TV-MA. I can't think of anything visual that is offensive, but good golly, Zach Galifianakis can say some really uncomfortable things. That's what mostly the TV-MA is for. It's got language. It is pretty vulgar at times. It's not constantly filthy, but it does return to that well every time there's a conversation scene. It's pretty R, but I never really felt gross by the end of the day.
DIRECTOR: Scott Aukerman
It's directed by Scott Aukerman? Come on. That's amazing. I feel so weird writing a tome about this movie because it is just the Funny or Die skit expanded over the course of an hour and twenty-two minutes. I never really felt like I was watching a movie. In fact, that might explain how my wife and I actually sat down to watch this movie. It was really hard to really become engrossed in this film because the movie never really treats itself as a film. When you hear the idea for Between Two Ferns as a movie pitch, you have to wonder how that can really hold weight. I don't think that Zach Galifianakis is unaware of that. I think he's kind of telling a joke with this one. If there is one thing that is never really supposed to be a feature film, it's supposed to be a five minute series of skits. But that kind of throws me back to the model that Saturday Night Live set up...
We should all adore Wayne's World. I suppose Lorne Michaels is still trying to decrypt the formula for how a skit about a public access television show (appropriately paralleling the meta narrative of Between Two Ferns) could turn into two feature length movies. I'm a supporter of Wayne's World 2, despite the fact that it should probably never have been made. But Wayne's World kind of broke the rules for how sketch cinema could turn into feature film. I have theories. There's a perfect combination of talent that went into Wayne's World. I probably look mostly at Penelope Spheeris and her unique look at making movies. She was a music documentarian. She got the larger world of Wayne and Garth as opposed to being a sketch director. She didn't come from the world of comedy. Instead, she flung these two fanboys into the world of actual rock and roll and it worked really well. Add to that that Mike Meyers was a creative powerhouse and strong advocate for his character's development. Adding a sidekick like Dana Carvey provides a foil that doesn't depend on the tropey straightman. It's all really smart. But the SNL movies mostly don't work. I'm even a fan of A Night at the Roxbury, but I know that the movie isn't very good. Sketches have a hard time standing on their own two feet when it comes to long-form stories. They are different beasts. Looking at the short form sketch, the point isn't to have a story with a beginning, middle, and end. There are no actual character arcs. The point of a sketch is to provide a conceit and to allow it to live as long as it gets laughs. While not absolutely true, especially when it comes to political sketches, the ultimate goal is to get laughs to bolster ratings and to continue doing the show. Look, I adore sketch comedy. I still quote Upright Citizens Brigade sketches, which makes me a cool guy. But I also understand that it is hard to make one thing into another thing.
Which is what kind of makes Between Two Ferns: The Movie both brilliant and stupid at the same time. I stress, I think that Zach Galifianakis knows what he's doing. He knows that Between Two Ferns should never be a movie and that's exactly why he's doing it. It's the embracing of an absurd concept. While It's Pat: The Movie was an attempt to capitalize on a humorous concept, Between Two Ferns is daring the audience to comment on it. The fact that I'm writing X-number of words on this is the joke. I am the punchline. Is it good? Sure. It's better than it is supposed to be. But honestly, a lot of the movie is an excuse to get a lot of funny people together to do Between Two Ferns skits over and over. If I tie it back to Wayne's World as the model for how this could work, Wayne and Garth only do the "Wayne's World" meta TV show a handful of times. But Between Two Ferns does the public access show as its central conceit. If those sketches were available before the film came out, it honestly would read like a clip show episode with a loose joining narrative. The narrative is so simple that it is actually confusing. Will Ferrell, again a meta-commentary on himself, tells Zach that he has to do so many episodes of Between Two Ferns on the road so he can earn a late-night spot. I think we're all aware that it doesn't make much sense. I think that Will Ferrell is aware of that himself. But that's what Ferrell's brand of humor has always been and it is why I often appreciate his jokes. He shrouds himself in the absurd and over-the-top. It exists because the movie told us that it existed. That's really about it.
I just mentioned that I adore Will Ferrell. I do. But this role is really one of his weaker roles. I don't know how much he's involved in the whole process. This was a Scott Aukerman joint and it reads as such at times. I know that Zach Galifianakis is the one with his hand on the wheel, but Aukerman's absurd humor starts often in the mundane before it spirals out of control. I love when actors comment on themselves and play fictional versions of themselves. That's the premise of Between Two Ferns and it is why I laugh so hard at the sketches. But Will Ferrell's commentary on himself doesn't really work. It really is jarring compared to everyone else's fake versions of themselves. This is the End probably did it best with its portrayal of actors playing themselves. I think that's what everyone in the film is doing. Galifianakis probably has it best in this film because he's been crafting his argumentative babyman for a long time now, pre-Hangover. People probably think that he is that person at this point because we've seen him break the fourth wall so often for different characters and interviews. But it is everyone else who really shines. I adore Jon Hamm. I love the fact that he's down for comedy more than he is for drama because he is delightful. His scene really explains how subtle the fictionalized version of a character has to be. He's actually probably one of the ones actually hamming (pun intended) it up more than the other actors. Matthew McConaughey brilliantly approaches the whole thing like a drama, which is really the point of Between Two Ferns. We'd like to imagine that these actors are really being insulted by Zach Galifianakis. This all brings me back to Will Ferrell. Ferrell is playing his part for comedy. I know, the movie kind of needs it. It needed to have Ferrell as an over-the-top villain. But is performance almost doesn't match the tone of the entire piece. I think there is a way for Ferrell to play the bad guy for this loose narrative that might actually be funnier. Having him as a down-to-earth guy who honestly just wants more clicks and doesn't care for Galifianakis's nonsense might actually make a bit of sense when looking at the greater film. But having this oil tycoon style version of Ferrell just doesn't fit with the film. (Shoot, I Googled "Will Ferrell Between Two Ferns" and just fell down a YouTube hole. What was I talking about?)
This is kind of a sad thing. I will say that Between Two Ferns: The Movie is definitely worth watching as a low-stakes series of decent guffaws, but the whole thing doesn't really work. Go into it with that attitude. It doesn't work as a movie. It works as a set of jokes put into succession. The best part, and this doesn't speak highly of the film, is the credits out-takes. I died at those.
PG, because nothing is rated G anymore. This is as tame as I've seen a movie. I mean, it has bad guys. At one point, that bad guy gets to be kind of psychotic. But nothing all that threatening happens on screen. There's no bad language. Everything is just...chill. I don't mean that as a pun. It just is a very laid back movie that doesn't really have objectionable content. I suppose the PG is because there's action in the movie. But that's pretty minor in the grand scheme of kids' movies. PG.
DIRECTORS: Jill Culton and Todd Wilderman
I have a confession to make. I fell asleep for probably ten minutes of this movie. It's not completely the movie's fault. I was very sleepy and honestly wasn't in the mood to watch this. Normally, I have very hardcore rules about what I write about. If I haven't seen every minute of the movie, I didn't write about. What I did, instead, was find a way to watch the movie again. But those were the days where I would watch a movie a day and then write about it. I don't think I have it in me to watch this one again. It's not a burden or anything. It's just that this movie is exactly what I knew it was going to be: a kind of generic Dreamworks movie with a couple of pretty parts.
I think we've covered these grounds before. Sure, this particular trope hasn't been set in China, but the idea of evil scientists tracking down an escaped mythical creature was pretty well tread when we got E.T. You nerds who want to point out that the alien from E.T. wasn't mythical can shut your faces because he healed wounds with his light up finger. There are only so many kids movies. But I feel like the content from Abominable was covered pretty well in a dozen other movies. I'm actually way too sleepy to name those movies, but there doesn't seem to be anything that crazy going on here. My biggest beef, actually, comes from the fact that the movie is so generic that we don't really have motivations for the villains outside of "science, science, science" the entire movie. There's a hint of something to play off of with Burnish. Burnish was my favorite character, not because of anything that quality in the character, but because I closed my eyes and imagined Eddie Izzard in the booth emoting and probably questioning the importance of this project. Golly, I'm being harsh on this film. But you can imagine why I fell asleep with this movie. I kept closing my eyes. (Actually, I don't think I've ever made a more active choice to fall asleep. I debated the rightness of it all and realized that I would enjoy a quick nap versus a fairly standard Dreamworks movie.)
I'm being really rough on this movie. I didn't plan on being this mean, especially considering that I'm technically the one who cheated when it came to watching the movie. But there are some redeemable qualities that I'm really going to have to plumb the depths to really talk about. (Am I a bully? A blogging bully? I hope not. This movie really isn't that bad.) If you set aside that there are really no new plots, especially when it comes to children's films, which I feel are there to simply rake in all of the money (kids movies make bank), we could look at the film as somewhat beautiful. I'm not talking gorgeous like anything by Miyazaki. That's absolutely gorgeous and leans into art. But Abominable aspires to be something greater at moments. I think that writer / director Jill Culton fought with herself over what she was making. There was an active decision to make this set in China. It may have to do with production studios and what DreamWorks wanted to get financially, but Culton kind of embraces the aesthetic of China as a place of duality. Mind you, the entire movie is super pro-China. While the lack of politics in a story is, in of itself, political, Abominable tries to avoid politics and stands from a place of admiration. The cityscapes of China marvel while the countryside has a kind of magic. I will say that, like E.T., the use of magic and wonder make a kids' escape story something somewhat greater. Whenever Everest uses his magic, that's when you pay attention. That's when Culton shows signs of artistry. One of the more gorgeous moments in the story is in the trailer, unfortunately. But I still like the abstract nature of the visual. When solid ground changes properties into something that is fluid and liquid, that's a cool effect. There are other cool effects, but I think that one takes the cake. But as almost an offshoot of that magic, the animated version of China is actually pretty inspirational. I did this presentation about how visual elements diverts attention from character storytelling and focuses it on setting. Notice, the first thing I have to say positive about the movie is the majesty of the setting. Watching the kids, although they are cartoon characters, scaling these gigantic statues, it does look very cool.
I'm not sure what theme takes priority in the movie, though. I tend to lean really hard into Daddy issues. I have so much emotional baggage there that it I kind of can't help but wanting that to be the main issue to be resolved in the film. The movie kind of muddies its message a bit when it comes to the family. From moment one, the film paints Yi as separate from her family because of the death of her father. She wants to travel the world and play the violin like her father did. Having that tangible representation of her dead father was a really smart choice on the part of the film. It's something that reflects Yi's issues through the film. But she shuts out her mother and grandmother (the grandmother, by the bye, is a desperate attempt to add whimsy to the movie, like the grandmother in Moana) and the resolution to be with her family doesn't actually involve the family. One of the major themes is how people tend to segment their lives into family and needs, but the character only misses her family in the most superficial of ways. It is almost an afterthought. Yi doesn't need her family for the entire story. If anything, the movie promotes that family is not as important as we think it is. So when she misses her mother and grandmother, it is more like the way someone misses their parents after being away from camp. But that seems in contrast with the central need of Yi needing her father. There's a disconnect from the idea that the movie wants me to take away from the film and the actual resolution of that idea. Yi misses her father, which causes her to disconnect from her mother and grandmother. She plays his violin to get closer to him and to remember him. She plays his violin, which becomes magical. Her character flaw was never taking her father for granted. She embraced herself in his memory. But the memory of her father was driving a wedge between her living family and her dead family. How is the jump made to have family be important again? The movie stresses the relationship between Everest and his parents, but that too is problematic. The adventure is linear. It is one group moving forward to get Everest back to his parents. But we never see another story of Everest's parents looking for him. Everest's goal is to be reunited with his parents, but that parallel doesn't really stick as much as it should. Yi and Everest have very different relationships. It's a really weird choice.
I feel like I ripped this movie apart. It's fine. The biggest problem is that I never really laughed. As gorgeous as some parts of the movie were, the movie as a whole feels unpolished and kind of rushed. There needed to be more development in the story. Treating kids' movies as simply "kids' movies" is kind of a backwards idea that I thought we were past. I want my cake and eat it too. I think we depend on at least one kids movie being in the theater at any given time. To do that, we have to have movies like Abominable. But there are some elements that could actually expand into something good. Instead, I actually decided to take a ten minute nap sooner than watch a movie to write about it.
PG, but that's because it is the child of a PBS show. There's some light sexual content in here. But I would also give this a PG if I had my druthers. It's one of those movies that would normally be rated PG-13 because it's targeted at adults. Also, live action just seems to relish being bare-minimum PG-13. I know I'll probably upset someone, but there is some questionable stuff in here. Regardless, I can probably stand by the tenuous PG rating. I am on the fence on this one. Both make sense. It's too intense for PG; too safe for PG-13. How about this? PG-11?
DIRECTOR: Michael Engler
Yeah, I'm one of the many people over the age of 30 who decided to see this instead of the wealth of other movies that somehow got ignored at the box office. I don't really regret it. I enjoy Downton Abbey quite a bit. But I am going to rip into this movie, despite being perfectly fine. Do you know why? Because there's no reason that this movie should have ever hit theaters. My in-laws saw it before I did. I asked some questions. I did. I wondered what made this movie a theatrical release and I was told that it was the cinematography. It looked nicer. I couldn't possibly believe that because one of the many things that the television version of Downton Abbey had for it was that it was a gorgeous show. Well, I was right. The movie perhaps uses drones and crane shots a little bit more than a traditional episode, but it really from start to finish feels like an episode of Downton Abbey.
Perhaps it would have been a very special episode. Maybe a Christmas one because the film is really trying to be self-contained. It has to open cans and then immediately resolve them by the end of the movie. I really want to break into that because it actually has somewhat hilarious results over the course of the film. But the movie plays it safe. I mean, I guess it worked. The way I understand it, Downton Abbey made a lot more money than people expected from this film. I remember the viral marketing for this movie. The second that the final season was announced, I think the rumblings of a film were in the works. Now, I'm not going to shoot down a television show making the leap to cinemas. After all, I wrote all about the Star Trek films in depth. It's just that I think that Downton Abbey went the other direction with it. If Star Trek had to evolve to make it last and move past the confines of television, ultimately sacrificing an important part of its identity, Downton Abbey kind of sacrifices its legacy to make a movie that maintains its voice exactly. What I'm dancing around is the idea that adaptations seem to have treated the movie to the big screen as a binary choice. I love the idea of growth and Downton Abbey does not do this. I AM PUTTING IN A SPOILER WARNING because I'm a human being. Remember, just reading an analysis page of film implies that there will be spoilers, but regardless. The closest thing to evolution is Maggie Smith loosey-goosey pulling a Data in Star Trek: Nemesis. Maggie Smtih has been teasing leaving Downton Abbey for a while. It's not exactly shocking that she would have required the filmmakers to give her an opening to leave. I don't blame her. It's just clunky. But that's not really a goodbye. Han Solo dying in The Force Awakens is less shocking, but more of a choice. But with both Data and the Dowager Countess, that's a way out without actually committing to it. It's an emotional moment, saying goodbye to a character favorite. But instead, we get kind of a "sorta goodbye." For all intents and purposes, Maggie Smith could make a half-dozen more of these movies because the franchise kept it very vague. OR, this could be the end. I don't actually know if I've said goodbye or not. That's almost not really fair. Also, knowing the politics of a show kind of puts a damper on the reality of the characters. In what was supposed to be an emotional scene, I couldn't help but think, "Maggie Smith really has been fighting to get off of this show." It's a bit of a bummer.
But now I really want to talk about the movie. Or the episode. Whatever it is. I like the people behind Downton Abbey. At least, I think I do. Julian Fellowes seems to be a pretty smart guy. It's so funny that he is completely overwhelmed when it comes to making a movie out of a television show. By all accounts, the story of the film is pretty tiny. I don't care that the King is visiting. It doesn't feel any bigger than another episode. But Fellowes and company wanted to make something large. So they planned an entire season's worth of plot into one movie. How does one do that? By introducing huge huge plot moments and then just undo them. This is honestly one of the most insane things I've ever seen in a movie. The movie introduced this whole subplot about TOM BEING FRAMED FOR THE ASSASSINATION OF THE KING OF ENGLAND! That sounds amazing. I would watch that movie in a heartbeat. Do you know how that device was resolved? He just didn't. He stopped a real assassin. Like, with a tackle. That's it. It doesn't come into play into the main plot whatsoever. Do you know what the most resolved storyline in the movie was? The house staff risks treason so that they can work harder. That is one of the central plots to the story. The staff feels unappreciated, so they rally to serve the King on the night of the party. That's the big story. This really irked me. The entire story was being dwarfed by subplots that just instantly fizzle out into nothing. I was wondering why Fellowes would do this. And then I realized...he approached writing the movie in the same way he plans his seasons. When subplots interact with the events of the house, they have slow unspooling. We are are allowed to breathe in those moments. Let's use the most absurd subplot in the film listed above. In a season of Downton Abbey, there would be a lot of time between the announcement of the King's arrival and the actual arrival. We would wonder who the mystery man was and we would allow Tom to wallow in his own Irish heritage. There would be misleads and investigations. We wouldn't just have Lady Mary just happen to see him the night before. There would be a complete resolution to this plotline and the story would move on. Instead, we have these grandiose moments that just fly by. What we're ultimately left with is "Pagentry: The Movie". There are so many shots of things that are polished coupled with a soundtrack that we're all familiar with. There's not even new music. It feels very recycled from the show itself. I don't really want to hear more of that. Geez, imagine if I bought the Downton Abbey soundtracks and realized that they all sounded exactly the same.
It feels like such a struggle for Fellowes to make this movie. I know that this is a problem with all ensemble cast stories, but Fellowes don't really have a lot of things to do with his supporting cast. I never thought that a Downton Abbey movie would give the most attention to Tom of all characters. Perhaps it is only because everyone else's story is wrapped up in the series. Which is why I kind of cringe that the movie had to actively take steps back to make the film functional. Mr. Carson has to be brought back into the house. Like, I agree. Carson is great. But it is manufactured conflict. I know, all conflict in fictional stories is manufactured. But it is just drama that shouldn't exist if it wasn't for the fact that the franchise is stressing that this is a movie, not an episode of television. Again, Carson is Worf. Worf was on a different show by the time many of the movies were out for The Next Generation. So there was always some hamfisted explanation about why Worf would just be there. In this case, it is at the expense of Barrow. I also forgot that Barrow's resolution was so nice for him. Remember how he is partially responsible for Lady Crawley losing her child? That's a weird plot point that a lot of people forgot. But no one that we really care for has a major plot point. Okay, the Dowager Countess is given a half-way decent plot. But everything in the movie feels really low stakes...with the exception of the assassination plot. We are all aware of what can and can't happen on Downton Abbey. We kind of just watch it for the characters and the pagentry. And Fellowes embraced the heck out of that. When I watched the show, I really did look forward to some of those plot issues. But a film doesn't really add anything to the world of Downton Abbey. As much as I enjoyed the film, the movie really does feel like an appendix. It feels artifically constructed and like everything is there for the sake of being there. There's not a great script. It's just a bunch of pretty things being put on parade.
But Mr. Mosely, God bless you. I was enjoying a fairly boring movie and then you had your moment. I think we can all be grateful for one of the most cringey, hilarious moments that the show had to offer. It was perfect.
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.