Um...rated R? The extended edition of a children's book entry is rated R. Because in the cut footage, there's a scene of pure gory carnage. Seriously. I knew that the consistent beheadings were becoming a bit of a problem, but the wagon scene? Geez, I know that Peter Jackson got his start in horror. I like that about him a lot. But this felt like a lighter version of the lawnmower scene from Dead Alive. Yeah, this movie deserves to be R because there's a lot of fighting, a lot of death, and a lot of blood. Well deserved R for a children's book.
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
I think we all know the biggest problem with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. I'm saying something that should be on everyone's lips. I know it isn't the only problem, but it is a drill going through my head. I cannot stand Alfrid Lickspittle. I know that the actor who played Jar-Jar Binks lived a terrible life because a lot of people heaped a lot of vitriol upon him. But Ryan Gage isn't the problem. Alfrid Lickspittle, as a concept for a movie, is a terrible concept. He takes a not great movie and turns it into something that, when he's on screen, actively becomes a burden.
I'm kinda / sorta defensive of The Hobbit movies. I am happy that they exist. The world is a better place because of them. But they are deeply flawed, and none more so than the final entry. But adding Alfrid Lickspittle to this movie makes it straight up painful to watch at times. Jar-Jar Binks really wasn't funny, but Lucas's argument for adding him to the Star Wars prequels was that the movies were made for kids, so adding a Tom and Jerry level buffoon to the movie made it more fun for kids. I know that The Hobbit is adapted from children's literature, but the R-rating that this extended edition has means that the viewership was never really made for children. I'm kind of having the epiphany right now that The Hobbit movies were never really an adaptation for its literary target audience. It's for the adults who adulate The Lord of the Rings and want to return to that world. Alfrid Lickspittle's sense of humor is similar to that of Jar-Jar. It is really really base. There's nothing really all that clever about Alfrid. He's a surface level character that is there to be laughed at. Jackson goes out of his way to make Alfrid so unlikable that, when misfortune befalls him, we meant to get a sense of joy out of his misery. But to do this, Alfrid goes through things that are meant to be humorous. He flounders on a beach. He dresses as an old lady. He gets smushed. One of the things that the original trilogy, and to a certain extent, the Hobbit trilogy does pretty well is humor. Often, we are laughing in the midst of dark scenes. But the humor of Alfrid is just so poorly timed that it reads as artifical. There's a stand up bit by Patton Oswalt that has to do with punch up. Often, comedians are brought into movies to make them funnier in post. They really can't do too much because the film is already done, so everything funny has to happen off-screen. Alfrid Lickspittle reads as a last ditch attempt to bring a sense of humor to a bleak film.
The Battle of the Five Armies is bleak. There's just a lot of death throughout the film. It is kind of a bummer ending for a book because many of the heroes of the story change their statuses and become enemies. The goal of the first two films, with the exception of the end of The Desolation of Smaug, was to get us to like and bond with the dwarves as they made their way to Erebor. When they become the bad guys, a necessary tonal shift happens. I really feel like it was a suit that said that the movie had to be lightened up with comic relief. Maybe it was an attempt to get the younger audience on board. But that shift in Thorin Oakenshield is an important one. I'm not saying that we can't shift a dark scene with a light scene, but this really feels forced. There are moments where I just want to breathe in the change of relationships that Bilbo and Thorin face. Instead, we get Alfrid Lickspittle. I applaud the name. It sounds very Tolkien-y. But the character just doesn't fit in the narrative whatsoever. Also, to make Alfrid work, there has to be a lot of politics about the people of Laketown. I mentioned in the last Hobbit review that the politics of Laketown are burdensome. On the one hand, Laketown is a very real consequences for the dwarves foolishness and selfishness. Jackson's smart to pick up on that. But Tolkien's original novel treats Laketown as a very outside world. It is the world of Fortenbras of Norway. I like that he exists parallel to the plot. The world of Laketown should exist and the film needs to address the repercussions of the dwarves' actions, but I don't need to know the beat-by-beat of the philosophy of these people. Similarly, it is really cringey when major characters seem to seek out interactions with Alfrid. It makes no sense that Gandalf would trust Alfrid Lickspittle with Bilbo Baggins's safety and health.
But the big problem is that The Battle of the Five Armies just doesn't have enough plot to carry a feature length film, let alone an extended cut of an already long movie. The central story is Thorin's taking of Erebor. The Battle of the Five Armies, in the book, is the consequence of his actions. But even Tolkien understood that showing the battle was a major mistake. It is a tonal deviation from what he intended the story to be about: Bilbo and his character change from the beginning of the story. He has the message of the battle showing that people die from selfishness and greed. Bilbo, in the novel, is quickly knocked out and doesn't get to experience a lot of the action. The actual battle is Peter Jackson's most dangerous thing to do as a director. In The Two Towers, Jackson has already filmed one of the greatest battle sequences in cinema history. It serves to be such a cathartic moment in a series that desperately needed to have these armies finally collide. Despite the fact that The Return of the King won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the groundwork was laid in The Two Towers with the Battle of Helm's Deep. That final battle in Return of the King, despite being unfathomably epic, doesn't hold the same emotional weight as the Battle of Helm's Deep. Jackson --and this could be a criticism of The Hobbit trilogy as a whole --is in the shadow of his own reputation. When I read the novel, I love the idea of The Battle of the Five Armies. It's epic and sprawling. But it exists in as long as I daydream about it. Jackson not only had to create this epic EPIC battle, but he had to do it to stall for the length of the film. There is a tipping point in fighting where it just becomes boring. The Battle of the Five Armies definitely tips on that scale.
Also, Jackson, during his Lord of the Rings filming, injected the film with so many "Whoa, cool" moments that he felt the need to keep doing that. I know that when I heard about Legolas being added to these movies, I thought it was a good idea. I really don't like the Legolas of The Hobbit. He's too good at everything. At the Battle of Helm's Deep, I worry for him. I know he comes out fine. But his 47 kills seem, somehow, based in reality. In this movie, he is actually unkillable. The Jump-the-Shark moment happens with the collapsing bricks over the chasm. It's too much. Legolas often bends the rules of physics. This is him full on spitting in physics's face. As a finale for a movie that I try to defend, I find The Battle of the Five Armies kind of insufferable. All of the trimmings and eye candy take away from the ultimately human story of Bilbo Baggins and the internal struggle he faces of seeing how important he truly is. Jackson tries that with his betrayal of Thorin Oakenshield, but The Battle of the Five Armies isn't really a story about Bilbo Baggins. It's a story about Middle Earth.
So do I hate The Hobbit movies? For a long time, I cried foul on people who attacked these movies. In a way, I suppose that I still do. These movies are fine. I am glad that I own them and I'll probably end up watching them again in the next five years. It's just that they are a bit much. I'm not saying anything new by saying that it should be one long film or two normal length movies. But three tanks? Nah. The Battle of the Five Armies shows its weakness in its pacing and desperate attempt to cover up for the fact that nothing new is happening. I am happy it exists, but I really want to see Topher Grace's cut of the entire trilogy.
Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
It's PG-13 horror. It's not Hostel or Saw gory, but it has some substantial gore. Again, with the premise, I suppose it is better seeing a million deaths knowing that the protagonist gets up again. But also, that allows for an absolutely insane kill count. I am probably going to talk about it when I actually start writing this nonsense, but why does Tree feel the need to vary her death? Find one that hurts the least and stick with it. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Christopher Landon
I thought I found the unicorn, guys. I started watching the movie and thought, "Oh my gosh. The odd desire to watch Happy Death Day just so I could watch Happy Death Day 2U totally paid off." I mean, if you can read my intentions behind my writing, you'll know that I failed ultimately. Like Lost, another movie that didn't quite know how to wrap everything up, I enjoyed Happy Death Day 2U until I realized that none of it came together and they just showed cool ideas with no idea how to explain them.
Why is it that a terrible ending can ruin a movie that I enjoyed while watching it? Seriously. I watched it in two shifts. (It's really hard to watch horror with little kids and a wife who is thoroughly over anything scary.) During the first half, I started trying to find ways to get my wife to watch the first one. I know. It is an insane battle. I happened to enjoy the first film, but I thought that the second one was going to elevate the first one to such a payoff, that I wanted to watch it with someone else so we could discuss. (I have these epic fantasies, guys. I live in a dreamworld where people get excited about genre and then immediately have to talk about it for two hours.) But then I watched the second half of the movie. It's not a bad second half. It's a bad last-ten-minutes. Do you know why it is a bad last ten minutes? It's because the movie promised to break my brain open and then didn't do any of that. I'm going to be really specific and spoilery, but this cannot go unheeded. Apparently, there's a second killer and he's going after Ryan. I love that. Ryan being stuck in an alternate loop with Tree as a guide is a great idea. But Tree, because she's an expert at timeloops and discovering how to break them gets the killer caught almost immediately. And then we discover that there is another Ryan from an alternate timeline. I adore this too. Keep going. Alternate Ryan apparently has to kill this Ryan or things will get way worse. The rest of the movie is Tree being re-stuck in her old loop and the killer is someone different. It goes into parallel universes and questions of morality and everything I love about good time travel movies. But the whole Ryan thing is never cleared up. Alternate universe Ryan doesn't actually explain why killing the initial Ryan would be good for the timelines. We never actually go back to that moment again.
It's such a grievous error that the special features actually addressed it. There's a special feature on the Blu-Ray that tries to explain the time travel. But to be cheeky and to ignore the fact that there's a criminally annoying plothole in the film, when it gets to alternate Ryan, it just says "WTF is going on here" or something. That's how bad it is. I know that the marketing team who put together the fairly superficial special features for the disc were confused. You know that writer / director Christopher Landon also knew this. The bigger problem that genre storytelling tends to do is to put something in the film that's cool without a care for the larger story. I know. I'm sounding like a real old man. I'm a real Martin Scorsese or Francis Ford Coppola here. Remember how Francis Ford Coppola directed a mediocre version of Dracula? Yeah, you keep telling me that superhero movies are the problem. I'm sorry, I'm very worked up about this. Landon knew that he wanted to have a jaw dropping moment, a 'la Lost, but did nothing to earn it whatsoever. I adore that the movie throws Tree into a time loop. I think that's really interesting. I even kinda sorta like that Ryan's story isn't the central timeloop of the movie. Okay, that's all fine. But the movie owed me something and that was an explanation and a consequence for such a dramatic "you got me" moment. Honestly, having George Washington under the baby mask would have actually been a better answer than alternate dimension Ryan because at least we knew that the movie was messing with us. The only thing that alternate dimension Ryan adds to the story is the first hint that alternate dimensions exist. It's a real bummer and it ruined a movie that is actually pretty fun.
The reason why Groundhog Day works so well is because it brought to the genre the effective time loop movie. But everyone else who has done the time loop story has stayed within the parameters of Groundhog Day. The biggest draw to Happy Death Day 2U was that it finally felt like it was breaking out of the mold that Groundhog Day had established. Like Back to the Future II, which the film name drops for a callback, the sequel should both acknowledge the best elements of the first movie while being almost a different film in terms of genre. Back to the Future is a remarkably complex time travel film, but ultimately has a light-hearted tone that sticks the science fiction in the background. Back to the Future II puts the science fiction stuff front and center. The same stuff happens in Happy Death Day 2U, but it doesn't have the tight scripting that the first movie does. A lot of people don't like BTTF II, but I adore that film. I almost got to the point of adoring Happy Death Day 2U, but it just completely botched the goodwill that the first parts of the films began with.
This means that I have to watch Happy Death Day 2U with the knowledge that it can't be evaluated as something that really changes the game. Instead, I have to watch it as a horror movie. It markets itself as a horror movie, so I now have to look at it from that perspective. From that perspective, it is really weak compared to the first film. I had the killer spoiled for me by the trailer to this movie. I know. That's a crime in itself. But the first movie actually creates a fairly cool mystery and cool atmosphere while having a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards death. The sequel has a lot of the tonal copying. It is very light in tone. But the lightness in tone is appreciated because the rest of the film is so serious. There is a way to actually solve the mystery of the first movie. One can pick up clues in the various time loops that allow the viewer to piece together who did what and why. It helped that I already knew who did it, but the pieces were there. The reveal of the killer in the second movie (not Ryan), is almost completely arbitrary to the time travel element of the story. It almost seems like that was an alternate ending to the first film and the pieces kinda / sorta fit. But the big reveal wasn't at all interesting. When Ryan is revealed as the initial killer, it changed the rules for how things were supposed to play out in the whodunnit. But the movie desperately tries getting the genie back in the bottle and return back to normal. Revealing the professor to be the killer (I TOLD YOU I WAS GOING TO DO THIS) is not only disappointing, but it is a distraction from the greater center of the film. Yeah, I like that alternate Lori actually makes a bit more character sense and that she's allowed to play something else besides the role that made her a bit of a caricature. But to do that, it had to rely on other tropes. It's a bummer.
If I went back in time and told myself that Lost would end in a disappointing fashion, I don't know if I would have stuck around for it. But I really enjoyed the journey of watching Lost. Heck, it also made me more culturally literate. I enjoyed watching Happy Death Day 2U, but I wish I had known that it wouldn't stick the landing. I probably would still watch it, knowing that the ending was going to be a bummer. But I could have watched it for the schlock it ended up being.
Not rated. It's a documentary about the guy who played Big Bird. There's some mild language and some tough stuff to deal with, but it is about Sesame Street and how it affected the world. I know that the film probably never really submitted itself to the scrutiny of the MPAA, but most of this is pretty innocent. Caroll Spinney seemed to be a nice guy who really liked being Big Bird. 'Nuff said.
DIRECTORS: Dave LaMattina and Chad Walker
There have been a lot of these movies lately, haven't there? It actually might start here, with I Am Big Bird [sic]. I know that we are all Mr. Rogers crazy right now. I'm part of that whole movement. I'm talking about the viewers out there who need uplifting documentaries about people who molded our childhoods. I'm glad that I watched Won't You Be My Neighbor? first because that movie did a lot for me in terms of coming to a realization about what kids need. But I Am Big Bird kind of fills the same role. Caroll Spinney, unlike Fred Rogers, is a mostly an unknown. We all know Big Bird. Well, hopefully we all know Big Bird. I want to live in a world where people know Big Bird. By 17 month old daughter loves Big Bird. But what about Caroll Spinney needs to be told?
It's such a bummer that I can only compare him to Fred Rogers. I know. I just said the opposite two seconds ago. Fred Rogers was a powerhouse of a human being. The knowledge that his persona was mostly the person that he was is fascinating. Fred Rogers had his face for all to see. When he went out of the studio, people knew him as Fred Rogers. He literally became the face of PBS. He went on trial to defend PBS. Caroll Spinney, through no fault of his own, was hidden behind Big Bird. It was important that he did that. Big Bird had to be real to children and if Caroll Spinney vocally spoke for Big Bird without the costume, some of the magic would have been lost. So a lot of the story of I Am Big Bird is about Spinney, but more of it is about the impact of Big Bird. It's a bummer because Caroll Spinney is the reason that Big Bird exists. He's the brainchild behind this character. And boy, he is a delightful man. He's a bit off. The movie wants me to have that takeaway to a certain extent. He doesn't really operate on the same level as a lot of us, but that's what makes him kind of special too. Fred Rogers has the same things. For the bulk of his life, he's lived in the world of children's television. Like Rogers, he doesn't do it for the paycheck. He does it because he loves what he is doing.
It's so odd the parallels between Rogers and Spinney. For those not in the know, Spinney is also Oscar the Grouch. Both Rogers and Spinney managed to craft characters that encapsulated the positive and negative emotions that they dealt with on a regular basis. They both had really rough lives. Possibly the most crushing element of I Am Big Bird is the knowledge that his father was a cruel man. There is something broken in a lot of performers. It probably isn't a rule that some major element of a life has to be askew to succeed, but it does tend to be the trend in these stories. I wonder if there is something therapeutic to being both Big Bird and Oscar. It's odd that Spinney doesn't really have an adult character who has healthy emotional outlets. Big Bird has always been a child. It makes sense, considering that the star character on a children's television program should be an avatar for the viewer. But Oscar is simply negative emotions. I love that Oscar isn't a bad guy on the show though. He rides that line, to be sure. But Oscar is one of the heroes, in a weird way, of Sesame Street. While not serving as a one-to-one correlation, Oscar often shows how negative feelings can be dealt with without going too far. Oscar never throws temper tantrums. He never gets violent. He's just a grouch. Sometimes, it's okay to be grouchy.
But no one wants to be Oscar...
It's hard to divorce Big Bird from Caroll Spinney. I suppose the filmmakers are aware of that. But there is a mental break. I mean, I'm always sad when Clark Kent doesn't get enough screentime compared to Superman. Because Spinney is almost always in the suit, the movie strangely becomes about Caroll Spinney's thought on things that happened to Big Bird. Big Bird went to China. Big Bird was almost on the Challenger mission. (True story! That creeped me out more than anything else.) Spinney is there and people commented about Spinney's thoughts on the matter when things are going on. But these are things that happened to the character. Spinney lived that and has firsthand knowledge of it. But there are a lot of moments where I don't really know if Spinney was a good father or not. His kids are in the movie. They don't have a ton of screen time, but I could read some of their comments in different lights. The movie wanted me to think that his kids adored that he was Big Bird. But we never really got entire sections about their lives now. The movie was made as a tribute to Caroll Spinney. There are some warts in the film, but they are pretty minor. We know that he got a divorce. But the divorce is in there because he eventually met the love of his life that made him happy. In some ways, I Am Big Bird almost reads like a retirement video. "This is Your Life" kind of stuff. But while Fred Rogers fought against the establishment, Caroll Spinney is mostly a person who liked being Big Bird.
I liked this movie a lot. But I ended up watching it in segments (one of my least favorite ways to watch) because the movie doesn't really have a central throughline that goes very deep. It kind of gets packed in with one of my fan documentaries that I bemoan so much, yet tend to watch ravenously. I Am Big Bird never really gets close to making me cry, which is fine. But it also is just a feel good movie. Caroll Spinney and Big Bird should be celebrated. This movie does that in spades. I suppose my takeaway is that not every movie needs to be Citizen Kane, or in this case, Won't You Be My Neighbor? It's a strong film that does the job it set out to do. It gives a name to a celebrity that we should have known before this point. We get to know what makes him tick and satisfies us with the knowledge that he loves being Big Bird. It's the answers we want and that's why this movie has value. It isn't life changing, like people made it out to be. But it is heartwarming.
Isn't It Romantic (2019)
PG-13. The movie has a metatextual element to the MPAA rating. It stresses over-and-over that it is a PG-13 movie, so Rebel Wilson's character isn't allowed to do anything untoward. That being said, the second she is free of the conceit of the film, she drops an f-bomb simply because she can. During the alternate reality sequence, she tries to have sex, but fails because of the PG-13 rating in the movie. She does claim to have snuck a peek at male genetalia, but I don't know when that could have happened because of the meta use of syuzhet. Eh, it's a movie. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Todd Strauss-Schulson
I'm not going to lie. I'm getting a little burned out on rom-coms. I should be standing my ground right now. I should be all, "It's October, baby! Where's the horror movies?" But I also really like that my wife likes watching movies with me, so you can make any kind of commentary you want about my place in this relationship. I remember watching the trailer for this movie and thinking that it looked promising. Rebel Wilson is a treasure. At least, that's what I thought. Rebel Wilson has always played a perfect second fiddle in movies and it is really odd to see her taking the reins. But I don't think it's Rebel Wilson's experience as leading lady that's the problem with the movie.
I guess to talk about this movie, we have to talk about the conceit of the film. Without full on being a parody, the movie embraces the meta-text of film to propel the plot. Rebel Wilson's Natalie finds herself in the world of romantic comedies. She has to follow the rules of romantic comedies to free herself from this alternate dimension. Of course, she is one of those people who don't exactly love romantic comedies. I can relate. I like the idea of the movie, but to really send up a concept using meta humor, it has to be great. Meta humor is truly genius if it is perfectly crafted. The problem is that Isn't It Romantic takes a lot of broad strokes towards romantic comedies and only a few of these jokes really land. It kind of feels like a movie that was made without doing much research. When Isn't It Romantic finds a trope and comments on it, it is great. The crane / drone shot of a car to establish travel / establishing shot set to the theme of "Making My Way Downtown" is spot on perfect. I adored it and the repetition of that joke is probably the most effective thing in the entire film. But a lot of the elements were lazy. The world of romantic comedy isn't teeming with love. Yeah, there are a lot of flowers and people tend to work in a version of New York completely saturated with boutiques. I like that. But do you know what rom-coms don't have? Hearts everywhere. They don't change their signs to show that everyone is in love. Rom-coms have a very specific formula. Heck, I'm really shocked that the movie didn't embrace the living daylights out of the fact that they are all the same movie. Rom-coms love exaggerating conflict between the romantic leads. "There's no way that this is going to work" until it does. However, Isn't It Romantic just has people throwing themselves at Natalie for the whole film. Everything is pushing these two people together when, in reality, they should both be annoyed seeing each other.
And the biggest problem with sending up romantic comedies is that Isn't It Romantic IS a romantic comedy? As goofy as the world of Natalie is when she's in the meta romantic comedy, Natalie's actual life is already a romantic comedy. They try dirtying it up a little bit, but it is more like a romantic comedy in the supposed real world than it is in the world of the film. The meta romantic comedy isn't accurate to the very thing it is parodying. It is almost sending up Enchanted, which is an accurate send up of Disney princess movies. The whole thing feels kind of lazy. When the whole world is kind of lazy, it doesn't really matter how good the jokes are. The jokes, by the way, aren't that good. There's one or two real chuckles in here. But it just felt like this movie was sent out completely underbaked. It takes so many shortcuts to deliver on its central conceit that it just hinders the film as a whole. This all leaves me with certain questions that make it really hard to analyze the film as something cohesive. Its goal was to send up rom-coms, but is ultimately a rom-com in itself. There is no "real world" because it kind of missed the point as a whole. Then, I'm forced to deal with this film as simply a film and not a parody of a greater set of movies. It's weird that I'm hammering this point into the ground, but I actually find myself in defense of romantic comedies as a genre because this movie just missed the point so badly.
This all then kind of spirals into the major message of the film. I dig this message. I approve this message. I want more movies to have this message. But again, like with the failure of the conceit, it also failed in getting to the end of the film in a proper way. Isn't It Romantic does one kind of gutsy thing. It says that finding a perfect man isn't going to make you happy. I really dig this. If we are saying that films should be about empowerment, Isn't It Romantic's message of loving oneself first is super important and I dig that it is in this film. BUT, the movie tries having it both ways. The movie knows its audience. One of the comforting elements about romantic comedies is that they actually provide a sense of joy out of being formulaic. We know who is supposed to come together. The point of watching the film is to watch the beats come together coupled with a fake sense of tension to deliver a story that reminds us of home. It's your mom's meatloaf of films. I get it. The studio, more importantly, gets it. I'm sure that there is a draft of Isn't It Romantic where Rebel Wilson doesn't get together with Adam Devine. The movie is about loving herself and role credits. But I also saw my wife's face when she backs out of interrupting a wedding. She wanted that relationship to be destroyed because it wasn't the ending she was ready for. Me, I just wanted to see the world burn so I climbed on board that sinking ship and wanted to see some corpses. (Again, it's October and I'm analyzing Isn't It Romantic). But the movie had a cake-and-eat-it-too ending and that always bugs me. Natalie has her big revelation. Her mother made her feel like she was somehow less deserving of love than anyone else and when she realized that she needed to treat herself better, that should have been the ending. It's the climax of the film. Her internal conflict is resolved. But then she wakes up in the hospital and gets to have a bit of a do-over, now that she's dealt with her emotional trauma. I couldn't have been the only one to realize that waking up in a hospital that looked remarkably similar to the fictional hospital was probably a dumb move because it only stressed how everything in this film felt artificial? She gets to re-do the romantic comedy, only apparently under "real rules."
But there are no "real rules." The world that Natalie comes from has the deck stacked in her favor. Adam Devine's Josh went from playing it fast and casual about dating to having the perfect words to describe why he stares at her all day. They are in the romantic comedy. We were watching The Big Family Cooking Showdown yesterday on Netflix and the guy claimed that he was going to propose to his girlfriend if they got to the next round. They got booted. The girlfriend still wanted him to propose. He said "No." That's a real bummer reality, but that's reality. The best jokes on reality shows are still pretty bad because reality is not scripted. (Okay, reality shows are totally scripted, except Great British Baking Show). That dance in the end, I don't know if they were implying that she was still in a fictional world or that the film itself is a romantic comedy, but it doesn't do much to defend the movie from the criticisms I just brought up. The movie wants it all and it really can't have it all. It ruins the film on a bunch of levels.
And now I'm stuck saying that I shouldn't take this movie so seriously. It's fine as a date night movie. But the things that get me about movies like this is that they only need a little more crafting to get things perfectly right. But often romantic comedies seem to be made taking shortcuts. Isn't It Romantic has a lot of elements that could have made it special, but it actually shot itself in the foot harder than I've seen a movie do in a while. I had a good time watching a movie with my wife. That movie had people I liked who did an okay job. But ultimately, there's a lot left and that just left me disappointed.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie (2019)
TV-MA. It goes into very familiar places for fans of Breaking Bad. While AMC tended to silence the language of Breaking Bad, Netflix allows the language to flow freely. There's no censorship here. While the gore itself is left to a fair minimum, the movie is teeming with brutality. The movie is about torture and focuses on characters that have very little respect for human life. It's R because it feels R.
DIRECTOR: Vince Gilligan
It's like rediscovering an old favorite tee shirt. I guess it is appropriate that I'm writing this on a computer that I enjoy writing on. Sure, the edge cuts my skin, but the formatting on the screen is absolutely ideal. Kind of like Breaking Bad. See, I'm one of those people who swears by Better Call Saul. While the voice is very similar, considering that Vince Gilligan is the creative mind behind both shows, Breaking Bad has something that is just a little different than Better Call Saul. I thought I wasn't lacking for Breaking Bad in my life. El Camino proved me wrong.
I seem to be watching a lot of movies that are extensions from ended television shows. I had this whole run of Star Trek movies and very recently, I wrote about the Downton Abbey movie. With the whole Martin Scorsese nonsense about the state of cinema lately, I don't want to be the guy who says that films about television shows are second class movies. That seems to be kind of a jerk thing to say. But I think I believe that when it comes to both Star Trek and Downton Abbey. Yeah, it's snobby. But I also get that those films really feel like they are for fans of the show. I can't deny that El Camino might only work for Breaking Bad fans. It's a bummer to say that. But while something like Downton Abbey or Star Trek seem to be guilty pleasure extensions of the main property, El Camino does something that separates it from the herd of TV spinoffs. If Scorsese has a problem with theme park entertainment, I don't think that El Camino necessarily fits in that category. A lot of that comes from the way that Breaking Bad is considered prestige television. It's weird to think of Breaking Bad as high art. I don't know if a ton of television has really crossed that threshold in to the canon, but Breaking Bad probably got close to that. I can't deny that a lot of Breaking Bad works because of a cool concept. It is very cool and edgy and whatnot. But what stops both Breaking Bad and El Camino simply from being a cool concept show into something greater is the character development throughout the show. I probably will never find myself involved in cooking meth or have anything to do with meth as a concept. But somehow, Jesse Pinkman, and to a different extent, Walter White, are both relatable characters. I mean, I have no commonalities with them, but I can see their inherent human struggle.
El Camino loves juxtaposition. We can acknowledge that Jesse Pinkman has done some stuff in his day. It's hard to comment on El Camino without at least putting it in context with Breaking Bad. But Jesse is this sympathetic character. I forgot so much of what happened during the run of the show, even as far as the finale. But El Camino instantly put me back into the emotional relationship that I had with Jesse in Breaking Bad. He became this sympathetic antihero, in some ways seeking redemption. The show implied that Jesse's year in captivity broke his spirits in a lot of ways. I mean, my brain filled in the gaps of what Jesse had to be going through, but I never knew that I really needed to find out exactly what was going on in that year. Enter Todd, the character who just epitomizes evil on that show. That's a pretty impressive title considering how many evil characters were on that show. But Todd and his complete detachment from empathy is the most sadistic character. Having him as the juxtaposition for Jesse is inspired. Todd, played masterfully by Jesse Plemons, is haunting. He's so haunting that Aaron Paul's Jesse Pinkman comes across as downright heroic throughout the story. I'm thinking of characters who live in just horrific conditions. After my long streak of prepping for Joker, we see Jesse who has gotten his fair share of misery, acting like a broken animal. El Camino acts as a tale about recovering from abuse and it is because of Jesse and Todd's difference that really highlight those moments. Todd doesn't really have a care in the world. His life is full of inconveniences at best, but he isn't really put out by much. He has a dead body of someone he actually kind of liked just lying in his kitchen. Todd never gets worried about whether they will be caught or not. He just prefers not to get caught. Jesse, someone who never even met the cleaning lady, is genuinely moved by her death. He sees the devil and he wants no part of it. He's fearful of Todd, as he should be. It's because of Todd's evil that the pizza scene works.
That pizza scene, guys? Let me tell you. Besides the fact that it inspired my wife and I to get a late night Papa John's second dinner, it was crushing. And it totally made sense for the character. To say that Jesse didn't shoot Todd because he was afraid or that he was selfish would do the character a disservice. There are some times in storytelling that we know that there are a flood of reasons why a character acts on his or her impulses. One of those moments (and I'm proud to make a connection between El Camino and John Steinbeck) is George's choice at the end of Of Mice and Men. We have so many reasons that George shot Lennie that we can't say it's one thing. Jesse's choice not to shoot Todd had so many things going on there that I could talk about them for a long time and we still wouldn't be clear exactly what happened there. Jesse was tortured and made to be subhuman. Todd is this confident killer who is wildly unpredictable and has gotten far with violence. One element of it is that Jesse has been broken as a human being and is terrified of the devil. Another element has to be that he doesn't really believe that Todd would die. Todd keeps surviving and Jesse keeps failing. It's the Reek sequence from Game of Thrones. Also, I really get the vibe that Jesse really wants to be done with killing. That's supported by the shootout sequence later in the film. But also, and this is the most heartbreaking, I think he really wants that pizza. It sounds dumb. Also, there's a good chance that Todd was completely lying about the pizza. But that is a basic, baby-step towards humanity. He wants normality and that's found with pizza and beer. There's probably half a dozen other reasons. As much as he hates his cage, that cage makes moral decisions for him. There's probably an odd safety to the cage. While 90% wants to be free of that cage, there's still 10% of moral freedom. I don't know. There's stuff to unpack.
What I love about El Camino is that it was fan service, but it didn't feel like fan service. We saw the people we wanted to see again. It made callbacks and nods to things that we once thought important. But it also felt like this was a story that Vince Gilligan just wanted to tell. Downton Abbey kind of felt like the fans goaded Julian Fellows into doing another one. El Camino had really tight storytelling done within a reasonable budget. Do you know why I feel this? Because they didn't de-age anyone. Especially not Aaron Paul. That scene, the scene that everyone was waiting for? Didn't de-age him for a second. They showed images of Jesse from season one of Breaking Bad in the movie and they still pretended that's what 40-year-old Aaron Paul looked like then. And I didn't care for a second. They have so much footage, but they knew it was about the craft and not about the look that sold it. Sure, it's a little goofy, but it worked. I loved it. That gave the whole thing heart. It wasn't just fan service. It was a chance to tell a really good story instead of just revisiting characters. I'm really glad we revisited those characters, but that's all gravy. El Camino is an example of riding that fence between entertaining the fans of a television show, but at the same time pushing the characters forwards in a meaningful way. While I may never watch El Camino again, I'm certainly glad I did the first time.
Taxi Driver (1976)
R. I mean, it's Taxi Driver, guys. You may be confusing this movie for the Jimmy Fallon / Queen Latifah vehicle, Taxi. That movie was a fun family romp. This is Taxi Driver, a movie that became the face of the punk movement. It's got insanely uncomfortable violence and sexuality. The antihero protagonist visits porn theaters on the reg. He dreams about murdering people. There's child prostitution. It's got all kinds of uncomfortable material, which is kind of the point of the movie. R.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
Man, watching Joker meant that I had to watch a bunch of disturbing films just so I could comment on Joker. I had seen Taxi Driver ages ago. I remember being so uncomfortable with the film that I thought that I would never watch it again. Well, that was true until my buddies got together and had a garage sale, so I bought the DVD to help my friend out. Then I thought I would get around to it and it just sat on a shelf. There are a handful of movies that I don't watch a ton because I think they might slightly be toxic for the soul. Taxi Driver, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Cabin Fever are my list right now. The thing about this list is that Taxi Driver actually might have something to say and its use of the uncomfortable is meant to be troubling.
Joker so desperately wanted Taxi Driver's tone. It borderline steals its setting. There's a very specific image of New York that Taxi Driver grabs. It's pretty much New York in the '70s during a garbage strike. I don't know where I read that (maybe Variety?) but it nailed it. I'm showing my film club The Two Towers right now and I think that New York acts as the corrupting influence like the one ring. See, I can dumb anything down, along with my readership. I apologize, wise reader, for making this comparison, but it probably ties in to what I want to say in the long run. Travis Bickle is never an amazing hero. He's a former marine, which gives him a noble quality to some extent. But Travis is a guy dealing with mental illness in what he sees as a positive way. He tries to take care of himself. He writes. He tries to go on dates. But the world around him is constantly corrupting a guy who has limited exposure to healthy outlets. The movie starts with Travis giving the audience some direct characterization. He has little education and, like The Hurt Locker, he has little exposure to normality. He can't sleep at night. The city constantly reminds him about misery. Scorsese's New York screams toxic throughout. There's very little positive to look for in this world. It's funny how Joker can have toxic Gotham and Taxi Driver can have toxic New York, but I can at least humanize with Travis Bickle.
Joker has Joaquin Phoenix in a dark place from moment one. He's only a few steps from becoming the Joker from the beginning. We see his journal, unlike Travis's, is full of pornography and troubling scribbles. Travis, however, is someone we want to root for, despite the knowledge that hope is ultimately silly. Travis is the underdog fighting against the city. I think that's maybe where Taxi Driver gets a little muddy in terms of message. The first time I watched this, it had to be in college. Because everything had to be extreme at that age, I couldn't wait for Travis to become the disturbed vigilante character. It would be a hearty dose of action in a slow, uncomfortable movie. But that's probably why I didn't like the movie the first time. Travis makes a terrible character to root for when it comes to him unleashing his dark side. This time, I watched it with the attitude that I wanted Travis to get mental help. I wanted his hair combed and brushed. I wanted him tucking in his shirt. I wanted him to go to the diner with his buddies. These were moments of hope. The shorter his hair got, the more uncomfortable I got with the movie. I watched this good man get drowned by the city and his mental illness. It makes the end all the more troubling for me.
I'm talking about the resolution. I don't know how I feel about the resolution of the film. If the climax of the film is Travis shooting up the bordello, the resolution is Travis being hailed as a hero cab driver. I always define climax as "The choice is made". Travis has officially lost himself to the vigilante in the bordello. He's very close to those moments ahead of time. It really starts in the sequence when he shoots Harvey Keitel in the stomach. That's when the climax begins and it ends with him miming that he wants to shoot himself in the head. He has given himself over to his psychosis. The city has changed him. That's what makes the ending so questionable for me. If Taxi Driver is a message movie, Scorsese is making a commentary on how we worship at the feet of violence. With the whole era of gun violence upon us now, what is Taxi Driver's prophetic message about gun violence. I think it is a commentary on "The good guy with a gun" being a load of hooey. I'm pretty anti-gun, so I can't help but bring my anti-gun bias into this criticism. Sorry, it's who I am. Travis views himself as the hero of the story. He buys a lot of guns from a very sketchy character and can't stop fantastizing about using those guns. He sees the moral good that he wants to do. He wants to free Iris from the pimp, and to do that, he has to kill. He points that gun everywhere. He becomes obsessed with the gun. The gun is freedom to him. How it ties into Palantine directly confuses me. The Palantine assassination subplot reads very much about a commentary on Travis's warped view on reality because I get the impression that he personally likes Palantine. But Palatine has also been associated with rejection on the part of Betsy. It's something that may make people feel like they are the actual good guy because they never plan on assassinating a public figure, so I don't love it as a beat in the film. But Travis's point of view is extremely dark. Scorsese doesn't make the violence sexy or fun. He makes it like the violence in Texas Chainsaw. It is blunt, brutal, and dark.
But then why the ending? I get the wanting to comment on society. But, considering all that he has done that is unhealthy, why does he have a relatively happy ending? Betsy kind of / sort of forgives him. He has his hair combed neatly and he looks kind of put together. That resolution I find extremely troubling. Is it advocating, maybe accidentally, about how violence does actually solve problems? Travis is labeled a hero for his actions in the bordello. We know that Travis is not in a good place for the majority of the film. Part of me thinks that Scorsese wants to remind us that our cab drivers may be Travis. Travis is just a guy out there. He may have done horrible things and we're out there, just interacting with him as if nothing were wrong. It's a bizarre, haunting concept. The closest ending I can think to Taxi Driver is Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Norman is well groomed and looks innocent, but we are tainted by the knowledge of the things he's done. With Norman in Psycho, he's still going to be institutionalized. I wonder if Scorsese wanted to dabble with the concept of the unreliable narrator. The resolution does really read like Travis's ideal ending to a miserable situation. Does the movie really ending when Travis puts his fingers up to his temple and jokes about suicide? It seems like that's the natural ending to a murder spree like Travis has. I don't know. It reads really weird to me.
Taxi Driver is a much more complex film than I gave it credit for the first time I watched it. Again, I never trust what I say a decade before. I really liked the film this time. I know, it's still very uncomfortable to watch. But that's kind of the point. As a side note, can I tell you that Bernard Hermann's score to this movie reads really weird and I absolutely adore it? Regardless, Taxi Driver is the nuance that Joker is completely missing.
Rated R because of its very disturbing nature. The movie went for disturbing and, thus, was disturbing. It is filled with violence and gore. The language is pretty strong. Joaquin Phoenix dances in tighty whiteys that leave little to the imagination. The movie was shooting for a hard R and it got the hard R. Much of the movie is uncomfortable to sit through, so keep in mind. Watch the trailer for the tone. It's pretty hard R.
DIRECTOR: Todd Phillips
Okay, I'm going to say it. I hate to be the voice of the other side because it makes me look snobby, but Joker is just okay. I'll even go as far as to say that it's good. But it isn't the work of genius that people say it is. I'm more upset because Joker is not the work of genius that it ought to be. I've been fighting for genre films to get accepted as cinema and I thought that Joker was going to be the movie that burst that veil. Instead, I got something that rests on the shoulders of geniuses and doesn't actually say anything all that new outside of the sophomoric.
Joker was the movie I was waiting for. When I heard that Martin Scorsese was going to be producing a Joker film and that it was going to use the aesthetic choices that were seen in things like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy, I could not wait. That first trailer came out and I had to watch it again. This was the genre film I was waiting for. I think the Cult of Joker that our society has is pretty messed up. I wish that the movie wasn't about the Joker, mainly because I'm not ready for all the shirts to be sold from my local Hot Topic. But if any character could really embrace the gritty '70s exploitation film, I thought that the Joker was the one to do it. I hear that Sony is going to make a bunch of films based on villains. I know that they already started with Venom. But villain narratives can get really problematic. I am not talking about anti-hero stuff. I think anti-hero stuff can be pretty great. Speaking of which, I gotta watch El Camino when I get the chance. But villain based movies seem to be preying on the troubled who see evil as a justified storytelling device. I know that was some of the buzz happening before the movie was released. I read somewhere click-baity that those rumors were started by the studio to drum up controversy, but there is a point to that whole philosophy. The fact that I was afraid to see this opening weekend and I saw it in a more rural environment on a Tuesday night might reflect my whole discomfort with the glorification of a monster. Still, this is the era in which we live.
What I liked is that Joker reads like a new subgenre of superhero film. I am well on-board the Marvel train and love what Marvel Studios is doing with each entry in their constantly expanding franchise. The DCeU has drawn more criticism from me. But what DC needed to do was to create a stark alternative to the carbon copy Kevin Feige format. Zack Snyder thought that to contrast the Marvel movies, the DC movies had to be dark. Don't get me wrong. Joker is remarkably dark. Too dark, I would probably say. But Marvel could make a dark film and it would still feel like a Marvel formatted movie. Instead, Joker looks at what Scorsese deems cinema and decided to mess with tone and voice. That's what is exciting about Joker. That's why I needed to see it on the big screen. Joker got me to ask my wife to leave the house and see a movie. It reminded me why I love going to the movies so much. There were, like, five things I wanted to see. I now wish I saw those other movies, but no part of me regrets seeing Joker early in its run.
But Joker has a real problem in its execution. It's no secret that Phillips was inspired by Scorsese's The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. (Get ready to see those two titles over and over in this analysis.) Scorsese quietly left his producer role in this film and left a lot of the heavy lifting to his company rather than be involved directly. Part of this is that Joker has very little new to say. Joker actually feels like a gritty remake sooner than something original. The thing is, a lot of Joker's audience hasn't seen The King of Comedy. The casting of Robert De Niro as Murray Franklin is a nod to that film. There's a fan trailer on YouTube of The King of Comedy cut to look like the Joker trailer and the similarities are frightening. Phillips is clearly a fan of this film, but in a really childish way. The opening fonts nail the aesthetics of the heyday of Scorsese, but the movie instantly starts kind of falling apart. Phillips takes what he likes about The King of Comedy and superficially slaps on the tone of Taxi Driver over it. Only, not all of Taxi Driver. Just the latter half of the movie. I kind of left Joker thinking that I was just watching a more extreme version of Taxi Driver. I'm going to be kind of a bummer here, but I left Joker thinking that I left a remake of The King of Comedy directed by a more-restrained Eli Roth.
There's something really self-conscious about the film as a whole. Joaquin Phoenix is amazing in the role, but a lot of the film is just giving Phoenix the opportunity to act the crap out of scenes. Much of the movie is pretty loose in terms of storytelling. But these scenes are often excuses for Phoenix to emote. There isn't much growth in terms of character. When I discussed this with my students yesterday, their jaws dropped. They thought that the character changed drastically. The only scene where Arthur comes across as sympathetic is the first scene, while the opening credits are running. The second scene, we see that Arthur is borderline the Joker already. He only has negative thoughts. His journal look like the ramblings of a madman. He has pornography taped to the insides of his journal. What kind of transition is that? Seeing Arthur already pretty far gone and then slightly shifting over the edge isn't captivating. With Taxi Driver, Travis starts as a mentally impaired man who is sympathetic. He tries his best to fight off his demons, only to embrace them in the second half of the film. In this, Arthur is practically the Joker already. So the movie becomes more clever than captivating. Arthur's laugh and ticks are fun ways to explain Joker's choices. But they're tricks, not character development.
I don't know why the Joker has to be directly tied to the Waynes in film versions. I'm harkening back to the 1989 Batman directed by Tim Burton. SPOILERS: As a comic fan, I think I enjoy that moment where the Joker's actions tie to the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. But as a film fan, it makes the world way too small. Also, the idea that this little kid is going to beat up Old Man Joker in the future is a weird choice. I don't want the movie to be embarrassed that it is a superhero themed film, but I almost felt like the movie really tried to remind us that it is a superhero film. We don't really need to see the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The thing that I'm most torn about is the sibling element between Arthur and Bruce. I love that Phillips and the team play with the reality of the situation. We never really get a clear answer about what is the truth, which makes the movie worth watching. But I kind like the idea that Thomas Wayne should simply be a TV personality who represents the upper class than anything else.
Joker has one really toxic thing in it that seems ambitious, but really just leaves a sour note on the whole film. There's this weird message about the nature of protests. I know what happened. The filmmakers had this image in their heads of a riotous crowd embracing the Joker as the Waynes died feet away. It's a cool image. I know that would be something that I really wanted to work towards. To do that, the movie touched on the message of the power of the people. The movie hovers around class and economics and I adore that there could be a greater message. But what the movie actually said about protesting is that people are sheep. It was so obsessed with getting to its ending that it never really cared how it got there. I don't believe that three people getting murdered in Gotham would start a revolution. It made everyone look like violence obsessed juggalos. It's a bummer and I think that the movie should have handled that with more nuance.
Joker is fine. It's an impressive movie that had the burden of needing to be better. It's got some solid imagery, but mostly the movie is an excuse for Joaquin Phoenix to emote. Darker doesn't mean better. A Joker movie needs to be dark, but this movie is dark for darkness' sake at times.
The King of Comedy (1982)
1982 PG. It's so funny to think what PG used to be. It was everything that wasn't hard-R. The King of Comedy is actually pretty tame considering its subject matter. But it does involve mental illness, violence, kidnapping, and mild language. It's a very cynical movie that gets to some pretty bleak moments. Regardless, I'm rarely going to argue against a PG rating. PG.
DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
The only thing that actually is stopping me from finding out how the popularity of this film has changed in the past week is the tab above. I have the IMDB tab open, which could tell me how much this movie is trending due to the recent release of Joker. I saw Joker. I'm going to write about Joker, hopefully tomorrow. But I wanted to rewatch the movie that not only inspired Joker, but served as an active template for the movie with Martin Scorsese's loose involvement with the latter film.
When I first saw this movie, I adored it. It's still an absolute cracker of a film, so I don't want to downplay the film. But seeing a Marty movie that had a PG rating and it was actually great? That's something to really hold onto. I adore Martin Scorsese for the most part. There have been a few movies that really haven't knocked my socks off. Raging Bull is a classic that I just never gelled with. I don't know a ton of people who like Boxcar Bertha. But The King of Comedy is one of his lesser known movies that simultaneously keeps the violence pretty minimal. It's a character study. It's going to be so weird to compare Joker and The King of Comedy with that knowledge intact. But Rupert Pupkin is about slight misdirection. He is crazy from moment one. Scorsese doesn't actively lie about all of this, but he does hold his cards close to his vest. We know, because he's at the taping, that there's probably something a little off about him. He hangs out with the extremists, thus we can read into Rupert's intentions. But Rupert, initially, acts how we all think that we would act. There are celebrities out there that I'd love to talk to. I'd like to think that I'm somehow special too. Because that's what Martin Scorsese is playing with. Rupert Pupkin, with all of his messed up obsessions, is all of us.
Yeah, Scorsese takes it to a really dark place. I'd like to think that we're all different from Rupert, especially when it comes to the kidnapping stuff. I'm going to speak for myself, but I imagine that someone would notice that I'm different from the crowd. America has crafted us into creatures of privilege. As a white male, there's something in the film that resonated with the idea that we were all told that we're not part of the herd. I have been owed something and when other people have what I am owed, I do not take it well. But Rupert Pupkin is that intention without balance and the social order. He is a creature of that philosophy. He thinks that he is working hard for the American Dream, his being celebrity. Rupert's success, however, is at the cost of others. While, ideally, the rest of us can balance our own selfish natures with the good of society, Rupert doesn't really have that. What kind of falls in there is the insanity that the film shows. He starts believing the daydreams. I don't think that Rupert hallucinates in the traditional sense. Scorsese shows us Rupert's daydreams as a means of letting us know how things should be from Rupert's perspective. I have to applaud the use of the dream sequence to help develop Rupert's character. As amazing of an actor as Robert De Niro is, there's something a little off about his performance as a whole, especially compared to how deep-end-of-the-ocean Joaquin Phoenix goes with the character. But one of the details I adore is how well Rupert is acting in his mind. It's very much grounded material for De Niro in those fantasy sequences. But when he's Rupert in the grounded reality, his performances are off. They very much feel like stage acting versus real discussions. That little detail is ultimately telling about the lie of celebrity. In Rupert's mind, his illusions are the proper reality. People are acting civil and friendly with one another. But Rupert's enactment in the real world is the jilted mess that it tends to really be.
The movie, despite being the first movie about privilege that I can't think of, is about how we are ultimately unaware of what power dynamics actually are. We all think that we can be friends with celebrities. But we have a hard time understanding that even celebrities get star struck. It's because the relationship when it comes to celebrities is one way. All of the friendships we have come from people getting to know each other at the same time. A lasting friendship blossoms from equal vulnerability. But The King of Comedy reminds us that a relationship like that doesn't really happen with celebrities. I would love to be friends with David Tennant. He seems like a really cool guy and he's a nerd icon. But I know so much about him because of a strange accidental voyeurism. I never meant to know about his life in detail. I was just a big Doctor Who fan. David Tennant doesn't know anything about me. He never will. So when he's polite to me at a convention, it's my responsibility to know that he's just being a nice man by chatting with me. I am owed nothing. Not all people have that coping mechanism. (I don't know if I'm making myself look extremely healthy or not healthy at all.) I know that Woody Allen's Stardust Memories also touches on a lot of the same stuff. But Rupert Pupkin is really great example of mental illness because we know people like Rupert Pupkin. Part of us is Rupert Pupkin.
In terms of how much I enjoyed this viewing, I have to say that I was a little distant this time. I was watching it, knowing that I was going to see Joker. But something in the movie came across as a little stilted. Part of it is 1982 all over this movie. We had the aesthetics of the late '70s with the music of the early '80s. That's no good because the music was kind of off for the whole film. Also, I don't know if De Niro really had that deep acting well to pull from in this one. I think he's fine, but there's nothing all that insane about his performance. When he needed to act, he acted decently enough to tell the story. But there is a little bit of an emotional wall that De Niro puts in his film that is a little bit of a bummer. Also, I really have a problem with stories about stand-ups that aren't done by stand-ups. The King of Comedy stresses that Rupert's set is really weak. That's why he can't get on the show, among other reasons. But dramas about comedians tend to be pretty cringey. It's almost like the movie is just shy of what it is trying to accomplish. But that final act is something special. I don't know if I completely adore the resolution of the film. The movie is commenting on celebrity and the ourobouros that is celebrity. Rupert's celebrity at the end is only building more obsessive personalities. I don't think it reflects reality quite the way it should, but the message comes across pretty well.
Regardless, The King of Comedy is a work of genius. Perhaps a little bit of it comes across as dated. The biggest problem with this movie is the fact that it is 1982, not 1978. That's not the movie's fault, because the concepts inside are absolute genius. If you really want to know more of my thoughts on this movie, please read my Joker analysis, coming soon.
TV-14 for drug use and language. It seems like this would be an R / TV-MA. It's not like a million bad things happen in it. It's just a little bit on the vulgar side of things. I don't want to be Judge Judy here, but a lot of the movie is fine. But if we're talking about the intended audience, we're not really looking at fourteen-year-olds. I know. I'm a hypocrite. This is a movie for jilted old people who want to wallow. I'm sure that there are younger people who think that they relate, but it is aimed at the 17+ crowd. TV-14.
DIRECTOR: Ryan Eggold
We're running out of good streaming rom-coms. I think one of the most dangerous things about searching for impulsive rom-coms on streaming services is that we tend to pick by cast. There are some amazing independent casts in very boring independent movies. I'm going to give a list right now and you are going to understand why we picked this movie: Justin Long, Cobie Smulders, Lea Thompson, Kristen Schaal, Dana Delany, Charlene Yi, Ryan Hansen, and John Cho. I thought we had a winner on our hands. It's not that the movie was bad, but I think I'm starting to discover why I haven't heard of a lot of these rom-coms.
There's a subgenre of rom-coms. Literally, Right Before Aaron is a strong contender for the anti-rom-com. These are the movies that comment on the breakup and heartache of romance. These movies are the equivalent of listening to angry music after a breakup. I'm sure that there was a time in my white male privileged life that I would have gobbled up something like this without a second thought. I mean, there's a time in life when angsty breakup stuff seems to be the only thing that's worth watching. But these movies are really kind of vapid when you are happy. There are some weird flavors at Buffalo Wild Wings. (Stick with me.) Some people say, "Why do they make weird flavors?" But sometimes, we're just in the mood for that thing. I find it hard to judge the weirder flavors at Buffalo Wild Wings because I understand that there are times that I want those flavors. It just happens to be less than often. The same thing is true for the anti-rom-com. When one is happy, these movies come across like straight up sulking. Life is better than what this movie makes of it and it is kind of annoying to hear this kind of griping when the problems seem so easy to solve.
Part of what grinds my gears is that the problem is somewhat artificial. Do people really do this? Sure. I know that there are people who invite their recent exes to their weddings. It boggles the mind that people do this. I think some people live for drama. Some people just need everyone to like them. I guess I can't complain because I had an ex-girlfriend at my wedding, but that's just because she's one of my wife's best friends. I don't know what was going on here. The movie begs its audience to scream at the movie. There were times where we just said, "Don't go! This is a terrible idea." But the movie is aware that going to your recent ex's wedding is the dumbest thing that a person can do. Which means, I have to pose the question to Eggold, "Are we supposed to enter the movie with the knowledge that this is a dumb idea?" The movie ends remarkably bleakly. I realized about twenty minutes in that there was no scenario where Justin Long would have ended up with Cobie Smulders without completely wrecking her life. Our best case scenario for a happy ending really revolved around the idea that the movie had to convince me that Smulders leaving her fiancee would have been the best idea for everyone. I hate that ending so much. I told my wife about my pessimism to how this was going to end. It ended up even bleaker than I thought. The movie even gets so bleak that it rides the lines of what makes a comedy. Literally, Right Before Aaron isn't super hilarious. I laughed occasionally. I think I was more engaged in the chemistry of the characters and the interactions that made the time pass.
Because Literally, Right Before Aaron isn't boring. It's just kind of toxic. And indie filmmakers love flocking to this kind of stuff. I mean, even Charlene Yi was in the role that she's now becoming infamous for. She keeps getting these tiny roles as a platonic friend who is in the movie for practically a bit part. I think we can identify how indie something is by the amount of time that Charlene Yi is in the film. But Literally, Right Before Aaron kind of has its structure built for it. It's a little bit weird that there is so much gap between the rehearsal dinner and the wedding, but that's for narrative purposes. Adam only has a mild amount of sympathy going his way. I'm still not exactly sure why they broke up, but he seems like a horrible human being based on what we see in this film. So the movie really stresses how toxic good guy Adam deals with things he doesn't want to put up with. I'm not sure what version of reality Adam lives in. The movie sometimes treats the world as our world. There is regular drama and people have a hard time with each other. But the surrounding people in Adam's life are those of a quirky, larger-than-life comedy. The people at the rehearsal dinner are the worst. So Adam's sympathy isn't based on us feeling for him, so much as the worst people in the world are constantly poking at him until he snaps. It's fun, but it also is a muddled message.
What kind of person asks their immediate ex to come to her wedding? We don't really have a real understanding of Cobie Smulders's character throughout. A lot of the movie focuses on Adam and his toxic hangups that Allison comes across as a saint. But there are some major issues with Allison's characterization. Allison is a character who wants it all. She has a perfect guy and she wants Adam to get to know that perfect guy. First of all, a wedding is not the place to do that. Adam is also getting married. It is not his responsibility to get to know Allison's ex-boyfriend right now. He's apparently baking a major cake and getting to hang out with his friends. Also, spending one-on-one time with your ex the weekend of the wedding. There are moments where Allison leads him on. She's not the bad guy, but she's also far from being the good guy. Look at it from Aaron's perspective. (I just realized they all start with A). Her fiancee, whom he is about to marry, is getting all touchy-feely with her ex. What kind of issue is that? I get it. He trusts her. He should. But should he? Because of that trust, their wedding falls apart. I don't know if the end is supposed to be hilarious or what. I hope that Eggold was going for uncomfortable because that's what it really is. That moment wouldn't have happened if Allison didn't try riding the fence on her feelings with Adam. Maybe she's not ready to be married. That's completely reasonable. But it sounds like these two didn't have closure. The wedding was not the place to do this. It's just a bizarre, artificial choice. Yeah, everything bad that happens in the movie is Adam's fault. But Allison isn't doing the right thing. While Aaron should be angry at Adam, he also should distrust Allison because she was culpable for Adam's being there.
I don't know why Kristen Schaal's character is in the movie. I love her and she might be the funniest part of the film, but she adds nothing to the narrative. There's no moment of reality in the movie when it comes to her character. She's there for laughs and I get it. But a lot of the movie is stalling a movie that doesn't have a lot of substance. But that's fine. The movie, if you were in a bummer mood, would support a bummer mood. That's the point. It isn't for the happily married, like me. It's for the people who pride themselves in being aggressively single. Like all the drugs Adam takes in the final act of the film, this movie is a narcotic that only encourages an already established bias. But again, it's fine. It's got a good cast, so watch it for that, if nothing else.
Rated R for drugs, sex, and rock and roll. It's a music biopic. You should know what you are getting into. There's plenty of language to go around. Sure, it's Elton John. It's a very specific kind of vice. We're not having much on screen full nudity. But there are moments that are plenty sexual, but a lot of that is implied. Is there violence? There's nothing actively violent, but a lot of people treat each other like dirt. I don't know if you should be surprised by this, but there are moments where you are going to get really sad about how humanity treats one another. R.
DIRECTOR: Dexter Fletcher
I am admitting that I'm partially wrong about the music biopic. When I saw a trailer for Rocketman while sitting down for Bohemian Rhapsody (I may be inaccurate on my memory, but I feel like that happened) my eyes rolled hard. I knew what was coming. Now, if you read my commentary on Bohemian Rhapsody, I pointed out that the music biopic is played out. It's been done and it has been done to formula. I was partially right about that and I was partially wrong about, and I thank Rocketman for making me partially wrong. I don't know what it is about the music business that makes everyone have the same origin story. Small time kid makes it big because of talent and then everyone treats them like a commodity, causing said kid to experiment with anything that can help him escape. (Wait, I may have just answered my own question there.) But at least Rocketman does it a little bit differently.
I applaud everything about the creation of this movie. If I didn't know better, I swear that Rocketman was an adaptation of a Broadway play just the way it was formatted. With Bohemian Rhapsody, I got really mad at how everything was paint-by-numbers. We got the music of Queen, which was rad, but it was almost to establish a chronology. The people came for the music, but it really let us know what period of Queen we were looking at. But with Rocketman, the music acts like a musical. Not always. This makes for some probably problematic storytelling moments because the lyrics had to fit with the events happening on screen. But I like that surreal world of the musical that Bohemian Rhapsody just completely avoided. The world of Elton John became something magical. I like Elton as much as the next fella. I love "Your Song" and "Tiny Dancer". But the other songs are just fine for me. But placing these songs in the context of these life events, the world became so much bigger in that moment. Tonally, it creates a weird environment for everything that was happening on screen. Elton John almost became a fictional character by the end of the movie, despite the fact that the film reminds me time and again that Elton John is a contemporary performer. There's something distancing about the biopic. It is really hard to treat the person as real, despite the fact that the fact that they are a real person is clear from moment one. I suppose it is the artificiality of cinema that kind of distances real people. I have an easier time bonding with a fictional character because I never have that voice in the back of my head nagging me that "It probably didn't happen this way." But Dexter Fletcher, with the use of the musical format, kind of allows for artificiality to work to his advantage. Because it is Taron Egerton, the guy from Kingsmen, and because the world of Rocketman is larger than life (but smaller than Moulin Rouge), the whole "It probably didn't happen this way" is subverted. Of course the reality of Elton John didn't happen beat-by-beat. Instead, we get insight into Elton John being bigger than anything else we could have known.
There's something poetically freeing about that whole thing, when looking at the life of Elton John. Rocketman stresses the two worlds of Elton John. There's Elton John, the performer, all glitz and glamour. Then there's Reggie Dwight. The movie, smartly enough, really focuses on Reggie Dwight. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that Elton John is a fantastic stage performer. There is no moment where he completely botched a performance. Again, I'm not an Elton John fan, so if someone wants to correct me on that, please do. But the story isn't about the persona of Elton John and how it got better and better. The formula was there from that first performance at the Troubadour. Elton's costumes got bigger and more elaborate, but that basic foundation was laid there. Instead, we have this battle with who Reggie Dwight is. At times, Elton hates Reggie. Then, Reggie is the central character. It's a tale of artificiality and how we have no idea what truth actually is anymore. So when these song lyrics end up being autobiographical, despite the fact that Elton John apparently didn't write his own lyrics, it becomes a commentary on the truth. Is anything that we're witnessing accurate? Is accuracy important? We get the story of Elton John, but through a very specific set of rad sunglasses. I think there has to be a better way to say all of this. Because Elton John is so artificial, does that make Reggie artificial too? Reggie is supposed to be our representative of truth that, the very fact that there is something constructed about him makes me question reality. But that questioning of reality isn't a bad thing in this case? It never puffs up Elton John in a way to say, "Golly, look what he went through" with the swell of the strings and the crescendo. It's more of a statement on the fictional lives that we all lead. After all, Reggie does say, "I am Elton John."
I don't know if I was going crazy or I just took someone's Facebook post as gospel truth. I read somewhere on the Internet that people were upset about Taron Egerton's casting and that he didn't sound even remotely like Elton John. Again, I have no idea what the true version of Elton John is. I know a bunch of his songs, but I can only sing the lyrics for two of his songs all the way through. Egerton sold himself to me through this movie. I don't know why I thought he could only be the Kingsmen guy, but he's not. Part of that comes from the novelty of Kingsmen. I treat Kingsmen as a parody of Bond cinema. Mark Millar's The Secret Service, which was the source material for Kingsmen was a send up of the spy genre. As part of that, anything connected to that lived in the world of parody. But Egerton's performance in this is great. I'm repeating myself and I hate myself for doing it, but I didn't care about Elton John before this movie. The movie made me actually care. Great biopics get me to listen to the band's music. Egerton made me actually reexamine my appreciation for Elton John. I mean, I didn't actually go out and buy any albums, but Elton John went from famous singer to rock and roller for me. But Egerton's performance only works because of the greater context that it is in. The movie's aesthetic and choices work fabulously, stressing the importance of this artist on our culture. The gutsiest choice is the ending choice, placing Egerton in the "I'm Still Standing" music video. Do you understand the Wikipedia and YouTube hole I fell down after that choice? The movie does so much to push you into the world of Elton John that I loved it. It's actually kind of weird that my wife didn't really jump on board considering that she's the musical buff here. Maybe it's my cautionary approach to musicals that actually got me to enjoy something that I had minimal investment in.
Rocketman is what Bohemian Rhapsody should have been. It's a way gutsier movie, despite having the same narrative beats that Bohemian Rhapsody provided. Music biopics need to be something special to separate themselves from the herd and Rocketman is kind of a master class in doing that exact thing. It's bizarre that the elements were there before hand and it took this film to really nail it.
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.