Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
PG! But it's so weird that you think you are watching something wildly offensive. It's pretty brutal in a weird way. Okay, nothing is really shown on screen, but there are things, guys. Things. Things that I can't explain. They are all there. There is torture and discussions of rape. Two people sleep together, but you don't really see much. It's just all there, but without actually being on screen, it's PG. This is what I'm talking about. Also, you know how I complain about "R" just being the MPAA term for "Good movie". I'm so used to this that it is weird to see it actually reflect the content of the film. PG.
DIRECTOR: Peter Weir
FILMSTRUCK IS DEAD! IT'S DEAD AND IT'S NEVER COMING BACK (as FilmStruck. I heard that Criterion streaming is coming)! BUT IT IS NEVER COMING BACK AND I HAD TO WATCH PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK BEFORE IT WENT AWAY! BUT NOW IT'S GONE AND I'M DEAD INSIDE! Before it went away and left me alone, I knew I finally had to knock out Picnic at Hanging Rock. I've almost watched this movie a dozen times. My wife watched the show and I intentionally avoided it because I insisted on watching the film first. The great thing, and 10% of me is sarcastic about this, is that I have no idea what to say about this movie.
The opening title card, giving the setting and the background, is haunting. I can't help but call back (forward) to stuff like The Blair Witch Project. It's disturbing. I don't know what it is about white text on a black background that gets my blood pressure all high. But then the movie slows way down. Peter Weir sets an absolutely bizarre setting. Part of this seems like it could be real. I read up on it. The novel the movie is based on is fake, but it presents itself like The Blair Witch Project as something that could be real. But then it seems to take the tone of a Victorian novel. A comedy of manners, perhaps? There are fancy ladies in a fancy school doing fancy fancy school things. They recite poetry and giggle about skipping in circles. So what you have is this title card swearing that there's an unsolved mystery about missing girls and then fancy fancy school things. It's this really weird juxtaposition. and I like it. Weir doesn't let me know what to prepare for. I didn't know that I had to prepare for different genres of film. I act differently. I apparently watch differently. And Weir has me all over the place. Because the thing is, there is something sinister going on at the school. The Sara story? What on Earth? I don't think I've seen a movie with a completely disparate B-plot. But from moment one with Sara, we know that this world is absolutely cruel and dark. I read up on it. I watched that story intently. I don't think I completely get it still. I think Sara is there to talk about how cruel people are and how life doesn't have equal value. Wait! Did I just figure it out? There's Sara, who is alive and well and wildly unhappy because her life is terrible and she's treated terribly. Then there are these girls, who are happy and rich and adored and they disappear. People lose their minds. But poor Sara and her story! She's seen as a burden on everyone.
There's something almost hallucinatory about the whole experience. There are times where the movie is completely grounded in reality. At least, the reality that these characters live in stays consistently weird, for the most part. But then we get pieces of what happened to the girls. Nothing supernatural happens in the movie outright. But the movie screams to be something larger than life and bizarre. There are these shots of the rock that, coupled with the music, scream that something absolutely haunting is happening at Hanging Rock. There are these scenes of people sprawled across the rock, reaching up. For one of them, it is implied that it is because of heat exhaustion that he cannot climb any higher. The second, though, really screams that there is a supernatural force stopping him from going any farther. I can't help but think that this moment looks just a hint goofy. I know. I'm into art and interpretation and I should be above these things. But I'm also a guy who laughs at fart jokes more than I should. I can look at that scene and be simultaneously enraptured by the almost demonic force that is taking over the visitors of Hanging Rock and the fact that someone looks like they are just scootching on some rock. Sue me.
The shift of focus is a lot to take in. It is all over the place. When I read the description on FilmStruck, it talked about how this disappearance affected the people of the town. That is the most accurate and least accurate summary of this film. It is about that. No doubt. But that description just seems to be somehow off. It is about the disappearance, but this disappearance is a cancer in the truest sense of the metaphor. (Can I even say that?) Cancer isn't present. It is violent, but it isn't sudden. Within this environment, we see people's true colors come out. Mostly this is terrible. Mrs. Appleyard's story is fascinating. I know that this is spinning out of Sara's narrative, but Appleyard becomes a full on psycho. The disappearance of these girls takes such a unique toll on her. I don't know if Weir is commenting on the power of the dollar, but Appleyard becomes Scrooge. She sees these girls as costing her money. There's one moment in the plot when one of the girls returns and she's actually disappointed because it reminds the public that these girls had disappeared while in her charge. By the end, I don't even know what has happened to her. She becomes this almost arch-villain in a movie that I didn't even know could have an arch-villain. It's not even really a character change. There is always this implication that this was part of her character, but it has bubbled to the surface. Also, the girls that weren't lost? What's up with them? One of the girls who returns goes to leave with her family and there's this really dark shunning that happens. I really like the reaction. It amps up the issue pretty quickly. But it is striking, mainly because the teacher joins in before panning over to Sara, who is being causally tortured against a wall. I know all of this is spoilers, but I am not doing this justice, so I don't feel required to bold any of this to stand out. Nothing in this movie really makes sense except when watching it. And even then, it only makes a very unique, ephemeral sense. Slightly removed from watching it is still baffling to me what this movie is about. It seems like a fever dream in many ways. And it is a chill fever dream. I've watched movies that have baffled me and blew up my senses. There's a couple of moments that have Easy Rider type elements, but really it is a quiet study that is almost meant to drive you insane. I can't think of another movie that is quite like Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Last thought: I don't know if anyone else found odd tonal ties to Lord of the Flies. It isn't a perfect comparison, but the boarding school elements with the grown up themes behind it. I also, and I'm ashamed of this comparison, can't help but compare Edith to Piggy. No one really treats Edith all that nicely, but she's tagging along to all of the situations. She overreacts and is shunned from the group. I mean, that saves her in the end, but it is interesting.
This movie hides a lot behind the veil. If you wanted to watch a movie about subverting expectations, Picnic at Hanging Rock is it. It gives you absolutely nothing in terms of firm answers, but rather just more questions and a feeling of unease. I'm glad I caught this before FilmStruck disappeared. I don't know if I'd watch the TV show any time soon, but that's just because I got what I needed out of this.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
PG-13. But I'll tell you right now, it all comes down to two scenes mostly. Two scenes scared the living daylights out of my kids. I'm talking about how the villains got their powers. I think this might be the scariest scene in every Spider-Man movie. The villain's origin story is usually pretty terrifying. Oh, except for Sandman. It just looks gnarly. (I know that's a subjective opinion.) There's some language and violence. There's underwear. A major character dies. These are all things that can traumatize a child, especially the underwear. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Marc Webb
I'M STILL GIGGLING! His name is Marc WEBB! Like Spider-Man's web! There's no way that the universe loves me this much to let me write an analysis of a movie about Spider-Man directed by a man named "Marc Webb." I just wrote a review for The Amazing Spider-Man, the first movie in the reboot franchise. There's probably going to be a bit of repetition. As bold of a stance that I took on the first film saying that it was better than people remember, I think I was still scared of the Internet when I wrote it. I think I dunked a little bit on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in that analysis. But I'm a coward and I kind of want to backpedal on some of that stuff. See, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is far from perfect. (I'm doing it again!) There's a handful of things that I would completely shave off of this movie, especially considering the bloated runtime. But The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't a bad movie. I'd actually go as far as to say that it is pretty good.
Here's my uphill climb. It's going to go beyond the safe place with this movie. A lot of people like the costume from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 because it looks like Mark Bagley or Eric Larsen designed it. Okay, I do like the costume a lot. But I also like the other costumes, especially the one from Homecoming. There's so much more going on. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a pretty good movie because it challenges our hero in the right ways. He has made this promise in the first film that is actually difficult for him to endure. I'm so used to the trope of keeping a promise secret. It's always so clunky. It is removed from reality. By having Gwen aware of the secret, it gives her such agency. She is an active part in the story. She sympathizes and is allowed to say that Peter doesn't have to put up with this. For being welded to the superhero genre pretty closely as a promise, I think that's how I would handle this situation. Peter kind of sucks at keeping his promise of staying away from Gwen and he hates himself for it. Knowing the mythology of Spider-Man, that is even more important. Captain Stacey's dying wish of having Peter away from Gwen becomes this weird soothsayer moment. Comic fans know what's going to happen. I'm really against fridging characters, especially when it comes to comic book properties. But Gwen Stacey is a well-developed character. Gwen's death is central to Peter's narrative and the other versions always tend to set that idea up without actually pulling the trigger (pun intended). We keep getting Gwen as a half idea and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is finally the story that completes the narrative. On top of that, Gwen isn't a push over. She isn't the frustrated girlfriend that the original run had her as. Gwen hated Spider-Man from moment one in the comic books. (If I remember correctly. It's been a while since I got to my '70s era Amazing Spider-Man books.) But by having Gwen in on the secret, she becomes Peter's conscience and motivation to be the best Spider-Man that he can be. Keep in mind, any comic fan worth his salt knows that Gwen isn't in the picture later on. Everything that is happening in this film is the motivation for Peter being caution for the rest of his career. I can't stand that Sony keeps rebooting these stories because they don't make back the expected amount of money projected. These stories are awesome setups for movies that never happen.
That's what I want. These movies are far more solid than people and Sony make them out to be. They aren't the DCEU (shots fired!). There's no need to reboot what is setup here. We keep getting Spider-Man in pieces. The whole narrative is far from being told. Instead, we have to get building blocks that get knocked down before the tower becomes truly impressive. That's not to say that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 doesn't stand on its own. It really does. It's got the self-contained story of Electro and Harry Osborn, but it does set up for future films. I'm not an idiot. Sony is desperately copying the MCU and I really don't like them for that. But from Marc Webb's perspective, he's trying to maintain a balance between making sure that his movie exists as part of a franchise and can exist on its own. It answers some of the questions from the first movie, which is what is expected from a movie like this. Sure, not a lot of people really cared about Richard and Mary Parker. I talked about that in my previous review and I stand by it. But it does its job. It answered questions. It continued in a positive way. On top of that, Peter has grown as Spider-Man. I'm thinking of another Sony property, the Bond franchise. (I'm sorry I keep drawing water from this well. It's just that it works really well as something that has lasted a long time and has clearly delineated phases.) The Daniel Craig Bond movies have the character stay at the same level of confidence. Every movie in that series seems to be a Bond Begins movie. Even the Dark Knight movies take Batman, give him two movies where he's kind of a novice, and then retire him immediately. But Spider-Man, in this movie, makes strides. He goes from being this figure in the shadows handling small crimes and mainly seeking revenge to being a brightly lit public figure. The movie starts with an insane armored car chase that is already night and day from anything in the first movie. Please, don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying chaos and action are what make a movie good. But for Spider-Man, it is an indication to how he views himself in the world. He is escalating. Since his battle with the Lizard, he knows that he is able to do bigger and more important things. For the first time, an action sequence indicates character development.
There are a few things that suck. Again, I'm a fan of this movie. But the big thing that always makes me groan is Jamie Foxx's portrayal of Max Dillon. I don't hate the later stages of Electro, but there's something way too cornball about nerdy Max Dillon. The reboot franchise tries its best to ground absolutely absurd ideas in the real world. It doesn't always succeed, but it always tries. But Max Dillon as the archetypal nerd seems almost Tim Burton-y in this universe. I don't deny that socially awkward people exist on scales that might match Foxx's Dillon, but there's no way to really relate to that character on the grand scale. The goal was to make this character sympathetic. Villains that are sympathetic are great, but he just comes across as clunky. There's no real attempt at acting so much as it is overacting. That's such a bummer because Electro is the main villain of the movie. It's an odd dynamic. Harry is the behind the scenes guy. He is pulling the strings, but Harry is also in the movie for a minority of the movie. We know that he's there, but Harry is only just starting to become the Green Goblin. So Electro as the face of the movie is important and it takes a long time to accept him as the villain. This is the movie that made me like Dane DeHaan. I wrote an analysis of Valerian and I cited this film. He's really good as Harry Osborn, especially compared to James Franco. But again, Harry gets underserved. He's being set up for sequels and his appearance in this is terrifying, but short. I'll never know what's up with that. In some ways, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is Avengers: Age of Ultron. So much of it is setting up for future franchise stuff, like that room with all of the tech, that we never get paid off. I mean, Age of Ultron paid it off in spades. But you know what I mean. There's just these moments where Webb is making demonic Sony happy and that's a real bummer. Also, and I can't state this enough, no one cares about Richard and Mary Parker. We care about Uncle Ben and Aunt May. That's who we care about.
I wish people wouldn't dog this movie so hard or gag when I say that I like it. That "Itsy Bitsy Spider" part is cute. Also, Electro is doing it on purpose and even Spider-Man comments on it. It's meant to be what it is. So leave it alone. Yeah, it's bloated and has some bad choices. But as a whole, the movie is far more watchable than people make it out to be. I would even go as far as to say that I like it. Unapologetically, I like The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
I'm waiting to get ripped apart.
To Be or Not to Be (1942)
Passed. For being a screwball comedy, there are times that are phenomenally bleak. I wondered what people knew about concentration camps during World War II. Apparently, the public knew all about them. This movie straight up talks about them fairly clearly. There's some infidelity and death. It's a comedy, but it is also a war movie. There's nothing outright offensive, so go at it.
DIRECTOR: Ernst Lubitsch
My quest to find photos that are the correct aspect ratio has led me to this. A setting image. Everything else has weird Italian subtitles or is the wrong aspect. I apologize for how blah that image is considering how good this movie is. FilmStruck dies tomorrow. (Note: Since then, I found a better image and have replaced it.) I needed to go on a final binge to watch some of the movies that I could have enjoyed had I gotten this service earlier. (Although, nothing lights a fire under my butt faster than having to watch something before it is gone. Sorry, the last half of Big Trouble in Little China. I may never end up seeing you.)
I knew of the Mel Brooks version. I hadn't seen it, but I knew of it. I also kind of knew about the Ernst Lubitsch version. I'm a bad film teacher. For a guy who claims to love Ernst Lubitsch, how do I only kind of know about To Be or Not to Be? Regardless, we gave it a whirl. It was famous enough that I could entice my wife and my sister-in-law to watch it. (The requirements were that it was famous enough but somehow hadn't been watched.) But then we saw that Jack Benny and Carole Lombard were in it and that kind of sealed the deal. I don't know that anyone was specifically a huge fan of those two, but the criteria were covered so we tread on. I'm going to continue to bury myself because, if I can't be vulnerable here, where can I be vulnerable? (Ideally with my spouse or in a confessional. Stop talking to yourself and go on with your point.) I don't think I have much experience with Jack Benny. I know that I'm a self-proclaimed pop culture savant, but Jack Benny and I haven't really crossed paths before. I just looked down his IMDB credits and the only thing that I've experienced is his uncredited role in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. That probably doesn't count. But Jack Benny makes this movie special. I knew his reputation as a funny guy. But he takes what could be kind of an absurd war film that oddly takes itself more seriously than you'd think it would and makes it genuinely joyful. I'm not going to give all the props to Benny. After all, I went into this as a Lubitsch fan and it's his baby. But every Jack Benny scene crushes. He's really funny. He's got that balance between Groucho Marx and Woody Allen down. There's a physicality to him that is not over the top, but he just carries himself in a certain way. But the script depends on someone being able to understand timing and wit and delivery. Jack Benny has all of that and I really love it. Carole Lombard oddly fits as an excellent pair to Benny. There's something really interesting in Lombard's character that I'm not used to seeing in films from the '40s.
While far from a perfect characterization of femininity, Lombard's Maria Tura has quite a bit of agency in this one. Yeah, the movie fails the Bechdel test pretty hard. But I find the Bechdel test somewhat incomplete. (Look at me! A white male claiming to make the rules for feminism! Oh, Brave New World...) Maria Tura is a character that has agency. She is the driving character in the plot. Give the '40s a little bit of leeway. Yeah, Jack Benny gets all the glory. It's part of his character arc. But Benny goes from being a coward and selfish to a hero of the war. He never really loses his ego, but he uses his ego for good, so that's why the movie keeps showing him. But analyze this picture. Maria Tura starts the movie as kind of a sucky person. She's kind of running around with this other guy. (Why do I put "kind of"? She's cheating on her husband. I should be clear about that. But it is portrayed adorably, which kind of gets under my skin.) But the second that things get real, she's deeply involved in the movement. I think that the movie was probably tempted to have her involved to help Stanislav (that I only now realized was played by Robert Stack!). But it never really sells it that way. She sees a good that she can accomplish by using her talents through acting and that gets the story started. It also seems like Benny has no idea that Lombard is doing all of this. It's kind of great. (I need to start referring to them by character names. I apologize for this shift.) Joseph is still kind of a selfish jerk and it is Maria's sacrifice that gets both of them involved. Like Casablanca, the movie gets remarkably patriotic in the face of the Nazi threat. This is where cultural and historical context plays a large part in the watching of the movie. This movie came out during World War II. It has no idea how the war is going to turn out. But it is about the inspirational Polish people fighting against this unstoppable threat. It's not an American movie. Well, it's not a movie about Americans. The Polish people were completely decimated and subjected to horrors. They were the downtrodden. Internationally, I don't think that they had the respect that we see in this movie. I just learned about the Polish battalion of the RAF (Squad? I'm not a military guy.). But To Be or Not to Be has the Polish people as the heroes of the war.
And that leads to possibly the most important reason to watch To Be or Not to Be. For a farcical comedy, the movie hits some heavy things. And these heavy things can be found in Felix Bressart's Greenberg. We have heard the famous Shylock monologue before. I'm always a bit on edge when I hear it because Shakespeare, despite this woke soliloquy, has Shylock as the villain of the piece. But Greenberg is a Jew who continues to be overlooked in his society. Yet, it is his use of Shakespeare that reminds us how little we've progressed. The backdrop of Nazi-occupied Poland is painful. This isn't the fun war. This isn't the military that we're looking at. Please, study military strategy if that floats your boat. It's not my jam, but I do find the stories of the individuals quite moving. Greenberg is a reminder of the horrors of war and oppression in the middle of this comedy. Lubitsch doesn't just want to present one thing. Comedies are great. We should laugh and we should find humor in the darkness. But Lubitsch understands something that I probably don't think about too often. Comedy isn't meant to make us erase the dark stuff. It helps us cope. It helps us process. But it doesn't erase the darkness. By including Greenberg in this film, the darkness is given voice and we must confront it. Yeah, it might make it harder to laugh after a scene of Greenberg freezing in the cold, muttering, "Prick us, do we not bleed?" This movie is set in Poland. Lubitsch himself was a German Jew and had to deal with a wealth of conflict inside him. He's going to comment on the Holocaust, but he's going to do so in his way.
I loved this movie. I'm so glad that I found it on FilmStruck before its death. This movie is still out there. I highly recommend this one. It's pretty great. Sure, the infidelity is really bizarre to me, but the movie works so well as a whole that I'm even willing to make peace with that.
Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018)
PG, but my wife and I drastically disagree on how appropriate it is for kids. She was mortified by this movie. I've made my peace with how scary Disney movies actually get. The weird thing is that my son, who infamously gets scared at movies, was perfectly fine with this one. My daughter, who is desensitized to everything, was really scared. I don't know what's up with that. There is a scary final bad guy and some gross imagery, but that's really about it. Some ideas can be considered pretty heavy for kids. PG.
DIRECTORS: Phil Johnson and Rich Moore
I don't know, man. I keep having weird thoughts about Wreck-It Ralph in general. I mean, this is a film series that is meant to aim directly at me. It's a shameless tie to nostalgia, specifically my nostalgia for classic gaming. I don't love the idea of that and the first time I saw the first movie, I wasn't the biggest fan. I didn't hate it or anything, but it was only okay. (Honestly, I laughed more at the non-video game stuff than any of the video game stuff. "Oreo-oh-oh" still makes me giggle.) But I watched it a whole bunch of times and now unabashedly enjoy it. Like Ralph and the building, he managed to beat down my high standards until I can now watch te movie fairly easily without having to judge it. Maybe my kids and their obsession with watching movies on repeat have something to do with that. I don't care how many times they watch Trolls, I will never like it. (Don't worry. Henry is scared of that movie.)
But one thing about Ralph Breaks the Internet that rings false is that the nostalgia button is really important to the premise of Wreck-It Ralph. Because the alternative is even more superficial. When watching the first movie, it was hitting the nostalgia button really hard. At best, you went out and searched for your old favorite games and replayed those. It wasn't really a goal to get you to go out and buy the new Sonic the Hedgehog game (although that was an option). But when you look at the present Internet, you can't help but feel like all of this is to sell products. I know, it's not the same...until you get to the Oh My Disney! section of the movie. I'm not spoiling anything. It's in all of the trailers and it's been advertised as news for months now. I will say, it's the best part of the movie. It's fantastic. But Disney is already doing plenty to advertise its brand. Do I really need a movie that visits the many Disney properties and explaining how they are the best thing on the Internet? Probably not. So I'm back to my old hypocritical self and simultaneously loving and hating an element of a movie. I'm an old dog. I don't want to learn the new tricks. These scenes are joyful, but I definitely don't think that the Oh My Disney! website is the cornerstone of the Internet that the movie is really pushing for. Really, the movie of a whole is problematic. While I never want to attribute anything to The Emoji Movie, there is way too much crossover there. Sure, anything that Disney touches is probably going to be better than what The Emoji Movie gave us. But a children's animated commentary on the state of the Internet is what The Emoji Movie presents. We already know what Amazon and eBay are doing thanks to that movie. One thing I'd like to think (even though I know I'm lying to myself as I write this) is that Disney is going to present something new, even if its from another perspective. While it looks prettier and fits into story structure better, I don't know if Ralph ever really needed to go to the Internet. Actually, the more I'm thinking about it, the Internet as a framing device is only convenient, not mandatory. It just doesn't feel fresh.
On top of that, their use of websites is really confusing. eBay plays a pretty prominent role in the story, so it is actually eBay. Other actual websites are regularly represented and I suppose that's keeping in line with what is established with eBay. But then the filmmakers decided to make up amalgamations of websites. BuzzzTube? Were Buzzfeed and YouTube hesitant to lend their brands? I don't think so, because they are shown in the film. Maybe there were statutes and limitations to what they could do with those licenses? I know that one of my thoughts about the first Wreck-It Ralph is that the major accomplishment lies in getting the properties to all agree to appear in the movie. I am willing to bet that the same thing is happening in Ralph Breaks the Internet. But because of that, the tone keeps shifting every so slightly. There are moments when the movie is just making jokes about actual websites and then we have to lend our imaginations to a fictionalized version of the Internet. It's an odd choice and I don't think it necessarily adds to the bigger picture. These moments, these analyses, kind of make me question the necessity of Wreck-It Ralph at all. (I didn't loathe the movie. I'm just a fan of originality. ) If I had to call a spade a spade, Wreck-It Ralph is just using Toy Story's format. Toy Story was able to comment on children's toys through giving things that didn't have sentience self-awareness. What is a video game but just a glorified toy? (The history of video games is intimately tied to the toy industry.) So to continue analyzing the movie, I have to make pretty large concessions and just watch it as a film.
As a film, it's fine. But it does ask me to ignore some elements from the previous film. MAJOR SPOILERS: Vanelope kind of sucks in this one. Okay, I know that I'm being harsh to a fictionalized digital little girl. But the first movie was about how Ralph shouldn't "go Turbo." Going Turbo refers to leaving one's game to live his or her own life. The entire lesson is that people should find value in the world around them (kind of. I'm really shortening this idea down to move on with the message about the second film). What we do has value and we sometimes need to be reminded of that. Sometimes we need to remind others. But running away from your problems isn't the right way to go about it. Um...Ralph Wrecks the Internet kind of forgot about that because I'm pretty sure that Vanelope goes Turbo. I was waiting for them to use the vernacular, but they never said, "Going Turbo." She's leaving her game for another game. I will give Ralph Breaks the Internet some credit though. The message that this one gives is also pretty valid, if not conflicting with the first movie. I love the message that Ralph doesn't own Vanelope. That is something that a lot of movies won't touch. We get the story about people leaving and that's completely fine. But it is nice to say that friends should respect each others' boundaries. That's pretty great. But then I'm going to backpedal again. It's weird that Vanelope is so enamored with Grand Theft Auto / Slaughter Race. Vanelope is chasing a dream that doesn't really hold a lot of weight. It's shiny and new and Vanelope has a responsibility. It seems like Slaughter Race is a fairly terrible place. Ralph has a right to look out for his friend. What happens when Vanelope is tired of the sheer misery that Slaughter Race offers. I know that the filmmakers tried to cop out of that element. They show the characters having fun and playing basketball when they aren't murdering folks with their cars. But wanting the best for a friend is what a friend is supposed to do. This all seems like nuance garbage, but it is kind of important. Ralph shouldn't be insecure and try to own Vanelope. They knocked that message out of the park. But ensuring that your friend is safe and commenting when they are making a bad choice is also important. The movie is cake-and-eating-it-too. They made Slaughter Race an okay place, which is a bit of a scam. It's all for the joke.
I'm an old man. I don't really adore memes. I felt real old at times in this movie. I had a good time with it, but it is really flawed compared to a lot of the things that Disney puts out. I have high expectations. I'm glad to go with my kids and I probably could watch it again. But it is a bit of a mess, especially considering that this is the same studio that made Zootopia.
Remember that ultra-violent Castlevania adaptation on Netflix that might be considered offensive? Um...we watched season two. But we really liked it! Listen in!
The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
PG! Because it's animaaaaaattttteeeeddd! This is about a kid reporter who uses a gun and a guy who drinks way too much. But because it is animated and aimed at kids, it is PG. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate the PG part. More movies should be PG. But this is definitely a PG-13 if it was live action. But this is another example of hypocrisy because there is some danger and violence in this movie. PG.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
This! This is the Indiana Jones movie that we wanted. Okay, that's a really brave thing to say and I want to pat myself on the back for saying that. Honestly, the names that went into this movie. I showed this to my daughter because she had finished by Tintin 3-pack hardcover. I remember that my wife and I watched this movie in the theater back in 2011 because Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were in this movie and that I was a big Tintin fan when I was a kid. But since then, a lot has happened. Um, the script was written by Edgar Wright and Steven Moffat. I'm going to let you sit with that for a second. My favorite director of the modern era and then the guy who was in charge of my favorite era of Doctor Who and creator of Sherlock. Then Peter Jackson produced it? Then, and this goes back to my initial comment, Steven Spielberg directed it just like he did when he made the Indiana Jones films? Like, this movie looks and feels like Indiana Jones. John Williams did the score! How is this movie not talked about forever.
Oh, I think I know why. I don't know what Hollywood's obsession with motion capture animation is. We keep getting these movies and the novelty died almost as fast as it started. We had The Polar Express and that's it. (And I didn't even like The Polar Express.) The odd thing about mocap animation is that it aims for photo-realism. But then, what's the point? I'm going to spend a lot of this review answering a lot of my rhetorical questions. You can make an entire world look amazing for cheap when you make it animated. There's this fantastic look to the movie, but this movie is about spectacle. So is Indiana Jones. But Indiana Jones looks awesome because people are doing real stunts. The world is mindblowing because someone actually made all of that stuff. We're seeing real things and real danger. But, at the end of the day, as detailed as the world of Tintin and Beowulf are, no one is any danger. It's all on a controlled soundstage. No one is high up in the air. It's motion capture suits. While I completely stand by Tintin as a successful movie, the energy is kind of deflated knowing that everything is done with motion capture suits. I hated Die Another Day, despite being a big Bond fan. It's the idea of a digital action sequence. It works with things like The Matrix because there is something to ground the entire experience. But with Tintin, there are these epic set pieces that really have to work hard to get my attention. I'm not saying it doesn't succeed. But it does spend way too much time to win me over to its side. I mentioned that motion capture animation is a bit of a novelty and I think that's the movie's biggest problem. If the movie was going to be animated, even with motion capture, it should have embraced the style of the cartoon. This cake-and-eat-it-too nonsense is what gets under my skin. The movie is clearly animated (although I had to explain to my daughter what she was seeing). Why not go for the Herge models? I mean, everyone involved is clearly a fan of the source material. There are so many references to the style that Herge gave the characters. Either go live action or make it stylized. (Spider-Man: Enter the Spider-Verse, I have high hopes for you.)
When watching the movie, I absolutely had the best time with it. My kids were watching. Sometimes they snuggled with me and sometimes they were half-paying attention. That's part of being a parent. But when I write about it, I can see why The Adventures of Tintin didn't work on the level that it should have. The thing that I really liked were the characters and the beat-to-beat moments that just clicked. But as an actual plot, I found it to be extremely thin. I'm going to slightly excuse the movie a bit because I wasn't the best audience member for the entire film. I had to start cooking dinner and I knew that my wife probably wouldn't be excited to watch The Adventures of Tintin. But there was this middle lag (coincidentally, I'm sure, over the part where I started cooking dinner). I was still paying attention. Probably more attention than my kids were. But that odd connection between Captain Haddock and his ancestor was a bit of a stretch. I wanted to get on board (pun intended), but it seemed a bit of a stretch that this entire thing was a familial legacy. I don't think that the movie really needed it. Again, it's Indiana Jones. Chasing down a lost treasure is all that is really needed. (Okay, Indiana Jones has more to it than that, but the foundation is the lost treasure.) Considering that this movie is simply using the Indiana Jones template, I'm surprised that the Raiders formula isn't more important. The Ark of the Covenant is important, but it isn't specifically tied to Indiana Jones or the side characters too intimately. (Marion's father spent his life looking for it, but the actual ark isn't tied to the family history.) We don't really get character building stuff until the third installment. So why tie the narrative to Captain Haddock? There's a lot to throw at the screen to begin with. Why complicate matters by introducing a character and introducing this legacy that needs to be explored more than others. Haddock is a caricature. I don't need depth added to his arc. That's where the movie kind of falls apart. I want to get used to these characters before they are made complex for me. Honestly, it's weird. Tintin himself doesn't really get much character background, but an archetype like Haddock has a rich history? It's weird.
There's something that is kind of unresolved in the movie. Haddock has this arc (pun intended) where he goes from drunken buffoon to true friend over the course of the film. That's perfectly fine. But Haddock is blamed for something he didn't do. It's the moment in the story when Tintin finally is fed up with Haddock's drinking and there's a split between the two characters. That moment is resolved without an explanation. It's a little cliche, honestly. It's so cliche that Spielberg almost didn't feel like filming it. We all know that people forgive each other in the heat of action and that the story needs to move on. But in this case, there's nothing that actually resolves that. The characters just like each other again. Maybe that is more true to life, but it also feels very undercooked. I kind of need these characters to have a little more investment in these moments, especially considering that these characters didn't know each other before this adventure. Maybe there's just too much and it all feels a bit undercooked. (I liked this movie! Why am I hating on it right now?) Thomson and Thompson were the reason I saw this movie initially. This is on me, but when I saw this movie for Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, I was hoping for more Edgar Wright. These characters are fine and I have to consider that they are in a kids' adventure movie. But there's nothing absolutely hilarious about them either. There are bits. Those bits are great. I really like the world that Tintin inhabits, but it's all just peeking under the hood instead of inhabiting this world. Maybe that's my complaint for a lot of Spielberg's later adventure stories. We get so much teasing and graphics, but none of it really feels lived in. I want to know Tintin closely. I want these characters to feel fleshed out; not with outrageous backstories, but with actual human interaction. We are told that Tintin is this great journalist / adventurer, but we don't get to experience Tintin as a human being. Indiana Jones was frustrated a lot of the time. We get to see what he's running away from. Tintin just kind of stumbles into adventure and continues his pursuit of it, regardless of consequence. I don't know. The thing is, I want more Tintin. There's something absolutely brilliant and it isn't being completely fed here. It's fun without the actual payoff that I need. Regardless, I had a good time. This entire review was me complaining about a movie that I enjoyed. But I also know why it might be hard to get a sequel off of the ground.
The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Comic movie! Comic movie! Friendly neighborhood comic movie! Is it G? Not it's not. It's PG, plus 13. PG, PG-THIRRRRTEEEEEENNNNN! (My daughter watching me type this: "I watched that and it's PG-13?" Yeah, kid. It's got some blood. Some mild language. Uncle Ben keeps dying, so that shouldn't be too shocking. PG-13.)
DIRECTOR: Marc Webb
*snort!* His name is Marc Webb! He directed The Amazing Spider-Man! Do you get it? I'm sure someone lightly played this up, but how wasn't everyone talking about this? I'm going to give an unpopular take on this movie. I think this movie is much better than people make it out to be. I like the reboots. They're fine. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 isn't perfect. Neither is this one, I suppose. But I think that this movie gets a lot right. I, too, agree that there was no reason to reboot Spider-Man, but that doesn't mean that the reboot is without merit. This is going to sound way too defensive. I kind of want to beat me up to, but I think people just like dunking on The Amazing Spider-Man because it is an unnecessary reboot. I honestly don't think it really has a prayer, especially since Spider-Man: Homecoming was so darned good.
But I'm going to beat you to the pass. There are a few things in this movie that really don't work that well. Both movies really make this mistake, the second more than the first. For some reason, Marc Webb and his team decided to pull from some really obscure content that no one liked the first time. Marvel Comics in the '90s was a hot mess. There's a couple of things that could be pulled that are mildly awesome. Like, Ben Reilly was a great character who had someone of the worst storylines in Marvel history. But one of the real stinkers of the era was the attempt to make Peter's parents important. When Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created Spider-Man, it was just a story about a nerdy kid who was raised by his aunt and uncle. That's it. It was normal. Peter Parker was criminally normal. When he's bitten by the spider, it's the larger world encroaching on his mundane life. I can get behind that. Why in the world would it be implied that Peter's life was special before all of that? Spider-Man makes Peter special, not some nearly impossible destiny that makes his special. Marvel kind of realized that after the fact. (Sure, Peter's now got a biological sister, but it somehow works.) But the reboot wanted to separate itself from Sam Raimi's trilogy. So they took the completely wrong element from Spider-Man lore and make that the focus. Yeah, they say that Uncle Ben is his real dad, but that's saying, not showing. It's this scramble to find something different. Spider-Man has something kind of unique compared to a lot of other superhero narratives. It's been running for over fifty years. But a those other superhero stories tend to be episodic. There's a storyline here and there that stand out ("The Dark Phoenix Saga", "The Sinestro Wars", etc.). But Spidey actually has a pretty well known mythology. The entire story is pretty well laid out. It's why we keep getting Oscorp show up. Norman Osborn's influence over the entire series is pretty prevalent. So Spider-Man shows up with this framing narrative and then has some important storylines that intertwine through that ("Kraven's Last Hunt" / "Spider-Island", etc.). But we keep seeing the Osborn narrative. Starting Spider-Man from scratch means having to tell the Osborn story again. Don't think that Spider-Man: Homecoming got around that. Eagle-eyed viewers will note that the Osborn obsession with family is still there, only it has been given to Liz Allen.
The other thing that is a minor hiccup for me is that Tom Holland is just a better overall Peter Parker / Spider-Man. I'm going to gripe about this in the most minor way because I really like Andrew Garfield in this role. His Peter Parker is different than Tobey Maguire's and he has to be. But Tobey Maguire really nailed Peter Parker. Peter Parker kind of stinks at life. Maguire nails "the Parker luck" way more than Garfield did. Garfield is actually kind of functional as Peter. He's a dork in the sense that he's in the lower 49% of cool. Maguire's character keeps sucking. Spider-Man is meant to be an escape from the humiliating luck of Peter Parker. But now to start praising the movie. Maguire never got how to play Spider-Man. Garfield? He gets Spider-Man. Why Homecoming worked so well is that it gets both elements of Spider-Man are explored so well. Pete and Spider-Man are the same guy, but two sides of the same coin. It's great. But watching The Amazing Spider-Man movies after seeing Homecoming does kind of stress the faults. But forget that I've written a lot about the terrible ends of this movie. They aren't even that terrible. They are pretty good. Andrew Garfield, if you had no one to compare him to, would be an excellent Spider-Man. He's in a fun Spider-Man movie about Spider-Man versus the Lizard that really succeeds. The Amazing Spider-Man actually succeeds where it should actually fail. It is in response to horrible Sony oversight. Sony kneejerk reacted to Sam Raimi saying he needed more time to make the Vulture work. (This is all heresay, but I tend to believe it.) Marc Webb had to make Spider-Man work in a different world than the first three. Remember, Spider-Man 3 was lambasted. Sony wanted a proper reboot. I'm sure that someone said, "Grim" and he had to just react to that. So he made a different world that definitely was Spider-Man's world. Sam Raimi nailed a lot of the great elements. I mean, J. Jonah Jameson! How do you get better than that? So they had to continue making this world look more grounded without taking itself too seriously. It's pretty impressive.
And the Lizard works. He's not the way I would have designed him. It's a very weird look that seems to be very comic-booky. But Curt Connors makes a good villain. Again, a lot of The Amazing Spider-Man suffers from the fact that it is a movie cna only be described in comparison to the other films. Curt Connors was already played by Dylan Baker in Raimi's trilogy. He never got his pay off, so we have a different Curt Connors. I keep playing apologetics for this movie and I hate it. Because The Amazing Spider-Man is an origin movie, it doesn't give the time it needs to the Lizard. Curt Connors is, fundamentally, a guy trying to make himself whole, no matter the cost. The movie covers that element pretty well. But he's making himself complete so he can hold his son. The Lizard tears Connors away from his family and that's never really covered. I think that the filmmakers thought that they could boil down the Lizard to his base. I see the temptation. I CAN'T STOP SAYING THIS: The Amazing Spider-Man works really well if you've never seen the Raimi trilogy. I complained that the Green Goblin gets underbaked (which I consider a far greater crime) in the first Spider-Man movie. For what we get, it's great. If The Amazing Spider-Man was the first Spider-Man movie, it's better than the original Spider-Man. The problem is that it isn't. We have a series that builds a Spider-Man universe that is well-developed. So to present an underdeveloped villain at this point is a little unforgivable. But The Amazing Spider-Man really isn't about its villain. It's about its big deviation: Gwen Stacy. What Marc Webb really nails is the difference between Mary Jane Watson and Gwen Stacy. Let's talk about how perfectly cast Gwen Stacy is? Emma Stone is so good. It's superficial, but she really looks the part. I know that Bryce Dallas Howard played Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3, but she's a clone of Mary Jane in that one. Gwen is not the same character. We never really get one of her defining traits in this series, which is a shame. She loves Spider-Man, unlike the comics. But that's because Peter makes the right choice in this one and immediately tells Gwen. It's such a different dynamic from the previous ones that isn't based on trust. I really like that decision.
There's a lot that's absolutely perfect about this series. I almost would enjoy watching The Amazing Spider-Man series more because of its potential. But the previous series is just a constant shadow on these movies. It's a shame because there's a story to be told here. There's stuff that's being set up even in this one that never really gets paid off. But it is a far better movie than people have been making out. Give this one a whirl and watch it not in juxtaposition to the other Spider-Man movies, but for a series that was trying to do its own thing.
Literally Anything: Episode Fifty-Five -Literally The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina
Happy Thanksgiving / The Feast of Feasts! The boys finally get to watch the show that Bob was excited about since he first heard about it. This oddly Thanksgiving heavy show is an odd choice for the holiday, but we enjoyed it anyway. We also remember the life of Stan Lee and our brief encounters with his genius.
It Happened One Night (1934)
Not rated. It's got a weird view of marriage. I'm kind of amazed that the phrase "annulment" gets thrown around. It's definitely on dicey ground when it comes to the sanctity of marriage. On one hand, Ellie probably wasn't fully aware of the commitments of marriage. On the other hand, she fell in love with a shirtless Clark Gable. Since it's 1934, the movie also plays it fast and loose with spousal abuse jokes. But otherwise, it's pretty harmless.
DIRECTOR: Frank Capra
Why don't I feel the gumption to write these anymore? I love movies. I love writing about movies. Heck, I adore It Happened One Night. So why am I so stodgy about writing these now. Last week, I was close to 2,000 readers. Now I'm under 1,000. That's just sloppiness on my part. I apologize, but I also realize that I'm doing this for my benefit and that it shouldn't feel like a job. I'll write when I want to write and go from there. But at least I get to write about Frank Capra. That's definitely a major win for me.
I keep getting thrown under the bus for not liking romantic comedies. We're in Hallmark Christmas movies. I know I'm actively poking the bear by condemning Hallmark Christmas movies, but I think it's because romantic comedies get the biggest free passes for people liking them. The need for standards is criminally low when it comes to liking these movies. I'm not saying that we shouldn't watch Hallmark Christmas movies. Again, my mantra is that you should like what you like and not to care about what anyone else thinks. But when I watch a movie like It Happened One Night, it makes it really hard to sit through A Cookie Cutter Christmas. You may think that I'm being glib with that title, commenting that all Hallmark Christmas movies are the same. Nope. That's the name of the Hallmark Christmas movie I walked in on. Luckily for me, I only caught the last half of the movie, so I don't really have to write about it. But November and December were once Frank Capra season. I love Frank Capra, probably too much. He's one of those geniuses that I haven't discovered anything too gross about. I know. I'm probably calling the wolf out of the woods writing that, but I love Capra. He's the American Dream personified. Sure, his career ended in a less than ideal situation, but I can still believe, right? Capra gets poverty so well. During my year, I teach Steinbeck. He's my favorite author, so I teach Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. While I love Steinbeck, the guy is remarkably bleak. He talks about the Great Depression like the plague. It's so interesting watching the Great Depression from the point of view of Frank Capra. Capra is the product of the Depression. Film was about escapism for people. They needed two seconds to forget about their terrible lives and It Happened One Night is exactly what is needed. It warmed my soul didn't it?
Usually when I watch Depression era films, I simply enjoy the spectacle. That's what they were about. I get them. They are sheer, thoughtless entertainment. But Capra's strength, regardless of topic, is the importance of the individual. Capra takes two very archetypal characters. I know, it's 1934. The trope is being invented. But Capra imbues the trope before it would get diluted with this movie. I usually have a hard time with the movies that establish the trope because these movies tend to iron out the kinks later in history. But It Happened One Night makes the road movie / the mismatched rom com work because the characters are fully fleshed out. Yeah, there's a little bit of one-dimensionalism going on. It is a comedy, after all. But these characters are charming. There are moments of complete vulnerability that both protagonists face and it is really does make the movie seem like something more than it is. There's nothing necessarily sentimental about the movie. I think I cringe more at movies that try to be sentimental. In isolation, this movie could be confused for being overly-sentimental. But this all ties to Capra again. He gets the balance. He has his archetypal characters. They open up when they need to and not before. It Happened One Night is almost mathematical in that way. So often, when I watch rom-coms, that balance is way off. We're asked to instantly identify with characters we've found superficial for the long haul. But It Happened One Night gets that timing right. We see the baby steps towards humanity. When the major vulnerable moments actually happen, it doesn't feel like a lightswitch. It feels oddly earned. Other directors who watch this movie have to be intimidated. I think almost every rom-com has tried to mimic this formula and just got every element wrong. Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert are part of the reason for that. I heard somewhere that Claudette Colbert thought that she was slumming it when it came to making this movie. It took Clarke Gable to lose his cool with her to put her in line. But I told you that this movie is almost mathematical. Who knows if this would have worked if Colbert didn't go into this movie with the exact attitude she had? I love Claudette Colbert and she's perfect here. The scene inside the traveler's hotel is just absolutely fabulous. The shifts between the mild and the intense is sensational.
Me preaching about Frank Capra is just self-indulgent. I will probably love every Capra film that I'll ever see. Sure, some are better than others and It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington will always be my favorites. But I tend to come back to the well that is It Happened One Night time and again. It's an extremely joyful movie and it is is an example of one of the best rom-coms and one of the best road movies at the same time.
Nothing can come of nothing, but Amazon’s King Lear is far from nothing, so we’re good. Shakespeare’s classic undergoes a modernization effort with an incredible cast that mostly delivers, and the guys bring forth a discussion on Lear, Shakespeare, British politics, racism, and the collapse of empires.
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.