A Ghost Story (2017)
I think this one is "R" for "aRtsy". There's not much that really makes this movie "R". There's almost no dialogue in the movie and one of those words is the f-bomb. But for the most part, there's nothing in here that would make it R. A married couple sleeps together, but no nudity is shown. This is another "R" because PG-13 movies have no credibility.
DIRECTOR: David Lowery
I don't get all of it, and that's okay. It took me a while to come to this realization. Many movies I don't get I pretend to love. I tell my students that I wear glasses to make me look smart. I think that attitude stems out of that. On the other hand, I often hate movies because I don't get them at all. (Sorry, Last Year at Marienbad.) This is a movie that I kind of get, but also have huge questions about. I even decided to watch special features in hope that I would gain insight. Then my kids started screaming that they wanted dinner or something made up like that and I stopped watching special features. I'm what they call "a good dad." But I'm very okay now with not understanding every element of this movie. That might be maturity or the fact that the movie hit the right emotional resonance without having to be completely forthright.
I'd also like to say that I have now seen Rooney Mara eat the majority of a pie in real time. You probably can't say that unless you are married to Rooney Mara or are Rooney Mara's private baker. That's a thing. That ties into what might be my most questionable criticism of the movie. The movie loves the long take, regardless of what the subject matter is. This is extremely artsy. There were moments where I just stepped out of myself as an audience member and just focused on the filmmaking process. It was super Brechtian is what I'm saying. (The glasses might actually make me smarter. Who knows?) The composition of these shots, for the most part, are extremely beautiful. But the long takes are also extremely telling of the film's fundamental flaw. The movie is only an hour-and-a-half. Regularly doing long takes on the mundane might be a band-aid for the fact that this was meant to be a short film. There isn't too much content in this movie to even justify a summary. But now I'm going to argue with myself and say that the narrative might not be the center. Rather, a stress on the passage of time might be the greater purpose. These long cuts allow me, the viewer, to empathize with the ghost. The audience is subject to the shyuzet when the ghost is experiencing the fabula. (THESE GLASSES ARE MAGIC GLASSES!) Lowery's goal is for the viewer to understand that time is passing for the ghost. That's where the movie gets a little clunky. There were times where I was unaware if the ghost was experiencing accelerated time or whether he was being driven mad by the mundane existence he was experiencing. I think the movie wants us to believe that he experiences every moment and has very little control over these moments. That's actually the only way that the story works for me. The long cuts are boring, but they are pretty to look at is what I'm saying.
I really like the commentary on death that the movie provides. The movie is more about experiencing mortality (and, by contrast, immortality). It is interesting seeing it from the other side. Rooney Mara's character has very natural reactions to death, but it is also about moving on. I NEED TO GET SPOILERY BECAUSE THIS IS MORE OF AN ANALYTICAL ESSAY ANYWAY. The paper in the wall is interesting. This story, for everyone I suppose, is about moving on. Most stories about death and mortality involve the bereaved and the moving on process is slow. There is a happy ending or at least the implication of happiness. A character may meet someone new and criticize his or her feelings for this new person. That ends with a degree of acceptance. The note in the wall is such a moment of torture for Casey Affleck, the ghost. (Let's talk about that later.) There is this "a ha!" moment where Lowery reveals what it takes to proceed to the afterlife and it is about acceptance that someone is gone. But that paper is just so troubling. There is an odd implication about abandoning hope or forgetting the person. The ghost next door doesn't even remember who it is waiting for. But that is still not enough. The ghost needs to let go of hope and I'm not sure if I can get behind that. It just seems so cynical and dark. What is the point of that message? I get the moving on aspect. That I can get behind. But the ghosts have to completely abandon hope? Like I said, I don't get every element of the movie. Also, the message in the wall is left a mystery. For all I know, the movie is more about closure than it is about hope. But watching the ghost scratch at the wall depressed the living daylights out of me. It's so sad, guys. Like, so sad.
But the thing that most confused me was the time travel bit. For a while, I thought the time travel bit wasn't actually time travel backwards, but time travel forwards. That really messes with the way the movie is watched. I think this is all on me because I just might be too sci-fi-y and dumb to watch a movie that might be obvious. It is one of those "go with the flow" moments where I was just supposed to accept what I was watching and not overthink it. Big surprise, guys. I overthought it. Here's the way I viewed the movie. Casey Affleck jumps off a building. He wakes up and hundreds of years have passed. Again, this was when I thought that the ghost wasn't experiencing reality in real time. I just heard this big speech (again, the only real talking in the movie) about the death of the universe and I thought that the ghost had witnessed the end of civilization. The building, in my head, had collapsed, as had the city. People were returning to a simpler time. The ghost was going to experience all of recorded and non-recorded history. That was so cool to me. Then Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara showed up in their new-old house and I realized that he went back in time. That's very puzzling, thinking you are watching one movie and then you are watching an all new movie. My brain tried explaining it. Maybe the movie was trying to say that history is cyclical and that, eventually, a perfect double of you will fulfill the role you had in society. But then I realized that my brain was creating fan theories and that was dumb. But the time travel bit still confuses me. (I told you, I overthink things.) Why did he go back in time? I am not supposed to be asking this question, but I think it might be vital to the whole cinematic experience. I emotionally connected to a story that really wasn't there because my brain was stuck with the wrong narrative. Once my schemata were changed, I realized I was watching the movie wrong for a large portion of the film. SHOULD I EVEN BE REVIEWING THIS WITH THIS KNOWLEDGE? Anyway, I'd just like to point out that I'm an idiot who uses big words and wears glasses.
I can't believe that it was Casey Affleck under the sheet the entire time. Rooney Mara has the bigger acting job, despite the fact that Casey Affleck is on screen for the majority of the movie. One of the elements that drives the viewer out of the movie, like I mentioned, is the need to know how the movie was filmed. By putting Casey Affleck front and center, as a fairly recognizable celebrity, the question of "who is under the sheet" is wildly distracting. According to the special features, it was him. So David Lowery (who I understand is friends with Casey Affleck) had to pay Affleck to be in a movie to just stand there and walk slowly in and out of rooms. I know that Affleck is kind of artsy fartsy himself and loves subversive film. I know that this is up his alley, so he may have only taken a modest paycheck. But that Brechtian thing is showing up. There are times in the movie where I cannot engage completely because of the makeup of the film. Wondering if Casey Affleck was behind the sheet the entire time is distracting as all get out. I get why it was done. Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara give the film emotional gravitas and a sense of validity to what could be, and I don't mean to be diminutive, a student film. It actually is kind of impressive to think that Affleck is standing under a sheet. I guess that means that he believes in the concept. Because the concept itself is weird. There's a fine line between the costume being silly and the costume being effective. I think the movie and the costume really work, for the most part. There were a couple moments when the costume can be seen as silly, but it didn't evoke that emotion for most of the movie. The movie in no way is a horror movie, but there were times that the sheet gave me the creeps. I'm talking about the scene when he first gets up from the hospital table. I had emotional response and I'm cool with that. It wasn't terrifying, by any means. But it was effective. The costume works for the aesthetics and that's what I care about. Also, apparently there was a helmet under there. First Spider-Man's mask and then this? What can I believe anymore.
It's super slow and I can't argue that it isn't boring. But I really liked it. I might even watch it again I liked it so much. It is just the feeling of an emotion in an hour and a half. It is profound, but it is not the most profound. And again, be cool with not necessarily getting all of it. I'm confident enough to say that I don't get all of it and am writing about the movie with a degree of confidence that no individual should have. Again, this may all be more telling about me than anything else.
Run Silent Run Deep (1958)
Approved! I mean, who wouldn't approve of this? Sure, there's some old timey sexual harassment of a photograph and I'm sure that some of the terms for the Japanese aren't exactly up to code, but mostly the movie is pretty innocent. It's a WWII movie made by people who lived through WWII. Keep all of this in mind.
DIRECTOR: Robert Wise
I thought I saw this one before! Outside of Das Boot, most submarine movies tend to blend together. Okay, The Hunt for the Red October I haven't seen, but old timey submarine movies blend together. I mean, look at the title. Run Silent Run Deep. There's very little in the movie that makes this title necessary. This movie could have been named anything submarine-y and worked out just fine. But the point of this rambling is to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find a brand new movie that was super interesting. When people don't like war movies, I kind of get it. I like war movies overall, but it isn't my favorite genre. It feels like the same ground can only be tread so many times. On top of that, especially in a case like Run Silent Run Deep, it was written by a military man. My respect for soldiers and officers, but they tend to get very technical and obsessed with accuracy versus paying attention to narrative conventions. I'm sorry that I went in to this movie with such skepticism because this movie is pretty great.
I'd like to say that Robert Wise surprises me. I always used to associate him with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While I kind of like Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I also fully acknowledge that it is a direct knockoff of 2001: A Space Odyssey, only while being a hot mess. It feels like a direct-to-DVD copy of 2001, but I like it. Then I found out that he directed The Day the Earth Stood Still and I was back on board. That movie rules so hard and I think I have to give him much of the credit for why Run Silent Run Deep works so well. This movie could easily be boring as sin, but it isn't. When dealing with submarine movies, and this even applies to the sacred Das Boot, the movie tends to drag. There is one location that is swapped with an exterior shot. With older movies, like Run Silent Run Deep, those exterior shots are clearly mostly models and slightly corny special effects. It is the role of the director to keep the movie tightly paced and interesting, despite the fact that movie tricks really won't work. There's no scenario where the characters can just waltz into a discotheque and get into a fist fight while techno music blares. (This was a common practice in the '50s.) (That was a joke. I don't want this to affect Villa Madonna Academy's reputation because someone didn't get the joke.) But the story is mostly about the butting of two heads. The best stories are about two large personalities having to deal with an external conflict in very different ways. That's what drives the story. As the host of Turner Classic Movies Ben Mankiewicz stated, this is just Moby Dick with submarines. But there is a reason that Moby Dick works (and I will fight anyone who says it is due to the painful attention the book pays to whale anatomy). That drama drives a story that could otherwise be quite dull. Had there been a weak character drive, the revenge plot seems strategic. Rather, having obsession personified by Richardson and logic and jealousy personified by Bledsoe creates an interesting dynamic.
I should watch all of my movies with Ben Mankiewicz (both literally and...spiritually?). There's so much awesome information about the casting of this movie. Richardson was portrayed by an aging Clark Gable. I've never been a fan or not a fan of Gable. He does fine in Gone with the Wind. I adore him in It Happened One Night. But he apparently was kind of a punk while filming this movie. The problem with that, besides the fact that we should always encourage consummate professionalism on set, is that Burt Lancaster was producing and starring in this movie too. Lancaster wanted to make an amazing film where he wasn't the first lead, but the supporting lead. He had to kowtow to this Hollywood legend who wanted to quit everyday at 5:00. I normally don't ascribe great performances to people who hate each other, but I genuinely got the vibe that they hated each other. Again, Mankiewicz planted this in my head, so I don't know how much I was influenced. But their performances are awesome. Clark Gable always played it cool in the other movies I've seen him in, so watching him play super intense was great. It's odd that he's the one who personifies obsession because Lancaster is the one who always seemed a second away from punching someone. But Lancaster is great. He has the great relationship with the rest of the crew, including a young Don Rickles. He's sympathetic, but also kind of a jerk. That's always an interesting character trait for the audience. He's in the right the entire time, but I still didn't want to see him succeed. It's probably because I'm a bad person.
The message of the story is odd. Richardson's obsession is clearly the tragic flaw of the film. SPOILERS: Yes, he falls victim to his tragic flaw. But what is odd that he gets what he wants. There's kind of a backseat message of obsession being the most valuable thing. I know that Ahab also gets to the whale, but there's something pathetic about the whole thing. When Bledsoe bends to Richardson's will, there's something weirdly inspiring about the whole thing. Shouldn't I be saying, "This isn't you?" I did care. Perhaps the fact that the movie is about WWII, I do get this weird patriotism that I wouldn't have gotten with the white whale. The narrative and conventions demands that the Americans defeat the Japanese. It wouldn't be until decades later where the concepts of war being tragic would show up in film as palpably as would be needed to show the Americans being fine with retreat. But that also screws up the theme just a bit. That's probably why Richardson had to die. Yeah, there's the idea that his life's purpose is now behind him and I suppose that is come-uppance for many of his obsessive shanannigans, but it doesn't seem like enough to make him out to look troubled. Rather, the movie has a "he was right" attitude. Bledsoe makes the change to take advantage of the situation after being called a coward, but I don't know if he has fundamentally changed his outlook on the entire concept of being a leader.
For an old timey war movie, this movie is pretty boss. I can't believe I got excited for a submarine movie, but it really does work. It has to be because of the great performances and drives of the lead characters and the way it was shot because you can color me impressed. If you are at all a war buff, please watch this movie. This is how classic war is done right.
Justice League (2017)
PG-13, but somehow I feel like this rating gives the movie a degree of validity. I weirdly want it to be R. I already take that back. I don't want people to confuse this movie with a good movie. Honestly, I wish this was a fan film that didn't get rated by the MPAA. Then I can give this movie validity. You know, like "Dirty Laundry", that unofficial Punisher fan film. Regardless, I can't undo an MPAA rating and it's not like that should determine a film's worth.
DIRECTORS: Zack Snyder and Joss Whedon (although only Snyder gets credit)
This movie, guys. Guys. This. Movie. First I watched The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren and then I drag my wife to see this crapstorm? The worst thing is that this movie isn't going to change things for the way I want them. I don't wish for movies to be bad. (Okay, the worst part of me actually wishes for that, but I try to temper that.) But I can't live with a 48% approval rating or whatever mediocre thing it is getting on Rotten Tomatoes. I need it to be either amazing or 2% approval rating. With the reviews it is getting, which is a hardcore "Meh", they're going to continue trying to make this universe work. They already have Aquaman filmed or mostly filmed and I know that Flashpoint and Batgirl are in some degree of production. This universe won't die and it (and I can't believe I'm advocating this) desperately desperately needs to.
Since I know that I'm going to be crapping on this movie fairly hard, I had better start with the thing I actually liked in this movie. Henry Cavill kind of seemed like Superman in this movie. Oh right, the WORST KEPT SPOILER EVER, but Henry Cavill is in Justice League as Superman. The thing I loved is that he actually smiled. He seemed like he gave a crap about other people and that there is a prayer for joy within the DCEU. This had to be an active choice. The last fifteen minutes seemed like it was a big push to say that the movies going forward might actually be somewhat joyful. That has always been my big gripe. I'm thinking of writing an article about how I would never want to live inside the DCEU. That place seems like a literal hell. Not THE literal hell, but like, a possible hell. Everything is gloomy and crap in that universe and watching Superman actually hint that the world might be a better place than we've been led to believe gives me hope for future movies. The only problem is that I won't see that happy world probably within Aquaman or Flashpoint. Harumph.
Okay, now into the gripe session to destroy all grump sessions. I've been preaching that the worst movie that I've seen in the last decade is Man of Steel. I tell people that if they like that movie, they should continue liking that movie. I never want to begrudge anyone the thing they like. Nerds, be proud of your fandom! I will continue defending your right to like Man of Steel for as long as I can. I just have to tell you that it may have put the biggest dent into my love of Superman than any other film has. Justice League isn't as bad as Man of Steel, but it definitely takes second place. Look at that list in your mind and see how telling that is. I honestly kind of liked Suicide Squad better than Justice League and Suicide Squad is kind of a hot mess. The big thing that honestly crushes me about this movie is how bad the movie looks. Zack Snyder, and this is me being very generous to the man, knows how to make a pretty looking movie. I may say that it looks ridiculous and like Michael Bay is his secret director crush, but it always is well shot and the CG, as goofy as it is, looks pretty solid. This movie looks like hot garbage. Steppenwolf looks like a video game character. I'm normally not all hung up on special effects, but there was no moment where I felt like this was even close to a real character. Cyborg had the same deal. I don't know what kind of Rob Liefeld proportions they gave that character, but I just wanted to cry at how bad he looked. I know that a lot of people had beef with the character when the trailer came out, but I thought it couldn't be that bad in the film. It was way worse in the film. The upper body with the size zero waist was hilariously goofy. The worst part is that the actor who played Cyborg, Ray Fisher, seemed to have moderately okay acting chops. But I couldn't take him seriously. No part of him looked real. This is the culmination of DCEU's efforts and it looked terrible. Then there was the backgrounds? I thought we were past making actors look bad against a green screen. The worst CG background I ever saw was the wedding on Castle, but that at least was a TV show on ABC that was not know for the CG work. Who got this contract? I sat through the closing credits because DC borrowed Marvel's traditional post-credit tease and just thought, "All these names for that result?" Golly. It was bad looking. Oh, the CG mustache removal looks like a Snapchat filter. Yup. Opening shot of the film, Superman has an itty bitty little mouth. Remember when Ant-Man had a young Michael Douglas? They couldn't get Superman's lip to look right. That's how far we missed the mark.
I know that these movies are all tonally wrong from their source materials for the most part. (I'm going to make some enemies on my Catholic boards. People who love the DCEU seem to get reallllll defensive about the tone of these movies.) But I think that's because they get one thing wrong about the characters that lead to their superhero personas to fail. I think the casting and character choices behind the secret identities are all wrong. I don't think I really like the casting of anyone in the DCEU with the exception of Wonder Woman. (Everything I say about the DCEU does not apply to Wonder Woman. That casting and execution is perfection itself and her scenes are, by far, the most watchable. ) I think the big one (and a lot of people disagree with me) is the casting of Ezra Miller as Barry Allen. I have said for a while that the DCEU needs a sense of levity, but Ezra Miller's delivery of these jokes were so bad. Like, I cringed at a lot of them. I wanted to like him beneath that goofy outfit. The Flash is a cool character and I wanted to see an awesome big screen adaptation of The Flash. But golly, I couldn't handle him. My wife just tried curling into me every time he attempted to take a joke. People called him charming and I honestly don't get it. It made not a lick of sense with his delivery choices. His backstory may have also been the most telling. I'm not talking about the last fifteen minutes, which I already established have given me hope with the franchise moving on. Barry is supposed to be smart. He's clean cut and in charge of his life. Ezra Miller's Barry is a hot mess and seems like he has some degree of Asperger's. I'm not trying to be flippant or degrading of people who have that condition. I don't even mind a superhero with that diagnosis. But that's all that his character really offers. If anything, I think it is played up for laughs. This choice didn't make sense for me. He was a lab scientist who got dosed with his own chemicals and struck by lightning. Did any of that carry over for him in this movie? This kind of seems like making Bruce Banner a Rick Jones knockoff. The fundamental character stuff wasn't there. Also, man, it looks like Ben Affleck just hates being on set. He's saying all these character lines that should make any fanboy weep with joy and he just grunts them into submission. The bulky suit really makes me cringe and something about him just looks stupid as Batman. I really like Affleck (although I don't know what I'll be saying about him after he is investigated) and I want him to be a great Batman, but he kind of sucks at it. I don't get it. The elements are there. It just seems like the execution of these elements is just the worst. Amy Adams is Lois Lane! I love Amy Adams! She sucks as Lois Lane! How? When Margot Kidder can knock it out of the park but Amy Adams adds nothing to the part? Erica Durance, also crushed it. Amy Adams...does nothing for me. She is the most weak character I've seen in these films. I guess Aquaman was okay, but he wasn't really Aquaman. I liked frat-guy Khal Drogo, but I've never seen anything near that portrayal of Arthur Curry.
Now, this brings up an interesting point that I guess should be analyzed. When Robert Downey, Jr. first played Tony Stark in the first Iron Man film, he made him way more snarky than is comic book counterpart. If anything, RDJ has changed the comic book for the better. Iron Man was a B or C level character. Yeah, he was an Avenger, but who cared. It was Captain America and company for all it mattered back then. Giving Tony Stark a personality was the best thing that could have ever been done for that character. But Jason Momoa, whom again...I like him, just took it to a weird level. The personality wasn't really added onto the original narrative, but rather supplanted by this bro who liked to punch and drink. If that isn't 21st century Khal Drogo with jokes, I don't know what it is. I don't think that acting choices should be slaves to the book. I really like RDJ and pretty much every acting choice in the MCU. Those characters took hard lefts from their book counterparts while maintaining the important threads. But the only thing that made the Justice League the Justice League was their names and powers. That was it. (Again, Gal Godot, you can relax. You nailed it.) But I never really felt like I was watching the Flash fight Superman or talk with Batman. I felt like I was watching fan films against a CG backdrop. I've been waiting for Justice League to be done right. I got really deep into a hole for George Miller's portrayal of Justice League, and I knew that casting was garbage. This was just bad. Bad bad bad bad bad. Did anyone really want to be in this movie? Maybe Henry Cavill. That guy is in in for a paycheck and nothing else. I read an article on io9 that Henry Cavill was really excited to play the Superman from the comics. I guess I kind of saw that. I read another article once that Henry Cavill cares nothing for the exercise of acting and just loves money. It was weird. I kind of feel like he wanted to redeem his character more than anyone else on set. Ezra Miller is just weird, so I don't know his intentions, but Cavill seemed to really try and give a crap in this one.
I was so bummed by how bad this movie was. Again, I liked the last fifteen minutes of it, but that was two hours of just CG trash. I guess I'm happy that Danny Elfman scored it with the classic themes attached, but it didn't really seem to match the visuals I was watching. Regardless, I'll probably end up seeing them as long as they keep making them. I guess that I'm part of the problem.
The Punisher (1989)
Hi, IMDB. This is just a formality. I know that this movie never got a formal theatrical release in the States, but we all know that this movie is R. You still need to post that. Perhaps this is awfully America-centric for me to post this considering that the MPAA is exclusively American. You know what, IMDB? I take it back. Way to respect the censorship needs of the entire planet. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
DIRECTOR: Mark Goldblatt
Oh my goodness! I seriously thought I was going to see the Cannon Films opening for this one. It's Thanksgiving. I have far too many papers to grade and I know that there is no priority in writing this. But this room is quiet. This room is peaceful. The Punisher Netflix show is out and I wanted to discuss the original portrayal of the Punisher before it got too far away from me. (In the back of my mind, I want to watch every Marvel property movie for a Literally Anything episode, despite the fact that would take an eternity. I know. I already skipped Howard the Duck.) My kids are having a blast with my aunt, so I decided to write for a bit. But then again, I'm going to be reviewing the 1989 Punisher film, so let's keep everything in perspective.
This movie gets giggled at a lot. I can kind of see why. It is an absolutely ridiculous movie. It never saw a theatrical release in the States, and it got a limited run in West Germany, I think. After all, that's what Germany needed at the time when it was thinking about Americans. My buddy Dan loves schlock like this. When I first picked this up in a Walmart $5.00 bin about a decade ago, I tried to get Dan to watch it. He fell asleep very early on. Even he couldn't get into it. It is a bad movie. It's absolutely ridiculous, but it actually has a weird accolade in my mind. I might deem this movie (possibly!) the most tonally accurate comic adaptation of all time. That might be telling about the problems with the Punisher as a character, but the one thing that Goldblatt got really right is how silly Punisher comics were in the '80s. They were self-spoofing bleak nightmares. Yeah, I don't remember Frank Castle constantly doing naked yoga in the sewers, but I also don't NOT remember Frank Castle doing naked yoga in the sewers. Part of everything that is going on screen is the memory of the subgenre of action movie that doesn't really exist anymore. There are still plenty of ridiculous action movies, but this is the era when pyrotechnic guys would hold sway over silly things like narrative or character development. Rather, these movies were about the stereotypical alpha male. Men liked guns and bombs and ninjas and crap like that. (Insert Tim Taylor grunt here.) This is what Cannon lived for and the Punisher might have been custom made for a film like this. Looking at those old comic books, there are stupidly thin characters and murder enough to go around. That's what this movie is and nothing really else. Yeah, he's not wearing the Punisher skull on his shirt. But there are times where Frank just murders out of costume. Remember, this is also the era where the Punisher actually wore a costume. Dolph Lundgren wouldn't be actually wearing a Punisher tee shirt. Oh no! It would have to have been this spandex nightmare where the teeth on the skull turned into Frank's gunbelt. Oh, and white boots and gloves. Maybe the choice to give him all black tee shirts and jeans was not the worst idea. The worst idea, however, was whoever decided a five o'clock shadow was just dirty makeup. Also, giving him fake bags under his eyes to show how little he sleeps. C'mon, makeup team. You guys get the f-minus for the movie. Every time there was a closeup of Frank, I just started giggling. It didn't help that Lundgren looked cross-eyed at times.
It's really hard to critique this movie from a point of view of real criticism. Interesting fun fact: Dolph Lundgren is apparently a genius. The guy is scary smart. He is way smarter than I'll ever be. Do you understand how hard it is to watch a movie knowing that he is way smarter than every aspect of this movie and that he has made a career out of slumming on screen. He's aware of how dumb the things he is doing are, but that doesn't stop him for an instant. Nope, he doubles down on the dumb! How weird is that? His performance in this movie is awful. I mean, it is really bad. I think that Lundgren knows the production value on his films. I'm not saying he's an award winning actor in Rocky III, but he doesn't seem to be so dead inside. Perhaps it was an acting choice. Frank Castle is meant to be emotionally dead inside. Perhaps Lundgren decided to just go with that. Perhaps he thinks that his choices are genius (he's the genius, guys!) and that people can get that old Frank is dead. He has, after all, been replaced by the Punisher. But there is nothing to attach to with this character. It also kind of sucks that Frank is not particularly talented at being the Punisher. The opening scene shows how Batman-like Frank is. And for that scene, it is kind of believable. Then Frank walks out in front of a bunch of reporters and no one really sees that it is him. This is where the suspension of disbelief goes into overdrive. The movie really depends on the idea that you aren't supposed to be critical of it. Frank survives stuff just because. He blows up the house so hard and yet...no injury. The only reason that Frank is a one-man war on crime is that no one can hit him, even given the best opportunities. People complain about stormtroopers and those moments are funny. But there's a reasonable sense of understanding that people miss sometimes. There is one time in The Punisher where Frank has been setup. He has fallen into a trap. Everyone is shooting at him and he doesn't move. He just starts single shotting everyone one-by-one. That's it. He eventually starts running. But the odds that everyone missed that hard using machine guns? C'mon. The other big name attached to his movie is Lou Gossett, Jr. I don't even know why Lou Gossett, Jr. is in this movie. (Okay, it was a paycheck in the '80s. Sorry, Mr. Gossett, Jr.) His character is necessary to the plot, but that story is pawned off for the most part on his new amateur partner. I don't want to resort to libel because this is all speculation, but what if Lou Gossett was just sick of this kind of crap. Like, I imagine a drunk Lou Gossett, Jr. not showing up for set and so they created this second character to pick up a lot of those beats that he didn't do. Again, this is all speculation, but those two characters only make sense with the knowledge that there were narrative weak points that needed covering. Really, the best casting in this movie was Jeroen Krabbe (I don't have to put the accents in because the movie didn't. I'm also contributing to the wiping away of a culture.) I love Krabbe. He always plays the same evil sleezeball in everything from the '80s and '90s. He's just so good at it. I had to take a little trip down his IMDB page. He had a couple of movies in 2016. I don't think he's working in the US right now, but thank you for your contribution. You made this movie worth watching. Ever since The Living Daylights, you have not disappointed. (I think.) The worst character, however, had to be the most '80s comic book character. He's dead on. He just doesn't hold up. I'm talking about the alcoholic actor played by Barry Otto. Mr. Otto, you have nothing to be ashamed of. You did your best. That character was just insane though. Ladies and gentlemen, because the character is an out of work actor, he rhymes almost all of his dialogue. ::pinches sinuses:: I know that there were not a ton of strong, well-developed characters, but c'mon. The worst part is that I'm sure that the screenwriter was probably thrilled that he made that character.
Oh geez. I just remembered that Stan Lee was the consulting producer on this movie. What if he came up with that character? He probably had nothing to do with this movie.
I WANT TO SPOIL THE ENDING: I can't handle the ending. There was this scene where Frank had a choice to stop Gianni Franco. It was going to be that moment where Frank realizes that he didn't have to kill everyone. He has Franco in front of his kid and they fight over the gun. In the tussle, Frank murders Franco. But again, this is in front of his kid. That moment is handled badly. I really wanted to have Frank make the choice to try to save the guy and send him to prison. In that moment, Frank becomes the bad guy. I know, there were circumstances. But he has this long speech with the kid saying that he had the right to kill him. How much more did that screw up that kid? This might be more telling about Frank's character in this movie. While vengeance is the primary driving force in the movie, the Punisher has still been about protecting the innocent. This movie doesn't do that. I don't know if the filmmakers wanted to have the cathartic moment of seeing the good guy (kinda) kill the bad guy, but I think it was a really bad choice.
The movie isn't good. The movie is the most '80s thing that ever happened. But I don't absolutely hate it. Frank fights ninjas and that's pretty cool. It's violent and if that's what you are looking for, then this movie has it in spades. Also, it took the very heavy implications of the comic and made it full on R rated.
Okay, we think it is R-rated. IMDB let me down.
Literally Anything: Episode Sixteen -Literally The Punisher, Justice League, and Pokemon
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! In this extra long episode, the boys talk about Netflix's The Punisher, the abysmal turnout for Justice League, and Mr. Henson's obsession with dogfighting simulator, Pokemon.
Visit literallyanything.net or click the image above! Happy Thanksgiving!
THX 1138 (1971 / 2004)
R. When a movie is about the repression of sexuality, it is inherently a film about sexuality. Considering that the content of the movie is what it is, it is kind of tame. But it does have nudity and it is occasionally pretty graphic. Regardless, unlike Logan's Run, it is R.
DIRECTOR: George Lucas
I swear, I'm not a close follower of George Lucas! I don't have a weird obsession with him. Just because I've seen every one of his narrative movies now. I'm not going to watch his documentary stuff. I thought I'd still have to watch Howard the Duck to fulfill my Marvel list, but he didn't direct it. Yay, I guess. I saw this was on TCM and I decided to finally watch it. This has to be my last actual critique of George Lucas, right? (I foresee a time when I'm going to start reviewing the Indiana Jones franchise and I'm going to have to open this Pandora's Box all over again. (I also apparently don't know how Pandora's Box works...)
The man can't help himself! I can't even review this accurately. I've never seen the theatrical cut or even the thing that was considered a theatrical cut. I watched this movie, thinking that the special effects were insane, especially for a first picture. I then got the sneaking suspicion that the special effects were made recently and, sure enough, the credits afterwards had a "2004" edit. I Wikipedia'd this garbage and found out that he added crap. I have no understanding of what the actual film looked like. That's not fair. I want to know what to judge and what to admire. George Lucas was not the same man in 1971 as he was in 2004. He had a very different attitude about what was important and it is impossible to separate the two. It's a very bad trick. This transitions into what was originally going to be my point about this movie. I can see why someone like Francis Ford Coppola thought that Star Wars ruined Lucas. In an Entertainment Weekly article, Coppola called Lucas's attachment to Star Wars a pity and I totally get it. THX 1138 is a gutsy movie. It's an angry film, if not a little immature. But the movie is as challenging as it comes. It is avant garde and hard to watch for a reason. I don't think I've ever seen a movie that was so hungry and so artistically motivated as THX 1138. It is so funny that this was the same guy who made Star Wars because there are these small elements that would carry over into the Star Wars films (like focusing on the mundane chatter despite the scope of the setting), but it seems like a totally different guy made these movies. Imagine being friends with Lucas and he was presenting this social criticism that was borderline unwatchable, despite showing so much talent. Then the guy would just spend the rest of his life making Star Wars? I hate to say it, but Coppola is kind of right. Star Wars might have been the worst thing that happened to Lucas. I'm not saying that I want a million THX 1138s out there. But I want to see a filmmaker who doesn't stick to convention as closely as he would later on. I love the tone, if not the message of THX 1138.
I was commenting on the role of science fiction as commentary on society. While Lucas is painting with broad strokes here, I do appreciate that he has real messages in his movie. (Often, I wildly disagree with the politics that Lucas is commenting on, but I do like the execution of those messages.) In the film, he takes great pains to focus on the role of religion, capitalism, technology, and race. There are moments where it feels a bit preachy, but I think that Lucas often falls on the safe side of preachiness. But the style of the film is what makes the message so interesting. Rather than making the center of the plot the primary theme, the message is conveyed in small moments. The protagonist prays to a blown up image of Christ, who responds only through prerecorded tape. At one point, Donald Pleasance (worth seeing for him) actually find the recording studio where the footage for Christ is shot, but is unable to distinguish the reality of what was happening from his devotion exposed. It's really an interesting idea. The same thing happens with the primary narrative. It's amazing how this was a double feature with Logan's Run on TCM because the story is very similar with different levels of intensity. While THX is being chased throughout this world, the background is giving a budget for how much this is costing. SPOILER, I GUESS: The only reason that THX gets away is because the chase went overbudget. It's kind of like the end of Blazing Saddles (DOUBLE SPOILER!). But I like how the concept isn't hammered into the audience. It is the background. But this brings up yet another interesting thing about how this was filmed. The style of the film as a whole screams "preachiness." George Lucas is an amazing worldbuilder, but I can't even pretend to think that the setting of this world would be conducing to a traditional narrative. I knew that everything that I was going to watch was going to somehow trying to teach me something about Lucas's politics. Somehow, the message of this paragraph is that Lucas is simultaneously subtle about his politics and completely in your face about his politics at the same time. It's like that commercial from the '80s. Was it Pepsi? Was it Federal Express? Regardless, we were obsessed with Orwellian dystopias.
I really like the cast in this movie. For those not in the know, the film version of TXH 1138 is a longer adaptation from his award winning student film. It feels very much like a student film because it is an angry and spitting movie. But I am more confused on how they got Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasance to be in this movie. Both of them chew the scenery so hard, but I don't even know how they approached acting in this movie. Nothing is linear or makes a ton of sense. Every single line is drenched in technobabble, yet the leads really manage to pull off every line, as far as I could tell. There were so many moments where I didn't get what was going on and I don't think I was meant to get what was going on, but they actors never really lost their sense of truth in the moment of those scenes. I have to especially credit Duvall. Admittedly, he had a lot of moments where he was meant to simply intensely stare forward, but he never really wrote off these scenes. He has this drive in the movie that makes me feel like I am on his team, but I'm not really sure why. Duvall has always been an actor like that. I love me some Donald Pleasance (because he is, indeed, Donald Pleasant), but his career choice is more dubious than Duvall's. Duvall's hit / miss ratio is pretty good. Pleasance has signed on in the past to do some real bombs, so I can see him taking a risk like THX 1138. But how did Lucas get Duvall? He's crushing this movie, but why? I don't even know how he did it.
I had really low expectations of this one. The film nerds I hung out with in the Thomas Video days even slagged this one. But the movie has a few chops behind it. I won't ever love it and I'm really peeved that I can't watch the original of the movie. (I wouldn't shy of being handed an original cut of the movie and given a request to review it. I'm a real pushover.) But I want to see a world where George Lucas didn't become Mr. Star Wars. He might have been forgotten and Star Wars would never exist, but he is such a different dude now. Ah well, I'm glad I watched it.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Ooh, a classic R. It has an oaky flavor and taste of occasional brief nudity with a pretty overt sexual content. There is some fighting and some piano playing. Admittedly, piano playing shouldn't affect an MPAA rating, but it is some pretty aggressive piano playing.
DIRECTOR: Bob Rafelson
Look! I do watch classy movies that bring me some credibility. I also watched this one because I wanted to watch this one, so nyah! I got the BBS Criterion box a million years ago and I got it because I was excited to see Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens. It was one of those movies that I had always meant to watch. I mean, look at it! It just fits perfectly into what I snobbily like and unabashedly like. I don't know if those words are necessarily antonyms, but I've come too far now. If you've read and argued over my love for the other BBS movies, the one thing I never really dug was the lack of narrative. Five Easy Pieces is the first in the set to have an actual full on story. (I still argue that Easy Rider is more of a character exploration than an actual narrative, but I can be swayed on that pretty easily.) I'm not saying that there's much of a story. If anything, these are vignettes stitched together focusing on the same character, Bob played by Jack Nicholson. But I'm not sure if this met the expectations I had for this movie.
I will say that I liked it. My buddy Dan is really aware that I like too much stuff. I'm going to take his argument and go one step further. If something is revered as a classic, I tend to give it way more than the benefit of the doubt. When I was in college, I poo pooed a lot of classics. It was only later that I realized that I really didn't understand them at a first glance and learned to love them later. Now that I have that belief up front, I really look for what people find valuable in these movies. This sounds like I'm ignoring my actual taste and that might be the case, but I find these movies and books far more enriching analyzing what really makes them work. Five Easy Pieces works on a lot of levels. It takes the best parts of Easy Rider and focuses that attention in a fairly well developed character. There are these moments that are just absolutely perfect. The image I always have is the one that is on the Criterion cover. (Oooh, how fancy!) It's Bob sitting on a piano in the back of a truck stuck in the middle of traffic. It's a cool image and I'd like to take it at face value. It's a fun shot. But that scene may be telling of what the attitude of counter-culture was. I'm sorry, but I can't help but overanalyze...or as scholars call it: analyze. The idea of protesting traffic is an interesting one. Everyone in their cars are literally doing nothing. They are staring and they are honking. (I'm fairly glad to say that I haven't been in many traffic jams that actually have people honking the entire time. That seems to be a movie trope.) Jack Nicholson getting out of his car and walking down the traffic jam while standing on cars is just the right amount of showing without telling what kind of character he is. He doesn't care about social conventions, but is not angry enough to try to collapse the system. He plays the piano in the back of the truck because he wants to. When the truck takes him somewhere he didn't plan to go, he just goes there. It's 1970. We're ending the hippie movement with nonviolent protests. Jack, like his characters tend to be, is just angry and still upset at societal norms. He has no time for traffic.
My bigger beef with the movie is why Jack Nicholson always plays the same roles. Is he this person in real life? He always seems to be an antihero or a full on villain. His antiheroes are always so attractive because there's something amazing about only caring about oneself. But the more I view of this character that he is also playing in Five Easy Pieces, the more I just get bummed out about the state of humanity. Honestly, I'm really trying to think of one character who is completely altruistic that he plays. I don't even mind if he starts off as a good person and spirals into deplorability, I just want to know that he can play that. He's always an awful person. I just wrote a long hullaballoo over One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and I still love that movie. He's gross as get-out in that movie, but his heart ends up being in the right place. Bob in Five Easy Pieces really has no redeeming traits except for the fact that he can play piano, which he hides under a bushel basket. The one major criticism that his family finds in him is that he doesn't use that talent that he has. I hope that this criticism was dealt as an ironic trait on the part of the filmmakers because he is such a worse person than that. I don't know why adultery in a protagonist always makes me so mad in a movie. Is it meant to simply show that he is fallible? If that is the case, Five Easy Pieces doesn't really need it because his fallibility is over the top. Every time he has the chance (for the most part) to do the right thing, he does something evil. There is one moment when he chooses the good of a situation, but that is only because he initially chose the evil and felt bad about the whole situation. It's weird. I like bad characters as the protagonists, but there's not much buildup or reasoning for his mistreatment of humanity. It isn't even meant to be shown as funny so much as it is just bleak. And Jack keeps playing these characters! Is this him? I certainly hope not. I kind of want Jack Nicholson to be a saint, but I have the vibe that he's probably not.
This is me just spouting off at this point. Bob Rafelson writes and directs a movie with a selfish jerk named Bob. That had to be a choice. Lord knows, I'm not going to write something where the protagonist has my name and assume that there isn't some sort of connection. I know that Nicholson tended to be his writing partner on a lot of his films, so I'm going to guess that Nicholson had some of the choices going into that character. But what is Rafelson trying to say with this movie? Does he hold humanity in contempt? I think that many of the characters are fairly awful. The morally good character, Rayette, is vapid and moronic. Most of the other characters in the story are petty and selfish. There is one scene with a baby that just made the thought of parenting revolting to its core. The intellectuals are seen as pretentious. The sister is morally good, but is viewed as pathetic. I don't know why Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson has such a disdain for civilization. I wonder if that's playing through throughout the films. In Easy Rider, I commented that the movie started off with the Catholic family starting with prayers. But throughout that film, the filmmakers seemed to crap all over the faith with the exception of those characters. Head seemed pretty attacking of corporate influence in America and I think we can all get behind that. But are the BBS films just a look at how awful people are? Maybe we're drawn to how terrible people really are. I don't think that Rafelson wants us to feel good about ourselves. Rather, it is an odd acceptance of vice and misery as a way of life. Man, I think I bummed myself out analyzing this movie.
The movie isn't even bad. I enjoyed my way through this. I just kind of wanted some storytelling element. In my grad class, we often look at stories like this. The idea that a story needs to have character changes or positive messages is very old fashioned. I suppose I can get behind that. But there is a toll that it takes on the soul (I'm a poet and who'da thunk?) gets to be a bit high. I know, the bulk of movies follow a formula that allows me to feel some hope for humanity, but these movies can kind of bring me down. There are these moments, but I don't think they make up for the fact that Jack Nicholson treats his girlfriend like dirt and steals ladies from their men. It does make me feel pretty gross.
Blair Witch (2016)
Look at that image above and tell me what you think it should be rated. I'll wait. (This parenthetical expression represents the passing of time. You need to trust that I waited before writing this.) It's R. Of course it's R. You didn't need to use the context clue of the red font to show that this movie is R. Also, let's sympathize with the blogger about having to find a still from the movie that is both telling of what it is like to view the film and be somewhat aesthetically pleasing. This was a rough one.
DIRECTOR: Adam Wingard
I don't know if my opinion on something became so wavery after sleeping on it. I finished watching this movie yesterday. Complete transparency, I had a moderately good time watching it. But I was critical the entire time. I know the direction that this review is going to go. This is the hardest thing for me to review. I know that the movie is bad. Heck, the movie is even boring at times. But there was something remarkably watchable about the whole thing. So where does that leave me as a critic? I'm going to try my best to convey my thought process on this movie and please understand that sometimes my brain just likes not-amazing things.
One of the big things about what I now have to refer to as "the Blair Witch franchise" is that most of the movie is about the experience leading into the actual watching of the movie. When The Blair Witch Project was released, not only was it the birth of found footage movies, but it was also the rebirth of viral marketing. (I refuse to give them the title of "creator of viral marketing." Look at some Hitchcock and B-movie sci-fi.) Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 kind of dropped the ball on that. The Blair Witch Project was kind of genius in a really goofy way. It convinced everyone that there was footage of a witch murdering kids in the woods. Sure, there was no actual footage of the witch, but it was very convincing for those first audiences. Heck, people were kind of dumb back then. A few days into its release, the actors started showing up on talk shows despite the fact that their characters were all butchered in the film. That marketing is what makes that movie scary. The word of mouth on that film worked so well that everyone tried mustering the courage to see it. When Book of Shadows failed to do that, people saw how weak the premise actually was. It didn't help that Book of Shadows abandoned the format of the found footage horror movie. I kind of secretly admired the fact that they weren't going to carbon copy the first film, but they also shouldn't have rushed the movie into production to capitalize on the success of the first film. The cool part about the third film in the franchise, questionably named Blair Witch, the casual term used to describe the first film, is that it was a huge secret that the movie was being made. They actually had a release for the trailer at Comic Con with something, like, The Woods as its title. They had fake posters and marketing and everything. They put the lights down, showed the trailer. It was clearly a Blair Witch Project sequel and the lights came up. All of the marketing showed the little stick creatures and everyone lost their minds.
While this marketing move wasn't as revolutionary as the first films, it did get me really jazzed to see the movie. People were saying it was super scary and I agree. There are some very fun scary moments in this movie. But also, the reason that it works is that it is a return to form. It is almost the first movie exactly. That's the same issue that the Paranormal Activity movies experience. Every time that they veer from the tested path, no one cares. The found footage subgenre of horror is always problematic because it inherently tests our plausible deniability. I do like that Blair Witch has found a kinda-sorta explanation for why the events of this movie justify the exact same narrative as the first one. They even went a step above and beyond explaining why everything is being recorded. I always have a problem with found footage movies that have everything filmed. There is always that moment in the movie when the protagonist would abandon his or her camera. This movie at least makes a moderate amount of horror movie sense. I'm not saying reality. Oh, I can't ever claim reality. But it does make sense in the horror movie universe. This kind of brings me to an interesting point about the nature of technology with the found footage horror movie. Horror movies, perhaps more than any other genre of film, must deal with technological advances more than other movies. As life becomes more and more convenient and more and more connected, audiences have to ask why the characters aren't using such and such devices to solve their problems. This creates a double-edged sword. Movies like Blair Witch now have to have scenes that address these new advances in science, dating their predecessors and themselves. These scenes are trying. This movie uses the drone and I roll my eyes pretty hard. But what the advancement of technology does in the context of the supernatural is ramp up the stakes for the characters. It seems like the more prepped people are to take on the supernatural, the more intense the supernatural responds. Sometimes it is silly, but I think that Blair Witch kind of pulls it off. The drone thing is dumb, but it gives the Witch a new ability: the power to mess with time. That's pretty cool.
I love the fact that the movie just abandoned chronology. There is this weird element of brain-breaking that isn't fully explored, but that's almost for the best. I would hate the moment where the characters discussed how time is passing the way it is. Having time move malleably is far more interesting because I don't necessarily know the rules. The movie establishes pretty well that insane that malleability is, but doesn't necessarily give it constraints. But this also brings in something philosophical about the nature of supernatural horror that I don't like to think about very often: the sentience of the creature. For all intents and purposes --and I'd like to establish that I just had this epiphany while watching Blair Witch --the woods in this story is just a transposing of the haunted house subgenre. The rules of the haunted house just apply to this as opposed to an actual witch story. The woods are haunted. Geography is fluid. There are rules for the haunting (apparently). But why does the ghost / witch need to scare the characters? In a haunted house, I still have a problem with this, but I can at least shut my brain off a little bit to let the story progress. One of the theories that I have heard is that the ghost / witch in these movies feeds on belief in it (Paranormal Activity again!), thus the inhabitants of the house / woods need to be afraid before it can kill it. The ghost has power over the house and little else, so to kill the visitors, it must first gain power from the inhabitants' fear. I don't know if that works with Blair Witch. The Witch clearly has insane abilities. Manipulation of time is a huge superpower. This is a large area of land. How much power does this thing need, especially if it is knocking over trees left and right? A tree falling on someone is a pretty horrific death. Clearly, the Witch has this ability from the start. Also, the choreography of these frights takes me out of the movie. LIGHT SPOILER: The Witch launches one of the tents high into the air, causing the surrounding people to flee. As they run, the tent lands in front of them, causing them to scream some more. Is she up in a tree, just orchestrating the whole thing? Like, "This'll really scare them." The idea of a ghost moving beyond the simple attempt to communicate just gets ridiculous the more I think about it.
I think I know why I'm so torn on this movie. The movie is a complete copy of the first film with the exception of two amazing and clever moments. These moments caught me off guard and impressed me. I'm going to be vague about it, but I'm talking about the destruction of the stick doll and how the protagonist gets out of the cellar sequences. These moments are great, but they don't make up a whole movie. It is a little painful to realize that you have already seen this movie before and that everything on screen is just a rehash of something that was done previously. This movie, like many others, hits just too many of the same beats of movies that are considered good. I don't even really love the original Blair Witch Project anymore. I think it was a cool experiment and I loved all of the hype behind it, but now I'm watching a sequel that is covering a lot of the same ground. The reason I liked those two sequences was because it was something new. The other thing that this movie included, and I kind of know why they did, was to show the Witch very briefly. At this point, the audience has earned it. To tease an invisible witch again would be riot inducing. That was one of the complaints of the first low budget movie was that they never showed the witch. I still think that was the right choice in the first movie and I sympathize with the filmmakers having to show this thing again. But it, as much as I too wanted to see it, somehow cheapens the entire experience.
Finally, I have to talk about the acting. It was pretty bad. The problem is with the technology. I hate shaky cam in found footage. Cloverfield gave me the biggest nausea headache of any film I've ever film, but it does hide a lot of poor acting choices. This movie uses mounted headsets, which means it just feels like a movie at many times. There are times where actors were speaking directly to the camera (because they were talking to the person wearing the mounted camera) and it just felt really awkward. The thing that sells found footage movies is the idea that these are real people. The actors had some pretty rough dialogue and there were a lot of stereotypes being enforced that were odd. Also, I don't really get behind the found footage movie that has a bunch of beautiful people behind it. I'm not saying to go out and watch Bad Ben (a movie that Amazon Prime recommended I watched next. YouTube the trailer so we can laugh smugly together), but this felt like another CW casting situation. It's a little rough and there were so many moments where it didn't feel authentic.
But again, I didn't hate it. I see all of its faults and I see what they tried to do. There are a few successes, but many of the problems stem from simply being an unnecessary sequel. I hope they don't capitalize on this one and make one two years from now. I guess I'll be writing a review in a decade and seeing how that turns out. (Did you notice that my hypocrisy popped in there? I griped about not wanting another one, but undoubtedly said that I'm going to see it. Maybe I'll grow between now and then, but I doubt it. Also, yay for me for thinking that I'll stick with this blog a decade from now. Hopefully the world isn't over by then.)
Batman & Bill (2017)
What the heck, IMDB? I had to open up Hulu to find out what the rating for this movie was. That's not fair on me or my readers, what few there are. Usually, you at least say "Unrated." Um, the rating is TV-14. I don't know why. This movie is remarkably tame. If anything, the only reason that it isn't TV-Y7 is because it gets into corporate politics. But this is a story about a guy who talks to kids about the creation of Batman. Why TV-14, yo?
DIRECTORS: Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce
It's another of those, second time writing the intro bits. I'm going to give you context why I watched this one. I guess, first and foremost, I should say, "I wanted to watch it." It looked interesting. But the reason that this movie jumped ahead of Five Easy Pieces was that I had a paper to write for my grad school class. Big surprise, nerdy Tim decided to write a paper on comic books and might be prepping his capstone project around it. Roll your eyes harder, Internet reader. I'm a two-dimensional person. My Superman DVD box set has up and vanished after I lent it to someone who has not returned it and I needed something out of there. So I got the evidence I needed from this documentary and got out. Then I felt bad that I didn't finish it, so I did. The biggest issue I have with this documentary is that this documentary isn't so much informational as it is an emotional journey. I knew all about Bill Finger years ago. That might be putting an unnecessary responsibility on the filmmakers. The goal of this movie was to inform an audience about the legacy of Bill Finger. The only problem is that much of the audience that would watch a movie about Bill Finger probably already know about him. So does this documentary have the value it needs to stand up by itself?
The curse of this film is that the reason why Bill Finger has gotten so much attention in the past decade is due to Marc Tyler Nobleman. Nobleman has been a Batman fan and author for many years, often investigating the roots of comic book history. In his love for Batman, he always wondered why Bill Finger never got credit for the creation of Batman. For those not in the know, things that have Batman in them always have the following credit: "Batman created by Bob Kane." But Bob Kane only created some of the lesser known elements of Batman. Much of the mythos and look of the character was created by Bill Finger, who ended up dying in obscurity and buried in a pauper's field. It's a remarkably sad story and that's where Batman & Bill succeeds in its storytelling. The goal of the movie was to bring attention to Bill Finger's legacy when it comes to talking to the masses. I don't know if that is exactly achieved. I don't think many people would watch this who didn't have a solid love for Batman. However, the movie really succeeds in humanizing this awfully traumatic story. The way that the movie is arranged mirrors my favorite moments of Life, Animated. Much of the movie is formatted with a traditional documentary format. Interviews spliced with footage either shot for the documentary (often clunkily re-enacted) or comprised of found footage, which is far more compelling. But like Life, Animated, the filmmakers tried to match the tone of the comic book by creating art and then doing limited animated. If you have ever seen a motion comic, it is the same process. It is clearly a still image, but elements of the image are manipulated to simulate limited movement.
The animation elements are cool and dorky at the same time. I don't know why it is so hard to create an authentic comic book feeling when discussing comic books. I've watched a lot of documentaries and a lot of movies where comic books are the theme. No one said I was a cool guy. For some reason, these things always look chincy. I think the reason is that actual comic book artists rarely work on these things. I think graphic design houses take a feel of a comic book and try mirroring them, which often makes them get most of the idea right, but the whole product is just off. The problem is that comic book fans know what is real and what is fake. I always spot the gross mistakes. For example, Comic Sans isn't a comic book font. Use a bold version of Anime Ace for a more authentic feel. While I say that Batman & Bill is better than most, there are times where the animation looks extremely chincy. Part of the reason, also, is the gravitas that the movie tries giving Nobleman. There is this constant tie of Nobleman to Batman, which he admittedly downplays. At one point, Kevin Smith (yup) tweets that Nobleman is Batman for Bill. The filmmakers play this idea up, which I don't think is part of Nobleman's personality. In the footage of Nobleman on the hunt for Finger's history, he's often clothed in a tee-shirt and dad shorts. But the drawings portray him wearing a trenchcoat with the wind whipping around him. His shadow is that of Batman's. C'mon. I get what the movie is going for, but there are times that the stakes don't match reality. I know what the movie is trying to do, but it often just makes it look silly.
The first half of the movie is what I find interesting. Bill Finger's life was incredibly tragic. It was this period in history where publishers tried to milk every penny out of creators. While Stan Lee is probably considered one of the more giving creators, he has also been accused of many of the shannanigans discussed in this movie, especially when it comes to his relationship to Steve Ditko. But the movie really does an amazing job of contrasting the greed of Bob Kane and the innocence of Bill Finger. Is the movie accurate? Who knows? Since we have little about Bill Finger trying to defend himself and trying desperately to get credit, we can't know how intense he was about this fight. But the filmmakers do a fantastic job destroying Bob Kane. I always got the vibe that Bob Kane was kind of a creeper and the movie does a fantastic job confirming my suspicions. The movie goes on to show Bill Finger and his very rough life. This is where I was moved. It is composed entirely through personal anecdotes about Finger's life. Those stories are absolutely rough. He seemed like a nice guy, but there are elements that seem to be left out. What is interesting is that this narrative about the background of Bill Finger is coupled with the hunt for an heir to Batman. The goal of the documentary is to have Bill Finger's name to all future Batman credits. That's a cool idea, in theory. But what that also brings to Finger's backstory is his relationship to his son. His son was gay and died of AIDS in the '90s. There was an odd relationship there and the movie mentions that FInger died alone in his apartment with no family. While there is this interesting epilogue (SPOILERS ABOUT REAL LIFE) about Finger's son spreading his ashes to the sea, why did the movie not discuss the relationship between Bill Finger and his son? I have a feeling that this might not paint Finger in the light that the movie was trying to accomplish. I have to imagine that Nobleman had to decide, considering that there was a persuasive element to the film, whether to include things that would impede his cause to Bill Finger's credit. Few people are saints, but the movie almost portrays him like a saint. I get why. His death deserves meaning, but then does that tarnish the validity of the whole documentary as well? I'm not sure where I'm coming down on this one, but it is something to think about.
The latter half of the movie is the one of goal accomplishment. Over the course of the film, Nobleman finds an heir that can refute Bob Kane's hold over the credit. The movie stresses that this action is altruistic. The only way to get Bill's name on the credits is to find a family member to fight for the rights. The problem is that money has to be a part of this and the movie completely glosses over this. I'm not saying that Finger's granddaughter doesn't deserve money. It seems like her family is not well off and that she had a rough childhood, indirectly from the way that DC Comics treated Bill Finger. But making it to be a fight over what is right might not be the most accurate portrayal of the events happening here. Again, a lot of this is speculation because I'm a cynical dude, but this really had to be a fight over money for this lady. I believe that Nobleman (oh, I just got the irony of his name) is doing it because he's a fanboy. But this girl never met her grandfather. Yes, the dog's name is Bruce Wayne and that is awesome, but I got the vibe that she enjoyed the fact that her world instantly got a lot bigger than it was before.
I find it hilarious that the big victory is the fact that Bill Finger got his name on the Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice opening credits. That's what everyone was fighting for. I'm not blind to the greater implication, but that movie...guys. C'mon. That's what we were arguing about? Alan Moore was probably fighting to get Bill Finger's name off that movie. (I didn't HATE Batman v. Superman, but it is not a good film.) Regardless, it is a very touching movie that seemed to take a bit of the Hallmark route when it came to reporting the events of Bill Finger's life. Regardless, it is an interesting watch, if I could find an audience open to watching it.
Battleship Potemkin (1925)
Unrated because it was 1925. This is Grandpa Simpson old. But realize, Grandpa Simpson may have had a point about the old days. There's some pretty brutal imagery in this film. If you have a thing about harm coming to babies, maybe this movie isn't for you. It's not super graphic, but Eisenstein uses his montage of attractions to think you see some gross stuff. Also, a kid dies in a fairly disturbing manner.
DIRECTOR: Sergei Eisenstein
I keep showing this movie to students. They keep not liking it. (Okay, that's what I assume. My previous class absolutely abhorred this movie. I haven't gotten the two cents from my new class, but they weren't raving about how amazing the movie was after it was done. Maybe Battleship Potemkin might be hard sell for a lot of people. Silent films aren't necessarily the most accessible, especially for people who are accustomed to a different pacing. Also, the content is a little bit awkward. It is Soviet propaganda. It is unabashedly Soviet propaganda. That's tough for me even. The movie is extremely moving, and I can't deny that, but how does one approach reviewing a very dated piece of Soviet propaganda.
Let me establish my honest feelings about this movie. I have such a deep appreciation for Sergei Eisenstein. I really liked both parts of Ivan the Terrible and I think I even really like Battleship Potemkin. I've now watched it three or four times. The movie is amazingly shot and wrecks me emotionally. God forbid, it actually does what propaganda is supposed to do: it manipulates me into ignoring the logic center of my brain. Yay for that / would you like to buy some LuLaRoe clothingwear? But there is a part of my brain that will always stay firing. Maybe it isn't even my brain per se, but my need to be slightly entertained. This movie has two real sequences of riveting action (I don't count the last because I'm kind of ready for the movie to be over) that are super awesome. While I'm often cool with boring, there is very little content in Battleship Potemkin. I think a lot of that comes from Eisenstein's view on protagonists. Eisenstein was a big advocate for there not be a single protagonist. Rather, like the Russian revolutionary that he was, he saw the people as a joint protagonist. The issue with this and the narrative is that most of the movie then becomes about the setting. Eisenstein does a masterful job of establishing the setting of the film. Like a character, the setting has a choice to develop from what it once was to what it should be. A dynamic character changes over the course of the narrative. Since there is no character, it is the job of the setting to adapt. That change is awesome because it is made of people, but there is something very comforting about relating to an individual character. I will say that, considering that there is no individual character, there are moments where I, as an audience member, identified with individuals in the crowd. The scene with the sailors inspecting the maggot encrusted meat drove me to anger like they had. The mother holding her child as she went up the steps made me question what I would do in that scenario. That scene was almost like a horror movie. I wanted to scream at the screen and tell her to turn back, that the soldiers didn't care and wouldn't care about her plight. That's great storytelling.
Considering that the early Soviets were masters of editing, there is a pacing problem. The movie is barely over an hour. If you know anything about early Soviet cinema, this wasn't uncommon. The reason that the Soviets became so good at the edit is that, post-Revolution, there was very little film stock. They had to make due with what they had at their disposal. This often meant that stock footage had to be spliced in and they tended to rely on what we now term the Kuleshov effect. (Read about it. It is fascinating.) This often meant that Battleship Potemkin would try to stretch out a moment by cutting between different locations to make it seem like more was going on. But at one point while watching, and I acknowledge that this is my 21st Century laziness talking, that I realized that we've been arguing over the same point for a really long time. It doesn't help that I just shotgunned a whole bunch of Hitchcock movies during the month of October. Eisenstein uses the cuts in his film to build suspense in his story. With the score (which I acknowledge is contemporary) giving hints to the rise of tension, many of his scenes tease a boiling point. The cuts become frenetic and individual expressions are stressed. For example, the first moment of mutiny on the titular boat is criminally stressful. It is so hard to critique Eisenstein for any of this because he's the guy who understood and introduced editing as a viable film technique, but he holds these moments just too long. I go back to Hitchcock, who made his suspenseful moments painfully long, but always managed to explode at just the right moment in the climax. Eisenstein always takes it too far, especially with the last sequence of the film. I mentioned that there were two exciting parts of the movie. The only reason I say that is that the final sequence plays on the same images for far too long. The cuts to machinery working is effective the first few times, but I suppose the rules of threes A) doesn't apply to film editing and B) hasn't been invented yet.
I'm really mad that I missed the red flag sequence. I watched the movie pretty intently, putting my phone way out of reach. I must have side eyed something because I don't remember seeing it this time. That use of color is so darned effective in this movie. I have to admire Eisenstein's restraint when using this effect. The only reason that this sequence works is because it is so scant. I know that Melies did his entire movie in color and I love that stuff. But that is a very different tone than Battleship Potemkin. I have a buddy of mine, who doesn't read this (I think), who hates Schindler's List. But the thing that Schindler's List does effectively is the contrast of color. I think that Eisenstein does it even better. The use of color is somehow manipulative. It draws the eye and, considering that it is so contrasting, gives a weird sense of patriotism. Heck, I don't even like the Russian Revolution, but I'm all jazzed for it in this one. I guess this critique is one for my soul than anything else. But the movie really works. As a follow up to Birth of a Nation, the movie knows how to propagandize events. The good guys are really good and without fault. The bad guys are super evil and need to be overthrown. While the events of the Potemkin are technically non-fiction, it is amazing how the slant of the film makes it actually kind of worth watching. That shouldn't be the case. I should hate the manipulation, but I kind of just watch in awe how good of a director Eisenstein actually is.
My favorite sequence in the film might be one of my favorite scenes in film history. I think it is the reason that I even consider liking Battleship Potemkin. The Odessa steps sequence is so darned powerful. It almost might contribute to my dislike of the final sequence. I talked about the Soviets and how they love to edit their movies, but this sequences is just amazing. (I do have to giggle a little at how they actually tried to avoid crushing a little kid by being gentle around him, but sometimes you have to accept that you can see the zipper on the monster.) I usually have an eye thing. Movies love messing with people's eyes. I'm talking to you, Un Chien Andalou and the cover for Straw Dogs. I used to be terrified to watch Battleship Potemkin because my book shows the famous image of the crushed glasses in the lady's eyes. It now works so much. It is the most effective use of eye damage in a film. The shot is so quick and such a sharp juxtaposition to her pleading for mercy. There is this off screen beat that happens and so much is told in that moment. I can't also help but feel like the masses of people running down the stairs, while extremely effective, probably caused a few injuries. There had to be a billion takes of Eisenstein just wondering if they could go faster. There's no stuntmen in Russia. There's no actors, let alone stuntmen in an era where the stuntman hasn't been created. These were peasants running down the stairs. But that's also a testament to the power of this sequence. No one in the movie was a professional actor. These were the people. (I have to admire that the ideology carried over into the casting out of necessity. During the revolution, directors, producers, and actors all fled Russia. So they had to be peasants.) If you watch nothing else in this movie, I recommend the Odessa steps sequence. It may be slightly unearned, but it is the perfect middle for this film.
I'm going to watch this movie time and again. I'm not in love with this era of filmmaking, but Battleship Potemkin shows Soviet film's true promise. It's pretty great, as long as you are okay with being a little bored. Boring's not bad and it helps to know the content. But the movie itself has objective value. Perhaps those who don't like war movies might get annoyed, but that's on them.
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.