The Room (2003)
R, because this movie is super pervy. I think that Tommy Wiseau wanted to make this a late night Cinemax movie. You know? He aimed high. He really was a classy guy. (In case you don't understand, this movie lacks all the class. It's really gross.)
DIRECTOR: Tommy Wiseau
The good news is that I'm finally caught up with my reviews. I can start watching movies again because I now don't have to worry about the insanely long list that I fell behind with. The bad news is that I'm closing on some really low hanging fruit. If you don't know of this movie, this is almost universally known as one of the worst movies ever made. I try not to hate watch stuff, but there's no other way to watch it. I was such a hipster with my ironic viewing of this movie. What motivated me to finally sit down and watch this trash was the teaser for the new James Franco comedic biopic about this movie named The Disaster Artist. So much has been said about this movie that it is almost stupid to review this movie formally. But then again, I set a mandate that I had to review every movie I actually sat down and watched. I didn't count Mystery Science Theater movies because they are edited and you aren't really getting the director's vision with the commentary over the movie. I also don't count movies that I half-watched, like when I looked up from my playing of The Legend of Zelda to catch my favorite moments from Wet Hot American Summer. But I full on watched it. And I guess I have some feelings with this movie.
There's a theory that Tommy Wiseau himself propagated. He says that the movie is remarkably self-aware and that he's a genius. That's the biggest lie that I've ever heard. There's no way that this movie is self-aware. The greatest genius in the world couldn't pull off a movie self-aware enough to explain what is being shown on screen. The movie is really bad and all of that lies at the hands of Tommy Wiseau. I've heard of him in connection to this movie and the more I know about him, the crazier he comes off. He wrote, produced, directed, and starred in this. He's obviously eccentric. This is not something that is discovered over time. Listening to him for a half-second, there's a very clear disconnect from reality. It might be easy to write him off in a slightly racist way, but the faults in this movie have nothing to do with the fact that he is not a native born American. The faults lie in the fact that he has no grasp on what reality is like. There are moments, right in the absolute beginning, when the film credits run over establishing shots, when this movie looks like it could be a normally bad movie. The shots are functional and the music establishes a neutral tone that makes the movie seem okay. Then Tommy Wiseau shows up. I have to give some credit to the other actors because they are taking some absolutely bananas dialogue and acting like that is what someone would say.
Tommy Wiseau is trying to make people sound like normal people. But this isn't just community theatre writing; this is writing that a child would produce. I gave credit to the other actors for doing the best that they could with a bad situation, but I really wonder how they could not know what they were signing up for before. The premise of the movie is Johnny, portrayed by cro-magnon (How much better would this movie have been if Johnny was ACTUALLY a caveman? I don't mean to rip off the Phil Hartman bit, but this movie would have been something truly special had that been the premise) is being cheated on by his fiancee', Lisa. They have a kid that Johnny took in and financed and he just wants to watch them in intimate moments. Lisa is cheating on Johnny with his best friend and that's about as far as I can take the summary. The problem from this moment is consistency in the script. Characters make the oddest choices when it comes to characterization. In some scenes, Lisa is seen as sympathetic. She is a girl who has fallen out of love with a good man and doesn't know how to let him down while trying to placate a mother who doesn't want Lisa to lose that security. There are other times when Lisa is a raging psychopath, trying to napalm the world with the drama she is creating. These are two fundamentally polarizing personality traits. There can't be a character who is afraid of disappointing Johnny while trying to destroy him. Johnny, unsurprisingly, has the same personality problem. He is mostly characterized as this almost messiah character, taking care of all of the people in his life simultaneously while demonstrating that he is the world's most amazing love. (Spoiler: he isn't.) Then he flies off the handle and insults people around him while screaming to the rooftops of the injustices around him. I'm not saying that being a banker is a personality trait, but he's definitely not a banker. I could go down this list and talk about character inconsistencies. My most optimistic excuse for what could have happened in this movie is that there were multiple cuts of the movies that were all smooshed together and the version of The Room we see was the chaotic nightmare of a mental patient.
The very nature of hatewatching something nowadays bums me out. I knew this movie was going to be absolute trash, yet I still watched it. It's like watching a trainwreck. I wanted to see how bad it could get. I mentioned in the MPAA section that I always did that this movie is very pervy. I can't stress this enough. There are four sex scenes, all of them completely unnecessary. I also feel like they are entirely exploitative of the girl who plays Lisa, who is treated as an object on screen. It's so odd that I can put this completely in the hands of Tommy Wiseau, who is just a horrible individual at this point. I didn't know how creepy this movie was going to be before I started it, but I'm going to take the moral high ground and tell you not to watch it, despite the fact that I'm only spreading the evil word about how bad this movie is. I know that there is someone who is now super curious about how bad this movie is and I entirely discourage you from watching this movie. If you want a representation of what this movie is like, simply watch the YouTube clips to get ready for The Disaster Artist. That's all you really need to know. Tommy Wiseau has the worst delivery out of anyone that has ever been on screen. I'm not saying hatewatching movies is the worst thing. I do it myself, although I'm not exactly proud of that. But this movie is really gross. The people who are in this movie should have known what they were making. There is no way that this script came their way and they didn't know how gross this movie was going to be. I will say that there is a lot to laugh at. The constant football tossing is a hilarious idea what it means to take place in male companionship. The "cheep" sequences look like they are pulled directly out of Arrested Development. The movie as a whole is what I imagine the first real AI film will look like. These are warped funhouse mirrors of what reality should look like. Yes, some guys like to toss the ball around and friends often rag on each other. But it never, ever looks like this. I don't know if Tommy Wiseau is so removed from basic human interaction or if he thinks that he is so infallible that he doesn't think that these moments need another take, but I don't know why anyone would let this go to the screen.
But I guess you can say the same thing about Birdemic.
The gents fulfill their promise to finish Twin Peaks and beyond. They develop their first characters before discussing season two, Fire Walk With Me, and Showtime's Twin Peaks: The Return.
Listen to it on iTunes, Google Play, or SoundCloud!
The Fundamentals of Caring (2016)
TV-MA for language. It does that thing where someone is suffering from some sort of handicap, which makes people assume that they are extremely passive. Instead, that character is not only open, but is considered charming due to his caustic personality and use of the f-word. I didn't hate that, but you know what you are getting into, Dr. House.
DIRECTOR: Rob Burnett
I know how I work. I like 90% of a movie a lot. I really roll my eyes at 10% of the movie. I'm just gonna crap on it. I'm establishing that I'm my worst enemy. I know that it is far easier to destroy a film that has a very obvious weakness than to appreciate the fact that is mostly successful. This movie really works. Hopefully, I have the willpower to not give into my typical vitriol and disparage this movie because it gives me magic troll powers. (These power have nothing to do with having an adorable bottom, a jeweled navel, and incredible hair.) I apologize right now. If I lose the forest through the trees, please know that the movie was exactly what I wanted at the time and it is worth a watch. It's just not a perfect watch. (See? I'm doing it already.)
Like many of Netflix's original films, there's an issue with the fact that we don't have the communal experience with this film. This is one of those movies that might be made or broken based on the audience interactivity with the movie. Honest to Pete, this movie is very sappy, almost undeniably so. But the movie also has Paul Rudd leading the role in a very Paul Rudd fashion, so the sappiness is really tempered by the fact that the movie is a little crass. I don't think I've ever been so happy that a movie tended to be more crass. Usually, I'm in the "Don't play blue if you don't have to" camp, but the crassness really makes the movie. I don't deny that I'm a fan of characters like Sherlock Holmes or House (who are the same character!), so I tend to like the grump who is weirdly witty in every situation. Craig Roberts's Trevor is the grump in this one. I mentioned it in my MPAA section, but Trevor is the archetypal "not-letting-my-disability-get-me-down-through-being-mean." Trevor is mean to everyone, but he's very clever. The movie kind of goes out of its way to establish how clever Trevor is and this is where the movie gets a little Hallmarky.
I feel like I need to take a bit of a break from actually reviewing this movie to establish that the movie can't be given a qualifier such as "good" or "bad". Most movies probably shouldn't be oversimplified like that. However, this all comes down to taste. (Again, all movies should be looked at in this light.) This movie is meant to be emotionally manipulative. I'm usually pretty skeptical of these kinds of movies, but that's its goal. The end result is meant to produce happy tears, regardless of how these characters get there. Normally, I'm on the fence when it comes to these kinds of movies. If I'm going to be moved, I'd choose for it to be organically (coming from the guy who gets close to tears every time he watches It's a Wonderful Life.) There is nothing wrong with liking movies that are meant to generate tears. I wish I was emotionally vulnerable enough to really appreciate those movies. I think The Fundamentals of Caring was the right movie at the right time with my wife. I wanted to like it, so I did. But I also normally have a problem with characters like Trevor. Trevor is a grump who likes being a grump. He's only charming because he has an amazing script behind him giving him the perfect lines to say. But he's actually mean dude. If I met Trevor in real life, I would tell him to kiss off. Paul Rudd's Ben Benjamin (I don't think anyone really comments on this name) is a far more likable character, but his backstory is equally tear jerking. But to really close the Hallmark loop, the story is about two broken people fixing each other through a road trip. We've seen it before and we've probably seen it better. But as I established in an obnoxiously long apology, I've definitely seen it done way worse.
The thing that really sells this movie is that it is very funny. Considering that the movie lies about the realism of the moments, the movie is in no way realistic. That's fine. It sounds nitpicky, but we're talking about the nature of illusion in art. Like many road movies, there is a surreal world that we have to shut our brains off for. Coincidence and fate play too large a part, which really brings me to the worst part of this movie. I have to establish that I had no opinions on Selina Gomez before this movie. I had heard her name because I'm not typing this blog out from under a rock. I just didn't care either way. I think it's cool when people who are publicly mocked throw their talent in our faces. Every time Justin Timberlake shows up for stuff, I end up cheering because he often is the best part of whatever I'm seeing him in. The fact that Justin Bieber is learning to laugh at himself gives me hope. I know that Selina Gomez started off as a Disney Channel kid, so she has some experience acting. However, she is truly rotten in this movie. The performances by Rudd and Roberts are so good that it just seems like a crime to have those efforts hampered by such a rough performance. I don't know if the problem is entirely her fault, though. Her character is the rebel, intriguing the boy who had never talked to a girl. You've seen the archetype before. I need not give examples. The problem is that the character is so mean-spirited and selfish that I can't see what Trevor sees in her. The only reason that I know that Trevor is attracted to her is because he directly tells us. There is no real chemistry there and it makes little sense for Dot to be into Trevor. Instead, these moments, on which the story revolves, seem like they are put in the movie because the movie is due to have these moments. They are artificial and cheap and I wanted them to be great. I didn't like them together and I think it just made Trevor a weak character.
But the real chemistry in this movie was between Rudd and Roberts. Yeah, Roberts is a jerk, but Rudd has enough goodness in him to balance that out. He gives Roberts as good as he gets, which makes the dynamic interesting. But Rudd plays the part of the broken father (again, an archetype) extremely well. Rudd doesn't break new ground with the character's motivation, but he does deliver on creating an extremely sympathetic character. Considering that from moment one, it is established that Rudd and Roberts will fix each other through what should be considered an unlikely bond. I do wish that Trevor had greater consequences for some of his actions. There's a moment that Trevor takes it way too far out of selfish concern for himself and there really is a very superficial coming to terms with that action. But, again, this is the world that the movie created and it does fit with the tone of the rest of the film. Their relationship, however, does allow for some very unique emotional responses. Their tricks on each other are quite cruel and probably pretty irresponsible, but from a viewer's perspective, these jokes come across as hilarious. There are two that just tear my heart out and leave me belly laughing within moments. I have to applaud Burnett and his editing team for knowing exactly how m any beats to hit to make these jokes work because I would have cut each of them five seconds shorter and not received the emotional impact needed to process the entire scene.
I struggle to validate many of the formulaic moments in this movie. There's a lot of them. But I do have to say that the movie did dodge some of the more generic conventions that I simply knew it was going to embrace. There was one moment that I knew that I was going to roll my eyes at and I was pleasantly surprised that they didn't succumb to that easy answer. Yeah, the movie is full of easy answers and I'm not saying that it is some work of genius. But it didn't hit all of them and I guess that's kind of a win. I did say that I was going to be pretty hard on this movie despite the fact that it mostly is successful in winning me over and in achieving its goals.
It's not perfect, but it is a good watch. It was exactly what I wanted at the time and it filled that indie dramedy hole in my heart that I haven't really exposed myself to in a while. While I wish for just an ounce more vulnerability, the movie is pretty solid. Unfortunately, because it is a Netflix original film, I have the vibe that I'll never be preaching it to too many people
Casting JonBenet (2017)
TV-14. I thought for sure that this one was going to be TV-MA. It is about a famous child murder. Like, a real child murder. Then I thought about it and, outside the grizzly concept, the movie is extremely tame. It's a lot of fake crying and wailing, but nothing in the movie is all that gross. Still, it's a movie discussing the brutal murder of JonBenet Ramsey, so keep that in mind.
DIRECTOR: Kitty Green
I was hyped for this one. I've established that my wife is genuinely obsessed with the true crime documentary. The more messed up, the more she'll deny that she absolutely loves that movie. The budget and trailer looked awesome. I also hear that the JonBenet Ramsey case is way more interesting than it looked like on the news at the time. I always got the vibe that this murder was like the O.J. thing. If someone had a great documentary, they could establish how bananas the whole thing got. I thought that this was going to be a shorter version of O.J.: Made in America, only for JonBenet Ramsay. It's not.
I like when things get weird and meta. The filmmaker has a very unique vision and the storyteller becomes part of the storytelling. But this might be the line where the meta aspect of the film actually gets in the way of the storytelling. While I have to categorize this movie as a documentary, the biggest problem is that its very premise is wildly distracting. For those who don't know, the documentary is about make a docudrama (that will never air) where people of the town that JonBenet Ramsay was murdered in try out for the parts. The movie shows them reading lines and it becomes mildly funny in the darkest sense. Like montages of all audition sequences, the joke becomes how poorly some people can read scenes. Then the "actors" are interviewed about the case and what they know about it. So the entire movie is composed of hearsay and non-expert testimony while interspersing sequences of a film that doesn't actually exist. That narrative gets really old, really fast. The whole movie is so self-aware that it like a Christmas present that is just a box of wrapping paper. There is no substance, only filler. Think about how much content there is! Honest to Pete, there is so much evidence and there's so much opportunity. I suppose that it could be argued that this is more of a look at individuals and their thoughts in a small town rocked by tragedy. But the movie kind of laughs at a lot of them. Sure, some of them get some positive exposure, but this all feels like an attempt to show off how clever the filmmakers are. There is no focus in this documentary. Rather, people exist as a series of sound bytes that fill in gaps in the very loose narrative. I feel the final takeaway from the movie is that they want their audience to proclaim "What a cool concept." But that's about it.
The movie is shot beautifully, which only seems to affirm my theory that the filmmakers were arguing about who the cleverest filmmaker could be. These are a lot of the shots that are shown in the trailer. These scenes look super cool. I'm going to get angry while I write this, so I apologize that I'm hitting a lot of the same beats. The cinematography during these moments is impressive. The reenactments definitely reflect the eye of someone who wants to capture a specific emotion. The fact that these moments are out of context of the actual narrative of the Ramsay case is a bit jarring, but I think that they prove to be effective. Perhaps the most effective moment is when the film embraces how meta it actually is by having the entire cast play their scenes simultaneously. That kind of just states that the people know that they aren't really auditioning for a movie. It's an art piece about an art piece, which seems a little bit snooty. I just looked up Kitty Green and the work that she has done in the past. I now have to pretend to take everything back. She's Ukrainian and documents Ukraine quite a bit. I'll have to watch Ukraine is Not a Brothel, but I also noticed that this is really her gimmick. She did the same "Casting" premise with Oksana Baiul. But that was eight minutes. I now realize that this format of fake filming a movie absolutely beautifully might work in an eight minute short like she made previously.
The thing that bums me out about the whole thing is that I feel like Kitty Green thinks that she is saying something very important. Perhaps she thinks that this format provides a deeper emotional core than a traditional documentary. But the theme is very simple. It is a look at how misinformed and how varied we are when we come to encountering tragedy. That message is important, but it is a message that is easily told. The way that the movie is structured in terms of chronological order shows the many different "characters" that the actors are auditioning for. So we have all of the Mr. Ramsays and then all of the Mrs. Ramsays. They all talk about their scenes juxtaposed against their auditions. This goes on and on. So really the movie does kind of exist in eight minute segments all revealing the same message about how people make the news their own. It's avant-garde and I don't necessarily mind avant-garde. But it doesn't really land the message it was supposed to as well. It seems to use someone else's very public tragedy to show how superficial people are. Isn't that superficial in itself?
There is one actress auditioning for the part of Mrs. Ramsay. She seems to have led an extremely tragic life. I'm torn about her inclusion in the movie. She seems to have honestly experienced true horrors. But having her next to people who are into their own little nonsense is very odd. I don't know if it cheapens or builds on the movie. But the personalities are forgettable because there are just so many of them. Outside of the lady with all of the tragedy and a guy who is a "love expert", I don't remember much about the people in it. Then there are the inclusion of these kids. Is the movie a commentary on the nature of fame? These kids understand that they are there to portray either a murder victim or the brother of a murder victim. They have details about the case that they discuss. If the message is that we would do anything for fame, how does manipulating a situation granting them that very dark wish do anything but encourage that behavior? There were so many JonBenets there who wanted this extremely troubling part. I know that's how it works in real life, but there's a difference between "That's the way it works" and actually going out of your way to show that people will do anything for fame. The meta nature of this movie just seems manipulative.
Perhaps I'm demonizing the film. I left the movie feeling empty and unsatisfied. I had watched a very gimmicky documentary and I knew how the sausage was made. I only got this up in arms over it when I thought about what I watched and decided to review it on this website. Perhaps Green really did want to pay respects to the Ramsay case and had a unique way of doing it. It just felt like knowing how a magic trick was done before seeing the execution. Maybe I just hate when the focus is pulled off the content and it is recentered on the filmmakers. I don't feel like I know anything else about the Ramsay case and I feel like I wasted an hour and a half. That's a bummer.
Fast & Furious (2009)
PG-13 for stuff that the Fast & Furious movies like. Except they have a liberal use of the F-Word. I heard that PG-13 movies can use the f-word twice. They have to have used it twice. Plus the other ones. It grounds the movie in reali--*snicker* I'm sorry. I couldn't even get through that joke typing. There's nothing real about these movies.
DIRECTOR: Justin Lin
I hate being behind on my reviews. I don't remember anything about this movie. They're all blending together. I have to talk about this movie on the podcast, too, so get ready for me stammering about names that aren't coming to me. It makes for riveting audio. I guess there might be a downside to consuming mass amounts of pop culture in a limited amount of time. Stuff tends to blend together. I'll try my best to really think about this movie and give it a valid critique.
The weird part is that this is the best movie in the franchise so far. Again, finding a silver lining in the truly abysmal 2 Fast 2 Furious means that the series can only go up from there. Some people were telling us that Fast & Furious (which is the fourth movie in the franchise, which is impossible to tell based on the most generic naming conventions in cinema history) was terrible. Some people say it is the beginning of the franchise getting great. It definitely is a jump in actual quality of filmmaking. (I have to applaud the tag line: "New model, original parts". Very clever, Universal.) There is some money being thrown at this movie that I haven't really seen in the other movies in the series. I'm not saying that the other movies look cheap. I'm frankly blown away that these movies get the budgets that they do. But this movie really looks like a movie that is trying to take itself at least remotely seriously. It has that Michael Bay polish to it that the others don't. The others seem aware that they are the Step Up for car racing movies. This one gives a weird grandeur to the illegal streetracing genre. As part of that, it is a bit overpolished, but it isn't like the other movies were exactly great garage bands. It's like thinking that Blink 182 was better before it was overproduced. Who cares? It's still what it was originally. But you can tell that the movie has a little bit more money because the police station doesn't feel like a Hollywood soundstage. It also doesn't feel like a police station, because this is a Hollywood blockbuster and police stations are fabulously funded. I say that it has that Michael Bay look because everything looks awesome, yet has very little substance.
I can't get past one thing. I've often commented on the sheer unreality of the Fast and the Furious movies and this one is pushing my goodwill. I know, "Suspension of disbelief." I can't anymore. They let Bryan O'Connor be a copy again? They gave him a promotion? How many super illegal things can he do before they say, "Enough is enough!" "Fool me once and twice, shame on you?" A common thing in this movie is that Bryan still has an inherent disrespect for the ways of the force and everyone is shocked when O'Connor doesn't respect authority and sides with the streetracers. WHY? He has shown no other side besides constant betrayal. Stop getting him involved. Train someone else to drive cars fast. There has to be another way. But since I'm talking about Bryan O'Connor, I have to point out that Paul Walker got some acting lessons between Parts 2 and 4. I'm never going to say he's great. (Again, RIP. I'm very sorry to his family.) But he can at least hold his own and there are few cringy moments of performance in this movie. Maybe that's why they made Tokyo Drift, so he can get a break and really learn his craft. But he's far more tolerable in this one. But the person we care about is Dom.
Oh, Dom. How is it that I look forward to Vin Diesel in a movie. Read my Pacifier review. I couldn't stand Vin Diesel. My annoyance for Paul Walker was nothing compared to my distaste for the Diesel. But he's great. He's really good in these movies. He plays one note the entire time, but that note really works in these movies. I don't know what it is about that character, but that flat affect through the whole thing makes me root for him. That doesn't make a lick of sense. I know, it sounds like I'm being sarcastic. I am not. Every time the story focuses on Dom, I'm engrossed again. I weirdly believe that he's this streetwise racer who can't be beat. I'm a huge hypocrite because I hate Mary Sue characters and Dom might be one of the most notable Mary Sue characters I've seen in films for a while. Perhaps even more so because usually a Mary Sue gets captured and has to use their cunning to escape. Dom barely ever even gets caught. There's one moment before he blows up his car SPOILER, SORRY, that he could be considered captured. But that was all part of his plan, so it doesn't even count. Why is that a cool character to me? I can only guess is that he is playing the Punisher character in this one. Dom's sole motivation in this movie is revenge for the death of Michelle Rodriguez (SPOILER BY HEARSAY -I hear that she really doesn't die which doesn't make any sense because people saw her and there was a funeral. I think these movies are gonna get even more bananas real soon.) That character is always interesting, but he was also the best part of The Fast and the Furious (referring to Part I). Maybe these movies are so about attitude that they need to have a character to match the attitude of the cars? I don't know. I'm never going to be into street racing, but Dom's cool.
The story had this moment where my fan theory (let's not hang on the term "fan theory" too long was better than necessary) was better than the actual result of the movie. I feel like I'm just going to be open with spoilers because I highly doubt if anyone is using my review to determine if they should jump into the fourth movie in a franchise that they haven't already watched. There is a drug lord who has never been photographed and no one knows what he looks like. The movie went with the easy answer. The number two guy that has been the communication guy with the head honcho is actually the head honcho. I thought that was lazy. Gal Godot (right?!) is a woman in his organization and she spends most of the movie with the recently single (Rodriguez died!) Dom. I really wanted her to be the big drug lord. For a franchise that is so disparaging towards women, I would have loved to have a woman be in charge and leads the guys around by their tails. Instead, Godot is just another pretty face in a movie that doesn't really need her to be in it. Think about it: Gal Godot is both Wonder Woman and the woman who fixes the blatant sexism in the Fast and the Furious movies? She would single-handedly fix Hollywood! But no, she's just another character that's meant to be eye candy. Boo.
The story on this one is almost non-existent. Really, the movie is an excuse to get the cast in a room together after many years. I don't know if the first movie in the franchise has that much of a nostalgia aspect at this point. It has been eight years between the first movie and the fourth movie. The protagonist has just been absent for one film. This movie oddly fits as a light prequel to part III, with a cameo by Han considering that Vin Diesel cameoed in Part III. It is good to see them all together and getting the budget to match the movie, but I don't know if we're supposed to be crying or respecting the relationships that were created in the first movie. I saw many moments that would have been truly touching in other franchises. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers after Civil War? These moments would have had resonance. It's not like these moments are sterile or forced, but without a love for these characters, there's not much impact in the long haul. I'm supposed to be rooting for Bryan in these moments, but I don't like Bryan. I think he's kind of a bad person. Dom should hate that guy. The fact that these two are speaking, regardless of how tense it is, seems somewhat unbelievable. I know, Bryan let him go after the first movie. But Bryan also destroyed his life by getting involved. The fact that Dom allows him into his home and offers himself out there seems like a Hollywood convention. I'm not saying forgiveness is not possible in reality, but it goes against Dom's character up to this point. This movie has been about Dom hating Bryan, so why does that shut off? It felt like we just hit that runtime point in the movie for them to be friends, so let's have them be friends, I guess?
There are moments that are absolutely silly. When the movie works, it works. For the most part the effects seem to be practical, which makes the movie fun, but the movie is also structured in what I can only describe as "video game format". There are missions that Bryan and Dom have to complete to continue on with the story. It doesn't help that their GPS looks like a video game with graphics and a hud similar to a video game. Perhaps this is to appeal to the gamers in the audience, but it just comes off as goofy. Also, having Bryan trying to be the tough in a movie across from Vin Diesel is just absurd. There is a moment where Bryan Jack Bauers a fellow agent's head into a wall to show how tough he is. I never bought it for a second. But that's what these movies are. There's so much you can shut down in your brain and the movie becomes somewhat watchable. I had a good time with this one. I still can't wait for the next one because they all become spies or something. Regardless, these movies are almost exactly what you think they are. They are disposable action garbage, but who says that's necessarily a bad thing?
The Boss Baby (2017)
PG for baby butts. Lots of them.
DIRECTOR: Tom McGrath
How I love low expectations! I'm finding a silver lining to negative reviews. Sure, negative reviews have completely tanked a lot of movies that I really enjoy and would like to share with the world. But negative reviews put me in the perfect mindset for a surprise. Blah, blah, blah, you've read this before, but many of these movies on this page are family movie nights. I saw the trailer for The Boss Baby and I giggled a few times. I knew it was going to be super dumb, but I don't mind super dumb sometimes. If super dumb can make me laugh, I'll probably enjoy it. This might have been one of those examples of those movies where the critics probably decided to hate it before they actually reviewed it. NOT THIS GUY! This guy isn't being paid to write this. It just makes him look good to his boss, who probably doesn't really read this.
I can see why people hated it outside of the pre-haters and their pre-hatorade. It toes the line between pandering and having heart. There are SO many fart and butt jokes that I know that the hoity-toities out there probably kept spitting their fancy teas all over the people in front of them. Nobody likes spitting up fancy tea, let alone having fancy tea spit all over them. I admit, the butt and fart jokes get to be a bit much. But butt and fart jokes really work because butt and fart jokes are funny. If it's animated, I'm going to compare it to Disney, so here I go again. I know that Disney doesn't really indulge too much into the potty humor, but it works given the subject matter of Boss Baby. There is a repercussion to having so much potty humor though; it makes the movie feel cheap. When Disney makes a movie without all of that, it feels like a movie is being added to the canon of great family films. Kids still watch Little Mermaid and Snow White because they are movies that are going to outlive fads. Yes, Frozen laid waste to other films and became the super fad, but "Let It Go" will be one of those known movies for years. There's a little potty humor, but nothing that was outright pandering to kids. Boss Baby's biggest fault is that it doesn't have faith in its product. It is fighting the box office, not history. That is a real shame because the movie does actually have quite a bit of heart. The central themes and their executions are powerful. McGrath paints a lovely picture of a kid and his love of his imagination. The struggles of an expanding family (which is what I imagine the original book was probably about) is universal and great for my kids who often fight over stupid things. The relationship between parents and kids really works. So why treat the work like it needs to get so many laughs per second, regardless of depth? Here I am, waxing poetic about how fart jokes don't matter, yet I love fart jokes. But I also acknowledge that it is like eating too much candy that doesn't really pair up with a fancy meal. It sours the whole thing a little, even if we think we like it.
The aesthetics of this movie are a heck of a choice. Most of the imagery that are associated with the film either through trailers or other marketing is pretty boring. The look of the movie mirrors the rest of the Dreamworks lot, safe and goofy. I think that there is a mandate among the non-Disney character design teams to mimic the look of caricature artists at theme parks. But there is a completely different look for the movie that is actually very cool and very impressive. When Tim (hey, that's my name!) gets lost in his imagination, that's when the movie gets to be something quite gorgeous. I noticed that there is a whole separate team when it comes to Tim's imagination. Perhaps some people would roll their eyes at these scenes because they don't necessarily rock people's socks, but there is definitely a separate layer of creativity going on in these moments. While I might not wholly support this idea, the imagination stuff may not get its due in this movie. Like I mentioned with the themes earlier, there's a lot of stuff going on here. I think that the imagination stuff needs to stick in there, but the movie uses imagination sequences to further the plot and give the movie a little gravitas. I love the idea that the only child using imagination to dictate the events of his life. Why I also support the imagination sequences is that it lends a bit of credibility to the story. It is super confusing what is real and what isn't in the movie and a lot of that can be written off with the idea that this is all in Tim's head. There's one shot that really sells the joke of Tim being dragged behind the Boss Baby's car. It is the most simple explanation for all the ridiculous stuff going on in the movie. I don't think that there has ever been a more brief explanation for something so complicated. If you REALLY wanted to, you could start dissecting reality and fiction. After all, Tim has an Inception level imagination in the movie if you take this explanation into account. But the movie attitude towards all of this is simply one of acceptance. The movie is fun because of Tim's imagination. Who knows if the Boss Baby existed? Probably not, but that's really not important. The importance is that Tim deals with a new family member in his own way that helps him cope with the changes coming to his family.
I think I'm going to verbalize what everyone's saying. Alec Baldwin is just playing Jack Donaghey again, only this time he's a baby. You could also argue that he's playing his role from Glengarry Glen Ross, but that was the inspiration for Jack and the baby curses less. They even took the tagline from Glengarry for the poster, so I don't think anyone is hiding what is really going on here. That character is perfect. Every time I get weirded out by Alec Baldwin's real life shennangans (I apologize for being flippant, but he's oddly in my good graces right now --although he shouldn't be), he pulls this character out and my moral compass falls in the toilet again. I don't know what it is about Alec Baldwin playing this character the way he does that makes jokes really work. The smarter side of me says that it shouldn't work. The jokes often don't go beyond "A baby shouldn't act that way! That's what adults do!" But I still laugh. I still laugh hard. Maybe this is where casting a perfect actor can do. It can turn a mediocre script into something that's really great. The rest of the cast is fine. I find it odd that Jimmy Kimmel plays the dad because that character is a really throwaway part with little humor or even presence in the movie. I guess the same deal goes true for Lisa Kudrow (although Mom had more than her fair share of Kudrow-looks). In the great battles that comprise the War of Animation, the trailers are doing all of the heavy lifting by listing amazing casts, regardless of how much involvement the actors have. Paying out the nose to have these A-list stars sometimes seems silly. I'm thinking back to the trailers for stuff like Despicable Me 3 and all I can think is just a litany of big name stars. Is this where all the money is going for these movies? Just so they can launch last names across the screen for a half second because those voice actors don't really have much to do with the movie. They even got Tobey Maguire to play the adult version of Tim, a la Fred Savage and The Wonder Years. (I know. Fred Savage played the kid and someone else played the adult. Daniel Stern. I looked it up. You're welcome.) Tobey Maguire does his Great Gatsby narration for this movie too and it works. But did it need to be Tobey Maguire to work. His narration had to take only a few hours to do the whole movie, right? There's not that much narration in the film, but it seems like that's where the money is going.
I liked this movie more than I should have. I wish it felt like it valued itself more than it did. It is very close to being a good movie, but I think that Dreamworks knew what property it had on its hands. (Baby poop pun intended.) It could have fought hard and tried to make a classic or it could have made a funny movie that will probably generate a sequel somewhere down the road. Regardless, I had a lot of fun. Go in with low expectations and be cool with disagreeing with critics. Heck, disagree with me. Just go in with a positive attitude and the worst case scenario says you don't like it. Give it a shot.
My Scientology Movie (2015)
Not Rated. Why not? The MPAA is probably composed exclusively of members of Sea Org. Okay, then they'd probably rate it NC-17. Now I don't know what to believe. All I know is that I'm terrified that Sea Org is going to come after me and my family after I review my Netflix screening of My Scientology Movie
DIRECTOR: John Dower
I actually am a little nervous, guys. I'm pretty critical of this movie, which might make the higher ups of Scientology pretty happy. But the one thing that Louis Theroux got across is that you shouldn't mess with Scientology because they know what you are doing sooner than you think. Obviously, as I write this, this post has yet to be published. There's a chance that they could be reading this in real time. There could be little monitors all over the world pinging the fact that I wrote the word "Scientology" somewhere. I will just make sure not to click on the little Pi logo in the corner of my screen to stay safe. (Weird fact about me. The movie The Net made a bigger impression on me than it did on anyone else. True story. I still think that's what hacking is.) So if I get discredited and my life thrown into a hole, I'm sorry, Lauren. This blog probably wasn't worth it.
I've been interested in Scientology for a while. There is something horribly creepy about secret societies that make my mind just want to know everything about it. That makes me a bit of a hypocrite because I just finished my Easy Rider review where I condemned Dennis Hopper for attacking Christianity and here I am snooping into the private business of Scientology. None of this research was first hand. That's probably for two reasons. 1) I'm really lazy and don't feel like devoting my life to researching Scientology and 2) because if I did, I would have disappeared into the Scientology hole a long time ago and you'd see me in thirty years holding a camera up to someone's face as I shout at them. I'm a real Squirrel Buster that way. I know that people slander Christianity pretty hard, so I have to give Scientology the benefit of the doubt somehow. It is just that everything I've heard about this organization is over-the-top negative. The documentary reinforces that idea, stressing the violent tendencies of Scientology, especially in its leader David Miscavige. (See, now I've written his name! Scientology Bunker 12 is going into deployment mode right now!) The issue I have always had with Scientology is that the origins are fairly concrete. This isn't an ancient religion that is beyond proof. This is a forty year thing with well documented origins leading to L. Ron Hubbard making a bet over who could make the best religion. He won, I guess, but it has somehow spread to the most influential people ever.
I don't know if the movie is entirely successful, however. This feels like the beginning of something that could be very cool. It is just that the movie dangles any answers out of frame and doesn't bother to present the evidence. I don't want to blame Theroux because the answers to the Scientology questions I want answered are wildly out of reach for almost anyone. But we are so devoid of any actual hard evidence when it comes to Scientology that I feel like this documentary has a responsibility. I keep blaming myself for this because I don't know if Theroux had any ambitions beyond what is presented on the screen. What he portrays is the questionable life of a man after he left Scientology. I get the vibe that is the way the documentary turned out. I'm always preaching about how documentaries aren't really documentaries in the cinema verite sense. They are filmed manipulated events. There's a morsel of unreliability, but the documentarians get the narrative they want for the most part. Marty Rathbun, at least through the eyes of the doc, seemed to be this extremely unstable person. When watching a documentary where I'm really interested in the subject matter, placing the eye of doubt upon our truthteller. Theroux can only pass the information as it comes to him, which is extremely ethical on is part, but it isn't the movie I wanted to see. I wanted to see the seedy underbelly of Scientology. That stuff is there, but the real focus is how Marty Rathbun might be the most broken person, both before and after Scientology. How does that give me insight about what is true? Considering that everything that I really know about Scientology comes from gossip and word of mouth, it seems like My Scientology Movie only piles those ideas on top of the dubious information I already have.
The structure of the film tries to compensate from the lack of content. For some reason, the movie is framed around casting actors to reenact important moments in Scientology history. This is odd and if I force myself, I can see the logic in it. The filmmakers are stressing that the secretive nature of the religion holds back any actual content about the truth about the religion, but I don't think it is very effective. There is some footage of David Miscavage and promotional videos about the nature of Scientology. Why refilm these? The casting parts seem absolutely silly, like it is commenting more about the use of actors inside documentaries. We've all seen Unsolved Mysteries. We know how this works. I don't need someone to come in and play Tom Cruise in a scene imagining what it was probably like with Tom Cruise sitting out of the room. (This also is a good time that I think Tom Cruise seems like a nice guy and probably doesn't really punch people in the face. I do, weirdly and hypocritically enough, think that David Miscavage punches people all the time.) I get the heady / artistic reasons for the casting as the framing narrative, but I think it was simply done for aesthetic / humorous reasons. This is where the movie really drops the ball. The movie has no grasp of its own tone. It is talking about the horrors that abductees within the religion feel, and then will do something snide and clever. C'mon. I would rather the content speak for itself. The most effective parts of the movie, for example, are when members of the Church of Scientology try to disrupt the efforts of the filmmakers. That stuff is pure gold. I would rather in-depth looks at these people than the silly reenactments in a room. There is just something so fourth wall breaking about these moments that they don't really communicate the insanity that is trying to be conveyed. I know that they have the talents to film it correctly, because some scenes are filmed unironically. But these moments where the actors are acting around Rathbun come across as silly.
The movie just left a lot to be desired. This movie looked so promising, but it is such a tip of the iceberg that it just feels like an incomplete movie. I'm bummed about that, but what can I do? I couldn't make the movie any better.
The Emoji Movie (2017)
PG for kind of scaring my kids. My kids are getting way too scared way too easily now. This movie isn't scary. The bots are a little scary, but every Disney movie is way scarier than this one. My kids need to suck it up and handle The Emoji Movie.
DIRECTOR: Tony Leondis
We all had the same idea. Review the movie just using emojis. Have a bunch of poop emojis right next to each other. It'll be hilarious. No, I will not do that. It has been done. Also, there are some very real things I want to discuss when it comes to this movie and it would be a complete cop out to avoid the movie I don't want to review by putting a bunch of emojis. So yeah, if I ever got enough followers that they could look for Easter Eggs, they aren't going to find them on this page because I'm actually going to review this movie like I spent money on it. Because I did. Oh God, I spent money on The Emoji Movie.
Let's jump right to the end. I would bold "Spoilers", but let's call this movie unspoilable because it has one of the worst faceplant endings I've ever seen in a movie. I'm full on going to tell you how the movie ends because I'm straight up mad about how this movie ends. (Let's also get something out of the way. Your fake incredulity about having expectations from The Emoji Movie is going to get old. I told you. I'm treating this like any other movie.) Gene's big problem is the same as Princess Vanelope Von Schweetz in Wreck-It Ralph. She is a glitch that is more than just a glitch. Her very fault is what makes her special. I'm going to come back to Wreck-It Ralph a few times because it steals so much from that movie I want to cry. But Gene can't help but be multiple emojis and people want to eradicate him for that very glitch. The kid wants to get his phone wiped because that glitch is causing his phone to break down. (Let's establish that the moral evil that the kid is committing is making sure that his expensive smartphone works. Blah.) When Gene sends out his constantly morphing emoji out to the girl he likes as a last ditch effort to save the phone, the girl is so smitten by the fact that Alex, the user of the phone, is so complex that he can't contain his real emotions in on emoji, I've never wanted to punch a movie harder in the face. At best (AT BEST!), the girl would think, "Aw, that's kind of cool. An animated emoji" and respond "Cool" or something. I want to get mad at millennials for that choice, but I know that millennials didn't make this movie. Studio execs...SONY made this movie.
These are grown executives just ticking a checklist of things that they think kids like. Sony and I are starting to get a real beef now because that ending is so flippant of a generation and it is just a cash grab. I'm ignoring the fact that one does not stop a system wipe that far along by simply unplugging the phone. Okay, that part hurts my head a bit, but not understanding what fundamentally makes people react and interact is a problem. This mostly comes from the fact that an emoji-focused movie is so ill-advised that there really is no way to give something so useless any gravitas. I normally am against marketing movies at all, but I've become a fan of The Lego Movie franchise. What those filmmakers did right was find what make LEGO, as a brand, so loved. I don't think anyone necessarily loves emojis. Everyone is just aware that they are kind of a fad that looks cool on some tee-shirts. Heck, I have emoji border on my class wallpaper because my five year old picked it out. But she's not obsessed with emojis. Emojis don't actually replace content. They are there as forms of colorful punctuation in an era that tends not to use actual punctuation.
Okay, I got that part out of my system. I might accidentally rant later, but I should look in terms of the entertainment value of the rest of the movie outside of the absolutely mentally insulting end of this movie. Like I mentioned, a lot of this was stealing Wreck-It Ralph's model of crossing over brands and cross-promoting different ideas. But where Ralph gets it right is that it is playing on nostalgia. While there are a ton of brands across that movie, none of it feels like an active plug. I'm sure Sega of America appreciated Sonic being there and they probably got a little bump in Sonic products from the quick cameo, but that was an afterthought. What Sony saw in that film was a chance to get advertising revenue. Is Just Dance such an important game that we needed to name it Just Dance? Anything in Ralph that was too recent to make it seem cheap got renamed. Hero's Duty was a clear parody of Gears of War and Call of Duty. Having Just Dance being the center of a plot really just felt like a marketing effort. I can't even stress how much I saw the logo for Candy Crush Saga in the movie. The scene was bad enough, but it was like the Cheerio's box in Superman. It was just everywhere. Playing up on the nostalgia makes for great storytelling, but there's no current nostalgia for the crap on your phone. The model can't work for all movies. Like Sony typically does, they checklisted the things that made something else great, copied it, and it didn't work at all.
T.J. Miller and James Corden are fun. Really, there's some very impressive casting in this movie, but the jokes are never all that impressive. I laughed a few times, but that's because it was me alone with two cranky kids in the movie theater and I really wanted my kids to enjoy the movie. It was Daddy Day! I wanted them to have a good time with it because they wouldn't really shut up about wanting to see The Emoji Movie. The jokes don't ever get to eye-rolling, but there are a lot of duds. The oddest choice for either joke or character development (I'm not really sure what was the purpose of this character) was the character Jailbreak. She spouts some pretty inspirational stuff about the role of women in cinema, which I thought was pretty cool in a kids movie. (I normally don't like politics in kids movies, but I want my daughter to be empowered and become the most ridiculous president ever.) But her empowerment was kind of treated like a joke when she does confess to actually being a princess who sacrifices her dreams for the love of the male character. Clearly the filmmakers were aware of the crime that they were committing and they did it anyway. Why? Do they not believe in the problems women face with their narrative structures? They understand it, because they vocalized it. Why would they not see it through to the end of the story? I don't know what is going on with that, but it made me feel a bit icky. T.J. Miller, oddly enough, plays the straight man. He's really funny and he doesn't really get the chance to let that shine. Most of the jokes go to James Corden, who does his best with the content that he is given. The problem is that the character is actually pretty annoying. I find overly confident characters funny most of the time, but there is a line that needs to be drawn sometimes.
The movie isn't the dregs of filmmaking, but it is pretty close. I really hope I don't have to watch this one again. I get a vibe that this is going to be on Netflix and my kids will have a short term memory about how scared they were in the theater. It'll be on in the background and I'll have to be dad who says "No more TV." Ah well, I've been the bad dad before. I'll be the bad dad again. I'm at least saving my kids brains from an inherently dumb movie and there still might be a chance that Olivia can be Vice President.
Easy Rider (1969)
An R-rating because hippies are all about doing whatever they want. Dennis Hopper isn't offending you. It's you who's getting offended, man! Everything he's showing, is like...what are we talking about, man? Oh yeah! The MPAA wants to take your freedom, man!
DIRECTOR: Dennis Hopper
I want it all. Okay, I'm going to get back to that thought, but I want to point out a weird discovery I made. There is an unofficial conservative sequel to Easy Rider called Easy Rider 2: The Ride Home. I think it's a prequel or a sequel about Captain America's family. (Not the Marvel superhero. Peter Fonda's star-and-stripes bedecked motorcyclist.) I watched a trailer for that movie and it looks awwwwwwwwwwfffffuuuuulllll. I don't love Easy Rider, but the sequel seems like such a crime that it makes me want to throw up out of my ears. I just had to mention that news here because there are things that need to be said.
I've seen this movie before and part of me really wants to love it. This movie was part of the Criterion BBS Story box set and the aesthetics of hippies is always pretty great. Except when it is not. I think I might like the tone and the manic attitude of hippie filmmakers, but there's something remarkably unpolished. I feel like these movies are like listening to awesome garage bands before they get picked up by a label. There's something remarkably charming about the raw footage abandoning the sanitized Hollywood formula. But then there is that fine line between charming dirty and feeling actually dirty. I'm not saying that Easy Rider is an ugly movie. It's actually quite amazing for a lot of it. But Dennis Hopper is so obsessed with defying convention that it gets wildly annoying. For a guy who shot America from this amazing perspective and with this amazing eye, he balances it out with the dumbest forced zooms and psychedelic sequences to just pull me out of the movie. I know. He's trying to shake me out of my complacency, but there's jarring and then there's spending what goodwill has been built up by the movie prior to that moment. In the weirdest way, this makes Dennis Hopper a successful director. He did what he wanted. He wanted to me wildly uncomfortable about his movie about America.
Part of what irks me about one of my favorite eras in film is the very odd moral boundaries in the story. The protagonists are moving drugs across the country in a tricked out American flag motorcycle. That's the entire plot, so the narrative depends on one of two things: you are either accepting that a person desire to smuggle drugs is a moral quest or you are simply tuning out a plot that really sits in the background. I'm the latter. I keep forgetting that this is a movie about smuggling drugs. I feel like Hopper wants us to believe the former: the moving of drugs is a valid profession in the face of an oppressive government. Regardless, that kind of ties into the theme of defying the strong conservative government who wants to tear down the rights of these two free-thinking cyclists. I think I would hate Wyatt and Billy in real life, being the rule-obsessed drug-free and proud individual that I am. But there's something noble and inspiring about cranking on some sweet tunes and enjoying America on the back of a motorcycle while spitting on the tyranny of Johnny Law. But on the other end of that, Billy and Wyatt are kind of pathetic. I straight up don't like Billy. He seems like a terrible human being. He has an attitude towards death that extends well beyond casualness. The lives that they live are so free that they also become cool with the worst parts of humanity. There's also the 34-year-old family man that I am looking in from the outside of the compound. As happy as they all claim that they are, they all seem so broken. Just because we could have absolute freedom, does that mean that we should have absolute freedom. Their lives seem so boring to me. Easy Rider, if it did anything, forced me to look at the two sides of my soul and it makes me decide which is valuable. I guess the result is that I like watching movies about a free and hippie lifestyle, but I also know that I would absolutely despise it.
Part of this entire movement of filmmaking is experimentation. With shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, improvised dialogue really can do something wonderful with the content of a piece of art. However, Easy Rider shows how awkward it can be. I think Peter Fonda has a better handle on what would make good dialogue versus Dennis Hopper. All of what I'm about to say is completely unjust speculation, but I think that might come from the fact that Dennis Hopper might not be the best person to critique himself. I always got the vibe that Dennis Hopper was wired differently from the rest of us, be it due to drug use or just the fact that he might be a weird guy. But he's really bad. The guy, however, who makes it work, is Jack Nicholson. Jack Nicholson is in all of these BBS movies, I think. (After I'm done with the box sets, I'm going to read up on all of this.) Nicholson makes the movie really worth watching and SPOILERS his death sucks the air of the room pretty hard. He's so good as the alcoholic lawyer gives the movie to contrast these two guys. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper are a pretty self-contained environment and having someone else offering a different kind of weird really works. Nicholson's lines feel scripting, so I don't know if he's just much better at improvising or what, but he draws focus from a pretty intentionally aimless movie.
The theme of the oppressive government is a pretty typical message in these kinds of movies. There is something overtly villainous about its portrayal of conservative law. I don't deny that these were very real problems that happened in regions of the country, probably most so in the South. I think I can get behind a lot of the portrayals until the absolute end. The shotgun murders seems to be filmed the way that they are for shock value. With a movie about just driving across the country, Hopper needed an ending for his movie. It could have been very peaceful with the continuing journey of Billy and Wyatt. Or it could have been the Hollywood ending. I know that Hopper was trying to shock the country with his ending. It is extremely abrupt and extremely jarring. It is also effective, but I find it wildly ironic that in such a counter-culture movie, the ending is just an exaggerated version of the establishment's ending. Having the protagonists die as a means to end a movie is pretty standard. It is what people throw in there when there is no real ending to a conflict. Part of that conflict is that these boys are against society. There's no reasonable situation where the two boys are going to change society because they are passive protesters. Their very existence is what makes people mad, but that's all they really do to upset others. They aren't fighting for change or speaking publicly about injustice. Dennis Hopper gives people the finger and Peter Fonda is hanging out with him. The idea that someone outside of Jack Nicholson (who was on their team to start with) would have been absurd. As a critic, it rubs me the wrong way. But again, the last shot was extremely well made, so why does it bother me so much?
The biggest moment that rubs me the wrong way is the psychedelic trip in the graveyard. I don't love shocking for shocking's sake and that's a moment that was meant to rile America's feathers. Showing nudity and blasphemous images is childish. The weird part is that I don't really understand's Hopper's views on religion. He starts the movie with a small family praying and they are the nicest characters in the movie. There are a bunch of small nods to the value of religion throughout the story, but the end completely defiles that logic. Showing sexual actions around the Virgin Mary seems like it is immature, but more so, it is contrary to the message that was established early in the film. Is the message that you should be respectful to the faithful to their faces, especially if they come to your aid, but then disrespect what they find sacred when you are enjoying yourself? The disrespect doesn't even stem from a character arc with the characters. It is simply two man children enjoying the company of prostitutes while on drugs after their friend dies. Where is the moral choice that comes out of the disrespect of a culture? Part of this probably lies with the double standard that is associated with being a widely accepted religion in America. I don't want to get too political, but nothing rubs me the wrong way when it comes to this kind of double-standard political protest.
I always want to like this movie more than I do. It does a better job of putting me in a mood than conveying an experience. I never love the characters, but I love that look at America. I'll probably watch it again in five years and have the same opinion, but I will never probably hold this movie close to my heart.
The Dark Tower (2017)
You know the studio fought for this movie to be PG-13. When reading the books, I'd say HARD R. Watching the movie, I felt like it was a sneeze away from PG. It was definitely lighter than '80s PG. I wonder if the director fought someone to say, "C'mon! At least PG-13. I can't show my face in public if I made The Dark Tower a PG film."
DIRECTOR: Nicolaj Arcel
We did a whole podcast on this! Wait, you didn't listen to it? You probably should. Let me give you background. I covered this in the podcast and I'm going to stop prefacing things I write with that. But I said this was going to be my big intellectual summer. I was going to read As I Lay Dying and A Farewell to Arms as I watched the Apu Trilogy and the Criterion release of the BBS Story. If you didn't understand a lot of that, simply understand that what I wrote showed how much of a snobby turd I am and that I shouldn't have the power to speak to the rest of the Internet. But then Sony, whom I have now put on my hitlist, announced that The Dark Tower was going to be a sequel to eight very long novels. I had read the first two books in the series and was super excited to get another entry in the franchise. But those books were getting longer and I tried my best. I spent so much time. Then Mr. Henson told me that I had to read 'Salem's Lot, which I agree with if I want to enjoy Wolves of the Calla. So I spent my intellectual summer exclusively reading giant Stephen King books. Then I watched the movie.
I totally wasn't a sequel.
It was a sequel in the most liberal, squint-and-you-can-kinda-see-it sort of way. I hate that so much. They did it to pull in the hardcore fans that were getting nervous about the tumultuous production history of this film. When I heard that a Dark Tower movie was coming after I read The Gunslinger, I got really excited. The books are really suited to become this massive franchise, rivaling Game of Thrones. Think about it. What if The Dark Tower replaced Game of Thrones on HBO after Thrones was over? That would be the best. The best. If you haven't read the books (and I really don't want to start this big hullaballoo over book v. movie, because that's not really the argument here), please do. The books are absolutely fantastic. The movie isn't only a bad adaptation. I don't necessarily need my adaptations to stay faithful. The movie itself is really, REALLY bad. It won't make my "Worst Movie List" (If I had one), but it is a big stinking pile of crap that was wildly unenjoyable. Yeah, I saw the reviews too. Sometimes, when reviews hit that level of garbage, it almost steels me towards watching the film. It puts my expectations in a healthy place where I'm sooner ready to attack critics to defend the film. Not this time. The reviews are pretty accurate and this movie is bad. I think I've waxed poetic about my vitriolic dislike of Sony in other reviews. But Sony might be the worst studio out there. They might be the last holdouts of the old, heavy studio controlled system that used to dominate the '90s and earlier. After early screenings of The Dark Tower, director Nicolaj Arcel came out and told him that Sony told him that he couldn't do much with this movie. He kept having his hand slapped for trying to go as gutsy as the books encouraged him to be. That's what I love about the books. They are the most gutsy examples of fantasy that I've read and I wanted to see just that spirit translated to the screen. Instead, the movie is a typical blockbuster summer movie with a story that moves at a breakneck pace, not allowing the viewer to identify with any of the characters.
The weird part is that I really like the casting. I think that Idris Elba as Roland is inspired. I have these editions of the books that have paintings inside every sixty or so pages. It always shows Roland as a white guy. But since I found out that Idris Elba was going to play Roland, I read the book with Idris Elba's delivery and look in my head. Idris Elba is the Gunslinger to me and I'm amazed that he didn't have a lot to play. The film has Roland as a kind of post-apocalyptic Punisher, looking for the wizard who murdered his father and his family. (By the way, Dennis Haysbert is also inspired as Roland's father, but again, doesn't have anything to actually play in the movie.) The revenge thing is part of Roland's persona, so I can understand why this element is stressed in the movie. But Roland is far more than simply a killing machine. He is on this obsessive and holy quest to save the multiverse. That's right. I said multiverse. (For those who don't know what a multiverse is, think every possible dimension.) He is this man charged with saving everything that ever is and ever was. He appropriately sacrifices himself and others and knows that sacrificing others is the right call to make in every situation. That's pretty intense. Most times we have characters willing to sacrifice his friends for a greater good, that makes him the bad guy. At least that makes him kind of unlikable. The movie never really touches this idea. He actually seems pretty cool with letting the Dark Tower fall, which is just a wild misunderstanding of everything that the books talk about in terms of the character. The torture that he faces is not the fact that he cannot get his hand on his enemy. The torture is that he knows that he has to do horrible things in the name of the greater good. Can't you just imagine Idris Elba taking that character on? That's fantastic!
I also really dug Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black. (Not Johnny Cash. Joaquin Pheonix already did that just fine.) When I read the books, I don't see McConaughey. The casting isn't as inspired. But I really liked him as the Man in Black when it worked. The problem is that the Man in Black is really overpowered for this story. He's a wizard, so expect Voldemort-y things, but he keeps using the same trick of murdering people over and over again. That's always a bit of a letdown. I know, it is central to the nerd debate that everyone always brings up. You know that scene in X2 where Magneto uses trace metals to make murderspheres? Why doesn't he do it all the time? Because that is boring for an audience. It is really cool once. But there is something about the fiction narrative that requires the story to have new and clever ways of murdering / getting out of situations. Having the Man in Black say "Stop breathing" is cool once. Three or four times just gets old. Also, I feel like the Man is Black is way more complex than the script McConaughey is actually given. Rather, the Man in Black is the main villain of the movie and his intent is evil for evil's sake. I think that the book's motivation is really ambiguous, which makes the character somewhat more mysterious. Some people could claim that as a fault, but reading the character as this outside of time character makes him very cool. He's also the Nick Fury of the Stephen King universe, only if Nick Fury was super evil. (Okay, he's kind of on the outs with most of the Marvel Universe right now, but not the MCU Nick Fury.)
The really weird thing is that I'm a semi-expert in these movies. Like I mentioned, I read the first four books before seeing this movie. I had no clue what was going on with a lot of it. Apparently, all this nonsense happens in the books after the one I'm on. I know that the books probably portray this a lot cooler than the movie did, but I now don't really want to read the books for a while now. You know a movie is a big stinker when it takes something you love and makes you not love it anymore. I don't feel like I've wasted my time with the books because those books were very entertaining. Part of me still wants to go forward and finish the books. You know why I know that the books would be good? The movie sanitized the parts that I even knew. It took all of the fun out of these stories and that has to be true with the stuff I didn't understand. Mr. Henson assures me that the books only get more crazy and more weird, but none of that craziness really translated to the screen. So what the movie really did is just spoil the rest of the books for me in the laziest way possible. I now know the plot going forward and what characters will show up, but they aren't the versions that I'll either love or hate. Instead, they'll be wet washcloths of characters, so I guess that's okay. It's just kind of a bummer that the movie decided to go so blah with everything.
The biggest disappointment was the opportunity lost on The Dark Tower. Considering how big cinematic universes are right now, setting up a story that is inherently a cinematic universe seems like it could have been a big deal. The movie teases the fact that The Dark Tower is a bridge to all of the other Stephen King movies. There's a sign for Barlow and Straker. There's the Overlook Hotel. Gosh golly and another gee, Jake climbs over Pennywise's carnival. The It movie is coming out in a few weeks. How is this not something that Sony would want to invest everything into? I feel like they have become the most gun shy studio now because they took big dumb risks so they just won't take any risks anymore. There had to be talks at some point about this being a bigger deal than it actually was. There had to be talk of a four hour version of this movie that was all about the Gunslinger and nothing else. It was going to be epic, I'm sure. I now look at those early days of New Line Cinema, trusting Peter Jackson with the Lord of the Rings franchise and throwing caution to the wind. Sony has great properties. Why can't they handle them well? Remember that hack a couple of years ago? That was so telling, but we still never really get the why? Why do a bunch of corporate suits still refuse to move with the times? Why are they the one studio who feel the need to constantly defend their redundant jobs? They are murdering awesome properties and doing everything for the cash. I'm in an era where I'm defending most of Disney's choices and Sony doesn't have the mental capacity to move with the times? That's a weird thing because someone at Sony keeps buying up potentially amazing things and a million people between that purchase and release need to get their hands on it and destroy it. I mean, look at Jake! Jake is easy to get right. He's a little kid who gets lost in a fantasy world. He's the Goonies character without the mouth on him. (Pun intended). But instead, they had to make him a teenager. Sony definitely wanted teenagers to see this movie, right? And instead of being dependent on Roland, let's have him do parkour. Kids like parkour, right? What the crap, Sony? It seems like market research determines everything you do and you stopped making movies.
All I'm saying is that you better not screw the TV show up too much, Sony. In my wildest dreams, you'd start with The Gunslinger, but I know that it is going to be about Wizard and Glass. That knocks other people's socks off, so I'm cool with it for now. But stop being such a shell of consumerism and make something that you can be proud of. We don't want Marvel to step in and make your Dark Tower franchise too, do you?
They did make a Dark Tower comic book, after all.
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.