canadian film, but there is a different vibe to this one. Having the men of AMC fill in this movie is so cool. The names in this movie are huge. Kevin Spacey alone gives this film some star power, but the choices in the other big names is inspiring. Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx are huge names, but they also have the right degree of indie cred. Wright spends many of his first acts setting up for his third, and his use of Jon Hamm in the third act of this movie is inspiring. I keep dancing around ways to not spoil Hamm's involvement in the plot, but I'm not even going to tease. Hamm is great in this movie and his juxtaposition to Foxx's very bombastic character is super cool. These characters are larger than life, but they never fully embrace a campiness that could have ruined this movie. Instead, they are being large and in charge and allowing the tone of the film to justify choices that might not be in other, more grounded films of theirs. The odd thing, considering I recently watched the first two Fast and the Furious movies, they match the very obvious performances of those casts but it somehow works better here. Wright's world allows for Hamm, Bernthal, Foxx, Spacey, and Gonzalez just to go to town. But there is a hint of irony to their performances. There is never the full on wink to the camera, but there is an acknowledgement that Baby's world is not governed by our rules. The world has a sneeze of superhero action world and that's okay. These characters live inside this world fabulously and their performances match the world.
I didn't know Ansel Elgort before this movie, but golly, his casting is just perfect. He has this comic timing to him where he knows that you aren't supposed be laughing at him, but the world around him. He has this flat affect that just works for the movie. Considering that everyone in the film accuses him of having some kind of social disorder, it works for the character. But the character exudes mental break while being simply reined in. This makes his chemistry with Lily James all the more interesting. My wife thought she was the least interesting character in the movie, but she did like their relationship. Yeah, it's a bit weird that she falls so hard for Baby. Okay, I'll go as far as to say that it doesn't really make sense that she'd be willing to uproot her life so hard for a guy who requires so much work to get a certain sentence. But their introverted / extroverted attitudes make the relationship cute. I might be a sucker for that kind of stuff, so you'll need to forgive me if I'm way off the mark. I can see why my wife thought that her characterization was a little weak. I feel like I've seen that character in other things, which is kind of lame considering that this movie is super broey. (I'm trying to think if this movie passes the Bechdel test. The way I understand it is that there are two female leads who have a conversation not about their relationship to a male lead. I think that works, but that's only because one of them was a waitress that took the other's order.) But that relationship is great and I really rooted for it. Aw geez, I realized that her relationship is only in the movie to give him incentive to act outside of his character. LIGHT SPOILER: IN THE SENSE THAT I'M TELLING YOU WHO DOESN'T DIE IN THE MOVIE. If she had died, she would have been an example of fridging a character. Maybe I need to get off my woke butt and just enjoy the fact that I thought that they were cute together.
One of the criticisms I saw about this movie is that the action wasn't that great. Shut up. It totally is amazing. I haven't seen such cool action in a while and the Fast and Furious movies need to take a note of how to make amazing car chases. The action sequences outside the car are also awesome, so stop griping other reviews that are not this one. I'm really defensive.
I think the only thing that doesn't make this my favorite movie is that I prefer Edgar Wright, the comedy director. His comedy is just so on point that it is weird to see him take a movie without lampooning something else. Again, I can't stress that this movie is by no means a serious film, but it also isn't overtly a comedy either. Let's throw this one in dramedy. Okay, actionady, but that doesn't flow nearly as well as the portmanteau "dramedy." Nothing really drags in this movie and the movie is just a ton of fun. I can't wait for this to come to Blu-Ray because this is an absolutely fantastic garage film. Yeah, it could have been PG-13, but if Edgar Wright wants to drop F-Bombs, I'm going to let him. They're few and far between, so it's not like he's looking to offend. I think he just wants his movie to be his own and the studio can kind of kiss his rear end. I feel like he doesn't mind small turnouts to his movies because his films are always buried without a ton of press. No one knew what movie I was going to see when I said Baby Driver (gasp!), but I get the vibe that might be on Wright himself. Anyway, I wholeheartedly recommend this one, but also take the time to watch the rest of the Wright oeuvre.
TV-MA. It's an HBO documentary, so you know it is going to be graphic. There's a couple shots that are really just as brutal as you can get. They were so brutal that I just grew cold. If you are cool with looking at real pictures of real dead bodies, then you should be able to handle this one. It's a real bummer...
DIRECTOR: Liz Garbus
I did it. I found a documentary that hit my wife's weird Venn Diagram of disturbing. A long time ago, a co-worker sent me an article entitled something like "The Most Shocking Documentaries Available for Streaming." We have three free months of HBO for switching to Direct TV (Trust me, that's anything but a ringing endorsement for Direct TV) and we decided we should knock out stuff that we will not be getting after it expires. I remembered that one of those documentaries was an HBO documentary, so we decided to put it on. Within the first couple seconds, I asked my wife if this movie was going to be too disturbing to watch. But those steel eyes just watched, half-doing a puzzle but riveted. (When my wife does puzzles, I read the text aloud. There was a lot of text, so my voice ended up being part of the movie.) I'm not in the Faces of Death camp, but I do find a nonfiction narrative worthy of my attention depending on the subject matter. What is most odd about this movie is that it is weirdly metaphysical. There is an investigation about the events that happened on that day, but the bigger question is about life and whether we can ever truly know someone.
Like with many of my documentary reviews, I will be talking about SPOILERS in this criticism. For those not in the know, a few years before the documentary was made, Diane Schuler took her kids and her nieces on a camping trip with her husband. Because her husband had the dog and a full truck, Diane left with the kids separately to take them to a McDonald's while her husband unloaded the truck and took care of the dog. The trip was supposed to be half an hour from the McDonald's to home. Four hours later, Diane Schuler drove the van full of kids into oncoming traffic on the expressway. Just to make that clear, she went the wrong way on the highway at an insanely high rate of speed. There's already a mystery there about what would cause a woman to do that. First thoughts we had, along with the subject of the film had, is that she had some kind of mental break or a stroke that confused her. Five days after her funeral, it was determined that she had ten drinks in her along with evidence of marijuana in her system. This was a woman who rarely drank and only used marijuana on social occasions. She had ingested this sometime early in the morning because they left the campground sometime around 9:00 with no evidence of alcohol use before she left. Somehow, in those four hours, she put back an insane amount of booze and drugs and killed a van full of kids, with the exception of her son that somehow survived this accident. Her blood alcohol was .19. The movie is all about how this was possible. How could someone who had a reputation for being an outstanding parent, someone who was considered the most responsible person around become a demon? Diane, after the events that killed most of her family, was labeled a monster. She was on a website that stated people who would be in Hell. It is a mystery, but the movie takes an interesting turn from there.
Oddly enough, the movie doesn't necessarily pay most attention to husband Dan Schuler. He's in the movie plenty. But he is not the main subject of the movie. The main subject of the movie surrounds Jay Schuler, the wife of Dan's brother. She didn't lose any kids in the accident, so she is probably the most clearheaded about the events that happened that day. She's not objective, by any means. Her goal is to vindicate Diane and prove that someone made a mistake that day. Jay is a self-proclaimed mystery fan, which really rubs me the wrong way for some reason. She is personally invested in this story and has probably put more hours into the investigation than any other member of her family. She's poured a lot of hours into looking for medical records and keeping in touch with a deadbeat private detective who keeps seeming to extort money from the family to dig deeper. Her main tie to Diane, besides marriage, is the fact that she is helping care for Diane and Dan's son who survived the crash. The most appealing thing about Jay is that she really does care for this little boy who misses his mother and has some developmental issues due to the crash. But there is one moment in the documentary that is very meta. At one point, she is very flustered with one of the experts who tells her that Diane probably drank all of this out of her own free will and she begins to smoke on camera. Through the tears, she exclaims something along the lines of "I can't believe I'm letting you film me smoking. Nobody knows I smoke; not even my family." If I was the director of the movie, I would make that my tagline because the movie really plants the seed that maybe Diane had actually done this herself. Maybe no one really knows anybody else. Diane has friends and enemies. No one really thought that she could have done this, but that's what makes the movie so much more chilling. BIG SPOILER: The movie doesn't give us an answer to whether Diane was in control of her own faculties at the time. There's no evidence of a stroke and there is little evidence to show that she was somehow forced to do this. The only evidence that only slightly gives circumstances to her actions is an abscess in her tooth that may have caused her to self-medicate using alcohol. It never full on points the finger at her. If anything, the movie stresses how there was just a period of time in the car where no one could have known what was going on. Her son tells a very loose story about his mom acting weird. The nieces make a phone call explaining the title of the movie, but the moment to moments are lost to history.
The way that the movie is structured is compelling. The movie starts with an examination of the campsite and a look at the weekend at the lake. It shows the good times and how normal Diane looks. She looks happy and the kids look happy. The documentarians then give a breakdown of the information that they know juxtaposed to maps with a timeline that has been reconstructed. Between these sequences, the movie focuses on the world that Diane left behind. Interviews with family and friends act as character witnesses to this person. Many of the interviews say the same thing: Diane was a type A personality who handled as much as she could. She was responsible and independent, often pushing herself while being the center of attention. Some of her former friends talk about how cool she used to be until she got married, but these women really seem somewhat bitter about what happens after we age out of friendships. They represent the setting sooner than acting as character witnesses against Diane. They are more telling about the grip that New Jersey has on some. Then the film shifts to the present day investigation and Jay and Dan's look into what happened then. Through this, the audience sees the frustration of the single parent. The odd thing that I haven't seen before is the slight character assassination that is tied to Dan. Dan lost his wife and I believe another child. He works nights and has an extremely difficult life. But the movie kind of paints him as a quitter. He seems to be the old definition of "father." It implies that he never wanted children and that raising kids was always Diane's work. It is one of those situations where you both feel bad for him and kind of want to slap him around for a while. There might have been some playacting on the part of Dan to seem heroic, but that starts to fade as the cameras continue recording him. Experts then give their opinions on what could have possibly happened, and these moments are the worst.
The documentary is extremely effective, but the experts they bring in do not seem qualified to comment on the events that have transpired. The experts are not involved in the investigation. Sure, they have lots of degrees and have very impressive resumes, but they only have the information that the documentarians have provided for them. Many of these experts are shown watching the documentary footage with headphone and then comment on the events transpiring. In the same way that I'm not claiming to be an expert on this specific event, they are commenting with the director's influence lording over their heads. Their comments have some degree of validity. What they say is completely plausible, but they say it with such confidence that they almost come across as mentalists. They have some evidence, but they are by no means experts when it comes to the events that have transpired. It really feels like an aftershow and these comments seemed to mirror the same amateur comments that my wife and I were making to each other. The authorities on the story really were valuable, but these psychologists who were watching the footage simply were put there to place doubt in the mind of the viewer. The movie started with the question posed to Jay, "What if we don't find anything to exonerate Diane?" and I think that's the theme of the movie. The real world doesn't have clear cut answers. So by having psychologists and analyst verbalize that theme, the message is far clearer.
There's Something Wrong With Aunt Diane is a super bummer. For a guy who really likes arguing about the unknown in documentaries, there was a line in the sand where it came down to the idea that the investigation doesn't really bring anything to anyone. The last fifteen minutes is where the filmmakers decided to show the accident and the corpses. Looking into Diane's mental state is important, but without answers, the movie leaves exactly where it begins, with Diane dead and the kids as victims. For those with a morbid fascination to the human psyche, this movie is great. I can't recommend it for everyone. It is extremely powerful, but it oddly didn't change my life. I don't think I'll be arguing conspiracy theories about Diane Schuler at the bar with anyone, regardless of whether or not they had recently seen the movie. All I can really tell this person is that I got bummed out and it's a shame that all of that happened.
Not Rated. It's a monster movie. People die, but in fairly tame ways. Like, they get smooshed real good, but it's not like you see the jam that is made out of their corpses or anything.
DIRECTOR: Ishiro Honda
That's right. I'm enough of a hipster to find the one still on the Internet that isn't of Godzilla himself. Take that, nearly every other Godzilla review out there. I'm a bit of a heretic when it comes to this movie. I like kaiju movies. I do. The thing is...I really haven't seen any actual kaiju movies. I like Pacific Rim. That's it. So, welcome to my professed blasphemy. I like the idea of kaiju movies and my very vocal nerd would like to claim that he likes kaiju movies, but I haven't seen jack. The things I have seen, I haven't exactly loved. So I keep pulling out Pacific Rim and claiming that I get it. I don't. I'm a big fake, which made me excited to finally sit down and watch the mother of all kaiju movies: Godzilla. I was so pumped! So pumped! Then I started to get bored. Then I realized that I might not be the kaiju fan I thought I was.
There's a problem with the kaiju movie to begin with. The giant monster movie needs to set up how scary this thing is by teasing its big reveal. This is always the best part of the movie. Godzilla is no exception. The beginning of this movie is fantastic. The little teases of how destructive this force is does not feel like this movie was made in 1954. There's a scene within the first twenty minutes where Godzilla attacks this sleepy little island in Japan and it is amazing. He comes in the form of a storm and I started doing the physics in my brain. I know nothing about science, so my sci-fi brain started taking over. What if Godzilla was so big that he affected the weather patterns around him? What if his latent radioactivity created a strange offshoot of a nuclear winter around him? I think the storm was just a coincidence and added to affect the mood of the viewer, but boy-oh-boy, this scene was cool. I'm good enough to ignore the models in this sequence because I'd like to think that I'm not that attached to special effects...or so I thought. Either way, this scene is super effective. The house swaying with the footsteps, it's the equivalent of the ripples in the glass of water from Jurassic Park. The scene breathes exactly like it needs to and it is kind of scary. Remember, this is Godzilla before he becomes the joke that he's associated with in the later films. There is no hint that he is the hero of Japan here. He is the actualization of the radioactive age come to revisit destruction on the people of Japan.
How weird must it have been to see this movie in the theater in Japan? This movie is about a decade removed from the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The population seeing this movie had lived through this great national tragedy. Their country had been blasted into oblivion and then a movie talking about how that same radioactivity would destroy them again, despite the fact that they did not create it. I don't mean to be flippant, especially so near to the Fourth of July weekend, but it might be like the ghosts of the World Trade Center had reaped terror upon the citizens of New York. Godzilla is a very strange metaphor. The clear parallel between the events of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mentioned. The filmmakers want there to be a connection to what the people of the country had experienced. The audience is meant to be Japanese. Yet the movie is meant to be entertaining. The movie is darker than what would come in future incarnations, but it is still a science fiction action movie. I can't wrap my head around America doing the same thing in the face of a tragedy, but that message is still here regardless.
Going back to the problem of monster movies, the format is the same. The filmmakers have a choice. They can either give about twenty to thirty minutes of suspense and reveal the monster for too long in the film, leading to boredom during the action or keep the suspense going until the viewer gets frustrated and doesn't care about the big reveal. The Godzilla American reboot (did I review that one on here?) does the latter. There's so much teasing in that one about what Godzilla actually is that the moment is lost. This one does the former. The first twenty minutes of teasing is the best part of the movie. Then the monster reveals himself (and this is where my noble apathy towards the quality of bad special effects evaporates and I roll my eyes real hard) and I get a few minutes of "Look at the fun explosions" until I get bored. It is really hard not to get bored with monster movies. I really wanted to be interested, but watching a guy in a suit destroy models over and over again gets really tedious. This is where the diminishing returns section of the movie begins. The rest of the movie is about twenty to thirty minutes of guys in suits discussing how to destroy the monster, with a variation of "Should we destroy the monster?" and then more disaster until the monster is put down in the last few minutes. The tension of the reveal is gone by this point and it can't just be brought back because there is nothing being destroyed. People sitting around in rooms gets boring. Then there is the moral crisis that didn't seem all that morally ambiguous for me. The primary scientist played by Takashi Shimura (whom I love!) argues that the monster shouldn't be destroyed. He talks about how Godzilla's ecosystem has been ravaged by radiation and that we, as humanity, has woken him from his slumber. But Godzilla is killing folks because he can. There's no food or defense going on here. Godzilla murders out of revenge and that's no good. On top of that, the story in the film is that Godzilla has been around since before the H-Bomb explosions and he required ritual sacrifices. Yes, kill Godzilla. That monster totally deserves it. Lots of people were being smooshed.
Now, I may be coming down pretty hard on a movie that actually is pretty respected. It is [raises pinky] a CRITERION, after all. But the movie really shines not with the characters, but with the detail. I didn't care much about the characters. The guy with the patch over his eye? He's more of a delivery system for a theme about the danger of rushing science without thought of consequences. Excellent message. Totally matches the story. I don't really care as much as I should. As an American in 2017, I enjoy many liberties and securities that the people of Japan did not. Yes, this theme is universal, but whatever. It doesn't affect me in the cultural setting as it did the people in 1954 Japan. But the movie crushes when it shows the devastation of Godzilla's rampage. There is one scene of a mother just holding her child and rocking her as she cries. The implication of this scene is that this is one mother and one child, but also that every street corner in Japan is dealing with this. This is the Grave of the Fireflies moment of the film where the details represent a much larger tragedy that is happening all over the country. Perhaps it is because I like dark things and perhaps it is because I like when filmmakers don't just write off film as entertainment, but these are the scenes that make the movie worth watching to me. Similarly, the scene during storm had a haunting shot of a victim simply screaming at the screen as rain washes down his face. The destruction has consequences. This is more important than the disaster porn that I'm used to seeing in American disaster movies. It is harder to watch the suffering of a mother and daughter than it is knowing that buildings full of people are being knocked over. That's a weird thought, but it is easier to relate to the parent holding her child than knowing that the same thing is happening to a massive group of people.
The theme is so cool too. I suck at segues sometimes, but I put on the theme just now because it is so good. Just putting that out there.
So I'm a poser. I watch the American kaiju movies and think that they are cool. But those American kaiju movies love the Japanese ones. This movie has a lot going for it, but it suffers from a really rough structure and criminally dated special effects. If I heard someone tell me that exact commentary at a party, I'd roll my eyes at them and probably come off as rude. But I can't help it. My brain can't get around certain limitations that this movie carries with it. I've watched every episode of Doctor Who, yet my brain could accept those. The guy in the suit and the obvious models hurt my focus so much that I couldn't invest in those moments. Ah well, I'm glad that I saw this one, but I don't think I'll be going out and investing in the Godzilla collection...
...unless Criterion put it out. [sips tea and adjusts monocle]
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.