PG, but there's some content. Mind you, a lot of it happens off screen. But Tess is fundamentally about sexual assault, domestic abuse, and murder. I shouldn't have to mention that it also has a heavy dose of alcoholism. Really, the movie is pretty sadistic to the eponymous character, so the PG is really a 1979 version of PG.
DIRECTOR: Roman Polanski
I don't even want to write a hook paragraph this week, guys. I know that I only have a few things to say about Tess, but know that most of this blog will be a study of the hypocrisy of Roman Polanski. There, I spoiled it. In terms of how I ended up watching this movie, I actually was an idiot and didn't realize that it was an adaptation of Tess of the d'Urbervilles, which happens to be my reference for deep cut AP Lit. It's been years since I've read Tess of the d'Urbervilles, so I can't even comment if the film is a faithful adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel. But I will be speaking with the full authority of an English teacher, despite the fact that I'm woefully prepared for this, only having remembered snippets from my read of the book ages ago.
I said I was going to talk about Roman Polanski, so let's talk about Roman Polanski. I don't know if this blog has made me want to talk about shifting politics or not, but I feel like I've been becoming visibly more progressive as I've written this blog. I suppose when you are writing from a critical perspective, you have to be willing to admit that your politics need to be re-evaluated over and over again. This is the movie he made after his statutory rape accusation where he fled the United States. It would be irresponsible to watch this movie without that as the context. Tess finds its villain in the sexual assault of Tess. Tess starts the film almost as a tabula rasa. She doesn't have much of a personality. She is innocent and doting to her parents, who might be less than deserving of Tess's respect. It's when she meets Alec d'Urberville, that the inciting incident occurs. Tess is defined, unfortunately, by her sexual assault. It is the burden of physical beauty that perpetuates her victimization. (This, of course, is the crime of the man. I am pointing out that it is his verbal excuse for why Tess gets attention when other women don't.)
Before losing the thread of Roman Polanski, I do find it fascinating that there's such a large emphasis on the notion that Alec is not actually a d'Urberville. I can't help but see the metaphor of rape as a means of possession. Alec finds power in taking the name of d'Urberville in place of his own weak name. However, there's an artificiality to that power. It's not real, much like sexual assault doesn't reflect an actual relationship. By raping Tess, he is attempting to validate his own perceived power that is meant to be associated with the d'Urberville name. While the woman holds the real power, the title of d'Urberville, Alec perverts that connection by pretending that his imagined relationship with Tess validates the thing that he's been lying about during his adult life. It's why Alec kind of perceives that he's the good guy of the film. He views himself as a flawed hero. He keeps trying to bestow all these riches and comforts on Tess, who for most of the film refuses to acknowledge that there was anything healthy about the power dynamic between Alec and herself. But he sees himself as a spurned lover, one who finds his passions to be unquenchable and, through that lens, romantic.
But now back to Polanski. Does he not see Tess of the d'Urbervilles as a condemnation of his own character? If he's aware of this, and he is being self-flagellating like Dimmesdale in The Scarlet Letter, then I don't know if that is really being conveyed. Because there's a terrible meta irony to the piece as a whole. Polanski demonizes both Alec and Angel in the piece. Really, every male in this story is extremely problematic. With Angel, he's given a fairly weak redemption arc. But the other male characters are either borderline criminal or are overtly criminal in their treatment of womankind through Tess as its representative. Perhaps I too am blinded by my own attempt to be progressive and am doing the same thing with this blog, but I do have to call Polanski out for being a monster and a hypocrite. Polanski seduced a 13 year old girl. He held a power over her that could not be reciprocated in any meaningful way. Alec goes through this journey where he thinks that he is wholly realized. Knowing that the assault in the woods was criminal, he recontextualizes it to be a lapse in judgement, therefore being a kind of forbidden fruit. When Alec meets up with Tess later in the story, he claims to be a more actualized responsible human being.
But he's not. Polanski throwing stones at Alec seems like such a moment of poor taste, considering that he IS Alec. I could also make the case that he wants to be Angel. Angel, I almost have problems with than Alec. Okay, that's not true. But I really like hating Angel. Angel has the potential to be a really interesting character. Angel may have gone on this entire redemption arc. The problem is...the story isn't about Angel. The story aggressively focuses on only Tess's perspective. Okay, that's not technically true. But I'll say the majority of the film is only from Tess's perspective. For all we know, Angel's claim that he has suffered as well and come out the other side. That's possible. But since we never really get to experience that, it all seems really cheap when he says that he has suffered too. If anything, it is the most insulting thing that he could possibly say in that moment. Polanski knows what he's doing here. He knows that we're supposed to hate Angel. But she goes back to him in that moment. I don't really get the forgiveness of that moment, outside of the fact that she's probably just tired of being miserable.
But Polanski wants to be Alec. He wants that kind of forgiveness from others. But I really have to stress that Angel hasn't earned that. The reason that Tess forgives him is not that Angel has somehow transformed into a better human being. It is because Tess chose Angel and Angel rejected her at her most vulnerable. Polanski is kind of doing the same. We know that Tess can't be miserable with Alec for the rest of the story. For as poor as she is for a good chunk of the film, she is the saddest when she is married to Alec. The villain had won and she was doomed to live a life of emotional and mental torture, married to her rapist. Tess only goes to Angel because an audience demands some degree of solace in this emotional torture porn that is Tess. Polanski is almost subconsciously screaming, "What I did was wrong, but wouldn't we all be happier if we just move on?" He is making this movie about male fragility and can't see that he's potentially the most harmful version of his characters in the film. It's really gross.
It's a gorgeous movie, if not damningly slow. But I can't divorce the artist from the art in this one. Like Woody Allen, the content is way too on-the-nose to watch it without historical context. It's a non-apology for something that is abhorrent and I don't really get how this movie exists.
Pillow Talk (1959)
Passed, but how did we sell our souls to say that this was an innocent movie? I mean, it has Doris Day and Rock Hudson, it should be the alternative to Mary Poppins. But no, there's all kind of gross innuendo in this movie. Also, I'm going to hold it up to today's standards and say that this movie feels gross at times in terms of women's rights. There's also some stereotypes that are played up that are a might uncomfortable. Regardless, passed.
DIRECTOR: Michael Gordon
I'm back to writing after my scheduled break and I start with...oh right. Pillow Talk. I actually ended up rescuing a bunch of DVDs from my in-laws who were trying to clear up space and, considering that I think of myself as a shelter for unwanted popular culture, I rescued them. When I get new movies, those movies hit the top of the "To-Watch" pile. So when you see a long list of movies that seem to be someone else's personality, you know what is going on. Also, I'm very sleepy.
I've actually seen this movie before. I own it on Laserdisc. But this is the first movie in a Doris Day / Rock Hudson box set and I'm going to watch a better copy of the movie is what's what. I admit. The print of this movie destroys my Laserdisc copy. I also acknowledge that it has been a while since I watched this last. I had the vibe that it was a cute if very forgettable movie. But there was something far less cute about watching Pillow Talk this time. I mean, it had a lot of the elements that I sign up for when watching this specific subgenre of film. It had a couple that was completely mismatched. I love the cast of the movie. It has some decent jokes in there. (Sure, the OB who is searching for a pregnant male seems to be a bit over the top, but I can forgive it.) The color palate is to die for. It just has so much going for it, but the movie might be one of the most telling entries into evidence about why the late fifties were so darn toxic, especially to women.
Pillow Talk shares a lot of the problems that I have with The Taming of the Shrew. I love me some Shakespeare and it is so odd to be teaching Much Ado About Nothing, a play that grounds itself on the notion of male fragility, while trying to convince myself that Shakespeare is somehow progressive. In terms of beats and storytelling, the movie mostly works. But the film hinges on the notion that societal norms are completely unfair to women and that we should be celebrating them. Jan holds her own in society. She sometimes is a little trodden upon, but she is more of an advocate for herself than her female contemporaries. She doesn't put up with Brad's crap, despite the fact that she doesn't narc on his shell game either. And if I'm going make the comparison to Shakespeare, the world around her views her as a little shrewish. But Jan herself is actually pretty bubbly. She lives a life where she doesn't really feel bad that she is unmarried. Because the color scheme of the film is bright and pink and bubbly, Jan's personality matches. A lot of this could probably be attributed to Doris Day, but that's not exactly a problem either.
But Brad doesn't really have a long term plan. This attempt to give him a redemption arc doesn't really make a lot of sense. He has two reasons for seducing Jan. The first is that his friend is really interested in her. He's problematic to say the least with his "No means yes" attitude. But Brad only considers going out with Jan because he knows that she's off the market. Secondly, he does so as a means to humiliate her. The more he plays into that fantasy of Rex Stetson, the greater the impact of the damage that he's going to cause. It's not like he can get out without any repercussions. But he keeps piling on the misdeeds and the lies for his own satisfaction. That's not what love is. There isn't any moment where he's really caring for Jan. He just wants to have this newfound feeling that he has for Jan and wants to avoid the consequences for his actions.
This makes the resolution of the movie all that much more problematic. In an attempt to speak to Jan, who understandably wants nothing to do with him, he hires her to redecorate his apartment. From moment one, the audience is aware that Jan is going to get her revenge in this moment, causing his apartment to be a gaudy mess. Okay, funny gag. But Jan does so because she's angry with him. There's this false equivalency of behavior between sabotaging someone's apartment decor and fully on trying to seduce the other under false pretenses. When she forgives him, it feels like she is forgiving all of mankind for their sexual ownership of women. I mean, he invades her bedroom and she doesn't play coy. It's never a game for her. She straight up tells him that she doesn't want to go with him and to put her down. All along the way, there are these men who are high-fiving Brad's attitude of sexual ownership, despite the fact that she is verbalizing her intentions. A police officer helps him out as he's carrying her to the apartment. It's supposed to be romantic but it is just an affirmation that Brad's choice of lifestyle is the one that should be supported. When she kisses him and likes him for this action, it's the validation of it all that comes across as gross.
But the most depressing scene is the meta context of what Rock Hudson is going through in that moment. There's a scene where Brad starts implying that Rex, his alter ego, is gay for not trying to put the moves on Jan. He flirts with every stereotype, implying that gay men are too obsessed with their mothers and cooking. He does the pinky finger thing while drinking, implying that gay men have to be effeminate. And then there's the real Rock Hudson, having to do that. How humiliating must that have been? He's this closeted dude having to put on this toxic macho crap for people just so he could continue having a career? That's just depressing.
So now I own two copies of this movie in two separate formats. That's probably not my favorite thing in the world. While the movie is kind of watchable, it is also extremely problematic, especially considering where we've come from and where this movie was going. I also don't really know what the audience was for this movie. It looks like a rom-com directed at women, but it also is ribald and plays more towards traditionally male humor. It's just kind of uncomfortable, the more I think about it.
So when Brad starts trying to seduce her, the movie is in direct opposition to its tone. The easy view is to have the movie state "Oh, boys will be boys" or "That's just the way it was back then." But the movie keeps putting smiles on some really bad behavior. For example, Jan is pressured by work to go on a date with Tony. Tony is meant to be the worst. He gets extremely handsy. We're meant to dislike Tony a lot, but the movie doesn't want us to hate him enough to feel vulnerable. If anything, the movie fears the heck out of vulnerability. Tony's sexual assault is often played off for laughs. Because Jan is far more capable of handling herself, Tony's advances come across as buffoonish. Her capability tries to misdirect the reasons that Tony gets rejected. The movie leaves Tony rejected because of his buffoonery, not because he's a rapist and a drunk. When Brad steps in, he's doing something equally toxic to Tony. But Brad is the male hero because he does so with sophistication. Say what you will, but Brad's entire "Rex Stetson" act is an attempt to seduce Jan and leave her. It's only because the movie needs him to fall in love that the story treats him as heroic.
The movie almost keeps putting things in the way to make Brad the villain of the piece. All this is done to give him a redemption arc. But I argue that there isn't a redemption arc and that the film instead answers the problems with a deus ex machina, where Jan erases her personality for the sake of a happy ending. Going back to Much Ado, it really wants that Benedick and Beatrice dynamic, but instead gets something more akin to Sandy by the end of Grease. The story needs a happy ending. We know that Jan is capable of loving Brad because she loves Rex Stetson. (It's a stretch, but that's kind of the point that I am making.)
PG-13 because it is a Marvel movie. There are more intense Marvel movies than others. This is probably one of the more tame ones. My wife pointed out that probably a lot of people died because of the insane amount of violence in the movie. It's all amazingly choreographed fighting, which makes you think that people aren't dying, but they have to be...right? That and the fact that it has typical Marvel swearing. Marvel likes dropping the s-bomb whenever it can and Shang-Chi is no different. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Destin Daniel Cretton
I did it. I went to go see a movie in the theater. I'm not advocating that people go see movies in the theater. Lord knows that if Shang-Chi came out for Disney Premiere Access, I would totally see it there. But it is a week out and we went to a late Monday night show, ensuring that there was practically no one else in the theater. While I don't love watching movies with a mask on, I also really hate people spoiling Marvel movies for me. Luckily, my wife came around on the idea and we played it super cool. Here's me still preaching that films should be available at home, but at least it is something that I could low-key control.
Marvel movies are Marvel movies. I'm still going to say that they're great. I'm still going to swear that no one film has completely dropped the ball. Even the worst of the Marvel movies is still a very watchable film and Shang-Chi lives up to that reputation. Heck, I'm going to even say that Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is straight up great. But I am coming around to the idea that they are starting to distinguish themselves from the other movies in the franchise due to how the directors decide to handle tone. Tone is so important to these movies. It's also remarkably hard to handle. But I'm going to forever think of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, a tank of a title in its own right, as the cute one. I know. It's almost insulting to be referred to as the cute one. But a lot of that comes from the vulnerability that this movie just wears in every scene, especially from the male lead of this movie, Simu Liu. I try not to carry too much personal baggage into a movie before going in, but this is a guy who sees his big break. Liu, for those who have avoided the memes, got his start in stock photography, all of which is coming back to remind him about his humble beginnings. But that underdog quality about him breathes within his character of Shang.
Shang-Chi has always been one of those underdog titles at Marvel. I have a handful of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu comics somewhere in my collection. (I know exactly where. They're under S, for Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu.) But I mostly know about Shang-Chi from his cameo appearances in other people's books. He'll mostly tinker around with Iron Fist and Luke Cage. Sometimes he'll be second-fiddle with a Daredevil-level character. If he's really lucky, he can share a small arc with Spider-Man. But that reputation has that Little Engine that Could quality about it. Shang-Chi was never meant to be a heavy hitter. One could argue the same is true about Guardians of the Galaxy. (Note: My Internet is being a butt again, so links are not going to be available probably.) But Shang-Chi was always someone in someone else's story. He wanted to take down his big crime boss of a father, but not many particularly followed that story.
But Kevin Feige kind of sees potential in these underdogs. Casting someone like Simu Liu across from Tony Leung is the underdog that Shang-Chi is in the greater Marvel Universe. He just seems so earnest up there and it looks like he's having so much fun, despite the fact that this movie had to be incredibly taxing and difficult to pull off. There's this freedom about him that he's not being held up to the standards of a Captain America or a Spider-Man because Shang-Chi probably doesn't have these famous arcs that affect the cultural zeitgeist. Instead, we have it all be about family and fatherhood. (And there's my trigger. We got a handful of paragraphs before I started weeping about my father, didn't I?) But the rest of the film kind of matches the attitude that Simu Liu presents. These are a group of adventures who have rich lives, but just seem happy to be on an adventure. By making Shang / Shawn and Katy valet drivers, it creates this really fun dynamic on why they would be psyched to go on an adventure across dimensions. It has a Bill and Ted attitude without the stupidity behind it.
But Cretton also knows what the heck he's doing behind the camera. I talked about how Shang-Chi is unique in tone and I kind of stand by that. But I also think that Cretton owes a lot to Ryan Coogler and Black Panther in realizing that culture isn't about otherness, but about celebration. The reason that Black Panther resonated as much as it did is that it didn't diminish the role of Black people to victim. Instead, it was a celebration of accomplishment. On screen, Black origins weren't about subjugation. They were about strength and tradition and empowerment. Shang-Chi, the comic, stemmed from the exploitation films of the '60s. Black Panther similarly was a white man writing what he thought that Black people wanted to read. Shang-Chi easily could have been about emotional yellowface. After all, Shang seems to be naturally gifted with the martial arts, an idea that has been passed down in American pop culture for ages. But instead, this movie never tries pretending that white people have to be the gatekeepers of what Asian people can do. It takes the character of the Mandarin, a problematic idea that has been the elephant in the room for two movies, and then allowed there to be a reasonable answer. Instead of making him violent and the product of propaganda, he becomes a husband who misses his wife. Instead of rings on his elongated fingers, he has these powerful weapons that simply enhance his strength. There's all this stuff where the film takes back the mistakes of cultural appropriate and hands it back to the proper audience.
And the choreography! Listen, we have a lot of Marvel movies right now. I can't believe that I won't consider them too many because I'm super jazzed for everything on Marvel's docket right now. I hope I never grow tired or have Marvel fatigue. But there have been some epic fight sequences in this series and I didn't think that a movie could improve on those fight sequences. But the movie really is a triumph of fight choreography. I hate to say it, but some of the fight sequences were emotionally lovely. That sounds goofy and I can't undo that sentence because it is true. That fight between Xu Wenwu and Li was romantic as heck and I didn't see that coming. I tend to think of "rad fight sequences" as detracting from a film, but Shang-Chi really understands the value of movement and spectacle without sacrificing narrative or character.
Yeah, there are moments that are a little cliché, but Marvel gets it overall. The return of Trevor Slattery is one of my favorite decisions. I know that Trevor upset people in Iron Man 3, but I love that Marvel is not apologizing for him in any way. He's such a good character and putting him as this dumb white guy in the middle of an Asian heavy movie is just a brilliant move. Everything in the movie works. Right now, I'm going out of my way to praise Akwafina as well. I have nothing specifically to say besides the fact that she is great and I don't think I've ever rooted for a romantic love interest in future movies than I did with Katy and Shang. I do hope that future films play this concept up, along with the potential for Xialing to play a villain in upcoming films. But the movie absolutely slaps. It's a pretty great Marvel movie and I'm still on board.
That being said, please release them at home. The theater is a dangerous place!
R for being an extremely violent and kind of gory horror movie. It's not trying for the PG-13 at any point, so it goes for the gross out humor from time-to-time. Similarly, Gabriel decides to use brute force for many of his kills, leaving absolutely destroyed bodies. There's some other things that have to do with spoilers, but it is all tied to gore and uncomfortable imagery. R.
DIRECTOR: James Wan
Okay, guys. Okay. Breathe in. Breathe out. If you are reading this blog after having seen this movie, there's a good chance that you absolutely love it or absolutely hate it. This is one of those movies that might not have a middle ground. Me? I'm on the love it side. That's not to say that it is a perfect movie. Oh, heck no. This movie is far from being a perfect movie. But I had such a good time watching this movie that I audibly guffawed and applauded moments, which a horror movie hasn't done for me in quite a while.
The thing is, two separate people had asked me if I had seen this movie the Monday after it came out. And both of them were assured that I would absolutely hate it. Do you know what I say to both of those people? Thank you. This is an un-ironic bit of thanks to two separate individuals who thought of me the second that they saw this movie and wanted to engage me about it after viewing it. It made my day. But even moreso, it got me prepped for a viewing experience that was rare. Because the thing is, there was a good chance that I was going to hate it. All it would have taken was a slightly different day and I would have gone from being all-in to heck-no in one quick move. Yeah, film probably shouldn't be that subjective, but it is sometimes. What happened was two things: 1) I lowered my expectations way lower than I previously had from seeing the trailer and 2) I was now curious what the heck that they were talking about. Because Malignant lives or dies based on the reveal in the final act. That last act is tonally so much different than everything else in the movie that I forgot that movies were allowed to do that.
Because I grew up watching now-unwatchable movies like Sleepaway Camp. (I desperately don't want to revisit this movie based on my politics at 38.) But there was a sense of fun to a lot of horror movies. Sometimes these were good horror movies, but often they were pretty dumb. I still will watch Friday the 13th 3D because of how shameless it is. But horror movies have taken themselves so seriously. I probably blame Saw for this attitude. Saw, as enjoyable as the first movie actually is, has very little fun to it. It is about scares-per-minute. They want to terrify the audience enough to have the movie spread through word of mouth. And I get that. It's the same reason that I swore that The Exorcist was one of the greatest movies ever. But there is a specific emotional experience that comes from laughing in the face of danger and Malignant is that. Now, this isn't to say that Malignant has comedy in it. Nope. The movie has that kind of comedy that embraces how serious the film actually is. (I know, I sound like a hypocrite right now.) Some comedies wink to the audience. However, there's nothing funny to the characters in the film. Instead, the movie leans heavily into an absurd premise and refuses to tip its hand at any point.
That is brilliant. That is seven levels of brilliant. I never thought that it would come from James Wan. Listen, I often have fun at James Wan movies, but I don't particularly love them. They are good scares and there's something very faux-retro about many of his films. But Wan played up to his own expectations in this one. Being the king of the jump-scare, this movie felt like just more of the same. When the two people told me that there was a huge twist in this one, I thought it was going to go the way of Split and connect itself to another franchise. Instead, I got this gonzo ending of MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT: a living tumor that overrides the body and kills people backwards. That moment, when the reveal happens, is one of the most perfect absurdity moments that I've seen in film for a while. Because Wan knows what the expectation for an answer was, having that answer poking the audience in the face (I mean, the title alone!) is just such a joyful moment of "Gotcha!" that I forgave what ultimately should have been a pretty boring horror movie.
It's that defiance of expectations that sells the film in every way possible. The movie knows the old cliché tropes that we see in every horror and suspense film. Madison, who can see the murder, is subconsciously killing people. No one believes that the little girl is capable of murder, but that usually ends up being true. No, the movie really continues to double down on this notion and it just seems hack for a lot of the movie. So when the movie decides to abandon all sense of reality and reason, making Gabriel a fetal twin that cracks his way out of Madison's head, it becomes this bonkers reward because he dared do what few people would. This is the horror film of the '90s, only kept wildly secret throughout the film as a whole. Is it perfect? Probably not. The electricity thing I have to squint at for the duration of the film. But is it effective? Totally.
Because Gabriel's movements are bizarre as heck throughout. Those movements are James Wan's bread and butter and it shows that he might be one of the only people who could effectively capture the surreal nature of Gabriel, especially when it came to movement. Sure, the Garbriel chase sequence at the end goes a little too long. I can't even fight that. I kind of wish the final scene took place inside the prison cell, but that's small potatoes. (Also, I wouldn't have had the sheer delight of watching Gabriel launch a chair across a police station effortlessly taking out the hero cops towards the end.) Watching that scene is like the goofy dance that I've always wanted to direct. It's well-choreographed. It's terrifying. But most of all, it is the most silly thing that I've seen on screen since Sleepaway Camp. (I need to stop making that comparison because that movie is toxic as get-out in retrospect.) I love having fun at horror movies. That was why I enjoyed them in the first place. Movies like Scream and Halloween loved the idea that this was a universe where there was fun to be had while dealing with the terrifying, but I think we've kind of come away from that attitude a bit with some of the movies that have been coming out in the genre. I mean, we have some greats, like Jordan Peele, doing what he does. But very few people acknowledge that horror is allowed to be a little campy without full on winking to the audience.
That's what Malignant is. It is a welcome send up to the era of horror movies that loved to just be silly at times. And the insane part is that it is genuinely disturbing and scary at times, so it can't be faulted for that. I can see why some people would hate it. Like I said, all it would take is a different attitude going in to make me hate it. After all, it breaks its own rules of what is acceptable as an answer and that the answer is almost unguessable. But that doesn't matter to me. Because the title just laughed in my face and that the opening credit sequence was more than meets the eye, I fell in love. This was a great film and I know that I might be alone in celebrating it.
PG-13, which is a lot for a Disney movie. Yeah, I know that the Marvel movies are all PG-13, but that's the Marvel movies. This is a live-action adaptation of a character from 101 Dalmatians. I suppose that there are some scary things in this. I was ready to turn it off at any point, the way I heard other people talking. But really, it's mostly tame. There's death and murder, which is probably why it got the PG-13 rating. There's also some smoking (I think!) and drinking (I know!). Regardless, it's a lot more tame than I was prepped for. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Craig Gillespie
Man, I read this movie wrong. I'm going to gush over it for a while. Maybe I won't. I'm floundering about the tone of this blog, because it is a movie that I really liked that has one real major problem with it. I suppose I'm apologizing for a blog that I haven't written because I can see my own faults cropping up. I'm also writing against the clock because I never feel like writing and my anxiety is at a 7 right now. No matter what I write, be aware that this a movie that I really enjoyed that has one big flaw sitting in the middle of it.
Craig Gillespie might be a really talented dude. A few years ago, I Tonya ended up blowing my mind. (Note: my Internet is trash, so if the links aren't working...my apologies.) It was a movie that nailed a very specific tone coupled with a good story. Cruella is a masterpiece of tone. I always feel like Cruella De Vil was one of the weaker Disney villains. Yeah, she was scary, but she was so over-the-top that she would be considered unsympathetic. Keep in mind, I have a hard time marrying Emma Stone's Cruella to the one from the film, if for no other reason than age. But the goal of these Disney Villains movies is to make these wildly unsympathetic villains the heroes of their own stories. I have really mixed feelings about Maleficent and its sequel. I've talked about this before (and you could read about that if the Internet was worth a darn). But because Gillespie made this pop punk-toned joy ride, it makes it so much easier for the audience to bond with the characters of the piece. It's the Brit punk attitude that you are watching that does the heavy lifting in terms of making the characters interesting. Because there's this rock n' roll attitude throughout that makes fashion seem --God forbid --kind of cool.
Cruella can easily have been Anne Hathaway's character from The Devil Wears Prada (which I can't really judge because I haven't seen that movie) (I know, right?!). But there's rebelliousness woven into every element to Cruella. Instead of going from mousey to fashionista, the film does something that I wouldn't have dared to do: it only gave her a small nudge. Cruella starts the film as amoral. She has been dealt a bad hand, but she's the kind of character who continually makes her own life harder given every opportunity. It has this message of privilege that runs through it and how Cruella, with the world out to get her, stirs up these moments of self-sabotage that lead her to traumatic moments. I adore the fact that she mentally differentiates between Estella and Cruella and that attempt to be a good person is part of the character's motivation. It plays up that notion that superhero movies have dealt with for a while, asking "Who is the mask and who is the character?" With this film, the film gives it away with the eponymous answer, implying that Cruella is the person that Estella is at her core. But the movie then takes it a step further and implies that our read of Cruella isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps there are toxic elements to the Cruella persona, but overall she's the healthiest element of the person.
The movie embraces the heck out of the nature over nurture debate. Because this is a story about defining oneself over genetics, given the fact that the Baroness is Cruella's mother, it does become something of a matter of overcoming something great. We never have that moment where Cruella is forced to adopt the traits of the Baroness despite being raised by a foster mother. But it does make it this odd decision to have Cruella out-Baroness her own mother, despite the fact that there's a kinda / sorta moral good that comes out of it. It is in this moment that I kind of wonder if Cruella is in the moral right. We all feel this sense of injustice with the Baroness acting as the villain of the piece. Because Cruella represents the lower-class, encapsulated in the fact that Cruella's far superior fashion sense is made of literal garbage and newspaper, we are instantly drawn to Cruella's plight. But the bigger thing is that we sympathize with her because the Baroness orphaned Cruella multiple times throughout the story. But that doesn't necessarily make Cruella's narrative one of good. It really comes down to a villain versus anti-hero fight. Cruella and her cronies are the only ones who really benefit from Cruella's plan to unseat the Baroness. She is the one who ends up with the big house and a fashion empire. While she isn't outright evil towards the Darling family in this one, we do understand that she is willing to scorch the Earth to get what she wants. So maybe this isn't the tale of Cruella being the hero. It's just unmaking her the villain of the piece.
But I started this whole thing apologizing for having one really big hangup about the movie: it makes the same mistake that Maleficent did. I don't think that I cared for either one of those movies. My feelings right now is that I didn't really love it, so let's just go with that. But Maleficent's mission statement was to contextualize the eponymous villain by making her the hero of her own narrative. By seeing her from another perspective, it justifies her actions in Sleeping Beauty. Okay, that's a cool plan. It wanted to do Wicked with Disney stuff. (Note: As much as I love Wicked, the same thing kind of happens.) But the thing is, to do this, you need to make someone else the villain. On top of that, the villain needs to fill the role that the anti-hero protagonist now fills. It really bothered me with Maleficent because the villains in that piece had to be so over-the-top evil to make Maleficent seem morally justified to do what she does. Also, it asks us to ignore major element of the original story, leading up to a form of retcon. With the fantasy nature of Maleficent, characters are encouraged to be monsters. But with Cruella, which seems to take place in a heightened version of reality, it becomes a little bit easier to stomach. The Baroness is just Cruella de Vil from the original 101 Dalmatians with a little more backstory. So both movies run into the same problem. They ask us to understand that villains are complex and have reasons for acting the way they do, but then provide new characters that acted just like the old characters.
But in terms of good time, Cruella completely delivers. It's got this absolutely smashing soundtrack that, unfortunately, probably could be found on the Austin Powers soundtracks. It looked absolutely rad throughout, giving the movie this false sense of non-corporate glee. It made me kind of / sort of care about fashion because it embraced the passion of the entire thing. It's an entertaining movie that just has a big flaw in the middle of it. But if you go into with knowing that you are going to have a good time, it delivers on what your expectations are going to be.
The Grey (2011)
Rated R for horror mostly, involving wolves --you know --eating people. But the movie as a whole tends to be pretty brutal and vulgar. The setting stresses that the characters who are bunched together tend to be the worst of humanity. This is a place where people pride themselves on toxic masculinity and language. While every character isn't necessarily the worst, expect some pretty gross conversations. The protagonist also is suicidal, which should be considered before watching the movie. R.
DIRECTOR: Joe Carnahan
Do you know why I watched this movie? I mean, I do. It's not like I own it or have seen it before. It's not on any list that I can think of. It wasn't an impulse rental. Nope. Dan Harmon regularly makes reference to this movie on Harmontown and my little FOMO brain can't help but get all of the references. That's probably a healthy reason to sit down and watch a movie about Liam Neeson trying to escape from killer wolves, right?
The crazy thing is...I really liked it? I tend to not like things on principle. It's a horrible trait and I need to probably look to that. As much as I advocate for people to unabashedly love what they love, there's always a part of me that is shooting for street cred. It's the reason that I don't lose my mind for pumpkin spice season. Pumpkin spice is delicious, but it doesn't need any more attention from me. That's the insecurity that's overshadowing my watch of The Grey. I realized that The Grey is hitting a very specific subgenre of survival film. I had this epiphany with my recent rewatching of Aliens. I've always vocalized my complete respect and love of the OG Jurassic Park and then discovered that Aliens and Jurassic Park have a lot in common. These are the movies where the villain isn't one thing. It is the notion that packs of killers may completely outrun our heroes and pick them off one-by-one. In the process of that stealthy form of super-killer, the survivors learn about the value of life and fight for that life against all odds.
Now, Jurassic Park and, dare I say it, Aliens are both pretty smart versions of that story. They're smarter than The Grey, which embraces the survival horror element of the story harder than the aforementioned films. Both of those movies complicate their narratives with complex political and socioeconomic subplots that make them surpass their own summer blockbuster formulae. But The Grey is very okay with making this about character and I realized...that I kind of works too. Jurassic Park and Aliens allow for this amazing character growth, but sometimes a film doesn't need to be as rich and nuanced as those films. Instead, The Grey takes these stock archetypes and tries building them into something worth watching.
A lot of these characters seem like action movie caricatures, something found in a LionsGate film. (I'll keep poking that bear as long as I can.) But as the film starts weeding out some of those characters, the movie focuses on what happens when artifice starts disappearing in the face of imminent death. Sure, you have Ottway who seems pretty static. His internal conflict is about a kind of thin suicide attempt that he's now abandoned for the sake of ensuring the survival of his new pack. His isolation gone, he quickly finds a need to live not for himself but for others. The thing about it is that when the suicide attempt from the beginning of the movie is called back, I kind of forgot about it because the secondary characters became far more interesting. If anything, Ottway became this odd avatar character for us, despite the fact that he had more knowledge than the audience did about surviving wolf attacks. He was so stable and we quickly could see the rest of the survivors getting picked off one-by-one that it became about knowing the fears and concerns of the individuals. They had to make these leaps in growth that Ottway had to do with his bargaining with God.
It's in writing this that I wonder if Ottway is the reason that we're watching the movie. Ottway actually seems to have his internal conflict thrown in our faces. There's this implication that Ottway may have been a man of faith before the death of his wife, but that's never made clear until it becomes brutally clear. I wish I could say that this was the story of a man running from God only to find a crisis moment that he needed to overcome. Honestly, to continue this point, I'm not sure what The Grey's message is about faith and God. This movie feels crazy cynical about God and the power of belief. But also, the fact that Ottway even yells out to God in the woods is telling that there's that mustard seed of faith. It also might be this really telling story about how God is not a magician and that yelling at God won't get you what you need. It's that faith that always interests me. Heck, it might be my favorite element of the film because Carnahan doesn't give us an easy answer. Setting aside that the theme of faith and death should have been set up from the beginning of the movie, it is because Carnahan refuses to spoonfeed the audience an answer that it becomes interesting.
Because from an atheist's point of view, Ottway is ignored by his pleas to God. When Ottway yells through the trees to God and bargains his faith against his survival, there's no response. If anything, the movie's extremely ambiguous ending of Ottway going square against the wolves implies that it can go any way, with the wolves having a distinct non-Hollywood advantage. But Ottway's very fight for his survival, despite being completely overwhelmed, might contain the message of "God helps those who help themselves." I honestly can't see Ottway winning that final fight in any way that wouldn't involve a miracle. Yet, if Carnahan had shown us the result of Ottway's battle with the wolves (besides being rad), it would have been wildly depressing or corny inspirational. If anything, Carnahan is pointing the camera back at the audience and allowing them to decide not only Ottway's fate, but the existence of God. Those scenes juxtaposed back-to-back act as a mirror to the message of faith. He stood on the shoulder of every skeptic finding faith movie and asked whether that is how reality is.
And there is no right answer. This movie is either the skeptics thesis statement or it is asking viewers to believe that there is a God who would throw Daniel into the lions' den, only to have him emerge righteous. I can't help but think that Neeson must embrace this character choice because that same cynicism can be seen in Silence. He's this guy who wrestles with the role of God in the universe and that's really interesting because neither character offers easy answers.
Sure it is a great action survival movie, even if it is extremely straightforward. Carnahan's use of hallucination is gorgeous and the wolves are absolutely terrifying. He has all of these little moments that allow the hunt and desperation for survival to end with these dark catharses. But that's what made the movie super fun to watch. I dug it when I thought that I wouldn't. That's something.
Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)
TV-MA. I thought that Netflix stopped rating their movies with the TV scale and shifted towards the MPA version of ratings. I mean, this is another true crime documentary. Perhaps the only thing that makes it a little bit more questionable is that this is gangland murders. That means that there are a lot of personalities that use foul language regularly and discuss drugs and sexual actions pretty casually. It's not like these things should be considered worse than murder, but it's something to consider.
DIRECTOR: Fredrick Munk
My wife thinks that I might be OCD. Like, actually OCD. I might have a functional form of OCD. I just really get these dopamine rushes by being able to meet goals and ensure organization. I don't know if that makes me OCD, but I can kind of see where she's coming from when it comes to Why Did You Kill Me? I remember seeing the trailer thinking, "Oh, my wife would really like this movie." I put it on. My wife claims that it wasn't grabbing her attention. So Why Did You Kill Me? ended up sitting on my Netflix "Continue watching..." list. I can't have that, can I? So I finished it, even though I started it for my wife.
I remember when the idea of a true crime doc was going to be the talking point of the season. These are the halcyon days of Making a Murderer season one and the first season of the Serial podcast. We're at a point of the cultural zeitgeist where we have commentary on true crime, long-form storytelling. There might have been a time when Why Did You Kill Me? could have changed the world. Munk has something of an interesting voice when it comes to directing and presenting documentary footage. But the actual content of Why Did You Kill Me? seems like a bit of a con. The movie rests so intensely on the notion of MySpace being used to catch a killer. It is one of those rare stories of Catfishing being used in a positive way. But then the movie isn't necessarily centered on the social media element of investigation, is it?
That's the problem. The trailer and the title kind of lie to create a sense of expectation that would be a really cool gimmick. The trailer presented this world where a gang slew a girl and a social media wiz decided to haunt these gang members through a digital ghost. There's an element to that, to be sure. But the story is actually a pretty cut and dry murder case. The digital ghostery is actually a pretty minor element. So the movie is almost lying about its own identity (ironic in a movie that claims to be about Catfishing). I can't deny that the intervention that the family presented with the creation of two separate MySpace accounts took a case that was becoming stagnant and reinvigorated it. That part is super interesting. But what the real story versus the expected story is night and day. This is a tale of a family that is poking a bear throughout the film and got lucky enough to survive the whole thing.
I don't think I've ever been in a situation where the mother of the victim became so unsympathetic at times. I mean, that's a bit harsh. I can't even imagine what it would be like to lose a child. But the movie, if it wasn't for the MySpace element to it, could have had a much deeper, less predatory message when it came to Belinda Lane. Belinda, in the movie, is presented as pretty self-sabotaging. Because of her criminal record involving selling / using drugs, Belinda is skeptical of police help from moment one. (I'm going to get to a point about this in a second.) She and her sons keep making these toxic decisions about finding justice for Crystal that, by the time that the social media element shows up, they have completely made the case unsolvable. The MySpace idea doesn't come across as something brave and clever. Rather, it seems like a last ditch effort in a long scheme of really bad ideas. The only difference is that the MySpace idea worked to get more leads.
But this is where the documentary should have been focused. If the story wasn't so desperate to find its niche with the social media hook, there's actually an interesting social commentary going on there. What the documentary should have been about is the balance between finding justice for a daughter, completely innocent in a gangland killer, to maintaining an earned distrust of the police. The movie often tries painting Belinda as the aging, grieving mother. But every time she talks, she says something that is so toxic and unhealthy, that we are forced to fill in blanks for her. For example, the movie really speeds through Belinda's lying when interviewed. She refuses to speak to any police immediately after Crystal is killed. This is a moment of trauma and identity crisis. She was high when Crystal was killed and fell back to old habits of distrusting law enforcement. There's a story there. Similarly, Belinda's sons are in the same boat. One of Belinda's sons may have accidentally started the chain of events that led to Crystal's death. However, because of institutional poverty, the police were working from a perspective of pure fiction and that's the time that Crystal's murderers should have been investigated.
Or the film should have marketed itself as the gangland true crime story. (I'm really harping on the Internet choice as the weakest choice.) The most interesting thing that this movie pulled off was its examination of what it meant to be in a gang. Other stories have covered this, but the idea that gangs as institutions with predatory rules is actually spelled out quite well. Any time that there is an interview with a member of the gang, there's some real insight to how quickly things spiraled out of control the evening of Crystal's murder. God forbid, the movie actually had me garner sympathy for members of this gang who were involved in the shooting. There are monsters inside these gangs, but the film really stresses how these are mental toddlers who are over their heads, simply wanting acceptance and family, regardless of how evil that family might be. Belinda really wanted to murder this entire gang and she's fighting for Jokes' arrest. But really, Jokes seems like this guy who has this corrupted moral code that he doesn't really understand the severity of his actions in the death of this woman.
Similarly, there's the story of the two brothers who end up testifying against the 5150 gang. There's this story of how they understand that their lives are thrown into complete turmoil because the police investigated them looking for a connection. It's in that moment that their parents' house is burned down because they might have talked. The 5150s didn't even know if Manuel Lemus testified or not. They simply burned down the house. That's something. The movie contains this come-to-Jesus moment and it does nothing really with it because it really wants to connect to the Catfishing element. It's such a misstep. I shouldn't be leaving a true crime documentary bonding more with the gang members because there's more story and less with the victim's family, simply because the movie wanted to go against the current that the story tried taking naturally.
Geez, that's the whole problem, isn't it? Documentaries are meant to tell the stories they want to tell. Instead, this is a documentary that is trying to market itself against its own nature. Maybe the catfishing is what brought the idea to Munk's door, but the actual footage wanted to tell something very different. The movie wanted to be a story of loyalty and the dangers of poverty. But instead, we got a kind of forgettable doc that doesn't sell its central conceit.
Enter the Dragon (1973)
Rated R for intense violence, often resulting in death and some really over-the-top unnecessary nudity. The movie is an exploitation film, but it seems to normalize absolutely abhorrent behavior. While being a story of good versus evil, especially when it comes to condemning the drug trade, it allows its protagonists to enjoy vice with a bit of a wink and a smile, which is more problematic than straight up demonizing bad behavior. R.
DIRECTOR: Robert Clouse
I saw this one before! Sure, it's the one that tends to skew American because it was released by Warner Brothers and is exclusively in English. But I knew this one. And there's something that makes me a little uncomfortable. The first time that I watched Enter the Dragon, it blew my mind. Kind of. It kind of blew my mind. It blew my mind enough to say, "I really like this movie and you should watch it." But I never watched it again. But now I own this Bruce Lee box set from Criterion and I have seen a few of Bruce Lee's movies. And the thing I realized is that, despite being the the most enjoyable of the group, it still isn't the great movie that I remember.
Yeah, I said it. I might be so basic that I say that Enter the Dragon is Lee's best film (so far). People love saying that his Hong Kong / China productions are the amazing ones. I don't know about that. I mean, I really had a good time with the first one. But the production value on this one compared to the others is so much better. It's not like it is even that good, especially compared to the things that its stealing from. But this feels like a real movie for the most part. Maybe it is the inclusion of John Saxon and Jim Kelly. I don't know. But it does feel like Warner Brothers is at least paying for a portion of this movie. There's expectations that this would be playing in cinemas across the country. But it also still has a garage band feel to it as well. There are corners cut. You know, these are the scenes where the production either didn't care or just had to save money. I'm talking about scenes like the briefing room for the shadowy, ambiguous organization that isn't the CIA or the NSA, but like those organizations. Having Bruce Lee sit on a couch across from a low-rent version of Bernard Lee's M is really telling about what the movie considers important.
But there wouldn't be stuff like Mortal Kombat without Enter the Dragon. I will go out on a limb and emphatically state that Enter the Dragon is the best Mortal Kombat movie. It somehow works so much better without the supernatural stuff that the genre continues to infuse. I mean, I don't know if the movie really needs the plot being a coverup for a drug distribution ring. But movies like Enter the Dragon and Mortal Kombat --movies that rely on a martial arts tournament as a foundational element --almost shouldn't be movies. (This is from a guy who kind of likes this movie!) I realized in this second viewing that almost none of the scenes need to be in the movie. Everything that is in the film is an attempt to get this to bare-minimum movie length. The drug element was an attempt to mirror the obsession with exploitation cinema of the era. We couldn't just have a movie where there was a martial arts tournament run by a psychopath. No, there needs to be that hidden drug ring. You know, that old chestnut. It keeps happening. Live and Let Die, another movie that is Inception-level mimicking does the same thing. (I say that because exploitation films want to be James Bond movies. A James Bond movie, in turn, wants to be an exploitation film.)
But Bruce Lee is no James Bond. The film gives Lee a goal, to find revenge for his sister's death. Realizing that this makes Lee another unlikable character in a bevy of unlikable characters, they had to give him this secret agent element. After all, he fulfills his personal story ends when he kills Oharra (which I feel like was meant to be spelled O'Hara.) From there, Enter the Dragon simply follows the Bond formula. Lee sneaks out, investigates, finds a madman's underground criminal organization (which in this case, is painfully underfunded). He then fights the big henchman before confronting the big bad of the movie. There's a big army fight. In this case, it can't be the actual army because the actual army has guns and would mow down kung fu masters very quickly. Those helicopters arrive too late. But it's nice to know that they are trying to complete the Bond formula pretty hard. I mean, the movie does create these heroes, but only Lee comes across as completely noble.
The biggest problem I have with the protagonists is their complicity with sex slavery. I'm rewatching the Sean Connery Bond movies for the millionth time, but I'm thinking about the sexual politics of them all for the first time in depth. There was this celebration of women having to offer sexuality to men without choice during the era. It's really gross by today's standards. But I think that the movie subconsciously gets that in these movies because Lee doesn't partake. Williams and Roper do. (I mean, I like Williams because he's Jim Kelly and I really ironically love Black Samurai.) But it is gross. Roper, I'm not sure if his entire purpose is to have an ambiguous character arc. He's this gambling addict who keeps looking after himself, but he is unable to cross certain boundaries. The movie leaves him in this place where he's on the side of the angels, but we're not really sure what that means. He's morality is almost completely based on his survival. Because he chose the moral good, the moral thing to do would be to survive so that Han can't get away with what he's doing. It's all very muddied.
But I keep saying I kind of like this movie. Again, I like it less than I did the first time I watched it. But it does feel really fun at times. It's weird to see Bruce Lee speaking English fluently throughout. I don't know the story of Bruce Lee and language. The back of my brain is screaming that he lived in San Francisco for a while, which would explain why he's so open to making an American movie. But I don't know why America embraced the heck out of Enter the Dragon so darned much. Like, it's like many of the exploitation films that were coming out at the time. And Lee is super impressive with some of these stunts and choreography. But I don't know what makes it special. Maybe it's just because I've seen so much exploitation at this point that this becomes less special. But that could be some people haven't seen anything like this, especially in today's society. It is a welcoming movie to a whole subgenre of film and I get that. But when you've seen a ton of similar movies, Enter the Dragon only just becomes okay.
Rated PG-13 for violence and mild sexuality. It's an extremely tame noir that almost tries not to push the limit on anything for the sake of a PG-13 rating. While there is violence and death, the violence and death either happens off screen or in non-gory ways. There's a guy who burns to death, but even that is tempered for the most part. I suppose there is some language and the movie really casually deals with the notion of drug addiction and police corruption. It takes a hard stance on nothing. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Lisa Joy
There's nothing like having to write about a blah movie. I know that people had warned me about how this was a blah movie. I read reviews, all saying that the movie was trying to do too much and not accomplishing a lot of it. And do you know what? That's all true. It's all accurate. Reminiscence, despite having a cool concept behind it, is going to be one of those really forgettable movies that I'll have to be reminded about this time next year. I would sooner say that I would watch a bad movie than a blah movie because at least I have strong opinions about a bad movie and I could be outright wrong about the movie being bad. (Hence, my fear to watch Man of Steel again.)
My mother-in-law (who is actually watching my kids right now) said that there were a bunch of references to classic cinema. I thought that could keep me going through a movie that just felt like a slog. (I'm really coming down hard on this movie that was merely okay.) Yeah, there's some Blade Runner in there. It's heavily influenced by Inception. But the entire thing is just supposed to be another sci-fi noir. Director Lisa Joy mostly is successful at getting the vibe. Hugh Jackman is the protagonist in black, narrating his way through a missing person's case. I know that there's a version of Blade Runner where Harrison Ford does the voiceover for the film and it is considered less successful than the other versions of the film. But the voiceover that is supposed to be a harkening call to the noir of yesteryear actually might be the biggest red flag of the film. It's not that films can't work with a narrator. I think that there's some amazing film that use the voiceover effectively. It's just that it point out something that is really problematic with the film as a whole.
The film can't stop trying to drop more exposition. Nothing feels normal about the world of Reminiscence. We want to believe that this is a world in our near future where the water level has risen and that society is on the verge of collapse. Trust me, there's something there in the water and the rioting, just not in this movie. But the movie is trying to sell me on a really high concept idea, the notion of memory being used as therapy, entertainment, and law enforcement. But the movie doesn't just want to sell me on an idea involving this technology. It wants me to solve a murder using this technology as well. It's not the first time that this has happened in sci-fi noir. I can't help but flash to Minority Report with the same notion. But what happens in Reminiscence is that every line of discussion is tying back to the main story. Nick is never in the present. Considering that the movie's themes deal with the dangers of nostalgia, we never really get to know who Nick is now. We know who he used to be. We know what other people think of him. But everything is him explaining what the technology of the world is.
I often was told in my theatre classes about showing, not telling. I was told the same thing in my writing classes. It is a difficult job. Considering how much of the movie is founded on the visual elements of storytelling, a world where the waters are encroaching and that people walk through flooding for the bulk of the film; a world where memories are projected on a stage, the story keeps just telling me what I'm seeing and what character motivations there are. For some reason, it is important that Nick Bannister is a veteran of a war that we don't ever really emotionally understand. Like Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly and Serenity, he is a respected loser of a war that was about the people. But we never really get to experience that. It's ironic, because the movie creates the technology to show us what that war would have looked like. We could have emotionally bonded with this character, along with his partner Watts, by letting us experience this war. Instead, every interaction is either about finding out where Mae is, discussing the nuances of Nick's made up job, or reminding us about a backstory that probably should have been kept an acting exercise as opposed to explained ad nauseum.
What's funny --and I can't believe that this is the route I want to take --is that Reminiscence might work way better as a television show. I'm not saying that it is going to be a TV show, but you heard it here first if it does become one. This movie is so darned ambitious. It is obsessed with its own world building that it is getting in the way of character and plot. I wouldn't hate watching a story about a world where global warming is destroying epicenters of America. I would love to see a world where there is a delicate social balance between the haves and have-nots. I love the 1940s aesthetic to everything and I like the idea that nostalgia can be monetized. But this movie had a goal: tell the story of Mae, a woman who seduced the protagonist for a purpose, and her disappearance. Instead, we get a lot of characters who simply vomit up stories because we need to get Nick from location to location in an overly efficient matter because the story needs to be less than two hours.
The theme of the film is a condemnation of nostalgia. Every time someone gets in the tank, Watts either comments or makes a face wondering what people get out of that machine. We get that, despite the fact that Nick criticizes Mae for her drug addiction, he is addicted to the machine itself. But what is actually the danger of being addicted to the past? We have characters, like Tamara Sylvan, who have used their enormous wealth to live in the past. But Nick and Watts seem to have it pretty crummy. Emma (?) I think has it pretty crummy. Whenever they are in the present, the world stomps down on them. The idea of seeing a loved one again in a contained environment doesn't seem like that bad an idea. Watts keeps throwing around the phrase" getting burned", implying that there's a toxic element to the process of going into the machine. But the bittersweet ending to the movie seems like it isn't that bad being stuck in the tank. (Note: that seems like a really expensive way to prison reform.)
So it's blah. I wanted it to be good. I wanted it to be really good. But it's another one of those watches that I viewed because HBO Max has movies that are in theaters. Instead, I just got something that is insanely forgettable, despite being kind of pretty.
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.