PG-13 for lots and lots of decapitations. Like, pushing our luck with all of the decapitations. There's also some ribald humor. I can't remember what it is, but I know its full of ribaldry. The Necromancer can also get pretty scary. Honestly, Gandalf's whole side plot takes this from being a fun adventure story into the realm where Peter Jackson really shines: horror. Admittedly, it's fantasy horror, but it's still there. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
And this is where it starts to lose me. I'd like to apologize for not writing more often. One of the side-effects of it not being mandatory to write everyday is that I no longer feel the pressure to write everyday. Life has been hard on this front. There's been a bunch of emotional stuff that I've been going through, so any prayers would be welcomed. But one of the things that I thought might keep my brain busy is writing about a movie that I watched about a week ago. So here's me, writing about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
If you read my stuff on An Unexpected Journey, you'll know that I'm a hardcore apologist for that movie. I really like that film. In the same way that I adore The Fellowship of the Ring as my favorite entry in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I adore An Unexpected Journey. I may have shifted to a love of The Two Towers after the last viewing, but I'll stand by what I said about Fellowship. But while I like The Two Towers a lot more after the most recent viewing, The Desolation of Smaug really showed some of its weakness given some time to step away. I knew where a lot of it came from. It's why I'm terrified to start The Battle of Five Armies. It's not the only mistake, but I cannot stand the politics of Laketown. I'm sorry, Stephen Fry. But the Laketown stuff drives the film to a grinding halt. The Desolation of Smaug is already padded with too much stuff that causes some major pacing issues, but then dismounting with the politics of Laketown is just a drag. When I talked about An Unexpected Journey, I mentioned that the extra stuff, while probably being unnecessary, often contributed to the tone of the film. Those little side stories about Azog the Defiler kept the tension up. We get to know more about Middle Earth and the scary place that it can often be. Even the stuff at Rivendell in the first film was a welcome world-building contributing to the fact that this Hobbit trilogy was acting as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. But the politics of Laketown is a mess of an obstacle.
I know why it is all there. It makes perfect sense. This is unfair of Tolkien because the book was never meant to be adapted into three epic films, but Bard in the books is really a program running in the background of the story. Tolkien is almost using him to stress that many pieces make the story work and the dwarves shouldn't do everything. But in a series of movies that are meant to develop a sense of grandeur, Bard needs to have a storyline explaining his contributions to greater tapestry of the series. Hence, the little things have to get Bard down. Let me explain. The reason that Bard works as a hero in The Hobbit is that he isn't really a warrior. Laketown is sleepy. It is the actions of an average man who was unaffected by greed and fear for his own life to take down Smaug. Well, if he's an average man, he needs to have average problems. In the book, it kind of just is. We find out that Bard did all these things while the dwarves are away. But in the movie, something needs to be stopping Bard from being heroic from moment one. So he needs to have an adversary. Imagine shoehorning Office Space into The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. I don't really want to see the bureaucracy and the inner office politics of the Death Star. Even more so, and Rogue One almost touched on this, look at the Rebels. What if, while Luke was on board the Death Star with the Emperor and we kept cutting away to a first-year X-Wing pilot who kept failing his emissions tests on his fighter because his supervisor kept taking kickbacks. That's a really boring sideplot.
But the politics of Laketown aren't really the only problem. It's the idea that the movies somehow have to get bigger. There's a scene that every time I watch it, I just get depressed by. It's my favorite scene in the books, but it runs super long. I'm referring to the chapter of the book named "Barrels Out of Bond". This is the scene I really wanted to see adapting. It's pretty adventurous. But it's also where Bilbo kind of comes into his own, at least in the book. He's unabashedly the hero and is an adventurer by this scene. But Jackson...did too much with it. I suppose it is better than not-enough. There are so many rad movies in the Middle Earth movies that I get why. I still talk about Legolas reverse jumping on to a horse mid-gallup. I don't even mentally process it, but it's great. It's these moments that we're supposed to talk about because they are rad. But something gets really tiresome about amazing fight choreograpy after a certain amount of time. "Barrels Out of Bond" is my moment of too far. The dwarves have shown themselves to constantly shift skill levels. Think back to An Unexpected Journey with the trolls. They are easily overcome. Part of it is because they have Bilbo. But they aren't doing flips and tricks to take down the trolls. Then compare them to Barrels. Barrels should be when they are least effective. The should suck at everything when it comes to being in barrels. The rapids should be knocking them around and they should be completely disoriented. But there they are, taking out scores of orcs in really clever ways. There's one moment, in particular, that really irks me. It's Bombur. Bombur is incompetent for a lot of the movie. It's silly that he's part of this quest because he's known for eating and sleeping. It's actually weird that anyone can comment on Bilbo and his abilities because Bombur is almost worse. But Bombur's barrel accidentally takes out a legion of orcs. It's funny as a joke and I kind of dig it, until the dismount. After taking out, through a series of Rube Goldbergian incidents, packs of orcs, Bombur stands up. His arms burst through the barrel and he's yielding axes. He starts executing orcs, using his barrel as armor, with a series of spin attacks. The barrel is wrecked, so Bombur jumps into another barrel. First of all, Bilbo is clinging onto someone else's barrel. Why is no one, in this game of tossing things with great prowess, tossing Bilbo into a barrel as he's being waterboarded on the side of a barrel. Bombur can't just be good at things.
...which leads me to the thing I never thought I would say. People complain about Tauriel. She's fine. She's actually great. But the guy who sticks out like a sore thumb is...Legolas. He's too much for this movie. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Legolas doesn't belong here. He's too epic. Legolas is an unkillable tank, especially considering that he's in The Lord of the Rings. The thing about teasing large characters from a sequel series is that they need to be used sparingly, Star Wars prequels excluded. (They shouldn't be used at all.) But adding Legolas to the story is glaring. He's got all of this other baggage and yet he's all of the sudden surgically put into this movie. I know. The dwarves encounter the Woodland elves. I'm not surprised that Jackson was tempted to bring back a major character. But what is fundamentally a story about dwarves bumbling their ways through adventures becomes about expert tacticians and war the entire way. The Hobbit shouldn't be The Lord of the Rings. I know. I said that they are structurally the same. But The Lord of the Rings gets a sense of scale because we get the sense that never before has such a capable team been put together like the Fellowship of the Ring. The Fellowship is meant to be the Avengers of Middle Earth. The Dwarves are the survivors of a purging. Some of them come across as really dumb. But they end up being so effective at their jobs that they simply become a stand-in for the Fellowship. Legolas reminds us of that. He's just taking this team to a new height because he's a bit of a Mary Sue. (I don't use that as a gender attack. I use that as a character that is way too overpowered for anyone's good.) The fact that he's coupled against Azog the Defiler's twin shows that the movie wasn't ready for him. They needed to create another Great White Orc to give him a bit of a challenge and that's just watering down the threat altogether. Azog loses something in this movie because we have an Azog clone right next to him.
But I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. While I found myself a little more bored with this one, I still love a lot of it. I actually really like the Gandalf and Radagast stuff. I know. I shouldn't be that excited to find out that Sauron is back and standing in for the Necromancer. In fact, it almost makes no sense, considering how lackadaisical Gandalf is about the One Ring at the beginning of Fellowship. But I don't care. I never understood why Gandalf kept leaving the main story lines in Tolkien's books. But this quest actually gives the story a sense of scale. Perhaps the movie protests a bit too much, but I think that Jackson nails down why Gandalf would be motivated to be involved in Thorin Oakenshield's quest to return to Erebor. Gandalf, for all of his love of pipeweed and fireworks, seems to be connected to the great mythology of Middle Earth. I don't think that's how Tolkien imagined him to begin with, but I like his sense of watchfulness, especially when it comes to threats on the horizon. That scene that he has with Thorin is effective. It's a huge bummer, to be sure, but it is still a pretty great scene and one that contributes to the narrative in great ways. Also, there are moment to moment things that are also pretty gorgeous that make my heart smile. Bilbo, climbing to the top of the treeline, does something to me that makes me forgive a lot of the movie. If Gandalf says its the little things that can defeat evil, I think that's true about filmmaking too. It's those moments that seem loving that undo some of the corporate nonsense that Jackson probably faced.
The Desolation of Smaug is way too overpacked. But I still somehow still like it. It's a big step back from the first film. The Smaug stuff is fun, but it also seems like a bit of a video game level. I don't know. I know that The Battle of Five Armies is going to be a chore. But I'm not completely unopposed from completing that chore. If asked, I'd probably still say that I like this movie. I'll even say that I like this movie, despite its faults. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe. But I can't explain it.
Not rated, but it has a lot of everything. I was about to write "A bit of everything," but then realized there's a ton of content, followed up by a scene that reminds you that the scene happened earlier. It's got a lot of drug use. The language is pretty intense. I loved The Amazing Johnathan's act when I was younger, but a lot of it is shock and gore humor. Honestly, the movie has to be TV-MA. I just don't want to stream the movie again to see if Hulu labels it as TV-MA. imDb has it as Not Rated so I'll stick with that.
DIRECTOR: Ben Berman (as Benjamin Berman)
I watched this so long ago! It was early last week! Why am I not writing? I just don't have the energy to do stuff like this anymore. I know my own policy. I have to write about everything I watch. Knowing that I accidentally missed writing about the first Neighbors movie, I plan to rewatch that movie just so I fulfill an empty goal. I hear me too!
Hulu, somehow, became my home for original documentaries. Between Batman and Bill, Becoming Bond, and the Oscar nominated movie loosely surrounding skateboarding (I'm very tired), I keep seeing these docs that completely knock my socks off. I was putzing around Facebook and saw this trailer for The Amazing Johnathan Documentary. It's getting bizarre how much Hulu is putting stuff out just for me. I adored The Amazing Johnathan growing up. His Comedy Central special was constantly playing in the late '90s and early 2000s. I saw him at Meadow Brook. He may have been the first ticket I've ever paid to see someone live. He's definitely my first stand up experience. When I found out about his insane story from the trailer, I knew that I had to watch. Even if the movie was just a comeback documentary, I knew that there was something in there. I wanted to love this documentary so badly. But Ben Berman's triggering subject might be the thing that actually undoes the whole documentary. When writing a poem, you don't want to write about the emotion that you want people to experience. Instead, you have to find a grounded hook that helps the audience come to that result by itself. I think that the same thing tends to be true about a documentary. Something small has to happen and it has to reflect the nature of the bigger story that is going on. While I completely sympathize with Berman about the focus of his film, it leaves the movie ultimately empty. I always kind of wondered how these documentaries always got these thrilling endings. It seems like real life shouldn't wrap itself up as well as they tend to. I keep jumping back to Icarus when it was a story that fell into the documentarian's lap. With the case of The Amazing Johnathan, the triggering subject actually kind of distracts from what the story should be: the life of a man who should be dead coupled with this almost tragic legacy.
The bare bones that people need to know about The Amazing Johnathan is that he was a rock star magician / comedian. He had this gallows humor that surrounded his show. He would drink Windex and saw his arm off on stage. It's great. He'd do it laughing. But then he announced that he had a year to live because of a heart defect. People weren't sure if it was a joke or not because when someone plays around with the sanctity of death, things get a little bit iffy. No one really knows if the comedian is still telling a joke. Fast forward a bit and the story gets even more cryptic. Johnathan is still alive four years later. While he doesn't exactly look the picture of health, one can't really be sure if its because of a heart defect or just the sheer amount of meth he smokes. Yeah, he smokes a lot of meth. Berman goes into the documentary with that focus. But because Johnathan isn't exactly the more helpful subject in the world, Berman gets distracted by a lot of extra stuff. Johnathan, as it is revealed throughout the course of the film, has four documentaries being made about him simultaneously. Berman thought that he was the only one. Admittedly, his was the most serious one of the group initially until a second documentary crew really tries poaching on his subject matter. Johnathan, who comes across as someone unsympathetic in his choices, seems to only care about his own exposure at the expense of Berman. Now, this is where the documentary messes up its triggering subject. Johnathan is an illusionist. It's very tempted to stress the questions about whether or not everything in the documentary is an elaborate illusion being played on Berman. But Berman loses the forest through the trees when this happens. Berman gets stuck in the one element of the possible trick. He's obsessed with the other documentary. From a storytelling perspective, it actually makes a ton of sense to focus the narrative inwards. It gives the director freedom, especially when he's being shut out from Johnathan's life in real time. But because he's temporarily removed from the story, he never gets the story he wants.
The story is about this dying man. Berman does some interesting things, linking Johnathan's struggles with mortality with his own obsessive past. It's all interesting stuff, but it leaves so much unresolved. Instead of getting the story that is actually moving, Berman's story kind of comes across like a pity party. He's complaining that it is hard to make his documentary. He's willing to cross some very insane lines, like doing meth on camera (kind of). But he's not willing to make Johnathan an enemy. He wants Johnathan to kind of like him. There's a scene towards the end of the film where he confronts Johnathan and asks him if everything in the film and in his life is an illusion. It's such a gutsy moment. But then, he backtracks a lot of it. It was a power movie, to be sure. But the documentarian, in this case, is not being objective. Johnathan starts off the film friendly enough. He shows a lot of what amounts to a pathetic life. He's rich and never has to work again. I knew he was successful, but I had no idea that he was that successful. He putzes and does really hardcore drugs a lot. He treats the people around him kind of like dirt. But Berman is kind of mesmerized by someone he considers to be a hero. He gets to live a low key celebrity lifestyle for a bit. That's where Berman kind of forgets why he's there. Over the course of the film, Johnathan comes across as increasingly hostile. He's self-motivated. We've found out that he's done this kind of stuff before. It's Berman's personality that stands in the way of the documentary. If Johnathan gets hostile, it's Berman's responsibility to treat him as hostile. And that never really happens.
What leaves me at the end is that Johnathan is a bully and I'm sad that he doesn't turn his life around. There's this huge canvas there and very little of it actually amounts to much. We never really get to understand Johnathan from a performance perspective. He's this guy who had this whole career and he fell off the face of the Earth. Part of the movie actually just leaves me depressed. Berman's nice guy attitude never really peels back what makes Johnathan tick. He's as much of a mystery by the end of the film as he is in the trailer. The movie is named The Amazing Johnathan Documentary, but I have a better understanding of who Ben Berman is than Johnathan is. Yeah, Johnathan shut him out. I get the frustration of that. I actually completely sympathize with his position. But Berman never really plays hardball. He's servicing himself, not the audience or the subject. Berman kind of has a responsibility in this movie that he never really meets. What I'm left with is the idea that "This documentary is too hard." We get a lot of footage of his parents. That's fun, but this isn't the Ben Berman documentary. The frustration with Johnathan should be in the movie. It is super interesting, but it needs to be a small element of a much larger story. By the time that the story starts, we have the end of the film. Johnathan and Ben are friends again. Is that what the documentary was about? Was it about how a stranger and a documentarian can kind of like each other? That's really lame. Looking at all of this potential and seeing none of it is kind of lame. Johnathan comes out swinging. How much more interesting of a documentary would it have been if Ben fought back with equal zeal? That's a story. We could have seen Johnathan as vulnerable. What would be more appropriate than someone treating Johnathan the way he treats them? Johnathan formed a contract with Berman. The movie was going to be made. When Johnathan fails to fulfill his side of the contract, it's the responsibility of the filmmaker to ensure that the movie goes on. That's when we would have found out if anything here is fake. Instead, we have to simply take Johnathan's word on his illness and all of his choices. Yeah, I believe that The Amazing Johnathan is actually ill. The movie implies as much. But the story, then, is why Johnathan behaves the way he does. None of that really is explored beyond the answer "He's kind of a selfish jerk." What makes him a selfish jerk? There needs to be more to uncover and the movie does none of that.
I read in an article that Berman doesn't care if I like anyone in the movie. That's fine. His goal, at the editing stage, was to make a different kind of documentary. Yeah, he does that. But the ultimate goal is just to be different. It doesn't really challenge in any way outside of a quirky way to make a documentary. I'm going to back to the poetry metaphor with this. Often, I have really good ideas about what I want my poetry to be. I have this moment that I think is genius and I do anything I can to make that moment happen. But sometimes, I need to save that idea for something else. It doesn't belong in that poem. A lot of Berman's ideas are grandiose, but just don't fit in this story. Yeah, he got thrown a curveball. But that curveball is not enough to sustain an entire film. Instead, it is an element of a much bigger picture and he never really gets past that.
Pokemon: Detective Pikachu (2019)
PG. Somehow, this is the movie that is rated PG. Again, my big argument on this page is that the MPAA is rating for intended audience, not for actual content. I think that Detective Pikachu, while being mostly fine for my kids, is on par in terms of questionable content as any superhero movie that comes out. Pikachu himself has really questionable language choices. There's some straight up scary scenes in the film. Some of those Pokemon are possessed and become fast running zombies, for goodness sake. While this is PG, it's a very pushing-it PG.
DIRECTOR: Rob Letterman
I never got into Pokemon. I can prove it because I didn't put the proper accent on the word "Pokemon". It seems like a lot of work at this point, especially considering I'm going to write that word over-and-over before this analysis is done. But my kids are kind of into it. I don't know how they got into besides playing Super Smash Bros. which in retrospect makes sense. I never really let them watch the show. They've seen episodes, but not under my watch. Part of me never understood how Pokemon got around the dog-fighting angle. Apparently, the Pokemon like fighting? I don't think that's a very healthy attitude to have. I mean, the Ood like being slaves, but at least they address the questionable morality of enslaving the Ood on Doctor Who. I don't know. I've never been a fan of Pokemon, so I can't spout off what canon explains it all.
The thing that broke my heart most about this movie is Bill Nighy having to be in this movie and having him say the word "Pokemon." Bill Nighy, in my head, is super respectable. He's a classy old British gentleman who comes to play from time-to-time. I know that he's not above projects. But usually those projects have to be tongue-in-cheek about their subject matter. I'm thinking of him in Shaun of the Dead, which actually introduced me to the actor. But having Bill Nighy, with no sense of irony, having to say the word "Pokemon" a billion times, it depressed me. I'm probably reading into that way more than Bill Nighy ever did. But thinking about it is a bummer. That's about what I want to say about that because it's almost a miracle that this movie turned out to be pretty decent. Right now, I'm making the comparison between Michael Douglas being in Ant-Man and Bill Nighy being in Detective Pikachu. With the case of Michael Douglas, I got the vibe that he was somehow above the content that he thought the movie was going to be. With Nighy, he seems pretty comfortable in the spot he signed up for. Both movies, although I'm not the biggest Ant-Man fan in the world, were pretty huge films. That's kind of what makes Detective Pikachu an enigma in my head.
We've probably all been waiting for a truly great comic book movie. The closest thing that has been really good compared to this is the Castlevania Netflix show, which we have to admit is kind of cheating. 1) It's a show. and 2) It's animated. The next contender, from a distance, is Resident Evil, and that franchise just drove itself into the ground. Video game movies don't work for a very specific reason. While some video games have some pretty great stories, mostly we get these moments through cut scenes. To view a cut scene, you have to kind of earn it. There's hours of gameplay and frustration and that moment of storytelling is coupled with a shot of dopamine to the brain. We are excited to see what happens next because we somehow earned that expository glance into the world. As part of that, we probably get really excited for it. I'm not saying that the story is bad or anything, but we probably are more forgiving of what we are watching because it is in the context of a moment of success and personal victory. I was thinking about Max Payne, the film, (yup) and I wondered why it really didn't work. I mean, it had the look of the game. It actually followed the narrative remarkably closely. But that movie was ridiculously bad. None of those moments felt earned. On top of that, the pacing of a video game is drastically different than that of a film. A small video game experience is ten hours. Many games dwarf that. The narrative has to accommodate a lot of story over a long period of time. That's where Detective Pikachu is kind of smart.
Really Detective Pikachu isn't a traditional video game adaptation. Pokemon is more of a cultural phenomenon. Rather than simply being an adaptation of a video game, Detective Pikachu is more of an adaptation of a concept. I'm sure that there are many people out there that don't think of Detective Pikachu as a video game movie. I don't really blame them. With the cultural impact of the Pokemon anime series, the brand Pokemon has eclipsed its origins. That kind of leaves Detective Pikachu to be its own thing. Now, before I dive too deep, I understand that there is a game called Detective Pikachu. I have not played it nor do I really plan to play it. Maybe one day, I'll explore the Pokemon phenomenon, but it doesn't look likely right now. But the film kind of banks on the idea that most people know only the general concept of Pokemon and the film never really asks an audience to know the world too closely beyond that. The film actually fills in a lot of gaps in storytelling. What little needs to be known about the world of Pokemon is filled in pretty quickly either through direct exposition or context clues. I imagine that it might be hard for a director to fill in a lot of gaps, but that kind of seems necessary for a wide release. What's odd, is that this world kind of comes across as the same environment as Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. The world of Pokemon is full of all of these creatures that just seem normal. It seems larger than life for us. The environment of Ryme City is a fairy wonderland. There are creatures everywhere and they color the landscape. Think about how the toons in Roger Rabbit let us understand the importance of setting based on how otherworldly creatures treated the mundane. The same is true for Ryme City.
As a film, the movie gets it mostly right. It presents a story that has kind of a decent mystery. It seems odd to think that an adorable Pikachu is going to solve a murder mystery, but coupling Ryan Reynolds with Pikachu actually makes a lot of sense. Yeah, I wanted Danny Devito too, but Reynolds is consistently charming so I get it. In terms of tone, the movie really nails it. The movie is a summer blockbuster with mildly decent acting and funny jokes. The mystery, unfortunately, is where all the weaknesses lie. The movie stresses that Pikachu is a detective. Why is the mystery so weak? I know. There's supposed to be a big Mewtwo reveal. That means nothing to me, by the way. I know that he's a big character because of one of the other Pokemon films, but I really don't care. The mystery at the beginning of the film is supposed to be grounded. The protagonist's father's car is flipped and the protagonist is killed. The entire point of the movie is to find Harry's body and to try to find out if he's alive. I know I wrote that weird, but I don't have the patience to rewrite it. That's fine. I know that the mystery is in a fantasy world, but the concept behind the film is supposed to be grounded. Why bring in such a noir premise only to have it all sci-fi'ed midway through? The movie can't actually solve its own mystery. I mean, I figured out the bad guy the second he got on screen. (Sorry, spoiler about the gender. But why are you reading this if you were afraid of spoilers?) But the means there is actually impossible. At one point, the movie introduces secret holographic reconstruction. That seems like a bit of a cheat. (I'm also looking at you, Bones.) Whatever happened to allowing the audience to solve the mystery in tandem with the protagonists? Isn't that why we go to mysteries? Detective Pikachu is a fun Pokemon movie, but it is an absolutely awful mystery. That's actually where it makes the movie feel silly. I love the characters and the jokes and the overall vibe of the movie. It's just that, when discussing Pokemon and sci-fi mumbojumbo as part of a crime, that's where the movie kind of falls apart. Yeah, it is a plot that can grafted onto the world of Pokemon without getting boring, but it is also super lazy.
I don't think I loved Detective Pikachu mostly because I'm not a fanboy. Do I get why people like it? Sure. I can even say that I had a moderately good time watching this movie. But a great genre film will recruit new fanboys and I'm nowhere near that. Ryan Reynolds is being Ryan Reynolds, which is fun. But I also don't feel the personal commitment to a project. A lot of that comes from the fact that the movie is so reliant of CG and animation. Yeah, it's fun. But I kind of wished I watched something with more substance. Also, the reveal at the end of is kind of meh.
Rated R, and very R. I would write "VR", but that would be a whole different experience. Like, it'd be like a 3D simulation of doing a lot of drugs and horrible things being done to one another. There's also one really gross visual nudity gag that's pretty juvenile. It's a stoner comedy. The things that you expect in a stoner comedy happen in this movie.
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Stoller
Comedy sequels are hard. I guess all sequels are hard, but comedy sequels are really tough to deal with. There's such a fine line that has to be walked and even the best executed among them can leave a movie that is perfectly fine. This might be my most freshman-level intro paragraph that I've ever done, but Neighbors 2 completely balances exactly what a comedy sequel should be while ultimately leaving behind a movie that will probably just be okay.
I liked the first Neighbors movie. It's probably because I've super cooled it on the raunchy comedy. I am never sure if trends are or are not happening. I tend to have blinders on when it comes to understanding the cultural zeitgeist. But in my head, the following happened to Hollywood:
1) The Hangover reinvigorated the studio mentality to make raunchy comedies. A million raunchy comedies came out. (This is a close minded view because I think that Judd Apatow probably set the scene for this to happen.
2) The Hangover sequels put a nail in the coffin, at least temporarily, on the raunchy comedy. Whenever these movies come out, they tend to be during the off-season and do moderately okay compared to other films in the theater at the time.
Yeah, that's completely speculating. But remember when there were a million dirty comedies coming out starring big name comedians? They tend to be a lot more tame. Neighbors 2, however, actually really rests in the super raunchy category. I'm not saying this is a good thing. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. From a faith perspective, I have to wag my finger at this movie. I mean, it's pretty gross and probably isn't good for your soul. That's as clear as I can make it. But from a movie-making perspective, it isn't really wishy-washy either. I don't love movies that try appealing to everyone. I know that everyone lost their minds at Game Night. (When I mean "everyone", I'm referring to the limited audience that saw it, which is more than the average comedy that comes out.) But movies like Game Night and Tag seem to really lose their lasting power because they ride the fence too much. There's a wink and a nod, which the cultured part of me really respects. But sometimes a movie like Neighbors and its sequel embrace what everyone is thinking and gives a cathartic release to how absurd a film can get.
But then I have to look at the staying power of Neighbors 2. Trust me. Now that I'm watching far fewer movies (I need to re-learn how to wake up at 5:00 am), I watch what kind of falls across my path. These are the movies that tend to be the "shut your brain off movies" or "watch with the kids movies." (This is a "shut your brain off" movie. Definitely not a "watch with the kids" movie.) I was talking about the comedy sequel. If you read my stuff on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I talk a lot about the problems with sequels in general. It's so much worse with the comedy. There is an expectation for the movie to be exactly like the first film while simultaneously offering completely new content. Part of this ties into the concept of the running gag. A film can introduce a gag that is usually the memorable moment of the first movie. With the case of Neighbors, it comes from the airbag joke. The first movie really plays with the airbag gag a lot. But the thing about the running gag is that the filmmaker has to be really careful about using it. The reason being is that overusing that gag can retroactively spoil the joke overall. While the Austin Powers trilogy may be the most accepted comedy trilogy that I can think of, watching that series now may be extremely taxing. The running gags get to be a bit old. Neighbors 2 really dances around the fact that the airbag gag exists. It acknowledges and builds upon it. The result is a joke that works, but doesn't really slay as a comedy bit. It's funny. I won't deny that it is funny. But did I laugh harder than the first film? Probably not. With an action movie, a sequel can choose to go more intimate. The movie is actually allowed to get smaller. Not a lot of films take this route because it is dangerous. People often say that they want bigger and badder. But really, an intimate film is always an option. But with comedy, no one really wants smaller laughs. And that's what is going on with Neighbors 2. I talked about The Hangover trilogy. The sequels to the first film are so awful. They are recycled moments from the first film, which is mind-boggling. The jokes don't work at all. Neighbors 2 was worth watching. I had a really good time with it. But at the end of the day, I got a slightly less impressive Neighbors.
From a storytelling perspective, it is really odd to see what is going on in Neighbors 2. My argument was that The Hangover trilogy murdered raunchy comedies. There is one more element that kind of makes dirty movies harder to make. Neighbors 2 kind of addresses that head on. Raunchy comedies tend to be really regressive in their politics. I have to admit, a lot of older dirtier movies just seem uncomfortable nowadays. The team behind Neighbors 2, while finding the natural progression of the plot by gender swapping the titular neighbors, did the smart thing by allowing the film speak to something kind of new. I wouldn't point to Neighbors 2 as culturally relevant or anything like that. But it doesn't deny that comedy has to evolve with the times. I wish it was a little more polished because often Neighbors 2 stumbles on its own morality. Let's look at it moment-to-moment. The antagonists of the movie is the sorority that moves next door. The villains are ultimately sympathetic. Starting the movie with a haunting idea that fraternities are allowed to throw parties while sororities can't (a statement that's almost accurate. Sororities can't have booze). There is an injustice that forces the girls into the spot of having to rent this frat house. Okay, I'm on board. I love a good sympathetic villain. But from this perspective, the problem is actually kind of easy to solve. The girls are the oppressed. The only way to make them antagonists is to make them unlikable. The movie highlights how unreasonable the girls are getting throughout the film. There are so many moments where, if the girls just didn't cast themselves as the antagonists, that the movie would resolve itself quickly.
This is where the movie kind of abandons its initial characterization of the girls. The sorority instantly becomes age-ist. With the fraternity next door in the first movie, it was always understood that they were dumb, causing the conflict between the two. But the sorority really shifts the intelligence of its antagonists. Often, the girls are seen as really woke and sensible. They have complex plans and they see the injustice of the college system, while spelling it out. Heck, they throw a party that is about strong female role-models. But then, they instantly become dumb whenever the film needs them to be kind of dumb. When being reasoned with, they instantly become morons. The movie needs them to ignore the obvious answers so the story can progress. To add to that problem, it also needs the movie to have Zac Efron team up with Seth Rogen. It's the same thing that lots of franchises do. I commented on it a lot in our Fast & Furious themed podcasts. The old villain becomes the new hero. This means that the sorority has to betray him. While the joke lands, it is very hard to sympathize with our villains who should be kind of right about the whole thing. And this is where the cultural landscape buts heads with the raunchy comedy. We have a marginalized antagonist going up against the morally right, but traditionally over-privileged protagonist. Like I often say, the movie wants its cake and to eat it too. It's weird. Side note about the whole thing, and this is mostly throwing shade at the marketing team: It's really weird that Seth Rogen and Zac Efron get such better billing than their female co-stars. Look at the packaging. Chloe Grace-Moretz is relegated to the background of that poster. She's a bigger character than Zac Efron's. While I think he's hilarious, his part isn't as meaty as it was in the previous film.
But Neighbors 2 is probably one of the funnier raunchy comedies I've seen in a while. If it wasn't a sequel, it would probably be kind of amazing. But at the end of the day, this might be more of a commentary on other raunchy comedies and their lack of adapting to contemporary norms. It's a fun movie and it's probably a step in the right direction. But if it wasn't rushed into production, it probably would have a little bit more to it than a forgettable sequel.
Rated PG-13 for casual decapitations. I think I heard that the Extended Edition of The Battle of the Five Armies was rated R. It has to be because of the overuse of decapitations, right? I mean, decapitations in Middle Earth tend to be rad, but I always saw The Hobbit as more of a children's story. He wrote it for his kids, didn't he? I mean, the decapitations aren't the only violence, so you have to take that into account as well. There's also scary stuff throughout. PG-13
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
Okay, it's not The Lord of the Rings. But I've always stood by The Hobbit movies for being mostly pretty amazing. I use The Hobbit as my central argument for how fanboys really start to hate things that aren't perfect. Oh, I know most of the arguments. I know that Peter Jackson himself wasn't happy with the process of making The Hobbit. Yeah, I haven't watched all of the appendices. I can write myself off too. But The Hobbit, with this one focusing on An Unexpected Journey is still a love letter to Tolkien's Middle Earth. Is it bloated? Sure. Is it a pretty good movie? Almost definitely.
In the wake of the destruction of my film class, I picked up senior English classes. I just found out that I was teaching the college prep seniors. The previous teacher assigned The Hobbit for summer work, so I decided to play some catch up. I had taught that book for years. I taught it to eighth grade, so the focus was a little off. But I also decided to use this opportunity to finally binge The Hobbit movies. Like with The Lord of the Rings, the length of the films becomes kind of an obstacle towards attention. I'm not afraid to comment on the negatives of this movie. I get it. It's a very slow movie with a lot of digital effects. I'm not going to pretend that it is perfect. It's also not a movie for those who want a fast pace. It sounds like I'm talking down to a lot of viewers, but I genuinely get it. It takes forty minutes to get Bilbo out of his house. If I read the book aloud in real time, it would take about the same amount of time to get him out of his house. This isn't a joke. I was listening to the audiobook and it takes just about the same amount of time to get Bilbo Baggins on any adventure. But part of me loves it. I've always been an advocate of "The book is the book, the movie is the movie." I think I still believe that. I look to Watchmen as the movie that abused that level of pacing. But part of what makes it kind of work in An Unexpected Journey is that Tolkien's methodical and slothlike pacing is remarkably charming. I've always loved the stuff in the Shire. Yeah, An Unexpected Journey really abuses its right to spend a lot of time in the Shire, but I adore every moment.
That's what I think a lot of folks are kind of forgetting. As somber as The Lord of the Rings can get at times, the tone of The Hobbit as a novel is much more lighthearted. The worst I can really accuse Jackson of doing is trying to have his cake and eating it too. The book of The Hobbit is a fairly light adventure story full of gorgeous descriptions of Middle Earth. Jackson's in this weird place, director wise. He wants to stay true to the tone of the book, but he's making this movie as a follow-up to one of the greatest trilogies of all time. He has to both capture the lighthearted nature of the book that was made for kids and give the film a grandiose scale. Yeah, I wish he could pick one or the other too, but I don't think the studio would really give him that option. That lightning in a bottle thing twice is super depressing to think about. All of these actors from The Lord of the Rings came back to play and do it again. But the problem with reunions is that they have to understand that it isn't going to be the same thing twice. When I heard that Peter Jackson was going to come back and direct The Hobbit after Guillermo del Toro dropped out (of yet another project), I thought it was a great idea. But Peter Jackson, in that position, is kind of being unfair. Since The Lord of the Rings trilogy is mentally one storyline, therefore, one movie (I'm going to stand by that), adding this prequel gives the entire thing an unfair situation. The problems with sequels / prequels is that people want more of the same while at the same time being different.
This kind of leads me to a criticism of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in general. I know. I'm taking on the Granddaddy of fantasy right now, whom I love. I think we all kind of forgive Tolkien something because we understand the context of it all. I tell people who don't want to read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to simply read The Hobbit. The Hobbit, despite being a much simpler book between themes and motifs, is just a short version of The Lord of the Rings. Frodo is a little more gung-ho than Bilbo is because of the events of The Hobbit. But basically the story and the beats are the same. The side-quests and the diverging storylines are totally worth reading in The Lord of the Rings, but the main plot is the same. It still talks about the corruption of greed. Both stories are just a long trek to a mountain. Some of the villains are the same. While reading, we really can glean the differences in a slow and paced reading. Having read most of the Third Age of Tolkien, I completely agree that they are different things. But the beats are the same. Putting that into a movie is a daunting task. It has to be miserable for Jackson in that situation. He had years of his life devoted to simply the pre-production of The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was in pre-production with a different director. There had to be such shortcuts made. Yeah, the best thing about the job had to be the knowledge of how things were going to look like in Middle Earth. But there was no time to do it the slow way.
But An Unexpected Journey gets things mostly right. The characterization of Bilbo Baggins is perfect. I love Martin Freeman. I'm afraid to ever talk to him because I know that he would hate me in a split second. But he's great in everything he does. This is no exception. I really adore Gandalf the Grey. This is the Doctor Who fan inside of me escaping, but it matters that we get to see a lot of Gandalf the Grey. Ian McKellan really played Gandalf the White pretty hard in the other movies. Gandalf the White, and it sounds like I'm nitpicking, has the world on his shoulders. He's almost ethereal. He isn't always this happy character. Gandalf the Grey, however, is almost something that's part of nature. Even when he's angry, he shifts back into this loving and lovely character. I don't know how people don't just latch onto the fact that Ian McKellan is Gandalf the Grey again and being able to simply invest in that character. Similarly impressive is the characterization of the dwarves. The book never really gave me the separate personalities that I needed to really adore the characters enough, shy of Thorin Oakenshield and Balin. That might be slightly unfair because it was my imagination's job to make that work. But the dwarves all have very different voices that I absolutely adore. Okay, I don't love all of them. But still, the effort was made to not make the dwarves sounding boards for one another and that's pretty impressive. And can I get an "Amen" that the songs are maintained in the movie? The songs are actually pretty great. Go out and listen to the audiobooks with the songs. The songs are folksy and pretty lazy. But "Misty Mountains"? That's brilliant. I had that stuck inside my head before I even saw the first movie. There are so many moments that simply adore the text that Tolkien presented.
I'd like to put it this way. New Line Cinema and its parent companies probably had a bunch of pressure on these movies. It feels like there's a corporate overlord in the background constantly ensuring that this film franchise was going to slay as hard as its predecessor. Okay, I get that. But basically, Peter Jackson tried to hide that and play the politics game while he made the best version of The Hobbit that he could. He was fighting suits while simultaneous fighting fanboys of the previous series. While The Hobbit isn't as pretty as The Lord of the Rings with its color palates and whatnot, it is The Hobbit at all times. That kind of brings me into the extended stuff. We knew that these movies had to be epic in scale. So adding the appendices and the stuff from The Silmarilian just makes sense. Yeah, these moments bother me too. But again, think of the corporate guys above. The Hobbit is a very intimate tale. But there needed to be something to make it larger than life. The shadow of The Lord of the Rings movies was cast over this entire series. I'm just glad it wasn't a bunch of weak plot points. It shows that Jackson was going to play ball, but play ball on his terms. If they wanted epic, they had to go for the deep cuts. Okay, yeah, it doesn't always fit. But it fits better than almost anything else that could have been in there. The Hobbit wouldn't have flown as a simple film. I wish it would. I would love The Hobbit as either one or two movies. But New Line probably ensured that it had to be a three movie deal. That's probably why del Toro quit (this time). There was an unholy hand over the directorship of this movie. At the end of the day, we got a movie that mostly really works. I would take a bloated Hobbit trilogy that still very much felt like its source material than nothing and I think that's what people forget. There was no pleasing a bunch of people and I can respect the product that was made in the presence of insane adversity.
I mean, it's Quentin Tarantino. I am writing that it is R just to be consistent with everything else I've done. It's R for language and violence. I don't know why I want to say that there's nudity. I don't actually remember nudity. But the violence, albeit more tame than many of his films, is still very very intense. It's pretty brutal, but in really small doses. Also, his foot thing is really aggressive in this movie. R.
DIRECTOR: Quentin Tarantino
I started back at work. No teaching stuff yet, but all of the setup. The second I got there, there were all these things that I had to do. Well, I have one day between my first day of work and then (mostly) full time work. So I decided to knock this out right now. I know. I know. But it lights a fire under my butt. Also, the kids aren't bothering me for three seconds, so we'll see if this plays out. I got so excited for this movie. I don't know what it is about Quentin Tarantino movies that really get me all jazzed. They are very good movies, but very few of them ever hit my top tier. Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood is probably my least favorite Quentin Tarantino film. But that being said, it is still an absolutely fantastic movie that I'll watch again and again. Yeah, I now sound like a fanboy.
The thing that kind of irks me about Once Upon a Time is the fact that it is remarkably slow hitting its mark. If Quentin Tarantino wears his obsessions on his sleeves, this might be the most shameless example because the movie itself takes a backseat to Tarantino wrapping his obsessions around him like a warm blanket. The movie runs over two-and-a-half hours. It's a long film. But very little of the movie is plot based. If I was to be an apologist for the movie, I could chalk a lot of it up to character development. It's got a lot of that. But really, the character development almost seems like an excuse for Tarantino to indulge in meticulously recreating 1969 Hollywood. I don't even blame him. It's so good. Every single detail. Listen, we've all seen period piece movies. I did this whole presentation about the travel narrative in film. It was for a class. I don't want to talk about it. But the big idea was that the more visually appealing the setting tends to be, the more attention is drawn away from elements of fiction like character or plot. I've been impressed with a few films that have stunning settings, but I don't think I've ever been impressed on this level before. Tarantino's attention to 1969 Hollywood is just a knock out. There are scenes where people are just driving to music. This sounds actually pretty typical Tarantino, but it is different here. The driving shows how much of 1969 was actually created. I don't know why it knocked my socks off so much. I don't know if this was created digitally or Tarantino just renovated a criminal amount of real estate. But there is so much attention to detail that it is almost mesmorizing. I hate comparing it to Avatar in that way because Avatar is kind of a travesty of a movie. But when I watched Avatar, a lot of my was not enjoying the film, but just sitting there impressed at what I was looking at. Once Upon a Time is a much more entertaining movie than Avatar. But I can't deny that I was bored from time to time.
Part of that comes from the methodical way that Tarantino presents his subjects. If there's one thing that I really dig about Tarantino, despite the fact that his personality drives me up the wall, is that his cleverness is really on the next level. I've learned that cleverness can spell death to a piece of art. But when Tarantino unleashes his cleverness, it's very impressive. I never want to say "wit" when I refer to something like Once Upon a Time because it rarely gets witty. But it is funny as heck in moments. I want to look at some of the more effective moments in the film because I think they are telling about how Tarantino almost brow-beats his audience into being impressed. I kind of want to look at Leonardo DiCaprio / Rick Dalton's big performance moment. By this period in the film, I was desperately trying to figure out what the movie was actually about. Dalton breaks down in front of a child actor about his career. It seems like a much smaller movie than what I'm used to seeing in Tarantino films. But that performance moment forces the audience to engage. All of the scenes that are films within the film, when we get to see Rick act, are really long cuts. There is no moment of distance from the character. With the scene where Dalton crushes the scene, acting across from the late Luke Perry, plays also with the extreme tight closeup. We see the savagery of Dalton's character, Dakota, and we can't even ignore it. I mean, Tarantino is smart for getting DiCaprio for something like this. My wife and I had a discussion about DiCaprio's performance style in this one, but I don't think we really disagreed when it came to the stuff he performs in character. But the camera almost becomes violently intimate with DiCaprio in these moments. It becomes stress-inducing. Watching him act that hard with a minimal amount of cuts raises suspense to such a level that you almost can't help but laugh. Reading Tarantino's script probably does nothing like that. Instead, Tarantino takes the anxiety and ramps it up to a point of laughter. I think of scenes like the finale of The Blues Brothers where the sheer number of cars requests that the audience exude a belly laugh because it's so intense. That's what Tarantino kind of does.
I don't know if this movie is for a wide audience. I mean, this is me in awe of the concept, but this movie is only made for a few people. If I had to guess, only a third of the people out there are aware of the history of Sharon Tate. Probably of the people who would see Once Upon a Time probably know about Sharon Tate. But Tarantino never really spoonfeeds you anything about Sharon Tate's murder. The thing is, you kind of have to be intimate with the story. I know about it because my wife read a book about the Manson family right before we started dating, so those early dates were full of Manson family trivia. I mean, I knew I loved her before, but then I got the bonus of knowing everything about the murder of Sharon Tate. SPOILER: (It's all spoiler, but this is super-spoilery.) Tarantino loves messing with alternate histories. I adored when he pulled that card in Inglorious Basterds. Because he's doing that same trick again, it is less impressive. B ut there's still something very cool about changing how history ended. With prequels and with history, we know what way the story is supposed to go. We treat the ending as a foregone conclusion. It's why everyone teases Titanic. (Everyone: "Spoiler: The boat sinks!" Le sigh.) But the revisionist history element gives us an element of surprise in a film that should be fairly straightforward. Yes, the tale of Rick Dalton and his stunt double is fictional, but it is also based on areal people. There's some stuff about the Natalie Wood death that is loosey-goosey attached to Cliff's story. But the fact that we can still have a bombastic ending. My wife, God love her, kept getting nervous about the actual Sharon Tate killing. She knew it was coming and she was actually anxious for her. It makes sense. It's staring her in the face the entire movie. Yeah, she still cringed at Cliff's ultra-violent counterattack on the family, but that's just because it was gross. The fact that Tarantino subverted expectations for the entire film is kind of a joy and I won't look a gift horse in the mouth, even if he's pulled the same trick before.
I don't understand one of the controversies. I guess I do, but I'm going to act all close-minded and whine about it as if I don't. People are really offended by the portrayal of Bruce Lee in the movie. I get it. It does not make him look flattering. Also, I'm sure Bruce Lee was actually as talented as he's been made out to be. But there have been a ton of other historical figures that kind of have had the wind swept out of their sails. I mean, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is just goofy. The many less-than-flattering portrayals of Jesus Christ often get me offended. But Bruce Lee was an actor. He was a very talented actor. He seemed super cool. But I think that it is fun to take a little bit of the adoration out of him. Perhaps it was because he was such an influential actor in the Asian community that it seems sacrilege to portray him as an imperfect jerk. But that scene made me laugh. It's, again, playing on the unexpected. I really thought that Brad Pitt's Cliff was going to get wrecked in that scene. Watching Bruce Lee get thrown into the side of a car is more of a commentary on Hollywood and the illusion of toughness than anything else. I just think that there has been a precedent for this kind of treatment before, and I find it weird that the controversy is getting people all up in arms now. Also, I think that Tarantino himself may be a problematic figure, so it's weird to focus attention where it is right now versus what it could be. We couldn't be attacking him for the fetishization of feet that he does in this film. Because I honestly think that the does more of that stuff with Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood than any other film. Maybe it is partially due to the other cameos that appear in the movie and how cool they come across. I don't know. It's just celebrity and I kind of like the fun that was had with the scene.
Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood is a great film. It's a great film because it almost doesn't care about structure. It cares more about the tone and feel of the entire film. Yeah, I want some of those Italian posters for my house. It's such a loving tribute to the era that story seems to be incidental. It also is the least fun, but that's not what this movie is about compared to the others. It still has some really fun moves, especially when it comes to recreating old film styles. I'll probably watch it over and over, but no time soon.
Man of the West (1958)
Not rated, but there's some content in here. This is one of the movies that would be R-rated if you read into all of the subtext. But it was 1958. They couldn't formally say that stuff was going on and get approved. But it is there. The stuff that is there is the abundance of violence and death going on throughout the movie. But the female lead is forced to strip. You don't see anything, but it is pretty degrading. There's also the implication that she may have been raped at one point. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Anthony Mann
I'm always a little wishy-washy on Westerns. I don't want to be completely dismissive about an entire genre (with the exception of rom-coms), but it takes a lot to warm me up to a lot of Westerns. I don't know if it is the tendency to reuse sets and costumes. I don't know if it is the fact that many of the scores of classic Westerns tend to use the same sweeping horns or just the fact that they kind of blend together. Like, I adore Unforgiven. I even like some of the more out there Westerns, like The Outlaw Josey Wales or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. But it just takes a lot of warm up to really appreciate a good Western. Do you know what really helped? PLAYING WAY TOO MUCH RED DEAD REDEMPTION 2! Oh, man. That really helps.
Anthony Mann makes a pretty good Western. It's not a perfect film. It has one of the traits of being one of those movies that I, unfortunately, will forget important details of in a few years because it has one of those super generic titles that gives me no information about the film whatsoever. The thing is, it has a pretty tight script. I mean, I have some really weird questions about the film. That's something that probably needs looking into. But the film in general overall works. I think the biggest problem that the film has is Gary Cooper as the handsome male lead of inappropriate age. I'm not saying that we need to hire young and younger, but a major point in the plot is that Gary Cooper is supposed to be significantly younger than Lee Cobb. Lee Cobb is only ten years older than Gary Cooper. Are we supposed to believe that Dock raised Link as a ten year old? It's not one of those situations where you really can't tell based on age. I mean, Gary Cooper's old ragged face is just staring you down, begging you to shut your brain off from the practicality of the whole situation. Gary Cooper is also supposed to be the father of an eight and a ten year old. Nope. Nopedy Nope. Also, there's the way that he's super attractive to Julie London, who plays Billie. I mean, one of these things could be ignored. It's just that Gary Cooper looks old in this. It seems like I'm nitpicking. It's there for the entire film and I can't really get over it. I'm a spiteful jerk. I mean, we're looking at Gary Cooper selling the movie on star power. I'm thinking of the studio system at the time and it totally makes sense to have Gary Cooper play rugged. But some of those fight scenes seem to be moving pretty darned slow. There's a lot of moments where the movie is playing it safe with the action on screen. I'm thinking of how commonplace this was too. I keep flashing back to Funny Face and just the fact that we're lying to ourselves about how much older our male leads are. Look at the decades on both sides of this film. Jimmy Stewart was considered a handsome male lead for long long stretches of time. In Vertigo with Kim Novak, it just gets outright creepy. I suppose I like Gary Cooper well enough, but I don't exactly have a devotion to him. So when I watch something like this, I can't shut my brain off. Yeah, it makes me a bad person in one sense, but it also helps remind me of the double standard of men and women in Hollywood.
Do old timey Westerns need a romantic love interest? Billie is a confusing character to me. She really makes sense to advance some of the protagonists choices and to be a little bit exploitative. But from a perspective of character growth, she's really very confusing. Billie is constantly intersecting Link's path before the inciting incident. She is leaving her job as Link goes to get some food. She is introduced, which is a little bit of a coincidence, but nothing new in Hollywood. She is buying tickets right in front of Link. She knows Sam Beasley, despite being put off by him. She was a schoolteacher, which is the exact story that Link tells Sam on the train. (I don't really understand the delivery when it comes to Link and Sam about the schoolteacher. It seems like Link is lying, but it doesn't really makes sense for him to lie. What is he doing with all of the money from Good Hope?) All of these moments may be thrown into the movie to make her fall in love with Link, but that seems like a bit of a stretch. The love interest is built around the fact that Link protects her from his family throughout the film. That makes sense, to a certain extent. But Link is married. He has kids. It's an internal conflict that both characters go through. But it isn't ever really resolved. Billie leaves the film saying that she's never known love before Link. Okay, I get that. Then she reminds both Link and the audience that the love she has will always be private and she would never act on it. That's very mature of her, but it is also completely an unresolved storyline. We never meet Link or his family. That's fine, I suppose. But why introduce this internal conflict if it is never really going to come to a head. There is never really temptation, so it just kind of makes Billie seem weak throughout the film. Man of the West does something that probably would scan today in terms of character development. Billie is introduced as a strong character. She is objectified in the bar. She comments on the fact that everyone has sexually harassed her, with a little smirk to it, which is really uncomfortable. She is going off and going to grab the world by the horns. She also handles the train robbery with grace. She is aware that she's 100 miles from civilization, but it is Sam who breaks down. We've established that she's the strong character in the movie. But then she's forced to strip. She does so with a steely reserve. She hasn't been broken, but this is one of those exploitation things that tries to have its cake and eat it too. "Look how bad those criminals are. Welp, guess I better watch her humiliated." From that point on, she becomes this different character. She is completely reliant on Link to take care of her. She goes along with the facade that Link and she are in a relationship. But she really does nothing to save herself. The story is driven by Link completely from that point. She ends the film weaker than what she started. She didn't need anyone, but she ends the film in love and not being able to do anything about it.
Man of the West really rocks because of its core concept. It isn't anything that new. But the way that the film approaches its central theme is pretty engaging. Link is a character desperate to get away from his past. He has made a new life for himself. He's Baby from Baby Driver. He's Vito from The Godfather. But through wild coincidence, he's brought back into the world of Dock and his criminals. Dock, having raised him and used him for his talents, isn't the same man that he was however long ago that Link left. Again, because of the age of Gary Cooper, I don't know how long he's been gone. It's been at least eleven years because he has a ten-year-old son. But Dock is almost the posterchild for dementia. Yeah, he doesn't have dementia. But he's this guy who's personality seems to be a shade from what he used to be. He clings to a bygone era and acts in outlandish ways. The gang oscillates between respect and disappointment as they watch the Dock they know slipping away. It's a pretty deep story that is kind of left in the realm of the cartoonish, knowing that everyone who loves Dock is a henchman / nephew. The individual cousins don't really get a lot of attention, even as one is stripped by the main character before he's shot to death. But looking at Dock as the focal point in the story, it's odd that Link's internal conflict is not whether or not there's some love for this man, but how much he wants to kill him. Link is afraid of becoming a violent man again. This is pretty standard Western / samurai stuff. But Dock is there and he sucks. He's this pathetic guy who wants Link alive because he wants to relive the glory days. But behind all of that love for days gone by, he has to love his nephew. He's mean to him, sure. But that end. Link doesn't want to kill him and I wish it was because he loved his uncle. But part of that is that he doesn't want to see his soul gone. I would like to point out that Dock's death is just too much. The continual flips is pretty silly. It reminded me of Black Sheep or Barry with the flips down the hill. But the movie decided to go one way when it could have been multilayered. There's never that moment of forgiveness that Link has to go through. He's the righteous hero who needs to be able to kill the bad guy without reserve. We couldn't have had a tear? We couldn't have had an "I'm sorry!" in there? It such an opportunity and it never really gets there. I mean, the rest of the movie is pretty heavy, but I think I just needed one more think to put it over the final line.
Man of the West was probably in one of my list books. I'll have to go through my books and see if it is in there so I can knock it off the pile. But it is a very effective Western that just needs one more thing to really put it over the line. Yeah, Gary Cooper as a handsome male lead probably doesn't help, but he's fine I suppose.
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.