Not rated. Now, normally, I would stress that technically this is about a serial killer, but in the lightest, most tongue-in-cheek way possible. But then, the movie just casually drops three n-bombs in the final few minutes of the movie. The fact that the movie is so lackadaisical about evil acts almost buries the fact that 1949 England was just casually racist. I suppose that the main characters also carry on affairs, but after all that, does it even matter? Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Robert Hamer
I've seen it before. Let's get that out of the way first. I feel there might be judgy eyes. You know what? Kind Hearts and Coronets is a deep cut for most audiences. Don't you judge me. I'm just getting around to watching my copy, which I bought two years ago. That's the real travesty. I hate not watching things that I own. I know that it was two years ago because one of my students really wanted to watch this movie as we were studying the Ealing studio. I then thought how much I needed this in my collection because I'm a real cool guy. I tended to show the Patton Oswalt intro on TCM about this movie and reminded myself on how much I liked it. But after seeing the Patton Oswalt intro more than I had seen the original movie, maybe I disagree with Oswalt because my memory wasn't fresh.
I'm not the biggest fan of Ealing Comedies. I know. That's borderline blasphemy in the film nerd world. They're just so intensely British. Listen, the British revolutionized comedy. I consider myself to be more than an anglophile. I consider myself to be a zealot. But the Ealing comedy era was such a specific brand of comedy. It was so British that an American can barely relate to it. It's funny, because as I write that, I think of how much Walt Disney movies were influenced by movies like Kind Hearts and Coronets. I mean, they borderline have the same narrator. But these movies are about the aristocracy. Now, I'm admitting that these movies are taking the mickey out of the aristocracy. But it doesn't feel like this movie is about the common man taking a swing at the upper class. It feels like a bit of a roast. They all seem to be making fun of themselves. That's no fun, is it? Well, it's a little fun because I'm decently well off and really am trying. But it takes a minute to get into the movie itself as a piece of entertainment. I mean, when it takes a minute...IT TAKES A MINUTE.
About 40 minutes in, that's when I started to like the movie. It was never bad. It's just so incredibly dry and British. The beginning of the film establishes Mazzini as a sympathetic character. It's funny. The entire movie is about revenge for his family being slighted by the D'Ascoynes. But even as his most rage filled, he's got that proper British stiff upper lip. That's what Ealing is shooting for. Part of that is the gag itself. The very nature of me pointing it out means that I'm not really getting the joke. I am. I just have a hard time relating to it because it's something that we can't really comment on here. For all of the brutality that this movie has, it's always done in the proper gentlemanly fashion. After a while, the joke really starts to land. What it doesn't do, unfortunately, is give us much insight into Louis's true thoughts about every member of the D'Ascoyne family. We have the narration for that, but the movie is actually quite short considering how many murders Louis has to prepare for.
Oswalt found this movie hilarious. The man is smarter than I am. He's one of those uber-geniuses that I could only aspire to. (Either that, or his impostor syndrome is on point.) I do acknowledge that it is great. Once you get into it, you start to manage expectations. It's a little bit like Shakespeare or The Wire; it takes some getting used to. But once that happens, you acknowledge it as being a great movie. I just never get the sense of hilarity that he testifies to. Humor, incredibly subjective. But he also talks about Alec Guinness, especially when it comes to his many facets / faces. I bow to Sir Alec Guinness in this movie. He makes the movie. But I am weirded out by Oswalt's testimony about Lady D'Ascoyne. She's barely a character in the movie. He talks about how these D'Ascoynes are one worse than the next. Instead, I actually read the movie quite differently. Instead of viewing the D'Ascoynes as deserving of their morbid fates, I kind of view the D'Ascoynes as typical terrible characters in an already terrible world.
The D'Ascoynes are monsters in the first act. Refusing to let Louis into the family and denying Louis's mother the right to be buried on the land is harsh. When Louis describes them, they sound absolutely awful. But when we meet them, often they are quasi-sympathetic. Not always. The first assassinated D'Ascoyne lives up to his reputation. Louis dispatching Sir. Ascoyne D'Ascoyne almost sets up a precident to how these D'Ascoynes are going to act. And I really should be watching this Patton Oswalt intro again because I remember him implying that Louis would have difficulty killing Henry D'Ascoyne, the most lovable of the bunch. I don't ever sense a moment of hesitation from Louis, despite the fact that Henry is just a nice guy who drinks in secret. Once Sir Ascoyne D'Ascoyne is murdered, all of the rest seem almost likable, with the exception of the patriarch of the family whom you can take or leave. The shift of morality seems to sway from the seemingly evil D'Ascoynes to the protagonist (s) of the piece. If anything, Louis becomes more and more rotten as the story progresses.
I'm not crazy. That's kind of the message of the piece. Louis and Sibella become way worse than any of the D'Ascoynes ever were. I've rooted for murderers in movies before. The entire revenge subgenre of thriller is about rooting for murderers, so I'm not above that. But we instead root for the bad guy of the piece. It's odd because it's not like there is a character development with Louis. Again, had Louis been slowly corrupted or had any emotional response shy of glee when it came to these multiple murders, I could see this being the story of how revenge slowly corrupted this man. But because this is an Ealing comedy, the flat delivery must be maintained throughout. If I'm playing Devil's Advocate, I could say that, because this story is almost an epistolary novel, the influence of a narrator may recolor the actual events of the story, but that's me adding myself into the analysis a bit too much. But I love how evil Sibella is. Part of my challenge of getting into the story is my expectations of what the story is supposed to be. I assumed that Louis and Sibella were going to be more upstanding than Louis's victims. But never. It's just is a matter of them being selfish jerks who happen to fail upwards.
Let me tell you how much I love Sibella. Sibella is Gone Girl before Gone Girl. That ending is so good. There's this whole level of British spite that is going through these characters. There's the ending that I thought happened: In my mind, the movie just ends with him getting caught because Sibella set him up. I forgot that there's this whole other beat that happens, where Sibella offers to free him (VERY Gone Girl!) in exchange for marrying her. There's the potential double cross on Sibella's part. Then there's this beat that is just starting at me: I think the movie is going to have Louis take Sibella down using a confessional that is the transcript of the piece. But then, both of them go down because he was so prideful in his crime. It's funny, because I never really get the vibe that he's writing this because he wants Sibella to hang with him. It's a point of pride and contextualizing his prison sentence, which is fun. But everything is just proper and mannerly spite and that's the stuff I really relish. What I don't understand is...
...Edith D'Ascoyne. I get that, during his rise through the ranks of the D'Ascoyne family, that he wants to put himself in a proper light and gain access to private family events. I can see marrying Lady Edith to get to these meetings. But he only really proposes marriage to Edith once the Dukedom is borderline already his. Sure, there's a hiccup when the patriarch D'Ascoyne decides to marry a fertile woman whom he loathes. But Edith's marriage wouldn't have changed a thing by then anyway. Louis talks about his dislike of Edith from the start. As sympathetic as we are to Henry D'Ascoyne, Edith almost comes across as the most annoying because her virtue is to the point of judgement and prudishness. I get the notion to marry Edith as a form to make Sibella jealous, which it does. I just don't know why Edith. It seems like such a loose thread in this plan and also self-flaggelating. Like, it works for him in terms of getting a good character witness, but that doesn't even acquit him of a crime (that has a shocking little amount of evidence against him).
But the movie is still really good. I can't deny that, once I got into it, it was really good. Is it hilarious? Not in the typical way. It's very reserved and it's almost a bit too British. But in terms of greatness, it's pretty solid.
Not rated, but Mr. Jacobs makes a handful of sex jokes, often at the discomfort of a handful of fans. The movie does talk about elements of mental illness, including a history of suicide. I think that there's some mild language in it, but often that's simply because it's a documentary and people are just chatting. I couldn't point out an example of language, actually. But just be ready for it if it exists. Not rated.
DIRECTORS: Matthew Jacobs and Vanessa Yuille
I keep telling me that I'm going to stop watching fandom documentaries. They aren't very good. This one hit in an especially rough way. But this is a movie about how the very nature of making a documentary may skew the reality of what is supposed to be coming out of the documentary. It's weird. For as much as I want to complain that this documentary is borderline a special feature on an potential Doctor Who: The Movie 4K re-release, I need to know how this movie was made when it comes to writing about it. The reason is: the subject of the movie is also the director. When it comes to a movie like this, that might have a bit too much influence.
Here's the possible reality: the movie was actually directed by Vanessa Yuille. Matthew Jacobs probably said that he wanted to have say in the final edit of the film and probably contributed quite a bit to the final edit of the film. As such, he probably got director credit. That's bad, but it's also kind of understandable. What I'm worried is that this might have been a documentary where the director / subject of the film wanted to have a certain spin on the movie and thus gave us what we wanted to hear. This movie is incredibly sad in some ways. I don't want to dismiss the sadness that is in the film, especially when it came to Jacobs's childhood. But there are paradoxical moments in the film. Are emotions fundamentally paradoxical? Sure. But Jacobs, in some scenes, states clearly that he wasn't affected by his time at these conventions. But then, he'll say to an audience about healing this entire experience was. I don't know. I really get the feeling that there's some manipulation happening in the movie that disingenuous.
I'm a guy who really likes the Doctor Who movie that Matthew Jacobs wrote. It's wildly imperfect, but it is also a movie that reflects American genre television of the mid-90s. But as a guy who has seen all of Doctor Who, I know that the movie is this major step forward for the character that was desperately needed to make the show what it is today. It's not shocking that I watched this doc. I'm a huge Whovian. There was something masochistic and insular having someone like me watch a movie about a very specific fandom. It's not even a documentary about Whovians and Who culture in itself. It's specifically focused on this one movie and one serial that have ties to Jacobs. The fact that I understood every element of this doc just reflects how much of a savant I've gotten about my specific fandom. Is it about Who culture at all? Kind of. This is a movie that suffers from scope. Again, here's me putting a lot of guesswork into how this movie project came about. I imagine that Matthew Jacobs, who admits to having dug his heels in about going to conventions, tells a peer that he's going to do this. On the fly, they come up with this plan to film the entire event. After all, it would be interesting to see how Jacobs reacts to this.
But what the movie aspired to is what (and here's my compulsory reference to this movie) Trekkies did for fandom. Trekkies was this deep dive into a fandom that had long been lambasted for being huge nerds. Through some hip checks and tongue-in-cheek, it becomes a love letter to a show that affected a lot of people. Doctor Who Am I tries to do the same thing without the legwork. Because this documentary only covers Matthew Jacobs and his attendance of two conventions: LI Who and Gallifrey One, we can only get a representation of the people who are there. Everything that is mundane is somehow given a sense of grandeur that really isn't present in reality. The winners of a local costume contest are treated like celebrities. Some people who were willing to spend money to interview Jacobs somehow become the starts of this movie. It's really forced. (Again, I hate myself for constantly using Trekkies as the pace car.) When Trekkies did it, Denise Crosby went across the country, into people's homes and offices, and got to really know these people. She found the most intense fans and asked the tough questions. Jacobs goes to homes, sure. But these are snapshots, not exposes.
I have a card on my bulletin board that students were asking about today. I used to have students leave Cards Against Humanity cards on my desk. I had one that just said "Daddy issues" and I pinned it to my wall because it nailed it. I have daddy issues. Jacobs lost his mom to suicide when he was very young. His father was bipolar and never really dealt well with that. But considering that Matthew Jacobs was the guy who wrote the Doctor Who movie, it's amazing that his dad was a guest actor on the Doctor Who serial, "The Gunfighters". I think that the most valid thing on this movie was the fact that Jacobs probably hasn't processed a lot of what happened in his childhood. I have no real right to say this. I'm not a therapist and I'm watching a heavily edited video made by the guy who wanted me to see what I saw. It's full of stuff. That is the most important stuff in the movie. But I don't know if this is the same venue that Doctor Who Am I is supposed to cover. There's this tenuous relationship between the notion of zealot fandom that we are exposed to in the movie and the idea of trauma. Am I grateful to my fandoms for the better moments they brought me? Absolutely. But I think, as I just pointed out, that fandom can be a balm.
While the notion of The Doctor is someone who does the morally good thing in his stories, I have to draw a line between him and reality. To make a 1.5 hour movie doesn't really lend itself to nuance between mental health and embracing something fiction. Art is good for the soul. I think that is one thing that the movie doesn't make clear as it should. By having a community come together and bond over shared interest is good, but I don't know if that means that Matthew Jacobs found a family among these nerds. If anything, there's this hint of disdain for them. I get that Paul McGann might really like the fans. (I met him in one of these artificial environments once. He seemed really nice. That's reflected in the documentary.) But there's almost something forced about the entire takeaway about art. Part of that comes from the fact that Jacobs almost steers the conversation to his father. It makes sense and this might not be on the part of Jacobs. Because he's on this panel talking about "The Gunfighters", he's constantly asked to give memories about his dad on set.
But Jacobs seems deeply sad. He is allowed to be, but he shouldn't be. After all, he wrote The Emperor's New Groove. He looks down on the convention circuit. I can kind of see why. There's the personality in these fan docs that I empathize with and there's the ones I can't stand. The ones I empathize with are the honest-to-goodness socially awkward folks. These are people who find a sense of community at these events. After all, the testimonials tend to lean towards a sense of solitude. They may be the only person in the real world that likes what they like. But then there's the guy who feigns confidence. These people tend to be the toxic nerds. There's this guy. He's one of two guys in these scenes and I don't really care for them. But I especially hate the one guy. Hey, watch the movie and figure out which one I'm talking about. Anyway, he's the guy who says kind of rude things to Jacobs in the forms of jokes. He's the guy who hates that the Doctor kissed Grace. He's also the guy who hates that the Doctor is half-human. Do you know how I know this? He tells Matthew Jacobs to his face. It's so bruque. I think that Jacobs things that conventions are all that guy. Thankfully, it's only half-that guy.
There's a little bit of a disconnect in the middle of the movie. I can't deny that there's something about the movie that is all about Jacobs confronting an audience that he's feared since the commercial failure of the Doctor Who movie. But there is not as much about the Doctor Who movie than you would think, considering it is the mission statement of his return to the spotlight. (He admits that this is all happening for money.) There's nothing really funny about the fandom with this movie. All of it kind of just hits a "sad" button. I love conventions. I just went to the Cincinnati Comic Expo with my mom and my kids and had a blast. But something about this breakdown just ignored the fact that this was a movie about him confronting a piece of work that he wrote off a while ago and instead made it about how sad nerds were. I like the mom and dad stuff. I find that fascinating. But I don't really get the direct understanding of how these Doctor Who conventions tie to that. When Jacobs emotes, I feel like it is the awkwardness of having a camera on him coupled with the fact that he's forced to confront demons from his past.
I need to stop watching these movies. They're never going to be Trekkies ever again. The issue is that they are coming out with frequent regularity. Every fandom is starting to get the fandom doc and they're losing more and more substance the more you watch them. They seem cheaper and more adulating than they used to be. While I think that Jacobs makes for a fascinating subject, slow it down. Make the movie breathe. Let's see him slowly grow instead of over the course of a few weekends. Maybe that's a budget thing. Maybe that's a patience thing. But this movie felt like it was forcing stuff in there that felt a little disingenuine.
Not rated. The movie is pretty tame, honestly. There's some violence that leads to blood. What little sexual content that might be gleaned comes from innuendo, and even that is pretty tame. Two of the main characters get drunk and try to kill each other in a silly fashion. Honestly, there's nothing to really object to here.
DIRECTOR: Bahram Beyzaie
Hey guys. Fun fact. Weebly, the service I use for this blog, often will cut off the bottom of my posts. It's an easy fix if I know it happens. The thing is, I often don't know. Now, the responsible thing would be to read my blog after I post it. Then, I could make up for the wealth of typos I include. But also, I have zero-point-zero seconds for that. If you feel that the blog is somehow incomplete, just let me know in the comments. I then get an email alerting me that someone is reading these things.
Also, there was no scenario where I was going to get an image from Downpour in the proper aspect ratio without a watermark, so let's just live with what I got here.
I'm forever going to be grateful to the film introductions that Martin Scorsese does for all of these movies. That degree of cultural context makes these movies fascinating for me. For those who don't know, Downpour is a find. Almost every copy was destroyed by the Iranian government post-revolution. The copy I saw was the only copy left, owned by the writer / director in a really crappy form. It had English subtitles on it that were already in the print, so those couldn't be removed in the restoration process. As such, while I have gotten a really good understanding of this movie, I don't know everything because the subtitles...aren't great. I'm genuinely shocked that Criterion or the World Cinema Project didn't try filling in the missing subtitles. It's not a lot of them. But there are a handful of lines that I have no idea what they are saying. You might think that the original filmmaker didn't include these lines because they were unimportant, but often the subtitles we got would be the second half of a sentence and we had no idea what the first half was. Just a choice.
Golly, I have to say that I'm instantly clouded by the influence of Woody Allen by this movie. It's not Woody Allen-esque, by any means, by the way. But the lead looks like an Iranian Woody Allen in his heyday and it is a romantic story told from the male perspective where the woman barely has any say in her investment in the relationship. The tone of Downpour is bizarre. It is a comedy. I don't even want to give it the title of dramedy, because the jokes of the movie, when there, are so broad that it would only work in an outright comedy. But there's a story here that is dramatic and rich while the jokes are keeping the story moving. Maybe this is true about Iranian film. I can't say I have a rich understanding of Iranian film. That's why the World Cinema Project exists, to draw attention to countries that tend to get neglected by Western audiences. I will say, as a romance, it mostly works. As a story of the outsider inspiring children, it really works (better than Dead Poets Society). But as a comedy, less so.
I'll talk about the comedy first because I want to talk about the good things as the blog progresses. I don't know what the expectations of audiences are in Iran. I kind of saw the same thing with my limited experience with Bollywood, especially with a movie like 3 Idiots. Maybe it's the fear that Americans have with mixing genres, but it felt like there was this intense dramatic throughline and then there was absolute goofiness. When I'm talking "goofiness", I'm talking about drunk guys falling over each other scenes. Unchoreographed, drunk guys falling over each other. There's a cart that goes out of control and he breaks his stuff. How wacky! But then there's also this moment that is incredibly intense. Mr. Rahim, the Bluto to Hekmati's Popeye, is beating on this shrimpy little guy who is rumored (note! Just rumored!) to have a crush on his fiancee. "Fiancee" is a strong word because it is really ambiguous what Atefeh things of Rahim. It's perhaps my favorite scene in the movie because it isn't played for laughs. Rahim starts lightly smacking him, initially just to be insulting. But the slaps end up with Hekmati bloody and stumbling to teach a class to maintain a sense of dignity.
It's some powerful stuff. This is where the comedy really bothers me sometimes. A lot of this movie works as a drama between two people who must consider a relationship from a distance. (While I think that Atefeh is wildly under-represented in the film, I can at least imagine the filmmaker's intent with the romance.) It is also that old chestnut about getting a group of ragtag kids that no one believes in and get them to love education. (I'm not quite sure where Mr. Hekmati inspires them to love education, but he did work at getting the theater gorgeous for them.) In terms of drama, as simple as these plots are, there's something universal and vulnerable in these moments. It's solid storytelling, plain and simple. The guy is adorkable. The girl is out of his league. There's a reason that we keep coming back to this well and these scenes are beautifully shot and beautifully acted. And all this makes me wonder...why the comedy? It's this tonal shift from these moments that work. I am going to talk about the drunk fight again. Beyzaie wants to end the movie with everyone sad about Mr. Hekmati's departure (with the exception of the principal, who becomes outright villainous in the final act). He even wants Mr. Rahim to mourn the loss of Hekmati.
So he has the two fight to the death while drunk ahead of time. Now, that sounds silly, but if I squint, I can see how someone like Mr. Rahim would only respect someone who stood up to him and gave him a run for his money. (Hekmati, previous to this moment, attempted retribution for the beating he got, but only received another beating.) So there's a way to pull that off. Make Rahim swing his sword (which, that joke kind of lands), miss. Rahim has the chance to kill him. Instead, have him push Rahim over and offer the mercy that Rahim wouldn't give. That might work. Instead, it gets to be what a child thinks that drunkeness is. The bigger problem is that this is a dark part of the story. They have just mourned the dead. Atefeh is losing her grandmother (?) To cut between these serious moments with wackiness is just the wrong choice. And I think I might be just ignorant about expectations of film because that's the only reason I would see to make a movie this way, especially considering how much talent there is in the film.
Because here's where the movie succeeds: characterization. Mr. Hekmati goes from unlikable to remarkably likable (despite the fact that he doesn't really give Atefeh a lot of agency over their relationship, but I also have to realize that I'm talking about 1972 Iran, which is loads more progressive than what will be coming around the corner). Beyzaie gives Mr. Hekmati a justified reason to be a jerk. He's the fresh fish in a town that doesn't want him. He is alone and people assume the worst about him. He's teased and mocked because of his diminuative stature and that explains the scorn that he seems to carry for this town. He has a come-to-Jesus moment (probably not the best term for this situation) and learns that he could be quite welcomed here. He does something altrustic, turning romantic frustration into something productive. The second that he stops thinking about himself, he becomes this charming character that, thanks to master craftsmanship by both Bahram Beyzaie and Parviz Fanizadeh, stays true to the character we met at the beginning while growing into someone we can really root for.
Okay, it's a little cornball when he walks across the desks to give out the prizes. But the sentiment is there. It's interesting. Because it's a movie and we don't want to watch a guy washing floors and painting walls for days, the movie shows the building of the theater in montage. But it doesn't feel like montage. The movie allows the feeling of scope and scale when it comes to the repair of the theater. Yeah, it's montage, but it almost feels like updates on what Mr. Hekmati is doing with his time. I don't have a clear connection with the repair of the theater and the imagery of the eponymous downpour, but there is one. Even the notion of a downpour, especially in the desert regions of Iran, has the elements of catharsis. Mr. Hekmati spends every night until midnight repairing this theater and when it is almost done, we get this downpour. The imagery that ties the two things together is Hekmati being covered in splattered paint and then going out in the rain, but I'm doing a little bit of the connection there. But the downpour, it is effective. While the movie isn't about a downpour, I can see why the film takes the title for that scene.
My frustration is that this could have been a gorgeous and simple movie. It crushed in Iran. I can see why. It is incredibly entertaining. It has characters we root for. But I can't stop grumbling about most of the comedy, especially the drunken fight. Every time I get invested in the movie, there's a visual gag that pulls me out. That's a me thing. But on the whole, a good time was had.
Not rated, but this movie is about a serial murderer who walks in his sleep. It's more creepy than it is outright scary. But I would put it more intense than some of the Universal Monster movies. That's an entirely subjective take, by the way. I just find this movie more upsetting than stuff like Frankenstein or Dracula.
DIRECTOR: Robert Wiene
I'm shocked that I don't have this on here either. Okay, shocked is a strong word. I know that I kinda / sorta watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari two years ago. And also, Chris Jordan, I'm not going to watch Dr. Caligari from the '90s. I know you love it. I know you think it is genius. I'm good. For anyone who is not Chris Jordan, I show this movie with my unit on German Expressionism. For some reason, I used to show M, but the ultimate example of Expressionism comes from Caligari. The funny thing is, this was more an experiment on how varying groups of audiences are. When I showed this movie two years ago to my last film class, they could not be more bored. This film class couldn't get enough of it. I had kids who said they couldn't do silent film and then 180'd when it came to this one.
Sure, it helps that it is about a serial murderer who kills in his sleep. Sure, it also helps that Cesare is creepy as heck juxtaposed to a nightmare set behind him. But I love how polarizing this movie is. Do I acknowledge that silent film requires a bit of investment? Sure. Even I have to psych myself up for silent film from time to time. But of all the silent film out there, expressionism is the way to go. Part of that comes down to the fact that silent film has to be a visual thing. It seems a little obvious and only movies with subtitles really get us to think this way, but you need to actively watch a silent film. I'm good about throwing my phone out of reach during movies. Sometimes, I go crawling back if the movie isn't keeping my attention. Also, I'm old and we have to watch TV with the lights off so the baby falls asleep. But you know who else is good at falling asleep when the lights are off? This guy. So asking people to watch silent film is daunting. But I would argue that Dr. Caligari is one of those movies that really is enhanced by total darkness.
The philosophy of expressionism involved the notion that film should be dreams come to light. Wiene stresses this with his sets, which are distortions of reality to the extreme. I mean, Tim Burton wishes he had the freedom of Robert Wiene. But even more than the set is the use of darkness. Wiene is aware of the lighting that other films of the era are doing. Sure, the Germans pioneered the use of lighting in cinema. But with Caligari, it seems like he's taking the constraints of the medium and using it to his advantage. There's the reveal of the somnambulist's face (also, if nothing else, you learn the technical term for "sleepwalker"!), an iris of light directly on him. It creates an unholy halo around the killers face, accentuated by almost silly makeup under his eyes. I say "silly" because at no moment do you question whether or not that is makeup. But for some reason, it really works. I'm going to be an advocate for this movie because I like it and I got excited that my students liked it, but I will have to raise some questions that might be a little harsh. I wonder if the absurd makeup and the surrealists sets work because we're giving them a little bit of a pass. Like, I love it. Aesthetically, Dr. Caligari works for me. But, I don't know if we can pull that card today. My brain is constantly running the script, "Well, it's German and old. That makes it cool."
It might be why I refuse to give the '90s Caligari a try. (I watched a trailer, Chris. Everything in my brain and body screamed "Nope" a thousand times. I couldn't even get through the whole trailer.) Wiene's Caligari feels bold and earnest. The Germans were obsessed with psychology and the mind during this time period. These were pre-Nazi Germans. Think Cabaret era Germans. Just because I want to imbue the movie with my meaning, I'm going to. I know that there's tons of analysis on Caligari. Some I've read, most I haven't. But it feels like Wiene is commenting on the concept of culpability. This is post-Great War. The country is in decline (as Nationalism slowly starts brewing) and Europe is scrapped. Wiene is the representative of this liminal Germany. They used to be this land of plenty and a leader on the global scale. Then they started trench warfare and mountains were flattened. Fundamentally, this has to be a crisis of identity. As a guy who might be living in a similar liminal stage in the United States with the threat of Trump returning, I get it.
Caligari is the danger of potential. He's older in this in a place of power. He is the big fish in the little pond that is the mental institution. His age reflects the generation of leaders who have the mentality of "could" rather than "should." The fact that Cesare is a young man, emaciated with a shock of black hair (sorry, I'm also teaching Lord of the Flies right now), he is the younger generation. He is the one that they sent off to war. Caligari doesn't get his hands dirty. The killing is almost a thought experiment to him. The fact that Caligari got his name and this entire plan from hundreds of years ago reflects the notion that Germany wanted to go back to the old ways. Cesare, despite the fact that the killing is all done by his hand, ultimately has no control over the killing. He's repulsed by the notion of killing when he meets beauty, but he is still unable to make choices on his own. The psychological need to say that someone out there is pulling all of our strings, yet we are the killers kind of works historically. (I say "we" as if I was a German youth.) That chaos of the background reflects the chaos of war. Even returning to Berlin after the decimation abroad, everything has a skewed version of itself.
Like, we get that the mental institution is a mental institution, despite the concaving doors. I actually kind of like that the most normal looking set in the entire movie is the ballroom of the mental institution. The one place where things make a bit of sense are in that mental institution. It's the world outside that is insane. Listen, I don't think you can get too heady with the expressionists, so I'm going to push a little harder. Again, that's the great thing about analysis. As long as you can back it up, you probably aren't outright wrong. (Okay, there's Wiene's intention, but any English teacher worth his salt acknowledges that the intention doesn't matter once something is published.) If the world of Caligari is the expressionist nightmare come to life and the ballroom of the mental institution is the only thing that almost resembles reality, is the absurd thing that people are trying to act normal in the face of insanity. The real reason that I think the expressionist design works so well is that everyone is treating it like it is normal. (Versus the trailer I saw for the '90s version, which had the performances mirror the insanity of the set design). Pretending that life is normal after a war is insanity in itself. People shouldn't be "life is normal."
I spiraled after the American response to Covid. It got bad. When the Black Lives Matter protesters got fired upon by pepper spray and tear gas, I nearly lost my mind how calm everyone was. Caligari and Cesare are definitely the villains of the piece, but they're insanity matches the horrors of the world around them. (Again, cannot stress enough that people should not model behavior after these characters post collective trauma.) But the fact that there is almost no acknowledgment of the horrors of Germany may reflect what is going on. People are trying to act as if the world around them is normal and nothing in this is normal. That disconnect is very real. Sure, I'm doing the deep dive here. But movies like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari allow you to do that. I hate what I'm about to write, but A24 is modelled after the kind of horror that Wiene created. You know that there's an entertainment valuie in the horror you are watching. But the craftsmanship and the seriousness of the piece as a whole lends itself up for interpretation beyond the text. (Almost like some kind of...subtext?)
The plot is insane and I still have a hard time making heads or tails of Acts V and VI. But each time I watch this movie, I get a little stronger appreciation for the movie. It's incredibly solid. It might be my favorite silent movie. Mind you, I have to do some rewatches to guarantee that. Also, there's movies out there that I should have seen. But as I have previously stated, it takes a little bit of determination and courage to tackle these films.
Not rated. It's more of a talking movie than a visual experience. Even the scene of sexuality is more talked about more than it is actually shown. Because the movie is shooting for a philosophical and cultural change, it goes in depth with the angst of what it means to be Black in Europe, but that is more of a concept than a single image to be absorbed. It's bleak, but that doesn't affect an MPAA rating. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Med Hondo
Do you know how much precious time I wasted trying to find an image in the proper aspect ratio? I have to apologize because the only image that I found that was high res enough was 16:9 and that bummed me out pretty hard. Listen, I recognize genius here, but it's not my specific brand of genius. This feels like I'm trying to backpedal out of racial responsibility. It's not the story of the Black man finding a place in White society that I find a problem. It's just that I'm not really a fan of overtly avante-garde films.
Visually, Hondo ticks all the boxes. That opening absolutely might be one of my favorite openings of Criterion films. The simple animation quickly establishes the motifs of the film in such a way that I went into the movie running. Even the opening sequence of the colonized Africans being shipped off to war is fantastic. The bigger issue that I had with the film is the jumping between what I would consider narrative against what might be antinarrative. I think I said the same thing about Last Year at Marienbad, but I don't do well with antinarrative. Soleil, O at least offers a grounding character with a clear message, so it is easy to let yourself be washed away with the visuals and the story. But I often think that the movie suffers with attempts to be lofty coupled with a message that needs to be said. Hondo is mostly very clear with that message: Colonization has destroyed Africans and Black people in general. There is no easy fix, mainly because White people only see things that directly affect them. Everything that Hondo says is meant to deliver that message.
But there are times where the intent of a scene might be lost. We get that through the eyes of the Visitor (I'm going to capitalize it because it is unofficially the name of the protagonist), that France (and, by proxy, the West) sucks, especially when it comes to African immigrants. But this movie is a textbook in all of the ways that the West is terrible due to colonization. I'm now wondering what the audience for this movie is. The obvious (but perhaps too obvious) answer for this is the marginalized Black community. I think that might be accurate, but this movie is too smart to simply be a complaints amongst the choir. I'm watching it through my eyes: a White man who wants to know better. I want to learn. I want to change and help bring about change. From that perspective, there are some really heady concepts that are delivered in the movie. But the visuals and the upsetting chronology of the movie almost bury some of the bigger concepts of the movie. It's odd, because the more challenging stuff tends to be associated with tricky editing and cinematic choices while the easy-to-grasp stuff is presented quite conventionally.
I had a bit of this problem in college. I would read all this really smart stuff for my theory classes. While I acknowledged that this stuff was brilliant, I tended not to like the really hard stuff because I didn't understand it. Avante garde stuff seems to hit me the same way today. I am better than I used to be. I used to dismiss the really heady intellectual stuff as useless because I didn't understand it. I don't see Soleil, O in the same way. I am going to chalk that up to a bit of maturity on my part because I watch Soleil, O and it mostly works for me. It's just that I feel so robbed of the parts that I don't understand. I think the parts that bother me are the shifting framing narrative of the interviewer with the Visitor. The clear narrative that we get comes from the Visitor's perspective. The Visitor, clearly looking for a job where people need jobs, is given a bunch of guff from various forms of racists. Some of the racists are dismissive, not offering a job "just because". Some racists are Karens, going out of their way to point out that there are too many of his kind walking about. That's the kind of stuff that I know and the film presents clearly.
Then there's the other stuff that I get later in the movie. There is a part where the Visitor, to someone's face, just states that Black immigrants are the reason that France exists. They make very little money and make all of the products that France lives on. They take the garbage jobs that are beneath White people and are still scoffed at for hanging out with other Black people. It's great. There's also a handful of scenes where the message is pretty clear. Two racists at a bar dislike the presence of Black immigrants in their bar. One immigrant starts to sing. Everyone has a good time. The racists change their minds. Okay. That's cool. But it's that darned interviewer. It's about half the movie. The interviewer scene casts the VIsitor in these almost anthology stories about the plight of the immigrant, but these are nuanced stories that I don't really understand.
And then there's the end. There's a 10% chance that I missed some cruical exposition (even though I watched every minute. I watch these movies without a phone near me and I'm staring while on a treadmill). But the mind wanders. I didn't understand the Visitor at a White family's house. The kids are crap and suck and everyone just ignores the bad behavior of the kids. The Visitor, left alone with the children, leaves. I don't know how he got out to the woods. I don't know is relationship with the guy who invited him out to the woods. It then goes into a bunch of photos and screaming. Okay, the photos I get. I get the photos are those martyrs to the cause. But the shift from the table sequence to the screaming out in the woods is so artsy that I feel like the message is lost. Or maybe the message isn't lost, but isn't as effective as it needs to be. Or I'm just the wrong stupid audience for this movie that is clearly smarter than me.
I'll admit when a movie is smarter than me. I don't like it. It's why I'm afraid to read certain books because after I read Ulysses, I just freaked out about every impressive book from that point on. But that's kind of my reaction to the Criterion Collection to begin with. Not all of them are trippy revolutionary movies. A lot of them are, but not all of them. Also, there are lots of trippy revolutionary movies that just click with me. But this one only half-hit. I'm not going to stop watching things that are too tough. I just have to be adult enough to admit that I don't get every element of a movie sometimes.
Rated PG for just so much innuendo. We almost shut the movie off in the first few minutes because they kept teasing sex jokes. And poorly, might I add? There's some scary stuff in the movie because a kids' movie needs just nightmare inducing peril with a dash of existential dread. Also, one of Robin Williams's voices can be considered offensive. But I suppose PG is as accurate as I could get with this rating.
DIRECTORS: George Miller, Warren Coleman, and Judy Morris
George Miller. The guy who made the Mad Max movies. This is the other movie he made. For those thinking that they really wanted to see his Justice League movie, maybe this is telling of what his non Mad Max stuff is like. Listen, I know that George Miller is an established filmmaker and that I should be giving so much more respect. But I'm also the family member who stayed and paid attention to the whole mess of a movie. There are moments where I almost see a movie shining through. I smell whiffs of good intentions and strong filmmaking. But then I get overwhelmed with perhaps one of the most annoying kids movies that I have ever seen.
This is a product of its time. Maybe the 2000s have a hard time defining themselves. I get real Moulin Rouge knock-off vibes here. I know the logic of what is going on. Someone said, "Let's put a bunch of popular songs and have penguins dance to that movie. Kids like popular songs." But in terms of really nailing the artistry of these songs, we're not going to do any of that. As much as I might roll my eyes when it crosses my mind, Moulin Rouge actually has excellent arrangements and covers of songs that we all know and love. Happy Feet went easy with it. They just threw the songs in there. Sure, there's some kind of thematic tie to the movie's messages, but nothing that feels like it would be organic. Man, this might be a blog about how Moulin Rouge, for its complete fever-dream mentality, actually made the songs feel like they were part of a musical. That's the thing. If you didn't know the songs from Moulin Rouge ahead of time, you might think it had the most original and powerful musical songs of all time.
But Happy Feet is a sledgehammer to the face. Now, enter George Miller, who has to take what must be the most insane script of all time and try to animate it. That script, it doesn't make a lick of sense, does it? Kudos for people realizing that this was an opportunity to say something about humanity with this movie, but I think there was this need to have a happy ending. Unfortunately, I think that there was this need to make the ending happy for a kids's movie. Let's make this as clear as possible: the movie does not work. It doesn't make a lick of sense. It is being pulled in a million directions. I'm not saying that you can't have multiple conflicts within the story. That's just movie making. I'm just saying that there's a split between the central conflict and everything else that's going on in the movie. Is this movie Footloose? Is this movie Finding Nemo? Is it Toy Story? Is it Moulin Rouge? What is happening? For most of the movie, I would tell you that this movie is about winning over Gloria, despite the fact that she's the most desired penguin and that Mumble can't sing. That seems like the plot. But then the movie doesn't know what it wants to take on.
When the movie gets a little thin about Mumble's confidence (which kind of comes out of nowhere), the movie becomes this allegory for zealotry. The Boomer penguins get mad at Mumble for dancing, without really having an explanation about the evils of dancing or a clear religious or moral structure that would justify their actions. Now, I would have loved this movie. This is the movie I could watch. Do you know what? Even if the movie took the original, 3-trying-to-score-a-10 rom-com plot and mixed it with this religious zealotry plot, I would have been all about it. But this element of the movie is woefully underbaked. Mumble becomes this messenger about the greater world, but no one really cares. Sure, it comes into play as the resolution for the movie, but every character and person in this society had to make a complete character change to make that ending work. There's no slow development. It's instantaneous and doesn't make a lick of sense. Also, this secret cabal of elders who hate dancing is barely part of the story. They get no attention until Mumble literally starts dancing. It's also really weird that they hate dancing considering that there are lo-key dance numbers that are tied to the music that the penguins are singing.
But then there's a complete watered down moment of cultural exchange. The most heart-filled part of the movie is when Mumble, the Emperor Penguin, meets the other smaller penguins. Those smaller penguins, which unabashedly read as hispanic, love to dance and dancing is something more simple. Now, I would love if that there was a coded message saying that you can dance and love the Lord, given the fact that the smaller penguins seem happier. But there is no cultural exchange there. The smaller penguins, when they visit the emperor penguins, barely make a ripple. It's a nonissue for the movie. On top of them, the smaller penguins have a weird dynamic that's not really explored to its fullest as well: the interaction between the smaller penguins and Lovelace. No disrespect to Robin Williams, but Lovelace is borderline offensive. But Lovelace, for some reason, is a macaroni penguin. Okay, that's not the problem, but Lovelace also distracts from the main plot because he ties into a plot that should be central to the whole story, the effects of environmental negligence.
There's this little tease that the fish have been scant, which leads to the zealotry in the penguin community. Lovelace, and his brandishing of a soda can ring around his neck, brings Mumble to search for aliens. Boy, is there a disconnect between this story and the rom-com that is supposed to be central to the plot. Mumble literally has to distance himself from Gloria for the story to exist. It's meant to be this self-sacrificing moment, but it also a reminder that the first half of the movie didn't have to exist. Honestly, this movie just takes a hard right when the story was supposed to be about accepting oneself. The soda can starts choking Lovelace and then this story becomes about the fish? (Oh yeah, he's trying to prove that he is allowed to dance because the aliens will bring the fish back. This stupid movie.) I'm still not sure how the movie ends up with Mumble and Gloria ending up together. But I call even bigger shanannigans on the humans letting Mumble go. There's this belief that the humans would be so interested in a viral video that they would believe that Mumble could get an entire civilization to dance in time?
Nothing about this movie scans. It's disjointed. It's trying to do too much without doing anything right at all. I know that George Miller is one of those sacrosanct directors, but this movie hurt to watch. It had some good intentions. It did. I recognize that there might be something to be made out of this movie. But this feels like my kid making me a burrito at Chipotle. They're trying to put everything in this movie and call it cohesive and the flavors just don't make sense. Nothing really works in this movie and I'm flummoxed that there was an audience for this, let alone one that found it good. I'm really skeptical about the reception section on Wikipedia right now when it comes to this movie.
Rated R for John Wick violence. It's what you are signing off on and it's what you are going to get. There's always going to be a slight gross out violence scene, which is more tame than you think it is going to be. If you have a problem with someone branding themselves, that might be a button. Also, a guy intentionally freeing himself from a knife the gross way, that's a thing. Add to that some language and you have yet another John Wick movie.
DIRECTOR: Chad Stahelski
I think it was IGN that called John Wick: Chapter 4 the "best action movie of all time." I'm not sure if that means "The best movie in the action genre" or "the movie with the best action." If it's the latter, I suppose I can give it a pass for hyperbole. But if it is the former, then we have something to discuss. I think it was that review that got me to return to the John Wick franchise after disliking the first entry in the series. And I thank that review because I really enjoyed Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. Heck, I even mostly really liked Chapter 4. But "the best action movie"? I don't know about that. I'm not even sure that Chapter 4 is a good movie beyond my enjoyment of it.
It's not Chad Stahelski's fault that IGN came out with that review. (I'm pretty sure it was IGN. I don't want to disparage them without provokation.) In terms of finishing a franchise, Chapter 4 does that. The problem I have is that it is incredibly hamfisted. Most of my beef comes from a couple of issues: breaking promises and lying in the third act. As much as I enjoy the John Wick sequels, I have always accused these movies on nerfing their promises. I remember being mad when Chapter 3 nerfed their promise that "everyone is an assassin." Like, we still got an amazing amount of fight sequences. But "John Wick v. the World" wasn't the premise of Chapter 3. The same is true with Chapter 4. Chapter 3 ended with Winston betraying John Wick. Winston thought that John was dead. He wasn't. Winston did the one thing that he was never allowed to do and live. But because the movie really liked the relationship between John and Winston, we're not going to talk about that ending. I wanted to see the movie of "John Wick: The Hunter". Instead, I just got another John Wick movie. Like, I don't know why people are losing their minds. Chapter 4 kind of just feels like more of the same.
More of the same isn't the worst thing. But I don't see what makes Chapter 4 special outside of a third act, which kills off the eponymous character. I want to vent my frustration about the final act. When Winston reveals that John Wick is able to challenge the Maquis to a duel, I thought, "How incredibly anticlimactic." John Wick is about gun-fu and choreography. It's about seeing how much punishment that a character can take (even to the point of absolute absurdity). And to Stahelski's credit, he does give a heavy dose of fun gun-fu with silly punishment. But a duel? Okay, let's talk about how Chad Stahelski nerfed his entire movie while lying to the audience. The duel is a mistake. The movie really wanted to put John Wick in the ground. It wanted to be the final movie in the franchise without an easy way to get back. It's smart. But the franchise didn't need a dead John Wick to close up the franchise. If anything, that pulls away from the point of all these movies. John has been hunted from the end of Chapter 2. His goal is to survive the unsurvivable. If he doesn't, he has to burn the world down with it.
I hope you see where I'm going with this. He dies, free. But that wasn't the point. It's this weird consolation prize for what was fundamentally unwanted. Okay, then that brings me to a potentially great ending. There's this idea that John abandons the need to beat the system in exchange for a moment of humanity. After all, Caine (A BLIND MAN'S NAME IS "CAINE"!) is introduced with this tragic reflection of John. Caine is free and cares only for his daughter. Cool. So when the Maquis comes after his daughter and forces Caine back into a life he left behind, of course John sees that as a reflection of his own lost innocence. The big reveal is that John needs to get the Maquis to free Caine from his commitment before killing him. That means that all of the bullets that John takes are there as decoys to get the Maquis up close. That's a novel idea. But then there's one moment that spoils that. There's this epic scene where the two have to ascend the steps up to the Sacre Coeur and these two enemies put aside their differences for the sake of honor. It's great.
But at the end of that scene, Caine stabs John in the hand. He's honorable, but not that honorable. It gets a laugh. It's there for the sake of a laugh and it kind of gets it. But that moment, that one moment, absolutely screws up the intention for the end of the movie. See, if John and Caine are ascending the stairs to the Sacre Coeur with the intention of John potentially sacrificing his life for Caine's daughter, then that stab doesn't make a lick of sense. After all, John has to survive long enough for the Maquis to give up the hold over Caine. John, also, has to be able to fire the dueling pistols so accurately as not to kill Caine outright. If Caine dies, so does his daughter. So the stab in the hand recontextualizes that last scene as something that John was just doing because Caine was unaware of this plan to save his daughter. That's a risky move. Now, you could argue that John is doing the right thing, not caring for his own life and instead just caring for Caine's daughter without Caine's knowledge. That would make him noble. But John's also buried the hatchet with Winston (for some reason). If John died, so would Winston. He's just trading one life for another. The only way to get that proper ending with the Maquis is if Caine is involved in a form of deception, which doesn't make sense with the stabbing joke.
What this ultimately means, unfortunately, is that the story doesn't make a lot of sense. John's initial plan, a plan that basically the audience shared, was to hunt down every member of the table. It aligns with the mission he set out to do from one. He was told that he couldn't put the genie back in the bottle after he broke the rules of The Continental. So he was going to go after everyone who would come after him. That's the promise. Why wasn't the notion of a duel brought up earlier than this film? It seems like this deus ex machina that just could close the story. Listen, we kind of have a Chekhov's Gun here. So much about The Table was mentioned that we only get brief glances behind the camera. I'm going to make a comparison to Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. We're told about the evil exes and, one-by-one, we meet them. They all have different fighting styles and give us a glimpse into a wider world of Ramona Flowers. But John Wick just gave us a taste with the Elder in the desert. It had so much personality, but we'll never see what the other seats looked like? That's such a lost opportunity. It's just a better story. On top of that, you are allowed to kill John Wick that way.
Imagine, John Wick ripping his way through 12 different kingdoms, Kill Bill style. He's tired and bloody. He's barely functional and then he takes out the head of the Table? That's a movie. Because the movie returns to the notion of revenge for pulling him back into this life, John Wick will achieve his goal. He will maintain the mystery of the man who brought down an evil organization. People would wonder whether he's dead. The notion of the Baba Yaga will be a cautionary tale for anyone trying to make their own table. I know that the movie said that the Table is like the hydra, but the Baba Yaga legend would keep them in line. That's a story. A duel with a villain that we hadn't met before who isn't all that formidable outside of having resources? That's way less interesting. I want the entire world to crumble into flames as Wick stumbles his way out back to his husk of a home. He sits in what remains of his chair. He talks to his wife. He fades away, knowing that he really stuck it to them. That's the movie!
There's one thing that always bugged me since Chapter 2, the price on John Wick's head. Since The Continental put out the bounty on John Wick, it's implying that every assassin would come out of the woodwork to hunt down John Wick. Okay, that's cool. But every so often, we get a sequence that is trying to recapture that moment of awe. It's the moment where these receptionists receive word that the bounty has been increased. And I know that $20 million is a lot of money. But when you are in the millions already, you have to raise it by a lot more than what we're getting in these movies. I want the millions to go to hundreds of millions or billions. The world of The Table seems like it has infinite resources. The fact that Winston can simply demand the rebuilding of The Continental as his role as being a second and that's not even questioned implies that so much money is being thrown around that people shouldn't be scoffing at price hikes. Also, if everyone's out there already going after John Wick, what does the price change really do narratively? It's an empty moment.
It's not like I didn't enjoy the movie, but there are just all these moments staring me in the face, kind of annoying me. It's when you see the potential of a scene and how those moments fall apart. I hate being underwhelmed when it comes to story. John Wick has always had the choreography exactly what it needs to be, but the narrative always seems a little watered down. It's odd, because the folks behind these movies have built this excellent playground and never really live up to their promises. I need Winston to get his due for the actions of Chapter 3. I need John Wick to survive the duel or to burn the world down with it. But the ending I got just went blah for me.
Rated PG-13 and mainly for a few jokes. The most offensive one is in the trailer, which shocked me because it almost begged kids not to see it. There's a joke about genitals that's pretty funny and there's one more that's slightly scandalous. But the movie, overall, is pretty tame. It's more the concepts are pretty depressing. We let my daughter watch a few minutes and she didn't really seem interested in watching beyond that point. Still, PG-13 seems accurate-to-harsh.
DIRECTOR: Greta Gerwig
Do you understand the sacrifice I made while changing the MPAA rating from green meaning "not offensive" to pink meaning "I'm comfortable with change"? That being said, I'm also patting myself on the back for being as equally clever as everyone who has even heard of this movie. There are times that I think that I'm the bastion of progressive politics in a deeply red Q-Anon drenched world. I like to think that the past eight years have caused me to be so much more knowledgable than everyone else about what it means to fight for the oppressed. Barbie reminded me that I'm still completely blind to the ills of society and that gender politics be complicated.
It's funny that this movie is made. I mean, we can thank The Lego Movie and its quasi-subversive tongue-in-cheek attitude towards its sponsored product for Barbie existing. Yeah, The Lego Movie does little jabs at the history of Lego, but Barbie has some complicated history going on. The very notion of Barbie is paradoxical, which is the jumping off point for Barbie. (Okay, you think that I think that this movie is about a doll instead of a bright poppy discussion about the patriarchy and feminism. I'm going to get to that. I'm just afraid to tackle it in blog form.) The movie --Thank God --addresses it point blank. Barbie, on one hand, has the intention of being this doll that could serve as a role model for young girls. She is every profession in every color...after a certain amount of time. But on the other hand, she's a supermodel. Even the Barbies that aren't supermodels are supermodels. They gave unrealistic expectations for what it meant to be girls. I'm really surprised, actually, that given the deep dive that Gerwig does, that she doesn't call out the animated world of Barbie and her obsession with dancing and horses. (It's weird that Ken's into horses, given that real world history.)
The movie needs to go after its own brand to work. We realize that studios want to advertise brands. But when a work is too loving --and I say the same thing about fan documentaries --it almost comes across as an advertisement. There's something seemingly impossible about how successful the Barbie movie was. Because Mattel and Gerwig were willing to kind of call out major problems with the brand in a way that really addressed these concerns almost canonically, I gained such a respect for Barbie as a concept. I'm always been eye-rolly about Barbie. I actually didn't really want them in the house because I thought that they were going to give my daughter an eating disorder. But between the fact that the board of directors of Mattel were all men (highlighting the real problem with that while allowing Will Ferrell's character to oddly be an ally and a punk at the same time) and the notion that Barbie represents a world where women, without concerns or interruption, could be literally anything that they wanted to be without fear of reprocussion, that made me want to rethink my entire stance on the Barbie brand.
But again, Gerwig didn't let it rest there. I mean, it could have been a movie simply about Barbie's polarizing perspective in today's society and it probably would have done just fine. But Gerwig and Baumbach did the thing that I ask my students to do constantly: Ask "Why". Why is Barbie so polarizing? Why is it easy to laugh Barbie off as something that is associated with stupidity and vapidness when there is a Black president Barbie? Gerwig's commentary is that Barbieland should --IN SOME WAYS --be the standard. (I know someone's going to go after me. Listen, the very notion of a utopia is impossible because a utopia, as demonstrated in Barbie, means accidental enforced classism.) The "why" sucks. Everything has to be shown through the lens of "It's a comedy". The patriarchy is over-the-top, but not a lie. Just because it's a comedy doesn't mean it's untrue. It's just seductive. Filtering the patriarchy through the eyes of Ken gives us an understanding of why the notion of a patriarchy is so pervasive.
It's so weird that Ken's the villain in this movie. My wife and I commented so much that so much of Barbie was spoiled for us. Like. I didn't even giggle for "Mojo Dojo Casa House" because so many people have been saying that, so it lost all effect. (We still laughed at "My job is beach.") But the one thing that I didn't really understand was that Ken was going to be the big bad of the movie. I'm talking about Gosling Ken, whom I assume is "Stereotypical Ken". Everyone loved Ken. "I am Kenough" was the phrase of the summer. So big bad? Didn't realize that. But okay. Let's discuss the patriarchy through Ken's eyes. Ken does some of the awful stuff that men tend to do pretty quickly. He goes from having nothing (a problem in Barbieland) to wanting to do surgeries and run companies. While women scoff at him, men secretly have the attitude of "Just try a little longer. It'll come to you." He does all of those things like treat women like servants, literally encouraging all of the other Barbies to dress like French maids.
But there are things that Ken does (that I'm probably at fault for too) that seem like they are inoccuous. I mean, having all of the Kens pull out guitars and sing "Push" to impress women hurt a little. Showing Barbies The Godfather as the greatest film of all time, that's a thing. (I felt seen, even if I am not the biggest Godfather fan.) But it is also trying to make women like men instead of seeing women for who they are before men, that's the accusation that hit me. I mean, my wife owns quite a few Dalek shirts that I bought her. That's on me. I'll own that. The big aggressions make Ken villainous. But those small aggressions enforce the big ones.
And it's so sympathetic. Like most well-written villains, Ken doesn't see himself as the villain of the piece. There's actually quite a lot about Ken that is sympathetic. Barbieland isn't great for Ken because he doesn't know his sense of self. He's always viewed himself as as second class citizen because he's only defined himself in relation to Barbie. I mean, I'm spelling out the message of the movie here, but this is the notion that women can only define themselves in relationship to the men in their lives. It's hard, at this point. I mean, I largely define myself as "my wife's husband." That's something that we do in life. Mostly, it's great. The movie isn't telling us to throw our relationships out. But it is telling us that we must be fully realized individuals while allowing others to foster their sense of individuality. In Barbieland, that fostering is easy. For the Kens, it seems like they might be able to be whatever they want as long as they don't just define themselves as "Barbie's boyfriends." But in reality, women --as pointed out eloquently in America Ferrara's speech that made the Facebook rounds --can't just have the luxury of becoming anyone that they want to be because there is a standard for women to maintain.
As much as we can throw stones (and I just figured this out) at Barbieland for subjecting the Kens to second class citizens, it seems like the Barbies want the Kens to be fully realized individuals outside of their tastes. Stereotypical Barbie genuinely wants Stereotypical Ken to discover who he is outside of a relationship to her. It may mean not encouraging him and his advances to her, as much as that may not seem warm-and-fuzzy. It's the movie that says that maybe that relationship shouldn't be the ultimate goal. Maybe, just because people ship them, it might not be healthy. I love that Ken's the ultimate "nice guy villain" (coming from a dude who starred in the The Nice Guys...) because the nice guy villain is hard to define. There's something toxic that's festering. With Ken, there's a quasi-good reason, but it is still toxic as getout. We're never meant to hate Ken. But we also see how easy it is to foster toxic masculinity if properly encouraged.
Barbie crushed guys. Yeah, it's not going to be my favorite movie (despite the fact that I now own a digital copy. It's weird that it's always a five dollar distance between renting and owning. I'm sure it's that "popcorn price" rule of medium to large.), but it is a powerhouse of a movie. It's also still really weird that Greta Gerwig directed it and that a Noah Baumbach co-written script is crushing this hard. But I love it.
PG, for, like, nonstop cartoon violence. A lot of Green Lanterns die. But since it's a cartoon and none of the deaths really impact any of the characters in a meaningful way (with the exception of the drill instructor), the deaths don't feel that brutal. But if you ever thought of any of those deaths, it would be pretty rough. PG.
DIRECTORS: Christopher Berkeley, Lauren Montgomery, and Jay Oliva
There's this masochistic side to me that wants to watch all of the DC Animated Universe. Growing up, the DC animated movies consisted with movies based on Batman: The Animated Series. But after Mask of the Phantasm, there was a noticable drop-off in quality. It's not to say that they were bad, but they were less universal. They were aimed at comic book fanboys and fangirls. On the plus side, because they were so insular, they were able to tell stories that weren't necessarily accessible to new audiences. Comic book nerds were able to finally see these stories performed that would normally be left to text. Honestly, that really doesn't appeal to me. So then why watch Green Lantern: Emerald Knights?
Well, it came free with Green Lantern on Blu-ray. Maybe the bigger question is "Why do you own Green Lantern on Blu-ray?" Do you know the answer? It's because people like hating that movie and it's fine. As a comic book guy, that movie hits a lot of buttons. But then I had Emerald Knights sitting on my MoviesAnywhere account for years. I hate owning things that I haven't seen. It makes me feel frivolous. I mean, I'm doing the same thing with my books. I don't want to own things that I haven't seen or read. The good news? I forgot that Nathan Fillion played Hal Jordan.
It's so hard to write about anthology movies. While Emerald Knights handles the anthology format better than others, it still holds episodic elements that make it hard to follow the needs of a protagonist. But what Emerald Knights does well is show this deep dive into Green Lantern mythology while telling an entertaining story. The framing narrative of Emerald Knights does a solid job of excusing the fact that his isn't just a five episode television show. Sure, the anthology element does water down the Krona storyline, but I like the notion that, to calm down a rookie / Poozer Lantern, Hal and company are telling separate stories to both inspire and soothe this new kid. It's good. I mean, the Krona battle ultimately doesn't matter and I find it really weird that the solution to beating Krona is to throw Oa at him, especially considering that Mogo is there. (I know. Risking Mogo would be a bad idea, but it's right there.)
It's so funny, because my brain is playing "So that's how the sausage is made" with this entire movie. It's kind of hilarious how much action is packed into this movie. While a feature live action film might have a few set pieces that allow for violence and special effects, Emerald Knights doesn't let you go more than ten minutes without having Green Lanterns using rings to fight some dude or blow something up. It all comes down to that anthology element. I remember that The Animatrix kind of had the same vibe. With superhero movies --and I think this ultimately hurt The Batman from being a perfect movie --there is this expectation that there has to be sweet fights throughout and that there has to be a sense of grandeur to the whole thing. With these short stories, they're framed like mini-movies. So we get stories that have Lanterns fighting epic wars, which is fun. You know what this really reminds me of? Going back to Batman: The Animated Series, it has that vibe of "Legends of the Dark Knight." Because these are the myths of the Green Lanterns, they tend to be grandiose. I'm sure that Lanterns wouldn't be telling nuanced stories of the weight of the world.
Just because anthologies are hard to write about, I'll do what I do with other anthologies: give two seconds about each storyline.
"Green Lantern" -This is the Avra story. Honestly, this is the story that got me over the hump. I know why it is the first narrative. Chronologically, it makes the most sense. But also, it is also the most relatable of the stories. If the notion of Green Lanterns is a big pill to swallow, telling the story of Avra, a reluctant Lantern, is fascinating. I know that more could have been done with stories, returning to my argument that anthology stories are almost a disservice to the stories being told. Keep the following in mind as I dunk on this: I liked this one. But this story is fundamentally how military minds shouldn't be law enforcement. Everyone else who is given a lantern ring couldn't figure out that their rings shouldn't be guns, something that needs a little bit of inference on the part of the audience. But there's this scribe, who Little Engine that Coulds his way through the war that is killing off his peers. He's the one who doesn't turn tail and run. He's the one who sticks with it. Because Avra embodies what the notion of "willpower" means (something that is still almost a poor choice of word for the actual trait being demonstrated), he is able to make constructs. Now, my complaint is that none of that is really spelled out. Also, I don't know how the notion of constructs would have affected the war in the way that the film demonstrates. The military Lanterns were basically blasting ships out of the sky with giant beams of light. So what if the light isn't shaped like a dragon or something? The movie doesn't have the luxury to slowly spell something out like that.
"Kilowog" -While enjoyable, you've seen this one before. Listen, I'm not a military guy, so the beats of this movie don't exactly resonate as well with me. But this is that ol' "Beloved corps" story that the GL comics keep coming back to. How did Kilowog get to be so much like Kilowog? He met a guy who he modeled himself after. If you want to know how Deegan got to be that way, I imagine the story is exactly the same. But this is the short that reminded me how militaristic the Green Lanterns really are. It's a bummer because the metaphor is right there in front of them and they always use their rings like weapons. Anyway, this is that old chestnut that, oddly enough, education movies have as well. The one who is hardest on you is the one who cares about you. I don't know. Deegan looks kind of broken. Again, the anthology thing is hurting this movie. We don't really get time to see Kilowog's shift from enthusiastic recruit to a guy who would take a swing at his instructor. Also, there's one moment that doesn't read the way that they want to. After the Lanterns are called in for an emergency, Deegan drops the ring to the ground, making it Kilowog's journey to fight. But the real story is that Deegan wants Kilowog to take a swing at him because that means he's doing his job.
Laira -This is the one that I thought I was going to hate, but I actually liked the most. Laira starts with all the ring-slinging, leaving the story to be almost aimless. It feels like a Lantern just on an adventure, until I realized her relationship to the enemy. Now, we've also seen this story before. Heck, Avatar: The Last Airbender fans have gotten a ton of this exact story. (I'm not one of those, by the way. I'm slowly working my way through it and it seems fine.) But I do like that fight between father and daughter. It just allows itself to be a small fight. It is weird what the rules of the Green Lantern rings are, though. I know that Hal Jordan (and here I go!) would steal rings from slain Lanterns while he was becoming Parallax, but I thought that was because the Lanterns were dying off. I kind of would have loved to see the ring still accept Laira's thoughts even though it was on her father's hand. Still, there's not much redeeming about dad in this one, making him a bit arch of a villain for my taste.
Mogo Doesn't Socialize -See, there's a flaw to this one. This one probably could have been the most fun, but I have to remind you of the demographic watching this movie. I really do think that the animated movies are for comic book nerds and those who have an extensive understanding of comic books already. Then entire conceit of this one is "Who is Mogo?" This big dopey bad guy is looking to fight Mogo and, if you know that Mogo is a planet, there's really nothing to look forward to. Honestly, the fewer stories about Mogo, the better. Mogo needs to be one of those things used sparingly, simply because Mogo has no real personality and is just a super weapon for the Green Lanterns. There has to be something cryptic about the charcter to maintain the legend that is Mogo. But if I didn't know what Mogo was before this scene, would I have found it more entertaining? Maybe there's just something more fun to do with Mogo, like with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2's Ego. (Although, don't do that exact thing because people would be mad that Mogo was a person.)
Abin Sur -You had to have an Abin Sur story didn't you? You also had to have a Sinestro story, didn't you? I mean, I don't blame this at all. I'm actually surprised how restrained these stories got when it comes to the spectrum of rings out there. But the live action movie teased that Sinestro would embrace a yellow ring, so mind as well play that same game in the animated movie. I never really cared about Abin Sur. Abin Sur, from a narrative perspective, is only there to give Hal Jordan his ring. I know that there's this temptation to make him the greatest lantern. But nothing that Abin Sur does really lives up to the hype, mainly because Hal does a lot of great stuff with his time as GL. I do like the notion of Sinestro and Abin Sur being the greatest of friends and just the hints that Sinestro was always kind of a jerk, but a likable jerk. I don't understand that Abin Sur has this tendency to let his ring get to empty, but I'm also the guy who can't wait to gas up the car. (Note: My tank is actually pretty low right now, so if I run out of gas, I'm just asking for it.)
So it's fine. I know that I shouldn't watch all these movies, if only for the sake of knowing that I'll have to write about them. If I was a more casual viewer, I might want to knock these out sometime. But Emerald Knights reminds me about the exact amount of entertainment that these movies provide. They let me watch stories that I already know in animated forms.
Not rated and overall, I would consider it mostly pretty innocent, considering that the rest of of the Melvin Van Peebles box set has a lot of questionable material. But the only things that you could really see in this movie is some off-screen sexuality and drinking. I mean, the point of the movie is to not judge people having a good time and the MPAA section of this blog is doing a pretty good job of judging.
DIRECTOR: Melvin Van Peebles
I mean, it's Black Godspell, right? I mean, that's a gross generalization, but it hits a lot of the same beats with a lot of the same aesthetic. I have to say that I didn't know that a movie like this would be in the Melvin Van Peebles box set. At one end, this movie is fundamentally Melvin Van Peebles. It's a movie that is no-holds-barred the Black experience. But on the other end, it is wonderfully optimistic. That might be what I want to explore in this blog more than anything else.
Don't Play Us Cheap is a trip. The first ten minutes, I didn't know what was happening. That's pretty typical for Van Peebles. His movies have an element of the avante garde and the first minutes of this movie encapsualte that philosophy aggressively. Okay, that's fine. But then, I figure out that Van Peebles has adapted a stage play that is both super direct and incredibly heady? There is something to unpack there. Let's ignore the first few minutes. I think my other blogs on Van Peebles lets you know that there are some things in his movies that are just chaotic. (It's incredibly dismissive of me, but the reality is that I probably just don't get it beyond, "He wants to shake his audience out of complacency Bertold-Brecht style.") I love that this is a play. I only think that would work if you didn't ignore that this was a play. The movie has an intimate relationship with its characters, which is good considering that there is room for confusion about what the rules for this world are.
I hate that I keep coming back to the well of Black culture, but Don't Play Us Cheap almost exist as a heightened version of A Raisin in the Sun. The set reflects institutionalized poverty, but also reflects that there's been a lot of happiness in his home, for all of its trappings. Yes, the story does get into some occultish things, especially with the arrival of the two imps / devils. Because I associate this more of a story of the conversion of a devil, I'm going to be referring to the imps as devils. I'm not alone in that. The final song of the movie is about not giving the devil a chance, so I'm not alone in that read. Everything about these characters emits a sense of cultural exhaustion. While the party is for Earnestina's birthday, we really understand that this is a celebration of Saturdays. It's such a small concept. Considering that two devils will come and try to destroy the party because it is was devils do, it's hard to think that the fate of two supernatural characters lives and breathes on the notion that a simple party is considered successful.
But I love the message of the story, mainly because I feel like I'm being preached to specifically. I kept thinking, "Why is this party so important?" I mean, it advocates drinking and irresponsible relationships. (Okay, I'm still being kind of a snob about irresponsible relationships.) But this Saturday party fundamentally means something to all the attendees. It's entire focus is people's happiness. As much as Brother David wants to derail the party by trying to inject petty jealousies and infighting, people are far more happy by simply saying that life isn't always easy, but a party is a nice time to remember that happiness is what it is all about. Now, I can feel the Catholic in me shrivling up, putting all of this happiness first. Yeah, I think there's a bunch of stuff about moderation that I believe in my soul and that living a life around parties is problematic. But I also believe that sometimes, people desperately need moments of happiness to look forward to. While the story doesn't outright says it, it says it indirectly throughout the film.
Miss Maybel, in my read, is an angel. She's the powerhouse who is throwing the party. For each of the devils' attempts to derail this good time, she's the one with the immediate answer for why these things don't matter. It's not that she puts up with a lot. After all, she's the one who scolds Earnestine when she tries to make Brother Trinity jealous. She has standards. But she's also a character with clear goals. She wants everyone to be happy and to bring that happiness closer to God. I feel like I'm injecting all of this religious stuff into a movie about drinking and carousing, but it's in the language of the movie. This is a movie that believes in God. But it only shows God through misconceptions about God and what evil really is like. It's interesting, because the tools of the devils in this story are what is the tool of the good Christian. Brother David, especially, talks to people about the moral outrages going on in the house. Now, because this is a musical and a work for Van Peebles, it's done in an overt and over-the-top way. But technically, everything he's saying reflects the language of the moral crusader. The irony of the matter is that the guy is straight up dressed like the archetype of the devil in these scenes.
I do wonder if Miss Maybel is meant to be a straight up angel. I just tossed that idea around in the last paragraph, but she's also the one who has the most commentary on how things work around there. When Brother Trinty arrives, Van Peebles has him enter in a flurry of early '70's independent special effects. That's fine, because Earnestine seems to be the confused one about a lot of situations. For her to dismiss what should have been a demonic entry kind of scans with the character. But there are supernatural special effects throughout the film, often in front of Miss Maybel and she dismisses everything as "I need to get that lock fixed." It's great as a joke, but more telling as a character, especially considering the end of the movie. While Brother David feels like he's being crafty and coniving, Miss Maybel never seems bothered by his tricks. It's why the turn for David as a cockroach (but reads as beetle?) becomes so interesting. There's almost this protest about killing the roach from the other tenants, but this is the one time that Miss Maybel shows initiative as opposed to a laissez-faire attitude towards life. The closing of the movie, showing Miss Maybel climbing the walls and ceiling, chasing after Brother David, is especially telling. Yeah, it could be written off as either the logic of a musical or the avante-garde return of Van Peebles during a closing credit sequence. But it also reads as if she knows more than she lets on.
It's odd that this is a love story. I'm still unpacking Brother Trinity a bit, which I should be. Honestly, Trinity might be the protagonist, which is odd because he's the devil. (I tell my students that morality doesn't determine who your protagonist is. It's whose goals we're following.) Trinity has both the internal and external conflict to follow. He needs to keep the party going so that he can have a second chance at life and with Earnestine. But it is also an internal conflict as the party serves as a trial for humanity. After all, while Trinity was alive, he only found value in being mean. But this tiny apartment acts as proof that people are fundamentally good and forgiving. The fact that they can unbeknownst to them, take in a devil and continually forgive him for things that he tries doing to them shows the willingness to move past petty things as jealousy or spite. Trinity bases his entire life on fostering pettiness, and there are a room full of people who, no matter what you do to them, continue to welcome him to the feast.
I'm reminded of "my father's house has many rooms." Trust me, I'm a pretty judgmental turd and I'll continue being so because people don't turn on a dime. But there's something almost sacred about holding a feast. They acknowledge that God has given them great things. Yeah, God is in the background. I can't deny that. But this is a house where Christianity has an impact on the characters. It doesn't matter that a wife is cheating on her spouse. He just wants her to have a day where she can cut loose, sing, and dance. It doesn't matter
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.