The Black Phone (2021)
Rated R mainly because it's a horror movie about kidnapping and murdering little kids. That should be your big red flag right there. But if you are oddly cool with kidnapping and murdering kids, know that there's some swearing and fighting and blood. One kid gets wrecked by another kid and that's just supposedly normal. Also, the swearing is done by little kids. There's also child abuse. So, really, offensive things happening with kids.
DIRECTOR: Scott Derrickson
See, I didn't know that this was adapted from a Joe Hill short story. I kind of love Joe Hill. I certainly haven't read everything Joe Hill, but I've read my fair share of Joe Hill stuff. There's something even more upsetting about the work of Joe Hill than that of his father, Stephen King. I don't know how I recognize Joe Hill stuff quite yet, but just seeing his name pop up in the opening credits was a bonus for me. In terms of interest garnered in the opening credits, there's also Scott Derrickson. I only really know Derrickson from his work on Doctor Strange and the low-key controversy with him leaving Multiverse of Madness. But add onto the fact that this was on Peacock, I was definitely going to watch it.
I also was intrigued because one of my students said it was the only movie he ever walked out of. That blew my mind. I asked him why he left, not caring about spoilers, and he stated that it all took place in one location. I used this opportunity to show the Community clip explaining "bottle episodes" and realized I kind of like bottle episodes. In this case, it's mostly a bottle movie. It's not perfectly a bottle movie. This isn't that Ryan Reynolds movie where he's in a grave and it isn't Phone Booth either. But this movie shares a lot of DNA with bottle storylines. A majority of the film takes place in the Grabber's basement. Bottle storylines work really well with horror for me because we are left with the same questions that the protagonist has. That third person limited perspective forces us to try to solve the same problem that the hero does. We use all of the elements of the room to try to take down the Grabber and we tend to yell at he screen advice more than unearned knowledge. There's something truly upsetting in not knowing what the stakes of the film are.
I'll explain the moment where I realized that giving me limited knowledge helped this film. It's the phone call with the Grabber leaving the door unlocked. This is the first time that we really have a conversation with one of the dead kids. The kid warns Finney that his is part of his trap, the killer's M.O. If Finney takes advantage of the open door, the beginning of the end will start. Now, from our perspective, we have no reason to think that ghosts haunt the phone. After all, a bunch of kids have been killed up to this point and I don't think that they had help from the paranormal. And because Finney is cautious about going up the stairs, we discover that the ghost phone call is actually true in real time. But the movie allows for the fact that the phone call might have been Finney's own self-doubts and fears. For all we know, Finney may have lost an opportunity to escape. While a sizable percent of me would have loved to play The Shining card, wondering if Finney really was receiving help from beyond or if he simply had lost his mind, I acknowledge that the story doesn't really allow for that interpretation of events. The ghosts need to exist for the story to play out.
But that same element, of having a limited perspective, never explains why Finney is special. The Grabber stresses that Finney is special, which confuses him. His sister, stealing Stephen King Daddy's Shining, also has an ability that is unexplained. And the movie really thrives on the idea that there is something unhealthy about these abilities while simultaneously stressing that these abilities need to be acknowledged and fosters. But the movie doesn't give us very much. Instead, we're left to our own devices, telling a larger scoped story that the rest of the film doesn't dare provide for us. After all, The Grabber is clearly a maniac. He talks about a broken phone that rings for him. The ghosts stress that The Grabber hears the phone ring in the same way that Finney hears, yet it seems like Finney is the only one who can have communication on this broken phone. And I know that, if this movie is super successful (and I don't know if it is or not), there will be a temptation to explain all of these things. And there's absolutely no reason to deep dive into whatever is granting a connection between Finney and the Grabber.
I don't think that I've written too much, but it is also based on a short story. As much as I liked it, it is one plot point belabored for an entire movie. I don't fault it because it does work to the notion that everything that happens in this basement matters and contributes to Finney's eventual escape. But what I do find as something that I want to talk about is Gwen's abuse. I'm sure that this element is in Hill's story because it just feels like it should be a Joe Hill story. But I'm mostly talking about how Gwen has to hide her gift from her father in fear of being beaten. It is this interesting idea. Instead of fostering her gift, she's being forced down this road that led to her mother's death. Sure, Terrence, Gwen's father, is trying to prevent the madness from being genetic. That makes for a compelling character, one who is flawed and who has let his good intentions make him into a monster. But do you know the consequence for the movie as a whole? We have to somehow forgive Terrence for his child abuse. The movie ends. Gwen and Finney are sitting on the back of an ambulance, typical movie where they have blankets and all that. And Terrence comes bursting through the police barricade and embraces his children because they've been returned to him. He apologizes to Gwen for doubting her vision and stifling any attempt to get Finney back.
But she shouldn't forgive him. Do you know why? There's the child abuse, which is unforgivable. But even more so, Terrence is a full-blown alcoholic. The reason that he's so quick to really beat his kids is because alcoholism is real and it impairs judgment. The idea that Finney killed a dude is hyper traumatic and he needs a stable figure in his life. Maybe, and this is me reaching, Finney and the Grabber share the idea of not trusting adults in their lives because they are abusive when it comes to recognizing gifts. After all, Finney has now learned that he could kill someone given the proper motivation. His father is a villain. Sure, he's potentially not as evil as the Grabber. But there is evil there that the movie wants us to forgive a bit. And I can't. Neither should the kids. I love that Finney asks the girl he likes to "Call him 'Finn'", but that doesn't change that this is a deeply traumatized kid and that therapy is important.
But ultimately, I really liked the movie. I don't get how a student could find this boring. But again, attention spans are really subjective. I remember not liking Casablanca for the same reason when I was a kid. Sure, this is a scary horror movie. But folks are folks. I think it is pretty solid.
Happy Together (1997)
Not rated, but this movie is a hard-R. It's got some pretty graphic sex stuff coupled with nudity (although, not at the same time...). The language is intense and there's some potential normalizing of domestic violence throughout the movie. Tonally, the movie is pretty dour as well. While technically not rated, I would probably give this an R-rating.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
I didn't know much about Happy Together before watching it. I'm kind of glad that I didn't because sometimes going into a movie completely blind is the way to go. I have to admit, splitting up Fallen Angels from Chungking Express may have burned me out on Wong Kar-Wai a little bit. I can't ever deny that he's a genius, but it is nice to see something a little different from him while still sticking to things that are in his wheelhouse. (How noncommittal was that sentence?) I think I've separated Wong Kar-Wai into two different things --which I'll admit is unfair. He's hopeless romantic imbued with a sense of tragedy Wong Kar-Wai and he's cool gangster Wong Kar Wai. I like the romantic Wong Kar-Wai better.
I know that there's a sense of irony behind the title Happy Together. But I wonder if that ironic ending song is forced. Sure, the song is effective as the film plays out, but there's something very hopeless about the movie as a whole. Maybe it is because the time with Ho Po-Wing just seemed so traumatic that I couldn't grasp the notion that it would work out with Chang at all. That's on me. I'm going to talk about Chang later in this blog, hopefully. But I want to focus on Lai Yiu-Fai's time with Ho Po-Wing. The movie starts with this glorious romantic idea (in almost a literary idea of romantic) of two secret lovers fleeing normality to find the majesty of Argentina. They have seen an image of this waterfall and are inspired to see it in real life. Mind you, this isn't the first thing that Wong Kar-Wai shows us in the movie. The movie starts off with a sex act that is fundamentally selfish. It doesn't have any emotion. It is one man treating the other as if an object. There's no talking or romance in this moment. Not for a second is there smiling or joy. The juxtaposition of Lai Yiu-Fai's narration of trying to find this waterfall implies that there is something there that keeps these two together, but it is going to take some work.
But everything that involves Ho Po-Wing seems toxic as heck. I was going to say that there was no domestic abuse, but they do shove each other and physically dominate each other when angry. But it becomes this toxic relationship that we keep see getting worse and worse. Even when they are "happy together", there's a sense of using Lai Yiu-Fai's hospitality. Po-Wing is with Lai Yiu-Fai not out of genuine love for Lai Yiu-Fai, but simply because he is in self-imposed exile, which has unforeseen consequences. Also, Ho Po-Wing is not simply caustic with Lai Yiu-Fai; he rubs other people the wrong way as well. The fact that his hands get destroyed gives the audience an insight into his character that is possibly more fundamental than showing us the nature of that violence. Wong Kar-Wai loves embracing the smallness of their world.
There's something to that. The idea of Argentina being a sense of "otherness" plays a really strong role in the notion of a relationship with these two characters. There's no scenario where either Lai Yiu-Fai or Ho Po-Wing can pass as Argentinians. When they leave the safety of their really crummy apartment, there's nowhere to really go. It's why that first breakup with Ho Po-Wing doesn't really last very long. The world outside the apartment is death. Whether Argentina represents the world in microcosm has a little bit of merit. Remember, this movie was made in 1997. I'm not saying that gay rights have come as far as we'd like to think that they'd come. But there's a very real chance that, for some, a gay couple could mean death, especially for two people that look different. Two men from Hong Kong would garner a bit of attention in any environment in Argentina. Even the Chinese restaurant warrants caution considering how close Lai Yiu-Fai plays it close to the vest when it comes to his relationship with Ho Po-Wing. There are moments where Argentina comes across as quite progressive. We see other gay men in this story, but we don't get many details about them.
I want to focus on 1997 as a setting for the movie. I mean, it was made in 1997, but Wong Kar-Wai almost goes out of his way to stress that it is 1997. Maybe there's something prophetic about the way that he's making this movie, but it gives the film a sense of timeliness to constantly point out the date through the narrator Lai Yiu-Fai. The film both screams 1997 and seems to be a picture outside of time. 1997 is in this era of Miramax filmmaking that is pushing the line. Independent film is pushing boundaries of topics. Contemporary films would be stuff like Boys Don't Cry, Clerks, and Slacker. Happy Together wants to talk about the homosexual experience in a way that challenges audiences. But it also comes across as extremely lonely. As much as I applaud the film for being timely, because Wong Kar-Wai allows us to identify the themes by ourselves, the audience of 2022 might see the idea of being gay as something violent and toxic. This kind of leads me into the inclusion of Chang into the story, so bear with me as I juggle a lot of these ideas.
The only major characters that are confirmed to be gay in this story are Lai Yiu-Fai and Ho Po-Wing. If you take them to be the example of a gay couple, there's major problems to be had. I mean, the second you think about it, they have to be the only gay couple of the film. If being gay is something to be hidden, then there's no scenario where these two guys can go out and find a healthy relationship outside of just pure sex, which the movie talks about. But then there's the issue of Chang. I have to be honest: I'm really bad at identifying gay characters in stories if it isn't made explicit. For many, many watches, I didn't know the characters from Rope, Strangers on a Train, or Diamonds are Forever were gay. Yeah, I'm really bad at identifying it. But I think that Wong Kar-Wai is playing it both ways in the story and letting me struggle with that issues. We know that Chang talks about girls that he likes and the types of girls that he likes. But his interest in Lai Yiu-Fai recontextualizes a lot of those moments.
The frustration of wondering if Chang is gay is probably the same issue that Lai Yiu-Fai deals with in the story. There's a heavy implication that he is gay, as implied with the notion that Lai Yiu-Fai knows where to find Chang if he wants. But Chang also comes across as this healthy element in the story where nothing seems to bode well for a lonely gay man in Argentina. I'm so quick to throw stones at Lai Yiu-Fai as well. Part of me just wonders why Lai Yiu-Fai doesn't just tell Chang how he feels if he's convinced that Chang is gay, but think about how normal it is to not confess a crush in fears that it might ruin a friendship. When Chang listens to the tape recorder at the End of the World and just hears crying, we get that it is all that Lai Yiu-Fai wants to do, to unburden himself of his feelings. It's tragic, which is odd that the movie ends on such a happy song, placed seemingly ironically.
But there is one more read of that ending. While Chang doesn't end up in Lai Yiu-Fai's life, whether through either cowardice on Lai Yiu-Fai's part or Chang's ignorance coupled with his heterosexuality, it could just be that Chang is most happy with himself. The irony of that being, of course, that there isn't any "Together" in the title Happy Together. Going even further with that read, it could have a "No Place Like Home" feeling. The fact that Lai Yiu-Fai starts smiling when he's back in Hong Kong might be telling about the role of isolation in a part of the world. I don't know if Wong Kar-Wai would be condemning world travel. But I think that he is mad at a world so dependent on capitalism that people feel trapped in a country that they don't find home. It's the idea that Lai Yiu-Fai doesn't feel that sense of aloneness and can be found dealing with normal problems, like people arguing about loitering at a lunch counter. That sense of normality allows him to feel literally "Happy Together."
I stress that I think that tragic love is where Wong Kar-Wai shines. The movie is absolutely gorgeous with its mix of hyper color and monochrome plays against the ups and downs of a relationship on the rocks. While I think some of the ideas might be buried, the film works overall. I tend not to like graphic sex scenes, especially when the characters don't seem to like the sex that is happening. But the movie is gorgeous and works overall.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Approved. I'm surprised that this movie hasn't been reexamined by the MPAA because it would probably get a PG-13 or an R. It's right on that cusp. It's full of racism, which is a central theme. But if you were ticking boxes to get an MPAA rating, there's partial nudity, murder, sexuality, and abortions to contend with. It's got a lot of content that, while not necessarily visually graphic, are heavy themes for a movie from '67.
DIRECTOR: Norman Jewison
I actually got a ton of work done, so I have time to write my blog today. Okay, I'll confess. I just didn't want to do the blog yesterday because I was technically ahead of schedule and was plumb-exhausted. I was falling asleep sitting up. But then I ran into the predicament of having actual, real-world work that started piling up and then I thought I was going to fall behind. Luckily, I'm motivated by productivity, hence the fact that I can now write about In the Heat of the Night.
I've seen this one before. I got it as a gift and it was a welcome gift. In the Heat of the Night is one movie that almost doesn't forgive and I completely appreciate it for that stance. It gives a little. I'm talking about the temptation to have Tibbs and Gillespie reconcile. I suppose I might be debating this idea all through this blog, but I honestly think that Tibbs doesn't really forgive Gillespie so much as have hope for change. I'm really putting the cart before the horse here. If the entire movie is about the stubbornness of institutionalized racism, particularly when it comes to law enforcement, there are a few moments where it hopes for a brighter future. I mean, we're living in the now and the past decade has either seen us backslide a ton or realize that we have a longer way to go than we thought we did. But there are moments, like I said, that show that we might be able to move forward from the bigoted crap that we deal with.
The two moments I'm talking about are when Tibbs stays at Gillespie's house and the final shot between Gillespie and Tibbs. The former example is this great misdirect. See, the entire movie makes you want to see Gillespie and Tibbs as friends. There's nothing more cinematically satisfying (hyperbole) as seeing people who rub each other the wrong way eventually become the closest of friends. It's the buddy cop dramedy that we keep returning to in Hollywood. But the problem isn't like most buddy cop stories. In most situations, the difference in ideology is often one where both characters represent extreme ideals that have merit. Both characters could learn from one another and their merging makes them both better people. But with the case of Gillespie and Tibbs, Tibbs is right; Gillespie is wrong. Sure, Tibbs is a fallible person. I'm going to talk about his witch hunt later. But the issue between Gillespie and Tibbs isn't one where they could learn from each other. Tibbs is absolutely morally right. From moment one, Gillespie comes across as bullheaded and racist as the day is long. Tibbs's entire persona is one of righteous patience. He puts up with so much and he epitomizes the Black experience with police.
So when Tibbs stays at Gillespie's house, it is a step forward for Gillespie. He even claims that Tibbs has the rare honor of ever having visited Gillespie. There's something to look at there. While Gillespie is definitely opening doors that he never would have considered before, he's doing so 1) under duress and 2) not really changing his point of view. Tibbs, to a certain extent, isn't really a person to him. At the front of his consciousness, Tibbs doesn't have a personal tie to Gillespie. He will be gone back to Philadelphia in a day or so. But the real deep part of his brain, which is both conscious and unconscious, views him as less than human. Perhaps Gillespie sees this as an olive branch, demonstrating how much he has changed. But his actions later in the scene really throw a wrench into that. When Tibbs bonds with Gillespie, it seems like the two are going to become unlikely friends. For all of Tibbs's loathing of this slovenly racist, he too offers an olive branch to Gillespie. But it is Gillespie who sees this moment of sympathy as something offensive. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, the worst thing that a Black man do is to feel bad for someone who is White. I applaud the fact that this scene plays out the way it does. It would almost be silly to see the two become genuine friends and it would be absurd to think of them as friends. (Hence, why there should never have been a TV show...)
But the end smile. That end smile kind of bugs me. It doesn't make-or-break bug me. But it also kind of feels like a betrayal. The entire movie doesn't let Gillespie and the town of Sparta off the hook. Their true colors fly loudly and proudly and their ignorance is on parade for the lion's share of the movie. Gillespie is shown to be borderline incompetent as a sheriff and the only man who have a good head on his shoulders is Tibbs. And Sparta, particularly Gillespie, is awful to him. Taking into consideration that Gillespie can't stop viewing him as a Black man soiling his White town, the mutual respect that they show to each other at the end isn't really earned. Tibbs shouldn't respect Gillespie. While Gillespie made strides, it was absolutely the bare minimum needed to get the case solved. I would even consider Officer Wood to be a better moment of hope than Gillespie. Wood starts off the story arresting Tibbs, manhandling him, and not allowing him to speak. He finds Tibbs to be a murderer simply because he is Black. But by the end of the film, Wood shows a genuine admiration for Tibbs. He gets mad at him, sure, but only because of his own self-interest.
If you place Wood at the train station with a sulking Gillespie in the car, that's an ending that kind of works. Wood owes Tibbs his life. Wood is facing a murder charge and hits rock bottom before Tibbs offers him a life jacket. When Wood comes out of the jail cell, he's an honestly different man. It was his friends that put him in jail and it is the man he abused who gets him out. All this kind of leads up to my questioning why there's a TV show of this.
Now, I've never seen the show. I am woefully unprepared to write about this. But when I prep a blog, I have the imDb page up in another tab to look up names of actors and some production history stuff. In my ignorance, I clicked the link for the TV show instead of the film and every picture looks like Tibbs and Gillespie become great friends due to their wacky antics. Boy, that seems like a backwards step, am I right? The entire film is about the fact that it takes a life-or-death experience to shake people from a world of bigotry and that's with just the sense of hope that the movie implies. How can you make these characters friends and still stay true to anything that Jewison or Poitier made here? It's the foundation of the story and you turned it into a fun procedural drama? I don't care for one bit.
The odd thing about In the Heat of the Night is that the plot absolutely does not matter. For a really cool crime drama, it ultimately doesn't matter who killed the real estate developer. Honestly, the reveal of who the killer is completely secondary to the fact that Tibbs is being hunted by the town. I mean, the killer being the first person you see on screen is almost a cliché at this point. There is no real reason why that guy killed the victim. His confession shows that he was just nuts and that there was no grand plan to tell this story. Nope, Tibbs is really good at figuring out timelines but not motives. It's all about character, which is what makes In the Heat of the Night watchable over-and-over. And I can't even deny that this movie is even formatted like a procedural drama. We go through all of the steps expected of a crime drama, but it is the most character driven story that follows this format that I can think of. It's a really good movie.
But I can't help but think that the last shot just bugs me enough. I might actually have a hard time recommending this because so much rides on the end. Maybe I'm being too hard on it. Maybe it's just the idea that Officer Wood should be replacing Officer Gillespie. But it is just flawed enough to keep it off that list for perfection.
A River Called Titas (1973)
Not rated, mainly because it had a very quiet release and never really made the United States circuit. It has some very questionable content from time to time. While some of the violence looks a little silly and unchoreographed, there is some violence that is quite effective. Similarly, the movie teeters on sexual assault at time. There's death and suicide in the movie, so a bunch of themes that wouldn't exactly make it for all audiences.
DIRECTOR: Ritwik Ghatak
For most of this movie, I thought I was missing major cultural moments. I thought that some things were fundamentally Indian and that I might not ever understand them. I kind of hated myself for that. I blamed myself for being not worldly enough to get every beat. But then I Googled the plot of A River Called Titas and realized that most people got the same plot points that I did and nothing else. I'm not saying that it's my fault that some of the major plot points eluded me. But I also know that I'm not alone in not understanding how some elements came into play by the end of the movie. So I'm dumb, but so is everyone else.
It's frustrating when you don't really get everything. I'm also in the unique position of being vulnerable and having to share that I don't quite get everything in a movie. Most people can cover up their ignorance by just keeping quiet. Me? I write a blog about everything I watch. My stupidity is on parade. But I also think that some of this might come from A River Called Titas. The film, or more accurately, the novel, is autobiographical. I can't throw stones at the author saying that there are too many plots going on. But part of me wants to. It's mainly because the central plot is so important and it kind of gets diluted in a mess of other plots that may have no part in the main story. This is my ignorance talking, but it may come down to runtime. Indian films love breaking the two-hour mark by a lot. This is a two-hour-and-forty-minute movie. I have to say, it probably doesn't have to be two-hours-and-forty minutes. The story itself is a simple one. While I acknowledge that the characters probably need a long time dealing with abuse to become as hard edged as they are in the film, adding separate storylines only hurts the story of Basanti and Rajar Jhi.
It's unfathomable that this movie is completely autobiographical. The set of circumstances that get the ball rolling is something out of The Comedy of Errors...only far more tragic. Rajar Jhi and Kishore couldn't possibly run into the exact set of circumstances that would not allow them to recognize each other. Rajar Jhi knows absolutely nothing about her childhood. I would blame it on trauma because that would make a certain amount of sense. But she often writes off her lack of knowledge as only being exposed to situations for certain amounts of time. Maybe that's why I have such a hard time understanding elements of the story, the verisimilitude. I found myself constantly asking why people were acting and reacting the way they did. But part of that can be chalked up to cultural norms. While Rajar Jhi's reactions to things may have been absurd, the treatment by the townsfolk actually kind of scanned. It isn't something I've ever gone through. But one thing that should be made absolutely clear is that I am not an Indian woman in the caste system.
I often wonder what Ghatak's stance on things are. I mean, he's clearly anti-capitalist. I knew that he was a Communist from before the movie started from the Martin Scorsese introduction. It's why I think all of that violence over money happens in the story, despite the fact that it is only tangentially related to the main plot. But for a while, I think that he he has this wonderful feminist message about the role of the patriarchy. It seems to be about women turning against women and the men who thrive under a system that keeps that pattern going. After all, Basanti goes from being a saint-like character to being embittered and alone because of the physical conflict with her mother. It all builds up to this moment and it's great. But the early stuff with Rajar Jhi is actively confusing at times. When Kishore takes Rajar Jhi as his wife, the consummation of their marriage seems like torture for her. She's stuck under the boards of a boat, reproducing the imagery of a tomb. It seems like Kishore is the villain of the story. But when Rajar Jhi runs afoul of the pirates, Kishore becomes one of the most sympathetic characters of the movie. He is driven mad by the loss of his wife. Similarly, Rajar Jhi leads this hopeless existance, striving to find her lost love.
When did Rajar Jhi and Kishore fall in love? Now, let's go with the melodramatic route because the film is extremely melodramatic. Kishore's insanity can be written off as something that he would go through seeing death so personal. Rajar Jhi's melancholy also scans because she's alone with a child in a harsh world that treats her like a criminal. That's all pretty darned accurate. But what I don't understand is their solution to the problem. That scene consummating the marriage really reads like sexual assault. Maybe I'm misreading that sequence, but it reads like a kaleidoscopic nightmare where Kishore forces himself on his new bride. Why is she so desperate to love Kishore after that point? I get it, I'm not an Indian woman in an oppressive system. But it really seems that she loves him. Even when she doesn't recognize Kishore as the insane man, she seems to love the insane man. Where is this coming from? It's very confusing. Also, this world --as harsh as reality is --seems like the most demented world that could ever be. It is only when the insane man is subdued do they decide to kill him? What kind of odd logic is that?
The Shakespeare part of me liked the story of Rajar Jhi and Kishore. But because this movie is really five separate stories, I have to say that the rest of me likes the story of Basanti. Basanti is instantly likable. She's almost too perfect of a character. She plays by her own rules. She is physically intimidating. She's also struck by tragedy, which makes her resolve something earned as opposed to simply a character trait that we have to accept as an audience. When she takes in Ananta, there's an interesting dynamic between the two characters. Basanti is almost a cursed woman, a widow within days of the wedding. It seems like she is unable to move on from this position, despite being a veritable catch in this fishing village (no pun intended). Ananta is treated as a bit of a bastard by this village. People treat him as this pariah because of the loose footing that his mother had in this village. But the idea that these two heal each other's wounds is genuinely lovely. The movie never really goes as hokey as to have Ananta state that Basanti is a new mother. But the bond between those two characters is simply seen in their interactions.
That's probably what makes the rift between those two characters as brutal as it is. We understand that Basanti's mother is a toxic element in Basanti's life. As open-minded as Basanti is towards Indian culture, her mother is equally the way of the old world. She is concerned about status in the community and what people will think, coupled with dwindling finances in this poor fishing village. It's all very sad. But we see this moment where Basanti and her mother's rage come to a head and it is extremely effective. There's something almost Hitchcockian in the way that the scene is film, evoking ancient carnage and animosity between these two women. And while I would have thought that Basanti retreated into sadness and shame for her action, it becomes all that much more depressing knowing that Basanti lashes out with her shame. Yeah, it's a bit of a stretch. But I can't imagine that a woman who has harbored such resentment for her mother chooses to become her mother after that poison becomes physically manifest.
But Basanti's story drags on for just a bit too long. The climax of that story is the driving away of Ananta. She has lost the only child that she has ever known. The introduction of new tortures almost hinders the punch that the separation costs. Here's where I'm going with this: each time a new tragedy hits Basanti, it acts as a distraction from the leaving of Ananta. That is what has broken her heart completely. When the men try to bring these women down financially, as per Ghatak's economic politics, it focuses their attention outwards rather than inwards. It doesn't give Basanti time to ruminate on what she has done to her child. And that's the major internal conflict for Basanti. She had the opportunity to lead a healthy-ish life with Ananta. They were both outsiders and they both loved each other in their own ways. But Ananta is gone from the film long enough that we see that they don't need each other. They are both sad and they'd be better people with each other. But they technically don't need each other. That's the miss for the movie with me.
Listen, I love sad endings. But I think the sadness is misplaced here. The movie ends with the world being a bad place. But the movie should be about that internal conflict. There's no real message with the ending it has right now. But again, I'm not understanding every real bit in the film. Instead, I have part of a story that I really like and an ending that waters that ending down. Part of that might be me, but I also don't think I'm alone on that thought process.
PG because sci-fi animation can get a little bit scary. While I think it is tame, the movie does take an action heavy stance. It's not one of the more emotional maturity films of the Pixar Universe. But in terms of making a big-budget sci-fi action blockbuster, it is going to cover a lot of the same things that movies (in a non-meta sense) cover. For some reason, the movie gave me Alien vibes at times. PG.
DIRECTOR: Angus MacLane
I'm not quite sure about a lot when it comes to this movie. It's going to be extremely hard to write because I'm still piecing things together. The most concrete thing that I can write is "I'm not sure where the hate is coming from." Like, I get that it isn't a perfect movie. Like much of the Disney catalogue, I'm probably not going to revisit it on my own. At best, I can see watching it with my kids if they want to watch it again. But for me? I enjoyed the movie when I watched it and shouldn't that be enough?
I have a feeling that I know what is the problem and I really hope that I'm wrong. This movie might have a fandom problem. People love the Toy Story movies. Like, out of the Disney properties, there's something really beloved about Toy Story. Heck, even I enjoy these movies. (With the exception of Toy Story 2, which students have weaponized to comment how I look like the owner of Al's Toy Barn.) A lot of this is speculation on my part, so it might be a little unfair. But I know that this isn't the Buzz Lightyear of the previous films. The film, starting out with a brazen meta context, establishes that this Buzz isn't the Buzz of the series. Instead, it is the Buzz Lightyear that inspired a line of toys, one of which would be purchased by Andy. Tim Allen doesn't voice Buzz (although I'm not quite sure why not. I guess toys don't always sound like the film actors.) But there's something sacred about making something with Buzz Lightyear outside of the context of Andy and Woody.
While I think that Lightyear might ultimately be unnecessary, I do like the notion of using animation to tell a story that is traditionally associate with live action cinema. Because that's the goal of the movie. It isn't to expand on the mythology of the Buzz Lightyear toy, but rather to use a license to explore something that hasn't necessarily been looked at be fore. Now, I know that there's the "Buzz Lightyear of Star Command" show that also tried touching the same content from television. But Disney has always played it fast and loose with the television stuff, especially on the pre-Disney+ networks. (This is the point where I didn't feel like writing anymore, so I fell down a YouTube hole). But I think I see this movie as the opportunity that Pixar wanted it to be. If Buzz Lightyear wasn't sacred, I see the opportunity that is opening here.
I have this argument a lot when it comes to Star Trek. Star Trek has a foundational core to "Explore strange new worlds" and whatnot. But I know that Star Trek nerds are kind of mad at Paramount+ for having these shows that don't feel like Star Trek. And to that, I say, "Star Trek isn't one thing." It has to have some core values behind it and that's about it. But the format doesn't have to be anything. When thinking about Buzz Lightyear, most of the character's actual personality is from his unboxing. If we were looking at his core values, it all stems from his connections to the rest of Andy's toys. In an odd way, we witness Buzz's birth. We know what he was programmed to do and what he became given his environment. There's not much to add there beyond what we see in the films. So to do a spin-off of that character doesn't feel like it needs to be beholden to what Buzz learns at Andy's house. If anything, it's probably smart to distance the character of this film from the Buzz of the playroom. If there were too many similarities, it would just stress that Buzz was programmed to act that way.
But that asks the question, who is this movie for? I guess the answer is...me. I'm a guy who likes movies and happens to like the Toy Story movies (with the exception of stupid Al), but I don't have any investment in these films. If anything, I'm a big fan of genre and that's what Pixar made in this case. While I do acknowledge that I have a hard time imagining Andy going to see this movie in theaters and losing his mind over it, given it's closeness in look to films like Alien or Interstellar, I can squint and see an eight-year-old kid losing his mind over something like this. But the funny thing is that the movie dares to be pretty heavy for what is ultimately supposed to be an action movie from the '90s. It's kind of bananas that Pixar decided to ignore film trends and special effects stuff for the sake of making just a really solid sci-fi action movie. What a lot of '90s sci-fi forgot is that it is meant to be challenging. Lightyear is actually kind of a challenging film, offering complex moral questions and emotional stakes for the protagonist of the film.
The insane stuff is the time dilation problem. Buzz, because he bears the weight of something that may have been out of his control (although the movie never really lets him of off the hook for his mistake), sacrifices his sense of community to save that community. Every time he goes into space to test this new fuel that offers them hope, he loses four years to time dilation. That's not something that we'd really see in a '90s summer blockbuster. But it is something that sci-fi should talk about because it does create emotional stakes. That stuff is pretty heavy for a younger audience, maybe leading to the dislike of the film. Heck, I might even join the other side and think that this movie was made for people my age, who were Andy's age when the first Toy Story movie came out. But my kids seemed to enjoy it, so I'll use anecdotal evidence to sweep that under the rug. It's interesting, but even more so, it leads to a plot that ultimately doesn't have a clean answer.
Like The Lego Movie 2, Buzz finds out that he is the villain of his own narrative. I don't think that The Lego Movie did it well. I do think that Lightyear did it better. There's a line in Toy Story 2 (Yes, that Toy Story 2) where Buzz discovers that Zurg is his father. I was wondering how this movie was going to adapt to that. Buzz shouts out "Dad" when he sees an older version of himself, which I applaud. But this one ties closer to the central conflict. Buzz, fundamentally, is a good guy. But he's so desperate to be the hero of the story that he often can't see the forest through the trees. But there is the notion about being right. I deal with this problem a lot. I think it's actually a crisis in America now, being right rather than good. Buzz knows that the crash on the planet was his fault. He knows that he put people at risk who had done nothing wrong. Had Buzz been able to change the past immediately upon impact, he could have done something good. But Older Buzz is unable to empathize with people he hasn't met. It's the same thing with ignoring news that happens overseas. Yes, he knows that people had families and had led important lives in his absence. But because he is unable to see those people, they are abstract demographics to him. Young Buzz, on the other hand, saw the joy that Alisha had while Buzz was in space. She became real. As dark as that comparison is, it's the reason that we read The Diary of Anne Frank. People are incapable of emotionally bonding with statistics. However, we relate when the problem becomes real. Young Buzz and his interactions with Alicia and Izzy make them more than a statistic. It's very smart.
But if I am playing canon king, which I often do, I do find it hard to believe that Andy bonded with a movie like this so much. I mean, Lightyear --in world --might have been a mega blockbuster (unlike here). But it is way too sci-fi academic for an eight year old like Andy to bond with that hard. Didn't most kids Andy's age get really excited for Buzz Lightyear? It's a story about morality and the importance of dealing with the mistakes we made. It's about choosing to question oneself and one's path. I mean, an eight-year-old really getting that stuff? That being said, I can probably say that I didn't quite get some of the movies that I adored. Sure, Ernest Scared Stupid wore its heart on its sleeves. But I know that many of the elements of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? went over my head.
So it all makes sense. I wish more people liked it. It's a smarter movie than you would think. That being said, it is Pixar. With the exception of the Cars movies, they tend to be deeper than most. But it kind of fizzled, so I have to be alone in thinking that this movie was pretty solid.
Downton Abbey: A New Era (2022)
PG. There's some innuendo, to be sure. But we let my kids sit in the room while watching this. Admittedly, we had to pause the film and have conversations about things my older daughter might notice or about things that might happen. So keep that in mind. But this is on the more tame side of Downton. There's no murder accusations. There aren't any ribald trysts. There's implication that there might have been an instance of premarital sex. For a live action movie, it's pretty PG.
DIRECTOR: Simon Curtis
It is in no way intentional that I keep watching movies that come from TV shows. I mean, I can't keep harping on the idea that movies are movies and that TV shows are TV shows. But that being said, I knew that Downton Abbey: A New Era was on Peacock and that was probably going to be for a limited time. Part of me absolutely adores Downton Abbey. I don't know what it is about the show that resonates with me when other shows with similar themes and tone bore me to tears. Maybe it is because I bond with the show with my wife that I get excited. I mean, it has production value. It also has just the right amount of stuff that I can tease to not take it too seriously.
I didn't care for the previous Downton Abbey movie. I remember that they tried packing an entire season's worth of storytelling into one movie and that was a huge mistake. I oddly really liked this one. Now, I have to talk about the thing that sticks out quite badly in this film: Singin' in the Rain. Now, Julian Fellowes, the big bad behind Downton, swears that it wasn't an inspiration for this film. But he's also the guy who is on the defensive, so of course he's going to say it. A New Era is a more dramatic version of Singin' in the Rain with characters I already know and like. I mean, it's pretty shameless. I know that the characters are living in the era transitioning from silent films to talkies, but you have to make an unlikable actress have a thick cockney accent and is unable to transition to talkies without the use of dubbing? And then people just fall in love with the new voice? It's a bit on the nose, right? I don't mind. I wish Fellowes just embraced that the story is hackneyed because there's two directions that he could have gone with his response and denial probably wasn't the smartest of choices.
But what I liked about A New Era over the previous film is that it felt like a proper epilogue to the show. As much as I love Downton, this is a great place to stop. Downton was one of those shows that didn't really need a conclusion. People's lives would continue on because that's what life really does. But the thing that hung over us like the Sword of Damocles is the notion that Maggie Smith's Dowager Countess had to die one day. One of the things that was always present on Downton Abbey would be these large and rather noticeable timejumps. I thought they happened more often than they did because I saw when the show fictionally started and when it ended and it wasn't THAT long. But the Dowager Countess was already an older woman at the beginning of the series, when the Titanic sank, and she's about to meet World War II? It just seemed like a stretch. Also, from what I understand, Dame Maggie Smith doesn't actually like the character or the show that much. It's that whole Harrison Ford itching to kill Han Solo bit.
But the story doesn't really give Maggie Smith much to do. The Dowager Countess was always the best part of the show. She brought this lightness to the stories. Yeah, there are other whimsical and lovable characters within this story. But whenever I would sit down to watch Downton, it was with the knowledge that the Dowager Countess would keep saying sassy things. Be aware that I love Gilmore Girls as well, so I am very comfortable stepping out of gender norms for my entertainment. This website is called "Literally Anything Movies" not "Dude Stuff". But this movie didn't want to make it about the Dowager Countess dying. I don't know why we didn't really have a chance to say goodbye to Maggie Smith's character. She's so beloved and the movie really doesn't have her in it for a lot of the film. I kind of got that Smith was there just to fulfill contractual obligations, but wanted to film as little as possible. One of the main stories of the movie does revolve around her character, but stuff that she did years ago. It's all told to us and we never get to experience it. When she dies, it is almost a twist to the story that doesn't really scan with the rest of the movie.
It has to stink being Maggie Smith's age and to still be a viable actress. Every single story that you are in seems to address how old you are and that mortality will continually be a motif with your character. While the movie isn't directly about the Countess's ever-steady trek to the grave, it does involve inheriting property that is hers. It just has to be a lot.
Can I applaud something that A New Era does right though? I mean, I liked the movie overall and think it's pretty good. But I keep complaining about things because that's easier to write about. Can I talk about Mary in this film? To be honest, I remember very little about the last film because I was so disappointed with it. But I remember that Mary got married to someone else in this movie. I guess that guy decided not to come back for this movie. So to cover the fact that one of the major characters was gone like Poochie, they made Mary's relationship suffer. She was the abandoned housewife. Sure, she's still Powerhouse Mary. I hope she's never not Powerhouse Mary. But still, we understand that she is put upon by a husband who is far more interested by his own whims and hobbies than he is about being home with his wife. Maybe there's a reason for that. I kind of remember him being a racecar driver or something like that. But the movie gives Mary this sympathy and a potential romantic triangle. But for the first time ever, the stories I like give the woman a sense of agency and intellect. She's flattered by Jack and he treats her with respect. But she also knows it is absolutely absurd to leave her husband for a guy who happens to be filming at her house for a few weeks.
God, it was refreshing. There was something there, but Mary just never indulges it. It's this emotional maturity coming from a character whose primary function is to temper tantrum about the simplicity of others. No, Mary holds her own. She realizes a very complex idea: "I'm not happy now, but now is not always." That might be one way to read it. It could also be seen as a story of the stupidity of happiness as an ending. Mary is fulfilled in her role as de facto executor of the Downton estate. Instead of romance being the only defining trait that people can imagine a woman having, she sees it as a facet of her personality. That's so good. Because everything that Mary does in this film is with a sense of agency. She is completely saavy on what needs to be done and what is toxic. Instead of seeing this a tawdry love affair, she acknowledges that a guy took his shot and that's it. I also love that Jack, despite being a guy who doesn't mind partaking in a small bit of infidelity, doesn't really push Mary beyond the "no." There's a bit of that, but it doesn't really come across as desperate.
Really, I love that ducks are in a row. Not everything is perfect at Downton, but chapters are closed. Carson enjoys his role as this mentor figure. Barrow finds a place that might accept him. Mrs. Patmore finds love! Even more than that, Mr. Moseley wins the pot! Out of everyone, Moseley gets the happiest ending? Moseley was my guy! He gets to be a Hollywood screenwriter and he gets engaged to the woman of his dreams? I mean, it is fantasy, but I love that fantasy. That is what should happen to the lovable loser. It's just so perfect. Sure, some stories are a little hamfisted. Cora's diagnosis is almost bottled melodrama and intended to serve as misdirection for the Dowager Countess. Bates has absolutely nothing to do with this story and hasn't had a plot for years. But who cares? This is where I want my characters. They're all married off and looking forward to futures.
I stress, I don't want another movie. All of the character arcs have been dealt with in a reasonable way. While there might be more stories about the folks from Downton Abbey, they have all grown to their final ends. They've matured and it is the role of the next generation to continue the stories.
Fallen Angels (1995)
Not rated, but it is pretty R-Rated. Sure, that sounds like an oxymoron, but I think we all know what that means. After all, the early days of DVDs were littered with things called "The Unrated Cut" and that just meant that it was more raunchy than the original. With this case, it's the very overt sexuality of the film. While I can't attest to nudity in this film, it does feel very graphic when it comes to its content. There's also a fair amount of gunplay and violence, so it's really dinging all the boxes for what should be an R-rated film.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
I really don't want to write what I'm about to write. I'm a human being. It feels odd to write that sentence, but it is one of those facts that I just need to write out before laying out what I'm about to say. As a human being, I am susceptible to moods and distractions like anyone else is. But I also write about every movie that I watch. Being human means understanding that my unique set of circumstances might affect how I appreciate something. I'm watching all of the Wong Kar-Wai box set. It's a gorgeous box set that I can't wait to finish. I'm also watching the complete work of a director in a shorter time frame than most people absorb film. So when I find a movie less than interesting, I have to consider whether or not it's me or if it's the movie.
But I am going to try to justify my negative thoughts about Fallen Angels while hoping that I glean some deep hidden meaning through the course of writing. My biggest problem is that it feels like it is just Chungking Express over again, only less coherent. Part of me says this because these are the two movies that are back-to-back in Wong Kar-Wai's oeuvre. They are a year apart. I often tell my students when they have a hard time writing that they should take a break between drafts or even paragraphs. They can come back a little bit more objectively and distance themselves from the product. I think that Wong Kar-Wai --a genius who doesn't deserve my plebian analysis --is working through the same things that he was working through on Chungking Express in this film. And the thing is --and I really need to stop apologizing if I'm ever going to get this done --Chungking feels really well organized and clean. Fallen Angels, on the other hand, is just an experiment on chaos. There is a chaotic element to Chungking, to be sure, but it is balanced with characters that we can relate to. (Apparently, Chungking Express and Fallen Angels were one film according to Wikipedia, so I should have just watched them together.)
Part of that comes from the world that Wong Kar-Wai is building in Fallen Angels. As the title eludes to, the world is far more depressing in the world of Fallen Angels. Not to say that there aren't bright spots, like when Ho Chi-Mo watches videos of his father, whom he loved. That's where the "angel" element comes in there. But there isn't a lot to really latch onto with the characters of Fallen Angels. Like my complaint with the first of the Wong Kar-Wai movies, it just seems too cool. Everything is so dark and miserable, which is what Hong Kong action always seems to be. I suppose that we got The Matrix and the American gun-fu stuff from this era of Hong Kong cinema. I don't really relate to the weary hitman anymore. Honestly, every time I was watching Wong Chi-Ming's story, it felt like it was an exercise in cool. Cool gets really old to me after a while, especially knowing that I have a box set of one director who, for all his genius, does fall back on cool gun stuff. There's really no need for it. And the fact that these stories eventually intertwine, Wong Chi-Ming's violent storylines tend to taint the other narratives. Because I didn't like Wong Chi-Ming's story, his partner's story becomes even more frustrating.
Part of that comes from the sexual element of the story. The partner has almost no character outside of her sexual obsession with a poorly defined character. I never understood why she was so obsessed with this guy outside of the fact that he was dangerous. It actually took one of the plots from Chungking that I really enjoyed and kind of perverted it. It was weird, but cute when the waitress at the restaurant cleaned the police officer's apartment and he didn't realize. But having that entire moment be sexual kind of changes the way that the scene reads. Part of that comes from the notion of fetishizing behavior. In both scenarios, the woman's role is a little bit toxic. But with the case of Chungking, there's something a little bit romantic about the entire action. There's an innocence in visiting his apartment that we never really get from the partner in Fallen Angels. This leaves the third character the only character that I really care about.
Ho Chi-Mo (which is a different name than the imDb page has listed) actually has a bit of a character arc that I can get behind. While I don't necessarily love that story, there is something I can get behind. Yeah, Wong Kar-Wai is still wading in something that is cool and edgy, but at least he's kind of laughing at himself with the whole thing. The mute escapee's story is meant to infuse a little levity into the whole thing. Both Chungking Express and Fallen Angels are about the relationships that are formed and it is through the mute's levity that we can actually root for someone because there is a redeeming trait. Ho Chi-Mo keeps doing absolutely insane things because of his odd sense of self-preservation. It's funny to see him force people to buy his wares that aren't even his or what he considers appropriate to the nature of commerce. But he's also kind of sweet in his simplicity about what is acceptable. It's why when we meet Charlie, her odd behavior seems appropriate for him. It's left of center and because they are both unique, there's something to latch onto. I mean, it makes sense that this relationship doesn't work out.
It's because Wong Kar-Wai's world should follow the rules of reality, but these people who are the focus of the films don't have to abide by societal norms. As much as Charlie is the focus of the mute escapee, she is running a narrative where she is the hero of her own story. Her story is about getting Johnny back, despite the fact that she probably never had him. While Ho Chi-Mo pines after her, he has no way to communicate his frustrations to her. And it doesn't come down to the fact that he cannot speak. (I seem like a hypocrite for those two sentences.) He never bemoans his own silence. Instead, he simply assumes that Charlie is enamored with him. It's one of those things that, because they are in each others' spheres of influence, that they must bond. But that's not Charlie. Despite the fact that Ho Chi-Mo becomes a fundamentally different person because of Charlie, she has never seen him as anything besides someone who is there. As depressing as this is, he is a walking tissue. He's there to bounce sound off of. She can scream into the void of the universe and there's no judgement because Ho Chi-Mo can't speak. It's what makes her reappearance so tragic. She can't even view him as a person once she's happy because she's never viewed him as a person.
I don't hate depressing ends to romance. Quite the opposite. I tend to like when the romantic leads don't get together. But I also like something to latch onto. It's odd that I can only latch onto Ho Chi-Mo and Charlie because they show some emotional complexity versus the mood of the film that is quite pervading. I know I'm burning some bridges with my disregard of this film, but it doesn't have the same joy that Chungking Express had while maintaining the same format. It's through its juxtaposition that I see the flaws and that's a bummer.
Prey (Comanche Dub) (2022)
Rated R because the Predator tends to rip people and bears apart. Oh, you didn't know that a bear gets ripped apart in this movie? It does. It also bifurcates a snake longways. Predator movies tend to get quite violent and this is no exception to the rule. There's some language, which I can't say it plays out the same way in the non-Comanche dub. Still. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Dan Trachtenberg
Oh, I don't think I have time to write this out. But I got to work early enough to get everything I needed to done, But I'm going to try. Listen, I knew this movie was coming out. It's a piece of genre from a major franchise. Of course I knew it was coming out. But I saw the trailer and went "meh." Now, the movie is far from "meh." But it was when Henson called it his favorite movie of the year that I said that I had to watch it. For those out there who ship Henson and I, chill. I didn't love the movie that much. But Prey might be the best or second best Predator movie...which isn't really saying much.
I can't imagine losing my mind over this movie. Like Terminator movies, there's only so many scenarios that can play out with a film series like this. At one point, you feel like you are watching the same movie over and over again. When I say, "You", I mean "me." And the thing is, I keep on turning up for them. There's something about the formula that is interesting enough to garner some degree of attention. But there needs to be something different about each movie. I mean, look at The Hangover movies. When you keep making the same movie over and over again, people are going to notice. So what makes Prey more interesting than say, Predators?
I know that some people are going to knee-jerk reaction the notion of being woke. Man alive, I hate these people. But Prey does consider having a story that transcends mindless action. By having a female protagonist with the title of Prey, there is something that is worth discussing. Naru's internal conflict is that no one treats her like the warrior that she is. That entire comes from her gender and the norms associated with her culture. I think we can naturally make that jump from a Native American culture in 1719 to the same patriarchal society in 2022. But in the case of Prey, at least we have some audience willing to watch a narrative with a female protagonist that can take down a Predator. And that's where the science fiction gets interesting. The thing about the Predator is that it always stalked other hunters. Anything that didn't threaten it was completely free to be whatever. It's not like it was a healthy thing. If you've ever seen a Predator movie, you'll realize that the entire story is macho garbage at best. But the idea of being in the position of being harmless is an interesting commentary. Naru is a hunter. She is skilled with an axe and is lethal. But because she doesn't revel in killing and that she's a woman, she's not seen as a threat.
So like with good sci-fi horror, the external conflict of a Predator hunting someone parallels the problem that the character deals with internally. There's something oddly passive about the insult that is lobbed upon Naru. We don't know anything about the intellect or gender politics of the Predators' species, but it simply assumes that Naru couldn't be a real threat. I don't know if I'm supposed to be celebrating when the creature treats her as a serious threat. That seems a little backwards. But it is somewhat gratifying knowing that Naru can catch this hulking beast off his game. This is a creature that she watched break a bear in half. She's aware of his abilities and power because she has witness countless deaths at his hands, often wielding technology that would be overwhelming to anybody. Yet, she still decides that it is her job to destroy this creature without the help of others. It's not that she wouldn't welcome help. It's just that everyone else is a hinderance because they don't believe her due to her femininity. Cool. I like that as a story.
But the part I don't enjoy is the basic root of Predator movies. It's not the hunter hunting other hunters bit. I like that. But the point of these movies is that the Predators visit planets and hunt dangerous games. They need to prove that they are the ultimate hunters and will continue hunting any creature that proves to be a threat. But Prey calls out the flaw in that. At one point, Taabe yells out, "Cheater." And he's 100% right. The Predator movies never really made a whole ton of sense to me. There's no actual challenge for these creatures. They are borderline invisible. They have massive weapons. Most of the people don't even know that they're being hunted because...why would they? Thematically, the message is that there is always a greater hunter. But the protagonists of these movies always destroy the Predator. (Part of me remembers Predators as a movie where everyone loses, but it's been a minute.) Sure, it involves using wits. But even in that first Predator movie, when the creature is beaten, he decides to nuke the entire area. How is that part of the story, teaching us that there's a danger in hunting?
I think I have a problem with Predator movies that I do with a lot of franchises. To me, the notion of The Predator is cool. He's real gross looking. He has awesome weapons. It's constant action and good times. But the intellectual side of me just gets bored. It's constantly eating junk food without substance. I'm going to give Prey some points. There was at least something to absorb that proved to be a pretty good time and something to think about. But was it something that would stick with me for years? Probably not. Honestly, a Hulu exclusive is the perfect way to describe this movie. It's good, but it's not so good that I can forgive the flaws of Predator movies overall.
The Bob's Burgers Movie (2022)
PG-13 for mostly innuendo. I suppose that Tina's fantasies get a bit risqué for younger audiences, but there is so little holding this back from being PG. Maybe I'm alone in that, but most of the stuff that is said goes over kids' heads. There is a murder in this one that the kids investigate. And yeah, investigating a murder puts kids in peril. But this is Bob's Burgers we're talking about. It's going to be just a little too PG-13 to show to kids.
DIRECTORS: Loren Bouchard and Bernard Derriman
Writing about movies that are spin-offs of television shows is tough. Part of me really wants to write about the television show and the other half is about the movie. I mean, I enjoyed writing about all of the Star Trek movies, simply because I think that Star Trek naturally transcends its television roots. But writing about something like The Bob's Burgers Movie is going to be a bit of a challenge. There's a dangerous part of me that wants to write one sentence summarizing my major beef with the movie and bone out. But that's going to be a temptation that I can't allow myself. 1) I'll be disappointed in myself and 2) what if I do it again?
That one sentence? It doesn't feel like a movie. I'm not the only one who said it. Sure, it has that Simpsons Movie animation style that just screams that the folks behind the film got a little more money. (BTW, if you are uncomfortable about the comparison to The Simpsons Movie, strap in because that's the crux of my argument.) But there's almost nothing here that couldn't have been handled in an extended episode of the show. Maybe there's a charm to that. (Be aware, there's a concept swirling around my head now that I'm going to formulate into words.) If The Simpsons Movie is the way to adapt adult television animation into film, then there are some things that we have to presume. The Simpsons Movie added stakes to a story that fundamentally doesn't have stakes. While things happen on the Simpsons occasionally, like Lisa becoming a vegetarian or Maude Flanders dying, the show isn't ever about peril. Each episode, while grandiose compared to real mundane lives, tends to be personal. Bart is worried about getting a bad grade or Homer upsets Marge. Yeah, there are some weird ones, like when Homer goes to space. But a thing that makes episodic comedy is the understanding that you can't upset the apple cart too much. The same thing holds true for Bob's Burgers. If anything, Bob's Burgers relishes (pun intended) the mundaneness of Bob's life. He thrives in his burger shop. While he has some adventures, it's mostly a guy who likes flipping burgers interacting with his quirky family. The jokes stem from music and the straight man dealing with the absurd characters in his life.
So to give Bob's kids a murder mystery to solve may seem epic and cinematic, there is a big safety net attached to that story. The victim is only tangentially associated with Bob. It isn't a member of his family. It isn't even a character from the show. Heck, the format even follows the adult animation model of the protagonists' issues having a remote attachment to what the plot of the episode would be. Bob and Linda, who have perpetual business problems, must pay back a loan that has lapsed. They have a few days to get this money together and the only way that they can raise the money is if Mr. Fischoeder, their landlord, allows them to be late on their rent. To make him change his mind about rent, they must clear him of a murder. That's a lot of steps to get to "Bob and Linda have to raise money", which is a real world problem compared to clearing someone of murder. And, spoiler alert, the murderer isn't even a character associated with the show. As far as I know, the murderer is a new character created for the film. What kind of stakes are those beyond what a normal episode can present? Bob is always worried about losing the business. There's nothing all that new going on there that would merit a movie.
But --and let me work this out on the fly --maybe that's a good thing? I mean, I know it's not. I acknowledge that this film is incredibly forgettable because it takes no risks. But Bob's Burgers has always been the indie darling of Fox. It is aggressively not Family Guy or The Simpsons. Bob and Linda are a happy couple whose humor gets a little twee and quirky from time to time. If anything, Bob's Burgers has worked hard to distance itself from its peers on the Animation Domination block (if it is even called that anymore. We cut cable years ago.) I'm putting myself in Loren Bouchard's shoes right now. His entire career with Bob's Burgers has been to distance himself from The Simpsons. There's a natural comparison. The idea of Homer Simpson as the archetype for adult animation is nothing new. Even Homer is just a version of Fred Flintstone and Fred himself has live-action comparisons that go even further. So if Bob's Burgers has carved itself a niche on television, why shouldn't it be gutsy and be...bland for cinema? I mean, my major complaint is that I like the TV show and this is very much like a normal TV show episode. How is that a bad thing? I can tell you and it's not good. Because the film is so only okay, it makes me question how much I like the show. That's no good because I would have fought to the hilt for this show originally. I mean, it's not must watch TV. But I always knew that Bob's Burgers was something special. Now, I question that. There's only so many times I can see Tina fantasize about Jimmy Jr. Even Gene's jokes tended to land into, "Oh Gene" territory.
Which brings me back to "Why a movie?" Like I mentioned, Bob's Burgers often found its voice in its songs. Each episode of the show seemed to have a musical number or two, accentuating its quirky voice that its compatriots lacked. There are more songs in the film, but why not go full-musical? This is probably the takeaway that all of this writing got me to: Why stay in the safe zone? The Bob's Burgers Movie was an opportunity to celebrate what makes the show special. While The Simpsons Movie put the Simpsons and Springfield in genuine peril, The Bob's Burgers Movie should have gone full musical. Bigger doesn't always have to look the same and Bob's Burgers could have really ramped up what made it something to behold. Instead, we have internal conflict of the week. It's not like Louise always grew upset about being a baby. Gene straight up doesn't have a story for the week, outside of his typical musical frustrations. All of it just seems...the same. There's something to mine out of Bob's Burgers, but it all seems a bit wasted because something was working for the small screen. Ultimately, it didn't translate to the big screen.
TV-14, primarily for constant and unflinching sexual innuendo. I mean, imagine that you didn't know who Beavis and Butt-Head were. That's reasonable. I mean, this is a show that has been off the air for an entire generation. One of the characters in the title of the film is named "Butt-Head". Me explaining the parental advisory section on a movie that has "Butt-Head" in the title is a bit on the nose, don't you think? There's also language that is coupled with that innuendo.
DIRECTORS: Albert Calleros and John Rice
Ah, my first day of work. I got here early enough to write a blog entry before my official duties begins. So let's take a look at what I will be writing? Sure, Beavis and Butt-Head had to align with my first full day in the workplace. I have some setting up to do, but I'm still way on schedule, so I'm going to write about the thing that my parents freaked out about when I was in high school. I remember Beavis and Butt-Head being this massive scare across the country. This was pre-South Park. But I'm 99% certain that it was post-Simpsons. Either way, there might have been this weird ourobouros thing going on with the fear of Beavis and Butt-Head because here I am, nearly 40, writing about the newest Beavis and Butt-Head movie.
The thing about the fears about Beavis and Butt-Head was that not many people understood the long con that Mike Judge was pulling. I mean, Patrick Stewart --super fan of Beavis and Butt-Head --did. But nobody knew who Mike Judge was. We didn't really get that Beavis and Butt-Head were created to satirize my generation. Like many animated characters who are meant to expose the faults of our culture, we worshipped them instead of saw the inherent criticism of these characters. As much as people both worship and fear Rick and Morty, Beavis and Butt-Head were there to show us what not to do. Instead, it influenced a bunch of morons to play Frog Baseball. I can see why Beavis and Butt-Head were retired. I'm not sure if it was just the attitude of Judge himself or if the '90s grunge moron was becoming passé. But Mike Judge needed to be a little less subtle about his disdain for the way society was progressing. We got stuff like Idiocracy and Office Space to really point the finger at us. In light of that, Beavis and Butt-Head as a show made a lot more sense.
I can see why Judge probably returned to these characters. The cynic in me thinks that Paramount+ showed up with a dump truck full of money and demanded that he do it. But there was nothing at fault with the Beavis and Butt-Head model. He just needed my generation to grow up a bit. I can't imagine Gen Z jumping on board this character. I'm actually amazed that these characters still mostly work in such a different culture. I mean, a major tenet of these characters were the fact that they made fun of music videos, which mostly don't exist anymore. As the movie shows, these two should be old farts who are still obsessed with the bands that they thought were cool in high school.
So if I'm going to write a blog about Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe, I have to look at what it is satirizing. It's not like Judge is taking a potshot at one person or group. I don't think that was ever Beavis and Butt-Head's mission statement. If Idiocracy was an attack on anti-intellectualism, I have to imagine that Judge is disillusioned with the state of our country today. There's never been such a sense of pride about facts and education to my knowledge. (I say this out of an anecdotal perspective and am applying my own depressing thoughts to the discourse.) But Judge applies an almost hopeless attitude to the way we exist in post-Trump America. If the OG Beavis and Butt-Head pointed out the stupidity of Bush's America, with low ambitioned individuals getting frustrated at the moronic stupidity of the eponymous characters, this is the movie that stresses that we're never going to find common ground. I'm really swinging for the fences with this one, but maybe the film is about the absurdity of having basic expectations on the left.
Beavis and Butt-Head are finally given something that progressives want: the disadvantaged are given a chance to leave their toxic environments. In the case of the movie, it has to do with sending these kids to Space Camp. Listen, I went to Space Camp a whole bunch of times. Do you want me to prove it? I went to Space Camp enough times to know that you eventually go into Space Academy if you are old enough. Yeah. That's some street cred right there. It's not like my parents were rich. I'm living a far more economically stable life than I did when I was a kid. But I know that my parents had to be financially set to send me to Space Camp because that is expensive. But because I've become this progressive liberal hippie, I want the disadvantaged to receive these opportunities. But Judge isn't going to throw a softball at the left. Nope. There's a major flaw in that attitude of sending Beavis and Butt-Head to Space Camp. It's throwing money at a problem as opposed to actually taking the time to get to help these kids.
Because a goldfish has no idea how to climb a tree, these guys are going to take their previous world knowledge and apply it to Space Camp. And because democrats like me are so thrilled to see success in any form, they put it on display. They send Beavis and Butt-Head to space. Before I get too much on my breakdown of satire, I would like to point out that a lot of these choices are probably done in service to a plot. Beavis and Butt-Head had to find a way to 2022 and to do that, they had to be sucked into a wormhole. It doesn't change that there's a message there. Serena wanted to badly to be this moral good for mankind that she ended up exposing a really dark side to herself. It's the frustration that comes with an objective good staring you in the face and people choosing not to get on board. Beavis and Butt-Head, avatars of anti-intellectualism, are incapable of growth. It's what makes them work so well on TV. We know that there isn't going to be a lot of change for them over the course of the story. Because these characters won't move and enjoy bliss, it's us who have to look at ourselves.
Serena goes from this advocate for the sciences and alternative forms of education to someone who is willing to kill to maintain political clout. I mean, the movie literally puts the boys in a 2022 gender studies class and they make the same mistake Americans make on such a grandiose scale. There's no room for nuance and there's no room for interpretation when it comes to Beavis and Butt-Head. When they are told that they have White privilege, they see it as this get-out-of-jail-free card. And that's great. That's the knee jerk reaction of the right saying that "I've had it just as hard as anyone", but from a place of laughter and stupid joy. It's kind of brilliant.
In terms of a movie, I don't know if Do the Universe really does anything particularly cinematic. I'm going to be talking about The Bob's Burgers Movie in a few days and will be covering the same points. It is kind of a bigger episode of the show. I want people like my wife to love this, but I don't honestly see that happening. At this point, I think you either like Beavis and Butt-Head or you don't. That seems like an empty statement, but it might be more of a commentary on how we absorb popular culture. The fact that I had to write out the name "Paramount+" on this blog kind of shows how nuanced entertainment has become. Things aren't necessarily aimed for a broad audience anymore (something that the fine folks at Warner Bros. Discovery should probably learn quickly before they completely gut HBOMax). Like, I don't expect to see this new wave of Beavis and Butt-Head fans popping up. Instead, I see a bunch of 40-year-old liberals like me commenting on our own flaws instead of making active change to fix ourselves. (What? I'm aware that I'm part of the problem!)
It's kind of amazing that sexual innuendo still gets me laughing. Like, this is a full-length movie and I still chuckle over things that Beavis and Butt-Head find funny. And to a certain extent, I do see some character arcs, mostly with Beavis gaining even a modicum of emotional maturity over the course of the film. But this is not going to be one of those movies that changes cinema, even in the least. It's a great episode of Beavis and Butt-Head, but beyond that it is just something to entertain you while running on a treadmill.
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.