Rated R for violence, murder, gore, sex, nudity, and language. It's funny, because the movie's tone almost is spitting in the face of the graphic content that you watch. I want to say that the movie isn't that bad, but it actually is kind of a brutal watch if I was just making a tally of all of the questionable content in the film. R.
DIRECTORS: Joel and Ethan Coen
I don't think I was cinematically saavy enough to appreciate Fargo the first time I watched it. A lot of that came down to expectation. I knew about two things going into Fargo the first time that I watched it: people's regional dialects were funny and that there was a woodchipper somewhere in the movie. Well, there definitely was a woodchipper; I didn't get that wrong. But if you are watching this movie because people's regional dialects are funny, you'd be both right and wrong at the same time.
I'd like to think that I'm more well-rounded. I do know that I've come back to this movie in a better headspace. I've seen almost all of the Coen Brothers' movies (I have a vague memory of having seen The Ladykillers at some point in time.) I have also watched every season of Noah Hawley's FX show Fargo, which has given me a greater appreciation for what Fargo is supposed to be. In 1996, I was 13. I maybe saw it when I was 15 or 16. The movie was never really made for me then. Now, I guess the cinematic savant came at this movie --as snobby as that is --and I loved it. See, there's this very specific headspace that you have to go into Fargo with. It simultaneously is like every other murder thriller that you've seen and completely it's own movie. I honestly would have a hard time putting Fargo on a double bill outside of another Coen Brothers movie. It's just that the Coen Brothers have their own cinematic language dedicated to worshipping and deifing the common. Without being political (in the sense of actively political), they take red states and make them almost the world of fantasy. Everything about Fargo is an attempt to make the real world look like a set. There's a shot of Frances Macdormand sitting in her cruiser eating Hardees --a motif throughout the film is her family's obsession with contextualizing the macabre with scheduled eating --and there's a billboard in the background for Miller Genuine Draft. The billboard makes a joke about how cold their beer is and that the town is cold enough already. While I can't say I remember this particular ad campaign, something about it screams "verisimilitude" with a heightened sense of importance.
I think that O Brother, Where Art Thou; Big Lebowski, or No Country for Old Men might be the quintessential Coen Brothers movie, but I can see why Fargo is often lumped into those top tier examples. It may be overshadowed by time, simply because there have been so many exceptional films by these two. But Fargo works not just because it tells a brutal and compelling tale contrasted by a small setting, but because it honestly puts characterization first. I won't lie; a kidnapping plot gone horrifically wrong is probably incredible watchable in itself. I don't want to downplay the importance of plot in the film. But the Coens do this thing where every character, with the intentional juxtaposition of Grimsrud, is so fully developed that it becomes almost a commentary on midwestern life. Margie is supposed to be the avatar for the audience. The cop who is on the outside of the tale often is meant to be tabula rasa. I'm thinking of the Sam Spades out there. Sure, Spade may be a bit of a jerk and an alcoholic, but he doesn't have a personal life to share on screen. Margie, however, has a completely arbitrary backstory that doesn't tie into the plot. I'm saying this as a positive, by the way. Margie has multiple subplots that give us only a hint of what it means to live outside of Fargo (or, if being specific, Brainerd / the Twin Cities).
While the case of the triple homicide is her plot, she's living this complex life. She seems happily married to a man who paints mallards for competeitions. They are obsessed with mealtime, taking pleasure at any opportunity to have something. Their love language surrounds surprising each other with small meals or gifts. In the case of Margie, she stops by the bait-and-tackle place immediately after identifying a horror show to pick up nightcrawlers for her husband, who is later revealed to go ice fishing. Simultaneously, she almost flirts with the notion of an emotional affair. She meets with Mike Yanagita, much to the surprise of her husband (who doesn't know she's going to meet Mike, but finds it odd that she volunteers to go to the Twin Cities unprovoked). I stress that it is a contemplated emotional affair because she sets clear boundaries with Mike, who seems to be fishing for a sexual conquest / relationship with a clearly pregnant Margie. The entire Mike bit might have been a step too far in terms of distraction, but it really works. I don't know how. Maybe it's just the commitment to the world of Fargo, but Mike's revelation, that he made up a dead spouse, just seems to remind us that as insane as Jerry's story is going, there's something so small-d-dramatic about the midwest that is grounding.
As I stated, I misread this movie the first time I saw it. I don't know why, but I had my priorities all screwed up when I did that viewing. I had a complete misread on Jerry's character. The first time I watched this movie, I was so sympathetic to Jerry. Jerry was this hapless loser (and that part is accurate) that I wanted to win at the end. I don't know why. To me, this was one of those movies where so much crap piled on one dude and the movie was going to end with him getting his moment. He was Milton from Office Space for me. I wanted to see him have his time in the sun. But Jerry's story, which oddly enough is the plot of the movie, despite the fact that Margie has so much emotional baggage, is one of evil. Jerry is evil. Maybe it was because I identified too much with Jerry that I let him off the hook too easily. From a quick watch of the movie, Jerry comes across as a guy who got in over his head.
But Jerry isn't that. Listen, I'm wired for empathy, but a second viewing made me see that Jerry is a guy who constantly creates his own problems. We don't actually get a very clear understanding of Jerry's racket. While it seems like Jerry's problem in the beginning has to do with VINs, that is actually a way bigger crime than what we tend to believe. His comfort with crime is similar to someone paying off credit card debt by getting another credit card. There's this house of cards thing that Jerry creates in the film that is kind of fascinating. And the thing is, a lot of it stems off of Jerry's greed. He just pushes his luck a little too far each time. I don't want to make the obvious comparison to Gil from The Simpsons, considering that Gil is just Jack Lemmon from Glengarry Glen Ross, but Jerry isn't the type of personality that should push his luck. (I make the Gil comparison hesistantly because they're both car salesmen.) But let's talk about the moment where Jerry goes into full on punchable mode. The walls are closing in on Jerry. Basically everything that can go wrong has gone wrong. The plan was to extort his father-in-law for $80,000 with the two kidnappers and they'd split the cash. But then Jerry asks for $1,000,000, which is a game-changer in terms of story. It's that million dollars that makes everyone more cautious. Now, I get that Jerry needs more than 40,000 to take care of his woes with the VIN scam he's running. But it is that greed that gets everyone killed. It goes from being a sacrifice to a lifestyle change for Gunderson, leading to the eventual slaughter of all the victims of the film.
Okay, so the three people in the initial kidnapping would have been killed regardless. But I'm talking about this epiphany that Jerry has. Jerry follows Gunderson to the drop. After all, he's about to lose all his money to Carl because he got greedy. But it is in that moment where Jerry has to process not only the conceptual deaths that were the three initial homicide victims, but the real world death of Gunderson and the innocence of the garage teller. Yet, Jerry can't think to step outside of his own little world. I applaud the use of "Geez" in this movie because it really does stress how far from the mark these characters get from the real world horror of what Carl and Grimsrud do in the film. He flees, knowing that there's a good chance that Jean will be killed and that Scotty won't have a parent. This guy isn't the hapless loser that I read him as. He's a monster in his own right.
I also want to look how the Coens stress the notion of the ambivalence of violence with the kidnappers. Carl and Grimsrud are both lunatics, but on complete opposite sides of the scale. Carl is this guy who flexes and shows off his machismo. I do love that he's the guy that Shep Proudfoot doesn't know because he comes across as the "brains of the operation", in the same way that Nick Bottom is the leader of the Rude Mechanicals, an assumption that is made exclusively by self-perception. He's the guy who causes all of the complications. He's the guy who couldn't manage to change the stickers on the plates, leading to the three murders. He's the guy who whines at the bar, complaining that he can't handle another minute at the house by the lake, despite stressing that he's a murderer. Everything that honestly goes wrong on the kidnapping end happens because of Carl. But that doesn't mean that Grimsrud is devoid of character analysis. Remember, violence is this thing that is simply glossed over from these characters' perspectives. One of my favorite moments (in the most morbid sense of the words) is Jean's death. You know that Jean isn't going to be returned. This movie screams "botched kidnapping" from word one. But there are a handful of moments when Jean looks like she's going to die, but doesn't.
You could think that she dies when she falls down the stairs. You think she's going to die from running off blindfolded and tied up into the woods. Heck, maybe something bad happens with the oven. But Jean really holds in there until she just dies off camera? I mean, that is a choice. And it is such a great choice to close of Grimsrud's characterization. Death is such an arbitrary idea to him. He is simply annoyed by her. They kept her alive all that time and it didn't even matter. I mean, sure, the actual money exchange went belly up, but Grimsrud didn't know that. It's also this great moment that almost foreshadows Carl's death. Things that annoy Grimsrud end up dead. He's the pro of the two, but he's also the guy who lifts his mask up during the kidnapping because he doesn't want to put up with Jean's --and by proxy, Jerry's --nonsense. It's great.
Honestly, Fargo is an amazing movie. It's the second viewing that really knocked it into place for me. I know that the Coen Brothers are geniuses, but Fargo is one of those movies that still holds up. Yes, it's a classic, but somehow I want it to be more of a classic.
Rated R for violence, language, drug use, nudity, and sexuality. It's a movie that is unafraid of whatever rating it gets. While I would never show this to children, it's not like the movie is trying to be offensive. It just knows that it isn't shooting for a PG-13 rating at any point. It is a sci-fi film that never wants to feel like it is sci-fi. Like Black Mirror, sci-fi becomes most terrifying when it seems real. R.
DIRECTOR: Juel Taylor
Oh man, I'm so glad my wife was down to watch this. I was ia movie mood. My family, besides me, all has Covid, so I'm masking all the time. I tend to watch movies on the treadmill, but taking deep breaths in that house right now seems like a bad idea. So we watched They Cloned Tyrone, mainly because I just put this on. I honestly thought that this was made by the Attack the Block guy, mainly because John Boyega was in it. Still, They Cloned Tyrone did not disappoint even a little bit. I love that genre is embracing Black culture because genre storytelling is shifting out of "what if" to straight up allegory about stuff that's going on.
Listen, good sci-fi is supposed to preach at you a bit. I'm talking about both optimistic and pessimistic sci-fi. You are supposed to be looking at yourself. They Cloned Tyrone is pessimistic sci-fi, but it really never lets to get complacent with its message. I do love that we start with the really ambiguous "They" for the title because I kept seeing They Cloned Tyrone as the They Live for Black America. Listen, I don't love They Live. I love that They Live exists. It's a movie that I will be referencing the rest of my life. But They Live is just too on the nose for me. It is now kind of viewed ironically, mainly because of that fight with Keith David and the hilarious wrestling hair. But They Live was one of those movies that lacked subtlety and went right for the jugular when it came to talking about allegory. They Cloned Tyrone is not being subtle about its message. White America is manipulating Black America to encourage a racial divide. In the case of They Cloned Tyrone, it's doing so through chemical experimentation (which unfortunately is a little less sci-fi than I'd care to admit).
But where They Live is accidentally ironic (I refuse to believe that John Carpenter made these choices as tongue-in-cheek), They Cloned Tyrone is aware that the best way to get a message out there is through laughter and then the stark realization that the world is a terrible place. A lot of They Cloned Tyrone is masking a bitter pill in cheese. I attribute a lot of that to Jamie Foxx's Slick Charles. Slick Charles, oddly enough, might be my least favorite part of this movie. (I'm sorry, Mr. Foxx. I love you as an actor and I think you did exactly what you were supposed to with this character.) It's just that Slick Charles is in scenes with Fontaine. It's almost like they're filming two different movies. Foxx is filming Undercover Brother and Boyega is filming Training Day. Tonally, they're both different. But you kind of need Slick Charles to tell the story you are trying to tell. The movie is aggressive about its commentary on Black stereotypes. Because the movie is satire, it is throwing these slightly-larger-than-life moments at the screen. Slick Charles is part of the world of the Glen, which has convenience stores named "Got Dranks" and a chicken place that has a swear word in it. It's trying to make you laugh...until it doesn't.
That's when the movie gains an intensity that They Live never really had. John Carpenter, for all of his directing genius, never really hits the mark when it comes to intensity. As blantant as both movies are, John Boyega brings this grounded performance that makes the world feel more real. I know, glasses that let you see the theme of the movie is meant to be a sci-fi element of a real world, but the world of the Glen feels both like satire and reality. Maybe I'm just having a bit of a recency bias, but They Live just feels like a cardboard set compared to the world of They Cloned Tyrone. But here's the thing: Tyrone isn't exactly a nuanced documentary either. It's a commentary on stereotypes that we find funny. The movie is almost accusatory for having me laugh along with it. One of the big reveals of the movie is that Black people are being bred out of existence. Those experiments who are almost completely white live in this reality where they enjoy Black culture, but distance themselves from their Black victims. When the chicken shack owner is seduced by Yo-Yo, there's this distance between sexual needs and a sense of superiority in the moment.
I talked a little bit about the notion that this is science fiction, but it really isn't. They Cloned Tyrone's use of allegory is in this liminal space between the reality that the government works to keep miniorities in line and the fiction of the specific commentaries that Taylor weaves through his story. He understandably hates what Black culture has been reduced to in the eyes of White America. It's almost an encouraged pigeonholing of a complex culture that keeps being stolen for the sake of simplifying society. Instead, he has that attitude that Melvin Van Peebles has in his movies. These elements that Black people are stereotyped with are awesome, but reductive. They're used for laughs. I don't see the movie as anti-chicken. It's saying that people can't be seen as only liking one thing. I do get the vibe that the movie might be anti-religion, however. When the movie talks about music or chicken, the responses that people have are incongruous. The chicken makes you laugh. The music makes you a zombie. Okay, there's a little bit of a metaphor there. But when it comes to looking at religion, the movie hits the nail on the head pretty hard.
The look at faith as a means to stop people from rising up is pretty one-to-one. Look, I'm a practicing Catholic. There are times that my faith is better than others. But when The Preacher is using charisma to mask very painful trauma to these people, there's something wildly irresponsible that comes with it. Now, because the movie uses chemicals as a means to manipulate the masses, it isn't directly the religion that is causing people to stay ignorant about the control happening behind the curtain; it's the grape drink. But it's the context of the two. The same could be said of all of the objects, I suppose. It's not just the chemicals in the hair product. It's the chemicals in the hair product plus the social environment of the beauty shop. The chicken works the same way. Slick Charles has taste in isolation of the chemicals in the hot chicken. He's mostly okay from that moment. It's only when he's put in the social context of the restaurant that he starts spiraling out of control. But the religion one seems to be the most pure criticism. Maybe it is because it is the one that hits me the hardest. Out of all the stereotypes about Black culture, the religion element seems the most crossing-of-lines.
But They Cloned Tyrone is also one of those movies that is so clear with its message that it doesn't really leave room for debate. There were moments where I thought that this might actually be a criticism of Black culture in a weird way. But then Kiefer Sutherland showed up in a role that I'm not used to seeing him in and explained away the whole where's and why's of the movie. It's great because sometimes a blantant movie just needs to be even more blatant. But he also acts as this great personified villain when a story just needs to take someone down quickly. I mean, there's a face to White America and he's actually playing The Man. It's kind of amazing especially when it comes to a third-act showdown. But he's also scary as heck because he's one of these characters who presents the blind arguments that we've been getting for a while.
I don't know. I feel like commenting on a forward movie is almost annoying to a certain point for a reader. Listen, is They Cloned Tyrone great? Totally. It's a really good watch. I enjoyed it and I love getting super political. Should you watch it? Absolutely. Maybe that's all this blog really needed to be. It might have an element of preaching to the choir, but that's true about most art. It's the ones who become subversive over time that rile feathers, but the message isn't there. Regardless, great movie.
Not rated, but like many of Antonioni films, Red Desert has an element of sexuality through it, culminating in the third act with a sex act that could, at best, be described as involving questionable consent. There's obscured nudity and innuendo in the film. Also, the movie feels quite cruel, even though that might not be something that MPAA necessarily rates. Still, not rated.
DIRECTOR: Michelangelo Antonioni
It was always going to be the next movie I watched. I just loved that it fell exactly after I told the kids to challenge themselves to things that they may not be awesome at. Both this and Asteroid City required some further reading before trying to take a crack at writing. Part of me loves going into an interpretation blind. It challenges me. But I also think to my failure with a Bergman interpretation before launching head-first into a blog that might be difficult. I just have to keep repeating my mantra: "Research is a good thing."
The good news --kind of --is that Red Desert is difficult for everyone. Both essays I read stressed that Red Desert doesn't have one interpretation. I guess most stories don't. But it's almost as if Antonioni is keeping his cards close to his chest. He wants me to struggle a little bit. It's more about mood than it is about having a concrete theme. We know that Giuliana is victimized in this movie, and not only by her husband. Yes, her husband seems like the worst, but it seems like the world is out to get her. Antonioni plays this chess match against himself when presenting the story of Giuliana's oppression. He creates an environment where Giuliana's oppression seems valid. People seem distant and terrible. Regardless of how many people are around her, she always seems alone. But on the other hand, Antonioni also creates a world where Giuliana comes across as eccentric and overly dramatic. Almost driving off of a pier; leaving a purse behind in fear of a contagious disease --these are the moments that present an unsympathetic manic energy.
I'd like to think that I'm smarter than most when it comes to film interpretation and that's only because I watch a lot of movies and I think I've met Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hour rule for writing. But whatever strengths I have for analysis, I acknowledge that I just don't have the chops when it comes to dropping art theory. I've taken theory classes. I was actually pretty good at them at the time. But it's one of those things that I haven't nurtured. But I want to talk about setting because both articles made meals about the settings of Red Desert. It's odd, but the world of Red Desert has that haunting element that can be seen in Terry Gilliam's Brazil or Alex Proyas's Dark City. Obviously, Antonioni is giving the more grounded version of that aesthetic. But Red Desert is a sobering look at how industry has cut a hole in the natural world. There's this absolutely gorgeous part of the movie where Giuliana is telling her son a story of a girl on an island with pink sand. Antonioni really wanted to sell this part and puts a big thank-you letter in the opening credits for being allowed to film on the pink-sanded beach. It's got intense color that almost hits that Technicolor pop. Contrast that to the rest of the film.
Giuliana's distance from society is described by her as "My gears don't fit right" (or something. I really should start taking notes or Googling more). I love that she uses these words because the entire thing feels industrial. Corrado's business seems to be doing well, but everything feels dirty, grungy, and below board for how things should be handled. Giuliana's illness kind of feels like the inversion of that. She looks gorgeous. She looks like she has the perfect family, but the gears aren't working. Perhaps it is because she values things outside of money or success that force her to feel out of joint with the rest of society.
But I also want to talk about my own read on the story. It seems like everything Antonioni does is just a little bit sexual and a little false. If I binged all of the Antonioni movies (which I'm sure was never meant to be done), I'd see a bunch of very different movies about lies. (Note: When a director keeps on making movies about affairs, either sexual or emotional, I raise some red flags.) Red Desert's take on falseness and lies almost goes to the lies that we tell ourselves. Giuliana is surrounded by liars. While Corrado doesn't straight up tell her that he's in love with her, Giuliana isn't wrong to think that Corrado is obsessed with her. Corrado is almost a master manipulator in their relationship. He positions himself as a concerned nice guy. Giulana needs someone in her life that is safe. Corrado sees the toxicity of Ugo and just stands beside him, juxtaposing himself in every situation. From that perspective, his constant presence and the knowledge that he's not as bad as Ugo, makes him appealing and we know that. When Giuliana asks Corrado if he loves her in the final act, he doesn't say "yes" or "no." Instead, he makes her question herself by saying "What makes you say that?"
Because everything is lacking truth, I get this vibe that Giuliana questions herself about things she knew were true. This goes back to that manic energy I mentioned earlier. Her husband lies to her. The scene that really convinced me that this a story about how casual we are about lying is the polio sequence. For the people who don't know what I'm talking about, Giuliana's most endearing sequences are Giuliana as mother. While often she's a bit of a neurotic mess, she prioritizes her kid's needs over her own. She really keeps everything in check. One day, she wakes her kid up for Kindergarten and he says that his legs don't work. Mind you, this is after she has the big freakout about a communicable disease, so illness is on the brain. She does the right thing: she doesn't believe him. (I'm on team "don't believe the kid" too. I'm not being sarcastic about that. Kids lie about stuff all the time.) She puts him through his paces, trying to coax him out of bed until she really starts to worry about his well-being. The kid is really sticking to his story. She lifts him up and takes him to the doctor. The doctor runs some tests that'll take 24 hours and she's a mess. She walks in on the kid; he's standing on the bed to grab something high up. Now, there's a lot that goes into this scene. She immediately is grateful that her kid isn't paralyzed. I mean, she was really leaning into polio. But then, there's this broken moment that the great Monica Vitti just shifts. It's this subtle, yet palpable move that she makes with her character. This break happens in her and she realizes that humanity is comprised of liars, even her child. Now, I choose to read this as "humanity is made of liars," but I get an even better read that men are liars. They are born liars and they get away with it. It's something.
It's a fascinating movie and it aligns with stuff like L'Avventura in terms of structure (and everything else, I suppose). But I find Red Desert a bit too aimless. I have to always put a disclaimer that I'm a human being and maybe I just wasn't feeling it at the time. But I kept feeling like I was missing story beats, but I really wasn't. It is just one of those Antonioni about the cruel existence of life and that means that actual plot points are few and far between. There is always something visual to appreciate, but it isn't exactly riveting throughout. Still, I don't regret watching it considering that it was intellectually pretty stimulating.
Rated PG-13, despite having full frontal female nudity only for a few seconds. There's also some mild language and silly violence. When we saw that this was only PG-13, I was super excited to show the kids their first live-action Wes Anderson movie. Yeah, I'm glad that my better instincts told me to screen the movie before letting them in on the action. First of all, this probably would have bored them to tears, but also that nudity was not PG-13 by any means. I wonder what was part of this decision.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
In college, I took a couple of theatre theory classes. As a theatre major, it wasn't shocking. As part of this theory class, we had to read some pretty intense plays, most of them considered part of the literary and theatrical canon. I was such a little turd then, let me tell you. I don't think I would like hanging out with me. Between the ego and the peacocking, I would probably end up bullying that kid today just to take him down a peg. But I would say that a million plays would be dumb just because I didn't take the time to understand them. Many of these plays I would revisit later. Not all. Some of them were too difficult and still intimidate me today. But I realized that I shouldn't judge something too harshly just because I don't understand it. Well, that college student reared his ugly head yesterday because I left Asteroid City a little mad.
I'm going to give myself some credit. I don't watch movies passively all that often anymore. I know that I'm going to have to write something about every movie I watch, so it's not like my critical brain is just going to shut down especially when watching something that Wes Anderson made. It's just that I'm having a bit of a come-to-Jesus reaction to Wes Anderson now. I loved Wes Anderson. I still think that The Royal Tenenbaums might be a perfect movie. Most of Anderson's ouevre is fabulous. But I also know that Anderson is such a character that AI can imitate him perfectly, much to his disdain. Asteroid City, unfortunately, is almost distilled Wes Anderson. It's a bummer because I have to show my age a bit. I loved early Wes Anderson. As goofy and artsy fartsy as these movies were, they told heartwarming stories. I didn't even love Rushmore, but I acknowledged that there was a heck of a tale to that movie. Instead, Anderson sometimes seemed to shift into the world of the ecclectic rather than the grounded world of his previous stories. Now, I'm admitting that I thought that Moonrise Kingdom was the nadir of his canon. Upon first viewing, I think that Asteroid City might be my least favorite. But I'll admit, a sentence ago, I kind of cheated. Okay, I didn't quite cheat. I did what I asked my students to do; I looked up the answer.
I hate what I used to be so much that I must assume that my read of the movie must be my fault. And I'll tell you, there's an answer that makes sense of this movie. In terms of most distilled Wes Anderson, Asteroid City wins. It feels cold and distant, like Anderson is just embracing his comfort zone and nothing else. But I also know that Anderson is smarter than I am. I know, I sound sycophantic. But he really is a very smart man and this movie feels like a very smart movie. It just feels cold and I can't deny that the movie is colder than my favorite Royal Tenenbaums. There is no one character that really is emotionally vulnerable to peel back the veneer of Anderson's visual tapestry and that frustrates me. Maybe it is because I adore vulnerability. But according to the cheatsheet I just read, the only one vulnerable in this movie is Wes Anderson. See, I really thought that this movie was fighting the notion of being hurt. Okay, let's summarize what I read and see if it has any credence. According to (I CLOSED THE TAB?!?), this is a movie that sells its theme early on. Matt Dillon, when diagnosing what is wrong with Augie's car, thinks that one of two things can be wrong with it. He quickly discovers that something unknown is stopping the car from working and that's almost the end of that plot. If you use that line as the message for the story, that actually is quite vulnerable of Anderson. Anderson is either great or terrible. He looks like Moonrise Kingdom or he doesn't. Wes Anderson probably has the most identifiable look for any director today, shy maybe of David Lynch. (Even Lynch changes what kind of film he uses between films.) This film is both the quintessential Wes Anderson film or it is absolutely something different.
And there's some truth to that. One of the first projects I do in my film class is analyze whether a film is formalist, realistic, or experimental. Short version of this (which butchers the point of the lesson, but I don't have all day to write this), is "Does the director want the audience to lose themselves in the film or does the director want you to remember that you are watching a movie?" (I so want to elaborate and explain how I gave you three terms and only two definitions.) Most films play between those extremes. Anderson, in the past, jumped between the two poles. But in Asteroid City, he's screaming metatext. He wraps what should be a standard Anderson plot with this whole concept of the notion of creation. The film starts with Bryan Cranston discussing how everything we're viewing is a play. Often, the characters will break through the fourth wall and become the actors within the film we are watching. That monochromatic "real world" --which, intentionally ironically, is false --is a little bleak. It's frustrated and the artist doesn't know why he is making the choices that he's making. It's almost full of angst and I can see a very sad Wes Anderson behind the camera. (Geez, I'm about to 180 my opinion on this movie as I write about it.) What I initially took as a distraction, Anderson adding ingredients to appear complicated, is actually quite complex.
It's why the in-universe "Asteroid City" play is probably the least engaging of Anderson's film. Even though we spend the majority of the film in "Asteroid City", the story is about the making of the story. It's Anderson making something kind of daring. He almost knows that the world of "Asteroid City" sucks and wants to point out that he might just be tired about making the same pieces of art that can be mocked into oblivion. He's aware that you are trolling him and he's going to troll himself harder. Enter me, who is just adoring what he's done in the past. I get frustrated because I treat Anderson movies as seasons of TV. "Season 3 is better than Season 7" logic. Ultimately, the show is always the show and my complaints is that the magic can't be captured again. Or as Anderson puts it, "You can't wake up if you don't sleep." He's breaking his own conventions by forcing us into something new. It's painful, almost like childbirth. Man, I need to watch this movie again.
So, yeah, I'm cheating. I'm stealing someone else's breakdown and I'm applying it. I ask my students, when frustrated, to use Cliff's Notes. As long as they are reading, I'm okay with them getting inspiration from other people who have put a lot of thought into the work. I'm watching the movie and I want to like it. But I'm the thing being criticized with Asteroid City. Maybe I'm the sycophant I accused myself of being earlier, letting him off the hook. But I've been harsh on him before. I really think that there's something to be said about wanting Anderson to be one thing. I suppose, if I'm playing devil's advocate, that he could have made a movie without his signature style. But that would have been Gus Van Sant's Psycho. It would have been a movie that was an experiment for experiment's sake. (And now I've explained the third category.) It would have been forgotten. I have a vibe that film nerds are going to be talking about Asteroid City for a while. Mind you, I have to imagine all of this because I'm not on Reddit nor do I hang out with film nerds in real life.
Golly, you know what? I have to go on Letterboxd and give this a rating. I don't know if I can without watching it again. I do think that I've 180'd on this film. Maybe I can convince my wife to finish watching it, giving her the insight that I've stolen from someone smarter than me. Either way, I don't know if I'll have a final thought on this movie or not.
PG and God bless you, 1984, for thinking that this is something that would be considered PG. I found out that my wife's family made this family-movie-night time and time again. There's all kinds of sex and nudity in it, and the sex in it probably hasn't aged well. There's violence and language and bigotry. It's got all kinds of stuff. Before finding out that this movie was PG, I was going to label this as the R-rated E.T. Still PG.
DIRECTOR: John Carpenter
Okay, yet another confession. I often confuse Starman with The Last Starfighter. Second confession: I don't know if I've seen this movie before. I also don't know if I've seen The Last Starfighter. Yet another confession! I watched it in Pan-and-Scan. Since Netflix DVD has started shutting its doors, I've turned to local libraries to finish off my Netflix DVD queue. I take what I can get. I'll be honest. My dreams of owning a professional CD repair kit like we had in my halcyon video store days is pretty palpable right now. Just putting that out there if you want to hook me up with one. Anyway, onto Starman.
I didn't know that John Carpenter made this movie. I mean, watching it now, I can see Carpenter all over this movie. It's weird when I watch his non-horror stuff, but all of the nuts and bolts that make Carpenter the director that he is sits right up there on the screen. The weird acting style. The slightly dark look to everything. The cardboard computers. I mean, I love it. It automatically meant that Starman was going to be a good time. But I want to kind of look at who we were as Americans in 1984.
There's something really sappy about Starman that I kind of love and loathe. Starman wants you to open your brain to one message and asks you to not open your brain to anything else logical. In terms of what it is exploring, it's very similar to Star Trek. Star Trek, like that specific brand of sci-fi, asks you to understand that humanity is both beautiful and deeply flawed at the same time. I know that Roddenberry probably would claim that humanity would someday overcome those flaws, but his conflicts in his stories only highlighted how bigoted and closed-minded we were. Such is the case with Starman, a story that allows us to view humanity from the outside. It's that whole philosophical argument that you can only view the objective truth of something as an outsider or an exile. That's Starman. The movie almost hits this level of philosophy experiment that doesn't pretend to hide behind entertainment. If you were an alien visiting planet Earth, and you knew nothing about Earthlings beyond what you got in a message and conversations, how insane would it look? And you know what? It would look pretty paradoxical.
I'm going to just spell out what the movie is about in a second. But I also want to talk about how silly Starman is as well. Because the movie is a thought experiment, everyone kind of has to play an archetype. I mean, we're hitting every major beat along the way. There isn't a ton of complexity beyond Karen Allen's Jenny. Jenny, obviously, is meant to be the avatar for the audience, who seems to be going through a lot throughout the course of the movie. I mean, if I'm going to make the Star Trek comparison, Star Trek did the same thing. If you didn't guess what the people with the different colored faces meant, then who am I to explain that to you. But Jenny is the character who is humanity's savior. Her grief puts her in this place to be the voice of the sane. But everyone else is something. They're only one thing. Heck, to some people, I'm an archetype for a certain kind of idea and that's the only role I honestly fill. I'm going to use the guy from the diner / gas station as how quickly this movie has to get to its message.
There's a scene where Starman, for lack of a better name, is eating dinner with Jenny. He sees a deer strapped to the hood of a vehicle and he's taken aback. It's a form of sadness, but he's more confused than anything else. Fine. Very E.T.. So Jenny tries ditching him at first, but then she finds him staring at the deer on the car. Now, Starman (I hate calling him "Starman") resurrects the deer, who scampers off into the woods. Now, if the deer hunter witnessed that entire sequence, I could see a weird need to fight the Starman. After all, there's something beyond his understanding and who am I to comment on something weird going on. But he witnesses the Starman just staring at the hood of the car. From his perspective, he has no idea what just went down. But what is kind of clear is that the Starman isn't standing there with a dead deer. There's no blood trail. Starman and Jenny's car is still sitting there. Instead of going right to violence, there would have to be a moment of confusion. But because the movie needs to show the worst part of us, which just so happens to read as an insane right-wing gun nut (my read, not necessarily the movie's). It's this kind of stuff where your brain has to shut off. Because the movie is telling us what to think (as well it should), sometimes it can't afford to be subtle. The deer hunter scene is one of many scenes. It's just the cleanest to critique, so I'm going to use that as my foundational argument.
Let's talk about the ickiness of the movie. There's an element that is going back and forth on the whole thing, so please be patient if I'm discovering things while I write. With all '80s movies, the male protagonist has to sleep with the female protagonist. As society has grown more oddly sex positive, this seems to have actually diminshed in films from my perspective. But it's the '80s, so I'm going to remind you that family films must have people sleep with each other. Now, there's so much to explain about Starman's specific circumstances that I don't quite know where to start. Starman is an entity that scans a bunch of photos to mimic Karen Allen's dead husband. She watches this creature horrifically instantly age to form Jeff Bridges, who slowly learns how to speak in disjointed syntax over the course of a minute. Here are some assumptions about Starman pre-Jeff Bridges. 1) Starman is an adult because he traveled here by himself. 2) Starman is insanely intelligent because he picks up on a lot of cultural things in the course of three days. Also, he says that their race is more advanced than humanity, so that is something we're told. But, is Starman completely understanding of the sexual relationship that he has with Jenny? I'm going to say no.
The only thing that makes me think that I may have seen Starman before is the fact that I wondered why Jenny Hayden didn't think that Jeff Bridges was her husband. A young me didn't get that her husband wasn't resurrected; an alien just created a doppleganger using photos and videos. But Jenny Hayden views Jeff Bridges as a monster baby, then a child, then a teenager, ultimately forming a Jeff Bridges golem in her living room. She knows that this physical body is only hours to days old. Also, Jeff Bridges lacks so much of understanding of what it means to be human that a kiss almost seems like a handshake to him. Now, I get that Jenny Hayden seems to genuinely care for the Starman creature. She understands very quickly that he is not Jeff Bridges, but rather a separate entity. (It's weird that she's not mad at Starman for taking her husband's likeness more, but maybe it was a beat too far for this movie. Whatever.) She loves that he's curious about humanity while displaying empathy. She understands that Starman cares for her too in whatever way he can imagine. But --and here's the real but! --he doesn't understand the act he just did.
The only cultural context he has for sex that he has is a quick scene from From Here to Eternity. It's very quick and he doesn't have the context of the rest of the film to even explain the Hollywood version of romance. No, he thinks that is something that everyone does to each other. After the two share their moment, he very cooly explains that he has cured Jenny Hayden of her infertility and that she will bear a son that will grow up to be a teacher. He will share her husband's DNA and offers to abort that child should she wish. (There are all kinds of questions that she's going to have to answer and will the government let her have that child?) He doesn't understand that this is a major life moment and that there needs to be a discussion about the intimacy that just took place. To a certain extent, we want to let Jenny off the hook. After all, Starman seems very cool with what happened. And, from her perspective, she probably just lied to herself and let herself have one final moment with her husband, which can be sweet and romantic. But Starman wasn't her husband. He never claimed to be her husband. Ultimately, the act is kind of selfish and borderline non-consensual. Am I the only one who thinks that there's a very uncomfortable grey area that might be taking all of the romance out of this scene? I am listening to the Starman soundtrack while I write this and that soundtrack definitely makes me want to think that this is romantic as heck.
But gosh darn it, I still like the movie. I know. It's not the great movie that a lot of people make it out to be. (Okay, not a lot of people talk about Starman, so I don't know what kind of fantasy alternate reality I'm living in.) But it's good. It's a better E.T.. I'll say that. Yeah, they're both sappy movies. But I also like the notion that humanity is a bunch of savages, but this creature chooses to see the best out of us, knowing that we could potentially be this amazing civilization. And John Carpenter is Carpentering the heck out of this movie. Sure, a lot of the moments aren't really explained and Jenny's life has to be insane after this moment. (I love how she can't join him in space and that this is probably going to involve a lot of therapy after.) But it's a good movie.
Actually, it's a good Star Trek episode, minus the crew of the Enterprise.
Rated R for being a movie primarily about sexuality, coupled with the nudity that comes with that sexuality. I mean, this movie isn't dancing around. While the movie at times is incredibly romantic, it never lets you forget that Lola is a character that is defined by her quest for definition through sexuality. At times that sex is romantic; other times quite violent. But this is definitely an R rated movie in any light.
DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
Man, I love Spike Lee. I just went over to his IMDB page to see where She's Gotta Have It falls, and I realize that I have a lot of Spike Lee to still watch. I also wanted to see where this fell in retrospect to one of my favorite movies of all time, Do the Right Thing. This movie isn't Do the Right Thing. It's odd, because I see this movie as so quintessentially Spike Lee and then so far down the pipeline from pure Spike Lee, which will be seen three years later. By the way, I swear it is kind of an accident the way that this played out. I'm not trying to watch the first (or in this case, very early) films of later famous directors. But it is an interesting experiment to see where the roots of film kind of got their starts.
That's probably my biggest takeaway from She's Gotta Have It. It has all of those hallmarks of early independent film. It's intentionally shot in black-and-white, with the exception of the birthday dance. The actors seems a bit more rigid than what we would get in later Spike Lee Joints. It's a master figuring out some of those nuts-and-bolts of grand storytelling. But like many of these early works from great directors, despite all of the rough edges, there's a heck of a movie here. I mean, Spike Lee took something that Kevin Smith has been trying to define and kind of got it in one without making whole View Askewniverse behind it. While watching the movie, I kept thinking of how She's Gotta Have It is this blend of Breathless and Chasing Amy that I never thought that I would see out of Spike Lee, but I gotta say that I dug it.
I was going to have this big anaylsis / revelation moment. I figured out some of the themes and motifs while I was watching it and I was ready to have a whole diatribe showing off how smart I was. Then Spike just states the thing that was in my head. That's a little unfair, Spike. I try so hard to be a good blogger. Either way, I'm going to write a bit more explicitly and verbosely about the theme of the movie. While She's Gotta Have It is definitely laden with a few dated problems, it might be the most progressive movie of the '80s. While Do the Right Thing shows people just embracing their own bigotry for the sake of storytelling, She's Gotta Have It embraces that it isn't tinged by midwestern conservative values. While the movie couldn't have actually said the phrase "sex positive", it defines it through conversations and actions. Lola straight up talks to a therapist about her potential sex addiction and she's left with a message that it isn't an addiction where Lola is, so much as she simply doesn't have a puritanical view of sex. I get that Lee kind of is closer to the therapist than the other characters when it comes to defining Lola, especially considering that the end of the film seems to be something tacked on to be supportive of the messages of the film. (I want to talk more about that later, but for now, I'm going to keep focus on what the paragraph is about.) Lola even entertains the idea of a homosexual relationship before establishing that it doesn't do anything for her. The only level of anger or hate to a lesbian lifestyle doesn't come from Lola, but from Jamie in the form of jealousy. He doesn't really hate Opal. He just doesn't like that someone else is giving his significant other attention. It's odd the scene exists where it does because we're not really privy to Lola's polyamory at this point. Would Jamie be as hostile knowing Lola's relationships with Mars and Greer? I don't know. There would be some animosity, but I'm not sure if it would manifest the same way.
Okay, let's talk about that theme. Yes, Spike Lee has created a story of the normality of polyamory. I don't want to take the literal meaning out of the film. But I like that Greer, Mars, and Jamie all represent different elements that Lola kind of needs in her life. I wouldn't normally say "need" but the title of the film is She's Gotta Have It. It really seems like Lee is aiming for Jamie to be the main male protagonist. We get to see Jamie's courtship. In some ways, Jamie is the one who acts as the avatar for the audience. We mostly learn about Lola, divorced from the interview format, by Jamie's wooing of Lola. But Jamie represents the artist. It's not exactly surprising that Spike Lee made Jamie the hero of the piece, despite the fact that he plays Mars, because Jamie's love of Lola and culture seems the most pure. He's the one who keeps a cool head most of the time. He is the one who doesn't simply view her from a sexual nature. He's also the one who is trying and failing hardest with the whole polyamorous nature of their relationship. At the Thanksgiving sequence, Mars and Greer are the ones at each other's throats, despite the fact that Jamie is lumped in with the other two when called out for poor behavior at the table. I also have to believe (and now I'm coming back to it) that there might have been a draft of this film where Lola ends up with Jamie. In terms of show-don't-tell, the final act of the film is Lola dumping Mars and Greer for the sake of Jamie, who can't handle the polyamory surrounding Lola. But the film then ends with Lola simply giving us a verbal update, stating that she quickly returned to her ways. The movie isn't that long that we couldn't see Lola's attempt at monogamy spiraling. I think that Lee is aware that sticking with Jamie undoes a lot of the themes that the movie presents.
If Jamie represents a love of arts and culture, Greer represents traditional masculinity. I like that Greer is comically unlikable. There are elements of White republicanism that he's accused of flaunting. Everything about Greer is about old school traditional toxic masculinity. He's handsome (kind of. He's ripped, but sleezy looking). He's got money. He's also confident to the point of egoism. Contrasted with Mars, who is self-depricating for the sake of humor. Physically, Greer towers over Mars. That makes sense. For art and intellect, she has Jamie. For stability and standards, she has Greer. Mars is probably the only one who represents fun. Yeah, I'm not rooting for Mars. He's a mess of a human being, but he's also what makes dating fun. He admits that he sticks around until people stop laughing at his jokes. Between these three guys, you have someone who could actually be a viable person. Lee almost feels like he's commenting on the wealth of personality and capability that women have, but points out that men have to be separate archetypes, leaving them incomplete. There's a reason that Lola attracts different personality types; she's got something for everyone. (That's debatable, but I'm trying to exist in the argument of the film.)
Can I just talk about one part that I like? It is stupid, but it also makes the movie incredibly human for me. One of my biggest complaints in the movie is that the movie is an early work for Lee, meaning that the performances and pacing might be lacking the same cohesiveness as his later films. But the thing that fixes that for me is the fact that Mars and Jamie get along. At the core of this film, this is supposed to be a love triangle / love square. With protagonists fighting for a goal, they must do anything to achieve that goal. It means backstabbing and becoming the ugliest versions of the selves imaginable. But despite the fact that Mars and Jamie are fighting equally hard for Lola, they actually get alone. They consider themselves brothers-in-arms. It's a lovely dynamic to a film that should be fairly straightfowrad for how we're supposed to view interactions. Like, everyone hates Greer. But Mars and Jamie talk about basketball games (which I kind of feel is Spike talking extemporaneously).
Golly, I love Spike Lee. Not all of his films hit. This one hits less than some but harder than others. But I tend to leave these films enriched and loving the characters.
Rated R for sexuality, innuendo, nudity, brutal gun violence, and more. While I can't say that The Fisher King prides itself on being a visceral movie, it embraces the grittiness of both Terry Gilliam and the '90s. It's trying to be a bit upsetting at times. This is also a movie that, while it has noble intentions, paints broad strokes when dealing with mental illness, which includes sexual proclivities. It's a lot and probably deserves the R.
DIRECTOR: Terry Gilliam
I have this theory. I've probably talked about this theory in another blog entry, but I wish that this theory wasn't true. I think that movies that people once considered classics are starting to disappear to time. Now, maybe this has been true for all generations. I'm convinced that The Godfather will have only been seen by a select few from Gen Z and beyond. But the back of my brain tells me that The Fisher King was trending to be one of those modern classics only to be forgotten by the streaming era of film. I mean, it was a poster on Van's wall in Yellowjackets. I know I'm not the only one to have heard of this movie.
I'm convinced that my dad liked this movie. I have no evidence of this really. Maybe it was just something that lodged itself in my brain and stuck there. But I know that my dad was all about Arthurian legends. Now, despite the title of The Fisher King, this movie has little to do with Arthur and the Grail legend. I mean, it's great that Terry Gilliam is the guy to revisit this storyline in a different form. But I have to say...I didn't really dig it. I mean, I didn't dislike it by any stretch of the imagination. I just thought that this was one of those movies that really encapsualted more of the style of an era than the actual substance of a film. There's something here that could have been something. Again, I'm probably in the minority when it comes to criticism of this film. I think that a lot of people laud this film as something truly special. I mean, Criterion released it. (Okay, that's not a tried and true guarantee for a great film, but it also grants the movie a degree of prestige.) But the biggest complaint is that I feel like Terry Gilliam can't get out of his own way. I remember thinking at one point that Terry Gilliam was one of those untouchable directors. I mean, I loved Time Bandits and I kinda sorta remember loving 12 Monkeys. But he was just someone who was one of those auteurs.
He is an auteur. But he's an auteur who really likes his comfort zone. This seems lazy on my part, but I can't help but see a little Tim Burton in Terry Gilliam. (Again, Tim Burton probably owes more to Terry Gilliam than Terry Gilliam to Tim Burton, but I'm splitting hairs.) Like I said, there's a story here. In fact, it's a story I really like. I love a redemption tale. Jack is the Scrooge character. He has sold his soul and his humanity for ratings and those actions have cost people lives. When he has nothing left, he has to find what made him a good person by making amends with one of his victims. That's a great story. But do you know what that story also has to be? It's my favorite word and I feel like a hack for throwing it around once again. This is a story that has to be vulnerable. This story has moments of being vulnerable. But Terry Gilliam is so obsessed with his early '90s visual feast that he forgets that this is fundamentally a personal and small story.
What do I mean? Most of this movie is shot in Dutch angles. Every shot in this is gothic. I get it. He's making a movie about an Arthurian legend, so everything kind of has to have a parallel to castles and stuff like that. But this story doesn't really work in a heightened reality. Oh, I really love Brazil! I should have mentioned that earlier. Brazil works because its bananas story works with its bananas setting. But Gilliam is trying to overlay Brazil over the real world. No one really felt human in this movie. It's funny because this story is probably the most grounded Terry Gilliam story that I can think of. Even though it deals with Parry seeing a demonic red knight haunting him through the film, we get that it is the halluicination of a deeply traumatized human being. That's a small story. From Parry's perspective, it has the weight of ages. But from the perspective of the audience, we weep for a man who lost his wife and struggles to differentiate between the mundane and the grandiose.
There's a flaw in the movie that is sweet. Again, this comes from Gilliam's clinginess to his comfort zone. Gilliam loves to deal with mental illness in his films. I already cited 12 Monkeys, so I think you know where I'm going with this while I write. Gilliam likes talking about mental illness, but never in a grounded or nuanced way. While I can't deny that mental illness can be loud and in your face, all of mental illness isn't loud. Yet, this is a movie that stuffs the story with the mentally ill and they are all louder than their peers. Somehow, each mentally ill character shouts louder and lives more troubled than the last. We're in the early '90s, so we have to be a little understanding of the cultural climate of the time. The homeless cabaret singer is a progressive (for the time character) who we kind of are supposed to laugh at. He's touching and fun, but we're meant to laugh as he takes over Lydia's office in drag. That's what's a little bit harsh about the movie as a whole. We're meant to laugh at mental illness or absolutely fear it. There's little room for the mental illness that the real world encounters on a regular basis.
And then there's Lydia. My favorite part of the film is the relationship between Parry and Lydia. It's a little unfair. The movie has given us a character that does not act with any degree of verisimilitude. Lydia is a mess. She's a bit too much of a mess. (I don't like the wipes over the Chinese restaurant, by the way.) I do like that she's a mess. It is touching that Parry falls in love with a woman not for her perfection, but for the way she is too human. I like that he falls in love with her for not being able to eat with chopsticks or the fact that she reads trashy novels. That's touching. That's real. But when we meet Lydia in real life, she is too much of a character. In fact, I'll go as far as to say that I don't like the real Lydia because she's borderline rude. (The movie addresses it, I know.)
But I also feel the need to stand up for Lydia as well. Lydia is being manipulated all through this movie. She is on a date with mentally unstable homeless man. I don't know what Jack's long-term plan was for Lydia and Parry, but he certainly tricked her into going on a date with him. They go on one date and Lydia does this great speech about how Parry is going to hurt her. Parry gets this great retort about how he loves her and I love that. But he also confesses that he's been watching her and the events of the past 48 hours, where Jack tries to get her to go on a date with Parry, is actually kind of a lie. He tells her that he's been stalking her. Now, I know that this is the '90s, but I think we're actually a little late for considering that truly romantic. Everything that she knows about Parry is a lie and that's not even a yellow flag. Sure, the movie establishes that Lydia has a pretty low bar for men because no one has ever shown interest in her. But that seems to be a bit extreme.
When Parry is then nearly killed in the park, Lydia somehow makes the connection that Parry was homeless and that she should wait for him to stop being catatonic. Now, part of me honestly loves that. But a lot of the movie is also still waiting to solve the grail problem of the film. After all, a good chunk of the movie has nothing to do with Lydia. A lot of the movie is Parry trying to convince Jack to steal the Holy Grail. Now, I'm going to be the English teacher again and say that Lydia represents the Grail for Parry. After all, the real Grail is not in this movie anyway. It's an award that a random dude got for being in a play. But Parry's big quest is to get over his craziness and to make Lydia find him; Jack's quest is to get the trophy for Parry. But both stories kind of get watered down because I don't believe that Parry would put his Grail quest on hold for Jack's sweepstakes hijinks.
I also want to talk about Jack and Anne. I love Jack and Anne. If you are looking for the most grounded thing that this movie has to say, it isn't with Jack deciding to get past his phobia of mental illness. It's the idea that Anne just kind of puts up with Jack's garbage. I'm not happy that she does, but it is good storytelling to see the lengths that Anne goes through, despite the fact that her entire character is based around the notion of not putting up with people's shannanigans. There's one beat that I'm still coming to grips with. Jack helps Parry get Lydia. From Jack's perspective, he completed his quest. He put Parry on the right track towards happily ever after. After all, Parry is Lydia's problem. He pulls his head out of his butt, calls his agent, and gets his job back. (I realistically don't see that happening, but I'm not a celebrity. Who am I to say how these things work?) It seems like everything is coming up Jack and Anne until Jack decides to dump Anne in that moment. There's this conscious decision to start Jack back at Square One now that Parry went on a date and I don't really understand that character at that moment. The easy read on the scene is that he knows that Anne is part of his old life and he wants to forget every part of that life, but he still is riding the high of doing a good deed for someone else. I don't understand that intense switch. I can get dumping her and then leaving, having done the most painful thing in his life. But he seems so cold in that moment that it doesn't really match with where the character arc was going.
Gosh, the script on this movie is so good that the execution just bothers me so. I wish I was the guy saying I rediscovered an early '90s modern classic. But despite my love for Terry Gilliam, I don't love the final product of The Fisher King. Elements of the movie are absolute moments of genius. But the final product kind of explains why this movie might be forgotten to history.
Rated R for mostly murder, but some sex, language, and innuendo as well. There's also some drug use. The sex doesn't actually show any nudity, but it is still a bit graphic for a hot second. Most of the drug use happens off camera. The language is there and present, but doesn't really go out of its way to offend. Here's how R-rated it is. With a slight edit, this movie could easily go to a PG-13. Still, I'm not editing this movie, so enjoy the fact that it is an R.
DIRECTOR: Greg Mottola
Do you know how much I wanted to watch this movie for a long time? It was on my Netflix DVD queue for ages. Now that Netflix DVD is dying, I thought I would have to give up on this. Then I was walking through the library and saw it there. I showed my wife the trailer to see if she wanted to watch it with me and there was a banner, "Watch this on Paramount+". So I went from having no way to really watch this movie to having too many ways to watch the movie.
I wanted to watch this movie enough to binge the other two Fletch movies. Fletch movies fall into a very specific subgenre that I take absolute delight in: the comedic murder mystery. I mean, I'm not running over to Netflix to watch Murder Mystery or anything like that. I just really like jokes in the face of the macabre. It's actually weird that I didn't sit down and watch the first two Fletch movies earlier because they're mostly up my alley. But it's stuff like this and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang that push a specific button that is so perfect. I think what really sold me on Confess, Fletch is Jon Hamm in a comedic role. As good of a dramatic actor as Hamm is, it's his comedic chops that bring joy to my life. Honestly, he hasn't dropped the ball once comedically. (Mind you, it's not like I've seen the complete work of Jon Hamm. But what I've seen? Chef's kiss!) Also, I like Jon Hamm more than Chevy Chase. I hear that Hamm might be problematic as well, but I don't know enough yet that I'm just going to sit here and enjoy my ignorance until I start eventually rallying against him. I don't know what it is when dramatic actors dip their toes into comedic roles. It mostly works. (I can't stand by any of this. I'm thinking of Jon Hamm and Robert DeNiro, and I know that DeNiro's later comedy stuff doesn't necessarily work.)
But does Confess, Fletch work as a mystery on its own? I mean, kinda. The thing about Fletch movies is that they aren't necessarily great mystery stories. But Confess, Fletch does someting real weird: it doesn't let Fletch solve the crime. There's this thing about the subgenre where we understand that, as goofy as the protagonist is, he's supposed to be smarter than the characters who are supposed to be experts at this. Instead, Morris and Griz, the cops in the movie who have the job to solve the crime, actually solve it. Now, it's not saying that Fletch did nothing in this movie. That's not entirely fair. Fletch, in Confess, gathers all of the clues, but doesn't put them together. He actually misinterprets everything. I don't know if Morris and Griz would have solved it without Fletch, but the ending is an uprooting of expectations. Now, part of me loves the chaos that ensues. I was not ready for Fletch to get out of his problem due to happenstance. I love when a film subverts expectations, but there might be a reason for an expectation to exist. It was so odd. The moment where the protagonist proves that he's better than the system that is holding him back the entire movie, that moment is cathartic. I almost feel like I need to come to some kind of closure with this movie that I never get. But the movie has a very good point.
Fletch isn't actually all that smart. He simply keeps being in the right place at the right time. There is one element about Fletch that I love, but it's just because I'm wired to like it. Fletch is this kind of guy who makes these long term plans that come back into play later in the films. You tend to be excited to see how his scheming plays out. In this case, it's a van. It's oddly one of my favorite parts of the movie. He hires these two artists to mark up the van and I was waiting for the payoff on that van. But the van is ultimately unnecessary outside of being a way to structure a film. And that's what I kind of realize. Now, I've never read any of the Fletch novels. I really doubt that I ever will read a Fletch novel. I mean, I've done my due diligence and I've got so many books to read, do you think I'm going to jump to a series of (probably forgotten) books that I'm only okay with the movies of? Who knows? I read some really dumb stuff sometimes. For all I know, the books are way smarter than the movies.
But do you really watch Fletch movies for the mysteries? I mean, I'll swear up and down that The Thin Man movies are fabulous, but I also remember the mysteries not making a lick of actual sense. Instead, we're in these kinds of movies for the charisma and the lack of seriousness in the face of certain death. In terms of characterization, Confess, Fletch is absolutely rad. Fletch is the child of James Bond. Sean Connery saying that the car was "on its way to a funeral" opened the door to a notion that a leading man could drop a one liner and write off a moment that would have scarred us for life. Fletch is that moment over and over again. He's an investigative journalist who shouldn't be held at gunpoint. He shouldn't be finding dead bodies all willy-nilly. But that's simply a central conceit to these movies. It really comes down to the leading man and the direction behind these films. I dont' think that many movies depend on the charisma of a film more than Fletch movies. Like I mentioned, Jon Hamm has it in spades. Not only that, but his Fletch, as goofy as it is, seems more grounded than Chevy Chase's.
Maybe that's why my in-laws prefer Chase. I mean, Chase is also form their generation, so I realize I was fighting an uphill battle recommending Jon Hamm. But Chase's Fletch is kind of absurd. I'm sorry that's a dealbreaker. But I feel like Chevy Chase really wanted Fletch to be his style of humor. Who am I to blame him? It's his character. He can do what he wants. Chase's Fletch is this guy who puts on absurd costumes and, for some reason or other, has elaborate and racist dreams. It's either that he's in the NBA or a slaveowner. Maybe Jon Hamm's Fletch is one for the 24th Century. I mean, let's establish a baseline really fast: Hamm's Fletch is Chase's Fletch. They have the same outlook. It just feels like Hamm's Fletch is a character and Chase's Fletch has too many opportunities to appeal to his style of humor. Maybe it is an ego thing. Knowing that Chevy Chase is one of comedy's biggest egos has tainted the way that I watch the things he makes. But Hamm, I forget that I'm watching Jon Hamm at times. Not so much that I didn't constantly say, "Man, I love Jon Hamm." But it's like he got the root of the character.
Now, I have every right to duck out of this blog. In fact, part of me almost says that it is a good idea. But I also know that I would be disappointed if I didn't write about this blog a little more. Sometimes --and usually it isn't so self-aware --I completely abandon anything evaluative in the film and I just write a critical response essay. I want to talk a bit about the morality of Fletch. The easiest jump to make would be D&D alignment, but I can't claim to be an expert. Knee jerk reaction? Chaotic good. Fletch absolutely is an agent of chaos. That might be why I'm so flummoxed by the "cops being the heroes" ending of the movie because it seems like the treatis of Confess, Fletch (not Fletch Lives) is chaotic good versus lawful good. What makes Fletch chaotic is that there is nothing necessarily tying him to the events. It's almost the randomness of these crimes is what intrigues him. I always put him as "chaotic good" because these moments of good. But part of what might not make him a force for good is the concept that Fletch is almost acting out of self-interest, rather than good.
Don't get me wrong. Fletch, given no degree of profit, would probably ultimately choose the greater good. Heck, even with some profit, he still chooses the greater good, as shown by the offers he gets in the first movie. But he constantly reminds everyone in Confess that he's retired. There's almost no reason for him to be doing any of these things. Instead, Fletch almost profits from the mythos that he himself created. There's a passive giddiness that comes from finding that dead body. Fletch profits primarily from knowing that he's the smartest guy in the room. I mean, it's the same thing that comes from Sherlock Holmes. Maybe there's something about the master detective / wizard archetype that thrives in the knowledge that he will eventaully solve a problem that most people would shy away from. But unlike Sherlock Holmes, Fletch is outside society. He almost lacks a cast of characters because his way of life doesn't really need a supporting cast. Sure, it's nice to see John Slatterly and Jon Hamm team up again, but Frank Jaffe is almost there for fan service in the book. He doesn't really need this character. It's almost like the motivation for Fletch is an attempt to cure boredom.
Look at Fletch's needs. The movie ends with him sleeping on a hammock on a dirty old boat. Yes, he has the money to buy something nicer. But Fletch's entire existence thrives on the balance between "lazy alcoholic" and "super sleuth." Mind you, since I'm going to "No True Scotsman" this argument, it might be another reason why I hate the slave owner fantasy in Fletch Lives, besides the blatant racism behind it. Fletch is a lazy dude who tries to do as little work as possible unless it involves sleuthing. Also, Fletch's entire M.O. involves him sticking his nose into things that tend to get him into trouble. In all the Fletch movies, he angers authority which draws attention to himself.
Now, given all of these concepts, his casual attitude towards the dead in Confess, Fletch brings about something sociopathic. He has a "must be Tuesday" attitude towards dead bodies. He knows that he should be cooperative with the police. But his devil-may-care attitude actually impedes him. I'm going to break from the schema that my brain is holding onto and look at the metatext for a second. Fletch has to be a punk to the police because it is funny for us. Remember, Fletch doesn't have an audience in the world of the text. He's telling jokes to an audience of two: Morris and Griz. But for our sake, we need him to tell as many jokes at the expense of the cops as possible. I am not saying that Fletch needs to cooperate with the police, but there's quiet and tonally approprate and deliberately making life hard for oneself. But let's get back into the world of Fletch. Fletch almost winds them up to make the chase more interesting. Am I saying that Morris and Griz wouldn't suspect Fletch regardless of behavior? I don't know. But Fletch almost needs the extra complication of becoming the lead suspect in this murder mystery. (It now dawns on me that someone knows Fletch so well that they knew that he would report the crime and insert himself into the investigation.)
So I enjoy Fletch movies. Even my rambling about not picking up another book franchise (you should see how many franchises I'm in the middle of), maybe Fletch novels might be readable. But I'm kind of just glad these movies exist. I will never be a fan of them. But they are a good two hour nonsense mystery comedy that hits the buttons the way they should be hit.
Rated R just to add an f-bomb? I know it was on the fence, but you could still keep this sucker PG-13 and just not have the f-bomb. It's pretty brutal. Batman kills all kinds of people. Superman kind of kills a dude, but it is slightly ambiguous. I suppose there might have been a way that he survived. A lot of people die. It's a bleak Zack Snyder world where atrocities are just constantly piling up. I mean, Snyder really wants you to feel each punch, so I don't know if this movie ever should have been for kids. R.
DIRECTOR: Zack Snyder
I could have sworn that I wrote a blog about this movie. I have a distinct memory of snippets of this blog. Maybe I've just talked about it enough that I feel like I wrote something in depth about this movie. Part of me, even after investigating my own archives, believes that I wrote something and it just disappeared from the system. I also want to admit that I'm not thrilled with what the algorithm has been feeding me in terms of movies. Part of me wanted to rewatch this movie just to say that I could have a DCeU collections page now that it is kinda / sorta done. But let's talk about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice one last time.
Now, this is the first time watching the Ultimate Edition. I had only seen this movie once before in the theaters, so it was a little bit new. I had to look up a Collider article to see what the differences in the editions were. I know that Snyder, especially in the wake of Zack Snyder's Justice League, has been mildly obsessed with the auteur's true vision. A lot of that comes from the rabid and toxic fandom. A lot of that comes in the wake of criticism of his movies. I'm going to say, I never hated Batman v Superman. This is the one that everyone lost their minds over and started quoting how bad the movie was. I actually liked it way more than Man of Steel. I can probably still stand by that. I do like this movie more than Man of Steel. But I also want to say that it is not a good movie. That's maybe unfair. A good chunk of this is an ambitious and beautiful movie, which is high praise. But as a single work, it is missing so much that it ultimately becomes a bad movie. I suppose I can say the same is probably true for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, so that might help you give some insight.
I don't know if I want to go from hate to love or vice versa. I suppose I'll go with what's in my gut. The third act, which is the thesis statement of the movie, is a mess. It's built on a really rocky foundation. Once Batman and Superman start fighting, the movie just goes in the toilet for me. I watch the beginning of that movie and I love it. I am Bruce Wayne in that moment. I'm watching the horror of these gods fighting in the sky and stepping on these little people and I get mad. After all, it's the same thought that I had watching Man of Steel. (Snyder, from what I've read, has a really skewed, unapologetic perspective on the carnage of Man of Steel. It's weird to see his Bruce Wayne borderline share the perspective of the critics of the first film.) But the movie is trying to prove that Superman was stuck between a rock and a hard place in the first film. He's ultimately a force for good and trying his best against impossible odds. I love that idea. If Superman was revealed to the world in a wake of unspeakable tragedy, I like that he should be spending time to redeem that image. But too bad that Zack Snyder is the one telling this story because everything in this movie is dramatic as heck. Superman and Batman never act like people. They're always acting like they're being filmed in super high def.
There's this sequence that shows what Superman has been up to in the eighteen months. (Please remind me to talk about the eighteen months thing because it's one of the biggest flaws of the film). Superman has been stopping disaster after disaster. But he looks miserable as heck doing it. He has this expression of the exhausted Christ that we see in icons. He almost weeps for humanity because of its fallibility. Instead of being humbled by what he encounters and the suffering that people face, it's almost like he wants to spread his arms and say, "I'm here. No need to worry." It's so close to what Superman should be doing without actually being what Superman is all about. I know. I'm a Christopher Reeve nut. I always saw his Superman as "Okay, we're gonna get out of this as long as we all work together." Lex Luthor's big treatise is that Superman and Batman are respectively God and the devil. I get why he's saying that. He's being worshipped and adorned. The news is calling him God and he's not out there saying, "I'm just a kid from Kansas. I'm baseball and apple pie." Superman's silent treatment is just proving that Lex and Batman are right. (I want to call him Bruce so bad. Mr. Wayne is where I'm at right now.)
None of it is Ben Affleck's fault, but Batman's a nutbar. Golly, it's like Zack Snyder is making these movies to prove how intense he can get with every cinematic choice. He's reading these comic books and he just looks at them as childlike. Because people are nice and multifaceted, he thinks its quaint. Like, I like Frank Miller's Batman because he's not the only Batman. We all laud that book. But look where that Batman evolved / devolved to: All-Star Batman (a book that I don't hate that much). That's what Batman is in this movie. It's no accident that this movie's Batman comes from The Dark Knight Returns. It's very Snyder and it's very Affleck. But that Batman is almost a placeholder for a fully fleshed-out character. He's all about embracing an archetype. He's violence personified. It's not bad and it is fun to watch. But also, Batman makes some absolutely insane choices in the face of what is practical.
It's all kind of dancing around this concept that is actually vocalized by one of the film's quasi-antagonists, Senator Holly Hunter. I could look up her name, but all I see is Holly Hunter. Sorry, Holly Hunter. You do a bang-up (no pun intended) job in this movie, but you are incredibly recognizable. Senator Holly Hunter, almost immediately before getting blowed up, gives this speech about democracy and being able to talk to each other. It's hard to follow because she's being distracted by Granny's Sweet Tea, but it's also the answer for this movie. If people actually talked, there would be a lot of ways out of the situation that Lex Luthor lays down. (Note: It's been a few days since I started this blog. Life with babies makes it hard to write blogs. I have two other blogs to write after this and I don't know when I'll have time for those.) Everyone knows that they are in a Zack Snyder movie in this film. Everything is the most dramatic way to hande it. When Superman first confronts Batman, he allows himself to get his by the Batmobile. Instead of bringing him to any kind of justice or getting his perspective on things (you know, like a good reporter would), he just flies off. Then, Superman wants to talk to Batman about Martha Kent being kidnapped. Batman opens fire on him and that does absolutely nothing to Superman. So Superman shoves him? Okay, there's a lot that's messed up about that whole fight, but if you want his help, stop shoving a dude who should absolutely be dead with that shove. Just talk like person. Anyone. Any superhero in this movie should just have a conversation.
Okay, I want to talk about the scene that everyone makes fun of: "Martha!" "Why did you say that name?" Okay. It's silly. I made fun of it for a while. But I went into this viewing saying that I'm going to just accept what Zack Snyder was going for. It was meant to be this grounding moment in this superhero slugfest rock opera. I don't think it works, but with a little distance I have embraced it. But I want to talk about why that scene really doesn't work. The big epiphany that Bruce Wayne has is that Superman had a parallel upbringing, down to his mother's name. Okay, I can kind of see how that might change Batman's perspective on the whole killing of a dude that he's never met. Fine. But something I didn't realize in the first viewing is the conversation that happens right before that big scene. Batman full on accurately guesses that Superman's parents told him that he was here for a reason. He then says that the only purpose of parents is to die in gutters. It's very mid-90's Hot Topic, but whatever. The problem with that line is that it completely contradicts the notion that Bruce Wayne had an epiphany of Superman's adoptive humanity. It's because Clark Kent had parents that he spares him. He sees that he's doing all of this for his mother and he remembers that he's driven by mother issues as well. It just doesn't work both way.
Probably my last gripe: eighteen months. (See, even with a few days off, I remembered to come back to this point.) Eighteen months is both a great and terrible addition to the movie. I'm going to start with great and then talk about how that kind of unravels the movie. It's great because it is a commentary on humanity. Zack Snyder has such a disdain for humanity because he states that it would take as little as 18 months for humanity to find Superman only to kill him. That's pretty damning. But the problem with 18 months is the hero worship of Superman. With only 18 months out from the Kryptonian Invasion, I would think that people would be far more skeptical of Superman. Instead, there's a full-on statue and memorial of Superman in Metropolis. Honestly, I love me some Superman and I tended to lean the way that Bruce Wayne did in the first part of this film. I just never see that guy being a normal dude saving cats from trees. I talked about this already (I think. I refuse to reread what I wrote sometimes.) But that 18 months is a choice. Snyder shares my frustration. With every reboot and origin story, we fail to get to the stories that take a while to earn. It's kind of why Marvel impressed me because we have enough Marvel movies to get to some of the more bananas storylines. But we haven't earned Doomsday. Honestly, the Death and Return of Superman needed a movie. But it needed to be one of those stories that is in the twilight in a franchise's career, not the second movie in.
But like I said, I still didn't hate this movie. Zack Snyder does some of the few things that he does best. (Okay, the murder of Jimmy Olson kind of felt like stepping on a puppy.) But the one thing that I really like about the film are Acts One and Two. Snyder was always a little cynical about the DC Universe because it was too comic booky. He always wanted to see how real people would react to a place where Superman and Batman existed and I think a lot of this works. I love the idea that the government would have no idea what to do with Superman. I love that people would be divided and that there would be conspiracy theories about how Superman could just be slaughtering folks overseas. While I don't really get Lex Luthor's complete motivation, I do like the fact that his Elon Muskness in the movie kind of reflects the sheer ego of billionaires. He has moved beyond right and wrong and is in his whole other sphere of evil because he's motivated almost by an unimaginable jealousy. There's so much fun stuff going on here and I like the notion that Metropolis almost felt real. (I don't love that Metropolis and Gotham are so close. It almost feels like Superman chooses to ignore the plight of the poor people across the bay as they get wrecked by a rich boy who likes beating up the lower class.)
And boy, Snyder is at his cinematic best here. For all of the garbage he sticks in movies, he makes a movie look great. Okay, dream young Bruce falling in the cave was a bit silly. But everything else looks gangbusters. Snyder took Nolan's Batman and just ran with it.
So overall, dumb movie. That's not fair. Snyder once again gets in his own way, but reminds us that he's not a dumb guy. There's so much good in this movie that it is burdened by the crucial flaws that keep popping up.
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.