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.
Rated R, despite being an extremely dated R. This is a film nerd thing that's now starting to become general knowledge, but a lot of this can probably be attributed to the famous shower scene. (You know, the only scene that anyone can reference without actually having seen the movie.) It looks like she's getting cut up. It looks like you are seeing nudity. But it's one of those things where the story is conveyed and the blade never pierces anything, nor does the camera show anything that would be considered genitals. Still, it is a movie about murder and the film is named Psycho. Still, this might be an R rating that I'll contest.
DIRECTOR: Alfred Hitchcock
When I still had the film class, I used to do Hitchcock October. The only thing we'd study was Hitchcock. We'd only watch Hitchcock movies. It's not like I was lacking for amazing Hitchcock movies to fill the month, but I was always bummed that Psycho was not allowed on that list. After all, besides Frenzy, it is the only R rated Hitchcock movie out there and our diocese has a hard-and-fast rule about never showing R-rated films. But not being able to watch Psycho has always made me want to revisit it. I mean, this might not be the healthiest thing to say, but Psycho was one of my early obsessive films. As much as I watched the Star Wars and Star Trek films on a loop, Psycho was also on that list. I remember how excited I was when I got the widescreen VHS copy with a reflective CD-like background on the box. I'd watch that thing on repeat. But as an adult, I never rewatched it. Like many of my obsessive movies, I found little reason to revisit it when there were so many movies out there that I hadn't seen. After all, I knew every line of the film. What new observations could I make?
There's one big takeaway that the adult me learned about 12-year-old me. As much as I loved the movie, I always found the second half of the movie extremely tedious. I never really recommended it to anyone. After all, a first-grade me recommended The Invisible Man starring Claude Rains to a group of students at my lunch table. (Behavior that would now be considered hip was very uncool in first grade.) I had learned my lesson to never recommend anything that would be considered slightly boring. I always thought that a movie that was named Psycho and was touted as one of the greatest horror movies of all time presented as kind of odd, considering that it only had two murders and one more scaryish scene in it. Wasn't this movie supposed to wreck a 12-year-old? I'm ashamed to say that I wished back then that the body count was way higher, given this film's reputation.
But adult me doesn't find the movie boring at all. It's actually a tight little film. In my head, this movie was three hours long. It's not even two hours long. It's great. Yeah, the movie is split. But when I realized what Hitchcock was doing in the segmenting of stories creates something absolutely genius. I remember hearing the stories of Hitch demanding that the movie theaters locking their doors after the start of the film to prevent late attendees. I remember seeing the absolutely bizarre trailer for this film, with Hitch himself pleading with his audience not to spoil the twists of the film. It's because Hitch (and credit also probably has to be given to the author of the novel Psycho is based on, assuming he followed the same format) has a completely outlandish plot structure. He Game of Thrones'd you way before Martin ever considered not writing his last books. From anyone's perspective, the story is a suspense story about Marion Crane stealing $40,000 and what she'll do to get away with it. The Norman Bates story only hints at sinister things with the shrillish voice of Mother echoing from the house on the hill. Instead, Marion is given this very complex storyline. She has moral decisions to make. She goes through a lot of the steps that happen to a dynamic character. And then, this random character who isn't introduced but moments before murders her. But from the audience's perspective, it's this old lady who is so grotesque, that her face is hidden.
And that's where the genius really starts. Because Anthony Perkins delivers one of the greatest horror movie performances in this film. Honestly, I was obsessed with Anthony Perkins after seeing him in Psycho for the first time. He's so relatable and earnest that he actually shifts the focus away from this tense suspense story involving Marion Crane to having the audience root for the guy who is covering up murders. I think that's why I thought the second half of the movie was a bit dull. I don't have the investment with Lila and Sam that I do with Marion or Norman. Because Norman can't be on screen too much without tipping the hand of what is going on with Norman's mother, I keep wondering what he's up to in all of those scenes. I also adore that the protagonists are way off about what happened to Marion. They know that Norman is somehow involved, but they're still watching the first half of the movie. They're doing a follow-the-money thing and they are way off. When Arbogast disappears, they can't divorce themselves from the stolen money plot to see that people who go into the Bates Motel have a hard time leaving.
But back to Perkins and his portrayal of Bates, it is sublime. Bates is this waif of a proprietor. I talked about this in my presentation of Touch of Evil, how this archetype would be something to pay attention to. But all of these male figures pick on him. We know that he's not exactly on the up-and-up. A rewatch lets us know that he's a straight up psychopathic murderer. So when people are picking on him, we have this split in reaction. He's both the sympathetic character and the villain. It's kind of perfect.
I never realized how pervy the movie was though. Like, there's not a plot point that I didn't get when I was younger. But Sam and Marion's relationship is really weird. Yeah, we have the same thing that happens in Strangers on a Train. Sam can't marry Marion because he'll be in hock to his wife. But it definitely feels just a shade dirtier than Hitchcock's other outings of the era. I remember when I saw the Vince Vaughan remake of Psycho by Gus Van Sant, I thought it was super odd that Norman started pleasuring himself to the peephole as one of the only actual changes to the film. But watching the film again, it's really obvious that Norman is sexually aroused by peeping in on Marion Crane. It's the reason that the hole is there. It's the reason that he puts her in cabin one. He's really super gross. For all of the sympathy that I swear that Norman garners, that new slant on the peephole scene is probably very important context that I've been ignoring my past viewings of the film.
I wonder if this movie is considered offensive. I know that after Split and Glass, people with DID had issues with the portrayal of people with the disability as psychopathic killers. The end of the movie, with the speech and everything, portrays Norman's personality as almost innocent in the events of the film. It's actually progressive of him to think of that idea. But it doesn't deny that something is fundamentally off about Norman to think that he could be both Norman and his mother. I mean, it isn't a flattering portrayal, but I don't know how many people are actively angry at Psycho today.
There is one moment that really rubs me the wrong way about such a great movie. The shower scene is so nuanced and impressive, but the other murder seems lazy on Hitchcock's part. Arbogast ascends the stairs. It's gorgeously shot, seeing each foot scale a step. Then we go to a bird's eye of Mrs. Bates flying out of the bedroom. She slashes and we cut to Arbogast's face, a knife would bisecting it. It's the way that Arbogast falls that's insane. The idea is that he's falling down the stairs, but manages to reverse his steps perfectly. I always want to like this death more, but it looks so distant from reality.
But besides the Arbogast death, Psycho is an even better movie than I remember it. It's a much faster and engaging film than I remember it being. Sure, it's a horror movie with two murders, but I don't even care. It's so well crafted (shy of Arbogast) that I could watch it annually and still enjoy it.
It's a pretty hard R. There's some really gruesome things that happen in this movie. A lot of it is done in the name of faith and Christ which makes it all the more uncomfortable. There's sexual content, including nudity. Instead, this is an ugly world. There is very little actual happiness in this movie. The movie is so bleak that one of the subplots involves serial killers. Violence also happens to animals. I mention it because I know that is a specific trigger that gets some people. Regardless, this one has earned its R rating.
DIRECTOR: Antonio Campos
Well, I can say that I've probably seen one movie that's going to be nominated for the Academy Awards. A lot of me is guessing that. While I enjoyed the film quite a bit and might be one of the only real talking point films this year, it's not like the movie changed my life. I'm not dismissing it, but I'm roundabout getting to the idea that this feels like a movie that was made to win awards. It's one of those vehicles that allows actors to show how much they can act in any scene. It's bleak and it's grotesque without straying into the horror category. It's got accents. I mean, like, everyone in this movie is doing a dialect. Everyone. That means the movie has merit or something.
But I really do want to stress, the movie is pretty good. As much as I'm going to fill this blog entry with philosophical mumbo jumbo and look at the theory of film or whatever, I kept saying to myself, "This movie is pretty good." The Internet told me that they were better than this movie, but my neighbor told me that it was pretty good. (Hi, Brian!) (Don't worry, there was a lot of yelling across yards to maintain social distancing.) My neighbor was right. The Devil All the Time is a gorgeous movie that has something to actually say, even if that idea probably has been said too many times before.
I'm going to be negative first because that's just what's on my mind grapes. As much as I was in awe of the movie, the themes of the film have been covered (as I just mentioned) to the point where it is getting a bit old. We live in a time period where a lot of ugliness is coming out of people of faith. For all the amazing acting and impressive cinematography, this is yet another movie that feels like a dogpile on people of faith. The movie keeps on dealing with the concept of religion and goodness. Arvin, for how screwed up he is, is probably the most moral character out of a group of completely contemptable people, and I can't ignore the fact that he is the one character who prides himself with his skepticism. I suppose that his adopted sister is actually the most moral character, but her faith leads her to be taken advantage of, ultimately leading to her suicide / accidental hanging. (If you watch the movie, I'm sure that you know why I'm hesitant to full on label it a suicide.) The movie doesn't really show a healthy relationship with the Lord. For all of its bluster, it has a pretty bleak outlook on religion, which kind of feels dog-piley for long stretches of the movie.
I mean, Arvin's father loses his faith when he sees his buddy crucified. Understandably. But it is odd that he is at his healthiest when he is an atheist. But when he finds his faith, he instantly becomes this zealot. It's this zeal that alienates his son from the faith. Similarly, Willard is hypocritical in his faith. As much moaning and wailing he does in front of his homemade chapel in the woods, he also encourages violence and retribution for any injustice that befalls his family. While I love the idea that Willard has such a toxic relationship when it comes to his faith, the crucifixion of the dog makes very little sense. Sacrificing his dog on the cross seems counter to his entire character. The witnessing of the first crucifixion during the war took his faith away. I can see thinking that God needed a sacrifice for his wife, but nailing the dog to a cross makes very little sense with his character.
But all this griping about how there's no positive faith characters is something I gotta get past because I also don't want people of faith to get a free pass. Maybe it's lame and lazy of me, but I just want there to be some degree of balance in the film. (I know. I hate me too.) There are fascinating examinations of faith in the film that I do kind of want to pick apart. Roy's faith comes across as the most insane thing in the film. In a film where there are multiple crucifixion scenes, that's kind of saying something. Roy is the guy who pours spiders all over his head and then murders his wife by kinda/sorta accident (again, watch the movie) with a screwdriver. But Roy is the kind of faith we're supposed to be aiming for. Okay, that's a large leap and I want to step it back a bit. Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac is a story about how God doesn't want people to sacrifice people. It's weird that a preacher (admittedly, in the throws of insanity) wouldn't take that message. It's not like he heard God tell him to sacrifice his wife. Instead, he decides to test his own faith and, by proxy, test God in the process. Roy believes as we should believe that God will take care. But Roy is also this morality tale of the dangers of testing God and demanding power over God. From moment one of the screwdriver coming out, the entire scene reads as nuts. As bleak as it is, the scene is laced with the darkest of humor. It's a very Coen scene and I absolutely dig it.
I'm going to try to spill the allegory right here. I apologize if it gets a little sloppy, but simplifying anything to a clear answer tends to do that. The movie comes to a head when Arvin confronts Teagardin about the consequences of impregnating his sister. We know he's going to kill him. Tom Holland in that scene just sweats bullets, pun intended. He's there with purpose and bravado. There's no doubt of what is going to happen in that sequence. It's just a matter of watching it play out the way it does. Teagardin represents faith, specifically the corruption of faith. Willard corrupted faith with the death of his wife and the killing of the dog. His sister represented a return to the faith stolen away. When Arvin kills Teagardin, he's physically verifying the end of faith. But he's not really let off the hook. It's kind of funny how people go from killing no people to killing lots of people in a day, but that's something that happens to him. I'm now trying to sift through the blank. As much as this movie is about the terribleness of religion, it may not be a world without God. Mind you, it's a really dark trickster God who likes to mess with probabilities. The fact that Arvin is shot by a blank is implying the work of some higher power. But it's not saying that Arvin should at all pursue that God because his return to the forest chapel that his father created only brings more violence. Yeah, Arvin survives, but he has to kill a fourth person of the day, who happens to be a corrupt cop. The death of Bodecker feels like it is tacked on as the conclusion of the film. It feels like there needed to be a solid ending and it definitely is. But I don't know if it gels with the themes of the film. Or maybe my exploration is way off.
The Devil All the Time is a heck of a film. It's powerful, but bleak. It is this world that just seems hopeless, so be in a certain mood when watching it. But it is a well crafted tale that has some pretty good meat on the bones.
Rated PG. Now, I'm all for the PG rating. After all, it is an action oriented kids' movie. But I almost want to aggressively fight for the G rating on this one. If anything, the movie has a strong nonviolent stance in it, which as the family's pacifist, I kind of ABSOLUTELY DUG! But there are scaryish bad guys. There are moments of intense peril, so I'm not going to get all in arms about a G rating in the fact of bigger evils. Regardless, it is a PG film that can be enjoyed with the family.
DIRECTORS: Nick Bruno and Tony Quane
Dear Lord, grant me the willpower and Internet to get through a blog about Spies in Disguise, a perfectly fine movie that probably deserves more attention than I'm willing to give it at the end of a long work day. It's one of those movies that just doesn't get you excited to write. Really, most of the movies that my kids pick for family movie night fit that description. But if I only wrote about movies that excited me to write, I wouldn't have any kind of challenge or obligation to write. So here goes...
I don't know why I was low-key excited to watch this movie on HBO Max. I really don't. I remember seeing the trailer and thought, "What an absurd concept." I mean, seeing that this film had both Will Smith and Tom Holland was even more confusing. Part of me wonders if Will Smith plays the game so hard that he doesn't really get passionate about any of his film choices anymore. (Again, I'm sorry to Mr. Smith. I don't know you, sir. I can just reflect on the fact that I see safer choices down the line.) On the other end is Tom Holland, who is probably just looking for non Peter Parker roles. I mean, the movie ended up being pretty charming. I can't complain one single bit about the quality of the movie because it did exactly what it was supposed to do. It was meant to be an entertaining kids movie that grabs attention all the way through. It safely did that and I'm pretty happy with it.
But can I preach for a moment? After all, I abandoned any hope of hiding my personal politics while writing my daily blog. After all, this is my own private hideaway on the Internet. I adore how this movie is an open-booked film advocating pacifism. It wasn't the pigeon thing that threw me when I saw the preview. It was the lazy James Bond knock off stuff that turned me off from the movie initially. Lance, walking around in his tuxedo, regardless of contextual situation, just felt like a spy's uniform is the tuxedo. He was using lasers and kung-fu against spy-fi villains and I think I'm just a little tired of it all. It's kind of like taking a shot at Star Wars. We get that Star Wars and James Bond are both cultural touchstones and people like poking at the conventions contained within. (Not like a sci-fi convention where you can buy bootleg DVDs, but the other kind.) The action spy genre is so much more than James Bond. James Bond is more than gadgets and tuxedos. But the movie started off with a stylized opening credit sequence that made me happy and then Tom Holland talks a lot about how violence isn't the answer.
While it is absurd to try to tell an action spy story without violence, the movie also has the protagonist turn into a pigeon for the majority of the film. The even concept of formula playing an active part in this movie is absurd. So with that in mind, the James Bond background kind of works. Yeah, it's lazy. But the laziness serves another function. Because Bond has been spoofed so many times, what the result is involves a kind of shorthand to the universe. The "Death for Breakfast" attitude that Bond style movies have had on hand allows the movie to critique if the violence of Bond and his ilk is doing more good for the world or creating the very monsters that they hope to destroy. Walter places the role of the Quartermaster in a place of responsibility. Choosing to build weapons that are non-lethal is an overt statement about the nature of violence, and, with a meta-textual element involved, a commentary on the nature of children's access to violence.
Because the movie isn't boring. At no time does it get boring. A bit easy and lazy, sure. But the movie still provides thrills and action without having these characters kill the bad guys. But is that enough? Like, I'm going to preach how much I like the counter-culture message of the film. But really, Walter's weapons incapacitate in ways that are more effective than lethal weaponry. The real world probably doesn't work like that. As much as Walter preaches of a better world with his lovable goofballs experiments, these weapons are the world of spy-fi. It actually makes everyone else come across as a huge bully. Walter's weapons definitely work better than a traditional gun or a grenade, so why wouldn't people use them? It's not like spies are itching to kill folks. They are there to take out threats. Heck, while I'm not exactly a spy or something (EXACTLY WHAT A SPY WOULD SAY!), I'm sure that capturing enemy hostiles alive would be an asset. There's interrogation. There's the moral high ground. There are just a lot of wins doing it Walter's way. Why would Lance disregard these options when they are so darned effective?
Part of what this world offers is a wealth of pride. Lance is this character who does the right thing, not because it belongs to the objective good. Instead, his ego is inflated with every mission he completes. He is a James Bond fan who just happens to be James Bond. He knows how Lance should do things. So when Lance does things the way that they are supposed to be done, there's a mental dopamine celebration that gets him jazzed. (This is all kind of going some place...I think.) So when Walter's weapon creates adorable kittens, it's not that it is actually more effective than a grenade. It's just that he knows that James Bond wouldn't do things that way. I'm actually kind of surprised that the film didn't even drop the name James Bond because Lance almost seems self-aware of what character he is parodying.
I don't quite get the pigeon thing. Like, it's very funny and I enjoy a lot of the jokes involving the pigeon. But...why? There's some kind of disconnect. The central conceit of the film, Will Smith being turned into a pigeon, doesn't really have a message. I mean, we get the buddy comedy of the over-the-top expert in his field coupled with a naive nerd thing that we've dealt with a dozen times. The pigeon thing makes him dependent. But my specific question is...why the pigeon? Do pigeons make people laugh or something? It's just so specific and I can't really tell why things are the way they are. Maybe the artist was just good at rendering pigeons, so they adapted a movie out of this. (Oh that's right. This full length feature film is adapted from a short, I believe, named "Pigeon: Impossible," which is a way better name for this movie that probably opened the door to a lawsuit from Tom Cruise.)
But the movie is fine. I love that it is about nonviolence and solving problems other ways, even if it does so in the laziest fashion ever. It's entertaining for a kids movie, even if it doesn't offer as much substance as I would have liked.
Rated R for super-duper alien violence that involves crushing people to death and people barfing up blood with the alien. Also, the alien is extremely gross looking, especially if you have anxiety about tentacles. There's some language, but that tends to get buried when there's a tentacle creature crushing folks and making them die horrible, horrible deaths. R.
DIRECTOR: Daniel Espinosa
It's October. I honestly thought that I would be able to start the month with Life, but I'm a dumb person who thought that September had 31 days, not 30. I just keep seeing that people are doing horror movies for all of October and part of me really wants to do that. After all, that kind of scans with my personality. I've done it in the past. But that also being said, I'm not really feeling it this year. I think I might watch more horror than I usually do, but an all-horror October seems both like a burden and impossible considering that I'm a father of four tiny people. But at least I have a horror movie that just happened to hit my early October list, so I can do something with that.
I don't know what the message is with Life. That's not entirely true, but I do want to talk about the amorphous (pun intended) concept that the movie is trying to play with. We've heard the Icarus metaphor used for scientific exploration before. A group of scientists, with thoughts of changing the world for the better, unleash something that has to potential to wipe out civilization. It's the Oppenheimer issue and we've heard it before. In terms of analysis, I've nailed it. But have I really?
I think back on how much I adore the O.G. Day the Earth Stood Still. If you haven't watched it, definitely avoid the remake and watch the original. The message of that film is this counter-culture idea that we're so paranoid about threats from outer space that we ignore that we are the toxic threat. I dig this. It's very Star Trek. Now, I also dig Alien. I can't help but make a ton of comparisons between Life and Alien. Honestly, I don't think that there could be a Life without Ridley Scott's original Alien movie. But the reason that I can kind of be put off by Life and still completely embrace the original Alien as one of the best horror movies ever made is the characterization of the protagonists.
Life is about a handful of the world's best and brightest scientists / astronauts. The culmination of cooperation, the scientists of the International Space Station have discovered proof of life on Mars. This life, similar to the water discovered on Mars, is in such a microscopic state that it initially poses no threat and just opens the door to the idea of a world where life flourished on Mars. As fun as it is to make a horror movie in space where scientists fight a Martian adaptable creature, shouldn't this behavior be celebrated? What kind of happens is just a promotion of xenophobia. It's kind of the reason that slasher movies are always in reaction to bad behavior. Jason kills because you are being an irresponsible teenager. Freddy always comments on the bad behavior that the kids are into before he rips them apart. With the crew from Alien, they are the employees of a corporation who has little regard for human life. As the franchise progresses, there are few moral scruples that justify the attacks on the employees. While the crew of Nostromo are probably morally okay, the attack represents corporate greed. With Alive, what good does it do to condemn the actions of these intellectuals.
Now, I really do believe that we're just trying to make a horror movie here. It doesn't exactly read like the most intellectual approach to science fiction horror. From that perspective, it probably ticks a lot of good boxes. I mean, it has a brutally bleak ending, which I always appreciate. (I mean, I was hoping that was going to be the result, especially when the warning not to underestimate intelligence was thrown out there.) But the result creates this atmosphere of anti-intellectualism. Frankenstein teeters into that realm as well, but Shelley was never talking about the evils of science, but simply science replacing God. Hugh respects Calvin throughout the entire beginning of the movie. He's not playing God. He's being a parent. There has to be some kind of difference between Hugh and Victor Frankenstein. When Victor Frankenstein sees the product of his work, he freaks out and gives this life distanced freedom without any kind of molding. But Hugh never becomes un-nurturing. If anything, Hugh treats his science experiment with respect, a similar respect to the message of The Day the Earth Stood Still. Yet, it is this creature who becomes aggressive and unimaginably greedy. There's this line in the film --I think it was about entropy --that says that creatures need to feed to survive. It might have been Hugh who said that. He doesn't hate Hugh because this is simply food gathering for survival. But the movie, to make Calvin terrifying, keeps eating and eating and getting bigger and bigger. His appetite is insatiable. It's The Blob.
So that message about survival doesn't work. Nothing satisfies Calvin. He eats faster and faster. He is lured around the station using oxygen candles (which I'm thinking aren't a real thing). Also, when Calvin is deprived of things that he needs to survive, he seems to be quite resilient. Even apex predators take a break to digest. They don't hunt to extinction. But again, that makes for boring storytelling. Instead, we have the smartest people in the world in a quarantined environment and they still can't manage this creature from getting to Earth. This all returns to my initial statement about the movie. As much as I get that the film is an Icarus / Oppenheimer cautionary tale, what is the message? Should we stop the exploration of space? After all, David hates humanity on Earth for the idea of war. The reason that David is a scientist is because he wants to get away from humanity. He wants the universe to be a better place. Taking all of this into consideration, I can just think that the world is a crappy place and the rest of the universe is even worse.
But here's an even weirder thought. The movie condemns the exploration of Mars. If Earth is populated with all kinds of creatures, some of them alpha predators, what is the assumption that only this kind of creature exists? Anyway...
Life is a fun film, but utterly vapid in terms of taking anything away. It isn't Alien because it is too bombastic. Instead, it's just a bunch of scientists dying horrible deaths by an alien that kind of lacks a personality, despite having a relatable name.
PG-13 for child endangerment and Millie Bobbie Brown in old timey underwear, which is conservative by any of today's standards. Because it is a live-action adventure, the MPAA tends to lean heavily towards a PG-13 rating. Honestly, I don't see much in this movie that wouldn't be safely PG if it wasn't for the fact that it was live-action. I'm about to teeter off the nostalgia cliff here, but there are so many worse PG movies than this. It just feels like this is a bit of overkill because even the violence that is in this movie is pretty tame. It feels very Nancy Drew. But I can't change the rating, so PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Harry Bradbeer
Yeah, I would have watched this movie even if it wasn't for the punk rock marketing campaign that Netflix took with the poster. The two most adapted literary works have been Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" (which I put in quotation marks because it was technically a short story) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. It can't be all that shocking. With "A Christmas Carol" we get the same story over and over. But because the character of Sherlock Holmes is, as I understand it, public domain, people love messing with the extended universe of Sherlock Holmes. For those people who are weirded out about a film focusing on Sherlock Holmes's unknown little sister, by the way, you should go out and pick up the comic book Mycroft Holmes by basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Yeah, I know stuff.
But when there is a glut of content involving a single universe, one can't help but compare this film with previous incarnations of the characters. I know that people got off the Sherlock (the Steven Moffat / Mark Gatiss led show starring Benedict Cumberbatch) with the later seasons, but I still consider that to be the pinnacle of Sherlock Holmes storytelling. It's so risky and fun, coupled with a sense of mystery to each episode that begs to be solved. It's hard to really look at Enola Holmes because of Sherlock objectively. Maybe we're on a Sherlock Holmes kick and, thus, being buried under a wealth of content, have a hard time separating what makes each movie special.
But at least Enola Holmes highlights what makes the movie special quite clearly. The conceit of the film is that Enola has the logic of Sherlock, but is a strong, young woman who isn't a jerk. If Sherlock Holmes is all about this fairly toxic and conceited personality who is able to deduce results from the most obscure clues, Enola is someone who does the same thing without trying. Coupled with that, no one takes her seriously because she is a young woman. The men have been granted every opportunity in life. Sherlock has developed fame and reputation. Mycroft has wealth and respect. But Enola, being a woman during Victorian England, is considered less than her siblings. Given the first opportunity, Sherlock and Mycroft have abandoned their mother and sister and allowed them to fend for themselves, despite their numerous successes.
In terms of character and message, the movie nails it. Watching Millie Bobbie Brown as the whimsical Enola is completely refreshing. It's a marvelous departure from Eleven from Stranger Things because Enola is full of life. If Eleven is, because of her character's backstory, hiding her light under a bushel basket, Enola is someone who wears her heart on her sleeve. Coupled with the fourth wall breaks that make us feel like we are her confidants and the Watsons to her Holmes (by the way, where is Watson? There's a real stress that Sherlock always works alone and that's the one thing we all know isn't true.), the movie has this marvelously lighthearted tone. Enola as a protagonist makes me want my oldest daughter to get invested in the film because her qualities are all nearly perfect.
But we care about the movie because Enola is taking down the patriarchy...without really trying. The setting of the film is centered around the women's suffrage movement in London, which allows us insight into the status of women during this era. (I don't know if you know this, but women haven't always had it super easy. Also note, sometimes sarcasm doesn't translate into text. Women have had it awful for almost all of history.) But Enola, rather than talking about how men are toxic human beings, simply refuses to acknowledge social conventions for the era. Rather than having to have the constant scene, "But you are a woman, Enola", she fights because she can fight. Yeah, there are lots of people who try to put her in her place, but she never really bends to the will of these individuals. She's simply plucky and self-actualized and that makes her compelling.
It should be pointed out that a compelling character doesn't hold a movie altogether. I mean, it nearly does. The reason why I kinda / sorta enjoyed this movie is because of Enola herself. But in terms of plot, a good mystery should really be a tad more fleshed out. Enola Holmes seems like it is building a mythology for future films. Enola's origin story, divorced from being overshadowed by her more famous brothers, centers around the disappearance of her mother. The film paints mother out to be the ultimate mother of the Victorian era. Enola is who she is because of the investment that her mother put into her. So when her mother disappears, she is driven to find her at all costs. Along the way, which may be beyond believability, Enola encounters the Marquess of Tewksbery (of whose name I am envious) in the middle of his own adventure. Conventional formula storytelling (which I normally rally against) says that these two mysteries are intertwined. By pursuing Tewskbery's mystery, this will eventually solve the mystery of her missing mother.
But that doesn't happen.
If anything, the mystery of the missing mother solves itself. For all of Enola's deduction and cleverness, Mom just reveals where she has been. There's an anti-climax coming from that mystery because the movie is almost over. In terms of structure, the first half of the movie is deciding which plot takes priority. When Tewksbery's mystery establishes dominance (Ironically, a movie about a woman standing up for herself eventually means that the female protagonist abandons her own needs to focus on the man's problems), there's a speed run of a mystery. It almost becomes like an episode of television with how quickly Tewksbery's mystery unravels. Now, is this the worst thing in the world? Conceptually, this could be awesome. I'm a big fan of Veronica Mars. The format of Veronica Mars was the following: there is a season long, over-arching mystery where Veronica gets clues leading to a much bigger picture per episode. But simultaneously, she is also solving episode-long crimes. It seemed like that's where Enola Holmes was going. She had this overarching mystery tied to her own origin story. She had to find her mother, but got distracted by this smaller mystery. But then, the bigger mystery was just handed to her.
I suppose there might be a little bit of mystery left with this story. I don't quite understand what Mom was doing and why she was doing it. I mean, the movie tried telling me. It really did. But it just seemed so unsatisfying that my brain couldn't process the human element. Instead, we have this scene of Mom just apologizing for leaving and that was it. I don't know if that was supposed to be part of the message. Maybe our most respected people can disappoint us. After all, that was the theme to Go Set a Watchman. But as clear about the value of strong women is, that doesn't exactly scan. It really feels rushed, as if it is an afterthought. Was the studio afraid that Enola Holmes wasn't going to be the franchise they wanted it to be, so they played it safe? I don't know. It just reads as profoundly disappointing considering how much attention was paid to Eudoria Holmes.
So I liked an imperfect movie. It happens. Tonally and character wise, it nails so much. Perhaps I don't love Henry Cavill as Sherlock (he's too charming). But I do like the commentary that the movie makes on Sherlock Holmes. Yeah, it probably needed a bit more polishing, but it is definitely worth a watch.
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.