I thought it was going to be R. Apparently gruesome war violence is fine for PG-13. It's a rough watch at times, but I can see how this COULD be PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
I have been waiting to write this review for some time. I'm just getting it set up right now so I can show my new film students how to create a good review. Heavens to Betsy, I don't know how I'm going to keep up with my reviews now that the school year has started, but I'm sure I'll figure it out somehow. I saw this with my father-in-law. He's big into the whole military genre of books and movies. Normally, we can rally a whole bunch of guys to see a macho movie like this one, but we only had a happy four. The only disappointing thing about seeing this one was not seeing it on a fancy pants IMAX screen because this is a gorgeous movie.
The big pull for this movie is Christopher Nolan. War films are most often pretty impressive, especially in this day in age. There is a scope and grandeur to many of them and they kind of have to have that epic feel to them to sell them to a generation that doesn't psyche itself up to the war picture. Nolan, without a doubt, manages to generate a sense of scale to his war picture, but he adds his own unique feel to the film. I kept saying that he "Nolans" it up. If you are a fan of Nolan's work, especially outside of the Dark Knight trilogy, he tends to mess with the narrative, which makes the movies a bit more interesting. I always love a good headscratcher, especially when I know / feel that all of the pieces fit. I think the reason I don't lose my mind over Inception is because I'm still not sure that all of the pieces fit very well. But looking at movies like Memento and The Prestige, he has that knack for planning out these narratives that mess with the viewer. He seems to have a disdain for the casual watcher. His movies are entertaining, that is to be sure. But they reward patience and attention and Dunkirk is no exception. If I was a studio head, I know that I would have some concern for this movie. The story of the attack on Dunkirk has enough gravitas to succeed without necessarily having to add the extra element of narrative confusery. But since Nolan makes the movie work with the screwy narrative, it only adds more to the overall story. That normally isn't what works, but, by gosh, the guy is talented.
I mind as well get SPOILERY because there is a lot that I want to discuss. Can we talk about how the opening of the movie sets up the rest of the film perfectly? I keep coming back to the idea that this feels more like a horror movie and that is because the Germans are never actually shown on screen. There is one shot at the end where they are blurry in the background, but the shots are coming from nowhere. There is a frenetic nervousness for the characters. Characters in this film die without setup. Perhaps someone would complain about jump scares, but I think that's what war is really all about. It isn't the slow-moving death. It is about bullets coming out of places that the soldier doesn't expect. (Of course, I have no idea what it actually means to be a soldier, but what I said seems right and isn't that all that matters?) But I kept rooting for the fact that this movie wasn't showing me the bad guys in a movie about surviving bad guys. I actually got a little bummed that he had to resort to showing blurry Germans by the end of the movie. It made the Germans all that much scarier. Don't get me wrong, Nazis are scary. (Look how timely this review is!) But making them invisible, super-accurate Nazis makes it all the more terrifying. I don't want the movie to be about strategy or Churchill. I know that people were griping about that pretty hard in many of the reviews, but that's a different film that doesn't really need to be made over and over again. When talking about meeting or subverting expectations, I think the war genre needs a film or two to subvert expectations. Between this and Inglorious Basterds, it's nice to know that the genre isn't locked into its own conventions.
The protagonists of this movie are kind of shocking the more I think about them. These are characters that are normally considered despicable and disgusting. They are cowards. I kind of have to applaud Nolan for taking such a strong stance. As a film teacher, I've seen more than my fair share of war films. The coward is always disgusting and evil, concerned only with his own safety over those of his platoon. Culturally, we've been given the same line and it is understandable why we consider this person awful. But the protagonists in Dunkirk are scared for their lives. The two boys sneaking onto boats generate this odd amount of sympathy. I want these boys to screw the system and I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps it is the fact that I haven't seen a lot of movies where the situation is so hopeless. The movie establishes early on that the allies can't win this battle. At first, I thought that the narrative only carried through in one of the plots, but the movie also offers Cillian Murphy's character as a counterpoint to the boys. Cillian Murphy often plays unlikable characters, but this one is meant to be juxtaposed against the narrative of the boys sneaking onto boats, which is odd because Murphy actually has a reason to be so cowardly. Murphy's character is actually dealing with shell shock as opposed to the two boys who simply don't want to wait to die. I don't know necessarily what makes me like the two boys more. Perhaps it is the good that they do in the process of fleeing the Nazis. These moments seem arbitrary, but they develop the characters from the archetype of the coward into fully developed characters. Also, the boys are seeing fear all around them. Their fear is socially acceptable and natural. While they do morally questionable things (and I'm not excusing those things), they also bring focus and leadership to areas that desperately need leadership. Murphy's character is complicates the situation for the audience. He is an awful human being...in his shell shocked state. But Nolan does something really smart. Playing with his chronology, we have a flash of Murphy's character before the shell shock. He is a genuinely good man. He actually might be the most noble character in the movie, shy of Kenneth Brannagh. But these are the main characters.
I feel like I'm letting Tom Hardy down. His narrative is so awesome. There were times where I kept noticing that Hardy's narrative is exclusively about action, which I normally loathe. He's so good and the movie needs that moral character to make the story tellable. He's unabashedly the perfect soldier and his lack of interaction with the other characters makes the movie work. Again, Nolan's take on these characters and the way he plays with chronology give the story something to play with. It is so clever how that whole thing works and now I'm gushing. The story is great and I'm getting bored with writing this review.
Dunkirk really is something special. I can see why military film fans might give it a bit of crap, but the movie is great. It's not about Churchill, but neither is The Avengers. Deal with it.
A pretty on the nose PG-13. There's some drug use and Alice Eve in her underwear. I've seen her in two movies now and both involved her underwear. This was not a choice. This may be a commentary on how women are portrayed in media. Because, when in doubt, blame the media.
DIRECTOR: Tom Vaughan
It doesn't count against me watching the movie if I fell asleep for 15 seconds, does it? It couldn't have been that long because the characters were in the same scene talking about the same thing that they were talking about before. Part of it is my fault. When I was a kid, I would be flummoxed by people falling asleep during a movie. It blew my mind. It seemed like a slight against the filmmakers and the company present for the viewing of the movie. Now, I'm in my mid-thirties and if I get too comfortable ever, I'm asleep. But the movie was also kind of not up my alley, so that probably contributed to it. I'm going to go 70/30, with me taking the brunt of the responsibility. I'm still going to review it and you should pat me on the back for the sheer growth I've made by not going back and watching those fifteen seconds over again.
I tend not to lean into rom-coms very hard. Many of my friends, guys not only included -but used as the model for this argument, love rom-coms. I don't hate rom-coms as much as I used to, but they are very problematic for me. There is always this weird moral ickiness about many of the rom-coms I watch. Characters have practically no willpower and only seem concerned with their own happiness and that always upsets me. (I just realized that action movies often have characters with more moral fortitude, so if I'm ever accused of watching an action movie over something that is spiritually uplifting.) I know a lot of it is the fact that I love having the moral high ground. There is no seat so comfortable as riding that high horse. I know the stuff I watch is garbage too, but I get way more angry at the characters in rom-coms. It doesn't make sense, but I do. Starter for 10 is not really too much different. Brian starts off in a fairly moral place, but he does kind of court two women simultaneously. The movie glosses over this to a certain extent, except for in the moments that make rom-coms all worth it. It is those moments that make you gasp like you do when you watch trash TV like Jerry Springer. There's one of these moments and I suddenly understood what made these movies appealing. It is the drama of awkwardness. Is the whole movie worth this moment? Probably not. But that moment of soul-crushing pain when something criminally awkward happens is odd. I just kind of want one of these movies to explore the morality of a character and how it deteriorates. The movie tries duplicating this moment later in the movie, and while the emotional impact is effective, it doesn't have much resolution. It was emotional manipulation for its own sake, but that's kind of forgivable. As part of that Starter for 10's weakness lies in the fact that it never tries to explode beyond its genre. It embraces the rules of the rom-com and thrives in it. That's not the worst thing in the world. I've already put more thought into the analysis of this movie than probably it has gotten from any other viewer.
You know that joke that everyone has about there only being, like, fifteen British actors? I'm not above this joke. This is one of the movies that gathers most of them in one film. They also are also mostly actors who have done great genre films as well. Look at this list! James "Professor X" McAvoy, Catherine "Donna Noble" Tate, Benedict "Benedict Cumberbatch" Cumberbatch, Alice "I've already mentioned nude Carol Marcus" Eve, Dominic "Howard Stark" Cooper, Rebecca "Bad Girl from Iron Man 3" Hall, James "The Lodger, But Really Late Night" Corden, and Mark "Mycroft to Cumberbatch's Sherlock" Gatiss. All in one movie. That's what got us to watch the movie to begin with. We were just scrolling through Direct TV's On Demand Romance movie list and then saw the list. It's in 2006 and a lot of them haven't developed into the actors we knew today, but it was fun watching this cast interact. I thought a nerd black hole was going to open, especially considering that none of theme had really played the characters that would make them famous yet. It was also really weird not seeing McAvoy crush it. He wasn't bad, by any means. But he wasn't James McAvoy of James McAvoy fame. He was standard handsome male British lead. Really, the only one of the group who really destroyed in the way that I knew that he would was Cumberbatch. But that's because it's Cumberbatch not having to say the word "penguin". He's great. I want to believe that Benedict Cumberbatch really wants to play silly characters. He's like DeNiro in that way. He's such a good dramatic actor, but he is just crying out for something funny to do. The odd thing is that I'm giving him all these props, but he's playing a caricature rather than anything round. That part had to be the easiest to play, but who cares? He made the movie worth watching. He's not exactly a cut up, but the movie just needed him as a character who makes the audience enjoy him getting punched in the face. (I don't know how to say that sentence better. I'm also writing against the clock.)
I did get bored with this movie and I think part of it is that it is very close to becoming something special. The way that the movie is filmed gives it that High Fidelity feel to it sometimes. It doesn't go full on bro-ey nor could it be insulted by calling it a chick-flick, but it never really captures an authentic voice. Part of it is that it never really embraces its core concept, which is part of the title. I had to look this one up, so bear with me. Starter for Ten refers to the opening round of a British trivia game show. The first round gives ten points for the team that gets it right. This game show (University Challenge, if I remember) plays a noticeable part in the plot, but the movie never fully embraces the game shows major storyline. Brian meets Alice (Hey, I just realized that Alice is played by Alice Eve and Rebecca was played by Rebecca Hall. I thought it was based on a novel!) while practicing for this game show, but it seems like such a background idea to the story. Most of the story is Brian trying to get noticed by Rebecca, despite the fact that he is crushing for Alice. (That sounds more creepy when I write it down.) Most of the story is how college is weird and it is broken up from time-to-time with game show practice. Imagine if Quiz Show was just a guy sitting at home, and about every fifteen minutes, there is a 1-2 minute scene where they discuss the quiz show. (Okay, I've never seen Quiz Show. It's on my list!) I imagine that there is a hardcore following of this show, which may bring in British audiences. I know I would probably be a little disappointed if I followed the show closely and the movie barely addressed it. As part of that, there is this moment when the characters are actually on TV and there is this shoehorned in plot point. The character doesn't actually deal with the consequences of that moment and the story is really about the relationship between the guy and the girl. So why have this Bad News Bears like story that just distracts from the relationship?
The biggest thing about this romantic comedy is that it isn't all that funny. The actors are doing a fantastic job. You know that Catherine Tate could crush a comedic scene had it been funny enough. (Bee-tee-dubs, why put her in a role where she is James McAvoy's mother? They're eleven years apart.) But there isn't a real belly laugh moment throughout the story. Really, there are a few chuckles. I hate to say it, but Tate actually gets the funniest moment in the moment and it is only a bit of a giggle. It is meant to throw you into stitches. It doesn't. I might even say that the movie is even more of a bummer than most American rom-coms, that don't really crack me up either. And don't write me off like I don't get British humor. I get British humor. It's just that this movie is so darned tame that it doesn't really give a lot to work with.
I'm not sure what I want to say about Dominic Cooper's character. There's a story in there somewhere that could really be interesting to watch. The character is the best friend's screw up buddy, who avoids responsibility and tends to blame others for his problems. There is this B-or-C story with him and it really could give Brian something to deal with. It kind of feels like Cooper's storyline is just in the plot to give Brian something to explode over. His character doesn't really go through this arc so much as piles upon the protagonist's list of self-created troubles. Cooper comments, sometimes inadvertently, about Brian's social advantages and that's probably what makes Brian such a boring character. Brian's problems are self-created. He is his own worst enemy, but not in a David Brent way. He just does dumb and dramatic things and then gets really depressed. His intellect seems to mirror his personality, which makes for convenient storytelling, but his problems make him somewhat of an unsympathetic character. I never full on hated him, by any means. I still rooted for him to get with the character that I wanted him to get with at the beginning. But I also was kind of ambivalent about the whole thing. He's the cause of his own pain and that is annoying.
The movie isn't terrible. But the movie is also extremely forgettable. I liked seeing all of my favorite genre actors together in one movie before they all got really good at their jobs. But that kind of makes it a novelty. I don't know if my wife liked it or not, but I knew she probably didn't love that I don't like rom-coms as much as she does. But you know what I like? Movies. I'll watch a lot, assuming I'm allowed to write about it later.
TV-MA for language and nudity. There actually is a weird respect for the "f-word" in this one. So not only do people say the f-bomb way too often, but the f-bomb is considered therapeutic. Also, the movie is pretty disturbing.
DIRECTOR: Marti Noxon
I love Marti Noxon. I see Marti Noxon's name appear after a movie, I lose my mind. I just IMDB'd her and she looks different than I thought she would. That's what's really important, right? The big thing about this movie isn't exactly Marti Noxon, though, is it? This is the movie that is meant to change minds. This is the movie that you are supposed to show those people with an eating disorder. How am I supposed to be critiquing a movie that might have a bigger value to society than simply a form of entertainment? I know that I'm not a doctor, nor am I a social worker. All I can do is relate to this story as a person and see if those ideas match with what I should be saying.
The movie is very dark. It should be. Tonally, Marti Noxon gets her content. I wonder what her personal relationship with eating disorders might be because this feels personal. I applauded her for putting a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie. She establishes first and foremost that this movie has somehow affected the filmmakers personally and I think that gives the content a lot more importance than simply a movie that is meant to somehow be a tearjerker. The message in this movie is that an eating disorder isn't pretty. It is a mental illness and it should be treated as such. I think that this idea is communicated effectively for the most part. I could gush and gush about how important this movie is to today's self-conscious society, but I do want to start with where the movie hits some dangerous ground. I can't help but think of Netflix's other recent release, 13 Reasons Why. 13 Reasons Why was wildly irresponsible with the portrayal of suicide, yet it was thrown around as this socially aware piece. My wife watched the show and there were some really jawdropping moments of irresponsibility. To the Bone doesn't get to those levels. In fact, much of the movie is pretty informative. But the one element that doesn't really translate well is the idea that love can cure an eating disorder. SPOILER: The movie doesn't cure her. I love that. It isn't an easy answer and I completely support that. But some of the healthiest moments that she experiences are moments where she is happy and loved. Similarly, I highly doubt that dancing in a fountain can really affect depression whatsoever. Why are these moments in the movie? Because they are cinematic. Heck, I'm sure dancing in a fountain helped someone. But I kind of cringed in this moment. As seriously as the film takes the problems of eating disorders, it does kind of trivializes how troubled everyone is.
Some things work in movies and some things work in real life. This is the problem that some "important" movies have. Noxon does this amazing job of bringing eating disorders into the public consciousness. But in doing so, she has to make it approachable. Eating disorders are depressing and mundane. Having cleverness makes the story interesting, but it also taints the very message it is trying to get across. Is To the Bone successful? I'll say, "sure". But there is a fine line of how dangerous such a movie could be. Should I be sharing this movie with people I'm worried about? I don't know. It does put a lot of responsibility on those around them. I also hate the idea that the only thing that can help someone in this situation is dropping the f-bomb. I get it, Marti Noxon. You are saying that an eating disorder isn't about being touchy-feely. It isn't about rainbows and sunshine. It is about being mad and fighting and being angry. But Keanu Reeves's character didn't seem like a genius doctor so much as a guy who didn't mind swearing with his patients. It kind of has that Good Will Hunting effect of the teacher who doesn't follow the rules. Reeves needed to have something very real for the character and there isn't a lot of that going on in the movie. One thing that I kind of respected, but also was a bit Hollywood-y, was his awareness of Eli's need to hit bottom. (Let's also establish that the name change to "Eli" probably wouldn't affect a teenage girl as much as the movie allowed. Teenagers are super cynical a lot of times.)
But the movie is pretty great at starting conversations. Eli is a compelling character. There is a weird dynamic that Noxon hits with her shaping of Eli's personality. Firstly, she has to make the character worth loving. Secondly, the audience has to spend most of the movie being angry and frustrated with her. Why? Because that's how we feel about those around us who are suffering. We love them but we want to scream at them. I found myself screaming at Eli far too often. Add to that is the perfect balance of her half-sister. Her half-sister vocalized every frustration I've ever had with those with an eating disorder. It is hard to sometimes categorize an eating disorder as a mental illness necessarily. It seems like a situation where there is such a clear answer. "Just eat." But the movie does this marvelous thing where I began to change my mindset the further I watched. "Just eat" is the answer that will never work. That is not an option. I started calling people who had my similar mindset morons. I was calling myself a moron by the end of the movie because the movie had me invested in Eli's life. My wife wondered why an actress would subject her body to the unhealthy levels presented in the movie. I guess the difference is that the actress is aware of how unhealthy she is. There is no body dysmorphia, which is still pretty scary, but I guess it is for a good cause.
I have to wonder about the romance of this story. Perhaps this movie is meant for today's YA audience. For the sake of storytelling, I suppose a relationship seems like it would drive the story. I like both characters in the relationship. It's not like I want characters to get booted from the story because I thought they were all pretty great. But the relationship does feel a little bit forced. It is such a secondary issue to what is going on. Perhaps Noxon's big commentary is that life doesn't stop just because someone has an eating disorder. I just don't really see these characters ever really getting together. I think part of it is the chemistry between the two characters. There is an element of wish fulfillment going on that doesn't necessarily ring true. The more interesting relationship, which I wish that I saw more of, what Eli's family and their interactions with one another. In all of these stories, the protagonist always seems to gravitate to the more toxic family members. I think this is always done for the dramatic narrative structure. I'm sure that this probably has some basis in reality, but it is always frustrating to see in a movie. I find it funny that the movie tries demonizing Carrie Preston's character. She is fundamentally flawed, sure. She says horrible things, sure. But she is so desperate to help this girl that isn't even her daughter. She says 100 things and one of those things is terrible. I think that's probably the reality of someone who is trying. I found myself defending her because I would rather have the mother who tried than the mother who cares about herself. It isn't that I didn't have sympathy for Lily Taylor's character. I, too, couldn't watch my child die. But I also wouldn't get rid of my child for my own mental health. I think we're supposed to be mad at Lily Taylor and Carrie Preston, but I only found myself angry at Lily Taylor. My wife is always angry at Lily Taylor, so that's nothing new for her.
The movie is filmed very well. It had a bit of a Juno, indie-teen comedy feel to it. Marti Noxon often seems to add humor to her films and To the Bone is no different. Eli tells some really dark jokes and I think it keeps the movie fresh. The only thing I'm concerned with the tone of the movie is that it does feel a bit standard. I am wondering if the Netflix model gives the movie slightly less validity than something that would have started in the movie theater. I watched another movie (Something about Win in the title. It's on this page) and I have already forgotten the title. I remember really enjoying both movies, but they both feel somewhat disposable. Is the Netflix original film model actually doomed? These movies are perfectly fine movies, but the argument that VOD makes the movies feel smaller might be accurate. There is something very important about paying to see these movies on the big screen. Perhaps To the Bone would reach a very different audience had it been released publicly with a marketing campaign to match. Every piece of publicity tied to this movie was something I saw on Facebook as I was scrolling by. It also makes me wonder, why didn't this get released publicly. Golly, now I'm questioning every aspect of my film awareness. Is the movie able to sustain a movie audience? I'm now contemplating the death of the American movie theater all because I watched this movie on Netflix. I should never be the guy who goes to film festivals and bids on distribution rights.
I liked the movie. It is an important movie, but it does feel cheap at times. I think it is because I don't like Hallmark sentiment, even if it is an R-Rated Hallmark sentiment. I don't believe saying "F" your problems will solve them. If it opens a door, I can understand it. But there needs to be real depth and I'm not sure if the movie is able to hit that while wearing both hats.
PG-13. We still have some of that last decade sexism and casual swearing. I think I would be more offended if every "high schooler" wasn't well into their thirties.
DIRECTOR: Justin Lin
Apparently, we have to watch these movies faster. The world is demanding more criticism on the Fast and Furious movies. I didn't know that there was such a vacuum for absurd car racing movie. I was a little nervous to watch this movie after the abysmal 2 Fast 2 Furious. That movie really took the wind out of our podcast sails. Perhaps the fact that I hated Part 2 soooo much really helped that Tokyo Drift is a very watchable movie. It's super dumb. I don't think anyone can really argue about how dumb the movie is. But it is watchable.
I know Justin Lin from Star Trek Beyond. When I saw that the director of The Fast and the Furious franchise was going to take over the Star Trek franchise, I wept bitter and sad tears. I had a lot of problems with the direction of that movie, mainly revolving around the nauseating camera (pun intended). But the best part of Beyond was that it portrayed action in a compelling way. I think he may have gone too far within the framework of Star Trek, but I get how he is a good action director. Part of what made 2 Fast 2 Furious such a travesty is the dependence on CG action. Honestly, I'm getting a little grumpy just thinking about it. But Tokyo Drift gets that practical action effects really work. I didn't watch the special features, so I can't swear by a lot of this, but I'm sure that there are digital effects in the movie. But the special effects are doing what they are supposed to be doing. They are enhancing what has already been filmed. There's never a moment where the special effects pull me out of the movie, so at step one, he already has the biggest thing right. I'm sure I'm not the only one who griped about Part II and the digital action sequences. But the car racing sequences, for the most part, really work. Okay, I have to give the caveat on that one. SPOILER: The end is on a mountain at night. It is really hard to tell what is going on in some of those sequences. It was still interesting to watch, but I often couldn't tell what was going on. (Now that I'm thinking about it, but there's a good chance that a lot of that was digital. But it was dark, so maybe it plays a little better.)
The biggest problems with this movie are the characterization and the story. (Boy, those are actually two major points and here's I am playing it all fast and loose.) What I don't really understand is why the protagonist needed to be a white guy. Part of this is my fault. I went into Tokyo Drift thinking that this movie was all about the Japanese street racing community. Perhaps it is the idea that a major franchise depends on American dollars to make it successful. The movie, in that way, plays very much like The Karate Kid, Part II (I think) where a gaijin has to learn the ways of the locals. That's fine, I guess, if not a little bit lazy. But the worst part is that the "Japanese Way" is drifting. The word "drift" is thrown around in such a commonplace way that I couldn't help but snicker. Without going too much into summary, the main character, Sean, embarrasses himself in a street race against the Cobra Kai stand-in of street racing because he can't drift. The bad guy is literally nicknamed "DK" for "Drift King". If this was a set of text messages, this is where I throw in a gif of Robert Downey, Jr. rolling his eyes. So in a montage where he learns how to drift, two fishermen are commenting on how an American can never learn to drift. I highly doubt that these two fishermen are such streetracing aficionados that they can just be throwing around terms like "drifting" willy-nilly. There are a bunch of moments in this story that are just groan worthy. Why have this be the major plot point? I know that drifting is something that the franchise never really touched on and is a lost opportunity, but making it a central plot point? That seems pretty silly. The movie continues in this world of crazy logic. When the yakuza showed up, my heart leapt with joy. I think the yakuza are super creepy and I thought that this movie was going to get pretty intense. Nope. The yakuza will let Sean off the hook for his transgression by winning a race. The yakuza apparently care about the results of a streetrace. On top of that, the yakuza boss who has taken offence with Sean's very existence listens to Sean's terrible idea to street race. Why? Why! I refuse to believe this. There is even an establishing line that the boss doesn't even want to hear him out, but he jumps at the idea that Sean can redeem himself by racing the boss's nephew, DK. Dumb dumb dumb dumb dumb.
The Fast and the Furious movies have never even attempted to mirror reality when it comes to character decisions. The oddest thing about Tokyo Drift is Sean's characterization. Sean jumps between the most Southern gentleman to raging New Yorker in a minute. Again, RIP Paul Walker, but Lucas Black is somehow more compelling than Walker. Walker was such a terrible actor in the first two movies that it is a welcome reprieve to just experience someone different helming the vehicle (pun intended.) But again, Sean is just the worst at staying consistent. This comes down to acting choices but also the script. And Sean's character isn't the only hot mess. Sean's dad makes not a lick of sense. Sean's dad vacillates between being an irresponsible drunkard to a hardened Navy man. He also makes absolutely horrible decisions. Sean isn't allowed to have a car because of his bad decisions and I support this. (I have a iPhone notepad elaborating why this decision is this, but it doesn't really fall into the thesis of this blog.) But then Sean's dad lets him handle the yakuza on his own and gives his car to help with the race. This is the yakuza. They should be running. Sean's discipline is all over the place. Dad gets mad at him for not being at home after school everyday, but that problem kind of just disappears. If the movie goes out of its way to establish that Dad is a deadbeat, why change between making him extremely intense and then not following up on that. The movie is really afraid of making the audience dislike Dad. Dad comes in as heroic from this limited perspective, but because he is inconsistent, he actually is a horrifying adult character if you think about it.
There are characters that just don't make any sense whatsoever. I giggled pretty hard when Zachary Ty Bryan showed up. He tended to play bullies and jocks after Brad retired from television. No surprise, he's playing the same thing in Tokyo Drift. But his girlfriend is absolutely insane. She's cool with death. She offers her body as a prize for a winner out of nowhere. I don't know why Sean fights for her because she's an awful human being. Part of the problem is that these movies depend on tone more than logic. It seems cool and romantic for Sean to fight for this girl because Zachary Ty Bryan is a terrible human being. But she treats relationships as currency. Why should I care about who goes with this girl? I would actually advise Sean to stay away from her. She also, like the other characters in this movie, loses her limited consistency. She initially plays this character that is defending Sean by standing up to her boyfriend's brutishness. But then she gets mad at Zachary Ty Bryan for not winning. I don't know why there wasn't a choice made about her decisions, but she comes across as a complete psychopath. In fact, many of the characters come across as complete nutbars because their characters are sacrificed for the greater god of tone.
But the movie is kind of fun. This movie really begs the audience to shut off their brains. The movie isn't good by any stretch of the imagination, but it is entertaining. Isn't that why we started this whole quest and the whole podcast? Is there anything redeeming to the film? Yes. The movie is very fun to watch. The action sequences are pretty cool. I don't know if it ever reaches the absurdity of the first movie, but it is a good time. I still will prefer Gone in Sixty Seconds any day, but there's a good stupid watch here. I might even watch it again someday.
I mean, I do own the whole franchise now. Thanks a a lot, the podcast.
I've said it once; I've said it a thousand times. David Lynch is a perv. Of course this movie is going to be R, because he can't tell a story without perving it out as much as he can. A pervy R.
DIRECTOR: David Lynch
I don't know if this will ever get discussed on the podcast, but I watched it for the podcast. I think I have more David Lynch and George Lucas reviewed on this blog than any other director, and neither is particularly close to my heart. I've pretty much panned every one of Lynch's movies, but this one gets a decent review from me. Yeah, I'm just putting that out there early. I'm not going to hide it. If you decide to stop reading here, you can do so. I'm not saying it's great. He's still David Lynch and golly if he isn't going to try to play by his old bag of tricks. But I kind of enjoyed this one. There's something there that I haven't seen in a lot of his other movies.
I think the reason it works for me is that, while it is still very weird, it establishes its rules for weirdness early on. I know that seems very nitpicky. If you are truly weird, you shouldn't need to establish rules. But the rules are there for the audience. There's something admirable, if not a little simplistic, about making a movie for yourself. It is a romantic attitude, knowing that you are making something that only you will like. But what is lost with that romantic notion is that if you make a movie that only you will like, you can't be mad at others for not liking it. "But, Tim," you may ask, "shouldn't you have an appreciation for him?" I'm very much in a "shut up" mood. So, no. I have to watch the movie for my own enjoyment at a certain point. Now this is where I hit a crossroads. Like I said, Lynch gives us a set of rules for how weird things are allowed to get in the first twenty minutes. I like that. The question I have to ask is, did he come up with those rules or did it come from the novel that he is adapting. The film, ultimately, is Lynch's. But he does have to serve a basic narrative. Certain plot points need to happen, so Lynch can't just wing the story like he does with a lot of his other films. (I still argue that Mulholland Drive is an exercise of letting the story tell itself, regardless of sense. Fight me. Okay, please don't.) I've been saying that Lynch works best when he is given a set of restrictions. His creativity has to work within guidelines and that's kind of true here. With a story that has certain important beats, going into his weird dream fugues doesn't really work here. Instead, he uses carefully constructed reveries to show the past, which gives the movie a weird aesthetic typical to his other movies, but the reveries enhance the story as opposed to simply establishing mood.
The movie kind of falls into the catalog of other criminal road movies like Natural Born Killers and Bonnie & Clyde (that last one's a stretch). But it mostly just reminded me of the early works of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Those guys may be more violent, but the vibe of the movie is the same. Really, if we replaced sex with violence, I could see this to be a spiritual cousin to something like El Mariachi. Those movies embrace weird and infuse the film with cool and that's kind of what Wild at Heart does. Perhaps it is on the nose having the protagonist as a young Nicholas Cage doing an Elvis impersonation, but that's kind of cool. Nicholas Cage acting weird in a weird movie works. I know that people criticize Cage in many of his other films, but that's because he acts weird in movies that shouldn't be weird. He's really bad in the movies where he is trying to make enough money to pay off his spending addiction. When he's great, he's really great. He's across from Laura Dern, who is apparently David Lynch's IT girl.
I like Laura Dern...on paper. She's so much different from Ellie Satler in most movies. I loved her in Big Little Lies and most things she does are pretty safe roles. She's a fantastic nuanced actress...except when she is in David Lynch films. My theory is that Lynch doesn't have her plays roles that might be considered typecast for her. She is allowed to play roles that most people wouldn't put Laura Dern in. I don't ask her to apologize for how she plays with characters in Lynch films because I'm pretty sure she doesn't have the opportunity to play those types of characters very often. I think I'm slightly burning out on her because I've watched so many David Lynch movies back-to-back that I don't know if I have another David Lynch performance in me. She plays these intentionally simplistic girls who have no grasp of reality. I wouldn't go as far as to say that these women are weak, but they are defined by a strong sexual male character. (I'm referring to both this and Blue Velvet.) So it's great that she's having fun on screen and she totally deserves it. She seems like a genuinely cool person (from what little I know about Laura Dern). I just wish that her characters had more depth. She is completely objectified. This might be the dumbest spoiler I've ever posted, but looking at the closing credits, her character is defined by this moment. After revealing that she was raped at a young age, forced to get an abortion, and having the father of her child imprisoned, how does she wrap up her character's arc? She has Nicholas Cage sing to her as she stares there and looks at him lovingly. She's a character that has been in the abusive situation from the beginning of the movie. She's the one who waited and raised a child alone and had all of the burdens of Nicholas Cage's mistakes. Cage sits in prison, which seems pretty relaxing compared to the home life that Dern's character had to return to. She had a son who didn't know his father and a mother who is evil incarnate. This character could have been ridiculously strong, but was just treated as a plot device for Cage's Sailor *yup, I forgot that was his name* and a means to make the movie more sexualized than it already is.
BIG SPOILER : I was about to punch this movie in the face in the last ten minutes, but the last two minutes mostly redeemed it. The movie almost did the most Hollywood garbage ending I thought possible. When people say a movie has third act problems, I think that having a grandiose ending is part of that. There was almost a completely tacked on ending with Sailor leaving Lula and son almost without reason. There was a moment of awkwardness and I totally saw the Shane walking off into the sunset ending attached to the movie and I was going to punch the movie in its stupid face. Then Lynch's weird logic somehow worked in my favor for the first time in history. Something really weird happened that had no consequence (you know, the thing I hate in his movies), but it woke Sailor up to the truth of the situation. And somehow, the movie had a big Hollywood ending that worked. Perhaps that moment was added in there to add a beat before the end. The movie really could have ended with Lula picking up Sailor from prison. He gives a look to his boy and the movie could have ended. Some part of me wished that happened, but I'm sure Lynch wanted to have Sailor earn the song that he sings at the end. It all reads very false, but the movie establishes the superficiality of the entire scenario, so it is kind of okay.
Every time I talk about David Lynch, I have to talk about how immature he is when he deals with sexuality. He kind of disgusts me. Part of art is dealing with the disgusting and, if I had a long conversation with Lynch, he would tell me that my concerns about his portrayal of sexuality is that he wants me to deal with the disgusting. But I don't really buy it. I feel like that is a ploy for a genuine obsession with deviancy and objectifying women. Lula is kind of a fridged girlfriend. Her sexual abuse is there to give the male character plot to deal with. There isn't much that Lula deals with emotionally when it comes to her sexual abuse. She cries, but the story isn't about her coping with what has happened to her. Rather, Sailor gets mad. Similarly, the movie is meant to be erotic for the most part. If Lynch wanted to establish that they were sleeping together, he wouldn't hammer the point home so hard. There's a lot of sex in this movie and it all feels a little voyeuristic. Having Willem DaFoe, whom I normally dig, molest Lula as well. Yes, it is gross, but it is also really drawn out. Lynch likes the darker elements of sex, but again, from a very immature point of view. He doesn't give these moments the emotional weight for the characters, but uses them to establish tone. That seems really cheap to me. These movies play out as fantasies for the director and I just get creeped out by all of it. From her IMDB page, I see that Laura Dern joined the new Twin Peaks (I am having a hard time getting through it.) I can't help but think that somehow she'll be pigeonholed into the same character arcs I've seen in his movies. He's making the same creepy sexual choices that he did in his films in the new show and I just don't enjoy watching the show because of it. There are themes to explore for the sake of art, but I can't see any of the choices he is making as a contribution to art. It just feels like an old man being gross and calling it art.
Not rated. I go back and forth about what should be the rating here. The movie deals with complex themes involving poverty and on screen death, but these moments are very tame. The death isn't meant to be exploitative nor shocking. They are very matter of fact. Thematically, make sure the kiddos are mature enough to deal with these moments because they can be scarring.
DIRECTOR: Satyajit Ray
I don't know what it was about this movie that forced me to hold off on reviewing it. I don't know what I really want to say about the movie. There's so much to talk about, but I left the movie unsure of how I felt about it. I definitely see that it is a powerful and important movie, but did I get the experience I was hoping to get? In class and in the blog, I regularly mention how a viewing audience is hoping that the movie either meets expectations or subverts expectations. Since I didn't have expectations because I have such little experience when it comes to Indian / Bengali film. One of my students this year schooled me when it came to Indian and Bollywood films, so I wanted to start with the fundamental works before going into the more contemporary stuff. But I have to acknowledge that I feel like a babe in the woods here. For some reason, Indian cinema has really never gotten into my viewing canon. (I watched Monsoon Wedding a few years ago, but that's pretty contemporary and uses a lot of Western aesthetics to pull it off.) I don't have any schooling when it comes to Indian cinema, so all I can do is understand that my education is lacking and approach it from a Western perspective.
The movie actually feels pretty Western in terms of narrative structure. I find it odd that that movie trilogy is called "The Apu Trilogy" (according to the box set from Criterion) because I didn't really see this movie about Apu. I thought for a while that this story was about Durga. (Okay, I started off this paragraph talking about how Western this movie and now I'm commenting on how there is no traditional protagonist.) Durga does draw a lot of attention in the movie, but she is more of a vehicle for the story to move forward. Let's establish what is going on in the story. The story looks at Apu's family and their terrifying level of poverty. Father is an idealist writer who has faith that God will provide. Mother is skeptical and simply trying to stay under the radar and not draw attention to the fact that the children sometimes have to do morally gray things to survive. Durga is the strongest character, willing to make choices and disappoint those around her for the greater good. Apu is ignorant of the world around him for the most part and lives a charmed life. Auntie hovers near death and is the lovable troublemaker of the family. The story, rather than following the narrative of a protagonist working towards a goal, takes the realistic approach of observing a family at a low point in their economic struggle. The movie is more about theme and mood than it is character. There is character growth and change in the story, primarily Mother and Durga, who mirror the way the world treats them. Mother goes from being shy and silent to angry and violent based on the way that the neighbor treats her. Durga, similarly, picks up violent and angry traits because of the way her mother now treats her.
But the film is shot in a Western style. While gorgeous, especially with the train passing by, the shots serve the overarching narrative. I'm kind of shocked by this. Part of this is due to the fact that the film is in black and white. The few Indian films I have experience with play with color more than I've seen other cultures do. Watching the film in black and white wrestled with my limited expectations more than I thought it would. I also wonder how much of this has to do with the restoration that Criterion gives all of its films. The blacks of the monochrome were impressive. I wouldn't say that this movie is layered in shadow by any means, but the limited use of shadow was inspiring. I compare the studio system films of the '50s in America to this film. Both cultures have monochromatic film using gray as its primary color palate, but it's odd to thing that the shades of gray play so heavily a role. The grays of American films like Bringing Up Baby gives the movie a very soft texture. Even Citizen Kane seems like the edges are muted, which I've always chalked up to technology. The gray of this movie gives it a very striking look. Look at the picture I chose above. That is typical of the movie. The lines are strong and defined, allowing the hard black lines to affect the way that the movie feels as a whole. I don't want to even imply that the movie has a documentary feel to it because it really doesn't. But the movie does have a bit of a contemporary look, despite being a film from '55. Like its offspring, the movie has a look that is unique, even if it is in something so simple as the uses of black in the film.
Because I like bummer movies real hard, I have to say that the movie is extremely effective when it comes to bummer themes. I love both the Kurosawa and Renoir versions of The Lower Depths and I love the neorealistic films of Italy like The Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D. I don't know why I like things that are so somber and depressing. I would put the first in the series part of those movies. I don't know if I like it as much as those other movies. When it comes to The Lower Depths, particularly the Kurosawa version, the movie is actually pretty melodramatic. That story is a sledgehammer, constantly beating down on its characters. The themes of poverty can't really be avoided in that movie and the original play (Tolstoy? Some other famous Russian author?) doesn't want that theme to be missed. Umberto D is a much more subtle approach to the same theme, but that is still perhaps slightly more intense than Pather Panchali . Pather covers so many themes that the poverty almost becomes part of the setting. It is the world that these characters live in and the movie is, without a doubt, a commentary on the evils of poverty. But the movie also treats it very matter of factly. When I watch The Lower Depths, these people are part of the cursed caste of society. They have extraordinarily bad luck or have done something to deserve their cruel fates. Umberto D is more of a commentary that aging is viewed as a plague by society. Pather Panchali doesn't really have that view of poverty. At one point, the caste is brought up and that their fate is simply a result of consequence. There is no real criticism of the system that has made the family so poor. It is simply a sad look at the world of poverty from an emotional perspective. There is a moral that has to do with the father, but that almost seems like a character moment rather than a call to arms for the audience. The father's absence while looking for employment is the failing moment, not the poverty. I find that really interesting.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Pather Panchali's look at poverty is how real one of the moments really felt. One thing I keep hearing about poverty is that the poor look after each other more than the rich do. I have some experience working with the poor and I always found this moment to be the most untrue. Pather Panchali somewhat supports that theory. There is another family nearby who have only slightly more than the main family. The interactions between these two families is very telling about how people tend to treat each other when they have more than another. Not everyone treats the family poorly, but there is a certain scorn that comes across between the haves and have-nots. Mother also treats Auntie in the same way. Mother views Auntie, who has even less, as a blight on the family because of her needs. It breaks up the sympathy that Mother receives in this moment. She becomes a real character. I hate to bring the Bible into a story free from Christian influence, but I think of the story of the wise king. Perhaps this moment was intentional, but I really think that this story is more of a universal narrative. Also, there is this moment of realization that didn't exactly feel real towards the end with the cruel neighbor, but that can be chalked up either way. Movies have way weirder moments in stories. I do, however, love the final realization from Apu while going through Durga's things. I'm just thinking about this right now, but every character isn't idealized or demonized. Perhaps Ray knows that people aren't so binary as good and evil, but that people struggle to do what's best in a bad situation. That's what the poverty setting does for a story. It strips away creature comforts so people act with greater stakes. When survival is the basis for everything you do, how hard would it be to make the moral choice in every scenario.
I guess the movie is pretty impressive. The one thing that I didn't love is that the pacing really hurt to get through sometimes. When I watched half-an-hour of the movie, I swear that I thought I watched an hour. The movie drags, but that might be because I was watching it very late at night. (Summer means that movies take place after everyone else goes to bed.) That might be on me, but I had to break this one up into three sections. It is very slow, but the movie is important and striking. I have two more movies in this trilogy and I am excited to a point to watch them. I just don't know when I'll have the patience to do so.
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.