Rated R for Terminator style nudity. It means almost seeing butts. There's also a bunch of violence, especially very specific Terminator style violence. You see someone who looks like a person get ripped apart and then they put themselves back together. Then that happens again and repeat. The big takeaway from this MPAA justification is that Terminator movies are remarkably violent, with people dying violent deaths and there are countless people who die in explosions and apocalypses. R.
DIRECTOR: Tim Miller
It's so funny. If we didn't have Terminator 2: Judgment Day, arguably the best entry in the franchise, we wouldn't have a franchise that is very tired of being itself. I watched Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles on Fox. I wondered when they announced it what that show would be. When James Cameron made T2, he took a very thin formula and gave it a slight twist. Rather than simply running from a Terminator that is trying to kill the Connor family, he made the team go proactive to prevent the creation of Skynet. Okay, that's at least a little different from the first film. But honestly, there hasn't really been an entry in the series that has effectively deviated from the formula from the original Terminator film, shy of Terminator: Salvation, which a lot of people did not like.
I am super torn about the first few minutes of the movie. Part of me absolutely loves it and part of me absolutely hates it. SPOILERS because this one is pretty much the only discussion point I actually care about. For those not in the know, John Connor, as a young kid, gets killed by a Terminator fairly early on in the film. Impressive de-aging special effects will always get me. I swear, it looks absolutely fantastic. It looks like young Linda Hamilton and young Edward Fulong. Watching John Connor get ripped apart absolutely shocked me. After all, we've had a lot of entries in the Terminator franchise where John Connor is the messiah. I know that Terminator: Genisys kind of played with the John Connor mythos. Okay, but Terminator: Genisys will be the most ignored film in the franchise because it makes absolutely no sense. Part of me loves this choice, to murder John Connor in the first few minutes of the movie. After all, he had become completely untouchable. Similarly, the idea that they did this to young John Connor implies that kids are fair game. Yeah, I don't know why I applaud this, but it is nice. One of my few complaints about the Jurassic Park franchise is that kids always seem spared.
But at the end of the day, this retcon kind of undoes the best movie in the franchise. Terminator 2 is the best because it completely changes the tone of the series. Really, there should be no Terminator movies after T2, because the goal of the film was to prevent Skynet from ever existing. And it does that quite effectively. They destroy all of the tech that goes into making of Skynet. Dark Fate plays with the notion that technology is destined to be discovered, regardless of name or date. Okay, fine. But with that logic, why do we even care about the events of T2 if it is just delaying the inevitable? Terminator: Dark Fate kind of throws a lot of light on the idea of retconning sequel. With the Jurassic Park movies (which I'm still in the air about) and the most recent entry to Halloween, the producers decided to retcon all of the sequels out of existence and establish a new continuity with only the original film(s) as established canon.
I can completely understand the temptation. In most franchises, the first film (or in Terminator's case, the first two films) tend to be the most beloved. Sequels have a tendency to muddy the waters. I forgot that the Superman films did this as well. But with movies like Terminator and the like, it really can get bogged down by having to live up to an expectation. When a franchise promises that a new entry will finally produce a sequel on par with its foundational film, the expectation becomes unwieldy. As a Terminator film, Dark Fate isn't really all that bad. It has some great fighting sequences. It brought back Linda Hamilton to the role that made her famous. Mackenzie Davis is always welcome in film. It even returned power to the female hero that the first movie presented. But really, it's just another Terminator sequel.
When a movie completely pulls a Crisis on Infinite Earths (I remember at time when that reference would have meant nothing to the majority of readers), it kind of craps on investment. When a movie comes out, regardless of how terrible it might end up being, the movie asks for vulnerability. It creates a fantasy world that can only be enjoyed by pretending that the set of circumstances presented to us have validity. I know that some movies may only care about spectacle, but the role of the viewer is the same. It's why people get so passionate about what they care about. I'll always stand behind the nerd. When a franchise deems what is valid and what isn't, it almost insults the viewer. With the case of Dark Fate, killing John Connor and imagining that all of the sequels didn't happen takes the fundamental lesson from T2 and throws it in the trash. Throughout the course of T2, Sarah Connor comes to terms with the fact that she was traumatized by the T-800. Thinking that she had control of her own little world, she lowered her defenses around the T-800 and John befriended the machine. There's the implication that T-800 had somehow gleaned a degree of humanity. He was in this liminal space between human and cyborg.
But when the new T-800 murders John, it sets up Sarah Connor for the exact same lesson, only her distrust is actually appropriate, because Carl is the T-800 that really killed John. Sure, he now seems more human because he has been living with humans for decades. Sarah Connor, in T2, becomes less than human because she mimics the stoic nature of Kyle Reese. By the end of the film, she gains her maternity through force and strength. But with Dark Fate, she has less time with Carl than she had with her previous experience. While Sarah comes across like a bit of a psychotic, it is a bigger transformation when she calls out for Carl at the end of the film. Instead of this nuanced growth based on a sense of trauma, we just kind of accept that Carl is, in his own way, sorry for the actions of the beginning of the movie.
But Carl isn't even necessary to the narrative. Heck, he doesn't even show up for half of the film. Instead, we get Grace, who acts as a more relatable stand-in than Carl's T-800. She does everything that a Terminator can do, but she's human and actually has a weakness that makes her sympathetic. Because the film introduces Arnold Schwarzenegger as the T-800, we see Arnold as something central to the Terminator mythos. Again, I get it. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the Terminator more than any storytelling elements. But we have two characters vying for the same archetype and role in the film, muddying the overall message and narrative.
In terms of a Terminator film, it gets one thing really right. Perhaps it is a bit self aware, but I like the message of Dani Ramos being the savior of humanity. One of the best parts of the Terminator franchise, in terms of cultural takeaways, is that it made a series out of a butt kicking woman. The first film played up the horror trope of the dependent woman finding her power against the tank of masculine violence. One of the unhappy accidents of the sequels is that the film strays from the focus on Sarah Connor to the legacy of John Connor. For all the super-violence Sarah is capable of, it really falls to John to lead. Dark Fate seems really aware of this progression by teasing the idea that Dani's child would be the hero of humanity. Instead, it refocuses the narrative to allow Dani herself to hold power. She's not a white woman who is going to give birth to humanity. Instead, she finds that she has already had the power with just the way that she leads her life. Okay, that's kind of rad.
I'm still not sure how I feel about the beginning of the movie. The rest of the movie is a perfectly fine Terminator movie. But we really don't needs these movies. The story is the same time and again. Some of the window dressing is a bit different (which is Carl's job...), but nothing is all that special about this movie. I know that James Cameron had his hand in this one, but I also don't love James Cameron. It's a fun movie, but nothing great.
PG-13, for some racial and sexual insensitivity. There's some violence, but it is pretty mild. People die, but that's simply because time passes. It's a pretty tonally appropriate film for a PG-13 audience, which makes it PG-13. The F-Bomb is written once, but it is misspelled. (Also, I mentally now use this term in my head since it was dropped in the movie. This is how I catch up on my slang.) It also gets overtly political, which isn't really a parent warning, so much as it is a tonal warning. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Brandon Trost
I had to take a day off. Why? Because I had another kid, that's why! It's not like I can accept congratulations through a blog. I mean, I suppose I can. But I think it is fair to take a day off while we're sleeping over in a hospital. Also, I need to learn to adapt. It's a fine line between healthy writing habits and obsession that misprioritizes things in my real life. But she's a beautiful girl named Violet and I'm pretty thrilled with her. She's sleeping right now and the kids are watching Doctor Who, so I have some time to catch up on yesterday's writing.
Most people going into An American Pickle are taken aback by its bizarre concept. I don't know if I'm that taken aback by the whole thing. After all, I'm the guy who goes nuts for Charlie Kaufman conceptual work, so starting with a goofy concept that actually leads to a fairly mundane plot is fine for me. But the thing that actually threw me for a loop was how safe the movie's message was, considering that I have to guess the personal politics of Seth Rogen. I'm really playing runaround with what I'm trying to say, because I'm floored that the movie comes down on the side of faith.
I get the vibe that Seth Rogen is not a man of faith. Again, I don't know this man in real life. We're not friends. I don't follow the gossip mags or really engage in the sordid affairs of the celebrity elite. The more I know about someone outside the world of the story, the harder it is to connect with that story. But part of me has built a narrative of Seth Rogen in my head. Perhaps its the constant stoner humor. Perhaps it is because he tends to associate with the ribald. While I have always understood that Rogen himself is Jewish culturally, I never really thought of him as a practicing member of the faith. All of this combined makes me assume that Rogen is more like Ben Greenbaum over Hershel Greenbaum. And while neither character really can be considered on the side of angels, Hershel's faith is one of the takeaways the film leaves the audience and Ben with. Ben, a man who thought he was a good man, found out how lost he was through an examination of faith.
(How the sausage is made: It is hard to take care of a family while trying to blog. I will 100% of the time abandon the blog to take care of things around here. Here's the beginning of Day Two of writing this, so if the tone is all over the place, I apologize.) Both Ben and Hershel, from their introductions, come across as both lovable and annoying. Maybe it is Seth Rogen commenting on the good guy archetype or simply self-loathing, but neither character holds all of the answers. However, Ben's issues seem to be more complex than Hershel, who often comes across as an element of plot sooner than complex character. It is funny because Hershel is the character who is instantly sympathetic. Having lost everything due to an absurd set of circumstances, Hershel establishes as heroic in nature. In 1919 (which I'm convinced was originally 1920, but had to avoid everyone wearing masks in 2020), Hershel is both ingrained in the culture and also progressive. He goes out of his way to be romantic. He genuinely loves his wife. He is a character that symbolizes the American immigrant due to his embrace of the American Dream. But we also know that he's representative of the old guard, to outdated ideals. But with Ben, we instantly read him as someone who is too alone and too lost in his own comfortable world. It's such an odd association because his choices from the beginning show that he is altruistic. He adopts Hershel and is extremely sensitive to the cultural disparities between them.
But yet, Ben's shift from moral crusader to huge butthead doesn't seem that shocking. Maybe An American Pickle borrows a bit liberally from the Frank Grimes episode of The Simpsons, but his shift is a bit telegraphed. Once Hershel's backwards cultural norms affect Ben's values, success with his dream project, his character instantly shifts to someone who is bitter and angry. Ben is a punk. It's odd how quickly our sympathies leave Ben, despite the fact that his wrath is justified. Hershel does go too far. And we can't really forget that Hershel is unfathomably boorish. Ben makes reasonable requests of him, but "Hershel Knows Best" is the attitude that the character adopts. The film allies the audience with Hershel, whose victories reflect Homer Simpson's continual kismet-driven success. The idea that Hershel becomes this Pickle Mogul is both wonderful and a hilarious commentary on farm-to-table culture.
It's so impressive that the movie made Hershel this lovable racist. Because Hershel does suck. We understand that there are so many motivating factors within Hershel's choices of bigotry that it almost comes across as quaint. But Hershel is --and this can't be ignored, especially with the theme of the film --unfathomably boorish. He is completely pigheaded and convinced of his own superiority. While Ben sets him up for failure, this failure only reflects Hershel's real fundamental problems in his character. The movie quickly becomes a commentary for cancel culture because Hershel isn't simply a freedom of speech patriot (mainly because few people actually are), but simply a guy who feels comfortable with his own superiority because he has been unchallenged for generations.
What we're kind of left with is both genius and slightly disappointing. It's this exploration of faith and cultural differences. It's a political allegory for cancel culture and how everyone is terrible. It focuses on what we value generationally and fight for in different periods in our lives. We love our ancestors and hate them at the same time. We value our own generation and find ourselves wildly insufferable. It's so impressive how much this movie has to say, but I left the movie thinking "That was fine." For such an ambitious movie lacks the scope and scale of a theatrical release. At the end of the day, this movie felt constrained by the fact that it was an HBO Max release. It feels like a film, but will probably be forgotten by 2021. There's something missing from it and maybe its a sense of scope. It's clever without being amazing. It's poignant without being risky. It's a lot of good, but not a lot of great.
Unrated because it is a made-for-TV movie, which was really just a pilot in disguise for a television show that never took off. The Doctor Who movie was the product of its age. Darker in tone than its predecessor, it had elements of The X-Files in it. The Master becomes a scary-ish slimy snake. There's lots of peril and terrifying imagery. While my kids normally can handle a lot of Doctor Who stuff, this one is a bit more scary than some of the other entries in the series. Still, it's considered Doctor Who, which is mostly harmless.
DIRECTOR: Geoffery Sax
I always thought that I would be jumping the shark with this blog if I ever considered the Paul McGann entry of Doctor Who an actual movie. I know that the title on the box is literally, Doctor Who: The Movie. Really, it's a pilot for an American adaptation of the BBC staple Doctor Who. But because it never really gained traction due to poor advertisement (Wait? Fox advertises things poorly?) and that it was placed across from a very special episode of Roseanne, it was relegated to being a TV movie that a lot of people forgot about. But I often think of the alternate history where the marketing folks handled this property well and the Eighth Doctor inspired season after season of amazing television.
Because the fact is, Paul McGann is an absolutely outstanding Doctor. This blog might lose all sight of the fact that it is supposed to be about film and the glory of cinema. Instead, I'm going to be completely self-indulgent and allow me one post where I'm allowed to talk about one of my other obsessions. As much as people in my life know that I'm a huge film snob, they're probably more aware that I'm an insane Doctor Who fan. It's pretty bad. I may have two life-sized TARDISes. I know how to pluralize "TARDIS." I mean, that should be enough of an indication of my current obsession. But Paul McGann's legacy to the Doctor Who canon shouldn't necessarily be taken from this film, which may or may not be also known as "The Enemy Within".
The movie is a hard pill to swallow. I know that if I discovered this movie in the '90s, I might have been obsessed with it. I was a devotee to Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo's The Flash. Really, '90s dark sci-fi was my way of defining myself. In terms of tone, Doctor Who achieves this really odd balance between the whimsy of a long running low-budget British television show and the staunch cynicism of Fox television. Who's reputation has always been defined as such: It caused kids to hide behind their couches. It was always meant to be a little scary and I think that the showrunners understood this fact. But what American audiences have a problem understanding is that things that look chincy can be absolutely terrifying...for the right audience. We're a broken bunch. We look for zippers in the back of monster costumes. I think we have gotten truly upsetting creature effects in the past, so we think that throwing money at something has the potential to be scarier. While the effects in "The Enemy Within" now seem adorable, it is a budgetary leap forward compared to the show when Sylvester McCoy left the air. Everything seems an attempt to show that Doctor Who didn't have to be cheap. Today's understanding of the show finds this nice balance between scariness and production value, but 1996 was an experimental time.
So what we're kind of left with is this kinda / sorta big budget version of the Doctor. The character is all there. I marvel at how much work it must have taken to get the elements of the classic series into an American production. After all, this film doesn't start with McGann as the Doctor. We have Sylvester McCoy's Doctor alone, continuing this long-running mythos without an American audience to really understand what is going on. (Also, the Dalek version of "Exterminate" sounds hilariously bad.) The final result is something that is historically Doctor Who, but tonally somewhere very different. Each showrunner offers a different voice. Just using Nu-Who as a jumping off point, Russell T. Davies reads very different from Steven Moffat, who reads very differently from Chris Chibnall. But there's a lot of salesmanship going into "The Enemy Within." From a creator's point of view, I get that he absolutely adores Who. But he's also embarrassed of the weirder elements. He feels like he has to sell it constantly. There's a lot going with the slow avoidance of the weirder elements of Who. Instead, we have The Master as the villain.
The same thing kind of happened when Doctor Who went into color with Jon Pertwee. It looks so different from the last episode of Patrick Troughton's monochromatic Second Doctor. But even with Pertwee's Third Doctor, it introduced a new monster. This was a world that's being attacked by aliens and it takes a Doctor to stop it. But with The Enemy Within, it is all about defending himself. The Doctor tells us that if the Eye of Harmony is open at midnight on New Years Eve, the world will end. It's a really weird flex because it doesn't really make a lick of sense. But we really know that the story is really about the Doctor. And for Doctor Who fans, that's fine. Sometimes, the stories are just death traps for the Doctor and that's part of storytelling. But for new audiences, the Doctor is this larger than life character. He travels in time and space and has saved the universe countless times. We don't really get that with "The Enemy Within". Heck, we don't really know much about the Master outside of the voiceover that the movie starts with. (Also, why are the Daleks okay with transferring the Master's body from Skaro, let alone letter the Doctor take it?) There's just such an info dump in this movie and none of it really leads to us caring about the Doctor. I mean, I do. I watched Doctor Who: The Movie last, after fifty years of episodes before that point. I knew every element. I even enjoyed it. But it makes no sense objectively.
Then there's the big "The Doctor is half-human" reveal. It's such an odd thing for a canon-nerd as myself. The John Nathan-Turner years (I'm that nerd) kept teasing that the Doctor was something more than simply a Time Lord. Chris Chibnall answered that with the Timeless Child reveal, but the film got to that answer first. It is odd that the Doctor keeps coming back to Earth. But I never liked that this movie got ignored canonically. The show establishes that Paul McGann was the Eighth Doctor. He's in the sequences. There's the "Night of the Doctor" mini-episode (which caused me to lose my mind harder than I thought possible). So why can the show just choose to ignore this reveal? I've been looking for answer to this question for a while. Honestly, I've fallen down a lot of rabbit holes trying to find peace with this reveal. I've read the comics. I've read books (not all of them...yet). I've done every Eighth Doctor audio. It's such an important moment for the canon and it's rarely spoken of again. (Moffat teased this in "Heaven Sent" and "Hell Bent".) It's just so in my face and I want the end.
But the biggest takeaway is that Paul McGann was robbed of a role of a lifetime. Listen, I'm about to drop a major nerd bomb: McGann got his stories in audio format. It seems like lesser media, but the stories are so good. But in this piece, we see this vibrant Doctor who could have been something marvelous, especially after a long period of less-than-stellar John Nathan-Turner episodes. McGann is absolutely perfect in this role and I will sit through a weak TV movie just to experience a filmed version of this character. He understands the Doctor, despite the fact that he spends a lot of the movie with amnesia. But as goofy as the movie is and how bleak it is, the movie really does it for me. I feel like it is the bridge for Nu-Who, but it really is a sacrificial lamb for a much better version later on. Part of me believes that Nu-Who wouldn't work so well if it wasn't for "The Enemy Within". And it also gave me a day where I was allowed to nerd out about Doctor Who, despite the fact that this is a film blog. Hey, TV movies count as movies.
Rated PG-13 for sexual jokes, situations, coupled with mild violence and language. I actually had a hard time remembering if this movie was PG-13 or R. I simply assume with a Will Ferrell movie that it is going to be R. But there's actually not all that much objectionable content. I suppose my favorite joke is slightly ribald, but it might actually be a pretty valid PG-13 rating. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: David Dobkin
My wife is really into puzzles. Not jigsaw puzzles (although she is insanely obsessed with those too). Nope. I'm talking about the stuff that is like escape room thinking. She loves books where she has to rip sections out. She would do really well in a National Treasure sequel, is all I'm saying. Because she's so into puzzles, once a year, she participates in MIT's puzzle hunt, which is very smart people making very difficult puzzles. One of the puzzles a few years back involved my wife watching so many Eurovision participants that she became very well versed in the entire Eurovision culture. (That's right. Some smartypants decided to hide a puzzle inside the Eurovision Song Contest and my wife decided to take that puzzle on.
So I thought that Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga would be up both our alleys. My wife dug it. I left kind of "meh." I think a lot of people left Eurovision a little meh. I realized recently that a lot of people can't stand Will Ferrell. He's a comic genius and these people are wrong. But I also realize that Will Ferrell is in a place in his career where he will make movies that he finds funny, even if other people don't find them hilarious. When I saw a Will Ferrell film, I always knew that I would be in for something special. But there are so many things about Eurovision that are kind of unpolished, especially compared to some of his greater outings. The short version is that, if you don't find his Lars character hilarious, you better wait around for someone of the better jokes to distract you.
What I realized is that Ferrell really relies on the competition formula to drive his movies. Even with Anchorman, it has that moment where the news teams compete to be the most popular. But he's got so many movies that I'm tempted to call sports movies. (Blades of Glory, Semipro, Talladega Nights, etc.) What these movies really present is just an opportunity to plop in a character that he's been working on and allowing the rest of the movie to write itself. Yeah, there are great jokes surrounding the bare-bones formula. But there's definitely a wide difference between the tightly knit formula of something like Anchorman or Step-Brothers and the occasional great joke that might show up in Eurovision.
I was going to write this whole long thing about why Will Ferrell keeps relying on the sports genre to tell the same story. I think I covered that pretty well. He feels comfortable with the format. These characters are always cocky blowhards who are really losers. There's always that family issue that explains why this character tries so hard for acceptance. But we don't actually feel real connection with these characters. Really, by this point, the major story elements are telegraphed so hard. We know from moment one of Pierce Brosnan's Erick Erickssong that he's going to claim that he doesn't have a child, only to embrace his vocation by the end of the film. It's really his relationship with Sigrit that has any kind of degree of originality, and even that is pretty scant.
Sigrit, because she has a very confusing backstory, gives the audience at least something to gleam onto. Her character, for some reason, was mute as a child and it makes her relationship with Lars have fundamental value. The town views Lars as a loser because he is a goofball who continually fails, like many of Ferrell's characters. But because Lars befriended Sigrit, he got her to not only talk, but to sing. I think the movie really wanted to make the movie about Sigrit. There's this theme throughout the story of Sigrit and her voice, but it kind of gets buried under Lars's goofballery. If you had to squint and find something poetic, it's a mute traumatized girl learning to not only speak, but participating in the Eurovision Song Contest. Okay. I know that this is not exactly a vulnerable film, but it doesn't hurt to have a connection to the character. But instead, the movie really muddles its message about Sigrit.
Her character is always tied to the song "Waterloo" by ABBA. It's a hilarious choice and I adore that the movie picked it. But Sigrit's call to unhappiness is also represented by this song. Lars, as a pushy male lead, ignores Sigrit's pain, but the film doesn't effectively define what is upsetting Sigrit. It's part of being overlooked, which ties into the quiet child sitting at the table. But does she want to sing "Waterloo"? Does she want to be a songwriter? I get the vibe that she wants to be a writer because the film ends with her sacrificing the contest to sing her new song. But does the movie really stress her begging to be a writer. Lars is dismissive of her writing abilities, but she never cries out that she would rather write her own music than perform Lars's. It's a very muddied theme and it is kind of lost in the shuffle of the film.
All this makes Sigrit's character less likable than she should be. Because her dreams are very loosey goosey (Will Lars love me? Am I meant for the big time? Do I like Lars's music? Am I attracted to someone else?) when she unloads on him, it almost comes across as ungratefulness and pettiness. Lars is very clear about his intentions: he wants to win the Eurovision Song Contest. He establishes throughout the film that they need to work really hard and take the Contest very seriously, or else they may not win. Lars is such a clearly defined character that it makes Sigrit an obstacle to that dream rather than a character who has a symbiotic relationship with the film's central conflict. For all of Alexander Lemtov's meddling, it's unclear whether he wants to actively sabotage the Icelandic team or if he has other motives. It is because Lemtov is an antagonist who also has very unclear goals that we have this muddled story that is really about Lars, who might be the least interesting character involved.
I'm not sure what good Eurovision is. I know that Lars and Sigrit are humiliated by constant technical problems. (This isn't surprising. The film keeps having them skip tech rehearsals. That's what they are for!) We're meant to feel sympathy for these two characters when things go wrong because things are out of their hands. But again, they keep skipping tech rehearsals. But these two become these sympathetic characters to the world of Eurovision. I mean, that's how they get to the finals. They get on stage and sing, despite the hamster wheel nearly killing both of them. It's an odd message because, in world, characters like to laugh at them for their lack of preparedness. But they actually are unprepared for this performance.
But back to my original idea. Everyone comments repeatedly that their song is terrible. One of the reasons that this film even exists is that I always understood the Eurovision Song Contest to be a bit of a circus sideshow. It's meant to be the most absurd performances by nobodies from Europe. I know that sounds really harsh, but I watched a lot of those clips with my wife. Also, look at all of the other performances. We're supposed to be blown away by these performers and how good they are, but they really are just showing the same level of talent as Fire Saga. It doesn't make a ton of sense when everyone scoffs at these two nobodies, considering that everyone in the competition seems to be a nobody, shy of the elite clique of previous winners.
But my biggest takeaway is that it doesn't feel like a classic at all. There are some moments that were genuinely very fun and very funny, but there were a lot of moments where I felt like I was being the gracious guest, who picked and chose which moments to laugh at. I wanted it to be great and it really wasn't even all that good. It's cute at times and some of the jokes slay. But as a whole work, it has a lot of undercooked parts.
PG-13 for James Bond style violence and sexuality. It's hard to exactly define what "James Bond style violence" usually means. In this case, there's a character who tortures people and is good at making murders look like suicides. Also, there's the mass execution of British sailors. The sexuality in Tomorrow Never Dies is similar to that of GoldenEye, except a lot more cheek is seen on screen. Yeah, PG-13 is just about right for this one.
DIRECTOR: Roger Spottiswoode
I said that I probably wouldn't be writing today. I had a colonoscopy and thought that I would be down for the day. But it's about 5:30 pm and I feel great, despite not sleeping at all. Also, remember when I said that I probably wouldn't have a chance to finish this movie. Apparently, the last twenty minutes of the film fit nicely into the second dose of the horrendous prep that goes into colonoscopies. I would also like to point out that I'm writing on my wife's Mac. I've pretty much only written my blogs on PCs. If I make a silly mistake, please excuse me. Everything looks just slightly off when I write. Regardless, I'm kind of impressed by how well it is going so far.
If you asked me in 1997 what my favorite movie was, I would hands down say Tomorrow Never Dies. This is not something I'm proud of today. I've regularly and vocally held the belief that I would not get along with younger versions of myself. As a 38-year-old man, I'm ashamed to say that I would roll my eyes audibly to my younger self. In my blog on GoldenEye, I discussed how that film got me into my Bond obsession. So, from that perspective, Tomorrow Never Dies would have been the first movie that was honestly and truly mine. It was the movie that I was going to start obsessing over when it came to the trailers coming out. And it starred Pierce Brosnan, my favorite Bond at the time. (I had a real problem with something called "objectivity.") Now, I know that I'm probably alone in saying how much I enjoy Tomorrow Never Dies. For all my love of the film in 1997, I can safely say that it was the movie I remembered the least of. When I watched GoldenEye, I was quoting every line as it went by. But Tomorrow Never Dies only had moments that really sparked my memory. I think I used a line from Elliot Carver for a senior quote or something.
Tomorrow Never Dies raises a lot of questions for me in 2020. I simply accepted it as a really good Bond movie at the time. And I now know what really appealed to me about the film. Tomorrow Never Dies, for all of the faults I'll be discussing in this blog, nails one thing absolutely perfectly: the action. When I watched The Phantom Menace for the first time, I enjoyed it as well, despite the fact that movie is pretty awful. Both films had that same element in common. Despite having some really difficult script and plotting issues, with Tomorrow Never Dies blatantly ignoring continuity details, both movies kind of do a great job on the "rad factor." I should write about all movies in terms of "rad factor", but I think one day the irony would be lost on me and then movies would just be about how much radness they had. I remember thinking that The Phantom Menace was so cool because Darth Maul looked awesome and those lightsaber scenes were very cool. The same thing is kind of true for Tomorrow Never Dies. For as forgettable as the plot is, the remote control car scene in the garage absolutely shreds. Bond stealing a jet with a nuclear missile is a great pre-credits tease. Also, Wai Lin and Bond in the streets of Beijing on the back of a motorcycle while handcuffs is a great set piece. If Bond is a stunt spectacular, Tomorrow Never Dies absolutely kills it.
But if we have learned anything about blockbuster action films, a film should not just be a stunt spectacular. Perhaps it is a little unfair to judge Tomorrow Never Dies through the lens of contemporary cinematic history, but we have been spoiled by the idea that movies can have these epic set pieces and still have heart. As much as I want this Bond movie to have the emotional depth I imbued on it when I was 14, it is a pretty vapid plot. I quickly Wikipedia'd some things about this movie because I honestly was wondering about the central villain, Elliot Carver, played by Jonathan Pryce. There seems to be this aggressive message by having the villain be a news mogul. So I decided to cross-reference the birth of Fox News with the release of the film. That was probably a no-go, considering that Fox News came out the same year as Tomorrow Never Dies. I'm not the first person to think this, considering that the Wikipedia article mentioned that the writer didn't base it after Rupert Murdoch. He based it upon a British media mogul.
I don't know if public opinion vacillates or if it is media ethics. Maybe it's because I'm so fed up with the state of America right now, but I'm very pro-media, anti-the-president. I keep thinking of all those great stories like All the President's Men where we have these heroic journalists. Then I thought that maybe the people behind James Bond might have been staunchly conservative. I mean, it's not an insane notion to believe that this action heavy womanizer might have conservative politics. The results of all this thinking leaves me with three options: 1) apply the themes to Fox News and just attribute where Fox News in today's zeitgeist as the evolution of yellow journalism, 2) guess that the politics behind this film were political, but with politics I don't necessarily subscribe to, or 3) treat it as a really forgettable bad guy who holds little influence over the greater Bond mythos, like Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun. Unfortunately, my brain settled on the last option.
It's because Tomorrow Never Dies has so little impact on the rest of Bond mythology. Maybe it is because Carver, as a villain, thinks so small. Yeah, he's starting World War III. I know that this is pretty huge, but there's absolutely nothing grandiose about the plan personally. He's a rich guy who wants to get more rich and more famous. He's willing to throw the world into war because he wants even better ratings. I know that I've been pretty vocally anti-Trump in that, but I don't want Donald Trump's mentality to be the same reasoning as my Bond villain's. The push for rating seems so vapid. I know that I'm not the only one who thinks this way either. I read in that Wikipedia entry that there were a lot of script changes throughout the film, annoying Jonathan Pryce and Teri Hatcher. And Pierce Brosnan is giving this movie his all. Like, he's fully invested. I stressed in GoldenEye that Brosnan might have been the perfect Bond if it wasn't for the quality of the scripts. I'll go as far as to say that most of the performances in the movie are actually pretty great, even from Pryce who didn't care for the script. So there's this level of professionalism coming from all fronts and the story is just not holding it up.
I'm also slightly miffed about the laziness on the part of Roger Spottiswoode in this film. I'm sorry, Mr. Spottiswoode. As I tend to say in a daily blog that occasionally complains about movies, I know that I couldn't do any better and there were plenty of moments that just screamed "problem solving." But there's a handful of moments that I thought were rad in 1997 that just didn't make a lick of sense now. In the pre-credits sequence, Bond taxis down the runway while being followed by another MIG. Bond gathers enough speed on the way back to take off just before the missile hits the arms bazaar. Bond flies through fire and barely escapes. But the MIG still ends up following him. Part of me thinks, "Maybe it's a different guy", but where did that guy come from? Similarly, Bond is being beat up by a bunch of guys in a recording studio, which happens to be right by the power junction. Okay, that's cool and can be chalked up to Hollywood logic. Nifty, until Bond and the bad guy come flying through the glass. There's this running gag that the guy in the studio isn't paying attention because he can't hear anything. But then the glass breaks because two guys are fighting against it? I mean, the movie went out of its way to stress that certain glass isn't mean to break when it came to the BMW. Let's keep grousing about little things. When Bond and Wai Lin are on the bike and they're being blocked by the helicopter, they have to launch their bike over the helicopter. It was really nice of the helicopter to lower for no reason. Also, where did Stamper come from with Wai Lin during the finale. Stamper is coming with a conscious Wai Lin, chaining her up and leaving her to dangle and Bond doesn't notice that they are right behind him?
Similarly, considering how cinematic Martin Campbell made his outing in the previous film, Tomorrow Never Dies often just looks like another action movie that comes out of the '90s. It's a safe film through a lot of it. Like, there are so many moments that are about being satisfying, but not challenging. I loved the Avis joke at the end of the garage sequence. But did Bond just murder the employees of an Avis rental service? It's just like Superman and the train in a Sears. But I will tell you what really shreds in Tomorrow Never Dies besides the action: David Arnold came on to do the score. Arnold's score is this awesome mix of really classic Monty Norman style Bond music and a techno vibe that screamed the '90s. But everything really feels orchestrated and bombastic in his score. I know that he might over-rely on the Bond theme itself, but the way he makes the music swell really sells Brosnan as Bond fabulously.
Oddly enough, I enjoyed this movie. For the first time, I came to terms with the notion that this movie wasn't as good as I made it out to be for years. It's actually a really forgettable Bond film. But for all of its faults, it's still a pretty enjoyable film. I also had the same attitude for The World is Not Enough when that came out. But even then I acknowledged that Denise Richards as Christmas Jones was a poor decision. (Again, my apologies to Ms. Richards.) It's only once I got to Die Another Day that I acknowledge that the Brosnan Bond era would be dead. But I still have one watchable Bond movie before I hit that one, so I will enjoy what I have while I have it.
Rated R for a lot of stuff. Besides a casual use of explicit language, including sexual content, the movie deals with pornography, suicide, and the objectification of children. It sounds like I'm really coming down hard on the movie. I mean, with that list, I probably should be all up in arms. But really, this is a movie that has a lot of content, but doesn't applaud any of these things. If anything, the heavy content is more meant to help us look at how these elements affect daily life. Okay, the movie is kind of cool with pornography, because it makes for a really good joke. Rated R.
DIRECTORS: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
I might have to take a small break after this. When I was on the verge of shutting the blog down, I told myself that I had to make less restrictive rules. Instead, I now work on a schedule that doesn't accommodate the blog, but rather builds in breaks to a schedule. Also, I have a colonoscopy tomorrow that makes me get up at 2:30. If I manage to finish Tomorrow Never Dies tonight, I don't know if I'll have the wherewithal to sit down and write an insightful blog about a well-forgotten Bond film. Also, realize, that if this blog completely falls apart, it means I'm doing colonoscopy prep. If you don't know what that means, Google it on safe search.
This is one of the movies in the Fox Searchlight box set that I already owned and loved. I accidentally skipped it and watched Last King of Scotland instead. Yeah, I took a hard tonal shift when it came to picking that movie instead. With Garden State, I was worried that the film wouldn't hold up. With Little Miss Sunshine, I knew that I was going to have a good time, regardless of the cultural context of the film. Yeah, both Garden State and Little Miss Sunshine have that indie twee quality behind them. (I recently discovered the word "twee" has a more negative connotation than I thought it did.) But I think I might just like twee stuff. I mean, I don't ironically crochet or anything, but I think I appreciate hipster indie culture. Let's just say, for a guy who never really got into music, I have a lot of Belle & Sebastian on my phone. This means that a film like Little Miss Sunshine would be right up my alley anyway. I implore the reader to realize that the movie already did a lot to sell me in terms of tone and aesthetic with its hipster indie vibe, but also know that I realize that, if you don't like this kind of stuff, I can see being put off by it.
The oddest realization that I came to is that Little Miss Sunshine is simply a slightly more serious version of National Lampoon's Vacation. In a certain sense, the road movie --especially the road comedy --is a very worn template. There are only so many things that can happen in a road comedy and there are certainly going be be beats that overlap. But it was with the death of Grandpa and stuffing him in the trunk that really sold me on the whole idea. At first, I thought the comparisons were fairly simple. But it really does make a solid double feature with the original Vacation. Richard Hoover and Clark Griswold share far too much in common for me to ignore. Clark is easy to laugh at. He's meant to be the comic protagonist. Richard, however, is rarely a laughable character. If anything, he's the most punchable character. He says mean things. He's obsessed with his own mythology. But ideologically, they are fundamentally the same person. Both characters are goal-oriented to the point of comic mischief. I think the good road movie needs to have Clarks and Richards. After all, we are aware that any sane family would simply bow out when the cost of the trip outweighed the benefits of the trip. But that character must be super punchable to make that happen.
Because these characters see themselves as the martyr to an unforseen goddess. Clark, with his trip across the country, honestly believes in the legend of the family vacation. I'm a dad and I love family trips. But I'm not the dad who is obsessed with making people miserable just to say that we had a great outcome at the end. Nope. I'm all about comfort and relaxing. But I know the type like Clark and Richard. Clark sees these trials as gifts to his family. He is bringing everyone together, despite the protestations of others. He is the hero of his story because he's saving his family. While it is easy to see Clark's attitude as skewed, Richard takes the same attitude and grounds it somewhat in reality. Richard is a terrible parent. The tension around Richard is palpable. Watching everyone at the table eating chicken allows us to see the family dynamic clearly. Okay, Olive doesn't hate Richard, but she doesn't have the capability for hate. But Richard sees an objective good to be done: Olive's competition.
Because Olive is so excited to go to Little Miss Sunshine, Richard is able to reconcile two disparate elements to his personality: winning and being liked. When Richard's on all of his high horses about winning, he comes off like a jerk. But the fact that he is willing to drive Olive all the way to California to make this little girl's dream come true, he actually believes that he is the shepherd of some noble cause. I mean, we all see that he's just deluding himself. But from Richard's perspective, he sees his obsessive personality paying off for something that is far greater than himself. It's because the other family members don't have a leg to stand on when it comes to Richard's idea to go across the country in a van that Richard sees himself supporting his toxic personality trait: winning.
There's also this cool juxtaposed connection between Frank (Steve Carell) and Eddie (Randy Quaid). Frank and Eddie serve as exiled commentators on the events of the story. After all, this character should not be there. In Clark and Richard's minds, the way that they act around their family is different from the way that they act around extended family. As far as I remember, and I may be wrong, but both Frank and Eddie are their spouse's brothers. They are outsiders in their eyes. Also, their personalities are in conflict with the protagonist's own. For Clark, Eddie represents laissez-faire parenting. Clark, the bastion of perfection in the face of failure, has a guy who embodies being cool with failure. Richard, a man who is obsessed with success and accolades, is being judged by someone who actually is considered successful, despite his recent bout with suicide. Frank is falling from success and Richard can't get his success off the ground.
The rest of the family kind of fits too, but perhaps in a less grandiose manner. The grandparents are both caustic personalities added to the story for comic relief. In the case of Little Miss Sunshine, Grandpa is actually kind of likable. Like, he's a little rapscallion. Dwayne is really a stand-in for Audrey. This is a real bummer comment to make, but Audrey always had the least to do in the Vacation movies. Really, the movie focuses way more on Russ. But because Dwayne is silent, that has to be a metaphor for the ignored kid. With the case of Paul Dano's Dwayne and his silence, that is far more compelling than Audrey's arc in the Vacation films. All this really leaves is Russ and Olive. I have a harder connection with this one, except for the fact that they both serve as cheerleaders for the group. Russ is far more lo-key than Olive. He can be a bit more whiny. But as Olive serves as moral support for Richard when everyone is against him, Russ is the guy who cracks open a can of beer with his dad in the desert.
Before I close up, I do want to look at the one big criticism I have of the movie: Richard. I like Greg Kinnear. But is it just me, or is Richard a bit too intense? I realize that he's unlikable. He's supposed to be. I'm all on board for that. But at one point, Richard loses all sense of self-awareness. Like, even if he's kind of a bad guy at heart, there are certain things that we can chalk up to reading a room. The scene that is most infuriating for everyone has to be the ice cream scene. There's a table full of people who are clearly mortified that he's fat shaming his young daughter. They all make this grandiose gesture to support Olive's desire for ice cream and Richard still pushes. It's moments like these that make him almost a caricature of an unfeeling character versus the reality of the situation.
Regardless, I adore this movie. Okay, adore might be a strong word. The movie has heart where it needs it. Yeah, it's twee. I don't care. It's about people who all wear their hearts on their sleeves and it makes for a compelling movie. Sure, the bones of the movie are just National Lampoon's Vacation. But it still makes for a heartwarming tale about family.
PG, but there's a lot of violence and language. This movie is right on the cusp of the introduction of PG-13. I'm not sure it completely deserves a PG-13 by '80s standards. But the '80s were cool with non-f-bombs being thrown around pretty willy nilly. Also, this is one of those movies where the bullies get way too intense. Like, it's one of those movies where the bullies should end up as serial killers. So there's some blood and scary situations. Also, Johnny rolls a joint in the high school bathroom. I had no idea what was happening as a kid, but my jaw dropped. I'm also going to look at the whole chosen-white-male narrative, coupled with the all-Asians-know-karate stereotype.
DIRECTOR: John G. Avildsen
We just finished up the rewatch of Community last night. I hope that someone is beating me to the punch on the rest of this idea, but I forgot that there was an entire episode about Annie and Chang doing a community theater production of The Karate Kid. I'm in this point in my life where I want the things that I considered modern classics to survive, but also acknowledging that a lot of these movies might not hold up to the test of time. Part of that might come from simple things that we thought were rad at the time. Others might come from upsetting stereotypes. But The Karate Kid, for as much fun as my kids may have had during this movie, doesn't really hold up as well as I thought it would. I mean, I still want to see Cobra Kai when it comes to Netflix, but that's a whole different ball of wax.
The one thing that I noticed very quickly is how little depth there was to the movie. The movie starts with Daniel and Mom's trip across the country to California. Without much context for Daniel's love of New Jersey, the movie assumes that we get that Daniel is going to be a fish out of water. All this really does for us is present a protagonist that has a chip on his shoulder already. I mean, I think Daniel's a cool guy, as does the people who live in his apartment complex. But Daniel is dealing with the same emotions as Riley in Inside Out. But whereas Inside Out does us the courtesy of stressing on the internal conflict of Riley, Daniel's angst is just a means to get him to learn karate. There's this really interesting to story about a kid who is just trying to find his way in a new home with a girl that is completely out of his social class, but instead it is a means to get him to crane kick people in the face.
The thing is, there's a version of The Karate Kid that is possibly a masterpiece. I know. I'm swinging for the fences here. The episode revealed that the interesting element of The Karate Kid was not focusing on Daniel Larusso and his tournament with the Cobra Kai. As goofy as the episode is, the real interesting stuff is the characterization and background of Mr. Miyagi. Miyagi is a bit of a hard sell in the 21st century. Considering that The Karate Kid seems aimed at ten-year-olds who want to break bricks, Miyagi acts as a problematic version of the sage archetype. He is the keeper of this mystical knowledge that will let this white kid instantly learn how to beat people up. It really should be stressed that there's no reason why Daniel does so well in the tournament. He went from VHS tapes about karate where he was horribly inept to being the champion, in the face of Cobra Kai competitors maiming him.
But there are these rays of sunlight with Miyagi's character. One of those elements of history that seems to be glossed over in a lot of American history classrooms (not all, geez. I'm not starting this debate because I teach this) is the concept of the Japanese internment camps during World War II. Miyagi has this really complex relationship with America. He was abused and mistreated in this country. He lost his wife and unborn child due to inadequate medical facilities in these camps. He was this respected solider who defied orders and lived the life of a hermit in America. But all this comes across in two scenes total. Morita gives so much in these scenes and you realize that these moments are in a movie about a white kid who learns karate. It's almost like the filmmakers were aware that they had a responsibility to tell a deeper story, but were stuck doing scenes at Golf 'N Stuff to make it seem as radical as possible.
From Miyagi's perspective, and this definitely isn't sold very hard, he's had a hard time identifying with America. He's an old man who could destroy anyone who comes across him, but he lives alone and works in isolation. He works for the South Seas apartment complex, a place that is clearly a dump. But he does his job with pride. (I don't know why he doesn't fix the swimming pool. That seems really out of character, but it also sells the concept that the South Seas apartment complex is garbage.) It is really implied that he hasn't bonded with anyone, but he has no hatred for America. Instead, he collects cars. He tends to his bonsai trees. Seeing this kid doing lame karate inspires him to invest in Daniel. I just don't really get why. I mean, part of it is seeing Daniel getting ripped apart near the fence. Okay, that's something. But it seems like Miyagi is on board with Daniel before that moment. Also, Miyagi gave Daniel a classic car. That seems a bit much.
I think Daniel O'Brien did something for Cracked back in the day about Daniel being the villain of the piece and Johnny as the hero. I think that Cobra Kai jumped on that concept. I tried watching the film critically with that lens. I don't see it. While Daniel is a bit too cocky and shoulders some toxic masculinity, a lot of that can be chalked up to age and situation. Ali seems interested in him. She established clear boundaries with Johnny, stressing that they were broken up. However, Johnny and his use of violence, especially to a stranger, is horrifying. I don't care that Johnny has a hint of redemption at the end. That moment with Johnny handing him the trophy is kind of malarky. We're supposed to get this acknowledgement that, as bad as Johnny is, he was only following the orders of a much more toxic adult. But Johnny is kind of a rapey psychopath.
I want to look at the scene at the country club dance. There's a throughline that is a little shoehorned about cultural values. It's hamfisted, but is at least there. Ali's parents see Daniel as cheap trash. Ali doesn't see him as cheap, but sees that everything in his life is a little more worn. The pushing of the car is a great physical manifestation of Daniel's insecurities. But the dance is kind of a big deal. Daniel is defensive of his economic status. It makes sense. After all, chasing Ali has been nothing but physically daunting and emotionally vulnerable. But when Johnny kisses her, Daniel goes running. Now, it's really weird that everyone hates on Daniel from this moment. Ali's friends always hated Daniel because they thought that he was beneath her. Okay. But Ali is mad at Daniel for not psychically knowing that she hit Johnny after the kiss? I mean, from Daniel's perspective, Ali was cheating on him with the worst guy imaginable.
I know that a lot of people call out Daniel for cheating at the end. Okay, part of me really wants to take that perspective on the film. After all, he does kick Johnny in the face. But there's also this throughline that needed to happen. The movie keeps beating Daniel down over and over. Because Cobra Kai kept breaking him, we gain this instant sympathy. He's barely upright, but the film connects this image of balance. Throughout the story, we learn that karate (again, this might not be the best universal truth a film ever presented) is about balance. It's about finding this defensive stance and keeping upright. By tying the end to the crane kick, we see something that the movie has been teasing throughout the film. It makes perfect sense that Daniel would sit out the final fight. But I'm going to give the film credit for ignoring the fact that a kick to the face should be illegal. It's this great unity of the movie's themes, coupled with this great underdog moment. Daniel wins through defense, not offense. We see this character shift from victim to defender. He wants Miyagi to make him an aggressor, like Johnny. After all, that's why Daniel investigates joining Cobra Kai. But it's in this moment that we see how much damage he could really do, and it's through not attacking.
But I'm going to shift back to the fluffiness of this movie. Daniel might be one of the worst examples of a protagonist in film. He's a kid who thinks his life is terrible. I don't deny that every character believes that there's something wrong in his life. But the movie really makes him into a fragile white hero. Rather than dealing with real problems, Miyagi gives this gift to someone who keeps poking bears throughout the story. It's not like Daniel (who I still agree is the hero of the story) is doing all he can to avoid Johnny and his crew. When things go wrong, he instantly goes into a fighting stance. He is obsessed with winning and salvaging his pride. When things die down with Johnny, he intentionally embarrasses him at the Halloween dance. There's all these moments where he should figure out how to deal with his problems in a responsible way. Also, Daniel's definition of poverty is light years away from actual poverty. He is comparatively poor. We feel bad for him because things aren't as bad as they could be. I am not the first person to mention that maybe Daniel could be played by someone whose story mirrored Miyagi's a little bit closer.
Also, I don't think I remembered how corny the movie was. Like, there are moments that are absolutely great in the movie, but the acting in a lot of cases is really stilted. It's a movie that has no idea how serious to treat itself. But I also have to acknowledge that my kids had a great time with it. My two year old was doing karate in front of the movie. It's a good time, if not absolutely silly. But we had a good time so I guess that's the point.
Rated R. As much as it is about a thriller about a man who wants to kill a prostitute, it also is a look at what it means to be a prostitute. Because of the sexual content, there is a casual nature towards nudity at times. Similarly, the movie does look at the effects of drugs. I don't remember anyone actually taking drugs on screen. The movie also is pretty violent, if you take into consideration some of the things said in a threatening manner. It's a pretty dark movie overall. R.
DIRECTOR: Alan J. Pakula
I love when my mom buys something off of my Amazon wish list and it ends up being wildly awkward. It keeps happening. The darkest stuff in my collection tends to be given as gifts. Since I collect Criterion releases, I often don't know about the content of the movie before I put it on the list. I just saw a movie that starred Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland. It's not like the movie is the most disturbing movie out there. But it is a pretty bleak look at the world of prostitution. You know, that's something that my mom probably didn't know when she bought it for me. Regardless, thanks, Mom! (Genuinely. I enjoyed the movie and it's got rad box art.)
My central argument about this movie is the name of the film. I know that there's a tradition in these kinds of movies to name the film after the male protagonist. I'm sure that there was a hope that Klute would take off in a series of films based after John Klute. Maybe a Klute's Return, Klute's Revenge, and Get Klute! But, alas, there's only one Klute film. But my big takeaway from this film is that this movie shouldn't be called Klute whatsoever. My small reason is that John Klute, as portrayed by Donald Sutherland, is without personality. Often, the protagonist acts as an avatar for the audience. But in the case of Klute, the titular hero is borderline just a substitute for the camera. He has absolutely no personality. That comes from the idea that Klute comes from a quiet suburban community and he's flung into the big city. To do this, the authors decide to make him withdrawn and quiet. After all, the city needs to be loud and bombastic. To give Klute a sense of fish-out-of-waterness, he is almost silent throughout the entire film. This means that most of his choices throughout the movie are reaction to stimuli. He's rarely the force of nature that a heroic protagonist is.
So if Klute himself is a church mouse, why isn't the film called "Bree". Because the film is about Bree, no doubt about that. Honestly, I don't think that the actual investigation is all that important. I cared so little about the Tom Gruberman storyline. Instead, I was really interested in what made Bree the way that she was. There are a bunch of scenes with Bree in therapy. We see all of this self-destructive behavior throughout the film. She is a prostitute who doesn't want to be in the life anymore. She went from having this great apartment and making tons of cash to someone who intentionally takes less money to live in what she considers squalor. But she keeps dabbling in that life. The movie doesn't portray her as happy or unhappy. Instead, it gives a far more complex reaction to a difficult situation. She acknowledges the power and control that she has in these situations brings her pleasure, even if she doesn't physically feel that excitement. But then she's also disappointment in her own lack of control in accepting these calls. It's this great duality of character. We see that, overall, she's miserable. But Fonda never really plays "miserable." She plays frustrated and annoyed by a lifetime of small choices that have gotten her in this place where she's worried about someone abusing her.
I'm really going to be on this thread, so just hang in there. When I think about this script, Donald Sutherland, the titular actor, has basically nothing to say. But the camera is on Fonda for the majority of the movie. It's so interesting, thinking of Fonda as this public figure. This is the role that won her the Academy Award. According to Wikipedia (and I'm an English teacher!), she followed around and lived with prostitutes. She has this sympathy towards her role in this movie that is so powerful. There's all this discussion about whether sex work should be regulated. There's no political background behind including Bree as such a prominent character in this movie, but Fonda reminds us of the humanity behind people who live this kind of life. Similarly, we assume that prostitution is one thing and the movie really contrasts Bree with what we associate with prostitution. We have the character of Arlyn. The movie stresses that this isn't one person representing a concept, but rather that people are people, regardless of employment or background.
I want to look at the end. I'm not sure if the movie knew what to do with the end. It's really weird that Bree is in love with Klute. It feels really artificial. It's part of the male fantasy to save someone who is vulnerable. It's part of what Bree sees in Klute immediately. But I don't know what Klute would see in Bree, shy of the fact that she's physically attractive. Remember, Klute has no personality. He rebuffs Bree's advances until she needs to stay there. But Bree treats him like dirt for the majority of the piece. But when she's at her therapist, she confesses that she's never felt this way about another human being. She's never been romantically attached to any of her johns. This is one of those tacked on relationships that actually opens the door to an interesting discussion. Bree ends the movie saying that there's no way that she could leave the big city, as much as she cares for John (I just got that his name is "John"). She says that she cares for him. When the phone rings and she gets another job, we get the mislead that she is going to continue hooking. But then she walks out the door with Klute and into her new life. This is one of those moments to imply that she's changed. But Fonda's voiceover tells a very different story. It says that she'll probably be back next week. It's an interesting story to tell. As the audience, we have a choice in this moment. We can say that this is all bluster, because Bree has been known to use bluster to compensate for the fact that she refuses to be vulnerable. Or it could be the honest truth. Part of me loves the ambiguity of this moment.
Because that belief that Klute can save Bree through love, as cynical as this is, seems to not match the message of the film. Bree is in therapy. Great. But it seems like Bree has a long way to go before she can start living a healthy life. It is hopeful that she's willing to leave her apartment, but what is that relationship going to look like? I can't stress enough that Bree is this well-developed character, so how can she stand the smallness of John Klute's life? Yeah, it's a bit cynical for me, as I mentioned. But it also seems to match what the story is telling. I mean, look at how Bree treats herself in that club. There's this person who just needs to let the crowd take her. She can be helped. Totally. But I don't know if a romantic relationship can help her. That feels Hollywood. But that last line of dialogue really sells that idea better.
It's so odd, that I like Klute not for the movie it presents, but for the movie it doesn't show. The Ted Gruberman / Mystery Man storyline is kind of a waste. Instead, that fear that is placed over the story is far more interesting. It's a very quiet movie about a woman who just wants to find herself. Jane Fonda totally deserved the Academy Award for that role because she's the best part of the movie. It doesn't need to be a thriller. It needs to be a story about a woman who is dealing with a mix of shame and pride. It's far more fascinating looking at that element.
Rated R for a lot of Eyes Wide Shut references...if you know what I mean. It is a bit of a raunchy romantic action comedy. There's language. There's violence, including a violent act that is played up for laughs involving killing a person. While tonally, it may seem light, the movie discusses graphic acts. There's some indirect nudity in the movie as well. For a raunchy comedy, it might be tame for some. But regardless, it's still a well-deserved R.
DIRECTOR: Michael Showalter
It's another day that I don't want to write. I've been putting this off for the better part of the day, but I'm 40 minutes away from my daughter going down for her nap. So I gotta knock this out and figure out what I want to say about this movie. This sounds super insulting, but thank goodness for low expectations. I love Kumail Nanjiani, but I also am really hesitant about Netflix's releases of comedies. It's been more miss than hit. But I needed something light considering that we've been alternating between I'll Be Gone in the Dark and Perry Mason on HBO Max. It worked out really well. For all my snarky aloofness, The Lovebirds is a far better comedy, despite having a fairly well-tread plot to it.
This movie flies because it has a lot of talent behind it. While I know Nanjiani from his standup and his work on Silicon Valley, I don't know much about Issa Rae. Oh my goodness. She might be one of my favorite leading ladies after this movie. Like I mentioned, the story is pretty hashed out. The formula of innocents being thrown into a world of crime and mayhem has been worn to death. But the formula allows for a filmmaker to add his or her own jokes in the journey. But the movie, with its use of this journey, really is just an excuse for the two protagonists to shine and tell jokes. Honestly, while we belly laughed at some of the slapstick scenarios in the movie, most of the real joy came out of the conversations that Nanjiani shared with Rae. They have a really good back and forth and that's what made the movie completely memorable.
I always find it so fascinating that Michael Showalter is a director for hire considering that he's so rebellious and contrarian in terms of his brand of humor. I associate Showalter with his work with The State and Wet Hot American Summer. But I see his name attached to a lot of movies that you wouldn't think. He does a lot of rom-coms, which I never really understand. But The Lovebirds is a nice in-between compromise for a guy like him. It has a fairly accessible story and script, but still feels subversive enough to give the film a bit of edge at times. I jump back to the Eyes Wide Shut homage, which is so over-the-top that it reminds us of the absurdity of the original work. Yet, Showalter is playing in dangerous waters. He has to make this overtly sexual cult sequence in the middle of his film, yet knows that he's not going to go anywhere near Kubrick's NC-17 rating. It's great because the innuendo of the entire sequence enough to feel ribald without being overtly graphic.
Also, there's something genius about the fact that, while The Lovebirds is straight up riding out a trope, it is also commenting on that trope. I'm thinking of films like Game Night. Listen, I liked Game Night enough. It did its job. It made me laugh. But Game Night didn't really find anything ironic about the absurdity of the situation. Game Night felt more like another copy of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. But I have to give a round of applause to The Lovebirds for doing the most subversive response imaginable. The thing is, I kind of guessed the ending. But I always guess the ending that happened. I wanted the cops to know from moment one that it wasn't them. How perfect is that? I mean, the actual end where the bad cop kidnaps them was pretty on the nose. But I adored that these two got into so much trouble because they simply wouldn't do the most obvious thing in the world. That's great.
But I'm kind of at a loss about what the movie is trying to say about relationships. It's message is a bit muddled. Part of the problem is that its obvious message is so over-the-top. These two belong together and they have forgotten what made them like each other to begin with. Okay, rad. But what necessarily stops them from doing the same thing again. I mean, The Amazing Race is great and all, but there does some to be some kind of fundamental differences between each other. I mean, when we see this couple after the three year jump, things do seem pretty toxic. Part of it comes from Jibran's lack of adventure and Leilani's attachment to social media. But if that was it, it would absolutely silly that these two would be together for three years.
Remember what Speed's message about relationships in the wake of a shared trauma was about? The Lovebirds seems to be taking the opposite (kind of) approach to the narrative of love. Speed kept repeating that Keanu and Bullock shouldn't get together because nothing good comes out of that kind of relationship. Of course, When Harry Met Sally did the same thing by preaching one message only to stymie that idea. But Speed 2: Cruise Control (yup) confirmed the message of the first film by breaking up Keanu and Bullock. Lovebirds has everyone looking at this couple. The comment on how annoying these two people are and then insist that they really belong together. Yeah, in terms of telling a romantic story in the midst of an action comedy, it mostly does a lot of the heavy work. But I also don't know if there's anything real being said about relationships in this movie.
Don't get me wrong. I don't want the movie ending with them breaking up. That seems like a bit too much like a bummer evening for such a light movie. But I don't know if there's anything that can be taken away from this film when it comes to relationships. Perhaps if they actually tried talking their problems out instead of being sardonic. Perhaps couples counseling is what is really needed. But the movie doesn't really take a hard stance. Instead, and this is me reaching a bit, is that maybe people remind you of their best traits in the time of a crisis. Both of these people instantly put aside their garbage when it is time to get a goal achieved, which is noble, I guess. But is that really the basis of a relationship?
That's really because the movie is artificially about growth. The two character grow because we're told that they grow. Really, both Jibran and Leilani are the same people from the beginning of the film as they are in the end. But that's also kind of okay in a romantic comedy like this because we like those people. Also, they fell in love with that person. I wish there was just some acknowledgment that couples need to love each other in the boring times and the exciting times. By having the couple on The Amazing Race at the end is a cute callback, it also is a reminder that these two might be completely toxic for each other. They flounder when the world gets boring. There can't always be an Amazing Race, can there? Are there couples like that? Man, that probably gets to be pretty expensive. Also, it probably makes the real world seem REALLY boring.
Regardless, I love these two together. Perhaps it got a little weird because, as much as I adored Issa Rae in this film, I can't stop seeing Kumail Nanjiani without Emily Gordon. Gordon doesn't seem to do any acting, which has got to be a weird relationship thing. At least in The Big Sick, it was their baby together. This was me just seeing Kumail cheating on Emily. See, this is why I shouldn't invest in people's personal lives through podcasts. Lots of actors are married and have to pretend to be in love with someone else. It's just that I love Kumail and Emily so much that it just became weird. But you also hear how much I enjoyed the movie? So it doesn't matter. This was just a discussion that my wife and I had while watching the movie. It's kind of how I couldn't watch Mission: Impossible III immediately after Tom Cruise was jumping up and down on a couch on Oprah. Sometimes, it's hard separating the actor from the role.
I heard that a lot of people didn't enjoy the movie. That's reasonable. But in terms of silly comedies, I think that this might be the best thing that Netflix has released. It has great chemistry. The director is rad. The actors are on top of their game. I totally dug it. All this hype in mind, also go in with low expectations. Part of what made the movie great was that it caught me off guard. It won't change a life, but it is an entertaining evening for sure.
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.