Rated R for general brutality. But I really want it to be rated R for a very specific brutality. It's the second grossest places to get stabbed. The trailer teases it, but the Achilles tendon is a pretty gross place to get stabbed. I don't know why it sets off such a visceral reaction for me, but man alive I get all squirmy when I see that cut. Also, Pet Sematary is all about the gore. It's not on the level of an Eli Roth or James Gunn film, but be ready to see some overall disturbing things. I'm sure there's language, but whatever. R.
DIRECTORS: Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer
Listen, I read Pet Sematary just to get ready for this movie. I also watched the original Pet Sematary and its sequel to get ready for this movie. You'd think I'd be there on opening day to go see the remake that looked super awesome. Well, I didn't. It's really hard to go see really gross horror movies. I don't ever want to be associated with being a horror movie guy. I like horror movies, but I also like a lot of other stuff too. I tend to put them up on a pedestal as an adult mainly because it is difficult to convince my wife to go see them. She's really waist-deep into Hallmark Channel right now, so that's the climate I'm working with right now. I mean, I know my wife wouldn't like this movie one bit. There's nothing in it that really appeals to her. She had her tiny horror kick for about three months, but a lot of that was due to Ryan Murphy. Pet Sematary appeals to a very specific crowd and that's probably what will make it ultimately forgettable.
There seems to be a trend in modern movies. I don't want to simply shelve Pet Sematary as remake. Remakes seem to be a very different beast. I do kind of love that this is a remake of a movie that is less than impressive. I know that there are classic Pet Sematary fans out there. I don't want to detract from people's tastes or anything like that. I have to say that I'm torn. I know that the new version kind of plays up that element of iconic imagery. When I saw that trailer with the kids walking through the forest sporting homemade animal masks, I knew that there was something really disturbing about that. Those masks are particularly effective. The weird thing about the masks is that the entire marketing was built around these masks. I thought back to the book and tried to figure out what was going on with these kids and the masks. I thought that somehow the filmmakers decided to add a cult element or something to the entire story. I am glad that it didn't happen. Don't get me wrong. But it is extremely effective. What this all leads to is that much of Pet Sematary plays up imagery more than substance. I really want to stress that this is not a binary thing. If I had to give Pet Sematary a thumbs up or a thumbs down, I would be more complimentary than detracting of it. It's pretty creepy. It's pretty scary. But where this movie separates itself from its predecessors is the idea that visually, the entire thing is intense, if not sitting on the shoulders of its compatriots. Everything in the world of this King story is very bleak. New England seems like a sad, brutal fog. That washed out feeling gives the entire world a sense of gravitas and foreboding, but that also kind of leads to a complete lack of humor and joy. It's why I probably won't be watching the movie again. It just lacks any sense of fun. I like when horror is fun. I need that back and forth coming from my films. If I'm scared, I need that cathartic laugh afterwards. It makes the next scare all that much more scary.
The big twist is the thing I want to write about the most. I don't know why I buried it in this paragraph. I think I wanted to clear off some cobwebs before I decided to write about this exact thing. One of the drawing points to the story is the fact that Gage is the one who dies in the original story. Pet Sematary isn't that amazing of a story. If The Shining is all about Jack Nicholson with an axe, Pet Sematary is a story about a toddler murdering folks. It's so visually a thing. I remember seeing the trailer back in the day with Gage shambling all over the house in a onesie and it terrified me. The most successful thing in the original film is Gage. But switching the victim of the Orinco truck to Ellie is actually a cool choice, but probably only for people who are tired of the same narrative. The remake covers all the same beats of the book and the original film. In fact, it probably covers these moments a little better. I will swear to the grave (pun intended) that the original totally needed to have Gage as the killer kid. But Ellie's resurrection plays very differently than Gage. Ellie is rational. As a parent, I can see trying to resurrect Gage more. But then again, I also love all my children and, if I was in Louis's situation, would return any one of them. But the toddler is the most tragic. I thought that the new filmmakers originally choice to swap Ellie for Gage because the death of a toddler seems so unbelievably tragic. But what actually happens is that Louis gets something different than he does with Gage with Ellie. If I have a nine-year-old, I have certain expectations of behavior. The death of Ellie and the return of Ellie means an understanding that you can probably fix her. I know if I was looking at my kids, behavior probably means something temporary. I have a personal relationship with that kid that I would be desperate to get back. Ellie is a different kind of scary than Gage was in the original story. Gage was almost an imp crawling through the house. But Ellie is a corrupt version of something that was originally loved and respected. That's kind of an interesting exploration that I hadn't thought of before.
King originally stuck a lot of side stuff into his movie that the previous film really didn't touch on. The first film never really felt all that crafted. It felt very commercial and somewhat rushed. But this film really takes some deep dives into the more challenging elements of King's novel. I never really felt comfortable with the Zelda story, mainly because it is a fear of the invalid. I guess I'm walking into some weird territory. We are terrified of the infirm. I know that I am. I am extremely empathetic, but I can't deny the twinge that comes from knowing someone is reminding me of my own mortality. The Zelda stuff is exploitative, but is that the worst thing in the world? This is something I'm figuring out right now. I mean, denying that people experience senses of trepidation when dealing with the infirm probably seems like it is the world's great lie. But then also, only compounding that fear in a movie like Pet Sematary also seems pretty irresponsible. I want to address the fear that people have of the infirm, but Pet Sematary only takes it to a place that is more troubling than previously thought. Rather than counteract that fear at all, the movie tells us that we have a reason to be afraid of the ill beyond the thing that our reptile brain really tells us. King isn't exactly a moral crusader, giving a positive spin to the fear. The movie isn't Home Alone, dealing with the scary neighbor while providing a positive message to take away from the whole story. No, it's scary and it is meant to be scary. I appreciate that, but I want something more than I can give as a good answer. The Zelda story is weird. There's an element of that story that blames the parents for leaving Rachel at home with Zelda. I love that element of the book. In fact, I was kind of shocked that my favorite part of the story, the confrontation between Louis and Rachel's parents, isn't in the film. But what does it really say? We have Rachel's almost unstoppable feare of death. I'm a little bummed out that the film decided to make this movie reflect Louis's hard atheist perspective on the whole thing. I know that's what King is beating around the bush with, but this movie drives a nail hard into that fight and embraces the fact that any degree of faith is silly. But what the Zelda storyline leaves us, besides some admittedly effective scares, especially when the dumbwaiter is concerned, is a fear of those who are sick. That's probably not too healthy.
I would like to point out how much I like John Lithgow as Jud. There's a moment that's almost too meta for words. I'm sure it just worked out because the stars aligned, but the conversation about knowing who Winston Churchill was capped the film off nicely for me. That little tie to The Crown was absolutely priceless. I know there was a wink to the camera, but it didn't really feel like a wink to the camera. Besides that, Pet Sematary falls into the category of effective-remake, but who really cares? It's not a classic. Probably the original story isn't that much of a classic. Honestly, part of me is already pretty tired of this story and I don't really want to watch more of it. Regardless, it's a fine movie I guess.
PG-13 for kinda / sorta nudity and Shakespearean violence. It's a weirdly specific thing. The kinda / sorta nudity is tied to flashes of sex. THat probably makes it way worse. In fact, I'm going to say that it makes it way worse. I don't know if the attitude was "This isn't your dad's Hamlet." But there it was. The violence is pretty tame, despite the fact that Hamlet has people dying by knife and poisoning. I mean, you've had time to read it by this point. It's not like this is a new book. Regardless, PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
My senior year teacher called me Hamlet-boy due to my obsession with Hamlet. I loved Hamlet. It was my second or third real Shakespeare. I remember that Julius Caesar never really grabbed my attention, despite the fact that I teach it now. But because Julius Caesar was so overwhelming, I wanted to watch a production of it while following along in the text. This was the version I watched. We had it on home video. Twin VHSes because the movie was so darned long. And I remember being riveted. I think I was just blown away at the majesty of such a thing. Remember, when I was in high school, the go-to version of this movie was the Mel Gibson one. But Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet was the full production. It was Shakespeare's longest (I'm pretty sure) play and all of it was included. But the thing is, I never came back to it until I actually had to teach Hamlet.
When I was the student experiencing Hamlet for the first time, this movie helped me understand something that I was intimidated by. I tell parents and students that they should watch staged productions of the plays we read because plays really weren't made to be read. They were created to be performed. That stage direction, although vital and interesting, wasn't for the audience. It was almost an element that was meant to be for the co-collaborators in the process of making this text come alive. I want my students to read that stuff. I think that it gives them absolutely fabulous information into the nuances of the show, but it is just like listening to a commentary track. Watching it as a high schooler, I appreciated and adored how much attention was being paid to the original script. I can say the same thing about A Raisin in the Sun with Sidney Poitier. It's got so much love for the text that the movie is as close to a stage production as one could get while keeping the whole thing cinematic and grounded. I can't watch filmed stage productions. We can all feel the separation between the actual experience of being an audience member in a house to the artificiality of the whole thing. I don't know why imaginations have a hard time making the leap when it is is a recorded version of the show, but I don't deny that it is constantly hanging over my head while watching.
But I found myself kind of bored at Hamlet this time. I wanted my experience to be something else. I needed it to be something bigger and larger than life. If I went to see a professional or semi-professional production of Hamlet, there's something new there. It is an interpretation of Hamlet that I have not seen before. The one thing, as a high school student, that was tough, was divorcing the choices that Branagh made in this movie. In my head, Hamlet takes place in this what-has-to-be-1900s version of Elsinore. I could easily research the template of the whole thing, but that's as far as I'll go. But there's something about Shakespeare that almost begs to be reinterpreted. I don't want to see the same thing over and over again. I remember enjoying A Midsummer Night's Dream with Kevin Kline as Bottom the first time I watched it. That was Midsummer to me. But rewatching it, it wasn't quite perfect. Something seemed a little off. It's that discovery that comes with the genius of Shakespeare. It's the emotional connection. (I wish my students got as passionate about Hamlet as I'm doing right now.) Maybe owning this movie doesn't quite do it for me in some ways. It's the sameness of it all. It's why I can't imagine seeing two nights of the same show's run. There has to be a surprise for me and this movie doesn't really do it. So what I'm left with is a very pretty, but very trying four hour and two minute movie.
Part of that comes from the fact that I have to be empathic to a certain extent. I showed my kids the play in sections. We would read an act and then watch the film. I know, the best movies in the classroom are shown in clips, not in entirety. But again, I stand by my statement that plays are meant to be seen and also, whatever. But I watched this movie and saw people acting the crap out of this film. I mean, Derek Jacobi plays Claudius. I have to admit, that I should have seen more things with Derek Jacobi in it. I now know him from Doctor Who and that makes me feel like I haven't seen any movies, despite the fact that I've seen more movies than most. Branagh made a movie that wasn't afraid to be kind of boring. This is the most backhanded compliment I can give. I have such respect for every element of this film (with the exception of the ending, which I want to talk about.) Castle Rock Entertainment, who released this movie, knew that this movie wouldn't have gone to wide release. It's four hours. Lord of the Rings movies, which made tons of bank, weren't given four hours in the theater. Theaters hate long films. But Branagh was adamant about every line being covered in this film and not to rush the lines and we got this movie. It's so respectful of Shakespeare that it creates that double-edged sword of being wildly impressive while ultimately being boring at times. Again, it's an acting exercise for a lot of the cast.
I'm going to close up with a talk about the end. I mean, considering that this movie is four+ hours, I could break down in to some other stuff that I love. But a lot of it comes down to performance. Say what you will about Branagh, he's telling the Hamlet story faithfully. Interpretation really comes down to setting and performance. But the slavishness to the text, as much as I love it, means that the role of director is kind of minimized to that of organizer and shot creation. The movie is beautiful. It's absolutely gorgeous and epic...until the end. The movie is four hours of building to the death of everyone, in particular Claudius. Imagine you are me at 17 or whatever and you know that Claudius is going to die. You don't know that everyone else is going to die. I am ready to see Claudius get what's his. The Laertes death is fantastic. Everything about Laertes and that final duel is on point. It's a little confusing that Laertes dies by his own blade in this one, but that's to be forgiven. There's a lot going on. I'm talking more about how Hamlet just launches a sword at him that flies through the air as if on a wire. Come on. You make a four hour movie. You keep everything pretty close to the vest with the exception of flashes of sex. But then, the sword has to fly through the air? I'm serious. How dramatic would it have been to have horror movie Hamlet slow walk to his victim, trapping him in a corner. I would have loved to have one moment of misplaced sympathy as this force of nature overcomes poisoning to murder his uncle in cold blood. Look at how well composed a lot of these shots are. The image I got above comes from a Twitter account called One Perfect Shot, I think. I got it a while ago and I wasn't really writing down sources. A lot of the movie pays attention to how good things look. But with Hamlet launching a sword at Claudius, it just seems so sloppy. Was no one in the dailies questioning how stupid it was to have a flying sword. I wouldn't even mind if the sword spun and killed Claudius as much. It's just using the sword as a javelin is fundamentally the worst. It's not the dismount to the film, thank Heaven, but it is pretty darned close. It's the shot that we wait for the entire film.
Sometimes, boring is good. I think that Branagh gets a monumental undertaking pretty much right. I adore most of what is going on in this movie. But ultimately, it is almost too boring at times. When there's a great scene, I totally get it. I adore the highlights of Hamlet in this film. (Sure, I don't know why Hamlet and Laertes are wearing fencing gear that has nipples a 'la Batman & Robin...) But including everything works way better on stage, not on film. It just seems a bit...much. It's still my favorite version of Hamlet and Hamlet is still one of my favorite plays. But without offering something new on a rewatch, I unjustly find it more tedious than the first time I watched it.
Not rated, but the documentary, while not showing anything, gets extremely uncomfortable with its revelation of what really happened. I would write about it, but I think being that spoilery in the MPAA section might be a bit far, even for me. After all, sometimes the MPAA section shows up in people's previews. Regardless, this isn't an easy to watch documentary due to some intense content. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Ed Perkins
Why don't I want to write anymore? The very thought of writing a tank about this documentary seems burdensome to be. There's stuff to talk about. There's stuff I want to talk about. But everything in my body says, "Nah, don't write this." I think it's my foray into video games. That endorphin rush is constantly being fulfilled. But now my head hurts and I want to get this done in 45 minutes, so let's do this.
Tell Me Who I Am almost reads like a philosophical challenge in the form of a documentary. People could bicker all day and night whether or not this movie is great or not. I don't think it comes down to that. Tell Me Who I Am is almost like a really R-rated Twilight Zone morality play. The central debate is the fact that you can't put Pandora back in the box. It is almost unprecedented how this whole thing worked out. The fact that they are twins who were raised in the same house, as cold as this is, means that the story has a variable and a control. One twin has forgotten everything except for the name of his brother. I don't know how that works. But that means that the variable is Alex, the child who remembered nothing. If the experiment was asking about nature versus nurture, then Alex would be the variable. (We could easily invert this experiment to make Marcus the variable, questioning whether or not it is a moral decision to let Alex in on the secret.) But it is almost impossible that this actually existed. That's maybe an unfair statement because the very Matrix code of the movie is that this happens all too casually. But I want to give people a real life hypothetical, I would turn to Tell Me Who I Am as evidence that sometimes we need to think about consequences and of no-win scenarios.
I completely sympathize with both of them. Neither one of the brothers is the bad guy in this story. I can't imagine being Alex. Everything is gone and every element of information coming my way is welcome normality. But at the end of the day, I feel for Marcus. From Alex's point of view, there is little morally at stake. He feels robbed that his brother is keeping secrets from him, but he is not presented with a moral choice outside of how much he might be torturing his brother. But I don't think he ever really makes that connection that he is torturing his brother. From his perspective, he is confused. The majority of his life has been post-accident. Even if he was 18 years behind everyone else, he still is a grown man. But he has defined himself by his accident. Other people don't have the problem that accompanied him with the accident, so there is no sense of normal. But Marcus is fully formed. He has this moral obligation. He knows that keeping the secret is lying to his brother. His brother trusts him not to lie, but he has to lie to protect his brother. It's so complicated. The more his brother asks for details, the more the moral obligation is thrust upon him. When Marcus finally reveals the truth about the boys' childhood, Alex reveals that he guessed a lot of what his brother had said. That's a heck of a thing. Marcus is in this weird position where he just wants to shake Alex and beg him to stop asking.
Tell Me Who I Am is kind of an example of love. I know. Love isn't supposed to involve actively sinning against someone else. But I can think of my wife. Would I do anything to ensure that my wife never knew a moment of pain? Would I do the same for my children? I'd like to think so. The fact that Marcus is out in the world and walking upright is a miracle. He shouldn't be able to form healthy relationships. The boys are twins. Look at how much older Marcus looks than his brother. His brother, despite the fact that his main stress in life is not knowing what is true and what is made up, looks far more carefree. Alex's trauma is akin to what most people probably feel in the world. A person he loves has betrayed him and broken his trust. On paper, that sounds really dramatic. In reality, everyone has broken our heart at one point or another. Alex lives in a world where his demons are relatable and commonplace, despite having amnesia. Marcus has to live every day with a demon that is so outrageous that he feels the need protect those he loves from that demon. That's insane. I'm not trying to downplay Alex's trauma. He's got something real there and I can't imagine what that is like. But just the way that the boys carry themselves kind of says a lot about the nature of mental scarring. I'll just say it. I would do exactly what Marcus did. I wouldn't tell Alex. It's a punishment to him to know these things.
Telling Alex wouldn't undo the trauma of the accident. It would cinematically bring his memory back. What it would do is give a boy with physical trauma experiences that would only compound the accident. It's not like Marcus was being selfish. Maybe, to some extent, it was selfish. Marcus was able to move past the trauma through his fiction. He also allowed Alex to become dependent on him. But these were unintended repercussions to something that probably wasn't his intent. He's trying to protect his brother.
The thing that bugs me about the whole thing with the secret is just how prevalent this kind of disgusting behavior must be. I'm really ignorant. The other day, I saw a meme that said that when you turn 30, you find out that 85% of people have tried cocaine. With my stupid confirmation bias, I thought "That's impossible. I don't do cocaine and my wife doesn't do cocaine. Thus, no one does cocaine." I don't know it is is the people I roll with, but that just seemed off. When the movie reveals that the mother of these two boys basically traded them around as sexual favors for England's aristocracy, that seemed impossible. There's a thing that I always think of when multiple people are involved in a terrible crime. I wonder, "How does one broach that subject?" How do you know that asking something criminal to someone else isn't going to instantly come back and destroy you? I probably have written the following sentence on this blog before, but I always like to think that the world is a good place with a few bad people in it. But living in the world of Tell Me Who I Am, apparently the world is a horrible place where two boys can be sexually assaulted for years by packs of strangers and that's just normal. The biggest criticism I can give Marcus is the knowledge that Alex should never have been hanging out with his mother after all of these things came to light. What is even more mind-boggling is Marcus's treatment of his father. The documentary states that it was probably likely that the twins' father didn't know about the ring of sexual debauchery, yet Marcus hated him more than his mother. I don't understand that. I also don't understand how Marcus's mother told everyone but Marcus's father.
I don't know why Tell Me Who I Am didn't make a bigger impact on me. It should have. It is a painful documentary to watch at times, but it sometimes just washed over me after it was done. I think the production value probably had something to do with it. The documentary is extremely intimate. Really, it is just composed of the two talking heads and little else. We get some small reenactments. It is all very artfully done. There's a shot that keeps repeating that I didn't understand until the big reveal happened. But because the movie limits the scope to these two testimonies, it feels like a very small movie. I hate saying this because a lot of this reaction comes from me, but Tell Me Who I Am has a lot of Netflix-original problems. It seems less valid because I didn't pay to see it. I know, that's unfair. But it is how I feel. Regardless, the directors didn't do anything wrong, so much as it is the responsibility of the viewer to distance from preconceived notions.
Not Rated. The movie never aims for being offensive. It's pretty tame. But folks do swear in conversation. Also, Star Trek is fundamentally political. A political ideology shouldn't necessarily be part of the MPAA, but there's some controversial topics being discussed throughout. In fact, there's a segment where they talk about whether or not the show addressed certain political landmines. If most fandom documentaries are G rated, this might be PG or PG-13. But again, not rated.
DIRECTORS: Ira Steven Behr and David Zappone
I'm just a hypocrite at this point. I keep watching fandom documentaries about my own nostalgia. I keep saying that they're candy and that they aren't exactly helping me grow as a person or as a film fan. But I really don't care. When I first saw the trailer for this documentary, I tried to play it cool. I told myself that I wasn't interested. I know that information about this doc kept going across my feed, mostly because of the HD versions of Deep Space Nine stuff. I knew it was going to be a Fathom Event in my area and that would probably be the only way to watch it. I remember looking at my phone and I knew that if I really wanted to make it, that I had ten minutes to get to my local theater and watch it. I was making dinner at the time and I also was filled with shame so I didn't ask my wife if I could go to the movies to see the Deep Space Nine documentary. But when it became available through Shout! Factory, yeah, I bought it.
Then Shout! Factory took six or so months to get it to me. That's a different story. In the mean time, I found out that the documentarians --which is a bit of a cop-out because Ira Steven Behr was one of the directors --were getting together a notable portion of the writing staff to plan a series premiere for a fictional season eight. Yeah, that made it worth it. I will always hold fandom documentaries up to a comparison with Trekkies. Trekkies is the gold standard of fandom films. It's what I want all fandom films to be. Trekkies is both loving of its source material and also very critical of it at the same time. It never gets into "should this fandom exist?" But it also doesn't mind poking at the bear a little bit. What We Left Behind isn't Trekkies. It isn't even close. But it also is dealing with a drastically different subject matter. Trekkies wanted the audience to laugh at itself. What We Left Behind is a very loving walk down nostalgia lane to the underground stepchild of the Star Trek franchise, but a walk that includes pointing out the faults of the series as well.
My biggest criticism of a lot of these fandom movies is that they claim that the series could do no wrong. Back in Time is probably the biggest perpetrator of that crime. It's so in love with itself that it never really allows a realistic view of what was happening at the time. It's so rose-colored that the movie ultimately falls flat. What We Left Behind and its attention to its failures is what gives it a little bit more validity than Back in Time and its ilk. I don't want to give this movie too much credit though. I recently graded a persuasive essay defending the actions of our president. All of the citations were "Trump Administration". What We Left Behind really has the same problem. I think Adam Nimoy was originally the director of this film until he abandoned it. When Ira Steven Behr came in as the public face behind this movie, there were some good and bad things that happened. The good thing was that Behr had insight into what really was going on behind the screen, despite the fact that he is often criticized throughout for being an unreliable narrator by his interviewees. That was something I really appreciated, that he left all of that criticism in. The bad side is that, while there is an attempt to be objective, nothing can really be trusted. Behr, as a part of his mission statement, seems to be about full disclosure. He really wants to stress that things weren't always honky-dory behind the scenes. He even paints his own approach to showrunning as often unfair to the cast and crew. But in my head, knowing that he was the director of this movie, that means that there are probably skeletons in the closet that he may not even acknowledge exist. He seems like kind of a punk.
There's something artificial behind it all. Behr has too much going on making a documentary about himself. Any other documentary about oneself would be wrought with problems. Where does the documentary begin and the reality end? Similarly, Behr has a very specific direction that he wants this documentary to go, which means adding this voice that ultimately isn't organic. There are sections of the film where Behr just speaks to the camera. Instead of being a talking head that is responding organically to a prompt, Behr just redirects the flow of the river into the topic he wants addressed. These moments are slightly cringey. Also, there's this meta dialogue flowing through the piece as well. Behr, mostly to be tongue-in-cheek, wants the audience to be aware that this is a documentary and not cinema verite. I get the logic. Star Trek fans seem to know the personalities behind the actors that play their favorite characters. They want to see them play. Because I am such a Trekkie, I'm also indoctrinated into the idea that the Star Trek casts post ToS are more like a family than other series. Trek actors go to conventions and do talkbacks. They seem to see each other a lot. Watching that happen in the documentary is very similar to hitting a Star Trek convention and believing the little skits. Yeah, it's cringey from an outside perspective to watch this metanarrative happen in the documentary. But from a Star Trek perspective, it seems like business as usual.
I'll tell you what makes this documentary worth it and why it overall works. A) I always want to rewatch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Being the snob that I am, I will always advocate that it is my favorite Star Trek show (although I'm really falling in love with Discovery. I know...blasphemy!). But from a nerd's perspective, catching that storyboarded new season premiere is actually gold. I love the process of it. That's something to really sell. Watching people who really get Deep Space Nine come together one more time and breakdown a show is kind of brilliant. Part of me is a little betrayed. Seeing the storyboarded animatics come together is rad, but I always imagined that the season goals were established first and then the episode breakdowns started to happen. Maybe that's still the way it happened. But the way that the writers talked, it really sounded like they came up with a bunch of cool concepts and then it was their job to unbury themselves from the hole that they dug. Again, this all harkens back to the artificiality of this whole documentary. Am I glad that they broke down an imaginary episode of Deep Space Nine? Totally. It's exactly what I wanted in my life. I needed to know what happened to Sisko. I am also super glad that they weren't beholden to character happy endings. But it isn't quite perfect.
What We Left Behind is really enjoyable. It was a warm blanket. I know I'm not stepping out of line by saying that this is a great documentary for Deep Space Nine fans and no one else. But I am a Deep Space Nine fan and I really like having my fandom acknowledged. It's a good feeling. Yeah, it's probably pretty low on the cultural impact bar, but I'm no Martin Scorsese. I was happy watching it. It brought me joy. It's not even the best fandom documentary, but I will say it is one of the better ones.
TV-MA for some mild to severe brutality. Yeah, I'm vague. Lean towards severe. There's people on people violence. There's a lot that's left to the imagination. But then there's also some weird invasive stuff that comes with the titular tall grass. It's more brutal than I thought it was going to be, but seasoned horror fans might find this movie to be pretty tame. Regardless, well earned TV-MA.
DIRECTOR: Vincenzo Natali
In high school, I started reading Stephen King. My parents were really reticent about letting me read books like Fear Street. When the training wheels came off, I dove deep into the Stephen King stuff. But then I found that Stephen King wasn't considered "REAL" literature. Being the snob that I am, I turned my back on on King, despite the fact that I really liked the books. A few years ago, on vacation with my wife around the UK, I picked up the firs Dark Tower book and just inhaled it. I loved it. I knew that The Dark Tower was considered the the snob's Stephen King. This opened so many doors for me in terms of re-engaging with King. Even more so, reading King gave me an even better perk. I discovered his son, Joe Hill's, writing. It was oddly even more better. (I vacillate between the merits of both writers.)
I didn't think that I could convince my wife to watch a horror movie this Halloween. Hallmark Channel invaded our home early. But she was super cool with it one night. I don't know what happened, but I wasn't going to question it. I heard some folks chatting about In the Tall Grass. I didn't know if it was good. I don't know if it was bad. I just know that FOMO was hitting hard and I convinced Lauren to watch In the Tall Grass. Lauren, despite claiming otherwise, doesn't hate King. We've done a couple books on tape with Stephen King and she's mostly enjoyed them. Considering that In the Tall Grass was a streaming horror movie with some buzz about it, we turned it on. I don't really regret it for a second. Without beating around the bush anymore (pun intended), In the Tall Grass delivers on giving the audience the unexpected without being a super tight script.
I read In the Tall Grass as being a haunting tale that plays up its simplicity. That gut fear of being lost as the central conceit is a smart one. It has that element that the best Stephen Moffat episodes of Doctor Who had of embracing something that is illogically scary and ramping it up to eleven. Part of me wondered how a movie like this could hold its conceit for the entire length of a film. From what I understand, In the Tall Grass is a short story. How could a feature length film exist on something that is really just a concept piece. Well, that's where the unexpected happens. In a way, In the Tall Grass is a less successful version of The Decent. The grass is scary enough. Being lost without hope is scary enough. Cube played up on the same thing. But the curveball take what could be a really classy film and make it something really in the wheelhouse of both King and Hill. King especially likes to take the normality of white America and presenting the inner psychopath in that person. That part reads like King. But there's something about In the Tall Grass that really scratches a sweet itch that kind of reads like candy disguised as a complex dish. Since this entire area is a spoilery area, I guess I should just talk about the weird time travel stuff going on in this. In a million years would I classify In the Tall Grass as a time travel movie. But In the Tall Grass grasps some of my favorite elements from time travel fiction. Tall Grass and its use of the paradox does something that lets me engage with a film more than I normally do. The thing about good time travel stories, especially ones that involve paradox, is that it forces conversation. The reason that this entire blog exists is because I desperately want to talk to people about the movies I'm watching.
But In the Tall Grass kind of commits a crime in the process. The thing about the whole movie is that it cheats to get where it is supposed to go. King and Hill's story is that there's really no solving the events of the movie. We can relate to the characters. We know what is good and what is evil. I can even bend and say that we understand the consequences of the climax of the film. There are real repercussions. But like some of the more fun movies that I enjoy, the movie doesn't really make a ton of sense. It lets you know that the movie doesn't make a lot of sense. Sometimes I absolutely adore this in film. I keep coming back to Predator for a movie that doesn't try to explain anything about what's going on, but we just have to accept it. King and Hill's story really pushes their luck with engaging an audience. While watching In the Tall Grass, I kept vocalizing theories about what was going on. About 60% of the movie, I realized that I was an idiot and there was no cohesive background to what was going on. There were things that I guessed right, but ultimately, none of those ideas really would matter. Yeah, the multiple corpses element was cool. But me solving elements of the time travel element are so removed from what the story is all about. I had an epiphany about how details were working, but the story is just a mess of chaos. That's fun and all, but that isn't ultimately satisfying.
There's something very Twilight Zone about the whole thing. Imagine, if you will, that Rod Serling just pumped a bunch of blood into a story and that was the event. There's this neat little bow on the movie with the protagonist, Travis, having this whole redemption arc to go through. And, ultimately, he does actually fulfill that redemption arc. It's actually very touching. He goes from being a coward about the future to deciding that he would do anything to push the future forward, including fighting for Becky's child. Becky's child, by the way, is pretty dark so let's kind of skim over that. That's very Twilight Zone, like I mentioned. But the movie is fighting against its own conventions. The rock in the center is kind of problematic, despite its eeriness. Patrick Wilson's Ross is obsessed with people touching the rock. It warps their minds and makes them slaves to the tall grass. When the earth opens up and reveals the squirming corpses of those possessed by the rock, we have a bit of a Chekov's gun problem. One of the people have to touch the rock. We're told throughout the story that Tobin does it. By the nature of paradox, he's never really forced into touching the rock. But Tobin, ultimately a good character, is corrupted by the rock and tries leading other to said rock. But in the final timeline, Tobin never really is tempted by the rock. I suppose that Ross, in one of the timelines, forces Tobin to touch the rock, making him evil. But that's all off camera. If this is really a Chekhov's gun, we have to see one of the main characters touch it on screen. That's where the movie kind of falls apart. A) Someone has to touch the rock. B) Travis needs to make a sacrifice for his moral mistake. Travis touching the rock makes sense from a writing perspective. But he doesn't really have to face the full consequences of his actions.
The rock possesses good people. Tobin is proof of that. When Travis turns around to face the rock because the temptation is higher than ever before, it's really an odd choice. So much of the movie has Travis resisting the rock and all of the physical forces trying to get him to touch the rock are gone. He has this epiphany that the rock would help Tobin get out of the grass. But where does he come to that conclusion. It's odd that Travis is given clarity. It's this self-sacrificing moment that Travis needed to have, but it doesn't really make a lick of sense that he should be able to command such clarity after it happens. He should be part of that human root system or acting as a vessel for the rock, like Ross.
So I can see why people don't really dig this movie. I think it's fun. It does the job it needs to do. But at the end of the day, it's a fun streaming horror movie. It's got a production value that rocks. It gets more complicated than it really needs to, which is kind of fun for me. But it's also a little bit of a mess. If you go into it knowing that it is a bit of a mess, you might actually have a really good time. I had a good time, but I know that it probably isn't a great movie.
It's rated R for being REALLY brutal. I usually abhor this kind of graphic horror, mainly because I think my imagination is probably better than anything that can be thrown on screen. But we've all imagined what Superman could do if he just went ape on people. It's a little bit satisfying, in the darkest possible way, to see it actually happen. All those conversations about what Superman could do to Batman if he was just let off the chain is on screen here. It's really really graphic and I'm not going to sugarcoat any of it. It's intense. Hard R.
DIRECTOR: David Yarovesky
I have so much to say that I'll probably end up saying nothing. When I saw this trailer, I was instantly on board. I've read comic books that have dabbled in what Brightburn accomplishes. It's just that the trailer was cut perfectly. I've mentioned it before, but Man of Steel might be one of my least favorite movies of all time. It's really bad. If you like it, keep liking it. I'm not going to change your mind. Also, you should feel comfortable liking what you like. But when I saw that Brightburn parodied / homaged the Man of Steel trailer, I knew exactly what this film was going to be. The thing about Brightburn is that it doesn't disappoint. And there's a very good reason for it.
The trailer says, "From James Gunn, Director of Guardians of the Galaxy". When I heard that James Gunn was directing Guardians of the Galaxy, I got really nervous. I loathe James Gunn horror movies. They are gross out horror-comedies, really. But I often find myself not laughing and just feeling icky by the end. (Side-note: Do we consider Super to be a horror-comedy? Probably not. But I get the same feeling from that film as well.) James Gunn, when he's not being great at Marvel, is not a great director. I remember hearing that The Belko Experiment was just almost unwatchable. But I watched Brightburn and thought, "Gee, James Gunn may have become a better director since Guardians of the Galaxy." Then the movie ended and it said, "David Yarovesky" and my jaw dropped. What Brightburn accomplishes is that it takes the best elements of James Gunn and balances them really well. Yarovesky is a gross out director. There's a lot of shameless gore in this movie that is absolutely cringeworthy. But the story and the overall filmmaking is actually pretty fun and engaging. My biggest problem with Gunn's horror movies is that I'm rarely all that engaged. I tend to watch them because there are actors I like in the movies. That's a pretty silly reason to watch a torture porn film. Yarovesky gets that his audience wants something over the top. There is a reason that James Gunn's name is all over that trailer. Promotionally, they are attracting both James Gunn's horror audience along with newcomers from the MCU to see another superhero themed movie with his name on it. With all that drama over Guardians 3 and his seeming permanent move to DC, this makes sense to see what Gunn would have been doing free of the Marvel name. But thank goodness Yaronevsky directed this. The movie looks a lot like Snyder's Man of Steel done on a smaller budget.
I was a big Superman fan for a while. I suppose, in a way, I still am. I have a page drawn and inked by Tim Sale on my wall that was part of Superman: Confidential. It's framed and right next to my Superman: The Movie poster that was signed by Margot Kidder. While I really like the overall mythology of Superman, there's something about the Smallville years of Clark Kent that draws my attention. I stayed with the Smallville TV show way too long, so that burnt it out a bit. But like in the way that I find the Shire to be the most fun parts of the Middle Earth stories, seeing an alien grow up amongst humans, learning to be the best that civilization has to offer, is really interesting. I can possibly see a Brightburn of Brandon Breyer in the big city as a sequel, but I am way more interested in Brandon Breyer, pre-teen, murdering everyone. I know. Now I seem like a psychopath who is into murder by little kid. But Superman has always been the argument that nurture, not nature, determines who we are. Mark Millar stressed a lot of that in Superman: Red Son. Yeah, Superman's DNA gives him his powers and even in Russia, Superman ends up being okay. But Brightburn tips that whole argument on its head and stresses the nature element of us. After all, some people are just serial killers, regardless of their parents and upbringing.
There's a line that sells the whole concept really well. It seems really shoehorned in and doesn't seem at all organic, but I really don't care. There's a line where Brandon is in class and the teacher is asking about wasps. When Brandon volunteers information on a predator wasp or something like that, the metaphor attaches itself to the movie perfectly (pun intended). It's such a great description for the whole movie that I actually stopped focusing on the Superman stuff for the entire film and actually watched it with that narrative. It's such an original concept to have the world of the wasp applied to a human element. Brandon is a parasite that no one is aware of. I feel like Zach Snyder, with his continual disdain for Superman, wanted to tell the same story. It's why Snyder stressed the alien elements of Superman in his films. He wanted to have that outsider element. But Snyder was hindered by the fact that Superman still needed to be a hero. Brandon has no epic mythology. I'm actually floored that the movie really takes advantage that it isn't bound by anything. Brightburn is what a satire should be. It takes the barebones of a concept: What if Superman was evil? It gives us midwestern, rural America. It gives us a spaceship. It gives us superpowers. It gives us good parents. The rest is really free reign.
I know my own faults. I know that if I was given this property, I would be tempted to throw in all kinds of Superman stuff. There would be nods to a major metropolitan newspaper. I would have stressed the Lex Luthor thing. I would have had Kal-El and Lara. Everything! Supergirl, Krypto, Conner Kent! All of it. Do you understand the very real temptation to take the deep dive? But no! Brightburn and its crew is smarter than I am. I simply sit in the back and applaud. So many doors are opened by this. Yeah, it's a silly horror movie that has a cameo by Michael Rooker. There's a tease of the Justice League. But this is mostly a movie about evil child Clark Kent and it positively works. I really like this movie. I probably won't watch it again because I can imagine this being terrible for the soul and I don't need to see glass in someone's eye again. But the movie is solid. It has so much working for it. Somehow, the movie has this epic blockbuster scale and still feels remarkably small and low-stakes. I'm on board and would totally watch a sequel.
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.