Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
It's the new universe. PG-13 is the rule of the Empire. Gone are the ways of the Old Republic.
DIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards
I think I'll just put a spoiler warning super early. How can I discuss a lot of this movie without SPOILERS? I know it is doable. Lots of websites are doing it, but there's stuff I want to talk about. Besides, no one really reads this. Honestly, it's weird writing so much into the void. OOooh, my first passive aggressive post.
This is the Star Wars movie I was waiting for. When I saw the trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was meh. But that movie knocked my socks off, flaws and all. But when the Rogue One trailer came out, I showed it to every class. I lost my mind over it. It was absolutely fantastic. It was a pitch perfect return to the original trilogy and looked like it had a cool premise. The philosophy was woven through the trailer and that score was just the best. Like many of the great trailer movies (I'm looking at you, Man of Steel) there is a bit of a letdown between my expectations and the actual movie. I will say that, overall, Rogue One is pretty solid. But I don't think that truly is in the pantheon of the great Star Wars movies.
The primary problem is that the characters are borderline unlikable. They aren't so evil that we can derive a sick pleasure from them, like The Sopranos, The Godfather, or Breaking Bad. The two protagonists never smile or seem to really care for each other. One of the things about Star Wars that I always liked was that the characters bickered at each other throughout the stories, but always seemed to care about each other. Even the prequels kind of got that right. But I can see how this was a strong choice. It's just one I didn't particularly enjoy. The biggest complaint that The Force Awakens received is that it was too safe and too much like the original movies to really break any new ground. The one thing that Rogue One really does is deliver a new kind of Star Wars to the world.
I think I'm lucky to be born in the early '80s. Right now, my pop culture is trying to match my wallet. My generation must spend a ton on its entertainment because things we saw as kids are growing up with us. This feels like this Star Wars is now the 30-something Star Wars. It's one that is more complicated and less aimed at kids. My son is only two, but he's obsessed with Star Wars. I feel like he's trying to be rebellious against his Trekkie father. I was considering taking him to Rogue One, but I also don't want him to be depressed for the rest of his life. The movie is pretty dour for a Star Wars movie. It genuinely feels like Gareth Edwards has Christopher Nolan's philosophy with having to ground this fantastic movie in reality. Instead of the good guy Rebellion versus the bad guy Empire, there is a complex political structure full of people who are afraid for their lives and acting more like a terrorist organization. Including Saw Gerrara and his extremist movement also rubbed me as kind of dark. Also, the movie starts off with Captain Andor just murdering a dude because he's cowardly and can't climb well? This is Star Wars, but I guess it had to grow up some time. It is a big universe and clearly these characters and morals must exist within the universe, but golly I don't know if I want to see that.
I had a really long debate about the CG return of General Tarkin and young Leia. Tarkin needs to be in this movie. It doesn't really feel as fan-servicey as Leia, but I don't know if it is executed well. I know that the Internet mostly agrees with me, but my wife just asked in the first second of seeing Tarkin if he was a digital character. I don't know if the Peter Cushing morality aspect of the arguement has as much merit as people are making it out to have, but I just don't think it looks good. The weird part is that I love when movies do this. Marvel, also owned by Disney, knocked by socks off when a young Michael Douglas appeared in Ant-Man. And that looked awesome! Same deal with Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War. Now my in-laws made arguments that both of those actors are alive so it is easier to make it look easier. But Leia looked like an anime character and Carrie Fisher is alive and making Star Wars movies. So, keep going? There's a scene in the special edition of A New Hope where one digital robot punches another digital robot in Mos Eisley. It really doesn't hold up. I have a feeling Tarkin and Leia look cool for some now, but they are going to look terrible in a decade.
There are some really solid pieces to this story too. Alan Tudyk, always a welcome addition to any cast, (please put that on any headshots, Mr. Tudyk) steals the show as K-2SO. I don't know how droids are always funny, but his character adds such a needed levity to such a dark movie. I also realize that this makes yet another Disney property that has Tudyk in it. Was he on a Disney channel original and they're just waiting for his singing career to take off because boy has he have it made now. Donnie Yen's Chirrut Imwe (sorry I don't know the keystrokes for special characters) is also a very cool and likable character amongst the brooding. I kind of have a problem with magical blindness in this movie considering that Imwe is not meant to be a Jedi. But his fight sequences are awesome and I, too, am able to shut my brain off from time-to-time.
Attention to detail is what makes this movie fly. The tone does drag it down. The "Star Wars Story" label attached to the title is meant to be about this. It is meant to explore something new and different from the main mythology involving the Skywalkers. I like the idea and I think this movie does a fantastic job at establishing that it isn't going to be more of the same. I can't have it both ways. I can't say that I want something new and different and then complain when something is new and different. But I also just wanted something happy and fun and this movie it isn't. I'm not sure if I'm actually reading the interpretation right or if I'm just so cynical, but I saw a connection between Jedda and Aleppo and that just got too dark for me. It's something I can't take my kids to and, like I often state, the only great movies are R. That's such a polarizing feeling. I might go see it again tonight. Maybe if people duck out, I'll try to watch something else. I've been itching to watch SOMETHING Christmas related...
It's Star Wars. You know? PG. Star Wars? You've seen this one. Why are you asking me what it's rated. You've seen this one. It's...you know, Star Wars.
DIRECTOR: George Lucas
For a guy who is known for being a director, George Lucas hasn't directed a ton. I have American Graffiti from Netflix as one of my next movies. So if I watch THX-1138, I will have seen every George Lucas full length film. This is George Lucas's last great movie. That's weird.
When I was writing my review for Star Wars: Episode I -The Phantom Menace, I posited the question "How do I review a movie that has been savaged to death?" or something of the sort. Now I have another movie by the same director that has been universally lauded. It is also one of those movies that has such a cultural impact that most people have seen it, liked it, and have become students of it. When I was a kid, I loved Star Wars. (I'd also like to establish that this version of the movie is the original release. It isn't even known as A New Hope yet.) This movie was everything to me. I even had an unfortunate AIM handle about Boba Fett, a character that wouldn't even show up until the Christmas special a year later. There is something absolutely wonderful about a movie that presents such a bizarre universe, but makes it so accessible that people can make allusions to this movie in everyday conversation. This initial franchise changed the way we saw film.
And then it got a little old. I'll be honest. I still really love Star Wars, especially since Disney acquired the rights and revived the franchise. But there was a period there where the Kevin Smiths of the world had to include Star Wars jokes into everything that they made. Star Wars references became so blah that they became associated with nerds. I mean, there was an era where Star Wars was simply a cultural talking point, like Stranger Things is today. In a handful of years, Stranger Things will only be for nerds and the series won't make even close to the cultural impact that Star Wars did. So then it comes down to watching Star Wars as a movie by itself.
But I've seen this movie so many times before. I can probably quote the whole thing. On top of that, Star Wars isn't even my thing. I like it, but I'm not the fanboy that I used to be. How can I view a movie under these conditions? Honest to Pete, I was kind of bored for a lot of the Tattooine section of the movie, but I can't even blame Lucas for that because I used to love it. There's something there that I can never recapture. But I could at least experience that joy from the point of view of fan. I played this movie in the Villa theatre during finals and kids got super excited for coming into the movie. The theatrical cut was something most of the students have never seen before. They are used to the Special Edition and its very dated CG robots punching each other. There was a moment of newness for the students as they crowded into the back of the theater to watch the movie before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story came out. (Bee tee dubs, that's the next review. It's very hard not to discuss it here.)
The joy from this movie comes from the chracter relationships. Star Wars is about the closest group of frenemeies that every sailed in a spaceship. They are constantly annoyed with one another, but there is an instant relationship there that is entertaining. The movie is almost kind of zany in some ways, the characters constantly getting into unbelievable situations that forces them to work together to overcome issues. Honestly, Luke gets attacked by sand people, fights stormtroopers, fights a squid monster in a garbage disposal, rappels across a bridge, shoots out TIE fighters, and blows up a small moon. But then Lucas is smart and adds a fun myhtos that is never truly explained. I weirdly feel bad for George Lucas. Yes, a lot of Lucas's problems come from having a complicated relationship with his own creation. It has defined him and he likes the product that he made, but he is also aware that he can never have it as simple as it was during the filming of the original movie. He was limited by not having infinite money and having to figure out problems the old fashioned way. He had to have characters that were full and well developed because a computer couldn't tell his story for him. Complete freedom means you create your own problems. That's why smaller genre movies sometimes have greater impact. The best science fiction and horror movies tend to be ones where the director had to deal with realistic problems.
Once I got into watching the original cut, I loved it again. Yes, it is boring for someone who has seen it a whole bunch of times, but there's something there that makes a lot of sense. It's once all of the characters are on screen together and cracking wise. It is the epic score and the pacing and the love put into each panel. George Lucas created something absolutely brilliant here and he deserves that again.
TV-MA. The content is rough. There's nudity. It's just brutal as a whole. But again, it has content that needs to be discussed.
DIRECTOR: Ava DuVernay
I hate what politics has done to me. I'm going to turn a film blog that I make my students do and turn it into a confession that my understanding of American politics has legitimately depressed me. Right now, there are Christmas carols playing. I'm in view of a Christmas tree while my wife's family is enjoying a lovely cake that I can't eat. And I'm going to be writing about the structure of a Black Lives Matter documentary. My son started crying. Geez, that kid is empathic.
If you read my Zootopia review, you know my stance on Black Lives Matter. This is a pivotal point in history and a group of people are begging for everyone's help right now and it is a crime to ignore them. This movie brings together the historical perspective on the hidden racism in America since abolition. And it is absolutely horrifying and needs to be told. But then comes the problem with documentaries that have a goal: they aren't allowed to be objective because they have a goal to achieve. When I teach persuasive writing, I warn kids about riding the fence when it comes to arguing. It can only weaken the arguement and if the goal is as imporant as the one that is highlighted in 13th, riding the fence is a dangerous game. Let's discuss the central premise that the War on Drugs is really institutionalized racism.
Is there institutionalized racism? Yeah, I see that. In fact, it is in way more places than the War on Drugs / Crime. Mostly the arguement presented in this movie is pretty correct. It's absolutely horrifying to think that the policing of minorities is a tool used by the government to gain favor from voters and outsource jobs to institutions and groups who profit from this movement. I think my jaw dropped so hard listening to how much sense was being made that I just got even more depressed. (I started this review one day and am ending it another day. I'm less depressed.) But going back to maintaining a sense of objectivity and how important it may or may not be, I have to talk about my time in the inner city. I worked in a very scary part of Cincinnati for a year. I've seen more awful things in one year than I'll see for the rest of my life. There is a cultural break that has happened in the inner city that most likely stems from institutionalized racism, but the results are horrible as well. There is a complete break of trust from the police in the inner. The concept of reporting a valid crime is so beyond possibility that no crime is ever really reported. Arrests only happen if a police officer views the crime in progress because no one will talk to police. Think of the worst crime you can think of. Yup, probably that one. I had a student report this crime happening to her and then I found out that ten other students had this happen to them by the same person. I tried to get this person arrested. I tried my hardest. I tried to move heaven and earth to make this happen. You know why it wouldn't happen? The student's mother told her not talk to the police. The other ten students wouldn't come forward for the same reason. I google this guy's name about once a month to see if anything has ever happened to him. It hasn't and it won't. I couldn't even get the guy booted from our school. So do I get the War on Drugs? Yes. It is a crime that doesn't need a witness. If a person is caught with drugs, there's no need for the cultural distrust of police.
Beyond that, I can get behind everything. It's odd how we studied Birth of a Nation so hard this year that it seems to permeate every discussion we have about film and racism. 13th structures its narrative from there. It is upsetting to think that a movie played such a strong role in our national narrative, but it makes a ton of sense. Birth of a Nation presents feelings of sympathy for racism. It is asking its viewers to be unapologetic for its distrust and hatred. It never even presents it as has hatred. It is the moral right in that movie and everything that we have gone through as a country might be tied to the views in this movie. Racists don't think that they are doing something wrong. They believe that they are defending something good and right that is being purged.
I have a lot of thoughts on how the movie was made, but I don't have many suggestions on how to improve it. The primary argument is one of logic first and ethics second. It does a fantastic job of presenting the facts of history, citing statistics and slowly breaking down trends. These statistics are then followed up by college professors who tie the stats to an event in history. It is extremely illuminating, but there is a bit of a tone of being talked down to. There is a tone of disgust for the Republican party, and from their perspective, it makes a ton of sense. I just don't know if the purpose of the movie is to change the minds of Republicans or to secure the support of people who are predisposed to agree anyway. But it also has to be for the people on the fence and the people who are unaware of this injustice. Perhaps I've just grown weary of the constant political bickering and the obsession with being right that I want to find common ground. While the message of 13th is vital, it's final goal seems to be the moral high ground rather than opening the door to change.
I have a theory that most smart movies are R. This one is PG-13. Yay?
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
Dr. Ryan and I were discussing the merits of plot. In high school and college, I defended to the death that plot was king. What is a movie without plot? I ended up being wrong, but still placing plot as a piece to a larger gesamkunstwerk. (I applaud my reserve for waiting this long to throw the word "gesamkunstwerk" into a review. You're welcome.) Yes, this movie is about character, but it really is second to the plot. Plot is king in this story. On top of that, it is one of those movies that dangerously depends on the twist in the story to stick the landing. Luckily, the twist totally works because it causes the viewer to question everything that he or she has seen.
I think I misread the movie based on the trailers, so I was surprised by what direction this movie took. Being the huge dork that I am, I was super excited to watch a movie about the importance of language in a science fiction setting. Let's be honest, if I had to be pidgeonholed into a very specific subcategory, that seems to define me the most. That really is the superficial premise to a much deeper idea. I think I'm going to avoid spoilers as a whole considering that the movie depends on the ignorance of the audience going into it. What I have to applaud while keeping this review as vague as possible is the importance of every shot. Before I knew what the true premise of the movie is, I often found myself bored. Part of that was my fault because maybe I was just in a weird mood, but I kept wondering why all these superfluous scenes cluttered up what should be a fairly paced movie. The only thing I can promise is that the scenes make sense once the twist is revealed. I'm trying to think if what I wrote gives too much away, but I could say the same thing about The Sixth Sense.
There is a tonal parallel to a specific style of movie. The one that sticks out in my head is Contact. I'm referring to the very forgettable Jodie Foster movie that was meant to be an existential headscratcher in the pursuit of alien life. I think this movie does it better, but I am concerned that if the Academy doesn't pay attention to this movie, it very well could be forgotten, only preserved by the nerdy and elitist die hards who swear by the movie. It is really good, but I wonder if it could hold up under multiple viewings. I know that some of the websites I peruse swear by the movie, but they are the nerdy and elitist die hards like myself.
A common motif I see with this kind of movie is the fact that humanity is terrible. Science fiction is meant to give a state of the union on the human condition. It's why we get such extremes when we discuss science fiction. The future is either bright and inspirational or the end of the world. However, science fiction in the present is often bleak, saying that mankind is full of violent fearmongers who would shoot first and ask questions later. The Day the Earth Stood Still is one of my all time favorite classics and Arrival plays many of the same notes. Perhaps Arrival may have a more complex view of the same concern, commenting on our hypocritical warlike nature, but I don't know if it will have the same impact as The Day the Earth Stood Still.
I don't know if I have a strong opinion about Amy Adams. I always get excited to see her in movies because she chooses strong roles. I just don't ever get blown away by her performance. It always does the job, but I always want levels and she is always reserved. Similar things can be seen about Jeremy Renner. I like him and get excited to see him in things, but there's not much to blow my mind often. He does the job here as well, perhaps a bit more charming than I've seen him in other films. But nothing is memorable about the performances. Again, plot is king and that's all I really feel comfortable analyzing.
Audrie & Daisy (2016)
This is a Netflix doc without an official rating. It probably is TV-MA, simply due to the sexual nature of the documentary. It is definitely worth a watch for its message alone.
DIRECTORS: Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk
Can we meet a small town sheriff who isn't corrupt and horrible in a documentary? I know they exist. Heck, there's probably a ton of them. But gosh darn there's some horrible people in places of power in documentary world.
Like many documentaries, I have to critique this one in terms of content and in terms of presentation. I want to talk about presentation first because it is extremely effective, but also secondary to the message provided. I'd like to leave on the important note. Considering that this is a documentary about rape culture in a digital age, the movie has to walk the fine line of deciding how to present this informaton that is both authenthic to the teenage experience while presenting things clearly. There is a fine line between authentic documentary and 60 Minutes report and that really comes from the graphics. From the first moment of having the rapists interviews come through in animated form, the movie presents the tone of what it is like to be a teenager today. And it works. Most of the evidence against the rapists is presented in Facebook Chat mode, transcribing conversations between parallel stories Audrie and Daisy. Similarly, very little information is given about the people in the town who tortured these girls with the exception of the image of houses surrounded by whatever Tweets were posted from that address.
The effect is haunting. In a digital culture, Tweets are both simultaneously disposable and permanent. Filmmakers Cohen and Shenk use the camera effectively to illustrate when paranoia is actually reality by linking Tweets with the homes surrounding the families. It's horrifying to have a bird's eye view of the neighborhood being blocked by an offensive amounds of disgusting hateful tweets.
And this is the format that surrounds a deeper topic. The movie is extremely upsetting and graphic, but I think I want my daughter to see this documentary before she goes to high school. As a 33 year old male, my problems are very different. It isn't to say that I don't have problems, but I've never known what it means to be a teenage girl, especially in a digital age. Social media only really became a thing in college for me and it was the Wild West. No one knew the permanent effects of digital culture and what that meant for the long haul. But that message got out really quickly with the arrival of Facebook, yet many students have no idea what it means to have a digital trail. Even worse, the generation after me compounded the issue with the creation of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying seems so innocuous, but the tie to sexuality and vulnerability is troubling. Both of these girls deal with a culture built around legitimizing rape, but rather than looking at rape as something that happens between two people, it latches onto an entire community. A photo can be spread by phone in an instant. Every camera is Pandora's Box. That implies complicity in an action. Who is there to enforce the law when the entire town is against you.
I've always been pretty anti-sports too and this movie didn't help. I could go on a whole tirade about sports and I can hear defense after defense on how sports saves lives. But I feel that there's something about athletics that becomes like a secret society. If you can throw a ball, the world can defend you from whatever comes your way. I know this isn't absolutely the way things work and the worst is whatever is painted in documentaries, but this one didn't help my opinion of high school sports and its importance to the world around it.
This movie is rough. It's really well made and Netflix has done a phenomenal job of providing access to some spine-chilling subject matter that needs to be seen. The only real weakness to the movie is keeping straight the two girls' very similar stories. it is important to know that their tales are typical of the digital rape experience, but it does make it hard to tell which story is receiving the brunt of the focus at what time. I often didn't know who was related to whom, but that's such a small part of a much more important movie.
The movie isn't easy to watch, but it is a tale that needs to be told and heard.
Calamity Jane (1953)
Calamity Jane has been rated as "Approved." Whatever that means. It's meant for families, but Doris Day drops the N-Bomb. Yup.
DIRECTOR: David Butler
Let's discuss rating a movie that was never meant for me as an audience member. I often say "I'll watch anything". For the most part, that's true. There was a time in my life where I just showed up at the movie theater and saw whatever was going to be playing next. Oh, the good old days. But during this time, I saw a lot of stinkers. These were movies that I didn't like because I just can't stand this kind of movie. Calamity Jane is a movie that my wife loves and I abhor. I will never say that this movie shouldn't exist because I can acknowledge that this movie just isn't for me. But I'm still going to dump on it pretty hard. Keep in mind, I love that my wife loves this movie and I love that other people love this movie. I don't love this movie.
Calamity Jane is a movie about tropes. It is loud and obnoxious. Yesterday or the day before, I wrote a review for Bringing Up Baby, discussing how in no way it exists in the real world and that's great. My hypocrisy is running in overdrive right now because I hate that Calamity Jane pulls the same card. These are shells of human beings. Jane herself is loud and the epitome of a tomboy. She has no idea what it means to be a lady and dares the audience not to laugh at this simplified concept. But apparently not being a lady means being crass and stupid to the point of absurdity. The wink to the audience is casting proper Doris Day in this role, whom I adore in most things. (Although hearing her say the N-Bomb can't be unheard, so that's going to taint The Pajama Game for me.)
The Simpsons has a bizarre structure with most of its episodes. It starts with what appears to be the main plot, which has a weird tangeant only leading to a third tangeant that is really the plot. Calamity Jane pulls the same card. There is the establishment that Jane is always bickering with Howard Keel, portraying Wild Bill Hickok (that spelling can't be right, IMDB). She's in love with him, but who cares because she needs to get a famous star to play their po-dunk town. This is the first plot and the one I signed up for. Well, she grabs the wrong starlet because Katie Brown is only dressed as the starlet. Second plot HAS to be "When is everyone going to discover that she's a liar?" Nope. They figure that out once her set is garbage very quickly. Then everyone accepts her, so Jane starts getting jealous. Third plot! Nope. They become fast friends and Katie starts dressing her up as a lady. Plot four! The My Fair Lady plot. Nevermind. It's all about Katie stealing the love of her life. With all of these mini storylines, it is really hard to get invested in the characters.
By the way, my wife is in love with Howard Keel. I can't change that.
I don't want to paint that I'm not a fan of musicals because I really am. It's just that I really have a hard time shutting my brain off for most things and this one really requires a "sit back and enjoy" attitude. It's not even to say I don't like stupid things. I really like stupid things. I think it's the combination of musical and stupid things that I can't get behind. And again, that's all on me. I acknowledge that there's fun stuff here, but by that point, I was so bitter that I was coffee. (There's a better way to write that, but I have three minutes to finish that.) People will hate me that I dislike this movie, but most of that's on me. If you love this movie, continue doing so. I love when people get passionate about stuff and this is a cool thing to get passionate about. It just will never be my cup of tea.
Also, like, there's no memorable songs.
Captain America: Civil War (2016)
PG-13. We've discussed this. The scene at the airport was too scary for my two-year-old. I'm probably a bad father.
DIRECTORS: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo
I'm going to write this review with a slightly bitter edge because Weebly lost my original draft. Nothing says "Stay objective" as the Internet ruining my life.
This is a movie that earned it. I think this movie might be historic with a little "h". I've always kind of complained that many genre movies don't earn their heartbreaking moments because the relationships are rarely there. Often, the emotional arcs are built off of the television predecessor from which the films spun off, like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Serenity. I was just talking about how the Enterprise exploding in Star Trek Beyond felt kind of cheap because it was too soon. But Captain America: Civil War is the culmination of a lot of setup with character arcs that built into something earnest and sad. These characters fighting is completely believable because this has been teased and slowly cooked over the course of many movies. I can't think of another film franchise that has pulled that off organically. (I will be very disappointed if you say Freddy vs. Jason. I will let you have that opinion because I'm not a monster, but c'mon.)
The Russos have a really cool take on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They might have been the most important addition to the MCU because of their nontraditional take on the superhero film. Joss Whedon and Jon Favreau are great because of their tonal responsibility, but I do like that the Russo Brothers understand that the world is a complicated place and that superheroes shouldn't necessarily mesh with that world very well. I keep thinking that the Captain America movies really belong in the Bond world or the John LeCarre films because of their political landscapes. But the thing that earns my respect is the movie tries to treat everyone like they are smart without talking down to them. I love the Nolan Batman films so much, but they take themselves so darned seriously. (No pun intended). The Russos fill the universe with a sense of respect. These are actors in awesome looking pajamas punching each other, but my heart cries for it somehow. That's pretty impressive.
The look of the Marvel movies is pretty standard. I watched a video about why the MCU looks so blah, but I thnk that really cheapens a lot of what is going on camera. Honest-to-Pete, seeing the opening shot with the font, the tone is set within seconds of watching the movie. Not a lot of people pull that off successfully. The color palette is bleak, but who says that is necessarily a bad thing. Having a bright and vibrant Iron Man suit does not make a movie cool. It probably pulls away from reality. Every time I see heightened color schemes, I think the Star Wars prequels and other digital tomfoolery. The whole look of the movie is just pitch perfect.
This movie also does a fantastic job of balancing the entire universe. I know that Avengers: Age of Ultron received some criticism for spending too much time setting up Phase 3, but I think Civil War should be commended for its restraint when it comes to handling a ton of different franchises. It speaks most when it comes to the handling of Ant-Man. Out of the Marvel movies, I honestly think Ant-Man is the most blah. There's so much generic going on there and I was so hyped up for it that the final result was simply okay. But Paul Rudd's Ant-Man in Civil War is everything I wanted. I don't know how ten minutes of screen time can redeem a character so perfectly, but it really worked. Add on top of that the set up of Tom Holland's Spider-Man as well. By all intents and purposes, Spider-Man shouldn't be in this movie. But I also didn't care. The set up of this character was charming and fun. He brought a joy to the film that it needed and that's pretty impressive.
The real challenge that this movie provides is the lack of true protagonists and antagonists. Civil War is cool because they're both right and they're both wrong. The real enemy of the movie is male stubbornness and the abandoning of a cool head. Yes, I'm #TeamCap, but Iron Man isn't wrong about a lot of what he said. That's a great story. All of America was fighting about who the hero is and the movie plays out very differently for different audiences. The only indication of who is the real hero is the full title being Captain America: Civil War.
A movie about a place where prostitution is legal and murder is encouraged is PG. Thank you very much, 1970s.
DIRECTOR: Michael Crichton
I watched this movie with my dad as a kid and I was obsessed. But I haven't watched it since then. After my wife and I binge-watched the HBO series, a moment of kismet landed a copy of the original movie in my lap. So we watched it immediately after the finale and I have all of the feelings...
...not all of them good.
Westworld as a concept is actually very cool. As a prototype to Crichton's later success Jurassic Park, the film offers what could be considered an intro to morality class about the nature of good v. evil and what the objective good could be considered. It ponders whether man is inherently good or does he need evil without fully ever spelling it out. I kind of love these hypothetical morality plays. Twilight Zone almost exclusively dealt with this subgenre of science fiction and it plays really well in a television format. I honestly think that's why the TV show works so well. But the cool concept is a little bit of a double edged sword because a big budget science fiction story almost requires a plot to sell to large audiences. And the plot itself is pretty cool! The robots decide to murder everybody. (30 somethings instantly flashed back to Itchy & Scratchy Land and now it allllllll makes sense.) The problem is that the plot only really starts playing out in the last 20 to 30 minutes, which is criminally short for a 90 minute movie. The rest of the movie is simply explaining the potential of a world full of murder. It's a lot of "Wouldn't it be cool if..."?
Something that seems to be pretty consistent with a lot of '70s sci-fi is how cheap the movie looks. Crichton wasn't really a proven director. He never really became a proven director for the most part. He was known for spinnin' a pretty solid yarn, but never showing what works and that might be Crichton's biggest flaw in this movie. The set really screams "Reused studio backlot". Considering that the park is meant to be the epitome of authenticity, the walls look like plywood and the details are nowhere to be found. This movie somehow found its way into the canon of great science fiction, but it really looks like a made for TV movie at times. This is an era where science ficiton isn't really seen as viable. Remember, this is pre-Star Wars. Its contemporaries are Logan's Run and The Omega Man, which also kind of look equally chincy. But those movies don't base themselves on the premise of complete immersion.
The casting is the third element of this movie. Being the super cool eight year old that I was, I loved The Magnificent Seven. Having Yul Brynner semi-reprise his role from this movie is a complete joy. This really shouldn't work. Brynner is barely in the film, but he steals the show despite his actual lack of lines. He's super creepy and makes the film self-aware. I get the vibe that Brynner is paid through the nose for being in this, which explains the budget and the other casting. James Brolin somehow doesn't get lead billing for this movie because he's in a ton of it. It would have been easier to have him be the protagonist, but that luxury comes down to Richard Benjamin. I don't know if Crichton is trying to break the trope of the typical leading man, but putting Benjamin in this role is just bizarre. His charisma is confusing and he just seems kind of mousey. I applaud him if he's trying to break a trope, but it is too ambiguous if that is the case.
I loved this movie as a kid, but I don't think that this movie really holds up against time, especially knowing that the new show really just blows it out of the water. A lot of this is on the budget and on Crichton as director. This has the bare bones of greatness, but there's a lot of tweaking that needs to happen here.
Star Trek Beyond (2016)
The Kelvinverse will probably always be PG-13. Wrap your dilithium crystals around that, you green-blooded maniac.
DIRECTOR: Justin Lin
I think I will always have a hard time selling the Kevlinverse to anyone. As I discussed in my Star Trek: The Motion Picture review, 2016 celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek. I don't think that Paramount necessarily pulled out all of the stops to make 2016 the year of Star Trek, especially considering how Doctor Who knocked it out of the park a few years ago. It's disappointing, becausae I've been a Trekkie for longer than I've been a Whovian. Because of this, a lot rides on the shoulders of Star Trek Beyond, which is somewhat unfair.
The movie works for the most part and I genuinely enjoy it unironically. (Mainly because I'm not a monster anymore. I acknowledge that I only have / had monster-like tendencies). But there is quite a bit to apologize for. When it comes to justifying a film I like, I get very vulnerable. I know the movie isn't perfect. But I can't help but placing a little Mr. Henson in my head everytime I watch something Kelvinversey. First and foremost, the movies aren't what the tone of Star Trek originated as. I loathed Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice because they were such perversions of the original franchises that they left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I have to admit, the old universe these movies are not. But the difference between the DCEU (I think that's the acronym they're going with) and the Kelvinverse is that the Kelvinverse seems to have good intentions while making fun movies. So tonally, they are way off from the Shatner films and episodes, but they are still a good time.
And that's when the eyerolling begins. I'd like to talk SPOILER territory here. It's the motorcycle scene and the Beastie Boys scene. These moments are just so much fun, but they also kind of take some of the gravitas (I'm writing professioanlly so I'm not going to use potty language here) out of Star Trek. They make awesome action movie scenes and that's what Star Trek has become. Yes, many of the messages are verbally said in the movie that tie it into Roddenberry's message, but films are meant to show, not tell. But we can also accuse Nicholas Meyer's movies of having the same effect on the franchise. (I don't know why I attributed Star Trek I-VI to Nicholas Meyer, but I just get the imprint of his tastes on the whole series.) The Star Trek movies stopped being about exploration a long time ago and I guess I need to get past that.
I'd like to talk about the giant Constitution Class corpse in the room. Like the previous Star Trek III, Beyond destroys the Enterprise. The films like ripping apart the ship. We had it teased in Into Darkness, but this one really delivered the smoldering corpse of the ship. Like many Trekkies, I treat the ships like characters and the destructions of these ships are painful. I have the image of the original Enterprise being destroyed in The Search for Spock and the Enterprise-D crashing into Veridian III in Generations burned into my brain and those were soul crushing moments. I did get sad at the Kelvinverse Enterprise getting ripped apart, but it felt different. The big problem is that I barely knew her. While Kirk and her crew spent years aboard her, she wasn't something that had earned a relationship with the audience yet. It was cool, but just kind of a bummer as opposed to a major shift in the mythos. On top of that, the Enterprise was replaced with a carbon copy ship by the end. In the original franchise, the crew had to Search for Spock and Voyage Home before being treated to an Enterprise-A.
Man, it sounds like I'm just ripping this movie a new one. I REALLY LIKED IT GUYS! But here's some more beefs. (It is so much easier to savage a movie than praising it.) Justin Lin does an amazing job in terms of directing action and getting relationships dead on, which is 99% of the job in this case. The movie is fun and it was great seeing every crew member bond with another, especially dealing with MVP casting Karl Urban as Bones. Karl Urban will always be my favorite part of the Kelvinverse and just constantly teaming him up with Zachary Quinto's Spock is pitch perfect. They did great before and they did great here. Also, I've never seen the passing of a cast member being handled so perfectly before. Dedicating the movie to Leonard Nemoy's Ambassador Spock could have come off as tacky, but the movie understands the reverence that needed to be paid while pushing the storyline along well.
But the thing that bothered me about Lin's directing (which may fall more on Stephen F. Windon's cinematography more) is the nauseating camera movement. I love formalist films. I like when the camera is playful and self-aware, but I was going to throw up with the spinning constantly. A few times? Cool. Every transition? Gross.
But that's the only visual complaint I had. These guys took some risks. One of the complaints that many comic book artists have about the Flash is that he's got one pose. I thought that the Enterprise has been shot so much that we can't see anything new. Lin and Windon do a fantastic job of making space look fantastic and larger than life.
The last complaint I have is a plot one. I don't know if Idris Elba's character made a ton of sense. It is a very bizarre revenge story that never really hits the epic revenge plot of The Wrath of Khan. It seems like I'm treading over some Star Trek Into Darkness issues, but do we need every Star Trek movie to be a revenge plot. Elba is great. He's a cool villain, but he doesn't make a ton of sense. His motivation is just plain silly considering his character's background and the twist that came with his origin story. I can get the guy being frustrated with the Federation, but the genocide of millions of people doesn't really fit within the mission statement outside of the fact that dude is crazy.
And now I'm just gushing. Here's the thing that made me fanboy giggle more than anything else: the U.S.S. Franklin. I giggle with joy looking at analog controls and that one thing tied this into a 50th anniversary better than anything else in the movie. Yeah, there's the photo of Shatner's crew, but who cares. Old timey ships make me smile because children of the '80s only experience things through nostalgia.
BUT I SWEAR I LIKED THIS MOVIE A LOT!
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
This movie isn't rated. But let's call a spade a spade here. It's adorable.
DIRECTOR: Howard Hawks
If you liked Arsenic and Old Lace, you'll love this one.
Wait, I have to write more? I don't have time for this nonsense. That description is extremely telling and covers the gamut of my opinion. Everything else I write beyond this point is nonsensical word vomit and shouldn't be taking up valuable digital real estate. But wouldn't that make me a hypocrite? I make my students write a ton on whatever movie they're watching. Why can't I do the same for myself? (The real answer is that my reviews are way longer and I watch way more movies than they do.)
If there was such a thing a tonal Christmas movie that had nothing to do with Christmas, it would be this subgenre of slapstick romantic comedy. The same heartstrings are played upon. I think I catch myself smiling, laughing, and holding back happy tears when watching movies like Bringing Up Baby and Arsenic and Old Lace. There's something unashamedly joyful about the whole affair that makes these tonally perfect films. The writing is funny and the situations are larger than life. Yes, the characters are nearly constantly in some form of peril, either emotionally or physically. But there is never a concern for their safety. That would be the biggest coup in the world, Katherine Hepburn being mauled by a jaguar as the credits roll. But we are all aware that it can't happen in a movie like this. The tension, we always know, is a lie for our own benefit. It's being afraid for the daredevil who has done the trick a thousand times or being afraid that the lady might actually be sawed in half on stage. We need to feel that adrenaline rush and this might be the healthiest way of getting that emotional catharsis out of us.
The casting of Cary Grant might be the best symbol of this movie. Known for his charm, he helms a movie that is all about being charming. The characters in no way are based and reality and thank God that they aren't. They are archetypes that we will never meet because the romance wouldn't work in the real world. Katherine Hepburn's Susan would be a menace to society, unloved by all due to her ignorance to social norms. She also lacks a moral compass, but who cares? In other rom coms, I become livid when characters act like Susan. But because the movie doesn't even attempt to portray real characters with real emotional conflicts, Susan's selfishness comes off as adorable and charming. Again, charm in the buzzword for this movie.
I laughed! That's the point! I laughed at this movie a lot. My eyes were often rolling because it's absolutely absurd. But the movie is genuinely funny. The weird part is that I would never classify this amongst my favorite comedies, but I really do like it.
Finally, this is the beginning of a long line of movies that I've already seen. I don't know how this worked, but I ended up rewatching a lot of movies in the past few weeks, so don't be throwing accusations at me like "You hadn't seen this before?" I totally have. Also, I'd just be welcome for a comment once in a while.
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.