PG-13 for implied nudity, but mostly for sexual harassment and murder. The movie gets pretty grizzly because, despite the fact that Psycho was a fictional film, Hitchcock embraces its real world roots, focusing on the inspiration that Ed Gein provided. There's sexuality as well, as one of the characters has an affair and the movie surrounds the notion of both the physical affair and the emotional affair. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sacha Gervasi
I'm in one of those moods that I really don't want to write. When I was doing this blog years ago, I would search the score of the film I was writing about on YouTube. That would always put me in the mindset of what I was feeling when I watching the movie for the first time. I haven't done that in a while. Often, I find that Lofi study music videos often do the job. But I can't help but put on Bernard Herrmann's Psycho suite to inspire me. So far, it is working.
I don't know how to approach this movie. I mean, I really liked it. I mean, I'm not a biopic guy. I've complained about my fair share of biopics on this blog and I treat them ultimately as skewed fiction as opposed to cold, hard truth. After all, there needs to be some structure to maintain storytelling. But Alfred Hitchcock is an enigma for me. No doubt, he's one of my favorite directors. (This isn't selling me very well, because another one of my favorite directors is Woody Allen, which makes me look like a deviant.) But a few years ago, Tippi Hedren came out that Alfred Hitchcock had sexually assaulted her. I took that as fact because I had never met Hitchcock because that would be breaking the rules of space and time and I love me some rules. But then I brought this up to my graduate film teacher when discussing Hitch in class. She called it all bogus, an attempt by Hedren to get people to buy her book. She claimed that Hitchcock led a life of love to Alma and was a fine and nice man. Well, I was in a pickle, because I always want to be in the "believe women" camp.
But then something like Hitchcock comes along and reasserts the grossness that he may have personified. It's odd, because Hitchcock at its roots is a very sweet film about marriage and the bumps along the way. But the film doesn't want to necessarily worship at the feet of Alfred Hitchcock. Instead, it is a bit of a "warts and all" attitude that surrounds the film. Hitch is still seen as the master of cinema that he has earned as a director. But he's also a man who maybe disrespects boundaries a bit too much. There's no full on sexual assault. But there is this desire to be liked by attractive women, particularly blondes (even if that blonde hair is artificial.) Hitch becomes the antagonist of his own film, often self-sabotaging for the sake of his own fragile male ego. It isn't attractive.
Yet, the movie asks us to root for Hitch and Alma throughout, despite the fact that Alma is playing it more fast and loose with her relationship to Whit in the story. I'm going to pause for a second and look this guy up for a second and see what his deal was. (Aaaaannnnddd I'm back.) Apparently, Whitfield Cook did try to seduce Alma in real life and that's gross as heck. Yet, Alma comes across as sympathetic in this piece. I'm such a darned hypocrite because I know that I would be furious with my wife is she started hanging out with a lothario like Whit, especially knowing that he was just using Alma to get to Hitch. But Hitch is definitely kind of gross. In an era where Harvey Weinstein has his deserved connotation when it comes to seducing women from a place of power, there's nothing that sympathetic about Hitch's abuse of power. He's never overtly sexual. He's not someone who makes a direct trade for seduction. He is just someone who inserts himself into women's lives. It's his relationship with Vera Miles that focuses that inappropriate behavior into something tangible.
So then how is it all touching? I mean, I left this movie completely touched. Perhaps it all comes down to a really well written line. Hitch: "You are the most beautiful Hitchcock Blonde." Alma: "I've been waiting 30 years for you to say that." Hitch: "And that, my dear, is why they call me the Master of Suspense." Yeah, it's corny, but you know what? It's also perfect. Because as much as I'm worried about the toxicity of the Hitchcock marriage, it seems like it is more healthy than it is self-destructive. I mean, I'm not going to use it as a guidepost for marriage advice. But it seems like Hitch and Alma really love each other and it comes from respect. So even though it seems like the A-plot of the film is the creation of Psycho, Hitch's most successful movie, it is really the attempt to save his marriage from falling apart. The reason that we care about the marriage is not just because it is a marriage. It is because that marriage is unique and special. That's the thing that makes the movie worth watching. It's a bit ironic, the fact that Hitch wasn't about the emotions of a scene, yet his biopic uses vulnerability as the lynchpin to make it work.
The Ed Gein stuff is interesting. I don't really buy it. I never got the vibe that Hitch was that divorced from reality that he would have discussions with an incarcerated Ed Gein in his mind. That seems very Hollywood-y. There's something so grim and upsetting about the world of Ed Gein in comparison to the world of Hitch or even Norman Bates. The thing about Ed Gein is that he didn't come across as charming. He wasn't Norman Bates or Anthony Perkins. He was a monster who embraced his own lack of humanity and there is old Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock just having polite conversation with him, which is a bit striking. Yet, there is something about these scenes that works with me. I think it allows for us to understand the heightened world of storytelling that we never really get to see in his movies. It's when Hitch tells a joke about the macabre after what we had just seen that we're reminded about how dark Hitch's humor really was.
It's a good movie. I really liked it. I mean, I don't know what is true or not. I suppose that I might never know. So many versions of the story exist out there and I want to believe that he was a noble guy. But he might be as gross as Hedren stated. Regardless, this movie kind of slaps.
PG and hilariously so. Thunderball might be the most troubling Bond movie, especially considering that it came out in 1965. In terms of aggressive sexuality, the Bond of Thunderball ties to live up to the reputation that Fleming's James Bond had earned in the collective consciousness. There's a lot of boundary issues that Bond abuses in this one. There's also a comfort with violence that traditionally stayed off screen in other Bond movies. But this is James Bond, so expect some raunch. There's some really brief nudity, so keep that in mind.
DIRECTOR: Terence Young
Why don't I love this movie? I mean, I had a poster of this movie hanging up in my room in high school. I should be absolutely smitten by this film. In terms of quintessential Bondiness, it has just about everything going for it. But I swear, every time I watch this movie, I find myself just a little too bored to consider this movie to be a great film. I can just imagine my high school self meeting me today and just feeling betrayed about my ambivalence for Thunderball. But I think that it took a lot of soul searching to get to this truth: Thunderball isn't a great movie.
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with it. It's not a bad movie, by any stretch. There are problematic things with it, but it also is a Bond movie that exists in the 1960s, so keep that in mind. But the concern that I realized that I had with Thunderball is that it is absolutely a filler of a film. I was having a discussion with my friends about the perfect length of a season of television. I'm in the 10-12 episode camp. Ten to twelve episodes is a tight storyline that can have ups and downs without too much filler. When a season hits 22 episodes, there are completely forgettable episodes in there. Does this mean that I'm disappointed when a season of Doctor Who or Discovery ends? Totally. But I also know that from a binging perspective, that story is going to play a lot nicer than something that just keeps dragging along. Thunderball, for all of the stakes presented in the film doesn't ever feel like it is a movie that matters. With From Russia with Love, we get this hint that SPECTRE is something to be dealt with. It references Dr. No and says that the events of that film were all under the greater banner of this secret organization bent on world domination. We get to meet the man in the chair, the man who would ultimately be revealed to be Ernst Starvo Blofeld.
But look at the scope of SPECTRE in From Russia with Love. There's a training ground. There's a boat. There are Japanese fighting fish. It just seems so intense. So when we go a movie without SPECTRE in Goldfinger, we want the grandeur of SPECTRE to be there. Instead, we have a bunch of guys in a room and an electrocution chair. I know that the movie tells us that SPECTRE is everywhere, but it doesn't really give off that vibe compared to what we see in From Russia with Love. If anything, the movie is trying to be more enigmatic about the scope of this evil organization. We know nothing of Blofeld and the story doesn't advance at all. It almost feels like Thunderball backtracks on its promise that Bond would be facing his ultimate enemy. Now, some of this might be on me. After all, I know that You Only Live Twice is coming, the confrontation of James Bond and Blofeld on the horizon. Gone would be this faceless character and instead, I'll be able to see Donald Pleasance's scarred face as he goes one-on-one with Bond.
Instead, I'm left with Largo. Largo, from a description, sounds like the most Bond-y villain of all time. I mean, Austin Powers had a field day with having Number Two in their film, modelled after Emilio Largo. But Largo himself seems to simply a voice for a disembodied Blofeld. He is so cool about everything, yet wildly incompetent in the grand scheme of things. He is unable to kill Bond, but always gets reprimanded for trying. Fiona Volpe points out that, if Bond is killed, they'll know that the bombs are in Nassau. I like this logic, but I'm pretty sure that even trying to kill Bond should be a big red flag that the bombs are in Nassau. If you tried and didn't kill him, perhaps the cat is out of the bag and that Largo should just finish the job. Bond clearly reports that he's being constantly under fire by a guy who is super suspicious the entire time. Volpe's argument might not hold the weight that the movie implies it should.
But this movie does feel more sadistic than the other Bond movies up to this point. Part of it comes from wanting to be more. The Bond formula is in place by this point. Between Sean Connery, jokes, Q branch, and giant army sequences shown off by this film's predecessors, everything was already there. So, like the problem with a lot of the Bond films, the movie just tries pushing and squeezing more into the same amount of time. This is where things get a little gross. Bond is straight up disgusting in this one. It might be the worst he gets in the franchise. He blackmails a woman into sex at a club and proceeds to make her life miserable. She then wishes to pursue the relationship where he does a rude "Gotta go!" before driving off. He then is tasked with seducing Domino, who reads as young. I know that there's a line that she's prostituting herself out to Largo, but keeps the guise that Largo is her guardian. Then there's the very vague relationship that he has with Paula, which only seems romantic due to her reaction to when Volpe enters her hotel room. Then there's Volpe. Volpe is the weirdest of the group because they know that they are both playing each other. Why have all that sexy time if they're just going to fight later?
But the movie also seems to be savage towards women. The women in this movie are tortured and punished for being women. Patricia from the spa says "No" to all of Bond's advances. When something outside of her control happens, she has to agree to Bond's advances so she doesn't lose her job. Yeah, it's not surprising that the movie really plays up the "She doth protest too much" vibe considering that it's a Bond movie from the '60s, but it isn't exactly subtle when it comes to Patricia's intent in that sequence. Domino is the official Bond girl for the movie, yet she is burned and cooled as a form of torture. I know that Fleming had earned a reputation for being a bit of a sadist with his Bond books, but this is the moment that really solidifies how messed up things get with this movie. Then Bond kills Volpe and just leaves her to be found by the club's owners. It's really just disturbing all around. I know that Timothy Dalton and Daniel Craig would embrace the fact that Bond is a cold-blooded killer, but I think that Sean Connery in Thunderball also sells the same story.
The final thing I have to say (I think!) is the fact that a lot of the beats of this movie feel like Dr. No. I'm sure that, because both movies are set in tropical paradises, it comes from the setting. But we have Bond discovering girls on the beach. Felix Leiter, by the way, apparently is a CIA who only likes getting stationed in tropical locations because he never made an appearance in From Russia with Love. Sure, Kentucky doesn't seem to be a big warm place in Goldfinger, but I'm pretty sure that he's in Miami as well. It just feels like a big old re-tread of the same thing and that initial movie wasn't even that great.
So it's not for me. I want to love it, but Thunderball is just that filler episode of TV for me. It doesn't really deliver on anything new, but instead just tries to do more when the next movie would do the heavy lifting.
Rated R. I'm going to be talking about this as the crux of my blog, but Steve McQueen includes a lot of horror imagery in his slave narrative. This is one of those brutal movies that stresses the reality of a despicable era in American history. It's meant to upset you. As part of that, there's blood, violence, gore, sexuality, rape, and language. It is a brutal film that justifies its own brutality. R.
DIRECTOR: Steve McQueen
I can't believe that I've been watching Academy Award nominated movies for as long as I have been. I questioned whether I watched this movie in the past five years and then I saw that this movie came out in 2013, meaning that is the last time I saw this movie. It was one of those movies that I really rooted for (and it won Best Picture!), but thought that I never wanted to see again. Some of the greatest movies involving gore are so uncomfortable to watch that it makes me appreciate it from an artistic perspective, but abhors me to realize that there might be something toxic about getting comfortable with that imagery. It's kind of involves ensuring that I'll never get desensitized to that kind of violence. Traditional horror movies, sure. I like those. But there's something that moves you to your soul with films like 12 Years a Slave or The Passion of the Christ that you want to die a little bit. And there's something precious about wanting to hold onto that little death. I also acknowledge that there also is an element that says "This isn't about me and how dare I try to preserve that emotion." But you can't win all of them.
The first time I watched 12 Years a Slave, it knocked me on my butt. It should. It's an unbridled look at the horrors that Americans are capable of. But at the end of the day, I thought it was just a really good movie about slavery. McQueen showed off that he could make a visceral movie that looked absolutely gorgeous and that was my big takeaway. But then movies like Get Out came out and I realized that horror doesn't have to be one thing. Part of this is going to be hardcore white knighting, but I had been living a pre-anti-Racist philosophy. Now, I'm really trying to push myself out of my comfort zone. Why I bring myself into it is that my 2013 version of the movie was a form of voyeurism. I had distanced myself from Solomon Northup and subconsciously viewed him as "Other." He was not me. While I empathized, I never sympathized. I always distanced myself from him because I was not Black. This was the story of a traumatic time in American history. But to me, it was over. This happened to him and that was the story.
But McQueen wasn't making the movie for 2013 me. (Or maybe he was, but I wasn't ready to shift out of my comfort zone.) Instead, McQueen was making a horror movie that a lot of people viewed as a reality. Solomon Northup takes a job, gets drunk once, and finds himself a slave for twelve years. That slavery is not the slavery of the textbook, that might stress the concept of the happy slave or the noble slave master. Instead, McQueen made a movie that stresses the reality of the miseries and tortures of slavery of any kind. And Northup's tale both serves to be the ideal story to tell about slavery due to Northup's education and variety of slaveowners; but similarly becomes oddly typical of the slave experience. That's where the horror element comes in. When Solomon Northup doesn't act as the other, but as an avatar for the audience, there's something that hits a different level than what I was ready for.
Northup actually serves as an ideal avatar for the audience. He knows perfectly what is happening. There's a consciousness of the evils being forced upon him and those he cares about. He often is smarter and more emotionally mature than those who claim to be his superiors. While there is no formal narration, Northup's reactions and observance of the realities of day-to-day slave life is telling. Chiwetel Ejiofor has these perfect responses to each moment. Because he starts off the film as a freeman, he has this dignity that he's always hiding and desperate to preserve. When he loses his cool over things that are genuinely unjust, we --as the audience --cringe because we have an unfair understanding of history. But we also acknowledge that we might have defended ourselves long before that moment. It's heartbreaking because there is no right answer. And, like horror movies, the movie stresses the absence of hope. It's frustrating.
Everything in the movie is matter-of-fact. That's the traumatic element of it all. One of the most horrific visuals I've ever seen in a horror movie is one where there was nothing special done on screen. It's probably not even a special effect. I'm referring to the moment in the OG Texas Chainsaw Massacre where Leatherface kills someone with a sledgehammer to the head. The victim collapses and convulses and the camera doesn't move. That's the movie. There are all of these awful things that happen to the slaves that are degrading and sheer torture. But there is no special effect. There's no cutting away. These things just happen. If the music swelled to a crescendo, it would oddly be more comforting. There would be something artificial that we could grasp onto, reminding ourselves that it is just a movie. Instead, McQueen focuses his camera right on the action and refuses to cut away. Often, the only soundtrack to these sequences is the rise and fade of cicadas in the hot Georgian summer. That's way worse. The most famous shot in the movie is the long cut of Northup hanging surviving because he chooses to by the tips of his toes. But that's typical of the entire movie. The entire movie is that brutal long shot that reminds us that it takes only a second to understand that people died on the regular. All it took was a choice to accept death.
Northup's story is extremely compelling, but seeing slavery through Northup's eyes is probably the most viscerally upsetting thing. Northup's relationship to other slaves is torture. Early in his kidnapping, he befriends Eliza, who will not stop moaning about her children. We all relate to Northup in this moment. He needs her to stop, not only for the sake of his own sanity, but for the good of Eliza herself. But his condemnation of Eliza shows the instant caste system that happens when people are oppressed. He has completely compartmentalized his family and it is a criticism on him for being able to do so. There becomes this attack that also points back on himself. He questions his fidelity to his children and that's heartbreaking. But even more reflective of the dangers that Northup is in are the small moments. Eliza is a memorable character. But the most haunting moment of the film is when Northup tries to escape for a second. He runs in the woods a few feet before he realized how densely violent the South was during this period. He runs into slave trackers hanging two Black men. And they simply expect Northup to be used to something like that. The notion that death is casual is disturbing as get out and that's just the way it was.
Yeah, I'm going to go there. We're close to this era again. I mean, there are a few steps that need to happen for this to be legal, but movies like 12 Years a Slave remind us what life would be like if we didn't have laws forbidding these kinds of acts. There used to be a time where the majority of America would instantly think of slavery as abhorrent. I'm sure people would still say that they find slavery disgusting. But I'm also a lot more cynical about America than I was in 2013. If slavery became legal again, there would be a vocal minority who would embrace it. Then there would be all these people claiming that it would be those people's rights to have slaves. It wouldn't take as long as we would think for the world to return to this and it really really depresses me. I've seen more racism in the past four years than I thought imaginable and it depresses me.
Rated R for horror action violence. I'm going to make a parallel between Aliens and Jurassic Park for this one, but I would like to state that Cameron almost forces himself to go creepier than he'd like for the sake of making a sequel to a pretty creepy movie. But I also noticed that we don't have a lot of gore outside of what happens to Bishop, the artificial person. But I can't ignore that chest-bursters are a thing that I've grown eerily comfortable with. R.
DIRECTOR: James Cameron
Of course James Cameron says that the longer version of the movie is the better version.
Ridley Scott introduces his director's cut of Alien saying something really refreshing. To paraphrase, he states that the theatrical cut was the one he prefers, but that the Director's Cut was simply something that he was paid to do for the die hard Alien fans. And I completely agree with that. It's actually what made me stop knee-jerking towards watching alternate cuts of movies. Sometimes, an alternate cut is just something to make people shell out a few extra bucks when the original is actually the intended version. But with James Cameron, he likes everything he makes to be epic. I will say, I have some opinions regarding Aliens, special edition or no. I'm not sure if I watched the original cut or the special edition before, but I'm going to just pretend that the version that I just watched is the canon version of the movie and go from there.
I used to really hate on Aliens. It's still not a perfect movie. If anything, I'm going to gripe about one moment of the movie to the point where it will make me feel petty, but I acknowledge my own faults and, to a certain extent, embrace these faults. I have always known Aliens' reputation. It was always the superior sequel in the public view to a pretty darned good movie. I never saw this. In my head, there are only a handful of perfect films and the theatrical cut of Alien might be one of those movies. I always viewed Aliens as a movie that was for meatheads. Sorry, I have always been irresponsibly judgmental, so keep all of this in consideration for how awful of a person I actually am. But the big problem was that it completely nerfed the eponymous monsters.
This is something that I've returned to time and again. The first movie always has a tank of a creature. The sequels think that bigger is better, so they add more creatures. But all that means is that the creatures in the sequel won't be impossible to kill. Remember the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series finale? Of course you do, who am I kidding? Buffy nearly gets wrecked by one of those uber-vamps and only by sheer luck and the grace of God does she manage to destroy it. Cut to the Hellmouth, teeming with those things. In the finale, I'm pretty sure every member of the Scoobies takes out at least one of those things. That's kind of what is happening here. Now, I know what the argument is going to be. "Now we have Space Marines." Yes, you do have space marines. But that first xenomorph took some damage. I mean, we're looking at fire and the works. In this one, the monsters just get wrecked with the knowledge that we're following zombie rules. The scary parts about zombies are their sheer numbers. But that shouldn't be the case with xenomorphs. They should be these little unstoppable tanks. The Queen in this movie? That was the challenge level of the previous xenomorph in the first movie.
Okay, that's off my chest. All this leads to me to a key concept that I never really grasped before. Aliens might be an absolutely fantastic movie and everyone's right...but only if you ignore the first movie. Aliens almost doesn't feel like a sequel to the original film. Sure, Ripley's back. Thanks goodness because Ripley is the ur-leading lady. She has the same problem of men not listening to her, despite her prudent instincts. Instead of saving the cat, she's saving Newt. (Poor Newt. I know she dies in the next one, which makes a lot of Ripley's choices in this far less important.) But tonally, it's more of an action movie than a horror movie. This is where the Jurassic Park comparison comes in. These movies structurally are pretty darned similar. Like Alien, I consider Jurassic Park to be a perfect film. While being a story about monsters being out of control and hunting humans, a lot of the issues come down to corporations trying to play God. We have voices of reason coupled with complete boobs who are used to juxtapose level-headedness with the insanity of the situation. The suspense is all there. Heck, I'll go as far as saying that Aliens, with a little fat trimming, could easily become a PG-13 movie.
So if I consider Jurassic Park to be a perfect film and that Aliens is a well-crafted film that has a lot of the same plot structure (and to boot, years before Jurassic Park came out), why don't I have that same obsessive love for Aliens? I mean, I tend to critique it a lot. But I think it all comes down to the fine line of expectations. For a while, like the Mission: Impossible movies, each entry was trending towards being a director showcase. But there wasn't enough of a line down the center to stress that. Look at the directors of the first four movies and tell me that it isn't a who's who of great directors! It's stunning. Yet, I can't help but thinking that Aliens is meant to be a direct sequel to the first film. With the Mission: Impossible movies, each film was a stand-alone involving the same character. So if Aliens came first, I think I would be in love with this movie. It's scary and violent.
But it isn't perfect. Basically, I'm ping-ponging between the goods and the bads, so bear with me. A better writer would have planned this all out, but I'm fighting the clock here and I'm wicked sleepy. There is a moment in the movie that absolutely drives me nuts. It's bad writing. The movie has stress that the place is going to go thermonuclear, you know, like the original Nostromo. They also have to nerf the Marines so they get wrecked in the first confrontation with the xenomorphs. Ripley informs Gorman that they are sitting on an area that can't sustain gunfire because if they shoot, the whole place plus forty miles will explode. Because Ripley doesn't feed the information to the Colonial Marines and leaves it to Gorman, it comes across as a bureaucratic bit of idiocy. Vasquez and Hudson, the two alpha warriors, ignore the command and sneak a magazine to save, just in case. So the movie sets up a rule: If you fire in this area, we all die. The movie then teases that someone is going to break that rule. They do break that rule.
And no consequences.
That's not good storytelling. Part of me wants to forgive it. It's setting up something for the last act of the movie, but it makes Ripley kind of in charge of the deaths of the Marines. Yeah, Gorman, the unlikable character, is the one who gives the order. But Ripley is the one pulling the strings of that whole scenario. We forget that Ripley makes that call because the entire series is about her making the right call in the face of the bureaucrats. But it is given to Gorman and that scene just doesn't work. It actually bugs me a lot. It's a Chekhov's gun that isn't fired. (I keep using this phrase and I apologize. But this is a really good example.)
But there's so much of this movie that does work that I've never noticed before. I love how Cameron has you like Burke before you hate him. He's this guy who clearly represents the company. Borderline from moment one when this guy enters, he establishes that he shouldn't be trusted, but asks for your trust anyway. Casting Paul Reiser in this role is a stroke of genius. It's a perfect example of casting against type. Burke plays into a lot of Ripley's neuroses, as do Bishop and Newt. Cameron's pretty smart to play up with the consequences of the first movie and just pours salt into wounds. While I would have loved to see Ripley dealing more with the "woman-out-of-time" element introduced (mainly because it makes her look kind of unsympathetic that she got over her dead daughter due to pilot error), the introduction of Newt as her new daughter is awesome. Ripley doesn't come across as a stereotypical mom, being always right and maternal. Instead, it gives the title of motherhood a degree of power and that's rad. Similarly, making Ripley fallible with her distrust of Bishop is really interesting. I love the contrast between Bishop and Ian Holm's character from the first movie.
So I'll admit that I'm mostly wrong about Aliens. Yeah, the bullets in the tunnel thing still bothers me, but it is a far better movie than I gave it credit for. I now get why people really like it. It's just that I will always love Alien more.
TV-MA, mainly because True Crime can get pretty darned grizzly. This is one of those really messed up True Crime docs. While the movie doesn't necessarily get visually graphic, there are a few really haunting photos in the movie. For instance, you may not see actual bodies, but you will see the garbage bags that contained parts of their bodies. That's pretty upsetting. There's also an element to these crimes that is sexual, so that needs to be taken into account when watching this. I also can't help but state that True Crime really rides the line between exploitative and supportive of the victims. You read into that however you want, but it should be considered before watching something like this.
DIRECTOR: Michael Harte
Okay, I swear it was an accident this time. I don't mean to make this the third documentary I'm watching in a row. I'm not on a documentary kick. I honestly thought that this was a series that my wife and I were starting. It was only once the movie hit the 50 minute mark and I felt that there was an act structure behind the formatting did I realize that this was simply a shorter film and that I would have to write about it. The website hasn't changed to "Literally Anything: Documentaries" or "Literally Just Documentaries" (I'm workshopping for no reason right now). It's just that my little algorithm coupled with Netflix's release schedule led me to watch a bunch of documentaries. For that, I'm sorry, I guess?
It's really hard to treat Memories of a Murderer like a film. I'm going to talk about Dennis Nilsen probably a whole bunch in this blog. That's the plan. But it also wasn't my gut reaction to the whole thing. The biggest takeaway, besides the fact that I'm clearly desensitized enough to get snagged on formula versus body count, is that the film almost isn't a movie, at least in terms of narrative. The story of Dennis Nilsen is really just bizarre. Traditionally, in True Crime storytelling, it is all about the chase. There is someone out there who is committing heinous acts. The movie shifts the perspective away from the killers to a protagonist of some kind. With Don't F*ck with Cats, it was the amateur sleuths of the Internet. With Serial, it was the investigative team who tried to prove that Anan Sayed possibly couldn't have done it. Okay, that's all good. But with Dennis Nilsen, people didn't know that they were looking for a serial killer. The first few minutes of the story was the arrest of Dennis Nilsen after the police came to investigate a clog to his sewer drain and a weird smell. In the process of performing a fairly low stakes service, the police officer thinks that he finds a single dead body and praises the Lord for his good fortune to find a murderer early on. But when Nilsen instantly confesses to 15-16 murders, the movie doesn't know what to do with itself.
There's no real conflict. If anything --and this is probably totally fine from a documentarian's perspective --it is an admonition of humanity. It criticizes society on ignoring the downcast and the flawed, as it should. Now, that's a theme. It's an important theme and the moral of the story is quintessential to absorbing the film. But what it is not is a plot. There is no plot. Sure, it's a documentary. It might not need a plot. But the movie really keeps going back to the same well: how could we have lost so many people and not known that we have lost them? There are elements on what makes a monster like Dennis Nilsen. There's also the concept that Dennis Nilsen is not just a murderer, but also a liar. But these are all set decoration for the grander story of how we let this happen. There is no doubt that Dennis Nilsen is the real bad guy. But he just makes the movie all that more depressing because Nilsen probably wasn't stressed out regarding being a murderer a day in his life. No one was even looking for him and he was able to kill 16 people. That's nuts. (I think the movie settled on 15.)
But when the movie isn't about locking into a throughline of investigation into Nilsen, I find it interesting to look at him through the lens of expectations. I had never heard of this guy before watching the documentary. That seems to be the common thread of things that my wife and I say while watching these True Crime things: "How have we not heard about this?" The only time that I beat someone to the punch was GSK, but that's because I was following Patton Oswalt's feed about his late wife's investigation. But the movie stresses that Nilsen didn't look the part. I might disagree with that. I think he looked plenty creepy. Also, isn't that kind of the point? He should be normal looking. I was more floored by how good looking the Don't F*ck with Cats guy was because he stood out for a completely different reason than anyone else. But Dennis Nilsen defied expectations almost because he came across as a Hollywood villain. The movie starts off with him commenting on a rumor that wasn't true. Someone stated that Nilsen had a Silence of the Lambs poster on the wall of his cell because he was so inspired by Hannibal Lecter. That probably wasn't true...but it also made a lot of sense.
There's something about Nilsen that is perhaps more haunting than I care to admit. Nilsen really does feel like Hannibal Lecter. There's something about the cadence of his voice. It's the lilts and the intellect that makes him truly upsetting. I will admit to being a fan of Thomas Harris's most famous creation when I was younger. But Hannibal Lecter was always such a fantasy villain. He was over-the-top and dramatic about everything he did. He reveled in his own persona, trying to upset those around him with his callous treatment of the human person. Nilsen has that. He talks to a tape recorder like he's trying to show that he has contempt for it. He sounds wise and well-spoken and that's the part that's uncomfortable. We're used to the Ed Geins of the world, barely literate and in need of mental health services. But when Nilsen was up for his hearing and pled Not Guilty by Means of Insanity, there's this very obvious moment where I could say, "This guy is wholly aware of what he was doing." That's a cocky thing for a guy like me to say. After all, it seems like his story kept changing in terms of premeditation. But Nilsen comes across as an absolute monster.
But this is where I have to point the critique to myself. Since I started dating the woman who would become my wife, because she introduced me to it, I enjoy a good True Crime story. Part of me justifies it as a sign that justice prevails. Sometimes it is a call for legal reform. But I don't know what to take out of Memories of a Murderer besides voyeurism. Because this isn't a story about crack police work, it becomes a story about exploiting victims. It is about bringing the weakness of these people to light. Because for as much as this movie is founded on the tapes that Dennis Nilsen made in prison, the movie really focuses on those people who were hurt due to Nilsen's actions or those who were afraid to confront him. There's something uncomfortable about this because it just becomes like watching a trainwreck from the comfort of my couch. These are real people and I'm watching them cry over the loss of their loved ones. Part of me tries justifying it, saying I'm giving the voiceless a voice. But I also know that they are there to complete the picture of who Dennis Nilsen was. That's a bit disheartening to me. I want to save these people. I want to change things. But the film never really offers me concrete ways of changing the way we view the outsider.
Instead. Memories of a Murderer becomes this weird trivia point that I now know about. I don't feel like I grew as a person watching this. I just now know his MO for seducing mostly gay homeless men. I also know that he didn't exclusively prey on this demographic, but these were still people who were vulnerable up until this moment. I guess I could glean that the press is ravenous to eat up stories like this, but that message really takes a back seat. It's an interesting film that also makes me feel icky in the long run.
Rated R mainly for some pretty mild stuff. There's a lot of language because there are candid conversations with many different personality types. There's a lot of butts, you know, celebrity butts. I suppose if you are uncomfortable with tragedy, the movie can get pretty bleak at times. That shouldn't really affect the MPA rating that it gets, but I suppose it does. Regardless, this movie gets an R rating.
DIRECTORS: Ting Poo and Leo Scott
I just opened a Pandora's Box of work. I actually asked permission to get started on a massive amount of work early because the pile just kept on growing. But before I start --and I swear that I'm not procrastinating --I'm going to write the blog for my most recent watch. I know that I'll put this on the backburner if I don't do it now and it is really fresh in my mind. I just watched two documentaries back-to-back, so I'm probably going to be bleeding into the nature of reality with both of these blog entries. But that's kind of what is staring us in the face when we watch a documentary. There's always something tickling us in the back of our noggins, telling us to be skeptical or to marvel at the impossible. With Val, there's the feeling --at least for me --of never really understanding someone.
I will start with the notion that I probably wouldn't get along with Val Kilmer. We have drastically different personalities, even if we have similar belief systems when it comes to art. I never really thought of Val Kilmer as an artist, but that's really on me. I may have started questioning his motivations once his one-man show about Mark Twain started garnering headlines. But to me, he was always Batman. I know that I'm not alone. The movie straight up stresses this concept. Many people know Val Kilmer from one or all of three roles: Iceman from Top Gun, Doc Holiday from Tombstone, and the titular character from Batman Forever. But this is a story of a struggling artist. It isn't because of his financial troubles. I mean, he surprisingly has a lot of financial problems, but that's not the focus of his frustration. The message, without Kilmer's direct attack on Hollywood ever clearly stated, is a world where true art isn't really respected. This is a guy who went to Julliard. He was in the shadow of a dead brother who epitomized fun art. But every role that he ever took in film seemed to be an attempt to find something deeper that rarely ended up being there.
The entire purpose of this blog is to find the meaning in every film I watch. Sometimes it is easier than other times. Sometimes, I have to graft it on myself. It's kind of the nature of the beast. There are some real artists out there making some really challenging stuff. But Kilmer is almost a cautionary tale of the secret of celebrity. Kilmer is almost A-level celebrity. While he probably never hit the same levels as peers George Clooney or Tom Cruise, he was a household name. He was the big time. He got all of these roles because he invested in them. It came out of what he learned at Julliard. He would be the guy who found himself frustrated with roles because there was something that he had to explore. (I say that as a negative, but it really is a positive. The best roles I ever had as a theatre major were the ones that took me forever to really understand.) With the exception of his portrayal of Jim Morrison, he would regularly be asked to scale his intensity with characters back to a place that would be more entertaining, but ultimately more false. Considering that I associate him with Batman and probably always will, it was heartbreaking to hear how vapid the entire Batman Forever experience ended up being.
Kilmer stresses that his is a life incomplete. I suppose that everyone feels that to a certain extent. I'm going to die with a book unpublished and regrets about spending so much time blogging. If I quit blogging, I would regret not blogging because it all seemed do-able. Kilmer, in his unique perspective, is forced to confront this element of himself because of his battle with throat cancer. While the cancer is now in remission, his voice is missing. It's odd to think that he has lost everything because he can't speak. He still is Val Kilmer. That's something that I kept having to actively think about. When I see him dressed up in a tuxedo as Bruce Wayne, he's still this same man who is speaking through a hole in his throat and wearing a Golden State Warriors cap. It's not a situation of "How the Mighty Have Fallen", but rather an understanding that aging may not be a gradual process, but a smash cut into self-examination. Val Kilmer is someone who could taste his own life so recently that his documentary into the power of his youth was only a few years ago. He was a powerhouse...and then he wasn't.
Considering that the documentary is written as a celebration, there's something so sad about the movie. I applaud the beauty that comes out of his son, Jack Kilmer, acting as a surrogate for Kilmer's voice. Jack has Val's cadence and voice down. Part of that is biology, but I have to imagine it also comes with an intimacy of knowing his father so well. While watching these sequences where Jack refers to himself as "Val" [I], it's almost haunting to hear a man speak about himself with a voice that is missing, yet one that sounds remarkably like him. It's perhaps the secret thread that is running through the movie that is the most relatable and joyful. But the rest of the film, despite the fact that it acts as an autobiography, is a condemnation of the past. Kilmer has an almost disdain for his career. He talks positively about elements of all of his early films, but stresses that he felt empty with these roles that denied him artistic satisfaction. But even more so, he goes through this thing that is heartbreaking for me: he doesn't want to be these people anymore.
I go to conventions. I really like them. I love meeting the actors of pop culture and getting my two seconds of lavishing praise. Some people are great about it. Paul McGann and David Tennant take the cake so far, but I do love the idea of just meeting people. There is a one-sided relationship there. I know a lot about this actor because of my investment in their work. But these people know nothing about me. I'm not their friend, nor will I ever be their friend. From their perspective, I have more of a relationship with their characters. When Val Kilmer shows up to an outdoor screening of Tombstone, he weeps as he leaves. He doesn't want to be someone who used to be something. He wants to create and make more things. While Kilmer stresses that he's never upset at fans who see him as Iceman or Batman, he doesn't like looking backwards. I feel that. But it also puts me in a place. Because as much as he says that he loves his fans, there's that edge there. I know that it isn't the whole story. If the fans weren't there to remind him of the past, he could continue looking forwards.
The ironic part of this is that I have a deeper relationship with Val Kilmer because of this movie. Before, he was always an actor for me. He made one movie that absolutely crushed me and that was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a movie that only gets a nod here and there in the documentary. But now I see him as a paradoxical soul. He is someone who tries living life to his fullest and yet feels utterly crushed by the shadow that he has cast. He always seems jovial, except when he's not. But I'm now left with a larger gap between what he knows about me and I know about him. I want to comfort him, despite the fact that I know that we wouldn't be copasetic. My empathy has left me in a place of emptiness. I feel for him and want to chat with him so he could find solace in his complexity, but that is not my place, nor do I want it to be my place. Instead, I have to find joy in the fact that he has family around him. I mean, his survival is a miracle.
But that leaves me with the knowledge that we have to treat the whole person. This is someone who is coping extremely well with unfathomable trauma. He is suffering, but making art to deal with that suffering. So I'm left praying for him. I'm sure he'd appreciate it.
PG-13 for images from the Holocaust. I don't think that there is much else that could be considered offensive in the movie in terms of language, sexuality, or anything else. It just is a brutal idea that you are watching footage from the Holocaust as people discuss what is necessary to be a survivor. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sam Hobkinson
See, now I don't know what to think. The only reason that I sat down with my wife to watch this documentary was that the trailer seemed riveting. There were twists in the trailer itself and it said that it saved the biggest twist for last. My big spoiler? While the final reveal is a twist, it's not that big of a twist. My imagination did too much heavy lifting with this one and my twist was way more intense than what actually happened. That's fine, I suppose. I don't want to rewrite history (which is appropriate for talking about Misha and the Wolves). But did it make for the most fascinating documentary ever? Meh.
I have to admit that I am spoiled. There have been some real doozies. Heck, even during the end credits for Misha and the Wolves, there was a trailer from the guys who brought us the series Don't F*ck with Cats. That was something that was mind-boggling. In some ways, Misha is just a depressing story. While the featured characters in the movie don't have anything to do with a secret murder or anything, the movie does focus on the aftermath of the Holocaust. What ends up being the focus of the movie is the nature of truth and lies. If Misha and the Wolves is watched as a psychological study, there really is something there that is worth watching. It's just that the movie's trailer is going through this competition with the other stuff that Netflix releases, aiming for the shock. Instead, the movie addresses some really important questions, like wondering who could manipulate the Holocaust for fame and fortune.
And this is where the movie gets really smart. The final interview of the movie is with a representative from the Holocaust Memorial Center, who gives the entire film clarity. While we, as audience members probably experiencing Misha's story for the first time, have to wonder the culpability of the individuals involved, this representative lays it out quickly. Misha, while coming across as sympathetic, is actually a horrible human being. While she hides behind the concept of "her reality", nothing in her story is even remotely true. There is no confusion on her part or mental illness. Misha, without question, drew attention to herself as a victim to step out of the crowd and ultimately profit from the experiences with other people. Yes, she was thrust into a situation where her father was considered a pariah. But when Misha started telling her story of searching for her parents while befriending wolves, she had already the benefit of the Tabula Rasa. No one in America had known about her father's confession to the Nazis. She was left with a clean slate and she chose to adopt this persona of the Jewish girl survivor. Throughout the film, you question whether or not Misha has a moral leg to stand on and the final interview doesn't really leave you with a sense of ambiguity: she does not.
But it does kind of feel icky all the way around. Jane Daniels, Misha's publisher, kind of feels like the victim in the story because of this outrageous 22.5 million dollar damage that was inflicted on her, despite the fact that she had collected none of this money. But that sympathy really quickly disappears over the course of the film because you just get this vibe that she's making herself look like the victim and embracing that title. It had to be hard to be in her position. From her perspective, she heard Misha's story and realized that they could both benefit from Misha telling it to the world. Despite the warning from the Holocaust Survivors' Society, Jane goes ahead with the book thinking that she's both making money and providing the world a much needed story. Part of me wants to demonize Jane as the world demonizes Jane. But to do that, I'm kind of just saying that all book publishers are locusts and I don't really get that vibe. There's that weird thing about the account in Turks and Caicos, but that seems to have answer that I don't understand.
Instead, I get mad at Jane in the same way that Jane gets mad at Jane. I want her to uncover the truth. After all, I had watched the trailer too and I wanted her to blow the lid off of Misha's story. But that brings up the real meat of the movie: Do we fight for the truth when the truth would be grosser than reality? Jane has a really good point. If she tries to expose Misha and she really is a Holocaust survivor, doesn't that make her a monster? There are things that we really can't talk about. Now, I don't know if Sam Hutchinson, director of the movie, is part of the "question everything" camp. But there is a little bit of icky morality being thrown around. After all, Jane kind of becomes the conspiracy theorist who was actually right. Sure, Jane has a lot to lose not-investigating Misha's story. Mainly, she loses 22.5 million and the respect of her community who thinks that she tried stealing money from a Holocaust survivor. But while they were digging up information about Misha, I kept thinking that none of these moments were these bombshells. When they got the school records for Misha, I knew that it was the truth, but it wasn't the smoking gun that I really had thought closed all doors.
The odds that Misha wasn't telling the truth were clear. It just was never really that overwhelming. Combined with her aunt's testimony, which straight up spits fire while she's telling it, that's when I got on board. The fact that there was a story of her father being captured and the fact that he was labeled a traitor. It's really the father that I'm the most sympathetic for. He's this guy who could have just left Belgium. He could have simply been occupied. Okay. But he joins the Belgian resistance, which is cool as heck. He just stunk at it. It even said that he was so proud of what he did, the he showed his family. I would show my family! 100% I would tell my wife and show off how I'm a great little resistance fighter. But when he's captured, he has a real choice that would be impossible for anyone. He wanted to save his wife and see his kid. To do this, he had to betray the other members of the resistance. That's tough. Yeah, we all know that the right answer is to protect the resistance. It's just that his entire legacy is mud after that point. There was a list of resistance fighters etched into a monument and they had to scratch his off. There were so few people who tried standing up to the Nazis that they could make a small monument to them and he still screwed up.
The most bananas choice of the movie, though, is the mislead of casting someone to play older Misha. I was thinking about the timeline and how someone Misha's age would look like. All I could think was that she looked really good for someone her age. It wasn't too shocking when I found out that she wasn't real. But I did question my wife, "Why would either Jane or Misha contribute to this documentary?" because we know that one of them is going to look inhuman after the reveal happens. But then the reveal happens and I have to applaud it. It feels very F for Fake, which I really have to rewatch. It's such a perfect thematic add to the movie that makes us question everything we see. (Also, we should listen to doctors and not question them. But that's a different story.) It's this nice element where fiction and reality play off of each other. I also adore that the movie doesn't sledgehammer you with the reveal. Instead, we discover that Misha's house is just a set and that she's wearing a wig. That's it. It actually took me a minute to realize what the movie was trying to communicate and I dug it.
It's just that the movie didn't shock me as much as I thought it would. The Catch-22 of it all is the knowledge that I wouldn't have watched the documentary if I hadn't seen this trailer that promised me an insane ending. But then I wouldn't have been disappointed by that ending if I hadn't watched the trailer. At the end of the day, I'm glad I watched it, but it simply is a well-made documentary and that's about it.
PG-13 for Daniel Craig era Bond shennanigans. It has that over-the-top violence and brutality that makes Craig's Bond separate from the other Bonds. This also means using sexuality for selfish gain. Like Casino Royale, Spectre resorts to using torture to make people grimmace. There's also some language issues, but that's pretty par-and-parcel for that latter James Bond movies. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
I swear --I SWEAR --I've written about this movie before. When I was writing about From Russia with Love, I think, I was trying to link Spectre to that blog and NOTHING. Nothing. I looked it up on the film index and that was a big old nope. So I had to rewatch a movie that I watched a month-and-a-half ago just so I can keep my list up to date. That's commitment for you, folks. You won't find that under some fly-by-night blog that simply wants your clicks. This is a site that's built on dedication and --dare I say it --love?
Spectre, to make it as simple as possible, is a movie that I really want to love. Like, I really want this to be one of the great James Bond movies. But I also think that is is plagued with the notion that Daniel Craig seems to hate James Bond more than I thought Harrison Ford hated Han Solo. There were just so many moments in Craig's career that were about abandoning the part until a dump truck full of money showed up at his house to change his mind. Spectre was always meant to be the movie where Craig put the character to bed. The odd thing about it, though, is that Craig's Bond has the most mythology and canon to him. It was always so easy to replace actors as James Bond because, ultimately, it was the same story. But Casino Royale was about giving Bond an origin story. How did Bond become 007 and that's what the movies always kind of tied into the successive films. If Casino Royale was really Bond Begins, then the filmmakers wanted to give Craig's Bond a swan song. Sure, I don't know where that would have left the character. After all, we know that No Time to Die has been in the can for a while now, just waiting for Republicans to get vaccinated.
But the movie doesn't really work, does it? I mean, it is pretty as heck. Sam Mendes makes a good looking movie. I don't think that a lot of this is on Mendes. Instead, the big red flag is the sheer amount of people who get credit for writing this movie. There are moments where it just feels like script doctor after script doctor tried fixing something that was fundamentally flawed. If you had asked me what I most wanted out of a James Bond finale, I would say that I wanted Blofeld, pure and simple. The movie delivered what I thought I wanted and it didn't work. Part of that comes from the same problem that Star Trek Into Darkness ran into with its Khan problem. Both Blofeld and Khan are the big bads of their respective franchises. But in these reboots, they haven't actually earned any of their street cred. Spectre states, pure and simple, that Blofeld / Spectre were behind the events of all of the previous Daniel Craig movies. But everything in the movie feels ultimately like a retcon. We never saw Chrisoph Waltz before this moment. The original Bond films kept giving us nibbles of Blofold in the previous movies leading up to You Only Live Twice. But the retcons really state that Quantum was the organization behind all of the horrible things that happened, as seen in Quantum of Solace.
Then there is the direct connection to Bond. Everything in Craig's Bond movies is obsessed with becoming personal. Vesper Lynd was the focus in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. Silva was on the hunt for M in Skyfall. The film even points this out. But I don't think that making Bond and Blofeld siblings is remotely plausible. It makes the world so small. We don't quite get that Superman / Lex Luthor dynamic that the movie wants. Instead, it feels like Franz Oberhauser becomes Blofeld in spite of everything. On top of that, why is he Blofeld? Why is James Bond calling his brother Blofeld when he should be simply calling him "Franz"? Listen, canon nerds, I know that they aren't biological brothers. But Oberhauser even confirms that they are like brothers, so I used a shorthand. Calm down. I know that people love the Tim Burton Batman movie. I have real concerns with that film that I'll write about one day. But one of the issues that really got under my skin is Jack Napier's connection with the Wayne family. Heck, even the newest Joker movie did the same thing. While I am aware that making the protagonist and antagonist enemies builds internal conflict, not addressing it before this point makes it really feel like a retcon.
Bond's behavior is kind of terrible in this movie. I love the opening sequence in terms of directing and scale. The Bond openings can sometimes be the best part of the movie. Mendes uses this absolutely rad tracking shot that I've been using in my film class for a while. But like with Goldfinger, many of the problems of the movie lie with Bond's rare incompentence. He gets made and then has to blow up a building. When M rebukes him for his crime, Bond acts put out because he saved a stadium full of people. But what about the other people in that building? An apartment complex comes down in the middle of Mexico City, there's going to be fallout. That's all pretty bad, but at least that's an accident. We're all pretty shocked when that building blew up, but at least that should have been it. But then there's the helicopter scene. Geez, the helicopter. It really feels like Bond wanted to endanger scores of people by launching helicopters at them. I mean, why does he prioritize the pilot during the fight. He seems pretty focused on flying straight. Take out the Pale King...AND THEN WORRY ABOUT THE PILOT. When it comes to C and his complaints, he's actually pretty sound in his argument that the Double-O section is dangerous. That's a stupid part.
But the part that I don't get is Madeline Swann as the perfect Bond girl. I'm not commenting on Lea Seydoux at all. She's fabulous in the role. But that part is insanely underwritten. She doesn't really stand out as an important part in Bond's life enough for him to quit the service. With Vesper, I got it. They went through so much together and he was at this vulnerable place in his life that I don't really get with Spectre. There isn't much of a connection there. They barely know each other. On top of that, she says that she knows that he's never going to change. She so fundamentally misreads him that she is about to abandon him during the saving-the-world part of the plan only to get kidnapped. What about that is appealing?
I really hate punching so hard on this movie, but this is a movie that really wants to live with no consequences that may play through to other Bond movies. Bond is captured by Blofeld in Tunisia. He's not so much captured as Bond voluntarily hands himself over and this whole thing is scheduled. Like with Goldfinger, Bond finds himself strapped to a chair connected to a lethal device that is meant to both cause pain and ultimate death. With this one, it is surgical needles that are meant to make Bond forget how to do basic things. The first needle is to take away his senses and his equilibrium. It does nothing except make him scream in pain. The second needle is to make him forget everyone he's ever known. It does nothing but make him scream in pain. He escapes, basically, because Blofeld's chair doesn't work. That's a lame Bond escape. Yeah, yeah. He's got the exploding watch. But he doesn't experience the consequences of the thing that we were promised...just because. He shouldn't remember to use the watch if either of the needles worked. But nothing actually worked. I keep coming back to this moment. Actually, it's the part of the movie I think about when I do think of this film. That needle scene is so much promise and so little delivery. There's no answer for why the needles don't actually do anything.
And that's where I'm left with this movie. I enjoy it as a Bond movie, but I also know that it has a really crappy script with moments that make absolutely no sense. I really want this movie to be great, but it never pulls it off.
PG, because G-rated movies don't really exist anymore. Like many kids' movies, there's some peril and some scary parts. I guess kids just like to have a little bit of scary which lead to nightmares and then they can't sleep in their beds anymore. One of the key themes in the film is how children deal with mortality and grief, so be ready to confront that major bummer as a parent. There also is a child-equivalent of a Karen who eventually becomes a good guy, but she's definitely harshing the vibe of the whole movie. PG.
DIRECTORS: Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords
My biggest question is, "When was this movie made?" because Lin-Manuel Miranda coming out with two baller musicals around the same time is sus. I know, he wrote In the Heights a million years ago and it takes a long time for an animated feature to see the light of day. This isn't even a criticism, but it feels like Vivo might have been in production for a while and it's finally just getting its due now.
Yeah, I'm pretty basic. I really like Lin-Manuel Miranda. I never really got on the Hamilton train, but In the Heights really impressed me. I'm the guy in the family who often shows off trailers because that's the way my brain is wired on the Internet. These trailers just find me. Blame the algorithm or whatever, but I tend to be the one to say that Lin-Manuel Miranda is doing something new. And, seriously, Miranda has the way about songwriting that makes the movies super intriguing. I know that he had a pretty strong hand in the Moana songs, but Vivo feels like he was just given carte blanche to do whatever he wanted to with they lyrics because the songs in this movie really stay within his comfort zone. If you hadn't seen any of his plays or movies and just hit shuffle on Hamilton, In the Heights, and Vivo, you wouldn't necessarily know which song came from which musical. That's great. He knows what people like and he keeps making that thing. My wife, who is the Miranda nut in the family, probably watched the movie the least. But the second we finished the movie, she put on the soundtrack and I wouldn't be surprised if it becomes part of the regular rotation in our house.
I'm going to point out my biggest criticism first because that's what I always seem to do. It's easy to write about the things that don't work than the things that do. Things that work are very "I know it when I see it". But things that don't work tend to be easily defended.[ I kind of wish that Vivo didn't depend on the kids' movie formula. Adventure and peril don't necessarily gel with the message of the film. I'm going to use Up as an example. Up has a really memorable first act. You know what I'm talking about. It's the scene that crushes all of us. It's the saddest scene in kids' cinema possibly in history, and that's including Bambi's mother. There's the bonding with Russell, which is great and the house flying. Cool. But when Carl has to fight dogs and an evil old man, it just feels like filler. I don't know if Vivo and Gabi have to fight off a tropical storm or a snake to get the message across. Just getting lost fits better with the theme than fighting Michael Rooker, the snake. It's fun and exciting, but it also is a criminal distraction from the main story.
But besides that, the movie is fantastic. I keep coming back to this well because the movies I watch keep coming back to it, but I can't help but fall in love with paternal grieving stories. I'm the guy who keeps saying that pets aren't kids because I'm a broken old man who keeps a blog and is cynical as get out. But with a case like Vivo, I can see where the parent / child relationship exists. I'm still grumpy about "fur babies", but in this case Vivo is anthropomorphized and sentient, so I suppose that this is a different case. My wife was shocked that Andres passes away. (She did pay attention for a little while.) I knew that he had to. But I didn't really see how Vivo and Gabi were going to have an adventure without Andres alive to be there. When you think about it --and this is a really cold read of the film --the stakes are remarkably low considering how much danger that the two protagonists are put through. While we should be respectful when it comes to the wishes of the dead, technically Vivo could deal with his grief in a different way.
Because a person's final request isn't for themselves. When Andres wants Marta to hear the final song, it isn't for selfish reasons. However, Vivo wants to share this song with Marta as a means of giving Marta catharsis. The story of them journeying to give her the song is a form of that catharsis. Admittedly, her receiving the song and singing it at the final performance is a way better ending for all involved, especially the audience, it does feel a bit Hollywood. (Note: Marta figured out Vivo's story super quickly and good for her, because I wasn't ready for the slow unpacking of the events of the film.)
But this all leads to Gabi. I am still unpacking how I feel about Gabi. Gabi is a bit much. She's supposed to be a bit much. Vivo's frustration with her is grating to us because he is our avatar, despite being a kinkajou. But the real issue I have with Gabi is that she's vicariously trying to take ownership of Vivo's loss. She's a kid. There's very little that is her fault in this storyline. But she genuinely didn't know Andres. She knows of him as a relation, but never really met him. Instead, she adopts a false sadness that brings attention to herself. It's why her behavior in the light of all this stuff comes across as grating. Her investment is false. But to view the same thing from a more positive perspective, Gabi is fundamentally empathetic. Her immaturity causes her to make her share of fauxs pas, but her intentions are ultimately noble. She never really has that vulnerable moment that gives her the clarity about her life, but that's the role of Vivo. Vivo is the dynamic character, learning about the greater world over the course of his journey. It's Gabi who remains mostly static. Sure, she accepts the Sand Dollar girls as flawed individuals, but she still holds herself in a different category as them.
I don't think I've ever seen a villain like the Sand Dollar tribe. Becky sucks, but is kind of right in a lot of the cases. Becky represents those who ride the high horse, but don't know how to effectively communicate concerns. I know that people named Karen hate this term, but Becky is a Karen. Gabi continually shows herself to be irresponsible. She has a dead pet collection due to her own neglect. She actively avoids commitments and flaunts her rudeness to these girls. When Becky sees that Gabi has failed to live up to her commitments and places this animal's life in danger, maybe she should speak up. But I think that we're all aware that she's gross about the way that she does it. She ultimately becomes a good guy, but that's because the movie really needed her to become a good guy in that moment, despite the fact that there might not be an epiphany to be had. Her only major shift is that she owes Gabi one, but that doesn't mean that she should help her keep a kinkajou when it probably wouldn't survive there.
But the movie is actually pretty great. Sure, the adventure feels really forced, but it keeps kids' attentions. I was in it for the great music. I have a feeling that I'll be better about knowing the Vivo lyrics better than I know In the Heights, where I can only jump in on the "Good Morning, Uznavi" part.
Rated R for the ultra-violence that I seem to be watching more of, despite the fact that I claim not to gravitate towards these kinds of movies. It's the kind that makes you feel each punch, stab, and bullet wound that the characters experience, but with the knowledge that, for some reason, they'll get back up and subject themselves to even more brutality. There's language too, but that all seems moot when you see multiple bone breaks and bodies everywhere. Just a ton of death and carnage everywhere. R.
DIRECTOR: Ilya Naishuller
Here's the score: Most of my kids are fed, except for the one who can't think of what he wants to eat. He's been picking at food and seems distracted, so I'm going to try to knock out as much of this blog as quickly as possible. Does this make me a bad father? Maybe. But at least I'm not Hutch in this movie. (See, I make connections.) I have an hour until the baby goes down for her nap, when I clean the house and get stuff ready for dinner. There is also the aggressive nagging that I don't feel like writing today, considering that it is my last day of summer vacation before I start teaching students tomorrow. Keep all of this in mind when I ramble like a maniac about the thing that I watched while I was folding laundry way past my bedtime.
I don't know why I added Nobody to my DVD queue. I really don't. Once in a blue moon, I'll scroll through DVD.com's New Releases and willy-nilly add stuff to the top of my list. Knowing that I love Bob Odenkirk and that this seems like a bonkers role for him, I decided to give it a whirl. Now, I've been lamenting my dislike for movies like John Wick and Gunpowder Milkshake on this blog for a while. It wasn't like I was going to be surprised by the tone of the film being like John Wick. Heck, the trailers were all like, "From the people who brought you John Wick". I can't even be sure that this isn't a John Wick spin-off. And the movie is John Wick with someone else in the lead role. So what is it about Nobody that was way more entertaining than John Wick? I hope that over the course of this blog, I figure out what makes it good. (See, it's a surprise for everyone.)
I won't deny that Bob Odenkirk and Christopher Lloyd beating the crap out of everyone doesn't have its appeal. It totally does. If I completely submit to the fact that the movie is based on the notion that two people shouldn't be action stars, yet manage to pull it off...there's something there. Because I'll tell you what. Even with my enjoyment of this film, I have to say that I'm really tired of retired super-killer coming out of retirement over something mild. Also, making Russian mobsters the villains? Is that literally the John Wick movies or am I forgetting something? It just seems all so familiar. But if I had to push beyond the Bob Odenkirk and Christopher Lloyd thing, Nobody might have some value out of the fact that it isn't slick.
Nobody feels like the garage band version of John Wick. I mean, that's 100% an illusion put on by the studio and the filmmakers. I know that Nobody only exists because Wick is a phenomenon. (Note: Part of me is really tempted to watch the John Wick sequels, but I try not to hate-watch things.) But there's almost nothing sexy about Nobody. It thrives in its own grittiness. This is the suburban version of the story. As violent as the film is, the movie just screams the suburbs. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised that a sequel to Nobody might take place in a Walmart and an Applebee's. It just is all jeans-and-tee-shirts. It's power-rock, not German techno. This is all window dressing, I suppose. I shouldn't be changing my opinion on the ultra-violence subgenre because of the mise-en-scene, but I can't deny that it makes the series that much more approachable.
I also think that Hutch comes across as more sympathetic than John Wick. Hutch embraces the thing that makes middle age so lamentable. His wife is unattracted to him. His kids disrespect him, for the most part. To stay off the radar, he has to stay mediocre. In terms of metaphors for adulthood, Nobody actually works really well. Hutch has this burning desire to kill something for a good cause. (It's not like he's a serial killer so much as he's really good at killing people.) But he welcomes disrespect because he loves others. He chooses to put on this mask because his life is no longer his own. I didn't meant to make this connection with my intro paragraph, but that's what life is like as an adult. If I had my druthers, I wouldn't have to worry about feeding kids. I would be waking up after noon, eating garbage all day while playing video games for an irresponsible amount of time, and then pass out in front of the TV without caring about my health. Instead, I try to find solace in five minute writing bursts as kids ask for things constantly. I run on a treadmill so I don't die young. With Hutch, he allows people to ridicule him for being timid.
It's weird what makes a character heroic. Knowing that this was from the guy / guys who made John Wick, we had to assume that Hutch wasn't going to pick up this specific set of Murder Batman skills. When his house is robbed, I think I contextually spoiled it by saying that he wasn't killing the theives for a reason. I mean, it's odd that those characters barely came into play with the story, instead acting as a step on a Rube Goldberg machine to get Hutch against the Russians. But I do appreciate the moral choices that Hutch makes in a moment. Hutch knows that he could rip them apart, but then notices that the .38 special wasn't loaded. His son was there and he knew that his kid was going to get punched, but he chose to allow himself to humiliated while acting as an example of mercy, even if his son never really understood what that moment was about.
I'm confused about Becca's story in the movie, though. Becca and Hutch are on the outs. It's implied that she fell in love with Hutch, the CIA auditor (I know that we don't know what organization Hutch worked for. Let it go) not Hutch the inventory guy for a metal shop. She is aroused when old Hutch comes out and kills some folks, but not enough to 180. Then their lives get destroyed by Hutch's choice to find a kitty cat bracelet that was just under the couch and murder some dudes. It's in this moment where she's horrified by who Hutch really is, despite the fact that the film makes it clear that she married that guy. What does she want out of Hutch? Does she like the idea of Hutch, but not the reality of Hutch? If so, that's kind of a toxic relationship because Hutch can't really do anything right in that scenario. I mean, the tag at the end with her requesting a basement so Hutch could have his kill room / panic room implies that she's made peace with who Hutch really is, but this all seems like a band-aid for someone who doesn't really know what they want.
But I'm going to leave this on, "I liked it." I'm not sure why I liked it. I just know that I did. It's a fun movie that involves a lot of violence and trades cool for relatable. I suppose that makes some degree of sense. But Average Joe beats up bad guys can be a pretty good time.
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.