PG, and now we're really stretching the truth for what makes a valid PG movie. I know, the PG of my youth was way worse than this. But it wasn't as super subjective as it is today. This still has violence and scary things. Dementors! DEE-MENTORS! They suck out your soul. Also, there are werewolves in this. I feel like that can get pretty gory. It's still a Harry Potter movie. Oh, Harry kinda sorta kills a person because she gets on his nerves. The Knight Bus is also very spooky. PG.
DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón
He made the movie on a dare! That's right. At least, I've read that headline a half-a-dozen times without reading the article. Before I get too deep into my Harry Potter whining, let me put this out there. I hate typing on this computer. To get my projector working, my aspect ratio is all screwed up. It never used to be like this. I used to be able to split the monitors into two. But now, I have to just deal with almost a mobile version of this website. I know. My life is the hardest. I just needed to vent. But I suppose that I should get used to writing like this if I want to keep writing.
I remember thinking, when I first entered the Wizarding World, that maybe the Harry Potter franchise wasn't that bad based on this one. Here's the backstory, and I've probably provided this story before. When I first started teaching, even before certification, in the halcyon days of Harry Potter worship, I promised my students that I would read all of the books if they all did really well on their final presentations. They did, and I binged the books in about three weeks. I always have to put this disclaimer on everything Harry Potter-related because everyone should know that I'm not a Harry Potter fan. After reading them and watching the movies, I suppose that I get why people like them. But I can only give the franchise the glowing review of "It's fine." I think Harry Potter fans, at least the level-headed ones, tend to be amongst the better fans out there. Now, I think there's a lot of snobbery influencing my choice here. I probably watched this in 2008 or something. I read the book around the same time. When I found out that Alfonso Cuarón directed this, of course I said that it was my favorite. I told people that I really liked it. So when I came to the rewatch, now that my daughter is deep into the Harry Potter universe, I was really looking forward to something. Do you know how hard it was to not fall asleep during this movie? It was tough. Now, I'm going to forgive myself a bit. Cuarón's entry is way better than Columbus's entries into the series. If you read my comments on the first two films, I'm very forgiving of Columbus. He's setting up a lot and that's why his movies look the way they do. But Cuarón pushes the franchise forward. It still feels very much like a sequel to those movies, often referring to Columbus for the tone, but they do seem to be slightly riskier than the first two movies. Harry doesn't really feel like a tiny little kid in this movie. Cuarón understands that kids aren't just one thing. That might actually be a big improvement over Rowling's choices. When I look at the illustrations, I still think of Harry as this tiny child. I know that the Potterheads (that's their nickname, right?) would probaby fight me tooth and nail, but I really get the vibe that Harry is younger in the book of The Prisoner of Azkaban than he is in the movie adaptation.
But I still found The Prisoner of Azkaban film kind of boring. Not a little boring, but actually quite dull. Perhaps my philosophy of investment might be more complicated than I've admitted in the past. I tend to believe that to invest in something often leads to a greater appreciation of that thing. I want people to watch Doctor Who season five with such openness because I want them to get the same experience I had. In my mind, there's no doubt that it would happen. But like those head/heart cartoons I keep seeing on Facebook should remind me, the head and the heart like two very different things. I'm always secretly terrified to recommend stuff because I can't handle when people don't like things that I adore. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban really invests in its own mythology. It assumes that the people who are reading / watching the third entry of the series are fans already. There's very little in terms of slowing down the story. Nor should they, I guess. I don't think I want another pile of Harry Potter exposition or character development for its own sake in this one. For Harry, plot is king. He's fundamentally the same character in book one as he is in book seven, with the exception of self-esteem and age. Yeah, he gets into some pretty dark stuff by the end of the franchise. But we have no harder time relating to him in the first book than we do in the last. My apathy of Harry Potter has always been that, if you took a summary of the arc of the entire series, stressing the mythology, you'd have a pretty good story. It's just that there's a lot of junk in there that gets in the way of the story allowing itself to be told. Azkaban is my Evidence One that Harry Potter is about plot over character. This one gets pretty nerdy pretty fast. We have to accept a lot about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter to get this story started. But can I complain about that? The reason why Avengers: Endgame works so well is that everything is about the fans at this point. I can't imagine going into Avengers: Endgame without caring about the Marvel movies one bit. That's kind of the point. I'm not mad that they made that decision to start diving deep into Potter mythology. It's what needed to happen. It's just that I don't care. The only real takeaway I got from that movie is the stuff in the Shrieking Shack with Peter Pettigrew. That's fun. I can get behind that.
Also, is it just me or is Harry kind of an unlikable character? I want to specifically talk about the exposition sequence of Azkaban where Harry is okay with the probably death of a human being. I get it. It's for laughs. Rowling will Horcrux away an explanation for why people are so terrible to Harry in book seven, but it is bizarre how muggles treat Harry. Like, everyone hates him and tells him to his face about how terrible he is. Like, everyone. I don't know why Harry hasn't just started using his abilities like this left and right, but it does kind of paint him in a negative light. After getting ripped apart on a really bizarre tirade, Harry turns a person into an inflated balloon? Like, she floats away. What is Harry's play here? The best case scenario is that the lady makes it down safely and now is well-keyed into Harry's magical ways. I know. The Ministry of Magic took care of it, but realistically, that lady should be dead. Like, honestly. While the best case scenario is that she makes to the ground okay, she should be dead. Like, super dead. Anything could have popped her. Or, she could have just starved to death up there. It's not like Harry went chasing after her to bring her down. No, he just runs away on the Knight Bus, leaving her to her fate. I get that's not the thought process we're supposed to have. We're supposed to be looking at the annoying bully who just got her comeuppance. But Harry just walks away from that like a gangsta who just murdered someone. I can't be like, "I can't wait for Harry's adventure in this one" after he murders a lady. I don't know why I like the exposition of a lot of fantasy stories. I am the same way with Middle Earth. I want to hang out in the Shire the entire time. I'm kind of the same way about the Dursleys. When Harry, a magical kid, goes to a magical world, I get bored. When everything is special, nothing is special. But I'm really intrigued by Harry the magical kid in a world where no one has magic. It's why X-Men is cool, especially when we get that lone mutant storyline. But this one kind of just gets dark. I wonder if that has to do with Cuarón. I mean, he got the Dementors movie out of all of them. I guess he knew what he was signing up for.
I can't feel too bad for Cuarón because he signed up for this, despite the fact that he didn't want to do it. I loved this movie because he directed it. At least, I said I did. But this movie seems so restricting for him. I'm thinking of his other pictures and how there's such a strong message to those films. Cuarón feels like he's just marching to a corporate beat. Yeah, I can kind of tell that he's not Chris Columbus, but he's not exactly stretching himself artistically. After watching the rest of his ouevre, this one feels kind of soulless. (Hey, that's what the Dementors do!) I want something deeper. Also, I know that I'm not the first person to mention that the Time Turner is such a cop out, especially considering that it is barely alluded to beforehand. (I know, Hermione is at two places at once often.) But it really reads like Superman spinning the world backwards on its axis. The damage has been done. I don't know why everyone gets another chance, especially considering that the time turner is one of those tools that just completely the loop. It's so easily put back together. The movie isn't really about second chances. If it was, Sirius Black would have stayed with Harry. I never really understood why Sirius didn't get to be Harry's dad. He's this character that we're meant to bond with, but he doesn't really get to stick around, does he? He feels like a TV character that doesn't have enough of an arc to justify paying that actor to show up all the time. I'm looking at you, John Wesley Shipp on The Flash. Also, John Winchester, same deal. Yeah, putting Sirius into the story would have gotten rid of my favorite element of the Harry Potter films, but I don't even care. I just want something different. Which kind of leads me to my least favorite things about these movies...
...please stop making them take place over the course of a year. Rather than have organic realizations and growth, the movies feel really disjointed. A lot of time passes between moments and it just drags. I don't need to see Hogwarts in its various seasons. Just exist in the moment. I don't really understand if Goblet of Fire follows those rules, but it feels less broken apart. I don't like that movie either, but that's a story for another day.
The Spy Who Dumped Me (2018)
Rated R because of language, violence, and lewd conversations. I thought this movie was pretty tame. Tonally, it reads as a very tame film. But there's some great gore grossout humor at times. I think that's why the jokes really land because the movie doesn't feel like it is going to kill someone in an absolutely gruesome way. There's also some really over-the-top nudity at one point. It was, again, to go for the grossout joke. But keep all this in mind. It's an R-rated comedy.
DIRECTOR: Susanna Fogel
I've started exercising to get out of this slump. I think pushing myself into a routine with moments of real accomplishment might get me back to writing normally. But then again, I posted one of my accomplishments on Facebook, so I'm constantly switching between writing and seeing how many people like what I do. It's unhealthy, but it is normal. It's been hard to watch movies with the wife. There's so much stuff going on in our lives and we want upbeat, kind of dumb stuff. The Spy Who Dumped Me fits a lot of criteria for our mood right now. It's not a masterpiece, so we don't mind pausing it from time-to-time to deal with the constant small fires we are dealing with. It's funny, which is what we need right now. There's nothing subtle or depressing in the movie. Also, it's on Hulu, so it has the lowest stakes a movie could have right now. As backhanded all of that was, it kind of is the perfect movie for us. I'll go as far as to say that it's a good movie.
I think that the spy genre always kind of seems like low hanging fruit for comedy. The best of the bunch, and I will fight you Peter Sellers Casino Royale fans, is the Austin Powers franchise. Mind you, I'm terrified to watch Austin Powers today because I really can guess that it probably doesn't hold up. But we keep seeing the same plots over and over again in the spy comedy. Someone who is not involved in the world of spying (Austin Powers doesn't apply because it is a send up of James Bond other actual spy movies) accidentally gets a hold of a Macguffin. They spend the movie avoiding death and capture through outrageous luck. There are pretty telegraphed tricks and turns. But ultimately, the fish out of water defeats the ultimate bad guy and saves the world through happenstance. It's fun. I get it. The Spy Who Dumped Me does all of this. It's The Man Who Knew Too Little. In this case, we have two people who shouldn't be in this situation. But I give The Spy Who Dumped Me some credit. It actually somewhat subverts the formula. I don't know if it is an intentional break of formula, but it does one thing that oddly works. Mind you, if they make a sequel, they are definitely doing this plot point. There's something about the two friends being in an intense situation where their friendship is tested. One of the characters can't get past her hangups and the two are supposed to split up. When they split up, one of them discovers something that changes the way that they view their mission, causing them to come together and make their friendship stronger. Believe it or not, The Spy Who Dumped Me doesn't do this. They just...stay friends the entire time. I don't know why this makes me so happy. I think anything that reminds me that the movie isn't the same as every other movie goes a long way to me giving it a strong thumbs up. Again, I can't stress enough that these movies are the perfect things for me right now. But having them stay together as friends is really an interesting way to tell a story.
I don't know what it is about Kate McKinnon. I really like her. I don't know if I like her in everything, but I really like her. A little while, I commented on her role in Yesterday. That movie was so excellent, but Kate McKinnon sticks out like a sore thumb. Her brand of humor just didn't gel with the movie. But Kate McKinnon makes meh movies pretty good. I was thoroughly disappointed by Ghostbusters: Answer the Call. But Kate McKinnon? I'm going to rewatch the movie just for her. Also the fact that MoviesAnywhere gave it to me for free. I don't know what it is about her particular brand of humor. She actually might be kind of a comic genius. I'm thinking of the comedy greats and a lot of them tend to leave it all out there on the floor. Kate McKinnon does that. But at the same time, there is also something remarkably smart about her comedy. It doesn't seem particularly high brow, but there's some real craftsmanship with what she does. Yeah, she has on-screen chemistry with Mila Kunis. I can't deny that the casting of this was on point. But Kunis is the safe bet in this one. McKinnon's Morgan really pushes the lines of likability. There's almost nothing relatable with McKinnon's character, and that's okay. Morgan is the equivalent of Ernest P. Worrell. I know. I'm really stretching the bounds of anything credible right now. Ernest, despite being a completely different beast from Morgan, exist in this reality where people accept his very odd choices and behaviors. Ernest, mind you, grew huge and had a whole mess of side characters with their own hangups and eccentricities. But Morgan is straight up bizarre. There's no way to really read her character that makes a lick of sense. Morgan, at times, is vulnerable and normal. When her walls are down, we understand why she exists in this grounded reality. But there are moments where she decides to trapeze fight a girl. That happens in the movie. She also has a hard time determining characters in a Cirque de Soliel show to being real people. Like, it's all for humor. What I'm doing right now is overanalyzing the whole thing and dumping water on it because I need to get a word count. But it's so odd to think that this character can have this range. As an offshoot of that, Morgan regularly kills people. She's not traumatized by her actions, which makes the absurdity all the more hilarious.
This analysis has been like pulling teeth. I have been slowly writing this for days. Think about it. I used to write one of these a day. That means I'd watch a movie and sit down and write for forty minutes or so. But this guy, geez. I thought about what was really holding me back. I feel like I have no insights. I've written about way more simple movies than The Spy Who Dumped Me. Why, then, am I having problems with this one? Perhaps this one is going to go a little bit off the rails, but I think that I need to write about this. It may make this the least objective analysis of all of them, but I realized what this film kind of did for me. My wife and I have been going through stuff. I don't want to get too personal. Needless to say, it's no one's fault. It's about tragedy and that's about as much as I can say in the course of a blog that's about a silly comedy. I talked about how The Spy Who Dumped Me was the perfect pick for what we were going through. One of the things about tragedy is that it pulls and tugs and transforms so secretly that you don't even realize it is happening. We spend so much time focusing on our emotions and the tragedy itself that we don't notice the little changes. I'm the kind of guy who has to throw my phone across the couch when watching a movie. I fundamentally believe that film needs undivided attention and that I'm way too tempted just to let myself be distracted by the vapidness that is Facebook. But while watching this movie, we were constantly getting phone calls and dealing with stuff. I watched this movie with my wife in an attempt to get some degree of normalcy. It kind of worked. For a few hours, it kind of worked. I saw my wife laugh and smile. I loved it. But then we'd get a text message and the movie would pause. We would come back to the movie the next day and the same thing would happen. Then, during a slow section, our brain returned to the tragedy we were dealing with. We would talk and comfort one another. Then we kept watching. That's not the movie that Susanna Fogel intended. When she made this movie, I'm sure she saw us sitting in a darkened theater, chowing down on Buncha Crunch and Junior Mints. She wanted to have this be a treat. It was to take people who were in the correct headspace and make them go even beyond that. But we weren't being normal. We weren't being ourselves. We're not ourselves now. We're better than we were, but we're not great. Do you understand how much I want to be back to normal? I'm constantly praying for it. My normal, boring life is exactly what I want and everything around me seems to want to fight me on it. I know, people grow. People become different from tragedies. But I loved my life. I still love my life. But I want my purpose again. I want to have some degree of stability. I want my growth to come from positive directions. Watching a movie was wonderful. In the moments that we weren't thinking about sadness, we just lived. The Spy Who Dumped Me, unfortunately for the film itself, could have been replaced with a dozen other movies off the top of my head. I have some shrink wrapped blu-rays that I got as gifts not that long ago that I'm dying to watch. But film kind of does that. I'm not covering new stuff, but I've never wanted to say it more. Yeah, film is entertainment a lot of the time. I get that. But just being able to forget the crap that's going on is so invaluable. I know that I laughed about spies in fifteen minute intervals before we were thrown back to our real lives. But those fifteen minutes were so important. It let me remember that the foundation of our lives were still intact. My wife could still laugh, so I could still laugh. I wonder what would have happened if we were masochistic enough to pick a sad film. There's probably something therapeutic there too. But if I don't really have too much insight into the deeper meaning of The Spy Who Dumped Me, it's probably because I didn't want to see the deeper level of the film. I will always advocate for watching things critically. But for the past month, maybe I just need to have a movie be a movie.
Plus One (2019)
Not rated, but it would have been rated R. I was asked whether or not this movie was offensive by someone who doesn't really like raunch in their comedy. At first, I was very cool with recommending it. Until I thought of that scene. And then that scene. And then that other scene. Then I realized that the whole movie was full of sex and language and then left with the notion that it wasn't as offensive as a Judd Apatow rom-com, but I could see it being in that category. Not rated.
DIRECTORS: Jeff Chan and Andrew Rhymer
Geez, I'm really falling off the wagon with this blog. How was I so good with it for years and then, the second my life hit an emotional snag, it just fell apart. Do you know what got me to consider writing this blog? A picture on Facebook called "How anxiety looks like." And then there was a picture of avoidance and overeating and I kicked my butt into gear. So right now, I'm sporting a really intense carb-crash headache and I have to remember a movie watched, in stages, two weeks ago. This is not my finest hour.
I keep giving the same song and dance to all of these rom-coms that I watch with my wife. I really like making my wife happy and she's completely abandoned a bunch of genres. I'm immediately following this one up with The Spy Who Dumped Me. I swear, I have a bunch of Criterions that I'm sitting on right now just waiting to be watched. Life gets busy, you know. But thank God for movies like Plus One. I know. This is all going to come across as a backhanded compliment to everyone involved in making this film, but I enjoyed that this movie was an enjoyable, yet low-stakes film. I'm pretty sure that Ben Stiller's production company had made this movie. There are only a handful of truly notable celebrities. I don't know what deal Beck Bennett had with this movie because his part is tiny in the movie. Considering that he's one of the more recognizable names, I guess he must have been helping to draw attention the film. We also have Rosalind Chao and Ed Begley, Jr. for people to say that I recognize. Jack Quaid has a lot of credits under his belt, but rarely seems to be the leading man type. I straight up adored Maya Erskine in this role. I only really know her from that one episode of Pen15 I caught, but she's fabulous. By all intents and purposes, this really feels like a direct to streaming movie...but it was really pretty good. A lot of that came from the fact that Jack Quaid and Maya Erskine have just the best chemistry together. I've now had to sit through a lot of these romantic comedies, and I often have to be told that people have great chemistry when, in reality, they done. But I love Alice and Ben together. There's some things that I'm going to pick on when it comes to Ben, but I'll save that for later. There is something remarkably charming of the two of them together. Perhaps it is that they are both kind of broken. I know that is a broad thing to say. A lot of movies star protagonists who are in some way broken. But it is nice seeing two people who are functional dumpster fires. It sounds like I'm being super judgmental. I am an ENFJ, after all. I really capitalize the "j" in that situation. But they aren't such hot messes like the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia type of way. These are two people who have their hangups and problems, but kind of exist in the real world. Again, I think that Ben might be getting a little tropey when it comes to his hangups, but I have to excuse that because his issues are the ones that really drive the plot forward.
I guess I should talk about Ben a bit. My big problem with Ben has nothing to do with Jack Quaid. I think he does a perfectly fine job in the film. I actually kind of became a fan of his after watching this movie. But Ben himself almost feels like his issues are way too on the surface to deal with in a realistic way. His problems define him way too much. Alice, while being mostly comic relief, has some really deep rooted issues. It makes her someone to kind of bond with because we know that her problems aren't a quick fix. But any time I see a character whose motivations is a lack of commitment, we know how that's all going to play out. That's probably what's holding Plus One back from escaping its genre. It relies too much on a convention that we've seen dozens of times within the realm of rom-coms. I would be willing to bet that many of the male protagonists in film rely on the trope of being unwilling to commit. I do like that Ben has a little bit more to it. He tells himself that he's just searching for the ideal woman. That's something. I know it isn't much, but it does give him a little more depth than simply being a womanizer for characters' sake. It all seems like a ploy from weak formula writing. A womanizer, shy of James Bond, often comes across as simple and disgusting. We know that he has traits that make him somewhat redeemable, but the one thing from making the story progress is his internal conflict involving him sleeping around. The only thing that really stands in the way of the plot being resolved is his coming to grips with his faults and making a drastic change for the end of the film. Listen, I adore stories that have a deep and challenging internal conflict. But these moments with the womanizer often tends to be a lightswitch. Plus One kind of stands with its compatriots by following the same rules of rom-coms. The two friends, who are never supposed to fall in love, fall in love. When the going gets good, the womanizer starts feeling hesitant about commitment and breaks it off. He has an experience that lets him know that he made a mistake. Someone tells him that he has lost the love of his life. The end. I will give Plus One more points because the resolution doesn't happen just then. Alice gives him an obstacle, dealing with her far more realistic psychological issues. But even that is resolved way too quickly. If I'm going to comment on this, this is really a comment on the rom-com formula. It's probably why I like When Harry Met Sally so much. Plus One is another When Harry Met Sally, but Harry kind of skews the timeline. It takes a while for Harry and Sally to get together. Plus One really shows its hand way too early by putting the characters together way too early. We know that split is going to happen from moment one or else there wouldn't be a story.
I like the idea that the conceit revolves around going to too many weddings. I know: 27 Dresses. But having that as the way to pass time is really effective. Because the movie centers so much of the sacrament of marriage (I know, I'm using loaded language), I don't know how I feel about the message of the film. There's part of me that loves it. For all of the weird things about the plot, the movie does celebrate marriage as the ultimate love statement. I think I've seen too many movies where it has simply been cool with the "being together is enough" element. I just noticed that on the Four Weddings and a Funeral HULU abomination. Ben's big hangup is that he doesn't want to get married and they both consider weddings to be kind of dumb. But there's also the element that they are only happy when they consider marriage to be a real celebration of their own relationship. I think that's neat. I also like the idea that people who are afraid of marriage are kind of fundamentally dumb. Beck Bennet's big speech to Ben is where I'm looking. But that speech also has a weird connotation that I don't love. It kind of muddies the water of the message because Bennett also treats marriage as something that shouldn't be prepped for. On the one hand, I love the fact that he mentions that people need to stop overthinking marriage. Our spouses are great, but that doesn't mean either one in the marriage is without fault. I wish the speech kid of took that direction. But Bennett kind of takes the stance that he doesn't really know his spouse. He kind of seems like he shouldn't have gotten married. There has to be something more than the binary of either you completely know your spouse or you don't know them at all. Yeah, Ben should seriously date Alice with the intention to some day get married to her if she's right. But marrying her blindly or not dating her at all are not answers either. There's so many steps that kind of seemed to get ignored in the argument for storytelling. Marriage is complicated, but it doesn't have to be overly complicated. As logical as the whole movie gets, there's something to be said about my initial love for this movie: chemistry. Are some people toxic for one another? Sure. But Alice is Ben's best friend. While she defines herself based on her ex, that doesn't make her a toxic person. In fact, it seems like she really has moved on once Ben is in the picture. It's only Ben's action that cause her to backpedal. People are screwed up. But it's just deciding what lines are good to grow together. Bennett's speech, as good as it is, doesn't go deep enough into marriage. It hand holds Ben into making a decision, but it is also a bit manipulative.
But at the end of the day, Plus One is a pretty solid rom-com. It is fun. The characters are absolutely great. I'm now a fan of Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid. It made me laugh more times than it didn't. Is it going to blow minds? Probably not. But it does the job it is supposed to do.
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.