Oh my gosh...when PG meant nothing! I have to step back. I watched all of these movies as a kid. My dad watched them with me. I can tell you right now, The Man with the Golden Gun would not be PG. I don't think it would be R, but PG-13 would just be an inadequate rating for this movie. Mainly because James Bond, especially in 1974, is not woke. There's slightly obscured nudity (a skinny dipper in a pool) and tons of violence and antiquated ideas. But, yeah, PG.
DIRECTOR: Guy Hamilton
It's different now that my daughter might have dwarfism! I only change my political and sensitivity beliefs when they affect ME! I'm referencing that one of the bad guys --Nick Nack portrayed by the late Hervé Villechaise --is a dwarf who is often referred to as a midget. They make short jokes throughout. SPOILER: He is defeated by being stuck in an empty suitcase. He's then caged and hung high on a ship. Are they going to do that to my daughter? I certainly hope not. She probably won't deserve that. In my slow journey through the James Bond films, the political climate of today has made me more critical to my viewing habits. I don't think I can find a better era to stand out than the Roger Moore '70s to see how much the world has changed in terms of progress. Regardless, can these movies still be enjoyed?
I was actually holding out on watching The Man with the Golden Gun until the summer. We moved in January. At the old house, I converted our garage to a movie theater and I wanted to watch the next Bond film as impressively as I could. I just finished a few weeks ago. But then I realized that most people don't want to sit down for a screening of The Man with the Golden Gun, especially my wife. I usually don't recommend The Man with the Golden Gun for friends of mine who are actually kind of on board. By this point in the franchise, the James Bond films had bled the formula dry. Sean Connery was gone. George Lazenby was well into his self-destructive phase. The only real change to a tried-and-true method was the addition of Roger Moore's almost fourth-wall breaking comedy. I think that the Bond movies went from being truly great films like From Russia with Love and Goldfinger into something that was much more popcorn and fun. I don't really want to lift up the Bond franchise as the height of cinema, but those early movies are really good. I think that the people who made these movies, Albert Broccoli and Harry Salzman, also knew that these movies were top notch. This definitely seems like the precursor to the summer blockbuster. I can't really fault these movies. Live and Let Die is a really solid movie, but it also is really held back by greatness. There at least is an attempt to make Live and Let Die an objectively great film. It even sort of succeeds, but there is definitely a hint of where the wind was blowing with that film. The Man with the Golden Gun seems to be the next natural step in the Bond evolution. It is barely a spy movie. There is nothing really intricate with the plot, but it is mainly just a series of "I bet you didn't see this moment happening" moments.
The most famous scene in Live and Let Die is the riverboat chase. This movie has a riverboat chase. That's not the end of my argument. What I'm saying about the riverboat chase in Live and Let Die is that it is impressive. It is a well crafted (pun intended) action sequence. It is bigger than the other action sequences we've seen in the other Bond films. Honestly, it takes it to another level. The closest second place is the Little Nelly sequence in You Only Live Twice, but that's a lot of green screen and the riverboat thing is just out of this world. I'm sure the producers caught wind of how well that sequence came across. People were probably talking about it for a while and when the next movie in the franchise came out, the temptation was definitely there to mirror the events of the first movie. But bigger doesn't always mean better. The reason that the first riverboat sequence works so well is that it is meticulous. I can just imagine the storyboards for that thing. It's got this phenomenal balance of suspense and comedy. It intentionally runs just a little bit too long. Every time you think that sequence is done, it keeps pushing back. It's really well made. The Man with the Golden Gun has a lot of these cool action sequences, but none of them are crafted so well. They perform the job of being cool, but there's nothing that seems absolutely essential to the film. Perhaps the most famous stunt in The Man with the Golden Gun is the corkscrew car flip. Back in the day, I used to watch all of the special features that came with the DVDs. Live and Let Die, oddly enough, focused almost exclusively on Roger Moore's stunt double walking on crocodiles. The Man with the Golden Gun focused on the car corkscrew flip. It's a very impressive stunt, especially considering that there's really no trickery to the whole thing. I mean, they kind of messed it up by putting a slide whistle sound effect over the top of it, but that's another story that the filmmakers also agreed was a mistake. But the car corkscrew flip is a moment. A lot of this movie is about moments as opposed to creating anything really substantial. There's also the wreck of the Queen Elizabeth. You can tell that a set designer put in all of this work to make a truly dynamite set, but that set really does nothing outside of be a piece of spectacle. As such, the moments that actually matter are kind of flimsy. Scaramanga's lab at the end looks like an almost carbon copy of the lab in Dr. No. It's not even the set designer's fault. Because the filmmakers were interested in making all of these fun moments, they didn't focus on the thing that really mattered in this movie: the script.
The script is threadbare. Like, it's really weak compared to most of the Bond movies. Again, I'm not going to use the Bond franchise to talk about intricate plots. But this is barely a spy story. I know that there are a few outings in the Bond franchise where James Bond is more about the man than he is the mission. But Bond is on a mission for MI-6. M gives Bond this huge info dump (that he even acknowledges that he's completely aware of) surrounding the energy crisis. But we aren't really given a scope or scale of this threat. Rather, that plot is playing in the background to Bond's hunt for Scaramanga. There is this weird twist in the story and I don't always pick up on it in every viewing. The twist is meant to be this genius moment that is meant to tie everything together. It really doesn't. It is a revelation that completely falls flat in the grand scheme of things. Really, this plot device is just used to extend the film a little bit. It's actually odd that this movie has a full runtime because I could summarize this movie in two to three sentences. It's not very deep. It also kind of cheats with its twist. SPOILER: The movie's twist is that Scaramanga is never really after Bond until the absolute end of the film when the two disparate plots are actually intertwined. Maud Adams's Andrea Anders tricks Bond into hunting Scaramanga so she can get out from under his thumb. (Roger Moore and Maud Adams would meet again in Moonraker, but with Maud Adams playing a different, larger part.) But it doesn't make sense. Scaramanga has a James Bond wax doll that he practices killing. It shows his obsession with killing James Bond. The idea that he's going to act all casual about actually taking on Bond doesn't make a lick of sense. It is only there to make the movie last longer than fifteen minutes. My friend Derek turned me around to the importance of character over plot. Sometimes, a movie doesn't really need to have a good plot to be a great story. But The Man with the Golden Gun doesn't really advance the character of Bond. I may have talked about this in another of my Bond reviews, but when a franchise wants to last like the James Bond franchise does, many producers err on the safe side and don't make changes to the character. This is a story about James Bond acting as the most dangerous game. I would have loved to see him lose his cool a little bit. There was something there. What if Bond took some fundamental missteps? I mean, Scaramanga is supposed to be the most ruthless assassin in all the world. He's supposed to be Bond as a hitman. Why wouldn't they ruffle each others feathers? Their showdown should have been epic, not a set of tricks that Bond figures out. This should be the one that leaves him barely alive and crossing some lines that he never thought that he would cross. This movie doesn't offer that.
I like Christopher Lee as a bad guy. I'm not the first to the table to say that. He might be the best thing that this movie has to offer. Britt Ekland as Mary Goodnight is the opposite. She might be one of the more annoying Bond girls in the franchise. The James Bond films might be responsible for much of the chauvinism in action / adventure cinema. Many of the Bond women weren't strong, empowered women. But then there's Honor Blackman's character that I shall not name here. She's one of the most memorable Bond girls and not just because of her name. Yeah, there are very problematic elements of her narrative, but she's also strong and doesn't take any guff. But Mary Goodnight is almost a punching bag when it comes to representing the gender. The Man with the Golden Gun uses Mary Goodnight to just gripe about the weakness and stupidity of women. I never really liked Mary Goodnight and I could never really vocalize why. She really Jar-Jars up the movie at times. If she can make a mistake that sets back the protagonists unwittingly, she's going to do it. The odd thing is, from a James Bond fan's perspective, she is actually one of the key cast in the books. She's a fundamental part of the story and she's here as dumb window-dressing. Then there's the "All Asians know kung fu" trope. I admit. It's the '70s. Kung Fu was everywhere. But this movie, you guys. It's just checking off a list. It's all problematic.
But at the end of the day, it's kind of fun. This might be the worst thing I can write in terms of political correctness or savviness. What I'm saying is that this kind of filmmaking is extremely problematic. It is a dated film that doesn't really have much to offer in terms of spiritual growth or even solid entertainment. But there might be room for those who can differentiate problematic cinema from its cause can enjoy it, but it might not be worth it.
TV-14. Color me surprised. I simply assumed it was kind of raunchy. It does have language. I'm not saying that the language is intense, but it is fairly constant throughout. There's a decent amount of implied sexuality as well, but nothing really hits the screen. I wouldn't show this to a kid under any circumstances, but it is fairly tempered for what it could be. I simply assumed Adam Devine would be in a TV-MA easily. Not so much. TV-14!
DIRECTOR: Ari Sandel
Guys, we did it. We finally found a not super-famous rom-com that was extremely enjoyable for the both of us. It is a bit of a cheat though. Like, I'm counting this as a win and no one can really take it away from me, but it made time travel a central element and it actually did time travel moderately well. I'm going to get this caveat out of the way because I don't want to be ducking out of a train of thought to talk about what I like about time travel. Good time travel is a couple of things. 1) It sets its own rules and sticks with them. 2) It makes you think about how things work in the universe of time travel. 3) It all comes back. 4) It does something new. I hate to say it, but When We First Met covers all of those criteria. I might be a little afraid to watch it again because there's a chance that there might be a giant time travel plot hole, but I kept talking during it about why certain details were happening due to time travel things. I watch romantic comedies to get my wife all twitterpated and all I can do is nerd out over the rules of time travel. My bad. But I wasn't rolling my eyes and I was seriously invested in the movie. That's probably more important.
I heard about When We First Met as a point of controversy. I often talk about my battle with io9 / Gizmodo. I have two websites I check daily: io9 and IGN. I'm not a very deep guy sometimes, guys. But I think io9 linked When We First Met to a Jezebel article (another Gizmodo page) and I read how When We First Met should be tried for setting back gender relations for a while. The thesis of the article was about how it bolstered the problem with the "Nice Guy" trope. For those not woke to this, the "Nice Guy" is actually one of the creepier chauvinists because he doesn't think he is one. He feels entitled to love because he's far nicer than the guy that his obsession dates. He takes care and listens and doesn't do fundamentally horrible things, which means he feels like he should be compensated for this behavior. If I had to analyze myself throughout my history, there were entire periods where I could probably be lumped in with this category. I'm not proud of it, but it is a more frustrating personality archetype. I have to disagree with Jezebel though. (My white male status deems that I have to be argumentative. I apologize to everyone everywhere forever.) When We First Met isn't a validation of the Nice Guy archetype. I think it is a gentle condemnation about why Nice Guys should look at their own caste and change their ways. I think Jezebel is more upset that the directors didn't approach the subject guns blazing. When We First Met is a critique of the Nice Guy that actually kind of has a prayer of making an impact. The protagonist of the movie, Noah played by Adam Devine, is the Nice Guy. He sees his quick friendzoning with Avery, played by Alexandra Daddario, as unfair and, given a magical time machine, believes he can change someone's feelings about him. The big message is that you can't change how someone feels about you. People have feelings. These feelings may evolve. They may change. But they cannot BE changed. Noah fakes personality traits throughout the many timelines to see how Avery responds to him. In some cases, there is a moderate amount of success. In some of the timelines, Avery and Noah end up having some degree of romantic relationship. I can see where Jezebel would have a problem with this. But the thing that they missed is that they are all miserable relationships where neither person is actually genuinely attracted or in love with the other person. In those timelines, every party involved is somehow more unhappy. There's actually a timeline SPOILER where Noah and Avery are to be wed. But this is the timeline that comments most clearly on the Nice Guy archetype. Avery is deeply unhappy in this marriage. She is guilted into something that is toxic at is foundation. I know that Jezebel is fighting the overbearing patriarchy, but I think that Sandal and his team actually might have made a step in the right direction here. This is a movie that actually might change minds. It doesn't yell or scream. But it does show what happens in fantasies are indulged, but in a comical yet thought-provoking way.
But again, it's a comedy. Oh thank God that people get that comedies aren't things just said in a wacky voice. There's a genius writer behind this and a great cast of actors in this movie. I never watched Workaholics. My DVR is full of stuff to catch up on and my Netflix queue just seems to be getting longer and longer. (It's almost like writing an essay on every movie I watch might actually cut out of media consumption time.) I know Adam Devine from his time on Modern Family. (I don't know if he's still on the show. I bailed on that one a few seasons ago.) He was more of a straight man in that show, but he seemed to have the comic chops to maintain the tone of the show. Similarly, he doesn't exactly steal the show in the first two Pitch Perfect movies. (I haven't seen the third one...yet.) But putting him in the spotlight here is a wise move. He's kind of the perfect leading man for this movie. He's not universally attractive, but he's good looking enough to see that he would be confident enough to believe that he was a match for Avery. I mean, the movie makes that seem like it would make sense. The entire time, I knew that the two of them couldn't get together. But I also had the knee jerk reaction when he got friendzoned really quickly. Yes, the logical part of me thought, "Well, there just isn't a connection. No one did anything wrong." But the rom-com friendly side of me questioned what was wrong with him. The movie does something interesting that my wife and I argued over. Noah keeps talking about the night that they met and how perfectly it went. But Carrie, played by Shelley Hennig, points out that she was there that night and it wasn't as perfect as he thought it was. We don't get much information about that line. But there is that whole Rashomon thing that kind of happens. The truth of history is oddly subjective. Our emotional experiences cloud what we think is absolute. From Noah's perspective, he was crushing the best date of his life. From Avery's perspective, Noah was this nice guy who really seemed to get her and that's cool. I do kind of question the kiss on the cheek moment early in the night, but that's just me and my insecurities popping up. But going back to what I was talking about, Adam Devine fills that role and seems to completely understand the dichotomy that is established here. Sure, the movie could have really harped on the subjective truth element of the movie. But that might have overpacked a movie to the point where it would lost the tone that it needed. Also, that one line sold as much as it needed to. The movie already has a pretty solid premise that is really well explored. Adding that extra element sounds like it would just destroy the movie. But I do appreciate that the line is in there.
SPOILER PARAGRAPH: The Carrie relationship is great, but I do feel it is a bit rushed. It also is a bit problematic. When I was watching it unfold, I wasn't sure exactly what I was seeing. At one point, I thought he message was about trying too hard. With Avery, Noah really put on a show. He's being the best version of himself and expecting Avery to fall in love with the showy version of himself. He always saw Carrie as a third wheel, so Carrie never understood Avery's friendship with Noah. But then I saw something that I thought I understood. I thought that Noah stopped trying to be the best version of himself. I thought he was just being himself with Carrie, which explained why Carrie actually liked him. It's that whole "trying too hard" thing. When Noah just was himself, I thought he was far more attractive than the showy version. But then the movie messed with me again. It's complicated, but I kind of like that. Relationships are far more complicated than movies normally allow and I dig that this movie allowed attraction and dating to be far more messy than normal. This is also where the time travel rules came back into play. I loved that time travel actually worked against him in this version of the story. In the Carrie date, she never had the "straw that broke the camel's back" with her old boyfriend. It's such a small detail that I can't believe it played out the way it did. Similarly, I also love that the message is that you don't get safety nets in relationships. Was the universe trying to teach him a lesson using time travel, a 'la Groundhog Day? Man, I might like spiritual time travel better than scientific time travel. NOW I'M THINKING OF THE THEOLOGICAL RAMIFICATIONS OF TIME TRAVEL AND IT'S WEIRD. If God is the one warping Noah and Phil Connors around, then he's allowing them to mess with premarital sex and suicide, quasi-consequence-free. There's also the idea that Noah technically slept with Avery in some of the timelines, but the movie does something smart and doesn't let him experience it or remember it. He's only told that it happened and can see the results of it.
Anyway, I love a movie I can kind of unpack like this. I'm sorry I got really spoilery, but needing to talk about a film means that the film might have some legs to it. When We First Met is one of the best rom-coms I've seen. I don't know if it would ever hit High Fidelity levels, but it is fairly fantastic.
It's so weird to think of a documentary on the work of Fred Rogers as PG-13, but I can kind of get it. You see a photo of a guy's butt. There is some talk about sexuality, albeit it is fairly minimal. But most of all, the documentary looks at Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in the context of political climates. This means that there is footage of war and misery and I probably don't need my kids watching that quite yet. What I want is a G or PG rating for this movie, but I can't really contest the PG-13 rating for this one. For once, we agree, MPAA. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Morgan Neville
I think I get anxiety trying to discuss a movie twice. This is another one of the subjects for Catholic News Agency. I'm mostly really happy with how the article came out. You should probably read the article. Again, I write these off the top of my head. There's no planning involved. The ones I write for Catholic News Agency are often pretty well planned. But they also are meant to be readable and spoiler free. I'm definitely just letting the muse move me when I write this again. But I also get oddly hesitant. Regardless, I'm going to be talking about a movie that I absolutely love, but in way more detail. I kind of won't shut up about the movie to anyone I see. I saw it the same night as Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom and that movie was just such a disappointment. But to go from Jurassic Park to Won't You Be My Neighbor? is the cinema equivalent of drinking the most perfectly brewed green tea after having a dinner composed primarily of jelly beans. (I wrote that sentence over the course of three sessions. It's really easy for me to sit down and just write.)
I'm going to be honest. While I loved Mister Rogers at the age where it probably mattered, almost all of my memories were past that era. My earliest memories already involve The Real Ghostbusters and thinking that Mister Rogers Neighborhood was for babies. It just seemed so chincy. I don't think I ever really hated the message or anything, but everything else seemed like so much more fun. As I discovered through the documentary, Mister Rogers probably wept for my soul and how I sold it over to commercialism, but I do appreciate a good narrative. Rogers didn't mind taking things remarkably slow. There's an entire section of the movie where it just stresses some of the absolutely mindblowingly slow things that he did on a regular basis. This was a guy who wrote all of his own stuff and acted out the majority of it. The stress of the documentary was about how it was important to notice the small stuff. (There's actually a scene where Rogers lets kids know how long a minute is by having the camera just look at an egg timer for a minute. Just a minute of nothing.) You have to wonder if he ever felt like phoning it in. I'm not saying that he didn't love his job. Quite the opposite. But he made over 1,000 episodes. Selfishly, I think that he, too, wanted to phone something in. But based on what I saw, I don't think that was it. He just didn't follow any of the models of television that I was used to. He made things on his own timetable and with the materials he had. For a guy who was so entrenched when it came to television, he genuinely hated a lot of what television stood for. When he wasn't following a format, that was great. The data is there. Kids loved him. I mean, I remember finding him boring, but I didn't ever hate the show. I have emotionally fond memories of Mister Rogers, even if I don't have fond practical or engaging memories about it. I don't know if my last sentence is at all possible, but I'm going to barrel through because I have to get my kid to Vacation Bible School in a few minutes. That's something remarkably counter-culture about the man. One of my biggest frustrations is that I look at society in a way that Fred Rogers often does. He knows that we all know what the right thing to do is, but he actually does something about it. He has this optimistic view of the world. I honestly think that Mister Rogers might be the ultimate advocate for third party candidates. (I really don't want to start a political war here. I just write about movies.) He's this guy who constantly just tells kids to do the right thing, no matter what the circumstances are. If no one is telling you that you are loved, it doesn't matter. You are loved and that's what is right about the world. If everyone is telling you that the world can't be one way, work as if it can be that other way. He takes so many extra steps than I do that I'm now feeling deeply ashamed about how depressed I get when society chooses to do the wrong thing once again.
Normally, I don't care for when documentaries are made by family and friends. I was listening to Harmontown not too long ago and they were talking about this puff piece made by the friends and family of Frank Sinatra. Instantly, I nodded my head and said that documentaries have a responsibility to tell the whole story, not just the happy memories. This movie is overwhelmingly loving of Fred Rogers. There wasn't anything bad to say about him outside of the fact that he occasionally got too tightly wound. (Look at the guy. That makes a ton of sense.) But does this mean that we have to say that this documentary isn't accurate? I don't really know the answer for that. I'm so used to everyone having a skeleton in the closet. There's the famous meme showing Rogers giving the bird to the camera. If you quickly read up on that, he's just teaching about the names of fingers or something. Fred Rogers might have been close to a modern day saint. Honest-to-Pete, from the way that this movie talked about it, there didn't seem to be too much evil on this guy's slate. There was plenty of sadness. That was interesting. But Mister Rogers probably was the guy we saw on TV. Everyone else somehow lets you down. I don't think that Mister Rogers was anything outside of the man that was presented on the air. If I met him as a kid, I think that he would make me feel like the most important kid in the universe. The movie really let you know how much he absolutely made kids feel like a million bucks. Every single one of those scenes, I wish I had a cozy blanket just so I could curl up in it and feel good about the world again. Adults liked him, but it was almost from a point of admiration. I don't think he would make a very good party guest. But people spoke about him from a perspective of respect. There is this whole sequence when PBS was fighting for funding. I swear, the senator trying to defund PBS was a villain from a PG film. He just hit every button that made you feel like he was a creep. But, I swear. It was an ABC Movie of the Week the way that Fred Rogers just niced him into becoming a good person. It was bizarre. Like, that stuff doesn't really happen that way. It's Hollywood. Not for Fred Rogers. That guy is amazing.
I preached Life, Animated pretty hard. In Life, Animated, the movie shifted between live action documentary and animation. It made sense. The movie, after all, was called Life, Animated. Won't You Be My Neighbor? pulls the same card. I don't know if it as effective, but it does kind of serve a pretty smart purpose. One of the major motifs of the movie was that Rogers used Daniel Striped Tiger to say all of the things that he was either too afraid to say now or too afraid to say as a kid. So the movie animated a version of Daniel Striped Tiger. (By-the-bye, I had no idea how ratty that puppet looked. Like, it was the most famous of the puppets, seconded only by King Friday the 13th.) Mostly, this is the time before there was footage of Fred Rogers. The guy only has a ton of footage about him because he was on TV for so darned long. But his private life looked pretty private. I suppose that the animation kind of works and it fits in the style of the film, but I wasn't as moved as I think I was supposed to be. Some of the most difficult sequences were in these moments. It was heartbreaking hearing about the young Mr. Rogers and how he didn't feel loved. I don't really know why he wasn't loved. There wasn't much of a concentration on Rogers's parents. I just wanted to know more about it. I'm sure it's there somewhere. But the movie really is a focus on his TV career and I suppose we only really needed to know that he was a sad kid who liked to play the piano when he was frustrated. That's a real bummer. But there was something working pretty hard behind those eyes. Lots of people had sad childhoods. But the only Fred Rogers I know is Fred Rogers. What got him to where he became this savior of children's souls? You know what's also weird? How did some people dislike him? Like, there are groups of people who saw him as this evil dude and that doesn't make a lick of sense to me. He's the most wholesome human being I can think of.
Regardless, this movie is amazing. I know that a lot of people scoffed when I said that I really needed to see this movie. It was absolutely excellent. Do you have to see it in theaters? Probably not. But you should. I don't know. I just have this need to share this movie with as many people as I can think of and that involves me preaching it as hard as I am. Go see it. You can at least say that you see documentaries in theaters.
PG-13, but they were trying to make it kind of family friendly. Like, the first movie has some real horror movie sequences. Like, remember when a raptor ate someone's face? Arms falling through cables? The same dino horror, but way tamer. Any time someone gets eaten, it is from a distance or a cut away. Okay, one of the big antagonists has a gross moment, but they added another kid for this one. This one...it's the teenage horror movie. It's got jumps, but nothing really authentically gross. I don't hate that, but I also feel like this feels too nice at times. Reminder: PG-13.
DIRECTOR: J.A. Bayona
I wrote a review of this for Catholic News Agency. It hasn't been published yet, but when it comes out, I'll put a link on the Film Index section. With that one, since it is a genuine opinion piece where I'm either encouraging or discouraging people to / from seeing the movie, I tried to keep it spoiler free. But there are so many gripes that I have about his move that are very specific, so I'm making this analysis SPOILER HEAVY! I just can't keep it in anymore, guys. I need to vent about a lot of moments in this movie. If you want a spoiler free version of this, keep an eye out for Catholic News Agency. Besides, my editor /good-friend-who-got-me-the-job likes clicks and full reads, so do that as well. I highly doubt I'll ever get a raise, but my self-esteem is completely based on how well my published stuff does.
The overall takeaway from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom? It's super dumb. It's not unfun or anything like that. It's just remarkably stupid. So many levels of stupid in this movie. When you start tearing apart a dumb film, you sound like a nitpicky nerd. I'm going to get really nitpicky and nerdy. I'm sorry, but there's just a part of me that won't let it go. But these things kind of matter. There are times when I'm forgiving of really dumb moments in film. Heck, I'd probably say that I'm being pretty forgiving of Fallen Kingdom. After all, I still kind of enjoyed it. (Sorry, Lauren. I might even say that I enjoyed it enough to watch it every so often.) But there is something completely heartbreaking when watching a movie franchise that's known for its smarts being complete popcorn trash. I take it really personally. I love the original Jurassic Park. It might be my favorite blockbuster, summer tentpole movie. I mean, that original film I try to watch annually. I quote it way too much in real life, which I never advocate for us to do. I mean, I have a whole routine when going on the ride at Universal Studios that involves me just citing the original film. (That ride is dated and I hear that they are converting it to a Jurassic World ride. Is that going to work in the light of this movie? Won't that already be dated? Won't it be the most meta thing in the world? Yes to all those questions...maybe.) But this movie promised something special. I will say this: Colin Trevorrow made Jurassic World way cooler than it had any right to be. I know that a lot of people complained about that movie and there are some things that really irk me about that movie. Blue is stupid. (I'll try to come back to this idea later.) But it really is the second best Jurassic Park movie in the franchise. Sure, that's also because a lot of the sequels are straight up bad. But the first Jurassic World movie kind of has a little spunk to it. I genuinely enjoy it, despite the fact that it nerfed the raptor. Then Trevorrow teased that he was really making a Jurassic World trilogy and that we should expect real consequences from that title. Yeah, it went there.
That tease might have been the most hamfisted way to get dinosaurs into the world. I get it. Your title meant something beyond the name of the new park. Okay, whatever. I don't buy it. The minorly cool thing / potentially epically stupid thing that's going to happen in the third movie is a Rise of the Planet of the Apes thing. The third movie is going to be humans struggling to fight against hordes and hordes of dinosaurs, despite the fact that there didn't seem to be that many to begin with. But this is the awkward step that got us there. Fallen Kingdom needed to have so many people make so many dumb, unrealistic decisions to have dinosaurs escape into the wild. That's a problem that The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III had to do. People needed spectacularly dumb reasons to interact with this quarantined location. Anyone with a modicum of sense wouldn't be interested in this island. The technology exists to make new dinosaurs. Henry Wu has the ability to make dinosaurs on a whim...which leads me to my first major gripe with the story. The story surrounds a political climate where the U.S. has to decide whether or not to save the dinosaurs of Jurassic World from an active volcano. So many things I have wrong with it and it's a crime that Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm was wasted on this scene. 1) Even if the events of Jurassic World didn't happen, there would still be an active volcano. Did John Hammond simply assume that setting his park near a potentially active volcano would be a good idea? It's the fleas all over again! 2) The major debate is whether or not to let dinosaurs go extinct again. Mankind, as long as it is around, has eliminated the concept of extinction in the Jurassic Park universe. Why are we so concerned about extinction? Clone new ones. These animals were meant to be killed off due to lysine deficiency. It is a miracle that they have survived as is. If life can find a way, let it keep finding a way. If they all die out, just clone new ones. Extinction isn't a threat here. Claire's all uppity about saving the creatures, but she's only tasked with rescuing eleven species. There was never a scenario where she was going to evacuate the island of all of the dinosaurs. It even shows a map at one point of all the dinosaurs. That's a big ol' nope to getting them clear. If this was a small remote island where there was indigenous life, there wouldn't be a rescue plan (would there?). It's such a dumb premise to get the old characters to go back to the island. Also, Blue is a dumb idea. Blue really becomes this terrible get-out-of-jail free card / deus ex machina for every fight. Every time that Owen is backed into a corner, he's either saved by a raptor or a T-Rex. In the original movie, the T-Rex saves Grant and company from a raptor attack. It's cool because it is unexpected. We have now seen the T-Rex come to the rescue too many times. Stop it. It's not cool anymore and it made the T-Rex a good guy.
There's a throwaway line about why the computers on Jurassic World somehow still work. It's about a power resource. Did Jurassic World just solve the energy crisis because that's almost way more important than the ability to bring back dinosaurs for a zoo? I can kind of forgive a little mumbo-jumbo when it comes to the computers. I don't know why I can, but I just can. But the gyrosphere's batteries still working was a load of hogwash. You know them machines had to be plugged in every night before the next day's passengers went on their freewheeling tour. I call hogwash! There's a lot of these moments too. Owen just willing himself to outrun lava. It's a very inconsistent lava flow as well. The car ramp on the boat? Nope. It's just so much coincidence. But then there's something fundamentally cool that just doesn't deliver at all. The clone twist with the granddaughter. I really wanted to like it. (Also, was the kid actually British? That opening scene, it seemed like she wasn't British. Were they covering for a bad accent with the implication that she's been living in America too long? Also, how many Brits did they have playing Americans and how many Americans did they have playing Brits?) But that cloning thing had such potential. It is five movies into the series and they are only playing with cloning humans now? But there's this moral dilemma that the movie tries shoehorning into the story. The bad guy implies that the little girl should be treated as a thing because you don't know what she's made of.
Okay? Why? It seems like she's a little girl. Oh, that doesn't really express itself except for the fact that she empathizes with the captured dinosaurs? She's like them? So she's going to endanger all of humanity? That makes little sense. You know, normal little girls also empathize with captured dinosaurs. I mean, Claire almost let them go and I don't think she's a clone. Why did you go out of your way to weave this intricate story about the granddaughter only to have no payoff. Sure, this could play out in future movies. But this movie stressed this moment so much and had no actual payoff. I'm not saying that this couldn't be explored further in future movies, but no payoff? C'mon. I mean, the movie really is just "escape the dinosaurs in a fancy mansion." We haven't run away from dinosaurs in a mansion before. But then they also had to add another new dinosaur. C'mon, it was silly in the last movie. Going even deeper and making it less impressive is a dumb choice. I kind of like the Indominus Rex. I know. I defy logic. But the Indo-raptor is supremely stupid. There's just so many of these moments. The moral choice at the end was way too big for everyone to be just kind of okay with it. I'm just so frustrated. Finally, the movie played up my least favorite element that has been teased in every movie: dinosaurs can be used as weapons. It has been this thing that has been hovering around the franchise since the beginning, but now it's completely in the open and I could not be more bored.
I really ripped into this movie. It is more fun than I'm making it out, but it is sooper stupid. I had a good time, but I'm bummed that the movie isn't good. It really isn't. I mean, I still love the franchise and I'm going to watch every entry for the foreseen future, but this is a bad misstep. Sorry.
TV-14, but let's have a conversation about that, shall we? This movie isn't a traditional raunchy movie. Tonally, it actually feels like a traditional rom-com. But there's language. There's some pretty dirty content hidden in a feel-goodery movie. This rating is almost exclusively because it doesn't feel like a dirty movie, despite the fact that it kind of is. TV-14? For shame! For shame, Set It Up!
DIRECTOR: Claire Scanlon
Ugh. Like, really, Set It Up? We have been on a quest to find a great rom-com that isn't one of the old standard. I know a lot of genres are teeming with lazy examples of what someone could do with a movie. I have to guess that horror, action, and rom-coms have a minority of great movie and just a wealth of garbage movies. But I think rom-coms might be the worst. Don't worry, folks. I saw a great rom-com last night, so I know that they do exist. But Set It Up bored my wife, who LOVES rom-coms. How can a movie just be so lazy? I tend to get excited for the term "Netflix Original", but I don't know why. I think it is because the movie couldn't get distribution in theaters. "Netflix Original" might just mean "Direct to DVD" nowadays.
Before I go into a whole gripe session that will anger everyone who forgives rom-coms for all kinds of cinematic crime, there are things that make the movie not-the-worst. Zoey Deutch (a name I have to write out on Independence Day) seems like she has a degree of acting chops. Considering that she's the lead of the movie along with Glen Powell's Charlie, that's not the worst. She's extremely compelling and selling some really hard to say-with-a-straight-face lines pretty well. I kind of feel like this was supposed to be one of her big acting breaks and she's not skimping on the attempt to make this one of the best movies ever. Anything that goes wrong in this movie has nothing to do with her. Like, her character kind of sucks. But she's not letting what's left on the page define her character. Glen Powell also does an okay job. I'm already getting into my nay-saying, because he doesn't really get his character with any degree of subtlety. Like, Deutch is really trying, but Powell is simply at a 10 all the time. I will say that I like Pete Davidson (Not Peter Davison...that's the Doctor). Apparently he's on SNL and you can tell that he gets comic timing. He turns some really yawners into some great jokes. Every single one of his scenes are my favorite in the movie. Conceptually, I also think that there could have been a movie made out of this. Rom-coms don't exist in any degree of reality. They have their own fantasy rules and regulations and I have no problem with that. So the idea that two assistants can get their bosses to date so they get time off isn't the worst idea. The idea that those assistants then fall in love is not an awful idea as well. This movie's got bones and that's not bad for a first draft. It's really in its execution that it all falls apart.
And boy-oh-boy, does it fall apart. There is a special prize for two people who make a bad movie worse. These people had an easy job: they had to be famous and turn in a B+ performance. I'm not asking for the world from these people. I'm sure that they were reading the room and saw that this movie was going to be a bit of a stinker, so they phoned it in. But they're not allowed to phone their performances in. They are probably making the most money out of anyone on this project, so they really should be trying hard. If you didn't figure it out, I'm talking about Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs. Okay, special honorable mention goes to Taye Diggs. Lucy Liu isn't great. There are moments where it looks like she's trying and having a moderately good time. But Taye Diggs just seems to have this disdain about where his career has taken him. He's so bad in this movie. There aren't levels. You want Taye Diggs as a grumpy guy? He's going to yell at one level for the whole movie. The grumpy character could be the most compelling guy in the movie? I mean, look what Hugh Laurie did with House for years. There's no reason to flat perform the entire movie. He's terrible at the deliveries throughout the film. Liu seems a little deer in headlights; Diggs hate-performs the whole movie. If he had a good time on set and tried his best, I would be shocked. He's in a lot of the movie. Like, a lot of the movie. Not one of his jokes lands. It's really bad. These celebrities are the reason that people are turning into this Netflix Original. No one, shy of Pete Davidson, has any fame. This feels pretty shoestring, so you'd think that the celebrities would try. Nope. Sheer garbage the entire movie. This might explain part of Glen Powell's performance. When a show sucks, I always notice that one actor tries to overcompensate. Diggs and Powell share a lot of scenes together and I feel like Powell just has nothing to play off of. I'm sure Powell's choices are exclusively "high energy" so he can save every scene. I have a bit of sympathy for that.
I also don't really like the characters all that much. There are a couple really strong themes and character choices in the movie. I think that these are to give the movie some meat, but they aren't really developed. Like Digg's obsession with steak tartar, these decisions are very undercooked. (Boom! That's why I get paid the no-bucks.) One of the more superficial choices that I don't like is Harper's obsession with sports. I don't know if this is one of the writer's personal traits so they attached it to Harper. The movie keeps mentioning sports and sports obsession and it really doesn't play out into anything of substance. The only tie it has is the Kiss Cam, which is almost removed from Harper's character. There are all these bits tied to the idea that Harper cries at beautiful sports moments, but it never really resolves in the story in any meaningful way. I wonder if someone might think that it might make her cute, but I don't get it. This also gets to Harper's obsession with pizza that comes out of nowhere. In this film, either a character choice is introduced from the beginning and has no real resolution, or it comes out of nowhere for the sake of the story at that moment. Harper gets drunk and gets obsessive about a pizza. It is a very hard left for this character and it's charming in isolation. Honestly, a short film about a girl trying to find a good pizza in the middle of the night that leads into a quasi-date would be cute in itself. It just had no place in this movie. It doesn't show much of her personality and it's really weird that it is the moment that Charlie finds her interesting. She has all of these real personality traits that should be explored. Like, that sports crying thing could have played out with Charlie revealing a special sports memory with his dad and they could have shared that moment. It would have tied the whole thing together, but it wouldn't have been an attempt at humor. (Side note about rom-coms: cute is often confused for being a joke. The pizza moment was a cute moment that was trying to get me to laugh, but there's nothing all that funny about it.) Also, there's a repeated idea that Charlie is only a corporate stooge; that he's been ignoring his true passion for the sake of making money and getting ahead. Fine, this could be a great character arc. But shouldn't the writer have come up with something for him to love ahead of time. You can't call someone soulless or a sell-out who doesn't actually have anything to sell out. Not everyone who is in business is unhappy. The idea that Charlie should abandon that just because it isn't what he dreamed he would be doing is only a half-idea. Give him a passion that he's been neglecting. That makes it a true statement. But Charlie ends the movie as uncooked dough. He needs something to fall back on.
The movie also has this real crime of telling and not showing. We are told that Charlie's girlfriend is vapid and heartless, but she's only gotten into one argument the entire movie over something that Charlie genuinely kind of sucks at. Charlie's roommate says that his girlfriend sucks, but she seems like an okay person until the point where she's not a good person. Also, there's this subplot involving engaged friends. The movie stresses that we should really care about these people. They apparently are very important to Harper and there's all this stuff that we are told about the importance of this couple, but they're barely on screen. They actually seem to be better developed characters than some of the primary characters. I wonder if this movie got completely reworked in the editing bay because there are some absolutely bananas choices for what actually made the cut.
This movie is a hot mess. I'll be reviewing another Netflix Original that I actually liked quite a bit hopefully pretty soon. But I enjoyed savaging a movie on Independence Day. It was a good time. I hate myself that this is what brings me joy, but it is the truth. This movie is no good and I'm proud to stand by that statement.
See? A superhero movie can be PG as long as it is animated! Say what you will about The Incredibles films, but they are just as intense as any of the other superhero movies that come out. There's no blood, as far as I remember, but they are pretty adrenaline heavy. While I totally agree that The Incredibles 2 should be PG, maybe we can extend that rating to the other movies? I don't see how animation makes something less intense. My kids are actually more traumatized when horrible things happen to Elastigirl than to Spider-Man. Also, that bad guy looks super creepy. PG.
DIRECTOR: Brad Bird
I already wrote a review for this movie! And that review is pretty great! You can read that review here, but you should also read this review. I wrote that to be published, so it has this great throughline and it is thematically structured. I actually proofread that one. This is my stream-of-consciousness mumbo-jumbo that makes my wife cringe on the reg. It's also been a few weeks since I've seen this movie and I've read a lot of criticism on it, so I kind of want to see where this goes. Excuse me for living!
I'm really bummed out that it seems impossible to get a Fantastic Four movie to work. There's no reason that it shouldn't work. The Incredibles is just the Fantastic Four with different names and slightly different dynamics. How are these movies so good? I actually might have an answer for that. Nothing about The Incredibles, both the first and the second movie, seems rushed in any way. Disney is infamous for giving attention to detail, so it shouldn't be surprising that a movie like The Incredibles 2 dotted its "i" and dotted its other "i". Like Finding Dory, there was a huge gap between the first movie and the second movie. Because there was a big gap, Pixar decided to stress how much time has gone by before deciding on making a sequel. When I hear most companies say that they want to make sure that a story is perfect before coming back to something, I tend to think that these spokespeople are blowing smoke up my rear end. I lean heavily towards examples like Ghostbusters: Answer the Call sooner than thinking that they are polishing the product to perfection. Brad Bird doesn't seem like the kind of guy who phones something in. (Sorry, I'm still reeling from writing Ghostbusters: Answer the Call instead of just saying "the new Ghostbusters movie." I apologize for my use of telecommunications jargon.) Brad Bird is an enigma to me. Every time I hear his name, I get really excited to find out what project he's worked on. I know he did Tomorrowland. That movie was better than most people gave it credit for. But the thing about Brad Bird is that he should be on my list of amazing directors. I should Google his name once a month to find up what he's doing...but I don't. I mean, Edgar Wright probably has a release schedule on par with Brad Bird, but I always know what he's up to. I'm obsessed with Edgar Wright. Brad Bird seems to have a very similar way of thinking and directing to Wright, but I only get excited to see his movies immediately after the trailer comes out. I don't know what that is. I say that they have a very similar mentality because both directors are extremely structure and detail oriented. I'm sure that many people have seen The Incredibles 2 at this point. I'm pretty sure that it made all of the money. Whether you liked it or not, this movie seems extremely detail oriented. There is this tonal world of The Incredibles that is just amazing. I don't know if this is Brad Bird's personal Tiki-themed aesthetic. Maybe he's just a big fan of World's Fairs, but everything in this world feels lived-in and real. The best science fiction doesn't make anything feel like it was added just to be added (I now know what my review of Valerian is going to be now), but it feels like people actually inhabit this world. I love versions of the future where one era simply evolved a different way. I love the '30s and '40s future here and everything just feels to be a part of it. Brad Bird is responsible for that.
My wife's big complaint about the movie is that it was too similar to the first one. I guess I can kind of bend on that one. I disagree with her overall, but I can see her point. Bird is locked into a very important theme in these movies: are superheroes a necessary evil? I think my wife and I are in different camps here. My wife wants the team to deal with a new issue. I think that the series is built to go deep, not wide. Honestly, if there's another Incredibles movie in two-to-three years, I'll change my position. But this series doesn't really seem to be built for a franchise. (I hate that sentence, but I'm leaving it in because I'm really distracted while writing this.) A fourteen year gap between the first and second movie means that time was taken. New ideas about the same subject spun out of someone's mind. Questions weren't fully answered in the first film, thus a second film needed to answer. More realistically, Brad Bird and his team were probably completely sick of answering the question, "When is Incredibles 2 coming out?", but I'd like to dream that someone was lying on their couch and just coming up with Eureka moment after Eureka moment. I like what this movie explores. Buddy / Syndrome in the first movie critiqued the idea of being a superhero to that of celebrity. The first movie is a commentary on being famous more than anything else. The first movie is about earning something and being selfless versus driving attention your way. I refuse to look this up, but I'd like to think that The Incredibles was a commentary on the burgeoning genre of reality television like The Simple Life. Some people work really hard and do their best and are famous, only to be ridiculed by society. Then there are awful people who are only famous because they know how to be famous. The second movie still discusses the need for superheroes, but it is more of a commentary on the value of the hero as a concept. Is there a benefit to having people in places of power when there are consequences? The villain has a backstory that stresses that people become too dependent on others to take care of them and Bird molds a character who is kind of right. The best villains are kind of right. I mean, they're wrong, but they have a point. It's more along the lines of their extremism that makes them the bad guy. Honestly, I thought Bob Oedenkirk's character was going to be the bad guy, but he wasn't. Well done, movie. You got me. But this felt fresh enough to me without feeling like a full rehash. It was fuller, not more and I like that. Also, there's all these messages about family that the first movie didn't get to touch on nearly as well as this movie. The first movie really separates Bob from the rest of the family for a majority of the movie. This movie separates Helen and I love how the dynamic kind of changes. It doesn't say it is better or worse, but it is just different. I noticed that Bob makes more mistakes than Helen does, but I don't think that has to be a commentary on men as the primary parent. I think it looks more at how hard the day-to-day of parenthood really is. At least that's what I'm telling myself.
Which kind of leads me to discussing the haters again. Are we in the golden age of meninists? I know that a lot of people didn't like the new Star Wars movies because their concentration on strong female characters? I keep reading articles about the feminism of The Incredibles and how it might detract from the film. We are in this cool time when women characters are being written pretty well. Helen Parr isn't "rah-rah-shish-boom-bah WOMANHOOD!" (Although to think that's how women advocate for themselves, through cheerleading, might be the most misogynist thing I've done in a while). She's just a strong character who is proud of herself and finds it ridiculous that she can't be the most impressive superhero in the family. The same deal with Rose and Rey in the Star Wars movies. They just do what they do. Is The Incredibles 2 a feminist film? Yeah, I guess. In the sense that it writes women like human beings who have authority. But then I also have to yell at the other side who aren't making things much better. io9, whose columns keep shooting their overall message in the foot, wrote an article about how Elastigirl deserves better than Mr. Incredible. I get it. Bob has some pretty backwards ideas. But it's not because he's sexist. It's because he wants to be a superhero again and he's a little selfish. Movies need to have characters with character flaws. io9's article is really advocating for Mary Sue characters and that's just a poor decision. Bob does nothing so bad that she needs to leave him. Bob almost immediately realizes his mistake for assuming that he would be the famous superhero again instead of his wife. He feels what he feels, but he deals with those feelings appropriately. He even has a chance to get his car back. (I love this moment.) But he realizes that the right thing would be to stay at home, despite the fact that it is killing him. Yeah, part of him is resentful that his wife is getting the limelight. But he is also still massively supportive of her despite his petty jealousies. Again, it's not a crime to have feelings. You can't control feelings, but Bob does something remarkably mature in this movie. He manages those feelings into something healthy. It comes down to the fact that he's not mad because his lowly wife is getting the spotlight. He's just jealous and he's aware of that and managing that. How is that not what we should all be doing? He's not even burying these feelings. He talks his problems out and gets help when he can't handle it anymore. Lauren started going back to work yesterday and I was a little jealous. I was stuck with the kids and one of them was a baby. It was remarkably stressful, but we just dealt with it. I'm not mad at Lauren; I just wish that I could go to work for a bit to feel like a human being. Bob's not mad at Helen. He just wish that he was doing something productive.
I will say that as creepy as the main villain is, there is something missing about that character. The super power is a bit of a cover-all issues thing. It is extremely effective in how terrifying the character is, but there is a bit of a letdown because the villain kind of takes a back seat to the story. The only movie that I can think that balances its message with a great villain is Spider-Man 2, but this movie gets close. Despite having the best name in the world (SCREENSLAVER!), the image and voice of this character is creepy. I'm surprised Henry managed to get through the sting on the bad guy moment. It is way too scary. It felt like it was something out of Se7en, which I loved. My kids somehow got through it and thank God, because I didn't want to leave that movie theater after that. But the actual time as the Screenslaver is pretty minimal. I know why and that's due to the big twist of the movie. But I actually liked the villain better before the big reveal than afterwards, so that's just more on me than anything else. But the Screenslaver somehow made The Incredibles 2 a bigger movie than the first. Syndrome barely interacts with society. There's the final fight, which now seems tame compared to just the basic fights that the Screenslaver instigates. This makes a template for these great fight sequences that the first movie only kind of teased. Add to the fact that there are just a lot of people with powers that are visually arresting, I have to say the movie is pretty great. I hope that my son stays strong with this movie because I wouldn't mind having this one play in the house on a rainy day. It's such a fun movie. I also secretly hope that this is it for a while. I know that Craig T. Nelson and Holly Hunter are up there, but Incredibles 2 works because it isn't rushed into production. I kind of wish the television adventures of adapted television shows on Disney were a little better because I think that might be the perfect outlet for the future adventures of The Incredibles. OOoooh...what if it was on ABC instead of Disney?
I might have something there.
This one is a slippery slope. It's PG-13. Fine. I can get behind that. But it is a PG-13 that teases nudity a lot. It's also fundamentally about sex through its almost lack of sexuality. I don't mean to sound like the snob I am, but this movie is very sexy despite the fact that it constantly stresses how almost nothing is going on. There are some pretty intense scenes despite this, but I think PG-13 is pretty accurate.
DIRECTOR: Sofia Coppola
My goodness, do I love this movie. This is another one of those treasured takes from my Thomas Video days. I watched it once when I worked there and then had it on as my background movie for a few of my shifts because of the killer soundtrack. I got it for my birthday this year and was puzzled by the box it came it. It looked super bootleg and pirated, but that's just because apparently it is released as part of the "Choice" collection. Movies that don't have enough support to constantly run a print of the movie practically get a burned version from Focus Features. That's kind of a bummer that this movie doesn't have the legs to permeate the pop culture consciousness as much as I think it does because this movie is absolutely phenomenal.
I don't know why, almost immediately before my 35th birthday, I had a need to own the Sofia Coppola movies I had seen previously. I think it was my viewing of The Godfather: Part III. I know that she's panned in that and, I can admit, she's not amazing. But then I thought about my experiences watching her films and I was just taken aback by the amount of talent she shows as a director. I honestly think that she is more talented than her father, and that's just me rattling the cinematic cages. But Sofia Coppola, for all of her pretension (WHICH I LOVE HER FOR!), is all about simplifying the narrative. Yeah, the movies are hipster movies. Get it out of your system and shut up for two seconds. Her movies are hipster, but they don't forget that they are ultimately human movies. Some people might see something like Marie Antoinette as a dumbed down version of history. I know that I just went on a rant about The Greatest Showman. I'm not sure what I understand about rewriting history. I don't know much about the real Marie Antoinette, but at least the film credited the book it was referencing throughout. What Marie Antoinette does is remind us that period dramas are ultimately human stories. Yes, it was an era of manners and fancy dress, but Marie Antoinette was first and foremost a girl who didn't know how the handle the position she was placed in. She makes all these choices that we don't often see in period pieces. She sometimes is wildly irresponsible, partying and gossiping when she should be following tradition. Sometimes she is a victim unable to advocate for herself. There's a lot going on there and that's where Sofia Coppola flies. She understands that the story of Marie Antoinette shouldn't be inaccessible, like every other narrative of the era ultimately is. Most movies tell about the past from a perspective of history. People in these stories don't know that they are in history. They are fools and morons like the rest of us. I love that. There's even a shot in the film, amongst all this attention to historical detail, that Coppola just has a straight up shot of Converse All Stars. C'mon. Marie Antoinette wasn't this great self-aware woman of history. She was a teenager who liked to party and had to try to seduce a guy who wasn't at all into her. The only difference is that there were genuine consequences if she failed to do so. That's super cool.
You know what else is super cool? The whole darn movie. As part of the Choice Collection, there were no subtitles. I was running on a treadmill when watching this movie, so I had to blast the movie pretty loud to hear every detail. Um, every time there was a music cue, Coppola decided to blast that music. There's no casual soundtrack to this movie. It is antagonistically anachronistic and I absolutely love it. There are some movies that try to feel punk and there are some movies that are honestly pretty punk. I love that Marie Antoinette might be one of the best paired movies with Sid and Nancy that I can think of. I know. Sid and Nancy weren't hipsters. Shut up, you button down Oxford wearing snob. Let people be hipsters! Geez. I honestly wanted to immediately recommend this to my former students. A lot of them want to be into hipster film really badly. They all saw The Grand Budapest Hotel and thought that they were instantly into hipster film. Hey, I can't throw them under the bus. I had the same reaction when I saw The Royal Tenenbaums for the first time. Marie Antoinette might be the next best step into the hipster movie pool. It is more of a dramedy than what Wes Anderson presents, but it still has that vibe to it. I'm not saying the movie isn't funny. It just doesn't have formal deliberate jokes like Wes Anderson's films. But it is the same amount of fun. That's something there, isn't it? Considering the topic of the story, it's odd to think of Marie Antoinette being an absolute blast of a movie. I'm not saying that you should drag those old costume dramas out into the streets and considering them boring. I actually like quite a bit of period drama. But I watch those movies for the technical achievement and the feeling of richness (and snobbery) that I get from watching those movies. Marie Antoinette never really feels like that. It's straight up fun and I can really get behind that.
I get the feeling that my wife probably thinks that Kirsten Dunst is not a talented actress. I know the people she says can and I know the people she says can't act. I don't think I've ever had a formal discussion about the merits of Kirsten Dunst, but I don't think that Lauren would really like her. I like her enough. There are some movies that she really doesn't knock it out of the park for. I didn't hate her as Mary Jane Watson, but I also didn't love her as that part either. But Marie Antoinette is something absolutely perfect for her. I guess it isn't something absurd for her to connect emotionally to Marie Antoinette, being Hollywood royalty. But to examine Antoinette throughout this film, there are many different facets to her. Dunst does this wonderful think about making her seem completely real to me. She wants to live her own life. She knows when to shut up most of the time, but also lets us know that there is more going on than what is being said. She wants to have a rich legacy and has the opportunity to do so, but also she is completely overwhelmed with everything that is happening. Even more bizarre is the fact that Dunst kind of nails this odd relationship that she has with Jason Schwartman's Louis XVI. She finds him unattractive, I think. She has no reason to love him. Bearing his child is this responsibility that she really does try, but she has no idea how to make that happen. And in a really weird way, I think she loves him. That love and relationship is one of the most complicated relationships I've seen in a movie and I absolutely adore it. Schwartzman probably has the easier task with this character. Schwartzman's character wears his intentions on his sleeve. It's odd to think that Louis XVI had a less complicated lifestyle than Marie Antoinette, but I kind of believe it given the story that is presented here. I really have to stress that Schwartman does a fantastic job in this movie. I just see this being a much closer role to what I've seen him do. It's great casting because he is completely aloof the entire story. He's also odd because I think people see him as both attractive and unattractive, giving us some insight into what Marie Antoinette is thinking. It is only in this moment that I realize that I'm ranting and carrying on about a biopic and I keep saying that I hate biopics.
It is just that most biopics are so safe. They kiss the subject's butt a little bit and make the film very cinematic. Coppola definitely makes Marie Antoinette cinematic. Honestly, it's beautiful. I couldn't help but think about Kubrick's Barry Lyndon while watching this movie. The light streaming through the carriage contrasted to the pop of the clothing is just spectacular. But these were really gutsy choices. But there's nothing safe about Marie Antoinette. I know that some people absolutely loathe this movie. I honestly don't get that. Perhaps it is a subtlety thing. I remember back in college, I adored Moulin Rouge! and I defended that movie to all of the haters. I had the same reaction: it wasn't safe and I loved it. I don't know if Marie Antoinette ever gets into obnoxious territory. The closest thing I could say is the "I Love Candy" sequence might be a bit much for some audiences. I mean, I adore this sequence. It is completely unapologetic and I dig it completely. I'm not a guy who is into pretty stuff. Maybe I am, I don't know. But this entire music video section of the film is so well done that I actually stopped and watched it again, despite the fact that the bass blared so loudly that it knocked a frame off of the wall. (Sorry for playing my music too loud. I'm sorry.) I never learned an instrument. I always regret not learning guitar...mainly just so I could rock out on an electric guitar. This movie, you guys, is almost touching on the same reactions when I watch a music movie. I love music movies. I'm shamed to say that I still smile pretty hard at Almost Famous and Marie Antoinette touches some of those moments behind my soul. It's this empowered genre all unto itself. It is a period piece that is mocked by the fact that it could be referred to as a period piece. Conversely, I think that other period pieces would refuse to let this movie into their club. It is beyond most other movies both in terms of scale, art, and emotion. I honestly love this movie and I should watch it every five years. It was so good watching it again after all this time because it kind of was a new movie to me, but I had the same reaction that I had watching it the first time. I'm pretty sure it is on Netflix as of the time that I wrote this review, so I highly recommend you check it out. Also, blast the audio and find a big screen. It'll be worth your time.
PG for a criminal rewrite of history. Okay, I guess my kids could have seen this one. I didn't actually realize it was PG while I watched it, but I suppose that there's nothing all that bad. Oh wait, P.T. Barnum exploited people for their physical malformation and the movie presented him as if he was doing something extremely noble. That's right. I don't want my kids watching this movie. But I guess it is PG. And my parental guidance says that they shouldn't believe this movie.
DIRECTOR: Michael Gracey
My in-laws might get mad at me for writing this. I think everyone in my wife's family absolutely loved this movie. But then everyone at school hated this movie. I was just happy to get a chance to finally see it. It was one of the handful of Academy Award nominees that I didn't really get an opportunity to see when it was in theaters. Honestly, I kind of kept putting it on the back burner because people told me it wasn't that great. My feelings about this movie are kind of in the middle, which might be the worst thing. If I loved it, I could be the guy who loved the movie that a lot of people I know hated and I would be in good graces with my in-laws. If I hated it, I would at least have a really strong opinion and I could argue until I'm blue in the face about why the film musical as a genre is dying. But I didn't like it nor did I hate it. So that's going to taint this review of the movie pretty clearly.
As a musical, I suppose it did its job. It has so many things in the right place. While my in-laws didn't care for the Les Miserables adaptation (I know!), I loved it. Hugh Jackman is a really smart casting decision for the role of P.T. Barnum in this movie. If you are going to rewrite history to make Barnum out to be this forward progressive, there probably isn't a bigger pick than Hugh Jackman. He's handsome, charismatic, and has a set of pipes to really spearhead this movie. Then there is pretty boy Zac Efron, who both uses his Disney chops but pushes them beyond cutesy in this one to give him a little cred. Zendaya has been on my list of solid actresses since Spider-Man: Homecoming, and she really rocks the part out pretty well. Also, the movie is extremely pretty to look at. The aesthetics of the movie are awesome and the dance numbers are darned impressive. So from what I just said right there, why didn't I love it? Okay, I'm going to harp the history of this one. Barnum, from everything I've studied, was probably a horrible human being. I had the same problem with A Beautiful Mind (ANOTHER AUSSIE PLAYING A YANK!) The guy was one of the most famous hucksters in the world. He exploited people for money and that was his gimmick. The movie almost makes the hard call and discusses that, but then shies away from and it and goes the total opposite way from this idea. It shouts loud from the rooftops --in song, no less -that P.T. Barnum was a champion of the oppressed and that's not true. It's kind of icky to make a movie about it, frankly. But then let's go deeper into the movie as a whole. I talked about how Jackman's got a set of pipes on him. I don't think a lot of this movie is Jackman's fault. He does a fine job and I love him for it. But the music in this one is pretty polarizing. I don't want to be the old man who preaches about how the music should be like the musicals of yesteryear. I am ashamed to say it, but I once loved Moulin Rouge!. Don't stick with that too long. I think I've changed my mind on that one. But the genre of music in this one did absolutely nothing for me. I know. It was by the lyricist of my beloved La La Land. I should be all about this movie, but the music was annoying. I know that there have been a lot of people playing this and it's just not for me. While that doesn't make the movie objectively bad, it does definitely turn me off to the whole thing.
I also don't really get Zac Efron. I'm sorry. I get him in some things, but I'm now realizing I haven't seen a lot of the movies that people like him in. Note to self: Watch Neighbors. Efron and Jackman both are doing their jobs. But there's a big number that involves the both of them. As a number, it is one of the better songs in the movie. The dancing is spectacular, but I also never believe the scene emotionally. I can't unsee Old Man Logan dancing with Troy from High School Musical. That's a real problem for me. Then there is the secondary story with Efron and Zendaya. There is some real meat here that could be explored. The problem is that it is one of the most obvious B-storylines that I've seen in a movie. The Greatest Showman never really tackles any racial issue that hasn't been discussed before with greater detail. Rather, it unfortunately just serves as padding for Jackman's kind of boring A-story. I will give the A-story some credit. In terms of what it does for Barnum's fictional character development, it is pretty solid. I like the idea that there is this guy who is so good at what he does, but is never really taken seriously because he's not classy enough. That's actually pretty good and I rode that story until the movie ended. But then there's this weird relationship that was nothing like the real thing. Then there were the psychopathic rabble rousers. The movie doesn't really offer a ton of nuance when it comes to the people who wanted Barnum drawn and quartered. They were the Frankenstein mob. Again, my complaint is that this movie paints with broad strokes. It hits every beat, but treats these beats like checkmarks. The movie needed X, Y, and Z so it was going to give the movie X, Y, and Z. But I would rather simply have one or two of these moments explored in detail. I have to officially classify The Greatest Showman as a biopic, begrudgingly. But I wish that Showman looked at Steve Jobs as a template for how to make a movie compelling. I would rather just focus on one story from Barnum's life than trying to cover his family, his career, his business dealings, and his "humanitarian efforts." But I suppose by saying that, I have to be missing the point.
The movie stresses that Barnum threw everything that he could at the audience and left them wanting more. By me saying, I want less and in more detail, I guess that's not the Barnum way. The movie really doesn't hold anything back, and that's sometimes at the expense of the film. There are all of these cool dance numbers that mirror circus acts. Unfortunately, there's something truly uncanny valley about these numbers. We'll never get a Broadway show on the level as the film (thank God, for multiple reasons) because so much of the movie was digital. I guess that might be the hucksteriest thing about the movie. It presents all these things as real that were really just over-the-top illusions. I'm sure that there was a memo or a banner when making this movie. I'm sure that they wanted to present the Greatest Show on Earth the entire time. Money was going to be no object because they wanted to recreate Barnum's sense of spectacle. But spectacle gets criminally tiring. There's a reason that circus died. (Okay, it was because of a history of cruelty to animals, but also...spectacle.) The movie really tries to make us forget the reason we stopped going to the circus and wants to leave us simply with the awe. But CG doesn't awe us anymore. There is a way to make spectacle work and we just don't do it anymore. Busby Berkeley did it with real people. The second that it doesn't become real, we stop being afraid. Perhaps The Greatest Showman is actually a cautionary tale about making things fake. The real is scary. Why do I need to pad the fat man's suit?
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.