NC-17. I mean, are you going to argue against an NC-17? Probably not. The Evil Dead used to be the most upsetting movie that I owned. It's pretty graphic. There's the most upsetting gore, shy of Dead Alive. It also has nudity coupled with tasteless glorified supernatural rape. It's an exercise in brutality. None of this is meant to be a necessary judgment on my part (well, except for the rape stuff), but there is no denying that The Evil Dead has earned its NC-17 rating.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
Why do I procrastinate? Now I'm all stressed out to write a blog about a movie that I have a lot to say about. (Also, I'm rushing, so I'm inverting letters. I apologize in advance if this comes out borderline unreadable.) Watching The Evil Dead in high school made me feel like such a rebel. I mean, I hadn't discovered Dario Argento or any of the truly horrible stuff that would later contextualize The Evil Dead. Instead, I would just watch this on repeat. Heck, the version I have is the Necronomion version, that comes in a fleshy textured DVD case. My kids were wondering what it was and all I could say, "Um...The Evil Dead?" Father. Of. The. Year.
I'm trying to come to grips with my thoughts on the movie now. After all, it was an old favorite. Heck, my love for this movie inspired me to watch all three seasons of Ash vs Evil Dead, which is a genuine joy. But my takeaway from this movie was the characterization of Ash as a protagonist. There are a few franchises where the continuity is so screwy that I have to make theories on how I should be viewing the movie. I kind of lump The Evil Dead and its sequels in the same attitude I view Highlander and its sequels. My big theory about The Evil Dead though is that this is not the same Ash that we'll get in the subsequent movies.
My friend Pat, upon reading my Army of Darkness blog entry, stressed that Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is a functional sequel to this movie. Again, I don't have much of a leg to stand on. While I recently watched The Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, it's been years since I've watched what many consider to be the quintessential entry in the franchise, Dead by Dawn. I have to rely on insanely old memory that doesn't work as well as it used to due to children waking me up from sleep on the reg. (This is also probably part of the reason that I don't watch remarkably graphic movies on the regular. I had to turn the audio up in the basement because old Anchor Bay DVDs didn't believe in subtitles.) But my thing is that the beginning of Evil Dead 2 changes how many people go to the cabin. There's some recasting of Ash's girlfriend Linda, but then it kind of goes right into Night 2 of the house when the first film ends with the camera entity crashing into Ash. Now, part of me is aware that Raimi and company are probably simplifying the plot for the sake of the recasting of Linda while providing the needed backstory for the masses who hadn't seen this midnight cult cinema staple. Okay.
But I really think that Ash is a wholly different character. The Ash that horror fans know and love is a dim-witted, cocky misogynist. He's cool in the face of horrific violence. I posit that this Ash is from a different cinematic universe. This Ash is polite and a gentleman. He cares about people's feelings and is willing to do selfless things because he's the protagonist / hero of the film. When he's alone with Linda, he gives her this ugly magnifying glass necklace (which I'll admit, he also does in Dead by Dawn.) But there is no sex hound in Ash. This is a place of comfort. He listens to his sister (kind of). He is annoyed when Scotty keeps playing Professor Knoby's reel-to-reel. If anything, Scott is more like Ash. Scott takes things too far. He's obsessed with sex and is remarkably overconfident. We also have to think about how each character reacts when the deadites finally arrive. Ash, coupled with his signature shotgun, stands petrified at the notion that he might have to chop up one of his friends. But Scotty is right in the fray. He's there, hacking away at people with axes. For a while, he's actually pretty successful, until he's ripped apart off camera.
Now, a lot of this can be chalked up character development. Part of me really wants to lean into the idea that the events of this night made Ash depend a lot more on his reptile brain. Against my point, Ash does seem to be a burgeoning action hero by the end of this film. The third act has Ash fighting all kinds of deadite nonsense. He's ripped apart and has gotten over his phobia of violence. We could imagine that by the time that he has gotten to the events of Army of Darkness, what inhibitions he had have been permanently stripped by this situation of crisis. If anything, Evil Dead 2 might actually support that theory. But Ash is genuinely no good at fighting anything part one. A lot of his survival is based on luck and timing. Heck, even the magnifying glass necklace catches onto a book, despite the absurdity of that entire scenario. Ash only survives the first day because of dumb luck. (I will also re-discuss what the rules of Evil Dead are if I have time and the foresight to do so.)
In Evil Dead 2, Ash almost starts as this champion against evil. Yeah, he takes his licks. That's part of the charm of these movies. Ash will always take a beating. But there's this confidence to him coupled with a skill when it comes to fighting these monsters. Remember, the movie ends with him getting wrecked by camera monster. The second film starts with him flying through trees and being unconscious for twelve hours. I see him fighting worse after that experience, not better. I really mentally think of Evil Dead 2 as the beginning of a streamlined universe. In that world, Scott and Cheryl didn't come along to the cabin. Instead, it was a couples trip with Ash and Linda. Ash was always kind of a cocky jock rather than a wallflower who blossomed into a demon killing machine. Yeah, it's lamer characterization, but it does allow me to wrap my head around the story.
Considering that The Evil Dead was the progenitor of the subgenre of cabin based horror movies, I should probably cut it some slack. But I want to talk about the ickiest scene in the movie, the rape of Cheryl by the forest. Now, this is an era where the most exploitative horror movie won the race. We were / are icky people who probably should get our acts together. But the torture of Cheryl is a little bothersome to me in the grand scheme of things. Scotty is the one who plays the Knowby tape, despite everyone's protestations. Heck, Cheryl is the most vocal about Scotty's behavior and is left genuinely shook by his behavior. Cheryl is also the one who doesn't fit the sexual archetype established by ancestor The Cabin in the Woods. Cheryl is both philosophically and sexually innocent. Yet she is the first victim. She's the one who is tortured the most by the Other (whatever the camera demon is) to the point where she becomes the most hideous of the deadites. Now, part of me thought that, because she was injured by the trees, that's what brought her possession on. Maybe gross demonic injury makes one more susceptible to demonic influence. After all, she stabs Linda in the ankle, leading her to be the odd cackling girlfriend in the doorway. But what contaminated Shelly? She was damage free when she turned into a deadite.
Which all circles back to the question, "Didn't Ash really win by luck?" I mean, in Evil Dead 2, his hand turns bad and he lops it off before he can be completely possessed. That at least is consistent with the Other's motifs. But why can't the other just possess Ash? The Necronomicon (a book unnamed in this movie) is burned up by Ash, clearly upsetting the Other. Why not simply possess Ash? That seems like the easiest way to torture him. After all, it's what it does. As much as I love these movies, I never quite understood why Ash got a free pass from possession.
Anyway, I enjoyed it still. Yeah, I wish the rape stuff wasn't in there. It feels really backwards and gross. I know it's also odd that I'm very cool with over-the-top gore and violence, but that's kind of what we sign up for when we watch horror movies like these. It's still fun, but it might be my least favorite of the three.
Rated R for sci-fi horror stuff mostly. There's language and some nudity in the background of one of the bunks. I guess Ripley almost gets killed with pornography, which is weird to write. Also, the end of the movie involves Ripley in her underwear. It's weird if you come into Alien saying that you can handle gore, gross goop, Giger-inspired nightmares, language, but then say, "But Ripley's underwear!" I don't know. Writing out parent guides for these things is a unique experience, let me tell you. R.
DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott
I'm one of the snobs who outright states that the original theatrical cut of Alien is the best in the franchise. I know that people actively swear by the sequel, Aliens. But I am not particularly partial to that movie. I'm sure that some day, I'll finally rewatch it in a vain attempt to justify my very strong opinion about that movie (instead of going in without prejudice, which is what a responsible blogger would do). But Alien has been one of my all time favorite horror movies...ever. Like, it definitely wins the best sci-fi horror film. It pushes every button of mine and ticks all the boxes. It's funny because I actively dislike the director's cut.
See, I watched the director's cut first. Being born in 1983, by the time I was old enough to decide to watch Alien, there was already a director's cut available. (Okay, I could have watched Alien before this point, but I would have been the chosen one if, when given access to R-rated movies, jumped right to Alien. This blog would be untouchable if I had that kind of artistic foresight.) In those days, "Director's Cut" simply meant "Better version of the movie." I'm sure that a lot of people still hold this philosophy. After all, studio systems suck and the directors, especially in case like Ridley Scott, tend to be auteurs if there was ever going to be one. But that director's cut was boring. I honestly thought that Alien was one of the most dull films ever. Kind of like how I never absolutely love Blade Runner, Alien was just tedious for how slow that director's cut was. Then I decided to do some reading...on the inside of the DVD package. Apparently, Ridley Scott never wanted to make a director's cut. He, too, agreed that the theatrical cut was superior to the director's cut. The studio paid him to make an alternate cut of the film for the DVD set that I bought. (Yeah, having not seen Alien, I decided to by the Alien Quadrilogy box set because it was shiny. I'm that guy.) So I'm not wrong about this.
In my head, I'm always subconscious about how stream of consciousness my blogs should get. I've been riding this fine line between fun chat and organized thought. But there were a lot of quick moments that popped into my head with this watch of Alien. Stuff like, "I tend to mix up Ian Holm and John Hurt, and that's a big deal because that's confusing Bilbo Baggins and the War Doctor." Stuff like that. But the biggest moment is that Scott buried who the protagonist of the movie is. Horror movies tend to start with ensemble casts. Again, I'm referring to stuff that is covered in The Cabin in the Woods. Traditionally, we know who the hero in this movie is. The final girl has a cool head and tends to be attractive, yet acts asexual. But 1979 was the Wild West. The butt-kicking female protagonist didn't really have her heyday yet. Halloween was 1978, which means that they were probably in production right around the same time. We now know that Laurie Strode and Ellen Ripley are the progenitors of the scream queens. They give way worse than they get, but that wasn't a thing at the time. I can imagine sitting in the theater in 1979 thinking that Tom Skerritt was the protagonist. Ripley, while certainly an important character from the beginning of the movie, definitely feels like simply a puzzle piece in a much larger puzzle. It's only when people start getting killed off one-by-one and Ripley starts taking more and more responsibility that we realize that she's the one we're supposed to get behind.
It's odd to think that there's wage inequality in the future. There are a lot of references to the one Black man on the ship having to do the crap job. Okay, it's not that odd. But the world of Alien seems to be a pretty crummy future. There still is an essential working class that gets paid less and that annoys the "haves". I know that the further you crawl down the Alien franchise timeline, the more the Weyland-Yutani corporation plays a roll, which ties into Parker's frustration with his paycheck, but I didn't realize how important the corporation was. I always thought it was odd that the sequels really played up the corporate unseen overlords elements later on, but they are actually pretty firmly secured in this film. I completely forgot that Ash was a full on bad guy in this one, mainly because I always have Lance Henriksen's Bishop in the sequel in my head. But the fact that Ash is actually this pretty impressive secondary threat in this movie completely caught me off guard, and I've seen this movie three or four times. (I also watch a lot of movies and details of these films escape me when it's been a few years.)
And I kind of have to say, Ash makes the movie. See, I appreciate the Giger stuff. I do. It's a very cool alternative to a lot of the sci-fi out there. But it's also not my cup of tea. It works...for this movie. The xenomorph (which the back of my brain is telling me not to call it a xenomorph anymore for some reason) is very scary and iconic. But for all the good scares in the movie, the one that gets me the most is when Ash's head gets all John Carpenter-y and separated from his body, yet he continues to fight the people around him. I don't know, but I'm guessing it is the white liquid that is just so troubling about the whole thing. Watching Ash flail around, trying to kill anything and everything around him beats the xenomorph in the air ducts. It's not to downplay the xenomorph (although it does look like he's extending out for a hug in that moment), but Ash might be the scariest thing in that movie. It could be why Scott ended up paying so much attention to David in Prometheus. That's just my guess.
But what makes Alien the absolute bees-knees is the fact that the xenomorph is smart and unstoppable. The reason that Weyland-Yutani wants this creature is that he's the ultimate killing machine. While I acknowledge that this is a crew of miners without combat training, they aren't exactly spring chickens. They have flame throwers and radar tracking. But the xenomorph gets them at every turn. I mean, that xenomorph at the end was being awfully polite letting Ripley get into a spacesuit before going at her. Sure, it built up suspense, but I also want to credit the other deceased members of the Nostromo who didn't get such a welcome invitation to attack the creature. But they have all these plans to get rid of it and the xenomorph always stays one step ahead. It takes a beating and keeps going. Like, it's even ejected into space and it took a thruster to the face and the only thing that stopped it was the rope burning, sending it off into the void. That's what bugged me about Aliens. Guns took those things down. Would Weyland-Yutani risk all it does if a group of space marines could take out a bunch of them? Remember, one should be able to rip apart an entire platoon and that's what it feels like in this one. As cool and terrifying as Ripley is, she has a lot of luck on her side in this one. Also, she keeps grabbing the cat and that seems a bit silly. Why doesn't the xenomorph eat the cat? I don't know.
I adore this movie. It's this nice slow burn that ends up being terrifying and complex. It's a monster in space movie, sure. But it also might be the ultimate monster in space movie. The alien is terrifying and the acting is great. The mood is sinister. It's got what I'm looking for this Halloween.
Rated R for horror gore, nudity, drug use, and language. It's got a little bit of everything because it is a commentary on a little bit of everything. Now that we hear a lot more of Joss Whedon's secret philosophy, the stuff with Jules comes across as a little bit more gross. But if you can separate the art from the artist, it really does feel in line with stuff that you would see in a Dimension horror movie. It has people indulging in vice and feeling the consequences of those vices via means of horror movie morality. R.
DIRECTOR: Drew Goddard
Oh, I wish that I lived in a world where it was okay to show my high school English class an R rated movie. Okay, I really don't. That would be a world of excess and bad choices. But I'm about to teach my unit on archetypes and tropes! It's also almost Halloween! What an amazing convergence of kismet to be able to show The Cabin in the Woods and then to talk about ancient archetypes! Alas, I guess I'll have to save this idea if I become a college professor one day. (I probably won't, but it's a nice thought.)
The Cabin in the Woods is one of those special movies that almost exists outside of reality. For years, it was shelved. I think it was due to movie studios being bought and sold, coupled with timing and a lack of understanding of marketing. Studio politics are weird to me. I'm always going to low-key gripe about how the studio system works. I was about to say that maybe it was meant to be, but I instantly reverse that decision. The Cabin in the Woods got kind of buried because of those studio politics when, really, it should have been the Get Out of its day. Both movies are absolutely phenomenal horror movies that are fun, but also are fundamentally think pieces that force the audience to engage in a way that seems contrary to the horror genre. These are genius films and it's a crime that these films were treated the way that they were. Yeah, The Cabin in the Woods has a pretty solid cult following, but a lot of that comes from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer / Joss Whedon stans that just can't get enough of Whedon's unique voice and storytelling style. Lord knows that I was once one of them. (Honestly, since Age of Ultron, as much as I love that movie, I kind of got off the Joss Whedon train because he just seemed so angry after that moment.)
But The Cabin in the Woods does more for education in terms of archetypes than I think any other movie does. It's metacriticism is so on point that it took what horror nerds would chat about in dark basements and made it part of an educated vernacular. It made Monster Theory a commonplace idea without actually saying the phrase "Monster Theory." (Note: It should be stated right now that I did my graduate thesis on Monster Theory and Locke & Key, so I'm going out of my way to sound pretentious. It's fun to wax poetic!) While a lot of the metatext is fairly surface level, like why we always have the nerd, the stoner, the trollop, and the jock as our archetypes, coupling these archetypes with the various tropes is super fun. I know that 2020 has inspired all kinds of use of the whiteboard meme from The Cabin in the Woods, but we get little hints of all of the many scenarios that Whedon and Goddard had cooked up. Sure, having the Redneck Religious Zombies may be the closest nod to the OG Cabin-in-the-Woods movie, The Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, (it's a crime, by the way, that I'm getting to The Evil Dead after The Cabin in the Woods and Army of Darkness considering how many references I'm making to the progenitor of these films), but it also seems like this villain might be the one that Joss Whedon might have been the most vocal about. I mean, the guy is aggressively an atheist (yet has some wonderful characters of faith on Firefly), so having this zealot murderfest really feels a bit on brand, so I approve. But the tease that every horror movie is simply a shifting of trope upon archetype is great. The clear nod to Hellraiser is particularly successful. While there are variety in tone, the films serve to placate ancient beings starved for gruesome entertainment...
That has to be the read on this, right? The Cabin in the Woods has a big reveal. The reason that all these horror tropes keep on getting repeated throughout history is that the Ancient Ones, old-time gods who can destroy humanity on a whim, find our suffering to be some form of screwed up entertainment. I will stipulate that I'm not a horror nut, but I can also go to bat and say that horror movies are extremely entertaining. And, the thing is, they absolutely should not be. People who are appalled at horror probably have every moral ground for their distaste in the genre. But horror fans need their tropes. Yeah, we like tropes to be subverted from time-to-time, but there's something absolutely appealing about movies like Friday the 13th or Halloween. We love what we love and absolutely hate what we hate. (Maybe not me. I happen to be enlightened and better than everyone I know.) That makes us the old gods of this world. To get even deeper into the meta narrative of it all, the characters of The Cabin in the Woods are fictional. As much as we're supposed to be invested in them as real people, they are fictional. We only tolerate the movie as long as there is killing going on. When the killing stops, the credits roll. When Dana chooses to not kill Marty, the killing has stopped. The giant hand leaves no room for doubt that this world is over. The movie has ended. We have shut the film off with the suspense satiated.
Now I'm going to talk about something kind of gross, but it is something that keeps on popping in my head every time I watch the movie. The bad guys are kind of right, right? I don't want to be a "Thanos was right" kind of individual because those people are too much. I'm more of a "I get Killmonger" kind of guy myself. But the heroes of the movie are actually the people in the underground bunker. (See, I can't even feel comfortable saying that.) Whedon and Goddard make the people in the bunker hilarious, but kind of villainous at the same time. They bet on the most inhumane things, creating a Dead Pool for the employees. They ogle Jules and treat her as a sex object. They, without a doubt, manipulate four American children (not considering all of the other countries involved in this Lovecraftian agreement) into getting murdered horribly, chemically forcing them to obey their wills. They are bad people. But also, what is the alternative? It's not a hypothetical ending, like the ending of Ready or Not. It's a very real "We have evidence that the world is going to end a bloody death" if they don't do what they do. It's a Doctor Who scenario, where the morality is weighed against the practicality. When Dana decides not to kill Marty, mainly because Marty is the most evolved soul here, she kind of reads as a bad guy from a lot of angles. I mean, I applaud Dana's choice. It's the one that leaves her soul intact. But it is an ugly bit of a philosophy hypothetical.
Also, is The Cabin in the Woods supposed to be Joss Whedon's intended tone and message for Buffy Season Four? For those not in the know, Buffy Season Four is rough. Yeah, it has that awesome episode "Hush", but it suffers the same thing a lot of high school set shows do when they mosey on down to college. To couple an already awkward transition, they added this secret underground government organization that captured monsters. The short version of the summary is that it doesn't work, both in world and for the audience. It's kind of a dumb plot. But The Cabin in the Woods feels like what Buffy was shooting for. There might have actually been something going on with that and it could have been glorious. But The Cabin in the Woods almost thrives because it is the only movie that has made government agencies that captures monsters actually seem cool. I don't want to think about the annoying part of every Resident Evil game. Those stories are great until the underground lab is explored. But Goddard, through the inserting of the best casting choices ever, made the secret lab work and work well.
The Cabin in the Woods is a work of genius. Yeah, I wish I could go back to the halcyon days when Joss Whedon wasn't persona non grata. But he is and all I can do is appreciate the product and try to divorce him from it. Regardless, Goddard is still pretty well respected in my book and this movie rules.
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020)
Rated R for things associated with Borat. Like, that should be enough of a description. But people keep falling for his hijinks. Borat / Baron Cohen loves getting people in precarious positions, allowing them to show some of their darkest personality traits. Jokes include outright racism, menstrual blood, incest, general sexuality, abortions, language, and so much more. There's nothing kid friendly about Borat, so just know what you are signing up for. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: Jason Woliner
I honestly don't know how they make these movies. First of all, when the first Borat hit so huge, I knew that there was no way to make a sequel. It was impressive enough that there was a movie based on Da Ali G Show character Borat, but the first movie became such a part of the cultural zeitgeist that everyone was doing a Borat impression. But then, the second Borat movie not only was able to get around the insane fame that Sacha Baron Cohen has with this character, but was able to tell the most timely story ever?
Part of me guesses that the cast and crew set up their big stunts first. There's a stunt and they see how it plays out. Once the stunt is over, they decide to frame a whole story around it. I'm sure, in their minds, the big stunt was going to be the Mike Pence thing. It's a great gag. It's very funny. But the problem with the Mike Pence gag (I'm just writing assuming you've seen it. That's how this is going to go.) is that Pence doesn't do anything insane. He's his typical level-headed self. Sure, it's a funny gag to see Baron Cohen dressed as Trump offering a lady to the Vice President of the United States. But Pence didn't do anything so there's nothing all that damning. But then they got the Guiliani footage. Now that the movie is out, we all know what the Guiliani footage I'm talking about is. Now, I've read both Guiliani and Baron Cohen's statement about the footage. I can see both versions. But I'm going to side with Baron Cohen on this one because it's really weird that Guiliani even got into a bedroom with a young reporter, not even considering the implication of what lying on a bed entails. (Maybe Mike Pence is onto something about his rules about surrounding himself with women outside of his wife.)
But I'm guessing that they had that Guiliani footage and they knew what they were going to do. But then the Coronavirus showed up. There's all this footage in the movie pre-Covid and then the world just ends? I mean, it affected a lot of my favorite TV shows. It's funny that stuff like Supernatural came back and decided not to wear masks for scenes that take place in 2020, but whatever. But supporting my theory, this movie looks like it was written and rewritten on the fly. Instead of fighting the world situation, like every other form of entertainment, the filmmakers decided to go with the flow. In the closing credits, look how many people got credit for the script with this movie. It's probably because they constantly had to adapt to the insanity that is our world today.
And yet, it all works. Like, every moment in this movie feels preplanned. It always felt like Borat was out there to take down Covid-19, despite the fact that there was no way that this movie could have had the foresight to comment on what was going to happen. (I suppose those early scenes could have been out of order. After all, Borat does visit a Halloween superstore pretty early on in the film.) But because so much of what they do is unscripted, the fact that there is a cohesive plot by the end of the movie is mind-boggling. I'm genuinely impressed. I thought that South Park's turnaround time was on lock, but Borat might have outdone that.
So I've gone pretty hippie. I have. I became all political this year and I'm sure that I'm not alone. Borat seems to have matched me. I'm not saying that Borat wasn't political before, but he has aligned with a lot of my politics, with the exception of the pro-life stuff. That scene was slightly more uncomfortable, despite the fact that I got the joke being about dramatic irony. In a way, I suppose that it also seems meaner. It's hard to feel bad for some of the subjects involved in the movie. I mean, they say and do some pretty awful things with a smile on their faces. Sure, a lot of it could be editing, but Baron Cohen and Bakalova allow people to often dig their own graves. I can't forget that all these people have a camera next to them. I keep flashing to every social experiment that has documentation and how people behave differently with the assumption that documentation somehow means safety. But man alive, Baron Cohen knows how to get people to do some absolutely horrible things.
But as much as Baron Cohen is a bit of a bully with some of the choices he makes, there is an odd amount of heart in this movie. It comes from two people: Maria Bakalova as Tutar and the babysitter that is hired for her. I suppose that the filmmakers always want to have people feeling awkward. Getting people to feel awkward is the movie's currency. But there are moments where good people show the best parts of themselves. Having Tutar's babysitter give advice about how to combat the more toxic influences that Borat pushes on her is genuinely cathartic. The jokes are mean spirited throughout, so having this moment is kind of redeeming overall. But Bakalova's Tutar is part of the gag, but somehow a slightly less upsetting character. It's kind of amazing that Baron Cohen found someone who could give as well as he could with this shock humor. But Tutar has this character journey that, even if the politics of the film don't align with your own, you can still glean onto Tutar's narrative to find some common ground.
It's so odd that I have to say that the Borat sequel is a kind of art. Hear me out. This movie is as crass as it can get. At every moment, the filmmakers are trying to both gross and shock the audience to get a laugh. It's some really lowest-common-denominator stuff and it revels in it. But the Subsequent Moviefilm is also trying to elicit change. Good art doesn't pull punches. It is meant to make the audience uncomfortable to question social norms. In my case, it aligned with a lot of my now firmly cemented biases (I admit it), but I also know that Borat was extremely popular with a conservative base. It does a lot of what Archie Bunker did. By having this absolutely gross guy spouting off horrible things, we can see the problems in having those beliefs. When Borat goes into the synagogue, a scene that I really thought went too far at first, we leave with this absolutely touching moment between an old Jewish grandma and a racial stereotype. Borat's ugly core beliefs allow us to question our own misconceptions and disgusting things. Yeah, it may not change us. I'm still very pro-life, but there's some stuff that shows that humanity, despite all the ugliness that is shown, has sparks of absolute light in the world. That little old grandmother made me believe that the world is full of good people who are just willing to talk and make things better.
While I may not have found the notion of Borat himself, with his absurd commentary on third world nations, all that funny, the movie itself is crazy funny. It is the Borat that we needed for 2020 because he isn't going to pretend like things are normal. While I don't know how he filmed the quarantine bit, I appreciate what the movie does for pointing out the stupidity that the world has embraced. I loved it.
Rated R for a lot of violence towards women coupled with language that would make a sailor blush. I know I should be focusing on the violence-towards-women element of the R rating, but the movie really goes out of its way to include as many F-bombs as it can fit in an hour-and-a-half. Like, they aren't even hiding how much it likes that word. Similarly, with a lot of horror violence, it has its share in gore. There is also violence towards children. R.
DIRECTORS: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett
I kind of need to shake a leg writing this one. I'm running out of time. (It's almost as if my job requires a lot of my attention and that it would be irresponsible to write a movie blog when I have a to-do list a mile long. I love that I have HBO Max to watch stuff like this. It was a low-key priority seeing this one and it eventually slipped under my radar. That being said, I can't help but see comparisons to two other films and I'm sure I'm not alone in seeing these comparisons.
Did anyone else feel like this was a blend of Get Out and Knives Out? (I know that both movies end in the word Out, but I swear that I'm pretty sure that one isn't a sequel of the other.) I read an article that stated that the filmmakers were aware of the thematic tone between Ready or Not and Get Out. After all, I'm glad when movies point out that rich white people are the real villains in our society. With the one case, it involves the victimization of women. I can already see the pretend reader of this blog commenting on how it has nothing to do with gender because the males are equally hunted in this movie. But the visual of a woman in her bloodied and abused wedding gown fleeing from white people can't be ignored. The Knives Out thing kind of just feels like the quirky family that can't get their act together and comes across as generally unlikable. And maybe there's a cinematographer thing going on, but these movies just absolutely look alike and I can't quite shake that feeling that there is some kind of art design attachment to both.
But I kind of dig what's going on in the movie. Okay, there was a time in the movie that I was about to riot. What the movie was saying about Alex to begin with bothered me. I mean, they were secretly on my team the entire time, so I can't fault them for the misdirect. But it made it seem like Alex was "the good one." We had a little bit of this in Vampires vs. the Bronx, the concept of the good white person. But the movie really was selling the idea that Alex was still a good person for doing all of this. The movie rests on the central conceit of deception. Alex, to get married to Grace, had to lie to her about a tradition that the family partakes in. Alex's motivation for not telling Grace that there is a small chance that she would be hunted is because he states that she would have left him if they didn't get married. I rolled my eyes pretty hard at this concept. The movie needed to have Grace surprised by this horrifying tradition. That's completely necessary to the whole "Most Dangerous Game" bit that orchestrates everything that happens from the beginning of the movie. But trying to get Alex to be one of the good guys is weird. She still loves him, even after he confesses the family's dark history.
But she really shouldn't. Part of the whole marriage thing is the understanding that the spouse is another part of you. It's why we try to avoid lying to our significant others. He clearly thinks very little of her if he isn't willing to share this very important element of his backstory. Similarly, if Grace agreed to do this, which she absolutely shouldn't agree to do, she could have at least prepared for the potential bloodbath that would ensue. She wouldn't be leaving her wedding with a dead groom and dead in-laws. She wouldn't be leaving with a hole in her hand and multiple lacerations. She has the right to all of these things, but Alex just withholds that stuff. What was his endgame? She would have to know about the family tradition in case anyone else in his family got married, right? Grace would potentially have to be on the other end of the hunt given the proper circumstances. What then? What if she just objected to hunting people, like she should? I mean, it is absolutely looney tunes that the family that has married into this gaming family are not only on board the murder of a stranger, but completely excited about it. What is the assumption that this would play out that way across time?
The same rules kind of apply to Daniel. I feel like Daniel only got all of this fun character switching stuff because he was played by Adam Brody, who is just too handsome to be full on evil. There's a moment in the woods where I was jazzed to see that he was just as evil as everyone else in the family, but he just had to warm up to it. When he frees Grace, it kind of feels like a cop out. I know that he explains away some of his choices when he frees her, but why go through all that hullabaloo if you were just going to help her escape to begin with? Also, I don't know if it makes him a good person. At least Alex kind of has a character turn that is based on something. Yeah, it's icky and gross, but it matches with the message of the whole piece.
Is the 1812 Overture an unfired Chekhov's gun? It was a bizarre choice that the head servant of the house kept going back to the 1812 Overture as his defining character beat. It's a gag that has happened in movies time-and-again to the point where it is almost a cliche. This character keeps whistling and singing that song, but we never get the "boom joke". It kind of made me hate that character. If they were intentionally trying to break the tradition of the boom joke, I wish that they would just vocalize the fact that the boom joke wasn't happening so it didn't feel like a lost opportunity.
I don't know which ending I like better. The movie provides this binary option: the Devil is real or he isn't. I adore how they made the devil real. The family members just blowing up is absolutely satisfying. It's the best way to have them die and I simply love it. I don't know why Grace doesn't die. After all, she is married to Alex. But I want to look at the other option. There's also something very satisfying about nothing happening to them. The directors really toyed around with that notion. After all, it is a little silly to watch these sophisticates running around with archaic weaponry to kill a girl before sunrise all for the devil. (The "Hail Satan" gave the movie just the right camp it needed for a horror movie.) But watching them all feel foolish to discover that they had killed so many people for no reason was almost better than watching them explode. After all, them actually dying makes them infinitesimally sympathetic. Killing to stay alive doesn't make you a super bad guy; it just makes you a bad guy. I want to absolutely hate them when they point out the evil religious fanaticism running rampant through the story. But think about if the movie just ended with them all feeling incredibly sheepish. Yeah, I would have gone the same direction as the filmmakers did, with everyone exploding too. But part of me would have just died to see everything being just fine and that all those people died for nothing. It would have been the ultimate Boomer criticism.
But for all my critiques, the movie is really fun. I know that "The Most Dangerous Game" has been repeated time and again. But there's something genuinely entertaining about how over the top the movie gets. It's not like the family is good at killing folks. Honestly, why would they be amazing at it? It's not like they kill people all the time. There's just this assumption that they would be great at it. The running gag of the help dying horrible deaths is fantastic. The movie just works. It gave me a good ending in terms of Alex. While I might have considered the alternate ending, the exploding family is super fun. It's not really all that scary so much as genuinely suspenseful.
Also, OnStar is the worst.
PG and probably a well-deserved P added to that G. Jonah Hill's Titan is super duper extreme. Like, he's actually kind of scary how violent. It seems like he's something out of The Boys. Similarly, it kind of has a gruesome-seeming death of a major character. It's pretty darned violent. I guess we can't ignore that the movie justifies a lot of bad actions. The movie isn't PG-13 worthy, but there are times where it gets pretty close. PG.
DIRECTOR: Tom McGrath
Last week, one of my seniors referenced this movie in his journal. I didn't really get the reference. It's not like I hadn't seen the movie. It's just that I saw the movie in 2010 and it kind of fell into obscurity for me. I didn't know that Megamind was the thing that the hip kids talk about. But again, this is the same generation that ironically watches The Bee Movie on repeat to get laughs. And now I hate myself because I sound like a Boomer. Let's start over.
I suppose that the biggest curveball that this blog ever took was the concept of family movie night. When I started the blog four years ago, I set up as the mission statement to write about every movie that I watched. In my head, this would force me to de-snobbery the website with movies that people actually watched. Sure, a Criterion Collection blog would have been a novelty. But then I realized that my brain would get tired and I would get a lot of interpretations straight up wrong. I know my own intellect and, as much as it likes to be challenged, that is an intimidating obstacle. So stuff like Megamind showing up was meant to water down some of the more heady, artsy-fartsy stuff. But now it is almost taking over. It's not that I dislike Megamind. It's just that I never realized how little of an impact Megamind has made on my life. I have this emotional jump to all of the many low-impact movies that I rented during my Blockbuster movie pass days. Movies like Along Came a Spider or that Ben Stiller comedy with Phillip Seymour Hoffman (Along Came Polly? Maybe they all started with "Along" or my brain can't help but catalogue useless information into alphabetical order.) Sometimes there is nothing wrong with these movies. Megamind is such an example. It's a fun kids' film that really feels like the product of its time. In some ways, it is very safe. In other ways, I suppose, it actually kind of seems counter-culture. For all the credit I'm going to give this movie by talking about it ad nauseum, it still kind of rests as a forgettable Dreamworks animated picture about superheroes.
The superhero / supervillain subgenre is kind of low hanging fruit for satire. It's really getting on par with the spy commentary that a lot of films like making since Peter Sellers' Casino Royale or Mike Myers' Austin Powers franchise. It makes sense. Sci-fi and fantasy always provide a template for allegory because science fiction is meant to be a commentary on humanity and its potential. Megamind perhaps does the same thing that Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog does and questions if supervillains, given a proper background and some healthy relationships, would actually prove to be more altruistic than characters who have had everything handed to them. Now, I kind of want to look at this very notion within the archetype of the hero. While sometimes, heroes are raised in charming and blessed fashions, more often than not, a hero's background is shrouded in trauma. How many parents or parental figures are killed for the hero to find his meaning? Both Metro Man and Megamind share a similar background. They both come from a dead planet to Earth. Metro Man was raised in an environment that provided him with whatever he wanted. Megamind was raised in a prison. (Okay, I'm on board this joke. The nerd in me wants to comment on Mark Millar's Superman: Red Son, but the writer in me wants to distance himself from that guy.) Metro Man is clearly Superman. Megamind is alien Lex Luthor / J.J. Abrams' Lex Luthor. (Look it up.)
But what Megamind messes up in its Superman archetype is the notion of what it means to be blessed. Yeah, Metro Man gets real tired of being Superman. That's interesting and fun. But what I don't quite see is the concept of the responsibility of knowing that he is the last. What makes Superman interesting is that he is born of trauma, but he doesn't let that trauma burden him. Instead, it inspires him. He is the last of his species. His parents are dead. He has had to hide who he is his entire life and Clark Kent, for all the goodness that he has in his life, is a tether for him. Metro Man doesn't really have that. In the daycare section of the movie, Metro Man is openly a superhero, even as a child. It is a world that has normalized superheroes. Metro Man is unburdened, making the allegory a little bit weak. If Megamind is Lex Luthor, it doesn't quite work. Lex Luthor is based around the concept of xenophobia and extreme conservatism. He believes that humans should come first. Superman represents a weakening of the human spirit with the knowledge that everything comes easy for Superman. He sees himself as the weakened slacker in an Ayn Rand fever dream. His entire existence is over-compensating to prove that outsiders shouldn't interfere with natural born citizens.
But that's not Megamind's motivation. This is a really dark read, and its one that I've made about another movie (although I forget which one), but Megamind's motivation is the same as the school shooters. Listen, I like the idea that the entire story is a redemption arc. I think that is fun and interesting. But Megamind is still a bad guy. The movie celebrates him as the new hero of Metro City. But he created Titan. He has attacked the city time and again and endangered real people countless times. He's an attempted murderer. And it all comes down to the idea that his life was rough. Metro Man used to pick on him and that makes him feel justified to hurt others to find validation. That's...awful. I'm not saying that you can't have a villain with that origin story. Heck, it can ever make a character a sympathetic villain. But what it doesn't do is forgive him for the things that he has done. He's actively a bad person. It's really weird that Roxanne Richie falls in love with him. (I want to get into this in detail, so remind me to come back to this, 'Kay?) The notion that Megamind is allowed to do what he does because he had a rough childhood is absurd. That's why I don't love the Metro Man origin. Heroes often are born of tragedy. It's deciding how to frame that tragedy is what makes someone special.
As progressive as Tina Fey comes across, there's something that is really off about Roxanne Richie. Richie gains points for not automatically falling for Metro Man. One of the greatest evolutions of a character can be found in Lois Lane. She went from being a damsel in distress to being a personality match for Superman. It made sense that Lois and Clark were attracted to one another. Roxanne Richie doesn't fall for Metro Man because he is almost completely vapid. But alternatively, I don't like that she's into Megamind. Part of the message is supposed to be that she sees beyond his odd looks and his past and sees the man at the moment. But their entire relationship is based on a lie. Megamind spends a majority of the film catfishing Richie. He pretends to be someone he's not and puts on a whole show built on lies. Yeah, he's growing as a person, but none of his actions are even remotely okay. As I mentioned earlier, he's still a bad guy. He's just a bad guy who rectified his own mistake. It's kind of what Tony goes through in Age of Ultron. We shouldn't celebrate that Tony beat Ultron because he created Ultron. The same thing is true about Megamind and Titan. He's not a viable adult because he undid the problem he created.
But I do love the commentary about Titan. The movie nails the concept of entitled "good guys." Hal thinks he deserves Roxanne simply because he's not awful at the beginning of the story. Simply because he harbors a crush doesn't make him worthy of Roxanne Richie. I do love that the movie allows Roxanne to state that plainly. Seeing how messed up Hal becomes once he's transformed into Titan / Tighten is horrifying because it is telling as crap. There's nothing fantastic about his use of powers. It's just something to be abhorred.
Yeah, I laughed a few times at Megamind. It's a fun movie that may have some undercooked subtext going on. But the family mostly seemed to enjoy it and I had some stuff to say about it.
G, but the most uncomfortable G rating I've ever seen. Like, there are major themes of adultery throughout the movie. Ladyfish is perhaps one of the most sexual animated characters outside of Jessica Rabbit. It's really really weird and my wife and I were just hoping that the kids weren't picking up on a lot of the overt innuendo. For a G-rated movie, the whole thing is pretty sexual. G.
DIRECTORS: Arthur Lubin, Gerry Chiniquy, Robert McKimson, Hawley Pratt, and Bill Tytla
One of my friends a few years ago went off on a rant about how this is the weirdest movie ever. I should have heeded his warning. I suppose that part of me was intrigued by the notion that this movie could have been that weird. After all, it is part of the cultural zeitgeist, despite the fact that I know few people who have actually sat down and watched this movie. Yeah, I should have taken my friend's rant as a warning, but family movie night was upon us and we had limited access to film. It came down either this or Mister Popper's Penguins and the vote leaned hard into The Incredible Mr. Limpet. As the knight at the end of Last Crusade has made famous, we chose poorly.
The most insane thing about this movie is that it starts off with the title card followed by "Based on the novel by...". I don't know how much is credited to the novel. Maybe this is a one-to-one adaptation. Maybe it is loosely based on similar themes, but this movie doesn't even make sense as a novel. I imagine the tone was quite different. Probably the audience was entirely difference. I can't help but think that the jump between the novel and the film was probably comparable to the source material and the TV versions of The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. The movie desperately wants to be this family friendly comedy, looking at the works of Walt Disney and trying to imitate that style. Honestly, I only realized that I wasn't watching a Disney movie when searching for images for the movie and seeing that a lot of them were stamped with the watermark labeled "Warner Archive". Again, I'm doing a lot of guesstimation here, but I think the largest problem that this movie has involves the attempt to clean up a book that really shouldn't be cleaned up.
Because at its heart, Mr. Limpet is about affairs. I know that the movie really tries hard to lean into the patriotism of the third act of the film, but that almost seems like a misdirect from what is at the heart of the piece. For most of Henry Limpet's life, he has been seen as a waste of space. His wife is clearly having an affair, although the movie itself feels uncomfortable to share that information outright. She hates her husband and makes eyes at George Stickel while her husband is alive. Like, she really hates Henry. He seems to be a guy who hasn't changed a thing about himself since he was a child. It hardly seems realistic that a guy who is embodied by all the weirdness of Don Knotts just instantly becomes awkward and lanky. I mean, in an attempt to establish the patriotic themes of the movie, Limpet, while human and attempting to enlist in the army, weirds out his whole office by sticking a fish in the water cooler. (At this point of the movie, I was on board. I had flashes to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and thought that this movie was going to be a spiritual cousin.) So why would Bessie marry Henry? She holds him in contempt for the entire time that he's on land. She can't wait to get away from him so she can have a fling with her Navy guy on the side. Heck, the two of them rub their relationship in his face. He's just too preoccupied with the notion of fish to even remotely notice that this tomfoolery is happening in his home.
But Henry almost knows that he is loathed. I mean, people make it pretty clear. It's just that he uses his fantasy to become a fish as a weird sense of hope. Maybe one day, he will become a fish, which keeps him going. As depressing as it is (I just became aware that I'm wearing a mask and got more depressed), Henry at least has his priorities straight. He throws away his fish to save his marriage. It seems that he's all over the place, but it seems like Henry is just someone who has settled into his depression because of the social stigma that the alternative would demand.
And this is where the movie gets really muddied. I mean, the story is weird enough as is, but it gets just off the rails with its attempt to verbalize the themes. When Henry actually has his wish granted and we enter the animated portion of the film, the movie actually states "Be careful what you wish for." One of the original titles for the film was "Be Careful How You Wish". The movie sets up this whole morality play about being grateful for the life you had, like It's a Wonderful Life. But then the movie just decides to ignore that and it gives Henry Limpet the life he always wanted. There's very little downside to Henry becoming a fish. He has a moral conundrum about cheating on his wife, which is kind of sold as a double-edged sword. Like, it's a bummer that he shouldn't cheat on his wife, but he also feels self-esteem for the first time which is pretty gross in terms of making him a sympathetic character. He also loses his glasses, but that could happen on land. This isn't a cautionary tale about becoming a fish so you don't lose your glasses. If anything, everything that Henry imagined about becoming a fish works out and more. He not only becomes a fish, but he becomes a fish with superpowers?
I don't know where the superpowers come from. It's this thing that makes Henry Limpet an asset to the military. But it also...doesn't have much to do with fish. A lot of Henry's journey through fishhood is him finding value in himself. He has courage, but he didn't have the ability to do anything about it. I hate that I'm going to be making a comparison to Captain America: The First Avenger, but that's what's going on here. But while Cap got all the muscles and speed, Henry is a fish that makes a goofy noise that has no other purpose but alerting radar to the presence of Nazi U-boats. (I suppose that I should mention in the MPAA section that this movie has Nazis.) If the central idea involves simplifying one's life to find value, this is the opposite. Henry, by all intents and purposes, has the same outlook on life as a human being, but he's actually gained abilities, not lost. It's a really muddled message.
Henry's wife doesn't make a lick of sense as a character. She's introduced as this two-timing harpie who makes Henry's life miserable. She's clearly cheating on him. But then she worries about him all the time. She is very understanding when he ends up being a fish. I think that doesn't really gel with her close-minded attitude presented thus far. This kind of allows for my least favorite moment, especially when there's a romantic trope running through the film. Everyone is paired off nicely and there are no consequences for infidelity. I really don't like that one bit. It's so convenient and avoids the real emotional stakes going on. Also, Henry Limpet can't wait to have sex with a fish. This fish has no idea about complex human relationships and it's almost like reading into a someone as being completely vapid. It's gross.
Yeah, I should have listened to my buddy. This movie was rough. It's weird, but in all the wrong ways.
Rated R for pretty upsetting monster horror. There's a lot of gore and vomit. It's got some language. There's some medical horror stuff too. Also, if you have a trigger for kids getting hurt and dying, which you probably should, this movie deals with all of that. It's a pretty upsetting R rated horror movie.
DIRECTOR: Bong Joon Ho
I keep starting this one and then losing my project. It's not like I get far anytime. If anything, this is the farthest I've gotten. It's just been one of those days. At least I have the pleasure of writing about a movie that kind of shaped my view of Korean cinema.
This is another one of those movies that was so good when I bought it that I was afraid to return to it. Part of it came from the understanding that my wife has to be in a very specific mood to enjoy a horror movie. The other reason was that, if I fall in love with a movie hard on the first viewing, I'm always kinda / sorta afraid to visit it again. This was one of those movies. The Host kind of sets up the tone for what would be the rest of Director Bong's films over the next few years, including but not limited to Parasite. Rather than simply make a monster movie, or a movie in the kaiju subgenre, Director Bong does something very smart and should be the basis for every horror movie. He makes it about the people rather than the monster.
Horror movies tend to be more fun than actually meaty because we can't wait to see how the bad guy is going to rip apart the cast of good guys. I know that "good guy" seems to be too much of a blanket term, but the joy of scary movies is knowing that something terrible is going to happen to a group of individuals who don't really pose a threat to the bad guy. That feeling of suspense is what makes these movies so watchable. But The Host kind of messes with that format. Instead of solely focusing on how cool the monster looks (which, by the way, the monster does look pretty cool), The Host fully fleshes out every character. The family is closely knit and completely screwed up. The bulk of the movie involves this back-and-forth of the family bickering and fighting, which gives this uncomfortable film a morbid sense of humor. There are stretches where the monster isn't in the film and these scenes completely hold up. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed the confrontation scenes with the creature, I cared more for the dynamic between the family members. They all have their faults, yet that only makes them more endearing throughout the film. While Gang-do is definitely the protagonist, all of the characters are dynamic. The father gains his courage, a 'la the Cowardly Lion. Nam-il, while probably still an alcoholic, becomes way less of a jerk and becomes way more pro-active. Nam-joo learns confidence. So when these characters are in danger, it becomes something very personal. We fall in love with all of these characters in the midst of deep personal change and they become more than corpses. When I blogged about Don't Breathe, all I could do was sort of relate to the protagonist. But even her troubles seemed artificial. Everything in The Host seems far more grounded.
It's real weird that Hyun-Seo dies. Again, everything in these blogs are spoilers, so put that out there. But the entire movie is about the hunt for Hyun-Seo. Gang-do's very value lies in saving her and he still loses her. Yeah, Gang-do is kind of a burnout at the beginning of the movie. He's this character that's on the fence of being a good or a bad character. Many of his vices tie into the concept that he's kind of incompetent rather than actively choosing anything bad. (The father's soliloquy justifies a lot of his inadequacies). Gang-do has asperations to be a good father when he should just do it. It is odd that he is punished with Hyun-Seo's death. It's almost a condemnation of his parentage. Yeah, he's not a great dad. But he's also not an actively evil dad. Trust me, I'm totally on board with what Director Bong is throwing down here. But Gang-do makes an active choice to fight for Hyun-Seo. If anything, he's way more successful with his attempts to save her than he has any right to be. But he still loses her.
But that's why he has the second chance kid. It's a weird way to refer to a human being, especially one that would garner a lot of media attention in the wake of such a massive news event. I don't know how he got custody of that kid or was even allowed his freedom, considering that he was the center of a massive conspiracy to study human exposure to monsters. (Was the American government convinced that there was a virus or were they aware that there wasn't a virus? That doctor at the end kind of confused me by pointing at Gang-do's frontal cortex or whatever.) It's an implication that people don't have be great to be good parents. The first message is that Gang-do kind of just accepts his ineptitude because that's what he's been programmed to do. But Gang-do seems to be a good dad at the end, despite being in the same economic situation that he was in at the beginning of the story. Perhaps he realized that he was a small guy that could move mountains. I'm still always a little flabbergasted when Gang-do gets away from the scientists during his last stint in captivity. Like, it's darned impressive. Sure, it probably points to the incompetence of the military in that situation. But it is thrilling. Because he escaped so many times, he probably gained this sense of confidence or something. All of this comes together in a finale that allows everyone's weaknesses to be their greatest strengths.
As many people in my life can attest, I've turned into a dirty hippie. I don't mind. I kind of like it. But Bong Joon Ho really hits hard on the environmentalist stuff. When I said that The Host was the blueprint for both for the rest of his works, I wasn't just talking about Parasite. There's a lot in common with Okja. I didn't love Okja, but the message is a powerful one. The Host really starts the film with the condemnation of big corporations against the environment. Implying that the spilling of chemicals down a sink leads to the creation of this monster is pretty blunt. But the side effect of making this an environmental issue is the loosey-goosey idea that it makes the monster sympathetic. It's weird, because the monster isn't a nice monster. This isn't Harry and the Hendersons. No, the monster straight up eats folks by the dozen and vomits up their bones. I don't know if Director Bong was all about its relationship with children, but why did they survive the first round when no one else did? I mean, we already discussed Hyun-Seo's death, so we know it isn't a lethal protector or anything. But maybe there's some kind of parallel between the monster and children. Maybe the monster is a child and feels kinship with them. But he does eventually wreck them pretty hard, so I don't know how much that theory is going to hold up. Still, environmentalism, right?
The Host holds up hard. Maybe it even holds up even better since Parasite won Best Picture. But this movie is a wonderful mix of funny, scary, and deep. I adore it.
Approved. It's a Disney historical fiction, so it is going to pretty tame. I mean, I never realized how uncomfortable the Boston Tea Party was until I saw a video of a bunch of white guys donning what they deem Native Americans wore. Also, Johnny hurts his hand quite badly, as an element of the story. It's supposed to be gross, but it really is just the actor holding his hand in a cup shape, implying that he can't use it. It's mostly pretty fine.
DIRECTOR: Robert Stevenson
"Mr. H, you've clearly read this book, being an English teacher and all." Um...you would be mistaken. At least, I think you'd be mistaken. There's a bunch of books from grade school that I just don't remember, so there's a chance that I read this. But my wife who is homeschooling our children taught this book to them as part of the supplemental material for their unit on the American Revolution. She seemed pretty mortified that I hadn't read this book (or, again, maybe not have read this book). As many literary classics as English teachers read, there are always going to be more things that I should have read as well.
So I'm almost going to be writing this from the perspective of my family, who had read it. My point of view on the movie sees this movie as weird. It's real weird and I got a totally different message than my kids got. Apparently, the moral of the story in the book is that Johnny is prideful and that's the only thing that is stopping him from finding self-worth / making a difference. I saw the story as the world being unfair and once someone accepts that, they find their value. I'm centering this around the wrathful God who decided to punish Johnny for working on the sabbath. I will admit that there isn't a one-to-one correlation between Johnny's tragic maiming and a wrathful God, but the movie, in its attempt to Sparknotes the story, makes it kind of come across like that. Johnny's mentor, Mr. Lapham I think, seems to really have a give-up attitude. A customer comes in for a repair on a watch that Lapham designed and sets a date that seems challenging. Lapham is automatically in the mindset that he can't do it. He thinks that Paul Revere must have made such an impressive piece, but then realizes that he himself made the watch. Johnny, while being perhaps too optimistic, claims that he can fix the piece. After all, the dramatic irony of the situation is that he wants to impress his secret relative with his craftsmanship, which seems like a reasonable motivation.
But Lapham is completely ready to watch Johnny fail. The character is meant to be the representation of modesty and prudence, but he just comes across as this quitter who is afraid of a challenge and hard work. When Johnny does the legwork and goes to Revere for advice, humbling himself in front of a competitor, he's supposed be seen as brash and fool hearted. His mentor told him not to pursue fixing this piece, but his mentor kind of sucks? Like, he doesn't seem like this pinnacle of wisdom. He just comes across as this huge lame who is disrespectful to his customers. We're not supposed to know that Johnathan Lyte is terrible. There's never a line that Lapham says along the lines of, "Mr. Lyte is an unreasonable man. If I had time, I could fix it and do the job correctly." That's all you really need. But instead, Lapham is really weird and dodgy about not fixing the piece, leaving Johnny in this precarious position of trying to impress a relative and maintaining a business that isn't even his own.
So Johnny burns his hand almost immediately after disobeying Lapham. He's almost done with the piece when Lapham comes in and tells him that is time for prayers. Johnny asks for a reasonable amount of time. The others in Lapham's home sympathize with Johnny, who has put considerable effort in fulfilling the contract on the piece and advocate for his reasonable request. Lapham, again, kind of seems out of touch with Johnny. While he's supposed to be the wise, logical patriarch, he again comes across as almost an Ebenezer Scrooge. (Only with religion instead of money.) Unflinching to his own particular wishes, Lapham causes a bit of a hullaballoo and Johnny burns his hand, leaving him maimed and unable to continue his apprenticeship as a metalworker. It really does seems like, "Johnny didn't pray to God on time; God took Johnny's hand in retribution." That's such a weird turn that I don't know how to feel about. Like, God doesn't really do that. I don't know if we're that on board with karma from a Christian perspective. And it wasn't like Johnny wasn't going to pray. He just needed a mo to put his stuff away and be a proper apprentice. If Lapham had helped him earlier, they wouldn't really be in this predicament. But Lapham's giving-up attitude caused Johnny to lose his hand. That should have been Johnny's motivation for the rest of the story.
Again, a lot of my interpretation came from the rush job that the movie did. I hear that the book did it a lot better. But the rest of Johnny's motivations come across as stilted too. Johnny doesn't pick any jobs that a one handed man could do. That's the central idea behind the job search in the book. If Johnny Tremain's central vice is pride, that is really not well sold in the movie. Johnny's choices of potential replacement jobs makes him seem kind of stupid. He keeps doing all these gigs that would instantly get him fired. Like, there's the scene with the boat captain. He's about to get this sweet gig, but he couldn't take the job because he couldn't shake the captain's hand? How far did he think he was going to get when everyone noticed that he wasn't able to hold his weight? He couldn't shake the captain's hand! Come on. That's a bit much. But this is kind of the problem with the direct adaptation. I know that there are a lot of changes in the film, but the speed run of everything makes Johnny come across as dumb as opposed to dealing with complex morality. It's odd that Johnny wants to be related to Lyte because nothing builds up that relationship to begin with. Because he's a Disney villain, we only get characterization in terms of black-and-white.
It's so weird that the first half hour of the movie reads very differently from the rest of the film. My kid was super bored by this point and wasn't paying attention at all. I didn't quite get the insight into the rest of the novel as I did from the first half hour. It is something that happens. But while the first half hour of the movie comes across as an origin tale for Johnny Tremain, the rest of the movie seems to be a museum tour of history. Johnny Tremain seemed to be on the fringes of the major moments of the American Revolution from that point out. I watched the whole thing, probably more intently than anyone else in the room, but I didn't really get much from the rest of the film. I wish I was more patriotic. I feel if I was, this movie would be a tearjerker for me. It's just that I never really got the concrete connection between Johnny, the character who flash fried his hand, and the events of the American Revolution. They seem to be disparate. Like, I don't need Johnny there at all. It's just an excuse to have a protagonist for an event that wasn't centered around one person.
R. In my mind, Army of Darkness was always PG-13. It's so much more tame than the previous entries in the franchise. It almost feels like Raimi was going out of his way to make a PG-13 movie. (Wikipedia confirms my theory.) It's one of those movies that really toes the line. There's a lot of blood and chainsaw violence. There's kinda / sorta nudity and a rapey scene. Ash drops the f-bomb once, but the rest of the language is limited to s-bombs. The Deadites tend to be the most terrifying element of the movie, but most of the bad guys are skeletons, which aren't particularly all that scary. R.
DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi
Man, I'm just pulling out all of the hits this October, huh? I'm going to just come out and say that Army of Darkness is just a weird movie all around. In terms of plot, it's weird. In terms of protagonist, it's weird. The tone is weird. The script is weird. The production history is weird. Like, the fact that Army of Darkness is so entertaining is an absolute miracle because everything in this movie absolutely should not work. Part of me relegates it to being a lesser movie in the series, but I know that it also is the most entertaining movie in a franchise that I really, really enjoy. It's truly bizarre what a corporate influence can have over an indie series of horror movies.
Tonally, Army of Darkness is just bananas. Following Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn, Army of Darkness is the first film that gets a wide release. I think there's a Paramount or a Universal title card in front of this movie, but that may be my absolutely dodgy memory. (I'm sorry that I'm not reviewing these in order, but I have a weird method to my madness that I may share one day in terms of what movies I watch and when.) The Evil Dead was this underground horror movie known for how brutal the film was. It was remade later with the attempt to outbrutalize one of the most disturbing films ever made. Evil Dead 2, for some reason, spends a lot of time remaking the first film and then adding a second plot to it. My guess was that not a lot of people were able to see the first entry, despite the iconic poster being in every nerd's bedroom in every movie. Evil Dead 2, tonally, is also bizarre because it starts off remarkably seriously and then adds some really weird,Three Stooges-styled humor to the film. And honestly, the comedy bits in Evil Dead 2 might be the most successful things. But Army of Darkness is over-the-top comedy surrounding a loose horror storyline. A lot of this is knowing that Bruce Campbell was born a comedian over being a heroic lead. It also has to do that these movies always seemed about a group of friends getting together to make fun movies.
But realizing that Army of Darkness is the third movie is completely bizarre. Considering that the third entry was the first movie to be shown to wide audiences, the first few minutes of Army of Darkness come across as a fever dream. Trying to summarize the events of Evil Dead 2 is insane. I have to believe that Raimi realized that because he never really lets up from that point. If the summarized points of the first two films were going to come across as nutbars, there's almost a sense of arrogance behind some of the choices that are in this film. It's not to say that Army of Darkness can't stand by itself. If anything, it does a lot to really sell that you can only watch Army of Darkness and be fine. But part of that is an agreement with its audience that details don't matter. The first five minute loop of the mythology of Evil Dead is crazy and almost incomprehensible. Every moment past that will also be incomprehensible. Why doesn't Ash use his shotgun against the Deadite in the pit? Who cares? It's cool when he threatens people with it. How do people get possessed by the Necronomicon for no reason? All I know is that the witch in the tower is kinda scary. Why go through all this effort torturing Ash when it seems that anyone could get possessed at any time? These are things that, if you think about them, can hold you back. Instead, Raimi weaponizes suspension of disbelief to create one of the most bizarre movies in the comedy-horror subgenre.
I don't think it is an accident that the title cards label the movie as Bruce Campbell vs. Army of Darkness. Maybe I could have used an indefinite article in there to make it read a little better. But Ash as a character seems directly spiraled out of the persona that Bruce Campbell has created for himself. For those not in the know, Campbell is one of the cult film legends. Ash has elevated himself into the grand canon. In the comics, he's fought Freddy and Jason simultaneously. This character has become something grandiose. But none of his origin story justifies his behavior. As this series went on, the filmmakers decided to have more fun with their monster movie and make the character more playful. So I think that Campbell himself had a lot of influence over that. Ash and Campbell have this symbiotic relationship. As Ash became more of a chauvinist, Campbell became more like Ash, at least publicly. I don't know the man. I can't say how he acts with his friends. But his public persona really started mirroring the cocky mannerisms of Ash. Every interview I've ever seen of him is loaded with braggadocio. It's fun. But Ash is far from being a role model. He's fundamentally a selfish human being.
But what this does for the movie give Ash characterization. There's kind of a reason that few horror movies have repeat protagonists. When survival is the driving force for a character, rarely do they have to work on their emotional and moral development. But when we have repeat films with the same character, survival can be kind of boring for an audience. We get that Ash has become adept at fighting the Deadites, so there might need to be something else to watch besides some sweet chainsaw action. Raimi and company give Ash this really problematic personality 1) because Bruce Campbell has great delivery and comic timing and 2) it gives him room to grow within the film. It's not like we need a ton to grow. After all, Ash starts the movie as a cocky jerk and keeps making the same mistakes by the end. But we also have the moral shift from being self-focused to being outward focused. When Ash decides to stay in "the past" (I hope to talk about that for five seconds) and help Arthur and his kingdom fight the titular Army of Darkness, that's a change in the character's central moral philosophy.
But now I have to be the guy. I am being this guy who is calling out a low budget movie for its faults. I hate me too. I just want to point out some things that I may not have cared about the last time I watched this. I mean, I always thought it was weird that Ash has a high school chemistry textbook in his trunk. That's not the thing I'm going to go off on. The first question I have is "Is Ash in the past?" That's a big assumption. Everyone in this movie keeps referring to Ash going back in time, which is something I assumed as well until this viewing. Again, I've talked about suspension of disbelief being weaponized for this movie, but it's pretty in my face in some of these moments. The mirror was invented in 1835. Ash shatters a mirror to make a bunch of mini-Ashes, leading to the rise of Evil Ash. Okay, sure. But we're supposed to be in the 1300s. That seems pretty minor. But also, what part of England are we in? England isn't exactly known for its epic deserts. I'm sure that Army of Darkness isn't the only movie to give the English a dry background, but usually that is a part of the Crusades. Everything about this movie screams California, not England. There are just so many moments that make it seem like Ash is in a different dimension, not the 1300s. And I'm very cool with that. Remember, Game of Thrones is not in the past. It's a fantasy world. Why can't Army of Darkness simply be a fantasy world? Head-canon fixed.
Except, it's not. Ian Ambercrombie's wise man refers to Ash being displaced in time. It makes sense because Ash is the one who says that he has been thrown back in time. The wise man is simply repeating what Ash says. But the wise man is also the person sending Ash back home. He refers to it as sending him back to his time. Wouldn't the spell be something very different for time travel versus dark dimension full of Deadites? This is all stupid stuff I keep getting in my brain, considering that the movie plays up goofy physics any time it gets a chance.
But for all my "Excuse me, but..." that I'm doing, Army of Darkness is completely rad. With its borderline Muppets version of the fantasy horror, it's an absurd movie that hits every button right. When a special effect doesn't hold up (Tiny Ashes pinching big Ash's nose?), it doesn't really matter. It is fun for fun's sake and that's what good horror needs to do from time to time. Final result: It still holds up!
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.