Not rated because it was 1953. It's a 1953 romantic comedy. The worst thing in this movie is that Gregory Peck tries stealing a little girl's camera. It's played for laughs, but Mr. Film Reviewer from 2018 feels really uncomfortable in this moment. There's some real mild violence and some consumption of alcohol. Yup, I would rate this as a G if I could, but I have to label it as Not Rated.
DIRECTOR: William Wyler
The best part of having to write a 30 page research paper is that I get to revisit some classics that I haven't watched in forever. I mean, it puts my new movies on pause, but I get to watch Roman Holiday again. That's a pretty big win. The honest truth is, too, that I didn't fall in love with this movie the first time I watched it. I thought it was mighty good, but everyone told me how amazing this movie is. Maybe I wasn't ready for it at the time, but all those people were right. This movie is absolutely fantastic. On top of that, it was made by super-bro William Wyler, so I have to give some props for having a soul. It's a beautiful movie that is going to play a major part in my paper for one big reason: It's a giant tourism advertisement.
Honestly, this movie doesn't need to be set in Rome at all. It adds a ton because we get the cultural flare throughout. But narratively, there's nothing that actually grounds this movie in Rome. I know that I've seen this story before in other forms. The trope is pretty well worn. The big thing is that we get excuses to drive Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck all around Rome. I normally would complain about this for a long time, but Rome is gorgeous. This movie is kind of a financial gamble. I'm sure that the Italian tourism board picked up a lot of this check (the opening of the film starts with a disclaimer / humble brag that everything in this movie was filmed on location in Rome. Then it goes on to show stock footage of England and lots of other countries, but I get where they were going with it.) But think about it from a perspective of pushing forward another rom-com with dramatic irony as your central bit. I'm not disrespecting Roman Holiday as a lame movie with a great background, but there had to be a point where the filmmakers were thinking that the movie could have used the extra "oomph" to make it a great film. These guys didn't know that they had Roman Holiday. They had Audrey Hepburn and age-inappropriate Gregory Peck. (Why was this a way more noticeable thing in older movies? Was it a cultural thing that women married older?) You could have set this as a big city girl coming to visit the Midwest, but it is so much cooler having a princess explore Rome. I guess this is the point of my paper. Roman Holiday is a great movie when it is Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck, but the central character is Rome. You can see this in the mundane moments of the film. Princess Ann doesn't fall asleep on a park bench. She falls asleep in front of ancient columns. Gregory Peck doesn't try stealing a camera from a Walgreen. He steals one from a tourist at Trevi Fountain. There are kids playing in that fountain, which makes it even better. The movie is the purpose of the travel narrative. It is mean to make you fall in love with Rome. It explains why these two fall in love so quickly. It's Rome, after all.
I gotta get a little SPOILERY because I have to talk about my favorite element of the movie as a whole. Ready? They don't end up together. The movie takes the trope and changes some fundamental elements about it. Both characters are lying to each other. Their entire coexistence is a lie. Now, we can all plumb the depths of our moral cores and simply understand that Gregory Peck is more in the wrong than Audrey Hepburn is. There's even a scene where both characters have to remind themselves that they are lying to themselves. William Wyler's pretty smart for having this scene and I would give him a big pat on the back for that moment. At the end of the day, both characters are liars and I was waiting for the dramatic irony to play the card it always does. Normally, in this situation, the girl finds out that the guy is lying and she hates him for a little bit. He does some grand gesture and proves that he loved her and is regretful for their lies only as far as to remind them that, if he hadn't have lied, none of these events would have happened and they wouldn't have fallen in love. (Is that a run-on sentence? There are too many clauses.) But it doesn't work like that. The lies are revealed and they smile at each other. I know, it is more complex than that. He does the right thing with the information he gets. He gives someone one perfect day and that's what matters. But what is even crazier is that they never end up together. They have one night. The entire movie is about a perfect day and I absolutely love that. Now, we have to add the setting to this again. The movie ends with this walkout of what appears to be the Vatican. (I could be way off. I've been to Rome a whole bunch of times, but I suck at that kind of stuff.) I'm all about conflict. I find conflict to be the interesting parts of the story. But this movie, in retrospect, is about just having the most fun day in the world. It's Ferris Bueller's Day Off if Ferris was way more chill. It's a fish out of water story and it works really well. Are all travel narratives just fish-out-of-water stories? I have to think that it is one element of it.
I love Audrey Hepburn so much, but who doesn't finish their gelato, especially after you spent most of your money getting that gelato? Okay, I'm past it. I know that Audrey Hepburn is iconic, but I kind of want to explore what makes her iconic. The Hepburn smile is a real thing. I don't know why it works so well. There's a shot near the end of the movie where she just smiles at Gregory Peck. It crushes. It's just that she screams optimistic / naive. She believes the world is going to be a great place. I mentioned that Peck is inappropriate for this role because of his age. I love Gregory Peck. Between To Kill a Mockingbird and The Omen (pretty much the same movie), he's an amazing actor and I love seeing him in stuff. But the romantic lead across from Audrey Hepburn is such a weird and uncomfortable choice. Like, the movie works in spite of this moment, but I also really have a problem with Peck and comedy. He has a few bits and they don't really land like they should. They aren't bad. I'm thinking of the scene when he is lying to his editor at the beginning about sleeping in. It's a fine scene and the tone is still fine for the movie, but the dramatic irony of knowing that the editor knows the truth is what is supposed to make it funny. I just get the vibe that Peck wanted to play it as close to the vest as he could. The same thing with all of the moments where his secret is almost revealed. Honestly, Eddie Albert, who plays Irving, is the one delivering the comedy. He's great. He's compensating. The movie isn't really zany at any moment, which makes the dance sequence all the better. It is this odd blend of drama and comedy that plays throughout the sequence. It's not quite zany, but it is the zaniest part of the movie. All this leads to the tone being just light-hearted. Honestly, it works. There are no hilarious jokes, but it is just a fun time. Ferris Bueller has gags. Roman Holiday is just a fun jaunt. But that's what I want. I can see gags completely tanking in this movie and I think it works well just to have a fun time around Rome. I guess it is like going on a fun date. That's probably what we're looking for.
I can't believe how much I loved this movie the second time I have seen it. The simultaneous embracing and breaking of expectations is what I wanted to see. Yeah, it's a shameless tourism video. But it's a great shameless tourism video and Rome is the most amazing backdrop to this whole film.
Rated R, primarily for language and drug use. Okay, the guys take a bunch of Indian medications without prescription. But they do state at one point that they are going to make a campfire and get high. I'll count that as drug use. While there is no nudity in Darjeeling, there is a pretty graphic sex scene. There is nudity in "Hotel Chevalier" that is also accompanied by a sex scene. R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Anderson
I told you! I am doing a paper on the visual travel narrative. There is going to be a lot of talk about the road film and we should all just get comfortable. (Note to self: Add National Lampoon's Vacation to the list.) I have all kinds of notes for my paper and I'm excited that I'm getting work done. Do you understand the satisfaction that comes with being both productive and then writing what you want to write about? Anyway, I know that The Darjeeling Limited isn't one of Wes Anderson's best according to most. But I don't really get that. I don't. Maybe there's something that I'm missing. When I rewatched The Life Aquatic, I kind of got where people were coming from with their dislike for the movie. I genuinely love The Darjeeling Limited / "Hotel Chevalier". Like, it's on the top end of the movies he's made. But I also know why I like it. So I'm going to force myself to try to see what other people have a problem with.
We watched a YouTube commentary on Wes Anderson in my film class the other day. One of the major points was that adults act like children and that children act like adults. I think this might be the most telling in The Darjeeling Limited. There's a byproduct that spins out of that. When Anderson keeps using a lot of the same actors like Owen Wilson and Jason Scwartzman, these guys are playing variations of the same characters they were playing in other movies. It's actually completely bizarre that Adrian Brody wasn't part of the Wes Anderson troupe before this point. He fits in so well. I kind of love that like whoa. (I'm a fanboy now. Sorry, it happens.) The thing that I might have that is slightly unfair in terms of loving this movie is that I like those characters. I tend to come down when a filmmaker becomes repetitive. I know me. It's the first thing I'll toss at a director when I see the same thing that happened before. I know it makes it a bit of a lesser film. I mean, it's the comment that everyone has about The Force Awakens. It's a pastiche and, in the case of Darjeeling Limited, it's a rip off of his own work. But I don't really like pigeonholing this movie like that. Part of that is that I think that The Darjeeling Limited is his next attempt at the road film. I love Bottle Rocket. A lot of that comes from the fact that I'm a huge snob and love saying that I adore Bottle Rocket. But Bottle Rocket definitely is Anderson working with constraints. The road movie hasn't been perfected yet. (Do I have to do Bottle Rocket for my paper if I think that Darjeeling Limited perfected the idea he attempted in the first one?) There's something inherently cool about the road movie. I also think I have a love / hate relationship with India. I talk about this with my review of the Apu Trilogy. India is one of the few places on Earth where there is simultaneous beauty and filth in the same place. Somehow, and this is my privilege talking, the poverty of the country is absolutely gorgeous. This is probably the worst way that I can say this. Perhaps it is the aesthetic of simplicity that we don't really have in America.
The American road trip is something special. We hit a lot of the same beats. But India is something on a scale I can't wrap my mind around. The country is so darned big (Oh, I talked about this a lot with Lion! ) that the personality isn't one thing. But there might be something about the embracing of a completely intense color palate that we don't really allow in America. We're kind of a country of pastels, at least in our artificial creations. India, and especially with Anderson's love of intense color, is one of stark contrasts. The world of The Darjeeling Limited, both on and off the train, stress the strong choice in color palates. Everything in this movie is a choice. Anderson loves paying attention to the details of a set, but The Darjeeling Limited offers the same intense attention to art but in almost an organic sense. There are moments, sure, where Anderson is just being Anderson. The suitcases are straight out of Anderson's collective conscious (I know what I wrote!). But Anderson's aesthetic is straight out of India. I was watching a scene with Schwartzman on the titular train. The scene is great and compelling, but I couldn't stop staring at the wallpaper pattern. It is this deep blue with a light blue checker pattern. Above that are these elephants. These are handpainted elephants. Unlike something like Royal Tenenbaums, these elephants look like they belong. I know. This is western mentality and thin description commenting on a whole different world. But it doesn't seem like it is trying as hard. I'm trying to come to a conclusion on this, because it is fundamental to my love affair with this movie that I haven't seen that many times. People comment that The Darjeeling Limited is Anderson trying way too hard to be himself. I actually think it is the movie that he is trying the least, but has the greatest success being aesthetically glorious.
Yes, the story is about the boys. I think that the main narrative works. But the setting is carrying a lot of weight. If you don't find the story about the boys and their problems fascinating (I do), the movie is just then a gorgeous road movie through India. But I do want to talk about the story and defend it. I hate defending movies. I think that a lot of people probably have a point, but I can't necessarily agree with this. I think I am just more emotionally invested in the story. These are three guys who are kind of terrible people. I know that I watch a lot of movies with terrible people doing terrible people doing terrible things. Francis is a control freak to the point of almost being a bully. Peter abandoned his pregnant wife to have time out for himself and to avoid responsibility. Jack is sexually selfish and indulges every slight that comes his way. Yeah, these guys suck in real life. But they are also compelling because there are moments where they are all amazingly good guys. I know that Anderson gave us one of these come-to-Jesus moments when the guys run into the kids crossing the river. But he doesn't make them supernaturally heroic. What he does is actually humble them in an extremely organic way. There's isn't a magical transition. They are still fundamentally the same guys, but with a sense of humility. I love that the river rescue doesn't go perfectly. I'm really downplaying this for the sake of avoiding spoilers, but that choice is so powerful to the slight-yet-important character change that happens with the three guys. I don't want them to come out of this situation as different people. That would be far too fairy tale for this movie. They are the same characters, only with a greater understanding of priorities. That character shift is one of the greater changes that I've seen in Anderson's work. Anderson kind of seems to be the king of the subtle change. Normally, it is the million cuts leading to a breakdown. The million cuts are still there. The brothers treat each other terribly and they still have the breakdown. But instead of that moment being the fix, it is the moment of altruism that gives them their shift. It's pretty enriching. The movie doesn't mind being unfunny for a while. The odd thing is that the movie never really loses its momentum, despite the tonal shift. When the jokes come back, they are still funny. There's no warm up. We're just back.
To contrast all of this is the "Hotel Chevalier" stuff. It's really cool, but I have a love/hate relationship with it. It is remarkably sexual and slightly exploitative. I see why it is separated from the main movie. Tonally, it is a different movie. I guess a lot of this is the juxtaposition between France and India. It is awesome in terms of character stuff. I love Jack as the nonfiction writer, but it also explains the person he is fleeing. Natalie Portman is aggressive and I suppose that's fine. But part of me thinks that the entirety of "Hotel Chevalier" is supposed to be shocking. It is a microcosm of Wes Anderson and I don't know if it is accurate to what he does in his other works. A lot of Anderson's characters are selfish jerks and Chevalier does a lot to support that idea. Jack is mean in that scene. He's a bitter jerk and Natalie Portman doesn't offer a lot that is redeeming in that sequence. But the entire scene is kind of essential, despite what I just said. There's one line towards the end of Darjeeling Limited where Peter comments that he likes how mean Jack is. It's almost like Peter is allowed to watch the Wes Anderson movie that we all got to see. I guess there is another moment that acts like "Hotel Chevalier" and it is almost more effective. It parallels "Chevalier" because it is another sequence from Jack's writing. The flashback to the Luftwaffe Garage is just this moment that encapsulates what I think about Wes Anderson. It's pretty great and the smash cut / match cut to that sequence is absolutely gorgeous. It's pretty fun.
I'm sorry, but I can't hate on The Darjeeling Limited. It might be one of my favorite Wes Anderson movies. I know. I'm alone on this one. But between the complex characters and the amazing use of setting, I adore this film. Wait, why am I apologizing for saying I like something? It's harder to defend than it is to attack. I'm good with loving this movie. It's pretty great.
R, for what I was unaware years ago was some very gross stuff. There's language, sure. But this is a movie that has a constant throughline of statutory rape and a fairly gross moment that is played for romance. It's filled with drugs and awful people doing awful things to each other in the name of art. There's very brief nudity, but that nudity is for a character that may be any age between 15-18. R.
DIRECTOR: Cameron Crowe
How can I interpret a movie so differently as an adult than I did as a kid? This movie came out my junior year of high school. I used to think it was super cool to be this kid who just loved music and toured around with a bunch of rock stars. Honestly, I used to think that the main conflict of this movie was about this kid who had to keep his age hidden from Rolling Stone magazine so that he could continue writing this article. I'm so dumb. Okay, I used to be so dumb. I'm only kind of dumb now. By-the-way, for the people who read my stuff fairly regularly, you are going to notice a motif throughout my reviews over the next few weeks with the exception of the horror stuff. I'm taking this World Lit course (don't ask) and I'm writing a paper about the visual travel narrative. This means that I'm going to be watching a bunch of movies that are fundamentally about the journey than the actual goal. If I didn't have a bunch of stuff that I was already excited to watch, I would be super jazzed about this assignment. But I guess I'm sticking new stuff on the back burner because I need to take hardcore notes about movies that I've already seen.
Almost Famous is kind of a creepy movie the more I think about it. It wasn't that way when I was growing up. I mean, I was a junior in high school. This movie was talking to me. Honestly, I didn't even get that hard into music. Around this time, I thought I was hip enough to say that I knew rock 'n' roll (I had to look up the apostrophes, I'm such a noob). I knew soundtracks and that's it. I'm a movie nerd through-and-through. But there was that Hunter S. Thompson attitude (aw crap, I have to add Fear and Loathing. Remind me later.) / Jack Kerouac mentality that came with this. There was this romance to the road and if you could stick a cool soundtrack over that, that would somehow make me a rebel. (I'm wearing a Darth Maul tie. I'm not a rebel. Pun intended.) But this movie is actually fairly troubling. William's journey is still romantic, but Lester Bangs' (portrayed by the amazing Philip Seymour Hoffman) advice is the most telling moment that I should have been paying attention to. These people weren't his friends. They were just using him. Perhaps it wasn't in the way that William or young me took it, but they were using him as a joke. They were using him for his adulation and what they could provide for him. The joke, of course, is that these people were so broken that they still messed up the plan to manipulate him despite the fact that William never really stopped them from doing that. There's a line that Penny Lane says early in the movie. She establishes that she is in love with the music and that she doesn't sleep with the artists. She has this whole mantra that follow the Band-Aids attitude. But she constantly sleeps with them. She is also wildly underage. Like, I'm not sure. It's implied that William is younger than Penny, but they are pretty close in age. But William is 15 and Penny isn't that far off. And there she is, sleeping with Russell, who is just a piece of human garbage. The only reason that this relationship is tolerated for the length of the film is because he's a charming piece of human garbage. It's so weird that over the course of eighteen years, I've gone from relating to William to relating to William's mom.
Now, do I consider these moments faults of the movie? Oddly enough, maybe not. I mean, it's kind of irresponsible of Cameron Crowe to romanticize his childhood this hard. (The movie is semi-autobiographical, so the very nature of nostalgia is going to play throughout the piece.) But the movie really does condemn Russell for his affair with Penny. It's so odd how perfectly Penny is crafted. She is this powerhouse of a liar. She lies to herself most of all, but in high school, that's what was attractive. To William, she has all of the answers. To the adults watching this movie, Penny is such a victim in this scenario. She is this broken little girl who has dreams, but naive dreams that are harmful to herself and the people around her. She should act as cautionary tale, but my kids and I would take away a totally different message about Penny Lane. Penny Lane, to other sixteen year olds (I'm settling with 16 as her age, just so I don't have to keep explaining it), is someone who has broken free of the system. She is a dreamer and a goal setter. But it is in isolation of responsibility or a framework of good role models. This changes everything. I'm watching her as an adult, as is Crowe --I think--and seeing someone who just needs a stable home life. She is this victim throughout. Whenever she opens the doors for William after she sleeps with Russell, I don't weep because Russell's heart is breaking. I'm sad that she is being spent for someone who should be responsible's joy. Crowe stresses the irresponsibility of Russell and the members of Stillwater throughout. But he never outright condemns them, which is an interesting choice. The ending seems to grant Russell redemption, which is kind of awful. But it is his life and that's how he viewed the scenario at the time.
I have all kinds of notes for the first time. I always wanted to have a film notebook full of observations, but I also like being completely engaged with a movie, regardless of how many times I've seen it. The point of this blog is to watch movies critically instead of passively. I think I've achieved a lot of that without a notebook, but the notebook introduced a whole new appreciation for some of the choices with this film. I think I would like the guy who is dismissive of Almost Famous. It's kind of cool to hate Cameron Crowe, but I can't help but like this movie. Again, I'm not a music guy, but I definitely lean hard into music movies. Like, I never really caught the importance of the bus. There's a line, "Doris is the soul of the band." Immediately after saying this, they betray the bus and take the plane. There's this really sad moment when the bus is just sitting on the tarmac as they all walk away. It's such a strong symbol throughout the film. I always treated this line as a joke, especially when they return to the bus for the second tour. But in terms of analyzing travel narratives, it's interesting to show the bus as a character. Often, we see this with science fiction: the DeLorean in Back to the Future; the Enterprise in Star Trek; Baby in Supernatural. (I get that Supernatural is fantasy horror. Shut up.) But it's odd that for a travel narrative, the cities are really a secondary element to the road itself. We normally have in the travel narrative major landmarks. These are done in sweeping shots. Crowe actually uses the interior of the bus and the interior of hotels to show the importance of the journey. This is coupled with a completely rad soundtrack that explains the importance of the journey itself. We only get the interior of the airplane for one moment that stresses the broken nature of the cast. It is during an electrical storm when everyone begins confessing how they have hurt each other time and time again. The lack of soul shows their evil. The bus has "Tiny Dancer". The plane has reminders of how Russell almost inadvertently killed a sixteen-year-old girl.
SPOILER: There's one moment that is gross that isn't meant to be seen as gross. Penny Lane is dying from ingesting quaaludes. Russell, appropriately, tries saving her life. Great. He even tells her that he loves her knowing that she won't remember. Nothing too evil right now. But then he kisses her as she's falling unconscious and comments on the fact that she has slept with lots of guys. What? Um...Cameron Crowe. That's not okay. I know. I'm being 2018 woke. But it is pretty gross if given any kind of inspection. Really, a lot of the movie kind of should take that into account. Crowe has to be aware of a lot of the gross stuff in his film because we have William's mother, flawlessly portrayed by Frances McDormand. When I was a kid, I saw William's mother as a jokey character. She kept seeming overbearing. To a certain extent, that carries over. But she is also remarkably prescient. Everything she fears comes true. She also has this amazing moment where she, without ever raising her voice, destroys Russell. It's great. It's played for laughs, but it is a powerhouse of a performance. It is the expectation of what parenthood is versus what is the true. I know that there had to be a temptation (I keep writing this!) to do the worrying mother archetype. Rather, McDormand is in command of every situation she's presented with. She is a character who is constantly losing her battles but is keeping control of the losses as they keep coming. The message from McDormand isn't to not follow your dreams. It's to know that your dreams may not always be what you think. The two real adult characters come from opposite sides of the coin, but they are far more alike than you would think. Lester Bangs and William's mother are actually oddly the same character, only with different attitudes to the whole situation. Bangs warns William that they are going to manipulate him and wreck him, but he is also a torchbearer to William. His words are on point, but his attitude is understandable knowing that William can't ignore this dream and he'll only understand betrayal after he's experienced it. Bangs also doesn't love William. He was William. He likes him a lot, but that's very different from Mom's attitude. She loves her kids. She already lost one of them by holding on too hard. She is a woman presented with two bad options and can do nothing about either of them. It's great. Slash, it's also really sad.
As gross as this movie is, I think I might always love it. I don't want to be a guy who says that it is a product of its time. I used to think that this was a romantic story. I thought it was one of the few romances I liked at the time. Well, it isn't romantic. It is more of a cautionary tale of youth and growing up. I didn't have William's adolescence. I was the guy who wrote movie blogs with a lot more language. But the movie explores the joys and pitfalls of being a fan. I will always encourage passion, but I love that the movie kind of explores the dark underbelly of passion as well. It's a movie that works weirdly great for teenagers and adults. I kind of want high schoolers to watch this, but also with the knowledge that it is meant to be a morality tale. It's that whole thing of making a kid smoke the whole pack. The big risk is...what if they like it?
You know, life IS like a hurricane. Wait, that'd be terrible. You know what's not terrible? DuckTales season one. It's great. I know that we did another episode about the DuckTales reboot, but that was just the pilot. Now we've seen the whole thing. Enjoy!
It's PG-13, but that's because the book is PG-13. While there is extra stuff than what is in the novella, everything that the novella has is in the movie, with the exception of the hallucinations. (I mean, it's a novella.) This means that we watch a guy getting his hand pulverized on camera. Rape is regularly discussed. There are multiple animal and human deaths on camera. (Okay, the animal deaths are off-camera, which is weird. But you see an animal corpse!) It's a well-earned PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Gary Sinise
How does this movie exist? Honestly, I had no idea that this movie was ever in theaters. Is this the product of extremely bad publicity or just another movie that was swept away in the ether? I had always heard about this movie. I thought it was a Hallmark movie or something. I never showed it to my class because people the poster looked kinda chincy. But this movie is a big budget, amazing adaptation of one of my favorite novels. It's got a great cast outside of the two leads. It's as impressive as an adaptation of Of Mice and Men could get, yet it fell under the radar.
John Steinbeck is my favorite author. I keep pretending it's Ernest Hemingway because that gives me an aura of mystery and education. But Steinbeck is my favorite author. The only novel that I've read of his that I didn't enjoy was East of Eden, but I love the movie of that one so I'm still giving him the points. But I've always written off Of Mice and Men as a movie. Honestly, it is a novella. It's probably my favorite novella. I'm not alone in that. I'm not saying anything all that revolutionary. Everyone kind of loves this book. (Except for one year, none of my students liked it. This year's class made up for it with everyone liking it.) But there's so little in terms of plot. There are six chapters in the novella and there are very defined events that happen in each chapter. The same thing carries over with The Grapes of Wrath. But Gary Sinise makes an absolutely fantastic movie. I remember that Gary Sinise and John Malkovich were doing this on Broadway. I think I had a vague memory of wanting to see this production at the Stratford Festival, but I didn't get a chance to see it. It's amazing to see that the movie translates so well. I suppose that movies always have to make sacrifices to accommodate a two-hour runtime. But Steinbeck's novella might be an interesting experiment. I know that novellas tend not to be the format of choice for many authors. They are, by-and-large, ignored by popular consumption. It's odd, but the novella is the perfect length for adaptation. I normally complain about slavish adaptations, but I really like what Sinise did with Of Mice and Men. Every single bit is in there. And, for once, it translates really well. The dialogue is a bit different, but that might just be something that comes with the visual element of filmmaking. The one thing that I'm actually kind of confused about is the extra stuff that was added. I know that the film is probably more of an adaptation of the stage play and perhaps that's something that's in the play itself. It does seem slightly clunkier than the rest of the material. There is one addition that actually does contribute a little bit. I know it might seem like blasphemy, but Steinbeck's female characters are rarely fleshed out very well. Giving Sherilyn Fenn something else to work with is an excellent choice. But I think the rest of the additions seem to be studio driven.
Why show what happened in Weed at the beginning? It might be to get the story started with a bang. One thing about the novella is that it starts remarkably slowly. Steinbeck spends the first two pages just describing the location and then it is two guys walking down a road for a while. I personally like that dynamic. I like the slow discovery of what happened in Weed, but I can see a movie demanding some action. Think about how artsy-fartsy the movie would have been if the credits just played over two guys walking down a dusty road for a long time and then they start giving some Waiting for Godot / Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead style dialogue. Yeah, those plays don't match the tone of Of Mice and Men, but it might have created the same effect. But I like that kind of stuff a lot. Of Mice and Men isn't boring in either format, but I think that a lot of the energy comes from the character dynamic. I guess I'm a little bit of a hypocrite in that regard because my favorite parts of the story are the parts that everyone likes. (The three parts you can probably guess.) I like these parts so much that I stopped typing this review to watch one of the scenes again. (One of the classes is behind in the movie so I'm letting them watch it right now. Boy-oh-boy, this review is going to be fresh. But the rest of the story is pretty intense because the relationships between George and Lennie are absolutely spot on. Sinise, I suppose, needed the confidence to have the weight of the movie rest on the relationships involved. While Malkovich isn't the hulking character I have in my head, he is absolutely pitch perfect for Lennie. It's not the voice I thought that Lennie would have. I often have a hard time reading portions of the book for the class because I'm always worried that my Lennie would be a bit inappropriate. But Malkovich as Lennie is completely committed to the bit and that's why it works. Part of the fault is that Sinise isn't a shrimpy guy, but I also think of a Michael Clarke Duncan as the size of Lennie. But I just watched Malkovich's last scene with Fenn and he's so good at this part. There was the cathartic uncomfortable laugh with how intense that scene got. (I can understand laughs, you guys.) He's so nuanced with Lennie. It's funny to think that people have a Malkovich impersonation because he is rarely that character. It's not like Pacino where there are shades of that. I stop seeing Malkovich really quickly in this performance. He's that good. Sinise, also, is performance-wise, the best guy to play George. It's so odd, because the one thing that the movie had to sacrifice was the juxtaposition of these two guys. (Golly, I'm ashamed to say, but it is the same bit that happened with Cable and Deadpool that they address in the movie. Both sets of actors embody the parts, even if they don't have the physical elements to back them up.) It's the right choice, ultimately. But I would have loved to see the towering Lennie in this movie because it is such a central element of the story. But Sinise as both director and star gets George. He's this brusque guy who is ultimately sympathetic. He's a jerk, but he needs to be a jerk. It's so hard to think that there's a character who can slap a mentally disabled character and still be considered the good guy.
The rest of the cast really sells their characters. I love Joe Morton and Joe Morton is absolutely inspired as a choice for Crooks. It had to be a temptation to not include Crooks. Sure, Sinise is trying to get the runtime out of a short novel, but Crooks could have come across as a pause in the action. When reading the novella, it's a pause in the action, but a necessary pause in the action. Sinise manages to capture the same importance with his scene. Morton kind of gets the short end of the stick because the scene does kind of fly in the long run. A lot of Steinbeck's chapter is description and the movie does speed that scene up. Again, I mention Sherilyn Fenn. I wasn't a big Twin Peaks fan, but I always liked Fenn's performance, even if her character didn't exactly click with me. But Fenn adds some stuff to the movie that I think is pretty necessary. Again, I love Steinbeck, but his female characters always make me roll my eyes. I mean, Curley's wife doesn't even have a name. (The Wikipedia article says that Fenn named her "Daisy." That seems a bit on the nose for me.) But Fenn infuses some very cool stuff without losing the fact that she is technically an antagonist. (Okay, not really, but I don't know how to describe her.) Curley's wife is a very hard character to get a grasp on. She is extremely sympathetic, but you are meant to dislike her. She's got a bit of that Merchant of Venice problem where you realize that the villain is ultimately the victim of the story. Fenn does this cool thing of reminding you that she can and will ruin everything for the protagonists, but it really isn't her fault. Adding stuff to that character is pretty daring and it is the one addition that I think works marvelously.
It's not a perfect movie, though. I can't believe this, but I think what few faults really lie here (besides the extra scenes) is the music. The music is the most blah faux-vintage nonsense in the world. I know it shouldn't break a movie, but I almost don't take the movie seriously. I guess I can also attach the cinematography to this as well. There's a certain expectation to what the Great Depression should look like. The camera and the music don't take any risks. Perhaps it is an attempt to ensure that the characters get the focus, but it seems like the ambition on the creation side is pretty low. Maybe that's why I thought that the movie was fairly forgettable. Critically, most people agreed with me. But it does look a little bit standard. I could chalk the whole thing up to just being pretty '90s. That's not the worst thing in the world, but it could explain the forgettabilty of the film. But the movie is pretty great. It's weird that I could only buy this through Amazon and it doesn't show up in my Movies Anywhere account. But I guess I shouldn't let popularity affect my opinion of a film.
It's rated R, and it is intense. Like, there's some very uncomfortable stuff happening on screen. Someone gets an arrow to the neck. There's more than a little bit of sex stuff going on. This is really weird when you are watching this in your grad school class in a teeny-tiny room and no one is going to make eye contact. It's pretty gory in general. When I heard we were watching Black Robe, I thought I had a safe PG. Not so much. R.
DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford
This might not be the best movie for me to watch right now. I'm pretty sure the Catholic circles I run with love this movie. I haven't seen it before and I might be completely wrong. For all I know, this movie is considered blasphemous, but I'm just lost overall. It was introduced to me in my grad school class. Things that people should note about grad schools in secular universities: they think that religion and faith is considered silly. This class is named something along the lines of "World Literature", but all we do is read diaries from the New World. Believe it or not, Catholics don't have the best track record during this time period. Add onto the fact that the Church right now has a lot of people hurting, I suppose me included, how do I go about watching a movie about a missionary who is often out-of-context portrayed as silly for having his beliefs.
I don't know what to do with this one. Honestly, the movie is pretty interesting. I'm fairly read up on this specific topic now. I've read far too much from the Jesuit missionaries in the New World and I don't know what is accurate and what isn't. It seems that every document that comes out of this class invalidates another document from this era. I was watching this Netflix show (I think) called Ugly Delicious, where the argument was primarily that authenticity is dumb. The problem with a movie like Black Robe is that authenticity is the foundation of appreciating this movie. This is a movie that is fundamentally a biography of those involved. I think I talked about this in one of my more recent reviews (why am I blanking / not looking it up?) about how some stories are important to get right. Black Robe isn't as famous as many of the other movies I've been discussing. There isn't a ton of commentary on the authenticity that I could find with a quick Google search. So, all I can do, without being an expert at this story, is to treat it simply as a narrative and assume that many of the elements are accurate. From a Catholic perspective, the story of Fr. Paul Laforgue is one of inspiration. He did this absolutely terrifying journey. I've been reading about what it takes to become a saint and I always have a hard time relating to stories about the saints because of stories like Black Robe. Laforgue, in Black Robe, (can I establish that I don't have to write "in Black Robe" over and over because I don't know the real story?) is this stoic individual. He seems almost removed from reality. From a certain standpoint, this makes Laforgue super cool. He is unmoved and undeterred from completing his mission. He is the Jesuit that all Jesuits I'm sure wish that they could be. He is unflinching in his mission and, even when tortured, doesn't cry out in pain. He is quiet for most of the film and speaks the language of the Hurons, giving him that certain feeling of mystery. I always had a hard time relating to the saints because of these things. I like the idea of Fr. Paul Laforgue being a regular dude. I wanted to see a sense of hesitation from him. This movie doesn't really provide that. The only thing that makes Laforgue relatable is that no one really takes him seriously. He's kind of a failure in most of his works don't work out (until the end where they just kind of do?). But he's this guy who keeps just taking slight after slight with dignity. I want the frustrated saint, which I imagine is extremely difficult to portray. Laforgue, played by Lothaire Bluteau, is one emotion the entire time. I don't love this. I think it is cool, but the character I can least relate to is Batman. Bluteau is a disrespected Batman of his faith, is what I'm saying.
Message wise, this is an interesting travel narrative. I actually can kind of appreciate that I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be thinking. The movie definitely strays from the "noble savage" narrative. I appreciate the shift in perspective. Traditionally, we have seen the white man as either a blight on the natives or as the white savior. Laforgue, to the Hurons, is seen as an idiot. The locals actually consider all Europeans to be idiots and I really dig that. It shifts the dynamic. Usually, we have the one character who is not on board for the European to hang out. That character is still here. In fact, he oddly might be my favorite character of the piece because his makeup is so on fleek. But there is a pretty strong shift in what is expected versus what is actually delivered. (I'm not sure what that means either. I apologize and will return with some caffeine.) I think it is cool that there is no traditional good guy or bad guy in this film. Okay, that's not true. The Mohawk tribe is full on nutbars in this movie. They are the scary elements of the film, but they are also only a small part of the movie. I read that the portrayal of the Mohawk was probably the most controversial element of the film because they are so intense in their portrayal. I probably have to agree with that. They are seen more as Reavers from Firefly than anything else in the movie. The only thing that can be seen as a little polarizing between the two groups is the fact that Laforgue is so unyielding.
There are flashbacks in the movie to Laforgue in Europe. He sees the trauma that previous missionaries have gone through and these moments are meant to terrify the audience. But Laforgue never has the moment that Christ has. He never really has that moment of asking the Lord for another way. Rather, he's flat-affect the entire time. I just think of the opportunity missed. Laforgue is so zealous about his mission that some of the more intense scenes come across as darkly comical. He scourges himself. The message of this scene is that Laforgue is so without sin that he is ashamed of his body when lust crosses his mind. He confronts Daniel and just speaks his mind plainly. There's no finesse and it comes across like something might be mentally wrong with Laforgue. It's so odd, but I think that there are times where the message is so intense that it actually has the opposite effect of what is intended. Laforgue is meant to be this character who keeps pushing in the face of adversity. That's a great message and I think that has been partially accomplished in this film. But on the other hand, he keeps pressing with the same tactics he does from the beginning. Perhaps this is his faith, but it also completely ignores the fact that Laforgue is dealing with real people with real responses. It makes him stubborn and silly. What comes out of this actually is kind of cool, though, at least at times. There's a moment, and it oddly might be my favorite moment, where Laforgue gets stuck out in the woods. He's referred to as Blackrobe (one word) and it is this cool image of the black robe against the trees. This is where the message is kind of solid and I like it. Laforgue getting lost in the woods is so revealing of his ineptitude. Everyone, including Laforgue, is aware that he shouldn't be out here. The second that the natives decide to dump him, he's a dead man because he is untrained. This is probably the message of faith I've been looking for.
Maybe it was the audience I was watching it with, but I didn't like how the movie made faith kind of seem silly. The natives laugh at Laforgue and the movie never establishes who is in the right. The Jesuits are killed off in droves because of their visit. The natives see God as witchcraft to heal the sick. Even Laforgue comments on that, claiming that baptizing the natives without an understanding of that Baptism is fruitless. But he still does it. The film paints this image of the locals walking up to this makeshift church and welcoming Christ into their lives, but it wasn't due to the work of Laforgue. It seemed like they were scared. Even the afterword is a bit of a bummer in the long run. It talks about how their embrace of their faith got them all slaughtered in the end. I really believe that director Bruce Beresford wanted to make a story about faith. I think he wanted Laforgue to appear noble and humble. But there were moments where I just needed the character to act a little more rational. I wanted him to come across like a peer and all he seemed throughout the movie was this insane zealot who wanted to push his religion on the locals.
Basically, what this movie needed was a bit of vulnerability and the ability to laugh at itself. My honest thoughts? I think that Black Robe was supposed to be the ultimate Catholic movie honoring this great missionary. There are certainly a lot of elements that contribute to that. But I watched elements of this movie from the perspective of the natives and that story isn't always conveyed. It definitely didn't feel like Laforgue loved the people he traveled with. That wasn't absolute, to be sure. There is the relationship between Chomina and Laforgue. Chomina is great. He's the character I want to focus on for an entire movie. He is a leader. He has a goal. He is fallible and makes changes throughout the movie. I also feel like the relationship between Chomina and Laforgue is because of the persistence of Chomina, not of the priest. Their separation seemed like everything got ramped up at the end on the part of Laforgue and it was slightly undeserved. Why couldn't Laforgue be vulnerable with Chomina? I could see why the other Indians didn't want Laforgue in their camp. He was distant and weird the entire time. Why would I want my missionary story to be about a guy who was super weird and judgy to everyone the entire time. Yes, he should comment on sin, but I never really got the concept that he was there to spread the good news of God's love. Rather, he was there to convert by science and persistence. I don't know. I'm probably being a selfish jerk right now, but that kind of distanced me.
I liked the movie overall. I just don't know what to do about it. It's definitely the last movie I should have watched right now. I don't know what to think anymore. It's very frustrating, to say the least. But the movie has a lot going for it, if nothing else, by providing the story of a man of faith in the gorgeous Canadian wilderness.
PG-13. Do I have to wait for my daughter to be old enough to watch this movie? Like, I'd love to show it to her tomorrow. But there's the whole raptor eating a guy's face off. There's a solid amount of blood. The goat leg on the glass can be pretty intense. Also, "That's one big pile of...", yeah, maybe I'll wait. But just know that I really don't want to. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
I finally get to write about Jurassic Park? Actually about Jurassic Park? It's a little bit of a cop out because I've probably written too much about Jurassic Park at this point. I keep reviewing the sequels and comparing other movies to it that my thoughts on the film are well-known by this point. Regardless, I'm shocked that three years into my blog, I've only gotten around to Jurassic Park now. I thought I watched this movie annually. My wife doesn't like watching movies repeatedly. I am kind of the same way, but I do have my favorites and Jurassic Park is definitely one of my favorites. I started a film club with the other film teacher at Villa and I've been watching movie multiple times this week. If I've ever been an expert when it comes to a movie, my bet is that it is Jurassic Park. I originally posted a different image above, but I was fairly convinced it was flipped because the T-Rex fence was on the wrong side of the picture. That's where we are.
I do want to make clear that Jurassic Park isn't my favorite movie. It's up there. I do think it is the greatest blockbuster film. I enjoy it more than Star Wars, which is probably blasphemy to many. Star Wars is great and it'll always be great. But I definitely take Jurassic Park to be its own movie, despite many sequels that are all inferior. I know, this is nitpicky garbage, but I do have to say that this might be a perfect movie. Why Jurassic Park works is that it is meticulous. (Although, I've now seen it so many times that I've noticed some really weird details. The digital display says that the raptor paddock is offline, but one of the next lines is that Nedry left the raptor paddock online. Yup, I'm at that level.) Michael Crichton's novel was the first "adult" novel that I read. I remember when I saw this movie with my dad, I was obsessed. I wanted to know as much about this movie as possible, so my dad let me read an adult novel. I was capable of reading giant texts at that age, but usually it was something that was considered a classic or was assigned for school. But I was ten and I wanted to read something that was a New York Times Bestseller, so I read Jurassic Park. Crichton's book was amazing and that was an experience I'll never forget, but the film that Spielberg made is a masterclass in managing what is essential while still maintaining the tones and themes of the film. Lots of things are different from the book to the movie. I think people keep on talking about how the book was so much different, but it feels like both are completely respectful to what was trying to be accomplished in this movie. It's so weird that this is really Crichton's second attempt at doing the theme park gone bad is so much better. (I love the new Westworld, so chill out.) But Spielberg took what was almost a Tom Clancy level corporate espionage sci-fi action and turned it into a movie that appeals to so many people on so many levels.
Because of this attention to tone and audience, Jurassic Park becomes something different than a matter of nostalgia. I've watched my nostalgia movies and, while I still enjoy them because nostalgia is the best, I also know when they are becoming dated. I took a long break from Jurassic Park. It was during my arthouse years, when I refused to repeat any movie. I was only going to watch fancy pants movies and I had the best time. (I don't regret this era of my film watching whatsoever. I still love art house movies and I watched a ton of new stuff because of this time.) But then I watched Jurassic Park again. It was probably when Jurassic World was coming out and I wanted to play a little bit of catch up. Maybe it was sooner than that. But that movie was almost like a new film to me. I could still quote the movie (I was using the phrase, "Hold onto your butts" way longer than I should have), but I watched it from an adult's perspective. When I was a kid, I watched it as a cool dinosaur movie. It's a very cool dinosaur movie, I promise you. It's the best dinosaur movie ever made. It's scary and edgy and...I digress. But as an adult, I watched it as a Michael Crichton thriller. There's this narrative that gets the whole story going and Spielberg really milks this information. He never infodumps. That movie takes its time. It allows us to bask in the possibilities of what the park could be. It does such a good job that we can leave the movie fully embracing the message of "You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn't stop to think if you should." I mean, the message is direct and clear, but it also leaves you thinking that we should still have a Jurassic Park. That's how cool that opening of the film is. Most movies, especially disaster movies, really stress the first part's happiness. This is meant to juxtapose the horrible things that are going to happen later. We meet the characters who deserve their awful fates and how their excess brought about calamity. John Hammond is a bit different. John Hammond is Victor Frankenstein, only way better. Victor Frankenstein deserves to be embarrassed and ridiculed for his choices. John Hammond honestly thinks that he is improving the world. This is such a nuanced argument. The argument wasn't against the advancement of science (despite its description as the "rape of the natural world"), but just how we go about it. It's philanthropy that is rushed. But then the whole thing shifts. Jurassic Park changes the formula a bit. The first part with the happiness is addressed full on by the characters. They all come to the realization at the same time that this happiness is unsustainable. The scene over the Chilean sea bass is telling because the victims of the attack don't need to experience tragedy to come to this realization. Only Hammond and Gennaro don't learn this mistake. It's such a great tonal shift. We are in love with Jurassic Park, but now we are afraid of Jurassic Park. I never fell in love with the building in The Towering Inferno or the boat in The Poseidon Adventure. I did fall in love with Jurassic Park.
Then there is the subtle commentary on humanity's greed. The first movie introduces a thread that none of the other movies in the franchise gets right. The other movies get one thing right: the dinosaur action. Even the worst movie in the franchise gets dino action right and that's super fun. They even get the marveling at dinosaurs thing right. But the other movies are really heavy-handed with the corporate greed angle. Instead, the most corporate espionage one of the group is the one that knows exactly how to handle it. I swear, there had to be a temptation to info dump a lot of stuff with Dodson and Nedry. They give us what we need to know. Nedry is being paid to sneak embryos off the island by Dodson using a fake Barbasol can. That's all you need to know. But we watch Nedry and wait for the shoe to drop. Nedry is constantly int he story, reminding us that something untoward is going to happen and he has control over it. He's the right level of unlikable. Even better is that John Hammond blames Nedry for the problem. When he's sharing ice cream with Ellie Sattler, he pins the whole thing on him. Normally I don't love when themes are so blatantly stated, but it works in Jurassic Park. Ellie comments on the whole story with the fleas. Like Frankenstein, Hammond never had control. He simply thought he did. Perhaps Jurassic Park could work in a world where man was free of greed, but man always manages to ruin things that are meant for good. Someone is always looking to make a buck and I love that it is this moment that larger messages are stated. As part of this, it is this house of cards that just collapses at the right time. Something very simple as someone trying to make a few bucks to get out from under his bills causes one of the greatest scientific advances of all time to fall apart. Spielberg gets this message just right. I can hear my wife rolling her eyes (loudly). I know it isn't real, but as allegory, it works wonders.
The script is something special. I think the rules don't apply to me when it comes to quoting movies because I find it intolerable when other people do it. I guess I just defined "intolerance", but I'll move on. I quote Jurassic Park way too much. Honest-to-Pete, once a year, I find an excuse to say "T-Rex doesn't want to be fed. T-Rex wants to hunt." It's never forced and you'd think it would be. Not really. But the script is absolutely a joy. This is what I'm talking about in terms of craftsmanship. There are very few throwaway line. Like The Empire Strikes Back, there are very few throwaway lines. Each line is a solidly crafted beat. I'm writing this part now as the "I can't get Jurassic Park online without Dennis Nedry." Sammy has some really intense technobabble going on there, but he's talking about a "white rabbit" object. A lot of writers or filmmakers would take the time to stress how important and how clever their writing is. The "White Rabbit" would be a recurring motif. Nope, the world is already inhabited enough. Yet, this "white rabbit" object matches Nedry's playfulness. It's a little detail that just makes everything feel inhabited. This is what sci-fi should be. It should feel lived in. Admittedly, Jurassic Park is a specific genre of sci-fi that is grounded in our reality. Only one (major) elemen is actually science fiction. The rest, as I mentioned, is a corporate espionage disaster movie.
It's odd that the most famous scene in the movie might not be the best. I mean, it is perfect, but I'm comparing the T-Rex attack with the raptor chase. I suppose I should be critical about some things in this movie because I'm being a little unfair that I'm gushing over the film so intensely. (I'm actually at the scene where Alan Grant saves Tim from the tree, despite the fact that there is no moat area in the previous scene. ) There are times that Lex and Tim are pretty mature. Like most stories that involve kids, there's a bit too much malleability with how they handle stress. I don't think think this is a major crime. But there are moments where Tim is jumping up in down because he has to act like a kid. But back to the best moment of the movie. The raptor attack in the kitchen is one of the most suspenseful scenes in cinema. The timing and the dramatic irony are pumped up to eleven. The only thing that I really wish is that I could feel the same stress I did the first time I watched this scene. I know it too well because I now watch it from the perspective of a critical observer. The T-Rex scene keeps sticking with me because it is so iconic, as it well deserves to be. But the raptor scene is my favorite. I know I'm not alone in that, but I think that was the first time I was really scared when going to see a movie on the big screen.
Yeah, I gush. But I watch a lot of movies and sometimes it is good to be reminded how much I love movies. There's not a movie on this blog that I regret watching, but there's nothing pretentious about loving Jurassic Park. It's an amazing action blockbuster and I don't know if any other blockbuster will hit the same level of love for me. There's a level of attention and love that shows in this movie and I'm proud to say that I really dig it.
Oh man, this is an interesting case. I'm conflicted. It's PG. I need to make that clear first. I'm even a fan of this being PG. I heard that J.K. Rowling made the movies age appropriate for whatever age Harry is. In Sorcerer's Stone, Harry is 11, so the movie is thus deemed appropriate for 11-year-olds. But Is this really a PG movie compared to other PG movies? I mean, if this was the '80s or '90s, probably. But for 2001? We're already into the live action blockbuster being PG-13. There's some messed up scary parts in this movie. But end of the day, it's PG.
DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus
I have a cantankerous relationship with Harry Potter and all things related to Harry Potter. I love fandoms and, honestly, I tend to like Harry Potter fans. But Harry Potter fans are intense. I'm not saying other fandoms aren't intense, but they don't understand at all why you aren't on board the fandom. I push Doctor Who and Star Trek a lot, but I often expect people to be standoffish about these fandoms. Harry Potter fans get obsessed! My thoughts on Harry Potter is that it is a fun franchise that is riddled with problems. If you ignore the problems, the stories are fine and even good. But I can't ever get on board the obsession.
With all of that being said, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a better movie than I remember. When the final book came out, I binged them all on a bet. Before that time, I was intentionally holding out. I was a snob, not to put too fine a point on it. I now rally against that attitude of avoiding something with pride. I pretty much absorb stuff and then comment on them after the fact. But at the time, I didn't love the first book. I know that a lot of people also didn't care for the first movie. The first movie has a lot to deal with. I can't believe I find myself in a position to be defending the first Harry Potter movie, but I think it does exactly what it needs to. I'm not saying it does so perfectly. Like my overall opinion on Harry Potterdom, it's an overall success, but I don't love everything that's done. Harry Potter (and I'm ashamed that I'm going to be throwing this word around) is about worldbuilding. I've fought against the worldbuilding argument that every Potter fan has presented to me. I think that there are lots of worldbuilders who do it more organically than Rowling, but the film needed to convey a lot of stuff in a very short amount of time. Okay, two-and-a-half hours, but that's still a lot to cover. First and foremost, Potter has a pretty complex mythology. It's actually my favorite part of these stories. I don't care about the school stuff or the fun moments that people love. I care about the overall prophesy and how it plays over the course of these stories. This is the first movie that is coming out before the entire series is completed. I mean, Harry Potter was Game of Thronesing before Game of Thrones was a TV show. It had to guess what was important and what wasn't. I'm sure that they had insight from Rowling, but we also know how these things play out. Secondly, Harry's world needs to be lived in. Chris Columbus made Harry Potter look like Harry Potter. The books are barely illustrated, but Columbus does this amazing job with the look of Potter. Honestly, everything that is sold involving Harry Potter is probably due to this movie. People had to like this movie enough to say that we're going to devote everything related to this movie to the tone and feel of this movie. That's a pretty big ask and a pretty big win.
Also, the movie is pretty watchable. I will say that it is a little bit more disjointed than I would care for. The movie tries to cover a lot. The future books get longer, but the amount of story pretty much stays the same. So the first movie has the unfortunate task of being both an origin story and a story that is fundamentally part of the mythology as well. (I can't believe that I'm arguing Harry Potter this hard.) In superhero stories, the first villain often doesn't get his due credit. It's why the pre-MCU movies kind of burn off their good villains with the worst stories. Honestly, we haven't really gotten a good Norman Osborn story yet because he was in the first movie. Most of the first Spider-Man is devoted to Peter Parker becoming Spider-Man. Harry Potter faces off against Voldemort in the first story...kind of. That level of storytelling is super cool. It seems like Voldemort is a far off threat, but he shows up in the first story. (I might just like defending underdogs.) It's also a bit of a trick. We get two battles with Voldemort in the first story. SPOILERS: There's the attack on the unicorn in the woods and the final boss battle. But the first movie establishes Voldemort as a credible threat. He is incorporeal and yet presents himself as a difficult foe. It's so funny to see how Voldemort looks like in this movie. While so much of this movie is planned in relation to what future movies, it's so odd to think what Voldemort should have looked like.
But the movie is a bit disjointed. While I haven't read this book in ages, I can see the clear chapter breaks. Rather than allowing the world to be fuller and expand on the original content, I have the vibe that the movie is almost a slave to the text. I know, hardcore Potterheads will yell at me for this one. But chapters don't mind ending abruptly. There different media, so they almost should have different attitudes when it comes to storytelling. (I understand that the intro showing Dumbledore and McGonagall is not exactly from the book.) But for a film, the movie almost feels segmented. Part of this is the structure of the story. This is Harry's first year at school. These events aren't happening one moment to the next, as we are reminded by the changing of the seasons throughout the film. It's just odd to think that such major events are happening to the kids that they wouldn't follow up with that thread immediately. This is always something that bothered me when reading the novels and it gets worse in the longer ones. To be experiencing such trauma and adventure on a regular basis, to worry about house cups, sporting events, and homework seems silly. These kids compartmentalize their lives way too well. When I'm intrigued with a story, I want there to be a through-line, not constant interruption to play house. People love that stuff and I'm a bit alone in this issue, but it definitely is noticable in the first movie. It seems like there's no momentum in relationships. But for a viewing audience where events only took place a second ago, jumping to Christmas seems a bit disjointing. In the long run, by the time that the kids are all playing Wizard Chess, I find myself questioning how we jumped into the deep end of the pool when we were just discussing secret Christmas presents.
My wife doesn't like the kids in this movie. I don't mind. Very few child actors really knock it out of the park, so I give them a bit of a learning curve. By the end of the series, these kids all really get it. I guess I should be critiquing this movie in isolation, but I suppose that I'm allowed to play favorites and have the advantage of hindsight. I know that I'm pretty crazy on this one, but I'm going to attack the dead. Okay, I'm not attacking, but I don't love Richard Harris as Dumbledore. The thing is that I love Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. Harris comes across as a withered and tired old man. That's totally unfair of me to say, but I can't help but think about what richness and life that Gambon brings to the character. Part of me is completely selfish because I have the Doctor Who connection with Kazran Sardack. I started this whole thing talking about fandoms and now I'm using my own fandom to justify my choices. But the casting in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is pretty genius. We all love Dame Maggie Smith. My Downton Abbey fandom is also peeking through as well. But the real get, and this is yet another fandom clouding my judgment, is Robbie Coltrane as Hagrid. Hagrid is a pretty lovable character and it's so good that Coltraine gets to play this part. I fell in love with the actor in GoldenEye and The World is Not Enough, so to see him get this role is pretty darned exciting. Although, now that I'm thinking about it, I haven't seen him in much since Harry Potter. The guy is too good to put under a bushel basket. But most of this movie really works. You could complain that the CG is out of date, but it is 2001. The CG is really CG, but it never actively pulled me out of the movie. Sure, the rest of the series is going to look better, but there are no real crimes with how this movie works. I do think it is a bit scary. My son ducked out before the real scary stuff happened, and I think my daughter was very cool with that. It was fun to watch something a little scary with someone who was really enjoying it.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is a better movie than you probably remember. It's not this sacred thing that Potterheads hold onto, but it is very cool for the casual fan. It is showing some wear from time, but is holding up better than you'd probably expect. If anything, it did its job convincing me that I could watch the second one sometime soon.
It's not rated, but this doesn't really shock me. It's bleak. I mean, it is almost hard to say what I would rate this because this movie is fundamentally bleak. I don't think that there's any bad content. There's always the threat that any of them could die at any time, which is pretty nerve-wracking. They get shot at a bit, but none of this is of any consequence because it is about the experience as a whole.
DIRECTOR: Andrei Tarkovsky
Cinefix might be doing a better job of keeping me honest than some of my film books. I'm not saying that Stalker isn't in my film books. I'm sure it is. But it is buried in those film books. The fine folks at Cinefix won't shut up about Stalker and they've made me feel inadequate for not having seen it. The problem with reviewing this movie or analyzing this movie, especially right now, is that this movie almost requires a lifetime worth of viewing. All I can offer here is a first impression, which is wildly inappropriate for a movie like Stalker.
I've seen Solaris by Tarkovsky once. I know how I feel about Tarkovsky. I like him a lot, but I'm also wildly intimidated by him. I've also only seen Andrej Rublev precisely once. These movies are just so challenging. I'm not saying that they are inaccessible. There's a bit of that going on, but I don't feel like I've just watched a Bergman or Ozu film. Tarkovsky somehow makes these really nerdy sci-fi narratives, which tend to be in my wheelhouse, but doesn't exactly present them as easy films. Like many of the longer Russian films I've seen, they are more about philosophy than character development or plot. I suppose that I should have seen that coming really early in Stalker. The main characters are named "Writer", "Professor", and "Stalker." I knew that this movie was going to be metaphysical and ethereal and other "-al" words, but this moment locked it in for me. That sold it as hard as it could be sold. That's the tone of the film. It isn't a science fiction story outside of the realm of setting. I suppose, and this is making everything involving Stalker a bit cheap, that this is the precursor to The Twilight Zone. Stick with me for a second. This is the kind of story where the setting is an excuse to analyze the psychology of the individual and the psychology of society. I think that me being me, I still watched it from a plot perspective for much of the film. I understood that this was not a special effects film, but I was waiting for something bizarre to happen in the Zone, even though I kind of guessed that it wouldn't happen on camera. But much of the movie, like much of the Russian literature I consumed, is serviced towards character vocalizing major psychological concepts in the form of character evolution. Here's where the break in audience happens. If you kind of dig that, it goes a long way with Tarkovsky. He's really good with this kind of stuff. He really pushes the limits of what is acceptable about pacing in a movie.
In preparation for writing this, I actually did my homework. I watched some of the special features. I googled it. I read the Wikipedia article (no help!) and watched a few Cinefix videos. I honestly wanted to know what the interpretation was supposed to be. Tarkovsky leaves a lot of this up to the viewer, but I didn't want to seem like an idiot when it came to talking about this movie. Oddly enough, as cryptic as the movie is, the bulk of the movie commentaries are devoted to the construction of the film as opposed to the artistic meaning of the film. Everything I saw or read focused on this insanely long tracking shot that leads into a very abrupt transition from a sepia-tone into a world of color. People love this shot. Heck, I didn't mind it one bit. I don't think it blew my mind like the beginning of The Third Man or Baby Driver, but I was also pretty engrossed when it came to this shot. It's very effective. The thing I didn't notice, although I noticed this feeling at other points in the movie, is how long that shot really is. I have to give Tarkovsky credit (and myself, as well, for having a decent attention span) for pretty much captivating me with almost nothing going on screen. Rather, the use of foley in this scene is hypnotic. He manages to shift you from a viewer to the near comatose state of mind that these tresspassers experience. There's lots of moments like this. I especially applaud the same thing in the tunnel. Again, I kind of figured we wouldn't see the Zone attacking the men. The vibe of the movie screams that there wouldn't be a moment of spectacle. But there is still the strain of experiencing these longer sequences. Perhaps I have been programmed by other films to simply expect the worst when the camera refused to jump all over the place. But as such, and this is even true in the slower dialogue moments, that there is no real respite for the viewer. It isn't nailbiting, but that's not what Tarkovsky is going for in this. The same is true with Solaris. Instead, it is about having high blood pressure for the duration of the rather long film.
But I refuse to cop out like many of my commentaries did. I'm going to give my interpretation. Part of me believes that I'm going to be wrong. A large part of me actually believes this. Again, I've only watched the movie once. It's unfair of me to do this, but that's also what makes it kind of interesting. (Oddly enough, my trepidation to actually explain my thoughts on the movie might be what the Room is all about.) Another part of me believes that there is no right answer, and that's why few are forthcoming with a straightforward interpretation. The movie is about these guys going to this room that grants man's desires. Those desires, kind of like the monkey's paw, tend to go askew. A man's desires are fairly dark. I know that I wouldn't want to go to this room because my desires could be horrible in the grand scheme of things. But there's far more to this story. These are three men who have the intention of going to the Room. The Writer actually makes a B-line for the Room, despite protestation. He wants to go that much that he almost sacrifices his life. So what shifts in him? The Professor, same deal. He's actually kind of a lunatic with his intentions. (I'm avoiding spoilers, but some of this can be construed as "light spoilers".) But what changes them? They undergo all of this danger. The Zone seems to allow them through when it has taken others. Why do they get to the gate to the Room and then quit? Part of me thinks that they have the same epiphany that I did. I don't want my deepest desires to actually come true. They are probably selfish and evil and would cause me more misery than I'd want. I mean, that is constantly repeated throughout the film. The Room is more of a curse than a miracle. But Stalker talks about faith then. No one really has the faith that used to exist. I can get behind this. If the Room is God, there's that inherent fear of Heaven. Everything (ideally) that I've done in life is in the hopes of getting to Heaven. I'm not touting my own morality, but it has been a moral compass in my life. That said, I hold my life as precious. The journey is something that is still to be completed. Heaven is a reward for a life well lived, but the journey is vital. I have known nothing but the journey. Is the Room the end of the journey? It is so much more than I'm explaining here. I'm doing a C- job trying to explain the depth of what I'm getting at, but it is the beginning of a straw. But that leads me to the absolute end of the movie. I don't get this one bit. The Stalker, at one point, is accused of having the same fears that the Writer and the Professor have, but he hides behind his position of being a Stalker. He then says that he's going to move his family to the Zone because there is nobody there. I know that he goes, but I can't figure out why. The Zone is lethal. That has been established. His daughter seemingly gets abilities. Is this what the Zone gave her? Why is this important. I can't figure it out, but that's okay for right now.
I can't get over the prophesy of this movie. I kept rechecking the year that this was made. I mean, this movie is just a Chernobyl allegory, but Chernobyl hadn't happened yet. It's very eerie. Aesthetically, both inside and outside of the Zone, it is Chernobyl. The sepia toned world is littered with cooling reactors and misery. Everything is dirty and uninhabitable, despite the fact that it is populated with the poorest of the poor. But the Zone is an urban sprawl where nature encroaches and re-establishes its authority. The Zone as a metaphor for death works on a haunting level knowing the events of Chernobyl. It really is something disturbing. I'm not the first person to talk about this,but it gets my wheels turning when it comes to figuring out the value of this movie. Am I allowed to give it value as a piece about Chernobyl? It isn't the author's intention, shy of him having insider information. But it does give the movie so much greater value than what I thought a movie could have with a first viewing. My mom was heavily involved with Chernobyl in the '80s and it hit really close to home looking at the imagery in this film.
I get why people love this movie. I think I love it as well. But like Tarkovsky's other films, I don't think I'll ever get it as much as I should. I feel like a simpleton in these moments, but that comes from knowing my own limitations. I know that I am interacting with a work of genius and that I don't have the capacity to put up a proper response.
It's R. An R-rated comedy is pretty standard. Most of this one is for drug use, alcohol abuse, and language. There's some sex stuff, but there is no actual nudity in the film. It's a group of men behaving badly. Things that would get associated with that happen in the film. The most offensive thing in the film is a half-joke. There is a half-joke, half-something where miscarriages are discussed pretty heavily. Regardless, this is a light R. It would easily be edited for TV.
DIRECTOR: Jeff Tomsic
It's been a while since we've had a truly great comedy classic, right? Is it because comedy is so subjective? I think that Tag might be the result of being the final little cut that let me bleed out slowly. There's nothing, by itself, that is wrong with Tag. Tag is an okay comedy that tags itself in (pun intended) after a long stream of okay comedies. Seriously, is the last great comedy Step Brothers? There has to be something after that. There are great comedies out there, but the last dozen or so comedies that I've watched have been remarkably middle of the road. If you flip this and Game Night, you'd probably have me talking more positively about Tag, but this movie is simply fine. I don't think I can handle another "fine" comedy.
It has to be a studio thing, right? I want to blame studio intervention really hard in everything, so I'm going to do that. My theory behind this is that every comedy kind of looks and feels the same. They are all more risky than a film of other genres, but they are also tame compared to what should be going on. Tag might be the perfect example of that happening here. Jeremy Renner's Jerry is his character from The Bourne Legacy. I'm really glad that I watched that movie right before this. He is the Mary Sue of the story and director Jeff Tomsic did this thing that could have been really cool. The movie gets an action movie vibe to it for a few seconds when Jerry is getting chased. That's cool, I guess. But it doesn't really commit to the bit. There's always something a little bit cheeky about the whole thing. It's laughing at itself and that's the last thing that should be going on in that shot. The movie should be an action comedy. Instead, because Tomsic doesn't really commit to the bit as hard as he could, I feel like there's always the question being posed, "Do you get the joke? Can we go back to our comedy movie?" The thing is that I felt like the movie wanted to take it further. But I can also see that being a huge studio risk. Let's go down the rabbit hole here. I'm going to attack Big Bang Theory a bit. Disclaimer: Like what you like and don't be ashamed of it. If you love The Big Bang Theory, continue doing so. I don't like shaming people. But I am going to comment of how The Big Bang Theory is systematically watering down comedies. There have been some amazing high concept shows that have attempted to dethrone The Big Bang Theory. These are the shows that get cult followings. But The Big Bang Theory doesn't really ask us to think. It pretends that it challenges its viewers. After all, its protagonists are all smart and they make references a lot. But there isn't much depth to what is on screen. What studios took from this is that audiences are tired after work. They don't want to think, but they want to believe that they think. That's kind of what is going on in Tag. I have to believe that Tag has more jokes than The Big Bang Theory because I actually laughed a few times in Tag. But the movie presents itself as being very smart about its comedy. It appears to be a high concept movie about character growth, but really none of it takes people too far outside of their comfort zone. A studio had to say to Tomsic that this movie had to appeal to the market. To do that, they couldn't Shaun of the Dead this movie. Those movies don't make money. Shaun of the Dead is a high concept comedy that really commits to the bit. Instead, we get nods to the joke, but Tag doesn't commit to the bit. I weirdly laughed more at the footage of the real guys and their exploits. It's bad that I'd rather see a funny documentary about regular dudes than a comedy movie with some of my favorite actors.
I sound like I really hated this movie. I didn't. The movie is fine. I had a pretty good time with it. What sells this movie is its cast, primarily Hannibal Buress. I have to believe that Buress wrote some of his own bits because his jokes don't sound like the rest of the movies' bits. He has this fantastic delivery. I think that Jon Hamm is one of the greatest comedy gems out there. It's so odd that he's primarily a dramatic actor. But any time he comes out for a comedy, he lands the jokes. NOTE: For some reason, Weebly erased what I wrote beyond this point. I am attempting to recreate it, but I'm going to be more bitter about it. I'm thinking of his recent appearances on The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or on 30 Rock. I don't know how he does it. He's somehow funnier than the actual comedians he's involved with. But you know who let me down for the first time? I'm really apologetic in case he ever reads this mainly because it isn't his fault. Jake Johnson is wasted in this movie. I'm going to lean heavily into my studio theory when it comes to Jake Johnson's character. Johnson's Chilli is a stoner deadbeat. It doesn't really sound like the original guys had the stoner deadbeat of the group. There's a Catholic priest involved in the actual game. But studios know that stoners are funny by concept. This becomes really problematic with the narrative. There's this love triangle with Rashida Jones and Jon Hamm. But Chilli offers nothing to this story. He's actually pretty awful. He says inappropriate things. He doesn't have his life together. He's a little funny, but mostly because this is a comedy. But he's supposed to be fighting for Rashida Jones with Jon Hamm's character? The only negative they have to say about Jon Hamm's character is that he is named "Bob." Like, that's it. Bob is successful and funny. He's a charmer and good looking. The only thing that Chilli has is that he's a little funny (but that's really subjective) and he's the underdog. Why make this choice? Jake Johnson is funnier than the role that is given him. On New Girl, he played kind of a schlubby character. But that character was earnest and adorable. He made mistakes and had his vices, but those vices didn't define him. Why not make him Nick Miller? I know its lazy, but it is a better choice than full on stoner deadbeat. Also, why is no one concerned about Chilli. The story is about these guys who stay close because of this game, but no one is concerned about Chilli's rampant alcoholism and drug abuse. His wife left him. Why is this not central to the story? Hoagie's mom keeps hitting on him, but this is such a background joke. It is almost like they couldn' tell what joke Chilli was going to be about. But let's refocus because there's one performance that completely tickled me. Isla Fisher has completely got me convinced that she can do anything. Her role is absolutely fantastic in this movie. The idea of having a psychopath on the team that is not allowed to play is what I needed. The entire movie teases what kind of player she'll be, tantalizing the viewer with the possibilities. She manages to tag every joke really well and I love the shifts in her character. While the actual archetype isn't new, it is done extremely well in this movie.
I don't know what to think of the miscarriage stuff. The movie tries having its cake and eating it too with this bit. SPOILER: To escape a room, Jerry has his fiancee fake a miscarriage. Narratively, this is the step that is too far for all of the players. It almost kills the game. From a formula / structure perspective, this is the moment where the film unravels for the characters. Something needed to happen here to unseat the stakes. It ends the game for a lot of the characters and it seems like all is lost for this moment. But the movie kind of can't help but slightly laugh at this moment. It claims that this moment is deadly serious, but there are moments where the movie is afraid to embrace this vulnerable moment. I don't know if the filmmakers were afraid of completely losing the audience at this moment. A miscarriage in a lighthearted game of tag is a mood killer. Finding out that the entire thing is fake is just dark. I wish it took the risk. If the movie is going to go dark, it should really accept the darkness and work towards bringing it back. Instead, it gives this wishy-washy tone that really is filming with a safety net. Leslie Bibb is constantly given this role, by the way. She's always the worst girlfriend / wife character. It's like she was born to play throwing cold water on a party. (I'm not sure if that's a mixed metaphor, but I have to plow through this emotion.) Then the movie rides pathos pretty hard. A lot of it doesn't feel earned, though. Hoagie's illness is not teased earlier at all. The entire movie made me feel like it was fake and the moral of the story is that Hoagie won't cross a line. When the movie tells me that he crosses a line, it is definitely "tell, don't show." It's an odd choice. The only thing about this choice that I love is that Hoagie still fails. Hoagie attacking the wedding is a phenomenal moment and I really approve.
I can't stress how the movie is more disappointing than bad. We keep getting the same stakes and the same risks in our comedies nowadays. None of these comedies are concerned about losing their audience because everything is safe as all get-out. I used to get teased about using the phrase "Paint-by-numbers", but that's what this comedy feels like. Everything is done safely and without concern for actually making a great film. No one on board really thought that they were making the next The Jerk or Hangover. Instead, I'm sure that the studio at best was hoping to make enough money to justify a sequel. I don't think that would happen because this premise is pretty spent.
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.