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!
Unrated, but this is completely an R-rated, bordering on NC-17 underground horror hit. This is Tom Savini zombie effects. There are situations where Savini is just setting up the most absurd ways to show some gore. It's that red paint gore too, so keep that in mind. There's also just a shot of nudity that doesn't really jibe with the rest of the film. But, again, there is just an abundance of gore. Zombies eat people and we get to see how that looks like. Tearing flesh is part of the film, let's just say that. Also, there are really uncomfortable racial slurs. Unrated.
DIRECTOR: George Romero
Oh man, I might just need to skip October horror movies in 2020. There were just so many moments in this movie where I was reminded about the hellscape we are currently navigating. I mean, it's good. It gives me more to write about. But this was another of those movies that I was obsessed with in my college years and haven't really revisited it since I started dating my wife. (I'm just throwing my wife under the bus.) But in a time where Coronavirus is spreading faster and harder as the months fly by, can I really enjoy Dawn of the Dead?
The short answer is...heck, yes. As an OG zombie movie by the man who made zombies a household word, Dawn of the Dead absolutely holds up. Yeah, the purpleish grey hue of the zombies shambling everywhere looks a little dated. The movie screams '70s, but that is also what gives the film its charm. Too often, and I'm especially looking at the remake made by Zack Snyder, zombie movies are just a little bit too pretty looking. The special effects are neat and clean. There's so much attention brought to the scares that the movie forgets that zombie movies can be a lot of fun. Romero is not exactly one to shy away from politics in his zombie films, which I will be discussing in this blog. But for as bleak and gory as the movie is, it is genuinely funny for a lot of it. And I'm not talking about ironically funny. I'm definitely laughing with instead of laughing at. I mean, we probably wouldn't have The Walking Dead without Romero's movies. But as much fun stuff as we get in The Walking Dead, it's rarely all that funny. Instead, we have Hari Krishna zombies. There's that really odd joke about the blood pressure machine. There's the zombie who gets the top of his head cut off by a spinning helicopter blade. It's just a good time. And I normally have this strong opinion about goofy music, but Dawn of the Dead might be the exception to the rule. The theme song towards the end when the zombies have taken over the mall once again, that song is iconic. There's a reason that Robot Chicken used it for its theme song.
But now that I can safely say how fun and enjoyable this movie is, I do want to look at the political voice of Romero and how it applies to today. It's kind of no wonder that so many people don't trust scientists and the government. Romero is not exactly a prophet. Horror movies love having the hubris of scientists trampled upon. With Dawn, the film keeps coming back to this scientist trying to keep order in a world that is quickly falling down around him. Considering that this is a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, the film starts off in media res, the news station well into the zombie apocalypse. The entire situation is chaos. No one is really listening to one another and this scientist, who at this point in the film, is desperately trying to get the attention of his listeners. He has this sacred duty to protect others. And as chaotic as the opening is, the environment with the television studio only gets worse and worse. We see our basic civilization start to break down. After all, zombies are more of a setting villain than a practical villain. They are there to comment on how fragile our cultural norms are in the face of adversity. By the time we see the scientist for the last time, he has gone completely off the reservation. He talks about using a nuclear weapon on major cities. (I don't know what this would really do, considering that there are many zombies in the suburbs and in rural areas. But seeing the way that the media is portrayed during a viral crisis is haunting. The fact that no one can even communicate anything clearly is something I don't want to be thinking today, considering that I'm pro-science and most media right now.
I always thought that Dawn of the Dead's central theme was about commercialism. I mean, I suppose it is. I know that becomes a bigger thing in Land of the Dead. But I was floored to see the commentary it makes about police violence. As much as I claim that Romero isn't a prophet, it is haunting to think about what 1978 thought about abuses within law enforcement and how little those attitudes have changed to today. The news station opening makes sense with the rest of the film, but I always wondered about the police scenes in the movie. Two of the survivors that we follow in the mall are police officers. Okay. But Romero devotes a not unsubstantial amount of screen time to police officers going ham on Black families. It's really a disturbing scene. There's this cop who shouts racial slurs and guns down as many Black people in a short amount of time as he can. How little have we grown as a culture? It's that whole attitude of a few bad apples, but Roger is one of these people who is indoctrinated in this culture. As a dynamic character, Roger seems to be "one of the good ones." He actively stands up to the insane officer, leading to that character's death. But as the movie progresses, he gets more and more irresponsible. Romero seems to be commenting on the fact that humanity may be toxic to the core. As much as Roger seems to be the model for a healthy civilization at the beginning of the film, his descent into recklessness and suicidal tendencies increases. It gets to a point where Stephen has to stress that Roger is not only risking his own life, but the lives of the people around him.
I think that Romero is trying to be progressive with his views on feminism in the movie, but he comes across pretty regressive by today's standards. Francine pretty much verbalizes that she refuses to be a den mother for these three men. (By the way, no one thought that it would be dangerous to hunker down for the long haul apocalypse with that gender and relationship dynamic?) I know that Francine insists on learning how to fire a gun and how to fly a helicopter, but these scenes don't really help the film as a whole. They are mainly examples of white knighting the whole situation. When Peter is fighting off zombies and the guy whom I will refer to as "helicopter zombie" is coming after her, she just stands there. A lot of the problem would be solved if she just moved at a reasonable pace away from him, but Peter is stuck there flopping about with a zombie. I want to applaud Romero for trying to create a strong female protagonist, but Francine really offers nothing to the dynamic besides being a hazard. Thank goodness she learns how to fly the helicopter, but that is one minute out of a whole movie.
Stephen's sacrifice also seems really tagged on. I mean, he bails, which almost reaffirms my initial statement. But Stephen offers to stay back to help Francine escape. His argument is that he doesn't want to run anymore. But what was his plan? He'd rather be eaten alive? Nothing in the film implies that Stephen is at all suicidal. I get that he really likes the setup that they had. Romero, after all, builds the mall to be a microcosm of culture and humanity. It's an artificial biodome of happiness and Stephen doesn't want to lose that for a second time. But Francine needs to have someone help her with delivering her baby. Also, his suicide might be one of the more selfish attitudes to have, considering that he was always the most capable member of the society. Part of me also reads that he is attracted to Francine, but is never able to act on his feelings due to Peter. Peter always kind of sucks. I'm just going to stick with that. I get that Peter and Stephen eventually bury the hatchet (pun intended), but it is almost out of necessity versus genuine bonding. If Peter is dead, why would Stephen decide to bow out of surviving when he has an opportunity to be happy with Francine? I guess it's because Romero had an ending he wanted to do, regardless of how it fit.
Thank goodness for Dawn of the Dead though. While Night of the Living Dead sews a lot of the seeds for themes within the zombie film Dawn of the Dead makes these themes overt. The zombies are such a low threat (until they have to be. I do appreciate that evolution of the zombie has made the intellect a little more consistent than Romero's shambling creatures). But the real terror comes from other people. Romero doesn't really scare me with his zombies. They are actually kind of fun with their quirky personalities. It's the people that scare me. When we see that militia enjoying the hunt of zombies, there's something both funny and haunting about that image. But the biker gang really does the job in stressing that the problems our society will run into isn't from an outside force, but from the notion that we're inherently selfish and self-destructive. The biker gang needs to do very little damage. After all, the survivors have made a long term home out of the mall. The notion of wrecking it is the personification of the id. They derive joy from ruining someone else's happiness, so they do it. Again, this movie is bleak and it never gets more so than thinking about what humanity would do in the face of zombies.
Yeah, Dawn of the Dead might not be the best movie to watch right now. But it is still an absolutely amazing movie. Do I wish that the scientist wasn't a crackpot? Sure. But otherwise, the movie is Romero's best.
PG-13 for mild language and a bunch of horror. When I started watching this, I simply assumed it would be an R-rated movie. Then I noticed that the movie kind of went out of its way not to swear or show a bunch of blood. Don't get me wrong. It's in there. It's just not all the way through the movie. There's no sex or nudity. But there are jokes that are seeded with innuendo. There are some jokes that come across as blasphemous. I wouldn't call the film family friendly, but it is fairly tame for a horror movie.
DIRECTOR: Oz Rodriguez
This is it. This is what I didn't know that I needed out of the 2020 film slate, but got by the grace of God. I'm a big fan of the film The Lost Boys. It's probably a crime that I haven't watched it since setting up this film blog. But there have been a number of movies that have tried to capture the magic that comes from that very specific blend of kids fighting vampires and have outright failed in that task, including some very poorly made sequels to The Lost Boys. I know that this might upset the Monster Squad fans out there, but I really haven't found a movie that has so jumped to my heart in terms of fun horror for a while. I especially can't believe that I found it in a PG-13 direct-to-Netflix film, but here it is.
Vampires vs. the Bronx seems like it would be a forgettable film. When I saw the Broadway Video production screen and Lorne Michaels's name all over this movie, I thought it was going to be pretty disposable. Shy of their prestige and artsy ventures, a lot of the direct-to-Netflix market just stays in the realm of fun. Bronx is super fun, but it also doesn't forget the key attraction to good horror: allegory and theme. I'm not sure which horror creatures is more open to providing social criticism, the vampire or the zombie. But I will tell you, when vampires are used to deliver scathing social commentary, it tends to work really well. I won't lie, The Lost Boys probably won't lose its title spot for most fun horror movie. But I also acknowledge a lot of that comes from nostalgia more than anything else. But Vampires vs. the Bronx surpasses The Lost Boys by miles in terms of understanding that there is something to say.
And it isn't like Vampires vs. the Bronx is trying to hide it either. As much as the villains of the piece are vampires, the movie clearly alludes to the notion that the vampires are simply white people gentrifying neighborhoods for their own pleasure. (I now feel really bad for supporting OTR at times.) The inciting incident for the film really isn't the murder of a gang member by vampire (although if I was putting it on a plot mountain, that's where I would stick the film). Little Mayor is fighting urban development and corporate culture. The Murnau corporation, named lovingly after the director of Nosferatu, is buying up all of this property and evicting the tenants of the Bronx. That's the central problem. It just so happens that those corporate bloodsuckers are actual bloodsuckers, which makes the movie fun.
For as much as the movie is tonally like The Lost Boys, it spiritually almost feels like more of a spiritual successor to Do the Right Thing. Little Mayor, mainly because he's a kid, acts as the supervisor of the neighborhood. With Lee's Do the Right Thing, we had the old mayor, who was considered a joke. Little Mayor isn't taken particularly seriously, but he has this almost saint-like disposition to taking care of those people around him. He's obsessed with saving Tony's Bodega, a representation of the cultural heart of the neighborhood. It's such an interesting statement to see Little Mayor play the part of savior and not Tony himself. After all, it seems to be a common thread throughout the film that the owners of these businesses know that they are kind of selling their souls when they accept Murnau's money. I was questioning the behavior of the vampires with how they were buying off the land. The in-universe canon is probably what the vampires did with the protagonists' apartment complex. They buy the building so they don't need an invite to enter. To have a familiar facilitate the deal allows the vampires the moment to enter the building safely. I was wondering why they were throwing money at every problem just to kill the recipient of the money. But from a spiritual perspective, it's the owners selling their neighborhood out. By being devoted to the the Bronx and keeping their businesses out of the hands of corporate interest, they are safeguarding a spiritual and moral good. When they accept the money in the name of greed and self-interest, that's when the vampires are allowed to get them. Even though the sin is understandable, the sin is also what gives the evil justification for their meals.
I mean, we all knew that Vivian was evil from moment one, right? Like, I'm giving all the points to Sarah Gadon for being this white lady to root for. But we knew from the moment that Little Mayor took pity on her that she was the worst, right? When she said all of these self aware things, we knew either that she was already a vampire or was going to be a vampire. I didn't think that she was the head vampire, but the message there is glaring. There are the "good ones". But that wasn't what the message was about. Vivian represents the comfortable ally. She's this person who seems to be on a team, but really tries assimilating the culture to her own personal needs. I love that everyone addresses her like they are going to turn the music down because this tiny white lady was simply at their door. But adding to the whole allegory, holy moley, this works.
The only thing that didn't have any kind of value to me, which docks it from getting a perfect score, was the master plot involving the box and the key. The key reveals this ancient artifact of the dust of the old master. Now, I'm not sure exactly what that was supposed to do. It supposedly allowed vampires to make more vampires. I didn't know that it wasn't an option from moment one. I was actually kind of surprised that all of these former characters weren't being converted into vampires. I suppose that wouldn't have worked out with the allegory of the white invaders into the Bronx. But the dust thing is 1) pretty darned silly and 2) doesn't really go anywhere. At one point Bobby gets that stuff all over him and nothing really comes of that. If you are going to threaten a best friend fight, there better be a best friend fight at one point in the story. That never really happens here. Instead, it is simply a very low stakes (pun intended) attempt at scaring us despite that nothing came of it.
I really want to know the faith of Oz Rodriguez. For some elements, the movie absolutely nailed Catholicism. Some really weird things are just so specific. But then there are just absolutely bizarre moments that don't read anything like Catholicism. Fr. Jackson, while people bow their heads waiting for a blessing, just leaves to follow some kids during Mass? Also, people's senses still work during their heads being down. No one goes into a meditative trance bordering on sleep. It's a goofy moment in the movie.
But Vampires vs. the Bronx was such a fun film. I wouldn't actually hate watching it again in a year or two. It does such a good job of capturing the kids-in-peril trope while maintaining a sense of fun. It delivers on content, which is what great monster movies are supposed to do. This movie slays.
Not rated, but this is a movie full of Draculas! (Okay, vampires, because I know the Internet doesn't necessary follow plagiarized humor.) Unlike the Lugosi version, there's actually a fair amount of blood and sexualization going on with this movie. While tame by today's standards, Horror of Dracula probably would have gotten an R rating for the era for some cool grossout moments. Regardless, it's Not Rated.
DIRECTOR: Terence Fisher
Do you think that Peter Cushing fought for top billing in a movie named Terror of Dracula? I get that in a lot of movies, the protagonist tends to get the top bill. But this is a Dracula movie. Dracula is always supposed to have top billing, especially when it is Christopher Lee. When I was a kid, I associated the Hammer Horror movies as the most intense films that could possibly exist. I knew that they were way gorier than the Universal monster movies that I had grown up with. Part of my logic was that they were named "Hammer" horror, which instantly caused me to flashback to my irresponsible watching of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with the sledgehammer kill (still, a moment that I consider to be one of the most brutal kills in cinema). But I bought my buddy Adam's old copy of Horror of Dracula and I realized that, while it is more visceral than the Universal films, it's pretty tame by most standards.
Part of me gets bored with the same old Dracula story over and over again. It's kind of why I gave up pretty quickly on Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss's Dracula. I read the novel for my honeymoon and realized that a lot of the movies were always somewhat insistent on keeping close to the original script. I don't know why I was instantly not in the mood to watch yet another rendition of the same story, but against my better judgment, I was excited to see that Horror deviated from the original Stoker novel. Now, this seems like heresy. Most of the time, people tend to complain that things in the movie didn't happen the way that they did in the book. I think that we've been oversaturated with Dracula. A lot of public domain properties have that problem. While Horror of Dracula is a bit more shameless than its source material, it's because of that change that makes the movie more worth watching. Horror of Dracula doesn't have a very long run-time, so having Jonathan Harker a mini-Van Helsing is absolutely the right move. One of the real slowdown moments in the story is how much of the novel is devoted to Harker slowly slowly discovering that his host is a child of the night. Instead, the story launches right into the attempted vampire slaying. Yeah, Harker sucks at his job. He clearly should have taken out Dracula before starting on one of his brides, but that would have ended the story really quickly.
About that moment. I'm about to give it a free pass in the name of "that's how movies work". But really, it's kind of silly. Part of me wants to think it is because Harker pities the girl who asks for his help. But he knew that Dracula was in the room. It's amazing that he even got that close. I'm not saying that Harker would have escaped with his life from the Bride of Dracula, but I feel like he would have had a better chance with a vampire that had less experience than the king of the undead. Also, he's there to kill Dracula. That's the whole pretense. Killing the girl is a thing that he feels inclined to do because she asks him to do so, but it also reads as a bit silly.
Christopher Lee might be my favorite Dracula. The movie itself is far from amazing. It's watchable, but really feels pretty low budget for a lot of the film. But Lee's version of Dracula works because he just feels like a creepy dude. He's not doing a voice. His mannerisms are just that of a man. He doesn't really talk like an archvillain or anything. Instead, it makes sense why Lee's Dracula has survived through the ages. He has the ability to blend in when it is necessary. I never really understood why there is sometimes goofy hair or long strides. Instead, Lee's Drac just straight up runs. I get the vibe that he's more of a master manipulator than someone who is uncontrollably possessed by demons or something. It doesn't make him as scary as someone like Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, but it makes him feel grounded. It's just that he doesn't have a lot to work with in this movie. As much as I like his portrayal, Drac himself has almost no story in this one. I haven't seen the sequels. I know that there is probably more. But Dracula comes across more like a force of nature than he does a character.
I am also super confused about Dracula's power rating in this one. At the beginning, when it is Harker versus Dracula, he's slinging around his vampiric bride like it is nothing. We know that one on one that Harker can't beat Dracula. It's clearly established there. He's fast and resourceful. But the movie ends with him taking on Peter Cushing's Van Helsing. Now, there are versions of Van Helsing where he is a tank. I mean, Hugh Jackman played him in that abomination of a movie, so it's not insane that Van Helsing should be able to hold his own against Dracula. But this version of Van Helsing is definitely leaning harder into the "doctor" element that Van Helsing presents. He's like a Watcher from Buffy. He's the brains behind the operation, but doesn't seem like a fighter. But Dracula can't take a dent out of that guy. Van Helsing is able to race Dracula to the window, which seems like a really weird vulnerability for the king of the vampires to have in his house.
Vampire movies tend to bring commentary with them. The victimization of women is a problematic theme in these movies. Often, we can find a strong woman among a large amount of victims, but Horror of Dracula doesn't really offer us the alternative to women being used as cannon fodder. I would chalk a lot of that to the idea of seduction. It's not insane to follow some vampire narratives as stories that are meant to talk about how attraction to men ultimately weakens women. But Horror of Dracula doesn't really feel like it is a story trying to have a message behind it. We get characters that are already victims. The male characters are the ones who make all of the right choices (with the exception of that dummy, Harker). The women keep making poor decisions, encouraging their victimization. It's a little bit gross, but I also have to take into account the purpose of this film. It was a rebellious movie for 1958. It's meant to be exploitative horror. Rather than simply be another Universal monster movie, this was the alternative. People wanted sex and violence and the movie was going to offer that the best that it could out of 1958 England.
The final weird takeaway is how small the movie feels. One of my favorite elements about Bram Stoker's Dracula is that it is Jason Takes Manhattan with vampires. (Okay, assuming that Jason Takes Manhattan allowed Jason to take Manhattan.) But because the whole scale is tiny, which probably included the budget, everything seems to take place within a day's carriage ride. The effect of this is that the distance between civilization and backwards folksy beliefs is night and day. Holmwood has so much money and education. But all he has to do to experience quaint backwards traditions is to head on over to the pub, where they hang garlic from the ceiling. Heck, Dracula doesn't escape to a ship. He just goes to his house. But the real bummer of it all is that Dracula doesn't need Renfield. Renfield is my favorite character! But there's no one there to be his familiar, so oops.
Anyway, Horror of Dracula is super watchable, but it does kind of feel quaint and cheap. Lee is probably the best Dracula, but there's a lot here that is a bit underbaked compared to some of the outings that Dracula has enjoyed.
PG and it is listed on HBO Max's family friendly comedies. But I would like to point out that there are multiple discussions about cybersex. After all, it was 1998 and what else were people going to talk about? The movie treats infidelity pretty casually. Many of the relationships are casual, leading to casual marriages and casual divorces. There's also a weird and dated fat shaming joke. While I would probably give this movie a PG-13 rating, I'm not a member of the MPAA. PG.
DIRECTOR: Nora Ephron
I think there's a very clear line when it comes to product placement. For years, I've completely written off this movie as a means to capitalize on the America Online obsession of the mid-90s. I mean, it is. It blatantly is. It's named You've Got Mail. I watched it before, but I refused to lower my guard around this film because it was so blatantly trying to shill out AOL. Years later, I would watch The Shop Around the Corner and I would question whether or not the remake has any kind of merit. Again, watching something out of a sense of moral superiority probably isn't doing anyone any favors. Then I found out that it was one of my wife's favorite movies. I had a student who was obsessed with this one, so much so that she used a clip from You've Got Mail as one of her film projects.
I probably am not the guy to really break down the rom-com. I keep saying the same things over and over again. A lot of them seem pretty vapid. They're meant to be lighthearted and low-stakes. You've Got Mail has more to offer than I originally gave it credit for, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I'm exactly a fan of it. My wife predicted what direction I was going to take in this blog entry, and she's partially right. She knew that I was going to defend Greg Kinnear's character. I will do that, but I want to talk about the problem that I have with the protagonists. Both Joe Fox and Kathleen Kelly aren't good people. I know that Joe Fox, as part of his entire character arc, is supposed to be slightly scummy. (Not over-the-top scummy, but a little bit gross.) But Kathleen throughout the film is advertised to be this absolutely perfect human being who is just starting to get her hands dirty while she defends her tiny business. But the movie starts off with both people happy with their significant others and waiting for them to leave so they can have their secret online relationship. While I was planning this blog out, I questioned whether the movie is clear that there is a romantic thing happening from moment one. While I would have found a platonic relationship online a little bit sketchy, both Joe and Kathleen confide in their friends how they feel sexually attracted to someone that they haven't met. Sure, there are elements of denial, but that element of the discussion is something that everyone is reading into their discussion. There also is the fact that both Joe and Kathleen seem to relish the idea that this discussion is hidden from their significant others. That's the part that makes it just a bit more forbidden. It's real gross and I can't stand when rom-coms feel the need to condone adultery.
Since my wife said that I would talk about Greg Kinnear, I could either not talk about him and allow my pride to dictate what I write about or just acknowledge that my wife knows me too well and that she's a smart lady. While Parker Posey's Patricia is the worst part of Joe Fox, Frank Navasky isn't necessarily the extreme version of Kathleen. (I'm having this epiphany while I write this, so be aware that magic is happening right now.) Patricia takes Joe Fox's big business archetype and highlights the dangers of that philosophy. She has mentally divorced herself from the little guy. There's a haunting self-awareness untethered by any sense of empathy that is very troubling. There are lines in the movie where Joe talks about his conscience being affected with these big acquisitions of little businesses. Patricia comments that Joe is the reason that these people are out of business, but she says it almost from a point of pride. She likes to see the shark devouring its prey. (I know the word "Fox" is right there, but I never get the vibe that a fox is an alpha predator.) Frank Navasky, I suppose, is a mirrored version of Kathleen as well, but he doesn't work as well. Frank is a crusader for causes. Kathleen is a crusader, but really for herself. She is the little bookstore owner and she's fighting this big corporate fish. I don't know if she's anti-corporate culture though. After all, she goes to a big supermarket with lots of cashiers. Frank is a crusader for all these causes. It doesn't make him altruistic though because he cares more about gaining readers than making real change. (It's weird that his article didn't have a financial follow through though.)
While it makes sense for Joe to separate from Patricia due to her complete lack of humanity (illuminated by being stuck in an elevator), Frank and Kathleen shouldn't be having the problems that they do. Frank has problems. He's not a perfect character. He's extremely egotistical (I know what that's like, but I kind of earn my egotism). He's slightly willfully naive that people are flirting with him. But he's also a passionate guy. He really loves what he loves. He appreciates the attention that goes his way, which isn't the best trait. But he's also not doing anything actively wrong, unlike Patricia. I feel like Ephron kind of gets that Frank doesn't suck as much as people make it out that he sucks. He, after all, is the dumper as opposed to the dumpee. It does read a bit of suspension of disbelief with Frank's timing. It is the most convenient breakup imaginable for Kathleen. The more she is focused on Joe, the more easy going that Frank becomes. I'm not a fan of this moment.
There's something really messed up about this story. The movie takes the very polarizing stance of corporate culture versus small business. We should all be on Kathleen's team. Her "Shop Around the Corner" is the bookstore with heart. While Ephron does a commendable job of avoiding demonizing Joe's attitude towards bookselling, Kathleen is the clear underdog hero in the story. There's a moment where Joe plays up the dramatic irony and discovers that Kathleen is his secret correspondent before Kathleen discovers the inverse. They're about to meet. Kathleen is at the table and Joe decides to take advantage of this power dynamic. Having that information gives Joe all of the control. Joe becomes playful and teasing in this moment. He causes Kathleen to fly into a rage because she's vulnerable about being stood up and humiliated by her rival. Joe's decision to maintain his anonymity actually affects a lot of the story. If Joe, in this moment, revealed that he's the guy on the other end of the Internet, Kathleen's store probably would have been opened. The Shop Around the Corner could have become a subsidiary of Fox Books or something, independently run but sporting the values that the larger corporate structure could offer. But Joe's selfishness comes across as charming for the rest of the film. He puts her out of business and because he's a nice guy, she forgives him. Heck she even falls in love with him. The movie ends with this joyous revelation that Joe has been the secret admirer the entire time. But if she thought back, she would realize that Joe could have prevented the closing of her mother's shop. That's a little depressing.
The title, You've Got Mail, is the worst choice of the film. Yeah, the movie has dated itself with modernization. It has taken the Lubitsch film The Shop Around the Corner and stressed how this isn't its father's rom-com. But the story shouldn't be titled around the Internet. The fundamental themes surrounding two separate people's love of books in the Internet age. They fight and scrap, not knowing that they are wildly in love with each other. The Internet is an important part, but it is simply the vehicle that surrounds much deeper themes. It's kind of like naming The Dark Knight "Batmobile". It's such a misstep for far more complex themes.
It's not a bad movie. It's very very cute. I love The Shop Around the Corner. I love the idea of infusing books into it. But there are some really weird things that are being said about the casual nature of relationships. No one seems to fight for anything in this movie to service the feel-goodery of the film as a whole. It's cute, but is that always enough?
TV-MA, because it's about a real family that is murdered. You know, possibly the most gruesome thing that seems tangible and real. It's not just the mother who is killed, but the two daughters are killed as well. Similarly, the movie talks about adultery and sexual issues within the marriage. It's a lot of uncomfortable material and a TV-MA probably makes the most sense for a movie like this. TV-MA.
DIRECTOR: Jenny Popplewell
What kind of messed up world do we live in when I consider true crime documentaries perfect date night material? It used to be New Girl or a rom-com. But I get kind of excited about true crime stories. This never was a thing before I got married. I think this is the exact thing that I would avoid. But since meeting my wife, I find these stories fascinating. American Murder may not be the most compelling true crime story, but it really does make a really compelling hour-and-a-half breakdown of how men genuinely are scary as get out.
There are a handful of things that I want to talk about that may be big takeaways, but I would like to focus one thing first and foremost. There's something almost a little disappointing about the whole movie. In all of the podcasts that we've listened to and all of the true crime docs / docuseries we've watched, I don't think we've ever absorbed something so mundane. It's probably a pretty bad side that we've become so comfortable with murder that the murder of a wife and two kids has become commonplace. But I'm looking at the nature of the story. The story is extremely open and shut. We know that the husband did it. We know that it happened for selfish reasons and it seems like a lot of it was unplanned. That's really the whole story. I think the true crime series The Jinx is the pinnacle of true crime murder shows. It's this complex breakdown of a real psychopath who keeps getting away with murder and the forces that drive him. Chris Watts is just a dude. He's almost the opposite of complex. He's in a relationship that is driving him nuts. He has an affair. He murders his wife in what seems like a fit of rage. Because the kids saw him freak out, he kills the kids. This seems overly simplified. But if anything, the movie stresses that it is even simpler than I just explained.
For Popplewell, I suppose that's the argument she's making. Chris Watts being just a dude means that there is something in men that is not to be trusted. I'm not writing this as a meninist. She's probably got a dark point. Throughout the film, Chris seems like an okay guy. While the movie heavily implies from moment one that Chris is the guy who killed his family, there's secretly this hope that he isn't that guy. He's so likable and go-with-the-flow in all of these videos. The only complaints about him come from Shannan's text messages to her friends. Part of me didn't even really want to completely acknowledge the text messages as well because the Chris that we were seeing seemed like a very different human being than the one being discussed in the text messages. Heck, I know that if I'm talking about someone I love in a negative way, I'm also in a dark place where I only see the awful things about this person. Popplewell, though, reminds the audience that these cries for help can't be dismissed like I just wanted to do. Shannan, while never envisioning her husband to be a murderer, sees that he has selfish parts to him that he doesn't let people see. She's almost as shocked by the outward presenting Chris as we are. As a dude, it made me question moments that I let get me down. Is there something biologically coded within me to snap and be a killer. I bet if you asked Chris before he had an affair if he thought that he could kill someone, I would guess that he probably didn't. Heck, I'll go a step further. I bet he thought he was the kind of guy who wouldn't think that he could have an affair. (Affairs puzzle me because I always used to think of them as things that only happened in stories.)
But all this brings me to an uncomfortable place. As much as I appreciate Popplewell's message about the masculine fragility and violence, American Murder offers something that no other biopic has really done. Shannan Watts was obsessed with social media. I know that Netflix has another documentary that just came out called The Social Dilemma that talks about stuff like this. But Shannan documented everything. Like, everything. The conceit of Searching was that everything we did was documented accidentally through our ties to social media and the Internet that a story could be told through passive found footage. American Murder, because of Shannan's obsession, proves this to be true. The film is a completely catalogued list of events caught on camera. Every moment of Shannan's life was posted on Facebook. She had a limited, but not negligible following on Facebook and so she posted everything there. It's through these constant videos that we get to see the character that Chris pretended to be (or thought that he was, I'm not taking a hard stance on that). It's just so much and there's something in me that starts victim blaming. Please understand, victim blaming is super gross. No one deserves what happened to Shannan and her kids. But one of the background things running through my heads is the artificiality of it all. I mean, I blog daily. I used to have a pretty regular podcast. I get the desire to get your name out there. But there's some thing always so fake about the videos that I was seeing. Chris and Shannan kind of were characters that didn't match their true personas.
No one could be that bubbly all the time. There was this narrative that they were perpetuating that they had a perfect life. Because these two people lived in this artificial state that involved complete strangers, they weren't allowed to ever let their guards down. I genuinely don't think that this artificiality was in any way a cause for Chris's violent outburst, so let's clear that up. But there didn't seem to be anything really healthy in their marriage. Marriage is ugly at times. It's about conflict and vulnerability. When that much footage is created about every single thing that they do together, how do they have time to be crappy with each other? Crappiness is important to the process. Loving each other when things are good is easy. It's when things start to go wrong that real development happens. Yeah, Chris sucked for cheating on his wife. He's not allowed to do that. But he also probably saw it as one of the places where he wasn't being videotaped and scrutinized...despite the fact that his mistress kind of did a sexier version of the same thing. He's got a type is all I'm saying.
The most heartwrenching part of it all was the kids. I know I'm not exactly going out on a limb here saying that the death of two perfectly innocent kids was the most devestating part of a true crime story. But we were wondering how he went through with it. One of his daughters, I think Cece, walks in on Chris killing his wife, her mother. He packs up the body into the car and tells the girls that Mommy's resting. He drives an hour-and-a-half to dump the body with a plan to kill the girls when he gets there. I get that, during the planning stages, that sounds like the only way out. He's in the heat of the moment as they say and you aren't thinking clearly. But an hour-and-a-half later to think about it and you still go through with it? I mean, the adrenaline had to subside a little bit by that point, right? The insult to injury part of the whole thing was that he killed them because he knew that he would get caught if they were still alive, but he got caught anyway.
American Murder is a decent true crime film, if somewhat a bit direct. It's so dark thinking about these being true stories, but they do serve as cautionary tales. It's dark to think that men have a killer inside of them. Maybe it is meant to keep me on my guard, but it's not something pleasant to think about.
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.