Rated R for being pretty demonic when it comes to witch stuff. There's a lot of invocation of the devil's multiple names. But even more so, while there is still some mild sexuality, the movie is far more upsetting due to an attempted rape. While there is no nudity, this imagery should be even more cause for concern. Like the other movies, there's a lot of stabbing and death and blood and gore and violence and all that stuff that horror movies wade in. A very hard R.
DIRECTOR: Leigh Janiak
*slow clap* Well done. When I started Fear Street, I had such low hopes for it. It all seemed so...Netflix disposable. Little did I know that Fear Street would be one of the movies that would stick the landing. Now, I'm the opposite from my friend Bob. Henson, the other half of the former Literally Anything podcast, loves witch stuff. That's his subgenre. Me, not so much. Maybe it is that intense Catholic upbringing, but I always find witch horror to be far too bleak. It never seems fun, so much as just depressing and pessimistic. The fact that I'm preaching this movie means that they found a way to make the movie fun while nailing down the themes of the trilogy overall.
I can't be one of the people who claims that he figured out the twist super early. After all, I'm on the conclusion movie. Janiak had already dropped all of the clues needed to solve the mystery. So when I say that I figured out the twist fifteen minutes into this movie, that's not all that impressive. I didn't see it for the first two. (I may have had an inkling in 1978, but not in any real clear sense.) But I can say that I absolutely dig where the movie hit politically. Okay, so a lot of it lines up with my political inclinations. That makes it easy. But geez Louise, making Goode family the big bad guys of the series is inspired and works out so well with just the entire political climate of 2020 / 2021 ever. I mean, the movie actually earns the line, "Goode is evil." Almost any other film, I would have rolled my eyes at that line, being so darned on the nose. But when you say it in the latter half of your final film, you've earned the right to drop that piece of knowledge right there.
Because that's what the allegory of the films is all about. Call this a film series about a haunted street. That's fine. If you intentionally tried to avoid any kind of deeper message to this series, it's just a great campy horror that takes itself just seriously enough to make it a great time. But when you break down how everything is about how people in power keep their power by oppressing others, then you have something on your hands. The opening credits of the first film show the long history of Sunnyvale and Shadyside, going all the way back to Union in 1666. These articles tell the story of an extreme version of the haves versus the have-nots. 1994 presents it as the have-nots, the Shadysiders, creating their own misery through crime and laziness. There is this unjust sense of morality within Sunnyvale. They thing they are the bastions and harbingers of good, despite constantly tearing down Shadyside. I mean, we get this. This is institutionalized wealth, often reflecting Republican values. (When in the color war, they wear red. Janiak is not subtle and this isn't necessarily me reading too deeply into this.)
And the entire history blames a woman, Sarah Fier. (Okay, the name's a bit on the nose.) It's simply assumed that everything started with the death of Sarah Fier and the separation of her hand. It's something that I followed along with until about halfway through 1978, where I thought it would be cool if Sarah was the good guy of the series because it really did make more sense with the themes that Janiak was playing with. Guess what? It was a good choice because Solomon Goode being the bad guy adds yet another element to this progressive wonderland: Good guys are problematic. I mean, his name is literally Goode. To add to all of it, Nick Goode is always slightly disappointing. He's the guy you want to have that major moment and to overcome his mediocrity, but then you realize that he's causing all of this horror and that he sucks. It's great.
I also applaud that the cause of all of this is a case of fragile masculinity. In the same way that the Multiversal War started in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because the Hulk didn't like stairs, every bad thing that happened in the Fear Street series comes from the fact that a random character was shamed when he attempted to rape a woman who refused his sexual advances. Honestly, that's all of it. At least the whole curse of Sarah Fier wouldn't have happened if that guy hadn't tried assaulting Sarah's girlfriend.
But again, it all discusses how power is seized. In the case of Fear Street, there's the fantasy element of demonic powers, but is it all that different? (Some of you are like, "Yeah, it is different." Take a breath. I'll explain.) Nick Goode is an example of generational wealth. Solomon, Nick's ancestor, took power from weak people. From there, he raised family to continue justifying evil acts for the family's greater good. To do so, people had to be considered expendable. With this case, it's the people of Shadyside. Nick Goode probably thinks of himself as a good person. There's this one moment that kind of sticks in my craw because it doesn't work as well as the rest of the moment, but maybe it is the fact that Nick doesn't think of himself as the bad guy that makes it work. I wondered why Nick would warn Ziggy that "It's happening again" if he's the one who is causing it. Maybe it is because he is trying to play both sides, but also it could be the fact that it forces him to be looped into the story by gaining Ziggy's trust. Yeah, that's probably it. But police forces and elected positions, such as Sheriff, tend to be generational things. Nick's brother is the mayor (which makes me question why the bad guys disappeared with the death of Nick. Is Nick the only one who performed the ceremony?). These are all things that come to them because the family has been bred with this manifest destiny that they must do the bad things to keep the clocks running.
There's one thing that didn't land with me. Okay, it's nitpicky. But the movie kept on repeating the Konami code. When it was in 1994, I rolled my eyes. The first film hits the nostalgia card just a little too hard and I read it as that. But when it showed up in 1994: Part 2 (the second half of 1666), I thought it had this greater meaning that could get me to clap. I mean, the movie really drove that Konami code into the ground for the finale and I didn't really get why. I suppose that it was all for nostalgia anyway.
But this series slays. It is one of the rare trilogies that absolutely leaves on a high note. It's pretty great. Sure, some of the rules on why the monsters kill are silly, but not enough to ignore the hit / miss ratio that Janiak pulled off. This is an inspired horror trilogy and I really had a great time with it.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
This is the craziest PG-13 I've ever seen. The language pushes it as far as it can go. Like, I was thinking that this movie was a hard R based on the language alone. But also, there's child abuse and endangerment, prostitution (implied), and an insane amount of alcohol abuse. There's also some messed up health issues that aren't easy to watch. But I'm rarely going to fight the PG-13 rating of something. Color me more shocked than appalled.
DIRECTOR: Benh Zeitlin
This might have been the movie I was wildly obsessed with when it came out and thought that it would change the face of cinema, but was forgotten to history pretty quickly. It was 2012's Nomadland for me. But when my wife was "meh" about it, I started to question if we watched the same movie. I haven't really had the opportunity to rewatch it since then. But now that I've rewatched it, it still completely crushed me in the same way that it did in 2012. Have I not grown? Is everyone else wrong? Maybe just my read on the cultural zeitgeist is wrong. Regardless, this movie still really impressed me.
Again, I'm the guy who always has daddy issues. (Remind me: I need to call my mom.) These are the movies that absolutely crush me and they always have, regardless of the kinds of fathers they are. Wink is not my dad. He's nothing like my dad. But Wink is unique in the canon of cinema for me. Fathers like Wink tend to be all good or all bad. Wink is complicated as heck for me. (I'm kind of talking about Wink early so I can really invest in Hushpuppy later because this is her story.) There are characters that deal with mental health issues who gain sympathy mainly because much of their behavior is not their absolute fault. But these characters rarely come across as both noble and despicable. Wink seems to be dealing with schizophrenia. I'm diagnosing him myself. Don't worry. It's okay. He's a fictional character. At least, he is bipolar coupled with the fact that he might have leukemia. Zeitlin portrays Wink initially from a point of love. He's a poor man with a child who gives her the best life he can afford. The famous shot of Hushpuppy running down the Bathtub double-streamers flying has this shot of Wink smiling at his daughter's joy. We're meant to like Wink. But then Wink comes back and we have something very similar to To Kill a Mockingbird.
With To Kill a Mockingbird, we can only understand adulthood from the perspective of Scout, who can only apply a child's knowledge to the tragic events surrounding her. Similarly, Hushpuppy views her father in extremes. Wink is either the best father in the world or he's a toxic mess. When Hushpuppy finds her father garbed in a hospital robes after being abandoned for days, Zeitlin leaves us in the dark in regards to what is actually happening with Wink. But we see him almost as a different human being. Wink is now obsessed with drinking. His anger causes Hushpuppy to burn her home down and almost die in the ensuing fire. Wink's reaction to this is both absolute love and absolute hatred for this girl. He saved her, but also feels this need to destroy her simultaneously. We, as the audience, can quickly understand that Wink is dying. (Mind you, it is at the same point that Hushpuppy comes to the same conclusion, so the film doesn't break its own rules.) There's that sacrificial love that is too immature to be formed into something productive.
Because the Wink of the beginning of the movie is fading and being corrupted by illness, Hushpuppy is forced to reconcile reality with the fictional world that Wink has created for her. (I told you that I could transition this into something about Hushpuppy.) Sweet Tooth on Netflix did the same thing, if you want to watch something else with a similar idea. But that's when the image of the Beasts chasing Hushpuppy keeps happening. The metaphor there is cool, but also a little muddied. For a long time in the movie, the Beasts seem like fate or death. I probably could even stay that with that breakdown. Wink's slow fading away is the Beast being unearthed. Similarly, the Beasts are climate change, leading to the toxicity of the Bathtub due to Man's poor stewardship of the Earth. But there's one shot where the Beasts are chasing the four girls. The three girls scream and Hushpuppy simply confronts the Beast. It is in this moment that I believe that the Beasts represent her womanhood. She has abandoned the years of her ignorance and dependence on a man and instead takes her fate into her own hands. The other three girls are not in the same mental space as Hushpuppy, so they continue screaming. However, Hushpuppy, with the impending death of Wink, has learned that her father cannot be trusted.
I just read an article from the New Atlantic that makes an interesting point, which may be why people aren't that into this movie. Beasts of the Southern Wild may be considered racist. I'm going to discuss this with the knowledge that this needs to be thought of a bit. One of the things that really appeals to me in this movie is the same thing that happens when India is filmed. Outside of Beasts, India is one of those rare places that manages to show beauty in abject poverty. It's both heartbreaking and inspiring. Beasts of the Southern Wild outright evokes the same thing. Because we follow the residents of the Bathtub from their perspective --particularly Hushpuppy's --we emotionally connect with their worldview. The people on the other side of the levee live a life of toxicity. They have no connection with nature. They seem distant and emotionally hollow. While Hushpuppy and her Bathtub community may have very little in terms of luxury or traditional civilization, we see them mostly in a state of contentment. When the Bathtub becomes condemned because of the hurricane, intellectually the audience understands that they have to leave their home or risk certain death. But we want them to continue to live the life that they have.
But the New Atlantic makes the case that poverty isn't romantic. It's something that is systemic and that we shouldn't glorify what capitalism has done to people like Hushpuppy or Wink. It doesn't help that the protagonists are both Black, but the bigger issue is that something like Beasts of the Southern Wild stops us for fighting against poverty because we can turn a blind eye if there's something appealing about being off the grid. I'm never going to be the authority about what is racist and what is not. Part of being an anti-racist is questioning and fighting and challenging. What I will say is that while the effect of glorifying poverty isn't great, Beasts of the Southern Wild also reminds us about the humanity of the poor. Rather than treating the poor as less than human, Beasts does the opposite. Because they have survived and struggled, there's something almost more than human about them. The people from civilization, for all of their good acts, seem cold and sad. The people of the Bathtub, however, find a reason to celebrate whenever they can. It then boils down to an intellectual read of the film versus an emotional read of the film.
Because if you did that, the intellectual read doesn't really like the movie. After all, there are all these people who want what is best. Wink is this father who is constantly endangering this girl with his undiagnosed and untreated mental disorder. They are living in a place where wildlife can no longer survive. The only thing keeping them there is their pride and that's something that can't happen. Yet, the movie emotionally presents the social services as the villains of the piece. (I'd hate to be a social worker because so many movies make them out to be the bad guys, despite the fact that they've committed to making the underprivileged more comfortable and successful.)
So I can see why some people might not dig the movie. But I can't help but love the cinema of the whole thing. And while I see the New Republic's perspective and probably agree with it, I can't deny that the film is committed to showing the humanity of the ignored. That's such a strong concept that shouldn't get ignored. Yet, we should continue fighting for the end of poverty and films like Beasts of the Southern Wild do risk making poverty attractive.
Fear Street: Part Two -1978 (2021)
Rated R. The first one was rated R for violence, gore, and sexuality. The immediate follow-up ramps all of that up. Instead of just being teenagers who died, there are a bunch of campers who die. I didn't know there could be more gore, but it feels like there is with the giant beating heart in the cave. The sexuality was there in the first one, but never with nudity. This one feels far more graphic, with nudity and actually watching the sex act happen. The camp massacre genre has always been pretty brutal and nothing has changed. R.
DIRECTOR: Leigh Janiak
These movies are going to be difficult to write about. One of the best elements about this Netflix trilogy is how interwoven they all are. The bad news for me is that I'm borderline just writing about the middle part of a giant sprawling film. It's my Two Towers problem all over again. Add to the fact that I just finished watching Fear Street: 1666, which reveals the big bad of the whole thing, so I'm forced to try to write from a perspective of ignorance despite the fact that I want to talk about everything. Oh, the problems I have!
I really want to know everything about Leigh Janiak. All three movies are absolutely from the same voice because of the consistency of all three entries. But Janiak has somehow managed to cover two separate subgenres of horror films so perfectly that I just want to stand up and applaud. With 1994, she covered the Dimension Films era of horror. Maybe there's a little less Nine Inch Nails with 1994, but it still hit that slasher film era really really nicely. But there's something even more pure about Janiak's sendup of '70s sleepaway camp massacre films. I've always been partial to the sleepaway serial killer stories. Maybe it was because I was a summer camp kid and that one of the only really redeeming elements about sleepaway camp was the scary concept that something was out there in the woods, about to get us. That fake confidence that I put on when these stories were shared on walks and around the campfire hit a lot of the same buttons that horror films would do later on. But Janiak nailed the vibe of Sleepaway Camp and Friday the 13th just perfectly. Not only did she nail the vibe of these films, but did it without being as gross and dated as something like Sleepaway Camp. (I'm now uncomfortable with revisiting this box set the more I think about it.)
But out of all three films, 1978 might be the most focused film of the three. Like with the previous entry, 1978 still keeps playing with the legend of Sarah Fier and the notion that witches are responsible for good people going bad. But if I had to watch only one of these movies again, it might be 1978 because it just reads as a single killer story. Tommy Slater gets so much attention as the killer in this one that it feels less distilled. Sure, we had the skull-faced guy in the first one, but we never really got to know him outside of what little prologue we had at the beginning of the previous film. But Tommy Slater was kind of a developed character at the beginning of this one. While Sam is the one who is growing into a killer in 1994, Tommy's story mirrors the problem that Deena is facing. Tommy is a good person. (I find it weird that he's Mad Thomas in 1666, but I'm not going to talk about that yet.) So when Cindy has to find the courage to fight Tommy, it's the opposite choice than Deena makes. Yet Cindy seems so much more clearheaded than Deena. Cindy makes this choice and it is a choice that is sacrificial. She sees that her boyfriend is willing to murder everyone there and makes the right choice: I choose others versus my selfishness. Yet, it is Cindy who dies in this situation. It feels like she made the right decision, but she is still punished for it.
I can't be the only person who figured out the twist of the surviving Berman girl, right? I kind of blame Netflix subtitles for this, but referring to a character as C. Berman the entire first movie means that there is significance to the letter "C". So when the movie comes out and has Cindy and Ziggy, it seems like the obvious misdirect. There's that moment when Josh says, "Wait, you're Ziggy" and I feel like everyone knew that Ziggy was C. Besides, everyone wanted Ziggy to survive. Besides the fact that she was played by Sadie Sink, the girl from Stranger Things, Ziggy was far more compelling than Cindy. But Janiak definitely made us feel like Cindy was the protagonist of the piece. I kind of dug that about both the first and second films, the idea that the protagonist wasn't necessarily going to survive. It's fun knowing that no one was safe in these movies...
...even the campers! I have this board game, called Camp Grizzly. It was a Kickstarter thing that no one else really has. The story of the game is that you are running from a bear-masked killer at a camp (I told you! I really like this subgenre!). One of the ways to escape is to offer the killer one of the campers, a kid named Lunchbox. I always thought it was a hilarious option, but most movies don't really kill off the kids. The counsellors are killer fodder. But the kids? Man, kids are always off limits. I don't know if I want to be the one who is putting into writing that I'm impressed that this series decides to bump off kids in the horror genre, but there it is. Sure, to give them their credit, those kids die with the camera facing away from them. But it still happens and that's pretty darned messed up.
The second time that the movie played "Carry On (My Wayward Son)" by Kansas, in the midst of the supernatural slaughter, did...did anyone else think that Sam and Dean were going to make a cameo? Just me? Okay.
But I'm going to revisit the idea that I brought up with my 1994 blog: I hardcore applaud the fact that the Fear Street movies are full-on embracing political and social commentary. 1994 teased the idea of a school color war. But then straight up making the Sunnyvalers the red team and the Shadysiders the blue team was so on the nose and I didn't even care a little bit. The privilege metaphor runs so thoroughly through this story. I know that it probably turned a lot of people off. You know, Sunnyvalers. But film like this needs to keep doing this. The horror genre can be extremely toxic for the well-being. As much as I enjoy horror (I would like to point out that I love a lot of genres, so don't peg me for a horror fan necessarily), I don't love that it desensitizes people towards violence and has us rooting for grizzly deaths. But the gruesomeness that these movies embrace almost get a bit of a pass knowing that there's a lesson there. I can't necessarily get my students to watch the cinematic canon and derive moral lessons from them, but I bet that they're watching Fear Street on their own and getting something out of it.
I really dug 1978. Heck, I'll spoil the next entry in the Fear Street series: I dug the whole thing. These aren't perfect movies, but they are exactly what they need to be. They're well-told scary stories that both pay homage to the films of yesteryear without being so sycophantic about them all. They push the boundaries of social commentary and should get more credit than simply being a direct-to-Netflix horror trilogy. They might be some of my favorite horror movies of the past couple of years.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Rated G. I love it. I fight for all of these G ratings because the MPAA tends to default to a PG rating and now I have to fight the G rating? *sigh*. In the back of my brain, I thought that this was an unjust R rating and now I have to reverse this. It's definitely not G by today's standards. I mean, the most gruesome thing is that once monkeys (don't correct me, jerk) learn how to use tools, they beat one of the monkeys to death with it. Then there's the homicidal robot who has a haunting death. There's a lot of stuff that doesn't scream "G rating" in this, but it's also not that bad either.
DIRECTOR: Stanley Kubrick
While I was watching this, I was thinking of all the people I know that would respond with, "Finally!" People be obsessed with this movie and there's a lot to break down, so it seems like I would be jazzed to write this. And for the most part, I was really jazzed to write this...until yesterday. I had an epiphany yesterday. There's nothing I could add to the great discourse about 2001: A Space Odyssey. If anything, I will only detract. Because where then is room for interpretation, I'm the guy who swings and misses pretty badly. So for the two people who I know will lose it when they see that I wrote about 2001, I'm sorry? I'm going to try my best.
2001: A Space Odyssey is a funky film. It might be the most distilled product of Stanley Kubrick that I can imagine. (Secret time: I haven't actually seen Barry Lyndon yet, so I can't say that with absolute confidence.) It's funny, because I don't think of Stanley Kubrick as a sci-fi director. I'm going to stand by that concept and I think a lot of film directors would probably agree with me. But that's a really odd thing to say because while I don't think of him as a sci-fi guy, he is the father of modern science fiction. Before 2001, science fiction was always kind of cheap. I'm not saying that there weren't movies that surpassed the genres. After all, I enjoy The Day the Earth Stood Still way more than 2001. (Oops. I don't know if I'm allowed to say stuff like that.) But modern serious sci-fi all started with this movie. There's a sense of grandeur and realism. Before 2001, there's something always self-aware about the genre. It had to have a sense of camp behind it. Even the most impressive science fiction was held back by the notion that it was considered a genre film. But Kubrick came in and made this a ballet. I mean, it's a lot to take in with the daring slow cuts. But the film had this sense of majesty to it (that would later be copied in Star Trek: The Motion Picture).
Kubrick did what genre storytellers have a responsibility to do: he told a story that offered thought to what the human condition was about. 2001: A Space Odyssey isn't exactly a tight plot for a two-and-a-half hour film. If anything, it is almost an anthology story comprised of four interlocking tales that talk about man's troubling relationship with technology and evolution. Sure, the iconic monolith is at least referenced in all four vignettes of the film and the movie never expressly treats these acts as separate stories. But if I had to describe the plot of 2001, we'd probably all jump to the HAL story, which is only a quarter of the movie. I think the first time I watched this movie, I was prepped for a man v. machine face-off, not unlike Westworld. But HAL's dispatch of the crew is almost a piece of evidence that Kubrick uses about the dangerous parallel evolution that man has to technology. It spirals out of that notion of the ape holding the bone up to the heavens. While the crew of the Jupiter space expedition has altruistic intentions, exploring this mysterious mission, the fact that they created HAL and placed more faith in this technology than they did on humanity, humanity is the cause of the mass murder aboard the ship.
I think that people talk about the HAL sequence in the middle of the movie because it is the most plot heavy. Out of all of the sections in the movie, the HAL murder spree is the only one that makes absolute sense. I always remember that the movie starts off with the Dawn of Man sequence. But I honestly forget how long that sequence goes on for, which is about twenty minutes. In my head, 1) monkeys do nothing, 2) monkeys find monolith 3) monkeys kill monkey 4) monkey throws bone to heavens to create a match cut in space. But Kubrick really lets us live in that moment. It's the Dawn of Man sequence that actually makes me believe that, in an alternate reality, Stanley Kubrick could have directed Dune and the David Lynch version would never have existed. But I'll move on. The second segment is perhaps the most forgettable. The other three sections have been lampooned in other forms. But the second sequence, with the scientists chit-chatting aboard the space station (which acts as satire on our obsession with capitalism, even in the far-flung future of 2001), no one ever remembers that part. We remember the running around the ring and the ballet music with the long sections of space. But the actual sequence is...rough. And the thing is, it should be as haunting as the HAL section of the film. Kubrick, with the HAL sequence, quickly and dispassionately, murders the entire crew very quickly. There's no blood. There's no sense of suspense. If anything, he's intentionally doing it in an efficient and computer like way. But with the scientists aboard the moon, he sets them up as human beings. He stresses that these people have families and are the best and brightest that humanity has to offer, only to have them attacked by this bit of technology that they don't understand.
And that leads me to the last section, which terrifies me to write about. The last section (again, mimicked / straight up stolen for Star Trek: The Motion Picture) is the hardest to tack down objectively. Dave's interaction with the monolith and the star child has a degree of objectivity, but really could be interpreted in a multitude of ways. I mean, whatever version I come up with right now will be laughably wrong, so I apologize again. But it is odd that Dave is humanized so much in the HAL sequence, but he mind as well be Crewman 2 for the final sequence. We know nothing of the issues that Dave went through in the previous sequence. Kubrick doesn't make a single reference to the death of his friends or the fact that the perfect computer went insane on his watch. Instead, we have Dave as our avatar. Dave represents all of humanity and the way that he is incapable of truly understanding higher intelligence. He parallels the ape who knew nothing of tools and is simply there to rudimentally interact with an environment which is a perversion of the normal. He is the animal in the zoo, sipping tea and growing old under observation.
2001's warnings about the dependence on technology kind of confuse me. Each sequence shows how man's dependence on technology has brought him both forward in evolution, but also has brought about his own downfall. Before murdering the ape, the first monkey (I KNOW, they are different things that I don't care to learn about right now!) uses it to find food for his tribe. The scientists are able to communicate with family and find a sense of normalcy in the Howard Johnson's of space, but are ultimately driven mad with their quest for advancement. HAL handles so many things that he's described as the sixth member of the crew. It's only upon discovering his fallibility that he becomes unhinged. And Dave's interaction with the monolith is so much about mood that it is hard to describe. He is simultaneously evolved and the pinnacle of man's quest for knowledge, but that is coupled with this ennui and utter futility that leaves the ending in this bleak place. What I'm left with is this business-as-usual message. Technology will bring us light years into the future, despite the fact that it is also our eventual and fated ruin. It's foolhardy to stop our pursuit of the unknown, but that pursuit is almost Faustian in nature.
The final thing that I want to say is that 2001 seems impossible to evaluate for quality or entertainment anymore. It is outside these qualifiers because it has done so much for cinema. I wouldn't have any of the things that I adore without this movie and watching it, you see the work of a genius at every moment. But the one thing that 2001 isn't is fun. It's never fun. I know two people (whom I have pointed out) who will watch and rewatch this movie and that baffles me. It is one of those movies that reminds me of opera. I love the notion of the opera and I'm impressed by every element of gesamkunstwerk, but it is rarely fun for me to do that. It's satisfying and beautiful, but not fun. I don't know how one rewatches 2001: A Space Odyssey over and over. It seems like this activity that would almost put me in a coma. Sure, there's stuff to get out of it with every watch, but I don't know if there is a sense of diminishing returns or not. Regardless, it is a thing of beauty.
Fear Street: Part One -1994 (2021)
Rated R for being all of the horror movies at the same time. There's a lot of grisly murder in this movie. It's a slasher, which is its own particular brand of gore. But it's also a witch cult movie, which means that there's devil stuff with mystic blood and all of that. There's also a heavy dose of sexuality, although there's no actual nudity in this one. Similarly, characters have some pretty racist tendencies and do some awful things to one another. This one is a well-deserved R-rating.
DIRECTOR: Leigh Janiak
I don't know why I sat on my hands for this one. I mean, maybe it is because I'm 38 and it feels weird watching slasher-horror movies. But I was deeply into the Fear Street books when I was a kid...in 1994. I'm really in that prime area of nostalgia demographic right now. I was recommended this by my sister-in-law, who absolutely loved the trilogy enough to recommend them to me. But while watching it, I was wondering if she was old enough to remember a lot of the things that were referenced in the movie. I mean, the movie goes out of its way to stress the fact that B. Dalton's is no longer a thing. (I hope you enjoy space, Jeff Bezos. Although, Daltons might have been dead by that point anyway.)
Fear Street was a way to show that you were grown up. I remember that my parents really fought me on reading these for the longest time. They were right to fight me on them. They were littered with really graphic violence and sex. But it wasn't reading Goosebumps. Goosebumps, when I was 11 years old in 1994, were for kids. Fear Street were for teenagers. I don't know if I wanted to read these books for myself or if I wanted to read them to prove that I wasn't a little kid to the school bullies anymore. But I finally got one and I binged the living daylights out of them. There's a weird point of pride for me with these books. I'm currently reading Lisey's Story by Stephen King and I don't know if I would be the horror nerd if it wasn't for the Fear Street books. I mean, these books were brutal. I felt like I was doing something horribly wrong by reading these books. Now, I can't tell you a darned plot of one of these books today if I tried. Despite the fact that they were my gateway drug to the enter horror genre, I just remembered that there was something forbidden about them and that was about it. If you want to know if the references in this movie are in conjunction with any R.L. Stine classics, I genuinely could not tell you. It's not like Fear Street had Slappy the Dummy as a mascot to help you remember.
But it is bizarre how many boxes this movie ticks. It's a lot. I almost binged them all in one sitting based on how much I liked the first one. It's a pretty solid horror movie in its own right. To complain a bit, the nostalgia comes into this movie a bit too hard. Man, it's weird to think that my hazy '80s memories (I was born in 1983) are being replaced with really vivid '90s memories. But it seems like the world of Fear Street: 1994 is the most hip version of 1994. Everyone is wildly self-aware of what the cool music of the era was. (I find it odd that there's never hip-hop in the nostalgia movies. That should be a thing.) But that being said, I'm now watching Part Two: 1978 and loving the '70s soundtrack, so I guess that it only applies to the generation you are completely on top of. But this is so much movie that it absolutely shouldn't work.
And do you know why I know that it shouldn't work? Because it's the basic plot of Goosebumps, only way more R-rated, which is on point for Fear Street. One Halloween, I sat in my movie theater / garage giving out candy. I wanted to put something Halloweenie on while not traumatizing kids. So I watched the first half of the Goosebumps movie. If you ignore the "how" of it all, both movies are about revisiting the big bads of the R.L. Stine respective universes. Instead of just being a creepy movie with a bad guy, these movies take advantage of the fact that they have a medium to show the great canon of these long running series. After all, the people behind the film can't guarantee that this is going to be the next mega hit. They don't have time to build up to an Avengers: Endgame, so they have to do it in the first movie. With Goosebumps, I was bored silly. I wasn't the target market (although I kind of was, but that's besides the point). But with Fear Street, despite the fact that I don't know about the litany of villains behind the world of Fear Street, the characters thrown in here seems pretty darned cool. And a lot of this comes from the writers. As rushed as 1994 feels at times, it actually is building a lot for a tight trilogy. This is really good trilogy writing, it seems. (I haven't finished 1978, so I'm assuming a lot.) But it is teasing so much and an oddly rich mythology for what should be this throw-away slasher film.
I'm probably going to go into some deeper political allegory with the second entry, but I love that Jordan Peele has made the horror movie an opportunity for political discourse. I'm going to give Fear Street the most backhanded compliment imaginable. Be aware, I come from a place of awe and respect, but the political commentary is fun, but almost hilariously obvious. It gets to be more so in the sequel / prequel. However, there is something to be said about the concept of privilege and how it spirals out of being part of the haves and the have nots. The city of Sunnyvale has never really dealt with violent crime. It's full of rich white kids who seem to succeed at everything. And then there's the town of Shadyside. Shadyside is Fear Street. Every single horrible thing in the Fear Street novels happens in Shadyside. (I don't remember if this is part of the books or not. Again, I have no memory of anything.) But the movie gives it a justification. Shadyside is economically unbalanced from its neighbor. While Shadyside isn't exclusively a Black community, it tends to be more racially diverse than the Sunnyvale. The mall is there and the students tend to have afterschool jobs. Everyone in Sunnyvale looks down on the people of Shadyside because they assume that the people there are causing their own misery. But from an outside perspective, there's the story of what it takes to make a community completely peaceful: removing any non-white elements from it. There's this concept of Color War that is repeated more in the sequel. But its there the entire time, just staring us in the eyes.
One of my professors (I have a theatre degree amongst other things) stated that art should have a purpose beyond entertainment. It needs to change an audience. Now, this is a guy who advocated for high art. You know me. I get snooty. Tomorrow's blog is going to be about 2001: A Space Odyssey for goodness' sake. But I almost like the fact that something like Fear Street decided not to treat itself as simply disposable material. It's going to reach a larger audience by making an entertaining as heck film and then saying something that needs to be said. There's a reason that violent crime keeps on happening in certain places and not in others. Now, it's a little dangerous to blame the whole thing on an ancient witch's curse. But even with that case, it ties back to the concept of women being oppressed, so that's something in itself.
I also have to applaud the fact that major characters die. Yes, 1994 is part of a tight trilogy. But it really felt like everything was going to be wrapped up in one movie, and then it pulled an It Follows. The plan shouldn't always work like it does in other movies. I don't think that a witch would intentionally give herself a set of weaknesses. Yes, I love that the movie played up archetypes and some of those characterizations are over-the-top. But that's also embracing the thing that made the '90s slasher movies so darned fun. It's so much that's just hitting right that it allows me to ignore the completely cornball conceit. Really, it just hits right. That's what good horror should do. There's planning and fun and silliness all balanced completely right. This movie is way better than it really should be and I adore it.
Gunpowder Milkshake (2021)
Rated R for being an over-the-top killfest that prides itself on trying to find creative and gross ways to kill people. The movie also makes a point of not swearing in front of the kid. But to pull off this trick, the character tends to swear first and then restates the same phrase using an inoffensive word, so it still gets points for using all kinds of language. I mean, I suppose I should be offended by gore as opposed to sex, but I quickly got over the gore and violence and embraced it. But it doesn't change the fact that it is a hard-R.
DIRECTOR: Navot Papushado
I would like to formally apologize to my wife for asking her to watch this movie. I saw that it had Karen Gillen and a bunch of people we liked and I thought it was going to be a good time. When she decided to roll over and go to bed on the couch, I didn't stop her. She wasn't missing much and I feel like I have to trade whatever credits I had building up for a rom-com with a completely forgettable title after forcing her to watch a movie like this. If there was any doubt, I didn't care for it and my wife cared for this movie even less. It's a shame, because it's not like there isn't a market for this kind of film.
The subgenre of action movie that I would consider the Shoot 'Em Up or ultraviolent film is really a thing (which includes the appropriately named Shoot-'Em-Up). I really blame John Wick. I should blame Quentin Tarantino, but I want to discuss why Tarantino is rich and smart while stuff like Gunpowder Milkshake and John Wick are maybe less-so. Now, I know that there are a ton of John Wick fans out there. If I'm right, there are four John Wick films and a TV show coming, along with a handful of videogames. I clearly am in the minority of people who found the first movie mind-numbing and can't imagine the sequels. (Although a self-flagellating part of me wants to power through these movies just so I can complain with a good deal of authority.) These are movies that thrive on the concept of being cool.
Quentin Tarantino is cool. Let me restate: A lot of Quentin Tarantino's movies are cool. Tarantino himself seems like I would be wildly uncomfortable around him. But again, I don't really know the dude. He's a celebrity and I don't have a personal connection with him. Maybe it would be a bonding experience to get to know the guy over our mutual love of obscure movies, but I digress. But Tarantino's cool is well-earned. Tarantino is a director who was a film fan first. He has this depth of knowledge regarding movies that is scary. He's seen everything. He prides himself on this. When he is making a movie, he tends to focus on cool. But he's pulling from this wealth of cinema history and homaging all of it.
When you watch a Tarantino movie, it's watching a fanboy go to town on his favorite stuff. He pulls from all of these moments in history and openly does so. Yes, Tarantino has talent and knows what to save and what to throw away. But at the end of the day, he's just paying tribute to the people who brought him joy. Movies like Gunpowder Milkshake are kind of doing the same thing, but instead are copying a very limited amount of people, one of whom is Quentin Tarantino. Steven Moffat once commented about seeing cosplay of Osgood stating that "She's a cosplayer. When you cosplay as her, you are cosplaying as a cosplayer." It's the second level of copying. Tarantino is being methodical in his choices of homage. But when you are paying tribute to Tarantino, something is lost because these references don't understand the point of origin.
I'm building up to the idea that Gunpowder Milkshake, like many movies in the ultraviolence subcategory, feels kind of vapid. There's something there that is under proven and under ripe. It should be a story about mothers and daughters. Sam, for all of her anger towards her mother, ultimately becomes her through her adoption of Scarlet's profession coupled with the fact that she is acting as a mentor to Emily. There's fodder there. But the movie is so focused on being cool that it gets in the way of being vulnerable. Considering that this is a movie about betrayal and disappointment in family, there really isn't any emotion being displayed. I know the actresses really can emote and deliver a performance that would move. But I place the onus on the director for being so obsessed with tone that he forgot the center of his story.
Because there are definitely fun parts in this. I love the relationships between all of the women. But this relationship really takes a backseat to the tone. These things should work in tandem, but it almost feels like a conflict instead. I mean, I chose this great photo above (because I'm great, aren't I?). But that image isn't earned. We don't have these baby steps. Instead, every moment of characterization is brought through blunt exposition, not feeling it. It's kind of lame.
So what we're left with is a narrative that is told to us and spectacle that is overwhelming. So the movie becomes wildly forgettable. I mean, I might be in the minority, just like John Wick, because there's a sequel already in development. But this just isn't my kind of movie.
PG-13 for sex jokes mostly. It's not like you see anything, but Star does conduct a secret romance that is almost exclusively sexual. There's also a drug sequence that is played up for comedy. It's weird, because in my head, this was an R-Rated movie. But then I thought about it and realized that there isn't that much R-rated content in here. The eponymous characters have a very tame way of speaking, stressing how vanilla their lives are. I think that the movie became PG-13 by default. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Josh Greenbaum
Gloria Sanchez Productions, huh? Title credits come up, I instantly pause the movie. I mean, I know Gary Ganchez Productions as Will Ferrell's production company with Adam McKay. But Gloria Sanchez? This instantly brought me down a hole of reading about the company, which is a subsidiary of Gary Sanchez that focus on women in comedy. Listen, I'm just giving you the short version of the Wikipedia article I read. I saved you a few minutes. Barb & Star was one of those trailers that came out at a weird time. It was eerily cryptic. We got that this was going to be a movie about these over-the-top middle aged suburbanites and it was going to be a Saturday Night Live skit all the way throughout, but we had no idea how insane the movie would get. The answer is: pretty insane.
Taking a cue from stuff like Anchorman and Zoolander, Barb & Star exists in a bizarre world where the rules of reality are completely missing. Sure, the world can look at the personality quirks of these two characters as odd or surreal. But they'd just be hypocrites because almost every character in this movie has an odd personality trait. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo acturally crafted something unique. If anything, Barb and Star, while exaggerations of middle aged womanhood, probably are so hilarious because they are the most normal people in a really bizarre scenario. I'm trying to think of a character in the movie who is more normal. With my arm twisted, I have to pick the couple who is going couch shopping. These are tiny characters that are there for both the joke of Barb and Star being terrible salespeople and for the exposition that they provide for Barb and Star's relationship. But that's really about it. Even minor characters in the story have some kind of wacky quirk. There's just a guy in a banana hammock making weird faces. That's his entire schtick. He's hilarious, but I get that the entire joke behind this moment is that he's weird looking and everywhere.
Barb & Star isn't a story with a message. If it had one, it had to be a celebration of mediocrity. It's wildly depressing, but this might be the optimistic form of Death of a Salesman. Barb and Star revel in the notion that they don't really move mountains. Their stories of wild abandon are hilariously tame. If anything, life tries to impose on them. When characters set off on a quest for adventure which is told over the course of a film, that story is meant to be the most important thing that they can possibly do (until a sequel shows up, neutering the point of the original film). The eponymous characters travel to a mid-range resort town in Florida and that's supposed to be them stepping out of their comfort zone. To them, the adventure is just trying something new and to buy a bunch of junk with shells on them. But like all of their stories, life has to intervene and force them into an epic adventure.
When the movie started off with Yoyo, the paperboy, blowing up a house and helping murder a scientist with killer mosquitos, I had no idea where this movie was going. I didn't know how one could possibly connect a plan to commit mild genocide with two 40-something suburbanites. That's the point. That's what the movie was going for. You did it, movie! Good job. But that's the takeaway from Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Based on the idea that these two names rhymed with "Vista Del Mar", the movie had to ramp up the tension with the largest threat. It's almost like Barb and Star spit in the face of fate by stepping out of their comfort zone and the movie decided to punish / reward them by offering them a threat that was unimaginable.
And despite the fact that the movie decides to Deus Ex Machina pretty darn hard, (I mean, it's next level) the core themes of friendship above all still play out. I keep on apologizing for some reason, but we get that the ending is stupid. Sharon Gordon Fisherman (yup) should go to all the prisons for trying to murder everyone in this town. But instead, Barb and Star offer friendship and EVERYONE jumps on board. That's the absurdity of this movie. It's not bad enough that there is a gross injustice happening here. It's the idea that everyone's on board with Sharon being their friend at the end of the whole thing. Seriously. The more I think about it, the more troubled I am by this ending.
But that's also why I'm going to cut this one short. Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar doesn't need a long blog. The more I talk about it, the more I say obvious things. It's an okay movie that made me laugh a lot. It's really a dumb movie, but that's okay because it's charming as heck. It's got two great leads and a lot of it lands. But its sole purpose is to make you laugh, which it does. So message received, I guess?
Space Jam: A New Legacy (2021)
Rated PG because they really advertise the living daylights out of Warner's R-Rated properties. Like, who is that Matrix joke for anyway? It really pushes that and Game of Thrones. Really, it understands that a sizable percentage of the viewing audience is watching this out of nostalgia and those people are all old enough to watch the R-rated stuff. Like, Pennywise is watching the basketball game. It's not like the movie makes a big deal about it, but that's part of what is happening in the movie. The rest is pretty tame. There's some near-swearing, but nothing to really write home about. PG.
DIRECTOR: Malcolm D. Lee
Like, I didn't help unseat Black Widow --a much better film --by watching Space Jam: A New Legacy on HBO Max, right? I don't know how this works. Did I even help Black Widow's box office by buying it on Disney+ Premiere? There are all these new rules and I don't know where I fall on the grand scheme of things. I mean, ultimately, I'm probably pretty insignificant. But there are other me's out there. If the season finale of Loki taught me anything, there's probably an alligator version of me out there and I like it. Anyway, I'm not quite off my writing break right now. I write as I watch and I'm not on a tear of movies right now. Regardless, this came out of HBO Max and the long-time readers know that I'll pretty much watch anything that's a same day premiere because I don't have to pay extra for it.
If you want the one sentence version of this blog, the takeaway is that this is a better movie than the original 1996 Space Jam (which I'm sure based on the IMdB user-generated score, is a contentious thing to say), but that's not saying much. The buzzword for everything in this movie is "nostalgia". Maybe, two generations from now, this movie is going to be lauded as the greatest movie ever. Again, the OG Space Jam is apparently untouchable to many, and that movie is as bad as they come. (I'm not even going to pretend to mince words about how much that movie is just awful.) I will say, Space Jam: A New Legacy left me more happy than annoyed, but a lot of that comes from the fact that A New Legacy is just a better written movie. The conceit, like Space Jam, is mind-numbing. But in terms of structure, writing, and acting, there's at least something going on with A New Legacy.
The OG Space Jam was an hour-and-a-half of self-aggrandizing vomit. It had a message: Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time and no one should besmirch him at all AND the Warner Brothers make the best cartoons in the world. I'll say this, Space Jam was pre-Curb Your Enthusiasm. It took a real dude and a real film studio and made fictionalized versions of these ideas. But since Curb (this is my idea, anyway), people have learned that to make something successful that uses fictionalized versions of real people, you can't treat them as sacred. You have to make them exaggerated and flawed. While A New Legacy is still very generous to both King James and the Warner Brothers properties, it does the smart thing and makes LeBron James a flawed character and Warner Brothers kind of a villain.
That has to be the weirdest thing, right? I'm sure that there was a bunch of studio execs who sat very uncomfortably around a board table asking, "Are you sure that the Warner brand has to be the bad guy of the movie?" There was someone there saying, "No, this is how we make all the money." And he's kind of right. Like I stated, Space Jam: A New Legacy dethroned Black Widow in one week. But he definitely had his hands tied. At the end of the day, the Warner Legacy is just like it was in the first Space Jam movie: sacred. But Warner 3000, the future? That's the bad guy. It's a very cake-and-eat-it-too situation. But it is what it is. I get why they went that direction. It made the movie a better film.
Because think about it: LeBron James actually has a character arc in this movie. I mean, it is superficial as can be. It's kids' movie morality. LeBron James learned, as a child, that he had to devote his entire life to basketball if he wanted to be as great as he is. (Yeah, even blogging about this forces me to worship at the altar of LeBron James.) But he takes the lesson at face value, assuming that his kids would also have to put 110% into basketball to achieve anything in life. It's a great lesson. Our kids aren't going to be us. They can learn from our experience, but they have to apply it to themselves. It's bizarre how my kids are like me in so many ways and oh-so-very different. But LeBron, over the course of the movie, learns that Dom has his own path that he needs to commit and that's nice. In the process, he gets to enjoy the game of basketball again.
Does the movie imply that LeBron James kind of always hated basketball? Like, the movie gives LeBron's seriousness to the game as something akin to what Cobra Kai believes. There's no joking and there's no play. You can enjoy the fruits of the game, but you can't enjoy the game itself. LeBron appreciates how fun Dom's game looks because it makes him look great, but doesn't actually find the time on the court that fun until he's towards the end of Dom's game. It's funny, because that's the one time basketball shouldn't be fun. Because, think about this, Al G Rhythm (yup) is technically Jigsaw from Saw. Until LeBron can find a way out of his rigged trap, the people around him are going to die / get trapped in the Serververse for eternity. (I don't really see why Al G wants to do this outside of having people to rule, but whatever.)
Is it bad that I saw a way better ending for this movie that would have had some really dark implications? When the suits at Warner were letting Al G give his presentation to LeBron at the beginning (where LeBron was way too brutally honest), he mentioned that Warner 3000 would make a copy of LeBron and put him into franchises. So when LeBron chases after Dom when Al G took him, I thought, "Oh snap! They're just copies who think that they're real." Then there would have been the weird Wreck-It Ralph jumping between worlds, realizing that he's not the real LeBron, but he gets to have a special relationship with his kid. I don't know. It would have been super dark, but also matched up with what the movie spelled out.
At the end of the day, I got more laughs from this one than I did the previous one. The nods to the Warner canon actually annoyed me more than what was done with Universal and Ready Player One. My kid took away, "I should be able to play video games whenever I want because those are my passion" and I just didn't address it. Regardless, I'm glad I saw it for free, but it still ain't a great movie.
Space Jam (1996)
PG. Yeah, a movie about basketball players hanging out with the Looney Tunes seems like it would be perfectly fine. And you know what? For the sake of argument, it is fine. But there's a couple of adult jokes equating to skill on the basketball court to sexual performance. Whatever. The Monstars can be a little much at times. The only thing that's really scary is the fact that it has villains. The bigger concern that I have is Foghorn Leghorn going out of his way to sing about the land of cotton. Also, there's a couple of racial stereotypes that are simply accepted for the sake of humor. Regardless, PG.
DIRECTOR: Joe Pytka
If had known that starting a film blog about everything that I watch would require me to write umpteen words about Space Jam, I might have thought twice about ever considering it. I hated this movie when it came out. Guess what? It still pretty much sucks. See, I was raised on the Looney Tunes. My dad pushed it harder than Mickey and gang. I don't know why. I don't know why I am all down for the Mickey Mouse crew and haven't really introduced my kids to the Looney Tunes. But they were fine. But I never really liked sports. I mean, I collected baseball and basketball cards, so I knew who everyone in this movie was at the time. It's weird that I still reference Mugsey Bogues and Manute Bol from time to time. But I'm genuinely floored with the fact that I've now seen this movie not once, but twice. But, of course, HBO Max is going to have Space Jam: A New Legacy for free and there's going to be DC content.
Really, it's all on me. Okay, it's really all on my son who is strangely excited for this movie. Space Jam, for some reason, is sacred to a lot of people. This is a battle I've been fighting since 1996. If you ever wanted to understand 1996 exactly, watch Space Jam. It's this big tonal mess that is so focused on hitting this synergy of things that '96 wanted. I remember going to McDonalds and getting Dream Team cups with our meals. For a guy who did not care whatsoever about sports, I thought that the Dream Team was the most important thing ever. The fact that Air Jordans are still a thing kind of reflects how insane we were for Michael Jordan at the time. (Although, it is very haunting to hear to him referred to as "MJ".) But 1996 was also about people wearing Tweety Bird shirts everywhere. Tweety Bird means you had attitude, but in the most vanilla way imaginable. Kids wore Taz shirts and the world was a hot mess. (I actually wish we had the problems of 1996 today.) So imagine throwing all of this into a KFC Famous Bowl and then throw the weirdest tone imaginable to the film.
Seriously. I can understand the tone of the new movie. There's going to be very little seriousness to this movie. Instead, it's going to be another Ready Player One, only for kids mixed with a heavy dose of nostalgia. But the original movie wasn't just fun times with cartoons and basketball. It was a two-fold effort to both repair the brand of Michael Jordan and to ride out the continually waxing and waning interest in the Looney Tunes brand until it hit another slump. Looney Tunes is this brand that Warner Brothers has no idea what to do with. There is something oddly marketable, but never for the long haul. It is entirely a nostalgic thing most of the time, dependent on the cultural zeitgeist to keep it on life support. So this mish-mashup of desperation permeates this movie throughout.
And a lot of it is because of Michael Jordan himself. The movie goes full force into the mistake that Michael Jordan made transitioning into baseball. Starting with this inspirational scene between young Michael and father, it makes Jordan out to be a saint. He's only pursuing baseball because he wants to make his dad happy. There's never this moment in the film where Michael Jordan has a crisis of conscience. Instead, his internal conflict is one that is completely superficial. We know that Michael Jordan is going to go back to basketball. Mind as well tell a story that supports that idea. Why am I talking about this movie as if its serious? Because the movie oh-so-desperately wants to have a modicum of seriousness to it despite the fact that the script is goofy as heck and should be the looniest thing imaginable.
But then there's the real legacy of Space Jam: R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly". The '90s were about putting R&B jams to movies that probably didn't match those songs tonally. I immediately flash to Seal's "A Kiss from a Rose" from Batman Forever. Now, this was commonplace, right? Why does it bother me in Space Jam? I mean, it's not like I love tonally mismatching songs to movies. But "I Believe I Can Fly" is this song of adoration for Michael Jordan's talent. This entire movie is one giant love letter to Michael Jordan. It's his A Hard Day's Night. (Now I want to examine why I am kind of okay with it happening in A Hard Day's Night.) Listen, I like Michael, despite the fact that I grew up in Bad-Boys-era Detroit. But this is such a gushing film. It's adoration. It never really takes potshots at him shy of the baseball thing. It feels very much like, "We can comment on this and this alone."
Now, I would really like to tread lightly on this part because this can easily be misconstrued. I've always advocated that every movie should be an hour-and-a-half. It's a toxic element to me, but I really enjoy a tight hour-and-a-half comedy. It is just that the movie doesn't really have an arc in the film. The Monstars are clearly the antagonists, but the Looney Tunes do something wrong in the sense that they want to bully them almost immediately. Because they are short, they take these guys for granted. That moment should have been the inciting incident. The rest of the movie should be about atonement, which it only sort of is. But when the movie has this external conflict that can't be solved (the Monstars are genuinely bigger than they are), there isn't really that shift of character. It does that little kid TV idea that confidence is all it takes to win. But the Tune Squad never really makes that direct connection. For the sake of a joke (and a joke I kind of grinned at), Daffy says that he understands that Michael's Secret Stuff (or steroids?) is just water, but he needs more and winks. There's never that come-to-Jesus moment that the Looney Tunes need to use their cleverness or something that makes them special. Michael learned that moment, but he was already carrying the team regardless. (I notice how Michael never really took a hit from those guys.)
Let's talk about Lola Bunny, right? Lola is very representative of Hollywood's misguided understanding of feminism in 1996. Lola, a character that was introduced for the movie to be the love interest for Bugs Bunny (which the movie ultimately doesn't need), plays the part of the rebellious kid from The Bad News Bears. She is an outsider and Michael can't have a love interest. All family friendly movies needed to have a love interest. So they sexed her up a bit. They made her wildly attractive. That's fine. And she comes in with an attitude that she doesn't want to be sexually harassed by Bugs. That's great. But Bugs also doesn't give up on Lola. It's not a central plot because there's really no solid storytelling, but it is constant. Lola has absolutely no interest in Bugs Bunny, so it's reflective of that Pepe LePew dynamic which is now considered toxic. But it's when Bugs makes a sacrificial act for Lola (which isn't all that sacrificial because he's a cartoon and the movie stresses that damage isn't real in this world), Lola instantly flips her personality. Okay, the movie wanted to do both things. But when Lola changes everything for Lola in that moment, it kind of implies that Lola's self-worth and feminism is a front in exchange for her true feelings. It's a very no-doesn't-actually-mean-no story. I'm not saying that there can't be a conflict of feelings. That's good storytelling. It's just that Lola never really comes to terms with her internal conflict. It's a light switch and that makes her a dumb character.
Why is Bill Murray in this movie? I mean, there's the great joke that Bill Murray says "I'm a friend of the producer / [Ivan Reitman]". But he's kind of part of the KFC Bowl that is this movie. Wayne Knight, same deal. These are names that are thrown in the movie because they can be in the movie and draw a bigger crowd. I feel bad for Wayne Knight in this movie. The sheer amount of fat jokes thrown his way is upsetting.
But the one thing I want to say before I close this up (a very interrupted writing time that stretched this out to be sheer torture), this isn't the Looney Tunes. The Looney Tunes are wacky and zany. But the heart of Looney Tunes is not in this movie. It's so commercialized and marketed that it just comes across as almost mean spirited. It's not fun. People who love this movie must love it for the pure nostalgia element of it. It's a criminally bad movie that is almost unwatchable. There's nothing here with the exception of a couple of jokes that made me breathe out of my nose for a second. Yet, part of me wants to watch the new one, if only to play "Name that cameo."
Black Widow (2021)
PG-13. It's funny, because something in the back of all of our brains said, "Man, Black Widow is probably going to be the one that's not for kids." To a certain extent, that's true. It's something about the intense editing technique that reads as more brutal than the other Marvel movies. And there definitely are some really perhaps more upsetting because they are more grounded. For example, a spy self-terminates rather than being forced to submit to mind-control and it is upsetting. Yelena also goes into detail about how the Widows were all sterilized by the Red Room. But the most upsetting element is the fact that this is a commentary about selling and using women. But at the end of the day, there is definitely a Marvel movie vibe about the whole thing. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Cate Shortland
I shouldn't feel bad for Kevin Feige. That man has to have more money than anyone can imagine. He gets to make the superhero movies that the '80s and '90s could only have dreamed of. He's wildly successful and is probably unimaginably fulfilled. But this is a guy who shows what can happen when people plan out franchises and then Covid goes and shows up. I was having a discussion with my brother-in-law about the Star Wars sequel trilogy --because I'm me and none of this is shocking --and he really stressed the point that it is mind-blowing that J.J. Abrams didn't plan the whole three movies before starting The Force Awakens. Then there's Kevin Feige, who actually upsets some of his people by saying that they have to follow the script, only to have Black Widow come out a year-and-change after the original plan. At the end of the day, it didn't matter because we got some sweet Marvel TV and the opportunity to downplay the fat shaming that the trailers played up.
I find myself on the defensive with this one. Maybe I can only hear the naysayers amongst all the positive stuff, but it seems like people really didn't like Black Widow. It's not a perfect Marvel movie, but Black Widow is way better than it has any right to be. Black Widow, like Guardians of the Galaxy, really highlights what is so magical about the MCU. Kevin Feige took these properties that were hard to sell in their original forms and then distilled them down to something remarkably watchable and enjoyable. I started reading Guardians of the Galaxy when Brian Michael Bendis picked it up. I'm sure it was no accident that the film had just been announced right around that time. And I absolutely adored Bendis's run on that book. But I'm also a massive Bendis fan. While I have a handful of Black Widow comics, I can only say that a handful of them are really good. I don't remember any of them being bad, but the character of Black Widow always worked way better in a supporting role. While I'm completely an advocate for women-led superhero movies, I can see why Black Widow never got her own movie until now. It's not that she's a woman. It's just that she is great juxtaposition for other superheroes. Captain Marvel? That made sense. She has this heavy story and is an absolute powerhouse. If anything, Black Widow is a reminder of our own fallibility in the face of superheroics.
But that never comes up with Batman, does it? I mean, sure, it does to a certain point. But Batman almost has too many movies and Black Widow only has this one. Maybe it is about keeping women to a role where they play supporting parts. Because I'll tell you right now, I'm super excited about the Hawkeye TV series, so that may be commentary about me. (That being said, I'm more excited to see Kate Bishop than I am to see more Clint Barton.)
I'm wasting time again, aren't I? Let's talk about why Black Widow works and why people are complete haters. I'm going to give the opposition points. The biggest complaint about the movie is that Natasha Romanoff takes a back seat in her own movie. Like I mentioned, Black Widow works really well as a supporting character, so I can see the need to indulge that once again. The things that my wife and I were talking about both during the movie and after is how great Yelena Bulova and Red Guardian were in a movie about Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. A lot of that comes from great writing and absolutely outstanding performances by Florence Pugh (still the best part of Little Women) and David Harbour. I feel bad because it's not like Scarlett Johansson didn't deliver. She totally did. But we now really know her character. She's been in so many Marvel movies. When I logged into Disney+ to see if my Premiere Access had unlocked, they had a Black Widow category and she was just in so many of the movies. Despite the fact that she was cloaked in mystery, we kind of got the mystery.
That was a complaint on the part of The Atlantic, I think. They were hoping to see what all that background stuff on Black Widow was all about. But this movie sells the concept of the unimaginable, ironically, by asking the audience to use its collective imagination. This movie could have been something very different. Heck, the haunting opening credits implied that this movie was going to go into the years of torture that Natasha and Yelena went through in the Red Room and to provide a definitive origin story for how this little girl became an Avenger. That's one way to look at this movie. But think about how darned bleak that would be. It would be the superhero version of torture porn. I have tried to avoid that phrase in this blog as much as possible because of the connotation it has, but I'm going to use that to really sell what the movie would have been. The version of Black Widow we just watched was an empowerment film. It was women supporting women, despite the fact that they have been exploited their entire lives.
But imagine if we saw all of the horrible things that Natasha was forced to do only to escape by the end? As much as it would have been empowering, we would have been watching a girl get tortured for two hours with a happy ending. How is that any different than an exploitative horror movie? I don't want to see a girl get tortured for two hours. I wanted to see the movie I got: two women taking back their power. We get the idea that they went through Hell because of the performances by the female leads. That's all we needed. The Red Room is as disturbing as our imaginations would allow us to believe. That's what is way more interesting. We don't have to watch every awful mission that James Bond went through to see the fun ones. I'm sure that there's a story about Bond executing a whole family, but I don't want to see that. I want to see the ones where there's a laser beam in spac--you know what? I actually don't. But you get what I mean.
What ends up happening is a two-hour commentary on family. I know that there are so many Vin Diesel memes about family right now. But Black Widow kind of sidesteps a lot of the ideas that we see in other movies. I talked about the value of family in The Mitchells vs. the Machines recently, which is about the family you might not want, but the one you were born into. The Fast and the Furious movies won't shut up about the family you choose. But Black Widow is about the family that comes out of a shared trauma. It's the idea that you can't do some things alone. There are people out there who understand and that you might not like them immediately.
And for all of the cool themes that are running through the movie, it's really good. We watched it with my in-laws. My father-in-law doesn't always love the sci-fi stuff. But we sold him on the idea that this was a spy-fi thriller. (I didn't use the term "spy-fi" because that would have been one-step-forward-two-steps-back.) But it would be easy to relegate it to a spy thriller, like I did with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But there is this major action setpiece that belongs in a Marvel movie at the end. The humor and the action and the joint mythology is all there. Yeah, the movie really asks you to have watched Captain America: Civil War before this point, but that's a pretty minor ask in the long run.
It's a really good movie. Like, I LOVED Black Widow. I want MORE Black Widow. When I first saw the trailer, I thought it was going to be a bit of a yawn. I take it all back. I thought it was absolutely great. Man, Marvel. I really feel like you can do anything.
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.