Godzilla Raids Again (1955)
Approved, but shockingly enough, the movie has some language. I was thinking that I could have the kids in the room for when I watched it and, sure enough, there was some language in the subtitles. Sure, even as a guy who --for the most part --doesn't swear, I can see swearing when a giant kaiju comes to smoosh me into goo. There's also the comically outdated carnage that Godzilla unleashes on Japan. Approved.
DIRECTOR: Motoyoshi Oda
Do you know what? I might be starting to get why people like Godzilla movies. I'm not in love with them. Oh golly, no. The one that everyone claims is something marvelous, the first Godzilla movie? That was a movie that bored me to tears. But maybe I was just in the mood for this one. I don't know what would be special about this movie versus another Godzilla pic, but I kind of got on board this movie.
The worst part is that I don't really know what changed in me that made me start to enjoy this movie. It makes it very hard to write a long blog about the film when nothing really contributes to the overall enjoyment of it. If anything, Godzilla Raids Again doubles down on the absurdity of the notion of Godzilla. Apparently, the Jaws franchise took a nod from Godzilla and realized that you are totally allowed to kill off your lead monster if you just named your next monster the same name. You know, the same thing that happened to Landfill? We're just going to call this new creature that looks like the other Godzilla, "Godzilla." The moment that this happens by the way? Precious. They're all discussing how they killed the last Godzilla and why that process is impossible to repeat. Then they just start addressing this new creature as "Godzilla" as if nothing had changed from the first movie. It's not like all lizard creatures that can topple cities will get the same name. They'll eventually name the little one "Godzookie." But just keep that in mind, this franchise was going to plow ahead, with or without an oxygen deprived eponymous creature.
But the movie does do some things that are kind of smart. Despite the first movie having a message about the role of nuclear power and its terrifying effects on the people of post-war Japan, this movie just said to throw another monster at the screen. It's an ankylosaur, by the way. These giant lizards are just old timey dinosaurs brought to life. But adding the second monster somehow makes it more fun. I'm in that sweet spot where Godzilla is a savior to humanity. I don't think I'm going to get on board for that period of Godzilla's history. This is the movie that is smart enough to know that two monsters means double trouble. I'm not going to claim that the dinosaur really matters though. The movie quickly forgets that he was a threat and makes it all about Godzilla, mainly because he's in the title...you know, raiding and whatnot. But I can see the need to design new monsters. It's kind of how we view the Rocky franchise. We know the individual Rocky movies because of who Rocky is fighting. That's the only thing that really determines the difference for us. I have a feeling the future Godzilla movies play out the same way. In those cases, it is more obvious with movies like Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. But I'm going to remember this one as the one where he decides to fight an ankylosaur and is still kind of evil.
But part of what makes stuff like Godzilla to me interesting is the human story. I know. Godzilla Raids Again barely has a human element to it. But the part that is there? Man, I like it. It's the same reason that I like the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. I know that it is a bunch of hobbits trying to throw a big birthday party, but I really like that. It makes the consequences of evil all the more dire. With Godzilla Raids Again, there's a teeny-tiny human story. There are pilots who work for a fishing company. Two of these people who work for this fishing industry are all set to be married. They have a goofy friend who keeps joking around about getting married. (Actually, the joke goes on for way too long to the point where I don't know about what is real and what is fake at a certain point.) But that is the most human element, especially juxtaposed against literal monsters ripping apart a city. Sure, the "Mr. Groom" joke just keeps getting beaten in with a stick. But do you know what that stupid joke does as well? It makes that guy's death have some kind of meaning. He did this heroic thing, trying to save Japan from Godzilla (I'm reading that sentence too in my head and pinching my sinuses while that I brought that sentence into creation). Then he dies. He's a lovable goofball who didn't have to die and it becomes all the more tragic.
And this is where it is going to take an overly formal tone. The fact that this kaiju story works is because of the human element. As dark as the following idea is, it kind of works as a form of entertainment. There's a reason that we don't start breaking down at the thought of mass slaughter. I mean, we should and sometimes we do. But empathy doesn't really allow for itself to work on a grand scale without a little help. Knowing that a thousand people died is bad and, intellectually, I can be horrified. But getting to know someone and then finding out that they died, followed by the statistic is far more horrifying. The fact that Mr. Groom was just one dude who worked for a fishing company is sad. Knowing that every single pilot in that squadron is like him gives the film gravitas. I'm really holding an example in my back pocket, but it would take away from the horror of real life to compare this to a monster movie. It's just what made Godzilla Raids Again such a strong movie as opposed to just films that have these grandiose sequences. I think that also might distance me from the newer entries. In the newer movies, we get these personal stories. But these people insert themselves into the central plot. The second that Average Joe and Average Jane start spewing technobabble or exposition, it kind of takes away that they are normal people. With Godzilla Raids Again, these are characters who simply are swept up with the times. It's a little bit like a war film.
Anything I write beyond this point is needless filler, so I'm going to cut this a bit short. Yeah, I bought the absurdly large Godzilla box-set from Criterion, even though I don't really like Godzilla all that much. I'm worried that I'm going to complain about it like I complain about Zatoichi. But so far, I'm learning to come around to the idea that Godzilla movies can be fun.
Scream 2 (1997)
Rated R for slasher violence, gore, and a decent amount of language. I always associated this one with one of the more brutal murders of the series. I don't know why this particular murder stood out over the other ones, but it always made me wince, no matter how many times I saw the movie. It deserves the R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Craven
The thing that annoys me the most right now is that I really want to write about this one, but I also have the least amount of time to write today. I'll be lucky to get anything saved before I have to work on other things. Perhaps I'm in that writers' sweet spot because I only have a limited time to work on this and writing will act as a cathartic release from the mind-numbing work I have to get through over the next couple of days.
When I was writing about how the OG Scream might have been one of the perfect movies out there, one of my students confessed that Scream 2 was perhaps her favorite in the franchise. I was slightly aghast at the movie. It's not that I don't like Scream 2. If anything, I can post on social media that my relationship with Scream 2 is "Complicated", at best. I enjoy the film, but I also know that it isn't a good movie. I mean, if my memory of Scream 3 holds up, Scream 2 becomes the last watchable movie in the franchise until the most recent reboot, which is --due to lack of healthy competition --the second best in the series. I'm going to give this student some points. Scream 2 might be the most prestige horror movie that I've ever seen. Its cast is next level insane. Because of the success of the first Scream movie (I'm assuming), every single casting was top shelf casting, with the exception of the two cops who guard Sidney Prescott. (Sorry those guys. If you are famous, maybe you just in my circles.) It's gorgeously shot. Everything about the movie just feels brighter and more expensive. But the same thing can be said for the newer episodes of Doctor Who (the Chris Chibnall era) and those don't hold up very well for me.
I think a lot of the problems come from the fact that this is a film that was made a year apart from the first film. The first Scream movie came out in 1996. This movie came out in 1997. When I rambled on about the genius behind Scream, a lot of those points came from nuanced storytelling. There was this deep rich mystery behind the story. It encouraged eagle-eyed detectives to pay attention to what was going out in the calmer moments of the story. But Scream 2? It's a full on action horror movie. It's embracing the scares that made the first movie fun and ignored a lot of the mythos that made the first movie so good. Yeah, there's a tie to the first movie: Mrs. Loomis. But Billy and Stu planned this long-term plot that culminated in Stu's house. While the story takes place years later, the only real planning we get is that Mrs. Loomis gets in shape and meets Mickey. Instead of building on the world of Sidney Prescott, the movie doubles down on the commentary on horror movies instead.
I have no problem with the metanarrative of Scream. Honestly, it's kind of a saving grace for this film. If it didn't have anything to say about the role of a sequel, well, then this would just be a dumb popcorn film. But Scream 2 really puts a lot of weight on that premise. It's almost like Kevin Williamson was starting to believe his own press when it came to this movie. Yeah, Scream is a commentary on horror and fans of the horror genre. But it was far more than that. Because there was a lot of craft going into the first movie, those beats revealed some interesting things. I mentioned in my Scream blog that Williamson predicted the rise of incel culture and the overwhelming presence of toxic fandom. Scream 2 doesn't necessarily negate that, but it does soften that edge a little bit. The film studies kids look super cool in this one. Because we have Sarah Michelle Gellar (whom I'm always happy to see in things) playing a sorority film studies major, it develops an oddly healthy relationship with the idea of obsession. I can see why Williamson had the film studies kids, by the way. It allows him to say his themes outright without constantly having Randy show up to fix the problem, especially considering that he was dispatched in this one.
Again, killing Randy is the death of the franchise. I'm sure Jamie Kennedy is pretty thrilled with me saying this. I'm also confident that I'm not the only person saying this. Randy is this nice touchstone. I'm going to give Williamson and Craven props for having the courage for killing off Randy. It's a gutsy movie. He's one of the original characters. He's pretty funny. He's also the least likely to die in the bunch, beyond Sidney. But Randy also grounds the whole thing for the movie. He's the one who gives the rules in an organic manner. I know. It's the '90s and nerds are taking over the world. But Randy both had an excuse for being around and represents the normal amount of otakus in an area: 1. I'll keep dying on this hill, but Randy absolutely should have been the mastermind behind all of the Scream movies. I'm not going to go into that here, but you might start noticing a trend in my Scream blogs.
But even as a slasher movie, divorced from the quality of the predecessor, it doesn't always really work. There's an expectation that the killer would have absolutely fantastic luck at being a killer. That's part of the agreement that audiences have with a film, especially a horror film, is suspension of disbelief. But there's only so far that can be carried. I'm going to gripe about my top three moments that bothered me. This is as petty as my writing gets, so please forgive me for indulging myself. The first scene is Dewey and Gale in the media studies department. Gale has a pretty good idea: examine the tapes. The killer has to consistently be on every tape. So they have to find a VCR. Now, VCRs are pretty standard equipment. Heck, the hotel might even have a VCR. But there's only one room open in the media studies lab and that's kind of weird. Did the killer go around ensuring every lab was closed except for one? Also, how did the killer know that Dewey and Gale were going to go find a VCR at that exact time? Maybe they got lucky and ran across them? Fine. But then how does the killer have an edited video of all the killings prepped for this exact moment? Also, switching over to live feed seems like it would take some technical prowess. (The explanation for this one point alone would be that it's Mickey, but moving on.) But Dewey hobbles up to the booth only for the killer to appear behind the table with Gale. The other killer is across campus, harassing someone else. How did that killer get there? Okay. If you really squint, maybe it all works out.
But then there's Syd and the third act. There's a really fun scene where the detectives are dispatched. Sure, the killer is taking on four people, two of whom are armed police officers. It's an odd choice to take on this group alone. But whatever. (We know this scene doesn't have two killers because Mrs. Loomis is with Gale right now.) Somehow, Mickey murders two cops, both of whom have the most restraint when it comes to discharging weapons in police history. The cop is literally on the hood of the car after being hit and he's giving the killer fair warning. But those guys are killed. Sidney and Halle have to escape the backseat of the cop car by climbing over him. Sidney makes the decision, feet away from where she had escaped, to look at who the killer is. I agree with this decision by the way, despite the fact that it gets Halle killed. Despite only being feet away, the killer has disappeared because doors don't make noise anymore. Then he appears behind Halle? How? What? There's suspension of disbelief and absolute absurdity.
AND THEN--ANNNNNNDDDD THENNN! --Sidney, who is literally in the center of town, can go anywhere. Anywhere! She could go to the police station. Heck, she should go to the police station. Instead, she runs...to the theater? I get that Williamson and Craven want to have a bombastic ending, but why would she go there? On top of that, Mickey is waiting there for her with Derek crucified above. Now, I can forgive that the fraternity left him up there. But the spotlights and the lights are set up for the big finale. When did Mickey have any time for that or the foreknowledge that Sidney would go here? It's cool, but stupid, which is kind of how I'm leaving this movie.
Finally, there's the really weird characterization of Cotton Weary. I never understood the Cotton Weary stuff in my OG viewing of these movies. I get that his name was dropped in the first movie, but I didn't know what role he played. Given some distance and a critical eye, Cotton Weary is set up to be this sympathetic character. He's Hester Prynne with a murder charge. The story starts with him needing screen time to distance himself from his false accusation. His life has been a living hell considering that he is one of the people who had an affair with Maureen Prescott. But because Williamson needs him to be a suspect, they give him this unlikable trait of being fame obsessed. I don't see that. I don't see how he could really be a suspect considering that Billy and Stu originally send him to death row. Sure, we could shut off our brains and say that Cotton wanted revenge for a year in prison. But Sidney is Cotton's way out of a life of misery. Her good word would let him return to a normal life. That Diane Sawyer stuff can still exist in the movie, but it needs to be for the right reason. By him hesitating on Mrs. Loomis with the gun, it paints him as devoid of empathy.
Sure, there's other stuff not to like. Mrs. Loomis is absurd as a character, completely lacking nuance. But I can't write anything more beyond that. The insane thing, despite the fact that I have all these complaints, I kind of like the movie. I know that I'll probably watch this movie again before I die and I'll probably dig it, like I kind of dug it this time. I don't know if I'll have the same magnanimous attitude for Scream 3 and 4, but I know that 2 somehow is still appealing to me. I can't explain it. It's pretty to watch.
Rated R for nudity, sexuality, violence, and racism. Okay, let's unpack a lot of that. I always equated Shaft with heavy nudity and sexuality. I mean, it's in the name and in the theme song. But if you snip about fifteen seconds of this movie out, you could pull a James Bond PG. It's not all that dirty. But it's also something that maybe you shouldn't be openly showing to children. I don't know. You do you. R.
DIRECTOR: Gordon Parks
I started watching Shaft a few years ago and then it disappeared from the ol' streaming service. The same thing happened with Big Trouble in Little China. I mean, I'm ashamed that I broke my own rules and watched the remakes without watching the originals. It's not like I've even avoided Blaxspoitation films. I genuinely love Black Samurai and recently discoverd Dolemite. But watching this subgenre in this order kind of skewed up my historical context for Blaxspoitation as a whole.
I mean, Shaft has always been the go-to name drop for Blaxspoitation. And I always took the reason for that is because of how mainstream the movie is. I mean, it starts up with the MGM logo. It made bank. Isaac Hayes won an Academy Award for Best Original Song because of the "Theme to Shaft." It's part of the cultural canon despite --and I'm ashamed to say this flippantly --not being the most amazing movie. I mean, it's fine. I'll get into all of that in a bit. But for a detective film that really mirrored a lot of the detective films of the era --movies like Klute or The French Connection --it doesn't offer much in terms of story. But what it does have is a charismatic protagonist with John Shaft. That's what makes people go to the theaters. There's a reason why Samuel L. Jackson was Richard Roundtree's replacement for the 2000 version of Shaft. These are people that oozed charisma and personality, and in ways that might not be traditionally endearing. John Shaft was a force of nature and that's what made him endearing. He was going to be wise while refusing to take anyone's nonsense throughout the film.
I honestly found myself being frustrated with the story pretty hard. And that's on me. Thank God for epiphanies, am I right? There was a clear moment where I had to tell myself to stop thinking about the movie. I often do this, especially in cheaper detective stories, where I'm expecting such complexities that I ignore the fact that this story is a lot more simple than I want it to be. There were so many times in Shaft where I just had to stop asking, "Hey, who is that guy?" and "Why is Shaft here?" and realize that it could all be chalked up to, "It doesn't matter. Shaft is being cool." Shaft --and this is a compliment --doesn't need to have a clear A-to-B-to-C progression. Information comes out of nowhere and Shaft simply knows to avoid the trap that has been setup for him. How did he know that two guys were going to be staking out his apartment from the No-Name Bar? I'm sure Shaft fans could explain it pretty coherently. But from my perspective, it was just that Shaft is smart and knows that people would be looking out for him. I did worry that the poor hippie was going to bite it in that moment. It would have been quite callous of him to set up that burnout for a grizzly death. But alas, no. Shaft somehow knew that those two guys would be at the No-Name and that's as much thought as I should have put into it.
In terms of Shaft's moral compass, I'm a little lost. We get the idea that, as a private eye, he has to undertake some shady jobs. With this story, he's asked to return the kidnapped daughter of a Harlem mob boss from the Mafia. Okay, while he doesn't necessarily like his clientele, he acknowledges that a mob boss's daughter may not have any culpability in the deeds her father takes place in. But he also throws dudes out windows. (I actually believe that he doesn't so much throw dudes out of windows as allows dudes to throw themselves out of windows by dodging them.) But he also comes across as a hero in this movie. I don't have a problem with that, but the movie really keeps his morality kind of ambiguous. Sure, he fights these bad guys when they come to his door, but that is almost out of self-preservation. Sure, he is friends with that one police officer (who oddly threw me for a loop when it came to his allegiance to Shaft until the final act for some reason. I kept waiting for an inevitable betrayal that never really showed up). But does this make any of his actions overtly moral.
I say this because of the bloodshed that follows Shaft, especially in that finale. Shaft and his squad take out a lot of Mafia guys in the final act. It's actually pretty brutal. Also, his squad doesn't necessarily get away scot free when it comes to casualties. Shaft walks away from the violence at the hotel, makes a phone call ending on a joke, and ends the movie like it was a big success. But people died in the returning of this girl. He turned people who were marching for a cause into mercenaries for the daughter of a drug dealer. I get that her life is worth the risk, but Shaft is the one who comes out of this mostly unharmed. (He takes a bullet earlier in the film.) Shaft's allure --at least, part of his allure --stems from his ability to read a room. I alluded to that earlier, his preternatural ability to sense danger and to respond to that danger. Yet he keeps putting other people in harm's way. There's something very cold about that that makes him morally ambiguous. Part of me really wants to cast a positive light on Shaft, but it is a bit weird what he forgives.
Also, cheats on his girl? "He's a complicated man, and no one understands him but his woman"? Okay, the complicated sure is in line with what I just wrote. But it seems like Shaft had a lady at home and then he just casually slept with another lady who berated him? That's a choice. Here I am, writing that, also knowing that I've written about almost every James Bond movie so far. But with Bond, when he's monogamous, he's really monogamous. It's the part that he does have someone he cares about and still moves on. It's meant to be that voyeuristic thrill, of a man's man being promiscuous and that sells tickets. But again, I can't help but question if Shaft is hero or anti-hero. It seems like Parks isn't casting him in a light of morally grey. Rather, he is our heroic protagonist. Maybe I'm shoehorning in my very specific morality coupled with my cultural standards, but it's all a bit off for me.
But Shaft kind of rules. Again, I stress that you have to shut off your brain. Either that, or I have to get way smarter and pay more attention to beats in the narrative to understand the complexities of a movie that may not be asking me to look at it from a complex situation. If Shaft is the epitome of cool, look at it as such. He's a cool guy that gets the job done. Sure, it may not be the most efficient way of getting the job done, but it certainly is the coolest. I mean, that molotov cocktail made no sense, but it still was the coolest part of the film.
Halloween Ends (2022)
Rated R for the sheer brutality of violence that Halloween movies tend to have. While Michael may not be the only killer in this movie, the type of violence that Corey uses mirrors Michael, not by accident. There's also language, suicide, and the brutal death of a child in this one. It's also one of those movies that just loves being bleak. I don't think that many people were expecting a PG-13 Halloween, so hard R it is.
DIRECTOR: David Gordon Green
I was warned. People told me that this one doesn't really do the trick. My emotional reaction to this one was all over the place. If you tell me that something sucks, part of me really wants to be the guy who loves and defends that movie. I don't know what part of me is so broken that I need to prove that my tastes are better, because they mostly really aren't. For the first quarter of this movie, I was so ready to get on my high horse and defend the movie. Then the middle happened and I was seeing some real problems with it. But by the end of the movie, it both won and lost me at the same time.
See, I love allegory. I love it. I need that extended metaphor, especially in my horror. Horror tends to embrace shlock and scares as ends in themselves. But as directors like Jordan Peele and --by extension-- David Gordon Green have shown, horror is able to speak to our society. This is a thing that genre tends to forget. They forget their Rod Serling / Gene Roddenberry roots and just try to make things that are apolitical. That's always a bummer. So when we get long running franchises, movies tend to be quasi-copies of one another. The story is ultimately the same, but the setting might change. My knee-jerk reaction is to say "Manhattan" or "space", but that's the wrong franchise. So when I see a director make an active decision to do something very different with a franchise, I often give it a chance. Some of you real Halloween nerds out there might be looking at Halloween 4, 5, and 6 as examples of how changing a formula is ultimately stupid. My counterargument is mostly, "Shut up." But my real counterargument is that the end result of those movies is difference-for-difference's-sake. When something ultimately has a message, those differences tend to matter. This is where things get a little messy with Halloween Ends.
I want to put an image in your head: the old idiom "Square peg; round hole." This isn't quite right. I have the image of the right shape of peg, but from another set. A kid is malletting a round peg into a round hole, but it just doesn't quite fit flush. It takes real effort, but ultimately it gets in. That's a lot of Halloween Ends. For a while, I'm reading an allegory that just doesn't work. The movie starts with Corey, a teen caught in the worst of circumstances. Due to a complete accident, Corey is branded town pariah. I kind of love the allegory I'm building in my head at this point. Part of it comes from the script itself. A town that is so used to the toxic presence of Michael Myers needs to define itself by its victimhood, so it brands Corey a new demon. With the sympathetic exception of the mother of the child, everyone enjoys keeping Corey in check. Everything there screams "accident", but people choose to define their own morality by making people like Corey as the evildoers of the time. We sympathize with Corey because we understand that Michael embraced evil and Corey was fundamentally a good man burdened with this cross. It works until it doesn't. When encountering Michael by sheer accident, he starts striking back. There's this weird "sympathy-for-the-school-shooter" thing that starts happening. And for a while, I'm really soured on the movie. It kind of comes across as this odd revenge porn where Corey --dressed as Michael Myers --is granted vindication on those who have wronged him. It becomes honestly pretty gross.
But then, I had to imagine that there's no way that David Gordon Green is making a movie about feeling bad for school shooters. After all, if I'm looking at this movie through a political lens, is that really the message that David Gordon Green wants out there? I can't possibly wrap my head around that. After all, I was the one dude who loved the allegory behind Halloween Kills. (Again, I pride myself at liking what other people hate.) But then I had to add an element that I started ignoring, "This is a Halloween movie that barely had Michael Myers." Heck, part of me still wonders if this movie really needed Michael Myers or could it just have been a story about needing to demonize people. When I put Michael Myers back into the story, I have to question his function. And some of you are going to roll your eyes simply because of the wording. Ready for it? I don't know if I'm ever going to be ready to write the next sentence.
Michael Myers is the Internet.
Yeah, I hate me too. Get in line. But try to get on board. Corey somehow threads the line between sympathy and disgust. He's really gross, but has a tragic history. What role does Michael Myers play in that. For the most part, Corey suffers in silence. He's made his way through this community, finding a job and growing closer to his father. He starts dating a girl who is defined by her victimhood (I'll talk about that later if I remember.) Things are not good for Corey, but he's ultimately stable. Even the dad of the boy who died says that he forgave Corey long ago and checks in on him regularly. But Corey also has no mental health services. He's asked to endure with this unbelievable burden and instead of finding a healthy outlet for that, he's bottling it up. When someone tells him that, even in metaphor, that it is okay to kill. After all, Michael had killed so many people time and again and some people love him. It's mirroring that fandom that Jeffrey Dahmer had that gave him a sick thrill. Instead of bottling up all this rage, what if he directed it outwards? Michael is the Internet, specifically toxic groups on sites like 8chan or the dark web. Michael sees this kid alone and that his privilege has been stripped from him and weaponizes it. After all, Michael Myers is an old man. (One of my favorite moments is when Corey beats down Michael and screams, "You're just an old man in a mask." Thank you. That's what I've been saying.) It's not a cult of Michael Myers thing like 4, 5, and 6 play with. It's aiming a weapon at society from a place of safety. Michael can hang out in the gutters (or the gutters of SOCIETY!) while Corey takes all the risk. God, that really worked as a political allegory that I dug.
But it doesn't completely work. I'm sorry. I told you that the peg doesn't quite fit the hole. It mostly does. But at the end of the day, David Gordon Green was A) making a Halloween movie that audiences were going to see and B) trying to close up a trilogy. After all, we wanted to have no chance to have Michael come back. There needs to be something to lock up the story. And in that instance, the Internet and the deep web can never be killed. So having a final showdown between Laurie and Michael is a bit absurd? Like, it's necessary to make this movie a movie. People paid to see that and were probably get, like, an hour-forty of Corey moping around town. (Not me! Mope away, Corey!) But it also kind of puts leaks in the submarine. Yeah, it's cool and I, too, wanted to see a final showdown. (It also kind of ruins Laurie's character of trying to be a better person a bit.) But the rules of Michael Myers kind of confuses me in this one.
The first of David Gordon Green's Halloween trilogy establishes that Michael Myers is a man whose evil drives him. He's killable, but just very driven to murder Laurie Strode. The second movie establishes that society's fear and hatred of Michael make him unkillable. Okay, that's cool. (Long sidebar here: David Gordon Green said that he was going to make an absolutely absurd Halloween Ends that no one saw coming once Halloween Kills was out. To a certain extent, he was right. Based on that comment, I came up with this idea for Michael Myers, based on his predatory use of fear and paranoia, to be this plague washing across the planet. He was worse than cancer, eliminating entire civilizations. The movie would be post apocalyptic and there would be groups of nomads fleeing him. There would be underground communities prepping for the day that Michael Myers found them. Laurie Strode acted as a prophet in the desert, training people to run until she taught them to overcome their fear of this monster. But that's just little old me.) But this one tried doing both. Like I said, I loved that line about Michael just being a sad old man in a gutter who can get his mask ripped off. But then Laurie started encountering super-killer Michael, who gets sliced in all kinds of awful places. But then, a slow bleed out killed him? And yeah, throw him in the grinder. You should totally do that. But what the heck are the rules on defeating Michael after the last movie said that he was unkillable? I don't know. I don't love that. But you gotta close a franchise, I guess.
I want to talk about Laurie's granddaughter, Allyson. Allyson is a bit of an underbaked character. She starts the film as an empath. In a society full of toxic personality, she's the one who can see people for the goodness in them. It makes her the hero of the story pretty quickly. Laurie is a hero, but we get that she's going through her own stuff, with the mask of motherhood poorly disguising the Sarah Conner beneath. And let's establish, I don't want Allyson to be perfect. Flaws are cool. But Allyson becomes completely consumed by her flaws. The dark cloud beneath that empathy is that she's drawn to broken people. We see that she is being harassed by an abusive cop who sexually harasses her. There's a heavy implication that the two dated and that he doesn't respect boundaries. But she invests in Corey way too heavily. There's maybe 24-48 hours before she's willing to both run away with him and burn the world down as well. To a certain extent, if my Internet theory works, we can assume that Corey becomes the evangelist of Michael Myers from that point. But that's never really made clear. It's this artificial tension that is created between Allyson and Laurie that doesn't make sense. It's to tell a story, but I don't think anyone would take such a hard turn in character as Allyson does in that moment. I'm not saying that she wouldn't invest in Corey. I get the idea of trying to help someone who may not be willing to receive help. But her infatuation with him has completely shut down her logical brain and she's running entirely on id, which isn't really in her character. It bothers me.
Yeah, I'd probably love my version of Halloween Ends better. It's because I spent a year thinking about it. I would have written it, but it would have plagiarized a bit too much on Batman: The Last Knight on Earth. Still, that would have been rad. And maybe verbalizing "Michael Myers is the Internet" makes the movie sound lame. But going in with that knowledge genuinely makes the movie better.
Seemingly unrated, but this is an R-rating. It only doesn't have a rating because it is a Shudder original. If you had to guess, it's R for just absurd amounts of gore and violence. I suppose that there's technically nudity, but it took me a while to figure out that I was looking at nudity. (Oh, I forgot there's also blatant nudity later.) There's also the f-word galore, which was annoying because we were trying not to disturb others. (Yeah, I know. I'm the worst.) This is the home video version of going to a haunted house around Halloween. Still, probably unrated.
DIRECTORS: Flying Lotus, Maggie Levin, Tyler MacIntyre, Johannes Roberts, Joseph Winter, and Vanessa Winter
Well, now I know that I'm not going to get a Shudder account. I kind of figured that I'm starting to grow out of watching everything horror. A couple of years ago, I really tried selling Bob on the V/H/S franchise. It had to be over six years ago because I never wrote about the other V/H/S movies. (Note: This franchise is annoying to write out with the slashes. Nothing slows you down more than having to incorporate "/" into your writing regularly.) He was very skeptical on the entire notion, but I swore that these were good movies. These movies were on Netflix and I think that I binged them in a weekend. Since then, V/H/S/94 came out and I never caught that one. At least, I don't think I did. It lines up with the notion that I didn't write about it, but the linking narrative sounds remarkably similar. Regardless, I don't know what happened to these movies.
I hear that 94 was pretty campy. From what I remember about the original entries is that they tended to be pretty terrifying. There's something really scary that can be done in the anthology format. I brought these movies to Bob because we both agreed that horror and anthology films go together like absolute gangbusters. I think it comes from the idea that there doesn't really need to be a lot of padding to get to the suspense part. It's concentrated storytelling. As much as I like certain horror movies, I don't really think that there's something all that plausible about stretching out what is ultimately a moment of terror. Sure, there are some real exceptions. I just wrote about the first Scream movie, which absolutely tickled my interest the entire time. Heck, I would love to sit down and rewatch the John Carpenter remake of The Thing. These are conceits that work. But horror somehow thrives in the notion of being isolated. I'm going to write about Halloween Ends tomorrow, if I have the time. One thing that always kind of detracted (and I'm writing in broad strokes here because I actually really love the exception to that rule sometimes) is when the evil is confronted by the community. Part of the scare comes from the notion of being alone. These stories in anthology format remove all of the explanations of hope. It's man v. beast without a chance of rescue. You can't get in your car and run away. These are brief interactions where regardless of fight or flight, things are going to go poorly.
A lot of what we see in V/H/S is similar to Tales from the Crypt or Creepshow. They are odd little morality plays that are meant to surprise us. Because there is so little time to tell a story, it almost comes down to appreciation of craft. We know there's going to be a scare and there's going to be a scare soon. What we wonder is the form it is going to take. That's where 99 really fails. Nostalgia is a really dangerous thing to hinge a movie on. Everyone's going to keep referring to Stranger Things as nostalgia done right. While this doesn't necessarily apply to every story in this film, many of the stories are so obsessed with the title that they forget that the focus of the craft is the actual horror story itself. I mean, the reason why I thought V/H/S was cool to begin with is the fact that the low-res use of VHS cameras allows for things to be amorphous. We have to fill in the gaps of the monster. It's why we jumped so high when the alien made itself briefly seen in Signs. But it's not about blatant nostalgia. There's something upsetting about an unclean image on an analog cassette. I don't care about 1999. The stories in here aren't dependent on the year, with the exception of the last which is almost a garnish to the idea of witchcraft. But that first bit was so overtly 1999 that it almost hurt to watch. More time was spent on getting the idea of 1999 across that the actual time on frights was sacrificed. Now, you could chalk this up to the campiness of the entire bit. Undead alternative rockers is the beginning and end of the story. The bad kids were punished. For some reason, the good kid was punished too. All of the segment consisted was to create an underbaked love-letter to alt rock.
It's not that there weren't parts that I enjoyed. If I remember correctly, the V/H/S films often saved their best bits for last. Usually that tied into the arcing narrative that excused why we were watching these disturbing tapes. I think that the editors of this one knew that the arcing narrative, despite having the coolest setup, was the most disappointing segments of the entire film. Instead, they put an unrelated story last and that one was pretty cool. I won't deny that it wasn't fun watching a movie with Bob, especially a horror movie, because there was a fun commentary running throughout. But we both kind of came to the agreement that this was the only real segment that balanced camp with legitimate scares. It had a real Evil Dead 2 vibe and that's pretty cool. But it is really hard to achieve that. If anything, the comic sensibilities of the movie rode the line pretty hard that the late '90s were absurd and that we should kind of laugh at them. That's a bummer, because some of these segments had real promise.
I'm still trying to decide how I feel about one of the segments. One of these segments was almost pitch perfect, if it wasn't for editing and one wild miscasting. I hate doing this. I hate excluding people for bringing a room down. But I suppose this is one of those examples of "Kill your darlings," a phrase that probably shouldn't be thrown around when writing about horror. There's a segment called "Ozzy's Dungeon" that is so rad that it hurts. It's a send up of Nickelodeon game shows of the '90s. Primarily a parody of Legends of the Hidden Temple, "Ozzy's Dungeon" borrows heavily from Double Dare as well. The camera work, organization, looks, and feel of "Ozzy's Dungeon" is so perfect that it blows my mind that they made the host an archetype. We've seen this game show host archetype before and it sucks. It's a corny suit. It's The Price is Right microphone. It's cheeseball smile. What happened to these guys in their mid-30s to early-40s who dressed in jeans and really tried to be hip? How hard is it to get a Marc Summers type? No Nick TV show had that kind of host.
Then there's the turn in that bit. Oh geez. For a second, I thought that turn was going to be the end. In the "Ozzy's Dungeon" segment, Donna has her leg destroyed by Timmy. (I don't know why Timmy isn't the focus of Donna and her mother's rage. It's really weird how everyone is callous about a child getting maimed on a children's program, but again...Kill your darlings. When we discover that the game show host is the focus of revenge, okay, put him through the evil version of the traps. Cool. But it goes on for far too long. When the game show is so well put together and the rest is just a shot of a basement for a long time, what is going on? I actually weirdly like the end of the whole bit when they meet a god / demon behind the scenes that grants messed up wishes. I know it came out of nowhere, but the basement was such an anticlimax to what was set up to that point, that I was just grateful for this bananas answer when really, tighter filmmaking would have solved a lot.
Are all of the V/H/S segments supernatural? I know that this isn't really a dialogue, but I kind of had that epiphany this time and I kind of want to know.
It's really hard to write about anthology stuff without being list-y. I know, I had a choice to do a blog with mini-subentries writing about each bit. But I also didn't like the movie that much. I can tell you that the last segment is the best and the webcam one is borderline community theatre. I do question whether a lot of that comes out of the fact that maybe I'm just burned out on horror movies. Very few horror movies come out that I feel like I have to see. Instead, they often are fillers. I know that there are absolutely brilliant horror movies, but the hit / miss ratio in the genre is disappointing. V/H/S/99 is not good. I'm glad I saw it because it was fun watching a horror movie with a friend, but that doesn't excuse for a lack of quality.
Rated R, mostly for teenage stabbing violence with a sprinkling of other kinds of violence. Sure, I could talk about the sexuality that lacks nudity or the swearing and drinking, but if you are bothered by that instead of horrible things happening to kids, there's a bigger problem that needs to be addressed. R.
DIRECTOR: Wes Craven
I don't want to watch movies I've seen a thousand times again. There was a time in my life where I would watch the same movie over-and-over again because these movies would be the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Scream, as weird as this might be, has a very important place in my life. It was the first R-rated movie I had really watched. (One could argue that The Exorcist was the first R-rated movie that I watched, but I was REALLY young when I saw that and spent most of the time screaming and running around with my cousins.) My Uncle Pete had taken us to Blockbuster and let us rent Scream. My cousins, experts at R-rated horror, were my guides to the world of horror movies. And I loved this movie. It was so good. Little did I know that Scream might be the perfect front door to R-rated horror because this movie is actually genius.
I've seen all of the Scream movies. That shouldn't surprise anyone. After all, I've just written about the most recent entry, also named Scream. I always thought that Scream was just this metanarrative about horror movies. But after watching the first Scream movie in high def on Paramount+, it really is one of those movies that fires on all cylinders. I'm a bit ashamed to say, but Scream might be one of my rare examples of a perfect film. I only have a few movies on this list: Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, Halloween, and Scream. It's not to say that these are my favorite movies (but if I was to be honest, Jurassic Park does absolutely deserve to be on this list). I'm more saying that I have no notes on how to improve these films. What makes them perfect films are the combination of neurotic planning coupled with inspired execution. I normally keep giving the director all the credit, but these are movies that have screenwriters who are looking at story and character from all perspectives. These directors, then, are somehow moved to recognize how to tell this story in a way that no one else could do. It's so applause worthy that it must be celebrated somehow.
I had an argument with Henson about Scream and its direction. My big point in terms of its perfection partially lies with Wes Craven, the director of the film. My argument lied in the fact that Craven had to work against style and type to identify a new subgenre in slasher horror. Like most auteurs, Craven had a certain look and vibe to his horror movies. Often laden with gross-out imagery coupled with intensely dark landscapes, his films would be more about discomfort than storytelling. This isn't a slam on his other movies. A Nightmare on Elm Street, the OG version, is one of the scariest horror movies out there and it is perfectly in his style. (A point against my argument is that the OG Nightmare shares some of its DNA with Scream.) But Henson stressed that New Nightmare was actually the template for Scream. I don't know if that's true. New Nightmare reads more like Dimension Pictures just having a certain look. Sure, both stories are a metanarrative of horror, but Scream has a very different takeaway than New Nightmare.
Scream uses its metanarrative in a way that is almost for a universal appeal. What should be considered an academic study of pop culture, in particular of horror films, becomes perfectly accessible and popcorny. It's something that Scream doesn't actually need to be a great story, but chooses to color itself with to differentiate itself in the '90s. It's a really cool jacket, but it's a bonus to something that is already fabulously crafted. New Nightmare needs its metanarrative to exist. It's more about Hollywood than it is about the role of pop art on society. Also, New Nightmare needs that meta stuff to tell a story. You really could cut out all of the pop culture references out of Scream and you have an epic story.
And what makes Scream such a good movie at its core is that it rewards its audience for really trying to solve the puzzle. I'll never forget who the killers of the first Scream movie are. Besides giving that absolutely perfect twist at the end of the movie that sticks the landing, there are so many details that given to us as clues to the identity of the killers. What's odd is that Kevin Williamson, who would later become the godfather of the new generation of horror movies, builds a world behind the events of the Scream movies. A casual viewer would view the first Scream movie as savvy girl staves off killer who is obsessed with pop culture. But if you are really watching that movie, it's a story of the role of journalism in society and a family disrupted over selfishness. I don't want to put Maureen Prescott on trial because (can I just say the killers already?) Billy Loomis swats a fly with an elephant gun. But there's this really complex tale of the death of Maureen Prescott and that happens a year before the movie takes place. We never actually see the first victims of Billy and Stu. Instead, we are told about it, which is normally this faux pas in storytelling.
And there's just this peppering of a story happening in the background. The only actual footage we get of the world-building stuff is a brief Top Copy segment of Cotton Weary being taken away in a police cruiser. It's weird that this borderline extra would eventually become Liev Schreiber, but that's a story for another day. Everything else is asking the audience to play detective. It gives you everything you need to solve the puzzle. It's just that the Randys of the world are needed to put two-and-two together. And that's why I love Randy. Randy is the avatar for the diligent audience member who seems to be paying attention to everything. I still say that he should have been the grandmaster of the entire Scream franchise, but I acknowledge that something would be lost if that happened.
But there's also something deeply disturbing about the original Scream that I kind of want to rewrite my master's thesis to be about. Scream is all about incel culture. If we're jumping back to the notion that Scream is a metanarrative, Scream's message about the role of fandom is deeply disturbing. I'm not crazy to state that the incel of today's culture is an offshoot of nerddom. Nerds have been portrayed in media as anti-social and unloved. They have been the lovable victims of tropes throughout storytelling. But Scream would usher in the rise of the cool nerd. Gone were the days of pocket-protectors and broken black-framed glasses. There would be a time with the rise of the hipster and the cultural savant. I mean, I have a blog where I write about movies. I know my people. But the film savant would devolve into something that very much would look like Stu Macher. Randy and Stu are the two sides of the same coin. Portrayed as friends in Scream, they have these obsessive personalities that would mock each other's almost Olympian attempts to out-nerd each other. But it wouldn't take much for Randy to become Stu. Randy is working class. He works at a video store and has been fired multiple times. What's stopping him from going full on Otaku is the fact that he's forced to interact with people of all social classes. Randy even kind of has a disdain for that group of people. Contrast him with Stu and that's incel culture all the way.
I wish I didn't split up the writing on this because I could write about this for a long time. This is the most I've written for a while because, oddly enough, Scream has been inspirational. Because so much thought went into making a horror movie, it created its own subgenre. It evolved horror movies into this whole other category and it's oddly smart. We have smart horror movies because Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven really invested in what they were making. It's fantastic. Even though I had seen this movie a gazillion times, it caught me off-guard and I gained a whole new appreciation for it.
Rated R for having some pretty intense sexual stuff in it. While there is only a little bit of very mild nudity, the constant jumping to sex is a bit much. I regularly had to keep the volume down and almost felt like I was watching something offensive, despite the fact that much of the sex happens off screen. There's also a murder in the film, but it is so brief and doesn't really play into the film that much. It's very tame. It definitely deserves the R rating, but the film isn't graphic-graphic. R.
DIRECTOR: Wong Kar-Wai
Oh man, I don't know what it is about me and finish lines. I'm so close to finishing this box set. I have time to write last night. I have time to write this morning. What do I do? I procrastinate. It's such a nice day. I have actual peace and I decide to fill it with trash. This is all admonishing myself because I've been actually jazzed to write about this movie. I even have the 2046 soundtrack playing in the background, which is absolutely gorgeous. So here I am, about to write 1000+ words (I imagine) about how I don't necessarily understand anything.
2046, after watching it for the second time in my life, is oddly made specifically for me. Not me the first time I watched it. It was made for me now: a Tim that decided to spend the last few months slowly watching the complete works of Wong Kar-Wai without realizing that 2046 acts more like a coda to the entire Wong Kar-Wai experience rather than a traditional sequel. I'm not quite sure how I feel about the movie now that it's done. I should take it quite positively because I want to tell all my grown up film studios to do a double-feature of this and In the Mood for Love, a movie that they all swooned over. This is all leading me to something that leaves me conflicted. 2046 acts as a sequel to In the Mood for Love and Days of Being Wild, both movies that I enjoyed. I'll be honest with you, I don't remember the details of Days of Being Wild. That's weird because I didn't watch it that long ago. But when you watch a box set of the same style movies, they do bleed together a bit. It's the problem with binging movies. But moving on, In the Mood for Love intentionally leaves off in this moment without a clean ending.
There's something very personal about In the Mood for Love with me. Perhaps I naturally want to use Chow as an avatar for myself, despite not having similar situations. I imbue Chow with my own morals and philosophies because he is so relatable. I always view In the Mood for Love as a morality tale because Chow tortures himself for love throughout the film. The ending is so bittersweet because he denies himself happiness with Su Li-zhen, knowing that an affair, no matter how justified, would corrupt them and pervert their real feelings. In my mind, Chow becomes almost a hermit, enduring this loneliness because he knows that he has experienced true love that must remain unrequited. So to have a sequel that has the emotional reality of the previous film, but in a perverted perspective kind of bothers me. I mean, it's right. Chow is a person with needs. He is despondent because he'll never know the happiness that he could have embraced had he been more selfish in In the Mood for Love. But I don't like the idea that he uses people.
It is because I have used him as an avatar. When Chow does the noble thing and embraces a life without Su Li-zhen, I feel like he's overcome the greatest moral hurtle in his life. What does that say about me? One of the greatest compliments that I can give Wong Kar-Wai is that he makes me questions myself and my own moral choices through his storytelling. Now, I can distance myself from a work of fiction and say that I wouldn't do the same thing as Chow. But he creates that doubt. So when I say that his sequel doesn't work the way I think it would, I have to question everything about myself. Yeah, it makes me kind of vapid, but critical thinking is acknowledging that I don't always have all the answers. It's just that Chow kind of becomes the thing that he despised in the world around him in the first movie. Not even taking into consideration the adulterous spouses that were juxtaposed to the protagonists, Chow's co-worker represented the expectations of men in the '60s, lustful and selfish. To see Chow exhibiting similar traits, is such a bummer that I take it personally. And the weird part is that he acts in these lustful ways in a somewhat classier way.
To add to that whole argument, despite Chow's change of personality, it actually kind of supports the message of the first film. I can rally all day long to say that Chow shouldn't be "that guy," but it adds to the notion that Chow never really leaves happy. The story becomes about the multiple women who make impacts in his life after he moves to Singapore. These women are not the woman he left, despite the fact that one of them shares a name with Su Li-zhen. They all have elements to them. But like Chow is a perversion of the man he was in the first film, these women are dark mirrors to what he lost in the first film. As gross as he is at times, they tend to bring positive traits to him as well. It's odd, what traits can be echoed in other people that challenge Chow from the world he created. I don't know if the universe really works like that, but it almost plays with the notion of fate or God. Of course he meets someone in Room 2046. Of course he meets another writer. Of course he meets someone with the same name. There is something mystical about the world of Wong Kar-Wai that isn't overt. When Chow talks about locking his secrets in a tree, it doesn't scream that there's a mystical energy in the universe. But we, as audience members, are asked to choose to accept that or reject it. The fact that he runs into these echoes of a person can be interpreted either way. The brilliant part is that Kar-Wai never really confronts his audience and demands that they put faith on the line. Instead, it just gives insight into the self.
I don't know what to say about the sci-fi stuff. It does something. (If you have ever seen me writing something with a metaphorical gun to my head, this is it.) I have to make a decision about my feelings regarding the sci-fi stuff because it is such an important element. I love that 2046 messes with the notion of what a quasi-sequel should be. The film opens with a heavy 2004 CG landscape and a conceit that the world of 2046 is something different. It tells a story that is both canonical and a fairy tale. The In the Mood for Love sections treat it as something that is made up by Chow, an author. But the film starts with that, so the Chow story may be fictional. And it challenges the audience. It so is so visually striking and jarring, that it doesn't allow the audience to ignore it. But it somehow simultaneously too underdeveloped and too much at the same time. The safe part of me would say that the future world of 2046 and the train should be its own short film. But that would also dismiss the very scant, but necessary connections to the other stories. I like it, but I don't know why I like it.
The funny thing is that, on Letterboxd, I'm going to have to rate this film. A lot of me wants to give it five-stars. I loved it. But I'm also really confused about elements. I am coming to terms with a film that culminates everything that I just watched for the last few months in not-an-abstract-way. It is a gorgeous piece of work that goes beyond like / dislike. It's somewhere else. I'm sure that there's a German word for this specific emotion, but I don't have that word.
The Brood (1979)
R for Cronenberg nonsense. I mean, it's pretty violent. Little kids beat adults to death with household objects, which is pretty rad (or offensive, whatever you want to take from this first section). There's some language. But really, the major takeaway is the Cronenberg stuff, which only appears in the final act of the movie. But boy howdy, does he let fly with the gross stuff. R.
DIRECTOR: David Cronenberg
My mom watched this. That's a weird thought. My mom stays with us from time-to-time and she watches the streaming services that she doesn't have access to. For some reason, she decided visiting HBO Max for The Brood was the use of her time that she invested in. Yeah, what a weird choice. In a million years, if I had asked her to watch The Brood, I would have gotten a hard-no. Especially with that ending. Do you know what? I'm going to jump right to that ending because I'm still very much in that headspace.
That ending. For a long time in this movie, I was so proud of David Cronenberg. I know, a lot of people love David Cronenberg and his use of upsetting practical gore. It was such a thing that Rick and Morty full on created a group of creatures named "Cronenbergs". I'm preaching to the choir here, so I'm going to drop that thread. But I always like the idea of watching a Cronenberg movie until I remember that he likes grossing me out a bit too much. And for most of this movie, it's all about story. Sure, there's some blood. It's a horror movie. But it isn't Eli Roth style blood. Then there's the final act. The final act, where Nola (Nola? That's the name we're sticking with? Northern Louisiana or North Los Angeles?) shows Frank her weird demon pregnancy. See, we knew that Nola was giving birth to these monsters. After all, the movie is named The Brood; there should be some offspring. But having them drop out of her? Gross. Having her cut the skin open with her teeth? Even more gross. Having her lick the blood off of her rage offspring? Come on. What was the point of that even? The other parts are the grossest things ever, but you can at least pretend that there's a reason why this is happening in the film. None of the other stuff even makes the most remote of sense. It's gross for the sake of being gross.
But if I can accept that --and I should--the movie is halfway decent, especially for Cronenberg. Yeah, he's doing some of the things that annoy me with his other movies. He tends to make things happen just because that's weird looking and it might not be at all predictable. (I'm mostly looking at Videodrome and Naked Lunch here, but you can apply this rule to any number of Cronenberg films.) But there was a story. While it gets into supernatural stuff, there is an A-to-B-to-C concept. If you are paying attention, most of the movie actually makes a decent amount of sense. Sure, there's almost no way to predict the rage babies as is. The notion of psychoplasmics is never really explained, as proven by the fact that I thought a good chunk of the opening was about acting exercises. But in terms of a creepy child killing people in Frank's life is something that I can jump on board. I actually was overly influenced by that "Treehouse of Horror" episode where Bart's conjoined twin lived in the attic. The Brood even addresses this trope and scolds me for thinking that the story could be that obvious. But that's something that watchable. And, gun to head, even the end of the movie allows me to basically understand what is happening in the film.
We never get the "why". That's okay. I don't know if the "why would actually help or hinder. That's kind of a big part of storytelling. Anything involving the psychoplasmics doesn't do anything besides offer technobabble. What it does offer, instead, is the idea that any mother could do what Nola is doing. (I keep writing "Lola" or "Nora" because those are names.) Sure, it demonizes motherhood a bit. I want to explore that in a second, but Nola's odd possessiveness creates these demon children who murder on a whim. Nothing is particularly locked into Nola being this way. Instead, Nola is the face of motherhood. It's a toxic and upset motherhood. Maybe that's why it really sticks with me that my mom watched this movie. But it is the notion that a mother's love, redirected and perverted, can be somehow supernaturally lethal. It's really weird because Nola comes across as both mentally ill and completely unsympathetic. Let's explore that for a bit.
Dr. Raglan is obsessed with Nola. In retrospect, that may be because Nola is capable of manifesting her thoughts of rage into actual demon children, but it definitely comes across as either sexual or self-serving. He devotes all his time to Nola, which comes across as super creepy. And Nola goes through most of the movie either in hysterics or in a place of flat affect. We don't really have an idea of what crimes that Frank has committed. We are just told over-and-over again that Frank is unloving. Now, this is where it is going to get a bit iffy, so please bear with me. I kind of have the vibe that David Cronenberg is working through some stuff. Maybe he's going through a divorce or something because he's making Frank overly sympathetic in this story.
He's the one who is the primary parent for Candace. He's the one who is holding everyone together. He's the one who is constantly being called a monster when his behavior seems perfectly appropriate bordering on saintlike. Frank is surrounded by people who make terrible parents. But even with this bevy of bad parents, it seems like the men in these situations simply got in over their heads. Nola's mother is the one she considers really toxic, but Nola's father is the one who left the family. Nola herself seems to be in such a state of disarray that she's not even really allowed to see Candace. For two seconds, Frank could come across as problematic, storming into the offices of Dr. Raglan. But that's quickly explained by the fact that Dr. Raglan is the worst. I don't know if Cronenberg is really open to the notion that characters need to balanced by what I'm seeing in this film. Nola, for all of her maternal worrying, never really comes across as warm or even remotely healthy as a parent. When that reveal happens, exposing that Nola is behind everything, it isn't so much a shock as much as it is a natural progression of her character. Heck, even Dr. Raglan is given some redemption because he's male. But Nola, really the only adult female in this story, is only demonized worse and worse.
But I can tell you what? Like Don't Look Now, the notion of children coming to kill you is upsetting as can be. I actually feel really bad for the children in the making of this movie. Sure, I'm sure there was a certain amount of protecting children on the set and even the stunts that the kids were able to see were probably pretty tame. But this movie is messed up. Kids murdering adults is a really effective scare. Heck, it's way more effective than carving open the pregnancy sack at the end. And Cronenberg's use of variation of color on the outfits is perfect. God, it works so well that it makes me mad that we got all that gore at the end. I know, I need to move on. A part of me understands that there needs to be something visually shocking to pair with the notion that Nola is off-the-reservation. I just don't really like that kind of stuff in my horror movies. I like some gross-out stuff, but Cronenberg always goes too far for me.
Not rated, but there is some nudity coupled with sexuality and violence. It's more about the themes surrounding racism, which is really going to probably make it more awkward for younger audiences. Not in the sense that they shouldn't explore these themes, but just that it is so incredibly depressing getting to some of these ideas.
DIRECTOR: Melvin Van Peebles
Do you know how much I want to get this done today, but I probably won't be able to? Shh, I might be able to slip away and finish it at some point today. Pray that I am able to write faster than humanly possible because I have so many thoughts that just need to happen. I don't like the fact that I'm not knocking out movies as quickly as I used to. Am I watching less? I don't know. Maybe it is just that I'm reading more, but it still doesn't change the fact that I want to have a movie blog everyday.
I bought the Melvin Van Peebles box set. The second that something intimidates me, that means I should get into it. I'm really more setting up for Sweet Sweetback with the purchase, but I'm always going to watch the movies in recommended order. With that, I have to enter a category of movie that always kind of leaves me cold: The American New Wave. This is the American New Wave, right? It has all of the aesthetic elements of the New Wave. There's something very garage band about the way that this movie was made. It feels like it is made on a shoestring budget with actors that probably haven't been professionally trained. Similarly, there are some editing issues that make the movie feel clunky at times. But it also has the best elements of any of the New Wave movements: it does things its own way. Honestly, for the first twenty minutes, I was gritting my teeth, powering through something that looked like it was going to be rough. But then, like many New Wave films, it grabbed me. With the case of Van Peebles, it was the idea that it was going to tell a traditional tale, but include just absolutely bananas representations of those ideas.
The first moment where traditional storytelling is skewed is the voice in the mirror. It's something we've seen before. In fact, it's been used so much that it has become shorthand for the inner monologue. I do love that Turner's inner monologue is more than a talking head though. Van Peebles plays with the angel and devil motif, instead casting both elements of Turner's personality as sympathetic masks that Turner is meant to don in society. Turner, naturally quite mellow, stays under the radar. The reflection, Turner-as-Black-Man, accuses this Turner of being an Uncle Tom. It's not that Turner is villainized through this piece for playing society's rules for being the well-behaved Black man. Considering much of the film treats Turner as "one of the good ones", the Reflection Turner does kind of have a point. But I like that Reflection Turner isn't a false Turner either. We see that Turner come out in the Spanish restaurant, when he's referred to as Senor Blackie. Perhaps it is my whiteness, but I get the vibe that Van Peebles is playing up the notion that bottled up culture is often misdirected when allowed free. I mean, Turner isn't exactly wrong to punch him. There was a shallowness to that term being used.
But also, a lot of the movie is about Turner as Black Man in a foreign land. The cultural expectations of Europe, specifically France, comes across as as racial paradise in comparison to the creeping tendrils that the United States has in this film. Turner and Miriam really do seem to love each other. Don't get me wrong, I'm not talking from a 21st Century perspective here. Both Van Peebles and I came to the same conclusion about this muddied utopia of racial acceptance: it isn't quite what it seems. The movie ends with Miriam not being allowed to talk to Turner on the phone when he is finally able to speak. It's a little unclear whether or not Miriam chooses not to speak to Turner or she has moved onto another person in her life. But the back-and-forth that these two characters have seems legit. If I'm being critical, which I suppose I tend to be, the chemistry wasn't exactly there, but that's because of lack of busy work that goes into relationship. Every time these characters were told to laugh, very rarely was there something that would cause two people to laugh. The actors did what they could with this moment.
But Van Peebles really does tell us that they are in love. There's nothing seemingly sinister about Miriam's choice to sleep with a Black man. It doesn't change the fact that her deep-rooted sexual proclivities jump to the notion of the savage. Her id wants the naughtiness of going against society. But I do get the vibe that Miriam is more driven by her superego. She is capable of understanding the drive that her id has and add to the notion that Turner is a really friendly guy who simply happens to be Black, which romantically does it for her. It is through Miriam's superego that we see France through her eyes. She shows him an idealized world, where she can get a hotel with a Black man without scrutiny. Sure, that reality has hints of microaggression coming through. But in contrast to the racially driven America, personified by Turner's CO, it is understandable that he too wants to live the dream of a post-racial France. Miriam covers up the stigmas that may still peek through a relationship. Perhaps that is why it is so tragic that it seems like Turner and Miriam will never find their joy together.
And that's where the Reflection Turner acts as prophet. Mirror Turner knows what we're all thinking. This world is a terrible place and even the most well-intentioned White people are still White people. There's the pressure of expectations. When the guest from the AME church breaks Turner's personal code of staying under the radar, he knows that there are going to be consequences to her decision to butt into military affairs. But he chooses to embrace something that is abhorrent to him --confrontation --and runs for Miriam. It's this very telling moment that Turner will continue to make the same White person sin that got him into so much trouble in the first place. He will always pursue Miriam because she has transcended the White woman of a three-day pass. It confirms the "I love you" that we got near the end of the movie. He has changed because of his time with Miriam because old Turner would just do what he was told and keep his nose clean. But this Turner doesn't care what either his CO or mirror Turner thinks about what is appropriate.
And like many New Wave films, the movie tricked me into loving it. It is such a basic story. Here I was, thinking that this was going to be the Black spin on A Catcher in the Rye and I got something far more interesting. The world is a beautiful place, but that's often just a disguise for something far more sinister. If I can keep this enthusiasm for the rest of the box set, I should have a great purchase on my hands.
Meet Cute (2022)
TV-MA and almost entirely for language. Like, I'm borderline shocked. Most rom-coms, especially ones that have the TV-MA or R-rating, are mostly that way for sexuality. This movie is almost completely devoid of it. I say, "Almost" because the last minute of the movie address it through dialogue. So close! Also, there's some very specific murder that happens in this movie. It gets weirdly dark. But then the movie takes a real hard dark turn when it talks about suicide. Despite almost a complete lack of sexuality, this movie definitely deserves the TV-MA rating.
DIRECTOR: Alex Lehmann
It's a time-travel movie! Of course I'm going to have a lot to say about this movie! I want to get something personal about the movie out of the way first. How am I the only one who thinks that this movie is a brilliant premise and that everyone should watch it? I've tried to sell other people into watching this movie either with me or simultaneously. Nothing. My wife sat through it while looking at her phone, which isn't the most glowing review of a film. Yet, I'm leaving this movie thinking it is one of the best movies that I've watched this year. Yeah. I think this is a unique experience for me. Is Pete Davidson so unlikable by people that they can't watch a rom-com starring him? I think he's great. He makes me laugh a lot. So he dated Kim Kardashian! Big whoop! He's a guy with a genius sense of timing and the two have massive chemistry. That's what I need in a rom-com and I got it.
I want to nitpick first because it is all shallow stuff. I'm probably going to give this movie five stars on Letterboxd, so keep that in mind. I'm actually expecting for it to be reviewed poorly, based on the fact that it is teetering with a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. But I have to be honest, it wasn't perfect. First, the title? That is the most corporate title I've ever seen. Was there another title before this? Maybe something that had to do with time travel? If not, it follows the trend of rom-coms picking remarkably forgettable titles. Yeah, I know that Sheila is reliving their first encounter over-and-over again. But will I remember that title down the line? No. It's burying itself with a completely forgettable piece of nonsense like Something's Gotta Give or Happy Valentine's Day. Yeah, that's a criminally bad title. The last criticism (for now) is the fact that some of the jokes don't fit tonally with the movie. The movie, as I hope to discuss through this blog, has a dark indie twee tone to it. Often, the laughs come from the reactions that the two give to bizarre situations, contrasting the mundane reality to impossible scenarios. When the movie goes for an outright gag, such as Sheila becoming Uncle Charlie, it's kind of breaking the user agreement that the audience makes with the filmmakers.
I swear I'm going to go into what I liked about it soon, but I always feel the need to unpack the rules of time travel when it comes to time travel movies. For those who haven't read previous time travel movie blog entries by me, my general rule is that the filmmakers must disclose the rules of time travel and then work within the confines of those rules. The last thing that I told my wife before going to bed was my concerns for inconsistent time travel rules. If you want to know what it is like being married to me, this isn't the first time I've kissed my wife goodnight before pondering how time travel worked in certain movies. In the case of Meet Cute, it has to do with what is permanent. The big twist in the film, which I saw coming about thirty minutes before it happened, is that Gary was the cable guy the entire time. If you saw the movie, that moment would make a lick of sense. But it also established that Gary's time travel history left a permanent mark on Sheila. Okay, cool. That all scans with the fact that Time-Travel Sheila (who will be addressed as "Sheila" for the rest of the movie as opposed to Sheila-Prime, which is Sheila before time-travel) had to kill the Uncle-Charley-Sheila(okay, I'm going to need more monikers before this blog is over) to restore the timeline.
But that leaves me with the Sheila-Prime. One of my favorite gags, which got me really excited to see this movie, is that Sheila feels it necessary to kill Sheila-Prime in every leap (Note: I also just watched episode three of the new Quantum Leap show. When I start stealing jargon from other stories, just know that I'm easily influenced.) That's a great premise that creates a lot of problems. If Gary is able to be permanently part of Sheila's timeline through his time as the cable guy, wouldn't killing Sheila-Prime ultimately erase Sheila? Now, this took a while to come to grips with. After all, I really liked this time travel movie and I didn't want anything to be really wrong with it. But I came to the conclusion that the film can get away with it because the filmmakers never formally gave information on what to do in case of a paradox. My theory, which has no reason to be documented with the exception of filling in space and for the joy of writing, is that paradoxes will resolve themselves so the universe doesn't blow up. The universe, accounting for two Sheilas, probably prefers that one of them is dead so the timeline can't be altered beyond recognition. That's my best guess. If you are the other person who watched this movie, hit me up with your theories.
But what I like about Meet Cute is that it offers many of the same challenges that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind offered. The fusion of rom-com with sci-fi does some really interesting things. It tends to get a little bit more bleak. Instead of no consequences for actions, everything has a consequence, even in the face of a blank slate. Relationships are about real people, which is what rom-coms traditionally tend to ignore. While Sheila, --and, by proxy, Gary --are quirky in their own regards, their "quirks" are the effects of real trauma. I don't like the idea of relationships being perfect. Do I think that Sheila has some real issues that need to be resolved with a therapist? Absolutely. Do I think it might be dangerous to start a relationship with someone who is suicidal? Even more so. But these are people who are absolutely into each other. Gary, who really has the short end of the stick on this entire time travel experience, is someone who is this solid balance of empathy and vulnerability. He's also logical and cool in the face of real world mental illness.
Maybe that's why I'm such a fan of the movie. Yeah, there is some real thin ice in the movie and the characters are constantly walking all over it. The fact that the two take it slow is absolutely perfect for the sake of the relationship. I mean, from Gary's perspective, it isn't just taking it slow but is the bare minimum for being respectful. But the movie stresses companionship instead of sexual needs. Sheila, despite fearing the future of the couple, understands that she wants the infatuation period to continue on forever because she values connection with another human being. When we discover that she is suicidal, I kind of like that we don't find out what is the cause of those suicidal tendencies. What we're getting out of her character isn't a single moment. Rather, this is mental illness, defined. And similarly, the movie doesn't play with the notion that Gary is going to fix her. The relationship that they have isn't going to repair deep-seated mental illness. It acts as a support system for things that she will mostly likely battle her her entire life. Otherwise, it would just be placing Gary in a state of co-dependence that would act as a prison for him. No, the answer for the movie isn't "relationships will make things better". It's "tomorrow is always a chance for hope."
And with that, we don't know that Gary saw the future or didn't see the future. There's the implication that it was a strong bluff or simply that he was hopeful. But not knowing makes that moment all the moment more universal. If we saw the future with Sheila, the movie wouldn't really have anything to take from it. It would be that individual case. I actually love that Gary bluffs about the time machine acting as a potential roadmap. Does it mean that he doesn't believe that Sheila can make it? I don't get that vibe. He's cautiously optimistic about her chances and knows that she's strong enough to try. The whole nature of having an f-it attitude towards time travel, while potentially toxic, shows that she wants to succeed.
It's weird that I'm letting go of my morals for this movie. I know that Sheila is a truly awful person in this movie. The murder alone should be something I'm harping upon. The fact that there is something incredibly invasive about how she uses this time machine should bother me. But if I applaud vulnerability in a story, this movie absolutely is about being vulnerable. She does all of these things out of ignorance and desperation. There's that moment of repentance. Maybe she is incapable of realizing her many sins because she isn't watching her story in montage mode, like we are. But she does seem committed to change. That fixes a lot of things for me. It's not a Kylo Ren 180 like The Rise of Skywalker. Sheila is in a unique situation that no one's ever dealt with before. It should be taken into consideration when she's dealing with what is the equivalence of a philosophical hypothetical situation. Sure, she fails a lot of those things, but ultimately leans hard into the healthiest answer. Similar to Phil Connors's redemption in Groundhog Day, Sheila makes major growth in a very short time given few healthy options.
Do you realize how nervous I am to check the Letterboxd score for this? I hope it is better than I think it will be because I adored this film. Get ready to get dark and you'll be really happy.
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.