Do you know what we've been missing? Vulnerability! The boys get a little choked up over their mutual love for the new documentary, Won't You Be My Neighbor? Enjoy!
Like, it's Suspiria. It's gonna be a hard R. In terms of nudity in an Italian horror movie that takes place in a mostly girls' dance academy, that's pretty tame. But if you are worried about gore, this movie has all of the gore. Honestly, it's amazing how many times one girl is killed in this movie. Like, she had to be dead long before the end of the scene, but the movie just kept finding ways to keep killing her. It almost is gory to an impressive level. R.
DIRECTOR: Dario Argento
I'm about to do one of my least favorite kinds of blog entries. I'm about to dismiss a movie that is almost universally loved. I hate that because that means I'm probably in the wrong. But I don't love Italian horror movies like other people love them. Okay, I really liked Phenomena, but there was almost an ironic love of that movie. Jennifer Connelly fighting a monkey with a knife makes the entire movie totally worth it. I think I get what people like with Italian horror. It's not like I haven't seen enough of it. I own both Mario Bava box sets. I'll even say that I kind of enjoyed those box sets. But this is Suspiria. This is a Cinefix standard. How can me, a lowly film teaching in Northern Kentucky, swear that Suspiria didn't hit my personal standard?
I guess the answer lies in the fact that it's not my taste. I'm going to gripe about this movie pretty hard. Please don't hold that against me. While I want people to love the classics, I suppose they should actually love the classics instead of pretending that the movie is amazing to sound hoity-toity. Be true to yourself and all that. But Suspiria only really impresses me in terms of its use of color. Man alive, most of this movie is beautiful. I love the fact that the horror movie is bright and shiny. It is this wonderful change of pace from what I'm used to seeing with muted greys and whatnot. This world looks bizarre. I know that there is a remake coming. Part of what kicked my butt into gear to finally see Suspiria is the remake. But a lot of that I can probably chalk up to '70s color palates. So much of this can be dedicated to the reliance on Technicolor during this age. I refuse to list off colors, but I can assure you, each pops. Like an idiot, I posted a picture above that really doesn't sell that color like you see throughout the movie. But even with that shot, you have to look at Argento's sets. That color of blue, guys! That's wallpaper. The set is almost drawing away from the actors, but it all somehow works. Most of the time, the color is almost what you would see with stage lighting. Instead of pretending that natural lighting is the way to go, Argento just throws a wash on each actor matching the mood of the scene. While I didn't love the movie, these choices are strong. All that being said, I'm glad that this didn't become that much of a trend (okay, it kind of did, but not to the level of Suspiria) or else Suspiria would become commonplace. Suspiria is not commonplace. The funny part about all of this is that Netflix DVD sent me their copy and it is the roughest print of any movie I've ever seen. The aspect ratio was all screwed up. There was no fast-forward or rewind. It was a complete VHS transfer. The one thing I would have lost out on was the color palate that needed to be appreciated. I know that for years, this was the only way to see the movie, but thank goodness for 4K streaming transfers. (P.S. This movie is really hard to find streaming, but it is on Hoopla, the library app.)
I'm going to go into another thing I like. I'm weird like that. I tell you I hate a movie and all I do is gush about the positive things. I tell you I love a movie, and all I can do is point out its inconsistencies. Go figure. The deaths are kind of awesome. This is where I get the '70s Italian horror movie subgenre. I mentioned in the MPAA section that the first death is insane. Man, if you like horror over-the-top, Argento knows how to deliver on that. There's a couple of really impressive, Fangoria style murders in this movie. I don't think the movie ever goes into full-on torture porn, but there's an argument to be made for that somewhere in here. I suppose I shouldn't be advocating how cool the deaths are, because there is a bit of a problematic narrative nowadays to have women brutalized the way they are. I know that it is not exclusively women who are brutalized in creative ways, but the only male who is killed otherwise is the blind man. That might not be telling the most progressive version of the story available. Because the deaths are all pretty cool in their choreography, that means that there are long moments just waiting for the story to pick up again. See, that's how I attack a movie! I give it a compliment sandwich, only there might not be a bottom piece of bread. When the movie is rocking, it really is. But the movie knows that it can't be a slaughterfest, and it really shouldn't be. But the actual plot is super weird. I always found Italian horror dialogue so stilted and fake. There's not much even resembling a real conversation or honest-to-goodness character building. I don't honestly understand what makes Suzy that interesting of a protagonist besides the fact that she is an American. (My review of Suspiria is what makes me unpatriotic.) She is there because she is the outsider to the school. We can see how bizarre a world this is because she is unaccustomed to the rules of the dance studio, which creates a sense of unease. But that's more a trick than honest character development. The characters treat her like she is special, but why she is special really isn't clear. I'm sure die-hard Suspiria fans are itching to correct me, but Suzy is pretty milktoast for my tastes.
I'm not a witch movie guy. I don't hate witch movies. But witches behind the scenes is the equivalent of the UFO conspiracy film. It shouldn't be the solution to all the deaths. Yeah, it's cooler than the UFO government conspiracy because of the whole spookiness of it all. But does that mean it is the strongest answer to a mystery. Someone is killing the girls of this dance academy and no one knows who it is. Maybe it's because I just watched Hereditary and I can't do these kinds of films back-to-back. But I'd like to think it shouldn't be an answer to everything. Again, Rosemary's Baby did it better. By just saying that everyone is a witch, that seems like a pretty strong cop out. Admittedly, the movie telegraphs this answer way more than Hereditary did. But this actually brings me to my biggest complaint for the film: the fundamental stupidity of it all. I know, it's a classic. But there are so many moment where you have to shut your brain off to have the story make even a modicum of sense. This one is a minor offense, but the fact that she thinks she's on an all-wine diet. Then she pours it down the sink and it doesn't drain like wine. There is a weird logic to this filmmaking. Argento is telling us that we are smart enough to figure out that she's drinking blood, but she isn't smart enough. This isn't necessarily dramatic irony because we have the same evidence that Suzy has. But then there is the situation of Sara and her brush with death. PRETTY SPOILERY, BUT WHATEVER: There's a scene where Sara bolts the door behind her when she is being chased by the bad guy. The bad guy sticks his knife through the door to lift the latch. Sara just watches this. The actress had to have said, "Why don't I just push down on the latch?" Well, because the movie wouldn't make sense. That entire sequence is just jam-packed with "shut your brain off" moments. She just falls into a room full of piano wire? Why would she do that? Is it implying that it is so dark in that room that she wouldn't notice that the entire floor is literally piano wire? That's a bummer. Also, why is there a room that is just piano wire? These moments are just poorly thought out and I don't know why people forgive this kind of stuff. I tried giving Suspiria a little credit, but its plot is fundamentally broken. It doesn't make a lick of sense and it is just an excuse for really impressive gore and lighting effects.
I hate dogging this movie. There is some great schlock out there. I even like it. But Suspiria might be some people's Evil Dead 2. I love Evil Dead 2, but I could never claim that it is one of the great films of canon. It's weird that so many people I respect love this movie, but that entire sequence with Sara is so dumb and the down times of the movie are so blah that I can't understand what drives people to this movie in droves. I'm excited about the remake. That movie looks super disturbing. But aside from a few really cool death moments, the movie is lacking in some of the fundamentals.
A very intense R. I mean, there's nothing officially sexual in this movie, which I guess is a thing. But, like, everything else. That's in the movie. There's gore. There's scares. (A lot of scares, both of the eeriness elements and one really effective jump scare.) There's nudity. There's violence. There's language. Really, it has almost the whole lot. There's demon stuff. If you have a checklist, just check it off. Oh, drug use. Can't forget about drug use. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Ari Aster
Yes, it is that scary. It did its job. When everyone was talking about how scary the movie is, I tend to get skeptical. I'm not saying that there haven't been scary movies over the past few years. I keep writing about A24 and how great they have been, so believe me that I'm on board for all this stuff. If any movie was going to scare the pants off of me, I had to believe that A24 was going to do it. But I've just kind of noticed a chink in the A24 armor with Hereditary that I have to start watching for in the other films. While I mostly loved this film, there were times that I fell off. I was weirded out because I knew that I was scared for a lot of the film. Again, that's the movie's job. But I realized what was going on with this movie. The movie looks and feels like an A24 film, but the story is...kind of stupid.
Okay, it's not full on stupid. I mean, on the grand scheme of things, I'd give the story a B. It's fine, especially for a horror movie. But I also realized that the story wasn't anything that I couldn't see coming from any other production house. It has a couple big problems with it and I could really point it out when I tried to summarize the story for my wife. There is just far too much complexity for something that doesn't really tie together as nicely as it could. I'm sure that die-hard Hereditary fans will be able to comment on that and point out how everything is tied up very nicely. But there are so many plot points that the film presents as necessary when it really doesn't need all of that. Complexity works when the movie calls for it. I love a lot of complex plots. But this is a movie about character development. Why all the storylines done in one? I'm beating around the bush here, so SPOILERS might be necessary. Why the King Paimon storyline? I mean, ghosts who don't want to be ghosts is pretty scary as is. I know, it adds that extra layer. I even read up a bunch of articles explaining everything away in the film and I kind of dug how it was all tied together. But the movie doesn't really give you a chance to figure out that King Paimon stuff until the second half of the film. It really dangles an important clue behind a bunch of empty clues earlier. There's almost no way to figure out the King Paimon angle of the story until the film full on reveals it in the book. Instead, the movie just gives what seems to be a bunch of disparate threads that are impossible to connect without the center piece. I needed to hear "Paimon" before that point. I needed something to tie it all together. And even then, I kind of want the story to be about Charlie and Ellen. The marketing did such a good job making it seem like it was a ghost story about Ellen that the alternative was actually not as good. When I'm busy being scared about the character stuff going on screen, I don't know if it helps the movie that I'm logically trying to make sense of the plot. It's almost like the movie wants to have one of those shock twist endings, but it really doesn't need the shocking twist ending. The movie stands on its own. The King Paimon stuff feels like it belongs in a lesser horror movie. Honestly, Rosemary's Baby handled the same storyline better. It exclusively focused on that element instead of keeping it as a side element to a film that already had a billion elements.
DONE WITH SPOILERS. There might be someone who is flying through my review and I just realized I've been beating around the bush for a while. That being said, the movie is extremely frightening. I'm not going to give it that coveted "scariest movie ever" award because I think that scary is subjective. This hit a lot of my buttons and I know that it hit the buttons of many others. That has to come from Ari Aster. The movie mostly does a very solid job avoiding cheese and cheap scares in exchange for focusing on mood. Like I mentioned, there is an extremely effective jump scare in the movie, but that really isn't even the best part of the film. What makes the movie scary is that you don't know what direction the movie is going, ever. The most shocking element of the film was well foreshadowed, but I didn't see it coming whatsoever. It's pretty impressive. For half the movie, I was wondering if this was actually a horror movie or just a really scary drama. I know, that sounds stupid, but there are films that I wouldn't classify as traditionally horror. Rather, the drama and the suspense tend to be more scary than traditional horror movie tropes. This movie is about the psychological state and what family does. I loved questioning whether the events on screen were accurate or the hallucinations of a single character. Then the movie kind of plays with the contagious paranoia that plays off of the title, Hereditary. Thematically, the movie gets it all right. It's just in those plot parts that kind of drive me up the wall. I like not knowing what is actually going on.
I'm actually kind of back and forth about this. A24 has kind of skated by in terms of keeping things cryptic. The last one I watched (which I'm blanking about now) just didn't tell you if things were real or not. It's very cool. But part of me was associating with Gabriel Byrne. How cool would it have been if Gabriel Byrne was right? We don't often get that. I know. There's the audience backlash. When all these larger than life things are teased, having the character be insane is a bit of a cop out. But you have Toni Collette just rocking out someone who has a history of mental illness and it takes it to the next level. I am back on the "praise A24" train, but they get these amazing actors to play these parts. Lots of movies may play with the mental illness horror story, but it is rarely explored as deeply as it is with Hereditary. That comes from the high caliber casting that we see in these films. I honestly was ready for the shoe to drop that all of this was nonsense. There are so many layers to these choices that it creates a sense of paranoia in the viewer. The one motif that I didn't really understand were the tiny houses. I mean, this might have been to make it more artistic. I'm not sure. Again, Heredity's greatest fault is that there is too much going on. The look of the small stuff was great. It gave a lot of background without having to resort to flashback as a hackneyed device. But thematically, I'm not really sure what it was selling. Again, I'm back and forth on this. The tiny models allow us to observe a character's mental state, but I don't know how it ties into the big story as a whole. The movie starts with a shot of all of this taking place inside one of the model houses. What is that supposed to mean? I want to glean some greater meaning from the whole thing. But when I try justifying this decision, everything really seems forced. That's not good. The most uncomfortable thing in the world was trying to explain this movie to my wife and realizing that I sounded like a crazy person because there were too many elements. (Okay, that's a bit of hyperbole, but you get what I mean.) The scares can stay. Oh my gosh, the scares can stay. But did it need to have all of those elements? The movie runs two-hours-and-seven-minutes. Cut fifteen minutes of that. I know, you want a rich film. But you have all of the elements. You do the simple stuff well. Why can't I simply absorb the simple stuff?
The movie is pretty scary. That's what you are coming into this movie for. It's also pretty good. But I can't stress this enough, you have too much going on. Cutting about fifteen minutes of this movie to simplify it would do wonders.
R...and for almost all the reasons. This movie is violent. It is '90s violent. There is a lot of gunfire and murder in this. It's so odd how visceral the gunfire is in this movie. I've seen a lot of shoot-em-up movies, but this one somehow seems more grounded, making the over-the-top violence only the more intense. Every other word is the f-word, too. I felt awkward whenever I was watching this movie because I knew that if someone came to visit me, the f-word would be blaring. There's blood. There's death. There's language. There's sex. I mean, hard R, guys.
DIRECTOR: Michael Mann
I get to cross another one off the list. This is another one of these movies that I claimed that I saw to win an argument, but I hadn't until today. I knew enough about it before to claim that this is one of Michael Mann's few great movies. I was right, by-the-way. This movie is super great. It is even great in spite of an almost three hour runtime. Yeah, three hours is a lot for me, especially when it isn't an epic or a fantasy movie. But if you were worried, my talking points were on the money about this movie. I'm really glad I saw it. I got really lucky when I was talking with authority about Heat.
If I didn't make it clear from context, I normally don't like Michael Mann. I think my opinion has shifted a bit after seeing Heat. I liked Collateral, but I never cared for some of his other films that were considered classics like Manhunter or Last of the Mohicans. I always thought that he was a bit full of himself and hid his flaws in jargon. That assessment might not be completely accurate. He does love his accuracy, at least a perceived reality of accuracy. These movies, Heat included, are really entrenched in using terminology and trying to attach this behind-the-curtain to something that is fundamentally an action thriller. I noticed this when I gave the Miami Vice film he made a fair shot. I really tried getting through it. I really did. It was one of the most boring films I had ever seen because it was this police action drama that was just bogged down with self-importance. But after seeing Heat, I think it was more of a matter that Mann was living in his own shadow. He had made the original Miami Vice television show and he wanted to break it free from the constraints of prime time television in the eighties. He tried to infuse it with some of the elements of what made his greatest picture, Heat, great. Heat takes itself remarkably seriously. It is never funny. It never really tries to be funny and that's a gutsy move. The way that Heat was marketed was that it was just this giant action movie. It kind of is, but I would never want to lump it in with other action movies. Rather, Heat seems to be in a genre of its own. (Okay, that's not true. I'm sure Training Day and movies of that ilk would probably make the list, but I want to give Heat props here.) There's this tightrope that the movie walks that is wildly impressive. Remember, this film is almost three hours long. People get bored pretty easily. But Mann really manages to hone this movie down to something really and truly spectacular. It is an action movie, but it is an action movie with a phenomenal amount of depth. I have to disagree with the Netflix description of the movie. Netflix touts this that there isn't much that separates the criminal from the crimefighter. I think that they are trying to be glib about a much deeper concept that only begins at similarity. That's the stuff I want to explore a bit.
Hanna and McCauley are kindred spirits, but they are more along the lines of opposite sides of the same coin. I know, now I'm being glib and cliche to boot. It's really weird what Mann has created here. These are two men that would be friends if they didn't fundamentally agree with what each other was doing. There's this mutual respect. Heat offers me a scene that is plucked free from the constraints of reality and addresses something that I've always wanted to see. Jonathan Demme did it a bit with The Silence of the Lambs, but there was a weird power dynamic with Hannibal Lecter and Clarice Starling. Rather, Mann has his duo on an equal playing field in a coffee shop. This scene makes the movie. The rest is great, but it is all in service of this scene that could never really happen. A frustrating thing / a naive thing that I always want to hear from reality is to have polar opposites having a civil discussion about ideas that the other cannot grasp without getting angry. It is a bit cheap in the long run. I think that Heat is aware of that. McCauley is still an awful human being (which I want to discuss! Don't let me forget.) but he has earned the respect of Hanna. I'm going to be critical here because it is the way my mind works. It isn't something I want changed in the movie because I like the dynamic the way it is, but I don't like how the movie almost glosses over the evils done in this movie. I like when a movie has the bad guy as the protagonist. This isn't that movie, so don't comment on that. But when Walter White or Tony Soprano do something bad, we're aware that it's evil. We root for it because it is shocking to us and it creates interesting characters, but it is clear that the bad guy is a bad guy. There are moments when Robert DeNiro and Val Kilmer come across as almost Robin Hoodian, when they aren't that in any way. The reason that Pacino is so obsessed with catching these guys, outside the fact that he's wired that way, is that these guys are murdering folks for their own financial gain. Pacino even calls out DeNiro for that. (Sorry, I'm using actor names. It's easier. Besides, Danny Trejo's character is actually named "Trejo.") But despite all the violence and evil, there's still something remarkably romantic about thievery at the end. I don't love that.
I have to complain about one thing, though. This movie is at the height of Pacino being Pacino. I know that when people do the Pacino impersonation (HOO-AH!), they are doing Pacino in The Devil's Advocate. I know that. But this is right around this time. Pacino and DeNiro together is the film you always wait for. It's so good. But it's weird to see DeNiro doing this nuanced performance and Pacino just Pacinoing it up the entire time. There's nothing nuanced. There are just some absolutely bananas deliveries going on by Al Pacino throughout the movie. Sure, these deliveries are interesting and high energy, but it seems like he's not working with his scene partners in anything. It is more along the lines where he's trying to draw attention to himself. I wonder if Mann liked that or not. I know that he works with Pacino again in The Insider, so he couldn't have hated it. It just is very prevalent in this period of his work and Heat really has a lot of that going on. But you know whose performance I absolutely was taken aback by? Danny Trejo! Danny Trejo, like Pacino, has a very specific style of acting that carries him through a lot of his work. Honestly, it is Machete. He has become that character in lots of things. When he's on The Flash, he's a reality hopping Machete. By-the-bye, Robert Rodriguez? Part IV? That's a freebie from me to you. You're welcome. Trejo is just being a dude here. He's not mugging. He's actually really good for the role and it is a little different from what I'm used to seeing from him. I really dig it. I also think that this might be Val Kilmer's best actual performance. I know that a lot of people love him in Tombstone and my personal favorite performance is in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. But in terms of just showing off his talent, it might go to Heat.
I'm really weirded out by the marriage angle in this movie. One of the major messages that this movie presents is that the obsessed tend to drive the people they love away. Pacino's character is on his third marriage and that is quickly spiraling out of control. I don't know if this is the most nuanced version of that story that could happen. A lot of that comes from the fact that it is a movie and not a TV show. I know, I'm actually advocating for a longer than three-hour movie. But hear me out. The movie wants to show how marriages fall about little by little. Spouses are cool with small slights at the time, but these slights eventually build up. Justine is very light-switchy in this movie. She goes from being reasonable with her expectations to just absolutely nuts. It is about communication and being present when people are available. But there are times when Pacino communicates (admittedly in his Pacino delivery) why he has a hard time sharing. It seems like they are growing around these moments. But in the next scenes, she does things that intentionally sabotage the marriage. We're not talking about small slights either. The choices that she makes shows her as an absolutely toxic individual (which may be a thing in reality, but the movie doesn't really establish that dynamic to them early in the film) and it wouldn't matter how present Pacino's character would have to be, she still has that inside of her. Also, the movie escalates Natalie Portman's character to a level that really requires a little more nuance. You know something bad was going to happen to her due to her anxiety, but that seemed to come out of left field.
I loved this movie. Like, I loved this movie way more than I thought and I kind of get why it keeps on making lists for favorite films. There are some nitpicky stuff, to be sure, but I don't really want my changes to be made. The movie is such a delicate balance of stuff that the changes would just throw the important stuff out the window. I kind of feel bad for Michael Mann now. I really think that this movie is impossible to do twice, but he seems to want to do it again. I might not roll my eyes at Michael Mann on a movie trailer now. Like DeNiro's character, he's kind of earned my respect.
I mean, it's a Bourne movie. It's a movie you go see with your dad. It's going to be PG-13. It doesn't have to be. There's some Jeremy Renner shirtless in cold water. People are brutally killed, but in a way that makes you shocked with how quickly it happened. Remember, it is not how many people die. It's how much it focuses on the people's death. Oh my gosh, I just realized. If the deaths matter and we focus on the importance of someone dying, the more likely it is more likely to be R. If death is treated casually, it'll be PG-13. I feel uncomfortable.
DIRECTOR: Tony Gilroy
Poor Jeremy Renner. Like, the guy keeps getting hints that he's going to take over these major franchises. There's Mission: Impossible, but then Tom Cruise kept making them. In The Avengers, it has been a running gag how he keeps getting relegated to background work. Then there is the Bourne franchise. I mean, he is getting groomed to take over the series with this one, right? Matt Damon isn't in the movie outside of his photo. Jeremy Renner is the star of it, but then it didn't work out? I mean, the reason that I watched The Bourne Legacy out of the blue is that Movies Anywhere gave me Jason Bourne for free for linking my accounts. (Thank you, Movies Anywhere. I like your service quite a bit and free movies are fun.) The Bourne Legacy is the one that no one I know saw. (Okay, that might be a bit of hyperbole. I asked Bourne fans if they had seen it and everyone I talked to said "no.") It's gotta be a hard sell for a studio to try to rebrand a franchise without the lead character. I heard that Henry Cavill is leaving the DC Universe. One of the rumors has Michael B. Jordan taking over, but the other rumor is that Superman is just going to be in the background of the DC Universe. Superman is fundamentally the center of this universe and it just seemed to start to get some elements of it right. But I digress. I figure that Aaron Cross isn't the same pull that Jason Bourne is, but I don't think that's the worst thing in the world.
My big takeaway from this movie is that it is the second best movie in the franchise (without having seen Jason Bourne.) I know. That's blasphemy. But I only like The Bourne Identity in the series. I think that the rest of the franchise, like The X-Files, relies too much on its own complex mythology and use of jargon to tell a story. Honestly, those movies are way too complex for their own good. The Bourne movies depend on really hardcore fans being interested in the twists and turns. I don't mind that, but if you aren't a devoted Jason Bourne fan, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum don't do anything for me. So as a casual viewer of the Jason Bourne movies, what does The Bourne Legacy offer to me? Well, it kind of offers the thing I liked with The Bourne Identity: a fresh start. There is something so apropos about movies like The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Legacy being about fresh starts. The foundation of theses movies is that they are about tabula rasa characters. We can only glean what the characters themselves glean. While The Bourne Identity offers that in spade, The Bourne Legacy uses that dynamic to a certain extent. Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner, has a very stripped down personality (pun intended if you think about shirtless Jeremy Renner coming out of Alaskan waters). He is an assassin / super soldier and that's about it. We get everything we need to know about his skills in the first five to ten minutes of the movie. He is enhanced by drugs and he can do some very Jason Bourne-y things. The movie takes time to develop his past, but these is all coloring for a very simple character. We get that his life was miserable before and now he is able to do things with the help of Big Pharma now. If he doesn't take his medication, he goes back to being Charly. Okay. Jason Bourne is slowly divulged through flashback his past and The Bourne Legacy plays with the same playbook. It worked the first time and it kind of works again. The interesting thing is that Aaron Cross is kind of unlikable and I don't think that the movie necessarily gets that. Remember, this movie is all about drug seeking behavior. He's never ashamed of the drugs nor does he apologize for the things he does in the name of not returning to his own life. He is mildly sympathetic, but that shouldn't be taken into consideration when all of these monstrosities play out.
I want to really break this down. Again, I kind of like Aaron Cross, but that's because I like Jeremy Renner and the movie sliced off the fat that I didn't like from the sequels. But Cross isn't a good person. To make him the hero of the movie, Rachel Weisz's Dr. Shearing really has to adapt her choices to fit the plot. We have to like Cross. The franchise is depending on this. But Cross can't be exactly Jason Bourne. He has his talents, but he isn't Jason Bourne. Bourne has a dark past that he's trying to escape, but Cross has a dark present. He is still an assassin who just wants to survive and that has to be made so that he is likable. To make Aaron Cross likable, Rachel Weisz has to find value in Cross. From her perspective, she should loathe Cross. At best, she should pity him. But Cross is aggressive towards her constantly. He berates her and seeks drugs from her. Yes, he's keeping her alive. We've seen this dynamic in a lot of movies, but he's not keeping her alive for altruistic reasons. He doesn't see Weisz as an innocent undeserving of the attacks on her life. Instead, she is a means to getting his drug. In this case, it is the removal of an addiction, but that just kind of sands some of the rough edges of the narrative off. The idea that she is the romantic love interest is really weird. So Dr. Shearing keeps saying things that don't really reflect reality at all. She takes some crazy risks to protect him and that doesn't really make a lot of sense. She goes from being really skeptical about trusting this guy to being all in without a lot of birthing pains. She also is completely vapid and without background. Her entire character is that she is smart at science and ignorant of the world of espionage. That's not a character. Those are skills on a D&D sheet. There's nothing to play off of. My wife commented that she lost someone, but that's never really explored outside of a photograph. I really don't like how little attention was given to the female protagonist. I actually kind of feel bad for Weisz and now, most women actors. The Bourne Legacy might be the litmus test for how women are portrayed in film poorly. There's nothing to her character. There's no depth. She's there to be a romantic love interest and a sounding board for Cross. Ick.
The weirdest thing that I noticed is that it really doesn't follow story structure. Perhaps this is an attempt to subvert expectations, but the movie kind of breaks the rules of the action film. HEAVY SPOILERS: The movie just kind of ends. Aaron Cross comes up with a plan with Dr. Shearing to steal this virus from the Philippines. Then that plan...works? Where is the turn? Where is the big revelation that the virus is something he didn't account for? There's no major confrontation. Honestly, there's an action scene, which is fine. But they stole the virus and there was no real slight of hand. The movie ends with a "which motorcycle is faster" moment. Action scenes are fun. The Bourne movies actually have better action sequences than most. But the action scene can't just be a grudge match. There has to be an intellectual moment. There has to be a moment where the protagonist figures something that the antagonist / hopefully audience hasn't thought of. That's where the catharsis happens. We are allowed to breathe out. If that doesn't happen, like in the case with The Bourne Legacy, the action sequence just kind of ends. That's how the movie plays out. Honestly. There's a moment that is teased. We find out that this secret CIA cabal has a third asset that is super evil. He is a merciless killer and that he isn't supposed to exist. Cool. We've seen this before. But he's not teased throughout the film at all. He's mentioned right before he's actually put into play. It's weak writing in the least. He's supposed to be the ultimate super soldier. But he's not that great. He's supposed to be able to wreck any asset previously, but he just loses to Aaron Cross. Actually, that's not true. He loses to Dr. Shearing, who isn't trained in any of this stuff. She kicks his bike and THE END. What? We get nothing about this character and then he just loses? It feels like a chunk of the movie was just pulled for budget and the movie just had to end. I talk about expectations and subverting expectations a lot in my film class. I don't think that this is meant to be an exercise about subverting expectations. I would love that in a Bourne movie. This feels like something really went wrong on the production end of the movie.
Also, something is getting under my skin. There was a period for a while where every dad would be reading a Bourne novel at the beach. It was a thing. There are a million Bourne books out there. Some of them were written by Robert Ludlum. A lot of them weren't. But aren't there a million Bourne-related stories out there? Why is the director making up a new story? Why aren't they pulling from this massive canon? I haven't read any of them. Do the books diverge really far from the film and it is impossible to adapt the films anymore? I find it weird.
So it's the second best movie, despite being almost completely broken. It's like getting the lik-a-stiks and it is broken inside. Part of you will be disappointed. You paid good money for that or you couldn't wait to eat it. But at the end of the day, it still tastes okay. You are still going to feel like you got what you wanted. But there will always be the question of "What happened here?" I don't think we'll ever see Jeremy Renner leading the Bourne franchise. I wouldn't be surprised if he never returned to the role whatsoever. It's a shame because I really like him as an actor. But again, there's a lot of weird things going on with this movie that just had me asking why these choices were made.
Meta meta meta meta meta meta Deadpool 2. I would love to be more meta with this plug for Deadpool 2, but I feel like I'm already trying too hard.
See, now I'm all over the place with the PG-13. There's nudity. There's not even a little amount of nudity. I'm not saying it's a movie of naked people, but it's more than PG-13 nudity. I honestly am starting to believe that MPAA look more at tone than actual content. There's a lot of questionable material, but the movie feels family friendly...you know, despite the nudity. Like, Geoffrey Rush is nude in front of a kid. But. by all means, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Scott Hicks
Okay, I have beef. A few years ago, everyone was raving about The Blind Side. Years before that, people were raving about A Beautiful Mind. Shine might be the third in the series for me. There are problematic movies that gain general acclaim that are fundamentally flawed for their portrayal of something that could at its core be false. I'm getting this out of the way without bothering to review the movie because I am actually pretty riled up about this whole thing. I knew nothing about Shine before watching it. One of my former film students picked up the Criterion laserdisc for me for a buck and I was more than thrilled. I'm actually super jazzed to have it in my collection, but I digress. Upon watching the first third of the movie, I just said that this was Oscar bait. Shine really hasn't survived the test of time as one of the greatest films like it did back in the '90s. It's an okay movie, but all I could think was how Oscar baity it felt. I mean, if I had to make a checklist for what people throw into an Academy Award nominated film, this movie had it all. I grinned and beared it because I didn't know too much about this movie. ("Beared" or "bore"?) Then I started Wikipediaing the movie and found out that it was based on a true story. I know that technically didn't mean anything, but the lizard part of my brain forgave a lot more of the movie knowing it was the adaptation of someone's real life. The middle of the movie got fascinating for me. Honestly, when Geoffrey Rush took over as the main character, I grew fascinated with the whole thing. I mean, I didn't dislike the actor who played David as a child or David as an adolescent. They did a marvelous job. But the story, for me, was about how someone comes back from being completely broken. Then I kept on reading the Wikipedia article. I know. I should have been focused on the film and let it speak for itself. But a lot of this felt larger than life and I needed to know what I should attach to and what I should treat like a grain of salt.
This is the stuff that removes me from the movie. There was actually quite a bit of controversy over this film. SPOILERS: David Helfgott married an astrologer. I wikipediaed at this point because it seemed really icky. Helfgott never really recovers from his mental breakdown and someone who does not have a disability married Helfgott. It is almost love at first sight in the film. What does she see in Helfgott besides his talent? That makes lovely cinema, but it is also a realistic nightmare. They are, in no ways, equals. It actually feels kind of rapey to me. I'm not the only one who thinks so. There are a contingent of people who believe that this astrologer was capitalizing on this man's talent. This is a man who had no agency. He is, for all intents and purposes, mentally a child. He can play piano fabulously (which is also disputed for the point of the film, but that's also very subjective so why argue it?). But he's not in charge of his own career. He's not making decisions of independence. People in the movie want to befriend him and take care of him, but Helfgott is mentally unable to make adult decisions. The movie really stresses this. So this astrologist marries someone who is outwardly very childish. He can't keep a straight thought and acts inappropriately. This is a similar problem that I had with The Blind Side. I thought that family was taking advantage of that kid so he could play for Ole' Miss. The only reason that people trust the family in The Blind Side is because they are the main characters and every good person in that movie is white while every bad person in the movie, shy of the subject of the film, is black. Even the NCAA lawyer is black. Honestly, I was shook. There's a very real chance that that family was taking advantage of him. But again, that's just because I tend to not trust everyone involved in a story. I also hate sports movies. But back to Shine, I can't help but think, "What if the stories are true? What if she is just in it for the money?" Trust me. It puts a damper over the whole piece.
The father stuff was a bit much. I hate that I keep citing a Wikipedia article. It seems lazy, but the movie really inspired me to do some reading afterwards because it just felt like something was wrong with the film from early in the viewing. A lot of this came from dated filmmaking. I'm not saying that the '90s was a bad era for popular culture. Some really amazing things came out of the '90s. But this movie had some real studio manipulatey tropes that just rubbed me the wrong way and led me down a Wikipedia and YouTube spiral. Apparently, his relationship with his dad wasn't that bad. Mediocrity is the worst thing that can happen to a film. Awful or amazing work really well. If he had a terrible childhood, that sells. If he had an amazing childhood, that sells. Having a meh childhood doesn't cause someone to have a mental breakdown on film. But the nuances of psychology are far stronger than what happens in film so there had to be a binary decision to completely wreck this kid early on. The movie focuses on David's heritage in conjunction with being an overbearing parent. I like the Judaism thread throughout the beginning of the film. It gives the events context and weight. But again, as with much of Shine, there's also a heavy dose of manipulation that accompanies it. The Judaism doesn't really play a central role in the story. Rather, it is there as window dressing. It may have played an important part in the real David's life, but it only is another element in a clown car full of individual motifs that don't all play out. Where the film shines (pun) is the music. I don't know what it is about a music movie that makes it stand out from other films. It's the same way that Whiplash makes you love and fear drums simultaneously. The movie does a fantastic job of communicating why people are so obsessed with playing music and playing music well. I love that Geoffrey Rush continued his lessons so he could play on-screen. Those shots of him smoking and his complete silhouette is mashing those keys is wildly effective. Since I'm so critical about everything, I kept noticing hand double stuff with the other actors. I mean, that's a tall order I guess. David Helfgott, at least from Shine's perspective, is one of the greatest piantists in the world. It is impossible to train a lot of people to do that. But then again, Geoffrey Rush did it.
I guess the real victor from this film is Rachmaninoff. Hicks does this outrageous job of establishing for the layman that Rachmaninoff is meant to drive you crazy. Normally, I scoff at these moments in film. Saying something is impossibly hard is simply a technique to build tension and foreshadow. But Hicks sells me the Rachmaninoff angle pretty hard. When the music is played finally, it does its job. I still don't fully understand why so any people are afraid of letting him attempt the piece earlier in the film. I thought it was just another form of making him afraid to fail, but I don't mind that. Like I said, it's matter of suspense. Like David has to earn the skills to play Rachmaninoff, we have to earn the opportunity to listen to it. I do like the actual performance when it happens. It's very cool and stylized and the buildup is worth the wait. In fact, it is almost the climax to the first movie of the two that I mentally comprise as Shine. Everything that is not Geoffrey Rush is tonally different from everything that isn't Geoffrey Rush. I wonder if the marketing let the audience know about the break. I suppose so. '90s trailers weren't very subtle. (Silly side idea before I forget: why did he lose the first contest? Everyone was amazed. The piano moved. This isn't explained very well, but it used to illustrate his father's obsession with winning.) Really, I claimed that I only liked Rush on, but David at the Academy of Music is fairly great. I think I didn't like the dad storyline or something. It's something I've seen too many times before and Dad just comes across like a psychopath or something.
So now I have another movie that I feel icky about. It's these adaptations of the real stories. I know that film has to make reality more cinematic. I know that they might might a saint out of an ordinary dude, but I don't like when it might be glorifying evil. Again, she may have married him out of love. But the movie doesn't really do a good job establishing what she sees in him outside of talent. That's not a rich marriage to me. I don't know. I might be slagging off someone's deep and passionate love, but I don't really get that vibe. But again, this is a movie. Real life is real life.
It PASSED! I'm going to call a spade a spade. This is a G rated movie, but if I tried really hard, I could make it R. Like, you have to shut off a piece of your brain to make that happen, but it is possible. There's a scene where the toxically masculine entitled antagonist tries committing genocide. Like, he almost wipes out the whole town. Consequently, the people of Brigadoon become a police state. The morality of freedom is discussed in a roundabout way. One of the protagonists is a raging alcoholic jerk. But again...PASSED!
DIRECTOR: Vincente Minnelli
I'm an idiot. I closed the window without saving it. My original opening paragraph was all about how I didn't want to write about a movie that I wasn't even that interested in finishing. Now I'm writing that a second time. The only silver lining is that I wasn't caffeinated when I wrote my first draft and I was a little sluggish and disjointed in my writing. Because of my mistake, I decided to wake up and have some vigor while writing. I mean, I still didn't want to finish this movie the first time. But this thing is entirely my fault. My wife was in the rare "I want to watch a movie" mood. That's not the whole story. She wanted to watch a bunch of musicals on Filmstruck and I like watching movies, regardless of genre. She let me pick the musical and I had never seen Brigadoon. People told me that Brigadoon is tough to get through. I didn't believe them for some reason. I know that lots of people get bored easily and I tend to like boring things. I actually sometimes prefer boring things as opposed to watching stuff that is in my face the entire time. But about half-an-hour in, I knew that I had made the wrong call. There is something inexplicably ignorable about Brigadoon.
The thing about it that kills me is that it checks off a lot of my boxes when it comes to Hollywood musicals. I love Gene Kelly. When I find out that Gene Kelly is a lead in a Hollywood musical, I go all Lockwood and Lamont over it. I like the early technicolor stuff with lots of impressive dancing. When the opening credits scroll by and I see that not only is Gene Kelly in the movie, but he also choreographed it, my expectations went through the roof. It's even a time-travel movie. As established, I like time-travel movies for the most part. It is a very specific kind of time travel, but I'm okay with variations on a theme. But everything is just off about the movie. The reason that I like Gene Kelly's choreography is that it is often a series of fun and playful stunts. There are elements and moments in the movie that teased fun and playful stunts, but much of the film is tying back to a classical style of dance associated with ancient Scotland. For a hot second, I was impressed that Kelly was doing something out of his wheelhouse. But that very formal dancing matches the tone of the film. The movie matches the old timey Scotland, not the attitudes that can be seen in Singin' in the Rain or An American in Paris. In those films, the exception to the rule about playfulness comes in the dream ballet sequences. Those are my least favorite things about those movies and they really play the central role in Brigadoon.
The structure of the movie is off. I'm going to try to verbalize it right now, so if this seems all meandering, I apologize. It's not that weird for a Hollywood movie musical having thinly constructed archetypes. It's actually probably more the norm because characters often reveal their motivations through song. Musical numbers are a way for communicating what a character is thinking, or believing, or just general characterization. Instead, Tommy and Jeff just straight up narrate their character backgrounds at the beginning. These backgrounds are troubling. They do not make compelling protagonists unless they were to undergo a major change. Tommy is afraid of marriage and is delaying the inevitable. For a while, I understood this to be that he broke off a marriage because she wasn't the right girl. That's fine. It's a perfectly fine character trait, but then I misunderstood it. He still had a fiancee through all of the events of the movie. Boo for you, Tommy. That doesn't make you heroic. That makes it look like he was a cheater. SPOILERS BECAUSE I'M NOT IN LOVE WITH THIS MOVIE: He wanted to abandon society to live with this girl. He was going to go Brigadoon time-travelling with her and just never tell his fiancee that he left her. He's mighty quick to flirty with this girl too. I know, a movie has to have a love-at-first-sight moment for the story to continue on. But this story is pretty bare bones when it comes to plot, so I think that the movie could have spared a few for some introspection. I still wouldn't have liked that he would have just abandoned a fiancee in New York over the course of a day, but I think I would have liked the character to be torn about the events of the day just a little bit. Van Johnson's Jeff is way worse. I can't help but now appreciate Dudley Moore for being able to portray the lovable selfish drunk. Van Johnson is a far more realistic selfish drunk. He's the kind of drunk who wears misery on his sleeve. I don't think that Van Johnson's portrayal of Jeff was what the playwrights were thinking when they wrote the character. There's nothing sympathetic about this character. He keeps crapping on everything. He's literally in a supernatural town and is skeptical about everything. He makes constant rude jokes and seems like he can't keep his drinking under control whatsoever. I'm reading about the brutality towards the natives by the Spaniards in my night class right now and Van Johnson's character is the kind of character who just needs a little nudge into the realm of selfish murder. He treats a girl (who admittedly just throws herself at him because she has this one chance to meet a new person) like absolute trash. There's not even a hint of the social contract in effect. You meet someone new, you have to be moderately kind to them until you get to know them. It's a really weird choice for one of the heroes of the story. When he wants to go back, it doesn't really make sense. New York has more booze than fantasy land. You could say that he wants to make a change. The film even implies that the booze doesn't make Jeff happy, but there's never a formal declaration for the misery that his life has become. Also, continuing on with the spoilers, did the power of love bring back Brigadoon way earlier? That seems like it isn't part of the miracle / curse. It is extremely lazy writing. The entire movie is based on a binary choice. There's not even an attempt to live with the consequences. If Tommy leaves Brigadoon, he can never come back. You know, unless he wants to. That's literally it. He doesn't undo a curse. He doesn't find a way to survive a hundred years. He literally just shows up again. Boo.
The theology of this movie is goofy as all get out. The supernatural elements of this movie stem out of a weird version of religion. Because the local priest was concerned about outside forces influencing the town of Brigadoon too much, he asked God to hide Brigadoon from time, only allowing it to appear every hundred years. If anyone attempted to leave Brigadoon, everyone dies. What? What kind of bargain is that? What kind of God would make that stipulation? I have an even bigger concern. Only the antagonist refers to the miracle as what it is: a curse. Why are they so afraid of progress? This is such a weird obsession with yesteryear. It is toxic nostalgia. On top of that, God requires the priest who made this prayer unable to participate in the great experiment? I mean, it's very Moses of him, but Moses at least made a mistake. The movie says that God needed a sacrifice to make this happen. So the one guy who actually wanted to avoid progress had to experience progress as he unmoored Brigadoon into the space-time continuum? Look at the problematic storytelling here. It had been 300 years our time since Brigadoon left. For them, it had been three days and there already was a threat of everyone being killed. From their perspective, the first guy to go nuts from being locked in Brigadoon lost it only after three days. What happens when entire generations grow up in this world? Seriously, when we are post-apocalyptic and their a year older, what's going to happen then. Can they even have children? Will children understand what normal time looks like? Is it going to be Room for them? Eventually, if the world is still around and not sunken into the sun, will the locals treat the boundaries as a horror story? Someone is going to get dared to leave and then everyone dies. Also, what about a mass evacuation of Brigadoon? It mentions that everyone would die in their sleep that night in Brigadoon. I'm pretty sure if everyone left, they could just live in the future. I mean, would any version of God really want what is going on here? It's like it's a metaphor for traditional family values, but completely unconcerned with actual consequences. The filmmakers had to know that something was really fishy when they had to go on a manhunt for the guy trying to leave. Yes, the movie needs that scene. It's the first thing we thought of when they said that they couldn't leave or they would die. The movie had to show what would happen. But is that guy just going to go to local jail for all of history? He's a serious flight risk. The problem isn't solved when he's caught. Geez, did they kill that guy? I mean, I have so many questions about the rules of Brigadoon that I can't even wrap my mind around it. I now want to write a dark fantasy narrative about Brigadoon 100,000 years from now. It's reasonable to think that one day, someone would build something over the land in Brigadoon. 100 years pass per day. Think about the change in Time After Time. That was 100 years and it shows how insane the world changed. It's not completely unreasonable to think that one day, that land in Scotland would be developed. Would the people there just fuse with the buildings? Would the new inhabitants be sent off into a limbo until Brigadoon disappears again? Would scientists discover Brigadoon and try to study its effects? IT'S A REALLY WEIRD PREMISE!
But again, this is a boring movie. I wish it wasn't. The fact that I've thought this much about it shows that there's something there. But mostly, these thoughts stem out of an element that just asks you to ignore the possibilities. It's a really dumb premise that is supposed to come across as artistic and whimsical. It fails at both. Sorry...
PG, but 1979 PG. There's a moment or two of almost nudity. There's some hilariously unrealistic blood effects. But there is one thing that is amazing that sneaks into a PG movie. The movie has Jack the Ripper as an antagonist. He murders prostitutes. That means that there are gutted prostitutes in this movie. Someone's severed hand is in the middle of the floor, indicating that they were just torn apart. But again, PG.
DIRECTOR: Nicholas Meyer
There were some movies that I was born to like. Time After Time is a movie where I can see every crack because it is staring me in the face. It is just a flawed mess at times. What should I have expected? It's about H.G. Wells chasing Jack the Ripper in 1979. I should have been prepped for that. Why would I have expectations that everything would have worked like, pun intended, clockwork? I didn't. I think I heard about this movie first on Star Trek special features. It was directed by Nicholas Meyer (Star Trek might be the perfect fit for him, in retrospect) and has David Warner in it. Oh, and Malcolm McDowell. That's a tangent Star Trek thing. But I did enjoy it. I actually enjoyed it a lot. But that doesn't mean that I'm going to point out all the things that drove me up the wall about the movie.
I love the premise so much. It's the right level of kind of dumb and pseudo-intellectual. Honestly, the premise of Jack the Ripper lost in time is cool enough. I think that idea might actually work better. But for the perfect cross-section of what is silly, adding H.G. Wells to the mix is just the most hilarious idea in the world. I've had my ideas for absolutely insane historical fiction. There's a sweet spot in my heart for grounded absurdity. Anyway, one thing about writing this is that I just have to make peace with one of the silliest premises ever and move onto the actual film. The actual film is very watchable for the beats. Everything that is needed in a time-travel chase movie is there. It hits many of the same moments other time-travel stories do. These moments are to be expected. We often get the time-traveler from our present going to the future or the future time-traveler going back to our time. I like the inversion of a past time-traveler coming to visit what was then the present. Mr. Henson pointed out why The Brady Bunch Movie now has another element that it didn't have before. Because the movie is now dated, it is interesting to see what was critiqued as contemporary in 1979. That McDonald's scene (which made me gag in conception and squirm thinking about how Malcolm McDowell probably hated filming it) is adorable to think that it was the height of the future. A time-travel narrative is fundamentally a fish-out-of-water story and it can really set the tone of the film. I know there was a cancelled show about Time After Time that seemed to give the film a dark edge. Honestly, Meyer could have made this movie bleak and gruesome. The movie has it in it to do so. I mean, it is about trying to stop Jack the Ripper from murdering prostitutes. But the way a film handles the fish-out-of-water elements determines the tone. Meyer really has a good time with this. I know that Leonard Nimoy directed Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but Time After Time makes a closer companion piece to Star Trek IV than something like Back to the Future or something like that. I think it might have to do with urban environment and how much the protagonist sticks out. There's no frame of reference for Wells and that's really fun.
Structurally, this movie is all over the place. The A-plot, the one involving Wells chasing down Jack the Ripper, keeps taking a backseat to character interactions with the present. Honestly, this could have just been a romantic comedy about a time-traveler falling in love. The whole action thriller element could easily be edited out. I don't actually hate that idea that much. Mary Steenburgen (whom I've been referring to as Andie Macdowell in my head this entire time) is really young and fun in this role. Some of her character stuff is really dated. It is adorable what 1979 considered progressive back then. There are these moments that you can tell were written by a dude who thought he was woke at the time. It really comes off as clunky and almost more sexist than if he had avoided it, but for the sake of the film that isn't technically a romantic comedy, it kind of solves some problems. Steenburgen's Amy Robbins is intensely aggressive about her relationship with H.G. Wells. I'm not saying that's impossible, but it is hilarious that she falls so hard for Wells so instantly. There is no attempt at an organic relationship. Amy sees Wells and just goes full fury after him, despite the fact that he is a customer at the bank where she works. I'm sure management would frown if they saw how intensely she pursued this man. I also find the coincidence that the woman who knows the location of Jack the Ripper is also the one who finds Victorian Malcolm McDowell so dreamy. But I'm ignoring this because I also want to talk about McDowell's choices that make him odd. WAIT! Before I do that, I want to say that the only choice I found weird about Jack the Ripper, played perfectly by David Warner, is his choice of "blend-in outfit." He buys a suit in 1979 and looks fine. He looks like a '70s businessman and that's what he should look like. But then he's trying to blend in (even more?) and he buys this turtleneck and vest combo that I couldn't stop giggling at. He stays in this outfit for the majority of the film. Okay, now Wells as a character. His character is so tied to this notion that the future will automatically be a utopia. I don't mind that Wells is an idealist in this film, but more along the lines that he thought it would happen in less that one hundred years. In 100 years, there's no way the future is going to be a utopia. I'd be surprised if it is even still here. (Sorry, grandkids, I'm gonna be long dead.) Like, a baby from Wells's time could hypothetically still be alive in 1979. How quickly does he think change can happen? Is he assuming that the Vulcans were going to meet Zephram Cochrane by this time? (There's a lot of Star Trek references. Sorry, I blame it on Nicholas Meyer.)
Now my big thing. I get hung up on time travel logic. I try talking to my wife about these things and she just tells me it isn't real. Maybe I missed something, but how did the time machine return to Victorian London? Does that have to do with the key? If so, why is there a gap in return? Shouldn't it be instantaneous? Also, the Wells version of a time machine, one where the occupant can see time fly before his eyes? That time machine shouldn't disappear. If he's watching everything in fast forward, the world should be viewing him in slow motion. I think that Meyer even knows this because the time machine is a relic in an H.G. Wells exhibit in the future. (A very convenient H.G. Wells exhibit in the future.) Did it appear before Wells? The core powers are also remarkably stupid. Also, this movie infodumps and foreshadows even harder than Back to the Future and I didn't know that it was possible to do that. This is the stuff that makes Time After TIme ultimately not a great film. I mean, I really enjoyed it and that's saying a lot for me. Time travel logic really has to work for me to get on board and the movie was fun enough for me to enjoy it despite some of the wonkiest time travel logic I've seen. But ultimately, it was just a good time. It isn't a good movie. Heavens-to-Betsy, it is a long way from that. But that didn't mean that I couldn't enjoy it for what it was. This was a fun action adventure time travel rom-com historical fiction.
Wow, that's a lot of genres.
PG-13, which is an odd choice. There's no nudity, but some talk about impregnating someone. There are weirdly homophobic concepts in the movie, but the violence is pretty minimum overall. Like many of the Sherlock Holmes stories, there are dead bodies, but these dead bodies are killed off camera. There's some scant clothing by the female lead, but all of this is pretty tame.
DIRECTOR: Billy Wilder
Do you know how frustrating it is trying to convince someone else that one of your favorite directors is one of the greatest directors of all time only to watch a stinker directed by that guy? I know. Billy Wilder's later films have never been considered his gold standard. On top of that, a lot of people really like The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. It isn't an abysmal film. It just isn't Billy Wilder genius. Unfortunately, it also isn't "Sherlock Holmes" genius (pun intended) either.
We got Filmstruck. I like the idea of Filmstruck a lot right now, especially from an academic perspective. For those not in the know, Filmstruck is TCM and the Criterion Collection's streaming service. It has a bunch of special features and curated collections, which makes it super excited to learn about an individual's work or a movement in film. Because I was preaching Billy Wilder, I got really excited to watch a Wilder that I hadn't seen. I'm a moron. Always pick something safe, like Ace in the Hole, to blow someone's mind. The thing is, Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss claim that this movie was their inspiration for their Sherlock. At first, I wondered how that went. I love Sherlock but didn't really care for this one. Honestly, I was bored silly because it was disjointed and led to some of my least favorite Sherlock Holmes tropes. I can't believe that Moffatt and Gatiss would have misspoken that off the mark, so I thought about it. The introduction of the movie is the one that makes the most sense with their statement. This is a Sherlock Holmes who is at odds with his own fame. He is still cocky and still self-destructive. He's still a genius. But he, to some degree, knows that he can't live up to the godlike expectations placed upon him by the works of Dr. Watson. I think that's what I really like about the new Sherlock show and I like the way that it is explored in the TV show. But this movie only really touches on that element of fame. The odd thing is that it is titled The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. For a long time in the movie, it has a hard time deciding what it wants to be. The title implies that this will be an introspective picture. There really is no need for a mystery. Rather, the title and the first twenty minutes set up for a story about a man who has to deal with unwanted fame and expectations that may be considered unfair. But then that entire element is kind of dumped for what could be viewed as fairly blah. It introduces a mystery that is frankly pretty dumb. It exchanges the only thing that separates this from other Sherlock Holmes narratives and embraces the genius Sherlock Holmes on another case with Dr. Watson. I want to talk about that in a second and I'm sure that I'll probably get back to that. But before it even introduces this thread, it has this entire mini-storyline that doesn't make a lick of sense.
Immediately after the first act, Holmes and Watson go to the ballet. They meet some very over-the-top stereotypes of Russians. In this rather long scene may have failed the Chekov's Gun sequence monumentally, the prima ballerina offers to pay Sherlock Holmes with a Strativarius in exchange for his sperm. She wants Sherlock to have a child with her because he is a genius. In this sequence, there's some very 1970s attitudes about homosexuality and Sherlock implies that he and Dr. Watson are romantically engaged. Dr. Watson, who is having the time of his life oogling the rest of the cast of Swan Lake, is humiliated and accuses Holmes of slander. (Also, I thought Watson was married.) In what appears to be an indication that Holmes is telling the truth, leading to some questions that appear to take the film in yet another completely opposite direction, Holmes eventually reveals that it was a ruse. It is implied that these characters would come back into play later in the film. They don't. Not at all. This entire sequence is just a scene that absolutely does not belong in the movie. Part of the thing that really pulls it out of the film is that the whole conversation is based on a lie. There are these emotions that are developing about these characters. There's a hint of vulnerability and then it is simply snatched away. If the story is called The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and the characters talk about Sherlock's emotions, why is everything a lie? I'm chalking a lot of this up into weak writing, but the alternative is that there is no private life to Sherlock Holmes. That means that the entirety of the movie has to be about the mystery and that the film is just poorly named. But then why take up thirty-to-forty minutes of the movie having Sherlock Holmes really doing nothing but hitting up some Sherlock Holmes tropes. The structure of the first two acts is aimless.
It is only halfway through the film that the actual inciting incident happens. I didn't think that there was going to be a central mystery to this film, but it does show up a little before the middle. The problem is that the mystery doesn't live up to the rest of the Arthur Conan Doyle canon. (Say that three times fast.) This is a movie mystery. There's no real thought. My wife is pretty intense about mysteries. She loves solving them before it is actually revealed. I tend to offer my theories. I'm right a lot of the time, but Lauren is just aces at these stories. We both watched the movie and didn't throw out any theories. Okay, I threw out one and it was dead on. This was early on. Lauren never fought me on it. It was stupid. The mystery is not at all engaging. It is actually part of the Sherlock stories that I don't like. I don't like when the answer is larger than life. Sherlock Holmes mysteries thrive on nuance and the human condition. Rather, Wilder and company wrote this epic tale that affects all of England. There is this attitude of patriotism that comes from British properties. It would be seen quite clearly in 1977's The Spy Who Loved Me when James Bond parachutes with the Union Jack. There's a need to tie Sherlock Holmes into these big stories. I think that the Robert Downey Jr. films kind of do the same thing. Holmes works best when there is a personal mystery. I don't need him saving the Crown. I need him to save that one vulnerable person. If the film has the need to raise the stakes, save Watson. I don't really need him to be another protector of the realm. I just want him solving creepy mysteries that involve murder. This one takes historical fiction to a level that I'm really uncomfortable with. The thing is, I wanted to get on board. I'm the one who picked this movie. I'm the one who preached Wilder. The next thing is the worst thing about the movie.
Billy Wilder normally makes me guffaw when he does funny. I'm sorry to those people who may criticize me for liking Some Like It Hot or The Apartment. There are some problematic narratives in those movies, to be sure. But I genuinely laugh. This movie has no idea what it wants to be. Filmstruck labels it as comedy, adventure, mystery. That can work. I have no problem. Those tags would probably describe Hot Fuzz and I love that movie. But this movie doesn't lean heavily into any of those categories. Rather, it wants all three instead of developing a rich flavor. Hot Fuzz is fundamentally a comedy that gets its mystery and adventure right. This movie doesn't get any of its elements correct. I think I laughed once in this movie, and I kind of feel like it was a pity laugh. I hate pity laughs. (For more thoughts on pity laughs, listen to my podcast episode about Disenchantment season one.) Perhaps Billy Wilder was just getting older. Maybe there wasn't the passion behind this project like his other work. But this movie just feels like a mess. I don't hate the casting. I think that Christopher Lee as Mycroft is inspired. That being said, both Sherlock and Watson are B+ versions of the characters. They are hitting many of the same beats that other Sherlocks and Watsons have done. They kind of look the part and that's the only thing that makes them believable enough to continue watching. I kept wondering what Robert Stephens had done and this might be his largest role. It just seems to be an okay, one-note bit. I don't blame him. There's not a lot to work with here and that's just a bummer. I watched a video about Hollywood's obsession with relaunching public domain characters every few years and this is a prime example of a studio film that simply wants to capitalize on nostalgia. I mean, I picked it just for that reason. I thought that Sherlock Holmes couldn't have been that bad. It wasn't THAT bad, but it wasn't that good either.
There are plenty of ways to watch Sherlock Holmes. This character has more wins than losses when it comes to storytelling and this is a guy who really doesn't like the RDJ franchise. There are also a ton of great Billy Wilder movies out there as well. Filmstruck owners, unless you are a completionist, avoid this one. I know many reviewers thought this movie was better than I'm making it out to be. But the worst thing about this movie is that it is boring and unfocused.
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.