Are you watching Stranger Things, season 2? Who cares? We talk about it for a bit before getting into the nitty gritty of The Conjuring movies.
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This was the movie that made me aware that successful horror movies could be PG-13. It makes no sense why some movies are R and some are PG-13. If you think horrific, you often associate it with The Ring. But it earned a PG-13 and I could show my students this one. Explain it to me, please.
DIRECTOR: Gore Verbinski
Heh. His name is Gore. Just put that together. The first time I saw this movie, it destroyed me. It destroyed my friend JD even more. He was full-on shook. My other buddies were playing it cooler than JD was, but they were messed up from seeing this in the theater. We were all in college and I couldn't wrap my head around it for a long time. Horror fans often have a problem with finding a movie that really scares them. This was the one. Even the first few DVD viewings scared me. But then, I waited a long time. It has probably been close to a decade since I've watched my copy of The Ring. How is my opinion of this movie so different from what I watched in the theater in college?
I know I'm a different person. I often hate old me. If I met that guy, I'd roll my eyes pretty hard at him. The movie slate I enjoyed back there makes me cringe from time to time. Between aging and experiences, I just have completely different associations. I can't blame The Ring for this. After watching The Ring this time, I can't say that the movie is bad by any means. But one thing I noticed is the movie is more boring than scary. I think I screamed in the theater and I'm not exactly sure why. Part of that comes with the communal experience with horror and comedy. Both genres play on the unexpected and the idea that there is something in the theater that makes us vulnerable. I can see elements of things that set me off the first time while watching this movie, but it doesn't affect me the same way. I was projecting this movie for the NHS Halloween Bash (Their request!). I had the communal thing, but I wasn't a peer in this situation. I was a moderator. I was in charge with an outside perspective on the whole thing. But I still have to critique the movie from the point of view of what it did to me. The movie is a fantastic mystery. When writing this, I can see this being a fun project in script reverse engineering. The video tape is full of images that get paid off throughout the film. Every time one of those images comes into play in the narrative, Verbinski gets exactly what he is shooting for from his audience. It causes his audience to gasp. That's brilliant. But I'd like to think that the mystery had an answer before the clues were placed. Great detective stories all involve placing clues after the fact. The Ring actually pulls this off pretty flawlessly. Something as stupid as a ladder gets a degree of weight when showing up on screen. On top of that, the way that the images are stylized on the VHS also sell these moments.
I wonder if The Ring is a little dated at this point. The fact that the entire movie surrounds a dead format. I didn't see Rings, but I have to assume that the movie had to switch media. Is it DVD, Blu-Ray, or streaming HD? Regardless, there is something very tangible about a tape. I think that the story works better in the VHS era. DVDs and Blu-Ray are always treated with care. Physical media, being dead and all, seems disposable. I know that other horror movies have played on the digital culture and failed. I'm thinking of the recently released Friend Request. Something about a VHS, though, makes the movie scarier. I know that VHS tapes were inherently disposable. I know that there was an era where CDs and DVDs were passed around as copies, but it never got to the casual nature of VHS tapes. I remember stacks of VHS tapes lying around our house. Many of them were unlabeled, so the idea that an unlabeled tape could lead to a week long haunting is a cool idea. I think many of the students thought the movie was scary, but I don't get the vibe that this movie destroyed any of them. Maybe one, but she wasn't up for the movie before I put it on. (I'm a bad person.) Part of it comes from the fact that VHS is dead, but I also think that The Ring originated a genre of PG-13 horror movies. There were just copies of the J-Horror adaptations time and time again and I think it might be old at this point. On top of that, much of the movie plays with the imagination compared to more contemporary films like Insidious. Insidious shows the demon throughout. Instead, this movie saves the creepy haired Samara only at the end of the film. That is a very different experience than showing the monster throughout.
But one thing that really still works, at least for me, is the last twenty minutes. The last twenty minutes of the film is the twist on the plot. I'm not going to go into it, but from the well on, the movie is actually pretty terrifying. The beginning of the movie just plays with atmosphere. I'm not going to slag it off or anything because that atmosphere is fantastic. It even has Brian Cox, and who am I ever to criticize a movie with Brian Cox as a means to affect atmosphere? But the actual pay off really works in this film. Samara is as creepy as can be imagined. Really, much of the weakness with the last twenty minutes can be blamed on the fact that I'm writing from 2017. Samara has been parodied and overused by this point. She has even thrown out the opening pitch at a baseball game. (Google it.) POPULAR SPOILER: When Samara comes out the TV, it was genuinely shocking. But now it has become such a part of our consciousness that it doesn't really have the same effect that it used to. It is shocking to a certain degree because the movie seems to have ended in the previous scene. When the kid says, "You weren't supposed to help her," that scene still works because it is so well timed. It subverts the expectations of what the horror movie / ghost story is supposed to be. The ghost, free of its prison, is supposed to be at peace. Not Samara. No, ma'am. That part of the movie makes it awesome. But when the mystery itself gets kind of boring, that might be the only awesome part. Okay, the horse falling into the water is pretty great and when she picks the fly off the glass, I kind of dig that moment too. But those last twenty minutes...hoo wee.
You know who I don't really dig? The main cast. I don't know why I can't get behind Naomi Watts. Perhaps it my distaste from watching her in Twin Peaks: The Return. There are some really safe choices that are going on with this movie. But it seems like Naomi Watts is just cold and distant. She screams for the safety of her child when the movie really needs it, but they may have made the character too cold. I know, the mom is supposed to be cold and distant so that she changes by the end. But I don't really get that plot. That distance still kind of seems to be there. Yes, she's holding her kid, but Naomi Watts isn't Scrooging by the end. She is still dead behind the eyes. Also, the guy who plays the kid's dad doesn't exactly hold my attention. He's supposed to be charming and funny. I don't know if that really worked. He's awfully generic. Like, insanely generic. I like skeptic characters in these movies. I think that they really need to have the skeptic character to ground it in reality. But there is skeptic and there is brazen. Gosh darn it, I'm going to have to inadvertently praise Naomi Watts because her character has the right amount of skepticism. I mean, sure, Verbinski murders off the dad's character brutally and I suppose that casual attitude makes it okay to murder him off, I guess? It's got that Friday the 13th logic. An arbitrary vice makes a character unsympathetic to an audience. Maybe unsympathetic is the wrong word and maybe "vice" is too strong a term, but his callousness at the beginning of the investigation makes his death somehow acceptable. I don't know how it works, but it does.
The movie is more flawed than I thought, but I'll always be thankful that it really scared me once. I think it is still a scary movie, but there is a real pacing issue to the thing as a whole. They mystery is great, if not a little silly. But I still have the experience of being terrified and shook in the theater. I think that is the experience I look for every time I watch a scary movie. I just really haven't gotten it since.
Not Rated. I think we're in that weird time period between movies simply being approved and the formal establishment of the MPAA. Cary Grant does sexually harass a lot of women and I had the awkward task of explaining what a train going through a tunnel meant in film. Yeah, that was the low point of my month.
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
Context plays such a big part in watching a film. The first time we watch something, I have to believe, it is in its most pure form. There's something special. We are vulnerable to the movie-going experience. Ideally, and I talk about this idea quite a bit on this blog, we have few expectations. With a movie like North by Northwest, I knew quite a bit about this movie before I saw it. I feel like this was a cultural talking point when I was a kid. I knew about the crop dusting scene. I knew about Mt. Rushmore. I just needed the film to string these ideas together. My students knew nothing about this movie. This is going along with the theory I have that film classics are starting to disappear from our national identity. But I had watched this in class with my students. For some reason last year, I didn't review the movies that I showed students. Most of the time, I was multitasking and didn't consider them actual viewings of the movies like I would want to do. I only reviewed the movie if I hadn't seen it in a while and wasn't sure about content. But North by Northwest and the rest of the Hitchcock films I showed this year were old favorites of mine. Which makes what I'm about to say very interesting.
I was a little more bored with North by Northwest than I normally would be. I stressed that context would play a big part in this review and I think it does. I've seen North by Northwest too many times. It's one of the big Hitchcock films. Like, he could have just made North by Northwest and made a name for himself. But it's one of the ones we think of when we get past Psycho, The Birds, and maybe Vertigo. (I'm not ranking them, but I'm just putting out things that people used to associate with Hitch.) The movie is fun and it puts the Master of Suspense into using that tension not for horror necessarily, but for espionage. It's not the only time he does it, but it is the one that kind of breaks from the pattern a bit. When I have seen a movie too many times, no matter how much I like it, I start to see the cracks a bit. I don't want to see the cracks. I like my spotless movies to remain just that: spotless. But in this case, I couldn't help it. I was at work. I wasn't relaxed. My list of movie reviews was piling up. (Admittedly, my own fault, but I want oh-so-desperately to be caught up.) Watching this one was not my ideal. I wanted to just take a break from movies for a few days to catch up and then I was going to add not one, but two movies to the list? (I had just shown my AP class the film version of The Grapes of Wrath after teaching the novel.) Also, I was watching with the students wanting to like it. (They did.) It was in these moments that I realized that the movie drags a little.
Part of what makes suspense work is not knowing the answer to if the film is going to go left or right. I give Rope as the exception because the filmmaking style is so playful. But I know which way the story is going to go in North by Northwest. I had studied the magician's trick and I had seen where the false bottom was. Part of me watching the film this time was just from a cinema perspective and it took a lot of the joy out of it for me. In many ways, it was like when I prep a book for my English class. I like the book, but the fun of watching the movie the right way was gone. I still acknowledge that the movie is a masterpiece, but I knew that Roger was never in any real danger. I also noticed, and this is probably where the actual critique of the film instead of myself begins, that Cary Grant is really Cary Granting the crap out of this movie. People have Cary Grant impressions. They used to, at least. It's because he has a very noticable acting style. He was a sex symbol for the time and I think that Roger Thornhill might be just in that sweet spot that Cary Grant loves. The movie is written for Cary Grant, the public figure, sooner than it is for a method actor like Montgomery Clift. (For a fun time, read Hitchcock's thoughts on method acting and Montgomery Clift.) As such, I have a hard time separating what should be the character of Roger Thornhill and Cary Grant kind of just resting in that sweet spot. I had the same commentary on Anthony Hopkins in Westworld. Both actors are extremely entertaining to watch, but there are some real habits that both actors really enjoy reusing. There's nothing all that special when it comes to this specific performance, so the narrative has to take up a lot of the slack. Also, being woke in 2017 doesn't help my case either. Eva Marie Saint is really eye candy and the brunt of Thornhill's sexual advances. It's uncomfortable, but this movie is really James Bond before James Bond.
It's in the action and in the jokes that this movie works. My students tended to yell at the screen for the big movie mistakes that Thornhill does throughout the film. I reprimanded them, guaranteeing that they would make equally bad mistakes, if not the one that Cary Grant made on screen. They nodded, but that's why the movie works. We have a frustration and relationship to Thornhill that makes the movie engaging. Even though the movie was old hat to me by this point, I couldn't help but loving that my students were super invested in the movie. (I've put a moratorium on digital devices. It was horrifying to them at first, but I also noticed that they like the movies more now...LAUREN.) As such, Hitchcock knows when to stick in his action. It probably is what makes the non-action sequences a bit more dull than they have to be. But thinking about the crop dusting scene, it would later be emulated in the Sean Connery Bond movie, From Russia With Love. While I love love LOVE From Russia With Love, Hitchcock does the scene better. There's something amazing about the reverse tracking shot towards the camera. The plane coming closer and closer is nerve-wracking. But the thing that crushes the whole movie (and most of my school building can attest based on the fact that I've been humming the theme all week) is Bernard Herrmann's score. Herrmann is the man. Honest to Pete, when I see Hitchcock's name next to Herrmann, I know the movie is going to be great. This seems superficial, but it seems like the two creators really get each other. The movie works. As part of that, I love the entire final sequence on Mt. Rushmore. I know, I'm saying nothing new. Everyone loves these two sequences. But the end is awesome. I am often confused about the scale of the things that are being climbed, but I'm going to either shut off my brain or assume that the filmmakers knew better than I do. The scene works and me trying to overanalyze it seems like a waste of my time and yours.
I guess I'm just a little depressed. I have now seen this movie too many times. I had this problem with On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The movie will never be new to me. I miss that specialness that comes with discovering a film. But the best thing I can get is that the movie really works for new audiences. Maybe down the line, my brain will be separated enough from this film to enjoy it in the way it deserves. But right now, the I can't help but watch it from a perspective of a fan.
I was adding Stand by Me to the film index...
...when I noticed that everything after Suicide Squad was missing. I fixed everything, hopefully. If you notice a missing entry, please let me know!
Check out the film index at the link below or click here!
Stephen King wrote a story about kids finding a body. In Stephen King world, every fifth and sixth grader cursed like sailors. For some people out there, Stephen King's interpretation of childhood swearing is accurate. For me, I was a good child who had warm milk before bed probably up to eighth grade. Keep this in mind. R.
DIRECTOR: Rob Reiner
There are certain movies that you need to watch at a certain age. I first watched The Breakfast Club towards the end of college and it did nothing for me. I don't deny that there is probably value in The Breakfast Club and that I'm not the target demographic for The Breakfast Club, but I had no way to relate to those characters any more. The kids in high school didn't seem realistic and I only knew that because I had finished high school and had almost finished college. Stand by Me fell into the cracks of "Movies I should have seen earlier, but somehow didn't." I can't say that Stand by Me didn't affect me as much as a disappointing viewing of The Breakfast Club did, but I also never really help it as sacred. Keep this all in mind when I tend to get harsh with the movie.
My buddy, Jim, really loves this movie. His favorite trope of all times are eighties kids in trouble and on an adventure. This movie was made in '86, but is set in the '50s. (I looked it up. 1959.) As such, it really goes out of its way with the late fifties nostalgia. I swear, it must have been a special time that only had five songs because these are the songs that show up in everything. Yes, the music was awesome. The clothes and the cars were rad. But this is an idealized version of the '50s again. Reiner and King must have had some great times back then because this is the version of America that I refuse to believe existed as portrayed. I like the idealized '50s, but I also know that the world was going through some terrible things that tend to get glossed over in movies like this. Again, I'm not asking the world to get bummed out every time we think of the '50s, but I would like a little more context than the utopia presented in these films time and time again. As part of that, we are meant to fall in love with the chemistry of these kids. There's a good reason for that and I don't envy what Reiner had to do to make this movie a classic. The boys have to establish a bond pretty quickly. (Oh my gosh, is there a girls' version of this movie? I don't think there is! The Goonies, Stranger Things, The Bad News Bears, Stand by Me, Super 8. Most of them are dudes with the inclusion of one girl. Stand by Me doesn't even include the girl!) They joke around and sing songs, but it kind of feels fake to me. It feels like an adult writing what childhood was like without hanging around with actual kids. They have this memory of things that were done, but the bonding seems really forced in this movie. It does work, eventually, but I thought there were moments that were trying to push this relationship a bit too hard a bit too fast. And I totally get why. SPOILER: River Pheonix needs to develop a relationship and dynamic with Wil Wheaton (I refuse to use their last names right now). That scene is completely dependent on establishing that these characters have this intimate trust. But getting there is tough. I think that's why Stranger Things works better. The characters have time to build to a sense of trust. But The Goonies has the same moments. Admittedly, The Goonies really isn't that deep like Stand by Me is, but I believe those kids more than I do the Stand by Me. But that could come from two things again. I grew up on The Goonies. I was their target market. I probably modeled my behavior after The Goonies. (I may have known better than to lie to Hispanic ladies about where the drugs and cockroaches were hidden in our house.) But I think a lot of the issues with the bonding in the first film come from also spending so much time writing a love letter to the '50s. There's a part where the kids are singing the theme to "Have Gun, Will Travel." That's fun, but they are singing it so enthusiastically that it just feels fake. These moments are traits that we give to kids younger than this moment. They are celebrating the end of summer before going to junior high. There are also turns in the movie that seem to be very dramatic that don't really make a ton of sense. I know that Corey Feldman's character's dad was an abusive man, but there's this heightened tension with Feldman jumping out from a train. Phoenix tackles him out of the way and there's a big hullaballoo. I get what is trying to happen in this scene, but it seems like it is more of a story beat than it is a genuine moment.
The movie does turn for the better starting with the suspension bridge sequence. The exposition being over, the story really starts to take off. This is where I start to like the movie. There is so much that is trying to get me to like these characters that , when I'm finally there, the story works. Again, I never hated the film as a whole, but just in parts. There main plot of actively searching for the body and discovering that this is more a journey of self-discovery is very cool. In an odd way, it is a bit Lord of the Rings-y that way. I'm not saying the second half is perfect, though. The way that it works best is the focus on the group splintering. Starting with the leeches, the group starts to fall apart and the movie almost embraces Stephen King's strengths. (I don't think he wrote the dialogue, but golly if it didn't sound like him. King can't write really good comedy to save his life.) But his strengths are making moments of tension truly painful. The violence gets bigger and scarier. When King tries writing reality, it always falls short. It's when he's writing the world spiraling out of control that the movie works. The final sequence with Kiefer Sutherland is fantastic because it takes it to a level that, as an audience member, I wasn't ready for. That is the best sequence in the film, but it also doesn't pay off as much as it should. Sutherland promises that the boys will pay for the events that happened there, but they didn't. I don't mind stating that these moments are composed of bluster, but even that bluster needs to be paid off. Perhaps a montage of all the times that Sutherland almost did something, but didn't. This leads into one of the most fourth-wall breaking problems I have with the film.
If you haven't noticed, I've been crushing the works of Stephen King lately. Some of this is intentional. Some of the things just floated my way. (Pun intended.) But King is obsessed with including authors in his stories. I get it, Stephen King, write what you know. But everyone knows you are an author and nothing else. (You were a high school English teacher for a year. You also have that noble profession show up far too often.) Having the story bookended and narrated by an author who is pretty much you keeps pulling me out. I don't know when I got so skittish about the narrator pushing the plot along in film. Adding to the fact that the movie is a whole heap of nostalgia, I can't help but compare the movie to that Wonder Years nostalgia that runs through it. I would love if Rob Reiner was self-aware and self-critical enough to know that the '50s weren't really like that, so the inclusion of a narrator reflecting on his idealized memories would have been genius. Alas, I think this might have just been happenstance. This also makes the final bookending all the more awkward. There needed to be resolution for Wil Wheaton's character, knowing that he would one day be graced by aging into Richard Dreyfuss. But the sequence is cringeworthy to a certain extent. Showing him wrestling his kids seemed tonally off and a shift from what the story was telling initially. Also, that dated word processor was hilarious.
I don't begrudge anyone liking this movie. Overall, I have to say that I liked it too. But this movie really plays on the nostalgia card too hard. It is meant to evoke experiences of childhood and I didn't believe a lot of them. I'm sure I would say the same thing about some of my favorite movies as well, but I was the right age to watch them. Like many of my reviews, I can chalk this one up to the fact that it probably just wasn't for me.
Man, PG meant absolutely nothing in 1973. I'm not saying this movie is full on R, but it is hilarious to think that this movie is PG and almost anything live action is PG. But I have to give points to the 1970s, G actually meant something. This is a movie about a 25 year old murderer who seduces a 15 year old girl and goes on a murder spree around the country. PG.
DIRECTOR: Terrence Malick
Do you understand how much I want to teach Terrence Malick in my film class? At best, I use clips from movies to teach different concepts, but I never get a chance to devote an entire section to Malick himself. When we were expecting our first child, we took a trip to Quebec to visit the Just for Laughs comedy festival. Lauren was barfing up a lung like she currently is doing with our third child. (Surprise!) We thought that maybe a movie might distract her from the misery that is morning sickness. So I took her to The Tree of Life. This was not the movie to distract a pregnant lady. My genuine logic (besides the hidden selfishness of wanting to see this movie on the big screen) was that the movie was going to be so artsy and beautiful that she would re-fall in love with me and consider me so deep. She just left mad. I think it might be a good call to watch Badlands by myself.
I'm in a little bit of a pickle when it comes to this movie though. Badlands is a movie that covers a topic that I'm usually pretty bored with. I recently wrote a review of David Lynch's Wild at Heart recently and I mentioned how I normally don't love this plot. I'm talking about the Bonnie and Clyde / Natural Born Killers romantic crime spree across the country. I should like it. Every part of me normally loves what is associated with this. But I always get bored because the characters quickly become unlikable. I love me some Terrence Malick because his movies are about emotional experiences. He is the master of the visual and he manipulates mood like no other director I've seen. The one thing that I may have noticed is that the narratives often come secondary to the visuals. This works because the visuals are so strong that the narrative is only accentuated from the emotional manipulation going on with the imagery. But I don't like this story normally. How can I jump on board a story that is actively fighting me with its likability? One other thing about the narrative is that it is based around the idea that Martin Sheen's Kit is meant to be remarkably likable. It's kind of what the end centers around. (I'm not bolding the word "Spoiler" because that description is super vague.) The movie comes down to me liking what I'm watching with the anger that the narrative is somewhat revolting to me.
But perhaps I'm faulting Malick for the wrong thing. I may be feeling exactly what I'm supposed to be feeling. Malick does make Kit pretty icky for being the driving force in the narrative. Sissy Spacek's Holly is madly in love with him for a good portion of the movie, but even she feels alienated by him towards the end. Perhaps her internal narrative is telling me what to think. She grows more and more disillusioned by Kit's murder spree and I kind of agree. MILD SPOILERS: When Kit kills for the first time, it is for her. He doesn't seem like a psychopath at this point in the narrative. But that also brings in the idea that a 25 year old garbage man is seducing a 15 year old girl. Adding to that is the idea that Holly is an unreliable narrator. She says that their relationship is not about sex, but almost immediately does this scene get contradicted. (Bee-tee-dubs, I'm completely changing my opinion about this film as I write.) Perhaps the movie is about how Holly is forced to grow up and live with consequences. Her point of view becomes my point of view. As an adult, I grow frustrated with Holly and how naive she is portrayed, but her growth as a character tends to mirror mine. Her choice at the end seems absolutely silly, but then again, she still is a child. She shouldn't be self-actualized by the end of the film.
There's something really paradoxical about the whole character dynamics of the film. There's something seductive about Kit (not like that...perv.) that makes him a compelling character despite the fact that he is completely revolting. It makes a bit of sense that Holly would follow him everywhere. But I also have a hard time balancing that with the death of the first victim. I know that this story is loosely based on a true story, so I guess I can't complain too much saying that this wouldn't really happen. But I suppose that it did. Part of what makes Kit possibly so fascinating is that his back story is super vague. He seems extremely relatable in the opening sequence with him on the job as a garbageman. Malick does a fine job contrasting Kit with Holly's father, played by Warren Oates. (Has Warren Oates been in more classics than any other actor? I looked at his list and the answer is "No." But he's been in some amazing movies.) The big confusion is what changes in Kit from the opening scene. It is extremely possible and even likely that Kit was always a monster. But there is a choice not to let the audience in on that evil until he starts killing without provocation. There is something romantic about starting over and living in trees, but Malick does this amazing thing about letting the romance die naturally. The high that Holly experiences seems old and it is appropriate that the death happens in the middle of the titular location, the Badlands.
This is Malick's first full length film and the budget looks a little skimpy. The movie screams low-budge '70s, but I really like that. I can't help but think about the production values on The Tree of Life or Days of Heaven, but there is something special about seeing a young and hungry Malick. The shots of the Badlands are beautiful and many of the shots that would make him famous later on appear here. But this isn't the polished director I'd grown to love. It's like watching John Lennon record in his garage before The Beatles. It's awesome and charming, but it isn't the guy I was waiting to see. I think of Badlands like I think of Bottle Rocket. It's great in itself, but there is something way more gritty than what I would expect out of the same guy. Regardless, the hunger is impressive and I kind of like it. Heck, writing about this piece made me love it more than I thought I did.
I would write more, but this computer is possessed. I can't handle it. If there are a billion typos, I apologize.
It's got an R. Okay, my brain is fading. I took me a while to think of why this movie would be "R". Besides the violence and the generally disturbing tone, I forgot about lots of naked hologram people. That might earn it an "R", right. There's also a really weird sex scene. I don't remember it being all that graphic, but it sure is weird. Does weird make a scene more "R" worthy? Look at me, analyzing life...
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
I like this guy a lot. I was super impressed by Arrival and when I saw that Villeneuve was going to be taking over for Ridley Scott, (note: I was still weirdly bummed that Scott himself wasn't going to be directing this movie), I was very okay with it. Listen, if you haven't seen the trailer for Blade Runner 2049 by this point, do yourself a favor and watch it. I don't care how interested you are in seeing the movie. It is a pretty looking film. I have to actually credit Villeneuve and the folks who cut the trailer for making me give a crap about Blade Runner enough to give it a third chance. Heck, had it not been for that trailer and the amazing reviews, I might still have my initial opinion that Blade Runner is for snobby folks who are just pretending. Now I just think that I'm a snobby folk who is pretending. That's better, right?
To clear up anything that might happen in this review (and I tend to do this a lot), I loved this movie. I had a really good time with it and so did Lauren. I give Lauren more credit for her enthusiasm towards this film because A) she's pregnant and constantly in the mood to puke or sleep and B) she had never seen the original Blade Runner. That might be a testament to how good this movie is. But I will say, it is pretentious as all get out. I just mentioned that the original Blade Runner could be a movie for people who think they are deep (and they are!), Blade Runner 2049 takes that to a whole new level. This movie says "YOU NEED TO THINK! STOP TRYING NOT TO!" That's not the worst thing in the world. The way that Villeneuve does that is that he takes the OG Blade Runner's already murderously slow pacing and takes that to half speed. Ryan Gosling runs nowhere. (Okay, in the trailer, he runs a bit.) But while he is investigating --slow walk. He stalks everything. Oh, and the thing that he is looking for is in the back of every building he enters. Villeneuve is not going to cut to that location for us. We are going to get a complete tour of the building because those buildings are fascinating. That's great and I don't mind boring, but I have that horror that comes with "Is my wife having a good time?" But she did, so yay! I've never seen a sequel completely invest in an an aspect of the first film's framework so heavily. Like, the first movie is a sci-fi action movie that is straight up boring. Which part of that sentence should we focus on in the second movie? The boring part. But I don't mind. I'm an old man who shows off how he can handle boring things, so it's just giving me street cred.
2049 kind of messes with my head a bit. For those not in the know, the first movie teases a concept very lightly. One of the questions that's floated around is "Is Deckard a replicant?" Because it is adapted from a Phillip K. Dick novel (which I hear full on answers that question), it is meant to keep the audience pondering about this what-should-be considered vital question. On top of that, there are multiple prints of the first movie that either answer that questions with multiple definite conclusions or leaves that idea ambiguous. Clearly, a sequel that touches on the themes of uniqueness and life should address that question. And when I was watching 2049, I was watching it with the thought that Deckard is completely a replicant and that this movie put that idea to bed. Then Lauren said, "No, the movie says the opposite. In no way is Deckard a replicant." We debated the whole way home (No irony involved: Completely civily) and realized that, whatever theory you had going into this movie is reinforced. The movie is two separate movies. You think that the movie confirms your bias, but it really doesn't. It tells the two very different stories depending on your theory ahead of time. How do you do that? It really doesn't matter what print of the film you saw ahead of time because it works regardless. How bananas is that? On top of that, it makes that theme important without harping on it at all. After all, Harrison Ford,who played Deckard in both movies, doesn't show up until two hours into a 2 hr 45 minute movie. The story is about Gosling's character and his unique romantic scenario. AMBIGUOUS SPOILER: It touches on a lot of themes that I loved in Her, but takes them in a slightly different direction.
I am now questioning the nature of science fiction. The thing about science fiction that I always appreciated is that the genre is meant to make the audience question reality. It is a commentary on our social norms and what we consider taboo. Blade Runner 2049 is definitely a thinking movie that makes us question norms, but I kind of wonder to what end. Is science fiction getting us ready for moral scenarios that are around the corner, or are they addressing issues that already exist. ACTUAL SPOILER BECAUSE I'M SICK OF BEATING AROUND THE BUSH. While the story surrounds Joe's love of his AI hologram, there are multiple moments where the film implies that the AI is simply following rote programming. The same thing is addressed on HBO's Westworld. While the Turing Test is extremely interesting and fascinating from a thinking perspective, there seems to be a moral issue that we are not in a place in civilization to deal with yet. Is life simply composed of what is or isn't organic? Does thought preclude the idea of a soul? These are heavy issues that are great to discuss, but I have no way to react in a constructive way shy of having a blog. One day, this might be something that I'm arguing pretty heavily, but is this a morality exercise that might prove ultimately fruitless? It's odd because I have strong opinions about something that currently doesn't matter and these opinions may never matter.
I really like this movie and it's a bummer that no one really went to go see it. Sure, the hardcore film nerds are circling their wagons around it. The small theater I saw it in was full, but I know that it wasn't reflective of what happened across America. The movie is pretty great, but it also requires such a degree of patience that I can see that no one who just wants to unwind with a fun, sci-fi action movie wouldn't want to see it. If I had to be critical of one other thing, the movie really does lack any sense of fun. That sense of fun is not a prerequisite for a movie, but the movie does live in a very somber place. The audience is given a level of responsibility to the film. They must come in, ready to be patient. In many ways, this movie is like going to the opera. It is beautiful and challenging and long. You feel great for having seen it and you probably would see it again. But did you have fun? Probably not.
Great. Now I made enemies with the opera crowd that reads my page.
PG-13. I want to see how much fighting went on between 20th Century Fox and the MPAA in this one. This movie totally deserves to be PG-13 and I respect this final decision. But you know that someone went to bat and tried defending child nudity within the context of this film. Someone had to full on say that a ten year old's animated genitalia still deserved a PG-13. He or she probably lives in a big house and sleeps on a comfortable bed.
DIRECTOR: David Silverman
The best thing that this viewing of The Simpsons Movie was to get my wife excited about The Simpsons. We recently did a podcast on the best "Treehouse of Horror" segments on our podcast. (Listen to it here!) Since then, Lauren has been excited to watch The Simpsons. Do you know how long I've tried to get my wife into The Simpsons. It was always that show I cracked up about while my wife tried tuning it out as she worked on her notes for work. It was a burden to her before, but something switched on in her and I'm going to ride these two weeks out until she proclaims it dumb again. So we watched The Simpsons Movie and it filled a perfect hole in our evening: the one that we can't decide what kind of mood we're in.
I first saw The Simpsons Movie in theaters at a time, like many of the viewing audience of the show, when I didn't think that The Simpsons had very much value. Matt Groening had gone off to work on Futurama and the television show went to pot. (I imagine this is still a pretty accurate description of the show today.) I remember cracking up and having tears run down my face on that viewing. The movie is still very funny, but I didn't get that experience from watching it this time. How can I complain about a movie that still made me laugh? Like many comedies, it definitely benefits from the communal experience. There's something special about watching this movie with a packed house. With my wife and my sister-in-law, I laughed and laughed a lot. It did its job and it did it in spades. But it also didn't feel special. The first time I watched it, the movie granted me insight into a pop culture staple. The Simpsons has been around long enough that it has permeated the cultural landscape. I believe that Fox keeps it on the air not because of ratings, but mainly because it defines the Fox Network. I'm almost sure that if Fox did eventually drop it, some other network, streaming or otherwise, would pick it up just to say that they owned the property. There's something special about that and the first time I viewed the movie, I saw that The Simpsons were something larger than the narrative presented on screen. It's not like the film treats the characters as if they are ultimately more important than the archetypes they represent, but it does play up on the chemistry established by the series. But it gets a little smarter than that as well. The movie, despite the fact that The Simpsons are as accessible as they come, present a movie that anyone can watch. My sister-in-law never got into The Simpsons. I kind of think that my wife only got into The Simpsons tangentially. (She knows basic character catchphrases and running gags, but I don't think she ever watched it religiously like I did.) But everyone in the garage seemed to enjoy it. That's awesome, but it also creates an interesting secondary experience.
The one real beef I have with the movie is that it feels kind of disposable. Perhaps this comes from all tv-to-film spinoffs is that it kind of just is an extended, big-budget episode. I want it to be both slavish to fans and perfect for the common man, and The Simpsons Movie is as close as we're going to get to seeing that. But it is still lightyears away from reaching that paradox. There are characters all throughout the movie reminding audiences about the oodles of canon that exist, but these characters don't really matter. There's a shot where the camera flies through an angry mob full of established characters from the television show. I like that a lot and it is a nice nod to fans, but it really doesn't matter in the long run. It's a fun moment, but like candy, it isn't exactly filling. (I just ate some candy because it is near Halloween and I really want some more. Pray for my self-control.) On the other hand, can anything really be said about Homer and his relationship with the family at this point? Their characters have been firmly established and because their adventures are episodic with the intent of lasting forever, these characters honestly can't make any real growth. Homer has let down the family weekly before having an epiphany that his shannigans and laziness affects others. Marge is always close to leaving him with the kids and Homer's grand gestures eventually reaffirms Marge. That's a great story to tell, but the cynical part of me knows that the traits that he learned in this film won't stay with him more than a week. Television has some great character arcs, but situational comedies play up on the idea that people don't really change. The only difference between Lisa of season one and Lisa of today is that she's a vegetarian. (I think...I haven't seen SO much of The Simpsons at this point.) All of this leaves The Simpsons as a fun comedy and how critical can I be of a fun comedy?
The best part about The Simpsons Movie is the return of Matt Groening. One thing that the television show has struggled with is the idea that the show has to be a smart comedy without seeming that it is a smart comedy. What ends up happening is that the show tries to pull of what it did in its hay-day, hire guys out of the Harvard Lampoon (like Conan O'Brien) and have them write genius things. But Conan O'Brien was a wunderkind in himself. The Harvard Lampoon was a vehicle for him to tell his jokes, but I think much of that came from him. Instead, I hear all of the current jokes are so inside that the only people really laughing at the show are the writers themselves. That's where Matt Groening comes in to fix things. His understanding of his audience is absolutely perfect. His humor, which on paper looks effortless with the archetypes he's presenting, actually seems effortless again. (That sentence got away from me.) Oddly enough, the perfect mix of humor should be this: people who never got The Simpsons should think that the show / film is full of dumb jokes for dumb people. The real audience should laugh at the high brow and low brow alike without feeling like they are the snobs who are getting the high brow stuff. Everyone continues on with life. That's what the movie provides again. When the credits roll, there's a million writers. I know that Groening and his crew knew that they needed to get this one right. The Simpsons Movie was teased for far too long to not deliver a slam dunk. This group got the characters and got the narrative. It does get completely bombastic (pun intended) and removed from any semblance of reality, but that's kind of what the movie should have been. Perhaps audiences needed more than Bart trying to buy a copy of Radioactive Man, so the completely over the top plot works here.
The movie is as self-aware as it can get. I like it. It's fun. I don't know if it is kicking me in pants and hurry through my slog that is watching season ten, but I do (with a bit of a gun to my head) like The Simpsons and want the characters to endure. I just don't know if I absolutely love them anymore.
Approved! You hear that folks, it got approved! It can now get a home loan or something. You know what? Considering that I'm a full-on adult, I have a pathetic understanding of how banking works. It's probably why I teach English and film. It's all fantasy. Regardless, there's a pretty gruesome murder in the first minute of the movie. Then there's a lot of talk about murder. Like Crime and Punishment, there's a lot of talk about murder.
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
When I first saw this movie most likely decades ago, I thought this was one of the big Hitchcock films. It simply had to be. I had my Hitchcock box set and I watched Psycho on repeat, but I knew that Rope had to be up there with the greats. I mean, it is Hitchcock pretty much challenging himself for an hour and a half to pull of an insane gimmick while keeping a tension level ebbing and flowing the entire time. How does he possibly do that? When I grew up, I found out that Rope was considered one of his personal and financial failures. Today, it is given a little leeway, but that almost feels like revisionist history or elitism. So what made me see so much in this movie?
In high school, I was super naive about the relationship between the Brandon and Phillip. It was only after I read the Francois Truffaut interview with Alfred Hitchcock did my jaw drop. I'm very innocent. I can read murder in almost every situation, but beyond that, I am blind to everything. But the context of these characters didn't really matter to me. There is something genuinely creepy about this movie. If I had to play Devil's Advocate, I can see this being chalked up to simply a good episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents instead of a film. For those who have never heard of this movie, Rope presents an entire film using invisible cuts. What that means is that the movie looks like it is done all in one take. Back in '48, one take was impossible. The reels of film could only hold about twelve-and-a-half minutes of footage, so Hitchcock had to use the invisible cut to string these scenes together. Regardless, what it creates is a unity of action. This might be seen as a gimmick. In a technical sense, the movie is pretty revolutionary. A few movies, including my recently reviewed Birdman have done the same thing, but there is something really effective of seeing it done well in Hitchcock's Rope. First of all, and this is a bit of a cheat, the film is an adaptation of a play. The unity of place is already woven into the narrative. But the story itself is suited wonderfully for Hitchcock himself. Dubbed the Master of Suspense, the movie plays up on the claustrophobia of the apartment. The Macguffin is front and center and breaks Hitchcock's own rules about the Macguffin. The Macguffin has revealed its value in the first minute of the film. It is the cabinet hiding David's body. With a constantly moving and living camera, the knowledge that the camera is teasing proximity with revelation is phenomenal.
The proof of this tension can be most seen in one absolutely perfect sequence. Mrs. Wilson, while cleaning after dinner, is emptying the top of the cabinet of plates and candles and other accouterments (ooh la la!) and the camera just focuses on her. There is an intense debate with the key players of the film, but they are off camera. The drama seems like it is happening in the gathering space, but really Mrs. Wilson dominates the scene. Other movies have since played with this idea, most recently the opening credits for Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, but this scene is terrifying. Since I've been showing this film for a class, sometimes I don't watch as closely as I would like. Believe it or not, I do like watching movies under ideal conditions. Even though I love Rope, there are times where I'm distracted. (This didn't happen this year. I was actually super in the mood to watch it.) But this scene, regardless of the conditions, I always watch intently. It is such a glorious moment. It is one of those scenes that doesn't get destroyed by knowing how it ends. I'm actually always stunned that Hitchcock can keep me on the hook for as long as he actually does. The scene is excruciating. I know that there's a German word for the amount of discomfort that comes from knowing things are going to end poorly. (If you say "suspense", um...shut up.)
It's so weird. I teach my honors sophomores Crime and Punishment every year. It takes forever to get through because it is a tank of a Russian epic. The most exciting part of the book is covered in the first week and the rest of the time is spent discussing that one moment. I know that Hitchcock calls out Crime and Punishment in the film, so it's not like I'm making some grand comparison. But Rope is the contemporary, CliffNotes version of Crime and Punishment. Instead of putting all of the traits into a sole protagonist like Raskolnikov, the dual nature of the character is split between Phillip and Brandon. Phillip doesn't full on collapse, but he gets pretty Raskolnikovy at times. While finishing Crime and Punishment again will always feel like a great and rich accomplishment, I find myself getting a better sense of the impact of the action from Rope. Dostoyevsky explores the psychology and sociology of the theme, but Rope brings the catharsis. Rope, in a weird way, explores an alternate timeline. What if Raskolnikov was caught? How would that change the context of the action. Perhaps the story isn't exactly one to one. Brandon never feels guilt for what he has done. That's why we have Phillip. Similarly, Brandon is more playful with his view of the crime. Raskolnikov saw himself as a hero and demon simultaneously. Brandon is more about the game. It does give the movie more of an entertaining element, which Dostoyevsky doesn't really stoop to. But Hitchcock was a showman. His artistry, from what I understand, was incidental. This is not equating him with laziness, but simply a separate set of values. Hitchcock puts in the work, more so than many directors. But the themes still come through, regardless of intent and I really value that.
There is one thing that happens when watching the movie too many times. It's the watch-fors when it comes to finding the invisible cut. I tell my students to find them and it does somewhat distract from the investment in the film. I'm going to do the same thing with North by Northwest. I know I'm going to tell them about the kid covering his ears before the shot, but I like knowing these things. It's like a belief in Santa. Does it change my love for Christmas? Probably not. A lack of presents does that. (I already apologize to my Catholic Film Group on Facebook for that comment.)
I love this movie so much. It's getting a reappreciation now, but I think it has always deserved more love than it has gotten. Regardless, I can't wait to watch it again next year.
Rated R, because it felt like it had to be. Is it weird, Annabelle: Creation, to be peer pressured into an R-Rating? Don't let those Conjuring movies boss you around. You be whatever rating you be. Oh, you feel like it's deserved? Fine. You be R. You are pretty gross at times.
DIRECTOR: David F. Sandberg
I knew it! I knew that this franchise had to drop the ball real hard sooner or later. This is the one that did it! It's one of the doll movies! I told you that it was really hard to make a doll movie work! I read on IMDB that director David F. Sandberg didn't want to make a sequel to a franchise because he hates being beholden to the world established. It was only after he was given free reign to make the movie free of many of the references that he agreed. You know what that means? He's a snob. He lies to himself and sleeps on a bed of money that convinced him that he was an artist. This movie is such garbage and I laugh at his delusions. This movie is super beholden to the previous movies and even pretending that it is what the franchise needed is just pure dumb.
There is a tone to the other movies. I was talking about how that tone needed to be tweaked. That doesn't mean that any tone would necessarily work, however. This is an example of how the tone is so totally off from what this franchise needed. I don't mind setting a horror movie in this setting. It's a prequel to a prequel, so the Inception level of understanding has to be taken into account. It's odd that this movie even exists because I thought the first Annabelle movie really covered the origin story pretty closely. Many of the problems is that this movie wants to give the Annabelle doll even more weight than it should have. It is grafting an origin story to an already established origin story. The movie never really goes full-on retcon. (Full-On Retcon is a great name for a band.) But the first film doesn't really plan for this movie. I'm not saying that the movie should have teased more hints that this movie existed. I already complained about that cinematic universe problem in The Conjuring 2 review I did. But it has the problem that many other "important" prequels has: Why did no one mention this before? The events of this story seem like they should be important. There are a lot of witnesses to the doll murdering a bunch of folks. Shouldn't that be brought up in the research section of Annabelle? Yeah, there's a suspension of disbelief. But the bigger, overarching problem is that this story is really not needed. It just comes across as forced. On top of that, considering artiste David F. Sandberg wanted to separate this movie from the other movies, it often breaks its own rules.
I complained in The Conjuring 2 that the "show, don't tell" element was getting weaker per film. I complained mainly that the CG Crooked Man does not hold up to the scrutiny of the other demons in the series. Annabelle: Creation does such an abysmal job with its creature that nothing really works with it. The major view of the creature that is attached to the doll is by showing the hands and fingernails. Man, these hands look super dumb. They honestly look like a Halloween costume with the impracticality of the hands. There's nothing really creative about the look of this creature. It seems like it is made by checklist of creepy things. Jet black hands with long nails? Check. That's it. The nails look like Lee Press-ons. Yup, I'm standing by that description. Considering how creepy the creatures looked in The Conjuring and Annabelle, I'm surprised that no one really commented on how weak the creature looks in this one. A lot of the movie is centered around it. Because the monster was not scary, the movie itself was not scary. I don't think I've been bored with a horror movie this badly. Do you understand how hard it was to not look at my phone the entire time during this film?
Let's talk about the big mistake in this movie. It's a scene and it seems nitpicky, but it might be telling about how lazy this movie really is. There is a scene where a Catholic nun hears one of her charge's confessions. C'mon. There is no way that the filmmakers didn't know that a nun couldn't do that. Someone on set had to say, "Um, a nun can't do that." Someone had to have brought it up and the producers had to say, "Who cares?" That might be the most telling thing about the movie. They are treating the audience as stupid and easily placated. This is a problem that could have easily been solved. Someone went to the expense to research what a confession looks like, but didn't bother to think of a solve to the fact that Sister Charlotte (often just referred to as "Charlotte") didn't have the ability to hear that confession. Much of the movie treats the audience as dumb in that way. There are tropes throughout the film that really don't matter or pay off. Miranda Otto's Esther is teased as being this phantom of the house is merely an excuse to show off a gross out special effect. (A note: the effect isn't that gross or worth the hype.) SPOILER: She is quickly dispatched (admittedly in a cooler gross out way), but there is no real mystery to the house. If anything, the movie screams "terribly generic", building on movies that have far less of a reputation than this franchise swears by. Honestly, I commented in my first Conjuring review that I had stayed away from this franchise because I thought they were dumb. I think that the trailer for Annabelle: Creation is what put that idea firmly in my mind. The other movies were movies that simply passed me by and didn't appeal to me, but this is the one that made me think that the entire franchise was a bad idea. I'm glad that the other movies changed my mind, but I was right about this one. It is an abysmally boring film.
I don't want to crap on little kids and their performances, but those performances are rough. Talitha Bateman's performance made me feel like her parents were forcing her to be a child actress. She holds her own with what is an abysmal script that doesn't really understand child dynamics, but the real weak spot is Lulu Wilson as Linda. (I'm so sorry, little girl that I've never met. I'm sorry that you tried really hard and I had to troll all over your performance.) I've been thinking about what it must be like to be a child actor. My mother-in-law keeps joking about making my daughter a star and I just glare. Like, I'm not mad at her (I swear, Lauren!), but what kind of parent allows a kid to avoid a normal childhood. Maybe she's really into acting and loves it and it's her passion. Then again, she could be on the set of a horror movie reacting to Miranda Otto's torso crucified to a wall. You know, these are things. There are some amazing child actors, so I don't want to disparage every one of them. I just kept getting pulled out of the movie with bad performances and atrocious dialogue.
Annabelle: Creation's biggest fault is that it doesn't aspire to much. Scares are its final goal and it doesn't achieve them. Weirdly enough, the other movies in the franchise seem to have some self-esteem. The one that was actually preached by the director is the one that just tried scaring audiences without actually making me think. While I like the denouement, it does seem a little tangential from the whole plot. If anything, it reminded me that there were better entries in the franchise and that I had wasted my time waiting for this one to come out. That's okay for me, though. I think a podcast becomes more interesting when I have both good and bad things to say about the franchise.
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.